As if making up for his earlier bad luck his mother stood in the room holding the door open. Suteko took it as a sign from the gods and slid past his mother and into the room. As he got past the doorway he spotted Akane strapped to a chair and moved to stand across from her. He listened to the plans of his grandfather and scowled. Those plans would never happen, he would make sure of that.
Suteko stood, still as stone, and listened to his mother’s plans. His heart sank. He had not wanted to believe that Atsuko had changed so very much. To tell a young girl that she was going to have her fiancé kill her and then have him kill his own parents. He swallowed back the tears that came to his eyes. “No, Mother, I won’t allow this.” He stepped into view. Akane’s eyes widened with hope.
Atsuko spun about. She saw a boy standing by the doorway. She was confused at first but after looking for a long moment into the green eyes she knew this was not Ranma. Her mind refused to accept that this boy was her daughter in male form, just as she had not accepted Ito’s explanation earlier. “How did you make it here, boy?”
Suteko sighed, “You know how.” He stepped forward. “Release Akane.” His voice allowed no room for argument. Atsuko stepped away from the girl bound in the chair and toward the row of buttons on the wall.
“And why would I let her go, boy?” She reached and pushed a button. An alarm sounded, startling both Suteko and Akane. Atsuko then spun about with a staff in her hands. “You will stand very still, young man. Grandfather seems to desire your presence and what grandfather wants he gets.”
Suteko moved forward, reaching for the staff. The room was too small for a staff battle and he didn’t wanted to hurt his mother, no matter what she had become. He caught the hard wood as it came down. Using the advantage of his size he pulled hard but Atsuko twisted to the side and kicked out at his knee. Suteko jumped over the kick and flipped over his mother’s head, taking the staff from her hands. “I’m sorry Mother but I have to do this.” He quickly brought the staff down on the back of her head, knocking her unconscious. He caught her as she fell and eased her to the floor. “Why, Mother? Why side with Ito?”
With a sigh he got back to his feet and looked over the row of buttons. Pushing the one labeled restraints, he turned as he heard a click. Akane was up and out of the chair faster than a thought. “Come on, we have to get the others loose!”
“No, Akane. We can’t do that from here.” Suteko shook his head.
“Why?” She moved forward.
“None of the buttons here can release their bonds, plus they are going to be out for hours. How can you and I carry the whole group out by ourselves?” Akane stood with her mouth open for a moment but then she nodded. Suteko moved to the door and eased it open. “We have to get out of here, now.” He could see a squad of four guards heading toward the room they were in. “Akane, we’re going to have to fight our way out of here.” Akane stepped up and peeked out the door. “I don’t know your fighting ability but if we work together we should be able to get past these guys. When we do, I want you to head out and do the following.” Suteko quickly outlined a plan and then swung the door wide and ran into the hall.
The guards stopped in their tracks when they spotted Suteko. He smiled at crooked a finger. “Come on guys. Let’s rumble.” The guards looked at each other and then as one moved forward. Suteko spun the staff he had taken from his mother, moving forward in a sidewise motion. The first two guards flanked him. One was bare handed, the other held a pair of nunicuckas. The one with the nuncuks darted forward aiming at the boy’s hands. Suteko short armed the staff, catching the other’s weapon and whipping it out of the guard’s hands. He then brought the staff back down, catching the man on the skull, hard. As the first crumpled the second moved in and grabbed hold of the end of Suteko’s staff. It was now his turn to try and keep hold of his weapon. The man was much stronger than Suteko and he had to fight to keep his grip. Using the weapon as a lever, he sprang up and over his opponent, trying to take his weapon out of the man’s hands. It didn’t work. The guard pulled and Suteko had to twist to make sure to land on his feet. They started a tug of war, to see who would keep the staff.
Akane waited until the guards had moved past the door and then darted out with her mallet and smashed one in the back of the skull. She smiled as the man fell and moved to make another hit when the third guard turned about. It was the same guard who tried to strangle her earlier. Her eyes widened and she gripped her mallet’s handle tighter. The man slowly smiled. “Well, hello again little one. I guess my embrace earlier wasn’t enough for you.” At first Akane trembled but as the man’s grin grew wider she started to fume. “Just come closer and I’ll caress you again.” He reached out his hands, not noticing the red glow coming off the small girl. As he stepped closer Akane wound up and with a yell brought the mallet down on his skull hard.
“You....BAKA!” She watched pleased as the man’s eyes crossed and he slowly fell to the floor, stunned.
Suteko darted a look over at Akane. He saw that she was clear and yelled over to her. “Akane! Go, now!”
She took a step toward him. “No, we should go together.”
Suteko could see two more guards rushing up from behind Akane. “GO! Now! Remember the plan!”
