This series take place after the events depicted in volume 38
of the Ranma manga but also draws ideas from the anime.
Or was it the other way around? I keep contradicting
myself on this issue for some reason!
The characters of the Ranma 1/2 universe are the creation of
the talented Rumiko Takahashi and are owned by her and
Shogagukan, Kitty and Viz Communications.
I am using them for *sob* NON-PROFIT! So please don't
punish this poor excuse for a writer. :)
The characters that are not a part of Ranma 1/2 canon were
created or adapted by the twisted mind of Vincent Nguyen.
THE SPLITTING: A RANMA 1/2 FANFICTION
CHAPTER IX: CALM BEFORE THE STORM
By Vincent Nguyen
On the edge of infinity right next to the void of nothingness laid a
noncorporeal plane of existence, which existed within all ten levels of the
dimensional framework of reality and was rooted in every time period
simultaneously though at the moment it was located near the end of
eternity. It would be inaccurate to say that this plane had consciousness
but there was a primitive awareness underlying this supposedly impossible
structure. The immense computer Yrydragil detected an incoming portal
signal carrying a goddess and a living mortal. It immediately executed a
program that manipulated time and space to form a breathable atmosphere and
a place to stand.
Cologne opened her eyes and struggled to adjust to the sensation of having
a body again. The trip coming here had seemed timeless and instantaneous
and she knew if she tried too hard to reconcile the concepts she's only
give herself a headache. The memory of where she'd been was already fading
from her mind but she knew the wonder she felt would never leave.
Cindy watched her dispassionately and said, "Don't fight it and don't think
about it. Your mind has no basis in which to comprehend what you saw. Focus
on your surroundings and remind yourself to breathe."
The Amazon elder took another moment to reorient herself then looked
around. The view was breathtaking. The air was crisp and filled with
energy, the sky was a natural hue of blue that she hadn't seen in over a
century, and the grass looked as if it was made to be laid upon.
Superficially, the place looked like nothing more than one of the many
pastures located near her village but it was more *real.* Cologne knew she
was no philosopher or poet and that she would never be able to describe
this anyone fully any more than the man who had discovered an entire world
outside his cave could explain it to his companions who knew only shadows.
But she didn't care because for the first time in a very long time she felt
alive again and free of pain.
Cologne swept her staff around in an arc and said softly, "So this is
Cindy gave an incredulous snort. "You're talking about this dump? It's only
a processing station to get souls where they're supposed to be. Trust me,
you haven't seen anything remotely close to the true afterlife."
"So what is it really like?" Cologne asked. She knew she wasn't here to be
a tourist but she had to know. She could hardly imagine a place more
perfect than this.
Cindy's smile faded and for a second she looked sad. She answered, "I
really don't know. It's one of the disadvantages of being immortal. We'll
never get to see what comes after until the very end of course. Oh, we all
get nice places to live like Valhalla or Mount Olympus but we know deep
down that they'll never match the real thing."
Immortal. That was a word Cologne had long contemplated. Everyone knew the
obvious drawbacks to living forever but who didn't want to live longer than
their meager three score and ten years? Even she, one of the oldest Amazons
of her village, wanted more time but she always knew she would never give
up the chance to meet her maker. She looked upon Cindy in a new way. For
decades she had looked upon gods as spoiled children who could barely
control their own impulses much less their vast powers. There were many
records in every culture of gods who toyed with humans and brought them to
ruin. The village elders often wondered what made these beings act so
horribly at times when they were supposed to do good. Perhaps this was an
inkling of the answer.
"So you can never die? You must always be on the outside looking in?"
"It sounds so grim when you put it that way," Cindy replied. "We can allow
ourselves to die if we wish but few have chosen that path. We were created
to be caretakers of this particular region of the galaxy and it seems
awfully selfish to abandon that responsibility. Someone must maintain the
system and keep it in balance."
This too matched up with the legends she was familiar with but again there
was something that always bothered her. She said, "Forgive me but I have
always been puzzled by one thing. I know that glitches in reality pop up
periodically. There must be a reason for them because it seems absurd that
a Being that can craft a universe would create our world so. shoddily. No
"Interesting that you bring up reality glitches," Cindy began when a
harried looking man ran up to them. Cindy suddenly looked concerned.
"Gabriel, what's wrong?"
"It'd take less time to tell you what's not," he snapped before he forcibly
relaxed. "Forgive me, Khu lon, Cindifer. I must also apologize for the poor
welcome but we are severely understaffed. Limbo has been placed on the
automatic emergency program but I don't know how long that will hold. Souls
are already beginning to back up." He made a gesture and a globe of the
earth appeared in the air. The familiar blue and green was riddled with red
"Reality is breaking down. See these patches? Shoddy makeshift bandages but
it's the best we can do at the moment. The universe has been thrown out of
balance. If this rate of slippage continues, we won't be able to hide the
effects for much longer."
Cindy and Gabriel started a heated argument about the appropriate steps to
take. Cologne listened patiently for a few moments then pounded her staff
against the ground. The two immortals looked at her. She said, "This is all
very fascinating but if I understand you correctly existence could wink out
at any second. I would at least like to know the thing responsible for my
The archangel and the goddess glanced at each other. Finally, Gabriel
replied, "It may surprise you but so would we."
"Listen you jackass. Take the damn offer and be happy already!"
"Oh yeah. Condemning you to a hellish existence will really make my day,"
Ryouga grumbled. "Will you give up this idiotic idea?"
"It's not idiotic-" Ukyou began then slumped in her seat. They had been at
this for hours and neither of them were closer to convincing the other they
were right. She wanted, no, *needed* to do this but how could she ever get
Ryouga to accept that? Surprisingly salvation came in the form of a little
"Master Ryouga," Konastu began. "I gather the impression that you are
afraid that Mistress Ukyou would be trapped with the curse if you were to
transfer it and that is why you wish to have her drop the matter?"
"Damn straight I do," Ryouga replied.
"But that danger would only come about if you were to seek the sorcerer.
After all, the curse has been transferred many times before."
Ryouga protested, "And how we know that the bastard hasn't booby-trapped
the thing to go off at random or every hundred transfers or something?"
Konastu turned to the senior Hibiki. "Master Hibiki, to your knowledge
would the sorcerer do as Ryouga fears?"
The older man hesitated a moment then replied, "I don't believe so. The
preserved records of the first cursed Hibiki say that the sorcerer could
sometimes be cruel but he was never unfair. That was also my impression
when I met him but you must understand that I wasn't really there to talk."
Turning back to Ryouga, Konastu said, "Let us assume of sake of argument
that the possibility you raise is so remote that it does not bear
consideration." Ryouga reluctantly nodded. Konastu turned back to Ryouga's
father. "Sir, how long did it take you to find the sorcerer's lair?"
"About two days from Tokyo by foot."
"What if a Hibiki happened to be on the other side of Japan when he invoked
the transfer? There would be no way for him to reach his destination even
with a week's duration."
"That's not quite true," Mister Hibiki said slowly. "No one knows how it's
done but it has always taken only two days for a Hibiki to find the cave
where the sorcerer is supposed to live. My grandfather theorized that the
curse must have been tweaked in order to give everyone a fair chance of
facing him. Of course since I've been the only one to actually see his face
in generations shows how different our definitions of 'fair' are."
Konastu smiled. "Different or not, this is a definite sign of fairness. He
did not have to help any Hibiki find him or he could easily have made his
location outside of Japan altogether. I believe we have established that
transferring the curse should be safe and that you have plenty of time to
think about your options, so why not take the four or five days of freedom
that you are entitled to have?"
Ryouga looked at him as if he was dim-witted. "Because that still brings
back the main point. If I challenge this guy and I lose, Ukyou may suffer
for it. I want to get rid of this curse but I'm not giving it to her."
Konastu sneered and the effect it had on his effeminate, usually pleasant
face was startling. He leaned forward until his nose was barely an inch
away from Ryouga's and said, "So who would you give it to? Some stranger,
some poor fool who had no idea what he was getting into?"
"Of course not!" Ryouga yelled, shock written over his face.
"Someone you know then? Will you trick Ranma into it? It'd be the perfect
way of getting rid of a hated foe, wouldn't it?"
"Then who? Face it, Ryouga, the only people you can honorably give your
curse are those who understand the consequences and are still willing to do
it." He glanced pointedly at Ukyou.
Anguish then anger then finally resignation appeared on his face. He
glanced at his parents then at his own two hands. He said hollowly, "You
win. I only hope you don't come to regret that." Quietly, almost ghost-
like, he left the table and exited the room. A bellhop quickly followed
Ukyou stared after him with a lump in her throat. It wasn't supposed to be
like this. She knew what she was doing. Ryouga shouldn't waste energy
feeling guilty like this. She was trying to make everyone happy. It'd
figured that like with all her other plans Ryouga would mess this one up.
She noticed Konastu hovering nearby and she turned to him. She said warmly,
"I appreciate what you did for me but I am a little surprised. I thought
you would be on Ryouga's side."
He looked at her with a blank expression and replied, "Normally I would be.
