Black Dragon Productions proudly presents
a Ranma and Rosario Plus Vampire crossover
Key: Writing/Emphasis, Sounds, 'Thoughts', "Speech", (Comments that you can freely ignore)
As this is a continuation chapter, and mostly just fighting, I opted not to start with an opening omake for those reasons and totally not general laziness.
Big Human on Campus
Stupid Like a Fox
That was how long it had taken to go from sunlight to raging snowstorm.
Dark, rumbling clouds had ballooned across the sky, dumping waves of snow into the knoll below. As the snowfall had grown heavier, the wind had picked up from nowhere, blasting corridors of sleet through the ravaged flower field. Snow piled up in uneven dunes, a few lumps here and there marking the resting places of fallen hanabake while torrents of powder rolled into the holes from which they had emerged and created scattered funnel-like pits.
Visibility dropped so quickly that by the time Tsukune thought to turn around and stop Chopper before the troll got out of earshot, not only was he completely obscured by snowfall, but the wind was blowing too hard for Tsukune to possibly be heard anyway.
Tsukune was fairly stunned by the sudden shift in weather, but as he kneeled down and hugged his shoulders he gathered his wits and began figuring out what was going on.
At the very least the unseasonable and impossibly sudden blizzard couldn't be natural, so Tsukune knew this was definitely some monster or witch's doing. But whose?
Oyakata was the first suspect. Casting a blizzard in order to escape was a pretty desperate trick, since he was pretty sure this storm would kill off the rest of the sunflowers and hidden hanabake, but then the witch was certainly in a desperate situation.
'That doesn't seem right, though. The snow wouldn't bother Kouma much, and he can track her anyway. Plus it was coming from the wrong place... I think. I guess a magic storm could come from any direction it wants.'
Maybe Yukari or one of the other girls had triggered a trap or magic item in the witch's home? That seemed slightly more likely, but if so they had stumbled upon and mishandled the weather-control magic awfully quickly. It had only been a few minutes since he had sent them to search the dwelling. Maybe that would make sense if it was a trap, but why would a trap generate a blizzard outside? This was sure to be noticed by people on the outskirts of the city, and he had to imagine that witches would have more direct spells for safeguarding their home.
Tsukune shuddered and rubbed his arms, scraping a layer of snow off his school jacket. "Well, I suppose I'd better find the others so we can get to the bottom of this," he mumbled as he turned toward the witch's dwelling (or at least his best guess at the dwelling's direction, given that he couldn't see it anymore), "I really wish Kouma hadn't run off to murder Oyakata like that. I could really use some fire breath right now."
FWOOSH! White flame suddenly blasted out in front of him, causing the human boy to stumble backward and fall into the snow. The jet of fire melted a short trench through the snowfall across his path, and Tsukune raised his arms to protect his face as a cloud of steam swept over him.
"Pardon me," said a calm, yet sinister voice, "you requested some fire breath? I couldn't help but oblige."
Tsukune could hardly place the voice, but as a dark shape walked toward him through the snow, it resolved itself into a figure that Tsukune knew very well, if only briefly.
"Kuyo?" Tsukune asked, looking flabbergasted, "what are you doing here?"
Kuyo's footsteps crunched softly over the collected snow as the former Enforcer approached, a smirk plastered over his face. "What do you think I'm doing here, Aono? Come now, I'll give you three guesses."
"I hope you're here to do something about this blizzard," Tsukune said, glaring around him as if at the weather itself.
"Two more guesses," Kuyo deadpanned, his smirk fading.
"Well, I doubt you're here to try out for the Protection Committee..."
"Oh, yes, of course! I'm here to submit myself to YOUR judgment, to see if I'm WORTHY to have the title that was stolen from me!" Kuyo snapped, a vein bulging on his forehead, "one more guess!"
"Hey, that last one didn't count! I was just thinking out loud! I never thought you were trying out!" Tsukune complained.
"IT DOESN'T MATTER! Hurry up and figure out that I'm here to kill you!"
Tsukune had, of course, figured that out as soon as Kuyo had appeared. At present all he could do was try to play for time, hoping that an opportunity for escape would present itself, or perhaps that a more capable fighter would come along.
"Well, I thought that..." he trailed off, shivering, and then pointed to the sky, "hey, is this your blizzard?"
"It's Jin's special technique, adapted for my own strategy," Kuyo said smugly, pointedly neglecting to mention that the strategy itself had also been borrowed from the yeti, "with this in place I can isolate you and the rest of your weak, pitiful Committee, and then my men will take you apart!" Kuyo growled, gripping his hand into a fist.
Then he shook his head in annoyance, casting out a wave of snowflakes that had settled in his hair. "It IS rather chilly, though. Here. Let me help."
THWOOM! Kuyo lit up like a floodlight, blasting Tsukune off his feet and into a snow bank as a shock wave of hot air peeled the topmost layer of snow from the ground. White powder jumped into the air and splashed back onto the shattered and depleted soil as lukewarm water, and even part of the gray clouds above parted over the column of white fire that surrounded the vengeful youkai.
Tsukune scrambled to his feet, his skin prickling at the sudden change of temperature. Where before his head and clothes had been buffeted by ice, now a repressive blanket of heat covered a wide radius surrounding the former captain.
As for the former captain himself, his form had changed completely as Kuyo at last unleashed his true body. A muscular, extensively tattooed human torso stood atop a lower body composed entirely out of white fire, the flames forming a rough outline of a fox's hind legs. A pair of tall ears, also composed of fire, sat upon Kuyo's head, and behind the former captain four blazing tails lashed lazily at the sky. Tsukune idly considered that the change was almost the complete opposite of Kouma's earlier power-up; Kuyo's detonation was somehow... serene, almost, and carefully directed and controlled. A thing of willpower rather than fury; of purification rather than primordial destruction.
It didn't really distract him from the fact that Kuyo's fire was much more likely to kill him, however.
"So I get to see your true species, huh? What are you, exactly?" Tsukune asked, searching for an escape route while trying not to look like he was searching for an escape route.
"Ah, yes. Our last... encounter... didn't last long enough for it to come up, did it?" Kuyo mused, trying not to let his frustration show. "Very well, it's only fitting that the accused should know fully the circumstances of their judgment. I am a yoko, a fox spirit." He grinned, his tails whipping about more quickly to build up heat. "And today I escort you to HELL, Aono!"
"Hi everyone! I'm back!" Shizuka Nekonome cheered, waving exuberantly in front of her usual chalkboard. "I know we're revisiting old territory now, but since it might actually matter this time, let's talk about yoko!"
Shizuka tapped a pointer against the chalkboard, which boasted a chalk sketch of a fox done in the classical Japanese style, surrounded by small flames.
"The yoko is a rare fox monster that specializes in magic, particularly elemental fire. In Japanese folklore, yoko are akin to gods, usually serving as messengers and servants to deities when not taking on the role themselves. In those stories, they are invariably powerful, intelligent creatures, many of whom bear a mischievous streak, and this much is usually true."
Shizuka giggled. "But all that stuff about serving gods and such is all nonsense, of course. Some yoko probably thought it up as a way to mooch off of the humans by pretending to represent a god, and then took all the offerings for itself. After the first one thought it up, it was only a matter of time until the technique spread, granting it 'common folklore' status among humans, and I'm sure there were a few gutsy yoko who took to claiming to be gods themselves. Anyway, over time the humans paid less and less attention to religion in general and the yoko in particular, probably because the ones serving and feeding the greedy foxes noticed that their fortunes were usually much worse than their more skeptical peers, rather than the reverse."
She pointed to the next picture, which had many stick-figure humans passing by a shrine with a disgruntled-looking fox sitting on it.
"Within the last few centuries humans' attitudes toward yoko have shifted from servile to a dismissal of the species as myth, and it's generally observed that the yoko as a race are taking it very poorly, blaming humanity for losing touch with its spirituality and thus depriving them of an easy living. Those few humans that still recognize and deal with yoko - mostly monks and priestesses - usually treat them as nuisances rather than holy spirits, and most devil hunters treat them with the same ruthless prejudice as they do demons."
Shizuka gestured to the next part of the chalkboard, which boasted a snarling fox surrounded by flames and scribbled runes.
"Yoko are somewhat combat-shy, being generally lazy, sneaky, and having no warrior heritage or pack mentality in their culture. Although they're quick to resort to threats and painful demonstrations to get their way, actual violence is reserved for when they face no chance of losing or feel they have no choice. When they do fight, however, they are extremely destructive, and will bring an ungodly amount of power against their target in the form of fire magic. Although their flames can reduce non-resistant enemies to ashes in a single hit, their fondness for tricks and bluffs means they're probably short on actual combat experience. Good luck dodging!"
"Okay, wait, I'm confused," Tsukune said, holding up a hand as Kuyo glared down at him contemptuously, "are you just here to get revenge for me displacing you, or are you here to actually become captain of the Protection Committee again?"
"A little of column A, a little of column B," Kuyo said casually, white pyres igniting in his upraised palms.
"So how are you planning on becoming captain again once I'm dead?" Tsukune asked, scratching the side of his head. "The position doesn't go to the person who defeated the last captain. The Student Council President was very clear on that. How are you going to take the title from Ranma after he gets it, since he's vice captain?"
Kuyo's eyes narrowed. "I'll worry about that after the main obstacle to my rule is DEAD!" He growled, stepping forward and causing the air temperature around Tsukune to jump instantly.
"I don't know, Kuyo," Tsukune said, making a face, "you should probably go over your plan again if you actually want to run the Protection Committee. The way I see it, I'm probably more use to you alive."
Kuyo stopped advancing, dropping his gaze to the ground. "Alive? But then... No, Saotome would... Wait..." Then he growled, and the yoko whirled around. "JIN! JIN, GET OUT HERE!"
Kuyo crossed his arms over his chest impatiently as a huge, lumbering form slowly approached from one of the walls of sleet.
It took nearly a full minute, but eventually Jin arrived, huffing desperately as he crossed the barrier between his prolonged snowstorm and Kuyo's heat zone, his lungs burning from creating such a massive blizzard. "Yes... Hah... Lord Kuyo?" He asked between gasps as he stepped gingerly into the muddy ground that encircled the blazing monster.
"Explain the plan for my seizing control of the Enforcers again. It DOES call for Aono to be brutally murdered here and now, does it not?" Kuyo demanded, scowling.
Jin took several deep gulps of air, and then replied. "Yes. We have to eliminate the current Protection... Hah... Committee, and then blackmail Hokuto into appointing the old Committee... Hah... using that information from one of those Anti-Schooler thugs... Hah... So long as nobody survives from this confrontation... Hah... there will be a need to replace the Committee and no proof it was us that killed them... Hah... rather than the Headmaster's stupid plot..."
Kuyo nodded sharply and then turned around. "See? Now you..." The yoko trailed off as he searched the muddy clearing, his eyes twitching as he failed to see Tsukune anywhere.
"Who are you... Hah... talking to?" Jin asked, leaning on his oversized baton.
"Hmph. So the human worm got away," Kuyo grumbled, beckoning to Jin, "come. Help me track him down so I might deliver my final judgment."
"That's not a good plan," the yeti replied, having caught his breath well enough to keep from panting mid-sentence, "Aono is a long-term threat. We need to hunt down his fighters first, before he can rally them or they wander off. He won't-"
"Jin," Kuyo interrupted, his eyes narrowing, "who's in charge of setting strategic priorities in the Protection Committee?"
The yeti blinked. "Aono Tsukune."
"No, I mean in the FORMER Protection Committee," Kuyo said irritably, "who USED to be in charge of our strategic priorities, back when we were in power?"
"Keito," Jin answered without hesitation.
"She was not-" Kuyo started to shout, before calming himself and rubbing his forehead, "no, never mind. Allow me to rephrase the question."
SHWOOM! Jin winced as a lance of white fire speared into the snow bank behind him, causing a wave of steam to bloom up over the melted patch of snow.
"Ah. So THAT'S what you meant," Jin grumbled, "all right, then. Let's just ignore all of the very real threats to our success here and use two of our strongest assets to track down the easiest target."
"That's what I thought. Now move! Aono's judgment awaits!" Kuyo roared, the flames all around him flaring dramatically.
"Okay, this looks promising," Yukari mumbled as she started rifling through a bookshelf, "A Beginner's Guide to Pyromancy. Sorcery Made Easy. Martha Stewart's Guide to Homemade Hexes. Curses: For Dummies. Fifty Shades of Gray Magic..."
Kurumu frowned as she looked at an assembly of alchemical equipment set up on a table. "So what are we looking for, here? All of this stuff looks really sketchy."
"Just look for anything that seems like it was used recently," Moka advised from behind her, "Yukari or Ruby should be able to tell if it's important."
The vampiress opened up a pantry closet and looked inside, noting an assortment of jars full of seeds and industrial fertilizer.
"Well, I think I found her stock of hanabake and gari gari seeds," Moka said, pulling out one such jar and looking at the large, colorful label with a dancing gari gari on it, "are these store bought? This label looks like something you'd see in a supermarket."
Kurumu turned to look at the jar Moka was holding up and read the rear label. "Warning: keep out of reach of children and megalomaniacs. In case of over-seeding, please contact your local military defense force to remove excess plants. Brought to you by Monsanto."
"I guess we should probably destroy these," Moka mumbled as she unscrewed the lid and looked inside.
Kurumu plucked a seed out of the jar, and then held it up to look at it. It resembled a dark red bean, similar to a kidney bean but twice as large.
With a shrug, Kurumu popped it in her mouth.
"Kurumu! What are you doing?" Moka asked, surprised.
"What? You said we had to get rid of them, right?" the succubus asked before she crunched down into the seed. "Hey, these are pretty good! They're sweet and chewy on the inside!"
"I just don't understand how some species can just eat any old thing they find lying around," Moka said, making a face.
"Really? You drink your friend's BLOOD, and you're going to criticize my eating habits?" Kurumu deadpanned as she scooped a handful of the seeds out of the jar.
