Author's Note: Not really much to say, except one review reply:
Dracklor: Yes, this is set after Jusendo, probably half a year or so after. I'm assuming that by now, Nodoka has had her home rebuilt, or has purchased a new one somewhere closer to the Tendo home to be closer to her son and husband, because, as traditional as she is, I can't really see her remaining with the Tendos and burdening them with another houseguest, no matter how much she can help Kasumi with the housework. Plus, I think eventually she'd want her own home back, not just for herself, but also for Ranma.
Anyway, aside from that, enjoy the story! Oh yeah, I just remembered, the next chapter will probably be a bit longer in coming, since I'm intending to finish up "Earl of the North" first, it only has another two or three chapters to go that I need to write out. After that, I'll be able to devote my full attention to "Missing Time" and a new story that'll be based on Trisar's "Just One Day." Oh, and kudos to those who can spot the cameos from some of my favorite stories (they shouldn't be hard to find).
Her world slowly faded from black to white as light began to filter into her eyes. When awareness flooded her mind, her eyes snapped open, only for her to close them again rapidly, her retinas overloaded by the amount of light after spending so much time in darkness. When the pain from her eyes faded, she became aware of a different kind of pain, one that suffused her entire body. It seemed to be spreading out from below her right shoulder blade, but she couldn't muster the energy to reach around and try to find the injury. Nor did she really want to know how bad it was, considering the last sight she remembered was an incoming wall of magical energy blasts.
It took her a while to find her composure and muster the resolve to open her eyes again. When she did, it was with a groan of pain when her injured shoulder protested her attempt to roll over onto her side. To her surprise, she found herself neither in a ruined post-apocalyptic world, as she had come to expect from the Negaverse, nor was she in some sort of prison. In fact, the area around her looked very much like the park she had been in when she'd lost consciousness, except for the fact that there were none of the blast craters, and biological constructs she couldn't begin to identify were scattered around the area. She managed to push herself to her hands and knees, swaying a little as she reached up to brush a strand of green hair away from where it had fallen across her eyes.
A couple of deep breaths later, she found the strength to stand and survey her situation. The first thing she noticed was the total lack of sound. She could see the strange organic-looking things pulsing, but it was perfectly silent, except for the sound of her breathing. It was a little disconcerting, but nothing immediately important. The next thing on her list was her body; from the way her shoulderblade was hurting and the way the fabric of her blouse was stuck to her skin, she surmised that she'd probably been hit pretty badly. Nothing the senshi magic wouldn't take care of.
Her hand went for the henshin rod tucked within the subspace pocket she'd been using to store it for the last few centuries, only to come up empty. Crimson eyes widened in surprise and then panic when she failed to find any of the objects placed within the space that was so similar to Mousse's hidden weapons cache.
"Looking for this?"
Setsuna's head snapped around as the foreign voice pierced the silence around her, only to find a vague figure of a woman standing a few feet before her. Light shone off her body, and her hair was floating around her head in an incandescent halo, completely obscuring her features. Held in her hand was, much to Setsuna's disdain, a henshin pen engraved with the crest of Pluto. "Who are you?" the green-haired woman asked suspiciously.
"Your captor, for now." The reply came in the same oddly-echoing tone that was only vaguely feminine. She toyed with the henshin pen for a moment, before deciding to return her attention to the Senshi of time. "You know, you're quite a nuisance, almost as much as that friend of yours. Then again, I should have expected as much, from someone with millennia of experience and command of the time stream."
"You haven't answered my question," Setsuna frowned and took a tentative step forward. "Who are you?"
The figure shrugged. "It's not really of any importance. My name has no meaning for you."
"So then, why are we here? If I'm your prisoner, then shouldn't I be in a prison?" Setsuna ground out.
"But my dear Setsuna, you are in a prison." The figure seemed to almost smile as she casually tossed the henshin pen to the side. It sailed through the air, and Setsuna was grinning internally, about to leap for the device that would allow her to transform when it impacted an invisible barrier. Blue and purple light flared up as ripples appeared where the pen struck the wall. When the light faded, Setsuna was left to stare in horror at the charred and molten remains of one of the most powerful artifacts of the Moon Kingdom.
