Smoke and ruin.
Both elements dominated the skyline of the Bayankala mountain range deep within the interior of China's Qinghai province, invariably drawing the troupe's attention as they hiked along the ridgeline in loose formation some forty kilometers downrange. One mountain in particular smoldered through the humidity that clung to the landscape like a silky patchwork, bleeding black tendrils of smoke into the sky from multiple fissures like a wounded animal.
"And now we know what happened to the Phoenix," One of the squad's Amazon contingent commented head as they negotiated the ridgeline's rocky terrain while taking care not to silhouette themselves against the hazy blue sky, lest they draw attention to their transit through what was effectively now enemy territory.
Ranma Saotome took another glance at the sundered fortress that he himself had once been a guest of, likewise marveling at the devastation wrought upon it. This time he couldn't help but to add his own interpretation of current events in halting mandarin.
"They got the shit kicked out of them."
"Badly," A female voice that wasn't Amazonian agreed. The black haired boy turned to sight the speaker. She was cloaked from head to toe in dragon scale armor, staring out into the distance and the mountain beyond. Mint hovered protectively off her left flank until the neo-dragon princess decided to rejoin their foot march.
It was bitter par for the course by Ranma's estimation. The Jusenkyo Alliance was barely holding their own and only because they held the Bayankala mountain range. It was hard terrain that the inhabitants knew better than any invader could ever hope to. Straying outside that natural defense was asking for beatdown as the martial artist had observed time and again. The green skinned aliens had the tech, but more importantly they had the numbers and were damn resilient. Any of the region's martial artist could take one of the green monsters in single combat, but it took a real badass to stand against the lopsided odds they usually faced.
He was one of those. Herb was another. Cologne and a few of the elders. A handful of warriors in the ranks of the Amazon and Musk. But the Phoenix? They were gone. As if the odds weren't stacked enough against them, the Phoenix had pulled back to their mountain without warning…
…And now they knew why.
As if bidden by his thoughts, Herb's slitted eyes caught sight of Ranma's lingering study. Staring wasn't necessarily something the martial artist usual engaged in, but these awkward, ill-defined moments were becoming more frequent and damned it if Ranma could sort out exactly why. He would find Herb staring at him. Or her. Uncertainty was certainly a component in her gaze, but there was something else. Something—
"Musk prince should stop flirting with my husband," Shampoo commented with disdain as she joined the pair, prompting Ranma to choke while Herb's own eyes widened in shock. The shock was short lived, replaced by irritation moments later.
"Forget not your station, Amazon. You address royalty." The perturbed dragon girl shot back, only to have the lavender haired warrior fall in step next to her with a conspiratorial smile.
"Maybe make little dragon girl be concubine?" Shampoo suggested, winking her single eye. Herb's cheek twitched with the suggestion, but that didn't diminish the girl's haughty smile in any way. "Is good idea, no?"
Ranma ate dirt once again.
This time Herb actually stopped, stepping directly into Shampoo's path with a dire look. The standoff seemed like it was about to result in actual physical violence until the slightest smile crooked along the edge of the Musk's lips. "If anyone is to be a concubine, it would be you."
"Would you two stop kidding about that?!" Ranma hissed frantically, no longer able to ignore the knowing looks and smiles of their passing squad members. A familiar voice fortunately broke the impending death by embarrassment and Ranma all too eagerly diverted his attention to it
The order came from the front of the line and the squad began to gather around an orange, flame-haired Amazon female as she watched their progress around her. Toi'let, Ranma mentally identified the woman who continued to rattle off orders to another familiar Amazon beside her. Yun-Yun furiously transcribed the woman's orders into a scroll even as the rest of the squad assembled around them. The martial artist waited expectantly with everybody else until they had finished and Toi'let's attention had turned upon them.
"I think it is safe to say that we now know what happened to the Phoenix," Their commander explained in mandarin, forcing Ranma to concentrate hard on the mental translation. "As such we will set up our base camp here until we can probe for details. Squad leaders, set up for reconnaissance. Prince Herb, your musk will secure our site here. Yun-Yun will be your liaison."
Herb simply inclined her head respectfully as the woman continued to deploy their forces. "Soap, roving patrols. Keep them off the ridge and out of sight. Slayer-"
Ranma's attention focused as his Amazonian namesake was mentioned amongst the Chinese dialogue and he stepped forward. The Amazon warrior noted his presence with the barest of nods. "Your knowledge of the mountain's interior layout is required. In and out, no contact. Just find out what's left of the inside and get back before nightfall, clear?"
"Think I can manage," Ranma replied in the best mandarin he could manage, acknowledging the chief reason he had been attached to the reconnaissance force to begin with.
