Cologne finished boxing the order and called Shampoo from the dining area. Shampoo, humming a little tune to herself, walked to the back room. "Shampoo deliver order?"
Cologne nodded, handing her the box. "This order is to be delivered to a Kuroneko. She is renting a room at the Maison Negitaya."
"Be right back." Shampoo happily took the box out the back door.
Cologne hopped back to the counter on her staff. The Nekohanten was empty. Business had not been too bad on average, but these quiet times seemed to stretch on. She could handle that. Cologne was a patient woman. She perused her shelf of spices, salts, and potions, hoping that another plan to wrestle Ranma from Akane would come to mind.
A bell rang.
It wasn't an idea, as Cologne had hoped. It was the front door.
Cologne returned to the counter to greet the new customers. She was only a little disappointed to see only a young man walk across the dining area. He looked to be in his early thirties. He was obviously a foreigner, possibly American or English. He wore blue jeans and a tee-shirt with a picture of a black kitten on it. Probably American.
The man walked straight to the counter, where Cologne was perched on her staff. <Hello, Khu Lon,> he greeted in perfect Chinese. <The years have not been very kind to you.>
Cologne narrowed her eyes. <Do I know you?>
The man casually smiled. <Have you forgotten me already?>
Cologne merely stood, staring at the figure before her.
<How could you forget our little challenge on the log? The tournament?>
Cologne's eyes went wide. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out.
The man's smile faded. He pretended to look hurt. <Well, glad to know our time together meant that much to you.>
A quiet gurgle escaped Cologne's throat. Finally, she managed to utter a word: "David?"
David smiled again. <I know it's been a while. I was beginning to wonder if your memory was failing you, old woman.>
Cologne was not used to being at a loss for words for such a long time. She quickly recovered. <What are you doing in Nerima?>
David's smile disappeared. <I wouldn't have bothered you if it wasn't important.>
Cologne waved a hand at the otherwise empty restaurant. <We have a bit of time.>
David held Cologne's hands. < I've come to warn you. You and others close to you are in mortal danger.>
Yet again, Cologne's eyes were wide. Her mouth gaped open. Her hands trembled a bit, then a shiver went down her spine.
"What a haul! What a haul!"
Happosai, masked and carrying a large bag of underwear and bras, ran ahead of the crowd of angry women. He bounced off of a light pole and sprinted down an alley. The angry women quickly reached the alley, and then stopped. The alley was a dead end, and it was empty. Confused grumbling came from several women before the crowd dispersed. From the roof overhead, Happosai watched the women leave, chuckling to himself. He hefted the bag and leapt in the direction of the Tendo home.
When he arrived, he was surprised to see Cologne there. Ranma and Akane, keeping a suspicious distance, had gone to the dojo to spar. Happosai pointed a finger at Cologne. "What is she doing here?"
Cologne accepted a cup of tea from Kasumi. She took a sip before answering. "Actually, I came to see you."
"What do you want, I'm a busy man."
Cologne looked at the bag. Some of the contents were sticking out. "Obviously, but I have a very important matter that we must discuss alone."
There were sounds of yelling coming from the dojo, but they were ignored.
Kasumi put another cup of tea on the table. "Don't worry about me. I'll just go clean some dishes."
Cologne watched Kasumi step into the kitchen before hopping over the table. "We should go outside. I don't trust these Tendos."
A loud crunch of breaking wood came from the dojo. The yelling continued.
Happosai closed his eyes, his arms folded. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what this is about."
Cologne pivoted on her staff, looking down at the old man. "I assure you, it is a matter of life and death."
Happosai dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand, his eyes still closed. "Nothing has been able to kill me off yet. You don't get to my age without knowing a few tricks."
"I assure you, you are in mortal danger."
A scream came from the direction of the dojo.
Something in Cologne's voice got his attention. He opened his eyes and followed Cologne quietly to the far side of the koi pond.
Akane fumed. As usual, not only could she not get through Ranma's defenses, but he refused to hit her back. "Why aren't you fighting back?"
Ranma smiled. "I told you I don't hit girls."
"Then why even spar with me if you won't hit me?"
"(Ahem) Excuse me, am I interrupting something?" Ranma and Akane turned to the doorway. Nodoka stood at the steps to the dojo, holding her wrapped katana in her hands.
Ranma noticed something in her expression that bothered him. "Mom?"
Nodoka stepped to one side. Standing behind her was a man wearing blue jeans and a gray jacket. The man looked American, or British. He was leaning a bokken against his shoulder casually. The man looked at Ranma intently.
Akane also noticed the expression on Nodoka's face. "What's wrong, Mrs. Saotome?"
Nodoka looked at her son. "This man wants to speak with you Ranma. It seems.... very important."
The man stepped into the dojo. "You may call me David, David White." He turned to Nodoka. "May I?"
Nodoka held her katana up to David, who leaned his bokken in the doorway and took the sword in his hands. He removed the wrappings and took the katana out of the scabbard. He stepped away from Nodoka, hefting the weapon in his hand. "Folded blade. Nice balance." He took a few swings with it before looking over at Ranma. "How much experience do you have with a katana?"
Ranma looked at David, confused. "I've spent most of my time training in unarmed combat."
David shook his head. "No good." He turned to Nodoka. "You never taught him?"
Nodoka sadly shook her head. "I did not have much time with him."
David looked back to Ranma, sizing him up. "That is unfortunate." He tossed the katana, handle first, to Ranma. Ranma caught the hilt in both hands and blinked. David stepped back to the doorway and picked up his bokken. He pointed the bokken in Akane's direction. "It would be better if you stood outside."
Nodoka held her hand out. "Come here, dear."
Akane looked at Ranma. Ranma glanced at her. "Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself." Akane nodded, but she noticed some uncertainty in his voice. She stepped over to Nodoka, who took her hand and gave her a little hug.
David stepped up to Ranma in the middle of the dojo. "I've come to see what your fighting skills are like, to see how well you measure up."
Ranma uneasily held the sword up. "I ain't used to fighting with a katana."
David held his bokken up. "Well, it is exactly your capabilities as a swordsman that I am interested in."
The two faced off for a few moments before David swung a simple strike. Ranma blocked the blow with his arms. David stepped back. "Don't use your arms. Use the sword. Pretend it's an extension of your arm. Pretend I have a katana as well. I would have cut your hands off."
David waited a second, and then struck at Ranma's head. The katana flashed up, blocking the blow. David nodded his head. "Better." He held his bokken ready. "Now strike at me." Ranma blinked. "Don't worry about your blade. I can take care of myself."
Ranma shrugged, held the katana over his head, and swung down at David. David stepped aside, allowing the katana to cut into the wood floor. His bokken flashed out, rapping the top of Ranma's hands. "Clumsy." The bokken swiped up, stopping inches from Ranma's throat. "And ineffective."
Ranma felt embarrassed. He also felt angry. He chopped at David's arms with his hand. David swatted the strike away with his bokken. "Don't use your hands!"
"Ok, fine!" Ranma yelled, face red. He jumped in the air and kicked at David's head. David ducked out of the way, and Ranma's foot went though the wall with a loud crunch.
"I told you to use the katana!" Frustration and disappointment were in David's voice.
Ranma stepped back to the katana, which was still lodged in the floor. "Why do I have to use a sword? I can fight just fine with my hands and feet!" He pulled the weapon out of the floor.
