Ogre's Blood

By Edward Simons

Based on characters and situations created by
Takahashi Rumiko and Kusunoki Kei. Ranma 1/2 and characters
copyright Shogakukan, Kitty Animation Circle, and Takahashi
Rumiko. Ogre Slayer and characters copyright Shogakukan,
KSS, TBS, and Kusunoki Kei. This story revised 2003 by
Edward Simons.

***

Warning: This fanfic features graphic violence.
This should not surprise anyone familiar with the Ogre
Slayer manga or anime.

***

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

***

Akane fought with all the strength she possessed,
raining blows on the woman's arms, but it did no good. A
woman with long blue-black hair knelt above her, gripping
Akane's throat with both hands. Akane's lungs were about
to burst, her whole chest was on fire, but even as she
battled for survival Akane wondered why the woman was
crying. Her attacker's tears fell on Akane's cheeks like
warm salty rain, but the woman never stopped in her grim
purpose.

Over her attacker's shoulder, Akane saw something
else. Her vision had grown too blurred to tell what the
white object was, but it frightened her in a way that even
the crying woman did not.

Akane continued struggling against the grip squeezing
the life out of her, but her blows grew steadily weaker.
Finally the Tendo girl's arms fell limp and she ceased
moving. Even then, the longhaired woman maintained her
grip and continued crying.

Akane woke with a start. She was covered in sweat
and every hair felt as if it were standing upright. The
girl coughed, sat up and massaged her throat with her hand.
She took several deep breaths before noticing she'd thrown
the blankets off as she struggled in her sleep. As she
looked around in concern for her pet P-chan, he
unhesitatingly leapt into her arms. The small black piglet
looked a little battered, but he didn't seem to blame her.
As she clung to the only being that listened to her, Akane
began to cry. The dream was occurring more and more
frequently.

***

Ranma was rude at breakfast and Akane heard a voice
inside, urging her to punt him into the koi pond. As
usual, she gave in to her anger and a dripping Ranma
stalked upstairs to take another hot bath and change into
another set of dry clothing.

As he passed Akane, she heard him mutter, "Uncute,
violent tomboy. Who'd wanna marry a violent chick like
her?"

Akane was ready to strike him again when she saw the
disapproving look in her sister Kasumi's eyes. The look
reminded her of something, something she couldn't remember.
It also angered her as a voice inside murmured away.

You should hate her, too. She stole Tofu from you.
That's right, stole him and she did it without even trying.
And the way she rubs it in that's she's so much better than
you are at cooking. Oh, she never *says* anything, but
that look, that smile, she knows she's so much better than
you are. How can you put up with it? Don't forget she
pushed you into this stupid engagement with that perverted
jerk Ranma. You should do something.

The sharp snap of her chopsticks breaking interrupted
Akane's thoughts.

"Akane, are you alright? Have you hurt yourself?"

Kasumi tried to look at her younger sister's hand,
but Akane yanked it away.

"I'm fine! I don't need any help!"

Even Akane was surprised by the way she raised her
voice to Kasumi.

***

It was late afternoon when Ranma entered Ukyou's
restaurant. Her reflexive smile melted as Ranma shuffled
closer and dropped onto a stool in front of the counter.
Darkness lined his eyes.

"What's wrong, Ranchan?" Ukyou began the ritual,
creating one of Ranma's favorite okonomiyaki.

"Nothing."

His eyes remained downcast, even when the food was
placed sizzling in front of him.

"Ranchan." Ukyou stared at her fiancé until his gaze
lifted. Their eyes locked and then he looked back down at
the counter. Ranma took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

"You got enough to worry about, Ucchan."

She didn't reply and eventually Ranma, tired of the
silence, looked at Ukyou again. Concern and caring filled
those beautiful gray eyes, reminding him why he called
Ukyou his cute fiancée.

"I'm worried about Akane," he whispered.

Ukyou struggled to keep the hurt from showing in her
face. Why didn't he worry about her like this?

"What's wrong, Ranchan? Did you have another fight?
Has Akane been hitting you again?"

"I dunno, Ucchan. Maybe she is."

"What?"

"Remember when I told you... No, wait, the old letch
got to Nerima before you did, Ucchan."

"Happosai?"

"Yes. The old pervert tried to sleep in Akane's bed
disguised as her pet P-chan. Me and Ryouga were gonna stop
him, but Akane beat up the old pervert in her sleep. At
first I thought that was funny." He smiled wearily. "And
it was so long ago I almost forgot about it. Then it
started again, Akane fighting in her sleep, when Nabiki was
my fiancée."

"Ranchan, have you been spying on Akane while she was
sleeping," Ukyou growled.

"Um, no, I, well, I got my sources, but I ain't no
pervert and if I was gonna peep it sure wouldn't be at an
uncute girl like Akane."

Ukyou's expression softened, and a smile tugged the
corner of her mouth. "What about a cute girl, Ranchan?"

"Hey, I said I ain't no pervert, Ucchan."

"Oh." She stared at the counter for a moment, then
met his gaze again.

"Well, um, that only lasted a little while," Ranma
continued, "the dreams of fighting, I mean. The same thing
happened right after Hinako became our teacher but it
stopped again after a bit. Then it got really bad after
you and me and Akane went on that trip, the one where
Ryouga showed up and we all went through that really
strange tunnel. I hear Akane's been fighting in her sleep
almost every night since then. I don't know who she's
fighting, but something's wrong and I don't know what to
do."

"Ranchan, it's not like you to be so worried, it
makes me..."

"Normally it wouldn't bother me, Ucchan, but P-ch...,
I mean Ry..., I mean the person who told me is getting
really nervous about it. It's just, I dunno... No one has
the same nightmare every night. I don't know who she's
fighting, but something's wrong and I don't know what to
do."

"Ranchan?" Ukyou swallowed, unable to speak at
first. "You...you're right, Ranchan. Its...there is
something wrong. I can't really say why, either, but
somehow I know you're right. I...I don't know if I can
help, but Akane's my friend, even if we are...well, if I
can help, I will, Ranchan."

***

"A fool and his money are soon parted."

Nabiki looked up from her English homework and
smiled. Even the Americans could come up with words of
wisdom. She stood, stretched, and looked around her room.
The radio on her dresser, the computer on her desk,
several of the nicest clothes in her closet, all provided
by various fools.

The words summed up her life quite nicely. Actually,
making money was so easy it wasn't even interesting
anymore. Kinnosuke was the only one she'd found remotely
challenging, but most people she knew were complete idiots
like Ranma or Kuno. She had increased her income again
when she started selling pictures of Ranma to Ranma,
promising to keep them out of Kuno's hands. She didn't
tell Ranma she had already sold copies of the same pictures
to Kuno.

Ryouga was the only person she couldn't make money
off of, but only because he never had any. Even an
experienced businesswoman like Ukyou could be fleeced if
you told her Ranma was involved.

Nabiki sighed. There wasn't any challenge anymore.
She stretched again and walked to her window. Spring was a
beautiful time, but something seemed wrong. No birds were
singing and beneath one of the trees in the yard, barely
visible in the fading sunlight, stood a tall, dark-haired
boy wearing traditional samurai garb and carrying a sword.

Nabiki rushed downstairs. She didn't know which
annoyed her more, Kuno trespassing or the possibility he
might have gotten smart enough to take his own pictures of
Akane or the pigtailed girl. She opened the sliding door
and ran into the yard, but the trespasser had disappeared.
Now that she thought about it, she wasn't certain it was
Kuno. Still, who else dressed like that?

***

"Hello, Akane," Kasumi smiled cheerfully. "Dinner
will be ready shortly. We expected you home from school
hours..."

Kasumi's smile faded and the mixing bowl fell from
empty fingers, shattering on the kitchen floor. Akane
stood white-faced, trembling. The front of her school
uniform was splattered with a dark liquid.

Blood.

Akane sank to the floor as rubbery legs failed.
Kasumi knelt worriedly, examining her sister for injuries.
Thankfully, Akane appeared unharmed.

"What happened, Akane? Who got hurt?"

The younger girl shook her head, not wanting to
speak.

"Please, Akane."

"Ko...Kodachi."

"What happened?"

"She...she was chasing me and then I turned. I...I
didn't even hear her scream."

It took a little longer for Kasumi to coax the
location out of her sister.

