A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners. All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.
Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching (dow ching), Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.
Book Two: The Dragon's Child
Chapter Four: The Storm
Akane woke at dawn after a night of sleeplessness. She'd tried to rest, but worry over today's events had insured that sleep had eluded her.
It wasn't that she particularly dreaded the betrothal, or even Shan Pu, but it was still a step in her life she wasn't sure she was ready for. She'd just started to admit to herself that that she was bi, and now, not a week later, she was to be engaged to another girl a real girl, one who stayed female full time.
The people at school had freaked out enough when they found out she was engaged to Ranma. Most of them still had no clue that he was the redhead Kuno kept chasing, or that she wasn't fighting with Ranma as much as she used to. But she had no idea how she'd hide her betrothal to Shan Pu. Ke Lun had already enrolled her in Furinkan, and once this betrothal was finished, Shan Pu would be moving to Japan with her.
All of which meant that the very direct Amazon would make it impossible for her to hide the betrothal anyway
What would Yuka and Sayuri, her best friends at school, say?
And if that wasn't enough, she had the Senshi to deal with. She was going to have a few words with them when she got back. They should have known telling Zhu Shu about those sensor readings would get her curious. Zhu Shu had come home from shopping with the Juuban girls last night and told her she was going to Hong Kong after the betrothal, so she had one more thing to worry about †
Finally giving up on sleep, she stood and stripped off her pajamas to do a few warm-up kata. She watched herself in the mirror as she did the forms, noting how much her body had changed since she had started the exercises. She'd always thought she was nice enough looking, but the stretches and forms she was now doing every day had started smoothing out some of her curves. Her hips and stomach were becoming more defined, and the muscles on her arms looked softer somehow, though she knew from her workouts that she hadn't gotten weaker. Zhu Shu had told her that the further a muscle could stretch, the stronger it was, and that she did not have to be bulky to be strong. It looked like she'd been right.
She fingered her long braid, making the small bells chime softly, then sat in front of the mirror and concentrated. A long golden claw of chi sprang from her finger, and she began the morning ritual Zhu Shu had told her to do to practice the Dragon's Claw. She only nicked herself twice, neither of them in a tender spot, and was proud of the fact that she was getting better at things which took fine motor control. She was still clumsy at times, but she was getting better.
She rubbed a little more salve into the almost faded bruise she'd picked up in practice yesterday, then stood and put on her robe. She slipped out of her room quietly and gently knocked on Ranma's door.
The door slid open a few seconds later to a yawning Ranma. "Wassup?" he murmured.
"I can't sleep. Will you work out with me?"
He blinked, then smiled. "Yeah. Sure. Let me get changed."
A minute later, the now redheaded girl came out in her own robe. "Man, I'll be glad when the dojo is rebuilt," she muttered.
Akane gave her a sidelong glance as they went down the stairs. "What's this? You being modest?"
They both laughed softly as they entered the garden.
Kasumi looked out the kitchen window at the faint sound of laughter. She'd gotten up early to make a lunch to take along on the long ride to China, and wasn't expecting anyone up for another hour.
Surprisingly, it was Akane and Ranma. They waved to her as Akane put her finger to her lips in a hush. Kasumi waved back and went back to her packing. When she looked out several minutes later, the two girls had shed the robes and Akane was showing Ranma one of the forms she'd learned from Zhu Shu. Kasumi smiled. It was so encouraging to see them both working on something together, even if it was martial arts.
A movement in a window across the garden caught her eye, and she looked to see Zhu Shu smiling down at the pair too. It was good to see the Chinese girl smile like that, though it was a bit wistful.
Kasumi smiled to herself. This morning was starting off on such wonderful note.
Pity, really, that she had no way of knowing what the future held.
Some distance away from the Tendo household, Tatewaki Kuno was also awake. He paced back and forth as he listened to what the house ninja, Sasuke, was telling him.
"They are both to go to China today with Tao-Ching Hibiki. I double-checked the airport and the Hibiki pilot has filed a flight plan to someplace called Joketsuzoku. Listed passengers include the both of them, Akane's family, and the Saotomes. They leave in just a few hours."
"What deviltry is this?" Kuno muttered. "No sooner do I learn of this sorcerous peril to my forest goddess, then do both she and the beauteous Akane depart for barbaric lands? And with the foul Saotome as well." He turned to the small man. "Have you discovered the reason my loves are descending into such peril?"
Sasuke blushed. "Ummm sir It seems Akane must attend a betrothal ceremony."
"Ah. Well I suppose family obligations must be met. Which of her family is to be betrothed?"
Sasuke had hoped he wouldn't ask that question. "Um Her."
"What! My fair Akane is to be betrothed? Never!"
Sasuke landed on the far side of the room from the destroyed wall, making a note to repair it later. "But Master, she is already betrothed to Ranma Saotome."
"That is but some trick, some treachery on the part of the villainous Saotome. Name to me the wretch she is to be forced by her vile family to betroth, that I might smite him and free her from this foul bondage."
Sasuke mentally despaired over the repairs he was going to have to make to the room after Tatewaki's careless swipes of his bokken and answered. "To an Amazon. One Shan Pu."
"To a female?" Kuno asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes, Master Kuno."
Kuno placed his hand dramatically to his forehead. "Oh the vileness of this unnamed sorcerer, to have condemned both my sister and my love to such a hideous curse! But despair not, my divine Akane, I shall guard you in this terrible time, and once I have slain this cowardly wizard, I shall be there to grant you the kiss of True Love that will break this evil spell!" He turned to Sasuke. "Prepare the jet! I must away to the shrine to retrieve the sacred sword of the Kuno's!"
"But Master, the Mistress has already departed in the jet."
"Kodachi has taken the jet?"
