This was originally published by me under the name Anduril at Anime Addventures, with the only changes being a few corrections in spelling, punctuation and the occasional word choice. If you like the beginning of my story but think I've gone off the rails, or have your own ideas for a great branch-off, or think I'm taking too long to update and want to continue the story yourself, come to Anime Addventures and join in the fun!
I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi.
Miyo gasped for air as she ran through the darkening streets of Nerima, unnoticing of the wind tangling her long brown hair into snarls and her backpack bouncing against her back hard enough to bruise, or the way people noticing her coming hastily moved out of her way, half blind from the tears streaming from her eyes. Please, please, please, all the kami, any kami, please let them be home, she thought over and over as she pushed herself far beyond her normal physical limits.
Suddenly, her plunging run was brought to a halt as she ran full-tilt into someone and bounced backwards onto her ass. Looking up and wiping at her eyes as she stammered out apologies, she found herself looking at a bemused girl with short-cut black hair offering a hand to help her up. Glancing down, she found a red-haired, pigtailed girl rising to her feet and brushing off the sidewalk dust from her butt. "Oh, thank all the kami, you're here," Miyo gasped out, grasping Akane's hand and getting to her feet. "Uh, where are you going?"
Ranma and Akane glanced at each other and shrugged. "We're trying to see if we can get in a date without being interrupted by rivals or would-be fiancées," Akane said. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no, you can't! Not tonight!" Miyo wailed, throwing herself at Ranma and wrapping her arms around her. Ranma glanced apologetically at Akane, who just shook her head and chuckled, as the redheaded girl tried to wrap her arms comfortingly around their distraught classmate, underneath her backpack.
"Why, what's wrong?" Akane asked gently, laying a hand on Miyo's shoulder.
"B-B-Because something horrible is going to happen!" the brown-haired girl stuttered out into Ranma's shoulder. "Please, can we go back to the dojo? Please?"
"And we'll be safe there?" Ranma asked as she and Miyo broke their embrace.
"I don't know," Miyo whispered, staring at the ground and sniffling, then giving Akane a grateful glance as the other girl gave her a tissue. "I ... I don't know what's coming, I can't see it, but whatever it is, it's huge. I thought your family has the best fighters in the district — that I'd be safer with you than anywhere else I can get to."
Akane gazed at the sweat-soaked girl standing forlornly before her and her fiancé and realized that the way she was shaking was from fear as much as exertion. She's absolutely terrified, she thought. I don't think I've ever seen anyone this scared, except maybe Ranma around a herd of cats. Sighing, she smiled at Ranma. "Looks like we'll have to try another night," she said. "Let's get her to the dojo."
Ranma, seeing the same fear as Akane, nodded agreement. "Yeah, good idea."
* * * * *
"We're back!" Akane called as the three entered the dojo and exchanged their shoes for house slippers.
"Oh my, that was quick!" they heard Kasumi respond from the kitchen. "Did something happen?" The oldest Tendo sister walked around the corner from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, then paused when she saw Miyo — and her tear-stained face, sweat-stained clothing, and disheveled state. "Oh, my! What happened to you?"
"She ran us down on the way to the ice cream shop," Ranma volunteered, and filled Kasumi in on what had happened.
"And do you believe her?" a voice asked from behind Kasumi, and the four girls turned to see a tall, redheaded, middle-aged woman standing behind them, also wearing an apron.
"I don't know, Auntie Nodoka," Akane replied thoughtfully, glancing apologetically at the brown-haired girl beside her. "She's normally very accurate, but she didn't quite get it right when she predicted Ranma and I would get married."
"I see," Nodoka responded, then stepped forward and reached out a finger to tilt Miyo's head up to meet her gaze. "And your parents, child? Where are they?"
Miyo ducked her head to the side. "They're at home," she mumbled. "I told them, but they didn't believe me. Daddy and I had a dreadful fight ... he told me if I left not to come back ..."
Tears started to flow again at the memory, and Kasumi embraced the crying girl. "I'm sure he didn't mean it," she assured comfortingly.
Nodoka nodded. "I'm sure Kasumi is correct, that he spoke in the heat of the moment. Why don't I give them a call and let them know you're here? What's the phone number?" On being told she turned away, then paused and turned back to examine Miyo's state, then turned to Kasumi. "Kasumi, why don't you get Miyo to the furo and get her a change of clothes? After I call her parents I'll finish preparing dinner."
Kasumi nodded and guided the still-crying girl toward the furo, while Nodoka headed for the phone, leaving Ranma and Akane standing in the entranceway. Ranma glanced at her fiancée and shrugged. "Well, if we ain't goin' ta the ice cream parlor I'd better get changed," she said. "Get some studyin' in before dinner?"
