A Ranma/ Rurouni Kenshin crossover story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Takahashi Rumiko and Viz video. Nobuhiro Watsuki owns Rurouni Kenshin.
Dreams are odd things.
Deflect, reverse swing. A quiet grunt, and the sickeningly sweet sound of flesh parting, blood spattering on the ground and staining it.
They can take us to the past.
Another deflection, faster this time, and the sharp ringing noise of steel-upon-steel sounds. One sword finds its way beneath the other's guard, and there is another grunt and blood spatter.
And sometimes, the future.
More attacks, these clumsy and uncoordinated. Easily inside their guard, then a thrust. A slash. Another simple strike. Killing blows, each of them, and these attackers join their fallen comrades. Louder this time. Not trained warriors, anymore. Only those new to battle actually scream. Or the fearful. The weak. Those who have no place in battle.
But most often, a dream is just that.
[Wanderer. The past.]
A chirp. A bird, of some kind. Possibly a sparrow, though it could have been something else.
He sat up slowly, running a hand through his bedraggled red hair and thinking. How much longer could he stay? Stave off what he thought was inevitable? The dreams came with more and more intensity, and it was constantly getting harder to hold off the effects…
But what could he do? He lowered his hand, holding it before his face and studying it as it trembled. Was there perhaps, an inevitability to his trade? Was it that once he had become an assassin, something of the essence of assassin became him, as well?
He had thought it all behind him, and spent years apart from his one-time trade…
The trembling of his hand increased, almost a spasm, this time. He knew what would stop it easily enough. The sword. His hand longed to hold it… not the sword he used, the reversed blade totally inappropriate for killing…
A real sword again. It's keen edge tearing through flesh, muscle, and bone with equal fervor, parting the living and transforming years of building, growth, teaching… taking whole decades of life and undoing them in a hasty motion.
There was, he knew, a sublime… depth? No… but there was a perfection of unity, of morbid fascination and knowledge that he was power, he was the reaper and he had the ultimate ability to undo what had taken an entire life to accomplish… and rend it into nothing.
And a part of him reveled in it, glorying in the power that he knew he was a part of him, a part of his life…
But so much of him, oh so much of him loathed it, hating to the very core of his being what he had become, and how little he could be because of what he had been.
Burying his face in his hands, he weighed his decisions.
[Watched. The present.]
He was awake again. He was a killer. A cold-blooded killer, and he knew it. Knew what he was, and would be again, if he weren't careful.
But the sweet, glorious rush of power, the cold dispassionate strength, the driving, heady intoxication of power. Cold enough to destroy his foe.
But he wasn't ready to be a killer. He knew how he felt. He knew now, at least.
He could lie, but he couldn't fool himself, and he doubted that he could fool her. She probably saw through him.
Saw what he was. A murderer, who didn't deserve what she offered. And she offered it anyway. Could she understand how corrupt he was?
The ceiling stared back at him, returning his impassive, wooden gaze.
[Fury. The present.]
Strike, strike, strike. Three simple blows, repeated in quick succession.
How long had it been since she had trained, earnestly?
And the fool maintained that he didn't love her — Didn't love her! — when everyone knew what he had done for her. How could he have done it for her if he didn't love her!?
She saw how much it tore him up inside remembering what he had been forced to do for her. Why wouldn't she let him in?
And then, who was the idiot anyway?
Strike, strike… and the third blow, falling short of the practice dummy as she slumped forward, sobbing.
So close, so wondrously close… and the dreams… the memories… but had he… did he… was there a purpose?
[Wicked. The past.]
He stared at the home where his friend habitually stayed, contemplating. His own home was in a place called 'Ruffian Row.'
The name was appropriate. But his friend now, that was a different problem.
There was a river to struggle through, he had learned. A river of blood. And when one entered battle, one entered this river.
It was not possible to emerge unstained.
Was his friend then, drowning in this river, to never rise again? The tide and the power of its flow could wash away even the strong.
His friend was strong, he knew, but… strong enough? Was the tide greater than his friend?
And what could he do? His friends were no more help then he himself was to his friend. He had merely stepped into the river, not forged boldly to the center, as his friend had, and could not offer his friend the help he needed.
