Knights of the Dark Goddess

An MMC fanfic by jimra

Disclaimer: I'm not even going to try to name all the stuff I'm crossing here, so sufficed to say that I own nothing but the continuity, and I'm flexible on that.

Chapter Two: Fate
As I began to come back to awareness, I received two strange, conflicting sensations. First, there was the incredible aching pain in my head, something akin to the worst hangover I've ever experienced, only more so. The pain nearly drove away the other feeling, but it wasn't quite able to erase it completely. That sensation was something warm and soft pressed against me, and I pulled that something tighter in an attempt to use the comfort to drive away my pain.

With my source of comfort close, I began to sort through my memories, trying to figure out what on earth had happened to leave me in this state. I couldn't remember drinking yesterday, but then again, I could have blacked out... Dim remembrances of riding my bike in search of food and going to Ucchan's without thinking about it came to my mind, but I dismissed them since Ukyou and I aren't on the best of terms right now. Finally, something clicked in my mind, and I tried to open my eyes.

Operant word: tried. As soon as my eyelids slid open I clenched them shut again against blinding lances of sunlight, my headache pounding from the unexpected assault on my optic nerves. I groaned from the pain, clutching more tightly to my warm bedmate, and my source of comfort squeezed me back, confirming that it was indeed a person.

Much more cautiously, I barely cracked my clenched eyes, and through the still seemingly blinding light, I caught a glimpse of chestnut hair and closed eyes set in a beautiful face. If it weren't for the pain in my head, I would have laughed out loud. Whether or not I could remember it, I guessed that Ukyou and I made up.

Suddenly, my bedmate's eyes fluttered and slowly opened, looking into mine with concern. "Ryu..." her whisper boomed in my ears, causing my head to pound more. She must have seen me wince because she gripped me tighter and the worry in her eyes doubled.

I forced myself to breath deeply and evenly, and in a hoarse voice, I asked, "Do you have any painkillers?"

She nodded hesitantly and slowly disengaged herself from me; I missed the warmth of her body immediately. As I watched her go, I was treated to an impromptu display of a female body in all its glory, and then I realized that I, too, was nude under the covers of Ukyou's futon. This fact pretty well reinforced the supposition that we made up, but I really wished that I remembered what happened.

A moment later, Ukyou returned with a glass of water and three small pills. I downed the pills and the water as quickly as I could, and just before I fell back asleep I heard Ukyou whisper, "I'll go make some breakfast, Ryu. You just rest."

Waking up the second time wasn't nearly as bad as the first; I guess the painkillers took effect. A minor, dull pain in the back of my head remained, but it wasn't the soul-searing agony of my earlier headache. Slowly, I stretched my stiff muscles and rose from the extremely comfortable futon, though not nearly as comfortable as it had been when its owner had been with me. Taking a brief glance around, I confirmed that this was indeed Ukyou's bedroom, and neatly folded on the nearby tatami were my clothes. It was at that moment that a delicious smell reached my nose, and my stomach decided, at that point, to remind me that I still hadn't eaten with a loud growl.

I dressed as quickly as I could and made my way down the familiar stairs into the restaurant's dining area. Ukyou was standing behind the grill cooking what looked to be my favorite okonomiyaki, but she jumped when she saw me.

"I wasn't expecting you to be up for another hour or so, sugar," she said in a low but still cheery voice. "You looked really out of it yesterday."

"About that," I replied, sitting down across from her at the bar. "What exactly happened? Did we get drunk or something?"

Ukyou looked at me quizzically for a moment before answering, "Drunk? No, that would have been more fun, I think. You showed up here out of the blue and collapsed! I was really worried about you, especially when you didn't wake up when I was shaking you. If your pulse and breathing hadn't been strong, I would have taken you to a hospital!"

Suddenly, after her outburst, Ukyou looked down, and in a small voice she said, "You didn't even tell me if I was forgiven before you went out..."

"Forgiven...?" I began, and tears welled up in her eyes before I realized what she was talking about. Just waking up with her in my arms for the first time had completely driven our argument from my mind. Before she could really start the waterworks, I jumped over the bar and pulled her into an embrace. "Ukyou... Ucchan... there is nothing to forgive. We both over-reacted, and I've never been very good at dealing with stuff I think is an insult... or with this mushy stuff..."

I felt Ukyou's arms encircle me once more, and her body pressed against mine in a tight embrace. Rather than waste time with any more words, I lifted her chin and poured all my passion for her into one fiery kiss, and surprisingly to me, she responded with just as much.

After a while, Ukyou broke the kiss and nuzzled her head against my chest. I barely heard her whisper, "I'm so glad you're back, Ryu."

Unfortunately, the universe decided that now was the time to interrupt our little lovey-dovey seen, and it did so with the smell of burning okonomiyaki. Ukyou squawked at the smell and quickly turned to the grill, our breakfast rapidly blackening on the iron cooking surface.

