Interlude: Ku Fei Hustle

Author's Note: Sorry for the delay and the breaking of my solemn vow. The chapter is being worked on. Incidentally, when I worked out my month-long timeline, I realised I wouldn't have the chance to give Ku Fei the kickass kung-fu adventure she deserved. So here you go – one semi-canon chapter based on a background comment in vol. 29. Read in the voice of Jack Black for true awesomeness. Some Western music wouldn't go amiss either.

(Yes, I know they spent more than three months there due to the breakage of the link between worlds, but I chose to interpret that as Akamatsu's handwave to fit everything in. Besides, they find Haruna about a third of the way through, so it fits.)

P.S. If her power here seems excessive, remember that she was capable of punching a walking tank so hard that it flew off its feet – before she went to the Magical World.

It was a rough-all-over place. Roughly-constructed furniture, rough, vinegary wine and rough customers who'd stab you soon as you blinked. The barman's dao was prominently displayed on his belt as a warning and a promise to anyone who disturbed the peace.

The only visitors were thieves, bandits who used this place as a second base and a few of the more foolhardy adventurers.

The door swung open, admitting a short, slender figure in a hooded, tattered cloak. The yellowing, flickering mage-lights that were the only illumination this late at night only enhanced the gloom, so all that could be seen of the tanned face was a feminine mouth framed by blonde bangs.

She walked casually up to the bar and sat down, ignoring the predatory stares from the other patrons. She pulled her hood down to reveal she was naught but a young teenage girl, her wide green eyes set in a cute, round face.

"Milk, if you please, bartender," she piped up.

The bartender, remembering some of his manners, suppressed the instinctive swear and grunted, "Whaddya think I am, a cow? Wine, water or nothing. If you're not having anything, get out." The 'now' was heavily implied.

"Me no think I should be having wine. I have water. You have food? I pay." She set a little leather bag on the bar with a clinking sound.

He survived mostly by being the fish that cleaned the teeth of the sharks. If some other fish began swimming into the shark's mouth, it was really none of his business. But the proprietor had to head off the imminent unpleasantness before it started in his house. "You should leave, girl."

"Why? I hungry," she said, as if innocent of the people now rising from their chairs and coming towards her.

Resting a hand on the hilt of his sword, he tensed his shoulders and glared at them. A couple of the smarter ones sat back down, but only a couple. The rest soon surrounded her in a loose semicircle. He tried once more, addressing the ringleader. "Xiaopi, don't. Not in here..."

"Quiet! Or shall I raise the rates on your protection money? I have the personal ear of the boss; I could erase this bar and its rotten wine with a single word." The bartender backed down, retreating into the single room behind the bar so he wouldn't have to see what happened next.

Xioapi inspected the girl, who was now looking innocently up at him. "You're very far from home, little girl. Where are your parents?"

"Eh? Parents always tell me not talk to strangers. You very strange. And smell funny."

"Well, let me introduce myself, then you introduce yourself and we shall no longer be strangers. I am Xiaopi Lo. And you are?"

"Ku Fei. Nihao!" She suddenly sniggered. "You name is funny!"

He reddened, but composed himself. Accursed name; it followed him like a jester. He was not a wimp. "Funny? Well, I promise you you will no longer find it funny in a couple of minutes. We could really... use a girl like you. Lovely green eyes, blonde hair," he stroked her face with a work-roughened finger, "soft, pretty skin..." She recoiled, disgusted.

Recovering from the shock of being touched in such a forward manner, her eyes narrowed at him. "No. You not touch again. Promise," she said levelly.

"Huh? Who's going to make me? You?" He teasingly approached her face to stroke it again, only for her left hand to shoot upwards and grasp his finger in the V between her middle and index fingers, where it stuck. Fast.

He tried to tug it out. Against all reason, the little girl budged barely an inch and his finger felt like it was caught in a vice. Suddenly, her index finger curled round his, using the leverage to bend it agonisingly back as she rose from her seat. The other fingers curled round the side of his palm like a spider, forcibly rotating his hand palm upwards as her right hand pushed up on his elbow to straighten his arm out. Her left hand flicked up to the wrist and twisted further as the right hand darted out to yank his leather jerkin forward. There was a gristly *pop*.

"AAAAGH! You bitch, you dislocated my arm! AAAH!"

"See? You not touch again. Is important to keep promises." She smiled sunnily. "Before anyone try to avenge..." She sighed as they all began to attack at the sight of their leader screaming on the floor. Couldn't they let her finish speaking? Oh well, maybe one of them could give them a good fight.

High-kicking the first in the chin, she converted that raised leg into a downward axe-kick to smash a dagger out of the hand of the second so she could snake an arm round his and hip toss him into four and five before they could finish incanting magic, leaving room for a Lady Weaves the Shuttles block and sweep away to six's sword arm, then sinking an elbow into his solar plexus. Wait... She counted the pile of bodies groaning on the floor. One, two... She dived to avoid a near point-blank Sagitta Magica wind bolt. "Ara, forgot about three."

The wind-user shouted, "Cantus Bellax!", beginning to glow and look slightly blurred, before he rushed her. To Ku, he was disappointingly slow even with the boost, nothing like her Negi-bozu. Still, he'd taken her seriously, it was only fair she get serious too – she released her chi and rolled out of her dive, popping up to unleash a glowing Tsuten-ho upward punch to the stomach, propelling him up into the rafters... and straight through the thatched roof. It took far, far too long for the rest of the patrons to hear him land.

"Ehh?" She squinted to try and see through the new skylight. "Was sure I pulled punch. Hope he alive."

The whole fight had taken barely fifteen seconds. The demon now known as Ku Fei noticed her petrified audience and bowed respectfully towards them. "Nihao! Could one of you point me towards someone that know about "Tao Hua"? Friends have questions."

Trembling fingers pointed towards Xiaopi.

OoOoOoO

Xiaopi tried to scramble away from Ku Fei as she approached, but was stopped by the bar and his hurt shoulder.

"Xiaopi-san, please come with me."

He wasn't listening. Perhaps the glow of her chi was intimidating him? She cycled it down. Or perhaps the arm was hurting a bit too much – she caught hold of his arm before he could react and slapped the arm socket to pop it back in. The fresh round of screaming and whimpering said nope, this wasn't the answer either.

Ku was fairly simple. She appreciated strength, loved martial arts and cherished her friends. In these fields, she was peerless. Outside of them, well... she was the tiniest bit clueless. Thus she couldn't understand why some of her classmates in 3-A would want to pursue their teacher romantically, nor could she understand just how terrified someone could be of her. She definitely knew what this man had been suggesting, though, and now there was a lead, she wanted answers to where that old man Zhiye's daughter was. Well, if he wouldn't talk to her, maybe Zhiye could tell her the trick. He'd pointed her towards the correct bar, after all. But he might run away if she left. Hmm. She'd just have to take him along, then.

Disabling the rest of his men with some quick head-chops, she used his bullwhip to hogtie the mob sub-boss. Meanwhile, the barman had emerged from his room once the sound of fighting had stopped. He was astounded to see the little girl hoist a fully-grown man over her head like a bundle of firewood and carry him out the door, floorboards creaking under the extra weight. Maybe there was something in those wanted posters of Ala Alba after all. He went back in to write a letter to certain people.