A Ranma ½ multi-crossover story
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Prepare yourself; it's going to be a very strange ride!
Act One: Unexpected Match
It was another typical day. The sun was shining. The few birds that hadn't been scared off by rampaging martial artists with no sense of self-control were singing. And Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo were arguing.
A typical day, if you lived in Nerima.
"How was I supposed to know that Kodachi snuck into my bed last night?!"
"I don't want to hear another one of your lame excuses, Pervert!"
"Hey! Are you even listening to me? I said it wasn't my fault!"
"You sure looked like you enjoyed having her on top of you in the nude!"
"She used one of her paralysis roses on me! Of course I couldn't move!"
"Sure, Ranma, like you really need to be held down in order to sleep around with your harem!"
"They're not my harem. I never asked for any of this, you know! Why do you always have to blame me for everything that happens?!"
"Because its always your fault! You pick on Ryoga! You flirt with every bimbo you meet! You're always trying to make me look like a fool!!"
"Psshh. Like you need any help with that."
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!! Ranma, YOU JERK!!!"
And once again Ranma was earning frequent flier miles via Air Kawaiikune. The script rarely changed; whenever his fiancée got mad or lost an argument (same thing, really) she would either beat him into the ground or send him aloft via one of her patented brute-strength haymakers.
Of course, being Ranma, he didn't let a little thing like entering low earth orbit stop him from trying to get the last word in.
And Akane being Akane, had to add insult to injury.
"Ranma, I hate you!!"
She threw the half-empty juice can in her hand at the rapidly ascending pigtailed martial artist, dousing him with cold orange juice.
Satisfied for the moment that she'd extracted proper punishment from her fiancé, Akane set off for school without a backward glance.
She had better things to do then wait for a stupid, cheating, sex-changing freak that didn't even have the guts to grovel for her divine forgiveness like the unworthy foul sorcerer…
Akane shook her head a couple times to dislodge the strange (although oddly appealing) thoughts.
"I'm spending way too much time around Kuno."
Meanwhile, Ranma-chan was just about to touch down in the middle of… well, somewhere. She rarely paid attention to any specific area unless there was something of importance there (like free eats) and in Nerima it would have been pointless anyway. Half of the streets in town had been rebuilt after brawls resulting from various enemies, fiancées, and the occasional kill-the-pervert mob chasing after Happosai.
This street seemed to be one of the better ones, though, and had she not been in her girl form at the time Ranma-chan might have taken the time to appreciate that fact as she came in for a landing.
It took three skids, a tumble and a half twist before her feet got enough traction on the ground to put the brakes on. Not her best performance. The pigtailed girl dusted herself off with her hands inside the small crater she'd made.
"Bleh. She didn't have to turn me into girl too. Stupid tomboy."
Now where was she going to find hot water at this hour?
A look around her produced no clues. It seemed the residents in this neighborhood had already gone off to work.
"Oh, great. I go to school like this, and that idiot Kuno will be all over me again. What the heck do I have to do in order for him to get the simple fact through that pea brain of his that I AM A GUY?!!"
Grumbling to herself, Ranma-chan stepped out of the hole she'd made in the street and started resignedly trudging her way in the general direction of Furinkan High. She didn't even bother trying to go via the roofs, since that would only have brought the young martial artist back to her problems sooner. She tried to look on the bright side, but unfortunately in Ranma's life there weren't any bright sides.
"Face it, Saotome, you're stuck in a rut and you're never getting out."
Ranma shook her head, suddenly feeling far older then her sixteen and a half years.
"Geh, what I wouldn't give to get out of this whole mess of everyone either trying to marry me or kill me or both. If only there was a way I could be free of this whole mess, preferably before I reach the school… Yeah, right! I might as well ask for an adventure with a princess or two tossed in for good measure. That'll be the day."
Be careful what you wish for.
Because sometimes you just might get it, only not the way you were expecting.
And lots and lots of incredibly agonizing pain.
It was definitely not a good day to be evil.
Too weak to maintain its human guise, what seemed to be a pool of liquid darkness thrashed wildly about under the deadly morning sun like a rabid animal in its death throes.
