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 who wish to awaken the Old Ones has taken Ranma to an alternate version of Japan. There were places where magic reigned supreme and others where futuristic technology dominated. After being chased across the land and many heroic rescues, he has finally found a group with ties to Atlantis and hopefully the ones he is hunting. Following this lead through a portal takes him to a very dark place.
Part Three: Tea With Splynncryth
Chapter 1: Insanity
Ranma could attest to the fact that the transition was much smoother than his previous jaunts using circles and spells. It was almost like stepping into another room. Actually it was more like falling. Exhaustion fell around him like a shroud. Dimming his thoughts and even making it difficult to move his muscles. All he could really appreciate was how good it felt to force air into his lungs one breath at a time. Off to his right he heard a sibilant voice.
"Hey! What happened to the gate? Move the human trash off to the side. I need to check the interface." A moment later something like tentacles wrapped themselves around Ranma's leg and he found himself unceremoniously thrown against a wall.
Through his mental haze, thoughts of chi techniques gone wrong drifted through his mind. As he had told Komar earlier, the risk with experimenting with new techniques was the danger of reducing your life force to below critical levels. He vaguely realized that he was closer to death than he had been since his father's attempt to teach him the neko-ken. A sense of disconnection followed. He was Ranma Saotome, how had that happened to him? He had known the dangers but had always had such a firm grasp on his chi that it had seemed merely a distant possibility.
Gradually, as he lay on the floor contemplating this, another thought occurred to him. What the hell had he done? Objectively, he knew that he had seen an opportunity to cripple the Shogunate's plans with its allies. Looking back upon his actions he couldn't understand how he had unleashed such a completely uncontrolled lethal maneuver. He had been thinking of variations of the Breaking Point for quite some time. After all, combined with the Heavenly Dragon it was one of the most versatile techniques he knew. However, this particular move he had promised himself to restrict to less inhabited areas. Which was one of the reasons he hadn't tested it out in a more controlled situation.
While he was deliberating over his actions a small part of his mind gloated with satisfaction. It imagined the likely consequences and death toll with satisfaction. This was how power was to be exercised. After all if you didn't flaunt it people might never know how great you were. He couldn't understand why he was upset at unleashing the vacuum blades at those ninja losers that had been attacking the Emperor. They pretty much deserved death for getting in his way. He had been avoiding thinking about those deaths when in reality there was nothing wrong with ridding himself of a few obstacles. His father had been an idiot to hide such efficient techniques. Especially considering it was the most useful thing the moron had ever come up with.
"What the heck happened? The whole interface is just gone! It's like the other circle just isn't there." The sound of dry rasping scales on stone was heard as something large moved itself. "Is the human awake yet? Maybe it knows what's going on."
Another set of tentacles wrapped themselves around the drained martial artist, lifting him into the air and shaking him like an oversized rag doll. "No. It is unresponsive. I suppose we could heal it, but considering it is due for augmentation anyway, it may be best that it's unconscious. Most of the losses occur when the subject resists the process."
"Yeah, I know. But I kinda like how humans sound when they scream. It's very restful, you know."
"Never mind. Send him to the artist. We'll contact the mage through mechanical means. No one else is due through for a while." The tentacled thing dragged the inert form of Ranma out of the room.
Ranma was lost in a world of horror as conflicting emotions and viewpoints poured through his mind. His first reaction was that he had somehow turned into an amoral, honorless monster. Logic quickly came to fore despite his blurred thoughts and he drew a conclusion. Hashimoto.
Somehow the transferred memories had affected his fundamental beliefs and attitudes. He may not have absorbed the ninja's personality but the reflexes Hashimoto had developed, involving taking advantage of every opportunity and damn the moral consequences had somehow infected him. Groaning in dismay Ranma held on the promise the priest had made, hoping that the situation would go away within two days. The vague thought crossed his mind that he now in all likelihood had more blood on his hands. More actions that he couldn't let himself think about.
He was beginning to loathe this new world he was in. While it was true that he had learned more than he had ever dreamed of, he also had more responsibility than he had ever expected or wanted. Back before his dimensional romps he had only fought his opponents with a fraction of his skill. If that proved insufficient he would gradually increase the ability he brought to bear. Meanwhile, he took advantage of the drawn-out conflict to analyze his enemy, examining every move they made so that he could make their techniques his own. This occasionally resulted in a few embarrassing losses when he miscalculated the skill level of his sparring partner, but was usually quickly corrected. Ranma Saotome never lost twice in a row. On the second round he usually either used their own attack against them or simply negated the specific maneuver they relied upon and brought the combat to a quick end.
Since he'd come to this new world all that had changed. He'd constantly been challenged by demons, gods and ridiculously huge Robot Vehicles. Each one forcing him to fight at his highest level or face defeat. Losing even one battle in this world would mean more than simply his life. It would mean the end of countless worlds. Assuming Thoth spoke the truth, a newly hatched sinister thought echoed in his mind. Exhausted he let go of consciousness. He couldn't bear the idea that Thoth had lied. If the deity had deceived him then the lives he had taken could never be redeemed. Hopefully, when he awoke again the small alien portion of his mind that didn't give a damn would be gone.
"Damn this human's hide is tough! I'm going to have to use the equipment meant for our real clients. Pity to waste it on human trash..." a sibilant voice spoke out from where a Highlord sat hunched over the human in question. The skull-like visage was drawn tight with concentration, accentuating the interlocking teeth that give his race such a deadly grin. The web-like mottling that covered the top of the skull furrowed in dismay.
"Hey! If he's already enhanced why do they want the normal stuff?" a small bipedal creature spoke out from the door's archway.
"Well... I suppose we'll use the second set. The Eye is experimental but... the first set does seem redundant if it's already modified. Must have been Bio-Wizardry type augmentation. I don't see any other tattoos."
"He might be a human mutant! I've seen them in the Arena! Some of them take a lot to kill!" the little one squealed in merriment, clapping taloned hands together.
"Well, I suppose the master must have allied with the scum for some reason. Never mind. Bring me the inks. I'll set up the equipment," he stated, running sharp claws over the unconscious figure's exposed skin. Damn frustrating how thick the skin was. Difficult to cause real pain without almost killing the subject. Of course, the augmentation process was said to be the most excruciation experience possible. "With any luck, the human will wake up and we'll get some entertainment from his pain. Either way, I suppose I'll be wasting the next few days with this one."
"Yes sir," the robed figure scurried away on his errand.
Ryouga sat in the destroyed waiting room watching the retreating backs of the technicians. For the past hour he had patiently waited while engineers and other knowledgeable men walked in and out carrying sonic cutters, fusion torches, and other gadgets. Nothing had worked. Of course. The thing didn't have a breaking point so it was only logical for it to be indestructible. These science types just snorted in disgust when he told them that, but he knew. The martial arts weren't just about smashing things indiscriminately. That was just a lucky coincidence. No, the Breaking Point had refined his chi senses so that he perceived a layer of reality only the most advanced beings knew about. Even humans and other biological structures had Breaking Points. The technique only worked on substances with a rigid, crystalline form, but everything had weak points. Except the thing holding on to his ankle.
Deep in thought, Ryouga absently tapped his umbrella against the back of the creatures head. Although the monster was unaffected, each blow drove the thing's face into the ground by a few millimeters. This had disturbed the people who came to try to remove the thing on his leg. Not that Ryouga noticed. When he concentrated on something specific the rest of the world faded from existence. This careless habit contributed to his involuntary spatial dislocations to keep him unsure where he was at any given time. Of course, it also allowed him to learn at a rate that could rival his nemesis.
"Damn you Ranma!" he shouted, a dim glow visible around his body. Each tap on the motionless being before him coming more forcefully. He didn't know how, but this whole farce centered around the pig-tailed martial artist. Somehow he had to be involved in this humiliating situation.
"Excuse me, I think I hear the PA calling for me. B... be right back," the last man in the room stuttered, turning off his torch and backing away from the seated figure. He really didn't want to be in the room if the floor collapsed. He had heard in history class about the abilities of the ancient martial artists. At the time he had scoffed at the thought of an unmodified human coming close to equaling the power of even a non-military cyborg. He still wasn't completely convinced, but one thing he was sure of. Magic and martial arts were baffling and scary. He'd come back later when the dour-faced young man stopped making the entire room shudder. The martial artist didn't even acknowledge his retreat.
The thing seemed impervious to physical force. Ryouga had met few entities stronger than himself, and Ryouga doubted that even that freak from the Musk Dynasty would be any more successful than himself. Ryouga's thoughts grew darker as he was slowly forced to face a very unpleasant truth. There really was only one way to get this thing off him.
"Get me a glass of cold water and a cup of tea... " he demanded in a commanding voice. The tone immediately faded away as he noticed that he was the only one remaining in the room. "Hey, where'd everyone go? Come on! A little bit of hospitality would be nice!" Ryouga shouted indignation edging into his voice.
A sudden flash of light and an odd sensation from the new sense Anhur had awoken within him told him that something had come into existence behind him. Spinning around, he ignored the destructive sounds caused by the prone statue smashing through various objects as it was swung in an arc around the lost boy.
"Ah! I have finally found you. Do you realize how difficult it is to follow that devious device? I think it may have shuffled a few dimensions to try to throw me off course. At least, I'm fairly sure leading me through Hades was a trick." The figure's voice continued to trail off muttering to himself.
Ryouga was caught slightly off guard by the dark-haired, six-foot figure dressed in a humble combination of gray cloth and leather. His senses told him that despite his appearances he was more than human, a fact that was countered by the rather ordinary facial features that seemed an odd mix of Asian and Indian. If his senses hadn't told him differently he would have said that he looked like an ordinary peasant farmer. An extremely healthy, and well-built farmer, but none the less...
"Excuse me... er... who are you?" Ryouga asked in a slightly uncertain voice. He had expected to be attacked. Lacking the normal flow of violence to follow, he was momentarily caught off balance.
"Eh? Oh! Well, I'm your Grandfather. Well... not really your Grandfather, more like your Great... dang, how many generations would that be?" The man shook himself out of the musing and began again. "Never mind. I'm your ancestor. I'm not sure if you're up on your genealogy but I think you're descended from Mariko Hibiki."
"You? You’re the god that Anhur mentioned? Because of you, my whole family is lost! I haven't seen my parents in over five years! Because of you I've seen Hell!" The outraged martial artist started shouting, building up a head of steam.
"Eh? You too? It's actually kind of nice this time of year. Though the neighbors are kinda rowdy. The first time I was there they asked to leave just a few months after I got there," the deity frowned and shook his head sadly. "Can you believe they didn't like orange groves? Now I ask you, what kind of sicko doesn't like a few thousand acres of oranges. It took a lot of work to get them to grow in the magma too. Damn ungrateful demons."
"Er... yeah. That wasn't very nice... " a slightly dazed Ryouga stated, eyes slightly unfocused as he tried to process the new information. He'd never been taken literally before and it had completely distracted him from his anger.
"Now I'm no fan of humans... messy things, always paving over a perfectly good forest... but most of them appreciate a bit of green if they can get their attention away from all that metal and ceramic they seem to like so much," he sighed, "Mariko was like that. That woman was a mortal after my own heart... "
"Um... that's... nice. Why are you here," Ryouga asked, attempting to steer the conversation in some sort of direction so he could get a handle on it.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. I really don't get to talk that often with humans... or anyone, now that I think of it," pausing to collect his thoughts he continued. "This old servitor attacked me, thinking that I was you. I wanted to meet any kids Mariko might have had, so I explained that I wasn't you and followed it."
"Well, as you can see I took care of the thing. It won't be bothering anyone very soon," Ryouga stated with some satisfaction.
The deity looked at the thing attached to his descendant's leg and shook his head. "I don't think you understand. These things are sort of weak by themselves. Which makes sense, since most of the original models were basically servants of the Old Ones and their successors. Glorified butlers. But they are indestructible without large amounts of time and resources. One of their main drawbacks was the time limit."
"Time limit?" Ryouga prodded his newfound ancestor uneasily. He had the feeling he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.
"It varied slightly, depending on who constructed them, but they could usually only work for a maximum of three hours before they ran out of power and had to wait for a day to finish what they had to do."
"You mean... "
"Yep. That thing is going to activate any minute and probably either try to kill you or teleport you wherever it came from," the god clucked to himself at the foolish mortals who had sent the construct herring across the dimension.
"Hey! You said it took a day to reactivate," Ryouga snarled in anger and began to pound the immobile form in frustration.
"Well, there are several models. One version was 'on' for three hours, 'off' a day. Another creator made his 'on' one hour, 'off' one hour, one hour 'on', etc., for a total of three hours 'on' and then 'off' for a day. I think it had to do with spreading the required activity over a wider period."
"Shit!" Ryouga exclaimed, upset at the unexpected turn of events. He quickly dragged the construct over to the entrance to the chamber and poked his head out the door. "Hey! I need some hot and cold water! Now! Where the hell is everyone? Get in here!" Ryouga bellowed.
"Now calm down," the nature god said in a low soothing tone. "These things usually aren't that powerful. The only reason this one can teleport and do all its other tricks are the little gems affixed to the surface. Those were added by mortals to make this thing a bit more flexible..."
"Oh! Of course! Without those I can just grapple it... " Looking down at the indestructible, immobile thing attached to his ankle he reconsidered. "I mean toss it out the window or bury it."
"Yes! See? No problem... what are you doing? Stop that! Don't you know anything about magic?" The god said worry beginning to tinge his voice, as he raised his voice over the loud cracking noises.
Ryouga had begun to apply the Breaking Point to the jewels and stones affixed to the body of the creature. Each blow only took a second, shattering the talisman and releasing flashes of light and energy. Several times his hand went numb, but he persevered, systematically removing the magical devices. Naturally, he was so intent on his goal that he failed to pay attention to the mouthings of his ancestor. He knew what he had to do and he could talk to the odd fellow who said he was his ancestor after he was done.
"Stop that! The more powerful the talisman the more unpredictable the effects when the energy is released! No! That's the stone used for telep... " A sudden bright release of magic and a loud implosion of air and both martial artist and construct was gone.
The deity just stared at the space where his great-grandson had disappeared. "What a stubborn, single-minded human! Just like Mariko... " A fleeting smile passed over his face before being replaced with a frown. "That trait was much more attractive in a woman."
Without further words, the god teleported away. Tracking people was not his strong point. He was a god of nature and agriculture, not hunting. Maybe he'd stop by Hell again. It always seemed to be on the way to where he was going. It was such a pain how the dimensions always reshuffled themselves.
The room was very quiet within occupants. Only holes in the floors, ceiling and walls gave evidence that it had once held several being of immense destructive potential.
A few minutes later a nervous young girl cautiously, peeked in through the doorway holding a tray with a glass of ice water, an empty cup, and a tea pot.
"Sir? Sir? Excuse me sir, I have your water," the girl's voice quivered in fear as she looked around the empty room.
Chapter 2: Out of the Frying Pan
Ranma found himself writhing in pain. Around him were sinister crimson skinned demons slowly circling him and poking him with sharp oversized forks. At random intervals, they would reach out and pierce his flesh with their weapons causing a continuation of the agony. Try as he might he couldn't reach out to stop them or gather any energy for attack or defense. All he could do is lay on the ground glaring at the surrounding mob and growling his defiance. Not that it made any difference to the fiends rotating in and out of his sight.
As an indeterminate amount of time passed, he sensed some sort of force insinuating itself within him. Despite attempts to gather his tattered chi around him, the energy began to weave around and into him. Binding itself in some unfathomable way to his life and energies. Somehow the sharp prongs of the devil's weapons directed the structure that seemed to be starting to become one with his very soul.
An eternity of torture came and went and then without warning the creatures and their odd weapons were gone, leaving him still with shock as the all-pervading pain slowly subsided. Ranma lay exhausted and dazed as slowly it dawned on him that whatever the energies were that had been coiling around him were still there. It even seemed to be settling itself closer.
"No, get off, get off, damn you," shouted Ranma, noticing with horror that no sound was coming from his voice.
"... Off!" screamed Ranma sitting up and staring wildly around the room he was in. "Whoa. That was one freaky dream! I'm not even Christian, why would I dream about Hell?" Ranma shook his head in puzzlement, trying to rid himself of the haze that still hovered over his mind and weighed down his limbs. "I'll ask Kasumi about it when I get back. She wears that cross. She might know something."
Putting the odd experience out of his mind he began to examine the room he was in. It was a small chamber. If he extended his arms to either side he would be able to touch the sickly pale walls. A thin thread of sunlight was the only illumination in the room, coming from a narrow window in the upper part of the wall. The entrance was an odd-looking door that seemed to be made from stone, rather than the wood he had expected to see. Once he had noticed this oddity he realized the whole room was stone, with the exception of the thin pallet he lay on.
Shrugging he stood up, staggered slightly, and walked over to the door. He supposed he was feeling pretty good for a man lucky to be alive. Most people didn't walk away from such a massively uncontrolled use of chi. He winced as he thought of the likely consequences of the technique. Suppressing a shudder he pushed the memory to the back of his mind where he had already stored feelings concerning a fatal encounter with the Emperor's would-be assassins and his encounter with Saffron. Some things were too uncomfortable to view without a good amount of time to cushion the memory.
His chi reserves were low but a few hours of concentration would cure that. The Hadou Ken technique would also help him cull ambient chi from the area around him even if he hadn't fully mastered it as yet. Ranma was about to settle down on the floor for a relaxing session of meditation when he stopped himself.
What the heck am I thinking? I'm trapped in a stone closet and I'm taking a nap? Ranma snorted in disgust, he didn't know what had happened since he fell through the portal but sitting in a cell certainly wouldn't get him more information. He still ached all over from the strain of attempting to control the chi energy for the final technique he had used but obviously he wasn't thinking clearly either.
"First let's get out, and then make a plan," Ranma stated, confident he now knew what he needed to do. Walking over to the door he verified it was locked from the outside. Nodding to himself he briefly checked the walls and ceiling with a series of sharp taps. Since the borders of his prison proved to be as solid as the stone they appeared to be, he moved to the window noting the narrow dimension. Examining it closely he noted that the opening was more of a shaft than window, extending forward more than ten feet before opening into the sunlight.
Ranma grunted to himself. The opening was very narrow, far too wide for his male form and it would be close in his female form as well. If he had enough energy he would have had the option of using Happossai's Dimensional Cloak. The breaking point was probably the least expensive technique he knew in terms of chi, but it was also extremely loud and showy. Not ideal for a quiet escape.
Well, first things first. Seeing no convenient cup of water in the room, Ranma reached into folded space to pull out a canteen of water. It seemed far more difficult than normal to pull off this simple maneuver. The first time he accidentally pulled a set of throwing stars out he shrugged and tried again. He was tired after all. The second time he grabbed out a dress he frowned in thought. He hadn't screwed up this often since he first learned the technique. There was no way he could possibly be that tired. Reaching out his spiritual senses he caught a sense of distortion at the edge of his range. He didn't think much of it until he realized the sheer amount of energy required to be detectable at that range.
Chi senses could certainly detect a large variety of energy signatures, but the fact remained that it was best used to sense the spiritual force and life energy used by other martial artists and priests. Everything else was there if you were good enough to see it, but it was much like seeing objects by the shadows they left. If there was a dimensional distortion that large in the area then it was no wonder that he was having a difficult time accessing his pockets. He was grateful he hadn't been able to use the cloaking technique, who knows how it would have been affected. The image of himself coming out of the Cloak in the middle of the stone wall before him sent shivers of horror down his spine. He would have to work on his control if this kind of interference was common in the area. Absently, he scratched a faint itch on his forehead, and then rubbed his temples to ease slight foreshadowing of a headache.
Despite a faint concern that he might lose a hand, he reached into folded space for a third time, bearing down with his available will power. He sighed with relief when he saw the steel canteen in his grasp. Quickly removing his bracers he splashed himself and crawled into the window shaft. Grunting with the effort, she pulled herself along by her fingers and pushed with her toes. About halfway through she became frustrated with the slow progress that the lack of purchase on the smooth stone was causing. Exerting her full strength Ranma-chan fully expected to see her fingers sink deeply into powdered grooves of her own making. In her own world, she could easily crush rocks in her grasp, and the ambient energy coursing through her body in this new world increased her strength to truly ridiculous levels. She was therefore shocked when all that came from her effort were thin scratches on the surface of the rock and a tingling in her hands.
"Oh man! I can't believe I'm this wiped out. I mean I'm tired, but I thought it was just a simple lack of chi. I mean either that or this is magic stone," Ranma-chan snorted to herself at the idea of building a prison of glowing stone. Then she froze shock as she noticed a low-level tingling coming from her hands and feet and even more faintly from the length of her body pressed against the stony surface. "No way! A whole room with enchanted stone for walls? Damn, the walls alone must be at least ten feet thick. Are they paranoid or what?"
Shaking her head in disgust she sighed and continued her slow pace through the crawlway. After ten minutes of sweating effort, she was rewarded by being able to reach to the outer edge with her hands. "Okay... significantly more than ten feet," she muttered to herself unhappily. With this leverage, she was able to easily pull her body forward until her head poked outside. Looking around she smiled in relief. The smile quickly faded as it registered on her mind what she was seeing.
"Holy... Good Lord! I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore," looking around again she continued muttering to herself. "Or Japan, or even the freaking earth." Pausing another moment to try to comprehend what she was seeing. "Looks more like Hell if the property values were better."
It had taken a few days to heal the injuries and burns caused by the treachery of the human but it was time to take up the hunt once more. Flexing his scaly talon before his face he nodded to himself. The scales might take a few weeks to regain their luster but he was functional once more. He winced as he recalled the burned limb with the scales and flesh peeling away to expose the muscle beneath. He had not felt such pain for almost a millennium.
Not since an old rival of his had challenged him to mortal combat. It had been a close battle but he had finally won. He chuckled to himself as he called up the cherished memory. The pain he suffered was nothing compared to the agony he had inflicted on his foe. He had lasted for weeks before he had permitted his death. He frowned to himself. If he wanted to ensure the same level of pain on his new opponent he would have to brush up on the anatomy of humans. It wouldn't do to have the mortal worm die too soon. Not after the pain and the fire he had endured.
It was odd that the human had decided to flee here. This didn't seem to be the kind of place that would welcome the common mortal, he mused to himself as he walked down the streets. Even at his full size he only took up a fraction of the thoroughfare. The various races that made up the crowd surrounding him scurried out of his way, bowing and scraping as if their lives depended on it.
Yes, this was a good place. Who knew such an area existed? A whole continent where supernatural beasts ruled. Where the only humans and mortals in sight were dragged along behind their owners in chains. The next step brought an odd sensation under his rear leg, accompanied by a shrill cry of pain. He simply continued walking down the avenue, enjoying the sights and smells. Sure he could have flown; it was actually far easier to fly, letting the winds support the massive weight of his body. But it was far more entertaining to walk. Yes, here was a place that knew how to give a dragon the respect he deserved. There would be time to track down his enemy in the days to come.
Ranma-chan looked out of the opening in amazement. She found that she wasn't in a prison of stone. No, she was in some sort of Egyptian monument that seemed to tower several hundred feet in the air. The shaft itself emerged about halfway up the side of the edifice giving her an excellent view of exactly where she was. Easily enough to thoroughly wish to be almost anywhere else.
A closer inspection showed the monument to actually be a pyramid. The sides created a gradual slope that seemed to stretch out below her, craning her neck around she found that it likewise rose an equal distance above her. She was not in some dead city however, in fact, far below her the wide streets that began at the huge plaza surrounding the base of the structure stretched far into a sprawling city. Large buildings and weirdly shaped structures lined the avenue; only stopped by the barrier of a slightly narrower cross street.
The streets themselves teemed with life; though it was with a strong sense of trepidation that Ranma-chan realized that most of it was not human. Creatures of all descriptions slithered, thumped, waddled, and crawled through the thoroughfare. They ranged from tentacled creatures out of a hentai anime, to scaled and horned demons. In fact, once she grew accustomed to the teeming masses below her she was able to distinguish that some were indeed the demons she had studied in the bestiary tomes Anhur had given her.
"... Baalrog, Fenry, and... what is that? I know some of those things are racial enemies... why aren't they trying to kill each other?" Not all of the mob surrounding her were demons, some she recognized as those which humans considered the monster races. The vast majority of them were simply unknown. It was only after some minutes of staring somewhat blankly at the scene that it occurred to her, where were the humans? Even after a time of specifically looking for some signs of humans, she found nothing. Oh, many creatures were biped humanoids, but that was all they had in common.
She was wondering exactly how she was going to fit in when an unusual motion caught her eyes. Coming around the corner was what at first appeared to be a large troop of humans led by a heavily armored humanoid figure. The relief Ranma-chan felt quickly drained away as she abruptly noticed that they all had an odd gait to there walk.
"Chains... they're wearing chains. What kind of hellhole is this place," wondered a rather upset martial artist. The only free human seemed to be the armored one in the lead, and considering the various threatening gestures he was making with the metal shod staff he wielded, he seemed to be more of an enforcer than anything else.
Sighing, she summoned the Way of the Silent Thief to hide his presence. This place didn't seem to be an area that humans were appreciated. Pulling herself fully out of the shaft she stood, confident that she was undetected. She was leaping down the slope towards the plaza below, when she had an odd feeling that she was being watched. Pausing, she quickly glanced around.
Ranma-chan suddenly felt that she was on stage and no-one had told her the lines to speak. This was a familiar feeling, but not a comforting one. A good one-third of the inhuman crowd beneath her had paused and was staring directly at her. With growing trepidation she slowly looked behind her, vainly hoping there was a dancing clown or other spectacle that might explain the attention. The only thing she noticed was a caped, burly nine-foot tall creature with a set of upthrust tusks from its mouth, another pair to either side of its chin and an obviously mean disposition. It wore a breastplate and some sort of armor covering most of its arms and legs. A large sword was slung over its back but in its hand was held a large rifle of clearly high technology. The one part that grabbed her attention was a faintly glowing visor that seemed built into the oddly shaped helmet the being wore.
"You," it growled in a loud hostile tone. Having just glanced around Ranma-chan knew there was nothing but herself on this part of the sloping surface. "What's a human like you doing crawling around our Lord's home? Obviously, only a pathetically stupid human would cloak himself in Atlantis!" The creature let loose with a hacking sound that Ranma-chan assumed to be laughter. "You may have just as well shot off a load of fireworks to announce your presence."
Ranma-chan cursed herself, the anatomy texts she had read seemed to indicate that most supernatural entities could perceive the invisible; she just hadn't considered that her father's chi technique counted. Or even that attempting invisibility would be that obvious. Ranma-chan stopped berating herself when the armored being started insulting her. She immediately stopped hiding her chi and an ominous red glow shimmered around her.
"Pathetic? Why I... " growled an angry Ranma-chan while cracking her knuckles, completely ignoring the hundreds of witnesses some distance below her.
"Watch your attitude, you tattooed slave. You may be someone's valued property, but give me an excuse and your just another piece of meat."
Ranma-chan breathed rapidly through her nose trying to keep her anger contained. The odd references distracted her with their irrelevance, making slightly easier to ignore the slights without resorting to the Soul of Ice technique.
"I'm nobody's slave, creep. If you don't give me a little bit more respect... " Ranma-chan threat trailed off as she saw ten more creatures like the first rapidly marching towards her from the central steps of the pyramid. "... or I'll leave. Very quickly."
"Yeah... sure you will. You'll stay where you are, meat." Raising his weapon to point at the martial artist.
"Oh... sure... " Ranma paused in his speech to leap into an acrobatic flip that brought him within striking range of the thing. The rifle shot several bursts where Ranma-chan had just been. Ranma snapped a few punches in the monster's face, then a snap kick which spun it slightly in the air. Grabbing the wildly flapping cape of the creature she unloaded a final full strength kick while it was still rotating before her.
The ripping sound of the cape covered the grunt of pain from the pigtailed martial artist as she recovered from the one blow the thing had landed on her face before her final attack. "Damn thing's almost as strong as I am," she muttered to herself as spun around to face the approaching group, ignoring a trickle of blood running down her face.
Ranma-chan's chi senses stretched out to there most sensitive, attempting to gather as many clues from her attackers as possible. Her concentration was disrupted as a slight tingling was felt from her forehead. Then the world changed.
Her chi senses, combined with the Breaking Point training had always allowed her to see the world more clearly than most, but this abruptly changed. Everything suddenly came into an unreal focus, as if she could place everything's location to the fraction of a millimeter. As odd as this was, it was only the least of the changes. Everything she saw held a deeper meaning than she had ever realized. Before, she had merely sensed enchantment, perceiving a shadow of a shadow, now it was displayed before her in a glorious detail she had never expected. The whole pyramid she stood on radiated a strong magic that she intuitively knew was connected to the dimensional perturbations she had earlier detected. Inside she knew would be found gates to a hundred worlds. The very structure was constructed to tame and focus the ambient energy to its creator's will. Powerful lines of energy, rising hundreds of feet in the air swept down the wide avenues as far as the eyes could see, each line entering the stone pyramid to be added to the reservoirs inside.
The creatures below her were almost as fascinating, each glowed with there own aura, telling a tale of power, revealing a glimpse of the being true nature. The one with the horns over there had a weapon that generated a protective envelope. A lizard-like creature that was a shape changed dragon argued with a merchant over an enchanted lyre whose song had the power to...
She was shocked out of her daze by the searing pain that peppered her body. The clarity of vision and knowledge that had mesmerized her was shattered, replaced once more with the more mundane but reliable senses she had trained all her life to use,
Rolling on the ground to avoid the fire from the group, she took stock of the damage, gratified that although painful, the strikes she had withstood were not life-threatening. Putting the surreal experience behind her she focused on the combat at hand.
Leaping to her feet, she spread the cape in front of her, imbuing it with a portion of her chi. Her father's last technique had failed her; hopefully, this one would be more successful. Genma may be an idiot but he had crafted an amazing slue of chi attacks... and defenses. A monument that even greed could inspire moments of genius.
Ranma felt the shivering in the fabric as the energy spewing from the rifles struck the cape. Spinning around she folded the material to better receive the next barrage. After several seconds of futile efforts, the creatures seemed to realize the singular lack of effect the weapons were having and Ranma-chan's senses detected the weapons being dropped to hang by their slings, and the unmistakable sound of swords being drawn.
Removing the now bulging shielding cloak from before her she smiled sweetly at the ten monstrous creatures running swiftly towards her. "Well, since you're so anxious to meet me I think you should have a gift. Well, actually it's yours. I'm just returning it."
With this last taunt, she unfolded the cloak releasing a rain of energy that lasted for several seconds. Although most of the advancing troops were bowled over, few stayed down long, growling with fury and pain as they scrambled upright again.
Ranma-chan was just about to jump into the pack to follow up with a more physical attack when she saw a group of over fifty creatures of the same type bubbling out one of the entrances to the pyramid. The gesturing of the lagging few hinted that this was merely the front guard.
"Geez... " mumbled a slightly overwhelmed Ranma-chan, while rubbing the slight bruise caused by the first creature.
"Fool. You should have begged for mercy when I first approached. Now your death will be long and agonizing!" coughed the original creature, which was just then staggering to its feet from where it had been thrown twenty yards away.
Ranma-chan looked from the horde to the single monster. "If you want slow and agonizing I think you better mention it quick. I think they're going to try for quick and sure."
"Just die, you useless human!"
Ranma-chan was breaking into a sprint away from the onrushing horde when a large explosion behind her completely knocked her off her feet. Rolling several yards away she came to her feet, facing the enemy in a ready stance.
Expecting to see some energy wielding fiend of the Saffron ilk, she was completely shocked to see a huge burnt shadow behind her on the pyramid's stone surface and the creatures that had been following her either dead or unconscious. Shaking her head in bewilderment she heard another series of explosions behind her.
Spinning around yet again she saw the huge courtyard surrounding the pyramid in a frenzy of violent activity. Where before most of the creatures had been watching her confrontation, laughing and jeering at the stupid human, now most of them were running quickly out of the plaza. Apparently, trying to avoid a chain of explosions that seemed to be centered in a radius around the group of humans that had been led in fetters up to the base of the huge structure.
Most of the non-humans scrambled away, not wishing to get involved with the dangerous turn of events. Those that stayed, trying to find something to confront, were either shot with some sort of high-powered weapon coming from several sniper sources in the surrounding buildings or blown up by the steady stream of explosives. These explosive devices seemed to appear randomly about ten feet above the ground before dropping to the ground with light tinkling sounds then triggering in a fierce, though localized explosion.
When a wide clearing had formed around the terrified humans, a glittering portal formed in front of them. A young blond-haired man in garments more resembling a baseball player than a wizard's dress, a small lizard perched on his shoulder, stepped out arms spread wide, as if to keep the gate open. From behind him, a dark tressed, well-built woman walked, gesturing to the humans in front of them. Ranma-chan couldn't make out what she was saying but it was clear that it convinced the cringing mass of humanity. With a loud cry, they rushed forward pushing past the mage and the woman.
Ranma-chan noticed that she must have been significantly stronger than she looked, since the throng merely swayed her on her feet rather than bowling her over. Within moments the last human had stepped through, leaving the man and the woman limed in the glow from the portal. The woman's eyes swept the battlefield one last time before her eyes caught on the very confused pigtailed martial artist. Giving Ranma-chan a jaunty wave she turned to go through the portal. The mage also glanced in her direction before giving her a wink and slowly stepping backward through his own gate.
Ranma-chan came to her senses a few seconds later finding herself weakly waving goodbye. Grabbing her arm to stop the silly gesture, she shook her head. "What just happened?"
"That is what you are going to tell us, little human," a sibilant hiss came from behind her.
"Geez, not another one of you gorillas... " Ranma-chan started to say while turning around, readying herself for another fight. Unfortunately, behind her was not one of the "gorilla" creatures. There were about two hundred. The one that had spoken was different from the troops. It was a mere seven feet tall, spindly creature, that had a mouth ridiculously full of large interlocking sharp teeth with two small tusks jutting out from either side of the chin. There was no nose to speak of and the head was shaped more like a skull than anything else, topped with a web-like lattice of something resembling scar tissue. In one hand it held a staff that seemed to hold a jar full of liquid on one end. Ranma-chan blinked a moment when she realized that inside the jar peacefully floated what seemed to be an eye. It didn't really look very impressive all in all; however, it is remarkable what an army can do to bolster one's image.
"I think we can kill her and have one of the necromancers question her," offered the leader's companion. This stalwart fellow was of the same race as the original attackers he had encountered. Unfortunately, that's where the resemblance ended. The thing towered over the martial artist at ten feet and must have been twice the mass of anyone in of the first group, all of it muscle. He also sported an extra pair of arms and bore a huge club-like mace that resembled the skeletal creature's staff in that it too bore a glass jar. Instead of an eye, a large worm-like creature could be seen floating in the liquid. An energy blade of some sort protruded from the end of the club, transforming the overall appearance of the weapon into that of a monstrous flamberge.
"I don't suppose I can convince you that I have no clue as to what just happened," Ranma-chan asked hopefully.
"No," the smaller one confirmed the pigtailed girl's fears.
"Darn. Hey... is that a five yen coin behind you?" the redhead craned her neck and pointed.
Chapter 3: Meat Market
Ranma-chan leaned against the wall of the alley, panting from the last few hours of exertion. "I can't believe how persistent those guys were," she gasped. "This is worse than anything the fiancée squad ever put me through."
"Who's persistent, Ranma?" a familiar voice whispered in her ear.
"Nabiki?" a startled martial artist squeaked while turning around. She was further surprised to see a transparent image of the Tendo sister sitting cross-legged in the air in front of her.
"Hey, I can see you! Did you just learn that," questioned the pig-tailed girl, moderately impressed. It sure beat the telephone.
"Yes. It's very draining... but I haven't been able to contact you over a week," Nabiki said with a blank expression. Perhaps a little too blank.
"A week? Darn! I hope I never have to do that again." Pausing she assessed the reaction of her audience. Nothing. Nabiki was rarely without a sardonic grin. "Were you worried about me?"
An almost imperceptible wince flickered across the ghostly visage. "Of course not. But... I've found out how... dangerous Atlantis could be." A grimace of distaste hovered over her features. "It's hard to believe such a place exists."
Ranma-chan paused in thought, a mocking snicker poised on her lips, before the humor of the situation grew stale. "Yeah. Probably whatever you scried in your magic mirror thingy is just the tip of the iceberg." Images of a line of desolate humans being led into the square before the pyramid flashed before her mind's eye.
"Well? What happened and... What’s that on your forehead?" Nabiki asked, returning to her original line of questioning.
Ranma-chan frowned and rubbed her sleeve across her face. "What do you expect? Geez, I just woke up in a cell a few hours ago... you expect me to be clean and well-groomed. I'm lucky to be alive!"
A smirk had finally made its way onto Nabiki's face, once she had verified that Ranma was in good health. "Surely the great Ranma hasn't run into something he can't handle? Besides, I wasn't talking about a smudge of dirt. You should take a look in the mirror when you find the time. Meanwhile, report!" barked the floating image.
"Hmph. Whatever," grumbled a disconcerted martial artist, as she felt around her face with one of her hands. "I had some trouble leaving Japan," seeing a questioning look in Nabiki's eyes she just shook her head, "I don't want to talk about it. It has to do with really nasty side effects of some psychic thing a priest pulled. But it caused me to overextend my chi reserves."
Nabiki's eyes widened in surprise. She was no martial artist, but except for maybe Herb, Ranma had the best control over her chi she had ever heard of.
"I know! I know! There were... circumstances. Anyhow, when I arrived I think I was unconscious till a few hours ago. When I escaped I had a whole bunch of guards after me." Ranma-chan paused in thought, "Did you know most things in this city can see the invisible? Funny, my most useful stealth technique is like a big banner saying 'Here is the guy hiding from you!' It really sucks."
Nabiki opened her mouth as if to say something but was overridden by a venting pig-tailed girl.
"Well, at least that's what happens when I'm in line of sight. The chi suppression part still works... as long as they don't see me they can't track me. Let me tell you... " Ranma-chan continued to ramble before Nabiki finally interrupted him.
"Ranma! Shut-up!" A strange look had come into Nabiki’s eyes and although her face was calm, a tense quiver had crept into her voice. "Let me get this straight. You were in the clutches of our villain and you miraculously broke loose. Right?"
"Yep," Ranma-chan boasted, buffing her nails on her shirt. "They couldn't keep me. Oh, they had a few surprises, but the never had a chance... " Her strutting was once more overridden by the controlled voice of Nabiki.
"My, it's sure is lucky you escaped," Ranma-chan nodded happily to herself. "After all if you had stayed you might have actually found out who was behind all this," Nabiki's voice had risen to an unpleasant volume as her frustration finally became plainly visible. Ranma-chan had frozen in mid-buff a look of bewilderment on her face.
"Heaven forbid you actually go along with the freaking plan and play along. No, the great Saotome has to be the big man and prove no one can keep him..." By this time Ranma-chan had unfrozen and was making shushing gestures and frantically glancing around. Her activity was completely ignored by an enraged Nabiki, who continued even more loudly on her tirade, going on about the stupidity of martial artists in general and Ranma in specific. She also went into some detail regarding the sheer money she had lost while allowing these dimwits to represent her. She was still cursing as her image began to fade and thundering footsteps could be heard approaching the alley's entrance.
Moments later a group of ten hulking brutes obstructed the opening as they peered cautiously into the alley, plasma rifles in one hand, the other resting alertly on the hilts of their blades.
"I could have sworn the human was here. It sounded like a human," the largest grunted in annoyance.
"I still say the human is long gone. She'd be stupid to stay around and if she's a part of the underground she's long gone by now," opinioned the second in the group
"I don't know, we found some humans. She could still be here."
"The first one you shot was a male slave. The second one was a female pedestrian. One of the few free humans in the city."
"Eh. Well, humans kinda look the same. No real loss. Free or slave, no one cares."
"Well, the free one was no loss, but the slave has an owner that needs to be reimbursed," contradicted the second.
"Bah, we were on official business. If that demon complains about his property our captain will back us. If he tries to go higher up he knows he could be told he's unwelcome in Atlantis," scoffed the first.
"Well... alright. No harm done. No one important was inconvenienced." The voices and general grunts of agreement from the other guards faded into the distance as they walked past.
Seconds after they left a pigtailed martial artist faded into view. A light sheen of sweat covered her face and a disgruntled redhead could barely be heard muttering to herself.
"Yeah, well this is one human you're going to recognize one day when I feed you your liver. If there weren't a thousand of you goons right behind you it could have been today." Shoulders slumped she stared at the ground. "I can't believe I forgot the plan. Of course, I was unconscious for a week, but still..." Leaning against the wall again she slowly slid to the ground, ignoring the unidentified residues clinging to the wall.
"Still not too late to find out who owned that place. I'll just have to find another way into the... well whoever owns the place... good graces."
Ranma growled in frustration as he walked down one of the lesser roads that ran through the heart of Splynn. Although smaller than the main thoroughfare it was none the less seventy feet wide. This seemed large at first, until Ranma found himself needing to move quickly in order to get out of the way of some of the huge land barges that moved implacably to and from the center of trade. The vehicles he shrugged off. They were large, but he’d seen huge transports at home, even stowed away on many when his father was feeling too lazy to justify walking as training.
The air barges were slightly more disconcerting. Most of these were too high up to really make a visual impact. It was when they slowly descended to the top of nearby buildings and the humming of whatever otherworldly engines they used filled the air, making the bones of your skull vibrate in sympathy that the scale of the city truly became apparent. The other disconcerting fact was the huge slugs, lizards, and snail-like creatures that also made their way through the streets. It would be amusing except that forty foot long snails no longer seemed humorous when they towered over you. Then, of course, there were those obnoxious aliens.
“Hey! Scum! Out of way of Gornex the Devourer,” a deep growling voice bellowed from in front of the martial artist, quickly followed by a paw the size of a serving plate. Ranma absently ducked the few inches required for the somewhat sloppy roundhouse to fly over his head. In his male form, the authorities weren’t actively chasing him but humans seemed to be fair game for everyone and his brother to torment. The slaves he saw on the street were relatively safe since destroying someone’s property carried a heavy fine; however, a free human needed to prove himself frequently if he chose to brave the streets.
“I’ll give you one warning to get out of my way,” Ranma stated hiding his impatience. This was the fifth time this afternoon he had to defend his rights and it had changed from exciting to monotonous very quickly. Initially, he had tried to avoid attention by giving ground, but that not only chafed his pride but proved ineffective as it seemed to encourage the annoying pedestrians.
“Looks like human needs to learn place!” The eleven-foot shaggy creature loomed over him in a threatening manner.
“Looks like teddy bear needs to learn grammar,” Ranma mocked in a deliberately broken manner while bringing the Serpent staff he had started to carry around with him to bear. It never ceased to amaze him how stupid many of these creatures sounded even when the translation effect assured him they were speaking their own tongue.
Roaring in outrage, the quivering mound of fur and muscles lunged at the smaller human, only to search around in a bewildered fashion when the human disappeared from view.
“Where human go?” The confused creature grumbled to itself as it peered through the slowly milling crowds, many of whom had stopped to view the altercation. Never a shortage of entities wanting to see a human dead or mangled in this city.
“Human here behind you, dimwit,” Ranma sneered. Infusing the staff with chi he tapped the creature on the arm, spinning it around as if struck by some huge force. Once he was facing Ranma another deceptive tap from the staff to the chin caused the creature to shoot like a rocket into the sky. The pigtailed martial artist shaded his eyes while looking up into the sky, chortling softly to himself.
"Geez, I never get tired of that trick. Now I know why Happosai kept doing that. Takes the pest out of your hair... and is so darn fun to watch!" Looking around he found himself the center of some obviously unfavorable attention. Lazily spinning the staff he gave a fake growl and glared at the crowd. "Anybody else has a problem with the little human?"
As most started to drift off he nodded to himself. Most of these weren't the powerhouses of the city. The creatures with the power and spine to deal with someone like Ranma had better things to do than waste time with an uppity human. The city enforcers didn't care unless they witnessed him breaking the law. It also helped that any non-human that complained about being harassed by a human would lose any respect he could possibly have. In a way, it almost made up for being the target for anything with a bug up its ass.
"Verry entertaining," a high pitched hum broke into his thoughts. A creature that looked like a refugee from The Fly was next to him buzzing... or rather communicating to him.
"I have my moments," Ranma stated tersely, on guard for the snub that seemed inherent in every conversation he had yet to have since he woke up in the city.
"You have impressive powers for a tattoo warrior. Have you given thought to the Arena? You could make some very impressive money."
"Well no... I have other things to do in the city. I hadn't planned on any... Arena... activity." Ranma cautiously stated. Ever since he had weathered Nabiki's tirade he had been walking the streets in his less wanted male form. He had really screwed things up when he had initiated his 'escape'. Sure, he hadn't been in his right mind at the time, but he'd really fouled up any plans he might have made. It would take some heavy improvising to get back on the proper trail.
"Tattoo warrior? Nah... I just have some martial arts tricks," Ranma brushed off the bug's assumption. Probably the only humans that had any power around here were the ones that wore tattoos like the Shogunates ninja's. Tattoos...
"Hey... do you know much about tattoos? The magical kind, not the artsy stuff," the martial artist inquired hopefully. The creature he was talking to was the only thing that seemed willing to do more than spit in his direction since he'd arrived. It seemed a shame to waste its apparent generosity.
"Ah... you wish to have more. Understandable, but difficult. Humans only get tattoos if they are the personal servants of the Highlords. From your demeanor, I must assume you are no one's servant and cannot, therefore, receive any more such gifts of power. Only Splynncryth's personal Highlords have the authority to authorize this for a free human."
"Shoot. Oh well, I'll find another... " Ranma paused as the meaning of the being's words struck him. "Only Spynncryth's personal Highlord's you say? How many of them are they?"
"Only a handful. Five, I think, though I am not an expert on such things. They never give out new tattoos to any human that does not belong to them."
"Never? I could use new... tattoos. Yeah, the er... stuff I have now is getting old. Same thing over and over. Sure would be good to get some new," Ranma's brow wrinkled in concentration as he thought of words to say to show he was into the tattoo scene, "... ink done."
"Too bad. The only exception would be a personal favor. If one was your patron they may make an exception but... that's hard to imagine. You just don't seem the servant type. Although... " the creature grew silent, lost in thought. "I suppose if you won in the Arena and dedicated your win to one of the Highlord's... well even they appreciate that kind of flattery and recognition. Though relying on a Highlord's goodwill is somewhat of an oxymoron." A slight chittering seemed to mark an alien laugh.
"Do you know the names of these Highlord's?" Ranma requested hopefully.
"Hmm. Yes. They are... " The insectile creature then broke into a fit of chittering, coughing and grunts. The martial artist looked on wide-eyed afraid that the only source of information he had found in the city was about to expire in front of him.
"Are you okay? Should I get you a doctor?" he shouted, poised to run in any direction if necessary.
"Eh? Of course, I am. Why do you ask," the creature asked, fully recovered from the fit.
"The coughing and choking. I thought... " Ranma's voice faded away in puzzlement.
"Ah... that. That was simply the names of the Highlord's. I suppose they wouldn't make sense to most humans. Most probably can't even pronounce them. Well. Let's see. How about I write up the names and titles of the Highlords in question. I have a magic around here somewhere that should give me literacy in your tongue around here... if I can find it." After a slight ruffling of robes and a small flash of magic the creature handed Ranma a list that seemed to phonetically spell out the name of the persons in question.
"I, well, thanks. You've been really helpful. If you need anything just... " Ranma rambled on somewhat bewildered by an act of kindness in what was otherwise a city of nightmares.
"Well, I'm not just doing this for you. I can see you are on a course which may lead me to many profits. If it does turn out that you decide to go to the Arena contact me and I will be overjoyed to act as your agent. Simply ask for Syushra of the Bloody Grubs Plaza. Here, I'll write the address down for you."
"Thanks... I guess."
"Good luck on your mission. Remember me if you change your mind. I think you could be very popular." With those words, the creature skittered away on multi-jointed legs.
