Nexus II
by Black Dragon


Disclaimer is as follows: I do not own Ranma or any of the given Ranma 1/2 characters. I do own everyone I make up. Which is a lot of people, actually.

Chapter 1
The Death March
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"Ranma! Where are you boy?!" Genma yelled out into the forest, fists planted on his hips. Looking around, the thick walls of trees and bushes made movement difficult, and Genma was rather hoping that his voice carried far enough that he wouldn't have to go get his son. Wouldn't really know where to look, anyway.
After a moment, the soft noises of leaves and twigs being stepped of traveled toward the camp site, and Genma's 10 year-old son broke through the brush into the clearing.
"What's the matter, Pop?"
Genma frowned. "Boy, just what took you so long?! I told you to wait here while I was off in town!"
Ranma shrugged, unconcerned. "I was just hanging out by the cliff. It's not that far."
Genma snorted. Ranma had taken a liking for a small, grassy overhang that looked over the town from high atop a cliff. A nice spot, really, but Genma had hardly taken Ranma here to admire the view. "If you have so much energy boy, then you can practice your exercises when I'm not here! Now make yourself useful and get some firewood!" Sitting down gruffly, Genma watched out of the corner of his eye as Ranma entered the forest, muttering irritably.
After he had gone, Genma slumped down onto the ground and sighed heavily.
He had chosen this particular area because it was rumored that a powerful martial arts master had made his home in town, and used the massive temple that overlooked the town from the surrounding forest as a training ground to teach powerful techniques.
Those rumors, it turned out, were true. Unfortunately, Genma was not aware before he had met the man that they had crossed paths before.
To be precise, that same martial arts master, or to be even more precise, his daughter, had experienced the great misfortunate of being targeted by Happousai (may the evil lecher rot in his cave) during Genma's younger training days. Genma's memory of what had happened was sketchy (such an incident was just one of many), but he had to guess that it had involved the theft of a lot of underwear, and a few simple inquiries around town had confirmed that the girl involved had been mentally scarred for life.
Needless to say, while the old coot that ran the dojo hadn't attacked him on sight and had even listened to his tales of abuse and misfortune at Happousai's hands, neither Genma nor Ranma was going to get any training from him.
Genma halted in his thoughts, and went over that last point. Actually, the man had never met Ranma, and had no idea what Ranma looked like...

Once again, the disturbance of the surrounding plants announced Ranma's return to the camp.
"About time, boy," Genma chided absently, "hurry up and get that fire started."
Ranma grunted to himself and dropped the heavy load of chopped wood onto the ground. He had long ago tacked down the pattern to his father's demands, and had actually spent most of Genma's trip to town chopping up a dead log about half a kilometer from the camp site.
Moving a pile of dead leaves into the center of the fire pit, Ranma began stacking the wood for the fire.
Genma sat pondering to himself. Ranma could request the training by himself, and the old fool probably wouldn't make any connection by himself. However, Ranma couldn't be allowed to reveal his parentage, nor could Genma afford to let it get back to the aging martial artist that Ranma came back to him every day.
Genma yawned mightily. Thinking always made him tired.
Putting his thoughts aside for the next day, Genma looked toward the setting sun and the rapidly darkening sky. "Might as well go to sleep now and get an early start tomorrow. Get that fire up, boy."
Ranma frowned as he fished a match from his pocket. "But what about dinner Pop?"
Genma snorted and sat down on a tree. "Stupid boy! Haven't I taught you anything!? Go forage for food or something! It will make a man out of you!" Genma muttered incoherently a bit before relaxing on the ground. "Besides, I already ate."
Ranma's left eye twitched irritably as Genma made himself comfortable. Nevertheless, he lit the fire quickly, striking the match on a nearby rock.
Mumbling quietly about the injustices of life, Ranma went to his backpack and fished some bread out of it.
He pulled it out of the wrapping he used to keep it from getting stale, and was about to take a bite, when he suddenly heard the sharp, but muffled noise of distant movement. Staring into the rapidly darkening forest, Ranma frowned as the sounds became louder. Obviously the travelers were making little, if any, attempt to conceal their passage.
*Crunch* *Snap*
Ranma looked toward his father. "Hey Pop! Someone's comin'!"
Genma opened one eye, then sighed and started to pay more attention to the noises coming from the forest. Whatever was moving through the forest was making too much of a racket to be a woodland animal, even a large one. From the timing of the noise, Genma also guessed that whoever the travelers were, there were several of them.
The stout martial artist snorted as the noises began to get more distant. Whoever it was had missed the camp site. "Stop your whining boy! We're not the only ones in these woods." With that, Genma turned himself over and closed his eyes again.
Ranma looked dubiously into the shadows between the trees. "I dunno Pop. That was an awful lot of noise. And why wouldn't they just use the paths near town?"
"Knock it off boy! I'm trying to sleep!" Genma growled. "Stop whining about the dark like a little girl and go to bed!"
Ranma glared at his father for a moment, then sighed and began eating his bread. After a few moments, he licked the last of the crumbs off his fingers, and after closing up his backpack again, set up his bedding near the small flame in the center of the clearing.
Laying out on the blanket, Ranma made himself as comfortable as possible over the hard ground. Not that it mattered much; he had been out on the road for four years, and for him, anything better than pointy rocks was the height of luxury.
Sighing deeply, Ranma cast a last look into the forest, now a pitch black as the light from the sun deserted it completely. Then he turned over, and quickly fell into a deep slumber.
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*Crunch* *Snap* *Thwap!*
"Fshaaa!" Insecticoid mandibles hissed angrily as yet another tree branch whipped back to strike large, compound eyes. More noises were made as the creature grabbed the entire branch in thick, bony talons and snapped off the branch completely.
Ahead of him, three others of his kind ignored the frustration of their companion, as each was having a fair amount of trouble getting through themselves. Realistically, the rear had it much easier, as the large, bulky warriors cleared quite a path in front of them.
Vicoids were large, able-bodied creatures, born and bred for conflict. Though their biology was quite reminiscent of insects, their body structure was undeniably humanoid in nature, with two huge legs and slightly smaller arms that were made to drive powerfully through anything and everything in the warrior's way. Their hands were unusually large, and each surprisingly flexible finger ended in a slightly curved, razor-sharp claw. Their bodies were natural pieces of armor, with thick, bony exoskeletons that formed blunt horns at the shoulders, elbows and knees.
At the moment, this procession of mighty creatures was hacking their way through thick forest, a terrain type with did NOT suit the bulky warriors one bit. Each was armed with a rectangular, crudely forged sword, which were being put to use in cutting thick shrubbery out of the way.
The lead vicoid fiercely tried to cut away a low-hanging branch, and ended up getting his taloned foot caught in the thick underbrush. While he ripped the plants from the ground in frustration, the warrior following him fought to get in a position to help, finding it difficult to squeeze his seven-foot frame around the webs of tree branches.
{"Why couldn't we just use the paths? This is annoying!"}
The lead vicoid growled as he wrenched his foot free, then savagely clawed at the obstruction, tearing away an entire section of the trunk and bringing down the branch that had blocked his path. {"Because we cannot alert the humans, that's why. You know that!"}
The third vicoid clicked his mandibles together rapidly in annoyance. {"Our orders are to kill any humans that see us! We could just cut our way through any humans we found."}
A sharp hiss answered him, and the leader turned back to the path he was forging. {"Our orders also say to make our own path! If it's not going quickly enough, get up here and help us."}
{"So here's where you all are. Glad I found you so quickly."}

All of the bulky warriors stopped, confused. The voice had come out of nowhere, and lacked the obvious vocal inflictions that came from speaking through a vicoid's unique respiratory system.
The last creature turned cautiously, and noted a human boy hanging from a tree branch next to the very obvious-looking path they had left behind. He looked to be around 14, and was rather short for his age to boot. He was wearing a simple brown cloak that flowed about a foot below his waist, revealing a pair of black pants and heavy boots. What little light penetrated the canopy of the forest glinted off a long object that was tied to his back.
The second vicoid in the procession clapped his mandibles together hard in an imitation of a snort. {"Just a human. Kill him."}
The third one cautiously moved into a guard position, even though the last warrior's body shielded him completely in the fairly narrow path. {"'Just' a human?! No humans around here speak Gaerieth!"}
The last vicoid clicked his mandibles lightly in interest. {"So he's an educated human."} He turned his crested head back towards those ahead of him, {"Continue on. I'll deal with this one and make sure no one followed him."}
The two lead vicoids turned wordlessly, and once again began hacking noisily at the brush.
The boy let go of the branch, and fell to the ground in a crouch, eyeing the creature warily as it approached him.
{"Unusual to find a human that speaks our tongue, boy. Out of respect for the time you've apparently wasted to learn it, what's your name?"}
He smirked, oddly enough. Not much fear in him. The vicoid could admire that.
{"My name is Rayden, insect."} With that, he reached behind him and drew a large, 4-foot broadsword out of its sheath, the fine-edged blade glinting in the sparse moonlight.
The two antennae atop the vicoid's head twitched, and he felt his companion behind him shifting positions. Something about that sword was alerting his senses...
"HYAH!!!" *Shyang!* Rayden crossed the distance between him and the first vicoid in a lightning charge, cutting upward in a wide arc with both hands. His sword sliced easily into the thick carapace of the warrior creature, and slowed only slightly before breaking free of the cut. Rayden brought the sword around in a horizontal swing to the screeching vicoid's midsection, and this time the sword chopped firmly into his opponent's side before pushing the creature into the surrounding trees, removing it from the path.
With a fair deal of effort, Rayden yanked his blade free, sparing the wounded vicoid a short glance as it fell heavily into the treeline, green ooze flooding from the large gash over its heavy chest plate.
The second vicoid holding up the rear had been far more prepared for something like this, and met Rayden with sword swinging.
*Clang!* Rayden held his sword out perpendicular to the incoming slash to block, then batted his enemy's sword to the side with a powerful swing, which came back around to chop a shallow cut into the vicoid's chest plate.
The vicoid returned with a straight punch, and Rayden once again blocked the strong attack with the flat of his broadsword, grunting at the power behind the blow. Never the less, he swiftly dropped his guard and cut upward into his foe's shoulder, slicing a painful groove into the softer tissue of the vicoid's underarm before smashing a haymaker straight into the large warrior with his left hand.
Much to the staggering vicoid's surprise, the punch had a surprising measure of strength behind it, and found himself lifted off the ground as he was knocked onto his back. From his many-faceted view while on the ground, he could see that his companions on the path ahead were approaching to help, and that the first vicoid to be attacked had gotten to his feet.
Rayden had apparently also realized this, as the boy ducked under a horizontal swing, and then twisted around for a powerful roundhouse that smashed his first target back into the surrounding foliage.
Returning to the more able vicoids, Rayden smirked. The two uninjured ones were unable to squeeze past the wounded warrior that was now getting to his knees, and would be forced to fight him one on one, or get in each other's way.
The wounded vicoid launched himself forward, stabbing with his sword. With calculated precision, Rayden deflected the clumsy blade with his own, then kicked the vicoid in the stomach, stopping the charge. Slamming his sword down onto his opponent's wrist, Rayden disarmed the creature before grabbing the arm that had been cut at the shoulder, and tucked it under his own arm with his foot still planted on the vicoid's carapace.
*Shkrick!* "SHRREEEEEEEE!!!" The vicoid warrior screeched in agony as its arm was torn completely off, and thrashed about wildly with the bare claws of its right hand. It was lightly rewarded as his claws found purchase on Rayden's cloak and ripped into the flesh underneath the thin material, but this position put its head far too close to its opponent than was really advisable.
*Krauk!* Grasping the back of the dismembered hand and holding the large claws between his fingers, the young swordsman savagely shoved the sharp nails into the large, compound eyes of the staggering monster, eliciting another screech of agony before he backed away from the wildly thrashing creature.
In a disgusting sort of way, it was quite comical to watch as the insecticoid warrior fought to remove its own bloodied, severed limb from its face, at least until Rayden was forced to dodge another sword swing from behind.
The young man side-stepped a vertical chop that embedded the vicoid's blade in the ground, and then slashed heavily at the warrior's wrist, cutting it off and effectively disarming the creature.
*Skrick!!* Rayden whirled around as one of the vicoids ahead chopped his sword down on his wounded companion's head, splitting the thick skull with the dull, stained metal.
Rayden blinked as the dispatched creature began to fall, and then his eyes widened as it was smashed forward towards him.
The boy's sword was knocked to the side as the heavy mass slammed into him, and then smashed him against the armored hide of the wounded vicoid to his rear, which staggered backward and then fell over from the force.
Grunting miserably, Rayden started to shove the dead creature off of him, and then gasped in pain as sharp claws dug into his side. A large, plated hand made for his neck, and the young swordsman grabbed it firmly, holding it back just centimeters away from the weak flesh over his jugular.
Grunting irritably, he ignored the other claw rending his side, and reached down for kodachi that he kept in a sheath tied to his thigh. Drawing it swiftly from its sheath, he flipped it around in his hand, and then stabbed up past his head, jamming it firmly into the base of the vicoid's jaw, just behind the mandibles.
Feeling the claws at his side jerk to stop, Rayden shifted his feet under the vicoid corpse on top of him, and then launched it into the branches above, rolling off of the second corpse before one of the remaining warriors' blades could cut into him.
On the other side of the dead vicoid, one of the uninjured warriors sustained his first blow in the battle as the companion that he had killed himself tumbled down on top of him.
Rayden flipped to his feet, and then skipped back as a sword cut through the air that his torso had occupied a moment earlier.
He jumped back again as his opponent stabbed forward, and then jumped up into the branches above. While the vicoids held an undisputed advantage while he didn't have his sword, they were still woefully slow and cumbersome.
Seeing the distracted warrior shove the still-bleeding corpse off of him, Rayden jumped from his branch, landing a two-legged kick to the creature's chest. Deflecting off the stunned warrior, Rayden jumped for his sword, grabbing it and rolling on the ground before coming into a crouching position with his blade aimed to defend.
The hurt vicoid rushed at him viciously, hissing death as strong, light swings came at the young swordsman in a chain of attacks that were blocked with firm precision as Rayden was slowly forced back to the treeline.
*Clang!* The large sword left the flat of Rayden's blade before he could bat it away, and was raised high to crush the swordsman if he attempted a block.
*Thunk* The weapon dug heavily into the dirt as Rayden ducked forward, raising his head between the vicoid's arms, and raising his sword for the vicoid's chin.
*Shlak!* Unlike the kodachi, Rayden was unwilling to leave his sword embedded in an opponent's skull, and roughly pulled it out, splitting the skull clean open and spraying green fluids over the shattered forest floor.

