Previous Section Index Next Section

The Unbroken Circle: Chapter Nine

Tomuraigassen

Part A

Disclaimer: Takahashi provided the paints, I'm just working on my own easel.

What has gone before:

After mastering the Umisen-ken, Akane faced of with Ryu in a duel. Once she won, she exchanged her knowledge of the Umisen-ken for Ryu's knowledge of the Yamasen-ken, and set out on a mission to find Nabiki, after convincing her father to stay home and start teaching classes again. After rescuing Nabiki, Akane returned home to find that Kasumi had gone into labor. Meanwhile, Ranma and the Orochi were removed beyond space by the N'Dori, and three months have passed in the outside world, during which time, Ukyou went into labor.

 

Previous chapters are archived at: http://ranma.stassen.com/uc/

Brief key, trying to stay simple.

<> frame thoughts.

"" frame speech

"{}" frame speech in Mandarin

 

"...Nine in the second place means:

To bear with fools in kindliness brings good fortune.

To know how to take women

Brings good fortune.

The son is capable of taking charge of the household..."

I Ching - The Book of Change

 

"And so killing the enemy is a matter of wrath.

Taking the enemy's goods is a matter of advantage."

Sun Tzu - The Art of War - Chapter 2

 

The problem, of course, was that a human body simply wasn't made to channel that much power. It was by design, it was certain, but that _was_ too much power to entrust a human to. Ranma couldn't think of anyone _he_ would trust with that power... or was it she?

It? No... he. Somehow. But this wasn't reality, not as Ranma knew it. It was color, and light, and sound... and not much else.

Colors would shift, bringing about an odd flood of sensation and then unlock another memory... but there it was. Memories from Shen-Lung, no less. And Ri-Riu, Shen-Lung's son, and his grandson, Tsuyoi-Ichiro, better known as Dakahoshi Akira.

He... no, she now. She could remember the time hanging in the Orochi's mouth clearly. She had jumped, not intending to be caught, but the serpent had been cautious to avoid crushing Ranma. For the power that her awakening would bring about _could_ be contained by the Orochi.

It had only meant to help, and Ranma had been irritated by Akane's initial interference, and then it was passed off as unimportant... except for the dreams. Ranma's mind had all-too-readily dismissed the calmness as nothing more than a bizarre side effect of a pitched battle with a multi-ton behemoth.

The Orochi was a Child of Aker, the dragon responsible for life. Its power was so great that even sleeping, it charged the water near it with the power of Life. It was not as pure a font as the one beneath Jusendo, but it was clean, and the Orochi's presence made it something more. In this place, with the dragon awake, Ranma was able to traverse the well of his ancestor's memories, those of Ri-Riu and Shen-Lung more easily than Tsuyoi-Ichiro's.

Ranma knew all this, without knowing how it... She? He? Such concepts didn't apply, here, anymore. But Ranma knew it, all the same.

***

Akane stretched languidly after waking, then gathered her things and packed them swiftly into her travel bag. It was a bit of a hike out to the woods where she was hiding, but in the long run, it was much safer than registering at a hotel. If her suspicions were correct, then the yakuza watched the majority of the people in the city, since this place was a stronghold of sorts.

Her cautious mental probe had revealed that the majority of the men in the building were armed, though only a few had firearms. Still, it only took one bullet...

Akane was able to avoid things like that, thanks to the spells that she had learned from doctor Tofu, but wasn't eager to test it. Muttering to herself, she activated Ban, and prepared her assault. The guards changed shift at seven A.M., which gave her half an hour to reach their compound, then another ten minutes to wait for any stragglers to leave. Attacking as the shifts switched out later at night seemed a tad melodramatic to Akane, and they would be expecting it less in broad daylight.

Aside from which, she wasn't planning on being subtle; this plan called for the good-old-fashioned Tendo brute-strength method. Which suited her mood just perfectly.

***

Shinnosuke watched a calmed Ranma walk out of the Orochi's open mouth, and across the surface of the lake. Where he had gone in unclad, he was now wearing a dark cloak that concealed all but his face and his feet.

The N'Dori made a satisfied noise, as Ranma retrieved his clothes and dressed. "Are you ready, now?"

Ranma spared the boy a glance, as his cloak seemed to fold away, disappearing. "I understand much more than I did before. I know... I know about the circle. Maybe even enough to break it, when I reach it."

The N'Dori laughed slightly, as Shinnosuke stumbled around in a small circle. "You do not understand. You will be broken thrice, and re-forged thrice. Your first breaking awaits. Go forth, Son of Machin, Son of Shen-Lung, Child of Machin. You will not break the circle, and you cannot truly know it."

The pigtailed boy frowned. "'Child,' and 'Son'? What is the difference?"

"Founder is Breaker. We are bound by your circle, Founder."

Ranma shook his head, turning away. "You have nothing useful to tell me."

The voice of the N'Dori became deeper, and resonated through the air, as the Orochi sank beneath the surface of the lake, "Use is relative. You will be broken, Founder."

Growling, Ranma began to march away, followed by Shinnosuke's laugh, joining the voice of the N'Dori.

***

She had had many names throughout the years, in numerous lives. The Silver Witch. The Hunter's Daughter. Ingrid, once, on an island further away from China than the one she was on now. And this time, fortune was not with her.

On this island, when she was reborn, she was caught by manipulators as she began to mature, and regain her memories of the past. Caught by selfish men, who bound her to their cause before she was able to escape. Now, no longer the 'Bane of C'fai,' as she was once known, she was Nozomu Okibi.

A child esper. A young 'special.' A slave.

But there was someone out there who bore the mark of one she had traveled with in her youth -- one of her youths -- one touched by the master of the Band of the Dead, which she had once joined, just before the battle of Sekigahara. And she was there for the battle, as well. Not many remembered the true battle, the real one that was hidden, in so many senses, behind the petty politics and fancy maneuverings of the government at the time.

She did. She remembered very well when the master of the Band of the Dead lead her, then the Silver Witch, and their companions fought what the Master had termed 'a temporal transgressor,' and she had considered a paradox. But she remembered the battle, the blood, and the ability to call the flame. All other abilities paled compared to the flame.

