Age of Titans pt2

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Unread postby Ozzallos (архив) » 01 Apr 2008, 06:49

Как вы поняли, как трудно это войти в форум, если вы не говорите немного русский язык? Моя апреля дураков шутка для вас. Наслаждайтесь!

Do you realize how hard it is to log into a forum when you don't speak a bit of Russian? My April fools joke for you. Enjoy!



Внимание! Ангст вперед!



[b]

Age of Titans Pt2[/b]

[i]By Ozzallos[/i]

Status: Rough Preview, minimal editing.



The Twilight,

The forgotten

The unseen dances,

Chaos ensues.



The shadow crept along the edges of moonlight, ensuring no part of itself touched the pale gossmar illumination that cast everything in an ethereal twilight glow.



The room itself, was uninspiring. It was a modest size, floored with creame marble square tiling, sparcely decorated stucco walls that curved to a skylight in the ceiling. moonlight glowed softly through the vent, shining down upon a pestal directly below. The marble white pillar was the central feature of the room, marking the resting place for the treasure which the thief sought. Upon it sat a box, bold trimed and highly ordinate.



That was the target.



Their had been sentries standing watch over the target, monks whose solemn duty it was to watch over the contents of the box and ensure none passed to touch it. The shadow had dispatched them quite easily. None of the guards it had encountered even approached its skill level and even if one had, the shadow had the element of surprise. The shadow’s name was Genma Saotome and the monks of the Avalon Mist Monestary didn’t stand a chance.



Most thought of the slightly overweight man as lazy. They would be correct in that assumption. Training under the master known as happosai had thoroughly ruined what promised to be one of the best martial artists of his generation, but regardless of how lazy he seemed, he was still a prodigy in his own right and when he put his mind to something, there was little that would stop him from obtaining that goal. The monks simply did not pose a credible enough of a threat to stay his purpose.



A sense of urgencey gripped the thief. He had managed to neutralize six of the monks on his way in, but they would no go un-missed forever. Their reliefs would arrive, find them missing and undoubtably raise the alarm. It would get messy after that and there would be no boy to distract them.



Stupid boy doesn’t know what’s good for him anyway, Genma grumbled and stepped out of the shadows and into the glow of moonlight. After all this entire exercise was for his benefit and he had refused—



The balding martial had managed two steps when the tile beneath his left foot sank slightly, causing adrenaline to shoot like a lightening bolt through his system.



–DAMMIT!



He pulled his foot off the tile and it suddenly exploded up as a spear shaft turned the tile square to rubble, blowing him backwards. The sharpened tip shot skyward and locked into place, leaving Genma with a clear view of the deadly implement resting just shy of the tip of his nose. Booby traps. Of course.



The elder Saotome began stepping lightly across the floor, scrutinizing each and every tile before stepping to the next. Ten painstaking minutes later he handmade it to the base of the pillar, a bead of sweat rolling down the side of his head. He paused before mounting the three steps leading up to the pillar, knowing that they were more than likely booby trapped themselves. Genma Saotome studied them closely. More pressure plates, he guess, kneeling to the floor to get a view of the seams along each step. Only question is where the trap will come from… He ruled out the ceiling with a quick glance. Nothing deadly would be coming through the skylight and the arched beams were entirely too nessisary for support to house anything serious. The walls around him were now too far away to deny him of reaction time, so genma ruled those out as well, which meant the trap would once more come from the ground below.



Slackers, he snorted. While he may have regretted ninty-nine percent of his training under Happosai, the experience had made him one of the best escape artists alive, a skill that carried over into recognizing just what to expect from traps like these. Genma pulled a thermos of cold water from folded spaceand held it gingerly over the first step, edging the rest of his body away from the pillar, then let it go.



Thunk.



Adrenaline fueled reactions went to waste as the thermos just sat there, failing to have been impaled, crushed, skewered or likewise poisoned by a lethal implement of any sort. Genma shrugged. He cautiously stepped onto the step he had just tested and studied the next one up. His reactions still retained a hair trigger as it could have easily be set to delay or triggering the next step my spring the last as well. Careful, careful, careful you old panda…



He poised the thermous over the next plate and dropped it, this time rewarded by series of clicks in addition to the thunk. Muscles poised…



ShuuNK!



The trap activated as expected. Where it activated from was completely unexpected as the entire surface of the pillar in front of Genma dropped away into the ground, revealing the column’s inner structure. It was not, in fact, made up of solid marble as first appearances would lead one to believe. Instead, it was wood, metal and approximately five thousand glass marbles the size of a man’s thumb, all packed tightly against several small linen bags stained with black soot.



A sizzling his found Genma’s ear.



The scent of gunpowder wafted across his nostrils.



Few other men would have had the reactions nessisary to capitalize on that split second’s worth of warning while even less that that would have had the aerial mastery nessisary to leap straight up as a bundle of sparking fuses within the pillar lit off, finding their respective bags like demons devouring fire.



BOOOM!!!



Genma Saotome had just obtained his maximum height and was twisting to long atop the pillar and the box it was home too when the improvised claymore detonated, bathing anything within three hundred and sixty degrees in a wall of fire while glass marbles streaked out behind it, threatening to turn anything they touched into little more than shreaded matter. The invisible wall of glass shattered against the temple wall less than a second later, blasting the fine stone decoration into little more than pulerizd swiss cheese with a deafening shriek.



Smoke rolled away from the pillar and Genma stood perched atop it and the treasure box like a crouching gargoyle, cheek twitching as he surveyed the destruction. Anybody else in his position would have been turned to a fine paste. Fortunately he was as good as—



Click-click!



The sound brought his thought process up short as he sought the source, all of a sudden finding his world… sinking? Genma blinked. The entire pillar was sinking into the stone foundation now, and him with it. Not sticking around for another trap! He thought, hoping off and snatching the small chest with it. The column continued to sink until its top was flush with the ground. The Saotome patriarch backed away from it cautiously as it clicked into place and began rotating. Genma stared. He was pretty certain they wouldn’t blow up the entire temple in the middle of town, so what—



The moonlight that had been filtering through the above skylight suddenly went dark.



“Oh, you’ve got you kidding—“



CrunCH! BOOM!



A giant, nearly cicular bolder crashed straight through the ceiling shattering yet more beautiful stone marble and nearly flattening Genma right then and there. The thief rolled out across the tiling and began tripping spear traps randomly, forcing the aging martial artist into wild evasions in order to avoid being skewered. The Soaotme flipped back twice as three more spears triggered. The balding martial artist evaded two and chopped the third one away, only to watch in horror as the giant bolder began to roll…



…In his direction.



The huge circular rock took up most of the room and there was only one way out against the massive piece of geology continued to advance on him, gaining speed slowly. Genma Saotome backed away from the encroaching bolder. Even now, he could hear monks rallying outside the temple and only one thought echoed through his brain…



…I’m getting too damn old for this.



------------







“We’re back!”



Akane Tendo blinked from her position on the living room sofa, turning her attention away from the soap she and her elder sister Nabiki now watched and onto the voice that had issued the proclamation. The door that had opened only seconds ago now clicked closed and the shuffle of shoes being removed now filled the hallway as her sister looked back with a slight smile.



