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Wednesday, 27 May 2020 19:49

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Monday, 04 May 2020 09:55

Ranma ½ is the property and invention of Rumiko Takahashi. The following story is not produced for any monetary or personal gain.   Tracking the clues Thoth has given him to find the madmen...

Monday, 04 May 2020 09:07

Ranma ½ is the property and invention of Rumiko Takahashi. The following story is not produced for any monetary or personal gain. Keep in mind the journey is almost always more interesting than...

Sunday, 03 May 2020 22:13

Ranma ½ is the property and invention of Rumiko Takahashi. The following story is not produced for any monetary or personal gain. Keep in mind the journey is almost always more interesting than...

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Chapter 11: Snake in the Grass

Ranma-chan looked up at the canopy of foliage that hung over her like some surrealistic painting of the Norse World Tree. She had noticed it as she arrived in Kyoto, but had simply shrugged and passed through as quickly as possible. The 'tree' stood over a thousand feet high, spreading its huge limbs over twice that area. It was difficult to tell with any accuracy, since most of the limbs were high above her, but the leaves had to be at least as large as a human. While it was certainly far larger than even the tallest tree in Ryugenzawa it wasn't the sheer size that was making her nervous. The whole area radiated a sense of power. Even though Ranma-chan had mastered the control of her increased chi reserve, this area seemed to slightly increase the potency of her power. Not enough to cause the loss of control she had initially suffered, but enough to cause an uncomfortable bloating sensation. There was also the creepy feeling that the tree was watching everything she did. With an effort, she was able to dismiss this as paranoia.

Her sense of unease was further enhanced by the fact that the Emperor was seated across from the temporary table that been set up on the ground under the tree. Beside him sat a huge man in black armor which tingled with strong enchantments. A little distance away Ranma-chan could sense the guards of the Emperor behind the smaller bushes and trees that were able to survive under its greater cousin and among the root system that pervaded the ground.

"This is sure is a weird... er, interesting place. Big tree. Really big. Is there an Oroichi around here somewhere?" Ranma-chan broke the silence before it got too uncomfortable.

"I haven't heard of an... Orochi... in the area. Why do you ask?" the Emperor responded, seemingly at his ease in the odd surroundings.

"Well, the only time I saw stuff this large was in Ryugenzawa. And that was because the Orochi had caused some Water of Life to form. Which in turn caused a bunch of big plants and animals to grow."

"No, our tree is a singular entity. As far as I know, it is the sole tree of its kind. As for giant animals, the only ones I've seen are the Oni who borrow their shape."

"Oh, I guess it's just as well, the Orochi is a menace... and a pervert. Hey, are those people up there on those branches?"

"Yes. Approximately 150,000 of my subjects live in the tree. The tree forms dwellings for those that wish to live here."

"You make it sound like it's intelligent," Ranma-chan stated, slightly puzzled.

"It is. Or at least that is what the priests say. It has acted in an intelligent manner in the past so we must treat it as such. It has done great things for our people."

"Done? What can a tree do?"

"Hmm... it gives those worthy artifacts of great power, calms storms and brings harmony. If enemies approach the city from this direction the tree has the ability to deal with all but the greatest foes. It has also healed many of the people of the land at one time or another. We owe it a great debt. As we do you."

"Eh?" Ranma-chan asked, startled at the sudden change in subject.

"Yes. I acknowledge that I owe you my life. Part of the reason I invited you to this place is to reward you."

"Oh, thanks. I don't need no reward. Helping other people is the responsibility of all martial artists... and envoys, I guess," Ranma-chan ended, slightly less than positive regarding the role of an envoy included such duties.

The Emperor himself seemed confused by this, before visibly shaking off the state and continuing. "Never the less, I have a reward in mind, but if you have any specific desires I can certainly see if we can fulfill them as well."

"Nah, I don't need anything... well actually... now that I think of it I could use something. If you have any scrolls describing martial arts techniques I'm always looking for new ones. I don't need the original or anything, a copy will do fine. Hmm, actually all I need to do is read it once. I'm no scholar but if it's martial arts..." Ranma-chan started showing a little more eagerness at the prospect of adding to her repertoire of techniques.

