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The Shogun of the Dark would have magically augmented his voice to project hundreds of miles away if there had been any magical energy to spare. There were only five hours left until the completion of the spell. Then, after five thousand years, the one thing he had waited for in all that time would at last come to pass.

Chapter 36: Those Who Would Dare Dream of Tomorrow

Part III

A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.

All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

The really condensed version: Shampoo fell into The Spring of Drowned Young Man at the same time Ranma fell into the Spring of Drowned Young Woman. Shampoo traveled to Japan with Ranma, and the things went from there. Last chapter, TWPOS used the SDF-3’s fold generators to make a fold to China. They ended up located next to Mount Phoenix, where the Shogun of the Dark is only a short time away from completing his mysterious spell, which will entail the fate of the world. Now it is up to Ranma and company to prevent the Shogun from his achieving those plans within the next five hours. But the Shogun’s bodyguards, the Eight Devils of Kimone, are ready to defend those plans no matter what it takes…

This "" Indicates Chinese

{} Indicates telepathy


“"Great Grandmother, are you certain it’s necessary for us to go to Mount Phoenix?"”

Cologne carefully examined her great granddaughter. “"I would think that you’d be overjoyed at having another delay on our way home. We are almost out of time."” She looked the ship over. “"I can’t believe they discovered a way to move something this large instantaneously. This may very well have doomed you."”

“"I might be doomed no matter what I do,"” Shampoo murmured under her breath.

Cologne raised an eyebrow at that statement. Had Shampoo’s will finally been broken by her circumstances? Was she ready to give in to death so easily? “"What do you mean?"”

Shampoo gave a smile. “"Nothing. It’s just that this is all so unexpected. That’s all."”

The smile was forced, Cologne could clearly see that. What was Shampoo hiding? “"You’re not telling me evr— "”

“"Look!"” Shampoo pointed to the land touching the lake. “"There are two of our sisters approaching."”

Cologne followed Shampoo’s hand. Sure enough, it appeared that two Amazons were cautiously advancing towards the ship. The pair was far from home, leaving Cologne to wonder if it was a long-range reconnaissance patrol. They would no doubt have some up to date information, which would help the matriarch decide her immediate course of action. “"We will talk later,"” Cologne assured Shampoo as she went to greet the new arrivals.

Shampoo happily nodded and walked away, leaving her great grandmother to talk to the two scouts. Despite the foretelling Shampoo had received, going to Mount Phoenix was no choice at all. True, Mr. Domino, a highly suspect individual, claimed she was destined to die there if she went, but what difference would that make? If she refused to travel to Mount Phoenix, then she would have to go back home immediately, which meant death as well. Perhaps it was her destiny to die in the near future, and if that were the case she would rather take the unknown path than the one that would lead to shame for her and her family.

Besides, Mr. Domino could have been lying.


With that decided, Shampoo felt her mood ease somewhat. Instead of the apprehension she had felt over the last couple of days, there was a sense of relief, as though she had released some kind of burden that she had been unaware of carrying. It was a curious sensation, all things considered.

Her great grandmother was going to decide on what course of action to take, which meant Shampoo was going to have to move quickly before leaving to confront the unknown. She hurried down the corridors of the ship and paused in front of a particular door.

Shampoo knocked lightly on it. “Kasumi.” She heard a retching sound, followed by a weak “Enter” from within.

Shampoo did and watched as Kasumi emerged from the bathroom, wiping her mouth with a damp washcloth.

“What’s wrong?” Shampoo asked.

Kasumi finished cleaning before explaining. “When the ship made that odd jump, it upset my stomach. I’m afraid my breakfast came back up.”

“Lie down.” Shampoo indicated the bed. Kasumi sat, but remained upright, refusing to lay back. Once Shampoo made certain the eldest Tendo daughter was all right, she tried getting to the reason she had visited.

“I… I just wanted to apologize for my behavior the last few months,” Shampoo explained.

Kasumi gave a baffled look. “What behavior?”

Shampoo felt her heart fall more than a little now that she was going to openly admit her wrongdoing. “For leading you on. I never meant to hurt you. Please believe me. I was confused. I didn’t know how I felt about Ranma, you, everything. And in my confusion I hurt you. I implied things that might have made you think we would be…” she was at a loss for words, not knowing how to say what came next.

Kasumi continued staring in a puzzled manner at Shampoo. “You never led me on.”

“Yes, I did,” Shampoo insisted.

“No, you didn’t,” Kasumi corrected. “You just said you were confused about your feelings. How could you have led me on if you didn’t know your own heart?”

“But I hurt you.”

Kasumi shook her head. “You’ve never hurt me. Not once. You’ve been one of the kindest and sweetest people I have ever met. I’ve never felt sorry about anything we’ve done.”

“What about the things we shared, like on that weekend?” Shampoo pointed out. “You don’t call that leading you on?”

Kasumi became very serious. “Shampoo. I was the one who asked you to extend the weekend. And afterwards, when you suggested that we should try to make a relationship, I was the one who refused you. I was too worried about the problems we might have had trying to do something like that. If anything, I might have been the one who led you on.”

“No!” Shampoo shook her head vigorously. “You never did that.”

“Good. Now that that is settled, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Shampoo insisted.

“You seem very sad. Does it have to do with your people? Are you worried about what might happen now that you’re home again?” Kasumi placed her hand on Shampoo’s shoulder. “I’ll do anything I can to help.”

Shampoo rested her hand on Kasumi’s. “There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. Thank you for everything.” She embraced Kasumi in a warm hug, placing all of her emotions into that all too brief contact. That would not be too much female affection for Kasumi. After several moments Shampoo gave up the embrace, then made her way to the door.

“Shampoo,” Kasumi said just as the Amazon opened the door.


“You really love Ranma, don’t you?”

Shampoo gave her friend a hurt look. It still bothered her to say such a thing before Kasumi. “Yes. I do. I love you, too. It’s more than just friendship, but it’s different in a way I can’t explain. I’m sorry.”

“Why should you be sorry? There’s nothing wrong with being in love.” Kasumi gave a bright smile. “I’m happy for you. If he chooses you, I hope you both have a wonderful life.”

It was sincere, that was the worst part of all. Shampoo could tell Kasumi was being totally honest. The purple-haired Amazon was nearly overcome with grief. “How can you be so forgiving of me?”

Kasumi just continued smiling. “Because there’s nothing to forgive, so please stop thinking there is. It’s just going to make you unhappy, and I don’t want you to be miserable. There’s not a single thing that has happened since I met you that I would have changed between us. Not one thing.”

Kasumi got up and moved next to Shampoo. She looked down at the smaller girl for a moment, then kissed her lightly on the lips, just for a brief moment. Kissing a girl wasn’t as horrible as she thought it would be. “Thank you for everything.”

Shampoo appeared surprised by the move, then embraced Kasumi once more before leaving. “Thank you for everything too.”

Kasumi watched Shampoo head down the corridor and out of sight. There was something vaguely disturbing about Shampoo’s entire behavior. There had been an overwhelming feeling of finality about it. Kasumi went back in her room and recalled all that had happened between Shampoo and her over the months. So much had changed in so little time.

She was considering approaching Cologne again to see if the elder had come up with any ideas for helping Shampoo, such as sending someone to Jusenkyou to retrieve some magic girl water, when her stomach began rumbling once more. It was odd how she had been having problems keeping down her breakfasts lately. It could have been motion sickness, but it had happened two times earlier in the week. Perhaps it was a virus and she was having problems shaking it off. In any case there were more important things to worry about than some nasty bug. The problem would no doubt go away in time.


It was an hour later when Cologne summoned everyone to the foredeck. All of the Amazons, the command staff of the ship, and the Nerimans, save Happosai (who was counting his new stash of underwear) and Tsubasa (who was avoiding Perfume at all costs), were present for the discussion.

It was a good thing the scouts had stumbled on the ship when they did. With their knowledge of recent events, Cologne now had some faint inkling to what might really have been going on. The weather had become irregular only in the last three days, and the pillars of fire had formed just the day before. Between Herb’s threats and Kawada’s declarations, it was obvious something big was happening at Mount Phoenix, and Cologne needed to know what was going on now. With any luck she might even be able to put a stop to it before things got any worse.

She could not help but feel something was about to happen. Something terrible. There was an enormous amount of power radiating from the mountain, power that even she could sense from the great amount of distance. It felt as though things might have been reaching a climax, and she seemed to be the only one in a position to stop it. Herb was obviously waiting for something, or else he would not be keeping his army so far away from the mountain.

In a way, it was fortunate the ship appeared where it did. According to the scouts, Cologne was now positioned on the farthest flank of Herb’s army. Once she and the others got around it they would have a clear path to Mount Phoenix. All that was needed was to recruit the necessary ‘volunteers’.

Cologne took the time to look over the gathering one last time. All of the Nerimans had found outfits that would be suited for battle, almost as though they sensed what was to come. There was more raw potential spread out among the group than she had ever seen in her life. Too bad she couldn’t use all of it, but what she was going to take along would have to do.

“I have summoned you all here for a purpose,” Cologne announced to everyone, making certain no one was distracted. “It has come to my attention that we are all in great danger. Someone, perhaps the self-proclaimed Emperor Herb, has done something to the area around Mount Phoenix.” She indicated the mountain in the distance. “Mr. Kawada informs me it is some kind of focus.”

“A focus for what?” Ranma asked.

Cologne stared at the mountain as she answered. “I’m not sure, but I intend to find out. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.” She turned away from the spectacle of the mountain and returned her gaze to the group. “This is why I have requested your presence. I want some of you to come with me.”

Perfume stepped forward and gave a flourishing bow. “"Honored Matriarch, we will be happy to help you."” All of the other Amazons nodded in agreement.

“You will not be coming. The only Amazon I am taking will be Shampoo.”

Immediately a low rumble broke out from the Hunt Pack. Perfume was quick to silence them, then turned back to Cologne. “If I may be so bold as to ask, why? Have we somehow failed in your eyes?”

Cologne gave her a solemn stare. “No. You have succeeded in forging an effective unit beyond anyone’s expectations. The problem comes from Herb. He has stated that if the Joketsuzoku attempt to go to Mount Phoenix, there will be a war between our peoples. Even though we would be victorious, the price we would pay in blood would be too great. However, there is a simple solution around that threat. One that should effectively protect our people.” She turned to look squarely at Ranma. “I would have these others assist us.”

“Sorry. I don’t see how this concerns me. Not interested,” D’Amour said.

“I didn’t mean you!” Cologne snapped. “I meant the rather eclectic group of Japanese that have chosen to travel with us. Some of them, anyway.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with the walking libido,” Ai commented. “Why should we risk our lives?”

“I think this does concern you. Whatever is happening at the mountain is affecting the weather in Japan, and that is only the first event to occur. I’m almost certain that more and greater troubles are sure to follow.”

“I’m in,” Ranma declared. It was an easy choice for him. Shampoo was going and there would be trouble. Protecting her at the village or at some weird mountain made no difference. He would be at her side.

“That’s my boy!” Genma declared proudly. “It’s the duty of a martial artist to protect his country.”

“Thanks for volunteering to come along, Pop.” He tried his best to imitate his father’s voice. “You are a martial artist, after all.”

Genma began to stutter nervously when Cologne saved him from resorting to groveling. “The fat fool will stay. I don’t intend for the group to be too large and attract unwanted attention. Where is the ghost sweeper? I wanted to take her along.”

Akane moved forward slightly, appearing depressed and angry at the same time. “She’s in some kind of magical slumber. No one knows how to wake her up. It’s all the fault of that guy in the black robes who knocked me out. If I ever get my hands on him, he’s dead!”

Cologne sighed. She had really wanted Minami along. With her powerful magical abilities she would have been almost as valuable as Ranma. There was nothing she could do about it now though. Time was growing short. “We’ll just to have go without her. So, the group shall now consist of myself, Shampoo, Ranma, Ryouga, Mousse, Ukyou, and Tarou.”

“Forget it,” Tarou scoffed. “I’m not helping you. I don’t have any reason to go.”

“I’m not going to be left behind. I’m going too!” Akane shouted.

“Very well,” Cologne assented. She was amused to see Tarou give Akane a surprised look, then level a scowl at Cologne.

“Now I have a reason. I’ll go,” he reluctantly sighed.

Within moments others began demanding to go along. Kodachi for Mousse. Ai for Ukyou. Kyoko for Ryouga. Kunou on the principle that such lovely young ladies could not be allowed to go without his protection. All of that had been anticipated, if not desired, by the matriarch. It was a surprise when Cologne saw Aki move next to Ryouga.

“You’re in luck,” Aki pointed out. “It’s two members of the Hibiki clan for the price of one today.”

As Aki finished her remark, the round of protests that Cologne had expected came from the concerned parties that were going, which in turn brought on stronger insistences from those that demanded to be included.

Cologne quickly weighed her options. Disabling all that wanted to tag along was too difficult and would anger too many. All of the additions were a capable lot, if inferior to the ones that were originally chosen, except for the bandanna-clad Yoshida girl. There was a great deal of untapped potential there. It would be simpler to allow them to come along, although that meant the chances of slipping through Herb’s battle line were practically non-existent. Some modifications to the plans were going to have to be made.

Cologne was about to give her permission when Perfume came forward and bowed. “"Honored Matriarch. I am still under orders from the council to see Shampoo to our village. I would insist you allow me to come along so that I may personally take responsibility for Shampoo. Should anything happen, I would be the only one who would take blame."”

Cologne slowly nodded her head in agreement, the look in her eyes communicating to Perfume she understood why the young warrior was behaving in such a manner. The elder made certain no others tired to come along, then agreed to allow those that had volunteered to travel with her. With that out of the way, those that had tried to protest additions lost their arguments.

Cologne turned to Sparrow and told her of the group’s plans to be passed on to the village council, along with other tasks that should be done in her absence. One splash of cold water later and Sparrow quickly flew in the direction of her home.

While Cologne made last minute preparations, Perfume gathered Cabinet and Julep to her side and began instructing them in what she expected from them in her absence. “"Cabinet, you’re in charge now. Julep is your second-in-command. I’m confident you can handle the job."”

“"I won’t fail you."” Cabinet saluted Perfume, while Julep simply nodded her head in agreement.

Cologne walked over to the Hunt Pack. “"I am probably going to run into trouble when my group makes their way past the Musk lines. We’ll be cutting across the farthest point on their left flank, which means they might try to send reinforcements. There’s only one direction they can come from that might bother me. I want you to delay their progress."”

“"We won’t fail you, Matriarch!"” they cried out in pride and saluted as one.

Cologne gave them a curt nod of approval and moved back to the group of martial artists. “There is one other we need to bring along. I’ll need a bra.”

Ai somehow managed to remove hers, in one smooth motion, without taking off her cheerleader outfit. Cologne held the garment out on the end of her staff, waving it gently like on odd white flag.

“Here it comes,” she murmured. A moment later a red blur appeared and snagged the brassiere. Cologne timed the blow precisely and struck the blur hard, knocking it into one of the nearby walls.

Happosai pried himself out of the wall and shot Cologne an accusing glare. The impact of the blow told him that she had used far more force than was necessary. “Hey! What was that for?!”

“I needed to get your full attention. Something serious has come up and we need your abilities.”

Happosai considered what she said. Having Cologne unashamedly admit she needed his help was an event that, if one was lucky, happened once in a decade, or even longer. “It’s got to do with that mountain over there, doesn’t it?”

She should have known the diminutive pervert was already aware. The level of power Mount Phoenix was emitting was enough for Happosai to easily notice it. “Yes. Something dangerous is happening over there and we need all the help we can get, and that means you. If you still have what it takes, that is.”

Happosai practically bristled at the implication. “Of course I still got it! I’ll come along, but only on one condition.”

Cologne let out an exasperated sigh. “What is it?”

“I want pictures of every cute girl that’s going on this trip in sexy lingerie, and that includes Ranma.”

Thirteen cries of outrage came from the group.

Happosai eyes began to tear. “How can you deny an old man what might be his final wish? These tired old bones might not be able to take much more travel, and this might be my final chance to appreciate the finer things in life.”

“Isn’t there something else you want?” If Cologne had a wish, she would have used it then and there.


Cologne recognized the signs; he was going to be adamant about his price. She let out an even bigger sigh, then turned to the group. “He’s not going to budge on this one, and I believe that we really need his help where we are headed. It’s up to you, but his abilities might make the difference between life and death for some of you.”

All of the members of the group looked to one another. No one could deny a feeling of dread was building as they considered setting out the trip. Perfume was the first to reluctantly nod her head. Others began to follow suit. The final one was Ranma. He gave one last look to Akane and Shampoo, then nodded his head.

“But we better end up really needing his help. If you’re wrong about all of this, old ghoul, and it turns out we don’t have to fight nothin’ tougher than a bunch of girl scouts, you ain’t ever going to hear the end of it out of me.”

“Boy,” Cologne said as she stared Ranma in the eye. “I hope I am wrong and I don’t hear the end of it from you.”

Happosai rocketed up close to a hundred feet in the air for joy, throwing Happodairkins high in the air like a display of fireworks. “WOO HOO!!! I’ve finally hit the jackpot!” He landed and stared at Mount Phoenix as he bounced around in joy. “Just you wait, you rotten bunch of punks. The greatest martial arts master in the world is coming, and you’re all that stands between him and true happiness! Let’s get going everyone! I can’t wait!”

Somehow, everyone felt worse than ever as they set out towards Mount Phoenix. Even if they won, they were going to lose.


Mint and Lime were playing cards when they heard the explosions just to the northeast of their unit. Each one looked at the other.

“"Was there an explosion scheduled for that area?"” Lime asked.

Mint pulled out a sheet of paper and read it over. “"Nope."”

“"We’d better investigate. Herb won’t be happy if something bad happens now. Round up half of the troops and get ready to move out. I want to leave some behind just in case it’s a trap."”

“"Good thinking."” Mint did as Lime asked. If there were any problems this late in the plan, Herb would go ballistic. He said today was the last day, then all of them could relax and Herb would be made emperor. Mint was looking forward to the vacation. Running an army was hard work.


Perfume walked through the wasteland of devastated troops the group had left behind. The poor fools never had a chance, not even that commander that had the magic sword. Most of the soldiers had been normal mercenaries with no special abilities, and the handful that had some skill in fighting were hopelessly outclassed. They had only outnumbered Cologne’s group nine to one, making it child’s play to disable the lot of them. Now if only additional reinforcements did not come, the rest should be easy.


Julep was standing on the top of the hill, looking to the southwest. From the sound of the loud explosions to the northeast, there was no way the troops they had spotted to the south had not heard the noise. Unless they were led by complete morons, any reinforcements were already en route to the area where the army had been hit. It would only be a matter of time.

Within five minutes Julep sensed that she had been correct. A scent of sweat and steel drifted from the southwest and she saw one man emerge from a grove of trees about a half-mile away. Assuming the troops were right behind him, they were heading through the pass between the two rather high hills on their way to help their comrades, right where the group of Amazons was lying in wait. It was an ideal place for an ambush. A good strategist, like Perfume, would send scouts to make certain the way was clear. The questions were how large was the contingent that was coming and how smart were the military commanders at the head of the reinforcements. If they had any degree of intelligence, it was going to be difficult to delay them for long. If they were stupid, then the Amazons might be able to break them up and force them away long enough that it would not matter if they got past or not.

Sgt. Sheng looked towards his ‘commander,’ Lime. “"Sir, that pass is a perfect place for an ambush."”

Lime looked the hills over. “"I agree. Who do you think we should ambush?"”

Cpl. Chang watched Sgt. Sheng’s reaction. “"That’s the third time today you facefaulted, sir. If you aren’t careful you’re going to hurt yourself."”

“"I can’t help it,"” Sheng moaned. “"I’m serving under a total moron. Right now I hope we do get jumped and captured. Being a prisoner would be preferable to serving under him."” Sheng bolstered his patience and explained to Lime that he meant the army might be ambushed.

“"I see,"” Lime said sagely. “"I’ll send Mint to make sure there isn’t one."”

Mint rushed forward, and covered the half-mile to the small pass in under thirty seconds. It seemed very simple to him. If there were an ambush waiting, he would spring it when he entered the pass, so he entered the pass and waited to be attacked. No. Nothing. For good measure he shouted, “"Is there anybody here that is going to ambush my troops?!"” Silence was all that greeted him. That was all it took to convince him the pass was clear. He ran back to Lime to tell him it was safe.

Once Mint was out of sight, Cabinet raised herself up from her hiding spot. “"Do you think that was some sort of trap to get us to let down our guard?"” she asked Julep.

“"No. That was my cousin, Mint. From what I hear he’s about as smart as Sage."”

Cabinet scratched her head. “"Isn’t that the guy that just sits in the center of the village and hits himself in the head with a metal skillet for pennies?"”

“"Okay,"” Julep relented. “"Mint’s more stupid than that."”

“"Oh,"” Cabinet said. “"They’re going to walk right into the ambush, aren’t they?"”

“"I think so."”

As the military contingent entered the pass, Mint once again ran at the head of the column. Lime was second, followed by a rather demoralized number of soldiers, about eighty total.

Cabinet whispered to Julep. “"I’ll take the big guy in tiger skins."”

“"Mint’s mine,"” Julep hissed. “"It’s about time I showed him who the leader of our pack is."”

Cabinet rose from her position and gave out a rousing battle cry; the signal for the trap to be sprung. Nearly twenty Amazons leaped from their ambush positions and fell upon the flanks of the column, each warrior taking down two men apiece before the soldiers could even react.

Lime shot an accusing glare towards Mint. “"I thought you said this pass was clear!"”

“"Well, I though it was."” Mint was about to say something further, but was interrupted as he barely ducked out of the way of a green and brown blur that nearly took his head off. He backed off from the attack and drew a metal blade from his belt. Ever since he lost his hand to Shampoo those many months back, he’d covered the stump with a metal ball. It itched incessantly, but it did provide one advantage: it made an excellent place to attach a weapon, and he proved the point by slamming the long blade into place.

Julep gave Mint a feral grin as she drew her set of cat’s claws. “"Hello there, Mint. I’ve been waiting for a chance to meet you. Let’s find out who the fastest member of our family really is."”

To Lime, it appeared that two blurs began to race along the pass and beyond, as the sound of metal striking metal began to fill the air. Neither Mint nor Julep wanted any interference in their duel for supremacy.

