What has gone before:

Akane's use of a strange book Ranma found led to the inadvertent death of several young girls. Putting an end to the slaughter led the creatures responsible--monstrously transformed humans known as the Children of Belial- -to the Tendo household. Their nighttime assault was repelled, but the leader, Akuji, escaped with Akane. Encountering a rival clan of Belial he released Akane, who fled into Tokyo. For several hours she dodged pursuit, including armored warriors and a gargantuan beast, before finally ending up cornered on the top floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. Akuji prevented Akane from being overwhelmed by the creature contained within her, and revealed his own plans. Just as he sought to capture her once again Ranma caught up with the action. . . .


Carl Okada had always wanted to be a lawyer, just like his American father.
He had studied hard in high school and garnered top grades and had a great shot at getting into a good university. Then one night he had gone for a walk with his girlfriend in the park. The moon had been full and bright overhead. Sakura drifted on the evening wind. One look at the girl by his side and he had suddenly understood that some things were far more important than grades, more important than a good school, more important than any job. The fullness of the love he felt for her at that moment had struck him like a physical blow.
Then an Assyrian Tenebrion had lunged from the darkness and carried her off. He hadn't known what it was back then, of course. All he saw was something hideous take away the girl he loved. Slitted eyes that gleamed in the night. Chitinous flesh. Hooked claws and gnashing teeth.
Carl Okada had given chase. When the warriors of the Memra led by then-Armiger Yamashita Ken arrived five minutes later, they found the seventeen-year old standing weak but defiant over the unconscious form of his girlfriend. The young man was bleeding from numerous wounds--but had held the demon at bay long enough for the professionals to catch up. The story of how, unarmed, untrained, and alone, he had managed to chase after and hold off a lesser fiend became somewhat of a legend.
He became the youngest Aspirant the Memra had known in decades. Five years later he was an Armiger in his own right, though he had followed Yamashita in his defection to the Imrah. And now Carl Okada had a sneaking suspicion that he was about to die.
Battle raged as the hastily assembled warriors struggled to meet the renewed onslaught of the Children of Belial. The Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings towered overhead, dark monoliths against the night sky. Brilliant lights flared from near the top. Around him inhuman shrieks mingled with the war cries of his brethren, and with the groans of the wounded and dying. The good guys were losing.
Carl tried to focus. His arms felt numb, his shoulders burned with the simple effort of raising his blade. A man fell to his left, clutching at his throat with crimson spraying from between fingers. A moment later a knight to his right dropped, impaled upon the jagged limb of one of the Children. With a toothy grin it turned upon him. It had too many limbs, stained dark with the blood of many knights.
How many have fallen already tonight? the young warrior asked himself. How many more will die because of my mistake? I had the girl right in front of me. All I had to do was kill her. A schoolgirl. Begging for her life. None of this would have happened.
A defiant scream tore itself from his throat as he charged his enemy. His sword flared and cut a brilliant swath through the dark--but the Child of Belial was strong and quick where he was tired and desperate; the attack went wild. He felt his sword leave his grasp; a moment later pain erupted in his side. He stared numbly at the hole in his breastplate. The jagged edges were wet. Carl collapsed wordlessly to his knees. He slumped back, limbs splayed, his breath coming in hot and ragged gasps. Eyes wide and vacant in death stared back at him. An Apprentice of the Imrah. Yasu, a friend, lying dead next to him.
"So young," the misshapen creature said. It loomed over him, one of its limbs still dripping with Carl's own blood. "To die in such hopeless a cause." An arm ending in a meter-long spike of bone pulled back to deliver the final blow.
I should've been a lawyer, Carl Okada thought morosely. Far overhead, the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building exploded in an incandescent ball of flame.

