Legend of the Crimson Bridge

By: Jolly Wolfe

Chapter 1: My Own Home

The rain poured down hard, but she barely noticed it. It didn't matter anymore. The rain couldn't do anything to her. Sure, she could get sick, maybe badly. But you had to care for that to bother you, and she didn't. She could see the rain falling all around her, but could not feel it touch her skin. Couldn't feel the chill night wind that blew down the street. Couldn't feel the soaked clothing that clung to her. She had been walking for over nine hours, since the previous afternoon, but there was no pain in her legs. Nor was there pain in her shoulders from the pack she carried containing all she owned in the world. There was no room for it amidst the complete emptiness in her soul.

She stumbled down a slope next to the road and tripped, falling under the bridge she hadn't even noticed. As she lay on her side staring at the far wall the void inside became too much. Slowly her vision blurred as she slipped into unconsciousness.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

She awoke to the sun glaring in her eyes some unknown hours later. Slowly she sat up. Her clothes were still damp, but no longer soaked through. Not that she cared. She didn't know where she was either, but again she didn't care. Almost mechanically she removed some food from her pack and slowly ate it.

'Here,' she thought to herself. 'This is my home now.' She slowly looked around. It had obviously been a canal at sometime, though the accumulation of trash indicated a severe lack of use. The underside was quite large as the bridge held four lanes and a sidewalk on each side. In one of the concrete walls a solid metal door was set, though it did not appear to have been opened in some time judging by the debris strewn in front of it and across the rest of the concrete. A wall on either side of the bridge ran to half way before stopping at a nearly five foot wide gully that ran through the center of the concrete to drain any water out. For just a moment she saw a two story house with surrounding wall, a koi pond, and its own dojo. Quickly she shook the image away. 'This is my home,' she repeated.

Standing up she gathered all the trash into a pile in one corner. She quickly organized it into useable and not. She seemed to remember something about selling empty bottles and cans for money. Shrugging she put the ones she found into several plastic grocery bags that were among the garbage. It probably wouldn't be much, but it was still more then she had now. Cautiously she tried the metal door, but it was locked and the lock appeared rusted solid. Shrugging she went back to work on the rest of the area.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Several days had passed since that first awakening under the bridge. She kept it as clean as she could. Her tent sat atop a pile of cardboard and paper in a corner near the door to keep off the majority of the wind and rain. A circle of loose rocks collected from the canal formed a fire pit. She could almost pretend she was camping. She could almost pretend that she had somewhere else to go when she wanted to leave. Almost. She had seen several other people in similar situations, but they all avoided her. She was grateful. She had no wish to talk to anyone. Not even someone who might understand. From what she could tell, she was in Jubban, on the far side of Tokyo from Nerima. She had considered going farther, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. But then, not much was. She practiced her art, scrounged for food, and did everything in her power to keep her mind on the present and off of the past. Yet every night she cried herself to sleep. Every day dawned with her awakening from nightmares.

She had briefly considered trying to find a job, but who would hire a ronin after all. So instead she collected cans and bottles, turning them in at the recycling plant she found in town. As she suspected, it wasn't much money. Still it was enough to allow her to purchase a few small things. Needle and thread to patch her worn clothes. A bit of soap to allow her to wash in water boiled over her fire. A repetitive, almost mechanical cycle had come to occupy her days. Wake up from nightmare. Eat as little as possible. Practice under the bridge for an hour. Take the bags of cans and bottles she had collected yesterday to exchange for money. Spend the rest of the day gathering more. Return to bridge. Practice another hour. Eat a little more. Wash as best she could. Cry herself to sleep as the memories she had avoided all day caught up to her.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It had been nearly three weeks since the space under the bridge had become her home. Nothing had changed except the dreams came less often and the tears didn't last as long. It was night, probably near midnight, when she was roused from her restless sleep by a muffled noise and the sound of giggling. As she lay there trying to decipher the meaning of the sounds a voice spoke.

"Keep struggling girlie. We gonna have some fun tonight." The crude statement was followed by more giggling. More muffled noises indicated several people moving under her bridge. Peeking out past the tent flap she strained her eyes to make out the people invading her home.

Slowly the clump of darkness revealed itself to be seven scruffy men holding two rather terrified women. As she watched one of the men roughly groped the larger of the women, eliciting a pained and disgusted groan from her. This seemed to amuse the assembled men.

"See," commented one of them, "she's into it already." The others laughed.

A rage filled her at the sight. She stepped out of her tent, hidden in the darkness, and stepped softly toward them. A low growl escaped her lips as she cupped one hand close to her side.

--

Kimi was not having a good night. Her and Yuri had been snagged on their way back to the shelter they were using as home. This gang, the Sharks, had a reputation for brutal rapes. She had been dragged under this bridge to find out first hand.

"You hear something?" one of the men groping her asked as he stopped and looked around. The others started to deny hearing anything, when a brilliant ball of blue flame slammed into the man who had stepped back. It drove him back fifteen feet to slam into the far wall before exploding. The man was tossed to the side, smoking and bleeding, to land in a broken heap. The others turned to see where they were being attacked from. One whimpered.

She stood some thirty feet away, illuminated by the azure flames which slowly seeped from her body to lick at the ceiling some ten feet up. Her eyes appeared as miniature stars, and she held a blue sun in each hand ready to throw. Her fiery hair floated in a halo around her head.

"Youma!" The men screamed almost as one. They abandoned their prey in an effort to escape the monster coming for them. Amazingly one actually had enough team spirit to grab his fallen comrade on his way out. Soon the only ones left under the bridge were Kimi, Yuri and the youma. The two girls watched as it stared after the gang members. Slowly the fire around it died down and the balls of blue fury in her hands winked out. As the flames flickered and disappeared, Kimi was struck by how human it appeared. In fact once the flames had vanished completely, it looked like a perfectly normal girl.

The figure glanced at them briefly, before seeming to collapse in on itself. No longer a vicious youma capable of tearing them limb from limb and draining their life force. Instead a young woman who, like them, had been on the streets to long. They watched as she turned away from them and started to crawl into the tent they could now make out in the corner.

"Wait!" Kimi wondered at Yuri's bravery in calling out, then realized that it had been her own voice that halted their savior. Swallowing she took a step forward.

"Tha… Thank you." Even in the darkness she could make out the crystal blue eyes staring at her. For a moment she cursed her stuttering tongue. "Wh… What is your name?" There was silence for a moment. "You don't have to…" She was interrupted by the girl's response.

"Ranma."

AN: Well Here it is, the first chapter. Now please understand, I'm not abandoning 'Lunar Eclipse' I've just hit a snag with it. I've been stuck about halfway through chapter 6 for weeks. This I wrote in two days. So I figure I'll be switching back and forth for a while. A big difference is I already know where this story is going, while Eclipse is very much being made up as I go. A lot of what happens in it will be or has been influenced by the various reviews I have received. Hope you guys like this one too.