Unfortunately, the analogy was all too appropriate right now.
Because it was dying.
Cut off from its host-- its very source-- it was losing energy with every passing moment. Consciousness faded in and out as more ruthless instincts took over.
Survival: always its primary purpose before, but never with such urgency as now. Not like the other times; this was the true death it faced now. The complete and utter annihilation it had brought to so many others before.
The primary host was unavailable.
Therefore, a new one was needed… and quickly.
But where? The living darkness thrashed about, sends dozens of long black tendrils whipping about in every direction, vainly striving for any trace of a potential match in the immediate vicinity. But the cursed light of the sun blinded it, weakened its power and sapped away at its dwindling reserves.
The shadow's frenzy increased to an almost maddened state as it stretched out with everything it had left, seeking… seeking…
Just the faintest traces of magic, of such poor quality that under normal circumstances it would have been disregarded without a second thought, but now it was regarded with the same intensity as finding an oasis in the desert. Approaching slowly, but steadily. The scent was almost enough to send it charging toward its prey, but a flicker of reason kept its first reflexive response in check.
It would only have one chance at this.
The fast-fading entity coiled itself into a tight mass and mustered the last of its patience. It was a hunter, and knew well the value of the proper moment.
Let its target get closer, and then it would strike.
Ranma-chan marched onwards towards the drudgery of school. Her head sunk down in gloomy thoughts, she paid no attention to the quiet emptiness around her. There were no birds here, nor any other sounds of life. Only a strange silence.
But Ranma thought nothing of it, her mind caught up in more important concerns, like Akane's upcoming home economics test. It was the klutz's sixth attempt to pass the course, which of course would require an unwilling test subject. For some strange reason, the young Tendo was not a great believer in tasting her own cooking. Of course, that wasn't the only thing that she'd try out on her fiancé. There were the oven mitts that conducted heat better then any glass dish, the ragged hangmen's nooses she called scarves, and the crowning disaster of trying to embroider on one of his shirts. One of his favorite shirts. He still mourned for the custom-tailored and dyed Chinese silk, which had been buried at sea with full honors.
So it could perhaps be excused that Ranma-chan was not on her guard as she walked down the street. But that could also be partially attributed to the nature of that which waited ahead for her.
It was only when she was almost to the point of stepping on it that she finally noticed the oddity.
"Huh," Ranma wondered, neither alarmed nor afraid, "What is that?"
A blackness where none should have been. A shadow with no source, lying there all alone on the grey concrete. Even as she looked at it, the martial artist could see that it was dwindling, fading away at the edges like ice on a hot stove. Its unnatural presence suggested the work of magic, strange magic indeed.
Despite Saotome's normal repulsion towards such things (except as a possible cure for his curse) a curious desire came upon her to try and touch this oddity. To discover if the mirror-flat darkness was truly as smooth as it looked, and if it was cool to the touch or warm from the sun shining down upon it. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Ranma started to kneel down beside the fading pool, one hand already reaching out toward it.
Only to stop.
An internal struggle arose between the transformed boy's stubbornness and the strange compulsion.
They were stuck in a deadlock. Neither side would give ground, but both lacked the strength necessary to finish their battle of wills. One had not the experience, while the other was too drained, too hungry to focus properly.
Frustrated by its failure, the darkness took the only option left to it. Without warning, a score of thin obsidian tendrils erupted from the surface of the pool, reaching for the potential host.
Ranma's surprise was complete as the fading shadow struck.
She arched backward, narrowly missing the first attempt. Quick as a whip the surprisingly fluid appendages crossed back, forcing the buxom girl to stumble back with a curse.
"What in the blue blazes?!" Now it was coming right at her!?
With the speed of desperation, the darkness flowed toward her, sending several of its tendrils wide to prevent any escape and herd its target into range.
Ranma-chan quickly found herself cornered against a wall, ducking and dodging to avoid being tagged by what seemed to be a constant barrage of the now nearly translucent limbs. For some reason her trusty danger sense (finely honed after years of being stuck with her father Genma) seemed to be confused, almost as if it was unable to determine that this was an attack or not. Something about this just didn't feel right.
