“Good. Now follow me and when we reach the end of the tunnel, give me ten minutes.”
The rescue team entered the trap door and slid down the ladder. The passage was dark and filled with cobwebs. The shop owner passed down a couple of lanterns and some flashlights. Suteko thanked him and passed them out. As they set out, Akane came forward to walk at his side. “Are you sure we can trust that man?”
Suteko nodded. “Mr. Tsuirno was Uncle Tanto’s closest friend. They vowed brotherhood. He would never betray my uncle or me as his heir.”
The trip through the tunnel was tense. Each member was readying their various weapons. Mousse adjusted his sleeves, the faint sound of metal echoing in the stone hall. Shampoo hefted her Bonbori and slid them back into place. Ukyo checked the hang of her bandoleer and gripped her battle spatula tightly. Finally they reached the end of the tunnel without mishap. Suteko stopped them just before the entrance. He nodded to each team member and then stepped and disappeared.
The temple was quiet inside. The faint scent of incense rested in the air. Suteko eased past the statue and looked about. Things looked very different when he was using this technique. The colors of things were off and any movement seemed slow. The temple was empty and he moved out of the temple into the courtyard. He spotted two guards over by the main house and moving quickly he pulled his staff out and came into view, just in front of them.
“Hello.” He smiled as the men did a double take and then quickly rapped them each on the skull. The first obstacle was dealt with. He dragged the men away from the building and into the temple. After Suteko tied and gagged the two guards, he returned to the house. Slipping inside was amazingly easy. He left the side door open for the others and moved silently along the halls. Between the ability to sidestep and an intense training in stealth, Suteko was more like a ghost than a person. On the ground floor he found it easy to avoid the various people working there. He chuckled as he appeared and disappeared. The first time he decided to appear to a person was in the kitchen. It was an old and fun trick. When a young girl first learning to step sideways she used to pop up in the kitchen, scaring her uncle’s cook. With a chuckle he stepped into the room and demanded food and water, making a real nuisance of himself until just when the food was ready , then he disappeared. The next time was across the ground floor in what looked to be a trophy room. When Suteko stepped into the room it was empty. He examined the various weapons on display. The variety of edged weapons and the still visible blood stains made him shudder. He stood contemplating one particularly bloody piece when a man walked into the room.
“What are you doing in here?” His voice was surprised and when Suteko turned to face him the guard’s eyes grew big. “You!” As far as the guard knew, the boy before him was supposed to be asleep in a room off the master’s workroom.
“Me.” Suteko smiled and fell into a combat stance. The man took one look and ran out. He knew that the master had plans for this young man and he didn’t want to get in the way. Suteko laughed out loud. This was fun. Looking like his brother could come in handy in the future. Still chuckling he turned and went out and continued his reign of confusion.
“It’s time.” Akane pointed her flashlight at her watch.
“Let’s hope Suteko has taken out the guards.” Mousse said grimly. The others nodded as they started up the ladder. One at a time, they came up into the old temple. The saw the two unconscious guards and made their way quietly across the yard. They slid into the back hall and after a quick check at their map, they headed toward the room that Suteko believed Ranma to be held in. Their movement through the halls seemed too easy and Ukyo commented on it.
“Where is everyone?” She looked around nervously.
“Suteko is just doing her job.” Akane whispered but she too was nervous. From all Cologne and Suteko had said it should have been much harder to get where they were. But they walked thorough the empty halls much too easily.
Each of the children heading toward the “secret” room were of a high skill level. The two boys having in one great strength and endurance, the other a great weapon skill and the art of hiding those weapons. Of the three girls, only Ranma’s fiancee, Akane, held no interest for him. She was a good fighter but held too much temper. Her ability to pull a massive mallet from no where was interesting but not enough to go to the trouble of keeping her. He would use her as the first test of Ranma. Killing her would prove the boy was his. He stood and walked to the bedside of the slumbering boy. It was time to administer the second treatment, wiping the boy’s memories. It was too bad that this wasn’t all he needed to do. The memories could be brought back with a simple blow to the right spot on the skull. Luckily none of the children below were up to the boy’s ability. He watched as the boy started to wake and then reached out and tapped his skull again.
Ranma opened his eyes slowly. Nothing looked familiar. He searched his mind for anything that was. He blinked in confusion at the face of the old man above him. Ito looked down and spoke. “Hello, my son.”
“What do they have weapon-wise?” Mousse asked, pushing up his glasses.
“I didn’t see any guns but I did see a couple with swords.”
“I will deal with those.” The others nodded. Mousse’s hidden chains would be best for taking out the swords.
“Let’s go,” Ryouga cracked his knuckles impatiently.
As one they ran around the corner and attacked. The guards sprang up and pulled out their hidden weapons. Each of the team found themselves facing opponents.