She closed her eyes, steadying herself. If this one, this girl marked by the Master, were to save her, she could be free, again. Free of her bondage, and able to take her revenge. Until then, she wasn't the Bane, she wasn't the Witch, she was just Okibi. But when she was free, the Silver Witch would burn this building, and the yakuza thugs who had defiled her to so much ash.

She just needed to be free.

***

Halting his march abruptly, the master of the Band of the Dead glanced towards the skies, and smiled slightly. "So, the 'Scarlet Way of Heaven' leads 'Wish for Fire' to freedom. I wondered where you went, Silver Witch."

The students blinked at this, but remained silent. They both knew who the 'Scarlet Way of Heaven' was. Tendo Akane. But who was 'Wish for Fire'? Nozomu Okibi was not a name either recognized.

They shrugged, knowing that if the master did not offer it, an answer would not be forthcoming.

***

Akane cloaked herself with the Umisen-ken, blending into her surroundings and stalking forward. The three guards on duty succumbed to her submission holds, and she wove a quick sleep spell over the bodies to keep them from waking.

Smiling slightly, she cracked her knuckles, and switched to the Yamasen-ken. All eyes immediately were drawn to her, as she smashed the ten-foot tall iron door to scrap with her bare hands.

Dozens of thugs charged towards the girl become violence incarnate, and the battle was joined.

***

Some people find tranquility in meditation. Spending hours at a time contemplating their bellybuttons and their place in the 'grand scheme of things.' For them, staring at a cherry twig, or a particularly boring piece of artwork could be fulfilling.

Not Akane.

She found something else on that day; something she never would have expected before. She liked to fight. Certainly, the morning battles with the hentai brigade weren't what she would consider 'fun,' but then, that was boys' play-fighting. This was _battle_. The contest of men and woman in a struggle of prowess, with only the victor walking away, leaving the loser to limp away and lick their wounds.

She could not move faster than bullets, but not many came her way. The few that did, struck her ward, draining her magical reserves of energy, and little else. The men themselves succumbed easily to her attacks. But these men did not want to date her; they wanted to beat her, probably kill her, and maybe inflict all sorts of unpleasantness in-between. That made it much more thrilling to her.

Akane found, to a certain degree, her center, and went from angry high-school girl with martial arts skill, the blood of the Yagyu, and the teachings of an elder Machin archmage, to a Warrior.

Magic augmented her ki, which augmented her body, which augmented her spirit, which augmented her mind, which augmented her magic... all five points unified in blazing symmetry.

When it was done, she lowered herself from her ready stance, and surveyed the damage, surprised. She did not remember moving after entering the nearly zanshin state, but was aware that just below the surface of her consciousness, the Warrior slept, waiting to be unleashed when necessary. She gave a brutal smile, noting that none of the men had been killed yet, and spun on her heel, entering the compound.

Locked doors gave way to force, or as she thought of it, 'the tried and true Tendo method.' <Maybe Shampoo was onto something there...>

***

Nozomu Okibi giggled in her cell, thankful that at last, at last, she could let go, and the Silver Witch would make things right again. With her guardians distracted by the appearance of the one marked by the master, she was able to let go, and embrace the flame.

Seductively, it called to her, pleading for her to use it, begging to be unleashed.

The broken remnants of a seventeen-year-old girl's mind eagerly gave way to the temptation, not wanting to face the memory of another rape at the hands of a yakuza thug again.

***

Akane ducked, as one of the many doors in the corridor she was examining exploded outwards, driving itself halfway into the stone wall opposite, and flooding the corridor with fire. A young woman emerged from the flames, wearing them like a cloak, and cackled, at her, "Freedom! Sweet savior, I plead that I might know your name."

Blinking, Akane noted that the fire halted at the edge of her wards, not quite touching. Nervously, she swallowed. "I am Tendo Akane, child of the Yagyu."

The girl giggled, then spun in a pirouette, flinging flame across the corridor once more. Again, the flame halted before it reached Akane. The girl came to a stop before Akane, then her expression turned grave. "Then, 'Scarlet Way of Heaven,' I grant you a boon." She reached forward with one hand, then paused and cocked her head to one side. "It would appear the master's touch has already marked you more deeply than I can aid. Very well then. I give you a boon to bestow as you see fit."

Akane nodded, and waited patiently while the girl traced a marking on her forehead, and a certain sense of... strength seeped into her. She wasn't certain what it was, but she knew how to bestow it. Finding her voice again, she asked, "What is your name?"

The girl's grin widened, and she bowed low. "I've had many names, Tendo Akane. In this life I am called Nozomu Okibi. Before that, I was the Silver Witch, and before that, I..." She smiled wistfully, not noticing the flames that should have consumed her. "I was the Hunter's Daughter... but first..." She winked. "I was the 'Bane of C'fai.' I stole his gift, taking the powers of a child of D'jan for myself. The lady of fire took a liking to me, and steered me to another..." She frowned slightly then. "Perhaps you know of us? We occur many times, when we are called, and often, when we are not."

Akane shook her head, the surreality of the situation overwhelming her. "Not... really. Could you explain it to me?"

Nozomu Okibi shrugged, sending another wave of flame out. "There are those that walk this earth that bind others to them so strongly that reincarnation pulls them together. But what happens when the one who binds does not die, and instead lives for thousands of years?" Akane shrugged, bewildered, and the girl giggled again. "Then their friends are reborn, and follow them. Names, child you'll learn. Some beings live longer than they should, or come back from death. The Specter was one I remember well. The master of the Band of the Dead is another. I see his mark upon you."

Unnerved, Akane frowned. "What are you talking about? Who's the master of the 'Band of the Dead'?"

The flame-wreathed woman cackled, "Who knows? He can be so many things, and has been called so many names... The Wanderer. The Lord of the Roads. The Bane of Leviathan. I have seen him destroy whole armies by himself. He is the one who crafted the Kami no Ken, and the Akuma no Ken. He has touched you, and your destiny is bound with his."

Akane shuddered, then looked away. "Well, that's just plain creepy."

Nozomu Okibi shrugged. "My time here is done, Tendo Akane. I will not see you again until the Lord of the Roads summons me... but we will meet again..." With that, there was a gust of wind, and the woman vanished.

The youngest Tendo shuddered, then glanced around. There was no sign of heat or flame left, and Akane hurriedly made her way to the room she felt Nabiki's mind from.

