Interlude Two: To Close a DoorEdit

The lightning flashed in the distance, a silent testament to what was to come. It was many, many miles away, and quite unlikely that the sound would carry as far as where Kalla sat, perched on the roof of of one of the few dormitories built within the fair-sized compound.

"A change is coming," she said, not intending for anyone in particular to hear. But someone did.

"Miss Kalla?" Mint asked, climbing up to the corner of the roof. "What change?"

Kalla regarded her new companion with mild interest. "You are silent, young one," she said. "A gift that very few I have met attained."

"I'm... uhh... sorry if I interrupted," he said, hand behind his head. "Did you want to be alone?"

Kalla smiled. "No, come... sit. This involves you too, I fear."

Mint quietly made his way toward Kalla and grabbed a seat. For the one day he had spent there, he had realized that not being grabby was very important to self-preservation. Even with Kalla, who... Mint had a hard time thinking of as a woman, rather than an... elder. Though she was young, that was the only thing he could liken her to.

"Not quite sure what to make of me, Mint?" Kalla asked, a small smile betraying her features.

"Err, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare!" he exclaimed, diverting his eyes toward the horizon, which was very impressive, considering that they were on the edge of a mountain.

"The valley gets rain tonight," Kalla said, staring off. "A bad omen."

Mint blinked. "But isn't rain a good thing?"

Kalla pointed to the distance. "Far over there is Mount Phoenix," she said. "Just to the south is Nyuchezu, village of the Joketsuzoku. But in the middle... The blessed springs of Jusenkyo. It must rain in order for the multitude of plants and animals to survive... but this storm is no mere rain cloud."

Mint sighed as his eyes scanned the horizon. The rolling hills and forests flashing before the light of the storm. "Why isn't it?"

"This storm is brought as a warning. A warning that the change is coming. Herb has a purpose now, and his purpose is intertwined with my destiny as much as it is yours."

"Destiny?" Mint asked.

Kalla closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh night air. "The trials you face you will not face alone. You will have allies in the coming battle, but you must learn to trust them."

"I... I'm not sure I understand," Mint admitted.

Kalla chuckled to herself. "You will soon, young man. You will soon. Tonight it all changes. Prepare for it."

"Sit and face me, Hikaru," Rogi ordered, shedding off his mortal shell.

Hikaru did as the demon asked. There was no way he could disobey. He had... seen the memories Saiko had shared.

Rogi cupped the boy's chin in his monstrous, clawed hand and smiled. Hikaru could feel the rancid heat of the creature's breath as it stained his face, and penetrated his very being.

"I call upon the dark, servant to I and my ilk," Rogi began. "Obey my whim and that of my master, and his master after him."

Eyes closed, Hikaru felt as the air around him grew colder, starting from his feet and approaching his head. It wasn't long before the numbness took over.

Rogi touched his finger to Hikaru's forehead and closed his own eyes. "Bring forth Dhar Tin, reaper of souls and devourer of life. Bring forth his power and grant it unto me."

The goosebumps covered Hikaru as a third presence penetrated the air before him. Malevolent in every sense of the word, it scathed his skin as it came within inches of touching him.

Suddenly, he heard a second voice.

"Rogi of the Dark Void," it said. "Why do you call me forth from my slumber? It has been millennia since I was last summoned."

"Dhar Tin," Rogi replied. "It has been long, and I require something of you."

"Speak quickly, Rogi. I may not have power to dispatch the likes of you, but it would be no displeasure to disrupt your task," Dhar Tin replied.

"This mortal has binding magic," Rogi said. "He is my servant, and I wish the magic to be strengthened."

Hikaru could almost hear Dhar Tin sneer. "You have summoned me from the Void to strengthen a bond of second rate mystics into one of true power? This is all you call of me?"

"I call this of you, and grant you this," Rogi said. "Upon the dominion of this world, I can offer you souls enough to feed your lusts for millennia to come."

Dhar Tin growled. "I grow weary of mortal souls, Rogi of the Dark Void!"

"Then what of the gods of this world? Do you still find distaste in immortal essences?"

The growling subsided somewhat. "The gods and goddesses?" Dhar Tin hummed in thought. "Very well. You shall have your request, and you shall deliver unto me the payment, Rogi, or by Nyarlhotep's Eyes, I shall have your soul."

The truth escaped her. She couldn't tell what was happening. Only that her father had... he had left her.

But for good reason, she told herself as she ran through the forest, pushing branch after branch from her path, as if some creature nocturne was pursuing her closely behind, obscured by the rain as it pounded down against the soft ground.

Nyuchezu was near. It had to be.

Unless she had taken a wrong turn. Yes, it had happened before. Plum's shortcuts through the jungle often brought her some place she had not intended to be. Rather like that nice man, Mr. Hibiki. He often did that.

But he was older. At least by ten years. He was strong as well, strong enough to fight against any creature that may be hiding around the next turn.

The small box she held with her was the key. She needed to get to Xining, and then it would all come to pass. She'd be back with her father again, and they'd live life once again in the cursed springs. Maybe he'd finally let her jump into the Spring of Drowned Pony.

She pushed another branch out of her way as she sprinted through the woods, but suddenly lost her footing. Falling over face-first in the mud, she tried to climb back to her feet as quickly as possible.

