Note: This is a polished and expanded version of my first fanfic, Darkness & Light. It uses characters and ideas from Ranma ½.
Darkness & Light
Ko Lon sat quietly in her room in the Neko Hanten, the fading afternoon light providing only faint illumination and leeching the room of colors. The amazon matriarch wasn't paying attention to her surroundings, however; she was carefully going over her plans one last time before taking the irrevocable next step. Before someone died. She sighed as she considered the situation.
Her great-granddaughter Shan Pu, last of her line, was almost out of time. After failing to kill the outsider girl who had defeated her, it looked like she was also going to fail to marry the outsider boy that girl had turned out to be. If Shan Pu did not bring her husband back to the tribe, and within a few months, she would die, and not necessarily quickly. Not that the girl knew her time was short—amazon warriors performed their duty because their personal honor demanded it, not to meet deadlines. This did not mean the deadlines weren't there; the warriors just weren't always informed of them. Unless, of course, they passed.
So. How could Shan Pu win Ranma as her own? While shortcuts such as deception, potions, and drugs could be used on most reluctant husbands, these methods were no longer appropriate for use on Ranma—the boy's willpower and fighting strength had reached such heights in the past year! If he were to be introduced into the tribe unwillingly and later broke free of their control... The matriarch mentally shuddered at the thought of how much death and destruction could result. No, Ranma must willingly marry Shan Pu and join the tribe. There were two major obstacles that had to be overcome, however.
The first was the damage Shan Pu had done her own cause in the past year. Ko Lon marveled at the depth of the girl's arrogance and overconfidence—assuming Ranma would follow her like a puppy after its mother, just because she wanted him. And for some reason, the girl seemed to believe that a tactic that failed the first time would somehow work the second. Or third. Or fourth... If only Shan Pu had just talked to him—the two youths had so much in common! Their personalities, interests, and even their faults were so similar; if they would just stop opposing each other head-on, she was sure a strong and healthy relationship would grow between them. Hopefully, the first part of her plan was already working to heal the damage that had been done.
A week ago, Ko Lon had announced to everyone that Shan Pu's kiss of marriage was negated, provided that Ranma work with them to find a way to ally his strength with the amazons in a way that would satisfy the other elders. As if she had the power to negate the kiss of marriage! But everyone had believed her blatant lie, even her great-granddaughter, who should have known better. Of course, she had been preoccupied declaring she'd never give up on her airen and pledging to redouble her efforts to win him—at least until Ko Lon had told her flat-out that if she didn't stop harassing the boy, she'd rule that the girl had failed her quest to win Ranma and bring her home for immediate judgment. At that, Shan Pu had gone pale and quietly listened to her great-grandmother as she laid out the rules.
The rules basically forbade physical contact without Ranma's express permission, referring to him as 'airen' or 'husband', and treating him with any less respect than an allied prince. With Shan Pu following these rules and calmly talking with Ranma each day, feelings were sure to quickly develop between the two. In fact, so far as Ko Lon could tell, the only thing holding them back from truly falling in love was the other obstacle to her success: Tendou Akane.
Ko Lon had known for some time that Ranma and the youngest Tendou had some confused feelings for each other. Recently, however, she had seen those feelings grow into love, even if the two did not yet consciously realize it. She didn't believe that in the long run they would have a successful relationship—the Tendou girl just had too much jealousy and mistrust in her—but it could easily last long enough to kill her great-granddaughter.
No, Akane needed to be removed from the picture as soon as possible, and only one method was reliable enough. Tendou Akane must die. Ko Lon had considered various methods to break the two up, but that could result in Ranma focusing on reconciliation. Also, Shan Pu's sympathy and honest sorrow over the other girl's death would be much more effective in bringing her closer to Ranma than the support she'd offer over a break-up.
The matriarch nodded to herself, convinced that her solution was the only one. It was a shame that Akane would die, but Ko Lon would sacrifice far more than one foreign girl to save the last of her line from death and dishonor. With that thought, she stood up and left the room to execute the next step of her plan.