"Yes, Master. She has already departed for the airfield. She is leaving for Hong Kong."
"Hong Kong? Why is she going to Hong Kong?"
"She said something about hunting a Chinese demon, to free her beloved mistress from a curse."
Kuno laughed. "Ah, what a supreme jest! She seeks to free Akane from the self-same curse, yet she has departed on a wild goose chase! The gods have smiled upon me! I shall free Akane, and in her overwhelming gratitude, she shall date with me!"
The Kuno Mansion rang with its master's laughter.
The actual trip to China was pretty uneventful. Nodoka and Kasumi had most everyone prepared before the vans that took them to the airfield arrived, and Tao-Ching's executive helicopter was comfortable, if a little crowded. Ranma and Akane spent most of the trip looking out the windows, too uncomfortable in front of parental figures to talk.
Zhu Shu spent most of the trip in meditation, disliking the shuddering and shaking of the flying machine. She had gradually become used the glaring lights and the cars and the constant noise of the Japanese cities, but she hated not being able to feel the energy flows of the Earth through the metal walls of the aircraft.
Still, being cut off from the outside made it easier to focus within.
She lost all sense of time as she explored along the links inside her head. Akane was easy to trace, the connection shining and strong in the absence of external distractions, and it was easy to tell she was worried, but most of it didn't seem to center around Ranma or Shan Pu. Her link to Shan Pu was also bright, if weaker than the one with Akane. She could feel her blood-sister as she dreamed, and then her happiness when she awoke and knew Akane and Ranma were on their way.
But it was still the small remnant of her link to Ying Ying that drew her attention back over and over, the way a missing tooth would draw the tongue.
The strangest part was that it seemed to be growing stronger as she toyed with it, and the farther she tried to trace along it, the stronger the faint sense of Ying Ying’s presence became.
Their arrival at the village broke her meditations finally and they all piled out of the chopper into the early afternoon sun on a field just outside of the Amazon village. Ke Lun stood at the edge of the field with an escort of two young Amazon warriors, one with red hair, one with green. They fidgeted as Ke Lun stood completely still on her stick, her hair blowing wildly in the downdraft from the still-turning rotors.
Soun, carefully coached by Tao-Ching, advanced to give the ritual greetings and acknowledgement of why they had come. He was still unsure of exactly how he felt about all this, but Tao-Ching and Nodoka had both explained to him the advantages to his family if he didn't object, and Akane had asked him not to as well. It was what she said she wanted.
As the greetings concluded, the sound of a second helicopter rose above the falling sound of the slowing rotors, and they turned to see a chopper with the Kuno family emblem landing. The wheels touched down and Kuno stepped forth. He struck a dramatic pose and said something that was lost in the roar of the rotor wash as he pulled a gleaming silver sword and lifted it in salute.
The blade intersected the path of the turning rotor and there was a flash as the blade sheared through the spinning prop. The end spun away to embed in a tree as a howl rose from the unbalanced rotor. Sasuke dove out of the chopper, followed by the pilot as the main shaft snapped and the still-spinning prop plowed into the cockpit. As Kuno replaced his sword in its sheath, the chopper exploded, creating a dramatic backdrop as he began to walk towards them.
"Well, there goes the idea of sending him home," Tao-Ching muttered.
"Who is this madman?" Ke Lun asked in Chinese. "Should we slay him and put him out of his misery?"
"He is harmless, mostly, great-grandmother," Zhu Shu replied, also in Chinese. "He is simply a fool who believes he loves every woman, and therefore every woman must love him. If he gets annoying, simply knock him unconscious. He has a marvelous constitution and seems to take little damage from multiple head blows."
Ke Lun watched Kuno get up from were Akane had kicked him when he'd tried to glomp her and nodded. "So I see."
Tao-Ching glowered. "I'd better go make sure he stays out of trouble." He headed for Tatewaki at a determined pace.
Zhu Shu and Ke Lun looked after him and nodded. "That would be wise," Ke Lun said, noting the appraising looks her two escorts were giving the swordsman
Shan Pu was waiting in the village, and waved enthusiastically at the party. Ranma and Akane looked a little nervous, but it was Zhu Shu the kawaii Amazon hugged as they entered.
"I'm so happy you came!" she said in Chinese. "I missed you so much."
Zhu Shu smiled. "I've missed you as well. I'm sorry I missed your other betrothal. I-I needed to work some things out for myself."
Shan Pu searched her eyes. "You are still welcome to join as a sister-wife. I have seen Akane's feelings and yours. I wish you would accept."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No, Shan Pu. I have a different destiny. Do not fear for me, sister. I am more at peace than I have been in years. This happiness is for you, though I fear you still have much to do before it rests secure."
Shan Pu grinned mischievously as she switched to Japanese. "So go best two for three, Akane is prize?"
Zhu Shu swatted her on the rump as Akane's eyes grew huge. Shan Pu 'eeped', then giggled. "Is only kidding." She turned smiling eyes at Akane and Ranma. "Fiancées win Shan Pu fairly." She hooked an arm to either of them. "Now Shan Pu proudest warrior in village. Come! Must show off!" Zhu Shu smiled as the Amazon dragged the two off to see her village.
"You seem different, child."
Zhu Shu turned to see Ke Lun looking off at the threesome. "Yes, Great-grandmother."
Ke Lun met her gaze for a long moment, searching. "The shadows behind your eyes are no longer as heavy, great-granddaughter. Have you then at last laid aside your grief?"
Zhu Shu's eyes widened.
Ke Lun smiled. "Your Grandfather and I have spoken about you at great length, child. I know about Fei Ying Ying. I know you have mourned her all these years. I understand your grief, Little Mouse, and I sympathize. I am saddened by what occurred. Perhaps if Clan Dragon had not secluded itself so well, if we had tried harder to-- The Amazons view such things differently. Had you been allowed to sister-wife Ying Ying, perhaps your present quest would not be such a burden."
