Chapter 3

Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon or Suikoden. All rights go to their respective owners forthwith.

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Strider groaned as he gazed intently at the stars.
My head hurts, he thought miserably. His stomach growled loudly and he grimaced. My stomach hurts too. Stupid potion, he thought in annoyance. Across the fire that Ranma had made Setsuna sat silently as she leaned up against a handy rock, staring into the fire and contemplating the situation.

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.
Once arriving at the pigtailed girl's campsite, The tall boy had collapsed bonelessly to the ground, shuffled slightly to get comfortable and promptly had fallen into an exhausted sleep. Setsuna, weary as she was, silently slithered down the face of the rock she was presently leaning against, and had not moved since, aside from claiming a potion to drink.
Ranma had declared that rabbits weren't enough to feed three people and had bounded off energetically to find something more to eat. She had yet to return, but Setsuna wasn't particularly worried.

"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.
"Oh," he said simply. Pocketing the pouches, Setsuna smiled faintly and leaned back against the rock tiredly, a yawn cracking her pretty mouth.
"Maybe you should grab some sleep," Strider muttered from across the fire. Setsuna smiled faintly and nodded in response, allowing her head to sink down to her chest, her viridian hair cascading over her face like a waterfall.


"You're gonna get a crick in the neck if you sleep like that." Jerking her head upwards, Setsuna glared at the redhead that had just entered the camp, several pheasants carried over her shoulder. Ranma smirked at her and collapsed smoothly into a cross-legged position before beginning to pluck the fowl efficiently by the fireside.

"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?

"His...uh...daughters and..."

"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.

"Uh...yeah, anyway. 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 pigtail.
"Now, where was I? Oh yeah... Anyhoo, I was sittin' under the bridge see, just thinkin' and gettin' some peace an' quiet, when along comes this talkin' cat..."

"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.

"That's it?"

"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.

"Told ya."

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Strider yawned widely as he woke up, scratched himself, then examined his surroundings.
Grass. Rocks. Drooling Setsuna.

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.
Grinning wickedly, he squatted down and brushed it over the older woman's nose. She twitched, rubbed her nose, and stayed asleep. Fighting to keep from laughing, he carefully eased the feather up her nose and wiggled it.
The results were predictable.

"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.
Shouldering the backpack, Ranma gathered the pair's attention.

"Hopefully we'll 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.
"So let's go!" Ranma stated cheerfully.

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"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.

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"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.

"Personally I 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.
Mirroring her companion, Ranma glowered at the older boy in irritation. He smiled cheerfully at her, despite a slight shiver over his body.

"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.

"Ranma," 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.
It didn't take him long to spot the young man partially concealed by the large shrubs, and glancing about quickly followed him in.
"Are you okay?" He asked, holding his hands in plain sight. He already knew that having your hands concealed was not a great way to gain someone's trust, especially at night and in the pouring rain.
Moving closer to the motionless person, he spotted a large dark stain on his blue tunic and cursed softly.
"That's serious," he stated. "We need to get you to a doctor, and quickly." He moved forward to help the young man to his feet from where he lay propped against the wall, but found his hand caught in an iron grip.

"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.

"I won't...make 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.
Suddenly his entire body felt as if it had been dunked in a freezing cold lake, causing his breath to hitch in his chest and his body to shudder uncontrollably. Instead of disappearing quickly however, the freezing feeling settled down to a cold and empty ache, as if something was suddenly missing. Swallowing, Strider placed a hand upon his chest and stared wide-eyed at the boy before him, wondering silently why he suddenly felt a desperate emptiness within himself.
"I'm sorry," the boy repeated. "Protect...the Soul Eater...don't let her get it...please. I'm sorry..." Before he could say anything, the boy lurched to his feet. "I'll...distract them...get out of the city...quickly. Not much time...here...take this..." He fumbled out a heavy pouch full of gold coins. "Take it...and hurry...it's important...I'm sorry." With that, the boy dashed out into the street, leaving Strider staring dumbly at the wall in front of his face, the boy's parting words echoing in his ears. "Wear a glove...you must hide it..."
He glanced at his right hand curiously and swallowed. There, raised out of the flesh of his hand, was the Grim Reaper, the scythe curving up and over his hooded form.
As he continued to stare, Strider felt a curious sense of attatchment to the symbol.