The last vicoid watched calmly as his final companion fell to his lifeless knees, and then collapsed forward onto the ground, his strangely tinted blood oozing onto the disturbed soil in a thick puddle.
Rayden paid the slime at his feet no mind as it oozed around his boots, and brought his sword up to a ready position.
{"You are the last one, creature. Now, will you tell me what I wish to know, or will you die pointlessly, like your friends?"}
The surviving vicoid eyed the boy warily. So young, and rather small, and yet he nearly matched their strength? So vicious and merciless, and yet he spoke their language and was willing to spare him?
{"Who are you? There are no humans in this land such as you."} Despite his hesitation in giving in to the boy's commands, the vicoid dropped his weapon on the ground in a show of surrender. His mission here was not one that he greatly favored, nor his commander one that he felt any particular loyalty to.
Rayden frowned. {"I'm just a swordsman that happened to follow your little group. Now tell me, where is Doppler? What's he planning?"} He coughed slightly after he finished, and tugged on his collar a bit. Gaerieth was hard on a "normal" throat.
The vicoid's mandibles clicked together lightly, betraying his interest. {"He went on ahead, to a temple near the village. He instructed three groups of warriors and a fourth group of mages that is coming later to make separate paths to it. He said he was going to open the Nexus, whatever that means."} The massive insecticoid shifted his shoulder plates backward in imitation of a shrug.
Rayden narrowed his eyes. {"A Nexus?! Here? You are lying!"}
The vicoid clicked his mandibles together again. {"I do not know what a Nexus is, but that is what he said we were going to activate. I'm afraid I have nothing to swear by that you would deem credible."} The vicoid shrugged once more, fairly unconcerned with how easily he could be killed, with his weapon on the ground.
Rayden considered for a moment. These vicoids had been fairly unskilled and poorly fed grunts; he had fought stronger, well-trained ones, and barely emerged alive. If this was the quality of all of Doppler's troops, then he would have little trouble in dispatching them all and reaching the leader in good enough condition to fight.
But the Nexus changed things. He had known that the demon lord hadn't used one to enter this land, which in itself seemed unusual, until he had confirmed that Earth had no stable trans-dimensional gateways. The introduction of a Nexus would produce a cluster of simple portals that could do little but harm the surrounding area, and possibly provide Doppler with extra troops.
'But for what? What's he after?' {"What does he want with the Nexus? What is he doing?"}
The vicoid clicked its mandibles together in irritation this time. {"I do not know. I do what I am told, and I am paid and fed. Is there anything else you wish of me, or can I go?"}
Rayden snorted. {"Go back to where you came from."} The warrior creature turned away and walked down the trampled path, leaving his blade amidst the crushed leaves and twigs of the forest. Indeed, he had little need of it now.
Rayden turned, and leapt into the trees. He could hear more creatures hacking through the forest nearer to the town road, and the edge of his senses detected a huge demonic aura a fair distance away. He would have to hurry.
The hunt was on.
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"Isn't this a fine place, Tio? So dark and mysterious, eh?" Doppler laughed lightly, parading across the rustic temple courtyard.
His companion walked up to the center of the yard, his heavy, hoofed feet crushing the aged tile that covered the ground. "Such a powerful mana flow... this will work perfectly." Tio's race were known as devils, and while devils' body structures varied greatly due to the chaotic magic flowing through them, Tio himself boasted a fairly stereotypical form. He had a humanoid torso, with huge, muscular arms that had large, black bristles of hair over the forearms. His right hand, which commonly wielded one of the several weapons that he carried, was sheathed in a large metal gauntlet with a huge wrist guard that fanned out widely. A silvery chest plate protected his stomach but cut diagonally across his chest to his left shoulder, leaving the right shoulder area bare. The left shoulder had a huge guard on it with a spiked horn. The lower half of his body was formed like a satyr, with black-furred, reverse-joint legs leading down to giant split hooves. The armor for the lower half of Tio's body was more elaborate, with sharp, well-fitting silver armor plates that covered the top of his thighs and calves, with spiked cap plates over his knees and hooves. The devil's entire body was a light blue, with black stripes that flowed over his skin at in irregular intervals.
Tio's face, which had a huge lower jaw with two large tusks jutting up, twisted into a frown. "The others should have been here by now. What's taking them so long?"
Doppler shrugged. Unlike Tio, who was a good 8 feet tall, Doppler was roughly 5' 6". Also unlike Tio, Doppler looked human. He had short, shiny black hair that was tied back into a ponytail that reached the middle of his back, and wore a green jacket that was beautifully embroidered with golden Aztec-like drawings of fire-breathing monsters and other designs. Over that he had on a dark green cape, the edges of which seemed to be constantly fading in and out of the shadows, as if on the verge of just drying up into thin air.
Well, he looked almost human, anyway. He did have four arms, rather than the more common single pair.
All four were currently folded across his chest as he shrugged indifferently. "Any who do not make it here within the allotted time risk being destroyed. It's their problem, not mine."
Doppler turned towards the center of the courtyard, which presented a fire pit roughly two meters in radius. The pit was currently unlit, with dark, burnt-out coals settled peacefully in the blackened metal dish.
"It's time we began." The demon lord spread his hands apart, and then clasped his lower two together as if in prayer. "Tio, place the amplifier in the dish."
The devil reached for the pouch hanging off his spiked belt, and slowly withdrew a crystal sphere just smaller than a human fist.
The moment it left the protection of the pouch, the sphere flared with light, and began glowing fiercely.
In response, the air in the courtyard seemed to waver and distort mightily, and shining white pinnacles of light began to flow from the ground all around the two demons. Small beams began rising from the dish and into the night sky, and the magical flows began building until a single fluid river of magical energy flowed upward from the charred plate.
Doppler took a deep breath, smiling. "Perfect! This will work beautifully!"
Tio gently placed the crystal globe into the dish, settling it atop the ashes of countless years' worth of fires. He backed away quickly, his giant hooves cracking and grinding the old tile below him.
The river of white light intensified, becoming much thicker and brighter. After a moment, a dull whine could be heard throughout the temple grounds as the amplifier reached it full output potential.
Doppler nodded his head sharply, and his upper pair of arms drew close together, a white sphere of light slowly collecting and growing between them.
"Oley no cha gorei doh raigh nawoh..." The demon lord seemed to fall into a trance with his chants, and the light built to a certain point before the sphere spontaneously shot out of Doppler's hand, zig-zagging in the air wildly. After several seconds of aimless darting, the sphere blasted down into a point on the ground, leaving a white patch of energy on impact, which itself quickly faded away.
Doppler continued chanting, another sphere forming between his hands.
Tio quickly lost interested in the arcane rituals of higher magic, and turned to look at the temple. It was well designed, and its laborers must have toiled for quite some time to construct it. It resembled an old Aztec pyramid, with a square base and a flat top. On each corner of the large base a tall stone spire stood, each with a lantern mounted on top that glowed easily without the aid of any fire or electricity. Doubtlessly magical in nature. Tio wondered if any of the villagers ever wondered about them. These humans seemed woefully ignorant of such things.
*Tak* *Tak* *Tak!*
Tio turned around slowly as the sharp sound of nails on stone came closer, ready to reprimand whatever creature was approaching for taking so long to arrive.
When he got a good look at the vicoid that had walked up to the temple courtyard, the devil's large, yellow eyes blinked. The creature was missing both its weapon, and strangely enough, the wrist that was supposed to be connected to the hand which was supposed to hold the weapon. It had two large gashes in its thick chest plate, and the green fluids that flowed through the monster's insecticoid body were currently running down its leg from a nasty-looking cut on its thigh.
{"Report! What happened to you?! Where are the others?!"} Tio barked. A glance back at Doppler confirmed that his master was still going about his ritual. Not necessarily unaware of the vicoid or its condition, but unconcerned, at least.
The vicoid slowly stared up at Tio, and the devil squinted a bit as he noticed that the creature's compound eyes were fogged up, indicating how close to death it was.
The vicoid flexed its mandibles in preparation to speak.
*Shyaak!* A sword slash smashed the hapless warrior aside, spraying the green blood into the air.
Tio raised an eyebrow as Rayden glared at him. The boy had been positioned right behind the vicoid, and Tio had to admit that he was impressed that he had not detected anything of the sort at first.
Under the partial coat of green slime, Rayden's blade glinted in the full moonlight, glowing ever so softly with a hint of blue energy.
The devil snorted and stood up to his full height, the gentle lights flowing around him like a reversed snowfall. Very quickly that changed, and the lights began swirling violently about the devil like a tornado before swarming in and absorbing into him.
Rayden remained in a guard position. Tio noticed, with no small measure of fascination, that the vicoid's blood that had wet the blade was actually sticking to the sword rather than running off. In fact, the ooze seemed to be shrinking along the blade's edge, almost as if the sword was absorbing it...
"I thought someone would come. So it's you again, eh?" Tio started suddenly as Doppler spoke, and turned to look at his master.
While the demon lord had ceased chanting, his hand were still practicing the same motions as before; his lower pair were pressed flat together, and his upper pair was still forming magic globes that would shoot around in seemingly random patterns before being absorbed into the ground.
Rayden's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, it's me. May I ask just what you're doing?"
Doppler smiled broadly, and continued with his motions even as his head turned to face the young swordsman. "You've done very good. For someone so young, anyway. You dispatched all the groups converging on the temple?"
Rayden nodded slowly. It wasn't actually true, as he had not taken the time to locate the group that was to come later, but this guy didn't need to know that.
Doppler nodded. "Ah, yes. You're a fine young fighter. But you should really know your limitations. You can't face me, little boy. And as much as you've tried to hinder and stop me in the last few months, you've done little but amuse me."
"Well that changes now!" Rayden shouted, and shifted his position. "Tell me what you're up to, worm!"
Doppler laughed. "But of course! It's the appropriate thing to do, correct? You see, this temple was constructed quite a long time ago to seal an ancient Nexus. You know what a Nexus is, correct?"
Rayden remained silent, always keeping one eye on Doppler's large companion. He knew very well how easily a devil could dispatch him if it had the chance.
Doppler rolled his eyes and sighed. "A Nexus is a practically indestructible crystal formation that is constructed over a force point, which is of course the point at which magical energy is expelled from the mana flows beneath the ground and into the atmosphere, creating a super-saturation of magical energy. These crystals permanently direct the mana into the form of complex and powerful spells. Namely, those required to rend the fabric of reality and allow free passage into other dimensions. A Nexus is, essentially, a cluster of stable dimensional portals." Doppler's lower two hands spread apart slightly, and then he touched the thumbs and forefingers of those hands together. "What I'm going to do is break the seal that this temple places on the Nexus, reform it, and open the gateways. Then I'm going to activate a beacon which will attract every creature of significant magical empathy that's close enough to the portals on the other side."
Doppler stopped talking and chuckled a bit. "And there are some VERY nasty planes attached to this particular Nexus."
"Why?!" Rayden growled, "What is all this for? Just to see this place get trashed?"
Doppler's smile disappeared, and he shrugged. "What difference does it make to you?" He gave the boy a somber look. "It's a shame how your kind always ends up turning out. It really is. You could have made something of yourself, had you chosen a different path. But I'm afraid that, outside of romantic stories told at human bedsides to reassure children, demon hunters don't survive long enough to make anything of themselves." Doppler sighed once more. "I had high hopes for your species once. Hybrids held so much potential, and were such interesting creatures. But I'm afraid that the sheer ARROGANCE you creatures have is simply insufferable. Tio, feel free to play with him before you kill him. And fetch his sword when you're done."
Tio raised an eyebrow at the exchange. Hybrid? The boy looked completely human. Of course, he had just wiped out more than a dozen opponents, and there was some kind of aura about him that distorted the magical flows that the amplifier had rendered visible, so it was a definite possibility.