Mu Su flew across the darkening sky, his white feathers awash with the silvery light of the full moon. With a soft sigh (which came out as a quiet quack) he wondered not for the first time why his beloved couldn't see that the two of them were destined to be together. With the kiss of marriage negated and his darling Shan Pu no longer forced to chase after Saotome, things should have gotten better—they really should have. But, no... the love of his life still pushed him away, and of all things, seemed to be getting closer than ever to his rival!
The Chinese boy-turned-duck sighed again as he banked to catch an updraft on his way back to the Neko Hanten. Tonight had started off so well; the old mummy had declared that Shan Pu would bring dinner over to the Tendou home and confer further with Ranma—and for the first time, Mu Su would accompany her. Of course, there had been dire warnings against any misbehavior, but he had been thrilled just to be at the side of his love as she negotiated for the glory of their tribe. But through the course of dinner he couldn't help but notice the familiarity and comfortable air between his beloved and that cad Saotome. Eventually, it had become too much for him and he had once again proclaimed his love before hurling himself at ... Mr. Tendou. Maybe he should start wearing his glasses more... In any case, an immediate dousing and a swift kick had sent him on his way back home in duck form.
Finishing his reminiscing as he approached the restaurant that served as home in Japan, he glided to the window he kept ajar for situations like this. Closed. A minute of struggle proved it locked, as well. A quick check showed both the door and Shan Pu's cat flap to be locked, too—apparently the old mummy wanted to make sure he couldn't experience the meager comforts of home if he ended up getting sent back early. How petty.
Well, he had his ways around the tiny control freak's little annoyances. Flying to a certain spot on the roof, he pried a shingle up with his bill and wriggled through the hole it concealed and into the attic. Now all he needed was a few minutes to get some hot water and a change of clothes and... the young duck froze as a chill that made his hackles rise washed over him. He extended his senses to find the source of the feeling and heard the hag's voice drifting up from the room below.
'By the ancient compact, on this night of the full moon—I summon thee. By blood and by the talisman—I summon thee. By will and by might—I summon thee. I command thee—appear and do my bidding!'
Mu Su swallowed nervously as the voice paused. He got the impression that someone—or something—was speaking too quietly for him to hear before the matriarch's voice was heard again.
'Hear the task I have for you: slay this girl, Tendou Akane, on the morning of the third day hence. If possible, allow no person other than her to see you. Do not let anyone know who sent you. After you complete your task, or if you fail, return here and inform me of what transpired. Do you understand? Good. Then leave and do as I have commanded.'
Mu Su stood there, frozen in shock and horror, though the former soon turned to rage as he mentally ranted. "That conniving troll! I should have known she'd never release anyone from her clutches! Well, she won't get away with this disgusting, cowardly act. I, Mu Su, shall save my beloved Shan Pu from the machinations of that withered lich," the young duck righteously vowed. "Oh... and I shall also save Tendou Akane," he added as an afterthought. His eyes glazed over as he imagined how grateful his love would be.
"Oh, my dearest," Shan Pu cried as she tearfully threw her arms around Mu Su. "You have saved me—and our entire people—from being dragged down by that old woman's web of deceit and treachery! Let me reward you with my undying love." And with that, the beautiful girl cupped the back of his head as she kissed him deeply and passionately.
The duck sighed softly at the lovely scene he had just envisioned. "Yes, it will be exactly like that," he thought solemnly. "Actually... Saotome will probably be just as grateful when I save the life of his fiancée..."
The pigtailed Japanese boy stood before the long-haired Chinese one, respect and gratitude evident in his words and bearing. "Mousse, I can't thank you enough for saving Akane from that monster. I-I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to her... Words can't show my gratitude!" And with that, Ranma leapt forward, grabbed Mu Su in an embrace, and kissed the struggling boy deeply and passionately.
The duck twitched. That vision had been most ... disturbing. And very unlikely, thank all the gods. Trying to banish the last scene from his mind, he quickly concentrated on picturing a more realistic result of his heroism.
