Author's Notes: Yeah, I'm back! I didn't die, just had a whole lot to do in real life, what with school and exams and all. I'll hopefully be updating a lot more this coming week, since I've got the week off, but that all depends on how quickly I can write. At the moment I'm working more on "The Longest Journey," the sequel to FtSotA, but I'll keep updating here - after all, I finish what I start. For those of you who want to skip ahead on both stories, there's unbeta-ed versions of the next chapters on my website.

Okay, that was enough of a rant. Enjoy!

Arc Three: Unholy Alliance

Chapter Thirteen: The Weakest Link

Kagura's eye shot wide open as the accusation hit home. She's sensitive to something that small? Not even Ranma picked up on it, and his ability to read auras is impressive. That means she must be…"You're a kami, aren't you? Either that or a youkai." She smiled slightly, crookedly, as she stood from her perch on a box.

Urd's gaze flickered from the woman before her to the rest of the occupants of the room, taking in their questioning looks. "I'm a kami, all right. Goddess, second class, category one, limited. Now give me one good reason why I shouldn't flash-fry you where you stand!" "What's going on?" Ranma asked, as neither of them had graced the rest of them with an explanation.

"She's the child of the demon who gave Saffron back his power," Urd ground out. "It's very faint, but the trace is there in her energy pattern. She's a demon. Not one like Mara, but more like a youkai. A powerful elemental in human form." Everyone's eyes wandered over to Kagura, several hands reaching for weapons. "Kagura?" Ranma asked, his eyes bolted on the woman who had travelled with him for weeks.

The pig-tailed martial artist scanned her aura again, noticing nothing amiss until he hit a blind spot. An anomaly, where the heart should have been. He compared it to what he had sensed when reading the goddess's aura. Urd had a similar anomaly, only with her it was much more pronounced, a vibrant overflowing of life-force that bordered on the unnatural; it was the source of her power as a kami, of her immortality, and divinity. With Kagura it wasn't there unless you knew what to look for.

The woman in question looked over at him, seeing the question in his eyes. She raised her empty hands, and smiled sadly. "You can lower your wards…I'm not going to harm anyone." When Urd didn't, she shrugged. "Fine. I suppose I do owe you an explanation, Ranma. I'm actually over five hundred years old. I was born back in what you call the Sengoku Jidai, the era of the warring states, sometime in the fifteen-hundreds. Back then there was a very powerful jewel in existence, that could grant any wish and desire; hence, many looked for it, and, upon finding it, attempted to kill its guardian."

She had sat back down, almost completely unperturbed by the crackling on raw energy that came from Urd not five feet away. "The youkai I was born from was called Naraku. He wasn't a pure demon by himself. He used to be a human who was corrupted by his desire for both the jewel and its guardian – she was rather beautiful." She chuckled at the memory. "Her reincarnation and some half-demon friend of hers fought for it, as well, and split the thing into a thousand pieces. It became a race to see who'd get them all first. I was spawned from Naraku to fight them, but I never liked the guy. He did, however, control my mortal heart, and consequences for disobeying him weren't pretty."

Urd had dispelled her attack spells for the moment, apparently checking with Yggdrasil to verify the woman's story. Kagura ignored her. "When he finally died, I was freed from him, and decided to try and live a normal life, for once. As normal as it can get when you're immortal, anyway. The rest of what I told you before is true, excepting the ages." By the time she finished, Urd retuned her attention to her. "She's telling the truth," she admitted.

Kagura shrugged. "When I felt Naraku's presence the other day, I thought I was imagining it. Now, it seems, he was locked away and banished instead of killed by the attack." When her eyes met Ranma's, the Saotome youth was surprised to find sorrow and sadness in them, almost as if…She's expecting people to turn away from her. Of course, she's lived so long in reclusion from everyone else because of her art, and now we find out something even darker about her past.

"So?" Ranma smirked. "The guy's gone and gone for good, this time. We can deal with Saffron, right?" He just wished he felt as confident as his words sounded. Her dark red eyes bored into his, before she smiled slightly, moving on to the others in the room. Cologne met her with an indifferent gaze and a shrug, Ryoko and Setsuna arched an eyebrow, the unspoken question of whether she could be trusted clearly written in their eyes. She answered in the same kind, seeing the two of them nod at her. Nodoka seemed a bit wary, but smiled when she realized she had been travelling with Ranma for several weeks now.