Zhu Shu looked away. "I-I cannot say, Great-grandmother. I do wish she were still here, and yet In a strange way, I have begun to feel as if she still is."
<<I am always and forever here >>
Ke Lun smiled. "Our loved ones are always with us in our memories."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "This is different, Great-grandmother. As I am linked by blood and chi to Shan Pu and Akane, my link to Ying Ying remains as well."
Ke Lun raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. We will have to look into that sometime. For now, we must make ready for the betrothal and our grand celebration." She nodded towards where many people bustled around the central square. Zhu Shu nodded and they walked towards the celebration.
"Yes. Then I must prepare to depart."
"So soon, child?" Ke Lun raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. I-I need to investigate something."
Ke Lun stopped, forcing her to stop and turn. "You are trying to avoid saying something, child. Tell me." There was no refusing the command in her voice.
"I-I must go to Hong Kong. It seems that old enemies still lurk for Clan Dragon."
"Elaborate, Zhu Shu." Ke Lun's eyes bored into her.
"Assassins from Clan Skorpion sought to slay me in Japan. I have found they came from Lan Tao. Also, there have been other signs that Clan Skorpion may be there. I must go to learn what I may, and perhaps end this threat." She avoided telling Ke Lun about the strange negative energy readings Ami's computer had detected, knowing Ke Lun would have wanted answers she wouldn't give.
Ke Lun shook her head. "No, child. You should not. We have had reports from a sister in Lan Tao that there are mysterious happenings there recently, and soon, the festival of the Crying Goddess shall occur. It is too dangerous."
"I must go, Great-grandmother. I have made a promise."
Ke Lun sighed. "Very well. I cannot force you to break a promise. I will inform Hairspray to expect you." She fixed Zhu Shu with a glare. "And you will report to her, Zhu Shu. She will give you much information that will help you on Lan Tao."
Zhu Shu knew better than to fight that; she'd won her point. "Yes, Great-grandmother."
Silently, the two continued into the square.
By the time of the ceremonies a few hours later, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, clouds building as the afternoon sun crossed the sky. Zhu Shu brought out one of her umbrellas as it looked more and more like a shower was inevitable. Luckily, the only part of the celebration not under shelter was the actual ceremony, which would occur on the ancient dais in the center of the village.
Ranma looked at the crowd of witnesses filling the square from under one of the pavilions and muttered. "Nobody made this much fuss over my betrothal to Shan Pu."
"It's a small village, son-in-law," Ke Lun said from behind him. "We don't get many excuses to party, so we make up for it when we can." She cackled. "Just wait until your double wedding."
Ranma scratched his head. "Uh, yeah " He looked around the square until he saw his dad, setting under a pavilion on the other side of the square with the other males. He wandered over to find that Tao-Ching was keeping him, Soun and Kuno occupied with stories and plenty of the Amazons' sake. He offered Ranma a cup, but was turned down. Ranma hated anything that dulled his edge.
Nodoka was sitting with Kasumi and Nabiki in the front row of the seats the Amazons had reserved for the females in front of the dais. As Ke Lun joined them, the Loremaster ascended the three steps to the dais and called the square to attention.
"For three thousand years, the Amazon tribe has held to its traditions and laws, and we have survived," she began in Chinese. "Today we are met to celebrate the following of the law. Shan Pu, daughter of Par Fume, Champion of the Joketsuzoku Amazon tribe, has been defeated by an outlander. By the laws of the tribe, she has tracked down the one who defeated her, and betrothed him. She has also met and been defeated by another fiancée, and has chosen Love over Death. Today, we celebrate the betrothal of Shan Pu and her sister-wife, Akane of Clan Tendo. Let the brides come forward."
From the huts to either side, Shan Pu and Akane stepped forth. Shan Pu wore an ornate form of the normal Amazon battle dress, and Akane was dressed in one of Zhu Shu's long dresses. Both had flowers in their hair, Shan Pu's odango were wreathed in small white blossoms, while Akane's braid bore delicate lavender blooms. Zhu Shu walked behind them both in a red Mandarin dress bearing a gold dragon spiraling around the skirt. The three arrived and knelt at the dais to a rumble of thunder.
"For a joining of one heart and one mind, two must learn to love or all is doomed to misery. Shan Pu, daughter of Par Fume, Champion of the Joketsuzoku, do you come to join in Sistership or Love?"
Shan Pu beamed. "Both, Revered Loremaster. I have been bested honorably, and I have surrendered my heart to my conqueror. I seek this joining for love, and for sistership with the fiancée of the man who has conquered me as well. With me is my blood-sister, witness to the surrender of my heart."
The Loremaster turned to Zhu Shu. "Song Zhu Shu, daughter of Song Fa, Child of the Dragon. You have been called as witness. How speak you?"
"I stand as witness to my blood-sister's love, and her surrender," Zhu Shu said formally.
Finally, the Loremaster turned to Akane. "Akane Tendo, child of House Tendo. You come as an outsider. Our Champion surrenders her heart to you for love, and seeks you as both sister-wife and sister-mate. How speak you?"
For a long moment, Akane said nothing, and the silence grew oppressive, then she spoke. "I accept Shan Pu's declaration of love. I cannot say that I love her in return yet, but for the love she bears me, and the love she bears Ranma, and the love I bear for him as well, I accept. I hope that time will allow me to learn to love her as she does me."
The Loremaster smiled as approval noises came from the crowd. "Fairly spoken, child, and from the heart. Shan Pu, Daughter of Par Fume. Rise and stand. Akane Tendo. Rise and stand. From this day forward, you are pledged to one another, as sister-wives and sister-mates. May fortune and happiness await." She struck her staff three times against the dais as she cried, "Heard and witnessed!"
