NeeP Productions Presents:

Over A Spilled Bucket of Water
Niki (NeeP) Paradis

     Ranma was on his way back from Tofu-sensei, on an errand for Kasumi.  Actually, Kasumi wanted to return the book herself, but everyone insisted that it would be better for someone else to take it back, then they roped Ranma into the job.  So now that the job is done with, he was eager to return home.
     He passed by a vacant lot, and saw that there was a tent set up in it.  Thinking that it might be Ryouga, he decided to have a bit of fun with him.  He opened the front flap to the tent and looked inside.  There was no one there.
     "You won't find him in there, Ranma-san," called a voice from behind him.  Ranma turned around and saw Jiro sitting on a wall across from the lot where her tent was set up.  She was holding a book and it looked like she was reading until she called out.
    "That's my tent, not Ryouga-oniisan's," she continued as she leaped off the wall and landed lightly on the ground.
     "Sorry," apologised Ranma sheepishly.  "So, where's Ryouga?"
     "I don't know," Jiro shrugged as she walked towards him.  "All I know, is that he isn't in the neighbourhood."
     "He isn't?  So I don't suppose you would know when he would be back, do you?"
     Jiro looked at him then raised an eyebrow.  "You're kidding, right?"
     "I guess not..." he blushed as he figured out the answer himself.  Jiro grinned at him.
     "Ranma-san, my abilities to 'Track' are limited.  It's difficult to memorise a chi-pattern, and my tracking range is only a kilometre at most.  Besides, Ryouga-oniisan still manages to get lost, even with me following him around."
     "Oh.  I  see..." Ranma decided to change the topic.  "What's that you're reading...?"  He gestured to the book that Jiro was holding.  She held it up for him to see.
     "Hmmm, French for Everyday Speaking ... " He looked up.  "Why are you reading a French textbook?"
    "Last week, Ryouga-oniisan and I wound up in France," she blushed.  "Even I don't know how we got there..." Jiro looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Y'know something?  I didn't know that Oniisan knew any French.  But then," Jiro giggled briefly.  "I guess the more languages that he can ask 'Where am I?' in, the better.  I just figured that if we're gonna be travelling together to all these different countries, I better learn some of the languages so at least I can understand the directions that people give him."
     Ranma chuckled.  "I can see that."  He was about to turn to go when a bucket came flying out of nowhere at Jiro's head.  He almost casually knocked the bucket aside before it struck Jiro in the face.  He turned to face the bucket thrower.
     A brown hair boy, just a year younger that Ranma, stood glaring at them from just outside the lot.  His green eyes were filled with anger and even his ponytail bristled.
     "Jiro!  This time I will kill you!" he shouted.
     It was Jakku Mizuno.
     Ranma was about to beat up the ignorant punk and to provide a hands-on lesson on why one does not go around fighting girls, when Jiro casually placed her hand on his shoulder then yanked him out of the way.
     "Back off Ranma!" she snarled.  "He's my problem, not yours."
     " ... " Ranma blinked.  What's with her?   He watched as Jiro picked up her umbrella and cautiously walked to her opponent.
     "Jakku," Jiro was sounding exasperated.  "Why do we have to keep on going through this?  You know that I don't want to fight you anymore."
     "You try to avoid this every time, but you know the rules.  And every time, you dishonour our village by choosing to ignore our laws."
    "But they are stupid laws, Jakku."
    "Maybe so, but this time, one of us must die."
    Jiro sighed.  "But I don't want to kill you."
    Jakku gave a nasty smile.
     "Fine.  It's makes it easier for to kill you."
     " I don't want to be killed either," she said rather primly.
     "Um, I don't think..." Ranma started.
     "Butt out!!!" called both Jakku and Jiro together.
     "Ranma, I told you, this is my fight," Jiro finished.
     "Then let's get started!" yelled Jakku as he charged at his sworn enemy.
     And all Ranma could do is watch.

