It was late, and they were tired, and that was probably why they hadn't noticed until it was already too late.
Akane was in the lead, her mood too foul to even complain at Ranma, who dragged an unconscious Ryouga behind him. His own mood was dark as he pulled the lost boy by his shirt.
"This jerk weighs a ton," he griped, half because it was true, and half to get Akane to say something, anything, to him.
"Pour water on him," came the acid reply.
Ranma groaned. "Aw, geez, are you still mad about that?"
"I'm not mad." Her reply was cold. Overly calm.
"In other words," Ranma said, "you're really pissed."
Akane spun, stopping Ranma with a glare. "I just found out a good friend has been keeping a secret from me, a cursed form. On top of that, my fiancé," she emphasized the word as if it should impart extra meaning, "knew about it the entire time! How would you feel?!"
"I'd... be... really pissed." Ranma shrugged. "But hey, it's not like I was using my curse to sneak into bed with you or anything."
Akane's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You didn't exactly stop him from doing it, either.
"Yeah, right! Like you'd let me."
Ah, thought Ranma as he pulled his head from the hole in the ground Akane's mallet had made, that's why she's so pissed off.
They got back home in silence, Akane still fuming and Ranma unwilling to become a target again. Neither noticed the eerily quiet streets. The furtive shuffling in the alleyways. The odd tint creeping into the dusk sky.
Akane opened the door and trudged up the stairs wearily, her posture warning Ranma not to follow. Ranma stayed in the vestibule and dropped Ryouga's shirt, letting him land with an ungentle thud.
"You were smart to act like you were still unconscious."
Ryouga sat up, putting his face in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut. "I can never face her again. She knows, oh, man, she knows...!"
"Hey," Ranma said hotly, "You were the one who went and busted that water fountain, again, and forgot your stupid umbrella!"
"You threw it into the fence, you jerk!" Ryouga sprang to his feet, his anger allowing him to momentarily forget his depression.
The fight may have continued from there, except for one thing that caused the nerve ending in both boys to fire at once, effectively freezing them.
Both turned as one and bolted up the stairs, Ranma only half aware of Ryouga missing at his side when he got up there. Akane shrieked again, a sound of mingled horror and disgust, a sound that itself spoke of insanity and it's threat.
Behind the door to his room, Akane screamed again, and Ranma didn't wait to act. His foot found and shattered the door without worrying that Akane might have been hurt. Whatever she was screaming about was much worse than a splinter in the butt or a kick in the back.
His eyes darted around from his crouched position, and so he saw Akane first, her first against her mouth. Her face was pale and her eyes wide with terror, and she screamed again, tears pouring from her eyes. Ranma looked in the direction and gagged.
His father lay prone on the ground, twitching still, his eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. His face was a mask of horror, his hands stretched above him, clawing at the air with each twitch and shudder of his already dead body. His white gi top was red with drying blood, the bulge of his stomach torn open and spread around, intestines and viscera spread around his body like the plate of a toddler strewn with food.
Ranma could feel his own mind unhinging, and he nearly screamed along with Akane. Instead, all he could do was whimper, his voice breaking. "P-pop?"
Akane sobbed, loud wracking sobs that somehow snapped Ranma out of his shock. He turned and pulled her to her feet, and Akane fought, lashing out, flailing, screaming in sheer terror.
"Akane. AKANE!" She stopped, looking at him with wide eyes. "We've got to get out of here." He knew his own voice was shaking, and he shook her shoulders once when it looked like she might scream. "Pop's been killed! We got to get the police."
"E-eaten..." Her shaking voice was only a whisper. "He was.. he looks like he's been eaten..."
"What are you talking about?!" Ranma looked around frantically, and noticed in the doorway he'd shattered, a familiar brown gi. "Mr. Tendo!"
Both turned toward the door, waiting for Soun Tendo to step from the shadows, Akane clinging to Ranma's arm.
A shuffling step forward, and Akane shrieked again, loud and long and anguished.
Soun's face was grey, wrinkled with hanging flesh, his hands and jaw slack. Ranma took an involuntary step back from the door, Akane's wailing form pulled protectively. An odd smell, like rotting limes, assailed his nostrils. Blood caked his chin and lips, and Ranma could see something brown, chewed and unswallowed, tumbling from his lips. It looked, vaguely, like a liver.
"Saotome... marry... akane..." He mumbled, reaching for them, repeating the same words over and over. This time Ranma did scream, and launched him and Akane, past Soun, lamming him aside, and out into the hallway toward the stairs.
"Daddy, no, no, not Daddy, please no," Akane wailed, and Ranma stopped, suddenly sick, chest heaving. Akane's sobs weakened and she collapsed to her knees, face in her hands. As her sobs quieted, Ranma strained to hear.
