Ranma and Co. is Copyright Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan, Inc. 1993 Ranma ½ is a trademark of Viz Communications, ½ Fan Fiction by S³ "My Little Lemuria"

Part Three

True to the words of the Elder, Sarsa returned within a few minutes laden with a clay pitcher and a small stack of shallow bowls. Sitting cross-legged next to the Elder's blankets, she set the three bowls down and poured a generous amount into two of them, and a smaller portion for herself. She handed the first bowl to the Elder, and then passed the second to Hibiki Ryouga. Once the old lizard had taken a sip, she followed suit, relieved to see the strange boy had waited as well. A soft cough to her right reminded her of the pouch at her waist. Ah right, the stones.

Mildly alarmed, the lost boy attempted to ensure that no water spilled as he accepted the drink. Having his porcine form revealed was the last thing he wanted right now, blind old man or no. He had little desire to deal with obvious carnivores while stuck in his diminished form. Keeping one eye on the elder, and one on the lizard girl, Ryouga did his best to follow suit, setting the bowl down between his crossed legs as the girl had done. The whole thing had a feeling of ritual behind it, perhaps akin to the tea ceremony, with which he was passing familiar, thanks to his mother's traditional coaching when he was young.

Placing the leather pouch into the Elder's waiting palm, Sarsa sat back, an eager smile drawing her lips in spite of herself. This was a rare occasion indeed, and to have the chance to witness a fortune was even more seldom. In fact, this was only the third such occasion, regardless of her little sister's fascination with the stones.

It was also one of the few times that anyone really came to truly respect the village Elder. It didn't help that he spent more than half of his days napping. But, this was different, and exciting. She could barely contain herself; real magic, so close she could almost reach out and touch it.

While the two looked on, the Elder opened the pouch, pouring out a pile of five small pebbles into his waiting palm. Setting the empty pouch in his lap, he reached out to gather the empty bowls they'd just drank from. With a deftness that belied his advanced age, the old lizard shuffled the stones from bowl to bowl, until all five had been moved about, bringing them to rest in the middle wooden bowl. "Tell me child, what is it you see," he seemed to be directing his question to Sarsa.

For his part, the lost boy looked on with some interest. He noticed that the lizard girl was completely enthralled, so this must be pretty important, and he did his best to give it due attention. After all, there might be something to these stones, even if they looked like nothing more than a bunch of river pebbles to him. Who was he to question, when his very body proved supposedly impossible things.

Ryouga watched as the lizard girl's eyes narrowed in obvious concentration as she gazed at the stones laying in a seemingly random pattern in the bottom of the bowl cupped in the Elder's hands. For a moment, it seemed as if her eyes went wide then blank, not unlike the faraway gaze of the elder lizard. The lost boy leaned in as her lips began to move, words all too faint on her tongue, impossible to hear. Or maybe just him, he thought, as he noticed the Elder, nodding from the corner of his eye.

"Ah, yes. I guessed about as much, child." The wrinkled lizard turned his head in the general direction of the lost boy. "Your village, it is very far away, faint even to the sight of the stones. Something, greater than even the Rift, bars your path, young one. There is great magic at work upon you, that much is plain. Old magic, strong, and twisting about, entangling."

Ryouga's thoughts were immediately of Jusenkyo, those cursed pools. Damn you to hell, Saotome Ranma, he spat mentally. It was a failsafe, a mantra he'd lived long by. His mind was bent that way, but there was something else even still, the image of a haughty blind fool, that love struck idiot, Mousse. More Chinese magic, it was very possible this was his fault, too. "Magic, Elder?" He repeated back, at a loss for the welling anger, there was simply no targets available, not close at hand, yet.

The lengthy pause on their guest's part, wasn't wholly lost on the venerable lizard, and he too felt some of the lost zeal returning, not unlike the headstrong youngling before him, caught up in the swirl of the stones. Always looking for excitement, that one, and yet so much potential. If only she took more interest in the old ways, but there was time yet, for her to find her way down that particular path. The gift was there, though she had yet to see it in herself. "Yes, the stones speak in twists and turns, of troubled times," he paused, listening to the whispers, like the song of the wind, flowing from young Sarsa. "A storm of rain, and endless cloudy skies. These things await you, and yet," the elder tilted his head in the way a child might wonder at some new curiosity, "yet, the winds push ever on, while a small shadow clings to your steps. The path set before you back into the sunlight is a long one, indeed," the elder shook his head, "More than that much…the voice of the stones cannot carry."

Ryouga nodded, not quite sure what to make of the vague words that the Elder had imparted. The way back to Tokyo was going to be a long road, if all the directions he had to go on were rain, a shadow and some sunlight. It might as well have been in another language, as far as he was concerned. "Okay, what does that mean, exactly?"

