Update: 140404, 080305, 170305, 230805, 190506, 310506, 120307, 080407, 250407, 020907
Disclaimer: Ranma and the Nerima Wrecking Crew belong to Rumiko Takahashi while Rifts and Nightspawn belong to Palladium. Babylon 5, Nightspawn and Sailormoon belong to all their creators respectively.
Part 13: Merger
Meanwhile … deep within the inner recesses of our favourite pigtailed martial artist’s mind, a conversation is taking place with between him and the mysterious voice …
“So … Who are you … really? I mean I can’t keep calling you, ‘you’ or ‘cursed form’ or ‘Wise One’ all the time,” Ranma asked.
“Friends call me Beryl,” the voice which sounded distinctly female replied.
A memory tugged at his mind.
The large metal doors opened to reveal the figure of a very beautiful and well-formed woman in black robes. The servants and guards manning the gateway bowed low at her passing, as though they were in the presence of a greater being. This was not far from the truth as there was a new power flowing through her … a power that differentiated her from them … a power greater than any magic she had ever known … All easily available at a moments notice … at her fingertips …
The woman stopped and knelt before the High King.
“Rise, my servant.” He beckoned.
“Yes, Master,” she answered.
“You shall henceforth be known as Ba’al Rhea, Mistress of the Moon.”
“Beryl … Ba’al Rhea … Mistress of the Moon … The Order of the Black Crescent???? Than you’re the trai-“ Ranma concluded, as her inner ‘eyes’ narrowed.
“The Traitor of the Silver Alliance? I wouldn’t say that. Have a care, Ranma, before you start condemning me!” the voice replied sharply.
“The answer lies within you! We are going to be one after all …”
“Ariana … Don’t do this,” a voice pleaded.
“You cast me out … and you tried to kill me. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t bury you all right now,” the Shadow Queen replied as she cut down another Atlantean soldier rushing at her.
“Midas is your father, Ariana,” the woman spluttered as she crawled to his side.
“A likely story.” Lightning surged forth killing another Atlantean soldier who had thrown himself in front of the bolt to protect the King.
“Ariana, please … He couldn’t let you marry Endymion with good reason. You and Endymion are siblings,” the woman tried.
“Bull**! If he were, I would already have known about it!” the Shadow Queen shouted.
“Endymion is your half-brother. You didn’t know because traces of your ancestry was hidden from everyone by none other than the one who brought you into this world, the Archmage Zyrina herself. No mage who lived had sufficient skill or power to penetrate her enchantments.” The man beside the King answered.
“Rathan! How nice of you to speak. I thought you had lost your tongue!” she sneered as flames suddenly came into existence around the man.
Her face twisted into a scowl. “I’m still not good enough for your Crown Prince, am I?” she jeered.
Flames burned the man but he stubbornly refused to scream.
“Ariana please … You’ll kill him!” the Crown Prince pleaded.
The skies turned dark.
“That’s the whole idea! Did you know that he was the man who tried to kill me during the Third Expedition Foray?” the Shadow Queen pointed out.
“Please Ana-shan …” the Crown Prince pleaded once again.
The entire court including the King and Queen turned to face the man.
“Ana please …I promise you … we will get to the bottom of the matter …” the Crown Prince pleaded.
“Anything for you … my love.” The Shadow Queen answered with a wicked smirk on her face.
The flames winked out as suddenly as they had appeared.
“Is this true, Rathan?” the King asked.
“Yes … your Highness …” the man replied reluctantly.
“You were my closest friend and my most trusted associate. How could you do this?” the King asked in disbelief.
“You’re too compassionate for your own good, Your Majesty. Lord Ahriman Aerihza remains your greatest political opponent and most dangerous enemy in all of Atlantis. If the affair between Endymion and Ariana had become public knowledge, the political fallout would have been immeasurable. It would have given him and his followers a pretext to bring down the Azvin Government that had ruled Atlantis for centuries, your Majesty. Whether the power grab would have succeeded or not was another thing entirely but it would have resulted in a civil war at a time we could ill-afford. The war would have dragged on for generations. This outcome had to be prevented at any cost,” the man answered.
“At any cost? Even cold-blooded murder? Do you know how many people perished in the destruction of the Third Expedition Foray, Rathan?” the Shadow Queen asked.
“Four thousand six hundred and forty-two soldiers not counting the women and children.”
“Yes … and you did it without raising an eyebrow.”
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Atlantis would not have survived a civil war.”
