Ranma jerked awake as the sound of the front door being kicked off its hinges echoed through the small apartment that the three had been granted. What the hell?
"Come on, brats," yelled a female voice. "Rise and shine. I'm wasting my precious rest and recuperation time on this garbage so the least you can do is get your lazy arses out of bed for it."
"Guh," managed Ranma as he tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes.
"Up, up, up! What sort of ninja brat can't even get out of bed in the morning?"
Several loud thuds, the sound of knives digging into the walls, followed that pronouncement before a loud crash followed. Ranma dragged himself out of bed and set about pulling a pair of trousers on.
"Oh, we've got a live one here," shouted that same damn female voice. "Quick, too, for a brat. Shame he's blind as a bat."
God, she was irritating. And he hadn't even seen her yet.
"Still waiting here."
Ranma strode out of his bedroom to the sight of a woman clad wearing a trenchcoat over an extremely form-fitting bodysuit and mini-skirt standing over a somewhat baffled looking Mousse, who really should have known better than to get into a fight without his glasses on, with a look on her face that could only possibly be described as deranged. Why did he always run into the crazy ones?
"It's too early in the morning for this," decided Ranma, ignoring the woman entirely and heading into the kitchenette to get some breakfast. "Way too damn early."
"Don't you ignore me, brat!"
Ranma saw the thrown knife coming from a mile off and simply batted it away with his free hand as he poured himself a glass of milk. And then he swayed out of the way of another as he set about preparing himself some rice. "Would you cut that out?" he asked. "I'll end up making an Akane meal if you keep distracting me like that."
"I don't know which is worse," grunted Ryoga as he finally made an appearance. "Damned loudmouths."
"Feh," said the woman finally. "We'll see how good you really are soon enough, you cocky bastard. Meet me at training ground fifteen in ten minutes and don't you dare be late."
"Whatever," said Ranma as the woman disappeared in a puff of smoke and leaves. "Huh. That'd be useful."
"Get up, Mousse," said Ryoga. "I can't believe you let yourself be beat like that."
"She caught me by surprise!"
"This ain't a place I'd want to be caught by surprise in," said Ranma, dropping three plates onto the living room table. "Ninja ain't normally big on mercy."
"We should have left when we had the chance," said Ryoga. "I don't want to be like that."
"So don't," said Ranma. "No-one's gonna force you to kill a beaten opponent, man. And if they try, I'll be right there with you telling them to shove it. Now, come on, eat. We gotta be ready to kick her ass."
"Like we need to prepare for that."
"Well, maybe Mousse."
"I am Anko Mitarashi," said the woman when they finally straggled into the training ground. "And for some unfathomable reason the power that be have decided that I will be your jounin-sensei."
"It's really, really hard for me to think of something I'd choose training a bunch of over-aged genin over," she continued, ignoring Ranma. "So don't expect me to make this test easy for you."
Ryoga bared his fangs at her in a ferocious grin. That sounded like a challenge. Ryoga was like Ranma when it came to challenges. He didn't back down from them.
"But I suppose we should observe the formalities," said Anko. "So likes, dislikes, dreams. Cough it up to your spectacular sensei, boys."
"I like martial arts and dislike fiancees," said Ranma. "My dream is to be the best. Uh, that's about it."
"I like Shampoo and dislike . . . competitors," said Mousse. "My dream is to win Shampoo."
"I'm not even going to touch that one. Next."
"I like martial arts and dislike arrogant bastards," said Ryoga. "My dream is to be the best."
"And people think I'm strange," said Anko. "Okay, now-"
"So what about you then?" asked Ranma. "Come on, cough it up to your sensational students."
"I like dango and dislike the snake bastard," said Anko. "My dream is to kill the snake bastard and stick his head on a pike for all to see. Satisfied?"
"Right," said Anko. "And now on to the fun part. Normally we'd do this whole thing with bells. I'd wear two on my waist and tell you that whoever took one from me passed. All very well thought out and tested and rational and very boring."
