I looked around as we finally ventured out of the forest and into civilization. My hand clasped tightly on Akane's to lend her my strength, to reassure her of my presence… and to prevent getting lost. It had been two weeks since that jerk Tetsuya got killed. Akane and I had been in hiding. We either dodged or killed the odd monster that was unfortunate enough to wander into our path. We never stopped running, only pausing for a quick rest before moving on yet again. I seldom slept, fearing that once I did, once I let my guard down, the creatures would strike, and we would be dead. Akane barely slept herself; what little sleep she had was plagued by nightmares of Tetsuya's grisly death. Even so, she adjusted. Her reflexes became quicker, and her senses were sharper than they ever were before. Yet we both knew that she still had a long way to go, if she wanted us to survive. It was hard to avoid water, but I was able to do so. She doesn't have to know about P-chan. I don't think she could take it.
She pointed to a truck that was parked near our side of the highway, and we crept toward it with as little noise as we could. I stopped her when we were a few feet away from the rig; there were red splotches on the road, splotches that were most certainly not ketchup. I probably did something stupid… made a noise in a careless, unguarded moment. Suddenly, the creatures that were tracking us appeared. We were surrounded in an instant. One leapt atop the truck and was holding something in its mouth. It took me a moment later to identify what that something was; a human head, probably the driver's. They advanced as we stood back to back, defending each other, hoping to survive. Akane missed her kick and was dragged down. I turned to help her, but they were too many; they dogpiled me, and I could feel their claws and teeth on my flesh, and could smell their fetid breath. In my mind I asked Akane's forgiveness for failing to protect her.
Suddenly the weight lifted and I could move again. I turned, and there silhouetted against the moonlight was Ranma, his face grim as he cradled Akane's unconscious form in one hand and a bloody katana in the other. I cracked a smile; it seemed the tide was finally turning.
Jiro Maeda presents
A Ranma ½ / Vampire Chronicles fanfic
Disclaimer, The characters and situations of Vampire Chronicles are owned by Anne O'Brien Rice and Random House.. The crazy bunch of martial artists living in Nerima, their quirks and circumstances and the events involving them are owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The other characters exist only in the mind of the author and are not intended to resemble any person living, deceased or undead. No amount of money was made in the production of this fanfic.
Act 4: Stronger than Blood
Ranma glanced at his fiancée's prone body, carefully checking for any injury. He frowned at the small bump near her temple as he gently laid her against a tree, her upper body reclining on the tree trunk. He turned towards his former rival and frowned. "I went away for two years Ryouga — two goddamn years — and I come back to find disaster piled on disaster. Care to tell me why I shouldn't wring your neck right now?" he asked, his voice laced with palpable menace. His friend and rival took an involuntary step back upon meeting that gaze, a gaze that promised fates worse than death.
Ryouga gulped, his heart beating several times faster than normal. This Ranma was definitely more dangerous than the one he had played around with. "How the hell should I know? If I didn't know better, I'd say you were behind these hairballs. Care to prove me wrong, vampire?" he replied, acting as though he’d regained some of his old spunk, while inwardly shivering under Ranma's cold gaze.
"For one thing, little one, my coven won't do something as crass as this. This is so passé, so last millennium, n’ést pas?" came a voice from behind the trailer. The speaker appeared to be a male in his late twenties to early thirties, with the kind of long hair usually found among rock stars, and a very pale complexion that could have borne comparison to moonlight. He wore a white silk shirt that was stained by several splotches of the creatures' blood, tucked into a pair of buckled leather breeches that in turn disappeared into polished black knee-high boots. He was casually cleaning a bloodied saber using a silk handkerchief that he contemptuously threw on the ground after he was done.
Ryouga was scared out of his wits. Ranma returning was bad enough, but bringing another vampire into Nerima was worse. He panicked when he felt himself lifted by his shirt collar to be brought face to face with yet another vampire, who was closely scrutinizing the numerous wounds and scratches he had received from the monsters earlier. "This one needs to be treated, Léstat. His skin is full of wounds and bruises. Their saliva could be the method they use to increase their kind," he said, turning Ryouga over as he observed every nick, every scratch that the martial artist had gotten from the battle. Said martial artist had his heart in his throat, being so very close to the vampire. A breath from the undead creature caused the lost one to whimper in fear. He screwed his eyes shut and prayed to all the kami for death, rather than living again as one of the undead.