“I’m amazed at your sense of justification and morality … the second highest in authority in all of Atlantis and the Chief Advisor to the King giving the order for mass murder in the name of maintaining peace and prosperity. Am I hearing this right?” the Shadow Queen remarked acidly.
“Better to let one die than to have the whole nation go down in flames.” The man snapped.
Lightning struck down from the heavens hitting the Shadow Queen, blinding everyone around her. Thunder crashed in the background, deafening those within range. When the light cleared from their eyes, they could see a large sphere of electrical energy dancing in and around the palm of her hand.
The Shadow Queen held her other hand out to the Crown Prince.
“Please my love … You have heard his vile answer and twisted sense of fairness. While he speaks of justice, he murders the innocent. Come with me. There’s going to be nothing left of this place once the High King is here.”
Endymion was about to get to his feet when the King answered …
“No, his actions do not speak for the Crown much less Atlantis! If we started justifying everything we did even the small ones, eventually everyone would be able to justify their deeds and commit atrocities throughout the lands en masse in the name of order…and there would be no end to this debacle. Unfortunately, Rathan’s right. You cannot marry Ariana. And there will be no trial.”
“What???!!!” Endymion shrieked in outrage.
“So now … we get a fair sense of Atlantean justice,” The Shadow Queen replied sarcastically.
The Chief Advisor smiled thinly in reply.
“But why? Father? Why?” the Atlantean Prince shouted.
“Be silent, Endymion!”
“Let me answer for him. Because any trial of the Chief Advisor would have brought this affair to light. And that is something even the King wishes to avoid. Isn’t than right, Your Majesty?” the Shadow Queen replied mockingly.
The King ignored her.
“Chief Advisor Rathan … as punishment for your terrible crimes and deeds … you and all those who follow you shall be cast out from all of Atlantis for all time! Never again will you set foot into any of our dwellings and our cities! Never again will you speak to any of our people! Never again will any Atlantean ever render any form of aid to you and all those who have taken up with you until Forceria ceases to be! Should you or any of your followers break my decrees, action shall be taken against you without an ounce of mercy. You and those who follow you are now banished and cut off, root and branch, from House Azvin and the rest of the Clans forever! This I proclaim!”
The Chief Advisor became silent upon hearing the King’s pronounciation of his sentence.
“As you wish, my King. I could not have asked for anything more,” the Chief Advisor knelt.
“Now begone from my sight!” the King ordered.
The man left without any further preamble. A slight tremor rocked the ground, jolting them slightly. The Shadow Queen cursed softly.
“They’re here … Endymion … come with me, quickly.” The Shadow Queen gestured.
The Crown Prince quickly got to his feet and headed in her direction. A radiant smile lit up her face upon seeing her lover’s approach.
“Don’t do this!”
“Please, my son … I beg of you!”
“Your Highness … Don’t do this to us!”
There was a sudden commotion behind him. Turning around, Endymion saw to his shock, his father, mother and the entire Court as well as the elite guard on their knees before him.
“Mom … Dad … Why are you doing this?” he asked looking at both the kneeling entourage before turning back to his lover.
“You really do not know what you are doing … do you, my son? We will not rise from the ground until you give us your word that you will not follow her,” the King spoke from his kneeling position on the ground.
The ground trembled more strongly beneath their feet.
“Endymion … please hurry. I cannot hold off the High King’s servants forever. Already, they are beginning to break through whatever defenses I have placed,” the Shadow Queen pleaded.
“Endymion … I didn’t know you loved …“ Ranma whispered.
The scene continued … unabated.
The Crown Prince looked back and forth alternately between his true love and the Atlantean entourage kneeling on the ground several times … not knowing what to do. It was a very difficult choice.
Family … or his one true love? He could only choose one … but not both.
So … whom should he choose? He pondered his dilemma ... there was just no way of coming out of this unscathed.
Even without looking, he was aware of the fact that both sides were studying his reactions intently.
One way or another, the Crown Prince knew that his next action would determine his destiny and all those involved … for all eternity.
Finally … he gave his reply.
“I can’t. My place is with them …,” The Crown Prince answered.
The Shadow Queen did not answer. There was no need to. Her next action spoke louder than any words she could have used.
There was a powerful explosion knocking everyone back more than twenty feet.
“Then DIE!” she roared for the first time in their lives, leaving them in shock. Her hands blazing with power ….
