Ranma 1/2 is owned by Rumiko Takahashi. Familiar of Zero (Zero no Tsukaima) is owned by Noboru Yamaguchi. All rights reserved.
"What do you mean you need to leave now!" a shiphand shouted in horror as he just heard the request from Wardes's mouth as they all stood on the gangplank connecting the airship to the port tree it was anchored to. "We haven't even gotten all the cargo on board, let alone the power to reach Albion from here! It's impossible!"
"And I told you, we haven't time to argue," the Gryphon Knight Captain spoke in a commanding voice as Louise and Siesta fidgeted, looking behind them every few seconds. "This is for Her Highness; we cannot afford to tarry any longer."
"What's going on here?" a voice called out from behind the shiphand.
"Captain!" the shiphand cried, stepping off the gangplank. "These nobles are insisting we take them to Albion now!"
"Without even half the cargo loaded?" the weathered-looking captain of the airship queried as he stepped into the mouth of the walkway, raising an eyebrow. "Besides, it's impossible to leave now. The Wind Crystal's power is too low, and we haven't been able to replace it. It's why we planned to depart two days from now; Albion would be drawn the closest to La Rochelle."
"I am a Square-Class mage of Her Highness's Gryphon Corps," Wardes said. "Whatever power you lack, I will make up for it."
The captain smiled bemusedly. "And still, we won't be able to excuse the flight, due to the cargo not being completely loaded into the hold to be sold. Pardon the rudeness, but we do have families to think of."
"What's the cargo?" Wardes asked in a bored tone.
"Sulfur," the captain replied. "At current prices, it's worth its weight in gold."
"Fine," Wardes said dismissively. "Sell it all to me at that price, then."
Siesta goggled at Wardes. "E-expensive..." she whispered to herself.
Louise looked nonplussed. "Well if it comes to that..."
The captain beamed as he stepped aside from the exit of the gangplank. "A done deal. We might be able to get a little farther on our own without all that weight holding us down."
Wardes just nodded. "Let us depart then." He looked over his shoulder. "Come, my dear Louise, and servant." Without another word, he boarded the ship, with the two girls quickly following after him.
"What in Founder's name is this!" Montmorency shouted, as she and Ranma were holed up behind a heavy wooden table that was taking on arrows and musket rounds for them. Across from them, Guiche and Tabitha were similarly distressed.
"Just keep your head down, huh?" Ranma spoke, trying to get a feel for the situation.
Tabitha said nothing, similarly observing the scene of chaos, while Guiche whimpered.
"I don't want to die here," he moaned. "If I do I'll never get to see Princess again..."
"What did you say!" Montmorency shouted over the noise of gunfire.
The blond boy straightened up. "Er, I said I'll never forget you-"
A round bullet punched its way through the table top, causing Guiche to yelp and throw himself back.
"Okay, this is stupid," Ranma growled. Supposedly, Wardes already took care of the mercenaries downstairs. Yet, it seemed that the guys were merely thrown out of the hotel or something, as no unconscious bodies were waiting for them they descended the stairs into an ambush. Either Wardes was going easy on them, or they were tougher than expected. At any rate, they needed to get out of this mess, or they would be turned into pin cushions. He looked around, trying to think of something. His eyes landed upon Guiche, who was examining the hole a musket round made in an attempt to take off his head.
The blue haired girl looked over at Ranma.
"Give me some cover!"
She nodded, letting a spell build on her lips. Meanwhile, Ranma shook Montmorency by the shoulder.
The blonde girl lifted her head slightly. "What is it?"
"I'm going over there right quick."
She stared at him. "You're going to do what!"
"I'll be back, Monmon!"
A gale force wind roared forth, bowling over various mercenaries. Meanwhile, Ranma shot over Montmorency, rolling over to Tabitha's and Guiche's table. He swiped a few of the musket rounds that had punched through the table and in the wall.
"What are you doing?" Guiche asked, befuddled by the pigtail boy's appearance.
Ranma smirked. "Just returning some stuff they lost." And with that, he rolled into the opening between their table shields. The runes on his left hand glowed as Ranma chambered the musket rounds in the crooks of his index fingers, thumbs firmly plied behind the leaden balls. Without haste, he let them fly.
