Chapter 1

DISCLAIMER: I Don't own Ranma ½, Sailor Moon or Suikoden or any of their characters. All rights go to their respective owners forthwith.

Strider grimaced as his stomach rumbled, pulling him away from the computer screen abruptly. Rubbing the offending area he nodded to himself and stood up.

"Damn I'm hungry," he yawned tiredly and looked out the nearby window at the blue sky above. "Nice day out. Might as well go out and get something to eat. Maybe those cookies I saw yesterday from that shop?" Stretching for a moment and making sure that he had saved the story he was reading, the tall boy slipped his feet into his favourite trainers and checked the back door.

"Locked. Good. Now to get some food!" Grinning, he went to the front door, pausing only to throw on his favourite black leather trenchcoat. "Like I give if it's warm outside," he muttered to himself as he locked the front door. "If it looks good, I'll wear it!" Adjusting the coat slightly, he dropped his keys into his pocket and jogged into town.

Thank God it's only five minutes away! He thought wryly. I am so out of shape…

Within a few minutes he stood in front of the Cookie shop, surveying the selection and attempting to keep from drooling.

"Three White Chocolate and two Triple Chocolate please!" the man behind the counter grinned slightly and handed over the paper bag of the delicious confections.

"Got a sweet tooth eh?" He joked. Strider grinned and nodded.

"It's one of my many weaknesses!" He pointed out several fillings to the vendor, who whistled.

"Better watch what you're eating then!" Strider shrugged noncommittally.

"Probably." So saying he made his way out of the store and began leisurely walking home, munching on a white chocolate cookie thoughtfully. Five minutes later he came to a rather uneventful conclusion.

"My life sucks," he muttered sourly. I ain't got a job, I live at home with my mother, I live in front of my PC and I'm lazy. What a sucky life. He thought. "Wish my life were more interesting," he mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. Approximately 8.97seconds later, the loud screeching of tires, shattering glass and tortured metal alerted him to the fact that life was definitely going to become more interesting. Dreading what he would see, and hearing the sound of tortured metal coming rapidly closer, and against all of his instincts, he turned around and watched as a large overturned petrol tanker slid towards him at an alarming rate. A quick glance told him that even if he dived he would still be crushed.

Strider regarded the approaching tanker balefully.

"Typical," he stated flatly, as the leaking petrol from the tanker washed his trainers lightly. The tanker then decided to blow up, fifteen feet from where he stood, and lighting the spilled petrol.

My life sucks. He thought dryly. Despite his imminent death, he found the situation rather amusing, in a sadistic sort of way. Just as the flames engulfed his static form, he thought back to an oft-repeated quote: "Be careful what you wish for…"

Then the world became white and full of pain.

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Ranma scowled at the swiftly flowing water underneath the bridge. Tossing a pebble into it, he watched as the ripples it created vanished as rapidly as they had appeared.

"Stupid Uncute Tomboy," he growled, nursing a large bump on his head. "She didn't have to mallet me again! I didn't do nothin' either. Stupid Pig, it was all his fault!" He grunted a sigh and leaned on his elbows to stare up at the underbelly of the bridge above.

"Everybody always blames me for everythin' that happens! As if it's my fault! Damn…And stupid Pops and Mr. Tendo don't do nuthin' about it either! Stupid Panda…" Abandoning his thoughtless rambling, Ranma sat back up and reacquainted himself with the intricacies of the canal water.

"I just wish…I just wish that everyone would stop blamin' me for everythin'…" He muttered.

"Granted!!" Chimed a voice, sounding delightfully pleased with itself. Ranma scrambled to his feet and looked at the intruder, to find himself face to face with a coal black cat, an insufferable grin on its face.

"C-c-c-cat!" the pig-tailed boy shrieked. Before he coulld do anymore, the cat flicked its tail and the young martial artist vanished in a flash of light.

"Sorry kid, not gonna happen in this world. Go someplace else!" Chuckling to himself, and wanting to watch the action from the start, Toltiir walked into the shadows and disappeared.