Your plan is impulsive, risky, and dangerous. But I saw how much it meant
Ukyou blinked. "That doesn't quite make sense. If you were so concerned
about my safety-"
"Even so, there was still no logical reason for Ryouga to turn down your
request." Konastu sounded like he was being tortured. "Please do not ask me
to say more. I could not take it." He practically fled the room.
Ukyou stared after him puzzled. She was about to go after him when she felt
a hand on her shoulder. It was Mister Hibiki. He stared down at her with an
unreadable expression and said, "I think we best get prepared."
She was startled. "So soon?"
"Having second thoughts then?"
"No, of course not. It's just. I was surprised, that's all."
He looked knowingly at her then said, "One of the bellboys are taking me
and my wife to the main conference room. Be there in half an hour if you're
Then Ukyou was alone staring into her bowl of soup. She had come full
She slowly walked down the hall looking very carefully around her. She had
to admit she had no idea what she was getting into. She simply could not
imagine how someone could not just know where they were. She understood
feeling lost but to feel that way every second even after someone told you
where you were? That made no sense to her but yet that was apparently what
Ryouga lived with every day. She saw Mrs. Hibiki standing outside the
Ukyou appreciated the concern but she was getting annoyed. She said,
"Let me guess, you want to make sure I really want to do this. It's only
for a week! You people act like I'm dying."
"Do not make light of this. You have seen what the curse has done to
"You mean make him feel lonely and depressed? Make him feel like the
universe's very own whipping boy?" Her voice broke. "I feel like that every
day of my life. I don't need a curse to make me feel like crap. So maybe
it'll be worse than usual. I've lived through other things. And it's not
like I'm going to turn suicidal. Even Ryouga rarely gets severely
Mrs. Hibiki had an expression of sympathy but her tone was still
certain when she replied, "It will be different for you. I speak from
experience. The curse has always affected me worse than my husband."
"I find that hard to believe," Ukyou said remembering Mister Hibiki's
"A person can not really miss what they never had. Oh, they may wish
to be like other people and think their lives would be easier if they just
had that missing quality but they can not truly mourn for lacking it. Do
not mistake me. My Ryu has suffered much in his life and I will not
belittle that but that does not change the fact that a man blind from birth
will never grieve for the loss of sight as much as the man who lost it
through no fault of his own."
The passion in the woman's voice struck Ukyou hard but she refused to
be swayed. "I understand things were tough for you when you were a single
mother with a baby not knowing if your husband was alive or dead. But can't
you see that my situation will be completely different? I mean, you'll be
around if I flip out or something."
Mrs. Hibiki stared at her for a long moment then her face softened
into a sad smile. "If you are sure then I won't stop you. I know I must
sound horrible trying to convince you not to help my son but I have never
held with making anyone happy at the expense of someone else if there was
any other option available."
On an impulse, Ukyou reached out and hugged the older woman hard. She
said, "I don't think you're horrible at all. I think you're a kind person
trying to look out for me. I can't tell you what that means. Thank you."
Ukyou released the stunned woman and stepped into the room. The door
closed behind her leaving her in complete darkness. She immediately fumbled
for a light switch but a hand grabbed hers.
"It's all right. Come with me." It was Ryouga. He led her to a table
and after they sat down he placed her hand on a wrinkled piece of paper,
which had to be the map she thought. A deep, rumbling sound reached her
ears. With a start, she realized it was Mister Hibiki softly chanting. She
had to strain to hear his words and even then she had no idea what he was
saying. It went on for what seemed like an extremely long time and there
was such a rhythmic quality to it she had to catch herself from falling
asleep a few times. It would be awfully embarrassing to zonk out in the
middle of a spell but it was so hard to sit still when nothing appeared to
be happening. If it wasn't for the constant sensation of Ryouga's hand
she'd have thought she was alone.
More time went by and she was beginning to drift off again when her
eyes were hit by searing, pure white light. She was about to yell at the
person who turned on the lights when her head exploded. At least it felt
like it did. Then there was this sucking sensation as if something was
being torn out of her. She suddenly had the overwhelming urge to run and
get away from what was happening to her. She lost her grip on Ryouga as she
stood up and blindly tried to stumble away, but she didn't know where the
door was and she could barely breathe much less think. She felt herself
Ukyou opened her eyes and was surprised to find herself lying on a
bed. She tried to sit up but someone gently pushed her down. It was
Konastu. He asked, "How do you feel?"
In an instant, Ukyou remembered what happened to her and she was
afraid of what she might feel. She braced herself then tried to feel her
inner self. She didn't feel any dumber.
The moment she thought that she was ashamed but it would have been
foolhardy if she hadn't considered that possibility. It was so easy to make
the connection between Ryouga's obtuseness and his direction problems but
that didn't seem to be the case here. In fact, she felt completely normal.
There didn't seem to be anything wrong with her. She didn't know whether to
feel relieved or not. She remembered hearing cases about people with brain
damage who had no idea that anything was the matter with them and that
could be the case here.
She opened her eyes again and sat up intending to ask about how Ryouga
was when a feeling of vertigo passed through her as her mind tried to
process an unfamiliar sensation. Where was she? She shook her head as if
the picture would suddenly make sense. How could she not know? This was
obviously a bedroom but she couldn't tell what kind. This could be her
bedroom for all she knew. But her bedroom didn't have a connecting bathroom
Panic was beginning to rise within her. She was completely unsure of
what should have been a commonplace certainty. Calm down, she thought. She
must be in a hotel room because a hotel was where she was last at. But none
of her senses could confirm her theory. She saw a Bible on the desk, fresh
towels hung near the bathroom sink, and a view of the swimming pool outside
her window, but these images refused to coalesce into certainty. Logic told
her this had to be a hotel bedroom but it didn't *feel* like it. She took
hold of herself. This was what she expected, right? This was disconcerting
but she should look upon it as a unique experience. Still, it had been less
than five minutes and she'd already gained more sympathy for Ryouga than
she had ever felt in the entire time she knew him.
"How long was I out?" she asked trying to sound nonchalant. Konastu
looked at her worriedly as he replied, "Only a few hours. Mister and Mrs.
Hibiki are with Ryouga right now. He wanted to see the town." He paused. "I
wish you could have seen him, miss Ukyou. It was a most encouraging sight."
"I'll see him when he gets back," Ukyou said dismissively. "Right now
I have to wash my face." She headed toward the bathroom and ended up at the
window. Undeterred, she turned around, looked directly at the bathroom,
walked toward it, and ended up facing a wall. Extremely frustrated by now,
she tried to go anywhere *but* the bathroom, but apparently the curse was
not easily fooled.
"What's going on? Even Ryouga can get to a place within his line of
sight!" Ukyou complained with a tinge of panic in her voice. Konastu stared
at her sadly. "Mrs. Hibiki told me this might happen. Ryouga grew up with
the curse and found ways to compensate. You've had it for barely ten
"What's that got to do-" Ukyou trailed off. She remembered the analogy
about the man who lost his sight. Of course he would bump into walls until
he figured out how to get around. She just hadn't thought the so-called
direction sense would be so important to a person who paid close attention
to her surroundings. She hadn't expected that paying attention wouldn't
help her in the slightest. The only thing she could compare this to was the
time she tried on a pair of beer goggles at the all-boys' school she
attended. Walking a straight line was impossible even though the line
"It's just going to take me time to get used to it then," Ukyou said
to reassure herself. "But what about Ryouga? How's he doing? He just gained
a sense. Shouldn't it just be as confusing for him?"
"That is what I thought but apparently, Ryouga hasn't so much gained a
sense as have an existing one unsuppressed. It's weak from being under-
utilized and Ryouga will still have to try harder than most people to get
around but he won't be completely helpless."
Like me, Ukyou thought. She allowed Konastu to lead her to the
bathroom and nodded numbly when he said he'd be waiting outside if she
needed anything. She couldn't understand it. She thought the curse would
merely be an inconvenience, a tangible effect that would keep her from
getting somewhere. She hadn't expected the feelings of emptiness and
uncertainty. She had been so *sure* she was heading toward the bathroom.
She had expected that she'd be nudged in the wrong direction or that her
mind would blank momentarily and she'd end up somewhere else but the entire
time it was just her mind leading her feet. She didn't know why such a
subtle difference scared her so much but it did. If she couldn't depend on
her own mind what other things she had taken for granted might be changed
without her knowing?
Even now, sitting in the bathroom with her knees pressed up again her,
she still couldn't say with absolute certainty that was where she was. Her
mind told her she had to be in a bathroom and she believed it but she
terribly missed that feeling of absolute certainty.
"It's hard to explain," Ukyou said to Konastu as they walked down the
street. "Have you ever walked around your house with your eyes closed when
you were little? You always have that temptation to open your eyes for just
one second to check where you are. Maybe you're sure you're in your
parents' bedroom. The smell of fresh sheets and your own memory tells you
that you probably are, but you still feel that hesitation that won't quite
go away until you *look.*" She looked at Konastu who appeared to be paying
exceptionally close attention to her. "I bet you never imagined that you'd
have to be my seeing-eye dog one day."