"Yukari, did you find the right book?" Ruby asked, walking out of an adjoined room with her arms full of jars and small ceramic pots.
"I think I've got something here," Yukari said, flipping through a book titled "Arcane Medicine Volume 3: So You Fucked It Up".
"Ah, I remember that book," Ruby said as she dumped the various materials on the small table that held Oyakata's crystal ball, "I used it to fix the crows back when was learning basic spells and my familiar bonding would sometimes cause brain haemorrhages in them."
"Yeah, I noticed that bookmark," Yukari said, quirking an eyebrow, "anyway, the chapter on accidentally melting people's faces has a few good counter-spells that we can try out. But we'll need to go get Chopper first. They all require troll bile."
"It's a regrettably common reactant," Ruby agreed grimly as she pulled the book toward her to check her current supplies against the required items.
Yukari turned her head to the side and called out toward the kitchen. "Hey, can one of you go get Chopper? We need him for something."
"No way," Kurumu said immediately, jabbing a thumb at the small, circular window set in an earthen wall, "I'm not going out into that."
"Into what?" Yukari asked, glancing toward the same window. "It's completely... snowing?"
As everyone else boggled at the sleet blasting by the window, Kurumu slowly came to realize what was strange about there being a blizzard outside when it had been perfectly clear only five minutes ago.
"When... When did it..." Moka asked, fairly stunned.
Yukari walked up to the window, and her eyes narrowed. "I remember this technique. That damn yeti must be out there."
"That Enforcer with the beard?" Kurumu asked, scratching her head. "What is he doing here?"
"That's a good question," Yukari muttered, adjusting her hat, "we haven't heard a peep out of any of the old Enforcers for a while. But whatever he wants, if he's tossing around snowstorms in the human world, we have to stop him."
"Excuse me," said Ruby timidly, raising her hand, "what do you mean 'old Enforcers'? What's this about?"
"It's kind of a long story," Moka said with an awkward smile, "but we almost definitely have a yeti outside causing trouble. We should go get Tsukune and the others so that we can find out what's happening and-"
The vampiress was interrupted by the door bursting open, startling the girls as an icy wind blasted inside along with four bodies practically tumbling through the doorway to escape the storm.
The rearmost body, a massive, humanoid creature made of wood, turned around as soon as it had enough clearance and slammed the door shut.
Although initially quite surprised at having unfamiliar people break into the house, the members of the Protection Committee quickly realized that these new arrivals weren't nearly as unfamiliar as they would have liked.
"Oh. It's YOU guys again," Yukari said with a sneer, promptly opening another one of the magic tomes in front of her and turning her gaze away as she appeared to completely disregard the arrivals.
The Netherworld monsters delayed any angry retorts for a few seconds as they shook the snow off, the bone dragon in particular making an extensive effort to get the layers of loose ice out from between its joints.
"What're you chumps doing here?" Kurumu asked, holding the jar of gari gari seeds under one arm as she popped another such seed in her mouth. "You know what's up with the weather?"
"What's 'up' with the weather is your downfall!" Said the pumpkin-headed lantern, stepping forward and pointing a knife in Kurumu's direction. "Now that we have you trapped, we'll-"
"Hey!" snapped the tree golem suddenly, almost crushing the skeletal dragon underfoot as he pushed ahead of the others. "What do you thing you're doing? You monster! They're just babies!" he snarled at Kurumu.
"What? The seeds?" Kurumu shrugged and took another one out of the jar. "Well, technically they tried to eat us first, so consider it self-defense snacking," she stuck out her tongue before biting into the next seed, causing the tree golem to clench his fists angrily.
"Okay, fine. Whatever," the lantern said, stepping in front of the massive plant creature again, "as I was saying, now that we have you-"
"Wait, is that furry dragon guy still with you?" Moka asked, pointing to the fourth body crouched unhappily in the back, "I thought he was a good guy! Why would he be with you now, after the Enforcers were disbanded?"
"Peer pressure," the tree golem said simply, causing the holy dragon to flinch.
"He doesn't have any other friends," the skeletal dragon explained, chuckling, "probably because he used to be part of the Protection Committee! Isn't that ironic? Ha!"
"Hate you guys... SO much..." the holy dragon grumbled, his wings hanging limply at his sides.
The lantern started tapping his foot on the floor, his arms crossed impatiently as he waited for the tangential banter to end.
"Sorry," Moka said, a sweatdrop rolling down her head, "I believe you were describing your evil plans?"
"Right. Thank you," the pumpkin-headed monster snapped, "we have you trapped in here! Now we'll destroy you all, and regain our slightly more prestigious position as Protection Committee minions!"
"Doing freelance evil has been tough. We're looking for something with a bit more stability," said the skeletal dragon.
Kurumu crunched into another gari gari seed, looking utterly unconcerned. "Really? You're going to beat us? That's a pretty tall order, even if our 'hostage' over here doesn't want to help." She jabbed a thumb behind her toward Ruby, who was calmly mixing potion ingredients as Yukari whispered instructions from the book in front of her.
"Hmph! Last time I was a bit bogged down, and then pinky here transformed," the tree golem said gruffly, pounding a hefty fist into its barrel chest, "this time, we're stuck in a small space with no escape! I'm gonna grind you into mulch!"
"Yeah, no," Yukari said, grabbing the test tube that Ruby had been mixing and flinging it across the room at the plant monster.
Crash! The glass tube shattered easily against the golem's tough hide, and a purple mist bloomed around the point of impact, swallowing up his field of vision entirely.
"What's this? A smokescreen?" the Netherworld brawler asked, twisting his head back and forth within the dark cloud. "You think you can get past me so easily? Ha ha ha! Just try it, weaklings!"
"Uh, dude..." the lantern said nervously, his voice seeming to come from above the blinded golem, "that wasn't a smokescreen..."
As the mist dissipated, the Netherworlder was quite surprised to find himself at eye level with Kurumu's ankles, as he had apparently shrunk to a size comparable to one of her feet. Tilting his neck back did get him a perfect view up her skirt, but somehow he didn't really appreciate the sudden benefits of being miniaturized so soon after threatening to beat the girl to death.
"The bigger they are..." Yukari said as she slammed closed the book of curses she had been reading from, "the greater the marginal effect of the shrinking curse!"
Crunch! Kurumu chomped down on the last of the gari gari seeds, and then turned the empty jar upside-down, placing it on the floor over the stunned wood golem.
"So..." she said casually, her fingernails lengthening into claws, "now's the part where you destroy us all, right?"
The lantern snapped his free hand to the side, letting another dagger fall into his grasp. "S-So what? Just 'cause w-we're even now doesn't mean you can b-beat us! Right, guys?"
"Dibs on the useless one!" the skeletal dragon shouted, making sure to give the succubus a wide berth as he lumbered toward Moka.
"I'll take on the witch," the holy dragon murmured bitterly, hovering barely two feet off the floor as he made for the table in the corner,
Large droplets of sweat beaded on the waxy surface of the lantern's head as he aimed his knives at Kurumu. The hapless minion was well aware that he had ended up with the toughest opponent of the lot; he still bore stitched-up scars across his face from the last time they had fought, although he had to admit they made him look that much more menacing as a knife-fighting thug.
"Ugh! Whatever! I'll give you a nice set of cuts to match the ones you gave me!" he shouted, snapping his arms toward the buxom schoolgirl and flinging his daggers straight toward her face.
Clang! Kurumu slashed the first of the weapons out of the air, turning with the swing to bring her wings around and swat down the second one. As she turned completely around she vaulted for the lantern, closing the distance in the time it took him to produce two more daggers from his sleeves.
"Don't make light of me, you gutless gourd!" Kurumu shouted, swiping at the lantern's right arm. He yelped as bits of hay burst from his ripped sleeve, and Kurumu followed up with a snap kick that slammed the knife-slinging scarecrow up against the wall.
"B-Back off!" the lantern stammered, flinging his remaining dagger wildly as bits of chopped straw fell from the wound on his arm.
Kurumu barely twisted her head as the blade zipped past her cheek harmlessly, her fingers spread while her lidded eyes swiftly moved over the many vulnerabilities in her foe's defenses.
"What the hell?" the lantern sputtered in a panic. "You weren't nearly this good before!"
"I've fought a lot since then, I guess," Kurumu said with a smirk, "aw, are you out of practice? Want me to go easy on you?" she asked mockingly, sliding her talons together like scissor blades.
"Actually, I'd really appreciate it if I could get a handicap, here," the lantern said hopefully.
Kurumu straightened, raising an eyebrow. "Seriously?"
"Yes? Please?" her opponent begged, the nervous smile carved into the pumkin head stretching wider.
"Well, all right," Kurumu said reluctantly, spreading her arms apart in preparation to attack, "I was just going to knock you out, but if you want to be crippled, I can do that instead."
"What? No, I-AAAAAAUGH!"
"Are you really doing this?" Yukari asked, her voice thick with disdain as she stared at the holy dragon slowly floating toward her. "I get that nobody likes you, and that's sad and all, but do you think siding with the first people to pay you any attention and doing whatever they want regardless of your interests is going to work out?"
The holy dragon stopped his approach, his eyes narrowing as he hovered several feet above the floor. "Isn't that exactly what YOU did?"
Yukari's expression soured. "Being a smart-ass doesn't help much, either."
"Again: you would know, right?"
"Excuse me," Ruby interrupted, standing in front of Yukari and trying to ignore the panicked shouting coming from the rest of the room, "but what do you hope to accomplish by attacking Tsukune's friends?"
"Me? In the grand scheme of things, nothing. I fully expect this gambit to fail, regardless of my own contribution," the white-furred monster groused, "but since I'm given a choice of targets, then at least I can finally bring the infamous trouble-maker Sendo Yukari to justice!"
"Trouble-maker?" Ruby asked, raising an eyebrow as Yukari winced, holding a spellbook against her chest. "What did she do?"
The holy dragon grit his teeth, and sparks of electricity seemed to crackle around his eyes as his voice rose to a towering boom. "Sendo Yukari is a famous prankster, having incited dozens of fights, sabotaged multiple school functions, caused extensive damage to school property AFTER seizing some of it illicitly, and, though they have yet to file complaints regarding the matter, eyewitness reports clearly recall incidents of sexual harrassment of Akashiya Moka and one case of almost killing Saotome Ranma with dark magic!"
Yukari winced repeatedly at the list of her crimes, but once the holy beast was finished, Ruby dismissed it all with a snort.
"Is that all? Property crimes, disturbing the peace, and ONE case of attempted murder?" the older witch asked, crossing her arms.
"Um, it was more like negligence and involuntary almost-manslaughter, actually," Yukari said weakly.
"Whatever," Ruby said, rolling her eyes, "I've tortured and killed several humans in cold blood, turned what is technically municipal land into a death trap, tried to kill Tsukune repeatedly for trespassing, and only recently got talked down from genocide! And you want to execute Yukari for playing pranks?"
Yukari and the holy dragon fell silent at the admissions, and for several seconds the only sounds in the room were the lantern's agonized screaming.
"Okay, you're right," the holy dragon finally admitted, "if I'm going to try to morally justify killing someone here, it should probably be you, Miss Goth. Prepare to be perforated!"
Ruby blinked, and her expression faltered as the holy dragon started flapping his wings harder.
"W-Wait, I didn't mean-"
"Eat my feather blades, murderer!" the holy dragon shouted, flinging his wings forward and shooting a number of white, tufted darts toward the older witch.
"Ha ha ha! I got the easy kill!" the skeletal dragon cheered as he stomped away from the confrontation between Kurumu and the lantern.
Moka frowned, staring down at the shorter monster. "What, you think I'm some kind of pushover?"
"No, I think you're a freak with a serious mental condition that makes you swing wildly between pushover and indestructible maniac," the undead beast clarified, "so no hard feelings, but I have to kill you now while you're still a pushover."
'It's not a "mental" condition, it's a magical condition!' Evil Moka complained. 'Make sure to tell him that! There's a difference!'
'Little busy, here,' Moka thought back as the skeletal dragon spit out a thick cloud of black gas.
The Netherworld thug cackled as Moka started coughing. "Yeah! I LOVE picking on the weak! Really gets my bones rattling!" he said happily, his bleached white maw twisting into a smile.
Crack! The undead minion was taken completely by surprise as Moka's leg burst from the cloud of gas, smashing into his skull and almost taking it clean off.
"Ha! It'll take more than a - Cough! - puff of poison to take down a vampire! Cough!" Moka said firmly, one arm covering her mouth as she coughed into it.
Snap! The minion's neck twisted back into place, and then he promptly sunk his teeth into Moka's leg, apparently unimpressed with her defense.
"OW!" Moka fell onto her back as she found herself unbalanced, and then started kicking her free leg desperately at the skeletal dragon to get him off. "Let go! LET GO!"
The undead beast hardly seemed bothered by her struggles, and he flung his head to the side before releasing her, sending the vampiress flailing into the witches' kitchen cabinets, where she crashed hard enough to send several empty pots and metal utensils bouncing down on top of her.
"Mm, tastes like chicken!" the skeletal dragon crowed, his bony, useless wings stretching out as he stalked toward Moka once again.
Moka pulled herself up using the nearby cabinet, casting a glance as her wounded leg. The bite was deep, but without much tearing, and though it hurt a great deal, at least she didn't bleed much as a vampire.
'Okay, think! This guy is fairly strong, resists physical damage, and is made of bones!' Moka considered as she staggered backward, away from her opponent. 'What would Tsukune do?'
'Easy! Tsukune would ignore us completely and go to someone else for help, eventually setting up a complex and needlessly dangerous plan just so that he doesn't have to take off this thrice-damned Rosario and let me wipe out the enemy!'
'You're not helping,' Moka thought wryly as her darker self grumbled in her head.
The skeletal dragon got close enough to spit out another cloud of dark gas and promptly did so, causing Moka to stumble backward as she tried to stay out of range of the dusty, poisonous magic.
'Well, there's always Plan B,' Evil Moka mused.
'What's that?' Moka asked her inner self.