"Then get to it, cheeky male," Toilet deadpanned, dismissing his presence entirely to continue issuing orders. "Conditioner, Shampoo and Sponge will deploy along our left flank…"
The martial artist's attention turned once more to the wounded mountain, wondering if there was even anything left to scout… 'Aside from the ass-ton of green skinned aliens between here and there,' Ranma groused. Technically Shampoo had also been there, done that, but then she wasn't quite his level. 'Yet,' the pigtailed boy hedged even as one of the squad's attached PLA handed him an earbud headset and radio. If war truly was a crucible, it was forging the Amazon's already formidable skills into a work of art that even he could respect.
"Good luck, Sir," The People's Army sergeant commented as he fitted the last of the pigtailed teen's gear. Combat technology hadn't been part of Ranma's upbringing. He had been raised as the quintessential martial artist, but in the here and now it was more than a necessary evil. It saved lives, and that was more than enough reason in Ranma's eyes to learn what was what. Guns and body armor however were still rebuffed. His art could produce more damage than most man portable firearms, and Ork weapons had reduced the effectiveness of humanities body armor to that of toilet paper.
He offered his thanks to the soldier, adjusting the earpiece for comfort as he turned back toward the mountain. He mentally laid down his path of travel then turned back one last time. Herb was organizing his Musk. Yun-Yun followed, relaying his orders through the ranks. Shampoo, Conditioner and Sponge were planning their own reconnaissance foray.
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts silently wished them well, then stepped out into the Chinese amazon wilderness.
An amalgam of steel and spikes rumbled down the path, causing the ground to tremble with its passing. Tank treads clawed at the earth while a multi-barreled turret slowly rotated left to right, scanning for hapless targets... Targets such as a high powered martial artists seeking to gain covert entry into the very mountain they had laid siege to.
Ranma Saotome was neither a target nor hapless.
The pigtailed boy pressed into the large, gnarled tree trunk to conceal himself as the armored vehicle rumbled by. No less than eight of the green Orks hung off the sides, utilizing the weapons platform as mass transportation while another manned the turret hatch, swinging a smaller caliber weapon back and forth as if itching to shoot something. The tank rolled down the path and out of sight at the next curve while Ranma himself waited several more seconds before changing the path, darting across in a blur. He found another thicket of brush to set down in as the soft patter of rain began to bounce off the broad leaves around him. A quick glance at the sky told him the shower was part of the mountain's local weather would probably only last long enough to trigger the curse.
'Figures,' Ranma grumped, but failed to seek more durable cover. Instead, he listened. More guttural yelling was heard and the martial artist mentally revised his path to circumvent the unnatural din. Several minutes of hiking and a brief downpour later, the mountain dominated the redhead's view of the horizon. Its fate was clearly evident. Large holes had been blow into the sides, breaching its natural defenses outright. Black smoke and geothermal steam drifted from those scars, telling of the battle fought within and without. After another fifteen minute trek, the rainforest began to thin in favor of rocky terrain and it was there Ranma keyed his radio's earpiece.
"Black Company, Saotome," She spoke into the stubby mic all but riding her cheek and waited.
"Black Company actual, Go."
Toilet's voice was recognized and Ranma keyed the radio again as she peeked out from her position. "I'm at the base of the mountain. Green Skins all over the place. Looks like they used some big ass gun to punch their way in."
Ranma released the key and waited for a response. It cracked back less than a moment later. "Resistance?"
"Not anymore," Ranma reported as she scrutinized the slope she now faced. "Orks got the run of the place inside and out. Lots of armor and plenty of green shitheads camping at the base of the mountain. "
The line remained silent for nearly thirty seconds before coming back to life in the pigtailed girl's ear. "So noted. Proceed with your infiltration, Slayer. Determine the viability of interior, report and extract."
"Want any souvenirs while I'm in there?"
"Cheeky male," The humorous note in Toilet's voice was barely discernible over the line's poor audio. "Black Company clear."
The channel clicked and Ranma was alone once more. The ragged holes the orks blasted into the mountain side were now the most obvious points of entry and likewise the most heavily trafficked by the greenskins themselves. 'Or we can try the cliff side again,' Ranma considered mentally, weighing both options. The natural cliff side fissures were undoubtedly less well guarded but they were much higher. At some point she was going to have to risk exposing herself to the entire Ork encampment just by climbing up.
'Yeah, like going through the front door is gonna be any better,' The martial artist thought sarcastically, looking at the well-guarded breaches. Those were easily reached, but with the ork traffic… 'Let's keep this simple,' She determined, eyeing the closest forced entry into the mountain side. 'Get close, ghost in under the Umi Sen Ken and do some exploring.'
