~Tesoro the Dragon Slayer~
"Wait Akane, wait for me!" Ranma was running through a dark tangled mass that was supposed to be a forest. His traditional Chinese clothes were badly torn and stained, likewise Ranma was a mess as well. His hair looked as if he had just gotten up from bed and his pigtail was a mess of strays.
Why can't I reach her? Where did she run off to? Pushing himself through the maze of creepers and dead tree limbs Ranma began to loose all hope that he would never find her. "Akane! Where are you Akane?" As Ranma ran deeper and deeper into the forest he could hear menacing taunts being whispered around his ears.
"You'll never find her." The wind said, "She's lost to you forever, why not give up and go home foolish boy?"
"Ya right I've saved Akane too many times to be givin' up now!" Ranma screamed back at the wind.
"You may have saved her all those times but you know who she really wanted to be saved by." The wind blew strongly through his head and he couldn't block it out. "RyogaRyogaRyoga."
"No I refuse to believe that! She only thinks of him as a friend! I would have known if she liked Ryoga better thanthanme!" Ranma finally said it; deep down he knew she liked him better.
"Foolish boy, let me show you how faithful your fiance is." The wind's words died away. Then a circle of fog swarmed around Ranma's tired, beaten body forcing him to stop. Swirling in front of him, Ranma started to make out images in the fog and then sounds started to emerge as well.
"Oh Ryoga I'm so glad we got rid of Ranma, what a pathetic looser he is." Akane's sweet tender voice rose out of the mist. "How could he think I'd be in love with a half-girl freak like him? When it's you I really love." Ranma could see Akane jump into Ryoga's arms, kissing him lightly on the lips and giggling tenderly.
Ranma couldn't look anymore but shutting his eyes didn't help and he could still see the two of them locked in each other's embrace. Dread, denial, and defiance sprang up from the bubbling blister that was now his heart. How could she hurt him so badly? Screaming he ran off blindly into the abyss that was his broken soul.
* * *
"Ranma, Ranma wake up! Please wake up!" It was Kasumi, and she was shaking him violently. Ranma's eyes flew open as his salty tears drying mockingly to his flushing cheeks. Breathing hard, almost gasping Ranma realized that he was bathed in sweat.
Rubbing his forehead he sighed relieved, "Only a dream that's all it was." Looking over his shoulder he saw a worried Kasumi.
"Oh dear," She raised one delicate had to her cheek. "Ranma are you okay, I've been trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes." Then looking at the doorway he saw his father, Mr. Tendo, and Nabiki huddled together, their faces unreadable.
"You okay boy?" His father asked.
"Ya pops, it was just a nightmare, I can't even really remember it now." Ranma lied.
"Well you may and you may not, but we on the other hand do." Nabiki said coolly. Ranma looked at her confused, sighing Nabiki tilted her head slightly and gazed at Ranma, "You were screaming out your dream the whole time." Pausing for this to sink in she added, "So Ranma, are you just going to stay there or are you going to go after my sister? I don't have to tell you what this is going to do to your love life." At this Ranma jumped up knowing that he only had so long before Ukyo and Shampoo found out what happened with Akane.
"That's the spirit m'boy!" Genma said happily. "Here I've already packed your backpack!" Flinging the bag in Ranma's direction he turned to go downstairs. "Now if you don't mind lunch is waiting." Ranma looked at the backpack lying in his hands, but she doesn't want me to come after her. He silently thought to himself.
* * *
They had only been going for about eight hours and Akane had no idea where on earth they were. They hadn't really talked much and he'd lost his cheerfulness somewhere before they'd left Nerima. Akane turned her head in his direction smiling sweetly she said, "What a good friend you are, I'm so glad you decided to take me with you Ryoga."
Ryoga looked up stunned that she was still with him, he thought his sense of direction would loose her by now. "Wow I've never stayed this long with someone while traveling. Usually I head off in the opposite direction unless I'm connected to them somehow!"
"There was a couple of times you went off but I just followed you." She smiled pure sunshine then looked ahead at the mountainous trees before them.
Her smile cut through his heart, gods she's beautiful! But I won't tell her yet, she still thinks only friendship is possible between us, there's loads of time for her to see how much I really love her.
