Sanzenin frowned as he looked about for any sign of either the blue-haired girl or the heavenly girl from earlier, but he couldn't seem to find either.
There was the one girl, with the beautiful dark hair and red eyes, but despite how beautiful she was, he couldn't look at her without feeling a core of ice grow deep in the pits of his stomach that quickly spread to his limbs.
Well, he couldn't go the entire festival without at least one conquest on the field of love.
Putting on his most charming smile, he approached the pigtailed girl and her camera. Normally, he'd avoid such girls as this type as not mature enough. Something he'd decided upon sometime after his third restraining order.
Still, he had to have some sort of victory here.
He opened his mouth, sure of victory.
"My what a wonderful, youthful beauty you are," Sanzenin said, catching Kyoko's attention.
"Oh! Captain Sanzenin," the frenetic face of a blonde goblin leaped into his view. "I thought you were so awesome out there!"
And as the girl gripped his arm, he had a sudden urge to call the asylum and double check on an old partner's residential status.
Or at least to see if she had spawned any more of her particular subset of the human species before going to her little padded room.
Such women were so unappealing. Irritating little things with an "I want" attitude that made them something to tolerate rather than conquest.
"Excuse me," Sanzenin said. "I was going to speak to your..."
The sound of a camera clicking rang through his ears and he turned to look at the pig-tailed girl holding up a little pink camera.
His image caught with this clinging girl? Sanzenin felt the world begin to close in around him.
"Well, it did fairly well on the relay," Keiichi said. "Of course we couldn't compete in either the ping pong game or the tug of war because well, the AS just isn't tall enough."
"Looks like that's probably it then," Megumi said. "We've got memory leaks in the OS and a couple bugs to work out."
"Probably for the best," Chihiro agreed. "We got proof of concept and skill across when we won the relay. But I think that's about all we can do given the rush it took us to finish it."
"Yeah," Keiichi said. "We've got a couple of loose joints and welds already. We underestimated the stresses involved."
"Well, it isn't exactly like we had time for a normal run of tests like on the custom bikes Whirlwind normally puts out," Chihiro added. "Besides, we proved our point, time to pack up."
"Great news!" Skuld declared loudly. "We're in the joust!"
"What?!" three voices declared at once.
"Umm, they were going to keep us out of the joust to, so I convinced the event runner to let us in," Skuld said.
"How'd you do...nevermind, I'd rather not know," Keiichi said.
"It's not coming out, sir," one of several nervous soldiers said as they tried to clean off one of a number of phrases and sentences emblazoned about the office.
The eyes of the man in charge of the event twitched as he looked about the various messages.
"Stupid military dork!"
"Just where did she have the permanent marker anyway?" he wondered.
"Okay!" Chihiro said. "Megumi, start a reboot. Keiichi, Skuld, we're doing some spot welding! Move, we've got about fifteen minutes so don't start anything major."
"All right, ladies and gentlemen!" the announcer declared. "The moment we've all been waiting for, the final event of the Narashino AS competition."
"Hey, Kyoko, where's Mizuki?" Kaname asked.
"Well that AS pilot from before came by and I think that's the last I saw of her," Kyoko said. "I took a picture and...huh, it's gone. Hey, my memory card is gone."
"So you managed to erase the picture," Sanzenin said glummly to his new co-pilot.
"Kyoko doesn't have it any more," Mizuki said in a sing-song. "Now, how does this work?"
Sousuke looked over the alterations done to the Japanese AS's for the joust event and had to admit that the resultant machines came out looking rather bizarre.
Keiichi, dressed in a racer's crash suit walked up beside Sousuke and looked over the machines as well
"Are those ASs carrying each other on their shoulders or are the legs just ridiculously oversized?" he asked.
"To be honest," Sousuke said. "I'm not really sure. Are you still dressed for action. I would have thought you were done by now."
"Yeah," Keiichi said. "Well, turns out we're still in it."
"Your AS barely passes the knee of a normal T96," Sousuke said. "What tactics exactly are you planning to use to compete?"
"I generally just pray for a miracle in cases like these," Keiichi said. "Anyway, see you out there, and try not to step on me when my machine falls apart."
"At the very least," Sousuke said. "I shall endeavour to scrape you off the soles of my boot gently."
And so the teams took to the field and waited for the sound of the whistle.
As the event got started, the Narashino paratroopers faced off against the so-called Nerima Red Dragons.
"So what do you think our strategy is going to be?" the man sitting with him asked.