The Amazons cheered loudly just as the rain began to fall.
Zhu Shu's umbrella snapped open to cover her and Shan Pu before the first raindrops hit. She turned to invite Akane under it as well, but instead froze in horror as, with the first rain droplets touch, Akane vanished, her gown collapsing inward on vacant air.
She and Shan Pu screamed Akane's name simultaneously, then dodged the Loremaster's staff as it fell forward. With horrified eyes, Zhu Shu saw that everyone in the square who had been touched by the rain had disappeared, leaving only clothes behind
The rain ended as abruptly as it had started as from all around the square horrified cries arose.
Shan Pu knelt weeping, to touch the dress as Ranma charged towards the dais from the pavilion. Before Shan Pu's hand touched the dress, a movement began, and a pink rabbit emerged from the neck of Akane's gown. Large frightened eyes stared at Shan Pu and Zhu Shu.
"A-Akane?" Shan Pu's question was a strangled whisper.
The pink bunny nodded, long ears trembling.
Ranma arrived to see the bunny and bolted off again. Genma and Soun sat in the front rows holding small bundles of fur to their chests and weeping. Amazons stared in wonder as rabbits began climbing out of piles of clothing.
Ranma reappeared with a kettle of hot water. "I thought you had to fall into a spring to get cursed," he said with a smile holding up the steaming kettle. "Now you get to learn how it feels too. My fiancée, the rabbit." Water poured down on the glaring rabbit.
But Akane didn't change.
An old rabbit hopped next to Akane and scratched out ideograms in the dirt. Zhu Shu leaned over to read them.
"The Chiisuiton?" She looked at Ranma. "She say magic rain. Cursed water." She looked back to the rabbit. "Why water no change?"
The rabbit pointed to the first symbol and scratched out more ideograms.
"She say Chiisuiton lock curse. No can change!" Zhu Shu raised horrified eyes to Shan Pu and Ranma as a commotion began by the village gates. Warning horns sounded across the village as warriors dropped the rabbits they had been collecting and ran.
Shan Pu looked desperately at Zhu Shu and Ranma. "Village is attacked. Many warriors rabbits. Need help!"
Ranma looked at all the rabbits scrambling to get out of the able warrior's ways and nodded. "I'll get Pop and Mr. Tendo and catch up. Go!"
Zhu Shu and Shan Pu ran towards the gate, barely pausing long enough for Shan Pu to grab up her bonbori. They arrived at the gates to find dozens of rabbits amid scattered weapons as the defenders tried to stem the tide of black-clad men with wineskins. Shan Pu screamed in rage as they saw another Amazon warrior sprayed with water and turned into an animal. Shan Pu threw a spray of darts as Zhu Shu scurried into the crowd, swords slashing wineskins. She ignored the rips as her long dress tore in a dozen places as she weaved through the invaders, leaving a wake of surprised hares.
Then she tried to dive out of the way as a cloud of throwing darts came at her, but the shredded dress got in her way. She found herself pinned to a wall by the darts as a small boy with a wolf-eared hood and blue hair calmly stepped out of the chaos.
"Well, you're fast, but not very smart." He leered. "Still, I think I can have lots of fun with you. Not many girls can handle my speed." He reached out to fondle a breast.
"Pig!" Zhu Shu spat. "How dare you!"
The small boy laughed. "I am Mint of the Musk Dynasty! We are the rulers of all!" He traced a knife down the front of Zhu Shu's dress, the sharp blade parting the cloth easily as it barely touched her skin. "And you are a mere woman. You Amazons need to learn your places. You exist only to serve us."
"I am not an Amazon, and I do not serve you!" Zhu Shu screamed, throwing herself at the boy and trying to break the hold the darts had on her clothes. The cut down her front tore further as she ripped her arms out of the shredded sleeves. She staggered forward as the small boy danced to the side. He leered further at her nude state.
"So, you have some strength as well. Good. I'm going to enjoy teaching you how to please me."
Zhu Shu took a stance, her eyes narrowing. "I am not any man's playtoy, pig. Especially not the likes of you."
The boy smiled as he drew a saber. "So, you would challenge one with the speed of the wolf?"
Zhu Shu smiled grimly. "I am Clan Dragon, Musk Warrior. We are speed."
The boys smile faltered slightly as Zhu Shu struck. "You are her " he said as he blocked her thrust, then reposted.
Zhu Shu ignored the stares and reactions of the warriors around her beyond a grim smile that their distraction made them easy targets for the Amazons as she began pouring her chi into speed and shifted to combat time. She had hated his type of behavior from Sung Li; there was no way she'd put up with it from this runt! She'd show him what real speed was!
Her smile slipped slightly as she realized he was still matching her thrust for thrust. As the world slowed around them, they began to duel in earnest.
Shan Pu threw her last spray of darts as a huge man in tiger-striped armor shoved aside the troops crowding the gate and hiding from the Amazons' darts and arrows. "Cowards!" he yelled, "They're only women! Rush them! Show them the folly of presuming to be more than our playthings!"
Shan Pu growled. She remembered that huge shape. She'd never seen him clearly, but he had been there when Herb had humiliated her, and he had been the one
"Stand aside, cousin," a voice behind her said as a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned to see Tao-Ching, hatred burning in his eyes. "He's mine."
She stepped aside as he stepped out in to the fray before the gate. "Lime! I warned you what would happen if you ever dared attack the Joketsuzoku again!" he called.
The tiger man's eyes turned to focus on the smaller, but no less brawny man. "Tao-Ching," he said as his eyes narrowed. "I see I didn't break you sufficiently. What makes you think you have any chance against me this time?"
