'What a wonderful sight.' Mused Ever-Comforting Blossom as she gazed out over the mountain range. Even in the darkness of the last "night" of calibration it was possible to see for dozens of miles from her vantage point atop the highest mountain in the Metagalapan range. In fact if she squinted a bit she just barely make out the lights on the edge of the territory of Greyfalls. She smiled softly at that. While it had been years since she last stepped foot on the Blessed Isle, even the sight of this last, distant, bastion of civilization was enough to bring back memories of her childhood.
She looked away from the horizon and down towards her feet. Less than a foot from her sandal clad toes a pit of darkness stretched out before her, the edge of the cliff. It was interesting in a way, the way that the light of towns so far away could be seen, yet the valley below was completely obscured in darkness. She scooped some snow in one bare hand and let it pour out over the abyss. For the few feet she could see it the snow swirled in mesmerizing patterns born of the wind.
The crunch of boots on snow drew her from her thoughts. "It's time." A cultured male voice said.
Ever turned around, her cloak of blue silk billowing as the action caused to it catch a breeze. The man she saw stood with clothes in the decadent yet sombre purple robes of a chosen of Saturn. His hair was short and well-trimmed, as was his beard, a small black goatee. Illuminating him was a lantern made from blue jade that mounted a single red gem inside. The red glow cast his face in blood and shadows. Despite this Ever allowed a smile to show as she stepped away from the cliff. "Is it really? I was beginning to think Zaerius was going to call it off." She said blithely.
The man snorted. "As if he would. An opportunity like this won't come for another three hundred years. I don't know about you, but there are things I'd much rather be doing in three hundred years." He quipped before turning and starting the short walk to the top of the mountain.
Ever fell in step, showing no signs that the cold bothering the exposed toes of her feet. In moments they were up and on top of the summit of the tallest mountain in a thousand miles. As they crested the edge of the summit Ever took in the three already there. Two appeared roughly her age. The first was a man dressed in a red robe with short red hair. The second was a woman wearing a rather revealing yellow dress. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail. The third person on the summit was an old man dressed in green with long white hair that ran far down his back. Most sidereals rarely looked older than twenty, unless they exalted later in life. Most sidereals weren't old enough to have participate in the usurpation, nor were they old enough to have endured the millennia preceding it. Zaerius was both. An ancient master of martial arts with the might and cunning to back it up, he still managed to smile when Ever and her companion entered his line of sight.
"There you are. I see it didn't take long to find her." He said jovially. "Quickly Ever, Rhys, please take your positions in the circle. Time is running short."
Ever looked around and spotted the bands of starmetal that lay in concentric circles across the ground. The lights from the enchanted crystals reflected off the arcane metal, sending a rainbow of the colours of the five maidens across the area. The gleam of jade could also be seen mixed amongst the starmetal, spelling out prayers and poems in celestial script. On the edge of the hoops of metal the five symbols of the maiden were laid out at equal distances around the array. Ever stepped forward and onto the symbol of Venus. The other four stepped forward onto the symbols of their respective patrons.
"Time?" The man in red asked.
"Five minutes until we begin." Zaerius replied. "Everyone remember their part?"
"It's hardly possible to forget." Ever replied to echoes of agreement from the rest.
Zaerius merely nodded as though their answer was a given. "Of course, of course. Still had to be sure." He pulled out a chain of glowing red pearls and wrapped them about his left hand. He pulled out an ornate pocket watch with far more hands than normal and checked the time. "Remember Thousand Careful Steps will lead at the beginning. From there we go counter-clockwise until we reach Ever-Comforting Blossom." He clicked the watch shut and slid it into his robes before raising both hands. Ever and the others mimicked him. "In ten…Nine… Eight… Seven… Six… Five…"
Ever let the numbers flow over her as she drew on her essence, her caste mark flaring to life on her forehead. As Zaerius struck one she and the others knelt and pressed both hands to the array of metal pushed into the ground. Motes of light wafted off of her and the others as Thousand Careful Steps, the yellow clad Chosen of the Maiden of Journeys, began to chant in a language few outside of Yu-Shan had ever heard. Ever allowed herself a small smile as the energies of the ritual built up. In but a few moments they would change everything, forever.
Chapter One: Strands of Broken Fate
July in Nerima is hot. Not Saharan desert hot, or even California hot, but warm enough that most people prefer to spend their time somewhere with air conditioning, or failing that at the public pool or beach. For Ranma, his Fiancee Akane and both her sisters, this was not how they were spending the far too warm July day.
Instead the four of them, technically five if you included Akane's pet pig P-chan (in reality the cursed form of a local martial artist and friend) in the count, were spending the fifteenth of July around the dinner table with Ranma's mother Nodoka. The table was covered in nearly a dozen large, and in some cases old, books.
Ranma tried to keep a bored yawn off his face as Nodoka rambled into the third straight hour of genealogy. Or more accurately their families genealogy. While it was interesting to know that neither family had so much as spoken to each other in their recorded history before their father's met when apprenticing under Happosai, there was only so much one person could take of the rather dry and boring subject, or at least as dry and boring as his mother managed to make it seem, before they'd go crazy.
As it was Nabiki, the middle girl of the sisters, had already tried to nod off to sleep three times only to be woken up by a reprimand from Nodoka. Kasumi had fared better, but even He had noticed that the eldest Tendo's smile had been getting more and more strained. Perhaps it was uncharitable but Ranma got a little bit of amusement from that fact, seeing as the brown haired girl had been all for this little misadventure the night before.
Even Ryouga, the aforementioned P-chan, had given up on trying to stay awake and was snoozing at the end of the table where Akane was sitting. In fact the bluenette was the only one who was still showing a rapt attention to what his mother was saying. In fact….
"Hmm…?" Ranma said sleepily as Akane said something he missed through the haze of boredom and wandering thoughts. Judging by the annoyed look on Akane's face and the simultaneous disappointed look on his Mother's face it wasn't the right thing to do.
"You're not listening are you?" Akane prodded.
"I-uhhh… umm…" Ranma eloquently responded. "Yes I am?" He offered tentatively.
"Then perhaps you can repeat what I just said about….?" His mother offered, the disappointed look on her face not wavering slightly. "A man should be able to focus on matters of importance despite personal distaste or the weather."
Kasumi coughed into her fist lightly, cutting into the developing argument before it had a chance to gain steam. "Even the best of us can get tired after a while Auntie, and we have been going for three hours. It's just coming up to noon if fact. Perhaps I should go and get lunch ready?" She offered, rising from the table.
Nodoka smiled slightly. "Of course Kasumi, an excellent idea. I'll come with you." She said, also rising. Kasumi's gentle smile became just a touch more strained as she led the elder woman out of the room.
Mentally Ranma sent a small prayer of thanks, and an apology for feeling smug a few minutes earlier. Still better her than him. Off to the side there was a thunk and a muttered "ow" as Nabiki once again lost the fight with sleep and accidentally smacked her head onto the table.
"You really should listen to Auntie better Ranma." Akane scolded, drawing a sigh as the boy realized his Fiancee wasn't going to let the matter go.