***

Nabiki jumped, and cowered behind her bed as one wall of her prison exploded inward, showering her with dusty chunks of plaster. <I'm not afraid! I'm not afraid! I'm calm and in control. I'm Nabiki. They aren't going to... Akane?>

Her sister nodded, causing Nabiki to realize that the last had been aloud. "Yeah... you okay, Nabiki?"

The middle Tendo sister nodded, gesturing to the chain that held her. Akane scowled, and worked on loosening it in a manner that wouldn't harm Nabiki. Confused and relieved, the only thing Nabiki could say was, "You smashed through the wall and scared me..."

Akane paused, then shook her head. "Okay, maybe Shampoo wasn't an idiot. It was kind of fun."

Nabiki blinked several times, then giggled hysterically, "This is another one of those dreams, right? The ones where you, or Daddy, or someone rescues me, and I wake up just before I get home?"

The younger girl frowned, then shook her head again. "Let's get you out of here, sis."

After pinching herself to make certain that it wasn't a dream, Nabiki let Akane gather her into her arms, and carry her away.

***

Chame stared at the painting in front of her. Only a simple pair of hiragana. The soft curves of the letters and their meaning seemed to scream at her. The lettering read 'giri.'

She knew all about giri. Duty. It meant that, and so much more to her. She leaned forward, knocking over a wine bottle, and delicately traced another character above the other two. 'Fu.' Now it read 'fugiri.'

Dishonor. Injustice. And more than that, it read, 'failure,' to her.

She turned, staring disconsolately at the spilled wine, when a noise grabbed her attention. She blinked, managing to focus her vision on Ranma, as he stood in the doorway to her room. He stared at her for a long moment. "Chame? What's going on?"

She sighed, and gestured to the floor across from her. "'Ave a seat, Ran... chan... heh..." Ranma sat, eyeing the canvas, but saying nothing. Chame pressed a bottle into his hands, before he could speak. "Drink. 'S good stuff."

Ranma opened his mouth to say something, then nodded decisively, and downed the entire bottle in a few gulps. Chame giggled, and attempted to reproduce the feat with another of the multitude of small bottles, but only managed to slosh most of her wine over herself. Ranma spoke, seemingly unaffected by the liquor, "Chame, what's going one? Where's Ucchan?"

Chame waggled a finger at Ranma. "Ain't gonna tell ya till yer drunk. Can't handle it sober. I can't. Don' think you can, either."

The boy flinched at this, and quickly downed another pair of bottles in the same manner. "Is Ucchan okay?"

"Dunno. Gone. Taken away."

The bottle shattered in Ranma's hand, but the stinging of the wine as it seeped into his cuts was dulled by the beginning effects of his intoxication. "Ucchan's hurt? What's going on? Is it about the baby? I can't find her mind anywhere."

Chame frowned, peering into the depths of a now empty bottle before casting it aside in favor of another. "Baby's okay. 'S a girl. Was, anyway. Somethin'... took em away. Right through my wards... right through the walls... right through... me."

She sniffled, and Ranma shuddered, quickly going through another succession of bottles. A sense of odd calmness overpowered all other feelings for a moment, as the gift from the Orochi suppressed Ranma's initial urge to rush out and find Ukyou. Ranma blinked, and decided that it was for the best. "I really don wanna hear this right now."

Wiping a tear away, the elder Machin nodded. "I know. Hurts to lose a friend. I liked Ucchan a lot. Now I'm alone again."

Ranma stared at her for a moment, wavering slightly as the next round of alcohol kicked in. "I loved her, ya know."

Chame shook her head, and raised a bottle in a toast. "To failure."

Raising another bottle to match hers, Ranma slurred, "Failure."

***

Nabiki's eyes darted around the cafe quickly, as she absorbed the visual details. "How... how long has it been?"

Akane shrugged uncomfortably. "Um... probably almost three months." She smiled sickly. "I'm... really sorry, Nabiki..."

The elder of the two sisters shuddered, and huddled over her tea protectively. It was too warm, and threatened to burn her hands, but she let the heat flow into her, soothing her soul slightly. There were many aspects of drinking tea that she found comforting, and the warmth was one of them. Hesitantly, she moved to sip the tea, but lowered her hands at the last instant.

Akane watched Nabiki, seeing how she didn't let go of the cup, and shook her head. "Well, I don't want to stay in the area, and now that I've got you... what do you want to do?"

Nabiki shuddered again, but straightened slightly. "They control too much. I don't think... nothing. We'll do nothing. We'll go home, and... forget this ever happened." She finished in a whimper, screwing her eyes shut. <I'm Nabiki! Damn it! I don't cry! And _certainly_ not in public!>

She gasped as she felt her younger sister embrace her, and released a wracking sob. Akane shushed her, and patted her on the back gently. "It's okay... let it out..."

Nabiki relaxed slightly, and shook her head. "It's not okay. It's never going to be okay again. They... Oh god. I want to go home. Please, let's just forget about it."

Akane nodded, and released her sister, scrutinizing her closely. "Right. Home. I... you aren't alone, Nabiki... maybe I can't totally relate, but... I can listen."

Sniffling, Nabiki gulped a mouthful of still-too-hot tea, and managed a weak smile. "Okay. Let's go home."

***

Like a lover's caress, pain woke Ranma. Not the pleasant kind of pain, the kind that informs you that your body is damaged, and cries for attention... no, this was the kind of pain that gently wrapped its hands around your mind and squeezed until there was no room for any sensation _but_ pain.

Ranma whimpered slightly, provoking another wave of pain to wash through his head. It felt an awful lot like someone had used him to sound a gong. Repeatedly.

But his first attempt at movement proved that there was worse than simple pain, as the nausea set in. This created a dilemma. The nausea did not subside, and the pain seemed intent on increasing. Obviously, Ranma needed to move somewhere to relieve the nausea. Somehow. But moving made the nausea worse.

He groaned, "Damn."

The noise was enough to send mind-shattering waves of pain through him, and increase the nausea tenfold. In the dim recess of his mind not entirely devoted to pain, the thought that death was preferable made its presence known.

He seized upon that thought as his new motto, then settled for lying bonelessly on the floor. Killing himself could wait until he could stand. However, as long as he was there, he could try and figure out what had happened.

