Heart and Soul

Compass Points: Act I

A Ranma 1/2 fanfiction.

Disclaimer: Takahashi owns the paints, I use my own easel.


Nabiki shuddered against the cold, pulling her coat about her
tighter. The chill wind whipped around her, sending the trailing
straps from her climbing gear flapping around. She stumbled for a
moment, as one half-numbed hand slipped, and she dropped her
mattock.

Shivering, she slid her mitten back on, turning to look down the
slope behind her. The hood of her parka obscured her field of
vision, as the thick brown strands of the lining fluttered in the
wind.

All around was an expanse of featureless white, broken only in the
distance by occasional rocks, and further away, distant brown
smudges. Only last week those smudges had been where she had griped
to Ranma and Tofu about the heat. Ranma had simply stared into her
eyes impassively, not showing any reaction, while Tofu shrugged and
bore it.

Once her mitten was back on, and warmth began to seep back into her
hand, she glanced back up the slope they were traversing. A giant
slab of white snow on the side of the mountain. It wasn't much of a
mountain, really. More like a big hill.

The slope wasn't steep, but it was a good distance to the point
Ranma had declared that he was going to, and the Tendo girl found
herself wishing she had studied the martial arts more closely. Or at
least practiced more than just flexibility.

She paused for a moment, waiting for Tofu to notice her. After a
moment he did, and turned around slowly. His own form was wrapped in
dark, thick woolens, making him look like a native guide. Nabiki
almost laughed at the image of Tofu as a sherpa, herself the
explorer... but the humor of the situation drained quickly when
Ranma stepped out from behind Tofu, his face calm and composed.

Nabiki shivered again, partially from the air, but mostly because of
Ranma. He wore nothing more than his standard Chinese clothing,
while a subtle lambent aura seeped from beneath the faded silk. His
blue eyes were hardened, cerulean spheres of ice that lit upon
Nabiki briefly, turned to Tofu, then looked away again. He gazed up
towards the peak of the mountain, then shook his head.

Tofu turned to look at Ranma, warily stepping back. The pigtailed
boy sighed, seemingly untouched by the frigid surroundings. "She's
near. We'll rest here. Tomorrow, then." He nodded decisively, then
sank to the lotus position. "You two require sleep."

Nabiki shuddered, then shrugged off her pack, eager to have the tent
set up, and the chance to huddle for warmth. "Thank the kami..." For
heat, she would have been willing to curl up with Kuno, at this
point.

Tofu removed his own pack, rummaged around for a bit, then removed
his mittens, revealing thin gloves beneath. His eyes met Nabiki's
for a moment, and she saw a hint of sadness, and loss in them,
before he turned back to the task of setting up the tent. His voice
carried through the wind that tore at them, trying to tear the words
away. "Let's just hurry. I know I can hardly wait to get warm
again."

Chastising herself for her lapse in attention, Nabiki approached,
and held down the tent while Tofu staked it in place. "Right.
Sorry." The wind had stilled suddenly, and she opened her mouth to
ask about it, but Tofu interrupted her with a shake of his head. She
paled, and nodded, shooting a glance towards where Ranma meditated
in the snow.

Loose flakes swirled about in the wind that seemed not to touch the
pair of climbers, gradually spiraling towards Ranma, then flitting
away. Tofu studiously avoided looking at Ranma, though Nabiki shot
the occasional peek towards him nervously, noting that outside of a
wide circle surrounding Ranma, crystals of ice still whipped about
in frenzied gusts.

Once the tent was erected, Tofu held it open while Nabiki scrambled
in, joining her after only a moment of hesitation. Nabiki sealed the
tent after Tofu, then shrugged out of her outer clothing and
squirmed her way into her sleeping bag. Tofu smiled faintly, then
encased himself in his own protective layer of warmth. "Better,
Nabiki?"

Nabiki shivered again at the memories. After a moment, she opened
her eyes, and turned towards Tofu. "Is... what's going to happen?"

Tofu frowned, his face betraying none of the emotion it had in
Ranma's presence. "I don't know, Nabiki. I'm worried, and... I'm
afraid. I'll tell you that much. Tomorrow, we'll see if he can..."
He trailed off, turning to face the roof of the tent moodily.

Nabiki winced, then muffled a whimper. "He... he's going to save
her, right?" There was no reason to name him. "He's always saved her
before, right?" There was no reason to name her, either.

