STORMY'S CONSCIENCE: Because you're biting off more then you can chew?
STORMY: No comments from the peanut gallery! *hits herself in the head*
STORMY'S CONSCIENCE: Ow.
* * *
DISCLIMER: Nope, not mine. If I owned Ranma and friends, I'd give poor Ryoga a magic compass so he could at least find the bathroom without needing visual aids. *Stormy eyes the audience* Down, you hentais! I meant arrows, or rope - stuff like that! *hears disappointed mumbles from audience* Anyway, all those in question belong to Rumiko Takahashi. Get it? Got it? Good.
* * *
* PROLOGUE *
It was cold. That was about all she could really feel, the dampness of the stone against her back, the slight wind that blew through the small room. A tremble went through her body as she felt it's icy passage, but her eyes remained blank, staring straight ahead at something only she could see.
How long had she been here? Time passed without a way for her discern just how much of it. Would anyone come?
_Don't think, don't remember_. The girl didn't even blink as a lock of blue-black hair swept into her face. Her hand didn't raise to brush it away; her arms remained locked around her knees, where they had remained for several hours now. What was the point in thinking, anyway? It only brought back images of pain, of fear. Why think about it when she would get to relive it again soon? Fighting back used to be an option. Not any longer. Fighting only garnered you more pain, and took away your hope.
Hope. It was a dismal concept. How could one rally hope when confined within a stone prison? The girl stared blindly at the heavy wooden door that trapped her. It was a solid reminder that she was no longer free, that she couldn't leave. Where would she go? She had been here so long, she didn't think she had the strength, or the will to do anything. Her only hope lay in rescue. But who would come? Who would save her? Who...knew her?
The girl shuddered again. During the course of her...stay here, she had suffered the effects of a head injury. Inflicted, of course, by her captors who still remained, frustratingly nameless. Nameless, heartless beings that preyed upon her like a pack of wolves, while she was too weak to defend herself. A flicker of something. She had not always been weak, had she? No, she had been strong. Very strong. But not strong enough. She couldn't remember what had transpired to bring her to this place, but she knew what had happened to her here. Muscles twinged, the pain registering on a subconscious level, a deep pain that chilled her soul as well. But she barely acknowledged it, knowing more of the same would come soon enough. She would have no choice but to acknowledge it then. Until then however, she merely stayed where she was, knees curled up to her chest, eyes staring vacantly, hoping without any real hope, that she would be set free from here. Her lips parted and she spoke one word, a word that had kept darting in and out her mind too quickly for her to focus on. But it gave her a faint sense of security and she clung to that word stubbornly, knowing it was important, knowing it had something to do with her. Knowing it somehow was a key to her freedom.
* * *
* CHAPTER ONE *
* * *
The sun rose slowly, its morning rays clearing away the shadows with its warm light, striking the rooftops with a glinting light that reflected down to areas that couldn't quite be reached. It's reach extended, the higher it rose, gleaming off the metal frames of cars, refracting off the water until all of Nerima was bathed in its light. With the rising of the sun, so too did the tempurature begin lift, the chilliness of the early dawn swept away. It looked like it would be another beautiful day in Nerima. On a rooftop, a figure sat, silently watching the sun make its daily appearance, the light and warmth failing to penetrate. The figure stood, lean and muscular, light casting shadows over his frame. Black hair tied in a pigtail, red sleeveless chinese shirt and familiar black pants, Ranma Saotome watched the coming of the sun with hooded eyes, a stray tear in the corner of one.
" Akane, where are you?" he whispered brokenly.
* * *
Kasumi set the table for breakfast automatically. It was a mundane chore, one she normally performed without thinking twice about it. As the Tendo household runner, Kasumi took it upon herself to make sure her ship was tightly run, and spent most of her days doing housework. Any stranger observing her ona daily basis would wonder why she found that kind of work rewarding, or even interesting. Surely such a pretty girl could find herself a husband so that she may at least run her OWN household. But whenever she was asked about such things, Kasumi would merely smile at the questioner, a hint of mirth twinkling in her eyes. Boring? Unrewarding? Perish the thought! Kasumi observed on a daily basis, all the weirdness that happened in the Tendo household, strangeness that usually followed hot on the heels of Ranma Saotome, boy-who-turns-into-girl, who was also cursed to live in interesting times. Interesting didn't seem to quite cover it at times. Normally such thoughts would have Kasumi humming while she worked, secretly waiting for the next adventure to drop on the front porch, where she would always be ready with hospitality and council. But the the mirth was gone from her eyes now, her movements, normally fluid and graceful, now wooden and jerky as she struggled to keep a normal facade. She glanced down at the table she had set, and stiffened suddenly, bringing a hand to her mouth as she stifled a gasp. There by Ranma's usual seat, she had set another plate as usual. And each time she did, it brought her the familiar sense of pain and loss. Tears welled up in her eyes.
" Oh Akane!" she whispered, and brought a napkin to dab at her eyes. After a minute she composed herself and went into the kitchen to continue making dinner. The silent observer from the side door, furiously swiped the tears from her own eyes.