Akane nodded agreement. "Might as well. I'll meet you in my room." The duo separated, Akane running up the stairs while Ranma headed for the kitchen and the tea kettle Kasumi kept simmering there.
* * * * *
As Kasumi and Nodoka brought in dinner the family knelt down around the table, along with their guest, except for the fathers trying to finish up their game of shogi before dinner started. Miyo was once again presentable, having washed off the sweat from her run and dressed in a change of clothes she'd had in her backpack, but that hadn't changed her haunted look, or the way she kept glancing at the doorway and windows as if expecting something to come smashing through at any moment. Ranma and Akane both noticed, and with an exchange of glances and nods sat on each side of her and tried to distract her with talk of school, being rewarded by seeing some of the fear ease from her eyes and posture.
As Kasumi brought in the last of the food, she glanced over at a distracted Nabiki and frowned. "Nabiki," she scolded, "it is impolite to wear headphones at the table during dinner with just family, much less when a guest is present."
Nabiki, her attention returned the dinner table and those around it, simply looked coolly at her older sister. "Relax, sis, I'm just listening for any news that might come up."
Without looking up from the game board, Soun asked, "So you believe her?"
Trying for a nonchalant look, Nabiki said offhandedly, "No, not really. But she does have quite a reputation among the younger students at school, and we've seen some pretty weird stuff, so who knows? No reason not to be careful."
Kasumi continued to frown for a moment then, as Nodoka chivvied the fathers over to the table, sighed and nodded. "Very well, I'll say no more — this time."
Dinner progressed as normal, except for the lack of the usual food-eating contest between Ranma and Genma on account of their guest (Nodoka having had the foresight to keep Genma from sitting next to Ranma and squelching the least hint of Genma making the extra effort needed to reach across the table), until Nabiki suddenly halted her conversation about household finances with Kasumi in mid-sentence. Her sudden stop immediately gained the attention of everyone around the table, as Miyo stiffened and looked around fearfully.
For a few minutes nobody said anything as Nabiki simply stared into space as she listened to her radio, until finally Akane asked, "Well?"
Nabiki jerked, then looked around. "Something strange is going on at Nantucket," she said, still listening.
When nothing more followed, Akane growled, "And where's Nantucket?"
"Oh, sorry," Nabiki said distractedly. "It's an island off the coast of Massachusetts — northeast coast of the United States," she added on realizing that most, if not all, of her listeners would have no idea where Massachusetts was.
Everyone except Miyo and Nabiki relaxed at that. Genma said heartily, "Well, if it's that far away it has nothing to do with us."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Nabiki responded, still listening. "Whatever it is, nobody has ever seen anything like it. There's a big dome of lights over the entire island, half a dozen colors, lightning going in all directions. The news channel has a direct feed from the US with a translator, and whoever the American reporter is, he's beginning to sound panicky."
Kasumi frowned and rose, walking toward the TV set. She was just reaching for the power button when abruptly a massive spike of pain seem to strike between her eyes and reverberate through her brain as her vision vanished in a burst of blinding white light, then returned in an instant without any afterimage. The pain disappeared just as suddenly and completely, and she found herself falling toward the TV set dimly visible in the light of the full moon coming through the window.
Catching herself on the TV, Kasumi turned around to find her family rising, hands coming away from their eyes and looking around in the gloom. "Is everyone all right," she asked concernedly, then relaxed at the chorus of affirmatives. Turning back to the TV, she pushed the power button and frowned as nothing happened, then looked around at the room's darkness and chuckled at her own behavior — the fuse had blown, of course the TV wasn't working. Turning around again, she called out, "Nabiki, with the fuse tripped the TV's out, what's the radio news announcer saying about Nan ... Nantucket?"
Nabiki frowned. "Nothing, my radio quit."
Akane, one arm around a shaking Miyo, pointed to the window with her other hand. "It wasn't just the fuse or your radio, the street lights are out."
Everyone followed her finger to the outside darkness relieved only by moonlight, and Nodoka nodded. "Are the candles and flashlight still in the cupboard above the sink?" At Kasumi's agreement she rose and carefully made her way out of the room while Kasumi started cleaning up the food spilled when everyone had reacted to the flash of light as best she could in the moonlight from the windows.
