Here's another little "bubble" for those of you who are interested. It has some hints at what's coming.

A Spider In Nerima

A Ranma / Spider-man fusion

Chapter 41: More Changes

The days following Ranma's rather spectacular awakening were a whirlwind for the members of the Tendo household.

Soun Tendo spent a lot of time at the bedside of his old friend Genma Saotome. The elder Saotome was mending rapidly and slated to return home from the hospital in a matter of days.

The day following the battle with the cat demon, Soun returned from the hospital and sensed the aura of his prospective son-in-law in the dojo as he entered the family compound through the back entrance. The ki signature was his future son-in-law's, but somehow different, the older man noticed.

Turning aside, Soun damped his own presence and eased his way to the door. He wasn't surprised when he found Ranma clinging to the ceiling of the dojo. He'd seen the boy do it before. But when the potential heir to the combined schools of the Anything Goes Martial Arts released his handholds on the ceiling panels and dangled from the overhead by only the soles of his feet, Soun Tendo was forced to do a double-take.

It wasn't that such a thing was unfamiliar to the Tendo patriarch. The school's gaijin student did it all the time. Ben Reilly had long since transformed the available purchases inside the training hall into familiar ground. Ranma and his father were no strangers to some of those surfaces either, but neither of the two spent any amount of time stationary on them the way Reilly sometimes did.

It was when Ranma hesitantly pulled one foot free and started to walk across the ceiling that Soun's jaw dropped, and he let his hidden ki presence flicker into detectable range.

Ranma's head snapped toward the suddenly revealed ki signature. "Oi? Oh hey, Tendo-san," Ranma responded as he became aware of the elder martial artist.

"H-how, how are you . . ." Soun stammered.

Ranma chuckled. "Neat trick, huh? And it's so much easier than the way I used to have to do it." With a slight flex of his knees, the young man somersaulted from the ceiling to the floor with effortless grace.


Ranma rubbed the back of his head.

"Um, I don't really know, 'cept that somehow me and Reilly-san had a . . . bonding experience, I guess. Somehow I got some of his . . ." Ranma paused as though the next word was distasteful to him. ". . . powers, and he got . . ." Ranma ground to silence, suddenly realizing the transfer of the curse wasn't his to reveal.

"You mean you . . . you can do what he does?" Soun Tendo asked. "The wall-walking and . . . the, the spider-sense?"

Ranma dropped his hand and let his gaze drift to the polished wood floor of the dojo with a sigh. He didn't really want to have to try to explain what happened to him and Reilly, or Akane and Kasumi for that matter. Inwardly he cursed himself for playing with the transferred powers without the others. What was he going to do, he wondered, wishing Reilly, or Akane and Kasumi was there to help him out.

"Uh, yeah," Ranma admitted hesitantly. He hoped Soun wouldn't start asking a lot of questions. He had his part, but the story wasn't his to tell alone. Especially since Akane and Kasumi also picked up healthy helpings of Reilly's abilities. Not to mention the bond he and Akane shared. Or that the chaotic capriciousness of his Jusenkyo curse was now spread liberally among the four of them.


"I really don't know how it happened, Tendo-san," Ranma replied. "I remember having a lot of wacked out dreams about spiders and cats and . . . and when I woke up, well . . ."

"Show me," Soun said, a hint of excitement creeping into his voice along with the smile curling the corners of the older man's mouth.

A low buzz seemed to tickle at the base of Ranma's skull. He suddenly knew where and how Soun was going to attack him. It felt very similar to a ki premonition, but in a more primal, instinctive fashion.

The spider-sense was raw instinct. It had no relation with the mental and spiritual discipline required of a ki adept to become aware of the fabric of existence itself – to identify the essence of creation, whether it be of a rock or river, of a friendly spirit or an adversary intent on mayhem. And yet, in an elemental – a primal way – it cried out to him about the ebb and flow of the forces that surrounded him, traveling across the surface and through the warp and woof of the physical world.

Ranma bent and twisted slightly, evading Soun's lightening-fast strike and kick combination. He felt the older man's ki signature vanish from the spectrum "visible" to the spider-sense, and knew his father's old sparring partner was using the Umi-sen-ken to test him even as his father, Soun and he, himself used it to train their gaijin student.

Ranma smiled and pulled his own ki close, passing beyond the grasp of physical perception, into the shadowed world he could only describe as "in between" the physical and the spiritual. It had been a while since he'd faced off against his future father-in-law, and he knew the older man wouldn't be asking any questions if he had a fight on his hands.