Mousse sent his chains arcing out toward the two swordsmen. The first was ensnared but the second dodged and charged forward. Mousse dropped the chains and calmly brought out his hand claws. He and the guard slowly circled each other before dashing in and slashing at each other. Mousse parried the sword with one set of claws, trapping it between the thin metal blades of the claw. With the other clawed hand, he swung at the swordsman. The guard dodged back just in time - but not before the claws tore open his shirt, cutting deep enough to leave four long, thin red marks on his exposed skin. The swordsman showed surprise for the briefest of moments, but then smirked. “You are good, boy.” The guard stepped back and prepared for a second charge. Mousse took a defensive stance and waited for the attack to come.
Ukyo found herself facing a fighter holding twin tonfa, or short sticks. She held her battle spatula across her body, and charged, swinging. The woman easily blocked the giant cooking tool with the sticks and kicked out, aiming at Ukyo's knees. Ukyo jumped straight up to dodge the woman's kick, which shattered a decorative statue sitting nearby. The okonomiyaki chef counterattacked, flying downward with an outstretched foot, barely missing the tonfa woman, who had rolled out of the way just in time. Ukyo started to break a sweat. “This one's gonna be tough,” she thought to herself as her and the woman traded blows....
Shampoo leapt, flying with one foot out toward her opponent, a well-muscled man who held no weapon. “But from his look,” Shampoo thought, “he no need one.” The man sneered at the Amazon's attack and grabbed Shampoo's kicking foot, throwing her viciously towards the wall. Keeping calm as she accelerated towards the concrete barrier, Shampoo turned her body and used her feet to touch the wall briefly and jump off it, flying back toward her opponent. Pulling out her prized weapons, her bonbori, she flipped over once and brought the heavy weight on the end of one down in a slashing motion, intending to knock him out. However, the man managed to stop it - with his bare hand!
“Is that all you can do, girl?” the man said, hardly changing the sneer on his face.
“Aiyaa!” Shampoo spoke in disbelief. “He strong opponent!”
Still sneering, the large man threw Shampoo again, making her lose her hold on one of her bonbori. The other clattered on the floor, and moments later, Shampoo followed it, landing painfully. The big man advanced menacingly, holding the Amazon's bonbori in his hand like a club. Shampoo desperately rolled to her feet, and pulling a hidden shuriken from behind her ear, she threw it at the man. The man felt a sharp pain as the throwing star sliced his cheek on the left side. With a bestial roar, the man charged the now unarmed Shampoo....
Compared to Shampoo's opponent, Ryouga's looked diminutive. A small man in Chinese clothes blocked his way. Smiling inwardly at his fortune at getting such a small opponent, Ryouga ran forward and punched the little man's face, sending him flying into the pavement. The little man stood up and smiled. Charging again, Ryouga tried a kick, which connected with the man's ribs. The man never changed his expression as Ryouga tried punches, kicks, and uppercuts, all of which failed to faze the man. “What's he made of?” Ryouga thought, getting frustrated. “I've hit him hard enough to smash open that stupid skull of his, and he's still standing! What do I have to do?” Ryouga yelled a battle cry as he turned quickly and performed a spinning kick to the man's head, hitting hard.
The little man only smiled as his head snapped back and attacked with a flurry of punches, causing Ryouga to flip backward and assume a defensive posture. “Grrr....” Ryouga growled “Bakusai Tenketsu!” Ryouga poked the cement floor, causing it to crack and rupture in front of the Chinese man, who dodged with little difficulty.
The little man finally spoke “Ah, so you know that little trick too....heh. Doesn't it go like this?” The man poked the ground with his own finger, causing it to rupture around a surprised Ryouga who had to jump to the side to avoid being swallowed up.
“So _that's_ how come I'm not getting him,” Ryouga thought. “He had the same endurance training I had! This is going to be more interesting than I thought!” Ryouga said aloud. “Come on!” He assumed a combat stance, re-thinking his strategy.
The little man took on a grim expression and flew at Ryouga with punches and kicks. Both connected with hard blows, and it didn't look like either one was going to fall anytime soon....
Akane moved toward the two guards still standing at the door. She was unsure just what to do. She wasn’t quite the fighter that her friends were. One of the guards noticed her and laughed. “Come here little girl. We'll protect you from the fighters over there.” He leered at Akane and then looked over at the other guard and grinned. “Look what we have here, a pretty play thing.” He didn’t get much further as he slumped to the ground with Akane’s mallet resting firmly on his skull. The other guard took a look and with a sick expression he pulled out a staff and swung at Akane’s hands, hoping to knock the mallet out of her hands. Akane grimaced in pain as the staff hit her wrists smartly, but her grip on the mallet held as she used it to bring the staff's end up and get within the man's defense, connecting hard with the man's head. The man slumped to the floor, unconscious. “Guess I'm not that bad after all...” Akane said, smiling.
Akane never saw the third guard who suddenly leaped out of the shadows and attacked her.
