`And All the Children Will Believe'
The only thing Renon could think about was should he kill Ranma and Akane or not; standing angrily in the greenhouse looking at the dead plants. Most of the gang were busy pulling the roots from the pots, taking them to Kasumi in an attempt to salvage any of the vital sap needed for their operation.
Disaster, he thought to himself walking out. Over on one of the tables, Kasumi, Ukyo, and Shampoo cut the Ginsukou roots open, draining any loose sap from their canals. It was not looking very good Marcus could see. Once the roots had been exposed to the sudden change in their environment, the sap began to coagulate; cutting off the vital flow of nutrients the plant needed to survive. Most of what the three women drained out was useless, hard clumps of black goo to far-gone for any type of resurrection.
Renon shook his head. "Is there any sap you can recover, Kasumi?" he asked.
"Only the sap closest to the center, Doctor," she replied.
"Damn!" scowled Renon. He normally refrained from any emotional outburst, but Ranma Saotome had succeeded in bringing his blood to a boil.
"I should kill them," he said. Marcus paused, then chuckled lightly. "Ranma, he has the qualities of a professional. Intelligent and resourceful, that I like in a man."
He turned to Nabiki. "Where are they now?"
"We've tied them up and put them in your office, Doctor," she answered.
"Excellent. Relieve your sister. I want to go and have a brief chat with Mister Saotome and Miss Tendo."
* * * * *
"Ranma . . ."
A dull throb greeted Ranma, his head heavy as he slowly recovered. His name buzzed in his ears, somewhat irritating since it was being repeated over and over again in slow motion. He let out a light moan, moving his head from side to side trying to regain his senses. Finally, Ranma managed to open his eyes.
"Ranma . . ."
"Ranma, Ranma, please wake up. Oh, please wake up!"
Ranma shifted, trying to move but found himself unable to do so. "Akane?" he said.
"Ranma! Thank goodness," replied Akane. "They got us, Ranma. They got us!"
"What?" Ranma still was not fully aware yet of his surroundings. A heavy weight pressed down on his back, then he could feel it moving around. He tried bringing his arms up, managing a sharp jerk.
"Akane . . . Akane!" he cried out.
"I'm on top of you, Ranma," she answered.
It was becoming clearer now. Ranma lifted his head looking back as far as he could. He lie on his stomach with both arms bound behind him, feet secured tightly together, tied back to back with Akane. "Are you all right?" he asked her.
That was a relief. Ranma let his head touch the floor again, muttering a curse. They had dallied too long, and now look what happened. Caught by their maddened friends for who knows what devilish scheme.
"I can't see much, Akane," he continued looking up again. "Where are we?"
"An office I think."
"Have you seen anybody else?"
"No, I've only been awake for about ten minutes. Ranma, what are we going to do?"
"Get loose first of all."
He tested the bindings. "Funny, they don't feel like ropes," said Ranma. Taking a deep breath, Ranma began to strain against them. Almost immediately, Akane cried out in pain.
"OW, Ranma stop it you're hurting me!"
He stopped. "Akane feel for a knot."
"I can't move my arms Ranma, yet alone my hands."
"Yeah, me neither. What the hell did they tie us up with?"
"I can't see. Wait a minute. Ranma lift your legs."
He did, Akane straining to look down at her feet. "Oh, great," she said.
"They used electrical tie straps on us. Thick industrial strength ones," she answered.
"Those bastards! No wonder I can't feel any circulation in my hands."
"We're at their mercy then. We can't break those. Not like this."
"Oh yeah? Watch me!"
Ranma tried once more straining harder against the straps. Again, Akane pleaded with him to stop.
"Okay, so I can't," he said after a moment.
Apparently their arms and legs were positioned so that if Ranma attempted any kind of heavy strain, Akane's limbs would be at risk of snapping like a twig from a tree. Very clever, he thought. I'm the strongest, so naturally inhibit my ability with the one thing I wouldn't dare hurt.
"Akane, I'm tired of sucking dust. Think we can roll onto our side?"
"Okay. To my left, on three."
She counted and together they tipped themselves over. Ranma took in their surroundings.
"Hey not bad," he said noting the fine wood grain desk and chairs.
"We're tied up in some strangers office with a good chance of being killed, and you're admiring furniture!"
"Well, it is nice--."
"Ranma! Think about trying to get us out of this mess!"
"I am, I am!" he replied.
It looked hopeless though. Who knew when the gang would return for them, and then what? No way were they going anywhere soon by the looks of things, unless they could find something to cut the straps.
"Akane, look for something sharp," said Ranma.
"I'm looking at the wall, Ranma."
"A nail sticking out, a rough corner. Anything, Akane!"
They squirmed on the floor in a desperate attempt to loosen the straps. The door to the office suddenly opened, Ranma stopping too see who was coming in. Kasumi peered in around the corner.
"Kasumi!" he cried out.
Akane strained to see her sister. "Kasumi, Kasumi help us!" she said.
Kasumi stepped in but stood looking at them in a strange silence. From behind her, Renon Marcus walked into view. Ranma's mouth fell open in shock.
"I knew it!" he growled.
Marcus went to a near by chair and sat down. "You were surprised, Mister Saotome?" he said.
"Ranma, who is he?" asked Akane.
"It's that old guy I was telling you about," he answered her.
Marcus narrowed his eyes briefly at him. "Let's stop with that `old guy' stuff, okay?" he said.
Taking hold of Ranma's shirt, Marcus turned his two bound captives around so they could get a better look at him.
"Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo," he began. "I am Renon Marcus. Doctor Renon Marcus."
"What have you done to my sisters and our friends!" shouted Akane.
Marcus leaned back, smiling at her. "A feisty one you are, Akane Tendo. Mark of a fine woman. You have good taste, Saotome."
"You bastard. When I get free of these things I'm going to kick your ass!" Ranma raged at him.
"But you will not. Not before I include you into my family."
"Huh?" they both said together.
Marcus laughed. "Yes, a family I've created to help me with an endeavor of great importance."
"Endeavor? What endeavor?" said Ranma.
"You will find out soon enough, Ranma Saotome," replied Marcus. He paused looking them over, pondering his next course of action.
"Both of you have caused me a great deal of damage. Killing my plants was not very nice."
"If we'd known you were behind all this, it might not have been the plants," said Akane.
"Maybe, just maybe, Miss Tendo. I came very close to having both of you killed. However; I want you in my family, Ranma."
Ranma glared at him. "I'm not joining up with you. Never!" he replied defiantly.
"And again, you have no choice," countered Marcus. "Once lovely Kasumi here derives enough sap from what's salvageable, I'm going to give it to you. You too, Akane."
Akane shuddered. She looked up to her sister, fear in her eyes. "Kasumi," she pleaded. Kasumi remained silent.
"She will not help you," Marcus said. "Your sister is part of my family now."
"What is this `family' crap you keep talking about!" shouted Ranma.
Renon arched a brow, humored by Ranma's resistance. "I guess I can tell you that much. I create `Families', Mister Saotome. I look up people with skills and abilities useful for whatever tasking let's say, my services require."
"You're a mercenary," Akane said. He let out a short chuckle.
"Cute," Renon said. He continued.
"I form these families, execute the missions, and then terminate them when the job is done."
"So you create zombies to do your dirty work, and let them take the fall!" said Ranma.
"An accurate analogy. You are quite the bright one."
"But what if the police catch them? Aren't you afraid that your victims will tell them what you've done?"
"Impossible. No one recovers once under the influence of the Ginsukou sap."
Ranma and Akane felt a new wave of terror pass though them. If what Marcus said was true, then there would be no way too save the gang at all.
"What do you do with your `family' once a job is done?" asked Ranma.
Renon leaned towards him, an evil glint in his eyes. "You must have missed what I said about terminate."
"You're going to kill them?" Akane cried.
He sat back. "I thought about that, but too be honest I like your friends. Some expendables in the bunch, but overall a very good group of people."
Marcus waved Kasumi over to him. She came willingly and he stood up placing an arm around her shoulders.
"Especially Kasumi," he continued drawing her closer. "Such a beautiful child. She loves me you know. Isn't that right, Kasumi?"
Kasumi smiled, reaching up to kiss Marcus passionately. Akane gasped then began struggling fitfully against her bonds.
"You stop that, you stop that!" she cried. "Ranma, do something. He's molesting your sister-in- law!"
"Oh yeah, right!" replied Ranma. "I'm going to do something right now, Akane. Wait a minute, I know! Let me wriggle at him. That aught'a scare him off." He squirmed around for a second. "You scared now, Doc?"
"Ranma, this is no time to be funny!" snapped Akane.
Kasumi and Renon parted, Renon laughing at them.
"You are very funny, Ranma," he finally said. "They were right. You're a perfect couple."
"Touch my sister again like that, and I swear I'll kill you, Marcus!" threatened Akane.
"You're lucky Doctor Tofu isn't around. Otherwise you'd be nothing but pulp," added Ranma.
"Not to worry, Ranma. No one will know anything because there will be no one around to tell."
"You're not going to get away with this, Marcus!"
"Our father's will come looking for us!" added Akane.
