Time After Time
Part 1: The Caves
Version: 3.0 - Format Revision 1
A Ranma Fanfiction
Written for the Umpteenth Time Because My Computer REALLY Hates Me

By Azurite [azurite_moon@yahoo.com]
Supernatural/Action/Adventure/Romance
PG13


AIM: Meriellen5
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Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 does not belong to me. Nope, it belongs to the wonderful
Rumiko Takahashi, the richest woman in all of Japan. Maybe *I* should
be a mangaka...
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Quick Plot Overview: So much for a normal walk in the forest. As is
normal per Akane's life S.R. (Since Ranma), she becomes enchanted,
and when she starts fading from existence altogether, what is she
to do!?
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To ask for a normal day in Nerima, Japan, was like asking for the most impossible thing in the world. The ridiculous were more possible than an aforementioned "normal day." And since this was the era Since Ranma, even days that started *out* normal became twisted and strange. Whether abnormal days were defined by monsters, ghosts, spells, crazy fiancees, curses, or poisoned food, there was not a moment without excitement in the Tendo home. True, a fair share of excitement had happened before Ranma ever showed up in Nerima, but much of it wasn't to be remembered in comparison.

Akane wanted to get away from all this madness one day. She decided to take an impromptu walk -in the Japanese national forest- alone. She threw a few snacks in a knit bag she had, grabbed her wallet, and hopped on the bus that would take her past the outskirts of Tokyo, and into a nice, quiet forest. Past all the big city sights and sounds, beyond perverts, lechers, fiancees, and curses.

She must have walked for over a quarter of a mile before she decided she was hungry. She found a nice place -a clearing on a hill, overlooking the gray smudge that was Tokyo. Akane wedged herself into a comfortable position for a moment, thinking that she had sat on a rock or something of the sort. But the moment she shifted her weight to one side, the ground underneath her became loose --and
Akane fell through a hole in the hill.

If anyone had been witness to her fall, they didn't move to help.

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"Hey Kasumi?" Ranma walked into the kitchen casually, his eyes drifiting from the backyard, which one could see from the kitchen window, to the veranda, where his father and Mr. Tendo sat quietly
playing Shogi.

"Hmm?" Kasumi said, just barely cocking her head in Ranma's direction. She was busily stirring a thick stew, alternating her glance from the boiling mixture to the age-old notebook once belonging to her mother on the countertop nearby. She seemed perfectly comfortable just *standing there,* not doing anything other than stirring.

"Uh, where's Akane?" Ranma tried to ask without sounding worried. But in truth, he was. A little. A very small, minor-- ah, heck, he was worried a lot. He hadn't seen her since after breakfast, and even
then, she hadn't said much to him. He'd casually checked the house-- her room, the dojo, and the roof- and finally the bathroom, relieved though that she wasn't in there, waiting to mallet him for trying
to get a peep of her body.

"Hmm... haven't seen her since after breakfast. But I imagine she went for a walk of sorts... her shoes are missing and she took those leftovers from last night that she said she liked."

Count on Kasumi to make astute little observations that were both logical and plausible. Ranma grinned to himself, keeping his hands shoved in his pockets to maintain a "casual" look.

"Did she say where she was going?" Ranma asked again, leaning against the doorway. It was a lovely day outside, and Ranma hated to be stuck indoors-- but unless there was a reason to go outside,
Ranma figured he could simply *avoid* all the normal hassles of his life.

"No... I don't even know when she left." Kasumi murmured. Ranma seemed disappointed with this answer, and left with a frown. Strange.

It wasn't as if Akane *had* to tell him whenever she went somewhere. But based on past experiences, his gut told him that every time she didn't, something *bad* ended up happening. Of course, that was also true for when she DID tell him where she was going-- or when she simply stormed off after he'd said something stupid again...

It just didn't settle well with him, that was all. Was it wrong for him to be worried about his *fiancee?* Of course not. But, he'd never admit any of that out loud under normal circumstances. Never.

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When Akane came to, everything was dark-- and hard. It seemed as though the ground she'd been sitting on was an unstable piece of earth just above a cave-- and it seemed as though the only way out
was up.

Sadly, when Akane looked up to inspect the distance between her and the hole she'd fallen through, she was dismayed to see that it was well above her head-- at least five meters, if not more. She'd fallen on a patch of soft, green moss, so that had broken her fall.