"I think we can accommodate you. I can also request some of the monks and perhaps one of the Tengu to speak with you. They are an obnoxious bunch but I'm sure they would appreciate sparring with you and may even part with some of their secrets," the Emperor said good-naturedly.

Ranma-chan's eyes gleamed at the thought. To her mind sparring was one of the best ways to learn another's techniques. You were able to see how the other actually used the maneuver in a real-life situation. Her opponents were always surprised when she used their own style against them. What else could they expect? She was Ranma Saotome, and if it had martial arts in it she could do anything. She grudgingly admitted that Ryouga was almost as good as she was... but she would never say so where pig-boy could hear her.

"What's a Tengu?" Ranma-chan asked, shaking herself out of her happy stupor.

"They are a mostly benevolent race of bipedal avians. Most of them are also incredibly irritating. They are the masters of an interesting style of aerial combat. It's very athletic," the Emperor stated, smiling to himself as he noticed a wide grin on the red head's face. Ranma-chan was just excited about sparring with someone else with a similar style as Anything Goes. No matter how many other styles she integrated into her technique, Anything Goes was closer to her heart, of course, the style was mostly a philosophy that used any technique that worked, but the Saotome subclass was her favorite. After all, mid-air combat was a Soatome specialty, it would be good to add to the school.

"Great! I guess that's all, I don't really need anything else."

"Excellent! As I mentioned earlier, I already have in mind something for you. I have considered the proposal you laid out for me just before the attack. I accept. It is simply a matter of finding an efficient way to transfer goods between our countries."

"Proposal?" Ranam-chan's mind went blank as she tried to remember what she had said just before the attack. It was something about chicken teriyaki.

"Yes. You had just started a list of trade goods from Lazlo..." the Emperor prodded.

"Oh... Oh! That! Yeah right! I talked to Nabiki about that, and she had a way to transport the goods. She had a teleport circle set up in one of the rooms that can go to Lazlo. I think she mentioned that it can go here as well but she needs a receiving circle to lock in on. She's willing to offer this service for... for... I think she said five percent."

"Hmm. I think not. We have mages of our own who are quite capable of such services... unless... well I suppose if she was willing to reduce that to one percent and guarantee shipment, with a deposit for surety, I might find a use for this service."

Ranma-chan started getting nervous. The last thing she wanted was Nabiki mad at her. The last time that had happened her life had become a living hell until Nabiki decided that she had suffered enough. Nabiki was part of the reason a vacation from Nerima had seemed enticing. Now that Nabiki could follow her with spells, there was no escape. However, letting a deal fall through because she was afraid to bargain would be to guarantee her wrath.

"Uh... three percent. And she only guarantees the shipment once it arrives at the holding area until it leaves to go to Lazlo or wherever you want it shipped," Ranma-chan stated sweat pouring down her face. She really hated negotiation... unless it was done with her fists.

"Make it two percent and I will agree to the terms."

"Yes! I mean... that would be acceptable," Ranma-chan exclaimed, sagging with relief.

"I am glad we could come to an agreement," turning to his black armored companion he continued, "You can stop frowning now. The negotiation is done with."

"Trade is beneath you. You should have someone else deal with such petty concerns," the Shogun stated in a disapproving tone.

"Until our court has recovered we must make exceptions. If this is the worst that I am required to do in this time of crisis I will thank the kami."

"I understand, my Emperor," the large man stated, only slightly soothed.

"Getting back to the issue of your reward. I can't have this transport circle set up in the palace. It would be a security breach that couldn't be tolerated. I was thinking of combining this with your reward. One-fifth of a mile in that direction is a small estate. The previous owners died in the attack, leaving no known inheritors. I would like for you to accept this land and a moderate title of nobility from me."

"I... I..."

"It is agreed then. It will be your new home as long as you dwell in my land. The transport circle will be set up in the basement of the mansion. This has worked out wonderfully. I assume you are pleased?"

"I... well... sure," Ranma-chan had the feeling that she had walked into an elaborate set-up. It was a feeling that she was coming to be familiar with as she wandered the multiverse. Back home it was usually only Nabiki and Cologne that made her feel this way. It seemed that out in the wider world every god, entity, and Emperor was a con man at heart.

"By the way, who is this Nabiki. Her name seems to be coming up frequently."