Let the Curtain Fall by Michael Noakes (Started Dec 11/2002)

A fanfiction set in the Ranma 1/2 world of Rumiko Takahashi. Previous chapters available at

Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos, is restored;
Light dies before thine uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.
The Dunciad

Act One, Chapter Six: The Nature of the Beast

Ranma woke with a start. Confusion flitted across his mind: where was he, and why could he see his reflection on the ceiling? A moment later pain slammed into him; he fell back into unconsciousness. An indefinite time later he tried to ease himself into wakefulness once again. Slow breaths. Eyes closed. His mind shuddered as the numbness of sleep faded. Agony lurked at the periphery of his senses. Where was he? He felt the softness of a mattress beneath him. A flash of memory:
_Flame and howling winds, shards of glass swirling past glittering, and he stood at the center of the maelstrom, burning incandescent but frozen within, as cold as death, his left hand curling into a fist and ensnaring the primal forces swirling past . . . the floor crumbled beneath his feet and the ceiling cracked and gaped open . . . and then she was there, bloodied, limping, launching herself at him with a desperate cry, "Ranma, no!"_
"Akane!" He shot up in his bed, saw stars, and passed out again.
A familiar voice filtered through layers of comforting darkness before reaching him. Slowly this time. Ease into the pain. Move through it. Focus on staying awake. He could hear someone's voice again, calling to him, and then movement. One thing at a time. Reach out from you center. Breathe shallowly. Piercing pain across his side--fractured ribs, maybe broken. Deal with it. The muscle over it felt like so much tenderized meat. Further out . . . deep lacerations that were barely clotted over . . . dislocated shoulder . . . burns, frostbite . . . dried blood filling his nose, acrid taste in his mouth . . . a pounding headache hinting at a concussion . . . the litany of injuries was worse than anything he could remember experiencing before. Somewhere not far off he could hear the sound of running water, as if someone was taking a shower. He cracked an eye open-- discovered that the other was swelled shut-- noted that the lights were thankfully dim; and again saw his reflection on the ceiling.
Shit, he thought, I look worse than I feel. The woman looking down at him belonged in a hospital. Her entire left side was a massive, purpled bruise, but where the discoloration ended the network of crimson slashes continued, long narrow slices crisscrossing her right breast and abdomen. Her face was a bloodied mess. From brow to shin his flesh was a mottled canvas of black and blue. Then he wondered, why am I a girl again? Soon after: and why the hell am I naked? Where am I, and how did I get here?
Wherever he was, the bed was comfortable and the air nice and warm against his skin. His wounds, while un-bandaged, certainly looked like they had been tended to. Someone had removed his clothes--what little remained, that is--brought him here, and put him to bed. Which begged the question, who? And how? Last I remember, I was a man. I was a man, and fighting--

"Akuji!" he called out, his voice resonating through the vaulting observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. He strode boldly from the elevator. "Akane's _my_ fiancée!" His aura erupted into a fiercely bright corona. "If you want her, you'll have to get through me!"
The obsidian man stood in the center of the room, tall and wreathed in darkness, the smooth lines of ebony flesh glimmering with reflected light. In the dimly lit room Akuji's visage seemed one with the night, but for his eyes blazing like hot coals under a sudden wind. And in front of his opponent stood Akane. Whatever exhaustion, doubt, fear Ranma felt immediately evaporated before the heat of his reawakened rage. His fiancee swayed unsteadily on her feet. She was covered in cuts and bruises, blood flowed freely from numerous wounds, and in her features he saw naked fear and absolute exhaustion. Not even as he cradled her cooling, dying body in his arms a thousand meters over blasted mountains had she seemed so hurt. Her eyes found his. Akane flashed him a tired, wry smile and her eyes burned, it seemed, with hope and confidence reaffirmed. He had finally come. But just as quickly her eyes darkened, and Ranma thought he saw despair there, and then they rolled back into her head and she collapsed to the ground.
"Akane!" he cried out.
"Ah, the boy from before." Akuji flowed towards him, and the night seemed to follow in his wake. "I so hoped we would meet again."
The fury Ranma felt at seeing Akane injured demanded that he leap into combat, but for once he kept his calm. He knew his opponent's name. Had been told that Akuji defeated Cologne--and all his friends. They had fought; Ranma's eyes flicked to his opponent's cheek, and there saw three parallel jagged lines marring the smoothness of Akuji's face.
"Yes," the dark man said softly.
Too bad I can't remember, Ranma thought. Under the influence of the cat-fist his memory was spotty at best. The cat-fist had been different this time. After cradling the maimed kitten in Kasumi's room as it mewled indignantly, slowly bleeding to death, there had been the furious descent into feral vengeance. Glimpses of combat only dimly remembered. Ensnaring bands of darkness, and then nothing. If the cat-fist hadn't been enough . . .
Akuji's lips curled into a smile. "What other tricks do we have, boy? More claws? More flame?"
His opponent stood several meters away. He slowly spread his arms open as if in invitation. "Come, let us play. We have time enough for that."
Ranma felt the exhaustion of the night lurking close behind his readiness to fight. The unhealed wounds. The evening's pursuit. He focused on the crumpled form of Akane lying behind the creature confronting him. Nothing else mattered. How many of these arrogant bastards would he have to face, how many Mikado's and Tarou's and Saffron's would try to take her away from him? Ranma's eyes shifted back to Akuji and met his fiery gaze evenly. No more.
The martial artist took a deep breath, released it.
_"Hit it hard. Again and again and again until it stops moving."_
A friend's brutal advice.
_ You could have torn its heart from its body with your bare hand, shattered its back, severed its limbs._
A father's final lesson.
_ glorious suspension between Heaven and Earth _
Mountains shattered at his feet as the winds screamed and burned.
And suddenly Ranma felt free. Whatever it takes, he thought. For a moment he felt crystalline--transparent, and the entirety of the Anything Goes School flowed through him, unfettered by doubts, concern for his opponent . . . his entire existence seemed compressed into a fleeting moment . . . and within that moment everything seemed possible.
"Yeah," Ranma said softly. "Let's play."

