Ranma didn't have any idea how long she'd been out when she finally opened her eyes again. At least, she thought her eyes were open. It was hard to tell since all she could see surrounding her was infinite darkness. After taking a few blinks, and feeling her lids, she confirmed her eyes were indeed open, and she was awake.
While the area around her was dark, it was not from lack of light. In fact, her body was emitting a faint white glow, which made her feel ice cold in the stomach. It only conjured her beliefs of what ghosts must look like.
"No! I'm not dead!" Ranma shouted to the vast emptiness around her.
Ranma felt around by waving her right hand about. She could tell she was surrounded by some kind of substance, because she felt like she was underwater. She also noticed that her body seemed to be floating, rather than lying on a surface. Despite all that, Ranma found that she could breath easily enough.
"Breathing... that's good, right?" Ranma asked herself like her brain was going to somehow answer back. "Ghosts don't breathe, do they?"
Ranma held her hand up in front of her face to look at it. It was as expected, pale and small, just like when she'd passed out. She waved it back and forth, noting the black mist that it cut through.
"Where am I?" Ranma asked herself. She thought about the last moments she could remember. There was the sphere of blue light, and the tiny spec of golden light. Then there was the darkness surrounding it from all directions, and her body sinking into it before everything went blank.
"So I'm in the darkness of that demon," Ranma said. She exhaled with a heavy sigh. "I'm not really awake, am I?"
No answer came, but Ranma thought she heard faint laughter echoing in the distance.
Ranma didn't know what was going on, but she wasn't about to wait for something to happen. She rolled forward until she was floating upright in the darkness and started to swim forward, or, at least she hoped she was moving forward. It was hard to tell if she was actually moving through the abyss she was floating in.
While she had no idea if she was making progress, things did start to happen around her. The laughter she thought that she had heard before returned, this time loud enough to be sure it was real.
Ranma stopped and looked around for the source of the laughter. She couldn't see anything through the black mist however, and stumbled blindly after the sound.
The laughter eventually stopped, casting Ranma into silence again. She no longer had anything to guide her through the mist, so she stopped trying to swim and just floated there.
Suddenly, the growl of a wolf came from behind her. Ranma turned quickly and was surprised to actually see something appear through the mist. An opening seemed to blow forth, revealing a blurry image.
As the mist cleared, the image came into focus. Ranma gazed through the opening like a window into another world. She saw what appeared to be a shingled roof during the night. Strangely, she thought she recognized that roof, but with so little to go on, she wasn't sure. Then, the image moved higher and turned around, revealing Ukyo holding her battle spatula.
"Ucchan?" Ranma said questionably. She wondered what she was seeing, as it certainly was not a memory.
Again, the laughter came from behind, this time closer than before. Ranma spun around to try to spot the source, but was met with darkness as the sound passed right through her with a gust of mist.
As the mist passed through her body, numbness spread through her lungs along with a throbbing pain in her head. She lurched forward and gasped for air while holding her head tightly. It felt like something was being pulled out of her with the mist.
After the mist finished blowing through her, Ranma felt the numbness and pain fade away. She turned back around to where the mist had moved, and watched the opening into what she believed to be the real world.
Ranma ½: Limitless
Chapter XXIV: Torment
Ukyo chewed her lower lip while she faced Ku. She examined Ranma's appearance closely, looking for any evidence that what everyone said was true. The tone he had spoken with was a little off, and the look in his eyes was different, but it didn't seem like what everyone had described.
Ukyo hesitated as Ku continued to gaze at her in a strange way. She'd been mentally preparing herself since coming to the Tendo property to face this. For hours, she recalled every detail given to her, and that this was not the Ranma she knew. Yet, her eyes saw Ranma, and her heart screamed Ranma. Her mind, which had been focused just a moment before, was now beginning to haze.
"What's the matter, Ucchan?" he asked.
"Don't listen to him, Ukyo!" Cologne yelled.
Ku glanced passed Ukyo to the old woman looking at him with a threatening glare. "Ah, so the old ghoul is here," he said.
Cologne didn't waste any time and attacked Ku. She launched herself with her staff at Ku, whom remained perfectly still. The two fought just like Cologne did with Ranma, trading flurries of blows that didn't land single hit. The old woman could tell right away that the demon was in better control than before, despite now using an aura yet.
Ku traded punches with Cologne's staff with a growing smile. He matched her strike for strike, before finally catching her staff and halting their match. He pulled her so that their faces were only a few inches apart and gazed at her questionably. "Why fight me?" he asked. "Once the others are out of the way, you can finally get what you want. I'll be together with Shampoo."
Cologne was taken aback by the statement, but recovered her wits quickly. She glared at him defiantly. "You can't fool me with your cheap tricks."
Ku gave a twisted grin and tightened his grip on her robe. "Oh, but can the same be said for your precious little heir?" he asked.
Before Cologne could reply, Ku charged his hands with a green aura that bit against the old woman's skin and threw her over Ukyo. Cologne flipped as she flew over Ukyo's head and landed safely, but dropped to a knee before holding herself up with her staff. Her body tingled with numbness where Ku's aura had touched her.