For the sisters Tendo, Ranma Saotome being from his month long training trip was a portent of mixed messages. For Akane, it was the return of her on-again, off again fiancé, the harbinger of angst and chaos in her life… As well as the return of a person who filled some vague, ill-defined place in her heart, regardless of how rough he was around the edges. For Nabiki, the martial artists’ return not only meant the return of her primary long term investment, but a rise in property damage, extortion, betting and of course, lens time. Unlike her younger sister, Ranma Saotome occupied a rather well defined place in Nabiki’s heart; that place being labeled “Cash cow”.



After another few seconds of shuffling, Ranma strolled into the living room. His appearance had changed little since the last time they had laid eyes on him, save the fact that he now sported an odd bruise here and there and his tradition blue and black Chinese silks looks a bit worse for the wear. The Saotome flashed a smile at the pair but quickly found his attention diverted by the sobbing television, specifically, a Chinese princess whose lover was not in fact found to be slain by an evil demon lord, but instead possessed; his body and seduced her sister, the temple priestess and devil hunter, thereby creating animosity between the once harmonious pair. Ranma frowned at the revelation. While this particular episode was unknown to him, the general direction of the plot was and his dismay lay in the fact that despite the intricate plot of demons, swords and sorcerers, it had taken him sitting through several excruciating episodes to realize that not one iota of action was to be found in the melodrama the Tendo sisters now watched.



“Uhg, not this again.”



Akane threw a look of annoyance his way for the comment that passed as his first words to her in over a month while Nabiki simply opted to roll her eyes. “Some of us have better things to do than roll around in the wild and pummel their family members for sport.”



“As if.” Ranma snorted, clearly amused. What could be better than beating up on old pops, after all? “Way better than watchin’ fang face there fall in love with the priestess only to have her father slay the only person who really ever understood her, forcing her to leave with an unborn illegitimate child.” Then, as an after thought, “Oh, hi ‘Kane.”



Akane simply glared back at Ranma, clearly annoyed at her place in the conversation while Nabiki blinked. Kasumi stepped in from outside with a basket full of laundry at that moment, setting it next to her sisters. “Oh my, how did you manage to get a preview of the next episode, Ranma-kun?”



“Didn’t.” He shrugged. “That’s just the way those things always go.”



“Now you’re just being creepy, Saotome.”



The pigtailed boy simply dismissed the middle Tendo’s comment. “So anything exciting happen while we were gone?”



“Actually, we rather appreciated all the peace and quiet.” Akane inserted the subtle barb in an attempt to regain her fiancées attention through the most tried and true means available...



“So pretty boring, huh?”



…And rolled a critical miss.



Akane’s shoulders slumped at having forgotten that it would take more than a subtle 1d4 insult to get his attention. Having lost the initiative, she turned back toward attempting some semblance of a real conversation. “Pretty much. How about you?”



“Yeah, Saotome,” Nabiki piped up, now ignoring the TV drama completely. It didn’t help that Akane’s fiancé had thoroughly annihilated the plot for her. “Gain anymore curses we should know about?”



The question produced only a slight wince in the martial artist. “Nah. Old man decided to cause some trouble with a bunch of monks though.”



“Oh my…”



Ranma nodded at the eldest Tendo’s missive. “Tell me ‘bout it. Had his eyes on this stupid lamp they were guarding.” He paused, shaking his head with a new thought. “Damn thing was probably cursed too, now that ya mention it.”



“He was going to steal from monks?!” Akane’s jaw dropped.



Ranma simply shook his head and leaned against the wall to his back. “Ya never did see him when he took me out to train for the first time. Pop’s would grab at anything that wasn’t nailed down. Called it ‘training’.”



Now it was Akane’s turn to blinked. Clearly, Genma would be going to hell several times over, though it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise after everything she had heard attributed to the man’s stupidity. Stealing from monks was just as good as stealing okanomiyaki carts and forbidden scrolls, so why not?



“So did he get the lamp?” Nabiki questioned him with an unnatural light in her eyes as her eldest sister simply frowned with the sudden display of interest. “More importantly, how much was it worth?”



“Nah.” Ranma’s grin bordered on feral now. “I beat the notion out of him. Last thing I need is to get a pack of homicidal monks out after me ‘cuz of him.”



----------



“Ah, Saotome.” Soun Tendo smiled, pulling away the pipe as smoke lazily drifted from the porch on the light afternoon breeze. The Saotome in question smiled and dropped his pack down next to his best friend in life before sitting down at the fresh shogi board. “How was… the trip?”



The balding martial artist adjusted his glasses and looked around conspicuously. Satisfied there were no eavesdroppers, Genma Saotome smiled and dug into his pack. “I got it.”



The pip nearly fell out of his mustachioed partner’s mouth. He too looked around quickly before staring at Genma’s progress intently. “Truly?!”



“Wasn’t easy with my boy along,” the round martial artist commented, retrieving an square shaped cloth wrapping from his pack. Soun Tendo watched as he began to untie the bindings that held it secure. “Damn monks too, but I got it.”



“But… Does it work?” The Tendo asked as the cloth slipped away, revealing the first hints of dark, pitted wood beneath.



Genma shrugged. “Don’t know. They sealed it in this damn box with a puzzle lock. I hate puzzle locks.”



Soun sympathized. After that training mission with the master to retrieve an idol bust of solid gold, both apprentices were now very wary of puzzles and the giant boulders, poison darts and screaming natives that went with them. This damn box was about two hands long and one high, while it’s aged wood sported tarnished brass work along the joints that ultimately into a complex dial with numerous interlocking groves. The encrusted dial had five rings within the diameter with symbols spaced evenly at numerous points along the circumference. The Tendo took it gingerly from Genma’s hands to inspect it, and his friend noticed the hesitation in his movements.



“Don’t worry, Tendo. Been playing with those damn dials the entire way home while Ranma was asleep.” He assured the man. “Hasn’t killed me yet.”



‘Yet’ was the operative word in Soun Tendo’s eyes. Sure, the wooden box looked innocent enough, but so did that silver ball they had retrieved for the master; a silver ball that promptly levitated, produced shining, jagged blades and chased them both for nearly a week before they finally gave it the slip. But then, he and his partner had survived this long and wariness and cunning, and the stakes were high. The artifact in this box could cement the Saotome-Tendo Anything Goes legacy for all time. Emboldened by the fact, Soun gave the outside dial an experimental turn, followed quickly by the inner four dials. Each clicked obnoxiously with the movement, but failed to yield any further tangible results.



“Don’t even bother, Tendo.” Genma frowned as his friend gave the puzzle lock another experimental twist. “I’ve been trying for nearly two weeks. I think we need a specialist.”



Soun stopped his experimentation immedietly, and his left cheek began to twitch. “You don’t mean…?”



“I do.”



“Are you sure?” The mustachioed man set the box on the empty shogi board. “Surely a simple puzzle doesn’t warrant that sort of overkill…”



Genma let a labored sigh slip. “Desperate times, old friend. The kids have been together nearly a year and a half now. I don’t see an heir coming anytime in the near future, do you?”



Soun Tendo’s shoulders slumped with defeat. He was right. At the rate Ranma and his little girl were progressing, the other not-so legitimate fiancées had an even if not better shot at wedding the boy these days, and God forbid his morals slipped even once. He was a maturing boy and there was simply too much competition to risk that. Determination steeled his eyes and he nodded to his friend, both standing up.



“Let’s do it.”



Both men stepped out in the daylight and steeled themselves. What they were about to undertake was not without risk, after all, and had they the time or foresight, would have thought to erect some form summoning circle to protect against the evil they were about to call forth. As it was, they were short of wards, time and common sense, opting to dispense with the procedure right then and there. The aging martial artists took a deep breath…



“HAPPOSAI, HAPPOSAI, HAPPOSAI!”



