Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon or Suikoden. All rights go to their respective owners forthwith.
Strider groaned as
he gazed intently at the stars.
I'm stranded on a strange world, with no Sailor powers, no immortality, no ability to judge the future. And I have a perverted teenager for a companion, she added ruefully. Having slept for two hours, Strider had awoken not too long ago to find her sitting nearby. Setsuna wondered whether to be insulted or pleased that she was getting so much attention as his eyes immediately tracked down to the swell of her bosom. A steely glare had earned a sheepish look before he lay down on his back and watched the stars that had appeared overhead.
The walk to the mountain
had taken nearly two hours, much to Strider's consternation and Setsuna's
silent irritation. She had had to use another potion to repair her slightly
blistered feet, and wasn't too happy at the state her stockings were in
- they had been expensive.
"What do you think we should do?" Strider asked suddenly.
"Hmm?" Setsuna murmured, breaking her gaze from the fire and looking at the youth. The tall teen rolled over slightly and propped his head on his right elbow to face her, a serious look on his face.
"What are we
going to do in this place?" He repeated in more detail. "I'm
not going to lower myself to becoming a beggar. We need to get some sort
of jobs to get money." The green-haired woman smirked slightly and
rooted in the pockets of her suit for a moment before pulling out several
pouches that clinked metallically. Opening one, she waved a single gold
coin about with a smile. Strider blinked and peered at the coin from his
position before lying back down on his back again.
"Need any help with anything?" Strider asked as he propped himself up on his elbows. Pausing slightly, Ranma looked thoughtful and glanced about before indicating a small pile of roots and a dagger laid next to it.
"Sure, if ya want. Just slice some o' them. I got a pot somewhere in my pack." Strider glanced at the roots silently, then back at Ranma.
"That's nice. So who volunteers to walk for two hours to get some water?" He said cheerfully. Ranma paused and slapped herself in the face.
"Aw, damn. It's been a while since I was out in the wild with my old man. I'm a little rusty," the redhead frowned at that, muttering under her breath about macho women. Strider snorted faintly and went over to the pile anyway.
"Ranma, there anything we can eat without cooking it? It's not gonna great, but I doubt we have anything else to go with those," he indicated the pheasants Ranma was midway through plucking. Pausing slightly, the redhead nodded and pointed to the longer, thinner roots.
"Yeah, those ones there, we can chew on 'em. They'll taste like junk, but at least they're good for us, I s'ppose." From her position over by the rock, Setsuna smirked.
"The things that are best for you always taste like 'junk,' as you say, Ranma," she said. The redhead eyed her for a moment before smirking ruefully.
"Ya? Say that to Akane's cookin' then. It tastes bad and could eat away a steel pan in about five minutes. Nasty stuff, that," she added helpfully as she finished plucking the fowl. Glancing at the dagger she had acquired, she pointed at it silently and caught it easily when Strider gently tossed it at her.
"So, what's your story?" Strider asked, idly peeling the roots and trying without success to prevent the dirt already clinging to the surface from reaching the exposed innards. Ranma paused for a moment, wondering just how to twist her story to make it more plausible.
"Uh well, I travelled a lot with my old man when I was a kid, only settled down in the last year or so at his buddy's house. Got engaged to one of his...uh..."
Damn, how do I put this?
"Wait, wait," Setsuna interrupted, leaning forward from the rock and resting her hands on the ground. "His daughters!? That's most defenitely not legal," she stated.
"I don't see why not," Strider muttered. "What's wrong with two members of the same sex getting married, as long as they love each other?" Ranma stared at the dark-clothed older youth for a moment, blinking dumbly.
I've lived there for about a year or so. Kinda weird that place. Lotsa
Martial Artists around the place. The town's crawlin' with them,"
She said, scowling at the innocent pheasant in her hands, completely ignoring
the giblets she held in her left hand. "I hated the place, really,
but I had to stay around - family honour an' all that," she explained.
Strider chose to remain silent, content with simply staring at her with
a bemused look plastered across his face. Blinking at the cooling entrails
held in her hand, Ranma made a face and cast aside the useless portions,
carefully placing the heart and liver on a fairly large leaf she had found
nearby. Wiping her hands on the grass, Ranma scratched the base of her
"Did you say...talking cat?" Setsuna interrupted again, looking vaguely hopeful. Ranma, slightly annoyed at being interrupted again, shrugged.
"Yeah? So?" She asked, stuffing a few herbs into the chest cavity of the first bird. Setsuna licked her lips, sitting slightly straighter in eagerness, completely ignoring the odd look send her way by Strider, who shrugged at being ignored and nibbled on one of the roots he had peeled.
"What did it look like?" The viridian-haired woman asked. Ranma shrugged, a slight smile tugging at her lips as Strider made a face like he had just bitten into a lemon and dropped the root.
"Black," she stated simply. The ex-senshi blinked.
"Yup," Ranma said. Setsuna frowned slightly.
"What did it say?" She tried again. Ranma huffed slightly, irritated at having to remember the girlish shriek he had emitted at the time.