Nabiki Tendo stepped into the dining room, looking at the seat, and then towards the kitchen. Having wiped away the evidence of her own grief, Nabiki fingered Akane's placemat idly, her sharp mind going back to that fateful day almost two weeks ago. Unlike the others, her and Ranma remained true to the belief that Akane was still alive out there. Somewhere. Nabiki clenched her fist.
" I swear little sister," she vowed angrily again, for probably the one hundredth time since Akane's disappearance. " We'll find you."
She abruptly turned on her heel and strode up to her bedroom. It was just as well she was alone - such displays would have ruined her reputation for being an emotionless business woman. And therein lay the problem. Nabiki knew, shrewd as she was, she was not heartless. She placed a high value on her family, not even her obsession with making money came close to replacing that in her heart. What her 'customers' would find cold and calculating, Nabiki considered a business deal, and much of her profits, be they from betting on one of Ranma's many fights and challenges, or from selling photos of his girl side in sometimes compromising positions, went into the family savings, of which she had complete control over. While Kasumi ran the household, Nabiki ran the finances, paying the insurance on the house and the dojo, allotting money towards household expenses and of course household repairs. Reaching her room, Nabiki sat down in front of her computer and turned it on. As she waited for it to boot up, she idly picked up a ledger and added the cost of repairing the dojo wall - again - to one side of two columns of numbers. Picking up her abacus, she made some calculations and then nodded with satisfaction. Even with Akane missing, things still had to be done, and this particular repair came from the latest battle between Ranma and Ryoga, who were worried sick over Akane, but unable to express their concerns in any way other then fighting. Her computer beeped at her, signalling that she had mail, and she clicked on the icon. She was using all of her resources, calling in favours from all over the place in an effort to track down her sister.
Junk mail, junk mail, condolences...Nabiki scanned her email rapidly, looking for anything that might be of interest. Suddenly her eye caught something, and she let out a surprised gasp. She read the email twice, and then abruptly clicked on print. Impatiently, she waited for the printer to finish before yanking it out and dashing down the stairs. She skidded to a halt outside the kitchen doors.
Her sister turned to her, surprise and concern at Nabiki's tone making her wary.
" Get daddy and Mr. Saotome. I'll get Ranma. I think I've found Akane!"
* * *
Ranma sat on the rooftop, trying to focus. Today, they'd search another part of Japan. Opening his eyes, he glanced down at the tent set up in his backyard where Ryoga was sleeping still. The Lost Boy had worked as hard as he had, helping him search everywhere for Akane. Even now, when Ryoga had decided that Akane must have been killed in the explosion, he still sided himself with Ranma, helping him search, all for the reason that a friend doesn't let another friend do something like this alone.
Friend. When had they become friends? For the longest time, Ranma could remember the screams of "RANMA! PREPARE TO DIE!" coming out of nowhere, and when they did, he knew he was in for a decent workout. Ranma grinned - Ryoga got lost so easily, such matches were far and few between.
In the beginning, he knew their battles hadn't been sparring matches, that Ryoga had been out to do some serious damage. Ranma shrugged at the memory. And why shouldn't he? The source of Ryoga's discontent had been his fault anyway. A while back, sometimes feeling like a lifetime ago, Ranma and his father had gone to China. It was supposed to be just another stop on their decade-long training trip, right? Go to China, pick up a new technique, and move on; he'd been doing it all his life. But Jusenkyo wasn't just any place in China; it was a place of magic. Of curses. Ranma's eyes narrowed. They would have known that if his father had known any chinese. But he hadn't and during an exercise, Ranma and his father both fell into cursed pools of waters. Legend had it that whoever fell in those pools, would take on the form of whatever had last drowned in there. Ranma looked down at his now-male chest. _Well, I can honestly say it ain't no legend_. The touch of cold water would trigger his curse, turning him into a buxom, young red-head, courtesy of the Spring of Drowned Girl. His father had fallen into Spring of Drowned Panda. Ranma snorted. It suits him. He looked at Ryoga's tent again. Ryoga was cursed because he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Following Ranma after Ranma had failed to show up for a fight, Ryoga had been knocked off a cliff edge by a young girl chasing a panda. Ranma winced at the memory - at the time he didn't even notice he'd hit someone. Ryoga had fallen into Spring of Drowned Black Piglet, and his revelation was cut short by his capture by the Guide of the Jusenkyo Springs who tried to boil him to make Sweet and Sour pork. Luckily, hot water reversed the change and Ryoga now had another cause for revenge on Ranma.
Somewhere along the line though, the anger had mellowed as time progressed. Ranma knew it had to happen sooner or later. Ryoga was always quick to anger, and they still had a lot of fast and furious battles - but the rage, the hatred, that had disappeared. They had been through too much together. Ranma thought of the Haunted Caves, The Phoenix Egg, the skating match, his battles with Herb, Toma, and Kirrin...and Saffron. Ranma closed his eyes at the memory of the most terrifying moment of his life. When he thought Akane had been lost to him forever, when he killed the man responsible for her apparent death. Even though Akane had awakened, Ranma had had nightmares for a long time. They had been coming back lately, Akane's disappearace - he refused to say she was dead - playing havoc with his nerves. Ryoga hadn't blamed him for this one - in fact, had encouraged Ranma to believe he was not at fault. Now THERE was a switch.