"Yes I will, and where will they start, eh? After I've included you into my family, we'll be long gone."
"What are you going to do?" Ranma said.
Marcus frowned. "In due time, Ranma. There is a bad habit in movies for the bad guy to spill his intentions to a good guy when he is down. Hero's always manage to escape, thus spoiling the plan. This is not a movie."
Marcus led Kasumi to the door.
"Well Kasumi and I have work to do, but don't worry I will have your doses brought up shortly. Then everyone will understand everything."
Ranma tensed, gritting his teeth. "Marcus!" he cried. The door closed, leaving them once again alone and helpless.
"Ranma, you've got to brake these straps!" Akane said frantically.
"I can't without hurting you."
"Hurt me then, damn it! We can't allow Marcus to get away with what he's doing."
"I can't hurt you, Akane, no way. If I break your arms, that means I'm going to have to leave you behind. Who knows what he'll do to you once he discovers I'm gone."
"Ranma you've got to!"
"No!" he shouted ending any further discussion.
They were silent, pondering their situation. Suddenly Ranma started squirming against the straps.
"What are you doing?" Akane asked him.
"Trying to work these things loose. They're so tight though, I can't get them past my elbows."
"Well you're such a big guy that--."
Akane stopped as an idea came to mind.
"Something?" Ranma said noticing her change.
"Big guy . . . that's it!" she exclaimed.
"These things are tight around our wrist and forearms, and with your size their not about to come loose anytime soon, right?"
"And your point is?"
"My point is; what would happen if you changed into Ranko?"
Ranma thought quickly realizing that Akane's idea had a good chance of succeeding.
"Akane, you're brilliant!" he said.
"Naturally. Behind every good man is a good woman. Remember that."
"Okay, genius. Let's not get too smug here. We still have one problem to contend with."
Oh yeah, thought Akane. The only time they wanted Ranma to turn into Ranko is the only time that any water would not be readily accessible. Ranma looked around, spying what appeared to be a door just behind the desk.
"There might be a bathroom across the room," he said.
"What if it isn't?"
"Won't know until we check it out," he answered.
Ranma gauged the distance. It wasn't very far, but without the use of his arms or legs, it seemed like a mile away.
"This is going to take some work," he said. Sighing, Ranma rolled back onto his stomach.
"Never thought such a small woman could weigh so much," he joked.
"Don't you start, Ranma Saotome," Akane said. "Now, now dear," replied Ranma.
With a jerk, Ranma began inching his way across the floor . . .
* * * * *
"Yes, great-grandmother. We on way home now," Shampoo said into the phone. She cringed slightly as Cologne unleashed another furious barrage at her.
"We sorry, and promise to work extra hard tonight. You see!"
Cologne finished her ravings, hanging up with an audible click. The bright expression on Shampoo's face faded away. She hung up the phone, staring out into empty space.
"Very good, Shampoo," Renon said from behind her.
"Thank you, Doctor," she replied turning around.
Mousse came up besides her holding a small vial full of sap in his hand.
"Do not waste that," instructed Renon. "Feed it to this old crone, and get back here as soon as you are finished. Clear?"
They both nodded; setting off on their mission.
That task out of the way, Marcus returned to the table. All the plants were drained, and thanks to Kasumi's cooking skills a small quantity of the Ginsukou sap simmered in the pressure cooker undergoing final refinement. He peered into the sight glass checking the liquid for any discoloration.
"An excellent job, Kasumi," he said.
"I've estimated that we will be able to fill about sixteen vials, Doctor Marcus," she replied.
"How long before this is ready?"
"Another half-hour at the latest."
Renon glanced at his watch. Plenty of time. Once he has converted Ranma and Akane, then phase two of his operation would commence.
"Nabiki!" he called out. She came up behind him.
"Get the others busy moving the equipment into the vans out back," he ordered her.
"Shall I have Ranma and Akane brought down here?" she asked.
"No. Do as you're told!" Renon snapped.
Nabiki moved off to carry out his orders. Marcus gazed angrily at her.
"Your sister is very independent-minded," he said to Kasumi.
"She always was, Doctor," Kasumi replied. "Nabiki is very intelligent; although sometimes she can be a little irritating."
"I've noticed." He narrowed an eye, placing a hand to his chin in thought.
"I wonder why she is so worried about Ranma?" he wondered.
"His luck," Kasumi answered.
"He's always been a lucky one. Notice how long it took for us to finally get him."
Renon leaned back against the table. He looked up at the ceiling, contemplating Kasumi's words.
"I'm not one to believe in luck, but if we must put a name on it, that will do."
Turning to Kasumi, he smiled suggestively. "Ranma Saotome has just run out of luck though. There will be no more delays to his addition into this family. We shall see to that."
Kasumi arched a brow.
"If you say so, Doctor," she replied.
* * * * *
Ranma took a brief look up from his efforts, drawing in a breath before continuing. The door was not more than a few feet away, but he was finding movement difficult going across the carpeted floor. Above he could hear an occasional giggle from Akane, irking him. She did it again and he finally stopped.
"Akane, why are you laughing?" he asked.
She giggled once more. "Well, don't think I'm insane, Ranma," Akane explained. "You've carried me on your back before, but never like this. In it's own demented way, it's kind of fun."
Ranma let his head fall to the floor. "Akane, this is not an easy task here," he said looking back. "Frontal rug burn is not my idea of having fun."
"At least you'll know how us girls feel."
"Then again I wouldn't know," Akane quickly added.
Ranma shook his head. "You need help, Akane. Let's cease with the giggles, okay?"
"Oh, pooh," she replied. "Don't tell me you aren't enjoying this." Akane clicked her tongue. "Giddy up, Kimba!"
Ranma sighed, inching forward again. Soon they were within touching distance. He turned onto his side and together they worked their way around until their feet pressed up against the door.
"Pray this door's not locked," Ranma said.
"Perish the thought," Akane replied.
"Cross your fingers. On three. Ready?"
Ranma counted and they kicked. A loud thump sounded, the door remaining closed. Ranma grimaced.
"I hope they didn't hear that," he said letting a short minute pass. No response came, the two letting out relived sighs. They kicked again, this time the door creaking open. Ranma and Akane worked their way in pushing it back further.
"What do you see, Akane?"
Akane spotted a toilet and washbasin on the right side of the room.
"You were right, Ranma!" she exclaimed cheerfully.
"Now all we need is to figure a way to get at some water."
"There's two valves under the sink."
"That's our target then."
Moving was much easier on the tiled surface, and they quickly positioned themselves around, lining up with one of the valves.
"Okay, here we go," Ranma said getting ready to strike.
They kicked, jarring it sharply. It moved but no water appeared.
"Fine time for quality construction to shine through," Ranma said.
"We'd better get it right this time," Akane said. "That was a loud crack. I don't think a second one will be missed."
"Okay, one more time then. Ready?"
"One . . . two . . . THREE!"
They lashed out sharply hitting the valve handle. It cracked off the stem, flying through the air. Akane let out a surprised squeal as a stream of cold water burst forth.
* * * * *
Kasumi filled the last vial with Ginsukou sap, sealing it up. She handed it to Renon; who held it up to the light. Marcus gave her an approving nod.
"Now it is time for Ranma and Akane to join us," he said. "Nabiki, Ryoga, Ukyo. Come with me."
As the rest of the gang continued loading, Renon led the way up the steps to the second floor.
"You see, Nabiki. Ranma Saotome has lost all of that profound luck you and your sister think he has. I will personally feed him the--."
He paused, hearing a sound coming from his office that shouldn't be. Marcus quickened his pace. Bursting inside the office, they found a dark stain slowly spreading across the carpet. The rush of running water echoed from the restroom, and as for Ranma and Akane they were nowhere to be found. Renon was shocked.
"Impossible!" he exclaimed moving further into the room. Nabiki and Ukyo went over to the open window peering out.
"There they are, Doctor Marcus!" called Nabiki pointing.
Renon rushed over; Ryoga careful to avoid stepping into any water. Outside, he could see Akane being help down over the wall by a girl he had never seen before.
"Stop them!" Renon cried out.
Ukyo drew a throwing spatula from her bandoleer, flinging it at the redheaded girl. It barely missed, imbedding into the metal pole just above her head. She leaped down and soon the two were running in full stride down the street.
Marcus slammed a fist down on the sill. "Get after them!" he shouted. Ukyo and Ryoga ran out to alert the others. Marcus grabbed Nabiki by an arm, jerking her around.
"Who was that red-headed girl, and why wasn't I told about her!"
Nabiki smiled lightly. "That was Ranma," she answered.
He let her go, starting sharply. "Ranma?"
"That can't be. Ranma's a male!"
Nabiki scratched the side of her head casually. "Sometimes."
Marcus could not believe this was happening. Another surprise from Saotome. If he and Akane managed to reach the authorities, then all his plans might be ruined.
"Get them back, Nabiki," he scowled. "Get them back, or silence them permanently."
"Yes, Doctor. I knew we should have brought them down earlier."
Fury rushed through Renon's temples at her sarcasm. He reared back ready to strike, but stopped realizing that she was right.
"Get out of here!"
