Author's Notes –
I know that I said that I was done with this fic, but since there were a few requests for an ending I figured I could at least oblige.
A harsh wind lifted dirt off of the barren, lifeless ground, sifting around the two figures as they stood facing each other.
"It's finally come down to this," the taller of the two stated. Though he appeared to be much older than the other man both knew that appearances could be deceiving.
"I should have stopped you sooner," the other figure ground out through grit teeth. The admission combined with the situation did not sit well with the immortal mage.
"There was a time when you came to me for advice," he added "and when you actually listened to what I had to say."
"If I don't do this magic will die," Negi proclaimed. "Asuna's sacrifice…."
"Wasn't necessary," Ranma interrupted. "All those years ago when you stopped Fate, you made it necessary for Asuna to sacrifice her magic to sustain the Magic World, even though you knew that it was only a temporary fix. This world is dying, and so is Earth."
"But I can save everyone," Negi exclaimed. "If I destroy the Magic World now I can keep Earth alive until Asuna wakes up."
"The Earth will still be around when she wakes," the immortal countered.
"But it will be unable to sustain life. Even you won't be able to survive here."
"Everything and everyone dies," Ranma replied. "Even me."
Negi couldn't help but laugh. "Says the immortal that looks the same now as you did when I met you fifty years ago. You may not care about the world, either of them, since all your children died"
"but Chao and your other grandchildren and great-grandchildren can live on the other worlds – the worlds that you helped terraform."
"They'll die too if I don't do this."
"I thought you said that sacrificing the Magic World would allow Earth to live a little longer?"
"It will, but it also gives humanity time to create the ships necessary to travel to new worlds."
"There's never enough time," Ranma stated. "And you can't save everyone."
Now it was Negi's turn to grind his teeth. "You're punishing me! You're punishing me for not saving your children!? They died fighting Akira and Fate. If you wanted them to live you shouldn't have pitted them against each other!"
"Everyone and everything dies, it's inevitable," Ranma repeated. "They chose how to live and how to die. Besides, you were the one who promised them that everyone would live."
"Enough!" Dark energies swirled about Negi, crackling in the dry air.
A lightning charged fist connected with Ranma's face. Rather than being sent flying back from the force of the blow Ranma was cushioned by a wall of water. "I may have lightning reflexes, but even I can't keep up with you when you're in that form," Ranma stated as he caught hold of Negi's hand.
'You think this is enough to stop me?' Negi projected telepathically as he considered the obstacle.
"Stop you?" Ranma replied, adding a punch to the dark mage's face. "It's only to slow you down."
Negi eyed his prison, analyzing it for any weakness that he could exploit. Though the salt water conducted his electrical energy the sheer amount of it actually reduced the energy output to one that Ranma could handle, but the primary benefit was that the sphere slowed him while not encumbering Ranma.
"All those years ago you chose this path," Ranma chided, attempting to distract the intelligent mage. "Evangeline warned you that this path was one of loneliness. These last few decades everyone's slowly left your side. First Asuna, then me, Saffron, Ayaka…. Everyone, even Evangeline is gone!"
'That's because you killed her!' Negi cried as he charged again at Ranma.
Though he specialized in illusions, Ranma's primary alignment as a fighter and a mage was air. It was only through his curses that he'd begun to work on mastering water spells. Like a fish deftly avoiding a predator, Ranma slipped through the water, nimbly dodging his opponent's attacks.
As prepared as he was, Ranma had not expected Negi to slip into the Thunder of Heaven so soon. Then again, it had been over a decade since he'd last sparred with Negi, and this wasn't a sparring session. In terms of power Negi was several magnitudes above Ranma. In terms of knowledge Ranma had decades on Negi in both martial arts and magic. Yet the outcome of this fight was certain in Ranma's mind.
He had prepared for this fight for the past two decades, delaying this fight for as long as necessary.
'What did you do?' the dark mage demanded as his form flickered. 'What did you do?!'