Meanwhile, Ranma was once more lost in thought. He now had a starting place. Apparently, only five of these Highlords had permission to give out these tattoo things. All he had to do was find out which of them owned that prison he had escaped from and... well there was more to it than that, but it would be a good start.
A dark-haired attractive woman stood in a large room. Spread out in a semi-circle around her were twenty people armed and armored in various styles, from the medieval to armor that appeared to be straight out of the twenty-fifth century. Almost half were glowing in various shades and colors. The woman herself wore the strangest clothing in the group seemingly nothing more than several green leaves wrapped around her along with several weapon harnesses consisting of a sword and two oversized guns.
“Alright people, make sure your protective enchantments and force fields are up. This raid is close enough to the last one that we hope they won’t be expecting it.” The woman’s strong voice easily cut through the soft murmurs that the crowd had been exchanging, bringing the group’s attention to center around the raven-haired warrior.
“Skippy, open the gate,” she quietly requested of the young blond teen that stood near her, leaning nonchalantly against the wall feeding dried tidbits to an odd lizard that perched on his shoulder. Occasionally the small dinosaur would take a small playful nip at the baseball cap the boy wore. “Remember, on the other side you're just the backup and the escape portal. I don’t want your usual silly heroics. Your place is getting us out again and getting anything that gets past our defenses.”
“Have no fear, our brave White Raven. Your flock is as good as there. My batteries are juiced up and I’m ready to kick some Splugorthian Minion butt.” The young man gave a confident grin to his audience, some of whom gave an appreciative snicker, most of which simply waited patiently for him to finish his posturing. Shrugging he waved his hands in a complex gesture and began chanting. As a shimmering circle of light formed on the wall he was next to, he paused to address the group behind him.
“The doorway to adventure awaits… also death, violence, and other stuff, but…”
“Enough Skippy! Joke later, we have a job to do. Move out!” The woman fingered her weapons, checking one last time that the harness didn’t snag any of her weapons. It was a dangerous world out there and a woman needed the proper tools for the job of changing it.
Ranma was shaking in a mixture of horror and rage. Never had he been as angry and horrified as he presently was. If he had the power he would have happily allowed the ocean to reclaim this cursed place. It had started innocently enough; he had asked one of the creatures on the road for directions for a place to eat. While the question had seemed harmless, the shambling thing he had asked had coughed out a laugh and directed him to an open-air tent several blocks away.
When he had arrived he had only noted a huge giant standing in front of an enormous scarred wooden block, butcher knife in hand and in a good-natured conversation with one of the more obscure demons Ranma had studied. Nodding in final agreement the giant had reached behind him and swung some sort of wriggling figure from some sort of scaffolding or rack and brought the butcher knife to bear.
“A good selection of meat. As tender a piece as you’ll ever find. I’ve been saving it for my own meal but... the price is right and this bit is yours,” with these words a muffled shrieking had begun. The shrieking had risen in pitch and volume as the knife sliced efficiently upward, eviscerating the bound figure. The giant paused a moment, blood covering his hands, “I could tell you that they don’t feel anything... but we both know that the screaming is half the reason you’re here, eh?” With a toothy grin, the knife flashed in an elaborate pattern and the screaming, which had reached a high point was abruptly cut off. “Damn. That was too quick. I’ll give you a discount on the next one.”
Ranma had stared blankly at the tableau, finally realizing just what he had seen. The figure on the table which had moments ago been a captive human female was now nothing more than bloody pieces of flesh. The flashing knife signaled the continuing butchering of the hapless victim.
For a moment absolute emptiness filled Ranma, quickly followed by a boiling rage that seemed to hold no limit. It filled his mind, reducing his thoughts to a single focus. Something was going to die. It might eventually be him but before he had drawn another breath the monster holding that knife was going to die. Thoroughly.
He was about to proceed on a path of destruction that would have ensured the death of most creatures in the area, most likely eventually culminating in his own end, when a brilliant light enveloped the area. Pausing to evaluate this new threat he witnessed a glowing blue oval wink into existence behind the butcher block in front of the scaffolding and tent. A moment later humans, limned in glowing auras, poured out of the light shooting a variety of weapons at the non-humans in the plaza.
Instant mayhem ensued as the butcher attempted to bring his knife around to defend himself from the unexpected onslaught. He stood for seconds before the massed fire overcame what durability the creature might have possessed and limbs began to char and burn under the massed fire.
“Anyone who wishes to survive the day should step back and don’t be a hero. The Liberation Front is here to free the slaves. Don’t get in the way and you won’t die.” The voice of a familiar black-haired woman easily reached the edges of the plaza as the woman herself stepped to the front of the crowd. A quick look at the huge wooden block assured her that she had been too late to free one of her targets. Her expression of regret was quickly replaced by determination. “Fan out. Remember the plan, group ‘A’ inside the tent, Group ‘B’ get the people on the rack, C and B set up the defenses.”
The crowd of non-humans appeared as if they might contest the woman’s claim, shuffling and fingering the various lethal instruments most carried on their persons. This hostility was quickly redirected as the ten soldiers behind the woman pointed their own oversized rifles and shoulder launchers at the crowd in unison. After several seconds of complete silence, the shapes in the crowd slowly backed away. The evil glares sent their way before they exited the plaza left no doubt that they would remember this humiliation the next time they met a human that possessed less firepower
“Since you don’t seem to be using that one, would you mind if I brought that one home? It seems a shame to let a perfectly good bit of meat go to waste,” the demon that had originally conversed with the butcher genially inquired.
White Raven stood in shock for a moment before answering with anger clearly evident in her voice. “You are either an incredibly overconfident fool or… never mind. I have no time to waste on you. Back away immediately or I’ll have my people cut you down.”
“You humans are such a prickly lot. If you didn’t make such delicious meals and adequate slaves, Lord Splynncryth would have expunged you from the continent long ago,” the demon hissed while slowly backing away from the counter.
“Hmm. I changed my mind. Team ‘B’ fire on my order…” her command trailed off as she saw the demon turn tail and lumber off around a nearby building. Her satisfaction was short-lived as a low humming was heard in the distance.
“Damn. I thought for sure we’d have more time,” the woman muttered to herself a frown of concentration marring her youthful features. “Team ‘C’ and ‘D’ prepare to receive at least three assault carriers... or the D-Squad if the gods are in one of their moods. The authorities are more on the ball than we expected today.” She paused briefly in thought, making decisions. “Break out the big guns. It looks like we’ll need them to get out of here. Skippy, shield them while they set up. Then prepare our exit.”
Ranma was resisting the urge to cheer. It was a huge relief to find that even in this morass of pain and suffering there were humans… and not so human creatures that were fighting to make this hell hole a better place. It was difficult not to go over and help. Only the thought of what Nabiki would do to him if he compromised his only other identity a few hours after screwing up his female identity kept him silent. The butcher was dead and with its life had gone the unreasoning rage that had gripped him. They didn’t seem to need his help anyway.
The dark-haired girl had given him a brief questioning look when she had first arrived, but he’d simply returned it with a cautious nod. Since then she had apparently dismissed him as relatively harmless and was presently directing the activity in and around the scaffolding and tent. He could feel that he had not been forgotten and any movement on his part would bring her full attention back to him. Turning his senses onto the group hurrying around him on prearranged tasks, he attempted to get a feel for what kind of people formed the resistance in this city of evil.
The dark-haired woman was a trained fighter, not up to a real martial artist’s standards, but from the way she moved and the limited control of her chi, he sensed that in a straight fight she might be on par with Akane. The tingling that he felt when his senses examined her told him that there was far more to her than a mere human’s aura. What it was he didn’t know enough about magic to identify. Her general aura was far stronger than a human's should be, but unfocused enough to show that she not only wasn’t what he would consider a dedicated martial artist but probably not a mage, despite the magic energy he sensed as part of her.
The young man was so obviously a mage that it elicited an involuntary growl from Ranma. So far all the mages he had met had been insane or evil. He wasn’t sure what category Nabiki would fit in when her training was done but considering her present morals he feared it would be irritating to find out. The male’s aura had the strong tingle of enchantment like the girl, but the focused aura demonstrated him to be a magician. Of course, the fact that he had waved his hands and formed a large shimmering blue dome surrounding the tent and adjacent area also helped make clear exactly what he was.
The others in the group seemed to be mostly humans with a smattering of magic, but the majority seemed to rely on the armor and weapons they bore. Ranma frowned at this. Most of the technology he had been witness to had not filled him with much respect for advanced science. Sure the giant robots had him on the ropes for a short time in the Imperial Palace, but he didn’t see anything among the freedom fighters more substantial than body armor and rifles.
Ranma quickly corrected this observation as the woman gave a command and several large containers the group had carried in unfolded to reveal some sort of rack with multiple tubes jutting at a forty-five-degree angle into the air.
Another flash of light showed that the wizard with the silly baseball cap had opened up another portal while the group that had gone into the tent was leading an impressive line of humans of all ages, as well as a few non-humans of varying races out and towards the light of freedom. Up in the scaffolding, the people were using a mixture of skill, brute force, and specialized climbing tools to make their way through the metal maze and extract the people that had been crudely tied to the framework.
Ranma just shook his head. He couldn’t believe he had been so wrapped up in his own concerns that he had been completely oblivious to the monument to human suffering towering behind the wooden block. A pang of regret shot through him as he thought about the poor woman. If he had been paying more attention he might have realized what was happening in front of him. From that moment on he resolved to try to treat every moment in this city as a combat situation.
Of course even as he thought this a voice in the back of his head told him it was impossible to be that alert. His danger sense was finely honed, but it would only alert him to hazards that affected him directly. He had often been surprised by non-lethal attacks, whether from an over-enthusiastic Amazon or inconvenient banana skin. Attempting to focus on his surrounding to the exclusion of everything else might keep him on his toes but it would also quickly mentally fatigue him, prevent him from thinking of strategies, and most likely eventually blunt his reactions in battle. At best he might succeed in a compromise. It was certainly true that he had been doing some monumentally stupid things since he had taken the place of the ninja candidate.
A high pitched humming sound drew his attention away from the activity in the plaza. Looking around he noted the sound was coming from the air. Stretching his senses he found that there were hundreds of independent, powerful entities approaching from the air. Turning back towards the woman he was about to shout a warning, but noticed she was already giving orders to those left under the dome.
Less than a minute later the first creature flew into view over the surrounding buildings. It was almost identical to the creatures Ranma had seen on the pyramid. Since he had the luxury of wandering the city for the last day, he now was aware they were known as Powerlords, a pretentious title for the more common members of Atlantis’ army. This one rode a machine similar in function to the sky cycle he had used in Japan with a more segmented shell that was obviously armor of some sort. Metal appendages pointed outward, giving it a shape akin to a star. On one of the jutting points, aligned to one side asymmetrically was a huge eye that glowed as it powered the device.
As it approached the field that enclosed the freedom fighters, two forward-pointing prongs emitted bursts of energy which seemed to splash against the dome’s surface to no effect. Undeterred by this, it began circling several hundred feet above the ground laying down a constant barrage of light across the shield. Within moments of the first shot, dozens more flyers on similar vehicles flew into the clearing and joined the assault.
The attackers swarmed in evasive patterns while bombarding the dome. Soon, it began to pulse and flicker at various places. Ranma’s senses informed him the energy within the barrier was weakening. Frowning in concern he noted that all of the freed slaves had moved through the portal as well as the two groups designated as their escorts. The two remaining groups were tense as they waited, stationed around the individual missile launchers.
Ranma slowly backed away to the cover of a nearby building. He felt somewhat torn, wanting to help when the barrier finally inevitably failed, but not wanting to sacrifice his male identity or engage in another tiring, pointless chase through the city unless absolutely necessary. These newcomers looked far more prepared than those he had battled at the pyramid. There also seemed to be a large number of them. Over a hundred now swarmed in the air and more were arriving every minute.
Suddenly, the glowing barrier dissipated apparently leaving the defenders helpless. Before the monstrous air force could fire at the ground-based fighters, the missile racks simultaneously launched a huge volley at the targets flying above them. Despite the evasion patterns they had been flying in, the sheer numbers of the attackers kept them from avoiding the initial salvo. Some of the Powerlords were overly enthusiastic in their attempts to get out of the way and ended up crashing into their comrades. These incidents did no more than knock the flyers into an uncontrolled spin for several hundred feet; however, it did sow considerable confusion. The missiles themselves each exploded into huge masses of plasma that usually engulfed three or more flyers in their blast radius continued this trend, sending the majority careening out of control.
Few, except the truly unfortunate, were destroyed, but for a moment the sky was almost completely clear. The defenders took advantage of this to make a break towards the gate at a prearranged signal from the raven-haired woman. She herself stayed slightly behind the others, firing at the few remaining who were remained a threat. A loud roar of approaching jets caused her brow to crease in concern as she hurried towards the portal to follow her troops to safety.
White Raven's run towards the gateway was temporarily halted by fire from above. This forced her to dive out of the way as some of the flyers that had recovered laid down a steady stream of fire. Although she escaped the assault, the sound of thrusters followed by a thump in the direction of the portal told her things had just gotten much worse.
Ranma cursed under his breath as he saw from his perspective the woman hurl herself out of the way of the strafing attacks. His cursing became much louder as he saw eight huge metal gargoyles streak down from the sky, turning at the last second to halt their descend with a powerful burst of some kind of jet that projected from their back. Ranma almost mistook them for Balrogs in armor. The bat-like wings and hulking figure certainly looked familiar, however, his senses told him it was merely more Splugorth minions. Admittedly, they were minions in impressive power armor, but nothing demonic.
This was somewhat less than reassuring, as he saw that the eight armored figures were gathered around the woman and the fleet which had been scattered a moment ago was now starting to re-gather itself in the air above once more. The one fortunate part of the situation was that they weren’t firing anymore, seemingly content to let the armored fellows on the ground deal with the one remaining invader.
The woman herself seemed startled by the turn of events but did not hesitate in the slightest. Dropping her rifle to the ground she drew the two swords crossed at her back and leaped to attack the armored suit closest to her. The attack was swift and well-executed, easily overwhelming the relatively slow defenses of the larger foe to deliver a strike that completely removed the head of the armor.
This was gratifying to see until Ranma realized that the mechanism was still moving. The lack of blood or weakening in the creature aura told him that the controller was safe inside the main body of the armor. Suddenly slower and less sure of itself it still moved to bring its wings into play, sweeping them through the space that had been occupied by the woman and leaving a trough a foot deep in the ground.
Although she had gotten in the first blow, White Raven found it nearly impossible to land a second. Despite the size, the powered armor moved swiftly and with eight foes she had all she could do to avoid the wings, the plasma sword and axe that seemed to be standard issue for each mechanism.
From where he stood Ranma nodded to himself. He couldn’t stand and do nothing yet he couldn’t rush in himself. Cologne had a trick that he had been working to modify to other situations. Like many of the matriarch's techniques, it looked much more impressive than it was. Still, all he needed to do was give the woman time to make it to the portal before whoever was on the other side decided it was too dangerous to leave it open with an army on the other side. Entering a light meditative state, he focused his chi on the earth and rocks under the plaza.
White Raven was getting desperate. The constant evasion left no time to counterattack and the group continued to maneuver between her and the portal. The gateway itself should have already been closed. Skippy had specific orders to close the gate if a member of the team was trapped on the other side. If she lived through this she’d give him a kiss and then kick his sorry ass for endangering the entire underground.
The odd thing that stuck in her mind during those hectic moments of dodging and parrying for her life was the black-haired human who stood partially obscured behind the buildings over a hundred feet away. She had noticed him and the rage that was evident on his face when she had entered the plaza during the initial strike. As the operation progressed she saw that the rage had left and she had the distinct feeling that he approved of what was happening.
This was not surprising, although obviously not a slave, he lacked the hard-bitten look that most minions possessed. Considering the tattoos he wore he might have even been a freed slave or a hired bodyguard. Unless you worked for the Atlantean system a human couldn’t help but approve of an attack on it. Now the youth looked on with a slightly detached expression and she couldn't help but feel that there was an energy gathering in the area around him. It wasn’t magic, but it caused sympathetic tingles to tease her skin. She hoped he wouldn’t get himself killed doing something stupid. With several hundred minions of Splynncryth buzzing around the air like an angry swarm, any overt action would be an act of suicide.
Despite her awareness of an odd energy, she was still completely surprised when the ground behind one of the armored figures deformed like a bubbling cauldron, and a huge stone hand reached up from the disturbance and grasped the closest fighter. Once the hand closed on its victim it instantly shot up into the air forming a pillar as its base, fifty feet high. There was a moment of silence as the comrades of the trapped creature gaped at the column that now held a trapped and struggling metal gargoyle. Then the frozen tableau moved as the flying Powerlords began to fire at the stone prison, blasting large chunks of now immobile stone from the prison.
The woman was as surprised as her foes but was able to overcome her shock soon enough to run halfway to the portal before she once more had to avoid the renewed attacks of the armor-clad minions. When another stone fist emerged from the ground to sweep two of her tormentors away like a battering ram or an angry child with a toy, she was prepared to leap over the two remaining minions that stood between her and the portal.
Unfortunately, this left her open to the other four behind her who took advantage of this reckless move to attack her from behind with their various weapons in an almost coordinated strike. Thrown through the air, she landed within ten feet of the glowing portal but found herself too stunned to do more than inch her way to freedom.
Groaning in frustration White Raven struggled to her feet hearing the heavy steps of the armored minion closing in around her. Through the thick light of the gate, she saw a worried Skippy, arms held out to brace the gateway, mouthing silent encouragement.
Ranma looked on in frustration. The modified Shark Fist had proved to be a useful tool for distraction. Although it did little real damage, the Stone Fist looked large and terrifying if you didn’t know it lacked mobility for more than sweeps and lunges. However, despite the woman being within feet of the gate, it was obvious she was too stunned to do more than stagger to her feet. The last series of blows the enemy had delivered to her back had looked devastating. The leaf armor that she wore had been almost instantly shredded leaving the warrior to absorb the blows of the swords and axes on her own merits. Ranma was frankly amazed she was still in one piece. Obviously, she was more than human, as he had surmised when he had examined her aura. In fact, she would probably be almost unhurt ... if she survived the next few seconds.
Her very durability gave him an idea. A normal human wouldn't survive, but she appeared almost as tough as himself. Without further thought, he reached forth his chi once more into the ground.
White Raven looked around drunkenly, trying to force herself to either defend herself or dash towards the portal that was so close. The minions appeared to be rushing at her, their intent obviously to knock her away from the only escape within reach. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the human male was staring at her with a grimace of concentration and a light layer of perspiration shown on his brow. Abruptly, an odd roiling sensation at her feet drew her attention to the ground under her. Looking down she felt a huge force erupt beneath her as if the very earth had rushed up to meet her.
Observing the scene from around the building Ranma looked on with a mixture of satisfaction and worry as a stone fist formed beneath the woman and catapulted her through the gate. He had tried to be gentle, but there is a limit to how softly you can manipulate several tons of stone.
The gateway dissolved into a sparkle of random energy as he pondered the situation. Glancing at the plaza that was deserted except for several hundred flying Powerlords, seven milling armored minions, and three scattered columns of stone that varied in length from ten feet to fifty feet in length, he shook his head. Nerima may have been hectic but he was beginning to appreciate its rustic charm.
Wrapping himself in the Dimensional Cloak he glided away from the scene of the battle back towards the pyramid. With any luck, the remnants of the dimensional energies from the gate would prevent the detection of his use of the technique and he could get on with his mission. He was getting more eager to get back home all the time. He never thought he would look forward to the madness of home or long for the peace of the fiancée brigade but... it was time to get on with things.
Chapter 4: Contract Killer
Leviathan lounged in her apartment on the huge cushioned couch that she preferred to rest on. Absently she reached over to an ornate golden-hued bowl and grabbed a dozen peeled oranges. Mulling over her plans and letting her rage simmer in the back of her mind she ate the fruits as lesser mortals might eat berries or grapes.
Now that she was in Atlantis she could continue her plans. It was a bitter irony that she was so limited in her own realm. Since her captive had escaped she had been the butt of the jokes among the other deevil lords. Oh, not to her face, but their insincere condolences at her humiliation combined with the restrictions of no overt retaliations only thinly veiled the enjoyment they hid at her fall.
Mephisto should have shared her shame but the ancient deevil lord seemed not to care. So engrossed was he in his own plots to grab on to the reins of power in their dimension that after an initial temper tantrum he had subsided into a pouting silence. To tell the truth, she was almost glad that the deevil lord had decided to stay out of the plans she was making for her retribution. Mephisto had once been lauded as the most subtle and dangerous of the Lords, but over the last several centuries something had changed within the deevil lord.
Almost all deevil lords were power-crazed megalomaniacs, but they were successful power-crazed megalomaniacs. This meant that they worked together against outsiders and kept their backstabbing to quick efficient moves that succeeded or failed before their enemies noticed. Above all, they kept up the façade that they were one large happily dysfunctional family. Lately, Mephisto hid his plans less and less. He would even engage in ranting against the Lord of their plane where others might hear. She had the sneaking suspicion that his ambitions and most of his plans were known and mocked at by the other lords. In other words, Mephisto was no longer the master of deception he once was and it might be time to disassociate herself from him. He was so wrapped up in his own little world, he might not even notice.
A loud screeching wail arose from the entrance, bringing a small smile the giantess's face. It wasn't quite the souls in torment that regularly chimed the time away in her own domain, but it was a small taste of home. A discrete flapping of wings told her that her servitor dire harpies had answered the summons and a moment later she landed by the deevil lord's side.
"The Sunaj you summoned is at the door mistress. Shall I lead him in?" the harpy screeched in a disharmonious rattle only another harpy could admire.
"Yes. No... wait. He and his ilk have kept me waiting over a week. I need his services so I can't kill him... make him wait outside for a half-hour. And bring me some peeled melons to go with these oranges. Some lemons too."
Leviathan whiled away the time savoring the contrasting fruits and thinking of various plans of carnage. When a subdued screech announced the presence of company, she was in a fine mood to do business in.
"Hail Lady Leviathan. I am honored that you wish to retain the services of my clan," a male voice, sounding partly synthesized came from the figure kneeling before her. The male was clad in armor whose helmet was formed to resemble that of an insect. Specifically, a cockroach.
"You have kept me waiting for some time. Do you treat all your prospective clients this way?" the deevil lady asked in a dangerously quiet voice.
"Of course not, some of our clients must wait for months. Our services are frequently in demand. Lord Splynncryth is our favored patron, and since we are in his country his wishes take precedence over all others," Leviathan's brow wrinkled in dismay at the blatant reminder of who their main employer was. Of course, she might have slain the mortal worm out of hand if he hadn't brought it to the forefront of her mind, so perhaps he was wise in ways of dealing with her kind. It was just as well really, it would have delayed her plans further if she had to look for helpers elsewhere.
"Yes. Convenient. Since you are finally here I'll get to the point. I need an assassin. Probably even a legion of assassins," she paused in thought before continuing. "I don't suppose you would take on Rhada as a target?"
The kneeling man broke into a spontaneous fit of coughing, before speaking in a strained voice. "I'm afraid that would not be... possible. Entities of her stature... and yours as well, enjoy a certain position of power in the Universe. It would be folly to try to eliminate one such as you... your fellow lords would simply reincarnate your essence into a new body and your whole ... pantheon... would hunt down the perpetrator."
"Rhada no longer enjoys the protection of our pantheon. She has betrayed us. There is a strong possibility that she would stay dead. She also does not have access to her normal resources and forces." Leviathan's voice trailed away into silence as she waited for a response.
"I am somewhat aware of the politics behind this situation." The man slowly stated, carefully choosing his words. "Rhada is under the protection of Abdul-Ra. He has the resources Rhada presently lacks and seems willing to exercise them. Vigorously." A slow, measured breath followed, "There is also the issue that both Abdul-Ra and Rhada presently enjoy a certain protected status, as declared by Lord Splynncryth. Our clan cannot act against our patron's favored guest. He would be very displeased."
"Well... " Leviathan sighed, "I suppose it was a bit much to hope for. Probably would have been too obvious anyway," she muttered absently to herself.
"Is there anything we can do to serve you?" the armored man asked anxiously, Leviathan would be unwise to vent her frustration on his person, but entities of her type weren't known for possessing many of the virtues lesser being developed as survival traits.
"Hmmm. Yes. I think there is. A mortal human has grievously offended me. I would like him eliminated, preferably with as painful and messy a process as possible."
"Mortals are much simpler to deal with. Consider our clan at your service for this purpose." The man smiled under his mask. This was much safer territory. Humans were easy prey. He would be able to expand the influence of his clan with the Deevil Lords for almost no effort.
Ryouga wandered around in a thorough state of depression. He was unsure where he was and fortunately hadn't seen the rune statue since his accidental release of the magical energies had flung him through a portal. Despite his emotions, the peripheral of his consciousness registered odd-looking creatures and monsters walking down the wide road next to him. Most of them glared warily at the human with a dark green corona oscillating around, the others simply ignored him.
As the strange parade slowly trickled into his consciousness he sighed sadly to himself. It was Halloween already and he was still searching for Ranma. Would he ever satisfy this inner longing and rage and make his way back to his one true love. Akane... no not her... Akari. He had given up on Akane, hadn't he? How long would he wander this city? With his luck, it would probably be New York. That would explain the powerful auras he sensed surrounding him.
There was so much to think about. The man who had claimed to be his great grandfather, the rune statue, and of course how to defeat and humiliate Ranma. Still lost in his thoughts he absentmindedly batted one of the trick or treaters out of his way with his umbrella. He had heard that New Yorkers were rude but these people were almost hostile. More importantly, they were slow to move out of the way.
A humming sound accompanied with a slight stinging sensation on the back of his head and a flash brought his thoughts to an abrupt halt. Looking around he found the last idiot he had booted out of the way had drawn a gun. A grimace of distaste crossed Ryouga's features as he faced the wielder. Martial artists, in general, held firearms in very poor esteem. For the less skilled they could be deadly, for those on the level of Ryouga and his rival they were crutches for the incompetent. Toys that should be easily taken away. He growled at the thought that if he hadn't undergone training from the old goul that he would probably be dead by now. These New Yorkers were beyond rude, they were barbarians. With his standard battlecry he leaped towards his attacker.
"Die Ranma!" Ryouga paused as his instinctive shout registered. "I mean... I will punish you in the name of... of... the Hibiki Clan!"
Frowning at his faux pas Ryouga shattered the weapon and battered the costumed freak around the head and shoulders. His blows gradually increasing in strength as he established the endurance of his foe. As his final strike propelled the costumed alien over the buildings he began muttering to himself.
"Well the people in this town may be cowards and freaks, but they all seem to be pretty durable." Shaking his head at the thought of a whole town that had undergone endurance training, be continued walking. "I really need to get a new battle cry. It is so embarrassing to call out the name of another rival during battle. Unprofessional. What I need is something generic. Spoon? No. Sounds cool but it just doesn't make sense."
Ryouga continued down the wide avenue, never noticing the way the path seemed to clear ahead of him.
"In the name of the Moon? Now that's just plain silly... "
Ranma stood in the huge plaza before the pyramid. The carnage that had been wrought a few hours before was still evident. Several large holes decorated the surface of the stones around the base, although only small chips were missing from the great monument itself. Ranma snorted, the battles in Nerima devastated whole blocks, obviously, this didn't count as more than a skirmish. Looking around the promenade, he spotted a likely temporary stall and walked over.
The vendor was some sort of furred humanoid, he couldn't quite tell what race it was since most of the upper part was hidden in the large wardrobe it was rummaging through. Ranma gave a small cough to draw attention to the fact that he wasn't alone. Several moments later he coughed again since the merchant's attention hadn't wavered a moment from the contents he was searching.
"Listen you human smuck, if you get phlegm over my merchandise I'll get reimbursed from your hide," a low-pitched growl emanated from the cabinet.
Ranma shook his head. This town seemed only to be impressed with flash and raw power. That was okay, all of his weaker techniques were ridiculously showy. It was his more powerful abilities that had more content than display. With a moment's concentration Ranma lit up like a bonfire. The small amount of litter and dust scattered at his feet began to slowly lift up as if released from the constraints of gravity. Chairs strategically laid out in front of the stall began to scrape back along the floor as if pushed by an unseen force.
The merchant spun around with alacrity upon feeling the energies mounting at his back. "Ah... I apologize. I mistook you for a human ape. I sometimes rely too much on my sense of smell. The disguise is really very good. I especially like the tattoos, it adds a real dash of authenticity... "
"C... Cat!" shouted a startled Ranma, jumping back a dozen feet before stopping and desperately starting to chant.
"Cat? Where?" The cat man looked around at his feet, then back and the chanting martial artist. "Hey! No need to cast spells! I apologized already. If you don't want to be mistaken for a human you should change your disguise. Although, why you'd want to do that I don't know," he rambled.
"Y... you’re a Raksasha," Ranma stated with only a slight quiver in his voice, fixedly staring off to the side, as if carefully examining a work of art.
"Correct. Now that we've given over with the spell casting, what can I do for you?"
"Could you change into a different form? I find that one very... er... distracting," Ranma tried to ask nonchalantly, his eyes slightly too wide to pull it off.
"Sure, no problem. How's this?" he stated with a chuckle, he transformed in a quiet glow into a fifteen feet tall, scaly monstrosity with eight tentacles.
"Ah, much better," the martial artist visibly relaxed. Monsters good. Cats bad.
"Yes... well," the demon hesitantly started, obviously not used to people being calmer in the face of a monstrosity. "What can I do for you?"
"You set up camp around here on a regular basis, right?"
"For the last few decades. I pride myself as the best-enchanted garment maker this side of Splynn." The mound of scales and tentacles took an almost heroic pose.
"Great! See that window over there, in the side of the pyramid? I need to know the owner."
The mass of scales slumped from its pose. Its single eyes seemed to bore into Ranma. "So you're not here for the clothes."
"No. I'm sure they're nice an all but... "
"Hey, it's just a question! No need to be rude."
"I am not a spy, I am an artist of cloth!" the mound gyrated energetically. "If you can't appreciate this, then I have no wish to deal with the likes of you. Even if you're not a mortal."
"I never said you were a spy," Ranma gestured frantically to appease the irate demon. As an afterthought, he rambled on, "Though it sure would make sense. I mean the center of government is right over there," the martial artist pointed at the huge structure overshadowing the city. "Why, I bet you can see the coming and goings of every important event or person that happens around here." He chuckled to himself, "Now that I think about it, it would be stupid not to be a spy. I bet everyone in the plaza is a spy of some sort, eh?" Letting out a final guffaw, Ranma turned his attention back to the demon, intent on convincing him to talk using every subtle tactic in the Saotome book.
"Why is everyone staring at me?" Ranma asked conversationally as he noticed that all the vendors and storeowners in a large radius about him were glaring evilly at him. "I was just kidding! I'm sure you're all just perfectly ordinary demons and monsters who are interested in making an honest dollar." Ranma paused for a moment. That last bit had sounded stupid even for his normal foot in the mouth banter. "Geez! You guys are spies! Wouldn't want to be in your shoes when the big guy finds out. Sure would be ugly."
"I suggest you leave before you find you have a mob to deal with. The various races here are incredibly difficult to get acting towards a common goal, but you may be the first being to be unanimously lynched here in centuries."
Ranma shuddered as visions of less than pleasant memories cropped up from his days in Nerima. "Hey, you’re a Raksasha, right?"
"Yes. You know you're a suicidal idiot, right?" The scaly blob stated while glaring down at the smaller figure.
"Did know Abdul-Ra and I are good friends?" attempting a different track.
The scaly mass of tentacles stood quivering in rage at the insult, "How dare you even speak the great Lord's name... " The demon froze as it saw the ring on the martial artist's finger. "Is that his ring?"
"Er... yeah, he gave it to me the last time we met. Best buddies. Almost the brother I never had," Ranma was getting into his role and was about to expound on this when the demon continued.
"Then invoke it. Only the original owner may invoke its power. If you cannot do so I shall take great pleasure in taking your shredded body to him where he resides in the city and laying it at his feet." A previously unknown orifice gaped open revealing a set of five-inch long teeth.
Ranma may not have been comfortable with guile, but threats he knew. Flaring his aura he stared imperiously up at the demon, purposely ignoring the ring of enraged demonic vendors slowly encircling him. "Invoke it? Of course I can invoke it," he didn't remember Abdul-Ra giving any instructions with the ring, or for that matter even saying it was more than just a ring. "Um... just on the off chance it's been a long time since I spoke with him and my memory ain't so great... exactly how do I invoke it?"
"Hah! Fool, you have overstepped yourself! Everyone knows you simply will the ring to activate... " The demon grew silent as whiskers grew on the martial artist's face and his skin slowly took on a velvety texture.
"Strrange... arre you surre that's how it worrks? I don't feel anything happening," Ranma said with his hands on his hips and a distracted air of concentration.
"Well, it's so good to meet a friend of my master," the demon whispered as the fang-filled mouth reformed in an odd parody of a smile. "I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have." The ring of evil vendors and salesmen was rapidly closing, leaving the Raksasha to wonder how he was going to explain a dead personal acquaintance to his master. Maybe if he said that he fell into a pit of ravenous sharks. It certainly had the benefit of being almost true.
"Hey, this is odd. My back hurts" Ranma tried to massage his back only to find he couldn't bend his arm in that fashion. Looking down he noticed that his clothed were retreating to form a collar around his neck and his exposed skin had a thick layer of fur on it. His first thought was that his Jusenkyo curse had gone mad and he really should have put his curse locking bracers back on when he had last changed from his girl form. His second thought was that 'oh cool the ring allows me to change shape. Boy, that Abdul-Ra is a nicer guy than I thought.' His third thought was 'gee, what would a ring from the lord of demonic cats allow a user to shapeshift to'. A flash of inspiration was immediately followed by a raging panic. The roar the cat form of the martial artist let loose was the last straw for Ranma's already strained psyche. In a moment there was no Ranma, there was only an irritated cat that was rapidly getting crowded by unruly prey.
The cat form of Ranma was truly impressive. Ten feet at the shoulder, he resembled a smilodon more than a modern cat. The glowing aura he had in his human form was replaced by a red, vaguely cat-shaped, aura that crackled in the air about the creature. It turned on the crowd and let out a roar to show that this pussycat was not a happy camper.
This was enough to send most of the smaller vendors running for cover, however about one fifth remained, bravely standing their ground. These were the more impressive physical specimens most over ten feet themselves. A glowing cat wasn't going to scare them, regardless of how large it was.
When the first lazy swipe of its paw created a ravine ten feet deep and thirty feet long in the mystically hardened stone of the plaza even the dimmest got the idea that maybe something strange was happening. Perhaps the obnoxious human was really an obnoxious greater entity. Greater entities are allowed to be obnoxious. It's in their charter. They wrote and signed the damn thing and who's going to argue?
When the remaining salesmen and spies had broken ranks and run, Ranma-neko gave a low snarl of disappointment. The crowd was gone but so were his toys.
With an easy leap over the trench he began a pleasant game of cat and mouse.
The scaly blob shimmered and in its place stood the Raksasha in its humanoid form. Looking around at the plaza, with its crisscrossed scarring, plowed stone, and the remnants of his own small shop he sighed. It wasn't much but it had been pleasant to play the merchant. It was especially nice to sit down with all the other spies during lunch and scheme. He'd probably be reassigned now. Another merchant, or more likely another spy would take his place on the promenade. Whatever the outcome, he had better go to his lord and report.
Looking up into the sky at the huge eye that was monitoring the area, and had in fact been there since the earlier attack by the rebels, he wondered. The Atlantian forces were remarkable in their absence, yet not only were the within spitting distance of Splynncryth's citadel of power, but everyone knew that what the eyes of Eylor saw, Splynncryth saw. Shrugging, he dipped his mind into the fabric of space and teleported himself away.
"My Lord, I still don't understand why we stood by and did nothing. Within minutes I could have flooded the area with a thousand guards. As it is, it will take days for our Stone Masters to smooth the plaza back to its original state." The pale spindly figure was obviously agitated. Its interlocking teeth clenched and the wormlike wrinkles and veins pulsed rhythmically.
Within the huge pool of slime, an enormous eye surrounded by spikes and tentacles stirred in the ooze. "You have no sense of theatrics. And obviously you can't keep track of the cast. That human was the 'pet' Rhada wanted. Not the run of the mill mortal." The mental voice of his master made the Highlord shiver.
The thick liquid churned and the bulk of the Intelligence changed position. "Hundreds of our troops would have died attempting to take the human down. They would have eventually won, however, the very fact that a human could do that well against me would have made them wonder... exactly how strong can I be if a mere human could come so close... "
"But they would be foolish to think that. Anyone who knows your might... "
"Oh yes. That is the trick of it. They hear of my might, of my billions of minions and half dozen of inhabited worlds... but what do they see?" Bubbles burbled up out of the ooze as the creature paused in thought. "This planet is filled with beings of immense power. If I brought my full force to bear, so would they, and we would tear this planet apart. And more importantly, it might carry over to my other enterprises. So we must consider what the people see.
"What they saw today was that the merchants we thought were so loyal, were revealed as spies for the various interests around us. They were immediately and viciously destroyed by my agent while I watched from above. The doubt is turned into respect."
"But the next group of merchants will be spies as well," pointed out the servitor.
"So what? I never cared if they spy for their petty interests. What I want kept secret, will be hidden from their eyes. My competitors think they have an edge and I simply feed them what they should know. My 'discovery' is simply an excuse not to destroy Rhada's toy. There is a deeper game here. A human doesn't get that powerful by accident. As much as I respect Abdul-Ra, I doubt he did more than supply a simple enchanted ring. No, what we saw is a greater mystery than it first appears."
"Ah, so we are simply looking out for possible threats."
"Of course not. I love mysteries. I can't wait for the next act. Did you see the looks on the merchants' faces? I might have let Rhada's pet get away with its mayhem on that alone," the entity gurgled in its contentment.
Chapter 5: Cat and Mouse
The sight of monstrous creatures roaming the streets of Atlantis was a common one. The factor that drew the attention of the local denizens was that usually, the wandering things were a little more civilized. Oh sure, the demons could be crude to those they considered their inferiors, but rarely were they rude enough to sniff the pedestrians as the walked along, minding their own business. Or prowl behind some of the more impressive demons slowly pacing them, body low to the ground... and utterly failing to be stealthy. The creature being stalked would eventually have his nerves shattered and make a break for freedom and then the huge cat creature would leap onto the poor innocent demon and... simply sit on it until its futile struggles stopped and only whimpering could be heard. Then it would stand up and bound away looking for the next playmate. There were many traumatized minor supernatural entities littering the street on that dark day.
Some victims retained the presence of mind to find a patrol of Overlords, the number of which seemed amazingly numerous for the past several days. The huge armored beings would simply look at the large floating eye hanging several hundred feet above the cat and tell them to go away; their Lord was aware of the issue and would deal with the problem when he got around to it.
It was in this fashion that a wandering lost boy began to have the odd sensation that he was being followed. A familiar, yet oddly different chi signature was following him. He would whirl around to catch sight of this... yet find nothing. He was beginning to get slightly spooked. The obnoxious Trick or Treaters he could handle but this was almost... supernatural.
The cat for his part was thoroughly enjoying himself. The other playthings all acted boring and predictable. Obviously, they had no concept of proper play. His new toy was different. He really knew how to how to tease. He would pause, turn to look around but never quite in his direction and then head off in a random direction away from him. The cat would hunker down to a low profile in the middle of the street and his heart would fill with pride at his evident stealth skills.
Ryouga was starting to become irritated, whatever was following him was a master of the ninja skills. No matter where he looked he could see no clues as to the strange chi he sensed around him. He had to admire their skills, but none got the better of a Hibiki for long. He would root out the coward that was tracking him and show him the error of tormenting a true master of the martial arts.
The playmate had paused in the middle of the street. Thinking the boy would initiate another one of those entertaining sudden changes in direction the cat hunkered done and thought of sneaky feline things. He was surprised when his toy broke into maniacal laughter and raised his umbrella in one hand as if in victory.
"Hah, ha! A true martial artist will never give up! Spoon," Ryouga shouted his battle cry in challenge. Okay, it would be his temporary battle cry until he thought of something more relevant.
Upon finishing his challenge, he immediately walked over to one of the scaled pedestrians that had been giving him wide birth. Seeing the approaching martial artist, with his huge entourage of one, the humanoid quickly began to walk in the opposite direction.
"Hey! Hold on! I want to ask you something," the bandana clad boy yelled in exasperation. After ten minutes of futile chasing various costume-clad idiots only to have them turn away screaming about cats, he was in a foul mood and quite ready to hit the next thing he saw with his umbrella to help him relieve some tension. It was at this point the Hibiki sense of direction finally gave in to sheer random chance and Ryouga found himself face to face with the largest cat he had ever seen since the damned ghost cat showed up in Furinken.
Looking back on his actions later he admitted to himself that whacking the cat across his nose with his umbrella was perhaps one of his less brilliants ideas. He should have wound up for a full swing or simply chi blasted the damn thing.
The cat sat on his haunches in shock. This wasn't part of the game. That had actually stung. The cat, in turn, had its own instinctive reaction very similar to Ryouga's. He batted his plaything away. As he watched the figure fly into the air to disappear over a building silhouetted in the sun, he had second thoughts. He had just gotten rid of his best toy of the day. Huffing in dejection the cat sadly wandered down the street.
The black metal figure stood in the alleyway hidden in the shadows of the building. This town had turned out to be remarkably dangerous for one of his kind. Oh, certainly he was in no physical danger but interference would reduce his chances to capture the lost one significantly. There were also things worse than death when you were an indestructible ex-servitor of the Old Ones.
"Well, Zeek? Did he come this way?" a grunting voice broke the silence just outside the alley.
"I think so. I still don't believe it." Another low, rough voice answered. "What are the chances?"
"Well, the chances don't matter, cause we just plumb hit the jackpot," chuckled Zeek. "Those rune statues are worth a damn fortune. I saw a collector buy one from this high-class merchant for four billion credits. I almost pissed myself when I saw one walking around without a guard."
"Can't figure out why it was wearing jewelry though. Who knows why the rich do things though."
"Maybe it was on the way to a party," the one creature guffawed, slapping the other on the back in humor.
"Hold on. I think I see it!" the sound of breathing became apparent as the voices approached. "Yeah, get it!"
Cursing its luck the metal form broke from cover, lumbering into the street attempting to find somewhere to hide before it became inactive in a half hour. Behind it came two gorilla-like creatures with huge balding heads, intent on making their fortune.
"Er... Zeek?" one gasped as it struggled to catch up the untiring servitor.
"Why is there a huge cat following us?"
"Shut up and run, idiot," grunted the other, fully intent on outpacing his companion. He didn't have to be faster than the cat, just faster than his ex-friend. There would be more to go around when he finally sold the artifact anyway.
The raven-haired woman sat at the head of the table. Posture straight and hands flat on the surface before her, she radiated confidence and power. Before her sat a slightly guilty appearing youth and seven other humanoid figures sitting somewhat defiantly in front of her. The chamber was not spacious but the one-way window on one wall gave the room natural light and helped alleviate the cramped feeling.
"What you did was reckless! If the gate had been open much longer Splynncryth's temporal investigators might have arrived and been able to track us down." She pointed an accusing finger at the baseball cap-wearing youth the woman once again stated her argument.
"Awe... come on! It didn't happen. Everything worked out so what's the problem?" the youth whined.
"The problem is that more than one woman's life was at stake. In fact...” The woman's tirade was interrupted by another male sitting at the table.
"Raven, just end it already! You out of all of us should know that I am the least likely to champion that irresponsible idiot... but he did the right thing this time," the man's deep voice cut across hers.
"He's right," another woman spoke up, "Without you, our movement would rudderless and our chances would be... less," she ended the sentence on a low note, obviously not wanting to dwell on how low their chances of long term success were in the first place.
"But there's..." Raven began.
"Yes, I would have taken over again," Max overrode her sentence. "But I admit I don't have your charisma... or luck."
"Well. I never thought I'd hear you factor in luck to our plans," Raven stated. "Alright, I'm not going to win this one," pausing to gather her thoughts she continued. "The next thing I wanted to talk about was the aid we... I, received during the last debacle."
"Debacle? Some thanks... " the boy started.
"Drop it, lizard boy. It ended well, but you still disobeyed orders. Don't expect thanks too," the man growled, tired of the boy's whining demeanor. The mage subsided with a sullen look.
"Anyway, as I'm sure you all saw from the other side of the portal, we had help. I didn't sense magic, but I think we had a warlock of some sort helping us."
"The stone fists? Yes, we saw. Crude but effective," the youth stated in interest, suddenly over his previous fit of pique.
"They bruised my ribs, but I have to say that they saved my life. I think I saw who did it."
"That would be convenient. Assuming it wasn't a setup, another magic-user would be a valuable addition," the man rumbled in interest.
"Unlikely. I saw him there when we arrived. Long before any of Splynncryth's forces knew we were there. He seemed very angry. I'd be willing to bet that he just arrived in Atlantis."
"He was a human you say?"
"I didn't say that, but he did appear to be," she stated forcibly.
"He must be fairly powerful to wander the city openly. We can send out feelers and find out more. How many powerful humans could possibly have arrived in the last few days?"
"Sounds acceptable, let's move carefully on this one. If he's powerful he may have already drawn attention to himself," as she paused to continue she noticed that the young mage was staring intently out the window. "Skippy? Hello? I would appreciate your attention at these meetings. It might be important later." Thinking of the irresponsible youth she didn't notice the other members seated on his side of the table looking at the window with a slightly glazed look in their eyes.
"Yes ma'am," Skippy whispered quietly. He still wasn't really listening. He and the others on his end of the table were busy watching a black metal statue being chased by two of the ape-like Kittani, closely followed by a huge cat monster who was, in turn, being chased by a young man wearing a backpack as large as he was, waiving a large bamboo umbrella over his head followed by a giant floating eye.
The room was soundproofed, so they were spared the accompanying shouts, screams, roars, and curses.
Rhada sat at a huge oak table, a thoughtful expression on her forehead. Her life had certainly changed since she had fallen in love with Abdul-Ra. Oh sure, the initial three centuries of captivity were extremely unpleasant, but the last few weeks she had spent with her paramour had been very satisfying. Atlantis was also a very metropolitan city with so many more experiences available than her own infernal domain. The shopping alone almost made up for the wasted years.
There was one small nagging lack that she felt regarding her current situation. Abdul-Ra was her one true love and she would never regret her decision, but she did feel the need for a pet. Abdul-Ra kept the little psychotic human to amuse him, for a short time she had felt a similar thrill as the pig-tailed martial artist had filled her spare time with his amusing antics. Alas, she owed her freedom to the human youth and it would have been poor repayment to keep him against his will, but... it had been tempting.
She had spent much time at the slave auctions in Splynn, but none of them had the same fire. It probably couldn't be helped, most demonic entities and Intelligences fed off human misery and suffering. Those mortals that were enslaved and rebelled were usually eaten or tortured to death or until their spirit had been broken. She didn't begrudge other entities their innocent pleasures but it did mean that the type of slave she was looking for was in very short supply.
At that moment, still tracing the intricate designs in the surface of the table, her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of rending wood. A moment afterward was heard a chorus of yowling cats. Frowning in puzzlement Rhada concentrated on the screams of pain. She thought she recognized one as the doorman and the guards. The other growls were unfamiliar. Abdul-Ra might be upset if he had to replace his minions. She had no idea why he felt such bonds of loyalty and honor towards his treacherous people but she had to admit it was one of the things she loved about him. How he did it, she couldn't comprehend, it wasn't as if they were worthy of respect, unlike her own people, the Fenry.
She was just standing, with the intention to head towards the front entrance when a raksasha franticly fled through the doorway. The demon got about two steps into the room before a gigantic paw reached through the doorway to slam the poor doorman to the ground. Slumping unconscious, the unfortunate demon didn't notice as an incredibly large feline walked over him, pausing only momentarily to lazily stretch and flex his claws into the back of his sleeping playmate.
