Excruciating pain. The very air was made of pain. Kushina Uzumaki knew this because the simple act of breathing filled her lungs with tiny glass daggers with each breath. The world was made of pain as well. There was no part of her that wasn't either pulsing in agony, spasming or presented to open air in the form of an open wound. Even thinking is a pain, Kushina gritted, somehow managing morose humor even as she braced against the jackhammer inside her skull. Still, she didn't move or even open her eyes; opting instead to test her muscles with minute twitches. Most produced a stab of pain, ensuring that they were still attached. Fingers. Toes. Foot. Larger muscle groups flexed ever so slightly to less ensure their range of motion, but more to verify the fact that they were still there. The kunoichi cracked her eyes, and was instantly reward by a sharp need of sunlight; a white hot pick shoved directly into her brain.
"Miss, are you okay?"
Okay, Kushina snorted. Okay was not interposing oneself between an Death God and an open chakra vacuum. And don't forget the nine tails, she thought bitterly. The fact that it was daylight was telling enough... As was the fact that she was still alive. Even better was that fact that there was somebody nearby enough to even ask if she was okay. She answered the male voice, her own coming out ragged. "Seen worse..."
"You're in pretty bad shape," The voice's concern trickled off her ears, his accent registering as foreign; definitely not native to Konoha. "Can you move? I can get you to a hospital..."
"Move first. Hospital later." Kushina tried her vision again and was greeted by a less agonizing, but still supremely blinding glare. Seeing is overrated anyway, she deadpanned, and rolled over in an attempt to right herself. That action alone was excruciating enough, but she pushed through the curtain of pain and into some semblance of a sitting sprawl. "I'm thinking I look as bad as I feel?"
"Lots of burns," The voice replied. She could hear his footsteps as they padded across what she felt to be dirt and grass. "A few cuts, a deep one on the arm. Might require stitches. You're going to need new clothing."
The fingers from her left hand traced up the right arm, probing the area in question. Good eye, she agreed with the man's observations. Her clothing had absorbed most of the blood and it seemed to have clotted, but she knew from experience that any sudden movement would open it outright. As to the clothing... Just having some was a blessing at this point. She could feel the breached netting hugging her body. Torn pants... Eyes again. The Kunoichi cracked them and this time they weren't burnt from their sockets by blinding light. The world beyond was still an overexposed mess, but... Kushina frowned, taking a sniff of the air. The tiny daggers still inhabited her lungs, but they rapidly were dropping from her list of concerns in favor of others.
She knew a third of Konoha had burned with the onslaught of the Kyuubi. While the Hidden Leaf wasn't exactly a small village, the proportional casualties it had taken were enormous. War produced its own atmosphere. Smells. Sounds. Even days after the battle was won or lost, they lingered. Kyuubi had drawn a scar across Konoha that would take years to heal, yet the air was fresh, not ashen. The sounds were wrong. No cries of the wounded nor the bustle of demolition or construction. Those questions invariably brought back to her son and husband... Minato-kun. Kushina fingered the necklace hanging just above her bosom, caressing the warmth of the blue jewel it held. He was still... 'Alive' was probably too strong a term, she knew, but the necklace was still warmed by his chakra which allowed her some small more of hope. Naruto-kun... If she wasn't in Konoha, she needed to know where she was now.
The kunoichi rubbed her forearm, affecting a pained expression while sliding the hand closer to the bracer and the hold out kunai tucked within. If the blur in front of her was anywhere near competent, they and the needle shuriken concealed within her red mane wouldn't be enough after what she had just been through. "So... Where am I?"
"Um..." The blur seemed to face one direction, then another. "I, uh... Don't know."
Kushina's hands stopped their creep up to the bracers. She couldn't have heard that correctly. "You don't know."
"I'm... ah... kinda bad with directions."
Well, getting lost happens, The red headed nin considered the statement, nearly taking his sincerity at face value... Or rather what little she could see of his face. That still didn't answer where she was however, or why the way he answered sounded so damn familiar. She eased back on the paranoia and rubbed her eyes, trying to improve her vision as she stood up carefully. "Okay then, is Konoha nearby?"
"Konoha?" The figure was clearly confused, and Kushina couldn't help but to frown now. "Is that near Okinawa?"
Who doesn't know where Konoha was?! Fire country, Hidden Village of the-- Her rise to irritation suddenly stalled, and the foreign words spilled from her lips in a reverent whisper.
"I'm certain I passed it three days ago," He continued, still looking off in another direction and failing to notice her reaction. "It's the place with the Pyramids, right?"
You're in Tokyo, P-Chan... The whispered memory flashed unbidden through her mind's eye, firing across neurons that hadn't seen use in the last decade. The kunoichi shook her head as her vision continued to sharpen into something usable. Black hair. A faded yellow tunic... The umbrella! "You... you can't be serious..."
"What?" The teen turned around and Kushina couldn't help but gawk now. Fangs. The bandanna. His travel worn tangs. If she had an ounce of chakra she would have yelled 'kai!' and disrupted whatever genjustu she was under; but it was too real to be a self induced hallucination or otherwise.
"I... I appear to be lost myself," Kushina chose her words carefully and made a show of looking around. The landscape appeared to be Japanese- at least what she remembered of it -and there were buildings on the horizon... Skyscrapers, her mind wrapped itself around the concept, her eyes drinking in their tall, unnatural angles. She turned away, looking back to the teen who was staring at her curiously. There was still one final test and she dipped a shallow bow in his direction. "Thanks for coming to my assistance. I'm Kushina Uzumaki."
Her would be rescuer blinked then smiled, returning the bow. "Ryoga! Ryoga Hibiki!"
It was all she could do not to collapse into a fit of giggles and laughter, and there by reopen every single last one of her wounds.
Ryoga Hibiki glanced at his travelling partner for what had to be the hundredth time since their meeting, all but feeling the woman's pain as she kept a steady, wobbling pace with him. Her balance was assisted by a walking stick she had picked from the side of the road and put to good use. The hacking cough she had started out was worrisome, but had since subsided several kilometers back. Now she simply walked, albeit unsteadily thought the suburb with him; refusing his offer to carry her and taking the sights in like a tourist.
Not that there is much to see, Ryoga appended mentally, attempting to keep his study of the woman as covert as possible. A car passed by- a small box on wheels - and the woman's eyes tracked it like it was some sort of mechanical wonder. He'd have dismissed it as a small oddity if it weren't for the other oddities. Her injuries was his first real clue that something was off about the long haired redhead. She had taken damage, and as one martial artist to another, he was all but certain she had taken it in a fight.
Her clothing was definitely screwy. The dominant feature beyond her wild mane of red hair was a dense looking flame orange vest, heavily scored from what was almost certainly combat damage. Beneath it and the ragged dark crimson sports bra was a fine mesh body suit that clung to her slender torso and arms. Chain? He traced the battered mesh and tantalizing skin beneath down, fighting down the slight blush that threatened to break out across his face. Hugging her hips was a utility belt with a buckle hanging free around her black cargo pants, though the skewed steel plate looked like it had been through the wringer; on it, an odd interlocking spiral glyph. Her left arm- the one not lacerated -was also adorned with a cuff woven into gold vines and jewels.
The Lost Boy pulled his eyes away from the arm cuff, attempting to piece the facts together. The twenty something woman had obviously taken a beating and looked to be dressed... Like a ninja? It certainly wouldn't be the first time he had stumbled across a kunoichi, but it was a rare occurrence to say the least. While there were similarities, her clothing definitely strayed from the ninja archetype, and it was the first time he had ever seen one actually wear what looked to be body armor...
A tug at his sleeve broke him from the analysis, and he looked up to find the pleasantly smiling woman pulling him back on course. She motioned in their direction of travel. "You were starting to wander off again."
An embarrassed blush flooded his cheeks. "Eh... Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it," The woman he had come to know as Kushina smiled. "I knew somebody with the same problem once. He was like a brother to me, even though we practically fought non-stop."
"Uh, I think I know somebody like that too," Ryoga frowned with the thought. "But he's more trouble than he's worth. Bastard."
The redhead's light chuckle filled the air. "Friends always are."
To that, Ryoga didn't have an answer and the pair continued on in companionable silence, though he still marveled on how the most mundane items along the way seems to capture the woman's attention. At one point, he caught her staring into the sky. He cocked his head up and followed her line of sight to find one of the lower flying airliners. First time in the big city? Don't get out much? Those were the questions playing through the wanderer's head as he compiled his observations on Kushina. Still, it wasn't adding up, and the silent mystery finally got to him.
"So... Should we be expecting company later?"
"No." The implication was obvious, and a dark look crossed her face for the barest of moments before she shook her head. "He won't be bothering us for a good long time."
Ouch, Ryoga winced with the implication. And somehow, he was certain she had done just that. "So what brings you to this part of Japan?"
"A bit lost like yourself, I think," Kushina seemed to think on the matter before deciding on the answer. "It's been a while since I've been back this way."
"Right." Lost was something he could definitely relate to, though her sense of direction seemed to be a bit more fine tuned than his, since she was the one continually pulling him back on course. "So do you know where we're going?"
"Vaguely," She cocked her head, studying their surroundings with a critical eye. "We've passed a few places I remember, so we should reach your place by nightfall."
"Well, that's not so..." A key fact clicked, suspending his sense of relief in favor of something more ominous. His head turned slowly on Kushina, who continued to study their surroundings as they walked. "Just how do you know where I live?"
"Honestly Ryoga," She chastised, her tone holding its own edge of humor. "How many red-headed Japanese women could you possibly know?"
How many...? What kind of question is that? The Lost Boy rolled her response around mentally. Well there was Ranma, but that didn't exactly count... Ryoga stopped, his legs failing to work as the implication suddenly occupied a very large portion of his thought process. Kushina continued to walk for a few steps before realizing that her traveling partner had stopped, staring incredulously at her. She waited patiently for another minute while the teen sorted himself out.
"You... you..." The redhead nodded kindly, as if to encourage him to continue. "You... You can't be..."
"Though what I'm really wondering is what year it is..." Kushina wondered aloud, trailing off into her own musings. "You certainly don't look any older."
"You're... Saotome?" Ryoga had progressed from incredulity to a bug eyed stare. It was impossible. Utterly and completely impossible that the woman standing before him now had been... Ryoga shook his head, as if to dispel the vision. Even the reflexive anger he normally felt at the sheer mention of his rival's name had been effectively bypassed given the impossibility of what he was seeing. "Ranma...?"
"Pretty much," She shrugged indifferently at the name. "Though to tell you the truth, it's a name I haven't used in nearly ten years."
"You've only been gone one!" He snapped back, though its composition was complete shock and no anger. "They told me you left for some training mission!"