Ranma groaned as he shifted in his bed. Moving slowly he looked side to side. He was in some kind of hotel room, he suspected, though nothing like he had stayed in before. There was a large television set into the wall opposite. A bar fridge. Mirrors--lots of them. Soft and dim, ambient light provided gentle illumination. As he took stock of his surroundings he became aware of the sound of movement not far off. At the opposite end of the room there was brighter light from a hallway.
I have to figure out what's going on, he decided. Willing the pain aside, he slid his legs over the edge of the bed. The rush of blood into his aching limbs nearly made him gasp aloud. Suck it up, he berated himself. It's only going to get worse. Steeling himself, he pushed off with his good arm and jerked into a sitting position.
Ranma's side erupted in savage pain. _a perfectly formed glassy fist caught him in the side_. He sucked down air, struggling to stay conscious. _the snap of bone, blood spurting from his nose_. The fight hadn't gone well.

Tokyo stretched out in all directions, a myriad sparkling lights reaching to the horizon. These same lights glimmered and slid across the ebon expanse of Akuji's flesh.
Ranma charged Akuji slid away, eyes blazing. The martial artist slipped into the non-presence of the Umisen-ken. Sheets of darkness sprung up around the Child of Belial. Ranma raced closed. Inky tendrils lashed out wildly to meet him. He leapt over the nearest attack, rolled, sprung forward and slipped between two more; and rising above the wildly thrashing darkness below, Ranma unleashed a blast from his outstretched hands. The brilliant Moko Takabisha cut a swath through the nearest tendrils but broke like a wave on breakers against the night cocoon that suddenly slammed shut around Akuji. When the protective shell dropped Akuji stood unharmed with one arm outthrust. From his palm shot a flurry of midnight darts, jagged rips in space that tore through the air. Ranma ran. The volley gouged the floor behind his heel as he ran. He left the floor and suddenly he was running nearly parallel to the ground, circling his opponent, the windows separating him from the dizzying sprawl of Tokyo hundreds of meters below shattering in his wake, splintering glass tearing his heels. He pushed off, spinning through the air toward his opponent, arms scything a wide arc. His cry of "Kijin Raishu Dan!" was overwhelmed as the curved vacuum screamed toward Akuji. The Yamasen attack tore through Akuji's projectiles. The obsidian man raised one arm defensively. The ki-blade slammed into the waiting forearm. The floor behind groaned and split and tables shattered as the attack broke to either side. A long, thin line flared across the smoothness of Akuji's arm.
"Well done," Akuji said, lowering his arm. Ranma rose to his feet a dozen meters away. His whole body thrummed like a string expertly plucked. Renewed confidence filled him. The exhaustion of before felt far behind. Almost with curiosity, it seemed, Akuji examined his wound. "Very well done, indeed."
I've just gotten started, Ranma thought. His eyes flicked back to Akane. None of his attacks had come close to her. The battle had carried Akuji away from her crumpled form.
The tall, dark man smiled. "No words of defiance?"
"Let us go," Ranma answered. "I don't want to fight you." A lie. He could triumph where his friends had fallen. He felt gloriously alive. He wanted to tear this monstrosity apart with his bare hands.
"But I want to fight _you_," Akuji replied.
"Then leave Akane out of it. Let her go."
"Let her go? Let her _go_? And where would she go, boy? Into my sister's sweet embrace? Perhaps to the waiting blades of the Imrah? Or would you rather the Pureblood take her?" The obsidian man gave a chuckle. "She is far safer with me."
"Yeah, sure." Ranma circled his opponent, slowly cross-stepping and maintaining the distance between them. The darkness seemed to coalesce near the feet of Akuji, churning slowly. The Child of Belial released no heat; there wasn't enough ki in the air to form a Hiryuu Shoten Ha. Yet. There were other options. "I don't think so."
"Will you protect her, then?"