"Its boring. It's hot and humid, and I'd rather be doing anything than this." Ranma complained as he eyed Nabiki who was resolutely trying to sleep despite the fact she'd smacked her head on the table. The urge to lay his head down and join her was quietly quashed by his self preservation instinct. Akane was annoyed enough, no need to add more fire.
"It's not that bad." Akane said. Ranma gave her a blank-eyed exaggerated once over. Her light sundress was damp from sweat and clinging to her curves in places. She blushed and glared at him. "It's not." She protested.
"Suuuuuure it's not. Trust a tomboy like you to deny it just cause." He said with a snort. Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly more.
"I'm not the one insulting my mother by being a day-dreaming pervert!" She snapped leaning forward.
Before Ranma could respond with another insult, as was the norm between them, Nabiki piped up. "Would you keep it down you two." She said, "I'm trying to sleep here and listening to you two lovebirds go at it again isn't helping."
"Get a room." Nabiki snapped before standing up with a yawn and stumbling out of the room. "I'm going to take a nap. Later~" As she stumbled off her foot knocked a pillow into the middle of the room.
Ranma and Akane watched her go for a moment before they shared a glance, blushed, and immediately proceeded to ignore the other's presence. The wait until Kasumi and Nodoka was awkward, but nothing they had not dealt with before. Idly Ranma mused on what the familiarity with this awkward silence said about their relationship. It probably wasn't anything good.
Anything deeper than that shallow pronouncement failed to emerge before Nodoka emerge from the kitchen, an expression of bemusement on her face as she carried a tray of drinks over. "Kasumi is quite protective of her kitchen at-" Her foot found the displaced pillow and turned, sending her to the ground and the drinks into the air.
One glass of what Ranma suspected was juice flipped in mid-air and poured its contents on him as he dived for his mother. Now female and just as red-haired as her mother Ranma managed to catch Nodoka before she hit the ground. Behind her there was a cry of shock from P-chan as what was left came down around the pig, soaking it completely. Cradling her mother in one arm she brushed a damp and sticky lock of hair out of her eyes with a sigh. "You okay mum?" She asked.
Her mother didn't respond immediately, instead she just stared up at Ranma's face for a few seconds, the same mild discomfort she always seemed to have around Ranma's cursed form was plainly visible on her face. After a moment she blinked and her expression melted into mild relief, her real feelings once again buried beneath a mask that Ranma had only learned to recognize after seeing it daily over the last few months.
"I'm fine Ranma, though my ankle hurts a bit." She confessed. Ranma glanced down at her ankles and frowned. She reached out and tapped the left one, eliciting a small gasp from her mother.
"I think you turned it." She said as she settled her mother down onto the pillows normally reserved for sitting. She glanced up at Akane, who was fussing over P-chan and trying to dry the pig off with napkins. "You okay Akane?" She asked.
Her fiancee glanced up for just a second before going back to dabbing juice out of the fur of the increasingly annoyed piglet. "I'm fine. The table and P-chan are soaked through." She said frantically.
Kasumi poked her head out of the kitchen and her eyes widened at the sight of the room. "Is everyone okay?" She asked.
"I'm fine." Ranma said.
"P-chan is soaked." Akane said.
"But mum's sprained her left ankle." Ranma continued.
"Oh dear." The eldest tendo daughter sighed as she stepped out of the kitchen.
"I'm fine Kasumi. Really, no need to walk away from the food." Nodoka protested.
Kasumi hmmed non-commitedly as she knelt next to the older woman. She reached out and tapped the left ankle, getting another gasp from Nodoka. "Fine, so you are. More so than Ranma I assume?" The sardonic lilt to her voice caught everyone off guard before Nodoka chuckled and nodded.
"I'll just need to keep off my feet for the next few days, won't I?" The older redhead said before she looked over at her son turned daughter. "While Kasumi sees to me why don't you get changed." Everyone listening knew the subtext to that sentence. Rather than get a change of clothing, she meant get changed back to my son rather than my daughter.
"Well with all this heat a shower wouldn't be too bad right now." Ranma said stretching, an act that strained several of the ties on her shirt nearly to the breaking point. A small part of her noted the sound of straining fabric with annoyance, while another smaller part gleefully noted that yes she was in fact still growing, and still leading Akane in that area.
Kasumi glanced towards her sister. The piglet was struggling against the younger sister's grip as she continued to try and pat out any spot of juice. "Perhaps you should take P-chan with you? Some hot warm might help get the juice out." She offered. The pig went still and craned its neck around to send Ranma a hopeful look.
Akane set the damp cloth on the table and sighed. "Could you Ranma? This isn't working very well." She said.
Ranma stared into the eyes of the piglet she knew was actually her rival in martial arts for a moment before sighing. "Sure." She held out her arms and leaned across the table. The moment Akane loosened her grip the piglet wiggled free and ran across the table into Ranma's arms. Only for it to freeze as she lifted it up, and like Akane, pressed it against her chest.
"Huh, I guess he really doesn't like the juice." Akane said thoughtfully, "Normally he hates going anywhere near you."
Privately Ranma considered it more likely that Ryouga had been terrified that his crush was going to go for hot water if she continued to fail at dabbing away the juice in his fur. Out loud she said, "Well you're method for holding him seems to be helpful. He's practically frozen." Teasingly Ranma squeezed the piglet that was her rival against her chest a little tighter, and watched as the black piglet gained a decidedly red hue.
"Oi, don't bully him Ranma! Honestly. He's a piglet so stop being mean." Akane said, sending a death glare at Ranma.
The redhead shrugged and laughed, before she walked out of the room and down the hall to the furo.
Wrong. Everything was going wrong. Ever gasped for breath as she struggled to contain the plethora of essence they were trying to shape. Sweat ran down her face and body, causing her thin clothing to cling and hug her body more than normal. Her muscles burned and she would swear that her bones were creaking from the strain. It hadn't started out wrong, no everything had been going well. The chants had been perfect, the starmetal channels had guided the essence perfectly, and all of them had managed to keep their output steady. Yet it hadn't been enough.
Power flared and Ever heard Thousand Steps cry out in pain even as she was forced to her knees. She couldn't say what had gone wrong, not really. One second everything had been fine, and then the power began to climb without warning. At first they had handled it, their calculations had allowed for a certain degree of variance in input. Indeed the extra power had been welcomed as it took the burden of supplying the essence from the five of them and allowed them to focus on shaping both the essence and fate itself. The power hadn't stopped growing. It had continued until the only thing holding it in check was the wills of the sidereals involved in the ritual, and even those were failing.
"We need to release it!" Rhys shouted over the roar of energy. "Something's gone wrong, unless we initiate the secondary release-"
"No!" Zaerius might have been old but he was still a powerful sidereal, and shouting over the roar of barely contained essence was easy for him. "Not yet! We're close Rhys! So Close!"
It took a moment for Ever's strained mind to recognize the sound that Rhys made in return. It was short and barking, like a dog or… or laughter. The laughter of someone who realized no one else got the joke, yet insisted on laughing anyway. Despite how hot she was feeling she shivered at the sound.
