Heaven and Earth

Arun

Prologue - revised version # 2

Completed on 04/14/2002

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The trees were a blur. Specks of green, yellow and brown rushed by in the blink of an eye, interrupted by bright patches of fading sunlight in between.

Truly, the sunset at the Bayankala Mountains was of breathtaking beauty, but Xian Pu did not have the time, or the frame of mind to enjoy it. She was fleeing for her life. Her hunter, as yet, unseen, was hot at her heels in pursuit.

Her breath came in ragged gasps, sweat pouring from every pore of her body. Her eyes were wide and dilated, and her face splattered with little droplets of blood, contorted with fear and apprehension. Her blood flowed freely from gashes on her hands, legs and torso, but the wounds did not even register in her mind.

She glanced back once in a while, trying to catch a glimpse of him, or was it her, and failed yet again, which only made the fear in the pits of her stomach gain in strength.

As she ran, the green leaves in the trees and the brown, dry ones on the ground rustled on their own accord once in a while, breaking the silence of early evening in the forest around her. The sound of her monotonous breaths was regularly interrupted with cracks as wood splintered under the hunter's feet. Those sounds were the only clues she'd had to her pursuer so far. Her team's killer remained silent at all other times, making her think that the errant footsteps were a game on his, or her part, meant to increase her fear and drive her to the edge, which it did.

Colliding against yet another branch, which tore her already ragged and dirty clothes to an even greater extent, Xian Pu looked back, once more, to catch a glimpse of her pursuer. And like so many times before, she caught none, but this time there was a snicker to her left, which brought her up short.

"Who is it?" Xian Pu asked coming to a standing halt, ready to flee, or fight at a moment's notice. Her grip on her sword tightened considerably, her eyes darting about the trees and her breath coming in quick, shallow gasps.

A distorted voice, barely recognizable as human, replied.

"Hahahaha! How does it feel to be the hunted, Xian Pu? I bet that all of your prey has felt the same way you feel right now!"

The voice was male and Xian Pu could not help, but feel that she had heard it somewhere before.

"Who... Who are you?" she panted, fear gripping her heart tighter in its vise-like grip.

"I'm vengeance reborn, I am death incarnate..."

Bam! A tree to her left exploded at its base, sending sharp pieces of wood and bark into the air in a brilliant shower of white.

"Do..."

Bam! Another tree, this time directly behind her, fell.

"You..."

Bam!

"Remember..."

Bam!

"Me..."

Bam!

"Xian Pu..."

Bam!

"Of..."

Bam!

"The..."

Bam!

"Joketsuzoku..."

Bam!

"Amazons?" the voice said, dripping with utter contempt.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Every tree within a thirty yard radius of Xian Pu was destroyed now. She, herself, was on her back, a painfully sharp looking strip of raw wood sticking out of her leg, just above her knee. She crawled away from the voice, rivulets of blood flowing from a cut to her upper lip, where an errant chip of wood had struck and from the gash in her thigh. She knew that voice and once, she knew the man behind it. No wonder all fifteen members of her patrol had fallen so easily.

"Ranma..." she whispered, respect and overwhelming fear in her voice.

The air directly in front of her shimmered and Ranma appeared, looking nothing like the eighteen-year old, carefree teenager of three years back. His red silk shirt had been replaced by a jet black one in those three years, for better stealth and his shoulders had broadened so that he was now, a true man among men in the looks department. His facial features had become more clear cut and his eyes were full of loathing, murderous intent, so unlike the caring, compassionate ones she once knew. The pigtail was gone too, replaced by a shoulder length mane of black hair, which flowed without hindrance from his head to rest on his shoulders. He had a brace of wood from a very rare and very sought after species of tree, which was particularly useful in storing and focusing ki blasts on both his hands. An errant beam of light from the setting sun fell on his right hand as the trees rustled gently in an unfelt wind and reflected off a metal brace, which rested just under the wooden one. The metal was white, highly polished and highly reflective in the shape of a dragon of ages long gone. Ranma moved his hand unconsciously and a stray beam of light fell on her eye, blinding her just a little.

"Glad to see you remember me," he spat, contemptuously. "Do you like my new look?

Xian Pu did not reply, retreating even further from him. If the brutality with which her patrol had been 'dealt with' was any measure of the things to come, then she was in for a world of pain followed by a merciless death separated from her family and friends. He purposely let her live through the slaughter of her companions in the squad.

Ranma took a step forward, a small, dark smile on his lips and Xian Pu cringed, prompting a derisive snort from him.

"Really, Xian Pu, for all the purported virtues that an Amazon has, you and yours lack a lot of them," he said, halting his advance and staring into her face. "I let you live through that," he pointed the thumb of his left hand behind him towards where the remains of her patrol were scattered over a half mile area, "'cause I have something in mind for you..."

Xian Pu gulped.

Ranma snorted, again.

"Relax, will ya," he said, reverting back to his old form of speech. "I'm not going to kill you... yet... Tell the Matriarch, your grandmother, that Ranma of the Hokage walks on this Earth once more and that his heart craves the blood of those who destroyed his life. Tell her that for the crimes that the Amazons and theirs committed against the Clan Hokage, the School Matsubetsu Kakuto Ryuu and its practitioners, the life of all Amazons, both male and female, are forfeit. Tell her, there is no place on Earth where she can hide from me. Tell her I'm coming for her," he said and vanished, leaving the startled, scared out of her wits Amazon alone, breathing a little more freely than before, now that the danger was gone, to ponder the latest developments and what they meant for the tribe's future survival.

Seconds ticked by and Xian Pu remained as she was, her eyes staring at the space where Ranma had stood as her breathing slowly returned to normal. Finally, sure that the danger was long gone, she stood up painfully on her legs, balancing herself on her sword. Just as she took her first step towards the village, Ranma's voice echoed through the clearing, again.

"One more thing," it said. "Die!"

Silence.

It was always a ruse! He was going to kill me all along, Shampoo thought, hopelessly eyeing the sprawling expanse of the forest before her, intent on catching a glimpse of his face one last time. She was not going to beg forgiveness, for such was not the way of her people, but she would be able to see the only man she had ever loved one more time.

A huge ball of ki, slightly larger in size than a Volkswagen, formed in the air ahead of her and exploded outwards, in a searing hot pulse of energy that destroyed everything for hundreds of yards around. The heat was so intense that it literally boiled the flesh off her body.

The thunderous boom and the blinding light faded as soon as they had started, revealing a thirty yard wide crater at the epicenter of the blast. The air at the very center of the crater shimmered once and Ranma reappeared.

"One down, Akane!" he said aloud. Still, as loud as he was, his words were lost amidst the roar of the inferno created by his attack and fed by the wood in the destroyed section of the forest.

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Author's Notes:

I started work on Heaven and Earth a long, long time back. Not before Destiny, mind, but almost a decade back. I abandoned Destiny I lost interest in writing for a while, but was struck in writer's block hell with Heaven and Earth for a long time. I think I've overcome it, which is why I'm posting this story.

A big thank you to my pre-reading team from yesteryears. They were certainly the best there ever was. ^_^

jakub, Kaz, Madcat, Brain, James Merritt, Philip Penty, Zero, Alexander Cheezem, Getzeye, Lance Smith, Peter Blundell, Malikite