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Setsuna regarded her future self with a degree of scepticism, but held her peace. She had learned that if she was ever told something, she should listen. The last time she didn't caused the Hiroshima bombing. She didn't want to make a mistake like that again.

"So you're saying I'm going to undergo a trial?" she queried. Her future self pursed her lips thoughtfully.

"Not quite. A trying time. Just remember that as I stand before you now, you can get through it. How you do so is up to you."

"Can you give me anything else?" she asked, frowning slightly. The older Pluto smirked slightly and shook her head.

"Good luck." With those parting words, she vanished, leaving the Guardian of Time stewing.

"Now I know how the others feel," she groused as she peered into the gates of time trying to divine anything on this "trying time" she was to undergo. A few minutes into her idle perusal, she spotted something that caused her a rather large degree of alarm.

Travelling along the timestream, and directly to her current location, was a huge wave of temporal flux. With only a scant few seconds to spare, Setsuna gripped her staff tightly and clicked her heels together.

"There's no place like home, there's no place like home…" opening her eyes, she swallowed as the temporal wave converged on her location.

"It was worth a try…" she whispered, bracing herself for the coming storm. "This is going to hurt…"

She wasn't disappointed.

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Feeling the most intense headache ever in his young life, Strider grit his teeth and sat up onto his elbows. Immediately he collapsed again, curling up into a foetal ball, his hands clasping his throbbing head.

"Augh that hurt!" he croaked. Finally working up the courage, he sat up gingerly, his eyes slitted to cut out the amount of light that he was certain would sear his eyeballs. After groaning and rocking gently for another few minutes, he noticed his surroundings.

"Okaaaaay…not a hospital." Indeed, rather it was a minuscule clearing surrounded by tall oak trees. "Most definitely not a hospital." Blinking rapidly and attempting to ignore the roaring in his ears, the young man looked down at himself. "I'm not dead…bonus!" He blinked again and looked about. "No idea where the hell I am…bummer."

Slowly he dragged himself to a kneeling position and looked about. He paused as his eyes rested on a familiar white paper bag and smiled sardonically.

"At least I got food. Better work out where I am before I eat it all." Grunting, he managed to stand up and retrieve the tasty biscuits before drawing a deep breath.

Okay…he thought, which way now? Looking right and left, he shrugged, picked one at random and began to walk.

Eighteen minutes later he emerged from the small copse of trees and froze.

In every direction stretched miles and miles of grassland right to the horizon. Strider chuckled softly and shook his head.

"My life sucks," he stated, before looking about again. If I choose the place where there's the most growth, I'll probably come across some water. It's the best bet I've got, so I better get moving. So thinking, he began to move, walking in ground-eating strides with his long legs. Heh…these things finally come in useful! He mused, glancing at his legs. With a shrug, he tucked the remaining four cookies into the largest of his pockets and carried on towards the lushest area of the grasses that he could see.

I'd better ration myself. Besides grass, there doesn't look like there's a lot to eat out here. Hope I'll find something before I starve. Hell, I better hope I find water before I die of thirst! Squinting up at the blue sky, he guessed by the vague area of the sun that it was around 11:00am. He had the whole day.

"Wonderful," he muttered sourly as he trudged forward, now wishing he had worn anything other than black.

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Setsuna groaned as she flopped onto her stomach, then abruptly decided that was a bad idea as the specified part of her biology decided it wanted to repel its contents. With a desperate heave, she brought herself to her hands and knees in time to vomit on the nearest bush.

Bush!?!? Wiping the vomit from her mouth, she peered around her apprehensively and assessed her surroundings.

Grass. Trees. Bushes. And more grass. She looked down. And some dirt, too.

Oh shit. What happened? Frantically she backtracked the days activities and came up with one big blank. The only thing she knew was that she felt sick to her stomach and wanted to throw up again. She didn't bother to resist, redecorating the bush once again in lewd orange and yellow chunks.

Rubbing her head after cleaning herself up slightly, Setsuna staggered to her feet and cast about for her staff. She blinked as she came to a rather unnerving discovery. It was nowhere about. She tried to summon it.

Nothing.

Swallowing, she attempted to summon her henshin stick after realising she was back in civilian guise.

