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.


DarkAngel crouched on her heels, leaning against the hallway wall beside the door to the garage. She had made it across the roof and into the mansion through the doors The Answer had kicked open just before B.P. had reported that the police were entering the mansion grounds. For a moment she had been worried that she was going to have to race through the mansion to exit the back as the police entered the front — and wouldn't that have been the perfect farce to cap the night?

But the police had simply spread out around the mansion, so she made a quick reconnaissance of the hallways at the front of the mansion while spreading the last of the off-world tech she had brought — tiny limited-life self-destructive sensors she tossed up to the ceilings that would pick up motion and transmit video of whatever triggered them to a set of goggles she was now wearing over her black half-mask and blond wig. Now all she could do was wait until either her prey showed up or the police decided to enter, and in the meantime listen to B.P.'s reports on what was going on with the others. Not that that was exactly relaxing — whomever Cherub was fighting was proving a lot more powerful than she'd expected for a Hudson City villain, and the situation with Bluejay had had her heart in her throat until B.P. reported Chrysanthemum's diagnosis that her sort-of-friend/enemy was going to be all right.

DarkAngel was wondering if she and Bluejay were still going to be friends after this, when her goggles lightly vibrated to indicate a hit. She immediately accepted the footage, and her heart sank at the sight of a group walking down a hallway: two obvious bodyguards in the lead, the oyabun of the Sawakiri-gumi and his chief of security side by side, the man that had brought Deborah to the mansion from the headquarters of the Miyamiji-kai trailing behind them, and two more obvious bodyguards bringing up the rear — and no Deborah.

Maybe she got away from them, and they're cutting their losses, she thought, firmly ignoring the possibility that they had simply decided that she'd be dead weight and killed her.

Then DarkAngel frowned as they turned into a new corridor halfway down the one they'd been walking down, and a signal from a new video feed came in — that new corridor didn't lead to the garage. It was, however, the way to the front entrance. The oyabun knows the police are here, he must be trying a bluff, to see if he can keep them out of the mansion. She smiled viciously at the thought. With the two girls that Bluejay almost killed herself saving, all the oyabun was doing was delivering himself and Deborah's kidnapper into the hands of the police. No, whatever happened those men were in for a very uncomfortable future. Now if only Deborah was alive to enjoy it...

Then a new signal came in. She opened up the new feed, and stiffened at the sight of the blond figure of Deborah Manning, naked, face bruised and bloody, a pistol in her hand hanging at her side — and entering the corridor the oyabun's group had just left.

DarkAngel was instantly upright and racing down the hallway, ripping the goggles off her head and stashing them in her belt pouch as she ran. She couldn't get around to Deborah from the rear, not before the girl caught up with the yakuza, but she could get in front of both groups. Hopefully she could take the thugs down before they knew Deborah was behind them, or at least provide a distraction and alert Deborah that they were there. Either way, she had to move.

/\

Deborah was lost. The hallways she'd walked through were luxurious, those lit well enough at night that she was able to tell, but had a level of sameness that made it impossible for her to recognize anything from her single pass-through the previous day. She wasn't helped by the way the layout would have done justice to the Minotaur's maze. Still, she thought she hadn't gotten turned around. If she wasn't aimed straight for the garage she should at least be headed somewhere toward the front entrance.

Then she came up to another corridor joining the one she was in, and paused just as she was about to enter it when she heard voices. Or rather, a strange woman's voice: "Going somewhere?"

"Not that it should be any concern of a trespasser in my house, but yes — I intend to greet my newest guests."

Deborah stiffened. That was the voice of the older man that had greeted her raping, abusive, self-styled 'master' when they'd arrived. And if he was here, perhaps her 'master' was as well!

"You mean the police? Yes, I imagine they'll be happy to see you. They're going to have some questions about the two girls your thugs tried to kill out back."

Deborah crept up to the corner and peeked around, and ... yes! The rapist was there, his back to her, two other men pushing past him toward whatever woman had intercepted them. She pulled back out of sight, bracing herself against the wall as she found herself gasping, shaking with rage. She heard more discussion, but couldn't understand it over the blood thundering in her ears. Okay, girl, if you're going to have a chance here you need to control yourself!

She slowly fought down the shaking in her hands until the pistol in her hands was steady, sucked in a deep breath, and stepped around the corner. She lifted the pistol in both hands to point it straight at her rapist's back. "Going somewhere without your meek and subservient slave, master?"

Morita whirled around to face her even as the sound of cries and thuds broke out behind him. He blanched, freezing at the sight of the gun in her hand aimed straight at him. "Deborah!"

