A Duet of Pigtails
By Libby Thomas (& special guest co-writer Rob Barba)
Based on the characters and storylines of Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi and Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP
“Yes, anata. I’ll miss you, too. Take care of yourself at the conference. Until next, my love.” With that, Ono Kasumi tapped the disconnect button on the cordless phone and sighed. Her husband was going to be gone to an acupressure conference in Hawaii for a couple of weeks, and with the children in her care, there was no feasible way that she would be able to go on a second honeymoon of sorts. So a reluctant Tofu had to go alone, and an equally morose Kasumi had to remain behind.
Kasumi supposed that she could have asked Auntie Nodoka to watch the children, but that would be unfair, she decided. Ranma and Hikaru were depending on her to watch their children while they were gone, and that was a duty that Kasumi took very seriously. She loved her brother, his wife and their children, and she would never shirk on what they asked of her.
Besides, that meant she could live in the old home for a little while. Since they left a week ago, she moved into her old room, happy that it had never been remodeled when she and Nabiki moved out. Ranma left both of their rooms alone, turning his old room into the twins’ room and giving Akama Akane’s old room (it was the right thing to do). In fact, both Hikama and Hotaru were asleep at the moment, and Akama and Hiro were both at school. The house, all in all, was rather quiet, something that she was unaccustomed to in this old house.
Oh, what do I do? I’ve cleaned the house and did the laundry. The boys won’t be back from school for at least another two hours. She smiled to herself. No one was around. She could get away with it. She felt a guilty pleasure at what she was about to do, but as long as no one was around, there was no way to dishonor herself.
Kasumi gave herself a knowing smile, and then went back into the house. She had two hours to kill.
“Man, this sucks.” Martin, sitting on a roof across the street from the house he was watching, was bored out of his skull. He had no idea how he got talked into this shit. One minute, Michael had come here to kill someone. The next, Donovan had assigned Martin to protect the people who lived in the house owned by the person that Michael was going to kill, but had decided not to. Now, this was his only job, and had been for the past week.
What was he guarding against? The Yakuza? Some Chinese or North Korean spies? Godzilla? In a neighborhood like this one seemed to be, it wouldn’t be surprising if all of them showed up at the same time. Yawning from the relative stretch of boredom, he decided to hop down to a nearby vending machine and get a couple of cans of coffee. He was going to need something to keep him awake from the monotony, and the little cans of brown joy would do the trick just now.
As he reached a machine, he spied a young woman watching him with a gaze that could be considered either appreciative or predatory. She was apparently in her mid-twenties, and sporting that “Ayanami Rei” hairstyle that Japanese girls seemed to find so fashionable lately. She was dressed in a simple white turtleneck and black jeans, and it gave her an elegant yet casual look. He gave her a glance of his own, and she blushed demurely, somewhat embarrassed by the attention. But she soon recovered and gave Martin a winsome, demure smile. “Hello, sir,” she spoke, her voice soft and innocent.
Martin took one look at her and gave her his “ladykiller” grin; she was obviously not going to be a problem insofar as work was concerned. “Well, what brings you here so early in the morning, miss?”
She looked into the street, and pouted; it looked absolutely adorable on her. “I was supposed to meet a friend here, but it looks like she’s not going to show.” She looked at him again and asked with some hesitancy, “So what brings you to this little neighborhood?” Pointing at his long-lens camera set up, she noted, “We don’t usually get many tourists coming here. Normally they tend to stick to the more interesting parts of town.”
Damn, I should have left it on the roof! Fortunately, his CIA cover solved that problem. “Well, I’m a photojournalist from International Architecture magazine, and I’m doing an article on Japanese towns.” Pointing at the Saotome-Tendo dojo, he said, “Take for example, that house over there. It seems to be a renovation of an earlier pre-WWI design. Yet it seems to meld perfectly; only the aluminum window frames give away the truth that it’s not part of the original structure.” He then pointed to two more houses in the immediate area, giving enough details with a sound of expertise in his voice that made him sound as though he actually knew what he was talking about.
The girl looked at him with awestruck eyes. “That is impressive, sir. You must have an interesting job,” she said, blushing slightly; Martin thought that she wasn’t used to talking to men in this manner.
“Well, if you’re free for dinner tonight, maybe I could tell you about it,” Martin said, giving her one of his non-CIA business cards. He’d dropped all pretense of hitting on her, as the girl was too apparently too naïve and innocent to understand things like that. Well, I am going to be stationed in this country for quite some time, and Donovan didn’t say anything about mingling with the locals, so....
She took the card, then gave him a friendly smile before handing him one of her own. “I’d like that,” she replied. Looking at her watch, she huffed, “Oh dear, looks like she’s really late now. I’d probably better go looking for her. It was nice meeting you,” she said, her cheeks flushing, “and I’ll be sure to call. Goodbye!” With that, she rounded the corner and headed off.
Martin watched her go, as something stirred in his heart. There was something about that girl that reminded him of his Ivana, back before he’d heard of Project Renovation, much less defecting to the US and joining the CIA. If he’d still remained in Russia, he likely would have married her. But fate drew other plans for him and her; she was trapped into a situation where she could not get out of, and was murdered in the end. An uncaring government told Ivan Pavlov that she was shot trying to steal state secrets, unwilling to admit that it had been a Party Official that had her killed because she would not favor him. A week later, Donovan Cheng stepped into his world, and introduced him to a new life.
Since then he’d never found love; he was too afraid of betraying his feelings for Ivana. From talking to Michael, he’d gone through much the same just before he left, with a local girl trying to enter his heart while it was still filled with the memories of his deceased wife, Theresa. Michael might have decided that it was time to move on; maybe Martin should do so as well. Looking at her card, he noticed where she worked; a nightclub down at Roppongi. That caught his attention slightly; she didn’t fit the hostess or Roppo-gal stereotype. Maybe she was the secretary for the club; somebody had to do whatever paperwork was there, right? Besides, it really didn’t matter; she was a nice girl and he’d definitely found himself wanting to see more of her in the future.
Rounding the corner, the girl breathed a sigh of relief. He was cute. Really cute. But she didn’t come here to flirt with guys; she came here to do what she was asked to do. She looked at his business card, then pulled out her cell phone and made a few discrete calls. A few minutes, she had the answer she was looking for: Mr. Martin Aston was apparently on the level with her, and all he was, was a photographer for the Cerulean Images Agency, currently on loan to American Interests and Securities of Japan, Ltd. And he did know what he was talking about.
She just wished he hadn’t pointed out the Tendo home like that; it unnerved her a little, as though he was watching it for reasons other than he’d told her. She was asked to watch the place while the owner of the home was gone, and besides, she owed its owner a debt she couldn’t repay, not in a million years. She was obligated to help, and when she was asked, she jumped at the chance. It was her last, best hope for redemption in Ranma’s eyes, as well as her own.
In the meanwhile, she thought it best to move to another area to continue her watch, so Martin wouldn’t be suspicious that she was doing something untoward; she wouldn’t be, and she wasn’t that sort of girl--not anymore, at any rate. Glancing at her watch, she noted that tonight was going to be her last day at work before her sabbatical; she had to start her training soon. Looking at her reflection on the glass face of her watch, she sighed. Story of your life, girl. Someday it’ll get better; someday there will be redemption. Once again, she ignored the lies she told herself; though there was peace life now, there was no love, and unless things worked out with this Martin guy, there wouldn’t be for some time to come.
Leaping onto the nearest rooftop, she ran towards another block. There would be plenty of time for love, later. For now, there must only be vigilance.
In the private gym of the New Otani Nerima hotel, Keiei completed her kata. Her targets, all thick iron dummies, were reduced to slagged and hacked metal, courtesy of her ki attacks and her epic use of the black katana at her hands. She’d learned so many techniques over the years, so many talents, that she was sure that she was likely the best woman martial artist in the world. She was also sure, that in the past seven years, that Ranma had gotten much better. He’d had to, if only to keep that wicked, wicked husband stealer Saotome Nabiki from him; Keiei was sure that her beloved Ranma and their child were suffering. She’d been gone too long, but it was a necessary evil, one that she had to do in order to protect the ones she loved most.
Of course, there were other rewards besides familial love. For example, to win Ranma back, she would have to defeat Shidou Hikaru’s sword skills, Tendo Ranko’s fighting skills, and every bit of treachery that Nabiki would throw at her. But though the three of them were cunning, Keiei was even more cunning, and that would be the key to her long-awaited victory.
Slipping into the familiar black clothing that she used to fight, she spent time in meditation, focusing on her power. These were new koans and yogas that she’d been taught, these learned during her last seven years of training, and the majority of these under the master that she’d served for the past five. As she drew and channeled her power, her indigo aura seemed to throb with unnatural strength, as though it was carrying the power of a million dark suns.
As she felt her power growing, she chuckled in fond memory of her now-deceased master. Though he’d been somewhat of a lech when she first met him, he’d mellowed considerably as he saw her power grow. He’d told her a hundred times, “I’m not long for this world, and there is no more time for pleasure; there is only the duty to the Art.” In that, he’d practically treated her as a favored daughter, teaching her every talent he knew in his mind, and when that wasn’t enough, they traveled around the Orient, soaking up all the martial skills that she could ever hope to learn. Within those five years, she’d grown from a girl with the purpose of fighting, to a woman who had the ultimate techniques of a dozen disciplines within her fingertips.
During those five years, she’d moved on past her family. Her mother and father passed away, leaving her younger brother as the head of the Fuitamu School of Combined Jigenryu and Bushin Arts. She no longer cared; that part was long gone in her life, and once she won her husband back, she would banish the Fuitamu name to a forgotten past, anyway. If fate had been different for her, she would have stayed with her master, and taken over his school; she was his heir now that he passed away, and she was likely to pass on her skills to her child and future children, regardless. She owed much to him.
She thought back to the night that he died, two months ago. He’d told her, “You have a strong mind and a stronger fighting spirit. Take what is yours, and defend it to its utmost. But never forget to be nurturing, or you will only create your own downfall. You will receive all that is yours in the end, Keiei--I’m certain of it.” With that, he took his final breath and went to the ancestors. The next day, she buried him under one of his favorite trees by a lake--he said that it reminded him of the place where he met the only woman he ever loved, so long ago; he’d been a fool not to stay with her, but the Art was a hard master of its own, and duty required him to move on.
Standing up and heading for the door, she took one last look out the window, towards the horizon, and the nations that lay beyond, eventually to a tree by a lake. Wiping a tear from her eye, she whispered, “Thank you for everything, Master Happosai. I won’t let you down.” Taking the black blade in her hands, she left the gym to head for her room, soon to prepare herself for the final destiny that would await her in this.
The Vanden Plaz strike group walked out of the train station, headed towards their goal. The Germans, for the most part, tried to hide the looks of disgust from their faces; inferiors though these people might be, they were allies, and it was not their fault that the war had gone sour for them--it was something that the Vanden Plaz would rectify in the end, after all. Estima, taking the time last night to rob a couple of would-be bandits down in Daigasu Park, had dressed them in more modern clothing. Now, she looked like a young lady about town, while Dacia, Cupra and Astra all had more modern, genteel looks about them. Sharan, however, chose to stay with his robes, stating that it made him look like a priest and would aid them in their disguises.
At the moment, the kunoichi was trying to gain her bearings in the much-redesigned Nerima-ku; much to her chagrin, things had changed much since her prior times in the ward. The differences were myriad, and if it were not for the signs, she would have never known that she was in the place that she would most likely call home in this world.
“Well, now that you’ve had enough time to reminisce about your school days, girl, could we get back to our mission?” Dacia snarled, looking somewhat out of place in his suit. “What is taking you so long to find our target, Estima?”
“It has been a long time since I’ve been home, you idiot,” she seethed, her hand going by instinct to where she usually kept her wakazashi. “I will sort it out, soon enough, and when I do--ah, that looks familiar.” Estima matched up one of the pictures in her hands with the Matsuda house, half a kilometer from the dojo.
Sharan closed his eyes, sensing some sort of ambient force coming through the pictures. There was something all around them, something that tied the pictures into the weave of life, and would allow them to find.... “The children. You are correct, Estima. They are in that direction. I can sense it.”
“Then we get them,” Astra replied in his brutish, uncultured voice. Though he was the pride of Aryan dreams insofar as looks, his mind was a thuggish, simpleton’s one.
“No,” Estima replied. “We scout, first. Nerima as I remember it was always a peaceful and quiet ward, and the local constabulary was always quick to respond to the first sign of trouble. The children should be in school at the moment, and not likely to go anywhere. If we were to react in so brash a manner, we would have the police on our tails, and we might not be able to react in time.” Turning to Sharan, she looked at him for confirmation.
“You’re quite correct--the spell would take quite some time to set up here, since magic is far weaker on Earth,” he concurred. “Besides, because it is weaker, I would need a power source to draw from, and the nearest one we passed along the way. About the only thing I can do is sense ambient sources right now, and I sense unfamiliar, unusual force in small amounts--those must be the Pillar’s children.”
Estima nodded. “The place you’re referring to must be Kamakura--it has always been a sacred place. That will be good to know, once we ferment our escape plans. In the interim, we identify the children, and identify any possible security and protection setups--the Pillar wouldn’t leave her children unguarded, if she had any sense. If we stick to our goals, no one will ever know that we were there, and we’ll have the information that we need. In the meantime, Sharan, I want you to use your sensing skills to find the home where they dwell.” Checking her purse to see that her weapons were firmly in place, and the rest to see that theirs were at hand, the group went off, continuing their tragic mission.
“Wow, we get to go home early again,” Hiro commented to Akama as the pair walked home. It was earlier than the school usually let out, and the fact that the pair, as well as several other students, was getting out of school early wasn’t a good sign. “I’m surprised that Principal Ninomiya closed the school.”
“Well,” Akama said with as much expertise as a seven-year-old kid could muster, “I think it’s because that missile blew up half of our school, Hiro.” With a good section of Minami-Furinkan Elementary destroyed due to an incident at the nearby Furinkan High School, school would be closed for a few days while the campus was repaired. Additionally, it would take just as long as the fighting between Ninomiya Hinako and the principal of Furinkan High to calm down. Likely, that wasn’t going to happen for a few more days, so school was effectively out for at least a week. “So, whatcha wanna do?”
