Earth Made Flesh

XX

Sensei combed the mountainside in his search as Yori trailed behind him.

"When did you say that Onoda-san first heard the scream?" Sensei asked his young charge.

"About half an hour ago," said Yori. "Onoda-san told me he was meditating in the mountains when he heard a scream come from this area, but when he arrived here to search for its origin, he found no one. I thought it would be best to inform you so that you could look into it yourself."

"A wise decision," said Sensei as he stopped in front of a large boulder. He and Yori had been combing the mountain with no luck, but this boulder was significant. Sensei could feel a faint trace of magical energy emanating from within, as if the boulder was hiding something. Judging by the condition of the ground around the boulder, it had recently been moved.

"What is it, Sensei?"

"Stand back, my child."

Sensei placed his hands on the boulder. He felt that there was a spell in place to prevent the boulder from being moved – probably a spell that needed some kind of special key – but Sensei's abilities were stronger and more ancient than the magic that kept the boulder in place. It shifted easily aside, revealing a black mouth that sank into the earth.

Sensei entered the mouth. Before long, he and Yori arrived at an underground chamber built of stone and earth. The chamber housed various ancient relics and artifacts. They pulsed with a dark power which Sensei could feel, prickling against his skin. He was troubled that someone could have built such a chamber so close to Yamanouchi without his knowledge. Sensei was wise and powerful, but unfortunately, he was not omniscient.

"What is this place, Master?"

Sensei noticed an empty alcove in the back of the chamber. Some dust lay on the ground, as if something had been removed from the alcove. With Kim's recent visit to Yamanouchi and her inquiries about bringing Stoppable-san back, Sensei began to worry. Hearing her question, Sensei glanced back at Yori. He noticed her blanch with a sudden guilty expression. Sensei's fear increased.

"Yori, my child... did you, by any chance, tell Kim Possible to keep searching in her foolish quest?"

Yori hung her head.

"Sensei, I am sorry. I told Kim Possible of dark magic, things I have heard in the past, but that I knew nothing about. She must have discovered something because of my encouragement."

Sensei shook his head slowly. His long life had given him great knowledge of various forms of magic, and he recognized some of the artifacts in the chamber – they were dangerous indeed – but other objects in the chamber were alien to him. Sensei needed to know more about what had been taken from that alcove.

"Are we going to find Kim Possible, Sensei?"

"Eventually, yes. And you will not be coming, Yori." His young charge flinched at the tone of his voice. "You have disappointed me. But first, I need to do something else."

Sensei began to leave the dark chamber, back the surface. He would need to use his astral powers to communicate out of his body, to pierce a hole through the material world and access another plane. It was a powerful skill, one that Sensei used in times of need. A skill that demanded great self-control.

In this case, he needed to talk to someone outside of his own plane of existence. The dark magic emanating from the room, the types of artifacts that he saw within it, and the very fact that it was so close to Yamanouchi gave Sensei the feeling that he needed to talk to one person in particular. The person whose hand print – or paw print, perhaps – was stamped all over the dark chamber.

Monkey Fist.

XX

A rental car made its way down a highway. Headlights lifted the curtain of night from the road ahead. In the driver's seat, Kim Possible yawned as she watched the reflectors zip by on the road. Bushes, off the side of the highway, briefly appeared at the edges of the headlight's glow, as if they were watching the car pass by. Kim could not remember how long ago she had last gotten any sleep; it seemed like days. She was dead tired.

Getting out of Japan had been tricky. She had to take Fukushima with her, who was much less willing to go quietly at this point. Most of her contacts would not have approved of what Kim was doing, but she had called someone on a gamble; a small aircraft pilot who knew about what had happened to Ron. The pilot sympathized with her and was willing to look the other way when it came to Fukushima. Kim hadn't explained what she was doing with the ninja, and the pilot may have had his suspicions, but he didn't ask. He had even helped her stuff Fukushima into the trunk of the rental car.

Kim reached the outskirts of Middleton. She felt a rising excitement within her. She could be just minutes away from seeing Ron again; but she still drove carefully within the speed limit. If any police officers pulled her over now, it would be difficult to explain why muffled yelling was coming from the trunk.