Nothing there either.

Taking a shaky breath, she licked her suddenly dry lips and reached out with her time senses for the Gates of Time. She stifled the urge to shriek hysterically and soothed herself by wringing her hands softly.

It's okay…it's okay. There's nothing to worry about. The others will soon realise I'm missing and will search for Silver Millennium Energy. Then they'll find me. Easy. I just have to wait. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she recalled how she had failed to detect the Gates of Time or summon her henshin stick. That meant she was cut off from her planet. And there was no way to do that short of destroying the planet itself. The green haired woman calmed her rapid breathing with an effort of will and thought out the problem logically.

Okay…I can't summon my henshin stick, I can't detect the gates of time either. The Gates are housed on Pluto. Pluto has not been destroyed. I would have known if it was. I would probably have been killed at the same time from magic backlash. So what else could there be? Either I'm too far away from Pluto for the bond to work or… she paused and swallowed as a rather unpleasant fact made itself loudly known by a large amount of *WARNING! BAD THING!* signs that she had plastered all over it. Either she was too far away from the solar system, or…she wasn't in the same dimension. Both were bad things as far as she was concerned, but if it were the latter that was true, she had better hope that the place that she was in had dimensional travel. Or else she would never get home. Ever.

Sometimes being as old as she was and being able to work out vastly complex problems sucked dirt.

"By the gods, this can't be happening to me!" she whispered fiercely. If only she could remember how she got here! Then she could work out how to get back! In an attempt to calm her nerves, she took a pace forwards and fell flat on her face. Smothering the impulse to curse, she twisted her head around and found the cause of her impromptu flight.

Her high heels.

The small heels of the expensive pair she was wearing had sank into the soft earth that she stood on, and as far as she could tell the rest of the ground was just as soft and springy.

Deciding it couldn't hurt, Setsuna let rip.

"Fucking hell!" she swore as she pulled her stockinged feet free and stood up. Despite a lot of patience that she had gathered after her few thousand-year lifetime, even Setsuna had her limits. Especially after finding you were reduced to the same levels as a normal person. To her, it was like being a fish out of water. With a groan, she realised that without the protection of the Gates of Time, she would begin to age just like a normal person.

"Life sucks," she snarled as she snatched the offending footwear from the ground. Grinding her teeth, Setsuna looked about her and chose a random direction. With a grunt of irritation, she began to walk, stepping over tree roots and dead twigs.

My feet are going to kill me, she thought abysmally.

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Ranma flailed wildly as he appeared six feet off of the ground, completely startled out of his wits and upside down.

"Urk!" With a thud and a desperate twist he avoided landing on his head and managed his lower back instead. Springing back to his feet he glared about himself suspiciously before blowing the air out of his cheeks loudly.

"Heh, be careful what you wish for," he muttered. Looking about, he deduced he was no longer in Tokyo. For one thing, Tokyo didn't have oak trees as far as he knew. With a shrug, he jumped into the branches of a particularly large-looking tree and bounded to the top.

Poking his head out of the treetops, he panned his view around himself. After turning nearly 270 degrees, he spotted a fair-sized town in the far distance.

"Probably take me most of the day ta get there," he mused to himself. On the whole, he wasn't that upset with the situation, aside from the fact it was apparently created by a cat. He shivered at the thought and returned to ground level. If worse came to worse, he would be completely free of his fiancees, his stupid father and a whole host of rivals. His smile at the thought dimmed a bit when he thought of his mother and Kasumi – the two bright spots in his life. Surprisingly, he didn't even spare a thought for Akane, aside from the usual 'uncute tomboy' label.

With a jaunty smile, he set off walking for the town, noting idly it was around 3:45 in the afternoon by the sun. Which meant he would probably reach the place by nightfall. He hoped they were friendly and not adverse to someone paying by manual labour. After all, hadn't he had to do the same thing when his pops had skipped on a bill and left him behind?

He may not have liked it, but if he had to do it to get food and shelter, there was nothing more to it than that.

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Glaring balefully at the sun in the sky, Strider wiped his brow with the back of his wrist to rid himself of some of the sweat. Swallowing thickly he prayed he would find some water soon, not to mention somewhere to bathe!

