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Silent Onus: Unseen Tears of Heaven
A 'Compass Points' Side-Story

A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video


[End]

"Great-granddaughter, it is not our way to give up. I can't fault you for your loyalty, your bravery, or your tenacity…"

She turned eyes reddened and puffy from long nights of crying to the older woman wordlessly.

"I will, however, fault your idiocy. He was never yours to lose. Now pack your things, and let us be going."

A voice, rusty from disuse, and unsteady from heartbreak asked, "Mama? Will… will Mama still love me?"

"If she doesn't, I'll have to beat sense into her. You didn't lose. Now come, we have much to do, and there will never be enough time for it."

"Yes… Yes, Great-grandmother."


[Palace]

His eyes remained closed, his senses extended. A great and terrible bonfire of life force and power had been quenched suddenly.

The reasoning was unknown to him, but the flame was one he knew.

Ranma had been slain.

A servant scurried near him, and his senses prickled at the imposition of the other being's aura. "Learn subtlety before you trespass upon this hall again," he warned, eyes opening.

The servant swallowed uneasily, cat-like steps ringing too-loudly in his ears, where they fell silent to all else.

But then, the servant could not be blamed too much. As finely as Herb had honed his senses, the man's heartbeat was audible to him. "But worry about that later," he said, changing his mind. "Fetch me ink and papers. There is a letter that must be written, and soon."

The servant nodded, and scurried away.

"I sense change on the wind, and it is near."


[Dusty Roads]

"Are you thirsty yet?" She wasn't hopeless — merely wounded. Time would heal it.

The girl grunted wordlessly, shaking her head in negation. "I'm fine," she said after a moment.

"Good. We'll reach the village shortly after noon."

Pausing, the girl made a face. "Something… something feels off about this."

"Hmm? Well, something's amiss, but I can't tell what, yet. Just as well that we head back, now."

"Great-grandmother?"

"Yes?"

The girl shivered suddenly, despite the heat of the low road. "I have a bad feeling about something."

"Yadagradze Shan," the older woman said, gesturing to a nearby mountain with her stick. "We'll be home soon enough, and then we can investigate. And you can perform your duty to the tribe." Which she felt no need to name.


[Letter: Greeting]

"What's it say?"

"It's about Ranma, your Highness."

There was a moment of silence as the youthful emperor considered. "Ah? What of him? His friend returned the Kinjakan to us." He paused, considering. "The Gekkaja is lost to us, for now."

"Someone from the northern lands by the name of 'Herb' suggests that we need to ally ourselves to be strong enough to survive what comes next."

Saffron frowned thoughtfully, unwelcome memories of former incarnations invading his mind. "What comes next?" he managed, bracing himself against the throne with both hands until the surge of memories passed. "Ah," he said before he could be answered. "War. Yes. I see, now. The world changes, ever so much."

"Ah… that… that is what he said, your Highness."

"Yes, Kiima… draft a letter, then. We seldom had dealings with them after the N'dori and the Machin. Mmm. Yes, allying would be wise indeed…"

Kiima blinked, surprised, and gathered a quill pen. "As you will it, your Highness."


[Summit]

"Pardon?" Saffron asked warily, his guards at his back.

"A summit," Herb said again, glancing at Cologne and Shampoo, then back to Saffron and Kiima. "That's what they call it when governments greet one another and attempt to work out their differences peacefully."

Cologne hesitated a moment before speaking, then smiled slowly, and sank to a sitting position. "That's not entirely correct," she warned, "but it is apt enough. You've won my trust."

Saffron snorted, shaking his head. "I am not most trusting your kind, Joketsuzoku though for Prince Herb, I will listen." After a moment, he grumbled, gesturing to the springs behind him, "And this place is far from being a summit. It's the lowest point in several miles."

Snorting, Cologne turned to Herb again. "I trust you assembled us here for something important?"

"Yes," Herb said, frowning pensively and sitting comfortably. Mint and Lime, sensing his intend, backed away and hunkered down. Cologne made a subtle gesture, and Shampoo and the other Joketsuzoku did the same.