Two rounds were stuffed violently back into the weapons that fired them with force great enough to cause them to explode in the owners' hands. Another one chewed a large chunk out of an archer's drawn longbow, causing the whole weapon to snap in half and viciously club him across the face. The last punished another gunner, crushing his index that was resting on the unguarded trigger. He yelped in agony as the finger pointed downward at an unnatural angle until another burst of wind slapped him down into silence, bouncing his head off the floor sharply.
"Impressive, Partner," Derflinger said. "You must be a terror in marbles."
Ranma smiled nonchalantly. "Eh, it's nothing."
"I'll say," Guiche said as everyone rose from their hiding places, first staring at Ranma, then his hands. "I suppose it wasn't dumb luck that you defeated the son of a Gramont so handily."
Ranma shrugged. "Those dolls were kinda weak anyway."
Guiche almost choked on his own tongue.
"Anyway," he continued, completely missing Guiche's reaction. "Can we talk about that later? Right now, we probably should go catch up with Louise before-"
"...what was that?" Montmorency asked.
"I... don't know," Guiche replied, his face screwed in puzzlement.
Ranma blinked. "I... oh man, no way... not her again?"
"Well, she is responsible, is she not?" Derflinger said.
Everyone's eyes widened at the heavy sounds slamming into the earth, sending shockwaves through the floor and building they were trapped in. More arrows crashed into the sides of the building near the exits. Everyone dropped back down behind the riddled tables in hurried counsel.
"What's going on!" Guiche cried out in panic.
"Fouquet, most likely," Ranma grumbled.
"Say what?" Guiche asked, horror-stricken. "I thought she was taken away and put in prison."
Ranma shrugged. "Well, guess they don't make prisons like they used to."
Guiche groaned. "Oh, the stories I've heard about her and her golem..." He caught sight of Montmorency and gasped. "We can't just remain here! We must escape, or else, she'll crush us to death!"
Ranma glanced out from behind their barrier. "Well, those archers outside are making it kind of hard to do that at the moment."
"W-well, perhaps we can sneak out the back then."
Ranma frowned. "Probably waiting for us there, too. With more arrows and guns and stuff."
Guiche groaned. "Oh, Belldandy. Where are you when I need you?"
Ranma made a face. "Is girls all you ever think about?"
Before Guiche could respond to that, an explosion overhead rocked the floors overhead.
"Oh, shit," Ranma breathe as the building began to collapse upon them.
Fouquet's massively tall iron golem raised both fists clasped together and hammered down upon the hotel again, crushing it down upon the trapped inhabitants.
"Again!" Fouquet shouted with a grin as she commanded the golem to swing again and again, leveling the whole building within minutes. Then the golem began to stomp on the remains, as if stamping out a smoldering campfire remains. Once done, the thieving mage turned to the mercenaries that had surrounded the building. "Any escapees?"
"Not a one," a mercenary called out.
"Good," she said with a smile. "Now that that miserable commoner has been dealt with-"
"'Commoner' has a name, you know," a voice said from behind her.
Fouquet's brain had tripped over itself before she could think of turning around. However, by then, she quickly realized that she was no longer standing on her golem and the cobblestone ground was quickly coming up to greet her. And her wand hand was bare.
Fortunately for her, a clump of mercenaries had been blown right into her line of trajectory, softening her rough landing somewhat, though by no means did it feel even remotely comfortable. Hitting her head off of someone or something left her disoriented amidst the screams of hired guns being hammered and earth crumbling somewhere nearby. She struggled to get her feet beneath her, complicated by the resistance of live bodies moaning and squirming as she stepped on faces and other more delicate things in her attempt to once again escape before she fully repeated her fate from last time.
By the time she was able to stand up, she found the pigtailed commoner standing in front of her, twirling a wand between his fingers.
"Hey," Ranma said with a grin. "We really gotta stop meeting like this."
Fouquet couldn't bury her face in the soft earth in shame, so she settled for hiding her face in her hands as she sank to her knees in humiliation.
"Gotta hand it to you, Guiche," Ranma stated with a smirk as he looked away from the mortified thief. "I didn't know your girlfriend was so useful."