God I stink, he thought glumly as he flapped the collar of his black T-shirt, the trenchcoat being slung over his shoulder. He growled slightly as, yet again, a lock of his long brown fringe intruded into his eye.

"Bloody hell!" he muttered, flicking the offending piece of hair out of his eye. He paused in his walking to survey the area, and noted that on the next hill a large and fairly dense copse of trees resided. "I hope trees like water," he murmured and set off in their direction.

He was only half way there when from the treeline stumbled a slightly wild-haired woman wearing a smart business suit and carrying a pair of high-heels. He noted that she was barefoot, and her stockinged feet were scratched and, he would hazard a guess, blistered.

As he drew closer. Other details began to stand out about the woman, who was also moving with a determined, if not pained, stride in his direction.

"Green hair!?!?" he muttered to himself, as his lip twitched into an amused smirk. He attempted to wipe it off his face with what he guessed as little success, for when the woman drew a little closer her determined look melted into a scowl. He stopped walking to allow her to come forward, and took the spare time to observe.

She wore a smart grey business suit with matching skirt, which he dared to say was shockingly short, and a pure white blouse. Due to the heat and her obvious exertion, the sweat allowed him to note that she also wore a lacey white bra.

Nice, he thought silently before bringing his gaze up to her face. It wouldn't do to offend on your first meeting would it? She was rapidly drawing closer now, and more than a little irate from the look on her face. Hope she didn't catch me ogling her. Strider thought wryly as he studied her face.

She was Asian, of that there was no doubt, with jade hair, high cheekbones, full pink lips and…Strider blinked. Red eyes? That was something you didn't see everyday. He guessed she was wearing contacts. She also wore two simple gold and ruby studded earrings and a simple gold chain around her neck. Trying to place her age he gave up and merely dubbed her as 'early to late twenties.'

His study was interrupted when the woman spoke, and if he could hazard a guess, he would have said it was Japanese. He blinked and quirked a questioning eyebrow in response.

"Pardon?"

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Setsuna cursed for the hundredth time as she stepped on a sharp twig, making her hobble for a few dozen feet until the pain died down to more acceptable levels and she could walk – or limp – on it again.

"Stupid forest," she growled as she gingerly applied pressure on her blistered and wounded foot. Stopping for a moment, she leaned against the bole of a tree and let her head rock backwards.

"This has to be the second most shitty day in my life," she observed to no one in particular. The first being the fall of the Silver Millennium of course. With a resigned sigh, she pushed herself upright and began to walk forward again when she caught sight of something that she had hoped for for a large amount of the time that she had spent in the blasted forest. _Open space_

"Yes!" She crowed under her breath and limped toward the patch of light that signalled an end to her torture. Much to her combined horror and desolation, the forest only opened up to grassland. Lots of grassland. And that meant walking. She felt like crying at that particular point until she spotted a figure walking towards her. Blinking, she hobbled forward.

Maybe he has some food? I hope he can help me. If he doesn't, I'll kick his ass. She thought fiercely. Half way to meeting him, he stopped walking and tilted his head to regard her.

That asshole! Can't he see my feet are hurt? And what does he do? He stands there and watches me! He's even smiling! Setsuna's tentative smile had by now transformed itself into an angry scowl at the figure's obvious nonchalance for her plight. As she neared, she studied him, her scowl still firmly in position.

He was taller than she, maybe by only an inch or two, but still taller. Quite thin too, if the thickness – or lack thereof – of his arms was any indication. Dark brown hair shot occasionally with gold was cut short around most of his head save for the fringe, which jutted forward in an almost horizontal manner in a slightly claw-like shape. Fairly thick eyebrows crowned slightly feminine green eyes that shone with amusement and curiosity above lips stretched tight with the effort of suppressing a smirk – poorly, Setsuna thought – and framed by a moustache and goatee the same colour as his hair. He wore tight black jeans that were belted by a stylised silver buckle of a dragon in flight and a plain black T-shirt with black socks and Reebok trainers. A black leather trenchcoat dangled over his shoulder, hooked on two fingers from his left hand. His right bore a single gold signet ring on his ring finger and he wore a stylish pendant on a beaded metal chain. She guessed his age at the late teens.