David stood up and rapped Ranma on the head with his bokken. "Baka! There are enemies that you will face that cannot be beaten without such a weapon!"
Ranma didn't understand, but held the katana up. David thrusted the bokken to Ranma's chest and connected. Ranma fell back, but held on to the sword. David dropped his bokken angrily to the floor. "This is useless! I came to see this great martial artist! What a disappointment!"
Ranma jumped back up. "You take that back!" He held the sword menacingly in front of him.
David held his hands to his sides. "Go ahead. I already know you're useless with that thing." Ranma swung. David leaned just outside the sweep of the blade. "Too slow!" Ranma swiped at his chest. David leaned back, again out of reach. "No good!" Ranma's face was turning red at the insults. He swung at David's head. David ducked. "Not even close!" Ranma yelled a kiai and stamped a foot forward, thrusting the blade. The blade pierced David's chest and stuck out his back. Akane screamed.
David stepped back. Ranma dropped his grip on the katana, which remained lodged through David's torso. David's gray jacket turned dark as blood flowed out of the wound. He looked down at the sword and reached behind him to touch the tip. Ranma's mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. David fell to his knees, mouth open in shock. He tucked his head tucked in pain.
Then he grabbed the hilt, and grunted as he tried to push the sword out. Ranma stepped forward and helped him. He pulled the katana free and dropped it. The bloody blade nicked the floor as it landed. He kneeled before David, who grabbed his shoulders for support. Ranma couldn't think of anything to say. David sat there for a few long moments, fighting for breath. Suddenly, Ranma noticed that David's breathing was becoming easier. A couple of seconds later, David leaned on Ranma's shoulders and slowly stood up. Ranma stood up and looked into David's face. There wasn't any pain. If anything, Ranma would say that David appeared to be meditating. Finally, David opened his eyes and returned Ranma's gaze. He took a deep breath before speaking: "Not bad. You show a little promise."
David picked up the katana, carefully wiping the blood onto his jacket before putting it back in the scabbard and handing it to Nodoka. Nodoka accepted the sword with one hand, her other hand held over her mouth. Akane stared, her face white. Ranma still stood in the dojo, mouth open. David bowed to the two women. "Forgive me for frightening you. I will explain sometime, but I cannot at the moment. Meanwhile, you must trust me that it is vitally important that he begin training in the handling of your sword." Nodoka was barely able to nod. David picked up his bokken casually. "Very well, then. I will be back to check on his progress." He stepped out of the dojo and through the front gate.
Shampoo arrived at the Maison Negitaya and jumped off her bike. She carried the boxes up and knocked on the front door. A few moments later, an elderly woman opened the door. Shampoo bowed. "Shampoo have delivery for Kuroneko."
The elderly woman held the door open, allowing Shampoo to walk inside. "She's in room 6, upstairs."
Shampoo climbed the stairs and walked down the hallway to a door that had a wooden 6. She knocked on the door. A voice inside said, "Hai, chotto." A few moments later, a young woman with short raven hair opened the door.
Shampoo held the box out and bowed. "Delivery for Kuroneko."
"That would be me," the woman replied. "Please, come inside."
Shampoo stepped inside and looked around the room. Posters of black cats covered the walls. A pair of cat statues faced each other from opposite sides of a desk. A small shelf stereo was playing a song from the musical "Cats". The song was telling a story about a "Rum Tum Tugger." Kuroneko started looking through a desk drawer. She fished out some money and paid Shampoo. Shampoo accepted the payment, still looking around at all the posters.
Kuroneko watched Shampoo for a moment. "You like cats?"
Shampoo silently nodded her head.
Back at the Nekohanten, Cologne looked up at the clock. "What can be taking that girl so long?" Finally, Shampoo opened the back door, giggling. Cologne hopped over to the back room.
Shampoo stepped in, followed by Kuroneko. Shampoo turned to see Cologne. "Nihau, great-grandmother. This Kuroneko. She like cats."
Cologne dropped to the ground, holding her staff in front of her. Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here?"
Kuroneko looked back to Cologne with interest. "I only came to visit. I mean you no harm."
Cologne stepped around Kuroneko, looking her up and down. "I recognize you. You are a thief."
Kuroneko put a hand to her chest, pretending to look hurt. "Me? A thief?" She waved her hand. "Even if I was, I'm here in Nerima on vacation." She looked over to Cologne's shelf of spices and such. "Besides, you wouldn't have anything here of real value anyway, would you?"
Cologne jumped between Kuroneko and her shelf. "You will not have anything of mine."
Kuroneko pretended to look hurt again. <Well, Xian Pu, I suppose I should head back home, then.>
Shampoo whispered a "goodbye" and watched as Kuroneko walked silently out the door. She turned to Cologne. "Why great-grandmother be rude to Shampoo friend?"
Cologne turned to Shampoo. "That woman is no one's friend. She cannot be trusted. You are not to see her again."
Shampoo sighed. "Yes, great-grandmother."
Things were quiet for the rest of the month, like the calm before a storm. Nodoka, out of fear for her son's life, was over at the Tendo dojo each night, sparring and coaching Ranma with a pair of bokken. She was proud of how quickly Ranma became swift and graceful with the practice swords. After three weeks of training, Nodoka brought the katana back out. She had Ranma practice his strokes on one of the Tendo training dummies. His moves were swift and precise. He finished with a kiai and a slash that cut completely through the wood. The top half and left arm of the dummy fell onto the ground.
"Not bad," a familiar voice said from inside the house. Ranma and Nodoka turned to see David and Kasumi in the doorway. David had a large sword strapped to his back. He turned to Kasumi and bowed, saying, "Arigatou gozaimasu." Kasumi blushed and walked back to the kitchen.
"I have instructed him as you have asked," Nodoka said. "Can you now tell us why we must do so?"
Clouds were quickly gathering.
David sighed and returned Nodoka's gaze. "I suppose as his mother, that you are entitled to an explanation. I'm not sure that you will believe me, though."
"Trust me," Ranma said as he stepped back to his mother, "this place has seen some really weird stuff."
David looked at Ranma. "Like what kind of stuff?"
Nodoka sheathed the katana. "You first."
David nodded. "Of course." He reached over his shoulder and took his sword in his hand. It had a wide blade, and was nearly long enough to require two hands. David, however, held the sword in one hand in a salute. "I am David White. I was born in London, England in 1427. I traveled to America on the Spanish ship The Nina. I spent most of my life in America and Europe. I cannot die." David paused a moment to allow his words to sink in. "I have come because there is a great warrior who will be coming. He may be in Japan already. He is coming to kill you, Ranma Saotome."
The rumble of thunder was heard.
Ranma swallowed a bit. "Well," he finally said. "I've had people say they want to kill me before."
David stepped towards Ranma, putting his sword back into it's scabbard. "Were they teenagers with a grudge, or were they warriors who have killed before?"
"Most of them were the first kind. I've fought warriors before too, though. Heck, I've even fought a dragon."
"I sincerely hope, then, that this is just another adventure for you."
Nodoka put her hands on Ranma's shoulders. "What can you tell us about this warrior that wants to fight Ranma?"