"Don't worry, Ryouga. Uncle Louis does not bite. Although he might change his mind once you get wet. He doesn't have a taste for human blood, you see." Ranma explained, noting the white-faced panicked look on his friend. He casually straightened his leather gloves, stretching their insides by clenching and unclenching his fists and then pulling at their ends. He glanced askance at his fiancée, who was at the moment beginning to stir.
Akane slowly opened her eyes, allowing her irises to adjust to what little light there was during near-twilight. She took stock of her surroundings, noticing the strewn carcasses of the monsters that attacked them earlier. She flinched upon seeing the chewed-upon head of the truck driver. She looked around, trying to get her bearings, and barely stifled a gasp as she saw her undead fiancé standing close to where she rested. She slowly allowed her hand to inch closer to a fallen branch, planning to use it as a makeshift pummel. "You don't need that with me, Akane," Ranma remarked, appearing like quicksilver in front of her. He kneeled over her prone form and once again checked her for injuries. Akane watched him warily, afraid that she would wind up dead like Tetsuya. She flinched at his cold touch, but he pretended not to notice as he continued checking her for injuries. Finding nothing other than a few scratches and a small bump near her temple, he stood up once again.
"So this is the lady you are pining for, little prince?" Léstat queried, amusement plain on his features as he observed the young vampire and his supposed ladylove stare at each other like cat and mouse, although for the life of him couldn't figure which was the mouse and which was the cat. Ranma gave a nod of answer as he laid a comradely hand on Louis' shoulder while he smiled. From the corner of his eye he observed the other one. The brat prince could almost smell the fear wafting from that one, the person Ranma called 'Ryouga'. The boy had nearly wet himself when Louis snatched him up by the collar. He permitted himself a small laugh and shook his head as an answer to Louis' raised eyebrow. Something Ranma said tickled his brain and he slapped his forehead for being so dense. 'Must be senility creeping in,' he thought, smiling as he watched the tableau before him.
Akane's heart skipped a beat as she watched Ranma's eternally young features. She scolded herself, strengthening her resolve by fixing in her mind the times she'd spent with the now deceased Tetsuya. Yet she couldn't bring herself to hate the person standing in front of her. Especially after coming to her rescue, and even more so after hearing what the other vampire said. Her heart clenched as she remembered the pain she felt when she heard of Ranma's death. Her resolve broke as memories and things she wanted to say to him came to the fore. Tears streamed from her eyes as she hurled herself at her undead fiancée. She heard a distinctive whoosh as she hugged his cold body to her own. She then felt him hugging back, murmuring apologies for not being there to protect her when she needed him, and felt his tears mingling with her own as they fell down her cheeks.
Louis smiled as Ranma and his beloved made up. He tapped Léstat on the shoulder and inclined his head to the left, gesturing that he thought they should leave the couple alone. His old friend and sire nodded, and together they hauled Ryouga to his feet. The Creole vampire was amused at the wild-eyed gaze that the bandanna-clad boy was directing at them. He mimed licking his lips, briefly exposing his fangs, and the poor boy fainted. His old friend laughed in earnest, as he looked on, faintly amused. He was surprised as his friend's laughter was abruptly cut off. He avoided looking at Léstat, and felt, rather than heard, the soft rasping that signaled Léstat's preparations. He himself reached into his coat, clutching at two of the knives hidden therein. He let go of the unconscious martial artist as he prepared himself to be assaulted. Louis allowed his eyes to scan the surrounding, his undead sight making the dark forest clear as day. He noticed a faint movement, drew, and threw in a span of moments. He heard a faint gurgle as one blade imbedded itself in one of the creatures' necks, the other blade biting into its belly. The monster's disgusting compatriots soon burst from the shrubbery, a whole dozen of them, and soon surrounded Louis, Léstat and their unconscious charge. 'Things appear to be against our favor,' he thought as he stooped to wake the fainted martial artist.