Rhada took one look at the huge cat creature that came up to her shoulder and let out a huge smile. "Ranma-chan! How nice of you to visit. I see you finally made use of darling's gift. I was worried you might have problems with it. I'm so pleased that I was worried over nothing," she burbled while walking over to the feline.
"Oh, what a good kitty! You brought me a gift!" Scratching the cat behind his ears she continued to croon. "What a sweet thing you are." With a thump the feline dropped the limb he had been holding in his mouth and stood proudly over his present. "Now why don't you sit over there while Mommy takes care of this wonderful... thing... you brought me."
Gingerly reaching down she picked up the inert form of a metal figure. Only then did she notice that it seemed to be holding onto an unconscious human boy in a viselike grip. Grimacing in distaste she lifted the whole saliva covered mess with two fingers and holding it straight out from her body as far away from her as possible, she walked to the rear entrance and threw both humanoid figures into the rear alleyway.
As she was about to go back into her residence she paused, then looked up into the sky. "While I appreciate the return of my pet, I would appreciate removing your eye a little further away from our home." With another nod at the floating eye, she closed the door.
Abdul-Ra came home to a strange scene. Rhada sat in the sprawling sofa with a large cat draped over her lap, contentedly petting the purring creature with one hand, an oversized tome floating at eye level. The sight would not have been odd if it wasn't the scale. Rhada was a healthy, well-proportioned female of fourteen feet when standing. Sitting in a couch with a feline ten feet at the shoulder and about twenty feet head to tail on her lap. The cat was still huge even considering her own height.
"Did you consider simply growing larger? That boy is enormous in cat form," the demon asked his mate.
"It crossed my mind, but the couch wouldn't fit. Besides he's very comforting. Well? Can I keep him?" the Deevil Lady teased.
"You know we owe him too much... oh. That was a joke," the tiger headed demon shook his head. "Sometimes I think I spend too much time with my people. Well, should I change him now or do you want to spend some quality time with him," he teased, utterly confident in her answer.
"Now that you're back from your conferences I'd much rather spend quality time with you," she replied with a wink. "One thing I don't miss about ruling a realm is the endless meetings and haggling. Not that I've had to deal with that for centuries anyway... but I hated it when I did."
"Hmm... it's just as well. An outright war would be bad for both our dimensions. Although, we would win."
"And how can you be so sure. Deevils aren't pushovers," Rhada replied, pride placing a slight edge into her voice.
Abdul-Ra simply gave a confident smile, "Simple my dear. We have you." Rhada immediately relaxed a smile growing on her face. "With you and your minions, as well as that insane Deevil Lord they have running loose we'd eventually win. Besides our Lord Modeus has been preparing for this war for ages, while the Dyval Lords bicker among themselves."
"It's good to be gone. Mephisto is merely one symptom. The Deevil nation has become self-destructive of late," she said with an introspective tone.
"Hmmph. Let's not get too maudlin. The Demon and Deevil nations are not, nor have ever been one large happy family. If the other Lords didn't plot to stab each other in the back they wouldn't be the supernatural menaces we have grown to know and love," he said while emitting a low growling laugh.
Padding over to his seated mistress he reached out to touch the paw of the feline reclining over most of the sofa. The feline playfully batted his hand away the first few times, but eventually, the Lord's own catlike reflexes enabled him to touch the paw adorned by the ring. This touch initiated a cascading change that finally resulted in a young human lying in the lap of the Deevil Lady.
"Oh geez. That was nasty," the pigtailed youth firmly emoted.
"I trust you are in good health," the raksasha lord inquired.
"Sure. Dandy. That was weird. I think I remember some of it. Do you think..." He was about to continue when he noticed his host was in his half feline form and immediately turned away again, trying to pretend to himself that he hadn't seen it. "... It's due to the desensitizing stuff?"
"I am not aware of any desensitizing 'stuff' you are going through. I've only heard legends of the Neko-ken. You are the first practitioner of the art I have ever met. I see you found out about the special properties of my gift. It combines remarkably well with the Neko-ken."
"Er... right," Ranma mumbled, kicking himself for confusing Anhur with Abdul-Ra. He was sure his patron wouldn't appreciate that kind of slip of the tongue regardless of how confused Ranma felt, fresh from his altered state. As the comment about the ring gradually settled into his consciousness he momentarily considered tearing the ring from his hand. Sanity reasserted itself as he reached for the band and Ranma's hand slipped into folded space to pluck out his bracer. It had been beyond foolish to not replace it on his wrist. Especially with most of the city searching for his female half.
"Did I dream that part about chasing some statue around the city?" Ranma asked still trying to get a grip on his vague memories.
"No. I hope you don't mind that I threw it out. It doesn't fit the décor," Rhada answered.
"That's fine. This city is really messing with my sense of reality," Ranma sentence trailed off.
Ranma sighed and had to resist the urge to purr. Puzzled at this, he belatedly realized that Rhada had been gently petting his head throughout his conversation. This was odd enough that it took him another moment to register that he was still in the woman's lap. Immediately after this he almost reinvented teleportation as he leaped down to the floor, hands in his pockets, and tunelessly whistling as he nonchalantly examined the ceiling. A side-glance at his hosts showed him that there were no furious men or women wanting his head for being in an intimate position with their mates.
"I understand you wanted some information regarding certain High Lords in Splynncryth's service?" Abdul-Ra asked, amusement from antics of his mate's pet barely evident in his voice.
"Wow, how'd you know," Ranma asked, glad to be distracted from his embarrassment, still looking off to the side to avoid staring directly at his feline host.
"One of my minions came to me with an interesting story," the Demon Lord continued with a huffing sound of amusement. "I suppose I should be angry at having to have his position replaced. However you did amuse Splynncryth, so no real harm... to me at least."
"How was I to know they were all spies?" Ranma cried in indignation. "It's ridiculous! Er... what did you mean no harm to you?"
"I would guess that only half of those in the plaza were spies, the others were merely offended by your insinuation. Probably fearful that such accusation might be taken seriously." Ranma mouthed 'half' in silent wonder. "Fortunately, Splynncryth was watching and found your antics amusing." Shaking his head in disdain he continued, "I hope you can live with your good fortune."
"Okay, so how bad could it possibly be," the martial artist asked.
"Not so bad if you don't mind being followed by his minions and being recorded by a giant floating eye. You can take comfort in the fact that your triumphs, failures, and mishaps will be recorded and stored for some supernatural creature's amusement."
"That stinks!" Ranma groused. "How do I get out of it?"
"You don't. I wouldn't go back to your loved ones unless you wish to get them involved in the inner workings of Atlantis," Abdul-Ra's low voice picked up at he continued. "On the other hand as long as that Eye of Eylor is following you no guards will bother you without Splynncryth's direct orders."
"I've just become a supernatural slug's favorite television show?" Ranma asked in distaste.
"Congratulations," Abdul-Ra offered wryly.
"If you ever get tired of fame you can always come back to us," Rhada slyly stated. "You’re always welcome. You're already almost part of the family."
Yeah... Fido, Ranma thought bitterly. "So he's not watching me now?"
"No, of course not. I am a Lord of Hades. As long as you are on my land... or in my home your privacy is inviolate," or at least violated with more circumspection, Abdul-Ra continued his train of thought privately.
"Great. So this is show business. Seems a lot like my normal life," the youth sighed in disgust. "You said something about having the answers I wanted?"
"Yes. The High Lord you expressed interest in is called Nagrath Rak. Or at least what he is known as by most humanoids. His actual name is difficult to pronounce."
"He owns the chamber I pointed to? And he is one of the few that are allowed to tattoo outsiders?" Ranma eagerly questioned.
"Yes. I assume that would explain your new fashion statement?" the tiger headed being asked.
"Huh?" a confused pigtailed elucidated. "I don't get it."
Rhada gave the Demon Lord an amused sideward smile, "Allow me to show you." She immediately gestured with her hand and a large hand mirror appeared in it. Raising it up before the youth she waited.
"Yep, that's me alright. Damn, I look good," Ranma preened slightly at his image before he noticed something dark on his forehead. Reaching up he vigorously rubbed the mark away with his sleeve. "Shoot, I think I need a bath. You should have said so sooner."
"Take a closer look, my little warrior," Rhada urged.
"Hey! Who's the wise guy who doodled on my face?" shouted an irate Ranma.
"I am guessing that would be Nagrath Rak," Abdul-Ra said, not bothering to hide his own amusement.
"Why that... and Nabiki knew!" I must have been running all over this damn town with this weird eye on my forehead! No wonder people were staring at me."
"They were probably staring because you were a loose human. Tattoos and the power associated with them are a well-known phenomenon here in Atlantis."
"Geez, how do I get the things off? I heard they use lasers or something."
"These are somewhat magical tattoos. They bond to your soul, I understand they simply reappear unless you remove the limb they are attached to."
"That's idiotic! It's on my head, I'd have to... " Ranma trailed off, turning slightly green at the thought. "All right. It doesn't look so... bad. Much better than Ryouga's old God mark. Almost dashing... yeah," Ranma continued, seeming more to try to convince himself than any others in the room.
"You look adorable. Trust me," Rhada shared, ignoring Ranma's return glare.
"So, what does it do? It is magical, right," the pigtailed youth asked.
"I'm not a Tattoo Master, but it is a stylized eye. Probably allowed some type of vision. See auras, magic, maybe read, speak and write all languages," The Demon Lord theorized.
Ranma remembered the moment of clarity he experienced in the pyramid. When all the world came into focus and everything he saw seemed obvious in its function and history. He had been extremely busy since then and so hadn't thought of the incident since, but it certainly made sense now.
"I'm just surprised the High Lord only gave you one. I had heard that you could receive two at once," the cat demon pondered.
"Well if you get three it puts a strain on the spirit or soul. People tend to just drop dead at that point. After about a half a year you can get more."
"I don't want more! I don't even want this one," Ranma exclaimed. A sudden thought occurred to him and he frantically pulled up his sleeves and examined his arms. Not finding anything he continued to pull away the front of his shirt.
A muffled cough interrupted him for a moment, "Perhaps you'd like to continue your self-exploration in your own chambers," the demon suggested in amusement.
Only a groan met his joking offer. Ranma had found a second mark on his chest. A heart encircled with chains with an outline of a skull surrounding the heart.
"Ah darn. You were right. There are two of them," Ranma said dejectedly. "What is this one for?" a mental command and part of his shirt opened just enough to reveal the mark to the others.
"Protection. I think a force field. There's another element too. That is a very talented patron you found. I think he's mixed the effects of several tattoos. That might be physical and mental protection. He must have really liked you to go to so much trouble for you."
Ranma gave his companions a sickly grin, "You know me. The old Saotome charm." The demon gave a noncommittal grunt in reply. Thinking a bit on his problem the martial artist came to the conclusion that he needed help. Better to give information to people that believed they were obligated to him in some way than a stranger. "So... say I, you know, wanted to get into this fellow's favor. Maybe hang out with him for a while," Ranma awkwardly stumbled his way into his request. "Do you know a way to get to him?"
Abdul-Ra leveled a measuring look at the youth before him. "That is an odd thing to ask considering that he has already invested considerable time applying those marks to you. Doesn't he already know you?"
"Well... it's odd that you ask that. I was kinda... unconscious during our time together. I woke up and... wandered away before I actually met him," Ranma sweated nervously, trying to think of the best way to describe the events without really describing them. "I guess it's probably best, he might connect me to things, well things that might have... er, happened to an ally of his."
"So you want to be near him, but not as the human that he spent a week working his enchantments on. That... is difficult," Abdul-Ra pondered. "It's not as if he merely met you in passing. He must have spent much time and resources on you to give you two such complex tattoos."
"Perhaps not as difficult as you think," Rhada volunteered. "Most of Splynncryth's High Lords don't pay any attention to human appearances. To them, they all look alike. The tattoos are the real issue. He's bound to recognize his own work."
"You have a point. If you change your aura slightly," the demon Lord paused and looked questioning at Ranma. The martial artist didn't really notice, since he was making an effort not to look at the tiger headed demon. "Ahem! Would you mind paying a little more attention when we're talking to you?" the demon asked in acidic tones.
"Could you... you know. Get rid of the cat head, please," a hesitant Ranma finally blurted out in a rush.
"Oh. Certainly. Forgot about your problem," the now placated human continued, "Well, can you?"
"I usually just increase or decrease it. I think I can. It might take a few hours of practice though," the youth mumbled still somewhat embarrassed having his phobia shoved in his face.
"Good, if you do that you can just walk straight up to him."
"Whereupon the High Lord will order his minions to slay the impudent human," Rhada finished. "I think we need to work on the details."
"Hmm. Good point," Abdul-Ra admitted to his mate.
"You know I met someone earlier who suggested that if I win in the arena and dedicate my win to the High Lord, he might accept me in his household," Ranma offered.
The two infernal entities stared at the martial artist in surprise. After a moment Rhada said, "Then why did you ask us?"
"Um... I was hoping you had a better... I mean faster way to do it," Ranma said, not wanting to admit that it had actually completely slipped his mind.
"I suppose that makes sense. Well, whoever told you that was probably correct. A human going up to him out of the blue would be killed. If you prove your competency and stroke his ego as well, I think that might work."
"Do you have any connections in the arena? Some guy called Syushra of the Bloody Grubs Plaza said to contact him if I wanted to compete. But if you have something better..." Ranma left the sentence hanging.
"I haven't been here in years. You know, of course, Rhada hasn't either." The Demon Lord quietly paced the boundaries of the room. "I'll have my people look into this Syushra's credentials. If they are adequate they will contact him on your behalf." Coming to a stop he turned towards Ranma, "You’re not an agent of Ammit, are you," he stated.
"W... why do you say that? I love crocodile monsters. Why some of my best friends are crocodiles," Ranma nervously answered.
"I should have seen it immediately. Ammit hates humans. He'd never have one as a minion, regardless of its talents. He also has no patience or talent for stealth. You're not very skilled either, but you're making an attempt."
"I was with Ammit when he went in to rescue Rhada," Ranma frantically reminded the demon. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped in a room with two deity class entities out for his hide.
"Yes. Very strange. But never the less, meaningless. I would have seen it if I hadn't been distracted by Rhada's return. Ammit's allies can be counted on one hand, he usually only deals with those of his pantheon. Should I continue or do you feel like volunteering anything yet?"
"Anhur," Ranma mumbled. "I really need you not to mention this to anyone," Ranma admitted dejectedly. "It's very important."
"Anhur? That is... unexpected. Still, I'm not at odds with him," Abdul-Ra muttered to himself. "I suppose if Ammit asked for his help... "
"I have no issues with Anhur," Rhada added. "If he helped in my rescue, he has my gratitude. Ammit however... do you realize he still has several thousand of my Fenry in his service?"
"Really? I hadn't realized," Abdul-Ra said in surprise. "Well, I'm sure he'll give them back. Actually, I'm not positive, but with some prodding..." Thinking out loud, he continued, "You know, I haven't heard from him since your rescue."
"Anyway. I have no problem with you being a servant of Anhur," Rhada declared. "I'm sure we'll get along famously once we meet. He has a reputation of being a fine war god and an entity of his word. Even if he is also the god of assassins," she ended in a mutter.
"He's the god of what?" Ranma screeched in surprise.
"Well, what did you expect? He is part of the pantheon of Taut," Abdul-Ra offered.
"Which means... what?"
"Well ... he doesn't suffer the ridiculous morals and mindless rules that govern Taut's brother pantheon, the pantheon of Light."
Ranma remained silent. He had known his patron wasn't a fount of goodness but knowing he was the god of assassins was disturbing. Maybe Nabiki had been right in her warnings. He had been assured by Anhur himself that his missions wouldn't go against his own moral code. Whether it was possible to do the right thing under the direction of an evil entity, even an evil entity with his own moral code, was a question he would have to carefully consider. Later.
"Getting back to the original subject," Abdul-Ra prompted when it became apparent the human was lost in thought. "If you win the games you will be in an excellent position. You won't be able to use your new tattoos while the High Lord watches, but other than that I don't see any problems."
"So what about the big eyeball you said is floating behind me all the time now," Ranma asked.
"Well, that will be a little awkward, but shouldn't really impact things. It will stay invisible or hidden most of the time."
"So the Highlord won't mind a spy camera from his boss looking over his shoulder all the time?" he prompted.
"Well, a Highlord should never be doing anything Splynncryth would find objectionable. They are linked to their Lord and treason would mean instant death. Splynncryth will probably honor their privacy as he does ours. Which means he won't enter the homes unless invited."
"Okay, I just don't want to go through all this only to find out the Highlord don't want a pet eye following him around."
"I don't think it will be a problem. If you make a good enough showing he'll have to explain to Splynncryth the reason he doesn't want you."
"This seems to be working out pretty well," Ranma said, confidence in their plan beginning to take hold. "Thanks for your help."
"There are some minor issues I'd like to bring up at the moment. I would like to add some stipulations to the aid we will be providing," the Demon Lord smiled slightly while addressing the martial artist.
"Stipulations? You mean conditions," Ranma warily inquired. He didn't want to lose his only allies, but official deals with demons were risky propositions from all that he'd heard.
"I don't think you'll find these too restrictive," Abdul-Ra purred, eliciting a flinch from Ranma. "The first is common courtesy. I don't want any assassination attempts to be linked back to me."
"Hey! I'm no assassin! My fights are all face to face. Besides from what you said, Splynncryth will want Nagrath Rak's head more than I ever will," Ranma said without really thinking. He immediately worried that he'd said too much, but shrugged it off. His allies must already know that he was there to spy on the Highlord. His actions pretty much spoke for themselves.
"Good. That makes our involvement much less politically awkward," the demon nodded. "Our next condition involves payment," he watched the martial artist squirm uncomfortably and smiled. "Oh, nothing too onerous. We do owe you quite a bit. However, Rhada seems to have taken a liking to you. We've tried to find her a replacement, but all of them seem to lack your spirit," the Deevil Lady in question took this opportunity to run a large, though delicately proportioned, hand through Ranma's hair, which in turn made the martial artist jerk in surprise.
"Yeah... I'm one of a kind," Ranma faintly said. He wasn't very grateful for his charisma at the moment.
"I was thinking maybe twice a year, a month each visit for the next twenty years," the demon lord casually stated.
"Twenty years?" Ranma exclaimed. That was a long time, immortal or not.
"Now, calm down, little dear," Rhada soothed. "Think of it as a vacation. You've been to Abdul-Ra's realm already. It's a very nice place by any mortal standard. Your every whim will be catered to."
"But... but it's full of cats!" Ranma cried out desperately.
"They are all shapeshifters," Abdul-Ra offered. "I'll command them to take human form in your presence."
"Two months is a long time. How am I going to explain this to the others," Ranma mumbled to himself. Anhur's missions were already promised by his contract with the deity. Additional time away would have to be explained. He was sure that telling his friends that he was offered an official position as a Deevil Lady's pet would not really go over very well. "Wait a minute. Do you trade?" the pigtailed youth asked.
"Well, yes. I am technically a sovereign of a nation, though it's actually a sub realm of Hades," Abdul-Ra explained.
"If I could open up trade agreements between you and Nabiki I could explain my presence here as the negotiator," Ranma nodded to himself eagerly as the beginning of a plan started to come together. "That way Nabiki would explain to the others why I was gone. She always had much better at people management skills than me anyway."
"Do you think that she'd mind dealing with demons?" the raksasha asked.
Ranma thought for a moment, "Nah, she'll deal with anyone as long as their words good. I don't think she'll mind if I'm the only contact though. I somehow doubt that Hades is on her vacation list."
"I think my realm is one of the few that has regions that aren't inimical to human life. She doesn't need to know that it doesn't just contain deserts, lava flows, and orchards."
"For her own peace of mind then. Alright, I'll do it," Ranma gave a triumphant grin. Guaranteed vacation for twenty years was an acceptable price. He might have been less sure of himself if he had seen the Deevil Lady’s possessive smile as she again started to pet the martial artist's hair. The pigtailed youth grimaced, uncomfortable with the touch but understanding that the feelings behind it were very different than when his fiancées touched him. He even vaguely recalled enjoying the sensation while in cat form.
Chapter 6: Ambush
Nabiki sat on the floor of her room. Fine lines of concentration marred her forehead as she stared into a porcelain basin before her. Although the liquid it held was merely water, it simmered and bubbled, emitting a heatless silvery energy.
Waving her hand over her make-shift scrying pool she finally relaxed, leaning against her bed. It had been hard work following up on that fool Ryouga. He had somehow gotten lost when he was supposed to be speaking with the city council regarding a trade agreement. It was only through sheer luck she had found this out with her enchantments and had spent the last several days in an exhausting attempt to continue negotiations with her newly mastered image communication. Concern about Ranma fouling up what little plans they had come with only compounded her worried state.
Never the less, she had succeeded. She had forged contracts with two of the major forces in existence in that other alternate Japan Ranma had traveled to. She frowned at the terms. How both Ranma and Ryouga had managed to get such poor terms still amazed and frustrated her. If the act of exploration hadn't called for their durability she would have insisted on going herself. Martial artists all seemed to have the negotiation skills of six-year-olds. It's not that she wasn't rich through the terms she had... but it could have been so much more.
A knocking sounded out from her door, along with a muffled voice calling her name. Nabiki sighed, of course as with all things connected to Ranma there were complications. "Come in Masayo!"
The Demon Queller opened the door and peeked in. Personally Nabiki thought she was a sweet girl, though she naturally seemed a bit obsessed about Ranma. It had been a slight shock to find that she felt this way even though she believed Ranma was a girl. Nabiki didn't mind, it wasn't as though she was interested in her.
"So what brings you here today? Did the Emperor send you with the shipment again," the Tendo girl asked casually from her seated position.
"Well... kind of." The demon spooker mumbled from the doorway. "The war has sort of been won."
"I assume your side 'sorta' won," Nabiki asked slyly.
"Er... well, I suppose you could say that." The Demon Queller looked at her feet. "With both the Republic of Japan and the New Empire cooperating in a coordinated attack, the Oni front line collapsed. Completely routed in mere days. We actually spent more time traveling to them than fighting them."
"And your other problem?" Nabiki prompted.
"As we thought, the Shogunate attacked as soon as we were occupied with the Oni. If we hadn't allied with the Republic we would have easily been taken over. As it was, our allies ambushed the attackers and drove them into a retreat."
"That's it? No details?" the Tendo asked. Usually these fighter types boasted for whole minutes about their victories.
"Well... I was with the group fighting the Oni, but I hear we drove them all the way back to their cities. At that point, the resistance fell apart." Masayo shrugged in puzzlement. "They theorize that the leaders retreated through a portal with the majority of their forces. They just left the cities alone."
"I suppose the New Empire magnanimously offered their protection in return for accepting their leadership."
"Hey! It wasn't like that at all!" Masayo yelled indignantly. "You don't know what's it's like over there! If you don't have some sort of protection then your nothing more than fodder for Oni, monsters and possessing entities," her voice trailed off as a haunted look entered her eyes. "You just don't know what it's like," she whispered.
Nabiki shrugged guiltily, she wasn't used to dealing with fragile personalities. "Sorry. So what happened then?"
"Well, with the Shogunate cities defenseless, many of the leaders of both the allies were in favor of just leaving the traitors as Oni fodder. Fortunately, the Emperor had mercy and convinced the Republic to accept them under their own wing."
"Wait, the Emperor didn't take them himself? That makes no sense! They're adjacent to the New Empire and nowhere near the Republic," Nabiki exclaimed confused.
Masayo looked at Nabiki in pity, an attitude guaranteed to aggravate the Tendo daughter. "It is against the precepts of the Empire to use technology in any way. The only way we could accept them would be if they razed their cities and began anew. The Republic believes technology is the true path of the future, but they are more accepting of the use of magic." She paused for a moment. "It's not a politically sound decision since we are now bordered on two sides by the Republic, but it was the only decision our Emperor could make in good conscience."
"Yeah, a real humanitarian," hiding her sarcasm as best she could. She strongly doubted that the two powers could peacefully coexist indefinitely. Humans didn't seem to be made to get along together. She'd be happy if she was wrong, after all, they did have the Oni as a common foe, but just in case one did consume the other she was just thankful to have contracts with both of them.
"So crisis averted, the bad guys retreated to their backer in Atlantis and we all live happily ever after," until the Old Ones get us, Nabiki thought to herself. "So what brings you here?"
"Atlantis? Where's Atlantis?" Masayo asked in some concern.
Nabiki cursed her slip of the tongue, chalking it up to an exhausting few days. "Atlantis? Heh heh, that just a euphemism for limbo, or a generic hole in the ground. Get with the times girlfriend," Nabiki casually stated with a practiced smile. "So?"
"Well, I did well in battle, making up for much of my dishonor," she humbly stated. "As a reward the Emperor offered me a position as liaison here." Obviously straining for herself control she continued, "So is Ranma back from her errand?"
Smiling to herself, Nabiki just shook her head, "Looks like it might be a while. I can set up a place close by for you to stay in." If envoys are going to be dropping by I should probably buy a few neighboring houses and hire a maid service, she thought to herself. Sure the expenses were unfortunate but in all professional businesses, you had to treat your clients well if you wanted to continue doing business. This wasn't the small-time anymore, she smiled at the thought.
Nabiki's warm fuzzy feeling were dispelled as she felt a disturbance in the dimensional layers somewhere in the city. Not her portals and not a true gate... yet. A frown crossed her countenance as she stretched her senses, adding a minor spell to allow her to perceive more. In a moment she knew, something was happening at the Neko Hanton.
Groaning to herself she sighed, she should have known. The fiancée brigade was gone, as was Balthazar. The sheer peace and quiet should have informed her something was happening.
Ranma walked down the street. He'd been in the city for several days and had almost gotten to the point that he could ignore the hostile glares and casually bat the minor nuisances he met away. For the moment he was deep in thought as he contemplated his new career as an arena fighter.
He had avoided participating in the public fights in the past, satisfied to test his abilities against those who challenged him. That was not to say he never went to them. He often would walk into the various pit fights and public exhibitions, watch, then usually walk off again. Although these fights could be brutal they often resembled two pit bulls tearing at each other. They lacked skill, grace, and for all the bloodshed they also lacked power. Not ferocity, but at ten years of age his casual slap could send a normal man a dozen feet. There was simply no point joining in. Even his father, whom no one had ever called an honorable man, never stooped that low. Selling his son for a bowl of rice and two pickles was one thing, but sully the Art? Never.
He vaguely hoped this would be different, but doubted it. There would be blood and pain... and probably a lot of clumsy flailing around. It was distasteful but Ranma thought he could keep his goal in mind long enough to finish the competition. If not he was sure that Nabiki would be happy to remind him what the stakes were. He wondered what the gang was up to. Were they still inflicting gratuitous property damage without him? Probably. It never took much to spark their tempers. It was part of why they were fun to be around. It was also why he needed vacations. Lots of vacations.
He had just come from his new agent, Syushra, to sign and finalize his contract. The contract seemed standard and one of Abdul-Ra's more legally minded minions had examined it and given his okay concerning it. The games started next week and would run a month. If he won every battle he would fight once a week for a total of four engagements. It all seemed very straightforward if a bit tawdry.
Syushra himself seemed an honest... entity. At least Abdul-Ra's research hadn't shown any dirty dealing in an industry that wasn't known to breed honesty. It was just taking him a bit of time to adjust to dealing with something that appeared so odd. Of course his agent's address, the 'Bloody Grub Plaza' had really creeped him out. There were no tortured humans or sentients, but there were a lot of bugs. Apparently the area specialized in exotic cuisine. Grubs, slugs, and other less savory appetizers abounded. He had almost jumped to a neighboring building the first time he had seen someone's breakfast skitter away before the patron was fast enough to consume it.
Syushra had been polite and came across as very forthright. They had chatted for several hours about various fights they had each been in or witnessed. The alien had a story to suit every occasion. Each one very witty and humorous. He listened attentively to Ranma's own stories giving his own version of a chuckle in the appropriate places. He was, in short, the perfect host.
This in itself made Ranma feel awkward. He had never really met someone who was so easy to get along with. It would have been a very pleasant time if he could just get over the fact that Syushra looked like the guest star from a horror film. Probably his only lapse had been the time he asked Ranma if he was hungry and offered to treat him to a very nice local restaurant. The alien must have been an astute study of the human features since he had immediately realized that his guest looked quite ill and swiftly retracted his offer.
Still, Ranma had come away with a lot to think about. The stories his host had shared regarding the Arena had been a mixed bag. Blood and gore intermixed with honorable battle. In a way in was comforting. He had been given the impression that Syushra was extremely knowledgeable and would be willing to share his wisdom in order to efficiently defeat his opponents.
It would be fair to say that Ranma was on autopilot while walking down the thoroughfare. It would not be accurate to say that that he was ignoring his surroundings. His experience in Nerima as well as various subsequence events had honed his battle senses to a fine hair trigger. So while his conscious mind paid no attention to the two humans wearing the body armor shaped into insectoid forms, his back brain noted their location as well as the position of the other entities and their chi presence he sensed in a wide area around him.
When the two casually walked up behind him, simultaneously formed a sword in each hand, and then aimed them at him, his reflexes took over. It wasn't as if Mousse hadn't tried the same thing before. Throwing himself forward onto his hands he kicked back with both feet while allowing the blades to tangle with the others where his torso would have been.
His feet meanwhile met the stomach of the two behind him. The impact threw both opponents twenty feet backward and forced one of them to drop his sword at the ground by Ranma. The martial artist casually continued his roll forward to face his assailants.
"Hmm... you certainly don't look like fiancées," Ranma mocked at the two figures hastily getting to their feet. "Martial arts rivals? Nah, usually they yell out a challenge. At least the first time they attack me. You're also a bit clumsier than my usual fare." Saying this he casually kicked the sword lying at his feet. The weapon was sent through the air hilt first at the forehead of the face mask, knocking the single sworded figure back on its butt. "Oh, you dropped this."
The pair silently moved forward to flank the pig-tailed youth. Ranma grinned to himself. He couldn't help it, random attacks made him homesick. As the duo began their next assault he in turn began his commentary. "Not bad... for a twin set of losers," darting from side to side to avoid the flurry of strikes he continued. "I enjoy this more than a salvo of missiles. We'll have to do this again sometime. When you get out of the hospital."
Positioning himself he tapped two of the dancing blades on the side, which in turn altered their trajectory to tangle them in the other set. A loud series of clangs alerted the martial artist that his simple tactic had succeeded and the area was temporarily free of weapons.
Darting quickly into the space in front of each attacker in turn, he deftly grabbed hold of the ridge that held the helmets in place. "I'd love to chat more, but I have places to go, people to see... oh and your friend here to interrogate," holding the fellow in his left at full extension he initiated the Butterfly Kiss, the transferred kinetic energy sending the first assassin sailing almost a half-mile away. He easily deflected the remaining attacker's sword by the simple expedient of shaking him like a rag doll.
"Kind of tough to aim all those little swords of yours when your worlds moving like that," Ranma offered sympathetically while continuing to toss the hapless figure around in seemingly random directions, constantly avoiding the flailing blades. "I really feel for you. The first time Ryouga used this on me... well, as you might notice, it's really not a very dignified move. Effective until you know the counter." At this point Ranma began pounding the armored individual rhythmically into the ground, first in one direction, then the other.
"It's great against people in armor too. That heavy layer of protection doesn't seem very useful against internal impacts. Of course I'm using more force than normal in your case. I can tell by your aura that you're tougher than a normal human," smiling warmly, he continued. "That's okay, it's still a good move for keeping you off balance until I can do this."
At that point Ranma paused and threw two carefully aimed miniature vacuum blades, one at either side of the armor's neck. He followed this up with a palm strike to the faceplate, shattering the insect visage.
"Well, so that’s what you look like," Ranma muttered to himself, "I don't remember you." He did notice the tattoos at the neck and face but other than that it was just some unknown young human.
While the shaken human was recovering Ranma took advantage of his stunned condition to remove his swords. It didn't look like his hand to hand skills were a particular threat to him. Taking a better grip on his hapless victim's throat, he started his interrogation.
"So... who sent you? Either it was an idiot or someone vastly misinformed about me," Ranma helpfully gave another shake to loosen the tongue. The young man silently glared into the face of his captor and gritted his teeth. A moment later a luminescent blue glow formed around him. Ranma's grip was slightly displaced by the immaterial substance and the assassin took advantage of this to twist free and take a ready stance some feet away.
"Let me guess. A force field, right?" Ranma taunted, attempting to get some sort of reaction from his opponent. At least the idiot was disarmed, Ranma thought to himself.
Behind the martial artist the swords laying on the ground shimmered, then disappeared. Ranma, feeling the tingling sensation that presaged enchantment stepped back and to the side, allowing him to view the area behind him without losing sight of his opponent. He was slightly surprised to find the swords had vanished. A moment later he was even more dismayed to see them reappear in the young assassin's hands.
Ranma frowned to himself, mentally calculating how soon it would be before the other fellow could get back. Chances were he wouldn't be stunned long and the attack itself was mostly to gain distance, doing very little damage. Nodding, he came to the conclusion that he had a few minutes to test his opponent's abilities. It would be valuable to know his enemies' capabilities.
With this decision he leaped over his opponent and then began a methodical pounding before the swords could be brought to bear. The hardest part with dealing with swords was getting in close. Fortunately, only Kuno had ever been good enough to keep him at a distance for any amount of time. And that was only when using that silly watermelon training regime.
After about fifteen seconds of the Chestnut Fist, the blue glow disappeared allowing free access to flesh. The martial artist was about to renew his verbal assault when his danger sense told him of a threat from behind. He leaped away expecting that either reinforcements had arrived or the assassin's partner had made his journey sooner than expected. He was therefore taken by complete surprise when a 5-meter long head filled with dagger-like teeth closed around one of his legs.
The shock was soon followed by surprise, then pain. Oh, sure he was far more durable in this environment than at home, but rows of saber sharp teeth still hurt like hell even if his leg was in no danger of being removed. Most worrying, it lowered his mobility by several magnitudes. No... now that he thought about it, the fetid aroma and slime that was on his leg was the worst.
Ever since the Orroci he had lost any desire to see a big lizard up close, his encounters with Ammit and the Dragon had just driven the feeling home.
Not one to dwell on his misfortunes he grabbed a nostril of his attacker in one hand and with that leverage began quickly knocking out the teeth around his leg several at a time. The huge creature didn't even register the pain for several seconds leaving Ranma essentially free to leap away when the thing roared in agony and violently shook its head.
Gracefully landing many meters away the pigtailed youth leisurely massaged his leg while appraising the situation. His assassin now had another force field up and both his swords out. He was seemingly in control of a large T-Rex. Admittedly, the dinosaur wasn't very fast and it didn't 'feel' as threatening as most magical or supernatural entities did. Most likely it was just a big animal as opposed to a monster that used ambient supernatural energies to fuel its durability. All right, one more foray.
The lizard was closing in on him, so he simply leaped between its legs, under its body and tail, and into a swift jump kick at the unmasked youth. Ranma felt a tingle of magic and then a wall of air impacted him mid-flight. Tumbling end over end trying to regain his balance he was again struck in the side by a huge scaled tail. Once more tumbling in the air he managed to come to a semblance of a controlled landing about fifty feet away.
Working the kinks out of his muscled he looked back at his attackers. The youth was now floating in air, electricity dancing on the surface of the armor, and exposed skin. The T-Rex was rapidly approaching with earth-shaking steps.
It was obvious that he had drastically underestimated his opponents. They had begun their assault with an incredibly weak attack and he had assumed that even if they were holding some of their forces back, they weren't holding much back. The use of magic swords, spell effects without any obvious spellcasting and monster summoning proved him wrong. Of course, the very fact that they had attacked him with such a pathetic initial strike demonstrated that they knew practically nothing about him either. In this case the war might go to the one who knew more about the other.
Ranma knew he could win, heck he was barely winded. That wasn't ever in question, however, it was obvious that this person wasn't working alone. Ranma also knew it would be best if they found out as little about his capabilities as possible. Until he decided to challenge them on his own ground. It was just a variation of the Saotome Final Attack.
With that thought, he engaged the dimensional cloak and ghosted towards nearby cover.
Nabiki hurried through the silent streets. They were presently deserted. The Nerima citizens, apparently sensing that such a quiet day was merely a prelude to a disaster of epic proportion, had mostly decided to either stay in or visit relatives in neighboring prefectures. Not having anything to do except waiting, Masayo had followed in her tracks. She easily jogged next to the panting Tendo girl, even finding the leisure to glance around at the scenery.
Nabiki was worried. If the disturbance had occurred elsewhere she may have simply shrugged and sent someone to find out what had happened. However, the Neko Hanten actually had people who knew something about magic. Usually only enough to be irritating, but there were many events taking place that should not be interfered with. Ranma wasn't here, so chances were there was nothing to be worried about, but still...
The anomaly she had sensed was slowly building. It had already been worrisome and it was getting to be more so. When the eatery finally came into sight the radiance pouring out of the windows and from under the door inspired a last-ditch panicked rush towards the front door from the Tendo sister.
Nabiki was not one of the martial powerhouses that frequented the area but she was not without some limited training. This combined with one of the most unpleasant adrenaline rushes she had ever experienced combined to allow her to destroy the flimsy lock on the door and rush inside. She immediately wished she had waited.
Inside were all the people that she had been concerned about. Shampoo huddled on the floor next to the Summoner, Balthazar, listening intently to his instructions. Ukyou and Akane stood across from them, quietly waiting for them to finish. The two girls from the Timiro Kingdom stood on either side of them. Such a scene of peace would not have been cause for concern, except for the circle on the floor which was radiating a huge amount of energy and light. It gathered in a wide pillar and almost coated the walls and ceiling in eerie luminescence.
Nabiki was far from a master of the mystic arts, most of her powers were granted through Thoth rather than from her own means. However, none had ever accused her of being slow on the uptake. The girls in front of her were breaking down the dimensional barriers and it wasn't just to chat about the weather.
"Stop," Nabiki shouted at the top of lungs. Her image as the unflappable business person could be restored later. Right now the universe as she knew it was endangered. Unfortunately, whatever effect Shampoo and the circle mage had been trying for was finished. The Amazon looked up from the circle and turned in puzzlement.
"What Mercenary Girl want," she asked from the sitting position. Behind her the pillar flexed and bent. A final deformation sent waves of energy throughout the area as the excess energy dispersed, displaying a different scene on the other side of the newly created portal.
"Stay put," Nabiki commanded futilely, "Ranma is coming back in just a few weeks. You'll do nothing except risk his life if you go through that."
"Shampoo is going to help Airen," the blue-haired girl sniffed disdainfully. "Shampoo not abandon him like the others."
"Hey," a chorus came from the other girls as they glanced away from the mesmerizing gate to their rival.
"I know Ranma bit off more than even his ego can handle. Just because you think you’re the only one who knows enough about magic to follow him doesn't mean we don't care," an irate Akane responded.
"Yeah and don't think we're going to let you alone with my Ran-chan," Ukyou inserted, earning a glare of her own from the other girls.
"Ranma isn't going to thank you if you jump through that portal. Let me contact him and you can see for yourself that everything is fine! He really doesn't need help," Nabiki stated quickly, trying to keep their wavering attention focused on her. "Look, it's really a simple mission. He's in no danger at all. Just wait for him," Nabiki urged as she lied through her teeth.
"Mercenary Girl lie... Airen needs us," that was as far as she got before a huge clawed hand reached through the portal and grabbed the girl's hair. In an instant the Amazon had been pulled through the portal. After a moment of shocked silence the others shouted in rage.
When projectile and laser fire began to spray wildly through the portal, the shouting was quickly muted as the girls dived to the floor. Nabiki cursed to herself from her own position hugging the ground. The circle mage was cowering in one corner and the other girls were now spread out throughout the room.
Nabiki heard groaning timbers sound throughout the restaurant and realized with a shock that the energy and projectiles that had completely missed the people had blown huge gaping holes in the walls and ceiling. Her eyes widened in panic as she was able to see through the openings and see that outside large portions of nearby houses and even several houses behind those houses were either gone or had huge areas simply missing from them.
Eyes slotted in determination she quietly apologized to Shampoo and summoned borrowed energy from Thoth and focused it through her hand. A small fiery sphere formed in the palm of her hand and in a smooth motion she aimed and fired. Not at the portal, but at the circle under it.
The instant the energy impacted, the portal winked out taking the humming of lasers and whistling projectiles with them.
There was a moment of complete silence as each girl took count of what had just occurred. Nabiki, although feeling ill at the fate she might have condemned Shampoo to was glancing nervously around her. Most of the walls were gone and she could see the sky through the upper floors of the restaurant.
"Everyone out of the building, now," commanded Nabiki, barely able to keep her voice from breaking up."
"You... you just left Shampoo to that thing," Akane whispered in horror, just staring aghast at her sister.
"I had no choice, we... "
"What kind of monster are you," her younger sister began.
"Your sister is wise," a gruff voice broke in, "She has saved you from a fate which you most assuredly earned." Masayo stood from where she had lain. "If you continue to blindly open portals to my world you will find that there are many things that will attempt to destroy you. I believe Ranma may survive such things, but it's obvious that he is the exception in this world, not the rule." Frowning to herself she looked around. "You have paid a price, but if we don't leave we'll pay a heavier toll. It's a miracle this building is still standing. I for one will not tempt fate any longer in this fragile world." So stating, she promptly walked out through one of the open walls. Bits of ceiling starting to fall around her in earnest.
This action prodded the others to leave the condemned area themselves. Once outside they stood in silence taking in the ruined blocks surrounding the once popular eatery.
They were still staring out at the devastation in shock when the edifice behind them signaled its end with a long resounding crash.
Nabiki simply shook her head in wonder. Ranma was going to freak when he found out Shampoo was in Atlantis. Heck, even Thoth was going to be upset. Nabiki was supposed to be in control of the area. Any problems here were ultimately her responsibility.
Looking at the burning buildings surrounding her Nabiki tapped her foot on the ground in contemplation. This would take a bit of effort to put a positive spin on.
Chapter 7: Obligations
"This is complete crap!" the first armored made an angry gesture in the air. "We had absolutely no warning that he was some sort of mutant wizard!" The other individual quickly gave a blow to the back of the first person's rear helmet in token rebuke.
"Don't whine, the client will be charged appropriately for the lack," shaking his own insect helmed head, he looked around the battle-scarred landscape. "We should have been better prepared."
"Well... we knew he had to be more than standard human simply to be walking unmolested in Atlantis. There was no way to know he was some sort of powered freak."
The other turned to face the younger man. "It's my responsibility. I should have set up surveillance, instead of simply choosing to strike at him directly."
"Hey! That was my idea!" the other objected, relieved not to be blamed, but not pleased to have his contribution ignored.
The older man simply grimaced under his mask at his companion's behavior. "It was my mission. Despite it being your bonehead idea it was my responsibility for accepting it."
"Well... I won't argue," the younger reluctantly submitted.
"By the way. Get rid of the damn dinosaur," he gestured at the huge reptile that was presently sniffing hungrily at the back of his armor.
Ranma wasn't far from these proceedings. He had ducked off into the alley, engaged the Dimensional Warp technique, and then employed a mixture of the Silent Thief chi masking and mere stealth. He had found that if he fully engaged the technique in plain sight, the supernatural entities all seemed to stare at him as if he was holding a beacon. By merely masking his energy and practicing due diligence through mundane stealth, he was able to practically be invisible without the annoying 'here I am' side effect caused by actual invisibility.
What he had found was educational. The second fellow he had knocked away with the Butterfly Kiss had indeed come back a few minutes later to find the first assassin searching the area, dinosaur in tow. The helmet that Ranma had smashed open had hastily been taped together. A poor bit of protection, but it was obvious to Ranma that the armor was more for anonymity than protection. After all, anyone that could put up a new force field as fast as he could take them down couldn't be using mere armor for anything but aesthetics.
The conversation he had been overhearing was not surprising. Drawing a correlation between the armored individuals and assassins had been anything but difficult. The question of course was who. He hadn't been in the city long enough to have any new enemies and his old ones had no knowledge of Atlantis that he was aware of. That of course was the purpose of his present hidden state, to learn who had hired these people and who exactly were these armored people.
Fortunately, the eye that had been following him had chosen the last few minutes to conceal itself. Ranma could feel its chi, but to all other means of perception it was simply not there. It probably didn't want to spoil the entertainment.
Hopping up onto some neighboring roofs he simply waited until the two below stopped bickering and started to walk away. Ranma simply followed.
Nabiki absently tapped her chin with her finger in contemplation. Masayo did not know anything about Atlantis but she did know a few things about monsters. Of course, that simply led to Masayo's firm belief that Shampoo was either dead or fervently wishing she was dead. Nabiki herself had her own ideas. She was convinced that Shampoo was merely wishing she was dead.
She was grasping at straws but the attack through the portal had been far too overwhelming and organized to have been just a few demons on the street with ideas of random destruction. No, she firmly believed that the portal had caught the attention of the authorities in Atlantis and they had simply been mistaken for the typical dimensional raiders. This led to the belief that Shampoo was alive and probably being interrogated at the moment. Alive, but probably wishing she wasn't.
Even though it made her inwardly wince, Nabiki simply thanked Thoth that it wasn't Akane. It wasn't that she hated Shampoo, but Akane was her sister.
The man in the grotesque armor was presently more than happy to be wearing it. The armor and helmet easily covered his face and expression, leaving him to concentrate on keeping his voice calm and level. It was getting difficult recently. In front of him stood a huge serpentine figure. He would never mistake it for a mere serpent however, it was a dragon, an adult dragon filled with all the pride and power that goes with that position.
"So… why shouldn’t I kill you again," the dragon asked with some less than concealed ire.
"You, of course, could but my companions would avenge me. They would hunt you down and…"
"Yes, yes I heard that part,” the dragon stated dismissively. "It was the other reason that caught my attention." He had heard so many dying shouts of vengeance over the years that he mostly ignored them unless they were especially entertaining. Besides, did the little armored man really believe he’d let anyone know what happened to him? He was already using a minor spell to prevent transmissions and cries for help. Simple precautions.
"We are the private assassins of Lord Spynncryth. If anything happens to me you shall face his wrath," the man elaborated attempting to sound firm and confident. A difficult thing to accomplish when you're facing a dragon’s head as large as your body. And for some odd reason his electrical systems seemed to be malfunctioning.
"And why would Splynncryth’s private assassins be following me around trying to drum up some side work," the great wyrm’s head angled itself slightly to regard the assassin with one eye. "Is business down this season in the great dimensional market?"
"Lord Splynncryth allowed us to do side work as long as it doesn’t interfere with his wishes." This, of course, was all an exaggeration. The Sunaj did work for Splynncryth, but it was a far looser alliance than most people believed. Naturally, allowing people to draw their own conclusions usually gave the Sunaj more freedom and influence than most except the direct minions of the Splugorth possessed. Most of the time.
"Of course. A sovereign lord lets his minions go off and assassinate whoever they like," hot breathe washed over the man as the dragon snorted his disbelief. He hadn't been alive this long to not recognize a line of bull when he was fed it. "Obviously that’s the story you're going to stick to. Well, stop wasting my time and tell me why you've felt obliged to risk your life by bothering me."
After a moment of silence where the Sunaj reflected on the benefits of still breathing he started into the speech he had begun before he was interrupted by an irritated dragon. "We have heard that you are hunting a martial artist. It so happens that we have become aware of the location of this person, for a certain price we can eliminate him for you..."
The words were interrupted as a huge clawed hand smashed the assassin back and pinned him firmly against the wall. "Where is he? I don't need your services, I'll kill him myself for the affront he gave me!"
The roar of the dragon’s voice momentarily overwhelmed the armored man. With the audio buffering systems down along with the other systems, the sound traveled unimpeded to his ears, causing excruciating pain.
"We have agents tracking him, we can give you the location if you wish," the man gasped through the crushing grip on his chest and the more localized pain in his ears. He had to admit that he was hoping the dragon would volunteer to do his people's work for him. He just wished the process of convincing it wasn't so painful.
