A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is one lemon scene in here, but it’s pretty tame. I tried my best to make it as non-offensive as I could, and believe this version with it is superior to the non-lemon one. Just my recommendation.
"Where am I?"
Shampoo tried looking around to see where she was. It seemed to her that she was floating in some kind of void. Everything around her felt… odd. Empty. It was neither hot nor cold. It seemed to lack any temperature at all. As to the surroundings themselves, there was nothing to them. No light. No gray. Nothing but an eternal night completely devoid of stars. However, the pitch blackness was not frightening, nor was it comforting. Again it simply was.
How had she arrived in the void? The last thing she remembered was being paralyzed and dying. Everything was beginning to grow dark. Then there was a loud roar, followed by the roof of the cavern cracking…
Shampoo remembered that she was six years old when she woke to the sounds of her mother saying something in an agitated voice. From her position in her bed she looked out her window at the moon. It was still late at night, not early morning, she was certain of that, and if she got up and was caught she would be punished. Her mother was a stickler for rules, and was almost always certain to discipline Shampoo for breaking them without a good excuse. Curiosity was not one of them.
Shampoo had tried to go back to sleep. Really she had, but it was no use. Curiosity won out over caution, so she attempted to move silently as she closed the distance between her bed and the door. For most girls it would probably have been easy, but Shampoo’s mother, Comb, had the hearing of a cat, and somehow always seemed to know when Shampoo tried to sneak out of bed. Still, she just had to know why her mother was still up and speaking so loudly.
It couldn’t have been with her father; he never argued with her. Whatever her mother said, her father went along with. He was a proper male that knew his place and obeyed his wife. Comb saw to it her only child understood that obedience was a necessary trait for any boy she should become interested in. But when Shampoo mentioned that to her great grandmother, the old one just smiled and got a funny look to her face, saying that a male with spirit was a far better catch than some spineless jellyfish, and that if Shampoo’s mother hadn’t been burned so badly in the past she could admit to it too.
All of the talk was just plain silly to Shampoo. All boys were yucky except Mousse. He was fun to play with and would split candy with her whenever he got some. At least until recently. Now he kept saying he loved her, then she would have to hit him for being stupid. At least he wasn’t like that all the time.
She returned her attention to the noises in the living room. It sounded as though it was Shampoo’s great grandmother that was talking with her mother. That was cause for alarm. Shampoo practically worshipped the ground her great grandmother walked upon, and any arguments between her family always stung her. They did not occur frequently, but they did happen. Praying to the gods, she tried opening the door slightly, just a crack so she could see what was really going on. She moved it, centimeter by centimeter, the well-oiled door not making a sound. Once there was enough space she looked out into the room.
It was indeed Cologne with whom Comb was arguing. The old one appeared as inscrutable as ever, while her mother appeared ready to lash out at her with a nearby spear.
"<You can’t take her from me!>" Comb shook as she protested.
For a moment, Shampoo had thought her great grandmother spotted her as Cologne turned an eye to the door. If so she said nothing about as she responded to the accusation in a manner that brooked no arguments. "<It has to be done. She has to start now if there is to be any hope for her to attain leadership. Her young mind is ripe for learning all of the things she needs to know, and the longer I wait the more difficult it will be for her to master all I can teach her.>"
"<She’s too young. Why, she’s nothing more than a baby. She needs more time with me. I can teach her what she needs to know!>"
Shampoo had never seen her mother so agitated. Ever. Comb was hardly legendary for controlling her temper, and sometimes she even spoke out against Cologne (in private, of course), but always it was with some moderation. To openly plead like she was doing was unthinkable. Always she carried herself with pride and dignity, at least in Shampoo’s eyes.
Cologne shook her head. "<You lack the ability to do that effectively, as you well know. You will give in to your sympathy and not push her as hard as you must.>"
"<Yes I can!>" Comb responded through gritted teeth.
"<You say that now,>" Cologne said, as though talking to a child. "<But it will only be a matter of time before your resolve breaks and you’ll coddle her. She must come with me.>"
Shampoo watched on in horror as her mother balled her fists up and appeared ready to lash out at her own grandmother.
If Cologne took any notice of the move, she did not outwardly show it. Instead she simply remained where she was, as though there was no danger to her at all. "<She is the family’s best hope for the next leader. You know that. Are you prepared to allow the family to lose this honor, all because you have no faith in me?>"
The strength seemed to leave Comb’s body as she unclenched her fists. Slowly she rocked back on her heels. Shampoo recognized that as a sure sign her mother was thinking hard. She would do it when deciding Shampoo’s punishment when she did something really bad, like accidentally lighting a neighbor’s house on fire. How was she to know oil was THAT flammable?
Comb at last stopped rocking and triumphantly placed her hands on her hips. "<I have it. Take me instead. I’d love to be matriarch!>"
Cologne released a tired sigh. "<That won’t work and you know it.>"
"<Why?>" Comb protested. "<I’m eager to learn and a great warrior.>"
Cologne shook her head as a note of exasperation entered her voice. "<You are also overly emotional, show poor judgment in most matters, and hate men.>"
Shampoo looked on as her mother’s face began to twitch. "<I am not overly emotional! I have fine judgment! AND I DO NOT HATE MEN!!!>"
Cologne gave a flat stare in return. "<I see. You have demonstrated your point quite well. You have my thanks.>"
Comb regained her composure, realizing what a fool she had just made of herself. She rocked back on her heels for a few more moments before giving Cologne a scowl. "<Why don’t you just come out and say it?>"
Cologne appeared genuinely surprised. "<What are you talking about?>"
Comb’s scowl switched to a cold stare. "<Mother told me all about how the two of you discussed training me as your heir and future matriarch,>" Comb’s voice dropped some. "<Before she died.>"
Shampoo watched on as her mother brushed her hair back and composed herself.
"<I asked her, you know. I wanted to be just like you. I worshipped the ground you walked on, at least before I learned what a cold-hearted bitch you really are!>"
Shampoo barely caught herself before gasping out loud. How could her own mother say that to great grandmother?!
Cologne’s eyes narrowed in response. "<What did she tell you?>"
"<Why don’t you tell me?>" Comb replied coldly. "<I know what she said, but I want the words to come from your mouth. I need to hear them in your voice, not my mother’s.>"
The two locked stares with one another. It was almost thirty seconds later when Shampoo was shocked once again when her great grandmother acquiesced.
In a voice that could barely be heard, Cologne repeated those words from so long ago. "<I said I loved you too much to put you through what I had undergone at the hands of my own grandmother.>"
Comb seemed satisfied with that declaration. "<You loved me too much to do that to me. You loved me too much.>" She seemed to savor those words for a moment, then venom laced her voice once more. "<You claim to love me, yet you would tear my only child, your only great granddaughter, from me. I don’t know what I would do without that sort of ‘compassion’ in my life. Thank you for caring about me so much!>"
"<It is because she is my only great granddaughter that I must to do this. And it has to be done now. I don’t believe I can go another generation without choosing an heir, and I refuse to allow the mantle of leadership pass from our family line without a fight! Xian Pu will come with me!>"
The last of Comb’s energy seemed to pass from her as she slumped into a nearby chair. Her body appeared exhausted and her spirit drained as she gave Cologne an evil glare. "<And as always, the matriarch’s will is the way. Who am I to stand in the way of the ultimate wisdom that you possess? I am but a lowly fool, incapable of thinking for herself. You win again, as always, Grandmother.>" Comb turned to the door Shampoo was hiding behind. "<Come here, Xian Pu.>"
Shampoo cowered for a moment, then realized both women had been aware of her presence the entire time. Sheepishly she revealed herself, waiting to have both women punish her. As she was considering how to come up with an excuse about still being awake, she caught sight of the tears in her mother’s eyes. That shocked Shampoo, for her mother never cried.
Comb composed herself as the tears disappeared with a wipe of her sleeve. "<You are going to be living with your great grandmother from now on.>"
"<I am?>" Shampoo asked in bewilderment. Was that the punishment she was receiving for her staying up too late?
"<Yes, child.>" Cologne gave a warm smile to Shampoo, causing her to relax. "<We’re going to begin training for something very important. It will make you a great warrior. You do want to be a great warrior, don’t you?>"
Shampoo stood up proudly, just as she knew she should. "<Of course I do! I want to be the best warrior ever!>"
"<Then you will come to live with me from now on. Won’t that be nice?>"
Shampoo felt a little scared at that. She had spent nights over at her great grandmother’s house before, but living there forever? "<Can I still see Mother and Father?>" she asked with uncertainty.
"<Of course, child,>" Cologne reassured her. "<Every day that you want.>"
That perked Shampoo up. She was going to receive training to be a great warrior, just like she always wanted. Then everyone would like her and respect her, especially her mother. And she was still going to spend time with her parents every day. That didn’t seem so bad. Her mother must have misunderstood and overreacted.
"<You make it sound like a vacation,>" Comb said acidly, then shifted her attention to Shampoo. She softened then, and moved forward to embrace her. "<You behave for your great grandmother. You do what she says, like a good little girl. And make sure you come home every day. I’ll be waiting for you.>"
Shampoo gave a tired sigh to all of the ‘mothering’ she was receiving. Why did parents always have to be like that and embarrass her? She was already a big girl, and it wasn’t like she was going far away. It was just to the far side of the village. After replying with the appropriate amount of ‘Yes, Mother’s,’ they packed up some clothes for her to spend the night. Her father would take the rest of the things over the next day.
Shampoo gave her mother one last hug before leaving. Comb seemed so sad over her going away, but it was her big chance to become the greatest warrior there was. And she did love her great grandmother, so it wasn’t all that scary to her. If she was going to be the greatest warrior ever, she couldn’t let herself be afraid of little stuff like that.
As she left her home dwindled in the distance, Shampoo began to have second thoughts. All of a sudden it was scary to be leaving her home. It really was all she had known all of her life, and the idea of it changing was disconcerting. Maybe she could change her mind and ask to go back. She already missed her mother, and it hadn’t even been five minutes.
"<Having second thoughts?>" Cologne asked.
"<No!>" Shampoo answered too quickly. She was not scared, and even if she was, she would not show it next to her great grandmother. The diminutive woman was never afraid of anything, and Shampoo wanted to be courageous just like that.
"<I was when I had to move in with my own grandmother to begin training,>" Cologne reminisced.
That was a shock to Shampoo. "<You were afraid of something?>"
Cologne gave her a toothy grin. "<Only a fool never fears. Are you a fool, Xian Pu?>"
That was a silly question. "<No.>"
"<Then are you afraid of leaving home?>" Cologne asked.
All of a sudden Shampoo felt she had been tricked somehow. Brave warriors weren’t supposed to be afraid, but now her great grandmother seemed to be implying she should be. "<Maybe I am just a tiny little bit.>" She held her fingers barely apart and showed that to Cologne as an example of how little she was afraid.
"<That’s very courageous of you. Let’s keep going.>"
Shampoo beamed at the compliment. Her great grandmother said she was courageous. That was all she needed to bolster her courage and move with more zest in her step than she had before.
It was as they were almost to Cologne’s house when the old woman said something. Shampoo heard uncharacteristic emotion in her great grandmother's voice.
"<We are about to embark on a long and difficult path, Xian Pu. I only hope when it’s all over you can find it in your heart to forgive me.>"
Shampoo stared at her, confused. "<I don’t understand what you mean. I want to do this. I want to be a great warrior.>"
Cologne looked at her softly. "<I said very much the same thing to my own grandmother. It was only later when I truly learned what it was I had to do. And of course, by then, it was too late to undo what had already been done. In the end, I never did forgive her.>"
Shampoo wasn’t sure what to say, so she went with the first thing that came to mind. "<I’ll forgive you, great grandmother.>" She leaned over and kissed Cologne on the cheek.