Ukyo wasn't sure about what was going on. She felt like something was picking at her heart as she stared at Ku standing before her. Her brain screamed for her to attack, but her heart hung onto the words he had spoken. She thought it sounded like Ranma wanted her. "R-Ranchan?" she asked.
Ku's gaze softened as he turned his gaze to her, but it was still intense. He walked up to her and entranced her with his eyes. She looked into those dark pools and found herself getting lost in them as if they were swallowing her whole.
Ukyo felt like she was falling, but couldn't tear herself away. She thought she heard someone calling to her, as if screaming, but it sounded so far away.
"Ukyo!" Akane screamed from the roof of the house. She couldn't reach her from where she was and everyone else hadn't yet gotten there.
Ku flashed a smirk that drew Ukyo further in. The smirk carried the same confidence that Ranma usually wore and it took her breath away. "She doesn't want this to happen, Ucchan," he whispered.
Ukyo continued to star unblinking into Ku's eyes. Her hazy mind slowly worked through what he was whispering to her. "She doesn't? Akane?"
Ku's eyes widened, pulling her in closer. "She doesn't want us being close."
"I don't..." Ukyo felt light headed. She couldn't think straight. Her eyes felt like they were on fire in sharp contrast to her body that now seemed weightless.
"Ukyo, get away from him!" Soun yelled loudly. He was just reaching the bend of the wall with Genma.
"But he wants this," Ukyo said lifelessly.
"That's right, Ucchan," Ku said. He still wore a smirk, but it was becoming twisted as she fell for him. "You just have to do one thing, and it can all come true."
"Ah! how nice of you to show up for a little rematch!" came a shrill cry.
Happosai suddenly appeared beside Ukyo with a bucket of water. He jumped up and latched onto Ku's side before the demon even realized he was there.
Ku tried to get Happosai off by swiping at him, but the crafty martial artist slipped away each time.
"Oh ho, you'll have to do better than that!" Happosai laughed as he dodged Ku's feeble attempts to hit him. He could already tell the difference between the demon now and when he was in his last body. As he crawled up onto Ku's head, he thought this was almost too easy.
With Ku's attention gone, Ukyo felt gravity's hold hit her like a ton of bricks. She blinked several times until the haze finally cleared, leaving her woozy. She stumbled back a step before her knees gave out beneath her.
Happosai grinned as he dodged Ku's hands that tried to grab him from his perch on his head. He was holding a bucket in one hand and smiled. "Let's take you down a notch!" he said. He tipped the bucket of cold water over Ku, expecting him to change, but was shocked when nothing happened. "What?"
Ku stood there fuming at the old man's intentions. He produced a thin green aura around his entire body, showing how far he'd come in mastering control over Ranma, and growled. "Disappointed?," he hissed.
Happosai fell off of Ku and looked at him in shock before turning to sadness. "They're gone," he croaked. "Those two beauties are gone!"
"That's right, you'll never see them ever again," Ku said with a laugh.
"We told you he changed back without hot water, you stupid pervert!" Akane yelled from the house. "Stop fooling around!"
"I bet it just kills you inside," Ku said with a crazed look in his eyes. "How does it feel knowing they're gone forever?"
"No... No!" Happosai cried. "You'll pay for this injustice!"
Happosai attacked Ku in a blind rage. He attacked with his pipe, fists, legs, and even his head, anything to make Ku pay for what he'd done.
The demon avoided Happosai's exaggerated attacks with ease, smirking the entire time.
Happosai continued to attack Ku madly. While futile, it did distract him long enough for Soun and Genma to reach them and join the fight. His two students joined the fray, attacking the demon together.
Ku blocked the trio's attacks swiftly, but didn't give any counters. He moved his gaze between each of them, choosing his target. When he looked at Genma, he felt nothing, but when his eyes fell on Soun he got just what he was looking for.
- x -
Ranma didn't like what she was seeing as she peered through the opening in the mist. She could hear everything happening in the opening, confirming her fears.
"I must be possessed," Ranma said to herself.
Through the opening in the mist, Ranma witnessed as Ukyo fell under the demon's spell. The entire opening was filled by her stricken face. Ranma looked helplessly into her eyes and recognized the mixture of emotions held in their light blue pools.
Ranma hated that look. She hated it because it tore at her heart every time. She knew that look was because of her, but what made it so hard was that she had no idea what to do about it.
The image in the opening began to shake as Happosai's voice laughed from nearby. Ranma watched as Ku attempted to fight off the midget, noting his sluggish reflexes, before having a bucket of water dumped on him.
"Oh, that little pervert..." Ranma growled by reflex.
To Ranma's surprise, it didn't appear as if Ku had changed into his girl form from the water. She heard her male voice taunt Happosai, and looked at her hands. "What the hell is going on?"
Happosai attacked, followed soon after by Ranma's father and Soun. Ranma watched as the opening shifted between each of the fighters as if sizing them up. "Come on, old man," she said as the opening stopped on her father. "This guy doesn't have my speed, you can take him!"
