Standard Disclaimer applies to each and every chapter of this story.
There was a time, many summers ago, when the kingdom of Nerima had flourished.
Soun Tendou ruled Nerima with care, wisdom and love. He might not have been particularly remarkable as a leader, but he loved his people and did his best to serve them. Nerima flourished, as a result of his efforts, and the people in return loved their king.
But for many summers, the king and his queen remained childless.
The queen was said to have been extremely unhappy during those years. Those who had worked in the palace now whispered softly among themselves: how pale she had been then, how frail she had looked. It was no secret that the couple yearned for children, but as the years passed and no heirs were produced, the royal advisors began to frown. Where were the heirs, they would ask, almost demandingly, and poor Queen Kimiko tried her best to steel herself against such harsh words. The king, in the meanwhile, could do nothing but hover helplessly at the side, nervous and sorrowful. They sent the Court Magician, the Healer, the Seer to the royal couple… but nothing seemed to work.
Still, Queen Kimiko held her head high. Our children will come, she liked to say to her husband. They will come when they are ready for this world, and not a moment sooner. She would smile then - a brave, knowing, kind smile.
King Soun always took her hand during such conversations. Yes, my dear, he would murmur at last. Perhaps we should just focus on sure they enter a world they can be proud of.
So life went on. Then, one bright and glorious day, it was announced that the queen was expecting.
In spring, the queen gave birth to a baby girl. The following winter, another girl was born. And in the second summer that followed the birth of the second daughter, she delivered a third girl.
It was said that during that period of time, the king and queen had never looked happier.
But the happiness did not last. One year after the youngest daughter was born, Queen Kimiko succumbed to a terrible illness. Years after her death, those who had seen her waste away on her bed never spoke a word of the terrible illness that took their queen, except on dark stormy nights, when they would bow their heads and inevitably their thoughts would turn to her.
Without the queen, it was as though a shadow had fallen upon Nerima. Months after her death, the king vanished without a trace. Grief-stricken, he had apparently wandered into the forest during the night. It was days before they found his body in a nearby river. Legend went that every year, on the night of the queen's death, the king's spirit would linger by the river, crying for his wife and children.
Now that Nerima was without a ruler, turmoil broke out throughout the lands. There were distant lords and ladies rising to the occasion with claims for the throne, each demanding to get a piece of the palace. Then there were rebels and corrupted officials viciously fighting for power. Chaos spread across the land as Nerima became increasingly carved up against the backdrop of what was possibly the most bitter power struggle that had gripped the kingdom in centuries.
This went on for a year. Then one day, the head advisor seized the throne.
Abara Dasier was a bit of a mystery to the people of Nerima. Dasier was a last name unfamiliar to Nerima, and no one seemed to quite know anything about his past, save for the fact that he had come to Nerima when he was a young boy and had risen through the ranks of the military quite rapidly. He was sharp-eyed and impossibly cunning, cutting a tall and imposing figure as he strode through the hallways of the palace.
Abara Dasier took control easily. I will rule Nerima, the man said. I will rule Nerima until the princesses come of age.
So Nerima settled down once more, content with the idea.
But then it was announced: the princesses had vanished without a trace during the civil war. It was assumed they had been killed; the attacks on the Palace after their parents' death were too many to count. Grief poured out from all corners of the Kingdom… but no one dared to rise against Dasier. He had the armies at his command by then… what could they do? Besides, he seemed to be all right, at the beginning at least, so the people accepted his rule grudgingly.
But as time passed, life became harder, Dasier's rule became harsher, and the future became bleaker. Gradually, all that was left of King Tendo's rule were distant wistful memories. No one remembered the princesses; they had all but become myths, stories conjured up by mothers to soothe their little children in times when food was scarce. "One day we will have more food than we can eat," they would say softly, pressing light kisses on their crying children's foreheads. "When the princesses return, we will have new clothes and new shoes."