Konastu smiled slightly then asked, "So it is not just your sense of
direction that is gone but your sense of location as well?"
Ukyou shrugged. "I have to admit that it makes for a better curse. If
I had simply lost the ability to tell left from right I could still get
around. As it is, I literally can't read a map or understand directions
even when they're given to me in plain Japanese or tell you where we are
with any real certainty. We are still in Japan right?" She smiled to show
she was joking but a large part of her felt it was a valid question.
Konastu must have picked up on her uneasiness because he
uncharacteristically gave her a brief squeeze on the shoulder.
They soon came upon the park. Konastu pointed out the Hibikis and
asked if Ukyou would like to see them. Ukyou replied, "Not yet. I just want
to watch a little first."
The park was certainly busy that day. There were kids everywhere
running, hanging off monkey bars, and just having the times of their lives;
and, the biggest kid and loudest kid of all was Ryouga Hibiki. Where other
teenagers would feel too embarrassed to play games like hide-and-seek or
tag in public, Ryouga played with reckless abandonment and his trademark
determination. He seemed to be filled with limitless energy as he moved in
and out of one group of kids to another with ease and confidence.
The sight of Ryouga living the childhood he never had warmed Ukyou's
heart and caused it to ache a little too. She spotted Mr. and Mrs. Hibiki
sitting on a bench near the playground watching their son with expressions
of pride. She tugged at Konastu's sleeve and asked him if he could lead her
over to them.
"That's something, isn't it?" Ukyou said as she came upon them
smiling. She found herself whirling through the air when Mr. Hibiki picked
her up and swung her around, roaring with laughter.
"It's more than something, child. It's a bleeding miracle!" He set her
down and said in a choked voice, "You should have seen him yesterday. He
ran us ragged taking us to see every tourist attraction in town. He spent
more than three hours finding people who looked lost and helping them find
their way. I don't think he's ever had so much fun in his life."
He made a motion to pick her up again and Ukyou exclaimed, laughing,
"No, stop! I'm going to throw up!" She wiped her eyes and glanced toward
Mrs. Hibiki who was looking back at her. The older woman nodded at her and
said simply, "Thank you for making my son happy."
Ukyou was about to respond when Ryouga ran up to them grinning so
widely it almost looked painful. Ukyou had to admit that Ryouga had never
looked so happy. He looked like he was in a state of constant wonder and
Ukyou had to smile at his enthusiasm.
"Do you know I managed to find the playground, the restrooms, the
fountain, and the trails sixteen times without getting lost once? When I
played soccer I headed for the right goal every time!" There were tears in
his eyes and he waved his hands around trying to express his feelings. He
said, "My brain is full of locations and addresses that I can understand
now. I can tell you ten different ways you can get to the Tendo Dojo from
Ukyou had to smile again. Ryouga's joy was just too infectious. She
asked, "So no disappointments?"
"It's so much better than I ever dreamed. There are no words. You know
how you can wish for something with all your heart and once you get it you
never feel as happy as you thought you would. This is nothing like that.
Ukyou, I don't know how I can ever thank you."
"You could go after the sorcerer and make this permanent," Ukyou
replied without thinking.
A slight frown came over Ryouga's face then vanished. He said, "How
have you been doing? I can't believe I forgot to ask!"
Ukyou waved her hand. "It's not that big a deal. Yeah, I was more
scared than I thought I'd be but I think I can handle it."
Ryouga stared disbelievingly at her. He grabbed Ukyou by the shoulders
and spun her around then said, "Head for those trees then come back."
Her heart felt like it stopped as she said wanly, "Okay, sure." She
kept her gaze on the trees and used every sense she had to ensure she was
moving in a straight line. The trees were barely a dozen feet away but this
felt like the longest journey of her life. She finally made contact with
the nearest tree and upon touching the reassuring trunk she relaxed. She
whirled around to grin triumphantly at Ryouga and saw he wasn't there. She
turned her head left and right hoping she had simply disoriented herself.
The playground and fountain was nowhere to be seen and the long row of
picnic benches seemed to have vanished.
"I couldn't have messed up this badly," Ukyou muttered to herself
before she yelled, "This isn't funny Ryouga! Come out!"
There was no reply. She tried screaming for Konastu and after two more
cries she grew angry and started walking in a random direction hoping to
find the edge of the forest. No such luck. Her anger gradually grew to
panic. What if she had lost Ryouga then compounded her error by getting
even more lost? She should have stayed in one place and waited for help.
Now maybe she wouldn't be found for weeks. Images of her emaciated,
decomposed corpse found five feet away from civilization flashed through
her mind. It was quite possible now.
This was stupid, she thought. She had been lost in the woods before
and this shouldn't have bothered her so much, but she had never felt so
lost before. She couldn't even be sure that she wasn't simply going around
in circles. She had begun marking trees with her spatula and hadn't seen
them again but that simply meant that she couldn't find them again.
Exhaustion finally overtook her and she sagged against a log. She was
a martial artist, damn it! She shouldn't feel like she was about to cry.
Nothing made sense any more. Everything looked familiar yet unfamiliar at
the same time. This was driving her crazy.
"Are you okay?"
Ukyou looked up to see Ryouga staring solemnly at her.
"I hate you," she replied trying to sound sincere but failed. She gave
him a relieved and grateful glance before she picked up her battle spatula
and began beating him with it.
"Why are you always leaving me behind?!" she cried indignantly. After
a few minutes, she sat back down and waited for Ryouga to recover. When he
did so he looked meaningfully at her and said, "You wouldn't have
understood otherwise. The curse isn't that bad if you're with friends and
family but how often are you going to be able to actually see those people?
Most of the time I'm alone for months on end. this was only a small taste
"I don't get it," Ukyou said wiping her face. "I've been alone before.
I've even been lost a couple times."
"And I'm guessing in those cases you had a general idea of how to
retrace your steps or you felt confident you were clever enough to find
your way again. Those strategies won't work any more. You'll only have
blind luck on your side. It's isn't the getting lost that wears you down.
It's that constant feeling of helplessness over something you no longer
have any control over or in my case never had to begin with."
Ukyou sat silently for a moment. "Ryouga, I never knew. Now that I do
you can't expect me just to walk away and leave you like this."
"There's no reason for you to do this," Ryouga said gently.
"Honey, you don't understand. I want to do this. Why do I have to get
anything out of this? Isn't it enough that I want to do something good for
somebody else for once in my life?"
"You can't make me accept this. It's not right."
Ukyou was ready to argue but seeing Ryouga's set face she deflated.
"Just think on it. Promise me that."
"I promise," Ryouga replied looking relieved.
"Do you still have that map that your dad gave you?" Ukyou asked
"Of course. I wouldn't just leave that lying around."
Ukyou looked hard at Ryouga and saw no other way to change his mind.
She said, "I'm sorry, Ryouga."
She didn't reply but instead transferred an enormous amount of ki to
her arms then swung her spatula with all her might. Watching the arc Ryouga
was flying in, she felt a twinge of guilt and wondered how Ryouga's parents
would take this news. He hadn't even gotten to say goodbye to his parents.
But it wasn't like he couldn't find his way back if he really wanted to.
She was just making her point to show Ryouga how serious she was. It was
necessary so he could fix his life. She hoped he would be okay.
Ryouga had nothing to do but think as he reached the peak of his arc
and started to descend. Ukyou had surprised the hell out of him. He had no
idea she wanted him to do this so badly. What was he going to do now? He
really only had two real options. He could go back and yell at Ukyou to
forget her foolishness or else he could go forward. What would he have done
if he was in her place? If Ukyou wasn't a factor would he want to do this?
The answer that came to him was a resounding yes.
His forehead wrinkled in thought. Was it selfish of him to want to go
and to finally put an end to his nightmare of a life? Did the fact that if
he succeeded he would cure his parents as well as himself change anything?
There was no reason to decide now. He had another few days before he was
forced to make a decision and at the very least he should say goodbye to
his parents; but, something in him rebelled. He was not a man who sat
around and twiddled his thumbs when there were decisions to be made.
Granted, his impulsiveness caused him problems but on one could ever say he
didn't go after what he wanted, and he wanted to do this.
He dragged himself out of the crater he had formed upon landing and
dusted himself off. He stared back in the direction in which he came. He
knew he could make it back. It would prove no more difficulty than it would
a normal person. It was that knowledge that cemented his decision. He
turned and headed in the opposite direction, unfolding his precious map as
he did so. He would have liked to have spent a little more time with his
parents, but he would have all the time in the world once he got back.
For the next two days, he enthusiastically used the sun and stars, his
compass, and his now functioning GPS receiver to follow the directions on
his map. He felt like the richest man in the world. Sure, he was dirty and
his rations were running low but he knew where he was going!
It was nightfall when he finally set up camp a half mile away from the
cave where the sorcerer supposedly dwelled. His first inclination had been
to rush in and take his foe off-guard. A few minutes of thought told him
that was probably foolhardy. He most likely lost any advantage of surprise
he had the instant he transferred the curse to Ukyou. The sorcerer must
know he was coming so it was better to be well-rested and prepared. Also,
his father had talked about the challenges he had to face before he could
enter the inner sanctum of the cave. He had been surprisingly reticent on
the subject insisting that the challenges would be different for Ryouga and
there was no point in influencing his decision by either scaring him or
inflating his ego over the difficulty of the challenges.