For one moment, the Crown Prince thought that his end had come … at the hands of his beloved. He had never seen her so angry in his life. It was a complete irony. He had expected to die in battle at the hands of his enemies. Not at the hands of his one true love.
But then again, who could foresee the future?
Suddenly, he found himself lifted off the ground by the neck and face-to-face with his true love as …
“Is that what you want?!!! Death?!!!” The tone of her voice was harsh, belying her anger.
“I’m sorry … I sort of lost myself there …” she spoke, her voice softened after having once again forced her emotions back under control through sheer strength of will.
The blinding energies surrounding her hands faded away … leaving only her gentle hands that once brought much comfort to him.
“Endymion, you once promised me that you would never disappoint me. Make love to me like you always did …”
Her harsh gaze softened.
“Show those liars that they can’t keep us away from each other. Show the world what our love means. Show them what true love is …” she spoke candidly though lacking the usual confidence that it usually did.
The Crown Prince looked into her eyes … her very hopeful and loving eyes … Though there was also something present … a silent plea … and something else he had not seen in a long time from Ariana … fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of abandonment. She drew him closer into an embrace … until for a moment, their lips could almost touch …
Ariana … please. Don’t do this to me. Endymion prayed.
He was torn. Part of him just wanted to forget the world and give her what she wanted … what she desired …
Be with Ariana. Forget duty. Forget destiny. Everything would be alright with this one …true … kiss … It said.
The other part of him said NO. Not after what he had learned about their bloodlines. She was his half-sister. It just wouldn’t be right.
The Crown Prince cursed inwardly at his choice. Why did things have to turn out this way? This wasn’t fair! This wasn’t fair at all! Not fair to him! And certainly not fair to Ariana!
What could he do? What should he do?
Endymion did the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life.
He turned away.
“No. This isn’t right. What … we … did … was … a … mis … take …” he managed to choke out.
Forgive me, Ariana.
No sooner had he finished uttering those words when he suddenly found himself lying on the ground … his breath all knocked out of him …
“Mistake!!!??? Is that all you can say???!!! What about our hopes??!!! Our dreams???!!! What about us???!!! Have you just decided to dump everything we had between us just because of what they said???!!!” The Shadow Queen cried out in anguish, her face transformed into one of pure fury.
“Aria-” the Crown Prince was about to say before being interrupted.
“GET THE HELL LOST! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!! GET OUT!!! DAMN YOU!!!! DAMN ALL OF YOU!!!!! DAMN ALL OF YOU TO HELL!!!!!!!”
The scene ended.
“Endymion … he … he … betrayed me! We were meant to be together!!! Yet I never forgot him!!!”
Another set of memories washed over him.
“Endymion! It is not safe here! Come follow me! My servants will bear you to safety!” A familiar voice called out.
“Beryl…” Endymion’s voice was soft yet chilling. She was here.
Slowly, he rose from the ground to face his forbidden love.
“En … dy … mi … on?” the beautiful woman called out hesitatingly as uncertainty crept into her voice.
“Or should I say your real name and title, Ba’al Rhea, Mistress of the Moon …” he addressed her formally.
“You have betrayed us to the very forces that we strove to protect mankind from. Not only have you betrayed everything we fought for, you have sealed the doom of mankind as well.”
“But Endymion … everything I did, I did it for us. For the both of us! For the love that we shared! And for my people as well! Sealing the Ba’al with my people in the Nightlands is hardly something I would consider benevolent. You of all people should know what the Ba’al are like, … my love. And what they are capable of …” the Shadow Queen explained, her voice turning into a plea.
“Then we are opposed to each other …” the Prince of Atlantis replied. His decision made, he drew his magical weapon, the Sword of Atlantis, from its golden metallic scabbard. Its golden blade began to glow brightly in the darkness of the tower.
“It doesn’t have to be this way … Endymion. The Ba’al have gifted me with their great powers and knowledge as well as everlasting life! I can do the same for you! All they ask for in return is their freedom and Forceria. They don’t want the Nightlands. Come with me! We can build a new kingdom together and rule the Nightlands happily as king and queen forever and ever! Let us be what we were always meant to be! Endymion … please,” the Shadow Queen pleaded, desperation creeping into her voice.
It broke his heart but Endymion managed to give his soul mate a cold, hard stare that nearly forced her a step back.
“In another lifetime … perhaps … but for now … humanity cries out in distress … and … its future must be preserved!!!” the Prince of Atlantis readied his magical weapon and drove forward with all his might. In the blink of an eye, he had covered the distance separating his former lover from him.