The young swordsman had had enough. Recognizing that the devil was the more active target, Rayden dashed towards it, slashing fiercely in an attack at the creature's unarmored thigh.
Suddenly Tio's image became faded, and several afterimages flashed around Rayden as the demon strafed to the side at high speed. Bringing his blade up in a general block, Rayden was knocked to the side as a massive strike impacted his sword, throwing up sparks from the impact.
Tio raised an eyebrow as the boy stumbled slightly, then regained his senses slowly. A glance at his gauntlet revealed a small nick in it, while the sword was clearly unscathed.
"Amusing... your senses serve you well. It's a pity to waste such skill." The devil chuckled a bit, and then withdrew a large weapon from its back. It resembled a huge, razor-edged boomerang, except that the top section being noticeably larger than the bottom section, which Tio grasped with his armored hand. "However, I have a job to do."
Rayden didn't waste any words. He lunged forward, slashing downward. Tio retaliated with a massive sweep of his weapon, which the young swordsman deflected quickly, turning on the defensive once more.
Suddenly, Tio's speed magic kicked in again, and Rayden's sword was battered aside as he barely deflected a powerfully driven blow.
With his defenses down, however, there was nothing to stop the next attack.
*Kshak!* Blood sprayed thinly across the now-glowing courtyard as Rayden's chest was cut open in a long diagonal line. The boy gasped fiercely, and staggered backward as his life began oozing out of him.
Tio grinned. 'That blow should have cut him in two, easily. Fascinating.'
Finally gathering his bearings, Rayden closed his eyes and charged forward blindly, knowing that he had already lost. The demon's power was simply too great, and the swordsman had lost his bearings too early in the battle. Bringing his sword to bear, he stabbed it forward, only to grunt miserably as it was slammed down into the courtyard ground by Tio's angled sword.
The huge devil reached forward, and grasped Rayden by the neck, squeezing firmly. "Master, are you certain you don't wish to keep this one? He'll make an excellent laborer, if nothing else. Pitiful waste of a potential slave."
Doppler rolled his eyes. "Tio, Tio, Tio. Still inexperienced and naive after 3,500 years. You can't leave these types alive, or else they escape, grow in power, and then come back to get you for revenge and ruin your carefully laid plans at the last minute. It's really quite messy, trust me."
Tio blinked, then shrugged, applying more pressure to Rayden's neck. The boy was currently kicking and punching him desperately, and it was actually starting to hurt.
"Very well, you're the bo-" *Blam!!* Tio was suddenly blasted onto the ground as a white ki bolt slammed into his back, and Rayden was inadvertently flung onto the ground, where he landed heavily within convenient reach of his broadsword.
The boy looked up groggily, having only recently recovered his breathing. Standing at the edge of the courtyard was a fairly old man, maybe in his 60's, wearing a monk's robe.
Tio got up unsteadily, growling outrageously. "You DARE?!"
The old martial artist faced him calmly. "Begone demon, you have no place here. Leave now, before I decide to punish your desecration of this temple." He turned a surprisingly kind smile on the boy. "And you had better leave too. You've fought well, but this conflict is beyond you now."
A red-black aura began to form around Tio as he fed energy into it, and the demon stepped forward menacingly.
"And to whom do we owe the displeasure of this irritation?" Doppler said wryly, stopping Tio in his tracks. Though his upper pair of arms were glowing brightly and being held to the sky, his lower ones were crossed in annoyance.
"I refuse to have my name sullied by your dark tongue, creature!" The old man shouted defiantly, "I will warn you once more! Leave this holy place at once! A great power lies here, and-"
Doppler snorted, cutting off the martial arts master. "How rude! I'll just have you know that I know far more about this power than you, human, and soon, I will awaken it. That which you deem 'holy', will soon rain destruction upon your worthless civilization!" Doppler's eyes glowed a dull gold as he spoke, hiding his irises and pupils for a moment.
The martial artist calmly assumed an offensive stance. "I will not allow you to complete that spell, monster!"
Doppler chortled. "Spell? You mean, this spell?" Suddenly, the demonic sorcerer threw his upper hands apart, and twin tendrils of magical energy shot out of his hands and blasted into the ground. Once settled atop the crumbling tile, the beams speed about its surface, leaving a trail of white energy behind them that traced a huge figure onto the grounds of the temple.
The martial arts master gaped, his eyes trembling. "You... you didn't! Are you mad? You can't unseal the temple!"
Doppler blinked. "Unseal the temple? No, no, that was a beacon to attract monsters. THIS is the spell to break the seal." With that, Doppler simply jabbed two fingers of his upper right hand at the ancient structure.
*KRAK-KROOOM!!!* A black lightning bolt lanced down and split the magical shrine at the center, causing ribbons of dark energy to branch out in all directions.
As the ribbons reached the spires about the base, each lantern began to glow brighter, and then flicker fiercely before exploding in a massive shower of bright lights and blackened rubble.
Rayden and the old man watched in horror as a huge, towering crystal shard burst from the Earth right under the temple, splitting the main structure apart completely and showering rock and debris around the courtyard. Several more huge towers followed that one, each shaking the ground with noise as the sharpened spires reached for the sky.
'Damn it! No!' Rayden recovered his blade, and then staggered away, holding his blood-soaked shirt to his chest as he hobbled into the woods. He was outmatched before, and things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Turning to the old man, he shouted a warning as best he could, finding himself short of breath. "Run away! Now! While you still can! It's over now!"
Tio stood defiantly between the martial artist and Doppler, awaiting the old man's move. He didn't look like he'd be much of a challenge, but then, that energy missile had HURT.
The man chose to ignore the swordsman's warnings, and moved to engage the devil. "Prepare yourself creature! You won't get away with this!"

As the two mighty foes engaged each other, huge ellipses of swirling colors began forming at the base of the smaller crystal spires, collecting from the free-floating mana.
Even as smaller crystals began forming around the portal bases, the magical gateways began to shimmer and distort, announcing the presence of inter-planar travelers.
Doppler smiled, even as he watched Rayden stumble into the forest, cursing to himself. Too bad really. He would have liked to get his hands on that sword for study, but casting such a powerful and complex beacon had left him tired enough that he didn't want to expend any more energy unless he had to.
"The Nexus has opened... it has begun." Chuckling madly to himself, Doppler turned away and looked to the glowing moon as the first blazing demon stepped into the world of human civilization, ready for oblivion.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Most people thought that of Ranma as an unusually heavy sleeper.
Of course, when you're jarred awake every morning by being thrown into something, lesser disturbances do tend to seem far more trivial, after a time.
Nonetheless, at ten years old, Ranma's martial senses had been well enough developed so that his subconscious mind could tell the difference between a valid threat to his life, which required conscious action, and just another dolt trying to get him out of bed, which did not.
Ironically, had he been awake, the light scuttling sound that came from the forest may not have demanded the same attention. But with his danger sense on full vulnerability alert, the young martial artist was yanked from a sound sleep to awake and panicking in a matter of seconds.
Ranma looked around frantically for a moment, and then blinked before focusing on a black form that slowly emerged from the forest, the meager light from the dying fire shining off its gleaming carapace.
Understandably, Ranma first questioned whether he was still asleep or not. After all, a 4-foot tall black spider with oversized, dripping fangs seemed the stuff of nightmares, not reality.
A high-pitched hiss emanated from the creature, and it slowly raised up its front pair of legs. As it did so, Ranma could see that the front pair had edges on the pointed segment, like a blade.
"Hey Pop? Pop!" Ranma asked, standing up slowly.
A grunt was heard from across the camp site. "What do you want boy? It's late. *Yawn*"
Ranma pointed at the monstrosity, not taking his eyes off of it to look at his father. "What kind of spider is that?"
Genma growled, and slowly shook the sleep from his eyes as he prepared to chastise his son.
"Stupid boy! You wake me up in the middle of the night to ask about a spi-WHOAH!!!" Genma's eyes widened as he caught sight of the hideous shape, and was immediately frozen into inaction from the image.
The shiny black eyes of the giant spider, a deathcrawler as it was commonly known as, swiftly took in the potential prey before it. The little one would be easy and quick to disable, while the older one would struggle, and probably have to be eaten on the spot. The little one would be bitten first, and the bigger one would be devoured as the child's insides melted away to goo. The decision was made. The deathcrawler lunged.
Ranma shouted out in surprise as one of the bladed legs stabbed at him, and he dodged to the side. Having never fought a gigantic spider before, he didn't realize that he had inadvertently placed himself in a perfect position to be bitten by his arachnid opponent. The deathcrawler rammed its head forward, slamming Ranma to the ground and positioning itself over him for a quick injection of venom.
Ranma wasn't going to go down so easily, however, and slammed his knees up into the spider's thorax, watching uneasily as the sharp fangs stabbed down just short of his chest. As the spider struggled for the leverage to disable its prey, Ranma shifted his legs, and then kicked the massive arachnid off of him and into the trees surrounding the clearing.
Genma watched all of this, completely stunned. When he saw the deathcrawler struggling to disentangle its legs from the multitude of branches it was caught in however, he got his mind in gear. "Ranma! Come here! Get away from that thing!" Genma grabbed his backpack that was next to the tree he was sleeping on, and stuck his hand into it as Ranma scurried up to him.
Finding what he was looking for, Genma withdrew a large combat knife from the pack. Martial arts was all well and good, and Genma preferred hand-to-hand to using weapons anyway, but there was no way he was getting close to that thing if he could help it!
The deathcrawler shook itself mightily as it got free of the foliage, being totally unprepared as it was to take that kind of attack. Unfortunately (for the creature), it only got time to glance at its escaped prey before one of its eyes was suddenly blinded, and a searing pain blasted through its head as its life quickly seeped away.

Ranma watched, fascinated, as the monster thrashed about wildly with the knife embedded in its head, before finally crumpling to the ground in pool of dark fluids.
Genma breathed a great sigh of relief, and then nervously looked about at the forest surrounding the clearing. Nobody had said anything about this forest being infested by giant spiders!
Ranma was less interested in that, however, and gasped when he looked up above the treeline. There was a powerful glow coming from the direction of the town, and it vaguely illuminated the tendrils of smoke that came from the same area.
Without another word, Ranma ran for the cliff that overlooked the town, ignoring his father as he told him to stop.

