Chapter 15: High Noon.
That tingling sensation he always got when Ke Lun was about to attack was the only warning that they had, and it wasn't nearly enough. Ranma had barely even had a chance to turn his head before the sidewalk had exploded right under Konatsu and hurled her into the wall, knocking her cold and throwing the rest of them flying. He rolled in mid air, time seeming to slow as he desperately tried to take stock of the situation.
Shan Pu had landed on her feet, her Bon Buri already in her hands, but it didn't help her as a bolt of black lightning struck her and her entire body arched as she screamed in pain. Ranma hadn't even landed when what felt like a Mack truck hit him dead in the stomach and slammed him into, and then through the wall. Akane didn't even get a chance to grab her wand before likewise being impacted by something unseen and hurled across the street into a tree, which shattered and collapsed on top of her.
Ranma picked himself up out of the rubble and launched himself back through the wall, forcing his time sense to slow as he tried to find the source of the attack, and felt the air ionizing as another lightning bolt shattered the concrete where he had been about to land. He twisted away in mid air only to find himself in the path of an odd distortion in the air. His feet hit the ground as he focused his ki into his fists and punched, realizing as his hand moved through the molasses like air that the object was a shockwave. It met the one created by his fist with a massive crack of thunder, and dazed by the blast, he stumbled and collapsed to his knees.
Then, with a loud crack he felt something wrap around his throat and his hands went to his neck as a woman with black wings landed in front of him.
She was tall, and naked, her neck covered in a ruffle of feathers and her short hair intermixed with them. Her legs ended in scales and a foot similar to a bird's, and a feathered tail matched her wings. She carried a scepter in one hand, and in the other carried the dangling, unconscious body of Chibi-Usa. She ignored Ranma as she looked down at Konatsu and smiled.
"Hurry up and kill him, Calaveras. We have our prizes. Be done with him and collect the Dragon's Child."
The object around Ranma's throat tightened as he heard a voice behind him "Your struggles are useless, human. No-one can escape my coils."
His eyes narrowed "I'm not just anyone," he spat out. His red aura flared as he got one leg under him and braced. "My name is Ranma Saotome" he forced out past the constricting object "And. I. NEVER. LOSE!"
With a mighty heave he stood and jumped up and backwards, doing a flip to land behind the figure, unwinding the object around his throat, discovering that it was a whip. The creature looked startled and in a split second Ranma noted she looked human from the waist up, but had a snake's lower body. Before she could react, he landed and grabbed her tail, twisting with massive strength as he bodily lifted her and spun her into a circle to collide with the bird woman, knocking her into the wall and forcing her to release Chibi-Usa. He caught the small girl in mid air and landed on the top of the wall as the tree across the street flew upwards and Akane stood, her henshin completed.
"Dropping a tree on me is cheating!" she yelled as the tree finished its arc and began descending "Now TAKE IT BACK!" She spun, and kicked the falling tree, sending it flying towards the two figures who had managed to untangle themselves. The bird woman lashed out with her scepter, and the tree exploded as black lightning arced in all directions.
"I am going to kill you all!" she screamed as her wings flapped and she rose into the air. "We will take the Rabbit and the Dragon's Child, and we will leave your corpses to rot!"
"SHAN PU KILL!" was the only warning she got as a very pissed off black clad cat girl landed on her back, two Bon Buri slamming together on either side of Petz's head. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she fell out of the air, Shan Pu riding her down and slamming her against the sidewalk with a vicious grin. The scepter in her hands flew away, only to be scooped up by the fast moving snake girl, Calaveras.
"Now I have the power!" She shouted triumphantly as she cracked her tail like a whip at Akane, creating a massive shock wave of air pressure that was like a moving wall. But Akane met her attack with an Earth wave, and it dispersed in the middle of the street, leaving a gaping crater.
Then Ranma was there, dodging through the coils to punch the snake girl in the chin with a fist moving faster than the speed of sound. She collapsed in a tangle of coils, twitching as the scepter rolled into the crater. Ranma nodded as he wiped a trickle of blood from his lip. "I told you. I never lose." He said as he kicked the whip out of Calaveras' hand, then caught it and turned the girl over to tie her hands behind her back with it. Shan Pu had done the same, but had used a steel pole from a street sign to bind Petz's wings and hands.
Akane had hopped over the crater and was examining a slowly waking Konatsu. Or rather Clove, as the eyes that opened were green and slit pupiled. "What happened?"
"We got attacked by the other two Phantom Sisters." Akane said. "We've knocked them unconscious, but I don't know if we can keep them that way."
Clove shook her head and muttered a string of incomprehensible syllables, her eyes focusing as her healing spell took effect. "Don't worry about that. I can make sure they don't."
Ranma had ducked around the wall and came back with the unconscious Chibi-Usa. "I'm worried about the girls. She would have likely been with them at the Dojo," he said, nodding at the pink haired girl.
Clove laid a hand on her head. "She's fine, just asleep. She'll wake up in a few minutes." She looked at the unconscious Sisters. "Humm, a Naga and a Harpy. Anyone got any water? I need my real body to remove their crystals."
"We should go check on the girls first."
Laughter rang out across the battle field. "You mean these girls?"
They whirled to see the form of Rubeus floating above the crater in the street. Around him lay the unconscious forms of the girls, dressed in their practice clothes. "When my pets retrieved the Rabbit, I decided these useless humans might come in handy. It seems I thought right. Do as you wish with those worthless pieces of trash. I wash my hands of them."
There was a loud hum that shook the air as a massive vessel made of crystal descended from a cloud. "You have one hour to turn over the Dragon's Child and the Rabbit to me, or I will kill your friends. If you have failed to deliver them by two hours, I will burn this city to ash!"
He laughed again as a beam of light shot down from the ship and engulfed him, his figure fading away along with the Senshi. The light beam also lifted the scepter out of the crater, and it shot upwards to the ship as well. Then the vessel itself rose to vanish into the clouds once more.
The figure before the gates stood frozen, her black skin seeming to drink in the light of the noonday sun like a statue carved from the deepest night. Only her twin swords bore any color, their silver blades and the golden tsubasa reflecting the light. But the swordsman approaching the gate could feel the weight of her gaze on him like a cold fire. It stirred in him a feeling he had thought impossible – fear. As he stared back into the bottomless black pools of her eyes, he saw his death in them.
Jaken, his lizard like servant, was puzzled by his hesitation. The diminutive creature stepped forward and raised the staff he bore, the carven face of an old man turned towards the unmoving figure as he said "I shall remove this obstacle for you, Lord Shessomaru!" He struck his staff on the ground as a stream of fire shot out of the mouth of the carven image to engulf the entire gate.
"Step back, Jaken." Shesshomaru said. "Take Rin and go. Your presence here is burdensome."
The flames died, revealing the figure to be both unmoved and untouched by the flames that had washed over her to scorch and ignite the gate behind her. Jaken blinked and looked back as his master. "Of course, my Lord. I shall guard her with my life."
Sesshomaru ignored him as he drew Tokujin, but before he could advance another voice stopped him.
"I must beg thy pardon, my lord. But if thee dare to raise thy blade against my goddess, you will have to get through me first."
He turned to look at Tatewaki coolly. "I do not know you, swordsman, but my goal lies within that castle. I will not let anyone stop me from reaching Naraku. Stand aside or die."
"We both seek the same goal, lord. I pray you, sheath thy blade and allow my companions to deal with this obstacle."
Uyko stepped forward, her neon armor shining as she strode past Sesshomaru and faced Zhu Shu. "This is my fault, and my fight, sugar. Yours is about to come up in the courtyard." She strode across the bridge, her guan do held with the point low, but ready to intercept an attack. "I don't want to fight you, Zhu-chan."
Mocking laughter rang out over the bridge as Zhu Shu's ribbons came to life and began writhing like serpents. "That's a pity, because I am so looking forward to her fighting you." Naraku's voice said from Zhu Shu's mouth. "I can feel her screaming so deliciously." A pink tongue traced along jet black lips. "and the memories she has of raping you are such a treat as well. Tell me Ukyo, did you like being helpless as much as she liked feeling you that way?"
Ukyo's eyes narrowed. "After I release her from your control, bastard, I am going to enjoy taking my time killing you."
Rei stepped up beside her. "I am going to burn you until no scrap remains, Naraku. I will seal your soul into an eternity of fire for what you have done to Zhu Shu."
"The question that remains is whether you will live to fulfill those threats. I have chained her will, but her ability to fight is unrestricted."
Ukyo's eyes narrowed. "Whatever it is he's using to control her appears to be connected to the base of her skull. I'm going to try to restrain her, so watch for your chance," she said softly to Rei as Wrathseeker began a slow spin. The yin yang at the base of her spine glowed brightly as four smaller copies of the symbol shot outwards, attached to ribbons made from the same material as her loincloth.