As all the rest except Miyo started discussing what had happened, Nabiki followed Nodoka out of the family room but bypassed the kitchen and headed on toward the entrance to the street. Looking both ways down the darkened street, she frowned at the complete lack of any light at all then looked up at the night sky. Wow, look at all those stars, amazing how much the city lights drown out, she thought absentmindedly as thoughts of the oddities of what had just happened nagged at her — she was missing something ... then she had it. When I took my hands down from my eyes, so was everyone else, she thought, including the ones facing away from the window!
She started turning to go back into the house, when a dark patch moving rapidly across the sky caught her attention. There were no lights, but it was shaped like an airliner — and it was coming down awfully fast ... then her view was cut off by the roofs of the house across the street and a huge ball of flame erupted in its place.
Back in the family room, the rehashing of events and useless speculation was interrupted by Nodoka's return, preceded by the light from the candle in her hand. Kasumi looked up from where she knelt. "Wasn't the flashlight there?" she asked.
Nodoka nodded assent. "Yes it was, but it wouldn't turn on."
"Oh my, I must have forgotten to check the batteries," Kasumi apologized, but Akane frowned.
"You didn't, you had me check them just last week, along with the batteries in the fire alarm," she asserted, and Kasumi nodded.
"Yes, I did. Are you sure you didn't just miss the flashlight when you checked the rest?" she asked.
"Yes," Akane said firmly, "you gave me a list and it was the ... second item from the top."
Kasumi started to apologize for doubting her youngest sister, when she was interrupted by an enormous whump! like she'd never heard before, and a split second later she felt the ground shake beneath her feet and heard the windows rattle slightly like a minor earthquake.
"What was that!?" Soun half-shouted, looking around. He was getting a chorus of 'I don't know's in response, when Nabiki bounced off the corridor wall and ricocheted into the room.
"An airliner just crashed down and blew up!" she shouted, pointing toward the street, and turned and rushed back out the doorway, immediately followed by everyone else in the house. They quickly joined her in the street outside, staring at the leaping flames visible in the distance over the roof of the house across the street.
"Are ya sure it was an airplane?" Ranma asked, and Nabiki turned on him with a snarl.
"Of course I'm sure!" she shouted. "I saw it crash! It ... it must have just taken off, it had to have a full load of fuel for a fireball like that ..." She turned back to the view of the fire, clenching her fists. "Where are the sirens? There should be at least some emergency vehicles reacting by now!"
Suddenly, Miyo's hands flew to her mouth. "That ... that's where home is!" Then she was off running, even faster then she had been that afternoon without her full backpack, headed toward the corner of the street in the direction of the flames.
Nabiki slumped slightly. "Oh damn!" she muttered, then glanced up at a shellshocked Ranma and Akane standing beside her. "Well, what are you waiting for?" she shouted, "Go with her!"
The two turned stunned eyes toward her, and Akane stuttered, "B-But ... what about everyone here?"
Nabiki laughed harshly. "There's Dad and Genma, and Auntie Nodoka has her sword. They may not be up to Ranma's ... or your standards," she added as Akane's eyes hardened, "but we'll be better defended than pretty much everyone else around. Now go!"
The two hesitated for a moment longer then, at the middle sister's shove, ran across the street and took to the rooftops in pursuit of Miyo.
Nabiki turned back to those remaining. "Come on," she snarled, "something's very wrong here and we'd better check our supplies!"
* * * * *
Ku Lon looked out over the crowd filling the Cat Café, and tried to be happy at the business her restaurant was enjoying. Sure, it had originally been a means to an end, a way for the Amazons to support themselves while occupying a niche in Neriman society, but over time it had taken its own place in her heart and she normally felt a sense of contentment — of fulfillment — in a full dining room.
But not tonight. Tonight, she found herself nervous and out-of-sorts, constantly looking out the restaurant windows into the gathering night. What is the matter with you? she berated herself yet again. However skilled you may be in ritual, you aren't one of those blessed with foresight. And even if you were, you lack a focus like they need to bring the foresight into play. So stop jumping at shadows!
Shaking her head at her own foolishness, she turned away from the window yet again and turned her attention back to her responsibilities, and sighed at the floorshow — a boy in robes with long black hair and thick glasses perched on his forehead instead of his nose where they belonged, once again proclaiming his eternal love for Xian Pu to the tall artificial plant by the check-out station, much to the amusement of the customers and the disgust of the skimpily dressed purple-haired girl on the other side of the room. Sighing, the old, shrunken woman pogoed over and onto the check-out counter and firmly rapped Mu Tse on the head with her staff. "Foolish boy!" she reprimanded the love-besotted teenager. "When will you get over that idiotic male pride that makes you the laughingstock of the restaurant? You are supposed to be a warrior, not a court jester! Now, put on your glasses and start cleaning off tables, we can't serve more people until you do!"
