'Ranma 1/2' and all characters therein belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
'Slayers' and all characters belong to Hajime Kanzaka, Rui Araizumi, Kadokawa Shoten, TV Tokyo, Softx, and Marubeni.
Jusenkyou leaned back in His chair and sipped His pina colata. "No matter how much fun it is to play with mortals from far away, sometimes it's nice to come down in person and relax."
The Sea of Chaos guzzled another Sex on the Beach. "Got a good point there. I like to drop in Myself from time to time, though My mortals have this silly belief thing that if I were ever to come to the world directly, I would destroy it !." She chuckled. "As if I would destroy one of My creations."
Jusenkyou nodded in agreement. "That's exactly why I never like to reveal Myself directly. With all the groveling and averting of eyes and the 'We're not worthies...'" He started grumbling too low for the Sea of Chaos to hear, which was just fine by Her.
The Sea of Chaos shrugged. "Oh, I don't mind that too much. It's kinda nice sometimes."
Jusenkyou held up his empty glass, attracting the attention of an attractive barmaid. He changed the subject by asking, "Got any idea what happens next?"
The Sea of Chaos smiled wryly. "Of course. The real question is, what happens after that?"
Part the Fourth:
Off to See the Wizard
Akane awoke slowly. _What happened..._ She tried to wipe one hand across her forehead, and came awake fully when she clanked the chains on her wrists.
Akane opened her eyes and looked around. She was in what looked like a fairly plush bedroom, with a bed (of course), a dresser, and a desk. The only thing that struck a jarring note were the inch-thick chains attached to her limbs that led to each of the bed's four posters. She was still wearing the clothes she'd had on in the backyard.
Gosunkugi came sliding into her view. "Good, you're awake."
Akane went straight for the throat, forgetting that she was chained down. The brutal jerk she gave herself quickly reminded her of her position. "I'LL KILL YOU!"
Gosunkugi just smiled. "Oh, I rather doubt that." He began chanting softly, just barely at the edge of Akane's hearing. He stopped, and...
All Akane could say was, "Gosunkugi-sama..."
Nabiki sat down on what she considered her thinking bench to do some serious thinking. She'd spent most of the day tracing what Gosunkugi had done yesterday. Once she had the pattern, it wasn't too hard to figure out that he was going from real estate office to real estate office, blowing them up. Why? A grudge?
"Is your name Nabiki Tendo?"
Nabiki raised her head to look at the speaker. He was of medium height and build, wearing odd robes and carrying an unusual staff. With his purple hair cut in a bowl, no doubt he wanted to give people the impression of being a priest, but there was something about his smile that told Nabiki that wasn't quite the truth.
For some irrational reason, Nabiki liked him on the spot and figured they'd be either best friends or worst enemies.
"Yes." Nabiki decided to let this unknown person do most of the talking, in case it might throw him.
It didn't. If anything, he was smiling even wider as he said, "Just the woman I was looking for. I have information about the whereabouts of your sister."
Despite years of experience, it took all the effort Nabiki could muster to hold onto her cold, businesslike expression. Just when she felt that it would crack, she reminded herself that strangers don't walk up to strangers and offer information out of the goodness of her heart. The mask refroze. "You have me at a disadvantage."
Without missing a beat, the man said, "I am called Xelloss. I am a wandering priest, of sorts."
"Why should I trust you?"
To Nabiki's disconcertment, Xelloss chuckled and spread his hands. "You have no reason to trust me, of course. But without my aid, it could take you years to find the evil magician. And I assure you, Charm is a fairly common spell." At Nabiki's blank look, he added, "A spell that makes the victim fall in love with the caster. From what I've seen of this sorcerer, he would not hesitate to use it."
That's when Nabiki did lose her poker face. In these situations (which, Nabiki did admit, were not uncommon) you could always count on Akane to remain loyal to Ranma and, somehow, convert her abductor into a friend. With one of those constants gone...
"Where is he?"
Xelloss lowered his hands. "Now we're getting somewhere, pun not intended. I'm afraid that it would be too difficult to give you directions and leave it at that, so I'm prepared to guide the warriors of your choice to his Evil Wizard's Keep."
Nabiki forcibly restored her mask and relaxed herself. She asked casually, "Now for the thousand koku question. Why are you helping me?"