A spark of anger grew from within the confusion. While Ranma did not understand, she was also no mere wild beast to be brought to bay by mere shadows.
Her right hand darted out to seize and grab her strange opponent.
Pride, as always, was the undoing of even the best.
Old darkness and young mortal flesh met.
To Ranma's utter horror the ebony tendril she touched seemed to hold fast to her hand like rubber glue. Reflexively, she tried to shake its purchase from herself, only to find that it would not be dislodged. It was in fact starting to sink into her very skin!
She struggled, but it seemed to only cause the process to go faster. She could feel a strange tingling warmth starting to flow slowly up her fingers.
Near panic now, Ranma-chan used her other hand to try and pull free of the line that now connected her with the no longer fading mass.
But her efforts only resulted in a second avenue of advance as a second tendril latched onto her free hand and started to meld into her flesh.
More sensations of warmth started to tingle from her toes. Looking down, Ranma-chan saw that while she had been concentrating on the dilemma of her hands, the darkness had not been so idle. More twisting lines now anchored her feet to the shadow's main body. To her growing dismay, she witnessed as the flow of blackness invaded even the very shadow she made, turning it a darker shade then any moonless night.
"Let go a' me! Get away! Go away!!"
The only response to her yells was an increase in the speed in which the shadowy mass continued to absorb her, drawing her inescapably into its lightless depths.
"Damn it!" It wasn't fair, why did this have to happen to her?! What had she done to deserve such a fate?! "Why can't things ever go my way for once?!!"
Still Ranma-chan fought; still she struggled fruitlessly even as she was drawn down into the shadows. Her last sight was a glimpse of the still shining morning sun, before vision was cut off by complete and total darkness.
The street was quiet once more.
But while the physical plane was calm, the astral plane was another story.
In the endless barren plains that marked the realm of the mind, a solitary figure materialized.
His form was naked and battered; injuries of the spirit which were translated to physical wounds here. But though the body was weakened, the will that drove it was not.
There was barrier here, a dark presence that resisted the merging of the two.
Eyes of darkest purple coldly scanned the empty waste.
Only one would leave this place alive.
Shadow damn well meant for that someone to be him.
From somewhere around him came a warning growl.
It was close.
But still he refused to be drawn out. Better to conserve what strength he had left. If his foe thought him to be easy prey, the ex-villain would be more then happy to teach them otherwise.
Keen as his hearing was, it failed to pick up the sound of padded feet stalking toward him, preparing to spring.
With a bloodthirsty roar, the great Cat pounced upon Shadow's back, its great claws cruelly digging into his sides, its great maw darting forward for the throat hold that would finish it.
But the dark assassin had not survived this long by being slow in a crisis.
He took the strikes to his side with barely a grunt; it was the beast's teeth (and the powerful jaws behind it) that were the real threat. His left arm came up to catch the feline under the throat, slamming its slavering muzzle shut with an audible snap a bare finger's width from his neck. His free hand stiffened to form a crude spear. Even as he let himself be carried forward by the force of the giant Cat's lunge, he swiveled in mid-air and braced elbow against hip to let the creature's own weight thrust his fingers through its hide and into the softer flesh that lay behind it. The creature roared in pain, but its weight was enough to force Shadow's shoulder out of its socket as it landed upon him.
Ignoring the nerves screaming from his shoulder, he dug fingers deeper into the Cat's side, seeking a vital point to rend and tear. But the cunning beast had picked up a few tricks of its own, it rolled across the area where Shadow was, trying to crush him or gain a hold with its claws to pull him into range of its waiting maw. Grimly the ex-villain clung close to his foe, riding out the rolls but losing his grip in the monster's side as his abused shoulder was slammed against the hard-packed ground repeatedly.
Gritting his teeth, Shadow pushed off its hide with one foot and rolled a short distance to gain some breathing space. His right arm hung uselessly at his side now, turning a painful blue-black from the shoulder down. But a new fire burned in his eyes now, a dark primitive blaze that did not merely promise but declared death to all that it fell upon.
The low growl was the first real sound he had made so far in the fight.