"Damn, and I was so looking forward to kicking your arse."
"Instead, your task is simply to take this one bell from me," said Anko. "Doesn't matter who does it. One takes it, you all pass. But don't look so happy, brats. I've prepared for this. Oh, yes, I've prepared. You're going to have to work to get this little bell away from me. Have fun."
And then she disappeared into thin air.
"Saotome, Hibiki, we have got to kick her arse."
Ranma eyed the training ground. It was a heck of a lot bigger than he'd expected a training ground to be. He'd thought it would be a patch of land somewhere or a forest clearing or something along those lines but instead it was a huge clump of trashed buildings out on the outskirts of town. There were bound to be an awful lot of places for a ninja to hide in that sort of place. Just typical.
"Let's go," growled Ryoga, hefting his umbrella as he spoke. "I'm not being to made to look a fool by some damned ninja."
"You always look a fool, Ryoga," said Ranma absently. Then he realised what he was saying and abruptly stopped. "Uh, forget that. I say we split up. One of us should be enough for this and we should find her a whole lot quicker that way."
Ryoga and Mousse nodded and then they were off.
The place was fucking creepy, and Ranma didn't often swear - not even in the privacy of his own head. It felt like he had ghosts looking over his shoulder everywhere he went and he didn't like it one damn bit. Sent shivers running down his spine, it did. He didn't get the feeling that these were the playful sort of ghosts he'd ran into at times. And he didn't even have a good fight to take his mind off it all.
It was all a bit anti-climatic really. He'd been running around the place for half an hour and he hadn't seen hide nor hair of the damned ninja chick outside of a couple of lame traps he'd had to dodge along the way. God but it was boring. At least Konatsu had given him a proper fight when they'd went at it. Sure, he hadn't exactly wanted to beat someone up when they'd been drugged up and were half out of their mind, but at least it hadn't been boring.
A quiet groan caught his attention, sounded like a wooden beam straining under weight, and Ranma immediately bounded off after it and into a large, crumbling building that looked like it had once been a hotel of some sort before whatever had happened there had came to pass. Blood, old, dried blood, stained the walls of the lobby and all sorts of stuff had been left scattered around the floor from cigarettes to purses. And on top of that the entire side of the room was just gone, totally exposed to the elements, as if it had simply never existed.
But he shook it off. Whatever had done it had done was long gone and he had his own problems to worry about right then so he shook it off and set off down the corridors of the place, carefully making not so much as a single sound as he went, in the direction he'd heard the sound come from.
Eventually he came to a door that was cracked open, just a tiny fraction, from which he could see a shadow moving ever so slightly spilling out from inside. That was it. He lashed out with a kick that smashed the door to splinters and charged in ready for a fight only to see Mousse. Mousse with half a dozen kunai buried in his chest up to the hilt and his white robes stained red. Mousse with a rope around his neck. Mouse with a rope around his neck that was tied to a high ceiling beam, feet well off the ground.
Ranma's reaction came at blinding speed. He threw a kunai of his through the rope to cut Mousse down and then caught him as he fell limply from where he had been hanged. He wasn't breathing.
"Damn it, you stupid Amazon bastard," muttered Ranma. "Why did you have to go and get yourself killed?"
Female laughter from behind him caused him to jerk around on his heel, still holding the body. "I hope you'll be more of a challenge than your little friend," hissed Anko when she had his attention. "He was ever so disappointing."
Ranma gently lowered the body to the ground.
"Aww, is little baby upset that the big, bad ninja killed his friend?"
He said nothing. He simply stared, allowing the rage to work its way through his body.
"Well, aren't you going to do something?" she laughed. "Or will you die as easily as the trash at your feet?"
The laughter died when Ranma lunged forward with all his speed, a blur of violent motion, and slammed his fist through her chest and out the other side, not stopping till it had gone through the wall behind her as well.