The opening shifted back to Soun as Ku blocked a straight fist. Ranma wasn't so certain of Soun's skills, since he didn't keep in practice like her father did. She hated the idea of him coming to harm this way, even if he was a crazy fool at times. There was something else tugging at the edge of her heart regarding Soun Tendo, however.
Ranma tried to ignore the feeling. While her upbringing had caused her to be rough around the edges, Ranma always understood there were lines that shouldn't be crossed. While it had never been explicitly spoken to her, she always believed the owner of the home she lived in should never be harmed, especially when it's the father of your fiancé. The thought of doing that was a sure fire way to earn a one-way ticket to dishonor hell.
Ranma struggled with what was going through her head. She kept telling herself this wasn't her doing this, but at the same time, she also believed she should be able to stop this. She tried with all of her might to exert some measure of control, but nothing she did seemed to alter the situation, and she found her body continue to fight the only people close to her.
"Damn it," she said.
The laughter returned, almost like she was standing within whatever was giving it. She swatted around herself in vain, trying to shoo away the noise, but it did no good. While she continued to strain every fiber of her being in an attempt to gain control, the darkness only tightened around her. The laughter once again changed to growling.
- x -
Ku's lips twisted into a smile as he danced through the flurry of attacks by the trio of martial artists. While he wasn't yet in full control, he was far enough along to easily keep up with the three with one of them being so unbalanced.
Indeed, Happosai was not faring well as he attacked Ku with his rage. The old grand master was a martial artist of incredible skill and a vast well of techniques. His old age and way of training, however, have left him in a precarious situation as far as battle was concerned. His endurance wasn't what it used to be, and like his power, relied heavily on him recharging, as he called it, through female auras. That was something he'd neglected to do this past day.
After just a minute, Happosai felt himself wearing down. His rage still burned in his body, but the coldness of exhaustion was slowly spreading. Acting in desperation, he pulled a pair of bombs from his gi. "Time to warm up to some happo fire burst!" he declared.
At the sight of the bombs, Soun and Genma stepped back and allowed their master to make his move. He dove for Ku with the bombs raised and threw them simultaneously.
Ku batted away one of the bombs and caught the other. While the deflected bomb flew into Genma's stomach, Ku shoved the one in his hand into Happosai's mouth. He held it there while Happosai tried to pry it from his giant maw.
Genma went tumbling backwards from being hit by Happosai's bomb. He grabbed it instinct, which only kept the explosive pinned to him until it blew up, leaving him smoking in a crater on the roof of the wall.
As the fuse neared the bomb in Happosai's mouth, Ku charged his hand with green aura. The explosion sent Happosai flying towards the house while Ku's aura absorbed the blast and protected him before fading.
Akane had to dive to the side as Happosai came flying in like a rocket. She looked back to where he bounced on and over the top of the roof, spiraling out of sight to the ground on the other side.
"And he thinks I need help with endurance?" she groaned.
Shampoo and Mousse both arrived onto the roof of the house from their wall and stood by where Akane was getting up.
"It would seem the demon's in better control now," Mousse said.
"He's still not up to full strength though," Akane said.
"We strike now!" Shampoo yelled and prepared to leap from the roof.
"Not yet!" Mousse shouted. He gripped Shampoo's wrist while thrusting his other arm in front of Akane.
"Why you stop Shampoo?" Shampoo demanded.
"We can't all go at him at once," Mousse reasoned. "We'll only get in each other's way."
Shampoo growled, but had to admit that Mousse was right. There was no space to maneuver on the thin roof of the wall Ku was on, so they couldn't all gang up on him there.
"Also, Don't forget the plan," Mousse said.
"But we can't just stand here," Akane countered.
"We won't," Mousse said with a sly smile. "A bird of prey always keeps watch, striking at the right moment."
Akane wanted to point out that a bird of prey also typically didn't have the eyesight of a bat, but saw the logic to his plan. She knew that everyone attacking at once would only complicate things on the already crowded roof.
Across the yard from the trio, Soun was facing off with Ku while Ukyo and Cologne were just managing to get to their feet, The two women were shaking for different reasons, but didn't look ready to throw in the towel.
Soun grounded himself with his chi as he fought against Ku alone. The technique he'd invented allowed him to stand against a superior opponent such as this through shear will. His body was hardened against Ku's blows, and his own strikes could crumble walls with ease. Soun felt his old fighting spirit returning with each exchange of fists and kicks.
Ku was impressed that Soun could withstand his attacks, but the longer he struggled, the better. He felt a wince deep within him each time his fist broke through the man's defense and struck his reinforced body.
While the two men fought, Ukyo was just getting her wits back. She shook the cobwebs from her head and lifted her battle spatula. "What the hell was that," Ukyo asked of what she'd just experienced. "It felt like I was being drained."
"The demon uses tricks to fool you into being unbalanced," Cologne explained as she perched onto her staff. "He is capable of far worse than you experienced just now."
"He won't fool me again," Ukyo said as she firmed her grip. She prepared to leap in the second a window opened, as did Cologne.