After a few short moments he was there, and Ranma stared in disbelief at what he saw.
Everywhere he looked, there was destruction. Rows of houses were ablaze. A few of them, scattered here and there, were frozen solid, spikes of ice jutting out of windows and roofs. Bodies littered the streets, most of them human, but with the occasional charred or trampled form that seemed unnatural to Ranma's eyes.
"Shrreeeeiak!!" A large winged creature, with four large, clawed feet swept through the air, followed by two more, and dive-bombed into a house, blowing out the wall in a shower of splintered wood and stone.
"Boy, what are you-..." Genma stopped as he caught sight of the town, and hesitantly stepped up beside his son.
Ranma's jaw trembled slightly as he heard the screams and fighting coming from within the infiltrated house, somehow managing to rise above the din of flames and more distant screams coming from the town area in general.
Within moments, the three winged beasts sauntered out of the hole they had made in the once-pristine home, their toothy maws and vicious claws all wet with blood and torn flesh.
Genma gulped loudly, and then turned suddenly as a fiery explosion burst upward from a different part of the town. From his vantage point, he could see a large, squat creature strolling through the streets, its two gargantuan hands ablaze. It's body was charcoal black, with red, glowing veins that ran sharply through it, giving the demon a distinctly "volcano-ish" look.
Abruptly, Ranma turned toward his father. "Pop! We gotta do something!"
Genma looked at his son like he was some kind of idiot. "Are you crazy boy? We have to-" Genma stopped himself, then took a deep breath. "Ranma, at times, a martial artist must choose flight over fight. Two flaming corpses aren't going to help anyone!" Genma smirked slightly when he was finished, glad that he had thought of that last part. Better to look modest and smart than scared out of his wits. "Come on boy, we're leaving through the forest."
Ranma frowned, wondering if this latest bit of "wisdom" was an actual lesson, or just an excuse for not getting into danger. "But aren't there giant spiders in the forest?"
Ever so slowly, a large sweatdrop rolled down Genma's head. He had forgotten about those. Genma had been training in the wilderness long enough to know the hunting habits of spiders; they could lay in wait in absolute silence, and then spring on prey without any warning. It would be almost impossible to tell the black arachnids' hides from the rest of the foliage in the dead of night, and if either of them got bitten, even once...
"Of course, as martial artists, we can't just ignore something like this, now can we? Come on boy, and stay near me!" Better to face the enemy you could see rather than the enemy you couldn't, after all.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Although, technically, the decision NOT to enter the woods was actually one of the smarter ones Genma had made (the deathcrawlers preferred that terrain, and there were nastier types out there), less than two minutes after the two Saotomes descended the cliff, Genma was cursing his son for talking him into this.
"Look out boy!"
Ranma tossed himself to the side, and another of the winged beasts from before slammed into the ground hard, missing its prey as it dove into the hard-packed dirt. Genma stopped running for a moment to kick it as hard as he could, slamming the monster into the wall of a nearby home, and dazing it much more severely.
Ranma rolled to his feet, and then his eyes widened. "Pop! Behind you!"
Genma blinked, then tossed himself to the side, barely avoiding a shimmering blue spark that shot past him, and into the center of the street.
*K-SHAAAK!!* Huge spikes of ice shot up where the bolt impacted, stabbing outward and then settling into a beautiful needle tower formation, with sheets of ice slowly spreading around the base.
Of course, none of the humans present were stupid enough to stop and admire the ice explosion as opposed to the creature that threw it.
Genma's left eye twitched as he beheld a vaguely humanoid torso floating in the air, made entire of ice. Wherever the normal, soft curve a human's body should be, there was a sharp angle, and where a human's waist expanded over the pelvis, the demon's body simply narrowed down to a jagged spike that hovered a foot off the ground.
The monster hissed fiercely, and sparkly mist blasted out of its mouth.

Ranma didn't have as good a view of the creature, as Genma's dodge had almost placed his tender little body on an unusually sharp-looking ice needle. Getting up quickly, Ranma scanned every direction for danger before he was to try and assist his father.
It was a good thing Ranma remembered to include "up" in the possible vectors of enemy attack, or else he would have doubtlessly become shredded meat. Diving forward, Ranma watched as yet another of the winged monstrosities plowed into the ground behind him.
Unfortunately for the monster, its tumbling and rolling didn't stop before it reached the deadly spire in the center of the road. Blood gushed outward onto the dirt path as the creature was cleanly impaled, the ice spikes shattered against its weight even as they pierced its hardened hide.
Ranma stared, wide-eyed at the bloody mass that now decorated the fragile, looking structure. Then he pointed at it.
"Ha ha! Stupid monster!" Ranma didn't get to celebrate long before the cracking sound of another ice bolt pierced the night air, and he heard his father yell out in surprise from behind one of the houses on the other side of the street.
*KA-KRAACH!!!* The house he was standing in front of exploded outward without warning, and Ranma barely managed to throw himself heavily to the side as a gigantic, bony scythe stabbed down into the ground where he had stood just a moment ago.
Ranma's eyes were really starting to complain about all the incredulous staring they had done that day. Standing before him was a truly massive beast, 16 feet tall and covered in a thick, shining armored carapace. It had legs like a spider, except that it only possessed four of them, and they were horribly malformed into gigantic, bony, bladed spikes. Its well-protected body hung between the huge supports, ending in a large beak at the head, which was complemented by a pair of oversize mandibles that looked like it could crush large boulders with ease.
Ranma gulped as the creature gazed at him through deep eyeholes set in its armored skull, and then scrambled away as the beast turned its beak toward him.
"This suuuuuuucks!!" Ranma yelled as he began sprinting away, all too aware of the heavy pounding that the monster made as it began to give chase.

Ranma turned a corner as he ran for his life, and immediately leapt as he saw one of the black-red fire creatures from before stop in front of him, startled. Not one to be so easily distracted when his life was at stake, Ranma landed behind the fire demon and kept running, still aware of the pounding of bony scythes into the ground behind him.
The demon turned to go after the human that had surprised it, and did not heed the sound of its massive companion monster's trajectory until it was too late.
*Crunch!!* *SMASH!!!* *Crack!!*
"Ha ha! Stupid monster!" Ranma ran backwards for a short stint so that he could point to the trampled mess and laugh, and then quickly turned forward again as his concentration shifted back to preserving his life.
With the minor obstacle of a rather large roadblock (one that struggled as it was being plowed over) and an extra burst of speed on Ranma's part, the massive beast lost sight of its prey as it stumbled out of the alley and onto another main road..
Digging its scythe-like legs into the dirt to kill its momentum, the monster looked at the wall of houses in front of it, and then down the roads to its left and to its right. Most of the homes here had been ransacked already, though they hadn't been burned down or completely gutted like much of the rest of the town.
With a disgruntled snort, one that blasted a fair amount of dirt around under its beak, the beast chose a street at random, lumbering along and looking for less nimble food.

Ranma breathed heavily as he peeked around the door to the small farmhouse he had ducked into, deliberately ignoring the shredded walls and bloodstains that decorated the interior. Ranma was a martial artist, not a real warrior, and quite frankly, the brutal displays he had seen in the town scared the hell out of him. Luckily, or perhaps not, Genma's constant drilling that fear was a weakness not to be displayed helped him significantly in just pretending like the only thing out of place was the giant monstrosities lumbering about the town.
Gently closing the door, and then blockading it with a table (as if a fairly light chunk of wood could stop any of the attacking creatures), Ranma wiped some sweat from his forehead, then snuck cautiously into the house.
The first room he investigated was, unfortunately, the kitchen. Unfortunate, because it was apparent that one of the house's occupants had been struck down here.
Ranma fought to contain the bile rising to his throat. Whatever had invaded this place had eaten most of its catch, but had been messy enough about it for Ranma to tell that the woman (if the scraps of apron around the bloodied bones were any indication) had been caught, slaughtered, and devoured on the spot.
At least, he HOPED these things had slaughtered her first.
A sudden banging noise from another part of the house snatched away his attention, and Ranma ran out of the kitchen, glad to get away from such a scene.
Walking stealthily along the hallway, Ranma grimaced at what he saw.
Another deathcrawler, just like the one that had attacked the camp, was positioned against a hall closet, with its bladed front legs digging into the door, which had several other deep gouges in it. It was also quite dead, as its abdomen and lower thorax had been crushed, and the liquids within were now spilling all over the floor. It didn't look like a calculated strike, and Ranma suspected it had simply been stepped on (the trails of damage high on the walls and ceiling seemed to support this theory).
Licking his lips gingerly, Ranma poked the spider corpse with his foot, watching it move dryly from the force. Yes, it was dead all right.
Ranma grabbed the head of the beast and yanked it from the door, shoving it back onto the opposite wall of the hallway. Then, dusting off his hands, he cautiously reached for the knob, and slowly turned it...
"Hyah!"
Prepared as he was for an attack, Ranma was able to duck under the flying kick that erupted from the closet and skip to the side, turning around to get a good view of his attacker.
He hadn't expected the attacker to be a girl, however, and the girl hadn't expected her attack to be so effectively avoided. Trying to change her position to land, she crossed the limited width of the hallway easily, and found her impact cushioned, for better or for worse, by a dry, lifeless exoskeleton.
"Hey, you're human! Great! Look, we gotta get out of here!" Ranma frowned. "Hey, are you listening?"
The girl, in fact, wasn't listening, as she found herself staring up into a pair of large, needle-sharp fangs, and surrounded by large, dry legs that had curled up around her by the force and point of impact on the dead husk's exoskeleton. Really, she was hardly in a position to even tell it was dead.
"AAAAAAAAAH!!! GET IT OFF ME!!! GET IT OFF ME!!!" Jumping off the silent corpse, the girl began to thrash about wildly and run around in circles about hallway.
Ranma sweatdropped. 'Leave it to a girl to get so worked up about something like a dead, giant, man-eating spider.'
"N-Natsume? What's going on?" Ranma blinked and turned toward the closet as he heard another voice, and saw a slightly younger girl opening the door, though she was in a ready stance.
When she saw the dead spider, her eyes widened, and she completely dropped her guard in shock, gaping.
Ranma rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, it's dead. Has been for a while now, I think."
The other girl, Natsume apparently, had finished running about at random, and had settled for standing in the middle of the hallway and hugging herself while shuddering violently. She looked to be about his age, maybe a little older, and had dark brown hair that was tied into a ponytail atop the back of her head. The other girl's hair was a little lighter in shade and was cut fairly short, as well as being held together with a red ribbon atop her head.
"So..." Ranma began, scratching the back of his head, "is this your house?"
Natsume cast a last, uneasy glance at the dead arachnid, and then gathered her courage and determination together as she faced Ranma. "No, we're travelers. My name is Natsume and this is my sister, Kurumi. The couple that lives in this house was kind enough to feed and shelter us for the night. Who are you, and just what is going on here?"
Ranma had to admit, the girl had gone from freaked-out and panicked to cool and collected in an impressive amount of time. "Name's Ranma Saotome. As for what's happening, I'm not really sure why, but the short of it is, this village is being attacked and burnt down by a bunch of monsters. Me and my pop had a camp nearby, and we came to try and get as many people out of here as we could."
Kurumi blinked. "Monsters?" Her gaze inevitably found its way back to the insensate spider against the wall, and she gulped.
Natsume frowned. "Well, that explains what all that noise was, and why nobody came to get us..." she looked up at Ranma. "The woman told us to get into the closet, and her husband had gone out to investigate a fire on the edge of the village." She bit her lip pensively. "Do you suppose they're all right?"
Ranma's face darkened, and he felt his mouth go dry. "Uh... well... no. I'm sorry."
There was dead silence in the hall for a moment, and Natsume and Kurumi both found themselves staring at the floor.
*Ka-thoooom!!* A wave of heat rushed through the house, and all three children were knocked off their feet as the structure groaned from the force of a nearby explosion.
Ranma made a disgusted noise as he wiped some of the deathcrawler's body fluids off of his arms. "Well, I'm sure we're all sad that the lady died, but we'd better get outta here if we don't want to join her!" Ranma wasted no more time, running for the back of the house (away from the recent explosion). The two wandering sisters followed wordlessly.

Ranma gently opened the door to the barn in the rear of the house, being just as cautious as he had been in the hallway. This time his guard was not tested, and Ranma began scanning the empty barnyard for signs of danger.
Being sure to check the rafters and roof, Ranma gestured for Natsume and Kurumi to follow, and then darted out into the center of the barn, keeping up a wary defense.
Natsume stared emotionlessly at the fields that could be seen through the open doors of the back of the barn. The rows of grape vines and small patches of other vegetables were torn and ravaged, and a few craters dotted a vague line through the fields, giving the impression of a large creature simply blowing up a path for himself through the harvest.
Ranma gestured the two girls forward. "Okay, I think it's-"
*Crack!* *Fwooosh!* A wave of fire blasted into the side of the barn, and Ranma hopped back as small bits of stored hay and splinters of old woods sprinkled down from the rafters above.
A small trail of fire snaked out from one side of the barn, and then Ranma saw a large, armored hoof drop before the entrance.
Tio made his way alongside the barn, and then glanced to the side as he caught sight of something moving.
He snorted. Three children were backing away from the large doorway, each of them positioned as if they meant to defend themselves from him. How amusing.
Still, Tio was neither sadistic nor particularly bloodthirsty, and turned away.
Ranma gulped as he looked over the intimidating figure of the devil, and wondered if he should wait, or risk going out the other side. Then he noticed something on the other side of the devil. In his left hand, the hand that he couldn't see easily from his current perspective, was a bloody, human corpse. Male or female, he couldn't tell, but it was wearing a monk's robe, and was obviously dead.
His indecision stiffened as another creature hovered slowly into view. The ice demon.
Natsume watched Ranma carefully, debating whether or not to leave the boy and run the other way , or stick with him and trust that he wouldn't lead them all to their deaths. The creature that had just appeared looked to be made entirely of ice, and had a pair of broken glasses grasped in a fist of bloodied claws. It paid the three children no mind, and slowly floated up to the blue demon in armor before speaking in a slow and almost melodic language.
"Jarmoon yrall no rute yhetell," the demon's voice was so smooth and fluid, there was some question as to whether it had come from the creature's mouth at all.
As Tio responded to the question in an equally incomprehensible manner, Ranma's eyes were locked on the pair of glasses gripped firmly within the ice creature's talons.
'It... It can't be! He can't be...' Ranma denied it with all his strength, even as he slowly backed away from the exchange going on between the two demons. However, there was little denying it. Those were undoubtedly Genma's glasses, and he really doubted the crimson liquid scattered over the monster's claws was its own blood, if such a being even had any.