Nabiki turned away, snickering lightly as she left.
* * * * *
Ranko and Akane literally sprinted the few miles though town back to the dojo. They paused long enough to shut the main gates, barring them closed then rushed inside. In the living room, Soun and Genma were at their usual afternoon game of Shogi when the two burst into the room.
"DADDY!" Akane cried startling them. They looked up.
"Akane. What are you doing home at this time of the day?" asked Soun.
She dropped to her knees, panting heavily. As Ranko crawled away towards the sauna Akane went over to her father. She hugged him, crying into his shoulder.
"Akane?" Soun said trying to console her.
"Daddy, daddy something terrible has happened to Kasumi, Nabiki and the others."
Soun pushed his daughter gently back, narrowing a brow. "What has happened to them?" he said.
"A man . . . an evil man by the name of Renon Marcus has turned them into slaves!"
Soun frowned, giving Genma a hard stare. Genma let out a hum, getting up and headed to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Soun called to Ranma.
"I'm coming!" he answered drying himself as he returned. Ranma sat down next to Akane.
"She's right. The gang's in some serious trouble. This Marcus; you know, that old guy, well he's up to no good."
"We've got to call the police, daddy!" exclaimed Akane.
"Hold on," replied Soun settling her down. "Relax, relax. There's time for all of that."
"No there isn't!" said Ranma. "The gangs working for him. They know we have escaped. Doesn't take a genius to figure out where we went. They're probably on their way now!"
Genma returned carrying a pitcher and two glasses in his hands.
"Pop! We've got to find some way to help the others. Tell him!"
"There is time, Ranma," Genma answered. He poured each of them a glass of tea, sitting down once more. "Both of you need to rest and regain your strength. While you do that, Soun and I will make the appropriate calls."
"No buts, boy. Sit down and drink your tea."
His father was right, they were in need of some rest after the long run. Akane agreed, thinking about her two sisters and how they could rescue them from that madman's grip. She sighed bringing the glass up to her lips. A faint aroma caught her, the familiar smell of . . .
Immediately Akane lashed out, smacking the glass from Ranma's hands. He cried out drawing back.
"Hey, what's the big idea?" he shouted at her.
She ignored him, placing her glass down on the game table, inching back. A quick glance between Soun and Genma brought fear to her eyes.
"Ranma . . . the tea," she gasped.
Ranma looked at the tea on the floor, recognizing that familiar dark brown-red coloring. He stared at his father.
"Uh, Akane I think it's time to be going," he said standing up pulling her with him.
Genma followed suit. "Sit down, boy," he said. By his tone, Ranma knew that trouble was about to begin.
Akane stared at her father, lips quivering in a desperate attempt to hold back her sobs. "Daddy?" she said.
Soun took hold of her wrist. "Sit down, Akane. Everything will be all right."
She jerked her hands free, inching back along with Ranma. "No, not you too, Daddy!" Akane sobbed.
Genma started advancing on Ranma. "Get back, Pop!" shouted Ranma going into a defensive stance.
"Don't make us have to do something you're going to regret, boy," replied Genma. "Sit down and drink your tea!"
Akane retreated before her father, hands held fearfully to her lips as he moved towards her.
"Do as you're told, Akane," said Soun.
She could only cry, unable to accept this was happening.
"Daddy . . ."
Ranma squared off with his father, hands held up at the ready waiting for the inevitable attack. He chanced a glance over to Akane. The girl stood virtually cationic as Soun closed the distance between them.
"Hit him, Akane!" he cried.
Soun sneered at Ranma. "You wouldn't hit your father, would you, Akane?" he said, features softening into a pleasant smile.
Akane shook her head. "No, no, no daddy!" she sobbed.
"Akane, don't let him come any closer. Hit him!" pleaded Ranma.
Genma took that opportunity to charge. He let out a yell, leaping at his son. Both men tumbled back, crashing into the cabinet behind Ranma. That broke Akane from her shock.
"Akane, be reasonable," said Soun.
She stared at him for a second, biting her lower lip.
"I'm sorry, daddy."
Akane leaped, executing a spinning kick that caught Soun square on the side of the head. He let out a cry sailing back across the game table to the floor. His shock was brief, Soun looking at his daughter, malice in his eyes. With a yell, he shot up and attacked.
Meanwhile, Ranma and Genma were locked in a violent struggle on the floor, throwing punches at each other while trying to get the upper hand. Finally, Genma managed to get one of his arms up under Ranma's chin. He jerked back, standing up; Ranma writhing about in his grasp. The grip tightened, and Ranma realized that his father was trying to render him unconscious. Tipping forwards as far as he could, Ranma's head smashed painfully into Genma's mouth. He released him clutching his face. Quickly, Ranma took advantage of the situation. A series of rapid punches to the ribs had Genma staggering for air; a sharp kick completing the job launching him towards the staircase. The banister shattered, Genma collapsing on the steps.
It was only a brief reprise. Genma's hulking form rose up. He gripped part of the broken railing in his hands and charged again. Ranma blocked the first swing, ducking low then coming up with an upper cut to an arm. It hurt, but not enough to slow Genma. His elbow caught Ranma in the face knocking him back. Ignoring his pain, Ranma barely jumped out of the way as the railing crashed down. He leaped, kicking Genma in the face and the weapon clattered to the floor. Once more they traded blows, sparring back and forth behind Akane and Soun.
She stood deflecting her father's punches, ducking up under his arms as Soun made desperate attempts to catch her.
"Akane! Stop this insanity and accept the fact that you have lost!" Soun shouted at her.
Another mad lunge met empty air, Akane rolling across the floor. She stood up, but hesitated to connect with a blow.
"Hit him, Akane!" Ranma said just before Genma smashed him in the face.
Her chest heaved, Akane letting out a sad moan moving back. Ranma deflected Genma's blows, landing a roundhouse kick that sent him straight through the partition of the dinning room.
"Akane, we're going to get liquid lobotomies here if you don't fight!" he shouted.
Responding to his observation, Akane grimaced. She ducked under another of Soun's swings and punched him in the stomach. Soun let out a gasp clutching his midsection and doubled over. A blow to the side of his back sent him crashing to the floor. Soun let out a vicious growl as he rose on all fours.
"You will regret that, Akane," he snarled, lunging at her.
Ranma had Genma neatly contained, pummeling him with chops and blows, keeping him off balance. It was unusual though how much punishment his father was taking. Some of these blows were meant for use against Ryoga, the only other person he considered his equal. Genma would not give up, repeatedly attacking without concern for himself. This had to have something to do with that sap, thought Ranma.
"Okay, pop. You can't take me," he said trying to talk some sense into the man.
Genma kneeled on the floor across the dining room, pausing to regain his strength. He glared at Ranma, no sign of compassion or understanding for his only child in him.
"(Huff, huff) We'll see . . . (huff), . . . boy!" he said.
With a yell, Genma attacked. Ranma took a few steps back and then brought a leg up. His sharp kick caught his father square in the chin launching him up and out through the window. A splashing sound followed.
"Oh, great. That's all I need now," Ranma said.
The window and part of the wall gave way; Genma, in panda bear form, charging in. A burly paw sent Ranma across the room, hitting the wall with enough force to leave an impression as he fell to the floor.
"Ranma!" cried Akane fearing for him. She turned, and that was the opportunity Soun needed. He grabbed her, lifting Akane from the floor, holding her fast as she struggled.
"Ranma, Ranma help me!"
Ranma came to his knees still dazed from the blow. He heard Akane's voice looking up. Genma advanced with a growl, but Ranma went prone, swinging his body around, cutting the panda's legs from under him. Genma smashed headfirst into the wall. With his father briefly out of the fight, Ranma got to his feet and rushed to Akane's aid.
"Stop fighting me, Akane!" Soun said closing his arms tighter around her.
Akane fought headbutting him with no effect. "Ranma!" she cried again, then a solid fist to the face caused Soun to release her. Ranma poured it on, landing several more blows that left Soun reeling.
"Akane, are you all right!" exclaimed Ranma.
She nodded. Suddenly Akane's eyes widened. She put a hand on top of Ranma's head forcing him down, then threw a punch hitting Genma in the chin.
Ranma thanked her, then let out a short gasp pushing Akane aside. He stepped into Soun's attack, taking a hand full of his shirt and launched him into the returning Genma. Together they tumbled back into the dinning room.
"Like I said, it's time to leave," he said.
Taking Akane by the hand, Ranma ran for the patio door. He slid it open, and found himself staring straight into Ryoga's face. Ryoga started not expecting this sudden of an encounter, before a solid right launched him, Tsubasa, and Kodachi back down the sidewalk.
"Can't go that way!" Ranma said shutting the door.
The glass of the living room window shattered, two familiar figures leaping inside. Ranma and Akane backed away, preparing to defend themselves. Kuno and Sasuke stood up.
"Give it up, Saotome," Tatewaki said gripping the hilt of his sword. "You cannot escape us."
