The Dragon Ghost

Part 23

...And a bottle of rum.

OooOOooOO

Ukyo Kuonji frowned as she cleaved a man in two with her massive spear. The smell of gunpowder and the battle cry of the men around her, the adrenalin rush. The feeling was familiar, the world around her was blurred and unfocused, a haze had set in around her perception. She was focused on cleaving the central mast of the Imperial Merchant ship she was standing on at the base. Her spear wasn't stopped by the three sailors defending their ship standing in the way. The undead pirates around her fighting the others back with much fewer casualties. They seemed to be surrounding them into controllable groups with swords and pikes. The resistance dried up the moment the three crewmen fell in half at the waist in her wake.

The knight did not care. Ranma Saotome, scoundrel, pirate, and thief, was correct. She was at war with the Empire, along with what remained of her country. The mast fell away from her and into the sea, ruining the starboard side of the ship in the process. A group of undead pirates forced the last of the men out from below and onto the deck of the ship. The crew began to drop their weapons and glare at the pirates surrounding them in a sort of horrified terror. The undead were pretty banged up and looked quite horrific. A few still had various weapons poking from their bodies and heads. One of them plucked an axe from his skull and looked at it in irritation before tossing it aside. A severed head was calling to it's body near to the fallen mast.

"Ere ya daft bastard!" called the unfortunate pirate. One of the crew men walked over and handed the body it's head as he passed by. They had control and the battle was won.

Ryuu came up from the hull with a fuse gripped in his fist. He lit it and nodded to his companions. "See here! You'd best be abandoning this ship now. That fuse goes to your powder, and I suggest manning the longboats and rowing as far as yer arms 'll allow! Off with ya!"

Ukyo took her cue and used one of the Scarlet Rose's lines to swing back aboard the ship. She landed on the deck with relative ease. Ranma was still female, even warm water was ineffective at sea. The red haired elven girl was watching the scene below with an unnerving smirk. She was rubbing at her chin and had a greedy look in her eyes.

"What are you on about? Weirdest pirate crew I've ever seen. You just sink the ships, you've never taken anything." She seemed to be making conversation more than anything else.

"Everything aboard those ships is mine." Ranma turned to look at her and chuckled as she slapped her shoulder. "This ain't a normal ship love. The sea holds it for me, if I ever need it, just appears on the ship. Davey gets to keep whatever I don't use in my lifetime. He can't ever kill me either."

"Davey Jones?" Ukyo sighed and leaned against the railing with a smirk of her own. "This ship is quite a prize then."

"Aye, it wasn't an easy job." The redhead rolled her eyes and turned away to face the wheel.

"What do you mean?" Ukyo seemed interested. The pirates had all returned to the ship after forcing the crew into the long boats. A few had to swim for it, but only ten lighter than a full crew survived. Most of the kills belonged to the knight.

"Have you ever tried to catch a Kraken?" She looked over at Ukyo for a moment from the corner of her eyes as she started towards the wheel to get ready to move on.

"I'm sorry I asked." She wasn't sure if she could trust her on that.

The merchant ship started to move away from them as they sailed off, the fuse was pretty long, so they had time to get a fair distance away. It was part of the reason they forced them to abandon ship before they left. "I love this part." Ranma seemed quite pleased as she looked out at the ship as it moved farther and farther away.

Ukyo grabbed her chin and kissed her full on the lips just as the ship exploded into a spectacular ball of flames. Ranma was frozen and felt Ukyo's tongue in her mouth for a moment before the girl broke the kiss and smiled at her. "You called me 'love'." She walked away with a little bit of a skip in her step and went into the cabin.

Ranma stood looking a little slack jawed for a long moment. She stood upright and popped her back. All the pirates were staring at her. "What are you all lookin at? Back to work!" She stomped her way up to the wheel and locked her eyes forward to the horizon. "Have to remember not to say that again."

Ryuu had moved up behind her and chuckled. "Wasn't that bad was it?"

"Funny what wars can make you forget, and what peace can make you remember." The redhead glanced back for a moment and looked pretty irate with him.