The captor merely chuckled. "Oops. I guess you still needed that. Oh well."
"Why, you…" The oldest Senshi balled her fists, shaking with fury.
"Anyway, I have to go and pay a visit to your little friend. You know, you really should have kept him out of this. As it is, you've sent him and his friends to their deaths." The captor shrugged and waved, before vanishing without a trace, leaving Setsuna to wonder if this was all a bad dream. The eerie silence around her and the smoke wafting up from the destroyed henshin pen told her otherwise.
It was only after a while, when the shock over the loss of her connection to her Senshi powers had settled somewhat, that she realized something.
Oh, this can't be good. Did Akane hit me again? Ranma's first thoughts when he regained consciousness were disturbed by a sudden and very rude attempt at rousing him, when a flood of cold water caused the air to explode from his lungs. He reflexively rolled onto his back and flipped backwards, landing in a defensive crouch. However, no further attack was forthcoming, and he blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
"You're finally awake, hmm?" An oddly distorted voice asked as a glowing figure of vaguely male shape shimmered into existence in front of the pig-tailed martial artist.
"What the heck was that for?" Ranma frowned and adjusted her clothing.
The glowing figure shrugged. "You wouldn't wake up. I mean, I can see why your would-be fiancée keeps dumping water over you, it's the only thing that seems to work. Seriously, World War Three could be occurring right in front of you, and you probably wouldn't notice."
Ranma finally took notice of her environment, and suppressed a shudder. The area around her would have been pleasant, if it wasn't for the slimy, pulsing, vibrating glob of something that reached to her chest. A thick, ichor-like liquid was oozing from pores all over the thing, and once in a while it would release a puff of sulfuric-smelling air. With a slimy-sounding belch, one of the pods to his left split along its length, and a clawed leg made its way out into the open. The pig-tailed martial artist then realized what they were. Birth pods. Or something like that. This is where they're mass-producing those youma.
The realization must have been obvious in the redhead's eyes, because the strange person in front of her commented. "It can be quite disconcerting, at first, I know. You get used to it. On the positive side, they're rather useful in battle."
"Where the heck am I? What is this place? Last thing I remember-"
"You're still where you were before, in the park." Ranma would swear there was an evil smirl hiding behind that diffuse glow that hid all features on the being before her. "I must say, I didn't really expect you to be this recovered this quickly, not after the way you went down."
Ranma eyed the area around her. She was in the park, all right, though apparently all the damage had magically disappeared and been replaced by the vile, disgusting mounds of growing youma. Even as she looked around, a number of pods split open and disgorged spider-like creatures into the open. "I guess you did some redecorating, then," she noted dryly.
"You could say that. Unfortunately, because of a certain someone's meddling with our plans, we had to speed up our pace." The glowing person shrugged. "Oh well."
Blue eyes surveyed the glowing figure warily, even as she probed deeper with her ki-senses. The result wasn't exactly pretty, as Ranma realized that person carried more power than Saffron – enough power to quite literally glow from the sheer amount of it. "So, why am I still here? I'm assuming you're the jerk that Setsuna said wanted to take over the world?"
"She said that, did she?" The tone was almost amused. "Somehow, I don't think she left it at 'jerk.'"
"Not really," Ranma muttered.
"Well, you're right, we did go through all that trouble to capture you for a reason." The glowing man walked across the grass, passing a number of smaller pods. "Come on, or wouldn't you like to see why you're still alive?"
Reluctantly, Ranma followed, absently kicking one of the pods she passed, only to blink in surprise when it gurgled in protest and sank into itself, dead. What the-
"Please refrain from doing that," her captor said with a chuckle. "We kind of need those youma, and it simply wouldn't do for you to go around kicking them to death, now."
You're kidding me, right? Ranma thought silently. These are the big, bad monsters we've been having problems with? Man, Akane could wipe out their entire army without big problems. Heck, Kuno could probably do it! A silly grin spread over her face as she imagined the results of Akane's cooking dueling with the monsters.Man, that would be as epic as Gojiro versus Mothra.