Xelloss' smile widened even further. "Ah. Now that, is a secret."
Ryouga had climbed up to the crow's nest to stand a watch, telling everyone that he was bored because he didn't want the Captain to know that he was terrified of a half-sized fifteen year old girl. Amelia was constantly badgering him to try out the latest batch of cookies (she'd found some cookie cutters that should have been rated R), or to read a book with her (the ship's library had a copy of _Whatte Every Couple Shouldde Knoe_), or to... and then there'd been last night...
He knocked himself on the side of the head to distract himself before he lost another pint. Hence his refuge on top of the mast. The Captain had said there could only be one person up there at a time, an order that Amelia had pouted at but obeyed.
He was expected to keep an eye out for other ships, but he considered that responsibility a small price to pay for peace and quiet. Besides, what ship would ever come into these waters?
As though to deliberately defy his thought, a sail came into view. Something about it made Ryouga nervous. Maybe the fact that it was painted blood-red...
Ryouga pointed at it. "Ship off the starboard side thingy!"
The Captain looked in the direction that he was pointing, then cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted back, "That's larboard side, you fool!"
Ryouga looked at his hand, which had betrayed him by pointing in the exact wrong way. He shifted his hand. "Fine! Ship off the other side!"
The Captain nodded. "That's better."
Lina, who'd been standing nearby, asked, "What ship is that?"
The Captain looked at the oncoming sail, and his face turned grey. "It couldn't be.... Not the Hackbeth! That ship is owner/operated by some of the most bloodthirsty pirates on the seas. We are doomed." He turned to his passenger, expecting to see terror, and was shocked to see her grinning and rubbing her hands together.
Still grinning, Lina said, "Pirates are basically bandits, right?" Mutely, the captain nodded.
If anything, the sorceress's grin grew wider as she shouted, "Finally! Something to do on this ship!"
Nabiki knocked on the dojo's door assertively, then slid it open, showing none of the nervousness she felt. Wtihout a quick target to strike at, Ranma had turned all his anger and frustration into obsessively training. So far today, he'd been training for eleven hours.
As she entered, she kicked her way through a drift of cement dust. Apparently, he'd decided that just breaking them wasn't enough. "Hey Ranma!" she called. "I've got some good news!"
No response. She took a closer look around the dimly lit interior of the dojo and, sure enough, Ranma wasn't inside. She sighed. _Gonna make me work hard today, are you?_
She left the dojo and started around for the rear gate. Her intution said that he would probably be practicing something very distructive if he wasn't in the dojo. Ever since the Change (which was how she, personally, thought of it) he'd been oddly... considerate.
The rear gate was open, so Nabiki looked out of it. Sure enough, Ranma was standing about ten feet outside the gate. Nabiki's sardonic greeting died on her lips as she spotted the glow surrounding the teenage martial artist.
She watched in fascination as the glow suddenly jumped to almost blinding. Ranma screamed, "MOKO TAKASHIBA!!" The energy gathered in his fists lanced at the ground, blowing up a massive cloud of dust and debris.
After the dust cleared, Nabiki was only slightly shocked to see a crater in the ground at least 70 feet across. Without turning around, Ranma said, "Nabiki. Did you find anything?"
That shocked Nabiki a lot more. Had he grown eyes in the back of his head? "Actually, yes. I found someone who's willing to guide you and a few friends to where Akane is."
Ranma tilted his head to the side. "A few friends?" A smile spread across his face. "I think I can find one or two." He jumped away.
Nabiki looked at the crater one last time, shrugged, and went back into the yard. A shadow detached itself from the wall and started running away. "Tatewaki-kun will be pleased..."
Shampoo was washing her hair peacefully, humming an odd little tune, when she heard the door slide open. Quickly grabbing a nearby bucket, she prepared to crack open Mousse's skull.
However, the person that walked into the room was the new girl that Great-Grandmother had hired, Luna. Luna spotted her at about the same time and raised one hand in a lazy wave. "Yo."
Shampoo was cautious about welcoming Luna wholeheartedly, but since her Great-Grandmother had seen fit to hire her... "Hello. It good to see you today."