Urd's glare softened somewhat. "Listen," the goddess began, "Oh, to hell with it. I'll take a page out of Bell's book. Join the club."

"So, what do we do now?" Ryoko asked, "We've got the situation in Jusenkyo to deal with, we've got to talk to both the amazons and the Musk – Ranma does, at least – and you've got to decide what to do about this." Ranma cocked his head, glancing around the room. "I'll go to Jusenkyo. It's a martial artist's duty to protect others, after all. And I'm not gonna let Saffron get away again."

"I'm coming with you," Kagura announced. "I owe you quite a bit; besides, you do have a point. It's my duty as a martial artist to help others." Ryoko nodded. "I'm coming, as well. I've got some ki exercises and training for you to do, Ranma."

"I'm going with you, Ranma. I let you out of sight for ten years, not anymore. I'll follow whereever you chose to go, son, and I will help you as best as I can." Nodoka smiled at her son, hugging him close to her and causing Ranma to blush beet red. Cologne hopped onto her cane. "I'll tell Shampoo and Mousse to pack."

Setsuna glanced at her brother, whispering, "I'll go check on the gates, then see if I can round the Senshi up. If my personal precognition is correct you'll need all the help you can get over there." He nodded in mute agreement, before turning to Urd. "Anything you can do?"

The silver-haired woman smirked. "Other than come along and knock some sense into them, I'll try to see what I can do via the Ultimate Force. It's not supposed to be used for something like this, but I think we can rig something. We can't drain Saffron's power, though, or alter the events. The kami can't even take a side, because then demons would take the other, and we'd end up destroying the world. So sending in an army of Valkyries is a big no-no."

He opened his mouth to reply, but the sound of a door slamming made them all look up to see Shampoo trying to calm a frantic Nabiki. "Saotome! Saotome!" The usually calm and collected girl looked dishevelled and exhausted from what was obviously a dead run, and she had a panic in her eyes Ranma had never seen before. "Mercenary girl calm down! Not make scene in restaurant!"

"Let me go! I gotta talk to Saotome! Ranma!" She struggled futilely against the stronger amazon even as she continued to shout. "Ranma! Ryoga's at the dojo, and he's out for blood! He's looking for you, and Kasumi and Akane are still there!" A little of the familiar icyness returned to her voice as she quite obviously fought for control over her emotions.

"What!" Ranma was at the door in an instant, having displaced Shampoo and standing right in front of a startled Nabiki. "Did you just say what I think you said?" He growled, and for the first time, Nabiki was scared at the look in the pig-tailed martial artist's eyes. It was cold, calculating, lethal; it promised pain to whoever dared cross him. She nodded weakly, the only reaction she managed before he bolted out of the restaurant and into the streets.

"Damn him! He could have waited," Ryoko swore. "Nodoka-san, I assume you want to come?" Ranma's mother nodded, and he crouched down. "Hop on. This is faster than running." Warily, the kimono-clad woman climbed onto the martial artist's shoulder and they, too, were off. Setsuna teleported out of the room, while Cologne, Kagura, Urd, and Shampoo took off at a dead run.


He had expected a battlefield, torn up ground and bloodstains in the worst case. Accordingly, Ranma came to a halt from his run battle aura blazing, his ki crackling around him ready to be discharged at a moment's notice. The need for it never came; the dojo looked the same as it always did, but he could sense Ryoga's aura inside. He involuntarily shuddered at the darkness that seemed to radiate off the lost boy, and couldn't help but wonder what had happened to him.

He opened the shoji door and entered, making his way towards the backyard. Kasumi and Akane were sitting on the porch, watching as Ryoga ran through his kata, his back turned towards them. Ranma's anger all but evaporated, and it seemed, unlikely as it was, that Nabiki had lied about the situation. That was when Ryoga turned around, and Ranma shuddered at the look in his rival's eyes. The lost boy's green eyes were focused, pupils narrowed into pinpricks, and he could feel the sheer maliciousness wafting off of him.