"Well," Sousuke said. "I was originally going to suggest taking their captain out of the loop first, but I'm not sure that's going to be necessary."
As the mercenary said this, he watched the Red-Dragon's captin AS seemingly do the can-can backwards towards their own side of the field.
"There may yet be some sort of strategy behind those unorthodox manuevers," Sousuke declared. "Keep an eye on him."
"Will do," the paratrooper's CO said in the seat in front of Sousuke.
"What are you doing?" Sanzenin declared. "The enemy is that way!"
"Oh, who cares about the enemy when I'm right here?" Mizuki asked.
Karma was unloading on Sanzenin.
"What the hell is the Captain doing?" one of the Nerima team asked. "In the middle of the match?"
"There's something in this unit you should never willingly give up," the other pilot in that machine said.
"What's that?" the first asked.
"Plausible deniability," the other noted.
Without Sanzenin to effectively coordinate the Red Dragon, Sousuke was finding it rather easy to set the Narashino unit against them. The Red Dragon unit was very skilled, he had to give them that, but whatever bizarre tactic the Captain had in mind for them didn't seem to be working out too well.
And of course they couldn't stand against his skills, even with the...unusual arrangement the T-96s had for this event.
Every unit that came near Sousuke's AS found the balloon dangling over its head popped in a simulation of defeat.
Of course, there was the Scirocco out there, which was proving to be rather difficult to pin down.
Keiichi Morisato was showing to be a brilliantly unpredictable pilot.
"What the hell was I thinking," Keiichi wondered as he jerked the controls aside again to hurl his AS in a machine and body punishing roll that the eight-foot frame wasn't quite designed to absorb.
"Actually," he decided. "I was thinking just fine. A little race, something to show off our designs. We're used to races. So what was Skuld thinking?"
"Wait...Skuld?" he thought before turning to the radio. "Skuld, what did you put on this thing?"
"What do you mean 'what did I put on this thing'?" Skuld asked, affronted. "Chihiro told me not to go off the plans. Megumi told me not to go off plans. YOU told me not to go off plans."
Hence why she was affronted.
"Yeah, so what did you put in anyway?" Keiichi asked.
There was silence over the radio broken by a background of several women talking to a fifteen year-old goddess.
"Erm, jump jets," Skuld said finally.
"Jump jets, like how?" Keiichi asked.
As he spoke, the AS's computers started pulling up a schematic of a typical piece of equipment built into the back of the torso.
He grimaced as he analyzed the simplified diagram.
Skuld's design was typically was very clever. Using the AS's power to turn a turbine and pull air at great speed and pressure through the top out the bottom.
The problem was that the design was also Skuld-typical in terms of power efficiency. It would just about drain the available power every time he used it, meaning that when he came down, he'd be a slug.
And there was the OTHER problem of Skuld-typical devices.
"Okay," he said. "I'm going to try it on ten percent thrust."
"Did that little AS just fly about fifteen meters straight up?" Sousuke's co-pilot asked.
"It appears so," Sousuke said. "Impressive."
Keiichi worked desperately at his cockpit controls to start to control his fall, hoping to have enough power to bring the machine to a gentle fall rather than a steel-snapping crash.
"Skuld! Where's the steering for these jets?" Keiichi asked over the radio.
"Umm, steering?" Skuld asked.
"Jump jets are short-term flight," Megumi said. "You did add maneuvering jets, didn't you?"
"Err," Skuld said, embarassed.
"All the brilliance of Edison and Tesla combined," Chihiro noted. "With the forethought of a monkey."
"Hey!" Skuld protested.
Grimacing, Keiichi directed his AS's torso a lot off and gave another short burst of air, sending him into the soft target of a Narashino balloon which cushioned him just long enough to give a more normal jump to the AS's shoulder and then further down to the ground.
He smirked as the balloon popped in his wake.
"Sorry, Sousuke," he said. "But we've got our own team here."
"Interesting," Sousuke said as he saw what he recognized as an accidental score for Keiichi.
Given what he knew about the man, the engineer would figure out what he had done soon enough.
But the successful kill wasn't all he noticed. The little AS was a little jerkier than had been at the start of the event. It was a symptom that Sousuke recognized from his own experiments in the programing of Arm Slave AIs.
The Scirocco had a memory leak.
That meant that it's reaction time would get more erratic as time went on, leaning toward an overall slow down.
Added to that, he was watching it over the course of the match and confirming that every time it did that unsteerable jump, that it came down almost as slow as a slug. The power limits of the Scirocco were telling yet again.