"Still I do feel bad about not telling my family, just leaving them a note seems so cold. But they'd never understand and would find a way to make me stay. They'd say; 'but Ranma has that area covered just be his wife and everything will be fine.'" Her face twisted in to a scowl.
"Ya just be his wife, without martial arts I can't defend myself against his other three fiance's, I can't save myself, and I can't get better because that jerk won't spar with me!" Anger seeped from Akane like blood from an open wound. She stopped beside a towering tree; Ryoga just stood back already knowing what would happen.
As her piercing eyes stared through the tree Akane growled deep in her throat, "Oh Ranma youJERK!" Her hand slashed out at the tree, punching it with all her anger. A cracking sound started to grow from where Akane had struck the tree, then her eyes grew big as saucers as the tree snapped in half and fell on the forest floor. "II haven't done something like that sense I first found out Ranma and I were engaged."
Ryoga just stood there stunned and wide eyed, wow given enough time and she might be able to do the breaking point. Hell, given enough time and practice she could take on Shampoo and Ukyo at the same time and win easily. She just needs to learn how to direct her anger to her fighting and think before she acts, this could be easier than I thought. But we'll have to get outside help; I can't do this alone. I wonder where we should go? "Akane? You okay?"
"Ya I just umlets keep going. We still have a long way to go before dark, right?" She said, her cheeks growing crimson.
"We'll walk for a little while longer then set up camp and have our first training session okay?" Ryoga was now ecstatic of teaching Akane. Even though he loved her he wouldn't let that get in the way of her training he would be strict and wouldn't pull back his punches as much as he'd like to.
They walked for a while into the setting sun and then walked a little to the north, turning around somehow they began walking South. It was too much for Akane to keep track so she followed Ryoga's sense of direction and tried to concentrate on centering herself, like Master Hopposi had told Ranma so many times before.
Even though Akane wasn't getting the training there wasn't any reason why she couldn't learn from Ranma's. Suddenly she heard a sharp twig break about thirteen yards behind her, twirling around she quieted her breathing and closed her eyes. Many times the little pervert had told Ranma that by closing off one of his senses he could magnify another of his choice until he could command them all by will. Since Akane couldn't control them individually yet she shut her eyes, it was hearing that Akane was trying to heighten, succeeding she started to yell at Ryoga who hadn't realized she'd stopped.
"Ryoga wait a sec!" Akane yelled after him. Stopping, Ryoga came back.
"What is it Akane?" Then he heard it too something was following them.
* * *
Its teeth were sharp daggers cutting through the late setting sun. Its glazed black eyes seeking out the life-fires of living creatures, creatures that had invaded its forest its home, they would soon pay the price for such an incompetent blunder.
Slithering along on its fowl belly scraping away loose scales on sharp rocks, saving its otherwise useless legs for the kill. Wings, monstrous and blood colored were folded tightly to its strongly muscled body. Drifting in and out of shadows it crept along closing in on its two pathetic mortal victims.
A grin swept across its horrid face, how long it has been sense someone was foolish enough to even think about stepping into my frightful forest. I will make them die slow and painfully, savoring the flavor of fear that leaks from every poor in their bodies. Drool started to form around the sides of its wide mouth.
Ah the girl, yes he could feel it the girl was the strongest but strangely she didn't know it yet. Her power was sporadic and bounced around in colorful rays of ocean blue. I could feed off her power for two centuries if I wished. Moving a little faster now the life-fires of the two human beings glowing like fireflies through the regular darkness that was its life. Unexpectedly the blue that was jumping playfully in and out of the girl's life-fire grew and centered itself on her head.
Perhaps she did know inadvertently how to focus her immense power to some degree; she was listening to it for it. The boy's life-fire then started to grow with a visibly weaker green glow. Although immensely powerful for a human it could not compare to what she could reach also he had his power more focused and under control.
No problem, they were still too weak for its ancient and magical powers. They would just be more of a challenge as long as none of those would-be dragon slayers interfered. They always had a knack of showing up just at the right time. Causing it to feed off the ancient reserves that it held in its belly. Testing the air and the earth around it, it could feel none approaching, finally for the first time in six centuries it would feed and it would feed well. It heard them speak through its sharp pointed ears.
"Ryoga what is it?" Akane whispered as silently as she could.
"I'm not sure." He said in a whisper just a tenth louder than hers.
