Suika stood dispassionately above a mangled, twisted corpse. There was no clear detail present to determine the nature of it... whether male or female, the color of its skin or eyes or hair... it had been destroyed almost beyond recognition. The only thing that could be said with full certainty was that it had once been a human, before it had had the misfortune to draw the eyes of...
".... You've broken another one, father." She noted coolly.
"... So I have." Replied a much larger, muscular oni, with gilded horns and clad only in a tiger-fur skirt and tattoos, as was traditional for his position. He reached down and callously tore a chunk of flesh free and ate of it, deep in solemn thought.
This was not particularly unusual. As the strongest oni, the king had little time or attention to spare for just one more daughter who was neither strong enough to wrest the throne from him, nor of an age or shapeliness to grace his bedchambers.
"Wouldn't it be smarter to keep one toy for as long as it can be made to last?" Suika asked warily.
The casual, imperious backhand in lieu of an answer was not at all unexpected, but like any weaker oni confronted with one more powerful, she had long since learned to roll with the blow. As she came up to her feet again, the king turned and spoke, voice and body melting away to form that of another.
"Listen, Suika... that's just how it is, right? Humans are so fragile, and they live such short lives... they aren't like youkai, that you can keep."
Suika squinted, trying in vain to make out the fuzzy features of the other oni, only really able to force a single red horn into view, not particularly cutting down the possible speakers.
"Oni hearts aren't made of stone or ice, but passionate fire trapped in glass. So no matter what... more than anything else... you must never allow yourself to get attached to a human you take. Because in the end, they'll leave you behind, and there's no easy or reasonable way to prevent that from happening. Better to take what enjoyment you can, and then break your toys before they can grab hold of your heart, right? Let's have a drink, then... I've made something special for your birthing day feast."
"Yes, Yuugi." She said, looking down to a set table, where Yuugi had set down a large, covered dish. She lifted the lid, and Ranma tumbled out, eyes wide and completely limp, steaming and painted with sauce.
"Hey." His voice echoed, though his face was still. "I... don't suppose you would consider not eating me?"
"You have to break your toys, Suika." Yuugi said genially, nudging her forward, stumbling slightly.
"Toys are made to be broken." the oni king agreed, reaching down and taking hold of an arm and a leg with one meaty fist each.
"Break the toy, or break your heart." he said somberly, Ranma hanging limply between his fists.
He pulled sharply, and Ranma erupted into a cascade of pouring steaks and chops and roasts and meat-buns, tumbling down to fill the table as wine was wrung from his flesh into a bowl and his head popped loose with one twitch of the oni king's thumb, spiraling through the air and leaving a trail of sausages behind it as it flew. It landed on the ground, bounced twice, and came to a rolling stop in front of her.
"That could have gone better." the head spoke wryly, pouting.
Suika sat up in the bed, eyes open, breathing heavily and suddenly wide awake. Ranma was sleeping soundly beside her, undisturbed. She hesitated, then reached out and past him, taking hold of her gourd. She drank deeply of the sake within, then leaned back and stared vacantly at the ceiling.
When Ranma woke, he found that he had been chained spread eagled to the bed, face up.
"What... this again?" He mumbled sleepily.
"Nah. Just making sure you're out of the way for the fight." Suika replied.
"You know. The kidnapped princess's only job is to be rescued, and all that."
"I'm not a-!... tch." Ranma grumbled as Suika left, ignoring his complaints outright. As he stared at the ceiling, a fly buzzed in and landed, of course, directly on the tip of his nose.
Outside, the hours passed as Suika sat still and watched the sun crawl across the sky, until it reached the highest point of its arc. It wasn't long after that three young women and a shriveled crone appeared before her.
"So... you've finally arrived. I've been waiting."
Suika stood and cracked her knuckles, icily staring them down.
"We're here to retrieve my son-in-law. But then, you're already aware of that, I'm sure."
"Of course. Do you think that you can?"
"That's what we'll find out." Cologne said. "But... I think we have a hefty advantage."
Wordlessly, the fiancees reached into their pockets and withdrew handfuls of roasted soybeans.
"... You know oni weaknesses." Suika said dryly. "And? Do you think that's it? I'm Ibuki clan... I've said this before, but we don't give up our toys easily."