<I'm hung over, aren't I? Maybe I should have had more sympathy for Pop. Now what did I get drunk for?> He frowned thoughtfully, sending even more reverberating pain messages through his skull. Groaning weakly, he managed the concentration to shift forms. Barely.

Once Ranma was female again, the pain became more tolerable. <Thank god for the high pain threshold.> While moving was no longer a distant dream, it was by no means pleasant. She looked around, seeing Chame sprawled on the other side of the room, and countless empty bottles littering the intervening distance.

Suspecting suddenly that there was a damn good reason for her to be drunk, she lapsed back into unconsciousness.

***

Chame awoke much the same way as Ranma had, though she had a slightly higher tolerance for alcohol. Having much less mass than the already somewhat small Ranma didn't help matters, though.

After clearing her mind, she pushed the pain away long enough to crawl to the kitchen to prepare a hangover remedy. She muttered, "Ranma's going to be pissed when he finds out."

Ranma staggered into the kitchen behind her, and croaked, "About what?"

The shorter redhead sighed, handing her a glass filled with some murky liquid. "Drink some of this first."

Ranma swallowed it in one go, grimacing slightly. Chame helped herself to another glass of the same concoction, then turned to face Ranma. "Well, Ranma... it's like this... you've been gone for the last three months. Ukyou... had a daughter."

The taller of the two redheads glowered. "What happened?"

Chame swallowed, starting at her empty glass. "Something... I was gone, for a minute, maybe two, Ukyou was doing well, the girl was... two weeks old... then something came. Just this... swirling darkness. It... like a vortex, before I could reach them, or do anything, it... pulled them both in."

Ranma glanced down at the table, surprised to see that her hands had clenched into fists through the wooden surface, filling her hands with small splinters. She focused for a second, incinerating the wood, then sighed, "Where did it take her?"

The elder Machin jumped at the sight of Ranma casually destroying the splinters, and shuddered. "I don't know. I scryed, but she's not... here. On Earth."

The pigtailed girl rubbed her chin thoughtfully, ignoring the blood on her hands. "So... she can't have been taken beyond the spheres... the N'Dori said that the circle constrained them. So as long as the circle is intact, they have to be here, or one of the other levels of existence contained within this one, right?"

Chame frowned. "I don't normally discuss planar theory while hung-over, but... yes."

Ranma smiled slightly. "So, she's still... here, somewhere. Not beyond the infinite. I can get her back, somehow. And our daughter..." She scowled. "The only problem is how to find where she's been taken."

Shaking her head, Chame heaved a sigh, "I don't know, Ranma. I think I was a blind fool. Look back to the prophecy that... we heard when we spoke to your mother before we left."

The pigtailed girl scowled. "You know more than you're letting on again, don't you." It wasn't a question.

Chame winced. "Yes... when she was born, I saw two symbols on your daughter. One was 'First,' and the other was 'Spirit.'"

Ranma blinked, then nodded. "I see. 'Daughter by sprit, by blood, by stone.' So... does this mean that... _I_ am 'He of Nine Daughters?'"

The elder Machin nodded. "I think so. We were given that prophecy for a reason, it should concern someone close to us. What this means, then, is that Ukyou has been taken to the Home of the Wayward Spirit... but this does make sense, because you certainly have power greater than you can contain, don't you?"

Ranma frowned, still deep in thought. "Okay, that works... now how do we get Ucchan and my daughter back?"

Chame took a deep breath, and sighed. "We can't. It's a null zone on the edge of Limbo, Ranma. Once a being is sent there, it's... destroyed. It's just a matter of time. Even gods can't reach it, let alone dragon-kin..."

The pigtailed girl marched stiffly out of the house, and Chame followed with some trepidation. Ranma took a few calming breaths, then grated out, "How can we fulfill the prophecy if they're missing? Doesn't the second one say 'Blood calls blood, thy blood calls thy blood's kin, Through the blood of thy father, thou will reclaim the stolen Daughters of Nine?'"

Chame nodded. "It does, but I don't understand that part..."

Ranma grimaced. "So. How am I supposed to have nine daughters if Ukyou is gone?"

The elder Machin winced. <Dear gods, he doesn't want to hear this right now.> "Remember... 'of eight mothers.'"

Ranma began to emit a dull red glow. "No."

Chame ran for cover while Ranma unleashed her anger. A crimson pillar of light that speared the heavens rushed up from around Ranma, swallowing the dragon-kin and much of the hilltop up. The Machin covered her eyes, facing away while the excess energy and light still blinded her. The cloud cover for miles around was boiled away instantly, and behind it all, she could hear Ranma's tortured scream of anger.

Beyond that, however, she could feel something more sickening, and much more worrisome. Shouting, and praying that she would be heard, she called out, "Ranma! Stop this! Reality is weakening around you! If you can't control yourself..."

She trailed off as the column of light, easily fifteen yards across, dwindled slowly to a dim ray, ending at Ranma's outstretched hand. Male Ranma. Wearing a dark cloak. Ranma turned towards her, shooting her a glance that conveyed hurt and anger. "What can I do, Chame? What can I do? I can't rescue her, can I? I don't have enough power. Dragon-kin are plenty powerful. On _Earth_. I'll lose my power in the planes, even if I can make it there. Tell me why I must stay here, and why I shouldn't remove myself from this reality, when there's nothing I can do."

The redhead shuddered, resisting the urge to gibber in fear at Ranma's display of power. Collecting herself, she said, "Duty."

Ranma stared for a long moment, then lowered his gaze, defeated. "Duty, then."

***

Rage watched the column of light rise against the horizon, and smiled to himself. He whispered, "Soon, my little host, we will destroy him. Then my control over you will be complete."

Ryouga attempted to reassert control again, without success.

Easily forcing Ryouga's presence down, Rage murmured, "Hate me, small one, hate me for what I've done to you, and I will do to your world. I feed on your anger."

In the recesses of his own mind, the lost boy seethed. Almost every action that Rage ever made was designed to make him angrier. But he couldn't stop being angry, as he was trapped in his own cycle of negative emotions. And that only made Rage stronger.

***

Akane entered the house, followed closely by Nabiki. "We're home! Where is everyone?"