Soun continued to hold his ground, but his years of neglect eventually caught up with him. His chi reserves began to run out, and his technique weakened. Each punch he took could now be felt, and even forced him to step back slowly.
"What's the matter, Mr. Tendo?" Ku asked as he struck the side of his leg with a kick. "Regretting all those years you didn't keep up the art?"
Soun bit down his feelings of regret and tried to force a second wind. He dug as deep as he could into his reserves and firmed his stance against the stinging strikes.
"It really is all your fault for giving up when your wife died," Ku spat as he landed a punch to Soun's stomach.
Soun grunted as much from Ku's words as he did from the force of the punch against his stomach. He staggered backwards and put up a feeble defense as Ku followed him with a menacing look in his eyes.
"All those years wasting away in silence while your daughter's suffered," Ku continued. He stepped into Soun's defensive stance and slapped aside his arms. A quick twist of his foot and bend of his knee locked Soun in place. "Did you think Ranma wouldn't find out?" he asked mockingly. "Did you think your shame was so well hidden? You're a blind fool to miss the look in everyone's eyes all these years." Ku leaned in close and gazed into Soun's eyes with his own, expanding them into pools of infinite darkness."You're the reason Akane's art has suffered so."
Soun stared helplessly into the darkness as the truth of Ku's words formed in his mind. Of course he was a selfish fool for allowing his sadness to harm those closest to him. He'd spent years building walls to shield himself, and convince him that everything had turned out okay. Now, however, it felt just like the day his wife passed away.
Soun fell deeper into the darkness of Ku's eyes. The demon's words mixed with his painful memories, magnifying the details he'd ignored for so long. His arms fell limply to his sides and his legs were ready to collapse beneath him.
"Daddy!" Akane shouted from where she stood on the roof of the house.
"Not good," Mousse said under his breath. While he couldn't see clearly in the darkness, he could tell by Akane that things were not going well. "Don't forget the plan." he said and slipped away to the side into the shadows.
"Now, you will reap what you've sowed," Ku said. He cupped Soun's chin with his right hand and turned his face towards the house. He could See Akane standing on the roof looking back at him with fear in her eyes. "Look at her eyes one last time, Tendo. I am going to break her. I will crush the life out of her. Then, you will know the depths of your failure."
Soun tried to break from his trance, but couldn't look at his youngest daughter and mumble incoherently. He saw those brown eyes gazing back. They looked the same as they did ten years ago when his wife died. She had looked at him for help then, for support. All he had done was turn away, lost to his own sorrow.
Ku breathed in Soun's crippling despair and grinned. He felt his strength fill him slowly. Yes, he was going to enjoy this. His last host had been so secluded, it was hardly enjoyable to assert himself over him. This Ranma, however, had so much to lose. The people around him were so tightly wound together without even realizing it too.
Ku's relishing of Soun was broken when something large and heavy smashed him from behind. He dropped Soun to the ground and growled at the interruption. Soun laid still where he was dropped while Ku turned to see which of the fools had been so bold only to see Ukyo.
Ukyo's battle spatula rang loudly from striking him on the head as she pulled back a few steps. She glared back at him despite her nervousness and pulled a pair of small spatulas from her bandolier. "You're going to pay for what you did to me," she said.
"And what would that be, Ucchan?" he asked. "Still sour over your family cart?"
Ukyo's cheeks blew up from the breath she wanted to blow out in a fit of rage, but she focused on Cologne's warning. "I'm past all that," she lied. "I'm not out for revenge against Ranma or Genma anymore."
"Is that so?" Ku asked. "Your actions speak otherwise. That was a pretty hard hit to the head you gave me just now."
"You are not Ranma," Ukyo said back coldly.
"Heh, it's for the best anyway," Ku replied with an uncaring tone. "It's not like you stood a chance."
"Oh... you don't get it, do you?" Ku stepped forward with a smile. "I may not be Ranma, but I possess more than just his body. I also own his mind, and all that comes with it."
Ukyo raised her spatulas to defend herself as Ku advanced another step. "So what?" she asked.
"Ukyo," Cologne warned the girl sternly from behind her. She didn't want a repeat of last time, and vaulted over her to stand between them. "Enough of your games, Ku," she said. "Or should I say Xū?"
Ku stopped and looked down at the short woman with his eyebrows raised. "Well... there's a name I haven't heard in a long time," he said. "I guess the secret's out. Does it scare you?"
"Hardly," Cologne squinted at him. "You lost back then, and you will lose again."
Ku laughed with genuine amusement before taking a stance and summoning a thin battle aura. "You don't have it in you, old woman," he gloated. "None of you do."
"You probably thought the same thing about Perfume," Cologne replied.
Ku gave no words in response to the mention of Perfume. His face was now deadly serious. He didn't waste another breath on talking, and ran to attack.
Cologne stood still in front of Ukyo as Ku charged them. She had been keeping all of her senses open during their little standoff, and waited for what she knew was coming.
As Ku made to throw the first punch, chains came flying from above. They wrapped around each arm, holding them back as Mousse landed behind him.