“Sweeto!” Both men twisted around to find the old perverted master bounding over the Tendo property wall, bouncing easily over to them despite the massive cloth sack of underwear straddling his back. “What’s up, boys? Ready for a new training mission?”



Genma suppressed the inevitable shudder at the very suggestion. “Uh, no master! We um… uh…”



“Need your help!” Soun stepped in before Genma began to draw too much attention to himself. The Masters eyes flicked from Saotome to Tendo. “To open, uh, this!”



He thrust the small rectangular box out to the diminutive old gnome, who in turn let the massive green bag of panties roll off his back. Happosai snatched at the box with curiosity.



“A present for your master, no doubt!”



Soun paled. “Uh… eh…”



Seconds after having grabbed at it, The old master found his attention completely absorbed by the box. “Hmmm… Very old… Puzzle lock…” His attention returned briefly to his students. “Reminds you of the good ol’ days, huh?” Happosai didn’t wait for a response and returned to the box, failing to notice his students’ shivering. “Let’s see… Long time since I’ve seen one of this craftsmanship. Don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Monks of Avalon if I’m not mistakin’.”



Click-click-click-click--



“These things are a blast, “ Soun and Genma simply remained silent as their master began to fiddle with the locking mechanism. “Force the lock and the spell binding feeds back on itself. Literally a blast.” Tiny fingers began to manipulate the five dials, prompting them to click in return. “There’s also at least thirty dummy combinations you can hit upon, releasing a cloud of acidic vapor on anybody within ten meters.”



Click-click-click--



Now Genma paled. He had been playing with that thing for a week, dialing at random.



“And the obligatory poison darts.” The master reminisced with a smile. “Ah, it just takes ya back. Great locks, too bad the makers weren’t exactly imaginative. All derivatives of the great elemental puzzle. It’s rather simple once-- Whoops!”



Click-click-clickclickcliclickclickclick!



Genma and Soun cringed as the master’s eyes widened, his little fingers spinning the inner most dial well away from the setting he was about to stop on. He looked up at his still frozen apprentices with a smile. “Almost set a dummy combination. Ah, here we go.”



Click-click-CLICK.



“Still got the touch!” Happosai grinned widely. “Now it’s time to see what you old boys got you master for--“



“Look, Master! PANTIES!”



“Where!?”



The wooden box instantly dropped as the pervert swung around, looking wildly in the direction Soun was pointing. The momentary distraction provided Genma with more than enough time to drop several hundred pounds of stone lantern on the gnome’s head from a height of three meters, flattening the old master. Both smiled at one another and Soun retrieved the box. Sure, the Master would be pissed when he woke up. After all, you just don’t double cross demonic evil without reprisal; but by then, their work would be done long before he woke up.



Soun stared at the box with wonder and swung the lid open slowly.



Phhhfffttt! ThWapTHwAPThWApThwaPThwAP!!



Eight streaks flew by his nose and he blinked, finding Genma staring at the ceiling of his porch. There, eight feather tipped wooden spikes had managed to imbed themselves in the sturdy beam above them. The balding martial artist simply shook his head.



“Poison darts. I hate poison darts.” Then he paused with a faraway look in his eyes. “Say, did I ever tell you about how I met No-chan?”



Soun dismissed his partner’s fond musings, carefully inspecting the interior of the lethal box in his hands. Its contents quickly earned their undivided attention as their gazes fell upon tarnished gold and gems, twisted and shaped into the form of an antique oil lamp. “Well it certainly looks impressive.”



Genma nodded. At very least, it would pay for a few meals once they shined it up. He lifted it gently out of the box and away from Soun, carefully as to avoid any further unwanted surprises. Satisfied that it was no longer a threat, he took a better grip, turning it to view the lamp from every angle. After another few minutes of study, he frowned and began to shake it. “So how do we turn the damn thing on?”



“It’s said to grant a wish, correct?” Soun asked an earned a nod in return. He took the lamp from his friend. “I seem to recall something about polishing magical lamps…”



Genma’s eyebrows furrowed with the concept. “Do we need a special kind of polish? I can send the boy--“



“We’ll just try this first, old friend.” Soun nodded and began to rub the dark golden lamp with his sleeve. “If this doesn’t work, I’ll have Kasumi fetch--“



“MWUWAHAHAHAAHAH!”



Bluish smoke erupted from the lamps spout, coinciding with the obnoxious booming laughter, instantly causing Soun to drop the lamp. Visions of acidic clouds eating away fleshy skeletons quickly played inside his mind and he lept away, as did Genma whose own brain was already operating along the same lines. Fear quickly turned to amazement as the cloud failed to disperse with the summer breeze, instead opting to coalesce into a vaguely humanoid shape. A translucent torso formed and with it, smoky arms and a head, all solidifying into features that vaguely resembled a blue man composed of roiling smoke, his waist tethered to the lamp by a funnel cloud of the same gaseous material.



The figure continued to gain definition as they gaped and now three girls and a boy were stepping out on the porch, wondering what all the ruckus was about. Immediately visible, of course, were the two slack jawed parents. Beside them was a stone lantern mishappenly placed on the old pervert Happosai’s head. This was approved of. What they found beyond the parents and the misplaced stone lantern caused them to stop short, however, as it wasn’t everyday you found a man made of blue smoke floating about your property.



“Oh my!” Kasumi put her hands over her mouth. “Another kidnapper for Akane?”



The youngest sister’s cheek twitched, but her eyes remained firmly rooted on the improbably sight before her, that being what looked like a well muscled man dressed in Arabian styled clothing made of blue smoke. Beyond the intricately woven belt, nothing else was discernable save the blue funnel cloud swirling about his hips.



“YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND, MASTER!”



The proclamation stunned nearly everybody present, and the djinni waited for the moment to pass by twirling his handle barred mustache. Surprisingly, it was Genma’s brain that kicked back online first. “I wish to be rid of my Jusenkyo curse!”



The swirling man considered him with a wide smile. “HA! That I could grant were you my master! Only the one who released me may wish upon the lamp.” Properly rebuked, he turned to Soun Tendo. “What is your wish, Master?”



“Ooof!”



Eyes turned back to find Genma doubled over, his own son’s elbow having been applied painfully to his gut.



“That’s for not wishin’ both our curses away, Pops.” Ranma elaborated on the elbow, pulling it away from the stricken man with a sucking sound. “’Cides, didn’t I tell ya not to screw with the monks?”



The father balked at the suggestion by lunging at his son and the squabbling continued despite the fact that there was now what amounted to a djinni in their midst, one that was watching their argument with a most amused expression on his face while Soun Tendo considered his wish most carefully.



“Doesn’t Daddy get three wishes?” Nabiki’s direct question to the djinni effectively stopped any and all argument between the Saotome father and son. After all, three wishes meant more than ample opportunity to wish away their curses.



For his part, the gaseous entity merely chuckled. “Were the biped who bound me to this lamp both skilled and powerful, perhaps. Suffice to say, he was not and was only able to exact one wish from our… negotiations.”



