A/N: This is the first Ranma fic I've written and I've had this idea in my head for a long time but it was only recently that I felt the need to write it. I would really appreciate feed back if any and I don't mind constructive critism, however, and this is for all the flamers out there –
IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, DON'T READ IT, DON'T BITCH TO ME ABOUT IT!
I'm not forcing you to read it.
That being said, lets get the show on the road
A draft washed through the attic, picking up old dust that swirled about before slowly making its journey back to the floor once more. The room was dark, and boxes of old memories were scattered about in an orderly fashion, some over packed, some left open from the last time someone had rifled through them carelessly. Old formal clothing was sealed up in plastic coverings to protect them from the dust and hung from the walls or draped over other stacks of boxes. As with most attics, there was an eeriness about it that defied rational explanation, like it was saturated with echoes of the past that persisted into the present and would continue to do so into the future.
Thin rays of light pierced small pin sized holes in the ceiling, casting a parade of shadows across the floor and walls, as if a strange old world just beyond the sight of humans had awoken to play, but one that seemed so immaterial that it could vanish in the blink of an eye.
The small form huddled in a dark corner, knees drawn to an expansive chest and slim delicate, but powerful arms wrapped about a pair of similar legs. Even in the darkness the mass of red hair was unmistakable. The pair of, once sparkling deep blue eyes filled with energy and wondered stared dead and vacant at the floor in front of her feet. She said not a word, just stared. She barely even seemed to notice the plate of sandwiches and glass of water off to the side. Their was a hollowness about her, even as the darkness seemed to gather about her, as if giving form to the despair and bitterness she felt.
She had been crying at one point, her eyes painfully bloodshot with dark shadows beneath them. Her body was starting to lose some of its mass, and her clothes were filthy.
But what did it matter, she wondered, sighing deeply.
Never once did her tired eyes leave the wakizashi she'd found in an old chest. Its gleaming blade now seeming to offer tantalizing options as it lay in front of her feet.
Could she? Would she? It was her right wasn't it?
But even as she gave it serious consideration she knew she didn't have the strength to do it. She didn't have the will to go through with it.
With a heart wrenching screech that could have woke the dead, she sent the blade scattering across the floor and crashing into the boxes on the other side of the room. Tears started to stream down her face once more. Her fists pounded into the floor boards, unfocused and with no real effort behind them, but even still the hard wood broke the skin across her knuckles. Trickles of crimson flowed between her fingers and a need she couldn't identify gripped her heart, and made it hard to breath
She doubled over, hugging herself as her body trembled uncontrollably, soft but powerful sobs escaping her small lips, and inwardly screamed.
'Damn him! Damn him! Damn him! DAMN HIM!'
Already, and not for the first time, she was replaying the events that led her to this point, wishing futilely that she could have just one more chance…
::::Five Weeks Ago::::
… The heat was unbearable, it was everywhere. The boiling and bubbling lake hissed and popped beneath and around the natural rock platforms and stone bridges, carved into existence from years of erosion. Condensation ran down the walls and dripped from the jagged stalactite covered ceiling, like lukewarm rain amongst the wisps of steam that drifted like ghostly vapors. It was worse then the humidity of a tropical rain forest, and not nearly as easy on the eye, as if it had been brought into existence straight out of hell. The faint trace of sulphur in the air did little to diminish this vision.
Monks lined the walls, peaking out from the cave mouths that led into the extensive maze of tunnels. The pig tailed boy eyed them warily, bruised and bloodied, his torn clothing sticking uncomfortably to his tired body. The boy was breathing heavily, certain that a rib or two was cracked, wincing with each breath while trying to keep his body from shaking. The heat was dizzying, and he felt his stomach, empty from lack of sustenance churn miserably and nausea starting to rise. Glancing at Ryoga, Ranma wondered if the other teenager was feeling the same.
Ryoga looked worse. One cheek and eye swollen and bruised, right arm hanging slightly looser then the other. Ranma couldn't help but clenched his jaw tightly thinking that when they got out of here they needed to train harder then ever.
This was pathetic…
All of a sudden he caught sight of the blood red jewel that reflected the flickering light of the flaming torches and was suspended above the pedestal at the center of the platform by invisible forces the teenager knew he would never understand, but how it was done mattered little to him, the jewel itself was the real prize. That's why the two of them had come all this way. He cursed inwardly and violently, they hadn't given themselves nearly enough time to prepare and recover from the journey to this place.
He cursed both his and Ryoga's impatience.
'least Akane ain't here to see this' he thought, shifting to another fighting stance.
Ranma narrowed his eyes on the thick bodied bold headed man standing between them and the jewel. He was a mountain of a man, muscles rippling across a body that had seen numerous years of training. There wasn't as single ounce of useless muscle on the man, with arms and legs as thick small trees and as deadly as battering rams. The sweat that glistened off his body made him look like one of the freaks Ranma had seen in body building magazines, though reminded himself that there were women in Shampoo's village that could put this man to shame without even trying.