Ranma said nothing as he connected with a kick to his opponent's stomach. Negi's keen mind had already deduced the fact that Ranma had essentially spiked his own magical essence in anticipation that the dark mage would absorb the magical energy in the spell cast on him and use it to fuel his own counter-spells. What the combat mage failed to discern was the type of energy that the cursed mage had used. With any luck (and considerable pressure from his continued attacks) Negi wouldn't be able to make the connection until it was too late. Ranma knew that Negi was best when allowed to think and prepare, just as Ranma was. In truth the two were similar in many respects, their best strategies coming in the middle of battle, yet Ranma was actually better at thinking while fighting whereas Negi was best when given a lull in the action.
His form fizzling, Negi considered his options even as he endured Ranma's relentless barrage. In a pure martial arts fight Ranma was far his superior, just as Negi was far superior as a mage. Flaring up his power, he attempted to boil off the sea water. It was a move that would deplete him of precious mana, something all the more important considering that the flow of magic was drying up.
"You did this," Ranma stated as he sought to distract his opponent. Like all magi, the immortal was also feeling the loss of magical energies in the world. "When you stopped Fate's plan you saved the magical world, but your return to the non-magical world exposed the existence of magic to the rest of the world. Yet no one dared to punish you because those who didn't fear you believed as you did – that magic need not be hidden from the rest of the world anymore.
"Then the explosion of magic users that followed put a strain on the already limited magical energy of a world that could barely handle the demands of the existing magi. Asuna's slumber was only a temporary means of restoring the flow of magic. Today was inevitable. This was inevitable."
Negi's power fluctuated, flickering as he nearly lost hold of his current form. 'How long have you been planning this?'
Ranma held the younger mage's gaze.
'Since you promised me when you left Mahora?'
"Since Chao told me that I would be the one to kill you," he replied.
Finally Negi reverted to his normal self, though wither from voluntary compulsion or from inability to maintain his energy output it was hard to tell. 'You were the one she warned me of,' Negi admitted. 'She knew she couldn't defeat you and she chose the alternative course – to expose the magical world and you'
"In hopes of stopping this," Ranma concluded as he reigned down punches on Negi. "But she failed, just as you did. I know that she told you what would happen, she advised you to not accept Evangeline's offer, yet you did.
"Back in Mahora you told me that what Chao did – using the magic tattoos to enhance her magical ability and reserves even though resorting to such a method inflicts untold physical damage on the subject."
Suddenly Negi transformed again, this time invoking runic tattoos similar to the ones that his granddaughter currently employed and powering the third form of his thunder form. Even with the surge in power it took the dark mage a few seconds to evaporate the sphere of water, allowing Ranma to escape.
"You may be resistant to heat and cold, but my lightning surpasses your endurance," Negi concluded. Eyes locked on his former mentor, Negi lashed out. A lightning charged fist passed through Ranma's head, or at least the mage's illusion, dispelling it.
"Coward!" Negi screeched. "Where are you hiding?!"
"Over here," Ranma's whispered voice fluttered with the wind.
Enraged as he was, Negi lashed out, striking at the area where he thought the voice came from. "More of your tricks! Face me like a man Ranma!"
Even his increased power failed to help him maintain his new form the lightning flickered once again.
"A machine! You're using a recording!"
Again Negi lashed out, striking the source of the voice. Smirking, Negi focused on the electrical waves that the devices emitted. "It's not going to work," he stated, destroying the devices with a wave of his hand.
A sphere of darkness appeared, trapping Negi. "Clever – a darkness rune triggered by my lightning attacks."
Instinctively he reached out with his senses, absorbing part of the magical energy of the attack. "The more powerful your trap, the more fuel you give me!"
Vacuum blades cut into Negi, enraging the already unstable mage. Even his bright form failed to illuminate the darkness, giving the master illusionist and martial artist the edge. Charging in the direction that the attack had originated from, he endured several more hits before realizing that the direction of the attacks had changed.
"You know you can't beat me man to man." Pride had been Ranma's greatest sin, at least in the time that Negi had known him in Mahora. Many considered him to be an unequaled martial artist, few outside of the staff realizing that he was a magic user as he focused on mastering his physical skills rather than combining his magic to improve his fighting like most of the younger magic users and often besting most combat magi in sparring sessions. "That's why you're hiding, isn't it?"
"Did you ever think that I don't want to kill you?"
"Because you can't!"
