The warm shower of gore snapped Ranma Saotome's attention from the green hordes washing over their position to the woman on her left, catching the spray of blood across her bare face even as her eardrums weathered the loud crack of a high caliber weapon. Battle Mistress Tei'shu pirouetted violently as her chest opened up in a gout of fire, slapping the woman to the ground in a barely controlled tumble that resulted in a sloppy rollout to her knees. When Ranma was finally able to scrub the gore from her eyes, it was too late. The mint haired Amazon was already kneeling in her own pool of seeping blood flowing from her upper left torso; or rather was left of it. A jagged, basket ball sized hole had craved a tunnel through the woman's shoulder, destroying half her chest and separating the arm wholesale from its body.
Ranma took a step toward the woman through the shock of seeing her devastated body even as Tei'Shu herself simply sat with wide, unseeing eyes. She opened her mouth to speak something but more blood burbled down her chin. And then she was dead. Her body tilted lifeless, hitting the dirt face first before the redhead even had a chance to reach her.
Ranma didn't even have a chance to mourn her passing as the bestial roar fell upon her. A huge battle axe descended upon her and the redhead profiled right, not to retreat but to step inside its arc. The creature that bore it was a wall of muscle encased in green skin several heads taller than the girl it was attempting to kill. Huge jutting teeth dominated its squat face, though its squashed eyes widened as the giant axe buried itself into the open ground without a human attached. That moment of surprise was all it took for the tiny female to dismantle her massive green opponent piece by piece.
With both meaty green hands solidly fused to the length of the axe, Ranma slid in virtually unopposed, using every bit of her formidable strength to shatter the monster's left knee. Dense muscle and bone held the joint a fraction of a second longer than that of a normal human's, but a bellow of agony followed the meaty snap, terminally compromising the monster's balance. A huge arm swept in regardless of the audible agony in an attempt to backhand Ranma with a blow that would probably have snapped any bone it encountered, but the blood splattered redhead had already ducked below as she selected her next targets.
Against any other opponent, her next move would have ended the fight lethally as she decided against a high speed chestnut strike in favor of full power, open palm hammers. Experience taught that even the rapid fire lighter hits would only piss it off and these things were as tough as anybody or anything she had encountered to date.
'And that's okay by me,' Ranma decided ruthlessly and began to pulverize its torso with heavy handed strikes. Each impact cracked something, staggering the beast but failed to stop it from responding to the blows. Still, it was far too slow for her and she pivoted to avoid another green fist while the beast bellowed furiously at her. She used its left arm as a springboard to height and spun around, burying the heel of her foot into the left side of its face before falling back to the earth. Anybody else taking the equivalent blow would have been dead on the spot, but the monster continued to stagger drunkenly even with half of its cranium caved in.
"Fuck this." Ranma hissed and pulled the monster's own discarded battle axe from the earth. She twirled the weapon that was easily as tall as she was like a glaive to test it balance, which was horrible to say the least. It didn't, however, stop the redhead from reengaging the floundering monster in two blurring cuts. One cleaved its right arm away, sending it and the bulky pistol it had been grasping for clear of the melee in a spray of dark purple ichor. The next cut was absolutely lethal as it bisected the creature's torso from its stubby neck on the right all the way through mid-torso on the left.
The redhead was showered in more purple gore as she recovered; the green monster falling to literal pieces behind her. Another roar beckoned her attention and Ranma spun around, sighted a new monster assailing a fellow Amazon and whipped the axe back. The giant weapon tumbled end over end through open air upon release like a circular saw, burying itself in the surprised demon's head and torso to stop its attack cold. Whether it was lethal or not was a different story. The beast lurched backward with the impact and fell to the ground, but continued to squirm. It wasn't able to form any sort of coherent movement however, and the Amazon it was attacking was safe.
