Ranma 1/2 Fanfiction: Echo
Chapter 14: Ruby Slippers Two Sizes Too Small
' ' denotes thoughts. Will by default be in the native language of the speaker.
" "- Spoken Japanese. Sometimes actual Japanese will be used.
"/ /"- Spoken in English. Rarely happens.
"/- -/"- Spoken Mandarin Chinese.
"In a way, I am quite glad to see you." Andrew said to Ko Lohn. "I wasn't certain if you would show up for this."
"Indeed?" The elder replied, fixing Andrew with a scrutiny much like that of a cattle buyer examining potential stock. "And why is that, pray tell?"
"Because I do not belong here." Andrew answered.
"Yet in spite of this you seem to be doing a remarkable job of being here- you carry yourself well." Ko Lohn said drily. "You certainly look like you are only a little older than Xian Pu. And yet, your apparent physical age aside, I imagine this-"
Andrew interjected, "I am older than I look."
Ko Lohn snorted. "Sonny boy, I can assure you that I am fully aware you are older than your apparent physical age. By my guess, I'd say you are in your early thirties. And you had a very active and traumatic childhood. And don't interrupt me."
Andrew cocked his head to the side. "How can you tell that?"
Ko Lohn's eyes pierced him to the core. "Your training, wherever you received it, was terribly lax. Under ordinary circumstances no student who had mastered the Soul of Ice would even ask that question. And this only outlines the need for more training for you than what you have already received."
As Andrew's pale skin went white, Nabiki held up a hand. "Ok, Granny. Time out. Can you please explain who you are?"
"As he already mentioned before, I am the Elder Ko Lohn." She replied. "And to explain everything that this title entailed would take far too long for us here today. Usually, an elder will remain in the village- being that most of us are rather old, we are more comfortable there- unless a situation arises that requires our special attention or personal touch, such as the mess things have become with her mission to deal with the outsider girl who humiliated her at the yearly tournament several months ago. This indeed does seem to require my personal judgement, a thing which since I have arrived I am closer to being ready to deliver. And I would much rather wait until my great granddaughter Xian Pu were here before I begin my official judgement on things. Thank you, dear." Ko lohn added to Kasumi, who poured her a cup of tea and set in front of her.
"Kasumi, would you like some help in the kitchen with the rest of lunch?" Andrew asked.
A look of alarm passed across her face. "N-no! I mean, no thank you, Andrew kun. I am nearly finished. Please, relax." Kasumi returned to the kitchen in a slightly faster pace than she'd arrived.
"She's never forgiven me for that accident when I was cooking up the Charge." Andrew said with a sigh.
Ko Lohn sipped at here tea. "At this point, son in law, I think-"
"WHAT?!" Andrew shouted, drawing Kasumi's head out from the kitchen to wonder at the sudden outburst.
"Son in law." Ko Lohn said calmly. "As in, the one who will be married to my great grand daughter Xian Pu."
Andrew blinked in horror as he realized that he'd acquired an Amazon bride. After a moment, he tilted his head to the side and asked, "How do your laws deal with men who are already married?"
"A married man, whether in the village or outside it, is exempt from laws of Marriage. We too are women, and would suffer no such cruelty on a woman who had given us no offense in spite of the actions of her husband. Depending on the circumstances of the defeat in these cases, then the man might be subject to a punishment as decided by the council in the village or any elder personally present outside it."
"Then your laws of marriage, at least as you have defined them, do not apply to me, for I am already married." Andrew said with a distinct note of relief.
"To whom?" Cologne said after a moment's pause. The words held the distinct ring of absolute truth.
"I am not from this time- nor, Nabiki and I suspect, even this world." Andrew began.
Ko Lohn arrowed her eyes and rubbed at her chin thoughtfully. "Some might argue that since you are no longer in the time or universe from which you were married, you are married no longer."
"I will fight you to my last breath if you would keep me from my wife." Andrew said, and there was an edge in his voice sharper than polished diamond. "And I will die before I willingly betray her."
"Relax, Andrew san. I said that there were some who would argue this, not that I was one." Ko Lohn mollified.
Andrew closed his eyes and took a breath. "You also," Andrew noted more calmly after a moment, "Never said that you WEREN'T one. It was, as much of this conversation so far, a probing feint to see how far you could push."
'Right on!' Nabiki thought. 'Don't let that old bag push you around!'
"So it was." Ko Lohn said with an air of mixed approval and irritation. "And you obviously know much about myself and the Nyanicheizu in general. I imagine that a large point to the conversation you've held thus far is to see if I know a way to get you back home."
"I miss my home and my wife and son." Andrew said, closing his eyes again.