The hardened resolve of Ranma's eyes were answer enough.
Akuji's steps brought him closer to Akane once again. She stirred on the floor, one hand clutching at her head, the other pushing feebly against the ground in an effort to raise herself. "Then come take her from me."
Without a sound and before the final word had even registered, Ranma was racing straight for his opponent. Seething walls of shadow rose up to meet him, as expected; with an almost idle flick of his wrist he clove through the darkness with a ki-blast, the other arm held cocked back with palm up and fingers together, and even as the murk roiled and reformed and reached for him he leapt through. Akuji stood with an almost bemused expression.
"BELIAL!" Ranma roared with the fierceness of his strongest kiai. Akuji's eyes widened--the slight shock the martial artist needed to exploit the opening technique of the Moko Kaimon Ha. In that brief moment of his opponent's paralyzation Ranma thrust forward with all his might. Dokuja Tanketsu Sho, his father's deadly Yamasen technique. A spear hand with which to tear out his enemy's heart. So powerfully did Ranma strike that the air itself seemed to seethe with his hand's passage.
A hand snapped shut around his wrist. Akuji held him in a grip as solid as mountains, as cold as the winds. Ranma could feel the flesh as cool as marble beneath the tip of his reaching fingers. He could feel the newly formed crack there. His eyes widened in disbelief. He hadn't even seen the arm move.
"Such a valiant effort," said Akuji. He was no longer smiling. "So many tricks. But not enough; never enough." His grip tightened and effortlessly he lifted Ranma off the ground. "Shall I finish what I began earlier this night?"
Ranma gritted his teeth against the pain. At the edge of his vision he saw the darkness flare up once again, reaching for him with inky tendrils. A feral memory returned:
_Howls of frustration turned to screams of pain. Glacial cold cut through the heat of his fire._
"Like hell you will," he snarled. He aura burst into scintillating radiance, tinted a lurid red at the edges. The darkness retreated. Braced against his enemy's grip he snapped a savage kick into Akuji's side. A normal opponent's ribcage would have buckled and shattered. The monster barely flinched, but briefly his grip weakened. Ranma pulled free. With deft agility he pushed off of his opponent's side with his kicking foot and jackknifed over Akuji's shoulder. The broad spread of an undefended back. Hakuda Toshin Shou: a hundred strikes battering his target even as he fell.
A cry of rage. Akuji twisted around before Ranma even hit the ground. Smoldering eyes blazing bright and furious. A perfectly formed glassy fist catching him in the side. The snap of bone, blood spurting from his nose even as the impact hurled Ranma away. He hit the ground with his shoulder and felt the sickening snap of it dislocating. He slid wildly across the room smashing through tables and chairs. There was a sudden lurch as he hit the edge of the observation lounge, as his momentum jerked him back into the air. With a loud crack he slammed spread-eagle into a window. He had a brief, vertiginous glimpse of Tokyo spread out hundreds of meters below--of lights streaking and flaring in the courtyard--of his glorious suspension between heaven and earth; and then the glass shattered.

Ranma sat at the edge of the bed, fighting down nausea. It was all he could do to remain awake. The pounding in his head was unreal. Akuji had nearly ended the fight with a single punch. Nothing had ever hit him so hard; not Herb, relentlessly hammering him with ki attacks, not even Ryouga, imbedding him in a rock face during the training for the Hiryuu Shoten Ha.
Behind the injuries and past the pain, Ranma gradually became aware of another concern. The pervasive exhaustion he felt went beyond being physically drained or tired. He felt . . . hollow inside, or thin somehow, empty and cold. Cold. He looked at his good hand and beneath the bruises and cuts and dried blood, he recognized the flaky blackness of burnt flesh. The heat for his final attack had had to come from somewhere.