Lime was about to shout something when a warhammer struck him in the sternum. He fell backward from the tremendous impact and barely rolled out of the way of the follow-up attack that was aimed at his head. As he got to his feet he was driven back again by a second blow, then a third. Quickly he found himself losing ground as his opponent began driving him further away from the rest of his troops to the opposite side of the pass from which the army had entered.

At last he finally got a good look at his opponent as he caught his breath. It was a large girl, larger than any he had seen, that was attacking him. She was so tall she almost came up to his neck, and her shoulders were three quarters as big across as his. He didn’t have time to size her up further, as she used her warhammer once again. The swing was off, and he managed to easily duck under the attack and connected with a right to her jaw. Her head snapped back for a moment before returning to its regular position. She shook it once, then glared at him as a trickle of blood ran from her lip and down her jaw. Her fist lashed out connecting with Lime’s own head.

Lime shook off the effects of the shot as well. “"Nice punch."”

A kick to the stomach doubled him over. “"Better kick."” She raised her hammer high overhead, and was about to bring it down, when Lime’s hand shot up just as Cabinet arced the weapon downward. He brought his fist into her head again, then followed it up with a raking strike to her chest. Some of the material caught between his fingers and tore away as her body went sailing several feet. She managed to raise her head up several inches, then crashed down upon her back once more.

Lime caught his breath as he moved to finish his opponent off. She really was a very powerful foe. Almost as strong as Ryouga, and just as dangerous. He raised his fist to the sky and was about to bring it down when something about Cabinet caught his eye.

Her breasts. When he had struck her chest the large patch of material that came off was from right down the center of her outfit, exposing her chest to the world. Lime took one look at them and drew back, stunned. Quickly he darted his head around, looking like a child about to take a cookie from the cookie jar, making certain no one saw him. Both he and Cabinet had moved far enough away from the fight that none of the Amazons or his troops could see him. He was effectively alone. Nervously he twiddled his fingers, and after checking once again to make sure no one was around to watch, bent down to touch Cabinet’s breasts. His touch was gentle at first, just a simple feel. They were smaller than Herb-chan’s, but more firm. Feeling pretty sure of himself he fondled them again. Yes. They were definitely firmer. As he handled them, he discovered that he enjoyed touching them a lot more than Herb-chan’s, though he could not say why. Lime was still smiling to himself, delighting in the feel of the breasts, when a warhammer found its way between his eyes. He growled in pain as he got to his feet and tried shaking off the effects of the blow.

Cabinet tried moving her shirt around to cover herself as she got to her feet, the look of blood in her eyes. How dare the oversized fool grope her like that! She was going to shatter his skull for daring to molest her in such a manner. It was not as though he was her…

She brought her hand to her forehead as she realized what had happened. The fight with Lime had unquestionably been one-on-one with no outside interference. He had beaten her fairly, which meant one thing.

Lime shook off the last effects of the blow and saw Cabinet was standing right next to him. He drew back to strike her when she looped her arms around his neck, stood up on her toes, and kissed him full on the lips.

She broke off the kiss. “"Beloved husband. I love you."”

Lime just stood there for a moment, then began giggling. “"That was a kiss, wasn’t it?"”

“"Of course it was."” Cabinet stared at him in confusion.

Lime giggled some more. “"I liked that. Touching your breasts is a lot better than touching Herb’s. He always hits me when I do that. I like kissing much better than being hit."”

“"I see."” Actually she had no idea what he meant by touching Herb’s ‘breasts’, and had no desire to learn. “"Haven’t you ever been kissed before?"”

“"No."” He switched from giggling to just grinning sheepishly at his new wife. “"I’ve never been around women before."”

Cabinet considered that. Could he possibly be telling the truth? Was she the first woman he had any contact with? Looking him over, she realized he was quite handsome, and larger than her. One of the things she had been afraid of when growing up was that she was too large, which meant she was going to end up with a husband she could only look down to, and who would be too small to hold her in his arms. It was quite the pleasant surprise that Lime fit the criteria she wanted in an ideal man quite nicely. And it was quickly becoming evident he was totally inexperienced with women, as well as appearing to be about as bright as a brick. She could make him into a proper husband quite easily. Besides, there was something about his apparent childlike innocence that she found appealing.

“"We’re married now. Let me tell you what is expected of you as my husband. My name is Cabinet, by the way."”

“"Okay, Cabinet. But I got a question. Can we kiss some more? I really liked it."”

Oh, yes. There was something very appealing about his innocence. It was going to be a sad day when he lost it. “"Of course we can. We’re married now. We’ll even have sex, eventually."”

Lime scratched his head. “"What’s sex?"”

Cabinet saw she was going to have her work cut out for her. She was about to start explaining the facts of life to him when she saw Julep herding an obviously beaten Mint to where they stood, shoving him forward as they approached.

“"Keep moving, Lefty,"” Julep said as she shoved him once more.

“"My name’s not Lefty."”

Julep snarled at him, causing him to bow his head. Mint’s wolf heritage took control as he subconsciously followed his more dominant kinswoman.

“"I take it you won?"” Cabinet asked.

Julep gave a broad smile. “"Naturally. It was close though. He was almost as fast as me. Almost. How did you fare?"”

“"Meet my husband."” Cabinet looped her arm through Lime’s, who just stood there with a stupid grin plastered on his face.

Julep took note of Cabinet’s pleasure. Good. She liked her husband. Had Cabinet seemed sorrowful about her new status, Julep would have seen to it her friend became a widow in short order.

“"Cabinet and I are married,"” Lime informed Mint. “"She’s going to let me touch her breasts, and I can kiss her. And we can have something called sex."”

Mint turned to Julep. “"Can we have sex too?"”

“"No!"” She cuffed him on the head. “"Even if we weren’t family, you could never handle it. Instead you’re going to work for me. It’ll be much better than sex."”

“"It will be?"” Mint asked.

“"Trust me."” Julep turned her head to where the Amazons had first ambushed the column. “"The sounds of fighting have stopped."”

Cabinet began dragging Lime along with her. “"Let’s go see if we won or not."”

The four warriors turned the bend in the pass and saw the Amazons now had a number of prisoners nearly twice their size. Lin Fhall turned to report to Cabinet. “"We didn’t have any casualties, just a few minor wounds. Those spineless cowards broke ranks almost as soon as we hit them. A handful got away, but we captured the rest."”

“"Nice job,"” Cabinet commented. Perfume would be proud of the way they had performed. All they needed was for her to return and take her proper position as the leader of the Hunt Pack, then everything would be all right.


Gemma heard the voice of the Shogun boom in his mind.

{There are intruders in the perimeter! Stop them!}

After the Shogun let him know where the penetration had taken place, Gemma alerted the other Devils and set them out to stop the trespassers. He would remain behind in case someone else attempted to sneak into the mountain and interfere in the Shogun’s plans.

Gemma found himself truly anxious for the first time since his release from his ‘Golden Hell.’ Japan was going to be his in a matter of hours. More than a lifetime’s worth of dreams was but scant hours away.

Every second felt like an eternity.


Seven of the Eight Devils of Kimone gathered outside the main entrance to Mount Phoenix, preparing to set out for the south where their opponents were approaching.

“Can you feel it in the air?” the blind swordsman, Ututsu Mujuru, asked of his companions.

Yurimaru, master of electricity, nodded his head in agreement. “The time of our victory is fast approaching. This will be the last task we must do before attaining our heart’s desires.”

“I don’t recall control over the heart of our leader being mentioned as a wish you could be granted,” Zakura, the explosive member of the Devils taunted to her one-sided love interest. Her gibe was answered as Yurimaru raised his hand and a light wire sped from it, wrapping itself around her neck.

“You would be well served to curb your tongue, woman,” Yurimaru warned.

“Look down at your feet,” Benisato whispered in Yuriamaru’s ear.

He refused to allow the surprise at her silent approach show as he turned his gaze downward. There were several snakes, poised to strike, curled at his ankles.

“That’s enough out of all of you!” The hunchbacked form of the insect master, Mushizo, forced its way between the duo. “This is the dawn of the greatest moment mankind has ever seen, and we’ll be the servants of he who aided in bringing about this new age. But all the two of you can do is cause us to fight amongst ourselves and risk losing everything. You fools! The only thing that can stop us now is ourselves!”

“It really would be ironic that this plan should fail because we turned on one another moments before victory.” The voice that had spoken had come not from anyone visible, but from the shadows themselves as Shujima made his unseen presence known.

The deepest voice of the Devils spoke up, commanding the attention of all present. “I’m not one for pretty speeches and inspiring you to fight, but I do know that there are people coming here that need killing. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spill their guts than yours.” Tessai switched to his stone form as he turned away from the horizon where Ranma and the other were approaching, to look towards his companions. “I’m going to think of this lot we kill as the prelude to something a lot bigger. Sort of like an hors-d’oeuvre before the main course. I think tomorrow, after we’re ruling the world, I’ll get around to depopulating someplace with a warm climate, maybe a couple of those South Sea Islands. I think I’ll do Tasmania. No one would miss that.” He began walking from the mountain and headed in the direction from which Ranma’s group was approaching. “Besides, I like the name. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

The other Devils watched Tessai head off in the direction of their opponents. The group seemed to come to a silent consensus and hurried off to do their last official duty as the mere Devils of Kimone.


Cologne was more than a little surprised by the silence that followed the group. After the defeat of the Musk forces there had been little bravado or commentary from the group. Even the usually verbose Kunou was quiet, not even trying to spout out some poetry. It seemed they could all feel the pall that hung over the area around Mount Phoenix. The feeling that there was something horribly wrong with everything around them permeated the air itself. It was the closest thing to fear Cologne had felt in nearly a century. Whatever was going on had to be stopped.

No matter the cost.


Cologne turned in surprise. Happosai had not called her by that name since his ‘departure’ from Joketsuzoku so many years ago.

As she looked at him she was amazed to see some of the old Happosai, the one she had admired before he allowed his perversions to overcome what sensibilities he possessed, make the first appearance she had seen in nearly a century. “"What is it?"”

“"Do you ever feel sorry about falling in love with me?"”

Cologne ‘humphed’ “"It was never love. It was nothing more than a young, foolish crush from one that should have known better."”

He gave her a sad look. “"It was more than that to me, even if I did ruin it in the end. It was still one of best times in my life."”

She was about to thank him when he continued on.

“"Almost as nice as the times I had with that pretty young thing I met right after you. Her name was Chigusa, and she was the sweetest— "”


“Hey!” Happosai screeched, holding the spot where she had whacked him in the head with her staff. “What did you do that for?!”

“Because for one brief moment I almost felt sorry for you.”

Surprisingly, he calmed down, then looked over his shoulder at the group. “I don’t think they’re ready for this sort of thing.”

“I don’t think we’re ready for it,” Cologne answered.

He considered that. “You might be right. Still, I would have liked to have had the time to give them a fighting chance.”

“We can’t always get what we want. Both of us understand that.” She hopped over a large tree root that blocked the path. “Besides, they’re more ready than you think. I believe they just might surprise you.”

“Maybe,” he relented. He looked strangely at Cologne, then cleared his throat. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

Cologne shrugged. “That’s all in the past. I don’t think about it anymore.” She jumped over another large root. “Besides, knowing you, there are plenty of things you’re still going to do that will upset me.”

Happosai just snickered in response. She still knew him better than anyone alive.

Ranma stared irritably at the two diminutive trolls that were leading the way. They seemed to be pulling farther ahead of the group as they got closer to Mount Phoenix. It damaged his pride that someone other than him was taking the lead going into a potentially dangerous place, but the two old ones had been correct. They were the individuals most capable of dealing with whatever dangers might be ahead of them. And Ranma still had Akane and Shampoo to look out for. Both of them were staying close to him, making watching them easy. On the downside, Tarou was staying close to Akane and glaring at Ranma the whole time. At least Pantyhose was keeping his arrogant mouth shut. Mousse was trying to stay close to Shampoo, but also seemed to be keeping an eye on Kodachi as well. Perfume seemed to remain close to Shampoo too.

Ranma spared a glance behind him to see that Ukyou, Ryouga, Aki, Kyoko, Kunou, and Ai had formed their own little group, traveling closely behind his. It was the largest collection of high-level martial artists he had seen in his entire life. They would be able to handle anything that was thrown their way. As long as he was around.

He was still trudging along, trying to make out the ever-closer mountain through the forest, when he saw a brief flash of red from high in one of the nearby trees. His instincts took over.


Located high in the foliage, Zakura quietly spoke.


Two detonations erupted from the hidden explosives Zakura had left buried in the path. The explosion caught everyone in the first and second groups. Shampoo, the closest in her group to the explosion, took the worst of the detonation. It threw her through the air and into a tree, striking the back of her head and neck, and rendering her nearly insensate. All of that group was knocked off of their feet, save Ranma, who rolled with the explosion, and leaped up in the air, heading to the tree where he had seen the flash of red.

Kyoko found herself the primary recipient of the explosion near her. The pieces of metal and rock shredded a large portion of her outfit and legs, opening a series of deep cuts along them causing blood to flow from the variety of lacerations, and nearly rendering her unconscious. All of the others in the group found themselves hurled to the ground as well, but faring much better than their cheerleader comrade.

Aki was shaking her head clear when she heard the sound. “Is that an odd whistling noise I hear, or is it just that my head’s ringing?”

Ryouga perked his ears up as he shook his own head free of the effects of the explosion. It wasn’t just Aki that heard the whistling, Ryouga could hear it too. The noise was all too familiar to him. One did not forget the sound a weapon as unique as that made.

“GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!” He grabbed the girls nearest to him, the still stunned Ai and Ukyou, tucked them under his arms as though they were small children, and leaped high in the air.

Aki and Kunou stood up and stared at him for a moment. It was only the purest of chances the approaching weapon came from the direction Ryouga had been in. Both of the standing people saw the huge blur-like discus head towards them. They leapt over the giant spinning blade, barely missing it by an inch. The blade sliced through five trees and began a return flight in the same direction from which it had come. Much to Ryouga’s horror, he saw that it was heading right towards the branches he had leaped to. He barely had time to jump out of the way once again as the tree he was standing on was reduced to kindling.

Aki recovered enough to see the whirring blade get snatched out of the air by a huge eight-foot man with skin the texture of stone. Now that the weapon was stationary, she could see that it looked like two huge swords stuck together by the hilts. The weapon had to weigh two hundred pounds, at least.

“Fresh meat,” Tessai said as he licked his lips and observed Ryouga land with Ukyou and Ai, who had at last recovered and gained their footing. He was going to have fun with his new playmates. It had to have been at least five days since he had killed anyone, and even a fool could tell you if you didn’t kill regularly you could lose your touch. Besides, he recognized the bandanna-clad boy. The rematch Tessai had promised was going to happen even sooner than he had hoped.

Perfume got to her feet just in time to see several long black forms speed across the ground towards her. She was a blur with the naginata in her hands, slicing and slashing at the slithering things. As they stopped moving she identified them: snakes. Vipers of some kind, if she was not mistaken.

She was about to search for more of the serpents when a long pale ropy thing wrapped itself around her arms binding them together. Less than a second later she felt a second one wrap itself around her torso and around her neck. As the things stopped she realized what they were; the hands on the ends were the giveaway.

“I wonder what the sound of your neck snapping will sound like?” The soft feminine voice of Benisato said behind her.

Tarou and Akane saw the odd serpentine woman wrap her snake-like arms around Perfume. Each reacted differently as Akane lunged forward while Tarou spun around quickly, making certain there was no one to attack them from behind. Satisfied, he went to join his love, when a claw of steel shot out from a shadow near a tree and sunk deeply into his shoulder, ripping into flesh and muscle. Tarou gave out a cry of pain as he felt the claw begin to be pulled back. As deep as the claws were into his flesh, a good portion of skin and probably some of his muscle was gong to be ripped off. Just as it started to retract, the pull was halted.

Akane had turned at the sound of Tarou’s cry and in three strides covered the distance in-between them and grabbed the chain, halting the pull on it. She tugged on the chain, building up enough slack for Tarou to dig out the claw as she gave a mighty tug, hurling a gray form from out of the shadow of the tree. The force of the pull had been enough to send Shujima all the way to her, where she released the chain and buried her right fist into his stomach. Shujima leaped back, retracting his chain as he retreated.

Tarou and Akane turned to face their opponent. Shujima gave an amused smile before crossing his arms. Suddenly there were twenty identical versions spawning from the original, one flowing into the next. Neither Akane not Tarou could tell how many, or which, were the real ones.

Kunou had regained his balance and had his bokken drawn, his eyes searching for a foe.

“My name is Ututsu Mujuru. I would challenge you to a duel.”

Kunou turned to see a tall Japanese man, wearing an old style of white robes that indicated he was a fighter. That and the drawn sword at the man’s side told Kunou all he needed to know. The would-be samurai’s heart quickened as he sensed the nature of the duel. This was the sort of thing he had lived his entire life for.

Kunou raised his bokken in salute. The man, despite having his eyes shut, did the same. As Mujuru prepared to go forward, he sensed something unusual about Kunou’s weapon. The scent of teak drifted towards him.

“You use a wooden sword?” he asked.

Kunou gave a smug smile in return. “Whether wood or steel, a weapon of Tatewaki Kunou can cut through trees as though they were butter. You possess no advantage over me due to your weapon.”

Mujuru bowed his head once more. He had heard of techniques that could harden one’s weapon to a steel-like consistency. Truly he had found a worthy foe in this day and age.

They clashed, wood on steel, and began their duel.

Kodachi and Mousse searched around for a foe. Kodachi was still trying to shake her head free of the ringing sound in her ears. She had been too close to the explosion.

“Maybe we should help the others against that stone guy.” Mousse pointed to Tessai, who was closing the distance between himself and Ryouga’s group.

“Very well. I’m with OW!” Kodachi looked at her shoulder where the stinging sensation had come from. A wasp sat on her shoulder. It raised its stinger and plunged it in again. She swatted it, only to feel another one hit her in the backside. She smacked as she felt four more stings over various places on her body.

Mousse was confused by Kodachi’s yelps and seemingly random slaps on her body, when he felt something sting him in the cheek. Reflexively he brought his hand up and smashed the bee that had stung him. He felt more stings from over other areas of his body.

“Hahahaha! My children seem to be having fun with you.”

Both the master of hidden weapons and the martial arts gymnast looked in the direction of the laughter. It was a hunchbacked man, bearing a battle fork in his hands and possessing the compound eyes of an insect, standing about twenty feet away from the pair of them. What was of greater concern was the swarm of insects that surrounded him.

“This might be a problem,” Mousse felt dread build as continued to swat at the growing number of stinging insects around him.

“Yes OW!” Kodachi swatted another one. “I see what you mean.” Kodachi brought down her own fears as a thought occurred to her. She drew a medicine ball from her tights. As she threw it to the ground she gave silent thanks to Mousse teaching her a little about his art. She was able to hold more things than ever in her leotard without any outward sign that anything was there.

As the ball hit the ground a billowing cloud of smoke surrounded the duo. “Bees hate smoke, as I recall,” Kodachi coughed out.

The stinging insects did appear to have been driven off for a moment, but the way the winds were blowing made it clear to Mousse the smoke screen would last only a few moments. He thought about their problem for a moment. “I have it!” He snapped his fingers and pulled out two gas masks and several aerosol cans from his robes. “This will take care of them. It’s an extra-strength version I got to take care of those pesky bugs that were bothering the Ranma-Eating Plant.”

As the smoke cleared, Mushizo once again set his ‘children’ after the pair. Neither of the duo made a motion to escape, and their facial expressions were hidden behind the masks. It was confusing, but didn’t matter to the Devil of Kimone. He sent his swarm of children after them.

As the bugs flew after the duo once more, they raised their spray cans high in the air and formed a cloud of green mist around them. As the bugs hit the cloud they seized up and hit the ground, dying instantly.

“Quick thinking, beloved,” Kodachi said behind her mask.

“It was noth—“ He barely got out of the way of the two-handed battle fork that was thrust in his direction.

Sensing his children were not going to be able to penetrate the cloud, Mushizo elected to take the fight to the pair himself. Both Mousse and Kodachi switched to more standard weapons and fought back against the repulsive hunchbacked man.

Ukyou held her spatula at the ready as the stone man approached the combined might of her, Ryouga, Ai, and Aki. The stone man didn’t stand a chance.

“I’ll go first!” and with that Ukyou ran towards Tessai. Much to her surprise, rather than making any move, Tessai just stood there and stared at her. She was more than halfway to him when she felt something tug at her spatula from behind. There was the momentary feeling of the hairs on her arms standing up…then pain as over seventy thousand volts of electricity shot through her.

The current lasted less than a half a second as a bandanna sheared through the metal wire that had wrapped itself around Ukyou’s spatula. As the unconscious girl started to fall Ai was there, grabbing her before she could hit the ground

The lost one turned his attention to the scum that dared to attack his Uk-chan from behind. It was a feminine-looking man in long white flowing robes.

“Whoever the hell you are,” Ryouga growled. “Prepare to d—“


Ryouga moved reflexively at the sound of his cousin’s voice, barely avoiding the giant blade Tessai had swung at him. Ryouga was off balance as the stone giant connected with a fist fully with Ryouga’s stomach, sending him flying with enough velocity to shatter the boulder his body impacted with. Ryouga staggered to his feet. If it hadn’t been for the Bakusai Tenketsu training he would have broken something for certain. As it was, he still felt like he had been through hell, or at least an hour-long no-holds-barred fight with Ranma. The stone man had not been able to hit that hard the last time they fought.

Ai gently placed Ukyou on the ground and confronted her attacker, who was standing poised on some branches of one of the large trees. “I am going to kill you,” she said softly as she brought a pompom to bear.

“PRETTY POMPOM ATTACK!!!” Tiny explosives shot out from the pompom and headed for Yurimaru. He moved almost too fast to be seen as he darted out of the way of the explosives, which blew up a good portion of the tree he had been standing on.

“You and Zakura should compare notes,” he said as he shot a wire from his finger and toward Ai. The line never got to her as she hurled a baton at it, intercepting the wire and hopelessly tangling it. Yurimaru released the line as more explosives were hurled in his direction.