But the princesses had all but faded into wishful thinking. No one even remembered their names anymore.
Nerima never flourished again.
A Ranma ½ Alternate Universe
Kismet \Kis"met\, n. Per. qismat.
Destiny; fate. Written also kismat. Oriental
(From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48)
"It is in moments of decision that your destiny is shaped."
"Seventeen years since the end of his rule…"
"Sorry?" Akane blinked, confused. "Did you say something, Lady Kikyou?"
The woman turned her gaze away from the window, looking almost wistful for a moment. "Seventeen years since the end of his rule," Kikyou repeated quietly, much to Akane's bewilderment. Then she looked at Akane briefly before straightening, the calm intelligent glimmer returning to her eyes. "It is nothing, Akane," the Head Priestess said smoothly. "Have you completed your labeling of the plants required for the making of the cooling salve?"
The seventeen-year-old nodded, handing over the parchment with a bit of puzzlement. The head priestess was acting a bit strange today, but she shrugged it off easily. Actually, the Lady Kikyou was a bit of a mystery. She was the youngest head priestess in all of the temple's history to date, possibly not more than twenty-six years old, yet she seemed centuries older.
Her thoughts drifted. She hoped the diagrams she had drawn would pass off as actual plants; she had even sought the help of her sisters this time round. Wrinkling her nose slightly at the memory, she remembered how Kasumi had tried so patiently to guide her, while Nabiki simply tried her best not to laugh. Akane sighed.
People said that you could often read a person's personality from his or her calligraphy. When Kasumi made drawings of plants, her ink strokes were warm and gentle, creating diagrams of plants that looked… alive, somehow. Nabiki's strokes, on the other hand, were smooth and crisp, giving rise to confident strong plants. Akane, however… well, let's just say that Akane wasn't all that talented in the art of calligraphy and painting. Most of the time, she would be satisfied if her drawing even bore a faint resemblance to a plant.
Akane turned her attention back to the Head Priestess, hoping that she would pass the test this time.
"This will do," Kikyou murmured, scanning through the diagrams before she gave what could be termed as a smile. Tucking the parchment into her sleeve, she smoothed down the front of her white robes carefully.
"May I leave now, Lady Kikyou?" Akane asked, fidgeting slightly. "I promised to meet Kasumi down by the garden. She said she had something to show me."
"I see," Kikyou said. She gave Akane a long intense look then, and the young woman shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. There was something searching in the head priestess's gaze as her eyes, dark and knowing, swept over her form. Abruptly, Kikyou smiled. "Go then," she allowed. "You wouldn't want to keep your sister waiting, would you?"
Akane shook her head. Kikyou was acting a bit weird today.
"I'll see you later, Akane." Without another word, Kikyou turned and left, layers of pure white silk painstakingly embroidered with gold thread streaming in her wake. Akane shrugged, patting down her own robes of white. She never could comprehend the older woman.
Kikyou herself was an enigma: patient but strict, beautiful but aloof. She was elegant in all the ways Akane could not imagine herself to be, right from the way she moved silently down the corridors to the way her hair streamed behind her, every strand in the place where it belonged. She shook her head. It was almost creepy.
In fact, the Maiden who got along best with the head priestess was Kasumi. She felt her lips curving up into a smile. Then again, Kasumi got along with everyone. Her oldest sister was so kind and sweet that disappointing her would be an act akin to kicking an injured starving kitten. Speaking of disappointing Kasumi… Akane glanced out of the window, noting the position of the sun. Wincing at the time, she lifted her robes discretely and took off down the corridor towards the courtyard hurriedly. Hopefully no one would see her; she wouldn't want to get yet another lecture on how Maidens should behave.
Within moments, her feet hit the soft earth of the gardens, and Akane slowed, breathing in deeply with a happy sigh. The smell of morning dew and wet earth was something that never failed to bring a tiny burst of delight to her; ever since she was a child beginning her training to be a Maiden, she had always liked spending time in the gardens of the temple. Hurriedly smoothening her robes and long dark hair, Akane slipped through the bushes until she caught sight of Kasumi, bent beneath a large tree.