"Weird..." The woman tilted her head, contemplating the turn of events. "I would have thought all you would be older if I ever got back..."
"You-- what?" Ryoga's mental process was bordering on the likeness of a fifteen car pileup as impossible questions continued to lack plausible answers. Eventually one fought its way out of the snarl and even then, it was barely coherent as it spilled from his lips. "But you're... Your age!"
"Twenty six, I think," She nodded after counting off a few fingers. She paused, sizing up the lost boy herself. "But seriously... Seeing you here looking the same as the day I left. Thought I had a concussion. A bad concussion." She suddenly gained an introspective look. "Hmm. still might."
"But you can't be!" Ryoga railed against the discontinuity standing before him, then suddenly gained a suspicious look. "Mushrooms?"
"Mushrooms...?" Kushina-Ranma stared without comprehension before understanding dawned upon her visage. "Oh, mushrooms. Hardly." She struck a pose for Ryoga that offered him a full view of her curvaceous adult body. "Nope, this is all natural."
Now it was Ryoga's turn to stare before shaking the effect off. That mesh body suit- even so torn asunder in delightfully strategic places -left nothing to the imagination, and his mood soured. The ego alone was unmistakable. "You're definitely Ranma, alright."
"Well, if you've got it, flaunt it and all that. Well, at least 'Nato-kun thinks so," She quipped with a teasing smile, prompting a blush to form along the lost boy's face for a moment before taking on an irritated look.
"Back from the dead and a comedian," Ryoga retorted dryly, and started back along his way. He glanced back at Ranma shaking his head. "Besides, just who the hell is 'Nato-kun? Your husband?"
The intended barb never landed as Ranma nodded amiably. "Exactly."
The fanged martial artist scowled at her humor. "That's just creepy, Saotome."
"Oh, I'm quite serious," She returned pleasantly in his wake, prompting Ryoga to halt his forward progress once more as he attempted to reconcile the statement. The kunoichi began to fish something from the inner breast pocket of her orange combat vest. "Here."
Ryoga blinked, taking the four by five glossy square she offered him on reflex. Only after he had it in his hand did he bother to ask what exactly it was. "What's this?"
"Photo." She replied with a smile, causing Ryoga's cheek to twitch once. The wanderer brought the glossy to eye level and stared. There she was, Ranma with the same flowing red hair, arms wrapped possessively around a grinning blond man sporting a white trench coat and spiky hair. It was everything he would expect from a photo of a couple in love, save for one crucial fact: The Ranma Saotome he knew was a guy. Dazed and confused, his next words came out in a small voice as he handed the photo back. It was the only question he could think to ask.
"Ah, finally. The six million ryou question." The nin tucked the photo back into her breast pocket, leading Ryoga back along their way. "Mostly... For about four years now."
Ryoga considered her admission for a moment before coming to the most obvious solution available based on what he knew of the martial artist. While it wasn't exactly the first time, he knew that it was about Ranma's only other fear besides cats. "Jeez, that kinda sucks."
"Not really," Ranma admitted, burying yet another virtual dagger into the lost boy's thought process. "Sure, getting here was all sorts of hell, but in the end...? Trust me when I say I'd rather be there than here any day of the week."
Ryoga knew he wasn't a philosopher by any means, but even he could sense the deeper meaning in the words 'there' and 'here', as if they were more than just locations on a map; which was a good question in and of itself, he decided. "Where is 'there' anyway?"
"Somewhere that's not here," The woman's expression turned serious. "Somewhere I've got a husband and son who I need to get back to as quickly as possible."
"But exactly where...?" The teen's voice trailed off as his brained picked out a key word. He swallowed the implications down with a nearly audible gulp. "Husband... And kid?"
"Mmm-hmm," Ranma nodded amiably.
"But that's... That means..." Ryoga stumbled over the concept now. Ranma was locked. Married. Had a kid. And that meant... It was too freakish to be real. "Adopted... right?"
"Ryoga-Kun, I'm not the same person you knew," She shook her head, her attitude picking up that edge of seriousness once more. "I've grown up, got a life, husband, a child. I left them in a… precarious position, and I will not be staying any longer than it takes me to find a way back to them."
"You're serious...." It was all the Lost Boy could do to hold on to his sanity. Ranma Saotome, man among men and martial arts heir... Abandoning all of the former in favor of this woman before him. And there was no doubt in his mind... Even though she was answering to the name Ranma, this particular version was so far removed from the previous that it was just downright eerie. Just close enough to be Ranma, but little more. The fact that he was willing to just leave... "But what about the Tendos? Your parents? Hell, what about Akane, you--!"
"Don't." The kunoichi knew what was coming and whipped around like a snake, her arm extending like a blur to his throat where the cold steel of an edged weapon now rested. Ryoga froze, his rapid climb to fury instantly doused by the woman's gaze. It was cold, pitiless and most importantly, absolutely lethal in its intent. He could feel her intentions rolling around him like a blanket, and instinctively knew she would have no qualms about pushing whatever it was in her hand a few millimeters further. Her next words came out evenly and without emotion. "I'm not here to play games, Ryoga-Kun. I'm not even here to stay. I'm not here for Akane, the girls or to walk back into the life I left. Nod if you understand."
Ryoga nodded with wide eyes; very slightly as to avoid the razor's edge chaffing his skin further.
"Good." She nodded. The extension of her arm had her other leaning into the improvised walking stick, but he knew it would serve no impediment to a further thrust, if the redhead so desired. The blade remained at his throat and her expression continued to be solid business. "What I said before about seeing you as a friend was the truth, but there's too much at stake to play those games. Those are done between us. You will find that I react very badly to death threats."
She waited, and another tepid nod brushed lightly against the blade. She finally pulled the kunai away to be replaced into the padded bracer along her left forearm.
"Very well then." Ranma nodded, her stony expression relenting into pleasantness. "I'd rather have you as my friend anyway... A younger brother as it were."
The Hibiki rubbed his throat, feeling along the line her blade had rested. That alone was telling enough. Ranma Saotome wasn't the weapons sort, nor did he inflicted them on others just to prove a point. This one... She's downright scary, Ryoga decided, his throat itching where the cold steel had touched. He hadn't even seen her draw, let alone the weapon employed. It was some sort of kunai, but he had only seen that after the fact. He frowned with the realization, then at her words.
"Younger brother my ass, Saotome."
A jingle of feminine laughter greeted the remark and he scowled regardless as she continued, leading them along their way. The remainder of their conversation was lighter in nature as the day wound down, though it wasn't until the sun had dipped below the horizon that Ranma made good on her promise, finally finding the Hibiki residence after a couple of wrong turns; causing them to double back and make corrections before finally arriving at the front door.
"And I still can't believe you became a ninja."
"What's not to believe?" Ranma shrugged as they walked up to the door, silently noting not a single light on in the house. "You wouldn't believe how much my old man taught me that was directly relevant to the profession."
"Hmmf," Ryoga snorted, first rapping the door front then testing the locks. "Always pictured you as a front line fighter, not sulking around in the shadows."
"That's exactly what they are," The redhead explained, watching Ryoga step off the welcome mat and fish the key from beneath. He slid it in to the lock with a click and twisted, opening the dark house hold to the cool evening air. "Just throw every stereotype from around here out the window, because it's all on a completely different level."
Ryoga eyed the woman in her quasi combat ninja garb behind him. "And I suppose you're on that level, too."
"No," She cast him an easy smile back. "I left that so far behind, it's not even funny."
Ryoga muttered something concerning an 'egotistical jerk' before stepping into the dark of his parents home, fumbling for a light switch. He cast a look behind him at the stationary kunoichi. "What, aren't you coming in?"
"I seem to remember something about your place," She put an inquisitive finger to her lips, tilting her head with the attempt at remembrance. "Something..."
"That's it," Ranma smiled. In the doorway, Ryoga Hibiki had indeed found the light switch, which had in turn triggered a trap door to open from the ceiling to drop a massive wooden Tanuki statue upon the intruder's head. The chuckling woman walked around him, finding a piece of paper tapped next to the switch itself. "I have to admit, it's only taken me a decade appreciate your mother's skill at improvised entrapment and snares... Though they would work even better without the conveniently placed advisories."
The Tanuki slid off the side of Ryoga's head with another resounding thud. "Shut up, Saotome."
"Right," The smile only widened, then a wistful expression crossed her face. "It was good seeing you again."
She began to turn away, angling back to the sidewalk. Ryoga blinked. Wait... that's it? Irritation bubbled up from his psyche once more. "And where the hell do you think you're going?"
"I've got to get back to my husband and child," Ranma shrugged. "Figured I'd camp until something came to mind."
"Idiot," The lost boy growled, jabbing a thumb back into his house. "You got me here, so get your ass back here so I can repay it."
A giggle bubbled up from the woman's lips, causing Ryoga's cheek to twitch further. The continuous bouts of impromptu femininity were like sandpaper scraping across an open cut. "For old time's sake, then."
An hour later Ranma-Kushina was found lounging in the Hibiki ofuro, soaking in the liquid heat of the bath. The action had sent her various wounds ablaze with a painful stinging, but the cleansing warmth far outweighed the pain of the moment. Her head lulled right to the wood slat surface around the tub, and lined up next to it, the sum total of her remaining ordinance: One kunai, one explosive tag, five shuriken needles, and five meters of wire. Everything else had been expended just keeping the nine tails from erasing Konoha, and for now it was all she had to aid her in her primary objective. Somehow she had crossed the veil again and her ability to return rested in either finding somebody with the requisite ability or obtaining an artifact of similar power. God only knows if the temple is still in the here and now, that's for sure, she mused drawing a ripple across the steaming water with her fingertip.
So it's a visit to Nerima then, Ranma let herself sink deeper into the ofuro; a move that reflected her mood. It was really the last place she was looking to visiting, when it came right down to it. Had ten years actually passed here, it would have been doable. Everybody would have moved on, gotten married and did whatever it was their future would have held without her in their lives. But only a year, she frowned, working through the implications. It's not gonna to be pretty...
A warm yawn racked her body, and she blinked away the fatigue. But that was for tomorrow. Tonight, she would plan, sleep and then... Another yawn signaled it was time for her to depart the body of water. She took the step up reluctantly into the slight chill of the ambient air.
The inner bathroom door slid open.
"Hey Ranma, did..." Ryoga's words died on his lips as he walked into the washroom without thought, his eyes instantly falling on skin. Succulent, wet skin. The curves were those of a full woman bearing a passing resemblance to the younger form he once knew, and those eyes traced its every feature. There were scars, but they did little to detract from the hypnotizing sight before him. Soaked red hair draped down to the small of her back, where his gaze lingered. Aside from the wonderful posterior, an odd tattoo was found and he briefly wondered what it was before the portrait shifted, breaking the trance.