"She's the sister of one of my fiancée's."

"Fiancées? I suppose they do things very differently in Lazlo," the Emperor stated dubiously.

"It's my Pop's fault he promised me in marriage to anyone with a bowl of rice," Ranma-chan scowled at the remembrance of consistently being waylaid by a new fiancée. "It's a long story and I'll be dealing with the mess Pop left me for... a long time from now."

"Sounds difficult. We must respect our elders, but they make it difficult at times," the Emperor nodded sagely.

"Anyway, Nabiki is the business... person of the Tendo Dojo that I stay at."

"It's good to have family... or almost family connections," the Emperor turned to a girl who had approached and was apparently waiting to ask something. "Excuse me, young lady, I don't believe you belong here. Please leave," he continued in a firm voice, looking around and wondering why his guards hadn't moved into position yet.

Ranma-chan just looked in embarrassment at the ground, then around at the guards who seemed oblivious to the stranger, then up at the foliage far above. Anywhere except the girl.

"Excuse me. Have you seen... a demon around here? It looks... well I seem to recall something about red. Yes, it was definitely red."

As the girl asked this the huge man in black armor whirled around from where he had been facing, a look of fury on his face.

"You! I don't know how you've avoided my guards until now, but it ends here!" the Shogun roared in anger.

"Hey, no need to get violent, big guy. If you haven't seen her... it, just say so," the girl stated slightly belligerently, unwilling to accept rudeness from strangers.

"I'll show you violence, you little irritant! Guards! This is the possessed one you were supposed to be searching for. I suggest you take this opportunity to rid yourselves of her."

From the bushes and trees surrounding the area came a rustling sound as guards who had been ignoring the situation came to attention and started to head for the clearing. From the expression on the approaching guards, it was obvious that they were unaware of how the girl had walked past all of them. Attempting to make up for the apparent lack of vigilance they rushed forward to confront the source of their humiliation.

"Hey guys, that's not really necessary! She's mostly harmless without that sword of her's..." Ranma-chan's voice trailed off as one guard was easily disarmed and laid out on the ground, armor cracked, in a dazed state. As the other guards were slowly whittled down and beaten into unconsciousness one by one Ranma-chan watched in disgust.

"Man, that is pathetic. I mean she's okay, but your guys need to work on their technique. That blow was obviously a feint. She doesn't even have that big nasty sword of her's anymore," Ranma-chan continued to critique the skills of the guards until only three of them remained. These were the best of the group and by working together them managed to keep her at bay.

"This is a little better. See how the guy on left is keeping his defense up. Hah, nice parry, but he missed that opening..." as Ranma-chan rambled on her attention absorbed in the martial display in front of her she missed the Shogun's face slowly turning beet red in fury.

"Stop the annoying analysis and stop the girl if you're so superior!"

"Interfere with another martial artist's fight? Why on earth would I want to do that? I'd be furious if someone tried that with me. Besides, she may be certified psycho but she never tried to kill anyone except me," Ranma-chan stated as if all she said was self-evident.

Seeing the Shogun was on the verge of bursting a blood vessel the Emperor decided to take control of the conversation once more. "You know this girl?"

"Yep, she chased me through... some province I don't recall right now... and was really a menace with that big sword. Before she got the sword she was a bit interesting to spar with... afterward, ugh, that thing wanted my soul. I would have destroyed the damn thing if I could have," she muttered, an angry gleam in her eye.

"She doesn't seem to have the sword now," the Emperor stated calmly.

"Well of course not! It was seriously evil. It's a martial artist's duty to remove that kind of thing from the world."

"And..." the Emperor prompted.

"Oh. I took it away from her," Ranma-chan casually said, her attention still on the martial display.

"Very interesting. She doesn't seem to hold a grudge. I would think she would still be after you. She didn't even notice you."

"That's because... hey, nice disarm! If the other guard hadn't stepped in that could have been the end of it for him. Er... anyway, I used an ancient technique from China that blocks specific things from your memory. Very effective, but it doesn't last more than a few weeks if you're strong-willed. She's already starting to remember things about her 'demon'."

"What brings her here if she can't remember you?"

"I'm not really sure. She keeps finding me, but since she can't remember that I'm her 'demon' she wanders off again. It's really embarrassing. I was hoping she'd get tired of walking in circles by now," she said to herself.

