Warning: Since posting my last chapter I have realized that my plans for this story probably dip into what can be considered mature territory. So I have adjusted the rating appropriately. For those who are concerned by such things, this will be your only warning.
Ranma's first two days here hadn't been at all like she'd expected. For all his talk that first day of removing her inhibitions and having a lot in store for her, the only training he'd done so far was sparring. But that sparring gave her a real appreciation for just how good this guy was. Even limiting himself to around her own speed, she hadn't yet been able to so much as land a hit on him.
And then there was the constant stream of criticism of her fighting style. Sure after a life training with her old man you'd think this wouldn't get to her. Especially when his comments were a lot more constructive and actually helped her figure out what she did wrong. Still, it was getting under her nerves that he seemed to be attacking the Anything Goes as a whole more often than not. Sure the guy was really good, but that didn't make his Pencak Silat the ultimate style he seemed to believe it was.
Probably the hardest thing to get used to was so much time alone. Jenazad spent less then half the day with her, and the only other human contact was this guy that brought her food and water. Not that he counted for much company. He spoke Japanese but wouldn't say anything beyond telling her that he was forbidden to speak with her, no matter how much Ranma pestered him.
Overall though, the experience hadn't been nearly as bad as she'd expected. Of course she'd still made three attempts to escape. But somehow, despite there never being any sign of him when she made a break for it, this Jenazad guy always managed to catch her within a minute of her setting off. Even her attempt in the middle of the night hadn't gotten her anywhere.
And now, with him having disappeared a while ago to wherever it was that he went, Ranma was trying to decide what to do next. She could gather up firewood again to heat up some water. She like turning back to a guy whenever she could, but it was pretty hard to stay that way out in the middle of nowhere like this. Not like she was going to do all her training in that tiny little hut just because of a bit of rain.
Or she could try to run again. She didn't have much hope that this attempt would be any more successful than the last, but she couldn't get away if she never tried. Maybe she'd have more luck if she used the Umi-Sen Ken, but she wanted to figure out just how Jenazad was tracking her before she revealed that trick.
Of course, her plans died down immediately when she saw Jenazad making his way out of the trees a short distance away and heading toward her. Looks like she was getting a second session in before the end of the day. Getting into a stance, she prepared herself for his assault.
"Relax, I have something a little different planned for tonight," he told Ranma as he walked closer. "It's time to reveal something I've been keeping from you."
"And what's that?" Ranma asked suspiciously.
"That you're not the only one I brought here," he answered. "I have the Furinji girl as well."
"Miu?" he asked angrily. "What have you done with her?"
"That's just the reaction I was hoping for," Jenazad replied with a smile. "If that upsets you it should make the next part easier. Now to answer your question, I've been training her as well. Of course she's a Dou martial artist, so her training has been a little different."
"What do you mean different?" Ranma demanded angrily, not even caring at this moment that they both knew she was no real threat to him.
"It's simple, really," he answered. "She has mental barriers preventing her from fully calling upon the power she has access to. And I know of a drug that is very effective at breaking those barriers down."
Ranma lost her cool at that and charged the man. Didn't do much good as she quickly found herself flat on the ground spitting out the dirt she'd gotten a mouthful of, but she didn't regret trying.
"Unfortunately, the process has been somewhat slower than I expected," Jenazad continued as if nothing had happened. "She still holds herself back from doing any real damage to her opponents."
"And why are you telling me this?" Ranma asked, standing back up and dusting herself off.
"Because I'm left with a couple of choices," he answered. "I could up the dosage of the drug, but it's dangerous even at its current levels, and any more could completely destroy her mind."
Ranma growled at that, but let him continue, if only because he didn't want to eat any more dirt.
"Still, it's an option I'll keep open," he answered. "Especially if I'm not getting enough progress in your own special training that we're about to start."
"And what training is that?"
"It's quite similar, actually," Jenazad explained. "You have your own mental barriers. You've both been shackled by your foolish masters and left unable to reach your full potential. Now while your friend can channel her emotions to break free from those restraints, you use Sei, so we need to take a different approach. You'll need to be able maim and kill your opponents without losing your cool."
"If that's what you planned you can forget about it," Ranma fired back. "I don't care what you say, I'm not killing anyone for you."
"Not at first," he agreed. "We'll take it in steps."
At that, he let out a whistle, and another man stepped out from the forest. This guy was clearly a martial artist himself, just from the way he held himself, and looked a little older than Jenazad did.
"This will be your opponent," he told Ranma. "I want you to not only defeat him, but leave him in a lot of pain. And remember, if I don't like how far you're willing to go, I may try to speed the process with Miu."
Ranma stared daggers at the man wishing that were more than just an expression right now. Still, at least he wasn't asking for too much just yet. If he thought Ranma would balk at leaving an opponent hurting, he didn't know what kind of trainer Saotome Genma actually was. And for Miu's sake, he could take it a bit further than he normally would. After all, if this guy worked for Jenazad, he probably deserved whatever he got.
Taking the initiative, Ranma attacked her target, finding that while the man's style was basically the same as Jenazad's his skill was far below even Ranma's. Keeping her orders in mind though, she avoided the quick KO, instead working the man over. In the first few seconds he was left with what soon form into a nasty shiner and a few dozen other bruises, which she was continuing to add to. Before long, the man deliberately fell to the ground just to curl up into a ball and try to shield his body. Ranma got in a few more kicks against his side for good measure before walking toward Jenazad to see how he felt about the show.
"That was quite a bit tamer than I hoped for," the martial arts master declared. "Still, I suppose I'll accept it for your first effort. Just remember that I'll be expecting better in the future."
With that he slung the fallen man over his shoulder and disappeared into the woods. This left Ranma alone to think over what just happened. She hadn't even considered the possibility anyone else had been kidnapped too. Ranma supposed it could all be a lie, but Miu had been right there with her, so Jenazad could have easily grabbed her when he'd snatched up Ranma. Well, one thing it meant for sure, she couldn't escape until she knew for sure whether or not Miu was here too, as she wasn't about to leave her behind.
But even if Jenazad was just yanking her chain, she didn't like where he was going with this at all. Unfortunately, there may not be much she could do about it right now. He completely outclassed her, and somehow seemed to be following her every move, day and night. Ranma would be hard at work on a plan to beat him, but if she wanted any real chance at it working, she needed to get stronger, and fast. With that in mind, she decided to kick her training to the next level.
As for what she could do right now, she'd start by trying to recreate Akisame's physical training routine. Obviously she was missing the statues and some of his fancier equipment, but she figured she could find some big rocks and carve up a few trees to make most of the stuff she needed and sort of wing the rest of it. Thinking back to how she'd left that martial artist from her recent battle, Ranma just hoped it would be enough.
The next week fell into a horrible routine for Ranma. She worked herself to bone training, including a major effort refining her ki control and further pushing her limits regarding strengthening her body with her ki. Then during her direct training with the Demon God Fist, she began piecing together her strategy against him. She'd been hard at work inside and outside of those matches learning from her mistakes, planning out the next fight, and even incorporating some of his better moves into to the Saotome School of Anything Goes.
Sadly, progress was far too slow for her liking. The faster she got, the less he held back his speed, and she still had no idea how much more he was holding in reserve. And she might last a few more exchanges on average before he found a hole in her defenses to exploit, but Ranma had still never even won a single exchange.
As frustrating as all that was, though, the real nightmare was the daily fight with whatever opponent Jenazad had wrestled up for her. Each time he pressed her to be crueler with her beaten opponent, always threatening to drug Miu till she was nothing but a drooling idiot if he refused. Ranma resisted as much as she dared, and was always careful to avoid causing any lasting damage, but the last couple of guys in particular would have been left in a world of pain to the point where people looking at them might start wondering if they would make it out alive.
She really had to put a stop to this as soon as possible, and she was making every effort to locate Miu. But trying to follow or track Jenazad when he left had been just as much a failure as her earlier attempts to escape. He'd just cut her off and take Ranma back to the little hut she'd been living in.
Just the other day, she'd been so frustrated that as soon as she'd been brought back to the hut, she just set out to track him again. Ranma had done this half a dozen times or so before Jenazad had calmly told her that he was tired of that game and if she tried again that day, he'd break both her legs and they could continue their training when she'd recovered.
So here she was, waiting to see who Jenazad would bring for her to torture today. That left Ranma a bit surprised when he popped out of the woods alone.
"I have some news I expect you'll enjoy today," he told her as soon as he'd reached her.
"And what's that?" Ranma asked skeptically, finding it hard to believe she'd like anything he had to tell her.
"Why just that Miu will be joining us today," he answered. "I feel she's far enough in her training to let you two meet."
Color her surprised, but she actually did like the sound of that. It would be good to know for sure she was really was here. Actually wait, it would be better if it had been a lie, so this wasn't good news after all. Still, Ranma wouldn't mind seeing a friendly face.
"I should warn you though, she won't be at all like you remember her," Jenazad continued.
"Why?" Ranma demanded of him. "What have your drugs done to her?"
"Oh the drugs have improved her a bit," he answered. "But I was referring to the fact that I also wiped her memory. She remembers nothing before arriving on this island."
Ranma growled at that, wondering if he'd gotten his hands on some of that Joketsuzoku shampoo or if he had his own way of doing it. Whichever it was, hopefully the old ghoul could fix it when Ranma busted out of here with Miu.
"Anyway, I believe that's her now," he told Ranma.
And sure enough, Miu came out of the woods wearing the same sort of foreign clothing she'd been seeing the natives in and bringing along one of said natives. But looking at the man she was leading, she got a sinking feeling, as the man was either an expert at hiding his ability or not a martial artist at all.
"Tell me this isn't what I think it is," Ranma snarled at Jenazad.
"I'm pretty sure it's exactly as you suspect," he answered. "This man is your opponent for today."
"I refuse," Ranma insisted. "He's not even a martial artist."
"I expect you won't like the results if you don't fight," Jenazad hold her.
"You want me to fight?" Ranma asked. "Fine; I'll fight."
And with that she charged the Demon God Fist, who laughed loudly as he defended himself.
"Sure, I'll humor you," he declared. "You have one minute to either defeat me or do as I ask."
Ranma knew how poor her chances were of defeating him in a minute, but she had one option today that she didn't have on any other days.
"Miu, help me take this guy down," he called out, as she continued throwing everything she had at him.
Miu may not remember anything, but hopefully she would still see that this guy was bad news. Sadly though, she continued watching with a blank expression.
"Come on," she practically begged. "This guy wants me to beat up some innocent nobody. He needs to be stopped."
But Jenazad simply laughed again as Miu did nothing.
"You don't think I'd have actually brought her here if that had any chance of working, do you?" he asked. "She's too far along in the process for that."
Ranma growled and tried to focus her thoughts as she exchanged blows, doing her best to think of some way to take this guy out. She was using everything she learned in her previous fights against him in her best attempt to come up with something. She couldn't commit on that punch there, because in his current stance he'd just grab her arm and turn into a throw. So she feinted instead and went for the leg sweep but kept her left arm ready to deflect a spinning kick if he countered that way after jumping the sweep.
But he leaped directly for her instead, a move that had caught her off-guard just yesterday. This time, she was ready for it, and was already falling backward letting his body sail over her as she pushed off with the leg she still had on the ground, planning to wrap both her legs around him as he passed by and turn that into a throw.
It looked like it might work too, as your options for adjustment were seriously reduced when in midair, something Ranma knew well given that fighting like that was something of a specialty for the Saotome School. And that was exactly why she'd been hoping to lead him into this exchange. But of all the things she considered him trying next, none of them involved him to planting his left elbow in her face. He didn't have the right angle to put any real force into the blow, and she hardly even felt the attack.