"You shouldn't let your guard down, Ranma. Else this happens." With surprising speed, the lost boy surged forward, aiming a vicious uppercut at Ranma. The pig-tailed martial artist turned sideways, slamming his knee into Ryoga's ribcage as he passed before spinning around and axe-kicking the lost boy into the ground. "I'm never off guard," Ranma hissed, his aura flickering to life again. "What happened to you, Ryoga?"

The Hibiki boy smirked, baring his fangs. "I sorted some things out. And I found out how to finally kill you! Bakusai Tenketsu!" Ranma leapt backwards as the ground he had been standing on a moment before exploded. Flipping through the air, he impacted the wall with his feet and sprung himself back at his opponent. "Kachuu Tenshin Amaguri-Ken!"

The attack battered Ryoga backwards, forcing him to give ground or be caught in the full attack. Ranma lashed out with a snap-kick as he wound down, only to have his leg grabbed; the pig-tailed boy found himself facing the ground as his body was wrenched around courtesy of the hammerlock Ryoga had on his ankle. He barely managed to turn away to avoid the axe kick that came down on him, clipping his shoulder instead of hitting his spine.

Ranma dropped to the ground and rolled backwards, away from the stomp that had been aimed to crush his leg, and came up in a defensive stance.When Ryoga charged at him again, he flipped over his opponent's headlong rush, but was caught unprepared for the spinning backfist that slammed him into the outer wall. He dropped into the pond as he slid down the wall, transforming into a girl as the curse took effect.

It saved his life as an instant later, Ryoga cracked the wall with a kick that passed a mere inch above the redhead's head. Dammit! Nabiki was right, he does mean business this time! I don't think I can afford to hold back too much. Kicking off from the ground, Ranma shoulder-rammed the lost boy, carrying him across the yard.


Akane and Kasumi could only stare at the fight that had begun before their very eyes, a fight so very different from what they were used to from those two. While the battles between Ranma and Ryoga always had been dangerous and involved a lot of property damage, this time they could clearly see the vicious crippling moves either boy sought to connect. At the very beginning of the fight, Akane had nearly risen to her feet, mallet in hand and her reflexive "Ranma, stop picking on Ryoga!" on her lips.

Those words had never been uttered as the lost boy struck out at an unprepared Ranma, without so much as a warning. The youngest Tendo girl watched in surprise as the fight continued to develop, her mind working in overdrive to process what had just happened. She couldn't believe the fact that Ryoga, the boy she had seen as the paragon of kindness and friendliness – next to Kasumi – had struck first, intending to cripple his opponent, without even so much as a reason. This time she drew the right conclusion from her observations; Ranma was not at fault here.

And as the two continued to battle, she prayed for the safety of both.

Kasumi looked on in stunned silence. She had always believed there had been a tentative friendship between those two young men, something that had kept their rivalry from turning into a blood feud. She had always seen Ranma make an attempt to reconcile with the lost boy; and she knew how much those rare few he could call 'friend' meant to him. And she knew how much fighting this battle had to hurt the pig-tailed youth, as she recognized, despite her limited martial arts training, that the lost boy had been intending to cripple or kill his opponent from the very beginning.

Ranma seemed to realize it, too, and seemed to release the holds he had placed upon himself. The fight was turning serious, and for one of the few times in her life, Tendo Kasumi felt a measure of anger well up within her.


"Ryoga, what's wrong with you this time? I didn't even do anything!" Ranma ducked under a snap-kick, responding with a sweep that his opponent hopped over. "You haven't died yet!" The lost boy yelled back, aiming a stiffened finger blow at the pig-tailed boy's throat. Barely managing to turn away, the strike managed to gouge a deep wound into the side of Ranma's neck. Clutching the bleeding, the Saotome youth glared at his former friend and rival.