"Oh no!" the chestnut haired girl moaned as she began scraping the blackened bits of okonomiyaki off the griddle. "I'm sorry, Ryu. Breakfast is going to be a little longer."

I walked back around to my seat at the bar, smiling at her. "Don't worry about it, Ucchan," I replied, though my stomach decided that it was time to argue with my brain with a loud growl. I smiled sheepishly, embarrassed, but I pressed on. "I know you're the 'fastest spatula in Japan'."

Even as I spoke, I saw her hands go to work on five new okonomiyaki, rapidly flipping the Japanese pancakes while adding toppings and sauce, and in five minutes flat, Ukyou served her famed specialty on two plates, three on mine and two on hers. My first okonomiyaki was gone before Ukyou managed to walk around the bar to her seat next to me, and my second was half done even as she took her first bite. Between rapid bites of delicious food, I managed to say, "Great as always, Ucchan."

She giggled at my compliment, and surprisingly enough considering the speed of my eating, we actually finished our food at about the same time. "Well," Ukyou said. "I'm going to have to open the restaurant soon. It's Saturday, and we actually get a breakfast crowd on the weekend."

I nodded to Ukyou and asked, "Do you need any help prepping the store?"

"Nope," she answered in her usual, cheerful voice. "But thanks, sugar. I got most of the prep done while you were sleeping."

"Alright," I replied. "I think I'll go take a ride on my bike to clear my head. I need to figure out what happened to me yesterday."

Ukyou nodded to me, but her face began to show some worry when I mentioned yesterday. "I moved your bike to the alley beside the restaurant. You gonna be back for lunch, sugar?"

"You can count on it." I flashed her one last smile as I stepped outside.

As I rode my bike out of Nerima and back to Shinjuku, I thought about how much Tokyo had gone to hell between when I was here searching for the Umisenken and now. Kiddy biker gangs aside, there were numerous protests about this or that government decision, and there was even this strange cult preaching something or other about some messiah they called Akira. Crazy as it sounds, it's like they're praying for the end of the world or some crap like that. Either way, I didn't believe any of it; I just saw how they were wrecking the city. It was a wreck, too, though Nerima had missed most of the damage, thankfully. The state of the city reminded me of one of those post-apocalyptic animes from the eighties...

The streets and traffic were a blur as I made my way back to my hotel, intent on finally moving out of my room there. I hadn't asked Ucchan if I could stay with her yet, but judging by how we woke up, I didn't think she'd refuse. Besides getting to spend more time with the best girl I'd ever met, it would cost a lot less to stay there. All in all, a completely good situation. Even as I swung my bike around to park in front of the hotel entrance, my headache finally faded.

I entered the lobby, intent on the elevators, but once again, a clerk in the hotel's old fashioned uniform barred my path. "Kumon-san," he said, his tone serious, and I took a moment to get a gauge of the man. He was of average height and build, but there was something about the way he stood that made me less likely to dismiss him as I had the other hotel employees.

"Kumon-san," he repeated in the same tone, returning my attention to his words. "The money you paid Yuzuchi-san last night was enough to cover the last four days, but we must insist that you pay in advance from this point forward."

Sneering at him, I caustically replied, "That's fine. I was just going up to my room for my stuff. I'll be checking out."

Considering that I'd been in this hotel for nearly a month, that news should have surprised the clerk, but his steely gaze did not change. "Very well, Kumon-san," he answered evenly. "Will you require assistance with your luggage?"

After shaking my head, I moved around the clerk and to the elevator, my mood considerably darker. It was one thing to look forward to living with Ucchan, but it was quite another to get kicked out of my hotel and have live with her. I wasn't really one for charity...

I gathered my things quickly, not that I had many possessions. Two more sets of my camouflage outfits, including underwear, went into my back pack, along with my spare tac harness, and then I gathered my toiletries from the bathroom and added them, in a small camp case, to the items. The few keepsakes I still had from my father, a photo, a gi belt, and of course, the scroll containing the Yamasenken, rounded out all my belongings. Finally, I slung my pack on my back and headed out.

That same clerk met me in the lobby once again, a few bills in his hand. "Here is what remains of your security deposit, Kumon-san," he said, his voice never leaving a steely calm. "I hope you enjoyed your stay."

Not feeling like a fight at that moment, regardless of how this guy was rubbing me wrong, I simply took the money, shoved it into a pocket on my tac harness, and left. Something just told me that kicking that guy's ass wasn't worth the trouble.

Stepping out into the morning sunlight, I got on my bike, my mind hardly on where I was going. Riding relaxed me; in fact, it was the original reason I got a motorcycle. I revved the bike, kicked up the stand, and cut off at least three people riding into traffic, not that I cared. I still needed to clear my head.