"This whole thing is falling apart! A few more seconds and it will be beyond any hope of control!" Rhys shouted back. Whatever Zaerius might had said in reply was drowned out by a cry of pain and an explosion as the area of the circle to her right where Thosand Steps had stood disappeared in a flare of essence. The fate of their companion escaped Ever as the strain on her quadrupled instantly, almost driving her into the ground. A cry of pain escaped her throat as she felt the edges of her clothing catch fire along with the ends of her hair.
To her side she dimly heard Rhys curse loudly. This was it. They had failed. Failed to change the loom, failed to save creation. With limbs burning, literally and metaphorically, she pushed herself up into a sitting position to stare at the night sky. She almost lost further control when she realized that what stars she could see were unrecognizable. For one thing there actually were stars. There weren't supposed to be stars in the sky during calibration, nothing was supposed to be in the sky during it. Not even on the last 'night' of calibration was there supposed to be even a single star. Yet there they were. She searched the stars for Mercury or Venus, and even spared a glance for Mars. While there appeared to be a red star near where Mars was supposed to be nothing else was the same. None of the constellations or stars were familiar.
Something snapped inside her at that moment. They had changed something after all, just not what any of them had wanted to change. A broken laugh tore itself from her throat as she lost what little control she had left over the essence. She felt it break the channels of the ritual circle, felt it snap her connection to it. Yet just when she expected to be blown away by the out of control power she felt something sweep her up and carry her away. Her view of the night sky became obscured by the grim visage of Rhys as he carried her away from the wildly fluctuating pillar essence. Distantly she heard a pair of simultaneous cries as her last two compatriots were consumed. She wanted to cry, while she barely knew the man in red, heck she didn't even know his name really, Zaerius had been her mentor and friend.
Ever felt every change of direction and every bump as Rhys carried her down the mountain path, jumping side to side as he dodged the lightning like threads of uncontrolled essence that were now running wildly down the mountain. By chance she glimpsed the valley from earlier. In that single second she saw a town, brightly lit, grow from nothing only to become a forest, another mountain, a lake, a city grander than anything the current age could boast before it became a darkness enshrouded valley once more. She was sure it continued to change even as they made their wild descent down the mountain. Still their luck couldn't last, not with the disruptions in fate that were running rampant through the area. One second Rhys had been descending onto an outcropping of rock, only for the cliff to shimmer and draw back, leaving two elegantly carved balconies sticking out where there had once been ground. Two balconies that they promptly fell right passed into the open air above the valley.
Ranma set the black piglet down on the edge of the laundry room sink as she shut the door. The pig looked over the edge of the sink before backing up carefully. Or he tried to as all he managed to do was slip and fall into the sink proper. The redhead shook her head as she undid the ties of her shirt.
"Be careful will ya?" She asked, "Anything happens to you, I get in trouble." She gave a very pointed glare to the pig as it seemed to grow thoughtful. "Besides, I thought you wanted to get clean to."
The pig sighed and nodded, sitting down in the sink basin. His eyes tracked her shirt as it spun through the air to land on the hamper. Ryouga went pink and looked away as her pants and boxers followed moments later. Ranma looked down at him as he turned to face the wall and restrained a chuckle. It was amusing how easy it was for her, hell for any girl, to get a rise out of Ryouga. Still he knew she was really a guy and yet… A smirk made its way across her face as an idea occurred to her.
"Let's get you cleaned up P-chan." She said, she stretched out the 'name', and dear god did Akane suck at giving names, in as seductive a manner as possible. As predicted the piglet went rigid as a nail when she did so. Crossing her arms under her chest she leaned forward with a smirk. "Aww is the widdle piggy worried about naked ol' me?" She asked tauntingly.
Almost instantly embarrassment was replaced by fury and Ryouga whirled around with an angry glare. He lunged at her face from the sink, clearing four feet more than a miniature pig should have ever been able to, and smacked into the middle of her breasts as she stood up.
With a smirk she wrapped one arm around the piggy form of her friend/rival and pressed him deeper into marshmallow hell heading through the back door into the furo. She could feel him struggling against her arm, but the difference in scale made it simple to hold him there as she started the hot water flowing into the Ryouga decided to display his displeasure another way.
"OW!" Ranma shrieked as she felt little teeth bite the side of her breast. She snached the piglet with her free arm and whipped the piglet into the barely filling bath. She rubbed one hand against the abused inner side of her breast as the piglet landed in the inch of hot water.
What little water was in the furo was pushed aside as the piglet transformed into a young black haired boy, with a yellow and black dotted bandana around his head. He was the same age as her, and seemed rather angry with her.
"Bastard." Ranma hissed at him as she realized that, yes, she was bleeding where he'd bitten her.
"You shouldn't have tried to suffocate me then!" He snarled back.
"You were breathing fine!" Ranma huffed and turned away from him. It had been a little bit of harmless teasing, why did he always have to get so angry about it?
"I wouldn't call be squashed alive good for breathing." Ryouga said as he leaned back into the Furo.
"Then practice holding your breath." Ranma said as she turned on the shower next to the furo. As much as she'd like to simply get into the furo and turn into a guy she needed to get clean first. Which mean dealing with the shower that, despite all the efforts of everyone in the house, still only managed to produce lukewarm water at best. Oh sure they'd gotten it to produce hot water on occasion, but the repairs never lasted the night before it was back to being lukewarm. While not cold enough to activate a curse, it also wasn't warm enough to deactivate one. Needless to say everyone blamed Jusenkyo for it.
Behind her she heard Ryouga snort and turn away from her to gaze at the wall. He clearly wasn't going to continue playing along. Pity. The next few minutes passed to the sound of water splashing as Ranma cleaned herself off. Just as she finished rinsing off the last of the soap a loud bang shook the house and both of the two martial artists felt their hair stand on end. They exchanged a look and Ranma quickly slipped over to the single high window the room sported.
Standing on the tips of her toes Ranma peered out of the window. The limited view provided only a glimpse of sky, which was rapidly being covered in black inky clouds.
"Well?" Ryouga asked from the furo.
"Looks like a storm is rolling in. Really quickly to." Ranma said. She looked over to the bandana wearing boy, who was still staring resolutely into the wall. "Didn't they say that it was supposed to be sunny for the rest of the week?"
He nodded, still facing the wall. "Yeah, supposed to be getting hotter over the course of the week. First heatwave this year." He said, "Won't be the first time someone's got something wrong.
Ranma glanced back out the window in time to spot large drops of water splatter on the glass. "Well it's raining now. Someone's gone and goofed." She said, then the house rattled as a gust of wind hit it. There was a splash as Ryouga finally sat up in the furo with a curse.
"That was-" He started.
"Powerful." Ranma interjected as she continued to stare out the window where she could see the laundry being whisked off the line by the rapidly growing storm.. The house rattled again moments later. "Come on. Let's see what's going on." She said as she turned away.
"Yeah sure." Ryouga said as he stood from the water.
Both turned to the entrance and took a single step, then things got… strange. There was a loud bang and a flash of bluish light that was almost white. For a single moment Ranma felt purple, tasted the sight of water falling upward, and saw the tartness of an orange; then it was over and reality reasserted itself… sorta.