Not that he had any right to poke fun. This man had already beaten the two of them black and blue and looked as though he'd barely even got warmed up. That deserved some respect at least.
The man, whom they'd come to call the Guardian gave them both a withering glare, the type a parent gave a naughty child.
"You two have trespassed upon our sacred temple. You have injured my brothers and damaged out home with your violence. I would be well within my right to kill you both and boil your corpses!" he sneered, his brethren glaring in agreement. "I am not without some level of compassion however. Apologize for your actions and give me your word you will never darken this place with your presence again and I will let you go. Persist in opposing me and you will suffer for the rest of your days!"
Giving up wasn't an option, the two of them had decided that already. That's why they had left well before the others probably even discovered they were gone. Ranma struggled not to grin when he thought about how pissed Akane would have been when she found out.
"Yeah right pal" he replied finally. "We came here for the jewel and we ain't leaving without it!"
The Guardian snarled, drawing himself up. "Then this place will be your tomb!"
Even as they launched head on to attack, the shouts and roars of the Monks encouraging their leader assaulting his ears, Ranma couldn't help but feel that this was what he had trained for his whole life. So many years of tireless training, the sweat, blood and tears, the sacrifices that had helped him break free of the bonds of normal human endurance and forged him into the fighter he was now. Fighting was a constant for him, nearly every day of his life was dedicated to it, it was all he knew. It was what he would teach his children to do. But these fights, the do or die fights, they didn't come along that often, not the kind where everything lay on the line.
Even as they ducked and weaved around the Guardians assault, images of his past rivals flashed through his mind. Kirin of the Seven Lucky Gods. Prince Tomma, Ryu Kumon, Herb and Saffron and others his mind failed to bring to bare. He had not given up against them and won, because that was the only option he had.
And this time would be no different.
The Guardian over reached suddenly and Ranma moved into the opening, delivering a set of open palm strikes to the large man's ribs and arm pit using the Kachū Tenshin Amaguriken while Ryoga moved in from the other side and struck over and over again with all the speed and force he could bring to bare. The older man roared, pain flashing across his eyes as palm prints were left in his side.
The Guardian whirled around suddenly breaking free of the attack, his left fist colliding with the side of Ryoga head's and back of his right hand sent Ranma backwards head over ass towards the lip of the platform. The pig tailed boy dug his fingers into the ground, gritting his teeth as his fingers left deep marks in the rock and tore off a nail or two in the process. He scrambled to his feet immediately, flying through the air to land on the man's back.
"Its going to take more then that to defeat me! Haku Dato Shin Shō! "
His fingers were a blur of motion as they drove into the man's back, striking nerve bundles that made him scream in pain before finally throwing the boy off, only to stumble into a strike to his solar plexus from Ryoga. Ranma scooted backwards, shifting immediately into a new stance. He didn't want to have to use the Umisenken, especially since he let his father think he had sealed the technique away.
He couldn't just give up the style like that though.
As much as he found his fathers teaching methods questionable, the Umisenken and the Yamasenken were too powerful to simply throw away like that. He was convinced that in time he could refine the two styles and make them safer to teach and pass on, but he could only do that if he had the chance to study them.
He shook his head and berated himself. 'Stop day dreaming and focus you idiot!'
He winced suddenly, pain shooting through his bleeding fingers. It felt as if he had been striking iron rather then muscle, and the Guardian didn't look nearly as affected by the attack as Ryu and himself had been. This man was a monster.
"Ryoga! We gotta take him out now!" Ranma shouted, making sure Ryoga could see his hands and prayed the teenager understood.
Ryoga nodded. "Right!"
"What's this?" the Guardian demanded suspiciously as the other teenager put some distance between them, acutely aware they were up to something. They were already gathering the ki into the palm of their hands. Ranma thought if this didn't knock him out they were in serious trouble.
"Should have just given us the Jewel!" Ranma snarled. "Mōko Takabisha!"
Ryoga's shouts joined in a second later. "Shishi Hōkōdan!"
The Guardians eyes went as wide as saucers when the emotion ki's exploded forth from the battered boys, ripping fragments of rock out of the platform as they tore towards him at incredible speed, not even thinking for a second that either of them had this much power left in them. He didn't even have time to move before the attacks slammed into him from both sides. The explosion was incredible and the sound even more so, like an enormous clap of thunder that shook the temple and loosened stalactites from the ceiling, sending them plummeting into the lake below.
Ranma and Ryoga stood on either sides of the platform, barely gripping it tight enough as the shockwaves threatened to send them flying. Triumph surged through Ranma's body, convinced there was no way anyone could stand up to an attack like that. He resisted the urge to punch the air in victory, smirking at the gawking faces of the monks watching in horror.
"Yeah that's right, take a good long look" the pig tailed boy thought viciously.
Then he froze, a feeling not unlike ice sliding down is spine. He snapped his head towards the cloud of dust and dirt and steam. Before he could blink a monstrous arm sliced through the cloud, reaching out and wrapped its hand around his throat, heaving him off his feet as though he were made of straw. Shock paralyzed the teenager as the cloud dissipated, revealing that Guardian, his body glowing with dark green ki.