Tofu sighed, closing his eyes. "I hope so, Nabiki." But they were
words Nabiki didn't want to hear, then. The thought of losing her
sister sent a hot pain shooting through her gut. "I hope so."

***

Ranma had become detached, seeming indifferent once the entire
ordeal had begun. He spent more and more time in the soul of ice,
and less time being himself. He explained, in his cold,
dispassionate way, that he had to do it. He needed to be ready.

The others had finally come to accept it, knowing they couldn't
quite understand what drove him... or _her_ for that matter.

***

Nabiki sighed against the light that woke her, illuminating one wall
of the tent, and alerting her that the time of warmth and comfort
was at an end for the moment. Tofu was lying near her, staring at
the ceiling silently.

She licked her lips nervously, then sighed. "Morning, Tofu."

He shot a glance towards her, expression grave, then sat up.
"Morning indeed... today..." He frowned, trailing off, then shook
his head. "We'd better eat, and hurry on our way."

Nabiki nodded. "Ranma might get impatient."

Tofu shook his head, rummaging though a bag. "I doubt he's got the
capacity at this point."

Nabiki lowered her head and sighed. "Right. Do you think he's
hungry?"

The older man looked up and stared at her for a moment, seeming
surprised, then shrugged, turning back to the bag he was rifling
through. "I doubt it."

The middle Tendo sister frowned. "Isn't it traditional to leave them
offerings?"

"Ranma's neither dead, nor a kami." Tofu's tone seemed terse, and
Nabiki wisely kept her tongue in check until their trail rations
were finished.

Once they were done, she took a last piece of hard biscuit out,
dressed, and waited for Tofu.

The man re-packed everything with expertise, and in short order, re-
dressed. The two took a few quick, shallow breaths, bracing
themselves for the biting cold that would be waiting them outside.

It wasn't enough.

The chill of the afternoon before was nothing compared to the
blinding, near-arctic air that assaulted them when they exited the
tent. A thin layer of ice crusted the exterior of the tent, despite
the warmth it had held inside.

Tofu eyed it for a moment, then shook his head and decided to leave
it. One way or another, they wouldn't need to take it with them.

Nabiki drew in a sharp breath, coughing as the freezing air invaded
her lungs, then gasped, provoking another coughing fit.

Tofu raised his mattock defensively, and spun, then relaxed. "Calm
down, Nabiki. It's just Ranma."

Nabiki shivered, then nodded decisively. Slipping off her mitten,
she pulled the biscuit out of a pocket, and approached Ranma.

The pigtailed martial artist was sitting on a low pedestal carved
out of compressed snow. Ice had formed near him, thin, serpent-like
strands writhing in a ring about him, then ascending in a spiral.

He stared at a blue column of ice that jutted through the frozen
strands around him contemplatively. Nabiki swallowed, and as Ranma
shot a glance towards her, the formations around Ranma shivered
once, then collapsed into a circle of shards. Nabiki's hand trembled
as she held out the biscuit. "You should eat something, Ranma. She
wouldn't want..." She trailed off, as Ranma's features became
pained, and a wave of fatigue washed across his face.

The pigtailed boy shivered, then smiled faintly. "I'm not hungry
now, Nabiki. But thank you." He shuddered again in the frigid
climate, then relaxed, the emotion draining from him again, and with
it, the touch of the environment faded.

Tofu shouldered his pack, motioning Nabiki to do the same. She did
so silently, resisting the urge to shed tears. They were both alive,
still. There was a chance Ranma could save her... and himself...

***

The devastation around Phoenix Mountain was frightening, when Kiima
relayed the words to Nabiki. The Gekkaja had been taken as a symbol
of power, and only would be returned if someone brought the Kinjakan
to a place that... 'Ranma would know.'

And he had, though Nabiki couldn't understand how. Nabiki took a
moment to study the boy. He hadn't cried in weeks, seeming more
removed and detached from the outside world than ever.

Kiima's eyes had a hard edge, capturing Nabiki's own eyes, as she
surveyed the shattered and crumbling stone parapets that made up
their home. The fact that no lives were lost was little consolation
to the guards who had lost their wings to frostbite.

***

The trio marched towards a point below the summit, Nabiki and Tofu
trudging across the hard-packed snow, and Ranma seeming to drift
more than walk. His feet left no marks, though the snow where he
passed hardened enough to support both Nabiki and Tofu. They made no
attempt to speak to each other, until they reached a shallow, bowl-
shaped depression that appeared to be blasted into the side of the
slope.