Cologne laughed at that, then shook her head sadly. "<To be so young and innocent. How unfortunate you have to lose all of that for what must come. That is the way of things.>"
To Shampoo, the comment seemed directed more at the matriarch herself than at her, so she remained silent as the duo continued on their way. Shampoo silently vowed she would never be sorry for choosing to follow the path her great grandmother would lay before her.
And she never was.
Shampoo still found herself floating in the void while wondering what had happened and why she was thinking of things from her childhood. True, that was a defining moment for her, but she had never been able to remember it so clearly.
Thirteen year old Shampoo’s feet automatically moved, one in front of the other as she and her great grandmother made their way through the crowd. She had been only dimly aware of the silence and accusing stares that met her as she had walked through the crowd and deeper into the village, away from the eyes of the others with only her great grandmother as her companion.
"<You did well today, my child,>" Cologne told her. "<I was concerned you wouldn’t do what justice cried out for. It pleases me that you are showing yourself capable of holding up under such pressures. Do not concern yourself about any shame the council will try to set upon you for your actions today. I’ll deal with them.>"
Shampoo was only dimly aware of her great grandmother’s words. There was only one sound she could hear. It was still continuing in an unbroken cacophony of noise, as clear as though it were being voiced from right next to her, despite the fact it was really coming from a hundred yards back at the challenge log.
It was the sound of Perfume’s screaming.
"<I know what you did was difficult, but it was nec…>" Cologne trailed off as she became aware of Shampoo no longer walking alongside her.
Shampoo’s feet had stopped moving of their own accord. Now she simply gazed downward.
"<Xian Pu, why have you stopped?>"
Shampoo showed no emotion, ignoring the question and staring at the sword that had never been sheathed. It had remained at her side as she stared at her handiwork. The cut had been long and deep, just as she had wanted. After she determined that, Shampoo then jumped off the log and made her way through the crowd. Now, as she stopped, she examined the blade more closely. It was lowered at an angle towards the ground, and the blood from the slash was slowly dripping down the edge of the sword. A part of her mind acknowledged how odd it was that not all of it had run off before. Perhaps she had been holding it at a higher angle.
"<Xian Pu. Keep walking.>"
Shampoo took no notice of the command as she watched the red fluid collect at the tip of the sword. She found herself captivated by the sight, watching… no, fixated by the small crimson line that hugged the point of her blade. She could think of nothing else. There was nothing else, except for the blood, the blood that gravity tugged with agonizing slowness, drawing it into a small globe that grew until finally gravity won out and a single red drop fell, only to be absorbed by the ground. Almost as soon as it landed two more drops followed, soaked up just as greedily by the soil, but the two new arrivals were clear, not red. It took a moment for Shampoo to understand to understand why they were different and what they were.
"<Xian Pu! I said keep walking! There is no time for this!>"
"<I said keep walking.>"
They were tears.
They were her tears.
Strength left her legs as she fell to her knees, releasing the sword and whispering softly. "<What have I done?>"
Cologne’s voice remained in its state of command. "<Stop crying, now! You cannot allow the others to see this weakness in you!>"
Shampoo at last was able to look at her great grandmother. Her voice became louder and the tears flowed more readily and her voice took on a sobbing quality. "<What did I do? What did I do?!>"
"<You did what had to be done. She betrayed you.>" Cologne insisted as she looked around, watching for any others that might see the spectacle that was occurring in the middle of the street.
"<No!>" Shampoo protested, her voice growing louder. "<She was my friend. She didn’t mean it. It’s all a misunderstanding. She wouldn’t betray me!>"
"<Yes, she did,>" Cologne hissed. "<Now pick yourself up. It’s undignified for you to behave this way. Get up now!>"
"<I hurt her,>" Shampoo said, almost inaudibly as she repeated it over and over again. "<I hurt her. I hurt her. I hurt her!>"
Shampoo’s voice rose with each declaration. It was only a hard blow from Cologne’s staff that knocked Shampoo flat on the ground and silenced the purple-haired Amazon, shocking her out of her mantra. Shampoo rose up on her hands and looked at her great grandmother in shock, and was suddenly very frightened by what she saw. It seemed to Shampoo that the woman towered over her, despite only being several inches below her eye level.
"<You will stop crying like an infant now!>" Cologne warned as the staff found its way into the crook of her arm. "<Perfume was not your friend. She was a base betrayer that wormed her way into your heart and stabbed you in the back. She was the worst kind of enemy you could ever have. What you did to her was the least that she deserved. Were you several years older, it would have been within your rights to challenge her to the death for what she has done. It’s fortunate for her that all she received was a scar to serve as a reminder of what it means to betray you.>"
"<No,>" Shampoo protested softly. "<I shouldn’t have hurt her.>"
Further protests died on her lips as she saw the glare her great grandmother gave her. Suddenly Shampoo was truly afraid of her great grandmother for perhaps the first time in her life.
"<Listen to me and listen to me well.>" Cologne maintained her glare. "<You shall stop crying like a small child now. You will stand up and listen to what I have to say. Now!>"
Shampoo shot up to her feet, drying her tears and bowing her head in shame to her great grandmother.
"<You have done nothing to her! Do you understand me? Nothing!>" Cologne hissed. "<Do you think giving someone like that a scar means anything? She will live, and in perfectly good health, which is far more than she deserves. You should have been willing to kill her for what she had done to you. What you did today means nothing! What you did to Perfume means NOTHING!>"
Cologne continued her stare. "<When you become leader someday, you will be forced to do many terrible things to good people. That is the price one pays for being a good leader. You will not always have the option of making an easy choice, and oftentimes the right ones will hurt those that do not deserve pain in their lives. It is not fair to them, but that is the way of things in the real world. I am trying to prepare you slowly for this, but it is time you learned that lesson. There may come a time when you have to send friends, good people, to their deaths because you must. You cannot allow sentimentality to get in the way.
"<I know, because I had to do that very thing. Aspirin was my best friend in the world, both growing up and later in life when I ascended to leadership of the tribe. She was always there with a kind word, a helping hand, a friendly smile. She pushed me ever onward to the greater heights I wanted to rise to, but was afraid to try. I do not know what would have happened to me if she had not been there, serving as perhaps the true force behind my successful rise to leadership. It would have taken me longer at the very least, and perhaps I would not have succeeded at all. Sometimes I don’t wonder if she was the better of us. The Gods know she was at least almost my equal in many ways, and superior in many other aspects. I have never met any other of her ilk in all of my years, and I know in my heart I never will again. She was unique, and I don’t believe I fully appreciated it until she was gone. You cannot understand what someone truly means to you until they are no longer there, and all too often it is too late to do anything about it other than to feel remorse.>"
An unachievable longing filled Cologne’s face as she continued. "<For a little while I had a vague hope Perfume might be able to perform a similar function for you, but such was not the case. She craved power. I could see it the first time I laid eyes on her, after you revealed your relationship with her. What you did today was right and necessary. She brought this suffering upon herself and should count herself fortunate that all you did was scar her. You have to be willing to risk hurting those close to you for the better of all. That was what I had to do with Aspirin. It was a hundred years ago someone stole something important to us and I had to send a small group to recover the items. It was little more than a suicide mission, but we had to try. Aspirin was the best one to lead the group.>"
Shampoo gazed sadly at her great grandmother, feeling some sympathy through her own pain. "<You sent her?>"
Cologne nodded. "<I had to. It was for the good of the many. I could not weigh a single sister’s life over that of all the others. Self-centeredness is a luxury a leader cannot afford and sacrifices have to be made. The world will demand them of you in some way. No matter how hard you try to avoid them, you will be confronted with choices which will end up hurting others no matter what you do. And trying to avoid making such decisions will only hurt everyone in the long run. Aspirin knew that, which is why she accepted. She actually managed to succeed in the mission, even though it ended up costing her life.>"
"<I could never do something like that,>" Shampoo said softly.
Shampoo had never seen the look Cologne gave when she finished saying that. It seemed to be a longing sadness with a mixture of pity. Beyond that Shampoo could not say. But the words her great grandmother spoke ended up disturbing her for a very long time to come.
"<I said the exact same thing myself when my grandmother told me that. You’ll learn how to make sacrifices, Xian Pu. You’ll learn.>"
She did not want to remember that terrible day. Why was she being assailed like that? She had mended the bridges with Perfume, and though the closeness they had shared could never be reclaimed, they had arrived at a mutual peace.
The strange Japanese boy must have been lying. Either that or Shampoo had misunderstood what he meant when he said they would ‘spar’ with one another. No. It was probably a trap, just as she feared. He was trying to get himself an Amazon bride by defeating her in combat. Surely he was trying to do everything he could to subdue her. No one was as good as that when they merely trained. No. He misled her into thinking it was only a practice match, getting her to drop her guard so that he could later claim that it was real combat and he had defeated her fairly.
It was such a betrayal, but she had been warned that outsiders were an egotistical lot that believed the Amazons were nothing more than a lot of backwater primitives that could be taken advantage of as though they were children. She would teach the boy a lesson between that stereotype and the reality of the matter.
It really was unfortunate because Ranma had seemed so polite and friendly, not at all like the few arrogant males that would come to the village thinking the ‘little girls’ there were some kind of joke. Even the man called Pop seemed to regard her and her martial arts as something worthy of great respect. Ranma had treated her very nicely, at least when he wasn’t depressed over the fact he turned into a girl when splashed with cold water. Shampoo had even comforted him in the last rainstorm they were caught in, not that he hadn’t done the same for her since she too despised her cursed form. If it had not been for the sadness in Ranma’s eyes every time he looked down at his female body, a sorrow that was mirrored in Shampoo, she wondered where she would have found the strength to continue. Her life was over. No Amazon had fallen victim to Nanniichuan in over three hundred years, but those that had before that had all met the same fate: Death. Not that she felt like continuing on with such a repulsive male body. Better to receive an animal curse than to turn into the exact opposite of what an Amazon warrior was supposed to be.
But Ranma somehow managed to deal with his curse. And if an outsider male could come to terms with his —admittedly superior because it was female— cursed body, then how could Shampoo do no less in adjusting to her own curse-induced sex change? It was a matter of pride, as well as some basic need to try to find reason to survive, that enabled her to appear strong most of the time when she was a male. There were even certain advantages to having a male body. Like being much stronger than when she was a female. And then there was being able to go to relieve herself standing up, although having to touch her new…appendage was more than a little discomforting. There wasn’t supposed to be anything there, not for her anyway. She even had to forgo her underwear and steal some that was drying out on a clothesline. She found that after her first change into a male that her normal undergarments were far too confining. She had been reduced to wearing men’s underwear now. It was so embarrassing for the champion of the village to have to do something that degrading. At least no one back home knew of that particular shame.
So she and Ranma had comforted one another as they tried to deal with their curses, each drawing strength from the other. At least until now.
She brought out her bonbori and swung at his ribcage. She would not try to kill him, no matter how he had misled her. She owed him far too much. No, Shampoo would choose to simply smash in a couple of his lower ribs and maybe an arm if he refused to back off. She saw there was surprise in his eyes as he avoided the first blow, which was soon followed by a second and then a third. Her opponent began ranting about something in Japanese, but Shampoo was not about to let up to concentrate on the words. His actions told her all she needed to know.