"We're here." The captor stopped in front of a bathtub-sized vat that was covered with an almost opaque membrane. Like everything around it, it was pulsing with a sickly purple light. Veins ran along the exterior surface and expanded and contracted almost as if they were blood vessels, and there was a sloshing of liquid inside.
"If you expect me to take a dip in that-"
"No, no," a glowing hand waved off Ranma's protest. "Nothing like that. You see, since we had to accelerate our schedule, we were faced with a dilemma. Our genetic research was incomplete, but we needed to field large amounts of troops quickly. However, ever since our first encounter with you, we realized that there was a quick shortcut we could take. Instead of designing a completely new strand of DNA for our masterpiece, why not simply replicate an existing one? And while we were at it, why not use the most promising one we'd ever seen?"
A sinking feeling spread through Ranma's entrails as a glowing finger caressed the membrane, causing it to recede. The liquid inside the tank was murky, milky-white. Bubbles began to appear as something stirred in the water, and with a splash, that something surfaced, heaving for air as its lungs began functioning on their own. Sky-blue eyes snapped open for the first time, unfocused and untrained.
And Ranma's blood ran cold as she stared into the face of her enemy.
Saotome Nodoka was tending to the garden in her newly-rebuilt home, relishing the early summer evening. The house that had been leveled several months ago was now mostly complete again, with only a few minor finishing touches remaining. She smiled as she glanced out at the yard where the construction workers were putting up the dojo. Since she was rebuilding her home from the ground up, she reckoned she might as well include a dojo for her son. The music on the radio she was listening to stopped abruptly, to be replaced by the urgent voice of a news anchorman.
"This is a special announcement. All citizens are requested to return to their homes. The JSDF has been mobilized and placed on a heightened level of alert. Parliament is expected to declare a state of emergency. This has been due to the emergence of a large number of unknown hostiles. I repeat, the JSDF is on high alert. We-" he broke off for a moment, then returned. "We are receiving reports that the hostiles are attacking numerous areas throughout the country. It is unknown where they came from or how they managed to enter the country undetected. Locations in Okhayama, Tokyo, and near Kyoto are under attack."
Nodoka dropped everything and rushed inside to turn on the television, only to gasp in horror. The camera feed was showing explosions around the Kyoto headquarters of the Japanese Supernatural Affairs office, the agency that had been created after numerous Gojiro incidents. People were running away in terror, some of them vaporized by stray blasts of energy as the enemy marched through the smoke and debris, undeterred by the small-arms fire of the police. Tank-sized eight-legged creatures stalked through the streets, their razor-sharp claws ripping through cars as if they were tissue paper.
"Similar scenes are repeating themselves across the globe," the commentator finally said. "Reports are coming in that the Russian Spiritual Institute in St. Petersburg is likewise under attack. This is a feed from a correspondent in the Los Angeles area, where the American Department of Abnormal Phenomenae Containment is also being assaulted by forces unknown." On the screen behind him, a Russian man with a gunbarrel attached where his wrist should be could be seen firing and cackling insanely as he tried to stop the youma while other researchers and officers fled. A second Russian was hauling a huge gun around in support, firing large-caliber shells, seemingly unbothered by the recoil of a massive gun as tall as himself.
The scene switched to a decidedly American locale, where a number of the spider-like creatures were slowly advancing on a seven-story building, their energy blasts already decimating the main entrance and ground level floor. Nodoka watched in horror as two rockets shot out of the building in response, rocking one of the creatures back. The missiles were followed in short order by an armored vehicle that had a large machine gun mounted on top. A blonde American wearing a bandanna and military fatigues revved up the turret as the transport shot out onto the road, raining down large-caliber shells onto the monsters to cover their exit. The armored transport swerved a few times, as if the driver was drunk, then righted itself after tilting over precariously, before vanishing around a corner.
"I repeat, we urge all citizens to return home and barricade themselves. The JSDF has been mobilized to counter this threat. Please do not panic. We will keep you updated as new information comes in."