The Cat hesitated. Never had any of its prey behaved in such a manner; always before had they fled in fear and been devoured. It had taken its own wounds in the short melee, and dark blood still dripped slowly from its side.
Shadow's form began to shift and blur as his mouth drew back to reveal the change already taking place. Already razor sharp canines enlarged, growing out as the jaws reshaped into an elongated dark muzzle. Other teeth, carnivore teeth, revealed themselves. Hands came down to shift to paws as rich dark fur spread out across his body.
The Cat hissed loudly as it beheld its mortal enemy, a great black Wolf.
One powerful foreleg was hopelessly crumpled and lay limp, but the beast's powerful bite was no less lethal for it. And the eyes, those great beast eyes remained ever still that same merciless purple.
With their mutual fury at its peak, the two enraged creatures rushed forward into a final, furious waltz of death.
Cat and Wolf slammed into each other. The force of their charge pushing each back for a moment while jaws snapped and reached. They closed the short distance again in a dizzying fury of tooth and talon, bits of fur and blood flew and spattered as the beasts bit and clawed at each other. The bitter adversaries rolled together in a near frenzy, each seeking the final hold that would end the battle.
Finally the Cat seemed to gain the advantage as rolled to the top and its teeth closed down on the Wolf's crippled leg. With a crunch, bone shattered under the power of those deadly jaws. The Wolf slavered and scratched, but not once did it ever cry out. The three remaining legs scratched furiously at the Cat's belly, opening long gashes, but without proper leverage they lacked the force to make the wounds truly deep. Indeed, the Wolf's struggles seemed to grow weaker and the great Cat's belly rumbled with cruel laughter. It eased its hold slightly, confidant now in its foe's display of weakness.
In the manner of all cats, it would have some sport with its prey.
Faster then the eye could follow, the great Wolf's head suddenly snaked out from the Cat's loosened hold and clamped onto the beast's neck with unbelievable strength.
The Cat howled in fury and terror, its claws futilely scratching and clawing in a vain attempt to relieve the incredible pressure that was crushing its neck.
But the beast would not falter. All of its power, all of its will, was concentrated on the deadly bite. Its eyes were filled with the killing madness, and as the Cat looked into those raging violet orbs its fear grew even greater. For in them it saw now that not even death would halt the grim mission of those jaws.
The Cat wiggled and struggled still, but with each heartbeat its movements grew less and less. It tried to yowl in a last ditch effort to surrender, but could only manage a faint dry scream.
The Wolf's only response was to increase the force of its bite even more.
With a last despairing gurgle, the Cat expired. A moment later a dull "crunch" sounded as the Wolf finally broke its neck.
And still it refused to let go.
Blood stained its muzzle and ran down its once shining fur, but the Wolf's bite grew only harder.
The jaws finally slammed shut. And the Cat's head toppled into the dust.
With a look of grim satisfaction, the exhausted Wolf limped to its feet.
Slowly, painfully, it raised its battered head and howled once long and loud.
A cry of victory.
Then it turned back to the severed head and body of its defeated foe.
With a hungry snarl, it began to feed.
With the final obstacle gone, assimilation quickly commenced.
Analysis of the host revealed a workable base to start with. A strong life force, with a metabolism that fell within acceptable levels, combined with a frame that was in exceptional physical condition… for a mortal.
However, there were also several issues that needed to be addressed. A deficit in certain nutrients necessary for the host to function at optimal efficiency was noted, as were several internal injuries, currently in remission but potentially a threat to host's long-term survival, and finally what appeared to be inherited flaws that reduced the host's ability to survive.
Not the best material to work with, but one made do with what was at hand.
The host's genetic code was stripped to its bare building blocks, unnecessary "waste" DNA and that containing anti-survival flaws were broken down into more basic and usable components and quickly put to use into rebuilding the host's frame into a more tolerable habitat. Although unable to provide the lacking nutrients, subtle manipulation of the host's metabolism would ensure that the host would be properly motivated to seek those on his own, as well as provide additional material to finish assimilation.
The darkness paused. It had done what it could with the limited resources available, but in order to complete its joining a final step was required. It would have to interact more directly with the host's psyche in order to "synch" with the residing soul. To do so would temporarily result in the dissipation of Shadow's consciousness, as the core of the personality melded itself to the host, and he found himself curiously reluctant to take that last step.