David looked into Ranma's eyes. "I have not fought him myself. I have lost some friends to him, though. There was a fight in Germany that was particularly nasty. His Japanese name is Kokushibyou Mazyutu. He was born somewhere in China at about 500 AD. In the past thousand years, he has become powerful with black magic and sorcery. He seems to keep himself around areas of political unrest, though he doesn't limit himself to that. For the past fifty years or so, he's been traveling around China, Korea, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. He's been on kind of a campaign against people like me, immortals."
Nodoka furrowed her brow. "Why does he attack immortals if you cannot die?"
David explained, "An immortal can kill another immortal by cutting off his head. That is the only way we can die. That is why the sword is so important."
Nodoka shook her head. "Then I don't understand what he wants with Ranma."
David stepped closer to Ranma. "We can feel when another immortal is near. There are others of my kind here in Tokyo. I visited an immortal here in Nerima before I first saw you." David put his and on Ranma's chest, looking into his eyes. "I am visiting one now."
Lightning struck the two men. David closed his eyes. Ranma threw his head back and yelled. Nodoka fell back into the house. David held his hand on Ranma's chest as lightning struck the two again and again. Ranma fell to his knees, and David kneeled to support him. Just as quickly as it started, the storm was gone. The silence disturbed only by the panting of two young men.
Nodoka peeked around the corner, happy to see that her son was still alive. "What was that?"
Ranma, gasping for breath, touched his chest where David had been touching him. "I felt.... I felt..."
David stood back up. "You felt the quickening."
Ranma stood up, still feeling his chest. "I was struck by lightning."
"And... I'm not dead."
"Of course not."
"So.... I'm really..... immortal?"
David let it sink in for a moment. "It takes a while to get used to." He stepped to Ranma's side, putting his hand on his shoulder. "But you have time."
Kasumi ran out of the kitchen. "Is everyone all right? I thought I heard an explosion!"
All heads turned to Ranma, who put his hand up. "We're all ok." Kasumi nodded, but stayed by Nodoka.
David patted Ranma's shoulder. "Well, that's enough to tell for now. What was the 'weird stuff' that you were talking about?"
Ranma shrugged and walked over to the koi pond. He knelt down and splashed himself with the cold water. She stood back up, shaking the extra water from her red hair, and looked back to David. It took David a few seconds to realize that Ranma had changed more than the color of her hair.
David stood there, mouth open. "Now _there's_ something I've never seen before!" He sat there, staring, for several seconds. "You're.... actually a girl now."
Ranma folded her arms and looked away. Kasumi stepped back into the kitchen and returned with a pot of hot water. She took it to Ranma, who poured some over her head. He then handed the pot back to Kasumi. "Thanks, Kasumi."
David stared a few moments more. All he could say for a while was "wow". Finally, he unstrapped his sword and placed it down on the floor. He turned to Nodoka. "Mrs. Saotome, do you have the two bokken handy?" Nodoka bowed and retrieved the bokken from the dojo. David accepted them. "Arigatou gozaimasita." He tossed one of them, handle first, to Ranma. "Enough of this. Let's see how far you've come."
Ranma caught the bokken and assumed a ready stance. David swung his bokken around a little before holding it ready. The two sparred for a while around the yard. Ranma, while doing his best to impress the man, could tell that David was holding back. David knocked Ranma's bokken out of his hands. Ranma stopped short as David's bokken was pointed to his throat. David held his position for a moment, to make sure Ranma got the point, before lowering his sword. He looked at Ranma a bit longer before speaking again: "You have progressed remarkably well. Unfortunately, I fear that we are running out of time." He turned to Nodoka. "With your permission, I would like to bring in another sensai. She is experienced in the same forms of combat that he needs to know. She is the one that taught me." Nodoka sighed and nodded. "Thank you. She lives here in Tokyo. I should be able to find her quickly."
David stepped back into the Nekohanten, smiling at the number of customers he saw this time. He walked to the back and was greeted by Cologne. <Well, well. I didn't expect to see you back here so soon.>
David waved his hand at the dining area. <I'm glad to see that things are going well for you.>
Cologne beamed proudly. <These old hands still know how to cook.>
<Just imagine what you could have done if your first quickening had not come so late.>
Cologne dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. <I do not bother myself with such trivialities. My apparent age has brought me advantages I would not otherwise be able to enjoy.>
David smiled. <I'm sure it has.>
<Do you have more news? Is it the Kurgan?>
David's smile disappeared. <I don't think it is him. I'm fairly certain that it is Mazyutu, though I haven't seen him.>
Cologne nodded solemnly. <Yes. I suppose that makes sense. The Japanese government is fairly stable, though, or is there something more?>
<Actually, I think that he is after the Saotome youth. He might attempt to fight Ranma before he realizes his potential.>
Cologne nodded again. <I have trained that one. He is very strong. I have been surprised at his abilities on multiple occasions.>
<He does have much potential, but he may not have much time. His mother has been training him in the use of her katana.>
<I would have taught him in those arts, but we have been..... distracted.>
David nodded, smiling. <Yes. I have gotten the impression that everyday life here is.... quite different from what most would expect.>
<Do you know of his curse?>
<Ah, yes. He has shown me. I've never seen anything like it.>
<The curse comes from a mountain range in China. The Jusenkyo training grounds.>
<Remind me never to visit there.>
<There are others here who have been cursed as well.>
David shifted. <There are other immortals here, too.>
<Yes, I have spoken to one of them already. His name is Happosai.>
David paused thoughtfully. <His name doesn't sound familiar.>
<He is not your typical immortal. He does not seem interested in the prize. His interests lie.... elsewhere.>
<Not interested in the prize? His interest must be some sort of obsession.>
<You could definitely say that.>
David sighed. <Very well. There is at least one other, isn't there?>
Cologne nodded. <Yes, but he is a difficult person to find.>
<Is he a master of stealth? Maybe we could send him some sort of message.>
Cologne shook her head. <No, he's always getting himself lost. Has no sense of direction.>
David thought a bit. <Could he be that sensitive to the Gathering? He must be fighting the impulse if he's getting himself lost.>
<I have thought as much, but it is difficult to be sure.>
<Well, if he is, then we might be able to use that to our advantage. In the meantime, I was wondering if you knew of the whereabouts of another old friend. I was hoping that Kuroneko could accelerate Ranma's training.>
Cologne frowned. <I have seen her around. She is staying at a nearby maison. Do you trust her?>
David smiled. <Not with any valuable material goods, but she is the best sensai that I know.>
Cologne sighed. <Very well. My great-granddaughter can show you where she is.>
David furrowed his brow. <Great-granddaughter?>
<Figuratively. All women at Joketsuzoku consider each other family.>
<Sounds interesting. I might want to see that place.>
<You wouldn't like it, being a man. Besides, it is very close to Jusenkyo .>
David nodded. <You certainly have lived in interesting places.>
<Tell me about it.>
Ranma followed David from the train station into an industrial district. Ranma carried his mother's katana. David's sword was slung on his back. Ranma looked around, puzzled. "Why are we going out here?"
David looked back. "We need some space where we won't be disturbed." They walked into an abandoned warehouse. David looked around and nodded. "This looks like the place." A few empty crates lay to one side, but the rest of the floor was open.
Ranma looked at the dusty crates. "The katana master said to meet here?"
"I sure did." Kuroneko stepped out of the shadows. She was wearing a long, black cloak. She turned and frowned at David. "You're late."