Nodoka's blood ran cold as she grasped for her telephone and dialed the Tendo dojo. Despite their home being rebuilt, Ranma still lived there on his father's insistence, in a futile attempt to push him and Akane together. Nodoka was rather opposed to being apart from her son, but until the papers she'd filed went through, Genma was able to make the decisions for Ranma. The phone rang, and the woman waited desperately for someone to pick up.
"Kasumi-chan, thank the kami!" Nodoka sighed in relief. "Have you heard the news?"
"No, not yet, Auntie Nodoka. Why, what's going on?"
"Turn on the TV, Kasumi, it's all over the news and all the other channels. And please tell me, where is my son?"
There were sounds of movement on the other end of the line as Kasumi most likely left the kitchen and switched on the television set in the Tendo's living room. Nodoka could hear a soft gasp in shock as the younger woman watched the newsfeed. The line went silent for a few long moments.
"Kasumi-chan? Are you still there?"
"Y-yes, Auntie. Oh my, that is horrible. When did this happen?"
"Just now. Kasumi-chan, where's my son?"
There was an urgency in the older woman's voice that spurred Kasumi into a mild state of panic. The eldest Tendo daughter was quick to reply that she hadn't seen Ranma since earlier that morning. She also figured, though, that she should let Nodoka know that Ranma had left the Tendo residence for a training trip; though Kasumi wasn't privy to all that had been going on, Nabiki had told her a good deal, which she relayed to Nodoka now.
"So my son has left on a training trip to help this strange woman prepare their friends for battle?" the redheaded woman summed up, worried. She knew that Ranma could take care of himself, especially after that episode in Jusendo, but like any mother, she couldn't help it.
"That's about it, Auntie. Why, what's wrong? Do you think that these attacks are connected somehow?"
"I'm not sure, Kasumi, but if they're mobilizing the army, then it's bad. Do you have any idea where Ranma went?"
The young woman took a moment to reply. "Not really, Auntie. Nabiki and Ranma have kept it pretty much under wraps to prevent some of the people here from finding out. You don't think he's involved in any of these attacks?"
"I pray to the kami that he isn't, but you know how he is…" Nodoka trailed off as she glanced at the TV screen that was still displaying reports of attacks and massive destruction all across the country. Tanks were now rolling in by now, supported by fighter planes in the air and infantry on the ground, but they were being swatted out of the way almost effortlessly. Some of the military units managed to get in good hits and destroy a few youma, but those that fell were quickly replaced by others.
"I'm sure he's fine, Auntie," despite the soothing tone, Nodoka could hear the underlying worry in Kasumi's voice, as well. "You know he never loses. Hang on a second-"
Nodoka heard a faint "Tadaima" in the background, and some static in the phone, before Kasumi returned. "Nabiki's back, Auntie. I'll let you talk to her, since she knows where Ranma went to."
"Thank you, Kasumi-chan."
There was some muffled conversation at the other end, before Nabiki spoke into the phone. "Hello, Auntie? Kasumi-neechan said you wanted to talk to me?"
"Nabiki, take a look at the news, there's locations all across the world under attack by these…these monsters," Nodoka said. "They're bringing in the army to fight them, but there's so many of them, and they're telling us to stay at home. Kasumi-chan said you'd know where Ranma is at, she said something about a training trip?"
Nabiki sighed heavily, something that wasn't lost on Nodoka. When the young girl spoke again, it was with a tone that was tinged with regret and fear. "I know, Auntie. It's a long story, maybe you should come over. And…I'm afraid I don't have good news, either."
"Where…Nabiki, just tell me this, and then I'll come over. Where is my son?" Nodoka wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
"He's – he's gone, Auntie." Nabiki's voice hitched. "We were in the park when the youma attacked, and he…he threw me to safety before he got hit. We don't know where he is."
Or if he is still alive, Nodoka added silently. She looked down at the floor for a moment, then back up at the flickering images on the TV screen, her mind made up. Reaching up over the mantle in the living room, she retrieved the Saotome family blade and removed it from its protective wrap, taking the time to collect her thoughts. "I'll be right over, Nabiki," she said, before hanging up, not giving the younger woman a chance to reply.