As Ranma's senses readjusted to reality she realized three things: First, she was still naked; second, she was now several hundred feet in the air plummeting towards a town on a hill that was definitely not Tokyo, for one thing it was too small by a factor of a million or so; third, her ki was pulsing and singing to her like never before. Previously pulling on the well of energy that made up the building blocks of everything, from life to the rocks beneath her feet, required a significant amount of focus and something to help anchor it, like say an emotion. Now it was practically throwing itself at her, all but whispering into her ear the possibilities.
As she spun through the air towards the ground she pushed the questions that were popping into her head to the side as she fought, successfully, to slow her fall. Amongst them were questions like: How she got there, why was her ki suddenly so eager to be used, and oh yeah weren't there supposed to be stars in the night sky?
That last one caused her to double take hard enough that she actually spun around to face the sky again just to look. True to the short glimpse she'd managed while spinning uncontrollably there were no stars in the sky. Pushing the thought from her mind she spun back around to face the ground again.
The only thing she had time to do was curse as she realized the heavy wood beam and ceramic tiles of the roof of the largest building, in the center of the diamond at the top of the hill, were a mere second from meeting her face.
Glowing in shades of red and gold like the dawning sun Ranma Saotome crashed, face first, through the roof of the fortress dining hall in Garrison Heights, Greyfalls.
2nd Lieutenant Ryu Kumon of the Japanese Self-Defence Force stumbled as the wave of what he could only describe as "everything that isn't" washed over him. He gagged as the taste of a flat note faded from his tongue. Who knew sound could taste that bad? He shook himself off and frowned. His eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden change in light. Tokyo had been the middle of a hot summer day, this place appeared to be in the middle of the night. To add to it the street he was on looked nothing like the parade ground he had just been on moments earlier.
The street was cobbled stone that glowed a soft red in the light of the paper lanterns that were hanging around the doorways and corners of the distinctly chinese style of buildings that bracketed each side of the roadway. All of it was lit up a dull brown. A moment was spent trying to find the source of the light before he realized it was coming from him. It was his ki, energized and filling the air around him as it overflowed from within.
The street was empty, not surprising given how late it seemed to be, but he could hear movement from within some of the buildings. It would probably be a good idea to get off what appeared to be a main street until he knew what was going on. It would be pointless, however, if he failed to reign in his ki. He focused on his ki and pulled it inward. It resisted briefly before fading back within. There was a clatter as small pieces of rock that his aura had drawn from the ground fell back to earth.
"That was easy…" He murmured aloud. Reigning his ki in had been incredibly simple, a bare thought and it had simply flowed as he wished. Commanding his ki had never been that easy before. Usually he had to fight to bring it out or force it down, as did everyone he knew. There was a reason the most common way of projecting ki was via focusing on an emotion. Emotions stirred your ki, making it easier to call upon since all you had to do was provide direction, conscious or not.
A rumble from far above reminded him of his situation and he quickly slipped into a nearby alley. Now concealed he took inventory of what he had still had with him. His unit had been in the process of forming up for a live fire combat exercise when this had happened. As such he had his standard 9mm pistol, Type 89 Assault rifle, and his combat knife. He double checked the pouches along his chest and hips. He had enough ammunition for both rifle and handgun to last a while so long as he was careful. He looked down at his chest and smilled, his radio was still attached.
He flipped it on and said, "This is 2nd Lieutenant Kumon Ryu of the 1st Infantry Battalion, JGSDF. Does anyone hear this?" He didn't have to wait long before a reply came.
"This is Sergeant Akiyama, 1st Infantry, JGSDF. It's good to hear you sir." Ryu grinned as the reply crackled from the radio. Sergeant Akiyama was his 2IC in the 3rd Platoon of the 1st Infantry's 1st Company. He was more than twice Ryu's age and had been serving for thirty years.
"Good to hear you as well Sergeant. Any ideas on the situation?" He asked.
"FUBARed. Completely and totally. I'm with a squad of men near a cliffside tower. We appear to be near the lower levels of this city sir." The older man responded.
"Lower levels?" Ryu asked.
"Yes sir… You haven't looked up yet have you sir?" Ryu winced at the soft admonishment.
"Er… Not quite yet." He said, before looking up and out of the alleyway. Towering high above the buildings around him was the hill that this town seemed to be built on. He couldn't say how far up the hill he was, but the fortress that was clearly visible from his position. "Sergeant," He said, "That is a fortress."
"Yes sir it is." Came the, surprisingly unsarcastic, reply of his 2IC.
Ryu sighed. "Odds we haven't gotten in over our heads?"
"Rather low I image. One moment we're loading up, the next we're standing around trying to stop hearing green." The sergeant said, "Now we're apparently in a feudal castle town."
"So it seems. Supplies sergeant?" Ryu asked.
"Full weapon load, everyone was participating in the combat training today sir. We're lacking any long term equipment. No bags, no kit for camping out. Nothing beyond bullets and grenades. Other than what's on us though we've got a vehicle sitting here, a Komatsu LAV with a .50 Caliber Machine Gun on the roof."
Ryu cursed mentally. Normally the presence of a LAV would be welcome, but the situation was anything but normal. Trying to sneak out with an LAV would be next to impossible, but they couldn't leave it behind if they had the choice. "We need a location to meet up. Any idea where-" A thunderous explosion rocked the town as the western wall of the fortress disintegrated under a brilliant golden wave of emotionless ki. Ryu felt his gut drop at the sight. He recognized that ki technique.
"Lieutenant, sir, are you okay?" The sergeant demanded.
"I'm fine." Ryu said after the sergeant repeated himself several times. "Sergeant does your LAV have a radio?"
"Of course it does. You have a plan sir?" Akiyama asked.
"Not a plan, unfortunately." Ryu said with a sigh. "Broadcast on open channels. All forces are to converge on the castle. Local forces will most likely be hostile. Engage at discretion."
"Sir? You want us to assault a castle?" The Sergeant asked incredulous.
"No, I don't. However I recognize that ki technique that just blasted open the wall. If the person responsible for that is who I think it is, then we might just get some answers by sticking around." Ryu said. He leaned out around the corner as windows rattled open and people began to stick their heads out of windows up and down the block. Most of the people looked relatively normal, but one man who was leaning out of his window had turquoise skin and six fingers on his left hand.
"Answers might be important sir, but so is staying alive. Sticking around when someone just kicked the -"
"I'm aware Sergeant, but if we don't take this shot now, we may not get another." Ryu said, "The person who can do that little trick can be very hard to find when he wants to be. Last month's security briefing, I know you managed to get a copy. Remember Ranma Saotome."
"Fuck. That's that guy who collapsed Mt. Horai right?" The sergeant said.
"That's him, or her depending on the circumstances." Ryu said with a sigh. In the distance he could hear the sound of steel boots hitting cobblestone. The local soldiers were obviously responding to the battle above, and if the width of the street was any indication of its importance then they would probably be passing right next to his hiding place.
"And you want to run towards this guy's fight?"
Ryu shook his head. "I realize I sound crazy sergeant, but this sort of shit happens to Saotome all the time. Our best bet to find out how it happened is going to be getting up there and asking him." A second loud rumble rolled across the city as a second blast of ki ripped through the same wall, in the process removing most of the base of a tower that promptly collapsed. "I'm heading up sergeant, I exp-" A flicker of gold in the sky caught his eye and he trailed off as it got bigger and bigger.