Unfortunately, he could see the structural flaws were also wearing thin.
"Okay, everybody avoid the Scirocco's area," Sousuke said. "Let's use it against the Red Dragon."
"That thing moves like a greased pig," the co-pilot said. "If it wants to engage us, it'll get to us."
"Affirmative," Sousuke said. "But I don't think that will be a problem."
Slowly, the Red Dragon was whittled down, lacking the command of its vaunted leader, and then there was just Narashino and a pest of flying miniature AS to deal with.
"Okay, now there's just the Scirocco," Sousuke said, smiling.
"Yeah, and it's a pain in the butt," the co-pilot noted. "Did civilians really build this thing?"
"Affirmative," Sousuke said. "But it has some definite weaknesses, aside from the fact that in a full battle with actual AS weaponry it would be easily outmatched. Key among those is that each of those jumps seems to use the bulk of its accumulated power. In the moments after it jumps, it is vulnerable."
Keiichi was surprised to have lasted this long as the Narashino units closed about him. He'd even been able to take out three balloons...though mostly by luck and accident.
He wasn't looking to keep up that trend.
In fact, he was more or less just playing keep away now and hoping for a draw.
A T96 lunged down at him and he pushed the jump jets to pull away from it, wincing as he heard the creaking of the frame about him. Gritting his teeth at the snail's crawl the depleted battery allowed him until his motion and ambient friction powered up the main device.
Which was why he'd been aiming his jumps away from positions with any other AS.
He hadn't realized someone was watching for one of those jumps yet.
Not until an AS seemingly appeared out of nowhere near his landing point and, before he could get up enough power to dodge away, his balloon was gone.
"And the winner is Narashino!" the announcers shouted.
Keiichi groaned in disappointment...until the scirocco's left arm fell off.
"Ah, we lost," Skuld whined. "That stupid Keiichi! I knew I should have been piloting it."
"We came in second, Skuld," Chihiro said. "Against teams of professionals, and we even have three 'kills' to our team name. That's not a loss given what we're working with."
"You realize," Megumi said. "You just invited defense contracts your way."
"Feh, I already quit a job working at making someone else's designs," Chihiro said. "At Whirlwind, we make stuff for people to enjoy. They want to see my designs, fine. But I'm sticking to my custom machines."
"Well, that was timely," Keiichi said outside the scirocco as he looked over where the joint had finally given out under all the stress.
"It is an impressive design," Sousuke said, wandering away from the celebration.
"You still beat it," Keiichi noted.
"I had an unfair advantage," Sousuke noted. "I asked you about its specifications before I knew I'd be a participant."
"That's true," Keiichi said. "Hey, what happened to the other team's captain?"
As Keiichi asked, Sanzenin ran by, clothes half torn as he was pursued by a very eager looking Mizuki.
"Get away from me girl!" Sanzenin shouted.
"Oh come on, we haven't finished playing GS yet!" the love-crazed blonde shouted. "Mr. GS pilot!!"
"I can't believe this thing is still running," Ranma said from the side of the starting line.
"Things may have calmed down a bit since your disappearance, Saotome," Mousse said. "Excuse me, Satomi. But still this neighborhood seems to live and breathe the martial arts."
Past them strung line after line of delivery girls on bikes, skates, running shoes. Each of them with a variety of delivery boxes.
"By the way," Ranma said. "It didn't take you long to figure out who I am. Used to be a time when you couldn't tell who a person was even if they told you."
"Seriously, Ranma," Mousse said. "A red-headed Japanese woman visits the Tendo dojo and you don't expect the neighbors to take notice? And then Kuno arrested for kidnapping."
Ranma grimaced at that reminder.
"I will admit," Mousse said. "I didn't expect it to really be you, but your daughter there. The yamasenken is assimilated into the most basic of her movements. Any martial artist who's seen it in action will know it in her. How'd you teach it to her?"
"I was the guardian of the senken after beating Ryuu," Ranma said. "You don't seriously think I didn't read the scrolls before burying them. How have you seen it?"
"Really, you had to be watching the news whereever you ended up," Mousse noted. "It's been war in this part of the world, just outside Japan's doors, and sealed techniques come out for war. I happen to know the other three practioners. Did you teach all your children."
"To some extent," Ranma said. "But some took to the arts better than the others."
"So I guess your life hasn't been calm either," Mousse noted.
"You could say that..." Ranma started to say before she noticed something among the competitors. "Is that a battle spatula?"