Shadow had clung to his individuality ever since he could remember, and had battled long and hard with the other aspects of Rowan Phoenix during the Great Divide in order to retain his own identity. To lose his personal sense of self, even for so short and necessary a task as this, was still extremely distasteful to him.
But in the end, Shadow was also a survivor.
Shampoo (the beautiful Chinese Amazon much maligned by those who didn't know her very well) was heading back to the Cat Cafe on her bicycle of death from a long and heavy take-out order near the outskirts of Nerima when she suddenly saw an anomaly on the street ahead.
A crystal-black chrysalis, just slightly over five feet long, hovered a few inches off the empty street. Despite no visible anchor, it did not move an inch from its position when any breeze blew past.
This was odd enough to make even the busy delivery girl curious as to the nature of the strange object.
Why couldn't these strange people ever put their things where they were supposed to go, like the amazons did? Ever since coming to this island, the young warrior had seen nothing to dispute her personal belief that the Japanese were just plain crazy. Just look at all the examples of Loudmouth Stupid Stick Boy, Stupid Lost Pig Boy, too too Stupid Fat Panda-Man, and Stupid Violent Pervert-Girl!
The only redeeming trait of Japan (in Shampoo's opinion, anyway) was that it had produced Ranma Saotome, the man she had fallen head over heels in love with. He could be exasperatingly slow at times when it came to matters like marriage or dating, but nobody could ever accuse Ranma of being stupid.
Her great grandmother would never have taken the time to teach an idiot such powerful techniques, not even if they were practically family. Nor would a stupid person have been able to keep off no less then four girls who were determined to drag him to the altar for as long as Ranma had.
Yes, Ranma was no fool. But Shampoo dearly wished that he wasn't quite so stubborn!
Upon closer examination, there was something quite strange about the object (other then that it was defying the law of gravity, which in Nerima was only to be expected). From across the street the structure had appeared to be opaque, a dark black that seemed to suck in all light that fell upon it. Now that she was only a few feet from it, Shampoo could see that her first impression had not been quite accurate. The coffin shaped structure was indeed black, but now she could make out faintly different shades and texture, and there seemed to be something inside!
And it was just big enough to be something like… a body.
Swallowing hard as an unfamiliar feeling of dread crept up her stomach, the normally unflappable Amazon seriously considered for a few moments to leave this mystery for someone else more capable of dealing with it.
Then her pride kicked in.
With one hand tightly clutching one of her colorful trademark bonbori, the slightly nervous (amazons never admitted to fear, ever) warrior cautiously reached out toward the seemingly benign object. All of her senses were alert for even the slightest hint of danger. Even though she felt nothing actually suspicious from the coffin, something about its very presence disturbed her on a primitive inner level.
Slowly, ever so carefully, her hand came into contact with the darkness.
With a soft *pop*, the chrysalis vanished beneath her hand, seeming to fall within itself until there was only the object that had been resting within and empty shadows.
Shampoo had hopped back with a gasp the moment the reaction to her touch had begun. It had been a strategic move to gain some room in order to scan the results of her action from a more objective perspective (and not because she had been scared out of her wits!). Upon seeing what she thought was the object's destruction, Shampoo really hoped that it hadn't been owned by anyone and really, REALLY hoped that the object hadn't been as expensive as it looked. She got enough grief from her great grandmother just for breaking down simple walls. The Amazon shuddered to think of the punishment for destroying something valuable.
Then her eyes widened as Shampoo finally got a good look at what had been inside the coffin.
Chinese Amazon pride and dignity were forgotten.
Stepping through the wreckage of what had once been the inn known as "The Lucky Duck", several vague figures approached the center of the destruction through the still heavy clouds of ash, soot, and less pleasant things in the air.
"At last, the Rangers of the Crossover Fiancées have been destroyed!"
"Are you sure we got them?"
"Of course! We spent over a year planning this; there was no way they could have gotten out in time."
"Are you absolutely certain?"