"Nabiki, I'm getting Akane to bed. Call Dr. Tofu.
Let him know where Kodachi is. I hope she's not hurt too
badly." There was an urgency in Kasumi's voice the others
hadn't heard before.

***

An hour after sunset, Ranma approached the Tendo
house. He reached for the doorknob, but someone opened it
before he could touch the door. Soun Tendo stood there
with an expression Ranma had never seen before. "Ranma,
where have you been?" he bellowed. "You left Akane alone
and unprotected!"

"What?"

By now Soun had activated his angry his angry demon
head technique. "Don't you care what happens to Akane? My
little girl could have gotten killed!"

Ranma raised his hands in warding gestures. "I got
no idea what you're talking about!"

Soun dissolved into tears and it was Genma's turn to
berate Ranma. "This is all your fault, boy. How could you
let Akane be in such danger?"

"Huh?"

"You know how bad she is at fighting. You need to
protect the girl you're going to marry."

"Who says I'm marrying anyone, Pops, especially an
uncute tomboy like Akane?"

"How could you say that about my little girl?" Soun
wailed.

Ranma looked back and forth between the older men,
trying to understand what the problem was this time.
Kasumi defused the situation by providing a brief
explanation, but the knowledge didn't make Ranma feel any
better.

***

Dr. Tofu reached the Tendo home later that evening.
Soun seemed unusually subdued. Nabiki and Genma's
expressions were harder to read. Kasumi and even Ranma
appeared nervous. Everyone appeared eager to see Tofu.

"Doc, tell me Akane's wrong. Nothing really happened
to Kodachi, did it?"

Tofu didn't answer Ranma, but took a cup of sake
right out of Mr. Tendo's hands and drained it. Soun was so
surprised by the doctor's unexpected rudeness that he did
nothing. Tofu motioned for a refill and when Kasumi
obliged he drained that, too.

Tofu looked bleakly at the others.

They want me to tell them everything is alright.
They expect me to have all the answers, but this is too
much like...no, no, I don't want to think about that.

"How is Akane?" Tofu whispered hoarsely.

"Sleeping," Kasumi replied.

"Does she...does she remember?"

"I...I don't think she does...at least not much,"
Kasumi continued.

"That's good, that's very good." But Tofu's eyes
were fixed on Soun, who said nothing, but just stared at
the floor.

Ranma broke the silence. "Doc, what about Kodachi?"
She was the only girl pursuing him that he didn't
particularly like, but he didn't want her to be hurt.

Tofu turned his eyes on Ranma and the younger martial
artist fell silent. Tofu had found Kodachi before the
police or anyone else did. He wanted to forget the girl's
blank, staring eyes. At least the head, though bloody, was
recognizable. The rest was torn remnants scattered down
the blood-spattered alley. Tofu shuddered, trying to
imagine the force needed to inflict such horrific damage.
He'd seen this pattern of injuries before, somewhere, if
only he could remember where...

"Doc?" Ranma's worried question brought Tofu back to
his surroundings.

"She's gone, Ranma."

"Are you sure, Doc?"

Tofu refrained from laughing because he wasn't
certain he had the strength left to stop. There wasn't
time for that. Some thing was loose in Nerima and Tofu had
people he cared about who needed protecting.

***

Akane wasn't in school the next day or the day after
that, but Nabiki turned a tidy profit selling information.
Furinkan High normally hosted several fights a week, but
this level of viciousness was unheard of and fear permeated
the student body. The atmosphere was particularly
oppressive for the trained martial artists who could sense
the chi energies of the others.

Tatewaki Kuno was stonefaced, silent. His father,
the Principal, had donned a dark suit instead of his
traditional wildly colored Hawaiian clothing. He was quiet
and never mentioned haircuts or Hawaii. The unexpected
normality made the students even more nervous than his
typical bizarre behavior.

***

Miss Hinako would have drained Ranma and Ukyou's chi
for being disruptive, but she didn't teach every class.
The other teachers resorted to the traditional punishment
for students talking during the lesson, making them stand
in the hallway holding buckets of water.

"Sorry, Ranchan, I didn't mean to get you in trouble
by asking those questions in class, I just had to know what
really happened, not just the story Nabiki is selling. The
rumors are so wild and I...I want to hear the truth. I
need to."

After a lot of coaxing, Ranma repeated what he knew.
He censored the more grisly details, but even the edited
story was grim.

"Tofu...he doesn't think it's human?" Ukyou's voice
was barely audible, yet urgent.

"Yeah, but Tofu wasn't dumb enough to tell the cops
that," Ranma replied. "Ucchan?" She'd gone pale, and then
the pails of water fell forgotten from Ukyou's hands. The
pails bounced against the floor and Ranma leaped backwards,
avoiding the cold water. Unfortunately, his movement meant
water sloshed out of the buckets he held, triggering his
Jusenkyou curse, washing away his manhood.

"Hey, what did ya do that for?" a rather damp Ranma
demanded in a higher pitched voice.

Ukyou didn't reply. She still hadn't moved. Ranma
took a half step forward, and Ukyou grabbed him and wrapped
her arms around the boy turned girl. Ranma tensed,
remembering all the times Shampoo had grabbed him like
this, and how all those incidents ended in a battle, a
squabble with Akane, or another scheme of Shampoo's to
trick him into marriage. But he felt Ukyou trembling, and
it reminded him far too much of his own reaction to cats.
"Umm, Ucchan are you..." Ranma paused. Obviously, Ukyou
was not alright. "Ucchan? Hey, are you crying?"

"And the tears aren't even for her, they're for me,"
Ukyou whispered hoarsely. "Don't you get it, Ranchan?
Whoever...whatever did this, I...I don't think I can stop
it. I don't want to end up like Kodachi."

"Ucchan, ain't nothing gonna..."

"Ranchan," her gaze bored into his eyes, "Ranchan,
something always seems to happen to us...to us girls, the
ones who lo...who like you. Toma, Tarou, Kirin, those ugly
ninjas, the Ghost Cat...this is like that only...only a
lot...a lot..." She couldn't find the word she needed. "I
don't know why. I just feel that way. It got Kodachi. It
almost got Akane. Who's next?"

"Ranchan, I don't want to be alone." Ukyou's fear
was clearly genuine. Ranma didn't believe in premonitions
any more than he believed in destiny, but he knew he had to
say something. His mouth opened, then closed, and then he
finally found the words.

"Don't worry, Ucchan. It'll be okay. You'll see."

Maybe Ucchan will feel safe if she stays at the
Tendo's. After all, she took them in when they needed a
place to stay. Akane probably won't like it, but it's not
like she's gonna kill me or nothing.

***

"You got some pictures of Ukyou holding Ranma."

Gosunkugi nodded response to Nabiki's command.

"I need three, no, four sets of prints made and I
need them before the end of school. You already have the
prints of Kodachi for me."

It wasn't a request and the skinny boy handed them
over. His face looked green, far more color than he
usually showed. Gosunkugi slumped against the wall and put
a hand over his eyes. He took several slow deep breaths
before he spoke.

"I won't do that again. Not for anything."

Nabiki concealed her emotions behind her professional
business manner. For a coward like Gosunkugi to refuse to
do anything was surprising, but she had no intention of
allowing anyone to see she that could be surprised.
Instead, she stared at him. Gosunkugi flinched as if he
sensed her gaze, but refused to look at her.

Nabiki shrugged. She was good enough at reading
people's body language to tell Gosunkugi wouldn't budge on
this matter. After a pause he spoke again.

"I...I think you should burn them. Those pictures, I
mean. I...I...it was horrible. I can't eat...not since
then. It comes right back up. And...and...Akane...it
could have happened to her, too."

Nabiki's face was a mask of indifference as she
opened the folder. The pictures were worse than she
expected, but she could still turn them into something
profitable.

***

Akane woke to the sound of faint but angry voices
coming from somewhere downstairs. Light streaming in the
window showed it was early afternoon. Eavesdropping on the
conversation downstairs would be rude, but anything was an
improvement from the horrible dreams. Akane rubbed the
sleep from her eyes, pulled on her bathrobe, and snuck down
the stairs. From the stairwell, Akane was now close enough
to the family room to understand their words.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Tofu? Akane
doesn't remember." Soun's voice had become quiet, but was
full of anger.

"For her sake, I hope you're right. After what
happened to her mother, it's best if she doesn't remember
anything."