Ranma ducked behind another building. He was almost certain the armored people he was following couldn't see invisible but he didn't want to take any chances until he had a better grasp of what their abilities were. The force fields didn't worry him so much, he was confident that he could overload the damage capacity of the field with little effort. The summoned dinosaur did worry him. That was pure distilled magic and that meant it could be a wild card in combat until he found what its limitations were.
His prey walked purposefully into a three-story building of human proportions. Hopefully this meant it was their destination. With his luck they were all vampires and this was merely the storage for cattle. He grimaced and the thought. He wouldn't discount it but the Splugorth were notorious in their hatred of Vampire Intelligences and their humanoid minions. Not that he was an expert but his talks with his manager and his 'mistress' Deevil had brought to light some gross political structures.
Ranma maintained his Umi-sen technique as he hopped onto a building opposite the one he had just made the decision to stake out. A few of the creatures on the street stared at him obviously aware that there was a human in their midst attempting to hide. Ranma simply looked boldly into their eyes... or whatever they used and dared them to do something about it. In most cases they simply went on about their business unconcerned. A few of them looked at him, looked up to where the eye was floating and cloaking its presence to the casual eye and hurried onward. A smaller number tried to play 'abuse the cowering human'. He made short work of these idiots, however, although he tried to be discrete he wasn't always successful. It was the main reason he thought the armored guys couldn't see the invisible. Or, of course, it could be an elaborate trap. It wasn't like he hadn't walked into dozens of them in his lifetime.
He had just made himself comfortable for a long sit when he heard a voice.
"Ranma? Are you there," a familiar voice echoed in his ear.
"Ah, damn," he muttered to himself. "Nabiki, this isn't the best time. I'm spying on some psychos and I'm being watched by someone else. I don't think they can, but it's possible they might trace you given enough time."
"Sorry Ranma but we have trouble, is this better," Nabiki asked as her voice suddenly seemed to bypass his ears and resonate in his head. The gods had given him some experience with this mode of communication before, he had just never expected it from someone else.
"Telepathy? Since when can you do telepathy," Ranma focused his voice internally as he had with the few deities who had used this mode of communication on him.
"Since I learned this darn spell. The option comes with the spell but it's not often used because it's so tiring," Nabiki's voice had more than a tinge of worry in it and a large amount of urgency. "It's about your fiancée brigade."
"Oh come on," Ranma exclaimed in exasperation. "I'm not even there! How much trouble can they possibly get into?"
"They can if they get it into their heads to follow you," Nabiki stated flatly.
"Follow me? Nabiki, I'm in another freaking dimension, not the dimestore down the street! How could they even think about it? You have the only key to the circles and they all go to very safe places... very far from me," he pondered skeptically.
"Well guess who made some of those circles for me? Guess who would do anything for the attention of a beautiful woman? Guess... " Nabiki was interrupted at this point.
"I'll kill him," Ranma got the point and was beyond furious. "He's a damn Summoner... he knows how dangerous this place is," pausing in his tirade he asked the next logical question. "Are they okay? You stopped them in time, right?"
"Well... I found out about it a little late," Nabiki tentatively started. She disliked having to justify her actions to anyone, but if she wanted Ranma's help she had to give a little. "Shampoo had 'Zar start the ritual at her place. I got there just in time for some things to start shooting through the portal."
"Are they okay?" Ranma asked worriedly.
"Um... most of them are," lacking a better way to say it she just told him, "They grabbed Shampoo, and then the portal was disrupted. The Neko Hanton and the block surrounding it were destroyed but everyone else was okay."
"They have Shampoo?" Ranma asked. "Who's 'they'? If they took her she's probably still alive."
"I'm not positive but I think they were what passes for authorities in those parts."
"Ugh. A mixed blessing. They'll probably want to interrogate her before they put her on the market or eat her," Ranma thought to himself.
"Eat her," Nabiki exclaimed obviously catching the last part of his thought.
"Eat? Did I say eat? I meant greet her, yeah. Greet... lots of friendly aliens over here," Ranma lamely tried to cover his slip. "The girls must have opened a portal to a sensitive spot or somehow made them think they were pirates. They don't usually respond so preemptively to dimensional travelers. That's where most of the buyers come from."
"So you can get her back," Nabiki inquired hopefully, ignoring his earlier pathetic babbling.
"Sure, no problem I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding," Ranma stated absently. Obviously, he'd have to work fast before something permanent happened to Shampoo. He was at a loss as to what to do but his manager seemed to know how to finesse the system. Surely they could work out a story that would get Shampoo out alive. If not, he'd have to try to break her out. He was confident he could do it, but that might damage his chances later on with his mission. Nabiki wouldn't like it, but he wouldn't like it if they started eating his fiancees. That wasn't the kind of attrition he was hoping for when he started his waiting game plan.
Standing up, he starting leaping from building to building heading towards his manager's office. If he had bothered to look back he might have noticed a large black dragon writhing through the air towards the entrance of the building he had been watching moments before.
Ryoga was extremely unhappy. He didn't remember much after that long chase through the streets involving the giant cat. Apparently, wherever he had followed Ranma had dangerous creatures roaming the street. He also was beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that the people on the street weren't wearing costumes.
He had woken up a small stone cell, it had a small cot in the corner and a small basin that was perpetually filled with water. Although spartan it wasn't unclean or unpleasant. The door to the chamber was locked however, so he couldn't help but think that somebody thought he was their prisoner.
Of course stone walls don't a prison make, especially for a master of the Breaking Point, however, someone thought he was kept here. The question of course was who. Rather than perhaps create an incident he had made the decision to wait and see. He still was feeling a bit battered, though the bruises were quickly fading.
A scraping sound at the door was heard and it swung open a moment later. What it revealed was a huge humanoid with a bulky musculature and two large fangs protruding from the mouth of what almost looked like a neanderthal. A low toned voice issued from the crude face.
"Well if the little godling isn't awake," the creature taunted. "You should more careful where you get drunk and pass out, god boy. If our patrol hadn't picked you up you might have ended up in something's stomach. Things that look human should be careful in our fine city, they just might get eaten."
"Right... " Ryouga looked at the creature and thought over its words. Okay, maybe he'd been a little naive about the Halloween thing. The people would have all had to have been as rich as Kuno to afford costumes that good. "So, now that I'm awake and we're all sober, how about letting me out?"
"Not so fast, god boy. There's fines and baggage fee for housing you for the night..." The thing continued on for several minutes listing a number of ridiculous services.
"Wait! You pressed my clothes while I was unconscious and you want a tip," Ryouga interrupted at one point, unable to stay silent any longer. "I don't even have any local money!"
"That's okay, god boy, here in Atlantis we can exchange almost any currency in existence... for a fee," the jailer offered magnanimously.
"Er... I'm not sure at the going rated from yen to the credits I hear you use here, but isn't a half a million credits a bit high," Ryouga offered hesitantly.
"You high and mighty godlings disgust me," the humanoid snorted, gesturing as if to ward away dirt. "You get wealth thrown at you by your parents but won't even pay for services fairly given."
"Now wait a minute! I never had anything just handed to me," Ryouga protested hotly. "Everything I have I earned by my own hands!"
"So you'll make good on your debts," the creature inquired dubiously.
"Of course I will," Ryouga indignantly stated. Then he froze as he realized what he had just promised. He hadn't been blindsided this badly since he had made a deal with Nabiki.
"Great so hand over the money and I'll get it exchanged for you... at cost, even," it generously offered.
"Everything I have is in my backpack. You probably have it somewhere," Ryouga muttered dejectedly.
"Hmm... yes we do. A shame nothing you have covered the amount you owe," the creature sadly shook its head. "I suppose this means you'll have to default on your promise. And here I thought you were honorable. For shame."
"Hey! I made a promise and I'll keep it," the young martial artist stated stubbornly. How this had become a matter of honor he didn't even want to think about.
"You're new to Splynn? You know I happen to have a few connections," the creature stated thoughtfully. "You look like you’re a fairly powerful scrapper. I bet you're not a bad fighter with the blood of a deity running in those veins of yours."
"Yes," the martial artist answered cautiously.
"I have a relative who manages a few fighters in the arena. If you agree to sign with him for a couple of fights I think I could write it off."
"So, it's like a street fight," he had fought his share of those to feed himself over the years. It was usually pathetically easy for a fighter of his caliber, but if he had to do it then so be it.
"Yeah... just like a 'street fight', just a bit more of a crowd," the creature offered politely. Ryouga wasn't sure when he'd gone from 'god boy' to this thing's pal but really thought it didn't bode well.
The creature shuffled into a dimly lit office. In the darkened corner of the room a small tentacled creature tapped on the screen of a monitor, entering some arcane figures.
"Well," it asked in a bubbling voice.
"He was easy," the larger creature boasted. "Doesn't know a thing about Atlantis. He actually thought we were the authorities."
"Really? I didn't think he'd be that easy," the other bubbled.
"It was simple. Once I found out that he had that honor weakness I knew it was over," the creature chuckled and continued. "It also helped that he's a moron."
"It doesn't matter how stupid he is as long as he can fight. He's a demi-god, maybe even a godling. They're all fairly tough, even given the competition in the Arena."
"Just be careful. I've seen a few jokes who called themselves godlings." The creature positioned itself differently in the seat, causing some unsavory wet noises to be heard. "I think this one is different. He might be one of the more powerful ones."
"I think so," a large toothy grin followed this statement.
"Keep going with the obligation track. Also, try to make it seem like it is his own idea. We don't know how close he is to his parents or ancestors... or whatever spawned it," a wave of a tentacle enunciated this view. "If something happens to it, let it seem that it got into the trouble by itself."
"We might come close to winning. It's been a while since we collared a good one. The last few died before they could get close to getting us a profit."
"If he comes in first place we could afford a leisure pool in the office," wet sucking noises showed the creature's pleasure.
His companion stayed silent. He wasn't as fond as his partner about dark moist places. He would spend his money on some serious drinking and female company of the cheap kind.
Chapter 8: The Azlum Asylum
Ranma crept warily through the rather dimly lit corridors. The smooth stone walls had no seams giving an almost painted look to the surface. Beside him strode two huge Overlords who occasionally deigned to give him a glare of disapproval. Every hundred feet a massive stone door would adorn the wall. Small, dark vents werebe cut out near the bottom, and whimpers or cries of misery or madness would waft through them. Honestly, he'd rather be elsewhere.
He silently sent a prayer of thanks in the general direction of his manager. He had no idea where to even start looking for Shampoo. The arcane bureaucracy of Splynn eluded his grasp and mastering even the basics of where to ask would have taken more time than he believed he had. When he had come to his manager for advice he had simply laid a sectioned arm on his shoulder and told him that he'd take care of it. Ten minutes and one call later and he had the location of the purple-haired Amazon.
Admittedly, he had been all for breaking in and simply destroying anything that got in his way. This must have been more obvious than he had thought since his manager had gently restrained him on the way to the door. Only his gratitude had kept him from brushing past and continuing with his brute force idea.
He really hadn't been thinking straight. Ranma wasn't perfect. He may not admit that to anyone else, but he wasn't stupid. He may never lose when he was serious but he had... been inconvenienced... by his challengers on many occasions before he put them in their place. He had his flaws, buttons that people could push. Most of his buttons turned his playful battles into deadly confrontations his foes rarely walked away from without artificial aids. But they did make him react in certain ways.
One of the most frequently used buttons was 'the kidnapping of Ranma's fiancées'. It was a sure-fire way to get Ranma's attention and keep it focused for the duration. It also pissed him off. Really pissed him off. Sure, he'd been through the Soul of Ice training but it was never enough to do more than concentrate his outrage to a honed edge. He had so few friends over the years that the thought of someone taking them away could not be tolerated.
Never the less, Ranma stopped long enough for his manager to offer his help and so here he was. Only part of it was connections. True, the insectoid knew many powerful people, not the least of which were the Demon Lords Ranma himself was staying with. The real issue was experience. It dealt with fighters. Many of these fighters were not the powdered, civilized fisticuffs of the advanced civilizations. It worked with the most effective fighters it could find.
Once in awhile Syushra could find one with restraint, self-control, and acumen to accompany the power and skill it required. However, most of the time the people he worked with were dull brutes. Now, if you have powerful idiots working for you, chances are they don't like authority. In Splynn if you like fighting and hate authority you might pick fights with the military. If you survive this, you will end up in prison.
This had happened so many times over the years that it simply took one call to locate a newly acquired 'prisoner'. One more call arranged her freedom. For a price.
"I assume this friend of yours wasn't really a dimensional raider," the chittering inquiry caught Ranma off guard after the second communication ended.
"Is that what they thought? I was wondering why they grabbed her," Ranma said thoughtfully. "I mean they have tons of people gating in here. That’s how they make their money, right?"
"Hmm... yes. However your friend seems to have made her entryway directly into a rather sensitive installation. They were going to use her for some quite unpleasant experiments before I spoke with them..." his voice trailed away hesitantly.
"What," Ranma prompted cautiously.
"He didn't come out and say it but I think they may have already done something to her," he chittered anxiously.
"What!" Ranma exclaimed again with far more force and outrage.
"Calm down! We're getting her back and we'll see what damage was done soon enough," he paused to give Ranma time to collect himself. "There is also the promise I had to make to get her out."
"Promise?" Ranma asked with a certain amount of trepidation.
"Er... yes," the creature paused for a moment. "In a way, my influence is one dimensional. As you may know, the greater beings that have influence in Splynn suffer from ennui, boredom and are very jaded. They give great latitude for beings that have a chance to relieve them... "
"Can you get to the point," Ranma interrupted, tired of the rambling explanation.
"Fine. In order to free her, I had to say she was one of my fighters who had strayed," the manager tapped a chitinous foot rapidly on the floor. "Most of the entities I sponsor really aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, so I've actually had to bail them out of worse situations."
"Well, that's fine," Ranma said reasonably. "Once she's free we'll just say she sprained her foot and that’s that."
"After all... huh? What do you mean, no?" Ranma stopped himself as the statement penetrated.
"The government actually keeps track of these things. The person I contacted may even place bets on the person I free. After all, if I go through the trouble and expense to expedite the entitie's freedom they must be worth the trouble. If their fight is cancelled they'll come looking for her."
"What if she's gone?" Ranma asked worried he wasn't going to like the answer.
"Well, since she's going to need to be picked up I manufactured an excuse for you to go in and get her. She's your partner."
"My what? I don't need her as a partner! She hasn't practiced seriously since she followed me to Japan," Ranma cried indignantly. "What's she's going to do? Dose the opponents with love potions?"
"Excellent! She knows magic!"
"Huh? Did you just hear what I said?"
"Yes. It doesn't matter. If she runs off they're going to come for you. So unless you both plan to run off you're stuck. I would try to think about your new partner's assets rather than her drawbacks."
"But... but," Ranma babbled, internally torn. He really hated getting the girls involved in his fights but if he screwed this chance to grab the Highlord's attention Nabiki would nail his hide to the wall. Thoth would probably be upset too. Oh, and the universe ending thing was also a bad thing.
Again, he blessed the foresight of his manager. This place reeked of both magic and advanced technology. He still believed he could have broken in. Finding Shampoo would have been... unlikely, in the limited time that he would have had. Shampoo's chi could be sensed but unless he went through this magically enhanced rock, he certainly couldn't have gotten to her.
The trio finally stopped in front of what appeared to be an anomaly. Instead of a thick stone door it appeared to be organic, perhaps wood. It pulsed with a dark, sickly energy that set Ranma's primitive magical senses and far more advanced chi senses aflame.
"Why is her cell different from the others," the martial artist asked already guessing the answer.
The Overlord gave a deep laugh, "Seems your minx has an affinity to stone doors. We had some problems at the start. She wasn't particularly powerful, to begin with, but it seems she has a talent for going through rocks as if they were nothing."
Ranma glanced once more at the entry and nodded. This was organic material impervious to the traditional Breaking Point and seemed soaked in negative chi. Shampoo wasn't advanced enough to work through negative chi and lacked the creativity that Ryouga and Ranma possessed that allowed them to adapt to situations the original techniques seemed unsuited for.
"Well, let's get my partner," he prodded his escorts before continuing. "What do you mean she wasn't?"
"Never mind, you'll see. You'll even thank us. Azlum aims to please," the one on the left said, giving a toothy grin while opening the door. Giving his escorts an evil glare he quickly walked forward to catch sight of his fiancée.
Sitting in the corner, hair falling around her like a waterfall, arms wrapped around her legs was the Amazon. She only had a few scraps of clothing left and was covered in dirt and bruises. He could tell she was barely conscious and from her chi level knew she was lucky to be aware at all.
Crossing the room he ignored the spongy feeling of the floor to kneel beside the girl.
"Shampoo," he softly questioned, to draw the girl's attention to him. Seeing no reaction he reached over to infuse her with a small amount of his chi and tap a few pressure points he knew would open up her energy channels and help center her. Behind him he could hear the guards chuckling to one another.
Abruptly, Shampoos head jerked up, her eyes locked onto his and a massive physical force threw him across the room.
Shampoo herself obviously was quite invigorated by Ranma's attentions. She quickly stood and walked towards the man now pinned to the wall.
Ranma was shocked as hell. He wasn't at all hurt, but that had taken even his honed danger sense by surprise. An invisible force hung him from the organic wall like a Christmas decoration from a tree. It wasn't like he hadn't been in this position before, Ammet had placed him in a similar situation in his first meeting with the deity. Ammet had even bombarded him with excruciating attacks while he was there.
He could respond with brute force, he himself had limited flight ability, perhaps enough to counteract the not insignificant force being exerted on him. He was certainly easily strong enough to push himself away from the wall, but then he'd just be thrown against another. He could wait her out, this had to be using energy and it wasn't really painful. He was interrupted from his contemplation by the sight of the purple-haired Amazon slowly approaching him with a grim smile and a long glowing sword.
"Okay... change in plan," he muttered to himself. His fiancée was walking towards him looking like she was about to use an advanced chi sword technique on him. Well... he didn't sense chi, so maybe it was that psi stuff Ammet used. He hated that stuff. Magic he could sense, he hadn’t encountered psionics enough to sense that garbage let alone resist or counter it.
"I don't suppose we can talk about this?" Ranma asked hopefully?
Ryouga was really getting tired of the trainers they kept sending him. They were all slackers. How did they ever intend for him to get ready for the tournament with the pathetic wimps they threw at him.
"Don't you have any decent equipment around here," he asked the ogre-like alien he was presently complaining to. "How am I going to get any tougher if all you can give me to spar with are these lightweight pansies," he gestured at the array of unconscious foes scattered at his feet.
The ogre shivered, this guy was nuts. He'd laughed at the idiot at first. Then he'd seen him in action. The guy may not be operating on all pistons but he had pressure to spare. He'd rounded up some impressive brute squads to train the kid, but godboy simply mowed them down. He kept asking for rocks and weights and so far it hadn't even slowed him down.
"Maybe I should train on my own for a while," Ryouga sighed. "I'm sure you mean well but you're all so weak."
This of course infuriated the ogre. He had trained some of the best. Even some winners in the Splynn Arena tournaments. Sure it had been a few years but still...
"Alright, you’re a little more advanced than I thought you were. No problem. I have a little trinket from Phase World that will make you sweat more than you want." He pondered the wisdom of using the items, they'd killed the last trainee, but this guy was really irritating him, regardless of what his boss said. He really hated these over-privileged supernatural freaks.
"Phase who?" Ryouga asked in a puzzled tone. He was pretty well-traveled but he'd never heard of it. Maybe it was in Australia.
"Grr... never mind. Let’s just say they have really advanced technology. The best in the Three Galaxies."
"Is that a mall?" the martial artist wondered aloud.
"Argh!" giving a cry of frustration he reached into a bag at his feet and threw a pair of oversized gauntlets and boots at his student. Ryouga of course lazily caught the slow-moving objects and looked at them.
"Er... boxing gloves and ski boots? Is that a new event in the tournament?"
The ogre sighed in disgust. "Put them on and press the big green button once."
Ryouga quickly sat down and put the equipment on. Standing up once more he clicked the button. "Is it supposed to do anything?"
Glancing at the readout that displayed on the oversized boots he grimaced. It read five. "Click the green button a few more times. If it starts killing you, hit the red button."
Ryouga immediately started mashing the green button before the words caught up with him, "Kill... ?"
This was as far as his question got before he was pulled towards the ground on his hands and feet. "This... this... "
"Is that good enough, godboy," the ogre sneered at the kneeling youth. "Those gauntlets control your personal gravity. Right now at 25 times gravity you weigh about two and a half tons. Bah I expected better of you."
"... is great," the martial artist finished his stuttering triumphantly, trying and failing to pull himself to his feet. "I can finally get rid of this bulky backpack! It only holds two tons anyway," the ogre's eyes widened at this. If the backpack was actually that heavy, hard to believe considering its size, then the boy was sitting with fifty tons on his back. It didn't look like he was going anywhere but it still boggled the mind.
Ryouga had finally given up on standing and was struggling to pull off his backpack. When he was free he hopped around a few times to get the feel of his new state.
"This is very cool, the weight is much better distributed," the martial artist muttered to himself. "This exercises all of my body, not just the lifting muscles." With this he clicked the green button a few more times before taking a deep breath. "Now I can start the real training."
The trainer dumbly shook his head. The readout showed one hundred gravities, which meant that godboy weighed about 10 tons. He was either going to win this tournament with godboy or retire. Maybe both.
The black tressed woman pulled up her hood and sat in the shade of the restaurant's public seating. She was pretending to sip a drink she had ordered to better blend in and was frankly regretting it. It tasted and looked truly vile. It was green and lumpy. She didn't want to think about the little grasshopper creatures she saw swimming in it. Perhaps this trip wasn't as good an idea as she had first imagined.
The area of Splynn she was in was actually far more tolerant to humans and mortal dimensional beings, but it was also tailored for the insectoid races. Many of these races were fairly pleasant, but they tended to give humans the creeps. And their drinks had the unfortunate woman on the edge of purging her stomach as long as she held the damn stuff.
However, this was the location that her informants told her that pigtailed man was staying. She had been the one to make the decision and now it was time to try to contact him. He seemed to have some very valuable abilities and it was time to see if it was merely a whim that had him help her cause earlier or he was inclined to more serious aid.
The information they had gathered so far seemed... odd. He seemed to have Sunaj after him, as good a character reference as could be asked for. The Demon Lords he was found to be speaking with concerned her. The group she had gathered around her for the rebellion held some odd sorts, even some that could normally be categorized as evil, but she still preferred to work with like-minded individuals who fought for freedom. Still, he didn't seem to be pure evil and if he had contacts so much the better. It just meant she had to be cautious. That was fine, when she wasn't blatantly risking her life on a mission she could do cautious.
Now it was just a matter of waiting for the fellow to come back from wherever he was.
The purple-haired woman slunk towards the martial artist hanging against the wall. "Shampoo wait long time for Airen."
"Gah! Shampoo, please speak Chinese! Your Japanese sucks and it isn't getting any better from the translation effect," Ranma complained.
"Now you're teasing me, beloved. I'll have to punish you for that," Shampoo held up her sword in a threatening manner. The two guards at the door chuckled and elbowed each other. Obviously they had expected violence. "I think I'll cut off your clothes and ravish you," Shampoo finished with a purr.
The guard's mouth hung agape at the last statement. Obviously, their own encounters had ended in a different, less pleasant threat.
Ranma's mind was in a whirl. This was not a Shampoo he was used to. Oh sure, she was using force tactics but instead of throwing herself on him immediately she seemed to be relishing the chase.
"I had some time to think," she continued, finally coming next to Ranma. "I think I must have been insane to think that throwing myself on you like a little girl with a crush would ever work. It's time to grow up and stalk my man like a real woman should." During this speech she had placed one hand on Ranma's chest and the other was poised over his shirt to carry out her promise.
The martial artist's hand shot out to grasp the sword hand of the Amazon. "Shampoo, what happened, this isn't like you." He was concerned about the sudden change.
"I've never felt better, beloved," Shampoo enunciated each word by tracing tickling designs over Ranma's chest. "You could say I've seen the light, but to be honest I really don't remember much of the last few days." Letting her hair brush lightly against Ranma shoulder she sighed. "Now that I'm thinking clearly I'll show you how a real woman seduces her husband." A quick, wicked smile flitted across her face as whispered the last in his ear.
Now Ranma had always found Shampoo attractive, but she had suddenly crossed a line between cute and irritating to sexy and distracting as hell. Despite this, or even perhaps because of this, he had been carefully examining the chi flows of his fiancée. He was intimately familiar with all of his fiancées' aura and health. Akane may get kidnapped the most frequently but he cared about them all. He had therefore been able to find several very large differences in the chi flow of the woman before him. Betting that these differences were responsible for her new powers his free hand gently tapped her in the temple.
The grip on his body immediately faded, leaving him propped up against the wall under his own power. The sword flickered and then dissipated completely, leaving Shampoo looking bemusedly at her empty hand.
"I should have known better than to think I could hold you down long," the Amazon whispered in his ear. "I'll have to do this the long way."
"Shampoo, we have to leave," Ranma stated firmly, taking hold of Shampoo's shoulders to keep her a little further away and look her in the eyes. "We have a tournament to get ready for."
"But I want to talk about us... what tourna..." Her question was interrupted as Ranma swept her up in a tight embrace that literally took her breath away. While Shampoo was extremely pleased by this, she was more than slightly puzzled. She had expected a long and pleasant chase before getting Ranma to this point. It only took a moment of thought to realize the real reason she was encased in the hug.
"As much as I enjoy this, let's talk about this tournament," Shampoo found her guess confirmed as she was once more engulfed in a very satisfactory lip-lock with her husband. When Ranma stepped away she gave a happy sigh. "I suppose we can talk about it later."
"Come on you disgusting humans! This is a jail, not a breeding pen," grunted one of the guards who had gotten over the shock. Stepping back he grumpily gestured for the humans walk ahead of him.
After Ranma had explained the tournament problem away from the guards Shampoo nodded in agreement. "I am an Amazon, husband. We were born to fight. While I could have trained more since I met you, I think these new abilities will help quite a bit."
"Don't get too cocky, I was able to disrupt those fancy psionics of yours for a few moments once I had a chance to study your aura," Ranma warned.
"Very true," the Amazon said while holding his hand. "It is why you’re my husband after all. I don't think we have to worry about our opponents being able to match your abilities."
"Yeah, you're right," Ranma confirmed merrily as he knocked a belligerent minor demon into an adjacent wall. Every time he came up with an excuse to drop Shampoo's hand she just picked it up again. But at least she wasn't hanging on him. While having his fiancée around again was slightly tense he had to admit it was nice to have a friend around again.
"I understand why you kissed me, but I hadn't realized my jailors spoke Chinese," Shampoo stated curiously. She really didn't remember too much but the creatures had never spoken in a language she could understand for as long as she was there. She hadn't gotten the amulet that allowed her to understand all languages until after she was free.
Ranma froze. Since Anhur had gifted him with languages he had never really thought about it. He had just assumed the creatures understood what was said. "Yeah... magic is pretty common in this land. For better or worse. It's good to be careful. Yeah... just careful.
Shampoo winked at him from his side. Her new tactics would finally convince her husband to act like one. Side by side the two approached the area they would be training in.
Ranma had been consciously paying close attention to his surrounding since he found out that the Sunaj assassins were hunting him. It was as he was almost across from his manager's office that he noticed something familiar. There was a person whose chi he had met before. Though they had met only briefly, the black-haired woman who had freed the slaves from the meat market had made a lasting impression.
As he noticed her start to get up from the table while looking in his direction Ranma pushed his senses outward to verify that the Eye of Eyelor was still floating peacefully above them. Grimacing at the lousy position he had just been placed in, he whispered to Shampoo. "Go inside and wait for me, I'll be right in."
Standing still, he concentrated intently and very gently used his rock fist technique to enclose the foot of the raven-haired lady. Then he leaped to the roof and started to lead the Eye in a merry chase. Losing it ten minutes later by the simple expedient of ducking for cover and after removing his bracers for a moment, switching gender.
Taking a less circular route back to the plaza she leaped down from the roof and over to the black-haired woman. She still sat there, however, there was a pile of stone dust scattered at her feet.
Walking up to the woman she bowed slightly. "Sorry about that but I'm being followed by a spying eye and I saw you were about to walk over to me. Not so good for either one of us."
The black-haired woman narrowed her eyed at Ranma-chan, "Sorry miss but I have no idea what you're talking about."
"But... oh shoot. Wrong gender," Ranma-chan grimaced. "If you'll trust me for a moment, we can get out of direct line of sight and I'll show you what I meant."
"And why would I follow a complete stranger into an alley," the woman drawled a question.
"Just out of line of sight, I can sense you’re a strong fighter. Not as good as me, of course but... who is," Ranma-chan said good-naturedly. She had found that if people thought she was joking they bristled less when she told them the truth.
"Fine," the woman said tersely, obviously suspecting foul play. Just as obvious was her confidence that she could take it. Ranma-chan could appreciate that.
Just around the corner Ranma-chan stopped, checked for spies in the area. Once satisfied she turned around to face the other woman. Reaching into her folded space the pig-tailed girl pulled out a thermos. Then she looked on nonplussed as the other woman drew her sword and sliced the bottom of the container off.
Looking at the water steaming on the ground she sighed, "If you're going to destroy all my hot water this could take longer than I thought."
The black-haired woman looked slightly embarrassed at ruining what appeared to be hot water but covered fairly well. "Move slower."
Taking a deep breath Ranma-chan slowly opened his folded space. The technique actually wasn't meant to be held open. Sweating slightly as she poured her chi reserves into the opening and pulled out another thermos. Used in this fashion, Hidden Weapons more resembled Happosai's Dimensional Cloak. A definite chi hog.
The woman's eyes did widen upon seeing the red-headed girl's hand disappear into a glowing disk and then pull out another thermos. Ranma-chan slowly unscrewed the lid and poured in onto herself.
The sword did waver a bit upon seeing the change but quickly steadied. "So you are the girl. A shapeshifter. Well, I've seen stranger."
Ranma's eye twitched, "It's a curse. Water triggered," regaining his composure he continued. "So what's a big hero like you doing here?"
"This 'big hero' is looking for other heroes who might risk their lives for the good of others," she said with a slight smile.
"You found me. That's actually pretty impressive since you've only seen me once. Your network must be pretty good."
"It is, but I really didn't want to talk to you about it. I wanted to talk to you about your intentions."
"Well, I certainly like what your group is doing. Being human, who wouldn't? I wouldn't have helped you guys if I didn't approve."
"Enough to contribute? I'm not sure if you’re a warlock or wizard but you seem to have a significant amount of power. We could use your help."
"I'd love to help but I'm occupied on my own crusade at the moment," he paused to look her in the eye. "I should be finished in a few months and free to take on other obligations." If he survived his bout as a catspaw he should have plenty of time for other undertakings even after the time promised to Rhada. What he'd seen so far in Atlantis had left an impression he'd be overjoyed to erase.
"Can it possibly be more important than saving lives here in Splynn," the woman urged once more.
"Lady, I can't say much, but if what I'm doing doesn't work out we'll all be wishing we were as lucky as those dead slaves," he shrugged his moment of seriousness off with a smile. "But don't worry, haven't lost when it counted yet and I'll just get better," he bent to whisper in her ear as if conspiring with her. "Doesn't seem possible, does it?"
"You’re a funny man Ranma. I hope you're as good as you think," she paused in contemplation. "You'll need it."
"That's true... but it sounds like you have something specific to say," Ranma prompted.
"The Sunaj have been hired to kill you... "
"You seem to have a lot of enemies. Leviathan hired the Sunaj and the Sunaj have convinced a dragon to join the fray."
"Dragon? What the heck is he doing here," Ranma muttered to himself while cracking his knuckles. He'd been practicing. Maybe he still wasn't in Ammet's league but a dragon... that might be in his reach. "I hadn't expected him to be so persistent, but I suppose it is par for the course."
"They say you can know a man by the quality of his enemies," the woman said with a smile.
"What do they say amount sheer quantity," Ranma joked. "Thanks. I had tracked the Sunaj back to their headquarters, now I don't have to waste time watching them. Though I need to find out more about what their tattoo thingies do. That dinosaur was an unpleasant surprise."
"You're trying for a place in the Arena, I'm sure the veterans will help you. Consider that thanks for helping us during our last rescue," she started to turn, then paused and said over her shoulder, "If you need help or wish to join us, use this," a small cubed flew through the air and Ranma quickly caught it.
"By the way, what's your name," Ranma mumbled, concentration split between the departing woman and the featureless cube.
"White Raven," she said as she turned the corner.
Ranma stood looking at the cube. It was a really nice cube. He sure wished he know what to do with it. With a shrug he put it into the folded space he had specially made to hold all the very nice things he never used. It would go nicely with the snake staff, the rings, and the other mementos of his journey.
"Well, what happened to Shampoo? She's completely different... well not completely different, but she hasn't tried a potion on me," Ranma looked around his manager's office uncomfortably. "Although that empathic transmission thing is really embarrassing."
"From what you say, her personality has done a complete turnaround. That combined with her lack of memory and new psionic gifts is a bit ominous," the insectoid chattered from the oddly shaped chair it straddled.
"Ominous? It can't be that bad, can it? She's less irritating, I mean she's as aggressive as she was before but less... annoying."
Ranma had a hard time deciphering his manager's expressions but he was pretty sure it was glaring at him. "I didn't mean ominous for you. I meant bad for your girlfriend."
"She seems healthy, she got superpowers and realized the errors of her ways," he paused. "Er, some of her ways. I don't get it," Ranma said defensively.
"I have heard rumors that there was a research base that... tapped into something," the insectoid was still for a moment before it continued. "Those subjects who were exposed to this thing were said to have the same symptoms. Sudden unexplained psionic abilities, memory loss... personality shift."
"I just don't see it. Sure she's a little different but not that much. She once got her hands on the reversal gem... that was drastic. Love to hate, hate to love. She just seems more mature. She's really far more focused than she was and has much more discipline," Ranma hesitated before continuing. "Don't get me wrong, I liked her, but she was a flake."
"I could be wrong," the insect admitted. "The 'secret' is more a rumor than a known fact. Even if I was right, I'm not sure we could do anything about it. It would take a mind mage of the highest caliber to shift through her mind to find out what happened. They're exceedingly rare in this dimension."
Ranma's mind immediately went back to his adventures on the Palladium world. One of the fellows he had worked with, in the caravan, had been a Mind Mage. He'd had no idea what one was at the time, but they seemed pretty common there. Of course since the Timiro Kingdom's princess had decided to shack up at the Tendos until he came back, he doubted he'd find much there for him except an arrest warrant.
"I'll look into it. It'll have to be later though." After the princess had gone home and he wasn't wanted dead or alive on the civilized continents of Palladium. "Until then, I can see from her aura that Shampoo is healthy and not insane... well, not more than any of us from Nerima," Ranma voices faded into contemplation. "Until I find out otherwise I'll just assume her stay in prison matured her."
"I suppose so... the stories of Azlum are just so disturbing. No proof, but so many cases of people with the same... characteristic changes your friend displayed coming out to slay or hide from them."
"It can't be that. I said I checked her aura. It must be something else," Ranma chuckled to himself. "I mean Shampoo never really tried to kill Akane and if she was the opposite then she would have had to have been an undercover psycho," Ranma broke into a full-fledged laugh. "She was a flake, not a homicidal maniac."
"Didn't you tell me that she tried to kill you first time you met?"
Ranma sat stock still. "Er... that was just some silly law." He shook himself to clear his mind of the nerve-wracking images. "She really is a nice girl... really... "
Maybe finding a mind mage should be a higher priority. He personally thought his manager was wrong. The thought that Shampoo had been a psychopath and wasn't anymore wasn't much better than her not being one before and now being one.
Chapter 9: The Inquisition
Ranma ducked under one glowing blade while moving inside his opponent's guard in order to get close enough to deal with the other. "Butterfly Kiss!"
This declaration of his move elicited a groan of dismay before his foe went flying a dozen meters back, impacting with the practice arena wall. From her shallow impact crater where she was embedded in the wall Shampoo glared at her airen. "Ranma! Why do you always end the match that way?" she groused petulantly, "You've had that move used on you enough by the old pervert to know how aggravating that is."
Ranma smiled widely at this complaint. The move was overused but he had a reason for it. "Now if I use it all the time, how come you haven't come up with a counter for it yet?"
When Shampoo asked him this question he replied that it was for her own good, in reality it was more for his mental health. When he first started sparring with the Amazon, whenever he called break she would immediately move in closer and lightly brush up against him as she walked with him out of the practice area. It wasn't really hanging on him and the contact was never heavy, more sheer proximity than anything else. However, it was more effective than when she used to drape herself around him. In self-defense he had started ending the matches by getting her as far from him as the arena allowed. With the improved durability the world granted them and whatever experience the prison had exposed her to, crawling from a crater was nothing more than messy. In practice, it allowed him to get to the exit without his Amazon partner was the main benefit.
Shampoo herself was beginning to suspect as much. While Ranma no longer turned into a gibbering idiot and he didn't have to worry about the fiancée brigade witnessing any acts of impropriety, she saw that he was uncomfortable with her closeness. Still, he never protested, simply kept in motion so it was more difficult for her to stay close to her. It was a game of cat and mouse and she was loving it. It was a war on Ranma's subconscious; obviously the frontal approach wasn't working. She must have been out of her mind to think it would. It was a wonder Great Grandmother hadn't had her sedated. No, it was vital to her new plan that her airen become used to, even comfortable, with her presence.
It was working too. Sure he fidgeted a bit, but he didn't scream or yell for her to leave. She had even noticed him inhaling with an abstract look on his face as he noticed her perfume. It was the first time since she started chasing her erstwhile husband that she felt that progress was being made. It might take time but for some reason she seemed to have much more patience than before. Still... the Butterfly Kiss was obviously Ranma's way of getting space. She'd have to scale back her efforts yet again. Patience.
As Ranma walked out to the lunchroom he pondered their progress. Shampoo had really improved quite a bit now that she was concentrating on it. It was a relief to have a serious partner to train with. Usually it was Ryouga. Admittedly Shampoo couldn't push him as hard as the lost boy could, but the blue-haired Amazon was a competent package. Akane was a nice girl when she wasn't angry at something but she had these blind spots. Cooking, swimming, and martial arts were three of them... and P-chan of course. She couldn't believe that she wasn't proficient at these things and so proceeded as if she had expertise far beyond what she possessed. With martial arts at least it wasn't as if she was incompetent, she just believed she was far better than she was... and therefore was unable to do the work that would enable her to have her beliefs matched in reality.
Ukyou was different, it was her goal to excel in her school of martial arts. And in her school she was unmatched. Naturally in Anything Goes style combat she lacked the skills to keep up, but that simply was not her desire. She was, at heart, a cook. Few could match her in this area and her competitive instinct was only actually engaged within this realm. This focus had allowed her to surpass Akane's diffuse efforts and kept her on par with Shampoo when the Amazon's attention was solely on Ranma. Now that Shampoo had once again started to train, she began to demonstrate why she had once been the best of her age in a village dedicated to warrior women.
The Amazon could be hot-blooded in combat but after being knocked on her butt a few times she settled down and focused. No complaints that he was too fast or hitting too hard, just buckling down to improve what she needed to in order to accomplish her goal. Ranma himself had taken some time to get into his partner/mentor mode. He hated striking the woman but in an arena where death could come to the loser he had to ensure that she was prepared. Better a few bruises now than death later. Ranma had to frequently remind himself of this.
As for training, Shampoo would improve by simply sparring but... there were faster ways. Ranma had never taught anyone but he knew there were better ways. Recently, he had taken a few minutes before and after each session to try to analyze Shampoo's strong points and weak points. Ranma firmly believed that there was no one in existence who could do this better than he could. Usually he used this to dissect his opponent's style and either imitate it, incorporate it or counter it. He had never tried to improve upon it for someone else's benefit... until now.
Each session he would try to press Shampoo in a specific fashion. Whether it was to push her speed-wise, endurance, or fluidity, each spar would have a goal. Usually after each spar he would then go over the specific maneuvers he had seen as lacking and she would spend time on her own smoothing or correcting these with improvised katas. Shampoo wasn't picking things up as fast as he himself would have but he had trained with others enough to realize that she was really very talented in her own right. Ranma wasn't positive but he might go so far as to say that except for the old ghoul she was the most skilled female martial artist she had ever met. Masayo had more power and White Raven was... well mostly an unknown, but as far as skill went Shampoo was very good. Combined with her newfound psionics and durability and she was formidable.
Ranma was going to cut today's training short. The dragon that was hunting him stayed away from the training arena during the day and stalked him at night. Ranma actually enjoyed teasing the brute, leading him around dark alleys, cutting his aura, circling around back, and then letting his presence be known. Usually by throwing a bit of garbage, a taunt, or similar obnoxiousness. The dragon would then go on a rampage trying to get to him. Ranma was sure that if the eye hadn't been above watching him and probably enjoying the comedy skit, the dragon would have been banned from Atlantis from the sheer collateral damage. When Ranma got tired of this he would simply ghost away. He had no intention of formally confronting the beast until he knew more about the abilities of that breed of dragon.
One of the things he had noticed was that while he was playing tag with the black dragon the assassins would leave him alone, retreating just outside visual range. From the aura of the watchers it was apparent that more than the first two Sunaj were involved. All counted there seemed to be fifteen people working on his case. He would let them follow for a few hours, play with the dragon, and then disappear. Or rather he would employ his more advanced stealth techniques and then the hunted became the hunter.
He had spent many hours tracking the habits of the people assigned to his 'case'. He knew where they lived, worked, and played. Most importantly he knew where and when they wouldn't be missed. Now that he had laid the groundwork it was time to take care of the Sunaj. His manager had gone into extensive details regarding tattoos and their abilities, he was aware of the limitations of the armor and weapons. In other words, there was no reason to delay any further. The dragon would wait on more research, the assassins had their time in the sun and it was time to sweep the board of them.
Ranma waited patiently. The first victim was due home any minute. This would be a test of the preparations he had made. It could be the apartment was monitored by higher technology than that he had taken into account of and he would soon be inundated with assassins. It was because of this possibility that he had chosen one of the assassins that lived isolated away from most neighbors as his guinea pig.
Looking about the room he noticed how sparse it was. A bed, dresser, table, and chair. It was obvious that everything had come with the room. It was kept with almost military precision, everything folded, the bed made, and no dirty clothes. This alone told him quite a bit about the character of not only the assassin but his guild. The room spoke of temporary placement and the tidiness spoke of discipline and perhaps a lack of personality.
Footsteps were heard outside, Ranma verified that his own aura and presence was generally suppressed and glanced to the side where a small device from his manager was supposedly telling the security systems that nothing was wrong. That would come into play once he dropped his attempts at stealth.
The door opened and into the room strode a large man in armor. He wore the typical armor the pigtailed martial artist had come to expect from his profession. The head was somewhat personalized, showing a scaled beast, perhaps a parody of a basilisk.
The armored man took one step into the room when Ranma reached over to the man's shoulder, pushed him over an outstretched foot, and struck the back of the helmet with surgical precision. The Sunaj wasn't anywhere close to being subdued with the one strike and his muffled voice could be heard yelling for backup inside the damaged helmet. Recovering, he somersaulted forward to his feet, glancing wildly about for his attacker. A shimmering blue field sprung up around the man.
Ranma smiled in satisfaction. So far, so good. He engaged his stealth once more and hung from the ceiling above the other man. He then leaped down upon the hapless man began to methodically beat him into submission. The room was small, without too much space to maneuver but against a single, physically inferior foe, this was actually in his favor.
Five force fields later Ranma's smile was a bit more forced. The man was almost out of energy for those damn protective fields and since Ranma kept disarming his foe the armored man also had to waste energy re-summoning the swords but the battle was being drawn out into minutes rather than the seconds he had expected. Time to improvise. Ranma was good at that.
Leaping around the room and gradually converting his chi into harnessed kinetic energy, he initiated an older maneuver. "Meteor Kick," he shouted while rebounding from the ceiling directly above the armored man. The Meteor Kick was first used on Pantyhose Taru, it used chi and kinetic energy in a way similar Happosai's Butterfly Kiss, however, it took more time to build up the energy. The other difference of course was it could do a huge amount of damage.
Upon impact, the force field dissipated like a soap bubble in a furnace, the helmet beneath shattered... and so did the floor beneath them. The apartment was on the third floor and the two rocketed through all the levels until solid ground was impacted... and the Sunaj tunneled straight down until he was embedded into the concrete up to the shoulders. Ranma, who was still standing on his opponents head lightly leaped off.
Reaching over into the debris that now surrounded them he picked up the shattered helmet and carefully examined it. It was as his manager thought. His first strike had indeed disabled the helmet's radio system. Satisfied that he had a bit of time, he kneeled in the rubble and took the limp man's head by a lock of his hair.
"You and I are going to get to know each other very well," he said good-naturedly as if speaking to a pet, "Oh, yes we are."
"So Fred, tell me again what an Atlantean is?" Ranma asked in a puzzled voice. He had evidently walked into a mess of politics.
"I can't understand why you forgot about this, Uncle Ranma," the other man protested. "I thought you said I was suffering from memory problems."
The two men sat in the remains of the basement; several ragged chairs had been salvaged from the wreckage and were having a very civil conversation. Despite the smashed concrete and dirt that was strewn around the area, the man Ranma called Fred, was pristine from the neck up and the scent of shampoo hung in the air.
"Indulge me Fred," Ranma said congenially. "As you can see we were caught in a natural disaster. I remember much of what you forgot but I need to know about our proud clan."
"Are you sure my name's Fred?" The other man asked in a confused tone.
"Of course I'm sure, nephew. Why I named you myself," Ranma assured. "Now go on, I so admire our brave history."
"Well, as you know, our race, the Atlanteans, lived on this continent ten thousand years ago," Ranma nodded in encouragement. He had heard of Atlanteans during his stay with Anhur. They were an offshoot of the human race with great physical and magical abilities. They were supposed to enjoy using tattoo magic and pyramid magic. Until he had arrived in Atlantis he had no concrete idea what tattoo magic was, he was still unsure what pyramid magic was. He doubted it had much to do with the New Age magic some of the funny Americans played with.
"Well the mages of the time used the energies stored in the pyramids to try to open an experimental rift. The magic rebounded out of control and a huge rift formed that spread from the coast of Atlantis to what is now known as the South American shores. The dimensional vortex led to a thousand worlds and many monstrous creatures were dropped onto the unprepared populace." The man didn't look particularly horrified by the story, more vexed.
"Many lives were lost before the rift was finally closed. The creatures that had been left behind either went into hiding or eventually were slain. However, the earth was damaged. Magic energies flowed out of the planet and were not renewed as is normal in a healthy planet. Our way of life and civilization is heavily dependent on magic so this created an insurmountable problem."
Ranma grunted to himself. Typical, an advanced civilization experiences a disaster and all they think about is how they are inconvenienced. Okay, that wasn't a fair judgment but he was in a lousy mood. He also wondered if his own world had once had a similar accident. It too had relatively little magic and the entire continent of Atlantis was missing...
"The mages of the time were further horrified to learn that the accident had destabilized Atlantis. It started to fade into another dimension. One not amicable to life as we know it."
"Hmm... can we fast forward just a little bit? Ten thousand years can take a while," Ranma interrupted starting to get impatient. He didn't see how this applied to a bunch of people trying to kill him.
"I'm surprised your mother didn't slap you if you interrupted our sacred histories when she first explained them."
"I'm incorrigible. Now hurry up, nephew," Ranma urged.
"Fine. Our ancestors fled through dimensional gates before the magic became too low open them again. To repent for our role in the disaster they decided to become galactic paladins. Crusading to right wrong and other such foolishness," Ranma turned a sidelong gaze on him. How do you go from paladins to assassins?