Cologne took advantage of Mousse's surprise attack and pummeled Ku with a flurry of her staff. She hit him in his chest and torso relentlessly, sending him backwards.
Ku fought against the chains around his arms while the old woman battered him with hits. While he was certainly stronger than Mousse, Cologne's attacks were stopping him from using that strength to break free. He decided to instead go for Mousse, and dropped backwards. The maneuver took the boy by surprise, dropping him onto his back while Ku escaped the slackened chains.
Ku rolled backwards over Mousse and slipped off the loosened chains. He sprang off of Mousse's face at the end of his roll and met Cologne in midair combat. Now he matched her kachu tenshin amaguriken with his own. The two traded countless blows, but neither gained an advantage before separating to land a few meters apart.
"You're skilled for one so old," Ku said. "But you lack the fighting spirit Perfume had." He shifted his eyes to where Shampoo was standing beside Akane. "Perhaps she'll offer more excitement? She felt oh so good last night."
"You foul creature!" Cologne hissed. "You dare insult my family!"
"No," Ku said grimly. "I dare insult your pathetic tribe. When I'm finished with you, I'm going to return to China and raze your village to the ground."
Cologne began to glow blue from her growing aura. Her white hair floated upward from the energy radiating around her. "You'll have to get through me first," she said.
Ku laughed and summoned his own aura, which now glowed brighter than earlier. "Time is not on your side."
Cologne created a gust of wind that carried her through the air towards Ku. She slashed with her staff as she flew past him, and twirled it to block his counter. The power behind his fist was getting stronger, even during the short time since he'd arrived.
Cologne didn't like the direction the fight was going as she struggled against his blows. Unlike Ranma, Ku had no qualms with meeting blows head on, rather than dodge them. Each impact against her staff rattled her old bones, and she couldn't possibly hope to keep up much longer.
"Mousse!" Cologne shouted as she bounded off of Ku's fist with her staff.
Mousse rubbed the back of his head as he stumbled to his feet. "Ugh, what?" he asked.
Cologne dodged over a cross from Ku's fist and tried to get some distance. "Get up you fool! He's barely touched you!"
Ku didn't pay any mind to Mousse as he chased after the old woman. He could sense her growing fear.
Cologne maneuvered to keep Ku's back to Mousse. The demon didn't seem to notice as Mousse moved stealthily behind him, preparing a trap. This same tactic, however, had caused her to neglect the other fighter on the wall with them. To her horror, she was soon gliding past Ukyo and leading Ku right into her.
Ukyo didn't retreat with Cologne and swung her spatula at Ku. The demon blocked it with his right arm and pushed through it so that he was face-to-face with her. "You know, Ranma never felt anything for you," he said with a sick grin. "Nothing at all."
Ukyo felt a pain cut through her heart, but she bit it down. She wouldn't believe another damn thing this demon said. Holding back her tears, Ukyo brought her spatula down hard again and again. She didn't bother looking as she smashed her weapon against Ku, just wanting to end his taunts.
While Ukyo's attacks didn't seem to hurt Ku, they did serve to keep him occupied. Mousse saw his opening and unleashed his chains. This time, he wrapped Ku's arms to his sides, and would prevent him from using the same trick as last time.
"What foolishness is this?" Ku asked as he looked down at the chains.
"This is not foolishness, "Cologne said. She was flying towards him with a piece of paper in her hand.
Cologne slapped the paper to Ku's chest and struck several pressure points that's caused him to wince and stagger slightly.
"What are you doing, old ghoul?" Ku growled.
"Showing what my tribe has learned in the two thousand years since you crossed paths with us," she answered. She thrust her fingers into a combination of pressure points and watched the flow of chi in Ku's body begin to change.
Ku felt no pain from the points Cologne was striking, but felt something happening deep within. The flow of his chi was shifting oddly, as if points were closed while others opened.
Cologne saw the void within Ranma's body shift and flow in a new direction in her mind's eye. Everything was going as planned. The flow of chi was altered by the point's she'd touched to allow the talisman on Ku's chest to do its work. Soon, Ranma's chi would be free of its bindings and have a chance to flow again.
Ku felt the warm spec in the heart of his body become uncovered as he was forcibly moved in a new direction within. It was a very clever trick to try to expel him from his host, but he'd faced worse.
Cologne saw the spec of blue in the center of Ranma's heart. She waited for it expand to fill the opening in the blackness, but it didn't do a thing.
Ku felt the strange spec poking about. He didn't understand what it was, but it certainly wasn't what the old woman was hoping to find. He grinned at her failure and focused his own chi flow to break through the barriers that had been created by the pressure points.
Cologne watched as the black chi forced through the barriers she created. The natural flow was restored almost instantly, rebinding the small speck of blue light she'd seen. As the darkness finished covering it, the talisman burned away. "How?" she asked.
"You're a thousand years too late for that trick," Ku said. He empowered his battle aura, using its ice cold energy to freeze the chains around him until they were brittle. With a simple flex of his arms, he broke free, sending the links clanging to the roof at his feet.