A shriveled, tiny talon-like hand held his chin as dried-out, papery lips lightly brushed his cheek. A gentle puff of air caressed his skin as an ancient voice devoid of compassion quietly rasped, "You have defied me for the last time, boy. Today you will die."
The duck stopped twitching in favor of full-blown trembling. "That was entirely too believable," thought Mu Su. Perhaps it would be best to deal with this situation from behind the scenes. Heh heh—no need to steal all the glory, after all! Besides, what guarantee was there that the martial arts would even be effective against whatever foul spirit the hag had summoned? No, better to fight fire with fire and 'borrow' the tome she thought safely hidden behind her secret panel. His darling Shan Pu had revealed its location to him just last week under the guise of ramming his head through a wall when he'd tried to hug her. Enough woolgathering. It was time to get that tome! "Quack!" After some hot water, that is...
Mu Su, restored to his natural form, sat on the floor of the the Neko Hanten's cellar, staring at the thick tome before him. He had found several interesting spells, but most of them required components he didn't have. The most promising one he could cast had to be performed before the full moon set that night, which explained why the crone had ordered her foul servant to kill Akane in three days time, rather than summoning it later. He frowned and wondered what was so special about three days from then. Where would Akane be... Mu Su blinked as he suddenly wondered where the girl was now. She hadn't been at the Tendou home for dinner (it had been rather peaceful, come to think of it), and upon reflection he recalled there'd been mention of her being away for the week on some sort of retreat.
Mu Su shook his head, annoyed at himself. Such trivia no longer mattered; the important thing was to cast the spell before the moon set. He looked over the pages one last time and reviewed the spell. It would summon a guardian angel to watch over a person for a week and required nothing more than common ingredients and a pure heart (and what could be purer than his untainted love?). After assembling the components, Mu Su made sure his glasses were firmly in place and began reading aloud from the tome. It was a good thing the boy was so careful to wear his glasses properly while reading the convoluted and difficult words, or undoubtedly he would have made far more mistakes than the four he did.
Hours after entering the Neko Hanten, Mu Su crept through the darkened hallway of the building. He had cast the spell successfully (at least, nothing had blown up) and managed to return the book undetected. Now, all he had to do was leave an anonymous note for Saotome warning him that Akane was in danger—and not to tell anyone of the note—and his part in the matter would be finished. Alas, such was not to be, as he was suddenly splashed with cold water and swept into a sturdy cage. As the disoriented duck struggled to regain his bearings, he was treated to a close-up of Ko Lon's wrinkled face as she growled, "Did you think I wouldn't hear of your behavior this evening, boy? I warned you; now you'll spend the entire week in there!" Mu Su mentally sighed and hoped what he'd managed to do would be sufficient.
Akane took a deep breath of fresh mountain air and let it out in a happy sigh as she admired the sparkling lake and surrounding forest. The natural beauty alone was enough to make the retreat worthwhile, but there was so much more. The other girls were wonderful, and there were plenty of workshops and activities, which she could attend or not as she pleased.
She was even the assistant instructor for the self-defense workshop! She lacked the teaching experience to be the main instructor, but she didn't mind—what was important was that her companions respected her and her skills enough that they were willing, eager even, to learn from her! The horrible feeling that her skills were a joke, that she wasn't even in the same league as the martial artists who'd arrived in Nerima in the past year, was absent. So what if she wasn't one of the most dangerous people in the world—she was teaching women how to defend themselves, and wasn't that more important than whether you could throw around balls of ki?
Akane smiled and thought about the other thing that was absent. Boys. Boys, annoying ½ boys, perverted schoolboys, princely boys out to abduct innocent girls, and all variants thereof. Oh, she didn't want to be apart from the male half of the species forever—she'd heard they could sometimes evolve into good companions—but it was so peaceful without them. In the day she'd been there she could already feel the tension and anger caused by having to constantly put up with their antics fading.
"You look like you're enjoying yourself," said Sayuri with a smile as she approached.
Akane nodded. "I am. Thank you again for arranging it so I could come so cheaply."