"Do you know she's possessed?"

"Nah, she can't be. I hit her a couple of times already. If she'd been possessed the Oni would have been driven out. I've had that happen before. She's just a psychopath," Ranma-chan was pretty sure about this point, she had experience with psychopaths.

"You hit her so she can't be possessed?" The Emperor looked in askance to the Shogun, who in turn simply shrugged. "I think we're talking about a different kind of possession. She is definitely either possessed or directly under supernatural control. The Shogun's grandmother was the first to detect it."

"Really? Hmm, let's see," closing her eyes, she focused her chi senses on the combat. She noted in passing that all the combatants still standing wore and wielded substantial amounts of magic. Ignoring the tingling that indicated enchantment she focused on the spiritual energies of the warriors. She noted that Masayo's chi was tainted, but not to the extent that would prove that her spirit had been overcome. She was about to come out from her light trance when she noted a slight surge of energy that focused her attention at the Demon Queller's arm. Opening her eyes she saw the serpentine bracelet wrapped around the girl's wrist. Her eyes narrowed in understanding, "Ah! Maybe you're right. So... she's probably not really a violent, psychopathic macho chick. Weird... I could have sworn she was just like Akane." Well okay, Akane's not really that bad, more like Kodachi. Still... I'll have to check her when I get back. It might explain her cooking.

"So, you understand that it is actually in her best interest to subdue the girl," the Emperor gave the Shogun a warning glance when it seemed he would object.

"Well... okay. I mean if she's possessed it would probably be the right thing to do. I just hate fighting girls. Are you sure your guards won't be upset if I interrupt their fight? It looks like a good match-up."

"I'm sure they will understand. It is to help the girl."

"Okay, they were starting to use the same maneuvers anyway." With that last comment, she hurled herself over the melee. Masayo lifted her weapon to guard against what seemed to be an overhead attack. However, when Ranma-chan didn't close for a direct attack, actually passing well above to land behind Masayo, the girl seemed to immediately forget her presence once she was out of the direct line of sight.

Ranma-chan was satisfied. As long as she was limiting herself by trying not to hurt the Demon Queller, Masayo was good enough to hold Ranma-chan for an extended amount of time. By staying out of sight she took advantage of the memory technique she had used earlier. Ignored by the combatants, Ranma-chan examined her hunter carefully, selected her targets and quickly moved her fingers to the correct pressure points.

As expected, the Demon Queller froze. Ranma-chan quickly grabbed the back of the light armor the girl wore and with a strong tug, pulled the girl away from the guards before any unfortunate accidents could occur. With the imminent danger passed she lifted the girl's stiffened arm towards her to better examine the bracelet.

Ranma-chan snorted in disgust. She couldn't believe she hadn't noticed it before. It seemed to shift color from iridescent silver to gold. The figure itself was finely detailed down to the smallest scale. A memory tugged at the edge of his consciousness. Now, where had he seen a snake like this one. It wasn't as if he had come across too many before.

"Have you found something?" the Emperor asked, keeping a wary distance from the fallen girl.

"I think this bracelet is the cause of the problem. I've seen something like this before... I've got it! They were Mephisto's minions. Strange, I remember them being somewhat larger," she noticed a slight movement in the enchanted device and looked at the coiled serpent once more. "I think we should back away, the snake thing is starting to move."

Sure enough, the once immobile figurine seemed to be pulsing with an inner light and writhing. As its body twisted, it also gained in size, slowly, almost imperceptibly, then gathering speed. Within ten seconds it had reached the size Ranma-chan remembered, twenty feet long and three feet thick.

"Yeah, sure he won't hold a grudge. What is this? A thank you gift?" Ranma-chan muttered bitterly to herself. The gods obviously held certain Deevil Lords in far too high esteem.

Sensing a tingling sensation that seemed to act as a precursor to most enchantments Ranma-chan acted. Guessing what the spell was by past experience she shouted, "Bean Jam Blowout". The powerful whirlwind fought briefly for dominance with the wind summoned by the serpent. The conflict lasted several moments before both wind funnels were deflected in different directions. The chi generated wind shot off to the left picking up several unconscious guards and depositing them several hundred yards away. The deevil's attack was sent in the opposite direction simply knocking the Shogun to the ground.