The two turned to look at Saffron expectantly. He glowered, and nodded at Kiima.

She and the remainder of his guard also backed off, leaving the trio alone, though Saffron still refused to sit.

Herb smiled hopefully. "Perhaps," he said, "we can stand united. However, change is in the wind. My kind seldom associate with anyone else outside of the interviews we conduct for brides…" he trailed off frowning.

"Recently," he said, shaking his head, "we've seen more of the large armored vehicles that the Han military seem to like move about in the passes below our stronghold. Aside from that, there is a certain premonition of war… I trust I'm not the only one?"

Saffron stiffened, then nodded angrily, and sat. "I will agree to attend this summit," he announced. "You have my ear."


[Lost]

She wondered what day it was. It was easy, most days, to forget, to ignore, to move on…

But sometimes she was still haunted by what she had lost.

No, she told herself. Something that was never hers to lose anyway. But she would be hard-pressed to find anyone as… worthy as he was.

He was a dragon among men, and everyone else was simply… dross in comparison.

As she trained wordlessly, her mind cast back to the events of… how long ago? She couldn't remember when, simply that it had happened.

Her great-grandmother smirked, watching in silence. Her duty was a heavy one, but it would be borne nobly.


[Mistrust]

"You are ever welcome within the halls of our mountain, Prince Herb."

Herb nodded respectfully to Saffron. "Thank you, Emperor Saffron. What cause bids you to summon me so urgently?"

Saffron snapped his fingers, and gestured. Kiima's guards dragged the unconscious form of a man in uniform into the room from a side hall. Kiima explained, while Saffron brooded silently, "This man was looking for us. Many others were with him, but under the cover of night, we brought him here and questioned him."

Herb crossed his arms over his chest, nodding. "I see," he said gravely. "What do you suggest we do?"

Kiima bit her lip pensively. "It is a difficult situation to manage," she said slowly, "but we simply do not know as much about the outsiders as the Joketsuzoku do."

"So you think we should ask the Joketsuzoku what they think? I see no problem with that."

Saffron snapped out suddenly, "I do not trust them! They are… too base. We, and you, we're removed from the rest of… humanity? I do not know the word I seek for. But there is a difference between we and they, and it is too pronounced, I think, for us to work together."

Herb blinked in surprise. "I understand what you mean with the differences. At least, I think I do. And some of them are like us. I trust them, Emperor Saffron. What can I do to extend trust between you and they? Cologne of the Joketsuzoku trusts you. Many others have faith in an alliance."

Saffron frowned pensively, then said slowly, "They would not act against you, no… Perhaps if you were to take a hostage?"

"What?" Herb was stunned. This did not bode well for an alliance.

"Yes," he nodded decisively, while Kiima's guards led the prone soldier away. "You will ask them for a hostage. I trust you, and they trust you. If you hold something they value, they will not risk moving against us." He glanced at Kiima. "Kiima, draft a letter to the Joketsuzoku outlining my request. Merely as a measure of trust."

"Ah… as you wish, Emperor Saffron," Kiima said doubtfully.


[Letter: Request]

Cologne pondered the letter before her.

"A hostage," she murmured, thinking. "They want us to send someone to a theoretically neutral area as a sign of trust."

"Feh," another elder spat. "They. Saffron, you mean. He's too petty. Why does he trust the Musk, and not us?"

"That is not known," another said. "But it is the truth. I'll admit, I've no great love of the Musk myself, and would trust the Phoenix people more. Save Saffron, I suppose."

"Well," yet another said, "it's foolishness anyway. We could easily send someone who had no value to us, and satisfy the word of his request, without the spirit."

"And yet," warned Cologne, "I think that's what they expect. We need to send someone we value, to show that they can trust us, and that we are willing to trust them."

"But we aren't willing to trust one of our own with the Musk," the second complained.

"I think we have to, if this is to work. I hear rumors that the PRC is preparing for a war, but we still don't know against who yet," the third stated.