Ranma jumped from one set of branches to the next, approaching ever closer to his target. He was almost on top of the woman with the feathered cloak when he saw a flash of motion as several small objects seemed to launch themselves from her cloak and attach themselves to the tree branch he was about to land on. Just as his foot touched the wood, it erupted in a bright red explosion, sending splinters in all directions. With his landing point destroyed, he began a quick descent to the ground sixty feet below. Reflexes took over as he snagged a nearby branch with his right arm and used it like a single parallel bar, swinging around twice before using his momentum to shoot himself upwards once again. This time he took a different direction as he used the branches to draw closer to the woman’s perch.

“Nicely done,” Zakura said, the sound of appreciation in her voice. “Let’s see how you handle this.” Again the woman hurled a small spherical metal object, this time directly at Ranma. Using his superior mid-air combat abilities, he managed to change direction in the middle of a leap, avoiding the sphere as it passed to the right of him.

“You miss—“

The rest of his taunt was cut off Zakura’s eyes glowed red and the aerial mine detonated. The shockwave hurled Ranma’s body into the main trunk of the tree he had been next to. Zakura shifted weapons as she hurled several small non-explosive spikes at Ranma’s motionless form.

It was only a combination of Ranma’s persistence and speed that enabled him to pry himself out of the tree, allowing only one of the spikes to graze him across the cheek, drawing a small trickle of blood. His relief was short-lived as Zakura once again switched to an aerial mine and detonated it near Ranma. This time he was prepared for the attack and evaded the worst of the explosion. And thus began the deadly game of ‘dodge ball’ Ranma played with the insane living bomb burst that Zakura had become, getting ever closer to where she stood high in the branches of her gigantic tree.

Ryouga and Aki barely avoided another swing from Tessai’s mammoth blade. The gigantic stone man had chosen to engage the two in close combat, trying to cut them in half as they continued to weave to and fro, narrowly avoiding evisceration.

“This is getting us nowhere,” Aki complained as she avoided another thrust.

Ryouga cursed not having his umbrella with him. It was durable enough to withstand several of the giant double-sword’s blows, and Ryouga might have even been able to disarm the man. Even with Tessai’s increased strength, Ryouga thought he could take him. He and his cousin were trying to double team the big man, but he was too skilled with the sword to take more than the occasional light blow from one of his opponents. And all it would take was one misstep from either he or Aki, and Tessai would be down to only one foe.

Fate intervened as Tessai moved in for another swing and Ryouga’s foot caught on a tree root hidden under some leaves. As he fell onto his back he saw that Tessai was already raising his weapon for the kill. Time slowed for him as out of the corner of his eye he saw Aki trying to get to him before the blade would connect. By Ryouga’s estimation she would be a half-second too late. Ryouga couldn’t take his eyes of the shiny steel as the blade began its descent towards his chest. Evidently Tessai was simply going to bury it directly into him, instead of slashing and trying to go for a dismemberment.

The blade was no more than a foot above Ryouga’s head when it paused. As the weapon was turned away Ryouga got a good look at Tessai, whose head was temporarily obscured by a pompom that had attached itself to his face. The opening was all that was needed for Aki to kick the blade out of Tessai’s hand. He retaliated by smashing his fist into Aki’s midsection, hurling her more than a dozen feet away.

Ryouga spared a glance in the direction of his first savior. Kyoko was lying on the ground, staring at Ryouga with eyes that pleaded for his well-being. He nodded his head briefly towards her, then got to his feet to confront Tessai.

“You’re going to pay for that,” Ryouga threatened, not with his usual boisterous voice, but in an even tone.

Tessai just grinned and threw a punch at Ryouga. The lost one ducked and connected with a punch into the stony hide of his opponent. Unlike in their previous battle, where such a blow had an effect, Tessai just smiled at his smaller opponent.

“I’m a lot stronger and tougher than the last time we met, and this time I won’t go easy on you.” Tessai raised both fists and brought them down towards Ryouga. Rather than trying to dodge the massive blows, Ryouga raised both of his arms and blocked the attack. A test of strength between the two erupted as they locked hands with one another and began pushing against one another. Tessai had the leverage advantage, but Ryouga was still slightly more powerful, despite the Devil’s power boost.

Tessai thought he felt Ryouga start to give ground when Aki jumped up and landed on his shoulders, straddling his neck.

“And just what do you think you’re doing, little girl?” Tessai growled.

“I just want to see if your head really is made out of granite. Aki Crusher Attack!” Aki got a firm grip on Tessai’s head and began head-butting him in his skull.

He laughed at the first slam into his head. The girl was going to make things easy and knock herself out. After the fourth blow he admitted to being impressed with her resilience and wondered if he should take her alive to see just how much of him she could take before he killed her. By the seventh blow he felt a headache come on. By the tenth he felt blood start to run down in his eyes. It was unbelievable! She was shattering his nigh-invulnerable hide.

With a quick move he jerked out of Ryouga’s grasp and flailed at Aki. Using all of his strength he barely managed to pry her off and hurl her away for a second time. She sailed through the air and ending up in a number of bushes. Ryouga was quick to follow up as he used his fists to hammer into Tessai’s granite epidermis, slowly chipping away at the rock, wearing the stone Devil down.

Perfume felt the breath of Benisato on the back of her neck. As hard as she tried she could not get out of the coils wrapped around her neck and body. The breath was slowly squeezed out of Perfume’s lungs and her vision began to darken as her air began to run out. She swore that dying in the arms of some weirdo misfit was not the way for a warrior of her caliber to go. If only she was able to get to her secret weapon, then she could make the snake woman pay.

Benisato thought she felt her prey’s neck begin to snap when a hard object smashed her in the back of the skull. She uncoiled in a flash and jumped for the ground, barely evading a second blow from a bonbori that had been aimed for the same spot. Even as she began slithering away she caught sight of the purple-haired girl that had struck her from behind. Benisato summoned several snakes to try to kill the girl, even as the Devil retreated to recover her wits. The girl that dared to attack her would pay. Just later.

Shampoo stood guard over Perfume as she recovered her breath, the sword and single bonbori her friend had given her, wielded to fight off any others that would try to attack the duo.

Shampoo had just recovered her wits from the severe blow she had suffered when she was hurled into the tree. Her neck was still shooting signals of pain, threatening to slow her down, but she fought back against the ache and stood ready to take on any other attackers. She heard Perfume catch her breath, then watched in surprise as Perfume thrust her naginata forward and towards Shampoo. The purple-haired Amazon froze at her friend’s action, then stared in shock as the naginata hit the ground. As the pink-haired Amazon brought the weapon back up, Shampoo saw a snake that was stuck on the end.

“Look out!” Perfume shouted out in warning as she pointed over Shampoo’s shoulder.

Without looking Shampoo spun the sword as she pivoted around on her right heel, lashing out blindly behind her. The blind swing struck home, the viper that had been dangling from the tree branch above her was sliced neatly in half.

“Thanks,” Shampoo gasped as both Amazons stood back to back and searched high and low for any other serpents that were poised to strike.

“Agh!” Tarou felt another rake of the metal claw as the twenty images of Shujima moved in to attack once more. He had already been cut badly six times, the deepest being a rake along his back, and try as he might he still could not find the real Shujima amidst the illusions. Akane fared no better, having been struck across the chest and legs in several spots. Tarou swore he was going to snap the shadow man’s neck for daring to lay one hand on his woman.

Tarou threw another punch at an image, and again met nothing but air. It was absurd. How could he fight when he couldn’t figure out whom to attack? If only there was some way to sort out the real one from the fake.

Then the idea occurred to him. One of the masters he had trained under once taught him that one could not always rely on sight as the only method of targeting an attacker. The other senses were every bit as important as vision. It was his sight that was hindering him, so the best way to even the odds was to eliminate that liability. As Shujima backed off Tarou shut his eyes and tried to sort out the sounds around him. Chaos threatened to overwhelm his hearing, but he managed to sort out Akane’s labored breathing and movements from the rest of the noise around him. That left only one other sound to listen for. The faintest rustling of leaves came to the left of him. It was too easy.

He struck out with his fist, connecting a glancing blow to Shujima’s head. The images disappeared as the shadow man’s concentration was shattered. Akane quickly followed up once the false illusions faded. She connected with a powerful kick that broke three of Shujima’s ribs as his body went flying several feet away. Tarou and Akane moved in to finish their opponent, when Shujima’s body seemed to sink into the shadow beneath the tree.

“Damn!” Akane and Tarou simultaneously cursed loudly.

Kunou brought his bokken high and blocked Mujuru’s strike. It was the three hundredth blow that the sword-wielding Devil had made against Kunou. The young warrior struck out with the two hundred and eighty first of his attacks. Never had Kunou felt more alive than he did now. This had been the fight he had been waiting his entire life for. The exhaustion he felt in his muscles meant nothing as he brought his bokken in a sweeping arc at Mujuru. The blind one parried the blow.

Every true warrior knew that there was one man who he was destined to combat. One man who would help give definition to a warrior’s existence. And when at last that single opponent, who would define that which a fighter was meant to be, was encountered, only then could one truly achieve victory. No one Kunou had fought before in the past excited him as Ututsu Mujuru did. To Tatewaki, it was almost as though the fight was a throwback to an era when true warriors strode the lands in search of the quest that made a man into unyielding steel. Something Kunou had never been able to find, not in any of those he had fought.

Until now.

No matter the outcome of the fight, Tatewaki Kunou, age seventeen, would be forever changed.

Ututsu Mujuru broke off his attack and turned his face to Kunou. “For the first time in my life I truly regret having to kill such a worthy opponent. You have mettle, young warrior. We should have met centuries ago as brothers. You I would have at my side.”

“You speak of victory prematurely. Our fight is far from over.” Kunou held his bokken before him.

“I disagree.” Mujuru held his sword before him. As Kunou stared at the blade he saw the sun glint off the metal, or what he at least thought was the sun. As he stared at it a flash of light emitted from the blade itself, temporarily blinding Kunou. It was the opening Mujuru was looking for as he lunged forward with his blade.

It was a reflex that enabled Kunou to parry downward with his bokken and block the strike aimed at his heart. Mujuru’s blade continued forward, Kunou landing a blow with his bokken into the man’s side on the follow through of the block. Unfortunately for Kunou, Mujuru recovered from the parry enough to drive his sword though Kunou’s upper left leg.

Mujuru withdrew the blade and leaped back to ‘survey’ the damage from the blow. He could smell the sweet tang of blood in the air, and by focusing his hearing, heard the blood flow from leg to the ground in a steady spurt. The femoral artery was cut; it was only a matter of time before Kunou would bleed to death. Mujuru decided he would deny such a skilled adversary from that slow agony and moved forward once more to administer the killing blow.

Kunou’s bokken had fallen to the ground as he lay there and attempted to staunch the flow of blood from the wound. He was helpless. Just as Mujuru raised his sword to decapitate the wounded man, the Devil sensed an attack come from his left. The blade shifted directions in mid-swing, and was brought around to deflect the small objects that had been hurled at him. The acrid smell of burned flesh assailed Mujuru and his heightened sense of smell as he turned to the new fighter.

Ukyou Kuonji found herself barely able to stand, but she was damned if she was simply going to lie there while Kunou was beheaded. She just thanked all of her ancestors that Ryouga had sheared the wire when he had. That was all that had kept her from being fried to death. Unfortunately, there had been enough amperage to hurt her more than a little bit, and she was finding it somewhat difficult to concentrate. Still, she would give her life if it meant helping her ally.

Ukyou drew her spatula and prepared to attack.

Mushizo drew back as more chains and ribbons came at him once again. His two opponents were proving nearly impossible to kill, and the girl’s laugh was enough to set even a psychopath like Mushizo on edge. Too bad he could not use any more of his ‘children’. The one with the glasses kept blasting them with his bug spray whenever there were more than a handful of them around.

Yurimaru ducked out of the way of the tiny explosives once more, splinters digging into his flesh as he wove to the left and shot out yet another wire towards Ai. The cheerleader easily dodged out of the way and threw a baton at Yurimaru’s head. Their fight had gone that way from the opening moments: first one would attack and the other would dodge and retaliate, causing the first to dodge and initiate their own return attack. Back and forth they went, with no clear way of knowing who the better between them was.

Zakura blasted another branch Ranma tried to leap upon. She gave the little jackrabbit credit; he could certainly dodge with the best of them, but at last he was running out of places to go. She blew up another cluster of branches one second too late to catch Ranma. He had managed to get close enough so that two more leaps and he would be within hand-to-hand range with her. Too bad she wasn’t going to let him get the close. She was about to blow away the next branch he would jump up to when he did the unexpected. He dove back and downwards towards a lower branch a tree away. Zakura wondered if she had scared the boy off, not that it would do him any good in the long run. She was still going to blow him to hell.

She was admiring the grace with which he had made his leap, while simultaneously trying to estimate where to place her next explosive so she could blow him into tiny pieces, when her opponent formed a blue ball of energy between his hands.

Zakura had only a split-second to act before Ranma shouted out, “MOKO TAKABISHA!!!” and released a blue bolt of chi energy right at the branch Zakura was standing upon. The beam cut through the wood as though it were not there, and grazed her in the shoulder. The pain made her lose her concentration in the initial moments of her fall. She recovered just as she started to fall past the branch Ranma had landed on to arrest his own fall.

Zakura knew she could prevent herself from crashing into the ground, but had to take one last shot at the boy who had dared to draw blood from her. There was one trick she wanted to try. It was something she only recently learned she could do after her enhancement at the hands of the Shogun. She brought her hands together as black energy formed between them.

“DIE!!!” Zakura shouted as she fell past.

The black bolt of force, more powerful than any explosive she had ever used, headed straight for her opponent. Somehow she saw him get out of the way of the near-fatal and point-blank blast at the last second. The bolt blew clean through the trunk of the tree and three behind it. She was pleased to note the look of pain on her opponent’s face as the force of the explosion sent him sailing far through the air.

It was time for Zakura to save herself. She brought her hands together once again and pointed at the ground, which was now no more than twenty feet away. She released the black energy directly beneath her, blowing up a good portion of the forest floor below and using the force of blast itself, as well as the effect it had on the ground, to slow her plunge and cushion her fall. Despite all of her efforts she still landed very hard.

As she painfully raised herself to her feet, she saw that Ranma too had recovered and was eyeing her cautiously from some distance away. Zakura afforded a glance to her fellow Devils and saw that all was not going as it should have. Too many of her allies were on the verge of defeat or being pressed on the defensive. And then there was that look of quiet confidence in the boy that was her opponent. That angered her more than anything. He should fear her! All should fear her! And she would make them!

“Devils! We are leaving!” And with that Zakura took off, leaping from tree to tree towards Mount Phoenix.

The other Devils paused briefly in their fights to considered what Zakura has said, and the way she had said it, and retreated from their battles, following in Zakura’s wake.

“Let’s get after them!” Aki snarled.

“Wait!” Ryouga shouted to halt her pursuit. “I need to check on Kyoko.”

“Kunou’s injured bad!” Ukyou shouted to the others.

Seeing his opponent and her comrades retreating, Ranma suppressed the urge to follow them and hurried over to Akane’s side. He immediately noticed the cuts she bore from her fight with Shujima and began fawning over her, much to Tarou’s irritation.

Perfume noticed what effect Ranma’s attentions on Akane were having on Shampoo. “Hey! Stupid male! Shampoo’s injured too! Not that an insensitive oaf like you would care!”

Ranma went through a gamut of emotions, from concern about Shampoo’s injury to a “Hey! I’m not insensitive and at least I never tried to impale any of my friends!” remark directed at Perfume. He was trying to decide if he should leave Akane’s side, while she glared at him for obviously considering leaving her to check out Shampoo, when Tarou began whispering in his ear about how Ranma’s boyfriend needed help and how Tarou was more than capable of looking after Akane.

Perfume turned her back on the fight as she joined Kunou’s side and saw the nature of his wound. Already he had nearly passed out from the blood loss, even with Ukyou using direct pressure on the cut. Perfume was about to do a further examination when she saw that the others, save Ryouga, who was fawning over Kyoko, and Aki, who was keeping an eye on the two of them, had joined her at Kunou’s side.

Ai took over Ukyou’s job of putting direct pressure on the wound, and ordered Ukyou to sit down until she could see what damage the voltage might have done to her chef. Perfume shook her head as she decided what would have to be done.

“We have to tourniquet the leg,” she said as she took of her weapon’s belt and began to wrap it on Kunou’s leg as tight as she could and high enough that it would help arrest the flow of blood. She did not inform the others that unless he got medical attention quickly he was going to die.

“I thought that if used a tourniquet you would lose the limb it was tied on,” Akane mentioned.

“He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t die,” Tarou informed her. He had come to the same conclusion Perfume had. “The leg’s gone no matter what he does.”

Perfume nodded in agreement and finished wrapping the leg. Now all it would take was a lot of luck to keep Kunou alive long enough to get medical attention.

“Who goes back with him?” Ryouga asked.

“Sparing any one of us would cut down our odds of survival. The fight with those things was tough enough. Even if they don’t have the advantage of surprise, we’re going to be hard pressed to stop them. We’ll need every bit of force we can muster.”

Shampoo looked around and suddenly realized something. “Where is great grandmother and the little pervert?”

Ranma looked around as well. “Yeah. They didn’t help in that fight at all.”

Happosai and Cologne faded back to the visible eye.

“It looks like that idiotic technique you used for sneaking peeks in women’s baths came in useful after all,” Cologne commented.

“I can’t believe we’re running out on them like that!” Happosai shot back. Running like a coward was Genma’s thing, not his.

Cologne turned in irritation to Happosai. “I like it even less than you do! That was my great-granddaughter I left back there! But you and I both know those beings were nothing more than the second line of defense. No doubt things will get worse the closer we head to Mount Phoenix. The best way to protect the others is to find the one that is really behind all of this and take care of him. Crush the head of the snake, and the body follows.”

“I still don’t like leaving so many cuties behind,” Happosai lamented.

“I’m certain they miss you too. Now hurry! The longer we talk the more danger they’ll be in!”

The pair continued on their way to Mount Phoenix, each hoping the children they left behind would be able to take care of themselves.

“That worthless old ghoul and pervert! I can’t believe they’d duck out on us like that!” Ranma growled once more.

“If great-grandmother left, it was for a good reason,” Shampoo’s own words failed to convince her. Why had Cologne fled without even a word to Shampoo? Surely she had not abandoned everyone to the fates?

Perfume stood in the middle of the group and tried to take charge of the situation. “Those two have probably forgotten more about fighting than all of us put together have learned. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it was good. The problem is what are we going to do now? Someone has to take Kunou back before he bleeds to death on the ground.”

“I’ll do it.”

All eyes turned to Kyoko. Her legs were covered in blood from all of the lacerations she had received from the initial explosion and she was having difficulty standing straight.

“I’d only slow you down now. I don’t want anyone to get hurt because I was holding them back or was a liability.” She looked to Ryouga when she said that.

Kyoko’s concern was mirrored by Ryouga. “But we can’t leave you, you might get hurt.”

“Unlikely,” Perfume commented as she grabbed her naginata and made ready to leave. “She’ll be heading towards the ship and away from Mount Phoenix. Those creatures that attacked us, and the army, are to keep people out, not in. If my sisters did their job, Kyoko shouldn’t have any problems linking up with them. They can take care of Kunou from there.”

“But she’s hurt,” Ryouga protested.

Ai waved him off. “Don’t underestimate Martial Arts Cheerleading. I taught all of my girls to fight through pain, and I made them run endurance exercises with hundred pound weights strapped to their backs. She can handle it.”

Kyoko gave a nod of affirmation directed to Ryouga.

Ryouga shook his head. “I can’t let her go off like this!”

“Then go with her!” Perfume shot back irritably. “We’re heading out now. Every moment we waste here gives those animals a chance to set another ambush for us.” She turned to the direction to Mount Phoenix. “Whoever is coming along, we leave now.”

The others watched Perfume head off in the direction of the mountain once more, then followed. Only Ryouga, Kyoko, and Kunou were left behind.

Ryouga looked hesitantly between Kyoko and Ukyou’s dwindling form. He couldn’t protect both of them, and he had made his choice.

“Go,” Kyoko said.

Ryouga stared longingly at the group for a moment, then back to Kyoko. “I can’t. You need me.”

“They need you more than me,” she said softly. “I’ll be all right. Show some faith in me,”

Ryouga looked to the group once more. If they got out of sight, it wasn’t likely he would be able to find them once more. “But—“

She pressed a finger to his lips. “Go. If anything happens to them and you weren’t there, you’re never going to be able to forgive yourself.”

She was right. He knew it, even if he did not want to admit it. There was no choice to make

“Take care,” he said, then in a moment of daring, moved forward to initiate a kiss. It was only for the briefest of moments, nowhere near enough time for him to even start a nosebleed. He then turned and rushed off to join the others.

Kyoko watched him go, then muttered under her breath, “You could have agonized over that a little longer.” She smiled then, and touched her lips where Ryouga had kissed her. HE had kissed her. They almost had something resembling a real relationship. If only Ryouga was able to keep himself safe from harm.

She bent over, wincing in pain, and picked up Kunou. Waves of fire shot up from her legs as she placed him over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Ai was correct in that under ordinary circumstances, Kyoko would have been more than able to carry Kunou the entire distance to TWPOS in little time, but with her legs torn up as badly as they were, it was going to take everything she had to get Kunou to help before he bled to death.

“Come on, put your back into it,” she said, remembering how Ai would urge her onward in order to keep her going. It was going to be a long trip back.


Zakura paused in her flight and waited a moment for the Devils to catch up to her. She stood atop a small, green hill that allowed her to overlook the forest from which the group had emerged, several miles away.

“This had better be good,” Yurimaru threatened. “We have to kill that lot before they get any closer to Lord Gemma.”

Zakura stared at her shoulder, which had only just stopped bleeding. “They’re all going to die, now!” she turned to Mujuru. “Where are they?”

Mujuru allowed his senses to stretch out once again. He sorted out the sounds of close to a dozen people making their way cautiously through the forest. “There.” He pointed to where the group was located.

“Perfect,” Zakura said under her breath. She then held her arms out, allowing her feathered cloak to float lightly back on a gentle breeze. “Feel my fire,” she said, and with that a huge section of the forest where Ranma and the group had been suddenly erupted into a huge fireball.

The other Devils, save Tessai, shielded their faces from the wave of heat that washed over them as the effects of the blast reached their hill. Only Tessai watched the rising flames from his position on the hill, admiring Zakura’s handiwork.

“What was that?” Benisato asked her partner.