"Well, my cousin had an opening, and since you're my friend and are helping with the self-defense workshop, she had no problem giving you a big discount. So, how did you sleep last night? My cabin is really nice—I can't believe they all have real beds and showers!"
Akane frowned and slowly answered, "The cabin's nice, and I slept pretty well... But I thought I heard something moving around late last night. Do you think an animal could have gotten in?"
"I suppose it's possible. Do you want to change cabins?"
Akane shook her head. "No, I think that'd be overreacting."
"OK, but if you change your mind, you can always room with me." Sayuri grinned and added, "Now, let's go and get ready for your first class, sensei—it wouldn't do for you to be late."
Akane laughed happily and followed her friend to the self-defense workshop.
Akane stepped under the shower's spray and rinsed off her sweat with a contented sigh. It would have been nice to cool off in the lake with the other girls, but after a minute of seeing how she handled herself in the water, the instructor had gone pale and ordered her out, apologetically citing liability issues. Ah, well. A walk through the woods after she was clean would be pleasant enough. She picked up the bottle of shampoo, and grimacing at the effort required to loosen the cap, poured some of the viscous liquid into her hand. Setting the bottle aside, she rubbed her hands together briefly and raised them toward her head. And that's when the stench hit.
Retching, she staggered back while quickly lowering her hands and the vile substance on them. The smell was horrible, rich with the odor of rot and decay. Akane grabbed the soap and frantically scrubbed her hands under the spray, carefully breathing only through her mouth. After a few minutes, the 'shampoo' and its smell were completely washed away—thank goodness she hadn't actually put any on her hair! She frowned as she wondered how the foul liquid had gotten into the bottle—could someone at the retreat have something against her?
Akane lay in bed, listening intently. After the shampoo incident, the noises she'd heard in her cabin last night seemed much more ominous. The prospect that someone with a grudge was messing with her things when she was out somewhere was bad enough; the idea of that same person creeping around her cabin while she was lying there unaware and defenseless sent chills down her spine. Well, tonight she'd catch the culprit in the act and put an end to this before it got nasty—and from the sounds of quiet movement, it seemed her plan was about to pay off.
Akane quietly reached for the flashlight she'd taken to bed with her, and as her hand closed around it, she heard a muffled crunch and felt something land on her pillow with a soft, wet sound. She turned on the flashlight and stared in horror as it illuminated a bloody rat head lying on her pillow. A second later the head was forgotten as she played the light across the room to reveal the grotesque, red-skinned humanoid monster standing no more than five feet away, holding a headless rat in one of its taloned and grinning at her with pointed, bloody teeth. She screamed.
"Well," thought Akane as she finished putting her things away in Sayuri's cabin, "at least now I know it isn't one of the other girls out to get me. And that thing didn't actually attack me, either. On the downside, it also vanished before anyone else got there. Still, finding a bloody rat head on your pillow is a good excuse for screaming..." Akane sighed. She'd already decided not to tell anyone about the creature—the most she'd accomplish would be to make everyone think she had an overactive imagination and frightened easily. She wished she could go home, but she couldn't just leave the others to the mercy of the beast.
The next night, Akane lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. There had been no further appearances of the monster or vandalism to her possessions, giving her hope that the creature was actually tied to the cabin she'd been occupying. No, the most interesting event of the day had been the afternoon workshop. Sex & sexuality. She almost hadn't gone, especially after hearing some of the other girls jokingly wonder what sort of exercises and homework there'd be. But in the end, Sayuri had convinced her to go—after all, when would they have another chance to hear more experienced women speak openly and honestly on the subject?
She was still mentally reeling from what she'd heard. And seen. She blushed momentarily as she recalled the handouts, complete with detailed illustrations, they'd been given. It was the strange ideas she'd been introduced to that confused her the most, though. That curiosity about and interest in sex was natural. That it wasn't perverted for boys to want to see her naked and even desire to have sex with her. How they responded to these urges could be perverted, but the urges themselves weren't and shouldn't be held against them. And then there was the idea that it was natural for her to have the same feelings. Or not. That was natural, too—it varied from woman to woman. Akane sighed. It was a lot simpler when boys were just perverts, especially for thinking about girls.