His body was different, it had changed and for a second Ranma thought the Guardian must have fallen into a curse spring as well, but then he realized that the man's body was a product of the Ki that surrounded him, He used it to change his body, toughen it and make it larger, extending his arms and legs. Large fangs sprouted from the sides of his mouth, his fingers had turned to razor sharp claws. Muscles were bulging all over the place, increasing the size of his already inhumanly thick limbs. Even his eyes were different, having gone completely white, making him look like a demon.
"That stung!" the Guardian snarled, enraged.
Ranma struggled to pry open the monsters grip, but the Guardian had a hold of him now and he wasn't going to let go that easily. The Guardian yanked him closer until he was barely an inch from the other man's face.
"I offered you both the chance to leave here with only your ego's bruised, but now I'm going to enjoy crushing you." the man growled dangerously.
The guardian snapped his head around in shock, in time to see the bombardment of sharp fragments of rock come flying at him. He roared, blocking his face with his monstrous arm, momentarily forgetting about Ranma. That was a mistake. The pig tailed teenager snatched a jagged piece of rock out of mid air, gripping it tight enough that it sliced into the flesh of his hand and nailed it deep into the Guardians shoulder.
The guardians screamed, losing the ability to keep his grip and dropped the teenager while trying to reach around to pull the rock out. Ranma saw his chance this time and made a dash for the pedestal. Once they had the jewel they could get out of here.
Even as he thought that, the term easier said then done came to mind…
He was within arms reach and ready to snatch it up when…"Touch it and he dies!"
Ranma froze, his fingers barely a hairs width from the jewel. He could feel the heat it gave off, could imagine the smooth glassy surface against his skin. He forced himself to turn around, fighting the compulsion to grab the jewel and run. It was so close, so painfully close. When he turned, the Guardian was standing there, his other hand wrapped around Ryoga's throat and squeezing so tightly that the teenager was starting to turn blue in the face, and dangling him over the lake of scolding hot boiling water. Ranma didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that the Guardian was serious.
"R…Ranma! ACK!" Ryoga gasped, arms flailing about.
"If you have any sense of honor or loyalty to your friend you will give up your desire for the Jewel and you will back away NOW!" the Guardian roared.
Ranma hesitated, looking back and forth between the Jewel and Ryoga. He was so close, the Jewel was his. But Ryoga's terror stricken eyes burned into his mind. Was the Jewel worth the life of a friend, could he live with himself knowing that he succeeded only because he sacrificed another? Knowing Ryoga, his spirit would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Ranma launched himself through the air at the Guardian, fist drawn and read to strike. The Guardian just smirked and suddenly Ryoga was falling. Ranma's eyes went wide and he ignored the man completely, diving to the ground and sliding towards the edge, his arm whipping forth and snatching hold of Ryoga's wrist. The sudden weight very nearly pulled him over too, as it was he was left laying side ways across the lip of the platform, struggling to find the right purchase.
"Damn it Ryoga you idiot!" he snapped. "Help yourself damn it!"
Any other time he would have been able to hold Ryoga's weight one handed without even breaking a sweat, but he was too exhausted at this point, and his injured ribs were pressing painfully into the edge of the platform. He could see black spots starting to float in front of his eyes too.
He was dangerously close to passing out.
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. "Ryoga, this is our last chance, GET HIM!"
With what little strength he had left, he braced himself against the platform, and heaved Ryoga up and into the air, letting the momentum roll himself away from the edge. Ryoga let loose a battle roar that echoed through the cavern and tunnels, gathering ki into the palm of his hands, preparing his Shin Shishi Hōkōdan.
Ryoga's eyes went wide, blood flying from his mouth as his body doubled over on itself, the Guardians foot firmly and brutally impacting against the teenagers solar plexus. The ki exploded between the two fighters in mid air, and sent Ryoga flying across the lake like a human missile. Ranma watched in shock as the boy slammed into the rock wall and started to fall, crashing limply on to an outcropping, and didn't move. Ranma swallowed nervously, afraid his friend and rival was dead.
He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, relief flooding through him when he saw Ryoga trying to get up.
A shadow suddenly fell over him, filling him with cold dread that started at his spine and wormed its way through the rest of him.
"And now for you!" a clawed hand picked him up and threw him against the pedestal, electing a scream from the boy. The Guardian sneered, wounds weeping crimson tears. "Your arrogance has cost you more dearly then you realize child! I have fought countless fighters just like you, just as my ancestors have for thousands of years. You came here to claim what isn't yours and now you will suffer for the rest of your pathetic life!"
The Guardians other hand opened, revealing the Jewel gripped tightly. Light was starting to glow ominously around its edges, causing shadows to dance across its smooth surface, giving it the look of blood rolling and bubbling around inside of it. Ranma swallowed nervously at the look of sadistic pleasure that gleamed in the Guardians eyes. Clenching his fists he pushed aside the fear creeping into his mind, his exhaustion and the pain, and sprung.