Unfortunately, with both of them completely in the air now, even that small blow changed their courses enough that Ranma's attempted leg grab was off and it was Ranma who found her torso wrapped up in his legs as he dived into a roll slamming her into the ground before bounding off. She pulled herself back to her feet and watched him as she prepared for her next move.
By this point you'd think she'd be well passed one more loss getting to her, but it still stung that he'd completely outplayed her in the air, which was supposed to be her area of expertise.
"Ten seconds left," he told her calmly and then began counting down from there.
At eight Ranma was already on him again, but having no more luck. By three she realized she had to make a decision but he hadn't even finished saying two yet before it was made. Ranma had to have a line she wouldn't cross, and this was it. He could shove his stupid time limit; she'd just keep fighting him until one of them broke.
"Zero," Jenazad finally concluded. "Bulu, it appears this task will be left to you. Beat him to within an inch of his life."
"No!" Ranma cried out angrily, moving to protect the unknown man even if she wasn't certain Miu would actually do it.
But Jenazad was in front of her before she even moved a step. He wasn't holding back to her speed anymore, so Ranma was completely unable to get passed him as Miu walked over to the man who was clearly terrified, even if it didn't look as if he understood any of the Japanese being spoken. Then, quite calmly, Miu send a fist into his gut, doubling him over.
"No!" Ranma protested. "Don't make her do this!"
But Jenazad made no effort to stop her as Miu continued the beating.
"Please," Ranma begged, hating to see her forced to do this without even being in her right mind. "I'll do it. I'll really do it. Just stop Miu."
"It's too late for that," Jenazad told her. "I was more than generous. Next time, you'll have to resolve yourself a little quicker."
Ranma was about to continue her begging, but before she could, Miu backed off. Ranma was relieved to see that the man was far from being within an inch of his life. He was clearly hurting, but probably only about half as badly as the very first guy Ranma had worked over.
"It seems I'm disappointed in both of you today," Jenazad declared. "Bulu, head back on your own. I have business to finish here."
"You are the worst excuse for a human being I have ever met," Ranma told him angrily. "And I've met some real scum out there, so that's saying a lot."
"While I'm not happy with your refusal to cooperate, it did reveal that I still have work left to do on your friend," Jenazad replied, ignoring the insult. "So I suppose I should thank you for that much at least. As promised, I'll be giving her an extra dose tonight to reward your reluctance. If you still harbor any misguided hope of saving her, you should probably do as I say in the future."
Ranma wanted to attack him again right there, but this time held her anger in check. It would be little more than a waste of time, and that was one thing she couldn't afford to waste right now. Things were just going to get worse every day, and she needed to get strong enough to put a stop to it as soon as possible. Ranma was probably training as hard as she ever had in her life already, but looking over her routine, she realized how much more she could have been doing. So she let Jenazad leave and immediately went back to her training.
From that point on, Ranma didn't let a second go without putting it to good use in her training if she could avoid, not even to heat some hot water for a little time as a guy. She was completely focused on the fastest way to possibly improve. She strained herself to her limit in her physical and ki training, going in cycles of pushing her body until she could barely move and then resting just long enough to get the strength back to continue. And even though they'd never been her strong point, Ranma starting using some meditation and self-healing exercises she'd been taught on her travels.
Ranma was a bit skeptical as to how well they'd work, but whether due to the techniques or just the hellish conditioning she was going through, she did seem to be getting back her strength faster. And that first night she'd gotten by with only about 5 hours of sleep as best as she could tell without any sort of clock. So on that front alone it certainly seemed worth continuing.
And of course there was still her mental training. Throughout all Ranma's other efforts, she was also working on honing her mind into the sharpest fighting machine she could. Planning out moves, simulating fights in her head, and just pushing as hard as she could to be able to think and react as faster and faster. Ranma wouldn't be satisfied until her own body seemed to be moving in slow motion, and while she was far from that point, she could tell all her hard work was paying off.
Still, even as someone who thrived on hard work and effort, what she was currently doing to herself was so physically and mentally straining that it become a constant test of will just to keep it up without wavering. Of course Jenazad made sure she never came up short in the motivation department.
Any second thoughts Ranma had were taken out blow by blow when she dealt with the untrained guy Jenazad brought the day after he'd first seen Miu. And her resolve was only strengthened the next day when he forced Ranma into doing the same to a young a woman. Not that Ranma was going along quietly with any of that. The minute Jenazad gave her to try to stop him had become a routine, and at the same time, Ranma was doing everything she could to jog Miu's memories or convince her to help him.
It's just that both had proven useless so far, and as much as it killed Ranma inside, she'd rather do Jenazad's dirty work than watch him drug Miu into doing it. Of course she quickly realized that showing up to those things exhausted ruined whatever tiny chance she had of stopping the Demon God Fist, so Ranma was now sleeping during the afternoon, having planned it out to wake just in time for the worst part of the day so she'd be in peak form. It was a decision she was glad she made when Jenazad took things up another notch three days after he'd first wheeled out a civilian.
"I feel you've been limiting your efforts too much," he told Ranma as Miu watched. "Today I expect a minimum of five broken bones."
Ranma immediately went to work showing him exactly what she thought of that. But even well rested and with how much better she knew she'd gotten in the past few days, she still found herself outclassed. So with Jenazad beginning his final countdown, she was forced once again to do something she never thought she'd have to do.
Charging the guy watching the fight, she threw a punch slowly enough that even he could react, pulling it back watching how he defended. Ranma then proceeded to leave him badly bruised and with a broken and bleeding nose before moving to the final unpleasant step. Having seen earlier that he was right-handed, she grabbed his left hand and proceeded to break five bones splitting the count between his pinky and ring finger. She hated having to do even that, but hopefully it wouldn't interfere with his life too much before it healed. For that matter, she could only pray there was someone out in the backwater of whatever country they were in that knew how to set bones.
If there was, he was getting a surge in business, because Jenazad may have accepted fingers only the first day, but he didn't after that. The guy the next day had been left with a number of cracked ribs. The woman he brought the day after that had been forced to watch as both her legs were broken, an order Jenazad had probably gotten some extra little thrill out of giving to Ranma thanks to having recently threatened to do it to her. Meanwhile, despite being sure she was already at the breaking point, Ranma somehow managed to sleep a little less and cut her rest times a little shorter each day.
Ranma wasn't stupid. She knew that meditation techniques or no, the kind of training she was doing wasn't sustainable. She'd come crashing down sooner rather than later. But she still didn't slow in the least. With how Jenazad was quickly ramping up her torturing of the local populace, Ranma doubted she had much time left before something inside her just snapped. Or even worse, she was afraid that nothing would. Jenazad had told her he wanted to numb her to the whole process. What if his plan worked? What if Ranma just stopped caring about what she was made to do?
Ranma didn't even want to think about that possibility, but of course not wanting to think about something just made it all the harder to get it out of your mind. She was down to about three hours of sleep a day, and most of that was plagued by nightmares of turning into just the sort of monster that she was training under.
Waking up from just such a nightmare and doubting she'd even made three hours that night, Ranma realized she probably had about an hour before the time Jenazad usually showed up with Miu and the villager he would be handing over to Ranma. Not wanting to tire herself out beforehand, she decided to make another attempt to find where he kept Miu. Hopefully since she'd been quiet on that front for a while now, she'd catch him off-guard.
In fact, she did make it farther than she'd gone in any attempt yet, and was beginning to hope she might actually succeed this time when she reached a clearing and saw Jenazad waiting for her with Miu and the latest captive, a 20 something guy.
"I'm glad to see you're so eager to get started today," he told her. "Such enthusiasm deserves a reward. Let's say we take it to the next level today."
Ranma saw red at that, not even waiting for him to explain before attacking, but if he was at all surprised by that, it didn't help her, as he blocked every fist from her first assault easily.
"There's no end to your drive today is there?" Jenazad mocked. "Fine, I'll start your minute, but know that today's task will be something a little more long-term than any of the damage you've previously been doing. I want you to sever that man's spine so that he'll never walk again."
Despite herself, Ranma actually froze at that, being rewarded for her lapse with a vicious series of blows that were going to leave a few bruises as she was literally punched into the ground. Growling, Ranma got back to her feet and charged in again.
"You see, this is why we need this training," Jenazad declared. "You're a Sei fighter and yet here you are in a rage and unable to fight to your full abilities. And over something as trivial as this? That's the sort of thing that will get you killed."
Ranma knew he was right, as she wouldn't even be able to maintain a proper Seikuken like this, but she still couldn't bring herself under control. She just wanted to do everything to this piece of crap that he'd blackmailed her into doing to other. And when it was all over, she'd start again from the top. But Ranma just couldn't even catch the guy right now, and time was ticking away.
Was it possible she could just refuse outright? Would Miu even go through with this if she refused? After all, she'd held back last time. Ranma was desperately looking for any way out, but she didn't think that was the way. Miu had clearly been changing with each day. Early on she'd watch everything blankly, not giving a hint of emotion. Now, however, she looked eager to join in, and Ranma could practically feel the desire to fight dripping off her. No, if Ranma didn't do it, she was pretty sure Miu would.
Anyway, she knew from her mental clock she'd already used up over half her time, and Ranma was growing more and more desperate. So abandoning all tactics and planning Ranma just threw everything she had at Jenazad, relying on pure instinct and aggression. But whether a flurry of blows or barrage of Moko Takabishi, nothing she tried gave this man any pause. Far too soon he was beginning his final countdown and Ranma still didn't know if she'd actually be able to go through with it this time.
Looking back and forth between Miu and man she was supposed to cripple, Ranma wavered. Why not just let Miu be the one who went through with this? She wasn't herself right then, so nobody would ever blame her for it, right? But no, Ranma couldn't do that. She hadn't given up on Miu. She was determined that some way or another she would get Miu out of this and get her back to normal. It would be hard enough to apologize for taking so long to rescue her as it was. How would Ranma ever explain it if she just let Miu do all the dirty work?
No, as punishment for her weakness, the least she could do would be to shoulder the guilt from this herself. Even so, and with the countdown already at one, she hesitated as she approached the cowering man. But finally, Ranma darted forward with a single finger that took all her mental control just to keep from shaking as it slammed into the center of his back with a sickening crack.
The man fell to the ground like his strings had been cut, and Ranma knew she had been successful. He lay there propped up on his arms and looking on in shock for a couple of seconds before screaming in horror. A sound that haunted Ranma to her very core. Looking at the smirking form of Jenazad, she wanted to attack him again, but the continued screaming pulled her thoughts away from that. That screaming, that horrifying screaming. She just had to get away from it.
Abandoning the clearing, she ran back to the cabin she'd been living in as fast as she could, quickly pulling out of the range where she should have been able to hear anything. Still, even when she'd arrived, she couldn't help but think that she could still just barely hear it off in the distance. Ranma immediately went back to training, trying anything to distract herself from what she'd just done, as hopeless as that was.
But maybe he wouldn't be paralyzed for life after all. With how long she had been out of it, surely doctors would have picked up some new tricks. They had to be able to cure something like that by now, right? Ranma made sure she'd burned that guy's face into her memory, and promised that if there was some way to fix him, she'd get him fixed, even if she had to drag some fancy expensive doctor from Europe or America here to do it.