Zakura laughed wildly, allowing the others to see the full madness that had taken root etched in her face. “Do you think I spent the last several weeks here simply sitting on my rear? I’ve been planting explosives throughout the entire area surrounding the mountain. What I just set off there was napalm.” She ran her hands over her body as she felt on orgasm build from witnessing the conflagration that she had created. She had not had a chance to use many of the new explosives that she had come into contact with in the new age. There was no doubt in her mind she was going to have to burn several villages to the ground in the next few days and experiment with them.

By the gods, how she loved this century.

It was only a quirk of fate that had enabled Ranma and company to be as far away as they could be between two sets of the explosives. Zakura’s inexperience with her new toy showed as the group ended up in one of the small spots where the flames failed to reach. That was not to say the group had escaped the effect of the blast. The whole party had been knocked to the ground, and the heat that had washed over them hurt immensely, but they had survived, for the most part, unharmed. The fact that the forest around them was suddenly on fire and they had no way of putting it out did not help either.

“What do we do?!” Ai called out as the flames drew closer. It became evident they were surrounded by fire, and it was drawing closer to the group.

Ryouga was more concerned about another. “Kyoko.” He looked through a wall of flame in the direction he had left her. Without thinking he began to instinctively rush towards the place where he had last seen her.

Aki placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. “You’re not fireproof, you dummy! You’ll burn to death and never reach her!”

“I have to go!”

Aki saw the wild look in his eyes. The fool was going to try to go anyway. “Listen to me. If you try to get to her you are going to fail and die, and all you’ll accomplish is leaving her to cry over your charred corpse. I think the explosions were confined to the area around us. She had a good head start and was heading in the opposite direction. She’s all right.”

“How can you know?!” he shot accusingly.

She looked him straight in the eye. “I’ve hung out with our demolitions expert a lot. I know what I’m talking about. I know she’s okay.”

“All right,” Ryouga reluctantly admitted as he backed away from the wall of flames that was getting ever closer. If it had been anyone other than Aki, he would have disregarded the information and gone ahead anyway.

Aki was relieved he turned away from the flames. She had lied through her teeth, and hadn’t the faintest idea if Kyoko had survived or not. Aki hoped the cheerleader had, but even if Kyoko had not, there was no way she would allow her cousin to throw his life away in some senseless gesture of false heroism. She just prayed he would come to forgive her if it turned out she was wrong.

Tarou hit upon the solution immediately. “I can fly several of us out of here, but not everyone. Some of you are going to have to stay behind.” And he had that list already chosen, with Ranma at the top. He could carry at the most five people safely in his arms. That meant Akane and four of the others. Tough luck about those that would remain behind.

“I can think of a way around that limitation,” Kodachi said as she drew a ribbon and moved closer to Tarou, the circle of fire drawing in on the group by the second.

The Devils of Kimone stared at the bright orange flames before them. Only Gemma himself could possibly survive the inferno before them. The intruders had to be dead.

Yurimaru was about to turn away and report back to Gemma when he heard Mushizo gasp. The master of electricity turned to see in the distance a huge monstrosity emerge from the flames and slowly head up to the skies. It appeared to be a minotaur with wings. As it continued to rise up, Yurimaru was able to make out what appeared to be several people, dangling by some sort of cords, hanging from the bottom of it.

“I’ll take care of this,” Tessai growled as he drew back his mighty two-bladed sword.

Tarou-bull’s wing already ached from the additional weight he was carrying. He would have been able to handle his additional passengers with ease under ideal circumstances, but one of Shujima’s slashes had been at the exact spot where Tarou-bull’s wings appeared. The muscle under that wing ached, and flying on his own would have been difficult enough, but with the extra baggage he had it made his flight slow and nearly impossible.

He looked down at the ribbon and chain that encircled his wrists. He hated to admit that Kodachi had figured out a good way to transport everyone, too bad. Dangling from one wrist was Kodachi, Mousse, Ai, Ukyou, and Ryouga. From the other, the important one to Tarou-bull, was Ranma, Aki, Perfume, Shampoo, and Akane.

He was looking towards Mount Phoenix, wondering if he had enough endurance to make it there without landing at least once, when he heard the whistling sound behind him. Instinctively he raised his flight path, narrowly avoiding the spinning blade that had headed towards him. Instead of slicing through him, the blade cut through the ribbon Kodachi’s group had been on and flew on past. That was unfortunate, but it was impossible to grab all of them while Akane and the others were still being carried in his other hand. If he was to make any violent maneuvers, he might knock them, or more importantly, Akane, off. The falling ones were on their own. At least there appeared to be a river beneath them. Perhaps they would even survive.

While Tarou-bull listened to the others cry out in concern, he heard the whistling sound get louder. He looked up to see that damned spinning blade was coming back for another pass. He narrowly avoided the second approach, but this time it sliced through the ribbon holding Akane and the others. Tarou-bull panicked as he saw the love of his life start to plummet to her death. Without a second thought he dove for her, grabbing her by a leg and cradling her gently in his arms.

“Save Ranma!” she shouted.

Tarou-bull looked down at Ranma’s plummeting form. Saotome had already built up a good bit of speed, and if Tarou-bull tried diving after him, especially with the condition of his wing, there was a better than fifty percent chance he would not be able to pull up in time and end up crashing into the ground below.

Besides, it was Fem-boy.

Tarou-bull shook his head at Akane. She just stared at him with wide eyes, then tried ordering him to do it once more. He refused, causing her eyes to tear up as she saw Ranma drop out of sight, with the others that had been on his ribbon, nearby. She tried squirming out of Tarou-bull’s grasp, causing him to tighten his hold on her until they landed some distance from where Ranma and the others would have struck the ground.

Akane fell to her knees, crying, and Tarou-bull’s heart went out to her. He didn’t want to see her cry, not ever, even if it was over Saotome’s death. He tried placing one of his massive hands over her shoulder, but she slapped it viciously away.


Tarou-bull actually flinched at her accusations. It hurt worse than any blow he had ever received. It hurt worse than all of them combined. He had to do something to get back into her graces. He simply had to. It dawned on him that a life without her did not feel like it was worth living.

Since he could not speak he began writing on the ground. Akane refused to look at it, initially, opting to cry instead, but eventually Tarou-bull got her to look at the writing. Through her tear-stained eyes she read that Tarou-bull knew he could not have saved Ranma without killing them all, and that ‘Fem-boy’ was annoyingly resourceful, and that one lousy fall, even from that height, would not kill him.

There was mostly truth in what Tarou-bull had written; especially since he WAS confident Saotome had survived the fall. The guy was like a cockroach and refused to be squashed like the bug he was. No, Tarou-bull was certain Ranma had survived the fall, but he hoped the hermaphrodite had at least broken both of his legs on the landing.

As though grasping at one last desperate hope, Akane nodded her head and dried her tears as best as she could. Tarou was correct. Ranma would not succumb to a mere fall.

“Let’s go find him,” Akane set off towards where they had last seen Ranma.

Tarou-bull placed his massive form between Akane and the path. He began writing in the dirt some more, saying that finding Ranma down there was more like searching for a needle in a haystack. Since they knew Ranma was heading towards Mount Phoenix anyway, the two of them should set off for there and meet Ranma when he arrived.

Besides, Tarou-bull wanted revenge against the shadow man that had hurt him and Akane. He’d show Shujima what it meant to lay a hand on his woman. Saotome would be dealt with after the fight. Tarou had to rethink how he was going to win Akane’s heart, now that he knew simply getting rid of Ranma was no longer an option.


Ranma saw the trees rushing up to him. There was nothing he could do to stop his fall, so he aimed for the thick cover of foliage and gave a prayer that he and the others landed in something soft. Maybe he could slow his fall using the branches. It was a longshot, but it was all that he could think of as he was falling to what might have been his death.

He saw a flash of purple as Shampoo nearly ran into him in mid-air, then he felt the green of the leaves as he crashed through the first screen of leaves, He grabbed at Shampoo as he held his free hand out and tried to grab anything he could, hoping to slow his fall, even if it meant having his shoulder ripped out of its socket.

His body broke two sets of branches, the second actually being thick enough to slow him down some, while he made certain Shampoo was above him as they fell. If he slowed down enough his body might be enough to keep her from dying on impact.

As he fell through the second set of branches he saw there was nothing else to slow him down as he and his companion rushed to meet the forest floor. It was brown, if clear of any vegetation. No last minute pool of water there. Ranma was fairly certain they were coming in too fast to survive the impact. There were still so many things he had left unresol—


Aki saw Perfume go through almost the same spot that Ranma and Shampoo had fallen through. It was as good a place as any to aim for as Aki guided her body near where Ranma had gone through. Too bad she couldn’t bring herself to use her stand to cushion the fall, even now. She hoped Ryouga and the crew didn’t mourn her loss for too lo—


Aki felt herself in some kind of warm liquid-like substance. It was too thick for water, and she couldn’t see through it, but it had been soft enough to break her fall and keep from breaking her neck. She had been extraordinarily lucky to have taken a deep breath right before she hit. She tried swimming in it, but it was too thick. Panic began to overcome her until she realized that her feet were touching something solid. She used that for leverage and began to walk through the thick, viscous liquid. Anyone not as powerful as her would have had trouble walking through it, but not her. It was slowing her down, but she moved at a fairly quick pace.

As she moved forward and felt her lungs start to burn from lack of air, she felt something soft brush against her face. There was a shift from it as Aki held her hand up and grasped at it. Even through the thick substance her fingers identified what it was: fabric.

Aki grabbed onto the person in it, who was struggling weakly, and began carrying them through the substance. Aki felt faint, but could have sworn the bottom of whatever it was she was in was starting to rise. The person she was carrying stopped struggling, not a good sign. Aki used every ounce of energy she had when she felt an object in front of her. Taking a chance she grabbed it and tried to hurry onward. She felt as though she was going to black out when her head broke through the thick liquid and air passed across her face.

Air. The most precious substance in the world filled her lungs as she staggered to the edge of the pool she had been in. She wiped her eyes of the muck across them as she looked at what she was still waist-deep in. The brown ooze left her with little doubt about what it was that had saved her from death and nearly killed her anyway. Quicksand.

As she gasped for air she turned her attention to her two burdens. The first one she had grabbed turned out to be Shampoo, whose unmoving head was just above the surface of the quicksand. The second was Perfume, who was equally unmoving. That left only Ranma still in the pool. Aki threw Perfume roughly on the ground next to the pool, then tried to pull Shampoo fully out of the quicksand, so she could end up on shore and Aki could start a search for Ranma. The odds of finding him were terrible, but she had to take the chance.

The drag on Shampoo was incredible, and as Aki placed both hands on her and gave a mighty heave, she saw why. Shampoo’s left hand was clutching Ranma.

Shampoo hadn’t let go of him, even after the fall. Even after unconsciousness. Aki shook her head, then remembered that Ranma had been under longer than any of the other three. Quickly Aki placed Shampoo and Ranma on solid ground, then heaved herself out of the waist-deep spot she was in and examined the three closely. Perfume and Shampoo were breathing, weakly, but they were breathing. Ranma was not, though a quick check showed his heart was still beating.

Aki threw Ranma on his back and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Time lost meaning for her as she began the process of trying to get him to breathe on his own. She felt no breath, then repeated the procedure swearing she would do it until she got his breathing restarted or she dropped from exhaustion.

After three minutes, she got the former

“You dummy,” Aki said as sat up and breathed a sigh of relief. It was as she was wondering how long it would take Ranma to recover when she felt a hand grab her by the back of the neck. She turned to look at the point of a sword leveled against her throat.

“Why you kiss Ranma?” Shampoo said, glaring at Aki the whole time.

Aki placed her finger delicately on the tip of the sword and gently pushed it away from her face. “It was called a ‘kiss of life.’ He wasn’t breathing.”

“Oh!” Shampoo dropped her sword and examined Ranma gently, confirming for herself that he was still breathing.

Aki went over to check on Perfume. The pink-haired Amazon sat up, looking like she had been through a vicious fight, fell several hundred feet, and nearly drowned in quicksand, but was otherwise in good shape. The two exchanged a few words, then looked back towards Shampoo, who was now gently cradling Ranma in her arms.

Shampoo felt Ranma stir, then embraced him. “Ranma, you is okay.”


Shampoo held Ranma away from her for a moment to see he had cleared his insides out of all the quicksand he had managed to swallow. Too bad for Shampoo he had done it all over her, not that it was not all that noticeable since she was already covered in the muck. So much for any romantic revelations, though.

After several moments Ranma recovered enough to listen to what happened to him and thanked Aki.

“What happened to Akane?” he asked as he felt his heart seize up. If anything had happened to her…

“I think Pantyhose grabbed her. I saw him fly close to her, but I lost track of them,” Perfume said. “There were more pressing concerns at hand, you understand.”

“Yeah. He’d do that and leave the rest of us to fall to our deaths. He probably thinks I’m out of the way now. Wait until I get my hands on him!”

Aki cuffed him in the back of the head. “As much as you have a right to be angry with him, we gotta little problem with those monsters that attacked us. Why don’t we take care of this whole Mount Phoenix thing before we go beating each other up?” She tried wiping as much of the muck off her clothes as she could. Despite her outward focus, she was concerned about Ryouga’s fate. She had still been hanging from her ribbon when her cousin had been cut loose. Fortunately, it had appeared there was a river right below him when he fell. Aki would have sworn he hit the water, but she had not had a good look.

Ranma assented and the remaining trio tried to dry themselves off as they reoriented themselves.

Aki stared at the quicksand for some time. To her knowledge that wasn’t the sort of thing that made up part of the western Chinese countryside. She took a moment to examine her surroundings. Something else wasn’t quite right. It took her close to two minutes before she could place her finger on it.

“Ranma! Shampoo! Take a look at the trees and plants around here and tell me what it reminds you of.”

“Being in the country,” Ranma answered, irritated Aki was apparently going off on some wild tangent that had nothing to do with beating up the opposition.

Shampoo looked at it more closely. She hadn’t noticed it before, but there was something wrong about the plant life. Growing up in the area all of her life, she knew nothing like the types of plant life she was seeing before her belonged here.

She snapped her fingers. “It’s just like Pangea!”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought,” Aki said. It was good to have that confirmed.

“I see what you mean,” Ranma said in agreement. “This stuff gets freakier by the moment. Let’s find those guys, beat ‘em up, then get them to change this place back to the way it was. And let’s hope there ain’t no dinosaurs around here either. I had more than enough to last me a lifetime.”

The trio of girls agreed with Ranma and headed towards Mount Phoenix once more.


Kodachi moved through the air gracefully and executed a perfect dive as she entered the water cleanly, barely feeling the impact.

Mousse was flailing away as he did a near-version of a belly flop. He was temporarily stunned as he changed to panda form and began to sink into the water. Kodachi swam over to where he disappeared and managed drag him to the surface before rousing him. Together the two headed for the shore to dry themselves out.

“Do we continue on, my dearest?” Kodachi asked.

Mousse-panda nodded. [We have to make sure Shampoo is all right.] He began tromping off towards Mount Phoenix once again.

Kodachi scowled angrily at his back as she followed. He had given up on Shampoo, yet continued to fawn over her. For his sake, when he came fully to his senses and realized just whose heart he held, he had better start treating Kodachi twice as nicely. Or else.

Ai, Ryouga, and Ukyou all dove into the water at the water at the same time. The initial splash hurt, but it was something all of them could easily deal with.

Ai was swimming to the surface when she spotted Ryouga-bat beginning to sink. She made a mental note that apparently bats weren’t designed for swimming. Quickly she kicked out with her legs and swam over to the sinking form. Ryouga was far from her favorite person in the world, but he certainly did not deserve to drown.

Ukyou paddled her arms furiously, trying to stay afloat. For someone that had spent a good portion of her life near a seashore, one would have thought she would be able to swim fairly well. Nothing could have been further from the truth. She could do a passable job and could keep from sinking like a rock, but being in water was not a favorite pastime of hers.

When no one else surfaced Ukyou began to panic. She was about to risk trying to swim underwater when Ai broke the surface, bearing gifts in the form of a bat and his shirt and pants. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ukyou headed to shore, and once on firm ground set up her portable grill and heated some water for Ryouga. Within minutes he was dressed and apologizing for nearly drowning.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ukyou assured him.

“I just hope Aki’s all right,” Ryouga muttered.

Ai pointed towards Mount Phoenix. “Since that’s where we were heading, let’s get going. I’m sure the others will be there waiting for us.”

Ukyou and Ryouga nodded in agreement as the trio set off towards Mount Phoenix.


The Devils had split up. Most tried to find the separate groups of people, while Tessai and Mujuru headed directly to Mount Phoenix in case any of the intruders made it that far. None of them could be allowed to get to the Shogun. None of them.

Ranma and the girls gazed at the huge field full of the strange flowers before them. The expanse was truly immense, unlike anything Ranma had ever seen, yet there was something wrong about the flora. It appeared… alien, in some way.

“Kodachi would have a field day with this,” he commented.

“Ah! It’s just a bunch of flowers. Plants aren’t dangerous,” Aki commented as she set off for the field.

“You never had one try to eat you whole,” Ranma replied dryly as he followed behind her, wary of any plants that might suddenly rise up and try to devour him.

The quartet made it halfway across the field when Perfume slapped the first bee that stung her. She was about to continue onward when something clicked in her mind. “I think we have a problem.”

The others turned to look at her, then heard the sound of buzzing come from all around. A huge swarm of bees, wasps, and other various stinging insects began to pour forth from the flowers.

“Even with the amaguriken, I can’t handle anywhere near this many bugs!” Ranma shouted as he began swatting them out of the air.

Shampoo began to panic as well. They had no attack that could wipe out a lot of bugs that came at them from all sides at the same…

“Ranma! Run away to almost the edge of the field, then use the Moko Takabisha on me!” Shampoo shouted.

Ranma shook his head, the move allowing him to get stung several times. “Are you crazy?! How’s that going to help?!”

In answer Shampoo began to glow blue, the chi energy taking on a scale-like pattern.

Ranma understood in a heartbeat. “Run!” he shouted to Perfume while grabbing Aki and heading to the edge of the field.

Aki allowed herself to be carried almost half of the distance before she realized what was happening. “You coward! You’re leaving Shampoo to die while she attracts all of the bugs! Oww!” She smacked an offending wasp. “Almost all of them.”

“Nah! She’s going to blow herself up.”

“Oh,” Aki said in relief. “That makes… WHAT?!!!”

Perfume began to run after Ranma when she spotted something in front of her. It was just a fleeting glimpse from out of the corner of her eye, but it was all she needed to confirm what she had thought she had seen. She brought her naginata forward and used the ‘Whirling Dervish’ to cut down as many of the insects as she could. Some got through and stung her, but not enough to halt her progress.

Shampoo stood at the eye of the newly formed swarm. It was difficult retaining control of the ‘Dragon’s Scales’. The bugs may have been small, but there were enough of them that the defense wanted to strike out and destroy them. However, the blast from her alone might not be large enough to destroy them all, and Shampoo wouldn’t be able to use the attack again. She had to get them all the first time.

“Hurry, Ranma,” she said through gritted teeth.

Ranma thought he was far enough away from the majority of the swarm and released Aki. He summoned his confidence and allowed the chi energy to form between his hands.


The attack struck Shampoo dead center. The following sphere of energy that radiated outward from her expanded to a tremendous size, vaporizing over ninety-nine percent of the bugs. Ranma found himself knocked backward from the force of the explosion, slamming into Aki as she too was blown off her feet.

As the sphere disappeared, Shampoo was left on her knees trying to recuperate her energy. For some reason, maintaining the control for as long as she had had drained her worse than when she had employed it against Mousse. The purple-haired Amazon decided she was going to have to practice her control over the attack.

Perfume picked herself up off the ground. Her back felt a little burned from the amount of chi energy that had hit her, and though she ached, she could still fight. Her gaze turned to where the hunchbacked man that had been directing the insects from behind a rock slowly revealed himself.

“A bold tactic,” Mushizo complimented as he brought his battle fork to bear. He had been far enough away to avoid the effects of the ‘Dragon’s Scales’ blast, and proceeded to use that advantage on the injured Perfume.

Naginata met battle fork as the two engaged in combat. Four times the weapons clashed, four times each attack was parried. Mushizo’s hopes for a quick ending were quickly dashed. Worse, he saw that Ranma, Aki, and Shampoo were recovering and looking towards the fight. Mentally, he summoned more insects from around the area. With any luck he could finish Perfume quickly and run off until the new swarm arrived and dealt with his opponents.

Mushizo swung at Perfume’s head. She retreated long enough for the hunchbacked man to back away and rip off his shirt. He half turned, allowing Perfume to catch a glimpse of the hive-like hump that was embedded in his back. Perfume’s eyes widened as bees started coming out of it and attacked. She was unable to deal with them as Mushizo once again came at her with his battle fork.

Hundreds of stings began to wear her down as she found herself locked in combat with Mushizo. The others were still too far away to help, and soon the pain from the stings would overwhelm her and she would fall to Mushizo’s weapon. She had only one chance.

Perfume deliberately locked up the fork with her own naginata as more stings assailed from all around. She maneuvered so her right wrist was pointed at Mushizo’s head.


“Say good-bye, you hunchbacked freak!”

In an instant she let go of the naginata with her left hand and twisted the oversized bracer on her right arm. A tiny black cylinder popped out as she shifted her hand and pulled back on a small spring-attached piece of metal, which had been concealed, towards the end of the bracer. She released the piece of metal and allowed it to go forward.


Perfume watched as Mushizo’s left compound eye disappeared and a huge chunk of flesh went flying outward from the back of his skull from the impact of the single armor-piercing bullet her gauntlet concealed. The Devil’s body went limp and fell backwards. As Mushizo’s body hit the ground, Perfume felt the insects stop stinging as they too followed their master dead to the ground.

“Welcome to the era of modern-day weaponry.” Perfume sank to her knees as her three comrades-at-arms at last rushed to her side.

“Are you all right?” Shampoo said as she examined Perfume. It didn’t look good. Perfume had huge swellings over almost all of her body. The pain had to be excruciating.

“No,” Perfume barely managed to get out through her puffy lips. “I have to enter a healing trance. I learned it from an Indian shaman during my travels. It’s my only hope. Good luck.” She lay on her back and concentrated, using her body’s life energy to heal herself, hopefully in time.