She was a redhead down there too.
"See something you like, Ryoga?"
Ryoga instantly lost nearly a pint of blood from his nose, and fell over unconscious.
Kushina rolled over in her light doze and was instantly rewarded by a needling pain, a result of the small canyon gouged into her arm. It was wrapped and she had done the stitching herself, but that didn't make it any less tender. Her blue eyes fluttered open with a wince and it took her nearly two seconds to identify the unfamiliar surroundings. Japan. Tokyo. Ryoga's House. Whatever small hope there had been that all of last night's events had been part of a severe concussion crumbled, and she sighed, slowly propping herself up from the futon and pushing the covers aside. Sunlight filtered through the smallish window of the guest room she had taken up residence in. Normally Ranma didn't sleep anywhere close to this late, but today she could make an exception. Not that I have much choice, she decided. The food and sleep had helped, even if the food had been merely packaged ramen and the sleep on a thin futon, but it was enough to at least give her body a start on the minor wounds; half of which were already gone. The larger one on her arm would take a decent reserve of ki to fuse back, but for now it was there to stay.
She rose up tentatively, testing her balance and movement. All in all, everything was in better working order than yesterday, so she adjusted the yukata on loan from Ryoga's parents closet and slid the door open, stepping out into the Hibiki household. She looked down the length of hall available to her, instantly tasting the lost boy's ki around the corner in the next room. Surprised he didn't get lost during the night or something, she wondered, walking in on him. "Feel like going to the Tendos?"
"I thought-- erk." Ryoga glanced around from the ironing board he was attending, the wisp of steam trailing his actions as he pulled the implement away. That's when he caught sight of the woman in his mother's yukata and it was quite obvious that Mom didn't have the proportions to fill the garment out the way this adult version of Ranma did. "No goddamn modesty," Ryoga muttered as he mentally reset his brain and tackled the question head on. "So all that crap about not wanting to go back...?"
"Still applies," the redhead shook her head, moving fully into the room. The Ryoga household was a trip unto itself, as every room- especially the living room within which she stood -was a shrine to the travels of the Hibiki clan. All the babbles and sovereigns were stacked on top of the other, and it was obvious those travels had been extensive ones... Quite extensive. "Want and need are two entirely different things in this case. I want to skip all the baggage a trip to Nerima is going to cost me. I need to go back since it's probably the highest concentration of magical people and items that I know of, and therefore my best chance of getting back quickly."
"And you're sure this isn't about Akane?" Ryoga eyed the woman suspiciously.
"Would you like to see the picture again?" Ranma-Kushina asked in a bland tone, and Ryoga's expression blanked, quickly followed by a vigorous shaking of his head. "Exactly. What you do with Akane is your business. Or that rancher girl. Or any of the others for all I care."
The Lost Boy studied the woman for a moment, grudgingly admitting to himself that the air of complete and total indifference she was radiating was pretty damn convincing. He sniffed with passive contempt and tossed her a set of clothing. She caught the offhanded throw easily enough, rifling through the bundle of clothing with a questioning look. "Put those on. I'm gonna have to burn the yukata."
"Burn? Why?" Ranma blinked, fingering the light cotton garb with confusion.
"It's my Mom's," Ryoga frowned. "And I'll never be able to look at it the same way again, bastard."
The redhead shrugged, walking back into the guest room and out of sight. No sooner than she had, the garment tumbled out into the hallway, causing Ryoga to twitch as it floated to the ground. He wasn't sure which was worse at the moment... Ranma in his mother's yukata or Ranma nude in his very home. She reappeared moments later wearing the bundle he had tossed her, a rugged tan button up shirt and a pair of blue jeans, both a bit on the baggy side though somehow still doing little to hide her adult figure. She tied the metallic hitai-ite around her hips and shrugged, sliding into the battered orange vest before passing judgment. "It'll do for now. Not like I'll be staying for long anyway."
"Let's... Let's just go," Ryoga simply shook his head, hard pressed not to notice the complete lack of bra. She even made his father's clothing look good.
Go they did, Ranma leading the way silently as she picked their way through the suburb and retraced steps nearly lost to memory. For Ryoga, it wasn't so much memory as opposed to a clear lack of navigational skills, aided only by Ranma's occasional tug to steer him back on course. It was also a silent affair. Ranma did little for her part beyond take in the sights and maintaining a constant awareness of her surroundings. It left Ryoga time to think, and those thoughts eventually bore fruit in the form of a singular question.
"So where have you been, anyway?"
"Don't suppose you've been to a place called Fire Country in your travels?" She asked after a moment's consideration of the question. Ranma clearly wasn't expecting a reply, but Ryoga shook his head and she continued. "Didn't think so. Not even sure where it is in relationship to our location now, but suffice to say I'm pretty sure it's unreachable without magical intervention."
"Magical," Ryoga returned somewhat skeptically. "And just how do you know that?"
"Because that's how I got there in the first place." Kushina stopped, looking back at the Lost Boy. "When did I disappear again, Ryoga?"
"About a year ago."
Ranma shook her head, still scarcely able to believe what had occurred, let alone what it was going to take to get back to her home. "For me, it's been nearly eleven years."
"That's... insane," Ryoga wanted to outright call her a liar and use the word 'impossible' instead of 'insane', but here Ranma was before his very eyes; older than she had any right being. It wasn't a trick of the light. It wasn't one of the many disguises she had duped him with since Nerima. The cursed body that Ranma had once harbored wouldn't have topped 152 centimeters a year ago. Now she was nearly as tall as he was and quite definitely a woman everywhere that mattered... Which is definitely not something I want be thinking about, he chastised himself for even broaching the topic mentally. "I mean, how? Ten years in some magical place and only a year here?"
"That's a good question," The woman simultaneously known as Ranma and Kushina remarked, eyeing the establishments lining the streets hungrily until she they happened upon a cafe. "One that is not so short in the answering... But over food. That packaged ramen was an insult to good ramen everywhere and isn't going to cut it with these wounds."
Food was something Ryoga could whole heartily back, and followed her into a nearby restaurant as she continued. "But you're right about the training trip... That's where it all started."
Hokkido. One year ago.
Alright, let's do this.
Saotome Ranma, sole heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts stood alone in the forest clearing , focusing on a crude 'x' he had drawn into the ground with a stick. Two days of planning, preparation and most of all, losing every fiancée, rival and parent between here and Nerima... Today, he was going to learn how to fly.
Wind gusted slightly around him as he flared his ki, mentally running through crude calculations on just how much it would take to get him airborne. Too much to do herb's way, he had since decided, and gone about seeking different means. The dragon prince simply had too much of it at his disposal for the martial artist to contemplate using the same technique, but Ranma was determined. Anything Herb could do, he could do better; dragon ancestry or no. A constant stream of ki was out of the question, yes, but pulses weren't. The Saotome smiled, pointing an open palm into the ground. This is gonna be easy.
The blue sphere flared only for a moment before rupturing on contact with the earth. The ki shot's containment failed instantly, and the martial artist had just enough time to realize that maybe being at ground zero of his own technique wasn't such a good idea before the blast enveloped him fully. Physics took over from there and the blast ripped around Ranma; indeed launching him skyward, but in an uncontrolled ballistic spiral. Ranma regained his senses at the fifty meter mark, but by that time his initial inertia had already bled away and the ground was rapidly closing on him.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit... The martial artist twisted through the air, orienting his palm back towards the Earth once more to unleash another bolt of ki in the panicked hope that another such blast to break his fall...
...Only to follow its detonation straight into the ground. It took a solid minute for the cloud of dust to clear, revealing the battered, blue silk clad martial artist already sitting cross-legged in the crater of his own making. Well that didn't work, genius, he grumbled, paying no heed to the smoke wisps rolling off his person. Getting airborne was apparently the easy part, he decided ruefully. Getting airborne safely, on the other hand... And Moko Takabisha's aren't exactly the most economical way to do it, either. Ranma surmised, rolling the matter around in his head. Okay, so we don't try to reinvent the wheel. Still gonna have a problem with the reserves doing it Herb's way, though...
Ranma nodded to himself and rocked back up to his full height, stepping out of the crater he had just made. Releasing a steady stream of ki like Herb was impractical and the pulse technique was a bust. Need something self sustaining... like a Hiryu Shoten Ha, but... The martial artist's train of through stumbled as his intellect suddenly connected through several unrelated concepts to form the beginnings of a unified technique. A mini Hiryu Shoten Ha!
His foot began to etch a small spiral into the ground as he chewed on the new dynamic. Small tornadoes I can make, Ranma quickly acknowledged, running through the variables. The smaller Hiryu Shoten Ha was battle-tested, but he had never attempted to make anything smaller than that necessary to incapacitate somebody; and certainly not controllable. And no opponent around to initiate the catalyst, admitted, but dismissed it as a minor variable. Ranma stared at the spiral he had drawn for another few moments before nodding, retrieving the same branch he had used to draw the 'x' turned crater. He pushed the point into the ground, drawing a loose spiral around his person that ended between his feet. The catalyst still required a spiraling mix of hot and cold, which was something well within his ability to improvise. What came after that…?
Will worry about it when I get there, he decided, committing to the power up of hot ki. The pigtailed martial artist spun sharply, his feet sliding along the lines of the spiral and building pressure along their wake. The world blurred around Ranma, but he devoted all of his attention inward, pulling his outstretched arms inward to tighten the effect until the weight of ki reached critical mass.
"Hiryu Shoten Ha revised… Soaring Dragon!"
Ranma flipped a mental switch and went cold.
The air gained sudden density as he plunged into the Soul of Ice, inviting physics to take over once more. They did so, but in a rather unspectacular manner; summoning just enough force to float him a meter off the ground before depositing him hard on his ass with a solid "oof!"
"Ow…" Ranma groused as he righted himself in failing dust storm he had created. "Son of a…"
The problem was obvious, he decided, stepping away from the second ground zero to examine his handiwork. He hadn't put enough speed into the initial catalyst, thereby starving the tornado of the necessary force to lift him. Ranma sighed with the revelation and corollary that he wasn't going to be able to produce anything much faster in the initial spin.
Wonder if this is how the old man felt creating his schools… Ranma wondered, while a separate portion of his brain was already chewing on the forces necessary to achieve flight. He revised the initial theory and stepped back into the spiral. This time, for sure.
Saotome Ranma had twelve more 'this time, for sure's' that day, the worst of which launched him across the forest clearing to rebound through several trees and skip off two boulders, before coming to a rest. It was that attempt and the fading light of dusk that finally convinced him to call it a day, trudging back to the abandoned Shinto temple that was serving as his base camp. Sure the elderly structure had been torn in half by a buckled tree and the undergrowth had all but claimed its bones, but it was shelter, and some was better than none against the cooling Fall night.