Instinct and luck saved him. Instinct caused him, dazed as he was, to frantically twist away from the dizzying fall before him; luck caused his foot to be snagged by a power line exposed after his tumble across the floor. He fell to the ground hard, broken shards of glass raining down around him. Ranma forced a heaving, desperate breath as he clutched at his side. Even as air filled his lungs his stomach gave a spasm and blood filled his mouth and spattered the floor.
The pain was impossible. The confidence of before was shattered. Akuji was toying with him. The speed with which had turned, the strength of that single attack: impossible. I didn't even see him move, he thought. Blood bubbled on his lips as Ranma gasped for breath. I can't fight that. He couldn't, he couldn't even feel his right arm, nothing but the pain and wind howling through the shattered window behind him.
"Is that all, then?" The deep, resounding voice sounded from far too close. Ranma forced his eyes open. Akuji was standing over him. Not standing--hovering, a half-meter off the ground. Ranma tried to push away with his good hand. Glass crunched under his palm. His fingers were broken and bloodied after striking the steely expanse of Akuji's back. His arm shook beneath his weight. Across the room he saw Akane. She too was struggling to stand, and failing. Her eyes met his, dark beneath the sweep of her hair.
"Not . . . by a long shot," Ranma said. He slowly rose on trembling legs. With every breath his side burned. The cool clarity of earlier was shattered and gone, but in its place a deep anger began to smolder. "Not until you let Akane go."
"How glorious." Akuji smiled. "You are ready to die for her."
"No," Ranma snarled. "I'm ready to kill for her."
His opponent's smile grew. "Such proud, insolent words!" Akuji gestured towards Akane. "Do you know what I have planned for this woman of yours? The presence she holds will consume her, eventually. Nothing can prevent that. It would have possessed her body already had I not been here this night." The ebony man turned back to Ranma. "She would become Ceph'ad, a slave to the Book." Akuji paused. "You have no idea what that means."
"I don't care," Ranma said. He ground his teeth in frustration. The words meant nothing to him. The rage he felt grew and spread through his limbs. The pain withdrew. It never ended. These psychotic godlings and their arrogance, their stupid speeches and their disregard. Akane was his. Nothing was going to happen to her. Maybe I can't beat him, Ranma thought. But I don't have to lose, either. As long as Akane gets away. That's all that matters.
"No, of course it doesn't," Akuji said, and smiled condescendingly. "All you can see is this girl. This puny girl, this fleshy prison, this immediate conflict. Never mind that within her dwells the Cephim. The Book made flesh for the first time in centuries." He swung his arm in a sweeping arc. "Did you not see, boy? Imrah and Memra fighting together once again . . . my sister exposing herself so flagrantly . . . daring so much as to oppose even me! . . . all this, veils of secrecy torn asunder and mysteries you can not even fathom exposed--and all you care for is this silly, stupid little girl who brought it all upon herself?"
The martial artist began to glow. His hand clenched into a tight fist at his side. "Akane might be silly," Ranma said. "And stupid. And unfeminine. Slow, too. And she can't cook." His aura grew brighter as his fury grew stronger. Briefly lived flames licked the air. "But none of that matter, none of your stupid secrets . . . it's all bullshit." How many deaths in the last few days? Innocent schoolgirls. His father. "This ain't her fault. It's mine. Yours. But that's not important."
Akuji tilted his head, as if genuinely curious. "If neither mystery nor girl nor reason is important--what is?"
