Title: Complete the Seal
Complete the Seal
Ryoga laughed ruefully as he accepted another skewer from the townsman sitting next to him. He deflected the question of why he was in such a far-away place with ease of experience, “Well, that’s a long story now… Maybe later. But what about your town? Why was the giant so bent on tearing off your roofs?”
“Well, Laddie, that’s a story in itself. But since you’ve helped us out, it’s an appropriate one right now. It started like this…” The small group of townspeople leaned in to listen to the tale they’d heard many a time, as they ate their lunch.
Standing up and stretching, Ryoga hefted his pack absently as he turned to find the outhouse. The old lady of the village quickly scurried back to a corner, calling to him, “Wait a moment, Laddie.”
Ryoga blushed, not wanting to state so explicitly where he was going, “I’ll be right back.”
“Just in case,” the old lady brought a small sack over, handing it and a thermos to him, “I’d like you to have these. It won’t hurt anything to get them now.”
Blinking a few times, Ryoga looked at the old lady, who regarded him with sad, wise eyes. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to get lost just on the way to the outhouse! He accepted the sack with thanks and walked out the door.
Ryoga swore as he tripped over a tree branch. He looked around and noticed that the hill he was climbing was only sparsely treed, but had a lot of rocks and dirt. It didn’t look very well traveled. He sighed, “Where the hell am I now?” Thirty minutes ago he’d been in the town. Getting lost on the way to the outhouse for pity’s sake. I hadn’t even finished my lunch yet. And I liked those people. Ryoga started to look for landmarks that he could actually recognize (like Mt. Fuji) for curiosity’s sake if nothing else (he had nowhere to be in the next few days), but he paused as he noticed the silence in the air. It was after noon on a warm, sunny day. An area like the one he was in should have been full of small animal noises – the chirp of crickets, small birds, rodents. He couldn’t hear any of them. And it wasn’t his presence that was disturbing them – animals were used to him. Shifting the sack to his other hand, he drew out his umbrella with his right. Then he walked on.
Over the crest of the hill, it looked like a battlefield. The rocks had been thrown around with enough impact to raise small craters. Trees were knocked down. Dust was settling over everything. But there were no signs of life anywhere. He walked forward cautiously. Then he dropped the umbrella and ran forward, dropping to his knees beside a broken, bloody figure unmoving in a crater apparently made by his own impact.
“Ranma…” Ryoga ran his hands over and under the still figure, finding the worst hurts. Red, swollen skin spoke of a nasty impact to his head, and Ryoga worried about concussion and neck injuries; Ranma’s left arm was broken, and the right was burnt and blistering; but the worst injuries by far were the three deep slashes diagonally across his chest. They were bleeding with slow steadiness that told Ryoga that Ranma still lived. Otherwise, Ryoga might not have been sure. There was so much blood around that he couldn’t be sure how deep the wounds were, but he could see ribs in a few places. He didn’t hear any bubbling in the blood and no blood was coming out of Ranma’s mouth, so Ryoga thought that the lungs were intact. He had to stop the bleeding. Ryoga upended the sack the old lady had given him, planning to use it for a temporary bandage. To his surprise, rolls and wads of cloth bandages came out. Not questioning, he grabbed up the flattened wads that were the best length and pressed them down over the wounds. He held the pressure there with his hands as he tried to figure out what to do next. He didn’t want to move Ranma’s head or neck, but he had to get the bandages tied down somehow. Removing one hand, he took one of the rolls and made some body-sized loops, gathering it at the top. Moving as quick as he could, he removed his other hand and lifted Ranma’s legs, flipping the loops over and drawing them up under his waist. Gently but quickly maneuvering the loops up to his chest, Ryoga tightened them over the bandages, putting as much pressure as he could without interfering with Ranma’s breathing.
That much done, Ryoga quickly checked out the other slashes on Ranma’s legs. None were as bad, and he left them for the moment to concentrate on the broken arm. He winced at the sight of the bone protruding through. Gritting his teeth and looking at Ranma’s still, white face, Ryoga braced himself and tugged on the arm until it had straightened out. Usually it was best to leave broken limbs until a professional could get to it, but Ryoga wanted to deal with the bleeding around it since he didn’t know how close to a city they were. But Ranma needs help soon or he’ll die. Shoving the fear to the back of his mind, Ryoga quickly bound and splinted the arm. Then the burned arm… Ranma’s fist was clenched around something in his hand and Ryoga didn’t try to get it out. He poured the thermos of warm water on some clean clothes and wrapped them loosely around the arm, more to keep dirt and infection out than for anything else – burns were something Ryoga had little experience with.