Cologne sprang back and shouted, "It didn't work!"
At that time, Genma was finally getting up from the crater he'd been laying in. He heard what the old woman had said, and assumed he'd missed something important. "The talisman?" he asked.
"It didn't do a thing," Mousse said. With his chains gone, he now prepared to fight with a set of claws.
Before anything else could be said, Ku turned and caught Mousse with a kick. "Play time's over," he said. While Mousse fell backwards into Genma, Cologne and Ukyo were still too shocked to respond quickly, and Ku leapt from the wall towards the house where Shampoo and Akane were standing.
"Oh no. Everyone, move!" Cologne shouted. She bounded after Ku, not waiting to see if anyone was able to follow.
Akane prepared to receive Ku's attack, but Shampoo took to directly countering head on. The Amazon leapt and collided with him in the air between the wall and house, swinging her chúi in a spiraling combination. After their brief scuffle, they separated with Shampoo kicking off his blocking arm to the wall he'd leapt from and Ku in the yard.
"Shampoo, don't let him get into the house!" Cologne yelled.
It was too late. The second Ku was on the grass he eyed the sliding doorway. He was already opening it by the time Shampoo and Cologne joined him on the ground.
"Not so fast!" Cologne yelled as she struck her staff against the door to pin it shut.
Ku let go of the edge of the sliding door and swung at Cologne's staff. The old woman avoided the strike and Ku turned to face her and Shampoo. "Why not just leave this little family matter?" Ku asked.
"It doesn't matter what you think this is," Cologne said. "You revealed that you are Xū. We Amazons have business to finish with you."
"Oh, do try," Ku dared her.
Cologne and Shampoo attacked Ku together, using their blunt weapons against his fists and feet. While they tangled with him, Genma and Ukyo joined them on the ground.
Whenever one of the people fighting Ku would break off, another would move in, creating a rotation to keep the pressure on the demon. They gradually pushed him away from the side door, back to the wall where Mousse and Soun finally rejoined them. Now numbering six, the group chased him around the yard all the way to the front of the house where Akane was just about ready to abandon her given post and join the others.
Akane watched with growing anxiety as the six fighters fought in vain to defeat, or even just tire the demon within Ranma's body. No number of blows seemed to do lasting harm, and his aura was able to manifest for longer periods. The reality that they were slowly losing was nipping at the back of her mind, and she wanted nothing more than to try her own hand at stopping Ku.
Ku laughed as the six fighters surrounded him in a tight circle, but paused their assault. They were all short for breath, but that was okay. He had all of eternity to be patient.
The sight of everyone else seemingly too exhausted to continue pushed Akane over the edge. She stepped to the edge of the roof and inhaled sharply. "Damn it, I'm coming down there!" she yelled.
Cologne snapped her head around at Akane. "No! We've discussed this!"
"But you're all exhausted!" Akane argued. "This is getting us nowhere!" She wanted to help more than she'd ever wanted to do something before. She hated having to watch like this. She hated being the bait, held back from the battle.
Cologne grumbled, but found she couldn't argue that point. It was true, nothing they did seemed to gain any ground against the demon, and their plan had failed to allow Ranma to reassert control. More troubling was how Ranma didn't seem to be affect the demon anymore, even though it was still fighting without many of its powers.
"Akane!" Soun cut in for Cologne. "Do not come down here!" He didn't like their chances either, but he had convinced himself this is the way it must be. He couldn't bear to see his daughter face this vile demon after the things he'd said to him.
"What's the matter, Mr. Tendo?" Ku asked with a sick glint in his eye. "Don't think your daughter's good enough to take me?"
"Hey!" Akane yelled incredulously.
"That's not it," Soun answered, but his voice betrayed his own doubts.
"And you, old ghoul," Ku shifted his gaze to the elder, "why so scared to let Akane down here? Afraid she'll do better than Shampoo?"
Before anyone could say anything, Ku turned around to smile at Shampoo. "That would be so shameful, wouldn't it?" he asked her. "Being outdone by her?"
Shampoo growled through her teeth and felt like she could snap the handles of her chúi from her grip. "Never!" she yelled.
"Shampoo, no!" Mousse pleaded from beside her, but it was too late.
Shampoo rushed Ku with herself covered in a thin red aura of rage. She spun into a dizzying dance of kicks and flowing strikes of her chúi that chained together.
Ku joined Shampoo in her dance of martial arts, enjoying how easy it was to bait her. Each rage filled attack stung the body, but the emotions that bled from her aura fed his own.
Cologne noticed the strange exchange of energy as Shampoo continued to shower Ku with enraged attacks. While slight, it couldn't be missed by her well honed senses. Somehow, Ku's aura was feeding off of hers. "Shampoo, stop this instant!" she yelled.
Shampoo heard her great grandmother, but couldn't bring herself to stop. She was lost in her own madness, and kept attacking, despite feeling like another force was causing her to do so.
"Shampoo!" Cologne yelled again. She couldn't seem to get through to her, so she turned to her allies. "We have to separate them!"