     Jakku swung the end of his staff at Jiro; she dodged out of the way.  He did a quick turn around and took a swipe at her face.  She blocked it with her heavy blue umbrella.  Then she swung at him and he blocked her blow with his staff.
    They leaped away from each other so they could re-assess each other.
     "You don't even use the traditional tools anymore," Jakku accused her.  "You take too much after that guy you're always hanging with."
     "Your problem, Jakku, is that you won't learn anything new," taunted Jiro.  "Your attacks are all old tricks and it shows!"  Then she leaped at him again, this time on the offensive.
     She stabbed at him with the tip of her umbrella, Jakku dodged by dropping down.  He knocked Jiro's legs from under her with a low kick.  She fell down on her back, but recovered quickly by rolling onto her shoulders and flipping over backwards and onto her feet.
     "Good one, Jakku, but is that the best that you can do?"  With that, Jiro grabbed a handful of bandannas and hurled them towards her opponent.  Jakku defended himself by spinning his staff fast enough that it deflected the fabric projectiles.
       "C'mon Jiro, is that the best you can do?"  He did a series of thrusts and swipes at Jiro, who managed to dodge and block most of them.  Some she took and returned with her own attacks with her umbrella.  Jakku was pressed into keeping up with the young woman's vicious pace.  He took a swipe at her knees.  Jiro leaped straight up out of the way and then landed lightly on the out-thrusted staff.  Jakku was enraged as she balanced easily on the wooden pole.
     "How dare you?!?"
     "You know something?" she teased as she bonked him on the head with her umbrella. "You're getting slow."
     Jakku shook his staff and Jiro leaped away, laughing.
     "Okay, now what?" she asked.  "Come at me."
    Jakku executed a flying kick, Jiro ducked and rolled, and then did a low roundhouse kick as soon as he landed, knocking his legs out from under him.  Jakku landed hard.
     "I'm getting tired of this," complained Jiro.
     Jakku didn't respond as he got up.  He took advantage of the fact that Jiro didn't press her advantage while he was down and he suddenly used his staff to strike hard at her hand that was holding the offensive umbrella.
     Jiro dropped her umbrella in a hiss of pain.
     "You're too soft, Jiro!"  He rapped her on the head smartly.
     Jiro shook her head.  She had learned by watching Ryouga fight that it was necessary to shake off the pain as soon as possible and get back into the action.  The longer that she was out of it, the more time that Jakku had to press his advantage.    She saw Jakku charge at her again.  She reached over to Ranma, who she was standing beside and grabbed the bucket from him.  It was difficult as the wounded hand refused to work properly.  She used the bucket to stop the advancement of the staff.
     "Bucket-block!" she yelled.  "There's the use of a traditional tool.  Happy now?"
     Jakku wrenched the bucket out of her hands with a twist of his staff.
     "Oops, I guess not."  Jiro dropped towards her fallen umbrella and picked it up with her good hand.  She stood up in time to block another staff swing.  The block was a little clumsy.
     Kitty-corner to the lot where Jiro's camp was set up, there was a park.  During the course of the fight, Jakku and Jiro had moved to there.  The patrons of the park watched the display, but kept a respectful – and healthy distance from the two teens.  Ranma followed the two to see how the battle would turn out.

