I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, or anything I've borrowed and modified from the Champions and Dark Champions settings published by Hero Games.


Chrysanthemum moved slowly down yet another hallway, poised to leap in any direction as her eyes continually swept the view in front of her. Something was wrong.

She'd long since come to the conclusion that supervillains didn't talk to each other much, and neither did their minions. Combined with the fact that even for villainous world-conquering organizations like DEMON or VIPER the job of minion had a fairly high turnover rate, and what institutional knowledge there was often failed to get passed on. And that meant that tactics superheroes developed had a tendency to continue to work, and superhero teams did pass along their institutional knowledge. For the current situation, that meant Chrysanthemum had been using the Tokyo Super Squad's standard tactic for raiding a villain's base while not knowing a thing about its internal layout — follow the route that the enemy least wants you to take, that'll be where the most important stuff is.

That particular tactic had lead her into what she thought was about the middle of the mansion's left wing and up to the second floor, leaving behind a trail of battered and unconscious thugs. (That was actually making her a little nervous — she was also leaving behind a trail of various revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, and she had neither the time to render them harmless nor anyone guarding her back.) She had taken down several civilians at the top of the stairs, seen another duck around a corner halfway down the hall, and dove into the new cross-corridor just in time to see the heels of the man she was chasing as he ducked around the corner at the end — instead of trying to shoot her as she came around the corner herself.

He'd had a gun. Why hadn't he tried to hold his ground when everyone else had, even unarmed? Something was wrong.

The mystical martial artist stopped, once again searching the empty hallway for any sign of a trap or ambush — nothing, not so much as a hint. She took another step forward, only to freeze as her sense of danger increased. Okay, Kiku, you may be the bait but there's no need to be stupid. (She'd learned to think of herself by her hero name when in action long before she'd gone public and joined the Tokyo Super Squad — one couldn't be too careful about possible surface-scanning mind-readers.) There's no point in being looked down upon by so-called 'pure' martial artists for having mystic capabilities if you don't listen to them.

She quickly glanced back over her shoulder at the hallway she'd just left. The rooms on the opposite side of that hallway were against an outer wall, so there'd be windows. She'd slip out one and come back in another floor up, that would take care of any nasty surprises while letting her still play her part. Refocusing on the hallway in front of her, she began to slowly back up.

/\

Ryu leaned against the wall, waiting in the dark — he hadn't wanted any clue that the room was occupied by even so much as a hint of light under the door, so the first thing he'd done on reaching his ambush point was to turn off the room's lights. Not that he'd been bored waiting in the dark, not with mentally reviewing every piece of news footage he could remember of Chrysanthemum's fights. It probably wouldn't matter, not with their relative skill levels and surprise on his side. But while he might have the edge in pure skill she had more than just an edge when it came to experience, and he'd been in enough street fights to know that experience counted.

Then the voice of the yakuza handling his surveillance sounded in his earbud. "Kiku is at the top of the stairs … she's around the corner … in three more steps … two — wait, she's stopped. She's backing up!"

Instantly, Ryu stepped away from the wall, turned around with his arms crossed over his chest, concentrated for a split second, and swung both arms wide.

/\

The flash of warning from her artificial mystic senses gave Chrysanthemum a split second to react, just long enough that when the wall to her right exploded out into the hallway, slamming pieces of the plasterboard and wood framing of typical American construction and the wood paneling that had covered it into the opposite wall, she'd already spun around and was diving back the way she come. She tucked into a roll, twisted as her momentum carried her back to her feet at the T-intersection, and stared wide-eyed at what was left of the walls on both side of the hallway just a little past where she'd been standing — whatever had caused the explosion had cut through both walls like tissue paper.

Then a tall, muscular, raven-haired young man in camouflage pants and a dark muscle shirt stepped out of the right side hole and she knew she was in trouble. {I am Kumon Ryu, and you, Kiku, are illegally trespassing,} the young man said in their native Japanese, grinning at her. {You aren't the person I wanted to meet, I suppose I'll have to go hunting for Ranma myself once this job's over. But you'll do for a consolation prize, it's been awhile since I've had to push myself to win.}

It was all Chrysanthemum could do to keep from giving him an opening by freezing in place as her mind raced — he knew who she was! No, he doesn't, he can't. And even if he does, as long as I keep my mouth shut and get away he can't prove anything. Even as touchy as Americans can be about their sovereignty, they'll accept an accomplished fact as long as they can pretend I was never here.

"What? Nothing to say? Where's the usual snappy patter, the clever comebacks?" Ryu mocked. "Not that I suppose it matters." Then he was flowing toward her, and even as she deflected and dodged his first two strikes she realized she was in serious trouble.