"I wont be beaten by you!" he screamed.
"You don't have a choice!" the Guardian grinned.
Ranma's vision was filled with red light as energy exploded forth from the jewel, filling the entire cavern. The blast of energy engulfed his body, impacting it like a cannon ball. The wind was driven from his lungs as he tried to gasp for breath, then the pain erupted from the very pit of his soul and rushed outward, washing through his body and out of his mouth in an agonized scream.
He could see consciousness escaping his grasp, blackness rushing from the corners of his eyes and dropping him into nothingness…
There was a strong scent of incense in the air, not unlike the flowery spicing smell of perfume, only thicker and heavier. It filled every corner of the room and pierced the darkness that surrounded Ranma's mind, as though it were smelling salts. Eye lids opened slowly, resistant and heavy, urging the teenager to go back to sleep. It wouldn't have taken much. But even still Ranma forced them open, staring blurrily at the ceiling of a home. A groan escaped her lips - strengthened by the knowledge that for whatever reason she was in her girl form again, something she had stopped questioning a long time ago - as aches spread through her body, like it had been thrown into a clothes dryer full of rocks.
Her body tensed when she felt something wet pressed against her forehead and she became aware of another presence in the room.
"Shh, its ok Ranma, you're home" she relaxed once more when she realized it was Kasumi. "I'll be right back. You've been through a lot. Dr. Tofu had to insert an IV line into your arm, so please don't move around too much, you might accidentally pull it out."
It was hard to defy anything that woman asked - and Kasumi was nothing less then - with her mother like warmth and kindness. Of course there was little Ranma could do anyway; her body ached as though it hadn't moved for weeks. Her muscles and joints were painfully stiff from lack of use. Even still she managed to sit up. She stared at the line inserted into her arm for a second, and then without much care she pulled it out herself, wincing sharply at the sting and clamping a finger over the tiny wound.
The red head hmmm'd softly a few seconds later and slightly cocked her head in confusion. The clothes she was wearing feeling nothing like what she was use to. It was only upon slightly closer inspection that she realized that they were in fact girls' pajamas she was wearing. Although the fact that they were pink and covered in flowery patterns should have been evidence of that. Immediately she figured this was Kasumi or Nabiki's doing.
She frowned when she came to the conclusion that they weren't Akane's. They fit too well to be that tomboy's, and seemed too new.
Irritated as she was, she was too tired to really care, instead she turned her attention towards the gaping blackness of the hole in her memories. She tried to remember what happened, fragments coming to her from the darkness of her mind. The last thing she remembered clearly was the red light filling her vision.
More a sensation than memory, but the feeling of being carried came to her suddenly…and sent a shudder of unease through her.
Kasumi wasn't gone long. A few minutes later she was back, followed by hers and Ranma's fathers, her sisters and much to the red heads surprise there was even Ryoga, Ukyo, Mousse, Shampoo and Cologne as well. The room suddenly felt very crowded. Confusion quickly washed away the pain she felt in her joints and muscles. Perhaps even more worrisome was thee look of concern they all had in their eyes, or in her fathers case a look of loss and regret when he looked at her.
She frowned. "How long have I been out of it for?"
Akane took her hand and squeezed it slightly. "Its been nearly a month Ranma."
The red head bulked at this, her eyes almost bugging comically out of her head. She had never been knocked out of it for that long. Not even Akane had ever hit her so hard before that she had been unconscious for that long. Something about it freaked her out and sent shivers of fear and concern spreading through her.
"You've had a high fever when you got back and you've been drifting in and out of consciousness for days. You've slept most of the time, but… you really had us worried Ranma…" Akane explained.
Ranma noticed Kasumi give the younger Tendo an encouraging smile.
"What did you think you were doing child?" Cologne chided with a frown suddenly, her ancient features impossible to read under all the wrinkles, though Ranma thought she sensed something akin to concern and angry relief directed at her. "I warned you how dangerous they were. How powerful the Guardian is. You're lucky they didn't kill you. What could you possibly have been thinking you fool!"
Ranma honestly felt like a child being scorned for something bad and lowered her eyes in shame.
"We…we thought…that it would be easier if it was just the two of us… we thought we could move faster if it was just the two of us. Get in and get out as quickly as possible…" she explained quietly, her voice nearly a whisper.
"I expect that kind of thinking from you two!" Cologne shot a withering glare at Mousse and Ryoga who seem to shrink slightly under her disturbing gaze, before she turned back to Ranma. "But you! I expected you to have more common sense then that. What a waste!"
The red head stared uneasily. "…What do you mean?"
There it was again, the risked glances of concern and stress, like they were holding something back. Ryoga had lowered his gaze, but Ranma saw the look of remorse and self blame in his eyes before he did, something that unsettled her greatly. Akane's eyes were watery, like quivering orbs and a deep sadness anchored in their dark brown depths. Ranma felt her heart start to race, something was horribly wrong.