At dusk, he woke and begun his morning exercises. He tried to clear
his mind but all he could think of was how his mother always told him to be
careful before he set out on any journey. He had always rolled his eyes at
that thinking that had to be the most useless, redundant piece of advice
ever devised but for some reason those words warmed his heart this morning.
He had people to fight for, people who would miss him if he never came
back. He would not lose. It was as simple as that.
There was nothing particularly striking about the cave Ryouga came
upon and he found it hard to believe anyone would live in there.
Nonetheless, he unrolled the map and read the inscription on the back out
loud. He said, "Hear me! Listen to my call Oh Grand and Mighty Sorcerer!"
Gag me, Ryouga thought before he continued, "I am a member of the
Hibiki clan, descendant of the late Aoba Hibiki, your former apprentice. I
have come to do battle to remove the stain on my family name and rid myself
and my clan of the horrible curse that plagues all Hibikis."
"You mean the shame of being a Hibiki? Because to be honest, I always
thought of all of you as a plague upon the people of Japan."
Ryouga tightly gripped his umbrella and refused to be goaded. He
cautiously watched as the dim outline of a man slowly moved toward the
mouth of the cave. There was something disturbingly familiar about him. His
nerves getting the better of him, Ryouga shouted, "Hurry up! I don't have
"You never did have any patience, P-chan," the man said stepping out
into the light.
It was Ranma.
"Ranma, is it really you?" Ryouga asked in shock. It obviously
couldn't be but he couldn't think at the moment. This was the last thing he
Ranma's cocky grin grew wider. "Kami-sama, you really are stupid. No,
I'm not the real Ranma but you're going to wish I was. Unlike him, I really
don't care if I kill you."
This was definitely not Ranma. For one thing he sounded educated.
Ryouga rubbed his chin in thought. The deity or whomever had made him
promise not to attack Ranma but surely, this guy was up for grabs. Ryouga
slowly grinned and asked, "So after I defeat you, I get to enter the cave,
"That's *if* you defeat me, porky," Ranma replied before he vanished
in a red streak of color.
Ryouga barely had time to brace himself from the hundreds of punches
that slammed into him. Ryouga used every skill and method of attack he
knew, both non-lethal and otherwise.
Hours seemed to fly by as inch by inch he lost ground. He expected to start
out losing but he never thought he would lose so badly. He had always been
on an equal footing with Ranma before.
Ranma suddenly backed off and sneered as Ryouga fought for breath. He
said, "Don't you understand yet? You could never beat me in a straight
fight and I held back most of the time. Gods man, I tore Saffron to pieces!
What can you possibly do?"
Ryouga tried not to let the words affect him but he couldn't shield
himself from the truth. Ranma was better than him. The only times he ever
gained an advantage over Ranma that wasn't by magic was the times after he
learned the Breaking Point and Shi shi hadoken and even then those
advantages had only been temporary. It wasn't fair. It wasn't enough that
Ranma got the girls, a home, a family and friends, but he had to be better
at the only thing Ryouga could truly call his own.
He fought for almost two years to defeat Ranma and gain the only goal he
had in his miserable existence and when he had given up on that he once
again found Ranma standing in his way. It was too much. With a battle cry
born of years of frustration and rage he attacked. The tide began to turn
and he pumped more speed and strength into his limbs and fought harder than
he ever had in his life.
He was exhilarated to see the fake Ranma slowing down and making
mistakes. Ranma was backing up too much and was suddenly vulnerable. Ryouga
immediately jumped in for the kill. A flicker of triumph flashed through
Ranma's eyes. Ryouga instantly shifted his momentum just as Ranma shouted,
"Hiryuu Shoten Ha!"
Ryouga hit the dirt just as the tornado formed no more than five feet
away from him, powered by the lingering traces of hot ki still in the air.
With such limited energy, the cyclone quickly died. Ranma stared down at
him with an expression of surprise then he grinned. "That's more like it! I
was afraid this was going to be too easy. Let's try it again."
Ranma became a shadow again. Ryouga's strongest hits met only air. It
was like trying to hit a fly. Damn it, there was no way a copy could be as
good as his greatest foe. It wasn't impossible for him to win how was it he
*never* got to lord over Ranma at least one minor win.
It's because he takes you more seriously than. He had seen Ranma
defeated dozens of times. He could always be defeated at least once by an
enemy in a straight fight. Except by him, of course. Ryogua growled under
his breath. It was long past time for him to get his entitled victory over
Ranma. Was he truly that bad? He couldn't believe it. He had seen Ranma
lose to wimps much weaker than he was, so anyone else, a voice in the back
of his head murmured. Ryouga's eyes widened as he simultaneously blocked
one of Ranma's blows with one hand and launched him away with a palm strike
with the other. Ranma was never sloppy or overconfident when fighting him,
at least compared to his attitude when fighting people like Copycat Ken.
Yeah, Ranma would sometimes treat him like a joke but now Ryouga realized
that there was always tenseness that belied his flippancy. Ranma was afraid
of him! He knew if he ever got his hands on him, he'd be in real trouble.
Something tickled at his brain.
Ryouga punched all ten fingers into the ground. A chain of Breaking
Points erupted from the ground, filling the air with rocks and dust masking
everything. Ryouga then ripped off a dozen bandanas with each hand and
threw them randomly around him. None of his cloth shuriken would hurt him
of course as the ki charged in them would simply be reabsorbed if he was
hit. A grunt of surprise was all he needed to locate Ranma. He slammed into
Ranma at full speed and knocked him to the ground. Ranma's greatest
advantage was his speed and that simply was not a factor on the ground.
Ranma was a great grappler but Ryouga's greatest quality had always been
his strength. Even Ranma respected that.
Even so, Ranma was a hellcat. He wriggled and squirmed and clawed and
pulled a multitude of downright dirty tricks. Ryouga knew Ranma would slip
out of his grip sooner or later and knew he had to take drastic measures.
He removed a switchblade from his boot and placed it against Ranma's
throat. Ranma immediately stilled but he looked upon Ryouga with contempt.
"I never thought you would stoop so low. All that talk about your
honor was just crap, wasn't it?"
"And you're one to lecture me about underhanded tactics, right?"
Ryouga asked harshly. "Tricking me, humiliating me, and let's not forget
cursing me! You're a regular saint, Ranma!"
"For crying out loud, you didn't have to follow me!"
A red haze settled over his eyes and Ryouga said softly, "And you
didn't have to knock me into a spring. You didn't have to interfere every
time I tried to tell Akane I loved her. You didn't have to taunt me and
make me feel like dirt."
Ranma smiled at that and said, "Come on, Ryouga, how could I not laugh
at someone so pathetic? Always crying and whining about the hell you've
been through. Of course the funniest thing of all was that you actually
thought you had a chance with Akane!"
Ranma started to laugh but it quickly died off when Ryouga applied
pressure and broke the surface of the neck with the blade. Ryouga looked
down at blood seeping out of the cut and said tonelessly, "I knew that when
I made my decision to come here that I would most likely end up killing
someone. It's funny but I never thought it would be you."
"Are you sure about that, *buddy?*" Ranma asked mockingly. "If you had
Ranma right here right now, would you really pass up the chance to kill
"Yes," Ryouga replied firmly.
"Not on purpose maybe but no doubt in a real fight at this point you'd
be too full of hatred and pain to care about little things like morals. You
lack self-control, Ryouga, and I think deep down you prefer it that way. If
someone gets hurt or property gets damaged you can blame it on the
berserker in you instead of placing the blame where. it. really. lies."
Ryouga's hand was crushing Ranma's throat and for an instant all he
wanted most in the world was to snuff out the life of his tormenter. He
raised his knife and in one smooth, fluid motion he slammed it into Ranma's
temple, handle first. The pig-tailed boy's eyes flickered with surprise
before they went blank.
After making sure Ranma was truly out, Ryouga collapsed to the ground
and allowed the tears to fall down his face. He would have done it. It
didn't matter that it hadn't really been Ranma. He would have done it.
There were only two other moments in his life when he felt so ashamed. The
first was after he learned the Bakesai Tenkstu. In those moments of
insanity when he was overwhelmed with his newfound invincibility, nothing
would have given him more pleasure than to touch Ranma and watch him
explode in a fountain of bloody pieces.
The second time was even worse and haunted him still. It was the love-
koi fishing rod incident. Ranma had been hit with it by accident and fallen
heads over heels in love with him. Those had been the most terrifying days
of his life when he had realized that Ranma would literally do *anything*
for him. Filled with disgust and loathing he actually planned to kill Ranma
and bury him where he would never be found. At the last moment when he saw
that Ranma was perfectly willing to let Ryouga kill him because it'd make
him *happy,* Ryouga had recoiled in horror.