Her gaze was inevitably drawn to the south east as half hazard ranks of green skinned monsters were engaging the division she had been attached to with horrifying success. While there was isolated resistance here and there, it was an overall bloodbath for the remainder of their force. Amazons attempting to employ their hand to hand combat skills were being cut down by ranged fire courtesy of ungainly mobile fortresses composed of little more than tracks, armored plating and heavy weapons turrets. Some of the Musk attached to their division were faring better, but if the heavy volumes of fire didn't prove fatal, the green skin's numbers invariably did. The Phoenix fared the best against the inaccurate ground fire and ability to escape melee, but their inability to inflict substantial punishment against the green juggernauts was all too telling.
A noisy rumble echoed across the field of battle and Ranma watched with dread as some sort of airplane cleared the nearby mountain range and leveled off. The thing was an eyesore and looked like it shouldn't have been able to maintain airworthiness, but it somehow did; its three bulbous jet engines belching black smoke as it banked in. It seemed to select a heading to transverse their battlefield and began to spew fire from several of the half a dozen turrets mounted. The landscape below it puckered as heavy caliber rounds impacted and if Ranma didn't know any better, inflicted a fair amount of friendly fire while its guns chewed through round after round. Much as she liked that, the green things could absorb the casualties. Their forces couldn't.
The sheer volume of fire ensured the airborne Phoenix warriors were cut from the sky even as the alliance troops below were strafed. One of the piecemeal armored vehicles suddenly exploded as its main armament was triggered, and a small team of six Musk disappeared in a violent plume of fire and debris.
'Son of a bitch!'Ranma growled as their front continued to die piece by piece. The only reason it hadn't failed entirely was due to the orders Tei'Shu had already set in motion. The redhead glanced at the dead woman's cooling body, realizing that whatever they had going for them now wasn't going to last much longer and while she wasn't a battlefield general, Ranma could see the writing on the wall with all the clarity of a martial arts challenge. They were completely out manned and overpowered. Their opponent didn't need to particularly skillful or cunning with such an overwhelming advantage.
'They have goddamn tanks and airplanes!' Ranma balked at the unfairness of their circumstance but worked the problem regardless. She looked around for the next in command, but the only other Amazon in her immediate vicinity not fighting in a life or death battle was busy stabbing the life out of the still twitching Green Skin corpse with her jian. 'We're gonna lose,' The revelation floated through Ranma's tactical consciousness as the individual elements of the battlefield painted an all too bleak picture for her martial arts mindset. Another explosion tore away at the battle beyond and she made a command decision.
'But we ain't on death ground yet,' the redhead acknowledged and sprinted over to the nearest Amazon. She had golden blond hair, brilliant in the sunlight but spackled by purple blood of the corpse monster she straddled. Her jian rose again to take another feral slash at it when a hand caught her by the wrist. The red eyed woman snapped up, all but ready to attack when she recognized the redhead.
"Can ya understand me?" Ranma held her wrist a brief moment longer before being assured she wouldn't be the target of the women's aggression. The Amazon warrior refocused and nodded hesitantly. "Good. We're outta here. Pass the word to whoever's left." Incomprehension floated across the blonde's face until Ranma spelled it out for her. "We're retreatin', dammit!"
The woman understood that quite clear as evidenced by her widening eyes and angry stream of mandarin directed at Ranma's person; an angry stream that Ranma cut off by grabbing the woman by the scruff her bloody silk tunic. The martial artist impatiently yanked her up to height, into her face and pointed to the carnage on the plain beyond. "We stay, we die. Every last one of us!"
The Amazon watched the battle for a precious moment and suddenly comprehended that they were getting their asses kicked. Badly.Her gaze jerked back to Ranma and she nodded tersely. "This one tells." Ranma released her and she scrambled two steps away before stopping, turning back with a question. "Retreat where?"
That was a good question, Ranma realized. A damn good one. Somewhere that wasn't here obviously, but... The redhead worked their dilemma through her martial arts mindset and with a speed born through desperation. They needed advantage. They need leverage. 'Too much open land for the big gunss. No cover from the skies.' She remembered the map of the surrounding area. Hell, she had memorized it. They needed a defense, surely, but Ranma sensibilities and years of Anything Goes demanded more than that. She needed a way to flow from defense to offense and she could only think of place that would even offer the glimpse of possibilities for that to take place. Her decision was made in just under two seconds of analysis.