Both heard what sounded like chewing noises from the bedroom. Akane groaned.
Ranma grabbed Akane and helped her down the stairs, looking around, noticing how dark the house was. They were unable to get any lights on, and instead held on to each other tightly. Looking around, Ranma noticed the flicker of light from the kitchen.
Akane stumbled toward it, only to be pulled back by Ranma, who lead the way instead.
As they approached the doorway, the light revealed itself to be a flame, a candle or something, a sound, slow, rhythmic, metal on wood, grew steadily more audible.
Chop. Chop. Chop.
Ranma's heart seemed to beat in time to that sound as they approached.
Chop. Chop. Chop.
He slowed, his stomach and feet rebelling from looking inside.
Chop. Chop. Chop.
He and Akane looked around the corner at the same time, and saw her, Akane's oldest sister Kasumi, standing with her backs to them, a knife in her hand rising and falling with the rhythmic sound of the chopping, slowly, jerkily, not the with the usual grace she had.
Akane whimpered, shrill in her throat, and Kasumi turned. Her eyes were dry, dead, and her face grey as Soun's was grey. As she turned to face them, a slack smile began to form, and she waved the knife toward them with a jerk, a piece of her preparations arching toward them to hit the wall.
Ranma looked down and saw that it was a small human finger, and looked behind her, where her body had moved to give him view, to see Happosai flayed and gutted, the tips of his fingers already diced.
A gravely giggle, and Kasumi rasped out, "Lunch... time... everybody..."
Akane screamed again, and Ranma did join her this time, backing away only to strike something solid and s sticky against his back. He turned to see his father standing, grey and slick, his intestines trailing behind him even as he reached for them. Soun was beside him, and they both muttered phrases from their life, a mockery of who they had been.
Ranma kicked out, his terror given action, but Kasumi was too close with the knife, and there was no other way out, and they were trapped, and he was going to die here in hell.
The wall shattered, and Ryouga stood there, finger pointed, looking every bit as terrified as they were. He grabbed them both and pulled them through the hole, and they fled, no longer caring for direction, somehow Ryouga being able to stay right with them.
It took a long time to calm down, and even longer to get Akane calm. But after she calmed down, she dropped to sleep. Or possibly fainted. Either way, Ranma envied her.
Ryouga was pacing, a series of bandanas tying him to Ranma's wrist to make good his vow not to lose them. He looked aver, seeming relieved that Akane was asleep.
"I've never been so terrified in my life." The words were quiet and low, and Ranma looked up at them. He'd heard depression, some happiness, and a lot of anger in Ryouga Hibiki's voice, but never fear. "I... I got lost. I guess I wanted to, this time, because I don't remember even leaving the stairs. But... it's everywhere, Ranma. Furinkan's full of the walking dead."
Ranma shook his head, his hands clenching. "What happened here?"
Ryouga also shook his head, in resignation. "I don't know. But it's hell. We're in hell, and we haven't even died yet."
Ranma glared at Ryouga, then stood. "No way, man! No way! People don't just turn into zombies in a matter of hours! Something happened, and I intend to find out what!" Without another word, he leapt into the trees, ignoring Ryouga's cries.
Ucchan's was empty, except for a shuffling in the kitchen and a sizzling sound. When the smell hit him, Ranma didn't want to go inside. He backed from the doorway when he heard a gravely voice whisper, "Ran-chan" with the same fresh from the grave quality that was already burned in his mental ear.
Nekohanten was the worst. The dining room was a meatlocker of the damned, customers hanging off of tables, strewn about the floor, and even pinned to the wall. In the back, a pot was boiling, with no other indication of it's contents than a pink cat's tail and a few feathers.
Ranma was noisily ill outside.
Slowly, he made his way back. No one had survived. No one but he, Akane, and Ryouga. As he reached the clearing, he noted the silence, not even the wind moving in the trees, and the color of the sky, a sickly green tinging the darkening blue. Everything cast a shadow at odd angles. Everything seemed to threaten to reveal hiding undead.
As he neared the clearing, a familiar sound came to his ears. Smacking lips. Chewing teeth. And a low, painful, feral moan.
He ran, ignoring branches whipping against his face, ignoring roots threatening to trip him, listening to that smacking sound get closer and closer and
There. He stopped, calling out Akane's name, to see the ruined chest of Ryouga Hibiki broken open, his flesh already greying, as Akane, her lips wet with fresh blood sucked in a stringy entrail under the watchful eye of her sister, looked up, and croaked out, her voice like fresh worm-filled soil, "Ranma... no... baka..."