As Akane passed the open door leading to the engawa, she felt a wave of battle ki sweep over her like a clap of thunder. In the kitchen, Kasumi gasped. Akane stood on the engawa as her older sister drew up to her side.

"Akane, I felt something," Kasumi whispered. Both of them eyed the door of the dojo apprehensively.

"Yeah, I think Ranma and Daddy are sparing, and pulling out all the stops," Akane replied. "Sometimes I can feel their presences and, like right now – there's nothing. They're fighting in the Umi-sen-ken."

"The what? Strike of a thousand seas?"

"It's a sealed technique, Saotome-san developed. They've been using it to train Reilly-san," Akane explained. "They sealed it away after that deal with Ryu Kumon, but when Reilly-san showed up they found out it was the only way they could overcome his spider-sense."

"Spider-sense. You mean like what I . . . what you and I can do now?" Kasumi asked.

"Yeah. I don't know how much of it you've got, but I'd bet Daddy would have a hard time hitting you now, even though you haven't trained in the art since Mother died," Akane said.

Another wave of fighting spirit washed over the pair.

"That feels interesting," Akane whispered. "You want to see if we can see what they're doing?"

"Yes. I would be very interested," Kasumi replied. There was an edge in her voice that made Akane turn and look closer at her sister.

"You're going to start training again aren't you, Oneesan?" the younger girl said.

"I think so, yes. I've been thinking about it since that fight with the demon. I felt so helpless, but I knew I had to protect you and Ranma from that thing," Kasumi answered. "I just got so busy with taking care of the house and the family – I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the Art. But then Daddy wasn't much of an instructor after Okaasan passed."

"Yeah, I know," Akane replied. "Come on. You remember the access panel in the eave of the back wall?"


"Stay calm. Try not to get excited so they wont notice your ki, and we'll try to watch from the knot holes in the attic."

The two young women slipped off the engawa, rounded the koi pond and were soon on the back side of the dojo.

"Wait here. I'll get it open, and then you come on up. Remember, stay calm," Akane whispered tonelessly. For Kasumi, her sense of her little sister's very presence seemed to dim as Akane put a foot on the wall and began to climb the vertical surface effortlessly.

"She almost looks like a lizard – or a spider," Kasumi thought. Akane made no sound in her ascent and gently moved the wooden panel out of its resting place. A moment later she was looking down at Kasumi from inside the darken space above the ceiling of the training hall.

Kasumi nodded and kicked off her slippers. Seconds later she joined her sister, still marveling at her new ability to climb vertical surfaces at a touch.

As her eyes adjusted, Kasumi saw Akane was motioning to her, indicating a beam of light lancing upward through a knothole in one of the ceiling panels. A sweep of the younger girl's hand showed there were several places where a person could observe the occupants of the space below. Some were natural, but most were the edges of poorly done patch jobs.

With a nod, Kasumi moved toward the hole, but stopped when the ceiling creaked slightly under her weight. She turned her head back toward Akane and found her little sister clinging to the rafters supporting the roof, rather than creeping along the ceiling supports. The grimace on Akane's face revealed she was aware of her oneesan's faux pas.

"Sorry," Kasumi mouthed silently and was soon dangling over her vantage point. It took her a bit of exploration and experimentation to find a position that didn't cause some discomfort, but in a moment or two both girls were peering into the well-lit interior of the family training hall, dangling over their respective peepholes like bats.

Neither girl could see either combatant when they first scanned the hall below them, however sharply drawn breathes and the sound of bare feet scuffing and sliding on the polished wood floors let them know that Ranma and their father were sparring in a contest that would have left martial arts masters unacquainted with the hidden potential of the human ki astonished.

Kasumi barely stifled a gasp when both men suddenly flickered into view below her tiny porthole, first her father, then Ranma. She couldn't see the expression on their faces, but directly below her Soun Tendo launched a flurry of attacks that made her head swim. Ranma seemed to flow past her father's blows like quicksilver, allowing the strikes within hair's breadths, but never allowing a touch.

She knew Ranma was good, but to see her father dishing out combinations that, she was sure would have devastated a normal opponent, thrilled her. For Kasumi, the energy, the determination to test Ranma, her father was displaying indicated the heart ripped from him by the death of his wife had somehow returned.