“Well, we could go an’ visit Aunt Ukyo. She’d be happy to see us!” Hiro chirped, pushing his glasses back on to his face.
“Un,” Akama agreed, “but she went off with all the other grownups to that vacation place.”
“Oh, I forgot.” Hiro was silent for a couple of minutes, working on another idea. “We could go home and play videogames for a while. Since we don’t have any homework, we c’n play games for a couple of hours, or maybe go to the park.”
Akama grinned. “That’s great! We can take Hikari with us!” He was about to add more to it when he stopped his cousin, and began looking around. “Sssh. I think there’s someone following us.” The heir to the combined schools of Anything Goes looked around for whatever caught his attention. The street was mostly empty, except for some gaijin and a woman at a coffee shop, another woman over at the flower shop on the other side of the street, and some scattered people here and there. “Nani?” the young martial artist said aloud. “I was sure I thought I felt someone followin’ us....”
Hiro laughed. “Akama, you’re actin’ like you’re on Maho Sentai Bushiranger or something. You’re not as good as Uncle Ranma or Aunt Nabiki.”
Clearly embarrassed, Akama scratched the back of his head and answered, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Let’s go.”
Sharan lowered his hand. “Well, that confirms it: the one with the longer hair is incredibly powerful for his age. He was able to sense something was wrong, and if it weren’t for the sensory barrier I just erected, he would have found us. That’s clearly one of the ones we’re looking for, then.”
Dacia looked at the two boys as they walked down the street. “Those two brats? Surely you don’t expect me to believe that dealing with them will a problem!”
Sharan looked at his compatriots. “As I recall, you three said the same thing of the fairy, and I don’t think that I need repeat the results of that little adventure, do I?” The man bristled at the memory of his lost eye; the mage merely shrugged and continued. “Regardless of the child’s abilities, waiting would be an unwise idea and one that we should not attempt. They may be able to expand their defenses against us, whether or not if they know of our presence.” Reaching into one of the folds of his robe, he produced a small canister similar to the one that Citroen had brought to this world, not so long ago. “I believe that we may need to increase the odds in our favor, Estima.”
Though the three stormtroopers saw the canister and shuddered, knowing the contents within, the kunoichi looked at him, her face passive. Finally, as though resigned to the situation, she said, “Do as you will, Sharan. You may be right in this, but I would rather that we used stealth than outright force.”
“I assure you, Estima, it will make our mission that much easier.” Rolling his sleeves back, the mage raised his hands, then threw the cylinder into the air, the small object bursting into multicolored flames before the group. Looking at the remnants as it began to coalesce, Sharan called out, “Do my bidding, my creations. Do what you were meant to do, and find your new homes. When you are done, you will come to me, and I will instruct you further.” The flames began to multiply as though some sort of alchemical fusion were taking place, and within minutes, where there had only been three flames, there were now dozens, each flame sporting burning, hating eyes of unnatural life. The multitude seemed to bow as one to their master, and spread out throughout the vicinity.
Sharan turned back to his companions. “We will give them enough time to find host bodies, and they will find us. Once we have them, we’ll have enough soldiers to effect our escape with the Pillar’s children, and that will make our job as easy as anything.”
Dacia snorted. “I doubt it. I trust no magic, but only my guns.”
Estima gave him a look of contempt. “Then you trust in flaws. I trust in my blades, and those will never run dry, until I sheath them, and the blood of my enemies flows wider than the deepest river.”
Standing at the flower shop, Keiei restrained herself from rushing towards her child; any of Nabiki’s thugs could be nearby, and there would likely be enough to overwhelm her, numbers wise though not through talent. Still, she had to wipe away tears of joy as she identified her son. He senses me! He’s so young, and yet so strong, just like Ranma and just like me. He truly is his parents’ child.
As he headed down the street with that friend of his (a non-martial artist, no less--she’d have to talk to him about not associating with lessers), she could only vow that tonight would be the night that she would strike. Too long Nabiki held her husband in thrall; and as strong as Ranma was, it was clear that he was honorable enough not to strike against a woman...that was obviously what Nabiki used as leverage against him. However, Keiei was a woman and Ranma’s true wife, and had no such compunctions about fighting--and killing--another member of her gender. Especially when it was one of the two women who’d ruined so much of her life.
Feeling the weight of her katana at her side, sheathed
within its scabbard and swaddling cloths, Keiei gave herself a personal smile as
she took a few roses from the vendor. Tonight
is the night where I’ll have my long awaited victory, she assured herself,
and it will be the night that Saotome Nabiki will finally go straight to
A phone rang atop a house in Nerima. A young woman tapped the answer button on her cell phone, delicately trying to balance it while eating a bento and keep watch on the location she was surveying. “Moshi moshi.”
it’s Midori,>> a female voice on the other
side spoke, the tones carrying the demeanor of friendship.
<<Still playing rooftop
“Mi-chan, there’s more to it than that. This is something I have to do,” the first girl answered. “It’s been so long...in a sense, I really don’t have much of a choice, you know?”
<<You’ve always got a choice; it’s what defines you in the end. Just be careful; I don’t want to have to go to your funeral just because you stepped the wrong way off a roof. You coming home tonight?>>
“I’m not sure, but I’ll try--I could stand a home cooked meal for a change. But if I don’t, can you feed Nezumi-chan for me?”
Midori laughed. “Can I? That cat of yours does nothing but eat! But I’ll make sure the beast is fed. You just watch your back, okay? And remember what Jiro-sensei said: you are in control of your own destiny.”
“I’ll remember that. Talk to you later, Midori.” With that, the girl pressed the disconnect button, and went back to eating her lunch, all the while continuing her vigil of the Saotome-Tendo dojo, and waiting for a conflict that some feared was to come. After all, the house and its owner were magnets for absolute chaos, it seemed; trouble was always a matter of when, never if.
“Hi, we’re home!” Akama called out, with his cousin firmly in tow. On the engawa, Hikari gave the two a warm, joyful bark as the two boys entered the domicile. Setting down their books momentarily to take off their shoes, the two boys were just glad to be home when they encountered Kasumi and... “Um, Aunt Kasumi? Whatcha doin’?” Akama asked, completely perplexed by the sight before him.
Kasumi looked at the two, trying very hard to banish the shock and embarrassment from her face. They’re home early.... her numbed mind managed to dredge up before the words of doom settled in her mind: You’ve been caught. Her hands shaking a bit from the dread realization and her mind still unable to take stock of the situation at hand, she managed to stammer an answer of “Aaaah...hi. I, er, d-d-dinner will be ready in a-a-a few hours. I-I-I have to go check...on the babies now.” Trying not to look as though she were running for her life, a completely mortified Kasumi hurried up the stairs towards the twins’ room, trying to figure out how she was going to live with the shame of being caught in such an act, by the children no less.
Akama and Hiro watched Kasumi all but dash up the stairs, before the younger one turned to the older one and said, “Grownups are weird.” Turning to the TV, he sat down in front of the Playstation and looked at the controller that his mother had just dropped. “Okasama was acting like she was doing something wrong.”
Akama took a look at the screen, surprised. “Wow...looks like Aunt Kasumi got the high score on Tetris. Neat! But I wonder why she had to get away from the game like that?”
Having taken over the game, his fingers flying over the control pad’s surface, Hiro replied, “I dunno. Hey, you wanna play Street Fighter?”
Several hundred miles to the south, in the Saotome household in Kyoto, Saotome Nodoka looked into a mirror, freshening up after working on the garden during the course of the morning. Things had gotten quiet in their lives once more, and between Genma’s classes and her own Jigenryu classes, things were much more comfortable for the pair. It was only every so often that Genma would seem wistful about his many shogi games without Soun, or that Nodoka thought about the past and how things went. But that was the way of people in the twilight of their lives, Nodoka mused, as she looked at her countenance in the mirror, idly counting another gray hair, another wrinkle or two.
After Soun’s death and his wish to see Nabiki and Ranma wed, Nodoka and Genma moved south to her mother’s home in Kyoto. There were several reasons for this: one, though both Saotomes disagreed with Soun’s dying wish, they had to respect their old friend’s last request, and so moved out of the home to give the two time to bond (it was a joy for Nodoka that her son and the remaining Tendo daughters developed the relationship that they currently enjoyed). The other reason was that Uyesugi Otane was ready to pass on to the ancestors, and as such, her only child would be there to help in her final days. A few months later, Otane passed from the world peacefully, and Nodoka and Genma inherited the home that Nodoka had grown up in.
The house itself was a gorgeous, beautiful thing. The ancestral home of the Uyesugi family since as far back as anyone could remember, it was built in a classical style that was an architectural landmark. From the pathways littered with sakura petals, to the elegantly built dojo, it was a wooden masterpiece, filled with warmth and peace. Someday, Nodoka thought to herself as she left the bathroom, perhaps Ranma and Hikaru will live here as well, when their children are old enough to take charge of their destinies. Or maybe, she thought, I still have time to become a mother again. It hadn’t been the first time Nodoka had thought of it; it likely wouldn’t be the last.
As she walked into the den, she heard the rustle of the door sliding open. The sounds of the footsteps were slightly muffled, and without even having to look, the matriarch of the Saotome family asked her husband, “You tripped over the rock by the koi pond again, didn’t you?”
Turning to the door, she noted the soggy Panda standing on
the outside of the engawa, waiting to dry off before coming in.
Genma gave a few soft barks before holding up a sign that commented, [[Really,
dear, I thought we were going to get that rock fixed.]]
She looked at her husband, evenly. “Everything would be fine, if you stopped trying to practice your mid-air attacks, dear. You’re not as young as you used to be, you know.” She went over and grabbed a teakettle off a nearby hotplate, then poured it over her husband’s furry head.
The stream of warm water fell earthwards, the crystal clear cascade of water sparkling as though it held a sort of magic. And perhaps it did, after a fashion: while some of it impacted against the wooden surface of the engawa, the majority splashed onto the fur of the mammal, creating a miniature tsunami, knocking over the follicles of fur on the head of the beat. Each drop fell farther and farther to impact against fur as it changed to human skin, until a few seconds later, the teapot emptied the remainder of its contents on an old, slightly portly man who’d changed little over the years. Saotome Genma gave his wife a respectful look before commenting, “If Ranma can do it, so can I. I’m the head of this household, and there’s nothing that I can’t do! I taught that boy everything he knows, and--“
“--and he’s nearly thirty years younger than you,” Nodoka reminded her husband. “Our son is still in his prime, and is the best martial artist in the world, Genma. And you did teach him well, dear...though I wish you’d have taught him a few more things, besides.” Her husband’s transformation done, she went over to sit by the table, where another teakettle--this one actually filled with tea--stood by. Pouring two cups, she offered one to Genma and asked, “So, how well did your students do today?”
Genma had a contemplative look on his face. “Well, that boy Matsuhara has incredible potential; he’s already working on designing some of his own ki moves. And Fubuki’s not that far behind him; she’s already created a sort of ki-barrier that she uses for a battering ram attack. They’re not as good as Tendo or I were at that age, but they’ll certainly be world-class when they reach adulthood.”
“That’s good,” Nodoka replied. “Many of my students are quite exceptional as well. Perhaps, we can call our son and see if his dojo’s students would be up to a small tournament or sorts, to better the training for all? Besides, it would be nice to see the children again, and I would like to see how my grandchildren are doing. We didn’t spend as much time in Nerima as I would have liked to the last time, and with Hikaru so recently given birth, I don’t like the idea of having left so soon.” Her eyes wandered from her husband to that of a picture sitting on a nearby counter. In it were Ranma, a somewhat tired but jubilant Hikaru, and their three kids; the picture sat next to an older photograph of Ranma, Akane and a newborn Akama, taken only a few short days before Akane’s untimely death.
Without warning, a gust of wind came into the house through the open sliding door. The breeze knocked over an antique daruma sitting on a shelf above the counter, and the daruma fell, slamming into the pictures. There was a xylophonic shriek as the glass of the picture frames shattered, and Nodoka gasped, not expecting the event. Rushing over to the frames, she picked them up, inspecting them for further damage. What she saw worried her deeply.
On the older picture, while Ranma’s side was intact, the section with Akane had been heavily torn from the glass shards, and the section with baby Akama was completely gone. On the other, while the images of Ranma and his second wife went untouched in the photo, the images of the children were completely covered by the spiderwebbed damage that the glass had suffered. In both cases, Ranma had been left alone, while his children had been ruined by the broken glass.
Setting the pictures back down, Nodoka looked at the frames with a critical eye. If she were as overly traditional as she sometimes appeared to be, she would have called the incident an omen, a dark portent of things to come. Worse, it was clear that somehow, Akane and the three Saotome children would be involved. But Nodoka was modern in some respects, and chalked it up to coincidence. Though she’d loved Akane as though the girl had been her own daughter, Ranma’s first wife and love was dead now for seven years. And someone would have called if Ranma and Hikaru were in some kind of situation that they couldn’t handle...not that there was much that her son (or his wife, to a lesser degree) couldn’t handle.
No, Nodoka decided, whatever fates had a hand in this, omens were not it. Still, she would talk her husband into a visit soon. Maybe it would be just the thing that would bring something interesting to their lives.
In the late afternoon, Nerima was afoot with movement. Like a steady army of zombies, people shuffled, seeming like they were not entirely in control of their own movements. They moved with a slow, halting pace that seemed oddly reminiscent of goose-stepping--bankers, salarymen, students, OLs, policemen, and every other walk of life--moving towards the residential streets of the ward. The gathering was likely several hundred strong, as they were too numerous to count so easily. However, one thing was clear about them: they were slowly advancing on one particular house in the neighborhood.
Each of them moaned or whispered something softly, as though they knew they weren’t in control of their own body. A few managed to warble out a “may the kami save me” or “Buddha help me” as they continued their gait down the streets of Nerima with their fellow mob members. The looks in all of their eyes, despite their movements, was one of sheer and complete terror. The second, almost microscopic set of eyes on their foreheads, however, looked and scanned around with gazes of calculating, dangerous determination. Those second sets of eyes were looking for something. Or rather, someone--a select group of someones.