Nabiki timidly sat at the table, glancing around worriedly. Akane winced at the sight. Sometimes during the trip back, Nabiki seemed her old self, calm and imperious. Sometimes, like this one, she was only a shadow of her former self.

Sitting next to her sister, Akane cleared her mind momentarily. <Tofu? What's going on?>

Tofu's response was short, and to the point. <It's a girl!>

Akane couldn't resist smiling at the news, and turned to Nabiki. "Hey! Guess what?"

Nabiki shrugged. "They're all at the hospital because Kasumi went into labor?"

Blinking, Akane reached one hand behind her head nervously. "Ah... yes."

Her older sister smirked slightly, and pointed towards a note on the table. Akane rolled her eyes. <At least she's a little more relaxed now...>

***

Ranma's world became a thin haze, only occasionally recognizable as 'reality.' Certainly, there were demons, and battles, and the like, but that was a constant for Ranma.

Of late, the demons and devils had gotten stronger, more dangerous. But so had Ranma. Collateral damage increased grossly.

He managed to wrench himself out of the haze in the latest battle, only to realize that he had inadvertently destroyed a house. He panicked, but the home was empty. Shuddering, he looked away from the steaming puddle that remained of some gelatinous monstrosity, and at the rubble of the house.

He frowned, mumbling to himself, "Restraint. Duty..." <Never again. Attention to detail, Ranma. A martial artist protects the weak. They don't destroy homes in the crossfire.>

***

Kumon Ryu, self-styled martial artist vigilante, fought at the side of his partner, Tanaka Sana. His techniques quickly destroyed the enemies, while Sana's power prevented them from reforming.

But something was wrong. The monsters they fought became more dangerous, and the two came home wounded, where before the worst Sana had to face was shame. Silly-seeming devils were replaced by angry demons with far too many sharp teeth and claws, and too many limbs to wield them with.

Ryu was getting worried, because he had found a purpose, of sorts, to his life. He had someone to protect. To him, his entire life had been unimportant, until he had found someone who cherished his presence. And he was frightened at the prospect of losing her.

But they weren't alone. The devil hunters of the day learned quickly to band together, and strike quickly to avoid losses... but few were accepting of Kumon, for his lack of 'proper' heritage.

He shook his head, coming out of the reverie, and faced the newest threat.

The creature glistened with what appeared to be toxic slime of some sort. It oozed forwards slowly on a mass of writhing tentacles, each capped with a tooth-like point. While its bulk moved slowly, each tentacle whipped around with an alarming velocity, and its thirty-foot-high mass was intimidating.

Sana swallowed nervously, and glanced at Sakura, who had joined the pair since things had started getting dangerous.

Sakura looked ill at the sight, and shook her head. "This is getting outrageous... something needs to be done. A few months ago, this kind of thing would never happen."

Ryu snorted, attempting to lighten the atmosphere, "Yeah, the real-estate value has plummeted since this all started."

Sana smiled wanly, still staring at the demon. "I... there's no use delaying. We have to fight this, don't we?"

Sakura sighed, "Yes, we... eh?"

A surge of deja vu came to Sana, as a cloaked blur confronted the demon, dancing through its attacks, and lashing out with blasts of golden-red energy.

The battle was brief, but savage, with both combatants shunning proper weaponry in favor of simply rending their opponents apart with bare hands. The smaller form gained the upper hand, leaving the largely ruined hulk of the monster behind it.

The cloaked blur resolved in front of the trio of devil hunters, eyeing them warily before the cloak seemed to fold away. Sana stared at the pigtailed boy in front of her for a long moment, dimly recognizing the Chinese clothes. "Ranma? You really are a boy?" Behind him, the demon collapsed in on itself, dissolving in the radiance of Ranma's aura.

Ranma nodded solemnly. "I... held Ascension too long. I'm going to..." he slumped to the ground, falling before the green-haired girl. Sana blanched at a large wound in Ranma's back, apparently inflicted by the demon he had just fought.

Ryu blinked several times, then motioned Sakura to help him tend Ranma's wounds.

***

Ranma woke on a futon in a room with Ryu. The other boy was lying on one side, and leafing through a magazine idly. He glanced up as Ranma woke. "Hey... uh... how are you feeling?"

The pigtailed boy grunted, and sat up. "I've had worse."

Ryu frowned, wondering if it was an idle boast or not. "You should try not to move too much, you don't want to break that wound open."

Ignoring the advice, Ranma tugged off the bandages, revealing a mostly healed wound. "I'll be fine. I told you I had worse."

Ryu boggled briefly at the sight, then tossed his magazine aside while shaking his head. "You know," he commented, "I've heard about you, but I have to say... the rumors didn't do you justice."

Ranma glanced at him, then frowned. "What rumors?"

The Kumon boy sat up and shrugged. "Um... that you were Nerima's most powerful martial artist. That Akane girl said that, just before..." He trailed off, scowling. "Before she beat me up. I heard from Sana that you were a devil hunter with a good family background, though she said you were a girl."

Sighing, Ranma closed his eyes. "Sometimes I am."

Ryu blinked. "Are what?"

Ranma shrugged, recalling the bitterness in Ryu's voice when the other boy mentioned 'family background.' He shifted slightly, moving to sit in a lotus position. "All three of those things. A martial artist, a demon hunter, and a girl. Heh." He shook his head sadly. "A year ago I don't think I would have admitted that."

Ryu stared blankly, then shook his head. "So uh... do you know about what's going on with the devils lately?"

Ranma sighed, opening his eyes again. "The demons you're fighting... the Tanaka family was never meant to fight. As far as the mantle of the Shen-Lung tells me, they shouldn't be here at all. However... I'll grant you this aid in your quest. Since it looks like things are going poorly for you, I'll allow you to banish demons in my name. Just think of Sana when you do it. Sakura can teach you how..."

The boy's eyes widened. "You can just _give_ that kind of power out?"

With a sardonic smiled, Ranma commented. "Why not? I've got more power than I can handle. Think of it as an early wedding gift."

Ryu blinked. "Huh?"

Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Sorry to ruin the surprise... Sana will probably find out in a few days. Do yourself a favor and propose to her before she does."

Embarrassment and pride warred for control of Ryu's face for a long moment, finally settling in a sheepish grin. "Ah... heh.... heh... oh my. Grandmother will not be pleased." The grin faded, replaced by a look of confusion. "How do you know?"