Taking a deep breath, Ryoga settled back and thought about the problem of moving Ranma. He had to be moved. That was without question. There was obviously no one nearby, and Ryoga would have to carry him to the nearest help. No one friendly nearby… Who, what did this to Ranma? Again, Ryoga shoved the question away. Ranma needed his help now. Anything else could wait until he could get to it. Ranma had to be moved. Normally, Ryoga wouldn’t worry so much about spine and neck injuries, considering the beatings Ranma normally took in a standard sparring. But obviously Ranma’s remarkable healing ability wasn’t up to its normal par. Or he’s dying and there’s no point to his body healing itself. Ryoga shook his head, throwing the thought out. No! It’s just that there’s too much for him to heal all at once right now. He’ll be better, it’ll just take more time. He pawed through the bandaids and things in his pack until he had an improvised cervical collar around Ranma’s neck. He gently sponged off the ground-in dirt on the side of his face from the impact, checking the eyes to make sure they were okay. Ranma never moved or blinked or showed any signs of consciousness at all.
“Oh…” Ryoga coughed out the choking noise in his throat and blinked rapidly. Not yet. I can’t loose it yet. There’s too much to do still. Ryoga busied himself with bandaging the lesser wounds on Ranma’s legs. There were some gashes on the calves that he would have called nasty if it wasn’t for the ones on his chest. He might die. “Ranma…”
Ryoga jerked his hands back and looked wildly to Ranma’s face. Did I just hear…? Ranma’s face was still and white, his eyes shut. No, I guess—
That time, he saw Ranma’s lips moving. Ryoga scrambled up to sit beside his chest, “Ranma?”
Ranma’s right arm twitched towards Ryoga, who gently caught his hand – the only unburnt part of the arm. Ranma’s hand loosened around what he’d been holding and opened. Ryoga took the piece of paper and the locket on a necklace, not looking at them, but watching Ranma’s face.
“Ryoga,” Ranma’s eyes opened, but Ryoga had the horrible feeling that Ranma couldn’t see him, “Ryoga, complete the seal.” Ranma’s eyes closed and his hand went limp in Ryoga’s. “Ranma!” Ryoga leaned over him, searching desperately for a pulse or a breath or something that would let him know Ranma still lived. “Ranma!” Finally, he found a very, very faint pulse in the neck. He could barely feel it, but it was there. He sat back in partial relief, but knowing his time now was very short. Ryoga stared at Ranma in baffled concern. Then he slammed his fist onto the ground next to them, sending small boulders flying. “Damnit, Ranma! You’re the only person I keep finding often enough to be a friend. Don’t die. Don’t die like this. I never called you friend, but you’ve always treated me like one. I can always find you. Don’t go where I can’t find you.” Don’t die. Please.
Damnit. Ryoga got up and moved to one of the fallen trees. He brought his hand down upon it, splitting it down its length. He did this twice more until he had a nice plank to use as a brace. He brought it back and maneuvered Ranma onto it as straightly as he could, securing him with more ties. The plank was long enough for the head and back, leaving the legs loose. Ryoga picked Ranma up, his heart twisting at the unresponsiveness of his friend. I’m carrying a live person, I know I am. Then he started walking. “Akane. I’ve got to get Ranma to Akane.” She’ll know what to do. “Akane-san.”
Minutes went by and the hillside changed to a light forest. Ryoga noticed the trail he was following only when he was in front of the small cottage’s door. “This isn’t the Tendo house.”
“No, it’s my home. How badly is he hurt?”
Ryoga turned slightly to see a girl in a homespun tunic and skirt approaching him from the side. She was carrying a basket of plants. Ryoga blinked, but answered, “Bad. He’s got some gashes across his chest that go down to the ribs, and he was hit pretty hard on the head, looks like.”
The girl was now next to them both. She gently touched Ranma’s forehead, then jerked her hand away and stared at him with awe. “He was fighting something nasty. There’s a residue inhibiting the wounds. He needs a transfusion and suturing, but give me one minute to gather up some things that will clear up that residue. Otherwise, it’ll eat him until he’s dead.” She disappeared into the cottage while Ryoga stood there, shifting from foot to foot. I was trying to get to Akane’s – how’d I end up here? And where’s here anyhow? Nevermind…
In less than the requested minute, the girl was out, a knapsack slung over one shoulder, and a set of pouches around her waist. “Let’s go.”
Ryoga looked at her for a moment, then turned to go the other way down the lane. Akane. I have to get Ranma to Akane.
The next time Ryoga noticed his surroundings, he was in front of the Tendo home and Akane was dashing out at them, Ranma’s name a silent scream on her lips.