The competitor in question was a tall young woman, late teens, early twenties. He had a cocky expression on her face as she carried her takeout box and wielded her battle-spatula easily.
"Did they place an entry this year?" Mousse wondered. "They don't even live here anymore."
Scanning the crowd along the other side of the starting line then, Ranma saw them, older but unmistakable as they pushed forward to front of the spectators.
She was wearing her own chef's uniform and battle spatula, probably to speak of her support of her competitor. The man next to her was dressed in a kimono and still successfully managing to seem female to the unwitting onlookers.
Of course, Ranma knew him very well, so she wasn't fooled.
"Ukyou," he said. "And Konatsu. Okay, that must be a student not a child, because they would have had to have him before I left otherwise."
"Well," Ukyou said smirking. "This is probably as good a way to announce the re-opening of Ucchan's original location as any."
She crossed her arms and looked over the crowd of participants.
There didn't look to be anybody of a caliber to compete with her student out there. The race probably hadn't had someone like Shampoo, Ranma or her for a long while.
Kouta was as well trained as she could make the girl. Trained in all the techniques she'd learned as a kid or helping out keeping the Chinese chaos out of Japan like most of the rest of the Nerima martial artists.
It really wasn't very fair to the other participants.
"Ukyou," Konatsu said respectfully.
He hadn't called her "sama" since they were teenagers, but he still tended to treat her with something more than respect.
"Yeah," Ukyou asked.
Konatsu pointed into the competitors at a green-haired girl with red facial tattoos performing some stretches before the race. The girl's takeout box was in one hand, the other, on her head, or where-ever else it was most out of the way without actually letting go of it.
Beside the girl was a familiar looking young man.
"Oh, that could be trouble," Ukyou said, narrowing her eyes. "That guy standing near her is Issei Tsubaki, Mousse's kid. I wasn't aware the Tsubaki family had a branch out here."
"But that's not Niechezu Wu Shu, Hidden Weapons or Tsubaki Karate," Konatsu said.
Ukyou watched as the green-haired girl took a familiar variation of the crane stance before popping her shoulders and settling down.
"No, that's Saotome-Ryu," Ukyou said. "And that doesn't look like one of Ryuu or Akane's students."
"The rumors," Konatsu said as they turned to look toward the spectators.
Ukyou joined the visual search and soon enough saw the red-head across the race path looking in her direction and standing next to Mousse.
"Ranchan," Ukyou said.
"You'd better be prepared, Satomi," Issei said grimmly. "I'll not have you embarassing my family by some sort of reckless of act of idiocy."
"You guys are the ones that came to me, remember?" Naiki said. "This whole thing certainly isn't my idea."
"I wouldn't worry about it anyway," a new voice said as a figure walked over to where Issei and Naiki were standing. "I'm going to be winning this race, and that's all there is to it, sugar."
Naiki turned to look over toward the speaker, a slender girl, who she almost took to be a guy at first, actually, wearing the traditional outfit of a Japanese chef and carrying what looked to be a giant spatula tied to her back.
"And who might you be," Issei demanded with narrowed eyes.
"I'm Kouta Haruki," she answered smirking. "Student to Ukyou and Konatsu Kuonji owner of the Ucchans brand okonomiyaki restraunts. I didn't think there were any Tsubaki girls that actually studied the martial arts."
"Well, I'm not a Tsubaki," Naiki said, standing straight. "I'm Naiki Satomi, student of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts and Mistress of the Yamasenken."
Kouta blinked as Naiki gave her introduction. The green-haired girl had just given the name of a school run by a friend of her teachers. Surely, Ukyou-Sensei or Konatsu-Sensei would have said something.
"Satomi or Saotome?" the girl asked.
"Satomi," Naiki said. She knew that her mother was born with the other name, but she hadn't changed over to it yet, so she wasn't gonna claim it yet.
"I thought your school's teachers were friends of mine," Kouta said suspiciously. "Do friends enter against each other secretly?"
"Ehh," Naiki said, blinking. "My mother taught me. Ranma Satomi."
"Whatever," she said. "It doesn't matter. There's more to Takeout Martial Arts than beating your opponent. A straight martial style can't hope to understand the difficulties involved in this sort of competition."
"You mean like not spilling the contents of the boxes?" Naiki asked.
"Easier said than done, sugar," Kouta noted.
"Well, I've certainly got one thing up my sleeves," Naiki said smirking.
"And what might that me?" Issei asked questionably.
"Hey, I'm representing your family here," Naiki said. "And in any case, that one thing is: a violent, tumultuous or overwhelming flow."