"We're fallin' back to Jusenkyo." Ranma decided grimly. The Amazon looked stunned, but nodded, racing off.
The next seventy two hours were the worst of the seventeen year old martial artist's young life. Worse than growing up on the road with her old man. Worse than being traded away at random for little more reason than to fill his accursed belly. Worse than any challenges borne from the fiancées or rivals hanging around him. Worse than the bleak darkness of the demon filled pit itself.
Her haphazard order had managed to extricate three hundred and thirty eight warriors from the field of battle... Of an initial force of just over two thousand Amazons, Musk and Phoenix combined. Simply running wasn't enough, however as the Green Skins continued to pick at their heels, forcing Ranma to improvise and adapt on the fly in order to save the command she had somehow inherited. The pigtailed teen had adapted a great many things to her martial arts mindset over the years- Anything Goes Fine Dining. Anything Goes Ikebana. Anything Goes Tea Ceremony. It was all almost inconsequential compared to what she had been forced to adapt to in their bloody retreat to Jusenkyo: Anything Goes Battlefield Warfare.
It was amazingly like martial arts, Ranma reflected soberly as she hid amongst an outcropping of stone, herself and the last of her command concealed in the shadows as they waited for the word of enemy contact to be passed along to them by the picket she had set up to harass the green bastards at the mouth of the valley. Like martial arts, it was her job to drop the opponent by analyzing his weaknesses and pitting them against her strengths. Their first and every subsequent encounter had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they couldn't stand toe to toe with this particular adversary, so she didn't. She went for the ribs. Joints. Weak areas. There weren't many of those in the Green Skin army, but they were there and she attacked them from the most unexpected of angles and withdrew before becoming decisively engaged.
The only difference here was her hands and feet were the lives of men and women and she had never been able to withdraw them completely unscathed. For every hit and fade maneuver she executed to slow the enemy down, she lost people. For every inexperienced, half assed tactic she threw at the monsters to keep them off balance, more died. She had added a full day to their route back to Jusenkyo by winding through a rain forest on the western edge of the valley just to deny the tanks and aircraft the opportunity to fire upon them and in the process lost more of her wounded that weren't up for the strenuous terrain. Men and women died and now only one sixth of the original two thousand remain to support what promised to be the final act of her command: The last stand in the heart of Jusenkyo.
A sharp, bird-like whistle interrupted her thoughts and the thousand yard stare that had taken a hold of the redhead. She glanced left to her second in command. She was a wiry Amazon a head taller than Ranma herself with almost white hair and pale, golden eyes. Like herself, the woman's silk battledress had seen better times; splattered with blood, dirt, burns and various tears. She was still alive however, and that made her a veteran just like every last one of her remaining three hundred and thirty eight warriors. The white haired Amazon cocked her head as the whistle echoed softly within the canyon before turning.
"Picket has contact." She reported softly in broken Japanese. "Many Green Skins, less armor. No plane yet."
Ranma considered the news for a moment and mentally reviewed the plan that was fraught with peril. If they failed here they could still withdraw, but there wouldn't be enough of them left alive to matter. This element of Jusenkyo Alliance would be shattered for all intents and purposes.
"No surrender, no retreat." She murmured and committed her forces for the last time, turning back to the woman. "Reel them in... Yu."
Xao'Pei watched her commander pantomime reeling a fish in and smiled grimly, turning back out to the valley with clear understanding as to the intent. She cupped her left hand to her mouth and whistled a terse bird song. A single note echoed in reply and she nodded back to Ranma. "Is done."
"Get the rest ready." Ranma ordered,and leaned out of the rock cropping for a better view even as the white haired amazon whistled more orders to the men and women around them. Beyond was the very valley that had cursed her; now little more than a shallow lake with bamboo stalks interspersed throughout. A morning fog hung lethargically about them, limiting her visibility to only a few hundred yards and barely enough to see to the other shore, though the motorized rumble of mechanized vehicles could be heard in the wind. An unmistakable chant the redhead commander had come to associate with the green horde echoed alongside the din...
"...'Ere we go! 'Ere we go! 'Ere we go!"