But even if that would help her feel better about today, what was coming tomorrow, or the day after? Would she be blinding someone? Ripping off limbs? Cutting out tongues? Ranma didn't know, and felt sick to her stomach just thinking about any of them. No, she couldn't wait around any longer. She had to get out of here today, and that meant not holding anything back. She'd use the Umi-Sen Ken, grab Miu, and make a run for it.
She'd still been holding that in reserve, wanting to find out where Miu was being kept before revealing that hidden ace, but she couldn't wait for that any longer. Although the hardest part right now was calming herself enough to make use of that school's techniques. Even with her Soul of Ice training, it was a couple of hours before she was ready to go, and with the sun already set, she suppressed her presence and set off.
Ranma made her way to the clearing, and continued on from the direction Miu and Jenazad had entered it from earlier in the day, looking for any trails she may be able to follow. She continued carefully in this direction for another minute before she hid behind a tree and froze up as she saw a blur moving through the woods.
"You're stealthier than I gave you credit for," Ranma heard Jenazad call out. "But don't think I don't know exactly where you are."
A surge of ki from the man put Ranma on edge, as she could practically feel him breathing down her throat. Getting into a defensive stance, she realized her mistake a moment later. It had just been a trick, and Jenazad hadn't actually moved. But whether her technique had wavered or he'd just heard her moving, he knew where she was now, and a second later the tree she been hiding behind was sheared clean through less than an inch above her head.
"Now will you head back, or do I have to do this the hard way again?" he asked.
Ranma badly wanted to do it the hard way, but the voice of reason won out this time. She needed every advantage she could get, and one more fight out here without any edge wasn't likely to change anything. Still, she refused to actually put her answer in words, instead turning back where she quickly arriving at the hut. But how long should she actually stay there?
She'd proven that Umi-Sen Ken had at least some effect. So Ranma could keep trying and make sure not to fall for Jenazad's tricks this time. On the other hand, she'd lost the element of surprise, and now he'd be expecting her. So her time might be better served coming up with a new edge. Maybe she could find a cat somewhere and be waiting for Jenazad in the Neko-ken. No, he wouldn't let Ranma get far from the hut, and there was no sign of the little demons around, so there wasn't much point.
Actually though, she'd already unsealed the Umi-Sen Ken, why not its sister style? Granted Ranma didn't actually know it, but she'd seen a lot more of it then she'd seen of the Umi-Sen Ken before she worked out how it worked. Most of the techniques were so vicious that Ranma had never really wanted to learn them before, but there was now one person she wouldn't hesitate at all to use them against.
With that in mind, Ranma set to work. Knowing that mastering a new style in a day would not be a simple task, she worked almost exclusively on it. Ranma quickly became fully absorbed in the training, not surprising since she was using every bit of will she had to avoid thinking of the day's earlier events. Working through the night and into the next day, Ranma was so into it, that she didn't realize for a while that Jenazad hadn't shown up for his normal sparring.
In fact, Ranma blew past the time she normally turned in for what little sleep she still got before she noticed anything was off. Not that it mattered all that much that she was late to bed. The nightmares were worse than ever and she wasn't sure she'd even gotten half an hour of shuteye before she woke up in a cold sweat unable to calm enough to get back to sleep.
Ranma knew her body and mind were already peering over the cliff that would lead to breaking down and she badly needed every bit of sleep she could get right now, but she simply couldn't do what she couldn't do. Not wanting to just lie there all morning doing nothing, she meditated for just a bit to try to add another thread or two to the few that were still holding her together. Ranma then forced down the food and water that had been left for her before working on some last minute practicing with the Yama-Sen Ken, putting the final touches on the plan she'd been working on to use against Jenazad. She'd have to make her first shot count.
Soon enough, Jenazad and Miu did show up. And the victim for today was girl who may have been a year or so younger than Ranma. It was the first time he'd brought someone that wasn't even an adult, and it was all Ranma could do not to blow her top after seeing this latest act. Still, if there was one thing Jenazad had been right about yesterday, it was that losing her cool hadn't helped in her fight. She had to stay in control no matter what happened today.
"It looks as if I'm going to have to change my plans," Jenazad announced. "It's quite clear you won't last to see the end of your training as I'd planned it out. You may not live to see it, and whatever was left of you would be useless to me even if you did."
Ranma's hopes immediately shot up at that. Could it be that he was actually going to put a stop to this torture?
"So I'm going to jump right ahead to the end," he continued. "If you break, you'll just be another failure. If you can withstand it, you'll come out the other end much stronger."
"Right to the end?" Ranma said so weakly it was barely more than a whisper as fear gripped her. "What do you mean by that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Jenazad replied. "I want you to kill this girl."
Ranma stood frozen to the spot, hoping she'd misheard, but Jenazad didn't let her continue like this for long.
"I'm starting your minute, by the way," he told her without the slightest hint of concern for what he putting her through.
But Ranma couldn't freeze up now. And she couldn't blow her top. She had to stick to the plan. Focusing her ki throughout her body, she forced more into her arms than they'd ever held before. The pain was significant and she didn't want to know the damage she was doing, but her arms wouldn't even need to hold out for a minute. The most important thing was masking what she was going to try. Jenazad's senses were incredibly sharp, and if Ranma had to pump ki into her arms before acting he'd know something was up. Still, she should get this over with as quickly as possible, as the burning in her arms made her wonder how much of that minute she'd actually last.
So Ranma charged, sending off the highest paced Amaguriken she'd ever performed, but still found each fist blocked by her opponent. That was fine though. She didn't need a clean hit for the next phase. She'd spent more than enough time fighting the man over the last couple of weeks to figure out the flow of his ki, and when his right fist came up to block a left from her, she latched on with her ki, hardening the connecting between them with the ability she'd finished for her father.
She then put all the force she could muster into that arm trying to wrench the first connected to it away. She knew that Jenazad was too good for that in itself to do much, but she was hoping the unusual move would at least serve as a distraction for her real trick. Ranma now swiped out with her right arm, aiming for a knife blow to Jenazad's neck, but his left arm came up to block just as she was expecting it to.
And that's when Ranma redirected her hand slicing it sideways and pumping all that energy she'd been storing in it, using the Kijin Raishu Dan to fire a vacuum blade directly at the arm he was extending in a block. Normally Ranma would hate to resort to anything this extreme, but it was well past the point for holding back. They'd see just how well Jenazad could fight with only one arm.
Ranma enjoyed the look of surprise on his face, even if it wasn't quite as terrified as she would have preferred from the demon in front of her. She'd get to enjoy seeing her tormentor suffer more soon enough. There was no way anyone could dodge that attack from point blank range in his position. But Jenazad was certainly going to try, as Ranma almost imagined she could feel the ground straining from the force his feet were pressing against it as the man tried to twist out of the way.
Ranma was even surprised to find him using the ki still connecting their other arms to pull himself away from the attack, a ploy Ranma hadn't expected but denied him moments later when she released him. Even with that, she'd been right that dodging was beyond even the man in front of her, but he'd come far closer to it than Ranma had anticipated. So rather than losing his arm, the vacuum blade simply cut into it below the shoulder.
It was more than a simple scratch, and a part of Ranma felt she should be thrilled at her first victory against him, however minor. Still, she knew better than that. That attack wouldn't cripple him in any way and having shown all her cards, Ranma didn't know what hope she had of winning this fight in the short time she had left. For his part, Jenazad now had the most openly joyful expression she'd yet seen on the man.
"I don't if you held those in reserve all this time or developed the techniques just for me," he told Ranma. "I'm not even sure which would be more impressive. Now I want you to make it through this trial more than I ever have before."
"And I want to leave you in a bloody pool more than ever before," Ranma fire back.
Even so, she had little choice but to go to plan B. At best this would just delay things, but it was all she had left. Spinning around she fired a Moko Takabishi at Miu, charging at the girl even as she dodged out of the way of his surprise assault. If Miu was unconscious, she'd have no way of killing the young woman Jenazad had brought. Then Ranma would be safely able to refuse to do anything.
Unfortunately, she'd barely gone two steps before Jenazad wrapped her up and slammed her into the ground, quickly forcing her into a painful hold laid out with her stomach on the ground. It was clear he wasn't holding himself to her level anymore.
"Now, now," he chided. "Attacking Bulu is against the rules. You'll have to pay the penalty for that."
Then a quick blow to the back left the entire lower half of her body numb and unresponsive. She'd almost feared for a fraction of second that he'd broken her spine, just as she'd been forced to do that man the other day, but she quickly realized that it was simply a pressure point of some sort. Either way, it left her in the same crippled state when she needed every advantage she could get right then, and with her arms still painfully held behind her, she couldn't think of any way to escape this hold.
"Bulu," he called out to Miu. "The moment my countdown reaches zero, if that woman is still alive, I want you to kill her."
Even knowing it wasn't likely to accomplish anything, Ranma struggled to the best of her abilities. But she wasn't able to get any leverage with her arms to do anything. So it came as a surprise when Jenazad pushed her right arm down from the hold it was in, but it didn't take more than a moment to realize what he was up to as it was now pointing at the frightened looking girl Ranma had been ordered to kill.
"I'll give you one more chance to use that fancy move of yours before Bulu cleans up for you," he told Ranma. "And by the way, ten ... nine ... eight."
As the countdown began, despite being her brain feeling like molasses after how hard she'd been pushing herself lately she still forced it into top gear, racing it faster than she ever had before. Her right arm was being held a bit loosely, she could probably still fire off a Moko Takabishi at Miu. If she found just the right opening, there was a small chance she could still knock her out with it. But Miu was skilled enough and far enough away that such a hope was beyond a long shot.
The countdown had now reached five, and she still didn't have a solution. Despite not wanting to give up, Ranma couldn't help but let her thoughts drift to what to do if she failed. Killing was simply too much. Even crippling that guy yesterday had almost broken her. And really, would it actually be worse on her conscious to let someone drugged up that much kill a person than do it herself? Besides, maybe Miu would find enough control to resist her orders, even if it didn't look like she was struggling with the notion at all right now.
Yes, with only three seconds left, she decided that if a miracle didn't happen, she would just have to leave it up to Miu. But as fast as her mind was still moving, those last three seconds began to feel like an eternity, and her thoughts continued on into what would happen after this if she refused. Jenazad had already talked about this being make or break for her. Would he just kill her if she refused? Honestly, that didn't worry her as much as it would have a couple of weeks ago, at this point it might even be a relief.
But if she were dead, there went her chance of rescuing Miu or putting a stop to Jenazad once and for all. Still, even that couldn't be enough to bring her to kill someone, could it? I mean, there was Saffron. She'd been willing to kill him to save Akane even before she knew he'd come back. And if Ranma considered what she was going through worse than death, wouldn't Miu think the same thing? So the rescue would be just as important. But it wasn't Jenazad she'd be killing for Miu's sake; it would be some uninvolved girl. And even killing her didn't equal saving Miu. It would just buy some time.
Her thoughts just kept circling faster and faster, to where she was practically frothing at the mouth by the time Jenazad got to one. All of a sudden, her exhaustion and her stress of it all just seemed to reach a breaking point where she couldn't take it anymore and she let out a scream at the top of her lungs without even realizing she'd been planning to. She snapped back to sanity a moment later to see Miu still standing there motionless.
With a spark of hope, she thought maybe Miu was refusing to do anything. Had Ranma's insane scream somehow snapped her out it? But even if she'd lost it for a second there, her mind was back enough to already get a feeling that something was off. Jenazad had just released her, which didn't make sense, and even more troubling, the ki in her arm felt drained. She couldn't possibly have fired off some kind of ki blast without even realizing it, could she? Besides, nothing looked to have happened.