"Get to cover. Now." The lieutenant ordered as he threw himself deeper into the alleyway. The golden light grew brighter until it was light a sun in the black sky. Then, with a loud crash, it slammed into the cobbled street with enough force to send powdered stone flying in all directions. Ryu coughed as the dust filled the air in an impromptu fog. A golden glowing fog that was nearly impossible to see through. He picked himself up and made his way back up the alleyway to the roadway, rifle at the ready.
"Sir are you still there? We saw an explosion of light from down here." The radio crackled.
"Some golden comet or something just crashed into the street here. I can't see what it is through the dust, but I'm going to check it out. Get to my position as fast as you can." He ordered.
"On our way sir."
With that issue out of the way Ryu turned his mind to the source of the golden light. The dust that filled the alleyway was rapidly settling even as he approached the street. As he stepped carefully out of the alleyway a gust of wind picked up rolled gently up the street, clearing the dust as it went.
With the air clear he could see the source of the crash clearly. A young woman, no older than eighteen years old, lay unconscious in a small crater where she had landed. She had long black hair and was wearing a teal leotard that was just barely covered by a rather damaged yukata. One of her arms was bent at an odd angle, the break in her forearm was clear even from feet away. But none of this drew his eyes as he knelt at her side, for on her forehead gleamed a solid circle of gold.
As he reached one hand out to touch her forehead a voice shouted from down the street. "STAND BACK! Get away from the Anathema if you value your life scavenger!" It was accented with a deep booming tone, but it was clearly a dialect of Japanese.
Ryu turned and leveled his rifle on instinct. Down the street a young man stood clothed in blue robes that danced in a breeze that felt laced with ki. Ryu's trained eyes picked out the way he stood, feet braced to move, and the lean muscles that could be seen beneath his tight robes. The man was a martial artist, most likely a master as well. Equally worrying to Ryu, however, was the large number of soldiers that he could see behind the man.
Over fifty men could be seen wearing what he could only describe as era accurate Roman Legionary armour. Each wore heavy steel plates over leather and carried a large tower shield. Most carried swords, some were carrying axes or maces, and each of them looked like they knew how to use them.
"Who are you?" Ryu asked as he scanned the girl for pockets out of the corner of his eye.
"I am Nellens Junlein, Third Coil Monk of the Immaculate Order." The man responded with a glare.
Ryu spotted a pocket artfully concealed on the front of the yukata, its presence only given away by the small holes ripped into the fabric by the crash. He carefully took one hand off his gun are reached into the pocket. He was rewarded by a small plastic card. It was a student ID for a Kuno Kodachi a student of… St. Hebe-something, unfortunately there was damage to the card and most of the name was missing. Still he recognized the name, it was impossible not to given how many procedures the Nerima JGSDF HQ had for dealing with the local martial artists. Each martial artist above a certain level, usually around twice as capable as an ordinary black belt, had a file that was kept as up to date as possible. Just in case. Unfortunately this meant he couldn't walk away from the girl. Both honour and law demanded it. Damn it.
"Well Nellens Junlein, I am 2nd Lieutenant Kumon Ryu of the Japanese Self-Defence Force. I'm afraid I can't comply with your request." He said, stepping closer to the girl. With one hand he slid his bayonet out of its sheath on his upper thigh, the soldiers behind the monk tensed up as he slowly raised it and slotted it onto the end of his rifle.
The monk frowned, probably annoyed at the drawing of a recognizable weapon, and the strength of the winds increased, buffeting the the Lieutenant as he tried to keep the weapon on target. A soft blue glow began to waft off the monk. It coiled and swirled with the wind. "The girl is anathema, see the brand upon her forehead. She is one of the Blasphemous, a deciever of men who worships dark gods and drags-" Junlein said.
"Impossible." Ryu said, cutting off the monk. "I've never heard of such a thing, and she comes from the same place I do. We haven't been around long enough for something like that to be true." He deliberately left off 'I Hope' from that. If what he'd heard about the Kunos, who he'd thankfully managed to avoid during his brief stay in the furinkan area, was true then turning to dark gods wouldn't be the strangest thing that had happened. The most dangerous perhaps, but not the strangest.
The monk stared down at him with annoyance and exasperation clear to see on his face. "Very well." He said with a sigh. Traces of blue ki swirled with the exhalation before billowing outwards riding the sudden gust of wind that swirled away from the monk as he slid into an actual martial arts stance.
Ryu trained his rifle on the monk with both hands as he knelt protectively in front of the young woman. The winds buffeted his rifle as though trying to throw aside his aim.
Behind the Monk the soldiers took a step back before sliding into a tight shieldwall. Ryu was given the distinct impression that they were more going through the motions than actually expecting to be needed, if the grins and whispers between soldiers meant anything. The clearly expected the monk to crush him and move on with little issue.
For a moment the only sound was the ringing of wind chimes and the rustle of paper lanterns. Then the girl behind him groaned. For a heartbeat Ryu's eyes twitched towards the girl, and the monk moved, sweeping forward with the grace of the wind. Ryu pulled the trigger of his rifle and a gunshot rang out over the street.
Entering a building through the roof hurts, doubly so when you smash into it face first after falling several hundred feet. On a good day such a thing would easily kill the average man or woman. It was, perhaps, a good thing for Ranma that she was anything but ordinary as she smashed through the roof of Garrison Height's officer dining hall and slammed into the fifty foot long solid oak table that graced the center of the room. There was of course substantial pain as she smashed first through ceramic tile, then an eight inch wooden beam (also probably oak), before finally cracking the six inch oak table with the force of her crash. It wasn't the hardest landing she'd ever had, but it would leave a lasting bruise.
The hall she landed in had a very plain ceiling for the most part, in fact the room itself was rather plain except for a few bright tapestries that decorated the walls. Not that Ranma particularly cared as she stared, somewhat dazed, at the ceiling while gently rubbing one side of her face. She did care, however, when the sharp ring of steel being drawn cut through the ringing of her ears.
Without hesitation she launched herself into a forward roll off the table, sliding passed several well dressed women in the process, and quickly brought herself into a fighting stance facing the table.
The blade she had just dodged had buried itself half way into the table. The blade itself was roughly five and half feet long, black as the darkest depths of the ocean and being wielded by a woman who was almost as beautiful as one of her fiance's. She had long blue hair tied back in an elaborate french braid. She was wearing a curve hugging blue dress with a slit up both sides of her legs.
She was scowling at just like her fiance's usually did the first time they'd met, Ranma thought.
Up and down the table men and women were rapidly streaming away towards doors at the front and back of the room. Ranma could hear many of them screaming and panicking as they pushed and shoved each other out of their way.
"MAGISTRATE!" Shouted a large man at the head of the table. Beside him several men in luxurious clothing were standing, each of them trying to reach a weapon that was laying against the wall behind them. "What are you doing!"
The woman huffed at the man and without issue drew her blade from the table before leveling it at Ranma. "That woman is anathema your lordship." She said.