Ko Lohn smiled mysteriously. "Your wife and son I believe, but your home rings false as you say it. Married, you say?"
"I have known my wife for ten years, and been married for six." Andrew repeated for the seemingly thousandth time- this explanation was getting tired. "My son is actually not mine, but my son through marriage."
Ko Lohn seemed to think this over for a minute, before nodding. "Ah, yes." Ko Lohn mentioned. "Another question I had meant to ask. You said before that you were stranded. What do you remember of how you got here?"
Andrew went over the details of his first week in Japan. Occasionally Ko Lohn would interrupt with a question. When Andrew mentioned the stall on the side of the street, Ko Lohn seemed especially interested in the stall. Andrew at this point discovered he remembered very little about the stall itself, save that it held a great many knick knacks and oddities, none of which he could clearly remember. Andrew's memory had been much better since he'd been here in Nerima but still the details of that stall or even the vendor's face just wouldn't come.
As he described following the map to Nerima, Ko Lohn asked if he still had it. Andrew nodded, and headed out back to the dojo. Nabiki found herself alone in the room with Ko Lohn. "So..." Nabiki began. "Why the long face?"
"Gravity, my dear." Replied the old woman with a smirk and a mocking sigh. "When you get to be my age, EVERYTHING tries to stay close to the ground."
Nabiki's train of thought derailed, killing eighty passenger neurons and wrecking the depot, dumping passengers off the sides before it had properly reached the station. She was forced to regroup before she said, "Hey! You know what I meant, granny! What is it about Andrew that has you so concerned?"
Ko Lohn regarded Nabiki with a secretive smile. "You really have a thing for that American, don't you?"
Nabiki's eyes narrowed angrily. "That doesn't matter. I can't have him, he belongs to his wife, and he'll never be with me if there's any way under heaven he can be with her."
Ko Lohn shook her head grimly. "If what I suspect is true, he may never be able to go back, regardless of what magic he may run across."
Hope and sorrow warred for dominance in Nabiki's heart at these words. "Why?" She barely managed to choke out through a voice that had tightened suddenly in her throat.
Just then, Andrew returned with a folded up parchment. "Here it is." He said, holding it out to the Amazon Elder.
She eyed the map with a careful scrutiny. After a careful perusal, she asked casually, "May I keep this?"
Andrew shrugged. "Sure. It's yours." He replied. "I already know the area like the back of my hand."
Nabiki had been looking at the map as he said the words. As they left his mouth, the map changed completely- instead of modern paper, its substance converted to something like parchment. The straight creases in the map vanished, and the sides curled up as though the page had spent a great deal of time rolled up. The writing and drawings on the map had changed as well, and instead of a Tokyo suburb, the map showed a picture of a number of old single and two room huts arranged around a center plaza.
Ko Lohn knew that village well, for its layout was etched into her heart. She knew with certainty where it described and what the map stretched out in front of her truly was.
"Attend me, carefully, the both of you. This map is an ancient magic, the likes of which cannot be recreated in this day and age. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and even if the formula for its creation were known, the magic starved world in which we now reside could not gather enough Mana in one place to make it. Its confines map out a location familiar to its owner, one where and when the owner's heart will or would have been completely happy. It is a benevolent magic, one such rare piece whose magic will not harm the owner more than help no matter what the circumstances- a karmic wild card. Its magic literally recreates a person, in essence twinning them into two halves, one of which is granted the opportunity to go back in time to a where and a when that would allow them to pursue whatever path that would have made them truly happy. And the one that is allowed to pursue this path is called an 'Echo.' What, in fact, you are, Andrew san."
"Wait a second!" Andrew protested. "But I'd never been to Nerima- it isn't even real!"
The look on Nabiki's face was astonished, but Ko Lohn responded with, "What is real? If you mean something that can be touched by the normal people of that world, then in a sense, you can say that no, Nerima wasn't 'real.' But then again, neither were the stars in their sky. Yet those stars were still there."
Andrew's mind was whirling. Yet Ko Lohn was not content with breaking his paradigms; she was apparently set on destroying them and grinding up the pieces into a fine powder. "The nature of reality is a fluid thing, inconstant, as our memories serve to provide us with the illusion of past, present, and future. Both past and future are hazy and indeterminate, and highly malleable. All things possible and impossible, all things imaginable and incomprehensible, all these and more exist simultaneously. If, by real, you mean is something that is actually there, then, yes, it is real. And all other things are real right along with it."
Andrew shuddered as his mind took this in, and felt a broadening in his mind as he tried to envision what it would be like to see them all at once. It was exhilarating, terrifying and humbling all at once.