"What happened!" she demanded, nearly screaming.
Cologne sighed sadly. "The Guardian used the Jewel on you Ranma…"
The red head stared but not comprehending, even as a lump of ice dropped into the pit of her stomach. She shook her head slowly, frowning as if straining to focus, acutely aware of the goose bumps racing across her skin and a voice screaming somewhere in the back of her mind. She was very suddenly aware of her female body more keenly then she had ever been, feeling uncomfortable but the source of that discomfort eluded her.
"But that's impossible…you said…you said it removes Jusenkyo curses. I'm a still a girl…so it didn't work" she reasoned logically, thinking the old ghoul must have finally lost it. "About time senility set in…"
But then she saw the look in everyone's eyes and slowly pieces of the puzzle that had been her confusion started to fall into place. The risked glances, the looks of shame, and regret, the sadness and loss. The tension in the room and all the other emotions that were so painfully obvious. Her head started to swim, and the feeling of dread increased dramatically, fear starting to creep into her face, but even then her brain refused to understand, instead it was slowly shutting down, but not fast enough.
"I was wrong Ranma…" Cologne's tone was soft and distant.
The red heads heart was starting to beat faster, pounding the inside of her chest so hard it felt as if someone was beating her with sledge hammers. Her chest hurt more then it had the first time she met her mother for the first time, when she had been forced to adopt the Ranko identity and fool the wonderful woman into believing she was someone else. There was a feeling of nausea this time, as there had been then too, literally feeling sick to the very depths of her stomach with fear. This was a different kind of fear though. The fear she had experienced back then, had been the fear of being caught, the fear of revealing the truth to her mother about the curse and not seeing a long anger, but one of disappoint and shame.
No, this fear was different, it was more potent and deadly and something she had never experienced before, and she didn't like it, she didn't like it one bit.
It was the fear of not being able to change something no matter what, a fear of being helpless…
Cologne looked her calmly in the eye. "…There's nothing I can do this time…"
Ranma stared accusingly. "You're lying! This…this is just another one of your tricks to get me to marry Shampoo! Well I wont fall for it this time you old witch!"
"Ranma…please!" Akane pleaded suddenly.
"No, she's lying!" the red head insisted.
"She's not lying Ranma…" everyone turned to look at Ryoga. He stared seriously at her, face contorted in self loathing. "…I saw it happen… The Guardian…he handed you to me, and told me that it was your punishment. He said that you would be a reminder of what happened to those that tried to steal the Jewel…"
The silence that fell over the room was more deafening then any of them had ever felt before. Ranma felt as if she was being crushed, a heaviness that pressed down on her chest , a heaviness that had nothing to do with the size of her breasts. She found herself searching Ryoga's eyes for some deception, she knew he was capable of it, but as much as it broke her heart and tore at her insides, she saw only truth there.
Before any of them could react, she was up and running, shoving Mousse out of the way as she stumbled into the hallway like a drunk, her legs almost failing her. She staggered, regained her balance and started running, vaulting down the stairs recklessly. Soon as she hit the bottom her legs buckled under her weight and she slid partially across the polished floor board on her knees. She cried out, pain shooting through her legs. She could hear the others scrambling after her, but she had caught them by surprise.
She crashed into the bathroom, barely flinging the doors open in front of her. The hot water was running seconds later. Ranma grabbed the bucket next to the bath and pushed it under the jet stream of water blasting from the faucet. The cold tiles beneath her feet seemed to enhance that lump of ice she felt in her stomach, weaving its cruel gnarled hand around her terrified heart, squeezing and pulling at it like a cruel child.
"Its not true" she screamed inwardly. "They're wrong! They're lying! They have to be!"
Without hesitation she snatched the bucket up, sloshing water over its sides. She heaved it up over her head, acutely aware of the weight and the tiredness in her arms. She paused suddenly, the bucket trembling just inches above her head, titled precariously. Ranma's eyes were wide and quivering, the bucket suddenly seeming more threatening then it should have been, the fear now completely wrapping her body in its tendrils, barrowing into her mind and stilling her limbs.
"DO IT!" she roared at herself.
As if on command, she let the bucket tip the rest of the way, the hot steaming water cascading over the rim and splashing across her silky soft hair, drenching her and her pajamas in an instant. She gasped loudly, painfully as the water stung and reddened her flesh violently, steam rising up all around her, sucking in deep lungful's of air, gulping like a fish out of water, eyes wide with terror.
But there was no change…but she already knew there wouldn't be. There would never be another change for her again…
She collapsed to her knees, arms hanging limply at her sides. She barely even noticed Akane and the others standing at the door. She didn't care if they saw her tears, even if they could discern them against her already soaked cheeks. Her world was tearing away beneath her feet, revealing a blackness more terrifying then anything she'd ever thought possible.
Akane was in front of her all of a sudden, dropping down on to her own knees and gathering Ranma too her, wrapping her arms around her tightly with more emotion and affection then she had ever shown the fighter. Ranma just stared ahead, not even sure herself if she was really feeling the body of her fiancé pressing against her own.