"Hmph. If the mere presence of a threat was enough to drive you off, it wouldn't even be worth my time. Attack!"
The battle was at a sort of gridlocked stalemate from the beginning. Being an oni, the merest touch of the beans would burn like nothing else in the world could manage, for disputed reasons, and so she was eager to avoid contact with them. Dispersing would just make her a bigger target, and so was out, but she was more than fast enough to dodge between the hurled beans without touching them. At the same time, though, she couldn't close into melee range without being hit with a fistful of beans all at once. She was weighing the options of breaking out the fun stuff, as she was slowly herded away from the door to the shack, when it happened.
Ranma wasn't particularly surprised when the trio entered through the back way. Tatewaki let loose a sneer of disgust at the surroundings, while the other two were rather more sedate. Ryoga hung back, turning his head to the side, while Mousse and Kuno stepped forward.
"You guys.... can't say I'm surprised. So, what is this? Rescue?"
Wordlessly, Kuno drew the katana from his side and plunged it through Ranma's torso and the bedframe in a single downward thrust.
"Guess not..." Ranma said wryly, after hacking up a little blood. "... can't say I'm surprised."
"What sinister, foul deviltry is this?" Kuno gasped. "Verily, have I not struck down the foul sorceror, and yet his blighted existence lingers on?"
"You missed his vitals. I hate to say it, but a martial artist of his caliber isn't going to kick it from just that."
Mousse's glasses flashed as he withdrew a pair of daggers from his sleeves.
"Don't worry... he's not going anywhere."
Ranma chuckled darkly.
"So this is how it is. After all this time...you three are actually making a serious try at this? You too, Ryouga?"
"... Sorry, Ranma." He said. "It's just, with you around.... we can never be happy together!" He wailed.
"Yeah, I get it. So, no mercy this time, huh? After all we've been through?"
"As long as you live... Shampoo can have no other husband." Mousse agreed.
"Spare the prattle!" Kuno barked. "My beloveds eagerly await their freedom from this foul sorcerer's binding magics, that they might leap into my arms as they so desire. Let it be finished, and us gone!"
"I guess that's how it is, then." Ranma said, shrugging as best he could while impaled and chained to a bed. "But you know... you guys are really mistaken about just who it is that has the advantage, here."
Ranma jerked his hand, energy gathering as he fired off a ki-blast. It flew, and before any of the rivals could say anything, like a sarcastic 'you missed', or to note that he couldn't have properly aimed at any of them anyway, it slammed directly into its target. The cupboard that held three live hand-grenades.
With a resounding boom, the shack exploded in a gout of flames and concussive force, blasting wood upwards and outwards in every direction. Kuno had the good fortune to have been launched in an almost vertical arc and came down to bury himself headfirst and to his knees between Suika and the fiancees. Ryouga and Mousse had less luck, and their arc launched them in different directions, well away from the area. The odds of either of them making it back to the battlefield in time to assist with anything were slim, and the odds of both managing the feat approached zero.
Shampoo, taking advantage of her warrior training, forcibly didn't think about the sudden explosion as the other fiancees and Suika turned to stare at the inferno, instead taking the opportunity to hurl another handful of beans. Rather than dodging, Suika's arm blurred, and suddenly she was holding them all. Her face was strangely blank and vacant, despite the thin trails of smoke that almost immediately began to waft upwards from her hand.
Ranma walked slowly, almost nonchalantly through what was left of the doorway, hands in what was left of his pants pockets, chains dragging behind him, and the sword Kuno had stuck in him still in place. Suika's arm twitched, and the beans in her fist were suddenly a pulpy mass of goo, dripping to the ground. Her facial expression didn't budge in the slightest as she let the mess fall.
Without so much as a grunt, Ranma pulled the sword free, and eyed the bloodstained metal for a long moment before tossing it to the ground, returning his hand to his pocket.
"So..." He said dryly. "Remind me, old ghoul... was this whole thing supposed to be a rescue? Or an assassination?"
"I am very disappointed in those boys." Cologne said solemnly.
"That they tried to kill me?" Ranma asked.
"That they failed." She corrected, ignoring her descendant's startled gasp. "I have long since accepted that it may prove to be impossible to drag you back to the tribe, to serve properly as Shampoo's husband. In that case... after a great deal of contemplation, I have decided that your unwed death will suffice. A poor runner-up prize, to be sure, but you can't have everything."