Rei nodded grimly. "We have to stop her, Ukyo. Even if we have to hurt her. Kagura said she'll regenerate quickly." She bit her lip worriedly as she said the last part, hoping that was true.
"Once I get her out of the way, get to the courtyard fast. That other guy will be here in just a few minutes and this path is way too exposed." Ukyo said as two more Yin Yang's emerged from her armor and rose to become the palms of the translucent dragon wings that formed.
Behind her, Tao-Ching had stepped past Tatewaki and was facing Sesshomaru. "Ukyo's detected that Mouryoumaru guy flying this way. We've got about five seconds to decide if we've got to fight you or if you're willing to join forces. We don't have time to debate it."
Sesshomaru pointed his sword at Zhu Shu. "I am here for Naraku, remove that obstacle and we shall proceed together."
Tao-Ching nodded, "Kohaku, protect Sanjuro, Shippo and that girl. Kagura, back him up. Everyone else, on me."
Ukyo charged, taking two steps and launching herself at the unmoving dragon-girl. With a snap, her neon dragon wings spread, and she shot across the gap between them, hitting mach five before her staff collided with Zhu Shu's raised blades. The impact drove her through the castle, emerging on the far side before slamming into a cliff wall and shattering it.
Zhu Shu looked at her, Naraku's vicious grin on her lips. "Did you really think this would be enough to knock her out?"
Ukyo returned one just as feral. "Hell no. I was just getting her out of the way of everyone coming to kill you." She flipped backwards through the pulverized stone still falling around them, her guan do twirling. "I'm not the same girl her memories of me might lead you to believe, Naraku. I'm not merely Ukyo Kounji anymore. I am the Dragon's Guardian, the reincarnation of Song Orihime, and I am going to save her from you." Her eyes narrowed as a large shadow crossed her before something huge landed in the courtyard behind her and her grin widened. "And I am going to make you suffer for what you have done to her."
Cloves voice was growling as she chanted, and the aura of barely contained rage around her was nearly palpable. Around her, half a dozen Konatsu's were busily chalking a complex web of symbols and geometric forms on the dojo floor under Ying Ying's direction.
Akane shook her head as she lowered her cell. "Lo Shen isn't answering." She looked at the shadow clones and the two unconscious forms hovering in mid air at either side of the circle. "So what's she doing?"
Ying-Ying looked over. "We're creating a gate. Clove's going to use the Chaos crystals to track them back to their controller." She grimaced. "Unfortunately, it's not going to pleasant for the two of them."
Shan Pu shrugged. "Cannot be helped, nyah. Student's in danger, must retrieve."
"It's going to hurt, but it won't physically harm them." Clove said as the clones poofed into smoke. "Don't interfere. I've warded the dojo, so no-one will hear the screaming."
"Hey, wait, they're girls!" Ranma protested as Clove stepped into the circle.
Glowing green eyes turned to glare at him. "They'll live." Clove said coldly. "Don't let your sentiments make you stupid. I don't have time to do this nicely." She turned back and resumed chanting, her hands starting to glow as she raised them, and then without warning plunged them into the stomachs of the two sisters.
"Wha!" Ranma exclaimed as he started towards the circle, only to be stopped by Ying-Ying interposing herself. "They're fine, her hands are phased. Let her do what has to be done!"
He winced as the girls started screaming when Clove began pulling, black lightning crawling along her arms. The symbols all around her started glowing as a swirl of darkness began forming in the center of the circle.
"What do we do with Chibi-Usa?" Akane asked, nodding at the little girl who was covering her ears and cowering.
"We're going to have to take her with us. We can't take a chance they'll break free while we're gone." Ying-Ying said. "I'll do my best to protect her while you rescue the girls." she pulled her hat from behind her back and un-tucked the ofuda. "I can see what I can do about providing support as well, but I don't have a lot of ranged combat spells, mainly shields and a few missile style attacks. Anything stronger I have to get close enough to place an ofuda on them." She put the hat on, her hair braiding itself into a long tail as a staff formed in her hand and her tunic grew large belled sleeves.
Akane raised an eyebrow. "I've been meaning to ask. What's with the outfit change when you wear that hat?"
Ying-Ying smiled. "I'm a Chinese Ghost, Akane. It's stereotypical I know, but what can I do? At least I don't have to wear the white face paint and the dramatic eye makeup unless I feel like it."
Clove finished drawing the two crystals, and the screams subsided. They floated in front of her, the black lightning arcing between them and the swirling blackness. As she continued chanting, a series of mystical circles formed around the spiky spheres and began rotating like gyroscopes. A similar set formed around the darkness, their glowing lines orbiting quickly at first then slowing as they began to align, finally locking together into a border around the swirl. The crystals disintegrated as Clove made a crushing motion with her hand.
"I've got it. Barely. It's almost a hundred miles straight up, right at the limit of how far I can build a gate without a week's preparation time." she said with satisfaction. "But I can sense the girls, and I've kept that Rubeus person from noticing the gate anchor. Once I open it though, we're only going to have a few seconds to get through."
Ranma cracked her knuckles and tugged her gloves tight, having changed genders and into her sensei outfit to match Akane and Shan Pu. "That won't be a problem. We'll just go in and the beat the shit out of that guy and get the girls back."
Akane looked at her. "You do realize this is probably a trap, right?"
Ranma shrugged. "Doesn't matter. We just smash whatever he tries."
"I really hope it will be that easy." She looked over to where Ying-Ying was telling Chibi-Usa what they were going to do as she helped the small girl climb onto her back. "We ready?"
They nodded, and stepped in front of the gate. Clove raised her hand and traced a glowing sigil in the air. "I can't tell you how exposed the opening on the other side is going to be, so be ready."
With a last gesture, the gate snapped into a hole in the air through which they could see a dark hallway made of what appeared to be crystal. Without a word, they plunged through.
Kagura eyed the fighting going on in the castle from the far side of the partially destroyed bridge where she stood guard over the horses and Rin and Shippou with Kohaku. Sanjuro held the reins nearby while Jaken wrung his hands and hopped from foot to foot in anxiety.
"Why would the master tell me leave like that?" he whined.
Kagura turned and pointed to the woods at the base of the hill, where just beyond the destroyed village the dark figures of Naraku's mechanical soldiers were starting to emerge. "Doubtless your master desired you to protect the child from those while he fought Naraku." she said, having had enough prior experience with the diminutive servant of Shesshomaru to know he'd never understand that his master considered him useless in real combat. "Fire works best against them after all."
Kohaku put his shoulder to a large boulder. "Help me push this over, and maybe we can block the path and slow them down."
Shippou and Kagura stepped next to him and helped, an effort aided by a tremor shaking the ground as the air behind them shattered from a wind scar. The avalanche created crushed the front ranks of the approaching mechs, but the others began crawling over the rubble. A second avalanche was started a moment later as the black form of Zhu Shu was hurled into the cliff face below them. Ukyo followed with her explosion strike, but the dragoness dodged out of the way. The two of them shot back skywards, oblivious to the havoc their fight caused among the mechanicals. Rei was somewhat more aware as she landed on a nearby rock, taking a moment to unleash a Firesoul down at the soldiers before leaping after the two fighting in mid air. Kohaku looked after them and chuckled. "Damn, they're fast."
Then there was little time to do anything but fight. Jaken took a place on a rock overlooking the path and rained fire down on the mechs as Kohaku and Kagura destroyed those which managed to reach the tops of the cliff, hurling the wreckage back down into Jaken's fire. Shippou dropped several tops down the path, the spinning devices knocking the mechanical soldiers aside and slowing their advance considerably.
But despite it all, there were just too many. For every one they managed to destroy fully, two more poured out of the woods, and even some of the destroyed mechs were rebuilding themselves out of mismatched parts. Kohaku engaged a six armed monstrosity that crawled over the edge while Kagura was forced to move back as a mech composed of a dozen upper torsos snaked after her like a centipede. A hasty windblade slashed it apart but the collapsing creature knocked her off her feet.
She shook her head to clear it as she rolled over to stand up, then froze in horror as she looked up to see herself reflected in Kanna's mirror.
She didn't even have time to scream.
Nabiki shook her head to clear it, debris from the wall she'd been hurled through falling to the ground amid bones and dust.
The fight with Mouryoumaru had been fast and vicious. Tao-Ching hadn't even bothered with words as the giant had landed, merely launched himself into an all out attack against the shapeshifter. The fighters had been doing everything they could to chop the monster apart, while Nabiki and Miroku worked together to dispose of the pieces before they could rejoin by swallowing them with his wind tunnel. It had been working at reducing his mass, but a wild swing had blindsided her and sent her flying into the main hall.
She looked around the dimness, her eyes struggling to adjust to the shadows. The bright pink glow of her shield illuminated the dust disturbed by her sudden intrusion, making it hard to see more than just a few feet. Just at the edge of vision she could see a raised dais and the outlines of a large throne like chair.