     Jiro was now on the defensive.  Her injured hand was numb and couldn't hold the umbrella as efficiently as it used to and she wasn't accustomed to wielding her weapon with the other hand.  She was backing away as Jakku kept on pressing his advantage.  Quickly enough, Jiro was back against the large water fountain that was at the centre of the park.
     Jakku executed another swing and fell into the fountain as she dodged it.  Ranma thought that the battle was over with Jiro impeded by the knee-deep water.  But as Jiro got up, she chuckled.
     "Is this where you want me to be, Jakku?" she asked.  "You know that if we continue this stupid fight, I will have the advantage."  Ranma wondered what she meant.
     Jakku stood at the edge of the fountain.  He looked at her and grimaced.
     "Jiro, I have been following you for more than six years.  The last six months were harder, since you started to follow that idiot, Hibiki, around.  But even then, every so often, I managed to catch up to you.  I even managed to follow you to China, where you were only a few kilometres away from the Springs of Jusenkyou…"
     "Did you fall into one of the springs?" asked Ranma, interrupting Jakku's monologue.
     "Of course not!" snorted Jakku.  "Do you think I'm stupid?  I've been following a guy with a curse from Jusenkyou.  I know what it does to people.  It's just that it shocks me that that imbecile, Hibiki, didn't go there to have his damn curse removed."
     Jiro was steaming the whole time.  Literally.  Her anger was heating up her damp tunic and steam was actually rising from it.  She kicked up some of the water and punched a ball of water towards her opponent.
     "You leave my brother outta this!" she yelled as the water-ball struck Jakku squarely in the face.
     Ranma suddenly remembered something that Ryouga once said about Jiro being a near master of     Martial-Arts-Water-Fighting.
     Jakku jumped into the fountain.  He punched the water into a huge shape.
     "You asked for it!  SHARK-FIST!"  The huge shape plunged towards Jiro.
     "WATER-SHIELD!"  A wall of water came up to stop Jakku's attack.
     Jakku tried another attack.  He plunged both fists hard into the water.
    "WATER-SPIKE!"  A sharp spike of water raced towards Jiro, who jumped over it towards him.
    "SQUIRT-GUN!"  Jiro scooped up a hand full of water and squirted it in Jakku's face.

    Ranma was watching the display in almost awe.  He and the rest the by-standers that were too close to the action got soaked.  However, Ranma was the only one that turned into a girl.  She could only watch as the two combatants continued to go at each other.

    "WATER-BOMB!"  A huge ball of water was thrown towards Jiro.
    "SPRAY-KNIFE!"  Jiro countered with a narrow spray of water that sliced the ball in half.
    Jakku had to catch his breath.  Jiro pressed her advantage.
    "WATER-BULLETS!"  She kicked up some water and punched a spray of little pellets of water that pounded Jakku mercilessly until he fell with a splash.
    "Want to continue?" she asked.  "I don't want to kill you."
    "I won't quit," said Jakku through clenched teeth as he got up.
    "All right.  But do you remember why I have the advantage?"
    Jakku's eyes opened wide, then narrowed.
    "WATER-BLADE!"  A wide band of water arced towards Jiro's head.  She countered with the Water Shield.  Then she put both of her hands into the water and concentrated.  Then she pulled out a ball of water, which she threw at Jakku.
    "BOILING-KETTLE!"  The ball of water struck Jakku in the face.  He screamed in pain.  The people who were close to him yelped at the boiling hot water splashed onto them.  Jakku fell again.  Jiro walked through the knee-deep water over to him.
    "Sorry, Jakku," she said as she dipped her hands into the surface of the water again.  She concentrated for a moment, then brought out a huge ball of ice.
    "ICE-CUBE!" she yelled.  Jakku took his hands away from his scalded face just long enough to see the chunk of ice come down on his head.  He lost consciousness.

    Ranma-chan watched as Jiro pulled an unconscious Jakku from the fountain.  The people all around were both clapping and getting out of her way.  She sighed as she propped her opponent against the base of the fountain.
    "Now I have to leave before he wakes up."
    "Why?" asked Ranma-chan.
    Jiro looked at the red-hair girl.
    "Or else I have to go through all that again.  Once a day is quite enough."
    "Wish that Ryouga would see that point once in a while."
    "So do I."  Jiro chuckled.

    Ranma-chan walked with Jiro towards her camp.  Jiro was trying to wring out the bottom edge of her tunic, as they walked.
    "Um, Jiro?"
    "Hmmm?" responded Jiro absently.
    "What does Ryouga mean by that you're almost a Master of Martial-Art Water Fighting?  I mean, what you did with Jakku was pretty good."
    "Oh, that ... Um, it's kinda embarrassing, actually..."
    She mumbled her answer.
    "Say what?"
    "I can't swim.  It's hard for me to be a Master if I can only fight in shallow water..."
Ranma suppressed a chuckle.  Like Akane, she can't swim, she thought.  And Ryouga can't teach her.  But she knew that if she laughed at Jiro, and Ryouga hears of it, then sooner or later, she's gonna have to face the consequences.
    She changed the subject.
    "So what's the story between you and Jakku?  Does he really want to kill you?"
    Jiro sighed.
    "I don't know if he really wants to kill me or not.  But he really means to."
    They reached Jiro's tent.  Ranma sat down as Jiro started to pack her stuff.
    "So, why does he want to kill you anyway?" she asked.
    "It's a long story, Ranma-san.  Better make yourself comfortable."