Ranma dropped the pile of twigs and branches he had collected on the way back like an offering at the steps of the shrine, sparking two stones into the some dried grass before continuing. The fire would be nice in the face of the cool night, but more importantly, he'd need the light to assess the days damage. The martial artist unbuttoned his shirt and took stock of the number of scraps an bruises along his torso, some trailing down to his legs. His hand was still the worst of the lot, however, having sustained a deep gash. It had clotted, but he knew it would open back up if he was to flex it.
One look at the dirt and grime told him he was going to have to do that anyway, if only to clean the wound. Ranma retrieved the cantina from his pack leaning against one of the ruined walls, and made his way to the nearest flat surface, a slab overlooking some partially destroyed holy icon. Ranma flexed, and the dull pain suddenly climaxed as the wound reopened. Blood flowed, dripping onto the marred stone, and he tipped the cantina with his free hand to wash the cut out. More droplets of blood spattered the flat block, and the air hummed around the teen who was too awash in needling pain to note the anomaly.
Ranma admired his handiwork and wrapped the hand, knowing ki would heal off the rest by tomorrow morning. Which only leaves one thing left for the night, he decided, digging back into his pack and pulling out Kasumi's bento. Food! He popped the lid open and dug in with his chopsticks. The first bite was in his mouth and swallowed before the gagging cough began. His eyes bulged and water as he fought down the urge to puke the morsel up; and after a full minute, finally gathered the remainder of his wits to examine the bento more closely in the flickering fire light.
There was no doubt. Kasumi didn't cook green noodles topped with red chili sauce and God knew what else. The sparkling components of the noodles were disconcerting as well. The martial artist shook his head and emptied the contents into the fire, which instantly hissed its own disapproval before showering the immediate area with pyrotechnic sparks.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Ranma rolled out as the fire billowed an angry blue before lapsing back into a dull orange-yellow flicker. He squished out a burning ember burrowing its way through his hair with his thumb. "Stupid tomboy..."
The martial artist righted himself and wandered back over to his bag, pulling out plan 'b', a bag of instant ramen and a small pot. Only Akane could womp up a batch of pyrotechnic noodles, he groused, staring back at the expended bento and the bait and switch inflicted upon him. He had seen worse days on the trip with his old man, so a pack of noodles he could; consuming them in short order to leave the martial artist to contemplate the days training. Today's lesson? Tornadoes are a bitch to control.
It was also perhaps the his last conscious thought as the days exertion and a somewhat full stomach finally caught up to Ranma, letting him drift off to sleep against the aged pillar and warmth of the fire.
The pigtailed heir to Anything Goes School of Martial Arts woke to the world with a twitch, his nose registering an acidic carbon smell that all but pulled him back to the waking world in a quite involuntary manner. The red-headed girl cracked a single eye open, noting that she was still propped against the pillar she had fallen asleep against and that the first slivers of dawn were just clearing the horizon. A hearty yawn racked her body and in doing so, noticed the change in body type as well as a soft layer of glistening dew coating everything within sight... Including herself at some point during her slumber.
Figures, she grumbled but shrugged the involuntary gender swap off. Had she a more artistic soul, the martial arts heir might have considered the orange and yellow streaks of the cloud lit sky quite a beautiful sight when paired with carpet of glistening dew layered across the forest leaves and grass, but the scene was largely lost on the still waking girl. She was more concerned with stretching her stiff muscles than what was shaping up to be a gorgeous day to train under, and took only passing stock of her surroundings in doing so. No fiancees; even better, Ranma cracked a smile upon realizing that they still had yet to track her down. Oh sure, they would eventually, but today didn't appear to be that day. Yet, she hedged, and turned her mind toward breakfast.
Another cup of instant noodles, Ranma realized blandly but shrugged. Food was food and it wasn't food produced by a certain tomboy, which was better still. Blue eyes took stock of her campsite, her gaze falling upon the spent ash of her camp fire from last night. Will have to get that re-lit, she prioritized. Get some hot water for myself and... The Saotome's brow furrowed as her thought process picked up on a detail slightly amiss. Her nose took another sniff of the morning air, this time paying more attention to its contents. It held the same tint of smoke she had awoken to, and her eyes drifted back to the spent ash. Fire's out... so what's burning?
Ranma's eyes flicked across the horizon, finding the all but expected plumb of smoke drifting across the north... east? The redheaded martial artist blinked, discarding the lazy column of smoke for the moment in favor of the rolling hills offset against it.
What the hell? Were the first thoughts to flash through her mind as she twisted around to pick out any landmark she had recognized along the way, finding nothing along the dawn horizon she could even remotely place. A quick look back to her own campsite indicated the very same layout that she had fallen asleep to, and she shook her head; studying the surroundings beyond.
Okay, now this is just screwy, she decided as her psyche worked through the mental discontinuity that presented itself to her. Ranma Saotome had quite literally grown up on the road, and the ability to navigate wilderness and back trails had been one of the integral lessons of his childhood. On one hand, she didn't doubt her confidence in that department, but on the other, her surrounding had changed. Drastically. Her observations continued around the campsite, wandering it with curious foreboding. The disheveled temple was untouched, and likewise her gear. The bushes around the camp site were similarly unmolested, and the only sign of disturbance was her own male tracks across--
Ranma's head cocked, her attention narrowing sharply on a point ten meters from her camp. Now that shouldn't be there, she decided, walking over to a modest sized rock embedded in the earth. She began to pick out the details around it as well, kicking it with her foot for a reality check. It definitely real, and she studied the earth around it; her frown deepening. Even the grass is different.
She traced a line from the rock directly back to her camp and could literally see the division between what she had seen before falling asleep to and what had grown up around the rock. It wasn't the same. The stuff close to her camp was a lighter green than the darker tufts at her feet. She stared at the uneven division between flora before turning her attention back to the tracks, picking out the crush of grass and dirt that led to the overgrown temple, then their complete absence where the new grass began. Now that's just not--
A deep, bassy rumble floated through the air, and the martial artist's head snapped up, quickly localizing the distant thunder as coming from the direction of the smoke. Shouldn't be anything in that direction either, she noted, taking a quick look back to the tracks, then out to the drifting cloud of smoke as another rumble echoed from afar. But something was out there and taking hits. But what kind of hits? The tactical portion of her brain asked, not liking the data it had been fed. Even though her campsite was the same, things around it were different. Different for miles, she appended mentally, taking the distant landscape into account.
Ranma chewed on the facts for a moment before coming up with two possible courses of action to her current dilemma. She could stick around and see if stuff changed back, or...
Another two rounds of thunder drifted through the air as if a storm front were approach, and her blue eyes immediately snapped back to their source.
...or I can go find out what's going on out there. Ranma considered her choices for a moment, then decided, returning to the camp and wedging her pack between a pillar and some shrubbery to obscure it from sight. She then scattered the remains of her spent camp-fire to further obscure her stay. It wouldn't hold up to a detailed investigation, but it would do until she returned later.
With the preliminaries out of the way, she turned back to the column of smoke, which had gained considerable density since the last salvo of thunder. Say, ten kilometers away? Ranma judged, estimating the range. Maybe fifteen.
With that final thought, Ranma was gone, sprinting off into the forest.
"Six is clearing the holdouts in the village square now. Four and five are securing our flank, dealing with the samurai trash."
"If she's here, I want her alive," Platoon commander Reka Soto nodded to the nin, who had taken to his side as another explosion punctuated the remark. A plume of fire took the village skyline and he smiled, wrinkling the scar that started at his left upper lip and traced down his face. The smile held for a moment then faded as he turned back to his subordinate. "Take prisoners where you can. They wouldn't be putting up this much resistance if she wasn't."
"I'll advise the teams." The ninja nodded with a stiff, if abbreviated bow. The commander nodded and he was gone with his orders. Reka turned back to the task occupying his attention.
"Speaking of trash," he began anew, pulling a kunai from the combat harness of his body armor. He knelt down to a another ninja, this one already tied, beaten and bloody. His knee fell upon the prone man's skull and the commander leaned in, pressing the blade to his prisoner's already exposed throat. Eye widened with the placement of cold steel. "You really want to tell me where she is."
The man seemed to gasp and choke his reply, restricted by the knee and companying armor brace pushing into his jaw. Reka cocked his head, as if trying to understand a foreign language before realizing his seeming mistake. He shifted his weight, allowing the hog tied nin rasping breath. "Oh, that was my mistake. Please continue."
"That... that'll be the day, you Iwa piece of--"
The blade slid evenly across the nin's throat, ensuring any remaining insult was lost to the bubbling wound at his neck. The commander considered the twitching ninja with a bored look before running the edge of his kunai across his victims own uniform, cleaning the crimson away from his blade. Any other day he would have considered torture, but he had neither the time or the inclination at the moment, and turned to one of his entourage nearby.
A black hair female in a dark blue vest that looked more akin to a petticoat shrugged and walked back into the building they had been conducting their interrogations beside; stepping over another body in the process. She disappeared into the scarred building for a moment, reappearing with an older man that was clearly not a ninja. She pushed him forward and the white bearded man tumbled to Reka's feet.
The platoon commander cast a skeptical look back to the woman, who simply smirked back. He shook his head and stared down at the bound man. "And who might you be?"
"I'm just a peasant!" The old man squawked pathetically. "Please don't kill me!"
"A peasant doesn't wear clothing as nice as yours," The nin chuckled, fingering the finer cloth of the man's torn shirt. He turned back to the woman next to him. "Kira, who is he?"
"Girts. Village official," She supplied easily. "A pencil pusher."
"Even pencil pushers can be valuable troves of knowledge," Reka Soto smiled, twirling the kunai in hand and consequentially well within his prisoner's field of vision. "Information crosses their desks regularly. Higher ups trust them." He paused, forcing the man's hand open and positioning the blade over his left pinkie finger. "Tell me, mister Girts... What information were you entrusted with?"
"I don't know anything!" The aged man wheezed, struggling to pull his hand away from the blade. Unfortunately, it was caught in the nin's vice grip and did little more than twitch ineffectually.
"I say he's lying," Another from the commanders' circle of ninja growled, eyeing the struggling official with a single eye. He scratched at the patch covering the other one. "Makes my eye itch. Said he was a peasant too."
"Hmm, Shibuya has a point," Reka, remarked conversationally, as if he were merely comparing notes with the man tied up before him. "Let's find out."
"AHHHHAAAaaaH!" The man spasmed in pain as the digit parted against the kunai, falling to the well trod dirt of street. Blood oozed out and the nin commander looked at the old man as he continued to plead for his life. "I don't know! I don't know where she is! They didn't tell me!"