It was then the most sickening sight Ranma had ever seen began to unfold as the head of girl Jenazad had brought began to dip forward as if nodding off. Only the neck didn't seem to be following. Slowly at first, but picking up speed the head slid free completely and began to fall to the ground. It hit shortly thereafter with a sickening thud, followed a moment later by a second impact when the body followed it to the ground.
There's no way that could be from a Kijin Raishu Dan, could it? She'd have to remember doing something like that, right? The drain in her arm was just her mind playing tricks with her. But she couldn't make herself believe those words, and Jenazad jumped right in to further destroy the fantasy she was trying to build for herself.
"Good work," he told her, jabbing a spot on her back that returned feeling to her legs. "The first kill will be the hardest, but it will get easier from here."
Rather than get up or tell him off though, Ranma did the only thing she could at that moment. Heave up the entire contents of her stomach at the ground mere inches from her face.
"Come Bulu, let's return for today," he told Miu as the two of them wandered off.
Ranma wanted to run off again like she had the day before, but she was already at the hut and she couldn't just leave the body for the animals to pick apart. Although what did people wherever they were do with bodies? Burn them? Bury them? Cast them out to sea? Ranma wished she knew. Climbing to her feet she made her way over to the body, quickly finding she hadn't quite got everything out of her stomach the last time as she thought she had. But after she finished with that, she tried again to figure out what to do next.
Well, she supposed it was the least of her worries at the moment. What was she going to do, apologize for not asking the girl's family what they wanted done with the body before she decapitated her? Anyway, she thought burying was a pretty safe bet, and quickly went to work digging a hole in the ground. Even using her hands to dig, it took longer than she expected, but then she was a complete mess right now. Ranma had broken down crying almost as soon as she started digging and had been a sobbing mess ever since. And that didn't even count all the breaks she made to dry heave, having nothing left to throw up.
Sitting there looking at the hole that was now about six feet deep, she wondered again how she had been capable of doing this, no matter how far she'd been pushed. She hadn't thought she was the type of person that could ever kill an innocent, but the facts were right in front of her. Trying to avoid getting any actual blood on her hands, Ranma carried first the body, and then the head into the hole, not willing to simply drop them in. Then she went to work filling the hole back up, a task she finished much more quickly than the digging.
Then Ranma quickly found a decent sized rock to use as a marker. She didn't know the girl's name, or anything about her, and it was unlikely anyone who knew her could read Japanese even if they found this spot, but Ranma still forced herself to leave a short message. Carving out the words with her fingers, she was soon satisfied with the results.
Here lies a young woman. Murdered by Silcardo Jenazad and Saotome Ranma.
With her work done Ranma stared at it for several minutes still crying to herself after all this time.
Finally, thanks to the fading sunlight, she realized that she'd spent more than an hour working on the grave already and she needed to get back to work to prevent anything else like this from happening. Dragging herself back inside the hut she'd been staying in, she curled up in a corner and began to work on a new plan. Jenazad was right about one thing. Today wouldn't be the last time she killed someone, and the next one would be a lot easier.
The next thing Ranma knew she was being shaken awake, quickly jumping to her feet to see the man her brought her food and water. This was especially shocking as she couldn't even recall drifting off. It was as if one moment she was planning to rip Jenazad to shreds, and the next moment she was here. Ranma then went to work figuring out how much time she'd lost and with a fright, she realized the sun was shining brightly so she must have slept the entire night away. Another wave of guilt rushed over her. Ranma felt like a monster for getting the soundest night of sleep she'd had in a while barely an hour after killing another human being.
In her head she knew it had to have been a simple act of her body just being unable to put up with the lack of sleep any longer, but that thought didn't help in the least.
"Come," he told her. "Follow me."
That was new. The man had never been sent to fetch her before. Looking around she quickly spotted the meal he must have brought earlier. Ignoring most of the food, she forced herself to grab the canteen of water and a loaf of bread before following along behind the man. Ranma didn't deserve even that small fare, but forced herself to down them anyway. She'd need it if she wanted the strength to do anything about her situation.
As she followed her guide, the strangeness of the situation only increased. They'd been trekking through the forest for a while now, and Ranma was already further from her hut than she'd managed to get in any of her escape attempts. Ranma was getting more and more confused as to what was happening today, but even pestering the guy leading the way didn't get any more out of him than that Jenazad had called for her.
Eventually, the forest parted and she found herself at what appeared to be a large building with a tower. She'd never expected to see a place like this out in what she'd assumed to be the middle of nowhere.
"Go down that hallway and into the arena," her guide told her, pointing at a door leading inside.
Ranma was very tempted to refuse, and maybe even run off, but what would that even accomplish? Even if it actually worked this time, she'd have to explain how she abandoned Miu when she got back. No, she'd see what new torture Jenazad had in store for her before she decided what to do. So she walked down the hallway, entering the arena to see someone already standing there. But what was Kenichi doing here?
"Ranma!" Kenichi cried out on seeing here. "Do you know where Miu is?"
"Jenazad has been keeping us separate for the most part," she answered. "But what are you doing here? You weren't captured too, were you?"
"No, I came to rescue the two of you," Kenichi replied.
"Yeah, I hope it's more than just you," Ranma told him. "Otherwise you just added one more person I have to save."
"No, Sakaki is here too," he answered. "Oh, and we ran into an Okonomiyaki chef on the plane named Ukyo that says he knows you."
Ranma pushed aside the spark of amusement the fought through even her dark mood at the thought that Kenichi got fooled on Ukyo's gender, focusing on the more important news. They might actually be getting rescued. Ranma doubted Ukyo would be much help against someone like Jenazad, but Sakaki certainly would.
"So where are they?" Ranma asked, excitement starting to build despite herself. Maybe Sakaki had already taken care of Jenazad and just sent that guy to find her.
"Well, I kind of got separated from them and captured," Kenichi admitted, "but I'm sure they'll find us soon."
"That's enough catching up," a voice called out, and she looked up to see Jenazad, although he was now wearing a mask that really fit his Demon God Fist name. "Today's exercise will be a little different. You and Bulu will be fighting together."
"Who is Bulu?" Kenichi asked.
"That's what he calls Miu," Ranma answered. "Although I should warn you, he's messed with her head so much that she won't act anything like she normally would. And she won't remember you either."
"As I was saying," Jenazad cut back in, with no sympathy for Kenichi who looked devastated by Ranma's words, "you'll fight together against a pair of opponents. One, a bloodthirsty man who's little more than a rampaging beast now, and the other is your friend there. The fight, of course, will be to the death."
"What?!" Kenichi cried out in surprise, but Ranma just grit her teeth, expecting something like that.
"And I expect both you and Bulu to have a kill," Jenazad continued. "If either of you don't get a kill, I will kill that person. If either of your opponents survive, I will kill them. And for anyone I take care of, I will handle the process as slowly and painfully as possible."
"Leave Miu out of this!" Ranma protested. "The whole point of this stupid thing was that I was protecting her."
"Yes, but I'm training both of you," he answered. "I've already seen what you can do, but now I need to ensure Bulu can take a life."
Even though she was facing Jenazad now with Kenichi at her back, Ranma was certain the boy must be staring at her in disgust and couldn't bring herself to look back and confirm that. Jenazad practically just came out and told him that Ranma had already killed someone.
"The only question is, do you take the easy kill for yourself, and watch Bulu dismember Kenichi there, or kill a friend to protect her?" Jenazad asked. "Such an interesting decision. I look forward to seeing how it plays out."
"No one is killing anyone!" Kenichi insisted. "We're going to rescue Miu and get out of here."
"We'll see how long you feel that way," Jenazad declared before raising his voice. "Bulu, Pengulu, come out now."
At his words, Miu made her way in from one end of the arena, wearing some kind of large combination headpiece mask that looked like a three-eyed bird. A large man wearing a mask resembling a skull came in from the other. Just what was it with Jenazad and masks today?
"Miu, we're going to rescue you!" Kenichi called out to her, but she merely got into a fighting stance at his words.
"I tried to warn you, but that's not going to work," Ranma explained. "Nothing I've come up with has been able to get through to her. Anyway, Miu is too much for you. I'll take her down without hurting her. Hopefully the big guy is weak enough for you to distract him until I'm finished."
Ranma wasn't going to play along with Jenazad even one bit today. She'd have to go all in on Sakaki rescuing them. That was an odd thought. Ranma was always the one doing the rescuing. Still, slam to her pride or not, she'd take any help she could get right now. If Sakaki didn't come through in time, then that was that. Moment of madness or not, Ranma was never going through yesterday again. The only other life she'd ever take would be Jenazad's.
If refusing to cooperate got her killed, well, even as bad as the man threatened to make it, Ranma would still pick that to letting him continue to try to mold her into the same kind of monster. As for Miu, looking at what she'd become, it might be an even bigger mercy for her than it was for Ranma. But she wasn't giving up yet. Death may not be the worst outcome, but she'd use every drop of strength and spirit to keep it from happening.
"Now let's go," Ranma said in one final direction to Kenichi before dashing at Miu.
As if responding to the start of battle, Ranma felt Miu's ki spike as it all but radiated off her. She'd felt masters put off energy like that before, but it was far more intense than she'd ever gotten from another teen. And as they began their fight, it was clear she was putting it to good use. It was night and day how much faster and stronger Miu was than before. She was now putting even Reiko to shame in that regard, and when it came to pure skill and talent, Ranma had never been given any reason to doubt she was the Elder's granddaughter. She was truly a top-notch fighter.
If she'd fought Miu like this the day she'd woken up after being kidnapped, Ranma might have gotten blown away before she even realized how dangerous of a fighter Miu had become. Fortunately, she'd had her own rapid improvement. And almost as importantly, Miu was now fighting almost exclusively with the Pencak Silat that Jenazad must have been teaching her. Ranma was impressed that she'd reached a level of mastery beyond what almost anyone could hope to reach after only two weeks.
Still, Ranma had spent that same time focusing all her efforts into trying to conquer that style, and while Miu was now dancing around like she'd been using the style her whole life, she still wasn't near the level of mastery that Jenazad had. In short, Ranma was in complete control of the fight, and could probably end it at any time she wanted. That said, she didn't want to end it too quickly. Who knew when Sakaki would show up, and Ranma wanted to stall as long as possible to give him time before Jenazad decided to get involved.
There was just one little problem with that plan. Kenichi wasn't faring nearly as well as Ranma was. The best thing he had going for him was that Pengulu seemed more interested in Miu and Ranma than Kenichi. Ranma supposed he was still following whatever orders he'd been given. He'd fight Kenichi for a while when the boy got in his way but if he managed to knock him aside for a moment, rather than going for the kill, he'd head straight for Ranma and Miu.
Now as much as Ranma was confident in his ability to defeat Miu, she was good enough to take advantage of any openings that Pengulu made for her, and Ranma had been left with a couple close calls already. At this point, Miu was acting nearly as wild as the Pengulu, so Ranma was beginning to sweat over how one small mistake and any of Kenichi, Miu, or herself might wind up seriously injured or worse. She was starting to wonder whether ending the fight was really the more dangerous than letting it drag on.
"Switch with me," Kenichi ordered her out of nowhere.
"Are you kidding?" Ranma asked. "She's even better than the big guy. She'd rip you to shreds."
"I'll get through to her somehow," he explained.
"You don't think I haven't tried?" Ranma argued, as she continued exchanging blows with the girl in question. "It's too dangerous."
"I'll make it work," Kenichi vowed. "Just switch with me."