As she spoke the green-haired girl pointed to the claw shaped marks on her forehead with a wide fanged smile.
Both Issei and Kouta stared at the snickering girl, trying to fathom just what she was talking about and then looked at each other.
"Don't ask me," Issei said. "My father asked her to compete for us."
Mara was accustomed to being sneaky, so it was only a matter of coincidence that she was watching the proceedings from atop a telephone pole overlooking the scene.
It wasn't the hiding place here that it was in Belldandy's neighborhood, too many residents were used to seeing people up that high normally.
Still, it was somewhat concealing since it didn't mark her as to far out of the ordinary.
Of course, Ranma found her pretty quickly, Mara noted as she flinched with the red-head's first eye contact.
"I'm a first class demoness, she's a human chi-master," Mara noted. "And I'm afraid of her, why?"
In any case, a martial artists race definitely fell into Naiki's realm of influence. It would be interesting to see how the girl handled this.
"I'm guessing Naiki told her," Ranma muttered as she identified Mara.
"What's that Sao..Satomi?" Mousse asked.
"One of Naiki's....other teachers is here too," Ranma said, tapping her fingers.
"Oh? You don't sound approving," Mousse said. "I'd never figure you as one to disapprove of further martial study."
"It's not martial arts study," Ranma noted. "Even then it's less about the study and more about the recruitment."
Mousse was about to ask for clarification when he saw something else that attracted his attention.
"Oh wonderful," Mousse noted.
Ranma turned away from where she was watching Mara and looked into the crowd to see the approach of a small group of rather unhappy looking people.
One of them, a Japanese woman dressed in more or less modern clothing and looking in a not-so casual casual manner toward Ranma. The red-head recognized the look from memory well enough: caution and jealousy.
"What is the meaning of this debacle," one of the many old men of the group demanded as they came up to Ranma and Mousse.
"They followed me here," the woman said, in exasperation. "Who's your friend?"
One of the old men looked toward Ranma and took in the red-hair. The chi-master sighed as she knew what was coming.
"I'm also curious why you've chosen to parade this ainu slut in front of our grand-daughter," he said.
Ranma turned around to face them, expression dangerously neutral.
"I'm Ranma Satomi," she said politely to the woman. "Mousse and I used to try to kill each other a few years ago, so forgive me if I want to be around when he's asking one of my kids for favors."
The relief flooded through the woman's face as she bowed in response.
"Oh, no problem at all," the woman said bowing. "Wait, I've heard that name before. Weren't you and..." she paused as she looked between Mousse and Ranma.
"Yeah," Ranma said. "Our fight was over a woman we both knew. So don't worry about any under-the-table footsy. I outgrew pretending to be attracted to men ages ago."
The shocked and pale expressions on the people in the little group were more than payback enough for Ranma's purposes. Especially as one of the old men wheezed at the edge of an anxiety attack. He probably thought it was a heart attack, the bastard.
"We won't stand for this!" the old man with more breath in his lungs declared. "Get the spawn of this...abomination out of there now and end this mockery."
"Too late," Ranma noted cheerily.
"Why is that?" the old man demanded.
The answer came as the gunshot starting the race was heard and a cacophony of martial artists roared down the street.
"Satomi," Mousse said flatly. "I see you've persisted in finding ways of making matters worse."
"Only when the situation calls for it," Ranma noted as she saw Issei stop working in their direction and turn back the other way upon spotting his relatives. "Smart boy there."
Naiki could feel it in the crowds, something familiar and new. It was like how she could sense chi and mana and pishogue now. When she walked past the flood canals or over a river, she could feel the potential for flood.
Right now, with so many martial artists waiting for the race to begin, that new sense was tingling like crazy.
And then the shot rang out.
And the potential became reality as she and dozens of other martial artists surged forward.
It was almost a visible energy.
An energy she could see reacting to her thoughts and intention.
Mara watched as the race started.
"Directly manipulating your realm isn't like casting a spell," she said to herself. "You're basically making a spell on the fly. Let's see what you can get by instinct."
Kouta smirked as she pulled up beside the green-haired girl and started to swing her spatula.
The Satomi girl caught the move at the last moment and flipped up into an impossibly graceful flip over the strike.
Grimacing Kouta had to settle for forcing the girl further back into the crowd.
Naiki caught her breath in an immense sense of relief. Defense was so not her strong point and Kouta had just reminded her of that.