Was he a monster after all? Did he even deserve to get cured? Nothing
could ever be more painful, frightening, or horrible as the truth. Ryouga
stared at the entrance to the cave no less than a few feet away from him.
This was likely his only chance for salvation and he'd be a fool to leave
it behind. Then again, he'd been a fool for most of his life. He took one
final look at the cave and turned to go. He'd be back someday, somehow.
"Hey, where are you going?"
It was Ranma and Ryouga instantly fell into a defensive position but
Ranma didn't seem to be in the mood to fight. He said, "The cave's that
way. Jeez, I know your sense of direction's lousy most of the time but you
don't even have that excuse right now!"
Ryouga was at a loss for words. He wondered if he should even say
anything when Ranma made an impatient sound then said, "I did not let you
get in that lucky shot just so you can run away and sulk somewhere."
That immediately grabbed Ryouga's attention. "What do you mean 'lucky
shot'? I beat your ass fair and square!"
Ranma smiled condescendingly. "Of course you did. My point is that the
big guy I work for spent quite a bit of time setting up these challenges
for you and it'd be a damn waste if you just walked away. Did you just
forget that if you succeed the curse is lifted from you *and* your entire
Ranma smiled at Ryouga's stupefied and chagrined expression. "So are
you in or not?"
Ryouga stared at the doppelganger. He wasn't thinking about his sins
or even the possibility of curing his family at the moment. He was thinking
of just how much like the real Ranma this copy was at the moment. Ranma was
always the first to forgive and forget. He rarely ever got truly angry for
long and despite the numerous times he attacked him, Ranma would more often
than not greet him with a smile. This strange air of calm and acceptance
was one of the reasons he resented the other boy so. His own shortcomings
were so easily seen when mirrored through Ranma.
He was tired of being lonely and afraid. He wanted peace and stability
in his life. Most of all, he wanted to be the type of person who would not
immediately resort to violence for everything first. Something had to
change. What was that old saying? All journeys begin with a single step.
Ryouga decided he needed to start his.
Akane was staring at him again. He had gobbled through six bowls of ice
cream while she had idly stirred her first bowl watching him. A few weeks
ago, Ranma would have made a fuss and teased her for her obvious concern.
Had he really been so shallow? He looked straight back at her and waited
for her to speak.
Akane stirred her mushy ice cream around a few more times then asked, "What
was it like?"
Ranma shifted his body in surprise. "Don't you know?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. Everything was so confusing. I thought there'd be a
light, you know? But it was just getting dark and cold."
"It was like that for me too." Ranma was quiet for a moment then he said,
"I know this will sound corny, but you saved me, Akane. I heard your voice.
It would have been so easy for me to give up, to go to sleep, but I knew
there were still things I had to do."
He had been speaking quietly to the table the whole time, but now he looked
up and was surprised once again. Akane had never looked so. vulnerable.
Tears glistened in her eyes and he didn't know why. He started again.
"Akane, I know that we haven't always gotten along and we're both stubborn
mules, but I want you to know that I wouldn't have traded the last year
with you for anything. I want you to know."
Why was this so difficult? He tried again. "There aren't the best of
circumstances, but I lo-"
With a speed he didn't know she possessed, Akane pressed a hand over his
mouth. She whispered, "It's okay, Ranma. I understand."
For a moment, Ranma was elated but that hope crashed with Akane's next
"I know how events like this can make you say things you don't mean. I
don't want you to say things that you'll regret later." She didn't look at
Ranma wanted to protest and tell her in no uncertain terms how he felt, but
looking at her face he knew that she wouldn't believe him. And why should
she? How many times had he complimented her or shown her some sign of
caring only to take it back an instant later? Why should she believe him
when only months before he denied ever saying he loved her?
What excuse would he make tomorrow? He just came back from the dead and had
been split in half only weeks before. Who could say that he would be so
comfortable with his feelings once all this had settled in? Oh God, what
kind of lout was he?
Wordlessly, he dropped some bills on the table and he and Akane left the
A few blocks later, Akane asked quietly, "Back in the hospital, something
was bothering you. You said you'd tell me what it was. I want to help."
Ranma was silent for a few more blocks. Then he replied, "I was afraid I
was wasting my life. Every day, I sleep through class, fight somebody, and
freeload off my fiancées. Is that all I am? Is that what I'm doing with the
skills I'm always bragging about?"
"It's funny. The other Ranma said pretty much the same thing," Akane said.
"She wondered if she did more harm than good in her life."
"And what did you tell her?"
"That she was a good person and that it's never too late to change," Akane
Ranma shook his head. "Even after everything that's happened to me, I still
can't make myself want to be cursed again. Does that make me a bad person?"
Akane reached out and grabbed his hand. She squeezed it lightly. "No. I can
understand wanting to be normal."
Ranma chuckled. "I never wanted to be normal. Or at least the kind that
everyone thinks is so great. But I don't want to be a freak either."
The two walked on for a while before Ranma announced, "I'll make it up to
her. I'll make it up to all of them." He turned to Akane and there was
determination in his eyes. "I want to do something that matters, Akane. I
want to do something good." He paused then continued, "I think I might have
to leave Nerima for a while."
"And go where?" Akane asked with a twinge of concern in her voice.
Ranma smiled. "I just need some time to think. A training trip would do me
some good." His voice cracked slightly as he asked, "Would you like to come
"I have to go."
Ranma watched the girl walk away from him and he sighed. Why couldn't it
ever be easy?
Gabriel waved a hand a panoramic view of the universe appeared around
the trio. Stars could be seen above and beneath. Cologne found it
disconcerting to appear to be standing on nothing so she focused her
attention on one specific area and involuntarily gasped. It was almost
impossible to see but superimposed over the background of stars was a
jagged tear in space. But it wasn't so much its appearance as it was the
sheer number of them that shocked her. Everywhere she looked she could see
the handiwork of a being or beings that appeared to have grabbed immense
sections of space and simply obliterated them. And more holes were
appearing every second.
"Black holes?" Cologne asked uncertainly. Her knowledge of modern
physics were sketchy at best (she left such matters to the more youthful
elders) but she could tell these were not a natural phenomenon. Gabriel
confirmed that assessment by saying, "They're not black holes, white holes,
worm holes, or anything at all for that matter. It's *nothing.* No quantum
activity or vibrations that we've come to associate with normal space.
There's literally *nothing* there."
Cologne felt a brief flicker of amusement at the thought that the
archangel of Christianity was something of a physicist but she quickly
sobered. She said, "I appreciate the magnitude of this problem but I must
ask how is this related to the situation in Hell and how will this affect
Cindy said, "There is something you must understand first. You asked
me earlier why we were necessary at all and why God couldn't create an
error-free universe. You share an erroneous assumption that most of your
race has. You assume that the Creator exists on the outside of the box
rather than in it with us. He, anthropomorphically speaking of course, is
not perfect and is subject to the same rules and laws as everyone else who
lives here. You might ask who created those rules in the first place but
that's neither here nor now."
Cindy smiled self-consciously. "And as you can see from our meager
powers, those rules aren't quite as binding as one would think. There are
loopholes to everything which I believe your Amazon society discovered long
ago. Here's my point. God is a force of nature, perhaps the ultimate force,
but like any force there must be an opposite. Life and Death. Good and
Evil. Creation and Destruction. Order and-"
"Chaos," Cologne finished softly.
Cindy nodded then continued, "God is really a term for one who
organizes and sets structures. Now, normally God and Entropy get along
pretty well and balance each other out. The universe basically runs itself
and maintains equilibrium. They system worked pretty well for billions of
years until you came along. And by you, I mean intelligent life."
Gabriel made an inquiring gesture and said, "May I proceed?"
Cindy nodded and Gabriel looked down at Cologne. "The Lord had always
planned for the creation of intelligent force but even He was unprepared by
how much havoc you wreaked on reality just by existing and observing. The
effects were supposed to be minimal but it turned out that the sixth
universal force, magic, the one so weak that your scientists have not even
noticed its effects yet, had a bigger sway than was thought possible. It
multiplied tenfold all of your collective and chaotic actions."
Cologne grinned. "Well, it's been said that free will's a bitch. I
find it interesting that Cindy thinks of God as a natural force while you
talk of him as a person."
Gabriel shrugged. "It's the way I was created. And who's to say we're
not both right? I said before that magic had a bigger sway on Earth than it
was supposed to have. One of the more interesting effects was us. A
hierarchy of gods, angels, and every other supernatural being you could
name was created out of the ether to either serve you or make your lives
"We've grown alongside you for eons and I admit that we've made mistakes
but what can you expect? We were just more powerful and pettier versions of
you; but, most of us have never stopped trying to protect you." He sighed.
"Well, it's been an interesting life. I was hoping that I would one day see
both our societies finally grow up. I always figured the end of the
universe would be gentle as the stars ran down but I guess I was wrong."
"Don't think like that," Cindy admonished. "We haven't gotten any sign
that this is an official End of Everything. And until we do we will keep on
working until what will happen happens, but there is a more immediate
threat here. As Ned said, our forces are stretched to the breaking point
and these reality dysfunctions are occurring with more frequency. We will
need the help of humans like yourself to keep Earth from destroying itself
in a fit of panic."