Ranma molded his fiancée's body closer to his as they snuggled. Her soft warm body allowed him to feel more whole than after gorging himself on blood. He softly stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. He realized that he really missed her being with her, that the days when they weren't together were sheer torture to him. His musings were cut short when he felt several malevolent presences nearby watching them.
Trying not to alarm Akane, he quietly unsheathed the antique katana his mother gave to him. Something must have alerted his fiancée, because she tensed in his arms and he saw her nod from the corner of his sight. As the beasts burst into the clearing, he cradled Akane and somersaulted over their bewildered forms. He slashed blindly as they twisted in the night air, and he heard a pained moan somewhere beneath them, bringing an eerie smile to his face. He landed on the balls of his feet like the felines that he hated, and gently lowered his fiancée, who went into a ready stance covering his exposed back. He assumed his own fencing stance, a fluid mix of the beginning forms of Chinese Wu Shu and Kendo.
He held his sword's hilt with both hands, the blade pointed at the oncoming horde. His legs were spread wide, the left extended while the right was bent; only the balls of his feet were planted on the ground. When he was at a distance where he could smell the disgusting creatures, Ranma rushed at them, parrying teeth and claws with the sword's blade. The ancient metal's rune carvings glowed, as it drank inhuman blood as he slashed, piercing and cleaving the monsters in front of him. Their blood sprayed his leather jacket, another gift from his sire, making him frown. From the inhuman groans and the particularly loud yells behind him, he was assured that Akane was still okay. He winced at a particular loud crack as his fiancée broke one of the pitiful creature's necks. After a few moments, he noticed that there were no more, nothing but carcasses slashed or broken beyond recognition. He turned to his beloved and saw that she was flushed, radiant from the battle. He approached her and proceeded to see if any more injuries were added to her previous ones, and frowned upon seeing a small gash on her forehead. She smiled at his concern and held his hand with both of hers as they went back to the clearing, seeking their missing companions.
"Move, you fool!" Léstat ordered, pushing Ryouga out of the way as he pierced the fiend behind the lost boy. Ryouga fell and kipupped into a handstand, and pushed his body from the ground. When he was airborne, he let loose with several of his razor bandannas. The steel-hard, razor-sharp pieces of cloth hit their intended targets, yet only produced small nicks and scratches, serving only to further infuriate the beasts.
He was caught unprepared, Ryouga mused as he landed on one of the creatures. Its neck cracked under the momentum-enhanced mass of the fanged martial artist. He crouched and brought his umbrella into play, bashing one of the monster's brains out with the tip, then piercing the heart of another. He looked around as two more creatures took up the places of their dead comrades, and saw that even the vampires were having a hard time with the freaks, each having to deal with three or four of the creatures. He despaired of ever seeing Akane again, since it looked like he was about to be turned into a gory feast for the monsters that were chasing her. In his heart the bleakness grew and hope died. The world was indeed a lonely place. Ryouga began to glow; a sickly green aura sprang around him and grew. His eyes were now soulless mirrors as the glow around him slowly coagulated into a sphere the size of a wrecking ball between his two hands. "Full Shishi Hokoudan," he murmured as he launched the depression-laden chi-ball into space. Gravity slowed the assent of the ball of chi and allowed it to descend. Faster and faster it came, until it was so close that the two vampires with Ryouga noticed it and ran for their lives. The glowing ball of heavy chi illuminated the battleground, illuminating it in a sickly green glow.
A flash announced the impact of the blast, followed by a loud roar as gale-force winds roared from ground zero. The light dissipated, and the sound followed suit. A portion of the forest was decimated; trees were reduced to kindling, and the rich earth was scorched beyond repair. Standing in the middle of it all, Ryouga was unmoving. His eyes held that glassy-eyed, dead-to-those-around-him look. It was the look of a man who had stared death in the face and lived.