I'm coming, Ron. Not long now.

She wove her way through lamp-lit streets until she began to drive on darker roads, away from the center of town. Before long, Kim slowed the car down as its headlights illuminated a familiar set of ornate wrought-iron gates set into a stone wall. The gates were overlaid with iron lettering, painted white and almost glowing in the headlights:

Middleton Cemetery.

She got out of the car just long enough to open the gates, and then drove down the winding gravel path that curled like a snake through the cemetery's dark grass. The bushes along the highway that had watched the car pass by were replaced by granite tombstones. Most of the tombstones squatted, impassive and faceless, but here and there, an angel spread its wings and gazed at the earth in silent mourning.

The cemetery was unfamiliar at night, but eventually Kim drew close to where her best friend lay. She stopped the car, leaving the headlights on to see better. Beside her, in the passenger's seat, lay her knapsack containing the astral orb and the dagger she would need for her spell.

The knapsack also contained a variety of candles that she had picked up at a quick pit stop on the way to Middleton. Long ago, she remembered going on a mission with Ron to fight Monkey Fist. Their simian foe had been setting up a spell, and Ron had asked why he used so many candles. Monkey Fist had explained that candles were like lubricant for a good spell. It was just the way things were done. So Kim was taking his advice.

She picked up the knapsack and walked around to the back of the car, opening its trunk. Fukushima lay inside, his hands still cuffed and his mouth gagged. He looked sick; his skin was pallid and covered in sweat. She pulled him out of the trunk and pointed him in the direction of Ron's grave.

"We're going this way. No running." Not that there was any chance of Fukushima running; he could barely walk on his injured ankle without falling over in pain. She had to prop him up on several occasions.

Kim began to sweat. It was a hot summer evening, and it had rained recently, so the air was muggy and black like oil. The ground beneath her feet was damp. Her shoes pressed into it as it gave way, soft and porous. She felt like she was walking on flesh. Crickets chirped a chorus in the dark grass surrounding her, and she had a sensation that the earth beneath her was filled with life. Worms, beetles, other insects. Crawling, squirming life.

Ron's gravestone appeared before her. It was just out of the range of the car's headlights, but her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness and there was enough of a residual glow to make things visible. She knelt down to the soft earth and opened the knapsack, lighting the candles and arranging them in a circle around the area of Ron's grave.

"Get down on the ground," she said to Fukushima. He hesitated.

"Look, I'm not going to kill you, at least not yet. I want to try something else first."

Fukushima lowered himself down and lay against the earth as Kim gave him a slight push. He seemed to be giving up; with his hands bound, and with his injury, he knew there was no way he could escape from someone like Kim.

When Monkey Fist had explained the spell, Kim remembered him saying that blood needed to be spilled on the grave of the person she wanted to resurrect. She had assumed that meant murder, and so had Monkey Fist, but perhaps it didn't. She took the undulating knife from the cloth sack and turned to Fukushima.

The ninja moaned through his gag as Kim cut into his chest and stomach. It was not a deep cut, not fatal, but it was enough to draw blood easily. She finished the cut and turned him over so that he was lying face-first on top of Ron's grave. Perhaps the blood needed to seep through the earth. She pressed Fukushima down against the ground to make sure that would happen, drawing another moan from the ninja.

Moments passed. Then minutes. The candles flickered here and there from a light breeze, and the crickets continued to chirp. Fukushima lay against the earth, his breathing ragged. Nothing was happening. Kim realized that blood was not enough. Life for life, as Monkey Fist had said.

"Sorry Fukushima. I have no choice."

The teen hero turned her captive over and placed the knife carefully over his heart.

"I am sorry that I killed the out – that I killed Ron-san." said Fukushima. The gag had slipped from his mouth, and his words were now clear. "Please, do it quickly."

Kim nodded. She readied herself; Fukushima flinched only slightly as the tip of the dagger nicked his skin where it rested. Kim leaned, about to press her full weight against the dagger and drive it down, but she paused...

XX

"You know I'll keep in touch, Kim."