"When will the next dysfunction occur?" Cologne asked worriedly.
Cindy paused for a second then replied, "You do understand that while
you have only spent a few hours here a few days have already passed on
Cologne nodded. It was about what she expected after all the tales
she'd heard as a youth.
Cindy said, "I just want you to understand that even if we were to
leave right this instant it'd be too late."
"What will be?" Cologne asked impatiently to mask the chill in her
Cindy's eyes were sympathetic. "A reality quake just hit the Eastern
Ranma(C) kicked a pebble as hard as she could. She barely noticed when
it went through the windows of three parked cars in succession. She was
confused and that was normal in a relationship with Akane where conflicting
feelings often rued the day but it was much worse nowadays. Odd feelings
had been stirred within her watching all the attention Ranma and Akane gave
each other or the looks they gave when the other wasn't looking. Her mind
finally acknowledged her feelings as jealously but it was tempered with the
knowledge that she couldn't do anything about it in her current form.
This must be how Ryouga feels, Ranma(C) thought despondently. Helpless
to do anything as the person you love is focused on someone else. It was so
easy, she found, to reveal feelings to herself about Akane when there were
no consequences to fear. She was so deep in her ponderings she completely
missed the warning tingle of her danger sense.
"Watch out!" Someone shouted before slamming into her. They skidded
across the street. Ranma(C) pushed the body off her and looked to where a
red Toyota had skidded to a halt to right where she had been standing.
"Thanks a lot. Kuno!" She looked in shock as her savior stumbled to
his feet and struck an arrogant pose. "Yes. I, Tatewaki Kuno, could not
stand by and watch my Pig-tailed Goddess be decimated by that metal
Ranma(C) was amused. She doubted that being hit by a car would have
done more than faze her. Of course Kuno wouldn't know that. He had rescued
her like a true martial artist would have and that impressed her.
Uh oh. The kendoist was getting that gleam in his eye that showed he
was going to do something stupid, but just then, a stout, gruff-looking man
stepped out of his car and growled, "What kind of idiotic bimbo walks
through a busy street like that? I should have run you over."
"Foul fiend!" Kuno cried in outrage. He whipped out his bokken and
shoved it into the man's face. "Have you no humanity in you? You could have
killed this lady and now you insult her? Apologize at once!"
"And what if I don't? Are you going to hit me with your toy sword?"
the man mocked.
Kuno casually took his wooden sword and sliced off the top of a nearby
The man's face turned white and the cigar he had been puffing fell out
of his mouth. He began backing up babbling, "You know what, it was my
fault. I am very sorry." He ran into his car and drove off like the demons
of Hell were after him."
"He must not be from around here," Ranma(C) commented. She didn't feel
any sympathy for the rude, abrasive fellow. She would have apologized if he
had been politer since she really should have watched where she was going.
Then she saw Kuno was still standing there. "Uh, thanks for the help." She
couldn't believe she was thanking Kuno for something! "I guess I'll see you
"I insist on walking you safely to your destination. I will brook no
Well, he did get rid of that jerk for her, Ranma(C) thought. She
guessed she could tolerate his presence for a little while longer. Since
she hadn't really been going anywhere she started walking in a random
"Shouldn't you be in the new school?" Ranma(C) asked curiously.
Kuno shrugged. "And I would be except that foul sorcerer Saotome was
missing. I rushed to stop him from unleashing his magicks on some
unsuspecting woman! It was only my luck I happened upon you before he did
and could do some heinous deed to you."
Ranma(C) blinked. "Uh, that's great and all but you really didn't have
"Of course I did! I would do anything to protect my loves!"
Staring at Kuno, she could readily believe that he would die for her
if she but commanded it. Guilt washed over Ranma(C). It was true Kuno was
too dense to accept the truth but it was also true that she never hesitated
to take advantage of him whenever she got the chance. He was a decent guy
despite his perverted ways and she had wronged him.
Your problems won't go away if you ignore them, Ranma(C) thought.
Didn't she have more courage than that? He had just performed a heroic act.
Didn't she owe him something? She took a breath and said, "Kuno, listen to
me for a moment."
"Yes, my love?" Kuno replied, his eyes shining.
Ranma(C) sighed. She certainly had her work cut out for her. "I've
been trying to knock some sense into that thick skull of yours for over a
year but I guess that hasn't worked. There's no easy way to say this.
Actually, yes there is. I don't feel the same way about you that you do
about me. And just to prevent any misunderstandings let me repeat that I
never have and never will have any kind of romantic feelings or thoughts
toward you. Have I made myself clear?"
Kuno's eyes were filled with shock and horror as he exclaimed, "You
can't mean that! Saotome must have cast a spell upon you to force you to
deny your true feelings."
Ranma(C) felt like a heel but she was also annoyed. "Is it so hard to
believe that simply chasing after someone doesn't make them love you?" Was
it so hard for anyone she knew to believe that? "You don't even know my
name yet you claim me like I was some type of prize! Chasing me makes you
no better than a thug." Her voice rose higher. "So what will it be,
Tatewaki Kuno? Will you accept that we might possibly be friends but never
any more than that? Or will you be a stalker, a dishonorable bastard who
gets his thrills out of terrorizing young women?"
Kuno was shaking his head as if trying to force her words out of his
head. He said, "No! I refuse to believe this! Can you not see that this is
not your will? Even if you do not, I see the truth." He reached for her
with desperation upon his face.
Ranma(C) grabbed his wrist and stared at him coldly. She had wanted to
be nice about this but a line had been crossed and one way or another she
would get through to him. She said harshly, "So it is you who defines
reality, is it, sempai? Then I suppose if you were to rape me right now
would you write off my cries as another part of the *spell?* And what about
the future? Will you take what you need even if a woman rejects you because
she obviously 'wants' it? Will you believe that you are saving her because
you know better than she about what she wants? What woman would be safe
from you then, Kuno? Tell me that."
Kuno's eyes were wide and he stared at her as if she was a serpent. He
stuttered, "You can. can not honestly believe I would *ever* do such a
Ranma(C) remembered the wishing sword incident where Kuno could have
wished her to be his love slave but he didn't. The thought apparently never
even crossed his mind. It had definitely crossed hers. She wished every
night that she could be a normal boy who didn't have to worry about things
like being taken advantage of or getting pregnant. But she did have to
worry about such things and she was all too painfully aware of the few
times when her life could have changed forever. Now, she would have to live
with those worries forever.
Her vision blurred and she had to take a deep breath to steady
herself. She said slowly, "No, you wouldn't. Not on purpose, but what will
happen if you keep living in denial? What happens when one woman too many
rejects you and your mind snaps in the heat of the moment? Will you be able
to live with yourself afterward?"
Kuno was trembling now and his face was an ashy gray. His eyes were
filled with despair and his mouth opened and closed soundlessly. Ranma(C)
didn't think he would look more pained if she had stabbed him. Kuno finally
looked into her eyes and said, "I. can't. I am so sorry. I need some time."
Ranma(C) released her grip and watched Kuno slowly stumble away from
her. Part of her felt bad that she had to be so blunt with the guy but
another part felt relieved that she had finally gotten Kuno to see that
what he was doing was wrong. She hoped he would be okay.
Kuno ran. He didn't know where he was going and he didn't care. He ignored
the burning in his legs. He had worse. He deserved worse. No bodily pain
could match the agony in his heart. His tears distorted the world around
him causing him to stumble from time to time. It seemed appropriate. After
all, his world had been distorted for the last two years.
He should have been strong enough to see the truth for himself. He
shouldn't have had to see the pity and disgust in his love's eyes. Kuno
snorted to himself. Love? What did he know of love? He was a fool and an
idiot. He finally noticed the people on the streets staring at him and
trying to get out of his way.
He felt like laughing. They were right to be afraid of him. He was a freak
and a danger to others. He needed to get away from their accusing eyes. Her
accusing eyes. He turned and ran down a hill that was off to his right. He
ran until he could run no more then he sagged against a wall, breathing
He closed his eyes and tried to think. There was no way he could handle
this alone. He needed someone to talk to. It was unfortunate that his
family was insane and that he had no real friends to speak to. There was
only one option left then. He looked up and was surprised to see a train
ticket counter. Perhaps the gods had not completely forsaken him.
He walked unsteadily toward the counter and said, "One ticket to Jubaan,
The ride was uneventful and by the time the train had stopped at his
destination, Kuno had regained some of his composure. He was still desolate
but he no longer felt overcome with grief. He took a minute to take his
bearings then headed in the direction of the household of Nodoka Saotome.
When he came within a block of the Saotome home, his pace slowed to a
crawl. Was this a good idea? How could he show the woman who humiliated him
so easily how the mighty Kuno had fallen? How could he crawl back to her
and confirm her worst opinions of him?
Then his shoulders drooped. It was this type of blind, unthinking pride
that had caused him to end up here in the first place. He straightened his
posture and entered through the gates.
Ranma(C) checked her new stylish watch. It was only 10:15 so the lunch
rush shouldn't have started yet and she should be able to get some answers.