And the other friends were no more help, even the annoying child… who was not as much of an annoying child, perhaps, as he might have insisted. But then, they had merely dabbled their toes in at the edge of this great river, warned away by his friend, standing in the depths, and fighting the current.
Diseases of the body could be fought with medicines, but what could combat the diseases of the mind? He knew only that he lacked the power to help his friend, and he felt himself lose a piece of himself every time a piece of his friend slipped.
It was time then, to have a few drinks too many, and visit the lady doctor, and perhaps, for an evening at least, be oblivious to the problems of the world that he could not fix.
With that thought in mind, he began walking, and quit the empty street.
[Girl. The past.]
She could not understand his behavior. He had slowly drawn into himself, being… him less and less.
It was worrisome, and he would only talk about it with his friends, occasionally over drinks, though he himself only ever sipped at them, now. He had never been overly fond of drinking anyway. Had he? He hadn't when she knew him.
There was a growing distance between them. She wanted to reach out to him, to help, but knew that she simply couldn't understand the things that compelled him.
Too much was just unknown. He stayed with her, shared her home, and she had begun to hope more than that — perhaps a room, even a bed… She glanced at her own bed forlornly, empty at the present, but then there was only her to fill it…
Distances between the two widened, as she saw the growing fear of… himself? Fear of himself for her, maybe?
It was the kind of thing he would do. He had taken to leaving his sword in his room unless he was going out. He could not have thought that he'd never need the sword again, and the edge was reversed. He couldn't/wouldn't kill with it.
[Lover. The present.]
Her lover did not love her. He seemed to nearly resent her at times, but it was not in his nature to be angry with anyone for long. He was forgiving, perhaps too much so.
But she knew that he still resented her actions, if not herself. She knew that as much as she wished otherwise, he would not be hers — not now.
And it hurt. But she loved him too much to want anything except his happiness.
A call from the main room, and a mindless smile, serve another bowl of ramen, and back behind the counter again.
The… other… man in her life mopped the floor, muttering to himself in low tones, while she considered.
And what to do about that?
Laws were laws, after all. She had her duty, and her heart.
Which one had more weight on her decision?
A mumble from her great-grandmother, and another bowl of soup along with some appetizers.
Perhaps it wasn't really her decision.
['Friend?'. The present.]
She'd had them, she'd taken them, and she'd begun to suspect she'd made them wrong.
Looking at her waiter/waitress, she couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt.
What did he feel for her, that she ignored… was she then, continuing a cycle? She knew that she hurt her waiter/waitress with her actions. And she knew that she hurt her childhood friend, as well.
And she was going to lose him. Them?
It could be. She was nearly on the verge of losing him. He wouldn't fault her. He had told her that he didn't truly mind — he wasn't ready for it to happen yet anyway.
Amazing how one word could drive into her heart like a hot spike, screaming the truth louder than any confession of love ever could have.
"Yet," he had said. He probably hadn't even realized it.
It told her the truth at least. Maybe it was intentional, and he hadn't even known it.
There was a way to remove herself from the cycle of hurting those she cared for.
[It might be anger between friends. The present.]
A long silence.
"Um… I understand if… if you don't want to forgive me, but-"
"No, I understand."
Another moment of silence before: "Y… You do?"
"I do. I… I'm not happy. But mistakes happen."
"It won't happen next time, I swear. I am so… I'm so sorry…"
[This is goodbye? The past.]
It wasn't safe anymore.
Not a question. He couldn't even be certain who was speaking anymore, his control was eroded. Was it… her… or simply Sannosuke? Maybe even the enemy soldier he thought he saw.
But he wasn't that far gone yet. He would not respond, not attack, not fight, not kill, not… give in. He would not give in.
"I have to."
Nothing was said for a time, simply two people, unsure of who the other truly was, and watching the sakura petals drift by slowly.
"It's beautiful here, isn't it?"
It was, too. More for the people who made the house 'home' than anything else, but it was. "Yes."
And who was he talking to, really? The face of another nameless enemy flashed before him, obscuring the truth, and he fought the urge to grab his sword. "I love you."
It was true. It didn't matter who it was at this point, He meant it for everyone. All of them were a part of his life, had helped him… not enough, but he couldn't fault them. It was his fault that everything that was going wrong… had.
"I should be going, though."