What was worse was that the cave seemed so wide that she wouldn't have been able to climb up the walls and reach the hole if she tried-- she'd only succeed in falling and doubtless hurting herself more.
It was times like these when she wished she had trained with Ranma or her father more for aerial assault attacks, or balance practice. Such techniques would surely come in handy in an unstable,
deep underground cave.

From what little light came filtering through the hole so high above Akane, she judged it was getting to late afternoon-- and she would be expected home for supper. But she didn't have a cell phone, and calling upwards would no doubt only give her a sore throat.

Akane moved to check her purse for anything that might be of use when she noticed that it hadn't fallen with her-- and was, unfortunately, sitting on an overhanging rock just next to the hole in the ceiling of the cave.

"Oh, shoot." Akane cursed. She scanned the cave once more just to be sure there were no handholds to grab onto and climb up. Akane stared mournfuly at her purse, and the wallet dangling out of it. It was perched quite steadily on the rock that held it so high above her, so there was no real chance of loosening it.

Akane sighed and started down a corridor, in the hopes that she might find another way out-- and up.

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Ranma must have been wandering around downtown Nerima for at least an hour and a half-- it was almost sunset, which meant suppertime. Akane still wasn't home from her impromptu walk, and
she hadn't called, or anything.

It wasn't as if she needed to be babysat, Ranma reminded himself. Plenty of times she'd gone out with her friends and had come back safe and sane -er, sound- without a scratch on her. But it was the
principle. He worried, and for once, he was letting it get to him. It wasn't as if he'd go around asking people if they'd seen "a petite, uncute tomboy with short, black hair and big, brown eyes."

Then again, such words would probably conjure the aforementioned tomboy out of thin air just in time to knock him into Lower Earth Orbit.

Ranma sighed. He had to head back to the dojo now-- not because he wanted-- the day was still pretty nice, and it was likely that Akane had since called or come home in the time he'd been outside-- but
because it was the right thing to do. He had to keep telling himself that Akane was a big girl, and could take care of herself.

Somehow, the message just didn't seem to be getting through.

Two hours later, the stars were out, and there was still no sign of Akane. Soun had started wailing by now, especially after Nabiki had called all of Akane's friends and not gotten an answer as to her whereabouts.

Kasumi simply stood in the kitchen, fretting. She had long since cleaned up supper, and now had nothing to do. But idle hands made her worry increase tenfold, and with everyone suddenly aware of Akane's lack of presence, it made the air charged with a sort of electricity, generating worry and confusion from person to person.

Wiping the counters clean one more time, Kasumi set down her rag and made her way to the dojo. She was not at all surprised to find Ranma in there, but, he wasn't practicing martial arts. Rather, he was sitting, his back to her and the sliding door, rifling through something.

Kasumi was less than a meter from Ranma when he growled, obviously frustrated. An entire shoebox of tourist trap brochures and Tokyo maps flew into the air, scattering about the polished dojo floor.
"Oh my!" Kasumi said reflexively, and she bent down to pick the maps and guides up.

"Kasumi?" Ranma turned around and stared at the eldest Tendo sister, embarassed. He started helping her pick up the maps, and once they were all in the shoebox once more, Kasumi sat down on the floor next to Ranma.

"I take it you had no luck." She stated simply, and in response, Ranma nodded solemnly.

"I thought I knew Akane-- what she liked, where she would go if she was bored... but I've been everywhere; Nabiki's already called Akane's friends... this just... it isn't right. If something big had happened, I'd know about it by now."

"Hmm. Well, I suppose we should think positively, in which case, we assume Akane is safe, but she is lost, or perhaps unable to reach us."

"But from where...?" Ranma mused, his bent arms catching his frowning face in their hands.

"We must... think like Akane." Kasumi suggested, a thoughtful smile on her face. She sat there in the same position as Ranma, looking more graceful however, considering Ranma's hunched, squished position.

"'I'm an uncute, unsexy tomboy who likes to mallet her fiancee into lower earth orbit...'" Ranma mumbled in a high-pitched voice.

When Kasumi poked Ranma's shoulder in chastisement, he blushed.

"Sorry."

"Though she may not be here to hear it *this time,* it would hurt her just as much to know you speak of her that way to her own family. It seems that you mean it more each time you say it."

Kasumi clucked her tongue and looked at Ranma with a disapproving stare, which made Ranma want to sink even further into his shoes.

He was getting berated by Kasumi!