"Wow, you actually used my name, instead of 'bitch' or 'slut'! Amazing what a little firepower pointed your way does for your memory," Deborah mocked.

A hint of motion beyond Morita caught her eye, and her gaze flicked over for a moment to see that the older man just beyond him had also turned to silently watch her. She discounted him — unarmed and so unimportant — and refocused on Morita. Slipping her finger inside the trigger guard, she started to squeeze, only to pause as a thought struck her — the old man that had known what Morita had done to her and disapproved, and done nothing. "You know, Morita, you're really good at making life miserable for people. Why don't we see how much you enjoy the reverse." Shifting her aim slightly, she squeezed the trigger.

/\

DarkAngel paused got a few seconds fighting her breath under control — the run to get into position had been short but hard — pulled out a halo grenade and a halo boomerang, then stepped around the hallway corner and ... yes! The oyabun was still walking toward her, and his escorts were all still with him. So, let's let Deborah know we're here.

She leaned nonchalantly against the wall and asked, "Going somewhere?" (Apparently nonchalantly — the style Genma had taught her emphasized hiding her readiness to respond. That had played a major role in her early success, before her rep outweighed her cuteness.)

At the sight of her, the yakuza slammed to a stop. After a moment the oyabun responded, "Not that it should be any concern of a trespasser in my house, but yes — I intend to greet my newest guests."

"Ah." DarkAngel tapped at a lip. "You mean the police? Yes, I imagine they'll be happy to see you. They're going to have some questions about the two girls your thugs tried to kill out back." She grinned as the shot went home — they weren't going to be able to talk their way out of this one.

Later DarkAngel couldn't remember the next few steps in their little verbal duel, she was too busy trying to watch the hallway behind them without appearing to watch the hallway behind them, looking for any hint of Deborah Manning. She was helped by the way the bodyguards in the back pushed forward to join the ones in the front, the chief of security behind them, shifting forward enough that he could step in front of the oyabun at a moment's notice. And there beyond them she saw the young woman peek around the corner and then pull back out of sight. Wonderful! Deborah had been warned, and if she'd been listening she'd know the police were onsite, all she needed to do was find a place to hide until —

The naked blonde stepped back into sight, pistol lifting in a two-handed grip to point at her kidnapper. "Going somewhere without your meek and subservient bedwarmer, master?"

Oh, shit! DarkAngel instantly went from holding up the wall to throwing herself toward the yakuza. The thrown halo grenade bounced off the wall beside one of the two in the front and went off between him and the man behind him. Both were instantly entangled in a mass of whipping ribbons as her halo boomerang struck the forehead of the other man in the front rank, rocking his head back and sending him stumbling into the man behind him.

Then she was in the middle, grabbing the second-ranker that was knocked off-balance and whirling to slam him into the wall, twisted around and kicked the chief of security in the stomach hard enough to knock him off his feet as a back-swinging elbow slammed her second target's head into the wall again. As that man collapsed she stepped out of the way of the two ribbon-entangled men when they tried to knock her over, giving them an added assist to slam head first into the wall. They collapsed on top of her second target, she turned to kick the man she'd hit with her boomerang in the head just as he was rising to his knees, then charged toward the again standing but still bent over chief of security. Two quick blows and he dropped — and the hallway thundered as beyond them blood and flesh exploded from the oyabun's upper back and a strike against the impact weave of her costume half-turned her around.

Gritting her teeth, she forced herself back around even as another shot roared out. She found Deborah staggering backward with gun in her hands dropping back to level, bleeding from a fresh contusion on her forehead. In front of her, her kidnapper was dropping to his knees beside the body of the oyabun, whose lifeless eyes were staring unblinking at the ceiling. He looked up at the girl he had abused, and asked, "Why?"

Deborah smiled coldly as she stared down at him, her gun dropping to hang limply by her side. "You killed my boyfriend, made my life hell, did your best to break me. Now let's see how much your life is worth after your friends find out their oyabun was killed by your plaything."

DrkAngel frantically looked Deborah over, and slumped slightly in relief when she failed to find any other fresh wounds, bullet-inflicted or otherwise. She looked around to find another pistol lying on the floor next to Deborah's kidnapper, a ribbon of smoke rising from the muzzle — it must have gone off when he dropped it. She looked around again at the bodies she'd strewn about the hallway. The three of them were the only ones still conscious — that was something, at least. Sighing, she stepped around the man kneeling on the floor to slowly approach the naked girl. "Deborah, give me the gun," she said in as gentle a voice as she could manage.

Deborah pulled her gaze up from her abuser to stare almost uncomprehendingly at the vigilante. She was turning pale, what she'd just done must have been catching up with her.