"I'm sorry Ranma" the girl whispered sincerely. "…Your male body is gone."
As the words left Akane's mouth, a soul shattering scream exploded across Nerima…
The hatch to the attic hung open like an ominous dark portal to another world, a feeling of despair floating about the inside of the entrance, as if trying to force its way out all at once, and the disembodied sobs they sometimes heard during the night had a haunting affect to them. They were all still in shock, none of them had expected the truth to hit the Ranma so hard, not with all that she had endured since arriving in Nerima and the fourteen long years of training before that. No, they had all expected her to find some driving will to help her through it all. They had expected her to bounce back with the same spirit she always had when faced with a challenge…
Slowly they were starting to realize, that perhaps this was something the great Ranma Saotome, simply couldn't beat with just sheer determination.
Akane was scared, she had never thought she would see the girl this way. After all she'd seen the martial artist overcome, the lengths Ranma had gone to, to prove herself in the past, all the opponents she had beaten and the level of extremes she'd gone through to be the best martial artist she could possibly be had made her seem invincible and her attitude had only reinforced that image of her…
The youngest Tendo hesitated at the steps leading up to the attic, feeling shame in her heart immediately. It wasn't that she didn't want to go up, she did. She wanted to tell Ranma that it was all ok, that they were going to help her get through this, but the girl didn't even have to say the words to know how stale they sounded. How could Ranma possibly make peace with this, it had been hard enough for the red head when Cologne had applied the Full Body Cat's Tongue and Ranma had had the faint hope to cling on to that she would be able to remove the effects and return to her proper form. That hope had allowed her to impress the Amazon Matriarch enough that the old woman had relinquished the Phoenix Pill.
Ranma didn't even have a glimmer of hope to hold on this time…
She was already giving up, Akane had seen it in the smaller girls eyes the last time she'd gone up there. She was acting like a sick animal going off to die by herself. Akane didn't know what she could possibly do to bring her out of it.
She supposed they were just lucky Happosai had disappeared off to some unknown place. She shuddered to think of the field day he would have with all this. It was too much to hope for, but she prayed the little pervert was dead in a ditch somewhere…
She turned around in alarm, as if she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't have. Kasumi was standing there with an understanding look on her face and a fresh tray of food and water for Ranma. Akane chewed her lip uncertainly, feeling as if she should explain herself, but the words wouldn't come.
"…You should get some rest Akane, you've barely slept at all." her sister continued, the serene smile never leaving her lips. "The best thing you can do for Ranma is be strong for her, the way she's been for you in the past. But you cant do that if you collapse now can you?"
It was true, she felt so tired. She couldn't remember having a proper nights sleep since Ryoga came back with Ranma on his back, unconscious and looking as if she had been through hell, and it had almost been a week since she had woken up. Regardless she still wanted to be there by Ranma's side, but she afraid of losing her temper and making the problem even worse, the way she always did. That wasn't what Ranma needed right now, and for a second she thought perhaps that was what her sister was really trying to tell her…
Reluctantly, Akane nodded and stepped aside. "Thank you Kasumi…"
The older Tendo daughter paused at the stairs, sat the tray down and folded her little sister in a tight motherly hug. She whispered softly. "She will make it through this Akane. Believe in her…"
Akane sniffed back a tear. "I know, I'm just scared."
"So is she" Kasumi replied, patting her sister lightly on the back.
They untangled themselves from each other and Kasumi disappeared into the attic without hesitation, while Akane turned and went back down stairs, feeling deflated.
It was getting dark when Ryoga walked through the gates of the Tendo Dojo, deep in thought, his mind still focus on the events that had taken place recently. It had been a month since but it still seemed as though it had only happened the day before. He didn't think he was likely to forget it any time soon. Nightmares of ending up as a pig for the rest of his life haunted his sleep, and made him painfully aware of the fact that it could have easily have been him instead of Ranma. He was lucky the Guardian hadn't decided to make an example of him too.
They'd been lucky to escape with their lives period.
He shuddered despite himself at the memory of seeing Ranma's male form erased from existence. It made him feel sick, like someone had dropped a pair of withering eels into his stomach.
He should have been ecstatic.
Ranma was a girl now and forever. She wasn't an obstacle to Akane's heart anymore, and surely their fathers didn't expect the two girls to marry. The point was for Ranma and Akane to produce children together, as husband and wife. That wasn't possible now. Although wouldn't have been surprised if Genma already had a rich husband lined up for his 'daughter.' But even still, this wasn't how he wanted to win. He had dreamt for so long of beating Ranma, getting his revenge for making his life hell. It was Ranma's fault after all that he ended up cursed in the first place. So why did it all taste so sour?
"Perhaps its because she's in this mess because of you?"
There was that, he conceded.