"She's my cute familiar, you addle-minded commoner," Guiche snapped as he stroked the blue diamond-marked brow of a giant mole who made what passed for cooing sounds of pleasure. "That's right, Belldandy. You did very well today, oh yes you did!"
Ranma just shook his head, various thought of ridicule popping up. He supposed, though, it might have been an dicier situation had Tabitha's Wind Bubble not been able to ward away most of the debris that rained down upon them and kept them from being crushed to death initially. That Belldandy the mole was close by to get drawn to the gems Guiche kept on his person was probably luck, but at least Ranma didn't have to dig them out from the rubble of the building.
Which might have been impossible after seeing the metal golem stomp on the remains.
Hoo boy, were they ever lucky Belldandy was somewhere nearby... Ranma might have been the best, but even he doubted he could have kept everyone safe from such a crushing.
Well, past was past. They escaped though Belldandy's underground tunnel and lived. Then Guiche, Montmorency and Tabitha dealt with the remaining mercenaries - the former two ensnared them with Earth spells and Sleep magic respectively, while the latter hammered them down with her Wind element - while Ranma put an end to Fouquet's golem threat.
All in all, not a bad day.
Now to get some information out of-
The hairs on the back of Ranma's neck stood up on end. His entire body screamed in panic at the feel of something big coming. But what?
"Partner!" Derflinger shouted.
In the blink of an eye, Ranma's hand clutched hold of Derflinger's hilt. The runes on his left hand glowed. As he spun around to face his rear, he swung the sentient sword downward in an arc.
Blade slammed into an incoming storm of lightning. The immediate vicinity lit up in blinding bluish-white light, with everyone screaming in panic as the clashing of steel versus magic intensified.
And then suddenly sputtered out.
The storm of lightning, devoured by the magical sword, it's only traces of existence centering of lingering currents of electricity dancing upon the rusty blade's surface before disappearing altogether.
Ranma blinked once, twice, then looked at his sword arm in surprise. "The hell?"
"Ranma!" Montmorency cried out.
The martial artist looked up to see a trio of icicles flying at a man lurking around the corner of a building. His face was covered with a pale white mask whose eye holes and mouth seemed to have been carved out with a razor blade. The stranger flicked up his wand and smacked aside the daggers of ice with a sharp blast of wind, then ducked into hiding.
"I'm on him!" Ranma cried out, pushing aside confusion as he gave chase after the masked man.
"Careful, Partner. That was no ordinary magic he used."
Arrows of wind split through the air making Rama jump back around the corner of the building. "You don't say..." he commented mildly as he slipped the sword back into its sheathe.
"I do say," Derflinger replied. "That spell from earlier, it's called Lightning Cloud. Only a Square-class mage can cast it."
Rama craned his head back around, trying to peg the masked man's location. "And I cut the thing in half." The black cloak was flapping in the wind as the attacker resumed his retreat.
"You did, Partner."
Ranma scrambled out after the stranger. "With a sword."
The sword huffed, indignant. "I'm not just any ordinary sword; I'm Lord Derflinger!"
The otherworldly fighter was rapidly gaining ground on the attacker. "I don't even use swords! And here I am, instantly going for one like its second nature!"
"The Gandalfr is an amazing familiar," came the simple response.
"Watch out, Partner! Incoming magic!"
Ranma instantly skid to a halt and quick sprang backwards, cartwheeling away at Derflinger's warning as the entire narrow pathway between buildings exploded in a massive cloud of electricity rushing forward like locust seeking to feed upon him.
When the storm cleared the masked man was gone.
The masked man floated down to the ground on the outskirts of La Rochelle.
"Unfortunate luck," he spoke to himself. "The Gandalfr, he's better than even I could anticipate."
"Well, good to hear; you're not too bad yourself."
The man paused, his white mask unable to betray surprise as he turned around to see the pigtailed martial artist standing behind him.
"Interesting," was his response.
He shrugged absently. "Yeah, well, all good things have to come to an end and stuff, so-GAH!"
What had been a simple pass-by-and-steal-the-mage's-wand action turned bloody, with Ranma holding his right hand, several lacerations layered into his palm.
The masked mage held up his wand hand. Ranma could just see the air around his hand and wand spirally around it tightly, almost like razors. The masked man waved the wand from side to side as if scolding a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Naughty, naughty, trying to steal my wand and rend me powerless, as you've done to others. You do me a great disservice, taking me so lightly."
