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Earth and Sky -- Twilight
A 'Compass Points' Side-Story

A Ranma story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video


[Predawn]


Legend speaks to us of Shen-Lung, the great dragon that supports the palace of the gods in the heavens.


His eyes glowed. He was guessing about that.

He couldn't see his eyes himself, but people were shying away more than normal.

The thing of it was… he couldn't quite decide how that should make him feel.


Shen-lung was the greatest of the dragons, and his powers were nearly as great as the gods' were.


She worked the surface before her slowly, scraping it clean, though her thoughts were elsewhere.

Her love… was gone. As Nabiki told it, frozen to death along with… her.

She paused, staring at her reflection for a moment. What should she feel? If he had abandoned her and lived, then it would be anger… but he loved deeply enough to throw his life away for… her.


At the Wheel of the Ages turned, Man changed, no longer believing in the fey as they once had.


He wondered, for a moment, if his shadow were a true reflection of who he was.

When he looked, it showed the outline of a person… an outline most were loathe to allow to fall across their paths.

But his reflection in pools spoke of something else.


Disbelief in the fey changed them… warped them… and slowly, unmade them.


She mused idly, toying with a sharp implement of many uses.

For cutting flesh, of course.

But animal, or vegetable, or… her own?


[Sunrise]


Ryu glanced about him, ignoring the dragon-shadow that trailed him, moving against the sun rather than with it. Something that he would learn to live with, he decided. Not something to worry about. Now, at any rate.

He frowned, wondering where he would go next. He could feel himself… changing… as time passed. He wasn't certain how, or even why… but he could feel more.

He felt his steps on the Earth, not just in his own feet, but in the soil itself. "Hmm…" he mused, wondering. Hunger no longer touched him as it had, unless he wanted it to. But he longed to feel that, sometimes. "Food," he murmured, heading back towards the city. Perhaps a time to meet with old acquaintances.


"And then what happened to the dragon, Daddy?"

"Well, as I remember it, the dragon that the princess so loved perished… he fell to the ice, and could struggle no more."

"And the princess?"

"Ah, there's another story…"


She cocked her head to one side, offering the same smile she always did for her customers. That he felt more… off… than the normal customer meant nothing to her. Her own 'otherness' was obvious — all of them felt it. Closeness to Ranma, perhaps? Or perhaps it was just the place, and Ranma was another victim.

He smiled genially, studying her grill more than her. "You take good care of this," he said, gesturing.

She raised an eyebrow at that. "I do," she admitted. "You're… 'Gifted'?"


"But what's the story?"

"Well, then the princess met another dragon, and this one was much quieter, and still. Not the rushing, raging torrent that her first was, but a strong, steady presence."

"What's a torrent?"

"An uncontrolled storm. And the first dragon loosed his might and perished because of it."


He frowned. "Gifted? What do you mean?"

She waved dismissively. "It's mostly something they don't like to talk about, but sometimes… people are starting to change. You know. Develop powers and stuff." She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I have a friend who can see with his eyes closed. Things like that?"

He nodded slowly. "I suppose. I don't know what it is… just that… I can hear things. Metal, earth… you know?" She shrugged, handing him a plate, burdened with its fresh meal. "For example," he said, taking a bite of the okonomiyaki, "I can tell that you no longer cook with the same passion you once did."


"And what was the new dragon like?"

"He was just as much a jackass as the first one."

"What?"

"He annoyed the princess to no end, because he was simply too calm, too… placid."


Ryu snatched the flung spatula out of the air almost absently, the blade missing his head by mere inches. "I'm guessing that's a sore spot."

The girl — woman, truly — growled at him. "I don't need to listen to this! I don't need to listen to you!"

"No," he said, agreeably. "You don't. Do you want me to leave?"


"Did the princess banish the new dragon?"

"No, she decided to be patient, and bear with his foolishness."

"And then what happened?"

"What do you suppose happened?"


He laughed, not moving in time to avoid being struck over the head with a much larger spatula, and get knocked to the floor. "Ow!"

She snorted, shaking her head and sheathing the weapon. "Jackass," she muttered.

There was a long moment of silence as he lay on the floor. "So," she said, finally breaking the stillness. "You going to keep talking?"


"They lived happily ever after?"

"Um… not right away."

"What happened, Daddy?"

"Ah… let's tell that story later."


[Noon]


"So," he said plainly, eating another Okonomiyaki. "This one tastes like… curiosity, and good will. I suppose you're getting over him?"

She scowled, but nodded after a moment. "I guess."

He grinned, setting the empty plate down. "There you have it."