All eyes turned from the Djinni and back to the bearer of the single wish, one Soun Tendo as he contemplated the dilemma. When he and Genma had first discussed it, it had all seemed so easy. Wish Akane and Ranma together in a happy marriage. It was only now that the wish was in hand, so to speak, that the true power that he wielded was realized. For instance, he could very well wish Kamiko back into the world of the living. It was a sobering thought, that. Surely Genma would forgive him for the change of plan…



“I wish… my wife…”



“No.” The smoldering blue man held out his hand, stopping Soun’s request cold. “Returning loved ones from beyond the veil is not within my power. Nor is wishing for more wishes or more power than I myself have been imbued with, for that matter. Please keep these limitations in mind when wishing.”



“Jeez, didn’t think you needed an instruction manual for wishin’” Ranma commented and the djinni smiled, snapping his fingers. The air exploded before him and a massive leather bound book materialized, instantly dropping to the earth with a massive thud. The wide tome was easily five encyclopedias thick.



“There is,” The djinni motioned to the huge book now lying at Ranma’s feet. “Nobody ever bothers to read it.”



Ranma arched an eyebrow, running a finger along the thick layer of dust over the hide bound cover. “Can see why.”



Soun barely paid the book any mind. If he couldn’t wish Kamiko back then there was only one other thing of value to be wished for. “I’ve decided.”



“Then wish, O’Master!”



“I wish…” Three daughters, one best friend and his son hung on every word. “I wish for Ranma to fulfill his honor to the Tendo family!”



Ranma blinked. “Wha--?”



“MWuWAHAHAHA!” The djinni bellowed, amusement plainly evident on his smoky face. “A poorly worded wish if there ever was! I suppose it is up to me to interpret your desires correctly!”



“Very poorly worded.” Nabiki simply shook her head, disappointed. “And couldn’t you have wished for something a bit more lucrative?”



She quickly found her misgivings ignored as the djinni turned to the stunned Ranma Saotome. “Soun Tendo’s wish is for you to fulfill your honor toward his family.”



The moment broke and the pigtailed boy simply rolled his eyes. “Ain’t nothing’ new there.”



“Then you shall forgive me for indulging myself.” The wispy djinni bowed in a grandiose manner, and the smile began to make Ranma nervous. “Tell me, you are a martial artist, are you not?”



“The best.”



“Excellent!” The man clapped, delighted. “And as a martial artist, you are tasked with defending the weaker bipeds amongst you?”



A small voice in the back of Ranma’s mind began screaming, the same voice that usually accompanied Amazon attacks, the kidnapper of the month and other such super villains that regularly stumbled across the humble Nerimian prefecture. “Yeah, so?”



“And what would you do when tasked between saving somebody helpless, like, hmmm…” The djinni made a big production of thinking before snapping his fingers with inspiration. “Dear Kasumi Tendo here will do nicely!” no sooner had he snapped then The eldest Tendo daughter was enveloped by a large, transparent bubble that shimmered with power. An ‘oh my’ instantly spilled from Kasumi’s lips, though the audio component of the misgiving was clearly absorbed by the barrier.



“Hey! Let her go!” Akane charged forward, only to meet the creature’s now cruel smile. His form began to shift away from the blue human he had manifested in to that of something more sinister and predatory. Its arms and torso thinned, fingers lengthening into smoky talons as the pleasant face was replaced by a sharp curved beak and glittering blue eyes. Akane skidded to a halt as the new being before her considered her as if she were a tasty morsel. Ranma stepped behind her and pulled Akane back, interposing himself between the smoky monster and his fiancée.



“Do you ignorant bipeds believe you can simply enslave one of our kind without consequence?” The beaked creature continued in the same well mannered-voice he had started with, a voice totally at odds with the form it now assumed. The slopped cranium turned toward Soun Tendo. “And thank you, master, for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity for vengeance!”



“Moko Takabisha!”



Ranma’s ki bolt crossed the space instantly at point blank range, blowing a large hole through the now demonic looking djinni and continuing on into the property wall beyond. Whatever devestation the bolt of pure life force managed to impart on the wall failed to transfer into the real target as the massive hole in the being’s chest held form for a moment before smoke flowed back into the wound, sealing the damage completely. The creature simply chortled at his efforts



“Ha! None may interfere with the dispensation of a wish! Now where were we? Ah yes!” Two razor sharp talons clicked together with the rhetorical question and Genma found himself in a similar prison. A few punches from within the bubble quickle confirmed its robustness. “Now, as I was saying… No, wait. I am missing somebody.”



Another snap of the wispy talons produced Nodoka Saotome in the same bubble as her husband. “Yes, that’s better.”



“Let… them… go…” Ranma growled as his mother came to terms with being transported away from cooking lunch several kilometers away to the Tendo Dojo and trapped. The martial artist began to glow brightly now, but the djinni paid him no heed. Despite their concern for Kasumi, the remaining Tendo sisters backed away as they easily recognized the signs of imminent violence as only Ranma could instigate. Soun Tendo stood his ground, pleading.



“You must let them go!” He announced with more confidence than he felt against in the presence of such foreboding evil. “I am the master of the lamp and you must obey me!”



“Indeed.” The cruel smile was clearly communicated through that singular word. “You wished for Ranma to fulfill his honor to the Tendo family. He shall.” The beak turned back to Ranma. “I shall let them go, but the choice is yours-- Kasumi Tendo or your parents.”



“And what’s to stop me from kickin’ your ass and saving em both?” Muscles began to tense as Ranma bought time for his next salvo, looking for a weakness in his opponent to strike at.



“Magic, of course!” The smoking wraith, still bound to the lamp admitted gleefully. “Both mine and the fool who tied me to this relic to begin with. It is such a pleasure to use the idiot’s own machinations against him! But now, will you rescue the defenseless girl or your own blood? The one not chosen will, of course, die a hideous and painful death.”



Genma’s struggling from within his own bubble ceased, as did Nodoka’s ineffectual pounding next to him. Even Kasumi Tendo’s eyes were wide with the announcement. The pigtailed boy himself began to quiver and meter long claws of red ki flashed into existence along his knuckles, though he appeared not to notice.



“I ain’t jokin’.”



“And neither am I.” The djinni wraith nodded, pulling a small, hourglass from its smoldering torso. He flipped it around delicately between two talon tips and red sand began to pour through the bottleneck. “You have one minute, else they both succumb to the same fate."



PhOOOooMP!



There was no warning this time as the ki blast tore through the intervening air separating Ranma Saotome from the creature, only to have to blow through the creature as it had before with no effect, save the surprised look on the djinni’s face. This time, the martial artist was right behind it, however, launching an aerial kick into the creatures form and following up with a burst from his Chestnut Fist technique. The smoldering creature never even flinched as blades of ki racked through its head, leaving little but streaking smoke to mark their passage. His opening salvo exhausted, Ranma flipped back and landed between the bubbles of Kasumi, Genma and Nodoka. A quick survey of his work indicated no damage and the tiny minute glass was already half depleted.



“This thing is serious,” Ranma growled over his shoulder to the entrapped trio from a crouch. “I’ll get Kas-chan out first, then get you both-- “



“AN EXCELLENT CHOICE!” Ranma’s eyes widened djinni cackled happily, blue smoke roiling within the confines of its form. “I knew you would hold true to your martial arts code. Either way, the wish is to be fulfilled!”



Click!



It was a simple click of the creature’s talons, but the horrified faces on the remaining Tendo’s told Ranma everything he needed to know about the monsters actions. He spun around, glimpsing into hell itself. Kasumi was free of her confinement, but had lost her balance as she gaped at the horrific spectacle taking place. Flames had ignited within his parent’s globe and both now withered in agony as both clothing and flesh were silently consumed from within the magical incinerator.