Ranma snorted, even as his lips curled up in a rueful smirk. "Well, hell, you mages were so pathetic, I felt sorry for you all. Didn't want to hurt your pride any more than I had to."
"Thank you for such courtesy," the masked mage said, bowing mockingly. "I shall have that placed upon your gravestone - 'Courteous Commoner to the End.'"
He slid into a ready stance. "Ha, didn't know you're so willing to wait decades for me to kick the bucket."
Ranma shot off to the side, avoiding the invisible hammer as it smashed through the open space the martial artist had been standing at. He led in with a few punches, testing out the mage's defenses. The masked man dodged the incoming blows and stabbed with his wand. Ranma causally avoided the attack, turning his body to one side. However, the wind coiling around the mage's hand and wand expanded outward, shredding into his shirt and clawing at his body.
He shouted in surprise and pain. "Dammit!" Ranma created some space between him and the enemy mage, holding a hand to his bleeding side. "That was the only shirt I had, jerk!"
The mask seemed to loom over him in smirking superiority. "Perhaps you should have invested in more clothing then; I am a powerful opponent, Commoner."
Ranma scowled. "Yeah, I'm pretty certain you're better than most everyone I've faced here in this place. Bet that Cromwell guy is pretty powerful, too, huh?"
That seemed to affect the masked man. "Hmm... so you have even that much information, I see..."
Ranma grinned victoriously. "Yeah, I got even that much information... Why don't you be a pal and tell me where I can find that guy, huh? I promise I won't kick your ass too much."
The masked man chuckled, then openly laughed. "I do love your sense of humor..." He held his wand like a spear coiled to certainly strike down an unfortunate fool. "Very well, then, if, by some miracle you can defeat me, I will tell you about Cromwell."
Ranma looked surprised. "On your honor?"
"Certainly, of course. Not that-"
The mask shattered under Ranma's fist, the masked man sent flying several feet backwards before hitting the ground roughly.
"Sorry, guy," Ranma spoke apologetically. "But I really don't have time to play with you anymore." Whistling a little tune to himself, Ranma almost skipped over to where the now-unmasked man laid on his back.
And stopped cold, eyes staring at his face.
The unconscious face of Wardes.
"H-huh? What the? Who-"
"Partner," Derflinger spoke. "That man-"
Wardes' eyes snapped open, and, before Ranma could react, he pointed his wand at him.
"Wind Arrow," the mage spoke softly, sternly.
The pressurized dart of wind screamed from the tip of Wardes' wand and struck home. Ranma gasped, as the magical attack snatched him off his feet while it drilled through his abdomen and exploded messily from the exit wound in his back. The pigtailed martial artist crash-landed hard on the dusty ground, rolling over and over, leaving blood splattered all across the ground.
"Fu~~uck..." Ranma groaned, feet flailing against the ground uselessly as the pain reverberating through his body. "Gah..."
"Well, this wasn't how I thought it'd end," Wardes admitted as he dusted himself off. "Looks rather painful, too."
"Come here..." Ranma gasped, trying to force himself up and hold his gaping wound at the same time. "Let... me share with you..."
"I'd rather give, not receive," Wardes smiled cruelly, leveling his wand at the martial artist. "It's been a pleasure sparring with you, but all good things must come to an end. Wind Arrow."
The attack struck earth, as Ranma threw himself out of the way. He rolled to unsteady feet, gasping in agony the whole time.
Wardes shrugged. "Hmm, I suppose it would be more fitting for a Gandalfr to die on his feet instead."
Sweat began pushing through Ranma's skin in waves. "Sure know a lot, don'tcha..."
Wardes smirked. "There are more Void mages and their familiars in our lives than just you and my dear sweet fiancée Louise."
The martial artist's eyes widened. "Wh-what?"
Wardes grinned. "Oh, sorry, I swore on my honor to tell you, but only if you had defeated me. Which, you haven't."
Ranma scowled darkly. "Jerk..."
"Well, this is goodbye, Commoner." Wardes leveled his wand at Ranma again. "Wind-"
The hand that had been holding his grievous injury flicked out, slinging a copious handful of blood at Wardes' face.