"I just made a dumb wish, and it said 'Granted' or somethin' like that, then I appeared here." The older woman looked disappointed, and sat back.
"Oh," she murmured.
"You were right, Ranma," Strider chipped in. "These do taste like crap," he stated. Ranma smirked and spitted one of the pheasants, picking up the next quickly.
Strider yawned widely
as he woke up, scratched himself, then examined his surroundings.
He blinked for a moment,
then retraced his sight over to the sleeping form of his original companion.
He checked. Yes, she *was* drooling. He grinned silently and cast about
with his eyes. After a moment, he found a slightly stunted stick that
would serve its purpose. After another moment, one of the stray feathers
from last night had been jammed into the split end.
"AAACHOO!!!!!!" Setsuna blinked blearily about herself in confusion, which quickly evaporated upon seeing the sniggering form of Strider leaning against a rock two feet away, a stick held in his hand. It took her a moment to work out that the tickling in her nose was from a small feather that had been lodged there. She had no allusions as to whom had helped it attain it's current position. Growling softly, she bent down and hefted a rock.
"Hey, wait a second, here..." Strider protested, a nervous smile writhing under his moustache.
"Kindly dry up and die," Setsuna said sweetly as she hefted the rock and threw it, the small projectile arcing gracefully and smacking meatily on the tall youth's forehead.
"Augh," Strider muttered from where he had fallen, a livid bruise swelling up in the middle of his forehead.
"Serves you right," Setsuna stated, primly rearranging her suit to the best of her ability. Sitting up, the brunette glared sullenly before rising to his feet and glancing about. Spotting Ranma a short distance down the slope, he jogged toward her quickly.
"What'cha looking at?" He queried. Lifting a hand, Ranma pointed to the city in the distance.
"The city," she explained. "It don't look that far away, but it'll probably take us most of the day to get there." Nodding, Strider stretched and yawned a bit more before glancing to his companion.
"I guess we should
pack up what we need then, right?" He asked. Seeing Ranma's confirming
nod, he returned to the camp and began to pack up as much as he could.
Soon he was joined by the petite redhead and together the two of them
completed the packing up within minutes.
get there by this afternoon. If not, we might have to camp out in the
open, which isn't my best choice, so the faster we move, the more chance
we got of staying in an inn for the night." She stretched easily,
shivering in the cool air of the mountain slightly. "I'd rather sleep
in a bed than on the ground, don't ya think?" Strider nodded, apparently
amused by something, while Setsuna shot the taller boy a dark look.
"Remind me never to listen to you again," Strider muttered wryly as Setsuna wrapped several layers of gauze around his forehead. The large red stain near the right temple attested to its necessity. Ranma gave an apologetic smile from where she sat on top of the ant corpse, several small rips and tears in her clothing from the fight a few minutes earlier.
"Sorry," she muttered, bending down to dig through the backpack at her feet. Waving it off, the taller boy shrugged.
"It's OK, I should have expected something like that to happen," he said. Finally, Setsuna sat back on her haunches.
"Done," she said, double-checking the tightness of the bandages to make sure everything was in place.
"Thanks," Strider murmured with a grin. Shrugging, the willowy woman stood and walked over to another corpse, stooping to loot it of the small bag of coins it was sure to have. A moment later, she stood up, several coins richer.
"We should get going," Ranma stated, glancing up at the sun carefully. "It's only a couple of hours until it's too dark to walk safely anymore." Nodding, the other two stood, Strider stooping to pick up another spear quickly.
"Just in case," he stated at Ranma's inquiring look. Nodding, the redhead set off in the direction of the city, now much closer than it had been before.
"I hate the rain," Ranma groused, her ruby bangs obstructing her view. Flicking them out of the way for the hundredth time, she growled softly as the trio continued onward through the heavy downpour.
don't mind it that much," Strider stated, walking tall and a slight
smile on his face, despite being soaked to the skin. Next to him, Setsuna
glowered silently, her elegant suit looking seriously bedraggled with
several rips, tears and bloodstains decorating it in numerous areas.
"Well at least we got here," Ranma reasoned, glancing about the main square curiously as she tried to work out which direction to go in. After a moment, she spotted an inn several houses down the street and motioned to the others. Nodding silently, the little group hurried toward it, grateful for the prospect of a reprieve from the steady downpour, a hot meal an a warm bed to sleep in. "Thank god," Ranma yawned as she stepped inside, the muddy cloak she wore wrapped tightly around her body. As she made to take it off, however, Strider's hand overlaying hers stopped her.
"Ranma," he murmured, "don't take this the wrong way, but you're wearing a silk shirt underneath that, right?" At her confirming nod, he continued. "Wet silk, plus water and no bra, means what?" He asked as he quirked an eyebrow, a roguish smile blossoming on his face. Ranma glared at him in irritation.
"Pervert," she muttered. He bowed with a flourish.
"But of course!"
Foregoing the removal of her cloak, Ranma moved to the counter where a friendly-looking woman in a white apron stood, looking at the small group with marked interest.