“Dance, mortals! Dan--“



“RAAAAAARRRRAAAAHHH!!!”



The embodiment of undistilled fury spun onto the laughing djinni, cupping its hands as a pure ki pooled within them. Blue eyes shined with vengeance and Ranma snarled, unleashing a solid blue beam into the tormentor of his parents. An incandecant line of pure life force ineffectually lanced through the djinni’s torso before flickering out. Ranma launched himself in behind it, fully in the grip of neko-ken rage. Ki claws came up, and--



WHAM!



The martial artist was backhanded by a smoldering blue claw, sending him through a splintering porch beam and across the yard in and uncontrolled tumble. To his credit, the pigtailed boy recovered quickly, only to be stopped by the sight of two skeletonal pyers withering in broad daylight. They seemed to stand upright a moment longer, as if held there by will alone before collapsing into a bonfire of carbon cinders and bone.



The djinni sighed as Ranma sank to his knees. “A pity you humans don’t last longer. You all make for such brief entert-- Ooh!” Another kick blasted though his head and for a moment, he stared into the blue eyes of unrestrained fury. Ranma Saotome put everything he had into the next punch, prompting the creature to simply laugh. “Much as I would like to indulge your bloodlust, I cannot. The lamp’s power is already gathering to take me far away from this comedy of ignorance and stupidity.”



Another ki blast splashed through him, and for a moment, the djinni felt the smallest twinge of… concern. It was a damn good thing the boy didn’t know a thing about his kind or magic, else he might actually be a threat with that sort of determination. He shrugged the worry off. Soon the boy would be a mere memory. It turned back to the kneeling, horrified form of Soun Tendo. “Regardless, thank you for the entertainment, master! I should only hope for another as ignorant and self serving as yourself!”



Ranma’s next punch flew through the monster as the djinnis smoking body seemed to collapse in upon itself while simultaneously being pulled back into the lamp. The Saotome recovered only fast enough to watch the cloud disappear entirely, while the lamp itself was enveloped in a bright light. It pulsed blindingly once and Ranma was left staring at empty ground; beyond that, the charred remains of his parents. One of the sisters threw up off to the side but tearing his gaze away to find out which was all but impossible for the pigtailed boy.



The final embers of the djinni’s magically fueled inferno drifted away with the wind leaving the scorched remains to smolder restlessly.



Genma and Nodoka Saotome, ages 42 and 38, were dead.



-----------------



Nabiki took another nervous glance across the Tendo courtyard and up into the dimming evening sky. Outlined there were the familiar lines of the dojo and atop it, the crouching form of Ranma Saotome. The redhead hadn’t moved for hours since the departure of the police, who had grudgingly accepted the fact of yet another supernatural occurrence in their precinct. It was also a sad fact that the late Genma Saotome had a criminal record half a kilometer long, which in turn contributed to the officers’ reluctance to probe the incident any deeper. “Another felon off the streets,” she had heard one of the officers say.



Nabiki Tendo shivered with the recent memory and the statement. She was all but certain Ranma had heard the careless remark as well, though the only evidence that he had done so was the sharp decrease in ambient temperature around him. The frost on the lawn where he stood had opened her eyes a great deal in that moment. The martial artist whom she had passed off as clueless, naïve, and damaged goods was also one of incredible self control. There was no doubt that he could break the offending officer and decimate his associates with next to no effort, and the middle Tendo morbidly wondered how high the death toll would climb if that self control snapped, let alone who would be at the top of his list when it did. She didn’t like the answers that silent question produced. As it was, the teen simply stared impassively and answered their questions, as if the small men asking them weren’t poking the dragon in their midst with a stick, and allowed them to leave with all their vital organs intact. The next time she saw Ranma, he was a she and had retreated to the dojo rooftop where none dared follow.



Daddy had, of course, drank himself into drunken oblivion after the police left, eliminating any traces of sobriety with extreme prejudice, with consciousness following shortly thereafter. Probably for the best, Nabiki reasoned, taking another involuntary glance at the figure above. The last thing Ranma needed was to be confronted by the person who was in-part responsible for the death of her mother and father.



Speaking of confrontations…



Father may have been comatose, but there was still damage control to be done. Nabiki strode briskly through the house and up the stairs all but ignoring her still shell-shocked eldest sister on the way up stair. Not that she could blame her. The heavy chaos always happened far away from their home and always ended happily. It was probably inevitable, she decided, clearing the last step and passing her own room in short order. She of all people knew you could only beat the odds so many times before they caught up with you, and they finally had in spectacularly gruesome manner.



Knock-knock-knock.



Nabiki stood at Akane’s door for a moment, then pushed it open without invitation, find the girl simply staring at the ceiling from her bed. There was little doubt in the her mind that the same scenes of burning remains were playing out in her little sister’s mind, just as they had been hers for the last four hours, but much as she would have liked to have let her sister deal with the trama in her own way, the most lethal martial artist this side of Tokyo was sitting on their roof, balancing on a hair trigger.



The youngest Tendo didn’t even look as Nabiki stepped into her room. “He needs you.” Akane remained motionless. “He… she’s on the roof right now brooding.”



“Yeah.” Was the only word her sister uttered and Nabiki took it as an invitation, sitting on her sister’s bed.



“No, Akane, this is bad.” She continued, deadly serious. “You know how he only retreats to his curse when he can’t handle the situation. I’m no psychotherapist, but it’s his emotional outlet whether he admits it or not.”



Akane turned from her pillow to consider her sister’s words. Nabiki immediately noted the puffy red eyes, but pressed forward. “When you get angry or depressed, you break bricks. When Ranma gets depressed, she takes it out on the ice cream stores. If it’s really bad, he uses the curse to cry it out. But this… We both know from experience this is something that you can’t just cry away.”



The sister simply nodded as her own thoughts were invariably drawn off to her mother before focusing on the crisis at hand. “I don’t think he wants to see me right now…”



Nabiki found her rare moments of sympathy increasing in frequency, nodding with her sister. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to see anybody now, but he needs to see somebody… I’m not that person and Kasumi really doesn’t handle this sort of stuff well.”



Akane remained silent, prompting to play the last card in her hand. “You saw the lawn.” The youngest sister simply nodded. “We can’t afford to leave him alone right now.”



The youngest tendo stared at her sister in silence. She remembered the lawn. She remembered the nearly invisible vapor rolling off her fiancée, crystallizing the blades of grass at his feet. She remembered, and Nabiki’s words hit her with absolute clarity. Akane sat up from her position and wiped an eye clear. “I’ll… I’ll try.”



Nabiki watched as Akane stood up slowly and put one foot in front of the other. Resigned to her fate, the girl slid her door open and stepped out. Nabiki watched after the door a moment longer before falling back onto the empty bed herself, mentally exhausted. Normally she loved her games of manipulation, but today, those stakes had become far too high to be enjoyed. A super powered martial artist was on the edge and she had just sent her sister in to calm her down. It wasn’t one of her better moments, but if Akane’s fiancé did snap, Daddy was more than likely first on the list, followed by herself shortly there after depending on how Ranma felt afterward.



The sad fact was that Akane was probably the best chance they had of calming Ranma down, and she had just sent her sister into the breech.



-----------------





“Told him not to screw with the monks.”



Akane simply sat with Ranma in silence as the boy stared off into the dusk sky from his rooftop perch, revisiting the cruelty inflicted upon his parents. The callous remark struck his fiancée such that she felt the need to defend the departed father.