Ranma shook his head. "A gift from a child of Aker... I'd rather not explain right now. Sakura can tell you later, but I need to talk to her right now."

Ryu watched the other boy dress and leave in silence, then shook his head. Under his breath he muttered, "Well... damn. Interesting friend you got there, Sana..."

***

Sakura watched Ranma as he sat at the table, staring into a teacup. "So... Mr. Saotome... what brings you here?"

Ranma cleared his throat, and pushed the still-empty teacup away. "Many things, Mrs. Tanaka. Mostly the battle. I've lost my wife."

The old woman lowered her head. "Ah... I know what it's like to lose a loved one... maybe it's not the same for you, but I have some sympathy."

Shrugging uncomfortably, Ranma turned to stare out the window. The trees in the back yard waved in a slight breeze, bathed in the soft glow of the morning sun. "I don't know. There's a way to get her back. Somehow."

Sakura said nothing, then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Saotome. It's like you live in a different world from us... I've never seen someone battle as you have. That much power..." She sighed, "I wish you the best of luck."

Sana entered looking slightly ill. "Good morning, Grandmother. Hello, Ranma... are you okay?"

Ranma nodded. "I believe so. I must leave now. I can't stay here much longer."

Sana's face fell. "But... I was hoping you could help us..."

Wincing as he turned away, Ranma thought, <It hurts too much right now, Sana. I just wish you the best.> "I'm sorry. I must leave now."

***

Chame listlessly moved about her now-empty house, cleaning the few things that didn't whisk themselves away. Ranma had returned, and departed just as suddenly, two weeks ago.

She frowned, holding an unopened envelope in one hand. <Hmm... better open this for him anyway. It could be important.>

A tingle passed through her as she cracked the seal on the letter, letting her know that it had been tampered with. She scowled, <Damn it. I shouldn't have trusted... oh. Crap.>

The letter fluttered to the ground as she rushed towards the tower, where she practiced only her most powerful magics.

***

On the outskirts of Yokohama, two police officers drove through a small suburban distract, responding to a report of violence in the area. Normally a single officer would be able to handle the situation, but it was after nightfall, and the report claimed some weapons were involved.

Suspecting it to be rival gangs, or more likely for the neighborhood, rival gang-wannabes, the two officers had been dispatched to deal with the situation. Hito, an average man with close-cropped black hair sat in the driver's seat and peered around warily.

His partner was a blue-haired police officer of slightly higher than average height for a Japanese woman. Tomoku checked the report that had been given to them again, then glanced over to Hito, "This is the area where..." She trailed off then, both suddenly receiving an odd tingle from the base of their spines.

The area was considerably wealthier than the region where the officers in question themselves lived, and many of the residents had cars. Hito opened the door and stepped out of the police cruiser warily, while trying to see if anyone was crouched behind any of the nearer vehicles.

Tomoku exited the cruiser a moment later, one hand on her police baton. Their heads jerked to look down the street, as an explosion and a piercing wail sounded simultaneously.

Hito raised his baton and opened his mouth to say something, but froze at the sight that greeted them. A creature about the size of a horse was bearing down directly at them from the end of the street, about two hundred yards away. The first observation that occurred to the officer was that if it was a horse, it had two extra legs, and four extra arms.

Tomoku stepped hastily towards the barrier wall around one of the nearby houses, noting the way the lights dimmed near the creature as it charged towards them.

Dazed, Hito could only stare, as more details became clear. The creature had a man-like head and upper body, much like a centaur, only with the extra arms and legs. A shining black corona seemed to ooze from beneath it's skin, and to Hito's eyes, it flooded the street with a black, nacreous glow. It gestured, still charging towards the officers, and the police cruiser made a muffled crunching noise, as an invisible force seemed to press it into the ground.

Hito drew his eyes away at the sound, and quickly moved to the opposite barrier wall from Tomoku. Her eyes met his, transmitting their shared fear and confusion silently, while the unseen force against the car suddenly reversed direction, hurling the vehicle into the night sky.

The monstrosity slid to a halt suddenly, as a small figure seemed to descend from the darkness of the sky, and landed where the car had been moments before. Seemingly unaware of the broken street that she stood on, a small redhead in a flowing cloak twirled a quarterstaff menacingly.

Bellowing, the creature made another gesture, and seemingly from nowhere, the police cruiser descended towards her.

Hito's eyes bulged, while Tomoku screwed her eyes shut and looked away. Seemingly without thought, the girl raised her left hand towards the mass of steel that was hurtling towards her... and caught it. With one hand.

Neither of the officers could see the complex webs of ki that allowed her to do it, and kept her hand from simply punching through the car. Or the simpler one that caused a small bowl-shaped depression to form under her feet, instead of driving her into the ground. But they could see a small girl holding a car with one hand over her head, looking irritated and not visibly straining.

A moment later, a golden aura seemed to erupt from her, enveloping her completely. Hito and Tomoku had both seen footage of the occasional demon slaying in Nerima, and were familiar with the concept of a battle aura. This aura, however, did not shine like a flame behind her, it seemed to encase her; flowing across her like a field of some gelatinous energy, shot through with swirling streaks of black and crimson.

She blinked, and threw the car towards the creature, which scrambled to try and evade it.

From there, it escalated into a pitched battle, which the redhead quickly won with almost contemptuous ease. After it was reduced to a seemingly boneless heap, she chanted something sharply, and the body dissolved in a blinding bright light. Done, she dusted her hands together, and the cloak and aura seemed to fold away, disappearing.

Hito blinked, as the girl approached him, shifting to become taller, darker-haired, and much less curvaceous. The officer's eyes bulged, but after everything else it seemed reasonable. In fact, the boy reminded Hito of one of the people from the same Nerima, on the tape he had seen a few months ago. Collecting his wits slightly, and ignoring the flaming wreckage that was all that remained of the police cruiser, he managed, "Saotome Ranma?"

The pigtailed boy blinked, then nodded. "Yes. You've heard of me, then?"

Tomoku recovered her composure slightly, and approached the pair. "Who hasn't? You were pretty famous in Nerima, and a lot of us have seen footage of your fight with that monster..."

Ranma shrugged. "I suppose you have, then. And you've probably heard the rest, hmm?"