She walked toward the Nekohaten, deep in thought. It occurred to her that
being a separate entity from the male Ranma she would have more influence
with the people she knew. She wondered why she cared so much about the
people who caused so much chaos in her life. Maybe because in some ways it
was her fault their lives were the way they were. Or maybe it was just
because it was nice having people actually listen to what she thought
instead of blindly attacking or glomping her on sight. But she still needed
to get her own life together before she could help anyone else and so she
needed the one person who might possibly understand where she was coming
She entered the restaurant and looked around. There weren't many
people around but she couldn't find the person she was looking for. She had
just decided to go check the back when a wave of vertigo ran through her
and she clutched her stomach in agony. Then just as suddenly the pain
vanished. She stood up wondering what just happened when a voice broke her
"Airen?" A hopeful voice out of the kitchen asked. Shampoo bounded out
and looked crestfallen when she saw Ranma(C). "Oh, only girl-type Ranma."
Girl-type Ranma wasn't sure how to respond to this. But her confusion
was quickly replaced with concern as she looked at Shampoo. The purple-
haired Amazon just wasn't the cheerful, bubbly girl she usually was.
"Shampoo, what's wrong?"
Shampoo gave her a wary look then evidently decided it didn't matter
what she said. She said, "Shampoo so sure when Ranma get cured he come take
Shampoo on date to celebrate. He not even come see me."
"I'm sure he had other things on his mind," Ranma(C) said lamely.
Shampoo shook her head. "Shampoo bad person. That why Ranma no see. He
no like me," she said sadly.
"That's not true," Ranma(C) said sincerely. "You're his friend but you
can understand why he'd be uncomfortable around you. You know, the magic
potions and all. But I wouldn't call you a bad person. Overenthusiastic,
yeah! I mean, you could have tried to kill me by now." Then it occurred to
her that it might not have been a smart thing to bring up the Kiss of Death
and she subtly shifted her body into a defensive stance.
Shampoo waved her hand. "You my friend. Shampoo not kill. But it no
matter. Shampoo be dishonored anyway if not bring Airen home."
Ranma(C) said gently, "You know Ranma doesn't care about your laws-"
"Shampoo care!" the Chinese girl cried. "Shampoo be punished. First
time Jusenkyo. Second time don't know what!"
This rocked Ranma(C). She had never thought of that. Those stupid
village laws had always been an abstract annoyance to her, but they were
all too real to the girl in front of her. She said, "I can't believe that a
place with such great martial arts could have such dumb laws."
Shampoo's eyes flashed and she said angrily "How you call stupid? You
no know what you talk about. Do you know history of village? No! How can
you talk so then?"
Ranma(C) replied, "I don't have to know much to know when something is
"Well, I guess Japan perfect then. No stupid laws worry about,"
Shampoo said sarcastically.
Ranma(C) immediately thought of the burakumin, people who were
considered unclean and ostracized by others simply because some ancestor of
theirs had a bad job, and decided not to argue the point. Then she asked,
"If I could find a way to get you out of marrying Ranma and allow you to
keep your honor, would you do it?" She immediately cringed expecting
another sarcastic retort along the lines of asking where this generous
offer was six months ago or just an outright refusal.
Shampoo surprised her by looking like she was actually thinking about
it before she pounded the table with her fist and cried, "Shampoo not
stupid. Know Ranma no love but Airen such strong warrior. Kind and brave.
Shampoo not want give up."
"Doesn't a warrior have the right to choose his own life? Hasn't he
earned that right?" Ranma(C) asked. When Shampoo started to look uncertain,
she pressed on, "You're going to lose him completely if you keep pushing."
Shampoo sat silently for a very long moment then she lifted her chin
and said softly, "Ranma never talk so much before."
Ranma(C) was taken back by this sudden shift in subject and replied
without thinking, "No one ever let me talk before."
Shampoo smiled at this and said, "Shampoo know how you feel." Her brow
furrowed and she said with deliberate concentration, "I want to thank you
for talking to me. It means a lot."
"Any time, Xian Pu," Ranma(C) replied just as deliberately, "Any
time." She turned to leave when another round of queasiness hit her and she
felt everything fracture.
The Nekohaten wasn't really a big place but she couldn't find the long-
haired duck boy anywhere. She turned to leave and bumped into him. Mousse
smiled down at her and said, "I believe you were looking for me."
Ranma(C) eyed him warily. "I half-expected you to attack me just for
Mouse shrugged. "I have no problem with you and I saw what you did
with Shampoo back there. She hasn't looked so relaxed in a long time. But I
am wondering why you are here."
What was he talking about? She just got here and she hadn't seen
Shampoo in weeks. Whatever. Mousse was probably mistaking things again. She
opened her mouth to tell him why she was here but then she hesitated. Her
newfound ability to talk things out was all well and good but she couldn't
get over a decade-long habit of concealing her feelings, especially when
they concerned herself and her feelings for a certain tomboy. She opened
her mouth to mumble some excuse for leaving when Mousse raised a hand to
"Let me guess. You are confused about your newly admitted feelings for
Akane Tendo and you wish to seek my advice because out of everyone you know
I might actually be able to help you because I fully understand what it's
like to love somebody who's in love with someone else."
"How do you know that?" Ranma(C) asked flabbergasted.
Mousse snorted then replied, "After living in Nerima for so long I'd
be a fool if I didn't realize what the implications of you being split
Ranma(C) crossed her arms, displeased at his arrogance. "What makes
you the sudden expert on me and Akane?"
"Oh, please. Everyone in Nerima except you two knows how you feel
about each other." Mousse ignored Ranma(C)'s sudden crash to the floor and
continued, "I have long ago realized that attacking you wouldn't help me,
so I've tried to get you and Akane together. I'm happy that you've finally
admitted the truth to yourself. Unfortunately, now that a break-through has
occurred I have no words to wisdom to offer."
"It's because I'm a girl, isn't it?" Ranma(C) asked disgruntled.
"I suppose that means you're going to give up then?" Mousse asked
stabbing a finger at her. "This may just be the opinion of a blind man but
I believe a person is defined by their memories and experiences and not
just by what they look like."
"Easy for you to say. There's only one of you," Ranma(C) muttered.
"You know as well as I do that even if what you say were true Akane would
go after the male Ranma."
"Really? That's a rather large lack of faith on your part. But if
that's true so be it. Have you considered what Akane wants? That should be
more important than your own desires, Saotome."
Ranma(C) was getting annoyed at the way Mousse was lecturing her.
"This from a guy who spent almost thirteen years chasing after a girl who
enjoys beating the crap out of him."
Ranma(C) braced herself for an act of rage but what she got instead
was a despair so deep she actually flinched. Mousse said visibly
restraining himself, "What you say is true but it doesn't matter to me. I
love Shampoo with all my heart and soul. She really is a good person and
even if she never considers me as more than an irritating friend, I will
still do my best to make sure her life goes better than mine has."
The pig-tailed girl looked at the Chinese acrobat with something akin
to respect. She said, "I'm sorry, Mousse. I didn't mean to insult you. But
now I think you're the one giving up too easily. How do you know Shampoo
doesn't like you?"
Mousse's shoulders drooped as he replied tiredly, "Don't mock me,
Saotome. Shampoo scorns me whenever I proclaim my love."
Ranma(C) snapped, "Maybe it's because you're always sprouting your
love or glomping on her! I can tell you from personal experience that's
really annoying! A real friend would be just that. He'd treat her as a
person and give her some space!"
Mousse was silent. Finally, he said, "That will require some thought."
"Yeah, whatever," Ranma(C) replied. She turned to leave then fell to
her knees when what felt like Ryouga's fist impacted her stomach.
Ranma(C) found Mousse in his room sitting at his desk. He was staring
thoughtfully at an envelope in front of him. He looked up as she entered.
"Hello, Saotome. Did you want something else?" Then he directed his
attention back to his desk.
Ranma(C) frowned. What could be more interesting than her? And what
did he mean by 'something else'? She just got here! She shrugged it off
then asked, "What ya got there?"
"A letter from my master," Mousse mumbled. "Something serious has
happened. Look at the stamp."
She did so and a saw a picture of a shoreline and an ocean with cruise
ships sailing in the far background. She said, "It's a beach. It's a nice
looking beach but so what?"
"It is a beautiful beach and I'm sure the Americans thought so too."
He handed her a magnifying glass. She peered through the glass and saw that
what she thought were cruise ships were actually naval carriers. A focus to
the right made her eyes widen. "I had no idea they made 44 cent stamps."
She handed the glass back and said, "So we have D-day at Normandy. Is
your master always so cheerful?"
Mousse looked a bit surprised at her certainty as he said, "Sometimes
he likes to test my skills in subterfuge but this time he has me stumped. I
surmised as you did that this was the beach in Germany right before all
hell broke loose. The message is obvious but what I don't understand is the
nature of the threat."
"Why don't you try opening the envelope to find out?" she asked.
Mousse looked reproachful at this prospect but he silently passed the
envelope to her. She quickly tore it open and pulled out a sheaf of papers.