She suddenly wondered how all this applied to Ranma and what he had to deal with but quickly pushed the thought aside as a tangle of dark and confused emotion rose with it. With a sigh, she wondered why everything about the situation had to be so difficult. Life had been going fine, with just the problem of Kunou and the perverted boys at school (yes, attacking her every morning while proclaiming their love kept them firmly in category of pervert despite what she'd learned that afternoon), but that had been manageable. And then it had happened and everything had gone wrong. Her father had cavalierly announced to her and her sisters that one of them was to be engaged to some boy he'd never even met.
Oh, what a relief it had been when the boy turned out to be a girl! The threat of being married off like a piece of property with no regard for what she might want to do with her life had blown away like a dark cloud before a cleansing breeze—and to make things even better, the girl loved martial arts as much as she did and was untainted by the resentment most of the girls at school had for her because all the boys were harassing her. It had seemed the perfect opportunity to make a great friend!
And then, it had all come crashing down, and the dark cloud had reappeared to drop right out of the sky to engulf her. The girl was really another boy and she'd promptly been offered to him like a prize—and not only by her father, but by her sisters, as well. That alone would have been bad enough, but it was like that was the signal for everything else in her life to go wrong.
First, he was a better martial artist than she—much better. OK, she could have handled that, though it was a pretty big shock when she'd prided herself on being the second best in her age group in the area, but he'd been such an arrogant jerk about it! Well, excuse her for having a real life beyond training for the past ten years! And then, of course, better martial artists had started coming out of the woodwork... And prettier ones, and ones who were better at cooking, flirting, and every other feminine art. Even the damned boy who turned into a girl outdid her in all of those!
It was like everything she'd ever taken pride in had been snatched from her and thrown into the dirt. A good martial artist? Everyone had made it quite clear that her abilities were completely pathetic compared to those of all of the real players who had breezed into town. And they quite clearly demonstrated they were fully capable of mastering all the more traditional feminine skills she'd sacrificed to pursue martial arts.
She … she just didn't know how she was supposed to deal with going from being the focus of attention and respected for her skills—someone who mattered—to … comedy relief. So far, she'd just been filled with anger and constantly lashed out at the boy whose arrival had destroyed everything she'd valued in her life. This angry, violent person wasn't who she wanted to be, but she couldn't help herself; it was like she'd been thrown into a pit of hurt and jealousy and rage on that first day and then prevented from climbing out by constant pressure and assaults to her ego that kept knocking her back down to the bottom. If she could just get some peace for a while, she was sure she could pull herself out of the pit and finally go back to being that nice girl she actually liked.
And that's what brought her to this cabin in these haunted woods. If she could manage to get centered, she could deal with her problems; she even had a feeling that a lot of them would stop being problems if she could just look at them calmly and rationally. Why, what difference did it really make if she couldn't cook? Sure, it'd be nice and something to be proud of, but lots of people couldn't cook and it wasn't a talent she needed. And maybe being engaged to Ranma wasn't really as bad as it seemed—in the rare moments when she wasn't angry and he wasn't being a jerk, she actually liked him. And she could tell that he liked the glimpses he got of the real Akane... Well, each day she spent here brought her closer to always being that person. She just needed a little more time...
Once again, Akane woke in the middle of the night and felt a chill run down her spine as she somehow suddenly knew the creature from last night wasn't tied to the other cabin. As her hand closed around her flashlight, she heard a soft, bestial grunting from nearby. Steeling herself, she turned on the light, revealing the creature within arm's reach! It crouched there facing her, its red frog-like skin glistening in her flashlight's beam. Again, it was grinning as it gazed at her lustfully, its—no, his—clawed hand rapidly moving up and down along his—that pervert! All of her fear instantly replaced by rage, Akane jumped up, dropping her flashlight, and grabbing her mallet from wherever it lived when not being used in righteous rage. With a growl, she swung as hard as she could at the perverted beast before her.