David shrugged. "My apologies. We had an.... interesting breakfast."
Kuroneko narrowed her eyes. "Well, before we start with him, I'd like a bit of a warm up."
David reached behind him, pulling his sword out. "As you wish, sensai."
Kuroneko removed her cloak, revealing black leather pants, and a lavender silk shirt that was covered with a black leather vest. She also had a katana with an ornate wooden handle. She noticed that Ranma was staring at the weapon. "Got it not far from here a couple hundred years before you were born." She unsheathed the katana. "The blade isn't folded, but it has good balance for training."
David nodded. "I'm sure it's plenty sharp enough to shave with."
Kuroneko held the katana ready. "Lets find out."
Ranma stepped back and watched the two. Kuroneko struck first, then the two began moving so fast that it was difficult for Ranma to see who was attacking and who was defending. The swords flashed in the light coming through the windows. The clangs of metal on metal rang out in rapid succession.
Kuroneko stepped back for a moment, katana ready. "Why aren't you wearing your favorite shirt?"
Ranma looked at David, noticing that his t-shirt had a picture of dolphins on it. David shrugged. "My cat shirt got cut and stained in a training accident."
Kuroneko shook her head. "Such a pity. I'll have to get you another one." She struck low.
David blocked. "I hope that it will last longer than the first one." He thrusted at her chest.
She parried. "I hope so, too." She flicked her katana, knocking David's sword out of his hand. He looked at the sword and sighed. She chuckled. "You're getting rusty, old man."
David pointed back to Ranma. "All the more reason to gather more strength against the Kurgan and Mazyutu."
Kuroneko lowered her katana. "I think one of them is here in Japan."
David nodded. "I think it is Mazyutu."
Kuroneko turned to look at Ranma. "And you think that he has a chance against the sorcerer?"
Ranma stepped forward. "Hey, I can fight pretty good."
David picked his sword up. "He's very impressive in kenpo."
Kuroneko shrugged. "Useless. Even if kicking did any good, he won't even get a chance to touch Mazyutu, let alone attack."
David turned back to Ranma. "This boy has other talents as well. He is extremely quick with his hands. He has impressive strength and stamina."
"Well." Kuroneko raised her katana to Ranma. "Let's see what you know, then."
Ranma unsheathed his mother's katana and held it ready. The two sparred for a few minutes. David watched with interest. *He looks like he's even better than our little match last night.*
Kuroneko knocked Ranma's katana out of his hands. "Enough."
Ranma looked over at David, who shrugged. "She always does that. You get used to it."
"I have to say this." Kuroneko stepped over to David, sheathing her weapon. "He is a fast learner. I think he even improved a bit during my little test."
Ranma confidently put his mother's katana back in the scabbard. "Tol-jya I'm good."
Kuroneko sighed. "It'll take more than a good martial artist with a fast katana to defeat Mazyutu. His name fits him. He knows enough black magic that he has been cutting us down like a plague. If we could keep him from using his magic, I might be able to beat him. As it is, even I don't have much of a chance."
"Does he know any chi attacks?" Ranma asked.
David shook his head. "I don't know. Why, do you know how to harness your chi?"
Kuroneko doubtfully folded her arms. "Lets see."
Ranma handed the katana to David and closed his eyes. As he concentrated, a glowing ball of energy formed in front of him. Ranma opened his eyes and yelled, "Moko takabisha!" The ball of energy flew out, striking one of the crates. The wood exploded. All that remained was some wood dust in the air and a burn mark on the concrete floor.
Kuroneko's jaw dropped. "I haven't seen anyone pull that much energy for a very long time." David nodded silently, eyes wide. Kuroneko looked back to Ranma. "You can rest for a moment." She looked over at David. "How much have you told him?"
David shook his head. "Not much yet. He felt his first quickening last night."
Kuroneko looked Ranma up and down. "So young. It would have been better to have waited."
"If Mazyutu is already in Japan, then training Ranma now may already be too late."
Kuroneko nodded. "The dark sorcerer's change in pattern was unexpected."
David bowed his head. "I should have known. The Kurgan tried to do the same thing to MacLeod before the Highlander had any training."
Kuroneko put her hand on David's shoulder. "Don't berate yourself for what you could have done. Besides, I've heard that you have been busy yourself. We should concentrate our efforts in preparing for the future."
David nodded and turned to Ranma. "Before I explain more, do you have any questions?"
Ranma looked over to David. "Yes, I want to know why this guy is hunting down immortals."
"All immortals are destined to fight," David explained. "We fight each other to the death. In the end, there can be only one. The last immortal to survive will receive the Prize."
"What's this prize?"
"The Prize is a kind of power. It's not unlike becoming emperor of the Earth. The one who wins the Prize will be able to hear the thoughts of mortals, to shape their destiny. If the one who wins the Prize is evil, like the Kurgan, or Mazyutu, then mankind will be doomed to suffer an eternity of darkness. If the one who wins the Prize is good, then mankind may learn to know peace."
"So, us good guys are ganging up on the bad guys?"
"We may only fight one-on-one. There can be no interference. You should also know that you are safe on holy ground."
"But we work together, right?"
Kuroneko sighed. "The Kurgan and Mazyutu are each very powerful warriors. If we are to prevent them from winning the prize, we have to fight with more than our hands. We must also use our heads and our hearts."
Ranma stared at the charred spot on the floor. He reached to David for the katana. "I have rested."
Kuroneko nodded. "Then, let's begin your training."
Ryoga sat at the campfire. Finding himself outside the town of Kokura didn't help his confidence that he would find his way to Tokyo again. They told him to follow the road straight to Tokyo. The only problem was that the road turned to the right, and by going straight as they had said, Ryoga found himself in the wilderness again. He poked at the fire with a stick, trying to figure out a way to blame his current state on Ranma.
A large Chinese man stepped out of the forest and into the light of the fire. Despite his Asian descent, the man must have been more than two meters tall. He wore a black cloak that covered red pants and a red vest. A number of black bags hung by his belt. His long raven hair matched his black eyes. He carried a very impressive looking two-handed sword leaned against his shoulder. As he slowly spoke, his deep, resonant voice sent a shiver down Ryoga's spine. "Tell me, young man, how I might find my way to Tokyo."
Ryoga shrugged. "I am trying to find my way there myself."
"Well then," the warmth in the man's voice sounded hollow and insincere, "perhaps we could travel together, since we are headed the same way."
Ryoga shifted uneasily. There was something about this man that made him very nervous. Actually, there were several things about the man that made him nervous. "I'd make a lousy guide."
The man knelt at the fire opposite Ryoga. "Then allow me to guide you. I'm sure I can find my way there with little trouble."
Ryoga shook his head again. "No thank you. I can manage."
The man stood up, stepping into the fire. Ryoga looked on wide eyed to see that neither the man nor his clothes were burning. The man shifted his sword on his shoulder. "Perhaps you do not like me. Are you frightened, little boy?"
Ryoga said nothing, but nervously reached for his umbrella.
The man peered directly into Ryoga's eyes. "Yes, I can see that you are uncomfortable. You look like a little black piglet that has seen a knife for the first time."
Ryoga found his umbrella, and swept it up into a ready stance. "Who are you?"