Léstat got up from his prone position on the forest floor, brushed himself, and then proceeded to swear in fluent French and then in English. Louis looked at him askance, and allowed him to rant and rave once again in French for a whole ten minutes. He sat up, disentangling himself from the flailing branches of the felled tree that had caught him. It had cushioned his body as he flew past, propelled by the powerful explosion that emanated from their former battlefield. He staggered to his feet, noting that he shouldn't have worn his genuine Armani suit for this outing. He looked around and whistled, in awe of the destruction one man was able to make. He went to Léstat and assisted him in moving away from the battle-zone, and proceeded to search for Ryouga. They found him standing inert at the exact center of the blast, untouched, his clothing not even singed, and Louis marveled at the power this strange person could produce. With the help of his friend, he managed to assist Ryouga to stagger back to the clearing where they left Akane and Ranma. He inwardly prayed that nothing had happened to the two lovers. He would have hated to explain to Pandora if something horrific had happened to her 'son'.
Ranma noticed the glowing ball as it descended towards a part of the forest. "Ryouga," he murmured as he and Akane hurried towards where he thought he saw Louis and Léstat drag Ryouga. He had to duck, and cover his fiancée's body with his own, when the strong winds hurtled from the blast site. He stood up and assisted Akane to her feet, and returned to their search. They found them not too far away, staggering towards the clearing, their state of clothes and looks more at home in the middle of a battlefield. He noticed Uncle Louis smiling tiredly; waving the hand that wasn't supporting Ryouga. Lord Léstat grunted a greeting from the other side of the bandanna-clad warrior. He was shuffling his feet, and the elegant clothes he wore were barely there. Ranma smirked and shook his head as he moved towards them to help Ryouga. They discarded the dead trucker's rig and sped away from the forest in Léstat's rented limousine, headed toward the Hilton where Ranma's sire Pandora waited for their return.
"So what in the world made you three look like refugees from war-torn Somalia?" Ranma asked as he stroked Akane's hair, while she used his shoulder for a pillow. He watched his companions — who were in various states of disarray — as they sought to bring about a semblance of civility to their appearance. Ryouga was seated across him, between Léstat and Louis. The latter didn't frighten him as much as the former, who sent shivers down the bandanna-clad boy's spine whenever he so much as moved. Ranma found it very amusing, and would have barked in loud laughter, were it not for the fear of waking his sleeping fiancée.
"An accident, a very rude accident, by 'boy blunder' here." Léstat remarked, pointing at Ryouga with his thumb while staring bleakly at his soot-covered face in one of the limo's numerous mirrors. He saw Louis' amused expression and made an obscene gesture at the other Creole. He looked at the tatters of what once was a million-dollar outfit — now nothing but a collection of worthless rags — which barely covered his pale form. He inwardly wondered what Pandora's reaction would be were he to bill her for this outfit. "Probably laugh at me while signing a check for the amount specified, the dear lady. Of course, motherhood does bring out the best in women. My mother being a prime example of that fact," he mused to himself as he watched the scenery flow past.
He wished to surprise her.
Pandora had no idea he was arriving. He adjusted the lapels of his coat and smoothed out the imaginary wrinkles in his tie. He had loved that dear woman for millennia, and tonight he would show her just how much he appreciated her patience, and forbearing with his eccentricities since before they were dead. Marius, the ageless vampire who had introduced Léstat to the dread Akasha, would finally hold his dear Pandora in his arms again.
He hummed to himself as he blended in with the crowd — people who would have been meals for him and his like. He turned at a dimly lit alley and was hit. He fell down hard, the punch breaking his jaw instantly. He got up and faced his assailant, and was shocked to see nothing but shadow. He felt two strong, hairy arms encircle his waist and screamed in pain as he was crushed. He tried to grab the arms that held him, but succeeded only in flailing wildly. He turned his head and attempted to bite at an exposed muscle, only to have his neck squeezed by tentacles. He felt his windpipe crush from the terrific force of the beast assailing him. The beast threw him to the ground, breaking more of his body parts. His last conscious thought was regret that he didn’t get to say goodbye to Pandora.