The exclaim of surprise shook the boy out of his pensive thoughts as he stepped into view on the back porch. His heart skipped a beat when he saw Akane looking up from the table at him, her face tired and worn, like she hadn't slept in days, and perhaps she hadn't. He could certainly understand that, he'd barely slept a wink either. The sight of Ranma staring hopelessly at nothing on the bathroom floor and that scream, combined with the memory of the battle and the nightmares had kept him awake many nights as well.
"Ahh…..s….sorry to intrude…like this" he stammered.
"That's ok Ryoga, we were just about to have something to eat, would you care to join us?" Kasumi asked from the other side of the table, her smile as bright as ever, as if nothing was wrong.
He was about to decline when his stomach growled warningly. He laughed nervously when he noticed the three Tendo sisters staring. "Thank you, that would be great…"
Even as they ate, Ryoga, clueless as he usually was couldn't help but feel a noticeable change in the atmosphere, a heaviness that seemed to seep into everything and hung in the air like a dark cloud. The house felt colder then usual, but more importantly it was missing something. Whenever he had been here before, the house was filled with so much energy, so much liveliness. It seemed that hardly a second went by when something wasn't happening. Now it seemed as if the house was dying without the attention it was use to.
It wasn't just the house though. All of Nerima had been quiet since he'd returned with Ranma. There had been no property damaging fights, no disruptions at all. He couldn't believe the absence of just one person could cause such an affect. It was as if Nerima was suffocating without the craziness that had become the norm for so long.
"You should go up and talk to her" Kasumi said suddenly.
Ryoga realized he was staring at the ceiling, or perhaps beyond that.
He shook his head and went back to eating. "I don't think that's a good idea. Ranma and I don't get along in the best of situations, I'm the last person Ranma would want to talk to now, I'd probably just make matters worse."
"Oh I'm sure that's not true" Kasumi replied warmly.
Nabiki, who had been quiet the entire time smirked suddenly. "Of course, if you're scared that's fine too…"
Ryoga almost choked on the mouthful of rice.
"Nabiki…" Kasumi admonished.
Ryoga suddenly found himself in a staring test with the middle sister, a sneer tugging at his face as he saw the arrogant look of confidence and victory in her eyes, as if she had already beaten him. He remembered Ranma cursing this girl enough times to know she wasn't someone to be taken lightly. She had outsmarted the best more times then he could remember.
Well not this time, he thought.
A few minutes later he found himself staring up at the trap door leading to the attic, cursing and grumbling under his breath. He was starting to understand that Nabiki was probably far more dangerous then Akane. She didn't need brute force or martial arts to defeat her opponents. She only needed her wits.
With one last sigh he started up.
The attic was dark and eerie, the cold seeping in through unseen cracks. Shadows played about in the low lighting, tricks of the eye but unsettling all the same. The wind was starting to pick up out side and it battered the outer walls, sending a low whistling melody through the room, like the sound of the damned. Ryoga swallowed uneasily, trying to shrug off the oppressive feeling that seemed to close in on him from every direction. His mouth felt dry all of sudden, realizing that the oppressiveness was depression ki, flowing outward in overlapping waves that gathered about the room and expanded outside.
It didn't take him long to find the source.
Ranma was huddled in the corner with her back to him and slumped against the wall, a tray of disregarded food and water to the side of her. He smelt the faint coppery scent of blood in the air. From the girls stillness he almost panicked, a horrible thought that she had hurt herself ran through his mind and he was ready to call for help when she let go of a deep sigh, followed by Ryoga's explosive sigh of relief.
"For Kami's-sake Ranma!" he growled. "I thought you were dead!"
.Ryoga slumped to his butt in the lotus position. He frowned, staring at the back of Ranma's head. He could see her shoulders rise and fall ever so slightly. The teenager berated himself for not spotting that sooner and jumping to conclusions. If she wasn't in such a volatile state, he would have smacked the girl over the head for scaring him like that. But that was likely to make matters worse so he settled for glaring silently.
Time seemed to creep past painfully slow.
"Ehhhh…ahh…how are you feeling?" he asked.
And immediately he felt like a jack ass. What a stupid question he snapped at himself. It was obviously that she was feeling like shit. Ryoga suddenly hated the girls for convincing him to come up here, he didn't know what he was suppose to say to her to get her to talk or make her feel better. Up until a month ago he would have been in his element, gloating at Ranma's fate, or planning on how he was going to kill his rival and win Akane's affections.
"That was a stupid question, sorry…" he said sincerely.
He sighed in exasperation.
"You're a real jerk Ranma" Ryoga grumbled, pausing for a second when he thought he saw her flinch. "You make me hate your guts, you tease and belittle me at every turn, you embarrassed me in front of Akane and you knocked me into that damn Spring. Did you ever once say you were sorry? No, you only gave a damn about yourself."
There was a long pregnant silence. Ryoga expected the red head to laugh at him, to tease him the way she always had in the past, knowing that it only infuriated him more. But she didn't, she didn't even flinch.
"It all seems so stupid now" he continued, thinking back over all the fights they'd had, against each other and working together. "To think it all started over bread."
Ryoga thought he could hear a grinding sound, but disregarded it as his imagination.