{"You have your orders. Branch out immediately toward the nearest villages, and let them do as they please, so long as they keep moving."}
The empty, glowing blue lights that floated in the hollows of the demon's skull of ice flashed. {"What of the defenders, lord? Should we organize to breach their defenses?"}
Tio laughed deeply. {"There are no defenses. Not as of yet, at least. Cut down anyone who stands in your way. Lord Doppler cares nothing for these people, so do with them as you wish."}
Ever so slowly, the ice demon turned its mysterious gaze on the three children, who paled and prepared themselves to flee, looking for the best escape routes.
{"Should we not purge them? They might alert others."}
Tio glanced at the children apathetically. {"And who are they going to warn?"} He waved his gauntleted hand in the air, dismissing them. {"Leave them to the racids. They prefer live prey, anyway. We have more important things to do."}

"Yra shrikniel racid dioy nu somha upu no ka," the blue devil spoke gruffly, waving his hand.
The ice demon nodded slightly, then floated off. As it left, it finally released its hold on the bloodied glasses, as if it had been given something far more important to worry about.
Tio likewise left, walking briskly toward where he came. Neither creature gave the slightest regard to the children at all.
And thus Ranma had to physically restrain himself from lunging out at the hundred-and-one openings that the ice demon left as it floated away. He was strong and skilled; heck, he could take down an average guy twice his age without breaking a sweat, but could he take out a demon? Could he even HURT a creature made of ice, and not flesh? Hell, how was that even possible? Where would he hit it? If he broke it, would it die?
Natsume watched Tio's back as she peeked out of the barn. "Okay, I think it's safe now. We can make a break for the forest road from here, and..." she trailed off as she turned, and witnessed Ranma gently picking up the crushed wire-frame glasses from the ground, a single tear rolling down his cheek.
Kurumi leaned down next to him, her expression solemn. "I'm sorry... you knew the person who wore those?"
Ranma wiped the tear away violently, and Kurumi flinched back a bit. "He... he was... he was my dad... and my teacher..." Ranma grit his teeth and stood up. Dammit, he would not cry! His father had just died, and he was NOT going to disgrace the man's memory by crying like a girl!
Ranma blinked as best he could, and set his eyes on a narrow road into the forest that Natsume was glancing at. "Let's get out of here. Before we lose anything else."

It was the first town of many. The small, unnamed village in the forest regions of Japan had been subjected to a mass slaughter, a chaotic swarm of destruction and terror that left few certain of exactly what had happened, provided they had even lived through the experience.
Other towns would meet more spectacular ends. Nioshi was cooked like an oven, clouds of fire set on each border, the entire town going up in a massive firestorm. Kioshatika was hammered with magical ice, and in less than an hour, the entire village was carpeted with huge ice needle formations, every street and house sparkling as spilled blood froze in thin rivers.
But there was more to come. So much more.
The Death March had begun.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Mysterious Sightings and Massacres in Country Regions Astound Authorities
"Numerous reports of strange and malicious animals have begun coming in around the protected forests of Okinawa this last week. At first the sightings were dismissed as rumors and pranks that came up surrounding the recent upsurge in missing persons in the larger cities, as well as the loss of contact and travel in many of the smaller outlying villages. However, with the sheer number of reported sightings, some of which include some photogenic evidence, as well as the reported loss of several investigators and rangers in that region, officials have been forced to decide that there is a definite threat. Already surveillance equipment has recorded some 'unusual activity', as was vaguely explained to reporters. The government refused to elaborate on their findings, but assured the media that the situation would be swiftly contained, advising civilians to stay in their homes while larger task forces were assembled and deployed."
- Japanese newspaper, 1997
__________________________________________________________________________________

Ranma swiftly scaled the stone wall before him, cursing his rotten luck with all the breath he could spare.
Below him, two racids skidded to a halt, their thick tongues sliding over the jagged razor teeth set into their fierce looking beaks.
At only two feet tall and four feet long, the racids weren't the most intimidating and dangerous of monsters by a long shot. They couldn't fly, use magic, dig through solid rock, or launch spikes spontaneously out of various parts of their body.
Of course, had Ranma still held the perspective on wilderness predators that he had a year ago, he would have been scared silly of the blasted things. They were fast runners, very capable hunters, and, unfortunately, very able jumpers.
"Shyaa!" The first racid bunched up its powerful back legs and leapt, ready to rend the small human with the four short, clawed forearms before delivering the finishing blow.
*Smack!!* It didn't quite go as expected.
Ranma watched, still clutching the wall, as the racid he kicked went flying into the mass of trees he had run out of, its body having a slight spin to it as it sailed away.
*Wham!!* The meaty sound of metal-hard carapace slamming into a sturdy tree at 45 kilometers an hour sounded mighty satisfying to Ranma's ears, and the 11-year-old martial artist looked down at the other one.
"So, you just gonna stand there, or are you gonna try your luck too?"
The creature blinked up at him, then turned to its companion, who was lying on the ground, twitching. Then it looked up at Ranma again.
Then it turned around and hopped away into the forest. There just HAD to be an easier meal around.
Ranma snorted at the fleeing beast, and then finished climbing the rock wall. Upon reaching the top, he found a large grassy plateau that overlooked the village he was currently trying to escape from.
Looking over the village, and coincidentally, the supernatural dark clouds that were currently raining lightning bolts on the dark village, Ranma sighed. Such spectacular sights were unfortunately becoming much more common, and what Japanese forces there were on Okinawa had been ordered to eliminate and contain the demonic threat, not so much protect the villages. The simple difficulty of either task, and the many additional complications of the latter were so astounding that Ranma could hardly blame them; the only two tank column he had witnessed in the area were annihilated from long range before they even got to a battlefield.
The lightning stopped flashing, and the black clouds began to fade. At least most of the townspeople had gotten out of town before it was hit, thanks to his warning. The demons would be busy tearing apart the homes and eating any stored food for a while before they'd realize that the town was pretty much abandoned, giving the townspeople more time to escape.
He idly wondered how Natsume and Kurumi were doing. After they'd escaped the initial push of monsters through the forests, they'd traveled together for a short while before Natsume had convinced him that they could make it on their own. Which actually suited him rather well, as he didn't really want to be traveling and training with girls. It had turned out that they were actually quite capable fighters, and Natsume had actually taught him a thing or two during their few sparring matches, but Genma's teachings seemed to echo even louder in his memory now that the old man was dead, and Ranma felt very uncomfortable traveling and fighting with the opposite sex.
He wondered if they felt the same way about him. He wondered what their plans were for the future. He wondered where they'd have to go, with monsters swarming everywhere.
He also wondered why there was a B-52 heavy bomber flying overhead.
Ranma didn't know enough about planes to actually identify it as one, but he had been to a few airports, and knew that the passenger aircraft there didn't look like this one.
They also didn't drop huge payloads of really big bombs, like this one just did.
Ranma's eyes widened, and then closed, as the deafening explosions and powerful flashes of multiple firebombs peppered the desecrated town, throwing dirt and ash into the wind among the death screams of the malicious beasts below.
Ranma lowered his hand from where it protected his eyes, and then blinked at the devastation.
"Whoa... cool!" Sure, the town had been destroyed, and there was a slight chance that some moron had stayed behind and gotten pulverized just now, but at the same time, and whole lot of killing machines had just gotten busted up but good.
Ranma was about to point and laugh at the shattered corpses within the raging firestorm that the town had become, when he noticed a number of shapes appear in the distance, shooting up from below the trees and taking flight. They had bodies like humans, but large, black, metallic wings that kept them easily aloft under the harshest flight conditions. Dark angels.
Ranma's face darkened as four of the demons took off after the plane, magical bolts charging within their hands. Ranma turned the other way. He couldn't do anything now, but someday, he swore, there would be time when he wouldn't have to run. Someday.
__________________________________________________________________________________

North Korea Attacked!
"Sightings of the first dispatches of demonic invaders reached the Korean government just two days ago, and was thus spread to the rest of the world within moments. The unaccounted-for explosion of the unnatural invaders continues to defy researchers and investigators, and a conventional counter-strike against the invading foreces seems less and less possible as ground forces and even aircraft are torn apart in the titanic battles across Japan. The apparent ability of the creatures to cross water to other land masses has a great many international leaders troubled as well. North Korea boasted of a quick end to the 'demon menace', and launched several nuclear weapons at their coast at 3 PM of yesterday, despite numerous projections of the potential harm to its citizens. Reporters do not have a clear analysis of the results, but the last transmission sent from the North Korean defense forces reported dark shapes penetrating the nuclear firestorm. North Korea has since appealed repeatedly for help and assistance in fighting off the invasion, only to receive mass refusals from the international community. Meanwhile, refugees continue to pour in past the South Korean border, which is heavily fortified with Chinese and U.S. forces. In an update on Japan, the government has all but abandoned the whole of their country, drawing in all resources and defenses to Tokyo, which has continued to hold by the lone virtue of heavy U.S. military support. It is not expected that Japan's capital will survive another week."
- Chinese newspaper, 1998
__________________________________________________________________________________

"Here you go kid, just hit the safety, aim, and pull the trigger, all right?" The man loaded his own pistol and took aim at an imaginary target. "Heh, pretty stupid of them to hold onto all those anti-gun laws for so long, eh? Just stupid."
Ranma ignored the man, fingering his own gun. He had seen these before, and been lectured on their danger, but had never touched one before. And now this man was expecting him to fire it?
"Here they come!" *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!*
Ranma joined the older man in firing at the approaching group of deathcrawlers, feeling a bit of a thrill as the giant arachnids jolted back, stunned, with each shot. Multiple bullets penetrated the hard exoskeleton easily, and after seven shots from the man and a full clip from Ranma, two of the beasts were dead.
*Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* *Blam!* Unfortunately for the man, it was difficult to concentrate sufficient firepower to take out the rest. An angry hiss from a shot deathcrawler was the last sound he heard before twin bladed legs stabbed through his chest, and a second giant spider jumped onto his back and pierced it with its fangs, preparing itself for a full, refreshing meal.
Ranma cursed the now-useless weapon in his hand, not having been given the crash course on how to reload (not that he had any spare bullets on him).
He dodged the initial stab that was intended to pierce him like it had his companion, and ducked under the twin death scythes before punching the deathcrawler straight in its biggest eye, right in the center of its forehead. As it flinched back from the blow, Ranma flipped the gun in his hand so that he was holding it upside-down, then crammed it into the injured eye, breaking the surprisingly firm membrane and also getting yucky stuff all over his hand.
Kicking the arachnid away before it could launch a last-ditch strike, Ranma jumped over a deathcrawler attempting to spear him from behind, and began running into the barn he was helping defend.
Another hiss came from door that separated the barn from the house, and Ranma backpedaled to a stop as yet another of the killer spiders smashed the door down, wiggling its fangs threateningly.
Ranma looked back at the group at the barn exit, and then at the entrance to the house. The he noticed a pitchfork lying on the ground next to him.
Ranma sighed as he picked it up. "You know, it'll be REAL ironic if I survive this." He whirled the rusted tool around in his hand, then aligned himself in a defensive stance. "I'm through running! Come on!"
The deathcrawlers lunged.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Victory in Tokyo!
"Civilians and leaders in Tokyo today were pleasantly stunned with the announcement of the final scattering of organized attackers upon Tokyo, officially ending the conflict that has besieged Tokyo for three years. This is a great victory for the greatest of Japan's once prosperous cities, which has been plagued by fear, unrest, violence, attack, and constant rumors of the ultimate failure of the defense forces, leading to Japan's final downfall. While Tokyo's endurance can be attributed almost fully to constant support from the U.S., Canada, and English military, which has been spread rather thin dealing with the slaughter in Asia, the final blow most certainly came from the newly introduced magical experts present in Tokyo. Less than a year prior, a group of magic users claiming to be from another world offered to construct a magic guild in Tokyo and aid in the war. Though subject to much understandable suspicion and even some violence, the mages have proven to be an essential component to the defense of what is now left of Japan, and now magic research is being openly traded on channels between America and Japan, as well as some European countries. Ultimately, however, the thanks for the successful purging of the area outside of Tokyo goes to a surprisingly benevolent 'demon lord' by the given name of Doppler Thaeramon. Though his presence and acceptance in Tokyo has sparked a great deal of conflict and unrest, it has also paved the way for the possibility of co-existence between humans and the strange otherworldly creatures. Doppler himself gave a long speech praising the resiliency of the human race and condemning the barbaric beings from what he termed the 'Nexus'. Thaeramon was unavailable for comment after the speech."
- U.S.A. newspaper, 1999
__________________________________________________________________________________

Ranma inhaled deeply, feeling the tang of the salty sea air as the wind whipped by him.
All around the large boat, sparkling blue waves lapped at the sky, spraying mist about the water craft. It was a lovely sight, and Ranma hadn't had much time recently to enjoy the view. He had read somewhere that certain creatures that had come through the Nexus were actually causing a revitalization of certain ecosystems, removing harmful pollution and returning many areas to the kind of natural state that had been ruined centuries ago. Ranma snorted. THAT one was driving all the God-is-punishing-us religious nuts crazy. Never mind that most of the freaks messed up the Earth more than people ever did.
At his back was strapped a wooden bo staff, and at his side was a sheathed katana. Of course, being 13, he hadn't really had an effective growth spurt yet, so the armament looked rather silly on him, but any who had seen him fight weren't quick to ask why he was carrying a staff taller than he was.
Actually, he was on a ship headed for India to avoid being dragged into the New Japanese Empire's armed forces. Despite having finally won the battle to save the last city of their nation, by that time, nearly all the surviving troops were foreign forces on loan to Tokyo. And after Tokyo finally decided it could leave twenty-four hour alert after three years, they were quick to back up and bid their ward goodbye. Of course, the New Japanese Empire, as it had recently proclaimed itself, didn't stop its drafting efforts, and in fact once again dropped the age required for conscription in the search for soldiers to assist in taking back the lands that once made up the great nation of Japan.
Ironically enough, Ranma was on his way to India to see if he could assist in the conflicts there, which kind of made him feel guilty about deserting his native country. The demonic armies were now massive war juggernauts that fielded actual strategy and brutal tactics against their opponents, using the advantage of their magical powers and unpredictable beasts to cut easily upward through Asia. He had heard that India was holding up much better though. Mostly because the largest forces, the ones that kept marching as American cruise missiles rained down in the middle of them, were all moving west.