"I hope to meet you again."
That was the impetus he needed. He couldn't stay. Staying meant hurting those he loved. No more words after that. He simply turned his feet away and began walking. If there were a cure to his madness, he would find it, and return to himself.
He would be going as far away as possible, leaving Japan entirely. To better keep them from being at risk.
[Girl. The past.]
And that was that.
She had it coming to her, she supposed. She should have known better, but her heart was not the kind to listen to her about that.
Would he come back? That was what mattered.
She feared he wouldn't, and just as much that he would. What if when he came back, he had changed? And it wasn't for the better? Or worse, what if she had changed?
[Watched. The present.]
They were all around, in some form. Nearer than other days perhaps, and less great than they had been before…
But there was something that he thought was a danger to her, and he followed her like a hawk.
His friends? He trusted them not to hurt her. Now, at least. Everyone had been a little crazy, then… pushed too far in ways that they were not at all sure they wanted to go.
He was actually thankful for the distractions that had happened when they had. Angry that they would try and hurt her, yes. But she wasn't hurt, and he had taken it as a blessing. Until he could beat the monster that he knew he was becoming, he couldn't move any closer.
Control. Control was the answer. Practice. He hid and walked in her shadow, mere feet behind her, and her unknowing of his presence.
He would protect her. From everything he could.
Even himself, since he knew he was the greatest danger.
But all weapons are dangerous, and he was a weapon, now. Defeating the god-king had proven that. The nauseating thrill of power, the surge of confidence in knowing that he could, and had, KILLED a god…
He knew all too well how thankful he was that the god-king had not stayed dead, because if he had, the dizzying rush of power and the rage of loss might have broken him.
[Ancient Yin. The present.]
She was old. She knew that.
Yin was control. Perfection.
And it was failing her.
She needed to control her errant son-in-law, and the great-granddaughter who was slowly straying… No longer chasing her lover like she should.
Son-in-law, however… he had to be controlled, and she was getting too old to wait. There were monstrous pressures playing about the boy's head, his mind was vulnerable.
A few of the more complex and mistrusted artifacts of the Amazon tribe's heritage could be used to… slowly… sway him.
It was simply a matter of persuading him to come to China with her, and that he could learn control there. To quell the raging beasts that lurked within him.
[Friends or more? The present.]
"I know we don't get along well… but I'm tired… I'm sorry. I'm tired of burnt bridges. I want to reclaim what I can."
"I… I want to be your friend. I don't want to fight anymore."
A long pause, before: "If… you don't want to be… I'll understand. I just… you know. Ranchan…"
A much longer pause. "Yes… Friends… is good. Would like to be your friend, then."
"I… I'm glad, then… thank you."
[Wanderer. The past.]
And was this where the answer was going to be found? He had rather began to doubt it.
China was a large place, full of mystery, magic, and more…
But he had found only annoyance, filth, and no answers.
One last place to check, though. There was a place of springs that was said to be a superb training ground. Rumors indicated that there was some sort of local war there…
It would be risked. If the training ground could help him… it would help him.
No longer a choice. He had to find an answer, somewhere… A cure? And he could return, go back… be with her again.
[Warrior. The past.]
Battles were brief and ugly for the most part. His tribe gloried in the battle, though. Battles were meant to be won, and their foes loathed to lose.
Obvious as that was. But the beauty of the battle, and the spoils…
Their enemies were honor bound to become brides, should they win!
It was glorious.
[Amazon. The past.]
Their enemies were scum.
And the cost of failure was horrific, but the cost of victory… was it better?
Then, if they did win, they could claim the defeated foes as husbands… unlikely as it was that a single worthwhile husband could be claimed from that drooling and vacant lot.
But the battle drew nigh, and then there would be a confrontation. The springs, this time. A poor battleground, she thought, but it wasn't her choice.
And they wanted to control the springs as much as their foes did.
[Dreamer. The present.]
She woke up again from the same dream. It haunted her less and less though, so she supposed that she was healing.
It had been some years since the hurt was a raw aching wound — of late it was simply a dull remembrance, if it were a hurt at all.
But the dream came back anyway. Less often now, but more near the anniversary of the day…
She sat up and climbed out of the bed swiftly, checking the calendar.
Not close enough. Three more months. At that point, she could help. A little.