"Gah!" Wardes dropped his aim as some of Ranma's blood struck him in the eyes. He clawed at his face, frantically trying to clear up his vision before-
"I win, jerk," Ranma growled as he had heavily leaned into his lunging attack against the traitorous mage, the rusty steel of Derflinger buried up to the hilt in the shocked Wardes's guts. It was the last thing the mage heard before his body collapsed in a flurry of wind and magic.
Ranma found himself flopping to the ground in a hapless heap, gasping in agony. Derflinger clattered down in front of him.
"Partner! All you all right!"
"Just a little tired," Ranma commented, eyes closing. "Think I'll rest a… moment…"
"Dammit," Wardes swore under his breath.
"What was that, my Lord?" the captain of the ship asked of the mage as they were situated in the navigation room with the navigator, going over the travel route to Albion, the floating island's drift pattern and when they'll need his power to supplement for the dwindling Wind crystal supply.
"Forgot to tether my familiar," the mage said.
"That white gryphon on deck?" the navigator questioned. "I wondered who that belonged to."
"She's well-trained, following me aboard the ship without command," Wardes said bemusedly. "Excuse me for a moment while I tend to her."
"Sure, my Lord."
Louise sat up ramrod straight on the bed she was lying on as she and Siesta sat in one of the ship's guest quarters.
The maid noticed the way she stared wide-eyed at nothing, her body trembling slightly. "M-Miss Louise?" she asked cautiously.
Louise did not hear anything. She couldn't - her mind was flooded with so many strong, invasive feelings slamming about in her head, she couldn't pick out any particular one. It was like drowning in her own mind, with her trying to claw to the surface for air that remained just out of reach.
And then, everything slipped into a blank nothing.
"Miss Louise! What's wrong!"
"Huh?" the strawberry blonde acknowledged Siesta for the first time since being overwhelmed by Ranma's feelings. "What's the matter?"
"Y... you're crying. What's wrong?"
Louise blinked, and her vision blurred. "Wh-what?" Slim fingers reached up to touch her face, discovering the unusual wetness of her cheeks.
She looked at her fingers as if they belonged to someone else.
"Something happened..." she spoke, her voice slightly hollow.
Siesta braved to near the noble. "What happened?"
"I... I don't know," she admitted numbly. "But something terrible has happened." The tears splashed down from her cheeks and onto her Academy uniform. "And I can't stop myself from crying."
"Miss Louise," Siesta spoke, but stopped as she felt completely out of her depth with a noble. Had Louise been a commoner, the answer was easy enough. Being a noble, though, made even simple answers complicated affairs. After all, it wasn't like they had anything in common, aside from being young women. Nobles were and always would be the oppressors of the commonfolk, with little that could be done about it.
Well, at least that's what she had thought until the last month. That was when Ranma came into the picture and upset the apple cart with just his hands, defying the nobility at every turn and thwarting their efforts to force him into subservience. His example furthered inspired her to try and overcome the obstacles that obstructed her spirit, break down the walls between nobles and commoners.
And before Siesta thought about it, she found herself drawing her arms around Louise, pulling her into the warmth of her bosom. She felt Louise stiffen for a moment, but only for a moment, as it passed into the pink-haired girl completely losing composure and cry into her body, clinging to her like a life preserver in the middle of a big, empty ocean. Siesta didn't say anything, not that she could think of something to say - she was just as surprised she became so bold with a noble and was met with grateful relief.
Perhaps there was some hope for nobles and commoners after all.
Wardes thought as he pretended to check over the snowy white gryphon on-deck.
In hindsight, it was a reckless plan - even after seeing the results of the fight passed onto him via the mindlink to his doppelganger, he still could not fathom exactly how powerful the familiar was. He could be injured, and he didn't anticipate some of the tricks used against him, but he dealt with most all of them spectacularly well. Even the pointblank Wind Arrow through one side of his abdomen. It should have been a fatal wound, but the doppelganger was still defeated in spite of everything, which denied him true confirmation of the familiar's death.
Which meant that the familiar could potentially pass on the intel to the others and corrupt his plans by ousting him as a member of Reconquista.