And that's exactly what Ranma did. The martial artist spent the next hour getting into position, ensuring she would maintain the cloak for as little time as possible when it came time for the sprint in. A single ork nearly ruined the plan, stepping out from the very rock outcropping Ranma was about to occupy. The green wall of muscle was yawning from his recent slumber and had barely comprehended there was even a threat when a silent blade of pure vacuum decapitated him outright. Its head tumbled into the rocks and the martial artist pulled the green skinned Ork's body down by his armor, lodging the corpse many times her size into a crevasse next to her.
The decapitated head continued to stare up at her in shock however, its lips gibbering as if trying to yell.
"Really?" She muttered aloud and kicked the head to join the corpse. She knew her opponents could survive ridiculous wounds, but this was the first time she had seen something survive a beheading. Ranma shook her head of the incident and cleared her mind.
She was a blank slate.
She was nothing.
The redhead faded from existence as if she were little more than a trick of the light and darted across the rocks, leaping from one outcropping to the next. She passed an unsuspecting Ork. Then another. She slipped between two, leaving little more than a slight breeze. Twenty three green skins were left unaware at her back and Ranma was through the breach in under thirty seconds, ducking into an empty corridor ravaged by battle before finally dropping the stealth technique. A silent sigh escaped her lips as she allowed her chi resume its normal flow through her body, freeing Ranma to commenced her primary mission.
Large caliber holes dotted the hallway she had taken up residence in, advertising that heavy fighting had indeed taken place. No bodies were present, but that wasn't exactly a reassuring sign either. Ranma continued her advance, ducking into an adjacent room as a new green skin patrol passed. Their grunting conversation faded and the redhead renewed her progress until she came to a shattered balcony. The masonry was destroyed by some form of high temperature explosion that could have been either Phoenix or alien in origin. The cavernous interior of Phoenix Mountain was visible from Ranma's new vantage point and it all looked like it had taken damage of some form or another. From the outside, the orkish artillery had blown holes through rock and stone. From the inside, sunlight poured through them like misshapen windows, while anemic waterfalls cascaded from the various crevices.
Ranma glanced up. Ragged sunbeams crisscrossed the cavernous space and beyond it, the throne room suspended several hundred meters overhead by natural stone supports. The bridge leading to and from the mountain's interior was still intact, but two of the original five natural stone supports had apparently been apparently been casualties of war. They were shattered, forcing the remaining three to bear the load of the throne room. Even the those three look like they had taken damage, and if any one of them failed…
The redhead peered down into the cavern where a dull orange glow emanated. That was new. Lava burbled contently another hundred meters below, sending wisps of humid vapor coiling upward as it mixed with the remains of Jusendo's spring waters.
'Battle must have shifted the earth again,' Ranma decided as she studied the mountain's interior for potential routes upward. The inlet from Jusendo was apparently still in tact, but the introduction of a lava vent within the mountain itself was a bad sign. The greenery clinging to the interior of the mountain also came as a minor surprise. Entire tracts of once barren stone were covered in a silky green moss that the redhead was certain hadn't existed before.
'But what the hell is it?' Ranma wondered, poking a nearby patch of the stuff with her index finger. It seemed to writhe gently with her touch, while translucent liquid filled bulbs pulsated. The most disturbing aspect of the growth was that it all just happened to be the same shade of green as the aliens that had taken up residence. 'Sure as hell ain't natural. Seeds?'
The martial artist studied the flora for another moment before shrugging. She retrieved a small satchel looped to her belt and began to strip the wall of the seeds, flicking them into the pouch one by one. Once sufficient heft had been achieved, Ranma re-tied the bag to her belt and returned to the main task at hand. The few stairways she remembered would undoubtedly be used by the Orks patrolling the mountain, prompting her to glance up to the nearest rocky outcropping.
'Just like old times, then.'
It was an easy leap for a world class martial artist, but it was only the first of many that took nearly an hour. If she had been allowed to simply leap from rock to rock with impunity, she could have made the ascent in under a half hour easily, but something about the bubbling cauldron drew the orks to admire it. They marveled at it and in turn, forced Ranma to take harder routes or simply wait until a particular group of greenskins had their fill of sightseeing.
Watching them toss eggs into the bubbling lava was the bigger surprise. At first, the sight baffled Ranma until her brain caught up with the event and put two and two together. She swore to herself upon realizing what exactly she was witnessing and continued her climb, filing the fact away for future dissemination. Fifty two minutes later, Ranma clung to the side of one of the support bridges, waiting for a patrol of three monsters to pass before climbing up to Saffron's very throne level.
