((Legal Stuff: Ranma Saotome and Co. are all property of Rumiko Takahashi. No infringement intended, no profit made, blah blah you get the idea... Anyway, the characters aren't mine. Invented characters are, however, so don't use them without permission. Enjoy!))
"Ha ha ha! Now that's funny. Six-legged frogs that grant wishes. Yeah, right!"
"Bah! Nothin'." Ranma Saotome tossed the book onto the growing pile of rejects beside him. "Man, don't she keep anything useful up here?"
It was a fine summer day in Nerima, Tokyo. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and everything had about it an air of such complete normalcy that it seemed out of place. It was too quiet, as if fate were waiting with bated breath for something to happen.
Where usually such a beautiful day would almost require healthy, active young men to be out enjoying it, Ranma was spending the afternoon cloistered in his mother's newly-rebuilt house. More specifically, he was hidden away in the attic of the house, where all his mother's old belongings had recently been moved.
Ranma was actually enjoying his downtime in the stuffy attic. For one thing, not a soul knew he was here--not even his mother, Nodoka Saotome. He'd come in by the window and left his troubles behind. Shampoo the Chinese Amazon could be riding around searching, Ryoga Hibiki could be looking to crush his skull--any number of other people might be trying to track him down--but what did he care? They'd never find him here. Nobody expected the great heir to the Saotome School of Martial Arts to be poking around in a stuffy attic looking through old dusty college books.
He had to marvel, though. During college, his mother's fascination with mythology, occult, and legend bordered on the eerie. She had taken all manner of classes and aquired a large library on the subject. He wondered how such a person obsessed with fantasy could have become the stiff, prim, strong-willed woman he knew now.
He thumbed through another book, this one about famous old magics of ancient Europe, like the oak-spells of Germany or the legends behind Stonehenge. "Another bust," he sighed, coming up dry once again.
Ranma had stumbled on his mother's collection completely by accident while helping her move back in. While carrying things to the attic, he'd picked up a box with a weak bottom and it had torn out, dumping heavy books all over the floor--and his feet. After hopping around a bit yelling about his smashed toes, he'd grumbled and began to put the books in a new box. He quickly noticed titles like, "Mythology and Magic: A Guide to the Supernatural," "Ancient Legends of the Far East," or "Zoantropy--the Art of Animal Transformation."
His heart had leaped at the possiblity that Jusenkyo, the Valley of the Cursed Springs, might be mentioned in one of them--and possibly a cure--but he'd been through two boxes already and come up empty-handed. Not a single mention of Jusenkyo or aqua-curses, although ancient Chinese magic was liberally interspersed throughout many of the books.
Sighing wearily, Ranma began to put the books back in their places in the cardboard carton. "Ho-kay, new box," he muttered, pushing the old one away and reaching for the next container of volumes. He peeled back the tape sealing the box and reached in.
"Heh...an anatomy textbook? Didn't think she'd take that class." He rifled through the books, picking them up, reading their covers, and tossing them if they had nothing to do with his search. "Anthropology...history...chemistry... Aw, what a time to get down to the mundane stuff--wha? 'The Next Nine Months?'" Ranma stared at the pregnancy information book in his hand. "I know why she got this one."
The book in his other hand was a baby care manual as well. As Ranma went to put "The Next Nine Months" on the floor with the others, "Child Care Today's" half-torn jacket ripped beneath this fingers, dropping the lower cover open and flipping the pages about. "Yikes! Dammit..." Disgruntled and a little ashamed for tearing his mother's book, Ranma bent and began to pick up the various hospital notes, pamphlets, and pictures that had fallen out.
"What's this?" Ranma muttered, picking up the single photograph that had fluttered to the floor with everything else. Shoving the other papers back in the book, he plopped to the floor amidst the boxes and trunks to examine his find.
It was his mother in the hospital, looking very young and exhausted. Heck, it was virtually identical to every other "Mom-just-had-a-baby-and-we're-taking-a-bunch-of-pictures" photo he'd seen in his parents' albums. Nodoka Saotome sat smiling tiredly in her hospital bed, her hair plastered with sweat and tears in her eyes, two naked, squalling babies clutched to her as she cried with joy.
Ranma's eyes snapped wide. "Wait a second," he whispered hoarsely. "Two...?" He rubbed his eyes, wondering if his long hours staring cross-eyed at small print was making him see double. No...there was only one of his mom--and the other baby was still there.
What the hell is this? Both infants were obviously male, and both were still wet and far too new for the picture to be some kind of weird hoax. One of them is...me! But...who's the other? My...my brother...? He gasped out loud at that thought. My God...I have a brother...and they never told me! I've gotta find out...gotta get some answers! It was the only thought on his mind. His search for a cure forgotten, Ranma held the picture tight and charged out of the attic, heading downstairs.
To be continued...
Chapter in progress!