"Quit worrying, Tofu. Even with everything that
happened, she doesn't remember. Besides, I don't see how
remembering what happened to Setsuko could be any worse
than actually seeing what happened to Kodachi."

Akane sat down on the stairs in confusion. Of course
she remembered her mother dying, she had visited her in the
hospital. That was about all she recalled about the woman.
She'd told Ranma that she remembered her mother well, but
that was a lie, an attempt to be better than Ranma at
something. Akane wished she could remember more about her
mother, but the only scenes Akane could pull from her
memory were unpleasant and frightening visits to a weak and
dying woman.

Akane paused in thought. Actually, she couldn't
recall anything before her fifth birthday party, but she
knew that her mother's name was Kumori, not Setsuko.

***

The roof was Ranma's refuge, a place of comparative
peace, where he sometimes had the time to think. He stared
up at the darkening sky, at the first hints of starlight,
but there were no answers there.

Who would of thought Mr. Tendo would be so
unreasonable about the whole thing? After all, Ucchan let
the whole Tendo bunch stay at her place after Mr. Tendo
lost the house to the Gambler King. Ok, the only one
Ucchan let stay was me. Pops and the others just showed up
and set up camp until Nabiki won the house back from the
Gambler King.

But now Mr. Tendo says he ain't gonna let Ucchan stay
over, not after the mess last time she showed up. And
Akane decked me with the table and said I was a pervert,
that I just wanted to fool around with Ucchan.

I didn't do nothing with Ucchan, not while Akane
missed school, not when I stayed at Ucchan's place, not
when she stayed here, not ever. Why won't that stupid
tomboy ever trust me? Sure, Nabiki sold her that photo of
Ucchan hanging on me, but Ucchan was just scared and
besides we were both girls at the time.

Ranma sighed in frustration.

I ain't never seen Ucchan scared before. If she's
right, she and Akane and Shampoo could all be in danger.
No, Shampoo will be alright, she's an Amazon warrior, and
Cologne and Mousse ain't gonna let nothing happen to her.

Akane ain't near as good, all she can handle is a
couple sumo wrestlers or the kendo club. Then again, Pops
is pretty good and Mr. Tendo has to be some use in combat
and they ain't gonna let anything happen to Akane.

The only time Ucchan needed my help was against those
ugly ninjas. She's about as good a fighter as Shampoo, as
long as Ucchan has her weapons, but all she has for backup
is Konatsu. He doesn't like fighting. He was even raised
as a girl. He's a great spy, but only a decent fighter.

Eventually, Ranma reached a decision, but by then it
was too late.

***

"What brings you out this late, Nabiki?"

"I hoped that you could answer some questions, Dr.
Tofu."

This would be easy. Tofu actually liked giving
people information. He was a nice guy, but she couldn't
understand why he gave away information for free. It was
like he didn't even care about making money from his
knowledge.

The doctor relaxed visibly and Nabiki realized he had
thought something had happened to someone else. She
glanced into the darkened streets. They appeared empty,
but she wasn't sure of that anymore. Suddenly, home seemed
unpleasantly far away and money less important than
survival.

Neither of them spoke for a moment.

The doctor sighed, "That depends on the questions,
Nabiki."

"Why are you so worried about Akane remembering?"

"What was done to Kodachi was..."

Nabiki threw the sheaf of photographs onto Tofu's
desk.

"Don't lie to me. I'm not stupid. You and my dad
aren't worried about Akane remembering that. What could be
worse than this?"

Nabiki jabbed an angry finger towards the photos.

"This is bad and you're worried about it for
everybody's sake, but something else has you worried about
Akane."

"You won't let this go, will you?" Tofu frowned.

"I could get the information out of my dad, but I'd
rather do this without the big emotional scene."

"Tell me, Nabiki, have you seen a boy dressed in dark
blue? Sometimes he wears a school uniform and sometimes
traditional samurai garb, but it's always dark blue and he
always carries a sword."

"It sounds like Kuno."

"It even looks a little like Kuno."

***

There was a sharp crack and the last practice dummy
lay splintered on the dojo floor. Akane was perspiring
heavily, but she still felt the tension inside. Anger made
her stronger, but normally she was able to work it off on
the practice dummies.

How could that jerk just disappear after dinner? And
he deserved getting pounded for saying how glad he was
Kasumi cooked the meal. You know he was insulting your
cooking by saying that. Now he's probably over at Ukyou's
and who knows what they're doing. Don't forget that
picture of the two perverts holding each other while Ranma
was in girl form.

"Jerk. Pervert," she growled as she mopped her brow
with a towel. She still needed to unleash on some kind of
dummy, but her targets were gone. The wooden ones were
shattered and the human target had disappeared after
dinner.

"Maybe going jogging will help me relax," she sighed.

Akane didn't think about how late the hour was or the
dangers that might slumber beneath a blanket of darkness.
Somehow, she felt sure that she was safe, sure that she was
strong enough, skilled enough, that she would not be
harmed.

She was wrong.

***

"What does this someone who looks like Kuno have to
do with anything?" Nabiki asked.

"Not someone, some thing," Tofu emphasized.

Nabiki didn't contradict him. She had studied the
photos.

"You know Akane is adopted."

"Of course." Nabiki sold semi-nude pictures of the
girl to Kuno. She pushed Akane into the arranged
engagement with that idiot Ranma. She charged Akane for
even simple advice. Nabiki would never do that to her real
sister Kasumi.

And Nabiki was certain other people knew as well.
Kasumi had been just as eager to pass the engagement off to
Akane and the younger girl was about the only person Kasumi
criticized in public. Even the old pervert Happosai
probably knew Akane was adopted. After all, he never tried
to grope Kasumi or Nabiki.

"So when did you find out, Dr. Tofu?"

"I've always known. Akane is my daughter."

***

It was five minutes before closing time at the
restaurant. The sliding front door was half closed, a not-
so-subtle hint that the owner needed to shut down for the
night. A middle-aged salaryman stepped through the
entryway and onto the sidewalk. After missing his train
home, the man had finished a late dinner and planned to
spend the night in a hotel, but he never reached it. His
body slammed against the sliding door, popping it from its
track and carrying it into the room with a crash.

The remaining occupants of the restaurant hesitated,
staring in shock, and then the screams began. The cute
waitress fell next as clawed hands shredded both flesh and
clothing and hurled the tattered remains across the room.
The young woman behind the counter shrieked a name while
the dating couple sitting in front of the counter seemed
frozen, unable to move.

The couple died first and quickly, but there was no
pity in that. A looming shape moved towards the last
standing person. She stopped screaming and held her
cooking tools as weapons in a pitiful attempt at self-
defense.

But she wasn't alone. Torn, battered, face a ruined
mask, the waitress lunged toward their attacker, trying to
interrupt the fatal blow. Claws sliced through the
waitress and into the girl behind the counter. Blood
sprayed and employee and employer fell together.

It was three minutes before closing time at the
restaurant.

***

"People tell me I don't look that old, but remember
I've been your family doctor for ten years, Nabiki, and I
had to finish medical school before that."

"My family, especially my mother put a lot of
pressure on my wife to produce a child. I didn't let their
nagging affect me, but Setsuko was upset by their words.
When we finally had a daughter Setsuko was very protective,
perhaps overprotective, of little Akane."

"All that changed just before Akane turned five. My
wife was found dead, her throat slit and Akane was lying
nearby. Someone had tried to strangle her and my little
girl was barely alive. When Akane regained consciousness,
she remembered nothing and I thought that was for the best.
After losing my wife, I was in no condition to raise a
child by myself. I turned to my old friend Soun Tendo and
his wife to raise my girl as their own and I hoped...I
prayed Akane would never remember the night she almost
died. The night Setsuko did die."

Tofu's eyes were moist, but Nabiki appeared unmoved.
"What does that have to do with the guy with the sword?"

"He kidnapped Akane the day before it happened and
Setsuko barely got our girl back. I'm sure his sword is
the blade that cut Setsuko's throat. After that I watched
for reports of similar events. The authorities try to hush
things up, but I found cases of people mutilated like what
happened to Kodachi. A few people saw the boy with the
sword, though no one actually saw him kill anyone."

Now Tofu's periodic disappearances made sense to
Nabiki. He was seeking his wife's killer.

"Sounds like he may have finished off any real
witnesses, Tofu."

"That's what I thought, too."

***

The lights were on at Ucchan's, all the lights, even
though the restaurant should have closed five minutes ago.
Ranma's pace slowed as he sensed something odd, then he saw
the shattered door and the remains of something that had
been a man lying just inside.