Kasumi glanced up as Akane came jogging over. "Akane, you came," she remarked cheerily as she straightened. "Look at what I've found, Akane." Tenderly she lifted the gray bundle in her arms towards her youngest sister, and Akane laughed in delight, reaching forward with a coo to pat the creature in Kasumi's arms.
"He's so pretty," she mumbled distractedly as she scratched the rabbit behind his ears. "Where did you find him, Kasumi?"
Kasumi smiled, a kind gentle smile. "He comes here every morning… I've been sneaking food out to feed him." She laughed softly. "I was wondering-"
Then it came.
Akane stiffened, her fingers withdrawing from the rabbit. The hairs on her neck were prickling; something was wrong. Then, from behind her there came distant thundering, the promise of imminent danger. She whirled around, startled.
Brown and black was dotting the mountain peaks in the distance.
Akane stared in a mix of horror and fascination, as the mass boiled over the tips of the mountains, and black began to flow over and onto the mountains like an angry frothing liquid. She could pick out, even from this distance, the cries of men, loud and enraged, the glint of shiny metal against the morning sunlight as the armies advanced towards the shrine.
From beside her, Kasumi gave a faint gasp. The rabbit leapt from her arms suddenly and bounded away in fright, and Akane started at the abrupt motion. Jolted by urgency, she grasped Kasumi's wrist and began to pull her towards the shrine hurriedly. Halfway across the courtyard, they broke into a frenzied run towards the white marble pillars of the shrine, slowing down only when they reached shelter. Already there were women scurrying around, confused and frightened.
"Kasumi," Akane said suddenly, and she was afraid at the way her voice caught in her throat. "Kasumi, what's going on?"
Her sister only shook her head uneasily. "I-I don't know, Akane."
"Kasumi, Akane!" They glanced towards the entrance of the shrine, where they could see their sister Nabiki thudding down the steps urgently. She reached them, her face grim and serious. "Get ready to leave," she said gravely. "We're under attack."
She could already hear the horrified echoing from the Maidens around them who had caught Nabiki's words. Around them, some of the women began to fall to their feet, breaking out in frenzied prayer. Others had started to cry, and she could see some of the older women clutching the pillars in support.
It was then that Kikyou appeared at the top of the steps, her face grim as she surveyed the Maidens who had gathered. Lifting her gaze towards the soldiers who were gradually making their way towards the temple, the woman straightened, her eyes burning with something. "Attacking a place of worship and healing," she said suddenly. "Nerima is no more."
They did not understand her words, but they felt the chill that appeared in the air.
Kikyou swept her gaze to the frightened Maidens. "Run," she commanded evenly, but when she received no response, she raised her voice, pointing sharply at the forests that cloaked the mountains.
"Run!" Kikyou snapped harshly. "Run if you value your lives!"
They scattered. Akane did not know who had grabbed hold of her wrist, but she knew that someone was pulling her along insistently. Her feet moved on their own accord and she stumbled in the haste to escape.
They disappeared into the forests, all of them, leaving Kikyou alone on the steps of the stone temple. She watched her Maidens flee, before a long sigh issued from her lips. Whether it was out of relief or exhaustion she did not know, but regardless, the Head Priestess turned to face the soldiers who were headed her way.
"Kikyou!" someone shrieked. She turned around, seeing a familiar figure in white robes coming her way. It frightened her; they were supposed to be gone by now, if any of them stayed with her, they would surely not survive the invasion.
The girl reached her then, breathing heavily. She watched as the young woman grabbed her forearm and began to pull her towards the forest. "Let's go, Kikyou, what are you still doing here?" she gasped, her face sober and unsmiling.
"…Kagome," she addressed after a moment of silence, before prying the younger woman's hands off. "I cannot leave this temple."