"Uh oh. This doesn't look good."
Ranma's mind locked up as he heard the muttering of the Captain in the cabin behind him.
"What?! What's happening?!" Ranma asked, scanning the waters. He was joined by several other men that had heard the man, and some others that had heard him. Almost all of them were armed, and few were past twenty.
The Captain glanced at the pigtailed boy, then looked back into the sky. "Look at those clouds. We've got a mean storm coming. A real bad one."
The Captain then experienced the agonizing discomfort of having several pairs of eyes stare at you in angry disbelief.
"A STORM?!?! You're getting us all worked up about a storm?! I thought you had seen a sea monster or something!"
"Geez! Afraid of a little wind! See what a deathcrawler can do to ya, and a bloody tornado seem like a joy." Several other passengers shook their heads and walked away.
"Feh. Storm," Ranma muttered, turning back around toward the ocean.
The Captain could do little but sweatdrop. They were right, after all.
__________________________________________________________________________________

New Technologies Propose Key to Israel's Defense.
"Top American scientists unveiled their new magic technologies to Israeli diplomats today, stating that they could hold the key to future success during conventional combat in the new era of technology vs. magic warfare. Among the less reliable technologies presented was a fascinating article known as 'mithril', a special alloy which uses mana forge processes to temper older, more common metal alloys. This new metal has a constitution that defies belief, and completely surpasses all known composites and alloys. Mithril shows particular promise as an armor-piercing tip, and has been projected to pierce many of the magical fields and armors used by more potent demonic opponents. Several tons of mithril-tipped missiles and cannon shells have already been requested by Israel, and the final outcome of the Death March looks more hopeful every day as magic and technology are merged for the common defense of civilization."
- Israeli newspaper, 2002
__________________________________________________________________________________

"Hmmmm... Looks like America finally annexed Mexico. Took them long enough." Ranma mused, looking over his newspaper. Occasionally he would tear his eyes away from the headlines to look at the stars, bright and scattered across the clear night sky. By new Israeli laws, no big lights were allowed on at night, which made it easy to see the night sky even from the streets of Jerusalem.
Not that he was on the streets at the moment. No, not Ranma. The pigtailed boy was currently lying down atop one of the supply depots, reading his paper by way of a small magical crystal he had bought that emitted light endlessly. Quite a useful little trinket.
"Ranma?"
"Yo Karen. Over here." Ranma still hadn't picked up Hebrew yet, but he had learned English a long time ago, and had gotten enough practice with other people who speak it that he was practically fluent.
Karen Molsk stood up easily on the roof, pulling herself through the small roof access panel. Clearly, the roof was not made for people to be climbing on it save for maintenance. But had that ever stopped Ranma? Ha!
"It took some smooth talking, but I finally got it," 'That jerk had better appreciate this,' she thought, holding out a small box to her friend and fellow soldier. Not that Ranma was really a soldier, but he fought like one, for sure.
"SWEET!! Thanks!" Ranma exclaimed, snatching the package away and holding the crystal above it. After grinning at the box label, he tore it open, and smoothly pulled out the object inside. "A Nighthawk .50 caliber pistol! You're the best Karen!"
She was about to disagree with him in traditional display of (false) modesty, when she found herself being scooped into a warm hug. Blushing furiously, the Israeli girl's protest was reduced to a feeble stutter until Ranma gently let go to examine his new gun.
Karen gulped slightly and tried to collect her wits. It wasn't much of a secret that she found Ranma remarkably attractive. He was good-looking, a fighter of astounding ability, and... well... different.
Most people his age were immature little kids, teenagers who thought they knew everything and would do anything for sex. On the flip side, many of those teenagers who had grown up alongside the Death March and the horrors it brought had either become cold, emotionless shells, or gruff, hardened killing machines that slept with their guns loaded and the safety off.
Ranma was different. He hadn't just grown up WITH the Death March, he had grown up IN it. He had seen brutality, slaughter, and suffering. But he wasn't cold or brutal. At least, not off the battlefield. Ranma could be so carefree and happy, and was never too afraid or too depressed to have fun. But he could be serious, too, when the situation called for it. And besides that, he was one of the few boys she had met that had some measure of control over his libido (much to her great frustration).
Looking at him now, checking his pistol as the glow from his crystal illuminated one side of him...
'God, he is SO sexy... whoa, simmer down girl!' Trying to distract herself, she noticed the newspaper just barely visible from the meager light of the crystal. "So, what's up in the North?"
Ranma glanced at her, and then realized what she meant. "Well, Moscow's still holding up with that magic shield thingy. Of course, they still have that problem with zombies popping up all over the place UNDER the shield, but they've gotta take what they can get."
Ranma slipped the weapon into his pants pocket, and held up his crystal to get a better look at her. Karen was very popular for two main reasons: one, because she was the most successful student in Israel's mage training program, and two, because she was one of the hottest babes that could be found in the barracks. Of course, she was also only 16, and that had caused its fair share of complications in both matters. Ranma could still feel the small measure of sympathy he had for an army Major who had gotten a little too friendly with Karen and had inadvertently made himself the test subject of a low-level magic spell. That in itself was understandable, but she didn't have to blast him THERE.
Karen was tall for her age, with light, sandy hair that was tied into a long ponytail at the back of her head. Her trim figure was well-maintained by her constant combat exercises, which Ranma himself had contributed to. And, if Ranma did say so himself, she had quite an impressive rack, too.
It was about at that point that he realized he was staring at her body again, and Ranma jerked his head away to look at the stars instead. 'Real smooth, jerk!' he chastised. Ranma could keep focused and look past a pretty face and a curved body better than most boys his age, and he'd be the first to say so, but he still got certain urges sometimes. Particularly around girls that he had spent a lot of time fighting or talking with. Ranma often found it best to just play it cool and pretend like nothing was happening.

Breaking the uneasy staring, Karen cautiously walked next to where Ranma was standing and sat down on the tiled roof, raising her gaze to look at the stars. Seeing little alternative but to join her, Ranma fell straight down onto his back, his eyes on the sky.
After a long moment, Karen finally broke the silence.
"What is it all for, Ranma?"
The pigtailed boy blinked. This sounded like the beginning of one of those deep, unrealistic philosophy-type questions. Great. "What?"
"The fighting. The killing." She sighed deeply. "Are we, as a race, so horrid, so vile, that we have to be wiped out like this? What great misdeed sparked it all? What horrible crime has humanity committed to deserve all of this?"
Ranma blinked. "Well, there was that Bill Clinton guy. Ow!"
Karen stopped pinching his leg. "I'm being serious, dope." She smiled a bit, but waited for Ranma to answer the question seriously.
Ranma sighed. "I don't think we did anything. I don't believe in karma, or that life is fair or just. The fact is, those things are out there, and a large majority of them just see us as big snacks with pop guns."
"And we see them as ruthless, merciless marauders that have to be taken down at all costs." Karen mused.
Ranma rolled his eyes. "And are we wrong?"
"......................."
"That's what I thought."
Karen thought about pinching him again, but decided against it. "I don't know. I just get tired of it, you know? All we ever do is fight, and far too often, we kill. How much longer Ranma? How much longer will this go on? How much longer CAN it go on? The U.S. has already nuked the Nexus FOUR times, and the bloody thing just got dusty. We've all seen the reports of actual intelligent beings behind the armies fighting near the European border. When will it all end?"
Ranma noted the stress in her voice near the end, and winced internally. Karen didn't cry often-she was too strong for that-but when she did, it drove Ranma to the peak of mental agony to hear. The Israeli girl had lost both of her parents in the initial defense aimed to drive back the demonic invaders. The first lines had, as they had in every other battle like it, been smashed more quickly and brutally than any of the generals could've anticipated. The defense had held, but the casualties by the end of the day had been heartwrenching.
Karen desperately fought back tears as she found herself remembering her parents once again, gritting her teeth and trying to find something, anything, to distract her. They had been killed quickly and efficiently, and in such a manner that it had been a simple task to identify their corpses on the battlefield. Certainly a much better death than that of the men in the barracks the next evening, when a sac of deathcrawler eggs had hatched-
'No! Stop thinking about it! Just...' her thoughts trailed off as she felt Ranma's large hand encompass her own. Then she felt herself being gently drawn into a hug, and all her speculation and anxiety melted away as she wrapped her arms around Ranma's waist.
"I... I'm sorry. I really am I bother sometimes, aren't I?" She chuckled weakly into his ear.
"Oh, hush you." Ranma mumbled pleasantly, and then gave the ponytailed girl a peck on the cheek. It wasn't until after he noticed her blush (in the pale glow from his crystal) that he wondered just what the hell he was doing.
In complete panic, he spread his arms, only to find that she had quite firmly attached herself to him.
Karen sighed deeply, pressing her body against Ranma's, and rested her head on his shoulder. "For just one night... let's forget fighting..." she whispered huskily, her hands straying away from Ranma's back.
Ranma's mind locked up as she moved her head to face him, and then kissed him full on the lips, savoring his warmth in the slight chill of the desert night.
Ranma soon began to respond in kind, though the parts of his brain that hadn't simply ceased function and surrendered to teenage hormones were mostly concerned with how far Karen was planning to take this. Ranma really didn't want to get hurt (physically or otherwise), but he especially didn't want to hurt Karen.
As she tipped him over to pin him on the roof, Ranma broke the kiss to look her in the eyes.
"Ka-Karen, I... I don't know if we should do this..." Ranma mumbled, fighting his own instincts.
"And why not?" The Israeli girl breathed, before kissing Ranma neck roughly, pressing her body firmly against his.
Ranma gulped as he felt the tender caress of her lips along his neck, and physically restrained his hands from moving off the tiled roof. "I... Ka-Karen..." he stuttered, unable to piece together his thoughts beyond the girl's name.
To his relief/regret, he felt her shift slightly, and the pleasant sensation of Karen's lips and tongue on his neck ceased. Apparently, she was going to wait for an actual answer.
Taking a deep breath, Ranma began, "Karen... I'm not going to stay here. I don't want you to get hurt. Not because of me. And whatever happens between us, I can't always be there for you." Ranma mentally swore at himself. Not only because he sounded lame and sappy, but also because he knew that everything he was saying was absolutely true. "I don't want us to do something that we'll regret tomorrow," Ranma finished, profusely thankful that he was able to spit it all out without screwing up.
"You're such a dimwit," Karen muttered softly.
'Okay, so maybe I did screw up,' Ranma thought.
The Israeli girl shifted herself again to look Ranma in the eyes, unmindful that she was still pressing her voluptuous body against his. "Do you think the future matters, in this world? Do you think hurt feelings matter? When we fight every day and could be killed at any moment without even knowing what hit us, you still think that we should worry about little regrets and shattered feelings?" She smirked slightly as she lowered her voice. "And most of all, you think that I would actually regret making love to you? Dimwit."
Ranma blinked. "Uh... well, when you put it that wa-mmmph!"
As she kissed him deeply, Karen's hand found Ranma's wrist, and she softly dug her fingers into his fist to take hold of the small crystal that was the last source of significant light on the roof.
And then, with a flick of her wrist, she sent it sailing off the edge of the roof, and down to the streets below.
"Hey! My crystal! I paid money for that thing!"
"Shut up and get naked."
__________________________________________________________________________________