"Then Atlantis returned and a new leader headed our clan. He had a dream," Fred's eyes gleamed with an almost religious fervor. "No longer would we humble ourselves to aid lesser creatures. We would lead them and slay those who stand in our way."
"And the other clans," Ranma asked neutrally.
"We sounded them out about our ideas. They weren't receptive. They must all, sadly, die," the man spoke with regret for the first time in his voice. "We have already started isolating them and slaying them in small numbers. We even once killed many at once, though to ensure it wasn't traced back to us many brave families volunteered to die with our enemy."
"Wow, I'm impressed," Ranma nodded, his eyes narrowed. These people really were nuts. Like the worst of the cults he had heard about. And they seemed intent on dragging some very good people down with them in their insanity.
"As you should be. Through our hard work we shall bring glory to our people. It is worth any sacrifice."
"Why the assassin thing?" Ranma asked, puzzled. Not that he expected them not to be killers after a story like that, but it didn't fit yet.
"In order to make arrangements to reclaim Atlantis and rid ourselves of the weaker clans we created the Sunaj identity. Through them we were able to forge bonds of alliance with the current occupier of Atlantis, Splynncryth as well as the other Splugorth."
"Um, do you expect that he will give you the land back?" Ranma asked curiously.
"Either that or we will take it. Until then we use his power base for our own purposes," the man declaimed confidently.
Ranma looked up at the eye that hovered in the corner, hidden by its own means. "Right."
The armor-clad man checked his helmet's chronometer for the seventh time in as many minutes. The latest shift of his agents had failed to report. He couldn't imagine what could delay five of his people at once. Most of them didn't even socialize outside their duty. They had left their family behind for the greater glory of the race. Work was their life. It was a necessary burden they gladly took up. He checked the clock again.
He was at a loss. They didn't respond to the communicator and the guild magician was not due in to work until noon. He could almost guarantee that the mage would not answer his comm. The old man was all attitude. Still... something was evidently happening; he really had no choice but to try. Nothing. Damn arrogant mages.
Starting to sweat he began to contact all of the Sunaj at the local guild, even those who had just been relieved of their duty. All responded except the fifteen assigned to the human that Leviathan had targeted, and the mage of course. He immediately called the remaining to him. Somehow he had lost contact with half the local office and if they had been targeted his choices were to order his men to go to ground or gather them to regroup.
This was Atlantis, they still had the favor of Splynncryth and much leverage as being known as his minions. He still believed that even if his men were being attacked that sixteen Atlantean warriors would be more than adequate. Unless the authorities of Splynn themselves were to align against them, it would take a veritable army to take them down.
The sound of the door opening drifted to his ears and his frayed nerves jerked his body into action as he reflexively aimed his rifle at the door, internal energies were being marshaled in case a defensive barrier or sword needed to be called. He relaxed only slightly when he recognized the beetle headed armor of one of the first of who he had recently contacted.
"It's a disaster!" shouted the newly arrived person. "We have the alert the clan master! Unless we move it could be the end... "
"Shut up and report!" shouted the commander, fingering his rifle nervously. He knew the man before him to be a stable reliable soul. If something had panicked him this much it had to be huge.
"Didn't you see the front door? It has our clan mark on it," the almost hysterical man continued.
The commander blanched. This could be a disaster. The clan mark was known more formally as the 'Mark of Heritage'. Each of the original Atlantean clans had their own mark to symbolize their lineage. The main reason the Sunaj wore the hideous armor was not simply to instill fear but to hide their identity. Occasionally, one of their own was killed and the body left, but as long as they were not identified personally the mark could be shrugged off as simply a tattooed assassin who either blindly emulated the Atanteans or someone actively defaming them. It was one of the reasons most of the lower ranks of the Sunaj were drawn from the unknown or isolated people that had no reason to meet the other clansmen. However, now someone, probably the human target, knew their connection to the Atlantean clans. If the other clans found out... and believed it... it would be an unmitigated disaster indeed. They were years from being in a position to eliminate their enemies without taking huge losses in return. Probably even then they couldn't defeat the allied clans.
"We may have to move early despite the inevitable casualties," the leader slowly stated, his rank hanging heavy on his heart. "I believe that Leviathan's target may be responsible. I am unsure of how he found out about our people but I... I think we have no choice but to believe he did." He still didn't understand how, they had defenses against psionics, conditioning against almost any interrogation means imaginable, even the armor was booby-trapped to explode upon death and take the body, and evidence, with it... but the conclusion was inescapable. "When the others arrive we will have to initiate an all-out simultaneous strike on the target and his companions," the commander haltingly continued, verbalizing his thoughts. "If we can capture him and verify that the knowledge has not... reached our targets then we will not have to initiate our plans early."
Sighing he put the rifle aside and thought about what he would tell the people that would be soon trickling in. He activated his empathy tattoo. It allowed him to read the emotions of those surrounding him. With this he would be able to judge his audience better. How he broke this news to the people to be arriving would determine much in the coming hours.
He jerked his head to one side. There were the panicked emotions of the fellow across from him but there were also the cool, ice-cold emotions of someone else.
Ranma had miscalculated. It really wasn't the first time. His insight on motives really sucked. It may have had something to do with his father's philosophy. Sure the 'taunt them until they are blind with rage and swinging wildly' method worked in the short run but it always seemed to cause trouble in the long run. When he paused to consider, it really made complete sense. He himself never fought harder than when he was mad. He had mastered his anger into a tool but he never tried to kid himself that he wasn't furious when someone kidnapped or attacked his fiancées.
So why hadn't he thought more about the consequences of declaring his knowledge to the Sunaj? Instead of a statement that 'coming after me was more than you can handle and you better back off' he had ended up with 'if you don't come after me in your maximum force, your whole clan is doomed'. That really wasn't the effect he was going for. If he let this continue he would have to protect Shampoo, and probably his manager from a no hold barred war with the Sunaj. He could easily handle one or two Sunaj freaks at a time but there were sixteen left in the city and they were one dimensional gate away from hundreds of reinforcements.
All in all he had better make up for his miscalculation before it escalated beyond any form of redemption. It shouldn't be impossible. Only the two in the room knew that he was aware that they belonged to a rogue clan and if he got rid of the symbol on the door... hmm, why was that fellow looking his way. He had full stealth engaged and they never activated those 'see invisible tattoos' unless they actually thought they needed them.
Okay, I suppose I'll have to initiate Plan B sooner than I thought, Ranma thought sourly to himself.
A shimmering field appeared around the commander. A moment later a similar aura sprang up from his sub-ordinate. Ranma was dismayed by the element of surprise being completely lost. Obviously something had keyed them into his presence and they had activated the enchantment that allowed them to perceive him. Ranma quickly debated which one to eliminate first. The commander was more of a threat but the lackey by merit of his being the weaker opponent would be easier to eliminate from the equation.
No problem, Ranma thought to himself as the leaped at the second assassin. A moment later he had just kicked the flunky into the rear wall, his field significantly diminished. Ranma had no time to congratulate himself as a huge impact swept him off his feet and propelled him toward the Sunaj he had just struck. Groaning in pain Ranma twisted in the air to orient him toward the commander. This incidentally aligned his feet with the face of the stunned fellow he had just hit to the back of the room.
The leader had picked up his rifle again and was shooting a constant stream of fire at the pigtailed martial artist. In his other hand, he held an elaborate sword Ranma would have sworn he had not possessed a minute before. Unlike the previous Sunaj armaments this weapon appeared more solid, more real than the previously used summoned constructs.
The initial burst caused a fiery pain in his back to bloom. Many others immediately followed. Since he was already on top of the feebly struggling assassin, he took advantage of the fraction of a second between bursts to flip him in front of him to act as a shield from the projectiles. This last attack shattered what remained of the poor man's helmet as well as the left arm and torso of the armor.
Ranma was not left unscathed through the torrent of fire, using a human as a shield was unwieldy and awkward. Half of the rounds found their home on Ranma's shoulder and cheeks, leaving a bloody line of bruises and welts. Ranma grimaced, it hurt, but the same attack back home would have him missing half his body instead of just suffering superficial, though painful, flesh wounds.
Ranma took advantage of his involuntary anti-missile barrier's sudden dearth of armor to touch the first in a three-step series of pressure points. He started to enact the next pressure point but it was obvious that the commander was readying another barrage. Hoping to delay this, he threw the injured Sunaj at his officer. Although this did delay the rifle fire, the senior assassin simply and efficiently stepped to the side, avoiding the human cannonball.
Ranma spent several crucial seconds dodging the rounds while trying to line himself up for a meteor kick. He soon gave up this plan. The commander was far better at hand to hand than any of the others yet encountered and he dodged the first two attempts. Well, he admitted himself, the Meteor Kick was for much slower or less skilled opponents. His larger attacks were out simply because he needed the front of the building intact, so as to not forewarn the incoming Sunaj. Armor screwed up the access to pressure points, speaking of which...
The subordinate Atlantean had struggled to his feet. One arm hung useless thanks to the aforementioned pressure point; the other wielded a large summoned battle-axe. A renewed aura radiated from the man, obviously his newly engaged force field. At a hand signal from his commander they simultaneously rushed the martial artist from opposite sides. The commander had thrown aside the empty rifle and summoned a second, more typical enchanted long sword.
Ranma frantically dodged between the well-coordinated strikes. These men had worked extensively together, and it showed in the manner they flowed with one another's attacks. Finally, finding an opening in the less experienced man's defense, the martial artist rolled between his feet, turned to keep the younger Sunaj between him and the veteran, and placed a Chestnut strike between the other's shoulder's. The defending enchantment flickered as it absorbed the kinetic energy, and then failed. The man was propelled forcefully in the ground and Ranma followed up with a Breaking point at the now exposed armor. Without the field to keep away Ranma's touch, the ceramic armor easily succumbed to the technique and sent a fine spray of dust and rubble around the immediate area.
The temporary incapacitation of the lesser Sunaj had the unfortunate effect of freeing the commander of the burden of having his man act as Ranma's shield. He followed up on this advantage much faster than Ranma expected and laid a fairly deep cut into Ranma's arm as he went for the second paralysis point on the fallen soldier's other arm.
The pigtailed young man cursed. He was getting tired and getting sloppy. The fallen soldier would now lack the use of his arms, but Ranma himself was getting cut to pieces while the commander was almost unhurt. He diverted a bit of chi from his depleted reserves to stop the bleeding and ensure he kept the use of his damaged arm for this battle.
Confident that the injured Sunaj was out of the way, he concentrated on the commander. Dodging in and out of striking range he began to work on the forcefield and armor. After a minute of this Ranma was coming to realize that while the commander may not be as good as himself but he just might be good enough. The other Sunaj just weren't fast enough to parry or avoid the sheer number of attacks the martial artist could field. If they were fast enough they still weren't skilled enough to tell the difference from a feint and an attack. Ranma could instantly turn a block into a throw, combine his dodge into a trip or body block. In other words they simply weren't close to his league. The commander wasn't quite there either but with only one-fourth of Ranma's Strikes getting past the other's defenses and taking about one-tenth of the Sunaj's hits, Ranma was getting worried. If he didn't wrap this up before the gathering Sunaj got here he would have to choose to use the Saotome's secret attack, run away, or choose his more lethal attacks. That was if he had enough energy to pull them off at this late point in the game.
Large platter sized jaws of tiny 3-inch dagger-like teeth closed on his shoulder. Ranma's eyes grew larger and he tried to jerk his body to one side as he saw a large raptor, jaws firmly clamped on his body. A moment later the pain registered and he readied himself to attack this more immediate threat.
Okay, so I guess having his upper body paralyzed didn't completely neutralize the other fellow, Ranma thought frantically, I hear him issuing commands to the beast in the background. Through the pain of being jerked around like a rag doll by the carnivore it flashed through his mind that at least the commander couldn't really hit him like this.
He groaned as the sound of rifle fire impacted his ears and the pain of the high-velocity missiles stitched across his back. Okay, so reloading his gun was fairly logical, Ranma berated himself. The jaws relaxed, going limp and Ranma realized that the lizard had taken damage as well and had dropped the martial artist in order to deal with the pest that hurt it.
From his position sprawled on the floor he had an excellent view of the commander as he stopped firing and dropped his rifle to the floor, parrying the beast's claws and head with an armored gauntlet. Glancing at the fallen Sunaj he saw that he was trying to get the lizard's attention. From what little he knew about the summoned beasts he thought that once the injured Sunaj actually gave a command it would ignore the more experienced assassin to once more concentrate on himself. He couldn't have that.
Leaping through the legs of the flailing lizard he reached the partially paralyzed man and with a light touch, completed the series of shiatsu. The man froze and whatever commands he had intended to give froze in his throat. Glancing back to ensure the commander was occupied, Ranma took a moment to break through a briefly renewed force field and render the man unconscious. It had slipped his mind that the more experienced tattoo wielders did not require motion to activate their enchantments.
Upon the assassin being rendered unconscious the martial artist glanced back to the battle to see the lizard fade from existence, the commander's two weapons having just completely bisected the magical beast. For a moment the two stared at each other, assessing his opponent's condition and comparing it to their own. Of course, the difference was that Ranma knew he had to be able to deal with thirteen more Sunaj and the commander knew he just had to delay Ranma long enough so that his reinforcements got here.
As one they each leaped towards the other. Ranma finally got a clean full-powered strike through the defense of the older Sunaj, throwing him back through the rear wall and into the alley behind the building. Ranma was about to follow after him when his eyes fell on the rifle laying on the ground. Smirking at the anticipated irony, he picked up the weapon and followed the Sunaj outside.
On the ground lay the commander in the act of rolling to his feet, swords still in his hand. He had just got to his feet when he saw the pigtailed youth standing before him with the rifle in his hands smiling.
Ranma smiled, he was going to enjoy this. Having felt the effects of the weapon he was confident that although a single burst would hurt the Sunaj, hopefully breaking through the field, it would be far from lethal. They were both too durable for that. He pulled the trigger.
Then he pulled the trigger again. When nothing happened, he glanced briefly at the gun, and then frantically used it to parry the two swords aimed at his skull. The first sword stopped halfway through the barrel. The second sword simply shattered the gun and continued to sketch a wound across the youth's chest. Okay, perhaps that wasn't as funny as he thought it was going to be.
"Did you perhaps forget to load my weapon," the assassin's mocking voice followed the martial artist as he somersaulted backward. Ranma's decided not to reply to that. He had no idea. The darn thing may have simply had the safety on. Did he look like a modern weapons expert?
Well they were outside, if he didn't have to worry about destroying the building perhaps he could try something else. Rapidly closing he touched the ground at his opponent's feet setting off an explosion of rock on dust. Quickly maneuvering in the heavy cloud he used his chi senses to dance around the dust and deliver a long combination of chi powered strikes and kicks. He quietly cursed as the last combo in the series served to knock the assassin back out of the cloud and into the light.
Stepping out of the obscuring cloud he saw that the other man's armor was shattered. The only sword he had in his hands was the summoned long sword and his face was heavily bruised. Ranma didn't really feel much better but believed he had more reserves. The Sunaj stretched out his empty hand and another of the summoned swords appeared in it.
Once more they came together with a whirlwind of fists and glowing blades. The older man no longer had a glowing aura that offered additional protection, leading Ranma to believe that he was on his last legs and no longer had the energy to spare. Smiling in triumph Ranma prepared to make a final attack.
The next thing he knew he was face down on the ground and there was a large weight on his back. Struggling to turn his head he saw that there was a large Tyrannosaurus Rex on back looking dumbly around at its surroundings. Apparently, it had just been summoned and hadn't gotten its bearing yet. It was a little cramped in the alleyway but it had enough room to move forward and backward.
Ranma felt himself getting annoyed. No, it was more than annoyed. He hadn't like giant lizards since even before Ryouganzoua. Since then, he had grown to really dislike them. Then he started fighting these tattoo men and found out that the favorite monster they seemed to like summoning were dinosaurs. They were constantly being created out of nowhere and sent to attack him. Then this bozo creates on right on top of him and here he was, imbedded in the ground. It really bugged him.
Growling in righteous indignation, Ranma channeled the last of his reserves into his strength and grunting in the effort, lifted the huge, slightly puzzled, multi-tonned beast over his head. Glaring in triumph at the shocked Sunaj before him, he took one ponderous step forward and discovered something he hadn't realized before.
Dinosaurs aren't really made to be picked up by one foot. The weight isn't distributed correctly to be balanced and the skeletal structure isn't really rigid enough to support such an action without... well, things moving. So it was that the creature who Ranma had lifted finally figured something was happening at its feet and contorted its gigantic body to see what it was, perhaps even take a bite out of it.
Ranma tried to compensate for the huge shift in tonnage but no matter how he ran forward or back the creature would simply shift again trying to figure out what the heck was happening. It finally simply became too much to bear and the overgrown lizard came tumbling down on top of a very disgruntled martial artist.
"All right you scaly freak, let's try this again," a rather bruised Ranma growled from his cramped position under the er... he though it was under the stomach. Slowly, he once more gathered his strength and lifted again, only to find the monster fading into nothingness. Puzzled, he jerked his head around trying to figure out what was happening only to see an unconscious Sunaj commander on the ground before him, embedded in the ground and giving the illusion of being rather flat.
Sighing the pigtailed youth began to relax. Now he could take the symbol off the door and...
"Commander, are you all right," enquired a frantic voice from the hole in the rear of the building. Tiredly looking toward the opening, he saw an armored individual about to step through.
Sighing once more, not in satisfaction anymore, Ranma limped towards his next opponent.
"Hey Shampoo, you have any hand lotion," Ranma asked wearily. He looked tired too, the magic clothes he wore had been damaged. They were slowly re-knitting themselves, but at present they were torn, ragged, and had huge splotches of blood on them. Some of it was even his. The only portion of his body that seemed to be clean and free of any sign of conflict was his hands.
"What happened to you? Did the ghost cat start chasing you again," the Amazon smiled teasingly, once a quick visual scan showed her husband was in no real physical danger.
"Ghost cat! Where," Ranma shrieked eyes darting quickly around. His nekophobia was not quite under control and he didn't think he could concentrate enough at the moment to keep his fear under control.
"Now really, you should know I'm only playing with you, darling," Shampoo volleyed back. She would have done more desensitizing of her own, except that she was in the middle of morning calisthenics and training had recently become a serious priority. She could try to woo her husband later.
"I'll be gone for the rest of the day," Ranma said slowly, sitting on the couch under the practice arena pavilion was feeling really good after a whole night of frantic exercise. He just wanted to sleep so badly but had to finish what he started. The leader had been a real bear of a man and he had not been taken unawares like the others. Ranma had been fortunate in taking out the lackey early and had routed most of the collateral damage towards the rear. He had taken a beating but finally won just in time for the next two assassins to rush inside. These were much weaker but the constant battles were beginning to take their toll.
Ranma had gone to the front door, popped the hinges and replaced it with the similar, unmarked door to the rear of the headquarters. After destroying the door with the controversial symbol he had taken out a basin of water, a bottle of shampoo, and hunkered down to wait for the people trickling in. This wasn't his original plan, but... if there were only fourteen left in the city who were aware of his involvement it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to wreak complete and total confusion.
While he had waited for the assassins he searched the small complex. It was spartan except for a seemingly advanced computer system. Ranma couldn't really make head or tails of it. He had spent most of his time on this world in physical and spiritual training. Stay alive first and if you have any spare time before you collapse in an exhausted heap, then worry about technical and vocational studies. That was his motto. He unplugged the modules and stuck them into folded space for future reference. Maybe Nabiki would like it as a gift.
Ranma leaned his head back on the couch and rested his eyes for a moment. It had been bad. He had never fought more than two Sunaj at a time, but they seemed to come at him back to back. He had once trained with Ryouga all day and hadn't been this tired.
The smell of perfume and small hands massaging his shoulders gradually lulled him into the border between sleep and wakefulness. "I'd love to keep doing this all day but you seemed in a hurry when you came in," Shampoo's soft voice drifted in his ear.
"Hmm, yes. Important," he said fuzzily, still half asleep. "Lives could depend on it... especially ours." Groaning reluctantly, he staggered over to the main building where the manager kept his office.
Splynncryth bubbled in contemplation, relaxing in his pool of therapeutic slime. He hadn't had any idea that his gamble would pay out such huge dividends. He had allowed... or at least not interfered... when the Sunaj had been contracted by Leviathan to kill his new toy. He had expected a long cat and mouse game. After all, he had known his cat's paw was powerful but what chance had he against thirty or more Sunaj? Well, obviously more than he had thought. The Splugorth was far from stupid. He knew the principles of combat. In order to subdue an opponent without killing them it was necessary that you either have something up your sleeve or be significantly more powerful. His pawn had proved to be both. By stealth and strategy he had defeated his hunters in detail, taking them down one by one where he could not overcome them in mass.
This, combined with that odd method of hypnosis he had witnessed, seriously endangered the secrecy that the Sunaj relied upon to maintain their effectiveness. When the rogue Atlanteans had first approached the Splugorth it had been obvious to the alien Intelligences that this day would come. Secrets this large could not be kept forever. The revealing of this secret had a large possibility of resulting in the deaths of a huge number of Atlanteans. The 'good' Atlantean clans were annoyances, the 'evil' mildly useful. If they annihilated one another he would be satisfied. The irony would be humorous. On the other hand, if the Sunaj survived they would be outcasts and driven deeper into the welcoming arms of the Splugorth. Not as amusing, but again, Splynncryth could appreciate the irony.
Did he want to interfere? The Sunaj were adequate, if reluctant tools. He had been aware... all the Splugorth had been... that they would eventually be exposed. It would be fairly trivial to retrieve the evidence of the Sunaj being an Atlantean clan. Without hard evidence the other clans would never react coherently. And then there was his most recent entertainment. He was sharing the experience with other beings of power. Rhada, Abdul-Ra, perhaps Anhur, though his involvement in the situation was unclear, and even Leviathan, though her involvement seemed less benign. There was the puzzle over why they were all focused on one being, a mere human. There was much more involved than he had first assumed and nothing had been clarified.
No. He would let this play out more. The Sunaj would serve his amusement one way or another and they really were the least of his minions. They would survive or fall on their own merit... or come crawling back to him to beg sanctuary.
This decided, he turned to the next aspect of his toy. His skill and power far exceeded his expectations. So much so that if things proceeded as they had, there would really be no competition during the next set of games in the Arena. He could of course let the higher order of his minions compete, but this would cause a disturbance. His peers would think he was 'fixing' the games. The minions would likely slay the lesser competitors out of hand and they had quite a following in the city. Not that he really cared, but if he caused unrest he would rather do it for a purpose.
Still, the human had enemies that could not be dismissed. Perhaps he should encourage them to enter. At least one of them had difficulties making the human stand still long enough to engage. It wouldn't be too difficult to point out the benefits of being in a large but confined arena. And if they killed all the lesser opponents then any anger would devolve around them rather than Splynncryth. He could perhaps modify the rules to allow guests not tonight in the preliminaries. That would limit the casualties of the weaker fighters but would create the complaint of favoritism. Decisions...
Yes, that would be entertainment.
"So you have no idea where any Atlanteans can be found," Ranma inquired again, somewhat dispiritedly.
"Nope," the alien chittered, whistled and clacked. "My business is firmly grounded in the black mire of hopelessness that we know as Atlantis," it stated in mild good humor. "The Atlantean race is widely known as wandering paladins and do-gooders. Not a lot of that going on in this town. Or not for long, anyway."
Ranma nodded to himself. He had been so impressed with how well his manager knew his way around the local system he had just assumed that he had all the answers. Thinking over the people he knew he, was slightly taken aback at the fact that most of them were considered evil by most common philosophies. Anhur, the god of assassins. Wasn't that a kick in the pants. It was ironic that he presently had such assassin problems. Obviously, the Sunaj didn't clear anything through him. Then there was Abdul-Ra and Rhada, really nice people except for the cat fetish demon thing. Still, he really had doubts that they rubbed elbows with a crowd known to hunt devils, demons, and similar evil.
"Well, thanks anyway," he slowly made his way outside, lost in thought.
The alien clicked his mandibles in amusement. It didn't know what his protégé was up to but from all the oddball requests it was fielding he was obviously hip-deep in something. It would be more reluctant to aid the young man but he seemed to be a decent entity. He was also the best damn fighter it had ever had the pleasure to manage. It had to admit that this fact aided in his patience more than anything else.
An hour later Ranma-chan used her senses to ensure that she had lost the spying eye that the present Lord of Atlantis and resident uber squid had tagged him with. She didn't mind it following her around when she was about her daily business, in many ways it was extremely convenient not to have to worry about the authorities. However, when she was planning on trying to get in touch with what passed as the rebel underground it seemed unwise to have the cosmic couch potato they were rebelling against looking over her shoulder.
After finding a relatively deserted spot, she took out the small cube the woman known as White Raven had given her and tried to activate it. This was a bit more difficult than she had originally imagined. The cube was a featureless dull-white, completely lacking in anything that appeared to trigger it. After rubbing and pressing various parts of the surface and getting no reaction she was beginning to get frustrated.
"Stupid box," Ranma-chan muttered angrily. "If you need help or wish to join us, use this," Ranma growled in a parody of White Raven's voice. "Why couldn't she just give me a flipping radio or something?"
Disgusted she tossed it at her feet. She was immediately engulfed in a blinding white light. When the brilliance faded the martial artist was gone.
"Okay, maybe this is better than a radio," Ranma-chan mumbled to herself as she looked around at a small fairly comfortable carpeted room with a couch on one side and a wide screen on the opposite wall. Her chi senses detected a fair amount of magic but nothing living within several hundred feet. One thing she didn't see, which was slightly disturbing, was an exit. Ranma-chan walked over to the wall and tapped at it lightly while examining it for breaking points. While it seemed to be a normal wall it was actually solid stone, not plaster or more conventional building material. A bit more investigation revealed the whole room seemed to be hollowed out of living rock.
"Right," the red head muttered to herself. Talking to herself seemed to be getting to be a habit. "A room with no way out except teleportation." Sighing she sat down on the couch and waited.
"Hello," the mage known as Skippy repeated a bit louder. He was in the monitor room when the alert came in that someone was in the contact chamber. It was a simple matter to reach over and switch on the cameras. What he saw was a very fetching red head and blue silk pants and a red muscle shirt. The girl was slouched in the overstuffed couch her head leaning back and mouth open... snoring like a chainsaw.
"This is silly," turning to one of the technicians in the room he asked, "Is this thing on?" He had been trying to wake the sleeping girl but had received no response. After hailing her multiple times he had increased the volume, slowly becoming convinced that there was a technical difficulty.
The technician had been watching the one-sided exchange from the start and had already been checking the status indicators. "Seems okay from this end. We may have to send someone in to check it. Of course this kinda screws with the security but it's either that or... well there isn't anything else. She's out of position for the portal so we can't get her out from this side unless she moves."
"Fine," the young man said petulantly, "Bring me a talisman bank and I'll gate in. Have a squad ready at the entrance to take care of it if it’s a trap." The talisman bank was simply a stack of energy storing devices that could act as a reservoir for the needs of larger spells. Although they were rechargeable it usually took many days of hard work. Skippy wasn't pleased with having to use one; he was the mage who had to do the work of recharging it.
Skippy had another take his station as he went to the more secure area where the squad would wait for him. This room had turrets and armored walls. It was meant to act as a secure area in case something unpleasant followed them back from their forays. After giving a few commands to prepare the people, he tapped into the battery bank, opened a portal, and stepped through.
The room looked identical to what he was expecting. The redhead was still sleeping on the couch and the large screen opposite her showed the technician who had replaced her and his small lizard familiar that he had left behind. "Well?" Skippy asked. "Is this thing working?"
"WELL, I HEAR YOU FINE, HOW IS IT ON YOUR END," the technician seemingly bellowed, sending Skippy reeling to the side of the room clutching his head.
"Argh! Turn it down! Turn it down," Skippy called out. Looking at the girl still asleep he continued. "Send a medic in here, if that didn't wake her she's obviously sick or injured."
Walking over to the girl he reached over to touch her shoulder. He was surprised to see her seemingly roll over in her sleep avoid his outreached hand. Frowning, he tried again found her moving in the opposite direction. Confused, he tried several more times, faster and faster. Regardless of how he moved, his advances were all avoided by what appeared to be coincidental movement, suspiciously fast movement but...
"Oh, it's Ranma," a familiar voice came from the speakers. Turning Skippy saw White Raven herself on the screen. He turned a mild glare at the technician and received a shrug in return. It was standard procedure to notify her or her second in command, Max, if something odd came up.
"I thought Ranma was a guy," Skippy muttered. "Is she putting me on?"
White Raven sighed. Skippy was a senior member of the Resistance but was always lax when it came to keeping up with the intelligence work. She had put Ranma under intense mechanical surveillance before she contacted him. Unfortunately, she had, at the time, missed the Eye of Eylor and the water curse but she at least knew some of his more obvious quirks.
"It is simple training. Just don't outright attack her and she should be perfectly safe," White Raven saw a puzzled look cross the young mage's face. Why would he attack her, wasn't he... or rather she on the safe list. Raven saw this and smiled; one of the servants at the arena Ranma was practicing in had let his frustration get away from him and been a tad too aggressive. The result was one servant on the other side of a hole in the wall and a still sleeping pigtailed boy. Raven's brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to recall how Ranma's training partner had dealt with this. Oh yes.
"Breakfast!" the woman called out over the speaker.
Instantly Ranma-chan stood awake and alert looking around for something edible. After a moment she took in the glowing portal in the center of the room, the presence of the mage and the larger than life image of White Raven. "Huh?" a confused Ranma-chan grunted, her brain not quite in sync with her body.
"So what brings you here," enquired Raven, not willing to wait for the other to get her bearings. "The last I heard of you there were certain errands you had to finish before you could think of joining us."
"Er... why am I here?" a confused look crossed her face and her stomach growled loudly at her. Her first reaction was to say breakfast but there was something else she was here for. Ah yes, "I need to speak with an Atlantean."
Now it was White Raven's turn to be confused, "Then why are you here? The continent is full of Atlanteans."
"No, no," protested Ranma-chan, while dismissing the statement with a waving right hand. "Not the big monster squid Atlanteans," Ranma-chan illustrated by waving her arms to demonstrate the tentacles of a Splugorth. "I mean the human Atlanteans who lived here ten thousand years and caused their continent to sink in the first place with a bungled spell."
White Raven looked nonplussed for a moment. As a dimensional traveler she was well versed on events that had impacted the multiverse on such a large scale. Never the less, what happened ten millennia was not on her list of events that impacted the immediate events. The moment of silence continued as she concentrated on Ranma's statement.
Ranma saw the blank look on the woman's face and continued. "They wear tattoos and do things with pyramids... you know magic?"
White Raven connected this description with a passing comment Max had made regarding the history of his people. "Oh. Atlanteans!" She stated in comprehension. "I hadn't ever heard them described... quite that way." Most people she knew considered Atlanteans crusaders and paladins. Max would have a fit if he heard them mentioned in this twisted manner.
"Indeed," a voice said next to her dryly, "Quite refreshing." She winced as she saw that the very Atlantean she had been thinking of stood behind her.
"Oh. Max," she paused awkwardly. "We were just talking about you," she trailed off.
"Great!" Ranma-chan broke in enthusiastically ignoring the stilted silence. "So you're an Atlantean," Ranma-chan enquired eagerly. "Funny, I thought you'd be taller."
White Raven massaged her temples. Her second in command was an even-tempered man outside of battle, but this really wasn't how she had planned to introduce the martial artist, who she viewed as a potentially large asset, to her inner circle, who already were huge assets.
"Well I am sure it's hard to live up to a reputation of a... 'bungler', I believe," Max asked with deceptive calm. He didn't know whether to be outraged or amused.
"Well, I'm sure you guys have gotten the spell thing down in the last few thousand years, we all make mistakes," Ranma consoled cheerfully. The Atlantean really didn't look as tall as the others, maybe he was malnourished, she thought to herself. Of course he was standing next to White Raven, who was really built. Ranma-chan focused her thoughts elsewhere. She kept getting distracted by thoughts of food and had no idea why. "Er... if it wouldn't be rude, could I see your... um," Ranma-chan racked her brains for the term the Sunaj had used. "... family markings? No, I meant Marks of family... um... no," Ranma-chan was floundering. "The tattoos on your arm that show what clan you're from?"
"You mean the Marks of Heritage," Max supplied, his demeanor slightly altering towards irritation as the subject became more personal. "I really have more important things to do than to deal with an admirer."
"Admirer," Ranma-chan asked, thunderstruck. "Of Atlanteans," her tone was so incredulous that White Raven winced and Skippy snickered from the arm of the couch he had retired to in order to enjoy the show better. Ranma-chan was confused. How had the tattoo guy jumped to that conclusion? She knew she was a bit crude language-wise but 'bungler' had pretty much encompassed what little she knew of the Atlanteans. She hadn't expected Max to hear, but well, so far she wasn't impressed.
"No, it's purely business," Ranma-chan continued, matter of factly. "I have a message, and I need to make sure it gets to the right clan," or at least not to the wrong clan she thought.
Max simply grunted, now thoroughly in a sour mood. White Raven gave him a subtle nudge and he sighed, moving to unlock the gauntlets of the light body armor he wore. He then held his wrist up to the camera pick-up and an intricate design done in an almost iridescent blue stood out. Ranma-chan carefully examined the marking and hummed to herself in understanding.
"So you recognize the marking as the correct clan," Max asked as he noticed the light of understanding enter Ranma-chan's eyes.
"Nope," Ranma-chan chirped, eliciting a start from her audience. Really, she may have been endowed with the ability to read and speak all languages from Anhur's gifting but the clan marking was a symbol and was not actually a language. The third eye tattoo had briefly activated, obviously triggered by his close scrutiny of the tattoo, but it could discern nothing of interest from an image on a view screen. Out of the corner of her eye Skippy burned bright with a magical aura and the floor was a triggered teleportation platform, but that really didn't interest her at the moment.
"But I know who you aren't," the martial artist winked at the people on the screen, "And that matters a heck of a lot more." Ranma-chan took out a small metal rectangular brick, about an inch across, and handed it to Skippy.
"I'm not into technology or anything but my manager says that this is a," Ranma-chan's face scrunched up in concentration as she prompted her memory. After a moment she shrugged, gave up and took out a pamphlet which she began to read from. "The Mark XXIIM espionage special. It is able to store holographic data for two weeks of high definition surveillance. Find out what your competitor..." Ranma-chan broke off as she realized that she had read too far into the description. "Well, actually this is just the memory from one. The unit was an add-on to another device I was using to disable a security system, or rather several systems. I think it was ..." her face gained another look of concentration and once again she shrugged and pulled out another leaflet.
"I think we get the point," White Raven interjected. The underground used these devices frequently in their war on the present establishment of Atlantis. She was confident that she was far better versed on the devices Ranma-chan was talking about than Ranma-chan herself. Skippy suppressed another snicker which drew a glare from the red head.
"'Kay then," the martial artist stated shortly, slightly disgruntled to have her spiel interrupted. "Anyway, this has some information on the Sunaj... "
"I think I already mentioned that we don't have the resources to openly help you," White Raven broke in once more.
Ranma-chan spared her a brief exasperated look, and then waved her hand dismissively. "Naw. I've taken care of the Sunaj... or at least the ones in the city." The others drew up in surprise and skepticism at this statement. "They're involved in a bit of nastiness with the Atlantean clans. I just thought I'd give this to someone that could pass a warning up to one of your leaders or something."
Max leaned forward. "The Sunaj were plotting against us," he enquired in interest.
Ranma-chan paused before she nodded, "I suppose that's one way to say it."
"One last thing, it's important that the Aerihman Clan doesn't see this. Anyway, I have a ton of things to do and I am so hungry I could eat a horse, so if you could just send me on my way..." Ranma-chan prompted. At White Raven's nod, Skippy tapped into the enchantment bound into to room and the martial artist vanished.
Nabiki sighed as she watched Akane play with the newly arrived little girl, Komar, from the alternate Japan. Looking over to where Masayo was frowning at the two disapprovingly she had to ask.
"What made you bring her here," Nabiki asked the warrior.
"She was missing Ranma," although the words were gentle, the expression as she looked at Akane was not. Masayo did not get along well with Ukyou, Shampoo, or Akane, viewing them as wild little girls with no self-control. Dangerous little girls with access to magic and not insignificant skill. "It's quiet on the other side. The Oni are pacified. The enemy leaders have fled to somewhere unknown. Since I travel here often, I brought her with me to show here where Ranma lives. It will give her an idea of where Ranma grew up."
"Er... Ranma only spent about a year here. He grew up on the road," Nabiki pointed out.
"It doesn't matter, she's enjoying herself," Masayo's frown deepened to again contradict her words.
"You aren't too fond of Akane," Nabiki pointed out the obvious.
"She really isn't bad as long as she doesn't see you as being after Ranma," Jess broke in from the side. She had often taken the role of the peacekeeper when Nabiki was too stressed and Kasumi's aura of tranquility failed. She and Masayo got along well together. Jess's hard work, dedication to the martial arts, and cool temper meshed well with what the Demon Queller considered admirable.
"Her attitude grates on me," Masayo confirmed, ignoring Jess's attempt to look on the bright side. "Has Balthazar been punished?" she inquired, changing the subject.
"Well, we threatened to ship him off home to meet the King's justice if he did one more piece of unsupervised magic," at Masayo's raised eyebrow, she continued. "Supervised by me," Nabiki clarified.
"Hmm. Lenient, considering he was largely responsible for your companion's demise," Masayo mentioned without regret. She considered Shampoo even more irrational than Akane.
"Uh, Shampoo survived," Jess felt obligated to mention. "She's training to help Ranma in the Arena."
"Oh good." The lack of sincerity in the Demon Queller's statement was overwhelming, though she did wonder what the Arena was. "Where's the princess?"
"She's with Balthazar, studying," Jess said. Nabiki smiled smugly.
"I thought she hated the toad," Masayo asked her interest raised. Masayo didn't really like Cindra but then again she didn't dislike her. She was relatively harmless, if annoying.
"She does," Nabiki said, "But I pointed out that as long as she needs his magic to go places she's stuck with him. Magic-users can live a long time. I also pointed out that if she knew circle magic that she wouldn't need to endure his presence anymore."
"So she's willing to endure the maggot now for freedom in the future. I'm impressed, I didn't know she had it in her." Jess nodded at Masayo's statement, she didn't know the princess had it in her either.
"Any more problems with Ranma's... fiancées?" Masayo asked. Usually she wasn't so grim but she always disliked talking about her competition for Ranma's heart.
"I haven't seen Ukyou since the incident, but I have to watch Akane," Nabiki said, her own mood growing sour at the subject. "Since she found out that Shampoo survived and is competing with Ranma she has been nosing around Balthazar when she thinks I'm not watching."
"So she is still is obsessing over Ranma?" the Demon Queller asked, oblivious to her own similar obsession.
"Yeah, she also seemed to be spending a lot of time looking at pictures of her and Ranma and things he gave her since he's been around," she paused and then shivered slightly. "I think she spends too much time with the damn hammer Ranma gave her. I'm not sure, but I think she may talk to it."
"It's not a possessed weapon, is it?" Masayo asked, her own experience coming to the fore.
Nabiki snorted, "Of course not. It's pretty powerful but not evil."
"Be wary. Often when people are seen to be speaking to powerful magic artifacts, the artifacts are indeed talking back," the warrior warned.
Nabiki looked once more at Akane and Komar playing happily on the living room floor and nodded. She would take another look at the weapon if she could convince Akane to let someone else touch it.
Max, White Raven, and Skippy sat in the council chamber. After the martial artist's declaration of hunger they had moved into the chamber for several reasons. The first was that the room had good security so they could avoid casual eavesdroppers in the complex. It was unwise to spread too much information around in a city controlled by the Splugorth. The second was that the room was also equipped with an advanced holographic projector. It was usually used for maps and strategic planning but it was just as often used to view surveillance intelligence.
Skippy sat down in the chair he usually took and slid the small memory brick into the reader and leaned back to watch. The image being projected was that of an empty room. Used to dealing with surveillance, where hours, even days could pass before anything of note would happen he leaned over to the keypad and gave the pre-programmed command to fast forward until the image showed motion. A moment later he leaned forward again he eyes widening. The door opened and into the room walked what was easily recognized as a Sunaj in armor. He took one step into the room before a young man, dressed almost identically to the red-headed woman they had just met, seemed to phase into existence behind the assassin. One blow almost split the helmet and sent the assassin to the ground. A minute of combat that was so fast it almost seemed a blur and the Sunaj was sent through the floor with the martial artist following, foot outstretched.
After a moment of silence the young man leaped up through the hole and the point of view shook for a while as the equipment was relocated. Skippy absent-mindedly typed in the command to steady the camera and provide an artificially smooth picture. The new view settled down to show the assassin embedded up to his shoulders in the ground. His mask was off... shattered really... pieces of it could be seen stuck to the man's hair and face. The three people watching the drama looked on with interest. No reports could be found of what a Sunaj looked like out of armor. They really hadn't even known if they were even baseline humanoids until that moment. The young man casually started to hum to himself as he seemed to pull a bottle and a basin of water from somewhere and begin the lather the unconscious man's head.
The three looked at each other in silent puzzlement. The battle had been impressive. They had expected to see some unpleasant interrogation afterward and had steeled themselves for it. This... this was not what they had expected.
Looking back to the image they saw the man's hands blur. Skippy typed a command and the image reversed and slowed. It could now be seen that the man's hands glowed with a soft blue light and his hands were pressing, tapping specific points on the man's head in a complex pattern that frankly had no meaning to him. The hands blurred once more, despite the image's slower speed and the unconscious Sunaj's hair was rinsed, dried, and brushed. The basin and bottle disappeared, most likely back where it had come from.
Without a sign of effort, the young man reached over lifted the assassin out of the floor he had been embedded into, breaking away large pieces of stone that held on in stubborn resistance. Laying the man on the ground he almost gently patted the man on the cheeks. "Wakey, wakey, Frank. You've had a terrible accident and have lost your memory of the last few weeks. Fortunately, I found you and am here to help you," the youth paused from the oddly stilted speech. "I am your uncle and you can trust me completely." The man woke and looked at the pigtailed youth with a dazed look that quickly came into focus.
Max nodded to himself. It was certainly an odd way to go about an interrogation but the 'shampoo' had obviously been a chemical treatment that induced a hypnotic state. Then the person simply stated the facts he wanted to be foremost in the victim's mind and woke him. Interesting, he would soon see how effective the method was.
From that point it was almost a straightforward question and answer session. The young man quickly affirmed that the other was a Sunaj assassin, but from there it took an odd turn.
"You're, I mean we, are Atlanteans," the martial artist asked puzzled at one point. "You mean we were born on Atlantis?"
"Uncle you jest well. You know that we are true Atlanteans, born and bred on this land far before and unclean creatures claimed what we were forced to abandon. We are the Aerihman clan, sworn to reclaim our birthright."
"Right," the youth stated skeptically. This line of questioning led to the man showing his various tattoos and gradually the scheme to exterminate the other clans of Atlantis.
To Skippy this was interesting but nothing more than a dramatic soap opera. He knew nothing of Atlanteans except Max was one and had a big paladin image he was keeping up. White Raven looked upon the revelations with concern. She knew quite a bit about modern Atlanteans. She had traveled for decades on her own through the dimensions and had learned quite a bit since she had first combined forces with Max a few years ago. She placed a comforting hand on Max's arm.
Max himself was in turmoil. He had trouble believing what he was seeing. He had been aware of... all the clans had been aware of... the Aerihman Clan being more violent and belligerent than the others, especially under the leadership of their new clan head, Lord Aerihza. Several times the other clans had to reign them in from high handed treatment and abuse of other non-Atlantean races. Still, after their latest reprimand a few years gone by, they had seemed to calm down and if they weren't model citizens, they were far more polite.
Obviously, if this wasn't some elaborate ploy then all the other clans were horribly mistaken. Horror soon became anger as he learned that the rogue clan had engineered the massacre that had ended the lives of 1300 Atlanteans. Max himself remembered hearing about it. At the time tensions were high between the Aerihman Clan and there had been some suspicions that this clan had been involved in the tragedy. The fact that men and women from the Aerihman clan had died in that disaster dispelled this belief and harmony soon returned to the clans. His mouth turned down in a grimace of distaste. If, as the assassin in the hologram stated, they had been volunteers then the whole incident took on a new light.
The other clans hadn't suspected a thing. The clans treated one another like family, offering one another the hospitality of the home or aiding another in combat with the supernatural at a simple request. In this atmosphere, it would be simple to slay the family as they slept or turn on them in the middle of combat. Aye, if the Aerihman were indeed the Sunaj, then as minions of the Splugorth they would have ample opportunity to set up traps and ambushes.
Max's attention was jerked back to the image as the pigtailed youth had managed to get his 'nephew' to tell him about the identifying Marks of Heritage. The man removed a gauntlet and there indeed was the symbol of the Aerihman Clan.
Lost in his own thoughts he only dimly recalled the display showing fourteen more impressive encounters. After each battle there followed a brief interrogation, more to confirm the information already known than to ferret out anything new.
The battles continued until it was obvious that the youth in the image was on his last legs of endurance. The commander and his aid had done most of the damage, but there had been a few other instances of fighting two of the Sunaj simultaneously.
Most of the battle with the leader of the local chapter of Sunaj was not shown since it occurs outside the range of the device. However, it was obvious in the aftermath, since the recorder was set up to show the leader's own question and answer period. The pigtailed youth had obviously taken far more of a beating during this encounter as his clothes were torn and blood liberally coated his arms and chest. Max stiffened again as he saw the face of Sunaj commander. He knew him. Not well, but at several clan meetings he had seen that man as a minor officer in Lord Aerihza's staff.
White Raven and Skippy's eyes were riveted on the images before them. They were witnessing history. A whole local guild of Sunaj had just been taken down overnight. That alone would have a huge impact on the local political structure. Oh, sure the local group was only about thirty people but the Sunaj had a position and reputation that had abruptly been altered. There was also the issue of the true identity of the Sunaj. That may or may not become public knowledge but glancing at Max's angry and resolute face, it would not be ignored.
Raven had her own console up and was looking from the display to her report frowning. "Unless our intelligence is off, there was a mage that was not taken down."
Max called up the same report Raven was viewing and nodded. White Raven shared her notes and it was evident that she had checked off the descriptions of the Sunaj as the holo played back. All the known members were checked off except for the mage. "Says here he rarely shows up before noon. That probably explains it. Mages can be notoriously unreliable." Skippy glared at the Atlantean but declined to pick up the gauntlet.
"I suppose it's no surprise that I need some time to take care of clan business," Max continued in clipped tones, obviously upset but in control.
"Take all the time you need," White Raven urged. It would be hard to do without the experienced second in command but the recording made the need self-evident. Unsaid was also the fact that if the Atlantean clans took out the wayward Sunaj, Splynncryth would be out another whole tier of minions that normally acted as informal bounty hunters, assassins and troubleshooters. Well, unless the other clans drove them into the Splugorth's hands as the only sanctuary. When she brought this possibility up Max nodded shortly.
"I am aware of the issues. If mishandled we could trigger a disaster... or rather precipitate one earlier than the... Sunaj... wanted." Max paused as if asking himself if he really wanted to confide clan business to one who was an outsider despite being a friend. Finally, he continued, "The Aerihman Clan is well integrated with the others. They are intimately aware of the inner working, defenses, and weaknesses of all of the other clans." Max's fists clenched in suppressed anger, "They were family. Despite our disagreements, there was no need to hide anything from them." Turning quickly to Skippy he asked, "I need transportation to the clan elder. I can give you the coordinates."
"Well, we already used one of our reserve batteries," Skippy answered reluctantly. "However, this is an emergency. Just say when."
"This may take a while to deal with. We will have to move carefully to avoid them finding out that we are aware of the situation and attempting a preemptive strike," he stated, addressing White Raven. "The good thing... the only good thing... that might come of this, is that if we work this correctly you might have a lot of volunteer Atlantean freedom fighters anxious to strike out at the Splugorth for corrupting our kindred," Max gritted his teeth. He knew he certainly felt that way.