A few rafters over, Akane also smiled as she watched the visible encounter between the two men below. The caliber of her father's Art had regained its edge since Reilly-san joined the school and she was pleased. Pleased on two fronts, actually.

She was pleased because her father's interest in elevating the family style beyond the plateau where it had languished since her mother's death had apparently returned. The challenge of training the foreigner had rekindled it to a degree. She didn't think her Dad liked finding himself, the master of the dojo, the least of the challengers to the foreign student. Male pride did have a useful function, she mused.

Akane was pleased by the effort her father was displaying on a second front. It meant he was taking the deal she'd struck with him seriously. Akane laughed inwardly. The reason she'd originally thought of the deal was now gone. Now, whatever her future held, it included Ranma. But the idea of combining the schools by learning the Saotome techniques rather than by marriage was still a good one.

Ranma's reticence to train her for so long had sparked the idea. She wanted to be the best martial artist she could be – worthy to inherit the dojo, a respected teacher of the Art. But for so long she'd had no real instruction – no way to elevate her skills – no real way to evaluate what level she had attained, except for the morning spars with the hentai horde.

Now she knew just how deceptive that had been. Now she knew that among dedicated martial artists, she stood in the lower range of abilities and skills. Ranma had showed her that, but it was the most recent encounter against Kuno that made it reality for her.

And now, as a result of his own grief, and the choice he made years ago, her father had no such reservation – not since she'd made serious training part of earning her forgiveness for hiding the letters from her mother. Akane did wonder if forgiveness earned was really forgiveness on her part. Her mother's gift had a bit to say on that subject, and she knew she didn't really understand it yet.

Part of her still couldn't believe he'd withheld the letters because he blamed the god his wife had embraced for her death. That he'd tried in a twisted way to protect his daughters from what he considered, an unworthy and capricious god, she could believe. But to deny the dying wish of the woman he loved – to deny his daughters their final messages from their mother. It was still incomprehensible to her.

Besides, in her experience, the spirits of the ancestors, Shinto pantheon or Buddhism were no less capricious in meeting the requests of those in the mortal realm, she thought. There was a certain logic to the need for a sinless sacrifice.

Nabiki had suggested that she now had some leverage to get her father to train her seriously – to repay the honor debt he owed his daughters and their mother.

And thus, the deal was struck in the days following the confrontation over the long hidden letters. Since then the training sessions with her father had resumed and Akane felt both she and her father were improving. She was certain the light she thought she saw flicker to life in his eyes was stronger.

Nabiki, of course had been the one to explain that marriage wasn't the only way to combine the schools – wasn't even the best way.

"There doesn't have to be a marriage to join the schools, Daddy. If Ranma wont teach Akane because he's afraid he'll hurt her, she wont be the true heir of the training hall even after they're married. And if you think Uncle Genma would ever teach their style to a girl, I gotta ask what you're smoking, along with drinking way too much sake.

"And do you really think Akane will ever be Yamato Nadeshiko? Come on!

"And what would happen if you only have granddaughters? What if there aren't any little Ranmas? – just little Akanes? If you really want to combine the schools, you'd better learn all you can from those two while they're training Reilly-san and then teach Akane," Nabiki finally concluded.

Though a torrent of tears streamed down his face, Soun Tendo looked at his daughters and nodded. Turning his attention to his youngest, his decision flickered as a new light in his tear moistened eyes.

"Akane, we begin training this evening after all classes are concluded," he'd said.

Since then, only a few weeks ago, the light of purpose seemed to grow steadily in his eyes. Akane couldn't help but wonder if the whole family might have recovered a bit of their hearts when their mother's letters finally reached their destinations – when her father was finally forced to acknowledge his wife's choice in eternal matters.

A sharp expulsion of breath in their father's voice, followed immediately by a heavy thud, broke her train of thought, drawing her attention back to the match below.

When the elder Tendo regained consciousness under the ministrations of his daughters, he faced a united front. Akane and Kasumi both insisted Reilly-san be present before any explanations were made.

Later that evening, Soun didn't take the news his precious Akane was a wall-crawler too so well.

Kasumi's announcement had the Tendo patriarch passed out on the floor – not the news that his eldest also possessed spider powers, but rather the news that she would be devoting a sizable portion of her time to resuming her training in the Art. Nabiki begrudgingly agreed to help out with the housework.

The Tendo patriarch threatened to suffer a major breakdown, when Akane and Reilly recounted their battle with Happosai. When he came to for the second time, Soun shouted for Nabiki to begin negotiations to sell the family compound.