Faster and faster he dodged the bonbori strikes, but made no offensive moves of his own. He simply kept ranting in Japanese. The longer the fight went, the more she was beginning to wonder if what Ranma was trying to say was important. She deliberately left a small opening on her defense, seeing if Ranma would exploit it. When he did not she left a more obvious hole in it. Still Ranma did not take try to take the advantage. In fact, he chose to jump up in a tree and make placating gestures towards her rather then try to attack. She listened carefully to his words as he tried explaining once more that he was merely practicing and asked why she was trying to kill him.
It was with great difficulty she tried to speak to him in his own tongue. "Ranma try beat Shampoo real, not make believe."
"I was just sparring, really," he insisted.
She gazed at him suspiciously, but there appeared to be little duplicity in his eyes, and she did so want to believe him. "Ranma fight too good make believe. Look real."
"Nope. I was just practicin’. When I go all out you’ll know it."
She felt her suspicions begin to die off. "Ranma no try to win Shampoo wife?"
She watched as he facefaulted out of the tree and hit the ground. "Why Ranma throw self to ground? Ranma try kill self?"
"No!" he gasped as he picked himself up and brushed the dust off of him. "What made you think I was trying to win you as a wife?"
"When outsider male challenge Amazon and win, Amazon have to marry. Is law."
"I don’t want to marry you!" Ranma protested, causing Shampoo to feel the slightest bit of irritation at the vehemence of it. Not that she wanted Ranma as a husband, even if he was somewhat cute. The timing was all wrong.
"Can’t we just practice?" he asked.
Shampoo nodded. As long as it was clear it was only a practice and not a challenge, marriage rules did not apply. In light of the misunderstanding, both agreed to not practice until the next day when tempers would have cooled off.
"Besides, who would want to marry a violent Chinese chick like you?" Ranma mumbled under his breath as he turned away. He suddenly found a bonbori thrust no more than a centimeter away from his face.
"What Ranma mean when call Shampoo, ‘violent Chinese chick’?" She had known enough Japanese to tell that he had been referring to her, and she did not like the tone of voice in which he had said it.
"Umm, it’s Japanese for ‘a really strong, attractive warrior’."
Shampoo took a moment to translate what she could of that, then gave a radiant smile. "Yes. That right. Shampoo violent Chinese chick."
She watched Ranma give a nervous laugh and walk off. He made it no more than fifteen feet away when she called out, "Ranma?"
He turned slowly, allowing Shampoo to see a sheen of sweat that suddenly appeared across his forehead. She figured he was still overheated from their duel.
"Yeah?" he said.
"Shampoo think Ranma violent Chinese chick too."
For some odd reason he didn’t seem to take the compliment well and stomped off, mumbling something to himself. She just shrugged. Japanese boys seemed to behave pretty weird, although she had meant what she has said about him being a great and attractive warrior. However, the cursed state she was in pretty much destroyed any desire to seek out possible mates. She wanted a cure first. Everything else was secondary to that. Once that was taken care of, her life could return back to normal. Still, perhaps she should get to know Ranma better. He certainly appeared to be a powerful fighter, and that was always a plus when looking for possible romantic partners. Yes. She would keep a close eye on such a seemingly interesting boy, even if he was confusing. Once her Japanese got better, she’d be able to understand Ranma better as well.
She shook her head. There were more important things to do, like seek cover from the impending rain that was fast approaching. Rain seemed to follow them wherever they went since they had each been cursed. It was like they were water magnets or something.
Once more Shampoo realized she was still in the void as she wondered where that one had come from? She had not thought about that day in months. The whole situation was so bizarre.
Shampoo-kun had been in the backyard, next to the koi pond, going through the motions of his kata, but even as he attempted a spinning leap kick he could tell his center was off. Even the basic forms were eluding him. He paused in mid-motion and noted that Kasumi was watching him closely once again from the back porch of the house. It was odd how she always seemed to be there when he was training, especially considering she didn’t seem to practice the art itself. Perhaps she was considering starting it and wanted to ask if he would help train her. If so he would accept. Outside of Ranma, Kasumi treated him the nicest of all. Actually, she treated him a lot better than Ranma, but in his months of travel with the boy, the Amazon knew Ranma was hardly an overly sensitive guy. He wasn’t deliberately callous, it just seemed he was cursed to put his foot in his mouth at the most inopportune moments. Small wonder since he was raised by Genma alone. It was a miracle Ranma turned out as well as he had without a real woman to raise him. Men were so limited.
Ranma. It all came back to him. He had asked Shampoo-kun to do the role of Romeo in the school play. The Amazon didn’t know the first thing about acting, but had accepted anyway. Why? Because it meant he could kiss Ranma.
That sent a shiver down his spine. When had such strong feelings for the frequently irritating boy come about? Sure, Shampoo-kun admired him and his martial arts skills, which were admittedly better than the Amazon’s own, but it went further than simple admiration of abilities. There was the soft side of Ranma he never showed knowingly to the rest of the world, and denied fervently when confronted with such accusations. The majority of the time he could be an unthinking egomaniac, yet somehow Shampoo-kun found that a little appealing as well. Very peculiar.
And why had Ranma asked Shampoo-kun? True, his stated reason was so that no real men kissed him, but could there have been something else? Perhaps he truly wanted to taste Shampoo-kun’s lips, and given his promise of marriage to one of the Tendos, it was the only way he could without the fathers unleashing their anger on him.
That seemed silly to Shampoo-kun as well. It was true that occasionally back home marriages were arranged by families for a male to be wed to a female so that two clans could be united, but it was rarely done anymore. It was far better to find a good, strong mate on one’s own than leave it up to chance by linking two families in the hopes that each clan would provide a good spouse. Politics should have nothing to do with bloodlines. Personal worth was all that truly mattered, though politics had to be suffered to get anything done.
And Ranma was personally worthy; of that Shampoo-kun had no doubt. He was not only strong and handsome, he was Ranma, and that was the only word that could describe the immutable qualities which made him so irresistibly appealing. Akane certainly didn’t appreciate it. All she ever seemed to do was pick fights with Ranma (well, he started them at least half the time too) in which he refused to fight back. If he tried treating Shampoo-kun like he was not worthy of fighting, he would ‘educate’ Ranma in just what defending oneself from an opponent, male or female, could entail.
Shampoo-kun shook his head of such negative thoughts. If Akane did not want the prize she was handed, fine. Shampoo-kun would be more than happy to show Ranma what it meant to be appreciated. And he would do it with their kiss for the play.
Poor, sweet, irritating Ranma would never know what hit him.
Shampoo continued floating in the void. All remained the same until she felt a coldness off to what she perceived was her left. A coldness which seemed to suck at her very soul, absorbing all light and warmth. And the worst part about it was that the drain was familiar to her. Very familiar.
It was the same sensation she had in her talk with Mr. Domino.
And then it was gone, as though it had never truly existed. Once more she lost the ability to perceive either time or movement, nothing other than a sense of self, as she remained in the void.
Shampoo-kun could feel Kasumi’s legs lock around his waist. The girl was unexpectedly powerful, especially in those long legs of hers. It actually took him some effort to draw his hips back and slowly thrust forward again. There was no rush, despite the urgent messages his male body was giving off, many of them coming from the new ‘equipment’ he had. He wanted the girl beneath him to cherish the experience for a lifetime. It was the first for both of them, yet it was not for his pleasure, but for hers that he was doing this. At least that was what he had told himself at first, and in the beginning that might even have been true, but no longer. His own body now craved the release only Kasumi could give as he automatically obeyed its signals and picked up his tempo slightly.
No. He forced himself to fight through those basic feelings and slowed down, almost to a stop as Kasumi relaxed her leg lock and released him. He wanted to let her calm down a little bit so he could bring her up once more. Twice before he had taken her to the edge then backed off. Each time she looked at him with a mixture of confusion and pleading, then would arch back and moan as he began his ministrations once again. It was odd how he seemed to know what to do to maximize his partner’s pleasure, and judging by her reaction she was enjoying herself. What he thought he should do was almost instinctive, and he followed those instincts as best as he could, gaining the results he wanted.
Soon he would not be able to control himself; on some intuitive level he understood that. If the situation were not so unusual he would have lost control long ago, but at no point in his life had he expected to have an experience like this. Never would he have believed he would make love to a woman, yet there he was, doing that very thing. And he wanted to. There was no denying that. It went far beyond his desire to make up for how the date had originally gone.
How ironic that at a time when they deliberately went out to have fun together they had had their first argument. Well, as much as one could have an argument with Kasumi. They had arrived at the wedding on time and it had gone off without a problem. During the festivities afterwards, the bride, Miki, and the groom separated to talk to their respective friends. Observing Miki’s joyful reaction to seeing Kasumi for the first time in years, Shampoo-kun decided to let the two of them reminisce and made himself scarce, keeping an eye on Kasumi from afar. Unfortunately all of the unattached women, and several that had arrived with someone else, took that as a signal to become excessively friendly with him. The annoying females seemed to make a contest of trying to gain his attention, practically coming to blows over it. Showing disinterest seemed to spur them on to try harder, and he couldn’t beat up a couple to make examples of them. He was not going to ruin the reception and Kasumi’s good time because he was receiving unwanted attentions similar to the ones back in Nerima. He was simply going to have to smile and live with it.
He watched Kasumi sit at one of the tables across the room and continue to drink with the bride. She almost seemed to glare at Shampoo-kun. Of course he knew he was mistaken; Kasumi never glared. It had to have been an error on his part from the distance he was from her. Eventually the bride left and was replaced by a man whom Shampoo-kun took an instinctive dislike. Even from that distance the stranger reeked of the same arrogance Mikado possessed. The Amazon watched as the man talked with Kasumi for a few minutes, then whispered something in her ear which made her blush. She gave a look to Shampoo-kun, then followed the man outside. The disbelief over Kasumi’s erratic behavior almost made the Amazon miss the vain male place a hand around Kasumi’s waist as they went outside to one of the gardens next to the building. Shampoo-kun had been only vaguely aware of knocking over two of his female admirers as he rushed outside. Curiously, his entourage chose not to follow.
Once outside, it only took him a few moments to spot Kasumi leaning against a wall, the man standing far too close to her for his own sake. Even from behind, Shampoo-kun could smell the airs the Mikado-like man possessed, and as the Amazon approached he could hear the man chuckle with a sound that instantly grated on Shampoo-kun’s nerves. Oh yes, there was no doubt from the tone of voice and the motions of his body that the man was trying to seduce Kasumi. Shampoo-kun’s Kasumi. The Amazon had to reaffirm to himself he would not simply drive the man’s head into a wall when he was close enough.
He moved behind the loathsome creature that was trying to beguile sweet Kasumi and placed his hand around the back of the man’s neck, forcefully turning him around. The displeasure in the man’s stare as he was made to look at one who would dare interrupt him in his ‘game’ disappeared once he saw the hate etched in Shampoo-kun’s face.
Shampoo-kun lifted him several inches off the ground by the scruff of his neck, as though he were a rag doll, and informed him that, "There is somewhere else you have to be." The man scurried away like a rat, the Amazon resisting the urge to give him a swift kick to send him on his way. When he turned to Kasumi, the same glare that he had seen earlier had returned.
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
Shampoo-kun felt as though he was stabbed through the heart. "Did you want to be with him?"
The glare lasted just a moment longer, then disappeared as Kasumi appeared as though she was about to cry. "No. I want to be with you. But you avoided me since the reception started and were hanging around with those… women."