Grumbling to himself, Mu Tse settled down and started filling up a plastic tub with dirty dishes. Chuckling to herself and feeling somewhat better now that the universe had displayed its constancy through Mu Tse yet again, Ku Lon pogoed over to the door to welcome more customers. She had just guided them to the freshly cleaned table and was headed back to the kitchen to resume her cooking duties when suddenly her eyesight vanished in a blinding flash of light as a massive spike of pain slammed through her brain, painful enough to wring a startled shout from her. But the pain and the light were gone as fast as they arrived, and she found herself lying on the floor where her broken attention in the midst of her pogoing had deposited her, ears echoing to other shouts and screams of pain along with the sound of breaking dishes.
Slowly rising to her feet in the suddenly dark dining room, lit only by moonlight from the front windows, Ku Lon asked in the ringing voice that could still fill a room at need (so long as it wasn't too big), "Is anyone injured?" On receiving several affirmatives from customers that had cut themselves on broken dinnerware, she turned to her helpers. "Mu Tse, fetch the first aid kit. As much as you walk around without your glasses, you should be able to find it in the dark. Xian Pu, get the flashlight under the cash register and get one of our guests to hold it while you and Mu Tse bandage the injured." With the two teens quickly moving to obey, Ku Lon left the dining room to fetch the lantern and bag of candles she kept in storage for such occasions.
Upon her return, Ku Lon was surprised to find that her lantern was the only source of light in the dining room, and rounded on Xian Pu. "Child, why haven't you seen to the injured?" she demanded harshly.
Xian Pu held up a flashlight of sufficient size and heft to do double duty as a club. "Great-grandmother, Shampoo have flashlight, but the flashlight no work!" she explained in her poor Japanese. "We do what can with no light, but ..." she shrugged.
Ku Lon grumbled and handed her heir the lantern, then handed the customer closest to them the candles and asked him to light one from the lantern and pass the rest out among the customers and light them for her. (Pogoing is a very ineffective way to get a lit candle from place to place.) While her helpers took care of the wounded and the guest spread out the candles, Ku Lon pogoed to the door and, joined by several customers, gazed up and down the street — not a single lighted window to be seen that wasn't the flicker of emergency candles, and few of those. Odd, the matriarch thought to herself. I can see the batteries in my own flashlight going dead without us noticing, but everyone's? Surely somebody has a working flashlight somewhere.
But apparently that wasn't the case, and Ku Lon began to get a niggling suspicion that something was wrong — very wrong. Quickly, she turned back into the restaurant. After checking that the injured had been taken care of, she leaped up onto the check-out counter and called out in that room-filling voice that was always such a surprise from such a small person, "Is there anyone here with radios, that can see what the news reports have to say?"
Several affirmatives came back, though several people also reported that they had already tried their radios and not gotten anything at all, and the affirmatives quickly became expressions of disgust as they also found their radios completely unresponsive. Others started speaking up, reporting that their cell phones were also out. This caused a buzz of worried conversation throughout the dining room, and people started to leave hurriedly. Several returned just as quickly, reporting that their cars wouldn't start.
The worry in the restaurant was beginning to turn into panic, when suddenly without warning an earthshaking roar hammered the ears of those still in the dining room, and the windows exploded inward in a rain of shattered glass. Fresh screams of pain rang out from those caught in the hail, and Ku Lon found herself gaping at a huge ball of flame visible between and over the buildings across the street, several blocks away to the north. Looking around, Ku Lon saw Xian Pu and Mu Tse (both of whom had fortunately been in the back) were moving to help the newly wounded, so she hopped out the door and up to the roof, gazing with one eye closed at the huge and growing fire with the tail end of a jet liner sticking out of it. Ignoring the shouts and screams from the direction of the fire, she looked around at the city surrounding her restaurant — not a light to be seen, except another huge fire far in the distance to the south. Then, just as suddenly, another huge explosion blossomed off in the east. And no sirens, anywhere.
For a short time Ku Lon simply sat and pondered what had happened, finally nodding to herself. This is too all-encompassing to be a simple power failure, and I've never heard of one that knocked planes out of the sky. And if it isn't, there's no telling how long it will last. At least there are no fires to the west — at least, not yet. Rising to her feet, she was just about to jump down to the sidewalk in front of the back door to the Cat Café when she felt the touch of a breeze and froze — the strengthening breeze was from the north! Whirling, she stared at the leaping flames a few blocks away, already beginning to move in her direction. Rushing to the side of the building with the front entrance and dropping to the sidewalk, the tiny elder rushed into the dining room and leaped onto check-out counter again, shouting for the attention of those customers still there. "Everyone out!" she ordered loudly. "The fire is moving this way, and will soon be here. If any of you have homes to the south, you'd best get there as quickly as possible and get your families out of the fire's path." For all the good it will do you, she sadly added to herself.