Seeing the Deevil temporarily stationary from the aftermath of the spell, Ranma-chan took advantage of the opening to level several ‘Fierce Tiger Roar’ chi bursts at its face. She wasn't really worried about the creature, she had fought an army of them before. It had some unpleasant spells at its disposal, but nothing deadly by itself. She felt another tingling sensation and leaped into close combat with the entity. Her guess at the effects of the spell proved to be correct as the area behind her turned in a watery mixture of sand. At close range, she was almost certain that the deevil's spells would be ineffectual. Behind her, she heard shouting as the three remaining guards were caught in the newly formed morass.

Her first leap forward allowed her to unleash the Chestnut Fist at the head of the creature. To avoid retaliation and keep it off balance, she then leaped over the creature, raking the hide of the deevil with hands positioned like talons.

Ranma-chan was surprised the creature was still conscious. It seemed tougher than the others she had fought. Perhaps the energy-rich environment that had benefited Ranma-chan had similar effects on the deevil. It was time to pull out the bigger guns. As this thought drifted through her mind she felt a hard impact from the side as the serpent swiftly twisted in an unexpected direction. Tucking her feet under her she turned the impact into a controlled somersault, landing on her feet thirty feet away.

Looking down at her clothes she noted a small tear on the cuff of her shirt. "You scum! That was my favorite shirt," actually considering it was actually a part of an enchanted robe of guises that was presently acting as her wardrobe, it was technically her only shirt. The robe would repair itself, but it was the principle.

Leaping from one tree to another she quickly picked up speed until she was a blur rapidly rotating around the deevil. The creature attempted to track the speeding object but ended up spinning aimlessly around in a circle. Several ineffectual spells proved to the creature that this was a situation it hadn't a clue as to how to deal with. It rapidly began to retreat from the center of the bouncing human's path. Ranma-chan took this as the cue to finish the maneuver.

"Meteor Kick," her form glowed with focused chi as her foot impacted with the Deevil.  It shot backwards a hundred feet in a writhing coiled mess.

Expecting to see a prone serpent lying on the ground she was taken by surprise by a battered and annoyed monster unwinding itself from the ground and moving toward her. "Geesh, what are you the bionic deevil? I would have been in serious trouble if you guys had been this tough the first time around in hell." The deevil itself took advantage of the red head's stationary nature to cast an appropriate spell. As Ranma-chan found herself sinking into the ground she cursed herself for her inattention. Grimacing she took the only readily available option.

"Bean Jam Blowout!"

A water spout formed around the redhead composed of mud, sand and viscous fluids. She shot into the air as if from a catapult, barely able to steer the funnel enough not to be thrown far from the battlefield. At the apex of the ascent, she vaguely noticed people shouting and pointing as she passed over the enormous bough that they stood on. As she landed from the six-hundred-foot drop, her feet sank into the forest floor more than six inches. Snorting in disgust the martial artist looked down at herself to see a thick coat of mud covering her.

"All right, obviously I've been going way too easy on you! I'd call this a final attack, but I think you're a bit too tough for that, ‘Vacuum Blades’," Ranma-chan declared while slashing at the air in front of her. Energy blades formed in front of her traveling rapidly forward to strike the Deevil in the chest. Although the blades cut deep, it was nowhere near lethal. "Damn sometimes being right sucks," Ranma-chan muttered to herself.

To be honest the thing hadn't done much more than bruise her but she didn't know why it was still up after all the damage she had dished out. Down on its own plane, it hadn't taken more than three Chestnut Fists to put down one of the things. Weren't demons supposed to be stronger on their own plane?

"Fine. This worked on an elemental. No way you're tougher than that," she said while beginning a spiral pattern. Without an external heat source, she was forced to perform the technique the old-fashioned way but felt it would worth the effort.