The others looked at her, temporarily uncertain of what to do. There were no other Devils that seemed to be coming out to avenge the death of their friend, so the trio talked it over, then elected to take a chance and moved Perfume to the woods, concealing her in some shrubs. It was a risky tactic. If anyone stumbled upon her, there was nothing Ranma and the others could do in the underlying brush and plants, but there was no other choice. Shampoo gave a prayer for her friend as the trio set off for Mount Phoenix once more.


At the same time:

Kodachi and Mousse-panda made their way through the verdant tropical jungle. The Black Rose had already made a mental note of at least five different varieties of plants she did not recognize. Examining them when an opportunity presented itself was going to be a pleasure.

The pair was getting close to the mountain when Benisato almost seemed to slither into view.

“A new opponent,” Kodachi said as she drew a ribbon. “You will fare just as well as your associate did against us.”

“I’m not a hunchbacked oaf,” Benisato said as she undid the clasp on her garment and stood, naked save for the snake tattoos that adorned her body.

“Do not try to tempt my Mousse!” Kodachi spat. “He’s… mi… n…” She trailed off as the snake tattoos moved of their own accord, capturing all of Kodachi’s attention. There was no longer anything else in her mind save the loveliness of those gracefully flowing reptiles.

Mousse-panda stared at Kodachi, concerned at why she had suddenly seized up. He turned to the woman standing about fifteen feet before him, the somewhat blurry woman before him whose moving snake tattoos were too out of focus to be effective on Mousse-panda. He drew a set of knives and prepared to throw them at the woman when he felt a wire circle around his neck. Four hundred thousand volts shot through Mousse-panda as he discovered he could do nothing more than fry.

Yurimaru, hidden in the branches above his opponent, let the voltage shoot through Mousse-panda. He was annoyed. Electrocuting someone’s trained panda was beneath him. He should be at Mount Phoenix and at Gemma’s side, helping him fight off any intruders.

The sound of electricity shook Kodachi out of her trance. Reflexively, she hurled a razor hoop at the wire around Mousse-panda’s neck, severing it. Yurimaru raised a single eyebrow in irritation. No one was allowing him to get his work done anymore.

The instant the hypnotic contact was broken, Benisato shifted the snake tattoos adorning her body into living vipers and sent them forth to attack. All four sank their fangs deep in Kodachi’s limbs. She gave a squeal of pain as the vipers pulled out, then continued forward to examine her love. If he was dead there was nothing for her anyway.

“That should be enough to kill the ridiculous panda,” Yurimaru said. “If it wasn’t, I trust you will finish them off.”

“The girl will be dead in less than two minutes,” Benisato confirmed. “That’s one kill apiece.”

“I am not Tessai!” Yurimaru snapped. “I shall return to Mount Phoenix and keep those other fools away from Lord Gemma. Return once the girl has expired before your eyes.” He leaped off at top speed towards Mount Phoenix.

Benisato watched idly as Kodachi wept over the panda. She was annoyed when the gymnast gave a squeal of joy and announced out loud that he had a pulse. Benisato shook her head. Yurimaru was losing his touch, though how any panda could have withstood that level of electricity was beyond the Mistress of the Snakes ability to comprehend. It would die for certain once she used her own personal venom on him. There was not a creature alive, outside of Gemma, that could survive that particular toxin.

Benisato moved forward to finish the pair off when she noticed Kodachi bring out a vial and quaff it. “What was that?”

Kodachi smiled as she brought out another one of her razor hoops from somewhere in her tights. “I have a tendency to use snake venom in some of my chemical agents. I always keep a universal snake antidote on hand. It’s my own design. Now let’s see if you’re razor-resistant.”

Benisato remained motionless, stunned by the revelation. An image of the last young raven-haired girl she had poisoned, and who was unaffected by it, flashed through her mind as she superimposed Kagura’s face upon Kodachi’s. Benisato was so amazed at her ill fortune that she failed to evade the razor edged hoop, allowing it to slice clean through her neck.

The last thought through the snake woman’s mind was the injustice of it all.


Happosai found the concealed cave he was searching for. It hadn’t taken much convincing on his part to get Cologne to agree that approaching through the front entrance was just asking for trouble. He had sneaked into lots of hidden fortresses throughout the years, and one thing he learned from all of them was that there was always more than one way in. Mount Phoenix was no exception.

He laughed to himself as he and Cologne crept cautiously along the passageway. One thing he had learned from all of secret ways into mountain fortresses was that they almost always carried traps.

“What’s that smell?” Cologne asked.

Happosai paused for a moment to sniff the air. From the second he inhaled he knew what it was. “Decomposing Flesh.”

Cologne nodded her head. “That’s what I thought.”

Happosai considered the new information. “Let’s head for it.”

“Why would we want to do that?” Cologne asked in surprise.

“Because no one leaves guards around dead bodies. They can’t stand the smell for long.” Without waiting for her agreement, he went on in the direction of the smell.

Cologne accepted the ‘wisdom’ of the suggestion and followed. Even if guards were present, there should not be too many of them.

As the duo reached the main cavern the sight inside made even the hardened elders recoil. Hundreds of dead bodies filled the cavern. Mount Phoenix was now nothing more than a giant mausoleum.

“Monsters,” Cologne whispered under her breath. That was all she could think of. It would have to suffice.

“Col-chan?” Happosai said softly.


“We’re going to make these animals pay, no matter what. I’ve never been one to take killing lightly, but none of them will be alive by the end of the day.”

Cologne only nodded her head in agreement.

The two made their way past the piles of bodies. Just as they made it halfway through, Happosai felt his leg catch on something. He looked down and discovered an outstretched partially decomposed hand had caught on the leg of his gi. He tried pulling it away, only to see the hand tighten its grip. Another hand began moving, then another as all of the bodies began to move.

Cologne lashed out at the hand clutching Happosai’s leg, then leapt clear of the now moving bodies. Happosai joined her a moment later.

“It looks like there were guards after all,” he said as he saw the corpses begin to shamble towards them.

“Too bad we don’t have the ghost sweeper to put all of these poor souls to rest properly. It looks like we’ll have to do this the hard way.” Cologne began to summon her chi, cursing all the more at the scum that dared to use necromancy. The dead were meant to stay dead. She would make whoever it was pay. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, they would pay.

At the same time:

Zakura watched as the little fool who had dared to bleed her, and two of his little sluts, approached Mount Phoenix. It had been good fortune that delivered the one she wanted most to be dead into her hands. Now she was poised in just the right spot to kill him, high above his head where tons of rock could be used to bury him. Sometimes there was no substitute for being lucky.

“Goodbye!” she shouted down at his form nearly a hundred feet below. She was amused to see his head whip up as she threw the explosive at the keystone. Instantly she detonated it, causing a mini-avalanche to cascade down towards the trio. It appeared the largest boulder of the lot was heading directly towards him. There was nothing they could do, no time to get out of the way, as the rocks rained down upon them. The largest one struck the trio dead on.

Zakura waited a moment for the dust to settle. Seeing there was no one climbing through the huge pile of rubble, nor at the sides of it, she went back into the mountain. With any luck Tessai would not have discovered all of the intruders and she would get to kill a few more.

Thirty seconds after Zakura left, the huge five-ton boulder stirred. Impossibly, the rock moved up and away from the pile. A large, black figure of a muscular woman in scanty armor, composed of psychic energy, tossed the rock aside as if it was a pebble. Once free of the stone, the figure retreated into the form of Akiko Yoshida.

Ranma and Shampoo could only stare at her in stunned surprise. They had heard the story from Ryouga, but had not understood just how incredible the sight was. And it had been the only thing that could have saved them.

“Thanks,” Ranma told her, trying to keep the awe out of his voice. If only he could do something like that, he would be unbeatable. Maybe there was a way to increase his strength through his chi. The old ghoul might have some ideas about that.

He placed his hand on the silent Aki’s shoulder. As he touched her she gave a soft gurgle, then her eyes rolled up inside her head as she started to collapse. Ranma grabbed her before she could hit the ground.

“What’s wrong?” he asked Shampoo as he examined Aki.

“I don’t know.” Shampoo shrugged. “Didn’t Ryouga say something about her never being able to use it unless someone called her by ‘that’ word?”

Now that Ranma thought about it, he had heard Ryouga mention something like that. It was not like Ranma had paid that much attention to the specifics. There were a lot of other things on his mind at the time.

“She seems to be breathing okay.” He looked to the mountain next to them. “Man, what should we do? Leave her and go in, or stay out here with her?”

Shampoo considered that. Aki was a fighter. “She’d want us to go in and avenge her.”

Ranma nodded in agreement. Shampoo did a quick search and saw no one and nothing around that could harm Aki. Once again Ranma was forced to hide someone he was going to leave behind. He was going to make that exploding woman pay for what she had done to him and his friends. That was a promise.

After hiding Aki amongst the rubble, effectively shrouding her from anyone that did not know she was there, Shampoo and Ranma searched and found a concealed passage a little ways up the mountain wall. With one last backward glance at where their fallen comrade was hidden amongst the rocks, Shampoo and Ranma entered Mount Phoenix.


Tarou-bull wasn’t about to walk into some trap like the others. He had heard the legends of Mount Phoenix during his travels. Since Cologne assured him they were quite real, that meant they would have entrances which they could fly into. It was one such entrance he was searching for. It didn’t appear any of their opponents from earlier were able to fly, which meant there was a reasonable chance such an entry point might not be guarded. And if there were a guard he would crush them.

Tarou-bull flew with Akane in his arms, savoring every moment she was there, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. More often now he was discovering her absences made him feel as though something was missing from his life. Time was making him crave her more than ever. Once all of this was behind them and he won her heart, which was inevitable, he was going to have to consider their future. Settling down seemed like a good idea to him. Running the dojo sounded like a decent way to make a living. No, Akane would want to run it, and that would sit fine with him. Curiously he did not feel the need to call the shots around her. Deep inside he knew that she wanted to take charge of things, and that was all right too. He wasn’t even dating her and he was already whipped.

And it was a pretty damn good feeling too.

Making peace with Nabiki was going to be difficult, but it wasn’t like he was marrying her. They could come out to some sort of agreement. Sort of an ‘I won’t ever mess with you again if you don’t mess with me,’ arrangement. She’d better accept something like that, anyway. And to think, if Nabiki had not sicced that tail on him, they would never have crossed swords. He shrugged. There was no use in trying to change that which could not be changed. Just like his dead mother.

It was odd. Only recently had he realized that Akane bore a passing resemblance to his mother. At first he panicked, fearful he had some sort of Oedipus complex involving her and it hadn’t been love at all. But after some soul-searching, he understood that was not the case. What he felt for Akane was true love, not some misguided attempt to reclaim something he could never have. In a way, the idea that he might not have truly loved her had scared him, and in the end, once that feeling passed, it eradicated whatever doubts he might have once held.

Tarou-bull returned his thoughts to the present as he landed in a large hole in the side of the mountain. One that could only be reached by air. Gently he let Akane down, then took the lead. The passageway was designed to be slightly large for normal-sized people, which meant Tarou had to crouch to enter. He hoped the tunnel did not extend very far into the mountain. Any fights he was involved would end up with him having a definite disadvantage; there was absolutely no room to maneuver. With the way his luck had been going of late, it came as no surprise when he saw the man in old-style Japanese white robes waiting for him.

“You shall not pass,” the blind swordsman Utsutsu Mujuru warned as he held his sword high.

Tarou-bull just bellowed loudly and charged. If he could take Mujuru out quickly, he might be able to escape with just one cut. Besides, it was only a guy with a sword. He’d taken out plenty of men with more than that.

Tarou-bull was almost on top of him when the blade suddenly shown with a light almost as bright as the sun. The flash caught Tarou-bull off guard as he reflexively reared up in surprise. Mujuru used the opening to his full advantage, cutting Tarou-bull deeply along the ribcage. He flowed from one move to the next as he slid between Tarou’s legs and cut once again. This time the target was the hamstrings of his left leg. Tarou-bull staggered forward and Mujuru’s blow cut deep, but not deep enough to sever the tendons and ligaments. Mujuru rose from his knees and with a twist of the wrist, casually severed Tarou-bull’s eel tail, The cursed boy screamed out in pain, blindly flailing away and striking the rock walls, hoping to catch the swordsman he could neither see nor hear over his own roars of pain.

With Tarou-bull effectively neutralized, Mujuru switched his attention to Akane. Her experience in early morning duels with Kunou enabled her to avoid the first couple of strikes aimed at her heart. The blind Devil quickly evaluated her as having some true skill in avoiding his blade and concentrated more intently on an attack. He had forced her on the defensive when he sensed she’d stumbled over a rock and fell heavily to the tunnel floor. From her position on her back she could do nothing more than hold her arm up to ward the killing blow to her head. As Mujuru brought his blade down on the girl, intent on cutting through the arm with the first stroke then finishing her off with a second, he sensed something amiss. Something about the girl that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. As he brought his sword down on her gi-covered arm, he realized what it was even as the sword struck the limb. Her pulse was too steady for her to have accidentally fallen.


His sword was halted by something metal under the sleeve. A brief ‘glimpse’ of the last moments of his previous life, and his sword being blocked by a blade buried in bamboo, flashed in his mind as Akane’s foot met his groin. She was on her feet in less than a second, grabbing Mujuru’s weapon arm and forcing it across her knee. The arm did not break, but the pain was great enough to make him release his hold on the weapon. He then found himself on the receiving end of dozens of punches and kicks that were leveled at him so quickly he did not have time to slump to the ground. The last thing he heard was the girl crying out something about hurting her friend.

Akane at last stopped beating Mujuru. It was too difficult to keep him upright to suffer from any more punches. For a while, Akane had believed that she hated Shampoo, and she did, to a degree, but it was nothing compared to what she felt to the man before her now. He had tried to kill her friend.

She had recoiled when she heard Tarou-bull cry out in pain as his eel tail was severed, and wanted to help him, but instinctively knew she had to take care of Mujuru first. When it became obvious she wasn’t going to get by his defenses, she came up with a desperate plan. Before leaving the ship Tarou had given her his other bracer to replace the one she’d left at home. She had protested it at first, knowing how much they meant to him, but he had managed to talk her into accepting it anyway. Somehow, the way he explained things always made sense, and she found herself giving in. It was a good thing he had. Because of Mujuru’s superior reach with his blade, she couldn’t get lose enough to inflict any damage. Eventually she came up with a plan before he could slip a cut past her defenses. It was risky, but she took the chance that the bracer could withstand one good sword stroke, so she pretended to trip and let her opponent become overconfident. And it had worked to perfection. She had taken Mujuru out, alone.

As she stopped beating on him she looked at her fists. Both were covered in a deep crimson. Blood. In fear she examined the Devil’s fallen form more closely. From the condition he was in she understood instantly that she had nearly beaten him to death. She had lost control.

Akane backed away in fear. She had never done that before, never come so close to killing someone, and she found herself nauseated. Softly she began weeping until a large hand rested on her shoulder. She turned to look into the eyes of Tarou’s cursed form and buried herself in his furry hide, crying while praying the tears would wash away her shame.


Ryouga, Ukyou, and Ai stared at the rock wall before them. It had taken a while, but they had finally arrived at Mount Phoenix.

“How do we get in?” Ai asked as she looked around for some sort of opening.

“That’s easy.” Ryouga stepped up to the side of the mountain, pointed one finger, then shouted, “Bakusai Tenketsu!” and blew a hole in the side of the mountain. Two more ‘breaking points’ later, the trio had access to the inside of the mountain.

“Where do we go from here?” Ai asked as she looked over the interior of the mountain. They were currently in a large cavern, devoid of anything other than rock, though she did take note that a good portion of the surface was smooth, obviously from extensive use.

“Why don’t we go this way?” Ryouga started to go down one of the tunnels that led deeper into the mountain.

Ukyou and Ai looked at one another, then rushed forward, each picking up Ryouga by lifting up under his shoulder and effectively carrying him to a tunnel that led upward.

“No offense, Ryouga, but you’ll probably end up taking us to the center of the earth if we let you lead,” Ukyou said as the trio began searching for something out of the ordinary.

The next tunnel led to a massive cavern full of destroyed houses. They surveyed the carnage with a wary eye, wondering what happened to all of the people that had been living there, when a familiar voice boomed out.

“It’s about time some of you showed up.”

The three looked on to see Tessai approach them, his twin bladed sword drawn. The way he was smiling at the trio repulsed them. There wasn’t the slightest doubt in any of their minds what sort of creature the stone giant was.

“Surround him!” Ai shouted.

Both she and Ukyou moved to Tessai’s flanks. Surprisingly he made no move to prevent either one of them from doing that. He stood still and just grinned at the three of them.

“Attack me all at once or separately, it won’t make a difference. I’m going to kill all of you.”

Ai nodded at Ukyou. The chef took that as her cue to leap forward and swing her spatula at Tessai’s side. He casually moved his giant weapon in her direction, deflecting the attack. Ukyou leaped out of range of the weapon while Ai followed up by using her pompom explosives attack, raising a cloud of dust from the impact of the pellets. As the smoke cleared they saw Tessai grinning at them as though nothing had happened.

“Are you finished yet?” he asked, smiling the entire time. Watching future victims panic was always a kick.

“You still have me to deal with.” Ryouga charged forward and punched Tessai in his rocky chest.

This time Tessai took the attack seriously as he matched blows with Ryouga, keeping his sword in check. As Ryouga fought, both girls saw what was slowly happening, Ryouga was getting tired as his blows only had a minimal effect on Tessai, whereas the stone giant’s punches were beginning to take their toll on Ryouga.

The pair waited until Tessai struck Ryouga hard enough to knock him back several feet and stunned him, then attacked. Ukyou threw her mini-spatulas at Tessai while Ai went for a baton attack, targeting the small missing chuck of rock that Aki had knocked loose when she had repeatedly head-butted Tessai. The Devil took no note of the mini-spatulas as they harmlessly bounced off his hide. Ai deftly avoided the backhanded swing directed at her and struck the missing spot squarely.

Tessai shouted out in pain and batted Ai away from him and into a wall near Ukyou. The chef saw Ai moving slowly and rushed to her fallen comrade. Ai was just starting to get to her feet when she saw Tessai, still holding his forehead with his free hand, hurl the giant two-bladed sword at her.

Ukyou moved into the path of the weapon without realizing it. She turned at the sound of the spinning weapon, only to see her own world spin as she was shoved out of the way. There was a brief cry of pain, and as Ukyou got to her feet she saw Ai lying on her stomach, a long deep gash riding up the length of her back right next to her spine. Blood poured freely from the wound.

“NO!!!” Ukyou picked up the all too limp in her arms.

“I almost… managed to push you… out of the way… and dodge the blade in… time. Would have been… quite the feat,” she gasped out.

“You’ll be okay,” Ukyou sobbed through her tears.

Ryouga picked himself up and looked on at Ukyou holding Ai. There was so much blood. Too much. His gaze moved from the horrible scene before him to his opponent. The course of action was clear, and it was decided in a heartbeat. No mercy for those that would kill his friends. He rushed forward with his finger extended. Tessai’s rocky hide was nonliving matter, which would make the attack effective.

He found the spot he needed, right above the heart of his opponent, and aimed for it. “BAKUSAI TENKET—“

Tessai prevented the attack by grabbing Ryouga’s wrist before contact could be made, then twisted, breaking the bone.


Shampoo and Ranma moved cautiously through the tunnels. Ranma remembered Cologne saying something about the effect coming from the top of the mountain, so both he and Shampoo began their climb. Through vacant tunnels that felt hollow and empty. Through caverns that felt too silent. Through a mountain that felt more like a graveyard than a place for any living thing.

“I don’t like this place, Ranma,” Shampoo said as she moved closer to him.

“It ain’t nothing.” His tone belied the concern he felt. The place unnerved him too, but since it put him at such unrest his senses were unusually heightened. It proved to be fortunate as he sensed the attack come from the ledge above him. He knocked Shampoo out of the way as the wire looped around his neck.

Yurimaru knew he had his prey, one of the fools that would dare to attack his Lord Gemma. He vowed the one in his clutches would suffer far more than the others. He had yet to tap into the full potential of his newly-augmented abilities, courtesy of the Shogun of the Dark. Now he sent close to two million volts through Ranma and watched him twitch at the end of his line. After several seconds he stopped and allowed Ranma’s body to slump to the ground. Yurimaru followed suit as he hopped down to the cavern floor below, next to the boy’s smoldering body. He moved in front of Ranma and towards Shampoo, the Devil desiring to watch her stare in fear at him. The master of electricity was annoyed to see not one bit of apprehension in the girl, but rather a smirk, which was directed at Yurimaru.

“Death comes for you, you who would dare to harm my master.”

Shampoo just shook her head. “I don’t think so. You’re too, too stupid to hurt me.”

It was then Yurimaru heard the rustle of clothing behind him. He turned to look into the face of one very angry, and very unharmed, Ranma Saotome.

“H… How did you…” was all the Devil could get out.

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo,” Ranma said with a flourish as he released in amaguriken into Yurimaru. The Devil crumpled into a heap on the floor.

“He won’t be getting up anytime soon.” Ranma said as he nudged/kicked Yurimaru’s body with his foot. He was about to say something else when Shampoo glomped onto him.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” she said as she squeezed him tightly.

“Yeah. That Drog demon hit me with worse, and I could take that without a problem.” If one didn’t count the headache he had suffered for the next two days.

Shampoo was almost certain that was the case, especially since she had seen Ranma wink at her as soon as Yurimaru had stopped shooting electricity through him, but it was a good excuse to get a glomp in onto him. It really went far in improving her morale, and would probably help his as well. Still, she released him before he protested her closeness.

The duo tied Yurimaru up in his own wires, then set off once again for the top of the mountain. As they moved, Shampoo could not help but feel more dread as they continued. There was still time for Mr. Domino’s prediction to come true, and she had a sinking feeling there were even greater dangers nearby. Still, she was a warrior by birth, and if she did meet her end it would be with pride. She would make Ranma proud of her.


Cologne unleashed one more Hiryuu Shouten Ha at the collection of zombies while Happosai unloaded a large Happodaikarin into the center. The ensuing explosion wiped out the last of the animated dead, finally leaving the pair with no opponents.

Cologne and Happosai spared a moment to gaze sadly at their handiwork. They had completely destroyed the last of the bodies of the denizens of Mount Phoenix. There had been no other option, but the whole event left a rotten taste in their mouths that would not be leaving for some time.