“He was just trying to—“



“Help?” Ranma snorted scornfully, her eyes never leaving the fading horizon. “Help himself, maybe. Him and your old man.”



The youngest Tendo opened her mouth, but there was little to say on the matter. Even if it had merely been an annoyance before, there was simply no denying the fact now. Their parents had been willing to wish them together through super natural means… And suffered the consequences in a horrific manner.



“My old man… He deserved that.” Ranma growled, prompting Akane’s eyes to widen to the size of dinner plates. “Don’t look at me like that. Call it whatever you want, but karma finally caught up to the panda.”



“But—“



“And you know the worst part about all this?” The martial artist’s blue eyes locked onto Akane’s sparkling with resentment. “My Mom didn’t do a goddamn thing to deserve that.”



Akane’s head turned to view the court yard of her home almost mechanically, as if directed to do so by an outside force beyond her control. That was a scorch mark just outside the house; just under a meter of blackened grass and earth. Her stomach instantly began to feel queasy again.



“Screw him and screw your old man.” The girl spat before her smoldering resentment moved on to a new topic of malcontent. A dark chuckle fell from her lips. “Ranma Saotome never loses, eh? Looks like he lost big today.”



Akane knew self recrimination when she heard and attempted to intervene, putting her hand gently on the redhead’s own. “There’s nothing you could have done! Nobody could have known they were going to summon a dinnji!”



“And that’s the point, ‘Kane.” Ranma shook his head, his voice drained of life. “I’m the best of the best. Twelve and a half years of martial arts. I’ve beatin’ opponents other’s can only dream of… And how much good did it do me? My life… a waste.”



“It’s not…” Akane returned softly, though her words went largely unheard.



“Some man I turned out to be.” She snorted with bitter sarcasm. “Couldn’t even kick that cartoon reject’s ass.”



She stood up abrubtly and stepped to the edge. Panic shot through the Tendo girl as she contemplated just what Ranma might have on her mind at this point. Jumping off the roof wouldn’t kill the martial artist by any stretch of the imagination. No, she was worried about what the redhead would be doing after that. “Ranma… don’t even think about—“



“Killin’ myself?” Ranma looked over her shoulder, a dead smile on her face. “Cut my belly open with my Mom’s blade back at home?”



Akane blinked. That was pretty much exactly what she had been expecting.



“Nah.” Ranma shook her head. “That’s too good for me.”



Akane opened her mouth to rebuke girl’s dark logic, but she was already gone off the roof and into the night.





-----------------



Peace and quiet.



Normally it was something Ranma Saotome, now head of clan Saotome would have killed for. A break from rivals, a break from fiancees’, a break from pressure and most of all, a break from the grind. Today was just such a break…



…In the worst possible way.



The peace and quite now pervaded the last place he would wish it to, that being the empty living room of her now empty home. No lights were on as she stood alone in the dark, considering the her fate. She hadn’t won. Being the best hadn’t mattered a damn bit. Because he couldn’t hack it, they were dead.



A martial artist protects the weak.



Yeah, so much for that. Got Kasumi out, but only because the damn thing let her out. Silence was the only reply to his missive as she continued to sink deeper into her depression. Thirteen years of marital arts… her entire life a waste.



Time I could have been with Mom.



Stupid goddamn fucking Panda, Ranma snarled mentally. If he had known the lazy asshole’s martial arts quest would have led them to this point, he would have kicked his ass and said to hell with it all. To hell with the fiancées, to hell with the arranged marriage, to hell with all of it.



The redhead stood in the dark for a moment before crossing the moonlit room, lifting her mother’s sheathed katana from the wall mounting. Technically, seppuku was a job best left to a tanto, but she didn’t exactly have one handy. Ranma studied the curvature of the sheathed blade, it’s spackled red and black finish muted by shadow and darkness, exposed an inch of steel to open air. A katana would work just as well and all the more ironic it would be the family honor blade.



CliCK!



Honor my ass. Her thoughts hissed bitterly, snapping the katana fully back into its sheath. This is where the Saotome family honor had led them all to… Rivals, fiancées and the slaughter of her entire family. Not just my family honor, either… That pathetic excuse for a human being that had been the old man’s best friend had a hand in all this too.



Ranma’s thoughts took a substantially darker turn as he contemplated Soun Tendo’s survival in spite of his own personal greed. Shoulda died with the panda, not Mom…Maybe I’ll finish the job…Then take out that bag of flesh he calls a master for even introducing the assholes to begin with.



The katana fell to the carpeted floor as the blade slipped from her grasp. No, she wouldn’t do that, Maybe if it were just Nabiki… But not Akane. Not Kasumi. She wouldn’t punish them for the sins of their fathers.



No, that punishment was hers to bear. Punishment for not seeing the world for what it was sooner. Punishment for letting things spiral so far out of control and punishment for failing to be that which she had proclaimed time and time again.



“The best.” She spat, as if the entire concept was an ephitat and sank to the floor. Ranma melted bonelessly to the carpeted as tears began to cloud her eyes. She had failed and her loved ones had suffered…



Even that bastard father of hers.



----------------



All things considered, it was the beautiful morning the weather forecaster had predicted, Akane noted on her walk to school. It was all due to an area of high pressure that had settled over Tokyo, keeping the rain at bay and the temperatures pleasantly mild, much like the days before. Sure, there were showers predicted for the weekend, but the remainder of the week promised to blue skies…



…Even if a shroud of black hung over her every action. Beside her was Nabiki. The number of times her older sister had actually walked with her to school over the last year could be counted on two hands, but her sibling had escorted her for nearly a week straight without complaint. She knew part of it was a show or moral support. Part of it… There was a part that Akane just couldn’t identify, but she appreciated the company none the less.



It was also a quiet day, she noted as they passed through the gates of Furikan high. No martial arts challenges, no betting pools and no ‘die Ranma die’. Akane looked about the students socializing in the front courtyard, half of which were looking at her and her sister expectantly for exactly the same reason she was looking at them. Another scan of the crowd more or less confirmed her suspicions and fear with a sigh. Ranma Saotome was missing, missing for the forth day in a row.



“I’ll go check, okay?” Nabiki replied to the unbidden sigh, to which her sister silently nodded. With that affirmation, the middle Tendo backtracked to the edge of the courtyard where a trio of school girls waited. Her face from the looser emotions that played about it into her cool poker face as she got down to business. “What are we looking at?”



“Nothing at the ice cream parlors or restaurants.” The first girl reported. Nabiki nodded, turning to the second.



“Same with the bridge.” The girl picked up, flipping through a small notebook. “If he’s hiding, it isn’t there or under it like he usual does.”



“Not at Ukyo’s or the Cat Café.” The third girl rounded out shaking her head. “Still haven’t checked his house. I’m betting—“



“Nobody,” Nabiki focused on the girl suddenly, bringing her full Ice Queen persona to bear, “but nobody goes near that house.” She swept the cold gaze across all three girls. “Is that absolutely clear?”



Of the three girls suddenly finding themselves nodding, only one was able to find their voice. “But… why?”



The Tendo sister considered the inevitable question and answered with an answer she had worked out well in advance. “It’s process of elimination. We find Ranma by finding where he isn’t. I won’t go into details at the moment, but going near that house may very well be hazardous to your health.”



She didn’t bother mentioning the fact that the hazard to their health existed solely because of their association with her.