"Can I help you?" She asked. Ranma smiled at her and ran a hand through her tangled crimson locks.
"Yeah, we'd like three rooms for the night, and meals if you've got 'em," she stated. The woman nodded and picked up a book from behind the counter.
"50gil please," her friendly voice stated. Turning to Setsuna, Ranma motioned with her hand to give payment. Behind them, Strider paused as a dark shape streaked past the window quickly.
he called, "I'll be right back, I thought I saw something outside,
all right?" Seeing the redhead nod, he slipped out of the door, hearing
her words of caution just before the door closed to. Wiping his face of
the water that trickled into his eyes, he brushed his sodden hair backward
as his eyes cast about for a clue as to the shadow's whereabouts. After
a moment, he shrugged and turned to the right, following the direction
the shadow had taken off in. After a moment's walking, he poked his head
around the side of the inn, glancing into the prominent bushes.
"No time," the young man croaked. "No time...be here soon." He struggled to breathe, his injuries hampering his ability to speak. Wild blue eyes peered deeply into the taller young man's own through a tangled curtain of rust-coloured hair. "Have to get...away," he muttered. Thinning his lips, Strider glanced about quickly and took a deep breath.
"How can I help?" He murmured, moving his head closer to the stranger's own so that he would no have to speak louder than was needed. A tired smile flitted across the boy's face, revealing a desperate and haunted hope.
it. Too injured to get away. I'm sorry...for causing so much trouble...she
must not...get it. I'm sorry...you're too kind...I'm sorry..." Before
Strider could make sense of the youth's words, he found himself bathed
in a eerie red light. His skin began to crawl as the hackles on his neck
stood up stiffly in response to the situation. The pouring rain forgotten,
Strider stared into the boy's eyes, seemingly transfixed by the great
sorrow, depression, fear and desperation he saw there.
Eater," He murmured softly. Swiftly standing up, he tried
to calm his suddenly racing heart and uneven breathing.
"I need a sword. A damn good one," he stated flatly. "I'm...a bodyguard, and my last was lost in a raid by soldier ants." Nodding the storekeeper glanced about.
"Nothing to your
liking here, then?" He asked. Reluctantly, Strider shook his head,
but the storekeeper merely grinned and crooked his finger.
"I have money enough," Strider stated simply. Nodding, the storekeeper opened up the back door and continued in, lighting several candles with a taper as he went. Once he had sufficient lighting, he stepped forward to a large trunk covered by a thick dust sheet.
"Now here, we
have them items that only my most Proficient customers get to see..."
the old man grinned as he revealed the chest and heaved the heavy lid
open. Displayed inside were a very large selection of weaponry, from daggers,
arrows and darts to full-sized spears and lances.
"How much?" He asked, turning the gloves over in his hands.
the man said flatly. Strider boggled for a moment and put them down, turning
to the larger wrapped package quickly. A few moments later and he drew
a sharp breath as the sword that had been wrapped came into view. It looked
like an oversized machete, aside from the strangely shaped tip of the
sword, which curved outwards, inwards, then outwards at an angle again,
similar to a bottle-cap opener. The hilt curved up and outward along the
sharpened edge, then curved back down in a long hand-guard in the shape
of a snarling wolf.
I have to get it, Strider thought desperately.
"How much," he whispered, his eyes still fixated on the blade.
"For you...1000gil. No more, no less." Sucking in his breath sharply, Strider dug in his pockets and pulled out the money pouch. He poured the entire contents out on the floor and began to count hurriedly.
"2010gil," he murmured under his breath. It would be enough to purchase everything he wanted. Just. "I'll take them both, and what I left in the front," he stated. Nodding with a smile, the storekeeper reached back into the chest and withdrew an ornate scabbard. Racing down the entire length was a silver engraving of a running wolf. The old man handed it to the youth with a smile.
"It goes with the sword, I hope you use it in good faith, young man," he stated. Nodding seriously, Strider took the scabbard and slid the sword into it.
"I will. Is there anywhere I can change into my new stuff?" He asked. Nodding, the storekeeper gestured to the room.
"Just use this
one, I'll bring it all in for you," he said. Nodding his thanks,
Strider closed the large chest's lid and placed his trenchcoat over the
top. Collecting the money from the floor and handing it to the storekeeper
when he returned, he quickly stripped off his wet T-shirt and let it fall
to the floor. He slipped on the padded soft black leather overcoat that
would protect him from the chafing of the armour and buckled it quickly
before turning to the armour itself. It seemed relatively easy to put
on, being that it opened up both sides via hinges at the shoulders, allowing
him to slip it over his head and rest it on the overcoat.
This place has
much more advanced armour than I've ever heard of in a medieval setting.
They must have had it for a great deal longer than we did in our history...
Strider cut off his musings as he continued to piece together the armour,
feeling a bit like he was assembling a flat-pack from his own world. He
could almost see the instruction manual with the thing. It was obviously
designed for idiots.