From where they stood in the distance, the Vanden Plaz team relaxed easily. This was going to be more convenient this way, Estima admitted to herself, although she didn’t like it. Too many things could go wrong, and it would only take one person to change the balance in a situation like this, given the right person. Feeling for her blades, she confirmed her earlier thoughts. It would only take the one person to deal with situation.
“I’ll return shortly,” she barked to her teammates. “I have an odd feeling something is about to trip us up, lest we’re not wary.” Without waiting for a response, she vaulted off the current rooftop and raced down the street, the modern clothing she wore practically melting off her as she shucked them for her more comfortable kunoichi clothing. As she reached for the air, she heard the voices of her so-called allies deriding her for being a “cold fish” and “damnable woman.” Well, she thought, damn them as well. Damn all of the Vanden Plaz and this whole situation. Things would have been better and more efficient if they’d sent in Lady Botan’s team of Nihonjin, and not this collection of mostly stupid, mindless gaijin.
As she bolted through the throng of possessed, controlled mindslaves, she finally saw, for the first time, the location where the mob was moving to, and a part of her own doubtable humanity grew wistful and nostalgic for a minute or two. She stood before the place where her entire world had been shaped, the only place where she’d been truly happy throughout the balance of her life here in Japan, before she and Lady Botan had to head off to destiny. This neighborhood was the only place in her blessed life that she’d been able to call home, and now it was about to turn into a war zone.
But enough of that, Aikawa, she told herself. It is time to fight. Lady Botan asked me to do so, and so I will. That was Aikawa’s duty, to serve Botan. None of this nationalist or aggressor ideals that the Emperor held; Aikawa could care less about them. Her duty was to the woman who found her and brought her into her world. That, more than anything was why Aikawa tolerated the Germans calling her “Estima,” or why she didn’t slay any of them who dared to call Botan “Berlina”. I owe my lady a debt that I can never repay, and I will give my very life in token to prove so, if I must.
Scanning the streets, she had the feeling that there was
quarry near. Looking up towards the
old Ajisaka home, she noted a photographer or reporter of some sort--a gaijin,
no less--standing on the roof, taking survey of all that was around him.
Something immediately clued the kunoichi that he was the intended target:
it was the way he looked at the oncoming crowd behind her.
It was not a look of fear or wonder she saw in his eyes, but one of
determination and challenge. This
was a warrior, not whatever he pretended to be.
He might not be much of a challenge, she thought, but
he’s better than those would-be “thieves” I ran into last night.
As though she lived for the very rush of adrenaline, she leapt towards her target, unsheathing her wakazashi and roaring, “Now is the moment of your death, and I call your life forfeit! I am kunoichi, and you are not long for this world!” Plunging her blade into the ground, she blew apart a sizable section of the roof, and had it not been for a well-timed backwards leap on the part of her opponent, the battle would have been over on the first blow.
Throwing the camera aside, he dropped into what seemed to be a standard defensive position; a shame, actually, as she thought he’d be more of a challenge. “I don’t know who the hell you are miss,” he blurted in an unfamiliar language that was likely English, “but I’m not about to be killed by the likes of you!” With a twist, he lashed out in a simple snap kick that she dodged easily; however, she hadn’t expected him to spiral down to a footsweep, and he’d managed to luck out, connecting and knocking her off her feet. Before he could take advantage of it, she rolled back, leapt to her feet at the end of the roof’s spine, then lashed forward, throwing out a stream of shuriken. To her amusement, he managed to dodge them, although the last one nearly clipped him. With a scream of anger, he charged her, plodding along the roof as he raced towards her, ready to take her down.
Estima calmly stood there, looking rather bored as he bore down on her, fist cocked. She began to walk away from him exposing her back to him, in a taunt. As the distance between them shrank to mere inches, the kunoichi then snapped her delicate fingers, and the world suddenly seemed to warp out of whatever natural rules it played by.
Moving with the speed of a bullet, Estima dashed towards her foe, delivering a high-speed series of kicks, punches and chops that drove him back as surely as if he’d slammed straight into a wall. Finally, as Estima screamed “HIZASHIKEN!” she punched her foe straight against the chest. There was a burst of light as bright as the sun, and a smoking, unconscious whoever-he-was fell off the roof.
He got his wish, Estima said to herself with a tone of smugness. I won’t kill him--the fall off the roof will, if he lands incorrectly. Her mission accomplished, she watched as Sharan’s insta-army continued their march on the home of the Pillar, which if she remembered correctly, was the old Tendo home. Was the Pillar one of Tendo Matsumoto’s offspring? It would be interesting to see if that was the case, she decided as she sheathed her blades.
She continued to keep that look of piqued interest on her face as something hard slammed into the back of her head, knocking her out.
Damn, damn, damn, damn DAMN!!!!!! the girl told herself as she saw the crowd only five blocks away from the dojo. She’d already attended to this woman, whoever she was--That was for attacking Martin! He was just a photographer! she mentally raged at the still form at her feet. Looking at the crowd, there was no doubt in her mind that this woman had something to do with it, and that it wasn’t going to take rocket science to figure out that crunch time was now in full effect. She had to do something now before it was too late, before Kasumi was to be brutally murdered and the children lost.
But that meant that she would have to get directly involved, and to do that might jeopardize all that she’d spent almost the past ten years working towards. But if nothing was done, they would be doomed to a fate that she had no knowledge of. And yet, wasn’t she doomed to fail, even if she was to succeed? Was any of this going to make a difference in the end?
The answer was irrelevant, she decided; the lives of the children and Kasumi were more important than her own peace of mind...or even her own life. With a move that few martial artists could have pulled off, the woman with the Ayanami Rei hairdo leapt from the rooftop, tossed her arm out, and snagged the edge of an electrical pole. Swinging from it, she bolted onto a second roof, then flung herself straight into mid-air once more. Spinning once, she used that momentum to throw herself skyward, even higher into the air than she’d been. Tucking into a tight roll to achieve maximum time in the air, she came out of the roll to allow her feet to connect with the side of a wooden fence. Pushing off it, she dived for a group of telephone cables, and caroming off of those with a skill that came incredibly naturally, she pushed off them and landed in the Tendo yard, with maybe five minutes to spare before the crowd came in. Not bothering with formalities, she bolted into the house and called out, “Kasumi! Get the children and get out of here! You’re in danger!”
There was a growl behind her, and the woman came face to face with Hikari, ready to attack, and behind him, Akama with a martial artist’s look of challenge on her face. In the distance, Hiro sat, a surprised look on his face. “Hikari doesn’t like you,” Akama said, “an’ if he don’t like you, I don’ like you.”
“Akama-chan,” she replied, “this is not the time to be a hero. Everyone here’s in danger, and we have to get them out now!” Ignoring the child and the dog, she called out, “Kasumi! Get the children and get out of here!” The sounds of thunder began to roar in the distance, and it was becoming clearer to her that the enemy, whoever they were, wasn’t that far away. Only a couple of blocks, and as slow as they were moving, they were inevitably drawing closer to their goal.
Finally, Kasumi came out of the kitchen, where she’d been making dinner. “Oh, we have a guest! Hello, I don’t think we’ve--”
“This is not the time for semantics!” the woman snarled. “Kasumi, there are three hundred-plus people out there, coming to take the children and kill you if you’re in the way! Grab the children and get out of here!”
“Oh my,” she whispered, hoping the children wouldn’t hear her profanity; she’d already had a shameful day as it was. “But what about din--” The roar of more than six hundred steps were coming closer, becoming deafening in its march. “W-what is that?”
“Those,” the woman said, “are the people who’ve come here to kill you and take the children!” Pushing Kasumi towards the stairs, she begged her, “Kasumi, please. Trust me. I’m going out there and take a defensive position to allow you to escape. Meet me at Hoya station. Run as fast as you and the children can. If I’m not there, is there somewhere you can go to escape?” Without waiting for an answer, the woman raced out of the house, towards the street.
Kasumi watched the retreating figure, heard the crashing sounds coming closer and closer. She didn’t know that woman, yet there was something familiar about her. Should she trust her? Kasumi looked upstairs towards the sleeping children’s room, then down at the two boys and Hikari. The sound was getting louder, and despite everything, this time, Ranma wasn’t here to deal with the problem. He wasn’t here, and a problem was coming, regardless.
There was no time to think. Kasumi didn’t know who the mysterious woman was, but she didn’t have time to react to really find out, either. There was danger coming, and only one thing to do.
The mystery woman stepped out of the front gate of the dojo, stretching with what little time she had left. As they neared, she finally dropped into a Chinese-based offensive pose ideal for kick attacks and called out, “This is your last and only chance to turn around and go away peacefully. If you do, you will not be harmed. If you don’t, well, you can figure it out for yourself.” The answer was a mass of humans, suddenly charging. “Okay,” she said with a touch of sadness in her tones, “so be it.”
She closed her eyes, as though searching for something deep within. As though a mental signal from somewhere sounded, she opened her eyes slowly. There was a glint of light, a blur, and in less time than it took for her to open those eyes, the young woman charged forward into the army of opponents. Lashing out with fist and foot attacks too swift for the eye to keep up with, she began sending bodies in all directions through the onslaught of her attacks. Ducking under the first blow of some teenaged punk, she reached up, grabbed his arm, and swung him into the nearest crowd. Leaping over a pair of bodies, she dropped into the center of another grouping and removed them with a series of acrobatically elegant spin kicks.
Despite this, more and more of them seemed to boil in her
direction, a human wave about to crash on the shore of the walls with her in the
middle. “Great, you guys just
don’t want to learn, do you?” Completing
her hurricane kick attack, she arced her arm, backhanding a giant behind her,
punching him just hard enough that he tipped forward, unconscious.
Grabbing his shoulders as he fell, she flipped behind him and slammed him
in the back with a vicious kick, propelling him forward into the crowd.
“Back off now,” she
roared, “or I will get nasty!!!!!!”
Over the din of the crowd, she could hear the bark of a
dog, the ring of bicycle bells. Please,
please, let that be them escaping, she pleaded with the powers above.
But there’s no time to tell, she
had to admit as the crowd continued to surge forward.
Despite their best efforts, they were going to break through her attack,
and into the Saotome-Tendo dojo; there was nothing that she could do about it
except to hope that Kasumi and the others got away. Now all I have to do is
to get away, myself. She gave
herself a secret smile as she mentally added, easy
Pirouetting out of the path of a pipe swung in her
direction, she called to the group, “Well, this has been fun, but I’ve got
to protect those wonderful people you failed to hurt. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to give you a parting gift
in return!” Belting four more back to give her enough space to maneuver, she
pulled her arms back, and her ki aura flared into being.
Streams of bioenergy dancing around her as if she were the nucleus of a
martial atom, the delicate cyan shade of her aura gave no indication of the
depths of her determination. However,
something else did: she thrust both arms out, bellowing from the depths of her
soul, “SO PLAY WITH THIS, INSTEAD! HANABIRA
Her hands flaring with the concentration of heavy chi, she loosed a snarling beam of energy towards her foes, an uncoiled dragon burrowing into its prey. Knocking them away like so much paper, bodies upon bodies were thrown back, across the street with gale force. The street cracked under the force of the energy, and the walls of the house across the street shattered when the beam momentarily impacted against it.
Not even bothering to watch the multitude recover, the mystery woman leapt to the top of the Tendo gate, then to the top of the house before calling out, “Please don’t do too much damage to the house while you search in vain. It would be unfair if the owners had to clean up a major mess, you know.” Nothing further to say, she bounced away on the rooftops, headed towards a rendezvous that she could only hope would happen.
Rubbing her head, Estima clambered back to her feet. The first thing in her vision was the woman blasting away Sharan’s mindslaves with inexplicable power before vaulting to the top of the roof with a skill that rivaled the kunoichi’s talents.
Despite herself, Aikawa laughed. At last, a true
challenge! Not even bothering
to signal to her “allies”, the warrior woman raced down the street, then
bounded atop the first roof and gave chase, following the mindslaves agile
enough to follow this new target. There
would be no rush, Aikawa felt; she would let the woman deal with the slaves,
then have enough time to rest. And
when the moment is right, I will strike, and my blades will taste the sweet
sensation of her blood!
Aikawa licked her lips in anticipation.
Lady Botan, I do this in your name,
and in your honor. I will bring victory to us, I swear.
Sharan could only stare in utter amazement as the stranger bounced from rooftop to rooftop with ridiculous ease. Down on the ground, the majority of the possessed crowd was slowly shambling to their feet, while the more agile of the victims--the martial artists, athletes, and the like--leapt to the top of the roof and gave chase.
Dacia looked at the mage with murderous eyes. “‘Simple and easy’, Sharan?” he seethed. “I don’t know who’s worse: you or the Japanese bitch!” From their viewpoint, the stormtrooper pointed at the two hundred or so left shambling around. “One woman--a woman!!!--tossed aside your ‘invincible demon troops’ like the useless, wastrel scum they are!”
Sharan looked at Dacia with annoyance. “And you three could do better?”
Astra and Cupra lunged forward, highly insulted by Sharan’s words. “We are the finest hunter-trackers trained by the Fatherland, and for you to say any less is a disgrace to the Waffen!”
Sharan yawned. “Spare me your platitudes, gentlemen. Let us catch up with our own forces; I believe that Estima is leading the remaining mindslaves in the second wave. Should she fail--and I doubt she will, as she seems more talented than all three of you combined--then you will have your opportunity. But until then, I suggest you bide your time. I have a feeling this is not done quite yet. Not done in the least. Let us go.”
Cupra looked at the gathering below, standing around without any orders, completely lost and desensitized to the world. “What of your creations, Sharan?”
“The demons will die in a few hours, and their bodies returned to their control. Leave them be--as long as nothing comes into the area that represents a threat, all should be well for these...people. After all, even though they are our allies, they’re an inferior race. Why worry about them?”
Down the streets, Keiei ran. She heard the commotion as she stepped out of the subway station, and immediately tossed aside her kimono for more comfortable street clothing. Now wearing jeans and a T-shirt, the woman known as the Black Blade raced down the streets of Nerima, searching for the Tendo home, and the place where Nabiki kept her husband and children captive in her web of deception. The time for suffering is past, Keiei decided, and my loved ones will suffer no more!
