~The Mystical Land of Athanasia~
Tesoro was as good as his word, as first light before mist cleared from the forest floor the trio set out for the Majestic Jet Forest. Each one refreshed and filled with a lot more energy. Ryoga however got so bad at wondering that Akane had to tie them together with a piece of rope that Tesoro had hanging from his belt loop.
As they walked away from the rising sun the trees began to grow thick and wild around them; soon they were walking single file through the dense foliage. The calls of early morning birds rang through their ears; silently they walked along respecting the birds' songs.
Akane couldn't believe what she was seeing; the forest was so lush and fertile. Looking hard into the trees she swore not a dead leaf hung from the thick branches. Early morning sunlight spilled through the leaves warming their backs and shoulders.
Trying to pay attention to everything at once Akane noticed a small black stone in the middle of the path they were walking on, if you could call it a path there was absolutely no sign that anyone had traveled it before. Akane stopped for a moment to inspect the stone while Ryoga who was looking at the sapphire sky didn't notice and ran right into Akane sending both tumbling to the ground.
"Oh sorry Akane I wasn't looking where I was going." Ryoga quickly apologized now lying on top of Akane.
"It's okay Ryoga I wasn't either." She said a little breathless. "But if you wouldn't mindcould you get off me I can hardly breath." Laughing a little as she said this last part Ryoga stood up his cheeks candy apple red.
"Hey what happened?" Tesoro asked looking back at them amused.
"Oh I was looking at this small rock in the road when Ryoga ran into me." Akane explained as she held the black stone out on her right hand. It was perfectly round and smooth as silk; it fit neatly into the palm of her hand.
Tesoro walked up to Akane examining the sphere shaped rock. "Humif memory serves me correctly I believe that is what is left when a fairy is born."
Akane looked up at him surprised. "A fairy?"
"Yes, when they are conceived they are wrapped in a sort of pouch that holds them until three months pass, after this time they emerge and the left over magic wraps around the pouch creating a circular stone-like appearance. It is called a Love Star. They are very rare and valuable, keep it, they also retain their magic. It could come in good use." Turning around Tesoro motioned for them to follow, "We need to keep our pace if we want to reach Majestic Jet before sunset."
Stuffing the Love Star in her pocket Akane turned to Ryoga who was looking deep into the forest. "Ryoga? You okay?"
"What?" He was lost in thought. "Oh ya Akane, I'm fine I just thoughtwellnever mind." He motioned toward an already leaving Tesoro. "We better keep up." Looking at Tesoro, Akane and Ryoga ran to catch up with him.
"I don't understand, why do we have to get there by sundown?" Ryoga asked.
"Because by sundown the Demons will roam, not even I will face the Demons if there is any way to avoid it." Akane looked quickly into the forest, her eyes filled with fear. How can something so beautiful holdDemons?
* * *
"Stupid Akane, wondering off with that pig-headed fool with no sense of direction!" Ranma muttered to himself as he pushed his way through the plush trees and wild bushes.
He'd walked through the night hopping to gain some miles on Akane and Ryoga. He'd picked up their trail just about ten hours ago and was having a tough time sticking to it; twice it had led him in a huge circle.
They couldn't have gotten too far, Ranma thought, but than again Ryoga had this strange way of clearing huge distances in a matter of days where it took people who knew where they were going weeks. Ranma stopped dead in his tracks, from a distance someone could actually see the light going on in his head.
"Is that it?" His face filled with triumph. "It is, all I have to do is walk like I have no where to go! No destination!" Ranma's fists flew to his hips, as he stood in a Super Man stance, "Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course! I'll find them in no time!"
Looking upumnow how do I get my mind off of getting to Akane? I got it I'll sing! As Ranma started walking a song emerged from his body, drifting up into the trees reaching the ears of hidden creatures.
He'd been walking along aimlessly for about eight hours it was then that Ranma thought he heard something attempting to sneak up behind him. Just keep walking like you don't notice, Ranma thought to himself.
Keeping his ears on alert his voice stayed strong keeping an off pitch tone the whole way. Suddenly it seemed as if the sound was all around him, how many are there, and what are they? Whispers light and airy crept from the treetops. Ranma strained to listen to the light talk.
"Where did he come from?"
"Who do you suppose his is?"
"Is he dangerous?"
"I say we kill him before he kills us."