"You don't know," He stated matter-of-factly, and the official nodded vigorously. The commander smiled lazily. "But she is here." The man's trembling suddenly stopped as he realized his error, even in attempting to hide the truth. "And I believe you. Kira?"
The woman smiled and her hands formed through a series of symbols before they culminated into the release of chakra. Their result wasn't immediately apparent until the prisoners eyes widened in horror. "No! NO! GET THEM OFF! NO! SAVE ME!"
The elder wriggled around on the ground now, clearly in the throes of terror even though nothing was touching him. The official lost his already precarious balance and tumbled over with wild eyes, screaming at some unseen horror until his voice lapsed into a rasping series of gasps. He sucked in his final breath a moment later, then died in cardiac arrest.
"She's definitely here," Reka Soto nodded with approval at the man's passing, returning his gaze to the street and the trio around him. "Get another one out here. The less time we spend in this shit-hole village, the less time we waste getting back into the real action."
"My turn," The larger bald man smiled, turning his single eye toward the building they had been keeping their prisoners. "I'll pick a good one."
The commander chuckled and shrugged. "Be my guest."
Ranma pressed up against a tree trunk, easily melting against its larger frame as she tracked another trio of... Ninja, she shook her head in mental disbelief. Goddamn ninja, all over the place, she noted, thanking God that she had already been paranoid enough from what happened back at the camp not to simply walk in on their ass kicking in progress. Ninja in and of themselves weren't unusual. She had been there, done that, had the postcards from her encounters. Ninja sacking a town like something out of an old martial arts flick was a new one, however, and she pressed her power-levels low in order to avoid detection while edging in closer to find out what was happening.
What was happening wasn't pretty. So far she had only gotten the briefest glimpses of battle, but those glimpses had been intense, deadly encounters that ended with the ninja kicking ass and taking names. Combat vests... gear harnesses... kunai... what the hell kinda ninja are these, anyway? Ranma wondered, rolling the facts around in her head. Aside from the fact that there shouldn't even be a village here to begin with...
The ninja she had spied passed, and another explosion cooked off toward what Ranma had determined as the center of that town. She traced a path deeper in, staying off anything that even looked remotely like a trail. The village may not have had any right being there, but it was, and so were the bodies. The redhead had stumbled across eight so far on her path in; six villagers and two similarly looking ninja. While the fallen had given her the first chance to study their brethren up close, the fallen villagers painted an even bleaker picture; a picture that indicated somebody had absolutely no problems offing non-combatants.
The redhead stepped over victim number nine, another villager riddled with kunai. Ranma's cheek twitched as she crouched in the brush near the man, putting her fingers to his neck... Just in case. Dead as the rest, she confirmed, all but knowing the answer already. Really startin' to piss me off she growled internally, her thoughts slowly shifting from awe and disbelief to the possibility of offensive operations with each victim. Occasionally she'd watch a group of them running for the hills, largely unmolested by their attackers. Regardless, she had hidden from them too.
Too many unknowns, she decided, much as she wanted to help them. Three, six, at least seven on the perimeter, she counted mentally, triangulating the positions of the nins from the last time she had seen them. The odds weren't favorable, and she knew from experience this wouldn't be like the games she played with Ryoga. Then again, she was doubting any of them had gone toe to toe with a dragon prince or phoenix king. Gotta be somebody in charge of this shit, Ranma decided, organizing her priorities. Take him out, break his flunkies then haul ass back to the temple.
"No! NO! GET THEM OFF!" Ranma's head swiveled around, focusing on the north end of town still a good hundred meters beyond the overgrown brush she had been sneaking through. "NO! SAVE ME!"
The martial arts heir ground her teeth down. That was as good as place as any to start.
She took a quick look around to clear her immediate area of threats before taking the quick sprint into the village's edge, noting the increase in battle damage amongst the structures she was passing. Her eyes wandered briefly as she moved through a back alley, picking over what appeared to be explosive damage to one of the structures and amended her battle tactics accordingly. Expect surprises, she decided, noting the size of the hole and the material it had reduced to splintered carbon. One glimpse inside the burnt out flank of the structure revealed the casualties, and Ranma whispered a curse; continuing down the alleyway.
"...I'll pick a good one."
"Be my guest."
The voices were faint, but their calm demeanor in the middle of what was effectively a war zone all but assured her that they were her primary targets, and she crept through another buckled structure- maybe a house at one point, judging by the furnishings -in order to avoid the side street that would take her within immediate proximity to the voices. A ninja and two villagers were this structure's only inhabitants; dead, of course. The girl studious ignored them and padded through the building silently, exiting through an imploded window once she was sure the area she was leaving was clear of witnesses.
"I won't talk! No matter what you do to me!"
Ranma slid along the edge of the last building between herself and the voices, fighting the urge to rush out into the street and help what was obviously some guy about to get his ass handed to him. She was close enough now to hear a deeper voice chuckle lightly, as if it were all a joke.
"The fact that you won't talk implies you know something, young man. Kira, the wire, please."
Dammit, the concealed redhead fumed silently as the sounds of struggle began. The other man began to yell and curse. Apparently they just weren't killing people off... They were getting Edo on them, which meant things were only going to get worse from here on out. At least two out there. Probably more. At least there's no doubt who the bad guys are now.
"We'll fight! No matter how many of us you kill, Whirlpool will--ACCHaaaARRG!"
"...Will apparently choke on a three meter length of razor wire until you either tell us what we want to know or bleed out, your choice."
That's enough of this shit, Ranma growled and initiated a technique all but forbidden to be practiced by her father. She was sure the old Panda would understand given the circumstances, and folded an envelope of ki around herself; rendering herself the closest thing to invisible a person could hope to achieve. Taking a deep breath and evening out her ki, she stepped out into the middle of the road, taking stock of the situation. Four ninja and the hostage, scooping up a pair of smallish stones as she moved into position. The one actually choking the guy to death was a woman, her knee braced against his back as she held the wire taught with the leverage; an unconcerned smile on her face as she did so.
The martial arts heir tagged her as target number one.
"He's not going to talk, Soto," The black haired woman frowned as her charge choked on the wire she had wrapped around his neck. The commander of the nin contingent favored her with an amused look.
"That's because you're choking him to death," Reka Soto shook his head at his underling's antics. "Perhaps if you loosened the wire some..."
"Nah," She dismissed his suggestion and tightened the wire. Blood began to trickle down the oxygen deprived man's neck as the wire continued to bite into flesh, worsened further by his struggle. "I give him fifteen more seconds before--"
Kimura Kumiko's world suddenly exploded in stars as a spike of pure, uninstalled pain drove through her forehead and echoed straight through her skull, forcing her to release the wiring and pitch backward in a violent whiplash. Commander Soto's eyes widened in shock as he watched his lieutenant stagger back, barely maintaining her balance when her head snapped back again, sending her face first into the dirt road sans consciousness. A smallish rock bounced near her head, its impact clearly denoted by the large angry red knot growing on her forehead.
Reka boggled for a moment before his intellect reset, screaming at him to find whatever had deployed the attack. His head snapped up instantly and found the source easily enough. In fact, she was impossible to miss with the bright red hair, exotic blue silk top and black pants; yet how she had closed within twenty meters of his position without any of them detecting her was completely beyond his ability to comprehend. The girl sure as hell didn't look like a ninja. No stance, no weapons, no armor, the nin ran down the tactical check-list as he attempted to classify just what sort of threat she represented. Nice threads... A noble with training pulling some last stand shit?
His head whipped around to the two remaining chunin at his side, growling. "Well don't just let the whirlpool bitch chuck rocks at us... Get her!"
The one-eyed nin to his left took one last look at their unconscious comrade and the prisoner scampering off to the side of the street before turning back to the girl, cracking his knuckles. He cast a quick glance over to his remaining team mate, a taller, pale skinned nin with jet black hair who nodded back. It was their only act of visible coordination before the two rushed the girl's position, flanking her on the left and right. It was a simple tactic made all the simpler by the girl's complete lack of maneuvering. She just stood there, and one-eyes smiled to himself as he closed to melee range and reached in while his partner moved for the leg sweep.
Experience should have told them it was simply too easy... And now they were going to pay for it. Under any other circumstances, Ranma Saotome, heir to the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu would have played, prolonging their engagement to soak up every move they had to offer before moving on. Today, however, wasn't that day.
Even so, she let the first strikes flow in unmolested, dancing through the leg sweep and ducking out of what promised joint lock to encourage them to try harder at their attempts to detain her. Ranma was rewarded by the briefest flash of uncertainty across their faces before they predictably redoubled their efforts, providing Ranma with crucial tactical information in the process.
Not bad, she approved as their attacks increased in both speed and intent; taking her seriously for the first time as she flowed around the snap kick combination from the pale ninja, while pivoting around and deflecting the knife hand thrust from One-eye with the back of her own left hand. They were good enough to where she couldn't stick with dodging and began to actively counter their attacks, gathering vital intelligence with each strike.
Punch combination, heavy on the power, aggressive style, Ranma catalogued, committing the next minute fully to memory as the pair attempted to corner her with their mutual technique. Akido variant, good reactions, missing something tho-- whoops! The redhead profiled away from the sudden silver flash that cleared One-eye's combat harness, slashing at her leg in another attempt to hamstring her movement. Weapon-centric combat style, She decided, plugging in the piece of their movements that seemed off. The kunai danced in the nin's hand now, seeking her out with increasing disregard to its lethal placement.
A smooth hiss sounded from her right and she actively batted the next kunai slice away as the pale nin's kodachi cleared its sheath, cleaving the air as he pressed his half of their mutual offense. The Saotome spun out of the two pronged offense, slapping the flat of the blade aside and sliding right to knock One-eye's arm out of position. The ninja with the eye patch growled and she turned a patronizingly sweet smile on him while continuing to weave in and out of his kunai stabs; simultaneously evading his partner's short sword. Ranma turned a quick glance at the remaining nin who had failed to move from his position but now talking into what looked like a walkie-talkie.
"Time's up, guys," She advised as one of them took the hole she had purposely opened in one of the deflections, seemingly leaving her out of position to take the pale nin's sword that threatened to rake her back. The sword sliced downwards she whirled into it with the momentum gained from the previous deflection, clapping her hands closed to stop the blade's downward arc cold. Her attackers eyes widened as he attempted to force the block, only to find the blades edge rooted in concrete.
"Oops," She smiled and allowed the left hand to slip along the flat lower than the right, providing the necessary lever to force the blade with her considerable strength to snap it in half with a sharp twang. Thirty centimeters of steel tumbled away from the melee and Ranma took the man's now overly committed strike in hand, pulling the arm through on his own momentum and pushing the flat of her hand up and through his elbow.