Luna shrugged. "Same here." She paused for a moment as she rinsed herself, then added, "S'nice place y'got here." Shampoo thought amusedly of the effort it must have taken Luna to string together so many words at once.
Shampoo responded enthusiastically, "Yes, is very nice! Though not as nice as home, never expected it to be."
Luna hopped into the actual bath, sinking in up to her neck. She let the silence sit comfortably for a moment, then asked, "Where y'from?"
Shampoo shrugged. "Not sure, now. Since the day all went strange, not know if home where it should be or somewhere else."
"It certainly is." Both of the girls in the bath turned to Cologne as she spoke. The old woman smiled. "In fact, our home is one of the reasons I came to talk to you."
"Great-Grandmother?" Shampoo was puzzled.
"I'm leaving the restaraunt in your capable hands and going to see what has become of our home. Stay out of the spices." Cologne hopped into the bath. "Ahhh. Perfect for old bones. I'll be leaving in an hour, so do you have any questions?"
"Yes. Can I fire Mousse?" Shampoo held up one hand. "Mostly joke. But what I do about Ranma?"
Cologne made a small gesture of indifference. "Help him if he asks you and continue what attempts you can to win him over. I warn you now, you will have little free time."
"Gotta question." Cologne turned to Luna. "Should I use m'full magic if'n she wants me to?"
Cologne shrugged. "Only if you feel necessary."
"'Kay." With that, Luna closed her eyes and began snoring softly. Cologne and Shampoo watched her for a moment, then continued their bath.
Happosai sat in his room, meditating on the secrets of the universe. For some reason, the secrets were located in a Marmalade Boy manga this afternoon, but it was not his to reason why...
When he felt appropriately centered, he closed the manga and shouted, "Soun! Genma!"
In 73 seconds, both his disciples were groveling before him. Soun had a mouthful of toothpaste, and Genma's glasses were hanging off one ear.
"Soun. Genma." Happosai let that hang over the pair ominously for a moment, then he smiled widely. "I have decided to pick my successor as the Master of the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts. Soun." Soun jumped to his feet, hope written all over his face. "I'm afraid you just aren't the caliber of person that is capable of assuming my position.
"Genma, you will be the Master in my absence. Of all my students, only you approach my level of depravity, conduct, perversity, and general lack of ethics." Happosai wiped a tear away from his eye. "I'm so proud of you!"
Soun's reaction was predictable. Bursting into tears (Type #11: Weeping in abject despair), he whined, "B-but I'm just as good as he is!"
Happosai smacked Soun with his pipe. "Stop sniveling, you fool! You only prove me more right with every word. Maybe, just maybe, if you show yourself to have what I consider to be the right stuff, I'll make you a Master upon my return."
Soun powerposed against the Rising Sun of Japan! "I shall show myself to be worthy of you, Master!"
Genma, however, did not say anything. In fact, he simply sat, without moving, apparently deep in thought. Happosai smiled secretly...
For situations such as this, Lina Inverse had a mental checklist, so she ran through it quickly. Wooden guardtow- Masts and sails in flames. Check. The ban- Pirates scattering far and wide. Check. Bandit chief- Pirate captain begging for his miserable life. Check. Piles of glittering treasure.... Not check.
Lina grabbed said pirate captain's shirt front. "Where's your treasure?" she asked politely. She didn't set him on fire, which counts as polite for her.
The pirate captain stared at her blankly for a moment, then let out a short, bitter laugh. "So that's why ye attacked us so viciously. Ar, but ye picked the wrong ship for treasure. The last ship we raided was only carrying papayas and bananas. The one before that had pilgrims headed for a shrine. And the one before that..."
Now Lina got impolite. Conjuring up a fireball in one hand, she asked calmly, "No treasure?" One eyebrow twitched twice, and only twice.
Somehow, that made the pirate even more frightened. He blurted out, "Go and see for yourself, if you don't believe me!"
"Already did." Zelgadis climbed out of a nearby hatch, having decided that _somebody_ calm, cool, and collected would have to take a look. "The pirate's right. Only bananas." He held up one as proof.
"Ar, t'purple man be right."
Before Zelgadis could beat the man for referring to his unfortunate skin condition, all three were distracted by maniacal laughter coming from the aft.