"Good point." The swordsman shrugged. "She's taking to her job with a little too much zeal if you ask me."

"Let her enjoy her war." Ranma seemed uninterested in the matter. "She'll be fine, and she's seeing things our way. That's all that matters to me right now. We have plenty of time for this to turn into a real mess before we get there."

"Wonder what it'll be this time?" Ryuu seemed resigned to his fate at this point and seemed to be taking it easy as usual. He glanced over at Ranma and noticed a frown on her lips. "What the hell are you so upset about?"

Ranma cocked her head a little and kept her eyes forward. "I missed my boom."

"I'm sure you'll have lots more." The swordsman sighed and shook his head.

Shampoo and Mousse emerged from the cabin with the knight. They seemed to be relieved for the fresh air and sunlight. Well, Mousse seemed to be enjoying the air anyway. He was shielding his eyes with his hand and hadn't been sleeping much. Ranma had decided to give him a night watch for obvious reasons. Her undead were capable, but Mousse could still see things in the darkness much better. He was grumpy and irritable.

Shampoo was glaring at Ukyo, but not Ranma. "What did you do? You're in too good a mood!"

"None of your business." The knight seemed to be pleased with annoying the elven girl.

The sun was beginning to grow closer to the ocean and was starting to take on an orange hue. One of the moons appeared in the distant horizon on the ships port side as well. The redhead was watching this scene while leaning against the wheel, it was impressive to say the least.

Shampoo was looking at her with an unreadable stare. "There it is again."

Ukyo noticed this and started to look irate. "What do you mean?"

"I don't understand how, or why though. Ranma's connection with nature is very strong. Almost as if he has lived among us for centuries. He will not grow old with you, and he will not join you in the next life for eons, even if you win him."

The knight flashed an angry looking frown at her. "I should take my chance while I have it then."

"You know you cannot keep him." Ukyo's gaze moved past Shampoo and over to Mousse. He was fuming mad and glaring daggers at the captain.

"I'd watch how I was looking at the captain if I was you." Ukyo called over to him and ignored the elven girl's words. "His crew might not like it much." She walked over and picked up a bottle from one of the crates on the ship. She pried out the cork with her teeth and took a few gulps before belching. She looked rather refreshed and relieved more than anything. "This wasn't so bad after all."

Ranma nodded her head and pulled a bottle from a small box at the wheel of the ship. "She's right, it's time for the rum."

Ryuu shrugged and gave a small salute. "Aye!" He strolled down to fetch a few more bottles from the cabin. It only took a moment and he came out with a crate under his arm. He shoved a bottle into Mousse and Shampoo's arms as he went by and sat down by the railing before taking one of his own.

Ukyo was already feeling hers as she walked back towards the stairs to the aft deck and plopped down singing to herself. " ...Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate's life for me! We're rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves! Drink up, me hearties, yo ho! We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho! Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me! We're beggars and blighters, ne'er-do-well cads Drink up, me hearties, yo ho. Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!"

OooOOooOO

It was a sunny windy day on the ocean as Ranma's ship continued to cut through the sea. It had been an eventful day, and two ships had been raided and destroyed in a few hours time.

"Mr. Kumon, run the colors. It's time to fall a bit behind. Heh." The redhead spun the wheel a bit.

The swordsman frowned and gripped the railing. "Are you sure? Setting her loose on a ship full of sailors and marines might not be a good idea."

"It's better than setting her loose on three of them. Those escorts will return shortly once they've picked up those crews we just left behind. Finding them both so close to each other was good fortune, and we shouldn't waist it. Unless a storm brews, we won't lose them for long. They'll be able to figure out where to start looking for us if we don't lose them soon." Ranma smirked and glanced over her shoulder. "Bring up the guns. She's catching up."

OooOOooOO

"It's the Scarlet rose!" The imperial fleet warship F-1 bustled with life. Hinako stood beside Captain Kuno at the wheel. He didn't seem to notice his crew getting battle ready.