To his credit, the man only grunted with the pain, but she wasn't done, moving in close and subsequently out of the reach of the equally surprised one-eyed ninja; continuing to dismantle his comrade piece by piece. His shoulder joint was next, parting from the rest of his skeleton with a meaty pop before moving to the left knee.
"You little--AHHHaaHHH!" He cried as his pain tolerance was finally reached after three joints in under three seconds. She yanked the compromised arm down hard, bending the man in half while simultaneously shoving her knee through his face. It bounced off hard, the nin's nose exploding with blood as his head snapped back upright, floated there for a moment before tumbling backwards unconscious.
A kunai from One-eye stabbed in and Ranma was already coming around, intercepting the hand aggressively and snapping it at the wrist. Her attacker tried to pivot through to press his failing offense when she slid around him to punch at his ribcage. Logic told him the girl's attempts to penetrate his body armor with a mere punch should have been largely ineffectual, and he neglected their defense in favor of mounting a decisive offense. Of course, logic couldn't have prepared him for nearly three hundred punches packed into what looked like a single strike, and the padded armor designed to ablated edged weaponry and absorb casual impacts flattened under the assault before pulverizing his ribcage directly.
Air exploded from the Iwa nin's now rib punctured lung, and he had just enough time to cough blood before the girl's roundhouse kick swept into view, her heel crashing into his chin. One-eye's jaw dislodged entirely as his entire head snapped left, pulling the rest of his body into a lazy spin that crashed to the street without any further movement.
Commander Soto watched in awe as the girl dismantled the first of his lieutenants, then the second with what looked to be lethal ease. They were dead. Had to be. And how the hell did we manage to let a taijutsu master slip through unchecked!? Reka berated himself for the error as the high chunin- if non jounin by his estimation -turned on him with those exotic blue eyes of hers and began an easy walk toward his position. He grabbed the walkie hanging from his vest again and keyed it. "Kira, Shibuya and Noyo are down. She's a taijutsu master. Get your ass over here now, three."
The commander didn't like anything about this one. Not at all. Especially like how she was simply walking over to him like the village wasn't overrun with his forces and had all the time in the world to drop him, too. Reka was, at very least realistic concerning his own skills at hand to hand. They were good. They had to be to obtain a field command position. But he didn't even recognize the style of taijutsu she was employing. One moment, he had almost pinned her for a dragon fist specialist before the entire style seemed to evaporate and the next, some gentle swan variant. Taijutsu master, yes, he decided, bringing his hands together with a confident smirk. But let's see how well she handles an A Rank Genjutsu.
His hands flashed through the symbols with practiced ease, building and combining chakra into invisible lines that sought that of its victim's. It would override each and every one of her five senses, immersing the redhead in a reality of his own creation, not her own. His hands signed the final seal, and he produced a feral grin.
"Taibu Kiru-Kumo, bitch."
Ranma Saotome watched the remaining ninja's hands form through the signs as she closed on him, her muscles tense for whatever surprise he was about to send her way. After two years of experience versus opponents that could conjure devastating Ki techniques, massive fire balls, elemental tornadoes and lethal moxibustion arts, the martial artist was prepared for nearly anything. What she wasn't prepared for was the annoying 'buzz' that accompanied the final hand sign. Ranma knew she wasn't quite able to hear it, but she could definitely feel something- like an itch -crawling across her body. She paused to analyze the sensation, cocking her head while staring at the triumphant looking ninja. Was this a distraction? Something to keep her attention occupied while he set up a trap?
Any moment now, she'll begin choking on her own tongue and-- Reka's thoughts of victory trailed off as she simply cocked her head, stared at him curiously for a moment, then began to move forward with renewed purpose. Who the hell is this girl?! His brain screamed as she closed on him. He pulled a salvo of kunai from his combat harness and took a step back. She had just walked through his technique like she hadn't even noticed it, let alone coughed at the illusion of a poisonous gas cloud that was supposed to be enveloping her.
Fifteen meters away, Ranma watched with an almost disappointed countenance. More kunai, now? Ranma arched her eyebrow as the man pulled his blades, and allowed an antagonizing smirk crawled across her face. The man watched the smirk register and frowned further, readying some ten blades fanned in both hands. Please, she scoffed, reading his body language and the subsequent preparation to throw. Mousse can't even hit me with those damn things and I know you can't be much better... Not that any of them had proven absolutely horrible, she amended as she closed. The first two had proven themselves competent in hand to hand, and were pretty quick to boot.... Only her opponents over the last two years hit considerably harder, faster and could generally take a ton more damage before folding.
Maybe a bit more of a challenge if they hadn't of fallen for the cute redhead shtick first, Ranma amended, continuing to review the last minute and change. The guy in front of her, on the other hand, would definitely take her seriously; which was absolutely fine by the redhead. The longer he lasted, the more damage she would do to his friends still hanging around the village by using what she learned against them.
Well, she shrugged mentally, calling up more ki for offensive use. Time to get this over with... With that, she launched forward to close the remaining gap and engage the man, when something pulled at her attention. It wasn't much and she had less than a fraction of a second to notice it; literally the space of a stride. Her shadow faded. Something bright enough to pale direct sunlight above-- SHIT!
Ranma didn't even bother looking up, instead launching herself right wildly as heat caressed her back and blossomed into an orange explosion directly in the path of what had been her sprint. The redhead skidded with the shockwave, pivoting on her the aggressors who had dropped from one of the taller village structures to engage her directly. She shook off the atmospheric inertia and advanced through a wall of kunai the three new ninja were deploying, dancing through the steel to close the range.
More hand signs, she noted as one of the three nins hung back, his fingers forming symbols one after another. Special technique? She mused between kunai salvos, recalling the ninja leader's antics and trying to discern their purpose. Instead of taking chances, Ranma ducked under another round of blades, slid left and brought her left arm to bear on the signing ninja all in one smooth motion. Confidence ki flashed away from her hand, and with a flight time of less than a second, there would be only one outcome.
The ninja's eyes widened as the chi construct slammed into him, unraveling and releasing the high pressure environment within in an abrupt and violent blast. One moment he had been forming the final symbol that would launch another massive fireball at the teenage girl, the next he was engulfed in brilliant sky blue light, then pain. A deafening boom surround him as the moko takabisha's overpressure engulfed him and slammed the hapless Iwa ninja into the building he had just jumped down from.
The surprise inspired by the sudden unleashing of the technique was total. There had been no setup. No seals. No pause in her forward momentum. Kunai slackened under the shock and Ranma was inside their range, slamming into the second ninja with a flying roundhouse that snapped his head hard the right. The man flailed on the edge of consciousness while the redhead hit the ground, spun through a foot sweep and dropped her target to the ground to finish the job. Target number three was barely removing the stunned look from her face while trying to decide if he should attack with a Jutsu, more kunai or simply get the hell out.
Her indecision only removed the slight variable as to whether she would escape the encounter upright and conscious, and the martial arts banshee was already on her in that crucial moment. She pulled his guard in at the last moment, only to have an arm snapped in two places for her trouble and an ungodly powerful open handed strike shoved up into her chin. The female ninja floated in the air for a moment and Ranma's other arm sent another open palm strike into her chest, sending her through a fifteen meter tumble across the street.
Well shit, she grumbled, and the woman rolled to a stop in a heap of dust. After opponents that quite literally took mountains to drop, it was a bit of a disappointment that her current adversaries folded like origami swans. If she fought them unboosted, sure, they'd be tougher; but she hadn't fought somebody who didn't ki enhance in nearly a year and a half, and these guys just weren't cutting it.
Time ta finish this, she shrugged mentally and turned back to back to the unoccupied ninja commander, profiling lazily into the token salvo of kunai he was throwing now that his men were down. Eight taps imbedded themselves into the wall at her back and she rolled her eyes... Until a sizzle caught her ear. She turned and... Fire? Two of the eight blades were actually burning as what looked to be paper tickets were enveloped. Ranma blinked, then turned back to the remaining ninja commander with a curious look. Why the hell is he grinnin' like a... Ranma frowned, turning back to the tags as they took to being fully consumed.
Platoon Commander Reka Soto winced as the girl took a both tags on the chin, their resulting fireballs consuming her and the store-front they had originally impacted. Ouch, that's gotta... Even as the thought formed, the building's already battle-weakened structural integrity began to give way. A slab of wall peeled away from the second story, shortly followed by the entire face of what had once been an eatery of some sort; crumbling into the smoldering strike zone entire chunks at a time.
...hurt, his thought finished, making a face with each piece that fell into the growing pile of debris. Billowing dust was now the structure's predominant feature now that the entire face had fallen away, and Reka sheathed the next kunai he was holding in reserve. He snorted with the remembrance of the last look of realization on her face, and turned to another trio of his own nins roof top hopping from the center of town. They settled onto an adjacent building for a moment to take a view of the destruction before landing next to him.
"A little late," He replied irritably to their presence, but otherwise ignored them in favor of the woman who was just regaining consciousness at his feet. Commander Soto kicked at her midsection lightly with a boot, eliciting a painful moan from the woman. "Get your ass up, Kira."
"Ohh... Do that again and I'll break it off," Another more forceful nudge produced speech this time and the woman slowly began to prop herself up. The kunoichi shook her head to clear it, but served only to aggravate the headache raging in her skull. "What the hell was that?"
"About one hundred and fifty two centimeters of Jounin Taijutsu mastery," The ninja commander chortled a reply, proffering his hand to help her up. "Took out five of us before I was able to drop her with a couple tags... Well, six including you."
Kimura Kumiko took his hand and allowed him to pull her up as her own eyes found the wreckage of the store front; likewise the structure that had been carved out of its face. "Son of a--
The woman had only made it half way up when her head snapped back violently as something silver rebounded against her forehead, obliterating any consciousness and sending her back to the ground once again.
The kunai that had rebounded counter weight first against her cranium spun lazily in the air for a moment before gravity reclaimed it to fall edge first only a scant few centimeters from her cheek. Commander Reka moved. There was already enough adrenaline from his previous encounter to fight through the shock of watching his lieutenant being beaned again, and he was already pulling away in wild evasion as his brain came to grips with what logic had yet to... That the red-headed Jounin couldn't possibly have survived two tags and a building falling on top of her.
The vertical tornado that slammed into one of his late arriving reinforcements said otherwise.
Even through the roll out, the nin command watched as a spiral of super cooled ninjutsu tore into the man, sending him flying like a rag doll through several structural layers of a nearby clothing store before the technique itself dissipated. Commander Soto reached for the radio and barely managed to key it when something akin to a steel beam was shoved into his gut, causing his entire body to involuntarily buckle into the face of one dirty and displeased Taijutsu master. Even through the gagging, airless fit her imbedded fist had caused him, a single overriding question managed to choke it's way to his lips.