As I rode, I considered my options. Sure, I could go with my original plan and ask Ukyou if I could stay with her, but that smacked of charity now. There was nothing I despised more than someone offering me charity. I could go stay in a park or camp in a vacant lot, like I'd done so many times on my training journey-

My thoughts cut off when a large source of ki made itself apparent to my senses, and I pulled my bike over to the side of the street, scanning the crowd. Being a martial artist, I always kept an eye out for potential threats, and at closer inspection, the two ki signatures I was sensing definitely counted as threats. Both were almost as powerful as my own ki.

Finally, I spotted them. A man and a woman were walking down the street, both garbed in Chinese style. The guy, wearing a green scale vest with matching bracers and white silk pants, was vaguely familiar, but my eyes were drawn to the woman. The girl wore a diaphanous silk pantsuit where only the long-tailed, sleeveless jacket was opaque, and her hair, ornaments braided throughout the jet locks, hung to the small of her back. I was certain I'd never seen her before, but something seemed absolutely familiar about her. That's when the pressure returned.

I clutched my head through my helmet, leaning forward on the bike. The other's thoughts, a soft hiss like whetstone honing a blade, whispered in my head. "Mine. Mine."

The pressure intensified, and I pit my lip to avoid crying out, the coppery taste of blood filling my mouth. Then, just as quickly as it began, the pressure vanished, and with it, the mental contact. I sat on my bike gasping for breath, and when I looked up, the two were gone. I could, however, still sense their ki, and parking my bike where it was, I followed after them. I needed to figure out what the hell this was...

It didn't take long for me to catch up to them, perhaps half an hour; ki like theirs was easy to track in a city with so many weak people. The moment I laid eyes on the girl, the pressure returned, but it was a light, skittering thing, jumping and skipping across my mind without debilitating me. I followed them through the throngs of Shinjuku east, and we rapidly left the crowds behind as they lead me to a, shall we say, less affluent area of Tokyo. These slums certainly had seen better days...

Finally, they turned down an alley, and to me, their intent was obvious. Anyone with that much ki could sense me just as well as I could sense them, and now, they wanted to confront their shadow. Being the polite person that I am, I obliged, walking around the corner in the most non-threatening manner I could.

The fist almost tagged me, but I managed a last minute dodge. The follow-up, however, caught me in the chest, and I barely managed to rebound off the alley wall. Even as I regained my feet, I had to duck a flying kick, but now I was getting angry. I came up in an offensive stance and moved to attack my opponent, the male of the duo I'd been following. My initial attack, an easy three punch combo was easily defended, but it was just a feint. The idiot I was fight, however, obviously didn't know that since he took one of the three counters the feint was designed to exploit. When the boy snagged my arm for a painful lock and throw, I went with the motion, flipping over his head to relieve the pressure on my elbow and shoulder. Leaning forward, I applied my own lock, lifting the guy onto my back and threatening to dislocate both shoulder and elbow should he struggle. Finally, from this rather awkward position, I said, "Well damn. All I really wanted was to talk to you two, but a nice relaxing fight is good too."

"Well, if you just want to talk," replied my prisoner through teeth gritted against the pain of my hold, "then let me down and we'll talk."

I considered that, and since I'd handled him easily enough the first time, I shrugged, forgetting what that would do to my opponent until I heard a grunt of pain. Almost sheepishly, I released his twisted arm, spinning quickly as to not present my undefended back if he should not honor his word. My sometime opponent was working his left shoulder when I turned, his face once again tickling my mind with familiarity, and it was then I heard the giggling of his female companion.

"Well, Taro," the girl said through her light laughter. "It would seem that you are not such a good protector after all."

When I looked at the girl, the pressure in my mind increased, though not quite to painful levels, and I quickly looked back at the boy she'd named Taro, the familiarity finally clicking.

"Taro!" I said with a good deal more cheer than before. "I haven't seen you in about a year and a half!"

Taro's eyes narrowed briefly before recognition widened them, a rare, nonsardonic smirk coming to his face. "I thought I recognized that style," he said. "Good to see you again, Kumon. You ever get your revenge on Fem-boy?"

A reminder of why I was in Tokyo returned my face to an expressionless mask, and I replied, "I haven't even found Saotome, much less gotten to fight him."

Taro shrugged and was about to speak again when his female companion slugged him on the shoulder. Rubbing the spot, he angrily asked, "What the hell did you do that for, woman!"

The Chinese girl had fire in her eyes at his reply, and I was almost certain she was going to slap him. Instead, she snapped, "Well, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"

"This guy isn't really a friend," Taro snapped back, and I had the distinct impression that they had forgotten that I was listening. "He's just a guy I trained with a while back."

The girl crossed her arms beneath her breasts, tapping a sandaled foot and narrowing her eyes. Taro stared back defiantly for almost two minutes before his shoulders sagged and he gave up. "Fine, fine," he growled, and under his breath I could have sworn he mumbled, "Overbearing witch..." From the way the girl punched him again I figured that I must have heard right. Taro must really like this girl to take that kind of abuse from her... or maybe I wasn't remembering him right.