Tao-Ching held up a waterskin. "This." He smiled as he tensed his arms and the skin shredded, water cascading down.
Lime lost his sneering grin as a thousand pounds of snarling smilodon launched itself at him.
The sound of a snarling cat echoed across the battlefield to where Ranma had arrived with his dad and Soun, but he was too engaged to really notice. He had entered the area in front of the gate and immediately gotten swirled into the mad melee. Red rage burned across his sight as he dodged the knives and swords, rage at what the battlefield had shown him.
It had been the first one he'd fought — the one he'd nearly killed — who'd made him so angry, who had driven him to this rage, the one who'd been laughing as he stepped on a rabbit, laughing as he killed the transformed Amazon. It had been the glee in that laugh that had sparked the fire that burned in him, that made him wish he could get the image out of his mind, that had made him respond so violently. When the man had attacked him, Ranma had deflected his sword thrust into his own leg and left him frantically attempting to stem the flow of blood. The thrust wasn't likely to be fatal, but a half inch to the inside of his thigh and it would have been.
Part of him, a part that stood back and observed everything, told him that he hadn't fatally wounded anyone, though it couldn't deny that his mercy wasn't shared by the Amazons. He found that as much as that would have bothered him normally, he just couldn't bring himself to object; he couldn't get the sound the rabbit had made as the man had broken her neck, and in his mind images of a pink-haired rabbit imposed itself in the man's hands. He broke the arm of the man he was fighting in passing.
It wasn't fair! Why did this stuff have to happen to him? Why, when he had just started to learn he loved Akane, did she have to have this happen? Why had these men come and turned her into a rabbit?
White fire burned across his shoulder from a sword thrust and he backed away from a group of fighters into a clear area. A snarl made him turn, fear chilling him to the core.
The big Musk Warrior was battered and bloody, but still on his feet and attempting to strangle the big cat. The observer knew the smilodon was Tao-Ching, but it made no difference. Black fear skittered across his consciousness. The sounds of dying rabbits merged with the howls of the angry cat as the observer retreated away from the rising animal rage. His last conscious thought as the Nekoken consumed him was to hope he would remember to protect the animals.
Shan Pu yowled in fury as she clawed at the ankles of a passing black clad attacker. She had been caught by Tao-Ching's water shower, and as a result, she was now worse than useless in the aid of her village. She darted across the open space to a wall and clawed her way up the side of a hut. Maybe if she could get higher, she could jump on somebody.
From the roof, she could see over the village wall, where hundreds more of the black clad attackers harried the wall's defenders and attempted to pour through the gates; Tao-Ching at least was helping there. His fight with the giant blocked the gate effectively enough that only a few managed to pass.
She spied a red clad whirlwind sending people flying and smiled as Ranma proved his prowess to the Amazons. No one would question her loss to him after this.
She jumped across the space between two huts, narrowly clearing the wide gap and looked down at a posturing Kuno.
"Villains! Assassins! Feel the wrath of Blue Thunder!"
He was an idiot, but she did have to admire his skill with the sword, even sheathed as it was. A trail of unconscious bodies lay behind his push into the gate field.
She scampered across a line over a group of her sisters, noting with approval the pathway they were paving in blood. The villains were paying for the harm they had caused her sisters in the only coin Amazons accepted.
She dodged a sword that spun towards her, the hand gripping it trailing blood, and reached the peak of the tallest roof by the gate. There, she stopped, her eyes focusing on a rapidly moving blur.
Zhu Shu was being hard pressed by a small male in a wolf-eared hood. She was unwounded, but Shan Pu could tell she was angry. And nude. A quick scan of the battlefield revealed her dress pinned to a wall by several daggers. Shan Pu hissed. She'd spent days embroidering the dragon on the dress. She headed for the battle between the two.
She concentrated as she moved, meowing as she shifted towards the speed with which the two duelists were moving. She watched as Zhu Shu did a leap that took her nearly thirty feet into the air, her ribbons lashing down in a move she'd seen from the receiving end a few times, but her eyes widened as she saw the size of the chi ball Zhu Shu unleashed.
The small boy sheared the ball in two on his blade, the energy sliding to either side and destroying the roof he was standing on. He laughed as he dodged the next few blasts Zhu Shu unleashed from where she was hovering, not caring that they caught his own troops instead.
"You're good, bitch. But you will still pleasure me before I'm done with you."
Shan Pu shook her head. Something wasn't right about this. How did the Musk get so powerful? And why was the Musk soldier acting like that? She remembered how they had acted when she was thirteen. They had been fascinated that she was a female, and even though Herb had cheated when they fought, and might have even beaten her if Tao-Ching hadn't showed up, they had at least respect for her as a warrior.
She jumped across to another roof as the Musk warrior landed on it. "Give it up, girl. Xi'an Chi protected us from Amazon magic, and I am your better in speed. You can't win." His grin made Shan Pu's skin crawl.
Zhu Shu landed on a pole top, her ribbons lashing. "Never."
The small man laughed. "I like your spirit. I'm going to have fun breaking you. Maybe I'll train you to walk on all fours at the end of my leash."
Zhu Shu's eyes burned with green fire as her ribbons began to shimmer gold. They danced out in a whirlwind, only to bounce off a shimmering barrier. The Musk laughed again and held up a small amulet on a leather thong. "I told you, you can't touch me. This charm shields me from your magic."
A small bundle of pink and purple fur hurled itself from the roof peak behind him and four sets of claws dug into his arm as Shan Pu bit down on the amulet. The boy screamed and threw her violently away. She yowled as she flew against the roof peak. The short man loomed above her, his sword raised. "Damn cat!" His sword started to descend.
A golden ribbon lashed out to impale his wrist, followed by a second across the back of his knees. He screamed as his legs collapsed, then gave a low groan as Zhu Shu's pommel connected with the back of his head. Shan Pu looked up to see Zhu Shu, glaring down at the unconscious figure.