"Who... Who the ha--fuck are y-you?!"
A cocky, almost evil grin found its way to her lips through the displeasure of her countenance. Her reply to his gasping query was to pull her fist from his gut and smash his face with a right cross; connecting fist and elbow with enough force to pull his entire body through the strike on inertia.
Pain. Black. More pain. Reka Soto didn't even know he had hit the ground when he finally regained consciousness, finding his environment skewed sideways with a dirt-side view of the battle progressing around him. While the redhead was no longer within his limited field of vision, plate armored samurai were, and chaos reigned supreme as they directly engaged his forces along the road he and his ninja had once held.
We've lost the center of town, the commander grimaced as his body tried to decide whether to puke or succumb back to unconsciousness due to the pain blazing through his jaw. Reka rolled onto his back and gingerly fingered his jaw, only to find it floating free of its hinges; clearly broken. God damn Whirlpool bitch! He fumed as his gentle prod sent the searing pain to new levels. The ramifications of the samurai openly engaging his forces were even worse, however, meaning that said bitch had been busy during his violence induced dirt nap.
Supposed to be a fucking smash and grab mission against farmers, not an all out war to occupy, he grumbled, finding his way to his hands and knees and moving to the nearest corner for cover. He considered the mic still hanging on his vest to order a general abort of the operation, but knew he would be lucky to be understood a broken jaw. Instead, he signed through a simple jutsu and pointed both hands skyward to unleash a bright orange flare that ascended fifty meters before immolating itself in a loud pop.
Having to abort the operation left a bitter taste in his broken mouth, but the mission parameters hadn't included the forces necessary to deal with an Elite Jounin gutting their flanks. Samurai and Chunin bodyguards? Yes. A sadistic Jounin whore fond of turning his men into human pretzels?
...It was time to get the hell out.
"HOLD THAT FLANK AT ALL COSTS!" An imposing figure wrapped in black and orange ceramic-wood armor demanded, his shout carrying through the din of battle to the other samurai in his ranks. He swung around left to let the slop of his left pauldron ablate the impact of a trio of kunai aimed for his skull. Two of the blades chinked off the shoulder piece, while the third managed to bite through several layers of composite before being resisted. Force Commander Yan responded to the attack with a long swing of his katana, catching the offending nin within its arc and slicing him clean in half.
The blade's folded edge sliced into flesh, disrupting the clone's fragile chakra matrix to dispel the technique in a 'poof' of smoke, leading the Samurai commander through what looked to be an overly committed strike for the real target behind him to take advantage of. The Iwa ninja charged in with a short sword from the benefit of genjutsu cover, fully prepared to impale the lesser armor of the Samurai's back.
"Overconfident Iwa BASTARD!" Commander Yan snarled, and continued through the swing's momentum; pulling his kodachi away from i's sheath in the same smooth motion to meet his attacker's weapon directly. Metal shrieked against metal as the ninja realized his mistake, then attempted extricate himself from the failed diversion before--
The Samurai's main hand katana completed its arc, and the Rock Nin's head bounced across the battlefield free of its owner's neck. Blood spattered through the air from several breached arteries, but the armored commander was already turning back to retake the ground he had lost. Aside from the fool he had just dispatched, the remaining ninja were playing it smart, attacking his line from cover as they moved from house to house, forcing his men to retake the town square block by agonizing block.
Another muffled boom echoed through the streets beyond, quickly accompanied by a rising cloud of dust and smoke. Yan Atawa let a grim smiled loose as he waved his squad into the next block. Somebody was hammering the shit out of the Iwa northern flank and siphoning crucial manpower from his front; turning what was looking to be his own slaughter into a fighting chance.
"Third Sword, Cover!" He yelled as his own forces pressed against their next objective, a structure that had once held a counting house and storage. Now, it was little more than dilapidated hovel that had seen more than its share of battle. His men shuffled into position along the wall and the adjacent door, their blades flashing in the noon sun to cover the second group moving up behind the commander. "First Sword, prepare to breach!"
The second group huddled around the door while the designated Samurai on point palmed a tarnished copper orb from his pack, ripping the ignition paper away from its fuse. The action immediately set the mouth of the explosive device ablaze. Another armored figure cracked open the bamboo door and the kousotsu tossed the hissing ball through, immediately profiling along the door's frame. Two seconds later a hard thud shook the building; its concussion knocking the bamboo door from its hinges while smoke gushed from the wound.
The point man rushed in, quickly followed by a second, third and fourth. The fifth Samurai was drawing his sword to enter when a muffled voice screamed from within. "TAGS!"
No sooner than the scream had reached his ears did the very air around Yan seemed to stagger, sucking the air from his lungs before the building itself belched fire. The fifth samurai to enter was forcibly ejected from the doorway with the sudden detonation, while his brethren inside were consumed first by the blast, then the resulting implosion of the structure. Load bearing supports buckled, causing bamboo and mortar to collapse itself. More fire ripped away from the structure and the Samurai Captain was raked by debris as his wall exploded outward, smashing him to the ground to tumble out of the roiling cloud of smoke and ash. His helmet was torn away from his own head in the resulting concussion. Screams accompanied the destruction as another armored body cleared the fireball, landing in a smoldering heap next to him; the corpse perforated by jagged chunks of charred wood.
Yan Atawa swore loudly as he staggered back to his feet to find the building fully engulfed while the remains of First and Third Sword desperately attempted to crawl clear of the booby trapped building; only to be assailed by Iwa nins stepping out of the shadows of the other structures. A Samurai gained his footing, only to have a kunai shoved through the back of his skull. Another nin to his right had found one of his female warriors still crawling across the street blind, and plunged a short sword into her unarmored back. The Captain snarled, pulling his own katana to open air. His forces were slowly regaining their footing, but not nearly fast enough to fight off the compromising position they now found themselves in. If they couldn't recover--
Movement blurred off to the right and Yan swept his sword around while his eyes tracked his attacker descending from on high; two kunai in hand, already falling in an arc that would drive deep into his skull. Time slowed and the Samurai pulled through the swing, committing the weight of his entire body to the effort. It was an all or nothing attempt... If he didn't kill his attacker on this first attempt, he would either eat the blades or be woefully out of position to respond to the more agile ninja's follow-up. Muscle strained and the ninja hung in the open air for another agonizing moment...
A blue sphere of power cut in from another angle to impact the airborne nin, decisively altering his speed and descent into the ground where the glowing technique detonated. The explosion of compressed air consumed the attacking ninja, displacing him and the earth around him in a cloud of stone debris that assured anyone watching the event that said ninja would not be responding retaliating in the foreseeable future. Captain Atawa recovered from his own swing just in time to watch what looked to be a redheaded girl push off one of the taller structures to catch another encroaching nin by surprise, opening his guard with a flying kick and riding him into the round with a series of high power punches.
No armor, no insignia, Yan catalogued as he watched the girl ravage the enemy one last time with a roundhouse punch to render her victim unconscious She flipped off his chest to land next toYan in a crouch. Red hair, blue eyes... Silk clothing... Definitely not one of ours...
"I'm takin' it you're one of the good guys?" Blue eyes flicked from Yan to the remaining ninja around them, who were now abandoning the lesser crippled threats in favor of the new, greater one.
The Captain consider the question with the briefest moment of curiosity before getting back down to business with a nod, picking out his own target and bringing the katana to bear. Even if her affiliations were somewhat murky, her intentions had proven themselves crystal clear. "Better than these honorless bastards, at least."
"Good enough for me," the redhead quipped, taking to his exposed back where she easily fell into his own massive shadow. The remaining Iwa nins were circling and Ranma gave them a patronizing smirk. "I got the two on your back."
"Then the one in front is mine," Captain Yan's grim smile reappeared as he braced for his charge. Anyone else might have felt somewhat indignant about allowing a girl half his size take on two opponents while he serviced merely one, but he was the captain of Kissaki Division for a reason; and part of that reason was knowing whose ass to kick, and when to do it. The forces arrayed against him were specifically assembled to counter his unit; and even with numerical superiority, the faster more heavily armed ninja were more than capable of out maneuvering his armored troops. Get them inside the range of a katana and that was a different story, but until this point, they had mostly declined the invitation to do so.
The redheaded girl, on the other hand, had her own targets to worry about and watched as both fanned a score of kunai in each hand. Five per hand, four hands with reloads waitin' on the harness, Ranma calculated, coming to the conclusion that she could theoretically be facing a combined salvo of fifty--
One of the nins tensed.
"Whoops, gonna need to borrow this," Captain Atawa heard the girl mention before feeling his kodachi slide out of his sheath. Before he could even question the move, steel shrieked at his back and kunai began to fall around him like wild ballistic rain. That was apparently his nin's cue as well, and his target's hands began to form the first in a series of jutsu symbols.
"Not today, asshole!" Yan growled, and began his charge out of the steel rain to close the gap before the jutsu could be complete. Boar, tiger, Ox... Fire Jutsu! The samurai concluded as he watched the seals process, and he redoubled his sprint in order to beat them to their forgone conclusion. Behind him, the kunai had finally expended themselves and Ranma Saotome was already charging her own targets. The redhead discarded the short sword she had used to deflect the knives, throwing the now heavily notched blade at the ninja to her right as a distraction while charging into the one directly in front of her. She was just closing into hand to hand when the ninja suddenly exploded in a puff of smoke, revealing five exact clones of her opponent.
"Whatever," She growled, allowing her momentum to carry through into one clone with a flowing roundhouse while a second took a near simultaneous backhanded fist, both exploding in their own clouds of smoke. A third moved to challenge her advance, but she flowed around, targeting the nin at the formations back ranks to slam into him like a freight train. This particular clone didn't explode and took the full force of her assault, collapsing in an unconscious heap of broken bones.
Unlike his lighter, more nimble alley, Yan Atawa was still closing on his target, lifting his sword up for the strike but slowed by the heavy plate he wore. The Rock nin completed the final seal of the jutsu, took a deep breath and blew into his hand. The trooper's eyes widened as a cloud of fire raced to meet him and he braced for the impact, charging headlong into the inferno. The ninja's breath expended itself and the fireball slackened. Victory was all but--
A figure cleared the blaze abruptly, his ignited armor cut loose and falling away as the glowing edge of the heated sword whistled through the air with lethal intent. The first stroke caught the nin across the chest at full strength, igniting the combat vest and slashing deep into his chest. Yan swung around in a graceful step, reversed the motion and slashed at the nin's torso again, forming an deep gash that cut up across his shoulder before the katana finally pointed straight into his victim, where the glowing blade found his heart a fraction of a second later.