Another sprint carried her to the main entrance, also pockmarked by large caliber holes. The heavy stone doors had been blown off their hinges and what sounded like a party in progress could be heard. The Saotome ducked inside, carefully skirting through the corridors until finding the throne room itself. Orks were pillaging the room, yelling and fighting over their finds while a particularly large and well armored Ork preceded over their activities. He sat on the throne, his face heavily scarred by what looked to be a pattern of claw marks. His treasures were arrayed around him, most of it gold and Phoenix weaponry. Ranma's attention narrowed upon sighting two particular weapons.
'The Kinjaka and Gekkaja,' Ranma identified the pair of staves leaning haphazardly against the throne itself as the ork boss watched the antics of his minions. Ranma cursed her mission objectives, resigning herself to withdraw to one of the empty antechambers where she keyed the mic.
"Black Company, Saotome." Static answered her whisper, forcing a second attempt. "Black Company, this is Ranma."
Nothing. Ranma glanced around, noting the elaborate stonework around her that was in all likelihood blocking any possibility of a signal. 'If it ain't one thing it's another,' The redhead grumbled and exited the chamber, then ducked behind one of the hallway pillars as another armed patrol passed. She exited the throne room entirely and crossed the bridge support on her way to the outer wall. She sighted one of the smaller natural crevasses to the outside world and hopped up several meters, reaching it with ease. Cool wind rewarded her effort as she climbed through it, blinking at the direct sunlight.
Ranma keyed the mic once more, adjusting her earpiece for a better fit. "Black Company, Saotome."
This time the radio exploded with sound.
"I said fall back to the trenches!" Ranma's eyes widened with Toilet's pitched order clearly not meant for her. An explosion cracked across the line's audio, followed by another. There was a pause as the line went dead, then came back to life. "Slayer, go!"
"Phoenix Mountains a write off," Ranma began with renewed haste given the activity she was hearing in the background. "Everybody got killed back into eggs and are getting tossed into the lava pit here. Not even sure if they're dead or alive at this point."
"Don't let that armor catch you out in the open!" Another voice called out before Toilet cut back in.
"Black Company actual copies all," The squad's leader confirmed and began to relay her next orders to the redhead. "Stay on position and call out troop movements from your vantage-"
Ranma was just about to voice her vehement objection to staying put when the woman's voice cut out. Seconds later, the dull front of thunder echoed across her position. The martial artists head snapped around, pinpointing the direction from which it came. An explosion flashed and died away while tracer fire flickered back and forth like distant fireflies to the west. The Saotome stared, entranced by the distant conflict before finally breaking back to the real world. She keyed her radio once more.
"Black Company, come in!" She hissed, trying not to attract attention to her own position as well. "Dammit people, you had better answer me!"
"-Lose that flank and we're all dead!"
"-Too many of them!"
The radio cut out again and Ranma returned to watching the firefight some forty kilometers away. Somebody was still fighting. She could see that easily enough, but they were apparently ass deep in it and even at full sprint, she knew there was no way to get to them in enough time to matter.
"Son of a bitch!" The girl growled with impotent anger. It was happening again and this time it was worse- She could only watch as her friends and allies were slaughtered on the field of battle. Her left hand dug at the stone she now perched atop, unconsciously crushing it to dust in equal part frustration and impotent fury. If she pushed it she could be there inside a half an hour...
'...And just in time to watch them finish everybody off,' she reasoned bitterly and discarded the idea outright. Even causing a ruckus here on the mountain itself wouldn't do any good. Any distraction short of bringing it down on their alien heads wasn't likely to...
Ranma's hand abruptly stopped crushing rock and her thought process crystallized, fixating on that one singular idea. Neurons flashed back and forth as the concept was debated within the redhead's brain. But she would need help, help she wouldn't have this time around. Her mind's eye flashed back to the throne room and a grim smile began to form along her lips. She was on her own for this one, but the tools had already been provided for her use.
She had already brought down one mountain.
Now it was time to take down another.
Back inside the throne room, the conflict forty kilometers away was beneath the Ork boss that had presided over the siege and capture of Phoenix Mountain. While it wouldn't make him the leader of a WHAAAAG! overnight, it was a significant step forward in prestige. The scarred greenskin produced a toothy grin with the thought as his Boyz fought over the loot they had pillaged... And the eggs. Vorp was a devout fan of killing things as most Orks were. He had stabbed things, shot things, sliced things in half, 'sploded things, smashed things and clobbered things throughout his entire life. This was the first time he had killed something into an egg, however. They would kill them by the hundreds and the the winged hummies would spontaneously combust in turn, leaving behind a small gold flecked egg.