Ranma hesitated for a moment before launching off of Miu with her feet and rocketing toward Pengulu. She supposed Kenichi deserved a shot at it. She'd just have to jump in and rescue him if things got too hairy.
"That's more like it," Jenazad called out to them. "Now you're fighting the right sides. Honestly though, I expected you to protect Bulu from having to kill the boy."
Ranma growled at him, but focused on the fights at hand. Pengulu was easier to toy around with than Miu had been. On the other hand, Kenichi wasn't even trying to fight back with Miu, simply defending himself against her attack and pleading with her to listen to him. Ranma was about to switch back, whatever Kenichi had to say, when something surprising caught her eye. Miu had a clean opening to Kenichi's throat and might have finished him before Ranma even got a chance to pull him out. She'd gone for Ranma's own neck a number of times already without any hesitation, but all that came out of her was a half-heard punch to Kenichi's arm.
Watching further, Miu never seemed to fully take advantage of any of the opportunities her superior skill opened up. Sure, she was probably going to leave his body a single giant bruise at this rate, but there was far less intent to injure than when she'd been fighting Ranma. Was she not as bloodthirsty as she'd looked and holding back because she knew Kenichi couldn't take it? Or was the boy actually getting through the drugs and reaching her?
Whatever the reason, his life might not be hanging on by a thread after all. She still kept an eye on him, while trying to keep her own fight looking more interesting than it really was. Occasionally she'd risk a glance at Jenazad to try to and get a feel for how long he'd put up with this charade, but it was hard to read a guy wearing a mask. She should know, having used that trick against the Gambling King. Still, view of his face or no, she was getting the impression that their time was limited, especially as is was now very clear that Kenichi was getting through to Miu, who was openly faltering at times.
And as thrilled as Ranma was when Miu grabbed her head before slowly calling out Kenichi's name, she couldn't imagine Jenazad would let this continue a moment longer. And as if to prove that point, she caught a figure leaping into the ring from the corner of her eye. Only they weren't wearing a mask and clearly were not the Demon God Fist. And rather than causing more grief for Ranma and her friends, the figure slammed down a giant spatula into the back of Pengulu's head. Ranma quickly used the opportunity to follow through and knock him cold, wanting as few enemies as possible when everything went to hell.
"Miss me, Ranchan?" Ukyo asked with a smile.
Ignoring her for a second, Ranma quickly searched for Jenazad, only to see him already engaged with Sakaki, a fact that brought a real surge of excitement.
"Nothing against you Ucchan, but I'm even happier to see him right now," Ranma then answered.
"I'm sorry Kenichi," Miu interrupted, showing she was still succeeding at fighting off the effects. "But I'm having trouble staying in control. I'm going to knock myself out so I don't hurt anyone."
She proceeded to do that, falling limply into Kenichi's arms.
"Get her out of here, while I ..." Ranma began scanning for Jenazad so she could join in on that fight, only to discover the battle had already moved out of sight. "I guess I'm coming with you for now."
"Great, let's get a move on then," Ukyo urged, running toward one of the exits.
There was a guy there trying to block their way, but before Ranma could even do anything about it, Food Guy showed up and took him out in one blow. He wasn't half bad either.
"This way," a little girl then called out in surprisingly good Japanese from behind him.
"Here, I'm returning these to you," the man said, holding out a pair of arm bands to Kenichi.
They made it through the rest of the tunnel without running into anyone else, and it only took a moment after they stepped outside for Ranma to locate the pair of fighting masters. She was just about to join in the fight herself when she saw two other figures standing near the edge of the forest that looked very familiar. Ranma couldn't figure what they would be doing out here, but with the multi-colored hair of the one, and the tiger skin outfit of the other, even with all the aging they did there was no mistaking them.
"Ah, there you are Ranma," Herb declared. "I'd like to thank your friends there for leading us this far.
"You were tracking us?" Ukyo asked. "Why didn't you just come up and say something? You're not working with them are you?"
Herb's face darkened noticeably at that. "I would never work with Yami," he swore angrily before reining himself in. "It's just that I wasn't the only one tracking your progress. On that note, I'm afraid it will be a short while before I can help rescue you."
Ranma would have asked him what exactly he was talking about, but it became clear enough very quickly as dozens of men carrying a wide variety of sharp pointy objects made their way out of the forest.
"You should have been grateful we were content to let you stay in your tiny little kingdom even though you refused to join us," a large man carrying a huge spiked club called out to Herb from the front of the group. "But it looks like you need another reminder of why you shouldn't interfere with Yami."
"I didn't request the help of the Weapons Division," Jenazad called out to them. "If you have business with that man, then fine, but don't involve yourselves further than that."
"Don't think you can order us around just because you're one of the Nine Fists," he yelled back angrily. "We're the Tanaka Triplets, and we don't answer to the Unarmed Division."
Tanaka Triplets? A name like that explained why they were speaking in Japanese, but which of the dozens of men were the triplets? Looking near the man speaking there did happen to be a swordsman on either side of him that did look exactly alike each other, but the man she'd pegged as their leader was a good two feet taller than them and was rippling with enough muscles that he probably weight twice as much as the other two combined.
"Wait, how are you triplets?" Ranma now asked out loud.
"They're identical; I'm fraternal," he fired back. "It happens, and I'm sick of explaining it all the time."
"I'll handle the three leaders," Herb announced. "Lime, you help Ranma and his friends deal with the lackeys."
Ranma didn't want to be stuck dealing with lackeys, but seeing the mass of fighters now circling their little group, she may not have any choice but protect the rest of them. Meanwhile, one of said lackeys got a little antsy and decided to make a move on Herb. In a flash, an aura that was almost blinding shot up around the man, and when the sword that was being swung at him hit the aura, it melted in the man's hands, doing nothing to Herb. Clearly frightened now, the man turned to flee, but Herb's aura extended out after him like a giant hand, wrapping around him as he gave out a screech of pain.
It didn't last long as he soon went limp, leaving nothing more than a blackened husk. Even knowing it was one of the bad guys that had died, the death in front of her threatened to drag Ranma's mind back into a despair she was doing her best to wall off until she'd gotten everyone out of here. Thankfully, everyone else was too focused on Herb to take advantage of her distraction right then, because it took Ranma a couple of seconds to get enough control of herself to chase the haunting image of the girl's lifeless head out of her mind.
"An interesting trick," Big Tanaka, as Ranma had dubbed him in her mind, declared, "but you'll drain your ki dry in under a minute at that rate."
Ranma had to chuckle at that, a reaction that both Herb and Lime shared. These guys obviously didn't know who they were dealing with. Ranma could hardly even imagine Herb running out of ki. Still, the other men may have looked like they'd been about to wet themselves just a moment ago, but their leader's words gave them another hint of a backbone, and now they were prepared again to take on their group.
"Not that I have to tell you to do this or nothing, but protect Miu," Ranma ordered. "We'll handle these guys."
Ranma wanted to finish off the rabble quickly so she could help with the important fights, but ten seconds into combat she already knew this was an important fight. The skill of these guys varied wildly but most of them were better than that Pengulu guy they'd just fought. One or two of them might have given her a good fight on their own, and with the numbers they had, Ranma had been put completely on the defensive. She and Kenichi were both using the Ryuusei Seikuken just to keep from being sliced into a million pieces.
She was really starting to worry for Miu, Kenichi, and Ukyo. The first was still unconscious, and the other two weren't at Ranma's level, and might end up with new holes in their bodies at any moment. The only saving grace was that their opponents were focusing more effort on the bigger threats. And though it bothered her to admit it, that meant that even Ranma wasn't getting the largest share of underlings. That honor went to Lime, who had found a boulder about ten times his size somewhere and had been using it as a combination shield/bludgeon.
And even he might be overwhelmed before too much longer. Even with all their work combined, Ranma counted only three of them taken out of the fight, and those had been three of their weakest fighters to begin with. Meanwhile, Lime's boulder had been steadily getting carved up and was down to less than a third of its original size. In addition, a few shallow cuts had made their way through his thick skin, and as strong and tough as the man was, he just didn't seem fast enough to catch anyone in a finishing blow. After Lime had demolished that first guy anyway and they realized it was best to harry him with a large group in hit and run tactics.
They could really use his buddy right about now, but it didn't look like Mint had come on this trip. Ranma was starting to tire as well and decided it was time to switch up tactics. She could push more ki into her muscles temporarily and hopefully take out a few of them. With their numbers, the math didn't play out well for them winning before she burned herself out, but the plan beat staying fully defensive until she dropped from exhaustion.
Decision made, she waited for an opening, letting a sword blade pass close enough that it brushed the tip of her nose before pumping the extra ki into her body and countering with an upper cut fist into the bottom of his chin that sent him flying. The extra speed she now had allowed her to just barely dodge around the attacks three of his friends had made as soon as she'd abandoned her defense to go on the attack, contorting herself between the three weapons in a way that made her glad for once that her female form was so petite before kicking off one of her attackers and following the guy she'd just attacked.
Having broken free from their circle temporarily, she sent an Amaguriken at the swordsman still dazed by her first attack, continuing the pummeling until she was sure he was out cold. She may have pressed that a little too long though as one of his friends had caught up to her from behind and wanted to put a sword through her back. Considering a dozen possible reactions in a moment, she grit her teeth and cursed herself for underestimating how quickly they'd recover from her escape. These guys were just all really, really good.
She wasn't going to let this attack finish her of course, but she saw no way out of this completely unharmed, she'd just have to make sure it was nothing but a flesh-wound she could fight through. Still, it had already been looking bad for her even without a handicap like that. So it was nothing short of a miracle when her attacker was kicked out of the way. Ranma wondered how she'd lost track of Kenichi or Ukyo badly enough for this surprise rescue to happen when she realized it wasn't either of them who had done it.
"Reiko, what are you doing here?" Ranma asked. "Kenichi didn't mention you coming along."
"We came on our own," she answered. "And with Herb there glowing like a bonfire, Granny said she could sense him from almost anywhere in the country. Led us right here."
"Where is the old hag, anyway?" Ranma asked, not daring to look around considering the two of them were still badly outnumbered, and fighting throughout the conversation.
"She and Kensei went to help out Sakaki," she answered. "Mom and I will bail the rest of you out."
"I was doing just fine, I'll have you know," Ranma groused.
"I never knew you considered being shish kabobed fine," she quipped.
"How about I let you fight these guys alone for a while and see how long you last?" Ranma fired back, but couldn't put any real zing behind it.
He was happy to see her, and the addition of Cologne and Kensei should all but guarantee a win for their side. Meanwhile, maybe Reiko and Shampoo would be the push they needed to get the upper hand in their own fight. Ranma was wondering just what Shampoo was doing when she noticed two of the men they were fighting sent flying, revealing the woman in question holding her trademarked pair of chui. Even as Ranma continued making her way through her own opponents, aided by them now having to split their attention between more people, she couldn't help but see the ease with which Shampoo continued to tear her way through the men she was fighting.
"That's Shampoo?" she asked Reiko, as their respective fights brought themselves close together again.
"Yeah, why do you sound so surprised?" Reiko asked.
It was a good question. Shampoo had never been a real challenge for Ranma, and she'd assumed the woman would still be somewhere around Ukyo's level. Stronger than before, but nothing like this. She supposed it only made sense though. Ukyo was a cook that fought and didn't even have someone she was training to get revenge on anymore. Shampoo, on the other hand, was a fighter who sometimes cooked and had Cologne as a personal instructor. Shampoo wasn't on the old ghoul's level, but watching Shampoo fight, Ranma wasn't too sure she'd like her chances if she was the one fighting the Joketsuzoku warrior.