Usually, Naiki was rather lax on her guards and relied on her resilience to carry her through the attacks she failed to avoid. At the moment, however, she had to take care of something not quite as resilient as her.
Well, the best way to keep attacks from coming her way, was to keep people too busy to fight her.
Smirking, Naiki extended her hands out to make the gestures that triggered her powers.
"By the command of the demon of torrent!" she intoned. "Let the torrent swallow my foes and drive them from my path!"
The incantation came out of her almost instinctively with only a little stuttering hesitance to find the right words to describe her will.
And then the spell was crafted, completed and cast.
Naiki blinked as there seemed to be no immediate effect.
"Well, that didn't work," she noted. "I guess it's old fashioned way then."
Several yards behind Naiki, a martial artist on a bike slashed blazingly past a line of potted plants avoiding the attacks of a racer on a skateboard.
One of the potted plants, caught up in the wake of the biker, was pulled forward by the rushing air and smacked dead into the back of the head of one of the participants.
Elsewhere, as several people jumped over a display of tires, one of the large, round rubber objects started to pull forward, slam into another part of the display and upset a number of other tires, which rolled forward.
Several of the less aware martial artists found themselves taken by surprise and overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of these and other objects into the raceway.
Whether the race was uphill or downhill, the objects seemed to be pulled along with the racers. Getting kicked out of the way, rediverted, tripped over, hit by other objects or further coincidences.
"Oh, that's...interesting," Mara said as she hopped along to follow the race.
Naiki pulled her delivery box away as Kouta launched out a miniature shuriken, and twitched as she had to again protect the box from one of the other girl's strikes.
The girl wasn't giving her an opening to get a shot in and Naiki wasn't good enough on defense to force one while she had the box to protect.
Neither noticed Kouta's spatula shuriken slice through the rope on an awning, knocking several watermelons forward into street, where they slammed into a biker, who veered off course.
She lost a wheel and was suddenly trying to just control her newly one-wheeled vehcile as her delivery box splattered and joined the growing numbers of objects amongst the racers.
Naiki and Kouta meanwhile were mostly focused on each other.
At least until the cardboard box attacked Kouta.
Naiki blinked in confusion and then smirked as she took advantage of the distraction.
Kouta desperately held her box out safe as she swung the spatula down to divert the assaulting box and then had to dodge aside from Naiki's attack, giving the demoness space to dash ahead and put some distance ahead of the rest of the race.
"Damn it, Satomi!" she called out. "I'm not letting you win!"
Naiki smirked and looked back over her shoulder to make a comment.
Kouta's first reaction to see the choked expression on Naiki's face as the girl turned around was confusion, followed swiftly by concern as a rubber tire passed her up.
Looking over her own shoulder she looked back to see a horde of apparently animate objects mixed in among martial artists. In and among all the individual duels, there were people dodging tree branches, boxes, tires, other participants, skateboards and bikes that had escaped their riders and various other things.
It was like a tidal wave of debris.
Ranma sighed and smacked her palm into her face.
"What the hell is going on?" Mousse demanded, turning to look at Ranma. "Why is it when you're around chaos seems to follow?"
Tessa grimaced as she considered the paper in front of her.
"Captain Teletha Testarossa, you are to prepare for your biannual physical fitness exam to be taken two weeks from the sending of this memo."
Looking up from the print out, she took in the gym in front of her and the various machines present on Meridia Island.
She'd much rather be working on the Whisper of Souls. Heck, at this point she'd rather be attending to the base paperwork.
"How to start..." she wondered hesitantly.
Tessa could have asked the base's physical trainer, but a rising sense of pride kept the young captain from doing so. She hated being clumsy and she especially hated being clumsy in front of her men. So she certainly didn't want to go to one of them and say "can you help me not be clumsy for my physical fitness exam?"
Which was why she was glad to have access to a very physically oriented person with just the option of opening a door in the back of her mind.
Even here, she hated to admit that she needed some advice, but at least no one could listen in on her asking Naiki.
Naiki? she thought, pulling down the barrier between her thoughts and the ramble of her mental roommate. I was wondering if I could have some...
Ahh! Cow! Naiki's thoughts snapped out.
Cow? I am certainly not a...
Oh, sorry, not you, the statue, Naiki responded.
Statue? What do you...?
Gah, another cow!
No wait, that was the same one.
Naiki! Focus! What are you talking about?
Martial arts race, Naiki responded sharply. Tried to make a spell. Kinda busy dodging...DEBRIS!!!