"...I guess... I really don't mean any of it. I mean, I... it's just 'cause I can never say what I really *want* to say *when* I want to say it, an' then..." Ranma trailed off. Though Kasumi was the most trustworthy member of the Tendo household, and was both patient and logical, he couldn't just tell her how he felt about... about...

"If Akane wanted to get away from such insults... away from all the craziness that this life-"
"You mean *me*." Ranma interrupted, a serious frown on his face. Kasumi shook her head slightly, but continued.

"... that this life brings her... where would she go?" One hand holding his chin, Ranma resumed his thoughtful position.

'If I were Akane, and I wanted to get away from me...'
Kasumi had a serene smile on her face while Ranma contemplated "Akane-like" options. He suddenly jumped up and snapped his fingers.

"I got it!" He ran out of the house as fast as he could, barely managing a "Thanks, Kasumi!" as he did.

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Akane had been wandering for quite some time now, and instead of gray-black caves with no light, she found herself walking on precarious paths through dimly lit corridors. The light itself was mysterious-- it seemed to be emanating from the very walls itself, or the rocks embedded in them. It was a filtered, yet clear aquamarine light, beautiful and mysterious all at once. It lit the stalactites and stalagmites coming down in sharp points from the ceiling and the floor, and the pools of water that gathered underneath them.

She wasn't at all surprised to find a sort of brook of underground water; she surmised this was one of the many springs under Tokyo that made the surrounding area such a popular resort region. However, the rocks made Akane wonder why this place wasn't a mine... didn't anyone know about these strange jewels here?

She took the few loose rocks she could find lying around and placed them in her jacket pocket. Perhaps later, she could have them taken to a jeweller and made into a bracelet or hairpin.
Akane found herself before a fork in the tunnels, both of which looked quite long. She could only hope that she'd soon find an exit. Thankfully, the cave didn't seem to be entirely closed, for there was oxygen to breath-- not once since her fall had Akane felt light-headed or woozy. She pulled out a palm-sized rock that she'd picked up, and pretended to use it as a dowsing ball.

"Which tunnel should I take to find my way home...?" Akane asked in an eerie monotonous voice. To her surprise, the rock suddenly *glowed* on the right side of the stone. Akane stared at the right tunnel, and as if it were calling her, she stepped forward.

The surroundings didn't seem to change at all for all of Akane's walk through the right-hand tunnel. In fact, everything seemed so repetitive, Akane found herself wanting to just sit down and sleep. However, she knew that it was dangerous-- whether or not the tunnels had water and oxygen was beside the
point; she had to keep going, and get home before anyone worried.

'Not like anyone *would* though,' Akane thought to herself dismally. She had been alone for so long in this cave, it was getting to her.

Her thoughts raced; would Ranma worry? Her father would probably be in tears, but Soun, getting older, tended to cry about a lot these days. Who would believe him if for once his tears might be justified?

Nabiki would call whoever she knew-- but no one would know where she was. That was the whole idea, Akane remembered; she wanted to get away from people. She wanted a day just to herself, with no fiancees, no spells, curses, schoolwork, poisoned food, or insults.

The thought of Ranma calling her an unciute tomboy reminded Akane- would *he* be worried about her? Would he look? Every other time Akane had gone missing, there was usually some phoenomenal
misunderstanding, and Ranma and plenty of others witnessed it with their own eyes.

Case in point- when Akane had gotten "kidnapped" by Kirin and his Seven Lucky Gods Martial Artists from Nekonron, China. Ranma and everyone else in the Nerima Wrecking Crew had been witness to
that, and it was all because stupid Happosai had cheated a young girl out of a happy future.

But now... no one had seen her. She hadn't *told* anyone where she was going. She was all alone.

Akane looked up dismally, expecting to see a dead end. Rather, she saw a pile of rocks, and what was most assuredly a framework of a mineshaft.

"Wh-What...?" Akane ran her fingers over the old wood, and broke out into a grin. If perhaps she could remove all these rocks, she could get out! She didn't know how far she was from the hole she'd originally fallen into now, but if she got out, and got home, she'd be free!

Not one to cry over a broken nail, Akane eagerly dug in and started removing rocks from the top of the pile, placing them in pyramid-like mounds behind her.

However, this work proved to be more tiring and lengthy than she could have imagined. Every time she removed a rock, another one fell down, and when she thought she cleared a row, there was another,
thicker, bigger rock behind it. Akane sighed, but refused to give up so close.