Kim sniffed as she embraced her best friend, her boyfriend. The sound of planes and shuttles echoed through the departures terminal from outside. A voice spoke from the loudspeakers, announcing that Ron's flight was ready for boarding.

"It's just that we're going to be apart for so long, and then who knows what's going to happen when college starts, and -"

"Hey, come on now," said Ron as he stroked her hair. "Remember how worried I was when we were graduating, and you told me it wasn't going to be the end of the world? Okay, so maybe it almost was," - Kim had to laugh a little - "but you were right. And it's the same now. We'll work things out."

Kim sighed. "I still wish you weren't going to Japan."

"I know, but I feel like I need to do this. It's going to be good for me! I want to get better at things. I want to help you more on missions, maybe learn how to control that power that I had when we were fighting the Warlordians."

"You've always helped me on missions, Ron. At least, most of the time." Kim gave Ron a smile that he returned. "You're fine just the way you are."

"I know KP, but I'm not talking about changing who I am... I just want to be able to help you more. I'm still going to be the same old Ron Stoppable, just like you've always been the same old Kim that I know and love."

"And why do you love me, Ron?"

At this point, Kim knew she was just fishing for compliments, but it would keep Ron occupied a little longer before he had to leave.

"Tons of reasons! A big one would be the way you live your life. I mean, I've got your back, KP. But even if I didn't, you'd still do what you do. Even if I was gone, you'd still be going on missions, being selfless, helping people. Saving lives. It's just who you are."

Kim smiled. She didn't know quite when it had happened, but her boyfriend had gotten to be quite the charmer. Sometimes he did test her patience a little, that was true, but he had a knack for saying the right things when it counted most.

The loudspeaker blared again, announcing the last call for boarding. Ron gave her a final hug and a kiss, and Kim watched as he began to walk backwards, waving at her with a goofy grin on his face. He ran into several people, apologizing as he did, but on this occasion, she was glad that he was making a scene. She wasn't ready for him to turn around. Not quite yet.

"I'll be back soon, KP!"

XX

...and she let go of the dagger.

The blade rested harmlessly on Fukushima's chest. Kim sank down to the earth beside him, her arms on the ground, her hands covering her face. She could not kill Fukushima. She knew that now. It was not who she was – it was an act that would change her, and act from which she could not return. Even if it brought Ron back, he would not forgive her for doing such a thing. He would not want her to do it.

"I'm sorry, Ron. I tried."

Her hands became wet with tears. Her body shook. Sensei was right – this was the way things were. Perhaps it was even destiny. Ron had been taken away from her, and there was nothing she could do to bring him back. Not even Kim Possible could change that.

Kim could hear Fukushima breathing heavily beside her, and she could feel the hot night air against her skin, but she felt a new kind of heat against one of her arms. She took her hands away from her face, her eyes blurry with tears, and looked down at the ground. It was the astral orb. It lay uncovered in the open cloth knapsack, where she had been touching it with her arm unknowingly. Kim felt it; it was hot to the touch. Something inside it seemed to be swirling up from a great depth. Kim noticed that the crickets had stopped chirping.

Was it Monkey Fist? She hadn't tried to speak to him since she had taken the dagger from the cave. She hadn't touched the astral orb with her hands when it started heating up, and she hadn't tried to imagine anyone in her mind. The orb must work both ways, she thought. I can use it to talk to others, but perhaps someone can use it to talk to me. Someone in another reality.

KP?

Kim looked around her, startled. She recognized the voice instantly. Judging by Fukushima's reaction as he lay bleeding on the ground, he recognized it as well. Kim assumed that the voice must be coming from the orb, and yet it seemed to hang in the air all around her.

"Ron? Ron, is that you?"

Yeah, Kim, it's me.

Kim held a hand to her mouth.

"Oh my God, Ron! Ron, where are you?"

I'm speaking to you through the orb, Kim. I'm in a different world, but I can sense you.

Kim could not believe what she was hearing. She had failed to communicate with Ron earlier, but perhaps now that she was beside his grave, somehow the link was easier to make. Perhaps Ron, wherever he was, had sensed her presence.

"You're not dead?"