7 Year War Finally Ends, New World Demands Leadership
"Official reports place the final scattering of the final demonic army at 6:30 PM Atlantic Time, marking the official end of the Death March, the single most devastating conflict in Earth's written history. While fleeing the rain of mithril-tipped rocket and artillery fire that annihilated the final demonic army (commonly known as the Three Legions), the psilor Demetrius Yaermon was disabled in a fierce battle against U.S. magi-soldiers, and then apprehended by conventional ground forces. Yaermon will be escorted to an undisclosed location using maximum security, whereupon he will be tried before a military tribunal for his numerous war crimes. This process is, even as it's being implemented, being heavily debated, as it's questionable whether Yaermon would be subject to such laws and procedures, given his status as a non-human, and major player in the 7-year crisis. As the final remnants of the organized demonic armies retreated into the East, the world celebrated the end of the supernatural threat that was once predicted to overcome the entire planet. Even so, new controversies are already being discussed, such as the place of these new creatures in the new world east of the European borders. Integration of humans and intelligent, benevolent non-humans is a subject of great debate, as the human race can hardly forgive so recent a conflict. The U.S., Canada, the New Japanese Empire, and Australia currently lead the world in non-human integration, although the number of intelligent NHs in North America is estimated at less than 400 total. The total casualty rate of the Death March is staggering, and most analysts have given up more than vague guesses as fluctuating communications and re-exploration continue to unearth new information. Of the countries of Asia, none remained unscathed. Israel has weathered the assault the best out of everything east of Europe, and reports minimal damage, with a relatively low loss of life. Other countries, such as China, India, Korea, and Vietnam have been totally overrun, and it's questionable whether humans remain. Much of the Middle East has been wiped out, and the countries surrounding Israel shattered. Contacts in Africa report the appearance of strange, new animals, but there are no indications of further military organization among the NHs. Alongside all the questions that plague the new world are the mysteries of the seemingly indestructible Nexus that sparked the conflict, and scientific convoys are being prepared to make trips into other worlds and report the findings."
- U.S.A. newspaper, 2003
__________________________________________________________________________________

Ranma put down the newspaper, musing to himself.
"Huh. Going into the other worlds eh? Just sounds like more trouble to me." He rolled up the newspaper and tossed it onto the fire he had built, and the flames rose a little higher as the paper was quickly consumed. "You'd think they'd have had enough of those 'other worlds' without actually seeing them." Shaking his head at the foolish curiosity of mankind, Ranma laid himself onto his back, resting his head on his arms.
He was dressed in long black sweatpants and a plain long-sleeve shirt with a thick leather vest over it. On his feet were some steel-toed hiking boots, and he had a belt on that held a small array of items and weapons, among them his Nighthawk, a combat knife, and his katana. His old staff had been traded, along with a substantial portion of his funds, for a push-button, mithril-plated extendible one. Mithril was in high demand these days, and very poor supply. America was the only place that had the techniques and technology to mass-produce it, and even then in surprisingly small quantities. The rest of the world relied on either trade with the U.S. or a few scattered, extremely knowledgeable smiths who had found out how to make the precious metal.
Ranma was currently enjoying the sights of the once-great city of Beijing. Namely, the ruins of the buildings that had once made up the city. While it was beautiful sight, seeing the shattered place overgrown with vegetation and growing foliage, it was also very depressing. There was also the fact that much of the 'wildlife' that now populated the urban region was not native to Earth, and tended to think of human beings as little more than light meals that made lots of different noises as they were eaten.
The pigtailed boy sighed to himself. He was hoping to have found some small village, or perhaps a fortified bunker where a group of people were hiding, but all of the surrounding villages had said that Beijing was dead, and it appeared they were right. Especially the industrial sector. He'd never seen so many zombies in his life!
Nope, the only intelligent life around here was himself, and maybe that wyvern flying just a few kilometers away.
Ranma blinked. Wyvern?
Sitting up, the pigtailed boy scanned the skyline, and saw that there was, indeed, a wyvern flying above the empty buildings of Beijing. The mighty pseudo dragon flew in a tight ellipse, always ensuring that it remained within a small area. After a few moments of watching, Ranma realized that its orbit was getting smaller. After a few more, he corrected himself; the orbit wasn't getting smaller. The center was moving.
Ranma could already guess at what was going on, but nonetheless, he reached into his nearby backpack and took out a pair of binoculars.
Through the binoculars, Ranma confirmed what he had already expected: that wyvern was a trained guard animal. No wild creature would linger so long over potential prey, and besides, it had a huge metal collar and restraints on.
Given that what it was guarding was moving, Ranma guessed that it was some kind of convoy.
'Well, might as well check it out," Ranma mused, pulling his backpack over his shoulder.

As he ran toward the main streets, Ranma pulled out a block of C-4 and a remote detonator from his pack. While new-age magic technology was extremely rare and valuable, conventional weapons could pretty much be found lying on the ground by anyone who bothered to search for long enough. Ranma had found a stash of high-grade military explosives packed in a wrecked car in Libya, and taken a bit for himself and left the rest after finding a detonator. Never knew when you might need to blow something up, after all.
Coming up under a shop that looked like it had been chopped in half, Ranma gently stuck the explosives on the underside of a large rock atop some piled rubble and set the trigger.

Walking away from his trap, Ranma edged around the building and brought his binoculars to his eyes as he spied the convoy.
He was surprised when he got a good look at it. An oversized wagon dominated the center of the procession, with a humanoid who was obviously a mage atop it. It was being pulled by a reaper; one of the massive, armored beasts that he had seen back in the first village that had been attacked. It was surrounded by vicoids and lizardmen, all armed fairly well and keeping pace easily.
What really caught Ranma's attention, however, was three figures that trailed the wagon a little more closely and carefully than the others. Namely, because they were chained to it. Two humans-one male, one female-and a werewolf were being transported in a manner that clearly identified them as slaves. The werewolf was in the animal form of his lycanthrope heritage, and seemed to walk much more heavily and proudly than the broken man and woman, even as his back was covered with scars.
Ranma grit his teeth. Only a wound inflicted with silver could scar a lycanthrope; anything else healed quickly and without a scratch. And to whip a lycanthrope with silver (as this one clearly had been) was equivalent to torture.
Ranma put down his binoculars. He couldn't tell from this distance, but it was likely the humans had undergone similar agonies. And whether or not they actually had, one thing about this convoy was clear: whoever was in charge kept slaves. And to Ranma, slavery was a big no-no.
'Well, it's time to crash this party.' Ranma stealthily crept up closer to the convoy, and then discreetly followed when the column was forced to move around a corner to weave through the buildings. Always, Ranma would duck under an overhang or any projection when the wyvern flew overhead, counting off the seconds before it had turned around and then counting the number of seconds before it completed the loop and came back.
As Ranma determined he was far enough away from the explosives to begin, he wondered exactly what kind of cargo was so important that the owner would need it protected by a trained wyvern and no less 30 creatures, many of which could charge and fight under sustained machine gun fire.
'Oh well. Time for that later.' Ranma fished the detonator from his pocket, and pushed the button.
*THROOOOM!!!*
The entire group jerked to a halt as the explosion detonated far behind them, and all the guards immediately took up fighting positions. It was far from unknown for groups of NHs (Non-Humans, a politically correct term given to the demons and creatures that crossed from the Nexus into Earth), malicious or not, to be assaulted by a wandering tank or troop division, and the explosion had been unusually loud.
The wyvern narrowed its eyes as it caught sight of the smoke from the blast site, and shot up into the air with a powerful flap of its large wings before diving towards the source, eager to protect its quarry.
As the wyvern flew away to investigate, the mage, cloaked in a wizard's robe and hood, addressed the soldiers. "Calm down and keep moving. The lizard will take care of whatever it was."
*Blam!!* *Blam!!*
The entire procession jerked to a stop again, and everyone turned toward the source of the gunshots, save the two lizardmen who fell to the ground, bloody holes through their skulls.
Ranma grinned, and holstered his Nighthawk. "All right, we can do this the easy way, or the hard-"
"Kill him," the mage interrupted.
"Righty-o," Ranma muttered, and then ducked down as the troops charged.
*K-shing!* *Shyang!* Ranma moved much faster than any of the monsters had expected, and one lizardman found the blade of a fine-edged katana slicing through his midsection and soft leather armor even as Ranma drew it from its sheath. Cutting in a wide circle, Ranma caught another lizardman across the face, slicing open its head before kicking it firmly to the side.
Ranma ducked under a vicoid's sword, and then punched it straight in the chest armor, throwing the insecticoid onto its back. Lizardmen were cannon fodder; creatures that were generally stronger and faster than humans, but with little else to show for their species. Vicoids, on the other hand, could shrug off bullets, and a katana's edge was all but worthless against their rock-like carapace.
Ranma flipped backward over another sword slash, kicking the attacking vicoid in the back of the head as he did so. Once he touched the ground, Ranma quickly sheathed his katana, and then withdrew his bo staff from its holster on his back.
*K-shink!* *Clang!* Ranma deflected a number of attacks, and then whipped the staff around and under his arm to smash into a vicoid's chin, sending the warrior hurtling backwards through the air. Then he jammed the staff backwards, hearing a satisfying *Crack!* as the insecticoid attacker's shell split open from the force.

The mage frowned deeply as he watched the boy, a human of no more than 17 if looks were any indication, engaged the 24 remaining defenders, whipping his staff around at high speed to create a strong defensive zone around him. Two soldiers tried to attack through the perimeter, and found their weapons wrenched from their hands and knocked far across the broken streets as a result.
Looking at the rear of the wagon, the mage could see the two humans huddled in a mutual embrace underneath, not daring to even look at the conflict. Meanwhile, the werewolf looked over its shoulder at the fight, an amused expression on its face.
By the time the cloaked figure's gaze returned to the engagement, 3 more soldiers had been dispatched; two of them dead, while the other vicoid had had its legs crushed in such a manner that it would likely never stand again.
The mage's gaze darkened. Knowing trained wyverns as well as he did, the creature would probably spend a number of minutes still searching for the source of the explosion (even longer if it had found something of interest), and wouldn't come much more quickly even if it saw the battle back at the cargo wagon.
One more vicoid went down, having its wrist smashed with the staff first before being spin-kicked away. The boy was obviously concentrating on the insecticoids, so that he could finish the battle fighting the more fragile lizardmen.
"Enough!!" The mage spread his hands out, and blue light flared around his fists before he began chanting some words softly to himself.
The soldiers understood this to mean for them to move aside, and did so. Magic was far more discriminatory than most other natural forces, but one still avoided being between it and the target if one valued his life.
One vicoid was a tad too slow, and was tripped up by the end of Ranma's staff before he was smashed aside hard enough to shatter most of the bones in his chest.

Ranma looked up at the mage and sighed. Great. Magic. Now that he was close enough, he could see the colored tattoo-like marks on the mage's face that identified his race. The evons were extremely human-like physically, and had been mistaken, quite understandably, as humans with tattoos and face paintings when they had first appeared during the Death March. They were unique demons, and had strong natural affinities for magic manipulation. They were also unique in that their race wasn't particularly biased toward humanity. Some of them were almost unreasonably understanding and tolerant, while others, like this jerk, were of a more malicious bent.
"Rhekto no choh KA!!!" The evon shouted, and several small spheres of lightning flew from his hands toward Ranma.
Ranma grit his teeth and began dodging, as the bolts were spread out widely in an attempt to negate his superior agility. And it worked, to a point.
As he felt the heat of the detonations around him, and avoided more of the incoming blasts, Ranma withdrew his pistol from its holster.
The mage noticed the movement, and quickly completed casting his second spell. "-no choh KA!!!"
*Blam!!* *Blam!!* *Choom!!* Two shots were fired before the ribbon of lightning blasted into Ranma, sending the pigtailed boy to his knees.
The mage blinked, realizing that neither of the bullets had struck him. Had the human fired at him and missed?
Ranma grunted as his muscles spasmed from the electricity coursing through him, and slowly pushed himself up, making sure to display as much fatigue and pain as he could. Fighting creatures many times more powerful than him hadn't exactly humbled the young martial artist, but he did learn that displaying weakness didn't always result in a loss. Arrogance was everyone's enemy.
The evon floated down gently to the ground, smirking. Then he noticed that many of the soldiers were looking at him nervously. "What?"
Feeling something tap him on the shoulder, the mage turned swiftly, and his eyes widened. The werewolf's silver wrist cuffs were lying on the ground, broken at the lock, and the way he was baring his teeth, and the proximity of his claws, boded very ill for the remaining convoy defenders. The evon spent his last moments reflecting upon how difficult it must have been to hit the locks on the cuffs from Ranma's distance.

The rest of the troops were in a quandary. On the one hand, they should probably get to work on pacifying the werewolf immediately, before the pigtailed boy regained his bearings fully. On the other hand, the boy had begun attacking them again, and the mage had just had his chest gouged out of him.
Never let it be said that front-line cannon fodder troops were COMPLETE idiots.