[Fury Tempered. The present.]
"Mmmm?" Pot needed attention. Stirring, and a dash of spice… which one? A hint of ginger for this would be good. "Yes, Akane? What do you need?"
No need to say who about. That was obvious. And she was worried too, just like her little sister. "Oh? Why's that?"
That, she had already known, and masked a slight frown of irritation, instead giving a contemplating look, and adding another dash of ginger. "I see. What are you worried about with him, in that case?"
"He's… acting different."
Easily understandable, though. That power was such a sweet, numbing lure… "What do you think you should do about it, then?"
A pause there. She had probably been expecting, 'How do you mean?' not that. "Um," she began, collecting herself and her thoughts. "I… don't know. I want to help him, but I'm not sure how."
A dozen answers sprang to Kasumi's mind, most of them immediately discarded as she stirred the slowly simmering pot before her. "Well," she said. "He's probably worried that he can't let anyone close to him. Maybe you need to be strong enough to get through his walls and be close to him."
That nearly floored the youngest Tendo girl. An answer like that was most… unusual… from her. But it was Kasumi. It had to have merit, and there was a challenge buried in it, too. Had to be strong enough. "Oh."
[Ancient Yang. The present.]
The boy. Heir? Disciple?
Unruly. Uncontrolled. Powerful, though.
Needed to be tempered, and the boy had eschewed all of his teachings…
But was that bad? The boy seemed much the better for it. Better than he was, but not better than he could be. Not yet.
It was a matter to consider.
Ah, a target. Swipe, leap, bounce. Ground? Sky?
More chasers on the ground. Chase. Love the chase. Ground, then.
And what of the boy? Heir? Disciple?
Wouldn't see himself that way, though. Not a problem. Was groomed enough. He would temper the boy. Balance him in the way he had failed at so badly. Give him little pushes in the right direction, and big pushes in the wrong ones.
He learned what was right from that.
The Amazon could be a problem, though.
Best keep an eye out.
[Clash. The Warriors, the Amazons, and the Dreamer. The past.]
No cure. No answer, at any rate. This place did not have what he needed to learn control.
Decent training ground, though. Poles on springs. He would have to kick off his shoes before trying it, since he didn't want to fall in.
A noise at the periphery of his hearing. Two bands approaching. He knew battle well enough to recognize it.
Was it real? Imagined? It was getting harder to tell. He fingered the cross shaped scar on his cheek, nodding to himself.
Stand, or leave? Not his battle. But they might want to involve him anyway. Best draw the sword, then.
Not to fight, purely to defend himself.
The urge was there, the desire to kill, to tear flesh and unmake the living, rending them lifeless… but he was stronger than that.
Temptation was meant to be resisted. He would resist it. He would… draw closer. He was strong, and would not kill.
If it were needed, he would cut, but not kill.
The strength was his, to use and not to use. Not a weapon, a sword was a tool.
The edge was lovely, shining under the light of the sun as the two warring bands charged one another.
He narrowed his eyes, drawing himself into a stance quickly. When had he exchanged the reversed blade for the real one he held now? It would be difficult…
No killing, simple wounding. Disable, and not permanently, at that.
Control was his.
[Watched Temper. The present]
He looked up. How could he not be aware of her? But he had to pretend he was only casually interested in her — protect her from the monster that fought him for control, to make him into a fiend that could destroy. "Yeah?"
"I'm worried about you."
He couldn't help but sweat at that. Did she know? She did, she had to, she knew, and was going to send him away, where he couldn't hurt—
"I wish you would talk to me more. I don't like it when you're so quiet."
She… didn't know? "Oh." That changed things. But… talk more? About what? He was busy being her shadow everywhere outside of the house. Had she talked to someone inside about it, then? "What about?"
"I… I don't know. But I'd like to talk to you. I'd like you to trust me."
Did she? Maybe there was an anchor, then. He would never hurt her… would he?
Control… control… he needed control.
[Clash. The Children and the Reaper. The past.]
They were combatants, but they fought too kindly. Not warriors, though they might call themselves that. War was a bloody art, and these children only played at it.
He would not kill. Not lash out. Not strike.