At this point she noted that he was ogling her sweat-soaked chest as she drew nearer and glared silent death at him until she could get closer.

When she was finally close enough, she paused to get good enough breath and glared angrily up at him.

"Are you finished staring at me?" she snapped, finally having run out of patience. The young man blinked quizzically and raised an eyebrow before he spoke.

"Pardon?" He asked in English. Setsuna marked a slight rural accent with definite British overtones. Switching to English, she restated her earlier question, adding a glare for good measure. The young man grimaced and ran his free hand through his hair.

"Sorry," he apologised, "didn't mean to stare at you." Setsuna wasn't impressed by his apology, even though he had maintained a steady eye contact to convey his message.

"Oh?" she pronounced archly. "You were staring at the rest of me blatantly enough!" he shrugged and, rather than deny it, nodded.


"True enough. Sorry about that too." The green haired woman blinked, having not expected this response. He smirked faintly and brought his right hand back up for a handshake. "My name's Strider. What's yours?"

Feeling slightly out of her depth, not being used to friendly introductions. Glancing down at the hand, she clasped it and let go.

"Setsuna Meiou." Strider nodded and squared his shoulders with an audible click.

"A'ight. Where are you from? Doesn't look like anywhere around here to me. 'specially with those high heels, right?" Setsuna pursed her lips thoughtfully as she inspected him a second time and debated what to tell him.

"No. I'm not from around here. Are you?" The youth broke out into a grin and chuckled.

"Do I look like it? You've gotta be kiddin' me. I woke up about half a day ago in a copse of trees not unlike this one here. Though mine was a good deal smaller too," he added. Setsuna sighed in disappointment and pondered her next move. After a moment she was sharply reminded that her next move was to get the weight off of her aching feet. With a soft hiss she sat down on the long grass and reached down to inspect the soles. As she had predicted they were broken, cracked, blistered and raw, and they hurt like hell on top of all of that. She looked up as Strider dropped down into a crouch just beyond her feet and whistled softly.

"That's gotta hurt," he stated, looking up for confirmation. Setsuna fixed him with a dry look.

"Yes. It does. A lot." She stated flatly. He smirked faintly and eyed her heels that she had dropped by her hip.

"Those the only shoes you got?" he asked. Setsuna nodded and he grimaced.

"Wonderful. I don't suppose you saw any water did you? Please say yes." Setsuna grasped the implications of his question and shook her head with a responding grimace. Strider rolled his eyes heavenwards before speaking.

"Joy," he muttered sarcastically. Blowing the air out of his cheeks he shrugged and peered down at her feet. "Gimme those," he commanded and picked up one of the tender limbs. She hissed softly as his thumbs gently worked into the least damaged areas in an attempt to relieve some pain. "That feel any better?" he asked, still concentrating on her foot. She grunted an assent softly.

"Why are you doing that?" she murmured when he stopped to switch feet. He paused and looked at her curiously.

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked simply. Vaguely nonplussed at his rejoining question, Setsuna thought for a moment.

"You might have offended me," she pointed out. Strider paused and looked up from under his eyebrows, a smirk on his lips.

"Then I would have stopped, said sorry and done something else. 'Sides, it's not very nice to simply ignore someone if they are in pain." Setsuna quirked an eyebrow.

"You did that well enough before we spoke." The taller boy blushed slightly and smirked to himself.

"True, I was too busy 'ogling' you, remember?" He grinned up at her. A wry smile twisted her lips at his response before she turned her attention to their surroundings. "So," Strider spoke up from her feet as he put her left down, "where do you think we should go now?"

"We?" She pointed out. He smirked again and tapped the pocket that contained the cookies.

"I've got food, remember? Not much good without water, and it won't last too long with two of us, but I can't just leave you here. 'Specially with your feet no?" Setsuna had to grudgingly admit he had a point. She wouldn't be going anywhere with her feet as they were, and without foot and water, she was as good as dead.