Akane noticed Suteko’s widening eyes and spun about. She saw the guards and understood. She had to be free to carry out the plan. She spun back and ran past Suteko and the guard. She called out as she left. “I’ll be back soon!”
Suteko nodded and turned back to the man. He pulled hard and fast, nearly pulling the staff from the man’s grip. Then Suteko let go of his mother’s staff and vaulted backwards out of the reach of the large guard. Reaching, he pulled his own ironwood staff from staffspace and the two engaged. Reach can be essential in staff combat but Suteko had the advantage of total mastery of his weapon. With the rattle of wood against wood he parried the guard’s first attack and spun about, bringing his staff to rap along the man’s ribs. The guard’s breath came out in a whoosh and he staggered to the side.
Suteko grinned but the expression faded quickly as the other two guards came within range. The first charged forward, swinging a boken. Again Suteko parried and backed up. The man’s wooden sword was much faster than a staff and he had to bring to bear all his agility and training to dodge the man’s lightening fast blows. Finally luck gave him a break and he lashed out with the butt of the staff and tripped the boken wielding foe. He quickly followed up with a blow to the head, grounding another opponent. He turned back to the large guard, jumping over the staff swing and returning with a hit aimed at the man’s hands. Just as his staff come down he felt a sting on his exposed neck and reached up, automatically. The room grew fuzzy and his fingers felt a dart. “Damn,” he said as he slid to the floor.
“I want that one alive!” Ito bellowed, stopping the downward blow of a staff. The guards looked up and bowed. Ito walked over and stood over Suteko’s body. Suteko could still see fuzzily and was trying to shake of the effect of the drug. Ito lifted one finger and the larger guard lifted Suteko from the floor, his staff clattering from his nerveless fingers. The smile on Ito’s face was sinister. “Bring him.”
Akane closed the door to the room. She closed her eyes for a moment and the thought sank in. “Now they have Suteko too!” He eyes darted about the room. There had to be something in here she could use. She walked in to the attached European style bath. It was strange, different then she was used to. She rummaged through the cabinets beneath the sink and found two covered pots that would work to hold water. She filled one with cold and the other with hot. She knew that one way or the other they would both be needed. After she was done she tiptoed out of the room and back down the hall. In the time it took to find and fill the containers, the hall had emptied. She looked into the open door of the room she had been held in. It was empty, so she moved inside. Walking to the panel of buttons, she pressed one labeled surveillance.
A panel moved back and revealed a row of small screens. Her eyes darted from screen to screen. She finally saw Ito and the guards. They were bringing Suteko into the room holding her friends. Suteko struggled in the hands of two large guards. Ito waved a hand and they released Suteko, who stood defiantly, the anger clear in his face. They bowed and awaited orders. “You two, I want you to search the house. There is one more child running loose. Find her and bring her here.” The two men bowed again and backed out of the room. Ito then turned to face Suteko.
“You surprise me, child.” Akane could clearly hear the amusement in Ito’s voice. “The drug in Hei’s darts usually renders a person unable to move for at least twenty minutes. You seem to have shaken off the effect much faster. I wonder how?”
Suteko growled, “Maybe it’s an advantage of my changed body.”
Ito nodded. “That could be true. I will have to study these curses. It is always wise to know the limitations of every tool.”
Suteko shook with contained rage. “You are talking about people, my friends, not tools.”
“Ah, but everything and everyone in this compound is but a tool in my plans.”
Ito leaned over and whispered into Ranma’s ear. Akane couldn’t hear what was said but the look of horror that passed over his face motivated her into action. She spun about and ran, hoping to make the holding room quickly, before something happened. She prayed that no one would be in the halls as she ran there.
“Ah, but they do, child. I have in my hands a very potent weapon and you shall find that I will use it.”
He took a small step forward but stopped at the bonds on his new friends grew tighter. “Not if I can stop you.”
“Hahahahhaha,” a tear of laughter slid down the lined face. “You..stop me? Me!’’
Suteko turned his eyes to his mother with a faint hope. Once she had been the center of his life but what he saw there made his heart sink. Her face was one of rejection and contempt but other things were starting to show. Slowly her face transformed as all the final clues clicked in her mind. The woman was still standing in shock. That her child had turned on her was bad enough but this, this transformation was more than she could deal with. Her overloaded mind shut down and she collapsed.
Ito noticed his grand-daughter’s collapse. “Typical of a woman.” The contempt in his voice was scathing. “You, child, could have had anything but you pitted yourself against your better.” He gestured and Ranma stepped forward. “Now, I will have my son destroy you.”