"Kumon, this is Rouge," Taro introduced in a tight voice. "Rouge, this is Kumon. Happy?"

"Ecstatic," Rouge deadpanned to her companion. "No wonder I called you 'vulgar one' when we first met." Turning to me, she spoke in a much kinder voice. "I am pleased to meet you, Kumon-san. I don't know how you have the misfortune of knowing my boyfriend, but I suppose any friend of his is a friend of mine."

That was quite an... interesting... relationship they had, but upon remembering how Ranma and Akane treated each other when there was no external threat, I could see how that might work.

Still, the pressure remained in my mind, spiking anytime I looked at Rouge, though it never reached painful levels and the other's thoughts never entered my mind. After a little obligatory small talk, Rouge suggested that we find a café for lunch, and even with my big breakfast, I was certainly hungry enough to eat. Taro made the decision unanimous, and we started making our way back toward Shinjuku, or so we thought.

As we exited the alley, the sound of revving bikes drew my attention, and I saw a familiar, tricked-out red motorcycle come to a stop across the road, twenty other bikes rushing to catch it. The twenty pursuers circled the stopped bike, and I recognized the clowns from before. Two kids, one boy and one girl, got off the red motorcycle, and I recognized the boy. Tetsuo.

Most of the clowns circled the pair, but four rode into the circle and got off their bikes. "Hey, kid!" yelled one, punctuating his statement by grabbing Tetsuo by the collar and clocking him. "You think you can get away with making fools of us?"

When the girl tried to help, another of the clowns grabbed her by her shirt, tearing off the thin material when he punched her into the wall. "Kaori!" Tetsuo cried, but his answer was another punch to the face. Even from across the street, I could see the blood flowing from the kid's broken nose.

Considering that, for some reason, I wanted to help this kid since the first time I saw him, I'd had just about enough, and I was about to go kick some ass when two more bikes arrived on the scene. A kid in a red jumpsuit, also remebered from the last time I saw Tetsuo, jumped off the back of the leading bike and rushed into the clown's midst. "Tetsuo!" he yelled, laying into the stupid-looking bikers.

Still, it was five against twenty, and one of the ones of Tetsuo's side, the girl, obviously didn't know how to fight. Even as the kid in the red jumpsuit was being overpowered by four of the clowns, I rushed into the fight. My first opponent was pathetic, even wielding an old pipe, and after dodging his swing, I buried my fist in his gut. I didn't look back as that clown emptied the contents of his stomach onto the pavement, and I took the second biker by surprise, unloading an open handed strike to the back of his bald, painted skull. The idiot's head bounced off the asphalt and he lay still.

After I'd downed my third clown, the others seemed to realize that I was a worse threat than Tetsuo and his crew, and five of the clowns still on motorcycles started circling me. Since that meant they had a bit more speed, I dropped into a defensive crouch and waited for the first one stupid enough to attack me. Too bad they never had the chance.

Taro joined the fight then, yelling, "Hey! Don't hog all the fun!" Pantyhose's first kick nailed one of the clowns circling me and knocked him, bike and all, into another of the mounted bikers, bowling both into the wall. With the other three distracted, I jumped onto the back of another bike, using a palm heel strike to the rider's temple to knock him from the machine. Taro and I each took one of the remaining two pathetic clowns, him by snagging the clown around the neck with some pantyhose and pulling the biker from his motorcycle. I preferred something a bit more personal, and after abandoning my commandeered bike, pathetic compared to my own, I snagged piece of broken pipe from the ground. As the clown tried to pass me, running from the fight, I jammed the pipe between the spokes of his front wheel. The clown flew into a building across the street with a sickening crunch after his bike flipped, and I turned back to the fight, looking for more opponents. What I found was Red Jumpsuit looking suspiciously at Taro and me.

"Why did you help us?" he asked, but before I could answer, another of the boys punched him in the arm.

"Ya know, Kaneda," he admonished, "we really oughta thank them. Those clowns were gonna rip us up."

Gritting his teeth, Kaneda said, "Alright, thanks. Now, why did you help us... and who's that beautiful girl?"

I heard Taro growl, and I knew that for the kid's continued health, he shouldn't talk about Rouge like that again. Trying to head off the impending conflict, I nonchalantly replied, "Because I wanted to. What's it to ya."

Kaneda gave me a weird look, turned away, and started berating Tetsuo. "What the hell were you thinking, Tetsuo!"

For his part, Tetsuo growled back as well as he could with blood streaming down his face, but he still took the small towel Kaneda offered him and started cleaning up his face. "Shut up, Kaneda."

A few minutes later, it seemed like the whole gang had forgotten our presence, because Tetsuo grabbed up the leader of the group that attacked him and started laying into him, punching and kicking relentlessly as the wall held up the unfortunate clown. Finally, just before I was going to stop the kid, Kaneda caught his fist.