It took him another
fifteen minutes to finish strapping the armour into place, including bracers,
grieves and his gloves, which finally covered up the strange symbol of
the Soul Eater on his right hand.
Tugging the black material over his shoulder-guards, Strider fastened the pin - a silver wolf's head, he noted with amusement - and glanced at himself in the mirror. Pleased with his appearance, he finally placed the black circlet around his forehead, jumping in surprise when it tightened to fit his head, and leant down to fasten the sword to his belt. Standing up he groaned, feeling as if he weighed several tonnes, several times over.
"Christ," he muttered with a grimace as he noted that the sword would hang down too low.
"Here," The storekeeper stated from behind him. Turning around with an effort, the brunette saw the large off-the-shoulder strap that the man held out. It, too, had the symbol of the wolf on it.
"These were all your grandpa's weren't they," he murmured as he undid the cloak and fastened the strap around his torso.
"Oh? How could you tell?" The shopkeeper asked with amusement.
"Lucky guess," he answered wryly as he threaded the scabbard onto the strap. With a grunt, he settled the sword into position. "Ye gods," he croaked as he almost fell over. The old man laughed and shook his head.
"You're no bodyguard, boy. I can see that as clear as day. You're more like a spoiled rich lord's son who'se not had to do a day's work in his life! I saw your hands boy...no callouses, tells me better'n if you had a sign on yer head." Strider sighed and slouched wearily against the wall.
"I'm no lord's son, that's for sure. My mother had to struggle to pay my way...but you're right, I've never done any real work before." He pointed to his forehead, where the sodden bandages still lay wrapped around his head. "Got this from those damn ants, and nearly got killed by bandits, too. I have to do something to protect myself, and this seemed the best way," he reasoned. The old man nodded, then went to a cupboard and retrieved a book bound in heavy leather.
"Read this then. It'll teach you how to use that," he pointed to the sword handle that jutted out over the tall youth's shoulder. Strider bowed awkwardly.
"Thank you for everything, but I have to go, by now my friends might be out looking for me." He quickly wrapped up his coat and the ornate gloves he had bought and walked to the front door of the store. "Thank you again," he called, then fastened his cloak and dashed out into the rain, pulling the hood up and over his head as he headed as fast as he could back to the inn.
Just before he arrived he spotted Ranma perched up on the roof, her head sweeping back and forth in a searching motion.
"Ranma!" He called, making he jerk her head towards his position, then flip down off of the roof. He boggled for a moment, then remembered to close his mouth. If magic was possible, then that certainly was.
"What's the big idea!?" Ranma demanded as she popped up in front of him. Jumping in surprise at her sudden appearance, he sighed and gestured to the door.
"I'll tell you inside," he said simply. Sighing, Ranma nodded and entered through the door, shaking her head to relieve it of the water that had saturated it as best she could. Once inside, she turned around to continue berating him, when he entered the inn and pushed the cloak back, revealing his attire.
He still wore his jeans, but over them from foot to knee he wore plate grieves of a polished black metal, trimmed in silver. At his waist perched hip-guards of the same style as the leg guards, also mirrored in the armour he now wore instead of a T-shirt The shoulder-guards were ornate and stylised into the form of a snarling wolf, a running theme judging by the wolf pin and hand-guard of the sword pommel that rose above his right shoulder.
Grinning at the redhead's surprised look, Strider cracked his neck to relieve the stiffness that had developed there and approached the counter, passing by the petite girl to talk directly to the woman who ran the inn, a woman by the name of Marie.
"Any chance of a bath?" He asked. Smiling at him approvingly, the portly woman nodded and explained where to find it and what to do.
Twenty minutes later
and Strider returned, still clad in his armour, but now noticeably clean
shaven, his moustache and goatee neatly trimmed. His face seemed sallow
and tired, his face paler than usual, but when asked about it he shook
his head and motioned to the tavern section of the inn.
"Setsuna isn't back yet," she said. Strider blinked at her in surprise.
"She actually went out to look for me? I'm shocked!" Ranma grunted as she leant against a nearby wall.
"We're the only
links to the world she's used to. Of course she's gonna check to see if
you're okay!" Swallowing, the taller boy nodded and looked away.
"Er...hi?" He ventured.
"You Son of a Bitch!" She roared, socking him in the jaw with a vicious right hook. He fell like a sack of potatoes and lay groaning on the floor.
he mumbled feebly as he struggled to rise. "I'm a turtle and I can't
get up!" Sighing disgustedly, Ranma leant down and hauled him easily
to his feet, where he swayed like a reed in a stiff breeze.
she snapped before stalking over to the counter and asking where she could
procure some clean clothes and a hot bath. Sighing, Ranma retrieved her
pack from Marie and went to have her own bath - though she made sure her
room had a lock on it to prevent any 'accidents' from occurring.
"That went well," he commented out loud. Marie regarded him reprovingly, to which he frowned. "I was helping someone out, okay? And...I sorta managed to go to the armoury as well..." he added with an embarrassed smile. Marie continued with her disapproving look, making him sigh. "Fine, I'll apologise..." he muttered. Nodding in satisfaction, Marie returned to her duties as innkeeper.