Akane was standing at the front of the ship with Lime and Mint on either side of her. "Clever."

Kuno was behind her and to her right, looking through a telescope. "She waited until we were alone. She was counting on our escorts being occupied." He looked at her as though he thought she might be impressed.

"Everybody knows that dolt. You didn't have to say it out loud." Akane just snorted and didn't bother looking back at him as she gripped the railing and leaned towards the red sails in the distance. "Arrogant bitch. You can see those sails for miles."

"Yes. It frightens the boys I'm afraid. The sailing men are all terrified of her. She usually picks Imperial targets. I've heard about this one. I always thought it might be a story." Kodachi walked up behind the scene with a smile on her face. "She's quite the terrible person I understand. I can't wait to meet her." She looked more like she was anticipating a new friend than pirate hunting.

"I suppose we can handle them then." Akane nodded to herself and smiled.

OooOOooOO

Ranma was tapping the wheel on her ship with a frown on her face. She brushed her hair out of her face and turned it a bit. "I'm not sure I like this. She's noticed us, but she seems more interested in engaging us than firing. She's coming up too fast."

Ukyo was pacing on the deck with her arms crossed. She looked up and nodded her head. "Good."

"We can handle it." Ryuu gave a small shrug.

"What about Shampoo?" Mousse got kicked in the face by his beloved as soon as he'd finished saying it.

"I'm afraid he's right. I'm not so sure I want to engage a ship loaded with Marines with something of value on board. I need you to finish the job. I was planning on disabling her, taking out her mast at a distance and leaving her floating. We'd be able to lose them long enough to make port under the radar. We don't want them looking for us when we get there do we?" Ranma was frustrated and tapping her fingers along the wheel as she looked back at the ship over her shoulder.

"We need to lose them, and it looks like they're picking a fight. Not much we can do. It looks like she's planning on running her up our ass if she can. Then need to stop giving that kid so much sugar." Ryuu was leaning on the railing with a smirk on his face.

"You know where to take her. It would be more dangerous to let them figure out where we're headed. I hope you're prepared to face marines knight. This is a bit different than those supply ships we've been raiding."

"I can do it on the ground, and I've had no trouble adjusting to the sea so far." Ukyo seemed a bit annoyed the redhead had even brought it up.

"Well, I wouldn't want you to say I never warned you." Ranma shrugged, she seemed to have calmed.

OooOOooOO

Ranma was standing along the railing with a rope in her hand. She had a sword, and a smirk on her face. Half her crew was waiting along with her. The rest, and one impatient looking knight waited for the ropes to return on the deck.

The Imperial ship had boarding planks ready and the deck was loaded with Marines. "Hello Lil Wahinee!"

"You brat! I'm gonna punish you at last!" Hinako was beside him leaning over the railing and shouting at the redhead.

"Wait for it..." Ranma was more interested in how close the other ship was, they were pulling up along side them still. "Now!"

The redhead and her crew swung across the gap.

"Fiyah!" Kuno cried out as soon as she was halfway through her swing.

Ranma was feeling a bit panicked as she was expecting an order to defend the deck. Instead, the cannons blew the gun deck doors off their own hinges and into the side of the Scarlet rose. The undead crewmen with Ranma bounced off an invisible wall on the deck and splashed into the water. She kicked her legs to try and move her momentum the other way. A large sword passed over her head and through her line, she almost thought she was going to clear the ship, but everything went black.

Akane snorted as she rushed over to pull her sword out of the mast. The Captain spun the wheel of the ship away from the pirate ship.

"What the hell is going on?" Ukyo was gripping the railing and propping herself up after falling on the deck after the explosion.

"A trap!" Ryuu spun the ship away from the Imperial ship. The undead crew was still climbing back onto the sides of the ship, as it lurched to the side and away.

"What are you doing?" Ryuu pointed to the left and right. "That ship is warded, the crew can't get on. If you look to your left and right, you'll see two more, admittedly smaller, imperial warships closing in on us. "We're in a bit of a pinch right now."