The guard leapt out with his hands, grabbing Akane's throat and squeezing. Akane screamed and dropped the mallet, clutching her hands vaguely in back of her to try and attack the man, but to no use. The man lifted the struggling Akane off her feet, still squeezing the life slowly out of Akane. Akane flailed in frustration, but gradually, her flailing grew weaker and weaker. A weak Akane concentrated, focusing herself through the lack of oxygen as the room swam before her...
The guard saw Akane seemingly lose consciousness and go limp. He smiled evilly at his success and turned to help the others with their opponents...
Ryouga heard Akane's cry from the other side of the room as he battled with the Chinese man, who was struggling to peel himself off a wall to attack. Ryouga turned toward the direction of the scream and looked around the room, seeing his friends locked in battle with their opponents. And then he saw, with horror, his worst nightmare. Ryouga looked in terror as he saw Akane go limp in the guard's large hands. The guard dropped the short-haired girl roughly, and Akane crumpled to the floor.
“No...” Ryouga thought. “Akane...” He looked to the form of the youngest Tendo girl, unmoving on the cement floor. “Akane....it can't be...no! I never even told you I...that I...noooooooooo!” Ryouga's screaming thoughts came out of his mouth in a roar of “Nooooooooooo!”
The other fighters stopped to look at the screaming Ryouga in bewilderment. The Chinese man had managed to pick himself off the wall and stand in front of Ryouga, wondering why he wasn't attacking. And then Ryouga saw the smile on the guard's face, as he turned.
The killer of the one he loved.
“Oh Akane...it just can't be!!!” Ryouga thought painfully. And in his hand, a small green ball of energy began to glow....Anger rushed up and covered Ryouga's face as he shouted at the guard through his tears. “YOU!!! YOU...WILL......PAY!!!!” The ball of energy grew brighter and larger as it began to take shape in Ryouga's hands....
The Chinese man looked at Ryouga fearfully, seeing the dangerous buildup within the boy...
Ukyo, Shampoo, and Mousse stopped their fighting and looked at the glowing Ryouga. Knowing what was coming they all ran for cover, leaping behind the statues in the room.
Their opponents, on the other hand, were left wondering what was wrong with their enemies. They found out all too soon...
Ryouga's depression had reached it's peak. He sweated profusely as he kept the massive amount of energy inside him. But now he released it, attacking with all the pain and anguish he felt over seeing Akane crumple to the floor...
“SHISHI HOKOUDAN!!!” yelled Ryouga as he let the energy fly from his hands. A full bar of green energy flew toward the guards and engulfed the entire room in destructive chi energy. The giant blast knocked out all of the guards the team was fighting as it traveled, and slammed into the guard who had supposedly killed Akane, causing him to fly through the door at the end of the room and into the long hallway. Ryouga fell to his knees, seeing the guard and his fellows pass out on the floor unconscious. As the energy dissipated, Ukyo, Shampoo and Mousse peeked out of their hiding places behind the statues. Creeping out slowly and carefully, they examined the unconscious bodies of the guards.
“Wow. He beat them all.” said Shampoo as she and Mousse bent over each fallen guard.
“That boy's got some serious power,” said Ukyo walked over to the dazed Ryouga. “Hey sugar, are you OK?” She shook him gently.
Ryouga came back to himself and stared at what he had done. He saw the guards passed out and his friends looking at him with concern.
“I'm OK,” said Ryouga, as he realized again the situation. “Akane!”
He and the team walked over to the fallen Akane, who seemed dead. Ryouga knelt by Akane's side as the others looked on with grim expressions.
“She...she... no dead, is she?” said Shampoo, who looked down at the form of Akane.
“Seems..seems that way,” said Ukyo as she looked at Ryouga, who clutched Akane's hand in his, and looked like he would never let go.
“Oh Akane...” Ryouga said through closed eyes and tears. “It can't be...I never told you that I..that I...”
“That.... you..... what, Ryouga?” a weak voice said.
Ryouga's eyes snapped open has he looked at Akane trying to sit up.
“You're alive! Thank God!” Ryouga cried as he squeezed Akane in a hug.
Akane smiled uncomfortably as Ryouga embraced her in a bear hug. “Of course I'm .....alive! We have to...get to Ranma, remember? Say, what happened to the guards?”
Ryouga let go of her suddenly and put his hand behind his head, laughing nervously “Sorry. I sorta....” He trailed off.
Akane stood unsteadily, supported by Shampoo and Ukyo. “Well, as long as the threat's gone. C'mon. We have to go find Ranma, right?”
“Yeah..” said Ryouga as he stood up.
The team walked out of the room together, leaving the guards behind.
“By the way,” Ukyo said. “How did you survive that? I thought you were...gone..for sure..”
Akane smiled and leaned off of Shampoo and Ukyo, able to walk on her own. “You guys aren't the only ones who know martial arts tricks,” she said as she winked. “I have a few of my own. After all, I'm a martial artist, too!”
The team moved off in silence after that, towards the door at the end of the long, dark, hallway.
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