"Last chance, pig-boy. Back off now. You're starting to piss me off." His reply was a feral snarl and another headlong charge. Sighing and shaking his head sadly, Ranma took a defensive stance, his sword appearing in his left hand with a flick of his wrist. His breathing evened out, and his right hand slowly touched the hilt of the sword. Time seemed to slow down as Ryoga approached, his warcry drawn out into a long, inarticulate yell, face contorted into a grimace filled with hate.

With a quiet rasp of metal against wood, time sped up again. Ryoga's charge stopped dead in his tracks as the flash of silver metal that was the sakabato in Ranma's hands passed by his torso. A moment later, the momentum of the strike caught up with the lost boy, throwing him back against the outer wall. Sheathing the sword, Ranma put it away into subspace again, and carefully eyed the prone form of the lost boy.

A choked laughter shook the body, and Ryoga stood back up, albeit shakily. "Not bad. For a girl," the fanged boy smirked. "Now, Ranma, prepare to die!" Planting his feet against the ground, his deep green aura exploding around him, Ryoga put his hands forward. The ki drained from the lost boy's aura into his extended hands. "Shishi Hôkôdan," he whispered.

About to leap out of the way, Ranma shot a glance backwards at the shocked gasp from behind him, and swore. Bracing himself and crossing his arms before him, he focused his aura in front of him to blunt the impact. The blast nearly threw the pig-tailed boy off his feet, and he could feel the heat of the energy that had been thrown at him. When it subsided, he was breathing hard, and smoke was wafting from his clothes. The dust settled, revealing an angry Ranma.

"What the hell, Ryoga! You coulda hit Akane and Kasumi! Watch where you're aiming, you moron!" The lost boy just grinned and charged another blast. "Heh. I am watching what I'm shooting at. Now prepare yourself!" It dawned on Ranma what his opponent was doing. Kuso. He's using them to keep me from dodging. If I move, he's gonna hit them. And they can't run fast enough to dodge his attacks. There's got to be something I can do; I can't keep taking Shishi Hôkôdans like that!

Summoning his own aura, the pig-tailed martial artist countered with a ki-blast of his own. "Môkô Takabishâ!" The blue and green rays cancelled each other out in the middle of the yard. "What the hell happened to you, Ryoga? Even you aren't that blind! Dammit!" Ranma swore as another ki blast pushed him back. "You misunderstand," the lost boy countered. "I'm seeing more clearly than ever before. Now I have you, and today, is the day you die!" With those words, the entirety of his sickly green aura drained away, shooting high up into the sky.

When it came down, it headed straight for the pig-tailed martial artist, and the two sisters behind him.


With a hint of desperation in his eyes, Ranma focused every last bit of his ki he could dredge up into an ovoid shape before and above him, hoping to shield the house from the worst of the damage. He had no illusion as to his chances of survival. When Ryoga had first performed the perfected Shishi Hôkôdan, it had been insanely powerful, and had nearly taken him out in their duel.

Now, it was fueled by depression, anger, and hatred. He could almost taste the hatred in the aura his former friend and rival exuded, and he didn't like it. The ki blast that was headed for them now was easily the size of a small house, and the lost boy had released enough energy to power an entire city block. Does he really hate me that much…? Eyes shut in concentration, he managed to tell the two girls behind him to run from between clenched teeth, but they, too, seemed frozen in their places.

And the world turned green.


Ryoko stopped just outside of the outer wall that marked the perimeter of the Tendo compound, staring at something in the air. Following his gaze, Nodoka let out a startled gasp as the light from the dark green, swirling mass of energy hovering above them cast eerie shadows. Reaching the apex of its path, the sphere slowed down and reversed direction, coming straight down the way it had gone up.

Aiming right at the yard that was on the other side of the wall. With a muttered curse, the martial artist dropped Nodoka to the ground. "Get as far away as possible, and get behind some cover!" Before she could reply, he was over the wall and in the yard. The remaining four women that had been following them picked that moment to arrive, as the sphere impacted, detonating in a brilliant explosion that flared into the afternoon sky. A mushroom cloud not unlike that of a nuclear explosion erupted into the air, and the shockwave alone disintegrated the wall that separated the street from the yard.