Shaking her head, she leaned back against the counter, sighing. "Why do you think we've changed the way we have? I mean… I think that you've changed more, but…" she trailed off, cocking her head at Ryu curiously.

He shrugged after a moment. "I don't know," he admitted. "I feel… like I'm part of something greater. Like parts of me are missing, or something." He sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know why I was given… anything. I just know that I was."

She sighed, frowning petulantly. "Now that's just not fair. What was I given?"

"A really nice —" he cut himself off, coloring, and choked out, "a really nice sense of humor."

She eyed him skeptically, her eyes narrowing as she reached for her spatula. "Oh?" she asked.

"Um… yes."


"You come in here all the time. Where do you live, anyway?"

He looked away for a moment, digging in his pocket for change. "Around," he admitted after a moment. "Mostly wherever I can find a spot to sleep."

She frowned, wondering at that. "I see," she offered after a moment.

He smiled genially, something about him shifting and becoming… less noticeable… as a trio of customers walked in.

Ukyou turned towards them, greeting automatically, "Welcome to Ucch— Nabiki! How have you been?"

The brown-haired woman brushed her hair back, her young daughter asleep and nestled in her arms. "Pretty good, Ukyou. How has everything been going for you?"

Ukyo's smile widened, turning more sincere. "Fine, fine. Just talking with Ryu-chan. Who's the kid?"

Nabiki flushed, handing the sleeping girl to her husband. Tofu accepted the child, taking a seat near Ryu. "Well," Nabiki explained, twiddling her thumbs. "Um… after… after the…" Her flush and smile faded. "Tofu and I… Ukyou, meet our daughter, Ranko."

Ukyou blinked in shock, her mouth falling open. "You…" she managed after a moment, staring at Tofu incredulously. "And you?"

Nabiki's guilty flush and smile returned. "Um… yes."


Ryu dropped his guise of subtlety, watching the departing trio. Ukyou sighed, shaking her head. "I want a family like that, someday."

The man rolled his eyes. "That's easy," he said. "You just have to find someone, and go for it."

"It's that easy?" she asked, bemused.

"Yep."


[Sunset]


Ukyou waited calmly.

War.

It was in the news, it was all people would talk about… and it was probably coming to Japan, soon.

It had already killed her business…

Sighing, she took a seat at one of the stools opposite the grill. Konatsu had taken his leave earlier, and Ukyou hadn't minded, since business was so slow.

Someone plodded in to her restaurant, and she raised an eyebrow in response. "Was wondering when you'd come."

Ryu looked pale, nodding. "I… hurt," he offered by way of apology.

"What are you talking about?"

He slumped to a seat near her. "They… they wound the Earth."

"What?"

He gestured to the small radio that Ukyou had turned off to save electricity, and explained, as the radio seemed to tune itself, "They are using nuclear weapons."

A burst of static, and then a voice came, confirming his words.


He opened his eyes, seeing the dim light of the fading sun against the ceiling. "The hurt…" he began, his tongue feeling thick, almost as though it were trying to keep him from speaking, "is lessened…"

Ukyou shifted from her position at his side, laying a cool cloth over his forehead. "Hush… just rest, you'll get better."

"Yes…" he said, fading back into sleep. "I will…"


Ryu idled, lounging against the far wall of the restaurant, still suffering momentary bouts of dizziness.

Ukyou studied him for a long moment, considering. "You know what?" she asked.

He glanced towards her. "What's that?"

"I've decided."

He blinked, surprised. "Decided what?"

"To start a family."

"Oh," he said, confused. "That's… good." After a moment, he frowned. "With who?"

Rolling her eyes, she looked out at the sky, already darkening from the onset of the nuclear winter that the wars had promised. "You, jackass."


[Twilight]


In a forest north and east of Tokyo, one ravaged by the wars opened his eyes, and saw. "Brothers?" he whispered.


There simply wasn't enough faith, enough strength… enough need for him.


The animals of the forest responded to his bidding, as he rose, riding an errant gust of wind across the lake that housed a… cousin… to him.


And in the end, Shen-Lung unmade himself, casting himself into four pillars, which would maintain and fulfill his function when it was needed. No longer the dragon, he was…


"Yes… " he said slowly, as sixteen bright eyes watched him fearfully from beneath the water. "You are only my cousin. You are not my brother."


The King of Cups, of Swords, of Coins, of Staves…

 


Author's notes: Though it's not likely that anyone remembers, this was written at Mr. Sommer's request/suggestion. :p

Probably a bit too surreal, but it helps explain some elements that are helpful towards understanding act three and four of Compass Points.

 
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