That last word was laced with a venom Shampoo-kun had never heard from the girl, and he wondered why Kasumi appeared so openly… jealous? That seemed the appropriate word. Perhaps she had had too much to drink. "I not even like any of them. They was annoying. I wanted to be with you, but I thought you would want some time alone with you friend."
Kasumi seemed to soften further with that. "No more than a few minutes. It was wonderful to see her again, but I wanted you there at my side."
"I sorry." Shampoo-kun brought his hands upon Kasumi’s shoulders, in a gesture to reassure her of his desire to please her, and stroked them through the material of her dress.
She tensed up for a moment, then moved forward and wrapped her arms around him, burying her head in the center of his chest. He smiled in response and embraced her in return.
"You’re the one I want to be with," she murmured into his chest.
"I want to be with you too."
She looked up into his eyes, staring deeply into them with a longing Shampoo-kun recognized. It was all too similar to the one she had when under the influence of the love pill. Yet this time there was no fear or even uneasiness. Tonight it was a comforting gaze, and he did not resist when she brought herself to her full height and kissed him on the lips. The smell of Kasumi’s perfume, a mixture of jasmine and orchids, filled his nostrils and heightened his awareness of the girl, no, woman that was in his embrace. And just as in the cave, he found himself returning that perfect kiss, though for longer than a moment. This time there was no resistance from within. Not here. Not tonight. That was why he had felt such raw hatred for the man that had talked with Kasumi. Shampoo-kun did not want to lose her now. Inside each wanted it to be their moment, nothing outside of the two of them existed any longer.
They returned to the reception, inseparable from one another. No one else wasted their time trying to talk to either one alone. There was not a single person in the room that was able to miss the connection the two now shared. They danced the night away, enjoying each other’s exclusive company, save when Miki spoke alone with Kasumi every now and then. Guests left one by one until there was only a handful left, curiously including the bride and groom. Just as Shampoo-kun and Kasumi were about to leave, Miki took the eldest Tendo girl aside and whispered something to her, which caused Kasumi to look wide-eyed at Shampoo-kun, then give an, ‘Oh, my! I couldn’t!’ Miki laughed in response and gave a mischievous grin directed at Shampoo-kun before seeking her new husband once more.
Shortly thereafter the pair grabbed a taxi and began their journey to the train station. They had remained at the reception far longer than Kasumi had planned and only had enough time to catch the last train to Nerima. On the way back, Shampoo-kun could not help noticing the sad look Kasumi had. It felt so terribly wrong for her to ever be disappointed, especially after what Shampoo-kun had done early on. He hoped there was something he could do to cheer her up.
"Why you so sad?"
She stared at Shampoo-kun for a moment, then seemed to grow sadder as she turned to the window before answering. "It’s just that today felt so wonderful I wish it didn’t have to end. I’d love to spend some more time away from everyone else. Just the two of us, even if it was only for a little while."
Kasumi had actually asked for something. Shampoo-kun could not remember her doing that to him before. At least not for anything more serious than, "would you pass the salt?" He considered the request. There were a million reasons why they could not, perhaps even more of why they should not, but didn’t Kasumi deserve something for herself? Of course she did. She always gave to others, never asking nor expecting anything in return. Now she at last sought something the Amazon could give her, and at no real cost to himself. Just some more time with one another. Of course with what had gone on earlier in the night, the odds were very good of what that would lead to. Gazing into her eyes before, he knew that was what she wanted. Could he do something like that? What about Ranma?
Oh, yes, Ranma. Ranma who jumped back and forth between Shampoo and Akane like each one was a hot potato, never holding on to one long before turning to the other. Ranma, who could be the most insensitive, thick-headed, egotistical jerk the Amazon had ever known. Ranma, who had blatantly groped Akari’s chest right in front of Shampoo and didn’t have the decency to apologize or even to feel ashamed about it afterwards. Ranma, who almost seemed afraid to give Shampoo any sign of the affection he so desperately wanted.
And then there was Kasumi, who was deserving of at least a small piece of happiness. She had treated Shampoo-kun nicely, even after learning he was really a girl and the two had no engagement, one that Kasumi seemed to have wanted very much since that was the only time the Amazon had ever even heard of her taking the initiative in something like that. A lesser person might have held such a disappointment against Shampoo-kun, or at least not gone out of her way to be nice to him, but Kasumi did not. She never spoke of the matter at all, and in many ways was a much better emotional anchor than Ranma ever was, even at the best of times. The eldest Tendo girl was far more stable, and was always there. And she had shown a great deal of affection towards Shampoo-kun, even when she was female.
Now the question became could Shampoo-kun give something back to one that had given him so much. Could he make that sort of sacrifice?
"For the weekend."
Kasumi turned in wide-eyed wonder to look at Shampoo-kun. He nodded his head in affirmation to her unspoken question.
Whatever doubts he had dissolved with the smile that alighted Kasumi’s face. Yes, Kasumi had smiled before, but not like that. Never like that. The joy she radiated was as pure as her kindliness. He wanted her to be like that all the time, but knew that would be an impossible dream. It was only for a weekend. Just two more days. But he would see to it she was happy no matter what.
Both moved forward, bringing their faces together and kissed once more.
"I take it you guys ain’t headin’ fer the train station now?" the cab driver asked.
After a call to the Tendo home, the two checked into a nearby hotel. When it came time to rent a room, Kasumi looked to Shampoo-kun, appeared as though she considered something, then shook her head with a crestfallen look. She then ordered a small room with two beds. She had barely finished when he spoke up and changed it to one. Kasumi’s face remained pointed downward, but he could feel the joy and anticipation emanating from her. Tonight was her night, nothing reserved. He would give himself unto her with no inhibitions or doubts, for those would do nothing but either ruin the moment or the memory, no matter what repercussions there might be.
And there were no doubts as Shampoo-kun increased his rhythm once more. He could feel his own body entering its final phase, and knew there would be no holding back this time. All he could do was delay the release until just the right moment. Timing was everything if he wanted to maximize the pleasure for both of them.
Sweat began to form on the couple as they ground their bodies together. He tried distracting himself from his body’s howls for release by scolding himself for not turning down the temperature in the too-hot room beforehand. The scent of the sweat, and other fluids, blended with Kasumi’s perfume, somehow creating a new fragrance which only served to excite Shampoo-kun further as he increased both the force and speed with which he moved. It felt so wonderful. How could he have ever for one moment hated his male body? How could he have ever have believed being with a woman was wrong? Nothing that could produce such feelings of euphoria could be immoral. It was all normal. It was right.
He looked down at the woman beneath him and his eyes met hers. An unspoken communication passed between them. He understood and gave full release to his passions, pausing for but a moment to slightly reposition his body and bring his full strength into play. What he had been holding back for fear of hurting the more fragile Kasumi was abandoned when he saw the craving in her eyes for a final liberation to her own internal fires. Kasumi’s soft moans became gasps as her body shook with each of his thrusts.
Their eyes met once more as Shampoo-kun felt her begin to contract around the part of him buried within her. He watched Kasumi’s eyes almost seem to glaze over as she bit down on her lip, a loud moan escaping as she did it. Eye contact was lost as she turned her head away, thrashing it side-to-side twice before stopping. At last he paused as he felt her tighten around him, squeezing his member hard and setting off every last one of his senses, fully taking in the rapture of her beautiful face as he at last succeeded in making her climax. She could keep quiet no longer as she gave full voice to her passion, screaming out for several seconds before Shampoo-kun brought his mouth onto hers, driving in all of his feelings of love for the girl with the kiss.
He quickly discovered that what he had thought was the height of her sexual ecstasy, when she had reached orgasm, had been completely wrong. As his lips made full contact with hers, she seemed to explode underneath him, her muscles rippling with tremendous force as she pressed her body tightly against him as though they would never be apart, trying to become one.
That explosion sent him over the edge as he felt all of the passion that had built up shoot through him and into the girl he was within. It was like nothing he had ever experienced. Absolutely nothing. It was rapture and bliss, eradicating everything else in his mind. There was nothing in the world that could feel greater than what he experienced at that moment. He broke off the kiss to give a cry of ecstasy of his own, and just as quickly it was silenced as Kasumi forced his head back down and kissed him with the same force and passion that he had given her.
Now it was his turn. What he had assumed was the absolute limit of pleasure he could experience was shattered as he became one with the woman he was with. They were sexually bonded to one another, their furious passion linked together, raising each farther than either could have done alone. Tears flowed as he knew there was nothing in the world that could transcend what he felt at that instant. Rival at best, but never exceed.
And then the moment passed as each came down from their sexual high, involuntarily disengaging themselves from the emotional oneness that each had experienced. There was a feeling of loss for the briefest of moments as something that was once experienced disappeared, and what was left behind though truly exquisite, was lacking some ethereal quality.
That instantaneous feeling of loss disappeared as full awareness returned. He looked down to see Kasumi’s tears matched his own. They were tears of joy, and they too were a wonderful sight to behold.
As they lay together, Shampoo-kun on top of Kasumi, subconsciously distributing his weight so as not to leave too much of it on his partner, he took one moment to admire the pure beauty that made Kasumi what she was. A beauty that Shampoo-kun knew he could never truly hope to match, yet felt no jealousy over that truth. What they had done could not be continued for long, but she had given him some part of herself, even as he had given something of him to her. She was his first, and no matter what happened they would always have that. No one could ever take away that which they had shared, and it was a feeling he would treasure forever.
Gently he lowered his lips next to Kasumi’s ear and whispered the words he felt within.
"Wo ai ni, Kasumi. Wo ai ni."
Why was she having all of these flashbacks? She was not one to reminisce overlong about the past. She might occasionally pine for yesterday, or be lost for a little while on some errant memory, but nothing like the whole scale remembrance she was experiencing. And never had her memories possessed such vivid details. It was almost as though she was experiencing the retrospection in real life once again. Her whole life was flashing before her eyes. It was almost as if there was some reason for the walk through her memories. It was almost as if…
…as if she was dead.
"It’s about time you figured that out."
She spun around to the first true noise she had heard since finding herself inexplicably in the void. Before her where there had been nothing was a fairly attractive black-haired gentleman that was her height and appeared to be in his middle-twenties. He was dressed in a creamy white silk shirt and brown pants, matching snakeskin boots and vest, and a brown fedora on his head. She brought her fists up before her. "Who are you? What am I doing here? Where am I?"
The man chuckled in a pleasant sounding voice. "The real question you should be asking is, ‘Why are you here’?"
"What do you mean?"
"You already have the answers to your questions; you simply aren’t aware of them yet."
The man seemed to walk across the nothingness as though it were solid. Shampoo was confused as to how he could do that until she realized she was turning to follow him. She could feel nothing beneath her feet, yet was moving as though her body was responding to her thoughts.
Shampoo temporarily moved that question to the back of her mind as she concentrated on what the man was saying. "The last thing I remember was Mount Phoenix. I was…" she trailed off as she suddenly became aware of her current condition.
"I’m not paralyzed anymore. I can move!" She did a backflip to prove her point. She was cured! There wasn’t any pain from her back or any other body part. By some miracle, she was healed.
"You can move, in a fashion." The man stared deeply into her light-filled eyes. "But you still haven’t answered the important question. Once again, ‘why are you here’?"
That cut through Shampoo’s joy as she thought about her situation once again. "The last thing I remember was that it was getting difficult to breathe and everything was getting dark. Then the ceiling came down. And then…"
"Go on," he urged when it was obvious she was not going to continue without being prodded.
"Then I was here," Shampoo said quietly.
"Now you know." There was the faintest hint of a smile on his face.