Her face fell as she spread them out. Every single page was blank.
"Invisible ink maybe?" she thought out loud as she held a sheet up to
the light to see if she could see anything.
Mousse smirked. "Don't be so obvious. He wants you to waste your
energy on the paper." He sighed. "Normally I would relish this game but I'm
getting a bad feeling about all this." He grabbed the envelope and reached
inside with a look of intense concentration. He pulled out a sheaf of
"But there was nothing in there!" Ranma(C) protested.
"Hidden Weapons. Not just for chains and swords," Mousse murmured as
he skimmed through the pages.
"Yeah, whatever," Ranma(C) replied deciding as long as this didn't
directly impact her she wasn't going to get involved. She said, "I don't
mean to sound rude but what I really wanted to talk about was. um. well."
"Your newly admitted feelings for Akane Tendo, yes, yes," Mousse said
impatiently as he turned a page. "We talked about this less than five
minutes ago and you still can't even say it out loud."
Ranma(C) stared at him in confusion. "Five minutes ago? What the hell
are you talking about? I just got here like a minute ago and I don't
remember talking about this!"
"Saotome, have you gotten hit in the head more than usual lately?"
Mousse asked with his eyes still running up and down the pages. "Because
you're making even less sense than usual."
His face lost all color and he muttered, "This is impossible. How
could this have happened?"
"What happened?" Ranma(C) demanded. "What's going on?"
Mousse ignored her and yelled, "Shampoo! Get in here!"
Shampoo stuck her head in the doorway with an irritated expression on
her face. "What stupid Mousse want?"
"I need the Orb of Gondola. Don't argue with me. Get it!"
Complete shock was now written upon Shampoo's face but she didn't
argue. As she disappeared, Ranma(C) asked, "What the heck's going on?
What's this orb thingie?"
"Be patient, Saotome!" Mousse said tensely as he frantically flipped
the pages in his hand.
Shampoo came back with a glowing glass globe in one hand and a
pedestal in the other. She set it down carefully then asked, "What Mousse
need for? Great grandmother say only use in emergency."
"And that's exactly what this is," Mousse said to her. He turned to
Ranma(C). "This Orb allows a person to see things that are hidden to them.
Watch." He jammed the orb into the pedestal then twisted it three times to
the right then once to the left.
Nothing happened. Ranma(C) was annoyed. She said angrily, "Mousse,
tell me what's going on!" She moved to shake the answers out of the duck-
boy, but before she could take a step she collapsed to the ground.
Soun Tendo rubbed his eyes and decided that he had filled out enough
paperwork for the day. The joys of bureaucracy, indeed! Looking over the
proposals to rebuild the school, planning the logistics of where to bus
Furinkan's student population for the time being, and dealing with the
mindless babble of every group and organization that wanted their interests
put first was beginning to drive him mad.
He smiled ruefully. He had certainly felt honored when the town council
made him the head of the committee to handle this crisis and the citizens
seemed to approve of his appointment. He also knew that his position had
been given to him for three simple reasons. One, he had the most experience
dealing with random destruction and mayhem. Two, these people were drawing
on the lingering memories of when he had been a beloved community leader
and not the wreck of a man he was now. And third, he had volunteered.
The smile faded from his lips. He didn't know what came over him that
night. The council looked so lost and his friends and neighbors so worried
that he found himself reassuring everyone that everything would be okay and
that he would help ensure that the people of this community remained safe.
He still didn't know what made him do so.
Perhaps a man could only take so much before he was moved to action. His
daughter had almost died twice within the last few months and so had his
future son-in-law. Whatever motivated him caused him to feel alive again
for the first time in years and it had also driven home how far he had
fallen. Before he had gone to the meeting, he had heard his daughter crying
in her room and hesitated only a moment before passing on.
What kind of father did that? The question gnawed away at him. When was the
last time he had a meaningful conversation with his daughters or even
hugged them? Was he that self-absorbed? Did he really not care?
No, the problem was that he cared too much. He knew he was not a strong man
and without his dear Kimiko he was a coward. He was afraid to face his own
children and knew he could not give them what they needed so by default it
was left to Kasumi to bear the burden. Shame threatened to overwhelm him.
She knew his daughters better than he did. He wondered if things could have
He didn't remembered walking but he found himself outside Akane's door. He
knocked and said, "It's me."
There was silence and he began to wonder if she was in there at all when
Akane opened the door. Her eyes were puffy and her face red. She said, "If
you're looking for Mister Saotome or Kasumi I don't know where they are."
Those words broke his heart. Had he become that much of a stranger to her?
He cleared his throat. "No Akane, I wanted to talk to you."
There was no reply. Soun gathered his courage and entered the room. Akane
glared at him with a sullen expression.
Soun asked, "Would you like to tell me what's wrong?
Akane snorted. "What isn't? I don't know if I want to tell you. What's the
matter? You didn't have anything better to do?"
Soun was shocked. "Akane, I want to help you."
Akane looked angry. "Where were you when I ran away to Ryuzenyana? When
were you ever going to really explain why you blackmailed me into marrying
Ranma? Why does it take me landing in the hospital for you to talk to me?
Where were you for the last twelve fucking years?!"
Without any conscious thought, he was across the room, enveloping the girl
in his arms. She raged and sobbed and tried to push him away, but Soun held
firm. He allowed her anger and pain to wash over him and strengthen his
resolve. Akane finally ran down and they sat there with him gently rocking
her back and forth.
Finally, Akane said, "Ranma almost told me he loved me today." She paused
obviously waiting for a reaction. When Soun said nothing, she continued, "I
stopped him. I gave him a way to back down. I was afraid of what would
happen if he didn't stop. I was afraid that he would take it back again. I
couldn't take that again."
She turned her head away. "I saw the look in his eyes and I imagined it
fading one day. I couldn't take it if something I did caused that. I'd
rather Ukyou or Shampoo get him than have him hate me someday. And it would
happen. Something would set me off or maybe there'd be no reason at all.
Daddy, what's wrong with me? Why can't I control my anger? Why am I always
Akane's anger ha always been her greatest problem, but it never occurred to
him that Akane herself knew that. Where Nabiki had become emotionless and
Kasumi had in her own way retreated from the world Akane had done the
opposite. She screamed out at an unjust universe and never stopped
He should have been there for her, but this was not the time for self-
recriminations. He said softly, "I'm sorry I was never there for you. I'm
sorry you suffered so. I'm sorry I only made your life more difficult. All
I ever wanted for you and your sisters was for all of you to be happy.
Honey, if it helps, I don't think Ranma would ever leave you."
Akane stared at him. "You can't be sure of that."
"No, I can't but please consider this. Ranma might pick another fiancée or
he might even choose to leave forever and that will hurt but wouldn't it
hurt worse not to try at all? There is nothing worse in life than those
regrets of what might have been."
"No, there isn't," Akane agreed and by the look in her eyes Soun knew she
was thinking about her mother. He could tell because he did it all the
"Anybody get the number of that truck that hit me?" Ranma(C) groaned.
Shampoo stood over head with a wet cloth in hand.
"Are you alright, Saotome?" Mousse asked actually sounding concerned.
"Try having a bunch of memories slam into you then ask that again."
"Never mind. What the hell's going on? What did that orb thingie do?"
Mousse's voice was tense. "Look around and see for yourself."
Ranma(C) opened her eyes and stared in awe. She could see the outlines of
ki surrounding the bodies of Shampoo and Mousse and that wasn't all. There
was a faint shimmering that pervaded their auras. She realized that it was
the curses. She quickly looked down at herself. She seemed to be made
entirely out of the shimmering. She looked like a billboard for Jusenkyo.
Mousse said, "The orb allows a person to see what is normally hidden to the
naked eye. You can increase or decrease the effect at will. For example."
Waves of energy appeared in the air going through everything except Mousse.
The bands of energy appeared to bend around him and vanish into nowhere
leaving a distinct void around his body.
"Pay attention closely," Mousse said reaching into the sleeve of his robe.
Strings of energy suddenly surrounded his arm exploding into complex
geometric patterns that rippled the air as a staff appeared.
"Very impressive," Ranma(C) said. "But why are you showing."
The web of energy in the room started collapsing. Each string was literally
unraveling before her eyes. One of the strings going through her snapped
sending pangs through her stomach.
Suddenly, the collapse stopped. Mousse breathed heavily with beads of
sweat running down his forehead. "Subspace is leaking into our reality,
which should be impossible. It shouldn't be able to maintain existence in
our dimension for more than a few seconds without someone actively
"Sounds serious," Shampoo said quietly.
Mousse nodded. "My Master fears that if this problem grows the entire world
will be in trouble. Subspace is connected to more than just our dimension
and. but hopefully, we won't have to worry about that. This could simply be
a natural phenomenon that could settle down soon."
All the remaining strands of energy snapped at once. The room began to
wobble and Ranma(C) felt like she was turning inside out. She felt herself
being lifted off the ground and through bleary eyes she saw she was being
pulled toward a giant hole in the middle of the room.
"Famous last words," she muttered with her last conscious breath.