And in that chair set Naraku.
"Kekeke. If it isn't a most troublesome rabbit making her way into my den."
Terror seized her as she realized she was all alone with the youkai, and that there was nothing anyone fighting out in the courtyard could do to rescue her. They couldn't even be aware of her danger. Naraku laughed.
"Just like a rabbit too. That lovely look of panic in your eye. But you have nothing to fear, Nabiki Tendo. I intend to cause you no harm, unless you force me too. No, I think you can be far too useful to simply kill."
She shuddered at the malicious pleasure oozing through Naraku's voice. "I won't be your slave, you asshole."
"Slave? Such a nasty term. I was hoping for a far more equitable business arrangement. That clever mind of yours holds far more value to me unchained and in my employ."
"Like that deal you gave Zhu Shu? Spare me the insults to my intelligence. I know what you want. And I know that you can't get it unless I drop this shield. You're not going to make me a zombie under your control with a shard!"
Naraku's smile grew more vicious. "You think to stop me? You? Your potential is great, but you've barely even begun to tap it. It will take years for you to learn to control your talents. You are an insect! But- you are a potentially useful insect. You know you've always taken care of yourself, Nabiki. The others are going to die. You can't help them, but I'm offering you a chance to become everything you have ever dreamed. I can teach you how to master your powers. You would be a brilliant general over my armies, and rule as a god!"
Nabiki spat. "Not interested, douchebag. That Nabiki is gone." She stood, the pink glow around her reducing to cling to her skin. "I will not abandon my friends"
Naraku frowned. "Then you can join them in death!" His tentacles lashed out with blinding speed and wrapped around her. "You might be able to stop my miasma, but how long can you resist being crushed to death like the bug you are."
Nabiki grunted as the coils tightened, and she felt her ribs creak. She pushed back as hard as she could but the bands were like iron. She glared impotently at the demon as she furiously tried to think of a way to get loose. Then her eyes were drawn to a glint of light behind him, and a fierce grin crossed her face.
"I'm not a bug, demon. I'm Nabiki Tendo, the Ice Queen of Furinkan High, and I refuse to lose to a jerk like you!"
Naraku howled as Burekaishi slashed down through his tentacles, the massive sword held by a large glowing pink hand. Nabiki shrugged off the dissipating remnants as she gave Naraku a flippant look. "You're not the only one who has an extendable reach!" she cried as she brought the giant blade around in an arc that slashed through the throne just after Naraku vacated it. She slashed at him repeatedly as he dodged and weaved around the shadowy room, but the large blade was unwieldy, even though she couldn't feel its weight. He snaked behind her and pressed his talons against her neck.
"Once that sword was a threat to me, but I have evolved beyond the point that any weapon can harm me. You cannot even hit me with it, and now you are trapped." He hissed in her ear.
A giant pink fist erupted out of Nabiki's back, smashing the youkai back through the wall, into the courtyard, then a second even larger one shoved the rest of the wall aside as Nabiki emerged from the cloud of dust. "Oh yeah! Like hell, asshole! I am going to beat you through the ground, then do it again after you regenerate! I'm a goddamn Pink Lantern! Nobody fucks with my friends and family and gets away with it!" The floating hand bearing Burekaishi shook the blade. "And you went through too much trouble trying to guard this thing to make me think it's harmless. I may not be good at using it, but then again, it's not my weapon, is it?" She gave a vicious grin. "Hey Furball. Got a toy for you!"
Tao-Ching had already been headed her way, getting between her and the momentarily paused battle with Moryoumaru, which had come to a stop as everyone was staring at the furiously glowing girl. He switched his zanbatou to his left hand and caught the sword as Naraku made an abortive attempt to catch the blade, stopping mid lunge as a pink bubble wrapped around him and held him motionless.
Then the pommel touched Tao-Ching's hand and a wave of light washed everything away.
The hallway opened into a giant open space, and Rubeus was waiting. He stood on a dais hovering a good ten feet above the floor, looking down at them from between two of the many mirrors floating around the circular platform.
"Did you really think you could surprise me?" he sneered. "I know everything that occurs to my pets." He waved dramatically as spot lights illuminated five crosses hanging in the darkness above him. The naked forms of the unconscious senshi hung limply from them. "It's a pity you managed to get here so quickly. I haven't even had a chance to have some fun with them."
"Bastard!" Ranma yelled. "If you've laid one fucking finger on them..."
Rubeus's laughter cut her off. "Save your threats, faggot. I'll get to you soon enough." he turned to look at Clove. "You hid yourself well Dragon's Child, but not well enough. Surrender yourself and the Rabbit, and I'll let your friends live. Resist, and they will all suffer far worse than death."
Clove grinned evilly. "I will never surrender to a tool of Xi'an Chi, you fool. And while I am the Dragon's Child, I'm not the one you probably believe I am, which is too bad for you!"
Her hands blazed as she began chanting rapidly, a glowing hexagram forming in front of her hand as a beam of argent light lanced out at Rubeus. It shattered nearly a dozen feet in front of him as he laughed.
"Your spells are useless here, mage. This entire vessel was created for the sole purpose of imprisoning you!"
The darkness all around them was shattered by layer after layer of mystical circles igniting as Clove cried out in pain. She collapsed to her knees as she screamed, streamers of light erupting from all over her body and being sucked into the swirling designs. Ying-Ying collapsed as well, clutching her head as she gasped in pain.
"Shit, H-he's draining our mana!" she managed to gasp out.
Akane, Ranma and Shan Pu were already on the move. As one they leaped to cut Rubeus down, but less than half way to him, they were slammed to the ground with incredible force. They struggled to lift themselves from the ground as Rubeus continued to laugh.
"Fools! I have prepared for every contingency. You are powerless before the force of gravity! The generators aboard this ship can exert the power of more than a dozen Earths. Feel the crushing weight of the planet Jupiter as it smashes the life from your bodies slowly."
Ranma struggled futilely as the world began to go dark around her...
As the pommel touched his hand, the world changed.
"I curse you to wander all your days." Naraku said with a laugh, his hand on the forehead of the eldest surviving member of the Hibiki clan. "From now until forever, may you never know your way, may the sun rise in the west, and the moon set in the north. From one footstep to the next shall your path be unknown, and may you be scattered to the four corners of the earth. Thus I pronounce my curse."
Tao-Ching shook his head and looked around. Everything was frozen. He stood in the same courtyard, but it was both the one he had been fighting Mouryoumaru in as well as one that was filled with hundreds of men dressed in armor fighting a horde of youkai. Through the shattered wall he could see Naraku standing before the throne, a body hanging gutted behind him from the same blade that was in his hand.
And at the same time, the form of that same body stood before him, undamaged. The figure bowed.
"Greetings, Tao-Ching. I am Mihu Hibiki."
Tao-Ching raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. Yeah. Granddad's talked about you. You're supposed to be like some hotshot ancestor of mine, right?"
The figure laughed. "You could say that. Truthfully though, I'm just a projection of Burekaishi. I'm here to test you."
"What, we gonna fight or something?"
Mihu laughed again. "Not quite. I'm simply here to ask you a question."
"Oh?" Tao-Ching looked down at the sword in his hand. "And I guess my answer will determine whether you will accept me as your master, hummmmm?"
The figure before him smiled. "Very well. Who are you?"
The world shattered around him as he felt his mind shred. Memories swirled and twisted in a hurricane, playing before his eyes in a hundred thousand still frames. Every battle he had ever had, every moment of combat from his earliest days training with Rin Se to his current fight with Mouryoumaru flashed across his vision. And with every image, he felt like a hammer pounded against his skull. There was no pain, but with each blow he heard a ringing, as of steel on steel. With each hammer blow, with every memory, he felt like a piece of steel being pounded on an anvil.
Both the sword and its wielder are unbreakable, forged together of the same steel. Yet the sword can only be as strong as the hand that wields it.
Who are you, Tao-Ching? the sword whispered in his mind. Are you strong enough to be steel?
The ringing continued as each hammer blow fell. Chime after chime grew louder as Tao-Ching started to laugh.
"For all things there is a price, Burekaishi. Here's my question for you." He raised the blade in front of him and smiled. "ARE YOU STRONG ENOUGH TO BE MY SWORD!"
He brought the sword over and down, a hammer blow straight into the stone floor of the courtyard. Time lurched into motion again as the rock shattered and a cloud of dust surrounded him. Like a veil of darkness, something before him split as Naraku howled in pain. Tao-Ching took a deep breath as he felt something leave him, like a second shadow that had always trailed behind him.
He chuckled and looked over to where Naraku had staggered to his knees. "So, I guess that was your curse."
Naraku's hate filled eyes bored into him. "It will avail you naught. The power you have ripped from me can be replaced. That blade can no longer kill me. It is meaningless."