She tried desperately coming to a different conclusion. Perhaps someone had teleported her away. Could it all have been a nightmare and she was still at the Tendo home, sleeping away on her futon in her room? Maybe she was dreaming right now. Just because her life had passed before her eyes didn’t mean…
"Yes," the man said with compassion in his voice, obviously satisfied with the answer. "You are."
Shampoo looked around once more. Still there was nothing but an endless void. "This is the Realm of the Dead?"
"I expected something a bit more… elaborate." Shampoo said, oddly calm in spite of the situation.
"It is what it is," he commented mysteriously. "This is the realm where all things that live must eventually come. It is the place where all things that die go before leaving for somewhere else. The time one stays here varies, but it’s rarely for very long."
"It’s awfully empty," Shampoo commented. It seemed they were the only two there. Where was everyone else?
"It is more vast than you can possibly imagine," he informed her. "Believe me when I say there are more things here at this moment than you could possibly hope to grasp with your limited senses."
She was still trying to fully understand the situation when she became aware of something else. Her eyes widened as she looked at the man before her and said, "That means you’re—"
"—Death." Death took off his hat and bowed.
Shampoo, confronted with Death, said the only thing that came to mind.
"I thought you’d be a lot taller."
If Death was insulted, it did not show. "Don’t look at me. You’re the one that’s conceptualizing me into this form."
"Oh," was Shampoo could say.
"Look," Death said as he began to explain. "What you see before you is your interpretation of me. I appear differently to each living thing. It all depends on what your mind can envision in its attempt to understand me. I am a conceptual entity, and have no ‘true’ form. Not one in the conventional sense, anyway. I simply am."
He gave a dramatic wave of his hand and continued. "Wherever there is life, I am there, waiting for my time to come. And it comes to all. There is nothing that lives that cannot die, and when it is time, I release what is alive from its shell and allow it to travel where it is meant to go. I am everywhere all at once. Even as I speak to you, I am doing the same thing to Effrim Venture, who sees me as a man shrouded in flame. To a dog that has just died I appear to be a ten foot high Chihuahua with blazing green eyes. In the Andromeda Galaxy several thousand Shonastas, a sentient form of light, have just been consumed by a nova. I appear to them as a varying series of flashes that you could not hope to even see since it goes far beyond your ability to perceive them. I am everywhere, and each one is the ‘real’ me. It is the way of things.
"Now that you are here, you are beyond the physical. That is why you feel no pain, because what you are now is all that is left when your body has gone on. That ‘body’ you have now is not physical, it is something you came up with to give what you are a form you can understand, just like you have done with me. Now that you are beyond the physical, time here is meaningless. You will not grow hungry. You will not know exhaustion or pain. You won’t even grow hot or cold."
"I passed by something cold on the way here," Shampoo informed him.
Death’s eyebrows knitted. "There are things worse than death. What you felt was a small part of Oblivion. Occasionally it, or one of its agents, passes through my realm to get to reality. Even as my fellow conceptual entities, Infinity and Eternity are related, so am I to Oblivion, although we are still very different in what we do. I simply end life so that what is left can go where it is supposed to, but Oblivion absorbs all, leaving nothing behind. It serves a necessary function, but sometimes I believe it oversteps its intended realm of influence and tries to consume more than it is supposed to."
He turned away from Shampoo then. "None of that is your concern. Just be thankful you were not obliterated. Believe me when I say I am preferable to that fate.
"I don’t want to be dead," Shampoo said softly.
"Sorry. It’s not as simple as changing your mind about what dress you want to wear to a dance," Death informed her. "Dead is dead." As he finished saying that, he gained a thoughtful gleam to his eyes. "Besides, are you sure? I brought an end to your suffering. You were in great pain when I came to you. Surely you didn’t want to suffer?"
Shampoo began to feel doubts. "Of course not, but I don’t want to be dead either."
Death gave a broad smile. One that was not frightening at all, not like one would expect when conversing with Death, anyway.
"Don’t be afraid, Xian Pu. Death is natural. It gives definition to life, even as life gives definition to death. Birth. Life. Death. A finite cycle of experience. Now you have arrived at the end of the cycle, just like everyone eventually does. There is no need for fear here, just acceptance."
Shampoo shook her head fiercely. "I don’t want to die! I want to be with my friends!"
"They will be here soon enough," Death informed her. "Their lifespans are next to nothing when compared with the entirety of time. Hardly any time will pass before every one of them will be with you."
"I don’t want them dead either!" Shampoo insisted.
Death seemed not at all disturbed by her behavior. "I already told you, if it lives, it dies." He turned from her and held out his hand towards the ether. "Perhaps this will help calm you." From the area he pointed at a bright light, greater than anything Shampoo had ever seen before, suddenly winked into existence. If she had still possessed real eyes, she knew she would have been eternally blinded by that light, and she would not have felt bitter about it in the least. The light was more soothing than anything she had ever felt before. It was pure joy, and it called out to her heart, urging her to come forward and seek the peace it promised.
"You have not led a perfect life, but you are one that has tried, for the most part, to do the right thing in your heart. This is what your kind wants. This is what your existence has been created for; to know this moment. Life for your race can be compared to a great game, each person trying to vie for Heaven or Hell. And now that you are dead, know that you’ve won the contest. Embrace your reward: Rapture."
Shampoo felt that prefect harmony, carrying recognizable voices of a handful of people that she had known that had also died, beseech her to come forward, promising that she too could feel that unlimited bliss.
Whatever reservations she once had dissolved as she took a step towards the light.
The Realm of Life:
A thousand odd behaviors Ranma had displayed over the last few months finally made sense to him. Overreacting to the trust Shampoo had shown Kasumi in telling the eldest Tendo of the situation with her great grandmother. A trust not shared with him. The jealousy over the girls that had paid attention to the Amazon, and the ambivalence she sometimes displayed over that whole matter. The blind rage that blocked out everything when Mikado dared to kiss her. The first time he had almost kissed Shampoo on the rooftop when they were studying for the play. The naked hatred of Mousse and all of the times he repeatedly tried forcing himself on Shampoo, especially when the blind one tried to take her away from him by using the Nyanniichuan as leverage. The dread he felt when she inexplicably shut him out on the return trip from the Musk. The way he treasured the shirt she had made for him, the only piece of clothing he had ever taken care of in his entire life. The overwhelming despair that had threatened to consume him when he thought he was helpless and Kodachi’s poison would kill Shampoo. Seeking her out first after the Ryu Kumon fight while ignoring the nearby Akane at the same time. The way he had come on to Shampoo’s male form when Ranma had thought he was a real girl, and the recently returned memory of kissing the Amazon and the proposal. His desire for Shampoo the second time on the roof after his mother had moved in. Why he had followed Shampoo mere minutes before his impending wedding to Akane.
And the most important of all. When Ranma removed the rocks trapping someone, looked down and saw it was Akane, the very first feeling that went through him was not relief.
It was disappointment.
In his heart he had wanted it to be Shampoo.
Oh, guilt followed instantly on the heels of the disappointment. Akane deserved better than that, much better, but his instincts had led him to the answer he knew was true. He forced himself to make certain Akane was all right, even though his heart screamed at him to tear through the fallen rock in search of Shampoo. And he went on to find her.
He had found her.
And now he was crying. It no longer mattered what he had been taught by his father about ‘real men’ not crying, nothing mattered but the girl in his arms.
He felt Cologne gently place her gnarled hand in his shoulder. "I’m sorry, Ranma. She’s dead."
She had given her heart to him, yet he had never done the same. How could he have been so blind? It was so clear now, everything between the two of them. Somewhere along the line he had fallen for her. There was no one moment he could point to that it happened, but it had happened all the same. Quietly she had made her way into his heart, so subtly he was not even aware of it until now. Now that it was too late.
"She never even knew," he sobbed out.
"I think she did know, deep down inside." That was a lie. It had been obvious there was still doubt in Shampoo’s eyes at the end, but the boy needed comforting, and during this time he would be extremely vulnerable. Under different circumstances she probably would have allowed him to know her disappointment in not choosing Shampoo before it was too late, but she had made a promise Ranma would come to no harm. So she would do what it took to help the boy in whatever way she could.
Ranma shook his head. "No. The last time I saw her I could tell she was still worried about it." His voice dropped several decibels. "She d… died not knowing how much I l… loved her."
A sigh escaped Cologne’s lips. There was nothing more she could to for the boy, and she could no longer bear the sight of her great granddaughter’s remains. Instead, she focused on the only other person alive on the top of the mountain. Akane was on her knees, crying hard. As Cologne moved closer, she at last got a clear view of what the girl was weeping about.
Tarou had not survived the rockfall either. He was human now, everything below his upper chest crushed flat between two huge rocks, blood decorating the lower one in an almost flower-like pattern. His head was pointed with his face downward, which suited Cologne. She had no desire to see even his face in death, no matter how irritating he might have been. There had been too much death for any day.
Akane curled up into a fetal position, unable to stand the sight anymore. Her mind paused in memory of the boy. Tarou hadn’t been perfect, far from it. Sometimes he had been very irritating. And other times it seemed as though he was hiding something from her, aside from his name. He had such anger over his name; anger that Akane couldn’t understand. So what if someone else had given him a name that was just a little strange? She had tried to reassure him numerous times his name didn’t matter, but he had refused to open up about that. She wanted to take that pain away from him, and vowed to do it too, once she had the time. But her life had been just so busy with everything in it she was going to do it later. Now there was no later.
He had said he loved her. He had never made any pretensions of that. She had known, yet did nothing to dissuade those feelings. She had known deep down inside that it must have hurt him to know she was engaged to someone else. Why had she kept him around, not stringing him on exactly, but not pushing him away either? Had he been some kind of safety net for her if Ranma had rejected her, or did she love Tarou too? No. She had not. Not that way. She cared for him deeply, he had been a good friend to her, and carried such pain that she wished to heal him of it, but it had not been what she had felt for Ranma. The feelings for Tarou were different.
And now, Tarou had died protecting her, and all for a love she couldn’t return. It was all over for both of them, and all she could do was murmur, "Not fair. It’s not fair," over and over again.
Ranma remained where he was, still gently stroking those strands of hair. He loved Shampoo, he knew it with such a burning intensity that he didn’t understand how he could not have realized it before. He loved her so much it hurt, but it should have been a wonderful pain, not the tremendous agony he was going through now. It shouldn’t have been that way.
She was dead, and it was all over for him. His love… no, their love, would never be. It was as simple as that. He was helpless to do anything. Him. Ranma Saotome. One of the greatest martial artists there was, and there was nothing he could do. She had died, leaving them both unfulfilled, and it was his fault. It was all his fault. He had made her miserable with his indecision when he should have made her happy with his love.
He saw how it should have been in his mind’s eye. The two of them were together, hand in hand, staring deeply into each other’s eyes while words of love were exchanged. He ran his finger tenderly along her jaw, tracing every perfect inch of it as she purred in contentment. He tilted her head upward so he could lower his own lips for a kiss with no resistance or reservations, but one freely given and received. After the kiss went on forever and ended all too soon, they paused, then he looked into that smile he had seen all too rarely. That smile made all of the suffering and sacrifices of his entire life worthwhile, for everything he had done, everything that had happened to him, led up to that one moment, and any difference in his past could have denied him his current joy.
