|Divided I Stand|
|Based on the characters, settings and situations created by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of manga. They are here used without permission.|
Typhoon Akane did, as do all such storms, eventually tire and go away, leaving heaps of wreckage and raging torrents of water behind her. The streets, much like a martial artist's life, were fraught with unforeseeable perils, not the least of which was downed power lines. Even worse were some of the teetering stacks of debris filling many of the streets.
"Ya, know, this wreckage looks kinda familiar."
"Oh, yeah? How so? Ya mean like the kitchen after one of Akane's meals?"
"No, more like the house after we didn't eat one of 'em."
"Yeah and then she caught us eatin' one a Shampoo's."
"Gonna hafta make sure she never takes up barbeque. We wanta make sure this never happens again."
"Ya got that right!"
Night had fallen by the time Ranma and Ranko finally reached Tendo-ke. Much to their surprise, members of the Tendo clan were overjoyed to see them, if a bit puzzled.
It was Nabiki who saw them first. They met her at the gate. She had a five-kilo sack of rice on her shoulder.
"Don't worry about your dad, Ranma," Nabiki said. "I already know where he is. Somebody found him and hauled him off to the zoo. The radio said he's in the veterinary clinic there and they expect him to recover."
"How do you know it's Pop?" Ranma asked.
"How many pandas would be wondering around in Tokyo during a typhoon?"
"Good point," Ranma replied.
"What's this all about, Saotome?" Nabiki asked, pointing to Ranko.
"I'm Ranma Saotome," Ranko said, fiddling nervously with the end of her pigtail and looking rather embarrassed. "Sorry about this."
Nabiki's normally cool exterior cracked and fell completely away as she looked at Ranma and Ranko in turn, realizing that they were wearing bandages in the exact same places. She closed her eyes for a moment and shuddered.
"Does either one of you change now, or are you both stuck?" Nabiki asked in a resigned voice.
"We're stuck," Ranma and Ranko chorused.
"Which one of you is the real Ranma?" Nabiki asked.
"As far as we can tell ..." Ranma said.
"We both are," Ranko said.
"We both remember all the same things," Ranma said.
"But my memories feel different," Ranko added.
Nabiki put a hand to her forehead and said, "Oh, my."
"Everybody here okay?" Ranma asked.
Nabiki removed her hand and looked Ranma in the eye as she answered, "Yeah, our house held up pretty good, but as you can see, some of the neighbors didn't do so well. Kasumi's running a kind of temporary shelter for the elderly out of the dojo. I guess all that repair work you and Akane made necessary paid off, Saotome. We didn't lose so much as a shingle during the storm."
"Lot's of added bracing, huh?" Ranma asked.
"Something like that," Nabiki said. "Dad and Akane are out helping the neighbors, but I think you two had better go find places to sleep. You look terrible."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Nabiki!" Ranma said sounding irritated.
"I'm serious, Saotome," Nabiki said, in her best business voice. "There'll be plenty to do tomorrow and we'll need your strength."
"She's right, you know, Ranma," Ranko said.
"I'm always right!" Nabiki said looking smug. "You can have my bed if no one is in it, uh, what do you want us to call you for the time being?"
The red headed girl shrugged her shoulders and said, "I guess I had better go by Ranko for the time being. It'll cut down on the confusion."
"I knew you would be practical," Nabiki said. "That's something your male half hasn't learned how to do yet."
"Hey! I can be practical!" Ranma exclaimed.
"Good!" Nabiki said with a victorious smirk. "That means you'll be a good boy and go get some rest, right?"
Ranma opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Ranko joined Nabiki in smirking at him.
"Tell you what, Saotome," Nabiki said brightly. "If you promise me that you'll go get some rest, I'll let you carry this bag in for me."
Ranma rolled his eyes to the heavens, but he took the sack. The three of them made their way inside Tendo-ke. Ranma suddenly understood why Nabiki said that Ranko could have her bed if no one was already in it. They had to tiptoe around exhausted refugees lying all about the place. There wasn't any power and there was only one lantern going, so it proved to be a tricky business. Ranma made his way into the kitchen and set the sack of rice down on the counter. There was a large stockpot on the stove. The lid was rattling so Ranma turned the burner down a little then raised the lid to see what was inside. Unsurprisingly, it was full of rice.