"Give me the gun," DarkAngel repeated. "The police are outside waiting for you."

Tears ran down Deborah's cheeks as she started to shake. DarkAngel took a chance and reached out to take the pistol from her hand, meeting only minimal resistance. She placed it in her belt pouch, then put an arm around Deborah's shoulder and gently pushed her into motion, guiding her through the unconscious men and down the hallway. "I know the cop in charge," she said as they turned the corner into yet another hallway. "He's a good man, he'll get you a blanket, take care of you, see to it that you get home."

"Home? But ... but I killed ..."

DarkAngel stopped, and turned the still-crying young woman to face her. "Yes, you did. But you, I, and that ... that ... that pig are the only ones that know that. I have the gun so if you keep quiet the police won't be able to link you to the shooting. They certainly aren't going to take his word for it." The thunder of a fresh gunshot echoed down the hall, and DarkAngel smiled grimly. "And I suspect that was said pig making the issue a moot point."

Deborah stared at DarkAngel, eyes wild, then abruptly broke down into loud sobs as she frantically clutched at the vigilante.

DarkAngel gently returned the embrace, murmuring to her and rubbing her back until the sobs trailed off into hiccups. Finally, she reluctantly broke the embrace. "Come on, the police are waiting for you," she said, then paused. "Oh, yes, almost forgot." She pulled a wet wipe packet out of a pocket on her belt. "Here, wipe off your hands and arms."

A confused Deborah did as she asked, then again ... then a third time. As DarkAngel put the used wipes and empty packets into her pouch, Deborah ask, "What was that for?"

"Gun oil and gunpowder residue." DarkAngel put her arm around Deborah's shoulders again and steered her down the hallway.

A few minutes later she watched through a crack in the curtains of a window next to the front entrance as Deborah ran down the steps and through herself into the arms of Sergeant Amado. As another cop hurriedly brought a blanket for the naked woman, DarkAngel turned away. She murmured, "B.P., Deborah's with the cops and I'm on my way out. Tell Cherub it's time to go."

"Already done," B.P. replied.

DarkAngel sighed with relief — her partner was still all right, then, or B.P. would have said something. Now all she had to do was to collect her tools from where she'd left them, then make her way through the mansion to exit out the back. She wondered for a moment if the architect had been part-rabbit — the place was certainly a warren.

/oOo\

Like Bluejay, Cherub had been facing a combination of boredom and rising tension, only for him it wasn't familiar at all. Usually, spars and fights were over quickly, but this one had been going on and on and on ... Ryu unable to touch him and unwilling to use lethal force, and him able to hit Ryu whenever he tried to attack — but only by moving in and out so fast that he wasn't able to put any real strength into the blows.

If this had been a real fight, or even a spar, they would have long since acknowledged the impasse and called it a day. Unfortunately, since it was Cherub's job to keep Ryu occupied he was stuck there while DarkAngel searched the mansion alone. Sure, she had more experience as a vigilante than he did, practically all of it solo. And sure, the gurentai they'd encountered had been practice dummies rather than any real threat. But still, she was alone and searching for Deborah, and he couldn't shake the growing feeling that he ought to be there for Deborah like he had been the first time and he wasn't going to be there so long as Ryu was ambulatory.

So of course, he'd come up with a way to change that, and in a few more minutes he'd find out if it —

"Cherub, DarkAngel's found Deborah, and she's escorting her to the police out front. Time to go."

Cherub went lightheaded as relief washed through him — and almost died from his distraction as he almost failed to twist out of the way of Ryu's latest attack, the edge of vacuum blade slashing through his costume and leaving a shallow cut across his chest. Pay attention, Ranma, he berated himself. Just because Ryu isn't tryin' ta kill you doesn't mean he won't if ya zig when he expects ya to zag.

"I'll be out in a few minutes," he murmured back softly, and dropped almost flat to the floor on his hands and toes to avoid the follow-up strike before rolling to the side. Okay, let's see if this works.

/\

Ryu snarled as he sent another vacuum blade ripping across their current room towards his opponent, ignoring the relief washing through him that his apparent near miss was in fact a miss. He was finding his fight with Cherub (snicker) extremely frustrating. Really, between his inability to solidly connect against his opponent and Cherub's (snicker) inability to get through his defenses with enough strength to do anything but sting without leaving himself open to a fight-losing counterstrike, the fight had degenerated into a particularly brutal extra-long sparring session.