In response, the Elder let out a dry but hearty chuckle, "I was hoping it held more meaning to you, child. We merely carry the words of the stones to the ears they are meant for. The message is for you, and you alone to understand," while he couldn't see the expression on his guest's face, he had been around for more than long enough to know exactly what it looked like at the moment. Uncertainty, confusion, they were but two of the emotions roiling beneath the surface. This was a foretelling, and it bore with it some measure of doubt, and always would, until it came to pass, in one way or another. It was seldom understood until after the event had occurred.

The elder's words were just as cryptic as the words of the stones, or whatever. Either way, none of it got him closer to returning to Nerima, and the thought of rain, not to mention a whole storm, didn't exactly sit high on his list of exciting prospects right now, if ever. That his umbrella was missing, only served as a stomach-turning reminder of hardships to come. But, while horribly inconvenient, it would only slow him down. He'd get back, it might just take a few days longer than usual. Maybe a month if he was really lucky this time. "I don't suppose one of you could point me in the direction of that P-city?"

At that moment, Sarsa blinked out of the daze she'd been in. Rubbing absently at one eye, she looked from the bowl, to the elder, and the strange boy. It was odd, she could've sworn the stones had been much larger moments ago. Had she fallen asleep somehow? Somehow it didn't feel like it. Before she could ask if anything had happened, the Elder's voice broke through her thoughts.

"Hibiki Ryouga, this one will guide you on the start of your path," the elder waved a wizened hand in the general direction of the lizard girl. "The way to Param is still clear this time of the season, and the sands are more forgiving now that the river has quieted. Had you passed this way last moon, the journey would be twice as difficult, and much longer."

"I see," Ryouga nodded to himself, if there was one thing to be grateful for, it was small favors. Life had never seen fit to do much more than that. Besides, wasn't it said that fortune favored the bold? Rough travels or not, it made little difference to him. He would get there eventually, he always did. It was just a matter of when, not if.

Next to the lost boy, the lizard girl was having a much harder time of accepting what she'd just heard. Sure, she knew where Param was, roughly. It was near the narrowest gap in the great Rift. Which was on the other side of the dunes, far from shade of Gods Rest. Yes, she knew where the city was, though she'd never traveled that far, let alone entered the city itself.

While it was true that the harvest had passed, the others still weren't back yet. They weren't due back until the morning at the least. There were more than enough helping hands once everyone was here, but to leave the Elder? It was almost unthinkable, and yet there was also the prospect of actually seeing the great city with her own eyes. If the Elder was telling her to go, who was she to question his wisdom in this matter? Still.

Almost as if he knew her thoughts, the Elder spoke before Sarsa had the chance to reply one way or the other. "The rest of the village arrives in the morning. There's been no sign to tell me otherwise. Do not worry over me, child. I've been living here since before the time of your father's father. One day to call my own is but a blessing at my age."

Despite being bundled up tighter than a newborn, there was a self-assurance in his raspy voice that spoke of years several times that of Sarsa's own experiences. That stilled most of the worry she might have had, and the fact that he would more than likely be napping the entire time until her sister and the rest of the village returned. She wasn't even sure if she'd ever seen him leave his hut, other than for the start of the new harvest each season. The young girl looked over at the boy she'd found half-buried in the side of Gods Rest, and back to the Elder.

"I can do it," she said at length, perhaps more to herself than to the others. "Father spoke of the way often enough."

"You're more than equal to the task, child. Of that I have little doubt. My nose tells me it is early yet, and it is best to get started before the day grows much shorter. And child," the pile of blankets seemed to draw tighter.

"Yes, Elder?" Sansa made to sit up, but the Elder's pause held her.

"Hibiki Ryouga, as you can see, is not of our tribe. Nor of the lands around Gods Rest."

"Elder?"

"Perhaps there are more of his kin in Param, perhaps not. If so, they may know the rest of his path. Once you've reached the city, it would be best if you didn't dally, and begin your return."

"Yes, Elder," Sarsa nodded, retrieving the bowls and placing the stones in a pile near the Elder's feet. "I'll be back before I'm missed."

"Be safe child, and you Hibiki Ryouga. May you find your Tokyo, and may Gods Rest shade you both on your journey."

Ryouga nodded, bowing out of habit before remembering the old lizard was blind. "Thank you for your help, Elder." He straightened up, rising to his feet beside the girl.

"May Gods Rest shade you as well, Elder," Sarsa spoke, gathering the things she'd brought, "Hibiki Ryouga, we should leave once I've put these away." A sparkle of anticipation was all too clear in her eyes, even to Ryouga.

"I'm following you, so just lead the way," the lost boy said, giving the Elder one final glance before they left the hut. It looked like the Elder had retreated almost completely into the mound of cloth. Ryouga shook his head, wondering just what kind of mess he'd fallen into this time.