Amelia was perched on the poop deck's railing, tossing Burst Rondos at the feet of a few unfortunate pirates. "Dance, evildoer, dance! BWAHAHA HAHAHAHAHA!!!"
Lina just stared for a moment, without releasing her hold on the pirate captain's shirt. "Oookay..."
Gourry slid up next to her, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "Y'know, she's acting more and more like you every day, Lina."
This time, Lina _did_ drop the pirate, in order to drop Gourry. "How DARE you insinuate any such thing about my beha- oh." Lina Inverse (contrary to popular perception) did not always live from moment to moment without a thought for the past or the future. Almost always, admittedly, but sometimes a stray thought cropped up.
This time, it was _How long will I be treating Gourry like this?_ that popped into her mind. She tried to shake it out, but it clung like... like... like something really clingy and annoying.
Lina sighed. Once her conscience started bitching, it was usually best to just shut up and obey. "I'm sorry, Gourry. I guess I took your comment a little personally."
Gourry stood up, rubbing his chin. "Aw, that's okay, Lina. I'll try not to be so personal next time."
The pirate captain wiped his eyes with a dirty neckerchief. "Arrr...."
Zelgadis would have been touched by this rare moment of understanding between two people fated for each other, but he was too busy facefaulting.
The moment was interrupted when an explosion echoed from the poopdeck. All three heard Amelia say, quite loudly, "Oops." Then she called out, "Lina, I think I overdid it a bit..."
Lina just rolled her eyes.
Happosai met Cologne at the edge of town. It was eerily reminiscent of the night they'd met- sunset had just finished painting the sky a glorious mixture of pink and gold, and had faded into a royal purple with a few stars already peeping out diffidently. The moon hung, fat and full already, confidently defying the last few rays of sunlight.
Of course, no amount of poetic background could ever make them think they were twenty again, but still.... They both had the feeling that this was a new beginning.
Happosai offered his arm. "Shall we go?"
Ranma paused just as he was about to enter the Cat Cafe, wondering if he should even bother asking Shampoo to aid him in his rescuing of Akane. He'd already asked Ukyou, who'd just smiled and said, "Sure thing, Ranchan. Konatsu'll come to, 'kay?" He'd bumped into Mousse and asked him too. The robed martial artist had shrugged and asked, "Why not? You have led us upon some fine quests before."
He tried to convince himself that these three would be enough, along with himself and the mysterious guide, but.. something told him that he was lying to himself.
Upon sliding the door open and stepping in, he was confronted with a redhead that looked a little familiar. She said, "C'n I help ya?"
Ranma blinked. He said, after a moment, "Yeah. Could I talk to Shampoo?"
The woman shrugged and shouted over her shoulder, "Boss!"
Ranma heard Shampoo shout back, "Coming!" Already he was beginning to regret coming here. He dreaded the inevitable shout of "Airen!" and the spine-breaking glomp that she always gave him.
Shampoo caame walking out of the back with a clipboard in her left hand, tapping a stub of pencil against it. She was wearing an loose, frayed dress, and her hair looked as though she'd spent all night working. "Luna, we running low on ramen and yakisoba noodles. I want you to go to store tomorrow and pick some up. Think Great-Grandmother let happen on purpose to test me." She looked up from her clipboard and gasped when she saw Ranma. She tucked her pencil into her clipboard and tried patting her hair into place. "Airen! What are you doing here?"
Ranma decided to be blunt. "Akane's been kidnapped again, an' I'm gettin' some people together to rescue her. Can ya come?"
Shampoo shook her head. "Sorry, but..." She frowned as though remembering something. "Shampoo guess can close the store for while. Need remodeled anyway. You can handle, right Luna?"
Luna made an expansive gesture with her left hand. "No prob."
Ranma took a deep breath, then asked all in a rush, "Where's the ghoul?"
Shampoo said sadly, "She go back to village earlier today. She leave me in charge of restaraunt, though. Want free ramen? Promise to put no spices in." Her smile was friendly, rather than alluring.
Ranma rubbed his stomach. "You don't gotta ask me twice."
"Arr, thanks be to ye for letting me scurvy dogs and I take passage with ye to the nearest port."