Shielding their eyes from the light and hitting the ground, the four women could feel the searing heat that washed across their backs. Seeing that the Saotome matriarch had been too close to the wall and been tossed into the air, Kagura kicked up, reaching behind her ear to withdraw a feather. Muttering an incantation, she tossed it through the air even as it grew to nearly ten feet in length. The feather cushioned Nodoka's fall, and hovered in mid-air, awaiting its mistress's orders.

The crashing of debris and the terrified screams of the people behind her on the street told them that the damage was not restricted to the Tendo household. What was left of the wall was a pile of sawdust and broken mortar, the rocks and wooden beams shattered and incinerated by the heat and force of the blast, and what lay beyond was devastated beyond recognition.

In the middle of it all, in the center of a six-foot wide crater, stood Ryoga, heaving deep, shuddering breaths, his eyes closed, and chin resting against his chest as the lost boy recovered from the massive drain on his body's energy reserves. Around him, expanding from him like a circle, was scorched earth, burned cinders, and even ground. The koi pont that had been part of the yard was now only a shallow hole, the water long vaporized and the koi disintegrated.

What was left of the house was a pile of debris resting in what had once been the foundation of the house; weren't it for the deep indent in the ground that marked the foundation, there would have been no trace of what had been there just moments ago. Even the dojo behind the house hadn't been left unscathed, but, since it had been built completely of wood – unlike the house – not a trace of it had survived. Beyond that lay another broken wall, an beyond that lay a devastated street. Windows had been broken, walls blown down, and entire buildings had come crashing to the ground, shaken loose by the very shockwave of the blast that had originated here.

What made bile rise in the throats of the five women, however, was the sight of bodies buried beneath the rubble, some moving, others still. A tiny rivulet of crimson dripped its way from between the debris of a collapsed storefront, forcing them to avert their eyes.


"ENOUGH!" The yell reverberated throughouth the neighborhood, easily drawing everyone's attention to its origin. Standing in the center of the yard, just where the porch would have been had it survived, stood the glowing figure of a furious martial artist. The silver flame of ki flickered high into the air, wide enough to form a shield between Ranma and the Tendo sisters, and Ryoga.

Ryoko stared at the still form of the lost boy. He was beyond glaring, beyond anger. He felt a deep, burning hatred for the one who had claimed honor and yet fought with such a disregard to other's lives. He was glad the three behind him were unconscious. Had they seen the destruction the fight had caused, they would have been mortified. Especially Ranma. Glancing sideways at Urd, he saw her survey her surroundings and begin a restoration spell.

When the lost boy began to stir and looked up, he started towards them upon seeing the prone form of his rival. "Yes! Finally, he's dead! I have my honor back!" In his euphoria, Ryoga failed to notice Ryoko as the bandanna-clad boy began to walk away, whistling a cheerful tune. What he did notice, though, was the jump-kick that rocked him off his feet. Turning around and struggling back to his feet after the painful hit to his spine, Ryoga glared at the silver-glowing elder martial artist. "What do you want?" He growled.

Ryoko didn't reply as he viciously laid into the lost boy.


Urd shuddered as she locked eyes with her longtime friend for even just a moment. The cold hatred she saw there chilled the goddess to her bones. Shunting the memory away, she continued her restoration spell as the debris began to lift itself off the ground, reforming everything that had been destroyed. Walls righted themselves, ashes coalesced to beams and poles, glass shards flew together and formed planes again.

That only left the injured to deal with, and Urd was already wanting for a drink. The sounds of battle drew her attention back towards the newly-restored Tendo yard, and all thoughts of rest evaporated from her mind.


The attacks came faster than Ryoga's eyes could detect, near-sonic strikes buffeting him around in the air as he felt pain explode through his body despite its incredible toughness. He lifted an arm in an attempt to block, only to have it bypassed by a half-dozen kicks that slammed him into the ground hard enough to rebound. A crescent kick sent him back into the air, a ki-blast shooting him even higher. In a flash of movement, his adversary was above him, slamming palmstrikes into his chest at a rate which made the Amaguri-Ken pale in comparison.