"You're going to kill him, Tetsuo!" yelled the red clad boy. "Is that what you want!"

Snarling at Kaneda, Tetsuo growled back, "He hurt Kaori!"

I was about to speak up when my danger sense went off the scale, and the pressure in my mind increased to a painful level. Even as I clutched my head, I saw Tetsuo doing the same, falling to his knees. Thankfully, the seizure that seemed to be gripping the boy didn't extend to me beyond the headache, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I watched Tetsuo.

As quickly as it intensified, the pressure relented, and a more familiar sensation, something that had warned me in the past of impending attack, coiled in my gut. Rarely was my danger sense wrong, and I wasn't one to disregard it. Glancing at Taro, I knew that he sensed it too, and by silent, mutual agreement, we made ourselves scarce, ducking back into the alley. A moment later, two helicopters and three trucks with JSDF markings swarmed on the scene, and the three of us decided it would be better to be elsewhere.

It had taken a while, walking my bike so that Taro and Rouge could keep up, but we arrived back at Ucchan's in the afternoon. I stowed my bike in the alley where Ucchan had put it the night before and led my companions into the surprisingly empty restaurant.

"Hello? Ucchan?" I called into the interior, and the girl appeared from the door into the kitchen.

"Hey, Ryu!" she called, coming forward and greeting me with a kiss. Too bad a scornful laugh from behind ruined the moment.

"So now you're not just taking Fem-boy's name," said Taro, the sneer evident in his voice, "you're taking his iinazuke too?"

I felt Ukyou tense in my arms, but before she could move, Taro was knocked to the ground from behind, an angry Rouge standing there with her hands on her hips. "Shut up, Pantyhose! We're guests here!"

Taro was back on his feet in an instant, staring Rouge right in the eyes, but the sable haired girl glared right back with equal fire. I was certain that they were going to fight, especially after Rouge called Taro by his given name. However, after a long minute, the sometime minotaur smiled, wrapping his arms around Rouge and kissing her, and the Chinese girl equally surprised me by melting into tall boy's embrace, kissing back with equal fire. Ukyou and I blinked, not sure what to make of it; there had to be some major history behind that kind of reaction.

I recovered before Ukyou, and shrugging my shoulders, I continued our kiss where we'd left off, the world fading for a few precious moments to just us. The warmth of her body, pressed against mine was the world, and the burning passion of our kiss was the sun. The kiss trailed off after an indeterminate time, and before the world reassured itself, I stared into her beautiful eyes. Finally, reluctantly, Ukyou pulled away from me and looked suspiciously at the duo that followed me home.

The enchantment of the moment ended with the scrape of a chair, and Ukyou's eyes changed when she once again saw my guests. "What are you doing here, Pantyhose?" she asked caustically, and Taro answered with a growl, causing Rouge to put a restraining hand on his shoulder. Turning to Ukyou, I said, "Let's try to be a bit civil here, Ucchan. I met Taro in China, and I know he hates that name."

Ukyou sighed, but she nodded her assent. "Alright," she repeated in a more cordial voice. "What are you doing here, Taro?"

With his normal superior smirk, the boy answered, "Why am I ever in Japan? I'm gonna get the old man to change my name for sure, this time!"

Rouge smacked him in the back of the head, adding testily, "I thought we were here to remember old times. You know, like how we first met!"

Taro's dark look melted into one I never thought possible on his arrogant, bishonen face, a sheepish grin. "Sorry Rouge," he told his girlfriend.

Ukyou had rolled her eyes when Taro responded, but she could only stare at the exchange. I could only assume that the behavior was unusual. "Well," replied the brunette. "You know as well as I do that Happosai vanished right after Ranchan did. Last I heard, you and Rouge didn't get along too well."

Blinking at the rapid reversal, Taro said, "She grew on me." That response made Rouge roll her eyes.

"The 'vulgar one' became nicer after we managed to talk rather than fight," she said. "I don't know why, but we seem drawn together."

Ukyou laughed out loud at that explanation and walked around the bar. At my questioning look, she said, "I wasn't in town the first time Rouge showed up, but Ranchan told me all about it. From the story, I'd never have thought to see the two of them in the same room. Well, without destroying it, anyway."

Rouge giggled at the implication while Taro gave Ukyou a slightly dark look, but I couldn't help but be amused by the whole situation. Rather than continue the conversation there, Ukyou walked back around to her grill and beckoned us over to seats at the bar. "What'll you guys have?"

"Seafood combination," answered Rouge after taking her seat, Taro, surprisingly, politely pushing in her stool before sitting himself.

"Pork," ordered the sometime minotaur.

I just grinned at Ukyou when she looked at me, saying, "You know what I like." Her answering blush told me that she got the innuendo, but the deluxe combination okonomiyaki she started for me would have to suffice for now.