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Several cards suddenly sunk themselves into the skeletal dragon's side, lodging themselves into his ribs and stunning the Netherworld monster.
'Wait for someone else to save you, of course.' Evil Moka answered as the cards blossomed into flames.
"Ah! Ah! AAAH! Magic damage! Argh!" the skeletal dragon hopped around in pain as smoke and flames poured from his rib cage, and Moka blinked as Yukari stepped in front of her.
"Yukari? Did you beat the holy dragon guy already?" Moka asked, relieved.
"Nah. Ruby's taking care of him," Yukari said, tilting her head toward the corner of the room.
Thwip! Thwip! Thwip! The holy dragon grunted as several black feathers stuck into the chair he was using as cover, and then he rose up to float above it as he loosened his own wings.
Thwip! Thwip! Thwip! Ruby ducked behind her table, which had been turned on its side and was by now covered in sharpened white feathers that had stuck into its surface.
"I already did! Go away!" Ruby snapped, her black, magical wings spreading as she prepared yet another return volley.
"Bah! Two weaklings instead of one? Fine! I'll tear you BOTH apart!" the undead minion snarled, snapping his bleached jaws viciously.
Thud! The broken, shredded body of the lantern suddenly landed between the skeletal dragon and his targets. His pumpkin face was covered in criss-crossing cuts, and bits of broken hay poked out of dozens of tears in his shirt and pants.
"How do you feel about taking on three 'weaklings'?" Kurumu asked, her wings spread wide as she walked up to join her friends.
"Three's a bit much. I don't like three," he replied, his fury abating quickly as he realized he was fully outmatched, "any chance we could keep it at two?"
He didn't get a verbal response, as instead Yukari withdrew some more magic cards and Moka took down a cast-iron pan from the kitchen counter.
"Right of surrender?" the skeletal dragon asked meekly, crouching onto the floor.
"Sure," Kurumu snapped, pointing to the fallen lantern, "pick up your buddy and go sit in the corner."
"Yes, Ma'am," the undead minion squeaked, biting onto his companion's mangled leg and dragging him away.
"Yukari, Moka, go find something warm to protect us while I get rid of that winged guy. We need to search for Tsukune as soon as possible," Kurumu said, her tail whipping about irritably behind her as she stomped off toward the feathery stalemate in the corner of the room.
"Got it! Remember that these monsters can be easily resurrected, so there's no reason not to kill them outright!" Yukari said cheerfully as Moka started rummaging through a cabinet in search of blankets.
"If these guys are here, the entire former Protection Committee could be out there hunting for us! What if they've already found Tsukune?" Moka asked.
"Tsukune's gotten pretty clever. I think he'll be able to outsmart the old Enforcers," Yukari mused, "I'm more worried about the others. Kana was moping off by herself, Mizore was unconscious, Chopper is a dim bulb, and Kouma could be miles away by now, for all anyone knows. None of them have a quarter of his good sense. I just hope they manage to find each other."
"Dang, I am SO lost," Chopper grumbled as he stared uselessly through the falling snow.
The troll's rock-like skin was covered in frost, and Chopper frequently found himself scraping at his arms to keep them from freezing over. He was losing heat fast, and without anything to do, he was staring to feel kind of sleepy as he stood out in the middle of a snow drift.
Actually, Chopper did have something he should have been doing, but it would have involved digging through the snow, which would have done nothing to help his arms and legs freezing over. When he had separated from Tsukune, he had been caught off-guard by the sudden snowstorm, and once he lost his path to the witches' hut he had stopped to try and find his way by climbing a tree and searching with a higher vantage point.
He had put Mizore down in order to do so, naturally. She was an ice-person, right? She'd be fine, probably.
Unfortunately, it seemed that staring into an impenetrable blizzard from higher up doesn't actually help see through said blizzard. And what was worse, when he climbed back down there was no sign of Mizore, the girl having apparently been buried by the snowfall and Chopper being unable to remember exactly where he had placed her.
"I'm sure she'll be fine. Snow person..." he mumbled, his vision starting to swim. Trolls were natural hibernators, and after eating several hanabake earlier, he was feeling sleepier by the minute.
"I'm telling you, there's nothing out here!"
Chopper's vision snapped back into focus as he heard someone shout above the howl of the blizzard, and he turned to face his best guess as to where the sound had originated. He could immediately make out an orange light through the waves of sleet, although it was very faint.
"Well, we have to make sure, right?" came a second voice. "We'll do one more sweep, and then check up on those four nameless goons we sent out earlier."
"What? Why do you get to tell me what to do? I outrank you!" complained the first voice, although it sounded much... whinier than before.
"We don't have any ranks anymore! Just try to stay focused for a little longer, would you? Nobody without elemental resistance can survive for very long in this mess."
"I know, right? I'm so glad we kept one of the nameless goons to use for a heat source! Thanks, goon!"
"My name is Kishia..."
Chopper took a moment to stretch his shoulder, licking his lips as layers of ice broke off and fell to the snow bank in wet shards.
"Now that's JUST the thing to warm me up!" he mumbled to himself, pushing through the mounds of snow with new energy. "Time for fightin'!"
"Nobody cares what your name is. Without a formal rank we're all just scheming thugs," Haruo groused. He was already in his gargoyle form, wings folded as tightly as possible against his back as he stayed close behind Kishia, who was likewise in her magma elemental form. Smoke poured from the long orange tendrils that made up her hair, mixing with the steam that rose in wispy streams from the ground as her considerable body heat melted the nearby snow in the same manner as Kuyo's battle form.
Only Volos was still in human form, thanks to the obvious constraints of a hydra's size.
"Can we go home now? Kuyo took care of all the dangerous fighters, right?" Volos whined, keeping as close to Kishia's side without actually touching the steaming rock that made up her skin.
"We have to make SURE! If one of them escapes, they'll probably be attracted to goon's light and smoke through the storm, and come right to us! That's what Jin said, anyway..."
"Not that we can launch much of an ambush with you two shouting at the top of your lungs," Kishia mumbled sourly.
"What was that, goon?" Volos asked, his eyes narrowing sharply as his violent personality asserted itself.
"She said that you can't really ambush someone with you two shoutin' like that," Chopper repeated as he stepped out from behind one of the ice-laden trees that dotted the knoll, "I agree."
Haruo and Volos siezed up, both of them immediately recognizing that they had stumbled upon one of the most dangerous members of the Protection Committee, and one that Kuyo was supposed to have killed personally by now.
"Chopper Rikishi," Kishia hissed, the seams running through her hands glowing as she clenched them into fists, "so Kuyo hasn't dealt with you yet, huh?"
"Kuyo? He out here too?" Chopper asked, trudging forward relentlessly. His arms hung loosely at his sides, and his massive fists dug furrows into the snow banks as he pushed his way toward the newcomers.
Haruo and Volos, the latter of whom was apparently under the control of one of his less aggressive personalities, began to back up toward the periphery of Kishia's melt zone, but the elemental didn't budge as she kept her eyes locked on Chopper's, her head craning upward in the effort as he approached.
"Yes, Lord Kuyo is here. But you needn't worry about him. We'll be more than enough... enough to... Uhm..."
The magma elemental trailed off as Chopper stopped right in front of her, holding his hands a few inches over her smoldering skull.
"You can keep talkin'," Chopper explained, heaving a happy sigh as he felt the heat crack the icy numbness in his skin, "don't mind me."
As the elemental fumed (literally), Haruo turned to Volos, opening a wing in front of the two of them to act as a curtain as he whispered.
"So what are our chances here? The goon is a fire-type, after all. Think you could take Chopper with me flanking from the skies and his regeneration stunted?"
Volos' eyes narrowed as his mouth twisted into a hateful smirk. "Think you can stop yapping and FIGHT, for once?"
Shoving the gargoyle to the side, the hydra's eyes turned pitch black and he swung his arms behind his back. "Hey, troll! I've got some wrestling moves I wanna show you!"
Throwing his arms forward, they both stretched out like rubber, the hands turning into swollen, serpentine heads that each bit down on one of Chopper's arms.
The troll frowned uncertainly at the large hydra jaws clamped tightly onto his forearms. "I don't think that's actually a wrestling-"
FWOOSH! Before he could get any further in his critique, Kishia spat a fireball into his chest, startling him before the elemental dashed out of the way.
"Up we GO!" Volos growled, his body rapidly growing and shifting into its monster form as heads 1 and 3 pulled the troll up into the air. Within seconds, the bemused brawler was strung up like a scarecrow, his arms spread out to either side as two of Volos' three heads strained to keep the bulky monster aloft.
"Incoming, miscreant!" Haruo shouted as the gargoyle dove down through the air, curling his wings and limbs together to turn his body into a plummeting boulder.
WHAM! Chopper grunted as he was smashed into the ground, the partially baked mud barely cushioning his impact as Haruo bounced off and unfolded into a crouch.
Whoomp! Volos followed up by slamming his tail down onto the stunned troll, and the three former Enforcers started chuckling darkly as they surrounded their prey.
"Whee! Teamwork is awesome!" Volos' first head cheered brightly. "Just think! If we had worked together like this before, we might not have been kicked out of the Committee in the first place!"
Haruo winced. "I'd rather not think about that, actually."
Chopper began to push himself up, and a burst of steam shot from Kishia's nostrils. "You're outmatched, fool! Give up and die!"
Chopper didn't respond, and as he got to his feet he cracked his neck experimentally.
"Yeah, you're not bad," the troll said conversationally, "but your grip was a little tight on me when your buddy here impacted. Sapped some of the strength of the hit. Good follow-through, though."
Volos' heads blinked. "What?"
"Your wrestling move. It could've been worse," Chopper explained.
"You know, I think he's right," whined Head Three, "it really hurt my jaw when he was jarred loose like that. How about a little advance warning next time, Two?"
"Stop AGREEING with him and KILL!" snarled Volos' most aggressive mind, his tail whipping to and fro irritably.
"Well, I think I've gotta show off my own stuff now," Chopper said, grinning as he turned his gaze toward Kishia, "try to keep up, 'kay?"
The magma elemental snorted as Chopper started lumbering toward her.
"What are you going to do to ME?" Kishia taunted, the veins of molten rock glowing vibrantly through her torso. "Fire is your weakness, and my very BLOOD will burn-"
CRACK! Said blood splashed high in the air as Chopper clenched his hands together and slammed them into the elemental like a wrecking ball, taking her clean off her feet and sending her spiralling into the snow off in the distance.
"Gah, she wasn't kidding," Chopper griped, swiping his hands through the air as molten rock sizzled against his knuckles, "that definitely stings."
"Perish, miscreant!" Haruo howled, diving at Chopper from behind.
The wrestler turned sharply, digging one hand through the ground and flinging a fan of mud up into the descending gargoyle.
Haruo flailed as muck obscured his attack and immediately broke off, unwilling to commit to his attack. Chopper took a swing at the escaping flier, but was unable to connect before Haruo rose out of arm's reach.
"I got him! Eat water jets, lunkhead!" Volos' second head snapped before all three heads converged with mouths agape, blasting Chopper with pressurized water.
The impact almost knocked the wrestler off his feet, but Chopper dug in against the jet, his bulk resisting the force even as he slid backward through the muddy ground.
As the water let up, giving way to the freezing cold of the blizzard that had reasserted itself with Kishia's exit, Chopper began to feel dizzy from the accumulated damage as he felt his energy drop again.
"Not gonna lose," the troll grunted, his tusks clenched tight as he tried to focus on the gasping hydra, "not to you chumps! No way, no how!"
He started moving, water running down his slowly regenerating skin as his feet kicked up more mud and broken clumps of ice.
Volos started to back up, and the central head snarled as it sprung forward. "What are you running for? Cowards! He's weakened!"
"I know! It wouldn't be fair to attack him now!" Head One opined as beads of sweat slicked Head Three's brow.
"I'm not getting in throttling range of that guy! Let's chomp down more snow and do another water jet!"
With the conflicting heads slowing the body's actions, Chopper quickly closed on Volos, and he bunched up his legs in preparation to jump up and grapple his foe.
Whump! And then Chopper fell flat on his face as Haruo struck him in the back, knocking him over.
"Ha! Eat mud, troll!" Head Two crowed as he seized enough control of his body to stomp on Chopper's back, smashing the wrestler's face into the snow bank. "Yes! YES! You never stood a chance against all three of us! Goon! Get over here and toast this malcontent to cinders!"
Several meters away from the conflict, Kishia staggered through the quickly melting snow, trying to hold her chest in and keep her rather severe carapace breach contained. "Yeah, okay, I'm coming... Seriously can't remember my name, huh?" she grumbled.
Before she took another step, the unmelted snow in front of her suddenly burst outward, and the elemental barely had time to blink before a ball of ice smashed into her face, sending her reeling backward once again.
"What? What was that?" Haruo asked, watching as the snow settled down into its normal, presumably inert form.
Shft, shft, shft... A mound of snow suddenly rose up from one of the nearby snow banks which had not yet been reduced by Kishia's body heat, the top powder tumbling to the sides as the hard-packed ice below shifted curiously. Then the mound started moving, traveling through the snow with unnerving speed and kicking up a wave of dusty white behind it.
"What's going on? What's happening?" Haruo asked nervously as he watched the disturbance circle around him and Volos.
"Tunneler! Watch your feet!" Head Three shouted, seizing control of his body long enough to leap back off of Chopper.
"They don't have any tunnelers on their team!" Haruo protested, although he wasted no time in taking to the air again to avoid any attacks from below.
Shft, shft, shft... The moving mound of snow submerged, and then branched off into three mounds that started rushing toward the three combatants with increasing speed.
"Oh, Zeus, no! I think it's one of those beaked graboid monsters, like from the movie!" Head Three quailed, still trying to run away as Volos' other heads stubbornly held their ground.
"Who, Sano? I know that guy! Sano, is that you?" Haruo asked.
With a soft grinding noise, one of the mounds halted and unfolded in front of the gargoyle, snow falling away to reveal clean-edged ice. The creature that emerged resembled Mizore in its shape, but was made entirely from ice, from its jagged hair down to its probably unnecessary shoes. It was obviously mobile, though, and as its glassy, translucent eyes stared at the surprised gargoyle, it reared back a hand of curved, frozen blades.