At this last voice Ranma decided the voices were far from safe. They could easily be swayed from nice to murderous faster than a heart beat. Stopping in the middle of a clearing Ranma closed his eyes and sat down cross-legged in the ankle high grass.
"Oh, what is he doing now?"
"Ah, do you suppose he's meditating?"
"What if he's planning an attack on us?"
"I say we kill him before he kills us!" The voice said a little louder now.
Ranma now distinguished the gender of the voices they were all girls. What were girls doing way out here? Were they part of some kind of tribe? Could they be Amazons? A chill flew down Ranma's back, please don't let them be Amazons I've had enough of their crazy women! Thinking of the way Shampoo glomped on him every time she saw him.
"Should we advance?"
"But shouldn't we wait for the Empress?"
"Did he just shiver?"
"I say we kill him now before"
"He kills us!" The three other voices rang in unison.
"We get it Ani," The first voice said.
"Ah, but isn't he handsome!" The second voice whispered.
"And powerful! I can smell his power! It's wonderfully strong!"
"He's too dangerous for him to live! I still say we should kill him!" Ani said annoyingly.
"We will wait for the Empress, Dasa has the right idea." The first voice finalized the conversation. Ranma guessed the second voice he'd heard was Dasa.
"But he may leave before Empress Venus gets here, Thesa!" The third voice said worry caught between her words.
"Don't worry Amri, he won't be going anywhere if we have anything to do with it!" Ani said menacingly.
Slowly with out any quick movements Ranma got to his feet crouching a little he gazed up at the sky, well, might as well introduce myself! Then looking straight again he jumped into the air.
"Where did he go?" Thesa said amazed.
"Suppose he can fly!" Dasa added.
"He was human, humans can't fly stupid!" Amri scolded.
"He's going to kill us! I told you we should have killed him!" Ani pouted.
Then from behind them the air stirred quietly, "Hello ladies!" They all spun around at once dumbfounded. Ranma had landed on a tall branch, leaning coolly on it he stared at them. "So what's the idea spying on me like that?" None of the four girls before him could speak they were still awed at his ability to defy gravity.
Finally the oldest of the four stood up from her crouching position; "You have entered the Citonia Foothills stranger." Ranma recognized her voice as being Thesa. "Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Thesa Jupiter and these are my three sisters; Dasa, Amri, and Ani Jupiter. We are the keepers of the Constellations."
"Constellations? You mean like the actual stars, Constellations?" Ranma asked confused.
"Yes, the actual Constellations." Dasa answered as if he was stupid. Thesa shot her a look that said how dare you speak before me.
Ranma looked at each of them in turn they were all wearing the same kind of clothing. Each had their long blonde mid-back length hair down, around their foreheads were crown-like hoops that disappeared as soon as they touched their hair. There skin was cream colored and sparkly, their dresses were tight around their torsos and loosened as they came off their hips, they almost looked like bigger versions of Tinkerbell.
Thesa's dress was red, Dasa's dress was green, Amri's dress was blue, and Ani's dress was violet. On their feet were Greek looking sandals that laced up to just below their knees. They couldn't have been more than thirteen-years-old.
"It is customary to give your own name." Thesa said a little annoyed.
"Oh, gee, sorry. Name's Ranma Saotome of the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts." Ranma introduced his self. "What are the Citonia Foothills any way?"
"Ah, you are a strange traveler." Amri said. "Obviously you would know nothing of what the Citonia Foothills are. The whole land is called Athanasia, it borders Japan"
"And only Japan, Athanasia includes the Majestic Jet Forest" Dasa took over.
"The Venomous Abyss, the Citonia Foothills" Ani added.
"And the Sentinel Mountains." Thesa finished. "It is a hard land to find, not many survive long in its hostile interior." Finishing her sentence the four sisters suddenly looked up at the sky and dropped to one knee at the same time.
"Empress Venus, we honor your presence!" They all said at once. Ranma looked up and saw a beautiful woman descend from the heavens.
She was dressed like the Jupiter sisters but her crown was bigger and grander and her dress was gold colored, it wouldn't have surprised Ranma if it were actually made out of gold. Landing feather soft upon a near by branch she regarded Ranma curiously.
"Young man, have you no manors?" Ranma had no idea what to do. "When an Empress enters it is only customary that you bow before her." Bowing slightly Ranma felt something stab at his intuition. For some reason he suddenly didn't like being here. "That's better, now young man if you wouldn't mind following us to my palace. There is much to discuss."
"Don't take it personally but I'm kinda in a hurry. I have to find someone."