We chatted about nothing for the five or six minutes it took for Ukyou to finish our food; the weather, current events, and rumors about ancient, super powerful martial artists all entered and left the conversation before each of us had a hot okonomiyaki on a plate before us. Ukyou had made one for herself as well, and she slid into the stool next to me to eat.

A quick three minutes later we were all finished, and I almost lamented the fact that we ate the food quicker than the chef could cook it. 'Ah well,' I thought. 'Such is the life of a martial artist.'

Unfortunately, just as we were finishing our food, two separate parties of customers entered the building, and it was back to work for my Ucchan. I excused myself, knowing this was the beginnings of the dinner rush, and my two Chinese companions followed me out.

After walking my bike here all the way from the edge of Shinjuku, I was ready for a good, long, and particularly fast ride, and I said as much. After straddling my bike, I looked over at Taro and Rouge. "You guys staying in the area?" I asked in a neutral tone.

"Yeah," replied Taro. "We got a hotel room. Why?"

I smirked at my former sparring partner, revving my bike before answering, "Just wondering if I might see ya around."

Without waiting for a reply, I gunned the engine on my bike and wove into traffic, speeding back toward Shinjuku. I knew it wasn't the polite thing to do, but I get sick of polite real quick.

As near as I could tell, I was riding next to a canal in northern Minato, pondering why that strange presence in my head grew stronger when ever Rouge and Taro were nearby, when I heard it, something I hadn't heard since I took that training trip to the United States right before coming to Nerima the first time. Gunshots. Considering that firearms were very illegal in Japan, it seemed like a good idea to investigate. I mean, since everything in Tokyo was growing more and more violent, it would be nice to have a gun.

I dropped the kickstand on my bike quick enough and hopped the fence, landing in the knee deep water of the canal. It was at times like these that I was grateful that I wasn't one of those poor saps with a Jusenkyo curse, and without hesitation I started slogging my way through the murky water toward where I'd heard the shots. It was late in the evening, and the canal was full of deep shadows. That certainly didn't make my job any easier, and I almost ran right into the line of fire.

In the muzzle flashes, I saw a girl who couldn't be older than fifteen firing a small, semiautomatic pistol, and good or bad, her aim was true. The uniformed man she'd fired at screamed as a bullet ripped half his face off, spraying blood everywhere. Another security type ran up, yelling at her, as the first one slid into the water. I was about to lend her a hand since I wanted to get my hands on that gun, but that same kid in the red jumpsuit beat me to it. The kid, Kaneda, must have vaulted down from the fence guarding the top of the canal, because he landed on the other uniformed man from almost directly above with enough force to knock him out.

"Kei!" he called out to the girl, rushing toward her with all the speed he could muster in the water, and even in this light I could see her shaking. Kei, or at least I assumed that was her name, was standing there with wide eyes, her hands barely gripping the pistol, and I quickly realized what happened. This was her first kill, and I knew that wasn't easy. I spent years honing the Yamasenken, and practicing such a violent art in underground pit fights to support myself led to more than a few deaths at my hand. Killing was never easy, and I supposed it never should be.

Deciding I should lend a hand, especially since I could hear more shouting from what sounded like more security creeps, I too started toward the girl. Just as Kaneda and I reached her, two more uniforms carrying really bright flashlights showed up, and even as I noted the red kid's suspicious glare, I spared him no attention. I may not be able to use the Yamasenken any more, but I could still fight.

Snagging the gun out of the girl's unresisting hands, I placed two precise shots in the hunters' flashlights, effectively blinding them. That weapons training I did in America really paid off. Then, after flicking the safety on and tucking the gun into my pants at the small of my back, I snagged each of the kids around the waste and leapt out of the canal. With the extra weight, I had to make it in three jumps, finding precarious footing on the sharply slanting walls of the canal, but I made it without mishap.

Even back on the street, I didn't chance that the kids could run fast enough to elude pursuit, so without putting them down, I sprinted away, taking curves at random through narrow alleys and side streets. Finally, after I'd put at least a mile of distance between us and Kei's pursuers, I set them down... just to catch a punch from Kaneda in my left hand. Honestly, I had expected something like that since I made a fool of him in front of a girl he was obviously trying to impress, but that didn't change the angry look on my face when he actually did it.

"I just saved your life, kid," I growled at red boy, squeezing his fist in my palm enough that I could hear his knuckles pop. "You wanna rethink that response?"

Kaneda's eyes widened as I nearly crushed his hand, but at the last moment I released my grip. While he stood there, shaking his hand to regain feeling, I looked over at the girl. Kei's eyes were still glazed a bit, but now she was looking at me wide-eyed. I really hope this isn't some kind of hero worship thing...

Shaking her head, Kei finally snapped out of it, and with only a brief and puzzling "Thank you for helping me" to each of us, she started off down the alley, that Kaneda boy following her. While I didn't understand the response, and I knew it wasn't really any of my business, I couldn't just dismiss this as coincidence any more. Between the weird pressure in my head and 'randomly' running into that Kaneda kid and his gang so much, I knew there had to be something going on.