"You're not Sano!" Haruo shouted as he swung a wing to block the attack, the ice scraping harshly against his rock-hard hide. "You're an imposter!"
Crack! Haruo pierced the ice doll through the chest with his claws, causing the elemental automaton to shudder and start breaking apart.
Shooft! Shooft! Shooft! Half a dozen more ice dolls rose from the snow underfoot, and Volos' second head roared angrily as the frozen puppets brandished their sword-like fingers.
"Decoys! DECOYS! I HATE decoys!" he snarled, his tail whipping sharply to one side and smashing one such puppet in two.
"You know, that probably makes them more effective," Head One pointed out, raising an eyebrow.
"KILL ALL DIVERSIONS!" Head Two roared before he chomped down on another ice doll, crushing it within his jaws.
Haruo landed on the back of another, his taloned feet digging into the ice of its back and taking hold, and then he took off into the freezing winds before tossing the puppet at a tree and watching it shatter.
"Ha! Is this the best that the Protection Committee has to offer?" the gargoyle crowed. "Ice statues and dullards?!"
"No, that's the third best they have to offer," Head Three said bitterly as Volos stomped all over the remaining dolls, "remember? Saotome and Gamaroshi aren't-"
"It was a rhetorical question!" Haruo snapped. "Now hurry and finish with those pawns so we can dig our team lantern out of the ground and finish off..."
Haruo trailed off, his eyes scanning the ravaged and muddy snow as he searched for any sign of their previous victim. "Ah... That's... probably going to come back to bite us in the tail later."
"Ha ha HAAA! Die, expendable distractions, DIE!"
"Guh!" Mizore gasped harshly as she burst from the snow. The fresh powder seemed to flow around her body smoothly as she emerged, either sliding off her clothes like water or being absorbed into her skin and hair.
"Even in conditions like this, you're really hard to carry," the snow fairy grumbled as she turned around, crossing her arms over her chest.
In the snow bank behind her, five ice dolls slowly emerged from the white blanket as if ascending a staircase, straining to carry Chopper atop their frozen shoulders.
Chopper, for his part, looked annoyed as he shook his head to dislodge some of the frost that had collected there through his extremely uncomfortable trip under the snow. "Then put me DOWN. I don't even know what you're doing." He could tell they were in the middle of a deep depression in the Earth, probably the crater where Kouma had gone ballistic. Snow had piled up on all sides, creating a large, icy pit that was perfect for hiding... if you didn't have to worry about freezing to death.
Mizore cocked her head to the side. "Doing? I'm saving you from being eaten by idiots."
"No, you're running away," Chopper refuted, kicking one of the dolls away and letting his feet fall to the icy ground, "if ya wanted to save me, all ya had to do was keep the serpent busy long enough for me to get up. Then we coulda taken 'em all down!" He stood up fully, and then irritably swatted an ice doll aside, watching it crumble at the blow.
"We were outnumbered and they had a fire elemental..." Mizore said, turning her gaze away, "I don't want to fight them."
"Well, I DO wanna fight them!" Chopper growled, though he felt his eyelids getting heavy again. "Besides, the fire chick was at least keeping the snow down! I'm freezing out here!"
"So?" Mizore asked, quirking an eyebrow. "You'd rather be fighting a flaming elemental than hiding in the snow?"
"YES!" Chopper snapped, as if were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Fine... I'm not stopping you from going back. But don't expect me to help you again," Mizore said bitterly, leaning on the edge of the snowy crater and looking away.
Chopper turned away, intent on doing precisely that, but frowned as he stared at the edge of the crater and scraped snow off his arms.
"So, wait, which way back to the fight?" Chopper asked.
"I don't know... I was kind of zig-zagging around, looking for a hiding place," Mizore admitted, "which way back to the others?"
"No idea. Got lost while I was trying to carry YOU to safety."
Mizore frowned. "So we both got turned around rescuing each other... and now we don't know where our friends or even our enemies are?"
"Yeah, guess so," Chopper mumbled, yawning, "man, we're really useless without Aono around, aint we?"
Tsukune breathed onto his hands as he huddled behind an ice-caked tree, trying his best to retain body heat in the heavy snowfall.
The storm had lessened in intensity considerably since it had first descended on the knoll, with the freezing winds eventually dying off. Thanks to that, plus the time Tsukune had spent being protected from the harshest weather by Kuyo, he wasn't in any immediate danger from the cold, although he still considered that he might get frostbite if he didn't find some place warmer.
Which led to his current dilemma. He was currently hiding behind a tree, surrounded on all other sides by snowfall heavy enough to obscure vision for more than a few meters. Considering that his uniform was also caked with snow, he estimated that he'd be pretty hard to spot, putting aside that his camouflage was slowly killing him.
On the other side of the tree, however, was a circle of inexplicably light snowfall. It was almost thirty meters across, and he could tell that it was completely surrounded by blizzard rather than being on the edge of the magical storm; the edge of the calm area was piled high with snow that reached Tsukune's waist, while in the calm region slivers of ground were still visible. It was a sanctuary, a spot of protected ground surrounded by punishing ice.
And Tsukune couldn't think of any reason for it to exist besides being a trap.
'If they summon these storms on the spot, then they can't keep going on forever, right? There would always be a chance of a victim surviving, either because they found shelter in time, were prepared somehow, or just handle storms better than most. But if you could lead them to a single spot, there would be no place for them to run.'
It was under this logic that he was hiding on the edge of the calm zone, keeping watch for his pursuers.
'Jin can't be too good at tracking through his own storms, or they would have found me by now. Either they're wandering around searching at random, which would be stupid, or they're searching for places where I might try to hide until this snowstorm peters out, in which case they're probably watching this site as closely as I am. Kuyo would have to tone down his flames so I don't see them, but he doesn't strike me as the patient type. He'll probably decide I'm not here and move on soon. I just hope I'll be able to see him, and that the others are okay.'
It wasn't one of Tsukune's better plans, but he was working with the extremely limited resources of himself and two rather predictable enemies. And with his only objective being survival, he didn't have much cause to overthink things.
This is why he didn't have a good idea of what to do when he suddenly heard a familiar and melodious voice cry out in relief.
"Ah! This place is almost clear! Thank goodness, I thought I was going to freeze to death!" Kana said to herself, swooping through the snow to land in the clearing.
Shivering, the siren immediately started vibrating her wings and combing a hand through her hair, removing the accumuluted snow as quickly as possible.
Hwoosh! Kana stopped as she heard a soft rushing noise behind her, and she folded her wings before glancing hesitantly over her shoulder.
BWOOOM! Tsukune had been in the middle of deciding whether or not to announce his presence to her when a white fireball arced through the sky and exploded barely two meters away from where Kana was standing, blasting the rather frail monster off her feet and sending her tumbling to the side.
Sucking in air heavily, Kana begin to panic and started flapping her wings wildly, trying to get aloft while she was still pushing herself off the ground. Unfortunately, she didn't manage to get airborne before a large grey shape dashed out of the snow and grabbed her, a single massive hand wrapping around her waist like a human would grasp a baguette.
"Got you!" Jin cheered, his thick lips parting into a smile.
As Kana gasped and struggled uselessly, Kuyo stalked into the clearing after him, a muddy trench following his exit from the snow drifts as his flaming tails melted the nearby ice.
"FINALLY, this ambush of yours caught someone. Break her neck and let's go," the yoko demanded, clearly annoyed, "clearly no one else is coming. Aono could be miles away by now."
"Humans don't move that fast, especially in harsh weather," Jin said, holding up the trapped siren and watching her struggle, "besides, I think I have another use for this one."
Kuyo glared at his subordinate. "You said we didn't have to keep any of them alive!"
"We don't, really. But this one is a siren," Jin said with a smile as he stared intently at the terrified girl's silent gasping expression, "if we make her cry out, the others will hear her, even from a great distance, and probably come running."
Kuyo tilted his head to the side. "You want to bring them all here? Is that wise?"
"That depends on whether or not our fighters managed to succeed in their ambushes, really. But since you and I have only managed to defeat this one, I'm more concerned about finding our enemies than them ganging up on us," Jin reasoned.
Kuyo looked displeased, crossing his arms over his heavily marked chest. "Very well, I suppose your plan has HALF-WORKED so far. Go ahead."
Facing away from Kuyo, Jin placed his free hand over Kana's head, pressing a single giant finger against her forehead as the siren's quiet whimpers shifted to an enraged glare. "Well now, how best to get a good scream out of you?"
He was somewhat surprised as he felt Kana inhale powerfully, and only realized too late that he couldn't cover both his ears while still holding his prisoner.
"ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE, ASSHOLE! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
Jin rocked back under the sonic assault as the thin layer of snow that had collected in the clearing blasted outward, forming a cone of shaking dirt leading away from Kana in the direction she was facing.
Kuyo happened to be in the path of this cone, and, unfortunately for him, also possessed much keener hearing than Jin. The yoko promptly collapsed to his knees in pain and clapped his hands over his blazing ears, his own shout of surprise and agony completely swallowed by the sonic blast.
Kana felt her lung empty quickly, and her earlier dread returned as the grip around her waist tightened considerably.
"Spiteful little bird, aren't you?" Jin said loudly, his ears ringing. "I'm afraid if that was supposed to be part of some escape plan, it fell far short! Yetis aren't that easy to stun!"
"WHAT?" Kuyo shouted, still on his knees with his hands over his head.
"I was just bantering!" Jin shouted, not turning around. "Be ready for when the Protection Committee comes!"
"WHAT? Detect Mitty? Who's Mitty?" Kuyo asked, his ears thundering. "Hades' teeth, it's like someone trapped a Nickelback concert inside my skull! This is worse than the damned tornado!"
"Look, just... Nevermind!" Jin growled, recognizing that he couldn't really communicate with Kuyo right now and hoping that his superior would recover in time to fight any incoming enemies.
Jin grit his teeth as he turned around, intent on telling Kuyo to stop yelling even if he had to write it in the snow.
Instead, his eyes widened as he saw a figure sneaking up behind the stunned yoko. "Kuyo! Behind you!"
However powerful the sonic blast had been, it didn't quite have the same kind of impact as a ten-pound rock to the back of the head. Kuyo's vision went fuzzy as he fell face-first into the ground, the flames all over his body immediately weakening as he fought to stay conscious.
Tsukune let the large stone he had hauled from the snow fall onto the ground, his heart thundering in his chest as he stared at Jin and Kana, who stared back with wide eyes.
"Ah. Using our temporary deafness to hide the sound of your footsteps in the snow and using an improvised weapon to put down a dangerous opponent with relatively weak defense! Impressive! As expected of a human!" Jin shouted, his free hand going for the baton on his back. "So! Now what are you going to do to keep ME from crushing you?"
Tsukune pursed his lips as he took a step back. "I, uh... I really didn't have time to think this one all the way through." Kana grimaced at the admission.
"I thought so. Well, out of respect for your ingenuity, I think I'll kill you quickly myself, before Lord Kuyo can recover and kill you with fire. He can get disturbingly creative when he's angry." Jin started stomping forward, siren in one hand, and baton in the other.
Tsukune gulped and started backing away, his earlier numbness thankfully forgotten with the rush of adrenaline and his proximity to Kuyo's flames.
"You... treacherous... WORM!"
Jin halted as Kuyo started pushing himself up off the ground, the flames around his body quickly building up to their previous levels. Tsukune did not halt, and was really considering sprinting away at this point.
"Lord Kuyo, please, rest a moment," Jin grumbled, looking somewhat annoyed that his superior had resisted falling unconscious, "I'll deal with Aono."
"You're going to BURN, wretch!" Kuyo snarled, his eyes seeming unfocused and his head tilting drunkenly as he stood up fully, extending his arms to the sky.
"Lord Kuyo?" Jin asked, feeling more concerned as a circle of obscure runes composed of fire flickered into being over Kuyo's head. "Uh, please ensure that any area-of-effect attacks are used with proper discretion, my lord."
"He's probably still deafened," Kana deadpanned, "probably can't see straight right now, either."
"Oh dear," Jin whimpered, finally starting to move away himself as Kuyo's body started lighting up like a signal flare. Tsukune had already made it to the snow bank and was rushing through the heavy snow as quickly as he could, looking ready to throw himself to the ground at a moment's notice.
"Die! Die! DIIIIIIIIE!"
Tsukune took that as his moment's notice, and dove into the snow.
Jin, as always, was more deliberate in his panic, and tossed Kana aside before holding up the Ice Breaker in front of him, bracing himself for the tide of heat sure to come.
Tsukune kept his head covered as Kuyo screamed, and was dimly aware of the surrounding pillow of freezing snow rapidly dissolving around his feet and soaking his legs.
Had he been curious or foolish enough to see what Kuyo's fury-induced attack looked like, he would have inevitably compared it again to Kouma's enraged detonation. When Kouma's fury reached it's tipping point, it reached a peak, focusing and amplifying his power into a single point of molten hate. Kuyo's fury was wild, uncontrolled and undirected. Although he was, to be fair, still suffering from temporary hearing loss and a concussion.
Flames poured upward from his tails, lashing about in an accelerating cyclone of destruction. As the fire rose, it took the shape of a burning tornado, which would have reminded him of Ranma's technique in its form and destructive potential. Ranma surely would have scoffed that his tornadoes were bigger.
In any case, by the time the roaring stopped, Tsukune was kneeling in an ankle-deep layer of cool, muddy water, his back hot, but damp and undamaged.
Peeking behind him, he couldn't see Kuyo, Jin, or Kana; the flames had turned the nearest snow banks to steam, obscuring most of Jin's trap zone in a simmering cloud.
As Tsukune cautiously stood up, he wondered about Kana's fate. He wanted to call out for her, but he doubted it was safe to draw attention to himself yet. Even if Jin had been dispatched by the fires, Kuyo was certainly fine, and would be able to hear him shouting even in his mostly-deaf state.