Sasuke produced a long length of chain, twirling both ends rapidly. Akane tugged on Ranma's sleeve, pointing to their right. Ukyo walked menacingly down the lower hall, her battle spatula held at the ready. A quick glance to the left found Genma and Soun moving in from the dining room. The patio door flung open, Ryoga glaring angrily at Ranma as he, Tsubasa, Gosunkugi and Kodachi walked in, completing the trap.
Tatewaki let out a short laugh. "You see there is no way out. Surrender, or pay the price of your folly."
Akane and Ranma moved closer together, taking stance at the encroaching ring around them.
"Well, I guess we'll see if our training has paid off," Ranma said jokingly to Akane.
"I hope so, Ranma," Akane replied. "Because if it doesn't, this is going to be awfully painful."
Ranma smiled. "No deal, Kuno!" he shouted.
"Very well," Tatewaki said. His sword flashed from its scabbard. "Remember, you were given the option. Don't complain about fair play after we're done."
"I'll keep that in mind while I'm breaking your face," said Ranma.
Tatewaki frowned. With a nod of his head, the gang moved in.
* * * * *
Not many customers were in the Neko Hanten when Shampoo and Mousse arrived. That was good to them, the less trouble clearing the restaurant of unwanted witnesses. Cologne's hot stare quickly found them.
"Shampoo!" she cried. In one bound of her staff, Cologne balanced before her wayward granddaughter. "What is the meaning of all this sudden insolence!" she grumbled low.
Shampoo gave Mousse a light tug on his sleeve, his signal to clear the place, before answering.
"We very sorry, great-grandmother."
"Sorry does not make up for all of the lost time, child. You have a job here, or have both of you forgotten?"
"We not forget," replied Shampoo. "Mousse and I have something planned for you. That why we keep big secret."
Cologne cast an eye towards Mousse. It wasn't her eyes playing tricks on her; Mousse was actually going to each occupied table and politely telling them to depart. The glower he gave them indicated that no was not going to be taken for an answer.
"Mousse, what are you doing!" she shouted. Before Cologne could bound over and strike him, Shampoo grabbed hold of her staff.
"It okay, great-grandmother," she said. "We just be closed a short time."
"No! Why, Shampoo. Why do we need to be closed?" "As I said, we have something special planned for you. Sit down please."
Cologne stared at her granddaughter in total shock. "I don't know why I'm doing this," she grumbled taking a seat at the nearest table. "This had better be worth my time, child, or both of you will pay dearly."
"You will not be disappointed, Cologne," Mousse said.
Cologne watched him lock the front door; Shampoo heading briskly for the kitchen. Something was not right with these two she mused. Her battle senses tingled, warning of impending trouble, but she gave them the benefit of doubt. Let's see what they've got planned for me, she thought narrowing her eyes.
* * * * *
It sounded like a typical day in the Tendo Dojo to the people that passed by on the street. Sounds of intense training and drill echoed through the air, cries and screams accompanying crashes of bodies against the floor. Inside however; a desperate battle of life or death raged between old friends.
Ranma and Akane defended their area and each other from the furious attacks directed at them. Ranma engaged Ryoga pelting his face with a series of punches. Ryoga rocked back, but there was no time to finish him as Sasuke leaped slinging his chain. It wrapped around Ranma's right forearm clenching tight. That was a mistake, Ranma jerking Sasuke from the ground before he could get his footing. He slung the ninja around catching Soun in mid-stride and together they tumbled away. Suddenly, a swipe from Kuno's sword flashed past him barely missed his chest. Ranma cried out, leaping back dodging another. Kuno pressed his attack, but this time Ranma caught the blade between his palms, lashing out with a kick that sent him into the far wall.
Meanwhile, Akane held her ground fighting off several lunges by Genma. She ducked his swipe, leaped catching Tsubasa in a headlock. Using him as a support, Akane turned kicking Kodachi in the face dropping her, then flipped Tsubasa back into Genma. Ukyo appeared attempting to cut her in half with the edge of her spatula. She jumped over it, coming down to connect with a chop at the side of Ukyo's neck. The spatula and Ukyo went to the floor.
Akane chanced a glance over her shoulder, checking to see if Ranma was all right. He and Ryoga were at it again, but Kuno charged him from behind. Without a pause, Akane glanced around, picking up the wooden Shogi board on the floor.
"Duck, Ranma!" she shouted launching it across the room.
Ranma ducked, the board smacking Tatewaki square in the chest. One attacker down, but Ryoga connected with a left that stood him straight up. He staggered, enduring another rock hard blow to the stomach. Ranma grimaced, but parried the follow up blow, connecting with a heel to the chin. Suddenly Gosunkugi leaped on his back, punching him in the ear.
"Gyah! Get off me!" shouted Ranma grabbing him by the collar. With a yell, he heaved Gosunkugi across the room into Soun. Out the patio door they went, Nabiki watching them roll by her feet.
She knelt. "Come on, guys. How hard is it to take these two, huh?" she said. Both men quickly scurried back to the fight.
The fighting picked up as the gang bore down on them. Ukyo managed to get behind Akane, bringing the handle of her spatula down across her chest, pinning her arms to her sides.
"Ranma, help!" Akane managed to say before Kodachi began punching her. Ranma saw her predicament and immediately sprang into action. A sturdy forearm knocked Tsubasa away, rolling clear from the dual attack by Soun and Genma. He normally would not hit a woman, but this situation called for it. Kodachi felt the hard kick to her side, crying out as she shot away. Akane growled, smashing Ukyo in the mouth with her head.
"Are you all right, Akane?" Ranma said frantically.
"Don't worry about me, look out!"
Ranma turned partially absorbing a kick from Tsubasa that sent him back up against the wall. He began to retaliate when three shurikens from Sasuke pinned his sleeve to the wall. Kuno, Soun, and Ryoga took great pleasure in ganging up on him, pummeling Ranma with blows, sending him to his knees in a daze. Suddenly Akane was there, punching and kicking with everything she could think of. Ryoga doubled over, a foot to the stomach staggering him; Tatewaki receiving a chop that dropped him to the floor. Soun went for her, but Akane took hold of his shirt, backflipping him across the room.
She was quickly up, a spinning kick connecting with Sasuke; Tsubasa running straight into a rapid series of punches.
"Ranma, get up!" Akane shouted, dodging Genma's hulking frame.
Ranma shook his head trying to clear the ring in his ears. He saw Akane desperately fighting to protect him, and pulled himself up to his feet. Ukyo came into view. She wielded her spatula like a bat, brining the flat side around towards Akane. He cried out a warning, but it was too late. Akane took the full blow slamming into the wall next to him.
"Damn you, Ukyo!" he cried. With a yell, Ranma pulled his arm free from the wall. "Now I'm really mad!"
Ranma lashed out, breaking the wooden handle in two. Ukyo started surprised, then Ranma double chopped her in the ribs, knocking the breath from her. He turned face twisted in rage as Genma attacked. Panda bear or no panda bear, Ranma pounded him mercilessly, a final kick knocking him away. For the moment, everyone but Nabiki was down. Ranma went to Akane's side.
"Ooo, Ranma," she said as he picked her up.
"Hang on, Akane. We're getting out of here.
The patio door was blocked, Ryoga rising painfully to his feet. A glance right saw Sasuke and Tatewaki pulling themselves up. With no other way out, Ranma dashed off towards the training hall.
"Get up!" shouted Nabiki at them. "They're getting away!" She grabbed Ryoga and Gosunkugi by their shirts. "Go around and cut them off before they get out!" she said thrusting them out the door. The rest of the gang got up and set out after them.
* * * * *
Ranma came out into the training hall, sprinting for the two sliding doors across the room. He was halfway there when they burst open, Ryoga and Gosunkugi blocking their path. Damn! he muttered turning to run. From the hallway, the rest of the gang rushed in cutting him off. Ranma backed against the nearest wall, watching as they formed around them.
"Akane," he said patting her lightly on the cheek. She moaned slowly coming to.
It pained him to see Akane's face so banged up. Her nose bled, the beginnings of a nasty black eye forming around her left eye. He was not in much better shape, but it was obvious that unless he got her out of here, Akane would not be able to stand much more.
Nabiki stood behind the gang, a frown on her face. "Ranma, why don't you just give up," she said drawing his attention.
Akane became aware then, gazing around at the faces. She held Ranma tight, letting out a light gasp in fear. Ranma placed her protectively down behind him.
"No way, Nabiki. Marcus is going to have to kill us before we fall into his hands again!"
The snap of Sasuke's chain sounded, the ninja twirling the ends readying for a renewed fight. Tatewaki drew his sword up; Ukyo held three throwing spatulas between her fingers.
"Well, if you want it that way, Doctor Marcus would not mind," replied Nabiki.
Ranma gazed at the closing ring, desperately trying to think of a way out of this predicament. His eyes caught the crossbeams above, and a plan began to form.
"Ranma," said Akane. He looked back at her.
"Can you hold for a few seconds?" he said. She swallowed, nodding her head.
Ranma faced them, anger in his eyes. "Tell Marcus we'll see him in Hell!"
Nabiki shrugged. "Okay, I tried . . . kill them."