"Yeah, come and get it, you bastards," Ranma mumbled and ducked back behind her rock, sighting the highest ranking Musk soldier left alive in her division. The mauve haired teen caught her sight and she beckoned him over silently. The bear hybrid musk ducked over between rocks to sidle up alongside her with almost no lingering glance at her female form. The battle had all but beat the instinct out of him. Xao'Pei joined her and Ranma summarized the plan for the last time.
"Xao-chan, harassment fire when I say. Jiàntóu," The redhead reiterated in Chinese and the Amazon nodded her comprehension. "Save the tags for when they hit Jusenkyo itself. Koro, if it's still alive by the time it gets to us, you and your boys kill it."
"Consider it dead," The wild haired musk growled, his hand floating to the hilt of his scimitar.
"Let them come to you," Ranma cautioned, hoping to get through to the kid's need to avenge himself on the green monsters. "That water's dangerous shit right now. Let them play in it, not us."
The musk nodded, but the fire still burnt in his eyes. 'Good enough,' she decided and dismissed the pair to relay her instructions while silently hoping her last, desperate gambit would pay off and save all their asses... Or at least leave so little of the enemy behind in their passing that another Jusenkyo Alliance force could brush them aside. Ranma paused with the thought, shaking her head.
'Ranma Saotome don't lose.'
She just wished she could muster the sentiment with less nervous energy.
Another sharp whistle pierced the fog and a dozen Amazonian women could now be seen transversing the tops of the bamboo shoots that jutted from the surface of Jusenkyo, hopping from one to another. Gunfire could be heard from Ranma's cover now, which meant they had done their job: Pissing off the enemy enough to lead them straight back to her position. A startled cry broke the martial artist thoughts and she watched as a large caliber bullet caught one of her scouts mid-leap, tearing a hole in her chest and sending her plummeting into the lake with a splash. A pair of Amazon's paused along flanking positions and sent a volley of arrows back into the enemy infantry which was just now appearing on the opposite shoreline. Another woman waited for some sign of life within the water, but whatever their sister's fate below, she had not come up for air.
The scouts continued their withdraw and the first one hopped ashore, scrambling for Ranma's position amongst the valley rocks. The black bun-haired haired girl- barely thirteen -slid to a halt next to her, panting out a report. "This one reports mission accomplished! Three casualties: LaoMein, Tei'Let, and Musk boy Kubota. Phoenix stand by ready, Battle Mistress!"
Ranma nodded in kind, not having the heart to correct her status in the girl's eyes. The other women joined her and she ordered them to regroup the other Amazons behind cover. She gave the meandering enemy one last look before rising to her full diminutive height with a dire grin. It looked as if the Green S++kins would need encouragement if they were to be goaded into crossing the expanse that had once been over a thousand cursed springs, each with their own tragic story.
Now it was time to add one more.
"Joketsuzoku! Jiàntóu!" She called for the deployment of the rest of her Amazons from cover and the canyon rock was suddenly alive as the women stepped out from cover and drew their arrow laced bows back. Her hand aloft held them in silent readiness until she dropped it suddenly. "Fire!"
The command to attack unleashed salvo of approximately one hundred and fifty arrows skyward; light by any standard against the horde they were facing down but more than enough to get their attention. Their flight time across the lake was roughly three seconds along the high arc and their impact was hardly precise. One in three arrows actually hit a green beast and when it did, almost invariably inflicted a non lethal blow. In fact, none of the arrows that landed actually killed anything, but that wasn't the point. Ranma Saotome had already seen their complete lack of effectiveness and wasn't banking on the salvo actually doing much damage. The redhead was hoping it would have another effect however, and that effect began to manifest itself in the form of enraged bellowing that echoed off the canyon walls.
The arrows hadn't killed anything, but they had certainly pissed the Green Skins off something fierce. Another salvo launched skyward and three seconds later more bellowing echoed back at them. This time the green host surged forth.
"WAAAGH! DA ORKS!"