Before the two kids could get out of sight, I checked the clip on my new piece, noting it only had seven shots left. Shrugging, I returned it into the back of my pants and started shadowing the kids. Somehow, even though I knew I had to do this, I also had a really bad feeling about this.

Even though Kei certainly led a convoluted path, the fact that Kaneda would never shut up made them easy to track, and now I was sitting in an air duct, obviously listening to some sort of terrorist meeting. I didn't understand all the talk about some lab and something they called "the numbers," but I could tell from the ordinance they had on the table that they meant serious business. Getting AK47's and C4 in Japan was just too hard unless you wanted to cause some serious mayhem. Surprisingly enough, it looked like the leader of this little cell was actually the hotel clerk I'd seen that morning.

The team they assigned to infiltrating the lab, including the two kids I'd made the subjects of my new and troubling guardian angel fixation, left quite a while before I could get out of the ducting system, and it was pure luck that I managed to get a good look at the map to the place. Since those idiots left a sentry, I couldn't just drop out of the duct and walk out. Instead, I had to wriggle my way through the damn air ducts through half the building, at last shimmying up a vertical shaft and out onto the roof. Those two kids were going to owe me big when this was all over...

I stretched for a minute, working the kinks from my muscles from being in an enclosed space for so long, but I guess I was too absorbed in my work because there was a sudden tap on my shoulder. I jumped fifteen meters away by reflex, spinning in the air to land in a defensive crouch, but I almost fell on my face when I saw who'd surprised me.

"Hey jackass!" Ukyou yelled, preempting my own indignant shout. "What was that all about?"

Actually having leapt to another roof in my reflexive action, I jumped back quickly, swallowing my embarrassment before replying, "You surprised me."

Annoyance changed amusement in a flash, and the chestnut haired chef giggled, much to my chagrin.

"How did you find me?" I asked, almost as much to stop her giggling as to answer the question.

Ukyou sobered almost immediately. "I'm actually not sure," she answered, her voice sounding almost haunted. "I just got this overwhelming feeling that you would need me tonight, so I closed down the shop and left. Then, when I was looking, it was almost like I could sense you. Like a pressure in the back of my mind, or something."

That set off all sorts of warning bells in my mind considering my recent experiences, but one thing that battle teaches you is to prioritize. If I was going to help those kids, stuff like strange mental contacts were going to have to wait, and I knew I had to help those kids. Enfolding Ukyou in a quick embrace and kissing her for one long deep moment, I said, "Well, we can talk about that later, Ucchan. For now, you had the right feeling."

Rather than ask any questions, Ukyou simply nodded, and after she pulled away, I noticed for the first time that she was fully armed in her school's tradition, including minispatula shuriken and had huge primary weapon. Without a second thought, I turned in the direction indicated on that remembered map and began to roof hop toward the lab.

The lab was a scene of chaos when we arrived, compete with helicopters circling, definite signs of explosions everywhere, and a huge number of JSDF troops running around like headless chickens. In all the chaos, it was relatively easy for Ukyou and me to slip into the building through a blown-out window on the fourth floor of the building. Following my instincts, I led Ukyou through a maze of shattered corridors and crumpled corpses, headed toward kami knew what.

The inside of the building was as much a mess as the outside, and we actually encountered no living troops. I followed the trail of destruction to a crumpled steel door, the sounds of fighting coming from beyond. I only recognized one of the voices, and surprisingly, it was that kid named Tetsuo.

"Tell me what the hell is happening to me!" the kid shouted, and multiple, indistinct voices answered him too softly for me to understand them. Motioning for Ukyou to keep out of sight, we stole into the room.

The chamber was huge, and the motif reminded me of a baby's nursery, only on a grand scale. Toys taller than I was were scattered around, and what looked like a castle mock up stood near the center. This giant's nursery hadn't escaped the damage I'd seen in the rest of the building, and my eyes widened when I saw what had caused it all. Tetsuo simply swiped an arm through the air, and it looked like reality rippled: walls cracked and crumbled, the floor surged forward in a wave of debris from its own destruction, and an unseen wind buffeted the kid's enemies. I could sense the power Tetsuo was using in a similar manner to my ki sense, but it definitely wasn't ki.

The kid's enemies were another sight to behold; were it not for their grey, wrinkled skin and white hair, I would swear that they were children no older than eight. There were three of them, and they seemed to be manipulating the same energy as Tetsuo, albeit to a much lesser degree. Between the three of them, they could barely hold off his assault, and while I didn't know how I knew that, I didn't have time for theoretical questions at that moment.

Ukyou and I crouched behind an alphabet block the size of a large dog house to watch the ensuing chaos, and it seemed that we found our hiding place not a moment too soon. Not even a minute after we hid, JSDF troops flooded into the room, and a tall, bald man with a precise mustache yelled, "Stop this at once! Tetsuo!"