"There you are!"
Tsukune flinched as an angry shout came from the edge of the steam cloud, though it was female rather than male.
Kana flew out of the haze, her damp wings pounding furiously to keep aloft and her skin a bright pink from the unexpected steam bath.
"Are you crazy or something?" the siren demanded, flying toward her superior.
"No, just desperate," Tsukune explained as he turned around and started to run through the shallow water, "it can be hard to tell one from the other at first. Are you okay?"
"I'll live!" Kana shouted angrily, reaching Tsukune's position and flying several meters over his head as she spoke. "I managed to duck behind the yeti before Kuyo's attack reached me! I guess that stick of his blocked most of it, because I was fine until the steam hit me!"
"Stop shouting, please," Tsukune said calmly as he started trekking through the snow drifts too far from Kuyo to be affected by his attack.
"Why?" the siren snapped. "I think I have a right to be a little upset right now! You didn't-"
Thwoom! A fireball sailed past Kana's position and detonated on a snow-caked tree, blasting it apart and sending flaming branches scattering into the snow bank below.
"Because your voice carries very, VERY well, and we don't know if Kuyo's still deafened," Tsukune pointed out, hunkering over slightly as he doubled his pace, "well, actually, I guess now we know he isn't."
Kana's eye twitched as she flew past the decimated tree, but she remained silent. She badly wanted to vent more, preferably in the yoko's face at Earth-breaking volume, but she yielded to Tsukune's sense of caution.
"So, do you have a plan?" Kana asked mildly, throwing her voice so that it sounded to Tsukune as if she was right next to him.
"Yes, at least if you consider 'run away and hope you run into friendly people' a plan," Tsukune admitted, "the storm has cleared up enough that they should have seen the blast."
"If they haven't been taken out themselves," Kana grumbled, flying low over Tsukune's shoulder, "who are these morons and what's their problem?"
"They're the old Enforcers. The people who were in the Protection Committee before we replaced them," Tsukune explained.
"There was a Protection Committee before us? I've never seen them before."
"That's why we replaced them," Tsukune said wryly, "if I remember correctly, those two we ran into are by a good margin the best that this group has. If the other former Enforcers are around, the others should be able to handle them."
"Even Akashiya?" Kana asked doubtfully.
Tsukune rolled his eyes. "She's with Kurumu and Yukari."
"Then I'm worried about those two instead," the siren mumbled, "that's quite an anchor to have around their necks."
"Can we talk about something else?"
"Okay, fine. I think I see Chopper," Kana said, her wings spreading out further and carrying her further up.
Tsukune glanced behind them, and couldn't see Kuyo or Jin in the distance. On the other hand, the blizzard had withered to almost nothing, and Tsukune's trail through the snow was impossible to miss now.
"Hey! I think I see Kurono, too!"
Sighing wearily, Tsukune began trudging forward again to gather his subordinates. The battle was still far from over.
"Lord Kuyo, that was entirely unnecessary," Jin grumbled.
The yeti's fur was scorched around his arms and legs where the Ice Breaker hadn't managed to absorb the flames, and his hair was damp from the subsequent bloom of steam that had rapidly cooled to a fine mist.
On the whole, though, Jin looked unharmed, if extremely unhappy.
"Maybe if you had been keeping proper WATCH, it wouldn't have happened!" Kuyo snapped, wiping the back of his head with a blood-smeared tissue. In a few seconds the scrap of paper passed too close to his blazing ears, catching alight and quickly burning down to cinders.
With a disgusted grunt, Kuyo let the ashes float away as he shook his hand, glaring at Tsukune's tracks in the snow.
"We've wasted enough time. Let us go finish them off."
Jin shook his head. "We've already strayed too far from the original plan... Aono is doubtless trying to rally his forces even as we speak, while ours are still scattered."
With an aggravated snort, Kuyo threw a blazing hand up toward the sky. A pillar of what seemed to be pure light blasted upward at the gesture, splitting the darkened skies in a show of magic that was doubtlessly seen for miles.
"New plan: we gather our own men and do this the old-fashioned way," Kuyo snarled, "we face down our enemies and crush them directly! No more hunts!"
"I liked the old plan," Jin groused as he spotted a large, dark shape approaching; Volos, no doubt. "I realize that our original ambush schedule is ruined now, but the blunt application of massive force into a wild melee leaves far more to chance than I would normally accept."
Kuyo snorted. "Oh, DO shut up. You're just afraid of fighting Rikishi again."
"The last time I hit him with the Ice Breaker, he laughed. LAUGHED. He thinks having his internals frozen is funny!"
"Shut up, Jin. I see Haruo approaching," Kuyo said, his eyes narrowing, "we march. This is the END of Aono Tsukune. By the time Saotome returns from his own diversions, all that will be left of his friends is bones and ashes!"
Keito hummed lazily to herself as she approached the groundskeeper's shed, a sack of spider silk hanging over her shoulder and occasionally twitching.
"Tobaki! I brought lunch!" Keito said as she pulled the door open. A horrid smell, reminiscent of rotting flesh and molten rubber, assaulted her immediately, but the spider woman shrugged off the stench with practiced ease.
In the far corner of the shed, a massive pile of yellow sludge stirred, shifting to point its one and only functional organ, a giant red eye, at Keito.
"What did you find?" Tobaki asked, a tentacle extending from her foul mass to meet her friend.
"Oh, just a raccoon. Nothing special," Keito said, smiling as she put down her latest victim, "I used less poison than normal, so it's still struggling and in terrible pain, just the way you like it!"
"Aw, you're the best, big sis!" Tobaki chirped, or as close as her nerve-shredding psionic voice could get to chirping, at least. The tentacle reached out toward the sack, which began to shake and bounce as the critter within sensed its impending demise.
"Did you ever find out what that snowstorm was all about? Not really the season for it." Tobaki asked, her eye briefly glancing over toward a small, narrow window slit near the ceiling. Her tentacle slowly wrapped around the silken sack, as if savoring the mounting terror of the helpless animal within.
Keito doubted she had to hold a very convincing poker face in order to fool Tobaki, but nonetheless kept herself from smirking as she shrugged. "No idea. Must be that 'climate change' thing the humans are so stirred up about nowadays. Crazy humans."
"Hmmm... Well, I guess a snowstorm wouldn't be enough to bring everyone down," Tobaki reasoned as she dragged her lunch toward her body, slowly tightening her grip around it, "still, shouldn't they be back by now? They weren't going there to fight, after all."
Keito shrugged as she hopped into a patch of web stretched out from the wall into a hammock, nearly dislodging a spider that was attached to the underside. "Well, they say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Maybe the witches turned out to be more troublesome than our good captain anticipated."
Keito clasped her hands behind her head and laid back in her hammock.
Then she sat back up and craned her head over the edge so that she could get another look at the spider clinging to the underside of her webbing. It wasn't a giant spider, though it was fairly big for a spider in the human world. In fact, with a closer look, she could see that there were a also a few smaller ones hanging there, and all of different species.
"Is it just me, or are there a lot more spiders living around here now than when we arrived?" Keito asked, puzzled. Looking around, she could see that the corners and ceilings were covered in webs, and that those webs were occupied by numerous arachnids. She was actually surprised she hadn't noticed it earlier, although since she was a spider monster herself she tended to take masses of webbing for granted.
Tobaki finished sucking the squirming web cocoon into the yellow puddle that made up her body before she answered. "Yeah, every day Guile disappears for several hours, and then comes back with a bunch of friends. He's out right now, in fact."
"Somehow that makes me uncomfortable," Keito mumbled, "I really don't know why."
"I think it's neat! I'm thinking of building a shrine to Mom in here!" Tobaki said, a slimy tendril flailing enthusiastically as sickening crunching noises came from her molten bulk.
Keito winced. "I have a feeling that wouldn't end well..."
"I see them! Looks like they're all coming at us at once!" Kurumu shouted as she hovered high above her friends to get the best vantage point. She was hugging a blanket over her shoulders to keep off the snow but had no difficulty flying in the aftermath of the storm now that the winds had faded.
Down below Tsukune silently took stock of his subordinates, trying to maintain an expression of complete confidence while suppressing the temptation to look up Kurumu's skirt.
Seriously, did that girl just not think about it, or was it all part of some subtle succubus long-term romance strategy? None of the other girls seemed to have so much trouble keeping their skirts down, and Kana managed to preserve her modesty when she flew. He'd have to ask Ranma if Kurumu ever flashed him by accident when they were alone together.
Tsukune shook his head vigorously, irritated by the distraction. He was tired and more than a little sore, but he couldn't afford to relax now, of all times. Kuyo was coming, and it seemed that the embittered yoko was bringing all four of his stubbornly loyal minions.
Which meant that the new Protection Committee at least had the old one outnumbered, if nothing else.
Strangely enough, the two fighters that had been most effective at destroying the numberless hanabake, Chopper and Mizore, looked the least ready to keep fighting. Chopper was wounded in such a way that he didn't seem to be regenerating and also seemed to be half asleep, his body swaying back and forth. Mizore wasn't obviously harmed, but seemed nervous. She was acting even gloomier than usual, and he'd had to ask her directly not to slink off and hide in the snow banks.
On the other hand, Ruby had offered to help defend them despite her having nothing to do with this conflict, and the rest of the girls looked pretty much unscathed from their run-in with - in Kurumu's words - "the enemy's comedy relief".
"Tsukune, do you have a plan?" Yukari asked, fidgeting with a magic card.
Tsukune nodded grimly. "Yeah, but it's a lot less clever than usual," he admitted, "if we play things right, we might be able to choose our targets, and maybe take them out one by one. Kuyo's the problem though; Ranma beat him so fast that I don't know how strong he is."
The human boy shuddered, his grip tightening on the blanket Moka had given him to help keep him warm despite his soaked clothing. "I know that Kuyo's going to be gunning for me specifically, so I was thinking that I could act as a decoy to draw him into range, and then the rest of you spring an ambush to-"
"Tsukune?" Moka asked suddenly, her expression unusually determined. "I... I have an idea."
Moka swallowed nervously as Kurumu landed, and then explained herself as she touched the metal artifact around her neck. "The rosario. If you free my inner self, then-"
"Then we have TWO powerful psychos on our hands," Kurumu interrupted, "and Ranma isn't around to take down EITHER of them."
'He did NOT beat me!' Evil Moka screeched, causing Moka to flinch at the sudden scream of frustration in her head.
'I think the problem is less that he's the only one strong enough to defeat you, and more that our friends think they need him to defend them from you in the first place,' Moka thought back, 'now shut up and let me talk!'
"Look, I know none of you trust her, but my other self doesn't want to hurt any of you!" Moka protested.
"Just Ranma?" Kurumu asked, her eyes narrowing.
'I dare her to tell us he doesn't deserve it,' Evil Moka growled.
'Not helping!' Moka growled in her head. "Ranma's not here! I wish he was, so that we wouldn't have to do this! I don't really like being temporarily displaced, you know! But if she can save us, she will! Believe in her!"
Kana scratched her head as she listened to Moka's appeal, and then glanced toward Mizore. "Do you know what they're talking about?"
"Kind of... Moka's got this condition... or something... that turns her into an incredible fighter..." Mizore said, leaning against Chopper's side and trying to keep the brawler upright. "You know, like a REAL vampire."
"REALLY? I thought she was weak and useless!" Kana said, crossing her arms under her breasts.
"Nope. Sometimes she's crazy instead."
Tsukune looked very uncomfortable with Moka's plea, trying not to look the vampiress in the eyes as he weighed his options.
He didn't want to release Evil Moka. EVER. She had attacked his best friend and for all he knew she would lash out at anyone else she didn't "approve" of at the slightest provocation. Moka clearly didn't control her other personality or have especially clear insight into her thoughts, so just how much could she really know about her darker half's intentions?
But what if she was right, and he was endangering them all for no reason? With an easy solution staring him in the face and pleading to be used, could he really afford to ignore it?
Tsukune bit his lip as he turned his gaze away from Moka's. "Moka, look... I'll keep your idea in mind, all right? Calling out Evi-I mean, Inner Moka is Plan B."
"Isn't Plan A likely to get you incinerated, though?" Yukari pointed out. "As far as any of us know, you're the only one that can take off the rosario."
"Not now, Yukari," Tsukune grumbled, rubbing his head, "okay, so, first, can anyone think of a way to keep Chopper awake?"
'Figures. Okay, let's do this.' Evil Moka said calmly.
'Do this? Do what?' Moka responded back. As far as she knew, she had been directly and firmly rebuffed.
'Walk up right behind him. Yes, okay. Now stand right next to him. Closer! Come on, make like you're about to start rubbing yourself all over him, like the succubus!'
Moka had no idea what was going on, but reluctantly did as instructed, standing behind Tsukune's shoulder as he spoke and leaning over him closely enough that Kurumu was giving her dirty looks.
'All right, let's see if this works...'
"I'm sorry, but most of my crows are gone," Ruby explained, bowing her head meekly in response to one of Tsukune's questions, "the ones that survived up until now were driven off by the blizzard."
"Ah, I see. Well, there's no helping it, then," Tsukune mumbled, "by the way, I know it isn't really my responsibility, but I'm sorry that Keito and Tobaki ate so many of your familiars."
"Oh, it's all right. Predators will be predators. Or... monsters, I suppose," the teenage witch said awkwardly.
"Tsukune, can you hold this for a minute?" Moka suddenly asked, taking his hand.
Tsukune almost jumped at suddenly having his arm held, the pleasant and unexpected sensation intruding on the grim exercise of preparing for combat.
"Oh, s-sure Moka, no problem," Tsukune stammered, not turning to look at the vampiress as his hand closed around something cold and metal. Making sure to keep himself composed, he continued with his work. "Mizore, are you going to be able to-"
Tsukune trailed off as Kurumu's eyes widened and Yukari raised an eyebrow. Then he pulled his hand forward and stared down at it, confirming that he was indeed holding Moka's rosario and that it was indeed separated from its chain.
Tsukune calmly turned around and stared at Moka, who, oddly enough, looked as surprised as everyone else.