"She's right Satrap." A tall broad man with brown hair, who looked like he was carved from marble, up the table shouted as he hefted a warhammer that was nearly as big as Ranma made from a pure white metal.
The fat man scowled before looking at the four men around him. "Sesus, send someone for reinforcements. The rest of you deal with her." He said gesturing to the guards around the side of the room.
Ranma scowled and sighed. Another day another horrible series fo events. Mind you she normally had a bit more context than this. "Now hang on a moment." She said as she backed away from the sword wielding lunatic in a dress. She stopped as she caught sight of a few guards, no longer occupied with the evacuated crowd, hemming her in with swords drawn.
"Words won't save you Anathema." The female magistrate said as she stepped down from the table. She was idly spinning her blade in one hand as she stepped off the bench that ran along the length of the table. The sparkling trail of water vapour that it left behind showed exactly how complicated the patterns she was writing in the air were, causing Ranma to firm up her stance as she recognized the skill required for that sort of control. "I don't care how you came to be here, or what excuses you might have. As a magistrate of the Scarlet Empire I sentence you to death. May you find forgiveness in the next life." That was the last warning before her blade came slicing towards Ranma's neck.
With a yelp Ranma leaned backwards into a flip, the blade just barely cut the air over her breasts as she did. She continued into a second backflip, then a third as the woman pressed the assault. Out of the corner of her eye Ranma spotted the large man charging to the aid of the woman. He still had a quarter of the room to cover though, more than enough time to deal with the woman.
Rather than continue into another flip, which would have put her into range of one of the guards, she twisted into a horizontal spin that let the woman's thrust with the blade sail underneath her. She grabbed the bluenette's wrist as she came down, the force of her twist drawing a cry of pain from the woman and sending her sword to the ground. Coming down from her spin Ranma planted her feet and threw the woman over her shoulder into the oncoming ranks of armoured guards, sending three of them to the ground.
She completed the throw with just enough time to profile sideways, allowing the massive white warhammer to slam into the ground with enough force to send shattered stone whizzing through the air. Ranma idly brushed aside several that came flying towards her even as she stepped inside the guard of the large man. She smiled confidently as the look of rage on his face swiftly transitioned to fear. He buckled over as she drove her fist into his stomach before a solid kick to the chest sent him flying backwards into the table, shattering the thick wood with his weight.
Ranma sighed and stretched as the room went silent except for the sound of the ordinary soldiers slowly forming a wide perimeter with men taking up positions near doorways and windows. Perhaps to block her in, perhaps to have a quick exit if things went horribly wrong.
The four men near the 'satrap', and Ranma had no idea what sort of title that was, had retrieved their weapons and were making whispered conversation as they slowly crossed the room. Ranma could make out what they were saying, just, if she strained her ears. It wasn't anything important, just strategies, which wouldn't work, and the word Anathema repeated time and again.
Ranma smiled as she continued to stretch. She noticed that despite the way she deliberately added a small bounce to her warm-up routine the noble looking men kept their eyes firmly on her face. Good, it had been a long time since she'd had an honest to god challenge, nearly six months since that disaster of a wedding, and regardless of why they wanted her dead she'd enjoy this…
The woman from earlier retrieved her weapon, though she was wincing slightly as she brought it up defensively. She circled Ranma as she slowly made her way towards her down friend. The large man seemed to be trying to pull himself out of the table without much success.
"You know most people introduce themselves with their names rather than their swords." Ranma said blithely. Behind her several soldiers slipped into the room, each one carrying a bow. She ignored them. The soldiers weren't holding themselves like they knew more than how to stand in line and stab what was in front of them. They could be annoying, but they weren't the big threat.
"Whitemane Lily, Magistrate in service of Her Majesty the Scarlet Empress." The woman said bitingly.
Ranma grinned. "Saotome Ranma, Heir to the Mutsubetsu Kakuto Ryu." She said.
"I have no idea what that is." Lily said derisively.
"A Martial Arts school." Ranma said as she tracked the group of four nobles with one eye. Their weapons were as eclectic as their clothing. One carried a long green metal spear, another carried a white sword as big as Ranma, the third a thin blue blade nearly six feet long, and the last wore a pair of red gauntlets.
"It will take more than martial arts to bring down a child of the dragons." She said as she reached her companion. Keeping her blade pointed at Ranma with one hand she wrapped an arm around the man's shoulder and heaved him out of the table. The man muttered thanks as he retrieved his hammer.
"Not the first time I've run into someone claiming to be part dragon." Ranma said with a bounce and a predatory grin that sent shivers of fear running through the soldiers. Those who could took another step back while those who couldn't cowered behind their shields. Ranma remembered Prince Herb quite well. The Bastard had locked her as a girl for trying to defend Akane, and had paid the price for it during their duel.
"The last guy was an arrogant ass as well." She said, getting glares from the 'dragons' in the room. "Well he was," she said toying idly with a lock of her loose hair. Her posture was as calculated as her tone to piss off each and every 'dragon' in the room. Flippant, dismissive, and carefree. It was a posture developed through years of experience to drive her opponents into a rage. After all an angry opponent was a sloppy opponent.
"He kept going on, and on, and on about the superiority of his blood. How I was pathetic and beneath him because some ancestor of his had slept with a dragon or something." The glares redoubled around the room on every face except the first magistrate, whose eyes were going wide.
Ranma grinned a grin that everyone who knew her dreaded. "I told him if he wanted to be proud of fucking a lizard, then he could go back home and do it there." There was absolute silence around the entire room as they digested the statement. Lily stared at Ranma with horror before she turned to the rest of her companions and opened her mouth.
"Don't-" She never got a second word off before the noble with the red gauntlets roared with anger and lunged for Ranma, hands outstretched.
The man was fast, Ranma admitted, but compared to her he may as well have been walking through molasses. She tilted her head to one side allowing his fist to slide by before she stepped inside his guard and slammed her open palm into his chest. The man tried to evade, twisting impossibly to do so, and in part succeeded. Her palm, rather than crash firmly into the center of his diaphragm instead impacted squarely with his right lung. There was a loud crack and the man stumbled before throwing another punch, less wild than the first but still reckless when fighting someone like her.
Ranma smiled as she sidestepped the punch and casually tripped him with her foot. There was a second crack and a whimper escaped the man. Not surprising really, her first strike had broken at least three ribs and that fall had likely made the issue worse. He'd live though, which was more than she could say of herself if these people had their way.
Before she had a chance to even mock the man for his clumsiness, purely to continue to goad him and his companions into further hasty action, his companions arrived. She stepped back to avoid the swift overhead blow of the large white blade. It cut into the ground deeply, lodging firmly into the ground. A whisper of wind was all the warning she received as the thin blue blade came slicing in from behind. A flicker of green as faint as the wind heralded the approach of the spear from the side. A nearly perfect ambush. It took three step to break it.
Ranma took two steps forward, one to close the distance, one to climb up the embedded blade, and a third step had her springing off the top of the the man's head into the air. Behind her the spear and sword wielders avoided colliding with the grace of long practice.