"So, how are you feeling, Saotome?" Nabiki asked as she walked into the kitchen. "Any permanent harm done?"
"Other than this deal with my curse? Nothin' that I know about," Ranma answered. "Tofu said me and Ranko would heal up from the bumpin' around we got in a week or so. Was your bed empty?"
"I nestled your girl half in with about three toddlers," Nabiki said. "She went right to sleep. I think you and I will have to pitch tents out on the front lawn. All the floor space is taken in the house."
"What about Kasumi?" Ranma asked. "Should I pitch one for her too?"
"No, she and your mom are taking turns out in the dojo," Nabiki said. "Better pitch a couple for Dad and Akane though."
"Who's been doin' the cookin'?"
"I have," Nabiki said, "but don't you dare tell anyone."
"I didn't think you knew how!"
"Rice and instant miso are about all I can handle," Nabiki said with a wry grin. "Beyond that, I turn into Akane the Destroyer."
Ranma gave Nabiki a grin and said, "I'll go take care of the tents. You got a sleepin' bag somewhere?"
"It's in my room," Nabiki answered. "I'll bring it down myself later."
Ranma Saotome had pitched tents a countless number of times during his young life, but by the time he had finished digging out the combined camping gear of the Tendo and Saotome clans he was tired. They had two older tents that would sleep four, then four smaller tents intended for one or two people. Ranma pitched them all, deciding that if they were not needed immediately, someone would need a place to sleep by the next nightfall. He was still trying to tighten the last rope on one of the smaller tents when Soun and Akane came stumping through the front gate, both of them covered in sweat, scratches, and dirt. Soun's face looked especially haggard, but he was clearly relieved to find Ranma at home.
"Oh, Ranma!" Akane cried as she ran over to him. She dropped to her knees beside him. "Here, let me help you with that."
Ranma was entirely too tired to argue, but not tired enough to let Akane attempt to tie anything. "You pull, I'll make the knot, okay?"
Akane nodded her head in assent as she pulled on the rope. Ranma tied it off then sat back on his heels.
"Boy! I'm glad that's finished," Ranma said with a sigh of relief.
"What happened, Son?" Soun asked. Genuine concern was written on his face.
"I'm not sure on some of the details, Oji-san," Ranma said. He paused to swallow at the cotton in his mouth. "Me and Pops got blown around and I hit my head. Some rich people took care of me until this morning. Took us all day to get back."
"Did you catch the Master?" Soun asked.
"Nope," Ranma said, being careful not to shake his head. "Last I saw of him, he rode the wind over a stone wall. I got hurt when Pop insisted I follow him."
Soun was visibly shaken by this news.
"He escaped then?" Soun asked looking very agitated. "Why did you and your father return?"
"I didn't come back with Pops," Ranma said. "I came back with my girl half. Nabiki thinks Pops is at the zoo in an animal clinic. She heard something about it on the radio."
"You came back with your girl half?" Soun and Akane chorused.
"Yes, he did," Nabiki said as she approached them with a large pitcher of water and several glasses. "She's upstairs asleep in my bed."
Soun and Akane's chins dropped in silent surprise while Nabiki passed out the glasses.
"There isn't any running water yet, and if what I heard is true, it might be as long as week before there is any, so don't waste this," Nabiki said as she filled their glasses from the pitcher. "Drink every drop."
Ranma swished a mouthful of water around in his mouth before swallowing it then said, "I got no problem with that!"
"I guess that means we can't get a bath," Akane said in a glum voice.
"You can take a half-bucket out of the koi pond for that, Akane. Girls bathe behind the dojo. Gents bathe over there," Nabiki said, indicating the narrow yard between the house and the north wall of the compound. "Remember, no more than half a bucket."
"Mmph!" Soun noised. "The devil to pay and only a half-bucket of pitch."
"Come on, Oji-san," Ranma said. "I'll split a half-bucket with ya."
Soun looked alarmed. "Are you sure that's wise, Son? I mean ... well... I appreciate your concern for the circumstances we're under, but your condition with cold water and all...I'm not sure..."
"Not a problem for now, Oji-san," Ranma said. "Cold water doesn't change me into a girl anymore."
Akane eyed Ranma suspiciously for a moment then asked, "So what does warm water do to this girl half?"
"Nothin'" Ranma said, sounding glum. "He...she's stuck as a girl."