"Nothing, really." Ranma smiled cockily. "Well, 'cept for the fact that right here, right now, I'm gonna kick your shiny black ass."
Ranma lunged at his enemy. He tapped into that fiery, seething power he had first embraced earlier that night. Something had happened, something powerful enough to destroy most of the Tendos' house and drive away his opponent. He didn't fully understand what is was nor how to use it; he didn't know if he could control it. Something Cologne had warned him against. The brightest flame burns quickest. Well, I'm about to burn brighter than ever before, he thought. I'll burn until there's nothing left, if that's what it takes.
The air sizzled with his passage, his strikes tracing luminescent trails against the night, the air burning in his lungs . . . The speed of his attacks took him by surprise. Yet it still wasn't enough. With infuriating ease Akuji seemed to dodge every hit, always floating just outside of his reach, smirking slightly. Ranma began to grunt with every punch and kick, panting as he chased after his foe. Their dance carried them along the periphery of the observation lounge. The air began to grow hot and heavy, almost visibly swirling in their wake. Ranma's attacks began to slow. I have to try it now, he thought. Before I'm totally exhausted. Before there's nothing left. He quailed at the thought of what he had to do next. What if he wasn't tough enough? Suck it up. If this works--don't even know what I'm doing!--if this works, maybe Akane can get away. His anger wasn't entirely spent; not yet. Yet he turned away from it and allowed his rage to bleed away. He threw a final lunging punch that fell short and weak. He fell to one knee, panting.
"A most impressive effort," Akuji said, sliding closer. From over crossed armed he stared down at Ranma. "I wish the Cephim had chosen you as its host, for then our games would not have to end. Not that you care, I'm sure. Nevertheless, shattering your will would have been a most delectable pleasure. The girl, I fear, will succumb too easily."
Akuji's words sent an icy thrill through Ranma. Good, he thought. "That's . . . what you think." Ranma forced himself to stand. "I'm not done with you yet."
"You begin to annoy me, boy."
"The name's Ranma, you red-eyed freak." Through blood-caked lips, he smirked. "And I ain't afraid of you. I killed your family. Tore them apart with my bare hands." He grew colder with every word. With visceral remembrance he remembered the flesh parting beneath his hands; the splintering of bone; the spray of blood and cry of joy; the savage joy. "And Akuji? I still want to play."
The obsidian man was no longer smiling. His eyes flared brightly. He uncrossed his arms, and his hand curled into tight fists.
"Yeah, that's right, asshole." Ranma said. "So what you gonna do about it?"
He was a burning flame suspended in frost. He was rage trapped within a soul of ice. For a moment raw terror nearly undid him and threatened the tenuous state in which Ranma held himself. Akuji attacked. What if he takes me out? Ranma thought. What if I lose control? But his will remained strong, even as Akuji slammed a fist into the martial artist's face.
Through the sudden pain Ranma struggled to remain conscious, fought to hold onto his cool detachment as his head snapped back, as the impact picked him up and sent him corkscrewing across the room . . . he couldn't think, he couldn't see . . . his icy will stabbed a spiraling hole through the ki-dense air . . .and by some instinct he twisted in the air and landed in a low three-point crouch next to Akane in the center of the room, and saw Akuji standing dark and terrible through a narrow tunnel that cut through the seething air.
"Akane. Is. Mine!" Ranma howled. He punched forward--