Half an hour later,
the three of them gathered around a table in the tavern area, Setsuna
glaring acerbically at him continuously.
Taking the wrapped gloves from the paper, Ranma examined them in detail, turning them over and over and muttering to herself under her breath. After a few minutes, she slipped them on and flexed her hands experimentally. Smilin gin satisfaction, she grinned at the taller youth.
"Thanks, man," she said sincerely. Nodding and smiling, Strider sobered quickly and explained his current unease.
"It's like I'm hollow..." he murmured as he gazed at his hands silently. "Like there's something missing that was there before. And I feel cold, like a permanent chill in my bones. It's an eerie feeling that I can't quit describe..."
"Like you are being chilled like a piece of meat on a shelf so that you stay fresher for longer?" Setsuna supplied, looking haunted. Jumping in surprise, Strider nodded.
"How did you
know?" He muttered softly. Sighing, she explained her ex immortality,
though leaving out a sufficient amount that she felt all her secrets would
not be compromised.
"You said that his eyes looked older than the rest of him, right?" She asked. Nodding, Strider looked grim.
"Yeah, and when I say old, I mean old. His eyes were just... so full of sorrow... He must have been hurt so much. And the thing is, he only looked to be in his early teens. Maybe fourteen or so, give or take a year or two at most. He must have been a child when he got this thing... I wonder how he got it?" Shaking his head, he dismissed the thought. "But he kept saying something that's got me on edge. You mustn't let her get it. You have to get away. That sort of stuff. I think we have to get out of here as soon as we can," he reasoned. Reluctantly his companions nodded. "How much cash we got left?" He asked, glancing at Setsuna. Tugging on the drawstring of the bag, she glanced inside for a moment.
"About eight hundred or so, I think," she added, glancing down again. Scrubbing his face, the brunette nodded.
"I think that's enough to get you guys some clothes that will fit in. We can't walk about like we have been, we'll be remembered far too easily, and if we need to get away without being noticed, sticking out like a couple of sore thumbs isn't the way to do it." Grimacing, Setsuna nodded.
"My suit's ruined anyway," she said with a dark frown. Ranma looked uncomfortable, but nodded reluctantly as she saw reason.
"I guess," she muttered.
Suddenly, a commotion
outside made Strider glance up sharply. Licking his lips, he motioned
to Ranma at the door. Grinning and tugging on her new gloves, Ranma nodded.
"Get out of our way!" The captain of the soldiers barked angrily. "We're on important business!" The man, a tall blonde carrying a large and extremely wicked looking axe, ground his teeth and glared.
"Pardon me, sir.
I didn't mean to obstruct your way," he bit out, bowing slightly
and stepping to the side. The woman at his side thinned her lips and bowed
as well, also moving to the side.
"Hey! Aren't you McDohl's servant? I've seen you around, I'm sure of it! If you're here, then that traitor he's been sheltering must be nearby!" The pair looked alarmed at his statement, and with a glance to Ranma to warn her, Strider stepped forward.
"I'm afraid you're mistaken, Captain...?" He waited politely, his head tilted to the side. Glaring at him, the soldier simmered, but kept his manners.
"Andressen, Captain Andressen of the 14th Guard." Nodding judiciously, Strider stroked his goatee thoughtfully.
Andressen, I see. However, despite your obviously impeachable observation,
I'm afraid you have the wrong man, and woman," he added with a charming
smile at the woman by the blonde's side. She eyed him suspiciously for
Thank god, Strider thought to himself with relief. If they could keep up the act, they might get away without further incident.
"We are sorry, young Master," the woman murmured, glancing up meaningfully. "Gremio and I were merely in a hurry to get to you." Seeing the woman's meaning, Strider glanced back and kicked Ranma sharply in the shin. Wincing and glaring at him, the redhead finally cottoned on to the plan.
"Oh! Er, right. Um, Master..uh...Strider, I'm uh...sure they didn't mean to be a pain in the ass!" Resisting the urge to groan and smack his forehead, Strider merely settled for a glare at the redhead.
"We shall discuss your conduct later, Ranma," he ground out. Turning, he offered the Captain an embarassed smile. "Ah, with such incompetent servants, it is a wonder anything ever gets done!" He sighed dramatically, kicking out at Ranma's shin again when he saw the redhead open her mouth angrily. Wincing, she merely glowered at him and crossed her arms beneath her breasts angrily.
Eyeing the three 'servants' dubiously, the Captain eventually nodded and gave a tight lipped smile.
"Pardon me then, M'Lord. I must be on my way. You haven't, perchance, seen a boy of about fourteen summers running about, have you? Dressed in blue with brown hair." He stared hard at the tall youth then, who feigned thought, and absently stroaked his goatee again.
"A boy, you say? Hmm...now you mention it, I did see a boy about an hour ago...he went that way," he pointed down the street, away from the direction the boy in question had actually taken. Catching the furious looks from the pair, he shook his head minutely and flicked his eyes in the direction the boy had taken. Understanding blossomed in their eyes and they lowered their heads to stare at the rain-splattered cobblestones.
