Some stories cannot help but end badly. A crossover of grievous and horrible doom.
The End of the Journey
Jeep took another turn, and they were under an overcast sky instead of a dark canopy of leaves filled with strange animal noises and the pale lights of watching eyes. Hakkai looked over his right shoulder, squinted at the setting sun, and stepped on the brakes.
Caught in the middle of pulling Gojyo's hair while his head was being shoved downwards under Gojyo's boot, Goku found himself stumbling rather slowly backwards over the front seat into Sanzo's lap as Jeep rumbled to a halt. Gojyo flapped his arms, turned a half circle and fell on top of them both, eliciting a yelp, growled curses and a flurry of forceful thwaps with a rolled up map that would assuredly have been gunshots if Sanzo had been able to get at his gun.
"What are you doing?" Gojyo quickly picked himself up and scrambled back to the safety of the backseat, trying to fend off the /thwaps/.
thwap "Idiot monkey--" A louder thwap followed a sharp curse when Goku managed to trip over Sanzo and nearly ram his elbow into Gojyo's face as he tried to imitate Goyo's manoeuvre.
"Hakkai! They're bullying--"
"Ah, guys," Hakkai's voice cut in smoothly, and they stopped immediately, because it was the same especially mild voice Hakkai used when he was apologising for the need to break someone's arm. Any suspicion the three of them might have harboured about the possibility that their mishap was a premeditated move on Hakkai's part vanished, mostly. He did not seem at all amused by their antics. A slight frown furrowed his brow as he looked over their surroundings. So they looked as well.
Before them, the land stretched out in a misty, endless expanse pocked with small, still pools, reflecting nothing but the pale grey of the sky.
"We seem to have made a wrong turn," he said. "Sanzo, where was the last fork we took in the woods?" Sanzo scowled and unfolded the map, sliding on his reading glasses.
There was no sign of any location that might have been the pools. "Youkai work?"
A slight shrug of the shoulders, before Hakkai decided to answer in words. "I can't tell. It feels strange, but it doesn't feel like youki."
Gojyo leaned out from his side and looked at the slick stones and clayey mud about the pools nearest them. Hoofed imprints led to one, but not away. Yet the pools did not look large enough to harbour crocodiles. "Let's move on. I got a bad feeling about this place."
A loud splash sounded in the distance. Goku jumped up onto the seat to see better. "A goat just fell in that pool!" They looked, but no goat came out from the pool. "I did see a goat," he insisted, as a wet pigeon flapped clumsily overhead, bleating in panic and sprinkling them with tiny droplets. Gojyo looked about warily as more strange chittering started in the forest behind them. He kept alert as Sanzo and Hakkai bent their heads over the map, deep in discussion.
"We need to get to the other side," Hakkai said at last. "But Jeep can't go over all these pools; they're too close together, and it's a long way to go in the wrong direction if we drive around it. I think we can walk across in a day or two."
And so begins their end.
They stopped for the night, and set out in the morning with the rising sun behind them. For once free to fly about as it pleased, unburdened by the others, Jeep swooped about and kyuued in delight. It circled and dived at a started finch that seemed doggedly determined to stand its ground until it suddenly realised how much bigger the white dragon was and ran away, though it kept looking back and uttering indignant little chirps.
Goku skipped happily along the edges of the ponds after Jeep, but after the second time he slipped on the wet rocks and nearly pushed Hakkai in, Sanzo thwapped him into walking behind quietly.
They walked on without incident for a while. Shortly after noon, a monkey swimming in one of the pools took to following them for a while, making rude noises and trying to attract Sanzo's attention, but a warning shot soon frightened it away. Hakkai turned to watch the monkey run away on its hind legs as it waved its arms, shrieking monkey imprecations. Then he looked around them. "Where's Goku?" Jeep lighted on his shoulder and let out an odd-sounding kyuu, looking at the monkey, then at Sanzo.
"Probably went for a swim," grumbled Gojyo. "This place is hotter than it looks. He'll catch up - there's no way he can miss us in the middle of this." Sanzo resolutely marched on, ignoring the two of them and refusing to lower himself to complaining like Gojyo, though his robes were clinging to his back and a faint flush that looked like sunburn was beginning to appear on his fair cheeks.
Still concerned, Hakkai looked back again, but Goku was nowhere in sight. The monkey Sanzo had fired at continued to trail dispiritedly a little distance behind them.
The day wore on. Hot and bored with no one willing to play with it, Jeep flew off. They could hear the faint splash as it folded its wings and plummeted into a pool with a playful kyuu. When Sanzo finally deigned to stop for a break, they found that Hakkai was gone as well. "The hell?"
Gojyo drew his shakujou immediately and turned around. "Hakkai wouldn't run off without saying a word like the monkey," he said, and Sanzo inclined his head fractionally in agreement, readying his gun.
Then they were distracted by a vision of a graceful young woman with long, silvery-white tresses rising from a pool... naked. She glowered at them with deep ruby eyes, looking from Sanzo to Gojyo in slowly dawning recognition, and finally settled her grim gaze on Gojyo, distaste evident.