How long ago had it been? Nearly two years? Sitting on the edge of the bed in some strange room, struggling to remain conscious, Ranma remembered a time long ago: dancing a cold circle around Ryouga as his sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis, attacked him with dangerous fury. The first Hiryu Shoten Ha Ranma had ever unleashed. The effort had left him drained and battered--unconscious, even.
How far had he come since then? He'd laid dragon-kin and fire-god low with his mastery of the dragon's ascent. Against Saffron I threw out three blasts in a row, Ranma thought, without breaking a sweat. Against Ryouga my spiral had to be absolutely perfect. But with Akane's life on the line. . . . That final technique had been different. For a fleeting moment it had seemed like the winds and flame had responded to his will, twisting exactly as needed to cleave the dragon spout cleanly and have it land pointing upwards. An impossibility, of course. The Amazonian technique didn't work that way.
With Akane restored in his arms he hadn't given it any more thought. Until after the return from Jusenkyo. Cologne hadn't like his line of questioning, and now Ranma was beginning to understand why.

--and the soul of ice shattered. "Hiryuu Shotenha Henkei!" This is it, he thought. Everything I've got left. Have to take this bastard out. Give Akane time, time to run away. "Hiryu Jigokufuu Ha!"
Even as the words tore themselves from his lips he felt an incredible rush of power. Ranma felt the hot air coalesce d and raged behind him; and before him the narrow channel left by his passage, icy cold. He felt himself at the nexus of primal and opposing energies. There was a moment of nearly stunning silence--and then a thunderous roar as the superheated air surged past--funneled into a tight swirling blast--and then the winds suddenly erupted into brilliant flame.
The darkness that surrounded Akuji slammed shut. Ranma's attack drilled into the inky wall. His fierce cry pierced through the howl of the winds and fire. Fist outthrust, he continued to channel forward the seething energy that filled the room. Akuji's wall held . . . wavered . . . and suddenly was torn asunder. Ranma's Heavenly Dragon Infernal Storm struck the Child of Belial directly in the chest. All the windows in a wide arc behind his target shattered. He briefly saw Akuji give a soundless cry of disbelief before being flung backwards, out into the night air, wreathed in fire.
Flame and howling winds, shards of glass swirling past glittering, and he stood at the center of the maelstrom, burning incandescent but frozen within, as cold as death, his left hand curling into a fist and ensnaring the primal forces swirling past. Ranma felt a savage thrill run through him. Take that, you bastard.
A moment later there was a loud detonation. The concussion knocked him off his feet. Blinded by wind and heat, it took him a moment to realize what was happening. The energy from his attack was far from dispersed. Unfocussed, it exploded outward. The whirlwind expanded and filled the space available. The remaining windows blew out, before the swirling winds sucked the glittered glass shards back into the observation room. The full power of the cyclone drilled into the ceiling above and shattered the concrete below. Pipes cracked and electrical conduits split and sparked.
Shit! How do I turn this thing off? he thought dazedly as, at the center of it all, he desperately hunted through teary eyes for Akane. She sat dazedly on the floor, staring into the maelstrom with a blank gaze. She didn't even flinch as an errant splinter of glass, razor sharp, zipped past and sliced her neatly across the brow.
"Akane!" He screamed to be heard over the howling winds. She didn't respond. I've got get her out of here, Ranma thought. He struggled to stand and almost collapsed back to the floor. He felt utterly drained. No! He railed against his weakness, against the feebleness of his flesh. Not yet . . . I've got to get to her . . . got to get her out of here! "Akane! We have to--"
A table whirling past caught him in the back of the head. He pitched forward and hit the floor chin first. He fought against the darkness threatening at the edge of his vision. Blood filled his mouth. Akane was close . . so close. With supreme effort he crawled towards her, hauling himself forward with his good hand. The ground began to split beneath his body. His back felt seared by random gouts of flame flowing across him. His fingers touched skin. He lurched forward and suddenly she was in his arms. Ranma cradled Akane to his chest as wind and flame and stone swirled around them, as the floor crumbled beneath his feet and the ceiling cracked and gaped open. "I'm sorry, Akane," he whispered into her hair. "I . . . I did my best but it wasn't enough." I won the fight but now it's going to kill us. "I don't think I can get us out of here." He took her face in his hands and stared deep into her eyes. She still seemed dazed--unfocused- -and gazed emptily back at him. "I'm sorry." In moments the floor would give way, and then what? Would the winds grab them and pummel them into the floors beneath? Or would they be launched hundreds of meters into the air above? Then the energy would disperse, the winds would die down, and . . . .
Ranma leaned forward and kissed Akane on the forehead. "I'm sorry," he said again, and then with strength that only came with absolute conviction he stood. The fist of his good arm clenched into a tight fist. The cyclone could be dispersed. If he released another blast and channeled the excess energy into the night sky, the winds would die down, the fires would die out . . . Akane would survive.
With chill certainty he knew that he would not.
He reached out to ensnare the energies rushing past . . . grew cold within . . . drew back to throw his final punch . . .
. . . and then she was there, bloodied, limping, launching herself at him with a desperate cry, "Ranma, no!"
There was a brief, dizzying moment as Akane's tackle carried them away from the center of the maelstrom . . .as the winds grabbed them and tossed them wildly through the air . . . and then launched them into the night sky. Tokyo swirled madly hundreds of meters below. The top of the tower buckled behind them and exploded in an incandescent ball of flame.
And they were falling, and then everything went black.

Ranma's eyes widened in disbelief as the memories rushed back. We were . . . falling. I had Akane in my arms. I lost consciousness.
He looked around the room, and down at his battered and bloodied body. How the hell did I get here? Wherever 'here' is. He heard footsteps. There was somebody else in the hotel room. Ranma suddenly felt vulnerable and helpless--he felt weaker than he could ever remember. Unconsciously, he held his breath until the stranger stepped into the room and into view.
She was naked but for the towel she was using to dry herself with. Her skin was smooth and unmarred by even the slightest of blemish. She didn't have a single wound that he could see. "Ranma, you're awake!"
Akane beamed down at him, smiling broadly.