"As long as they are willing to take orders," White Raven acknowledged, "You know we are so numerically outclassed that we can't afford loose cannons."
"I'll be sure that they are aware," the Atlantean sighed, "That is in the future anyway. As I said, this is going to take a while. Be careful while I'm gone."
"Now Max, you know I'm always careful," Raven smiled as she waved goodbye to her friend.
Both Max and Skippy snorted in disbelief at that statement and then looked at one another in surprise. Who would have believed that they would agree on something?
The black metal figure moved deeper into the shadows. Since it had escaped the cat beast it had stealthily hunted its prey. This city wasn't kind to artifacts of its ilk and care was required to prevent something or other from trying to lay claim. Naturally, this slowed down its pursuit to a crawl. It had to hope that the godling it trailed stayed in one place for a significant amount of time or its cause would be lost. Already almost half its embedded talismans were destroyed. This made travel difficult but far from impossible.
Its mobile period had almost lapsed. It was time to find a hiding spot until its enchantments regenerated and it could move once again. It had made about a mile that day, hopefully, it would make another mile tomorrow. It was slow but the creature had patience. It would fulfill its mission.
Chapter 10: Nemesis
A tired old man sat in front of an elaborately carved work bench idly tapping his quill pen on the side of the ink well and staring at the parchment in front of him. Sighing, his gaze swept the gems and baubles stacked in untidy piles on the desk. To an untrained person it would seem like cheap jewelry, to the magically initiated they would glow with a subtle aura that would signal various enchantments had been imbued into them.
"How did it all go so wrong," the mage muttered under his breath. The prophecies had seemed so clear. Sacrifice the godling and then march victoriously to war. It all went wrong when the wrong demon or godling had been summoned in the Lost One's place. Erasing the mistake had... simply not worked. The summoned creature had destroyed grounds and left, never to be seen again. This was not a bad thing either, considering the amount of power the monster had. Unfortunately, it had probably warned their true target. It was really the only way to explain how poorly events had conspired against the plan.
Time and time again the spell had been attempted in a more secure area, far away from the palace at the chancellor's strident insistence, yet the results had been negative. Nothing had come through. He was able to tell that it had been close, however, it had brought nothing through. The last few attempts before gambling on the rune statue had seemed to be the closest, yet again nothing had come through the portal. Those had been different though, almost as if the target had been anchored to that dimension. It had taken all his energy and most likely his credibility to convince the emperor to invest one last effort in the project. The ancient golem had been priceless and combined with the enchantments the royal guild had imbued on the statue it should have easily found the godling and brought it back to them.
But it hadn't. Nothing had been heard from it since. The gaudy gems in from of him served as a rough way to keep tabs on the statue, each was linked to a corresponding talisman embedded in the construct. Weeks ago almost half of them had shattered indication some huge trauma the statue had suffered. Then nothing more. The king had no doubt lost faith in him. Even he now doubted his abilities.
The various priesthoods in the Western Empire had all had similar results from their auguries. The Empire would fall if it moved aggressively on its neighbors before the Lost One had been removed from the empire. The mage was no religious zealot but when completely independent clergies said the same thing there had to be some truth to it. At least that’s what the Emperor thought, and who was he to disagree? It seemed that along with his reputation would go the hopes and dreams of a glorious empire of man, stretching from one shore to the other across the world.
"Excuse me," coughed a low voice from behind the mage. "Have you seen young man, sturdy build, large backpack, and a silly looking rag tied around his forehead?"
The mage whirled, causing the chair to be flung away from him as he spun to face the intruder. Standing mere feet away was a husky tanned figure of a man wearing homespun rough clothes.
"How did you get in here," the mage asked in a steady, though strained tone even as he began to mutter activation phrases for his personal defenses.
"Just a man trying to find his grandson... er, great grandson, well, you get the idea," the man said with a distracted air. "Tracking just isn't my thing; I keep getting odd resonance's here. This is the sixth time I've been here, though I haven't seen you here before."
A shimmer sprang up around the mage and in the distance an alarm could be heard.
The newcomer ignored the signs of magic springing up around him. "You're not the talkative type." He nodded approvingly to himself. "I can relate, sometimes you need some quiet. Though admittedly you're not much help."
"You will leave or be destroyed," the mage stated firmly.
"Hmm, I take that back, you do talk, though you're silly if you think I'll leave before I figure out why I'm here." With that he slowly began to walk around the cramped office, stopping occasionally to stare at something. "There must be a reason I keep showing up here."
"You were warned," the mage muttered with a wave of his hand. Sheets of lightning sprang up, illuminating a tracery of lights on the floor. The outlined circle flashed for a moment and waves of coruscating energy moved towards the wandering figure.
The newcomer didn't even glance up as the light flowed around him like a river around a stone. "That’s pretty unfriendly of you," the man said distantly, his mind on other things. As he slowly made his circuit around the room, energy continued to flow around him, with flashes of lightning, and even wind.
The mage was getting rather desperate, in hopes of getting an idea of what he was facing he reached into his pocket to grab a prepared talisman that would hopefully reveal the nature of his opponent. After activating it, he immediately wished he hadn't. Crying out in pain he staggered back tripping on the overturned chair and clutching his eyes.
The being prowling the room didn't look up from his search, but did grumble to himself. "Silly mortals, it's foolish to try to look into the true face of a god. Ah, perhaps that's what's causing the problems." Walking over to the desk he gingerly pushed the different gems around. "Say this seems to be linked to my grandson and that annoying servitor."
Eyeing the old man cringing on the floor clawing at his eyes he shook his head disapprovingly. "So you’re the group that decked the old statue up like a trollop on New Year's Eve and sent it after my boy."
Plucking up the several relevant talismans before him, he offered some advice, "I'd leave him alone if I were you, if you actually succeeded in grabbing him I'd have to come back and get him." He shook his head slowly once more. "Most humans are just too fragile to be around us too much. Don't make me come back."
Gathering up the last of the trinkets he turned and seemed to fade into the ether. Behind him he left an old man still moaning and clutching his eyes, sitting next to a fallen chair and a still glowing circle inscribed in the floor. The desk was mostly clear of jewelry but in the center lay an orange the size of a melon.
There was also blank parchment in a puddle of ink slowly spreading out from the overturned ink well. The Emperor's report would have to wait a bit longer.
Ranma ducked under another of Shampoo's attacks and tapped her hip to show that the girl was off balance. The match was nearing its end, as was demonstrated by the girl's ardent attempts to pin Ranma for a final heated embrace. Ranma almost imperceptibly shook his head at this. Shampoo was far more attractive without the bubbly cheerleader attitude but this just highlighted the problems he had at home. Still, it was time to end the match, both to keep the Amazon away and to see if she had come up with a counter to the Butterfly kiss.
Leaping over the girl during another grapple attempt he moved his index finger to touch the girl in her back to initiate the move that would undoubtedly throw her across the practice field. He held his breath as he moved at a moderately fast pace, half hoping that the girl would finally find a counter. Shampoo spun around and he was faintly hopeful as it appeared that she was going to hold the energized digit away from her in a manner similar to how he originally tried the counter Ryouga's Breaking Point before he found out that the technique was useless against living creatures. Then he became slightly worried at became obvious that she was not attempting to keep the finger away from her, but latching on to him just before he applied it. Ranma's eyes widened and he just had time to enunciate his surprise before the kinetic energy transfer.
The energy was transferred to Shampoo but her hands had found very solid purchase on Ranma's shoulder and waist. The busty girl flew back, arcing across the arena... carrying the dismayed martial artist along with her. Without thinking, Ranma shifted his momentum to allow him to impact first and absorb the fall. It was completely unnecessary, but unfortunately also completely instinctive. When they finally landed after flying over a hundred feet lengthwise, Shampoo was on top and wasting no time straddling the dismayed male and nuzzling his neck. She had found that Ranma panicked far quicker if she tried kissing him and the amorous moments actually lasted longer if she compromised on showering her affection.
It actually worked here as well as Ranma lay still for a few minutes. "A suicide solution to the Butterfly Kiss?" Ranma asked half in dismay and half admiration. "Well... it's innovative but I really would prefer it if you found a better counter."
"Silly boy," Shampoo crooned into his neck. "Shampoo already know the counter, this is exactly what I was trying for."
Ranma squawked indignantly, "What? Shampoo we really need to get you training seriously. This arena championship is dangerous stuff. I know hardly anyone dies these days but I heard that there are a lot of new entries this quarter... high power entries. We got to get you up to speed fast.
"You worry too much, I have come a long way under your care," her muffled voice came from where her head was nestled in his neck. "Just because I ignored the obvious counter and went for the more rewarding one doesn't mean I don't take this seriously."
At this point a huge booming impact shook the floor followed by a ripping sound and Ranma's eyes were drawn to the center of the field where a distortion was forming that he recognized by the signature tingling sensation as a precursor for a rift.
"Shampoo! Get off! There's a gate or something forming and we're getting company." Ranma urged her in an exasperated tone. Shampoo was better, but her priorities were still majorly skewed.
"I am quite comfortable as I am. I worked hard for this moment... tell me if it’s a psychotic killer, otherwise, tell them to go away."
Ranma watched as the distortion grew and expanded outward finally forming a stable portal. Once it was solid a form stepped out. Backlit by the unusually brilliant light from the portal the creature's features were unclear as it turned to survey the training area until it came face to face with Ranma and his fiancée. All he could clearly make out was that it was humanoid and was dragging a stick in the sand. A feeling of dread started to suffuse the martial artist though he had no concrete reason for the sensation. Suddenly, the thing's eyes lit with and malevolent crimson and waves of violent energy began to pour from its skin. A subliminal sensation, almost shuddering impacts of footfalls was felt as it slowly approached the two on the ground.
"Ranma!" A disturbingly familiar cry ululated from the monstrosity. It raised its stick and Ranma's eyes widened in horror as it became clear that the stick was a familiar-looking hammer. An enchanted hammer that he had brought back as a gag gift for his fiancée and had turned out surprisingly painful.
"Akane" Ranma stuttered in incomprehension. Nabiki was keeping a close eye on Balthazar and no one except Rhada, Abdul-Ra, and Anhur know the exact dimensional coordinates where he was.
"It can't be angry girl, just beat it up and tell it to go away", Shampoo muttered comfortably.
"Ranma" The apparition repeated its battle cry. "I can't believe you! I practice for weeks with my enchanted hammer because it said it can get me to you, so I can help you save the universe and I find out you've wasted all these weeks playing snugly face with the Amazon bimbo!"
Shampoo stiffened in Ranma's arms at this descriptor. "Okay. It is the bitch." The purple-haired girl admitted quietly with growing anger. Silently she straightened up and smoothed her slightly mussed hair before turning to her rival. The flash and energy expelled by the closing rift was completely ignored as irrelevant by all participants.
"Listen up you immature little bitch! I am going to kick your ass if try to hammer Ranma when I show a little bit of affection to him," Shampoo stated in a low dangerous tone. In one hand a pillar of blue energy formed as her sword formed. Stepping forward she continued, "I have decided to be reasonable about this, I don't interfere with your lame attempts to show your 'love' and you don't interfere with mine." She breathed a trembling sigh, "I don't like it but I refuse to let Ranma get caught between us anymore."
There was a moment of silence as Ranma digested this strange declaration. It was a really sweet sentiment. It was obvious that Shampoo had really grown and matured. Well, either that or a strange alien Intelligence had reached into her body and mind and massaged it as if it was putty... but still, she had really changed. He doubted that Akane would willingly go for it though. Out of all of his fiancées Akane was the one most willing to let Ranma make his own decisions even when they hurt her... well after a small fit of anger. However, Akane was also not one to share. Of course, there was the final problem...
Akane stood silent for a few seconds, eyes glowing with anger and confusion and chi radiating in waves, trying to absorb Shampoo's response.
"Argh! You're still insulting me in Chinese!" Akane had only caught a few words of the torrent spewing from the Chinese girl's mouth, but what she had caught seemed to have been somewhat rude. Why else would she be speaking in her native Mandarin tongue? She knew no one understood the twisted thing.
"Doh!" Shampoo exclaimed as her unencumbered hand rose to massage her temples. Too much time spent around a Ranma that was comfortable with her speaking her own language had destroyed whatever reflex she once had to try to speak the Japanese tongue. Her grandmother was going to kick her ass when she found out that her efforts to improve her granddaughters Japanese had been undone. Then again, she only did it for the sake of her son I law so maybe it didn't matter anymore.
"Shampoo beat you unconscious and then try again," the Amazon stated in Japanese. "It's too, too much work to do that again." Upon making this decision she leaped towards the other teenage girl.
Ranma was about to step in between them when he noticed that a subtle glow was covering the hammer and intermingling with the girl's own aura. Shaking his head he walked over to the edge of the arena where a stool stood against the wall to watch the encounter. He would step in if there was any serious danger on either side but getting in between Shampoo's natural skills and new psionic powers and Akane's most recent power-up toy was looking to be excruciatingly painful. He had already worked on his body hardening and toughening skills enough for the day... let the girls work on their own for a bit.
Two hours later the sandy floor of the arena was covered on glassy craters and various walls had gaping holes in them. Ranma was mildly impressed at both of the women. Shampoo had come a long way and surprisingly so had Akane. Sure, most of it was the hammer but there was a lot of skill and chi manipulation improvement as well. Without the hammer the Amazon would still cream her but... still it was good to see. He had been worried the girl was stuck at her old plateau and would never budge.
A dry clattering sound came off from the door to the left. "They are still at it?" the insectoid manager asked in surprise.
"Yeah! I'm really happy with how far they've come... well, okay, once I got passed the whole pissed about having Akane follow me here in the first place," Ranma stated thoughtfully.
"You could probably have the black-haired girl fight with you instead, the people running the event probably can't tell one human from another without a psychic to read their aura", offered the alien.
The martial artist shook his head slowly. "No, Shampoo is more polished. Heck, she's got more of a killer instinct than I have," or hope to ever have, Ranma continued the thought. "They make great training partners though. I think their stamina is really evenly matched."
During the conversation, the two women had recovered from their most recent impact that had thrown the two away from one another and were slowly, painfully crawling towards the other in hopes of inflicting just one more bruise before they collapsed in exhaustion."
"Nope, I say we keep to the plan. Akane can train with Shampoo but there's no need to endanger someone else. They seem really motivated." In the field the two girls had reached the center and forgoing anything as sophisticated as weapons, were weakly trying to strangle the other.
Nabiki had just arrived home from the alternate Japan where she had overseen the loading of some very delicate machinery into the transport circle. Looking at the clipboard she gave a satisfied smile. This whole enterprise had been extremely profitable, although explaining where the money was coming from required imaginative bookkeeping verging on the miraculous, she was well on the way to becoming a real mover and shaker in the Japanese business world. Of course the ironic part was that as successful as she was at home, she was infinitely more successful in that weird twisted version of Japan Ranma had stumbled upon. The reason was simple of course, on the other side she didn't have to hide where her assets were coming from. Heck, her agreements were mostly from the government anyway.
With the flush of a job well done still upon her, it was jarring when her senses reported something happening in the dojo. Something involving a ton of magic and the dimensional membrane between worlds being rudely hammered away by more force than skill.
Cursing the chaos that seemed to inundate Nerima, she rushed downstairs and threw open the door leading the dojo. Standing in the center of the room was her little sister going through a strangely complex kata with that odd hammer that Ranma had brought back from the Palladium world. That was not surprising, Akane had been acting oddly, muttering to the hammer and her dedication to the art seemed to skyrocket as she spent hour after hour when Jess wasn't in the dojo, going through katas Nabiki had never seen before.
She hadn't thought anything of it. Everyone said the hammer wasn't evil and Nabika wasn't anything like a dedicated martial artist like Akane or their father was. There were probably tons of katas she hadn't seen. She just chalked it up to Akane working through her issues with Ranma. Staring at the hammer that was spilling forth light, and leaving a trail of visible magic energy as Akane danced through an arcane form, it occurred to Nabiki that perhaps she had taken a few things for granted.
As Nabiki struggled with the urge to interrupt the impending disaster forming in front of her and the knowledge that interrupting a major magical ritual when so much energy was already tied up in the process of tearing through the dimension couldn't have a good end, her choices were removed from her. With a boom that shook the house to its foundations, a portal formed in the space circumscribed by her martial dance.
Seeing the energy stabilized into a less hazardous form Nabiki moved forward towards her sister. "Akane! Don't go! There are a lots of things you don't understand yet and you're not going to help!"
Akane turned and looked to her sibling, hammer resting on the ground and breath coming in slight pants. "I know enough. I won't stay here and wait," she patted the haft of the handle as it leaned against her leg. "I've been practicing. I can make a real difference. You'd be amazed at what I can do now... I know Ranma will." She smiled sweetly at her sister and continued, "I'm sure he'll be happy to have some help saving the world for a change." She then confidently turned and walked into the portal.
Nabiki sadly shook her head as she stared into the shining vortex of energy before her. Her sister meant well, she really did, but sometimes she seemed less connected to reality than even Kasumi did.
From far away Nabiki heard an outraged cry of "Ranma!"
Then the portal slammed shut.
The dragon shifted his weight in thought, sending an undulation through his slowly writhing body as it floated a few feet above the ground. He wasn't sure how wise his present course of action was but he was running out of options. In the past few weeks he had in effect been laying in wait outside the Bloody Grub training area hoping to get a chance to spring into an attack upon the dreadful human he had been hunting. His efforts had so far been in vain. If he even saw the human leave the compound he was immediately led upon a merry chase through the streets, roofs, and dirty back alleys of Splynn.
Sometimes his opponent would pause to taunt him before continuing to wind his way through the city, other times his presence wasn't even acknowledged. In either case, after no more than a half-hour he would lose his prey, sometimes momentarily finding him again before the human vanished. He knew it wasn't invisibility, like most supernatural creatures he was proof against that trick. He wasn't even sure it was a martial arts technique. Although he wasn't built to use them he had a vast library of martial arts knowledge that before he met the infernal human he would have confidently stated was unrivaled.
But something always happened. The martial artist would leap behind a building and be gone. He would jump inside a sewer access door forcing him to shrink his gigantic form to follow... and simply not be there. This left him a very angry and frustrated dragon. He didn't think he was alone in a lack of ability to track the man. Often the Eye of Eyelor would be left floating aimlessly and he was quite sure it had lost track of the human as well. At such times he would eventually give up and lay in wait at the training compound. He could at least be sure that the gnat would eventually come back here.
Often, he would entertain fantasies of breaking in and wreaking havoc until the thorn in his side had no choice but to face him to keep him from destroying his friends and home. Of course, there was the issue that he had no idea if the huge complex that housed the stable of fighters that was located in the Bloody Grub suburb had any emotional attachment to the human. There was also that the games and tournaments within Splynn were extremely popular by all. Including Spynncryth. It would be very unwise to upset the ruler of the city in such an obvious way.
And so he was at an impasse. He was sure if he could just get the human to stay and fight he would be able to wreak devastation the fragile creature. It was soon obvious that he was not the only one thinking the same thing. Not too long ago he was approached by one of the annoying self-important beings that called themselves the Sunaj.
Until then, he had assumed that they had all run away and hidden from his presence. After all, he hadn't seen them since his visit to their headquarters. There they had given him the information on where to find the human and then they had vanished. He had gone back later to try to find out more about possible ambush sites but the building was deserted. The condition of the building shows signs of a fierce battle but nothing more.
The Sunaj had made an interesting offer. A way to make the human stand and fight. Of course it required him to cooperate with the Sunaj insect but the humiliation might be worth it. It must be worth it... if the human continued to make a mockery of him he would go mad with rage.
This of course brought him to where he was now, floating in front of one of the government's low-level pencil pushers filling out forms. Or rather having his 'partner' fill out forms for him. Supposedly his presence and confirmation would be sufficient. He hated dealing with such mundane matters but it would be worth it if he could trap that human.
Finally the armored assassin signaled the paperwork was complete and he placed his claw mark strategically on the contract. It was done. Events were in motion that would culminate in his vengeance.
As he floated out the door he absent-mindedly noted an oversized demonic harpy at the table he had just left, sitting down to fill in a ream of paperwork. It didn't look happy about wasting its afternoon either.
Chapter 11: Face Off
"Okay this place is big. Really, really big," Ranma stated for the fourth time. He stood with the others on the first tier of the series of elevated plateaus that surrounded the grand Arena of Champions field of battle. The field itself was nothing special, just a vast area of stone covered in sand, mostly smooth except for an occasional dune. Floating above the sand at regular intervals were metallic ovals three feet in length sprouting cylindrical lenses and antenna Ranma could only assume to microphone. Of course from what little he knew about technology, they could be squirt guns and he wouldn't know any better. He nervously examined them closer. With his luck they probably would be. Maybe he'd get lucky and they would just be simple death rays or lasers...
Sure, it was a large field but it was the stands surrounding the battlefield that commanded his attention. From a distance it looked like stone rings, set on top of one another like stairs leading up from the sands into the sky. Now that he was actually on the lowest tier, closest to the floor, he realized how large each one was. The ring was four hundred feet wide and the area adjacent to the wall forming the next higher ring had merchant stalls and restrooms and all the essentials required for the free fighters attending the match as they awaited their turn to combat. Of course those combatants that were attending against their will weren't nearly as comfortable but Ranma was trying very hard not to think of such things.
Extravagant chairs levitated gently near the wall, available for a rest or simply for a better view. Ranma assumed he would be using one of those later; they sure looked comfortable, however, for the moment he was content to look around. While the structure itself was impressive the denizens of the construct were odd even from Ranma's vastly expanded experience. Directly opposite him almost too far to see with the naked eye was a huge octopus creature with a gigantic eye in the center surrounded with spikes, wallowing in a pool of viscous liquid. The size of the thing was not obvious until he noticed tiny ant-like beings scurrying around the monster and he realized that one of them was the Highlord he had come here to find. A Highlord that supposedly stood seven feet tall. Even from here he could feel the life force of the creature, as powerful as the gods he had previously faced and infinitely more alien. Malevolent. Ranma glanced stonily from the eye that had been following him for weeks to its master and had a hard time stifling the urge to make a rude gesture.
The rest of the arena was very far from barren as well and Ranma heard his manager, Syushra, waving his various appendages this way and that to an enthralled pair of girls. They had finally stopped their verbal, and often very physical, grudge match for the first time in weeks and were listening to the insectoid. "And over there we have the Powerlords and a few Highlords, notice how they each have a retinue of slaves and servants? Over there we have the Kittani, they love their sports." There followed more arm-waving, one limb Akane only narrowly ducked. "That thing over there is a Volute Metztla," he pointed to a 40-foot tall tower of twisted flesh and chitin with the odd blade arm and claws sticking out of it. "They are one of the Splugorths higher up minions."
"How do they serve him," Shampoo asked in her native Chinese. After much shouting, heaving of breasts, and gnashing of teeth Akane had been given a translator talisman. This hadn't really stopped or even slowed down the shouting and the gnashing, however, at least the two women were in synch with one another. Definitely a mixed blessing.
"The same way they are floating. They and their variant races not only possess huge physical strength but monumental psionic powers," Syushra expounded, seemingly satisfied to answer girls' questions all day. "Over there we have a few demons, your friends Abdul-Ra and Rhada among them. On the opposite side we have the deevils, well except Rhada..." the insectoid paused for a moment. "They are not allowed near each other. The last time they interacted here was very... messy. Mind you the crowd loved it... at least those far enough away to survive." His prism-like eyes darted around the arena seeking something. "Now that’s odd... where is that Leviathan you were telling me about? I find it hard to believe that she would miss this."
"That would be the 28-foot tall woman the security guards are trying keeping at the far end of the fighter section," Ranma stated absently, his steely eyes not leaving the Splugorth lazily consuming some poor human. Fortunately the distance was so vast that no cries were heard. He was pretty sure the girls hadn't noticed many of the horrors in the Atlantian city and he wasn't anxious to draw attention to them when there was nothing any of them could do about it... at the moment. Whited knuckles and coldness in his aura were the only signs of his distress. Hopefully, everyone simply thought he was nervous.
"Oh. I was wondering why she was screaming obscenities at that woman over in demon section," Akane commented, looking over her shoulder warily. At that moment, the giant deevil woman grabbed one of the ten-foot tall Power Lords and threw the writhing figure out over the arena ground towards her hated rival. The Power Lord arced over the field for three hundred feet and landed in an explosion of sand. After a few seconds of stillness the Power Lord struggled to its feet mostly unharmed, brushed itself off, and started to jog back to where the altercation was taking place. Ranma frowned as he saw that out of the corner of his eye. It was too bad the Power Lord was unhurt.
"She's cursing at Rhada, and probably at Abdul-Ra," Ranma offered in explanation. "The only reason she hasn't attacked me, aside from the moron squad," Ranma said while gesturing over his shoulder at the Power Lords desperately trying to restrain the Deevil Lord without turning the struggle into life and death brawl... most likely their own death. Although she wasn't going anywhere she looked far from subdued as dozens of Splynncryth's minions dangled from her like tree ornaments. "... is that she would be disqualified and she probably thinks I would run."
"Oh, is that Rhada? I was wondering why she was waving at you," Akane pouted, trying to rein in a vague feeling of jealousy.
Ranma darted a glance over at the demon section. Sure enough there was Rhada, completely ignoring Leviathan and waving enthusiastically, her fourteen foot tall height making her stand out even among the tall raksasha and fenry surrounding her. Next to her, holding her other hand stood Abdul-Ra, grinning... or perhaps snarling at him. It was hard for him to tell with cat-headed humanoids. Ranma waved back and his forced smile became more genuine as he saw some very unhappy fenry awkwardly standing on their wolf hind legs and holding up a large sign that boldly proclaimed "GO RANMA!" in the Splugorthian language.
"That lady looks way too happy to see Ranma," even Shampoo groused slightly with a small frown.
"Well I did save her from captivity and we are going to be business partners together with Nabiki," Ranma said while waving at her, now trying to ignore the evil alien intelligence opposite him. Another Power Lord flew overhead, cursing, barely missing them as it involuntarily flew towards Rhada.
"Business partner," the girls exclaimed in unison.
"Oh, right. Didn't I mention that?" Ranma said hesitantly.
"No, I think I would remember that," Akane stated darkly. "Is Nabiki okay dealing with demons?" she stated with some concern.
Ranma simply looked at her incredulously. Admittedly, he hadn't gotten around to telling Nabiki yet, but...
"Ah... never mind, silly question," Akane said looking away. She suddenly stopped as she stared in the direction of the monstrous Splugorth. "Hey! Is that..." Ranma twisted around grabbed Akane and spinning her around in the opposite direction. Desperately he looked for something to grab her attention. Giant oriental dragon... nope, 28-foot tall tantrum-throwing Deevil Lady...nope, sunaj assassin...nope, 20 foot tall armored, four-armed giant ...nope. Ah there! "... Ryouga!?!?"
Ranma's brain finally caught up with his mouth and he found himself pointing stupidly at the umbrella touting martial artist. "Ryouga what the hell are you doing here? I thought you were wandering Japan or something," Ranma called out more than a little mystified. Steel entered his tone, "Somewhere far from here."
"Ranma? What are you doing fighting at an alien tournament," Ryouga questioned, obviously disturbed. "I thought you were doing... something in that weird version Japan we found."
Ranma's gaze went down to the ankle restraints and could barely see the tips of them under some weird looking ski boots. "You took off the anchors?" Ranma said his voice growing in volume. "Damn it, Ryouga! You're not supposed to be here!"
"Ranma! Stop picking on Ryouga," Akane lightly slapped his arm. She had almost been trained not to strike Ranma with full force. For the last several weeks every time she did, Shampoo would leap upon her and they ended up fighting tooth and nail for hours. Ranma still wasn't sure how he felt about that. It was nice not to always be hit by Akane but there was a lot of endurance training he was missing out on. "I'm sure he just came to help you out just like I did," Akane continued.
Ryouga scratched the back of his head nervously. "Um, actually I had no idea you were here. I'm just here to win the tournament, I somehow ended owing some guys for bail... it’s a debt of honor you understand."
Ranma's left eye twitched. "Ryouga... I," he paused, at a loss for words. "Ryouga, you..." Counting to ten slowly, he tried to gather his thoughts.
"Ryouga, you don't understand," Akane urgently exclaimed. "Ranma has to win! If he doesn't..." her explanation was cut off as Ranma pressed his hand to her mouth to stop her speech.
"I have to win to show the universe the true supremacy of my martial arts," Ranma proclaimed in an overblown pompous manner. "Ouch!" he yelled as the short-haired girl promptly bit his hand.
"What's the big idea Ranma," a furious Akane spit out.
"Ixnay on the savinay of the universy," Ranma whispered while glancing at the Splugorth minions flooding the fighters' area.
"Ranma! I am tired of your pompous attitude and your mistreatment of women," shouted an outraged Ryouga seeing his rival manhandle Akane right in front of him. He had thought better of him than that. Believed that despite their differences Ranma was worthy of respect. Obviously, his first reaction so many years ago had been correct. Ranma was evil and had to be put down. "I am going to put you in your place. In front of this whole alien nation I am going to show exactly who the better man is and expose you for the fake you really are."
During this heated speech Ranma held his hand over his face and was shaking his head as if to block out the reality of the situation. Ranma absently noted that the situation was so bad that his mind was amplifying his rival's voice until it seemed to resonate through the arena. With a certain amount of trepidation he peeked through his fingers and groaned in dismay. Holographic screens, fifty feet high had flickered into existence all around the tiered audience seating and Ryouga's challenge was being replayed for the benefit of those not able to see the drama themselves. I guess that's what those tubes are for, was the thought that flitted through his mind.
Ryouga hesitated, it was only fair to warn his rival. "Ranma... I," he paused put his thoughts into words. "Ranma, it's only fair to tell you that I've been heavily training." He looked down for a moment. "Even though you've shown your true loathsome colors and I realize that I was only fooling myself to think, even momentarily, that you weren't a cowardly beast... I feel obligated to tell you that my skills and strength have increased by a huge amount from what they were." Ryouga put on a grim face and looked his rival straight in the eyes. "I'm afraid I can't guarantee your safety if we fight in the arena."
"Why you..." Ranma shouted, but his cry was choked on the emotions roiling within him. "I'm going to... I outta..." Ranma finally brought his Soul of Ice technique to bear and the more sensitive mortals stepped back as an arctic breeze began to circulate around him. As his outrage began to subside his brain started to race.
"I mean... darn. You found me out," Ranma said in a strained voice. "I was only pretending to be good and nice and... er, good." He felt a headache build up behind his temples as he saw his image, far larger than life projected for all to see. Even Leviathan had temporarily stopped tossing minions across the arena in favor of watching the drama in front of her. "I am a bad person, a rabid dog that needs to be put down. Evil incarnate," Ranma tried to give a vicious snarl but suspected it lacked true feeling. "I live for pain and chaos and I'm going to show everyone just how badass I really am." This last part actually contained something he felt strongly about and so he ended his impromptu speech on almost a strong note.
Ryouga looked slightly taken aback. He had known the truth but to see his rival... no ...his enemy, admit it for the entire world to hear. Off to his side, Akane had her hands over her face and he could see that she was shuddering with emotion and horror as the final masks were removed. Truly this must be what vindication feels like. He sighed, "I'm sorry it has to end this way Ranma." Ryouga in a moment of weakness placed his hand on his enemy's shoulders and gently squeezed in one final act of camaraderie. Then he slowly turned and heavily walked away.
Ranma turned back to the arena and shook his head in disgust and then just glared at the holographic projectors until they decided the drama was over and flickered off. Next to him, Akane was shuddering and choking.
"Right, laugh it up," Ranma said sarcastically, "The big, bad Ranma will get his revenge in the end." This of course sent the girl into another paroxysm of stifled laughter.
Ranma for his part was working his shoulder. Ryouga apparently had indeed been training. His shoulder ached where his rival had rested it as if a ten-ton hammer had slammed it. Although his strength was monstrous, and oddly enough his weight, his increase in chi had him concerned too. The arena was huge but he worried about it being large enough to contain the two of them if they both really let loose.
His manager just seemed puzzled at the whole display. He didn't really understand what had happened. It must be a human thing.
Ranma looked over to Shampoo, wandering why the amazon had stayed silent so long. He frowned again as he saw her looking over at Splynncryth as the Splugorth consumed another human. It was a bad time to find that she had exceptional vision. Moving over to her he gently took her by the shoulders and led her to meet some of the other fighters. Maybe they would get lucky and they could start a brawl. He could usually do it by accident; surely it couldn't be too hard to do it on purpose.
Chapter 12: First Blood
Ranma was starting to twitch with unspent energy and impatience. Looking over at his manager he prompted him, "So how does this thing work again? The fighting actually starts soon, right?"
"Today is the first set of the annual fight. There are fights every week but the next four weeks will pit the champions against one another. Today's event will put our team against one or more of the current champions," as he spoke his tongue slid down into the drink he was carrying and an occasional slurp, followed by a crunch would be heard as floating creatures were sucked into Syushra's tiny maw. Ranma winced and looked away. The insectoid was turning out to be reliable and even likable, but its disturbing visage and eating habits continued to turn his stomach. "These fights aren't lethal and assuming we win, we get to face another."
"What about miss moody over there," Ranma asked, gesturing towards the huge devil lord that continued to curse over the arena floor at Rhada, "and the reptile." The martial artist nodded in the direction of a twelve-foot long serpent dragon floating above the tiers. The small size didn't fool him. He knew exactly who the snake was and why he was here and had seen the creature demonstrate his size altering abilities in the past.
"You most likely won't go up against them today," Syushra stated with a wave of his limb. "Consider them special guests. Most supernatural creatures of their stature do not compete in the games. They consider it beneath them. Since these have signed up they only have to fight in the finals."
Ranma grunted, he'd been making plans for each of his antagonists for weeks. Since neither had made any secret of their desire to kill and maim him, not necessarily in that order, he had been ferreting out their weaknesses, tactics, and weapons. The dragon had been easy to bait and tease out his capabilities. Although it firmly believed itself to be a master strategist he had found that when personally crossed and made a fool of, almost all attempts at reason went out the window in a fight. To be honest, it was almost exactly how Pops used to say a fight would go. Insult the opponent and when it got enraged and sloppy, take him out. It was almost embarrassingly easy to deal with the dragon except for its durability. Apparently the older dragons are only a little lower on the durability scale than demon lords and gods. It probably would be easier than if he wanted to take down Ammit but it was still more than he had done to date.
Leviathan was another puzzle he would have to figure out soon. From what he had seen she was all brawn. She didn't have those tricks, spells, or ultimate attacks that many other Deevil Lords had but she was very, very strong, and had a hammer and sword. Oh, and was doubtless even tougher than the dragon. It may take him a week just to make her feel his strikes. But he had some ideas.
Everything he had heard about the other champions seemed anticlimactic. He may have been making a mistake by not taking them seriously but it was hard to lower his sights from the challenges in front of him. "So how does this team thing work? I kinda noticed that some guys seem to be in teams and others aren't."
"I was wondering about that myself," Akane chimed in, finally taking her eyes off the sights around her. Ranma had done his very best to keep both women in the training compound and out of the city proper. He had no doubt they could handle the random rude alien and the authorities wouldn't hassle an arena contender, assuming they bothered to find out first, but he did not want them to have to see the things he had. Hell, he didn't want to see these things. It wasn't surprising that both girls were almost shivering with excitement at the sensory overload around them. "It doesn't really seem fair that we have three and they have one."
"The game balances that by a fair degree. The singletons have the first choice of opponents, group-wise. Once they select what group to fight the team then decides which one to face them. Groups may challenge entire groups but that tends to be rare. This tends to be one on one. Well, as long as you are not... never mind." There was a very dark side to the arena for low-class slaves. Ranma had asked him not to discuss it in front of the women.
"I am not sure I see the point in having a team," Shampoo offered, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Why bother if it's still one on one."
"It is mostly to add variety, to be honest, I don't think it matters much. Though it can help ensure a team has a better chance to reach the finals in case there are injuries. Not every race can lose a limb and be ready to fight at full strength within a day," the manager added, wiggling in a way that may have been a shrug. "I think the only real limitation is that all members must have been engaged in at least one fight before the finals or the team is disqualified."
"Wait a minute, you never mentioned that part," Ranma squawked. The two girls looked at him evilly.
"So you knew about the rules before now," Akane gritted out. "I bet you were planning on doing all the fighting." Ranma slowly backed up until his back was against the raised stone tier.
"Now girls, what gives you that idea? You know I believe in a fair fight," Ranma weakly denied as sweat poured down his back.
"Husband also believes in keeping his fiancées safe and away from the fighting," Shampoo added cheerfully with a grin. "Husband failed. I suppose it is a good thing I asked our manager not to mention it."
The pigtailed youth stood there with his mouth open. He hadn't thought the girls would even try to outmaneuver him. Turning he looked indignantly at Syushra. "Hey..."
"Don't be mad at the manager, as your wife I asked to be the one to tell you," she proudly stated. Akane had a frown on her face but it was slowly fading as she realized that she would get a chance to fight.
"I had thought you would have told him already. Isn't this cutting it a bit close," the insectoid asked in a rather confused manner.
"Husband loves surprises," replied with a smile.
Meanwhile, with only minor fanfare, the actual fights had started. Far from settling the crowd, the denizens of Atlantis actually became rowdier and louder, each cheering for their favorite. This part the event wasn't intended for pure bloodlust and the matches were fairly even. Still fuming at being outmaneuvered Ranma didn't really pay much attention to the fights. He barely registered a tattoo man squaring off against some sort of superpowered rock man, followed by a rather spectacular spell duel between two mages. Absently, he noted the spells and pondered counters to them, but his full attention wasn't on the combat.
Finally, a smack to the back of his head from Akane brought his attention fully to the events around him. Everyone around him had their attention riveted on a bikini-clad woman gracefully approaching them from the arena ground. Well, Akane was glaring at him and Shampoo was frowning at Akane, but the other fighters Syushra managed were all looking.
Swaying as she walked, the woman drew closer to them. Her blond hair was gathered in a topknot but to be honest she could have wearing a bear's skin and it would have not detracted one iota from her beauty. Ranma's first thought was she was a hand to hand fighter before he saw the tattoos delicately tracing her form.
"Sight-Stealer," Syushra said in a hushed voice. "One of the champions I told you about. Choose your fighter."
The comment sparked his memory. Ah, right. That one. "Shampoo, you're up."
The Amazon squealed in delight as she jumped up and down excitedly. Predictably, Akane was not nearly as thrilled. "Why her? I can take her."
Glancing to the side at the midnight blue-haired girl he shook his head. Why did they always doubt his ability to analyze fights? It was one of the things he did better than anyone else he knew. And yet they never listened. He had never seen the blond woman fight but Syushra was very clear in his description.
"It's Shampoo's fight. You'll get your turn, probably today." Turning to the Amazon he continued, "Go ahead Shampoo, have fun. Just keep in mind that there's no need to get deadly yet."
As she entered the arena she winked back, "Now you should know I have other ways to spend my energy. I'll remind you when I get back." Akane glared death upon both of them but kept her peace. She may have growled a low "pervert" but even she didn't know who it was aimed at.
Both warriors walked over the sand-covered stone until they reached the center. Stopping there they faced, only a dozen feet separating each other and waited.
"I'll try to make this quick," Shampoo smiled in what appeared a friendly manner.
The other woman maintained her serene smile. "I don't mind dragging it out a bit," a hint of wickedness entering her demeanor. A reverberating tone sounded to signal the start of the fight and a shimmering dome of energy sprang up over the arena to protect the spectators.
Shampoo immediately sprinted forward, blurring to the sight of many creatures in the seats and imbedded her fist in the tall woman's stomach, launching her half the width of the stadium. Upon landing she squirmed on the ground desperately gasping for breath. Shampoo leisurely walked towards her, white energy pooling in her hands and slowly elongating into twin swords.
Finally catching her breath the blond woman staggered to her feet. Although still beautiful her hair was in disarray and a hamhock size purple discoloration decorated her stomach, almost eclipsing her artwork. Shampoo's swords were fully formed and she was a mere twenty feet away when the woman stretched out her hand and a bow flickered into existence, complete with a notched arrow. Immediately she started firing at the approaching Amazon.
Shampoo brought her swords into play, deftly deflecting the magical arrows to the left or right while still walking towards her enemy. This forced the tattooed archer to swiftly walk backward, pausing in the barrage she tapped her arm causing a large serpent to appear. The Amazon paused slightly at this turn, before continuing her stride towards the archer.
Ranma frowned slightly from the side. Shampoo was a smart girl but she had a bad tendency to play with her opponents. He had been expecting to do all the fighting or he would have gone over some basic tactics with her, none of which would have included letting the archer keep a distance advantage. And definitely not ignoring the snake.
Out on the arena, the snake had started to prove its worth by spitting smoking acid at the fiancée. The first spray had been partly turned away by the psychic blades but some of the liquid had gotten past the defense and now Shampoo was desperately wiping the burning liquid from her face and eyes with part of her torn shirt while waving her sword at the oncoming arrows. Her somewhat random defense knocked a few arrows away but two had actually hit her.
The first knocked her down and back several feet, causing no lasting harm, not even a bruise but the second arrow to strike her glowed as it dissipated and Shampoo growled in frustration as her vision was further shrouded in magical darkness.
The archer seeing her advantage stopped her retreat and began an all-out torrent of arrows upon her fallen foe. At a barked verbal command the snake also continued to spew its corrosive payload on the Amazon.
Shampoo was getting angry and frustrated. Apparently, she had gone from overpowering the bitch to being the playtoy. The arrows didn't hurt that bad but the acid was very painful and she was going to stop it. With a second of concentration, she formed a glowing sheathe of energy around her to give her a moments reprieve from fresh acid and then she concentrated on her senses. The roaring of the crowd made hearing a useless ability but she had gained another, weaker sense in her prison. She hadn't had much reason or time to practice but it was all she had at the moment.
Breathing as calmly as she could while concussive arrows of force peppered her and her eyes burning, she paused to stretch her senses around her before initiating a drunken charge at the closest entity she felt. The archer cursed under her breath as the insanely strong woman suddenly froze and then staggered over to the summoned serpent, both swords painting trails of devastation in the air. It was likely the swordswoman barely felt the snake go down. She certainly didn't pause as she changes direction and started running at the archer.
Gasping at the pain that the death of her creature caused, she slipped to the side as the blinded warrior swung past her. Whatever she was using to sense her obviously wasn't that accurate, because staying out of her reach wasn't too arduous. After several missed charges a smile made its way back onto the archer's face. She had been worried at first but now she had the rhythm of the fight down and she was going to be the victor.
This smile was instantly wiped away as the Amazon gave a muffled frustrated scream, stopped, and blindly pointed at the blond. As an invisible force engulfed the woman, flung her spinning into the air, and then sent her like a guided missile at the waiting blind woman she only just had time to be grateful the purple-haired girl dismissed her two swords to merely beat her unconscious.
Ranma looked on, shaking his head as the audience booed the change in fortune. That was such a sloppy win. Shampoo should have ended the battle in ten seconds. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised; all the fighters from Nerima shared the weakness of occasional overconfidence. Perhaps even himself. He should just concentrate on the Amazon winning and forget the events in between. Although, he might just bring it up in tomorrow's training.
"That stuff on her face is just a weak acid, right? It washes off?" Ranma confirmed with his manager.
"She may have some blistering but we have some cream that neutralizes it and heals the minor damage. Otherwise it may take a few days. Sight-Stealer is a crowd favorite but her tactics are well known."
"Hmm, if only I had known that my fiancées had to fight," the martial artist growled sarcastically.
"Yes, funny how that worked out," Syushra nodded to himself, oblivious to the sarcasm.
"Akane put that down, that’s barbeque sauce, not the salve," Ranma sighed while massaging his forehead. They should be okay as long as she didn't try bandaging anyone. He has almost been asphyxiated when she had last tried to help him.
"I'm not sure this is working out," Nabiki muttered to herself as she watched Cindra laboriously drill Komar in the basic symbology used in circle magic. It was only difficult because the princess herself had only just mastered the rudiments of the language under the Summoner 'Zar's tutelage. However, when the princess had heard that the young girl that Ranma was so attached to was staying with the Tendo's and that while she was here she needed to be tutored in the basics of traditional skills, she had leaped at the opportunity to score points with her fiancée.
"I think it's sweet," offered Kasumi as she absentmindedly directed an entourage of floating mops and dusters with one hand and turned the pages of an old tome with another. Nabiki almost could have sworn she heard her sister mutter about it also having the benefit of keeping the princess out of her hair. She must have been mistaken though.
"I really don't think this is what her family meant by a traditional education," Nabiki pointed out.
"Think how lucky she is to get such a nice head start so young," the elder sister absently muttered as she hummed to herself and turned the page. Nabiki noticed the book was more than a bit ragged and aged.
"I know Tofu practices traditional medicine but I thought he didn't loan out the older part of his collection."
"Oh, this old thing?" Kasumi negligently waved a hand, sending Cindra ducking for cover as a feather duster suddenly flew at her from behind. "This is just a fascinating thing Grayson sensei lent me."
"Grayson? Who's Grayson?" the middle sister asked, confused.
"Just a friend of Ranma's. Such an interesting man. And he knows so many new fascinating people," Kasumi added amiably. Puzzled, Nabiki leaned over to examine the book closer only to realize it wasn't in any language she knew.
"What language is that? Latin?"
"Of course not silly. I don't read Latin. Besides, that’s a dead language. It's written in elvish." In the background Komar was repressing giggles as an enraged Cindra ran after the fleeing duster.
"Right," Nabiki paused, trying to digest this. "Why are you reading an elven book?"
"Grayson says they were close to nature and the elements before their civilization fell. It's very interesting."
"And where is this Grayson guy?" Nabiki asked, still floundering a bit.
"Oh, he is staying in Timiro for the moment. He travels a lot for his job. He's going to get me a library card in Bletherad next month," she elder girl placidly stated while she turned another page.
"Where the heck is Timiro," it sounded familiar.
"Not far," breezily gesturing again with her free hand and coincidentally sending a mop charging at Cindra. "Just around the corner if you know the way. They have an excellent market. I used their spices in last night's meal. Komar loved it."
Ah, food preparation. Instantly, the middle sister's interest died. "I am pretty sure Komar's aunt meant art, history, and poetry."
"Circle magic is a respected ancient art, you should read about the history of it. Fascinating," a twitch sent another duster chasing Komar around the room, the little girl squealing in delight. Nabiki looked at her flatly. "You'd have to read Ancient Atlantean though. You can't get much more classical than that."
"Ranma called all the circle masters he knows nutcases," Nabiki responded, not impressed by the argument.
"Grayson sensei says the same thing," Kasumi admitted with a shrug.
Shaking her head, she slowly retreated to the circle room. Obviously, she wasn't going to change her sister's mind any time soon. Hopefully Komar's family wouldn't ask her to write a haiku anytime soon. She thought that Cindra's idea of poetry was some foreign gibberish no one could understand. Ranma was due to start his arena trials soon. She should probably prepare to contact him.
Of the trio, only Akane watched the start of Ryouga's next fight. She had been banned from helping the injured after one of the other fighters had to be resuscitated by a priest. Ranma blamed himself, he knew he should have been watching her closer but he was changing the compress for Shampoo.
So it was that the girl stood off to the side of the force field, cheering the lost boy on as he fought a twenty-foot tall armored giant. Although the giant had a thick eight-foot long mace his other three hands were empty. From the very beginning of the fight it was clear that it would be a simple slugfest. Ryouga had the capability of being almost as skilled as the pigtailed martial artist but had the tendency to fall back into brute force unless he was pressed. Despite the giant being equal to the lost boy in strength the fight was terribly one-sided. The mace was parried easily by the trusty bamboo umbrella and the extra arms were just blocked by Ryouga's free arm.