The man, still standing in the fire, bowed. "Forgive me for not introducing myself. I have many names. Around here, I am known as Kokushibyou Mazyutu. You may call me Mazyutu."
Ryoga shivered at the name, but held his umbrella steady. "What do you want with me?"
Mazyutu lowered his sword to poke at the embers at his feet. "I travel these lands looking for people like you. People who may try to interfere with my plans." He separated one of the red-hot coals from the others, pushing it over the dirt. "Some of these people I am fortunate to find before they realize their potential." He stabbed his sword down, shattering the ember. "I strike them down in their weakness." He pointed his sword to Ryoga. "You have yet to learn who you really are, what your full potential is. You have already grown strong. I would have dealt with you sooner, but," Mazyutu sighed, "I'm afraid that you are a difficult person to track down." Mazyutu looked at Ryoga's umbrella. "Don't you have a more formidable weapon with you?"
Ryoga hefted his umbrella. "This is all I need."
Mazyutu casually regarded Ryoga for a few seconds. "Well, I'm afraid that a heavy stick isn't going to do you much good."
"We'll see about that."
Mazyutu casually waved his hand. "Oh, very well." He raised his sword with one hand and let it drop on Ryoga. Ryoga hefted his umbrella with both hands and stopped the blade a few inches above his head. He grunted as he pushed the sword away. Mazyutu allowed the sword to swing up, twisting the handle so that the blade landed flat against his shoulder. "I must say that you are stronger than you look." He lazily swung his sword to Ryoga's side. Ryoga blocked, again with both hands on his umbrella. The clang of metal on metal echoed through the countryside. Ryoga noticed that the impact made him slide a bit on the ground. Ryoga also noticed that Mazyutu was holding the two-handed sword in one hand, keeping his other hand on his hip.
Ryoga shivered. "You're toying with me."
Mazyutu chuckled. "Well, it would not be nearly as interesting to merely chop you down, now, would it not?"
Ryoga took a deep breath and yelled as he struck the ground with his finger: "Bakusai tenketsu!" The blast knocked him back. He covered his face as rocks pelted him. He hit the ground on his shoulder and rolled. He looked up and waited for the dust to clear. He could see the crater. It was the largest he had ever made. The effort from the single blast nearly exhausted him. Rocks rained down, many of them rolling down into the new crater. He looked around, but could not see far through the dust cloud.
Laughter rang out across the crater. A hollow, resonant laughter that seemed to echo from everywhere. Ryoga saw Mazyutu walking around the rim of the crater as he drew nearer. Mazyutu stopped a couple of meters away and looked down into the crater. "Well, well. You certainly are full of surprises. Your breaking point crater is one of the biggest that I have seen, and I have seen quite a few in my time."
Ryoga stared at the dark man. "In your time?"
Mazyutu nodded. "Little boy, I was fighting samurai, ninjas, and wizards 1500 years before you were born. I have seen all kinds of magic." He planted his sword in the ground and held his hands a short distance apart, palms facing each other. "Especially black magic." The air between his palms began to glow red. The red glow grew into a large ball. Mazyutu stood, silently staring at Ryoga. The red ball grew brighter before shooting over and hitting Ryoga in the chest.
Ryoga was thrown back by the blast. Instead of being burnt by the energy, he felt a deep, piercing cold. He hit a tree and fell to the ground, shivering. Mazyutu pulled his sword out of the ground and slowly walked towards the lost boy. Ryoga watched helplessly as the dark man approached. *This is it,* he thought. * I'll never be able to beat Ranma. I'll never find a cure. I'm never going to see Akane again.* The last thought dropped him into depression. He could feel the depression deepen as he heard the footsteps. The blackness was beckoning him. A familiarity with the blackness chilled him even more. He could feel the power of depression swell inside him. An image of Akane, smiling at him, fed the blackness.
Mazyutu watched as the boy began to glow. His entire body was covered with a faint green light that was beginning to grow stronger. Mazyutu shouldered his sword. "What is this?" He held his hand out. A glowing red ball stretched from his hand and reached to the glowing boy. The green glow grew stronger at the touch of the red energy. "Most interesting." Mazyutu planted the sword again, and used both hands to form a larger red chi ball. The ball eventually took up the space between Mazyutu and Ryoga, the red glow becoming very bright. "Resistance is futile."
Ryoga didn't listen. He felt as if he were inflating like a balloon. His chi energy, feeding off his growing depression, was becoming harder and harder to contain. The chill he felt from the nearby red ball only feeding his depression further. Finally, when he could contain himself no longer, he yelled out, "Shishi hokoudan!" and blacked out.
Kuroneko treated Ranma and David to a sushi dinner. The three were sitting at the counter. Serving boats floated in a moat that surrounded two chefs. Sushi dishes bobbed on top of the boats. A TV mounted nearby was showing a live sumo wrestling match. Kuroneko finished off a roll before turning to Ranma. "I wanted to tell you that I have been very impressed with how quickly you have been learning."
Ranma blushed and poked at his rice with chopsticks.
"This is a special news report." The TV blared, getting the attention of most everyone in the restaurant. "A large explosion was recorded about twenty kilometers west of Yamaguchi. Debris from the blast has caused considerable damage to Yamaguchi as well as the towns of Hagi and Shimonoseki. Some of the debris has cleared the west coast, landing in the Sea of Japan. The tremor from the blast was felt as far away as Hiroshima, nearly one hundred kilometers to the east. Initial investigation shows no indication of radiation, ruling out the possibility that a nuclear weapon was used. Even though there are no witnesses yet to a confirm or deny a shooting star, authorities say they are not ruling out the possibility that a meteor has hit the western tip of the main island, Honshu. Miraculously, a survivor was found near the center of the hundred meter crater formed by the blast. The survivor is a teenage boy, and is listed in stable condition in a hospital in Yamaguchi. Unconfirmed reports of other injured people, but no casualties so far, have come from the surrounding area. We hope to have more information for you in the evening news, coming up next."
David turned to Ranma. "Could a chi blast make a crater that big?"
Ranma shook his head. "I don't know anyone who could draw enough energy to do something _that_ big."
Kuroneko stared at the TV for a moment. "Interesting coincidence that the survivor is a teenage boy. Know anyone in that area?"
Ranma thought a moment. "The only one I can think of is Ryoga. He doesn't live there, but he.... travels a lot."
"Does he get lost?" David asked.
Ranma nodded. "You could say that. How did you know?"
"I talked to Khu Lon about the immortals in this area. She said there was one that had no sense of direction. I don't understand how he could have survived that blast, though."
"He can make a big bang with a chi blast fed from depression. He wouldn't have hurt himself from that, but he couldn't have made anything that big. He and I together couldn't have done that, and the two of us can draw more chi than anyone I know."
David scratched his chin. "Hmm. I don't think we should rule out the possibility that Mazyutu may have had something to do with this. He might be able to draw a large enough chi blast or some other magic explosion like that."
Kuroneko nodded. "We should go there and get more information. The three of us together should be able to handle anything we find there."
Ranma turned. "You mean we might be able to defeat him together?"
Kuroneko sighed. "I don't know if we could defeat him, but we won't be easy prey either. I think we should find out what happened there, rather than staying here and waiting for him to come to us."
"Can we go back to my place first? I don't wanna leave without telling Akane."
David looked at Ranma. "Is she your girlfriend?"