“Akane.” Her name, spoken with a familiar voice, but an unfamiliar firmness, brought Akane up short. Kasumi spoke again from the steps of the house, “Now is not the time for hysterics. Nabiki – go fetch Dr. Tofu. Tell him –” Breaking off, Kasumi looked to Ryoga, who opened his mouth to answer, then shut it when the girl next to him responded instead.
“Deep lacerations, transfusion, head trauma. And no hospital if we can help it.”
Kasumi nodded, and gestured to Nabiki, who took off at a run down the street. “Dad, Mr. Saotome, go prepare the side room. Akane, get the pot of water I have on the stove and a bowl about this big,” she indicated with her hands, “Ryoga, follow me.” The household split off, except for Akane, who stood for an unsure moment, her eyes on Ranma’s still form. “Akane-chan. Please do help,” Kasumi’s voice was her usual soft tones, and Akane jerked back to life and headed to the kitchen. Then Kasumi led Ryoga and the girl into the house.
“We can do the transfusion here, Mishake. Nabiki has the same blood type as Ranma.”
The girl next to Ryoga answered, “Good. Kasumi, there’s a yoma involved.”
Kasumi simply nodded, “Of course. Why else would you be here? Where’s Natharu-sama?”
“Back home gathering herbs. This person showed up on our doorstep and there wasn’t time to fetch her so I came instead.”
Standing beside an open screen, Kasumi waved them in, “Ryoga, put him on that table. Dad, please set up another one next to it for the transfusion. After that, could you and Mr. Saotome get the instrument packs out? I’ll sort them. Mishake, you came from the cottage?” The last question held indications of astonishment.
The girl nodded, “This man has a rather remarkable talent.” She sat down in a corner and started sorting out her pack into jars, flasks, and packages. Quickly, she’d isolated several parts, grinding the powders together in a pestle.
Kasumi turned to the instruments, unwrapping the packs and putting them on different movable stands. “Dad, Mr. Saotome, please go to the kitchen and start boiling more kettles of water. We’re going to need a lot.” Ryoga started to follow them, but Kasumi waved him back, “Stay, Ryoga. We need to know about Ranma. How long has it been? What sort of a demon was he fighting?”
Ryoga’s mouth dropped open, “Dem…”
Akane came into the room with the kettle and a bowl. Kasumi indicated that she should give them to Mishake, who used the water to mix her powders into a paste in the bowl. “Akane, get the cloth bandaids out of the third closet over there. Ryoga, just tell us what you do know.”
“Especially the time element,” Mishake added.
Ryoga shut his mouth, then started over, “It couldn’t have been very long after the fight that I found him. There was nobody else in sight, but the wounds were still bleeding fresh. Maybe five minutes or ten. It took me about a half-hour to patch him up basics, and I don’t know how long for us to get back here.”
“Good, less than an hour since the initial fight. It was less than five minutes from my cottage to here, and I’m betting that it was about the same for you to get to my place. Remarkable talent. Kasumi, the first stage is ready.”
Kasumi left off organizing the instruments and came over. “What do you want to start on first?”
Mishake approached Ranma, cradling her bowl delicately. “I can feel the arm from ten feet away. The yoma must have been direct on it, but it was somehow deflected from killing him, so it resorted to physical violence.”
Kasumi nodded, poking gently at the wrappings around the arm. “Akane, bring that wide bowl on your left – that one – and bring it and the rest of the water over here.” She added, “Good job on patching him up, Ryoga.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Ryoga dismissed the praise – it was what he could do that mattered.
“Go get cleaned up, and come back here – we’re going to need your help.”
Ryoga looked down at the blood covering his tunic, arms, and hands, and nodded. He turned to go, but Mishake called him back, “Wait, …Ryoga?”
“Was he conscious at any time since you found him?”
Ryoga winced slightly, recalling the horrible empty pit of feeling when Ranma’s hand went limp in his own. “Yes. Near to the end—” bad wording, “He recognized me and gave me something.”
“Oh, that’s good news,” Kasumi’s voice was relieved.
Mishake’s voice sharpened, “What did he give you, and what did he say? Exact wording, please.”
“Uh,” Ryoga fished around in his pockets until he found the paper and locket. He started to hand them to Mishake, but she raised her hands to indicate not to touch her until he’d cleaned up. She gestured towards a platform and he put them down on that. “He said to finish his task… Ahh, let’s see… I think, ‘complete the mark’.” Mishake and Kasumi looked at each other and Kasumi shrugged, directing Akane in an aside to put the bowl of warm water down where she could soak the arm, getting the cloths off of it. Mishake asked Ryoga to open up the piece of paper and show it to her. He did so, and both Kasumi and Mishake stopped what they were doing to stare at it. Neither Ryoga nor Akane recognized the symbols on the paper, but Mishake gave a low whistle and Kasumi spoke in a low voice, “Oh dear.”