Well, Ranma could deal with that later, for now, the additional two fighters had done more than simply shift the battle, it had tipped so completely in their favor that there was little doubt they'd clean up before long at this point. Yes, after two weeks of hell, something was finally going right.
Cologne was pleased to see everyone more or less okay. That Miu girl was unconscious, but by the way Kenichi was protecting her, she was obviously still alive. And she'd not expected to see the Musk here, but she wasn't going to begrudge them their presence, especially given how the others probably wouldn't have lasted that long without them. Of course now she had her own fight to worry about, and this Jenazad was a truly exceptional fighter. She could count on her fingers the number of people even in her own long life she would consider a match for him, and sadly, she wasn't even one of them herself.
If she could put her skill from today in the body of her youth, that would be another story, but that wasn't how things went. The real issue was how the three of them together were only fighting evenly against him when the fight should have been over already. He wasn't that good that he should be able to stand up to their combined efforts, and she blamed most of their failures on the big oaf in front of her. He was obviously better than this if he survived fighting Jenazad on his own even if he did look to have come out a bit roughed up in the exchange. Now, he seemed complete lost.
Like right there, she'd just created the perfect opening for him by forcing Jenazad to block a high speed assault with her staff aimed at key pressure points while he was already dealing with Kensei, but Sakaki hesitated and let the opportunity slip away. Cologne sighed at that. She'd seen his type before, skilled fighters who didn't have a clue how to fight as a group.
"I really wish young fighters these days learned how to fight when they weren't alone," she told him disparagingly.
"Hey, I'll have you know that at I'm very good at fighting together with Kensei here or anyone else from Ryozanpaku," Sakaki shot back, clearly upset by his remarks. "But you can't blame me for not knowing how to work with someone I've never even seen fight before. Last thing I want to do is hurt some old lady by accident."
"You're thinking too much," Kensei told her, as he jumped back just narrowly quick enough to avoid being disemboweled by a ki-charged fist. "That old bat wouldn't die if you killed her."
"While we'll discuss his wording later, your friend is right," Cologne told him. "Just fight as if I'm not even here. I've more experience fighting than the both of you combined. Just leave figuring out how to work around you to me. If I can't avoid an attack from someone that isn't even trying to hurt me, then I'm a disgrace to the Joketsuzoku name."
"Fine then," Sakaki answered. "But don't blame me if you have a heart attack or something trying to keep up."
Cologne then saw an immediate drastic improvement in every aspect of the man's fighting, right down to the speed and strength of his blows. Kensei had been right, he was over-thinking things, an especially dangerous situation for a Dou type fighter like him. Now this was more like it. Cologne did exactly as she'd promised, dancing around the two men who really were all but fighting in unison now, and their combined assault was proving well beyond even Jenazad's incredible skill level. He was now completely on the defensive and taking blows he'd rather not take. Yes, she wasn't so naive as to get careless, but this fight should soon be over.
Now that there were fewer men left harassing Lime, he was finding it much easier to deal with those he was fighting. He'd even managed to get his hands on a few of the annoying insects that had been buzzing around him the whole fight. Needless to say, none of those he'd gotten ahold of were still conscious. It was just a matter of cleaning up now, which gave Lime a chance to see how Herb was doing.
Lime was actually surprised to see all three of Herbs opponents still up. They must be super strong if they could survive this long against Lord Herb even together. But catching more of the fight, Herb almost didn't seem to be going all out. There's no way he'd be holding back against Yami, not after what they did to Mint. So there must be something else going on. Herb was really smart though. Lime was sure he knew what he was doing.
Even so, the big guy was the only one who even seemed to be trying to hit Herb, the other two probably still waiting for his aura to fade so they wouldn't melt their swords. So why hadn't Herb been able to finish them yet. As if sensing his confusion, Herb decided to speak.
"You know, I've heard of the three of you," he declared. "Rumor has it that one of you is much stronger than the others, which based on what I've seen would mean they were holding back."
Ah, know it made sense. Herb was being cautious because he didn't know how much they were holding back. Now he was probably trying to make them angry so they'd go all out.
"Unfortunately for you, I know exactly which one that is," Herb declared, before rushing straight at the largest of the three, going on the offensive for the first time since Lime had started watching.
His charge was so fast he was lifting the man by the front of his shirt before he could even get up a proper defense. One of the identical brothers tried to rescue him, but Herb simply spun the man he was holding right into the path of the oncoming attack forcing the sword blade that had been aimed at him into the back of his human shield and right out the stomach on the other side. He then slammed the skewered body down on the man's smaller brother with a force close to what Lime himself might have used.
Neither body made any sign of moving from where they lay, and Lime didn't feel at all sorry for them. If anything, they deserved worse. Anyway, with Herb taking out the big threat, it should only take him a moment to finish off the last of the three. Although Lime spotted that Tanaka sprinting toward Herb's back faster than any of the brothers had yet moved and tried to call out a warning. Herb, however, was already a step ahead of him and leaned to the side, almost completely avoiding the blade which couldn't have given him any worse than a paper cut as the guy holding it ran past Herb.
"Sorry, seems like you picked the wrong brother, just like everyone does," he announced with a smirk. "And look, a little ki is all it takes to pierce my sword through that fancy aura of yours."
Lime hadn't thought of that, but yeah, his sword hadn't melted at all in the attack.
"Aren't you worried about what I did to your brothers?" Herb asked him.
"Those two lazy idiots?" he asked. "They were just holding me back. With them out of the way, all I need to do is bring back your head and they'll finally make me one of the Executioner Blades."
Hearing him speak that way about his own brothers just reminded Lime of the kind of scum Yami was. Enraged all over again, he grabbed a man from behind that was busy trying to fight Shampoo, hardly even pausing to catch a glance at her boobs before using him as a human missile to hurl him into one of his friends.
"Oh, by the way, I knew all along that you were stronger than your brothers," Herb shouted as if challenging the entire area. "My senses are beyond any normal human's. It's nearly impossible to hide your true strength from me."
"Even if that's true, knowing how strong I am won't stop me from carving you up."
Lime looked forward to seeing Lord Herb prove him wrong. He'd wipe the floor with that second rate swordsman. Completely demolish him. Leave him a bloodstain on the floor. Only it wasn't going quite like that. The man went after Herb again and again, but if anything was getting the better of the exchanges. The little nicks and cuts from Tanaka's sword were starting to add up on Herb, who hadn't been able to do any real damage of his own.
Lime just couldn't understand how the fight could be going so badly for Herb. Sure his opponent was good, but there shouldn't be anyone who can stand up to Lord Herb. Maybe it was all a trick to make him overconfident. None of Herb's wounds were bad, and he could think up tricks like that. It's part of what made him so dangerous. And just as Lime was thinking that, he finally saw proof of Herb's skill when rather than a simple dodge, Herb had made a crazy acrobatic leap up and over Tanaka, twisting and rolling in a way Lime couldn't match if he practiced for a hundred years.
Especially when it had happened so fast it had practically been a blur to Lime. He hadn't even seen the cause of that blood that was now spraying, and had no idea what Herb had done to him, but searched with his eyes for the source. Only the blood wasn't coming from Tanaka, unless you counted the tip of his sword. It was coming from the top of Herb's arm. Lime's mind was a bit slow at figuring stuff like this out some times, at least compared to Lord Herb, but even he was able to piece together what had happened.
Tanaka had changed the path of his blade so it sliced into Herb's arm as he leaped past. A cut deep enough that this time that there was quite a bit of blood. Herb quickly burned the wound shut with his ki to stop the bleeding, but he seemed to be having trouble moving it now. That was it. Lime was going to help Lord Herb. The others could handle the rest of these guys without him at this point.
"Stay where you are, Lime," Herb ordered when he'd barely taken a step. "I'll handle this fight."
"Listen to your boss and run," Tanaka mocked. "If you're fast enough, he might be the only one I gut today."
Lime wanted to argue, but Lord Herb always knew what he was doing. Lime just hoped that what he was doing wasn't simply trying to spare Lime's life.
Cologne was very pleased with the way this fight was now progressing. Sakaki was no longer the most battered member of the fight, as Jenazad was obviously sporting some badly broken ribs to go along with the more general beating he'd been taking. He was too skilled to let that slow him in the least, but no matter how good you were, wounds like that could catch up to you in the long run, and Jenazad's time would soon be running out if they kept this up.
He was too skilled for it to all be smooth sailing though, as he somehow managed to maneuver Akisame and Kensei into running into each other despite how well the two fought together. Cologne prepared herself to defend against the attack she knew would be combing now that he could isolate her for a moment, only he didn't go after Cologne, he ran off to the side instead. She hadn't taken him for a coward, but she supposed it should only be expected at this point.
But ... No! He wasn't running away, he was running straight for Reiko. How had Cologne not realized the girl had gotten so close to their own fight? Cologne immediately gave chase. She knew exactly what Jenazad was doing. The trick had been tried against her almost more times than she could remember, and she'd even done it herself in a couple of fights from her youth that she wasn't terribly proud of. It was clear as day that Jenazad was holding his speed back just enough that she could barely reach him in time. And there wasn't a doubt as to what his next move would be.
But she still didn't hesitate for a moment. A man like Jenazad would follow through on his threat if she did. And as little blood as there actually was shared between them after all these generations, Reiko was still family, and Cologne would make this choice every time. So as she reached her staff out to push the young girl who barely understood what was going on at this speed out of the way, she was in no when surprised when Jenazad suddenly switched direction and came instead at her.
She had hundreds of years of fighting experience, but at that point, the best she could do was prevent the blow from being instantly fatal as his knife hand pierced through her clothing and flesh, plunging into her gut. She prepared for a counter-attack but found herself unable to gather the strength for it. For the first time in her life, Cologne realized she was well and truly too old for this. And then she got one last look at her several times great-granddaughter before everything went black.
With only three of the enemies left standing from pool they'd been fighting, and all of them otherwise occupied, Ranma decided to head toward Reiko. She was busy with one of those three near where Jenazad was getting a long-overdue thrashing. She'd help her finish off her straggler and then join the fight she wanted to be fighting all along. Running toward the other martial-artist, it looked as if Ranma wouldn't even need to do the first part as Reiko broke into his guard and quickly sent him to the ground hard.
Looking back to Jenazad, she was shocked to see that the man had broken off from his own fight and was speeding toward Reiko. Ranma rushed to help her, but found Cologne would reach him much sooner as she chased him down from behind. And that was when things really became horrifying as Jenazad turned instead on Cologne stabbing her with his hand and cutting into her as if it had been a knife.
Akisame and Kensei were there in a moment, driving Jenazad away, but even freed from her attacker Cologne fell limply to the ground, her staff clattering to down the earth beside her.
"Granny!" Reiko called out.
"Great-Grandmother!" Shampoo echoed from further away a moment later.
Ranma ran to fallen woman finding Reiko already there trying to stop the bleeding. Shampoo arrived a moment later, pushing her aside as she expertly ripped some material from her clothing to make bandages and wrapping them tightly around the wound.
"It missed anything vital, but she's still fading." Shampoo announced, in a panic.
"Stay with us, Granny!" Reiko pleaded.
Ranma wanted badly to do something to help, but her medical knowledge was limited to the bandaging Shampoo had already done.
"What do you mean she's fading?" Ranma asked. "You stopped the bleeding right?"
"Yes, but it must have been a huge shock to her system," she answered. "Her ki is still fading, and if it continues, she'll die."