Nothing seemed to matter but that smile. A smile that he could never have fully appreciated until he had accepted his own feelings for her. Feelings so many others, including himself, told him he should not have because they could not be. He had been promised to another, and his feelings had to be for that one. That was what his father, a man whom he loved despite the older one’s faults, had said. And no matter how he truly felt, Ranma always seemed to end up doing what his father really desired. It was what his mother wanted, and she was the idol he wished to please. Someone that was worthy of a love and respect that he could give, and receive those same things in return. It was what Akane wanted, and she was deserving of every bit of love he could give. She was deserving of every bit of love she would be given by anyone, but it could not be from him. His true feelings, those that he had subconsciously set aside and tried to ignore for so long, belonged to someone else. Someone that had managed to win his heart long before Akane could. He just didn’t realize it until now.
And now it was too late.
What remained, now that he had finally accepted the truth and there was no longer anything he could do about it? Anything? He looked within himself, seeking the answer, and felt an emptiness that was growing by the moment. It was a vacuum, consuming every emotion, every thought, every desire. Only now did he understand what Shampoo had done to him in making him fall in love with her, something so subtle that he had not realized it until she was gone and taken it with her. In some incomprehensible way, she had completed him, made him whole in a manner he still didn’t understand. And perhaps the most incredible thing about that was that before he had met her, he had never even realized anything was missing.
Looking within himself, he was made all too aware of that incompleteness now, and there was such pain in that knowledge. What remained now was all that he had been before he had met Shampoo, but it was no longer enough. He had been allowed to be happy for the first time in his life, his heart having found its match. Now it felt as though he could never have that missing piece returned. The now jagged edge of his soul was too sharp to be handled, too incomplete to continue, the abyss too deep to be filled. All that was left was a void that was growing wider by the moment and gave no indication of stopping.
He focused on reality and looked at the world around him. It too was the same as before he had met Shampoo, yet it was unquestionably different as well, just like him. The sun still shone, but there was something missing. The light was not as bright as before. The sounds of birds crying out, of thunder in the distance, of the wind blowing through the air did not carry the sharpness they once possessed. He looked down at his hands. They could no longer lash out during a sparring match, hand an object to, or caress the skin of the one they longed for. Things would never feel the same for them. The scent of blood still lingering in his nostrils lacked the bitter scent it once did. It was all so dulled.
It struck him all at once. The world was now an empty place. Everything was still there as it had been before, but it was all different as well. It was devoid of the one thing that directly affected nothing, yet everything had still changed.
Nothing was the same anymore.
Suddenly life didn’t seem to matter, even though he had fought for his own tooth and nail on occasions too numerous to mention. No, it was a useless thing without Shampoo. Without the missing piece of his soul, what point was there to it?
Rage far beyond anything that he had ever felt before shot through him, burying the misery. How dare that happen! Was he not THE Ranma Saotome?! When did he back down from anyone or anything no matter the odds?! No, he would not allow it! He would have to simply make everything right again. Yes. That was it. He’d make it all better, and to do that he needed Shampoo.
Cologne looked up from trying to console Akane at a sound just barely heard. It sounded like… sobbing? No, it was laughing. Her ears did not lie but she could scarcely believe That the quiet mirth was coming from Ranma. She could only see his back, but there could be no question the laugh was his. Even as she walked slowly over, she felt a shiver run down her spine and had a horrible feeling the instant she heard that laugh. The promise she had made to Shampoo concerning Ranma might just have become harder to keep.
She stood next to the youth, who was still in the same position she had left him, his face still pointed downward at Shampoo’s remains, his face hidden from the elder’s sight. "Ranma, it would be best if we left. There’s nothing we can do here now. I’ll take care of everything later."
The laugh began again, becoming more intense and chilling the blood in her veins. It was almost certain now; that horrible laughter confirmed it, although she still needed to look into his eyes to be absolutely positive.
Ranma stopped laughing and spoke, his face still pointed to Shampoo. "No. There’s still something I have to do, and I just figured out how to do it."
Cologne tried employing a soft tone of voice to calm him down, though she had little hope it would work. "Ranma, Shampoo’s dead. There’s nothing you or anyone can do."
That declaration brought his head whipping about as he stared directly into Cologne’s eyes. "I’m Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts!" he said with an intensity that Cologne had never seen in anyone before in all of her years. "I can beat anyone! I can beat death! It’s easy! You showed me how!"
The look in his eyes, as well as the statement he had just made, confirmed what she had been afraid of. Madness had taken root in his mind, and she was going to have to try everything in her power to snap him out of it before it dug in too deep. "What do you mean ‘I showed you how?’ I nev…" she trailed off as her insight enabled her to understand what he was driving at. "No, Ranma. It doesn’t work that way."
"Then I’ll make it work," Ranma answered. "I can do it. It’s just a matter of power, and there’s so much of it here, all around us." He swept a blood covered hand around in a circle, indicating the air all about them. "The air is thick with chi, more than we can possibly imagine. And I’ll use every bit of it to make her better."
Cologne watched on as his body trembled and he began pulling in the chi around him.
"No! Listen to me!" Cologne shouted as the air began to move. "It’s not a question of power. Healing can only affect the living! It can do nothing if someone is dead. It’s like trying to heal a rock! It won’t do any good and you’ll kill yourself attempting to do the impossible!"
She placed a hand on his shoulder to try to snap him out of it before he took in too much of the ambient chi and burned himself out to the point of dying. And in his current state of mind it was all too possible he would do exactly that.
The day had been the most exhausting ever for Cologne, both physically and a thousand times worse than anything emotionally. Had she been at even one quarter of her normal power, she would have been fine, but with her guard down and as weary as she was, she had unintentionally left herself vulnerable. The instant her hand made contact with Ranma, he drained a large portion of the chi still left within her. She barely managed to break contact before he took it all.
As she pulled away she tripped over her own feet and fell backwards. She was on her back as she watched ripples begin to form in the air and flow towards Ranma. Weakly, she got to her feet and backed away, keeping a wary eye on Ranma the entire time. The ambient chi in the air began to swirl directly above his head, almost like a whirlpool, as the energy began to filter into him. Greater amounts collected by the second, and Cologne at last understood that he was beyond her ability to save. If she drew close to him he would simply absorb her remaining chi and kill her, if he had not taken too much already. And as weakened as she was there was no chance she could confront him in a battle using chi. Even if she had been at full strength she would have had the fight of her life on her hands from the sheer amount of chi he had absorbed. The amount the boy had taken in was astounding. The only one that had been able to hold that much had been Happosai, and even then he had been in his prime.
She shook free of the momentary memory, realizing she had become transfixed at the sight before her. The blue in the air now had tinges of black as the chi vortex above Ranma tripled in size, an azure glow now surrounding Ranma. There was nothing else to do other than run away or stay and definitely die. Part of her wanted to remain, the part of her mind that guilt had taken over and screamed at her for failing to keep the promise to Shampoo to protect Ranma. But the cold rational piece of her mind insisted Shampoo would not want her great grandmother to die in some futile gesture that was nothing more than suicide.
Cologne turned to head through the passageway that Ranma had come through when a sobbing cut over the loud roar that now surrounded Ranma. Akane was still curled up in a ball, unaware of the world around her. In life the Tendo girl had been Shampoo’s rival, but now the Amazon was dead, and Akane had lost in the end anyway. There had been too much death and misery already for one day. Cologne was not about to add to it by leaving Akane to die.
Cologne grabbed the girl by the shoulder. "We must leave now, Akane Tendo!"
With the touch Akane snapped out of stupor. As her attention returned she looked around in an effort to understand what was going on. "What’s happening?!" she shouted over the growing clamor.
"Ranma has gone mad in his grief. He seeks to do the impossible and will succeed only in destroying himself and all of those around him, unless we flee immediately!"
Akane stared, horrified at what Cologne had said. She looked towards the bottom of the vortex, where all of the chi was going, and saw Ranma’s increasing glow. "NO!!!" she shouted out. "I won’t lose him too!" She started to get up, ignoring the pain of her ankle, but felt an increase of pressure on her shoulder.
"There is nothing you can do!" Cologne warned. "He is beyond anyone’s ability to help, and if you get too close he’ll suck the life from out of your body!"
"He won’t do that to me!" Akane protested.
"Child, in his current state of madness he would do it to his own mother and not even realize it! We leave, now!"
"NOOOO!!!" Akane howled and prepared to rush over to Ranma. Cologne was wrong. Ranma wouldn’t hurt her. He’d never hurt her.
She had barely gotten to her feet when she felt a tap on the back of her neck and the world went dark.
Cologne looked down of the girl before her. Love had blinded Akane to the truth, and it would have been suicide for her to do anything other than leave Mount Phoenix immediately. Now Cologne was going to have to somehow carry Akane down the mountain alone when she was having trouble standing on her own. She was still trying to figure out when an answer appeared an instant later.
One of the winged bird people, a young girl, appeared from the direction of Happosai’s body. She was running, most likely too afraid to fly with the air as turbulent as it was thanks to Ranma’s ever-increasing vortex. Cologne noted she would have to do. "<Come over here, girl!>"
The girl froze, uncertain of what to do now that she was confronted with one of the landbound. Her mother had always told her to avoid them, but the diminutive woman had an aura about her that allowed no disregard.
The girl obeyed as Cologne indicated she should help carry Akane into the mountain. It was slow going at first just picking up the girl, and the matriarch wondered if they were going to get away in time, when the obvious occurred to her. It would be difficult for her to do in her weakened state and would probably hurt in the long run but she had no choice. In spite of the tremendous amount of chi that Ranma was manipulating, there was still far more lying about in the air itself. Concentrating, she absorbed some to enhance her strength so that she could carry her burden with the speed necessary for survival. In her weakened state even something as basic as that hurt incredibly, but she absorbed enough to carry Akane easily. With the winged girl’s help, the two began a mad rush through the mountain and hopefully to their continued survival.
Ranma felt himself filled to overflowing with chi. Every inch of his skin burned and he felt his insides practically bursting with what Maelstrom had left behind. Still, he took in greater amounts until his concentration started to drift from the euphoric feeling the supersaturation was creating in him. It felt like it was enough for him to begin what had to be done.
"NOW!!!" he shouted and with all of his heart and soul began trying to do the impossible.
On the bridge of TWPOS, First Mate Yoshi Kawada stared at Mount Phoenix once more now that his headache had at last started to disappear. With his heightened abilities as a Sensitive, he had been able for one instant to sense part of what Continuum really was when it first punched the hole in reality. For one brief instant his mind attempted to grasp the infinite and he nearly lost his sanity by trying to understand something far beyond his abilities to comprehend. Fortunately as he began to sense what the ‘eye in the sky’ really was he managed to turn away, shutting down everything and only coming away with a headache that would hopefully go away in a couple of days.
Once Frog informed him that Continuum had disappeared, Kawada looked towards Mount Phoenix once more. Even as far away as the ship was he could feel the absence of the huge dragon and Continuum. They were gone. All that was left that was the least bit unusual was the heightened amount of chi along the mountain top and the magical focus above Mount Phoenix itself. It was the latter that had caught the seaman’s attention.
"It’s starting to move," he told the others next to him, both crew and family members of those that had set off, all still staring at the mountain in the distance.
"What do you mean?" D’Amour asked as he watched the quite visible leftover chi form a huge vortex that seemed to engulf the entire top of the mountain. He could hear the winds howling up there as well despite the distance between the ship and Mount Phoenix.
"Before, the focus was pointed at a spot high above the mountain, right where that huge eye appeared. Now it’s inverting and pointing right at the mountain top."
"What do you think that means?" Genma asked.
Kawada shook his head. "I don’t know, but there’s an awful lot of chi up there, and it’s starting to move pretty quickly. If that much power is poured through the focus again, I don’t know what’ll happen, but I doubt if it’ll be any good."