Mishake shook her head, “That’s a high-level seal. Only a few people could make one of those, and the yoma they’re suppose to contain…”
“Seal! That was it. He said to complete the seal.”
“It’s still loose?” Mishake paused, about to wipe the paste salve she’d made over Ranma’s arm. Her face turned pale.
“Oh dear,” Kasumi’s voice didn’t change from her normal soft tones, but somehow the simple statement sounded much more dramatic. “Ryoga, please go clean up and hurry back.”
Nabiki picked up the phone, turning her head to say to her sister, “I’ll come in a sec. Dr. Tofu will need to do prep before we can start the transfusion.” Quickly, she dialed a number, tapping her foot until the other line picked up, “Come to our house now. Bring Grandpapa’s sword.” A voice loudly squawked on the other end, but she didn’t react, “What part of ‘now’ didn’t you understand, Tatawaki?” She hung up and dialed again, “Shampoo, it’s Nabiki. It’s an emergency. Get Mousse and come to our house. Your Grandmother and Happi have already left.”
“What?” Akane, prohibited from the sick room, hovered anxiously.
Another number was being dialed, but Nabiki had a moment to talk as she entered a pager number. “Happi took off an hour ago – right in the middle of ironing his favorite panties. I saw him meet Cologne outside and they both headed into the mountains as if a pack of hyenas was after them. Considering what Kasumi told me just now, it had to have been Ranma they were reacting to.”
“Oh. But why didn’t they take us? We could have helped. We’re Martial Artists too.”
Nabiki’s brown eyes shaded as she looked away from her sister, “Ukyo? We’ve got a situation here, and we need your help. Come to our house with your weapons.” She hung up the phone, then stood for a moment, tapping her foot. “That’s all I can think of right now. Look, Akane, let Ryoga lead since he’s already been there and can cut the travel time, but if he’s thinking too much of you or Ranma, he’ll never make it. Let Shampoo handle him, and don’t you think too hard about Ranma either. You three are connected, and Ryoga will lead you in circles if that happens.”
“Nabiki.” Kasumi poked her head out of the room. “We’re ready now.”
Nabiki hugged her sister in a rare display of affection, “Onii-chan – take care of yourself and don’t do anything rash.” She left and disappeared through the screen that Akane couldn’t go through. Akane bit her lip, “But how can I not think of Ranma?”
“Come on, slow-poke!” Happi jumped to another tree before turning to glare behind him.
Cologne glared back, “We won’t be of any use if we’re exhausted when we get there! You’re using valuable strength, Happi.” They both continued forward, slightly faster than they had been going.
“So you’ve already given up on Ranma?” Happosai mocked, his eyes dark.
“I don’t give up until the battle is won. But even though the yoma has left for the moment, it’ll be back when we show up – bet on it.”
“I can feel Ranma’s strength draining. We have to get to him soon.” Happi surged forward, “And we’re still miles away.”
Cologne hopped to match his speed, “What was Ranma doing out there anyhow?”
“I sent him on a training exercise – but that certainly wasn’t it! The site I sent him to was on Mt. Yugi.”
“It appears as if we’re heading towards Mt. Shiaki.”
They continued, as they had been for the last half hour, since they’d both felt the pain and wounding of their student. They had only the link to follow, but there was no mistaking the evil influence that seeped through the injuries. Neither questioned – they simply followed.
Until Cologne stopped. “Happi.”
Happosai turned back, “I feel it. Or rather, I don’t anymore. What happened?”
Cologne looked around, her eyes closed. She lifted her staff and concentrated, “He’s been moved. But not through normal space. I’d say…” she opened her eyes, “that way.”
“Very faint. A long ways.” Hesitating, Happi pulled out his pipe, tapping the stem on his teeth. “Do we follow him, or the original trace?”
“The original trace.” Cologne started forward again, “Ranma could not have won that battle, and there is still a yoma loose. I have other students to protect.”
“Ah yes, your lovely great-granddaughter.” Happosai looked out over the valley floor. “But how was… It’s gone again.”
Cologne let out a hiss of frustration. “Come on, Happi! We can figure it out later.”
They walked together for several more minutes before they both stopped in unison, looking behind them.
“He’s at home, now.” Happi scratched his head, “Well, if it isn’t the damnedest thing…”
“It had to have been Ryoga. The boy is finally learning to use his skill instead of letting it use him.”
“You could be right. But that means we definitely continue on.”