"All right, you have a point. Where were you going before you met me?" Strider tipped backwards until he landed softly on his rump and crossed his legs. He glanced a ways to the left of the treeline and gestured in the same direction.

"That way. I thought there might be water seeing as the foliage looks lusher there." Setsuna glanced over her shoulder in the direction indicated, but saw nothing unusual other than more grass.

"It may be our best shot. I would guess that it's perhaps ten to fifteen miles away. Do you think we can make it by sundown?" The brown haired boy shrugged noncommittally and rose to his feet.

"One way to find out, no?" He glanced at her feet again and grunted to himself. "Guess I'm gonna have to carry you." The green haired woman looked him up and down sceptically and he frowned. "Hey, cut it out. It's the best chance we've got. Unless you want to limp all the way?" Setsuna glanced at her feet for a moment then over her shoulder. After a moment she flattened her lips at turned back to her companion.

"I don't have any choice," she stated flatly. Strider snorted as he re-crouched down in front of the green haired woman.

"Everyone has a choice, Setsuna. Even when it seems there's no choice at all. Now, are you ready?" Feeling a pair of arms slip around his neck, he reached down and gathered the older woman's legs up into a comfortable position before taking a deep breath and standing up. "Bloody hell," he muttered as he staggered forward. After a moment's teetering off balance, he managed to stand without weaving and bobbing all over the place.

"Perhaps I should have walked after all. It might have been safer," Setsuna remarked dryly. Strider scowled into empty space.

"Oh shut up," he muttered as he set off in his previous direction, this time at a much slower pace. On his back Setsuna, former senshi and guardian of the Gates of Time, thought about what she was going to do now. Especially as her very survival was hanging by a hairsbreadth, depending completely on their success in finding drinkable water. And there was also the niggling doubt that she was forgetting something, if only she could remember what it was.

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Ranma grinned as he relaxed in the inn and stared at the ceiling. When he arrived in this "Rikon" and found some soldier-type guy threatening a barmaid if she didn't co-operate and acted, the owner was so grateful that he gave him room and board for free! As far as Ranma was concerned, life was good.

He even got to have a light workout! True the guy was even more pathetic than Kuno and was slower than a rock, but at least he got to perform some of his sword-disarming manoeuvres.

Surprisingly, he learned that the locals spoke English and was, for once, thankful that his stupid father had dragged him to a few places that spoke the language. He wasn't fluent in it. Yet. It would only be a short time of hearing it often until he could speak it as well as his native Japanese. He could already speak three dialects of Mandarin and Cantonese like he had been speaking it all his life. It was amazing what you could learn on the road.

He hated it that people thought he was stupid. Sure, he sucked at maths, but what use was it to a martial artist? History he could understand, it was good for tactics. Languages he didn't need to bother with, all he had to do was go to the place and listen for a bit to learn how to speak it. Who needed to know how to ask, "where is the toilet?" in a dozen languages anyway? All you had to do was read the stupid signs that they put out. Science was good for scientists he supposed, and maybe for martial artists like Ukyou who used some explosives in their art, but why would he need it? All he needed to do was use a Ki blast. Phys. Ed. He could understand. That was stunningly obvious. You had to keep in shape after all.

Just before he drifted off to sleep, Ranma wondered how Kasumi and his mother were doing.

Hope they're okay, he mused idly to himself as his eyes slid shut and he plunged into a dreamless sleep.

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Strider walked mindlessly along, hardly even noticing Setsuna's weight on his back any longer. After the first twenty minutes he had to strain to keep upright, but within another half an hour most of his body had become mercifully numb and he had simply shut off anything unnecessary to walking. By an idle count, he would guess that he had been walking for nearly two hours now, and had perhaps covered five miles. It would be dark soon, and he would have descended into a new level of hell.

He was shaken from his mindlessness by a solid hit to the back of his skull.

"Ow! What was that for!?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder. Setsuna regarded him with a level look.

"We have company. Are you any good at fighting?" Strider blinked and looked about. He quickly spotted what she meant, approaching from the direction they were heading towards were, for lack of a better term, giant ants. Five of them and each one about four foot high and carrying a spear and wearing a sort of helmet.