"Did you just TRICK me?" Tsukune asked, as if he didn't trust his own eyes regarding the matter.
"W-Well, actually, it wa-" anything else Moka intended to say was swallowed up by the rush of air as her aura started to build, and Tsukune was almost blasted off his feet as a column of power burst up around her.
"I feel like we just set a very dubious precedent," Yukari noted dryly as she clutched the rim of her hat, squinting against the wave of snow being blasted into her by the energy pulse.
"'We'? The rest of us didn't do anything!" Kurumu complained, shielding her eyes from the light and swirling powder.
"Speaking of us not doing anything, should we be, like, trying to stop her or hiding or something?" Kana asked, her wings unfolding nervously. "You made it sound like she's pretty dangerous."
"Not quite as dangerous as what's coming for us over the ridge," Yukari said with a shrug, "so I'd just stay back and watch Plan B in action."
"What in the blazes is that?" Kuyo demanded as he saw a flare of light erupt past the next snow bank. The ridge was covering the current location of the new Protection Committee according to Haruo, and the gargoyle squinted uselessly into the distance as he tried to make out what was going on.
"I... I don't know. A spell, maybe? Sendo is still with them, though I thought she didn't know much besides annoying cantrips."
Jin snorted. "Some of those cantrips work. We should advance quickly, and take the ridge." The yeti pointed to the high snow bank ahead of them. "Lord Kuyo, you and Kishia should go on ahead and launch projectile attacks from a distance, ideally aimed at Chopper Rikishi first to remove their strongest remaining fighter. Haruo will fly close support and intercept anyone trying to engage you. Volos and I will move on their flanks, shutting down their escape routes and breaking the remaining combatants."
"I'm blasting Aono the very second I see him," Kuyo said defiantly, arms crossed over his tattooed chest, "I won't let him escape me again."
"I'm not really good with ranged attacks," Kishia admitted, her granite claws scratching the back of her igneous head, "it's the magma thing. It's so HEAVY."
"There's no way I'm getting in the way of anyone who thinks they can take on Lord Kuyo," Haruo said squeamishly, "can't I pick off the little girl instead?"
"Does this mean we have to walk through the snow again without a fire-monster nearby?" Volos' third head complained. "It's so cold!"
Jin spent several seconds in silence as he stared listlessly at his companions, and then eventually he threw up his hands.
"Fine. New plan: we'll stand around here wasting time and give the enemy plenty of time to prepare for us or even launch a counter-attack," Jin grumbled.
"Can do!" Volos' first head said cheerfully.
"Wait, wait... Something's coming!" Haruo said, squinting his eyes as he flew up a little higher to gain a better vantage point.
He couldn't see exactly what it was, gargoyle vision not being spectacular in the first place, but it was kicking up a wave of snow behind it as it raced toward them up the other side of the ridge.
"Well then, let them come. I tire of chasing cowards through the wilds," Kuyo snarled, the flames around his body building dangerously.
"It's highly likely that this is some ploy to allow the rest of the Committee to escape," Jin explained.
"Hey... Is that... Akashiya?"
Snow blasted upward as Moka crested the ridge, launching herself into the sky briefly before she landed heavily ten meters in front of Kuyo's forces. Standing upright, her silver hair whipped about behind her in a long tail as she stared contemptuously at Kuyo's minions, standing just at the edge of the zone in which Kuyo and Kishia's combined heat was rapidly melting the nearby snow.
"See? Decoy," Jin said immediately, shaking his head.
"Isn't she, like, Aono's girlfriend or something?" Kishia asked.
"A true tactician knows better than that," Jin said as Moka rolled her eyes, "you send out your most useless asset to buy time while your important assets escape to safety. Aono wouldn't let his personal feelings endanger his objective."
"You don't know Tsukune very well, do you?" Moka asked dryly, planting her hands on her hips. "He's exactly the type to do that."
"And yet, here he's sent you to you die," Kuyo said with a smirk, "well, I'd hate to disappoint him."
Kuyo made a negligent gesture in Moka's direction, and a bolt of white fire shot toward the vampiress in a flare of magnesium-bright light.
Moka stepped to the side as the projectile passed, her movement so quick and short that it wasn't obvious she had moved at all until the firebolt missed her.
"That was your one and only free shot," Moka mused, running a hand through her hair. Then she moved again.
Jin was already unharnessing his baton in alarm, and before he knew it the sneering vampiress was in front of him, rearing a palm back.
CLANG! The Ice Breaker went spinning away as Moka slapped it out of Jin's grip, and when the yeti tried to jab at her in a panic, Moka swatted his hand away like she would a fly, careless of the fact that it was about five times bigger than hers.
"Know your place," Moka said with a smile before turning on one heel to send a roundhouse kick into Jin's side.
CRACK! As Jin went sailing from the devastating attack, Haruo snapped his stone fingers.
"Wait! I remember now! I saw you before, when Aono's team somehow took out our nameless minions without Saotome's help! YOU must have done that!"
"Well, how about that? It looks like there's more to your head than just granite," Moka said airily.
"So Aono had another card up his sleeve, the coward," Kuyo said, his flaming tails whipping about wildly as his power built, "I tire of his games! DIE!"
FWOOSH! Moka had to do much more than sidestep the next attack as a vortex of fire drilled toward her, vaporizing the nearby snow and baking the mud that remained. Leaping aside, she jumped up the side of a tree and then rebounded off of it, her fist drawing back to strike down a terrified Haruo.
Instead she found herself staring down the gaping maw of Volos' second head as it reached up to intercept her.
"Out of my way, lizard!" Moka snarled as she grabbed the edges of his jaws, holding them open as his teeth strained to close on the vampiress.
"I got her!" Head One cheered happily as he snapped at her flank, forcing Moka to kick herself away from the hydra.
The moment she landed she heard another rush of hot air, and Moka backflipped away as another miniature cyclone of flame descended on top of her.
"You can't dodge forever!" Kuyo growled as Kishia spat a baseball-sized burning rock at their target.
"I don't have to," Moka said evenly as she swatted Kishia's projectile away, dashing the flaming stone to a few stray embers. "Nor do I intend to. I'm not here to stall you long enough for the others to get away. I'm here to BREAK each and every one of you."
Kuyo grit his teeth, his flames building higher alongside his rage. "I may have lost to Saotome, but I will NOT lose to you!"
Moka's eyes narrowed angrily as another flame spiral formed around Kuyo, rapidly growing bigger and even forcing Kishia to shy away from its heat.
"Do NOT compare me to that imbecile!" Moka snapped, dashing toward Volos like a bullet.
Her choice of target apparently came as a surprise to the ex-Enforcers, and only Head Two swooped down to try and fight off the vampire.
Alas, he was far too slow, and his jaws snapped shut on empty air as Moka dove into the hydra's bloated torso with her trademark roundhouse.
WHAM! "GWAAUGH!" All three heads wailed in pain as Volos went sailing backward from the blow, his considerable bulk digging a furrow in the ground as he skidded and rolled across the scorched ground.
"Die, vampire filth!" Kuyo shouted, throwing his arms forward and launching his fire tornado the moment Volos was clear. It roared forward and raced across the ground as it descended on the silver-haired monster, the ground churning magma at the point where it met the incendiary assault.
"Is this it? Is this the best you can do?" Moka shouted, an aura of white surrounding her as she reared her fists back. "This is the best technique of the fearsome yoko?"
CRACK! She slammed her knuckles into the ground in front of her, mere feet in front of the cyclone, and the ground rocked sharply as rock and dirt split apart, throwing a geyser of debris into the oncoming attack.
The cyclone faltered as its tether to the ground was disrupted, and then it started to destabilize, rising higher and spinning wider as it quickly lost its remaining energy to the winds. The fearsome roar of the flames quickly waned, replaced by a distant, mechanical roar of nearby traffic.
Kuyo clenched his teeth as his mightiest attack dissipated before his eyes, and his target calmly stood upright, dusting off her skirt. Jin and Volos were staggering to their feet, but both looked badly injured from the hits they'd taken. Volos would probably return to fighting strength quickly enough to be useful, but Kuyo doubted Jin would be much help anymore.
"By the time I'm done with you," Moka said, her voice rising to overcome the sound of an approaching engine, "you won't even REMEMBER the name Saotome."
"No. NO!" Kuyo shouted, now absolutely certain that there was a vehicle approaching through the snow drifts toward them but unwilling to let it distract him. "I will not fail! Not now, when we've come so far! I will burn you down to nothing! I will reduce the Protection Committee to ashes! I will NEVER-"
VROOOOOOOOM! Much to the annoyance of those in the middle of their dramatic standoff, a bus blasted out of the snow bank on the edge of the battlefield and zipped across the blasted stretch of Earth between the two sides, screeching to a sliding stop once it was clear of the area immediately between Moka and Kuyo.
Silently and reluctantly, Moka and the former Enforcers finally stopped glaring at each other and turned get a good look at the vehicle that had somehow ended up a considerable distance from any of the roads bordering Witch's Knoll.
"Wait. Is that... our school's bus?" Haruo asked, a feeling of dread settling in his stomach as the doors near the front of the bus started to open.
"Yes. It is. What's it doing HERE?" Moka demanded, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end as an indistinguishable figure sat up within and moved to the front.
"No," Kuyo gasped, his face filling with real fear for the first time that day, "it can't be..."
"I'm BACK, kiddos!" Richard cheered, stepping in front of the door and making V's with his fingers.
To his surprise, everyone on the field immediately gasped in relief.
"Oh, thank Poseidon. It's just Richard," Head One said, his mood brightening. "I like him. He's funny!"
"More to the point, we may be able to turn his arrival to our advantage," Jin grunted, his arms hugging his chest in pain.
"Hmph. It doesn't matter if you line up the entire faculty against me," Moka said, a hand resting on her hip, "I will still crush ALL of-"
"Hey, Prof, you just gonna stand there all day? Lemme off!" Ranma shouted in annoyance from behind Richard, immediately causing everyone on the field to start swearing at varying volumes as the pigtailed boy shoved the warlock out of the way.
"Son of a BITCH!" Moka snarled, slapping her forehead.
"Nice to see you too," Ranma said, raising an eyebrow as he stepped out onto the scorched ground, "why're you evil again? Something up?"
Ranma glanced over at the monsters arrayed against her, and then stopped in his tracks, his eyes narrowing. "Wait, I remember you guys! You used to be in the Protection Committee until I beat that Kuya guy!"
"Kuyo," Kuyo said, his eyebrow twitching.
"Kuyo, right, him." Ranma said, crossing his arms over his chest. "So is he here too?"
"I'M Kuyo," Kuyo said, his flames flickering hotter as his rage built ever higher.
"Oh! Sorry about that. I didn't get a very good look at you the first time I totally wiped you out with a single attack, so I didn't recognize you," Ranma said, briefly knocking his knuckles against the side of his head, "so what are you guys doing here?"
"Retreating," Jin said, his tone polite as he started to limp away.
"JIN," Kuyo growled, his eyes flaring white.
"My lord," Jin replied over his shoulder, "it's about time we cut our losses. We have absolutely no chance of success now. We either leave now with the hope to fight again another day, or we get completely and unequivocally demolished here."
As Kuyo's marginal amount of sense struggled against his anger, Moka's hands tightened into fists, and she suddenly locked her blazing red eyes with the yoko.
"You're not going ANYWHERE," she snapped coldly, choosing to ignore Ranma as she strode forward toward her opponents, "I'm going to finish what I started, and teach ALL of you your place!"
"Stop! We're in retreat!" Jin shouted, staggering backward as the vampiress stomped toward them.
"I will not. And NOTHING will stop me from tearing you all limb from li-"
SPLOOSH! A jet of water slammed into Moka from the side, blasting her off her feet and sending her reeling into the dirt.
Head One blinked as he glanced over at Head Two, who was gasping as a trickle of water leaked from his jaws.
"Two, why did you do that?"
"Because she pisses me off!" Head Two snarled. "Hunting down injured monsters that are already running away! Who DOES that?"
"We do," Haruo pointed out.
"I mean besides us!"
Head Three winced. "But what were you thinking spitting a water jet at her? That's not gonna do anything but annoy something as strong as a vampire!"
Everyone turned to look at Moka, who twitched on the ground as if she was having muscle spasms. Arcs of energy sparked around her as she struggled to push herself up, along with a litany of mumbled profanities.
Kuyo frowned. "Huh. Well, despite my better judgement, in light of current circumstances I think I'll call for that retreat now."
"'Kay. See ya later, Kuku," Ranma said, still unsure as to what the old Protection Committee was doing there in the first place.
"KUYO! I'm KUYO!" Kuyo snarled, shaking his fist at the martial artist even as he started racing after Kishia, who had joined the others in a full sprint away from the battlefield.
Ranma shrugged and leaned down next to Moka, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "So... I know this guy who has a problem with water too, right? And what he does is carry around an umbrella all the time. Worked it into his fighting style and everything. I could hook you up, if you want."
"I... hate... ALL of you..." Moka grumbled.
Jin grunted as he limped behind Kuyo and Volos through the trees, his arm clutching his chest and gingerly testing for broken ribs.
"Haruo, why didn't you warn us about the vampire? We were all under the impression that she was the weakest one!" the yeti demanded.
"I didn't really know!" Haruo snapped back, landing next to the hulking ice monster. "I saw her like that once, with the silver hair and everything, but then Saotome took me out! I didn't know she was a threat!"
"I knew about it!" Richard said, raising his hand as he followed Jin in lockstep.
Kishia glanced around at the rest of the ex-Enforcers, noticing that no one else seemed to be paying attention to the warlock.
"Uh, why is Profess-"
"Don't," Haruo cut her off, grimacing, "it only encourages him."
"The plan is in ruins, now. We've accomplished nothing but wasting our time and efforts," Kuyo growled, finally releasing his battle form and returning the usual school uniform.
"The plan was in ruins LONG ago," Jin growled back, "you have no appreciation for how strategy works! Had we stuck to my target list, then maybe we could have killed them before they could unleash this trump card, never mind before Saotome returned!"