Tao-Ching straightened. He looked down at the split in the rock that crossed the courtyard and grinned. "I guess the answer to that is - yes." he looked up at Mouryoumaru, then back at Naraku, still encased in Nabiki's bubble. "Stay there. It's been a while since I've used twin zanbatou. This is likely to get messy."
Ranma fought the darkness threatening to overwhelm her as the relentless weight of her own body tried to crush her. I have to be stronger than this. I can't lose to this bastard! I CAN'T!
Memories crossed her mind in a haze, the pressure of the gravitational assault making it hard for the blood to circulate in her body and depriving her brain of oxygen. She found her mind drawn back to a conversation she had once had with Zhu Shu as they sat next to the fire the day before they entered the Amazon Village.
"Why Ranma try be so strong?" Zhu Shu had asked, stirring the kettle on the fire. "Must be reason Ranma desire strength."
Ranma shrugged. "I donno. To be the best I suppose. A guy's got his pride, you know."
"Zhu Shu sees. Is pride only reason?"
"Yeah, I guess. I mean what other reason do I need? I've spent my entire life training, right? To be the best martial artist in the world. I mean, why do you try so hard? There had to be a reason you learned to fight so well too, right?"
"Yes, Zhu Shu have reason." she said, looking off into the distance. "or Zhu Shu had one once," she said sadly.
"Huh? So what, you don't have one now?"
Zhu Shu shrugged. "It not matter."
"So what was your reason?"
Zhu Shu tasted the contents of the kettle before answering. "For love. Zhu Shu learn to protect those Zhu Shu love."
"For love?" Ranma snickered. "Sounds like what I'd expect a girl to say."
Zhu Shu gave him an evil eye. "Is Ranma wanting cold bath? Zhu Shu has water pot right here."
"Hey wait, no I just got changed back!"
Zhu Shu harrumphed as she stirred the pot again. "Grandfather say true strength come when one fight for other. True strength come only from love..."
The memory slipped away to be replaced by one of her sitting in an ice cream parlor talking to Belldandy...
"I do hope you won't think this is intrusive of me, but everyone makes mistakes. I think that this Akane must really love you to be so affected by what you say." the goddess said gently.
Ranma looked up from her ice cream. "Ya really think so? So why'd she want to sleep with Zhu-chan?"
Belldandy clasped her hands in front of her as she gave Ranma a kind smile."Well… humans have a very deep need to feel loved and to love. It's one of the most wonderful things about them. But those needs sometimes can cause people to do things in a kind of desperation. When they have too much of a need to feel love, they may try to find it wherever they can. They may not even realize that it's what they're looking for, but sometimes the need is so great that no price seems too great, no action too extreme."
Ranma looked at her curiously. "Really? I mean I've seen stuff like that on TV and stuff, but real life ain't like that."
Belldandy smiled again. "Whether you believe it or not, it is. Humans will do anything for love. Beyond hope, beyond fate, beyond even survival, love is the motivator that will make a man or woman overcome any hardship, any danger. Love has changed the fate of the world more times than anyone will ever know, Ranma. It has changed the course of more worlds than you could ever even conceive. You never know, in some worlds, perhaps even you have dared to challenge the gods for love..."
Dare to challenge the gods for love...
The weight was making it impossible to breath, and she heard Akane's gasps next to her. Shan Pu's strained voice came from beyond her as she struggled as well...
If I don't get up, they are going to die...
"I- I am R-Ranma S-Saotome..." she managed between gritted teeth but stopped. She had no breath to continue. Darkness pressed in as she heard Chibi-Usa crying faintly in the distance. She felt her mind slipping away as the sound faded...
"Hey. Is it really okay to leave it like this?"
She opened her eyes to stare at a pair of shoes.
"Seriously. Are you really fine with just giving up?"
They were a really familiar pair of shoes too.
"I mean, yeah, you tried really hard. He was just better, right? No-one can condemn you for not being able to beat him."
She tilted her head to look up and glare at herself. "Shut up."
"Oh come on. You had to know sooner or later you'd run into someone you couldn't beat."
"Just lay there and take it easy. It'll all be over soon enough."
"I said, shut up!"
"Of course, Akane and Shan Pu will be joining you too, so it's okay, right?"
"God damn you, SHUT UP!"
Her doppleganger grinned. "Make me."
Her eyes opened again. Rubeus's laughter mingled with Clove's screams as her hand twitched. A thousand thoughts raced across her mind as she placed her palm flat against the floor. Technique after technique raced through her head, bits and pieces of conversations half remembered, memories of watching a thousand different masters. She felt the thrumming of the floor under her palm, and felt the faint tracery of power within it.
"You can't just train the body, boy." she remembered Ke Lun saying. "One day, you are going to have to tame that Chi of yours..."
She stared at her hand... and at the rivers flowing through it.
"True strength come only from love." Zhu Shu's voice whispered.
She'd seen her do it so many times...
The rivers flowed through her, their red light driving the darkness away. Her hand pressed against the floor, her arm raising as she pushed herself upwards. The light flowed through her as she reviewed what she had seen over and over. The ribbons were just a tool to focus...
She stood, her hands making a series of passes as she shaped and wove the light. Her eyes raised to the still laughing form of Rubeus as he looked down at her in contempt.
"So you're man enough to manage to stand? Hard to imagine coming from one who's become so much of a girl. Still, what do you think you can do against me?" Rubeus's hair exploded into flames as his eyes glowed red. "You're just a pathetic human. What chance do you stand against an Ifrit?" He laughed as his hands began to burn and he raised them to point at Ranma. "I admire your will, so I will kill you quickly."
Twin fireballs streaked towards her as Ranma raised her hands, a swirling mass of red held between them. Tendrils stretched forward, forming into a spiral as she smiled.
"Dragon tail whip..."
Kohaku tried to disengage from the mechanical soldiers to attack the colorless girl standing before the wind sorceress, laying slumped on the ground, but he was blocked by a dozen of them clambering over the cliff.
Shippou was frantically tossing tops while Jaken danced from boulder to boulder trying to burn the soldiers "We're being overrun!" he yelled as Rin screamed in fear.
"Give me a sword!" Sanjuro yelled as he ripped the bandages from over his eyes. Rin stopped screaming as she heard him and frantically looked around, grabbing at the first weapon she saw, the katana sticking out from the pack attached to Tao-Ching's saddle. She lunged across the backs of the horses to slap the sheath into the samurai's hand. Lightning crackled between it and his hand as he looked down at it in surprise, then a grin crossed his face.
"Well, well, old friend. So you were right here all the time."
Laughter rang out across the clifftop as Sanjuro leaped at the soldiers pouring over the cliff. His sword flew out of its sheath in a flash of brilliance as lightning scattered the mechs, their metal shells exploding.
"You stole my name and my honor with a cowardly ambush, but no more! Come and taste death at the hands of Raijin Hasai!"
Kagura sat surrounded in mists, staring blankly into nothing.
Where am I.
Memories answered her. The fight, and then her reflection.
That's right. Kanna stole my soul. I'm trapped here...
A tear rolled down her cheek.
Slowly, her hand rose to touch her cheek.
I... I am crying...
Slowly her eyes shifted to focus on her wet fingers.
I have never cried...
Why am I crying?
Distant memories came to her, misty and diffuse. A night, standing on a wall overlooking a village...
A sob escaped her lips.
I am... crying...
That's right... I am crying for... him...
Memories of a breeze blowing her hair, ruffling the bangs that hung into his eyes as she looked at her reflection in them...
Words... faint, distant...
Make me yours...
Her eyes closed.
Slowly, her hand clenched.
Her eyes opened again as a determined look came across her face.
You can't have my soul, Kanna.
A smile crossed her lips as the mists around her started to swirl.
It doesn't belong to you, Kanna.
The mists tumbled rapidly around her as a wind began to rise.
You can't have it.
Her smile grew as the winds began to howl, tearing the mists to tatters.
I won't let you take it!
She stood, the winds a hurricane around her.
BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE!
The winds and the mist vanished leaving Kagura standing in darkness on a pool of light.
A tear fell from her face to splash into the pool, creating ripples that spread out across the light to reach the shadows at the edge of the pool. As they reached the far side, a small figure stepped out of the darkness and into the light.
Stay with me...
Kagura shook her head.
Stay with me...
The small colorless girl stared at her, her pale hair stirring slightly as her expressionless eyes gazed up at Kagura.
Stay with me... onee-chan...
Kagura's eyes closed as her breath caught and she trembled. But finally she shook her head and opened her eyes to look at the small girl again.
I cannot, Kanna.
Kanna's eyes lowered.
Kagura turned and began walking away. At the edge of the pool, she stopped. For a long moment she stood there motionless. Then she turned and looked back at the silent figure still standing in the middle of the pool. She raised her hand and smiled softly.