Ranma scowled at the mirror image of himself standing there. Grandfather had just told him that this creature was not human but a demon in his form. But the words exchanged between them just didn’t add up with that explanation. There was a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him that he should not listen to Grandfather but he shook his head and attacked.
Suteko sprang backwards as Ranma rushed him. He knew that he was in deep trouble. He was no match for his brother’s speed and ability. He could only hope to stave off his attacks long enough for Akane to make it back here. He used all of his talent in dodging and weaving. He used all the skills he could muster, trying as best as he could to avoid the lightening fast attacks of her half brother. Using all of his fighting experience in the fight, Suteko was still barely only able to get away from Ranma. A fierce attack by Suteko landed a lucky blow to Ranma's exposed stomach, but not before Ranma paid him back with a backhand to the face.
Suteko had realized from the beginning that he was no match for his half-brother, so he employed dodging and keep-away attacks only, always moving, using everything, anything in the room as a springboard to get away from Ranma. But Ranma kept at him.
Suteko was getting tired. The battle to free Akane had drained him considerably, and he still felt the effects of the drug course through his veins. Suteko decided to try to fade out and reappear somewhere else in the room. Sidestepping an attack by Ranma, he disappeared from view and turned his back to run away from the relentless Ranma. “Got to get away...get away...,” Suteko thought to himself. Suddenly a red-and-black blur appeared in front of him. Suteko could not stop his momentum in time as Ranma stepped directly in his path and began his attack.
"Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!!!!" Ranma yelled as Suteko was suddenly pounded by what seemed to be a hundred fists, pummeling him mercilessly. Suteko only managed to block a few as the rest of the punches came through his already weak defense. Suteko felt three ribs crack under the force of Ranma's attack, which finished with a hard spinning kick to Suteko's knee, moving the delicate joint out of place and crippling him.
As Suteko reappeared, grabbing at his ribs with one hand and his knee with the other, he looked up at Ranma standing over him and whispered, “How?”
Ranma pulled his hand back for a final blow to his duplicate’s head when he heard Ito call, “HOLD.” Ito slowly came down the stairs and walked over to Suteko. With a smile he placed a firm hand on Ranma’s raised one. “Just a moment, son.” He turned to Suteko. “The clan’s secret does have one flaw, child.” He pointed to the floor. There, clear as day were footprints, in his rush to get away Suteko hadn’t realized that the floor was covered in some sort of powder.
Suteko closed his eyes and did something he rarely did. He prayed. And his prayers were answered. With a resounding crash the doors to the room slammed open and Akane ran in. “Ranma you Jerk!” Akane ran forward holding one of her mallets in one hand and a small pot in the other. With a cry of “Suteko,” she threw the pot, which arced through the air and hot water splashed out and covered the downed male form. Suteko groaned as she turned female, feeling her injured ribcage get smaller and the broken ribs grinding together.
Ranma stood still in shock. His mind was fighting to remember something. The form on the floor had just changed into a small girl, a familiar looking girl. The struggle could be seen clearly on his face. Who was this person? He looked up at the girl rushing toward him with a mallet in her hands. He wasn’t sure why but he knew that the mallet would hit him no matter what he did. And that he wanted that blow to land. He pushed his grandfather away as Akane’s mallet came crashing down.
At the look of surprise on Ito’s face Suteko breathed a sigh of relief. Had Akane done it? Had she hit the right spot? With care she pulled herself to her feet, careful not to put weight on the damaged leg. She glared at her great grandfather and then turned to face her brother. “Ranma?”
His eyes were glazed for a moment but then they cleared. He looked at the girl in front of him and smiled. “Why did you hit me, Akane?”
A radiant smile broke over Akane’s face and she threw her arms about Ranma. “You’re back!” Ranma blushed and put an arm about his fiancee. He looked over with a pained expression at Suteko. The guilt for the hurt he had done was clear in his blue eyes. Suteko just nodded. They would talk when it was over.
Ranma pushed Akane away and turned to Ito. “You.” He balled together his fists. “You dare to make me like you.” Ranma’s voice dropped low and held contempt. “You threaten my friends and you made me hurt my sister. You will pay!”
Ito looked disappointed. His plans had been brought down by the one girl he had discounted. He glared hatred at Akane and in an instant disappeared. Suteko growled and limped sideways, dragging herself across the floor. She was going to follow him and finish his evil once and for all. Only she forgot for a moment that her knee no longer worked. When she stood and put her weight on her leg she cried out and fell. Ranma and Akane were at her side in an instant. “Suteko!” they yelled.
She gritted her teeth in pain. “That was stupid of me.” She lay on her back and tried to breath the pain away. “Ranma, we have to stop him. He’ll just keep coming back if we don’t.”