"Because I had high hopes for you. Killing you means that I, and many others, was wrong to believe in you, but unlike the others I'm the only one left to see how you've turned out." Another barrage of vacuum blades hit Negi, weakening the powerful archmage and forcing him to focus his attention in another direction. "Takahata, Master Konoe, Kotaro, the Urashimas, Zazie!" each name signaled another series of attacks, each throwing Negi into a frenzied charge in the direction of his voice or in the perceived direction of the attack. Though he couldn't see them he could sense the destructive blasts of magical energy that Negi discharged.
The combination of psychological attacks and physical kept Negi off balance, preventing him from deducing the weaknesses of the trap and escaping. Still, it escape was inevitable for Negi. Despite the depletion of mana and magical energies in the world Negi still commanded a considerable mana reserve. In comparison Ranma was resorting to using runes, parlor tricks and sapping his enemy's reserves to power his spells.
"Arrows of darkness!" the arch-mage hissed as a new barrage of attacks hit him from several directions prompting him to counter with his own barrage of spells. "Drones! Ha! I'll put an end to that!"
For several minutes the attacks continued, though Negi was able to successfully counter, slowly reducing the number of attacks launched at him.
"A darkness rune to hide Arrows of Darkness, and mixing in your vacuum blades - ingenius," Negi finally concluded. "Unfortunately you don't have the reserves to keep this up forever!"
Prepared for the next wave of attacks, Ranma rushed, timing his attacks so that a barrage of vacuum blades hit Negi just has the immortal connected with his physical attack. The mana draining spell negated the archmage's barrier while also powering up Ranma's next magical attack and leaving Negi exposed to the vacuum blades.
"Ergh-!" The sound of the vacuum blades was muted by the rune of silence, negating all sounds except the voices of the battling magi.
The continued silence meant that Negi was starting to use his head once again.
"HA!" the arch-mage exclaimed triumphantly as the darkness receded.
The initial light of the cloudy day was more than enough to mask the truth of the situation. Gone was the sudden and unpredictable gusts of wind that had blown the dust in every direction. With the dust settled and his eyes adjusted to the light Negi finally saw the horror of the situation. "What trick is this? More of your damned illusions!?"
Dead was all around them as several dozen bodies lay about the lifeless plain.
"I always knew I couldn't beat you by myself," Ranma admitted bitterly. "You're far too powerful for even me to fight head on."
"They'd never turn against me!" Negi proclaimed, his voice wavering.
"But I did," the platinum blond muttered. "Had I known this is how you were going to turn out I would not have done anything differently. I'm quite proud of you actually. But now you are too much of a threat that even I can't help but agree to fight against you.
"And they are my partners," she indicated her now dead partners. "They follow my orders regardless of how they feel about you."
"Wasn't loyal to me," Evangeline stated. "That's why Ranma destroyed her."
"You've been preparing for this for the last five years," Negi concluded as he eyed his remaining opponents.
"I've been on board since I realized how much damage you're doing the world," she stated. "I had hoped that you wouldn't walk this path, but now that you have there's no turning back."
"This is the only way to save everything I've built!" he pleaded.
"It's no longer 'Destroy to Build' – you're only prolonging things. The first principle of dark magic is that once you're dead your spells come undone."
"So you killing me is tantamount to you killing all those worlds I helped terraform," Negi stated.
"They won't die right away," Ranma countered. "Those worlds will dry up, and while life may be sustainable, it will be hard for those who live there. The other worlds will lose their magic, but they never relied on it like on the worlds you created.
"If we kill you, the magic in your reserves should help preserve the worlds for a while longer." His words had a greater affect than any spell he could have cast, stopping Negi in his tracks.
"He's right," Evangeline confirmed. "Even if you die your worlds are stable enough to survive even without you injecting them with mana. Your mana reserves will be spread through this world and earth allowing them to survive long enough to evacuate the rest of the population."
Negi weighed their words. Suddenly Ranma's fist was around Negi's heart.
"I'm sorry," he apologized as he crushed his opponent's heart. "I never wanted it to end this way."
A quick jab to the throat crushed his esophagus, preventing Negi from saying anything.
"Why?" Evangeline muttered, startled by Ranma's sudden attack.