As the café emptied, Ku Lon whirled to her two helpers. "Xian Pu, I want you to get over to Ucchan's as quickly as you can and tell Ukyo and Konatsu to grab as much nonperishable food as they can pack in a few minutes and to get over to the Tendo dojo. Then, head over to Dr. Tofu's clinic. With the fire he probably won't be there, but if he isn't head for the fire from the clinic — you should find him there. Tell him that I've asked him to meet us at the dojo as well."
Xian Pu nodded and dashed out the door, and Ku Lon turned to Mu Tse. "Okay, duck boy, empty your weapon space of everything except your favorites, then join me in my room." Mu Tse started to protest, stopped, looked around at the darkened room and the flickering red glow of the fire rapidly approaching, then nodded and started pulling out weapon after weapon. Ku Lon nodded in approval and headed for the door to the back. So, the boy can actually take orders without argument in a real emergency. He may grow up to be a true warrior, after all.
Mu Tse joined the elder a few minutes later, to find the normally neat room looking like a tornado had passed through, items and clothing scattered about and a small stack of scrolls, chests and boxes sitting in the middle of the floor. Ku Lon walked out of the closet with another box and nodded. "That was quick, good," she said. "Now put these in your weapon space and join me in the pantry."
A half-hour later, Ku Lon watched with tear-filled eyes as the first flames licked at the building she'd called home for two years. Blinking the tears away, she turned to Mu Tse beside her and sighed. "Come on, boy, let's join the others at the dojo," she quietly ordered, and the two roof-hopped away.
* * * * *
The black-haired girl looked up at the shout from the park bench on which she sat, her arms around the still weeping girl beside her. What do you know, Shampoo actually knows my name, she thought as her purple-haired would-be rival jumped out the tree at her back to land beside her. "This is not a good time for a fight, Shampoo!" Akane growled out, nodding to the east, toward the leaping flames with the tail end of an airliner rising from their center.
"No here for fight," the Amazon responded. "Looking for you, Akane and friend must return to dojo, Great-grandmother says!"
"Cologne says? To the dojo? Why!?" Akane asked incredulously as Miyo lifted her tear-stained face from Akane's shoulder, and Shampoo shrugged.
"Shampoo no know, sent to find Ukyo, Konatsu, Tofu, tell to gather at dojo with as much food as can carry."
Akane simply stared, but Miyo sighed and straightened, gently disengaging herself from Akane's arms with a tremulous smile of thanks. "It's not over," the brown-haired girl murmured as she scrubbed at tear-streaked cheeks. "What I felt — it was too big, too all-encompassing, to just be the plane that hit my .... my family's apartment building," she managed to get out as her voice broke.
Akane gazed at her schoolmate, then nodded and turned to Xian Pu. "Shampoo, can you get Miyo back to the dojo? I have to find Ranma and let him know — he went to help get people out of the way of the fire."
"Shampoo already do," the Amazon responded, ""find him and Tofu first, they go to dojo after Ranma help clear apartment building, Tofu finish with hurt child. Ranma tell Shampoo where find you."
Akane's eyes widened. "Dr. Tofu is actually leaving patients to go to the dojo?" she repeated, shocked to her core, and Xian Pu nodded firmly.
"He good healer, not want to, but Great-grandmother knew where find him, want him go to dojo anyway. He greatly respects Great-grandmother — if she tell him leave hurt people something very wrong."
"You're right," Akane replied thoughtfully, then turned to Miyo. "Miyo, go with Shampoo, she'll get you back to the dojo safely. I'm going to go see if Sayuri and Yuka are home, and try and convince them to join us."
Miyo nodded, but Xian Pu frowned uncertainly. "Is Akane sure good idea? Great-grandmother say bring food, more mouths maybe not good."
"You're right, it probably isn't a good idea. But Miyo thought the dojo would be the safest place to be, and they are my friends — I have to get them if I can."
Xian Pu sighed, but nodded. "Shampoo no can argue that. But go fast." Akane nodded and ran north across the park, leaping to the roof of a house across the street and disappearing from sight.