And that's when she met its gaze. In the beam of the fallen flashlight, she saw the lust drop away to be replaced by a predatory look of anticipation and triumph. Suddenly she realized the thing wanted her to hit it—and if she did, she'd regret it dearly. It was too late to stop her swing, so, desperately she hurled herself—mallet and all—to the side, hoping it wouldn't be too little too late.
Akane grunted as her back slammed into the wooden floor and felt relief wash through her as a moment later her mallet hit the floor beside her. Quickly realizing how vulnerable her position was, she rolled to her knees and faced the beast. The naked rage and hatred on its face stopped her dead. She knelt there, frozen, as it viciously snarled ... and then vanished in a puff of foul-smelling smoke. For almost a minute she stayed there on her knees, trembling from adrenalin and the memory of such incredible malice directed at her, until she suddenly remembered her cabinmate, snatched up her fallen flashlight, and anxiously pointed it at Sayuri's bed. When the other girl, safe and sound, just murmured a protest at the sudden brightness and pulled the blanket over her head, Akane sagged in relief.
"What do I do?" a tired Akane quietly asked herself as dawn approached. "I can't take another night of this, especially if things keep getting worse, like they have been..." She miserably shook her head; she couldn't stay and she couldn't just leave. Suddenly a desperate longing to be home, safely held in Ranma's arms, filled her. Wait a second—she couldn't leave her friends alone here, but there was nothing stopping her from calling for help! Well, except her pride, but that wasn't worth a damn compared to the safety of the other people there. She liked to think that even before coming here, she would have been clearheaded enough to make the same decision... Regardless, as soon as it was late enough, she'd call Ranma and tell him to come there.
Akane frowned as a thought struck her. Ranma was an incredible fighter, but the monster wanted to fight, and she had a feeling there was more to it than him just wanting a good scrap; this could be playing right into its hands. What she really needed was someone who would know how to deal with the thing, someone with wisdom and experience with the supernatural. Yes, that was it. With a nod of determination, she decided that she'd call Cologne instead and ask her for help as soon as it was light out. Part of her wanted to do it now, but it was quickly outvoted by the the other parts, which reminded her that the phone was down at the administration building, and it'd be a very bad idea to go running through the forest in the dark. She'd seen enough horror movies to know better than that!
Akane hurried down the trail in the early morning light on her way to the administration building, when an angry roar of challenge from behind made her whirl around into a defensive stance. What she saw shocked her. About ten feet away, the monster, now wielding a gnarled club, faced away from her and squared off against a beautiful blond-haired woman who was garbed in softly glowing golden armor and armed with a straight sword! As Akane stared in surprise, the woman—no, she had to be some sort of angel or valkyrie—launched herself at the beast, and a fierce battle was joined, sword and club meeting and rebounding almost faster than the eye could follow. In a matter of moments, Akane could see that the two were highly skilled, and evenly matched.
Gathering her courage, Akane quietly crept closer to the back of the monster that had been tormenting her for the past two days. She could tell she wasn't a match for either combatant but knew that a distraction at the right moment could easily determine the outcome of a fight. She watched intently, and carefully choosing her moment, struck with a kick to the back of the creature's knee. His balance thrown off, the beast staggered, and that was the only opening the valkyrie needed. A quick thrust sent her sword plunging into his chest, and when he angrily tried to retaliate, a sideways wrench of the weapon ended the battle and his life.
Akane felt as if a great weight were being lifted from her as she watched her nemesis crumple to the ground and slowly dissolve into an oily slime. With a soft sigh of relief, she lifted her gaze to see her savior bemusedly staring at her. After a few moments, Akane started to feel a bit flustered under the scrutiny, and with a slight blush asked, "What?"
Still staring at the girl, the valkyrie said, "You must be very dedicated to destroying evil, to attack it with no regard for your own well-being."
Akane blushed a bit more at the praise and answered, "Well, I was only doing what I felt was right..."