That could not be permitted. Which meant he would have to drastically step up his three part plan. The first part, recover the Princess's letter to Wales, which would cause irreparable damage between Tristain and Germania and abort their planned alliance via marriage. The second part, seduce Louise into marriage, so as to gain access to her sleeping power - if necessary, he would terrorize and punish her into compliance or dose her with a love potion and get her full obedience. The third part, assassinate Prince Wales of Albion, which would break the spine of Albion and prevent any chance of the royal family raising a rebellion against Reconquista.
The first and third parts were critical to Reconquista's success in future endeavors, while the second was for his own gain. He needed to see what was hidden in the Holy Lands. The same Holy Lands his mother researched for years before...
He shook his head, stuffing the errant thoughts back into the recesses of his mind. He had a plan to create and put into action, starting with how to get to Albion before any potential problems cropped up and forced him to resort to Plan B - Murder.
"Are you all right?" Siesta chanced to ask Louise as she dried her red, puffy eyes.
"Yes, thank you," the pink-haired girl spoke with a wan smile. Then she looked around, as if someone might have been spying on them. "That never happened," she commented with seriousness in her voice.
Siesta couldn't help but giggle. "Don't know what you're talking about..."
"Good," Louise nodded with finality.
She smiled in return. Maybe the wall between commoner and nobility wasn't so thick or as high after all.
A knock came at the cabin door, jolting both girls out of the calm atmosphere.
"Ah!" Louise panicked. "J-just a minute!" She turned to Siesta wide-eyed. "Help me!" she hissed as low as possible. The main nodded quickly and together, the girls frantically did their best in making Louise look like she hadn't been bawling her eyes out. Their efforts didn't do much, aside from making them both look like they had been in the middle of a passionate tryst and were hasty in dressing themselves.
Nevertheless, Louise sat back on the bed, smoothed her dress quickly and spoke politely. "Come in."
Wardes opened the door, noticing Siesta was also sitting on the same bed as Louise. Realizing she was under direct scrutiny from the older mage, Siesta regarded her location, 'eeped' aloud and quickly moved to the other bed across from Louise's.
"I wish to speak to my fiancée in solitude for a few moments," Wardes spoke. "Would you be so kind as to leave us be until summoned?"
Thought it was phrased as a request, it was anything but, and the tone of voice he used sent a cold shiver down her spine. It was as if she tried to even hint at questioning his command, she would die on the spot. Therefore, she merely nodded and walked as quickly out of the room as she could go without actually running.
Of course, she didn't know of anywhere to go aboard the ship, and the way some of the shiphands' eyes lingered on parts of her when passing them earlier didn't make her feel sociable. She decided to head out on top of the deck, to look at the night sky they were sailing through. Maybe she'd find a wishing star and be able to make a wish.
She had barely gotten three feet from the room when the explosion ripped through the ship and threw Siesta headfirst into the hallway wall. Or maybe the hallway wall was smashed into her. She honestly didn't know which was which, and that thought frightened her.
She staggered to her feet, trying to keep her balance. Then she realized the ship was what was having trouble balancing as it rocked back and forth like a cradle, except it was nowhere near as gentle.
"Help!" came Louise's voice from the guest quarters.
Siesta scurried over to the room, trying to counterbalance herself against the airship's rocking. She managed to grab the door handle as the ship listed away from it and turned.
Louise popped into the hallway along with a cold blast of air chilling her. Siesta got tangled up with her and both girls went down.
"Close the door! Close the door!" Louise shouted, eyes completely wild and afraid. Siesta turned her head to see what was going-
She saw night sky. Night sky where there was once a guest quarters.
"What in the Founder's name happened?" Siesta wondered, too stunned and confused by what she was actually looking at.
"I don't know!" Louise cried out. "Just close the door or we'll fall to our deaths!"
That snapped the maid into action, as the ship was listing them towards the door, a dark death awaiting them. She gotten one leg free, then the other, and threw herself towards the swinging door, slamming it shut and sealing away the void of the sky. She panted, her hands and legs shakier than she realized, as the latter gave out on her and the former couldn't be cajoled into doing anything.
"Wh-Where is your fiancé?" Siesta managed to squeak out.
And Louise didn't answer her for a long moment.
"I think I blasted him off the ship," she replied shamefacedly once she did.