Turning the final corner and facing the dojo for the first time in years, she came upon a horrific scene: the house where her family was, being destroyed by an army of apparent zombies. “The kami preserve my loves,” she muttered aloud. “I never realized that I was dealing with such a foul sorceress, capable of such sinister darkness!” Edging her black katana slightly out of its scabbard, she called out to the foul host before her, “I am the black blade, Fuitamu Keiei, and I command you, servants of Saotome Nabiki, to tell me where your demonic mistress is.” In a softer voice, she commented, “Or, I could end your unnatural lives easily. The choice is yours.”
Despite the fact that the demons controlling the bodies of the mindslaves were to die within only a couple more hours, they were still in charge, and two hundred people were summarily forced to attack. Keiei gave them all disgusted looks, sighing, “Remember in the afterlife that it was Nabiki who did this to you. I have only freed you.” Keiei continued to stand there as the mob approached. Then, without warning, she attacked. Charging the nearest person, a teenaged girl, she slammed her black sword through the girl’s shoulder blade, pinning her conveniently against a car as though she were an insect mounted on a box. Likely, so much bone and muscle had been cut through in the strike, that the arm would have to be amputated if this zombie survived the day. Keiei was going to insure that she didn’t.
Moving without her blade at the moment, she cooed, “Okay, face your fates, creatures! You are at the hands of the Black Blade, and you will feel your end!” Aiming for the next nearest person, she laid a blow to the woman's ribcage, punching into the woman's heart cavity, Keiei’s hand glowing with energy as she roared, “Anbu Kensakuban!!!!!!!!!” There was an explosion of ki, and the remnants of the now-dead woman blasted to the four winds in a grisly display of a sanguine blossom. Without pausing for breath, she bolted to her side and engaged the next person, caving the man’s face in via a flip kick. Still in the air, she aimed towards the head of a third and slammed him towards the ground. The person’s head burst upon impact with the street, coming apart as grotesquely as a busted watermelon.
All the while, Keiei’s rage and anger were building. How could she do this to these innocent people? she asked. How depraved is that woman? And what has she done with my family? Do they even remember me anymore? Has she used her black magic to make them forget me? Repulsed by the thought and screaming a soundless cry of anguish and fury, Keiei leapt towards two more people, aiming snap kicks towards both. Her feet crushed in their noses, hitting them just precise enough that the bone shards shotgunned into vital parts of the brain, killing them instantly. Landing, she ducks under the fist of a rather overweight brute, spun back, bounced once, then threw a rapid punch attack against his face, shattering it into a spray of red.
Not bothering to check on the further tallies added to the body count, she surveyed her situation. Some of the zombies were beginning to break off, somehow having come back to life and realizing the righteousness of Keiei’s situation. However, most of them continued their rush towards the femme fatale, not understanding that they were not the predators here, but the prey.
Keiei retrieved her katana from the corpse of the girl, unpinning her from the car. The cadaver slid off the blade cleanly, slumping in a boneless huddle at Keiei’s feet. Keiei had no time for remorse for killing these people. It was Saotome Nabiki’s fault that they were dying; Keiei was only liberating their souls. With both her and the kata blazing with her indigo aura, she dived into the crowd, canting, “Sambyaku Shinkiro Genbu!!!!” Becoming a moving scythe of death with her sword, Keiei began methodically swatting away anyone in her path, cleaving cleanly in two or turning them into screaming balls of ki-powered flame. Already soaked red from the viciousness that had occurred, more blood soaked and slicked the ground, dying the black of the street in the life of those slaughtered. Yet Keiei continued, hacking her way through the host as though they were nothing but underbrush to be cut through. Her moves, were it not for the gruesome results, would almost seem poetic, a geisha’s fan movements that was turning out to be more of a danse macabre than a fan dance.
Something whistled by her head, and Keiei ducked forward, avoiding an attack by someone who seemed to have a slight talent for fighting. Spinning to face her opponent, he punched towards her, the second hit almost connecting as well. The Black Blade dropped back momentarily, surveying her current dance partner. "Hmmm. You're almost good enough to be an actual challenge. Almost." With that comment, Keiei rushed in, grabbed and twisted the attacker’s arm, then delivered a pinpoint strike to paralyze it. With that done, she then opened fire with a volley of rapid punch attacks, turning him into so much pulp. The remains of her attacker fell to the floor with a liquid slurp, and Keiei moved on to the next batch.
This is taking way too long to deal with them, she realized. Well, if I’m going to have my vengeance against that harridan, I’ve got no choice. Calling up her indigo aura once more, she moved into a position where she could face the remainder of the zombified army she faced. “Time to end this!” she said as she slammed her blade into the floor. Spreading her arms out, she screamed out the name of her trademark attack: “TSUGARU WAVE!!!!!” The sunken point of the blade and the palms of her hands became the focal point for a triangle of force, and a massive lance of ki rocketed forward, almost as wide as the street itself. The mob, unable to move in time to avoid the attack, was swept up in the powerful wave, a river of energy swatting aside mere insignificant debris in its raging, angry path. For a moment, it seemed that the whole world in that area was blotted out by an onslaught of dark, burning ki that obliterated everything in its path.
When the dust settled, Keiei stood at the apex of a cone of absolute destruction spreading out for a quarter-kilometer distance. Left smoking were the scorched remains of houses, slagged and melted cars and mailboxes, scarred and cracked utility poles...and dozens upon dozens of bodies, all burnt to a crisp. Not a single person had survived the onslaught of the Tsugaru Wave, and it was likely that any aid would be coming from Civil Disaster agencies, not the police. None of it concerned Keiei, though. She did what she had to, and though she was sorry that some had to die, the blame for this fell squarely on Nabiki as though the woman had pulled the trigger herself. With the distraction gone, Keiei grabbed her katana and raced through the front gates of the home, ready to face...
...emptiness. The house had been abandoned, left alone. There was the smell of something that had been cooking; the doors hadn’t even been locked. The whole zombie scene had been naught but a ruse, something to delay Keiei while Nabiki spirited away Ranma and her son. “No...no....” Keiei’s face was a mask of total shock. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” she howled as she dropped to the floor, her eyes welling with tears. “Ranma...my baby...she took you both from me....” The Black Blade’s tears fell towards the tatami mats, her sorrow and anguished cries heard seemingly for miles around. In her pain, she began to punch the floor, not caring that she was leaving increasingly larger holes in the mats and the foundation beneath.
However, fortune smiled on her. Out of the corner of her eye, a small, blue piece of paper
stuck out. Perceiving it to be an
omen, she grabbed for it, hoping it to be a lifeline.
Taking the ticket stub in her hand, she read and found it to be a ticket
stub from Tokyo station, from this morning no less. Tokyo...that’s where
the shinkansens are!
Keiei leapt to her feet, sliding her ebon sword back into its scabbard. It was a chance on the level of needles and haystacks, but it was one, nonetheless. If she was ever going to have a shot at peace in her life and to win back the family that had been wrenched from her grasp, she was going to have to take that risk. Racing outside of the home and taking only the time to lock the place that would be her home when she and her family returned victoriously, Keiei leapt to the roof and began roof hopping towards the local train station as fast as she could push herself. Nabiki’s forces, whoever they were, had a lead on Keiei; but she was the Black Blade, the best female martial artist in the world, and there was no way that she would lose the most important battle of her life.
She was already well out of the area by the time the sirens began to sound.
Taking the time to have the boys lock up the bicycles at the rack at Seibu Hoya station, Kasumi checked the infants. They’re fine, thank God. I was worried that.... She shook her head, still unable to believe the words that the stranger had told her. Why would anyone want to kill her? Or take the children? Was it related to what the others were involved in? Might it even be related to something that involved Ranma and Akane, instead of Ranma and Hikaru? There was a precedent of people popping up after an extended time, from Ryoga and Ukyo to Fuitamu Keiei and dozens in-between. And why would they get several hundred people to do it? It just didn’t make sense--even some of the worst people that Ranma had encountered previously never stooped to the point of having someone else do their dirty work for them.
Kasumi took a deep breath, trying to calm down. There was no reason to get the children worked up about an already tense situation. Looking at the boys as they stared up at her with curious glances, it made her already wonder how much they knew. Akama had that look in his eyes that were similar to when Ranma faced a challenge; considering the events that occurred at Fujikyu, the boy was no stranger to conflict. Hiro patted Hikari nervously, while the dog was still panting heavily from the lengthy trip here. The infants of course, were asleep, having no idea that they were in any sort of danger and not being able to--
Movement came from the bushes by the front entrance, far swifter than the homemaker could react. “It’s okay; it’s just me.” The mystery woman moved towards them, having landed over by the shrubs. She looked like she’d fared well against the onslaught she faced, but there was a look on her face that was so sad, so...fearful? Kasumi noted that she was now speaking in soft, respectful tones to her, as though she were the empress, and wasn’t even looking straight at her, as though the girl bore a great shame. “I don’t think they’ll be after you any longer, if you go somewhere safe for a while,” the woman noted, “though I’ll protect you all the way. Do you have somewhere where you can go?”
Kasumi, already concerned about the mounting level of danger, answered immediately and without hesitation. “I can go to the Saotomes down in Kyoto. They’ll...protect...us,” she said, her mouth moving around the discomforting words. “But I have no way to get there. I left my purse at the dojo, and it’s probably...not safe to go back. And I don’t have a way to contact Auntie.”
“I’ll pay for your trip,” the woman said, still not able to face Kasumi. “We’ll have to catch the last shinkansen out of Tokyo JR station; it’s the only way to make sure that we get there before the others find out where we’re going.” She looked into the sunset, searching for the enemies that were clearly coming closer, searching for them and knowing they were relatively close. Ushering them through the turnstile with her train pass, she said, “We’ll have to move quickly. I don’t think they’re too far behind us, and it’s not going to take rocket science to know we’re going to catch rail out of the area.” The woman held up her cell phone, and said, “When we get on the train, I want you to call the Saotomes. They have to know you’re coming, or else we could be in a heap of trouble.”
Kasumi nodded, not wanting to take the phone while she was carrying Hikama and Hotaru. However, she gave the woman a grateful nod as they moved towards the track where the train would arrive in just a few moments. Looking at the woman, a thought finally crossed her mind, and though it was something she usually wouldn’t say, the safety of the children was far more important right now than appearances. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but why are you helping us? As my younger sister would say, what’s in it for you?”
The woman jerked as though she’d been shot. Likely not through conscious motion, the woman with the “Ayanami Rei gone metropolitan” look turned to Kasumi, a look of invaluable sorrow and something else--fear. The woman’s eyes seeming to warble on the verge of tears, she spoke, her voice carrying the tone of someone whose heart of hearts would break at the next phrase: “Because you’re my last chance to come home, and if I lose that, I lose my last chance to rejoin the family that I’ve been separated from for the torturous part of forever.” There was an eternal second, and the damn finally broke, a solitary tear trailblazing a path down the frontier of her right cheek. “I can’t take the loneliness anymore....”
Kasumi, after all this time, finally got a good look at the woman’s face, all sections of the puzzle finally becoming clear. “Oh my...it’s been so long...where have you been all these years?”
The words from Akama, though, cut even closer to the mark. “Aunt Kasumi, isn’t that the woman that Otosan has a picture of in the dojo?”
Over the rooftops they moved, as sure and swift as anything. Various martial artists, from several sections of Tokyo, converged towards the area where they could feel the ki of the young child. These fighters, though nowhere as near as talented as Saotome Ranma or his contemporaries, were still formidable, and they additionally had the advantage of numbers. Many of them knew Ranma, even admired him and his talents in the art. Most of them felt absolute shame at what was occurring.
But the creatures in their minds did not care, did not even know that emotion. They were created for the sole purpose of possessing a body to capture the children, and removing any obstacle in the path. They weren’t worried at all about what the martial artists felt, that some of them could not bear the shame of chasing after small babes and killing an innocent woman who was their guardian, or the mysterious one who’d stepped in as their protector. No, the demons in the minds of the seventy or so martial artists didn’t care...
...but the artists did. And almost choreographically, each shed a single, solitary tear to wash away into the dying light of the setting sun, the chance of the tears surviving as low as the sun reversing course that late in the day. And as they arrived at the train station, the tears ran out, and the terror began once again.
Thankfully on time, the train rolled towards its destination with the track, slowing to come to a stop to debark and embark. People poured out of the train, headed off to their destinations and completely unaware of the family reunion now taking place at Track 2 in Hoya station.
Kasumi looked at the woman again, then back to Akama. She smiled in pride at her nephew’s sharp mind; though he had no idea yet who Saotome Akane was, he tried to make a connection between his birth mother and the woman standing before him. And he wouldn’t be wrong; not entirely. There were similarities, but...
“No, Akama-chan, this isn’t her,” Kasumi answered, careful not to make a reference to Akane. Though it hurt her to not talk to her sister’s namesake about the youngest Tendo daughter, it was Ranma’s business to tell Akama about the woman that bore and died for him, and not Kasumi’s. Leaning down by her nephew and including her son as well, she gestured at the woman who was nervously watching for the sudden appearance of unwanted party crashers. “Akama-chan, Hiro-chan, this is someone you haven’t met before: your aunt, Kodachi.”
“Who?” Hiro asked, still hugging Hikari for support.
“I’m your Uncle Tatewaki’s younger sister.” Kuno Kodachi turned back to the people with her, and it became clear that she was nervous about something, and it might be more than just their attackers. Considering what she’d said to Kasumi half an hour earlier, it might have had an effect on things as well. “This is the first time I’ve seen Kasumi in eight years or so and…” She paused for a second, cocking her ears as if expecting something. Without warning, she shoved everyone onto the train while people were still debarking as she screamed to everyone in the vicinity, “GET DOWN!”
The deck to the side of her exploded into shards of concrete as a beam of ki bored into it. Kodachi was thrown violently from her feet, but a quick tuck and roll allowed her to land safely. Meanwhile, the train doors closed as it began to pull away from the station, and to immediate if not complete safety. Kodachi took a second to look at the back of the train and with a sigh of relief, caught the words on the marquee: EXPRESS. Good; it won’t stop until it gets to Tokyo. But I’ve got to keep these guys away from that train! Well, hope all my gymnastics training works. With that, Kodachi bolted after the train, running as fast as she could, her pursuers arriving in force at any minute. Dodging other travelers left and right, she wove through the crowd, trying to catch the train before it completely left the station, racing against the tail end of the iron dragon as it began to pick up speed.