Come with me...
Kanna's blank eyes rose to meet Kagura's. She stared dispassionately at the outstretched hand.
Come with me, Kanna.
The surface of the pool of light cracked.
Kagura laughed softly.
Because you are my sister...
...and I love you.
The pool fractured, a web of cracks spreading outwards from Kanna in all directions. Slowly they spread as the tiny girl stared at Kagura's outstretched hand.
Come with me, little sister.
For long seconds, there was only the sound of cracking glass...
Then slowly, Kanna stepped forward.
The cracks shot outwards with lightning speed, going beyond the pool as fractures began to appear even in the darkness surrounding them.
Kanna took another step...
And as she took Kagura's hand, the world shattered.
The battle was fast and furious. Mouryoumaru lashed out as Shessomaru leaped over his massive arm, Tokujin slashing down to sever the limb. He landed gracefully as he ducked under a return swipe from the quickly regenerated arm. Tatewaki stepped past him, his Tetsusaiga blurring as his hundred strikes blow slammed into the giant's body. Mouryoumaru staggered as Inuyasha descended, diamond spears lashing down to pierce through the rubbery torso of the giant, while Tao-Ching followed up with series of slashes to Mouryoumaru's legs that dropped him to his knees, dodging out of the way as a dozen tentacles lashed down trying to impale him.
"God damn it, how the hell can he keep regenerating so fast!"
Kagome fired another arrow that lanced into Mouryoumaru's shoulder. "His shard is there! Maybe if you can get to it!"
Inuyasha growled. "I'll shred him to fucking peices!"
Still concentrating on keeping Naraku contained, Nabiki was watching him intently. It was odd. He had seemed to have recovered from the breaking of the curse and now he seemed utterly unconcerned that he was imprisoned. Distracted even. He stood unmoving, observing the fight with his arms crossed as if he was indifferent to the outcome.
"Damn it," she muttered to herself. "What the hell is he up too."
His eyes lifted to look to the side, and Nabiki followed his gaze to see that it looked like Ukyo had finally subdued Zhu Shu.
Then Naraku smiled... and suddenly Nabiki was very, very afraid.
Zhu Shu's body sat on the ground before Ukyo as the armored girl look down at her. The Dragon girl's hair covered her eyes as Ukyo could feel the weight of Naraku's glare upon her.
"Give her up, Naraku. You might be able to control her body, but you can't use her to fight at anywhere near a level sufficient to match me."
"Kekeke. I have little choice but to agree with you, Ukyo. Keeping her locked away in her own mind is certainly taxing. But you can hardly expect me to allow you to have her so easily."
Rei approached, her hands burning. "It won't matter once I burn out whatever it is you have controlling her!"
"Fool. Did you really think I didn't have a back-up plan?" Dark laughter emerged from Zhu Shu's mouth. "You may have bested me, but can you defeat her?"
Zhu Shu screamed in rage as she hurled herself against the black wall Naraku had locked her away behind as Ukyo had begun her attack. She pounded futilely against the barrier, terrified that he had already hurt Ukyo or even killed her.
"You bastard! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"
Naraku's mocking laughter filled the darkness as the wall collapsed. With a lurch, Zhu Shu found herself lying on the ground as Naraku laughed above her. Ukyo's body lay at his feet, blood covering her from multiple wounds and covering the ground around her. Zhu Shu stared into her lifeless eyes in shock before every thought fled before an overwhelming need to kill the demon standing before her.
Ukyo stepped back as Zhu Shu's eyes went from black to jade green, and began burning as they filled with murderous rage. The dragon girl's aura burned around her as the ground began fracturing and waves of pressure pushed the chef backwards. The dragons on Zhu Shu's swords ignited as hate filled eyes met hers.
"Nothing will stop me from killing you now, demon." Zhu Shu snarled.
"Wha-" was all Ukyo had time to say as every warning system in her armor began to scream. She barely blocked the dragon girl's attack, frantically twirling Wrathseeker as she blocked strikes from a dozen directions in an eyeblink. "Zhu Shu, what are you doing!?"
"Beg for your life all you wish demon! I WILL DESTROY YOU!"
The power outputs all across her systems spiked as Ukyo desperately accelerated her time sense to be able to meet the furious onslaught from the dragon girl. A dozen ribbons emerged from the base of her spine, moving to block the lightning quick strikes from the glowing blades and slashing ribbons welded by the other girl and Ukyo launched herself skywards to avoid the shock wave from a Earth wave strike.
She tried to keep out of Zhu Shu's range, but the dragon girl was relentless. She hurled her swords to either side, the ribbons wrapping around her wrists as she began to twirl in mid air. Ukyo desperately blocked as the swords attacked her from every side, dancing around her as Zhu Shu used the ribbons like whips. Ribbon after ribbon was cut away as she blocked furiously, new ones emerging from her armor as the severed ones faded.
Then Zhu Shu pulled her swords back, looking down at Ukyo from above. "You defend yourself well demon. But I will still have your head."
"Please, Zhu Shu, wait! Why are you attacking me?" Ukyo pleaded.
But the dragon girl said nothing, merely extended her swords to either side and released them. The dragons flared brilliantly as they floated beside her, then began to orbit around her, ghost images emerging around them until Zhu Shu was surrounded by a forest of glowing swords. Zhu Shu glared at Ukyo as warnings screamed from the butterfly in the back of her mind.
Zhu Shu's smile was vicious as she softly intoned words that seemed to shake the very world.
"Shiva's Dance, Ultimate Attack. Dance at World's End"
The blades of light shot out to surround Ukyo, her armor automatically trying to reinforce her shields as Ukyo realized there was no way to avoid the hundreds of swords heading straight for her heart. Ribbons shot out by the dozens as they tried to form layer after layer of defense. But it was to no avail. The swords shattered the shield and exploded. Red lights crossed her HUD as her armor shut down, the blue neon fading as in a daze she started to fall...
The fireballs were consumed by the red light that shot from Ranma's hands to strike Rubeus dead center of his chest. He was hurled backwards to crash against a black crystal embedded in a pedestal behind him. As it shattered, the pressure suddenly stopped and the mystic circles exploded into motes of light as the entire ship gave a lurch and a distant explosion could be heard.
"God damn you. I am going to rip you limb from limb for that, bitch!" Rebeus growled as he regained his feet. "I am going to roast you alive and eat you!"
Ranma assumed a stance. "Bring it on, asshole."
She deflected the fireballs Rebeus hurled as he lunged forward, and blocked the punch that followed, smoothly stepping aside as Shan Pu's Bon Buri slammed into the Ifrit's stomach. Rubeus growled in rage as he parried a strike from Akane's swords, and leaped over a follow up from her ribbons. He landed in a crouch, his arms crossed above his head as he intercepted another attack from Shan Pu, then whirled to block Ranma's punch with his palm. He followed up with an elbow strike to her ribs that sent the red-head backwards, doing a back flip as she absorbed the blow.
Then another, closer explosion rocked the ship and Rubeus staggered for a second, long enough for Akane to hit him in the back with a Earth Wave. He was hurled into the air, but twisted in mid air to land cat-like on the dais. He looked down at them and sneered.
"I'll admit you are better than I expected. But you are still no match for me!" he laughed. "Now, watch as your friends die in agony!"
He raised his hands and columns of fire erupted to engulf the crosses. Mad laughter rung out for several seconds as Ranma, Akane and Shan Pu looked at Rubeus unmoved. His laughter faded as he realized something wasn't right.
Ranma cracked her knuckles.
Rubeus whirled to look up at the cross and blinked to see they were empty. Then his eyes rose to look at the black clad figure floating in the air amidst the flames, her white hair whipping in the hot winds.
Clove smiled, her fangs glinting in the light. "An Ifrit, huh. Oh, I am going to enjoy this!"
Rubeus screamed in rage, and lifted his arms, the fires in his hands flaring as the fires around Clove exploded into a tornado of flame. Clove just smiled as she chanted, magic circles spinning around her hands as she lifted them to point at Rubeus. As she finished the chant, giant blades of ice lanced downwards to slam into the dais on either side of the Ifrit. For a second it looked like they were encasing his arms as the fires in his hands died...
Then the blood began to trickle down as his arms fell to the floor and he slumped to his knees.
Clove landed before him and knelt, reaching out to lift his face up as she smiled savagely. "Never fuck with a dragon, asshole. For you are crunchy, and good with ketchup."
Another explosion rocked the ship as she stood, letting Rubeus fall face first to the floor. She stepped over him and floated down to the floor. She giggled at the look Ranma and her lovers were giving her.
"I left him alive. Stop looking so shocked. I could have just eaten him after all."
Akane just sighed before following her to where Ying-Ying was waking up the other girls. Several more explosions rocked the ship before they could get everyone herded into the gate home.