"Well, she's kinda my fiancee. She'd get mad if I just took off without letting her know."
David sighed. "I won't tell you how to run your personal life, but I will warn you that having a relationship with a mortal will only bring you grief."
Ranma furrowed his brow. "How come?"
"You will remain as you are now, while she grows old and dies. I've been through that heartache twice myself. It's not an easy lesson to learn."
"Well, what if this Mazyu-guy kills me? Then, Akane would be the one crying. We don't know what's gunna happen. How is that any different from what I'm used to?"
David smiled, "I admire your spirit. You are more of a man than just a warrior."
Kuroneko sighed, holding her head up with her hand on her chin. "Are we done with this man-to-man junk? I'd like to get going."
David stood up. "You're right. Ranma, would it be ok if you called her?"
Ranma nodded, chuckling. "Looks like I'll be missing school tomorrow."
David looked at Ranma grimly. "If we win, you will have plenty of time to finish school later. If we lose, school won't matter anymore."
Kuroneko nodded sarcastically at David. "Great pep talk, Dave. Let's go."
The crater itself wasn't hard to find. The trees for a kilometer around it had been flattened. They could get a decent view from a nearby mountainside. It was a popular spot for people to get a good look, since the local officials would not let the general public near the actual site.
Ranma shook his head. "This doesn't look like a chi blast. The trees near the rim would be burnt. Those trees are still green."
David looked around the site. "Any explosion that size would generate enormous heat. Mt. St. Helens burned everything for kilometers around. You would think that all the plant life between here and there would have burnt off. The crater looks _really_ shallow."
Kuroneko nodded. "It's almost just a round clearing, like some sort of wind just blew everything away, only in all directions."
David stared at what looked to be the epicenter. "I get the feeling that black magic had a hand at this. We should see if the boy remembers anything."
Ryoga woke up in the hospital. A quick check reassured him that he was alive and whole. He was a little surprised to notice that he didn't have any wounds at all. He jumped out of the bed and looked around. In a small closet was his backpack and umbrella. His umbrella had broken through the wooden floor of the shelf in the closet. He also found his clothes in the closet. He quickly threw the hospital gown aside and put his clothes on. Without looking back, he broke through the window to the room and jumped out.
The trio didn't have much trouble finding the hospital in Yamaguchi. There was a crowd of onlookers and press agents at the front doors. David suggested that they look around the back side to see if they could find an easier way in. As they turned the corner of the building, they heard a window crash. Ranma looked up and recognized Ryoga standing in the broken window frame. On the fifth floor. Without looking, Ryoga jumped out and hit the ground below.
The three ran over to him. Ranma knelt and touched Ryoga's shoulder. Ryoga moaned and rolled over. Ranma smiled. "Nice goin', Ryoga. Better look where you're jumping next time."
Ryoga, unable to speak coherently yet, merely groaned again. David looked back to the side of the building. "Someone might have heard you. We better get going." Ranma picked up Ryoga's pack and umbrella. David hoisted Ryoga onto his shoulder. Kuroneko looked around and led the group down the next alley.
When they felt they were safely away, they found a temple. David put Ryoga down before the group walked through the front gate. Ranma looked at his friend. "How do you feel?"
Ryoga nodded. "I'm fine. I've hit rocks with more force learning bakusai tenketsu."
David blinked. "Did you ever wonder why you could take such a beating and live?"
Ryoga shook his head. Ranma chuckled. "You always had a thick skull." Ryoga hit Ranma in the shoulder, but his heart wasn't in it. He looked at the two strangers. Ranma waved at them. "This is David White, and this is Kuroneko. They're.... martial artists, like us." Ranma took Ryoga's pack off of his back and handed it back to the lost boy. He then shifted his mother's katana from the impression it had made on his skin. "Man, your pack is heavy."
Ryoga turned to Ranma. "What's going on, Ranma? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's all your fault."
Kuroneko put a hand an Ryoga's shoulder. "We will have time for petty little squabbles later. We need to know what happened here."
Ryoga looked at a nearby rock garden as recent memories began to surface. "I was trying to find my way to Nerima. A large man came to my camp. He wanted to come to Tokyo with me. We had a fight." Ryoga closed his eyes.
David stepped closer. "Did you try a chi attack?"
Ryoga thought. "I tried the bakusai tenketsu." He concentrated more. There was something about the fight that he could not remember. That he did not want to remember. "It didn't help. I was losing.... I was depressed."
Ranma suggested, "Did you try the shishi hokoudan?"
Ryoga put his hands on his temples. Finally, he dropped his hands and sighed. "I don't remember."
Ranma folded his arms. "You were depressed, so you might have, right?"
Ryoga shrugged. "I might have. Why do you care?"
"You were found in a huge blast crater. We're trying to find out what happened."
Ryoga blinked. "How big?"
"About 100 meters across," said Kuroneko.
Ryoga blinked again. "Even at my best... at my worst, I've never made anything that big."
Ranma chuckled. "I told them you couldn't have done it."
David ignored Ranma's teasing. "Tell me more about the man you fought."
Ryoga shook his head. "He was big, black. Said his name was Mazy-something."
Ryoga nodded. "Yeah, I think that was it."
Ranma looked at his friend. "I don't suppose you know where he went."
"I don't even know how the fight ended! How could I know something like that?!"
"Calm down," Kuroneko soothed. "If he was nearby, we would know."
David sighed. "The news report said that some of the debris went as far as the coast. If he was in the blast, he could have been knocked anywhere within a 20 kilometer radius."
Kuroneko shook her head. "But that wouldn't make sense. If Ryoga didn't make the blast, then Mazyutu must have. But, then why would Ryoga be here and Mazyutu get knocked away? If Mazyutu wasn't knocked away, why did he leave Ryoga?"
David turned to Ranma. "Is it possible to reflect a chi blast?"
Ranma shook his head. "Not that I know of. Ryoga?"
Ryoga looked back. "I only know how to make chi blasts."
David sighed. "Well, I think we should figure out a way to find him, then. If he made the blast, I doubt that he would go far away without finishing Ryoga off. He seems to hate unfinished business. If he didn't make the blast, he can't have been sent too far away."
Ranma looked at David. "If he didn't make the blast, he might be hurt right now."
Kuroneko shook her head. "He knows some very strong black sorcery. He might have been able to feed off of it and be more powerful."
"If he is stronger," David said, "we need to find out before he attacks. If he is weaker, one of us might be able to defeat him before he regenerates. Either way, we should find him as quickly as we can."
"That might be easier than you think." A deep, resonant voice said.
The four looked around. Each one of them noticing a dark Chinese man sitting casually on a shrine arch.
Ranma and Ryoga quickly dropped into ready stances. David held his hand out, almost impatient. "No fighting on holy ground."
Ranma relaxed. Ryoga looked over to Ranma, asking, "What?"
Ranma opened his mouth. He noticed that Mazyutu was looking directly at him. He put his hand on Ryoga's shoulder. "I'll tell ya' later."
Mazyutu dropped down to the ground. Kuroneko realized with a shiver that he only took a few steps before she could detect his presence as an immortal.
He stopped less than a meter from the group, empty hands as his sides. "I suppose you picked up the pig-cursed boy to find out what happened."
Kuroneko and David turned to Ryoga, who's eyes flared. Ranma held his hand up again. "Later."