It was endlessly entertaining, leading to the rise of a new sport: Egg chucking.
It was also supremely convenient that the mountain came furnished with it's own lava pit to enhance the fun that came with their new pastime, while the eggs themselves naturally became their own form of currency. The Boss grabbed one of the eggs from his pile and chucked it at one of the brawling Boyz.
The egg smacked the unaware ork upside the head with a meaty thunk. He bellowed in rage and grabbed the surprisingly durable egg to smack the nearest ally upside the head with the improvised bludgeon. Vorp bellowed his laughter at the case of mistaken identity and watched as the stricken Ork responded in kind, chucking his own egg back at the attacker. A relatively innocent bystander was caught in the crossfire, drawing another ork into the egg chucking fray. Less than two minutes later the former throne room of the Phoenix had become a free fire zone of eggs, melee and chaos that even the Ork boss couldn't avoid. He threw eggs and eggs were thrown in response.
None of them notice the petite, redheaded human simply materialize in their midst.
Ranma Saotome was already stepping through the first notes of the Dance of the Mad Death God by the time her cloak dropped; vacuum blade peeling off the knife edge of her hands as she pirouetted through the room. Six of the room's twenty one occupants were dead before they could even comprehend the threat and four more died before they could act. Three managed to ply their meaty green hands to their side arms, only to be torn apart by the lethal wind.
The Ork boss felt the closest thing to horror an Ork could experience as the smallest hummie he had ever seen tore through his Boyz as if she were a living chain sword. Vorp grabbed for the gnarled Big Shoota resting at the side of his new throne as another two Orks fell apart. Only six Boyz stood between him and the crazy redheaded hummie now. The seconds taken to pull the rifle up to his shoulder cost him another three Boyz. Purple blood splattered across the walls and floor in fine arcs as the girl danced past them. The final Ork of Vorp's entourage managed to get into melee range by sheer luck and swung at the hummie with a rusted, wicked looking choppa.
The Boss didn't even bother waiting for clear line of fire and pulled the trigger.
Concussive thunder pounded through the confined space of the throne room like a jackhammer, carrying with it hundreds of large caliber rounds. The remaining Ork didn't stand a chance as he jerked in time with the bullets, blossoming with ragged purple holes that tore the life from his body ...And he wasn't even the primary target. The redhead was, but she simply exploded in a puff of smoke as the first round tore through her Orkish meat shield and slammed home. A blue silk shirt tumbled away and by the time he registered the evasion, the gun ran dry.
The statement came from his right, dangerously close in proximity. Vorp swung the firearm around, but not to shoot the girl. The huge two meter bayonet attached to the barrel was the only weapon necessary at this range and he sliced it hard right at the red smear occupying the edge of his vision with bellowing roar.
The sound of steel meeting steel rang out and the next thing Vrop knew the blade, his Big Shoota and half of his armored green torso was encased in ice. The hummie had met his strike with his own loot; the staff adorned with a half-moon blade specifically. Her other hand bore its fraternal twin—the ring tipped staff. The Ork boss tried to pull away from the ice encased gun to renew his offensive, but his hands and arms were rooted to the gun.
Ranma used the time to slice his abdomen open with the Kinjakan.
She stepped back with the execution of the cut, watching as the green skin burst into flames from the origin of the slice. He was devoured by fire as if dipped in gasoline, then shattered outright upon meeting the temperature differential of the magical ice. The martial artist suppressed any remorse at the terrified death scream the Ork produced, her thoughts turning to the task at hand. It was time to bring the cold. Ranma spun the Gekkaja around in hand, then thrust the half-moon blade deep into the ground at her feet. Ice instantly consumed the stone at her feet, turning the purple blood soaked masonry into supercooled matter. She swung again to the right and more shards of ice grew from the throne room floor. Again. The throne itself was engulfed. Again. A nearby pillar sparkled like a giant crystal.
Ranma was about ready to plunge the artifact downward once more when an vengeful battle cry roared. A sharp crack followed but the redhead skillfully diverted her weapon to deflect the bullets trajectory. The round screamed in protest but buried itself into a wall as more orcs flooded into the room. The bloodbath already present seemed to cause them some hesitation, hesitation that the Anything Goes Heir took full advantage of. Ranma swept the room with the Kinjakan, snapping it's length to release the razor disk it held in check.
The ring reflected off a nearby wall, tearing a shallow gouge of sparks into it even as the redhead charged into the squad of ten. Firearms cracked in response but their owners were much too slow to keep up with the blurring human. The Gekkaja trailed behind her across the floor, crystallizing the stone as she swept in for her first strike, the staff coming up and around. A muzzle flashed close to her head, deafening her temporarily but little more. The half-moon of her weapon found the Ork's massive green chest, flash freezing him in place while the Kinjakan's disk cut into the squad's left flank. Two of the huge aliens instantly burst into flames on contact and Ranma spun around, capturing the disk with the staff and turning another ork into an icy pillar in one fluid motion.