/oOo\

For Cherub, this had been the oddest 'fight' that he had ever been in. On the one hand, it hadn't been much of a fight — in fact, so far he hadn't struck a single blow. DarkAngel had dealt with what little opposition they'd just encountered at a distance with the blunt version of her throwing halos, all he'd had to do was dodge a little gunfire the one time a thug got a shot off. On the other hand, they were fighting for a young woman's life and freedom rather than personal glory and it had been dragging on and on, with DarkAngel growing more tense with every room they briefly checked without finding her. Still, they had only just reached the third and least likely room in which B.P. had indicated a woman that might be Deborah Manning had been heard, so —

"DarkAngel, Cherub, Chrysanthemum is in trouble!"

Both heroes jerked slightly at the sound of B.P.'s voice in their ears. DarkAngel asked, "What kind of trouble?"

"Some guy by the sound of his voice but I don't know what he said, it wasn't in English," B.P. responded. "But it sounds like he's out of her league — Chrysanthemum hasn't said a word since he attacked her, but I'm picking up the sounds of a lot of property destruction and she's more the subtle type. She bounces people off walls, not knock them down."

DarkAngel glanced around, considering her and Cherub's location in the back of the right wing of the mansion. Chrysanthemum would have moved toward the left wing to give the Answer the center and spread out the defenders... "Do you know where she is?"

"Approximately, she was whispering her moves as she went. And from the sounds of it, it shouldn't be hard to find her once you get close."

"Once Cherub gets close, he's the combat monster," DarkAngel replied. "Cherub, the last room we checked, go out the window and up over the roof, let B.P. guide you. I'll continue the search here."

Cherub hesitated, remembering the night he and his father had arrived in Hudson City and prevented Deborah's murder, the way she had clutched at him. "S-DarkAngel, are you sure — ?" he started to ask, only to break off as a dull thud reverberated through the mansion. "Right." He spun around and ran for the previous room and its windows as the mansion seemed to shake.

Behind him, DarkAngel tried to door to their destination ... locked. She stepped back, and one kick against the lock sent the door slamming back on its hinges as she twisted to the side.

/oOo\

Chrysanthemum backpedalled frantically, struggling to get back out reach of her opponent, then flattened herself against a wall as another of those cutting whatever-they-weres, vertical this time, slashed through the space where she'd just been ... and showered her with more wood and plaster as the floor and ceiling peeled away from its path like water from the prow of a ship. Her earlier estimation of how much trouble she was in hadn't begun to cover it, in spite of the way Ryu had to telegraph his cutting distance strikes — the hallway cramped her ability to dodge, she was having to back up over ground covered with debris where those same strikes hadn't already torn it up, when she had gotten close enough to strike back Ryu had shrugged off her blows, the riposte she'd ducked had punched another hole in the wall, and she hadn't brought any of her offensive mystical tricks. She was supposed to be incognito and those tricks were too distinctively hers, and she hadn't expected to face anything worse than standard yakuza trash.

Ryu hadn't tried to stay in contact when she'd realized that her lovetaps weren't doing anything but give him opportunities to strike back and backed off. He'd simply going back to his cutting attacks, and that had her concerned. He had to know they were easily dodged ... like now —

Chrysanthemum sprang into the air, tucking into a ball for a split second as two more attacks slashed past her. She spun around, pushed off from a still mostly standing wall at an angle, twisted again to land back in the hallway T-intersection facing her enemy, and frowned behind the mask covering her lower face. Ryu was grinning — That cannot be good...

Chrysanthemum's eyes widened as Ryu's arms swiped outward again, sending out two more slashing arcs — but neither were aimed at her, one going into the floor and the other into the ceiling, both at an angle ... and both were much wider than the previous attacks.

Then the floor underneath her dropped, slamming into the lower floor with a loud thud, sending her sprawling. Ryu had actually carved away the floor's supports with the attacks she'd dodged! But there had been two massive cutting attacks — she looked up just in time to see the second floor ceiling crashing down onto her.

/oOo\

By now, Sergeant Amado was shouting into his car's radio mouthpiece. "I'm telling you, even if this doesn't involve the Stanson/Manning case, something is going on in there! Those were gunshots I heard earlier, and —" He broke off his tirade as a rumbling sound washed over him and his partner. Even several blocks away from the mansion, the sound of massive property damage was clear through his unmarked patrol car's open windows. "Did you hear that?" he demanded. "Now get off your ass and tell the cops on patrol to get here right now — all hands and the cook! Or I swear I will personally drop in and rip you a new one."