No one voiced an affirmation, but they all attacked together. Cologne and Mousse got between Shampoo and Ku while the other three jumped the demon.
Shampoo blinked and put a hand to her cold forehead. Dizziness slowly fell over here, but it was brief. "What happen?" she asked.
"Ku... he was somehow feeding off of your aura," Cologne said.
"What?" Shampoo looked at her great grand-mother. "Shampoo's aura?"
"Yes," Cologne confirmed with a sad look in her eyes.
"He no absorb aura before," Shampoo said. She remembered watching Ranma and Akane fighting him together, and then Soun and Genma. They'd all used massive auras in various ways against the demon, and not once had it seemed to feed off of them.
"Mmm... but they were balanced when using them," Cologne noted. She shook her head. Now, was not the time to try to figure out what was going on with Ku's tactics. "We can discuss it later... now, we must fight! Avoid using any battle auras!"
The three Amazons joined the others in circling around Ku and attacking him newfound vigor. One at a time, or all at once, it didn't matter. The same stalemate seemed to be met as Ku absorbed and dodged everything they dished out without returning much punishment.
Akane had had enough. She'd made up her mind, and was preparing to leap down from the roof when something landed on her head and then bounded off with enough force to drop her to her knee. "What the?"
Happosai went flying over the crowd and spun his pipe. "You didn't think you'd bested me, did you?" he asked.
Akane shook off Happosai using her as a spring board and finally joined the others on the ground. Everyone seemed to fall deathly silent when her feet touched down and their eyes turned to her.
"And the tomboy joins in at last," Ku said from the center of ring everyone formed around him.
Akane suppressed her anger at hearing Ku call her that insulting name. Her anger was not over the insult itself, but rather the source. The way Ku said it was a sick and twisted mockery of Ranma's voice, and she was going to shut it up.
"Looks like it's all in then!" Happosai yelled with his pipe raised to the sky.
As if following a secret signal, everyone continued the battle as if it had never paused. The grand master of the anything goes school of martial arts joined his students and temporary allies with Akane right behind him. With two more added into the mix, they gained an advantage. Slowly, but surely, they broke through Ku's defenses and forced him back.
The group settled into a strategy they'd all noticed as they fought. Cologne and Happosai used their small statures to dodge around Ku and strike him low. Soun and Genma used their paired training and oddly balanced styles to strike from two different directions. The three teenagers all attacked with their weapons together.
Akane, however, was left out of the groups otherwise fluid tactics. Her fighting style didn't mesh well with anyone else's, not even her father's, which seemed to have altered to better fit Genma as a counter balance. This left her with fewer openings to attack between barrages, but she still kept her own against Ku.
Ku shifted his tactics as the group came at him in teams. He could handle them, but something was troubling him within his chest. He didn't understand it, but he just knew it was that same strange light he'd seen during his possession of his host's body. He couldn't penetrate that light back then, so he'd settled for smothering it, and it hadn't bothered him until now. There was only one thing different now than earlier in the battle to have caused such a change. Akane was now involved, and quite close to him.
At that moment, Akane was in Ku's face with her fists flying. Ku hesitated a split second as that feeling in his chest pulsed. He growled and blocked her attacks. Each time her fists hit his bare arms, it felt like searing fire against his thin aura, but it was soon over as Akane fell back behind Ukyo, Mousse, and Shampoo.
Ku retreated away from the entrance to the house as the three separate teams attacked him. He blocked each attack that he couldn't dodge, and moved away from the house down the stone walkway where there was more space to maneuver. All the while, he watched Akane closely as she weaved in and out alone. Each time they traded blows, he focused on that feeling within his chi. He didn't know what it was, but it certainly was not the remnant of Ranma. No, he knew exactly where what remained of Ranma was.
Ku shrugged off another pair of blows from Cologne and Happosai before facing off with Akane again. He felt like the burning restraint of the light was getting worse now. He could still block with ease, but it was almost like there was a physical barrier against hitting Akane back.
While everyone else was oblivious to Ku's predicament, Cologne had noticed it. She didn't know exactly what was going on, but Ku was definitely struggling with his control at times. She wondered if they were finally weakening him.
Everyone kept fighting on. Their attacks felt like they were hitting stone walls whenever Ku's aura was lit, but he couldn't keep it up for long. Whenever that green shield fell, whomever was attacking seized the opening, and delivered as powerful a blow as they could. With each landed hit in these small openings Ku staggered more and more, even looking stunned at times.
"Keep at it!" Cologne ordered as Genma and Soun landed a twin fisted attack to Ku's chest.
Ku fell back a step and rubbed his chest. He was taking more of a beating than he'd planned on, but everything was falling into place. He just needed to take care of one little piece of business.
Through the thick of battle, Ku spotted Akane. Everyone else was further back, leaving her stepping forward. Ku kept his aura down, letting her think she was going to land a punch right after her father and Genma.
Akane saw Ku stepping back and his aura remaining absent. Her senses told her no one else was closer, and she moved in to land another blow. Her confidence was peaking as she drove her fist forward, but was met with an icy grip on her wrist.