But he did have to admit that it had been very instructive about the limits of the Yamasenken — in fact, the most productive fight he'd been in since he could remember. The style Genma had taught his father was perfect if he wanted to smash his way into somewhere in a hurry, hit hard and fast without concern for what kind of shape his opponents were left in — or the landscape, for that matter. Yes, the Yamasenken was brutally, destructively lethal. Unfortunately, its usefulness plummeted as soon as concern for the wellbeing of his opponent was added to the equation, and he simply could not kill Cherub (snicker) — with Genma dead, the son was Ryu's only connection to the Umisenken. True, Cherub (snicker) hadn't seemed to recognize the name of the style, but it was possible his father had changed the name, or had hidden the scroll somewhere that only his son would know. No, for now at least, Cherub (snicker) was worth far more to Ryu alive than dead. Still, as Ryu had learned, that brought its own problems, the big one being that the Yamasenken was powerful but slow — he'd never realized how slow until he found himself facing an opponent as fast or faster than he was. His style's vulnerability had been hidden by the lower quality of his previous opponents.

At least he had managed to maneuver Cherub (snicker) into the path of the spouting hot water from the broken sink before they left the bathroom. Now they were moving through that wing of the mansion room by room, with a blithe disregard for whether any particular wall actually had a door in it, their path twisting and turning, doubling back on itself. Cherub (snicker) kept to his tactic of dancing around Ryu, darting in for the occasional tap just to show he could. And he'd stopped the constant string of insults, probably because he'd realized that at this point they were a possibly self-distracting waste of breath.

{Hey, Giggles, I gotta agree than yer techniques are laughable, but I'm kinda surprised that ya find yer lack a' skill as amusing as I do.}

The insult — and its pinpoint accuracy — took Ryu by surprise, and his mounting frustration exploded. He had just crossed his arms to launch another attack, and he instantly shifted his aim and sent the vacuum blade ripping through the air straight at the pigtailed vigilante. Heart in his mouth, Ryu froze as he watched, desperately hoping — and then Cherub sprang straight over the attack toward him, landed on his hands, flipped straight at him again, and used his shoulders as the base for another hand spring right over his head! Ryu whipped around just in time for Cherub's booted feet to slam into his chest, knocking him staggering back to the far side of the room. He caught his balance and glared at his opponent ... who was now standing by the room's door.

Cherub tossed him a jaunty wave. {Gotta go, have fun,} Cherub tossed off, and raced through the door. Ryu was just bracing himself to follow when loud popping and cracking sounds from above penetrated his anger. He looked up just in time to see the ceiling come down, smashing him to the floor. The thundering collapse seemed to go on and on, and when it finally ended Ryu found himself battered and bruised and pinned in place, unable to do much more than twitch in the pitch black. He finally gave up his attempts to free himself and relaxed, and found himself actually smiling slightly in spite of the way he was choking on the dust as he settled back to wait for rescue. Round one goes to you, Ranma, but we'll be meeting again. After all, I know where to find you.

/\

Cherub raced though the mansion, running through doorways and leaping through holes he and Ryu — well, mainly Ryu — had left in the mansion's infrastructure. It turned out his little trap had actually been a big trap, and if he didn't find a way out right now... And then there was a miraculously unbroken window in front of him, and he threw himself out of the building in an explosion of glass to roll across the snow as behind him an unbelievably big chunk of the mansion wing collapsed onto itself.

A moment later a policeman was pulling him up and away from the building. "Good God, man," the cop babbled, "are you all right?!"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Cherub replied as he shook off the helping hands. He stared at the pile of rubble in the abruptly darker night, the lights that had illuminated that side of the lawn having come down with the wing and the lights farther back only lighting up the rising cloud of dust. "A lot better than the other guy," he added, trying to speak with his usual nonchalance and grateful that the darkness hid his own shock at what he and Ryu had accomplished.

The policeman asked shakily, "There was someone else in there?"

Cherub shrugged. "Yeah, but he's a tough one. He can take it. Well, now that Deborah's safe I have to get out of here, good luck."

"Wait —" But Cherub was gone into the darkness.


And that takes care of the action, I hope it doesn't disappoint. One issue I quickly realized is that unlike a Superman-type story, when you're telling a Batman-type story few, or even any, of the enemies for a particular story arc will match the combat prowess of the good guys. And that means most of the dramatic tension has to come from something other than the combat itself. At any rate, one more chapter to wrap things up and we can put this one to bed.

The chapter title comes from the country song by Martina McBride. It's far from an exact fit, no child abuse here, but has some overlap. The relevant verse goes:

I heard the shots
I saw you hit the door
I snuck in and grabbed that pistol off the floor
Don't you worry they won't find it that's for sure