He could feel his ribs crack and splinter, and suddenly it was getting hard to breathe. Ryoko, however, wasn't done yet. They hit the ground together in a crater, and before Ryoga could shake off the dizzyness that resulted from the impact, a tornado swept him up. It wasn't as strong as the Hiryuu Shôten Hâ Ranma had used on him once before, but it served to lift him up into the air once more, and he could hear his broken bones shifting around and tearing up his insides as he flew.

Kneeling on the ground in the eye of the miniature hurricane of his own making, Ryoko took aim, and let loose with a hailstorm of ki-enhanced vacuum blades that pelted the tornado, slicing into and through it and everything within. Droplets of blood hit the ground, indicating that he had struck his target. Then the howling winds dissipated, leaving the cut-up and bleeding lost boy hanging in the air for an instant before gravity took effect and slammed him into the unforgiving ground again.

He moved over and raised the hand, letting the fan slide open. "Die," he said quietly. Drawing back his arm, he was about to cut the lost boy's head from his shoulders when a hand on his arm restrained him. A sideways glance confirmed it belonged to Urd, and the goddess shook her head. "It's not your place to judge him. He'll get what he deserves in the afterlife. Until then…"

His glare softened at the haunted look in the goddess's eyes, and he knew that she despised the boy before them as much as he did, yet refused to stoop to his level to dispose of him. "You already did enough. Right now, we have more important things to take care of. There are injured to tend to." He slowly nodded and withdrew his weapon, before turning around and walking away from the mangled form of the lost boy.


"Well, we were able to undo most of the damage. The collateral damage in itself was easily repaired, and it's all gone now; there were several rather severe injuries, but we got those, too." The voice sounded tired all of a sudden. "But we were too late for two of them. They got crushed under the debris when the pillar collapsed on top of them." He tried very hard not to listen in, knowing full well that he wouldn't like it if he did, but the words were spoken loud enough for his ears to pick up.

He knew what they meant, and understood it. A single hot tear leaked out of the corner of his eye. Whether it was one of regret and pain, or anger he did not know. Right now, he didn't particularly care, either. What he wanted to know was if Kasumi and Akane were safe. Trying to open his eyes, he emitted a low groan as the evening sunlight struck his eyes. Looking around blearily, he could make out the Tendo living room. Urd, Ryoko, Setsuna, Cologne, and Shampoo were sitting around the dinner table, with Nodoka sitting a little farther apart from them with the Tendo sisters.

"Ranma!" His mother was by his side in an instant, looking him over with a worried glance. "Are you all right, son?" He nodded weakly, looking around for Ryoga. "What happened? Last thing I remember is pig-boy throwing the mother of all Shishi Hôkôdans at me…" The mention of the other Jusenkyo cursed martial artist drew a glare from most present. Kasumi merely frowned, but the effect was…unsettling, at the very least.

"I took care of him. He isn't getting back up anytime soon," Ryoko half-snarled, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. "He's out back, still out like a light." Ranma caught Urd's muttered, "And I hope he stays that way," and moved to stand shakily. He marvelled at the fact that the area around the dojo was as intact as it had been before the fight, but the memories of the destruction they had caused and the few words he had picked up from their quiet conversation as he woke up made it clear that it had all been repaired in the few scant hours since the battle had taken place.

He knew that this time his fight with his archrival had taken unprecedented proportions, and had endangered and even cost the life of several innocents. A cold rage formed in the pit of his stomach, and the pig-tailed youth could feel a veritable rage build up inside of himself before he slammed down the Soul of Ice on his emotions. Only his iron will and resolve to not kill under any circumstances kept him from walking over and tearing into the lost boy.

Dammit! If I had taken him seriously, if only I'd taken him down faster…I played around, I tangled with him when I should've finished him off. Now people are dead and it's my fault for letting it get this far. Chikuso! There had been signs, of course. The bandanna-clad boy's everlasting pursuit of him, coupled with his fury each time he saw Ranma, was one thing that could have been put off as friendly rivalry. But their fights had progressed from brawls to large-scale battles that had caused more property damage than the construction companies could keep up with.