Cologne stopped abruptly on a rooftop a half mile away from their destination, and Ryoga, Shampoo, and Mousse skidded to a halt behind her. Ancient eyes widened in shock at the column of smoke and flame that rose in the distance, and even as they looked on, a massive explosion ripped through the city not too far away from the shrine.
"By the goddess," Cologne muttered.
"What the hell is going on here?" Mousse asked in shock. Ryoga, who had seen what had happened in the park, merely gripped the straps to his backpack tightly with one hand, holding on to Shampoo with the other. This was not the time to get lost, he realized.
"This is what I was afraid of." The elder wasn't quite able to keep the horror from her voice. "The invasion has already begun."
"Aiyah, this bad. Very very bad," Shampoo agreed, cringing as another building went up in flames.
Eyeing the distance between their goal and themselves critically, Cologne came to a decision. The youma were moving through the city with reckless abandon, and the army would probably mobilize soon to counter the threat, if it hadn't already. The ancient woman didn't hold out much hope of the military being able to do much, so it was all up to them and the Senshi, if the Senshi survived this.
"Drop your packs, and leave them here," she finally announced.
"I said, drop your packs," Cologne repeated, a tone of command lacing her voice that compelled the three younger martial artists to comply. "Now let us hurry, and pray that we are not too late."
Now unburdened by their backpacks and camping gear, the four martial artists leapt off the roof towards the burning Hikawa shrine that stood in the middle of the sea of fire before them. Without their packs slowing them down, it didn't take them long to arrive. When they finally returned to the ground at the bottom of the steps to the shrine, Cologne heard a retching sound from behind her.
The elder turned around to find her great-granddaughter bent over as she emptied the contents of her stomach, and for once, Cologne didn't comment as Mousse ran a soothing hand over Shampoo's back. Allowing her eyes to close for a moment, the ancient woman tried to block out the view of destruction around them. It was easy enough with the bodies; not being able to see them, she could almost imagine there weren't corpses littering the ground around them. But the smell was a different matter. All around them, the air was suffused with the gut-wrenching stench of burning flesh and coppery blood.
"Ryoga, stay here," Cologne finally ordered, her eyes snapping back open. She glared at the lost boy. "Do not take a single step. Do not move. Do not get yourself or my great-granddaughter lost. Is that understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," Ryoga found himself answering her immediately.
"Good. You take care of her until she's well enough to come along, or we return. Mousse, you're with me."
The black-haired amazon looked up from here he was comforting Shampoo and looked like he was about to protest, but to his credit, he held his tongue, straightened up, and nodded. Two long swords slid into his hands. "All right, elder. Let's go."
Cologne led the way, bouncing up the steps to the shrine as Mousse followed behind. She hated the fact that Shampoo had to experience this kind of devastation at her age, hoping to spare her great-granddaughter the ugliness of war and battle. This was what distinguished the younger amazon generation from the old ones like Colonge. The young ones were all martial artists, trained to fight and win. They followed the martial artist's code, and while they fought, they would likely never see war.
The older ones, the ones that had done battle with the Musk and the Phoenix decades ago, had. They weren't martial artists, they were warriors. Unlike their children, they had been trained to fight and kill. Cologne had prayed that warriors would one day become obsolete, but now it looked like children would be pressed into doing something they weren't prepared for.
She cleared the last step in a flying leap that took her clear over an energy blast that would have killed a normal human being. Glancing down in mid-air, she could see what had shot at her, a large, three-meter long monster with clawed appendages and a shimmering carapace, just like Ranma had described them. Angling down from her leap, she let her cane lead as it touched the carapace, then quickly kicked off in a flip that carried her well away from the flying shrapnel that exploded from where she had struck the youma with the breaking point.
Mousse wasn't far behind her, and unleashed a storm of sharp objects that tore the exposed youma's flesh to ribbons. It didn't last long, and collapsed into a writhing, screeching mass on the ground, curling in on itself as it died. Cologne sprinted off towards the main building. The shrine itself was on fire, and she could see three creatures scampering around on the roof of the building that looked like it was about to collapse. Two more creatures were in the front yard, though they were heading around the building. One of the youma on the roof launched an energy blast into what Cologne assumed was the back yard.