"So neither one of you is a copy, like the last time?" Akane asked.
"Not as far as either one of us can tell, Akane," Ranma said. He was beginning to be aggravated by her suspicions, even though he knew she had good reason to be suspicious. "She ain't handlin' it too good, either."
"Akane, let's wait on explanations until after we've all had a chance to bathe and eat," Nabiki said. "That way we can all hear it at the same time while being able to think a little more clearly. What do you say?"
Akane gave out an exasperated sigh. "I suppose you're right, Nabiki. But, this better not be another one of your stupid stunts, Ranma!"
Ranma decided that he was too tired to be angry with her. "I'm gonna go get a bath!" he said in a disgusted voice. "You comin', Oji-san?"
Soun gave Akane a sharp look before answering. "Yes, of course, Son, by all means. I'd love to get some of this grime off."
Soun and Ranma made their way toward the koi pond. Once they were out of earshot, Nabiki tugged at Akane's sleeve.
"You might try being a little nicer to him, this time, Akane."
"Yeah. His girl half looked like hell when they got here a couple of hours ago. I don't think it would take much to push either or both of them over the edge."
"I don't get it. This means he's cured of his curse, doesn't it?"
"One of him is cured. The other one of him is stuck in a girl's body, Akane. Think about it this way, how would you feel if Kasumi were stuck in a guy's body?"
Akane made a wry face then said, "Well, maybe I was being a little hard on him, but he scared me running off during the storm after Happosai like that."
"I don't think he had any choice about it. Daddy was upset with him because he came back without ever catching the old monster."
"I don't know, but I think we had better find out. It must be something awful if Ranma's dad was willing to go out in that wind yesterday."
Akane breathed out an exasperated sigh then said, "I'm tired."
"Go get a bath and change clothes. You'll feel better. I'll bring us something to eat out here in a few minutes."
"Why are we camping out in the yard?"
"Talk to Dad and Kasumi. They're the soft touches around here. The house is full of old folks, pregnant women and their kids. We'll be lucky if we have anything left by the time things return to normal."
Akane gave out a frustrated growl and stamped off toward the koi pond. Nabiki set the pitcher of water down inside one of the larger tents, then made her way back to the kitchen. Much to her annoyance, it would take her the better part of an hour to get away from their refugee guests and lug the stockpot half full of rice back to her family's little camp on their front lawn. By that time, Soun and Ranma had managed to build a small fire. Much to Nabiki's surprise, Ranko had joined them. She and Akane were sitting on opposite sides of Ranma.
"What are you doing up?" Nabiki asked Ranko as she set the pot down by the fire. She had to stretch to get the kinks out of her lower back.
"Too many kids, not enough bed," Ranko answered. "Two more of 'em piled in with us a few minutes ago. I decided to let them have it to themselves."
"Oh," Nabiki said, "sorry about that."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Ranko answered. "Couldn't be helped. The kids hafta have a place to sleep."
"I'll go get another plate," Nabiki said, starting to walk back toward the house.
"Don't," Ranma said, "Ranko and I can share a plate."
Nabiki looked back over her shoulder and said, "What, you want her to starve?"
"We'll be okay, Nabiki," Ranko said, "just put a little extra rice on the plate--that is if we have that much."
Nabiki turned around and tiredly knelt by the pot as she said, "We have plenty for now. Might even have enough for the next few days. After that, things are going to get complicated."
"Why do you say that, Daughter?" Soun asked nervously as he accepted his plate. Nabiki had loaded sizeable pile of rice onto it.
"Well, they aren't saying so on the news, but I caught a broadcast on my little TV before the batteries died."
"And?" Akane asked.
"They had a news chopper flying around town. It looked to me like flooding cut all the roads leading into Nerima. Two of the main bridges have been completely washed away. The only way in right now is by boat. Even the railroad is underwater."
"Well, the flood water will recede by tomorrow evening, surely," Soun said.
"Yes, Daddy, but that leaves the railroad as the only passable route into Nerima, assuming the trestle wasn't damaged," Nabiki said as she handed Akane a plate. "There won't be any trucks coming in here with those two highway bridges gone."
"Oh, dear!" Soun exclaimed. Much to everyone's surprise he did not break out into tears. Nabiki handed Ranma a plate piled high with sticky rice.