And then she vanished with a popping sound. The room seemed to shift around Ranma for a moment before the corpse disappeared.
Ryoga was angry. You might say that this was a normal state of affairs for the lost boy, and it was, but he was especially angry as yet another damned trap blew up in his face and left his skin a rosy red. It was even worse than fighting Ranma, dammit! At least Ranma fought, even if it was a wimpy sort of fighting with more dodging than actual fighting, but this girl, gah, she made Ranma seem like a straight, up-front sort of guy.
He didn't care if she was a girl; there was no way he was going easy when he caught up with her. She was just too damned irritating.
A thud in a nearby building caught his attention and he charged through the wall with an inarticulate yell. Then he stopped dead. The ninja, Anko, was standing over Ranma's slumped body. That was bad enough. The fact that the body was missing a head and spewing blood everywhere almost made him stop and vomit.
"Hmm, hmm, that blood I love," said Anko. "Such a wonderful gift he has given me."
"You . . . "
"Mmm, he was disappointing. I hope you'll be a little more fun before I get my blood."
"I see now . . . if you could defeat Ranma so easily, what chance do I have?"
"None at all, little boy."
"Yes, none. I have failed and I will die here, a worthless death to complete a worthless life."
"Uh . . . what are you doing?"
"PERFECT SHI SHI HOKODEN!
The building was blown to pieces as the gigantic ball of ki made its upwards arc and then smashed to matchwood as the attack descended in an enormous explosion of raw kinetic force.
And there were no bodies around Ryoga, neither Ranma nor the bitch herself. Ryoga was not impressed.
Mousse smiled as his knife slammed into the head of the over-sized rat that had been heading in his direction. He was many things but able to put up with creatures like that sniffing around his hem he wasn't. Gods, what a disgusting thought that was. He absolutely hated the vermin. And killing a few helped distract him from the fact that he was getting nowhere fast in tracking down this ninja woman.
Then a body landed with a loud thump in front of him, followed by a loud cackling sound coming from the roof of the building next to him. He would have looked to see who it was but he was rather focused on the fact that the body was Ryoga and that it looked like he'd got into an argument with a freight train and lost, which was ridiculous considering that he would probably come off best if a train hit him.
It just didn't make sense. Hibiki could take hundreds of punches from Saotome and laugh it off but there he was laid out looking like he'd been literally beaten to a pulp. What the hell was strong enough that it could do that to him? That ninja sure as hell hadn't looked strong enough.
"So you can see well enough to know which of your little friends that I killed," said Anko. "But can you see well enough to stop me from killing you?"
Mousse reacted on instinct to dodge out of the way of the kunai that came his way as Anko dropped down from the roof of the house to the ground in front. The entire situation was just surreal, like something out of a bad dream, and he was more than slightly worried about the prospect of fighting someone who could beat Ryoga to death.
"Aww, is the little brat scared? Maybe I should go after his shampoo and see if he'll actually fight me then."
Mousse saw red. And then he saw steel. Nothing but steel as far as the eye could see as he let loose with everything he had up his sleeves, filling the air with knives and axes and swords and a whole variety of bladed and blunt weapons.
She was pierced in at least twenty different places across her body and her jaw dropped open in a wordless gasp before she disappeared into thin air with a popping sound. And then Ryoga's body followed.
"If it's okay with you guys," said Ranma, "I think I'll drop the whole idea of splitting up."
"Yeah," said Ryoga. "I can go with that."
"Me too," said Mousse."
Anko gazed down upon them from her seat on top of an extremely large barrel with a half-eaten stick of dango in hand and grinned while kicking her legs back and forth. "Well, you guys just suck," she said. "I've seen better tracking and genjutsu resistance from academy students."
"You're not an illusion now, though, are you?"
"Well, no. I got sick of watching your blundering about."