"Ah, a quest!" Her voice grew lighter and she smiled sweetly. "It's been ages since a knight traveled through our land."
"UmI'm not a knight." Ranma said scratching the back of his head.
"Not a knight?" The Empress shook her head, "That will not do! No ordinary person can venture out on a quest."
This is getting way too weird, this is worse than being back home where the only weird things I have to deal with is shape-changing people, four fiance's, being half-girl, and having to save stupid Akane from the thousands of guys that fall in love with her.
"Umwell I'd better get going if I'm gonnayou know find her." Ranma crouched to jump but the Empress cut him off.
"You are brave young man and I will over look the fact that you are not a knight. But if one is going to head out on a quest through Athanasia they cannot start out in the Citonia Foothills. Surly there is somewhere more perilous I can send you."
"Perilous?" For a minute Ranma didn't know what she was talking about. "Oh, perilousno thanks I'm doin' fine on my own!" I have to get out of here now! Before something bad happens, why is it that stupid tomboy always gets me in these situations?
"Don't be silly a quest must be filled with dangerous events, other wise they wouldn't call it a quest." Clapping her hands together once she turned toward the Jupiter sister.
"Do any of you have suggestions to where I could send this brave young man?" Her smile was sweet, but it was far from trusting.
"Empress I suggest you send him to the Venomous Abyss!" Ani said excitedly.
I should have known she'd send me to the place that sounds the most deadly, now it's gonna take forever to find Akane! Ranma thought.
"Wonderful suggestion Ani Jupiter! Hold on young man, your journey has just begun!" The Empress said cheerfully.
"Wait Empress, I" Ranma's whole body grew warm he started to feel as it he was being lifted off the tree branch. Closing his eyes his skin started to tingle as if there were hundreds of small bugs swarming him. I'm on fire! Ranma frantically thought, oh gods she set me on fire! I'm burning to death!
* * *
It was just before nightfall when Tesoro led Akane and Ryoga into the boarders of the Majestic Jet Forest. Dusk had settled itself over the land like a huge dark blanket filling in the shadows and spreading itself between the smallest crevices.
"Made it!" Relief showing clearly in Tesoro's voice. "I thought we'd never make it out of there." He finished looking back at the pair of worried eyes that shimmered brilliantly back at him. "You okay Akane? I didn't mean to worry you too much but there was cause for alarm."
"I'm better now but back in that forestwellnever mind, it was probably nothing." She dropped her gaze and shivered even though it was a warm night.
Noticing this Tesoro walked a few steps forward and laid his hands reassuringly on Akane's shoulders. "Its okay sometimes that forest can show us strange things."
Akane felt his breath on her forehead as he spoke to her, reassuring her everything was going to be okay. "Thank you Tesoro." Letting her go Tesoro noticed, as he looked over at Ryoga, that he'd suddenly became very downcast and depressed.
"Ryoga?" Ryoga didn't look up; he seemed lost in his own world. "Ryoga?" Tesoro said a little louder this time.
Slowly Ryoga looked up at worried Akane and a confused Tesoro. "Hum?" The moment between Akane and Tesoro had made his heart break into. "Oh so shouldn't we be going?" Adjusting his looks a little so they wouldn't ask questions Ryoga took off down the trail back into the woods.
Than grabbing his arm and turning him around to face the right direction Tesoro led them deeper into the Majestic Jet forest. They walked for about another fifteen minutes when millions of candlelit stone-looking structures came into view.
"Oh it's beautiful!" Akane exclaimed as she latched herself onto Ryoga's arm resurrecting his heart. "Oh look Ryoga who do you suppose lives there?" She was referring to the huge ice-blue colored castle in the center of town. From it sprouted the strange stone-looking buildings in a kind of web-like fashion in different shapes and sizes.
Around the entire Kingdom was a high wall the same ice-blue color as the castle itself. Watchtowers sprang from eight corners that would have made the wall look like a huge stop sign if seen from the air. Before them was a monstrous ironclad gate that towered triumphantly over them. Looking up the trio read the beautiful words that were engraved lovingly across the gate, they read Majestic Jet.
"I'm not sure Akane." Ryoga eyed the gates curiously.
Ryoga and Akane watched as Tesoro silently walked up to the gate and placed his right palm to the lock. Closing his eyes a strange blue glow emerged from under his palm, slowly a distant singing echoed through their ears.