Over an hour had passed since Akane had begun digging, and a shaft of light poured through into the cave, blinding her for a moment. She stared through, and, ecstatic that she'd found an exit, picked up the pace. Dirt from the top of the mineshaft that had pushed onto the old and rotten wood fell down in sprinkles, but Akane was too busy digging to notice.

It wasn't until a cold, slimy feeling on her neck did she stop.

A soft hissing sound startled Akane into stillness, and when the feeling on her neck *moved* she realized there was a snake on her neck. It was no bigger than a Garter snake, about as long as a pencil and as thick as her middle finger-- but this one had a large, triangular head and pit-shaped eyes. What was more-- it was glowing.

Even in the aquamarine semi-darkness of the corridor, Akane could visibly see the tiny rocks embedded in its scales, enhancing its shine... and its menacing, depthless eyes.

Akane stared back at the snake, unmoving. Her left hand was poised on a rock-- the rock separating her from the outside world she'd been part of for the past seventeen years. It was a light enough rock-- and Akane had a firm enough hold on it to be able to lift it.

Perhaps if she grabbed the rock quick enough, with a simple martial arts reflex, she could flick the snake off, and then smash it.

However, before Akane could make any such move, the snake opened its wide, fanged mouth, and sunk its teeth into the tender flesh of her neck.

The rock fell to the ground with a clack, and Akane collapsed bonelessly to the floor.

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Ranma was chastising himself triply as he walked through the cool and dark forest not too far from Nerima. Akane must have just hopped on the tour bus that went around the outskirts... its stop wasn't that far from here. However, since it was so dark and cool, particularly this late in the summer, it was practically impossible to search properly without a flashlight.

Though Ranma wouldn't admit it (and it wasn't as if there was anyone to admit anything TO out here in the middle of nowhere),he was getting pretty cold-- a feeling which only increased his worry about Akane, who'd been out here for way too long, considering how nice and warm it had been earlier in the day.

Ranma was looking for any sign of his missing fiancee when he not-so-gracefully tripped and landed face-first into a pile of dirt. Ranma rubbed his sore back as he sat up, and glared at the thing he'd tripped over, as if it would make it cower in fear and apologize for tripping the great Ranma Saotome.

At least there was no one there to witness his sudden klutz attack.

To his surprise, the aforementioned object was not natural-- it was a purple knit purse, with the contents spilled out all around it. Next to the purse was a hole-- looking much like a trap of sorts.

When Ranma peered into the hole and found a familiar wallet perched on a rock sticking out of the soil near the rim of the opening, he opened it--

"Akane!" He called, desperation creeping into his voice. He couldn't see the bottom of the hole-- and that was what worried him. Ranma searched about frantically for a moment, before finding a small
twig. He tossed it down, and heard it hit the ground after a few seconds.

"Three and a half meters? God, I hope I don't break a leg--" And with that, Ranma slipped down the hole, holding Akane's purse in one hand.

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When Akane came to, everything was groggy-- the walls around her seemed to slip and slide like oil on water, and the colors: black, gray, aquamarine, and white... they all blended together in some fantastic abstract painting with no true shape or form. Dazedly, Akane reached for the rock that would lead to her freedom, and when she toppled out of the tunnel, she fainted once more, the black spots crouching in on her vision finally getting the best of her.

When Ranma found her, he'd been calling her name for over ten minutes, running though the slippery, aquamarine-lit tunnels. He didn't stop and look at the rushing spring, the shaprply pointed stalactites, or the shining jewels embedded in the rock face-- that is, until he came to the fork in the tunnels. The ground was all rock, too, so there was no way to see which way Akane had gone.

"Maybe if I think like Akane..." Ranma tried, remembering what Kasumi had told him earlier. He closed his eyes and tried to think of Akane... ignoring all his idiotic thoughts and stupid reasons about why he shouldn't do so; why he shuldn't be worried, and why he shouldn't even be looking. He was here now, and so was Akane, and that was all that mattered.

He found himself leaning towards the right tunnel, and so that was where he ran. The surroundings seemed to be the same as before, he noted, even though he hadn't really taken them in. A source of
white light seemed to be getting stronger, but when Ranma reached it, he paled considerably and fell to his knees.

Akane lay crumpled on the ground, her neck bleeding profusely.
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End of Part 1: The Caves

What do you think so far? I already have all the action plotted out for Part 2: Disappear, coming soon. Email me and tell me what you think, and be sure to check out my site!

azurite_moon@yahoo.com