“Let’s get going!” Happosai said as he searched for a way that led up. For the first time in decades he was truly angry, even moreso then when Genma and Soun had locked him away in that cave. At least they had a reason to do what they did, but whatever monster was responsible for such genocide was going to pay with his life.


Ryouga cried out in pain as his wrist broke under the pressure. Tessai lifted his foe up with his free hand and hurled him into a nearby wall, which shattered under impact. From where Tessai stood, he saw water from the makeshift aqueducts that ran through the walls of the mountain run out from the hole in the wall and onto the floor. Tessai caught his returning blade, then walked over to where Ryouga was buried and began sifting through the rubble to make sure his opponent was dead. Tessai moved four stones, then five, and failed to spot Ryouga. He scratched his head as he looked around once more. It was impossible. He had a clear view of the small pile of stones the entire time. Ryouga had to be there. The only thing Tessai found was a bat amidst the rubble, but no teenage youth.

Tessai shrugged his shoulders. Why should he waste time looking for someone to kill, when there was at least one other girl around he could do away with? After he had some fun with her, of course. He returned his attention to the girl who was cradling her injured companion’s body. Judging from the wound he had inflicted, Tessai figured she wasn’t long for this world. That left the one with the spatula. He watched the events unfold as the chef spoke quietly to her companion. There wasn’t much else that could put him in as good a mood as watching one person slowly expire in another’s arms.

Ukyou cradled Ai’s head in her arms, brushing the blonde’s hair out of her face. There wasn’t anything she could do. Why?! Why was it so unfair? Why did SHE have to die?

“Ukyou,” Ai said almost inaudibly. “Sorry to do this to you.”

“Shush. Don’t talk. It’ll be all right.” It had to be all right. Ai couldn’t die. She just couldn’t. They had done so much and there was still more they had to do together. There was too much left undone. Too much left undecided.

“I don’t think so,” Ai said as she grimaced. “I’m sorry I have to leave you, but I was right. It really does hurt too much.”

“NO!!!” Ukyou screamed. “You can’t go! I don’t want you to! I need you!” Her voice dropped. “I love you. See. You can’t die if I say I love you.”

Ukyou watched the smile blossom on Ai’s lips.

“That’s so sweet, to hear you say that.” Ai half-closed her eyes. “I’m truly happy, for the first time in so long. Thank you. I need to go to sleep now.” Her eyes closed farther.

“Don’t die!” Ukyou pleaded.

“Not dyin’,” Ai barely got out. “Just rest for… a… while.”

And Ai’s eyes closed.

“That’s the way it works, little girl.”

The sound of the voice cut through Ukyou’s sorrow, though she continued to gently cradle Ai’s head. Maybe she would wake up. Maybe.

“I’ve been through this scene dozens of times, and I never get tired of it. It’s just hard for me to keep from killing someone outright, so it’s moments like this I truly treasure,” Tessai laughed while bragging and made a mental note to try to inflict just enough damage on people so that they died more slowly around their loved ones. It was… intoxicating.

“It’ll be all right,” Ukyou said as she bent low and over Ai’s face. “I’ll take care of everything. You’ll see.” She gently kissed Ai’s forehead. The first time she had initiated a kiss between the two. Delicately she allowed Ai’s head to touch the stone floor, then rose to her feet.

“Now, I’ve seen this bit close to thirty times, I think,” Tessai said as he watched Ukyou closely. “This is the point where you shout out how you’re going to kill me for taking away your loved one and how I’m going to die in agony and etcetera, etcetera. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying, ‘I’m the big bad guy and you’re the good guy that’s pure of heart and on the side of justice and you’re going to get your revenge by killing me.’ Well, it don’t work that way. This is the real world, little girl. Bad things happen to good people all the time, and ‘justice’ is almost never served. I’m proof of that. I’ve been responsible for lots of unhappy endings. Only once did someone actually succeed in avenging some of my victims, and even then I’ve managed to come back in the end. I guess that means it really wasn’t much of a victory, now does it? So much for vengeance. You and your little friend are going to die at my hands, just like hundreds of others, just like thousands more, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

Tessai paused as Ukyou began a slow walk towards him. “Don’t feel sad, little girl. Where your friend went, there’s going to be a whole lot of other people joining her.” He waited for Ukyou to say something, some cry of outrage or pain, but there was nothing. Just silence.

“So, you’re a quiet one. Those are pretty rare. Not much fun either.” He brought his blade up before him. “I’ll get rid of you quick, so you can say hello to your little friend.” Yes. It was a good idea to dispatch her fast. He had seen dead eyes like hers several times before. He hated those kinds of eyes. It meant that person lost the ability to fear, and they had a tendency to be a bother to kill.

Besides, that look was the only thing left in life that made him feel even slightly uneasy.

The girl continued walking slowly towards him, so he stepped forward and raised his weapon high in the air. She wasn’t even making a move for her weapon. She just continued staring at him through those dead eyes. It was time to end it, so he brought his weapon down directly towards her skull.

Ukyou took a half step back, the blade only lightly slicing through the front of her uniform and some of the skin underneath. It was a deep cut, one that would leave a scar, but wasn’t fatal. The blow was dodged, not because of some feeling of self-preservation, it was simply because there was something left undone.

As Tessai drew his blade back up, Ukyou found what she was looking for. She jabbed her finger forward, seeking the middle knuckle of the ring finger on Tessai’s right hand, the one gripping the weapon.

She touched the spot perfectly.

Tessai’s entire forearm detonated, sending rock, blood, and gore everywhere. There was no scream of pain; the shock from the blow had been instantaneous. He just looked down at the stump where the upper part of his arm had been, then looked at the girl, whose white eyes were all that shone through a face that was totally covered in blood. Tessai’s blood. “Y…,YOU BLEW UP MY ARM!!!”

“Yes,” the dead voice, totally devoid of any emotion, replied through the mask of blood. “We’ll start with your arm.”

When Tessai had been modified, the Shogun had greatly increased his durability, enabling him to absorb incredible amounts of damage. At the time Tessai had been enthusiastic about the change, now he wished he had never received his adjustment as Ukyou continued her task. Despite sustaining enough damage to have destroyed his old body several times over, he lived.

Tessai’s screams of torment echoed throughout the mountain for some time.


Akane and Tarou-bull turned another corner in the passageways. Twice they had to go back because the stone corridors were too small to accommodate the cursed youth, so they doubled back and found a different way up. It was taking them an extra amount of time, but they were slowly making their way up the mountain.


Cologne saw that Happosai was indeed looking over the children with a care that she had never seen him employ. She had always suspected he reserved a small place in his perverted heart for small children, and now her suspicions were confirmed.

Happosai had sensed the presence of the children as the pair searched for their unknown foe. At first the old ones suspected it was some sort of ambush, but when they searched and found nothing other than the trapped children, each relaxed the tiniest bit.

“"What were you poor children doing here?"” Happosai asked softly.

A young boy, relieved at his freedom, answered first. “"The bad people trapped us in there."”

“"They were going to hurt us," another disheveled child spoke.

“"They said all of our parents are dead,"” a third one said in a sad voice. “"We didn’t believe them at first, but when we never saw any of our people, we knew they was telling the truth. I miss my family."”

Happosai tried cutting off the tears some of the younger ones threatened to release. He vowed once again the animals that had hurt these people would pay.

“"Excuse me, ma’am?"” One of the older girls caught the attention of Cologne.


“"One of our friends, Shiira, was taken out of here a while ago by a big scary man. He said we were never going to see her again. Could you find her?"” The girl’s voice dropped a little as she continued. “"I promised her I’d get her out of here."”

Cologne nodded. “"We’ll find her. I promise."” They had taken one girl out of all the possible children. Dread filled her heart as she began to suspect why the man would have taken only one child. One that was destined not to return.

She gazed back at the way they had come. Cologne wanted to lead the children to safety, but there was no time. Once again she was going to be forced to take a chance with innocent lives.

“"Can all of you fly?"”

Every one of the children nodded their heads.

“"Then you must find the nearest way out of this mountain and fly to the south as fast as you can. There is a village called Joketsuzoku that’s full of friends." She handed the girl that had been talking to her a small medallion. “"You tell them that the matriarch sent you there for protection, and give this to one of the Elders there. That way they’ll know you’re telling the truth."”

The girl nodded as Cologne told her to take part of the way she and Happosai had come back. But she made certain to tell them to avoid the lower levels, making up something about there being traps down there. They should be spared the sight of the pieces of dead bodies their people had become.

Happosai suppressed his urge to follow the children as well. It was risky to allow the children to leave unescorted, but there was another child whose life was probably being measured by the seconds. The pair of old masters hurried onward, feeling something building in the air. Events were reaching a crux, and there was very little time left.

They had not traveled far when Happosai leaped into the air to avoid a metal claw that came out of the shadows themselves. The claw retracted into them, then came out of a different one towards Cologne. She casually blocked it with her staff.

“A shadow mover,” she said bluntly.

Happosai nodded in agreement. “I know what to do.”

The duo avoided two other equally ineffectual attacks. Then Shujima stepped out of the shadows themselves, or, more appropriately, the real Shujima and twenty identical images. All began moving among themselves in the corridor, surrounding Cologne and Happosai.

Unconcerned, Cologne nodded to Happosai. Shujima was using an illusion similar to the Splitting Cat Hairs technique, only it was improved. Cologne could still tell which was the real man, but what she was about to do would make Shujima’s illusions more than useless. She raised her staff and threw it. The item whirled in a circle in mid-air, similar in manner to Tessai’s blade. The staff snuffed out all of the torches in one direction, then hit off a far wall and came back, putting out all of the torches in the other direction, leaving all three in pitch blackness.

“Shadow traveling doesn’t work so well without shadows, does it?” Happosai called out as he used his other senses to spot Shujima in the darkness. Happosai noted that the master of Shadows confronted him as well, obviously being able to see in the pitch-blackness too. He brought his claw back and launched it at Happosai. The aged one easily plucked it out of mid-air and launched himself to Shujima, burying the Devil’s own claw in his neck. Shujima died in an instant.

Happosai sensed Cologne approaching and began speaking to her in the darkness. He couldn’t make out the features of her face, but he could easily imagine what expression she had. It would be an approving one.

“I’ve had to take close to two dozen lives in my lifetime,” he said bluntly. “It doesn’t get any easier, even when they deserve it, like this one.”

“That’s what separates us from them.” Cologne told him, though she doubted if she would have shown as much remorse as he did. The life of ruling her village had made her stronger in that way. She did not show what she felt inside. “We need to continue.”

Both continued through the mountain, working their way ever upwards.


Ranma and Shampoo stood at a fork in the passageway. Both avenues led upwards, but each of the pair knew only one led to the place they wanted.

“Let’s separate,” Ranma said, “I’ll take the right and you take the left.”

Shampoo stared at him in shock. “That’s a stupid idea! If we split up, that’ll cut our strength in half! You saw how tough these guys are! It’ll take both of us to beat any one of them!”

“We’re running out of time. I can feel it. Something’s gonna happen soon.” He gained a distant look in his eye as he said that. There was some feeling in the air, something dangerous. He tuned back in to the real world and smiled at Shampoo. “I got faith in you. If you run into any trouble, you can handle it.”

Shampoo glared at him suspiciously. Something was wrong. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.” Ranma shrugged. “It’s just that I can tell the stakes are high and we need to cover this ground twice as fast.” He tried a different tactic. “Look. You always wanted me to treat you like an equal. Heck, you tried breaking me in half once to drive your point home. Well, I’m finally going to do it. Unless you think you can’t hack it alone.”

“I can handle myself!” she growled as she glared at Ranma. “I’m just worried about you!”

“You know damn well I can take care of anything that comes my way!” he stated proudly. “We don’t got any more time to argue. Are you going to show me you aren’t all talk, or are you just going to follow in my footsteps like a good little girl?”

“I’ll show you!” How dare the obnoxious male imply the champion of the Amazons wasn’t able to take care of herself in a fight? She would show him. She would take care of all of their problems and rub it in his face when she returned. With one last glare towards Ranma, she stomped off down the corridor he had indicated.

Ranma waited a moment to make sure she had really left, then proceeded down the other corridor. Doing that to Shampoo had been painful, but damaging her pride was the best way to get her to leave his side without the Amazon becoming suspicious. Upon looking at the two passages, he had known instantly which path their foe was down. It went beyond his ordinary danger sense; it was almost as though something was calling to him, urging him to encounter what lay at the end of the tunnel. And the worst thing was that it felt familiar. He ran quickly, relying on his senses to alert him to any traps, though in his heart he knew there was none. The path would be clear to his foe, whoever he might be.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel that was much brighter than that of the passageway itself. From within the corridor of stone he saw that there was a larger area beyond. A cave of some sort. He hurried forward, drawing ever closer to the thing that was waiting for him.

Upon exiting the tunnel he saw a plain, brightly lit cavern, twenty meters long and ten high. That left plenty of room to maneuver. In the center of the room was the object of his calling. A huge man, Japanese, and with black hair. Ranma recognized him immediately.

Gemma had waited in one of the lower caverns, not all that distant from the main one the Shogun was using, anticipating the approach of… someone. He had felt drawn to that spot, as though that was where he was supposed to meet the intruder, and he knew it was an intruder. Perhaps the Shogun was subconsciously guiding him to encounter the trespasser before one of the other Devils got to him. That might explain the faint tingling he was feeling. But there was a problem with that idea. The sensation was not altogether unfamiliar. Gemma had felt it once before, he was certain of that, but for the life of him he simply could not place it. So he waited patiently for the intruder to come. If he was much longer, the Shogun’s spell would be complete and any fight from that point on would be moot. Everything would be taken care of.

Gemma watched the opening from the lower passageway. That was where his foe would appear, and after ten minutes of waiting he at last sensed the nearness of his opponent. The feeling became more intense, and even more familiar, as the intruder emerged from the mouth of the tunnel and into the light. It was a young boy, Japanese if Gemma wasn’t mistaken, with black hair and a red Chinese style shirt with blue pants. At first glance the youth did not appear familiar. Then Gemma looked into the eyes.

“You were that girl I met on that stormy night in Japan!” Gemma declared. The girl might have become a boy, but those eyes were the same. The girl’s soul had not changed with her body.

“Yeah. I remember you too,” Ranma answered. “Tall, dark and ugly.”

Gemma smirked at the insult. A young boy was responsible for the feeling that had drawn Gemma to him? That hardly seemed reasonable, yet the feeling had been in Japan also, just not as powerful. There was probably more to the girl-become-boy than met the eye. Experience told the Devil to treat the newcomer as the most dangerous of foes. “I guess I should have listened to my instincts and killed you in Japan. I would have saved myself a lot of grief.”

“Nah,” Ranma smirked. “You’d have just gotten your butt kicked a lot sooner.”

“We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Gemma, leader of the Eight Devils of Kimone, right hand of the Shogun of the Dark, and tomorrow, the leader of the country of Japan.” The Devil did not bother with a bow.

“I’m Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. I’m the guy that’s going to make you very unhappy.”

Gemma issued a snort of derision, then charged at Ranma, hoping to catch the youth off-guard. Ranma jumped over the body block and tagged Gemma with a kick to the head. With a speed that belied the man’s mass, he grabbed Ranma’s foot and threw him into the ground. Ranma kicked free of the grip even as he hit the ground, then rolled to a standing position several feet away.

Now Ranma had a chance to reevaluate Gemma. The Devil was quick, and damn strong. Somewhere between Ryu Kumon and Ryouga in the level of strength. Ranma decided to test the man’s hand-to-hand skills.

Gemma complied by moving into attack Ranma. As he began to throw rapid punches and kicks, Ranma quickly evaluated the man’s skill level. He was employing some sort of technique that was all offense and no defense. It was quite foolish, actually. Ranma was able to get eight blows in for every one Gemma landed, although when the Devil did connect it hurt painfully.

Ranma ducked under a fist and struck Gemma squarely in the stomach with several fists and sent an uppercut to the jaw. Amazingly, Gemma ignored the blows as though he had not been struck and hit Ranma with an elbow to the jaw. The youth went on the defensive for a few moments as he caught his wind and reevaluated his opponent. Gemma could shrug off medium strength blows, as though he had some Bakusai Tenketsu training. That meant Ranma could really cut loose.

Ranma unleashed a series of blows all over Gemma’s body. Fists blurred into Gemma’s stomach, ribs, upper chest, then finished up with several blows to the head. The Devil’s skin was hard enough that Ranma thought he was hitting a brick wall, but his training had involved using such things as techniques to improve the toughness of his fists. And he continued, being rewarded by the bloody face of Gemma.

Ranma attacked with renewed vigor, kicking his opponent in the chest and feeling ribs break. Ordinarily Ranma would have fought with more restraint, but he visualized his friends and allies being hurt by this monster’s allies and fought to inflict maximum damage. With all of the blows he had landed, and all of the bones of Gemma’s he broke, he knew his opponent had to be close to defeat. Even Ryouga at his best was not strong enough to take that kind of damage and fight on.

A lightning-quick hand snared Ranma’s. For one second he was shocked by the smile Gemma wore through his pain. That hesitation was all it took for the Devil to lunge forward, driving Ranma into a stone wall and hearing him release a gasp of air from the impact. Gemma struck him with two fists to the head before Ranma ducked the third. As Gemma’s punch shattered the stone he left it partially imbedded in the wall.

Once more Ranma backed off and examined his opponent. He was certain he had felt Gemma’s bones break during the last series of exchanges. How could the big man move so effortlessly through the pain?

Gemma withdrew his fist from the wall and held it before him, allowing Ranma to see the injury the Devil has sustained from burying his fist in the wall. It was very bloody, with a piece of bone that had burst through the skin and was sticking out from the knuckles. Ranma watched the man smile, wondering what he was trying to prove, then saw it happen.

The bone moved back into place. Ranma was able to hear the grind of bones moving against one another and see the skin knit itself closed, all in less than three seconds. Gemma flexed the fist as though nothing had ever happened.

Ranma’s mind was awhirl as he tried coming up with a tactic that might work. Gemma gave him no time to think as he once again charged full speed. The Devil managed to get a blow through Ranma’s defense as the youth found it increasingly difficult to avoid the deceptively fleet, larger man. What blows he landed on Gemma had little effect, only serving to make him back off due to the impact of the blow.

Ranma thought about what to do. Every blow he had struck on Gemma was being healed almost as quickly as it had been landed. It was time to do something brutal. It was uncharacteristic of Ranma to fight someone with the intent to injure; excessive brutality was an anathema to him, or else he would have done something to remove Tarou and Mousse out of his life long ago, but that was all he could think of. At least Gemma truly deserved whatever happened to him.

There was an Amazon technique Shampoo had taught Ranma that he had never had the opportunity to use, or the desire since it involved breaking limbs. He caught Gemma’s arm just the way he wanted to the next time the large man came in with a punch, then twisted, snapping both the radius and ulna. A kick into Gemma’s leg was rewarded with the sound of a snap at the knee.

Gemma ignored the pain and hit Ranma with a backfist to the face. Both bones snapped into place with moments, leaving a smirking Gemma staring at Ranma.

“What does it take to stop you?!” Ranma gasped.

Gemma gave another snort of derision. “Nothing can stop me, boy. Certainly not you.”

“We’ll see about that!” Ranma unleashed another round of savage attacks against Gemma, who weathered the storm, landing a few blows of his own. Ranma was eventually forced to back off in pain. Unlike his foe, the injuries Ranma sustained were accumulating. Slowly, yet inexorably, he was losing the fight.

Brute force wasn’t working so it was time to switch attacks again. As Gemma charged forward, Ranma leapt over the Devil’s head and grabbed a nearby burning torch. As he landed he lashed out with the torch, striking Gemma across the face and eliciting a small grunt of pain from the Devil. A moment of revulsion cut through Ranma as he understood the full ramifications of what he had just done as he saw the scorched blackness of Gemma’s face. Regret was replaced by frustration as Gemma’s flesh healed before Ranma’s eyes once more. He really had thought that attack would work.

“You’re hardly worth the effort to fight.” Gemma then placed his hands on his hips and began laughing.

Ranma felt his temper fray and lunged forward, intent on teaching Gemma a lesson. No one, from Tarou to Herb, treated Ranma like his martial arts were a joke.

Gemma went from his boisterous posturing to a deadly serious combat stance as he managed to get a secure handhold in Ranma. It was then Ranma realized that he had been tricked and that Gemma’s boasts were nothing more than a ruse to lure Ranma into making himself vulnerable to the Devil’s greater strength. It was the sort of thing Ranma would have done to Ryouga if he had thought about it.

Even as the air was squeezed out of his lungs Ranma concentrated. His own strength was far from insignificant, and with a tremendous burst of power he broke out of the bear hug. However, he was too slow in getting out of Gemma’s reach as the Devil wrapped both hands around Ranma’s neck and lifted him vertically off the ground, squeezing the air out of him.

Ranma tried everything to release the stranglehold. Blows on the arms that would have released even Ryouga’s mighty grip were ignored as Gemma continued to choke the life out of Ranma. Gemma drove Ranma’s back and head into one of the walls, causing more spots to be added to the ones that had come from the oxygen deprivation. Ranma’s resistance was becoming weaker as he continued struggling in Gemma’s grasp. He would get out of it. He was Ranma Saotome. He always came out on top in the end.


“It’s the end, boy,” Gemma simply gave Ranma a flat look as he continued to choke him. “You put up a pretty good fight, but you were hopelessly outmatched.”

Ranma would have said something insulting if he was able. Instead he settled for meeting Gemma’s eyes and staring at him in defiance. Ranma was damned if he would give Gemma the satisfaction of fear, even at the end. He was almost completely unconscious when he saw a gout of blood burst forth from Gemma’s mouth.

“Is that a sword sticking out of your chest, or are you just happy to see me?” Shampoo said from her position from behind Gemma and into his ear. She had silently moved behind him, while he was choking Ranma, and ran her borrowed sword through Gemma’s chest, right above the heart, making certain it did not go too far and skewer Ranma as well. She brought both hands on the hilt and drove with all of her strength downward, eviscerating Gemma as the sword cut clean through the ribcage and hip, coming out around Gemma’s left thigh. He was effectively cut in half from the chest down.

Shampoo left the sword on the ground as she moved to examine her beloved. Ranma was gasping for breath and trying to ward Shampoo off at the same time.