The blue-haired policewoman nodded quickly. "Um, most of it. The rumors were you disappeared a few months ago..."

Grimacing, Ranma shook his head. "Yeah, yeah... I have things to do. People to protect, demons to slay." Shaking the thought away, Ranma turned to face Hito. "I came here for you."

Hito felt his knees weaken with fear, and squeaked, "Me?"

Ranma nodded. "You have some potential for the Art, and the normal slayer for Yokohama fell to a demon a few months ago. There are... some others in the area are trying to cover the gap, but the loss of Hogosha is hurting. I'd like you to find the hunters in the city and get some training."

The policeman felt a surge of some sensation he couldn't quite pin down, and nodded, dumbfounded. "So... you want me to become a demon hunter?"

Tomoku's eyes widened. "He can be? What about me?"

Ranma shrugged, turning to face the woman again. "Up to you. You don't have an affinity, but if Hito here lets you use his name, you can probably learn."

The officers turned towards each other, considering. By the time they turned back to Ranma, he was gone.

***

Ranma looked around wearily, wondering where the next battle would be. He needed a fight now, more than ever. Even if he _could_ find a way to overcome whatever had taken Ukyou, he wasn't certain where, or how he would find it.

Chame's thoughts touched urgently at the edge of his mind, interrupting his reverie, and he slipped into the Ascension to focus himself enough to communicate across the distance. <What is it, Chame?>

Her response was quick. <Ranma, I've got bad news from Nerima. And worse news, beyond that. How much do you know of Welsh mythology?>

The pigtailed dragon-kin blinked at that, as the wind rustled his cloak against him. <What? Is this a joke? I don't know anything about Welsh mythology. I'm not related to any dragons from that area, and Aker's child didn't deem it necessary to pass on anything about it, either.>

Chame's thoughts took on a self-defeating tone. <My fault, I should have taught you. I'm sorry, then. What do you know about the Ryam Hesdel?>

Ranma scowled darkly, and resumed his walk down the unlit street. <A bit. Tofu explained that to me, and some of those memories were reawakened to me when the Orochi passed its knowledge down...>

<Ah... then you probably know what I'm about to tell you. Lydd attacked the Tendos.>

Ranma sent the mental equivalent of rolling his eyes. <I know that. I fought him with the Soyokaze, remember?>

Chame mentally fidgeted, then responded, <I should have seen this earlier, when Ryouga attacked me. It's my own fault, I was blinded by... never mind. It doesn't matter at this point... but the important thing is that Ryouga is carrying Lydd inside him. Or I suppose Lydd is controlling Ryouga at this point.>

Ranma sighed, prompting, <And?>

<...Ranma, Lydd is not just a nasty spirit, it's the Welsh incarnation of anger. It's older than that... It just happened to be named by them. Its name literally translates to 'anger.' I'm telling you this because, even though I didn't pick it up before, if he's left on the loose long enough, he will try to destroy you.>

Ranma grimaced. <While I appreciate the sentiment, this isn't exactly a new development.>

For a long moment, Chame sent nothing. Her eventual response was laden with irritation. <He might have more power than you do, Ranma. Think about this for a moment. He wants to destroy the world. He just might be able to do it, too. All he needs is to totally bind his victim to his will... I don't know what he's planning on doing to accomplish it, but I think we'd better find Ryouga, and kill him before he has a chance to do it.>

The dragon-kin froze at this, uneasy. <Kill? You want me to find and kill Ryouga?>

<It's... I wish I didn't have to, but... one of us should. I'm not certain where he is, but it's not too hard to find something as old and angry as Lydd. I'm going to leave tomorrow, to start searching for him. Are you going to help me, or leave me to face him on my own?>

Ranma gritted his teeth, and balled his hands into fists. <Crap. You're serious about this... Kill... Damn it. What if I can bring Ryouga out, and banish Lydd?>

<I don't think you can... but if you can... then do it. But not at any risk to yourself. Remember, you have to survive in order to fulfill the prophecy.>

<I have a suspicion about that, actually... Chame, no more games. What do you know about the 'Unbroken Circle'?>

Chame's answer was hesitant, <I'm... not certain, but I think it has something to do with a paradox.>

Ranma blinked several times, then sent a mental nod. <I have a feeling that's a good part of it. I do know that it has to do with time, though. And we're _very_ near the end of the time we have to deal with it. I don't know what it is, exactly, but we're down to the last few years, I think. Your father has had centuries to prepare for this, so I hope he understands it better.>

<What do you mean about time?>

Ranma smirked. <What if the Outsider wasn't summoned three thousand years ago? What if he was summoned in a few years from now? And then he fell backwards through time?>

Chame made no response for a long moment, then sent a mental sigh. <Right. And because he's sliding backwards, he doesn't exist from the inside. But he _does_ from the outside, and the demons can follow him, then reverse course, and pop in... and the circle is a time paradox, which seals us in so we can't leave our own plane, because doing so interferes with the Outsider, and makes... I think I see it.>

The dragon-kin nodded to himself. <That filled in a few blanks I had, but yeah. So we have to stop it from being summoned. Or wait until it's gone, leave the circle, and enter earlier. Once we did, we should be immune to paradox, and be able to destroy it. The problem is, since it's going through time backwards, do we fight it when it came through, three thousand years ago? Or do we kill it in a few years when it first gets summoned?>

The elder Machin was thoughtful for a long moment. <Well, I'm not certain. It's something to think about, though... however, I'm serious about Ryouga... and Lydd.>

Ranma sighed, shaking his head and walking forward again, <I don't know if I can kill anyone, Chame. I've been through a lot, but that's a bit much... And the gift from Aker's Child would not take kindly to me destroying a living being.>

<Gift? Oh no, you didn't... Ranma, tell me you didn't.>

The boy snorted, <_I_ didn't, but the Orochi did. I have a gift from Aker's child. It's probably the only thing keeping me sane after losing Ucchan. The N'Dori said I would be broken, but the gift is holding that at bay...>

<Oh, Ranma... I wish we had talked longer before it came to this. So the N'Dori are in Ryugenzawa... I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Okay, I'm leaving, and taking the Soyokaze with me. If I see Ryouga, I won't hesitate to use it. I'm going to get the Makaze from Tofu, unless you want to get it yourself.>

Ranma scowled at the determination from Chame, but relented, <I don't approve. I truly don't... but I understand.>

***

Soun puzzled over the newly reunited family, and tried to understand how he should feel. One the one hand, Nabiki was back, and Tofu and Kasumi's child had been born. An Ono, not a Tendo, but Soun was still proud that he had a grandchild.