Come on, Sasuke, thought Ranma waiting for the attack. Unexpectedly, Ukyo threw her spatulas at him. Akane grabbed Ranma, pulling him down to the floor. They stitched a path above his head then Sasuke's chain snaked out towards him. That was all Ranma was waiting for.
Catching it in mid air. Ranma snapped it back. It coiled around Sasuke, and he was jerked from his feet. A loud cry emitted from the ninja as Ranma whipped him around, knocking down several of the others in the process.
"Get ready, Akane!" Ranma shouted tossing Sasuke up towards the ceiling.
Sasuke looped over one of the crossbeams, wrapping several times around. He pulled the chain tight, grabbed Akane around the waist and leaped kicking off the wall. They sailed over everyone's heads and with a loud crash burst through the window at the end of the training hall.
Nabiki and Kodachi rushed over.
"Damn it!" cried Nabiki as Ranma and Akane ran for the gates. "Go, Kodachi. Whatever you do, don't loose them!"
Kodachi leaped out the window.
Nabiki turned glaring at the rest of the gang.
"Idiots!" she snarled.
* * * * *
The smell of fresh fish filled the air, Shampoo happily frying up a dish of tempura for her great- grandmother. Cologne watched her, still suspicious wondering what the two were up too.
"Shampoo, this is not like you," she said. "Why are you and Mousse being so nice to me?"
Mousse placed a friendly hand on her shoulder.
"Cologne, we just want you to relax and enjoy some home cooking for a change," he said.
"What do you mean? I cook for us now as it is, so I don't need any home cooking." She glanced back and forth between them. "What is going on here?"
"Great-grandmother, relax," Shampoo said as she poured a wok full of fried vegetables onto a plate. "Shampoo and Mousse treat you too something you will not forget."
"You're not telling me something, girl," replied Cologne narrowing an eye at her. "I don't like it one bit."
Shampoo did not reply turning her back to Cologne as she prepared the last ingredients of the meal. From her shirt, she pulled out the vial of Ginsukou sap, pouring it into the rice and vegetables. Once this was mixed in, she added the fish then turned holding the plate high above her head.
"It finished!" she exclaimed.
Placing the dish down on the table before Cologne, Shampoo sat down across from her, resting her chin on her arms on the table.
"Eat, great-grandmother," she said cheerfully.
Cologne eyed the dish with a frown. It did look good, but her senses were literally burning her now. This was way out of character. Mousse and Shampoo working together like this, not ever.
"No," she said.
Shampoo sat up slowly. "Why not?"
"Because you are up to something, Shampoo."
"Cologne--," began Mousse, only to have her cut him off.
"Silence! I don't want this food. One of you tell me what is going on. Now!"
The cheer faded from Shampoo's face. "I tire of game," she said to Mousse.
Mousse nodded. "Eat, Cologne," he said in a stern voice.
"I will not, boy," she replied reaching for her staff. He knocked it away.
"Eat," Mousse said again.
Cologne looked to her granddaughter for an explanation. "Shampoo?" she said, but the girl remained silent.
"Eat!" shouted Mousse. She stared at the plate for a moment, then without warning leaped from her chair.
* * * * *
A stunned Happosai stood at the shattered patio door, gazing around the carnage that used to be the Tendo Dojo. He scratched his baldhead, wondering what party he missed.
"Hello?" Happosai called out. There was no answer.
Carefully, he stepped in for a closer look. All the furniture in the living room was shattered, the walls potmarked with holes. His eyes caught the spattering of blood on the floor. It looked as if this was not a party after all, thought Happosai. An attack on the dojo? By who and where did everyone go?
Happosai placed his bag on the ground and thought for a moment. This felt wrong to him. No matter what, if anyone had hurt his family there would be serious hell to pay, and he was not about to show any mercy.
Taking a last glance around, Happosai set off in search of his friends . . .
* * * * *
Ranma ran pell-mell down the street; Akane in tow by the hand behind him. He glanced back over his shoulder checking to see if anyone was following. A few blocks back, Kodachi in full stride, rapidly closed the distance on them. Akane's tired face told Ranma that they needed to find a place to hide for a while, just a brief respite to stop and collect their thoughts. First things first, shake this unwanted tail.
They turned a corner. Kodachi poured it on trying to keep them in sight. She began to round the turn when Ranma's fist lashed out catching her square in the face. Kodachi slammed up against the corner lamppost and slid to the ground in a dazed stupor. Ranma was about to render her unconscious when a voice from across the street yelled at him. Several high school students charged at them from across the street. No time for another fight, Akane tugged frantically on his shirt and they fled the scene.
A few minutes later Nabiki and the rest of the gang arrived. Kodachi lay in some lecher's arms as another student fanned her with a handkerchief.
"Miss, miss, are you okay?" said the leach stroking her forehead.
"Idiot, can't you see she was injured by that bully!" shouted another, more sophisticated student.
"Darling! Are you trying to flirt with this woman," threatened a green hair girl hovering strangely above them.
"No, no! I'm just concerned for her well being," he replied. Kodachi moaned looking up into his eyes. "Fear not, Madame. We will avenge you."
"Yuck, will you shut up!" shouted another student.
Kuno pushed the lecher away, holding his sister in his arms. "Kodachi, which way did they go?"
Kodachi sat up pointing down the adjoining street while shaking her head. He helped her up, and they ran off leaving the students in a stunned silence.
"Not even a word of thanks," said the lecher.
"After having you drool all over her, I wouldn't thank you either," replied the sophisticated student.
"Darling, let's go home."
The leach sighed. "Yeah, let's. This side of the city was always strange anyway."
* * * * *
The street turned out onto an open part of town following along a near by aqueduct. Ranma and Akane had disappeared from view, Nabiki bringing them to a halt, looking around. She muttered angrily under her breath.
"Gone!" Ryoga shouted.
"Sasuke!" Tatewaki said.
Sasuke came up and began examining the ground around them searching for any telltale clues.
"Here, Master Kuno," he suddenly said.
In the street, a small drop of blood could be seen, another not to far ahead. They followed the ninja up to the edge of the railing of the aqueduct. Fortunately, the water was barely enough to form a small stream, running into a large tunnel cutting under the main highway. It was the only place they could have gone in such a short time, assumed Nabiki.
"I can't go down there," said Ryoga reminding her of his curse.
"Take Genma, my father and Gosunkugi to the other side then," she ordered him.
They ran off, Nabiki leading the remainder down the side into the aqueduct. It was dark in the tunnel, but Nabiki's keychain pen light cast enough light for them to see. They spread out across the expanse, and with Sasuke in the lead began their search for the two fugitives.
Not to far down, their movement through the water could be heard. In a short recess on the right, Ranko held herself spread eagle among the pipes of the overhead. Akane hugged her tight, arms and legs clasped tight around the center pole lending to their support. Sludge and grime dripped down their bodies, insects exploring this new addition to their world. A rat took the opportunity to stop on Ranko's hand, sniffing at her flesh.
It was hard for her to keep silent, but she did gritting her teeth tight. The light from Nabiki's penlight played around the tunnel; Sasuke appearing still trying to pick up their trail. Akane could hear them, gripping tighter to Ranko's body. Sasuke moved on, followed by Nabiki, Ukyo, and Kodachi. Ranko heard Tsubasa slosh by, then Tatewaki appeared. Suddenly he stopped.
Uh oh, she thought, watching as Kuno knelt to examine some of the algae growing on the concrete. Great, she would never think that Tatewaki would have such a good eye. Ranko tensed ready to drop if they were discovered. Tatewaki's head slowly began to follow the slight disturbances in the growth and was just about to lookup when Sasuke's voice called to him.
"Master Kuno, I have a trail!" he said.
Tatewaki moved off; Ranko letting out a low sigh of relief. Their voices faded away.
"Ranma," whispered Akane.
"Shh," she replied. They were silent for a few minutes longer, then Ranko spoke.
"Okay, Akane. You can let go now."
Akane unwrapped her legs from the pole. They gently lowered themselves to the ground careful not to make any loud sounds. Ranko and Akane made their way back up the tunnel.
"That was good thinking leaving a trail up the tunnel, Akane," Ranko said.
"I figured that Tatewaki or Sasuke would be able to track us," she replied.
Climbing up the side, Ranko and Akane paused at the edge to catch their breath.
"That wasn't all of them, though," continued Akane.
"Yeah. Pop wasn't there, and neither was Ryoga, Soun or Gosunkugi." Ranko looked around. "I wonder where they went?"
"Knowing Nabiki she sent them ahead to try and cut us off. That's not what I meant though."
"What are you talking about then?"
"I figure Kasumi's with Marcus, but what happened to Shampoo and Mousse?"
Ranko thought a moment.
"I see what you mean. That fight alone was bad enough. If they had been there--."
"We might not have gotten away at all."
Ranko stood up. "Come on, Akane," she said sprinting down the street.
"Where are we going?" asked Akane rushing after him.
"To find some hot water first, then to the Neko Hanten."
"The Neko Hanten? Ranma, they might be there!"
"So's Cologne. She's probably the only other person that can help us right now."
Akane was not looking forwards to another fight, but Ranma was right. Cologne might possibly be the last person they could turn to for help.