For no reason at all Akane shivered, her skin covered with goose bumps. "Ryoga I think we should get out of this forest, now!" Akane reached out her hand and grasped Ryoga's shoulder.
Nodding in her direction Ryoga whispered, "Ya I think that's a good idea." Pushing her gently in front of him Ryoga could feel what ever it was gaining on them. "Run Akane! Now!" Simultaneously breaking into a sprint they took off into the ever-darkening trees.
Its grin grew wider as it took off at a medium pace slithering through the trees, ah a chase how entertaining this is going to be more fun than I imagined. Look at them, so small and yet they all have an illusion of grandeur. Thinking they're at the top of the scale, I have been alive for thousands of milleniums they have no idea the things I've seen. But enough play, I hunger for sustenance and my meal is waiting.
It was then that they saw what was hunting them, its huge body rose out of the trees, wings flapping its gigantic head aimed toward the sun. Talons as big as elephant tusks pulsated on scaly feet.
"Oh m'gosh it'sit's. it's a dragon!" Akane yelled out. She was frozen to the spot, her heart quick with fear. Staring up at the sky watching the whole display with awe and terror she was finally able to let out a small gasp. The dragon looked down at its prey watching them with unblinking eyes, then it spoke.
"My name is Euro the Dark Dragon of the Citonia Foothills. You have invaded my territory and for that you must now die." His voice that trembled the treetops did not send Ryoga and Akane running as he had planned.
Instead they moved a little closer to the ancient beast. Akane turned to face Ryoga.
"What do we do?"
"We stand and fight, consider this your first lesson Akane, it is a fight for survival." Ryoga said as he crouched into fighting position. Akane had never seen Ryoga like this, he looked like a different person but just the same Akane copied his example and crouched down into her own stance. Bring it on Euro, Akane thought.
Euro saw and understood what it was they were doing; they were challenging it on its own ground! How uncouth of these mere mortal beings to challenge a creature as old as itself. "You know not the powers with which you deal! I could crush you with a thought!" Euro's powerful voice flooded their eardrums. "Spare you and your race the embarrassment, you can not beat me! No one in the history of this pathetic planet has ever killed an immortal!"
"Not so fast Euro!" A different voice flew from behind the great beast. "I think you've got your history a little backward there. I seem to recall killing a lot of your kin. Saur, your older brother can vouch for that." The unknown person rose from the darkness from which he had been hiding. "You know the greatest power this overgrown lizard has is striking the feeling of failure into unsuspecting hearts with enormous lies!"
"Tesoro!" Euro hissed, "You and yours are getting better, I did not sense your presence a moment ago!"
"Awe Euro you're too kind, now if you wish to stay immortal then I suggest you leave. Or your fate will be worse than your brother's I promise you that!" Pointing what looked like a harmless bow and arrow at the ancient dragon, Ryoga and Akane watched as Tesoro and Euro stared each other down.
Growling Euro flicked his spiked leathery tongue. "This match belongs to you Tesoro but be warned my brothers death will be avenged!" With this he flew back into the trees disappearing in the darkness.
Releasing the tight hold he had on the bow Tesoro approached the man and woman that were still in fighting stances. "You two would take on a dragon? Brave indeed, stupid but brave." Tesoro bowed gracefully and as he came back up he seemed to be able to look into both their eyes at once. "Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Tesoro, guardian and keeper of the Majestic Jet Forest. Please you need not be afraid I will not harm you. Who are you strange travelers?" Tension fading Ryoga and Akane began to relax out of their stances.
"My name is Akane Tendo." Akane said breaking the silence.
"I am Ryoga Hibiki. Were from Nerima in Japan." At the word Japan recognition and surprise filled Tesoro's eyes.
"Japan?" Tesoro came closer to the two. "You are a long way from home, what brings you to this hostile place?"
It was Ryoga that answered his question, "A training journey, Akane wishes to better herself in Martial Arts." A smile crept across Tesoro's face.
"Than you have come to the right place. The Majestic Jet Forest is a place to find solitude, power, wisdom, and skill. You have already proven your worth by facing one of the oldest creatures in existence. Let me be the first to welcome you." Strapping the bow on his back and extending his hand he added, "Follow me I will show you a safe place to sleep for the night. We will head out at day break." Ryoga and Akane accepted his gesture then followed their new companion into a grove about an hour's walk away, by the time they arrived, all were tired and hungry.