On the other hand, Nabiki was not the same, and if anything, more withdrawn than before. She shied away from the sight of the child, and muttered uneasily whenever she saw any of the male students from the dojo passing by. Of course, the child itself was a worry, too.

She had been born weak, and her condition worsened. Tofu's healing arts had done far more than any of the hospital's technology could, but her life was still unsteady, at best. Kasumi helped when she could, still slowly recovering her powers after giving birth. But the child...

The girl hadn't even been named yet, because the doctors seemed so certain that she would not survive. But Tofu had convinced them to let him take the child home. Kasumi had a name picked out, Kimiko, after her mother.

Soun sighed wearily. Legally, the name had not been assigned, since the child was so frail, and the doctors so certain that she would not live... but...

Dr. Tofu had muttered something about 'second' and 'blood' after the birth, then appeared uneasy at all other times. Still, he obviously cared for the child, and it showed with how much pain it caused him that for all of his power and skill, he could not heal her natural frailty. A legacy from the disease that had claimed the other descendent of the same name, actually.

So Soun tried to lose himself in the simple task of teaching the small class that had come to the dojo. He simply wasn't certain if he should be pleased or not. Some days were darker than others... but sometimes, he would hear Kimiko giggle at Kasumi, and wonder at his lack of faith. Or maybe Nabiki would smile, and act as she had, before... But that always led to the darker thoughts again.

Soun shook his head, staring at the shogi board again. Genma stared at it just as listlessly.

***

Rage paced uneasily. His own strength had begun to build recently, after Akari had given birth to their child. Well, it was Ryouga's, actually, but Rage didn't care for progeny, beyond the anger it caused Ryouga to feel for him.

He smiled slightly at that, twisting his visage into a gruesome leer. The little girl whimpered, and Akari held her close, trying to protect it from Rage.

After a moment, the now familiar surge of energy flowed into Rage, revitalizing his essence. It was beautiful, to him that he didn't even have to hurt anyone, but Ryouga's anger fueled him easily. He didn't even have to hide that thought from the boy, since it only served to make him angrier.

Rage's smile fell, as he sensed someone's presence nearby. <It's him!> he crowed to himself, <Ranma's here! The one I need to destroy to make myself complete!>

He rubbed his hands together gleefully, and dashed out to the yard. The air had turned cold, and the mud had stiffened enough to support even his body with no trouble. The pigs were all huddled in a barn, with the exception of Katsunishiki, who remained near Akari. Akari bundled herself and the baby up, then watched from one end of the yard.

Rage frowned. <Still a few miles away... but he's close, and I can feel him. He's angry, which will help me even more...>

***

Ranma froze, mid-step. A nervous shiver ran down his spine, and he trembled briefly. Towards the back of his head he was dimly aware of the 'breaking' that the N'Dori had spoken of. The gift from Aker's child held it at bay, but only just.

He took a deep breath, and calmed himself. <Chame's not going to try and reason with Ryouga. If she finds him, she's just going to kill him.>

Frowning, he cast about with his senses. <Chame? Are you there?>

She responded after a moment. <Yes... I think I'm close... I can be there in about an hour. Have you found Lydd?>

Lowering his head, Ranma sent a mental nod. <Lydd is near. I... Meet with me first. I want to fight him.>

Ranma impatiently waited, while Chame sent nothing. Time passed, until Ranma could dimly sense her approach from a few miles away.

Scowling, Chame wiped a hand across her forehead as she slid to a halt before Ranma. The pigtailed boy blinked at her appearance. Where before she had always worn loose fitting clothing of a style similar to Ranma's Chinese clothing, she now wore a red sash, and had the Makaze and Soyokaze sheathed at her side. The next major difference was a black headband. Shaking his head, Ranma sighed. "I don't want him to die, Chame."

Still scowling, the elder Machin shook her head, "It's not really something there's a choice on, Ranma. Ryouga is nearly the perfect vessel for Lydd. He's been your enemy in the past _anyway_."

Ranma shook his head, as his black cloak disappeared. "No. He was... a rival, not an enemy. Once... he was a friend."

Chame grumbled, and readjusted her sword. "Ranma, if you can't, I will. It _has_ to be done."

Ranma paused for a moment, eyeing Chame's headband, which bore the Machin symbol for 'death' prominently. "If it has to be done, _I'll_ do it. Give me the Makaze."

Surprised, Chame surrendered the sword, in exchange for the staff. "Ranma... I..." She paused, heaving a sigh. "Do this for Ukyou. For your daughter. You have to live, and that means that you have to deal with him before he comes after you."

Ranma growled, and slid the sheathed blade into one sleeve. Chame blinked, as the blade disappeared. Ranma shook his head, explaining, "Pocket space. Let's go."

The redhead nodded, and they turned towards the malice they could feel radiating from Rage's location.

***

Katsunishiki was not a happy pig. His mistress was not herself, lately. She hadn't been in some time, either. The boy/pig that had arrived was friendly, and not dangerous. At first. But now... lately the boy part was not nice at all. The pig part hadn't been seen in a long while, which worried him.

But he did know one thing, in the mysterious way animals could sense impending disasters. His mistress needed his protection, and she would need it soon.

***

Rage smiled broadly, as Ranma stepped onto the field. Chame stood near the fence, holding the staff wearily.

Ranma clenched one fist, and bowed his head. "Ryouga... if you're in there... I don't want to do this. Come out, please."

Ryouga, in the far recesses of his own mind, felt something he hadn't felt in a long while. Hope.

Rage howled in anger, and his aura flared a bloody crimson around him. "Die, Son of Machin!"

And the battle began.

 

------

Author's notes:

Tomuraigassen - Battle of Revenge

01/06/2001:

Added a few pages, mostly to show how Ranma's changed externally.

01/21/2001:

Added some more pages, moving Akane's conflict here to round things out. Much improved.

06/19/2001:

Tentative final re-write. General polishing, etc.


Previous Section Index Next Section