"Thank you, M'Lord,"
the soldier muttered, then dashed off in the direction indicated, the
rest of his patrol following hot on his heels.
the blonde called Gremio said. "We appreciate your help." He
was dressed in blue, a large and sturdy-looking green cloak wrapped around
his well muscled body. A large cross-shaped scar on his cheek stood out
in the dim light. "My name is Gremio, and this," he indicated
his companion, "is Cleo." The woman looked to be in her early
twenties and wore well-used light purple, white and hot pink armour. Had
it not been so dark, and the armour so well used, Ranma had the feeling
that she would have been blinded by the colours.
"I also would
like to thank you," she murmured, a hand rising to brush away some
of the water accumulated on her brow. "But first," she paused,
"do you know anything of the boy they are searching for? You seemed
to indicate that you had seen him."
"Yeah, I've seen him," he answered at length. He studied the pair as they glanced at each other meaningfully. "Do you know why he is being chased?" Another glance, this time a warning glance between the pair, confirmed his suspicions. He tugged off his right glove and held up his hand, displaying the symbol of the Soul Eater for them to see. "Then you might want to hear what I have to say," he stated flatly, his eyes grim. Seeing their shocked looks and spotting them reaching for their weapons, he quickly explained what had passed, finally finishing with the boy, who Cleo had named Ted, stating that he would draw 'their' attention away so that he could escape.
"What I want to know," he added, "is who are 'they' and why are they after this?" He held up is re-covered right hand meaningfully. Looking shaken, Gremio gestured to the inn.
"We should go
inside, this might take a while," he murmured, his air subdued. Agreeing,
the four moved inside out of the rain, Ranma muttering darkly under her
breath about water and the possibility that somewhere a diety lived to
make her life miserable. Strider felt that her words were amusing, but
could not work up enough enthusiasm to laugh.
"So, what's the deal?" He asked bluntly. Gremio sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"'They' is actually
'she.' Her name is Windy, and she is the Court Magician, who answers only
to the Emperor. According to what Ted could tell us before he left, she
has been alive and actively seeking the Soul Eater for over three hundred
years." Strider whistled softly before he motioned for the blonde
"Our friend, and another servant of the Master, Pahn, betrayed us and informed the Guards of Ted's location. He barely escaped when they arrived at the house... I do not know what has become of Pahn now, but..." She too trailed off, looking depressed at her inability to protect her charge and stop her friend.
"I know how it feels," Ranma muttered, staring at her hands. "To have a friend betray you, that is..." she supplied at their inquiring looks.
"Well that ain't
gonna happen here," Strider stated flatly, staring her down. She
gave a grateful smile and nodded. The tall youth turned back to Gremio
"How can you not know what they are? Everyone, even the most unschooled farmer, knows what a rune is!" Gremio asked. The trio glanced at each other silently. Ranma shrugged at Strider's glance.
"Why not? Ain't
like it matters, right?" She said. Turning to Setsuna, she shrugged
indifferently, seemingly reserving judgement.
Gremio and Cleo blinked repeatedly as the outlandish story sank in, but conceeded to themselves that it was certainly possible. Leaning back, Gremio began to explain.
"According to myth, in the beginning the Rune of Beginning created everything, then split into two halves. One a sheild, the other a sword. These two halves fought against each other, sparks flying with every blow. These sparks turned into the twenty seven true runes, though very few know the names of all the runes, and not one person knows the location of them all. These runes in turn created lesser runes: fire, earth, wind, water and so on. These lesser runes are the ones that many people use. Cleo, for instance," he gestured to her, and she held up her right hand and tugged off her lavender coloured glove, "has the rune of fire, which allows her to use spells from that element."
"I got it from Lady Leknaat," she added, tugging her glove on.
Ranma exlaimed loudly, drawing several curious stares. After being pulled
down she leaned forward eagerly. "You said Leknaat gave you yours?"
Seeing Cleo's nod, she tugged off her right glove and displayed Chaos
to the pair.
Frowning, the pair peered at it in puzzlement.
"What rune is it?" Cleo asked, glancing up at the redhead. Frowning, Ranma scratched her head for a moment.
"Oh yeah! She
called it, let's see...the True Rune of Chaos?" She ventured, glancing
at Strider. He nodded as he remembered her telling the tale when it was
fresh on her mind.
have True Runes?" Gremio whispered softly. The two nodded in confirmation
and he swallowed. "If...if Lady Windy got her hands on both...what
could she do with them?" He asked himself. The redhead and the brunette
exchanged troubled looks, privately agreeing his point.
Ranma, Strider and Setsuna all stared at him in surprise for a few moments, during which Cleo decided to add in her opinion.
"I agree. If Ted trusted you enough to give you what he has been protecting for three hundred years, then it is our obligation to help you so that his sacrifice is not in vain."