"What about Ranma?" Ukyo was enraged and glaring up at him.

"He'll be fine. This isn't the first time something like this has happened you know. It's what we do. If one of us falls behind, we finish the job, then worry about sorting it all out. You really wouldn't know it, but I've been trying to kill him for years." Ryuu had a wistful smile on his face.

"Might get 'em this time. Eh?" One of the crew gave a good natured grin as he walked by the conversation. None of the undead appeared very worried.

"You're just going to abandon him?!" Ukyo was looking around in bewildered horror. "He's your captain!"

One of the crew walked up and gripped her shoulder. She found it a little unsettling. It was made a bit worse by what he said.

"Captains orders. We finish the job. Don't worry, once we get you where you're goin. We'll go and get her, she likes to leave a mess."

"That's almost a week and a half!" Ukyo felt very numb.

"She'll be fine." Ryuu gave a small shrug. "I'm not that lucky."

"What?" The knight clutched at her chest and took a step back.

"Look. In case you haven't noticed, neither one of us is particularly concerned with the health and well being of the other. I can't kill him." The acting Captain seemed quite cheerful for a moment. His face fell a bit. "Great. I'm stuck with the mob again."

"Why would you want to kill..."

"Well, I met Ranma when he set me up to take a fall in a couple of his early robberies. He looked like our good Captain at the time. I'd been looking for him for years. His father gave my family something that destroyed it. After that, there were a few sorted attempts to kill him. I did a bit of mercenary work. Tried to kill him again, you know how it goes."

The girl looked both enthralled and horrified by the story.

"Anyway, during one of our fights at a robbery on some evil wizard's lair. I pushed him into a really mean looking porthole. He dragged me in too, and we found ourselves at a dead end on a long roadway paved with black stones. There was only one way to go, and only one of us was going to make it."

Shampoo and Mousse had both come out of the cabin near the start of the story. None of them seemed to notice the distant pop and occasional splash as they all seemed interested.

"Anyway. We both tried a bunch of times to murder each other along the way. It was some sort of trial for evil wizards. You're supposed to take a rival along and kill him along the way. The winner gets some sort of power boost."

"You've walked the black road?" Mousse and Shampoo were both standing with slacked jaws.

"Yeah. It took two weeks to walk, it covers half of Morrid, and it's one way. It sucked quite a bit. Anyway, we got to the end, and neither one of us was dead. Ever since..." Ryuu was almost hanging over the wheel and looking a bit depressed. "Well, I can't kill him."

"What?" Shampoo and Mousse spoke together. The elven girl continued. "That's impossible! Only one person ever comes off the black road. No matter how many go in!"

"What are you talking about?" Ukyo was enraged, but still stationary. She spun around on her leg glaring at everyone.

"It's a kind of a gamble for dark wizards. If you walk down the black road with someone and kill them along the way, you'll gain their power. It's a long and arduous journey. Most who kill their rival too soon don't make it to the other end themselves. There are a lot of dangerous things, and nasty traps along the way." Mousse nodded and turned his eyes to the ground.

Shampoo seemed to realize all at once that something was out of place, and the Knight's condition was what had clued her in. "Wait a minute! Where's Ranma?"

"Well out of our reach. She can't kill me either you know. We're cursed." Ryuu seemed pleased with himself for distracting them long enough to make his escape.

The elven girl's features fell. "What?"

OooOOooOO

"So, we meet again." Akane Tendo leaned in towards her prisoner. She was chained to the back of a cell. The black knight was inside it, staring down at her with a smirk on her face.

Ranma didn't look very intimidated she was playing with her chains and smiling up at the knight. She was a bit worn, most of the voyage back had been a beating of some sort or another. She'd blacked out a few times, but woke up in her new cell in the end. It was late night, and Akane was her first visitor. She had just woken up and had enough time to realize she was pinned with enchanted chains before the angry looking girl had shown up. "So we have."

"You've got quite the hobby." Akane lifted her nose and continued to enjoy having the redheaded bitch under her control at last. "We could talk about that and what will happen to you because of it for hours. I think you already know all about that though."