If not, then her family and friends would be in Doctor Marcus's mad control for the rest of their lives . . .
Tables clattered around the Neko Hanten, Cologne springing and jumping around trying to stay ahead of Shampoo and Mousse. Even without her staff, she still managed to avoid their attempts to capture her. Cologne bounced off one of the corner tables, Mousse crashing through it in a heap on the floor. She landed on the table where Shampoo's drugged meal sat.
"You wanted me to eat this?" she said. With a kick, the plate sailed across the room. Shampoo ducked and it splattered on the wall behind her.
"Oh. To bad, child."
Shampoo glared angrily at her. "You old bitch!" she cried out.
Cologne was a blur, launching herself at Shampoo. Her feet moved with lightening speed, Shampoo's head rocking back and forth beneath the kicks.
"How's that for old!" growled Cologne as she fell.
Much too her surprise, Shampoo quickly sat up shaking off the blows. "You've gotten better, Shampoo," she said.
Mousse appeared. "Much better than you think, old woman," he replied slinging three throwing knifes at her. Cologne moved easily avoiding them, recovering her staff.
"I don't know what's gotten into you kids, but it appears that I'm going to have to hold special instruction for you," she said twirling her staff before her.
Shampoo got up, jumping over the counter. She armed herself with her bonbori, coming around to face her.
"You not want to do this easy, so we kill you instead," said Shampoo.
Cologne started. "Kill me. Shampoo, where are your manners?"
Shampoo let out a yell and attacked. The bonbori rushed down on Cologne, but she parried the blows, swinging her staff around to hit Shampoo legs. The girl leaped, swinging down with her weapons. Again they met her staff, then Cologne hopped out of range. Mousse drew a pair of nunchaku's from his sleeves whipping them around as he closed in. The heavy ends snapped loud against her staff; Cologne retreating before him. She suddenly ducked rolling across the floor, cutting his legs from beneath him.
"Your guard is weak, boy!" she commented, bringing her staff up behind her head to block Shampoo's bonbori. An effortless spin sent her granddaughter back across the room. Mousse snarled, producing a pair of blades from each sleeve. He attacked, swiping at her, barely missing his mark.
My goodness, these kids are really trying to kill me! Cologne realized then. Her staff came up, breaking the blades then connected against the side of Mousse's head.
"Mousse, Shampoo, stop this insanity at once!" she cried. It did no good; Shampoo lunging at her once more. The bonbori smashed into the floor, shaking the restaurant leaving deep recessions as Cologne dodged the blows. Her staff flashed, the thick head hitting Shampoo in the stomach. She dropped her weapons, arms across her midsection, as she sank to the floor. Cologne began to follow up, but suddenly a pair of chains wrapped themselves around the staff.
Mousse pulled engaging Cologne in a desperate tug of war.
"Let go!" growled Cologne pulling harder.
In the brief interlude, Shampoo recovered her bonbori, bringing them down at Cologne. She cried out leaping away, the staff sailing straight into Mousse's face.
"Hold still, old woman!" shouted Shampoo chasing Cologne around the room.
"Not a chance, child!" replied Cologne.
Dodging a swipe, Cologne stepped in close spinning on one leg, the other outstretched before her. The kick launched Shampoo over the counter into a stack of pots and pans.
"And while you're back there, wash them!" she snapped. A whoosh sounded form behind, Cologne turning too late to dodge a blow from her own staff by Mousse. It caught her up under the chin and she sail through the air in the same direction as Shampoo. Before she could hit the ground, her granddaughter stood up.
"Got you!" she exclaimed holding her tight in her arms.
Cologne struggled but could not break free. "Shampoo, why are you doing this!" she shouted.
"Doctor's orders," answered Shampoo.
She moved around the counter; Mousse dropping the staff and produced a knife.
"It would have all been for the best if you had eaten that food like we asked," he said moving towards them.
"Let me go! Who is this doctor, Shampoo?"
"Never mind," continued Mousse. " You will not have to worry about that, or anything much longer."
"Hello!" a voice said from the side. Happosai stood looking up at the scene. "Sorry to bother you, but the front door was locked. Cologne, what's going on?"
"Happy, help! They've gone crazy and are trying to kill me!" exclaimed Cologne.
Eh? sounded Happosai. A foot from Mousse shot out, Happosai tumbling back across the floor. He came up on his hands and knees, tasting the blood running from his nose. An angry gleam filled his eyes.
"Boy, you have just made the biggest mistake of your life," he snarled. "It's been a long time since any man has made me bleed."
Mousse chuckled. "Then I guess it won't be the last time, old man," he replied stalking towards him.
* * * * *
Nabiki could not believe that Ranma and Akane had evaded them again. She, Tatewaki, Tsubasa, Sasuke, Ukyo, and Kodachi stood outside the tunnel looking around in bewilderment.
"Okay," she shouted throwing up her hands. "I give up. Anybody got any clues?"
Tatewaki slapped Sasuke across the back of the head.
"What happened!" he shouted.
"There was a trail, Master Kuno. I swear!" Sasuke replied.
"Well it must have been false then," Ukyo said.
At the top of the aqueduct, Ryoga, Soun, Genma, and Gosunkugi appeared. Nabiki gave them a shrug. "We lost them!"
"Well they didn't come out this way," Ryoga shouted down.
"Damn, how could we have missed them?" Kodachi said.
"To late to worry about that," said Nabiki.
"Let's search the tunnel again," suggested Tsubasa.
Nabiki shook her head. "No, they're probably long gone by now." She tapped the side of her temple, thinking hard. "Where would you go if you were on the run?"
"The police?" said Tatewaki.
"Back to the school?" said Ukyo.
"Well there's really no place left for them to run too," said Kodachi. "Who could they get to help them?"
Nabiki paused. She suddenly snapped her fingers. "There's one place they could go," she said. "Come on, we've got to move."
"Where are we going?" called Tatewaki as they followed Nabiki up the side of the aqueduct.
"Where else. The Neko Hanten," she replied.
* * * * *
Shampoo and Cologne watched the frantic battle between Mousse and Happosai raging through the restaurant. Much to Happosai's surprise, the boy was actually giving him a decent challenge. His long pipe deflected the swipes from Mousse's blades, inching back slowly before him.
"I must say, boy. You have definitely been practicing," Happosai said.
"Hold that thought, old man," replied Mousse stepping up his attacks. "When your head is bouncing around on the floor, you'll see then how much you've underestimated me."
"My head, eh? Well then I'd better introduce you to some real martial arts fighting."
With that, Happosai sprang off the floor. He rebounded off a table, and in one move shattered one of Mousse's blades. Mousse turned to cover up, but Happosai landed hard on his chest. The force propelled them across the room.
"Think about that, boy!" cried Happosai leaping aside seconds before he smashed into some tables.
"Mousse!" cried Shampoo.
Happosai gave her a brief glance. "Don't worry, girlie. I'll be with you in a moment."
Cologne began struggling again. "Shampoo, release me at once. Do you hear me, at once!"
"Be silent!" snarled Shampoo.
Mousse recovered, rising on his knees. He broke away the remaining blade, and glared at Happosai. "I'll kill you!" he cried. Chains, cables, and grappling hooks shot out from his sleeves threatening to ensnare Happosai. The old master barely lost a step, stepping into the storm his pipe clearing a path as he advanced. Happosai leaped up.
"You'd better learn to respect your elders, young man," he said. A mid air kick caught Mousse under the chin; startling him as he somersaulted backwards to land on the floor with a loud thump. Happosai laughed hysterically, leaping around the room.
"Give up, Mousse. You can't win--."
"Look out, Happy!" shouted Cologne.
Eh? wondered Happosai seconds before he collided with a chair kicked at him by Shampoo. Letting out a cry, Happosai landed on his back dazed. Before he could get to his feet, a stream of throwing stars and blades pinned his arms and legs down, immobilizing him.
"Hey, hey, no fair, Shampoo!" shouted Happosai struggling to get free.
Mousse stood over him and Happosai looked fearfully up.
"Now you die," said Mousse. The dagger in his hand came up; Happosai letting out a desperate yell increasing his struggles.
A blurred figure suddenly shot past Shampoo reaching out to stop Mousse, the blade scant millimeters from Happosai's chest. Mousse turned and was greeted by a sharp blow that sent him crashing into the far corner ahead.
"Ranma?" gasped Shampoo. A whistle from behind brought her around. Akane let out an angry cry, kicking the Chinese girl in the face. She dropped Cologne, joining Mousse across the room.
"Thank you, dear girl," Cologne said to Akane as she retrieved her staff. Ranma freed Happosai, and they stood glaring at the two on the floor. Cologne bounded over.
"Ranma! From the way you and Akane look, maybe you can shed some light on why my granddaughter and Mousse have suddenly lost their heads."
"They've been given some sort of drug," he explained. "Ginso-something-or other root."
Cologne's eyes went wide. "Ginsukou!" she exclaimed.
Happosai began puffing heavily on his pipe. "The Fool's Root," he said.
"Who dares to feed my granddaughter Ginsukou root!" demanded Cologne.
"Doctor Marcus," replied Akane barely able to hold back her tears. "He's got them all. My family, Ranma's--."