Sitting back, Strider blew his breath out slowly as his mind turned over the possible repercussions of gaining their help. With the state the city was in, searching for Ted and the Soul Eater, it would be virtually impossible for them to leave without coming under scrutiny from the guards at the gate, who were almost certain to be at full alert by now.
"What do you think?" He asked his companions. Predictably Setsuna shrugged indifferently, leaving Ranma to cast the deciding vote. The redhead shrugged also.
"Why not? We could use the help I guess," she reasoned. Rolling his eyes heavenward, Strider sighed and extended his hand to the blonde cheerfully.
he chirped, shaking both of their hands, though halfway through pumping
Cleo's hand his smile turned mischevious. Deftly he twisted her hand so
the knuckles faced upwards, leant down and kissed her hand.
"Pig," she muttered. Ranma just looked confused, which made Strider crack a real smile.
"Don't worry about it, Ranma," he explained. Rolling her eyes, the redhead sighed.
"Whatever," she mumbled. Holding in a laugh, the taller youth ran a hand through his hair and turned his attention to the ex-senshi sitting opposite.
"Both of you need to get some clothes that'll blend in, and we need them fast if we have to get out of here tonight," he said. Grimacing, Setsuna nodded and stood up, the others quickly following suit. Unnoticed, a young man in his early twenties grinned behind his mug from the next table.
Stepping outside after promising to bring back Marie's cloak, the quintet hurried over to the armoury and entered after furtively glancing about for pursuit. Inside, the storekeeper's eyebrows rose as Strider moved forward and explained his companion's need for clothing and weaponry.
"And why would ya need that then, eh boy?" He queried softly, his eyes boring into the taller youth's own. Thinning his lips, Strider glanced back at the others as they perused the store's wares.
"I was given something, something important to keep safe, and I can't do that here. My friends are the only ones I trust to help me, but we need secrecy, not to parade about looking like an act out of a circus!" He waited with baited breath for the old man to respond, and gave an inaudible sigh of relief when the old man nodded and smiled.
"I see. Well, all right then. I think I might have something for the lovely ladies," he paused as Strider's gloved hand landed on his arm.
"They are both fighters," he murmured. "They need clothing that will suit them. Please," he added, seeing the man's irritated look. Upon hearing the plea, the storekeeper nodded and beckoned the two women over.
he muttered and led them into the back of the shop, to an area that was
obviously for female fighters like themselves and Cleo, who had followed
out of curiousity.
Well now it comes back to bite me on the ass, she thought with a distasteful grimace.
"Got anything more...uhm...manly?" She asked, wincing at the other's looks. Standing at the door, Strider raised a curious eyebrow, mouthing 'manly?' silently to himself.
Well, he thought, she is a bit butch at times I s'ppose. It makes sense in a way that she wouldn't really want to be judged like that... he paused for a moment. I wonder if she's a lesbian? He grinned at that thought, but carefully smothered it when the redhead directed a curious look his way. He lifted a hand and waved slightly before heading back out front to where Gremio stood, inspecting various axes.
"Hey Gremio," he called. Seeing the blonde turn to face him, Strider unsheathed his sword and held it horizontally across his hands. "You know how to use a sword? I need teaching, or else all I'll be able to do is hack and slash and likely get myself killed if we fight something more durable than a gopher," he joked. The axeman shook his head regretfully.
"Sorry," he apologised, "all I know is how to use an axe. Pahn might have known, but..." he trailed off with a twisted grimace of distaste.
"No need to apologise,
mate. I understand," the tall youth said, re-sheathing the intricate
weapon awkwardly. He sat down with a sigh and held his head in his hands.
"God this thing is heavy," he moaned, stretching his tired muscles
in an attempt to breathe new life into them.
"You'll get used
to it eventually," he offered, ignoring the baleful look the taller
boy shot at him. Just then the shopkeeper returned, the women in tow.
"Fuck me," Strider breathed under his breath. He was not quite quiet enough, however, as Setsuna shot him a vicious glare.
"Not in your life time," she sniped. Wincing, the tall brunette glanced at Gremio.
"Ouch," he murmured. The blonde nodded with a sympathetic look, but declined comment as the ex-senshi's penetrating gaze swept over his form. Shivering slightly, he vowed not to get on the green-haired woman's bad side, unlike his companion.
Cleo brought up the
rear, still clothed in her rather loud pink and purple ensemble, thankfully
toned down with the brown pants she wore, Strider noted. He grinned at
her when he glanced up from looking at her legs to see her returning his
gaze, though hers was slightly baffled, as if she had not had such attention
before. He sincerely doubted that she lacked admirers.
"Where do we go from here?" Ranma asked, tugging the cowled hood of her cloak forward a bit more to prevent herself from getting wet. Grimacing, Gremio shook his head.
"I'm not sure," he answered honestly. "We can try crossing the boarder, but if our desciptions are out, it would be hard work to do so."
"And as soon as Ted's ruse is discovered, they're likely to make our capture a priority," Cleo added.
"Perhaps after leaving the city, we should split up?" Gremio suggested, though the downturn at the corners of his mouth betrayed his feelings on the matter. Ranma shook her head quickly.