"Ranma, you have to pull through this. You can pull through this. You didn't give up when Herb trapped you with that stupid ladle" he added, but she was roused by his words, she didn't even seem to hear'em.
He was wasting his time.
Sighing once more he got up. "I'm sorry Ranma. I wish I could have done more. I owe you my life. If ever need my help, you only need to ask…it's the least I can do….."
He gave her one last look, and then started away from the despondent red head.
He whirled around as light suddenly flared behind him.
Akane was deep in thought as she collected the plates and bowls for Kasumi, when an explosion rocked the house and a scream resounded through the air, ki energy blasting out in a beam that shot out over Nerima. Akane nearly dropped the bundle in her arms when Ryoga crashed next to the pond and bounced into the wall, rubble raining down around him as he hacked and coughed violently, blood sweeping a dozen or more cuts across his body.
Then Ranma landed in front of the back porch, a light glow surrounding her body, hands clenched tightly and her body trembling violently.
"Ranma!" Akane screamed in shock.
At the sound of the commotion and her cries, everyone came running from various parts of the house. They all stared in shock at the rage and fury that surged from Ranma like a tsunami of emotion, trying to drown them.
"Boy what are you doing!" Genma demanded.
Ranma ignored her father with years of practice, her attention focused entirely and solely on Ryoga who stared in paralyzing fear at the fiery red head, his eyes wide with shock.
"YOU'RE SORRY!" she screamed incredulously, her voice terrible and wrathful. "I'm stuck like THIS for the rest of my life, and YOU'RE SORRY!"
Never had they ever seen Ranma this angry, but that was an understatement. This went well beyond the limits of anger. This was raw irrational and uncontrollable rage and pain boiling to breaking point and exploding from the small girl and saturated the ki around her. She was like a little demon wrapped in a seemingly delicate body, and this only seemed to make her even more dangerous. Tears of frustration were starting to stream down her face, cascading off the pair of soft cheeks.
Akane couldn't believe what she was seeing.
Ranma's eyes burned with growing rage "Sorry doesn't cut it Hibiki! NOT NOW NOT EVER! Because of you my life is ruined! Because you couldn't help yourself for just five seconds! DO YOU KNOW HOW CLOSE I WAS! I COULD FEEL IT RYOGA! THE DAMN THING WAS WITHIN MY REACH AND I HAD TO GIVE IT UP TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!"
"Ranma calm yourself!" Genma shouted, shock and alarm spread across weathered features.
"I HATE YOU RYOGA HIBIKI! I SHOULD HAVE LET THAT BASTARD KILL YOU!" Ranma screeched. "MOKO TAKABISHA!"
Before they could stop her the ki based attack exploded from her hands, a massive blast that engulfed a stunned Ryoga and blasted him through the wall surrounding the Tendo Dojo. Shards of concrete went flying in every direction like a shower of shrapnel across the neighboring houses and surrounding streets. All anyone could do was gasp in horror at the murderous intend behind the attack. Ranma's teeth were bare in a feral snarl that stretched her lips to their limits, all the ki around her being sucked into the attack.
When the blast suddenly dissipated the red head collapsed to her knees, the ground in front of her scorched black and smoking in a trail that led across the street where Ryoga was embedded in another wall, cracks branching out from all around him before he pitched forward on to the ground, his body smoldering. He groaned amazingly, proving once more how incredibly durable his body was.
Akane was too shocked to move at first, but somehow she forced her body forward, running to the fallen teenager.
"I'LL KILL YOU RYOGA!"
Akane skidded to a halt, fear wracking her body and freezing her joints. She turned to see Ranma struggling to her feet, ki energy already starting to slowly gather about her hands once more. She watched as her father and Genma rushed forward, practically throwing themselves on the young girl, pinning her to the ground as they struggled to immobilize her flailing arms.
The youngest Tendo looked down to see Ryoga half raised, staring at the spectacle in horrified disbelief as the two men lifted the out of control red head and struggled to drag her away, the girl fighting them the whole way, almost pulling free of their grip and forcing them to exert more strength then they had, surprised that her own tiny form could hold such strength.
She was like a wild wound animal and all her fury was directed at the bandana wearing teenager.
"LET ME GO! LET ME KILL HIM! HE DESERVES TO DIE!" Ranma screamed, tears flying from her face as she threw her head around as she was dragged from view. "YOU ARE DEAD HIBIKI! YOU'RE DEAD! DEAD DO YOU HEAR ME! I WILL KILL YOU I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU!"
Akane wasn't sure how long she stood there, time seemed to have frozen as she listened to the red heads still clearly audible and distraught screams of bottled up rage even after being dragged inside. She looked down at her hands and found them shaking in fear and disbelief at what she had just seen.
"Ryoga…!" she spun around, suddenly remembering the teenager, but paused in shock.
He was gone.
She looked back at the house, the sound of something breaking causing her to wince followed by another string of curses. "Oh Ranma…what have you done?"
To Be Continued…