"Ucchan!"

Ranma's cry faded into the darkness, but no one
responded. He charged into the restaurant, nearly tripping
over the remains of the door and the first corpse. Two
more bodies lay twisted in the middle of the floor amid the
splintered remains of the chairs.

Ranma took an involuntary step backwards, staring at
the bodies. Something had pulped their heads with inhuman
strength, decorating the floor with blood and brains and
pale white bits of bone.

Color drained from Ranma's face and for a moment he
couldn't move or speak or even breathe. The lower half of
a torso lay in front of the blood-soaked counter.
Intestines trailed over the counter and the still hot
grill. Ranma choked as a horrid burning stench assaulted
him.

A single leap carried him over the counter. Ukyou
lay beneath the top half of Konatsu's body, her face masked
in blood and other less nameable fluids. Ranma reached a
trembling hand toward the girl.

"Ucch..."

An unpleasant sizzling noise coming from the grill
was the only sound. Something in Ranma's stomach
congealed. He barely switched the grill off before he lost
his dinner in a loud and messy manner. When he finished,
Ranma realized he was kneeling in a pool of blood next to
his friends' bodies. He took a deep shuddering breath and
then...

And then he heard Ukyou moan.

***

Nabiki thought for a moment.

"Are you sure the swordsman is responsible, Tofu?"

"I saw Setsuko's throat. It was a clean straight cut
done to an unresisting victim." His words were clipped
short in anger.

"Which makes it not a bit like what happened to
Kodachi." Nabiki pointed at the pictures again. "We see
crushing and tearing done by superhuman strength. We see
jagged clawmarks. We don't see any clean straight cuts
like a sword would make."

"You...you're right, Nabiki. Then what's he doing
near these murders?"

"I'm not sure, maybe he's hunting whatever is doing
this."

"If he is, he's doing a lousy job of it." Rage
drenched Tofu's words. "Setsuko died ten years ago and
this thing is still out there killing people. And I still
think he killed Setsuko."

"Maybe that was an accident."

"Why should that matter, Nabiki? Why should I trust
him?"

"I never said I did, Tofu."

***

Something was wrong. Akane dropped her jogging
outfit into the clothes hamper and stepped into the bath,
but the warm water wasn't helping her relax.

I remember getting dressed. I remember leaving the
yard.

After that, everything was a blank until she stood in
front of the house again. Like when she found Kodachi, she
remembered everything that happened before and after, but
the actual events were hazy and unclear, as fuzzy as the
strange white object she saw in her nightmares, the thing
hovering over the shoulder of the crying woman who killed
her in her dreams.

Was I near the creature again? Is that why I can't
remember?

Akane shivered in water that no longer felt warm
enough. She sloshed out of the tub; dried herself with
quick, nervous motions; tugged on her pajamas and bathrobe;
and fled upstairs to bed. She needed sleep badly, but she
was afraid to dream anymore.

***

It took several tries to dial the paramedics; his
gore-covered hands didn't want to work properly. He
stammered the address then nearly collapsed into a sitting
position next to Ukyou. Part of Konatsu's body lay across
her legs, missing half the face. Exposed teeth and bone
smiled grimly at Ranma, but the remaining eye stared
accusingly at him.

Ranma chuckled nervously.

"Guess you showed me, Konatsu. I was raised to be a
man among men. You were raised to be a girl. Yeah, you
sure showed me. Some man I am." The words came faster,
almost tripping over each other. "You were man enough to
protect her, to die for her. I wasn't even man enough to
get here in time! She trusted me and I wasn't even here!"

He took a deep breath and continued in a slower,
quieter voice.

"I wasn't here when Ucchan needed me."

He finally dared to look at Ukyou. Her face was so
covered in blood he couldn't tell how serious her injuries
were. The front of her shirt was ripped open leaving no
doubt she was female. Claws had torn the flesh, but she was
still breathing. Ranma pulled his shirt off and laid it
gently over the girl who was both friend and fiancée. Then
he leaned back against the wall and tried to smudge the
tears away with the back of his hand.

All that accomplished was smearing blood across his
face.

***

It was hours before Akane reluctantly fell asleep and
far too soon the nightmare returned. This time the white
thing over the woman's shoulder was clearer. A woman's
face made up in white, with painted on eyebrows far too
high on the forehead to be real. A face from the far past,
from the samurai era. Unlike the crying woman, the painted
face seemed gleeful at destroying Akane. Then the face
split and changed. It was blood red, with horns and fangs
and huge staring eyes.

An Ogre.

Not like the mischievous creature that possessed
Kasumi so many months ago. That was nothing. This was a
real Ogre, strong and malicious. It controlled the crying
woman. It reveled in death and pain and Akane was too weak
to stop it.

You have the strength within you. Strike back
against those that hurt you. Never be a weak, helpless
child again. Use the strength that anger gives you.

Then the images flowed into a new nightmare of blood
and death. Akane tried to scream, but she couldn't wake
up.

***

The paramedics mistook Ranma for one of the victims
and in a way they were right. He refused to be separated
from Ukyou and accompanied her in the ambulance. He didn't
remember how he got his shirt back or even putting it on
again. He planted himself in the room as the doctors began
working on Ukyou and forced himself to watch.

The hospital staff wanted him to leave, but something
in his eyes warned them not to try.

Ranma didn't notice Dr. Tofu arrive any more than he
noticed the passing time. Eventually the surgeons finished
and people filtered out of the room until only he and Tofu
stood in silence. The doctor watched the clock hands crawl
around their circle twice, then he spoke gently.

"She'll make it, Ranma. I think you saved her life."

"I...I...no...my fault...wasn't there...she needed
me, but I wasn't...it's...it's all..."

Tofu considered for a moment. The boy was near
exhaustion, which only heightened his fear and anguish.
Ranma wasn't doing anybody, especially himself, any good by
staying here. Tofu's hands swiftly touched a series of
pressure points, muting the emotional pain and making Ranma
more susceptible to reason.

"Here, Ranma, let me get you cleaned up."

Ranma didn't resist as Tofu wiped the worst of the
blood off Ranma's face and hands. Tofu used the
opportunity to confirm that Ranma had no physical injuries.
The boy and his clothing were still a mess, but the rest of
the cleanup would have to wait. During the whole process,
Ranma's eyes never left Ukyou's unconscious body. Left
alone he'd probably stand there staring till exhaustion
claimed him.

"Go home, Ranma. Sleep. Come back in the morning.
Please, Ranma."

Ranma objected, but eventually he left.

***

The house was quiet when Ranma snuck in. No one was
waiting up for him, though it was well after midnight. He
almost reached the room he shared with his father before he
realized he was covered with blood and gore.

Ranma retraced his steps to the bathroom.
Reflexively, he stripped off his clothes and hurled them
into the clothes hamper. He stepped naked into the tub,
not remembering to rinse himself off and not caring that
the water was cold. In a way, he was glad the water turned
him into a girl. Girls were allowed to cry and Ranma was
tired of holding back the tears.

Quiet sobbing disturbed the silence and tears he
would have denied mixed with the bathwater. Ranma washed
herself slowly, but she didn't feel clean. She stopped and
stared at her hands, imagining Ukyou and Konatsu's blood
covering them.

Exhausted, Ranma leaned back against the side of the
tub and fell into much needed sleep. She didn't wake until
she heard Akane screaming.

***

Cologne stared at the girl on the bed. Her great-
granddaughter Shampoo slept peacefully, but that wouldn't
last. Cologne had visited the hospital and the morgue.
Kodachi and so many others were dead. Ukyou was fortunate
to be alive. She was the second of Ranma's suitors to fall
and Cologne didn't expect her to be the last.

Ranma would be foolish enough to get in the way of
the thing that did this and then he would die. Not might
die, would die. He was so cocky and overconfident that he
would expect it to be like every time he faced a human
opponent. This wasn't human, it didn't understand mercy or
pity or honor. It would gut him before he could learn its
weaknesses. Assuming it had any weaknesses.

If only I was still seventy, I'd be fast enough to
defeat it.

But Cologne had passed seventy long ago and she had
no intention of fighting a losing battle. Shampoo would
fight with her Airen and die with him unless Cologne acted.

It took moments to pour the water and lock the cat
into a cage. Shampoo howled and hissed, but she had no
chance of escape.