The serpent itself was tired of this battle. It hadn't been going as well as it had hoped. This world was like bathing in font of energy, this combined with what Mephisto had empowered it with had most likely made it among the most powerful of its kind. Yet it was finding that it wasn't enough. This human had reduced it to almost half of what it was at the beginning of the battle. The one strike it had connected with on the human had very little effect. Its spells likewise seemed lacking in results. If retreat hadn't meant death at the hands of the master, it would have left already. As it was, the best it could hope for was a few more lucky strikes or be fortunate to position the human so it could use one of its less common spells. It was with this state of mind that the deevil followed Ranma-chan into the spiral, never quite touching the infuriating human, but close enough that it couldn't give up.

"Heavenly Dragon Ascension!"

Upon completing the technique, the vortex engulfed the deevil and while rising up into the air began to spread out, forming a huge funnel that extended far beyond the top of the huge tree, and in fact showed no sign of diminishing. The creature was shot from the center of the man-made tornado while the raging chi energies ripped at the vital energies the creature. As it reached the level of the tree boughs it struck one, breaking completely through the small limb. The destruction of the branch seemed to signal the beginning of an apocalypse. The torn limb emitted a large explosion completely engulfing the already battered deevil before being absorbed in the funnel. The energy merely added to the destructive force inherent in the twister, ripping small leaves and twigs from their place on the monolithic tree. These, in turn, were swallowed by the chi phenomenon shaking more leaves and twigs free, causing more explosions and releasing more energy into the funnel. The deevil crashed into two more tree limbs, ripping them away from the main tree body and in turn releasing huge eruptions of force. By the time the funnel had risen above the Kyoto Tree it was a vast force of destruction that hovered above the city and slowly moved away, glowing with its internal energies.

Ranma-chan looked at the destruction that lay in the wake of the ‘Heavenly Ascending Dragon’, mouth gaping in confusion. It had never done that before, and what was with the exploding tree. That was a definite hazard if people actually lived up there. Fortunately, the people had the sense to run for the nearest shelter once the larger chi effects had begun to manifest.

"What was that... monstrosity?" she heard the Emperor's voice call out.

"That was a Serpent, they're mostly servants of Mephisto..."

"No! That hellish whirlwind!"

"Er..." Ranma-chan briefly entertained the idea of saying it had been the Deevil's final suicide attack, but discarded the idea. It would be dishonorable, and she'd been told that she had a lousy poker face anyway. Not that she believed them but why take chances?

"Well, that was one of my Final Attacks. The ‘Heavenly Dragon Ascending’, it's not usually this big. I think it gathered energy from the tree somehow. Speaking of which... what's with the exploding tree? Isn't it kind of... dangerous to live in someplace that blows up so easily?"

"Easily? The energy release is a self-defense mechanism. It prevents vandals and thieves from taking gifts of the tree."

"I suppose. It is a lot of risk for a bit of firewood..." Ranma-chan was at a loss at how to respond to a seemingly nonsensical statement.

"The tree has puissant enchantments in the leaves and wood. By the way, why is it so cold?"

Only then did Ranma-chan notice that the people around her were exhaling long plumes of steam and the remains of the quicksand had frozen over leaving only a thick skin of ice on the surface.

"Oh, sorry. That's me, it's the first stage of the Heavenly Dragon Ascending. I'll stop it now," she said, simultaneously dismissing the 'body of ice' effect. She never noticed the cold, but this was the first time people had mentioned such severe side effects. It must be the new area she was in.

"I'm sorry about your tree too, I hadn't expected that big a reaction. I mean it usually big, but not that big. No one got hurt, I think," she offered.

"Which is the sole reason we may choose to ignore this whole debacle," the hoarse voice of the Shogun warned as he limped towards the group. He grew silent under the warning glance of the Emperor. The Lazlo envoy was becoming a very valuable person to have around, despite the collateral damage that seemed to follow her around. So long as none of his subjects were injured he saw no need to quibble about the results. The Demon Queller had been freed and no one had died. He believed the Sacred Tree would forgive a few rustled leaves and broken twigs.

"Now regarding the sword you took from this young lady," the Emperor said with a gesture toward the still unconscious woman that lay undisturbed on the ground near their feet. "It was this lady's family responsibility to guard the blade. She has failed in this duty and will undoubtedly spend most of her life atoning for this. Never the less, I need to know the location of the weapon to assure none will use it again."

"Are you sure? It's pretty safe where it is, and if you can't destroy the thing, hiding and forgetting about is the next best thing," Ranma-chan offered her hard-won wisdom.