"We've made port have we? Mind letting me in on what rat infested hole I've found myself in? Quite charming." Ranma looked like she was wasn't trying to pay attention much.

"You've got a personal vendetta. I want to know what the hell is going on." The metal fingers of Akane's gauntlets clamped down on the elven girl's pale cheeks.

"You're not strong enough to break my bones with those fingers human. Why should I tell you anything. Do you think you could let the answers die with me? I'm in no position to give you any information at the moment. There's not really anything in it for me."

"I doubt I'll have trouble persuading the Empire to ask for me." The girl gave her a wild eyed stare. "I could probably get them to let me do it myself. I think I might. In fact, maybe I should take a little something now?" The short haired knight drew a knife and let the blade rest on the redhead's ear.

Ranma blinked, Akane had stiffened up and fallen forward on her face into her lap. The redhead looked down at the back of her head in surprise as the Weretiger behind the knight dropped the wooden club in his hand.

"Can you steal us a ship?" The Werewolf was unlocking her chains.

"What the?" She was looking at them both with wide eyes.

"Our Loyalty is to Lord Herb. Saffron killed him, and foolishly believed our loyalty was now his. Lady Akane has always been kind to us, we do not wished to see her harmed. However, we know more of your past than you realize. Lord Herb knew of the curse on those springs. He aided you to subvert his unwanted Master."

"What? You think I'm stupid enough to set sail alone on a ship with two beast men? Do you think I'm retarded?" The elven girl looked grateful, but backed up with her hands up.

"If you speak of 'the monthlies' we were born, not made." Mint frowned at her and crossed his arms.

"Well, I admit I feel a little better, but not much better. If we're at a port, I can steal a ship. I see no reason to subject myself to weeks of you two alone with me though. I'm grateful, but I know how your kind has trouble resisting impulses. Stop staring at my breast. You're not helping your case." She looked a little banged up and was sizing the pair up. She kicked Akane in the ribs on the ground and both creatures growled a little and put their ears back. "What? She's not dead. Don't worry so much. Come on. If she wakes up, we will have to kill her."

"This way. We can get you to the docks without being seen." Lime waved and looked around in confusion. "I know you're still here. I can smell you."

"Good, you should have no trouble leading the way."

Both beast men grumbled a bit and left the room.

"The flagship is lightly guarded. Celebrations and all, you're quite a catch." Mint smirked.

"No. Small and fast, unless you two think you can man all those guns." The redhead seemed a bit annoyed with the both of them. "I'm still not sure this is such a good idea. I feel I should remind you, that while I have no Silver, I am aware I can use magic to kill you. Also that it would take quite a bit. I've got nothing against blasting you if you step out of line. I'd pretty much have to incinerate you to kill you."

Lime seemed irate. "We will help you on one condition. You cannot harm Lady Akane. We already know you're after the Emperor's Staff again. We have no intention of allowing him to become a God."

"I'll tell you what. Since she is trying to kill me, or at least she certainly will after this, I'll not kill her unless it's the only way for me not to die. How does that sound?" The redhead appeared before them in the darkness. They were in a long unlit hallway, both beast men were surprised to see glowing eyes staring back at them. It was obvious she could see them both even in the pitch black.

"Whoa. Creepy." Mint shuddered a bit.

"Well, I suppose." Lime grumbled a little.

"Well, you've got to take this seriously. It's a contract. As long as I don't kill her, without dire need, which may or may not happen while you're around, you've got to control yourselves around me and my crew." The redhead had a pen and scroll in her hand and was holding it up to them.

"You're kidding?" Lime frowned and tapped his claws on the stone floor.

"We've got to sign something? Man, I hate writing." Mint looked a bit saddened.

"Shut up and do it. I'm aware the added incentive of a contract can curb your impulses quite a bit. Most curses are like that." Lime was already writing an X on the paper as the elven girl gave him a small frown.

"It's not a curse! I was born this way!" Mint looked irate as he waited behind him.