"I am sorry, great-granddaughter, but this is for the
best. We will be returning home."

The cat was silent for a few seconds and then began
yowling in anger and frustration.

***

Kasumi heard her sister scream and rushed to the
bathroom, abandoning the breakfast she had been preparing.
Akane was already storming back to her room, muttering
'pervert' and other less pleasant words.

An unconscious naked girl-type Ranma leaned against
the side of the tub. The water was pale pink, but when
Kasumi hauled Ranma out, she found no signs of injury
except for a lump on Ranma's head where Akane glanced the
wash bucket off her skull.

Kasumi sighed, recalling Akane's regularly broken
promise not to strike anyone in anger, and wrapped a spare
bathrobe around Ranma. The red-haired girl was heavy, but
Kasumi still managed to carry her upstairs to bed. Only
then did Ranma groan and regain consciousness. Kasumi
found Ranma's timing frustrating, but she chose to let the
anger go. Keeping it inside would hurt Kasumi and letting
it loose the way Akane did would hurt others. She knew
Ranma hadn't meant to make life harder for her.

Ranma bolted upright.

"Aaagh! What time is it?"

Kasumi told Ranma, who began running around
frantically, grabbing clothing seemingly at random and
pulling it on. Kasumi sighed again and left the room.

By the time Ranma came thundering down the stairs,
Kasumi had a lunch packed for her. To Kasumi's surprise,
Ranma almost didn't stop for it. There was barely time to
pour some hot water on Ranma before he rushed out the door.

"Thanks, Kasumi," he yelled in a much deeper voice,
as he leapt over the front gate and into the street.

***

The teacher droned on, but Akane's thoughts were
elsewhere.

First Ranma had tried to peep on her in the bath.

He's an arrogant, perverted jerk. You know you'd be
better off without him.

Then Kasumi had lectured her about hitting Ranma.

Why does she always take his side? He deserved it
and it's not like you did anything wrong. The jerk didn't
even shown up for school to explain the homework you
missed. He doesn't care about you. He's just goofing off
somewhere. Your father is stupid to expect he'd be any
help running the dojo. You don't need Ranma. You don't
need anyone.

Ukyou hadn't shown up for school, either.

Akane wanted to get angry about that, too, but
something hovered at the edge of her memory. The dreams
from last night, full of sorrow and pain. Somehow, Akane
knew something had happened to Ukyou.

Suddenly, Akane felt very cold. A boy in samurai
garb was staring at her through the window. The boy that
was not Kuno balanced effortlessly on a tree limb three
stories above the ground and stared into the classroom.
His face showed no expression, but his eyes seemed to
radiate sorrow.

Akane stopped breathing for a second. This boy with
the sword terrified her in a way that nothing else ever
had, not even the endless nightmares of being murdered by
the woman with hair as blue-black as her own. Dark dreams
of being strangled by her own mother.

Where did that thought come from? Mother looked like
Kasumi. The dream woman couldn't be my mother.

Akane screamed as buried memories came rushing back
to her. The rest of the class stared at her in confusion,
not noticing the boy perched in the tree, head bowed in
sorrow.

***

"She's awake now, but keep your visit short."

Anyone who knew Ranma would have been astonished to
see him quietly nod and slip into the patient's room. He
remembered Dr. Tofu's words far too well. Most of the
injuries were superficial, but not all.

He paused in the doorway and gazed at Ukyou. She
shifted nervously in the bed.

"Who...who's there?" Throwing spatulas materialized
in Ukyou's hands and she prepared to hurl them towards the
noise.

Ranma stared at the floor and mumbled his name. The
weapons disappeared.

"Ranchan? Come in. Please, come closer."

He obeyed and she fumbled till she grasped his hand
with hers. Ranma was surprised at the strength of Ukyou's
grip, but years of wielding a heavy battle spatula left her
quite well muscled.

"You came." The fierce happiness in her voice made
him feel even more guilty.

"S...sorry, Ucchan. It was...I was too late.
I...I'm..." Ranma paused and took a deep breath. He
didn't know what to say, so he turned to leave, but Ukyou
would not release her grip on his hand.

"They told me what happened. You saved my life,
Ranchan. You stayed with me till the doctors were done
working on me."

"No, Ucchan. I didn't do nothing. Konatsu saved
your life. He was the real man."

Ranma's face twisted in a self-mocking smile, but
Ukyou didn't notice.

"So he's gone, too. I thought so, but things
happened so quickly."

There was an unhappy pause before she spoke again.
"Sorry about your friend Hiroshi."

"Hiroshi?"

"He was there with his date. They seemed so happy."

Hiroshi has been more an acquaintance than an actual
friend, but Ranma paled at the loss.

"You're blaming yourself, aren't you, Ranchan? I
understand. I couldn't save him or anyone else. And
Konatsu sacrificed himself..."

Ranma remained silent. Anger gave Ukyou strength and
she pulled the boy closer. He landed on his knees beside
the bed, his face inches from her. Ukyou used her free
hand to gesture toward the bandages covering her eyes.

"They told you what'll happen when these come off,
didn't they?"

Ukyou took the choked sob as a yes.

"Ranchan, I'm tough enough to live with it. If I can
do that, so can you. Promise me you'll stop blaming
yourself. Please, Ranchan."

Ranma nodded and then mumbled, "Yes."

Ukyou smiled and relaxed a bit. If Ranma didn't
blame himself, she could accept blindness and continue on.
No, she knew she was lying to herself.

What use is a blind martial artist? How can I cook
when I can't see the food or the grill? Ranchan would be
better off if that thing had finished the job. He doesn't
need a helpless fiancée and I don't want him all torn up
worrying about me.

Ukyou did not appreciate the irony. A few days ago,
it gnawed at her that Ranma never seemed to worry about
her. Now that he was, it hurt even worse.

***

Kasumi was a patient person or thoughts of violence
would have filled her mind. Actually, they did, but the
images were not of any violence Kasumi might inflict and
the girl was quite disturbed by her discovery.

Ranma's bloodstained clothing had been tossed into
the hamper directly on top of Akane's jogging outfit. Both
sets of garments were coated in blood and it would be
difficult getting the stains out now they had dried.
Kasumi dropped the clothing into warm water, trying to soak
out as much of the stains as possible before washing.

As her body dropped back into the familiar but no
longer comforting routine, her mind raced. Kasumi reminded
herself that Ranma had showed no signs of injury. A
suspicious person might draw other conclusions from Ranma's
bloodstained clothing. When he was in the Cat Fist State
the boy was capable of inflicting severe damage and he
didn't recall his actions afterwards.

Kasumi suppressed the thought and began running
through a mental checklist. Everyone in the household also
appeared uninjured, though neither Ranma nor Akane seemed
to have slept well. Dr. Tofu could take care of himself,
but something had happened to someone, and she couldn't
pretend everything was alright like she usually did.

But she tried. The girl pulled the rest of the
clothing out of the hamper, trying to drown her worries in
the familiar routine of housework. More was going on than
people were telling her; unpleasant, dangerous, frightening
things. They weren't even trying to keep secrets; they
just seemed to have forgotten her again. She was tired of
being taken for granted. Kasumi sighed and continued
sorting through the laundry. She still had a lot of chores
to do, even if no one seemed to appreciate her work, and
she prayed she'd get some explanations soon.

Sometimes getting what you wish for is a bad thing.

***

Nabiki was going out on a limb, an actual tree limb
of one of the tallest trees on the school grounds. She
glanced nervously down at the three-story drop to the
ground. Normally, Nabiki picked the time and place for any
confrontation to assure herself of every advantage, but
there wasn't time to make sure she was in control of this
situation and this time she was gambling with her life.

Her research showed a lot of effort had been made to
cover up some very bizarre deaths. Nabiki wasn't
surprised, the government probably wanted to avoid panic
and anyone publicly claiming there were monsters running
around would become unemployed if not institutionalized.
It was surprising just how old some of the incidents were.
Some predated the Meiji Restoration.

And the boy with the sword had been seen that far
back, too. He must be at least one hundred and fifty years
old, which meant he probably wasn't human either. When he
appeared the attacks stopped. In only two cases had Nabiki
found evidence of people's deaths being caused by a sword.
One was Akane's real mother, Setsuko Ono.

"Who are you?" Nabiki's voice was not as steady as
she wanted. "What are you doing here?"

The boy turned and she was relieved he didn't draw
his weapon.