He grabbed Reilly by the collar and asked about procuring falsified documents for them all, and finally collapsed into a pile, muttering about an "extended family training mission," and "survival of the family."

It was at this point the assembled Tendos, along with the lone Saotome and Reilly realized the gravity of the situation.

"This could be bad, really bad," Ranma muttered. "You remember what happened the last time the old perv decided to get revenge on me," he said.

Three heads nodded in silent response.

"And that was nothing compared to what Reilly-san and Akane did to him," Nabiki mused. "Way to go lil' sister. Maybe I HAD better check with my real estate sources. I hate to see the old home place go, but . . ."

Ben Reilly listened grimly to the ongoing assessment of their options. He wouldn't have believed it was necessary, except for his first hand knowledge of the power and disposition of the gnome-like grandmaster of Anything Goes, and the numerous evenings spent with the Tendos hearing anecdotal accounts of the "Master's" occasional rampages.

"Where would he be?" Reilly muttered, almost to himself.

"What? What did you say, Reilly-san?" Ranma's question put an end to the Tendo sisters speculations about what to do – other than following their father's prescribed course of action.

"I just wondered where he is," Reilly answered.

"I, for one, don't care where he is," Akane interjected. "So long as he's not under this roof. Brrrr! It just creeps me out to think about what he's been doing without us knowing . . ."

"Yeah," Nabiki muttered. "What we knew about was bad enough . . ."

"Why Nabiki," Kasumi smiled beatifically at her sister, "you never acted like it bothered you."

"Just because I don't go ballistic like Akane, doesn't mean I was pleased the old goat was raiding my drawers," the middle Tendo huffed. "Besides, he was behind on his payments . . ."

"Yuck! Nabiki, that's disgusting," Akane shivered, before she turned slowly toward her slightly older sister. "Payments for what," she intoned, her brow arched and the corner of one eye ticking ominously.

"Hey, disgusting money spends too, and you don't have to worry. You are not involved," Nabiki smoothly answered.

Ranma was about to quiz the middle Tendo about his possible "involvement" in any payments Happosai was making to her. He had trouble imagining – actually didn't want to imagine – what the old lech was willing to pay Nabiki for. As a rule, the lecherous gnome didn't pay for anything. That was a problem too.

Kasumi pulled the conversation back to Reilly's question.

"He could be anywhere. Ojisan's always disappearing for days or weeks, but he always coming back with additions to his collection."

"You know, he might come back in a good mood if he finds a bunch of really pretty girls," Ranma smirked. "He'd better not be coming back to pick up a new round of pictures of me," he added, staring harshly at Nabiki.

A question filled his mind before he squelched it in a horror of disgust. He didn't want to know what Nabiki was providing, or how she'd managed to blackmail the old goat into actually paying for . . . something. He glanced at Akane. She had a green look about her face too.

"Under normal circumstances, you might be right, but as soon as he sees me, I think whatever good mood he MAY come back in will be gone," Reilly said.

"And he won't be happy when he finds out he's no longer welcome here either," Akane muttered.


Shampoo marveled at the changes.

She marveled that the stark green beauty of the Bayankala mountains had faded so much in her memory. Now memories of the land of her youth – memories of family, heritage, training, prowess and pride awakened with the sunrise. The morning's first beams turned the verdant peaks below her into the glowing, up-thrust fingers of a green-gold god, groping her way upward through the billowing mists that clung to their slopes and hid the fertile bosoms of the valleys beneath.

The young woman shook her head sadly. She let the hood of the fur-lined parka she wore fall away in the face of the biting wind racing past her.

"Shampoo put the hood back. You'll get frostbite," Mousse's voice whispered in her ears, just audible above the frigid wind.

Her mitten encased hands sought the fur-lined hood, but she hesitated, letting the wind cut at her a bit longer. Its sting intimated a promise to strip the taint of her time in Japan from her heart – from her very bones.

Her years in Japan had changed her. Only five, but their effect was noticeable – now. When had she left her roots? When had she ceased seeking the conquest, and begun her insidious and gradual descent to the almost groveling pursuit of the male – male! – Ranma Saotome. She had debased herself, falling quickly from the standards expected of a warrior of the Joketsuzoku!