They were not worth his time. He would not kill…
But the craving the ever present and so much- oh kami- oh kami- oh… Kami kami kami… Ida-Ten… keep me from doing this, it's wrong, I know it, but I can't… I can't…
Stop me! Stop me! Strike me down, like those who I have battled before have begged me!
Crimson slashes, carving twining paths through the air like swallows in flight.
It's so beautiful, seductive, I want… need… must have more…
Must stop… must stop…
Oh, Ida-Ten, stop me! Make this end, you who is swift and just, end me here make my existence for not, I do not have the strength, I can't, if I continue, he will die!!
Scarlet lines, spraying across the earth to lie there and glisten, blood slowly congealing. It was so rewarding, so fulfilling; it was power, control.
Can't! No more! Listen to me! Ida-ten?! Marashita, mercy and my destruction!? They are scarcely more than children, STOP ME!!!
Vermilion streamers, and the guttural, moist choking sound of someone breathing his last with a punctured lung, and a severed jugular. Instants to survive, at most.
The sweet, sweet, oh so dizzyingly glorious resistance of his blade passing through flesh, parting it and laying bare the fighters to the world, rending them asunder and leaving them to bleed their last upon the thirsty soil.
I am weak… I am weak…
I cannot stop. Oh kami, Ida-ten, anyone… take me… take me away and send me to the deepest hells, let me commit these atrocities no more!
No answers… no answers here…
A flash of cobalt blue light, laced with the taint of red obscured his vision, then all was black.
[Dreamer. The present.]
Waking with a start.
Again. She had forgotten about that aspect of the dream.
She stumbled to the bathroom, thankful for the fact that she was habitually the first to wake, and retched. She would fast for three days.
No one would notice, and it would help her, at least. Coping was difficult. How long, to atone for all of them?
Two more months from now, and she could go visit them again. They, at least, were not her fault. But they had no more ancestors to remember them, did they?
Well, her, of course. And Ranma was having trouble, as well.
She could help him, soon. Maybe more than before… events would have to be monitored.
[Watched. The present.]
He wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew it was bad. Everything was too calm, trying to lull him into complacency, going to spring on him suddenly.
Moving his neck was beginning to make it hurt. He seemed to remember reading about that being a stress related condition, once. Was he that badly stressed?
Maybe he was. He wasn't sure.
He watched her, though… her shadow. Open up to her, she had said.
What could he tell her? That he was hiding in her shadow, following her everywhere short of the lavatory? To make sure that nothing could harm her?
She would resent that, and get angry at him, and it would be his fault for not respecting her enough…
He needed control. She wanted to be with him, and she wanted him as a man. Curse aside, that meant getting rid of himself as a monster.
Now, who would provide an answer for that problem?
[An Ordered Woman teaches the Watched to look for himself. The present.]
"I can teach you what you want to know." And she could. Would, too.
"Oh?" Couldn't afford to sound too interested. She'd try and use him, and he wouldn't have that. Couldn't afford it. Had to beat the monster that he was becoming.
"I know what you're going through — being eaten away from the inside, hmm? Want to know a way to control it, am I right?" Of course she was, she knew every nuance of what made the boy tick. "You're afraid that you're going to become a monster."
"What makes you say that?" She knew!? Too close to home. Subtlety. Make her think that she was close, but not dead on. "It's… yeah. Sure. That's it."
"I have my ways." Tricky… was the boy playing with her, or was she wrong? Best play it safe, and snare him carefully. Slowly, as much as it galled her.
"Okay. So what are you going to do?" Had he fooled her? Maybe? With a little bit of luck… too much, he depended on luck. More skill was needed.
"I have a few solutions. Here, take this, and keep it close to your heart. It will bring you closer to… your human self." 'This' was a pendant with a small red gemstone set in the center of a swirling mosaic of silver.
"And what else does it do?" He trusted her. A little. She had taught him much. The Hiryuu Shoten Ha, for one… But this much? Best to make sure… he didn't think that she would lie to him openly.
"Nothing. I wear one myself, you see. Perfectly harmless." And it was. To her. Of course, the one she wore was different, it would let her know how well it was working what it should be doing to him. "Beyond that… it's up to you. You have to have the strength…"
"Right. Fine. I'll take it." He did so, and hesitantly pocketed the gem. He'd wear it when he was somewhere safe. Not quite here, though… this was anything but safe. Then again… where was safe?