Mazyutu turned to Ranma, peering deep into his eyes. "I see that there is much yet to be explained, is there not, little lady? Such fiery red hair. Such fighting spirit. I understand why David is interested in you. You look like the one person who can make up for so many of his shortcomings."
Ranma looked over to David, whose face was a blank mask. David spoke, his tone nearly emotionless. "Enough pointless personal jabs, old man. You must be curious as well. I doubt that you would show up merely to insult us and tell us how you failed to kill Ryoga."
Mazyutu smiled. "What is there to hide about events in the past? What is done is done." He stepped over to Ryoga, staring down at the lost boy. "Before I tell you, though, I have a single question." He knelt down, bringing his face uncomfortably close to Ryoga's. "What did you feel during those last moments of our battle?"
Ryoga squirmed. He still did not want to remember, but something in Mazyutu's gaze cut through the fog in his mind. He heard his own voice, but did not remember saying the word: "Depression."
Mazyutu smiled. "I understand." Ryoga, even more unsettled, looked away.
David stepped close, attempting to get between Ryoga and Mazyutu. His voice filled with hollow concern. "Oh dear, I just realized that your sword is missing. Such a prized weapon." Mazyutu stood, looking down at David. David didn't change his expression or his tone of voice. "You must have it tucked away. A safe hiding place."
The two faced off for a few tense seconds, before Mazyutu's frown melted into a smile. "Yes, it is in a safe place. You need not worry about me. Even unarmed, I can take care of myself." He turned and began to walk away.
"Hey," David called to the black sorcerer's back. Mazyutu stopped and slowly turned. David waited a moment before finishing. "Don't lose your head."
Mazyutu smiled, bowing slightly, before turning back and walking towards the temple exit.
Ranma watched the black cloak sway in the distance. He reached behind his back, fingering his mother's katana. "He must have been weakened. He didn't know what Ryoga fed his shishi hokoudan from."
Kuroneko shook her head. "This seems too convenient. He is hiding more than what happened in the forest."
David nodded. "I agree. He's playing mind games with us. He wants one of us to attack now, while we think he is defenseless."
"But he doesn't have his sword, right?" Ranma impatiently fidgeted with the handle of the katana. "He didn't tease us or nothin', like he wanted to get us mad at him."
David looked at Ranma. "That's what he _wants_ us to think."
Ranma frowned at David. "What?! You're beginning to sound like my old man. You just want to avoid any kind of fight you can." Ranma unslung the katana and ran after Mazyutu.
Kuroneko held a hand out, yelling, "Ranma, wait!"
David stood there, staring at the young man running down the path.
Ryoga looked at the two for a moment. "Well, why don't we follow him?"
Kuroneko turned to David, eyes wide. David stood their calmly. Ryoga wanted to step around and see what the expression on David's face was, but it was a huge amount of effort to move at all. David spoke quietly, calmly, as if detached from the current situation, a spectator. "Because I can't move."
Ranma ran, sword sheathed but ready. The gate they had walked through minutes ago was ahead. A forest path leading from there into the fog. The rest of Yamaguchi only a few minutes walk away. He would have to hurry and find the immortal before he reached the city. Not only would it be harder to track someone down in the city, but Mazyutu was likely to find something he could use as a weapon there.
Ranma sprinted out the gate, running headlong into the fog. His reflexes allowing him to jump over logs and duck under branches without slowing down. He saw a dark figure ahead.
He unsheathed the katana, dropping the scabbard. The figure in the fog was not moving quickly. It was tall and dark. The image of the cloak walking slowly in the temple matching the image he saw before him. As he reached the figure, he leapt into the air. He struck hard as he dropped onto the figure. The sword buried itself halfway into the shoulders...
He hit the trunk and fell to the ground, the katana still lodged deep into the wood. Ranma rubbed his head and looked up. Only the handle and a short distance of blade was visible. The rest was securely wedged into the tree stump that had looked exactly like Mazyutu only moments before. Ranma allowed himself a few moments of quiet swearing before jumping up and grabbing the handle, pulling with all his strength.
David could feel the force that was holding him weaken. He concentrated on wiggling his toes. His upper body was not restrained at all, but his legs would not moved. It felt as though he were buried up to his waist in sand. Kuroneko saw him move his foot. "Good," she said, "I can feel it weaken, too." David could hear Ryoga grunting and straining behind him.
As he managed to slide a foot forward a bit, he heard a yell from ahead. He tried again, and managed to fall onto his stomach. He caught himself with his hands. A thump on his head told him that his sword had come loose in his scabbard.
He heard footsteps approaching. He looked up, hitting his head on the hilt of his sword again. It was Ranma.
Ranma stopped a short distance from the trio and stared. "What's wrong with you guys?"
Kuroneko managed to twist one of her feet in place. "Some sort of spell, we can't move."
Ranma held his hands out. "I can run around fine." He stepped towards David. "I think I know where he is, but my katana got stuck. Let me use your sword."
David ducked his head, allowing Ranma to take the sword completely out. Without another word, Ranma turned and ran back out the gate.
Kuroneko's eyes narrowed. "David."
David, now able to look up more easily, looked up to Kuroneko. He managed to get his knees bent enough to almost kneel in the process. "What?"
"Did Ranma train with your sword much?"
David shook his head. "No, he seemed to like the lighter katana."
"Then why didn't he ask for my katana?"
David's eyes opened wide, the realization hitting him hard enough that he literally fell over. "Because that wasn't Ranma. Mazyutu likes the bigger swords..."
Ranma had barely gotten the sword to budge when he heard footsteps coming from the direction of the temple. Not being able to see very far in the fog, he yanked again at the hilt. The wood groaned, and the sword came out a few centimeters. The footsteps became louder. Ranma turned and looked behind him to see David approach, his sword in his hand. Ranma relaxed. "Man, I'm glad to see you."
David stepped up quietly. "It appears that you are stuck. Let me cut you free."
Ranma opened his mouth to say something, but he was forced to jump out of the way as David swung and struck at him. The large sword cut a healthy chunk of wood where Ranma had been just a moment before. Ranma landed on the pathway behind David. "At least you could wait until I'm outta the way."
David turned to face Ranma, smiling. He held a black bag in one hand, his sword in the other. "Ah, but your reflexes are fast enough to keep you out of harm's way, are they not?"
Ranma stared at David. Something was weird. "Come on, David. We need to get him before he gets a chance to hide and recover his strength."
David continued to smile. He began to chuckle. His chuckling grew into laughter. As he laughed, his body grew and changed. Ranma stared as Mazyutu stood before him, laughing. The sorcerer calmed down quickly. He sneered as he spat the words out, "I see, you think I am weak and easily beaten, do you?"
Before Ranma could reply, he leapt back as David's sword struck out.
Kuroneko could move her legs stiffly. She managed to take a couple of faltering steps. She could feel the weight on her legs lighten. She could see that David had enough use of his legs to sit up. She turned and saw that Ryoga was overcoming the spell using sheer will and strength. The spell weakened. Then it was broken so quickly that she nearly fell over. Ryoga landed on his hands and knees. All three of them quickly began to run for the gate.