"Very well, but I'm making a special note that it was your call," Sergeant Macky responded. "Don't go barging in until they get there."

Amado snarled, "Yeah, don't worry, jackass, I won't do you the favor of getting myself killed." He broke off the call and set the headset back in its rest as he listened to the all-hands alert.

"Macky really didn't want to listen to you," Sergeant Abbate noted from the passenger's seat. "For a minute, I thought he was going to use the excuse that you hadn't told anyone we'd be here to blow you off."

"He wouldn't have dared," Amado replied absentmindedly as he yet again drew his revolver and made sure it was in working order. "He knows that clearing our presence with the locals is a courtesy, not a requirement. Even without that preclearance his career would have been over if he refused, if he had a job left at all."

Abbate shrugged. "True, and you say he has to know that. So why did he fight it as long as he did? He may hate your guts, but scuttlebutt is he always has his eye on promotion."

Amado frowned thoughtfully. "Good point, it doesn't really fit, does it?" he mused. "Not enough to make a formal suggestion to Internal Affairs but I'll pass the word to a few people, have them keep an eye on things." He glanced up and grimaced at the sound of a distant siren. He hadn't demanded that the reinforcements come in quietly, and Sergeant Macky hadn't taken the initiative to call for it himself. "Something to think about later."

/\

Sergeant Macky sighed as he leaned back in his seat. He hadn't done his career any good, but he didn't think he'd pushed things so far that he no longer had one. Everyone knew he and Sergeant Amado didn't get along, so he could plead a momentary lapse of judgment and the captain would probably be satisfied with an official reprimand and making sure he didn't deal with Sergeant Amado in the future even for his assigned duties. Macky just hoped that Nakamura agreed that he'd bought as much time as he could — while Macky appreciated the bank account he was building for his retirement, the Oyabun of the Hudson City branch of the Sawakiri-gumi was not a forgiving man.

/oOo\

Ryu looked down at the debris piled up underneath where he stood at the edge of the massive hole in the second story floor, ignoring the cold night air coming through the wide gap where several rooms had been. Finally, he shrugged with a sigh. It hadn't been that much of a fight, much less a true test of his limits, but it had been fun while it lasted. And he did have to admit — to himself if no one else — that Chrysanthemum had been faster than he was. If she had been a true martial artist or had her mystical toys with her, the fight might have turned out very differently. But she hadn't had them with her and she wasn't a true martial artist, and that meant all her speed was useless without the ki-enhanced strength to take advantage of it. Or the toughness to take a real hit, or the endurance to outlast her opponents, he thought. Still, she was no poseur. She certainly knew how to use what she —

The pile of debris shifted, and his eyes widened as a one side of the pile was pushed to the side, sliding down to the floor. Stepping off the edge of the hole, he dropped to the floor below and stepped around to the side of the slide to stare at Chrysanthemum upright on her knees, hands raised to brace up two large ceiling slabs leaning against each other. For a long moment she stared back then, voice shaking, said the first words he'd heard from her since the ambush: "What do you know? It worked."

Ryu shook off his shock and laughed, long and hard. Finally getting himself under control, he asked in the same English she had used, "Why the hell aren't you a true martial artist?"

Chrysanthemum shrugged slightly, then froze as the debris pile above her shifted. "I've picked up a bit, but true mastery of your ki takes too much time. I'd rather use it to help people. Could you step out of the way?"

For a moment, Ryu considered doing just that — the fight had been fun, after all, Chrysanthemum had proven to be an unexpectedly inventive and resilient fighter, more of a challenge than he had expected. I may have to rethink my views on those using shortcuts, he thought, sort out the pretenders and gloryhounds from those that simply have other things more important to them. But that was for later, and he shook his head. "As much fun as that would be, I'm afraid I'm being paid for a job right now, and you're trespassing," he said regretfully, drawing back a fist. "Nothing personal."

"It will be if you throw that punch," a new male voice said.

Ryu looked up to find a new figure crouched at the edge of the hole, a muscular raven-haired boy close to his own age dressed in a tight black and dark blue costume, an open vee in the front, a feather pattern along the shoulders, slightly puffed sleeves. He wore a black mask that covered his head except for his lower face and the top of his head, but Ryu felt a fresh upsurge of hope. He didn't know how feathers might fit with DarkAngel's motif, but maybe this was the one, was Ranma... "So come down here and do something about it," he suggested, stepping back and to the side to give the newcomer room.


I know all writers are "borrowing" from earlier writers, it's the nature of the business, but some borrowings are a bit more blatant than others. Sometimes, I'm tempted to play "Name that Scene!"