"He's up to no good," added Ranma. "We've got to stop him."
"Indeed we do, Ranma," said Happosai. "This explains their sudden determination. Whoever this Doctor Marcus is, he's just messed with the wrong people."
Mousse and Shampoo stirred, setting everyone back into a defensive stance. They slowly shook their heads, then gazed up.
"So what about these two?" asked Ranma.
"We'll have to take them first before doing anything else," answered Cologne.
Standing up, the enslaved couple glared at them, an odd smile coming to their faces. Ranma frowned, knowing that something was amiss.
"We don't want to hurt you guys," he said.
A laugh from behind brought them around. The rest of the gang entered from the back, cutting off any exits of escape. Nabiki stood behind the counter casually nibbling on a plate of dried fish.
"Of course we can't say the same, Ranma," she said.
"Oh, shit!" muttered Akane.
Nabiki frowned at the plate of food, pushing it aside. "You might want to think about changing your seasoning, Cologne."
Happosai tugged on Ranma's shirt. "All of them?" he asked.
"Credit for decoying us in that tunnel, kids. Futile, I knew we'd find you eventually."
"Your sister is part bloodhound, Akane," Ranma said.
"Not now, Ranma."
The gang began moving closer towards them.
"Why don't you give up," said Nabiki. "We have you, and this time there is no way to escape."
"Nabiki, all of you have been given Fool's Root. Fight it people. I know you're stronger than this!" said Cologne.
Nabiki smirked. "Only fools I see in this room are you four," she answered.
Cologne jumped to the ground, holding her staff in both hands.
"I was afraid of this. They are too far gone."
"Does that mean we can't help them?" asked Akane.
Cologne said nothing, giving the girl a short serious glance. The gang closed around them.
"Okay guys," said Nabiki. "Think we can take them this time?"
Tatewaki laughed. "Leave it to us," he replied. She leaned on her elbows, humored by the situation.
"Well then . . . sic'em!"
Nabiki reached out grabbing Kodachi by the shoulder, holding her back from the fight as the combatants engaged each other with a loud crash. Cries filled the air, loud blows, and the flash of Cologne's staff and Kuno's sword marking the intensity of the battle. Nabiki could see that this would go on for several hours, and time was running short. She shook her head, annoyed by the delay.
"You have your sleeping powder?" Nabiki asked Kodachi.
"Never leave home without it," answered Kodachi.
A vase sail close past Nabiki's head.
Kodachi started with surprise.
"All of them?" she questioned.
Nabiki nodded slowly. "All of them."
A devious grin covered Kodachi's face. She reached down the front of her bodysuit, pulling a string of small bags out. Her cynical laugh echoed across the room as she tossed them out into the middle of the fighting; joining Nabiki hurriedly retreating to the back room. Billowing puffs of white powder suddenly filled the air, black petals fluttering about the room.
Ranma instantly recognized Kodachi's deadly weapon. He held his breath and frantically looked around for Akane, Cologne, and Happosai. Off to one side, Happosai stood gasping up towards the sky clutching his throat as the powder overcame him. He slumped then Cologne bounded into view. She also held her breath, but it was apparent that she too had inhaled some of the powder; her eyes starting to glaze over. Ranma grabbed her, rushing over to pick up Happosai.
"Akane!" he shouted, but she did not answer. There was no time to search for her; Ranma turning to kick the front door off its mountings. He ran, disappearing through the small crowd that had gathered outside the restaurant.
The powder settled and Kodachi stuck her head in for a look. The gang lay about on the floor fast asleep. Nabiki and Kodachi traded looks, moving amongst them in search of their intended quarry.
"They got away again," said Kodachi in disbelief.
Nabiki smiled. "Not all of them," she said kicking aside a table. Underneath lay Akane. "Dear little sister. Tch, tch, tch, tch. Poor Ranma will surely miss you now, won't he?"
"Do we go after them, Nabiki?"
Nabiki shook her head. "We won't have to," she said. "Wake the others. We've got to return to the warehouse."
"What about Ranma?"
"Oh, he'll be along. That I'm sure of . . . "
* * * * *
Ranma did not stop running until he reached the park. Certain they had not been followed he placed the two elderly people on the ground. Cologne coughed hard, trying to clear her lungs of the residual powder.
"Ranma!" she managed to say in between breaths. He knelt beside her.
"I've got to go back, Cologne," he said to her.
"Go back? (Cough, cough) No, boy. Don't you see that will be what they expect!"
"I left Akane behind, Cologne. I can't let them take her back to Marcus!"
"Ranma, be reasonable about this!"
Ranma started to rise, but Cologne gripped him by the front of his shirt.
"Don't be foolish, boy. You'll be walking straight into a trap! Akane is gone."
"No!" cried Ranma swatting her hand away. He shot to his feet. "I'm not going to let that madman get his hands on her. I'll die first!"
Cologne tried to stand, but her head was still groggy. "You can't take them by yourself. Think, man. Think with your mind, not your heart!"
Ranma paused. "I am," he said backing away. "Take care of Happosai. I'll try to be back soon."
"Ranma!" cried Cologne, but he ran off. She slammed a fist down on the ground. "Foolish boy!"
* * * * *
By the time Ranma returned to the Neko Hanten the gang was gone; only the police and a small crowd remained wondering what happened. He was careful not to be seen, lurking back around the corner.
"Marcus," he muttered running down the street back towards the warehouse. "If that son-of-a-bitch touches Akane, I'll kill him with my bare hands." Fearing the worst, Ranma increased his pace . . .
A fuzzy feeling greeted Akane as she slowly returned to consciousness. With some difficulty, she opened her eyes, trying to see where she was. As her vision focused, Akane attempted to bring a hand up, only to find her arms and legs strapped tightly down. Where am I, she thought blinking her eyes.
It became clearer to her now. She and Ranma had escaped this very same room only hours ago. Akane tried to scream, but a wide piece of white tape kept her silent. She'd been placed on an operating table sitting upright before Doctor Marcus's desk again his prisoner.
"Mmmrph!" Akane's muffed cry sounded. She tugged against the straps desperately trying to break free. "Useless," said a voice above her.
Akane looked up, finding Nabiki peering down over the top of the table. She tried to call her name. Nabiki smiled coming around to the side.
"Finally awake. Was wondering how long you'd stay asleep," she said. Akane began to cry, her eyes pleading with her sister for help.
"Oh, come on, Akane," said Nabiki brushing the stray strands of hair from her face. "Don't be afraid. Everything will seem so clear to you once you've joined us."
"MMMMM!!!" raged Akane shaking her head frantically.
"You don't have to be so loud, sister dear. Anyway; Doctor Marcus will soon be up with your dose, so relax."
The door opened suddenly, Marcus and Kasumi walking in.
"Speak of the devil," remarked Nabiki.
Renon moved around to the other side of the table. "And how is my soon to be family member, hm?" he said. Akane's hot glare said more than any words.
"I see. Still upset. Well that will all change soon."
Marcus held up a vial of the Ginsukou sap, waving it in front of her face. Akane's eyes went wide, cringing back as far as she could go. Kasumi placed the remaining vials on the desk, joining them.
"I may not be able to do everything I intended to do when I first started," continued Renon. "But I do have enough for you, and Ranma once he shows up."
"MMNOORPH!" cried Akane.
"Yes!" replied Renon. He stepped back, turning to where Nabiki stood; Kodachi and Tsubasa watching a series of monitors on the wall.
"Any sign of our missing member?" he asked her.
"Not yet, Doctor," she answered.
"I'm sure he'll come," added Kasumi. Akane protested against her sister's comment. "He will, Akane," she said to her. "He loves you too much to abandon you."
Akane leaned back, letting out a sad moan, wishing that there were some way to prevent Ranma from walking into this trap.
"It had better be soon," said Renon. "Time is running short."
"I figure within the next twenty minutes he'll try something," Nabiki said.
"And the others?"
"Patrolling the grounds. The only way Ranma is going to get in is by fighting, or surrendering to us. In either case, he's lost."
Marcus faced Akane again.
"Now that that's covered. It leaves only you, Akane," he said holding up the vial.
Akane shuddered as Marcus moved towards her.
* * * * *
Ranma lay prone atop the roof of the building across the street from Marcus's warehouse, trying to figure out a way to get inside. Every way he looked seemed blocked; most of the gang guarding the grounds anticipating his arrival. The roof was out, Genma and Soun on guard there preventing a repeat performance across the powerline.
It looked like he would have to fight his way in. Not good in light of his current injuries and fatigue. They'd surely bring him down in one rush. No, I'm going to have to hit and run, but now there came the problem of locating Akane.
Ranma squinted hard trying to see through the windows on the second floor. He made out one figure standing in Marcus's office, then another next to them. Grief, it was Marcus himself talking to Nabiki. Who was that behind him? Straining, Ranma watched Marcus turn around, and he gasped.
It was Akane, strapped down to a table; Kasumi just behind her. He could see Marcus hold something up in his hand, realizing that it was a vial of that accursed Ginsukou sap.
He's about to give it too her!