As the gate faded away, a glow appeared from one of the mirrors on the dais, and the green dragon woman appeared. She chuckled as she looked down at the unconscious form of Rubeus. Still giggling insanely she turned him over and ran her claw down his front. After she had stripped his clothes away she knelt between his legs and licked her lips.
Then the screams began.
Rei had been desperately trying to follow the fight between Ukyo and Zhu Shu. She had several times destroyed small groups of the mech soldiers that had tried to jump the chef during those brief times the fight had stayed on the ground, but try as she might, she had barely been able to keep track of the fast moving pair.
When Ukyo had finally managed to drive the dragon girl to the ground, she had hoped it was finally over, but when Zhu Shu had called Ukyo a demon, she had almost cried as she realized what Naraku was doing.
He'd freed her, only to wrap her in a illusion.
Even as a Senshi, she was powerless to stop what was happening. She watched as her loved ones fought in mid air, far beyond her reach and wished desperately for a means to save them...
Then, as Uyko began to fall, a calmness settled over her, and she felt a heavy weight in her hand.
She lifted the Phoenix wand before her and stared into the eyes of the Dragon, her violet eyes swirling and changing to gold..
"Mars Phoenix power, ignite" she whispered...
With the addition of Sanjuro to the fray, Kohaku could finally manage to spare a second to try and rescue Kagura. He leaped away from the falling mechanical, his blade aimed for Kanna's throat.
But a fraction of an inch before it reached her, a hand intercepted it. He looked in shock at the hand which had stopped his wrist, and followed the arm down to look into Kagura's red eyes.
"Don't, please, Kohaku. Please don't hurt my little sister."
He blinked in shock, but lowered his weapon. He turned to the colorless girl, still clutching her mirror, her blank stare as empty as ever. She returned his gaze dispassionately, but made no move, her mirror reflecting nothing at all.
Kagura rose to her knees. "We had a little talk. That's all." She smiled as she reached over to pet Kanna on the head.
And Kanna whispered "Onee-chan."
Kohaku looked back and forth between them, before finally nodding. "Right." he turned to where Sanjuro and Jaken were making short work of the last few mechs. "Time to finish this then."
Ukyo slammed into the courtyard with a shockwave powerful enough to send everyone flying.
She had no more than a second to realize her armor was offline and that Wrathseeker was nowhere to be seen before a scream descending from above made her look up to see Zhu Shu diving at her with both swords. She looked at the twin blades heading for her heart and knew she was about to die. She was frozen, unable to move as she watched the blades descend.
I am sorry, my love... I have failed you when you needed me most...
Then suddenly, Rei was there, standing over Ukyo, and time slowed to a crawl.
Zhu Shu's swords were held motionless, their blades piecing the priestess's hands as she clutched the guards, droplets of her blood floating like bubbles in molasses flying slowly in all directions around the two. Despite the slow shock wave of impact roiling the air around them, Rei stood casually, as if it had been no greater than that of a leaf's. Her eyes were closed and the expression on her face was serene and it seemed like more than just her Senshi uniform had been transformed by her secondary henshin.
The Phoenix wand had replaced the previous outfit with a new one that was vastly different, and which Ukyo immediately realized had to have been designed by the same hand as her armor. A golden chestplate in the shape of a phoenix with spread wings cupped Rei's small breasts, just barely managing to cover her nipples while simultaneously emphasizing her slender form. The Phoenix's head glared from just below the midline of her breasts, and a small cloth formed a short tail that stopped just above her navel. A smaller version of it clung to her abdomen, its wings following the curves of her hips and supporting a short loincloth that barely reached mid thigh. Another phoenix sat on her lower back, this one supporting a long cloth that seemed to catch fire as it descended into numerous peacock feather like ends. Delicate golden sandals graced feet that floated inches above the ground, held in place by more of the bird shaped symbols. But as beautiful and alluring as the dress was, it faded in comparison to the glorious wings of living fire that spread from her shoulders. She was a firebird brought to life, haloed by a dragon mandala of golden light.
And then Uyko heard an echo of herself as Orihime, By the gods, she looks even more glorious than I thought she would, and had to blink as she suddenly realized she recognized the Court Regalia that Lady Phoenix had never gotten to wear in her previous life, followed by a blush as she remembered the consultations with Lin, Ying-Ying, and Ye-Ying as she had made sketch after sketch designing it. Oh my god, she thought, I'm the letch who designed our court garb.
Then time started again, slowly, as Rei's eyes opened to reveal irises of pure molten gold and she stared deep into Zhu Shu's burning eyes.
Details Ukyo shouldn't have noticed burned themselves into her senses. The dragons on Zhu Shu's swords suddenly burning with golden fire. A resonant crystalline thrumming. The stillness of the time stretched moment…
… And three drops of Rei's blood that splashed on Zhu Shu's face in a perfect triangle, one dot between her eyes, and on each cheek, forming a bright red contrast to Zhu Shu's ebony skin. Then, as if drawn by a brush, they began to spread. From the center out, they formed precise lines, the one on her forehead shaped like a V with its upper arms curved inwards and the ones on her cheek like Vs laid on their side, one arm following the curve of her eye socket, the other tracing down the lines of her cheeks. And as they ceased to grow, she heard Rei whisper "I love you" in a voice that seemed overlaid with a voice so deep that it couldn't even be heard as more than a tremble in the air.
Time suddenly slammed back to normal speed as the marks on Zhu Shu's face glowed and her eyes ceased to burn, her slit pupils staring directly into Rei's golden eyes. She blinked in confusion. "Wha…" She looked past Rei to where Ukyo was still on her knees behind the priestess. "But… Naraku…"
Realization of how Naraku had tricked her brought horror to her eyes, followed by a howl of pure inarticulate rage as her marks flared into blinding light. The resonant crystal hum grew louder and louder as the ground began shaking and a wind began swirling around the priestess and the dragon girl. The wind grew into a howl as a vortex of power formed, and a shock wave of energy surged outwards, knocking even the giant Mouryoumaru off his feet as Ukyo's sensors flared and died. Zhu Shu let go of the hilts of her swords as they began to slide out of Rei's hands and rose slowly into the vortex with her, joined by dozens of glowing copies that began orbiting her. As the swords left her palms, Rei's eyes closed, a low moan escaping her lips as her wings folded inwards and faded and she slowly collapsed to her knees, the cuts in her hands looking like they were already partially healed. Rei didn't seem to be in pain from them as she lifted a hand to her head and swayed.
The vortex around Zhu Shu grew more intense as her eyes closed and the marks on her face began to trail plumes of plasma. Her hands clinched as the vortex around her came to an abrupt stop with a tension that was palpable, the swords hovering upright around her, their ribbons encircling the naked dragon-girl. She shook violently as Ukyo felt the dark wall that blocked the link pulse. Come on Zhu-chan. You can break his hold. I know you can! she thought desperately at the blankness.
Then the butterfly at the back of Ukyo's head erupted with a howl as from out of the burning marks on Zhu Shu's face, four sparkling crystals floated to hover before her, and a black mist was expelled from the back of her neck, the tendrils of mist drawn in and consumed by the shards. Zhu Shu's eyes opened, her irises again burning with a green fire that made Ukyo cringe. Her hand rose to cup the dancing crystals before her eyes narrowed as she looked towards Naraku with pure hatred. The crystals turned dead black as she waved her hand, and Nabiki was thrust aside as Naraku jerked into the air. Her swords moved faster than even Ukyo could track and the demon lord exploded into a bloody mist. The fiery blades orbited the space where Naraku had been, a glittering cloud of crystals becoming visible within the bloody haze, dancing like a swarm of dead black wasps. Zhu Shu smiled, a terrifying snarl of vicious glee. Then her eyes turned on the giant, and his head and part of his upper torso disintegrated before the swords returned to hover around the floating dragon girl, along with the swarm of crystal shards. They swirled violently for a second before slamming together into a single jet black pearl.
Black lightning curled around Zhu Shu's hand as the orb sank into it and vanished before the dragon-girl turned back to the rapidly reforming figures of the two demons and drew a deep breath. Ukyo could sense nothing thorough the link but sheer blind rage. Zhu Shu's thoughts contained only a desire to kill. As the dragon girl prepared to breath, she screamed at the group scattered around the courtyard. "Get out of the way!"
Nabiki barely had time to raise a shield over the group as a wave of incandescent plasma swept over the courtyard and into the still regenerating youkai. It blew them into the throne room as the building exploded, the stone floor melting from the heat. The giant figure of Mouryoumaru could be seen flailing momentarily before the floor collapsed into the caves below and the entire rest of the castle followed it. With a rumble, stone piled upon stone and melted into a pool of lava as Zhu Shu continued to breath. She finally stopped when all the stones had vanished and landed on the edge of the new crater. Nabiki's shield dropped, and Ukyo struggled to her feet, her armor's systems beginning to come back online. She started to walk forward but was stopped by Rei's hand. "Wait. Something isn't right."