Ranma frowned as she watched her daughter run out past sight. She felt the familiar tingle of magic, black magic of course, that had happened just prior to the girl getting out of sight.
As coincidental debris started to clutter the track, already becoming a problem before the racers got out of view around the first turn, Ranma started to figure out what her daughter had done.
She shook her head and sighed.
Still, it wasn't likely to do any more or less damage than anything else a martial artist down there might trigger.
Ranma glanced over to where the elder Tsubaki and the other old man were glowering off to the side, disdaining involving themselves with such people as Ranma and shrugged as she turned toward the others.
"So, anybody know where the finish line to this is?" Ranma asked. "It's not the Kunos again is it?"
"Considering Tatewaki Kuno is still in jail for recent events," Mousse noted. "And no one knows where Kodachi Kuno is, I doubt it."
"That's lucky," Ranma noted.
"I think we'll find a view this way," Mousse noted. "Go to high ground, we should be able to find a point to watch the race as a whole."
He pointed down a side road leading up to some of the hills that would probably give them a view down into the race way.
"All right, let's go," Ranma said. "Anyway, I didn't introduce myself well enough. I'm Ranma Satomi. I'm guessing you're the kid's mother?"
"Naoko Tsubaki," the woman said. "I hope Issei wasn't too rude."
"Nah," Ranma said. "I've dealt with worse. He's mostly just a bunch of bark. Those old farts over there are the real thing. I'm guessing either you're the generation to rebel or your parents were?"
"Why do you say that?" Naoko asked.
"Because something around sixteen and nine months ago, you made him" Ranma said, pointing out with her finger towards Issei and then moving toward Mousse. "With him. And that's not the sort of thing that happens when you play by their rules over there."
"Are you always this...blunt?" the woman asked with a bit of a frown.
"Ranchan doesn't do subtle," a new voice said.
Ranma turned to see two approaching figures.
"Wondered when you'd come over here," Ranma said.
"Ranma-sama," Konatsu said. "I'm glad to see you alive. Though I didn't expect to see you so..."
"Yes?" Ranma asked.
"Red," Konatsu tried experimentally.
"Not much choice until recently," Ranma noted.
"Who's your student?" Ukyou asked, nodding out toward the raceway.
"One of my children," Ranma said.
"Chil..." Ukyou started to say in surprise. "You're the...mother?"
"What sort of question is that?" Naoko asked. "Do you think she could be the father?"
Ranma turned toward the woman momentarily before looking to Mousse.
"She has a curse similar to mine," the Amazon man said. "Only she changed gender."
"So, wait," Naoko said. "When you were talking about liking women before, it's because you're male under that body?"
"Ehh," Ranma said shrugging. "I have trouble seperating what makes someone male and someone else female outside of body parts."
Naiki huddled around her delivery box as she ducked under a rounded, decorative stone went flying over her head, as projected by an over-sized spatula. This was followed by a potted plant that the green-haired fighter reduced to powder as it approached her.
Grimacing, Naiki saw another opening in the other fighter's defenses, but her continued defensive stance left her unable to actually make use of it. She had to waste all her effort on a combination of dodging attacks and moving forward as well keeping from getting lost.
Which meant she couldn't shake this stubborn competitor.
"So, Satomi," Kouta shouted from at her side, "why is it none of this crap is harassing you?"
As she spoke she hurled a trio of shuriken spatulas. One bounced off of Naiki's cheek and the other two slashed outward and into a rope just past the two runners, releasing a roll of landscaping ceramic columns out into the raceway.
Those columns eventually found there way in Kouta's path, who dodged the first and kicked the second upright, wedging her foot behidn it so the third shattered into the second. Fragments of the ceramics flew outward in a spray of shrapnel mostly directed toawards Naiki as Kouta kicked out the disintegrating column towards her opponent.
All while keeping her own delivery secure and safe.
I'm guessing your 'spell' is causing the debris?
"What do you mean it's not coming at me?" Naiki asked back. "What was all that just now?"
"That's coming from me, Jackass!" Kouta snapped, proving that Ukyou had taught her more than just how to fight and cook.
Behind them, as racers dropped off, or were dropped, the wave of debris lessened somewhat, though a fair collection of objects simply latched onto the next enspelled person in line, which was quickly becoming Kouta.
Giving her ample ammunition against Naiki.
"One thing I know for certain," Naiki grumbled as she dodged again.
"Defensive drills," Ranma noted a few minutes after reaching an overlook that had view of the race.
"How did you manage to teach someone that makes Ryouga look untouchable," Ukyou asked. "That's like getting vinegar out of a cow."