Lina sighed. She was getting tired of listening to the pirate thank her. For one thing, every instinct in her cried out to fireball the bandit where he stood. For another, she considered one 'thank you' sufficient to cover any situation. Why the pirate considered it necessary to apologize 47 times escaped her. As for the third reason...
Lina threw a boot at the pirate. "Would you get lost?! I'm getting ready to sleep, and I don't believe in providing peep shows!"
"Arr, I can tell when I'm not wanted." The pirate moped his way out of Lina's cabin, and she sighed in relief. She pulled off her other boot and was about to throw it under her bunk when she heard a knocking on the door.
She pegged the boot at the door and hit it square on. "Go away! I need my beauty rest!"
"Lina, this is Zelgadis. I need to talk with you."
"This had better be important."
Lina sighed. "Come in."
The door creaked open and Zelgadis peeked in. "Are you decent?"
"You'd know if I wasn't," Lina said crankily.
"Oh, never mind." Lina motioned him in. "Have a seat."
Zelgadis entered and sat down backwards in the room's only chair. Lina waited for him to speak for a moment, then said impatiently, "Well?"
"I'm worried about Amelia." Zelgadis scratched his chin, producing an odd stone-on-stone squeak, then continued. "She's been acting more and more strangely lately. That incident on the pirate ship, for one thing. She isn't usually so... so... sadistic. And Ryouga told me that a couple of nights ago, she tried to..." He trailed off uncertainly.
"Tried to what?" Lina asked, genuinely curious in spite of her need to sleep.
"Never mind." Zelgadis waved one hand in negation. "It's enough to say that whatever she did, it was incredibly OOC." He looked around nervously, but no one complained about the fourth wall breakage.
Lina sighed and sat back in her bed. "I know what you mean. Lately, she's just starting to change. She's almost starting to remind me of Na..." She cut herself off with a hand over her mouth.
"Remind you of who?"
Lina waved her hands frantically while shaking her head over and over. "Nobody, nobody! Just a random thought, hehehe," she chuckled falsely.
"Anyway," she changed the subject quickly, "What do you suggest we do?"
Zelgadis spread his hands. "What can we do? Watch, wait, try to find out if anything is causing this change, and hope it gets no worse."
Lina nodded. "Sounds like all we can do."
Zelgadis looked down at his still-open hands, which were slowly returning to their original shade of blue-green. "The problem is, I don't think it's going to be enough..."
Tatawaki Kuno sat in his personal dojo, meditating not upon his two loves (as was his wont) but instead pondering how the gods themselves had lifted the Kuno family from the obscurity it had been trapped in and into the prominence it now enjoyed.
There were a few stains upon this perfect life, of course, of course; his father and his sister were both totally insane, thus reducing his family's standing; his sister had taken up poisons and dark magic as hobbies, making her unmarriageable; and last but worst the Tendos had engaged their youngest daughter to the son of a ronin named Saotome.
The Tendo patriarch claimed he was only honoring his pledge to marry one of his daughter's to Saotome's son, which was marginally credible; however Saotome, both father and son, had shown their total lack of honor so many times Kuno was certain that Tendo could break the engagement... if he wanted to. He had not.
This was, to Kuno, a personal insult, because he was certain Tendo knew of his desire to marry Akane, and only held to the engagement to frustrate Kuno's desire.
Of course, none of these things touched upon the subject of the pig-tailed girl...
Kuno jumped seven feet, knocking his head upon the rafters of his dojo, then began strangling his faithful retainer. "You fool! How dare you interrupt my meditations!"
After Kuno had throttled his servant for what he considered the proper amount of time needed for correction, he released Sasuke. "Now, speak," he commanded. "What reason could you have for disturbing me?"
Sasuke groveled as he said, "I have important information about Akane!"
Kuno grabbed his servant and began strangling him again. "You fool! Why didn't you mention that in the first place?"
Because he was a kindly overlord, he released his grip quickly. AFter Sasuke recovered, he said, "Akane has been kidnapped, Tatewaki-sama, and the vile Ranma Saotome is already heading out to rescue her!"
Kuno stood up, knocking his faithful servant across the room. He powerposed against a rising sun! "This is it! I shall rescue Akane before Ranma, and thus earn her love! And, no doubt," he added, beginning to salivate slightly, "her friend the pig-tailed girl will love me as well..."