Shan Pu looked down to the amulet she had torn out of the boy's hand and nodded in satisfaction.
A few minutes later, after tying up the unconscious boy, they looked out over the village.
"This is not good." Zhu Shu muttered. The Amazons were making a brave fight, but they were sorely outnumbered, and even the aid of the Nerima crew wasn't preventing the slow advance of the black clad troops. The Amazons had lost too many of the best warriors to the cursed water.
An old rabbit with white fur kicked her in the leg to get her attention, then hopped down to an alley between huts. She followed the rabbit down and placed Shan Pu on the ground. The rabbit was scratching ideograms in the dirt. Zhu Shu read them and looked at the rabbit wide-eyed.
"Jusenkyo is two days away! Great-grandmother, even at my fastest, I could only make it in a day!"
The rabbit scratched further symbols. Zhu Shu looked at them and shook her head. "I have never done that before. I don't know how to do that." She read the symbols Ke Lun continued to write and nodded uncertainly. "I will try, Great-grandmother."
She looked around the corner to the battle. It was becoming increasingly obvious the Amazons were losing slowly. Ke Lun was right; there was no other way, and no one else who could have even a hope of succeeding.
She debated grabbing one of the outfits littering the ground, but decided she couldn't waste the time, so she leaped to the top of the outer wall as she opened all her chi paths to their fullest.
The world around her slowed to a crawl as she stepped past a slow-moving arrow. She leaped down onto the head of a black trooper and step-stoned her way across the waiting men. At the edge of their group, she headed off down the path towards Jusenkyo.
Still, time was passing too quickly. She set herself to her fastest pace and concentrated on moving faster. Time began moving slower still, and the air took on the feeling of a clinging liquid. She split her chi into a shield around her as Ke Lun had instructed and began to pour more and more into making herself move faster and faster.
She ran across a frozen landscape viewed through distorted glass. She passed leaves frozen in mid-air, crossed streams of solid water, leaped up the spray of a frozen waterfall. Chi poured through her in rivers, in oceans, and still she drew it in and poured it into her speed. She ignored the fire in her legs, the acid each breath became, and concentrated only on moving faster, every second passing being one too many for someone at the village.
The chi within her burned like a star, yet eventually it began to falter; as she approached the Jusenkyo springs she felt the beginnings of its exhaustion. She pushed the thought from her mind as she stopped in front of the Guide's hut and time slammed back into motion.
A small girl peeked out of the hut after the gale that accompanied Zhu Shu had washed over it. She stared at the naked state Zhu Shu was in and asked wide-eyed, "Who are you?"
Zhu Shu knelt and tried to get enough breath to talk. "I seek the Guide. I must get water from the spring of drowned girl or the Amazons are doomed."
The girl stared at her.
"Please," Zhu Shu begged. "I have no time; every second I delay may mean more deaths."
The girl nodded and seemed to come to a decision. "I am his daughter, Plum. I can show you the spring."
Zhu Shu stood on wobbly legs. "I thank you. I will need a couple of waterskins if you have them."
The girl nodded and vanished into the hut, reappearing a few seconds later with a pair. "This way." She led Zhu Shu into the pools.
Five minutes later, with two skins full of water, she began her run back, but barely a fourth of the way there, she felt as her chi finally reached exhaustion. Desperately, she reached out, searching with her mind for another source, another way of achieving her quest. Somehow, she had to find a way; she had to get to the Amazon village. And something responded to that need
In a flash of golden light, Zhu Shu disappeared.
"I can't believe those girls," Luna said, irritated. "To go off and leave us here, and break their promise."
Artemis looked up from where he was rubbing a sore spot. "Yeah, and get us stuck by the vet, too." He looked around the room. "I should claw up the sheets or something. Serve Usagi right."
"Artemis!" Luna chided.
"I know, I know. I'm annoyed and in pain. It makes me catty!"
Luna groaned at the pun, then gasped. She and Artemis both turned and stared off in the direction they had felt the surge from.
"Zhu Shu?" Luna said softly.
Further south, the wizard turned from the young red-haired American he was talking to and stared off to the north. The girl trailed off when she noticed she had lost his attention and looked at him in puzzlement.
He focused on her for a second. "We'll continue this later, Alice. I have something I must check on."
The girl blinked at the retreating back of the masked Chinese man. She'd never seen him so distracted.
On an airplane just coming in to land in Hong Kong, a short beep came from Ami's minicomputer, but it was lost in the roar of the jet engines.
With the flash of light, Zhu Shu had felt herself falling. She had landed just a second later, but it took her eyes a second to recover from the dazzle. Then her jaw dropped in shock.
She was standing in the middle of the dais where Shan Pu and Akane had gotten betrothed.
An anxious Shan Pu whirled around from where she stood next to the pink rabbit that was Akane. Zhu Shu smiled weakly at her surprise, answering her unspoken question. "I don't know. I have the water. How long?"
Shan Pu gaped in shock. "Just over ten minutes. They fired the huts by the gate, but we still hold."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Then I have not failed?" She fell to her knees, too weary to stand as the world spun around her.
<< No, my love, you did not fail.>>
Then there was only the scent of cherry blossoms.
The fighting by the gate had become bloody. Faced with odds too great to overcome, they had had to stop pulling punches or sword strokes. Tao-Ching had finally felled the giant Lime and was doing his best to hold the gate against the invaders, aided by a yowling Ranma. Genma and Soun, both bloody, worked to save animals from the battlefield. Kuno, pressed from all sides by attackers seeking his life, had gone into a trance state. Like clockwork, an invader fell with every stroke he made.