The disembodied voice laughed faintly. Yes and no, Kim. It's hard to explain what things are like after death, but I still exist, in a sense.

"Ron, I'm trying to bring you back, but I don't know how!"

Somebody's gotta sacrifice a life to bring me back to life, Kim. It's part of some cosmic balance.

"I know. I brought Fukushima here, Ron. I was going to sacrifice him, but I can't do it."

It doesn't matter if it's Fukushima, Kim. You have to use the dagger to take the life, but it can be anyone's life. As long as there's an equal exchange of lives, it's all good.

Kim looked into the sky, as if she could see Ron if she looked hard enough. Ron was confusing her; she had been under the impression that she needed to kill Ron's murderer in order to bring him back. Maybe murder created some dark connection between the culprit and their victim that could be exploited with magic. That was Kim's best guess, at least.

"I don't understand. That's not what Monkey Fist said. He told me it had to be your murderer."

Monkey Fist isn't always right, though. I mean, he obviously didn't understand enough about the Yono, yono what I mean?

Kim laughed. "That's true."

She was happy to hear Ron's voice again. There was something odd about the voice, as if it had a slight buzz, or even an echo, but Kim didn't notice; it was her Ron. He was not gone forever. She looked back down at the knife and thought about her options.

"So it can be any life?"

Yes, any life in exchange for my own. I miss you so much, Kim. I wish I could see you again... but I know I couldn't ask you to take someone else's life to bring me back. I know you want me back, but I can't ask you do to something like that.

Kim nodded. Ron was right; she knew she couldn't do it, and she knew that Ron couldn't ask her to do it. As much as she hated Fukushima for what he had done to Ron, she could not sink to the ninja's level. Kim picked up the dagger from where it lay on Fukushima's chest and stared at the blade as it rested in the palm of her hand.

She realized what she had to do. Ron said that any life would cause the dagger's spell to bring Ron back. Kim wanted to see Ron more than anything, but she loved him enough that she would bring him back. Even if it meant never seeing him again.

She held the hilt of the dagger with both hands and plunged it into her stomach.

A voice came from out of the darkness. "No! It is too late!"

Kim's body tensed as she gasped in pain. She saw Fukushima gape at her in horror, but it was not the ninja who had just cried out. She looked around, confused, still clutching the hilt of the blade that was buried in her body. Beyond the circle of candles surrounding Ron's grave, several figures ran towards her out of the darkness. A few of them were ninjas, their black garb almost invisible against the night sky. One figure was much older than the rest, dressed in a red tunic. It was Sensei.

"You foolish girl! Why did you do that?"

Kim looked up at Sensei as he arrived at the circle of candles. She could feel the life ebbing from her, a dull pain radiating through her entire body from its focal point in her stomach. She knew the wound was mortal.

"Ron... the orb. Ron was speaking to me through the orb. He told me any life could be sacrificed to bring him back."

Sensei shook his head. "No, no... that is not correct. You were not talking to Ron Stoppable, my poor girl."

Kim gritted her teeth. "I heard his voice! It was Ron!"

"No... it was something else. Something imitating Ron. Ron Stoppable would have told you to let him go, to honor him by living your own life and moving on, do you not see? The orb is a conduit, a gate. It can be used to talk to sentient beings, whether they exist in our world or in others. Something was tricking you, Kim Possible. Something wanted you to perform the spell incorrectly."

"I don't understand," said Kim in a haze of pain. "What did I do wrong? I sacrificed my life for Ron."

"I do not know if the spell would have worked, Kim Possible, but Fukushima would have provided a focal point for the magic. He murdered Ron Stoppable, which created a dark and powerful connection between the two of them, and sacrificing him would create a gap between worlds. A gap through which his victim could return.

"You have sacrificed yourself instead. You have no connection to Ron-san; you did not murder him. There is no focal point for the magic. You have made a rift through which anyone can enter. Monkey Fist was wise to hide this spell, Kim Possible – it is magic that none of us can truly understand. It is not to be toyed with."

Kim shook her head and pulled the blade from her body, throwing it outside of the circle and wincing as a bolt of pain coursed through her. She had a vague thought that perhaps the spell would stop if the blade was out of the circle, or out of her body, but she knew it was just wishful thinking.