Akane was struggling hard now, Kasumi holding her head while Marcus popped the top off the vial.
"No!" muttered Ranma, desperately looking around. His eyes stopped on a pile of long narrow pipes in a vacant lot just behind the building he was on.
Glancing between the two walls on either side of the street, Ranma quickly formed a plan. There was enough room on this side for him to get a running start, he figured crawling away from the edge.
If not, Akane was doomed.
* * * * *
"Will you stop squirming around!" shouted Renon as he tried to administer the Ginsukou sap to Akane. The girl fought with everything she could manage, moving her head from side to side keeping him from removing the tape across her mouth. Kasumi grabbed her head holding it still.
"Thank you, my dear," said Renon. He gripped the tape at one end and yanked hard. Akane tensed but kept her mouth shut, letting out a muffled cry fist clenched tight. Marcus grabbed her chin and began to apply pressure.
"Open your mouth, girl!"
Akane resisted, then locked a hateful glare on him seconds before sinking her teeth into Renon's thumb. He wailed loudly releasing her chin, shaking his hand as he drew back. Nabiki laughed behind him.
Marcus growled. He slapped Akane several times then took hold of her chin once more.
"You Tendo women are feisty," he said. "I can't wait to ravage you. Nabiki, shut up and get over here and help us!"
Still giggling, Nabiki walked around to the top of the table. "Everyone always wants to do things the hard way," she said. Her fingers pinched Akane's nose shut, causing her to start sharply. She jerked around trying to get free, but Nabiki held on tight.
"If she passes out, we just pour it down her throat," commented Nabiki.
"She must be conscious," replied Renon.
Akane's chest heaved in fits and starts as her air began to expire. She chanced a quick breath through the corner of her mouth.
"Try that again!" snarled Marcus pressing the edge of the vial to her lips.
Darkness began to form around Akane's eyes, her lungs begging her for air. She wavered, just about ready to gasp, when above on the roof the heavy sounds of running people were heard.
Renon looked up. "What's going on?" he demanded.
"Sounds like trouble," answered Kasumi.
At the window, a dark figure broke through with a loud crash bringing them all around. Ranma shook the shards of glass from his head and shoulders rising to one knee.
"Saotome!" cried Marcus.
A fist connected on his chin propelling him to the other side of the room. Kasumi leaped catching the vial he held in her hands scant inches from the floor. Tsubasa broke from his chair lashing out at Ranma. He quickly succumbed beneath a barrage of blows.
"Ranma, run!" cried Akane.
Ranma kicked behind him knocking Kodachi back. "I'm getting you out of here!" he cried. Nabiki attempted to stop him, a brief slap putting her temporarily out of the fight.
Before Ranma could do anything else, Genma and Soun burst into the room. "Great!" he muttered dropping back towards the desk.
"Ranma, run. They want you not me!" Akane shouted.
"I'm not leaving without you, Akane!" he replied. Marcus pulled himself up from the floor, shaking his head. He glanced angrily over at Ranma, then drew in a sharp breath spotting the last vials of his sap on the desk behind him.
"STOP!" he cried.
Genma and Soun continued to advance, but Ranma frowned at his order to them. Looking back, he noticed the vials.
"Get back!" he cried taking a fist full in each hand. Mousse and Shampoo ran in, followed shortly by Ryoga and Ukyo. They encircled him ready to pounce.
"I'll break these, Marcus!" he shouted holding up the vials.
"STOP!" roared Marcus again. This time his command was obeyed. Tatewaki, Sasuke, and Gosunkugi came in.
"Get back!" snapped Ranma.
"Do as he says!" shouted Marcus.
Reluctantly the gang moved back careful to maintain their coverage of any escape routes. Ranma glanced around. Okay what now, he thought to himself. Marcus glared at him. He went over behind his desk and sat down in his chair.
"Eighteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds," commented Nabiki dabbing at the blood on her injured lip. "You almost made a liar out of me, Ranma."
"Shut up, Nabiki," growled Marcus. He leaned back, tapping the tips of his finger lightly together before him. "Well, Saotome?" he finally said.
"Let Akane go!" replied Ranma.
Marcus arched a brow. "No," he curtly said. Ranma did a double take, not sure of what he just heard. "Did you say no?"
"Yes, I did."
"Then obviously you don't want these."
"And obviously you don't want Akane to live either."
Marcus motioned the others to step aside, letting Ranma see Akane. Kasumi held her head back, a sharp knife placed at her throat. She moaned as Kasumi pulled back a bit more.
"No!" shouted Ranma.
"Yes, Ranma. I'll have Akane killed if you don't surrender to me now."
"Don't do it, Ranma!" Akane managed to say. Kasumi pressed the blade closer to her neck, silencing her.
"As you can see, Ranma. You have no choice in this." Marcus stood leaning threateningly towards him. "Now, give me those vials."
Ranma's eyes darted around the room. It looked hopeless; no chance of escape with Akane's life hanging precariously in the balance. Suddenly he narrowed an eye.
"I don't believe you," he said.
Marcus leaned back. "What?"
"I don't think you'll sacrifice this stuff. It's much too important."
"You doubt I'd have Kasumi kill Akane?" Renon said in disbelief.
Ranma shook his head. "Didn't say that, but I'll say this. If you do, I'll crush these vials then I'll kill you."
Renon could see the seriousness in Ranma's eyes, knowing quite well that he could succeed with his threat. He smiled sitting back down again.
"Hm," he sounded glancing back at Akane. "Mexican Standoff. I have what you want; you have what I want. We could stand here all day, but I and this family have things to do."
"Looks like their going to be delayed, Marcus."
"Maybe." Renon paused then sat forward. "I'll make a deal with you, Ranma."
"I'll release Akane. She will go free, no tricks on my part. She can run right out of here."
"And in return?"
"You give me those vials . . . and yourself."
"No, Ranma. Don't do it-- URK!"
Kasumi pressed the blade into the surface of Akane's skin drawing a thin sliver of blood.
"Stop it, Kasumi!" cried Ranma.
"Well, what will it be, boy?" asked Marcus grinning triumphantly.
Ranma knew there was only one choice he could make.
"Release her," he replied.
Nabiki and Kasumi undid the straps. Suddenly Akane pushed Nabiki aside, dashing over to Ranma before anybody could react. She hugged him, burying her face into his chest. The gang began to close on them, but Marcus told them to stop.
"Saotome," trailed Renon giving him a knowing look.
Ranma grimaced. They wouldn't survive another fight. No, Akane had to escape and get back to Cologne. With some luck, together they'd figure a way to rescue them all from Marcus's merciless grip.
"Akane, you've got to go," he said.
She looked up. "No! Ranma I can't leave you here. Marcus will--."
"This is not the time to argue with me, Akane! You've got to get out of here before it's too late."
Akane gazed deep into his eyes, seeing the concern for her in them. She blinked away her tears then pulled herself up, kissing him passionately. Several of the gang started to take advantage of the opportunity, but much to their surprise Marcus waved them back. He allowed the couple their first, and quite possibly last kiss together, knowing that he had won. Ranma held her tight. Out of view, he slipped a vial into one of Akane's dress pockets. They parted, Akane stepping back.
"Ranma," she said lightly.
"Go, Akane," he replied.
Akane shook, wishing there were some way to erase all that had happened; a bad dream she would finally wake up from.
"I love you," she said moving for the door. "I'll be back. I'll be back for all of you!"
"Go," pleaded Ranma.
Akane stopped at the doorway, glaring at Renon. "Don't you hurt them," she growled.
"I wouldn't dream of it," he replied.
She bolted down the hall.
"Ryoga, Mousse, follow her," ordered Marcus.
"Hey!" shouted Ranma.
"Insurance, Ranma. In case you try anything foolish."
Ranma relaxed watching the monitors. Akane appeared on the cameras, running down the walkway towards the electric gates. Marcus opened them with a switch under his desk, and Akane ran off watched closely by Ryoga and Mousse.
"Well she's gone," Renon said. He stood up coming around to stand in front of Ranma. "The vials."
Ranma hesitated, then reluctantly placed them into Renon's out stretched palm. Marcus stepped aside, motioning him towards the empty operating table. Under the close eye of the others, he went over and lay down. As they strapped Ranma in, Renon stood over him.
"Very noble of you, Saotome," he said. "Such chivalry is not seen in most young people nowadays."
Ranma turned his head away. "Let's get this over with," he snapped.
Renon shrugged. Kasumi handed him the vial meant for Akane. "Open, please," he said.
The sap tasted sweet, its thick consistency pooling at the back of Ranma's throat. With a hard swallow, he downed it all, staring up at the ceiling awaiting its effect to occur.
Ranma found himself think about Akane. Her soft features filled his mind, the kiss they shared making him feel less afraid of what was about to happen. A cold sensation coursed through his stomach, the effects of the sap beginning to show. His vision blurred, a dull throb beating at his temples, but Ranma continued to think about Akane.
"I love you," he could her saying again. It was too late for him to tell her how much he loved her now, regretting never having admitting it to her those many chances before. The sap began to take hold, Ranma making one final defiant gesture before slipping under.
"Akane . . ."
To Be Continued...