Then, a volley of arrows from behind the defenders cut down the first rows of the attackers, and with a howling warcry, a horde of naked Amazon warriors charged into the fray, every one sporting rabbit ears and tails.
Kuno stood, his jaw dropped in amazement.
"It's the attack of the kawaii bunny girls," a dryly amused voice said from beside him. He turned to see an equally naked Nabiki standing next to him, also with rabbit ears and a bunny tail.
It was too much; with blood gushing from his nose, he fainted.
With the arrival of the fresh warriors, the battle turned. The savage Amazon warriors took their anger out on the attackers for daring to turn them into cute sex-toys. As the last of the attackers fled, a cheer arose from the defenders, but attention was quickly diverted to putting out the fires and recovering their dead.
As the sun set, twenty-one women lay on the dais, returned at least to partial humanity by the last of the cursed water. A tall woman with long black hair and ears stood before the assembled tribe, clutching the cane she had used to defend her village as its warleader. She solemnly spoke to the still living as one by one they were covered.
Nabiki turned from where she watched to the rest of the people in the large hut. "I don't see Zhu Shu out there, so she must still be sleeping."
Shan Pu, sitting close to Akane and looking worriedly at the black-haired boy curled up in Akane's lap purring, nodded. "She very tired. Faint from exhaustion. She very big hero. Bring water to turn people back."
Nabiki nodded and sat down cross-legged next to where Kasumi happily tended a fire, cooking them all dinner. She didn't seem to mind the long ears poking up through her hair in the slightest. Nabiki squirmed, trying to get her tail comfortable. "Or at least mostly back," she grumbled.
"Great-grandmother tell why still part rabbit."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. The curses combined since the first was locked into place, so we are all cursed by the spring of drowned bunny girl." She sighed, then gave a wry grin. "Well, if nothing else, we're assured high-paying careers as exotic models."
"Oh my," Kasumi said with a blush.
The laughter lightened the mood, and drew a "merrrrow" from Ranma. Nodoka looked at him and turned to Genma. "What I want to know is what has happened to my son?"
Genma looked around for a place to hide, but stopped at the sound of steel being slid out of its sheath. "Um Well, dear, you see "
"What have you done to our son, Genma?"
"Yes, why Airen act like cat?" Shan Pu added.
Unable to escape, Genma settled down into a cross-legged position and pushed his glasses up his nose. "It began when I sought to teach him the 'Nekoken'. Ever since the training, he has feared cats, and only when his fear overwhelms him can he use the secrets of that deadly art." He glanced at the purring boy on Akane's lap. "When his fear destroys his reason, he becomes a cat, and until now only a little old lady in the neighborhood we stayed in before going to China could bring him out."
"And why would this training affect him so?" Nodoka prompted.
Genma settled into his righteous indignation pose. "As I told you ten years ago, dear, a mother's love would interfere with his training."
A sword set its edge against his neck. "And I told you the jury was still out on you, Genma. Answer my question."
Genma eyed the razor-sharp steel and gulped. "According to the book, you have to tie fish sausage to a student and drop him into a pit of hungry cats."
A collective gasp of disbelief rose around the room. Soun muttered, "How rigorous!"
Genma continued. "Unfortunately, it was a failure. I tried fish sausage, fish jerky, fish paste, but nothing worked. All that it accomplished was to give him this phobia of cats."
"How could you?" Nodoka asked, looking at her son in pity.
"Ranma scared all cats?" Shan Pu asked in a small voice.
"All cats," Genma confirmed.
"What if small harmless kitten-type cat?"
"It makes no difference. From the smallest kitten to the largest tiger, he fears them equally."
"You did to Airen?!" Shan Pu screamed, shaking Genma by the collar. "You fix!"
"I can't " Genma said between shakes. "I tried when I found out was a trick "
"Trick!" Shan Pu shrieked.
"A trick. It wasn't until I read the next page of the training manual that I found out that it was given as an example of what not to do. I've tried every thing to try and break him of his fear. I've locked him into his room with a bag of them, in a cage with them; I've even thrown him into a lions' den. Nothing works!"
"How could you do that to your own son?!" Akane yelled.
"Yes, Mr. Tendo, you went too far, even for martial arts training!" Kasumi chided. Everyone stared at her in shock.
"Shan Pu find way to fix, Airen. No must be afraid of cat," Shan Pu told the sleeping Ranma quietly before she exited the hut.
"Hmm," Nabiki muttered. "Well, one has to wonder as to why she's so upset."
"Yeah, well, I don’t think either us is really pleased about that," Akane said, giving Genma a dark look.
"We must press them now," Ke Lun told the other elders meeting in her hut after the gathering in the square. "If we allow them to regroup, they will only attack again."
"We have lost too many warriors, Ke Lun. We have too few to guard both our walls and send out a force such as you propose," Lo Shen said, her ears twitching agitatedly. Like Ke Lun, she had been restored to youth as a bunny girl. Fully three-quarters of the other elders were similarly afflicted by the initial shower.
"Yet if we allow Herb time to regroup, he will simply hire more of these mercenaries. Only the giant and the small one Zhu Shu defeated are Musk! All the others bore this mark!" Ke Lun tossed a piece of paper on the table with a drawing of the tattoo all the black-clad attackers had on the left shoulder.
"I do not believe the Musk hired these men, Revered Warleader," a weary voice said from the sleeping loft over Colognes head. "Forgive my intrusion, elders, but I could not help but overhear," Zhu Shu said as she climbed down the ladder.
The Loremaster nodded. "Clan Dragon is always welcome at Council, Zhu Shu." Several other elders nodded.
Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow, then bowed shakily. "You honor me."
"You have seen something, child?" Ke Lun asked.