Every movement, lethal or otherwise turned more and more of the throne room to crystal frost while reducing the Ork population by fire and ice. More Orks joined the fray, attracted to the sounds of frenzied battle. It mattered little to the martial artist, who in turn had stepped fully into the role of a killing machine. Silence and stealth no longer mattered to her goals and she unleashed the full power of her combined arts while spreading the ice. The hallways became a slaughterhouse of purple blood and frost while the bridge connecting throne room to the exterior of the mountain glowed orange from the ice refracted light of the molten core below. The three remaining stone spires supporting the central throne room glistened with ice as she killed and killed and killed.
Killing wasn't even the objective, but it became a natural extension of it as a new wave of Orks flowed onto the bridge to challenge her. Now she had the full attention of the forces surrounding the mountain and they came. The echoing staccato of gunfire crackled off the walls and an endless wall of green bodies forced the red head back up atop the throne room's domed roof where the sun shone down through the mountain's open caldera. They, in turn, were happy to oblige her last stand and even began to discard their own weapons to prove their strength against the lone hummie...
...All while completely ignoring the ice at their feet.
Ranma cut challenger number one hundred and thirty six down with the Gekkaja. The giant Ork's legs turned to ice with its caress and the monster toppled over, limbs shattering as it hit the roof's surface. The redhead angled the crescent down and shoved the artifacts lethal edge through the green skin's chest. The handicapped Ork's guttural screams silenced as the steel moon passed through its chest cavity and slammed home into the roof, finishing off the last section of her masterpiece of purple gore and ice.
The Kinjakan was next and she swung, snapping its ring into open air where it bisected her next challenger and set him ablaze. He just happened to be a convenient target of opportunity however, and the ring continued its flight unopposed, reflecting off the mountains interior stone and back through the bridge of ice. The disk flash vaporized the magical ice on contact, completely severing it from the mountain itself. The razor ring snapped back onto the Kinjakan and Ranma hurled it into space once more. More Orks died as a result but again, they weren't the primary target. Another support was breached by the mystical artifact she wielded and this time, tremors rocked the throne room.
The free for all melee paused as the structure's westward side suddenly dropped ten degrees. Orks slid and fell into the lava by the scores. Ranma anchored herself, holding onto the Gekkaja with her left hand while giving her right one last heave. The razor disk streaked upward on last time, climbing up and out of the mountain crater to meet the blue sky...
Forty kilometers down range, a similar battle of desperation was taking place. The forces arrayed against Black Company were absolutely overwhelming. An unending tide of green skinned Orks. Heavy armor. Impossibly durable flying machines. Any other unit would have been slaughtered outright but the forces of the Jusenkyo Alliance were holding together... Barely.
Even with it's commanding officer dead, a good portion of Black Company was alive and fighting due in no small part to the unusual makeup of their unit. They were almost all blooded veterans, hand picked for this ill-fated incursion deep into enemy territory. Some of those veterans were all but heavy weapons platforms themselves.
It was a fact that Herb, currently female prince of the Musk, demonstrated in the here and now by cutting one of the malformed Orkish tanks in half with her Hito Ryu-Zan Ha technique. Something combustible sparked within the parting wreckage, setting the remainder of the vehicle ablaze but not stopping the dragon girl from descending into it to dispatch the survivors by hand. Shampoo covered his movements as the berserk dragon kin tore through plate armor, maiming her own adversaries with pair of oversized, spinning maces that quite literally shaved the green flesh from any Ork they touched.
A gun rattled off in rapid fire and the Amazon's second mace caught the massive round aimed for her head, tearing it out of her hand. She rolled out and away as more bullets peppered the earth around her; stabilized and charged her attacker with a primal scream. The Ork attempting to track her with the Shoota failed, watching as the lavender haired girl twisted into melee range and stabbed him. He swung with a massive fist and felt another biting stab. Three. Four. Another three round burst failed to connect and the girl slid between his legs, deploying more of the sharp implements. The frustrated alien simply couldn't keep up and by the time he could align the weapon to her last position, he could only watch as the hummie rolled into the safety of one of their nearby trenches.