"Ha!" Ranma barked, gathering ki in one hand and holding it to his torso to sear the wound shut, deciding that he lacked the time for slower, more effective healing methods at the moment. "That's... just the sort of messed up logic that I've come to expect from you Amazons. Hasn't any of you heard of losing gracefully?"
"One could easily turn that question back upon you, son in law." Cologne pointed out. "But really, the only proper victory is an Amazon victory. Anything else is unacceptable."
"Enough." Suika said sharply. "This has become ridiculous. That one belongs to me now. From the moment he accepted the stakes of our battle, and lost, he was mine. And you... you insignificant vermin dare? Try to take what is mine? Try to trick me with distractions while you break my toy? Beans? You do not comprehend the depths of your erring sins! Do you take me for some whelp with untested horns, to be chased away from what I have taken for my own with beans?"
Wind was swirling wildly around Suika by now as she turned her head and locked steely, shining gaze with the fiancees. With every word she spoke, her visage seemed to grow more fearsome and terrible, and it seemed as though her very presence had begun to draw the light and life from the surroundings. The fiancees could almost swear that the blaze from the burning house had dimmed and silenced, and the noise of the surrounding forest gone similarly dead as the trees themselves withered. The very air itself seemed to become a thick, oppressive miasma, choking at them.
"I am Ibuki clan! I am sired of the loins of the oni king himself! With my bare hands, I could crush to powder an entire mountain, and shatter the moon where it hangs in the sky! And you taunt me with beans? Know this, impudent slatterns, that if you remain here I will destroy you. I will rip the skin from your flesh and flay the flesh from your bones, I will pluck free your eyes and pour beetle larvae into the cavities, I will make vinegar and lye flow through your veins as blood, carrion beasts and birds shall feast upon your organs and maggots shall devour your tongues, I shall strip the flesh from your bones and grind them into powder, and your suffering shall not end with a merciful death! I will drag your very essence screaming into the underworld, where countless of my kind will spend the rest of eternity visiting upon you horrors unknowable by unshattered mortal mind! Now BEGONE!"
The fiancees, having been pushed to a state of near mindless terror by the verbal and supernaturally mental assault, found their will suddenly broken and fled like startled rabbits.
"..... Yeah, okay, I think that might have been just a little over the top, there." Ranma pointed out dully.
"To break and flee after only a few threats..." Cologne grumbled in turn. "... I am sorely disappointed in my great-granddaughter. Fortunate, then, that the roasted beans were not the extent of my preparations."
Without a word, a figure dropped down from seemingly nowhere, hovering for a moment before coming to a gentle stop.
".... Hey, Herb." Ranma said, arching an eyebrow. "Long time, no see."
The dragon prince smirked in reply.
"I owe you a life-debt. To free you from the imprisonment of a demon... I could consider my debt repaid in full."
"How about instead, you pay for my dinner later, and we'll call it even?" Ranma suggested.
"Are you flirting with me, Saotome?" Herb asked, amused. "In any case, I couldn't accept such an offer. There is, after all, no way of knowing whether or not the little demon has somehow taken control of your mind, or anything of that nature. And besides... I must admit, I've been looking forward to a rematch against you."
"... Now that you mention it... I wouldn't mind fighting you again. I've gotten a lot stronger."
"As have I."
Without a further word, they surged into motion.
"Ah, youth." Cologne sighed, watching the battle commence.
"... You look relaxed." Suika said. "For some reason... that really irritates me."
"What's this? Are you saying that you want to pick a fight with such a decrepit old woman as myself."
".... I'm saying that every word I said earlier holds just as true for you, as it did for them, brat."
"Ohoho, fiesty." Cologne chuckled. "But if you insist, I suppose I can oblige you. In the thousands of years of Amazon history, we have seen more than a few of your kind dead."
"Oh? How very impressive. Whereas in only the past few centuries.... I haven't kept count, to tell the truth. What kind of oni would I be, if I took note of every single insect I ever happened to crush?"
"... Hmph. I'll enjoy slaying you. There are more than a few valuable spell components to be harvested from one such as you... the village sorceresses and shamans will be in the debt of my family line for centuries."