As they reached the forest path, she noticed that visibility was reduced by a strange fog. She slowed, holding her hand out to slow the other two. She took her katana out and held it ready. Ryoga took his umbrella out, holding it in one hand. The three cautiously, wordlessly began to step through the forest path. An eerie silence made them feel very uneasy. Kuroneko continued to lead, Ryoga followed, and David picked up the rear, keeping an eye behind them.
She continued down the path, crossing over a small creek. As she walked beyond the sounds of water, she noticed other sounds, muffled in the distance. A voice was speaking. A sound like an axe cutting wood. A grunt of exertion. As she continued, she was able to pick out two distinct voices. One of the was Mazyutu. The other could have been Ranma, but he didn't say enough for her to be sure. She hoped that no one else was unlucky enough to get caught out here.
Before she could see them, she could feel their presence as immortals. *They should be able to feel us as well.*
Ranma landed on the tree branch, comfortably out of Mazyutu's reach. He was madly trying to think of a way to distract the sorcerer enough to get a chance to yank at his sword.
Mazyutu looked up into the tree, black bag still in his free hand. "Come down, little boy. Or should I say..." he threw the bag at Ranma.
The bag somehow managed to miss the branches as it flew up to Ranma. Ranma leapt off the branch as the bag neared. He watched helplessly as the bag arced upwards, changing it's path and hitting him square in the stomach. The bag disintegrated, splashing a cool, white powder over his torso. He could feel himself change in mid-air, realizing too late that her arms would no longer reach the branch she had aimed for. She twisted as she fell past her target, trailing white powder. She extended her legs and landed uneasily on the uneven forest floor. The dust of the powder surrounded her, making her cough.
Mazyutu chuckled. "...little girl."
She glanced at her mother's katana, still buried in the tree stump. *I could barely get it to budge as a guy, there was no way I have the strength get it loose as a girl.* She sighed, looking back to Mazyutu. *I do have more speed now.* She got an idea, and leapt to the top of the tree stump where the katana was stuck. "Hey old man," she taunted. "You're stupid bag of tricks doesn't scare me."
Mazyutu stepped slowly to the stump and laughed. "You think you can anger me into striking at you. You want me to cut your katana free." Ranma blinked and stepped back as Mazyutu approached. "Very well, if you think your weapon will help you." He casually grabbed the hilt of the katana and pulled it free. He then threw the katana at Ranma, blade first.
Ranma stepped to the side and caught the katana by the handle.
Mazyutu stepped back, beckoning Ranma. "Come down, little girl. How much have you trained in your cursed form?"
Ranma gasped, realizing that he had not trained at all as a girl with his mother, David, or Kuroneko.
Kuroneko cautiously stepped closer, noticing that Mazyutu was facing a red-headed girl. The girl was holding Ranma's katana. Her clothes looked similar to Ranma's, but the material was a lighter color. David stepped up and whispered, "That's Ranma. Jusenkyo curse."
Kuroneko turned to David, incredulously. "Jury-what?"
Ryoga shook his umbrella. "We should help him....her"
David grabbed Ryoga's umbrella. "No, we cannot interfere."
Ranma dropped down in front of Mazyutu, katana ready. Mazyutu swung David's sword. Ranma easily ducked under it and jabbed the katana up into Mazyutu's stomach. She pulled the blade out and jumped back.
Mazyutu chuckled. "Is that little poke supposed to hurt?"
Ranma hesitated, remembering what David had said. *I've got to cut off his head. No problem, I'm fast enough.* She watched Mazyutu draw back for another swing. She stepped inside the swing, blocking the blade with the katana. The katana hit, but the sword continued to swing. Ranma pushed back, but was unable to keep the sword from striking her shoulder, cutting deep into her arm. She jumped away, letting go of the katana with her right hand to hold her shoulder. She could feel the blood on her hand before she landed. The katana shook in her grip.
Mazyutu chuckled again. "Does it hurt, little girl?"
Ranma jumped and rebounded off a nearby tree. Mazyutu turned as she fell towards him. He didn't have time to step out of the way, but he moved enough that the swing of the katana blade harmlessly grazed his shoulder. Ranma landed back on the path. She stepped back up, yelling "Kachu tenshin amaguriken!" The katana became a blur, striking at Mazyutu faster than anyone could see. Ranma could feel the strikes connect, but Mazyutu didn't seem to be getting cut anywhere. Instead, he smiled.
She looked down, seeing that he was holding another black bag a small distance in front of himself. He tossed the bag at Ranma. She felt as though an invisible wall landed on top of her. The incredible weight forcing her to fall back. She twisted as she fell, and the bag hit the ground beside her. As she got back up, she noticed that the bag sank into the ground where it hit.
She looked back up to Mazyutu in time to see his swing. She rolled, and David's sword connected with the ground beside the bag. He swung the sword again. This time, she ducked under the swing, jumping past him after the sword passed over her head. She landed, looking back at his belt. As he turned to face her, his belt and black bags fell to the ground.
Mazyutu sneered. "I don't need my magic to cut you, little girl." He stepped forward and swung again. Ranma held the katana with her right hand, stepping beside the sword and swinging the katana. The blade cut into Mazyutu's knee. He fell to his knees, gasping in surprise when his leg no longer supported his weight. Ranma brought the katana down, cutting Mazyutu's right arm off at the elbow. David's sword fell out of reach. Mazyutu grabbed his stump with his left hand, yelling in surprise and pain.
Ranma could feel her left shoulder heal. She grabbed the katana with both hands. She could hear Mazyutu mutter through clenched teeth, "A girl....a little girl...."
Ranma narrowed her eyes. She had a dozen snappy comebacks come to mind, but only one made its way past her throat as she raised the katana over her head. "There can be only one!" She brought the katana down with all her strength. The blade sliced cleanly through Mazyutu's neck and cut into the ground below.
She leaned onto the sword. She wasn't winded from the battle, but she could feel her strength drain as she fell to her knees. She watched Mazyutu's body twitch as blue lightening sparked from it. It lifted into the air, and the lightning became stronger. Suddenly, a bolt of blue lightning struck Ranma. She felt the energy pour through her body. She had no choice but to scream as she could feel every muscle in her body tense uncontrollably. The image of the forest dissolved into a blue-white cloud. Her skin felt as though it was burning from the heat and bursting from the pressure inside of her. Amidst the blinding light and burning energy, she could feel his body changing. Then, suddenly, the energy vanished. He collapsed, unable to catch his breath for a few seconds.
As he recovered, he saw Kuroneko, David, and Ryoga walk down the path towards him. The first two just stared at the now motionless body. Ryoga spoke first. "What the heck were all those fireworks?"
Ranma remembered how he felt when David told him he was an immortal, when lightning had struck them at the Tendo home. The sensation was similar to what he just felt. This time, it was more... pleasurable. He looked at David before answering, "The quickening." He could feel his strength returning, and stood up.
Ryoga looked at Ranma. "How the heck did you do that?"
Ranma patted Ryoga's shoulder as the group began to walk towards the city. "It's a long story."
Just before they disappeared into the fog, Kuroneko turned to Ryoga. "What did he mean by 'pig-cursed boy'?"
Ranma opened his mouth and began to say something. Ryoga glared at him. Ranma hesitated, and decided to say something else. "That's another story..."
Ranma 1/2 characters are creations of Rumiko Takahashi.
Highlander concepts are trademarks and property of Davis/Panzer Productions.
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