The Ork snarled and was about to set off after her until he sniffed the air and noticed something burning. He looked down to one of the eight kunai lodged in his person and pulled it out, eyeing the attached piece of paper as it burned down. The dagger sticking out of his shoulders burned in the same-
The Amazon would have spared a smile if she had the time, but opted to pull an AK-47 from one of her fallen allies, checking the magazine. Empty. Shampoo released it and swapped it for a full mag, then commenced to stripping the body of the Peoples Army solider of three more magazines before stepping back out onto the field of battle.
To her right, a girl five years her junior called out battlefield orders to the companies remaining PRC while negotiating with her own Ork, dual wielding a pair of jian with the speed of the chestnut fist. The slashes weren't killing it and the green skin's big choppa made for formidable opposition. Sparks cascaded between the two combatants as metal shrieked against metal. The melee didn't stop Yun-Yun from issuing hasty orders over the unit channel- orders that were in all likelihood the only thing keeping Black Company alive apart from the sheer ferocity of its component members.
The junior Amazon was just about to retake the initiative when a purple blur flipped overhead, landed on the orc's shoulders and unleashed a magazine of 7.62mm armor piercing on full auto directly into the monster's cranium. The Ork danced in time with the chatter of Shampoo's AK until the weapon ran dry. The older Amazon simply let the spent magazine drop away then stepped off the dead Ork's shoulders at it slumped to the ground.
Like Shampoo, Yun-Yun only had the time for the barest nod of thanks before screaming further orders into the channel to mass their meager conventional fire on singular targets. Her finger has just began to rest on the transmit key when a forgotten voice cut in. The transmission was entrenched in heavy static, but the female voice was unmistakable.
"No idea...receiving this... if you're alive out there..." Yun-Yun's eyes widened as the piecemeal message continued. She turned to the forgotten mountain and watched a sunlit star drift skyward. "...better find some cover... cuz I'm droppin the hammer."
That single glittering point of light seemed to hang in the air above Phoenix Mountain before falling back into the central cone. Thought caught up to sight and Yun-Yun mashed the transmit key in panic even as she dove for the nearby trenches herself.
"GET TO COVER! EVERYBODY GET TO-!"
Phoenix Mountain died by fire.
Violent steam plumes consumed it, devouring the mountain from the inside before its geology suffered catastrophic failure in the form of pyroclastic ruin. The entire western side of the mountain was converted to molten rock and lava, ripping the rest of the spire apart as it expanded like a hungry god of elemental fire. Anything at the mountain's base was instantly incinerated in the resulting fireball while a shockwave composed of pure pressure and heat tore away at the remains of the mountain. The lush rainforest flashed to burning tinder, as did anything for ten kilometers around its base.
What the immolation couldn't reach directly the resultant shockwave tore asunder, ripping away the landscape at supersonic speed. Within twenty kilometers, Orkish casualties were still one hundred percent as Phoenix Mountain lived up to its namesake. The shockwave was upon Black Company's position within ten seconds to rip the life out of anything that had chosen not to heed Yun-Yun's last order. The Orkish host besieging them was slaughtered outright, sustaining nearly ninety percent casualties in the first five seconds while the slightly more durable vehicles and weapons platforms were tossed about like toys.
...Weapons platforms like Herb.
The Musk warrior barely registered Yun-Yun's order through her blood lust and by the time she turned to the yellow annihilation on the horizon, the shock wave had reached across the intervening kilometers to pluck her from the ground and suck the very air from her lungs. Only her draconic heritage saved her from the incinerating winds that followed, but not the whiplash of high speed debris. She tumbled and fell, her innate grasp of ki rendered useless within the maelstrom.
Her last sensation was of tumbling sky, then pain, then black.
The dragon girl floated in the darkness as voices and visions coalesced around her unconscious mind. Memories of her- his -childhood. Memories of her father. Memories of Jusenkyo. The Curse. Memories of- A booming voice cut through the blackness, demanding to be heard.
"So I'll return the favor and throw you out!" The voice was intimately familiar to the heiress of the Musk dynasty and the vision of a black pigtailed boy rushing at his person flashed through her mind's landscape.
"If you want your clothes back, you'll tell me where to find the open water kettle." Embarrassment glowed from within Herb as the vision shifted to the redheaded female she knew well. "You know, I started sensing a while ago that there's something strange going on..."
The redhead confronted him again, crouching low before him with fire in her eyes. "Herb, I want to thank you for becoming a man again... I saw your Ryo Sei Hisho this time. Clearly!"
The vision of the redhead began to fade, but Herb held on to it, struggling to find some anchor within the black. This time the girl returned with a grateful expression on her face.
"Ah, thanks. Old man did something to my ki." That smile. The memory began to liquify... spread throughout her minds eye. The princess watched in wonder as the face transformed into demure embarrassment. "I'm not sayin' I don't like it... just... Not yet..."