"Ah... such a sharp tongue. But you shouldn't use it so hastily, when your body can't back it up..."
Fuming, Cologne allowed herself to be goaded into a sudden attack, forgetting for a moment that, for once, she was not the oldest, most experienced fighter on the battlefield.
"So, what's new, Herb?" Ranma said as he twisted around his opponent's blows. "Didn't you mention that your whole curse ended up because of an arrangement for your marriage? How'd that turn out for you?"
"Poorly. Unfortunately, the princess in question did not respond well towards being informed of the new duality of my nature, and it fell through. More vexingly, I cannot take full control of the Musk throne while unwed."
"That's a shame." Ranma said, launching a ki-blast which ultimately blasted apart an innocent tree as Herb flowed gracefully around it. "But that's how it goes with arranged marriages. Sometimes, it works out really well.... And sometimes it doesn't."
"Indeed. Speaking of which... how have things gone with-"
"Don't ask." Ranma cut off immediately.
"I see. Not well, then." Herb concluded, then smirked. "So... why not consider marrying me, instead?"
Ranma stumbled, but recovered in time to avoid taking an elbow to the retina.
"Uh... what? Seriously, no offense, but... just, what?"
"It's a simple proposal." Herb said, glancing over to where Suika had swelled up to enormous proportions and was using a tree she had ripped from the ground in an attempt to swat Cologne like a particularly pesky fly. "The oni and the amazon are embroiled in their own conflict. At some point, the will likely cease paying attention to us entirely. We can then quietly remove ourselves from the area and by the time either of them realize anything is amiss, we'll be halfway to china, where I'll have you crowned my queen."
".... No offense, and I really hate to butt into your scenario with facts...." Ranma said. "But we're, you know, both men."
"Currently, yes, we are indeed. Doubtless, we are both women at times as well, and there are obviously going to be times where we will be the more socially normal combination of one male and one female. Is there a particular point you wished to make?"
Ranma found for a moment that he was at a complete and utter loss for words, but Herb waited patiently for an answer.
".... It's not that I'm not flattered." Ranma eventually said. "But, you know, I think I'm going to have to go with a 'No' on this one."
"I see. That is a shame." Herb said, shrugging blandly.
He paused, and his arm began to glow with a razor-sharp sheath of ki.
"I hope you don't mind, then, if we take this to the next level. A few scratches should be an acceptable price for your freedom."
"Heh. Bring it-"
"I win!" Cologne yelled, as she came to a backflipped landing between them and propelled herself a few feet further. The interruption was, frankly, so ludicrous in nature that neither of them could really help staring at her for a long moment, then turning their heads towards Suika, who had paused in equal confusion, the hellfire coalesced into her hands flickering unabated.
"Hah. Your feet, boy." Cologne barked with a grim sort of amusement.
Even as he knew he should be jumping away already, Ranma also knew that it was already too late, and he looked down. At that very moment, the capture egg that Cologne had gone to a very great deal of effort to have liberated from the phoenix's stores and shipped carefully to her, split in half. It took less than a second for the grasping threads that had been released to engulf him from head to toe, in spite of his struggle against them, and for the outermost layer to become as smooth and uniform as eggshell. Cologne hopped atop it, secure now in her inevitable victory.
"... What... treachery?" Herb gasped, eyes widened. "You... crone! You said we were to free him from mind control, not ensnare him with it!"
"So I did." Cologne agreed. "That we were to free him from the Oni's mind control. And, indeed, if he was ensnared in any such thing, then the egg has already freed him of it. I did not in any way lie. I simply... did not speak all of the truth. Is it my fault, if you were so naive as to take my words at their purest face value, without inquiring any deeper into them? And you think to be a king?"
"Hmph. The entire plan factored around this, my secret weapon. The girls and the beans, what the boys did, whether you fought the oni or Ranma or both, or did not fight at all... they were all irrelevant details! The crux of the plan was simply to create one, single moment in which either the oni or son in law completely lost track of me, to focus on something else. In the end, for the purpose of this battle, which was ensnared was of little importance. Now, with Ranma bound to follow whatever order I give... I have already won."
With a cackle, she slammed her staff into the egg, sending a spiderweb of cracks and fractures out from the impact point.