Ranma shook his head and stood up, prepared for another day of searching. He wondered if Nabiki's searches had turned anything up yet. Nabiki was one of the few people that believed Akane was still alive. She trusted his instincts and Ranma knew it was true. If Akane had died, there would be a gaping hole in his chest where his heart should be. He couldn't explain it, but he KNEW. Somehow, be it his instincts, his training, remembrance of the battle itself or just plain out believing - somehow he knew Akane was waiting for him to rescue her. And he would, he vowed silently. And then he would never let her out of his sight again. A movement below caught his eye - Nabiki was waving at him frantically.
" I found her!!!"
* * *
" What's this all about, Nabiki?" demanded Ranma impatiently, reaching over to grasp the piece of paper from her hand. Nabiki slapped his hand away and scowled at him.
" I'll TELL you!" she said huffily, but her eyes softened. Ranma was only concerned about her little sister, and Nabiki could sympathize with that. She held the paper up.
" This is from one of my many contacts," she began. " Since Akane disappeared, I've been pulling in all my favours trying to get some clue as to where she might be."
Soun Tendo had a steady stream of tears running down his face, but remarkebly, he did not wail out loud. Instead, Ranma's father, Genma stepped forward, a concerned expression on his face.
" What do you mean?"
Nabiki understood. After what had happened, it was only natural for them to have hope that Akane was alive. For the ragtag bunch of super martial artists, escaping from sticky situations was something they were known for. But this time, Akane had been nowhere to be found and while some, like Ranma and Nabiki, never gave up hope, the others had slowly begun to give in to the possibility that Akane may never be found alive. Nabiki smiled secretly. She KNEW Akane had been alive - her gut told her so, and if there was something Nabiki always did, it was trust her instincts.
" There were no shortage of witnesses to what happened," she said. " Among our many neighbours watching from windows, your battle was also observed by several of my contacts and they helped spread the word around that Akane was missing."
Ranma was chomping at the bit.
" So..." Nabiki said wryly. " My network has been searching for any sign of Akane. And they've found one!"
She began to read directly from the printed email.
As requested, our various partners have been on the lookout for your sister, following the incident which occured in Nerima a short time ago. I am glad to say that as of yesterday, we may have a possible lead for you to investigate.
An associate, equipped with a photo of your sister, also as requested, was at a ST meeting. After concluding his business, he witnessed several large individuals surrounding a young girl and walking her down the street at a brisk pace. The girl looked scared, and that alone prompted our associate to pull out the photo. The girl he saw had the same short black hair and brown eyes as the girl in the photo. Unfortunately, he could not be sure as she was disheveled and her hair kept blowing into her face. Our associate followed them until they reached a building, who's address I've included at the bottom of this letter.
Miss Tendo, this information is for your use, but I would like to issue a word of caution. The area in which your alleged sister may be in, is not of the highest recommendation. I urge you not to go there alone.
I do hope this helps you in any way, and may I point out that should this be the case, my debt to you is now repaid, as dictated in the terms of our agreement.
" Shadow?" Kasumi wrinkle dup her nose.
" Tag name," said Nabiki briskly. " No one in this particular business would EVER use their real name. My own right now is Miser."
" How very apt," muttered Ryoga.
Ranma now had the sheet in his own hands, rereading it for himself. He looked at Nabiki.
" What's with all the maybe, possibly, allegedlys?" he frowned. Nabiki let out a short laugh.
" Rule number 1: Never guarantee anything unless you're 100% sure, and even then, think twice. Legal loopholes'll kill ya."
" What's an ST meeting?" Genma spoke up. Nabiki brushed a lock of hair from her eyes.
" ST stands for street meeting. Dealings with the underworld, the lowlifes you don't want associated with your legit business."
" You deal with criminals?" Kasumi asked, shocked. " That isn't right."
Nabiki couldn't believe what she was hearing. She had finally made some headway into finding her little sister, and Kasumi was worried about her associates?
" This is not about me!" Nabiki shouted. " This is supposed to be about finding Akane! Yes, this means criminals. Yes, I have dealt with scum for information. Street people know what's going on and don't have any loyalty to a higher power besides the all mighty yen. And if it wasn't for my 'criminal contacts', we wouldn't have this lead!"
Nabiki's face was flushed, but her point got across. Kasumi nodded once and Genma shrugged. Soun gestured towards the paper.
" So where's my little girl?" he asked tearfully.
Nabiki pointed to the bottom of the paper at the address printed.
" In an area that's not highly recommended," she said sardonically. " In China."
* * *
Okay, I know this is confusing so far - all will be explained. Eventually. I hope. *sighs*
Anyway, the title of this story comes from one of my all-time favourite poems,
"Do Not Go Gentle" by Dylan Thomas. It's about fighting back against the bad things, that even
though times come to an end, it doesn't mean we have to meekly accept what's happened. Much
in the way that Nabiki and Ranma never gave up hope. Yet. The poem speaks of hope and
of power. *snorts* Or in my humble opinion, if you're gonna go out, give the darkness hell
so it thinks twice next time. *wry grin*