"What?" the one named Kagome yelled, dropping Kikyou's arm as though it were a hot potato. She straightened, and there was a certain familiar proud arch in the curve of her neck to shoulder. Kikyou felt a ghost of a smile appearing; now was not the time to be observing family resemblances.
"Do you have a death wish?" Kagome raved angrily. "This isn't the time to be joking, Kikyou!"
She smiled faintly, and pushed her cousin towards the forest. "Go, Kagome," she said steadfastly. "I need to remain here… and cast a spell to bring the sisters Kasumi, Nabiki and Akane out of the mountains."
Her cousin stared at her in shock. "What for?"
"There is no time to explain," Kikyou answered simply. "But for the sake of Nerima, it must be done."
There was a moment of stunned incomprehensive silence. Then: "I'm going to trust you on this one, Kikyou."
"Then you will leave now?" Kikyou had never been too close to her cousin. She had not understood the younger woman's ways, so despite growing up together in the same compound, they had little to talk about. But then again,most people did not wish for family to die. She wanted Kagome to leave now; she would probably have a higher chance of survival.
Kagome scoffed. "I knew you never liked me much," she said, but her voice had softened and there was a warm smile in her eyes. "But you're not getting rid of me so easily, cousin." Without a second thought, she grabbed hold of Kikyou's white slender hands.
"…What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" Kagome answered. "Helping you. Start chanting, and I'll give you whatever help I can."
"Do not make such a decision so lightly, Kagome," she answered, and her eyes were grave and stern. "It is in making decisions like this that your whole life may be changed. You do not understand the danger that comes with every passing second..."
"You talk too much," Kagome cut in lightly, but there was a soft knowing smile on her face. "You're wrong, Kikyou. I do understand what I need to understand, and I think you should really start chanting."
The older woman's eyes flickered with something unidentifiable. Then she smiled, a expression almost tender. Without another word, she let her eyes drift shut and began to draw the threads of energy from the surroundings, and from Kagome, her lips moving in silent chanting.
She was sweating heavily.
"Kikyou…" Somewhere through the thick fog she could hear Kagome's voice, distant and labored. "They're coming… Hurry…"
She was almost done. She kept at it with increased fervor. Just a few more seconds, then the spell would have been completed and the sisters lifted out of the mountains to safety…
The pain came sharply then.
In spite of herself, she let out a pained gasp, her concentration broken. Somewhere in her mind, she registered that the arrow tip that had slammed into her back was most probably poisoned.
She felt herself falling, falling forward into the fog. Someone, Kagome, most likely, caught her, and like a desperate woman she tried to grasp at the strands of the spell that were slipping away from her rapidly.
It was not complete. No one could predict the effects of the spell now. Magic had an uncanny tendency to tangle up in itself if it were not done correctly.
It was too late. She let the spell go, slipping away like wisps of smoke.
Kagome collapsed under the weight of her cousin. Sweat clung to her skin; the spell had taken a lot out of them both. Briefly, she noted that men were beginning to surround her, and for some reason, the motif of their armor stood out strongly.
She recognized that motif. These were the king's armies.
Her eyes flickered down to Kikyou's prone form. Her cousin was still, unmoving in her arms.
Dazedly she raised her hand and gazed at the red stains that coated her fingers. Kikyou was bleeding.
They were running, their chests heaving with the effort as they stumbled through the thick forestry. Akane vaguely registered how tight Kasumi's grip on her hand was.
How long could they keep running?
She didn't have to ponder for long. In the next instant, bright light enveloped them and she felt herself screaming and falling as the light ate into her body. Kasumi's grip on her hand dissolved almost instantly.
Then darkness came from the corner of her vision, and like a cloak it enveloped them all.
Edited, 2/5/14: It's been 9 years since I first posted this story?! Corrected some grammar and rephrased some parts. Comments and criticism welcome.