The focus would disappear in the next twelve hours. The magic that fueled it would run out by then and with the magical design gone, it could not even be sustained by another powerful magician. Not that there was anyone left alive that even knew how to make one. The spell was known only by Maelstrom. Maelstrom had only shown the Shogun how to make it, and the Shogun told no other. Knowledge that powerful had been hoarded by both.
The focus was simple in that it amplified the ability to direct or absorb any kind of energy, and with that kind of precise control it helped serve to summon Continuum. It was designed to respond to the most powerful mage present, and barring that, the most powerful chi wielder could control it. Since the Shogun fulfilled the former, and Maelstrom was even more powerful than that on both fronts, there had been no risk that control of it could be taken away from either one. Now that both were gone, it would answer to anyone that could control chi, a role Ranma was fulfilling at that moment. It reacted to his desire to pour all of his concentration into one spot: Shampoo. So the focus responded to the wishes of the most powerful will present, and focused the chi Ranma was using, focusing it to an incredible degree as it was used to try to heal the dead warrior.
Slowly, in reaction to the tremendous outpouring of the chi, bones began to knit themselves together and lost fragments grew once more from the remains of the Amazon. Soon her entire skeletal structure was made whole and strong again. The muscles and tendons, which had suffered far more damage, began the slow process of repairing themselves. Flesh grew to cover the destroyed sections and blood was replaced as within minutes Shampoo’s body was in the condition it was in before having been crushed by the rock. Even the body’s spine was healed and in perfect working order. There was only one thing missing from the earthly vessel.
Ranma could sense the absence of that spark and increased the volume of chi he was employing. Once more his concentration threatened to waver, but he thought of the lifeless body before him and refocused his mind. Success favored him as he tripled the amount of chi he was pouring into Shampoo’s body. His own body reacted to the increased amount of chi he was absorbing. A burning sensation ran all over his skin as it felt like someone had suddenly begun waving lit matches all over every inch of his body. The pain was mirrored from within as he felt agony all the way into his bones. Yet he continued on, using greater amounts of chi to try to bring Shampoo back to life.
Cologne had made it more than halfway through the mountain when she felt as though she were going to collapse as the last of the additional chi she had absorbed was used up in her effort to get Akane to safety. She had a feeling that the mountain itself was no longer safe as she felt a growing rumbling come from above. Dust fell on her as the ceiling of the passageway they were in threatened to give way. She began to consider telling the winged girl to leave when another figure suddenly approached from within the mountain.
"Whaz’ going on?" Akiko Yoshida barely managed to get out through the haze her mind was in. It was taking all of her concentration to simply walk along. She had awakened, hidden under some piles of rock with one of the worst headaches in the world to boot. But she was a fighter, and realized her friends might need her. So she picked herself up and made her way into the mountain, trying to find a friend to help or a Devil to hurt. She was still slowly going upward when she ran into Cologne and Akane.
"Carry the girl," Cologne ordered as she released Akane and told the winged youth to stay close to them.
Aki followed the order, shouldering Akane easily even in her weakened state. Aki followed the elder deeper into the mountain.
It wasn’t much longer when the party came upon the trio of Perfume, Ukyou, and Ai, who was still motionless and deathly pale, but was no longer currently bleeding. Perfume appeared no better, as though she would collapse at any time. This time when Cologne informed them they had to get out of the mountain Ukyou resisted, afraid that Ai might die if she was moved. In spite of Cologne’s continued warnings that things were becoming increasingly dangerous with the vibrations from Ranma’s actions shaking the entire mountain, it was only when a piece of the ceiling fell and nearly crushed Ai’s skull that Ukyou consented to Ai being moved.
As Ukyou picked up Ai, while Perfume tried to maintain her healing, she caught sight of an unconscious bat lying next to a pile of rubble. Suddenly realizing Ryouga’s absence, she instructed the Mount Phoenix girl to carefully pick up the bat and gently carry him along, briefly mentioning the curse so the girl understood what the bat really was. The child obeyed, and the group once more hurried to get out of the mountain.
Ukyou remembered the way she had come in and the band exited the mountain, and at Cologne’s behest, got as far away from the mountain as they could. As the group gained some distance from the Mount Phoenix, the elder afforded a glance over her shoulder to witness a truly spectacular, if dangerous, sight. Rolling black clouds had formed over the top of the mountain as blue bolts of chi lashed out, many of them pulverizing large boulders into dust.
Maelstrom may have been powerful enough to control all of the chi at once, but Ranma could only take in a relatively small amount of the total excess chi that remained in the air above Mount Phoenix. The rest of it that he had stirred up but not yet tried to directly contain lashed out in random directions, out of control as he attempted to harness increasing amounts of the chi.
Cologne grimaced at the sight. How Ranma could possibly still be alive while manipulating that much chi was beyond the old woman, yet somehow he was doing it. Still, even he had limits, and would soon expire beneath the onslaught of power. There was no hope for the boy now. All Cologne could do was apologize to the spirit of her great granddaughter and beg for forgiveness in failing so miserably in her promise. She hoped that somehow saving the lives of several of Shampoo’s friends helped somewhat.
Had Cologne been on the top of the mountain she could have witnessed firsthand how accurate her guess was. Ranma continued using the awesome energies he had absorbed to heal Shampoo’s body. Now it was in perfect condition; even the scars she had received at Perfume and Mint’s hands were gone. Every part of her body was at its highest potential, yet it still was not alive. Still it remained a useless empty vessel. Ranma’s frustration increased as he continued to pour a seemingly unlimited amount of chi into her body, all the while his own began to feel the effects of his overwhelming absorption. Blue chi began to pour from out of his eyes and mouth as he tried channeling a river of power through him. Skin began to burn off as the fires within him began to rage beyond his control. Yet he forced himself through the pain to use more as he tried doing the impossible.
"GIVE HER BACK!!!" he screamed as more blue fire poured out of him, shattering increasing amounts of the mountain and the storm above doubled in size again. Still, there was not the slightest hint of change, and still he continued onward. Time lost all meaning as he adjusted to the new level of pain he was experiencing. But physical pain could be dealt with; the damage to his soul could not.
And then, at long last, he felt the excess chi in the air start to run low. The storm he had caused began to shrink and the random bolts of power became fewer as less chi became available for Ranma to use. And still he was no closer to his goal. That could not be. It would not be.
"GIVE ME MORE!!!" he shouted as he wished with all of his soul for more chi energy to heal his beloved. He needed her back, and he would do anything to regain her.
"The focus is shifting again," Kawada warned everyone.
"Where to?" D’Amour asked.
"It seems to be pointing downward," Kawada said, and felt his dread double.
Once again the focus obeyed the desires of its wielder and sought out a way to gain much more chi. Already the wielder had tapped into a source, it just wanted it at a greater rate. So the focus shifted to obey and sought out the center of the said source, where the energy was at its strongest.
Kasumi sensed it first, although she knew not how. Kawada was the second, with his abilities as a sensitive warning him of it too. Aki was next, although she had no idea of why something seemed to shift within her. Over twenty miles away, Herb too felt the change and wondered exactly what was going on. No one had said anything about mile long dragons and huge eyes in the skies. And now something else was happening.
Cologne was so depleted from her ordeal that she sensed the shift in everything, and the whine that accompanied it, last. But when she did, she looked on at the mountain with greater terror than ever.
The rest of the group was at the bottom of a hill, and Cologne prayed it would be enough to shield them.
The focus located the greatest source of chi it could find and focused that power for its wielder, allowing him access to its energies.
The whine hit its highest pitch as a huge light, over fifty feet in radius, was the first thing everyone saw. It was so bright that all but Kasumi hid their eyes from the glow. Automatically she adjusted her vision, using her chi, to see what was happening. The beam of light seemed to suddenly shoot up through the center of Mount Phoenix, rising over three miles in the sky like a kind of giant spotlight.
Then the mountain blew up.
Not part of it.
Not half of it.
All of it.
Kasumi uttered one word as she looked on at the scene before her.
The shockwave rode over Cologne’s group which was crouched at the bottom of the hill. As the roar of the explosion and the accompanying winds buffeted the band, Ukyou threw herself over Ai, praying somehow they all would make it.
"WOW!!!" D’Amour commented as the ship finally began to right itself. "It looks like the whole mountain was disintegrated!"
"Umm…Sir," Frog began. "It wasn’t disintegrated." He pointed up to the sky and hurried into the interior of the ship.
D’Amour looked up to see a twenty ton boulder fall from the sky and head directly towards his ship from directly above. Calmly the man smirked and drew his sword. Even as everyone else began to panic, D’Amour remained where he was and threw the sword directly at the rock. Almost as though it were a missile, the sword flew through the air and somehow sliced the boulder completely in half as though it were cutting through paper. The two ten ton halves of the rock cleared the sides of the ship by barely more than a foot, splashing into the lake and creating gigantic waves that nearly capsized the ship. Standing confidently on the heaving deck, D’Amour simply held out his hand expectantly. In moments his sword unerringly dropped almost next to him, the captain snatching it by the hilt out of mid-air.
"Damn, I’m good!" he declared, his teeth gleaming as the ship continued to rock violently to and fro from the near miss.
All around the land, pieces of what was once Mount Phoenix fell from the sky destroying trees, animals, and buildings with equal fervor. The farthest piece landed almost three hundred miles away in the middle of a field to the east, leaving people to wonder just what had happened.
The focus had achieved the goal of its wielder. Ranma Saotome had access to the power of the Earth itself by tapping into its own chi field. But such power was difficult to face, let alone control. In the instant the chi first flooded him, he thought his mind would be swept away in the currents of chi. It took all of his concentration just to maintain his identity. But the surge passed, and he regained the ability to direct the flow. What he had controlled earlier was a mere drop in the ocean. What he had at his hands now was the ocean itself, and he was going to use it.
He let loose the power, once again using it to heal the body before him. It had to work. It was ultimate power, the power of the world itself. All he had to do was heal her the rest of the way. Power enough to level a range of mountains flooded into Shampoo all at once, trying to reawaken her.
And still nothing happened, so he continued.
The weather patterns, affected by the Shogun’s spell, became influenced once more on an even greater scale by the chi energy Ranma was employing. The weather everywhere went wild as widespread changes began happening all over the world. Arctic winds began blowing in the Sahara as snow began to fall. Waterspouts formed in the Caribbean and drove all ships to seek safe harbors. A sudden heat wave came over large portions of the Antarctic and began melting snow that was hundreds of year old. Tornadoes formed in the Yucatan Peninsula and began ravaging the land before it. And those were just a handful of the changes. It was the same everywhere. All of the weather became chaotic, all in thanks to Ranma.
As he called forth more power, the leftover magic from the creation of the focus, the magic which had changed the land in a twenty mile radius around what was once Mount Phoenix, was reignited as things began to change once more. Everything to the south of the point Ranma was at began growing at a phenomenal rate. Huge trees that had never existed before sprung out from the earth, becoming hundred foot giants in little more than the blink of an eye. Fields grew to four times their current height and all plant life went out of control in an ever growing area to the south.
To the north of Ranma’s location, beyond the twenty mile range of already changed terrain, the life began to drain out of everything connected to the earth. All the plants and creatures in and under the earth began to wither and die before people’s eyes. Within moments there was nothing green left behind in an ever increasing area as the changes continued all around, even the soil turned black. First it was ten miles. Then twenty. Thirty. Fifty. A hundred. And it kept expanding, encompassing greater portions of the land.
Kasumi calmly watched on, understanding what Ranma was doing as he began draining the power of the Earth itself. If he continued it…
"Do what you must, Ranma," she silently whispered. "Do what you must."