"I have no name. Only the sword has a name.
Onikirimaru, the Ogre Slayer."

This doesn't sound good. I'm not sure he's even
sane.

"Listen, 'Mister No Name'. I need to know what
you're doing here."

"I am here to kill the Ogre."

This was getting frustrating. "Why do you want to
kill the Ogre?"

"I don't want to. I have to. Only by killing all
the Ogres can I become human."

"All the Ogres in Tokyo?"

"All the Ogres in the world."

Great, I'm trapped on a tree limb with an immortal
lunatic. "All you have is some stupid sword and you plan
to kill all the Ogres in the world?"

"Yes." The boy's quiet confidence was more than a
little disturbing.

"So where is the Ogre?"

"Close, somewhere very close. I smell its presence
near the girl who gives it strength. Ogres are drawn by
your darker emotions: anger, hatred, jealousy, envy. She
does not intend to summon it, but it is easier for her.
She was born because an Ogre granted her mother's prayer.
Five years later the Ogre forced her own mother to kill her
so it could eat the girl."

"But Akane didn't die, Setsuko did."

"I gave the mother a choice. She gave her life to
restore her daughter."

Now it made a twisted kind of sense. Nabiki had
studied the police reports. The marks on Akane's throat.
Yes, it all fit.

"She has the Ogre's blood," the boy continued, "and
it calls to them. Anger and jealousy in any human can
cause an Ogre to form. And as an Ogre once helped to give
her life, now she is giving another Ogre life by these
emotions."

Suddenly, the boy leaped from the branch, leaving
Nabiki with unanswered questions and her heart hammering in
her chest. She swallowed and glanced down, wincing at the
sight of the forty-foot drop.

The Ogre Slayer was unharmed; his attention already
focused elsewhere. Silently, relentlessly he followed the
frightened girl with short blue-black hair who was running
from the school grounds.

Nabiki edged back towards the trunk of the tree,
until she could feel its rough surface and lean against it.
When she finally dared to look again the others were gone.

***

The phone rang once before Kasumi answered.

"Yes, Akane came home a few minutes ago and went up
to her room, even though school won't be out for a couple
hours yet."

"Get out of there now, Kasumi." There was something
in Nabiki's voice that Kasumi had never heard before.

"Don't you think you're overreacting, Nabiki?
Something bad may have happened to that Kodachi girl, but
nothing would ever happen here." But doubt tinged Kasumi's
voice.

"I'm not overreacting; I'm just not sure which one is
more dangerous."

"I don't understand. Just tell me what's wrong."

"I don't have time to explain, just find Daddy and
get out of the house."

"But what about Akane..."

"Trust me, Kasumi, I've never lied to you. If you
see a boy who looks like Kuno, stay out of his way. And
let Akane sleep. She needs it and nothing will happen
while she is asleep."

"But..."

"I promise I'll explain when I get there.

Kasumi still didn't understand, but Nabiki had
already hung up and begun dialing another number.

***

Akane collapsed onto her futon. Too much was
happening for her to understand. Her real mother had tried
to kill her. Tofu was her real father. Nabiki and Kasumi
weren't her sisters. Soun and Kumori weren't her parents.
It was more than she was ready to deal with and soon the
weary girl fell asleep. Unfortunately, that meant dreams
came.

***

Ukyou was almost asleep when the nurse announced a
phone call for Ranma. She had held his arm for so long he
had lost circulation in it, but he was reluctant to let go.
She only seemed to relax and feel safe when he was touching
her.

"I'll be right back, Ucchan." He never intended that
to be a lie.

Ranma stretched and began massaging the pins and
needles feeling out of his arm. He moved slowly to the
phone, but his whole demeanor changed after he picked it up
and heard Tofu's urgent claim that Akane was in danger.

Ranma turned towards Ukyou's room, frozen in
indecision. He didn't want to leave her unguarded, but
Tofu claimed the danger was at the Tendo home.

"Sorry, Ucchan," he whispered and rushed out of the
hospital.

Ukyou was alone again and she could no longer sleep.
She had overheard enough to know something was wrong. It
could only be the creature that had filled her final sights
with blood and pain. But where had Ranma gone, the Cat
Cafe or the Tendo home? And if she figured that out, she
still needed to acquire clothing and transportation, then
persuade the hospital to let her go.

It was a hopeless task, but so was her ten-year quest
to find Ranma. She just didn't have anywhere near that
much time.

***

This dream was so clear that Akane didn't realize it
was a dream at first. She watched helplessly as events
replayed.

She had been angry with Ranma for disappearing after
school.

"I wonder who that stupid jerk's flirting with this
time," Akane muttered. She was sure he did it just to
irritate her. Irritation turned to anger when she heard
the unpleasant cackle of Kodachi's laughter.

Akane leaped aside, narrowly avoiding a razor sharp
gymnastics hoop. Kodachi followed with a rain of clubs
that forced her to retreat down the alley.

Why does this always happen to me? It's not fair!

She was furious because Ranma wasn't there to help
her, but as she avoided the various gymnastics tools thrown
at her, a change came over Akane.

You don't need that pervert. You have all the
strength you need to get rid of Kodachi. Don't go running
to that jerk Ranma. Use your anger, it makes you strong.
Go ahead. Show them what you can do.

Akane stopped running. She was tired of Kodachi's
harassment and the gymnast deserved to be beaten. Then the
locked away memories of horror began as hands that weren't
really hers ended Kodachi's mocking laughter forever.

***

Ranma arrived just after Tofu, forcing Nabiki to
repeat her information. As she continued, Kasumi and Ranma
paled. Tofu wore a hard, determined look. Unnoticed by the
others, Genma assessed his chances of beating a real Ogre
or someone who'd been killing them for a couple hundred
years, then used the opportunity to flee. Soun degenerated
into wailing about his poor little girl.

"She's my little girl, Soun," Tofu sighed wearily,
"And I'm going to save her."

"You may be too late," said the ageless boy with the
sword.

Ranma and Tofu took defensive postures, eyeing the
boy warily. Neither had sensed his approach, and that was
more than a little disturbing. Nabiki knew this was
probably the most people to ever see the Ogre Slayer at one
time. Kasumi stepped between the Ogre Slayer and the
others.

"But you don't know that it's too late."

"No."

"Kasumi get back, Tofu begged. "Don't trust him.
You don't know what he's done. He's dangerous."

"Look at his eyes," Kasumi replied. "He doesn't
enjoy this." Then Kasumi's expression hardened and she
turned toward her sister. "Nabiki, get Father out of here
now."

When she turned back the Ogre Slayer was gone as
silently and mysteriously as he had arrived.

***

Nabiki had pulled her feebly protesting father
through the gate and started down the sidewalk when a
delivery van screeched to a stop, missing her and her
father by inches. Soun decided this was an excellent time
to faint. Nabiki had her mother's courage if not her
compassion and just stared as Ukyou climbed out of the
passenger seat. The girl was barefoot and the shirt and
pants she wore over the hospital robe were borrowed, but
she carried her weapons.

Ukyou knew several other restaurant owners and food
suppliers and had most of their phone numbers memorized.
Kyoujin had high quality seafood and a reputation for
driving like a maniac. The ride to the Tendo home was the
third most terrifying experience of Ukyou's life.

"Ranchan, are you here?" There was something in her
voice, a mixture of hope and fear.

Nabiki studied the other girl, cataloging her
injuries. She didn't know what had happened to Ukyou,
though she could guess. Events were coming too swiftly for
the Tendo girl to keep track of and she didn't like that at
all.

"Ranchan," Ukyou repeated plaintively.

"He's at the house," Nabiki replied.

"He's going to fight the Ogre." It wasn't a
question.

"Then he's insane," Nabiki answered.

"Where?"

"You're crazy, too."

"Where?"

Nabiki pointed reflexively then let her arm drop.

"Just tell me where he is," Ukyou pleaded.

"Turn to your right. A little farther. Now
straight."

Nabiki watched in amazement as the blinded girl
inched forward, using her battle spatula to probe the
ground in front of her. Konatsu would have understood her
reasons. Nabiki didn't.

For a moment, Nabiki was certain she and her father
were the only sane ones around. On reflection, she dropped
her father from that list. Nabiki had never fought a
battle she wasn't sure she could win and she wasn't about
to start now.