Crushing his opponent's heart, Ranma felt his opponent shutter as it entered the death throes. White light surrounded his left fist as he slammed it into Negi's skull, delivering the finishing blow to the undead immortal.
"Why?!" the vampire demanded as she approached him.
"You said it yourself," he replied as he extracted his hands from his opponent's body. "We've already crossed the line – there's no going back, either we died or he died. We couldn't save him, and if we let him talk he'd only restore his own resolve and belief in what he was fighting for.
"You know that's how he fights – he struggles, has a moment of doubt, then ultimately finds his resolve and pulls some fantastic combo out of his ass that no one expects," he explained bitterly. It was just what he did when pressed with seemingly insurmountable odds and an unbeatable foe.
"So now what?"
Though she had lived far longer than he had, the vampire was truly lost. For so long she'd tried to live alone, dependent on no one but herself and perhaps her partners. But even they were gone now.
"You start over," Ranma stated as he traced out a glyph of unholy fire. As he'd suspected the glyph flared with uncanny ferocity as it fed on Negi's body. Though it would take a while for his mana reserves to reach the planets on the outer-rim Mars and Earth would have enough ambient energy to sustain itself for another generation or two. For now the magical energies released by Negi's death would make magic more effective for the hundreds of thousands who still used it.
"I'll kill you if I ever see you again," Evangeline stated.
A wiry smile graced his tired face. "I don't know how long the magic that sustains me will last," he replied honestly. "If I'm still around, feel free to try."
A cold, unseasonable wind rustled the dry leaves that populated the empty plaza. Memories of the past filled the lone traveler's mind as he eyed the empty buildings of the once bustling plaza. He was alone, but he was not the only one in the plaza. Though he could not see the others he could see their footsteps in the dust and dirt that covered the ground.
All but one voice was alien, signifying that he really did not need to be here. "I leave her to you Eva," he muttered before turning his back to the withered remains of the world tree. Though he had yet to meet them, Ranma knew who the vampire was traveling with. While she concealed her identity well, Ranma's strong ties to the underworld and those who dealt with the trade of secrets had kept him informed of where she traveled and with whom she traveled with. One was Negi's grandchild – Touta Konoe, and the other was his great-granddaughter Chao Lingshen. It did not help that each of them had sworn a blood oath that they would kill him should they encounter him again, the two youngest having failed twice each before finally joining up with their ancestor's former teacher.
As the last of the Springfield bloodline they were his legacy now that the rest of the worlds in the solar system were dying. The general populace believed that Negi had sacrificed himself in an attempt to restore magic to the world. Only a handful of people knew the truth, most of them siding with Evangeline in their belief that Negi could have been convinced to the right thing in the end and that Ranma had been wrong in killing the arch-mage.
Only several hundred thousand remained in the solar system, those too poor or those who believed that the planets weren't dying. Word of new planets being terraformed using a modified process of what Negi had lead many of the remaining magi to the frontier. Once again magic was considered myth, the remaining magi simply combining their magic with advanced technology to achieve miraculous results.
Yet even with magic once again being forgotten Ranma maintained his immortal youth. He'd never been a powerful mage, just a clever one. He could survive without magic, but against three relatively powerful magi he knew he was outmatched. Though he could feel the stirring of magical energies in Mahora, he knew that he was long out of practice. Even if he could use his spells he could only use the illusions against combat magi.
No, leaving the soon to be awakened Asuna in their hands was fine.
The trek back to his shuttle gave him the time needed to recalculate. Though immortal he still needed food and water. With one other he could reach the closest of what were now considered the "Core" planets, the first handful of planets that he had helped terraform. Alone he could reach the outer edge of what were considered the Core planets.
One last gaze at the barren land behind him was all he needed. What had once been a bustling, lush city was now but an empty shell, a bleak reminder of what once was.
His gaze shifted to the twinkling stars above. Even from the surface he could make out several star ships or space stations overhead. Sighing, he stepped over the threshold, allowing the ship's door to close. "Goodbye."
I was thinking of starting a spin-off fic with a new cast of characters to accompany Ranma, but I don't have the energy for that right now.
I hope you all enjoyed the ride.