Sasuke shook his head. "And, no doubt, I'll be the one carrying all the luggage again..."
Xelloss sat in the dark, dank laboratory of his newest... friend, contemplating his latest vile scheme. The lab was well suited for such ruminations, filled with bubbling beakers of vile liquids, horrendous pictures depicting the tortures of the damned, and bookshelves filled with nameless tomes that even looking at the covers made you loose 1D6 SAN.
He felt the Cabbit Breeding Pit in the corner added a nice touch.
His friend walked in, and Xelloss's ever-present smile widened a bit. "Gos-kun! How's the little woman?"
Gosunkugi wiped one hand across his forehead. "I'm telling you Xelloss, she's wearing me out. My God! It's killing me!" He sank into one of his plush armchairs with a sigh of relief. "Speaking of that, how are your plans coming along?"
Xelloss made a circle with his forefinger and thumb. "Just fine, just fine."
Gosunkugi sighed again. "It's good to hear that."
"Gosunkugi-sama! Where are you?" Gosunkugi sunk into himself a bit, and turned green at Akane's next words. "I made you dinner!"
Xelloss stood up hastily. "Well, must be leaving, would love to stay for dinner, but her cooking reminds me of my own!" He teleported just as the door to the lab opened.
"There you are, Gosunkugi-sama!"
Ranma waited patiently atop the Tendo's gate, watching for his friends to show up.
Ukyou was the first to arrive, pulling her brand-new yatai. Though Ranma couldn't see Konatsu, he was certain the male kunoichi was around her... somewhere. She raised one hand in a lazy wave. "Hey, Ranchan. Nice morning."
Ranma looked at the cool morning mists surrounding them and smiled. "Just like when we were kids, wakin' each other up at three in the mornin' to train."
Ukyou chuckled at the memory herself. "Yeah, those were the days." She made as if to ready a spatula. "We could do it again, if you'd like."
Ranma shook his head but still held to his smile. "Ain't got time this mornin', Ucchan. Besides, we start sparrin' and your kunoichi'd jump in." He raised his voice a bit. "Ain't that right, Konatsu?"
Konatsu stepped out from behind Ranma. "You are right, Ranma."
Mousse walked out of the mists then. "Good morning, Ranma."
Mousse looked around. "When do we leave?"
Ranma held up two fingers. "We're still waiting for two more people. Shampoo..."
Shampoo jumped into the small circle, right next to Ranma. "I is here, airen." She was wearing her decorated leather armor. Although she had no weapons visible, Ranma was sure she had a few somewhere.... She nodded to the robed martial artist. "Hello, Mousse."
He responded with a simple nod, and Ranma frowned inwardly. About a month ago, something had happened between those two that he hadn't been a big part of. He hoped it wouldn't interfere with their teamwork...
Ranma realized Ukyou had asked him a question. "Whatcha say, Ucchan?"
"Who else are we waiting for?"
"Who is here."
All four teenagers jumped as a purple-haired man wearing robes and carrying a staff appeared in their midst. He smiled. "I am Xelloss, your parser- er, guide, for this quest. Shall we be off?"
The sextet of rescuers had traveled far that day, moving northeast first across the common roads, then straight north by a branch that Xelloss had pointed out. After dusk had begun paint the sky, they'd found one of the many ubiquous inns that serviced weary wanderers. They'd settled in for a hearty meal, and now-
"So why are you helping us?"
"Ah," Xelloss smiled. "As I told the charming lady whom I met you through in your hometown, that is a secret."
-Xelloss was having fun in his own special way, and Ranma was seriously considering beating him for it. Badly. But as any Inverse could have told him, beating on Xelloss, while fun, was about as futile as... beating on Xelloss. Somehow, the sheer pointlessness of it couldn't be compared to anything else, because he just kept coming back for more...
Before Ranma did something rash, however, Mousse leaned forward and asked, "What are you willing to tell us?"
Xelloss opened his eyes for a split second. "What an interesting approach. I don't think anyone's tried that out before." Then, he resumed his usual smile. "I like it. Very well, I am willing to tell you this much.