Another sharp twang at his back sang, and the Samurai pulled his blade from the dead man's chest just in time watch one of the redhead's opponents deflect the kodachi only recently of his possession with a kunai, while the other nin... Dead; And the girl was nowhere in sight. The remaining nin's head whipped wildly around, trying to ascertain where the threat would come from next before resorting to one of the most simple techniques available. His hands clasped together and he called out to his last gambit.
Nothing. Yan smiled as the look on the ninja's face only grew more panicked. The samurai spun his sword through a lazy arc, simultaneously bleeding the heat it had absorbed from the last attack on his person and building momentum. His brethren were recovering as well and even though the nin was rapidly finding himself outnumbered, he still searched for the girl.
Nor did the red head didn't disappoint.
Air wavered behind the Iwa and she just appeared on his back, the opening blur of her strike dropping the man immediately down to the ground. She starred at him impassively for a moment before turning her eyes to the recovering Samurai, and then Yan himself.
"You got this?" She asked, then paused as an anemic streaking flare cleared the horizon, exploding in an orange pop. The few scattered nin in their area took a look to the trail of sparkles and quickly either abandoned their positions or disappeared in their own puffs of smoke. The Samurai studied the exotic redhead for a moment, noting a few minor cuts that had stained her blue silks with darker splotches of blood before concluding they weren't life threatening and turned to his own troops.
"It would appear so," He started, taking quick stock of the survivors before turning back to the girl. "Not to sound too... ungrateful?"
His words fell off into empty air. The girl was gone.
Ranma Saotome took to another tree branch as she hopped from one to the other, retracing her path back to her campsite. Needling pain reminded her of the wound she had sustain to her arm in the mass deflection of kunai, but otherwise ignored the shallow cut and its cousin along her ribs as inconsequential; continued her tree hopping. Normally the ground would have been just fine, but the very last thing she needed at the moment was to be followed... By anybody, she added mentally, having even taken the extra step to use a different route back to the temple. Sure, she had left the samurai on good terms and succeeded in her primary objective- that is to say kicking ass and taking names -but wherever it was she had landed , it sure as hell wasn't anywhere near Japan and she was going to need a lot more information before she got friendly with anybody.
Yeah, sorry to intrude on your fight here, but can ya tell me which way Tokyo is? Ranma scoffed to herself, pausing at the next tree and quietly profiling against it to make sure she wasn't being followed. She never thought she would be thanking her father for those impromptu lessons in how to evade angry mobs as part of her 'training,' but right now she had to give the old man his due. After a full minute of little more than natural sounds, she resumed her progress on a ninety degree path for the next five minutes before returning to her parallel baseline back to the temple.
Whatever had happened with it, she was sure that the temple was the key one way or another, she had decided, picking over the details surrounding it. Like somebody scooped up the land around it and put it somewhere else. It was the only way to explain the sudden boundary of difference around it. Different grass, different terrain...And ain't never seen ninja like that before. They were also possibly the most inexplicable thing she had encountered so in what she was now considering her ill advised tour of the surrounding countryside. Whatever they were, they were obviously not the ninja she knew. Sure, they were as sneaky as anything she had encountered in the past and had the same techniques, but these weren't the behind the scenes operators she knew. They were fully geared front line units, with the utility to match.
The hand seal things were odd, though, she noted, slowing as she began to pass recognizable landmarks from her original trip to the village. Konatsu could have done the clone thing without 'em. She mused on the fact for another moment before smiling to herself. Not that it helped these guys much anyway.
They had definitely caught her by surprise a couple times, but once the techniques were out of the way, there was nothing to these particular ninja... Like all they use their ki for is the techniques, Ranma observed, somewhat perplexed as she closed on her campsite with caution; only one more tree line separating her and it. Their hand to hand was decent, but like the seals, held little in the way of surprise. Even when one of the ninja had managed to show her something noteworthy, it was well within her ability to compensate for and they dropped like the others. The martial artist fell to the ground softly, her senses fully attuned to the environment around her now. Clear, she decided, and stepped through the tree line and into...
...the. . .clearing? Ranma blinked, then turned back around to ensure her bearings were correct. Mountains over there, rocks over there, blue eyes flickered across her immediate landscape, then came back to her memory's single point of contention. So where the hell is the goddamn temple? The dilapidated, age worn structure was quite literally gone, as was her own obscured campsite and any trace of the land around it. Instead, a thicket of brush and trees stood in its place, without even a hint that the structure's foundation had never existed.
Sonofabitch! The girl fumed, dropping any pretense of stealth and wandered openly into what had formerly been a wide clearing. Now it was an overgrown, cramped section of nature and her eyes continued to trace it for any clues as to what had happened.
One thing was recognizable, though she probably wouldn't have noticed it under any other circumstances... Her initial trail away from the campsite. There should have been enough foot prints to denote her presence only hours earlier to anybody with any sort of tracking skills, since stealth hadn't been a priority in leaving. The trail was still there, she noted grimly, just that it spontaneously appeared ten meters away from what had been the temple; as if that were the starting point with nothing else in reference. The pigtailed girl bent over the crushed grass, fingering it before looking back to what should have been its point of origin; and that was the biggest problem she was facing...
...The point of origin was completely gone.
"So where is it now?" Ryoga pressed, finally having found a point in the tale to ask one of the many questions it had sired. He poked his chopsticks at the omelet sitting in front of him as one of the restaurant's polite waitresses passed by the table, offering both a refill of their tea. Both accepted and the girl flashed Ryoga a cute smile before continuing onto the other patrons.
"The temple?" Ryoga nodded, taking the bite he had partitioned off and Ranma shrugged, wincing a bit with the action. "Beats me. Might still be in Hokkaido for all I know."
"Maybe use that to get back," he suggested as Ranma took a sip of her own tea, lounging back into her half of the booth with her third such plate cleaned of any remaining foodstuffs.
"Maybe, but it's been ten years," The redheaded woman countered, clearly having had more than enough time to think on the matter. "It'll take me months to retrace the memories and my steps through those mountains to find it... Assuming here is where it returned to."
"But you found my house just fine," the Lost Boy countered suspiciously, and the girl that had named herself Kushina simply rolled her eyes.
"After a few wrong turns, remember? I've walked you there enough times to where I had better know where you live," She chuckled, mirth that faded with her next comment. "That temple...? I was looking to get good and lost so none of the girls could interrupt my training. I could probably find it again if I have to, but Nerima is my best shot for getting back to Konoha as quickly as possible. It's a lot closer, and Happosai or Cologne are bound to have something."
Ryoga merely grunted, still suspicious but finding little he could actually bring to bear as an argument against her logic. The pair finished the last of their breakfast, to which Ranma's body was beyond grateful for. She then watched as Ryoga began to rummage through his pack, searching for something. "What are you looking for?"
"Money," the wanderer returned absently, eyes only on his search. He loosened a buckle to a smaller pocket, pulling out a crinkled map and a compass. "Somebody's got to pay for this."
"Oh, is that all?" The redhead cocked her head, drawing her partner's attention as she reached into the orange vest to pull out a wad of cash. Ryoga stared, blinking as she separated a few sheets from the total. "Don't worry about it. I've got more than enough on me."
The blinking continued. "Just when did you get so damn rich, Saotome?"
"An S-rank mission here and there," She commented and stood up, nodding to the waitress who had witness the placement of funds next to their bill. Their server smiled in turn, and Ryoga followed Kushina Uzimaki out the door and into clear, sunny day. It only took another moment before he continued to ply her with questions.
"So you got stuck there," Ryoga continued in equal parts interrogation and curiosity, hoisting his pack back up. "And where the hell is there, anyway?"
"Was," She stressed, glancing back at the confused lost boy. "Whirlpool country. West of Iwa and along the Northern Sea coast."
Even as that tale began anew, a certain waitress of Sumono's Cafe five minutes behind them stared at the sheets of paper one redheaded patron had left behind. They were certainly tan like yen she was well familiar with, but bore none of the hallmarks of the currency. Instead of the Emperor or cranes, the picture of some sort of three headed monument was the predominant feature; with a swirling glyph adorning each of the corners. Matters were further complicated by the fact that the script printed across each was like some completely illegible form of hiragana.
She flipped the bills over, studying them from the various angles until coming to a more important concern... What in the world was she going to do with all this foreign currency and what country were they even for?
Author's Notes: ZOMG! RANMACHAN! RUN!
Now that that's out of the way...
Ranma vs Equalization: I'm not pulling any punches with power levels and am rolling with damn near every observable technique and attribute Ranma has displayed in either manga or TV to book 38. This includes: Unnatural accuracy, tree walking (telephone pole walking more accurately) strength, speed, durability, body replacement, etc. He is going into Narutoverse with all of these components.
Ranma vs Chakra: You may have noticed I'm already playing the "let's learn chakra!" game in foxcat. Not here. Chakra and ki for all intents and purposes will be completely incompatible. Chalk it up to a difference in universal constants. Yes, I've thought this through and yes there will be benefits and drawbacks.
Ranma vs Kushina: Rule of Fanfiction Failure #4 is my only response to this topic. I wrote it, it's on my ffnet homepage, and you can be damn sure I'll follow it.
Whirlpool Country: No specific location has ever been hinted to concerning Kushina's homeland, so I gave it one. I'll post a link to the adhoc map I modified on my ffnet page.
Taibu Kiru-Kumo: Genjustsu technique, "Greater Cloud-Kill". Saturates a given area with a suffocating genjutsu fog that chokes the life out of any target failing their save vs illusion roll for 1d4 turns per level. I made this up. Actually, AD&D made this up :)
Specific thanks: The Great Naruto Timeline, as that particular resource will come more and more in handy as this fic progresses. If I did my job right, you know roundabouts when this chapter takes place. If not, well, there's always next chapter :D
Inspiration: I can't help but to giggle at some of Aoi-no-Kokoro's work on DeviantART, especially "Pregnant Desire". Somehow, it just fits and it helps that the art is very well done.
Special Thanks to: The usual suspects. DCG, Holyknight, Materia Blade, Mika, Trimatter, the Six Fingered Man and especially everybody at TFF who didn't pan this fic when it was only a 3k word intro. Each and every one of you rock, and I would be remiss not to mention you here.
Shameless Plug: The Fan Fiction Fight to the Finish Challenge has begun! The rules are pretty straight forward, and we're allowing you a free hand as to the execution of the theme. Crossovers, genders, matches, no matches... It's all good; Just 15k words or more of fiction goodness; with first and second place earning real prizes, not just some .gif that says you won this year. Hit my ffnet homepage for the theme and site rules!
Disclaimer: The Six Fingered Man was not harmed in the writing of this fic.