The sheer force of the giant's blocked strikes often blasted the lost boy all the way across the floor of the arena, but he would simply stoically stand up and march back to the fight. When he was knocked away the giant would use his crystal mace to fire beams of energy at Ryouga as he trudged back. However, except for the first time, which was a bit of a surprise, this was easily blocked by his umbrella. His counterstrikes mostly seemed to ignore his opponent's defense and methodically crushed and shattered the finely crafted armor the monster wore. He had come in wearing a work of art and within thirty minutes the legs and arms were almost completely destroyed. Within forty minutes, two arms were broken and the giant was kneeling on his crushed legs while he desperately tried to keep the martial artist away with a wall of flame from the same crystal mace. Within forty-five minutes the giant gave the signal to submit unable to defend himself once the fire guttered out. The only real damage Ryouga took was to his clothing as he was kicked back from the sheer force of the strikes.
Ranma had finished with Shampoo's first aid ten minutes into the fight. He silently stood next to the wildly cheering Akane. Occasionally his eye would twitch at a particularly strong impact from the giant or the lost boy. Once in a while he would spare Akane a dour look as she hooted and shouted in his ear.
Looking at the fight he was conflicted. He had expected his rival to win. In fact he had expected his rival to easily win. Just not this way. Ryouga's style almost seemed to have regressed a year... except, it likely hadn't. Neither martial artist had been in Atlantis long enough to have their skills degrade, even if they just sat and drank wine all day. Ranma rubbed his shoulder where the bruise was still fading and he nodded. His rival had reached another tier in strength and durability. Ranma had been training but mostly refining techniques and strategies. Ryouga's sheer strength was worrying since he had no doubt whatsoever that the fates would pit them against each other before the final contest. The plans he had to deal with dragons and devil lords now had to be expanded to include his mentally challenged friend. Oh joy.
Akane issued another shrill cry of joy as the lost boy was declared the winner. Ranma gave another snort of disgust, earning a glare from his fiancée. "Oh grow up Ranma! It was a great fight!"
"Bah. Ryouga used as much skill as... as," Ranma paused. He was about to compare him to Akane, but decided that perhaps he should leave aside the insults until they weren't surrounded by hordes of man-eating monsters. "Um, never mind. Anyway, that wasn't a fight. That was just Ryouga using the toughest opponent he could find to practice controlling his new strength."
"What? Ryouga was using a new technique?" Akane's lips pursed in concentration. "Funny, it looked just like his old style."
The pigtailed martial artist just stared at her. "Right."
The god appeared in an alley amide a flash of light. Looking around to gather his bearings he noticed a familiar shape in the darker corners. "Ah, there you are. Glad I finally caught up."
Walking over to the object he reached out and picked up the frozen statuary posing in the nook. "I see you're in your inactive phase. Glad to hear that. I'm too old to be chasing you through all the orchards of hell." Finding carrying the object a bit too awkward the god increased his size to twelve feet. This allowed him to hold the statue by the ankles. "I have been thinking about how things stand while I have been looking for you and my grandson. I think I can perhaps use your connection with him to help me get to him a bit faster."
Heaving the immobile statue up until it was perpendicular in front of him he slowly moved it back and forth like a divining rod. "Hmm, I think I'm getting some vibes in this direction."
The day was winding down when the second challenger approached the small team. Syushra had other fighters in his 'stable' but most were single fighters. They generally had their own scheduled and having witnessed the three fighters train among themselves they were firmly decided against challenging them. Since none of the martial artists knew any of the fighters well it led to rather disinterested speculation on the matchups. At least until the next champion flew up to the camp and pointed at their pavilion.
This fighter stood seven feet tall and much like Ryouga's opponent had four arms, although the lower two of them were more clawlike appendages. The creature may have once been human, it was difficult to tell sometimes in this land. Now, however, he was beyond such things. His skin looked more like a beetle's carapace than anything else and two armored bat-like wings spread out from his back. Although not wearing armor he was clothed and one set of arms held an oversized chitinous shield with an eye in the center and the other set of wielded a large mage. Oddly enough the mace also held an eye where the handle met the chain.
Ranma frowned as he looked the warrior up and down. "Akane! You're up. Remember what I said."
"Don't worry, I'm a martial artist, I can deal with this," Ranma winced at hearing this.
"Humor me. Please," Ranma replied.
As per the earlier fight both combatants walked to the center of the arena and waited for the energy shield to snap into place and signal the start of the contest. As the barrier came up, Akane charged the larger gladiator only to have him fly swiftly away a hundred feet before wheeling back, the mace spinning slowly as he prepared his attack.
Akane focused completely on her opponent as she herself began to spin her hammer before her. The spinning began to pick up speed as it began to emit a low pulsing hum. Abruptly the flyer increased his speed until he was almost a blur, diving towards the girl slightly offset as he tried to cut her down with his outstretched wings. Akane swung her hammer at the same time and both opponents flew backward thirty feet amid a thunderous crash.
The girl had a bloody cut on one arm. Slowly she flexed it to ensure it was still working as she assessed her opponent. He was likewise getting to his feet. It was obvious that he was unhurt. Akane frowned at this, as the man's stiff features formed into a grin. At least until he looked down at his shield. Almost a third of it had been destroyed by the hammer's blow. Not quite the decisive strike that she had wanted. She actually had no idea how he had managed to move the shield into place, she was sure that it was going to be a head blow.
The man growled. Apparently, he had some affection towards the shield. Akane shrugged. You shouldn't bring weapons you love into a fight unless they were indestructible. Absently she caressed the shaft of her hammer before she began spinning it before her once more.
Almost mirroring her, the man spun his own mace before gesturing it in front of him. Immediately a huge gale-force wind blew her off her feet and sent her sliding backward on her butt. While she was still sliding the creature raised his mace again and it started to emit a corona of electricity.
Akane's eyes widened at this. Ranma had warned her of this and she desperately tried to find her purchase with her feet. Just before a sheet of lightning burst from the mace she finally found enough balance to grasp her hammer in front of her and bury the shaft in the ground. She was mostly in time as she felt only the barest shock before the radiant bolt earthed itself harmlessly in the floor.
Growling in determination, she touched a necklace Ranma had recently bought her and the ground around the gladiator's feet shimmered. She then broke into a charge towards her foe, the hammer once more spinning with a low moaning sound. As she approached she saw that the man was desperately attempting to get out of the way but much to his chagrin found his feet firmly stuck to the floor.
Taking advantage of this position she swung the hammer down with all the force she could muster. She was once again surprised when the shield moved almost of its own accord to block the runic hammer. Although distressed that the perfect blow was disrupted she was somewhat cheered by the remains of the shield shattering. The thunderous clap and magical concussion that accompanied the force of the blow was enough knock the gladiator straight down onto the arena floor and shatter the ground he lay on.
Elation coursed through Akane. She had him. She was finally going to show Ranma that she had what it took to be a martial artist! She was still gleefully thinking this as her opponent stood up, rubble sticking to him as if he was tarred and feathered. Discarding the remains of the shield he spun the mace at her with his entire strength. Still basking in her endorphin rush Akane was slightly slow to parry the blow and took the full force on the side of her head.
Stunned and bleeding, she was catapulted nearly the length of the arena to be halfway buried in a pile of sand that she slid into as she landed. Groaning, she sat up trying to get her bearings. One eye had blood pouring into it and the side of her face felt like she had been hit by a train. Looking up through the arena it almost seemed surreal, bathed in a brilliant green light. Only just coming to her senses, she finally realized that the beast that she was fighting was flying towards her at full speed, the horrible mace spinning in his hand. With a panicked yelp she dived out of the way, evading the whirling weapon with the barest margins.
Standing up, she looked back as the momentum of the flying gladiator swept him away from her. Taking a breath to steady herself she held her hand in front of her and willed her hammer to her hand. With a crack of thunder it materialized in her hand. Warily tracking her opponent as he swung back towards her she paused to hold the weapon before her and gently kissed it. Healing energy flooded through her. Warmth inundated her body and pooled in the areas that hurt the most, her head and her arm. Far from completely healed, but not feeling that she was going to fall over in the next instant, she brought the hammer into the ready position again and began to spin it once more.
She finished just in time to receive the next flyby. Stepping to the side she avoided the razor wings and the mace and brought the rune weapon down squarely on one of the wings as it passed her. The creature immediately spun twice around his axis before the force of its flight combined with the blow buried him in the ground. Touching her amulet a second time she hobbled over to the magically adhered gladiator and proceeded to pound him as fast and as hard as she could.
Ranma let go a breath that he had been holding for the last minute. That had been close. Both fighters had magic weapons that, combined with their owners sheer brute strength, almost guaranteed that the first one to get in a solid blow would win. For a moment he had thought the winged gargoyle man would be the lucky one but Akane had pulled through.
Looking over at where Ryouga was glowing a dim green. He had calmed down from where he had lit the entire arena with his depression aura. Ranma thought the whole arena was fortunate. He wasn't sure how far the lost boy would have gotten taking on the city population but he didn't want to find out.
Akane was coming in, more staggering than walking. He supposed he should set up a nice cot next to Shampoo and let the healers get to work on her. He looked uneasily at the sundial on the pedestal near them. The non-lethal combat was almost over. He needed to get the girls healed enough to get back to the training complex where they were staying. Syushra had informed him that soon the event coordinators would give the order to flood the arena with low-class slaves... normal humans and other mortals, and then release supernatural beasts to slaughter them. There was nothing he could do at this moment to change this bloodsport and he desperately did not want to witness it or have the girls witness it. Kami he hated this place.
Chapter 13: Training Montage
Kasumi set her large cardboard box on the living room table and browsed through the contents. Toys and tiny mechanisms were stuffed inside to overflowing. The day's shopping results from the second hand stores and yard sales had reaped their usual benefit. Humming to herself merrily she, sorted the toys in order of value. Nabiki would go to bed soon and that would leave the circle available. Her sister was an incredibly deep sleeper, possibly second only to Ranma, so she never had to worry about disturbing anyone else. Honestly, with her family and Ranma out playing, the house would be almost empty if it weren't for Nabiki's new guests.
She was rather of mixed emotions when it came to the company. Komar was a sweet little girl, who was perhaps a little short on her attention span, but then again, her sisters never were much into academia either. Masayo was also pleasant company and an interesting conversationalist once you got around her depression. Kasumi couldn't blame her; she had been overcome with guilt herself after she had been possessed by that oni, before she had come to terms with it. She never did understand why it took so long for the family to exorcise it. It was such a simple ritual.
The old Summoner Balthazar was also full of contradictions. On one hand she loved the books he had. So many interesting things to know. On the other she had yet another elderly pervert in the house. At least this one wasn't as forward as the other one. She had gotten very tired of using trace amounts of the 'man ward' herb in her delicates. While it kept Happosai away, it also kept her social calendar very empty. Dear, funny Tofu had actually moved away. Still, between Nabiki's patron and the Summoner there were plenty of circles in the house, if you knew how to change the coordinates.
Jess was a joy to be around. Like Ranma, her pleasure in learning the martial arts energized the people around her. Especially people like her father. It always seemed that with Ranma and Jess around he paid more attention to the world around him and less time thinking about the past. Cindra though... well except for the small income the princess brought in for Nabiki, she still didn't understand why she was in the house. It was almost as if someone had invited Kodachi home. All right, it wasn't quite that bad, but sometimes Nabiki let her greed overcome her good sense. At least she had been able to set up a small oasis of peace.
"Kasumi!" her younger sister exclaimed. The older sister frowned slightly, Nabiki was up later than usual. "Did you see the next door neighbor's? Someone bought all the properties around our house!"
"Not surprising, although it is exciting around here, I think people have become a bit nervous about the local antics since that little incident happened at Shampoo's place." Kasumi returned placidly, idly tapping an elegant clockwork monkey she had found just that day. It should bring a lovely price. Maybe she could afford to buy those old tomes that kind old man in that quaint shop had for sale.
"Yeah, the kind of rambunctious fun that destroyed the houses for a block around the place in all directions. It's a miracle no one died," Nabiki muttered darkly.
"I know Miss Kragowa has been wanting to sell her house for a year. Apparently she's furious about all the property damage," Kasumi responded absently. "Besides, I'm sure you would have resurrected any that had been so unfortunate."
"Heheh, that’s a good one," the middle sister huffed halfheartedly, causing her older sister to sigh to herself and shake her head sadly. Obviously, her sister hadn't read her book all the way through. Such a smart girl but not very studious. She would bookmark that page in morning for her. "Anyway, have you looked outside in the last few hours? Someone demolished all the surrounding buildings and created some sort of weird zen garden around our house."
"Sounds very pleasant, I'll have to go read in it in the morning," Kasumi smiled, she was looking forward to it.
"I wouldn't go there until we found the wierdo that that did it," Nabiki warned her. "It has alternating ponds, streams and some special effects that look like fountains of lava. I think they must have hired some martial artist construction company to set it up so fast."
"I am sure it's lovely," Kasumi replied absently, while closing the box and moving it next to the circle room. It should be lovely, she had been planning its design for the last month and been talking to Grayson-kun to work out the kinks.
"Bah, I'll have my people check into it in the morning," Nabiki growled in disgust. Honestly her sister was so oblivious. Without herself to organize things around the house, who knows how many opportunities they would miss. "I have a new set of shipments that are coming in or I would do it myself."
Shampoo and Akane were sparing off to one side of the large courtyard that the Nerima crew had commandeered at Syushra's training compound. Or at least that's what they called it. Most others who gazed upon the wildly swinging females screaming at one another and red faced from exertion either thought they were trying to kill one another or undergoing an obscure mating ritual. Ranma was on the other side of the square and was doing his best to ignore the entire thing. Since seeing Ryouga basically power his way through the start of the tournament he had been attempting to step up his game. Ryouga may be able to magically quadruple his already ludicrous strength in a week's time but Ranma's main strength was innovation and analysis. Though he was far from weak he knew better than to chase after another's specialty.
So there he was, off to the side with a light sheen of sweat clinging to his forehead as a man sized glowing mass of externalized molten chi churned and glowed forty feet from where he sat. This was not the first time he had gotten it stabilized but it was the first time he had been able to do it on such a large scale. The girls had learned to stay to their own side of the yard after an unfortunate distraction had forced the last mass to go critical, blowing everyone present at the time over the walls and out onto the thoroughfare. Ranma thought it was well worth the bruises if it got him a bit of peace to focus on his training.
The girls had finally wound down after their vicious catfight and warily backed away from the other. "You are much better," Shampoo complemented her romantic rival. "The hammer almost seems to suppress your mindless rage and instill a modicum of foreign skill into your limbs."
"Why, you little," Akane started forward, winding up with her hammer before she decided that she was too tired. "I am going to have to wipe that smirk off your face tomorrow. I'm going to get cleaned up." Reluctantly she turned and wearily trudged towards the showers. Training with the Amazon had increased her skills by a huge degree but having to listen to the tribeswoman insult her, in perfect Japanese no less, still made her want the strangle the wench.
Passing Ranma she tiredly waved to him only to have him grunt absently at her. Frowning at the insult, she made her way inside, huffing to herself about unsocialized martial artists. She was passing the kitchens when she looked off to the side, where the food preparation area was, to see Ranma slowly assembling a sandwich. The interior magical lights were unusually dim and flickering, giving the entire interior a surreal appearance. She made a mental note to inform the manager to get his maintenance people into the issue when she saw him next.
Ranma himself looked pale and wane in the uncertain light. Usually he moved with an inherent grace that, although she would never admit it, almost took her breath away. Today was not such a day. A frown of intense concentration creased his brow and his hands moved shakily as if he was underwater. Painstakingly layer upon layer was placed just so as if they sandwich was the greatest work of art the boy could contemplate.
"Ranma?" the girl growled out. "I can't believe you can't even say 'hello' but you have time to run ahead of me and make a sandwich. If you had asked nicely I would have brought you one," the dark haired girl said heatedly, working up a head of steam.
The pig tailed martial artist turned her way with glacial slowness, his mouth opening. Seconds later he finally faced her yet only a low moan came from his mouth.
"Are you alright," the girl asked in the beginnings of concern. Any anger she had dissipated instantly at the obvious illness the other youth was suffering from. The frown of concentration on the boy's face gradually changed to concern and a moan could be made out to be, "...tomboy..."
The anger returned in waves as scarlet filled her vision. He had done it again! Taken her concern and spat it back in her face! Why did she even bother? With a growl, she moved forward and smacked the martial artist across the head. She was completely surprised when upon contact the boy vanished like a soap bubble in a brilliant burst of light. The sandwich bread that he had been about to layer on top dropped to the ground. The lights gave another flicker before brightening back to their usual brilliance.
A moment later a panicked shout could be heard in the direction she had come from and the sound of a thunderous explosion shook the compound.
Alaren frowned at the many displays floating in front of him. One showed the particular area of the Bloody Grub's Plaza. While there was plenty of traffic in and around that area, his target was not seen. He fiddled with the facial recognition software and the alarm parameters. The software was universal and could handle most of the major species in the city and even across the three galaxies, but like any software with a scope that broad you had to be careful entering the specifics. He had videos of the target from yesterday's arena. That would allow for a good identification lock. So far he wasn't impressed. The target seemed to like to watch the fight more than he wanted to participate.
His 'superiors' may want him to find out what had happened to the Atlantis sect of Sunaj but he himself had more important things on his plate. Why would he care about what was no doubt a political maneuver, likely from another Aerihman family? His clan may have wished to take advantage of his trusted position with Splynncryth and his second in command, High Lord T'Lan but he didn't see the profit or fun in it for himself. He'd spit in their faces but that would force his premature relocation. Doubtless, he would eventually have to move on when his behind the scenes maneuvering came to light but it would be on his own terms.
He sighed again. He was the most famous independent tracker in Atlantis and he was trying to keep tabs on a single human boy. The clan had found out that he was the last prominent target scheduled for termination before the local sect vanished and they wanted to know what had happened that night. It wasn't likely they were going to find that out from this lead but they were insistent.
This was time he could be using for his other projects. Speaking of which, he thumbed the communications tab and absently entered the security protocols for the encryption. "This is Lookout. Are you there?"
A clattering issued from the machinery and Alaren grimaced and activated a tattoo. His less well-known employers used a language not programmed into his translator forcing him to rely on his own personal methods. "... here. Do you have our next window of opportunity?"
"Yes. Sector 34 has scheduled training tomorrow. This should buy a delay of ten minutes to the response time if you use it wisely. Bring a couple of sacrificial lambs and mark them in red for me to catch and turn over to T'Lan. Tell them the usual crap. They need to be able to provide a good background for when they get tortured to death."
"It will be done. There are some prime raiding targets we have scouted in that sector. You will get your usual cut. Good doing business with you." The line went silent.
Yes, it was good to be trusted in Atlantis. It was a fine business while it lasted. Extraction may be tricky when certain machinations were inevitably uncovered but he had faith in the dozen or so contingency plans he had set in place.
A ghost image showed up on the screen for a moment before fading into the background. Squinting in concentration he fiddled with the filtering a minute before grunting. The target's likely location had an Eye of Eylor modified for surveillance hovering over it. This changed things a bit. It meant that Splyncryth almost certainly knew what his target was up to. It was very poorly hidden which meant that his patron was practically announcing that this was his pet project. It also implied that if this human was indeed involved in what happened to the local Sunaj sect, the Lord of Atlantis also knew this, or perhaps was even directly involved.
Running the scenarios through his mind he came to a conclusion. If this boy was involved in the fate of the Sunaj then Splynncryth either knew, approved, or was even responsible for the disappearance of the assassin clan. If he found evidence to this effect it could mean that the existence of the Aerihman clan was soon to be in doubt.
Standing up from the console he leisurely paced the confines of the control room. It was luxurious and outfitted to his exact tastes as was the rest of his abode. His many endeavors brought in wealth and resources few other freelancers could match and he was pleased to use a small fraction of his for his comfort. He could inform his clan heads but he didn't see how it would help his position to throw in with a possibly sinking ship any more than he already was. Besides, they were all arrogant assholes. Perhaps he could use their power vacuum to his advantage, assuming he could avoid their fate.
Nodding to himself he came to a conclusion. If the human was innocent of the disappearance he would inform the clan heads that he was indeed responsible. Doubtless, at that point they would command him to eliminate the target. Of course, it wouldn't do to directly touch Splynncryth's pet project, so he would likely arrange it through 'collateral' damage from an unfortunate raid. He would maintain his trust in the eyes of his clan and not be implicated in the boys death by Splynncryth.
Then again, if the boy was actually responsible for the sect vanishing off the face of the earth or his patron was, he would inform his clan leaders that he was innocent and the last contract against him had been dropped. At that point, he would make preparations to take advantage of a likely power vacuum. Either someone with significant resources was targeting Sunaj and the Splugorth didn't care or the Lord of Atlantis himself was targeting the Sunaj. Either way, the favor the clan had been enjoying was now waning.
He would work with either situation.
Ranma groaned in pain. He was leaning against the stone walls of the training courtyard, letting the coolness of the surface soothe his sore muscles and burnt skin. At his feet lay the edge of a twenty-foot deep crater in the ground. He used to think that the Phoenix pill made him immune to fire but based on recent evidence he was rapidly revising his theory. Apparently, he was only resistant to chi fires and magical flames. Who knew? His clothing had also suffered and was hanging in tatters around him. It was magical and was slowly reweaving itself back into a whole. Charred threads unblackening and forming clean fresh cloth. Frankly, it was likely to be fully recovered before Ranma himself was.
Looking over to the other side of the training area he glared balefully at the oblivious duo that was responsible for his condition. They were presently locked in another seeming life or death struggle to beat the other into a bloody pulp. Each one had distracted him from his training at least three times already just that day. Each time had resulted in his glowing sphere going critical and blowing up. What was supposed to be an effort of control and multitasking was now turning into a body hardening exercise. Ugh, he hadn't even started on the training he knew he would need to deal with Ryouga. As it was he had a feeling that one lucky punch from the lost boy would blow through his aura's protection and lay him out. He had a couple of techniques he could combine to fix this huge deficiency but he needed to master his present efforts first.
It was increasingly obvious that for higher level opponents he couldn't rely on any one thing at a time. He needed synergy from specific combinations of techniques. The trick was that these had to be simultaneous in order to work and most were active rather than passive tricks. He couldn't train himself to do them unconsciously, at least not in the time he had, so he had to learn to do it all at once. He gave the girls another nasty look. As the immediate pain faded, his stares got more halfhearted. He could think of them as impeding his training or he could accept the challenge their presence offered and think of them as a training method to master. Yeah, that was it! In combat, no one was going to wait for him to get his act together. He had to overcome these distractions and win in the face of adversity!
Having worked himself up to a proper level of enthusiasm he sat forward, ready to spring back into training. Suppressing a cry of pain, he slumped back against the soothing coolness of the wall. Yeah, he could do this... just after maybe another thirty minutes of forcing his body to heal. It only looked like he was resting...
Sighing to himself he looked at the rune statue in his hands. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but either something was wrong with his methods or the devices in the statue used for tracking were even worse than his own senses. Also, having to subdue the indestructible rune device every few hours was wearing on his last nerve. He had completely left Atlantis several times already. Now he knew without a doubt his grandchild was there. He had seen posters on the walls and a few holo displays in the Kittani quarters showing the new arena champions. He didn't know, or care, who the girls were but had met his boy and knew his face.
Then somehow he had ended up in some low energy dimension called Nerima. People there almost all knew his grandchild but hadn't seen him in weeks. After that he had ended up at some pig farm, talking to some girl named Akari. She was actually a really nice girl; he could see what his boy saw in her. Then again, he also just appreciated farmers, though usually, he liked the ones that worked with the land as opposed to raising animals. Well, he liked them as much as he liked any humans these days. Maybe once they all met as a family he would suggest they branch out and plant some crops. Assuming they actually can get together again.
The statue had gotten embarrassing to explain once he left Atlantis. No one asked about a god's business in a Splugorth's domain. In the mortal kingdoms, he got the strangest looks. Since it was proving useless in tracking his grandson he would finally leave it behind after disabling all the gaudy add-ons.
Looking around he noticed a tiny stream of magma meandering along well-defined banks of bedrock heading towards a drop-off. Oddly enough, he heard water chiming off in the distance and tiny dust devils played in the rock as it turned into sand, making swirls and patterns in the ground. Well, except for the water and lack of choking brimstone it sort of looked like hell. It was as good as any other place to drop off his burden.
"This here is where we part company," He propped the statue next to pool the liquid rock that had collected after its short fall off the precipice. "I'd tell you to leave my grandson alone, but based on the fact that you track him worse than I do, I really don't think we have anything to worry about."
After leaving his standard trademark in hell, he did his best to get lost. It was a talent he had mastered over the millennia and it didn't take him long at all.
White Raven drummed her fingers on the large table. Built to seat over twenty human sized entities the entire room felt empty with just her there. In front of the rebel fighter floated a slowly rotating image of the continent of Atlantis. It was exact down to the smallest facet, even including many areas the Lord of Atlantis surely thought were off limits and unknown. Tiny symbols and annotations covered it, becoming denser as it neared the capital city of Splynn.
A flick of her fingers tilted the image while another expanded the capital, bringing more details and more of the strange symbology into view. Shaking her head, she sighed in frustration. She had been running simulations with the help of the Liberated Underground's technical guru and co leader, one of the last of a race of intelligent robots rendered almost extinct by the Splugorth, and was rapidly going nowhere.
The door to the chamber opened and Skippy walked in with a steaming cup of tea in one hand and bowl of something in the other. Most likely stew again. Hearty and filling and unfortunately probably the best they would find while being underground. At least if they didn't want to eat what the monsters ate.
"I brought you a little something to keep you going," Skippy cheerfully announced while placing the food on the table. He earned a glare when his movement sent the image spinning in place. She flicked out her hands again locking the image so her resident magician wouldn't interfere with the tactical display. Her gaze softened as her stomach growled, signaling that perhaps it was time to take a short break.
"Thanks," she grudgingly offered. Realizing how surly she sounded she continued. "I am just at my wits ends. With Max gone, we lost one of our most experienced leaders."
"We still have you," Skippy chirped.
"Thanks," she returned wryly. Sometimes Skippy's blindingly optimistic outlook could be annoying but then again it was nice to have someone believe in her unconditionally. She had trouble doing that herself these days. "However, when Max left he took all the Atlantean forces with him."
"Yes! I know he had no choice but his people were a good fraction of our forces. There is not a lot we have the resources left to pursue. Definitely nothing overt anymore."
"We have gotten offers from some of our backers."
"New Camelot has offered some of their knights, but as good as they are they can't make up for two hundred true Atlanteans. Lazlo has a few volunteers trickling in. In no small part to you, I understand..."
"They would have more but the Coalition has been mobilizing and they are afraid of spreading out their resources when it could break out into a war."
"Hmm, the human elitist's nation. I remember you mentioned them. I believe we even rescued a few slaves that came from there."
"That was almost a year ago. On that raid of 'Wild Will's Dead Boy Outlet'. Damn, that was a disaster."
"Yes, I think they attacked their rescuers as soon as they got back," White Raven shook her head in disbelief. The blind paranoia and hatred that filled the freed slaves was hard to understand. The Liberated Underground never raided that particular establishment again.
"There's always the vampires..." the mage offered tentatively, taking a seat at the large table. "They have given indications that they would be willing to step up their efforts."
"Ugh. Vampires," the woman's lips twisted in distaste as she uttered the word. "Max didn't trust them for excellent reasons. You know they only help us because the Splugorth actively try to exterminate them. Otherwise, they would kill or turn us themselves."
"We have already found they have been harvesting some of the people they rescue before they release them to us. We need to remind ourselves that despite appearing mortal they dance to the whims of their overlord."
"You make them sound like some sort of hive."
The woman thought about this choice of words for a moment before shrugging. "I am not an expert on the matter that Max was, but there is a lot in common. I doubt they actually have a hive mind but they definitely have a connection to an unpleasant entity and that entity consumes or repurposes mortals. I don't think it would be wise to bring them into our confidence more than they already are."
The two sat in silence for some minutes. White Raven quickly ate the bowl's contents and it was obvious the mage didn't have much more to offer. His expertise was more in the magical world and mundane planning he gladly left to the other leaders.
"I was thinking of feeling someone out..." the raven haired woman slowly began.
"I am all ears," Skippy prompted.
"It has been some time since we last contacted Ranma. He may be done with his errands and be ready to help us."
"Ranma who? The girl?" the mage gave a puzzled frown. "I still have trouble hearing out of my right ear. Anyway, it is her fault that Max left."
"Him. And he may be the reason Max left but it's also the reason his race has a chance to survive. Who knows, if he can deal with this inter-clan issue perhaps the clans won't be distracted by all the mysterious disappearances and be able to send us more support."
"Or the massive casualties caused by the clan wars will weaken them to the point that they can't send us anything." Skippy countered.
White Raven gave him a dirty look. Usually, he was the one taking a positive viewpoint. It was unwelcome that he chose to be pragmatic just when she was trying to convince herself Max and his clan were all right and would come back in heroic triumph.
"I haven't heard from him," she reluctantly admitted. "While I hope things go well for him we can't stop our operations. Every day thousands of slaves lose their lives. We need to get back to saving what we can."
"And you think this Ranma woman can help us?" Skippy asked doubtfully. White Raven just shook her head. She wasn't sure whether Skippy had really forgotten about Ranma gender issues or was simply teasing her. He may not have been paying attention during the briefing. It wouldn't be the first time.
"Yes. She is talented, powerful, and has demonstrated strong sympathy for our cause. I think she could make a difference." It was doubtful he could make up for hundreds of Atlanteans but she would take whatever she could get... as long as it wasn't undead.
Chapter 14: Critical Mass
Ranma stood in the small private arena his manager had provided him. Shampoo stood across from with sweat glistening on her brow. “Okay Shampoo. Use the modification of the Breaking Point I showed you and line it up to me?”
“I can’t believe you invented a new technique just to counter the technique you think Ryouga is going to use on you.”
“I don’t think he is going to use it. I know he is! Right now he’s having fun with his unnatural strength, but when we face one another he’s not going to be able to hit me unless he has another surprise in place.”
“But why do you think he can transmit a Breaking Point through solid matter?”
“I know you have a low opinion of him but he’s not an idiot,” Ranma paused for a second to rethink his words. “Let me re-phrase that. He is an idiot. Despite that, he is the only martial artist that has ever consistently given me a challenge. This is the obvious evolution of his main attack. There is no doubt he is going to have it mastered.”
Shampoo sighed and then squinted her eyes in concentration. Seeing the breaking points in the rock below her she lined them up and then forced chi into the ground and through the line of nodes she had identified. Plumes of shattered rock and dust raced from her finger as the stone before her exploded in a series of shocks that raced toward Ranma.
Ranma stuck his own finger into the ground as the somewhat anemic burst lead towards him. On the one hand, he was grateful Shampoo was helping him practice his counter to the techniques Ryouga was bound to throw at him. On the other hand, while she was talented, she was simply not in the same league and himself and pigboy. It was taking hours for her to learn the technique and it was just pathetically weak. Still, it was enough to practice with.
Pulsing his energy into his counter measure he matched the incoming pulse with his own, splitting it into two more pulses which in turn raced off at right angles. Trenches were formed and two bowling pins he had set up on opposite sides of the arena were engulfed in the aftermath.
“So you plan to reflect his Breaking Point back at him. If he is as good as you think he is, won’t he just cancel it or reflect it again?”
“He may,” the pig tailed martial artist nodded in agreement. “But I tend to think more about counters than he does. I think I can get at least one good hit in before he figures it out. I’ll need everything I can get. His stamina and strength are ridiculous. I can’t match that.”
His fiancée snorted, “You’re not the best because you can lift the most. By the way, where is Akane? I expected her to be hovering over us, getting in our way.”
“I have it covered. She’s going on a nice tour of the city.” One that avoids all the nasty places.
“Who is taking her?” Shampoo asked.
“I am, of course,” Ranma replied with a tiny smile.
Akane pulled Ranma out of the training area and out on the street. It was nice to finally get out and see the new city. Ranma had been remarkably tight lipped regarding it and all she really knew about it is that it had a lot of non-human inhabitants and there was an event in the arena in which she was taking part. And take part she did. She still glowed with pride at winning the previous event. It had been close but with a little help from her very own little holy weapon she had pulled through with a win. It had been a while since she had pulled her own weight in a fight. Ranma had gathered people around him that had dwarfed her own skills and abilities but she finally wasn’t the one being kidnapped.
“Geez, Ranma! Put a little more effort into it” Akane called back over her shoulder. “You look like you’re half asleep!”
The pig tailed martial artist did indeed look tired. His shoulders slouched, eyes drooped and she could swear he almost shuffled like an old man. “Hold your horses, the shops will still be there when we get there.” He looked around the plaza just outside the training area and noted that the hovering Eye of Eyelor had started following him again. Through his haze of concentration, he also noted a robed woman sitting at one of the tables watching him go by. Ah, this was going to be difficult to coordinate, but good practice.
“Good lord! Did you actually get slower?” Akane called out in frustration.
White Raven sat at the dining table and sipped water with a lemon in it. In truth, it was the only thing in this plaza that she could stomach. She had traveled for decades but admittedly had stayed within the mostly humanoid inhabited planets. Her idea of a meal did not include that which was still crawling. She watched as Ranma exited the building across the street accompanying the girl that had been identified as the third of their team members. She has seen the recordings of her fight. It had been a good fight. Perhaps a little more brute force than was ideal but it was a still a good match. She sighed as the couple left the plaza, trailing Splynncryth’s spying eye. Maybe she would find a way to send a message. It seemed almost impossible to get a moment alone with the martial artist in question.
“Good to see you again,” greeted Ranma-chan as she plopped down in the seat opposite her.
“What? Do you have a twin?” the brunette returned in startlement.
“Close, but no,” Ranma-chan drawled. She looked spent and almost draped herself on the chair. This was completely opposite the normal behavior she had demonstrated in the past.
“Are you sick?” the rebel leader asked in concern.
“Nah. Just expending a lot of energy right now. I’ll be good in a few minutes. What brings you here?”
“I wanted to find out if you had finished your affairs. You mentioned that you might be able to help us once you were done. I am running very shorthanded since my Atlanteans all ran off to deal with their own affairs.” She waved her hand, “Not that it didn’t need to be done but the movement is very much hurting right now.”
“Hmm.” The red head rubbed her chin in contemplation. “I am almost done in Atlantis. But I may have to leave it, to finalize everything. Not sure.”
“So you can’t help?” the raven tressed woman replied dejectedly.
“Not with manpower,” Ranma-chan said slowly. “But I think I can help you in other ways. Do you need a safe place to take the humans you rescued?”
“Getting people off this continent is difficult, not many places can take hundreds of refuges at a time.”
“I have some contacts on this planet and another dimension that should be able to take thousands, as long as they have a little bit of warning. And of course a battalion doesn’t follow them through the gate. They have enough demon issues, they don’t need more.”
“We could definitely use that. Though without more help we can’t really do anything big anyway.”
Ranma-chan nodded slowly. “What if I had a force multiplier?”
White Raven looked at him flatly. “That’s a bit vague. You’ll have to be more specific.”
“If you could give me a list of locations, and I could guarantee that those locations would cease to exist during the final match in this year’s combat.”
The woman looked at Ranma-chan in shock. “What do you mean ‘cease to exist’?”
“Let’s say fall into a giant crevasse, or a Volcano pops up. Somehow, it will be gone.”
“We could do something big, if the cities defenses were removed. Anyplace?”
Ranma-chan nodded tiredly, “Anyplace. Mark it on a map and hand it to me and consider it gone. Mark more than one. No guarantees but I might be able to do something. It depends on how well things go.”
“That would change everything,” White Raven said dazedly.
“Get me a map and I’ll get you your moment and a safe... well, safer place to go.”
“I will get you the information by tomorrow. If you can come through there will be thousands of humans that will thank you.”
Ranma-chan smiled. If things went well, Splyncryth himself would thank him.
Kasumi smiled as she directed her animated brushes and mops through the house on her last sweep of the day. Nabiki’s business venture did tend to track the mud into the house, however, these days cleaning only took minutes so it was hard to get too worried about it.
“Nabiki did you learn anything interesting from your new book?” Kasumi asked her younger sister as she passed her on the way to the neighbors from the circle room.
“Nah, it’s just boring stuff, like various rituals. I’ve met Thoth and I can tell you he is far too busy thinking about the bigger picture to care about such things.”
“Are you sure there isn’t any benefits to reading more? What if the gods granted wondrous powers to their dedicated priests?” Kasumi prodded her sister a tiny bit.
“I have all the power I need in that circle room. Thoth isn’t going to give something for nothing,” Nabiki shrugged. Kasumi seemed a bit insistent on mentioning the book lately. Maybe she was missing out on the interesting things her sisters were doing. Perhaps she should set aside a fund to allow her sister to go to college. She had enough money to hire support staff. Her business partners may look down on an establishment with only one person as the cleaning staff.
“Oh, well have a nice day visiting your clients,” Kasumi returned. She was a bit disappointed in her sister’s tunnel vision. She had read the book further than Nabiki and the gods freely granted such powers as spell like abilities, healing, removal of curses and even resurrection. While sensei Grayson’s teachings regarding elemental were fascinating she was sad that her sister disregarded such marvels out of hand.
Oh well, a few minutes meditating in the garden would cheer her up. Watching the elemental essences frolic in their gardens almost made her heart feel as carefree as her elemental brothers and sisters.
She got as far as the entrance before her senses alerted her to a stranger in the complex. Someone quite powerful was using a lot of energy to create something. It felt like a positive process, that was enhancing the wa of her sanctuary. So rather than alert one of many people adept at destruction, she simply followed her senses to the source.
It was that reason she found herself in the warmer area where a bubbling magma pond housed a playful elemental. Today she found it housed another guest. Standing knee deep in the lava was a seemingly young stocky man of some mix of Asian and Indian origin. He seemed to be coaxing a young tree from the molten rock as the fire elemental looked on curiously.
“Oh, how wonderful,” Kasumi gashed, surprising the stranger. “What kind of tree will it be?”
Looking back to the girl observing him, he responded, “Orange tree. Whenever I see a nice warm spot like this, I try to leave something nice.”
“That will look fantastic in my garden. You look familiar, do I know you from somewhere?”
“I was around here a few weeks ago looking for my grandson.”
“I remember that! I’m afraid I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. I think I heard he was in Atlantis playing with his friend, Ranma.”
“He’s got a friend? Good to hear! I met his girlfriend and some stalker automatron but I don’t know too much about him otherwise.”
“They are both martial artists so they tend to be a little rambunctious, but they always enjoy one another’s company. A rivalry is strongly encouraged in our culture to bring out the best of both people.”
“It’s good to see he is getting into the culture. Young people these days seem to only care about the newest things. I can see you care about tradition too. These are the same type of gardens I have seen on some of the elemental planes.”
“It’s so good of you to notice. Most people look at the sand and the lava and see only destruction. They ignore the potential for peace and growth,” Kasumi commiserated with the visitor. “Would you like to eat something with me? We can have a little picnic under this lovely tree you grew for us.”
“Thank you, I’ve been traveling around a bit lately trying to find my grandson,” he said as he waved his hand, forming a soft lawn of grass at their feet. Kasumi in turn had a friendly air essence fragment bring some food from the kitchen. When it came back with some supplies she used the magma to heat the food while her air fragment provided a cool breeze. Together, they chatted the afternoon away. The god promised to come back later to plant some more of his special trees in the garden later.
Ryouga stood on the arena floor waiting for his opponent. He was somewhat dubious about it, nonetheless in order to defeat Ranma and end his nefarious plans it was an unfortunate necessity to go through some poor innocent woman. Above him, he could see Akane waving to him. Shampoo simply stared at him in disdain. She seemed colder and less bubbly since these games started. Ryouga didn’t care, the Amazons hadn’t done anything for him since Cologne taught him the Breaking Point. Even then, it was obvious he was only tolerated. Next to Shampoo was Ranma, looking at him expressionlessly. Ranma had shown his true colors and it was his duty as a martial artist to punish him. It was hard to imagine that they had once been friends but even then, his treachery poisoned the relationship.
The background sound of the crowd burst into loud raucous cheers as his opponent stepped into the arena. At first he wondered why the woman surrounded herself with children, however, in a moment of realization, he saw that she was almost thirty feet tall and the people at her feet were actually normal sized. She was a statuesque woman with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing jet black metal armor with an intricate design. A long handled hammer was in one hand and in the other was what appeared to be a short sword. As he assessed her tactically, he realized that it was actually over seven feet long.
“Prepare to die, little worm. I will step over your body as I plan to have my vengeance on Rhada and her filthy little pet,” she pointed to the stadiums side where a tiger headed humanoid and a silver haired woman sat. They too seemed overly large compared to the creatures around them.
“That seems a bit much,” protested Ryouga. This trash talk from a pretty lady was disturbing. Then he noticed that her finger had moved and was now pointing to Ranma. It was shaking in rage, however Ranma simply nodded and gave a casual waive to the infuriated Dyval Lord. “Unless of course you’re talking about Ranma. He completely deserves everything that is coming to him.”
“You two can commiserate together as I hang you by your entrails,” screamed an enthusiastic thirty foot tall woman as she raised her hammer over her head and threw it at Ryouga. He frowned as he parried it off to the side. The Warhammer flew through the air with an unearthly scream. Although unhurt he shook his head slightly to get rid of the ringing in his ears.
“Ow. Noisy weapon,” the lost warrior commented as he parried the hammer again as it returned from where he had flung it. The third time he simply caught in in his free hand. “I see this thing has to go or it’s going to irritate me all night.” Stomping his foot, he unleashed his chi. “Breaking Point Revised, Bottomless Hole!” Sure enough a gaping crevasse formed at his feet, causing the entire arena to tremble. As he forcefully threw the hammer into the pit he stomped his foot again to start the counter technique to close it.
Hands on his hips he stood proudly before a now silent arena. His eyes roved the crowd and although most weren’t human he saw that just that opening move had awed them.
“What a moron. ‘Bottomless Hole’. I’m embarrassed even knowing him!” The statement from his rival confused him as he whirled around to see a fifty foot tall hologram of Ranma projected in the air. His eyes were downcast and he was shaking his head in disappointment. “I wait weeks to see what he can do, and all he has is a big hole? Wait, am I on camera?”
“Ranma, be nice! I am sure Ryouga worked really hard on that technique,” Akane’s voice came from the side.
“Pig-boy, is an embarrassment to martial arts. Grandmother should have just cooked him,” Shampoos voice could be heard.
Ryouga was shaking with rage. At the hour of his triumph his nemesis was still mocking him. Raising his umbrella over his head he was about to throw it at the projection when something impacted the highly chi reinforced surface. Looking slightly up, he saw the thirty foot giantess standing over him attempting to cleave him in two with her ‘short’ sword.
“Hey! Attacking me when I am trying to kill Ranma is just rude,” he exclaimed, as his feet sank up to his ankles in the arena floor. Turning away from the huge image of Ranma he struck the sword hard enough that it swung wide, eliciting a surprised look from Leviathan. She obviously was not used to dealing with people as physically strong or stronger than she was. “I appreciate you want to kill Ranma, but I’m afraid that you really have no chance. Even if I let you win, he would just dance around you. Only I have the ability to make him pay. I’m sure you’re a nice enough girl, and sure you’re cute enough, but you should leave the fighting to me.”
“How dare you mock me,” screamed the giant dyval, swinging the sword two handed over and over at the tiny godling. Ryouga calmly parried each blow, not giving an inch.
“You’re not going to push me back with sheer mass. Right now, I weigh more than you do.”
“I see you’re strong, but I still have the power of a Dyval Lord at my fingertips!” With that she took a step backwards and gestured at the ground under his feet. The earth rumbled as it opened up beneath him.
“Hey! You stole my technique! I don’t care how cute you are, that’s just going too far,” Ryouga shouted at the infraction of martial arts etiquette. That’s one of the main reasons he hated Ranma. Leaping nimbly away from the opening, he stomped on the ground, forcing the gorge closed. Tapping the ground with his umbrella he then forced an explosion of rock under the feet of the giantess. This had little affect except to scuff her armor and cause her to fall to her knee as she lost her balance.
Growling in frustration, the dyval gestured imperiously calling upon another power. Immediately a glowing ball five feet tall shimmered into being and started to roll towards the lost boy. Ryouga stood his ground and batted it aside, only to find that the energy sparked from his umbrella to him.
“Burn in the power of Leviathon,” crowed the giantess in triumph.
“Hey now, it stings but it’s not exactly a real final attack,” Ryouga objected as he started to easily dodge the sphere. Leviathon grimaced and summoned two more, which were avoided just as easily. “Okay, I am going to have to end this miss. It’s getting a bit repetitive.”
After saying this, Ryouga leaped at the giantess and started to batter the ebony armor that surrounded her. Over and over she tried to swat him away but he easily moved around her to slam his umbrella into the armor. Once he made the mistake of hitting with his hand and received a shock from the enchanted protection. Used to pain, he gritted his teeth and continued to slam the armor until black metal bits started falling off.
Meanwhile, the orbs tried to make painful contact but were mostly worked around. Although nowhere as fast as Ranma he was easily faster than the giantess. Finally, succumbing to pure rage the Dyval Lord screamed and repeatedly waived her hand forming swathes of lava throughout the arena. Attempting to get a reprieve from the tenacious godling she leaped into one, confident in her immunity to even magical fire.
Ryouga thought about the fight. He couldn’t dive into the lava. He knew he was resistant to fire, especially in this new world, but he was not immune. With a frown, while still avoiding the glowing balls, he stomped on the ground and was rewarded with the bubbles erupting from the pools and the rapid lowering of the magma levels. Conscious of Ranma’s mocking he didn’t call out his new attacks name.
When the pits were finally drained he realized that the dyval was nowhere in sight. Puzzled he looked around, only when he sensed immediate danger did he dodge to the side, hearing a blade slice through the air above him.
“You’re invisible? A cowardly tactic,” Ryouga reproached the unseen giantess. Moving to an open area he placed his palm on the ground and forced a torrent of chi into the earth. “Fine, I guess I am forced to take you seriously. I can’t risk not fighting Ranma.”
With that, the entire surface of the arena erupted into exploding rocks, each fragment charged with chi to multiply its force. One area had a silhouette within the reign of stone shrapnel. With a thud the giantess slumped onto the area floor.
As before, the arena crowd was silent for a moment before breaking into cheering. As a mostly unnoticed side effect, Ryouga glowed a subtle shimmering blue. Higher powers watching the fight, such as Splyncryth, Rhada and Abdul-Ra would realize that thanks to the broadcast the godling had gathered enough worshipers that his godhead had kindled into true divinity. A small, but true god.
Chapter 15: Trash Talk
Ranma shook his head in wonder as he sat on the edge of the training area holding a pulsating ball of light. It was basically the precursor to the Hadou-Ken, gathering chi from the environment, before directing it out into a destructive blast. Technically it was the most destruction move he had. He had also never used it. Why would he? Did he need to blow up a city block? A city? But he found that the energy gathered could be used for more than just the directed energy blast. It could power... everything. Well, eventually it would. So far he was having trouble keeping it stable if he drew out chi too fast. At least he was over the part where he blew up whenever he got distracted.
He looked over to where the girls were fighting again. It was inevitable that one of their out of control attacks would end up hitting him. Probably Akane's. He had been right that treating the girls as training aids was the way to go. As unpleasant as it was, his Pops was right. Pain was the best motivator. Actually that might be one of the few times he got it right. The globe fluctuated and Ranma frowned in concentration. Smoothing the flow out he sent more of his consciousness through the link he somehow maintained to his first clone.
Out in the city ran one of his chi bodies. Basically per chi molded into human form and sent to do errands. It was similar to Happosai's giant battle aura, a dash of Colone'sSplitting Cat Hairs, and a pinch of the Shark Fist. Yeah, it was hard to describe. A balloon filled with chi, shaped like a human. Most of the senses translated okay but it was really fragile, almost exactly like a balloon. The lack of mass was hard to get used to. Jumping from building to building was almost like floating. Frankly, it was a terrible combat move. By itself. But he had plans. They might even be ready for when he needed them but it was going to be close.