"I expect that you'll start feeling better soon. If it doesn't work, then perhaps you can come back to China with me when I return?" That would help convince him, if nothing else did.
She was leaving? That changed things. Maybe he could trust her… and maybe it was a ploy. He'd have to find someone he could trust. Who? "Yeah… See you around then, if you think that this'll really help…"
[Ancient Players in a Young Field, part one. The present.]
"Great-granddaughter, I want you to wear this."
Rebellion? Not expected… not good, either. "Just a gift, child. Don't worry about it."
No reason not to trust her. She was blood kin, after all. "Thank you, great-grandmother. What is it?"
"It's a bloodstone, with pure-heart silver, child. The legends say that they draw lovers together… but hide it from sight, and keep its destiny secret. Do you understand?"
"Yes, great-grandmother. It's very beautiful."
"Perfectly suited for a lovely child like yourself. Remember to never remove it, do you understand, child?"
[Warriors convene at the Wanderer. The Past.]
"What do you want to do with him?" He did not understand their speech, as he did not speak very much Mandarin, and it was thickly accented.
"I say we recoup our losses, and dunk him."
"It's not a bad idea."
"Can we do that? Does that work, I mean?"
"We're agreed, then?"
He opened his eyes too late, striking the water with a marginal splash, and clawing his way to the surface, sputtering for breath.
A rope wrapped around his neck, pulling him to shore, and then hands wrapped around him, dragging him away from the water, while his eyes drifted shut, still weak from the attack that had knocked him down.
More hands tore at his shirt and pawed at him for a moment before his clothing was mostly restored. Too tired to speak, he tried to recover, and listened to his captors.
"He's got breasts now! It worked!"
"You idiot. She's not a he anymore!"
"Right, he's a girl. Isn't he?"
"Yes, he is. Now, give me the ladle."
[The Dreamer and the Wanderer. The past.]
Who am I?
Who are you?
I don't know anymore.
We are the same, but I am not you. We are what we are, and what we will be.
I cannot be a killer, not again. Can you stop me?
Only you can do that. But I will help you.
[A line must be drawn between Friends and Lovers… somewhere. The present.]
"You've been quiet the last few times we've visited, sugar. What's wrong?"
"Great… great-grandmother scares me."
A moment of silence broken only by the muted sizzle of something on the grill, before a soft voice: "Sorry, sugar… you want to talk about it?"
"Sh… I need… a place to stay. A place to get away from her for a while. She's scaring me, and… I've been confused since… I can't remember… can you help me?"
The pleading in her eyes was not something she could ignore. She was aware in a peripheral sense of her waiter/waitress, watching with thinly veiled curiosity. "I can help you. We're friends, right? And that's what friends are for."
"Thank you…" I think I like you. But I can't say that, because that's not right.
"Any time, sugar." Maybe we could be more than friends… you, at least, understand me… but I could never say it. That's too much to ask.
[Ancient Players in a Young Field, part two. The present.]
"Hey! Old man, tell me what you know about this."
There was a moment of quiet as the aged pervert inspected 'this', which happened to be a small pendant, with a blood-red stone. "Nothing special, Ranma m'boy… why do you ask?"
"Nothing. Just checking it."
[Ancient Yang. The present.]
Heartstone… Now why on earth would the old woman want to give him such a thing?
He knew that the stone wouldn't affect the boy much beyond bringing him closer to his more base instincts, but that was something he needed help with anyway.
Wasn't it? The old woman would have to be planning something, it was just a question of what. And what would the heartstone do, anyway?
A chain of honor, to bind him to her great-granddaughter? That might be it. He'd need to be watched and pushed closely, to keep that from happening, in that case.
There was no way he was willing to let the boy be caught by such means. Or follow his own path, at this point. Too much potential to be wasted there.
[There is no line, unless you need it. The present.]
"No, I don't mind… It's good to have friends, and friends have to look after each other."
"You is— are a very good friend. Thank you."
"Like I said, sugar, any time."
And the unspoken words? The words that she couldn't say? What of them? The aching, hidden words she longed to whisper…
Closeness with her first love had been lost, lost to another girl. Hard to resent him, when he forgave her so easily, but another love, and this one so painfully close — only half a futon and two shirts away. And still so far out of reach.