Beneath her cold exterior, Nabiki prayed to anyone
willing to listen that her sister Kasumi would survive.
She didn't expect it to work. 'Love conquers all' was an
empty saying that had nothing to do with real life. Not
even money conquered all.

***

She spat out blood and limped forward again.
Refusing to accept defeat, Shampoo flung her battered body
against the cage, but as a cat she lacked the strength to
free herself. All but one of her front claws were gone,
splintered or torn lose from her attempts to pry the wire
cage open from the inside. For the last several hours,
she'd been trying to chew through the wires and the
hopeless attempt had left her mouth a torn and bloody mess.

Her great-grandmother had explained about the
creature that was killing and maiming and she knew Ranma
would fight it. Cologne was sure Ranma had no chance, even
with Shampoo's help.

Sorry, Airen. I want to be there with you. I don't
care what great-grandmother says, I have faith in you. And
even if she's right, even if you fail, there are worse
fates than dying by your side.

The cat flung itself into another useless attack on
the cage. When this attempt proved no more effective than
any of the others, she collapsed and began crying.

***

Ukyou shrieked as hands grabbed her. She struggled
frantically, but not for long.

"Shhhh, Ucchan. It's me. You're ok. You just gotta
be quiet."

This time the girl's shriek was of glee and she
wrapped herself around Ranma. The surprised boy fell
backwards into the grass.

"Umm, Ucchan. You shouldn't be here. It's not
safe."

"Of course it's not safe, you dummy. It's not safe
for you, either."

Ranma's reply was muffled as the blinded girl found
his lips with hers. Ukyou expected to die in the next few
minutes and that gave her a boldness she had never shown
before. There was no way she could express a decade of
pain, longing, love, and loneliness in one kiss, but Ukyou
tried.

***

Akane woke, certain she sensed a dark malevolent
presence in the room. Outside the window it was a bright
warm spring afternoon, but she felt cold and alone. The
house was empty, even her pet P-chan had disappeared.
Akane stumbled to the window and flung it open, hoping the
air and light would make her feel better.

Instead, the light seemed bright and glaring and she
squinted in pain. Instead of pleasant warmth, the heat
felt heavy and oppressive. The fresh blooming flowers
smelled noxious instead of pleasant. The calls of the
startled birds turned to harsh and angry cries as they
fluttered away. Droning insect noises battered at her
ears.

The nightmares had deprived Akane of sleep. Lack of
sleep lowered her emotional defenses, making her more prone
to strike out in anger. Anger fed the Ogre, giving it the
strength to craft darker dreams and whisper words of
violence in Akane's mind. Twice before, Akane's anger
reached the point where the Ogre could manifest. The first
time gave it only seconds to do its work. The second time
it was able to act for considerably longer. Some people
claim all things come in threes.

Akane looked out the window at Ukyou and Ranma lying
in the grass below. Ukyou was kissing him passionately,
her body molded to his, and he wasn't exactly trying to
push her away. The Ogre whispered to Akane, but it didn't
need to this time.

You see them betraying you. Now! Use your strength.
Use your anger. Destroy them.

It was years since Akane attempted to repress her
anger. Unsurprisingly, she failed to restrain it again,
but this time two more people would die and a third would
be shattered. The bestial roar of the Ogre drowned Akane's
cry of rage. Something bulged between her shoulders and a
grotesque form flowed upwards, materializing into the
massive chest and arms and misshapen head of an Ogre. It
loomed above the girl, mocking gravity, yet still attached
to her.

The creature lunged forward, shattering the glass and
stretching towards its prey.

Ranma saw the Ogre hurtling down towards Ukyou and
himself, its fanged mouth open in a snarl of rage and its
eyes burning with hatred. He froze for an instant, shocked
by the ferocity of the unnatural beast. Ukyou tensed;
understanding something was dreadfully wrong, but helpless
to prevent it. Ranma grabbed her and rolled to the side.

The Ogre almost missed.

***

Tofu was halfway up the stairs to Akane's room when
he heard the scream, the roar, and the shattering glass.
He vaulted up the remaining steps and burst through Akane's
door just as he heard Ukyou scream.

Akane stood near the window. She pivoted slowly
towards Tofu, her eyes blank and staring, her fists
clenched in anger. The torso of the Ogre bonded to her
stretched upwards behind her and out the window like a huge
blood red snake. Tofu's healing skills were useless in
this situation, and he had no intention of using martial
arts against his only child. That left one option.

"Akane, its me, Dr. Tofu. I'm your father. Please,
we need to talk."

The blank eyes shifted and Tofu thought he saw
something behind them.

***

The Ogre howled in rage and frustration as its claws
sliced empty air. Its prey was barely out of reach. The
monster continued flailing away, trying and failing to
stretch just a little farther.

"Ranchan, what happened?"

Ukyou made an effort to remain calm. She'd heard the
window shatter above her and the monster's howl and then
Ranma grabbed her and rolled to the side. Now he lay
heavily on top of her and he had stopped moving.

"Ranchan?"

He groaned before he spoke. "I'm...fine...Ucchan."

It was a lie and she could tell it was a lie.
Ukyou's hands brushed his back and came away wet and
sticky. The Ogre's claws had sliced Ranma's back open in
three different places. Glass shards had struck him there
and in the right arm and leg, but by some miracle his spine
and internal organs had avoided damage.

***

Tofu kept his voice calm and even as he tried to
reason with Akane. He thought he saw some glimmer of
recognition in her eyes.

I'm getting through to her.

He was right. That's why the Ogre determined to
silence him. Flesh flowed and the creature re-entered the
room. It whipped past Akane, striking for Tofu.

Tofu continued talking, even as he shifted into a
defensive stance. No one in Nerima had seen his martial
arts before because he hadn't needed them. Cologne would
have described his ability as adequate, high praise for an
outsider male less than half her age. Instead, she was at
the docks, buying passage home to China.

Tofu's form seemed to blur as he dodged between the
raking claws. His whole body moved at nearly the speed
Ranma achieved with his hands using the Chestnut Fist
technique. The Ogre's claws splintered the desk and bed
and gouged furrows in the walls and floor. Tofu was
unharmed. All the Ogre accomplished was preventing him
from talking to Akane, but that was enough.

Tofu spun forward in an acrobatic leap. This time a
single claw razored across his cheek, drawing a line of
blood, but he'd hit the Ogre in four different pressure
points. Any one of the four would have killed or paralyzed
a human.

It wasn't human.

***

The noises coming from Akane's room proved Tofu was
still fighting. Ranma and Ukyou stumbled to their feet,
grateful for being ignored. Ranma felt light-headed and
almost didn't realize he was leaning on Ukyou.

I haven't got time to be weak. I gotta save...

He had too many people to save in his current
condition. The claw wounds were bleeding far more than
normal injuries did.

"You can let go, Ucchan. I can walk by myself. You
get outta here. I want you to be safe."

"You're still trying to fight that thing, Ranchan?"

"I have to after what it did to you."

"I don't see how you being dead makes up for me being
blind!"

He didn't have a response for that.

***

The Ogre was unfazed, but Tofu was fairly certain
that pressure points would still work on Akane. It would
be easy to kill her or cripple her for life. Immobilizing
her without causing damage would be challenging and risky,
but Tofu was willing to attempt it.

He leaped toward the monster, twisting in mid-air to
avoid the Ogre's claws. Unfortunately, it had another arm
and those claws sliced for Tofu's head. Instinct made him
interpose an arm in a parry.

The claws tore it off just below the elbow.

***

Kasumi stood halfway up the stairs, afraid to advance
but unwilling to retreat. She didn't think Tofu knew she'd
followed him, and now her nice well-ordered life was being
torn to pieces around her. After her mother's death and
her father's increasing emotional instability, Kasumi had
attempted to fill the role of parent in the household. It
was too much to ask of any nine-year-old, but Kasumi had
done a better job than many adults could have.

Now everyone was depending on her again. Kasumi
wanted to flee down the stairs like a frightened child.
Instead, she moved upwards, stopping only when she heard
footsteps on the stairs behind her.

Ranma looked paler than Gosunkugi normally did and
only Ukyou's assistance prevented him from collapsing.
Bandages hid Ukyou's eyes and her movements betrayed other
injuries. Kasumi gasped and rushed down the stairs.

"What are you two doing here? You both belong in the
hospital."

"Ranchan won't leave until we get you out of here,
Kasumi."

"And I gotta save Akane," Ranma mumbled, "Gotta beat
the Ogre."