A warrior of the tribe did not pursue a man. They chose their mates and took them – in battle if need be. Or a mate signified worthiness by vanquishing them in combat. But even then, the Joketsuzoku way was to seek victory in defeat by adding outside strength to the tribe. But no, she had fallen to pursuing Ranma, rather than claiming him. She had let the obstacles live.

And, she marveled anew, her great-grandmother had aided her in her pathetic pursuit! Truly Japan was a cursed land, so quickly suborning a proud daughter of the Chinese Amazons, and an Elder steeped in three thousand years of Joketsuzoku knowledge and tradition.

Soon she and Mousse would be home – home in one of the valleys hidden below the grey blanket of clouds below them. Home, where the course of their lives would be determined. And whatever the outcome, Shampoo, proud daughter of the Chinese Amazon tradition would face it as a true warrior of the Joketsuzoku.

Her heart leapt within her, embracing her heritage, while holding to the love of the man who carried her. Whatever the outcome, she could face the verdict of the village without fear. It was good to be headed home.

Shampoo never imagined the cascading changes she would set in motion the day she gave the girl Ranma Saotome the kiss of death. She never imagined in trying to live up to the letter of the ancient tribal law, she would come to stand with the fangs of its iron-bound code poised to strike at her own life – her own heart.

Her heart . . . That was the problem. She'd given it away hastily, when she should have held it close. And her treacherous heart led her down this path she never imagined, would never have considered had she been able to see where it would lead.

That day so long ago, her heart had lusted only for revenge against the flame-haired foreigner who had so easily humiliated her. It had been unthinkable – the newly won championship wrest from her hands seemingly with no more effort than a casual afterthought.

Following the tradition of her mothers, she had bound herself and the stranger together in death. Oh! How the gods must have laughed and her ancestors groaned.

Now the death she faced was her own – prescribed by the same law for her failure on two counts. Failure to kill the woman who defeated her, and failure to add the strength of the male who vanquished her to the tribe in the prescribed time.

Shampoo shivered, both with the cold of the high mountain air that whistled around her ears, but also with the calm certainty that "if" Ranma Saotome had been an Amazon, and had the Jusenkyo-cursed youth been in-fact, female, she – Shampoo – would be dead and an afterthought in the minds of both Ranma and the tribe.

But Ranma was no Joketsuzoku, and rather than simply killing the worrisome obstacle named Shampoo, he chose to run, hoping to avoid confrontation with a true woman. Little did he or his father realize the tenacity of the Amazon way or an Amazon warrior.

And that was, Shampoo realized, the difference between them, as she finally heeded Mousse's admonition, pulling the hood forward and securing the protective face shield against the icy wind.

She was a warrior, from a race of warriors, but Ranma Saotome, in whatever form, was a martial artist – an artist, not a warrior. For him it was competition, a mere contest to see who was better at fighting. For a warrior, the skills of war were more than victory – they were survival.

Killing was a last resort for Ranma, an action to be avoided if at all possible, for it could not be taken back. Killing was part and parcel of the life and purpose of a warrior. If only she'd understood that crucial fact before she cast her heart into his uncaring hands.

Her heart. Her treacherous, and to her chagrin, far too fragile heart. It was in other hands now. Mousse was Joketsuzoku. He knew what it meant to be a warrior. Shampoo finally recognized his worth, and cherished him.

Shampoo marveled at the foolishness of youth, and the foolhardiness of those aged ones she had deemed "wise." She marveled that she had valued the loyalty of a fighter of her own tribe so lightly, spurning Mousse since childhood. She shook her head in sad realization again.

If only the eyes of her understanding had opened sooner. Mousse would have been her unquestioning husband, loyal to death – no, he was loyal to death even now, but – not like he would have been had he not been exposed to the corrupting Japanese culture. He would have been hers to command and wield as a weapon. There would have been no Ranma, save as an object for killing. There would have been no Japan for her. There would have been no Jusenkyo, nor any Jusendo for she and Mousse.

But in her blind folly, that opportunity was lost. Mousse was changed, and so was she.

Yes, Mousse was loyal, but now Mousse had slipped the bonds of the tribal law. He now knew how men viewed women in the outside world. Mousse had openly defied Tonic, the head of the tribal council, and by extension the tribe. It was possible he had slipped the bonds of humanity.

Out of love for her. Out of devotion to her. And now, out of that same devotion, he was taking them home to face . . .