The second wave, propelled by their possessors, rushed into the building en masse, watching for the train. Seeing what was going on, they gave chase, taking the time to launch ki strikes towards her, burning and coring through anything in the path of the projectiles, whether it be pillars, newsstands, vending machines, or innocent people caught in the crossfire. Within seconds, the track ramp area began to look more akin to something out of a science fiction film than the cold, brutal reality that it had actually become; unlike a film, there was no way to yell cut and certainly no way for the wounded and dead to get off the floor and resume normal life.
Blasts of ki exploding all around her, she reached the end of the station, and with a leap of faith, vaulted towards the end of the train. Catching the handle on the door at the end, it snapped off, and with no other handholds, Kodachi fell towards the tracks, with the train already closing in on its speed. By some miracle, she managed to twist at the last second and grab the car-link at the bottom of the train and held on for dear life, her body painfully dragged along the tracks as she scrambled against friction to get onto a safer perch, the ki bursts lessening as she got out of range of projection. Somehow, she managed to pull herself atop the latch and from there, leapt onto the top of the train, gasping heavily as she surveyed the damage.
Tearing off her sweater, she made quick bandages for the
cuts and scrapes that she’d picked up during her “ride”; she’d have to
replace the pants as soon as she got a chance.
She suffered no serious injuries, but there were limits to her strength,
and she was approaching them. Flopping
back against the flat surface of the car, trying to regain strength and watching
the shadows lengthen as the sun began to set.
At least I’m on the train,
she mused. I
can last out the ride here and take the comfiest seat in the shinkansen when we
head to Kyoto. The kami know I
That brought mind something else, as well. Now that the danger’s over, what am I going to do? Once we get there.... I don’t know if I can stand it anymore. She was glad that no one else was in sight. She didn’t want to have to explain her tears, the melancholy caused not by the injuries or pain she’d picked up in the dash but from something that ran deeper, that cut to the marrow.
“Awww...the poor girl is crying.” At the sound of that, Kodachi opened her eyes, leapt to her feet, and turned around. Standing behind her were the remaining martial artists that managed to catch up to her; quite a sizable contingent. Looking at them, their faces seemed to be a look of shock, as though they didn’t want to do this. But that wasn’t the creepy part. That honor belonged to the pulsing twin furnaces of light on their foreheads that somehow reminded her of a second pair of eyes, like the lost eyes of the damned.
What have I gotten
myself into? What have they
gotten themselves into? Kodachi
briefly glanced at the train car beneath her and her charges within.
What is going on here?
Despite the look of abject horror on his face, the one who’d spoken to her crossed his arms and said to her in a condescending manner, “If you surrender the children now, I promise that you and the other woman will meet with painless deaths.” It was eerie, to see a face so sad and submissive speak to her in a voice that was so dark and threatening.
Kodachi never cared much for threats in any case. Her eyes narrowed in challenge as she tensed, ready for the inevitable attack at any moment. “And if I don’t?”
“I was hoping you were going to say that, actually.” Quick as lighting, the man lashed out with a ki-charged chop, intending to break her neck in a single blow...
...and hitting nothing but air as Kodachi flipped over the group and cartwheeled to the end of the train. “Oh, please--you’re going to have to do better than that to hit Kuno Kodachi, the Dancing Rose!” Waving her hand in a taunting manner and grinning ferally, she snarled, “C’mon!” The looks on some of their faces became shock as they heard her name; some of them knew her reputation. All the better, then. “Let’s start this dance!”
"Attack!" her opponent shouted, urging the enemies to approach her with deadly intent. Carrying all manner of weapons and representing several martial styles, the group at hand was sure of their victory. She was talented enough to hold off a general mob, and swift and agile enough to catch a moving train, but she couldn’t defeat a standing group of masters of the combat arts. There was no way.
As for Kodachi, she laughed softly and grinned as her battle aura kicked in. There was an explosion of aqua-hued, glowing rose petals, and they began to encircle the woman as if she were the center of an atom or the star of a solar system. There was a serene look on the face of the woman for a second, which quickly faded back into the cocky grin.
The martial artists rushed towards her at once, ready to deal with the easy target at hand.
She just smiled coyly, bowed slightly, and looked at them with eyes of boredom before calling out,
From within the train, Kasumi held the twins as close as she dared while moving to the front of the train. Hikari growled and barked occasionally at the commotion on the roof, while Akama stepped in front of Hiro as to defend his weaker cousin. “Aunt Kasumi,” Akama asked, “is she really Uncle Tatewaki’s sister?”
“Yes she is, Akama-chan,” Kasumi answered quickly, while deciding to usher the children to another car as a massive blow dented the ceiling of the care they were in. The train was mostly empty, as most of the people had run from the commotion; the train engineer, in his soundproofed control room, had never heard the commotion at the end of the train. “She’s been gone a long time. A very long time, even before you were born.”
“So she’s come to help us, ne?” There was a roar of an explosion of some sort, and a bump of something falling from the train. “She seems good.”
“She is, Akama-chan,” Kasumi said, opening the door to the next car. “She’s almost as good as your father, though she has a different style than he does, from what I understand.” A ki beam, looking like a bolt of lightning if it were composed with hundreds of turquoise-colored rose petals, bored into the previous car, slicing off a good section of it. Kasumi, not wanting anyone to be in the path of any successive beans, shooed the boys into the car and then headed to the next, Hikari moving ahead of the pack as if scouting the way to safety.
Hikama cried out a loud peal as he woke up, also waking up his sister in the process. Kasumi tried her hardest not to frown in front of the boys. I didn’t need this, she admitted to herself. Turning her head slightly, she saw through the car windows into the Tokyo skyline. The train passed an electrical pole, but not before she saw someone violently slammed against the pole, bouncing off it like a plush doll.
“Let’s go, you two,” she said with a pleasantness she really didn’t feel at the moment. A serious war was erupting above her, the babies were crying, her nephew and son were getting underfoot as well as Hikari, and her hair was loose, having lost her hair scrunchie some time ago. This was not turning out to be one of Kasumi’s better days, not in the least.
Racing alongside from a distance, Estima analyzed her future foe. From first glance, it seemed that it would be a short battle, and that the platoon of martial artists were moving in for an easy kill. The true answer came as five of them were thrust back and off the train, propelled by a tsunami of powerful blows that could have only been a high-speed punch of some sort. A blur of white, black and blood-red lashed out, tight-rolled in mid-air, landed and then dived into the next batch, moving in ways that only a gymnast or a dancer could, not being tagged while she appeared to be able to score punishing hits in any direction. A pair of them tried to double-team her, only to be flung from the train by some sort of diagonal whirlwind kick, completed with an overhead arc kick that slammed them completely off the track area. Unfazed, the woman moved like a bullet, taking out five more before one could even begin an assault on her.
Hrm...she seems like
a dancer, yet I can see several karate and kung fu moves in her repertoire.
The woman nimbly danced out of range of a
sai attack, then leapt over him and threw a punch that dropped the artist.
Without blinking an eye, the girl caught the sai as it fell, used it to
parry a sword blow, then knocked the blade aside with the sai and knocked the
swordsman aside with a vicious spin kick that sent him spinning towards a
station that the train passed through without stopping.
That last move seemed to be ballet-based in origin, yet it was turned
into a kick strike. Interesting.
She’s taken martial arts, dance, and gymnastics and woven all three
seamlessly, as well as several other styles that I can’t recognize.
Meanwhile, the dancer in question downed three more with a rapid punch attack that was fast, though not so fast that the kunoichi couldn’t counter. Wild, variant style, switches from one set of attacks to another, and highly unpredictable. Agile and strong, and able to withstand and counterpoint a lot of damage. Engaging a nunchaku master, she quickly caught one bar in mid-swing, ripped it from the master’s hands, then used it on him, turning it against three more combatants before flinging them at the legs of a fifth, a makeshift bolo that tagged him with a combination of luck and precision. Doing the spilts, she ducked under two attacks at once, then spun and leapt up, legs first in a vertical inverted hurricane kick that was popular with Chinese wu-shu artists. Completing her move, she got the drop on two more, using her rapid punch attack on them.
So far, by Estima’s count, the dancer had faced some of the best combatants in the area, all masters in their various arts, and yet she was still in the running, without taking a hit herself. Silently, the female ninja started to cheer on her future enemy. If she survived this, she would be ideal for fighting against, every bit the equal to the kunoichi’s skills...
...and every bit the perfect sobriquet when Estima took the woman’s life on her wakazashi.
Moving her hands back from the Grand Attack of 1000 Fists, Kodachi moved into defensive mode, allowing herself two whole seconds to catch her breath. So far, she’d managed to hold her own in a situation she’d never been in before--compared to this, Anything Goes Martial Arts Combat Gymnastics events were a walk in the park. The more she took down, it seemed, the more there were of them. There’s got to be an end to this soon; I’m starting to wear down!
A piercing whistle shrieked through the air, and the floor evaporated underneath Kodachi’s feet. Managing to somehow leap at the last possible second before her footholds disintegrated, she vaulted back as far as she could, all the way to the next car, and nearly over the side. A quick mid-air spin and a lucky grab caught afforded her the side of the train, and she watched as the car she’d been on detached violently from the train before exploding in a conflagration of power that shattered the rail bridge that the train had rolled over a mere second or two previous. Swinging back up to the top of the car and having to do the splits immediately thereafter to avoid the low clearance of a tunnel, as the train went underground. As soon as there was standing room again, Kodachi scrambled back to her feet in the dim light, searching for the attacker or attackers who blew apart the previous car and jeopardized so many li--
Instinct called her to hit the deck once more, as a great volley of ki blasts ripped through the air above her. Wasting no time, Kodachi rolled forward, out of the line of fire and right into...
...ten people, ki-strikes at the ready. Kodachi stared at them with looks of annoyance, then immediately pounced forward, their blasts missing her by seconds as the burst shredded the section where she’d been a split second before. Angry, she didn't even bother to call out her attack as traditional, merely counterattacking with her Rose Petal Shotgun ki blast, setting her opponents ablaze and carving a sizable dent in the tunnel’s side. The last of them fell, the threat apparently over.
As the train passed through an underground station enroute to the goal of Tokyo station, Kodachi dropped to her knees, gasping with relief and wiping the sweat and blood off her brow. She was hurting, but she’d survived this far, and when they got onto the bullet train, she was definitely going to commandeer the softest chair they had and put it to good use.
Clapping sounded behind her. Scrambling once more to her feet, she turned and saw what must be the master in charge of this whole mess, a woman dressed in kunoichi gear, carrying two wakazashi and stood there with an air of supreme confidence. Her green eyes didn’t seem like they belonged on a person; they seemed too animalistic; likewise, her jet-black hair didn’t seem right, though it seemed natural. Standing there with a poise of ease, she seemed more a sort of spirit or mononoke than a person.
"Excellent work, miss. You’ve made short work of my men," the woman called to her in a deceptively calming, almost seductive tone. “You are a grand fighter.”
"Go away," Kodachi snarled. “I don’t have time for your games, whoever you are.”
"My, my, what a temper. Perhaps this will calm you. The woman snapped her fingers, calling up a sphere of ruby power. “Know that my victory over you will make me stronger, and that is a true honor for you.” With that, the woman placed her hand out palm up, and closed it. Kodachi hadn’t even a second to react when the woman loosed a red bolt of incredibly powerful ki at her, as she roared, “TEMBATSU NO INARI!!!!!!”
The beam hammered Kodachi into the floor, hard enough to create an impact crater. It burned her like nothing she’d ever felt before, as if it scorched her very soul. Movement, even breathing, was becoming laborious; and the majority of her clothing was now nothing but tattered shreds. She was in trouble in a way that she’d not been in years, and the question of whether she was going to survive or not popped clearly into her mind. The force of the beam began to push her towards the edge, and it was a matter of whether she was going to die from being crushed by the beam or falling beneath the train’s wheels. Finally, with a look on her face that was one of pure defiance, Kodachi passed out.
"I’m impressed. You’ve managed to last out the force of my attack," Estima said, withdrawing her blades. Raising them to cut off Kodachi’s head, the kunoichi said, "For what it’s worth, as an opponent, you were almost as good as me.” With that, she brought the blades down for the killing blow.
So it was to her surprise, then that her hands were caught by Kodachi, a dark look on her face. “I’m not ‘almost’,” she announced with some acid in her voice, “I am better than you, and I’m going to prove it! SUPER ART--TSUNOYAMA KAGURA MAI!!!!!!!!”
The universe atop the train detonated with a spectacular burst of ki as Kodachi fiercely engaged her opponent with her super attack. The Dancing Rose became a blur of strikes, slashes, and kicks, a buzzsaw out of control. Her whole body moving nearly at the speed of the Grand Attack of 1000 Fists, she finally blasted her opponent back with a flying kick as she began the aerial phase of her assault. Within a span of a couple of seconds, Kodachi added two palm strikes, one knee kick to the face, a short jab to the solar plexus, and finished it off with a ki-burning whirlwind kick that sent her opponent flying off the back of the train, screaming like a banshee. There was a loud splash, as though the woman had landed in one of the staid puddles that seemed to litter the underground tunnels every so often, and with that, she was gone.
Kodachi had just a second or two to weakly smile to herself and pant heavily as the train skidded to a barely-controlled stop at Tokyo station. Not prepared for the stop, she was flung off the train and slammed into the side of a vending machine, where the heroine of the day and defender of the moment was placed into merciful unconsciousness by a falling can of Pocari Sweat.
Rising from the puddle of water that she’d been unceremoniously dumped in, Estima watched the receding train with rage in her eyes. She cheated! That bitch cheated! The water, warm and stinky from a nearby sewer drainage point, made her reek; that was yet another reason she vowed a vicious revenge against the woman she’d fought. I will find you again, she thought as though her mind was projecting her anger to Kodachi, and I will have my vengeance! Your days are numbered, woman!
Tired and spent, Keiei finally arrived at Tokyo station. Unsure of which of the two trains Nabiki had taken, she’d just ran as fast as she could along the most direct route possible. While the going had gotten tough as the sun set and nightfall came into being, she was favored by the full moon and able to make it through the busy streets of Tokyo and towards the station, just off the Ginza. Now, entering the station from the Daimaru mall, Keiei began the search for her enemy, the dark and vile sorceress Nabiki.