"It is, not everyone hates their curse. Mine is pretty useful." The redhead shrugged and looked at him.

"Oh, when you put it that way." The weretiger shrugged and signed his name as well.

OooOOooOO

Akane Tendo sat up and rubbed at the lump in the back of her skull. Her temples were throbbing and her eyes bloodshot as she pushed herself off the floor and onto her knees. "Ouch, what the...oh no." The empty chains were swinging in front of her face. Then she remembered who she had been in the room with. "What? How did?"

OooOOooOO

Good Fang the Dwarf let out a loud belch. He thumped at his chest while scratching his rear as he put his helmet back on after half stumbling out of a pub along the port. "Now, where's that bastard what stabbed me in the back?" He grinned as a tall and familiar figure standing amidst a crowd of Marines about twenty yards away started walking up towards the deck of one of the smaller ships. "Well now. Ain't that nice? I'll have to stop and say hello!" He tugged at the handles on his axe and war hammer as he started towards the scene trying to decide which one to use. He wanted to give him a hearty dwarven hello.

He jumped up and roared as he hefted his axe and awaited combat with the marines on board the unfortunate man's ship.

What he found was an elven girl and to beast men. They were looking at him with wide eyes.

The dwarf looked surprised. "Eh? Yer not."

"I didn't know dwarves could jump that high." The werewolf looked impressed with the diminutive creature. He had jumped up behind the wheel of the ship as it was leaving port.

"What the? What the hell do you want? I paid you!" Ranma looked annoyed.

"Drat! He got away!" Ryoga stomped his foot. He didn't notice the spears landing on the back of the ship behind him, sticking into the wood as the ship moved out of range. "Just drop me of 'ere and..."

"That's not a very good idea. They're quite angry with me for stealing this ship, and I think they might take it out on you if I did." Ranma shrugged and looked out at the skyline. "I suppose we're stuck with you for now."

"What? I've got to rip that idiot Lord Kuno's head off and suck his brain out the hole in his skull!" Ryoga grabbed at his weapons but didn't draw them as he got an angry look in his eyes.

"Well, if he's on one of those ships, he'll be along. I've got to get back to the Rose and her crew. I'm under contract right now, and I've got a job to do. It seems we've become useful to each other. An extra hand on the ship won't hurt, especially with a Dwarven back behind it." Ranma looked somewhat serious as she nodded towards the horizon. "I don't suppose you'd mind a bit of piracy much."

All four of them turned and looked behind them. A drenched figure in black drew a short sword from her side as she stumbled over the rear of the ship onto the side of her back. She was gasping for breath and glaring at them all as she staggered to her feet and pointed her sword forward.

"Uh oh." Lime and Mint said at the same time.

"Stop right there!" Akane Tendo looked very angry.

Ranma and Ryoga burst into laughter. The redhead kicked out in a sharp fast kick and the Black Knight's sword was lodged into the deck. Lime and Mint had her by the arms and held her in place.

Ranma walked up with a grin on her face. Her eyes weren't very nice at all though. She had her hands behind her back. "Welcome aboard Fiancee. Nice of you to join us."

"What the hell are you two doing?" Akane struggled a bit, but knew better than to put too much effort into it.

"We are Lord Herb's servants." Mint looked down at her. "We do not wish to harm you. Saffron must suffer for what he has done to our king."

"Your kind will be destroyed!" Akane tried to reason with them. "Don't tell me you're going against..."

"Then we will join our king." Lime nodded. Their hold was firm but gentle. "We do not wish to harm you, but we cannot give you our loyalty. Our lives belong to the Musk, and the will of our king. He would see your master destroyed."

"I'm out to annoy your boss too. We're on the same side now. Isn't that nice?" Ranma looked away from the frustrated knight and up at the beast men. "Confine her. We'll have her cleaning the decks tomorrow. She's too dangerous for important duties. We'll have her shine this ship from top to bottom while we're away. Make it pretty for when they find it after I get my ship back."

OooOOooOO

TBC...