Cologne felt the pain within her, which had been plaguing her since they had exited the mountain, temporarily subside as she believed she sensed exactly what Ranma had done.
"What’s going on?" Perfume asked, truly scared for the first time in years.
Cologne just gave her a sad look, then turned towards where the mountain had been. Still the pillar of chi stood, burning bright blue and high in the sky. "Pain on a level that even I cannot begin to imagine, child." She wondered how anything could drive one so. What Ranma had done should not have been possible, yet he had managed to do it anyway. She looked to see if Perfume understood the cryptic remark, then realized she would have to clarify it for her in the simplest terms.
"I think it’s quite possibly the end of everything. How bitterly ironic it would be that we should save the world, only to have one of our own end it instead."
Ranma’s anger grew as there was still no change in the figure before him. Why was he being denied this one thing? It was all he wanted with everything he had, yet no matter what he did, still nothing happened. It was not fair. He would bring her back. He would defeat death. He would not be denied that one thing. He would take all that he needed to bring her back. He gathered all of his concentration as he prepared to seize the greatest amount of chi he possibly could. He’d take all of it if he had to. He was going to succeed no matter the cost.
It hit him all at once, flooding him like it had once before. He became one with IT, the Heart of the Earth itself. He controlled the Heart, not the other way around as had almost happened before. It was now his to do with as he pleased. All that was left in his mind was saving Shampoo.
The earth shook in answer to his summoning, and he let the power build to a crescendo once more, intent on using everything if he had to.
The Realm of Death:
As Shampoo took a step towards that enticing light she felt a wave of pure joy wash over her. It was so peaceful. Serene. Tranquil. It felt like perfection. It was the answer to everything she ever wanted
There was the unmistakable sense of something missing. Even looking into that seductive light, she saw that it was not quite… perfect.
"Why do you hesitate?" Death asked from behind Shampoo.
"I… I don’t know."
"Then go forward," Death insisted.
Shampoo felt part of her wanting to go forward, to know that peace, but something was not quite right. "No," she answered.
"Why?" Death asked.
The Amazon tried to find the words that would describe how she felt, but it was so difficult. What was it that was missing? It was so hard to concentrate with that presence of the light, of the serenity it made her feel.
"Yes," Death asked curiously.
Death remained silent as she continued struggling with the words.
"I want…" She was still confused. Nothing seemed to cut through the giddiness that the light had produced, but still she resisted the lure.
To her perception, Death seemed to shake his head in disbelief and began talking to himself. "Incredible. Few can resist the lure of eternal joy, yet here I am with one such soul." He began paying attention to her once again. "You cannot go back. You are dead. Just accept that, otherwise you’re simply going to deny yourself the happiness you have achieved. It’s your right. Take it."
"NO!!!" Shampoo shouted. "That place means nothing to me if I can’t have what’s missing!" And that statement was becoming more true for her by the second. As time passed she became more convinced that what was awaiting her in that light would not satisfy the sensation of emptiness she now felt, an emptiness that was becoming larger and larger by the moment. And she thought she knew what it was. There was some intrinsic part of her that was missing. Something had somehow crept in and consumed her so effectively that even she had not realized how deep it was until now. It was so great that, as impossible as it seemed, it could make even Heaven itself fall short in her eyes. And now she knew what it was that was missing.
"I want Ranma." Yes, that was it. She was still missing Ranma. She needed him more than anything else. More than everything else. She needed just him.
"He will most likely join you soon enough," Death assured her. "Just go forward and wait."
Shampoo shook her head. "I don’t want to wait. I want… no, need Ranma! You don’t understand! I don’t care about that place! I just want him!" She felt like crying. Couldn’t Death understand? There was nothing without that missing piece of her soul.
"Yes, even I can feel your longing," Death affirmed. "But it will do you no good here. You cannot go back. It doesn’t…"
Shampoo watched as Death seemed to look away for a second, staring off into the void.
"How odd," he said as he sensed the hole to his realm that had just occurred. Still, that alone meant nothing. And he felt that soon the force behind the hole was going to die off, and perhaps he would be relatively busy with what effect that might have.
"I feel something pulling at me."
Death turned around slowly at Shampoo’s statement. She could not mistake the look of intensity within that stare. Suddenly she felt concerned at her fate now that she was before one of the primary forces of the universe.
Death concentrated on the soul before him. There was a link there, one of magic, that he had not seen. Of course he hadn't bothered to look, for there had been no warning of such a person arriving in the Realm of Death. But now that he concentrated, he saw that there was truly a connection between Shampoo and something else. A thing not dead.
Something was going to have to happen.
Death turned towards Shampoo. "Listen to me and listen to me closely. You are being given the opportunity all things wait for, that all of your kind truly want. You are being a offered a chance at Heaven itself. No tricks. No doubts. No catches. This is what it’s all about. Why turn away at the moment of your greatest triumph? What can you hope to achieve beyond this? Step forward."
"No," Shampoo said.
Death seemed stunned by the answer. "You arrogant little creature! Do you truly believe you can achieve something on your own that can exceed Heaven? What conceit! How can you hope to surpass what God himself created? Do not be foolish and reject everything for nothing! What else is there that can take the place of Heaven? How can you refuse it?"
"No," Shampoo said slowly. "I reject Heaven for love."
Within the light, Ranma sensed the arrival of something near him. He focused his eyes, which had seen nothing since he was enveloped in the light of pure chi, on a dark figure before him. It appeared to be a woman, but no ordinary one. It was a humanoid feline, like one he had glimpsed on an old horror film before he had turned it off. She walked like a human, but her body was totally covered in fur and her face was like that of a cat, right down to whiskers sticking out. There was a time when he considered such a creature, so reminiscent of a cat yet undeniably human, the most terrifying thing he could imagine. Now, in his current state of mind, there was no fear. Not because he could destroy the thing before him, but because it held no terror for him at all.
As the creature approached, Ranma began to get a sense that it was not a real thing, but rather something that was in his mind. It existed, but not in the physical realm, for with his chi link, he could sense the creature was far more than she appeared. It was far more than even Ranma could comprehend, yet he still felt no terror.
The creature looked him over once, then began speaking.
"Why do you do this thing? Why do you attempt something that is impossible? Why do you risk all for a goal you cannot hope to achieve?"
There was no hesitation in his voice as he spoke to the strange creature, as though answering it was the most normal thing in the world. "I need Shampoo! There’s nothing without her!"
A faint trace of sneering was in the felinoid’s voice. "You wish to bring back that which is dead because of desire? You want to casually discard your life for something that you will surely fail at? You want to deny the way of things because of your singular wants?"
"Yes," Ranma said softly. "I do it for love."
The look Death gave Shampoo was far from friendly as he approached her and moved behind her. She did not turn around as she felt him move closer to her ear.
"Answer me truthfully, for no other answer will suffice. Answer me with your heart, for what your mind says does not matter now. Answer me."
The felinoid watched him carefully, then stalked around him. Ranma did not turn around as he felt the felinoid moved closer to his ear.
"Answer me truthfully, for no other answer will suffice. Answer me with your heart, for what your mind says does not matter now. Answer me."
Shampoo felt herself pulled for one brief moment, then found herself touching something extraordinary. She was whole, truly feeling for the first time that thing which filled in the missing edges of her soul. For one brief moment, she touched the pure essence of the one that she needed more than anything in all of Heaven, and for one brief instant, combined with it, swimming in the purity of its glory and grandeur. She was complete once more, despite losing the ethereal contact a moment later as her soul was beckoned to a familiar vessel. And she knew that even Heaven paled in comparison to what she had with the one she loved.
Ranma felt what he needed touch the missing part of his soul. It filled that hole which had threatened to consume all that he was. It was rapture, and he knew that all he had risked, even the fate of the world, had been worth it to touch that missing part of him once more. He was complete, and despite losing that ethereal contact a moment later, he knew he had somehow done what others claimed was impossible and succeeded at last. He released his hold on the Heart of the World, his body healed perfectly from the merging with the chi he had undergone.
He could do nothing more than to look down expectantly at the girl that was now in his arms. A second after he lost direct contact with that pure soul that had touched his, breath returned to her lungs. She gave a loud gasp and he saw the most wondrous thing ever in his life.
The eyes of his love were opened once more.
The purple-haired Amazon met his eyes, and spoke the first thing that came to mind.
"I can’t believe I had to die to hear you say you love me."
Ranma did nothing for a few moments, then felt the tears run down his face as he burst out crying. He bent low, savoring the flesh on flesh contact of his face on hers. Her skin was warm, not the cold unliving thing it was before. It was real. It was all real.
It was almost five minutes later when he at last detached himself from her, though he still kept her in his arms. "How did you know I said that? You weren’t alive then."
She smiled at him, and he felt his heart skip a beat as he got to see that radiant thing that he feared he would never lay eyes upon again.
"Your words still linger in the air," she said and gently caressed his face, savoring the contact of his flesh as well. It was a few moments later that exhaustion overwhelmed her and she knew she only had a few seconds of consciousness left.
"I need to rest, Ranma. But I promise I’ll wake up for you."
Ranma gave a smile himself, one free of any concerns. "I promise I’ll be the first thing you see."
"That’s ni… ce," she barely got out as she fell asleep in his arms.
Ranma felt a wave of exhaustion pass over him as well. Maybe she had a pretty good idea. He decided to rearrange their positions as he laid down next to her and fell asleep with her in his arms.
There is a giant one hundred foot wide, perfect circle of a crystal-like substance that sits nearly a mile high where the center of Mount Phoenix used to be. Others have given it the name ‘The Tear of the Dragon’, which is as good as any other name. It is unlike any other substance in the world. It cannot be pierced. It cannot be probed. It cannot be scratched by any force known to man. No one knows exactly how far down it goes, but digging revealed it to be down more than five hundred feet deep before the drillers gave up.
It is unlike anything in the world, for somehow, Ranma Saotome created it from the Heart of World itself. It is a structure of pure chi, and unbreakable for all intents and purposes. No one knows exactly how it was created, including Ranma himself, but it remains there all the same. No one has been able to come close to replicating it, but then, no one has been able to find the Heart of the World since then either. And even if they did, it’s not likely they would be as motivated as the last one who held it was.
There is one thing that all of those handful that know the whole details concerning the truth of its creation agree upon. It is, above all other things, a testament of love and impossible dreams.
When someone said those words to Shampoo the following day, she just smiled happily in response and didn’t say a word.
Ranma’s response was, "Yeah, whatever. It’s not like I really care. I ain’t into that romance stuff anyway."
Shampoo swatted him in the back of the head at that point. He shouted about what that was for. She complained about how he could at least have tried to have one romantic thought in his entire body. And then they quarreled with one another.
But the two made up afterward.
To be continued.
Author's notes: I have a plea for my readers. I really, really, REALLY, am begging for reader feedback about this particular chapter. Why is that? Because this is, essentially, the climax of the series. No, this is not the last chapter— there are still many loose threads to tie up— but this is the point I wanted to get to in the series. You've somehow managed to read thirty-eight chapters of this (take a deep bow as I applaud you ^_^), taking hours upon hours of your time (and don’t ask how many it took to write ^_^); now, I'm asking you to take a few more minutes of your time to make a comment or two about how the story was (up until now, anyway), and how you felt about it. Don't feel like you have to write anything detailed; a sentence or two would be more than enough, but I'm dying to know if people are reading this, and if they are enjoying it. Anyway, it's been fun writing it (sometimes it was a bit hard, but the satisfaction of getting this far has been worth it).
Special thanks once more to:
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