"I have no idea. I've never tried. I took some basic judo and boxing classes a while ago, but I would hazard a guess that I suck ass." Next to his ear Setsuna made a soft sound that sounded suspiciously like a groan. "What? Guess I'm gonna have to find out if I'm any good. Here's hoping no?" So saying he placed her gently on the long grass and straightened up stiffly. "Don't think I got good odds though. I'm sore, exhausted, hungry and thirsty as all hell. Plus I'm a bit of a runt, to be honest."

"Why don't you off yourself before you let them do it?" Setsuna muttered. Strider looked over his shoulder at her and chuckled.

"Never know until you try right? Here's hoping!"

As the giant ants approached, Strider dropped into a loose boxing stance and began to bob, weaving vaguely left and right on his feet as if he were slightly dizzy. As the ants came closer, he moved forward, dodged the first thrust of a spear and backhanded the and across the base of the neck with a knife-hand. With a sickening crack, the ant's head jerked backwards and flopped about uselessly. The body continued on for a few moments before dropping dead to the ground.

With a jaunty smile on his face, Strider dodge sideways just in time to avoid having his knee taken off by a spear and repeated the motion, this time with his foot to the chin of one of the ants. Afterwards he cursed and hopped for a moment, holding his toe.

"Bloody things are harder than goddamn concrete!" he yelled. The third time was not so lucky as he caught a jab on the upper thigh, causing him to stumble slightly. With a loud oath, he snatched the spear from one of the nearby creatures and shoved it down the open mandibles of his attacker.

"Take that you bastard!" He scrambled to his feet as the remaining two creatures decided to attempt to spit him simultaneously, ending up stabbing the recently evicted space. Clutching his wounded thigh, Strider snarled angrily and span, bringing the wickedly pointed end of the spear up and around like a golf-club swing, embedding it into the left one's neck and continuing the movement without the haft, leaving it in the twitching creature. The last remaining one stabbed forward with an angry chitter, aiming this time for the mid-waist. However, following his spin, Strider knocked it away and grabbed the ant's head by the sides, swinging around and straddling its back.

"Goodnight!" he snarled and twisted sharply. Another audible crack and the creature dropped like a sack of potatoes.

Panting heavily, Strider wobbled to his feet and looked about. With a slightly puzzled look he bent down and picked up a small sack and peered inside before turning around and regarding Setsuna levelly.

"Do monsters normally run around with sacks of money and medicine?" Blinking, the older woman shook her head mutely, having been too thirsty to answer without her voice cracking. Clearing his throat, Strider nodded and pulled out of the sack six small vials and inspected them. He sniggered when he read the label on it and looked at her again.

"Why does it say 'medicine' then?" Chuckling to himself, he shrugged again and downed the contents of one of the bottles. Before she could say anything, he straightened up and looked at her with a mildly surprised expression.

With his normal voice, not sounding at all as if he were exceedingly thirsty, he spoke.

"I'd say it works pretty well to be honest. See?" He turned around and showed her the rip in his jeans was now merely an open tear showing clean skin beneath it – not a trace of a wound in sight.

"Want some?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. When she nodded, he tossed her a vial and moved towards her easily, glancing about the surrounding countryside idly.

"Cures your thirst too. Bet it doesn't last too long though. I got three waterskins from those things too, and they're full, so I'd guess we were close to water."

After downing the potion, Setsuna stood up on her repaired feet.


"We had best get a move on then, hadn't we?" she stated. Rolling his eyes to himself, Strider shrugged and followed, his long legs easily keeping pace beside the willowy jade haired beauty.

After twenty minutes of companionable silence, they crested a hill and found themselves looking down at a moderate sized river. Glancing sideways, Strider grinned sarcastically.

"Last one in is a rotten egg!" he crowed as he sprinted down the hill, shedding his coat, T-shirt, socks and trainers at the edge. Facing towards her, he grinned and launched himself into the water, making a large splash as he submerged himself. Setsuna rolled her eyes faintly before strolling sedately down to the water to cool her feet as she watched the sun set.

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End Chapter 1

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