Racing through the local lines as fast as she dared, she found no trace of her quarry. The only thing that she could see was on Track 3, where a heavily destroyed train on the Yurakucho line was still smoking, sparking, and taking up space. There were dozens of police investigating a scene that appeared to be the remains of a combat situation. She debated checking it out for a second, but thought better of it; it would waste precious seconds, and likely it was a battleground between two different martial artists--Nabiki, Keiei knew with surety, wasn’t the type to fight fair, regardless.
After a few minutes, she sat down at a nearby curry shop, burnt out. She tried to hold in her depression as the realization sunk in that Nabiki had defeated her again. She was losing the most important battle of her life, and if didn’t do something soon, all that was vitally important to her would be taken away forever. Everything would be lost to her. What if it already was, and she just wasn’t aware of it? No, the gods cannot be that cruel to me, she hoped. They have set out a hard path for me to follow, but surely they would not take away from me what is most dear. At the end of the counter, alone in that little hole in the wall curry joint, playing with her food in an uninterested, melancholy feel, and dreaming of that miracle of miracles that would convince her that there was still something right about the world, Keiei hoped.
And once again, providence smiled on the Black Blade. Momentarily looking up from her curry dish to stare forlornly out the window, she was treated to an interesting sight: two women, with four children and a pet dog, getting onto the shinkansen at track 17, amongst dozens of others. The first thing that caught her attention was the extreme numbers of people that were heading towards the train; the last bullet train out of the area usually left Tokyo station at 4:00. The second thing was that fact that the woman with the long hair was helping along the other one, as though she was seriously injured...or being dragged against her will. But the clincher was the children at the women’s side. Or more correctly, the child.
Watching with shock, she saw her son, taken onto the shinkansen by the long-haired woman, as everyone embarked. Once she’d recognized him, the spell was clearer to see through. Damn that woman! Keiei seethed. The other woman had to be her beloved Ranma--she could sense incredible power from the “injured” woman, now that things were clearer. The boy from this morning was there as well--had the boy been zombified by Nabiki as well? The dog must be a demon of some sort, the foul sorceress’ personal servant. As for the foul sorceress herself, well, Keiei had to admit it was the worst disguise she’d seen in some time. Although she’d apparently grown her hair out and thrown on a dress to look less like a slut than Keiei had remembered her to be, she’d left her facial structure mostly unchanged and only colored her eyes green to try to escape Keiei’s notice.
Keiei stared at the group as the doors of the shinkansen closed shut. Where was it going? As swift as she could move her exhausted body, she knew she wasn’t capable of catching a bullet train; it would be absolute folly to try. Even if she could, there were too many people on that train that Nabiki could use against her, and being as worn out as she was, attacking now would be tantamount to suicide. She couldn’t afford to do that sort of stupidity if it meant that she was going to get her family back. She would have to plot a way to intercept them, while she still had the opportunity.
As the bullet train pulled away from the platform, Keiei left the curry shop, heading over to the shinkansen ticket stand. From there, she was easily able to get the information she needed. The shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto had been delayed due to hydraulic problems, and it was just leaving now for its next stop. Due to some issues with the hydraulics, it would move at a slower speed than normal and arrive in Kyoto at 8:00 the following morning, instead of the usual four-hour trip. Good. That gives me plenty of time to catch a plane to Kyoto and set up an ambush. A wicked gleam sparkled in the eyes of Fuitamu Keiei. That bitch may have won the last two rounds, but she can’t keep my family away from me forever. Running as fast as she could, she bolted towards the train that would get her to Haneda Airport. Time was short, and if she wanted to be in place before her quarry got away, she had to hurry.
Nabiki had gotten away with too many things, Keiei thought grimly as she hurried down to track 5, to catch the train to the regional airport. She would not have the chance to do so again.
Pain ripped through Kodachi’s mind as she slowly swam back to consciousness. Opening her eyes, she saw nothing but darkness. Was she dead? Blind? Alone, defeated and paralyzed by that last opponent of hers? She was sure she won, but the next set of events occurred so rapidly, she really had no idea what occurred. She allowed herself to moan softly; if it was going to be the last thing she ever did, she was allowed it.
“Oh, you’re awake. I’m going to turn on a light now.” Sounding like the voice of an angel, Kasumi spoke to her in warm tones. “Don’t move. You’ve been through a lot.” A soft light came on, stinging Kodachi’s eyes for a second, and when the spots and blurriness went away, Kodachi found herself looking straight at the angel herself.
“Wha…what happened?” Kodachi asked, turning her head slightly and instantly regretting it. “And where are we?”
“You saved us, Kodachi. You fought somebody very strong, because when the train stopped at Tokyo-eki, half of it had been blown off. We found you halfway embedded in a Pocari vending machine, but we don’t know what happened to the other person.” Kasumi gently adjusted the blanket that covered Kodachi. “We’re alive because of you, Kodachi. Thank you.” The older woman’s smile was genuine, sunny and joyful. “Where we are right now, I don’t know. We left Ofuna station about a half an hour ago. You’ve been resting for about ninety minutes.”
Kodachi nodded her head slowly. “I take it you charged the tickets to my card?” She felt the need to sit up a little more, and with some help from Kasumi, did so. Finally getting the chance to look around, she saw the boys asleep in their seats, Hiro leaning on Akama’s shoulder. Sleeping in the middle like a dedicated sentinel, Hikari was bundled up at Akama’s feet. Completing the picture were the two infants, who, somehow having managed to survive all the jostling and bumping intact, were sleeping the peaceful dreams that only newborns could have. “Did...did everything go okay?”
“Yes. I also had to buy you some new clothing, since yours had been destroyed in the fight. I still have your phone, but I’ll have to wait until the morning to call Auntie.” Kasumi looked concerned as Kodachi slowly and painfully moved herself to a new position. She looked at the younger woman in the dim light for a second, biting her bottom lip and trying to figure out the best way to say what she had to ask. Finally, she realized that there wasn’t really a good way to ask; on top of that, there were some questions that had to be answered. “Kodachi, I hate to impose on your kindness to me and the children, but I have to know: you’ve been gone for eight years. Why have you come back now?”
The look in Kodachi’s eyes went from one of pain-blurred exhaustion to one of complete fear. Kasumi looked at her and wondered instantly if she’d said something wrong, invaded a personal space where she wasn’t supposed to tread. “Is there something wrong, Kodachi?”
Kodachi turned away, hoping that Kasumi wouldn’t see her eyes tearing. “You wouldn’t understand, Kasumi. I don’t think anyone would.” Kodachi sighed, ignoring the pain in her chest again; she needed to say something to the other woman, or she would think something was wrong. “I had to come back. I couldn’t take the loneliness anymore.”
A look of confusion briefly flitted across Kasumi’s features. “I don’t understand, Kodachi.” Those same features then filled with sisterly concern as she said, “Please help me to understand. I want to help, if I can. I know you’re hurting.”
“Kasumi,” Kodachi began, “Have you ever known what it was like to be so out of control that you didn’t know what you were doing?” Kodachi stared at the closed, shuttered windows for a couple of seconds before she continued. “That was me, at age 16. I was already so far gone, I didn’t know what was reality anymore, what anything was. And I’m deeply ashamed of myself for that.
“I’m sure that from Tatewaki, you know something about my family: that our father was insane but functional enough that he could hide it from the authorities who made him Principal of Furinkan, that he verbally abused all of us until my mother committed suicide when I was eight years old; that my mother’s death took my father over the edge, until he became the tottering twit that he is now; that it affected my brother and I until we became nearly as bad as my father. Well, the truth runs deeper than that. Far deeper.
“I was already hopelessly doomed to my years of psychosis by the time I was ten, because I had no one to love me, no one to really show me and my brother what was right. He had an outlet for years upon years: those silly Samurai dramas they show on terebi all the time. I didn’t even have that. So I turned to gymnastics, because it was an outlet. It was also the biggest mistake I’d ever committed in my life.
“When I started, there was a girl one year older than me named Murakami Kaede. At the time, she was St. Hebereke’s Master of Combat Gymnastics, and the primadonna of the school. Seeing my potential for the martial arts and for gymnastics, she taught me everything I knew about gymkata and other arts, and the most part, I’ve always been a pretty quick learner. However, I shouldn’t have learned a couple of things from her: that the poisons and chemicals that she dabbled in had a negative effect, and that she taught me brutality. I guess in the long run, Kaede was the lucky one--she died from the poisons and potions we played with. With me, it only drove away the flagging sanity in my mind. By the time I’d first encountered Ranma, most of what was left of who I was had long since been replaced by my darker side: the Black Rose.
“I suppose in a way I should be grateful that I ran into the Pigtailed Girl that one day...she was the trigger that began my final slide, the person that began my orbit around Ranma’s world. I’m sure you already know this, Kasumi, but for all of Ranma’s faults, he’s the sweetest guy in the world, and he would do anything for anyone--he actually did for all of us at one time or another. I think whatever part of me that was still sane at the time wanted him if only because he could protect me and nurture me, be the catalyst that would bring me back to sanity. We all wanted him for one reason or another, but I don’t think the others had quite the same reasons that I did for needing him. It didn’t matter, though; by the time we’d ruined his and Akane’s first wedding, the writing was on the wall; the rest of us just failed to pay attention.
“Well, the second wedding brought me attention, sure enough. The night after the wedding, while Ranma and Akane were already on the way to their honeymoon, I snapped. Put my father in the hospital for a month; nearly did quite a number on Tatewaki, too. That other boy, Ranma’s friend--Ryoga, I think his name is--finally stopped me, but by then it was too late. I’d managed to blaze a trail of destruction all the way down to Shinagawa.” Kodachi turned to Kasumi, tears falling endlessly in a stream of despair. “And the worst of it was, I had no control over myself at that point. I was far too busy wanting to destroy myself than to care about what was going on.”
“I didn’t know that was you,” Kasumi said. She’d read about that damage that had been caused by the unexplained phenomenon; Tofu had even volunteered his services when a need for doctors had arisen. From what it appeared, it seemed as though one of those rubber monsters had come to life and taken a stroll through a sizable portion of Tokyo. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, but the damage toll had run in the billions of yen.
“I don’t know if you knew what happened to me next, but I got checked into the Medical Institute in Tama. I spent three years there,” Kodachi admitted. “But that wasn’t the bad part for me. I think the worst of it was when my father called and in the first time in years, he was coherent enough to tell me something: that I was disowned, that I had nothing to return to.” Tears rolled freely now, the younger woman not caring what she looked like, disavowing the pain of the body for the pain of the mind. “I spent three long years there, healing in mind under the care of a wonderful elderly gentleman, Dr. Jiro--funny, I don’t think I ever caught his first name, unless that was it--well, nevermind. In any case, he raised me from my depths, and between that and the medicine I’ve had to take--”
“I know about that,” Kasumi answered. “I found your bottle while I was getting the credit card. Do you really have to take 1200 milligrams of Prozac, Kodachi?”
“Twice a day.” Despite her sorrow, the Dancing Rose chuckled. “If you think that’s bad, you should’ve seen when I first got into the facility. I was taking about fifteen pills a day. I only take two a day now, and I should be able to be completely off them fairly soon. But to continue, after almost three years to the day when I was placed in the facility, I had reached a point of humanity again that I was able to leave it and be free again. The Black Rose was dead to me, dead to the world, and I was better off for it.
“But I had nowhere to go, no place to turn to. My family had disowned me, and I was nothing; I had only my family name still because I was checked in as Kuno Kodachi. So with what money I had in my personal accounts, I went traveling. I needed to find out who I was and what I should become, so I tossed away all that I was for the moment, and ironically, did for three years what Ranma did his whole life--became a wandering martial artist.”
“But what about your Olympic wins and gold medals? How did you do all of that if you were training?” Kodachi’s last statement didn’t seem to make sense to Kasumi. If she’d been wandering the world, as she’d said, then who was it that won the Gold Medal at the Gymnastics World Tournament in Seoul four months ago?
“Oh, that--believe it or not, that’s just another girl named Kuno Kodachi, though she’s not related,” the Kodachi that Kasumi was familiar with explained. “She’s a half-Japanese, half-Korean girl from the area around Hiroshima, even though she and I look somewhat alike. I met her about two years ago, and we keep in touch from time to time. Very nice girl and a very talented gymnast, even if she isn’t a martial artist.” Kodachi’s eyes twinkled in fond memory of her friend; when this was all over she’d have to give Dachi a call. “But anyway, I spent the next three years of my life wandering the world, expanding my martial arts skills and learning a lot of dance and ballet as well. I’d begun to excise the gymnastics from my life...it reminded me too much of who I’d been and what I’d done, and I’d begun to take an interest in dance and the arts, as an outlet in addition to the martial arts that I could never seem to cut out of my life. Mainly, I operated out of Paris during that time, though I did travel to many places. It was an important time for me, one that let me figure out who I was.
“But eventually, all soul searching has to end, and I found myself ready to return to Japan, whether or not I had anything to come back to. When I got here, I found a small apartment in Ebisu. I had enough money to survive on, but it wasn’t going to last forever, so I went looking for a job. Found a nice one in Roppongi, too--an easy bartending job at a place called the Magic Carpet; I’d picked up that skill from a savate master that I studied with while in southern Spain, but that’s a story for another time.
“Anyways, I was pretty happy with my life and just minding my own business until one particular day, when a group of toughs started messing with this one frail little thing that came in. Before you know it, a couple of them were starting a slugging match with a couple of the bouncers, and I had to step in.” Another mischievous gleam entered her eyes, as she added, “Everyone there, including the thugs in question, had no idea that a slip of a girl in a tuxedo could beat the living daylights out of them.
“Well, as the police were taking the thugs out, and club security was staring at me in absolute amazement, the girl came up to me and pledged her eternal loyalty to me. It seems that she was an old classmate of mine, Kamiya Midori, and she’d fallen on some hard times since she graduated from high school. She remembered me being the Black Rose, but when I told her that that part of my life was over with, she said I moved like a dancer, and it was she who gave me my new nickname--‘The Dancing Rose’. She was coming to drink herself into depression, since she’d just been fired from her job, lost her boyfriend and had to move out of his place--y’ know, the typical crap life drops on you. Well, I told my boss that she was a friend of mine, and he was already grateful for saving the place from serious damage, so he hired her on the spot as a waitress. He also gave me a sizable raise and made me the backup bouncer in addition to being a bartender.