And, Ranma now realized, Ryoga had gone from, "Defend yourself, Ranma!" to his now-common, "Prepare to die!" Nothing had changed; if anything, matters had gone from bad to worse. He had allowed it to continue on, and this was the result. I shoulda realized he was serious…shoulda known he wasn't my friend, after all… Mentally berating himself, the Saotome boy collapsed to his knees on the porch, staring out at the yard, an empty look in his eyes.

The people behind him glanced at him, but left him alone, knowing this was something neither of them could help him deal with. Ranma's hands clenched into fists tightly enough to draw blood, and a small trickle of crimson dropped from his hands and onto the polished wood. If he had realized sooner that Ryoga was truly out for his life, he wouldn't have held back.

If only he had realized to what lengths the lost boy's hatred against him went.

If only he had realized that it was impossible for him to have any friends.

If only he had stopped to think about why the lost boy never stopped blaming him, never stopped attacking him.

If only…

Ranma snorted. There were too many "what if"s to count, and none of them really helped him right now. His own foolishness and blindness had caused this. Ryoga's only real fault had been that he had wanted to defeat his opponent, never caring what he did to achieve his goal. His foolishness had blinded him to what Ryoga really was, with all his broken promises and misuse of his vows. Forcing him to swear upon his honor to remain quiet about his curse was one thing, but turning around and hiding behind someone else and using that person to strike back was something that defied any description of 'honor' Ranma had ever seen.

Now, attacking without warning, using innocent people as shields and never caring about the harm he caused others…Ryoga wasn't a martial artist, and he was anything but honorable. Treating him as such had been a grave mistake, and believing he would abide by the same code of honor Ranma himself did had been an even greater one.

He had sworn to protect those who could not do it themselves, had he not? And here he was, with more blood on his hands because he wouldn't, couldn't finish off his opponent quickly enough. Others had come to harm because he had refused to fight with his full strength, because he had refused to resort to lethal force. And for once, he damned the decision he had made seemingly so long ago.

Staring at his hands, his mind idly went through the list of techniques he knew that could have ended the fight – and Ryoga's life – in a single blow. Most of his father's sealed Yama-Sen-Ken moves were among them, as were those of the Umi-Sen-Ken. Had he used these, he could have finished the fight quickly, after the first blow had been struck. Ryoga had left such gaping holes in his defense, choosing to rely on his brute strength and toughness that it would have been more than easy to slip in a fatal blow to a pressure point or major artery.

Yet he hadn't. He had refused to even draw blood, but the lost boy had had no such qualms. As soon as he realized that, Ranma knew, he should have stopped holding back. Words his mother had spoken came back to his mind, spoken during his recollection of the events of Jusendo. My son…a martial artist does not kill. To do so is to loose your honor. But when there is no other way, when your opponent gives you no choice, and when they seek to take your very life, then you have to let go of your pride and innocence and strike them down with all your might before they can harm anyone else. You have a sworn duty as a martial artist, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. You cannot do that when you are dead. You cannot allow yourself to die for the sake of yourself, and those around you. If you do not, then you will not only loose your honor, but also those you hold dear.

He was pulled out of his reverie when a large shadow fell across the yard. Back in the house, Mint froze for a moment before he began drooling. "Boobs!" he muttered. Those who had seen the woman before tensed in anticipation, and those who hadn't, merely waited in curious silence. With a gentle flap of her wings, Kiima landed in the backyard of the Tendo compound.

Her face belied the tranquility of her arrival. Urgency and fear were etched into her features, and she hurried over to Ranma. "Saotome!" Said pig-tailed martial artist stared in shock for a moment before sliding into a defensive stance, eyeing the Phoenix woman warily. "What do you want, Kiima?" They hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms, and the last time he had seen her, he had been locked in mortal combat with her lord; a friendly visit was the last thing he expected from her.

The moment she touched the ground, Kiima slumped in exhaustion, kneeling on the ground as she caught her breath. Ranma could easily see that she had taxed herself to the limit to reach the Tendo dojo, but why, he had no idea. "What's wrong?" he asked again, in a softer tone this time. Kiima was in no condition to fight. "Lord Saffron is coming. Something happened to him, and he's coming for your head," the winged woman whispered hoarsely.