Ranma nodded once to himself, then turned towards Tofu and Nabiki.
"It's time. You two will be in danger. Give me the tool, and observe
from a safe distance." He pointed towards a nearby outcropping of
stone.

Tofu twitched slightly, then removed a short staff-like object from
his pack. After a moment of hesitation, Nabiki removed a heavy iron
ring with odd decorative flanges from her own pack. The pair eyed
Ranma uneasily, then set the pieces on the ground and backed away.

The older man cocked his head to one side. "So you want us to
watch?"

Ranma's face remained indifferent as he gathered up the ring and the
staff. "No. But you wish to do so anyway."

Nabiki shivered, wiping at her eyes with her mittens. "Ranma... take
care of yourself. We... I want you to come back."

His face remained unchanging, as he tossed the ring into the air,
then caught it on the end of the staff. "The tool will need to be
returned..." He leveled the ring-capped staff at Tofu. "You must
retrieve this tool at all costs. Otherwise, all is for naught. I go
now. Take cover over there. Do not forget, Tofu. The tool must be
retrieved." Ranma's ice-hard eyes bored into the doctor's, as Tofu
nodded nervously.

The man licked his lips. "The... Saffron would never forgive us if
we lost the Kinjakan. I'll be certain to take it back. What
about..."

Ranma shook his head, turning away. "The Gekkaja is in her hands. If
it can be retrieved... Simply remember, this tool _must_ be
retrieved at all costs."

Tofu nodded again, then scurried to the rock that Ranma had
indicated they should hide behind. If Ranma was stressing something
when he was that deep in the soul of ice, then Tofu knew it was
damnably important.

Nabiki knew by other signs. Ranma never spoke that formally. That he
was now meant...

***

She vanished, leaving nothing behind but a patch of ice, and a room
so frozen that the walls had cracked when touched, and caused Soun's
fingers to become frostbitten.

Ranma had been broken, blaming himself endlessly, and seemed to be
able to do little more than curse his foolishness. Nabiki had
tracked her, then met up with Tofu after discovering just what had
happened.

A search for power, for strength... an equality that a young man had
denied her, despite his well-meaning. Two people agreed to help her
in her search for discipline and strength, each unaware of the
other's presence.

Originally a quest for self-discipline... one that had failed after
being given too much power to resist so soon.

And the heart of ice was too dangerous to be learned so quickly,
without the proper self-control. She never would have learned it had
Tofu or Cologne been aware of the other's teachings, but as things
went...

That was the beginning of Ranma's change, too, since he knew there
was only one way to bring Akane out of it.

He had to go in after her.

***

Ranma strode purposefully into the center of the depression, feeling
more than seeing the force at its center.

Easily four hundred feet across, the bowl sloped against the
curvature of the hillside, interrupted only by a presence at the
center. Ranma tightened his grip on the tool he held, then froze.
After a moment, responding to some unknowable sense, he resumed his
walk towards a swirling white cloud in the center of the depression.

The chill mists parted around him, sending writhing tendrils of sub-
zero air near him, which shied away from the Kinjakan. He frowned,
seeing the form revealed at the storm's center.

He nodded to her once, respectfully. "Akane."

***

The change in her was surprisingly subtle, and for a moment, she
seemed to be gaining the control that she sought... But it wasn't to
be.

There was simply too much power to resist the temptation.

One night, it became too much, and her means became her method. She
didn't know _why_ she had to do what she did... only that she had to
do it.

Because the heart of ice was controlling her, at that point.

***

The passage of time had changed Akane. It was only a short time, but
the changes were severe. Ice glittered in her hair, giving her a
mystical, gleaming quality. Her dark eyes shone with a luminous, icy
power, while her clothing was nothing more than tattered remnants.

But most dramatic was the aura of intense cold that radiated from
her, faintly thrumming just beyond the edge of the senses.

She stared at Ranma disinterestedly, the Gekkaja held loosely in one
hand. "You came." There was no emotion in her voice.

The pigtailed boy nodded curtly, then showed the Kinjakan to her.
"We will do battle now."

Akane cocked her head to one side, then returned the nod. "It will
be. The victor will claim both keys. What then?"

Ranma shrugged. "I have no interests beyond the battle."