Ranma snorted as the lizardmen fled quickly into the surrounding buildings, their morale broken. The last vicoid wasn't so easily spooked, and Ranma had been forced to put it down the hard way.
The pigtailed boy quickly approached the wagon, and immediately forced apart the shackles on the two bewildered humans.
"Are you guys okay? You'd better get out of here!"
The two former slaves looked at each other, then none-too-discreetly moved themselves so that Ranma was in-between them and the werewolf. "Aren't you going to kill that one, too?"
Ranma blinked. "Why? Isn't he your friend?"
The man scoffed. "Our friend?! Are you blind, man? Look at him!" The woman attempted to calm him, and the man stopped his tirade, glaring fiercely at the creature behind the safety of Ranma's body.
Ranma rolled his eyes. He recognized blind hatred when he saw it. Not that he could really blame the guy, being a slave and all. "Look, I'll take care of this one. You just skedaddle, all right?"
"Thank you! Thank you so much!" The woman thanked profusely, dragging the man behind him into the streets of Beijing.
Ranma watched them go, then turned to the werewolf. It stared back at him emotionlessly, blood still dripping from its claws.
"So... you gonna thank me, or try and kill me?" Ranma wondered aloud, putting away his staff. If the thing did turn hostile, the katana would be a better choice against an unarmored foe.
The wolf's maw stretched into a rather disturbing looking smile (one that showed lots of teeth), and it spoke.
"Reshall yrah grathul nog matta shyau?"
Ranma blinked. "Uhm... sorry man. You speak English? Or Japanese? Chinese? No?" Ranma scratched his head. While traveling all over the world had revealed a hidden talent of his for speaking foreign languages, he had never picked up any demonic or tribal tongue.
The werewolf snorted, nonplussed. Then the towering beast turned and walked away, its large tail brushing Ranma's legs as it stalked off.
"Well... fine, be that way," Ranma muttered. Oh well. It wasn't important anyway. "Now to see what's in this wagon.

Ranma didn't have an official profession as a wanderer. Many like him were mercenaries, or, if they were more specialized in who they fought, they would term themselves bounty hunters or demon hunters (the latter career path being noticeably rarer and more unwelcome among certain parts; demons still more or less ruled the devastated wastelands of Asia). While he did a bit of each at some point, Ranma had always found a certain joy in treasure hunting (that he mostly hunted the treasure that some monster wielded or hoarded was not a coincidence).
Entering the wagon, Ranma grinned as he saw the multitude of chests and trunks within. Whoever was going to receive this had a great deal of influence indeed. And seeing how the loser saw fit to keep slaves, Ranma had few qualms about helping himself to the guy's stuff.
Looking around, a chest near the center of the hold caught his eye. Not because it was inlaid with gold or gems, like some of them were, but in fact because it stood out as the most plain and sturdy-looking of the containers. And besides, it didn't have a visible lock.
Ranma soon found out, unfortunately, that the case actually possessed an 'invisible' lock. When he tried to pry the chest open, the lid simply refused to budge, and Ranma noticed a slight green glow come from the crack that he was trying to pry open. A locking spell. No key or lockpick in the world could open it.
Ranma reached into his pocket, and pulled out a translucent crystal with a slight yellow tint. One of these, however...
Holding the crystal near the chest lid, the green glow intensified considerably, and Ranma grunted as he felt the invisible bond give way.
Chuckling to himself, Ranma pocketed the magic disruptor once again, and then leaned over to look at the chest.
"Neato! Nice glove!" Ranma reached in and pulled out the sole item in the chest: a large, black gauntlet. It was rather heavy, with tough but flexible plating to protect the entire hand. It had a metal-plated wristguard with a blue oval gem set in it, and another gem of the same size and shape set in the back of the hand. The position of the thumb indicated that this item was for the right hand.
"Huh. Whoever bought this thing got ripped off. There's only one."
"Yo, numbskull! What're you doing?! And what was all that noise outside?!"
Ranma whipped around as he heard the voice, his hand already on the hilt of his katana. However, when he looked around, he could see no one.
"Huh? Who said that?"
"What do you mean 'who said that'?" The voice snapped, "it's me! In the cage, dimwit!"
Ranma blinked, noting that there was a large birdcage off to the side of the cargo hold, with a large sheet covering it.
Walking cautiously, he unconsciously slipped the gauntlet over his right hand, noting absently that it seemed to shrink and reform itself to the shape of his hand as he did so. Weird.
Ready for anything, Ranma grabbed a corner of the sheet and then snatched it off quickly.
"That's bett-what the heck? You're not an evon!"
Ranma stared blandly at the foot-and-a-half long mini-dragon that was seated on a perch in the bird cage. "And you're not a lizardman," he deadpanned. "Now that we have that out of the way, what are you?"
The creature blinked up at him. "Me? Ha! I'll have you know that I'm a dragon!"
"Yes," Ranma drawled, "I'd kinda guessed that." The mini-dragon looked like the variety normally portrayed in the west. It had a thin, serpentine body, with two strong-looking hind legs, and two much smaller front legs. It's mouth was formed into a sharp beak, and it had a pair of sharp-looking wings that were currently folded up over its back. Most interesting of all, however, was that rather than scales, it looked to be protected by silvery, overlaying metal segments that covered its entire body, from under its skull to the tip of its tail.
The dragon looked a little miffed at his response, and jerked its snout up at him. "I'll have you know I'm a very rare type of dragon."
"The fun-size type?" Ranma guessed, smirking as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"I'll let that one pass," the dragon muttered, "I happen to be a real, live, in-the-steel metadragon! One of the last of my kind!"
Ranma snorted. "You're kind must not be much, if they're almost gone and you're what's left."
The metadragon's eye twitched slightly, and it looked like it was going to come up with a scathing reply, when an idea suddenly occurred to it. "Hey! Are you here to rescue me?"
Ranma blinked. "Rescue you?"
"Yeah!" The creature shouted happily, spreading its wings, "I'm supposed to be kept as some kind of stupid pet for some demon lord in the north that raises dragons. Do you think you could let me out?"
Ranma pursed his lips. "I don't know. I don't think it's right, just letting a dragon out to run wild. You guys can cause some serious damage when you grow up." Then another thought occurred to Ranma. "Assuming you lived long enough to grow up. It's really dangerous out there, and I don't think something your size could survive."
The dragon bigsweated. "I could go with you! C'mon! Anything's better than being left in this cage!"
Ranma's face darkened. "With me? You've gotta be kidding me."
"I'm serious!" it insisted, "We'll be best buds! C'mon! Think about it: having your own little dragon companion to keep you company!"
Ranma snorted. "Please. That sounds like some like a contrived fantasy theme for some bad piece of fiction or something. Besides," he added, turning around, "I don't really like dragons."
The metadragon blinked. "Why not?"
"Because the last time I met one, it ate a bunch of my friends," Ranma spat, not turning around.
The mini-dragon sweatdropped. "Well, that's why one doesn't normally fight dragons. It's kind of stupid, really."
Ranma turned around and glared at the silvery beast. "It died slowly for that. Last I heard, they were making tiny things out of what was left of its skull."
The little metadragon's eyes went wide, and it chuckled nervously. "Eh heh heh... look, could you just take me with you? Please? I can be real helpful!"
"Like how?" Ranma asked, smirking.
The little creature thought for a bit. "Well... you didn't make that much noise, so you probably didn't fight the wyvern that was guarding this wagon. There's one protecting it, you know."
Ranma's smirk grew. "I already knew that. Try again."
"Uh... okay... well, did you know that it's right behind you?"
Ranma blinked, and then slowly turned around.
Large, yellow eyes stared back at him, set in a massive beak half as big as Ranma's whole body. Apparently the wyvern had finished checking the detonation and returned to protect its cargo.
Ranma turned toward the metadragon. "I'm already starting to not like you." It sweatdropped.
"GrrraaaaaAAAAAAAH..." The pseudo-dragon began sucking in air, preparing to toast the entire wagon with a jet of fire.
Ranma panicked, and seeing no alternative way out of the cargo hold, jumped forward, grabbing both halves of the creature's beak and slamming them shut.
*FWOOM!* The pigtailed boy flinched back as a sharp puff of fire blasted out of the corners of the wyvern's beak, and the creature he was holding adopted a look of intense pain.
Attempting to crush the human, the wyvern threw its head to the side sharply. Unfortunately for the large winged monster, Ranma had already let go, and it only succeeded in slamming its head into the side of the cargo hold, knocking the entire wagon over.

The wyvern withdrew it head quickly, and stepped back, coughing up smoke and ash fiercely. That had NEVER happened before!
As it finally reoriented itself, the wyvern glared at the overturned wagon. Near the front, the lone reaper that had pulled the vehicle stood calmly, cleaning its mighty scythes with its mandibles. It was really amazing how easily the creatures could be trained, from bloodthirsty ravagers, to docile pack animals.
Deciding to try again, the wyvern sucked in a deep breath, and then blew out a thin stream of fire straight into the cargo wagon, causing parts of it to splinter and vibrate. This rather spooked out the reaper, who began to scuttle away, ignorant or oblivious to the fact that the wagon was actually tied to it.
The wyvern coughed up a bit more ash as it watched the blazing wagon get dragged away. Served the stupid human right.
"You know, you just burned up a lot of cool stuff," Ranma speculated, leaning on the pseudo-dragon's leg.
The wyvern glared down at him, then returned to gazing at the wagon in satisfaction.
Then it snapped its head back down, its eyes wide, and its jaw slack.
Ranma smiled up at the huge beast, the bird cage that held the tiny metadragon at his feet. "Did you miss me?" Then he took advantage of the wyvern's stunned state, and tossed a brick of C-4 into its mouth before snapping the beak shut like before.
The wyvern swallowed reflexively, then snatched its head back, growling deeply. It would show this human to trifle with the likes of him!
Wyverns were not considered real dragons for a number of reasons, among them being their limited intelligence. Had Ranma been facing a real dragon, it might have very well wondered why the 'weak, puny human' had pulled out a small black rectangular box to face a mighty creature well over thrice his size.
*THOOOOM* The wyvern's entire body jerked mightily, and its eyes bulged out of its head. Then it spat up a final puff of smoke and fell heavily onto its side, dead as the vicoid corpses that it crushed while doing so.

The metadragon watched the whole affair with huge eyes. "Damn... you ARE good!"
Ranma smirked at the creature. "Heh. Hey, maybe you're not so bad after all. C'mere." Ranma kneeled onto the ground, and pried open the small, but strong lock with his combat knife.
"Oh, I see how it is. Stroke your ego, and I get to stay, huh?" The dragon muttered.
Ranma smirked some more. "Well, you gotta earn your keep, right? The name's Ranma, by the way. Ranma Saotome. Hmmmmmmmm... I think I'll call you 'K'."
K blinked as he stepped out of the cage and onto the street. "'K'? What kind of a name is that?"
Ranma shrugged. "Well, what were you called before?"
K snorted. "Feh. My parents gave me a name in our native dragon tongue. It's a title so utterly complex and eloquent that your human mind couldn't possibly comprehend it."
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Try me."
"It was 'Tom'," the metadragon explained slowly.
"............................ Right. 'K' it is."

**********************************************************************************

End Chapter 1

Author's Notes:
Well, I think this is pretty self-explanatory, but in case it's not, I'll go over the details of what exactly has happened in the world.
First of all, most of Asia has been worked over by the invaders completely. All the nations have been torn apart, with the exception of Israel. A few scattered cities have largely survived, like Tokyo, Moscow, and some areas of Hong Kong, but the governments have totally lost control of the territory they used to hold.
The devastated areas of Asia can be compared to pretty much any RPG; monsters roaming, scattered towns and farms, bandits, raiders, etc. After the Death March, which is the name given to the 7 year war between human civilization and the demonic invaders because of the prevalence of necromancy during the conflict, no country had enough remaining military power to go out and reclaim its borders from the wild monsters that have populated the area (save those countries that never lost any territory), or lend the weapons so that those devastated countries could do so.
These lands now host a mix of magic and technology, as the creatures from the Nexus have learned to coexist with the surviving humans (or, in many cases, dominate them) without the influence of a greater power leading them to battle. The most tolerant areas with regards to human/NH relations are actually those areas without a government in place to enforce the peace, though this is also where the most violent conflict occurs between the two groups.
In some areas, demons rule like Japanese warlords, taxing their people and in some cases actually running functional governments, though mistreatment and even slavery is common.
Tokyo, the center of the New Japanese Empire, has become the world's great center for magic technology, and has learned much from its study of the invaders and proximity to the Nexus. It now ranks as the 6th most powerful country in terms of military and 8th most powerful in terms of economy. Keeping in mind that this is practically a single city (though it has grown much larger since the beginning of the Death March), the New Japanese Empire owes almost all of its success and survival to its study of magic.