“Since then, Midori and I moved into a new place in Kawasaki, though we still work at the Magic Carpet. She’s a really good friend though sometimes I wonder why she acts so much like Sasuke...she’s my friend, not my servant. But it was her who recommended I ditch the old ponytail when I wanted a new look some time back; she even got me a kitten for my birthday. So I’m fine now, and I really can’t complain.
“As to why I’ve come back now, that’s easy to explain: a couple of days ago, I got a call from someone, saying that if I really cared what was important in life, I would watch the dojo for any signs of danger, and not let you know I was there. I think it was my father who called me, but I can’t confirm that. To be honest, I thought it was likely some sort of trick, but it seems to have worked out for the best, and here I am...though I’m not sure all of me is here at the moment,” she added with a weak smile.
“It seems like you’ve done well for yourself, Kodachi,” Kasumi said, with some happiness for her sister-in-law. “But that doesn’t answer my earlier question: why haven’t you come to see us all these years? We’ve wondered about you.”
“Huh?” Kodachi twitched as though she’d been slapped. “Wha...what did you say?”
“We’ve wondered why you never came back to see us. Your brother, in particular, has fought with your father several times over your whereabouts, but he always told Tatewaki that you wanted to be left alone.”
Kodachi’s voice became a whisper, and her tears all but stopped, the girl too stunned by the revelation to cry. “My father told me that you all never wanted me around, that after what I did at the first wedding, you all wanted me dead.”
“No, never that,” Kasumi said in her most comforting voice. “You’re a part of the family, Kodachi. Family’s important to we Tendos, especially since we don’t have a very big one.”
“All those years...all those years when I thought none of you wanted me around...all of that for nothing.” A pain worse than anything she’d felt in years ripped through her very being. Everything had been taken away from her for the majority of her life, even when she wasn’t aware it was there. The tears began anew, stronger and almost to the strength of the deceased Tendo patriarch. Kodachi had never felt so alone in her life, had never been that deeply buried by the suffocating, smothering force of her own emptiness. She was like that for so much of a stretch of eternity, that she never felt Kasumi’s gentle, loving embrace until a few minutes had passed.
“It’s okay, Kodachi, you’re with family now,” Kasumi said. “Everything’ll be fine.” Kasumi held the younger woman closer to her, letting her cry out all the tears of a sorrowful, tragic youth. Kodachi had been an unfortunate victim of sorts of what Ranma had termed the “fiancée wars,” and had all this been known beforehand, she was sure that both Ranma and Akane would have been a bit kinder to Kodachi from her situation.
Over the course of the night, the spell had been broken, and Kodachi became more comfortable around Kasumi, beginning to believe the older woman’s words about having family at last. The two talked about general things and how everyone else was doing. Kodachi in particular was happy that her brother and Nabiki were married: even before there was love between them, they seemed to be an ideal couple of sorts. Kodachi also asked about Kasumi’s children. When she was told that only Hiro was her child, she inquired as to the identity of the other three. When she discovered that they were Ranma’s children, she then asked how Ranma and Akane were doing, and got deathly silence in return. A few more seconds went by before Kasumi went into a long explanation of everything that had happened to Ranma, from Akama’s birth to Akane’s death, and all that followed, right up to his marriage to Hikaru and their children. She also described Hikaru in detail, deciding that like Tatewaki, it might be for the best that she think of the redhead as the “Pigtailed Girl.”
Kodachi, surprisingly, smiled at the news. “So the Cockroach finally ended up with Ranma after all. Good for her.”
“Cockroach?” Kasumi asked, curious.
“Just a pet name, of sorts--the first time I fought her, at the Gymnastics tournament, I called her a ‘Cockroach in a Leotard’, because I couldn’t squash her like I did all my other opponents previous,” the dancer explained. “All those times I fought her because I thought she was ‘stealing my Ranma-sama,’ and all she turned out to be at the time was nothing more than a platonic friend of his.” Kodachi sighed, feeling embarrassed about the whole situation. “I suppose I owe her a big apology for the whole mix-up, don’t I?”
“I’m sure Hikaru...will understand,” Kasumi answered, mentally adding to herself, or at least I hope she will. “Are you feeling better now, Kodachi?”
“A bit, thanks.” At least a sizable portion of the emotional pain was gone, excised through the simple magic of conversation and forgiveness. Kasumi had said it in her words: Kodachi was family, and family was something she felt she hadn’t had in the longest time. While the physical punishment she’d dealt with was still there from the battles only a few hours ago, she felt that she was going to get a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a long time. “Thank you very much, Kasumi.”
“You’re more than welcome. Oh, since you’re awake now, I’m sure that you’ll want to change your clothing while you have a chance,” Kasumi commented. She handed Kodachi a package and said in an apologetic voice, “I hope it fits. I do have to apologize for the ironic choice in clothing, but there was only one clothing store nearby, and I didn’t have time to go into the mall to pick up something more suitable.”
Kodachi gingerly took the package, and opened it. A second later, after viewing it in the dim light, she laughed; not the banshee-on-amphetamines screech of old, but something softer and more pleasant to the ears as she looked at her newest set of clothing...
...a set of Chinese clothing, with a cyan tang and black pants.
She smiled and opened her mouth to thank Kasumi once again for the clothing, but she was rudely interrupted as the train suddenly decided to turn on its side.
Blown off its tracks, the bullet train buckled in several sections before snapping off the track like a broken rubber band. The whole thing, still smoking from the explosion, skidded a distance off the rails, and into the water of the nearby stream. The groans and shrieks of metal twisted violently into unusual formations, leaving pieces of modern art across the landscape. The deafening combined roar of the explosion and the train dragging along the rock-strewn stream continued its fugue for a few more agonizing minutes before stopping a few minutes later in a broken, disheveled mess. A brief span of time passed and the moon, rising overhead, shown down its nocturnal coif on the whole of the wreckage, a dying metal snake far from its home.
Dacia lowered the heavy laser rifle, its barrel beginning to cool down in the nighttime forest air. “That’s how you deal with them, Estima, not through your ‘hack and slash’ methods.” He looked at the Japanese woman with a smug of pure satisfaction. “Now my men and I attend to matters, like we should have in the first place!” Urging Cupra and Astra forward, he snarled to the mage and the kunoichi, “You two stay here and behave yourselves, and we’ll be back in just a few minutes with those mewling brats!”
“And what of their guardian?” Estima retorted. “She’s powerful. Very powerful.” And I will carve her entrails out, regardless of what it takes to beat her!
The two subordinate stormtroopers gave her uncomplimentary looks while Dacia said with complete disdain, “Estima, unlike you, we have no reason to fear her. She is only a woman.” With that, the trio of hunters ran down towards the train, ready to stop at nothing short of their goal, and kill all save their captives to be.
As the train turned on its side, Kodachi moved with the
speed of desperation, despite her injuries.
Spinning and turning, she slammed against what was the door to the cabin,
reaching out to catch Hikama and Hotaru before they careened into the wall.
The babies, jarred suddenly, awoke and began wailing at their
predicament. Though Kodachi
suffered through the pain of having the door handle impact violently against the
small of her back, it was far better than one of the twins’ heads.
Kasumi also took a rough landing, twisting her ankle while reaching for
the older children, while Hikari, having already been sleeping against the door,
suffered little trouble at all.
“You saved them,” was all Kasumi managed to say as she
rubbed her ankles and checked on her son and nephew.
“I had to,” Kodachi snarled between clenched teeth.
“Look, this was obviously no accident.
We’re going to have to get out of here, or we’ll be sitting ducks.”
Handing the twins to Kasumi, Kodachi quickly dived under the blanket,
throwing off her torn clothing and replacing it for the tang and pants that
Kasumi had provided.
Akama looked up, out the window that had at one time been
the side of the train. “It’s
nighttime,” he yawned, “an’ I think I know where we are.”
“We’re in the forest, Akama-chan, somewhere in the
Five Lakes area,” Kasumi pointed out as a newly-dressed Kodachi emerged from
her cover, “but I don’t know exactly where.”
“Wow, Aunt Kodachi,” Hiro said sleepily as he rubbed his eyes, “you’re dressed just like everyone else in the family!” When the martial artist’s face registered confusion, the boy clarified with, “You look just like the way Uncle Ranma, Aunt Hikaru, and Aunt Nabiki dress.”
“Yeah, you look really cool,” Akama said, agreeing with his cousin.
“Thanks,” Kodachi responded, feeling somehow pleased by the youngsters’ seal of approval. Not only in her manner of dress, but of how the boys addressed her: their aunt. That was a sign of family, no mere term of politeness, and it was the sobriquet that Kodachi felt she’d needed for so long. And now that she had it, there was no way anyone was going to take that away from her. “Okay everyone, stand back. We’re going to have to get out of here, and soon.” She closed her eyes, feeling her ki wash over her, its familiar warmth a sort of comfort.
“Why can’t we wait until the rescue teams dig us out, Kodachi?” Kasumi asked, even though she already knew the answer to that inquiry.
Sure enough, Kodachi provided her with the words she didn’t want to hear. “Because they’re likely dead, injured, or seriously busy helping others, and in any case, they won’t be of any help to us. Whoever blew this train off the tracks is willing to stop at nothing to hunt you all down, and do you really think everyone else in the train is a deterrent? They’ll move in like a tsunami, sweeping away anything in their paths, and there’ll be very little we can do about it. We have to get out of here and into the forest--they’ll have less chance of finding us there.” Gently nudging everyone back, she focused her attention on the wall that had just a few minutes earlier been the ceiling of the car. Bringing her hands close together, she called her ki to her fists, powering up for the breakout. “We’re going to make a break for the forest as soon as we’re free, okay?” Everyone nodded, and Kodachi smiled.
Moving her hands in a circular motion in front of her, she created a sizable ball of ki similar to that of Ranma’s Hiryu Korin Dan, though it was pronouncedly less powerful. Pushing it forward with a violent shove, she called out the attack: “Tenkyu Noroshi Sho!” The energy barrier hammered into what had been the train’s ceiling, vaporizing the wall on contact. Turning back to the others, she shouted, “C’mon! Let’s get out of here!” Running out of the train wreckage, illuminated by the light of the full moon, the small group ran, with Hikari at the lead, and Kodachi at the back.
From behind her, Kodachi heard rough, guttural shouts; she didn’t catch all the words, but living in Europe familiarized her with the language. Germans? Why the hell are Germans after us? What, did Ranma’s father engage him to some Bavarian martial artist’s daughter? Blasts of energy came her way, and that only increased the questions in her mind: Okay, we have Germans, who talked an army of dimwits into attacking the dojo, and now we’re being shot at--not as if I haven’t been used to it all day, but.... As the group approached the treeline, Kodachi told them to keep running down the length of the river on the bank, hoping that they’d be nearing a town or something soon. In the cloudless night, the outline of Fujiyama could be seen, its broad expanse blotting out a portion of the sky, and that could only mean that they were in the Five Lakes region. From what she remembered of the geography around here, though the section was mostly forest, there were some small towns in the area, like Hakkone, Kawaguchiko, Gotemba, and Fujishi. Chances were, if they ran along the length of the river, they would encounter one.
The world got considerably darker as everyone plunged into the treelines, but it was still clear to see as energy darts sizzled around them. Tracer fire, lasers, ki blasts--Kodachi had no idea what they were, and didn’t want to know. But whatever it was, it was tearing up the area around them, and branches and bark splattered in the air, along with hundreds of buzzing sounds that could have been anything.
Their feet alternately pounding between rock and water, the occasional rustle of the brush around them, the crying wails of the twins, and the heavy breathing of the whole assembly was cacophony, in addition to the other problems they had. Kodachi wanted to turn and fight, or to drag the group along faster, as if it would get her away from the barrage of noise, but there was no way to.
Pain exploded in Kodachi’s shoulder, and she spun before falling to the ground. In the light of the moon, a creeping spread of darkness blossomed on her tang, and she could feel excruciating pain coming from the gunshot wound. Biting back a yelp of agony, she forced herself back to her feet, ready to run again. “KODACHI!!!” she heard Kasumi scream--the only time that she’d ever heard that woman sound completely out of her soothing element.
The world’s gone topsy-turvy, Kodachi thought bitterly, and I’m at the center of it. Great. “I’m okay, Kasumi,” she answered. “I think we lost them. I think we can afford to rest.” Noting that they were all gasping for air, and that by some miracle the babies had quieted down to soft, snuffling noises--Really weird, in light of the disastrous levels of noise around them, Kodachi thought--they sat down on a set of rocks, by a river eddy. Regardless, she was too exhausted to move much. Her body, already suffering through the injuries of the previous battle, now had to deal with this new, far more serious wound. She’d have to get them to safety, and soon. The question was, though, where around there was safe?
As if things weren’t surreal enough, Akama suddenly seemed to brighten with excitement. “Aunt Kasumi, I think I know where we are!”
Checking the babies as she held them in her arms, Kasumi asked, “You do?”
Akama nodded, then pointed at a sharply angled shape across the bank from them. “This is the place that Aunt Nabiki and Otosan bring me every year. I dunno why, but I guess it’s gotta be import’nt.”
As though through some sort of cosmic stage cue, a beam of moonlight settled on a group of weather-beaten, river-smoothed rocks. On one particular reddish-gray rock, a small stone shrine sat there, dozens of dried flower bouquets strewn around it. It also appeared to be relatively well kept, moreso than your usual spot in the forest. Gently handing the twins to Kodachi, Kasumi crossed the river and bent down in front of the shrine, silent as a grave.
Kodachi saw that Kasumi was more silent than she’d ever seen her. Looking around to see that their enemies were not around, she also crossed the river, twins firmly in her blood-covered arms, to stand beside Kasumi; a second later, the boys and Hikari followed. After a second or two more, Akama and Hiro sensed that this was a “grown-ups” type of thing and moved a bit away to give the adults time to talk.