Akane frowned. "You will have power if you win. What else do you
desire?"

"We are beyond such simple things as desire, aren't we?"

"I believe so. But we must fight. My cause is not complete until we
do so."

Ranma hefted the Kinjakan once, then lowered it to his side.
"Understood."

As one, they raised their weapons, Akane's staff bearing a wickedly
curved scythe-like blade on the end. In one voice, they announced,
"Kumite."

And the battle was joined.

***

When Cologne had seen Ranma and Akane growing close, she knew that
her chances of getting Ranma were slim, and the chances of getting
his cooperation were even less. She had adopted on a different
method instead... Akane hadn't taken much convincing to be adopted
into the tribe at that point.

If it hadn't been in the wake of Ranma protecting Akane from another
fiancee's attack... But Ranma saved her. Had to, really. And Kodachi
had time to drop the one poisoned bouquet that a bystander had
caught.

If it were a martial artist, they might have been able to shrug off
the effects. But Sayuri was not a martial artist. If Akane had been
better, she could have stopped Kodachi on her own. If Akane had been
able to avoid Kodachi. If she had been able to take the bouquet
herself. If.

***

It was brief, and it was brutal.

Ranma met Akane's charge, flinging his weapon away, and leaving
himself open for her attack.

The Gekkaja hissed, slashing through the air with a faint, keening
wail, seemingly ready to rend the very sky.

The cruelly sharp edge bit into Ranma's chest, goring him and
spraying blood across the slender girl wielding the weapon. He
smiled sadly, then shuddered from the exposure. The pain of the
steel that punctured him dimmed, as it quickly numbed. "Akane...
Maybe... simple things like desires are better left intact. Without
you, I have no desire to live. No meaning..." He closed his eyes and
slumped forward, shivering.

Inside Akane, something frozen... snapped, and the impassive mask on
her face slipped, revealing a frightened young girl. "R... Ranma?
What's going on here?"

Her eyes widened, and she grabbed onto him, pulling the Gekkaja free
and tossing it away. "Ranma! Are you okay?"

He raised his head, hard ice in his eyes. "Such is the way of
folly." Akane recoiled instinctively, but not quickly enough.

With that, coldness enveloped the pair, freezing them in a near
embrace. Before Akane succumbed to the freezing grip completely, she
saw the light of warmth in Ranma's eyes. Ice began to form around
them, giant crystals stabbing into the air about them, pushing snow
away, and draining what little moisture that wasn't already frozen.
Mere centimeters separated the pair, encased as they were.

Tofu charged towards the slowly enlarging block of ice, gathering
the Kinjakan before the structure claimed it, then running away as
the heat from the staff began to melt the snow near him.

In defiance of nature, the frozen sludge drifted upwards, then froze
once more as part of the crystal that enveloped the young lovers.

Tofu ran, and Nabiki joined him shortly. After the ache in her legs
became too much, she slipped, and fell down. The slick ice that
Ranma had traversed gave her no purchase, and she flailed about with
her mattock for a moment before simply letting the slide take her.
Tofu saw Nabiki pass him, then flopped onto his chest, and slid next
to her, quickly losing the distance that they had struggled to
ascend in the past days.

On the hillside above them, a faint white cloud formed, even as a
deep rumbling noise was heard.

***

To be frozen instantly... she had lost contact with her body, but
could still see out of her eyes... and Ranma's met hers. Despite his
betrayal, she felt the love in his gaze, and knew that what he had
done... had to be done. Dead in body, but together in spirit.

She knew that she would be able to find her center, her peace... and
control here. If only the price hadn't been so great...

-------
Author's notes:

Once, when I first started writing, I promised myself I would never
write anything dark.

I guess I broke that promise, but I had woken up three nights in a
row from the same dream. I suppose I cannot deny my muse. I suspect
that this was largely inspired by Nanashi's "Soul of Ice: deus ex
machina". It's an excellent and thought provoking read.

This is the first time I wrote something that well and truly felt
like it _needed_ to be written...

C&C to brian@azurite.org

-- 2/9/01

Finally came back and finished re-writing awkward parts... Added
some dialogue, as was suggested to me... but... I... I think I'm
happy with this, and am going to call it final unless someone finds
another error.

-- 2/24/01

Thanks to all who C&C'ed/Preread for me!

Mad-Hamlet
Nanashi
Ginrai
Allyn Yonge