Herb puzzled at the last memory. Imagination? hallucination? In the moments it took her to analyze the vision, it was gone, replaced by Ranma's male aspect. His blue eyes were Powerful. Confident. Caring. The dragon princess boggled at the sight.
"...Already talked to Shampoo. She's fine with it... Us..."
Suddenly the vision was ripped away beyond reach as her lungs spasmed, forcing the Musk heiress back into the world of the living with a violent coughing fit seeking to dispel the phlegm and ash that had taken up residence in her airway. Another coughing fit ensured the girl she was alive, prompting her to push herself up off the ground... Slowly. Everything hurt. A sizable tree branch slid off of her back as she sat up, scrubbing the mired ash out of her eyes, slowly taking in her surroundings...
...They were hell on earth. The lush rainforest ridge had been stripped bare, replacing greenery with smoldering soot. Smoke and sulphur dominated her line of sight, which only extended twenty five meters in any direction. Still, the orange glow through the smoke all but assured her that there were still active fires consuming anything flammable. The field of battle was silent, however. Herb rose to height on unsteady legs, noting that most of the armor plates that had protected her throughout the fight had been ripped away. The sounds of fire crackling and the groaning of wounded competed for her attention.
She walked toward the sounds, hoping to clear the nauseous cloud of sulfur and ash. Herb stumbled over a charred greenskin corpse, paying it little mind as smoke drifted across her path, thinning as she made slow progress. Around her the trenches they had dug were intact. Amazon, Musk and regular army alike lay dazed, but alive. Cries of pain still drifted through the air, but the Musk princess continued to walk, her vision finally zeroing in an diminutive female figure at the edge of the cloud. Herb stumbled over another Orkish corpse before finally reaching the upright woman... It took a moment for the Musk to realize that it was Yun Yun, upright and staring up into the heavens. Two jian were buried point first in the ash beside her and Herb moved to get her attention.
"Amazon," Herb's voice crackled, still dry from the toxic atmosphere she had endured. The girl didn't respond but she could now see the expression on her face. It was one of absolute wonder and revelation. The dragon girl turned to see what had caused such a reaction in the face of such devastation and looked skyward for the first time.
An involuntary gasp escaped her lips.
What had once been the grand spire of Phoenix Mountain had been replaced by an angry mushroom cloud of vapor, ash and fire. The bulmouse mass in the upper atmosphere had already hit its maximum altitude and flattened out some time ago, slowly drifting to the north along the wind. Lightning crackled at the base of the cloud as the component parts of ash and electricity interacted, causing the muddy red blob to flash with pulses of incandescent light.
Herb, cursed prince of the Musk could only stare. Her mouth opened but words failed in the face of the apocalyptic sight. A small crowd began to assemble behind the pair and after several long minutes, Herb finally found the question she had been seeking to voice. Logic alone had given her a clue as to what had transpired.. An eruption. A stone burner. Something. But the timing was overly coincidental. Whatever just happened had also managed to eliminate any and all opposition around the mountain, and there was only one person on site that could have instigated such a feat... But the scale was all but impossible. The Musk princess knew that even she couldn't pull off such a feat. She pulled in a breath to ask a question but one of the survivors beat her to it.
"What... What the hell was that?"
As if triggered by that very question, a high pitched whine permeated the air, deepening as it approached. Every eye turned to the sky, tracking a golden twinkle just as it dropped from the heavens with a screech, blasting into the earth not less than thirty meters from their position with a violent crack. Sparks blazed away as more ash was distributed across the area while inflicting an angry red scar upon the earth. Hot wind carried the smoke and dust aloft and the assemblage of eyes came to rest on the remains...
The air around the artifact wavered as the weapon itself glowed red hot. A quarter of the weapon's length was buried in the molten earth while the razor ring leaned skywardward, smoldering like everything else around it. Yun-Yun finally turned back to answer the question directly. The dragon princess witnessed an intensely unholy light gleam within the thirteen year old's eyes, one that spoke of complete and utterly unwavering conviction.
"That was the Battle Mistress."
Author's notes- Alright, that was the last prefabricated chapter I have. Might be a bit before i get around to this again since ch13 of Hell is a Martial Artist is all ahead full. Things are a bit rougher than usual because of the lack of editors, but special thanks to Materia Blade for services rendered. Weebee gets some love too, even though he hates the genre :D
Phoenix Mountain; I'm taking liberties as to the composition of the mountain as there is no direct evidence that it is a volcano of any sort per canon. There are, however, many caves and evidence of geothermal activity in the area. The inside is evidently hollow to a large degree given the architecture Rumiko placed inside the mountain itself.