* * * * *
"Shampoo here!" The sound of Xian Pu's voice echoed through the house, to be ignored by Ku Lon in the upstairs guest room that Ranma and his father had used for so many months. The ancient matriarch sat in the middle of a circle of ash around a hexagon of chalk, scented candles and garnets at each point of the diagram. She continued to chant as she concentrated on the mirror before her and its reflection of the phone book set in front of it with ancient Greek symbols written in her own blood on the book's front cover.
Then, as suddenly as the first time she'd sought guidance that night, the reflection disappeared, to be replaced with a vision of horror. Ku Lon gasped as she found her gaze focused down a rural road. To the side was a burned-out house, and the road and the fields on each side were littered with bodies of all ages and sexes. Then the image changed, to a mountain forest — and more bodies. Again, the scene changed, to a beach, and yet more bodies along the shore and bobbing in the surf. In all of the images, many of the bodies looked to have died by violence but most were skeletal, muscles shrunken, skin shrunk in around the bones, reminding the elder of pictures she'd seen of WWII concentration camp survivors. Most disturbing were the bodies that had had pieces inexpertly hacked away with a sharp tool of some sort ...
With a gasp and a toss of her head, the elder shook herself free of the visions and sagged where she sat. I was so hoping I was wrong ... Rising, she intoned a quick ritual of ending and dismissal, solemnly broke the hexagon and circle around her, snuffed out the candles, and slowly made her way to the window. For a time she simply gazed out across the street at the houses lit only by candle-light as she listened to the murmur of conversation drifting up from the family room below her.
Finally, she leapt to the window sill and down to the ground, then made her way around to the front entrance and in to the family room. The buzz of conversation cut off as she walked in, and she gazed around the room. Nodoka, Soun. Mu Tse, Ukyo, Konatsu, good. Genma, Kasumi and Nabiki are back from shopping, Dr. Tofu and Xian Pu ... She paused as her gaze fell on an unfamiliar brown-haired girl, face puffy and red from tears, about the same age as the matriarch's great-granddaughter. Hmmm ... there's some power in this one, though she is no fighter. Putting aside the mystery for the moment, Ku Lon asked, "Ranma and Akane?"
"Ranma come when finish clearing apartment building in front of fire. Akane go try get two friends to come," Xian Pu said, and Ku Lon frowned, then sighed.
"I could wish she hadn't done that, but I can hardly fault loyalty." Turning to Kasumi the matriarch asked, "The shopping?"
The eldest Tendo, her usual serene expression too firmly in place, responded, "It took several trips, but we emptied Nabiki's entire cash reserve and brought home all the water and food she and I could carry — all dry food, as you advised."
Ku Lon nodded and took a deep breath. "Good. From what I saw in my scrying, very good. The images I saw were much clearer than normal, and almost everyone in this city is going to die."
Gasps of shock rose from all sides, but the unknown brown-haired girl shook her head. "But how can you be so sure? How could you cast a scrying involving the entire city?"
"Simple, child, I used a phone book to represent my subject," Ku Lon responded, and the girl slumped and rubbed at her face.
"I ... I was beginning to hope my reading was exaggerated, that the other aircraft coming down and the fires, my parent's deaths would be the worst of it," she whispered, and Ku Lon's eyebrow rose.
"What is your name, child?" the matriarch asked gently.
"Miyo," the girl responded, looking up.
"Once we get to safety we need to talk," Ku Lon said, then looked about at the confused faces around her. "We will need to leave as soon as Ranma and Akane return if we are to live. Everyone pack now, and only the most important and light of memorabilia — don't forget that we will be carrying the food as well."
"But why do we need to leave?" Nabiki demanded. "We're surrounded by a wall, we have plenty of food and water, the fires are moving away from us, why can't we simply wait here until things settle down and the power comes back?"
"Because the power isn't coming back, at least not in time to do any good," Ku Lon stated firmly. "I performed two scryings, one for the people staying here in the city, another for those choosing to try to leave. In both cases, bodies were everywhere. Many had died from violence, but many were also dead of starvation. I could not see a living soul, but ... some of the bodies had had pieces carved off."
Most of the others looked confused, but Nabiki paled and nodded. "No power, whatever caused this was centered on Nantucket, so the entire world is affected.... Right — no help is coming, we're out of here. But where do we go?"
The Tendos and their guests glanced around at each other. Where would they go? "That is a good question," Ku Lon said dryly. "I know of a smuggler that uses a sailing ship, but the odds of him being at his home port by the time we get there are ... not good."
Genma said, "I know of a monastery that is both isolated and fortified. They would probably take us in, we'll have our own food and additional fighters would be welcome, but it is some distance away and unless we are lucky we'll find ourselves running into refugees from other cities, out in the open."