An uncomfortable pause, at that. "Oh… um… should I open a window?"
"N… no. Warm is nice." I like you. "I like it warm."
"Me too…" I like your warmth.
When and how had this begun, anyway?
Would she ever forgive her if she found out?
[Wanderer. The past.]
Four weeks on the ground, limping away from the cursed training grounds — cursed in so many ways. She wasn't certain what had happened in the mad blur that had consumed her after she came to her senses, strange men groping her new body, but they severely underestimated her skill.
She couldn't remember if she had killed them or not, but the sword had been abandoned in favor of a simple wooden stick. It made a better travel aid anyway, and the few ruffians that accosted her could still be fended off with it.
But what to do with this curse and lack of answers?
Her teacher had suggested, long ago when she was still a he, and training under her master…
But he had said to her-then-him, "If you've got two problems, make them into a solution with a little bit of ingenuity."
The advice had been given on one of the rare occasions when he had imbibed a little bit more than he could handle normally, but it was still advice.
How could her current situation help her?
How did the curse help the madness?
[Ancient Yin. The present.]
The stone was warm. A good sign, that.
It meant that the pendants she had given to her great-granddaughter and son-in-law were seeing their hearts growing close.
She frowned, monitoring the subtle magic that told her of their relative strength of affection.
Her affection was much weaker than she would have expected, even as his was much stronger.
Had she gotten them mixed up, given son-in-law one, and her great-granddaughter another? That must be the answer.
But this was merely a monitor; it wouldn't make sure that their affection was for each other. Son-in-law might have feelings for that other girl… that could be a problem, but not one that she was willing to admit to at the moment.
For now, more pressure across the boy, to make him bend under her will and agree to her methods. Until then, she could make sure that his affection for her great-granddaughter only increased.
China… soon she would be able to go home, victorious. Honor would be satisfied, and she would be able to train her great-granddaughter and her son-in-law to make sure that her ideals lived on beyond her.
[Wanderer. The past.]
Answers. There were answers here that she had overlooked.
Women were not killers, so the monster couldn't touch her anymore. Could it? Maybe it could? She wasn't certain, but the changes were enough that she could stay away and be safe from it.
From herself. No more need to run away, it was a second chance, and a freedom from…
The blade was cast away, but would its single smiling edge return to her? Haunt her? She thought she was safe.
And a new life to be begun… how?
[Dreamer. The past.]
She stood at the peak of Tanzewa-san, a respectable mountain, and looked.
Below her, spread beneath the canopy of the heavens, was the world.
A hand reached out, seemingly of its own volition, as though she was reaching for that distant point. Her keen eyesight was able to make out that smudge that would be some seventy kilometers and more distant, and the faint smoke rising from the buildings within.
Tokyo, once Edo.
Her… friends, her… love, if not lover… they awaited her there. Could she return?
She doubted it. Returning would not be an option, since it would be running from the bad, and taking back only the good. It was an all-or-nothing proposal.
Nothing. She would find a home in an outlying village, an area that she could live in and atone… so much to atone for…
She turned away, and stared at the setting sun. Climbing would be hazardous in the dark, but she had done much more dangerous things before. It would be manageable.
[Watching Dreams that can scarcely be remembered… The present.]
Temple? No, today was a good day. It wasn't the day, but she was seldom in a mood to leave her room on that day, and it was… a hard day to have to remember. She would deal with that day when it came, and in the meantime, she would take him to the graveyard to remember her friends, and maybe talk.
Akane wasn't helping him enough, and he was going to lose his struggle. She wouldn't have that, not after what it had done to her.
He looked up, engrossed in a cheap manga, confused at the call. "Yeah, Kasumi?"
"I'm going to the graves today. Would you please accompany me?"
He balked at that momentarily, a wild and fearful light burning in his eyes before he managed a nod, almost a spastic jerk. "Yeah, sure."
"Come along, then."
No, she would not let him lose that battle, having known the cost of failure too closely herself.
[Wandering through Time. The past.]
She hated the Thought. It was nearly constant, as she picked her way through the bomb-shattered buildings, one eye always looking for signs of life in the ruins.
But the Thought would not leave her.
She knew the answer to its question, but she didn't like it.