“Kasumi, what is this place?” Kodachi asked, relieved that the boys had moved of their own volition. From Kasumi’s actions, she had the feeling that what the older woman was about to say wasn’t for their ears.
“A place that I never thought I’d ever visit.” Kasumi’s voice was flat, almost mechanical. She held up a bouquet, and the handwriting on the accompanying card was faint but still legible; Kodachi recognized Ranma’s handwriting. “This is the site where Akane died.” As Kodachi gasped, Kasumi gazed into the sky, at the round pearly-white orb nestled amongst the stars. “I could never bring myself to come here willingly. Ranma and Nabiki thought I should, but a part of me still doesn’t want to acknowledge that my family is mostly dead.”
“As you will be as well.” Before Kodachi could react, silenced gunfire erupted through the area, tearing a serrated line of splashes through the moonlit riverbed. The echoing rapport of ricochets awoke the babies once more, their wailing filling the air, and Kodachi, wanting to keep the babies safe, leapt back across the river to the point where she’d been initially. Meanwhile, over by where Kasumi was, three gaijin stepped out of the treeline, each looking nasty and carrying hardware that looked like no guns that had ever been seen on this world. The lead one, a man wearing sunglasses at midnight for reasons Kodachi couldn’t understand, barked orders in guttural, halting Japanese: “Babies put down. Stand other woman by.” Without turning to face his partners, he rattled off something in German, then turned and faced Kodachi again. “Do now. Or you I kill.” Haunched over by the boys, Hikari began to growl, and the man simply dealt with it by turning the gun on the boys and the dog, shooting three sizzling verdant beams of energy at them. Akama, Hiro, and Hikari dropped almost where they stood, knocked back by the three beams before their collective legs collapsed beneath them.
“HIRO!!!! AKAMA!!!!!” Kasumi screamed in panic. “YOU KILLED THEM!!!!!”
“Relax, they stunned,” the big man said, the grin on his face cruel and mocking. “You, I not stun. Might fun with you two we have.” Despite the bad Japanese, the implications of his words were clear.
Three years of living in Europe taught the dancer a few choice words of German, ones she brought to bear right now: “Go fuck yourself.” Standing up gently, she switched back to Japanese and said, “You’ll have to kill me to harm my family, asshole, and rest assured, I’ll take you with me to the grave!” And that’s going to be a neat trick, too. Kodachi reminded herself that she still had Hikama and Hotaru in her arms. She was going to need full mobility to fight these three, and even if she weren’t seriously wounded, as was the case, the odds were nowhere near favorable.
Yet they couldn’t kill her, or else they’d injure the twins. Additionally, Kasumi was a factor; if they knew anything about the Tendo family, it was that they knew how to fight. Mind, Kasumi was the apparently lone exception in the family, but there was no way for them to confirm that. As her savate and bartending instructor used to say, this was a Moorish standoff if she’d ever seen one and there was no way out of it. Nor did it help when two of the bastards pointed the tips of their gun barrels against the foreheads of Kasumi and Kodachi.
Kasumi, for the first time in her life, whimpered in total, unabated fear. There was nothing and no one to save her, and she would never see her loved ones again. She’d failed her brother. It was this last thought that went though her mind as the stress overtook her and she fell against the ground, fainting.
As for Kodachi, the last look in her eyes was one of enraged defiance, as her vision began to tunnel. She’d lost a severe amount of blood from the gunshot wound, and the tsunami of everything was now catching up to her, threatening to deluge her in a sea of sensory disruption that she might not ever recover from. She looked momentarily at Ranma’s children, still in her arms, the last family members that she’d likely ever see. Whispering tender words to children that she’d never known existed just a scant collection of hours, ago, she whispered, “Remember that your aunts love you, beautiful ones.”
With that, Kodachi turned back to her soon-to-be killer, daring him to end it. She might have failed, but she wasn’t going to go down with that in her mind. As she saw the man beginning to slowly depress the trigger, she sadly realized that her defiance was all that she had left, and she wished she’d get a chance to have more.
The voice ran throughout the forest area, as powerful as the light of the moon shining down on the murderous scene. A second later, chimes accompanied the dying echo of the voice. There was a noble, imperial sound to the tone, as though a great and mighty miracle in flesh had stepped into the killing zone, determined to save the two women.
The pair forgotten for the moment, the three Germans turned to face the origin of the bellow, Dacia and his men immediately focusing their view on the newest target. Standing in the center of the river and towards the clearing was a dark figure. Few details could be discerned from the view, as the figure was completely silhouetted by a moonlit halo. The figure’s shape was vague, possibly wearing robes, and he--the Germans thought the figure to be a he, if only for purposes of identifying their target--carried a staff with a ring on its top, smaller rings attached to that main ring. Clearly, this was a priest or monk of some sort.
“You are on sacred ground, and appear to be harming innocents,” the figure spoke, his voice soft and delicate; an irony considering how much power his earlier demand was. “I cannot allow this to continue. You will leave them unmolested and you will go.”
Dacia laughed, then spat on Kasumi’s face. “And if we refuse?”
The figure raised his staff then brought it down, the
rings clashing together and causing a chiming sound that resonated through the
whole woodland. “Then I must stop
you,” he answered, “though I would rather have had it done the easy way.
Violence is not of the eightfold path of enlightenment.”
The trio of stormtroopers lazily walked towards the robed figure, not bothering to get into a combat position. After all, this was only a priest of some kind; how much damage could one man of the cloth do? Holstering their weapons and setting the safeties, they walked forward with the swaggering confidence of men about to beat a priest to death.
Too bad the priest had other plans.
As Kodachi watched, the priest splayed his hands in an odd motion, whispering something that seemed silent yet thunderous in that silence. The next flicker of movement came a second later, as he spun towards the right in a graceful motion, robes flapping like the wings of a great bird in flight. Also, now illuminated clearly, the white and red robes of the priest shone like jewels, graceful yet not hindering the priest in the slightest as he began his attacks.
Hefting the staff with incredible skill, the priest slammed the metal end into the one called Cupra, the crack of the brass against his ribs resounding through the woods. Screaming in pain, Cupra lashed out with a fist, but the priest danced out of the way as if this were more of a game than deadly combat. Noting that his opponent had yet to completely recover, the priest leapt towards a nearby rock, bounded off it, did a tight mid-air roll, and coming out of the roll mere inches from the Nazi, threw a series of rapid punches on the way down. Kodachi counted the attack at the speed of the Kacchu Tenshin Amaguriken attack, and the end result was that the lightened assault of 472 punches dropped the stormtrooper where he stood, mercifully putting him of the battle.
The priest stopped for a second, seemingly brushed the hair out of his eyes (Kodachi could only guess at the motion, since she could not see his face), and spoke to the other two in a soft voice, saying, “One of you is down, taught a lesson for your evil. Will you give up now?”
Astra, seeing his comrade downed so easily, snarled in response, "You are a dead man!”
Dacia concurred. “Attack!” Both remaining troopers decided to attack at once, rushing in from different angles to ensure their quarry would not escape.
The priest shrugged, sighing, “Some people never learn.” Ducking under the fist of the first attacker, he thrust an elbow into the chest of the first one, then spun and nailed him squarely with a slice kick that cracked him alongside the head. The blow was strong enough to send him flying into the nearby glade of trees and bushes, smacking painfully against the trunk of a tree, out of the battle. Sensing an advantage yet not pressing it, the priest faced off against the final soldier.
As Dacia neared the priest, he dropped all pretense of doubting this man before him. Unsheathing his knife, he was going to cut this bastard into tiny pieces. This was a personal matter, and a challenge, not something for the gun. It had to be proved that Aryan blood was far more superior to this jackanapes that stood before him. As he approached striking distance, he roared, “DIE!!!!!!!!!!” as he put everything into the stab, completely ready to murder the priest before him.
However, as he delivered his deadly blow, the priest leapt back, softly canting, “Ohitaki Matsuri Mai!” The priest began to glow with a soft orange light, and moved forwards to attack. Applying vicious uppercut after vicious uppercut, the priest set Dacia aflame with the force of his ki, blasting wave after wave of ki-fire into the stormtrooper. And if those few seconds of pain weren’t enough for Dacia, the next step of the priest’s attack did. As he brought his arms up to shield himself from the rainstorm of fire and fists coming his way, the priest launched into a straight vertical flying uppercut, carrying Dacia along with it in a double-helix of flame. At the apex of the attack, the priest initiated a second series of rapid-punches, before kicking the would-be killer back down to Earth with a ki-charged ax-kick. The last thing Dacia felt was the bone-jarring jolt of being slammed into something hard and solid, as he hit the ground none too gently.
Dusting himself off, the priest whispered solemnly, “Oh dear...I may have gone too far on that last one. I don’t think they were ready for combat of that sort. Still, they were trying to kill these poor innocents, and I did what I had to.” Bending down for his staff, he made ready to attend to the needs of Kasumi and the group, sure that there would be no more problems.
He revised his thought process a half-second later as a foot connected with the side of his face.
From where she stood, Estima was quite impressed with the movements of the Shinto priest. Unable to see much more details than the three buffoons that she’d followed, she’d noted that he moved with a grace and skill that implied more than just priestly training. Had he been like the priests of old, a warrior that had renounced his worldly ways in favor of the cloth? Aikawa suspected that was the case, and for that, she had more respect for him. She would allow his to live.
As the priest downed Dacia, believing the battle to be done, she rushed in, aiming a kick for the side of his head. By putting him down in this manner, he wouldn’t be able to walk out of this one, and she wouldn’t have to resort to killing him to meet her goals. He might be good, but not so good that he could withstand her blow.
Feeling her reserves weaken, she saw the woman she’d fought on the top of the train. Calling up her innermost well of chi, she struggled to get to her feet, only to sink back to her knees as the mind-numbing pain slapped her down. Barely realizing that the twins were still in her arms, and that Kasumi and the others needed what little help she could offer, she began to crawl over to her sister-in-law. At the worst, if they were all destined to die, Kodachi was going to make sure that the last thing she’d ever do would be to die with her family...and the fact that they might all die at the spot where Akane died years before was the worst fate could play on them.
Planning to avoid a second attack, the priest cartwheeled out of Estima’s immediate range. Estima charged in to strike, but the priest moved out of the way, and in doing so, his hood fell off.
Estima blinked in surprise. “Hey, you’re a girl!”
The priestess nodded gently. “And you are shinobi--kunoichi, to be more accurate--so is it truly a surprise that another woman who is not of the shadow clans knows how to defend those who cannot defend themselves?” Leaving her staff where it lay, the priestess dropped into an offensive pose, ready to counter anything that came her way. “If you are here to cause harm to that family, I cannot allow it.”
“You don’t have a choice in this, priestess.” Estima jabbed forward with a chop that the priestess ducked under to avoid, but it left her open for Estima’s next strike. Moving in towards the priestess at an incalculable speed, the shadow warrior called out, “Kagemusha Tokkangyaku!” Ruby light spilled everywhere as Estima became blur of lightning-speed kicks that ended up booting her opponent into the air with a upward roundhouse kick. Immediately following into the air, she delivered another blazing assault of high-speed kicks in mid-air before hammering her opponent towards the ground with a ki-blast. Gracefully landing on the ground, Estima was sure of her victory and waited for her opponent’s not as graceful crash to the ground.
However, the priestess managed to tumble in mid-air and land on the ground, safely. Wiping a scratch of blood off her face, she smiled and said, “You have talents that you were given by the gods. It is a shame that you waste them in the service of darkness. It is more of a shame now that I must teach you the error of your ways.”
Estima sighed and said, “And I’m going to regret having to kill you, too, since it’s the only way for me to complete my mission.” Calling up her battle aura, she pushed her palms forward, releasing her ki-blast at full power, screaming a cry of “TEMBATSU NO INARI!!!!!!” The bolt of scarlet lightning raced at the priestess with incredible swiftness, giving the cleric no time to counter it whatsoever…
...so it came as a total surprise as the priestess ducked under the ki attack, then dashed behind Estima with a sped that had to be impossible--no person could possibly move at the speed the priestess was dashing at. Calling up her own aura, the priestess called out, “Now learn the true power of light! RIN, PYO, TO, SHA, KAI, JIN, RETSU, SAI, ZEN--KIRIBI MIKO MAI!!!!” There was a spectacular outward pulse of tangerine-hued energy, and in the space of two seconds, a fire-enveloped priestess threw 674 ki-explosive rapid punches to the chest, an aerial rounding snap kick to the face (also charged with ki), an elbow smash, and a reverse snap kick, staggering Estima where she stood. Drawing a glowing five-pointed star where she stood, she began to chant something incomprehensible and barely audible, entering the final stage of her assault. Thrusting her palms into the center pentagon of the star, and roaring with the authority of a thousand kami, she called out a battlecry of “SAIKAIJUMON!!!!” as an incredible torrent of orange force erupted from the star attack, blasting trees, water, ninja, and Nazi alike, sweeping them downstream in an incredible wave of purifying destruction that would fling them for several kilometers.
Surrounded by the icy cold waters of the river, Kodachi couldn’t hold up much longer. If she pitched forward, the children would be seriously injured. She couldn’t hear the babies--were they still alive? Was this the afterlife? Her body felt cold--too cold--yet she could not afford to put the children down to wrap her arms around herself. She was only halfway through the bitingly cold river and she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it as far as Kasumi...only a few short meters away.
Kodachi felt herself being guided out of the water, the children gently removed from her grasp as a gentle, soothing voice said, “It’s okay, miss. You’re safe. They can’t hurt you now.” For a split second, all Kodachi saw was a blurry image of the priestess’ face. The priestess was exceedingly beautiful, with fair skin, eyes that were a soft pale gray in color, and glowing with a beatific orange halo that seemed reminiscent of the sun’s first rays at dawn.
The priestess gave Kodachi her warmest smile and said, “Let’s get you out of this river. Your friend and the children have been through a terrible ordeal, and you need medical attention. The temperature isn’t helping everyone much, either.”
Kodachi gazed at her rescuer, as if there was something familiar about her. Then it hit her with force of a Moko Takabisha. “Ara....” she whispered, unable to believe what she saw before her eyes. Fortunately for her, Kodachi’s brain went into overload, shutting down and dragging her conscious mind with it, closing around the final image that she didn’t even have the strength to whisper:
Round Two: Resurrection