The strawberry blonde flinched as if struck. "Don't ask me! I don't what happened either! The moment I saw him-!" She clamped her mouth shut with both hands.
"What in the name of Brimir is going on around here!" the Captain roared, running down the stairs. "I thought we were struck by cannonfire! There's pieces of my ship flying everywhere, and what looks like a giant hole punched through one of the sailing rudders! Where is my Lord!"
Louise hid her burning face. Siesta just pointed at their room.
"I think he fell out of the hole in there..."
The captain stared at her dumbfounded. "What."
The maid just shrugged helplessly.
"Forget it, then!" he huffed. "There's no way we'll be able to continue course with the ship in this state! We'll be lucky if we can get her to back to La Rochelle, presuming we don't crash first!"
"Guh…" Ranma groaned, holding his side. He was lying on his back as the gaping wound in his torso made part of him feel numb. Blood had seeped into the ground, he noticed as he grimaced in pain, forcing himself to roll over onto his uninjured side.
"Bastard…" he growled to himself, Wardes face lighting up in his mind's eye briefly. To think, Louise's fiancé had shamelessly done something like try to kill him at least twice now. What the hell did he ever do to him?
It was sort of strange in a sense, though. If Wardes was here fighting him, then who was with Louise? At last check, he was supposed to be escorting Louise and Siesta to Albion. So, what happened there?
He made to look around, only to realize something was amiss.
Wherever he was, it was not outside of La Rochelle.
Ranma blinked at hearing the frighteningly familiar sound coming from behind him. Letting gravity and inertia take hold, he flopped onto his back - teeth clamped tightly together as he desperately wanted to howl in agony from the rough handling his body just received - to catch sight of the scene unfolding behind him.
In case whoever behind him wanted a piece of him. He'd have to figure out how to handle him in his condition.
Instead, he was treated to a fading image beyond a growing wall of black mist. Long tendrils randomly jutted from said wall and into a pond based before it and close at hand to him, entwining and invading something that resembled…
Well, him when cursed to be a girl, before he came to this weird land of magic and talking swords. Only, he was never quite as translucent as this version of him.
"What the hell is this?" Ranma muttered aloud. It hurt like fire moving, but he forced himself to bear with the pain and sit up, if only because he needed to do something that didn't involve lying down like a flipped-over turtle. When he did force himself up in a semi-sitting position, using his good arm to rigidly keep him erect while he sweated under the imposed strain, the watery face of his old girl side looked down her constricted form at him
"So you are the one that is just as cursed here as before," she said with a rather cheerful expression on her face.
Which made Ranma scowl. Mostly from his lack of understanding the situation. He did feel she was making fun of him, though, smiling like his suffering was part of an act or something.
"No thanks to some stupid water spirit," he grumbled. "What are you, anyway?"
"The stupid water spirit," the girl commented, cheery as always.
Ranma make a slightly embarrassed expression. "Oh… Um… okay?"
"Who's to say?" the water spirit girl spoke, still smiling. "This is the only time I remember the devil's hands upon one of my own, an experience that vexes as it intrigues."
"The devil's hands?" Ranma echoed. "What's that?"
"That which stands before, that which cannot complete itself, that which remains unfulfilled of its purpose."
Ranma blinked. "Mind saying that without the poetry?"
The water spirit girl did not repeat herself s she continued to speak. "Darkness repelled by eldritch concepts, protection of an unknown nature marking its borders. Yet every day it weakens, and you, too will be as this. Caressed by Shaitan's hand."
Now Ranma was hopelessly lost. "What? Huh? The hell are you talking abou-"
A sudden, lancing pain shot through his body again, robbing him of words, then strength, as he flopped onto his back, clutching his wounded body. He screamed soundlessly, desperately trying to shield himself from more pain as he curled upon in a half-fetal position.
"It seems the Darkness has plans for you still," the water spirit girl commented, looking down her body as a stream of ink blackness slithered from the hole in Ranma's body, latching itself onto her form. "Though it yet requires more power beforehand."
Ranma's response was to choke, spittle spilling from his mouth as his limbs flailed about in vain.
"And so it will go until finally the darkness completes itself, reb-"
The rest was lost on Ranma as he blacked out, the searing pain too much for him to take.
"Ranma! What in the name of the Founder happened to you!"