Changing directions, she tried to think of something else.
In a sense, this war was a blessing, because it would let her rebuild her life without people noting her problems. Adapting to life as a woman was a difficulty, but possible. Her body did not age, but the books she had read in the time she had lived explained much of why the monthly bleeding had stopped. Some aspects of her unwanted semi-immortality were finite, and the capacity to bear children was one of them.
She had to wonder at that. It had been long enough, hadn't it? She was never planning on having children, she was… well, she was a woman, but she had not always been so. And she was going to maintain that aspect, at least.
She frowned, unhappy at the way her mind was wandering, and returned her thoughts to their proper course. The war was a blessing, but she had to curse herself for thinking of it that way when so many had died, and so many more would continue to die.
Using it as cover, she could hide her curse, for a while. Until she could find a way to hide it better.
And the Thought returned, unbidden.
Was this the world that she had fought for? Was it worth it, all that killing? For this?
[Dreams for the Future. The past.]
"Tendo-san… I have a proposal for you and your wife."
The young martial artist exchanged a worried glance with his wife, as she held a cloth to her mouth and coughed. He helped his wife to a seat, and trying to pretend that the bloodstains on the handkerchief weren't there.
He was afraid of this woman, who had not been seen to age in the entire time she had lived in the neighborhood. Scared in a different sense from the way that he was worried for his wife's health.
But she was friendly, with a warm smile, and well-kept manner. Her hair was neatly combed back, not a strand out of place, and her elegant kimono just… seemed to work, even though it wasn't the fashion of the time.
The martial artist nodded, worried for his ailing wife again. They could not afford a doctor, and their shambles of a home was not adequate for raising a family. They were young, though, and the man had no skills aside from his martial arts.
And she had her own problems.
Take two problems, and make a solution with them.
He reached a hand towards a teacup, but set it down when the trembling became apparent, not wanting to display his fear. "Yes? What do you want?" He frowned, dismayed at the worry that should not have been evident in his voice.
The woman's smile increased slightly. "I need a family," she stated. "I have money, and I need a family, and a home."
The martial artist blinked, not understanding, and clutched his wife's hand tightly. "What do you mean?"
"I can help you. I have money. You need a real home, and a doctor. Can we reach an agreement, then?"
He narrowed his eyes. "I… You want to help us?"
The woman nodded. "Very much so. Here is what I propose…"
[Watching old Dreams lain to rest. The present.]
A ladle, for one. That was important. Ceremony.
She dipped the ladle into a bucket, and carefully washed the tombstone off.
The child stood to one side, wondering at his role in these events. "Um… Kasumi?"
The question. She wouldn't have brought him here if she weren't expecting it. "Yes, Ranma?"
His eyes were locked onto the ladle, bearing its load of water to cleanse the burial marker again. "Who was this person?"
Kasumi answered without pausing her ceremonial cleansing of the stone, "Kamiya Kaoru." She was aware of Ranma's eyes boring into her, even as she finished cleaning, and prepared an offering. "She was a friend," she commented, igniting some incense. "But that's not important, right now."
His mouth opened slowly, his eyes moving back to the stone to trace the dates. "You… 1862… how… she… but?"
She smiled softly, staring at the stone still. "A good friend," she whispered. "We don't speak very often, Ranma… but I worry more that you don't speak with Akane. You should, you know."
He flinched, sliding back half a step from her reprimand. "But…" he started, before clamping his mouth shut and lowering his head.
She nodded knowingly. "I spent so many years wondering if it was worth it."
"What was worth it?" He asked, bewildered.
She shook her head, addressing the stone. "I'm sorry. I should visit more often, Kaoru-dono. This is Ranma, he's a friend of mine, and he has a problem much like mine."
Ranma fell silent, watching uncomfortably.
"Yes, he's a very good person… No, he's doing what I did. I know. I hope he can listen, and let the love in his heart drive out the beast… rather than fail as I did."
Ranma stepped back again, seeing the emotion flare brightly in her eyes, as she spoke to a specter from her past.
"I… I miss you, Kaoru. I hope to see you again, once my penance is paid." She lowered her head, sighing, and wiped away a stray tear. In a voice that was barely a whisper, she said, "I don't want to let him fail like I did…"
To be continued.
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