"Sounds like we're goin' huntin' tomorrow, Ranma," Ranko said with a feral grin.
"Tomorrow, some of the ladies are going to get up just before sunrise and make a trip to the market, but I don't hold out a lot of hope for them," Nabiki said. "Everybody who can get there will being doing the same thing. That place is going to be a nightmare."
"Hmm, warehouses," Soun said, casting a quick glance at Ranma. Ranma and Ranko nodded their heads in unison.
"I'll give you some money. Try to buy a few bags of rice if you can. If not," Nabiki said with a shrug of her shoulders, "do what you must."
"Don't worry, Nabiki," Ranma said.
"We'll have plenty of rice here tomorrow," Ranko said.
Soun solemnly nodded his head in agreement then said, "We will set out early. Perhaps we will reach the warehouse district before anyone else thinks of it."
"I want to go with you," Akane said.
"Of course, Akane," Soun said. "Nabiki, have one of the ladies get batteries for your television tomorrow if possible."
"Way ahead of ya, Dad," Nabiki answered around a mouthful of rice.
Everyone ate in silence for a while until Ranko held out hers and Ranma's plate and asked, "Hear anything else about my old man, Nabiki?"
"Not a word since yesterday afternoon," Nabiki said while piling rice onto the plate. "You going to tell us what happened?"
"Well, the wind wasn't too bad when we first started out after the old freak, but the higher the wind got, the farther he could jump. Finally, he jumped up over a wall and I knew there wasn't any point in chasin' him anymore," Ranko said.
"Yeah, by that time, the wind was blowin' so hard the rain felt like a shower of rocks," Ranma added.
"Anyway, I told Pops I was goin' home and turned to leave," Ranko said, "but he grabbed me from behind and threw me up into the air."
"At least he threw me high enough to clear the wall!" Ranma exclaimed.
Ranko rolled her eyes then said, "Yeah, weren't I lucky! Anyway, I bounced across these rich people's yard until I slammed into one of their windows."
"It was boarded up with plywood," Ranma interjected.
"But that didn't slow me down none," Ranko said. "I smashed right through it and into the room. I don't remember seein' it, but I hit this great big mirror with my head. When I came to again, there was two of me. A guy type me and a girl type me."
"Are you sure it wasn't the same mirror you got into trouble with before?" Akane asked. "They might have sold it or something."
"Nah, it had a different frame and everything, Akane," Ranma said. "That mirror was a big tall oval. This one was almost perfectly round."
"Yeah, kind of a squatty oval, if you know what I mean," Ranko added. "The guy that ran the place told me that it had been in the family for a couple of generations."
"He said the guy that built the mansion bought it in Europe and sent it home by ship some time just before the First World War," Ranma said.
"I thought it was right after," Ranko said.
"Might've been," Ranma said with a shrug. "I was still pretty blurry when he was tellin' us all this stuff."
"Anyway, right after the guy had this mirror installed, a yamabushi showed up," Ranko said.
"A yamabushi?" Soun, Akane and Nabiki chorused.
Ranko and Ranma nodded their heads in unison.
"Hmm, most unusual for one of those shamans to be wandering around in the Kanto," Soun said as he thoughtfully rubbed the stubble on his chin.
"Yeah, he said everybody was pretty surprised by that visit," Ranko said. "Anyway, this yamabushi guy told the guy that owned the place that he had some good qualities that the yamabushi could bring out."
"Let me guess," Nabiki interjected. "The yamabushi cast a spell on this mirror."
Ranma and Ranko nodded their heads in unison.
"When the guy who owned the place looked into it, his personality changed," Ranko said. "He became a philo ... a philo ..."
"A philothampus," Ranma supplied helpfully.
"Philanthropist!" Akane said sounding exasperated.
"Yeah, that's it!" Ranma and Ranko chorused. Nabiki smirked while Akane rolled her eyes. Soun stared gravely into the fire.
"The trouble was, the mirror worked on more than just this one guy," Ranko said.
"Some of the people that looked into it changed for the worse," Ranma added.
"And some didn't change at all as far as anyone could tell," Ranko said.
"But everyone the mirror ever changed never went back to bein' their old self," Ranko added, suddenly looking distraught.
"But you didn't look into the mirror," Akane exclaimed.