"I have no gift for visions, Great-grandmother, beyond my sight for auras. But I know that sign." She pointed to the piece of paper. "I fear very much that you have lost warriors today because of me. I know of no other reason you would have been attacked by warriors of Clan Skorpion, save that I was here."
The Loremaster shook her head. "No, child. We have skirmished with the Skorpion Tong before. They have tried to acquire the herbs, magic, and lore that we possess. They have not succeeded before; they did not this time. The only surprise is that they joined with the Musk and that their leader gave the Musk wards against magic, yet did not grant his own troops the same protection."
"Yet the Skorpion attempted to assassinate me in Japan. I fear they traced me to here, and—"
"Nonsense. This attack was too prepared to have been set up in the last week." The Loremaster smiled gently. "Be at peace, child. Your actions today saved our village. For that we are grateful. Do not blame yourself for those you could not save, and fear no more for assassins in Japan. We shall send two of our finest warriors with Ke Lun and Shan Pu to see to your safety."
Ke Lun held up her hand. "No. I will take Ling Ling and Ran Ran. The Dragon's Child is equal to any of our best warriors. She can defend herself from most harm, and I must finish their training anyway, as well as see to my new son and daughter in law's training. She will be safe."
Zhu Shu nodded, knowing it was useless to argue. She should have known becoming Shan Pu's blood-sister had its drawbacks. Plus, the Amazons seemed to hold Clan Dragon in some esteem, so her being the last of the Clan meant she had to be protected. At least Ke Lun had prevented the Loremaster from sending two adult warriors to loom over her all the time, and Ke Lun had already agreed she had to go to Hong Kong.
"Anyway, you stated you did not believe the Musk hired Skorpion. I would agree," Ke Lun said. "I believe they have taken over the Musk. The two warriors with the Skorpion troops do not behave as they have in the past. They have no honor anymore. We must investigate, and wipe out this infestation if what I suspect is true. We cannot allow the Skorpion to rule the Musk, and we must recover the Kaisuifuu!"
"And again, I would tell you we do not have the warriors," The Loremaster stated.
"Your pardon again, Revered elders," Zhu Shu said as she bowed once more. "But you do not stand alone in the need for the Kaisuifuu."
The Loremaster blinked. "You speak of the Outlanders?"
"Yes, revered elder. They have aided in the defense of Joketsuzoku, and they have shared in this curse. I believe if you but ask, they will lend their aid."
Ke Lun grinned. "Indeed." She looked to the Loremaster. "The Dragon has given you a solution. Will you not listen?"
The Loremaster blushed. "You are correct, Warleader. I will listen. Will you ask the Outlanders to aid us in this?"
Ke Lun laughed, a far cry from her usual cackle. "Honestly, I think we would have a hard time stopping them from coming."
The elders nodded as the Loremaster said, "If nothing else, it will be the first test of our marriage alliance." She stood and bowed to Zhu Shu. "Our thanks for you wisdom, Child of the Dragon." She turned to the others. "If there is nothing else, I suggest we conclude. We have disturbed our rescuer's sleep enough, and there is much to prepare for tomorrow. Ke Lun, you may take twenty warriors with you as well as any of the Outlanders who wish to accompany you. I will pray to the Ancestors for your success."
Ke Lun nodded began putting the teacups on a tray as the other elders filed out. As the door closed behind her, she turned to Zhu Shu. "Thank you. I was afraid I was going to have to argue with her all night. She had no choice but to listen to you."
Zhu Shu bobbed her head. "I apologize for the rudeness of interrupting the elders meeting, but I still fear the village is in danger so long as I am here."
"Everywhere is in danger from the Skorpion, Zhu Shu. I don't know why they tried to assassinate you in Japan, but we are no strangers to their depredations."
"Yet so long as they seek me, those around me are in danger."
"Child, if you say that we would be safer if you left us all and hid yourself away, I will turn you over my knee and paddle you like a child. That is a child's solution, Little Mouse, to run away. It would be a disservice to your friends, your family and your loved ones. Do they know of the attempt on your life?"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Not all of them."
"Do Akane and Ranma know?"
"Yes. And Kasumi. She was with me when they attacked. I was forced to kill them to save her life. Nabiki found out later and it was she who told me where the assassins were from. No one else of the Tendos or Saotomes knows."
"And Shan Pu?"
Zhu Shu looked away. "I have not told her yet."
"Yet you will go to Hong Kong alone."
"I only seek to investigate. I have means to summon aid if needed."
Ke Lun sighed. "I cannot command you not to do this, Zhu Shu, any more than I can command you not to accompany us tomorrow. I am honored to call you great-granddaughter, but I do not rule you. But please, for the love I have for you, be careful. I want to see both your and Shampoo's children's children some day; I cannot do that if you throw your life away in a misguided effort not to endanger us."
Zhu Shu lowered her head. "I swear I will do my best to stay out of danger when I may," she said tiredly
Ke Lun nodded. "I suppose I must be satisfied with that."
Zhu Shu's soft snore was the only answer she got.
"So she has escaped today," Xi'an Chi noted.
"Yes, Master. But my spies confirm that they have taken the secondary bait. They will come here tomorrow. Everything is prepared for them. She will not escape a second time," the shadowy figure in his scrying mirror said.
Xi'an Chi nodded. "There had better not be. She has begun to access some of those cursed Senshi powers, though she doesn't know how to control them. I curse the day Serenity gave her those swords. They have more tricks to them than ten thousand magicians. Do not allow the seals on the trap to be broken once she has been caught, or she may find a way of slipping free."
"I will not fail, Master. No weapon forged by man may harm me."
"Make sure of it, or I will give you to Chaos as a play-toy."
"You need not worry, Master. By this time tomorrow, The Dragon's Child will be yours "
To be continued.
† See "Curse of the Banshee" for details.
|Book 2, Chapter 5|
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