Shampoo wondered at what would happen if the village ruled against them. The Amazon law dealt as harshly with him – no, more harshly – than it did with her failure. If the decision was against them, they would be dead. Maybe not dead to life, but certainly dead to the tribe and to the heritage which now warmed her heart.

Yet Mousse had chosen to bring them home – to confront the ages-old tradition of the tribal law, and to . . . Shampoo swallowed hard. "And to crush it if need be," Mousse's words echoed with ominous finality in her memory. Yes – she could no longer treat him as the Joketsuzoku traditionally treated their males. Nor did she wish too, though old ways were hard to break she found.

Behind the protective face mask, Shampoo snorted. That was just it, she thought. The Amazon males were just that – even the ones trained in weapons and fighting as Mousse had been, even her own father – mere males, somehow less than what she had discovered a man to be.

"No, not just a man," she thought, "a husband, not just a mate."

Part of her still screamed in protest against her new way of thinking about the roles of man and woman, but another part of her dismissed the teachings of the old ways with a certainty of truth that welled up from her innermost being.

Mousse was more than just a man now. He was steel covered with the softness of satin. Toward her he was gentle, caring, fiercely loyal. Toward those who stood between himself and her, hard and cold, unyielding as the mountains below them. And she . . . She was once more a warrior of the Joketsuzoku, but now she was more. She was a woman who had realized the love of a good man. And unfortunately – or fortunately – that set her apart from her Joketsuzoku sisters.

He was her man, and much to her amazement, she was his woman – his wife. They were two, and yet one. She never would have thought this way before . . .

"Wife." It was a term the Joketsuzoku didn't use. Her mother had been "Mistress" of their home and unquestioned leader of their family. Her father was not her mother's "husband." The concept of male protector and provider had long ago been purged from the Joketsuzoku way.

Maybe the outside world wasn't so corrupting after all, Shampoo thought. In their isolation, maybe it was the Joketsuzoku who were astray. If only her sisters could discover what she'd discovered – that men weren't to be despised and used out of course – well, good men, that is. The others – the animals – well, maybe the tribal laws weren't without merit, Shampoo realized, but just as Mousse insisted, they were long overdue for revision. Maybe it truly was time for her people to view the sexes for what they were – equal parts, necessary to make a whole.

Once again Shampoo marveled. Mousse had always been a prodigy with hiding things. It was this talent that had overcome his nearsightedness and secured his spot among the handful of men to receive weapons training from the Mistresses. He had proved an apt student, demonstrating only two weaknesses – his groveling devotion to Shampoo and his pride that kept him from wearing his glasses all the time.

Now, somehow, he could manipulate metal at will – do things that weren't humanly or physically possible. Shampoo knew Mousse's new ability was somehow connected to the waters of Jusendo – mystical waters he encountered when he accompanied Ranma and company in the fight to save Jusenkyo. She had overheard the council mention it, but hadn't understood it at first. Now both of them knew the terrible secret of the fountain that fed the cursed springs.

Since leaving the Neko Hanten behind – since defying the council, Mousse had tested his new abilities and grown in them. With his new power, he had fashioned the wings upon which they now soared. Shampoo shuddered at what might happen if the council and the village decided against them.

If the Elders decided against them, the weight of all their heritage called for their deaths.

Death. No, Shampoo thought, Mousse would never accept that verdict. Things would not go well for any of them if such was their decision.

On the other hand, she could not begin to conceive of the council accepting the solution they intended to present. No, she couldn't begin to grasp the shape of the future for her people if the decision went against them – or, even more improbable – it went their way.

"Something's wrong," Mousse's voice shook the young woman from her musings.

The dove gray puffiness of the obscuring clouds was soiled by a plume of dark smoke rising from a valley ahead of them.

"Something's burning," Shampoo agreed. "Something big."

She felt the wind pick up. Its icy teeth now picking at the skin unprotected by hood or goggles. Mousse had put on speed. He was rushing toward the rising column of smoke.

Suddenly recognition struck Shampoo. She'd seen those twin peaks before. Every day of her childhood they had looked down on the village.

Mousse pulled the metal wings on which they rode close and dove into the gray layer below them. In seconds they were through. The wings snapped out, slowing their plunge. Mousse banked left circling the inferno that painted the scene below them with an angry orange light. The village of the Joketsuzoku was ablaze, an island compassed about by a milling sea of upraised swords revealed in the light of its own destruction.

(EoC41) TBC

Hope to have the next chapter with a little more action up a bit sooner than three months. -JW