"The Soul Eater," He murmured softly. Swiftly standing up, he tried to calm his suddenly racing heart and uneven breathing.
Oh fuck, he thought to himself. I think I just managed to sink neck-deep in shit. Swallowing, he returned to the street after making sure that no one was around and glanced about. Through the shrubs he had just emerged from, he spotted what he assumed to be an armoury, judging by the sign of a plate of armour out the front of the store. Pushing his wet hair back nervously, he dashed towards it and entered.
Inside he glanced about at the rows of weaponry and armour before spotting something that he felt suited his needs perfectly. Grabbing it from the shelf, he quickly checked the price on the wooden tag before glancing about again. Grabbing a pair of black leather fingerless gloves, he fitted them over his hands to check before placing them over the armour he had chosen on the counter. Continuing his search, he found a circlet of some strange black metal, and read the tag. Finding it suiting his needs, he placed it atop his other purchases and continued to look. After several minutes he turned to the store owner, who was looking at him curiously.

"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.
"Follow me, lad. I gots some other stuff here, but it's a mite unusual, if you get my drift?" He eyed the large bulge that the money in the taller youth's pocket made hungrily.

"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.
Strider ignored most of the items in the box aside from two. Reaching down, he withdrew a pair of strangely decorated gloves and a long wrapped bundle, both of which he placed upon the floor. Kneeling down, he turned the gloves over and over in his hands, marvelling at the supple leather that they were made of and the intricate patterns engraved in a strangely flexible silver metal.

"How much?" He asked, turning the gloves over in his hands.

"500gil," 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.
"That used to be my grandfathers," the shopkeeper murmured. "It's called Vandread, or Black Howling, depending on which end of it you get on. I didn't really want to sell it, but...it looks right on you," he stated as the tall youth placed his hands on the double-handed grip and hefted the weapon. Grunting slightly, Strider strained to keep the blade upright and inspected the blade. The name was carved there in an almost beast-like scrawl, yet strangely flowing and elegant at the same time.

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.
He grunted as the fairly heavy weight settled on his shoulders and shifted about a little to get comfortable. Reaching around, he snapped the fastenings into place on both sides and twisted as he attempted to get used to the unfamiliar garb. Once he felt that he could deal with it, He reached down and placed the neck-guard over his head, twisting it slightly as it settled into position to fix it in place. A click signalled his success.

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.
Just like a flat-pack, he thought with amusement. With a grunt he settled one of the shoulder guards into place and clumsily matched up the joint with the one mirrored on the upper-right of his chest plate, finally managing to get it to click into place after r a minute of struggle. Leaning against the wall he sighed.
This thing is heavy, he thought to himself. I really hope I can cope with the entire thing. He suddenly wished that he had thought about going to the gym back on his own world, as it certainly would have made life easier.

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.
After pulling on his gloves, Strider paused and reflected upon the empty feeling inside himself. It worried him slightly, the feeling of almost-hunger that seemed to pervade every pore in his body as if something vital had disappeared. The worrying chilled feeling had also not gone away, merely muted to a dullness akin to being in the cold too long. He felt no loss of sensation, but couldn't help but ponder what it meant.
It took the tall youth a moment to realise that the old man had also included a cloak for his new apparel, seeing that his old coat would no longer fit over the bulky armour without ripping, and he certainly was loth to do such a thing to one of his prized possessions.

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.
"Food," he stated evenly. Ranma glowered at him in irritation.

"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.
As if on queue, the door opened and the viridian-haired woman staggered through, a ragged looking cloak thrown haphazardly around her shoulders. Soaked to the bone, it took her several seconds for it to penetrate that the object of her search stood right before her eyes. When it did, her teeth bared in a chattering snarl that prompted a nervous grin from the taller boy.

"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.

"Help," 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.
Blinking to clear his vision from the many technicoloured lights, Strider regarded Setsuna with admiration.
"You hit bloody hard," he stated, wincing as his left jaw and cheek throbbed painfully. Setsuna glared at him angrily.

"Fuck off," 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.
Left alone with his thoughts, Strider sighed and scratched his head sheepishly.

"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.
"All right! Enough already! I'm sorry! I'm sorry, okay? Really I am." He sighed and scrubbed his face with his gloved hands tiredly. Seeing her mellow out slightly, he leant forward and gestured for his companions to do the same. Once they complied, he outlines in detail what had occurred after he left the inn, slipping his glove down slightly to bare a portion of the strange tattoo that had appeared upon his hand when it was needed.
When he got around to explaining what happened in the armoury, he brought out the wrapped gloves and handed them to the redhead.
"These are for you," he explained. "You use your hands a lot, but against armour they might get damaged. Also, these will cover up your tattoo from prying eyes."

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.
"I see," he whispered softly. He lifted his hand and gazed at it silently for a moment. "You think I'm immortal because of this thing?" He asked. She nodded, running a delicate hand through her hair.