"This path will not lead us directly to the Magician's Evil Cliffside Tower. Rather, it will lead us to a dungeon that has an item we require to enter the Tower. It's a fairly typical crawl with all the standard dungeon dressings-of orcs, goblins, a few ogres, and a troll or two- until you reach the Inconveniencing." He fell silent for a moment, then continued. "The Inconveniencing appears as a silver mirror that ripples slowly, like a pool in a light breeze. You step into it and face a test, a test of yourself." The other five seated at the table leaned forward unconsciously. "If you fail, you become..." all five held their breath as Xelloss opened his eyes again, regarding them with a solemn demeanor... "Super-distorted."
Everyone facefaulted, nearly breaking the table. Then, Ranma said angrily, "Aw, man! You had us worried over nothin'!"
Xelloss said quickly, "You have no inkling of the true horrors that super-distortion holds!" Then, he stood up abruptly. "You'll find out what I mean soon enough. We leave early in the morning." He walked away, leaving the five martial artists seated silently at the table.
The Amazon Council sat in deliberation without its head for the first time in a thousand years. Though it was against the customs to meet without a mediator, desperate times called for desperate measures.
"We must do something!" An Elder glared around at her compatriots.
"Oh, and what do you suggest we do? Throw rocks? With how many demons there are, that'd be as effective as your pathetic wards," another Elder said with biting sarcasm.
The first Elder glared at the second. "You wanna see firsthand just how effective my wards are?!"
This was, of course, the reason the Elders never met without someone strong enough to clobber the rest leading them. Get together around thirty women over a century in age and having enough skill in magic and martial arts for any 200 masters, force them to talk for hours without a single nap, and then make them _agree_ with each other.... Well, it shouldn't be possible.
Of course, just because it wasn't possible didn't mean it never happened.
When it seemed certain that the two would come to blows, a third Elder spoke. "We can't fight this on our own, of course, but we could hold it off and get some Heroes to fight it for us."
The Council nodded in agreement. The first Elder said, "An appropriate application of the Laws of Drama. But where can we find Heroes, Liu Fa?"
Liu Fa threw a piece of paper on the table. "I just got a letter from Ku Lon. She says that the prospective Elder and her friends are shaping up nicely. Perhaps we could gather them to do the job."
With an effort, Ukyou held back her urge to strangle Shampoo for suggesting such a perversion. "How dare you even think of using my spatula for that?!" She clutched her huge utensil-turned-weapon a bit closer.
Shampoo leaned a bit closer, puzzlement written all over her face in a ickily adorable way. "Don't tell me Spatula Girl never thought of using spatula for that?"
A slight blush crept onto Ukyou's face as she stammered, "O-of course I have, when I was really desperate! But I always found another way."
Shampoo stepped back away from the okonomiyaki chef and threw her hands up in disgust. "Then find other way now, because we need firewood to cook dinner!"
Ukyou snapped back, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"
The party was camped by the roadside nearly thirty miles from the nearest town. The boys, having won the game of jankenpon, had chosen to go hunting for food to supplement their supplies, leaving the ladies (Konatsu including himself in their number) to get the camp ready. The tents hadn't been a problem, but the firewood... for some reason, there wasn't any ready to gather off the ground.
Ukyou pointed at the sword across Shampoo's back. "Why don't you use that to cut us some wood?"
Shampoo crossed her arms across her chest. "Against Amazon law for Amazon to cut wood with her weapon. Is okay for cook to do it with utensils though."
Before this could degenerate into another catfight, Konatsu appeared between them with an armful of wood. "Ukyou-sama, I've gotten some wood for you."
Ukyou grinned weakly as she lowered her spatula. "Thanks, Konatsu. Where'd you get it?"
Dropping the armload onto the ground, he pointed over the hill. "There's a camp of bandits about two miles that way, looking for anybody along this road."
Konatsu blinked in surprise. "Couldn't you tell?"
"Naw, I don' thenk dey could." A massive bandit boss-type stepped into their view. About twenty other brigands emerged from well-concealed hiding spots.
Konatsu disappeared, and the bandit boss scowled. "Where de pretty fem gone to?" Then, he shrugged. "Guess de slavas be havin' to deal wit' you two."
"'Have to deal'?" Ukyou said, with an expression that promised severe beatings.