From across the hall the Satrap shouted, "Fire now!" Immediately the archers Ranma had dismissed earlier raised and fired their bows in one swift movement. Flying through the air meant that she was an easy target for the presumably well trained soldiers. Or she should have been.
Ranma twisted in the air as the arrows descended on her and somehow managed to fall faster than she should have. As she touched down on the table the arrows, previously on target, instead soared overhead to impact the far wall. Impishly she plucked one out of the air and twirled it in her hands like a baton before using the tip to block the strike of Lily's sword.
"Attack me by yourself again?" Ranma asked as she held back the two handed blade with one hand.
A shadow blocking out one of the plain chandeliers was all the warning Ranma had as the large man with the warhammer descended from on high. She twirled away down the table with ease as the man's blow blew another hole into its battered top. She flicked up several of the remaining plates, most of them still loaded with food, with her feet and sent them spinning towards the three nobles who were trying to get their friend back on his feet.
A roast bird of some kind smacked the spear wielder in the head hard enough to send him to the ground on top of his friend. The big sword swinger blocked most of the barrage using his sword as a shield while the owner of the thin blade simply danced away.
Lily leapt over her comrade and slid under the barrage of plates and food before springing forward into a diving stab. Ranma flipped off the table and out of the way, landing roughly opposite to where she had started the fight.
Ranma raked her eyes over the assembled fighters. Of the four nobles one was groggily sitting up from having taken a bird to the face. One was almost definitely out of the fight, a combination of broken ribs and a possibly punctured lung made sure of it. The other two were fine if exceedingly angry at her. The Satrap and his guards were fine, except for the three that had taken a thrown Lily to the chest. They were still out cold.
Speaking of Lily other than a few bits of food staining her dress and a probably sore wrist she appeared to be fine. Her friend was in equally good condition as he hefted the oversized hammer, though he appeared to be breathing heavily. He was probably still winded from the strike to the chest he'd taken from her.
The building rumbled and dust fell from the ceiling. "Take care of the Anathema." The Satrap instructed, "I will investigate whatever plan she is trying to distract us from."
Ranma watched him go with a bemused air. Whatever these people thought she was, they seemed to expect a great deal from her. She turned to the rest of the room as he left and said, "You're giving me a lot of credit for someone who just fell through your roof naked."
"One of the Anathema is not to be underestimated." The noble with the thin katana-like blade responded. He and the man with the large cleaver-esque blade remained in front of their downed companions with their weapons raised in defensive positions. "Magistrate Whitemane, we must buy time for our wounded to escape." He said.
"Follow my lead Lord Mnemon Ice Hand." Lily replied as she circled Ranma, "Zeriah, follow me in."
The large man snorted. "What else would I do girl." He said.
Ranma hummed quietly. They weren't backing down, not that she particularly surprised. Overwhelming stubbornness was a common trait amongst her usual foes. "If you're going to keep tryin to kill me, could you at least tell me a bit more about why?" She asked, "This doesn't seem like it's about the ceiling, or the table."
"You bear the mark of the forsaken, and you glow with the stolen powers of the sun. Do not try to pretend innocence monster." Mnemon said, before taking a step forward swinging his sword as he did. The air in front of the blade crystallized into a half-dozen sparkling blue icicles with sharp gleaming edges that flew across the hall.
Ranma cursed loudly as the icicles sliced through the air towards her. She leaned to the side like a reed in the wind, dodging the first, then the second with inhuman grace before she deflected the third into the ceiling. It disappeared through the roof without slowing down. The fourth was dodged with grace equal to the first two before Lily's blade came scything in towards her side in an attempt to inhibit her evasion. The war cry of her companion echoed from the far side along with the whistling swing of his warhammer.
Ranma sighed internally. Of course the guy had a magic sword, because why not make things more complicated then they were before. She appended that note. While none of the others had a blue weapon like the man, the metal of their weapons held the same otherworldly sheen that she had ignored before. A mistake in hindsight. It meant that she couldn't afford to simply toy with them. No she'd have to take this as seriously as fighting Ryouga, or there was a very good chance they'd actually do what her erstwhile rival had consistently failed to accomplish.
As the blade, warhammer and icicles inched ever closer she reached down inside and let the instinct she had developed over a decade of intense martial arts training guide her actions. She stepped forward into the icicles, barely feeling them as they shattered against skin tough enough to withstand a collapsing mountain. She swirled around like the wind, having moved fast enough that neither Lily nor Zeriah had been able to track her. In fact both were only just starting to realize their target was now missing when she struck. One foot found the handle of the warhammer, sending it flying from the man's hands before a second one sent it's owner through a nearby pillar.
Ranma's follow up spinning kick towards Lily was desperately parried with the flat of her blade, as was the next, and the next after that. A swirling maelstrom of water whipped up around her as she desperately tried to hold her ground. Mnemon and his remaining uninjured companion chose that moment to cut in, relieving the beset magistrate with a flurry of their own strikes. A trail of ice crystals followed in the wake of Mnemon's blade, and when he missed Ranma and cut into the stone of the floors and the timber of the pillars instead it left razor thin slices ringed with glittering ice.
Ranma swayed between the precise swings with pure skill. Those blows she did not dodge outright were turned aside with the brush of a hand or a flick of the arrow she still held onto. Yet she couldn't find an opening even as Lily rejoined the offensive with the grace of long practice.
As they drove her back towards the table the large noble with the cleaver like blade stepped back and drove his blade into the floor. With a loud crash a wall of stone, shaped like a fan of blades identical to his pushed its way out of the floor between Ranma and the table. She was trapped, Lily to her right; the large and laughing noble to her left; and Mnemon directly in front of her.
The redhead cursed inside her own head and stifled a sigh. It looked like she'd have to reveal one of her trump cards to get out of this situation. Privately she made a commitment to pry the secrets of the Bakusai Tenketsu from Cologne if she lived through this, before leveling a hand towards Mnemon as he went for the finishing blow. To an outsider it must have looked like the panicked last second wards of a doomed young girl. Any who actually knew Ranma would have known better than to stand in front of that hand as her Ki surged and the faint aura of red and gold around her roared towards the sky.
"Moko Takabisha." Ranma whispered as she gathered and released an immense amount of ki in the bare space of time between heartbeats. Ranma had created the original Moko Takabisha as a counter to Ryouga's Shi Shi Hokodan. It was originally fuelled by her confidence, but as experience had shown maintaining confidence was almost impossible to do when losing. So she had practiced in an effort to remove emotion from it entirely. Doing so was difficult, but Ranma had been making progress before she found herself falling through the night sky. Now as she called upon her Ki it leapt to respond, flowing as she willed. The blast she unleashed lacked even a flicker of the blue of her confidence, instead the twisting beam of coruscating power was the pure golden light of the sun, shot through with the reds and purples of the dawn.
Mnemon never had a chance to respond as the blast caught him in the chest. It carried him across the room, through the solid stone exterior wall, across the courtyard of the fortress and again through the twelve foot thick wall that ringed Garrison Heights. The Ki blast petered out in the sky above the city, but Mnemon's broken body continued flying out passed the city walls into the darkened countryside beyond.