Ku grunted as his hand grabbed hold of Akane's wrist, the very same one he had bruised the previous night. It'd taken everything he had to force past the restraint coming from his chest, but he'd done it. "Too slow," he grinned and charged his aura.
Akane gasped in pain as the aura covered her wrist, hand, and forearm with bitter coldness that burned at her flesh. While her arm became numb to the burning, the rest of her body felt itself being lifted into the air and then thrown towards the roof.
"Akane!" Soun yelled. He was helpless to aid his daughter as she flew over him and onto the roof of the house.
Akane cried in pain when she hit the roof, and grabbed at her arm. It was completely numb, but felt like ice in her hand.
Ku felt it immediately as Akane's distance from him increased. That nagging restraint that tore forth from his chest faded, and he could act more freely. He drew in the energy around him, and felt its flow. The haze of battle had created a violent turmoil around him, and now he could unleash his will upon it.
Everyone saw the threat in Ku rising at his suddenly brightening aura. They all leapt in without a thought, hoping to retake the thin advantage they'd had. None of them saw it coming.
Ku felt them all around them. Warriors in barely balanced states. Alone, each one wasn't enough, but together, they were like an inferno, and he was an ice cold void. He spun in a full circle and drew upon the skill his host supplied him. His fist struck Genma in the gut and drove forward, plowing the stunned man into Soun, and then Happosai, and then the rest was lost to the raging wind.
"Behold oblivion!" Ku yelled as his hiryu shoten ha erupted and swallowed the seven fighters. He felt them all being sucked into the vacuum, their energy draining within the tornado. It was an apt metaphor for what he did best.
Akane fell backwards and covered her face as the tornado tore apart the front entrance of the house along with their walkway and the gate of the outer wall. She'd seen Ranma use this attack plenty of times, but never like this before. While he'd created larger tornados, none were quite as violent as this one. Ku had created a very tight and powerful tornado that was able to break apart stone.
Akane was worried about everyone that'd been sucked into the attack. When it finally died down, she saw the seven bodies falling back to the ground limply. "No!" she screamed.
As the seven fighters fell, one among them managed to move. Cologne had barely been able to remain conscious against the powerful attack, and only because of her knowledge on how to counter it. Even that had barely been enough against the frightening power of Ku's tornado.
Using the last of her strength, Cologne created a gust of wind around everyone. While it wasn't much, it was enough to soften their landing, and she was hopeful they would all survive.
The seven martial artists landed into the crater of crumbled stone and splintered wood that Ku's tornado had left behind. The various weapons they'd fought with clanged around them. Together, the bodies and the weapons created a gruesome picture of defeat.
Cologne struggled against her staff. She searched for everyone's chi with what little concentration she could muster. To her relief, everyone was alright, but their fight was over. Everyone was unconscious.
Cologne looked up at Ku standing in the middle of the crater. He was returning her gaze with a smug grin. Turning her eyes away, Cologne managed to look at Akane in apology before she too fell unconscious at Ku's feet.
Author's Notes: Okay, what color exactly are Ukyo's eyes? They seem to change color between blue, brown, and a reddish brown depending on the series and OVA episode. I decided to go with light blue, because that seemed to be the most frequent color.
This one took a while to figure out with so many people involved in the fight. Lots of rewriting had to be done, especially for Ukyo and Mousse.
poseidon's son: Well, now you know what happens when he's struck with cold water.
AliceTheBookGirl: Akane's training will indeed be part of her development, but I won't say how, or from who.
BobV: I won't comment on the possibility of Akane's actions, but telling Ryoga's secret would fall in line with Ku's mind games, wouldn't it? As you can see though, he is not always direct, usually baiting people to coming to their own conclusions, and Akane is rather terrible at that kind of thing.
Compucles: I merely had Cologne say that to show she didn't want Shampoo or Mousse speaking too soon. She wanted time to make sure of what she'd suspected.
Ranma is most certainly closer to Ryoga than the Amazons, but that really isn't saying much. to say Ranma is close to anyone is really taking a large allowance. Truth be told, I guess the best way of putting it is Ranma is able to trust certain people in certain ways, even though that tends to always bite him in the ass at some point. Like, he openly trusts Ryoga and Mousse during the Herb arc, and they're both planning to leave him for dead. So even when I say Ranma has a sort of trust in Ryoga, I also am inclined it is due to him being a little too trusting or gullible. Heck, you have to be gullible to still be willing to eat Shampoo's food after everything she's done.
OddWallow: Ku's actual form is the black, smoke like chi that radiates from its host, but never fully leaves it until it assumes its true form. The green aura is the chi it forms into attacks, most especially through its host body.
In terms of Ryoga not giving up on Akane, it's all about being able to move on. At the end of the manga, I don't think Ryoga's really reached that point, no matter how hard he wants to believe it or convince himself. He also has very selective memory and an overpowering imaginative perception of things when faced with situations that evoke strong emotions. Plus, one never truly forgets their first love, if you can really call Akane that as far as Ryoga is concerned.
As usual, any comments on this chapter, and the fanfic as a whole, are greatly appreciated.