"We could fort up here in Tokyo," Nabiki said. When everyone turned to look at her, she looked distinctly sick, but continued, "If we pick the right building, most people won't know we're there, and the inner city will empty out fairly quickly as everyone heads out looking for food. It'll be ugly, but probably work."
"No, Shampoo know what to do," the purple-haired Amazon said firmly. "When Shampoo return to China after find Airen, Shampoo find cave that lead to other world."
Ku Lon turned to her heir, eyes narrowing. "And why didn't you mention this cave before?" she demanded.
Xian Pu shrugged. "Cave not close to village, or Ranma, no time to explore world on other side, not important."
Ku Lon sighed. Lady knows I love children, but teenagers can be wearying! "Child," she said sternly, "just because something is not immediately useful doesn't mean it isn't important! What if you were back in the village right now? Where would we be?"
Xian Pu dropped her eyes and fidgeted in place. "Great-grandmother right, Shampoo sorry no tell."
"No harm done this time," Ku Lon said more softly, "but from now on tell me about these things. Now, the cave, where does it lead?"
"Shampoo no know," Xian Pu replied, still looking at the floor. "Shampoo find while look for shelter from rain, go around bends, surprised by sunlight from opening. Go through, other world, turn around, go back."
"Well, at least that you did right," Ku Lon said. "Never explore a strange territory by yourself, especially when nobody knows where you are. Now, where is this cave?"
"In hill west of city," Xian Pu said, "Shampoo can lead there."
"Good," Nabiki said, "We can pass by Akari's farm on the way, pick up some animal transportation and some more fighters, maybe even Ryoga."
"Now that is an excellent thought," Ku Lon approved. "Very well, everyone get packing. Xian Pu, we're going to discuss what little you saw of that other world."
* * * * *
A stumbling Nodoka heard a shout of pleasure from ahead, and looked up from the ground in front her plodding feet to see in the noontime sunlight a turn in the tree-lined road, with Akane waving from the bend. "We're here!" the dark-haired girl shouted, again breaking the unnatural silence. "Just another kilometer to Akari's farm and we can rest!"
Nodoka looked around; at Genma and Soun carrying Akane's friends piggyback, the two girls exhausted almost to the point of collapse; Dr. Tofu half-carrying a staggering Kasumi; Ukyo and Konatsu walking with Nabiki between them, her arms across their shoulders and their arms around her waist. Finally, the red-haired woman looked to either side, at Mu Tse and Xian Pu striding along on each side of the group keeping an eye on the flanks, then to the rear where Ku Lon pogoed along, every few meters turning around to look back the way they'd come — by now, Ku Lon's bouncing travel was distinctly shaky, but the old woman's gaze seemed as sharp as ever. Then, Nodoka's eyes rose to look back along the road behind them — nobody. Her shoulders slumped, and Ku Lon stopped beside her, looking up at Nodoka's downturned gaze.
"There is no need to worry, not yet," the ancient matriarch reassured Nodoka. "I don't expect Ranma to catch up with us for hours yet. Even if he can't find his friends, he would have looked as long as he could, and if he found them he'll have been slowed down to his friends' fastest speed. If he hasn't arrived by the time we're ready to leave, then I will worry."
Nodoka smiled down at the smaller woman balanced on her staff, and nodded. "As you say, but I can't help but worry. By now, things will be getting chaotic back in the city. And while there will be no one that can match Ranma's skill, a lucky blow can undo the finest warrior."
"True," Ku Lon conceded, "but by now Ranma will be on his way. I doubt very much he found his friends in the chaos left by the fire that would have swept over their homes, so he will be coming at his best speed. Now come, rest is up ahead."
Nodoka nodded, and started to turn to resume her plodding walk up the road, only to freeze as she caught a hint of motion back along their path. Straining her eyes, her heart leaped to see an oh-so-familiar red-headed girl jogging up the road behind them.
* * * * *
Akari glanced around at the friends, acquaintances and strangers collapsed around her farmhouse's family room, the women curled up on what futons were available, the men simply lying on the floor, then turned her eyes back to the black-haired boy doing his best not to nod off and the diminutive ancient woman beside him. Akari clutched more tightly at the large teenage boy wearing a yellow bandanna sitting beside her, and Ryoga put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"You're sure about this?" Ryoga asked, and Ranma nodded.
"Yeah, it was startin' even before I found out that Daisuke and Hiroshi got caught in a collapsin' building tryin' ta rescue people. And on my way outa the city ... I saw people lootin' stores, fightin' over the food an' water there ... I did what I could, but I had to keep moving, couldn't stay ..." His voice trailed off, his face drawn, and Akari straightened.