"Someone you know?"
Gojyo looked her up and down with a look of puzzled appreciation. "She seems kind of familiar," he murmured, fascinated by her flawless jade-white skin. Then inspiration struck. "Oh, you must be that barmaid from the Dragon Gate Inn I sle- ah.... what are you doing here? Wait... Y-you're not pregnant, are you? It's not mine. Because I can't have children."
The woman made a sharp noise, looked down at herself and growled in disgust, then stamped away daintily, taking care to avoid stepping in the pools. Gojyo watched the sway of her departing hips, mesmerised. "Damn, I must have guessed wrong."
Sanzo might have made some comment, but his foot nudged something, and he looked down to see a little black piglet. Something, perhaps the same something that made him tolerate monkeys and feed demented little youkai girls, caused him to bend down and pick it up gently. It gazed up at him with trusting green eyes, its ears turned towards him with flattering interest.
"Somebody's pet," he thought aloud, touching the tame little creature's head. It startled slightly, then consented to let him stroke it after a moment's hesitation.
"Could have escaped from a farm," Gojyo commented, tugging on its left ear, where three metal tabs glinted. "I've seen tags like this on some of those new farms where they have too many animals to name."
Half-bemused, Sanzo stroked the silky ears. The piglet flicked its ears, then shook its head vigorously, and the metal tabs, which were looser than he'd thought, fell to the ground. The piglet stared at the tabs, then at them, and a strange infernal glow began to light its eyes from within as its teeth lengthened into tiny, sharp tusks and its posture turned aggressive. Sanzo tightened his hold on the piglet as it writhed and tried to twist free, then it bit him, and he flung it at the distant forest by reflex.
Gojyo picked up the ear-tabs and examined them disbelievingly. "I don't believe this - they're youkai limiters!" He looked around at the seemingly endless expanse of quiet pools, just in time to see the monkey that had been following them duck out of sight in the direction the piglet had gone. "Do you think these creatures got Goku and Hakkai? And Jeep too."
Any response Sanzo might have made was rendered moot when he slipped on a wet stone and fell into the nearest pool. Gojyo looked down, aghast, to see a small, wet, bear-like creature with a black button nose, and furry white-tufted ears glaring at him with beady little eyes as it splashed about and then clambered up a bamboo pole embedded in the pool. It clung there, shivering.
"Sanzo...?" Tentatively, he reached up towards the Sanzo-beast, but it swiped at his hand irritably with a chubby clawed paw. A second, fiercer swipe at his head, and Gojyo slipped in the mud, sliding into another pool. He did not realise his predicament at first, until he found himself staring at Sanzo's furry butt with a strange hunger that he could only distract himself from by rummaging in his fallen pack for a cucumber, and noticed his green-scaled hand. He climbed out and bent over another still pool to see his reflection, and water spilled out from the top of his head. Gojyo had turned into the kappa Goku always called him. He screamed.
This area, as yet a place mysterious and secret, known only to the few who manage to escape it, would later become known as the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo, which transformed any creature unlucky enough to fall into its cursed waters. It would also be known that hot water will reverse the transformation temporarily, until the victim is doused in cold water, but who knew of this cure then, and where would they obtain hot water? What became of the Sanzo-ikkou afterwards?
Sanzo crawled painstakingly into the forest, where he found a tree that was to his particular taste, and settled there peacefully to live out the rest of his mercifully short life.
Gojyo remained lurking about the springs as kappas do, waiting for victims to drain the blood from or at least extort a few cucumbers. As the years passed, he grew ever more forgetful of his true nature, until he became indistinguishable from any born kappa, save for the blood-red ring of hair around the hollow in his head.
They say that if you are very quiet, and bring with you some food, you can sometimes see sorrowful golden eyes watching you from the shadows among the springs. Then your food will vanish into the air as if it had never existed.
What of the little pig flung so cruelly into the distance by his friends? For years afterwards, travellers passing through the region heard hushed whispers of the tiny, terrifying pig youkai that haunted the forests and devoured humans and youkai alike without mercy, until the Minus Wave finally overcame even the strongest-willed of youkai, and one deadly youkai was not so different from another.
Some more years later, the little white dragon, which had relearned to change itself to dragon form and was no longer so little besides, returned at last for its long-awaited vengeance, and dined well on roast pork.
THE HORRIBLE AND ANGSTY END
Notes for the tragically confused who have, for whatever mysterious reason, not run away screaming:
1. The Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo are from Ranma 1/2, and they are located in China, oh yes.
2. Goku = Monkey, Hakkai = Black Piglet (a la Ryoga), Jeep = Girl, Sanzo = Koala (Kindly do not ask how a koala found its way to be drowned in China. Perhaps it escaped from the zoo), Gojyo = Kappa
3. Kappas have an unfortunate reputation for sucking out the blood of their victims through the anus. Who knows if this is true?
4. Be glad Sanzo does not display some of the worse behaviours of a testy koala, and bemoan not his transformation.
5. It is only a story. A really short story at that.