"I helped her break Naraku's hold, but I couldn't break the hold the crystals had on her. She's radiating pure demonic energy. I can feel her fighting it, but the rage is overwhelming her rational mind."
She heard Nabiki call Zhu Shu's name as the dragon girl fell to her knees at the edge of the pit, nearly falling into the lava. She shook violently as arcs of black lightning began crawling along her skin.
"What's happening?" Tao-Ching called.
"It's the Shikon Jewel!" Kagome yelled. "It's filled with evil energy! She's fighting with it for control!"
"Shit!" he muttered. "Can you do anything?"
Kagome bit her lip. "I can try purifying her with a spirit arrow."
"Do it!" Ukyo yelled as she helped Rei back to her feet.
Kagome nodded and scrabbled to her feet, running to her bow and frantically searching for an arrow. The ground shuddered as she snatched one up and nocked her bow, the arrow glowing with holy energy.
Then out of the crater a truly gigantic hand shot into the air, and slammed down on the dragon girl, crushing her and the stone together as it clinched shut.
"THE SHIKON JEWEL IS MINE!" Naraku's voice yelled triumphantly.
The pool of lava erupted as the far side of the rocky peak shattered and a massive rumble of gears could be heard. In shock from the suddenness of the dragon girl's death, they barely dodged the splashes of molten rock as the massive figure stood, rock and lava falling off it.
It stood almost a hundred feet tall, dwarfing the remaining shard of rock, and appeared to be formed from the same organic bone-like structure that had formed Naraku's armor, but there was no mistaking the giant mecha was based on the same technology as the smaller ones they had fought. A giant glowing red eye shone down on them as Naraku laughed.
"You fools have given me everything! The Jewel, The baby, even the power of your friend!" Naraku's hand stretched out as black lightning crawled along his arm and a massive scythe formed of bone grew out of his hand. "And now, I think it is time to finally kill you!"
"Fuck!" Tao-Ching spat as he turned. "Run! We stand no chance bunched up like this!"
But there wasn't time. The scythe descended in a sweep intended to cross the remains of the courtyard and cut them all in two. Nabiki gabbled as it approached, desperately trying to focus on a shield strong enough to stop that much mass.
Then Shessomaru blurred past her, Tokujin swinging as he leapt to meet the massive blade. The black sword met the white bone and howled as it started to cut through it, and then both blades shattered. Sesshomaru was hurled backwards and caught by Tao-Ching while Naraku stumbled backwards. He tossed the unconscious youkai over his shoulder as he pointed. "Get to the other side! We need room to dodge!"
They all ran towards the bridge across the chasm in front the castle, Tatewaki waving the others ahead of him. As the last of them passed the shattered gate, he turned towards the giant, who had almost recovered from the destruction of his weapon. "Now, Demon. You will face the full might of my blade!"
The air shattered as he blurred into the hundred strikes attack, each blow aimed at the precise point in space where he saw the shimmering vortex that unleashed the Wind Scar. Wave after wave of howling wind staggered the giant but did no damage as a shimmering shield of energy rebuffed them. It did buy them time as it drove Naraku back into the sea until he was waist deep.
Inuyasha growled as they took up defensive positions on the other cliff. "That's not his normal shield!" His eyes narrowed as he looked at the approaching giant. "Damn him!" he spat. "Damn him to a thousand hells! He's got Kikyou!"
They followed his outflung arm to see the unconscious form of the priestess embedded in the demon's chest, her arms and legs merging with the bone as her naked form hung like a crucifix.
Ukyo cursed as she checked over her armor's systems again. While some of the sensors were back online, most of the systems were still redlined. She glared at the giant in impotent fury. Then she looked back to where Kohaku and the samurai were holding off the final wave of the small mechs. "Fuck, we are so trapped."
Tao-Ching shrugged. "Can't be helped." He stepped to the edge of the cliff facing Naraku and began to glow. "Guess it's time to find out what this sword can really do."
But as the giant neared the shore, a light as bright as the sun poured over them all and Ukyo realized Rei was no longer behind her.
The giant looked at the brilliant form of the hovering angel of fire as she spoke. "I am the Phoenix, and in the name of the Dragon and the Moon, for your crimes I sentence you to death." Massive swirls of plasma began orbiting in planes behind her wings as they spread, and in front of her clasped hands. The very air screamed with a noise Ukyo had never thought she would hear outside of video games as the bands of energy in front of Rei grew too bright to look at. Particles of light began rushing inwards to the center of the rotating bands as atoms were torn apart and drawn into the vortex.
Then she spoke, the words clear even over the howling winds.
The world vanished in a ball of nuclear fire when the particle beam touched Naraku, and Ukyo threw up her arm to block the glare, knowing it didn't matter, no-one could survive a nuclear blast at such close range. Yet miraculously, other than a gale force wind battering them briefly, nothing happened. As the light faded, they all looked to see a glowing globe of fire swirling and fading around the spot Naraku had been. Ukyo blinked and thanked every god she could think of for the fact that the Rei could apparently limit the area of effect. She looked up at the priestess, and saw she was descending rapidly, though at a controlled pace. As she fell into Ukyo's arms, the chef could see the tears streaming down her face.
"God damn it!" Tao-Ching swore, and they turned to see the fireball had faded to reveal that Naraku's gigantic chest remained, and tendrils of black mist were starting to regenerate the missing limbs and head.
"Inuyasha!" a weak voice called, and they realized that Kikyou was conscious. Inuyasha ran to the edge of the cliff.
"Kikyou! I'm coming" he yelled as he prepared to leap off the cliff into the waves below.
"Don't Inuyasha! You can't get to me. Naraku's will is too strong." She swallowed hard as she winced in pain. "Listen to me! I don't know how long I can last. Naraku's placed his heart in me. You can destroy him!"
Inuyasha shook his head. "No, you can't ask me that!"
"You MUST! I am already dead! He is consuming me!"
"You must, my love." Kikyou's voice came behind them. "It is the only way you can save me."
Inuyasha whirled to stare at the Tetsusiaga in Tatewaki's hand as a glow detached from it and formed into a ghostly image of Kikyou. Kuno started and knelt. "My Lady."
The ghostly form of the priestess reached out to cup Inuyasha's face. "The shell the witch created for me is finished. It must be destroyed. Only my soul can be saved. Release me from this bondage, please!"
"You're asking me to kill you again!"
"No. I won't die. I didn't die. For three hundred years I have been by your side, and that of your children. My body died long ago. Kagome is my reincarnation. All that I am is a part of my soul stolen from within her. I could never be with you physically, no matter how much either of us might wish it. You must free me, my love. Free me and free your own heart from its chains."
Inuyasha trembled. "I can't."
The Kikyou embedded in Naraku's chest screamed "YOU MUST DO IT NOW!" She cried in pain as her lower body was dragged into the bone, and her every muscle strained to prevent the rest of her from submerging. "KILL ME BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!"
"Save me, before he devours my soul." The ghostly Kikyou begged.
With a howl of pure anguish, Inuyasha turned, the blade in his hand turning crimson as he hurled it. The barrier sparked as it met the red sword and was pierced as it if wasn't there. It struck the almost vanished priestess between her breasts and was buried up to the hilt as she screamed. Inuyasha fell to his knees sobbing as Kagome rushed to his side and the ghostly Kikyou stepped aside.
Then, in the silence they all heard as the other Kikyou whispered, "Thank you," before her body crumbled into dirt, the bone shell of the giant around her darkening and decaying. With a loud crack and rumble, it began to collapse inward, spewing a cloud of foul smelling dust in all directions. Black lightning crawled over the decaying mass and cracks began to appear, glowing with a blinding white light. More and more cracks appeared, the light pouring forth like beacons, until a swirling plasma wind formed and the lightning rose in volume, the color shifting to white as it reached a crescendo and the remaining mass exploded in a supernova bright flash.
Then as the light faded, a figure slowly emerged, suspended in space, Tetsusaiga impaling her.
Rei and Uyko screamed Zhu Shu's name simultaneously as they ran towards her. The dragon girl slowly floated downwards, the black ichor coating her quickly drying and turning to dust as the last of Naraku's foulness dissipated and light leaked out from around the blade embedded in her heart. Her jade eyes opened and focused on the massive blade penetrating her chest. Weakly, she reached to touch the sword, descending to the cliffs edge as she wrenched it partly free. She fell to her knees as the blade's tip emerged and the falchion fell to the ground, the light in her chest dimming to reveal a glowing pearl of crystal where her heart should have been. The cut closed as her eyes rolled up into her head, and she collapsed into unconsciousness. A sonic boom echoed around the suddenly quiet valley as Ukyo appeared next to the dragon girl and caught her before she could hit the ground, followed seconds later by the scantily clad Rei. The priestess placed her hand on the unconscious girl's head and her mandala halo flared briefly. "Oh thank the gods. She's alive!"