Before she could tell Mousse, the young man had already rushed past her, flinging chains and axes from his voluminous sleeves. The axes themselves did nothing but bounce off the solid carapace on the youma, but the two chains managed to wrap themselves around two of its legs. He jumped at the same time the youma yanked on the chains, and flipped over the monster to land on its back. Letting go of the chains, Mousse slid down from its back, pulling two spherical objects from his pockets, and chucked them right into the orifice the youma was using to create the energy blasts. That was as far as he got, though, before one of the legs reversed directions in mid-swing, and caught him square in the chest, sending him flying off the roof.
The youma was about to leap after him when the two grenades he'd thrown exploded, the concussive force liquefying the monster's organs. It paused, then collapsed, nothing more than a dead carapace. "Mousse!" Cologne rushed over to her fellow amazon, relieved to see that, while the attack would leave a bruise and Mousse would definitely have a trouble sitting for a while, the youma hadn't caught him with the razor-sharp blade on its leg.
"Damn, that hurts," Mousse muttered as he used a sword he'd pulled out to stand up. Cologne smiled briefly, realizing that she had underestimated the young man as he reached into his sleeves for more weapons.
Their armor is almost impervious to anything I can throw at them, Mousse thought, but if I can get any of my explosives past that armor…Twenty kunai slid into his hands, each one carrying a high-explosive tip as he fanned them out in his hands. "Break their armor for me, elder, and I'll send them straight back to hell," he snarled
Cologne nodded, briefly stunned at the sudden change in his demeanor. This wasn't the bumbling fool who was trying to woo her great-granddaughter. This was a warrior, someone who knew what he was doing, someone who belonged on the battlefield. Now, how did I miss this developing right under my nose? I must be getting slow in my old age, Cologne thought with some amusement as she leapt onto the roof, zipping back and forth between the remaining two youma on the roof as she sought for an opening to crack their armor with the breaking point.
Mousse himself wasn't idle as he shifted to kunai to one hand, using the other to launch volleys of blunt weapons at the two youma on the ground, trying to divert their attention until he heard the tell-tale explosion of the Bakusai Tenketsu. So far, the two youma he'd been barraging had ignored him, until he threw a kitchen sink in frustration. To his utter surprise, it hit one of the youma, shattering with a sharp crack…and it left behind a fracture in the youma's carapace.
"Take this!" Mousse leapt forward, flinging out his left hand to launch an assortment of weapons meant to distract the youma. Just as he had planned, it used some of its appendages to swat away the incoming swords, spears, and axes, giving the myoptic amazon just enough clearance to slide in and jam three of his kunai into the fracture. The resulting explosion forced Mousse to duck and shield his eyes as part of the carapace buckled and exploded outward, pieces of cracked armor pelting his body. It also prevented him from seeing the leg that swung at him from just above.
Shampoo dashed forward, Ryoga in tow as the lost boy desperately tried to keep up with her wild charge to keep from getting lost. The purple-haired girl reached forward, catching the youma's leg on her sword. The youma's momentum caused Shampoo's arm to buckle, and the bladed leg slid down along her sword to cut deeply into her should before she could roll away. Mousse heard the pained outcry, and snarled shooting back up and jamming more kunai into the armor, before flipping away.
"Shishi Hokodan!" Ryoga's ki-blast slammed into the youma just after the charges went off, and the weakened carapace disintegrated under the onslaught. Ryoga was about to comment, when he caught sight of Mousse. The amazon was standing right in front of the youma, his back rigid and turned towards the lost boy. Then, to both Ryoga's and Shampoo's surprise, Mousse let loose a wild, wavering warcry as a halo of azure light surrounded him. The battle-aura slammed into being with enough force to actually crater the ground he was standing on, and Ryoga whistled softly at its intensity.
Mousse took two steps forward, snapping his hands out to launch the remaining explosive darts. "Die," he whispered as the weapons struck the now unprotected underbelly and exploded, covering the ground in gore and ichor.