"No, I didn't," Ranko said. "I hit it with my head and shattered it. It was covered up with a tapestry at the time or I woulda been cut to shreds."
"The butler or somebody found two of us instead of just one of us layin' on the floor," Ranma added. "At least, that's what they told us."
"So nobody else actually saw what happened, right?" Nabiki asked.
"As far as I know," Ranma and Ranko chorused.
"So you might have seen yourself in the mirror and just didn't remember it," Nabiki said.
"It's possible," Ranma and Ranko chorused, both of them scratching the back of their necks at the same time. "We were both pretty sick afterwards."
Nabiki, Soun and Akane blinked at this. Both Ranma and Ranko had spoken at the same exact time, using the same exact words.
"I think this is serious, Akane," Nabiki said after a momentary silence. "Ranko doesn't act anything at all like the copy of Ranma that came out of that other mirror."
"Well, she did kiss me," Ranma blurted.
"Me and my big mouth!" Ranko exclaimed, giving Ranma an angry stare. This, of course, brought everyone else up short.
"You ... you ... You kissed him!" Akane shouted at Ranko.
"Hey! It was just an experiment, okay?" Ranko said, as a crimson blush filled her face. "I found out about the spell before Ranma did. I ... just ... needed to know if ..."
"If you were turning into a girl?" Nabiki asked gently.
Ranko kept staring at her lap, but silently nodded her head. Nabiki caught the glint of firelight on Ranko's falling tears as they dropped into her lap. Akane suddenly looked worried as she put one hand to her mouth.
"Are you?" Nabiki asked softly.
"I don't know!" Ranko wailed. "I'm scared!"
Faster than anyone could follow, Ranma and Akane were hugging Ranko between them.
"Shh! Everything's going to be fine, Ranko," Akane said. "I'll protect you."
Ranma looked as though he might object to Akane's statement, but before he could say what was on his mind, Nabiki asked him a question.
"Did you bring a piece of the mirror with you, Ranma?" Nabiki asked.
"Ah, oh, yeah! I nearly forgot to tell ya about that," Ranma said as he let go of Ranko and began digging into his pocket. "I brought this along. The butler let me have it because he said they were glad to be rid of the mirror."
Ranma produced a bundle wrapped in heavy cloth from his pocket and set it on the ground between himself and Nabiki. Nabiki picked it up, but did not unwrap it. It was surprisingly heavy. The mirror had been made from very thick glass.
"Have you tried looking into it?" Nabiki asked.
"Naw, we weren't sure of what might happen if one of us did," Ranma answered.
"That was very wise of you, Son," Soun said, now looking as though he might break out into tears. "This seems like a very unpredictable situation."
"Ya got that right, Oji-san," Ranma exclaimed. Ranko was now sobbing into Akane's shoulder. Ranma glanced at the two of them then rolled his eyes. No one noticed this gesture but Nabiki.
"Perhaps we should turn in," Soun said as he got up and made his way toward the largest tent. "Tomorrow promises to be a long day."
"Come on, Ranko," Akane said. "You can share my tent."
This caused Ranma to blink and do a double take. Nabiki smirked at him. Ranko and Akane got up and walked off into the darkness, leaving Ranma and Nabiki sitting by the fire in silence.
"So how are you doing so far, Saotome?" Nabiki asked after a moment.
"I'm lost," Ranma answered. "I don't know if this is going to last or not. I can't tell if Ranko is going to become a real girl or if I'm gonna wake up tomorrow with the curse back in place. Who knows?"
"Do you think she might turn into a real girl?" Nabiki asked.
"Lemme put it this way, Nabiki, I wouldn't wanna hafta stay in my cursed form for more than a couple of months," Ranma said sounding grim. "It starts ta work on your reflexes after a while."
"By that I gather you don't mean it slows you down," Nabiki observed dryly. "I would think being a girl would make you a bit quicker."
"It does," Ranma said. "See ya in the mornin', Nabiki."
"Yeah, good night, Saotome," Nabiki said. "Try to rest as much as you can. We're all going to need it."
Ranma nodded his head and waved to show agreement as he stumped off toward one of the smaller tents. Nabiki took a deep breath and stretched, craning her neck as she did so. She was amazed when she opened her eyes. The Milky Way was easily visible.
"Well look at this," Nabiki said aloud in surprise. "I'll bet this hasn't happened since World War II."