The kid turned and growled at the JSDF commander, and I figured the guy was in for a messy death. Surprisingly, Tetsuo didn't tear him apart. Instead, he retorted, "And what, huh? Take my medicine like a good little boy and join your little kindergarten!"

"Just calm down, Tetsuo," replied the commander in what I assumed he thought was a soothing voice. "You need the medicine to stabilize your powers. Just come with us and everything will be alright."

The snarl growing on Tetsuo's face with ever word the JSDF guy said didn't bode well for him, but everyone was preempted by another voice.

"Hey Tetsuo!" Kaneda yelled from the back of what looked like a small helicopter without the rotors. "We're here to rescue you!"

The contraption, regardless of a complete lack of aerodynamics and obvious ability, flew into the nursery, and I saw Kei clinging to Kaneda's back. Looking back at Tetsuo, I saw the kid's rage transfer to his red-clad friend. Slumping, I couldn't help mumbling, "Why the hell did I decide to help these kids...?"

The wave of force shot from Tetsuo to the flying vehicle in the blink of an eye, but Kaneda had some skill, crashing only a couple of meters from the empowered boy. He even managed to avoid getting injured, somehow.

Unfortunately for him, Tetsuo was in a rage, screaming, "I have the power now, Kaneda! From now on, I'll do the rescuing!"

While Tetsuo started laughing manically, I stared in disbelief as Kaneda stalked up to him, regardless of the danger, and yelled back, "I said I'm here to rescue you, ya idiot! Now come on!"

The wave of force I'd expected from the beginning came now, though it was only enough to throw Kaneda into the castle wall mock-up, its sheet rock construction crumbling from the force of the blow. After the dust cleared, Kaneda, now covered in grey dust, just lay there coughing while Tetsuo laughed triumphantly.

"I told you!" he yelled at the other boy, force making the air around him ripple and distort. "I have the power, and now I'm going to show you!"

Still laughing, Tetsuo launched himself into the air and outside through a large, plate glass window, shattering it in the process. As I watched the kid fly away, I couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, I'd bitten off more than I could chew trying to help these kids.

Since Tetsuo was gone, that JSDF commander stopped yelling, but even though I couldn't hear him, I saw three troopers grab Kaneda and Kei at his command and start hauling them off. At that point, I really, really tried to will away my need to go help them, but it was to no avail. Even if they were idiots, I needed to help them, even that cocky, over powered Tetsuo...

Motioning for Ukyou to follow me, we managed to sneak out of the nursery under the collective nose of the entire JSDF contingent, and in a hallway deserted but for captors, captives, and us, we made our move. Three obviously green soldiers were no match for two highly trained martial artists, and we made quick work of the captors with fists, feet, and giant spatula. I almost laughed out loud when I saw Kaneda's and Kei's faces.

"Who the hell are you!" exclaimed Kaneda, his disbelief all consuming, and I was seriously considering knocking him out just to shut him up. Kei's eyes were no less surprised, but she had the good sense to keep quiet. I mouthed 'shut up' to Kaneda, snagged him around the waist, and slung him over my shoulder like a sack of rice. Next to me, Ukyou was doing the same to Kei, and we ran. I was ready to make good on knocking Kaneda out if he opened his big mouth, but for once the little idiot managed to keep quiet.

Finding our entrance still unimpeded, Ukyou and I made our exit by leaping from roof to roof, heading for her restaurant.

When we landed outside of Ucchan's and finally set down our cargo, I was surprised to note that both Taro and Rouge were waiting outside the darkened restaurant. The puzzled look on Taro's face when we set down two kids was priceless, but I decided not to mention it. Somehow, I was more curious about what these two kids could tell me, and why I felt this need to help them. Taro and Rouge didn't ask any questions as Ukyou opened the store, and they quietly followed us in with the kids.

The light pressure in my head seemed to skitter and twitch with excitement at the sight of the other five people in the restaurant, and the fluctuations in contact were disconcerting to say the least. Somehow, I knew that despite all I'd seen, this was only the beginning, and with that thought, the pressure increased to an almost painful level in agreement.

Author's Notes:

There we go; chapter two of Knights is all done. This fic is slated to have a total of five chapters, a prologue, an epilogue, and an interlude, and I have no intention of breaking the chapters up into parts like in Negawarrior. Like I said at the beginning of the fic, this is meant to be a short one.

If some of the Ranma ½ characters seem OOC, please remember that this takes place three years later. People do change over time, even 'vulgar ones' and Asura-cursed girls (especially when they start associating with 'vulgar ones'). Any problems with the Akira characters can be attributed to how long it's been since I've seen Akira, and no, I've never read the manga.

As always, I'd like to thank my prereaders for their help with my fics, even if it wasn't the one they signed on to preread at first. Unfortunately, this version is unsanctioned by my prereaders, but I'll update with a preread version as soon as I hear from them. Next up, Chapter Three: Pain! Later, all.