"Ukyou, can't you see what happened to Ranma..."

"No, I can't," she replied bitterly. "I know it
isn't good, but Ranchan won't quit trying."

"I don't care how stubborn Ranma is, Ukyou, if we
don't stop his bleeding, he isn't going to make it."

Ukyou turned nearly as pale as her fiancé. Kasumi
regretted her words, but they produced the desired
response. Ukyou lay Ranma down on the stairs as gently as
she could and pulled off her borrowed shirt. Even blind,
she could use her sharpened mini spatulas to shred the
garment into makeshift bandages. One by one, she passed
them to Kasumi, who worked as rapidly as she could. Normal
wounds didn't bleed this heavily, and there was so much
blood.

"Is it enough, Kasumi? If its not..." Modesty was
irrelevant if the borrowed pants or the hospital robe were
needed for more makeshift bandages.

"I think I've stopped the bleeding, Ukyou, but you
must get Ranma out of here now."

Ukyou nodded and slung the vainly protesting boy over
her shoulders. She gasped as one of her chest wounds
reopened and turned back down the stairs. Ukyou moved a
step at a time, feeling her way forward in her permanent
darkness. The task took enough concentration that she
didn't realize Kasumi wasn't following.

***

Tofu's torn body lay forgotten in the corner, but he
was still barely conscious. Through half open eyes, he saw
Kasumi enter the room. He opened his mouth to protest, but
his voice was an unheard whisper. Kasumi had no chance
against this thing.

This is my fault. After Setsuko's death I had a
choice. Ami asked me to marry her. She said she'd be glad
to help raise little Akane. I wasted time wallowing in
grief and anger until Ami was gone forever.

Tofu remembered an empty pill bottle and the final
desperate note of a friend who had wanted to be so much
more. He silently mouthed an apology.

Soun promised he'd take care of my little girl and
maybe if his wife had lived...

Regrets couldn't change the past. He expected Kasumi
to join the list of dead or maimed, but somehow she
remained alive. Tofu was so weak he couldn't make out the
words, but Kasumi's gentle reasoning was winning the
battle, Akane was fighting the Ogre's control.

Then Tofu noticed something silhouetted in the broken
window. The Ogre Slayer balanced there with drawn sword
and time seemed frozen for a moment.

***

Ukyou reached the outer wall and felt her way along
it until she found the front gate.

"You still there, Ranchan?"

"Gotta go back. Gotta help..."

"You have to go back and help Akane and Kasumi," Soun
wailed.

Ukyou wanted to hit the man, but her battle spatula
lay abandoned on the stairs. She couldn't even give him an
angry glare with the bandages covering what remained of her
eyes.

"Shut up, Daddy," Nabiki interrupted. "They're
obviously in no shape to try. You could always go rescue
her." No one noticed how worried she looked.

Nabiki turned to the wounded. "I called the
paramedics." Ukyou dropped to her knees as sirens wailed
in the distance. She laid Ranma down carefully, pillowing
his head in her lap. She was tired, so very tired. She
wished she could see him. She wished she could tell if he
was alright.

"Ucchan, you're bleeding," Ranma murmured, raising
his hand to touch a spreading stain of red that marred the
white of the hospital gown. Tears flowed from beneath the
bandage covering her eyes and he wished he could wipe them
away. "Sorry, Ucch..." His arm dropped and his
consciousness faded. She didn't reply, but slumped forward
over the boy. Even unconscious, she didn't let go of him.

***

Soun found no reply to his daughter's rebuke. Nabiki
had never spoken to him like that, but he knew he deserved
it. After his wife died, he had busied himself doing
nothing, nothing of importance. The days blurred into a
gray sameness as his children struggled to become adults
without his help or guidance. He'd grown lazy and cowardly
and his children were paying the price.

Sorry, Kumori. I've become so much less of a man
since you died. I just tried to send a blind girl and a
maimed boy to do what I should have already done.

His thoughts were interrupted by screams coming from
the house and he imagined his late wife's face frowning at
him, instead of smiling as she had in life. He couldn't
bear that. Soun rushed forward. He'd finally found his
lost courage, but he'd found it too late.

***

Time seemed to pause and then it moved with
horrifying speed. Kasumi hesitated when she saw the Ogre
Slayer. The Ogre sensed his presence behind it and
attacked first.

The boy dove to the floor as claws raked the place he
had just been. Splinters of wood and glass tumbled through
the air. The torn remnants of the window frame were still
in midair when the Ogre refocused its attention on Kasumi.
Screams erupted from the throats of all three humans, but
only one found the strength to act.

He'd lost Setsuko, he'd lost Ami, but Tofu refused to
lose Kasumi. He launched himself forward with desperate
strength, interposing himself between her and the Ogre.

***

"Kasumi!"

Soun couldn't find his daughter on the main floor of
the house. He hesitated at the foot of the stairs, noting
a staggering trail of blood drops going halfway up the
stairs, ending near a pile of shredded strips of cloth.
Soun whispered his daughter's name, and then he heard
something and moved swiftly to the dining area. The
sliding door was open and he saw Kasumi standing outside
near the koi pond. Her back was turned, but she was softly
humming a happy tune. Soun smiled, exhaled in relief, and
called his daughter's name, but she didn't respond.

"Kasumi," he repeated.

"Yes, Daddy?"

"What happened, Kasumi?"

"Don't you think Dr. Tofu has nice hands, Daddy?
He's such a handsome man, but I think I like his hands
best. They're so strong, but so gentle. I'm going to
marry him someday, Daddy."

Soun paused, feeling a chill even though the spring
day was warm.

"He's such a nice man, Daddy." Kasumi began humming
again.

"Kasumi?"

"Yes, Daddy." His oldest daughter turned, the wide
smile on her face a stark contrast to the blood splashed
across her face and arms and drenching her clothing. She
lovingly clutched a severed arm to her chest.

"See, Daddy, I told you Tofu has such nice hands.
Did I tell you I'm going to marry him someday? He's such a
nice man."

***

A boy with a sword stood alone in the ruins of a
room. No, he was also surrounded by memories of the dead.
He didn't know how long he'd been alive, but the killing
never seemed to end. No matter how many Ogres he
destroyed, he could never finish the job.

He'd waited, given the humans a chance, no several
chances to help the girl seal the Ogre away. He'd hoped
that his method wouldn't be needed, that the girl could
survive, could live a normal life.

But how many had paid for his attempt at mercy, paid
in blood and pain and death? How much had the girl herself
suffered, because the Ogre Slayer had dared to hope she
could be saved. Kasumi's attempt to free her sister only
meant that Akane was conscious for the final events, awake
enough to scream, but not to halt the monster's rage. Only
the Ogre Slayer was able to do that.

The boy knew what would happen when he killed the
Ogre, but that hadn't stopped him. He wanted to be wrong,
but he knew he was too late. The Ogre had lived inside of
Akane for years, feeding on her rage. By the time it grew
powerful enough to manifest itself, their bond was too
strong. Ending the Ogre's life had ended the girl's.

This Ogre would kill no more, but as the Ogre Slayer
looked at the fallen girl, he mourned at another life cut
short. The words Setsuko Ono had screamed ten years ago
were engraved in his memory.

"No one is taking Akane away! She won't die! I
didn't go to the shrine and pray for a daughter just to let
her die!"

The girl's death had become necessary, but it brought
him neither enjoyment nor satisfaction. The Ogre Slayer
merely looked human, but he understood and felt sorrow.

That still hadn't stopped him.

***

No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.
But I know none, and therefore am no beast.

Richard III

***

Notes:

Akane and Setsuko Ono appear in the third episode of
the Ogre Slayer anime, "Chapter of the Ogre Witch." The
father is unnamed and his face is unseen. The end of the
episode occurs about ten years after Setsuko's death. We
hear the father has remarried and Akane seems to be an
ordinary teenager, but the Ogre Slayer is still watching
her.

Kumori means 'shadow of the cloud'. Mrs. Tendo's
name is never given in the anime or the manga. Kumori
seemed appropriate since all the other Tendos are named
after types of clouds. Kyoujin means 'madman'. Ami means
'friend' and is even a real name.

Akane's beating Happosai up in her sleep occurs in
episode 58 of the TV series, "Room with a Zoo" and in
Volume 7 of the Manga. At the time, Ryouga says she
usually acts more violent when she is asleep.

***