"Whoa, that's intense," Ryoga muttered under his breath as he leaned down to look at Shampoo. The girl was already standing up, one hand clutching at her injured shoulder, and he swore softly. Blood was seeping through her fingers, and the cut seemed pretty deep. Still, there was a determined glint in her eyes as she hefted her sword and nodded at him.
"Mousse!" Cologne's cry from overhead was quickly followed by a youma coming flying down from the roof to land in front of them. Ryoga quickly grabbed hold of Shampoo and leapt to the side, even as the youma began following them. Four sets of chains flew out of nowhere and wrapped themselves around its legs, tripping it as an enraged Mousse yanked with all his ki-enhanced strength.
Ryoga took the opportunity and jumped, praying to the kami that he didn't get lost in mid-air. He didn't, and came down on top of the youma's back, fist cocked back. The punch slammed into the youma's back with deafening force, sending a shockwave through its body despite the protective carapace that caused its four remaining legs to buckle underneath. The creature let out a high-pitched shriek as it collapsed onto its own razor-tipped legs. A sharp crack ended its life as it impaled itself.
Ryoga turned around, trying to look for Mousse or Shampoo so he could follow them, and found them busy deflecting the other youma's attacks. It had used their distraction to close the distance, and was too close for Mousse to open up with explosives. The myoptic amazon had managed to entangle two of the youma's eight legs with his chains, and was wielding a short spear in one hand and a kitchen sink as a shield with the other as he defended himself and Shampoo. The girl put up a decent defense, but the blood seeping from her wound continued to slow her down, and it was only her pride as a fighter and her willpower that kept her going.
"Try this on for size!" Ryoga hollered across the battlefield as he pushed his hands forward. "Shishi Hokodan!"
The green-tinted ki-blast roared across the distance and blasted into the youma, knocking it back a few meters. It wasn't much, but it gave Mousse enough time to let go of his chains, lift Shampoo into his arms, and leap next to Ryoga. "It's armor is too strong to be pierced by anything except probably some enchanted weapons," the amazon informed him, "the elder's been using the breaking point to destroy the armor. Without it, they're easily killed."
"Breaking point, huh?" Ryoga nodded. "All right. Here we go."
The lost boy turned around. "What?"
Mousse stood up from where he'd laid Shampoo on the ground and had wrapped a piece of cloth around her wound. "We take it together. Break the armor for me, and I'll make it regret ever having been alive."
The tone of utter cold hatred in the amazon's voice sent a shiver down Ryoga's spine. It was rare for any of their group to ever get to that stage. Angry, yes, and even though Ryoga continually insisted that he hated Ranma, it was more like a simmering animosity. The tone in Mousse's voice left him with no doubt that he would do everything in his power to wipe out every last one of them. It was a side Ryoga had only seen once, when Ranma had believed Akane had died at Jusendo. It had resulted in the pig-tailed martial artist pulling out all the stops, every trick in the book, and showing them for the first time, just what he was truly capable of. It had resulted in Saffron's demise.
"All right." Ryoga looked down and kicked up the sword Shampoo had been using. She wouldn't need it any longer, as she was barely remaining conscious. Like Ranma, he didn't like using weapons, but after getting a close look at what a glancing blow had done to Shampoo, he preferred to have something to deflect the youma's attacks with.
The two nodded at each other and spread out to either side of the slowly advancing youma. When they were ninety degrees apart, they both opened up, barraging the creature with ki-blasts and the entirety of Mousse's arsenal. It reared up in silent fury, but seemed unable to decide which one to attack. Whenever it started moving off to one side, the other would intensify his attacks, which would draw it back to the other side. The final decision was taken out of its proverbial hands, however.
"Hiryuu Shoten Ha!"
The whirlwind Cologne had summoned up ripped into the remains of the building, instantly putting out the flames. Tiles started coming off the roof, and then the entire ceiling lifted up with a tortured groan as the winds gained strength. Soon, the youma the elder had been fighting on the roof was being tossed around by the storm force winds until the hurricane abruptly cut out, leaving the youma hanging a hundred yards above the ground. It came falling down and smashed right into its brethren on the ground, and, much like a melon falling from the sky, both of them split open from the impact.