Mystical and alien to Ryoga and Akane they couldn't help but close their eyes as well. When they music stopped they simultaneously opened their eyes, to notice that the gate now stood wide open.
"Come." Was all Tesoro said it was all he needed to say. They walked into the quiet streets, being neither greeted nor ignored. Making their way to the castle entrance they were watched closely by the towns people. Akane noticed that each of their eyes glowed with the same strange ice blue that the castle and wall were covered in. Why doesn't Tesoro's eyes glow like that? Akane wondered. Then as if a silent signal went off they heard the towns people whisper frantically in exclaimed voices.
"Outsiders, they could bring danger to Majestic Jet." An old man behind Akane whispered.
"Look, Tesoro leads them, all will be well." An old lady by his side said as she led him reluctantly into what looked to be their house.
"Tesoro's back!" A child pointed in their direction. "I will go inform the King!" Watching the child running off Akane hopped that the King would be as nice and accepting as Tesoro was.
"Daughter, daughter, Tesoro's back! Make your self known daughter!" A middle aged man yelled into his door. The middle aged man looked from his door to where Tesoro walked; the middle aged man advanced stopping Tesoro. "Guardian Tesoro, it has been long since you've entered the gates of Majestic Jet. How have you fared these last fifty years?"
"Greetings Jack, I must say these fifty years have been wonderful. Not a problem has arisen in the last three decades. How have you and your daughter been?" Akane couldn't believe what she was hearing, here before her was a man who was twenty at most, how old was Tesoro?
"Things could be better, you see the rains haven't been too frequent the last few months and the spare water supply is a little low nothing to worry about though. My daughter, Jilrayen is wellandahem, of courting age." At this a girl that looked as if she was Akane's age bounded out of the open doorway. Akane looked at Tesoro as the girl trotted up to him; disgust crossed his face for a shadow of a second.
"Oh Tesoro you have returned, unharmed as usual." Her high voice sounded like Shampoo's. "Do you like my new dress, I had it crafted only yesterday. How lucky that you have returned to see me wear it for the first time."
"It's beautiful Jill, but I'm afraid I must go to the castle. The King is no doubt awaiting my return himself. And as much as I'd love to stay here with you I can't keep the King waiting." Ignoring the look of pure unhidden disappointment that lingered on Jilrayen's face; Tesoro continued his walk to the castle's doors.
Once they were out of ear shot Akane caught Tesoro off guard. "Not that it's any of my business or anything but"
Tesoro suddenly turned quickly toward her. "It's not like I asked for her to follow me around where ever I go! I mean for the first forty years of our lives she and her father have been pestering me to marry her! And now that the King has given me the titles of Guardian and Keeper they're worse than ever!" Tesoro's face was red and his breathing was heavy.
"Sure she's pretty but I don't think any man alive wants a woman that will constantly cling to him and become his extra shadow! Plus she glomps constantly on me, bouncing up and down like she's trying to turn my head somehow! Show me a man that can take that kind of abuse for as long as I have and I'll marry her right here and now!"
Akane didn't know what to do, smoke seemed to be coming from his ears and his face was bright red. Her eye's wide and blinking every few seconds Akane watched his hands clench and unclench.
"I was um just gonna ask how old you were." Wow Ranma has nothing to complain about with Shampoo! Akane thought.
"Oh." Akane watched as all the tension, anger, frustration, and fight flooded out of Tesoro. "I just turned ninety-eight two months ago. Now, umthe Kings waiting." Tesoro's face still red, but with embarrassment turned to the castle.
Looking back at Ryoga, she saw the confusion and questioning clear on his face. Following Tesoro to the Castle Akane's head swam with thoughts. Hopefully the King sees how far we came and what we've been though to come here. Maybe he'll let us train here. But what if he doesn't like us and sends us away? Where will we go if he sends us out on our own? Then again where were we going before we ran into Tesoro, or rather the dragon.
Calm down Akane your making too big a deal out of this! Everything will be fine, I bet he lets us stay here as long as we want. He's probably a nice King, but then again he could be the kind of King that tortures people for fun!
Or what if he has a son! I don't think I can take another ordeal like with Kirin or Toma. What's with all these guys wanting to marry meand Ranma won't be here this time! He always says I'm UN-cute and a tomboy but if I'm so unwanted than why do so many guys want to marry me? Hu?
Akane was so into her thoughts that she didn't realize they were at the front door. Here goes everything, Akane thought, here goes everything.
* * *