Cologne nodded her agreement, “Those young fools will be following shortly, and however talented they are, they can’t face a yoma of this strength.”
They hurried on, their auras flowing around them, propelling them forward to battle.
Mishake came out of the room shaking her head. Ryoga followed her, but his head was turned to look back.
Akane just about pounced on them, “What’s wrong?”
“Those two idiots sneaked out without Kasumi or I noticing,” Mishake was frowning. “They can’t possibly do it on their own, and especially not without the Seal!”
Akane blinked, looking at the screen. Then she turned her gaze on Ryoga, silently asking for clarification.
“Your dad and Mr. Saotome,” Ryoga expanded, “Dr. Tofu was going to have them help and that’s when Kasumi realized they’d gone.”
“Oh,” Akane looked at the screen, “Help with what?”
Ryoga sighed as he watched her. He knew her feelings very well – he wanted to be in there too, helping… doing something… His friend was hurt bad and Ryoga couldn’t do anything about it. My friend… it was an odd thought. But true. As true as Akane’s hurt. “Ranma’s tough, Akane-san.” It was all he had to offer.
Akane looked at him, her eyes moistening.
It was only another step… Ryoga took it and held her close, bowing his head over hers, “It’ll be all right, Akane-san. It will.”
Mishake tapped her foot impatiently, but didn’t interfere.
On the other hand, Kuno did.
“Unhand her, you brute!” A sword whistled through the air – cleaving only air as Ryoga and Akane jumped back.
Before Ryoga could get his umbrella out, Akane had plastered Kuno with a punch to the jaw, laying him out on the floor. She shook her hand, “That felt better.”
Mishake knelt down and examined the sword, “Oh, now this is interesting.”
Shampoo walked in, “Nii hao! What the emergency be?” She glanced around and her eyes narrowed, “Where’s Ranma?” Suddenly, her command of Japanese was much better than normal.
Akane burst into tears. Ryoga sighed. Mishake uncorked a vial and held it under Kuno’s nose. Shampoo looked around and then went over and hugged Akane, “It be okay, Akane-chan. Ranma still be alive, no?” She waited for Akane’s nod, “Then he get well. That be all there be.”
“She’s right,” Mishake put in, backing away from Kuno as he coughed and sat up, “Now that the residue is gone, it’s just normal healing – and between Dr. Tofu and Kasumi-sama, Ranma will be up in no time.” She glanced at Ryoga, “And speaking of time…”
Ryoga looked down at the locket in his hand, “We need to get back there.”
“Where’s there?” Ukyo stood in the doorway, breathing hard as sweat dripped down her face. She responded to Shampoo’s questioning look with a shrug, “I was shopping in the 5th District when I got Nabiki’s page.”
Everybody but Ryoga was amazed at how fast she’d gotten there. Ryoga just frowned, trying to figure out where that was in relation to where they were…
“Never mind, Ryoga-honey. What’s up?” She glanced around, “and where’s Ran-chan?”
Mishake tapped her foot again, “If this is your cadre of warriors we’d best get going – explanations can be on the way.”
“We’re missing…” Ryoga glanced around, “Shampoo – where’s Mousse?”
Shampoo blinked. And looked around, obviously baffled. Akane sniffled and then moved out of Shampoo’s embrace, “He went in to the… where…”
Mousse came out from the room where the transfusion was taking place, “Sorry – I had to check with Kasumi-sama on something.”
Mishake’s eyes narrowed and she backed up a step, her hands raising slightly in warding.
Looking at her with grim amusement, Mousse remarked, “It’s okay, I’m tame. Or at least under control as long as I’m with Shampoo.”
Everybody else took a half-step away from Shampoo, expecting to see her react in her usual manner to the remark. Instead, Shampoo was watching the strange girl, “Who are you?” Again, her Japanese was remarkably fluent.
Ryoga moved to Mishake’s side, slightly in front of her, going into guard position, “Leave her be, Shampoo – she saved Ranma’s life.”
“Shampoo no attack Healer-Priest. Shampoo just ask for Name.”
“Mishake. Now can we go?”
Ryoga blinked as he looked back at the youth beside him. Healer… what? But he shoved his questions under and clenched the locket. He tried to remember the broken landscape… and the broken body in the hole, bleeding--
“Stop that!” Shampoo twacked him on the head. “Come. We start walking. Then you concentrate on Way.”
Akane blinked at the manner in which the Amazon simply took command of the group without even seeming to. Nabiki said to leave everything to her… And not to think of Ranma. As Ryoga had just been doing. Akane glanced once at the closed screen and then followed the others.
Unfinished. End for now.