"What will come through the portal now?"

"I do not know," said Sensei. "Whatever was tricking you and imitating Ron. Many other things, perhaps. Things that should not be in this world."

"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" asked Kim. "You could have stopped me by projecting an image of yourself or something, the way you've done it with Ron in the past, when you needed to talk to him. You didn't have to take so much time coming here to tell me all this!"

Sensei shook his wizened head sadly. "Something was blocking me, Kim Possible. Perhaps using the astral orb as a barrier. I could not reach you. Besides, you must be honest with yourself; would you have listened to me if I had told you the spell was dangerous? I am sure others have warned you against the path you have taken."

Kim did not know if she would have listened or not, but Sensei had a point. She clutched at her wound and felt hot blood pulsing out through her hands, watering the earth over Ron's grave. She could feel her senses begin to dull. Her time was ticking away.

Blood ran from her body like a red rope, dangling down into the earth. She felt the rope swing back and forth. She felt the rope tighten. Someone had grabbed the other end. Someone was pulling themselves up, towards her, towards the surface. Was it Ron? She knew it was Ron. It just had to be him. The tugging continued, and as the sensation became more clear, Kim knew she was fooling herself. It wasn't Ron tugging on the rope. No... not him.

Them.

Kim was unable to hold herself up; she was tired, and her body was not responding very well anymore. She sat, slumped against the earth, her hands pressed into the soft soil, and she felt things beneath her. Movement. Outside the circle of candles, she saw telltale ripples in the darkness, shifting shapes amongst the gravestones. One tombstone was well-lit by the candles, enough that Kim could read a name. Jackson-something. The ground shifted beneath the stone, and a clawed shape struggled free, lifting itself out of the black loam. Jackson's hand.

The ninjas around Sensei pulled katanas from their scabbards and began to circle nervously, pulling closer to each other. First one figure stumbled out of the darkness towards them, then another, then three. One of the ninjas gave a hoarse shout.

The figures drew closer, illuminated by the candlelight. Some looked like sleepwalkers, their faces vacant, their hands reaching out for something, but still people. Some did not look like people. Even in the light, their bodies were black, their faces an indistinguishable mass of what had once been human features. The stench was overpowering.

Kim stared down at the earth as the ninjas began to swing their katanas, letting out sharp battle cries. She began to understand the magnitude of what she had done. She wondered if the dead were only rising in Middleton's cemetery, or if the spell had taken hold over the entire world. Sensei was right - instead of bringing back Ron, she had opened some kind of wider door into the beyond. The dead were walking through, and there was no telling what else might be entering Kim's world. How could this have happened? She only wanted Ron back.

The earth rumbled beneath her hands. Kim managed to shift her weight and fall backwards with her remaining energy, moving away from Ron's grave. The ground parted. The gravestone – Ron Stoppable, hero, friend, son, rest in peace – sank into the growing depression in the soil. A hand rose up from the earth, then another. Hair, covered in dirt, but still straw-blond. A face. His face. Kim watched in despair. It was his face, but it was not him. No smile, no goofy expression, eyes that were not bright brown but milky white.

"Oh, Ron... I'm so sorry."

Ron turned to her with sightless eyes. His hands reached out to touch her. Fukushima lay on the ground, paralyzed with terror, and watched. Kim was helpless, the strength completely gone from her body. It was an unfamiliar feeling. The pain was not as bad as it had been. Her vision grew hazy. The candles seemed to be dimming, and night was drawing its veil over her. Ron's hands grasped at her clothing, his arms wrapped around her, carefully, as if he was drawing her in for a last hug.

"Be gentle, Ron."

She felt only the slightest sting as his teeth broke the skin of her neck.

XX

Darkness.

She was in a blank expanse, floating like a dust mote. It was not even Kim that floated; Kim did not exist. There was only nothingness, and a sense of floating. There was peace.

The nothingness rippled, like the surface of a lake hit by the first drops of rain from a cloudy sky. The nothingness turned into something. Kim appeared. She was at a great depth, and faint sounds traveled from a great distance, distorted, muffled. She began to rise, and the sounds formed into a new clarity. She felt the sensation of having eyes with which to see. The colorlessness around her began to coalesce. Colors, shapes, forms. The sound grew louder, more insistent. She resurfaced.