“Let me help!” she said as she forced his hands away and tried to hold him. She made a mental note that that macho attitude of his had to go, or at least be modified a little, or they were going to have some difficult times ahead. Assuming they were going to have some times together.

“Akane was right. You are an idiot!” Earlier, once Shampoo had calmed down, she realized Ranma had set her up, no doubt in some misguided notion he was going to protect her from danger. She had hurried back at top speed and arrived just in time to see Ranma begin to close his eyes. Rage filled her as she instantly felt the urge to kill Gemma for what he dared to do to her beloved. And she had followed through on that urge. Hopefully Ranma would not alienate her for it. He had the oddest notion of what was right and wrong in matters of life and death, and might chastise for not trying to come up with a less final solution, never mind if it was the right thing to do.

Shampoo listened to Ranma begin to complain as he caught his breath, and was about to explain to him just how angry she was, when she noticed Ranma’s eyes widen at something behind her. She was shoved by Ranma and found herself skidding several feet away. She recovered enough to see the impossible. The man she had nearly sliced in two had risen to his feet, apparently untouched, and had tried to run her through from behind with the very sword she had used to ‘kill’ him.

“What is he?” she said in awe.

Ranma ducked the sword swung at his head, then managed to disarm Gemma with a blow to the arm. “I don’t know, but nothing I’ve tried to hurt him with lasts! He just keeps healing!”

“I’m indestructible.” Gemma caught Ranma in the stomach with his forearm, winding him.

That snapped Shampoo out of her stupor as she launched herself at the big man. She struck him in the back of the legs and head repeatedly, inflicting enough damage to knock out a dozen men. Gemma’s bones simply moved back into place as he attacked Shampoo all out, landing several blows as she began to grasp his battle strategy.

Ranma lashed out at Gemma’s back this time, forcing him to turn his attention away from Shampoo. It was no surprise to him to see Gemma continue to recover from the blows almost as soon as they landed. Even with Shampoo helping to hurt the Devil, it still wasn’t enough to prevent him from shaking off the effect of their combined attacks.

What compounded the problem was that Ranma began to feel himself slow down. Gemma’s all out attack style pressed Ranma to move quickly to keep from being hit, burning up a lot of energy. His attacks used up a great deal of power as well, but it was a wasted effort since his opponent had yet to even slow down from any of the blows Ranma landed. Gemma’s regeneration abilities did not seem to tire him out in the slightest. There had to be something he could do. Then it came to him.

“Shampoo, use that amaguriken kick!” Ranma felt a twinge of remorse over what he was about to do, but he saw no other option than to use what might very well be a fatal technique on Gemma.

Ranma and Shampoo crossed each other’s paths, setting up Gemma between them, one at his front and one at his back. The Devil’s reaction was too late as Ranma hammered in the same spot on Gemma’s chest, even as Shampoo nailed him from behind in the exact same spot with the ‘Kick of Doom’. Neither paused as they brought fist and foot into Gemma hundreds, and then eventually thousands of times. Gemma’s flesh was broken and Ranma had to shut out the fact his fist was within another human body, pounding away at the insides as blood splashed onto him. Eventually his attack was rewarded as he broke past the rib cage and seemed to strike an object within the chest cavity, and he could have sworn he felt the bottom of Shampoo’s foot at the same time. He blanked out his mind for a moment and tried not to think about anything as he stopped striking at Gemma and looked to see his handiwork. He fought down the urge to vomit as he saw the gaping hole in Gemma’s chest.

Then Gemma lashed out with a back-kick towards Shampoo and a fist to Ranma at the same time. He connected with both, driving both of the youths back.

“I told you, I cannot be stopped.” Though the pain in his chest from where the duo and pulped his heart hurt painfully, but the damage was already healing itself and would be completely gone in a few more seconds.

Ranma didn’t give him the opportunity as he summoned his confidence to form a glow of blue between his hands and unleashed a more focused than usual version of the Moko Takabisha at his opponent’s heart. The chi blast struck Gemma right on target, exiting through Gemma’s back and almost striking Shampoo. Ranma watched as Gemma’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell over, motionless, a large gaping hole in his chest.

Shampoo tentatively walked over and lashed out at Gemma with her foot. There was no movement from the fallen man. She looked to Ranma. “Maybe I’d better cut off his head and make sure.” That was when Gemma’s hand locked around her ankle and pulled, knocking her off balance and onto the ground.

The Devil quickly rose to his feet as Ranma came in for a leap kick. Gemma threw Shampoo’s form in front of him, leaving Ranma with no choice than to twist in mid-air and try to avoid Shampoo. He was only partially successful as he avoided landing the kick, but could not prevent his body from crashing into the Amazon’s. The impact left Ranma temporarily stunned and nearly drove Shampoo into unconsciousness.

Gemma brutally hurled Shampoo head first into a nearby wall. As she slowly slumped to the ground the Devil quickly returned his attention to the more dangerous of the foes and grabbed Ranma by the throat once again.

“That hurt, boy,” Gemma intoned menacingly as he stared deep into Ranma’s eyes. “You’ll pay for that.”

It was Ranma’s turn as Gemma drilled his head into a wall, once, twice, three times. Gemma paused long enough to survey the bloody damage he had inflicted. He took a moment to smirk, then barely had enough time to block the attempted blow Ranma directed to his face.

“That was a mistake!” Gemma drove Ranma’s head into the stone wall repeatedly, and when the stone started to break, picked out a new spot to continue. He did not plan on stopping until all that was left was a bloody ruin in his hands.


Gemma released Ranma as he held his own head in pain. The Shogun had never given a mental command that inflicted agony before.

“What?” he said through the feeling that needles were being driven through his brain.

{There is no time for delays! Get up to the cavern outside of my area immediately! There are two people approaching, and I sense great power within them! Power enough to possibly pierce my protected chamber!}

Gemma looked to Ranma’s crumpled form. There should be enough time to—


Gemma recoiled from the pain. He would run up to the upper cavern immediately and deal with the intruders. Ranma could be killed at a later time.

The Shogun continued to speak to Gemma’s mind as the Devil ran to get to the main cavern outside the Shogun’s final room. {They are too powerful for you to do away with them quickly. There is an alternate plan I have come up with that will keep them occupied long enough for me to complete the spell. I have already summoned Zakura, so here is all you will have to do…}


Slowly Shampoo got to her feet, her head continuing to ring painfully. And that annoying sound had just disappeared too. The initial explosion she had been caught in on the way to the mountain must have done more damage than Shampoo had originally had thought if Gemma could knock her out with such an insignificant blow. Well, with only one really powerful blow aimed at her head.

As she stood up she spotted Ranma’s still form. Her heart seized up as she slowly went over to him. He couldn’t be dead. He was Ranma. Slowly she turned him face up and saw the injuries he had sustained from having his head driven into a wall close to a dozen times. Numerous facial injuries were evident on his features, but she could hear a shallow breathing come from his mouth. There was nothing she could do to help him. The healing technique her great grandmother had taught her relied upon utilizing one’s chi, and she had used all she could spare when she employed the Dragon’s Scales defense.

She tried making sure Ranma was made as comfortable as was possible given his condition, and turned to take the passage she knew Gemma had left through, the one that led further up the mountain. Someone was going to die for what had happened to Ranma. Shampoo swore she would find a way to kill Gemma, no matter what. Everything could die. She just had to find the way.


Gemma hurried through the ankle deep water as he made his way to the uppermost cavern. There must have been yet another thunderstorm above Mount Phoenix. Early on the Bird People had made modifications to the mountaintop so that it would collect rainwater and allow it to flow into the mountain and down through the system of aqueducts and towards the populated interior. At first Gemma had wondered why there was an elaborately carved hole at the bottom of the passageway where it leveled off. It was only after the first of the Shogun’s summoned thunderstorms that Gemma learned of the purpose behind them.

Unfortunately all the water did for him was slow him down. He was becoming concerned about making it to the top before the intruders did, when his ankle got caught in an unseen hole and he fell into the stream of water. He regained his footing and rushed at top speed to get there, wary of any other unseen inconveniences.

He made it up the rest of the way without incident. As he reached the main chamber a quick scan indicated that there was only one other in the room. Zakura must have taken one of the other two alternate ways in. No others had arrived yet, and the two huge bronze doors remained as they had since the Shogun had uncovered them. Gemma took note that Zakura was gazing into the seemingly bottomless chasm. He silently walked over to her.

“It’s almost hypnotic,” Zakura said softly and with an emotion Gemma had not heard pass from her lips ever before. It was the sound of awe.

“Indeed,” he agreed. “The intruders will be here soon.”

“What shall we do when they get here?” Zakura asked.

“Don’t worry,” Gemma responded flatly. “I have a plan.”


Shampoo raced as fast as she could up the passageway. There was no way she would allow Gemma to elude her. His death was at his heels, even if he did not know it. She was almost to the main cavern when she slipped, falling into the water and triggering the transformation. Shampoo-kun raised himself back to his feet and rushed forward once more. He could practically smell Gemma before him.

Gemma and Zakura turned to see the newcomer splash his way through the passageway. He had locked his sight on Gemma as soon as he cleared the opening. Shampoo-kun gave a battle cry and ran straight for Gemma.

“He doesn’t seem like he’s all that dangerous,” Zakura commented as she drew several throwing blades from her cloak.

“There is something that is familiar about him,” Gemma said as he made a closer examination of the charging youth. The clothing was similar to the purple-haired girl that had attacked him before. He bore a strong resemblance to the girl as well. Perhaps they were brother and sister. They had the same eyes.

Shampoo-kun launched himself in the air towards Gemma. He was halfway there when Zakura at last threw her blades. The male Amazon had no choice but to dodge in mid-air… and right into Gemma’s waiting arms. The Devil grabbed Shampoo-kun by the throat and choke-slammed him into the rock floor, next to the pit. The rock underneath the back of Shampoo-kun’s head buckled as the world went dark once more.

Gemma maintained his chokehold in Shampoo-kun, waiting for the boy to make a move. When none was forthcoming he cautiously let go and fell into a defensive stance, suspecting some kind of trick. When there was still no response, he turned to Zakura. “That was too easy.”

“I agree. Perhaps he was cannon fodder.”

“If so, he did not do his job well.” Gemma was about to bend over and crush the windpipe of his fallen foe when two diminutive forms bounded into the room from one of the other passageways. Gemma spun around, and realized instantly these were the two that he had been warned about. Both he and Zakura prepared themselves for what was to come next.


Happosai heard Cologne give a sharp intake of breath when her eyes fell upon Shampoo-kun’s form. His heart went out to her. Had he any children, and they were in a similar predicament, his response would have been the same.

“The boy’s still breathing,” he reassured her.

“I know.”

He could tell by the tone in her voice she was now prepared to do anything to remove whatever obstacles were between her and her great-granddaughter. Happosai turned a more careful eye towards the duo before him. The woman was powerful, but insignificant when compared to he and Cologne. The big man was different. He wore the confidence of one used to dealing with power. There was also no question he radiated more power than the woman he was next to, but it still did not feel like it was anywhere near enough to pull off what had been done to the weather and who knew what else.

Gemma stared at them. “You are the two whom the Shogun warned me about. I believe he was correct when he said I would not be able to stop you in time with only my own prowess.”

“The Shogun?” Happosai asked.

“Yes,” Gemma said in a tired voice. “The Shogun of the Dark. I know you’ve come here to kill him, so you can drop the pretense of ignorance. You’re not fooling anyone.”

“To tell you the truth,” Happosai answered. “We didn’t have the faintest idea there was a Shogun of the Dark anywhere near here.”

“Do you mean to tell me you just stumbled onto this place?” Gemma scoffed.

“Why yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”

Gemma raised an eyebrow at that. There wasn’t any point in the old codger lying. There was going to be a fatal showdown no matter what. “I actually believe you. What a strange world we live in that you would be drawn to this place, here and now, right before the great change. How unfortunate you are too late to do anything about it.”

“And just how do you intend to stop us?” Happosai asked as he watched Cologne ever so slowly inch her way towards Shampoo-kun. There was no way she could get there before the big man would notice, but every inch could make the difference between saving Shampoo-kun or being an instant too late. Besides, he still needed to have Shampoo pose in some sexy lingerie for him.

In answer to Happosai’s question, Gemma turned to Zakura, placed a hand on her shoulder, and drew her in close. “This is where you come into the plan.” In an instant he drove his hand into her chest, ripping into the flesh and beyond. He took no notice of the look of betrayal in her eyes as she died in his arms; instead he continued to force his hand into her chest as though searching for something.

Happosai and Cologne were momentarily stunned by the action. It was Happosai who first found his voice. “What was that supposed to accomplish, huh? Are you trying to intimidate us with the fact you’d murder your own people in cold blood?”

“Hardly.” Gemma’s eyes lit up as he at last brought out the object he had been seeking. He withdrew his hand from the dead woman’s chest, pulling out a black pumping blob.

“See?” he said without a trace of humor to the corpse. “You did have a heart after all.” Gemma returned his attention to the two ancient ones, taking note the old woman was edging her way closer to him. It did not matter. She would not be able to move fast enough to prevent him from doing what had to be done.

“What I intend to do is stop you from interfering in my master’s plans with this.” Gemma held Zakura’s heart before them. “I was informed that I would not be able to delay you long enough with my own abilities. Hard to believe, but who am I to refute the Shogun? So he came up with a plan, a simple one. When my associate,” he pointed to Zakura’s body, “was altered, all of her explosive power was centered into her heart. I intend to crush that heart, bringing this entire cavern down around us.”

“That’ll kill you too,” Happosai pointed out as he saw Cologne edge to within striking distance. She was still too far away to prevent Gemma from crushing the heart before he could use it. Happosai had to keep the large man talking so he could buy her time.

“I’m immortal. Nothing can kill me. I’ll just be incapacitated for a while until the Shogun digs me out. And if you should survive the rockfall, by the time you emerge the world will be ours. Trust me when I tell you, you would be better off dead.”

Happosai saw the muscles in Gemma’s arm tensing up, and Cologne was still too far away to get to him in time. Happosai considered a desperate gamble, but it might distract Gemma long enough for Cologne to be able to prevent him from crushing the heart. “Maybe I can offer you something valuable in exchange for not blowing us all up.”

Gemma’s eyebrows raised at that. “Something greater than ruling Japan?”

“Yep. The most precious thing in the world.” Happosai hoped Cologne was close enough since this was probably the one time they would be able to surprise the Devil, but judging by her distance from him it seemed unlikely. He went into his gi and brought out a white bra. “These were worn by the empress of Japan herself. Aren’t they beautiful? Surely they’re worth one little island nation.”

Even Gemma, in all of his years, had not expected such an… offering. He was shocked for the briefest of moments, and it was during that instant that he was tackled from the side and knocked backward.

Happosai stared in surprise at the help from the unexpected quarter. He had seen Cologne tense up and prepare to spring at Gemma, when Shampoo-kun rose up from the floor and struck Gemma like a small missile. The impact of the youth knocked Gemma backward, but had not dislodged the heart from his grip.

Gemma was teetering off-balance, trying to regain it by pinwheeling his arms, when he realized what he was falling back into. He spared a glance over his shoulder only to see a gaping abyss beyond. With a surge of strength he attempted to maintain his balance and prevent himself from falling into the black pit. Time seemed to stop as every moment became an eternity, Gemma feeling himself on the edge of salvation or perdition. He felt himself almost regain his footing… then lost it as the boy’s mass proved just a little too much for him to overcome. Both Gemma and Shampoo-kun, who was still gripping him by the waist, went over and into the dark void.

A surge of fear went through Cologne as she saw Shampoo-kun go over the side with Gemma. She rushed over as quickly as she could, but was too late. Both figures were falling at top speed, dwindling rapidly.

Shampoo-kun had tackled Gemma in a half-daze and was surprised to find himself suddenly falling forever. Instinctively he released Gemma and lashed out with his foot, hurling himself away from Gemma and towards the side of the pit wall. Shampoo-kun had almost regained his senses when the briefest instance of pain struck him in the back of his neck and his fall stopped abruptly. He paused for a moment to regain his bearings. Had he hit bottom? He tried moving his head, but discovered he could not. It did not feel as though anything was immobilizing it, so he tried using his hands to remove any obstructions, but found they would not move either. Worse, he could not feel them at all. His legs were the same way.

An explosion came up from the below Shampoo-kun, temporarily distracting him. Once his mind returned to the situation, a feeling of dread began to build as he realized he could not feel anything below his neck, and the memory of one brief instant of pain, and where it had been located, as well as the fact there was now no longer any pain from that area, made him slowly come to understand what might have happened to him.


Happosai knew he wasn’t any good at sentimentality, but he tried to reassure Cologne as she gazed, expressionless, at the abyss. He placed his hand on her shoulder, but if she felt it she made no outward sign of it.

“There’s no way she could have survived.”

Cologne continued to gaze. Still no emotion passed on her face. It was almost thirty seconds later when she at last spoke. “I have to know.”

“Col-chan,” he tried to soothe her. There was no need for her to have to see the crushed form of one of her progeny. From the height he had fallen, there would be nothing left of Shampoo-kun. Nothing recognizable, anyway.

“I have to know!” And with that she began hopping down the side of the pit, deftly using her cane in some obscure technique to catch onto seemingly insignificant cracks along the sides of the pit. Never once did she hesitate or show any signs of fear as she seemingly defied gravity and rushed down, deeper into the eternal blackness.

Happosai shook his head, then followed using a similar technique but without the cane. Happosai noted that the Shogun had managed to buy himself some time; just not in the manner the fiend had anticipated. The old master prayed there was enough time for Cologne to make her peace with what had happened and recover enough to assist in gaining revenge against the man that had caused all of their problems and cost so many their lives.

By his estimation they were two hundred feet down when Cologne shouted out excitedly that she had seen Shampoo. Happosai hopped down to the ledge that Cologne had stopped on to see Shampoo-kun’s form was indeed there, one arm and leg dangling limply over a ledge barely large enough to support his body. The sounds of crying were coming from Shampoo-kun as he spoke to his great grandmother. As Happosai drew closer he made out the words through the tears. The dark-haired boy was saying something about not being able to move.

Happosai moved onto the ledge with them. The look Cologne gave him said all he needed to know, though she told him anyway.

“Her back is broken in several places. The damage is too great. There’s nothing I can do for her. Do you know anything…?”

As she trailed off he saw the look of pleading in her eyes, another thing Happosai had seen only when they were both in the bloom of their youth. He was no lay healer, but there were some tricks he had picked up over the years. He used his chi to carefully examine all of Shampoo-kun’s body, centering the most intense scrutiny on the area of the neck and back. There were several breaks, the worst being located high in the neck. if it had been a little higher Shampoo-kun would have died instantly. As it was, Happosai wasn’t certain he was going to survive anyway. “There’s nothing I can do either.”

“"Y… you mean I can’t move ever again?"” Shampoo-kun barely managed to get out.

“"There is some way,"” Cologne tried to reassure him. “"We just need time to discover it."”

“"Time is something we don’t have,"” Happosai reminded her by looking upward. “"If we don’t do something soon, that Shogun fellow is going to do whatever it is he’s been up to. We have to stop him. We’re the only ones left that can."”

“"DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!!!"” Shampoo-kun cried out. He didn’t want to die alone, like Mr. Domino said. He had to get out, had to survive.

Cologne’s stare almost burned a hole through Happosai. “"I won’t leave her here. She has to come back up with us."” Her gaze softened somewhat. “"I know a way I can get her up to the top quickly. I just need you to see to it we don’t damage her spine anymore than it already is. Can you do that?"”

Happosai considered it. “"There is a way, but it’s risky. It might not work, or it might cause her muscles to seize up so her heart stops or she can’t breathe."”

“"If we leave her here, she’ll die anyway. Do it."”

Happosai sighed. There was a life on the line so he was going to have to risk it. Slowly he eased his hand underneath Shampoo-kun’s neck and used his chi in combination with a pressure point to stiffen the muscles while preventing the bones from shifting. In theory it should work. In reality any part of it could fail. It was not the sort of thing he had practiced a lot with.

“"I need you to provide some hot chi, Happi,"” Cologne commanded as she began to glow blue in power.

“You sure don’t ask for much, do you!” Now he was going to have to try to do two things at once. Even for him, it was no simple task. Concentrating he released the hot chi as she asked. As soon as it permeated the air around them he saw her prepare a modified Hiryuu Shouten Ha, without employing a spiral. Slowly he felt both himself and Shampoo-kun start to rise in the air.

Cologne began to perspire as she concentrated furiously on keeping the winds steady. If they moved too violently even Happosai would be unable to keep Shampoo-kun from dying. Higher and higher they went. Cologne found her concentration failing as they rose towards the top. The strain was proving more than she thought she could handle. The mini-cyclone faltered and she found all three of them begin a slow decent towards the bottom of the pit.

“"NO!!!"” Summoning every bit of skill she had she exerted herself to the fullest, forcing herself and her passengers up at twice the speed of before, ascending above the mouth of the pit and to the floor of the cavern. Cologne sank to her knees in exhaustion.


Happosai started to move towards her. Cologne saw the movement and regained her composure, appearing on the outside like the matriarch she was. “I am fine. Exerting that kind of precise control is tiring, that’s all.”

Happosai shrugged. “Not bad. I could have done better, though.”

Cologne kept her commentary to herself and bent down to examine Shampoo-kun. As she used her chi to help evaluate her great granddaughter’s condition, she sensed the full extent of the damage. For all of her careful handling on the way up, the matriarch had still added to the injury, the spine shifting ever so slightly on the way up. But there had been no other way. Shampoo-kun could not have remained where he was.

Happosai turned from the two and examined the huge bronze doors before him. They were magical. He could feel tremendous power rippling forth from them. “I’m going to need your help knocking on these doors.”

Cologne turned from Shampoo-kun and gazed at the doors too. “Magic wards and protections. We could try to circumvent them.”

“Except I don’t think we have enough time.” Happosai scratched his chin in thought. “We’ll have to try brute force. You feel up to it?”

In answer Cologne’s aura flared around her. Happosai nodded in agreement and did the same. The two of them combined should be able to shatter the doors. He possessed more raw power than Cologne, but she had a precision that he lacked. For a moment he was remorseful that things hadn’t worked out between them. They could have been unbeatable together. Too bad she had been so close-minded about the underwear thing.