Ranma knelt down herself and put her hand on Cologne, trying to get a sense for what Shampoo was talking about. Reaching her senses into Cologne's body she was amazed by what she found. She'd never felt any ki so ordered and efficient, and it seemed to reach into every part of her body. Come to think of it, it was probably what was holding her body together at this point. It was a real shock to get a feel for just how frail that body really was.
However, between the fighting and the injury, most of her ki had been drained, and now that order was starting to fall apart, as her remaining ki retreated deeper into her body. Ranma really wished someone like Tofu was here, or Cologne was awake herself to tell her what to do. She'd already killed one person with her own hands, and now someone she cared about personally was dying who was only here in the first place because of her. But she couldn't give up.
"Kensei, Cologne needs your help, now!" he called out. Kensei knew some of that crazy Chinese stuff, maybe he could help. But as if to torture Ranma even more, Jenazad seemed to be focusing his efforts on Kensei and preventing him from breaking off from the fight.
He might get away soon, but Ranma didn't know if Cologne would last that long. There had to be something she could do to help until then. If the problem was that she was running out of ki, maybe Ranma could give her some of hers. She immediately went to work trying to get a feel for Cologne's ki using the same trick she'd been refining to finish her father's move. It was fading, but there was enough of it left to set to work, especially with how extremely focused on the task Ranma was right now. She wished she had more time to make sure it was perfect, but the state Cologne was in soon forced her to try her hand and hope for the best as she charged some ki into her hands.
"What are you doing?" Shampoo demanded of him, grabbing her arm and pulling it away. "You can't just force your own ki into her. You'll kill her that way."
"Trust me, I know what I'm doing," Ranma insisted, wishing she was even half as confident as she sounded, but not wanting Shampoo to stop her again.
Even then, Shampoo hesitated, but only for a moment before releasing her. Probably more from there being no other choice than actually trusting her, but Ranma was doing this out of desperation in the first place, so she'd take what she could get. Going back to work, she matched her ki to Cologne's as closely as she could, beginning to press it into her body. The bits of ki that hadn't yet retreated seemed to push against it, rejecting her efforts, and Ranma realized it wasn't working.
But fighting back the panic, she focused on those bits of fighting ki, adjusting, and further refining the flow of the ki she was forcing in. For all her efforts, it wasn't making any difference until, all of sudden, the resistance stopped, and Cologne's body almost seemed to be sucking greedily at the ki she was forcing into it.
Ranma was again impressed by what happened next, as even unconscious, the ki she was introduced was quickly being pulled away and woven together in a stunningly complex pattern throughout the body. What she'd sensed at first must have been when it was already well into breaking down, because this was being put to use in even finer detail than that. What sort of training did it take to get it to that level? At that point, Cologne's eyes shot open, uncaring for how impossible that should be given that she was on death's door just a moment ago.
"You did it!" Shampoo cried out joyfully.
"Granny, are you okay?" Reiko than asked her.
"You never cease to amaze me, son-in-law," Cologne told him. "I've seen trained healers a century old that couldn't seem to get a ki-infusion right even with me standing right next to them leading them through the whole process."
Cologne then casually ripped the bandages free, pulled some needle and thread out of her sleeve, and sewed her own wound shut as if that was an everyday occurrence. At that moment, Kensei finally showed up.
"You're a little late I'm afraid," Cologne told him in a bit of humor. "Never did have a proper sense of urgency."
"Never mind that," he responded holding out a potion. "Here, drink this."
Cologne merely batted it away. "As if I'd drink one of your half-baked concoction," she answered.
Reaching into her sleeve again, she pulled out a container of her own, popped off the cap, and downed it in one go. Shuddering a bit, she then let the bottle drop to the ground.
"That's better," Cologne declared. "I probably shouldn't rejoin the fight, but I won't be leaving this world just yet."
"You're really okay," Reiko asked tearily, looking like she wanted to hug the woman but was afraid it might break her.
"Yes, dear," she said casually. "I've been worse off after a night on certain beds that I'm sure were designed just to torture my back."
"Then don't ever do that again," Reiko said forcefully. "I couldn't stand it if you died saving me."
"But I didn't die, so it's fine," Cologne quipped. "Now Kensei, why don't you stop wasting time and go help your big idiot of a friend before he gets himself killed?"
"I heard that!" Sakaki yelled back. "And stay where you are. This piece of trash will just try another trick like that if we give him half a chance. I'll fight him myself. Kensei, you guard everyone else until we can clean up and get everyone out of here."
"Or until I kill this fool and come for you anyway," Jenazad cut in. "But by all means, fight me alone when I've already proven you're no match for me."
"There's not exactly much cleaning up left to do, we've taken care of most everyone," Ranma replied forcing himself to ignore Jenazad's comment.
"Actually you might want to look again," he answered. "There's some other fighting going on behind you."
Ranma turned around and did see a large-scale battle taking place that was stretching around from the building from the other side.
"Sorry," he continued. "We may have actually brought them along with us. And those are good people fighting Jenazad's men. So I'd appreciate it if you could help them."
"Didn't anyone actually show up without bringing alone hordes of enemies we have to fight?" Ranma complained.
"Cut us some slack," Sakaki complained. "This guy runs the whole country. It's only natural he'd have thugs everywhere."
He ran a whole country? That was news to Ranma. She wanted nothing more than to force them to find a new ruler right now. But she could see the fighting drawing closer, with Kenichi putting himself between Miu and them, preparing to face them with only Ukyo there to help him. It was a tough choice, but she finally signed. Fine, she'd rescue the guy here to save her, and then she'd come back and kill Jenazad.
Lime saw some other fighting off in the distance, but didn't know what that was about, so for now he was just staying here ready to jump in if Herb needed him. With him having even more trouble with Tanaka since the injury to his arm, Lime was really close to charging in whatever Lord Herb said. In fact, he was preparing to take what was left of that nice stone he found and hurl it at Tanaka as soon he saw an opening when this fat man with a bushy mustache who'd been watching nearby interrupted. He was wearing some sort of military camouflage uniform, but didn't look to be a martial artist at all.
"That's enough of this farce," he shouted, somehow causing a pause in the fighting. "Are you really still that determined to fight me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, but I wasn't going to bother killing a pig like you," Tanaka replied. "Keep talking though, and I may change my mind."
"I wasn't talking to you," the man answered, turning his attention to Herb.
"Yes, I don't intend to let any of you live," Herb answered. "As soon as I'm done with this worm, I'll do everything in my power to kill you."
"Hey, hey," Tanaka answered with a laugh. "Did you forget how this fight has been going? I'll admit you're good, but I've all but finished you."
"You really don't understand, do you?" the fat man asked. "The only reason you're still alive, is because I've been working hard to keep you that way. I was hoping he'd eventually realize I didn't actually want to fight him and stop looking for an opening to attack me."
"Is this some sort of mind game the two of you worked out?" Tanaka asked, laughing again. "Well I'm not dumb enough to fall for it. I'm going to be the next member of the Hachiou Executioner Blades, and no two bit barbarian from the backwoods of China is a match for me."
This time it was the fat man's turn to laugh derisively. "I don't know much of what goes on in the armed division, but you'll never be a member of the Executioner Blades," he told him. "Whatever your superiors told you, it's clear someone wanted you dead sending you against Herb. Probably because you seem to feel you deserve to join them."
This was all too much for Lime to follow. Who was this guy? Was it actually some sort of trick or was he the only reason Herb had been struggling. And if so, how? Lime had barely even noticed him, but he was sure he hadn't been doing more than walking around a bit and fidgeting some.
"That's it, you are definitely next on the list to get carved up," Tanaka said angrily, pulling Lime out of his thoughts but getting no reaction from either of the other men.
"You do know who I am, right?" the fat guy asked Herb.
"I'm fairly certain I do." Herb answered.
"Then I should tell you that the girl unconscious over there is Furinji Miu," he continued. "So maybe you'll believe me when I tell you I have no intention of stopping your rescue."
The man then turned around and sat down with back facing the other two.
"So here's the opening you've been looking for," he continued. "But I'll only give you the one. So ask yourself, would you rather use it to attack me, or deal with the man actually trying to stop you from doing what you came here to do?"
"You know what, I'm sick of this game," Tanaka said. "So let's get back to me killing the both of you."
He then sprinted toward Herb again, planning to add one more exchange to the dozens they'd already had. Only this time, Herb easily danced around the blade aiming to cut him open and planted a fist right in Tanaka's Chest. And this fist was charged so brightly with ki it burned right through the man, allowing Herb's it to pass completely through him and come out the other side. Tanaka briefly glanced down at the arm that had just gone through him before falling dead.
Lime then looked back to see what the fat man was doing only to realize he'd disappeared. He noticed Lord Herb looking in the same direction and Herb knew him well enough to know that he was not at all happy.
"Should we chase after him?" Lime asked.
He still may not know who this guy was, but if Lord Herb wanted him dead, that was good enough for Lime.
Cleaning up this group of fighters proved much easier than the last one. A lot of that was having their own small army joining in on the fight. Ranma didn't have a clue who these people were, but Sakaki had vouched for them, and that was good enough for now. There were just a few stragglers left now, so Ranma took stock of how everyone was doing. Cologne was standing near the still unconscious Miu and Reiko was teaming up with Kenichi to protect them.
Not that Cologne needed that much protection. For all her talks of not joining in the fight again, Ranma had seen the way she took out one guy that had gotten too close, even if it had earned her a scolding from Reiko. Regardless, all of them were fine. As was Shampoo, although she couldn't say the same for those Shampoo had fought. Ever since the scare with Cologne, Shampoo had been fighting with a bit of a mean streak, and she could do some real damage with those chui of hers. Ranma then located Ukyo, and frowned when she saw them woman limping badly with a bandage wrapped around her leg.
"Are you okay?" she asked as she hurried over to her oldest friend.
"I'm fine, Ran-chan," she assured him. "Just got a little careless. It's nothing serious."
Ranma knew it was probably worse than she was letting on, but it was already bandaged, and she was walking on, even with the limp, so it couldn't be too terrible. Besides, there weren't many people left to take advantage of her wounded state. So now was the time. No more distractions. She was going to deal with Jenazad.
She could see that he and Sakaki were still fighting a short distance away with Kensei positioning himself between the pair and everyone else to keep him from away from them. So Ranma broke off into a run, determined to add her own contribution. When she closed about half the distance she made use of the Kijin Raishu Dan and began firing off vacuum blades at the man. Jenazad danced around them without issue, but it must have been an even bigger distraction than Ranma thought it would be as Sakaki quickly began to overwhelm him.
The reason the shift was quite so drastic turned out to be rather simple. Ranma wasn't the only one joining this fight, as Herb was approaching from the other side and firing off his own energy blasts. And as much as she could watch Jenazad get worked over all day, that wasn't even a fraction of what he deserved, so Ranma kept up her vacuum blades as she continue to move closer, hoping to overwhelm him completely.
The plan worked, but sadly it was Herb's attack that broke through Jenazad's defenses first, as an energy beam tore a large hole through his left leg, leaving him badly hobbled. Ranma noted that he'd lost his mask at some point in the fight, allowing her to see his face, but he still looked calm, if a bit grim, without a hint of the fear or anger she wanted to see on him. Ranma would see if she could change that. Maybe losing a few more limbs would make him a bit more expressive.