"Are you saying this is MY fault?" Kuyo snapped, his eyes flaring as he glared at the yeti.
"Guys, guys, don't fight!" Volos first head implored, twisting around to speak while the other heads guided the body forward. "The important thing is that we're all still together and alive!"
"Expect for those Netherworld chumps," Kishia said, a puff of black smoke blasting out of her ear.
"Yeah! Except them!" Head One agreed without missing a beat. "But the rest of us got away safe and sound!"
"NO," boomed a voice from above, stopping the old Enforcers dead, "YOU DIDN'T." Snow shook from the nearby branches at the noise, and Kuyo felt his heart sink as his ears picked up a high-pitched whining noise from somewhere nearby.
"Who is that?" Jin demanded, looking around at the surrounding trees and gripping his baton, which he had managed to recover during their retreat. "Wait... The siren!"
"THIS IS YOUR FUNERAL DIRGE, MORONS," sang a much higher-pitched voice as the ground started to tremble, the snow jumping slightly atop the ground as the vibrations built and resonated. "NOW LET ME SING YOU TO SLEEP. HEEEEEEEEEEE!"
As Kana shrieked, a sudden, disastrous change in pitch caused the Earth to shift under the monsters' feet, knocking Kishia over as small bursts of Earth, rock, and snow started detonating around the old Protection Committee.
Boom! Boom! "Haruo!" Kuyo shouted as a blast of pent-up sonic energy sprayed him with shrapnel. "Find that damned bird!" Boom!
"On it!" the gargoyle snarled, his wings sparing him from the chaos below as trees started to shake and tumble onto their sides.
His wings flapped hard to bring him above the tree line, and he spread a toothy grin as he spied a head of purple hair kneeling in a nearby tree and hidden from his companion on the ground.
"Found you!" Haruo snarled, his wings snapping up to start a glide toward his target.
"Congrats!" chirped a female voice from behind him, right before ten dagger-sharp nails stabbed into his sides.
Boom! Boom! Jin grunted as the ground shifted under him again, spitting out rocks as other patches of ground seemed to dissolve to sand the moment he put any weight onto them.
The yeti quickly made a decision, and then slammed the ice breaker down onto the ground beneath him. Immediately the ground stabilized as it iced over, although cracks started running through the ice sheet right away.
Jin was already moving though, rushing to safety as fast as his injured torso would allow as the ground continued exploding behind him. He was well aware that he was abandoning his companions to their own (infantile) wit and (regrettable) judgment by leaving at the first opportunity and without so much as a shout, but he was going to take every opportunity to make his escape from the ambush.
Turning around a cluster of trees, he almost tripped as he came to sudden stop, his eyes widening in terror.
"Mmmmgnnn... Nnnnhn..." mumbled Chopper Rikishi, his eyes closed as he plodded slowly through the snow, his arms dragging along behind him.
Jin figured out almost immediately that the troll was comatose. He wasn't completely sure why this was so - he had a very basic understanding of troll biology - but it was obvious that the battle-hungry wrestler couldn't see him.
That should have been a great comfort to him, but as it was he was very concerned with the way Yukari Sendo was riding on the troll's shoulder.
"Hey, there's one!" Yukari said, pointing to Jin with her wand while tugging on Chopper's ear. "Come on, lummox! Your wrestling partner is here!"
Jin's hackles rose as the troll's trajectory swung drunkenly in his direction, and the yeti started to panic as flashbacks of their last disastrous encounter immobilized him in fear. The snapping of bones, all the more intense for the yetis' thick, sturdy skeleton, echoed in his ears, and his body's aches became more pronounced as every muscle recalled the former agony with uncanny clarity.
"Wrestlin'... Partner..." Chopper mumbled, his hands lifting as his muscle memory took over and reached for his opponent.
"NOOOO!" Jin screamed, thrusting the Ice Breaker forward in a panic, directly for Chopper's face.
Crkk! The troll's head was promptly entombed in ice, all the way down to the large dorsal spines, and Yukari even got some ice clinging to her skirt just from the proximity.
Jin was apparently stunned that he had struck a critical hit so easily, and sighed in desperate relief... Right before Chopper's hands seized his shoulders.
"What? Did you really think hitting Chopper in the HEAD would do anything?" Yukari asked, snickering at the yeti's terrified expression as she brushed the frost off her skirt. "Chopper, time to make balloon animals! Let's do a giraffe!"
SNAP! CRACK! "Uwwwwwwaaaaaaaugh!"
"Ow! What the hell?" Volos pushed a fallen tree off of him with his third head, and his second head immediately started looking around for aggressors.
"Where are you? I'll kill you! Come out and face-OW!"
The hydra yelped as something cut into its flank, and all three heads turned to find Mizore carving into his thigh with a sword-like length of ice.
"You again? This time I'll break you along with your stupid decoys!" Head Two snapped, swinging his tail at her.
Mizore slid away from the clumsy attack, and then started backing up as the massive reptilian beast advanced across the upturned debris.
"Come back here!" Head Two snarled, snapping his jaws uselessly as Mizore darted around a cluster of trees. Her movement over the disturbed snowfall was more akin to gliding than running, whereas Volos found his own footing constantly slipping on the ravaged ground.
"I don't think she's gonna come back," said Head One, furrowing his brow. "I know! Let's use the water jet! It was surprisingly effective before!"
Head Three grimaced. "I wouldn't do that. I think she's a-"
"HRAAAAAAUGH!" Head Two screamed a berserker roar before unleashing a blast of water toward Mizore, who was peeking out at them from behind the trees.
Rather than duck behind the tree or dodge away, Mizore raised palm as if planning to block the blast with a single hand.
Crrrrk! The water jet flash-froze on contact with Mizore's palm, and Head Two's eyes bulged as even the water he had still been squeezing out of his throat turned to ice and expanded in his gullet.
"Hnngh! Hrrg!" Head Two snapped his jaws shut on the frozen water stream, breaking it at that point and letting the rest of the ice column fall to the ground into pieces. It didn't, however, dislodge the ice in his throat.
"Hmmm... Should we do something?" Head One asked, glancing at the third head as their central companion wheezed pathetically.
"Like what?" Head Three asked, looked disinterested.
"We don't have arms or hands, moron!"
"I'm just trying to help! You don't have to be rude!"
Whump! Head Two collapsed onto the ground, his eyes rolling up into his head as Volos' other two heads continued arguing.
Mizore quirked an eyebrow as she stepped out of cover, drawing her sword-like ice blades back into her sleeves.
"So... can you surrender now? This whole affair has been WAY too much trouble," the snow fairy said flatly, scratching the back of her head.
"Sister, you took the words right out of my mouth," Head Three said, "we surrender unconditionally, effective immediately."
"Is he going to be okay?" Mizore asked, pointing to Head Two.
"Probably. We have regeneration," Head One said, tilting to one side, "and if he suffers massive brain damage, it's not like we don't have spares!"
"Swell. Now go wait on the sidelines. I think the captain is almost done with Kuyo..."
"Come out here, coward! I'll incinerate you and all your damned pawns!" Flames surrounded Kuyo as he blasted aside a fallen tree, turning the unfortunate log into so much smoking shrapnel.
Tsukune winced from where he was taking cover from behind a tree. In truth, everything had been going much better than he had hoped, but that didn't mean he could get sloppy. Kuyo was still extremely dangerous, and one slip-up meant that someone could die.
"Where are you hiding? Or are you the kind to sit back and make your servants do the fighting? Just like a human!"
"I have points in Listen! You can't hold out forever!" Richard shouted, his fists glowing green as he stood behind Kuyo. Kuyo ignored him completely; as advantageous as it would be to have Richard fighting on his side, he made an unreliable ally at best. At worst, he would turn on him the moment that he thought it would be funny.
Tsukune turned to Ruby, who was crouched next to him and already had her transformation active.
"Kana's throat wears out from using that ability. She won't be able to use another sonic attack for a while," Tsukune whispered, "if he starts to transform back to his combat form, hit him then. Otherwise stay back until-"
"I can hear you, you know," Kuyo muttered, swinging his hand toward the outcropping.
"RunrunrunRUN!" Tsukune shouted, dashing out of the way as Ruby took to the air in a panic.
BWOOM! Their cover exploded into smoky ruin, and Tsukune felt a waving of searing heat wash over his back as he rushed across the ground.
"You won't get away from me!" Kuyo snarled, the flames around him building as his body started to shift back into its battle form.
"Now! Attack him now!" Tsukune shouted.
Ruby whirled around in the air, sweeping her black wings back. "Nothing personal!" the teenage witch shouted as she launched a barrage of dark feather darts at the yoko.
"Gurgh!" Kuyo yelped as the darts struck home, weakened but not stopped by his aura. They did break his concentration, though, and Kuyo's eyes flared as he thrust a fist toward Ruby, throwing out another firebolt that barely missed the flying witch.
"Hey, what're you wasting your time on her for? I'm your target!" Tsukune shouted, running around Kuyo's back.
"Stop scurrying around like that, you wretched human!" Kuyo shouted, his temper rising as he turned to meet the provocation.
"I can help!" Richard shouted as his hands flared an electric blue, causing both Kuyo and Tsukune to blanch.
"Wait, no, don't do anyth-" both leaders shouted uselessly as the ancient warlock thrust his hand downward, spreading out his palms.
Crack! The ground, which was already a torn-up mess of churned snow, shattered rock, and loosened dirt, instantly froze over, and Tsukune's heart leapt into his throat as he felt his legs stop moving and stiffen, having been covered in thick sheets of ice.
"I'm helping!" Richard said brightly, giving a thumbs-up.
"I beg to differ," Kuyo growled, his eyebrow twitching. Naturally, having been right next to Richard at the time, his legs too were now frozen to the ground.
"Oh, don't be such a baby," the warlock chided, planting his fists on his hips. "Look! Aono is immobilized and within projectile range!"
"So is he," Tsukune noted, pointing at Kuyo.
Richard quirked an eyebrow. "I don't follow."
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! "AAAAAUGH! Knock it off with the feathers, you harlot!" Kuyo howled, blood seeping from a dozen needle wounds on his back and front. His aura began to build again, and the ice around his legs cracked apart before the heat.
"Give it up, Kuyo! You're not going to win!" Tsukune shouted. "If you don't surrender now, I can't guarantee you'll survive to face punishment at the academy!" Despite the threat, of course, Tsukune knew he was in trouble. His legs were still frozen over, and the only thing standing between him and a fiery death was the blood in Kuyo's eyes.
"Shut up! SHUT UP!" Kuyo's flame exploded around him as he forced himself into his battle form again, and the explosive rush of power blew away another volley of feather darts that were rushing toward him.
As his tails whipped about wildly, Kuyo turned toward Ruby, but then almost fell over due to vertigo. His vision was hazy and his wounds stung even fiercer as his body dug into the final reserves of his power, and the for the second time since he had set foot on the knoll, real fear started to settle in the yoko's weakening heart.
"I will NOT fall here!" Kuyo shouted, lifting his hands into the air as a whirlwind of flame surrounded him. "I will NOT lose again!"
Ruby tried shooting another volley of feathers, but they were easily swept away by the cyclone, burned away to loose ashes before they'd even hit the ground.
"Stay back! It's too dangerous!" Tsukune shouted, slamming a fist uselessly against the ice that trapped him.
"This is it, Aono..." Kuyo said, building the fire cyclone higher, "I may not survive the repurcussion of this day, but I'll... I'll..." he trailed off gradually, still holding the tornado at full power, and then he turned his head to the side. "Do you mind?"
"What?" Richard was standing just outside the radius of the swirling flames, holding a long stick with a marshmallow at the end of it just over Kuyo's tails.
"If I'm going to die in a furious berserk rage, then I'd like to maintain what little dignity I can," Kuyo explained calmly, the flames still raging around him in a withering cyclone.
"Yeesh, you guys are no fun anymore," Richard said, tossing away his stick and turning around. "I'm gonna go watch the S-rank fighters maul each other. Later, chumps."
"Whatever. Just go away," Tsukune muttered as he finally managed to break one of his legs free from the ice.
"Yes, good." Kuyo turned back around, and his eyes locked onto Ruby, who was keeping a wide distance from the tornado's effective zone. "Now, where were we?"
"LOOK OUT!" came a scream from above.
Kuyo snickered. "All the warning in the world won't save y-"
CRUNCH! And then a gargoyle statue fell on top of him, easily passing through the whirlwind thanks to its sheer mass and smashing Kuyo into the ground.
As the yoko lost consciousness due to his second major concussion of the day, the tornado promptly started to lose energy, slowing its rotation and narrowing as the flames literally seemed to seep back into Kuyo's body like water swirling down a drain. Within seconds the last of the cyclone vanished harmlessly, leaving nothing but a few twinkling sparks slowly descending onto the icy ground.
"Huh. Okay then." Tsukune looked up into the air and was promptly treated to a view up Kurumu's skirt.
"Is everyone okay? That jerk just turned to stone all of a sudden when he couldn't get away from me! I almost broke a nail on his stupid hide!" Kurumu complained as she swooped down to get a better look.
"No, it's no problem," Tsukune said, giving the succubus a thumbs-up and a smile, "could you help get my leg free? Then we should check up on the others."
"All clear, Cap'n!" came Yukari's voice as Chopper's hulking, sleepwalking body trundled into view with her still riding atop his shoulder. Jin was behind dragged behind them by a leg, mercifully unconscious and badly mangled.
"I got the hydra," Mizore said flatly as she stepped onto the large sheet of ice unleashed by Richard's spell, noticeably moving over it without the slightest loss in traction. Volos shuffled behind her, moving far more cautiously as he picked his way through the difficult terrain. His central head hung limply in front of the hydra, its throat bloated and its tongue hanging out.
"Okay, is that everybody?" Tsukune asked, tensing his leg as Kurumu carefully cut a slit in the ice.
"Not... Quite... Human SCUM!" came a vaguely feminine voice as as pair of fallen trees nearby started to shift, with smoke seeping out between them.