“Endymion …” Beryl spoke, her eyes widening in disbelief at the prince’s action.
His aim was true. His purpose firm. In one swift blow, the Prince of Atlantis had plunged his sword straight through the heart of his former lover to come out from the other side of the Shadow Queen’s body. Blood spilled to the ground as she wavered unsteadily on her legs beneath the attack.
“En … dy … mi ….oo….nnn … do … you …truly … desire … to … kill … me … that … much???” she cried, stunned at the actions of her lover.
Endymion did not answer the question. In actuality, he did not know how to answer it. Without a word, the Prince drew his blade back out from the Shadow Queen, causing her to fall to her knees. Much to his disbelief (and surprise), Beryl’s wounds closed rapidly right before his eyes. Apparently, she was neither bluffing nor delusional when she told him that the Ba’al had gifted her with their great powers and abilities. Though if that were the case …
“You have changed,” he replied as he readied his weapon once again.
Endymion knew he had to act quickly. Despite the Shadow Queen’s current inability to attack him at the moment (more from shock and grief than anything else), the situation could change quickly. More than that, he could feel the presence of not one … but several powerful entities entering the portal. The Ba’al must already be on their way back to Forceria.
“So have you. Why???” came the question, her voice, clearly a mixture of pain and anguish.
She had risen to her feet but had made no move to attack nor defend herself from him.
“The needs of the many outweigh … the needs of the few, Ana-shan …” the Prince of Atlantis replied sadly as tears streamed down from his eyes.
With all his strength, the Prince drove his magical sword … not into the Shadow Queen’s body … but into the ground of the tower.
Cracks appeared in the floor beneath him and … her.
Suddenly, without warning, the section of the ground the Shadow Queen was stepping on gave way taking her to the bottom of the chasm.
“En … dy … mi … oo … nnnn … Why???” came the faint cry again before the chamber he was in was once more shrouded by silence.
“Ana … forgive me … I swear I will make it up to you somehow … someday …” he whispered before pressing the button in the center of the crystal. There was a blinding flash of light as the Tower of the Black Moon erupted in an ear-splitting explosion, destroying the portal to the Nightlands forever.
Outside of Ranma’s mind …
A powerful explosion rocked the ground reminding Ranma that the chase was not over yet. Quickly, he made his way through the room only to come up against another brick wall. Without wasting his time, he smashed his way through it, to find himself standing on the railroad tracks of the underground subway station …right in the path of an inbound train.
‘S*!’ was the only thing that went through his mind as it approached him at breakneck speed.
Deep within the inner recesses of Ranma’s mind …
“Yes. It was I who betrayed the Silver Alliance. It was I who turned against the Moon Kingdom. Why???!!! They deserved it! For sealing the Ba’al in the Nightlands and leaving my race to their tender mercies! Their lack of appreciation is galling! Many of my kind were hunted down and slaughtered like animals. They were the lucky ones. Those who weren’t … “
Suddenly, Ranma had a vision of the terrible war and the aftermath that followed. The screams of their prisoners would echo through his nightmares for many weeks to come.
“The Ba’al are monsters, through and through. To them, we were nothing more than cattle to be butchered, broken and devoured at their whim. We fought them for centuries in the Nightlands for the sake of our very souls. The war of attrition ate at both sides and countless numbers died. Countless more disappeared. Until one day a gigantic projection of the self-styled ruler of the Ba’al that filled up the dark skies over our heads appeared. He had a message for us. Peace in exchange for eternal servitude. We would have spat upon it but Moloch was not done. Power and knowledge to those who joined the Ba’al. Death and damnation to those who refused. Naturally I rejected it since I saw this as nothing more than a ploy to sow confusion and division among my people. But there were others who disagreed. Those who were tired of the fighting and running. Chief among them, Chancellor Wiseman and the Black Moon Family. They coveted the secrets of the Ba’al despite the fact that they were our enemies. They piled pressure upon me in the Inner Chamber until I had no choice but to give in to their demands,” Beryl explained.
Ranma was about to ask why when she replied.
“Our people were faced with the prospect of disunity, a situation we could have ill-afforded right there and then. Despite the support of my four top commanders and the Black Crescent Army, Chancellor Wiseman and the Black Moon Family ‘s hold on my people could not be dismissed so easily as they commanded a great deal of influence in both the political and economic arena respectively. It was a terrible and difficult decision to make.”