"My new friends, allow me to make tonight's meal." Akane sighed with relief; at least she didn't have to cook. As Tesoro began cooking Akane saw foods she'd never laid eyes on before, but the smell was too good for her to care.
"So Tesoro where exactly are we?" Her eyes danced with the firelight.
"At the moment we are in an unknown region of the world. This land borders Japan as a matter of fact. Not many people ever venture over here, and the ones that do rarely live long enough to see the whole land." Tesoro was busily working with his hands.
Tesoro, she noticed had a strange look about him. His hair was a golden brown and lay in long unbound strands around his shoulders; tiny braids emerged from various places across his head. His eyes were the strangest brightest color of green she'd ever seen and his jaw was strong and square. The clothes he wore were warrior like. His shirt was plane, white and sleeveless. From his wrists to his elbows he wore armbands that laced in and out of themselves. Upon the bands lay intricate designs that were engraved with the utmost care. His pants were jet black and looked remarkably similar to Ranma's.
"How can no one know about this place?" Akane asked.
"Millions of years ago my ancestors placed a very strong spell on the whole of the land making it not visible from air, undetectable by people who wish to destroy it, and poisonous to those who gain only by the downfall of other species." He looked up into her eyes, "My ancestors feared they would loose their way of life. You see you can only come upon this land if you stumble upon it. There is no other way, if you seek it out it will elude you of its own free will."
"Its own free will? But that's crazy how can a land have free will?" Ryoga asked.
"It is a magical land that surrounds you, most things created in magic or that just are magic have free will. I'm sorry if I can't explain it any better, some things are best left figured out." Breaking eye contact he brought his concentration back to the food. "There, done!" Before them lay a colorful arrangement of odd looking objects. "I know it looks weird but trust me it tastes wonderful."
After a great dinner the three travelers made their beds upon the ground and gazed up at the night sky. Akane, looking up at the alien stars focused her attention back home.
I wonder what everyone is doing right now; Ranma's probably making a pig out of himself while Happosai is taunting him. Dad and Mr. Soatome are probably playing a good game of Shoji while Kasumi folds the laundry and Nabiki watches her soap operas. Smiling to herself she thought about what she was doing, almost completely on my own for once in my life. As I am trying to better myself and thankfully not having to conform to my family's wishes.
Then frowning a little she remembered today's events, that dragon huge and horrible almost had their lives. How brave Ryoga had been and how amazing that he actually included her on the would-be fight, Ranma would never had done that.
It was a little embarrassing that no one thought she could handle some things herself. True she couldn't handle everything but it would be nice to be thought of as more than just Ranma's fiance. For once in her life someone thought she could handle a fight, and a dragon no less!
Sighing she snuggled deeper into her blankets a smile hanging prettily on her face. Finally she would be her own person and instead of being part of someone else's adventure she was living her own.
Opening her eyes she looked over at the already sleeping Tesoro, where had he come from? It was like he was made of shadows. He sure is handsome and brave; I wonder how long he's been hunting dragons?
Dragons, even the thought of the word sent shivers scurrying down Akane's spine. She always thought of dragons as a fairy tale, an elaborate myth that some one had made up long ago to keep children from wondering too far from home.
Coming face to face with one had changed her mind in an instant.
She remembered seeing the drool that dripped slowly from the sides of its huge monstrous mouth. It wanted to eat them. If Tesoro hadn't come along it most surely would have. Of course they would have put up a fight but neither she nor Ryoga had ever faced a dragon before, she was sure the outcome would have been grisly.
With that Akane's eyes grew heavy and she began to drift off to sleep, thinking over and over again what an exciting day it was. Slipping deeper and deeper into unconsciousness she began to dream. She dreamt of Kings and Queens, Lords and Ladies, Knights and Dragons, and than she dreamt of Ranma. Swirling in a dance of reds and blacks she lost track of him, running to where he danced before she hugged herself, letting herself be comforted by his quickly disappearing warmth.
How she would have loved to dance with Ranma, quickly she was thrust into another room of her unconsciousness. In here an indescribable creature lingered, waiting for her to come. Anticipating her arrival with orange glowing eyes.
* * *