"How did you find us?" Ryouga asked, almost in a whisper. His features were still bleak.
Probably an after-effect of the depression blast, Ranma mused. He looked down at the immobile form of his fiancée, only to find her staring up at him, her eyes silently urging him to answer Ryouga's question. "I felt you were somewhere nearby. Actually, I felt Akane was somewhere close by," he answered.
He remembered that they were passing somewhere near the road when his throat constricted and he could barely breathe. His forehead was wet with reddish sweat when he commanded Philippe to stop. His feet had hit the road before the car came to a complete halt. He remembered ignoring Louis' request to wait, as well as Léstat's grumbling, as he madly dashed towards a semi parked close to a nearby forest clearing. He didn't remember unsheathing his sword. He just jumped towards a clump of the monsters and began slashing. He grabbed Akane and dashed to higher ground, killing any of the creatures that came close. He shivered in recollection of what seemed to him was a lifetime ago, and yet was merely a few hours earlier.
He was brought back to the present by a soft hand stroking his cheek. He looked at his fiancée and found her smiling at him. Ranma didn't resist when she pulled his head down for a kiss. The pleasant moment was abruptly halted by Louis' clapping and by Léstat's insistence that they get a room. As far as the young vampire was concerned, he didn't care. Akane was safe and with him. All was right in the world, and he wasn't stupid enough to think that this respite was anything other than an interlude before the chaos to come.
In a posh suite located at the top floor of the Tokyo Hilton, Pandora smiled. The bond between her and Ranma told her that all was well. Her child was safe and so was his heart's mate. She readied herself and the rooms that she had rented, until she decided that they were presentable enough. She then possessed herself of the patience of a goddess and waited. She heard a faint knocking at the door. She smiled and straightened her silk dress as she walked towards the door. A stray thought made her hesitant: Léstat and her son wouldn't be back till later this evening, so who could be knocking at her door? She mustered all her courage and decorum as the daughter of a Roman senator, and opened the door. She smiled and readied her welcome… only to have the body of her beloved Marius unceremoniously dumped at her feet. She cast a look around the premises and spied a shadowy figure, which even with her ‘gifts’ remained cloaked in darkness.
"Tell your son, vampire. Tell him that the Minotaur is coming for him next," spoke the figure with a raspy voice, and then vanished.
Pandora could do naught except hug her eternal beloved’s inert form to herself as she cried blood-red tears of anguish. She did not notice the arrival of her son and his companions until they removed Marius' body from her arms and laid him on her bed.
It pained Ranma to see his mother's sorrow. He knew, of course, about her past with Marius, the one who turned her, her once and future love. Yet he also knew that Marius is a very powerful vampire, one of those who drank directly from Akasha, the queen of the damned. 'Whoever did this is packing major firepower. Marius couldn't have been beaten to shit by just anybody,' he thought as he paced around his room.
Akane was sound asleep on his bed. Come morning, he would let 'Juliette' escort her home to the Tendou Dojo, there to remain until the present crisis was resolved. He inwardly cringed at leaving her alone, fearing for her safety — hers, and that of those around her. "But if she stayed with me, she might even be in more danger," he reasoned.
He turned and stared at Akane's slumbering form. She murmured his name in her sleep, bringing a smile unbidden to the young vampire's face. He removed the coverlet and poured cold water over his body, triggering the curse that rendered him female and human. She yawned, and climbed into bed beside her sleeping fiancée and slept, putting all thoughts of beings more powerful than Marius aside as problems for another day. Moments later, her fiancée unconsciously moved closer and snuggled to the now human Ranma, content, whole, and at peace at last.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Another chapter done! I have to acknowledge the help of two of the most steadfast friends a writer could ever ask for. Larry, thanks for catching all those awful errors that my baka grammar and spellchecker couldn't catch. Pam, thanks for the insights on the vampire chronicles, you helped me stay true to the characters.
For best effect, I suggest listening to disk three of the Chrono-Cross OST, especially track 15 for the quiet moments.
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