Ranma didn't even have to wait long for that, as another of Herb's beams took his right arm clean off. As if resigning himself to his fate, Jenazad simply fell to the ground at that lying there and looking up at them. This caused all his attackers to break off for a moment. Ranma watched him cautiously, wanting to see what he planned next and still expecting some sort of trick. Jenazad then turned to look her directly in the eye.
"You and Bulu can still carry on my training," he told her, before giving another one of the smirks Ranma had come to despise. "All of my training."
That last line dug up all the memories of exactly how she had been trained and pushed Ranma's rage over the top once more. That was it; she was ending his life right here. Preparing what may be the last vacuum blade she ever fired off before sealing it up again, she aim for his neck and swung her arm, only to have said arm knocked up into the air just before firing by Sakaki, who was now holding it firmly in place to keep her from trying again.
"Can't you see that's exactly what he wants you to do?" Sakaki asked. "He's given up and he wants you goad you into killing him now."
But Ranma wasn't going to give up yet, preparing to use her other hand only to let it drop as hole burned right through the center of Jenazad's head. Thanks to Sakaki's interference, Herb had beaten her to the kill. Ranma didn't know what to feel about that. She should be glad the man was gone, and a part of her was, but getting her revenge on the man had been of the things helping her keep it together at her worst, and now that chance was gone. It just didn't feel right not doing it with her own hands.
"What was that about?" Sakaki asked angrily. "You just saw me stop the kid from doing that. In the state he was in, there was no need to actually kill him."
"I disagree," Cologne called out as she walked slowly over to them, with pretty much everyone else from their little group making their way over as well. "Crippled or not, there's no end to the evils a man like that can commit as long as he's still alive. This was best solution."
"You see, that's the biggest reason I never settled down with one of your Joketsuzoku girls," Kensei cut in. "Your whole culture is much too quick to resort to killing. There are always other options."
"Yes, but they're not always good ones," Cologne argued.
"And sometimes a person, or even a whole organization simply needs to be snuffed out as completely as possible," Herb added.
"Well, there's been too much death here already," Sakaki insisted. "Now we've won this battle, so I better not see anyone going around killing off survivors or anything like that. They'll have to answer to me if they even think of it."
"Don't threaten Lord Herb," Lime declared angrily, getting himself in Sakaki's face.
"Now, now," Ukyo cut in diplomatically. "We all got what we came here for. This was a total victory. We should be celebrating, not fighting with each other. Why don't I get started cooking us up a feast? I assume you want a special, Ran-chan?"
"Sorry," she answered without any real interest. "I'm just not hungry."
Ranma then let herself fall flat on her back staring up at the late afternoon sky. The nightmare was over now, but what came next? She'd done terrible things to people. It wasn't just the murder, although that was the one that haunted her the most. How many other people hated her now the same way she still hated Jenazad even after his death? She was no stranger to people wanting to kill her, but for the first time, she felt she probably deserved it.
And now she was supposed to go on as if nothing had happened? How was she supposed to live with herself? In some ways, she was more of a stranger to herself now than any of her old friends had been when she'd popped up and found she was in the future. Just who was this person capable of maiming and killing complete strangers? Because that wasn't the Saotome Ranma she knew.
Ranma waved off the flurry of worried cries asking if she was okay, telling them all she was fine but wanted to be left alone. Ranma wasn't one to just give up no matter how bad things got. She'd find some way to piece herself back together. But right now, she just wanted to lie here in peace.
Getting off the elevator, Nabiki fished out her keys and unlocked the door to the spacious condominium she owned in Tokyo. Letting herself in, she closed the door behind her. Flipping on the lights, she was startled to see a long-haired woman wearing some kind of shrine maiden outfit had been standing there in the dark.
"Who are you?" she asked in fear, reaching a hand into her purse for the stun gun she kept there.
"You don't recognize me?" The woman asked. "You're obviously not as good as you think you are."
At her words, Nabiki realized she did recognize who that was from a picture she'd seen. It was Kushinada Mikumo, one of Yami's Nine Fists. With that she released the stun gun she had her hands on. It wouldn't do any good here.
"And what does Yami want with someone like me, Kushinada-sama," she asked.
This was a very bad situation, but forgetting the basics wouldn't save her. Don't assume they know everything and give away your secrets to start with.
"You'll be happy to know that your little rescue mission succeeded," she told Nabiki. "Although such things don't come without consequences."
"I'm sorry, but if you don't know, I was against that whole mission," she informed her honestly enough. "I even stopped my family from getting involved."
"Oh, we know that," she answered. "We also know that you were the one that got Herb to finally crawl out of his little cave. Not that he needed much of a push, I'm sure. I've been saying we should pull out that weed ever since his rather violent refusal to join us. Still, he did kill one of our members, so we can't overlook your part in it."
"I'm still not sure why you think I had anything to do with that," Nabiki replied, holding out one last hope that she was just fishing for an admission of guilt.
"Please, Yami has a dozen people working for it as good or better than you are," she said. "And don't take that as in any way disparaging. The fact I say only a dozen is a huge compliment. More to the point, we know everything. Your little spy Mousse, your other moles, and all the activities you've been up to. We ignored you because you were always smart enough not to stand in our way. But now things have changed, haven't they?"
"So you're here to kill me?" Nabiki asked real fear starting to grip her now.
"Perhaps," she answered. "But we'd prefer to have you be of use to us."
"Wait, are you offering me a job?" Nabiki asked, stunned by that turn of events.
"Don't be so surprised," she answered. "An organization like Yami requires a lot of funds, and we're always seeking new sources of revenue."
"Don't take this as me saying I'd rather die than work for you," Nabiki said as diplomatically as she could manage while still conveying how little that thought appealed to her. "But why would I want to work for an organization as dark as Yami?"
"You talk as if you're in some way better," Kushinada replied. "I've dealt with your type before, so believe me when I say I know exactly how you think. You may have looked in the mirror one day and told yourself you're not really a bad person. It happens all the time. Some turn to philanthropy, others to family to prove they really are decent at heart. Sometimes, it's not even entirely untrue. But that doesn't change the fact that deep down, you have a love of wealth, power, and influence."
"You know, I think I already had this discussion with my shrink," Nabiki quipped, getting a bit more courage knowing that she warranted a sales pitch and actually had something of value to the other party in this exchange. "I'm still waiting to hear why this should make me want to join you."
"Because even with the occasional financial contribution, you'll still end up with far more wealth and power than you could achieve on your own," she answered. "Someone as savvy as you could easily end up wealthier than the Kuno family working with us."
Of course she had to rub that little fact in her nose. It never ceased to irk her that Kuno was richer than ever, still surpassing her own wealth by more than an order of magnitude. It was always just dumb luck too. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. He'd invest heavily in some dumb knockoff product only to have a fire burn down the competitor's plant leaving business to boom during the shortage. Stuff like that happened no matter how stupid his decisions. Only now, Nabiki's mind started to reexamine all of those events and it was all starting to fit together.
"Those weren't accidents, were they?" she asked. "You've been behind all of Kuno's success. The only real question is how you conned him into contributing, not that it would be all that difficult."
"Actually, we have his sister," Kushinada admitted. "You must remember that she technically owns half the business even if her brother runs it."
So that's why Kodachi fell of the map. With her, she might even be openly working with Yami.
"I even brought pictures," Kushinada offered, handing a stack of them over to Nabiki.
Nabiki was confused as to why they needed pictures. It wasn't as if Nabiki doubted her. But seeing the results, it was clear exactly why, as in each of them, Kodachi was bound in a straitjacket, terribly disheveled and in a disturbing state altogether. Her eyes especially just looked horribly off.
"What is this?" Nabiki asked, genuinely fearful again.
Kodachi had always been insane, but nothing even close to the level of these pictures.
"It's actually quite interesting how they decided to deal with her," Kushinada answered. "They filled her with enough drugs that they were actually able to get her to believe in a fantasy world they crafted. One where she had married Ranma and had a son with him. She happily named the child her heir and sole inheritor. Of course, these drugs weren't without side effects, and before long she lost it completely. It's rare they get her in a sane enough state to actually take her out and prove she's still alive. Of course, there's only a few months left until her 'son' comes of age and we won't need her any longer."
Despite herself, this was a bit of a shock. She knew for a fact this was far from the worst thing Yami had ever done, but seeing it used against a person she knew somehow made it more real. At this point it was clear she had to accept Kushinada's offer. Winding up dead was one thing, but what if they tried to something like they'd done to Kodachi on her? Looking at the pictures again, Nabiki shuddered at the thought. Besides, pretending to go along with them opened up new possibilities.
Only that got her mind dancing along a new little thread. Did she really have to pretend? Kushinada's words had been no real revelation. One thing she'd been wrong on is that Nabiki had never really tried to deceive herself. She'd decided a while back to make family important to her, but that didn't change the fact that she was and always had been an ice queen. She may not openly enjoy such things, but she wouldn't lose any sleep over Yami's actions, as dark as they were. Nor would she tear out her hair over how she could support something so evil.
And what better way to protect her family from Yami than to actually be on the inside? If working with them bumped her up from very wealthy to a Forbes list super-elite, well, that was just a huge bonus. Of course it did mean she'd actually have to answer to someone else, which didn't sit quite right with her, but considering the alternatives at this point, she'd swallow her pride.
"I admit, I can't find much I don't like about your offer," Nabiki told her. "I assume you shadowy organization types don't worry much about signing contracts, but consider me in."
"Very good, we'll be in touch." Kushinada said with a smile walking over to a window and leaping out without a bit of concern for the fifty stories down to the ground.
Nabiki could hardly believe her fortune. She'd never imagined she'd be completely caught and get away better than scot-free. Well, after all this she needed a drink. Heading to her kitchen, she grabbed a bottle of scotch and was about to fish out a glass when she was startled by the sound of the bottle shattering against the floor. Trying to figure out what had happened she saw her right arm bent at a very odd angle with the ulna and radius both clearly snapped clean through.
And then a second later the pain hit her, triggering a string of curses as she fished her phone out of her purse and worked on calling an ambulance with her off hand. The agony didn't make her want to admit it right now, but Nabiki knew she should still be glad she got off so easy.
Whew, glad to have that chapter out. This is one I've been planning right from the start and was one of the first things I had in mind when wanting to write this story. I've been wanted to get here for quite a while, and I'll admit, it took a good bit of restraint not to rush to this point of the story a lot quicker.
Now you may have noticed that I left a lot of events unwritten. There was nothing in this chapter about any of the various groups' journeys to get to Ranma. That was intentional. I strongly considered including some scenes, but in the end, I decided this chapter was about Ranma, and I felt it would detract from it to jump away from that too much. In the end, Herb's fight and the bit with Cologne were the only times I felt it worth jumping to another point of view before the epilogue. That said, I expect you'll get a few of the important pieces of those parts I left out in the coming chapters.
Now, one thing I'd like to discuss because a number of people brought it up in the previous chapter is in regards to Nabiki stopping Ryoga, Akane, and Ranko from joining the rescue effort. I wasn't implying that Ryoga was too weak to help against Jenazad, or even that Nabiki thought that. He's definitely strong enough to make a major impact. The issue was, that even knowing he could be a huge help, Nabiki decided that help in rescuing Ranma wasn't worth the risk to her family.
One final note before I sign off, I only learned this in my research and fact-checking for this chapter, so I expect a lot of you may be surprised by this as well, but Shampoo's most famous weapons are not bonbori. Bonbori are paper lamps, albeit with a somewhat similar shape to the business end of her weapons. The correct term for the actual weapons is chui. (Or chúi, if you want to get real technical, but I like to avoid special characters in my writing.) Now you don't need to be confused when I write them as such.