Ranma's eyes flickered open to find a startled, half-frightened Montmorency staring down at his prone form with Guiche beside her, hands open as if trying to calm her down.
"Just a scratch, Monmon," he commented idly, trying to feel his confidence so as to keep the blonde girl from flipping out on his injury. "You should see the other guy."
Sure his wound was nasty as hell, he thought as he stood, but he really didn't want her to freak out over something like that. He had a pretty good idea Monmon didn't take well to crisis. Probably because she had never been exposed to anything more dangerous than-
Wait a minute. Was he standing? Pain-free?
"What other guy? Where did all of this blood come from! And your shirt! Why are there holes on both sides!"
Ranma had to check out what Monmon was freaking out over. Because he might need to join her in the process.
His silk Chinese shirt was matted with blood, making the saturated areas look downright black against the red fabric. There was indeed a hole in his torso. He could feel the exit hole in his back.
Yet underneath the fabric was smooth, unblemished skin.
"Holy shit," Ranma commented dumbly.
"What happened to you!" Montmorency cried out, her wand out as she checked him over. "You've been gone for three hours now! We come looking for you and find you an absolute mess!"
"Three hours?" Ranma repeated before shaking his head abruptly. "Crap! Where's Louise and Siesta?"
"Eh?" Guiche looked from Montmorency to Ranma. "What are you talking about? Did you hit your head? They went to Albion with his Lordship Wardes."
"That's a lie," Ranma snapped. "I was just fighting him here!"
"Wh-what!" Guiche stepped back in shock.
"Yeah, that masked guy? I busted the mask and it turned out to be him behind it!"
The Gramont son stared at Ranma for a moment in stunned silence before laughing. "Don't be absurd! His Lordship, the masked assailant? Preposterous! He couldn't be here and with Louise and Siesta!"
"He could with very powerful wind magic," Derflinger commented as he was left lying on the ground.
Ranma ignored Guiche as he went over to the fallen sword. "Wind magic?"
"There is a wind spell that can create duplicates of the user, Partner."
Ranma looked up in horror. "He can duplicate himself?"
"I… don't know anything about that…" Guiche spoke, the sudden possibility of Wardes being a traitor now unnerving him.
"He can," Derflinger noted. "I took it in myself. Though the name seems to escape me, I seem to recall it being able to recreate the user down to the same magical strength as the original. Now, what was that spell's name…?"
"Ubiquitous Dell Wind," Tabitha supplied as she strolled up to the trio-plus-a-talking-sword, a book in hand.
"Ah, that sounds about right," Derflinger commented.
"Who cares!" Ranma shouted. "It just means we've gotta go find Louise and deal with that ass Wardes before he does something to her!"
"Or the mission," Guiche spoke in growing horror as the pieces fell into place and painted a grisly picture. "If he's a member of the rebellion in Albion, then our kingdom will be doomed!"
"Right!" Ranma nodded quickly then turned to Tabitha. "Tabby! We're gonna need to get up there!"
She shook her head, a slight crease of color on her cheeks. "No need," the small quiet girl spoke as she pointed back towards the town. "Airship returned."
"Huh?" Ranma's brows knitted together. "How do you know that's the one Louise rode out on?"
"Damaged ship," Tabitha spoke. "Large hole."
Ranma closed his mouth and folded his arms. "Huh," he replied, nonplussed.
"That sounds like her," Montmorency commented.
"I agree," Guiche chimed in, nodding sagely. "I hope no one was in the path of whatever magic she tried to use."
Somewhere in the ocean, a nearly-drowned Wardes drifted alone, clutching onto a piece of broken hull from the airship. His body had taken a severe beating, ribs burning like fire was running though his marrow - whether from the explosion itself, being blasted forcefully through the hull of a ship or surviving a fall with only a half-casted shield of wind made in haste, he wasn't certain. His wand, he had no idea what became of it, either, having only regained consciousness while seconds away from a certain death. His familiar, probably still tethered to the airship, uselessly out of reach. And Brimir only knew what was brushing up against his leg in the cold, dark waters.
"Plan B it is, then," he muttered beneath the blanket of stars and clouds. "Plan B it is…"
He was going to kill Louise and that Gandalfr if it was the last thing he ever did.