Lily and the unnamed noble stumbled back in fear as Ranma's presence swelled Majesticly and the aura around her blazed until it filled the entire room. Soldiers cowered, may fleeing as an ethereal dragon formed of the shades of the first light of dawn spread it's wings across the hall with a roar.
Ranma looked up at it and frowned. "That's new." She said before pushing it aside as something to deal with later. She faced the two dragon blooded warriors angrily. "I don't like fighting to kill." She said quietly, "but if you keep trying to kill me, I won't have a choice." She had no illusions about the fate of Mnemon. He had skill, but he clearly lacked the durability that most of her usual foes possessed. If the blast hadn't killed him, then the fall had surely finished what it started. Killing was a last resort, and one Ranma was uncomfortably more familiar with than she wanted to be after Jusendo and Saffron.
Through the hole in the wall voices could be heard as men reacted to the demolishment of the outer wall of the officers dining hall.
Thoughts swirled through the mind of Whitemane Lily, young scion of house Iseli and Magistrate of the Realm, not a single one of them was helpful as she stared down the young girl before her. Surrounded by a waving mane of crimson red hair, and an anima banner that had formed a rearing dragon above head she was terrifying. Lily had faced an anathema once before, several decades earlier, at the side of her friend and mentor Ragara Zeriah. They had emerged victorious, though Zeriah had taken several notable scars from the encounter.
Yet that man, one of the Blasphemous, hadn't possessed even a fraction of the skill that this girl had brought forth. Six on one she easily made two Dragon Lords, Dragon Blooded officers with decades of experiences, into liabilities that had to quit the field. She had easily held her own against the four of them, disabling Zeriah in the process.
Lily spared glance for her friend. He in the rubble of one of several shattered pillars. Only the slow rise and fall of his chest belied his status amongst the living. He would be no further help. Nor would Mnemon Ice Hand be of any aid either after he had been struck down out of no where by a raging beam of pure essence just as they had been about to strike the girl down in turn. All that remained of the Dragon Lord of the 23rd Legions Fifth Dragon was the blue jade reaper daiklave, Whisper of Frozen Ruin, that had embedded itself in the stone next to the Forsaken girl.
"Well?" Ranma said as she took a step forward. Both Lily and the Dragon Lord of the Third Dragon took a step back towards the hole in the wall. They exchanged a look and Lily steeled herself to continue the battle, despite the raw terror the Forsaken's anima banner instilled with her mere presence.
The naked redhead stepped forward again and her right hand caressed the hilt of Whisper of Frozen Ruin. She examined it for a moment before leaving it where it was. Not like she needed it anyway, Lily thought derisively. The girl had torn through them butt naked and barehanded and the most they'd managed was to force her to escalate.
"In here!" Came a shout from outside as the clatter of steel boots on stone echoed through the hole in the wall. Reinforcements, finally. Still, what could ordinary men and soldiers do against this girl that she and five other dragonblooded had failed to accomplish?
The last anathema she had battled had been skilled with a blade, but nothing beyond what a competent dragon blood could manage. That encounter had made her doubt the capabilities that they were purported to have in legend. It was why she was still in the fortress rather than riding south with General Kitano after the anathema who was leading an army out of Vaneha.
The chance for her to think passed quickly as a man in ornate steel plate armour mantled the broken edge of the wall. He carried an ordinary blue jade daiklave in one hand. "I see you haven't managed to finish her quite yet Magistrate." He said as several more dynasts in ornate jade and steel armour clambered through the broken wall. Each of them was wielding an artifact weapon of their own as they encircled the forsaken girl. Nearly two dozen dragon blooded dynasts in full regalia clambered through the hole in the wall, and were immediately followed by a wave of ordinary legionaries.
Lily smiled as the reinforcements formed up around her. Ordinary men might not be able to stand against one of the forsaken, but so many of the dragon blooded host would surely be… Her thoughts trailed off as she glanced over at Ranma. The girl didn't look worried as dozens of soldiers flooded into the room. She looked exasperated, like she had been in identical situations before and had gone through them often enough to find them irritating more than dangerous.
"Be careful." Lily said to the dynast as he sidled up to her side. "We're already down four people, plus there's whatever caused that rumbling earlier."
The dynast nodded grimly. "Another anathema-"
"Another?" Lily exclaimed.
"Aye, another, he crashed through the roof of the main barracks. It's taken this long to bring up reinforcements from the troops patrolling the city." He said, "Most of the others dynasts in the city are trying to keep him contained, but it hasn't been going well over there either. We're down nearly half a dragon of normal men."
"Dead?" Lily asked. Half a dragon's worth of men? That was nearly four hundred men, and in such a short time?
"Just wounded fortunately." He said, "The monster seems to prefer crippling his opponents rather than killing them. Daana take me if I can figure out why."
Lily frowned as she glanced over to the girl who was now separated from her by several rows of legionnaires. 'I don't like fighting to kill, but if you keep trying to kill me, I won't have a choice.' The girl had said that not even a minute earlier. Perhaps this other had similar hang-ups? Crippling your opponent was cruel, but if you refused to kill what other choice would you have to remove someone trying to kill you? A man with broken arms, or shattered legs was hardly a threat.
"Whatever his reason we have to be careful with this girl. The strike she used to break the wall took her the moment between the swings of a sword to unleash. Mnemmon had no warning." Lily said finally.
The dynast nodded. "Then we'll have to just not give her that moment." He stepped forward, pushing through the lines of soldiers, "Take a moment to rest Magistrate. We'll handle this for now."
Somehow his words, meant as reassurance, only made Lily more worried as she looked on the nonchalant face of their opponent. The red head's gaze met hers for just a moment and Lily couldn't restrain the chill the rolled down her spine as she met the ice cold orbs of blue. The girl had been laughing, mocking them even, as they had fought across the hall earlier. It had been obvious that she viewed them as little threat. Now though there was was none of the humour that had once filled those eyes, only a surety of purpose that frankly scared the Magistrate. No girl so young should have eyes like that.
As the Dynast raised his sword and shouted his challenge before gesturing the men forward with a grand sweep of his blade five words, spoken by the girl before, rang through her head. 'I won't have a choice.'
Author's Note: This is the third of my stories that I intend to write until finished. This is technically part 1 of 2 for what was going to be Chapter One. The second half is in progress but I decided that this point made a more natural cut off point. Plus it's a lot longer than I thought it was going to be.
Tangled Fate has a bit of a history. It started shortly after I discovered Exalted in… i think it was 2015. It's been in development in one form or another ever since. I've had around eight separate ideas on how to handle this crossover, but only three of them were typed up. Each one was written, revised, rewritten and then scrapped. Each one was probably over 20k words by the time I scrapped it for the next revision. Honestly this is the story with the largest amount of planning out of the trio. Still I've finally settled on a story and am actually reasonably happy with what I've written.
Oh and that first part, with the Sidereals, is the only part that has consistently survived two years of rewrites and revisions. Maybe I'll post excerpts from my graveyard of writing at some point. For now, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Let me know what you think and how I can improve my writing style. Unlike my other stories most suggestions for how the story will progress will be disregarded since I've already got an outline for the story. Don't expect frequent updates since unlike my PA/Multicross SI, this is actually somewhat serious.