"Is this heaven?"

Kim formed the words with her mouth, as if she had just learned to speak. She looked around her. It was dark, but it was not the kind of darkness she had just escaped from; it was night. The candles were still arranged around her, feeble flames reaching up. The ninjas were still fighting. Several of the rotten shapes attacking them were now missing limbs, but they kept coming.

Kim felt indifferent to the scene around her. There was one thing that caught her immediate attention: Ron. She gazed at him, noticing his lips were red with fresh blood.

"Kim?" His mouth did not open, but she heard him speak.

"Ron?"

"It's me, Kim. It's okay now."

"How can I hear you? I couldn't hear you before."

Ron's face gazed at her. "You're one of us. You're like me now, so you can hear me."

Kim nodded. Her attention suddenly shifted away from Ron, to the earth beneath them. She looked at the ninja lying on the ground. His name was Fukushima – she remembered that. She felt an unknown sense growing in herself. Not quite smell, not quite sight or taste, but perhaps something in between. The sense was sharp, and Fukushima filled her with an irresistible urge.

An urge to feed.

Kim dragged herself over to Fukushima, and Ron followed suit. The ninja could have been screaming, or he could have just been watching in terror; Kim was not paying attention. Her hands reached down and clawed at his clothing, tearing it away. His flesh was exposed. She felt her fingers press in, just like they had pressed into the soft soil earlier. Fukushima's flesh fell away like tissue paper. Kim and Ron clawed and sifted through him as tendrils of blood poked through their fingers, rising out of his dying body like blossoming flowers. Kim lowered her face to eat, and Ron did the same.

They were done within moments. Blood ran down Kim's chin, down her neck, and she felt it wet her clothes and face. She looked at Ron with a deep sense of satisfaction.

"I missed you, Ron."

"I missed you too, Kim. But you came back for me."

Kim leaned forward and embraced him. "I couldn't let you go. I love you."

Ron's face was expressionless, but Kim felt him smile. "I love you too."

Although she was lost in Ron's embrace, Kim could vaguely hear the ninjas around them abandoning the fight. The old man – his name was Sensei, Kim could remember that as well – told the ninjas that it was too late to do anything, that they needed to help elsewhere. The ninjas retreated into the darkness, leaving Kim and Ron alone with the dead.

Kim felt two desires almost overwhelm her. One was a desire for Ron. She wanted to be with him, and she had gotten what the wanted. Perhaps the old man was wrong. He had told her that she had no connection to Ron, but she did have a connection. Love. Perhaps that connection could survive even in death. She did not know for sure, but she knew the feeling was there.

Her second desire was the desire to feed. Fukushima had satisfied that desire, for now. Other emotions were dull, vague, like shadows of what they had been before. She tried to remember her past. The memories were there, but it was hard to concentrate on them. She felt like she was looking at them through murky water.

As she looked at the mass of flesh and bone that had once been Fukushima, Kim wasn't even sure if the memories belonged to her anymore. Her body felt sticky with blood. She was baptized in it, and she was reborn. She had been Kim Possible, but perhaps now she was something new.

"Hey, KP."

"Yes?"

"Maybe we should stop by Bueno Nacho later for a bite to eat."

Kim thought it was a good idea. She knew Ron wasn't talking about Nacos. She remembered Bueno Nacho, how it had been significant to her and Ron. Other faint memories crowded the periphery of her mind, which was now dominated by her two desires. She recalled that she had left her family, telling herself that she would not return to them until she got what she wanted.

Ron rose up from the ground to stand in front of her, and she rose with him. She had what she wanted. Perhaps she would pay her family a visit now. Ron took Kim by the hand and led her from the grave. She smiled with an unmoving mouth.

Things were the way they should be.

XX


Notes - Hope you enjoyed the story, reviews are appreciated. Although this is one of my favorite story endings, and the first scene I had in mind for this story, it seems like people either liked or hated it moreso than the endings of any of my other stories.