Outside of Ranma’s mind …
He leaped upwards at the incoming train in the one spot that he knew would give way to him easily – the train window. There was the loud sound of breaking glass as his body smashed right through the window. He landed on the rail of the moving train rolling to the ground as he did so much to the surprise of the passengers on board.
“Excuse me …” he said before picking himself up from the ground and making his way to an empty seat. With but a gesture, the broken glass collected themselves back together from the floor of the train before becoming the glass window from before. With another gesture it attached itself back to the window frame much to the disbelief of the passengers.
For a moment there was silence as all the passengers tried to comprehend what had just happened. Unfortunately, nobody could. So the trip proceeded in stunned disbelief. And denial. Typical human trait.
Deep inside the inner recesses of Ranma’s mind …
“I still remember it like yesterday. Endymion, Prince of Atlantis, he proposed to me and I accepted. But Rathan, chief advisor to Midas, King of Atlantis, opposed his marriage to me. He was biased against my kind and feared them in general. His job was made easier with the Ba’al’s imprisonment in the Nightlands.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our kind are living doubles of all the humans that ever lived. Just as the Black Crescent is the counterpart of the Moon Kingdom in the Nightlands, I was the Nightlands counterpart of Queen Serenity herself! Her living double and twin sister! Maybe even closer than that, for I was an exact duplicate of her … in both mind and body. You realize it now … do you, Ranma …”
“Yes, deny it all you want. We are Doppelgangers, shades of the living. We cast no shadows in strong or dim light nor do we have any reflections in mirrors or clear water.” her voice trailed off.
“You lie! I have a reflection and cast a shadow!” Ranma shrieked.
Ignoring the pigtailed martial artist’s mental outburst, the Shadow Queen continued.
“Until our earthly double dies, that is. Once that happens, our shadows and reflections become visible to sight.”
“No … It can’t be true …”
“I know it is difficult to face the truth but you are not the real Ranma. You never were. I ‘m sorry. I wish there was an easier way of putting it to you but there isn’t.”
“No! I can’t accept that! Sixteen years worth of memories must mean something! I possess all of Ranma’s skills, his abilities and knowledge. I am him!”
The passengers next to the cyan-haired woman began to stare and moved away from her as the expressions on her face took on a more outwardly intense cast.
“All Doppelgangers possess the memories and skills of their earthly doubles. You may carry his face and even his curse but you are not him. The real Ranma is dead. You saw his body yourself,” the female voice replied confidently.
“You’re lying! I’m going to get Ka … ” that was all Ranma managed to say as the merger between his essence and the spirit neared completion.
“No … Ranma dear … you are certainly not going to get Kasumi to break our bond and consequently get me killed in the process. I’ve been dead long enough already …” the female voice replied with a sinister edge to her usual friendly tone of voice.
“And I whole-heartedly wish to live …” she added to no one in particular.
“What do you want from me? I know that you don’t want me dead otherwise you won’t have gone to such great lengths to preserve my life,” the former Queen spoke with resignation in her voice.
“What do I want? A very good question. Actually it all depends on whether you want to live or die. Serve me and rule by my side. Refuse and die horribly. The choice is yours. My servants and advisors think that I’m wasting my time in doing this but I believe that you will make the sensible choice. So what is it going to be, Ariana?” The High King asked. “To live or die?”
The former Queen of Lami-ra answered in the only way she could … and would … for many generations to come.
“I … choose … to live.”
Even thousands of years from that incident … those words, continued to haunt her every action and word in life.
‘Will I never be free off the reach of the Dark Wielders? Of having to make life and death decisions?’ Beryl wondered.
The beautiful cyan-haired woman’s expression softened as the inside battle between the two personalities came to an end. Ignoring the stares around her, she leaned back in her seat and relaxed. Soon enough, all that remained of Ranma’s essence and memories would be fully assimilated within her, making all his knowledge and abilities, hers to use. And improve upon, she mused. And once ready, she would lead her people to victory over their hated enemies, the Ba’al-ze-Neckt.
The train came to a stop.
“Nerima Ward.” A female voice announced over the speaker.
The doors of the subway train opened. Some of the passengers in the train got out and a few other passengers got in.
A beautiful woman with black, shoulder-length hair and form fitting dress sat down in the empty seat beside her with a shopping bag.
“Hello Ranma-kun …” she said, her familiar voice turning the Shadow Queen’s inside with dread.