"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.
"Let's party," she affirmed. Smirking, the taller boy made his way to the front door and stepped outside, the petite redhead hot on his heels. Immediately they spotted two opposing parties, one in full armour and looking highly official, most likely the local militia or soldiers, the other garbed in far more personal garb. The latter composed of a man and a woman, both soaked to the skin and looking fiercely determined.

"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.
The soldier however, paused and looked at the pair closely.

"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.

"Yes, Captain 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 a moment.
"You see, these two cannot be," he hesitated slightly, "McDohl's servants. Because, you see, they are mine!" He prayed they would get the hint and hoped his english accent would sound noble and foppish enough. He smiled easily at the Captain, glancing carefully at the two, who seemed surprised. The woman recovered first, licking her lips and bowing, subtly motioning for her companion to do the same.

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.
Once they were safely out of earshot, the foursome sighed in relief and relaxed slightly.

"Thank you," 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.
Cleo nodded at the pair greatefully, the large green jem in her headgear sparkling slightly.

"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."
Sighing, Strider nodded and glanced up into the pouring rain.

"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.
Leading them to the tavern, they draped their cloaks over adjacent chairs and sat down, quickly filling Setsuna in on the situation. She nodded in understanding and made room for Cleo to sit next to her.
What all four of the arrivals were seated, Strider ordered some inexpensive food and returned to his seat.

"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 to continue.
"I do not know why she wants it, but Ted was very sure that it was for no good reason, and that she meant harm should she come by it. Four years ago, General McDohl, our Master, took Ted into our home as he had no son of his own. Since then, we have served both he and Young Master Ted faithfully, until he was called to an audience with Lady Windy after we returned from a mission to the east. The rest is quite self-explanatory. She attacked him and he escaped, returning home to tell us of what occurred...but..." He stopped speaking, his eyes burning furiously as he glared at the table.

"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 again.
"What exactly are these 'runes' anyway?" He inquired, looking faintly confused. The pair stared at him in surprise, which quickly changed to confusion.

"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.
Sighing to himself, and taking a draught from the drinks that had arrived earlier, Strider scrubbed a hand through his hair before explaining in no uncertain terms that they were not from this world, that they had been pulled here against their will (at least in Setsuna's and Ranma's cases) and that they had no idea how they were going to get back.

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.

"What! Leknaat?!" 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.
"She showed me how to get this one, as well," she said, her eyes glinting curiously.

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.
Across the table, the pair sat in mute astonishment.

"You...you both 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.
"You have to get out of here...and...if Young Master Ted gave you his rune...then..." he trailed off, glancing to Cleo silently. She bit her lip and stared at the table, deep in thought. "Then...we must help you escape and keep the rune away from Lady Windy." He finished.

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.

"Welcome aboard," 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.
"My Lady," he murmured with a grin. Pulling her hand back slowly, Cleo looked unsure whether she should be embarassed or pleased. Setsuna snorted in disgust.

"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.

"Follow me," 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.
Ranma grimaced upon seeing the garb before her, inwardly cursing herself for not speaking up about her condition earlier.

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.
Gremio chuckled as he glanced over.

"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.
Ranma wore a simple armour of cured black leather, the fit strangely adrogenous on her small frame, and grieves of a matching colour and fit to go with her black leather bracers and brand new gloves, the silver studs of the knuckles glinting in the candlelight that lit the store. She grinned at the pair and flashed a victory sign, a sure sign that she liked her choice of apparel. Setsuna came next, wearing much more femenine protective gear.
The glinting steel breast-plate hugged her generous assets like a long-lost lover, tastefully trimmed in gold weave and mirrored by the elegant sweep of the epaulettes. A simple dark purple jerkin covered the leather overcoat that protected her skin from the metal, exposed at her upper arms and stomach and covered by the polished steel gauntlets, also accented by gold trimming, all the way to her fingertips, which were only partially armoured to allow dextrous movement. In her hands she carried an elegant oak staff, capped with steel at the ends for a crushing blow that was the signature move of the weapon. The wood itself was carved with several runic inscriptions that, after careful observation, matched the subtle runes in the gold trimming of her armour and making the overall effect quite stunning.

"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.
Once they paid for their purchases, the quintet emerged into the rainy night and huddled together by general concent.

"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.
Outside, the captain continued to give orders.
"Surround the place! They must not escape! Phoenix and Dragon groups, with me! Inside, now!" The sound of many booted feet followed his order. In the alley, the five glared angrily at the young man that had pulled them so fiercely 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.
"An' what's so funny?" Ranma growled, her hands on her hips. Choking down his amusement, Viktor shook his head quickly.

"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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