Cologne hopped down from the roof, and all three martial artist rushed over to Shampoo's side. The ancient woman prodded her great-granddaughter and applied a few pressure points, before eyeing the crude, but expertly applied bandage, noting that along with her pressure points, it had done the trick of slowing down the bleeding. Shampoo would hurt for a while, and the shoulder would be lacking mobility for a few weeks, but she'd survive.
"Shampoo, you all right?" Mousse asked, his expression softening to something more akin to what Cologne was used of him.
"She's unconscious," she told him, then smiled gently. "But she'll be all right. You make quite the adept healer, Mousse."
The black-haired amazon ignored the compliment as he stood and lifted the girl into his arms. "I should've been faster. She got this protecting me, you know."
Cologne shook her head. "Mousse, we'll talk about this later. Right now we need to find any survivors." She knew that had probably come out the wrong way, judging from the look of self-recrimination in his eyes, but now was not the time for the conversation they needed to have. She quickly scanned her surroundings, and came to a sobering conclusion. The shrine had been pretty much leveled. If anyone had survived, then they would either have to be underground, or they had long since run away.
The clicking of blades on stone caused her to turn around, her eyes widening in surprise as she saw another youma climb up the stairs behind them. She was about to jump up and attack when the creature was enveloped in flame and the explosion caused it to slide back down the steps. Cannon shots echoed through the air as the JSDF tanks arrived, their large-caliber shells slamming into the youma's carapace until it finally cracked under the strain, and the monster died, blown to bits by the newly arriving military. Down below, Cologne could see hundreds of infantry armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and assault rifles sweeping the area, while the tanks slowly approached from the streets.
Stretching out her ki-senses, Cologne blinked in surprise as she found a group of very familiar people huddled in the forest behind the shrine. Turning to Ryoga and Mousse, she informed them of the others' presence. "Mousse, go fetch our packs. Ryoga, stay with my great-granddaugher. And in the name of the goddess, don't get lost, understood?"
"Yeah." Ryoga mumbled. While it was true, her constant jabs about him getting lost were annoying.
Seeing the brief look of hurt on the lost boy's face, Cologne sighed. "I'm sorry, Ryoga, but we really cannot afford to loose you right now. Just…please stay put."
"I understand." Ryoga managed a weak smile. "And don't worry about Shampoo."
Seeing that Mousse had already taken off, Cologne was about to leave, herself, when soldiers arrived on top of the hill the shrine was built on. They swept the area with their rifles and heavy weapons, but lowered them when they caught sight of the martial artists. "Are you all right?" one of the soldiers asked. She had long purple hair a few shades darker than Shampoo's, and wore a red jacket that denoted she was affiliated with the Japanese Supernatural Affairs office. The rank insignia on her chest marked her as a major.
"We're fine, thank you," Cologne replied, "but my great-granddaughter here needs medical attention. Also, there's a group of survivors hiding in the trees. I was just about to get them."
The soldier nodded, then spoke into her radio. "I've called for a helicopter. We'll have her and any other survivors air-lifted out of here immediately. Is she critical, or can she wait? I hate to ask, but we're short on choppers, and we can't afford to spare a chopper for a single person who doesn't need immediate help."
"I understand. She should be fine, the bleeding's already slowed down."
"Thank you." The major glanced around, seeing the dead youma, and Cologne heard her sharp intake of breath. "You did this?"
Cologne nodded, then looked over as Mousse came running up the stairs again, carrying three large backpacks. The young amazon quickly went to work changing Shampoo's bandage, even as more soldiers arrived, including a medic, who was started to talk to Mousse, but quickly stood back when he realized the amazon knew what he was doing.
"Damn," the soldier finally said. "I mean, they briefed us on what all of those martial artists and supernatural fighters could do, but…damn." She snapped back to attention. "You said something about more survivors?"
"Yes. Come this way." Cologne hopped away on her cane, and the soldier waved over a few of her comrades to follow her.