The old crone's cackle made his spine tingle. "What do you want from me?" he shouted.
"Me?" the old woman played innocent. "What could I want from some youngster like you? I merely want to give. Advice."
"I don't need no advice!" He bounded straight up onto a roof and away across the next buildings. Only when he was clear away from the street, he allowed himself to stop. He didn't know what the bakemono wanted, but he had no interest; He had trouble enough alone.
"EH-he-he-heh!" He jumped, when he heard that distinctive cackle again. He turned on the spot and there she was, eyeing him approvingly. "That's a proper young sportsman, if I ever saw one."
His hair stood on end, partly with fright, but mostly with anger. "I warned you, old crone! Now bear the consequences!" He jumped at her with a leg outstretched - not really trying to hurt, but intent on making her back off. The last thing he saw was her hand swishing forward, before he found himself spinning out of control, down towards to the street.
He was not Nerima's premier martial artist for nothing, and therefore managed to catch himself and land on his feet - but it had been close.
"EH-he-he-heh! That was a sloppy kick, sonny. It hurts to be so underestimated."
Unfortunately, being Nerima's premier martial artist isn't exactly designed to keep your ego in check, so the taunting sent his anger flaring. "I was considerate, since you are such an old wreck. If you insist, I won't hold back anymore."
"Do your worst, youngster," the crone grinned
The derisive tone in her voice was all he needed to hear. This time he left no opening in his jump-kick. It was lightning fast and as precise as a computer-aimed laser. He was pretty astonished, when it hit nothing. Nothing at all. The old crone had vanished.
"That was better. If only you weren't so slow."
The voice in his ear made him seize in shock. The old woman was perched on his back! Like a whirlwind he turned to get her off, but she was gone already, standing beside him and watching bemusedly. Panting, he fixed an angry stare on her. "So it is speed you want? Then get a taste of 'sweet chestnuts'!"
His hands moved faster that the eye could follow. Dozens upon dozens of blows rained down on the old woman in a frenzy. It was only after a few seconds that he noticed that none of them actually connected.
She was parrying! And parrying at an ever increasing speed. Already, she blocked every single punch he threw, and now she began counterattacking - in-between blocks, she would just reach in and slap his cheeks, not hurting his skin, but taunting him ever more. Finally he saw the futility of his attack and backed off, panting. The old woman didn't even sweat.
A weary expression spread over his face. This wasn't going to work out; better let the old troll have her way and get it over with. "All right! I'll listen. Say your thing."
"EH-he-he-he-heh! That's better, sonny. You're a hundred years too early to beat me. Don't be too down, though. One day I'll be really old 'n decrepit and maybe you'll still be young then - and then you'd be able to beat me. If your love doesn't beat the stuffing out of you until then."
Sweat broke out on his head. Better steer this in a different direction. "Well, most of the time my fiancées fight each other - not me." After all, everyone knew about his 'fiancée problem'.
"Heh! Don't play dumb with me, sonny. You may have plenty of girls after you, but only one of them is your love."
That shook him up. Not everyone knew about that. Cautiously he advanced, "So, if you are so knowledgeable, what do you want?"
Before he could react, she was right before his face, pinching his nose. "Don't get uppity with me, boy. I'm serious. When are you gonna tell her, eh? Better make it pretty soon, or it might be too late."
The anger, flaring up again at this remark, lent him speed beyond all imagining. His fist caught even the crone unaware and sent her flying back. He shouted, "Don't you dare threaten..."
"Oh, shut up! I'm not threatening anything. I told you I'd just give advice," said the white-haired woman, rubbing her head, where he had caught her. "You think it'll be like this forever? One day - sooner that you imagine - something will happen and it will make you regret never having told her. Heed my words! You think having a host of fiancées is bad - but imagine having one less. That one."
His heart ached at the very thought, and his breathing became ragged. But still he would not admit that. Not to her. "So what do you know about trouble with too many girls anyway?" he shot back.
He had thought that her cackle was unnerving, but now she erupted in such howling laughter, that he almost pressed his hands to his ears to shut it out. She began dancing wildly around him, poking him every now and then, saying, "I know, I know!" He was almost about to release a full fledged chi attack, when suddenly a mallet out of nowhere smacked the ancient woman and pounded her into the ground.
"Really, is that a way to behave in your old age?" said the newcomer.
He recognized the voice and turned to see his new neighbour, Saotome Akane, her short gray hair slightly dishevelled from the mighty blow she just delivered. He was amazed. He knew that the old lady was pretty tough even for her age, but to take out that formidable crone with just one swing of a gigantic mallet - wow!
Mrs. Saotome's ancient face crinkled into a friendly smile. "I'm really sorry, um, Noukirou, isn't it? I guess you imagined your new neighbourhood to be more peaceful."
Noukirou laughed. "Nah, wherever I've been, it's been crazy - I guess the crazyness moves around with me."
"EH-he-heh!" came the cackle from under the mallet. Slowly it lifted up, and the old crone crawled out. "Don't bet on it, sonny, this place has been crazy for ages."
Mrs. Saotome tapped her foot. "And you've just been playing along, haven't you? What was this all about?"
He was astonished to see the old crone look to the ground sheepishly and mumble, "I was just givin' a little bit o' advice, with his fiancées and stuff..."
"Oh? And all the fighting was just happening accidentally?" said Mrs. Saotome. She sounded just like his grandmother when she chided his father. She turned to him, "I hope you haven't been hurt, Noukirou, and I am really looking forward to meeting you under better circumstances. Say, why don't you visit us at home some day? You know where it is?"
"Oh, yes. The Tendou-Saotome Dojo right down the street from our house, right?" He smiled at the old lady and nodded to the crone, as Mrs. Saotome grabbed her by the pigtail and started dragging her along.
The old crone looked at him and shouted down the street, "You think about what I said, sonny! Just think about it."
He looked after the two women, wondering. Just as they came to a street corner, the crone said, "Stop dragging me, old tomboy," and pulled free. He saw the two link arms, smile, and finally turn the corner. He shook his head. What a strange old woman.
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