"HRAAAAAUGH!" Kishia lifted with all her strength, and the two hefty logs finally rolled aside, exposing patches of bark that had been badly scorched from contact with the elemental's body.
Kishia huffed mightily as she stood up, smoke puffing liberally from the vent in her face that best approximated her mouth. "Now, I'm going to... Uhm..."
"You're going to what?" Kana asked, alighting calmly on one of the scorched logs next to her. The one eye visible through her bangs stared contemptuously at the final minion, and she planted a hand on her hip as the rest of the new Protection Committee also stared irritably at the holdout.
"I'm going... to... Help you move that gargoyle statue?" Kishia asked weakly. "It's really heavy."
"Nice of you to offer," Tsukune said with a smile, "do it."
"Yes, Sir," the magma elemental squeaked, lowering her head and scurrying past the others.
"Yukari, think you can get Chopper to haul Kuyo?" Tsukune asked as Kurumu broke his leg free entirely of the ice.
"Sure, as long as you don't mind a few more broken bones on him!" Yukari chirped, waving her wand briefly and causing the troll to stagger forward.
"I don't see what difference it will make at this point," Tsukune admitted, taking Moka's rosario out of his pocket, "now let's go get Moka. I'll think about what to do about these guys later."
"Okay!" came the more-or-less unanimous response from the others, with especially unenthusiastic agreement from those ex-Enforcers still conscious.
Kurumu, as usual, stuck close to Tsukune as the group started walking back toward the site of the earlier confrontation, with Yukari enthusiastically discussing her encounter with Ruby while Mizore and Kana stared quietly at each other.
"So... is anybody going to ask why Yukari had a 'sleepwalk' spell prepared to make unconscious people do whatever she suggested?" Kurumu asked, leaning in to speak to Tsukune. "Because there's no way she predicted these specific circumstances, right? It was a complete coincidence that she had a spell ready that would be completely useless most of the time."
"Yukari is a prankster and a pervert," Tsukune said flatly, "I'm trying not to think about it."
"Ah. Good point."
"You know, I have no reason for not predicting this, but even so, I'm still disappointed," Tsukune said, scrubbing his head with his hand.
"Leggo, you bloodsucking psycho!" Ranma shouted, his foot planted onto the left half of Moka's face as he tried to push her away.
That proved difficult, what with her being a fair bit stronger than the martial artist. Moka already had one hand around his neck, while her other hand grappled with Ranma's in order to begin throttling him in earnest.
"Shut. Up. And. Die." Moka said, her eyes blazing red as she tried to squeeze the life out of the irritating human. She was mostly dry by now except for her hair, which stuck to her shoulders but was no longer wet enough to damage her.
Richard was standing off to the side, holding a video camera and flashing a thumbs-up.
There was no sign of the martial grace or haughty banter that had dominated Ranma and Moka's last fight; the vampiress had dropped all pretenses of dignity and had opted to resort to a contest of pure, brute force. Which Tsukune had to admit probably gave her the advantage, if he had been in any mood to analyze the conflict.
He was not.
"Evil Moka, KNOCK IT OFF," Tsukune snapped. Before he could say anything more he found himself flanked by Mizore and Kana, both of them looking even more combat-ready than they had been for the ambush.
Moka hesitated in her efforts at hearing Tsukune's command, and that was enough for Ranma to fling her loose hand away and kick her off of him, throwing the two apart.
Moka shook her head, and then stood up again, turning toward Tsukune in an angry rush. "Tsukune! Kuyo and the others escaped to..." she trailed off as she noticed the collection of broken and subdued ex-Enforcers behind her captain. "Oh. I see."
"Yeah. We took care of it," Tsukune murmured, "hi Ranma. Nice to have you back. Sorry about the rude welcome."
"Actually, this is STILL better than how I was welcomed back at my place," Ranma grumbled, massaging his throat as he stood up, "man, did I miss you guys."
"Oh, don't be like that! Didn't we have fun? We even got a montage out of it!" Richard said, tossing the video camera aside as he placed an arm over Ranma's shoulders. "You didn't even lose your parents to a grisly and inexplicable murder while we were there!"
"Missed you guys SO much," Ranma amended, drawing beaming smiles from the girls save Moka and Ruby.
"And I see that you've taken care of business, Tsukune!" said a cackling voice from nearby. "I got your buddy here as fast as I could, but I guess the situation wasn't as GRAVE as I thought!"
With varying levels of annoyance, everyone turned to regard the bus driver, who was leaning on the side of his bus at the edge of the clearing as he smoked his pipe.
"You can pile those trouble-makers into the back, here! I know you've been DYING to get them off your hands!" the driver jabbed a thumb toward his bus, and Kishia and Volos shared a dubious glance before they started their transformations back into human form.
"So you'll take them back to Youkai Academy to face punishment for their attempted murder?" Tsukune asked.
"Sure, why not?" the driver said with a shrug. "I'm paid by the trip, you know. And your vacation isn't quite over yet."
"Yes, I heard that you were looking to get in some training?" Richard asked, inspecting his fingernails. "If that's the case, I could... Hmmm..." Richard trailed off as Ranma picked him up from behind and carried him into the bus, much as Kishia and Volos were doing with Haruo's statue form.
"Well, it seems that things worked out after all, even if that pigtailed dolt DID let the old Protection Committee get away," Moka said almost conversationally, crossing her arms under her breasts.
"Yeah, sure. Catch," Tsukune coolly tossed the rosario to Moka, who looked startled but still managed to catch it out of the air. "Let me know when you're sane again. I'm going back to camp. I am EXHAUSTED."
"Erm... R-Right," Moka stuttered, looking rather put out as Tsukune walked by her.
Ranma dusted off his hands as the bus rumbled off toward the edge of the knoll, and then he watched silently as the convoy of his friends trudged (or in Yukari's case, rode) back to their place of rest. Evil Moka was left behind, glaring at her own rosario as the others pretty much ignored her.
"So, what'cha doing?" Ranma asked, stepping up behind the vampiress (although this time he stayed out of arms' reach).
"Regretting the various decisions that led me to this point," Moka said without a hint of irony as she continued glaring at the rosario.
"What? You decided to have your personality split between your meek, boring side and your violent, angry side?" Ranma asked, leaning in to get a better look at the bejeweled cross.
"I didn't say they were MY decisions," Moka snapped, turning away from the martial artist, "what do you want, anyway?"
"Well, I arrived just in time to save everyone, but then the bad guys gave up," Ranma reasoned, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. "So I never got a chance to fight."
"As much as I would LOVE to remedy that, Tsukune is already annoyed with me, and frankly I'd rather go finish drying off," she said in disgust, running a hand through her locks and wincing at the stinging sensation against her hands, "besides, why would you want to fight ME?"
"I'm trying to copy that heavy roundhouse kick of yours," Ranma said bluntly, "I tried to do it earlier from some pictures, but it's not just a matter of form, I guess. I was thinking that if I got another good look at it, I could get it right with a few more tries."
"Did you just ask me to kick you in the face?" Moka deadpanned.
"Well, not IN the face, exactly, but... near it, I guess?" Ranma said, scratching his head. "Eh, whatever. Just go for it. Not like you can really hit me, anyway."
Moka grit her teeth as a vein throbbed on the side of her head. "You make it SO HARD to be a decent person."
"Heh, yeah, my fiancee once said the same thi-WHOA!"
Big Human on Campus: Extra!
"So... what're you in for?" Richard asked, resting his arms on the back rest in front of him as the bus trundled along the old, poorly maintained road that framed Witch's Knoll.
Kishia, still in her human form, glanced back at the warlock, cursing her luck that she happened to be the one sitting directly in front of him.
"Professor, you were THERE. You know why we're here," the elemental said wearily.
"I'm just trying to make conversation," Richard said, sounding affronted.
"Could you make conversation that doesn't remind me that I'm on a bus ride to the gallows?" Kishia grumbled, leaning on her shoulder.
"Ooh, capital crime, eh? Did you know that elemental corpses fetch a tidy sum on the black magic market? Your cores make for really good magical weapon alloys, apparently! And they taste like Skittles, incidentally."
Kishia grit her teeth and stood up. "Driver!" she shouted angrily. "Can I change seats? Professor Richard is annoying me!"
"Settle down back there!" the driver shouted back. "Don't make me turn this bus around!"
"... What, back to the knoll?" Kishia wondered aloud.
The driver proceeded to ignore them, dodging out of the way of a few dismembered gari gari plants lying on the side of the road.
"So, I just wanted to thank you again for picking me up," said a rather sickly-looking boy near the front of the bus. He had dark rings under his eyes and in his lap he carried a jar with a sulking miniature tree golem in it.
"Not a problem, my FIEND," the driver said with a smirk, "after all, you're headed toward the same FINAL DESTINATION as the rest of your friends behind you."
Behind the skeletal dragon laid Kuyo, Jin, and the lantern, all piled haphazardly into one seat without any heed paid to the rather severe injuries sustained by some of them. Haruo's statue form sat further back, next to Volos, still unchanged from the same flailing pose he had taken in mid-air combat with Kurumu.
"Well, on the plus side, at least the holy dragon died, so he won't have to be punished!" Volos said, jumping in on the conversation. "I'm sure it would be really embarrassing for a stand-up guy like him to stand accused of attempted murder!"
"Yeah, sure, that's way worse than being carved to shreds by a succubus," the skeletal dragon scoffed, rolling his eyes.
"You think this curse is temporary?" asked the tree golem, staring up through the open-topped jar. "'Cause this is going to REALLY hurt my love life otherwise."
"Dude, you have sex with PLANTS. What are they going to do, run away?"
"Well, no, but I don't want them talking behind my back about how tiny and unsatisfying my stamen was. You know how women are."
"AHEM," Kishia cleared her throat noisily, glaring at the two Netherworld monsters.
Before the noisy occupants of the bus could engage in more annoying banter, the vehicle slowly peeled off to the side of the road and trundled to a stop.
"What? I wasn't causing any trouble!" Kishia protested, wondering if the driver really was going to make good on his threat and dump them all back in the care of their enemies.
"We're just making a little detour," the driver said as the bus reached a complete stop and he scanned the surroundings through the window, "hmmm... that's strange, it was supposed to be right around-"
He was interrupted by a sudden rumbling noise as the ground started to shake, causing the old, poorly-maintained school bus to creak and groan as its frame trembled.
"An earthquake!" Volos shouted.
"Wasn't me this time," Richard said, raising a hand as he placed his feet up on the seat in front of him (and incidentally right over Kishia's shoulders) in order to look more relaxed.
CRACK! A fissure split the ground nearby, running almost parallel to the bus as the Earth broke apart in a zig-zag pattern that started to glow as hot gases and low flames emerged from the crack.
Then the fissure started to yawn open, like the saw-toothed maw of some unholy beast, and the students that were still conscious rushed to the side of the bus to watch as fire blasted out of the opening, reaching nearly the height of the bus as the ground continued to shake.
Amidst the roar of the flames, a black shape started to emerge, a dark snout poking out of the raging fire before two legs reached out and grasped the jagged edges of the opening.
"Well, THAT took way too long," Kouma grumbled as he pulled himself from the yawning Hell portal, stepping out of the fire and then giving his body a good shake in the manner of a wet dog. Hot embers scattered everywhere as a result, and a black plume of smoke vomited forth from the portal before it started to close.
Kouma ignored the slight tremor caused by the closing pit, having finally noticed that there was a bus parked right next to his emergence point. "... What? What's going on?" Looking at the faces pressed up against the glass, he didn't recognize anyone. "Uh oh. Did I just blow my cover?" the hellhound said to himself, which certainly wouldn't have helped if that were the case.
"No, nothing like that. I'm just here to relieve you of some DEAD weight!" the driver cackled, opening up the side door and peering out.
As the Hell portal shut completely, leaving nothing but a jagged line of scorched Earth, he couldn't help but notice that Kouma was alone.
"Hmm? Didn't you have a prisoner too?" the driver asked.
"Prisoner? Me?" Kouma asked, shifting back into his human form in a burst of flames.
"I was supposed to pick up the elder witch," the driver explained, dropping his exuberant tone and tapping a finger against the dashboard impatiently.
"Yeah... no. She's fine where she is," Kouma said nonchalantly, taking out a cigarette from his pocket.
The driver shrugged. "Suit yourself." Then he closed the side door of the bus.
After a few seconds, the door shifted open again. "By the way, just because you probably don't know this already: your friends were attacked back on the knoll, but they pulled through without you. So... you know, they'll be at your camp rather than the witches' home."
Kouma raised a hand to light his cigarette, and then froze. "Wait... what? They were attacked? By who?"
"I've got a schedule to keep, so if you don't have any passengers, I need to be on my way. See you in a few days," the driver pulled the lever to shut the door again, and Kouma stuttered a brief protest as the bus started rumbling away.
"Wait! Nobody died, at least, right?" Kouma shouted after the vehicle, only to get no response as it turned back onto the road and sped off.
"Just what happened? I was only gone for a few hours!" he protested to no one, staring grimly at his cigarette. "It couldn't have been that big a deal, if they made it through... without... me."
His expression darkened further as he thought on what he had been doing while his compatriots had been fighting for their lives. Not because those activities were brutal and beyond the scope of sanity, but rather because he had been busy getting revenge for the LAST fight, in which he had been captured and used by the Protection Committee's enemies.
"I..." despite their being no one around to listen, he still hesitated to speak his thoughts aloud. "I'm... kind a liability to the team, aren't I?"
The rumble of a distant engine alerted him to an approaching vehicle, and the hellhound quirked an eyebrow as he saw the school bus coming back toward him, moving along the road in reverse.
It slowed down as it approached, and the vehicle released a noisy hiss as it came to a complete stop and once again opened the side door.
"In case you were wondering, yes, you do kind of suck," the driver pointed out briefly, closing the door again immediately.
Kouma's eye twitched as the bus started to accelerate again.
"HA HA!" Shouted Richard, pointing at Kouma through the bus's rear window as it left for good.