"Of course, you couldn't stay," she said, "you have family and friends that have to come first." Turning to Ku Lon, she asked, "What do we need to do?"
"We know a way out, a place that should be safe, or at least safer," Ku Lon said. "You are welcome to join us, but whatever you do you can't stay here. We pushed hard to get here as far ahead of the wave of starving refugees that will be headed this way soon, but they won't be that far behind us. Nabiki tells me that you actually have pigs large enough to ride?"
Akari nodded, then looked around. "But only a few are actually trained to accept riders — certainly not enough for everyone here."
Ku Lon nodded thoughtfully. "If there are enough for the civilians — are they large enough to carrying a couple people each?" At Akari's nod, Ku Lon continued, "Say, three mounts?"
Akari again nodded agreement. "Yes, that I can provide. But what about the rest? I can't just abandon them!"
Ku Lon regretfully shook her head. "You can open the gates, let them out, and those that follow us and keep up we can take with us, but that is all." Then, more softly, Ku Lon added, "I wouldn't worry about your pigs, girl. As large as you say they are, I doubt even hunger-crazed mobs will be able to bring them down. And soon after those hunger-crazed mobs get this far the pigs will have all the food they need — pigs will eat almost anything."
Akari stared at the old woman for a moment, then turned a greenish pale and bolted for the door to the yard, and the three still awake heard her retching on the lawn. Ryoga stared after his love with a confused look on his face, then turned to Ranma and Ku Lon.
"What the ol' ghoul means," Ranma said harshly, "is that soon there'll be plenty a' dead bodies fer the pigs ta eat." Sighing, Ranma stood up, swaying in place. "Come on, Ryoga, let me lead ya ta Akari." A now pale Ryoga nodded, and Ranma grabbed the Lost Boy by the upper arm and walked him out into the yard.
Moments later he returned alone, and Ku Lon nodded to the couch they'd been sitting on. "Get some sleep, Ranma," she ordered. "Once Akari's recovered I'll help her and Ryoga put together what they need to bring."
"An' what about you?" Ranma asked. "You've been awake as long as I have, and yer a lot older." Then he yelped as Ku Lon's cane bounced off his head.
"Respect for your elders, child!" Ku Lon stated firmly, then added, "I can sleep on one of the pigs once we start moving again. Get some sleep," she repeated, nodding toward the couch, and Ranma smothered a large yawn and nodded. Laying down, he stretched out and was asleep within seconds.
* * * * *
Akane sighed as she stepped up next to her fiancé, and the two looked out from the cave entrance to the massive pillars of smoke from a burning Tokyo rising to the east, other, smaller pillars marking the locations of other urban centers. After a time, she put her arm around his waist. "There's nothing you could do for those refugees, you know." Then, when no response came she shook him by the arm. "You do know that, right?"
Ranma's stone-faced expression didn't change, but after a time he nodded. "Yeah, I know. But ..." His voice died away and he shrugged, and Akane nodded. The trip up to the cave had gone much easier with Akari's pigs for the less fit party members to ride on, but that didn't mean it had been easy, especially their encounters with other refugees. The Neriman party may have outrun the Tokyo refugee wave, but Tokyo wasn't the only urban center around, only the largest. The few attacks had been easily beaten off, but having to refuse to help those that begged for it, especially those with children ... Akane buried her face in Ranma's shoulder, and he gently embraced her.
For a time they simply stood there, then Ranma took a deep breath and reluctantly released his fiancée. "Come on, Akane, let's get back to the others. Dinner should be about done, and Cologne will expect us to clean up, seein' how we skipped out on helpin' cook it." Akane wiped her eyes and nodded, and the two turned back toward the tunnel that led to their new home.
This one might seem a little odd, but it's actually a prequel to another story I had in mind, the impact the Neriman refugees have on their new world (GURPS Banestorm, by Steve Jackson Games, more specifically the medieval-like, low magic kingdom of Caithness). Unfortunately, while I have an overarching plot in mind, the individual episodes have been slow in coming, the slowest story I have that I'm taking seriously. This story's actually six episodes gathered together, and I've been giving serious consideration to backing up to the "what to do" breakpoint and going with a different decision, going Nabiki's suggestion. Either that, or having the refugees arrive at a different world, based heavily on TSR's Spelljammer setting. Either way, nothing's happening any time soon, too many other stories to concentrate on.
Some people might recognize the events kicking off the disaster, from S. M. Stirling's book, Dies the Fire. I've only read the first trilogy (I'll eventually get to the rest), but the ones I've read are a fun (if often grim) read.