The fourth spoke again, "War. I've heard that the United States of America has started to war already. I can sense a taint in the winds that hasn't reached our lands since they attacked Japan with nuclear missiles."

"That," Cologne grumbles, "merely proves that we must concede to his demands, if for no other reason to prepare ourselves. The world outside us is changing, and we'll need to be unified to survive. For this, I propose that we send my great-granddaughter to them." She sighed. "It's a heavy duty, but she is strong.

Silence reigned as the other three elders studied Cologne in surprise.

"I agree," the second elder said hesitantly. "If you are willing to risk someone that important to you, then the needs must be urgent."

"I am not pleased, but I agree as well," intoned the third.

"Just as well. I'll draw up a letter," the fourth completed.

And in one voice, "So be it."


[Welcoming]

"Um…"

She was demure. Calm. Beautiful, even.

"I would like to begin…"

And strong, stronger than any woman he had set eyes on before — save possibly his own cursed form.

"… with an apology…"

And had enough skill to back that strength, most impressively.

"… for my servants behavior…"

And apparently wasn't afraid to use it.

"… but, they're not really used to seeing…"

And there was no question that she liked fighting.

"… so much skin. Or women at all. Really."

"It's okay," she said tiredly. "I'll live."

"Um…"


[Letter: Small Talk]

Dear Great-grandmother,

I should be able to visit you soon, but am very busy. The Musk are very strange people, but I've learned a little bit about fighting from them.

They seem to focus more on the esoteric arts than we do, but it's been educational.

I miss sparring with my spear-sisters, since the Musk are either far stronger than is safe to challenge, or far too stupid to bother fighting with.

Herb is an interesting person. He reminds me of Ranma, sometimes.

Most of the time, he's just his own special kind of stupid, though. He got very upset when he walked in on me bathing.

I have to go now.

With much love,
Shan Pu


[Aftermath]

Cologne surveyed the ruins of the Musk palace, smoke rising from the remains of thousand-year-old buildings. Stone walls had been destroyed by stray mortar fire, ancient statues were now little more than scattered rubble.

A pair of the largest warriors pulled massive blocks of granite off of the crushed remains of the Musk library, retrieving whatever precious scrolls had survived. Saffron stood near her warily, his normal unhappy frown changed an outright grimace.

Kiima's eyes remained fixed on the heavens, where the rising smoke joined with the now eternally gray skies. "It would seem," Cologne remarked to the woman, "that it has come to touch us. Someone should go out and see why."

Saffron frowned at her mistrustfully. "How do you propose we go about that?" he asked skeptically.

"I know that you don't trust us," Cologne said, "but there is something we have in common. You respected Ranma, yes?"

"Yes," Saffron said slowly. "I did. Why?"

"He has family, and friends. Kiima knows where they are. In these skies, it should be possible for her and a few others to reach Japan safely, and tell us what's happened. Those who knew Ranma should be willing to at least tell us what's going on."

Kiima's wings rustled uncertainly, and she glanced at Saffron for approval. He hesitated only a moment before nodding. "Go," he said. "Return as quickly as you can, mask your presence with ravens." Kiima nodded, but before she could take off, Saffron gestured to the guards he had brought with him. "Take them with you, and return in safety, Kiima."

Cologne raised an eyebrow, as the Phoenix people winged upward, leaving Saffron alone.

He eyed her unhappily. "I can learn," he said. "Even though it hurts. Ranma changed more than just Jusendo when we battled. More than just the mountain, too."

Cackling, the Joketsuzoku woman said, "He's changed us all, hasn't he?"

"He and Herb, yes."

They both turned to look at Herb, male in the slight rain that began to sprinkle down. Male because despite his outward calm, his anger was intense enough to make his aura visible even to the eyes of the untrained, lambent sheets of ki flame roiling off him in waves, evaporating the water before it could strike him.

"Indeed."


[Foundlings]

"We are not beggars to take of any charity that is offered," he said stiffly.