Ryoga cracked his knuckles. "This is going to hurt you a lot more than it's going to hurt us," he growled.
"You wouldn't be thinking of beating up your sensei now, would you?" asked Anko, faux horror written wide across her features. "How terrible!"
Mousse's reaction was simple. He hurled a kunai at her head, which she knocked out of the air with her own.
"I think it's time for you guys to cool off before you do something I'd regret."
And then her hands started to rapidly flash through a series of precise movements that Ranma knew he should recognise but couldn't quite place.
"Suiton: Suiryuudan no Jutsu!"
The barrel the demon wench was sitting atop exploded outwards in a massive gush of, it was inevitable really, water. What the water did, though, made Ranma's jaw drop. It didn't just explode outwards in a wave. It roared up into the sky, Anko stood atop it cackling in mad glee all the while, and took an actual physical form: a smallish dragon.
"What the hell?!"
And then the dragon came roaring down, smashing into all three of them before they could think to move, and Ranma felt a tingle run through his body in a far too familiar way as he was sent skidding away.
"Well, so much for not having a kunoichi on the team," said Anko, looking distinctly non-plussed. "Where the hell did the other two go?"
Ranma pointed at the woe-begotten piglet and duck that were slipping around in the water as she jumped back to her feet.
"What is this?" asked Anko. "Some sort of messed up technique?"
"A curse," said Ranma before cracking her neck. "Now, I reckon we have some unfinished business to deal with."
"Haven't you had enough yet, brat? I won't be so easy to beat as my clone."
But Ranma was already moving, ducking underneath a half-dozen shuriken that came spinning her way with the ease of someone who was used to a much higher volume of steel being sent her way, before leaping at Anko with a flying kick that would likely have took her head clean off if it hadn't connected with a thick log rather than Anko.
Then steel touched against the skin of his neck. "I w-"
She wasn't the only one who could use the replacement technique and he didn't need any fancy seals to do it. Ranma quickly tapped into his ki and appeared behind Anko with a pop before delivering a kick to the base of her spine that dropped her to the ground like a puppet that'd had its strings cut.
"No, I win," said Ranma as he snatched the bell up from where it was clipped to her skirt.
"You play rough, kid."
"This is coming from you?"
"Did I say it was a bad thing?"
Ranma snorted and turned away. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow he said," he said. "Better be ready with those fancy techniques you got."
"You look stiff, Anko."
"Yeah," she said. "I hear that's what happens when someone tries to kick your spine out through your stomach."
Sarutobi raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he asked. "I had an idea that they were skilled but I had no idea they were that capable."
"Yeah, yeah," said Anko, dropping down into a chair with a grunt. "Whatever, old man. I know you think this is funny, really."
"You wound me, my dear."
"Whatever. The brats are good. Beasts in hand-to-hand," she said. "Better than me, that's for sure. The blind one must be carrying an army's worth of weapons, too, and he seems to know how to use them. Crap at ninja skills though. Can't track, have no understanding of genjutsu, have the subtlety of a brick to the face, and, oh yeah, two of them transform into animals when I hit them with a water dragon."
"And the other?"
"Turns into a chesty little redhead. You'd like her. Him. Whatever the hell it is."
Sarutobi blinked. "A . . . well, that's . . . interesting," he said. "And they're hardly the only ones with no idea of subtlety in this village, are they, Anko?"
"You mean the brat who thinks it's a great idea to prank ANBU while wearing bright orange clothes and cackling like a lunatic?"
"Of course, of course. Who else?"
"Anyway, they've got some interesting abilities," said Anko. "I didn't see any scrolls or seals for the weapons and they seem to be able to perform jutsu without any hand seals."
Sarutobi raised an eyebrow. "Impressive," he said. "But not entirely unheard of."
"To the point of blowing an entire building to matchwood?"
Anko knew it was wrong to take great satisfaction in watching the Hokage bite through his pipe-stem in shock but she really couldn't help it.