"'Slavers'?" Shampoo said, with an expression to match.
Ukyou leveled a finger at the bandit boss. "So, not only do you threaten to sell us into slavery..."
Shampoo drew her sword. "You insult our beauty too?"
Then, the two struck a pose and said in unison, "Because we've been itching for a good fight, we shall punish you!" They looked at each other for a moment with confused looks on their faces that matched the ones worn by every single bandit there.
The tableaux was broken when the bandit chief fell down with a half-dozen darts embedded in his chest. Then, Shampoo and Ukyou started having a little good old fashioned fun.
When the boys (including Xelloss, for reasons of his own) returned empty-handed, the girls had piled the bandits up in a heap and had started a merry bonfire roaring.
Ukyou held up some Unidentifiable Meat Du Jour On a Stick. "Not my usual thing, but kinda fun for a change! Beef is good. Want some?"
Shampoo looked up from the t-bone she was stripping. "We get plenty from bandit camp. Is all you can eat!"
Those were the only words Ranma and the others needed to hear, and they fell to with a passion. For some reason, though, Xelloss didn't eat as much as the others...
Lina perched on the bowsprit, watching Prayer Gate Rock approach. And it was well worth watching. Obviously not natural, it towered several hundred feet out of the ocean in the shape of a (you guessed it) prayer gate. A small fleet, ranging in size from fishing boats to three-masters, bobbed at its feet.
"Arr, truly a wondrous thing it 'tis to see." Lina turned around to see the pirate captain, who was standing behind her, rubbing his chin. "Some say it 'twas made by the Dragons long ago, but none know why or how. It's all riddled with caves, and is a waypoint for traders."
Lina scowled at him. "If you knew all that, why didn't you tell us sooner? It took us almost a week to find this place!"
The pirate rubbed his chin. "Funny, even though Aye've known about Prayer Gate Rock for what seems like forever, Aye've never thought about it before today..."
Jusenkyou smacked the Sea of Chaos. "I told You that improvising and placing memories was a bad idea!"
The pirate shook his head. "Aye don't suppose it matters now."
Lina stood up on the bowsprit dramatically, pointing at Prayer Gate Rock. "That's the gateway to my next fortune!"
Ranma stepped over a hill and stopped short. "Whoa..." He was rather upset because the people behind him didn't stop until after they'd knocked him down and walked over him. Their reactions more than made up for it.
"That's horrible!" Ukyou said. Shampoo, Mousse, Konatsu, and Xelloss didn't say anything; their expressions showed nothing as they looked over the bodies that littered the battlefield. Ranma stood up after the others had already started searching the battlefield.
Shampoo was the first to speak. "These all men from same unit. What kill them all?"
Konatsu spoke. "Yes, they all wear the same mon."
Mousse said, "They were attacked by a monster of some sort, judging by these wound marks. Probably about a day or so ago."
Xelloss shouted, "Come over here! I've found what killed them."
The five martial artists rushed over to where Xelloss was standing over a skeleton of a humanoid monster that looked at least twelve feet tall and ten wide. Xelloss reached down, and, seemingly with little effort, ripped the skull from the spine. Looking deep into the eye sockets, he intoned, "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Saotome."
Ranma asked, "Really?"
"No." He pointed to where the skull had been cracked. "However, this sort of thing is very familiar. This is the killing wound, inflicted by something blunt."
Shampoo said, "But battlefield only day old or so. Why monster skeleton already?"
"This kind of monster rots quickly, leaving only bones. Actually, I think it was destroyed some time after it killed those men. My only question is," Xelloss said, putting the skull down gently, "who'd be strong enough to kill a monster of this kind with a blunt object?"
"Where on Earth are we now...?"
AUTHOR'S DEMENTED RANT
I certainly hope that I'm managing to keep this little thing interesting. It certainly fascinates the heck out of me. What's in store for our gangs of intrepid heroes in Part the Fifth? Does Naga get to Japan ahead of Lina? Do Ranma & Co. discover the evils of super-distortion? Will Kuno (now that I've chosen to use First-Season Kuno) actually manage to do something effectual? Will the Author finally explain why he uses the -ou sometimes and just the -o other times? Stay tuned for the next episode of Slayers NIBUNNOICHI!