She responded quickly, "Then you are idiots, Herb. You can stay with us, or you can stay with the Phoenix. Perhaps you can divide your forces and stay in both places. We simply don't have the time to allow you to build a new home."

"Saffron will not be pleased," he warned.

She paused, considering, "I doubt he would. Perhaps we can all build a mutual stronghold. Saffron resents that your library might be added to ours, yes?"

"Mostly, yes. The combined lore would be great. You have the leavings of the Machin, and we the N'dori."

"Then I have a proposal for you."

"What's that?"

She smiled, nodding knowingly, "We would simply combine our libraries at a mutually beneficial location. Store all three of them as a library for all of us. A gesture of trust. Then we can move our defenseless — the untrained men, the children, the healers — to Phoenix Mountain. We will all share our knowledge, and all benefit. Only by working together can we survive."

"Your people will never stand for it," he warned.

"There is one way they can be convinced," she said thoughtfully.

"How is that?"

"If you accept our library as a dowry…"


[Letter: Invitation]

Nabiki eyed the envelope thoughtfully.

Her schedule was hectic, and there was a lot that needed to be juggled around. And China hadn't been a safe place to visit by any stretch for a long while.

But friends were friends…

She frowned thoughtfully. "I wish I could attend," she murmured.

"Nabiki? Is something wrong?"

"We were invited to a wedding, dear."

"Really? Who?"

"Shan Pu and… Uh… Herb, apparently."

"Where?"

She sighed, setting the letter back down. "I wish I could go," she said. "But it's too dangerous, and who would take care of Ranko?"

"Invite them to visit us sometime, then."


[Sanctuary]

"Um…"

She regarded him frankly, eyeing him up and down. "What?"

"I'll… I'll sleep on the bed," he declared. "I'll have some extra blankets brought for you so that you can sleep on the floor."

Her eyes turned to the cold, hard, stone floor, then the warm, soft bed. Narrowing, they turned to Herb. "I'll fight you for it. Winner gets the bed."

"Um…"

"Let's go!" with that, she launched a strike at his throat, which he blocked more out of reflex than intent.

When the battle was over, both warriors sunk to the floor, exhausted. "I can't go all out without hurting you," Herb panted, "or I would have won!"

"You're a very stupid man," Shampoo assured him. "You would lose to me anyway."

"If you weren't my wife, I'd have you beaten for that."

"If you weren't the prince of the Musk, I'd show you where your place was!"

"Um…"

"Yes?"

"Um…"

"What? What? What is this infuriating 'Um…' for?"

"Who gets the bed? We tied."

"Um…"


[Beginning]

Perhaps, she thought, she was mistaken. Perhaps Herb was nothing like Ranma at all.

But many of the qualities she had loved in him, Herb carried. And many she loved, he did not. And even things more she never thought she would like at all, she loved in him.

"You're an arrogant fool," she whispered lovingly.

He jerked his head about to look at her, surprised. "What?" he asked, frowning.

"Nothing, Herb. Merely that I believe that even though I did not when I asked you for marriage, I now realize I've come to be quite fond of you."

"Oh?" He smirked, an unusual expression for him, and straightened his robes about him subconsciously. "I suppose someone of my stature is hard to resist."

She giggled, pecking him on the cheek, and breathing softly on his neck, "Tell me, does the sight of my skin still make you angry?"

He swallowed, eyes widening. "What are you talking about, woman?" he asked uncertainly.

"Your confidence seems to have faded, Airen," she teased.

"Don't call me that," he whined, backing into a corner, as Shampoo winked, and undid the ties on the front of her silk shirt.

"Airen," she teased one final time, silencing his further complaints with a firm, yet gentle kiss.

 


Author's Notes: Next up, not Compass Points: Act Four — Flesh and Bone, even though you'd probably expect it, but NORTH. And yes, between the Compass Points, the Fall should become clear, though I harbor a firm suspicion it will never be entirely revealed.

However, this story can fit nicely between Compass Points: Act One and Compass Points: Act Two. I hope you enjoy it!

 
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