“Well, I guess that doesn’t stop us from selling the location to—“ The same girl continued undeterred, only to find herself on the receiving end of the cold glare once more.



You’re too good of a student, Mono-chan, Nabiki frowned mentally but kept the full ice queen persona in place. “--To nobody. The only information that you can be privy to at the moment is that something very bad has happened,” The middle Tendo stressed her words. “We stir the pot now and the shit will not only roll downhill, but uphill, sideways and upside down before its all done. I’ll make sure you’re all well compensated for your efforts, but that’s the most you get for now, clear?”



All three girls nodded without objection. “Good.” Nabiki purposely dropped the hard edge of her frost demeanor, scanning the trio. “Otherwise, it’s any other day. Usa, you’ve got rumors. Mono, debt collection. Natsume, stay on Kuno.”



“Not Kuno!” The dark brown haired girl groaned, shaking her head emphatically. “Have a heart, boss!”



“Sorry for your luck.” The girl named Usa snorted. “The Ice Queen doesn’t have a heart.”



Something about the comment caused part of Nabiki’s soul to shrink unexpectedly, but Monoko was already talking before she could analyze it. “I’ll take pity on you, Su-chan. I’ve done rumors for the past three days. I’ll trade you, but you’ll owe me.”



“Anything!”



“Okay with you boss?” Her subordinate asked, eliciting a shrug from the Tendo.



“As long as it gets done. She returned. “I’ll be—“



“I said not now, baka!”



All four pairs of eyes were drawn to the angry yell echoing across the court yard as the attention of the entire student body focused on one short haired girl with blue hair and a taller boy sporting a hamak and bokken. Nabiki sighed, identifying the two easily. “Speaking of Kuno…”



The upper classman broke from the meeting and started toward her younger sister and Furikan’s resident idiot. Even if arguing hadn’t been heard by the entire student body, it wouldn’t have been hard to guess at the contents of their bickering. Surely enough, Tatewake Kuno’s reply all but confirmed matters for her.



“But I must know!” The keondoist continued his rant already in progress, further angering the youngest Tendo. “The most foul sorcerer hast not appeared at all this week! If he has been laid low, we must strike!”



Nabiki watched the scene play out Akane cast a glare upon Kuno that only the insane could ignore. Even the people in there immediate vicinity took a step back. “Shut up! Just shut up, shut up, SHUT UP you clueless idiot! You have no idea what’s going on! And if you don’t shut up, I’ll shut your moronic—“



“Sis.” Nabiki attempted to force as much calm into the word as possible. Akane’s head whipped around and it was all Nabiki could do not to blanch at the fury inhabiting her sister’s face as she attempted to draw her off. “I’ll take care of Kuno. You hurry on to class, okay?”



The rage settled into simmering anger, acknowledging her elder sister with a crisp nod before burning Kuno with a another glare and departing for the school entrance. The upperclassman failed to take the hint and moved to follow when Nabiki stepped in to block his progress.



“Kuno baby, what’s up?” Nabiki smiled easily, a smile that her victim was not fooled by in the least.



“Stand aside, meddlesome Tendo.” He ordered imperviously. “Something has my fiery tigress agitate and I must ascertain what!”



“Forget who you’re talking to, Kuno?” Nabiki arched an eyebrow skeptically, forcibly reminding the boy just who brokered the information flowing into and out of Furikan. “Perhaps I can help you out without ‘agitating’ my sister further.”



The upper classman adopted a sage look of contemplation. “Mayhaps it is for the best. Your usual rates?”



“Of course. Mono-chan will fill you in on the details while I check on Akane.” Nabiki confirmed, turning away from her mark while brushing by Monoko, leaning in with a whisper. “Take his money, lead him around by the nose but keep it vague. You know the drill.” Her cohort nodded silently and Nabiki smiled back at the kendoist. “Ja-ne, kuno-chan.”



The boy scowled at Nabiki’s back with the familiar title, but quickly turned his attention to Mokoto. “Sasuke! My wallet!” The ninja phased into existence next to Kuno, already subserviently bowing while offering the wallet. The Kuno heir took the wallet without a thought and began to pull several tan sheets from it, then hand them to the girl. “The retainer fee.”



Mokoto smiled, counting the money. Natsume had no idea what she was missing. The upper classman may be borderline psychotic, but he pays out like a loose pachinko parlor, she grinned mentally, then carried out Nabiki’s plan. “Nobody has seen Ranma for days and we know for certain he hasn’t been by the dojo.”



“Truly?!” Kuno confirmed, gaining a wild glint in his eyes. “If something has driven the viper from its nest, I must find out what! Hath thou further information?”



Mokoto nodded agreeably. “Only that he hasn’t been in the company of any of his other fiancées either. Details are scarce at the moment, but once we learn more—“



“I shall pay any amount!” The upper classman practically burst, brandishing his bokken. “Anything to smite the wretch that would cause my fiery tigress angst! Undoubtedly, it is he that is responsible for the absence of the vibrant pigtailed girl as well!”



Mokoto heard nothing after the words ‘any amount’ as her eyes tracked the wide fan of cash flailing around within the kendoist grasp. Her brain rebooted seconds later as the rant continued, her mind on an altogether different track now. She glanced over her shoulder, not finding neither Nabiki nor her other associates in sight. “Did you say any amount?”



“Of course!” Tatewake confirmed. “No expense is too great in order to spare my goddesses their suffering!”



Mokoto looked over her shoulder again, then smiled a sharks smile before taking the entire wad of cash from Kuno’s hand. “Then I might have just the information you require…”



---------------------



“And I still say this is not a good idea.”



“And I don’t care.” Akane returned matter-of-factly continuing her after school trek down an anonymous street of the Nermian suburb. “I’m going to see him.”



“But—“ Nabiki inserted as she kept pace, only to be cut off by her younger sister.



“But nothing.” She retorted. “He can’t keep hiding from the world.” She stopped short, as if suddenly realizing something. The dark blue haired girl turned on her sister. “Why don’t you want to help?”



Nabiki’s mouth suddenly went dry. “I…”



“You’re not up to something are you?” Akane accused, fixing the girl with a sharp stare. Nabiki’s expression went from pensive to offended instantly.



“No!” She wanted to say ‘Hell no!’ in reality. Pissing off super powered martial artists any further than she already had was not at the top of her list of things to do. Still, it was a justified accusation, she realized soberly, and dropped any indignation she was feeling with a sigh. “Look, no. I’m trying to help. I’m feeding the fiancées general, worthless information at the moment. It won’t hold forever, but it will last them long enough to find out just what’s happening with Saotome.”



Akane held her gaze for a moment before accepting the answer with a nod, continuing her trek down the sidewalk. “But even I can tell there’s something else, sis.”



The silence held for another five minutes of walking before Nabiki continued in a subdued tone. “Right now Ranma has a shit list, Akane, and I’m relatively certain Nabiki Tendo is somewhere near the top of it. I’m doing what I can to help, but he’s depressed and angry, so I’m not sure it even matters to him.”



Akane blinked back at Nabiki. Her sister- the famed Ice Queen of Furikan –was scared? Of Ranma? “What makes you think he would even…?”



“That night. With the police, Akane.” Nabiki shook her head slowly. “I watched the entire thing when they weren’t questioning us. There was nothing in his eyes. Nothing. He was frosting the goddamn lawn, sis.” The youngest Tendo considered her words in silence as Nabiki continued. “I’m very good at reading people and I know where the line is when dealing with them. That line moved dramatically in the wrong direction that night with Ranma.”