"Trust me, even if they managed to somehow survive the mine's explosion, the resulting tear in the fabric of space-time would have sent them hurtling into a dimensional vortex to their certain doom."
"But the cost! The cost was high. Not only just the expense of setting up this trap, but also one of our best agents, gone just like that!"
They had found the body. The corpse and a small clear zone surrounding it were the only things untouched by the destruction that had taken the rest of the building.
"He was a true Knight. He did his duty."
"But I thought the wards were supposed to protect him? And his armor, what about his armor? How in the Nine Hells did they manage to take him?!"
One of the shorter figures reached down and slowly turned the body over.
"By her High Holiness!!"
A polished black hilt stuck out from the corpse's face like some ghastly medal of honor. But what caused those gathered there to recoil was the condition of their dead agent. What had been a man of mature years costumed in the guise of a mere innkeeper was now nothing more then a withered husk. The skin was nearly black with dry rot and decay, pulling the face tightly into a horrible parody of death's grin.
"Blessed Untouched Continuum!"
Most horrifying of all were the eyes, the dull milky orbs that somehow still seemed to hint at the faintest traces of life. For they screamed out to those who looked upon them, empty of all hope, a silent wail of unending suffering and damnation.
"This is the Dark One's work." The one who had turned the body over began to reach for the knife, intending to pull it loose from their late comrade.
"Leave it be! Do not touch that weapon!"
The hand froze, mere inches from the hilt, which now seemed to have grown darker with some inner malevolence.
"It seems that the assassin's bite is not limited to just his blades."
More then one of those present made signs to ward off evil. Oddly enough, half of the motions appeared to be mimicking the use of a hammer-like object to bash something.
"Here, come take a look at this." A kunoichi pointed toward ground zero, which could be distinguished from the rest of the destruction by a very large crater in the floor that was fused to a glassy smoothness. The air was hazy there, but clear enough to see what had caught her attention.
A faintly glowing yellow rose was stuck in the ground. Torn and marked with burns, the flower was still relatively intact. And above it, faint but still visible to the eye, the remains of a dimensional portal.
"So much for your 'surefire' plan," The female ninja's voice dripped with scorn, "At least one of them managed to deflect the blast and D-hop."
"No way! Its impossible to set coordinates for a dimensional leap inside the radius of a hyperhole vortex. The flux of escaping chrono-spatial energy would hopelessly scramble any attempt and fry the fool crazy enough to go through the portal. Not even those four would be insane enough to try that."
The arguing parties ceased.
"Our timetable is already short. We do not know for certain that any of our enemies survived, but we also cannot risk the chance that they are. Therefore, we will proceed on the assumption that all of them are still out there. Most likely hurt and lost, but alive."
There were nods of agreement, some reluctant, others with the eagerness of true fanatics.
"But for now at least they are out of our way, which means phase two of our diabolical plan--"
"--Ahem! I mean, our holy mission of divine mercy can begin."
"The Knights of the Holy Order of Mallets await your command, Culinary High Lord!"
"You already know your orders, my faithful. Bring swift death to the heretic known as Shade!"
A third of the figures bowed, muttering praises to their vengeful goddess and slipping off to alert their fellow followers.
"I suppose that leaves us to deal with the Rangers?" The kunoichi's tone was sarcastic, and there were grumbles from her fellow Knights. Why should they get stuck with the hard job?
"Our alliance with your Order of The True Continua was based on a mutual need to eliminate those meddling fools, and we have yet to see your side carry out their part of the deal."
The woman stared hatefully at the shadowed figure. "We won't forget this. Your drooling little fanboys may have proved useful so far, but that won't always be so. And when that day comes, there will be a reckoning between us." With a final glare of contempt, the ninja and her companions stalked off.
The tall figure chuckled evilly as they left. "Hmmph. When the Great Saint of Always Rightness decrees it, we will show those infidels the power of Her Grace's blessed curry and holy blunt object."
The tall figure raised his foot and deliberately crushed the rose, grinding it into the dirt until only a few scattered traces of faded yellow remained. Then he nodded to those remaining with him.
"Go forth, followers of the Short Haired One! We have worlds to convert to her righteous name!!"
To be continued…
|Arc 1, Act 2|
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