Shampoo-kun temporarily forgot about his predicament as he bore witness to a display of power the likes of which he had never seen before. Both old masters gave off huge battle auras: Happosai’s was red while Cologne’s was blue. He saw his great-grandmother’s hair raise itself on an unfelt wind, and Happosai shimmer with force. Then he saw them release their power.

Happosai red aura lashed out first, eliciting a loud boom that deafened all in the room, but the doors seemed unaffected by the display. He kept up the attack, allowing Cologne’s blue aura to strike as well, though it was more focused, and encompassed only the door’s handles. Still there was no reaction. The doors remained intact.

Happosai was amazed; not an easy feat for anyone to do to one that had seen and done as much as the old master, but the Shogun had achieved it without even putting in an appearance. Happosai continued pumping every bit of energy he had into the twin bronze doors before him. They had to give in, had to break. Nothing could withstand the sheer amount of power he was unleashing. He turned slightly to see Cologne. She had remained silent as she continued to unleash her own power at the door. She had to be almost out of power. Between the dead bodies, raising Shampoo-kun out of the pit, and what she was doing now, she had to be close to the breaking point. And without her power assisting him he was never going to get through the door.

He had to do something immediately. One powerful, if risky, gambit. Still, if he had wanted to play it safe he would not have set out on the course he had taken his entire life. So he released nearly all of his chi in one bolt of pure force.

As he unleashed it he felt a sharp pain in his chest. That was not good. His body was too old, and such tremendous use of power could possibly cause irreparable damage. If he had been in his prime there would have been no complications, but if he allowed himself to use too much of his chi or lost control, he would be little more than the helpless little old man he appeared to be.

As the bolt struck the door, he felt the magic around them dwindle away. Slowly he allowed his aura to die off, and saw Cologne doing the same. The cavern was silent as Happosai sensed the last of the magic disappear. With the last remnant of the energy gone, the doors opened on their own. Beyond the door he saw a dark passageway that twisted out of sight almost immediately.

“Well, that was exhilarating. Let’s go.” He began to move for the doors when he saw Cologne remain standing next to Shampoo-kun. She looked old. For the first time since he had made his reacquaintance with her, she looked her age. But what was worse was the look in her eyes as she gazed upon Shampoo-kun. It was a look of helplessness.

“I can’t go, Happi,” she said softly. “I won’t fail her again. I’ll remain here.”

“I understand.” There was nothing else to say. He’d simply have to take care of matters personally. Besides, that meant he could get full satisfaction from dealing with this Shogun of the Dark all by himself. There was a feeling of joy in that. He lacked the energy to bounce as he usually did, so he settled for moving at a brisk pace down the corridor.

Cologne gazed sadly at her great grandchild. She had failed Shampoo at every point during the whole sordid affair involving the Nanniichuan. First in blindly obeying the law, then later when she did not try hard enough to obtain some kind of cure for her, and later still when she did not take appropriate steps to protect Shampoo from her fellow sisters. Failure after failure with nothing remotely resembling a victory, and now whatever destiny Shampoo had to fulfill was over. The time for denial was past as Shampoo-kun’s breath became more ragged. He would expire soon. Cologne’s own flesh and blood was going to die before her eyes, and she was helpless.

Cologne had been spared the sight of her only daughter’s death. It had been while she was in a training journey, bettering herself in the art. Rain had never had good health, so it was not that much of a shock for Cologne to discover upon her return that her daughter had died of pneumonia. Still, it had hurt deeply, not that she openly showed it, not even to her husband. Cologne kept it to herself, all the pain and regret. And the most horrible thing about Rain’s death was that she had not had a chance to say good-bye.

Now she was going to outlive more of her offspring. Shampoo was so young. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Cologne was going to set up Shampoo’s life so it would be a long and assured one. A life of respect and importance, where she would make a difference. A life meant to be enjoyed. All cut short because of a madman and his insane plans.

Or maybe it was that damned spring’s fault.

Yes. All of the problems of late could be traced back to that. Law or no, Nanniichuan was going to be vaporized the first opportunity Cologne had. IT was responsible for the ruination of so many lives. IT caused Shampoo’s life to be cut short, and IT would exist not a moment longer than IT had to. Hu Chiang may have been practically worshipped as a goddess, but she had been wrong in leaving such a dangerous thing intact. No longer. IT was destroyed, if not in fact yet, but soon. Very soon.

“"Great grandmother. Don’t cry."”

Cologne looked down at the boy before her. The first time she understood that the male before her was Shampoo, she had loathed the form. It was something that had taken her great granddaughter and all of her potential away from her. It was evil and needed to be destroyed for what it had done. It was an abomination that should not have existed, and would not if the matriarch could have done something about it. But no longer. It was Shampoo. As much as Shampoo’s girl’s body was Cologne’s great granddaughter, so was the man before her.

Cologne finally reacted to what Shampoo-kun had said. Crying? She didn’t cry. Then she felt the tear on her cheek. She was crying. How… unexpected. Offhand she could not recall the last time she had cried, but under the circumstances it was all right.

“"Then I shall not,"” Cologne answered. There was a look on Shampoo-kun’s face that wasn’t there before. At first it held panic when the old woman had spotted the body on he ledge, then denial. But when they brought Shampoo-kun back out of the pit, he had gone quiet. Now there was a different look upon his face. No fear. No panic. Just an easiness. It took a moment for Cologne, in her emotional state, to identify it.

It was acceptance.

“"The one responsible for this is beyond those doors, isn’t he?"” Shampoo-kun asked.

“"Yes. But don’t worry. I won’t abandon you. I’ll stay with you until…"” She found she could not finish with ‘…until the end.’

“"No. He has to be stopped, and there’s nothing you can do to help me anymore."”

Cologne heard no fear or sorrow in the raspy voice. It was getting difficult for Shampoo-kun to speak. “"I won’t abandon you, child."”

“"You didn’t. You never did."” Shampoo-kun answered. Then amazingly, smiled. “"I… prepared myself in case this happened. I’m just glad I took that bastard that hurt Ranma with me."” He felt pride in that. Gemma had paid for his crimes. “"There’s several things I want you to do for me, then you should go help the little pervert."”

Cologne shook her head. “"He can handle himself. My place is to stay at your side."”

Shampoo-kun tried to shake his head, then was painfully reminded of his paralysis. “"I’m going to die soon. It’s getting harder to breathe, and it’s only going to get worse. But you can still help the others. The Shogun’s minions were powerful. He’s going to be even worse, and the pervert didn’t look so good."” Shampoo-kun wanted to grasp his great grandmother’s hand for emphasis, but that was a desire that eluded him. “"If we fail because you stayed here with me, how can my soul ever know peace?"” It was odd how he could talk so matter-of-factly about his impending death. He wondered how could one have such a feeling of serenity so close to the end.

Cologne found herself admiring Shampoo-kun’s spirit, in spite of the sorrow of the situation. Was it wrong of her to feel such pride now? “"You are certain?"”


Cologne nodded, and she hoped the spirits would show as little mercy upon the Shogun’s soul as she was going to show upon his flesh. “"What is it you want me to do?"”

Shampoo-kun spoke as quickly as he could. His strength was failing. “"I’m not sure how Ranma’s going to react to my…"” she searched for a tactful word, “"…absence. Please make sure he doesn’t do anything rash. He’s really got some odd ideas in his head about the way things should be and what he should do when things go out of control around him. He can really be stupid sometimes, even for a male. I still can’t figure him out, even after all of this time,"” he lamented.

“"What else?"” Cologne asked, mentally vowing to do what it took to keep Ranma healthy and intact.

“"Kasumi’s a lot more sensible, so she should be all right, but keep an eye on her too. And tell her I’m sorry for leaving her like this."” Shampoo-kun considered remaining silent about the next thing, but realized there was no longer any reason to hold anything back. “"Tell her that weekend we spent together was the most wonderful of my life."”

Cologne refrained from asking exactly what was meant by that.

“"Tell my parents good-bye,"” Shampoo-kun said, then it was time for the last farewell. She barely managed to choke it out, it hurt so much to say. “"Tell Ranma that I loved him. Make sure he knows. And say that I’m sorry I didn’t tell him sooner. I wanted…"” he trailed off. There was not enough time to say everything. “"Tell him I always loved him, even if it took me a while to understand that."”

Cologne nodded once more. She heard the finality in Shampoo-kun’s voice. There was only one thing left.

“"And last, I want you to change me back into a girl."”

Cologne shook her head at that. “"The change will kill you!"”

“"It’ll speed up what is already going to happen. I want to die with the body I was born with. Please."”

How could she deny a dying request? Cologne brought out a flask of water she had been keeping, in case it was needed to change Shampoo, and used hot chi to warm it. Her hand almost faltered as she held it above Shampoo-kun’s form, told herself it was her great granddaughter’s final wish, and poured it.

Instantly Shampoo-kun’s form switched back, the backbone compressing and spinal cord taking further damage. Ragged gasps came from Shampoo’s mouth as she felt her lungs failing her. She did not want her great grandmother to see her like this. Not like this.

“"L… leave,"” she barely managed to get out.

Cologne nodded and moved to follow Happosai’s trail. Shampoo did not want anyone to witness the end. Cologne understood, but someone at the end of the tunnel was going to pay.

No matter what.


The Shogun looked desperately down the darkened corridor. He could sense the approach of one of the powerful ones. Gemma had failed him! The fool! The much-vaunted leader of the Devils of Kimone was going to know an existence so tortuous he would beg to be placed back in his Golden Hell, and never receive it. He would pay.


But that was for later. What mattered was the one that was coming down the corridor. The handful of puny traps within the corridor only slowed him down, but not enough. They were designed only to allow the Shogun time to prepare for unwelcome guests. Anyone powerful enough to get through the doors would have to be dealt with by the Shogun personally.


But that was assuming the Shogun had some power left, and that he wasn’t at such a critical juncture.


He looked down at the unconscious winged girl that shared the center of the elaborate design with him. She was the sacrifice necessary to fuel the spell, and there was only a matter of moments before he would drive the dagger through her heart and all of his dreams would come true.


He was afraid to take his eyes off the corridor. His magical senses were gone. He had enough power left for one blast, nothing more, and as long as he watched the only entrance, nothing could get past and interfere with the spell. Why was the one taking so long to show himself? The Shogun could kill him and be done with the whole matter. Why couldn’t Gemma have held the powerful one’s attention for one minute more?


He should have arrived by now. Either the last trap had claimed the intruder’s life or he was waiting for an opportunity to strike. All he had to do was come through the opening and die.


Come through the opening.


Come through the opening.


Come through now.


It was the moment of truth




After five thousand years, the time had come. He could contain himself no longer. The Shogun of the Dark raised his dagger high, then took his eyes off the corridor to bring the dagger down directly into the girl’s heart. If it were off, the sacrifice would not work.

Then the Shogun saw a blur of red burst from the corridor. He sent forth his blast, narrowly missing the figure by more than an inch.

It might as well have been a mile.

The red blur moved faster than the Shogun’s eye could follow, snatching the girl from the center of the circle without ever touching the ground, save at the center with the Shogun. Before he could further react the blur leaped out of the circle and latched onto a nearby wall. He had not touched any point of the magic circle. It was still intact.

Now that the blur had stopped, the Shogun identified it as a small troll-like human. And he had the girl. No sacrifice. No spell. And he had to activate the spell within the next two minutes or it would take another five thousand years for the conditions to be right again.

“Listen to me,” the Shogun intoned. “I will grant you whatever wish you want if you give me the girl.”

“Get real!” Happosai scoffed. “I’d never allow you to hurt a pretty young thing like this for some insane scheme for power!”

“Please!” the Shogun pleaded for the first time in five thousand years. “I will give you all the women you want! Power! Glory! Wealth! Fame! Your youth! You can have your own country! Your own continent! Any of those things! All of those things! Just give me the girl and it’s yours!”

“If I wanted any of those things, I’d have taken them for myself,” Happosai declared, while making certain the girl was all right. “You have a lot to answer for. First for the deaths of all those people that used to live in this mountain, and then for some pretty young girls you’ve harmed! I’ll just take this one to safety, and then I’ll come back and deal with you.”

The Shogun’s mind raced. He could not step out of the circle without ruining the spell. There was no magic left in him. He could not take back the sacrifice. His minions were gone. He could wait another five thousand years, not a real option, or he could do the final alternative.

No choice at all.

The last act the Shogun of the Dark did in his lifetime was to plunge his dagger deep into his heart.

Happosai’s eyes bulged from what the Shogun had done. Was it some kind of trick to catch him off guard, or had the masked man really killed himself? Happosai watched red blood flow from around the knife and onto the ground. It appeared real, but he was not going to get any closer until he somehow made certain. Maybe the Shogun was invulnerable to bleeding to death or something.

Happosai started to leave with the girl when he heard a faint whisper come from the Shogun’s form. It was only one word, but seemed to whisper directly into Happosai’s ears. Just one last word before the Shogun of the Dark breathed his last.


Within the mountain, Yurimaru and Mujuru’s life forces suddenly lost their link with their bodies, and each one died, their souls returning to the Hell from whence they came. The Shogun had not been lying when he had told them they lived only by the grace of him.

The life energy from the sacrifice followed the path of magic the Shogun had laid forth earlier. It would travel forth, unseen by all but the most powerful occultist or mage. In seconds the energy covered the miles to its destination: Jusenkyou.

It was four thousand three hundred years ago, approximately four months after the Goddess Azura stumbled into one of the pools, permeating it with her essence but not killing her, that Jusenkyou became ‘alive’. The sheer power of the Goddess somehow mutated with the unusual magic of Jusenkyou and the shadows of the souls of those that had drowned there formed an awareness. A unique form of magical life that lacked physical form, but was alive nonetheless. It was a sort of group collective, at first hundreds of minds, human and animal, later close to a thousand as various pools began to be templated with others. It was aware of itself and its abilities, and it was aware of the true source that fueled the ‘cursed’ springs of Jusenkyou. Not Jusendo, which had strange properties that added to the effects of the springs, but to the thing that was linked to the chi reservoir beneath the earth, and to the pools, all of which were linked to the reservoir. It was what provided the energy that allowed the pools to remain in their magical state and allowed the thing that was Jusenkyou to live. Fortunately, the thing was unaware of the collective intelligence. Somehow the collective knew if the thing became aware of its existence it would try to destroy the undesired product of the springs. So the collective did nothing.

It was content, remaining as it was with a new creature being added to the collective every now and then. It could sense things beyond its borders. All around the world, in fact, but it did nothing. There was no reason to. It simply was.

Then, five years later, came the young girl in blue robes whose upper face was shrouded in eternal shadows. She plunged her entire arm into the Spring of Drowned Aardvark, but nothing happened. Somehow she had remained unchanged. And when she had plunged her arm into the spring, she communicated directly with the collective consciousness.

She said, “Gaze into the weave of fate that you are a part of.” And it was as though the collective’s ‘eyes’ were opened for the first time. The girl had given it the ability to see the probabilities that flowed from it, and others that could affect Jusenkyou itself. Lines of fate became a whole new world for the collective to understand. And it was in danger. There were those that would enslave the springs for their own ends, or inadvertently destroy them in mad schemes of conquest and power. Or just by accident while tapping into unknown forces.

The thing that was Jusenkyou began exerting control over its surroundings. It could always have done such things, but had no reason to before. Now it had to act and react to preserve its existence. And it did so, keeping out many that would have stumbled upon the valley and tried to abuse its powers. Those that could not affect the springs at all were allowed to come and go without being influenced, while yet others were summoned from the far corners of the earth and ended up in a certain cursed pool to help ensure the preservation of the springs in a myriad of ways. No cures would be discovered by those until they fulfilled whatever function was required of them, and all too often they chose divergent paths that failed to produce what results Jusenkyou wanted. It could only influence the lives of those whose destinies could end up in Jusenkyou, but it did so as often as it was able. Somehow, despite those failures and some of the outside world discovering the whereabouts of the springs, it managed to survive.

That was until Herb did the unexpected and prevented the Jusenkyou cursed assassin, Shang Lung, from killing the Shogun of the Dark. That had upset everything. It was an abysmal chance, somewhere around one in five thousand, that Herb would interfere. Jusenkyou had seen to it that the Musk’s ancestry, and specifically Herb’s line, was bred with the traits of dragons, their inherent self-centeredness helping to influence Herb and keep him from interfering. But he had, and with the Shogun alive, Jusenkyou’s chances of survival were reduced to almost nothing.

It was ironic that Herb eventually randomly came to Jusenkyou and received his own curse, but by then his existence was irrelevant. His continued presence could neither help nor hurt Jusenkyou in the long run. The only remote thing that could happen was that he might inadvertently aid in avenging the destruction of the springs, and it was an even more remote chance than him interfering with Shang Lung. The avenger was destined to go to Jusenkyou, thanks to Herb’s interference ironically enough. So when the time came it gave the possible avenger the curse it would need to succeed in its task. It had also given that avenger a gift it might exploit should it prove successful in its unknowing mission of vengeance. It was the least Jusenkyou could do for its last chance at revenge.

The collective did not give up hope. It tried to prevent its destruction by cursing individuals so that their paths of destiny might interfere with that of the Shogun, like The Great Grond and others, but they all failed. If Herb could stop them, the Devils would have been able to do it was well. Fate allowed no deviations there. And now the last option had failed. The Shogun had cast the spell. After over four millennia of life, it was over.

The life force of the Shogun of the Dark went through the ground and directly to the true source of Jusenkyou. That was all it took as the chi reservoir was drained of all of its energy within moments. As the last drop of chi was drained and the reservoir ran dry, Jusenkyou felt the magic that fueled its life ripped away, the source at last achieving its goal. And as the last link between it and Jusenkyou shredded, the collective that was Jusenkyou gave voice to itself for the first time since it had come into existence.

It screamed with a nearly a thousand different voices, loud enough for people a hundred miles away to hear. Then it ceased to exist.

Deep within the earth, far beneath Jusenkyou, the thing that Tajamata Nital had sensed and had ended up costing him his life, felt energy fill it. For the first time in five thousand years, full awareness returned to the slumbering one.

Deep within the earth, an eye opened.

The Jusenkyou Guide and Plum rushed up from their basement and outside to see what the horrible noise had been. The ringing sensation in their ears from the screaming was only now finally starting to fade, but the memory of it would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Nothing should have been able to scream like that. It defied the fundamental laws of nature.

“"Poppa,"” Plum said, obviously scared. “"What was that?"”

“"I’m not sure."” The Guide was about to say something else when the earth suddenly shook, knocking both he and Plum off of their feet. Slowly they rose, only to suffer another shake.

“"It’s an earthquake!"” Plum shouted.

A third shake, more powerful than the others, hit. “"No,"” The Guide answered carefully. “"It doesn’t feel right. It’s more like a large impact. Like a rocket being blown up or—"” He was cut off as a fourth, then fifth shake hit. Once more he regained his feet, then stared in shock at the scene before him.

Almost two miles away, at the far end of the springs, a gout of brown and black earth and stone shot up through the air, destroying many of the springs. As some of the dust from the eruption cleared, he saw that the black part was neither earth not stone, but something long and snake-like, with a blue glow around it, that extended from the ground itself. It waved around in the air, hundreds of feet high. It began to get longer as more of the earth was shattered and more of the snake-like thing burst forth from the ground. There was no head on it, rather it ended in a point, but appeared to the Guide as though it was a thing alive, never mind the fact there was nothing on the earth that could possibly be that long.

As his mind was reeling from the thing before him, he felt the most powerful shake yet hit practically under his feet. He grabbed onto his daughter, only to feel the rumbling continue rather than drift away. He saw the ground not more than twenty feet away from him begin to swell, then the earth there split apart as well, destroying the springs of Drowned Hippopotamus, Female Bengal Tiger, Television Game Show Host, and Mongoose fighting Cobra all in one motion. At last the Guide understood what it was that had burst from the far end of the springs as a black thing raised itself from the earth. It was not some kind of snake.

It was a tail.

And right before him was the head on the other end of that creature that the tail had been connected to. It was huge, glowing blue, ninety feet wide and as far back across, and its mouth was large enough to effectively swallow a bus whole without a problem. The Guide could do nothing but stare in mute horror as the rest of the body rose from the earth, destroying well over four fifths of the springs as it emerged into the light for the first time in five millennia.

As it dragged the rest of its body out of the earth, it stood on two of its hind legs, then it spread wings, over a mile in length, high in the sky. Without bothering to tense its muscles, it simply launched itself to the skies and took off, wings flapping and aiding in gaining height. As two point three miles of the black-scaled, blue glowing creature took to the skies and headed towards the focus it could sense, one word was heard within the minds of everyone within a hundred mile radius.


Maelstrom, the last of the Dragon Kings, was awake once again.

And the world would never be the same.

Mount Phoenix:

Cologne had been making her way down the corridor, almost to the Shogun’s cave, when she heard the voice in her head. She paused, trying to understand what had just happened, when she sensed something powerful beyond comprehension approaching.

Happosai was still staring at the Shogun’s corpse when he heard the voice in his head. He wondered if it was safe to leave the small cave when he sensed the arrival of something radiating pure power.

Shampoo’s vision was getting darker as she lay there. Mr. Domino had been correct. She was going to die alone in the dark, suffering, and without ever hearing Ranma say those words she had so longed to hear from his voice.

Tarou-bull barely managed to squeeze out of the passageway as he forced his way into the cavern that contained the bronze doors that had once led to the Shogun of the Dark. Akane muscled her way past him.

“If you weren’t so big and couldn’t fit through those passageways we’d have been here a lot sooner.” She looked the room over for any opponents, then spotted a still figure off to the side of a large opening in the floor. “Is that Sh—“ The rest of her question was cut off as a huge rumble came from overhead and the top of the mountain collapsed, sending tons of rock into the upper caves.

Akane stared in shock at the rapidly descending ceiling. The last thing she was aware of was being hurled to the floor.

Then nothing.

Maelstrom landed hard upon the top of the mountain, then roared at the skies as he made himself comfortable on the top of the center of the magical focus: Mount Phoenix. His hatred knew no bounds as he gazed at the world before him. Soon, humanity would be made to pay for its crimes, and all of them would suffer tortures no human mind could comprehend.



To be continued.

Special Thanks to:

  • Ryan Anderson
  • Jim Bader
  • Ben Follis
  • Jason Liao
  • Lord Talon
  • Gary Kleppe
  • Miashara
  • Wade Tritschler
Chapter 37
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