"No way!" She exclaimed. "You said you'd see it safe, and how're ya gonna do that if you ain't anywhere near us? You're stickin' with us whether ya like it or not, get it?" Smiling slightly, the blonde nodded.
"All right, so we stick together, no matter what..." He paused, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "I think it would be best if we returned to the inn for now, gather enough food for a while and then we could leave in an hour or two. It should take them at least that long to find out Ted no longer has the rune, and by that time we will be outside the walls of the city and out of their grasp."
"For the moment," Setsuna added logically. Frowning at the flaw in his plan, Gremio nodded.
"So let's go!" Strider said, turning about and making for the inn. The others followed suit quickly.
When they were several houses down the street however, several squads of soldiers rushed around the corner, a familiar captain at their head.
"They are staying
here!" He bellowed as they came to a halt. Frozen, the group stared
morbidly at the sight, before hands reached out of the dark alley right
next to them and hauled them bodily into the darkness.
He was quite tall, with a large, shaggy mop of raven black hair and thick, bushy eyebrows. A roguish smile would have decorated his face, but he was too busy glaring at the petite redhead not too far away. The slight swelling under his right eye gave away the reason.
"What was that for?" He demanded. The redhead sniffed and crossed her arms.
"You could have been a murderer or somethin'," she explained. "How was I s'pposed ta know? It was a reflex." The young man glowered indignantly.
"I was saving your life, all of you! If someone's looking for you, you don't stand there like a moron!" He hissed softly.
"Who are you, anyway?" Strider muttered, rubbing his head where he had banged it during the unexpected 'rescue.' The young man paused, then laughed softly.
"Sorry, I forgot about that. My name's Viktor, nice to meet you, seeing as you guys are now on the Empire's 'most wanted' list." Gremio looked ill.
"They discovered him so quickly?" He whispered to himself in despair. Beside him, Cleo looked as if she wanted to break down in tears, but bravely held them back. She clutched her spear to her chest in a white knuckled grip. Viktor sobered abruptly.
"My guess would be they did," he answered simply. "Which means if you want to get out of here now, you're going to need help." He grinned smugly. "And I'm the man for the job!" Surprisingly, his grin did not waver under the suspicious looks from the five companions, merely getting wider in amusement.
"What can you do?" Strider asked, shivering slightly from a chill no one else seemed to feel.
"I can get you out of here," Viktor answered simply, "in return for one thing."
"I knew it was too good to be true," Gremio muttered, eyeing the younger man darkly. The raven haired swordsman held up his hands placatingly.
"Hey," he said, "it's nothing big, honest! All I want is for you to come with me to meet someone, that's all," he explained. The group exchanged glances uneasily for a moment, before Setsuna stepped forward.
"And who is this 'someone?'" She queried dubiously, the butt of her staff clinking against the ground.
"Just a friend," Viktor answered evasively. "They won't hurt you, I promise," he added.
"How do we know you won't betray us and turn us in to the Empire?" Gremio snapped, clearly uncomfortable with his new-found outlaw status. Viktor laughed softly, his hands folded over his stomach in an attempt to staunch the wild quakes of his body.
"Hahaha! T-trust me," Viktor croaked out between laughs, "I'm the last person that would turn you in to the Empire!" He seemed vastly amused by the thought and descended into muffled guffaws. Before Gremio could speak, his thunderous expression proof enough that his words would not be helpful, Ranma stepped forward.
"I think we should
go," she stated evenly. "That gate's the only way I saw of to
get into the city, and if he can get us out without us bein' noticed,
I say go for it. What's the harm of meeting this person anyway?"
She asked, "it ain't as if we can't fight our way out anyway, with
me around," she boasted, grinning slightly. Viktor's chuckles increased
slightly upon hearing that, until a leather-clad figure appeared from
nowhere in front of his face.
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all," he murmured as he stood up again. "Come on, lets go!" he muttered, pushing past Gremio to the entrance to the alley and glancing out. "All's clear, just follow me, okay?"
Ranma felt that the next ten minutes were the longest of her life, as the group wove and back-tracked around the city in an attempt to avoid all of the patrols of soldiers that roamed the streets, eventually ending up a short distance away from the main gate. Motioning for them to be quiet, Viktor moved away toward the soldier, exchanging a few words with him softly.
"I knew it!" Gremio snarled. "He's betraying us!" Soon enough, the guard took something from the swordsman's hand and walked a short distance away.
"Think I'll just take a walk over here," he murmured out loud, seemingly to himself. Viktor returned, a triumphant look on his face.
"Ah, the language of gold," he whispered with a grin. "It can persuade even the staunchest of men!" He handed Gremio a small pouch.
"Hey!" The blonde growled. "That's my purse!" Viktor shrugged.
"You should keep a better eye on it," he cautioned. "You never know who might get their hands on it!"
Without any more words, the six companions quickly made their escape, heading out into the stormy night and away from the clutches of those that persued them.
- End Chapter 3 -
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