But the rain blinded her. It got into her eyes as she gathered the box that her father had given to her. Shaking it out of her eyes, and not wanting to face whatever evil creature could be lurking nearby, she set out in her sprint once again--

--but this time, she ran face-first into a branch of wider girth, causing her to fall over once again. Plum found herself grasping out for the branch as she fell to the ground, in slow motion.

But it didn't hold. She fell back, her head striking a sharp rock.

Plum lost consciousness immediately.

And the monsters that lurked within the forest soon penetrated into the dark haze that surrounded her.

The lightning crashed down somewhere nearby, that much he could discern with great ease.

Pantyhose Tarou sighed in annoyance. One of the only nights he has an actual bed to sleep in, and things had to be ruined by a damn storm. Being a martial artist, Pantyhose had learned to wake up at the slightest noise-- unfortunately, taking the good with the bad, he actually DID wake up at the slightest noise.

He leaned up from his bed and looked out of the small portal in the side of the room he slept in. Or tried to sleep in, anyway.

From the time of his arrival at his grandfather's home, he had been pushed, shoved and dragged into being a better martial artist. Not that he didn't approve of his grandfather's efforts, but the method of being taught was... questionable.

He was a loony old man, but he was his grandfather. One of the few people in his family who could care less about his name. Even Pantyhose's own mother referred to him only as 'Tarou'. But his grandfather called him Pantyhose.

Still, he hated the name. He hated what it stood for, and he hated the man who gave it to him.

"-o aw--! ---s to- --on!" he heard from outside. He couldn't make out what the voice was saying, and he didn't rightly care. Shoving a pillow over his head, he turned to face the other direction.

That's when he noticed it.

He shot up from the bed and ran over to the window to confirm it.

Pantyhose was right. The voice DID belong to his grandfather. He was outside, shoving his hands toward the sky, shouting incoherent nonsense.

"Dammit, old fool!" Pantyhose yelled as he jumped from the window, not really caring that he only had on a pair of pants. The curse was soon triggered, increasing the young man's size five fold.

"It's too soon!" his grandfather yelled, arms still raised to the sky. "You have no right! NO RIGHT!"

Pantyhose reached his grandfather in but a few seconds, and grabbed on to him as gently as he could. Suddenly, his grandfather noticed.

"Pantyhose!" he yelled, causing the monstrosity to wince. "It's too soon! It wasn't supposed to be like this! I'm not supposed to be here!"

Pantyhose didn't know what the hell the old man was talking about. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. He just wanted to get the old fool inside and get some sleep.

"Japan!" he exclaimed. "He's returned! Pantyhose, he's come back!"

Oh God, he's gone insane. Pantyhose sighed in frustration as he dropped his grandfather off at the porch. Grabbing a small flask from his nylon belt, he emptied the contents on top of him, sending him back to a human-- yet startlingly naked-- form.

"He's taken her, Pantyhose!" he yelled. "He's taken her!"

"What the HELL are you talking about, old fool?"

"The girl! I told you about her! Rogi's got her!"

Pantyhose was starting to get pissed. "You've finally gone senile, haven't you?"

Pari froze. "Senile?" he asked, a small smile crossing his features. "Boy, you don't understand. We don't GO senile."

"Yeah, just get to sleep," Pantyhose shrugged.

"We get power from water, Pantyhose," Pari said, walking back out into the water. "Don't you see?"

Tarou sighed as he turned to face his grandfather-- and then froze.

"What the... hell?" he asked, eyes wide open.

There before him, his grandfather changed. He was both large and small at the same time. A large, hulking mass the size of a truck, with two distinct horns atop his head, and a small, seedy creature with a directly pointed nose, little rows of sharp teeth, and... an impression in his head.

"Gods," Pantyhose muttered. "What the hell are you?"

"I told you he's come back, boy," Pari's three forms said. "Are you ready to listen now?"

Tarou backed into the house and fell over on to a pillow. He watched in morbid interest as his grandfather-- if that's who it really was-- walked into the house and seemed to regain a single form.

"He's returned, Pantyhose," he said, his face betraying no emotion. "And he's got Aiko."

What do I do? Akane thought.

(Nothing Akane, just sit. Do you feel the air grow colder? That is Rogi and his summoning ritual. We have not much time.)

Akane let a tear flow from her eyes as she closed them.

(Feel it, Akane. Remember. Remember Ranma. Remember all he's done for you. Every moment you've known him... Remember.)

And she did. She remembered it all. From the very first day at the Dojo, to earlier in the current day. Every moment. Every instance. His first meeting with Kuno, forgotten. Their teaming up against the Golden Pair, forgotten. The Yamato no Orochi, forgotten. Saffron and the Phoenix... forgotten.

And the weight started to lift. Slowly, piece by piece, Akane's life was plucked from her. Ranma. Ryouga. Kuno. Shampoo. Mousse. Cologne. She felt as her own family faded from existence. Her sisters, her father... her mother.

Her friends from youth, from school. Her entire feeling of identity slipped through her fingers. And finally... she forgot the dreams. Everything.

Soon, all that was left was Akane. A dim shadow of what formerly remained.

(Good luck.)

Akane stood up and examined her hands. Yes, they were hers, but... where was she? How did she get there?

Slowly, she walked over to the doorway as it opened before her. Coming into a larger room full of crates and boxes, she saw three people. A strange man, a young woman-- wait. She recognized her... yes, it was Kodachi... but where did she know her from?

And finally, the third person. A young man. Akane stifled a short gasp as she stepped up to him and knelt.

"I am yours to command, Master Hikaru," she said, eyes closed.

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