"Haha! Come out, Ranma! There's a fight to-"
She was interrupted, and caught completely off guard, as Ranma catapulted fist first out of the egg, sending shell flying in every direction and catching her almost directly on the chin.
"What!?" She barked, righting herself in midair.
"You called? You forgot something, though." Ranma said. "Or, you had thought I'd forgotten. I've seen those in action before. I know how they work... and so, I know how to foil them."
Cologne growled as Ranma jerked up a thumb towards his face, drawing attention to exactly how he had done it. How, in fact, he was still doing it.
"... You sneaky little bastard." She said, almost admiringly. "You just... closed your eyes. Without seeing something to imprint on..." She shook herself slightly. "Feh. No matter. Without sight, you are at a severe disadvantage. Herb!"
There was silence for a long moment, and she slowly turned, driven by the realization that Herb was not, as she had expected, rushing into battle again. Instead, he was frowning deeply at her. Seeing that he had caught her eye, he very deliberately raised his hands and began cracking his knuckles.
"Elder." he said venemously. "I do not care to be ordered about. I even less enjoy being used. Consider our temporary alliance hereby nullified."
So agape was she at the proclamation that she barely registered a surge of air in motion in time to roll out of the way as Ranma slammed a kick heavily into the spot she'd just been occupying. She made a partial motion towards a counter attack, but almost as she began he was drawn back and swung in a great arc by Suika, who was grinning as she manipulated the chains attached to his limbs like some sort of deranged puppeteer. He surged forward again, like the ungainly improvised whip he was being used as, and Cologne found him moving too fast for her to do anything against but dodge, and dodge again as one of the dragon prince's attacks slammed into her intended landing point.
She suddenly realized that the game had shifted from a comfortable two verses two into a decidedly less so three against one. It was about time that she practiced the better part of valor.
"You haven't won, son in law." she yelled. "In all the history of the tribe... not once has an outsider escaped us, one way or the other! You will not be the first!"
"First time for everything!" Ranma shot back as Cologne retreated at full speed.
Without a further word said, Herb flew away, officially leaving the rescue attempt as a complete and utter failure as Suika and Ranma looked for the sword he had thrown down earlier, as the only thing nearby with a reflective enough finish for him to see his own eyes in them.
".... I want to tell you a secret. Earlier... I was thinking about throwing the fight. Letting them win, and..."
"I know. So was I."
".... I understand."
Without a further word spoken, Ranma and Suika sat in the burned out wreckage of the shack, drinking sake and watching as the sun set and moon rose. Gensokyo could wait a little while, yet.
A.N. 4046.... making the total actual-story words of this story equal 15743/15000. Mission Success!
Also, holy crap, this actually turned out pretty darn romantic. How did that happen?
Secret weapon... well, Happosai thought it was the beans, given that everyone else (Except Cologne) thought it was the beans too.
In any case, I am more than satisfied with this chapter. Went to a couple weird places, yeah, but I pulled in a couple things that I BET YOU ALL THOUGHT WERE INSIGNIFICANT, DIDN'T YOU!? AHAHAHAA! Anyway, cold honest truth time, I have no idea what happens when you hit a box with three grenades in it with a ki blast. I'm going to say that it's this chapter.
Also, not quite clear on what a 'slattern' is. But it came down to that or 'strumpet' while I was trying to decide what Suika should yell, and I figured that 'slattern' sounded better. Sort of rolls off the tongue. Slattern. Sssssllllattern. Yeah.
In any case, can I see this chapter having gone any other way? Nnn- well, yes, but meh. This is how it happened, 'kay?
Also, while this is a self-contained story in and of its own right, for the purposes of that contest.... SEQUEL. There will be one. I just have to decide if I'll be doing.... or skip straight to... or just..., you know? Bah, you'll find out. It will probably be longer, in that much like everything else I've posted thus far, I'm not sure I'll ever get around to an ending for it.
Oh, and no real relation to, well, anything really, but the 'soul crushingly depressing' pool on danbooru? IT IS SOUL-CRUSHINGLY DEPRESSING. Truth in advertising, ouch. That and that one elfen lied spinoff webcomic with the very Dickens ending have pretty much sandblasted my brain. It's like, holy crap, this is so horrible to look at or think about, but I just can't tear away until it's over, you know?
Blathering done, let me just post this and then send the link into the contest.