The valkyrie looked at Akane with respect in her eyes and solemnly asked, "May I give you my blessing?" Stunned by the offer, Akane could only nod. The woman stepped forward, gently placing a hand on the girl's forehead, and Akane sighed, closing her eyes as she felt a sensation of warmth and benevolence flowing into her. After a moment that seemed like an hour, the flow slowed to a trickle and gradually stopped. Akane felt the valkyrie's hand shift position to lightly cup her forehead while the other came up to rest on her shoulder. She heard the valkyrie, voice tinged with sorrow say, "I wish I could ignore my duty this one time," just before she felt a violent wrenching sensation, and then Akane felt nothing.
Consciousness slowly returned to Akane, and she felt as if she were awakening from a long sleep. She opened her eyes and saw the valkyrie regarding her sadly. Unsure of what had just happened, Akane looked around in confusion, only to freeze as she noticed the body at her feet. Her body. Wide-eyed, she stared at the valkyrie and exclaimed in astonishment, "Y-you killed me!"
The woman nodded solemnly and replied, "I am sorry, child, but I was commanded to do so and am bound to fulfill my duty."
"But, why did you save me from the monster, then? And who ordered you to kill me?"
"I fought that foul creature because it had been summoned to protect you," answered the valkyrie. Seeing Akane open her mouth to ask a question, she said, "No, I do not know who called it forth. As to your other question, I am afraid I have been forbidden from answering."
Akane sighed and looked down. So, this was it; her life was over. She'd really expected it to last much longer, but she supposed everyone did. She felt oddly relaxed. It was as if all her anger, fears, and insecurities had flowed away, leaving just a calm core that was the real Akane. And regret. Regret that she had to leave her family, and Ranma. That her relationship with him had gone so badly...
Her musing was interrupted as the valkyrie spoke again. "I would be honored if you would allow me to escort you from this world."
Akane stared at the valkyrie and knew, despite the other's words, that she was the one being honored by the offer. Hesitantly she answered, "I would like that. Thank you. But... would it be possible for me to speak to my fiancé one last time?"
The valkyrie nodded and said, "Very well. You may speak with him briefly while I report to the elder Ko Lon."
Akane's eyes widened as she took in the valkyrie's words. "I ... see. I can't thank you enough."
"It is the least I can do."
Akane stood at the door of the dojo, admiring the pigtailed boy performing a kata with almost inhuman grace. After a minute, he turned her way and stopped, puzzled. "Akane? What are you doing back so early?"
Akane looked down and softly said, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? For what?"
"For all the names I called you. For hitting you when you didn't deserve it. For saying you were a pervert when you weren't."
Ranma stared at her in shock. "Are you feeling all right?"
Akane sighed and stepped forward into a sunbeam, which passed through her form. As Ranma gasped, she answered, "No... I'm dead."
Ranma paled and choked out, "No! It can't be..."
"It is. Cologne summoned an ... angel to kill me." She dropped her gaze. "I wish ..." she said, pausing for a moment to sort out her feelings, "I wish I'd been nicer to you. If I had been, maybe we could have gotten to know each other without all the insults and fighting and seen the things in each other that are really important." She smiled wistfully. "It—we could have been wonderful. Ranma, promise me one thing..."
"Anything," he answered softly.
"Promise me you won't blame yourself for my death. This may not have happened if you hadn't come here, but you're not to blame for it."
Ranma looked down. It was all his fault—he knew it was. The only reason Akane was dead now was because he brought the amazons from China after him and never did a thing to make sure they wouldn't hurt anyone! But it didn't matter. No matter how much it was his fault, there was no way he could refuse Akane's last request. Softly he said, "I promise." When he looked up again, he was alone.
Akane, now invisible to human eyes, leaned against the outside wall of the dojo, gazing one last time at the house and grounds where she'd lived. It was so beautiful. With a sigh, she turned to the valkyrie standing next to her and asked, "So, now what?"
The other woman smiled warmly at her, and extending her hand, asked, "Would you like to see your mother?"
Akane gave a soft gasp and quietly said, "I'd like that very much." With a little smile, she took the valkyrie's hand and the two of them vanished, leaving the world and its cares to the living.