“First we have to get you and the others out of here.” Akane moved up to were the others were chained and looked over the mechanisms. She then moved to the desk. There was a switch labeled ‘chains’, she flicked it and the chains fell. The team all fell forward as the support was taken away. They were still deep in the induced sleep. It would be hours before they could be awakened. “How are we going to do that?” With Suteko not able to walk it was up to Ranma and Akane to carry them out of here.
Akane ran back to the doorway and returned holding up a second container. “Well, we can douse Mousse and Shampoo with this. It will certainly be easier to carry them as a duck and a cat.” Ranma nodded.
Suteko looked confused for a moment. “What?”
Ranma explained quickly about the curses that the two were under. Suteko understood and asked about Ukyo and Ryouga. Ranma started to say something but with a quick look at Akane he closed his mouth firmly. “Nope. They’re normal.” Akane smiled.
“Well, changing the other two is a good idea, Akane. That just leaves you with Ukyo and Ryouga to carry out.” She tried to get up again but Ranma stopped her with a gentle hand.
“And you, sis. You’re not gonna be walking out of here on that knee.”
Suteko grimaced but she had to admit to herself that she wouldn’t be walking out on her own like she was. She knew enough about injuries from spending time helping at a clinic back at home to know she had dislocated the knee. “Ranma, you’re going to have to help me pop this back in.”
“Are you sure we should do this?” Akane bent over to look in Suteko’s eyes. She could see the effort it was taking the smaller girl to hold back the pain.
Suteko took a breath and nodded. “If we can pop it back in and find something to brace it with I should be able to hobble my way out of here on my own power. And we better do it quickly. Great-grandfather will be back any minute now with more guards.”
Ranma looked about and his eyes stopped on a small chair. He went over to it and with a couple of short blows he broke off two of the legs and brought them back to Suteko. “These should be the right size.” He lay them along Suteko’s leg and broke off a bit to make them fit closer to her size. Then he reached down and placed his hands on her ankle. Motioning for Akane to get behind her he looked up at his sister. “Are you ready?”
Suteko took a deep breath and nodded. Ranma pulled her leg in a sharp motion and the knee popped back into place. Suteko let out a groan and her eyes rolled back in her head. Akane caught her as she slumped. Ranma quickly bound the boards to her knee. After a moment Suteko groaned again and opened her eyes. “Remind me to never have you do that again,” she tried to joke. Ramna moved forward to hug his sister while Akane poured water over the unconscious Shampoo and Mousse.
“Let me help you up, sis.” He pulled her up and helped her to balance. “Lean on me.” Suteko nodded as she tried to put her weight on the damaged leg. The bracing kept it from collapsing but it was very painful. She hissed as pain shot up her leg. Ranma looked concerned but for once kept his mouth shut.
Suteko swallowed, “OK, I can do it.” She pushed away from Ranma. “Go get Ryouga and let’s get out of here.”
Ranma nodded and moved to pick up Ryouga. He mumbled under his breath, “this would be much easier if you were P-chan.”
Akane brought over Shampoo-cat and Mousse-duck and handed them to Suteko with a concerned look. Suteko gave her a weak smile as she took the pair. It was awkward but she got them balanced and started toward the room’s only window. She wasn’t sure just how she was going to keep up with Ranma and Akane. They should be able to go out the window to the ground and then back to the temple to escape.
Suteko opened the window and looked out. It was a straight drop from the window to the roof of the first floor. “That’s a long drop,” she whispered.
Ranma moved up behind her and looked out. “Not too bad. Should be a piece of cake.” He looked over to Akane.
She nodded. “No problem.” They both turned to Suteko.
She shook her head. “No way I can do it. Leg won’t take the drop.”
“I’ll go out first and come back up for you.”
Suteko shook her head. “Not a good idea. You’ll need to get across the compound fast. I don’t think a second trip is advised.” She smiled then, “Besides there is no need. I can make my way out the way I came in.”
Ranma looked doubtful. “Won’t the old man just be able to catch you?”
Suteko shook her head. “Not while I’m like this.” She limped to the side and disappeared. At the look on Ranma’s face she smiled again. He really wanted to know how she could do that, it was obvious. Her voice floated out of nowhere. “Once this is over, I’ll teach you.” She was surprised herself though. She hadn’t been sure that she could pull it off, holding onto the cat and duck. “It must be the lesser size,” she thought. She started back across the room toward the door. “Meet me at the temple.”
Ranma noticed that he could see where she was walking. “I can still see your footprints.”
Suteko stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. She had to remember that. Being careful in where she stepped she reached the door and passed through it. The hall way was empty but she could hear the men coming up the stairs. She called back into the room. “Hurry, they’re coming!”
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