“I think you’re reading too much into it.” Akane commented, barely hiding her amazement that her sister was actually scared of anybody. “You’re trying to help and Ranma’s never been the vengeful type. Stubborn, reckless, egotistical, mout—“ The sister caught herself with a frown, as if she had broken some unspoken pact with herself. “Anyway, he’s just not the sort.”



Both sisters rounded a street corner and the Saotome household came into view three blocks from their current position. Nabiki suppressed a shiver as the eyes reappeared in her minds eye and it was only minutes later that Akane was knocking on the Saotome house door.



I am not looking forward to this, Nabiki grumbled mentally. The missive escaped her lips. “I hope you’re right, Akane.”



Akane spared her a skeptical glance before returning to her knocking. “Ranma! Get out here!” Her fist hammered at the door with another round of thudding. “Ranma! I know you’re in there!”



No response. Nabiki shrugged half heartedly. “Guess he’s not here after all. Let’s go—“



“No more moping! Get out here!” Akane ignored her sister and continued beating the door. “I’ll break this door down if you don’t get out here! You know I can—“



Her next round knocking met air as the door swung open, casuing her to snatch her hand back lest she hit the opener. Even as she did this, Akane couldn’t help but to stare at just who had opened the door. It was Ranma in his girl-type… Sort of. The girl before them was a bedraggled mess, still in the same clothing she had fled from the Tendos with. The redhead was pale, had bags under her blood shot eyes, her clothing a wrinkled mess and…



“You stink.” Akane stated matter of factly. Her blunt observation, however, failed to illicit the response she had been hoping for. The girl eyed both sister with little emotion then shrugged.



“Probably.” She agreed blandly, then focused on her fiancée. “What do you want, Akane?”



Akane was left speechless for a moment before her brain reengaged. “We’re here for you, baka.”



The red headed martial artist didn’t even blink. “And here I am.”



Now Akane couldn’t help but to stare as irritation began to simmer under a blanket of concern. “We’re here to help you, idiot.”



The girl slowly shook her head in a lifeless manner. “Don’t need your help, ‘Kane. Just go home, okay?”



The door began to swing closed, Akane too stunned to stop it. Just like that, she had been dismissed. No witty comebacks. No verbal repartee. Just… Nabiki forced her foot into the door, stopping it from closing completely in order to buy her sister some time. “We’re not done helping yet, Saotome.”



The door reopened and Nabiki instantly wished it hadn’t. The redhead’s dead blue eyes held her and this time she couldn’t help but to take a step back. It had taken all the courage she could muster to put her foot in the door in order to help her sister recover what was left of the meeting. Prior to that, she had been more than happy to remain unnoticed- ignored –off to the side. Now she was Ranma Saotome’s focus and it was the last place she wanted to be.



“Here to help too, huh, Nabiki?” The feminine pitch wasn’t angry. It wasn’t spiteful. It was just… Emotionless. Dead. “You really don’t want to help any more than ya already have.”



Nabiki was agreeing emphatically within the confines of her psyche. All in all, he was right. She really didn’t want to be here, but she wasn’t about to abandon her sister to whatever it was Ranma was at the moment. “Possibly not, but—“



“PIGTAILED GIRL!”



In that moment, something inside Nabiki curled up and died as Ranma’s gaze lost it’s emotionless features and gained a hard edge without ever looking back at the source of the cry. Rarely prone to curse herself, the only words running through her brain at that very moment were “Oh fuck.” A quick glance at Ranma’s feet confirmed the worst. Frost.



“Um, Akane…”



“Aiyah! Why Ranma hide from Shampoo!”

“Ranma honey!”

“So this has been where you’ve been hiding, Cassanova!”

“I shall save you pigtailed girl!”

“Ohohohohoho! I shall exact revenge for my Ranma-sama!”



Ranma hadn’t even turned back to the mob approaching from the street, her gaze locked on the Tendo the entire time. “Leave. Now.”



Nabiki took a step back and this time, Akane saw exactly what her sister had been afraid of. She was right. Ranma was on the edge. Too close to the edge and somehow events had just conspired to push him over. For the first time, she was seeing just her her fiancée had become… A person with absolutely nothing to live for and nothing to lose.



“It’s not her fault!” Akane blurted, now feeling some measure of her sisters anxiety. “She’s been helping!”



“NOW WHERE AM?!”



“Helping.” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a damning accusation despite the flat tone it was spoken in. Akane watched the group approach from multiple vectors, realizing with absolute clarity just how badly this looked for Nabiki and offered a firm nod in her defense. Lifeless blue eyes flicked from fiancée to sister before passing judgement. The short redhead stepped past the pair without a word to meet the encroaching visitors at the grassy property line. Shampoo bounced happily while Ukyo sent a casual wave forth. Tatewake strode confidentially forth while his sister leaped around behind him, ribbon a-twirl. Mousse began to brandish edged weaponry and Ryoga locked onto the commotion, homing in on the gathering like moth to the flame. Even as the storm continued to gather, Akane was practically screeching a whisper at her sister.



“What the hell is this?!” She hissed, causing the older sister to wince. “If you’re lying to me…!”



“This is not my doing!” Nabiki shook her head emphatic, part of her offended that such an accusation would even be leveled at her, the other part knowing that in her heart of hearts she deserved it in its entirety. “The only people who even know anything is happening our family, the police and…” Nabiki’s eyes widened. “Dammit, they’ll wish they were never even born by the time I’m through with them!”



Even as Nabiki realized the critical flaw in her well intentioned efforts, the perfect martial arts storm was brewing just behind them.



“Hold, fowl curr!”

“Baked you some Okanomiyaki, Ran-chan!”

“Airen no eat pizza, have noodles!”

“Prepare for your demise, redheaded wench!”

“I’ll defeat you for Shampoo!”

“I’ve seen hell because of---OOF!”



All talking ceased as Ranma walked up to the strongest martial artist in the group and sucker punched him with every erg of strength she possessed, blowing the air out of his lungs and causing him to vomit painfully as he fell to his knees gagging. The redhead impassively considered the stricken lost boy for a moment before turning her attention to the now shocked gathering. “All engagements are off. Now leave.”



Ranma didn’t bother to wait for replies and turned on heel, making her way back to the house where she paused beside Akane. “Thanks anyway, Tomboy.”



This time there was a measure of sorrow in the girl’s voice. She offered the slightest of smiles- heartbreaking in itself –before stepping back inside the house and shutting the door. The bittersweet moment held for a precious moment before all chaos broke loose.



“What—“ cough, “What the—“ cough, “the hell was that?!”

“It is good that the violent harlot should break off her pursuit of my Ranma-sama.”

“Aiyaaaah…”

“Saotome was… Serious.”

“Ran…chan?”

“She is free of the dark sorceror’s—“



“SHUT UP.” Nabiki commanded in her coldest tone, silencing the group instantly. “Unless you want you want to be eating your next meals through a straw, SHUT. UP.”



She turned to Akane, whom she noted was still in shock. Looks like explanations are up to me… She took a deep, weary breath. “Ranma’s going through a bad time. A very bad time. Whatever you think you know about Ranma is, as of this moment, wrong.”
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Ozzallos (архив)
 
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Unread postby Sim-Sim (архив) » 01 Apr 2008, 22:47

I like it. Good work!
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Sim-Sim (архив)
 
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