    "I was born in a village in the southern forests of Japan.  According to the Village Elders, my mother died during my birth.  They say that she was as blonde as I was, and that she had pointed ears like I do.
    Well anyway, the head-woman of the village, Mizuno Burouku, agreed to raise me, and she meant breastfeed, along with her son, who was only a month or so older than me.  That boy was Jakku.
    Jakku and I became best of friends during those first few years.  However, after I was weaned, she sent me off to be raised with another family.  But that never kept us from playing with each other everyday.
    The whole village took pride in the fact that they had a unique school of Martial-Arts.  And it involved water fighting.  Jakku was instructed at an early age because he was the head-woman's son, but no one was interested in instructing me, for all that I was born and raised in that village, I was still an outsider.
    Then, one day, I learned that I can do things with water that no one else could do. I threw a glass of water at an older kid who was bullying me.  But the water wasn't cold when it hit him.  Heh.  Then, after that, the elders then found out that once in a while, when I would get angry or upset, because no one was being nice to me and I would scald myself with water, which was formerly cold before I got to it.  The Elders discussed with each other, and they decided that I should be instructed in their School of Martial-Arts Water Fighting.  They hoped that the discipline of the school would help me get a handle on by new ability before I could hurt myself or any one else and to figure out how I could do what I did.  They figured that it would be an excellent addition to their teachings.
    So the Elders began instructing me.  I was six at the time.  They were surprised about how quickly I learned.  It was as if water was my natural element.  I quickly caught up to Jakku's level of skill, which was fine with him.  He wanted someone that he could spar with, since he surpassed everyone else's ability for his age group.
    So it went for about three years.  Jakku and I played sparred and did chores together.  My abilities soon surpassed Jakku's as I more comfortable with the water than he was, and that my own abilities with changing water temperature, gave me an edge that the Elders couldn't have foreseen.  Jakku still didn't mind, because, as he saw it, or so he told me, that I could teach him things that the elders couldn't.
    Then one day, Burouku had a task that would change our lives forever.
    In our village, there is one large hill.  No buildings were ever built on this hill, and the rest of the land that the village was built on was pretty much flat.  Anyway, on the top of this hill, was a well, and this well was held sacred by everyone who lived in the village.  The well held a spring of water that had magical abilities.  The water has been known to heal ailments, repair grievous wounds and to remove curses.
    (Ranma-chan's head perked up at the sound of the phrase 'remove curses', and Jiro noticed the reaction.)
    Wait a sec, Ranma-san, you don't know everything, yet.
    The special properties of the water came into effect only once a year, and for only a couple of hours.  The collection of the water was always held in a type of ceremony.  Then the water is stored until it is needed.  It's not something that not everyone knows about, because the Elders refused to share the water or its secret with outsiders.
    The day came that the water's special properties came into effect and Burouku wanted her son to retrieve the water and to prove his right as the next head-man of the village.  It was the greatest honour to be had in the village.  But Jakku refused to do the job unless I came along; after all, I was his best friend.  We were both nine then.
    It was early morning when we both headed up the hill, the ceremonial bucket was held between us.  But because it was so early, the morning dew haven't left the grass and it made climbing up difficult, but we made it to the top.
    After we gathered the water, we carefully started our way back down.  Jakku slipped on a wet patch of grass, and down he went.  I was still hanging onto my half of the bucket when he fell and I went down with him, spilling most of the water as we went.
    At the bottom of the side of the hill that we were sliding down, there was a huge boulder.  Jakku cracked his skull open on that damn rock.  He was bleeding to death, Ranma; I had to do something...
    I still had a bit of water in the bottom of the bucket.  I poured some of it onto his head, and the wound closed, as if it had never been.  I poured the rest into his mouth and he woke up.
    I was so pleased with myself.  But when I looked up, the whole village was standing around us, and they didn't look none too happy.  The Elders were closing in on us and Burouku was in tears.
     According to village law, we were to be banished from the village.  It was to be considered a grievous and dishonourable thing to spill or waste the sacred water.  The spill alone wasn't as bad as the fact that I wasted the rest of the water was supposedly on Jakku.
     ("But what was I supposed to do, Ranma-san?  Jakku was my best friend, I couldn't let him die."  That would have been very dishonourable to me.)
     So both Jakku and I was banished.  But the Elders provided a kind of loophole that would allow a return.
     (Jiro sighed.)
     One of us would be allowed to return to the village, provided that either one of us would kill the other.  That would restore our 'honour'.  I couldn't care less, but Jakku had family, position, and a future that was lost to him because I saved his life.  So he swore to take my life.
    I think the whole damn village is full of stupid people."