"So what you're saying is, Andrew never actually left his world?" Nabiki said, a light of joy in her eyes.
"Yes. And according to how long he said he was supposed to be in Japan, he has already returned home to her." Ko Lohn said.
"Then I will never be able to go home." Andrew said numbly. He wasn't certain how he felt about this; it was as though a great responsibility had lifted itself from his shoulders.
"It is even so." Ko Lohn replied. "And for whatever reason, this path on which you have been placed will suit you, and years from now, though you might still remember and miss the wife you loved, you will see that it all turned out for the best."
"But, elder..." Nabiki began uncertainly, still sorting through the information she had been given, "Then... what is on the map now that you own it?"
Ko Lohn sighed with a small tear in her eye. "It shows my home village, as it was two hundred eighty years ago, when I was a young woman barely twenty, and a young rake named Happosai came through town. And even though he was crude, and perverse, a thief and an oathbreaker and a weakling, I still loved him."
Nabiki blinked at this. "Three hundred years old? And here I wouldn't have guessed a day over two hundred." She quipped.
Andrew let this pass as Ko Lohn gave a small, bittersweet laugh. "But elder Ko Lohn, then... when will your twin set out for the village?"
Ko Lohn shed that tear, and then another after it. "The nature of the magic of this map is strange. The echo will not break away in any fashion that can be seen by mortal eyes, but, knowing myself as I do... If I do... then she already has."
/June 2, 1997
/... I have found myself standing on a mountaintop. Before me I see a world of possibilities and things which my future may hold. The impossible stands before me, the chance to pursue martial arts in a world where martial arts have no limits. A place where magic still holds some of its power, where by the strength of one's spirit and discipline one may potentially live forever, unlocking new secrets of the soul and body and universe with every passing day.
/Ko Lohn says true immortality is not really in the cards, just because of odd chance and the ever greater strain of extending someone's life beyond their potential to maintain, and I can safely say that I am glad for this- forever is a really long time, and what point living when all you ever knew is ashes drifting on the ocean of eternity. Yet I feel a joy in knowing that if I needed more time, that with hard enough work and discipline, maybe I'll have enough time to accomplish everything I want to do and learn everything I want to know.
/I miss my wife and love her sincerely, but I also know now I can never go back. Even were I to spend years and hunt down a magic that could bring me back to where I was, I am already there. I can't just shove myself aside; that would be both juvenile and rather silly.
/I even asked Cologne about the possibility of getting to a place where I was already dead, or where she and I hadn't met, but she said the multiverse is a mysterious place. All possible outcomes exist, but even with powerful magics at your disposal, to get from one point on the super membrane you must travel the distance between to get to another point. The idea of teleportation is a lovely thought, but one thing seems pretty constant about the multiverse is that regardless of how you bend it, you can reduce distance but can't eliminate it altogether.
/However it is that you measure such distances. Cologne says if what she suspects about me is true, I'll understand it plenty in a couple hundred years of study- much of the ability to attain longevity through martial arts and chi manipulation stems from the desire and drive to mastery, and she says I have about as much of both as she's ever seen.
/Most reassuringly, I know Darlene is not alone, and that she still has me there with her, and so I have taken my earring out and replaced it with the gold hoop I got from the FHAA Club, which they let me keep for defending the honor of Furinkan High. I almost mentioned to them that I wasn't really defending the school, being that I never went there, but I decided not to say anything after all. Like Nabiki would say, when you give a sucker back something they let go, all you get is two suckers standing side by side. For me, today, this is Andrew, once again, signing out. /
End Chapter 14
End Book 1
And so it ends, at least, the first part of Echo. I already have mapped out vaguely two more books, and one whopper of a side story involving Cologne and Happosai and everything that comes after. I also warn you that Book Two skips ahead quite a distance- More or less to the arrival of Happosai. Before I get a bunch of complaints, I was forced to acknowledge that I am no longer writing this series as merely watching in my mind what is happening while writing down the images and conversations I am seeing and hearing. My subconscious has subsumed this story in its entirety, and I can't really FORCE anything at this point. After book Three, however, I will see if I can't do a sort of "Lost Chapters" story as well.
But now, at least you all know just why this story was titled Echo and what really happened to bring Andrew to Nerima.
Andrew was an interesting character to write, as was Nabiki- I suspect that she will wear down his resistance eventually, but with Shampoo in the mix along with one or two (or more) other characters I intend to throw in there, both allies and enemies, things won't get any simpler in Nerima.
Thank you all for riding along this far; I intend to start posting the first Chapters of book Two some time before too long; When that is could be tomorrow night or could be a week from now; but I have already learned that this muse is far from finished with me.
See you soon!