"The problem with that solution is that hidden things are invariably found. Allowing our ignorant descendants to shoulder the burden would be irresponsible. We must deal with problems as they occur rather than hand them to others. As someone who must deal with your father's poor judgment, I'm sure you understand."

"Well, when you put it that way... okay. I had to deal with my share of 'lost' artifacts so I guess it makes sense. All right, about a day out of Kyoto is a big patch of newly turned dirt where the road should be. You can't miss it. Just dig forty meters straight down and there it is."

"You buried it forty meters?"

"Hey! I was in a hurry! I wasn't sure when the luni... I mean the nice possessed person would wake up," she said defensively.

"Ah... that's fine," the Emperor said faintly. He would have to get used to extremes from this individual.

A chill went down Ranma-chan's spine as she sensed a chi signature where her other senses claimed there was nothing. A swirl of air signaled the departure of an unseen force.

Holding up her hand for silence she walked over to where she had sensed something. In the thawed but still firm ground was a deep imprint of a clawed foot. "Whatever left this was just here a moment ago. Do you have any idea who or what it was?"

"This bodes ill. That is a dragon's track. A benevolent creature would be unlikely to hide itself from us. I must assume this particular dragon does not have good intentions. " Turning to his armored companion he continued, "Shogun, gather the wizards and what Demon Quellers are in the area. Go to the location of the sword as swiftly as possible. Be wary of large supernatural entities. I believe it will be a race, so be sure to use whatever means the wizards have at their disposal. It seems there is no end to the emergencies."

"I suppose I could help," Ranma-chan offered.

"No. This contest will be determined by the speed we get there. If we arrive first the dragon will not dare contest our possession of the blade. Such creatures are very powerful, but our mages will be prepared for battle and there will be many of them. However, if it finds the site first..."

"It will be gone when we arrive," the Shogun finished grimly, slapping one of the unconscious guards awake. "Wake Up! Run ahead and ready the travel room. Hurry!" As the guards staggered away at a half trot the Shogun strode rapidly after him.

"He is a bit of a grump," the redhead growled as the Shogun left.

"He takes his responsibilities very seriously. Our Shogun is probably the greatest general in the history of our Empire. I understand that in the past the Shoguns ruled, either without the Emperor and or with the Emperor as a mere figurehead. He accepts his place and supports me in all things. Whether or not he wholeheartedly agrees with my decisions. He is a good man despite his moodiness."

"Okay. I can respect that. But he is a sourpuss," Ranma-chan stated.

"Yes. But he is my Shogun," the Emperor stated simply.

"Well now that the excitement is temporarily over and the rest of my guards are wandering back or waking up, let's walk to your estate. It's just outside of the perimeter of the great tree. I took the liberty of setting up a circle in the basement." Ranma-chan scowled at the man's retreating back. Emperor or no, she hated being led around. Deep in thought, she didn't notice the branch that was descending on her until it had impacted her on the head. Unharmed, but embarrassed she rubbed her head. "Hey! This place is dangerous! Are you sure it's safe for normal people to live here?" she complained.

"What? Oh my, you are fortunate. The Tree has forgiven you for your accident and has given you a branch as a token. When we get to the house I'll have the wizard or priest see what magic it is imbued with. By the way, the mage will need to speak with your Nabiki in order to set the proper receiving coordinates in the circle. I trust you can contact her?"

"Sure," the martial artist stated shortly. She wasn't too pleased with how the 'gift' had been delivered. Still, after the chi attack had gone out of control like that she was lucky to still be welcome in the country. Now she would have to go find someplace private and shout at Anhur again. Maybe Nabiki could figure out a way to contact her directly.

Perhaps by the time they arrived at the estate the enchanted clothes she wore would have cleaned themselves a bit. Squelching slightly as she walked, she trudged after the Emperor.

When the Shogun arrived at the designated area, an excavated vertical column, ten feet in diameter led straight down into the earth. No sign of sword or dragon was seen except tracks similar to those seen under the Sacred Tree. The wizards that made up the party agreed that enchantments had been used to create the tunnel, and spent most of their time there arguing the exact method and magic used. The Shogun was more interested in the present location of the blade, but no effective means were found to track the artifact or the creature responsible for its theft.

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