Arrows continued to fall as the first ranks of the green army splashed into the waters, followed quickly by their brethren from behind. The horde was now in full bloodlust mode; so much so that they didn't even notice as their brothers began to twist in upon themselves and change. Had they actually taken the time to watch, they would have witnessed their fellows collapse into a cat, then a mongoose. Then a bear, then an ox, then a small boy... The transformations continued at a rate of roughly once every two seconds until an arrow found the much more vulnerable form to pierce, killing it instantly.
The inexplicable transformations had another dramatic affect amongst the craze Green Skin infantry that had noticed that there were now pigs, goats, cats, dogs, oxen, octopi and other creatures suddenly sloshing around in their midst. The boy and girl transformations really caught their attention and the green demons began to hack and shoot down their own as one after another fell victim to Jusenkyo's mixture of curses. Still, the ranks from behind continued to push the ranks in front into the lake, perpetuating the cycle as the monsters pushed to the halfway mark.
"Signal the Phoenix! NOW!" Ranma hollered above the bellowing roars and gunfire pelting their position, and the black haired scout lit a small charge, dumped it into her sling and gave it several heaves before flinging it skyward where it promptly exploded a few hundred feet above their position. The sharp crack echoed off the canyon walls and the effect was instantaneous. The sky was suddenly alive as the remainder of her Phoenix contingent- some fifty warriors -swooped in with their own bows for more accurate fire. Some were powerful enough to shed their feathers in a razor whirlwind as they strafed the green ranks, killing anything that had transformed into something less durable.
The rock to Ranma's left suddenly detonated as armor from the opposite shore opened up on them with indiscriminate fire. A couple of bodies tumbled out of the wall of fire but Ranma paid them little mind as she gave her next command. "Light tags!"
The next volley of arrows were special. Explosive tags coiled around the shafts of each one, burning down as they fell into the already embattled Green Skin ranks that had managed to advance across nearly a third of the lake through sheer numbers alone. Occasionally one would find a beast and bury itself into its green hide like so many arrows before, then explode, tearing a huge chunk away from the monster. That, however, wasn't what Ranma had intended. The number of tags they had managed to scavenge from the battle field were limited as it was and there certainly weren't enough to spend them on individual targets. Instead, most dropped exactly where the redhead preferred them to: The water.
Huge geysers of Jusenkyo cursed water erupted up and down the horde, transforming any green beast it drenched into something else; normally something less lethal and far more vulnerable. The numbers of Green Skins dying now eclipsed anything her army had seen in the last four days of combined fighting but they still they advanced. The tanks began to wade the shallow depths of the lake now and seemed to be doing a fair job of staying out of harm's way while peppering her shore with large caliber fire. Two massive armored vehicles began their own assault, rolling over any Green Skin or cursed Green Skin in their way. A less fearsome but no less armored vehicle trailed behind him, chattering with machine gun fire in seemingly random directions in order to cut down the wildlife springing up around them. Cursed humans were targeted with extreme prejudice, normally wounding scores of their own in the process.
Absolute chaos ruled the Green Skin ranks as friendly fire did far more damage than Ranma could have possibly hoped for and she signaled Koro. For the first time in days a fierce, prideful roar erupted from their own ranks as Musk warriors charged out to meet the few green monstrosities that had managed to reach their shores. Guns fired in response, but their aim was woefully inadequate and Ranma's hybrid warriors closed the distance in seconds. The Musk could take punishment and she had equalized the numbers. The green men were still coming of course, but Jusenkyo was the choke point and it was hampering any efforts on the part of their enemy to bring decisive force to bear upon them. Green Skins were being cursed by the hundreds. Their brethren were killing their own in similar quantity. The tanks were shooting anything that moved.
Ranma nodded to herself and took hold of the well notched Orkish battle axe that had leaned against the rock unmolested until now, stepping out from cover to join the battle.
This is the last whole section I have. Part 5 is incomplete so we'll see how it goes in relation to my other projects :)
Orc Blood; Originally red, later books retcon it to green in keeping with their equally retcon'd biology. Unfortunately green on green is harder to see on table top games and loses the impact red does. Since red and other colors have retained their popularity, I split the difference and went for purple.