He chi body stumbled a bit and he focused on his coordination more on the next one. This made the Hadou-Ken node pulse as his concentration weakened again. His second clone body was in the kitchen making another sandwich. Slowly. Since it was low priority it drew the short straw and had the least bit of consciousness in it as well as energy. It showed too. He looked like a flu victim that got hit by a truck. The girls seemed to have some kind of sense when it was ready to pop and then push it over. Still, it was all training. Oh, and the sandwich would be a cool snack too.
He shook his head again. Not at his technique or his chi body floating freely through the monstrous city. Ryouga was a god. Where the heck had that come from? He had known there was something going on, after all, Anhur had mentioned some ancestral bloodline. But what happened then? Ryouga sneezed and became a god?
He hadn't known what had happened at first. Ryouga's chi signature went from his normal, large but mostly human, to some kind of hybrid of chi and magic. And oh so large. Not like Thoth or Anhur or even Abdul Ra, but it wasn't much weaker than Ammit's presence. But with chi mixed in.
Ranma had sent a clone to Rhada that evening to ask about it. Anhur got huffy if he used his link to ask perfectly logical questions. It also felt silly to be shouting out questions to the air. So the first clone got popped by the pesky assassin butler. His senses were kind of off when sent through the chi body but he guessed he was stabbed in the back. His second clone body was able to sneak past the mad man maid and immediately got blown up by Rhada during her too enthusiastic hug. His third clone lasted long enough to actually have a conversation. Rhada was fascinated by the clone technique. Mostly due to how light it was. While humiliating, it might have been good balance practice as she kept tossing him lightly into the air to watch him float down. This turned out to be an excellent incentive to increase his virtual mass.
"This is an amazing technique," squealed a delighted Rhada. "You're so light!"
"Please stop," whined Ranma, simultaneously trying to stop his spinning arc, smoothly forcing more chi into the vessel to simulate weight and pushing down a growing nausea from the moment and disconnected senses.
"How many copies can you make?"
"Three so far, but they are too useful, yet."
"It's like a mini avatar!"
"Um, right," he muttered as he controlled his spin just as Rhada threw him upward again. "I could probably do more..."
"I could tie strings to you and have a dozen Ranmas floating behind me..."
"But they are so energy-intensive they couldn't possibly last for more than a few seconds," Ranma smoothly changed his response. He was a crappy liar but he was bouncing around so much that hopefully, his movement would mask his expression. Or his nausea. "I came to ask a question. Hey, are those spikes on the ceiling? Why are there spikes on the ceiling?"
"Oh, those are just part of a defensive spell," Rhada said airily as she tossed him up in the air again. Just don't touch them and they won't trigger."
"How about you stop throwing me up here and we don't have to worry about that at all?"
"This is so fun!" she said with laughter. "You said it's just a cheap avatar. You had a question?"
"A very expensive technique," he clarified. It was but cost didn't matter as long as he was using the Hadou-Ken. He just didn't want his role in life to devolve into being a human beach ball. "I need to know what happened to Ryouga. Why does he feel like Ammit all of a sudden?"
"Ammit, the little schemer," Rhada muttered darkly. "He still hasn't given my minions back."
"What happened to Ryouga?"
"Your little friend? The one covered in saliva?"
"He ascended and became a god. A tiny one but a true god."
"Why was he covered in spit? Wait, never mind. How did he become a god? Did he punch Leviathan's goddessness out of her?"
"Oh, that was a good one," Rhada laughed merrily, thoughts of Ammit fading. "I need to give him a nice gift. I so wanted to punish her for three hundred years of torment and boredom."
"Wouldn't boredom be better than torment?"
"You saw the room I was in, after three hundred years that was torment!"
"Um, right. So, if it wasn't from beating up a god then how did he ascend?"
"Gods are formed in two ways," Rhada replied seriously. Her little game of catch slowed down slightly as she split her attention. "Either a great being creates them, generally as a servant, or the collective belief of a people collate into the form of a god that matches their belief. Once created they can gain power by the energy given to them by their followers."
"That doesn't seem to match what happened," Ranma said in a flat voice.
"I suppose there is a third way," she as she poured a cup of tea and waited for the martial artist to descend. "It's really a variation of the second method. If enough people worship a mortal fervently enough you can ignite a divine spark and they will ascend. It practice its almost unheard of. The numbers needed are in the billions and the fervor of these believers must be almost unimaginable."
"I find it hard to believe pig boy has billions of worshippers," he said skeptically. He had mostly mastered his floating state and was now bouncing off the ceiling and walls playing a slow game of keep away from the Dyval Lord. Naturally, she had put her drink down to fully enjoy it.
"The games are broadcast throughout all the dimensions that Splyncryth holds sway in and likely the other Splugorth dominions as well. But, no. Normal fans, even billions of them would not be able to ignite a divine spark. However, he likely had a god somewhere in his background. Gods can breed with anything," she said with some disdain. "A powerful mortal, billions of fans, a fantastic display of might. You now have a brand new deity."
"This is going to make things difficult," Ranma said absently. He was so distracted that Rhada finally got her hands on him and threw him upward towards the ceiling. So distracted, in fact, that he touched one of the ceiling spikes, which immediately grew and pierced his chi body. It exploded in a small display of pyrotechnics. That was Ranma's third chi body that day.
"Oh darn," pouted the Dyval Lord. "Oh well, the games will start again soon."
The memory of this sent a frisson of worry though Ranma. He had made plans for Ryouga but they would have to be revisited and expanded on if he was actually a god-like Ammit. He still clearly remember the unavoidable deific fire Ammit blasted him with. Damaging and more concerning, unavoidable. He had some defenses prepared for that but he also doubted that was the only thing gods could do with their powers. Hopefully, Ryouga hadn't had time to master any of them or it could make his plans fall through. His plan B through Z existed but they all sucked in comparison with his first plan.
As his chi clone wandered through the eatery plaza, he saw a striking black-haired woman sitting at one of the tables, staring in disgust at the drink before her. He was in luck. He was not only trying to get practice with his various techniques but he was trying to memorize the layout of the city as well as trying to meet up with the revolutionary. He hadn't forgotten his promise and fully intended to wrap up both of their goals into a single plan.
His clone was in female form and as he sidled up to the table and sat down he received a nod in return. "Here is a list. Anything that happens to these locations would be a boon for humanity."
"What's this," Ranma replied in confusion at the thing in front of him.
"What do you mean," the leader replied. "It's a memory module. The same model you gave Max."
"Oh, right," Ranma said dejectedly. While he had recorded the interrogation with the Sunaj, it hadn't been a trivial operation. His manager had guided him extensively in using the recorder, inputting the setting, and even advice on where to mount it. He had mostly simply done as instructed within any true understanding of the device. Even if he had, it had been weeks and although he had a prodigious memory when it came to martial arts, other subjects weren't retained nearly as well.
"I don't suppose you have a map," Ranma said. Seeing her bewildered look, he clarified, "Made of paper."
"What the hell are you talking about? We got this specifically because we knew you had the equipment for it as well as it having enough biometric and magical sensors to actually be secure!"
"Right," he said morosely, as he took possession of the module. "Thanks."
"No, thank you," she said warmly, recovering her mood once her confusion passed. "The Liberated Underground has had a rough time of it. There was never much support for it in a land ruled by monsters. We have our supporters, but they are far away and many are, rightfully so, terrified that Atlantis's master will turn their eyes their way in retaliation. If we can stop the inhumanity, even for a short time, it will give us and the victims of the lands hope that things will change."
"Um... cool," Ranma said, slightly overcome at her gratitude. "It's a martial artist's duty... never mind. Your welcome. I've talked to my... backer, about setting up a circle that can't be traced. It will be good for one day and then it will self-destruct. We'll then set up a new one once we're sure it's safe."
Nabiki had grudgingly committed to helping, only after consulting with both Balthazar and praying for guidance from Thoth. With some assurance that the location couldn't be tracked and any enemy agents would be stopped by the Sanctuary spell, she was enticed enough by the prospect of a flood of people that she could tap for connections to potentially extremely profitable trade agreements. In some ways, Nabiki was the most reliable person he knew. As long as you could guarantee safety and profits you knew how she would react.
"Here is the location and the details," Ranma said as she pulled out a wrinkled, beat up piece of paper with barely legible scrawls on it. The rebel leader looked at the paper, then back at the martial artist several times in a mix of dismay and disbelief.
"It's all there," he said defensively. "You'll have to copy it within an hour since it will vaporize into nothing." Oddly enough she looked relieved at this.
"Thank goodness you thought about security," White Raven said gratefully. Ranma nodded awkwardly. The reason the paper would disappear was that it was a chi construct, like his clone. His clothes and items were basically temporary creations formed along with the clone. Once it was away from his clone, it would lose the power in its framework until... it just vanished in a cloud of sparkles.
"Yeah, security is always number one in our books," Ranma rallied enough to dispiritedly pontificate.
"Thank you again," she repeated as she got up. "You can have my drink. I haven't touched it." Ranma looked from the murky liquid containing writhing worms to the rebel leader's retreating back and could only give her a wry smile.
"No, you plug it in the other slot, you knucklehead. The other slot to the right," Nabiki said in exasperation.
The last thing she thought she would end up as was interdimensional tech support. She lazily took another sip of her drink, moving the tiny umbrella out of the way, as Sasuke massaged her feet. Kuno and Kodachi had gone off in search of their one true love, leaving their pet ninja alone and no means of support. Kasumi had offered a room and meals with the family until they came back. Naturally, she was taking advantage of the browbeaten servant.
"Your other right," Nabiki sighed as she looked at the floating image of the martial artist fiddling with the video system.
"Sorry, they're marked in Atlantean. Or Splugorthian. Or whatever and Anhur's translation effect doesn't do tech very well. It just says slot 64, and that other one is some confusing concept of 'first alphanumeric number'."
Ranma's frustration was building when his forehead tattoo lit up. Suddenly the entire device made sense. He knew what all the knobs and switches did. He understood what was supposed to go in the slots. He even realized that the power gauge was telling him that the unit only had a few minutes of power left in the fusion cell. How do you run out of fusion power? Fusion cells last for decades! Wait a minute, who powers a video camera with fusion power! How did he even know all this?
"Then set that mutton, to halfway up...," Nabiki paused in her stream of instructions. "Your Highlord love mark is glowing. Your heads not going to explode, it is?"
"No, it's the power it's activated..." Ranma said distractedly. "I know stuff. I thought it only worked on magic items and seeing things like auras. But I now know how to operate this. I think I might even know how to fix simple things. Neat."
"You mean I just wasted an hour draining my mana and talismans telling you how to do things that you now know how to do things better than me?"
"Well, it's not completely wasted," Ranma said with a wince. "Now you know how some of their basic technology works. You can buy and sell with confidence now!"
"I'd be angrier if that wasn't true," the mercenary girl said with a snort. "After all the research I had to go through for your deal with the Liberated Underground I found out a ton of things. Did you know priests of major deities can remove curses and resurrect the dead?"
Ranma looked at her flatly. "Yes. Yes, I did. I am pretty sure I mentioned it when I was telling everyone about my adventures. I thought that was why you decided to dedicate your life and soul to Thoth."
"Wait. Dedicate my soul," she asked in a puzzled tone. "Is that in one of the chapters I skipped?"
"Only you..." Ranma sighed in a frustrated tone. Nabiki was the smartest dumb person he knew of. Brilliant one moment, stupid in the next. At least she had made a contract with Thoth. Although not a crusader of good, he may perhaps have the best reputation of any of the gods he knew of. He was also a strong believer in equivalent exchanges. Since we were doing all of this in his service he should be good to her.
Nabiki frantically leafed through the book Thoth had left for her. She had skimmed the less interesting parts. In her defense, she almost had to. It was as thick as an encyclopedia and was one hundred percent fine print. In the background, she vaguely heard approaching footsteps.
"Nabiki," the placid, yet aggravated, voice of Kasumi sounded in her ear. "Are you using guests as slave labor again? Sasuke, I told you to ignore her or come to me when she does that. Let's get you changed. I'll get a nice bath ready for you. Nabiki, please stop being naughty."
"But she asked me so nicely," cried Sasuke. Kasumi just sadly shook her head. Only compared to the Kuno family would Nabiki be considered kind.
Ranma was working fast. Now that he knew what the targets were, he worked as fast as he could. The holographic map had a lot of details that would simply go away once the power died. Who knew where he would get another fricken 'fusion cell'! He hadn't realized his manager had gotten him such a rare and powerful device. That one fusion cell could power all of Japan for a day! He didn't even know how he felt about that!
He already had three clones in the field. One was in a closet, just manifesting a Hadou-Ken power node. He pushed that channel open more to pull more chi from the dragon lines, causing it to fluctuate a bit. Two more clones were formed and immediately staggered out, their gait smoothing out as he got used to pushing his consciousness into them.
The first clone reached the closest possible target. The map labeled it the D-Squad headquarters. It also didn't do it justice. The building was almost as large as the pyramid in the center of Splynn, except it was obviously purely military in nature. The entrance was constantly congested as squads of the enforcement branch went in and out. Brutal looking Powerlords and Overlords with about half that being the gorilla-like Kittani pilots. Those mostly seemed to fly in from the top of the building, which was apparently some sort of landing pad.
Ranma looked up in chagrin. He was hoping to get to the top. Shrugging he leaped up to an adjacent building... on the opposite side from the towering building. No need to tempt fate. Once there he estimated a line from there to the arena. It was a bit of strain for the clone's muffled senses but he could barely feel the mark he had left on the arena floor. After a few minutes, he was satisfied.
"Is there some reason you're here, human mongrel?" a voice grated out next to him. Ranma started a bit. Next to him was one of the ape-like Kittani. This one was in shiny segmented power armor. It obviously hadn't truly flown but had just landed via a jump jet pack on the back.
"Just here for the view," Ranma said with a bitter grimace. So much for secrecy. It wasn't a big deal, after all, he hadn't planned on the clone leaving here. "Well, except for the smell."
"What? What are you trying to say?"
"That you stink? You don't bathe? It smells like something crawled up your mouth and died? I am sorry if I was unclear. Let me rephrase that..." All of this was patently unfair, since the creature was wearing sealed environmental armor. Ranma didn't care. He was losing the clone, he may as well have some fun first.
"Stupid insects should know their place," the creature stated grimly as he raised the rifle mounted on the arm and fired a shot.
Dying in a clone body was odd. It was just a shell full of chi. When it burst there was a period of time he still controlled the chi before it dissipated into uselessness. Generally, it was anywhere between five and ten seconds. Within this time the martial artist forced his remaining energy into the building at his feet. Branding it with his chi signature. A signature he could sense across the city but he had found that no one except a martial artist of his ilk was even aware of. Then his awareness of the clone was gone.
The Kittani grunted in confusion. Looking from the dissipating sparks and his rifle.
The next clone's target was easier. It was the Imperial Palace of Splynn. He had been there before, or at least parts of it. It was the very pyramid he had arrived in, crawled out of, and then unfortunately escaped. Now that he had been here a while, he now knew that it was the center of governance. A large part of the military was house there. When he had first crawled out he had wondered why squads of hundreds of monsters were confronting him every few minutes. It was pretty much standing outside the Pentagon, peeing on the door, and wondering why soldiers were hassling you.
Of course, inside were housed portals to hundreds of worlds. Some essential trade locations, others vacation worlds, and others strategic military locations. Thousands of dimensional being trouped in and out of the structure every hour, not even including the military housed there. Assuming you're not climbing on the walls there wasn't even any need to stop anyone. Even a lowly human. Of course, Ranma couldn't do things the easy way. He did actually need to climb the walls to leave a mark on the side of the pyramid.
Normally he would whistle a merry toon to show how badass he could casually be, however, while piloting a clone he couldn't spare the concentration. Doing a kind of a bouncing moonwalk, he leaped up the sides. Since he was expecting it this time he immediately noticed a squad of a hundred Overlords. These reminded him of heavy set grey-skinned orcs, each with two tiny tusks jutting down from their chins. When he first met them he had no idea what they were. He still didn't but now he had a name to put to them. That and the knowledge that they were the elite of the Spugorth minions, if one of the less powerful.
He gave them a smile and a wave as he bounced upward. This body wasn't very fast and it would be unfortunate if it was destroyed before he got to his target. They sped up, still in formation, but didn't open fire.
Halfway up Ranma stopped and sat down. No one would hit a smiling sitting man, right? As the squad rapidly approached him with no sign of slowing he decided that he shouldn't take a chance. Even though he hadn't reached the top, the Imperial Palace was the tallest structure in the city. He had a clear view to the arena and with a moment, he had a fix on the mark he had laid down on the arena floor.
Then he looked at the charging army. They still weren't slowing down. In fact, they were unslinging their rifles and taking aim at him. Racist pricks. As he dissolved into a loose conglomeration of chi from a barrage of plasma rifles he imagined giving them the finger. It only took seconds to place his mark.
The other locations were far less dangerous. Or at least not the cities main barracks. The Super Being Vendor building was more of a warehouse. They sold mostly human variant mutants and super-powered individuals. Or at least that is what he got out of touring the facilities. The trick here was how to target the security forces without killing everyone on site. He designated this as a secondary target in his head.
Crazy Al's House of Crazies was a large metal and ceramic clad building. He didn't know what a crazy was exactly. They were apparently some sort of cybernetically enhanced human. Or mostly human. He just verified that there were slaves there and tried to figure a trajectory that would take out the security forces without taking out the entire block.
Wild Will's Dead Boy Outlet was weird, simply because it was run by humans and it sold humans and human mutants. Ranma had heard of the Coalition as part of his backstory when he traveled through Japan but he didn't know anything more than they were human supremacists that were out to kill all magical races, even human magicals. He was actually not sure why White Raven had included this target on the list. Wouldn't they simply attack her if they were free? Perhaps they were reasonable racist...
The guards were humans, even though they were mostly mages of some sort. Apparently from Mexico. This seemed odd but this new world often played with his sense of what was normal. After spending too much time trying to figure it out he marked the security office and concentrated on his other bodies.
Help Yourself Buffet was another nightmare. A literal human meat market, similar to the one that the rebels had raided, except all inside. Also, not fresh. Looking at the ads for the services inside it seemed that they purchased the already dead slaves from the Arena. There were also plenty of non-human meat. Enough to satisfy the craving of the most cannibalistic creature.
This stopped him for a moment. Technically they didn't kill anyone and they also didn't have any slaves of any kind. He didn't really understand the point of destroying this place. He made a mark anyway and mentally designated this place as the least priority. Sure, it was terrible they ate people but they were the least of the issues in Atlantis.
Fresh Meat was a name that vaguely rang a bell. The ominous feeling Ranma received got stronger as his clone got closer to the location. When he got there he felt a visceral flash of hate. This was the place he had first met White Raven. When he was directed by an alien's poor humor to a place that served human flesh. Fresh.
It had been raided by Liberated underground but here it was again. Operating unrestrained by any human morals. Just as he experienced the first time, rage started to fill him. The racks and tresses that hung still living humans were full of 'produce' behind the butcher. The merchant was a different race than previously. Just as large, perhaps eight feet tall, but not whatever the previous creature was. Perhaps a short ogre?
Ranma couldn't do anything to save these people. Even if he killed the butcher these people would undoubtedly die within days. However, since he was in a disposable clone there wasn't any reason to keep this animal alive. He walked forward.
"What? A human?" the creature mocked in a crass laugh. "Come to get a taste of your own kind's flesh? Come now, I won't judge. I have a tender young filly that looks delicious. Should gut her for you?"
"I have come to ferry you to the afterlife," Ranma stated quietly as he moved closer. The Soul of Ice was running full bore in his true body, attempting to keep his emotional state clear of rage and hate. The creature's expression was just changing from derision to uncertainty when Ranma let the chi erupt. He had pumped far more into this one avatar than he had in any of the others. Rather than just a flashy cloud of energy, he focused the majority in a laser thin beam that cut horizontally across the thing's neck.
By the time the head hit the ground, he had focused the remaining energy on creating his mark on the earth beneath them.
They were back in the arena and the fights were almost over. It was more loosely than be had seen before but he gathered that today was the semifinals. The previous champions were already defeated. 'Rahu-Crusher' had been defeated by Ryouga. Sight Stealer had been taken out by Shampoo and the 'Demon of Splynn" by Akane.
The other favorites hadn't even been defeated by anyone within the Nerima group. Though they had indirectly been involved. 'Momus, the False Atlantean' had been brutally beaten by Leviathan before her loss to Ryouga and 'Well Fed the Fool' had been defeated by the black dragon. Ranma now knew the dragon to be a Shikome Kido-Mi, an extremely rare and almost universally evil type of dragon. How lucky he was to have been fixated upon by a lunatic dragon?
Ranma felt rather bad about 'Well Fed the Fool". The other gladiator favorites were all mostly psychopathic volunteers. Well backed fighters who fought for money and fame. 'Well Fed' was an enslaved cyber knight. Apparently, that was a cybernetic psionic paladin. It didn't make much sense to Ranma, usually cybernetics happened after horrible accidents, but it was also a calling in this world. Anyway, he was better off than the slaves killed off for the viewer's pleasure at the end of each night. Not much, and the dragon did give him a terrible beating, but he lived. One more thing to fight for.
"Hey! You!" a growling voice resounded through the arena, bringing Ranma's attention back to the present. The aforementioned dragon was floating in front of their bleacher, writhing in agitation. Both of their images were being projected far larger than life above high into the air. "I want to fight you. Not your pets. You."
"Ah, you came," Ranma replied with a nod. "Hold on a second. I have a speech." Syushra and Ranma had researched this dragon extensively and had even purchased several counters for various spells. It was prohibitively expensive but his manager had been willing to invest the credits for a chance to win even the second place position.
Digging through his subspace he dug out his prepared soliloquy. He had been inspired by the wrestling tournaments in the Americas. "Here it is. Damn, I can barely read this crap."
"Well, you did lose the calligraphy challenge," Akane helpfully pointed out, earning a glare from him.
"He ran away mid-fight," Ranma shouted defensively. "That means I win!"
"Do you accept or not? If I have to fight one of your alternates, I will be sure to kill them in a horrible fashion."
"Shut up, snake," Ranma snapped. "If you want to fight me you have to listen to my thing." He checked to make sure the bandana on his head was fastened tightly. "Okay, I the villainous Ranma, will blot out the holy righteousness that is my enemy... wait. Wrong speech. That one is for Ryouga."
"I'll get you Ranma," a faint voice reached him from across the arena. Ranma ignored it.
"Right, here it is," Ranma held the paper up in front of him and began. "You think you're bad? Your nothing but a crawling worm. Your so high and mighty in front of the glory that is our Splugorthian lords. Hah, your scales aren't is nearly as shiny and reflective as the wondrous slime that our mighty master Splynncryth swims in." This earned a confused look from Shampoo and Akane but a nod of approval from his manager, Syushra.
"You even show your pathetic jealousy at the glorious executors of Splynncryth's will, the Highlords. No doubt because your scraggly fangs can't compare to the toothy goodness and bitey fangs of our benefactors. So, I will beat you. Specifically, in retaliation for your mocking words about Highlord Nagrath Rak!"
"Who the hell is..." the dragon began.
"Even now you try to curse his name! Well then, I suppose it time to fight and show you who your betters are! Everyone cheer our Splugorian overloads or you'll show yourself to be traitors to them!"
"What are talking..." the dragons amplified voice was drowned in a sudden wave of fervent roaring as every single individual in the stadium suddenly started to cheer as loud as their voices could possibly reach.
"All right, step one," Ranma nodded to himself as he leaped into the arena.
"Finally, I will have my vengeance... ow," shouted the dragon as Ranma immediately did a full-powered kick. It was simply testing the waters. If this thing was as durable as Ammit a chi powered kick wouldn't do much. Well, it did throw it back a few dozen feet but that was all. A meteorite kick would have been perfect but there wasn't any decent location to bounce around.
"You little, pathetic creature," the dragon started to curse. Out of some special pocket, it pulled out a gleaming ebony blade. "With this, I will swallow your soul!"
"The Emperor was right. You did take it. You're going to swing a sword at me," Ranma asked in wonder. He hadn't expected that. More spell casting honestly. "You barely have hands. How does that even work?"
It worked pretty well. Dragon hands were very well articulated, despite the generous talons tipping them. The dragon was no Kuno but it writhed its body to confuse its enemy and in between the flowing coils it struck out with the sword.
"I don't usually wield a sword," the dragon confided in a sneering manner. "Usually we work through champions for our goals. I was planning to give this sword to a champion. That could have been you, but you squandered your opportunity. Aggravated me until I can accept nothing but your death! Now I want to destroy your soul!"
"Wow, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," yelped Ranma as he narrowly avoided the sword. The issue was that he couldn't touch the sword without a terrible feeling of dread filling him. He truly believed that it could destroy his soul if he let it. Anhur had warned him that there were certain deaths that even a god could not bring him back from. "Would candy make you feel better?"
"Only your soul!"
"Fine, how about a beating?" Ranma pulled out a staff from his own subspace pocket. This was the staff that the Kyoto Millennium Tree had gifted him, at the cost of a slight bruise. Ranma had used his new identification ability to find out what this could do. One thing it did was extra damage to dragons and serpents. It also made him immune to dragon breath weapons, which was ironic since this breed of dragon had no breath weapon. It could do a bit more but the extra damage and being able to parry the soul drinking swords were the most immediate concerns.
"Curse you," the dragon howled. "And curse that tree!"
"Hey, I stole it fair and square," Ranma said as he tried to stay in character. If he wanted to join the Highlord's circle of cohorts he had to be as evil as possible. The chi enhanced staff was causing welts and bruises, but it was clear it was going to take a while. Meanwhile, it was parrying a good fraction of the strikes and he was afraid that the dragon only needed to hit once.
"Time to switch things up," he shouted. "Bean Jam Blowout Revised! Bean Jam Blender!"
Ranma spun the staff like a helicopter blade in front of him and a furious wind funnel instantly formed and blew forward to engulf the dragon. It spun out of control, hit the surface of the arena shield, and started to spin along the entire diameter of the arena, picking up speed as it went. Ranma poured energy into the technique, forcing it to go faster and faster until the whirlwind was so powerful all the sand had been picked up and bits of the magic imbued rocks were breaking off from the ground.
Despite the energy drain, it wasn't really the power that was the issue anymore. For a single technique like this one clone sustaining the Hadou-Ken, sitting in a closet back at the training building, was enough to source it. Channeling that much energy was stressful, physically, and mentally.
After several minutes he finally saw what he needed. The sword fell to the ground, separated from the dragon by the supernatural raging winds. Ranma immediately dropped the technique, which instantly slowed by half and then stopped seconds later.
"Pest," roared the serpent. Despite being able to fly it fell heavily to the arena floor and then after several attempts drunkenly stood on its rear legs. The martial artist wasn't sitting by and doing nothing though. He tossed the staff over to the soul drinking sword. Upon landing it transformed into a serpent and wrapped itself tightly around it. Another gesture and a tiny but strong dust devil spun off Ranma's hand to pick up the wrapped blade and send it spinning wildly around the arena. The dragon saw this and roared in rage.
"Now we can really fight," Ranma said while cracking his knuckles.
"Die!" As he bellowed this a tiny black speck formed in his hand, swiftly growing to the size of a baseball. It shot forward at insane speeds toward the startled martial artist. Despite this, he was still able to barely leap away. Behind him, he heard a thump of displaced air, and the floor could be seen to be missing a perfect half-sphere.
"Annihilate!" Another black sphere sent Ranma frantically dodging. The next time the speck formed Ranma pulled a talisman out and pointed to the spell. A command word activated and he waited anxiously for it dispel the effect. As the ball of nothingness barreled down on him he dodged again. This time his heel got in the effect. It felt like it was engulfed in pure energy. Looking down he saw his shoe was gone and his heel was blackened. Burnt, showing fluids bubbling from the wound.
"Annihilate," shouted the serpent once more. Ranma took the amulet in his and imbued it with chi and shot it at the tiny ball of darkness before it left the dragon's hand. Immediately a sphere of light formed in a ten-foot diameter centered on the caster's hand.
The dragon screamed in pain and anger and when the light faded it could be seen that the surface of the creature's arm and chest had been vaporized, leaving exposed cauterized muscle.
"Lion's Roar," Ranma then started to pepper it with chi blasts. He didn't think that the serpent had much power left to fuel his spells based on his weaker aura but even so, he timed his blasts to interrupt the spells. After being blocked like this several times the dragon charged him head-on. This was a challenge he was only too happy to meet.
There were times he failed. Once he found himself adhered to the ground in a spell effect he was only too familiar with. Nevertheless, he and his manager had prepared. Pulling out a talisman he activated it to dispel the effect.
"Resorting to cantrips? Pathetic little snake," Ranma jeered.
"House of Glass," the serpent cast in the time before Ranma could restart his bombardment. The martial artist's heartbeat spiked. He had a list of spells to avoid from his manager. This one forced the victim to mirror the damage taken by the caster. He held his breath as a tingle engulfed him and the amulet supplied by his manager warmed. He was almost sure that meant he resisted the effect. He wasn't sure until he attacked and didn't feel anything.
"Multiple Image," the creature howled and three identical creatures appeared, mirroring his movements. Ranma was a bit puzzled. First of all, he could sense the chi of the original. Second, the other images were faded and unreal. He just knew which were fake.
"I don't understand why you're calling out your spells," Ranma admitted, while peppering the dragon with blasts. "I mean, I appreciate the heads up, but are you trying to lose?"
"I'm not, you damn ant!"
Ranma paused in surprise and almost missed interrupting the snake again. If he wasn't calling out the attacks, then why was he hearing it? A moment's thought allowed him to notice the itching on his forehead and realization flashed through his brain. The tattoo. Even covered it allowed him to identify magical effects. He hadn't realized that included spell attacks or he would have been far more respectful of it.
Minutes dragged on as the martial artist weaved through the serpent's attacks and to deliver chi charged attacks. Whenever the monster got frustrated and tried to cast a spell, he would interrupt it with a Lion's Roar or a Butterfly Kiss. Energy flowed through him in an unending torrent, allowing him almost endless endurance.
"Enough of this," cried the dragon in frustration. "If I have to feel the pain to inflict it on you, then so be it!"
Ignoring all pretense of defense, the creature waited until Ranma attacked and then coiled around him. Ranma was startled but not panicked. In fact, since their strength was approximately the same it didn't really change anything to his mind. In fact, it allowed him to use some powerful yet less accurate strikes. Then the creature said, "Annihilate!"
The black speck formed and grew between them, causing a sense of imminent disaster to grow larger and larger. When it exploded the serpent's body convulsed and slumped to the ground. Twenty feet away Ranma's form faded into existence, relatively unharmed. Happossai's power-hungry move was extremely effective with enough chi to feed it.
Chapter 16: Calamari
"He's obviously a fraud of some sort," stated the black-armored man. The armor was obviously custom-designed power armor deliberately created to pay homage to the traditional samurai. "Just from that speech, I can tell he is fake or a moron."
"Well, he is just a human," the Highlord replied indifferently. The webbed dome of the head pulsed rhythmically in a way that would disturb most humans. The insanely large orbs starred in the armored man, seeming to be observing a bug. His attitude was only natural for his race. For him, a human was like a talking dog. It doesn't matter what it says, it's a miracle it can speak. For the last few months, he had come to know this attitude too well. "I can't expect him to speak well, but the content was well thought out. If he wins the game I may give him a minor reward. Your human, Shogun, think of a nice human type gift."
The Shogun clenched his fists but controlled his temper. Since he had been driven from Japan things hadn't gone well. While his allies in Atlantis didn't kill him out of hand they weren't kind. He had been reduced to a glorified butler, while his men had it even worse. He had brought ten Generals and a thousand elite. In a land where a simple general commanded billions, his entourage barely counted as a skeleton crew for a janitor. Not that it mattered. He had lost hundreds of men. They weren't even fighting, they simply walked the streets and the alien citizens of the city killed them out of hand. Most were trampled by uncaring vehicles whose drivers may even have swerved to hit them. Some were engaged in altercations where they were clearly provoked. If they were merely maimed then the authorities took no action. If they died the instigator was given a verbal warning and went on his way. Heaven forbid if his men won. If that happened the authorities were likely to execute them on the spot. Three of his Generals had been killed in this manner. The standing orders were presently not to go outside. Inside the Highlord's command center his men may be bullied but they wouldn't die.
"His attire is also suspect," the Shogun reluctantly continued. "It matches the girl from Lazlo."
"I saw your reports," the clicked the sawblades he called teeth. "Even your intelligence agents mentioned that although it is the same, it is also the most common Chinese peasant garb."
"Well, yes," the armored man replied, the helmet hiding his impatience. "But that is from three hundred years ago. Why would they both wear the same thing from another time period?"
"I thought you had no information on that region?"
"We don't but we do have very good records from before the War."
"I do have some knowledge," the Highlord looked at the Shogun in silence for a few seconds, as if asking whether it was worth its time to share such things. "There is a local pantheon at war with itself. Our policy is to leave it alone. It's an extremely large pantheon so the longer they avoid our politics the more time used to settle into this dimension. That's all that you need to know, except that humans do survive there and they still wear such traditional clothes."
"But he's obviously Japanese," the Shogun protested.
"But not so obviously from Lazo," the Highlord clarified. "I know you're still settling into my command structure but you need to keep in mind that all of my minions follow my instructions... in harmony. They don't work against each other or undermine each other."
The Shogun ignored the obvious hypocrisy of this. He wouldn't have his men send to the healers on a daily basis if this was true. What caused his eyes to widen in alarm was the obvious assumption that his 'master' was considering adding another minion.
It was time. Ryouga looked out at the arena grounds and contemplated how he had gotten here. Such a fantastical set of twists and turns. A few weeks ago he had been looking forward to a fair fight with his rival. Who knew that Ranma's mind had because so deranged and malicious. It was now his obligation to destroy him and free Akane from his influence. Just the memory of Akane crying made his hands clench in rage.
Still, it may not be as easy as he had thought. He had gotten a mysterious surge of energy just a few days ago. It had filled his entire being. Far more than he had felt with that ridiculous God Mark. He didn't want to be overconfident but he had assumed he would simply steam roller over Ranma. Then he saw his rival... no, nemesis, fight the dragon and knew that this would not be as simple as he had thought. Across the arena, he saw his enemy approach. Above them flickered into existence larger images of themselves.
"Yo. How's it going Budd... er, mindless paladin of light," Ranma nodded amiably.
"It's sad to see you fall so low, Ranma," Ryouga sighed sadly, staring at the sky. "I used to respect you but now you serve evil. I shall annihilate you and the evil you represent!" He shook his fist railing against cruel fate. As he lowered his eyes, he saw Ranma sorting through some papers mumbling to himself.
"I need to clean my pockets. How do I end up with so many menus," Ranma coughed delicately into his hand. "I the villainous Ranma, will blot out the holy righteousness that is my enemy. Despite your threats against evil and my own personal idol, Highlord Nagrath Rak, I vow to defend the precepts that this land is founded upon. The power of Splynncryth and his hands and workers of his will shall forever lead this land to glory and further power."
"What kind of stupid speech is that? Who the hell is..."
"Bean Jam Blowout!" Ranma shouted, spinning his staff. He had taken out just for this purpose. He could do it without that focus but he would be busy for the next few seconds. The less he had to worry about the better.
The now-familiar funnel formed, even larger than normal. All the sand in the arena seemed to flow through it, turning it into a massive sandblaster completely focused on the relatively tiny figure of Ryouga. However, the result did not match the previous examples. Unlike the serpent, Ryouga feet remained firmly planted on the ground. In fact, any particles that came into contact seemed to instantly ignore the funnel and drop at his.
"Idiot! I can't believe you tried to sneak attack me! And with such a lame attack!" The eternally lost boy laughed in ridicule only to cough sand instantly filled his mouth.
Ranma, meanwhile was racing around the arena. Every fifty feet or so he would shimmer and leave a pulsating globe next to a radiant pillar of light so bright it seemed to burn your retina if you even glanced at it. By the time funnel subsided the entire arena had been dotted with globes and pillars.
A massive pile had formed where the lost boy had stood. It seemed that the entire contents of the area had been dumped directly onto him. His personal gravity field ensured it stayed on him. In a massive greenish explosion of light, the sand was scattered back across the stony ground.
"Gah, I can't breathe in there," Ryouga shouted as he gasped for air. "Trying to suffocate me? That's low even for... what're all these pillars? Are you trying to blind me now?"
"Hah, hah," Ranma gave his best evil villain laugh. "Now you see my real plan! Each of these pillars are proximity bombs that will go off if you get too close..."
Ryouga immediately targeted the closest one, "Roaring Tiger Bullet!"
Ranma slapped his hand over his forehead. Meanwhile, the pillar struck with chi blast exploded in a vast cloud of vaporous energy, and all the other pillars pulsed in sync with one another. A moment later the cloud shrank back down to a brilliantly shiny sphere and a beam shot out towards the lost boy. It struck him like a locomotive and shot him back as if he was physically riding the beam. Back and up he went until he struck the force field encircling the arena. It broke like a cheap glass Christmas ornament. Although the beam flickered out, the lost boy continued to arc over the city.
"... and if you attack one it will simply strike you as it blows up." Ranma finished lamely as he watched as Ryouga flew through the air. "That wasn't supposed to happen. There goes plan A. Crap. Plan B sucks!"
"Did you know those were bombs," Shampoo turned to look at Akane next to her.
"Not really," she replied hesitantly. "I mean, Ranma kept blowing up when we distracted him, but it didn't seem more explodey than any other technique involving balls of chi..."
"Syushra, I thought that the arena force field was like indestructible?" Shampoo asked next.
"So did I," whispered the shivering insectoid.
"So, is a ring out a win?" the blue-haired girl asked. Back in Nerima martial artists got blown across the city all the time. It never happened to her but even she knew how to cushion the fall. Assuming you survived the initial strike of course.
"I don't know," the manager chittered nervously as he pulled out a rumpled and well-used printout of the rules. "Damn, this copy is old. My holo-terminal should have a newer version." He pulled out a tablet type device from his pouch. "Good gracious, the fusion cell is out of power. These things are supposed to last ten years, but they seem to always die just when you need them. Boy, here's a hundred credits, get me a new cell," he said as he turned to the smaller insectoid next to him. It was actually his nephew, working here for the summer.
"A hundred credits," the youngster shrilled in surprise. "Here, you can have the power cell in my gamepad, I can get ten fusion cells for that!"
"Wait, I see something flying back," Shampoo said, pointing to the air.
"Can Ryouga fly?" Akane asked in confusion. "Hold on, he's riding... something. Is that a robot?"
"I believe that's a security drone," Syushra said as he flipped through pages of projected rules.
"Looks like something smashed into it," Akane said as she squinted to make out the details. "Oh, the dent is body shaped. Must have been Ryouga. I didn't know you could ride drones in Atlantis."
"You can't," the manager muttered absently. "Its considered misuse of military property."
"Is he going to get in trouble for that," Akane asked in a worried tone. Shampoo snorted. She used to be the village champion; she knew how things worked if you were famous enough.
"Ranma, I'm back," the lost boy shouted from the top of his descending ride. Now that he was close enough the projector above the arena picked up his image again. "How dare you try to get rid of me by throwing me out of the arena!"
"Technically a ring out is a loss," called out Syushra from the stands, earning a glare from both martial artists.
"I can't accept such a win," Ranma pompously stated, crossing his arms.
"Really?" Ryouga stuttered. "Ranma I didn't think you still had it in you! Some small morsel of human kindness and sense of fair play..."
"Since you have insulted Highlord Nagrath Rak, you can't escape a beating that easily! That bomb only beat you half to death. I will supply the other half!"
"Nevermind," Ryouga spat out sourly as he leaped down from the security drone onto the arena floor. He immediately went onto the attack. After seeing his fight with the serpent, he expected this to involve a lot of dodging and frustration. His opponent had always been more agile than himself. However, it just wasn't the case. He was slow and distracted by something. Perhaps a guilty conscious.
"You aren't up to your usual speed," Ryouga taunted. "You're slow and sloppy. Have you been lazing around, eating good food, while I have been training?" At the end of this, he moved forward quickly and actually got a well-placed hit on him. He rocketed back, through the nearest pillar of light and embedded in the far wall of the arena.
"Darn, I was hoping that would either blow it up or disarm him," the lost boy muttered.
Ranma pulled himself out of the cratered wall with a wince as he rubbed his chest. It was obvious that his opponent had tried to blow up him by using the pillar. It was absurd, of course, since the pillars weren't actually bombs. Each one a rather amorphous clone summoning and channeling power to him. Why would he attack himself?
Unfortunately, the concentration of keeping so many clones active was taking its toll. He had given up the human shape, most of the consciousness projection, it was really only on dissipation, deciding on what to do with the dissipating power that was real work-intensive. But there were so many. As Ryouga had seen he was slow and distracted. That last hit from Ryouga was horrible. Even with nigh-infinite power, his fortified body had almost been crushed. Being hit by even a small god that specialized in strength was no joke.
Ranma sighed. He really hadn't wanted to do this. Reaching into his subspace pocket he took out a ring. He hadn't ever used it in a real fight, even with his first battle with Ammit. Although that was mostly because it wouldn't have changed anything. Instantly the world around him slowed. He knew it was his perception and speed increasing but it was definitely odd. He had practiced in this state a bit, so it shouldn't throw him off, but it definitely was not normal. He moved forward to meet Ryouga. Plan A was a 'go'.
"Your moving with more pep," Ryouga sneered. "Did I knock some sense into you?"
"Laugh it up, pig boy," he snapped back. "Its time to show what a tiny god you are!"
"What?" Ryouga replied in puzzlement. Why was it that nothing Ranma said made sense today? Even less than usual.
The two met again in hand to hand combat. This time it was more like Ryouga had expected. Ranma had regained his lost speed and it was almost impossible to lay a hand on him. The most he managed to do was use his umbrella to keep him away. Naturally, Ranma wasn't having an easy time either. His enhanced blows were being felt but it seemed like fighting Ammit again. Also, that gravity field around Ryouga was seriously throwing off his blows. Still, he was very careful about not damaging the gravity boots. He wasn't sure if Ryouga had planned it or not, but he suspected that once the field shut off Ryouga strength would spike to unbelievable heights as would his speed. His control would be shot though. He didn't want to risk it. Still, there was one thing he had to set up. Tiny magnetic balls were placed on the seem of where the gravity boots met the cuffs that locked Ryouga in one dimension.
"Fine, have it your way, Ranma," Ryouga grunted as he stepped back. "I always knew it would come down to this." Disturbing blue light gathered around the lost boy as he gathered all of his abundant energy. He watched as Ranma circled around him before setting himself to receive it. This was how men should fight. Fist to Fist and chi versus chi.
"Yup," Ranma said with a smile. "It always comes down to this."
Blue chi beam met a red chi beam, as each struggled in the middle of the arena. In the past, their blasts were more like missiles. As their mastery over pure chi increased as well as their reserves, these became more like beams. Rivers of chi flowing against one another.
"I won't let you destroy Atlantis," Ranma cried out defiantly. "You may have more power than me but Splynncryth's domain encompasses all I believe in."
With this battle cry, the pillars pulsed with light, and Ranma collapsed to the ground under the screaming green beam. Somehow it seemed to massively pick up power once it was no longer being opposed by the pigtailed martial artist.
"No!" Ranma cried dramatically. "You won't have your way!" Moving clockwise he set himself to a new position. The ground bucked and shuddered as somewhere far away it landed.
"Fine," roared Ryouga. "I will destroy you and your evil ways!"
Another sickly green blast formed and shot out at his nemesis. Again, the pillars pulsed, and Ranma barely seemed again to cope against the flood of energy. Once again, he collapsed under the barrage that flew overhead, strangely larger than when he was actively blocking it. The ground rippled and shook, magically reinforced stone shattered as the blast reverberated from where it landed miles away.
Ranma looked around at the shocked and terrified spectators. It looked like he would only be able to this one more time before it hit the fan. Maneuvering himself, he set himself to receive one more strike.
"I failed in my duty, but I will protect Highlord Nagrath Rak to my final breath," Ranma cried out in a wailing tone. "Have at you assassin!"
"Ranma, I am tired of your nonsense! Die!"
This time Ranma lets the opposing flood balance his beam and made it appear to move back and forth. The pillars of light frantically pulsed in sych. After a few seconds, he split Ryouga's beam, allowing an amplified force to flew on either side of him. He fell to his knees apparently defeated, smoke curling up from his bowed form.
"For Nagrath Rak," croaked Ranma dramatically. His right hand reached inside his pocket and triggered a remote. There was a flash of light as the lost boy's gravity boots blew apart and the unlocked shackles fell to the ground.
"Ranma, I won't play your games anymore," Ryouga shouted as he strode forward, oblivious to his lost gear.
"Before you do anything," the pigtailed martial artist hoarsely whispered, "You should take a look around."
"Huh, what trick..." Ryouga started and then paused in shock as his neck craned this way and that. Behind Ranma, the entire rear half of the stadium was simply gone. Spectators, squads, Splynncryth's personal retinue... all gone. A swathe of the city for a mile past the arena was gone as well. The only remaining thing standing on that side of the arena was a smoking and charred Splynncryth. The pool of slime he had originally wallowed it had been flash evaporated, his tentacles were still withered and crisped, like overcooked squid. His eye was collapsed and desiccated. Yet he obviously lived. Even as Ryouga watched it slowly seemed to inflate and the burned tentacles were visibly restoring themselves. Several hundred feet to the right of him was a traumatized Highlord. He had a handful of Powerlords at his side. They seemed to be looking in horror from Ryouga to the several bodies on the ground where the legs or arms of Powerlords littered the ground.
"Oh my god! I almost killed someone's pet squid," Ryouga muttered before he realized that half the stadium and a massive swath of the city was gone as well. "I killed a bunch of alien monsters!"
"They were evil monsters," Ranma commiserated, keeping his defeated posture. "You also blew up their Imperial Palace and their main military installation."
Ryouga head mechanically turned to the side to see far off on the distance that the massive pyramid that once decorated the center of the city was gone. Only a deep crater remained. Looking in the other direction there was another crater, equally large.
"But... but... how?" a pitiful confused whine escaped him.
"You should run, bud," Ranma helpfully prompted as he gestured to the side. The air was darkening. It took a moment to register that it wasn't clouds or an eclipse. The sky was full of ships. Like a cloud of locusts, they darkened the sky, and moment by moment more became visible. At the forefront of them were ten massive mechanical dragon vessels.
"Ranma, I don't know how, but I know this is somehow your fault!" Ryouga cried out in anguish as he ran past the still burning pet squid and into the devastated city. For once, he was right.
Akane looked at the destruction around them. The vast majority of it was at the far end of the arena, where Lord Splyncryth was still regenerating. Ranma's energy pillars had long since faded away. He had staggered to his feet once the military started to land and made his way to the High Lord's retinue. Or what was left of it.
"What just happened," Akane asked in a daze. "Did Ryouga just go crazy and kill half the city?"
Shampoo looked her sideways and simply shook her head. This angry girl was just a simpleton. Someone like her didn't deserve her husband. She didn't even recognize that it was Ranma that had laid waste to the city of monsters. She was so proud!
"It's hard to believe," Akane whispered. "He seemed like such a nice boy. Huh, what do you mean good riddance to bad rubbage?" Akane said, addressing the last bit to her hammer. "Ryouga's not rubbage!"
"I think it was referring to..." Shampoo started and then stopped. She refused to get involved in a conversation with an inanimate object.
"Well, it's a good thing the city's ruler survived," Akane said thankfully. "I wonder what Ranma's saying to him. Oh, look the pet squid has healed up enough to crawl over to the ruler...er, king?" Both Shampoo and Syushra looked at her oddly but failed to clarify things.
Revision 1.0 06-02-20