     Jiro concluded her tale.
     "So in order to return home, he has to kill me.  He's been following me around for more than six years.  We've been best of friends so he knows how I think, and he's good at tracking me -- the traditional way.  He blamed me, Ranma-san," she sighed.  "And he still does. "
     "I'm sorry..." Ranma started
     "Don't be.  They never wanted me in that village and I'd rather jump into the spring of Drowned Rat at Jusenkyou than return."
     "Well, anyway, about six months ago, things changed.  I was starting to get depressed, when I wound up in a trap set up by Jakku.  He convinced those overly superstitious people in that remote village that I was the cause of all the things that went wrong for the past year.  From their only cow dying to the bad harvest.  They tied me to a post and they were gonna burn me at the stake when I was rescued by Ryouga-oniisan."
     "I was wondering about that."
     "So now you know," stated Jiro as she finished packing her backpack.  She checked the straps and pulled it on.
     "Where are you going?" asked Ranma-chan.
     "I dunno...  Maybe I should check for Ryouga-oniisan before I go."
     Jiro stood very still and her eyes went completely blank as she checked her bizarre inner radar.  Ranma shuddered; she wasn't used to this kind of thing.  For all she was concerned, the blond girl appeared to be like a zombie.  The feeling lasted for some time until Jiro shook herself.
     "I think I can 'Track' him now."  She pointed to the West.  "He's that way."
     "So you're going after him?" Ranma asked.
     "Yeah.  Travelling with Oniisan makes it much harder for Jakku to find me.  Besides, I'm the only family that he has when he's on the road."  Jiro's voice went softer.  "And he's the only family I got -- even if it's not official."
     Jiro left then, and Ranma watched until she turned a corner and disappeared.  Then she cursed as she realised that she should have asked Jiro to heat some water for her before she left.
     "So, she's gone..."
     Ranma turned and faced Jakku Mizuno.
     "What did you expect?" she asked.
     "Jiro explained things to you, didn't she?"
     "She did."  Ranma-chan's voice was frigid.
     Jakku sighed.
     "Do you really think that I want to kill my best friend?"
     "I dunno...  Why else are you trying to kill her?"
     "To restore the lost honour to my village and family.  My mother will be crushed if I can never take her place..."
     Tears welled up in his eyes.
     "Saotome-san, my best friend is suffering, and her honour in the eyes of our village is decreasing every time she runs from a fight.  I just want to end it."
     "Setting traps in remote villages isn't exactly honourable," Ranma stated flatly.
     "I know, and I am ashamed of stooping that low.  But she met Hibiki-san there and she's happier now, so that's not entirely a bad thing.  I sorta wish that she would kill me instead, so I wouldn't have to suffer."
     Jakku turned away.
     "I won't ask which way she went.  Good-bye."  With that, Jakku Mizuno walked away.
    Ranma-chan watched until he disappeared.  At least he's not goin' the same way that Jiro went.
    The sun was starting to drop behind the horizon, and Ranma turn towards the Dojo and went home.

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