Nabiki let out the breath she didn't know she had been holding, and smiled tiredly at Tao-Ching. "Is it finally over?" she asked weakly.
He nodded as he put the massive Burekaishi behind his back, and sat down on a boulder. He let out a deep sigh. "Yeah, I think so."
Inuyasha picked up the Tetsusaiga and a ghostly glow surrounded him. A naked Kikyou formed, her transparent face smiling.
"Thank you, my love. Thank you for finally setting me free."
Inuyasha slowly reached out to her, his hand intertwining with her ghostly one. "I killed you."
"No, my love. You merely allowed me to escape the shell created by the witch. I am no longer bound to the grave. I am Tetsusaiga, and Kikyou, and I can always be by your side now."
Kagome harrumphed. The ghostly form of Kikyou looked at her and smiled. "You have no more need to be jealous, my reincarnated self. I'm a sword."
The other ghostly Kikyou laughed. "Don't worry. She'll get used to it in a few years, my younger self. Just be patient."
Kagome glared at both of them before turning to Rei and Ukyo. "Is she okay?"
Rei looked up from Zhu Shu's unconscious face. "From what I can sense, she's exhausted but alive."
Ukyo nodded. "My armor's sensors say her vital signs are normal, though they are giving me readings on a lot of things I have no clue about, like her mana harmonics, meta-quantum energy fields, and some other stuff that sounds like pure gibberish to me. But there's one thing I am really worried about. According to my armor, her heart is missing. The Shikon Jewel is apparently performing its function. It's reading as a great big question mark."
Nabiki cursed. "What the fuck are we supposed to do about that?"
Tao-Ching bit the inside of his lip. "Nothing we can do at the moment. We need to get home as soon as we can. Lo Shen might be able to help us figure that out."
The older Kikyou had floated over to the unconscious dragon girl. "The jewel is currently pure, and her personal energies are enormous, and holy. She possesses the strongest aura I have ever felt, full of light. But there is a darkness within her that is just as strong. It lies deep, and is well hidden, but I fear what should happen were it to ever be allowed to rise."
Tao-Ching nodded. "She's part Black Dragon. That's all. Without Naraku's influence on her anymore, she'll be fine."
He looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw Kagura and the others approaching from the far side of the cliff top. He eyed the samurai as Kagura threw herself into Kuno's arms and kissed him. Tao-Ching noted the katana sheathed at the samurai's side and shook his head. "So, that pig sticker was yours all the time, huh?
Sanjuro bowed. "Yes, my lord. I owe you a debt beyond measure. You have saved my clan, my life, and my honor, and given back my name. I am Raijin Hasai, warmaster of Clan Hasai." He stood, his hand wrapped around the hilt of the sheathed blade. "I swore upon my name that I would succeed in obtaining aid and return a hero, only to be ambushed and humiliated. You have allowed me to redeem myself by permitting me to be your companion."
"You saved all our lives when you helped wipe out that mini-mech horde. I'd say you pretty much redeemed yourself, Raijin."
Raijin bowed. "You do me great honor, Tao-Ching-sama." He knelt and bowed his head. "Truly, you have saved both myself and my clan. The debt I and my clan owe you cannot ever be repaid."
A swirl of wind caught the edge of his cloak and flipped it aside to reveal the katana, and the crest on the sheath flashed. The wind rose in volume as it dragged dust up from the ground and a vortex formed. Small crackles of lightning crawled through the dust as the vortex filled with a shimmering light, and a mirror-like surface filled the eye. It stabilized after a few seconds into a rotating portal in the air, large enough to ride a horse through. They all looked at it for a few seconds, than Nabiki laughed.
"Okay. I am going to guess that that is our ticket home. We've fulfilled the conditions of the wish, no?"
Tao-Ching shrugged. "To return the sword when it might have saved the clan. Yeah, I suppose we have."
Raijin smiled. "Truly, you have indeed saved us. Had you not intervened, my clan, my city, and my beloved people would have perished."
"You have saved me as well," Kagura said. She looked down at the small figure of Kanna and placed her hand on her head. "We are free from Naraku. Freed from a destiny of death and despair."
Kuno hugged her. "We could have done naught else, my lady."
Tao-Ching looked around the group. "This was a group effort. We could not have done it without every single one of you." He bowed to the now conscious Sesshomaru. "I regret the loss of your sword, Lord Sesshomaru. You saved all our lives."
The Dai-youkai nodded slightly. "It's loss merely proves it was too weak a weapon. That is all. And I did not save you. My brother will die by my hand, and mine alone, when I am ready. Perhaps your teachings will finally make him a worthy challenge."
Tao-Ching gave him a slight smile. "Of course, my lord."
The tall Inu youkai turned and motioned for his companions to follow. Rin waved to them all from the back of Sesshomaru's two headed mount, while Jaken gave them a hasty bow before running off after his master.
"Not much of a goodbye" Nabiki muttered. "But then, he is a pretty arrogant mutt."
Tao-Ching shrugged. "He was there when we needed him." He turned back to the portal. "Well, we've got no idea how long this is going to stay open, so who's all coming?"
Ukyo and Rei stepped up, Ukyo holding Zhu Shu in her arms. "The sooner we can get her to Lo Shen the better, I think."
Tao-Ching nodded. Kuno, Kagura and Kanna stepped up next to the two girls. Tao-Ching looked over at Kagome.
"I've got my own way home," she said. "I'll go back with Inuyasha."
"It's already been a week. Take another week to get back to Muhashi. You sure?"
"Yeah. But if you don't mind, will you contact mom and tell her I'm okay?"
"Sure thing." He turned to the rest of the group. "Ladies, gentlemen, and all, it's been a pleasure to fight by your sides."
Inuyasha laughed. "If you can come back through the well, you're welcome anytime."
Rei smiled. "We've got a lot to do in our own time. You might have started the Great Accord, but we're going to see it through to a true alliance between human and youkai."
Inuyasha scratched his head sheepishly. "We haven't even started it yet, but anyway, good luck."
Rei and Ukyo were the first to enter the portal, followed by Kuno and the two youkai girls. Nabiki took one last look around at everyone waving goodbye and smiled as she hooked her arm through Tao-Ching's. "Well, furball, it wasn't what I was expecting, but damn, this was one fucking awesome date."
Tao-Ching laughed. "Don't get used to them. Now that the curse is gone, it's going to be hard to get lost in time and space."
Nabiki shrugged. "Big deal. We got enough to deal with without the hassle of getting lost all the time."
"Still plan to stay a bunnygirl and fight a lost cause?"
"After this, it should be a cakewalk."
He laughed as they stepped forwards into the portal.
Urd and Mara were almost to Urd's old apartment when the warnings rang out across Asgard.
"Warning! Warning! Time quake incoming! All deities report to duty stations! "
"What?" Urd said in shock. "Time quake? It was just supposed to be a temporal wave!"
"What the hell is happening!" Peorth screamed at Ex.
"Teleportal systems reporting overload. Omega class mana reactor detected in temporal field. Resonance effect is occurring! Three separate wormholes are seeking to access the same co-ordinate space!" The short haired goddess's fingers flew across the panels in front of her. "Yggdrasil is reporting a resonance effect between an Omega class mana reactor, an unknown power source of Archangel class strength and a Key of Time!"
"Can we stop it!"
"Negative! There is a wormhole from the past, the present and the future simultaneously existing! They are all trying to lock onto an active Gate built in Tokyo within the last hour!"
Peorth stared in shock. "They can't all access it at once! The backlash will destroy the city!" She frantically thought as she looked over the dozen screens in a panic.
"Shunt all of them into the future passage." A masculine voice said. They whirled to see a man with a patch over one eye standing behind Peorth's command chair.
Ex nodded. "Yes, Kami-Sama." she typed furiously. "All wormholes shunted to the future passage. Resonance synchronizing. Overload conditions stabilizing."
"Time quake has arrived!"
Kami-Sama stood unmoved as the city shook. "Status of the wormholes?"
"Systems falling below danger levels. All travelers successfully transferred to the future. Gate deactivated."
"Good. Tell Pluto to let them pass."
Peorth turned startled eyes to her master. "Lord?"
He smiled down at her. "I was expecting this. You did a good job, Peorth. Looks like your last wish came out beautifully."
He chuckled. "Thank you for helping out my daughter."
She stared after him as he turned and vanished.
And so ends Book four. I apologize for such a long delay, but I have moved 3 times, done some professional writing, and suffered the breakup of a 12 year relationship. It's been a chaotic life, C'est la vie.
I thank all of you for your patience. Hopefully book 5: Future Tense will be following along soon. It really depends on what kind of job I manage to find.