Ranma sighed and shook her head.
"Mousse, Naoko-san, Ukyou, Konatsu," Ranma said. "Think I can borrow your students to teach mine?"
"I'm assuming, given your training history, this is going to involve much humiliation of your daughter?" Mousse noted.
"Probably," Ranma noted grimly.
"I don't think Issei would mind," the Chinese warrior said, smirking as he turned to look at his long-time lover. "Would you?"
"As long as he's not late for work," Naoko said.
"I'm thinking Kouta's getting a head start on that, actually," Konatsu noted.
Can you go through the steps of designing the spell again? Tessa thought, sneaking to the side of the gym as she took this opportunity to forestall her own problem.
Not...that actually cut me!...right...don't spill! don't! don't!...now! was Naiki's sliced up response.
"Well, they both seem to be making good time now," Naoko noted as she looked from the speck that was Naiki hopping along rooftops, to the clatter of debris that was the demon-cursed Kouta.
Do you have to stay to a specific route for this race? Tessa asked?
Naiki took a blow on her back that she couldn't completely dodge and grimaced.
I don't think so, Naiki said. Nothing was said...
Fall back, Tessa suggested.
What? Naiki asked.
Fall back, she repeated. Act like you're giving up and take an alternate route. Leave her with your spell.
Naiki's face scrunched up in confusion as she "listened" to the plan.
"You're wide open, Satomi," Kouta shouted.
As the okonomiyaki martial artist swung the huge spatula forward, Naiki ducked down to the ground and stopped cold, letting Kouta flash right past her.
The chef blinked in confusion herself for a momment, and then shrugged as she had to avoid another piece of debris.
"Giving up on the fun already, sugar?" she asked with a smirk before turning all her attention on moving forward despite the debris.
Behind the other martial artist, Naiki waited for Kouta to pass ahead for a minute or two before leaping off in another direction at driving speed, now free of having to protect her cargo.
"Is your kid a pk?" Ukyou asked, frowning as she watched the debris harass her student.
"That's a way to put it," Ranma said. "So what's the last deal on this race?"
"What are you talking about?" Ukyou asked.
"The last time Sao...Satomi was involved," Mouse noted, "the goal was unaware that he was the goal and they had to trick him into eating it."
"The fact that he was Kuno didn't help," Ranma muttered.
"Perhaps some research into the history of this event would have been wise," Konatsu noted.
"I think the surprises will be minimal," Mousse noted. "There's a Tendo on the judge panels."
"Yeah, I saw that, but I didn't recognize the given name," Ukyou said. "I figured it was a mistake."
"No, I confirmed it with Kasumi," Mousse said. "The woman is one of her sisters."
"Wait," Ranma said. "Akane Saotome, Nabiki Hibiki, Kasumi Ono. So who's...."
Ranma groaned and slapped a hand to her face.
"Kurumi?" she asked glumly.
"Oh, you know of her as well?" Mousse asked.
Naiki and Kouta stopped cold and stared at each other as both became aware of each other.
In that instant, her motion stopped, the spell that was depending on that motion came to a close and the martial-chef was pelted only one more time with assorted debris.
Both martial artists looked across at each other and then toward the building that held their goal.
Somewhere, a guitar played Morricone's masterpiece...
...and both girls zipped across the street toward the house...
"Hold there!" a voice called out.
...and both girls stopped dead in front of a woman wearing a judge's sash.
"First thing first," she said. "Let's make sure your meals are intact."
Naiki and Kouta turned to stare at each other suspiciously as each held their delivery box to the side and opened it up well away from their opponent.
"You mean the mystery food bandit from when we were young?" Mousse said.
"The one that ate so fast we couldn't even get a clear look?" Ukyou added.
Konatsu simply shivered.
"Yes," Ranma said dramatically. "By now, it is already too late."
"All right, you'r both disqualified," the woman said, smirking as she licked her lips.
"What...?" Naiki said, blinking and looking into her delivery box.
"You...you...JACKASS!" Kouta demanded.
"What kind of race requires you to disqualify yourself?!" Naiki protested.
"Did anybody at the finish line tell you there'd be a judge to check your delivery
BEFORE you handed it off?" the woman scoffed. "You need to be prepared to look for deception as well as assault when you're carrying valuables."
"What valuables, this is takeout?!" Naiki protested.
"Speak for yourself," Kouta protested. "Ucchan's Okonomiyaki is a masterpiece not to be stolen by random fake judges!"