He felt nothing, he was nothing. That was the key to the umisenken. Feel nothing, be nothing, erase your presence from the world. It didn't make you invisible, Ranma had only ever seen one technique that could manage that and he didn't have the faintest idea how it worked, but it erased your aura, your ki, from the world and made it impossible for anyone to pick you up with the sixth sense that all martial artists of any decent level had. If he was right, it would screw those irritating eyes up as well. Hell of a bet to make but if it didn't work then he'd just have to slug it out through the abandoned fortress the bandits were hiding out in. Either way, he was getting Aya and Anko out.
Scaling the walls had been easy. It would have been easy before and it was even easier after the training with Anko. Sheer walls hadn't been more than a slight speedbump since he was seven but he could do it so much quicker and quieter now. Dropping back down to the ground on the other side of the walls was even easier. What was a fifty foot drop to a real martial artist? Nothing, that's what. Sneaking past the guards wasn't much more difficult, either. They were just a pack of useless bandits whose only skill was swinging a piece of sharpened metal around well enough not to cut pieces of themselves off (mostly). Sneaking past was them was something he could have down before puberty hit.
The difficulty, such that it was, was finding where he had to go. He could sneak around all day but it was going to help much if he couldn't find the damn prisoners. There were times he really, really wished he'd learn to look before he leaped.
"Holy shit," said one of the guards. "How the hell are we going to get in there?"
Mousse had to admit that the fortress certainly looked impressive. Really, the construction suited the name fortress down to the ground. The walls were impressively high and solid looking with scorch marks adorning them that suggested that they'd weathered more than one invasion in the past before the war that it had been constructed for had reached its end and left the fortress to be abandoned. Were he anyone else he might even have agreed with the guard about the impossibility of the task facing them.
"Not to worry," he replied, pushing his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. "You'll see soon enough."
"What?" asked another guard. "You got some fancy ninja trick that can make solid walls disappear, kid? No stupid little firecracker is going to take those down."
"Ninja?" asked Mousse, his voice contemptuous. "Hardly. We Amazon were ancient when the ninja were still wondering whether the sparks you could get from rubbing sticks together might be useful. Just wait. You'll see soon enough."
Mousse paid the men no heed as they shifted behind him and muttered about his sanity and the apparent lack of said sanity. It didn't matter. They'd soon fall in line when Ryoga did his thing. Amazon techniques were more than a match for anything this world had to offer, he knew.
And then it happened. A large section, easily wide enough for ten men to enter side by side, of the wall just exploded inwards towards the fortress's keep with no apparent cause. The breaking point had been deployed and not a sound could be heard other than that of chunks of rock that had once been wall slamming to the ground. Not a single peep. Within seconds more pieces of the walls began to explode inwards and then he could hear the sounds of panicked shouting coming from the fortress.. Mousse smiled. Amazon power, even if in the hands of an outsider, was formidable indeed.
"You were saying?" he asked. "Charge!"
The roar that came in response to that was absolutely deafening. Mousse's smile grew predatory. Now he would show those bandit scum what it meant to trifle with a master of hidden weapons. A moment later the mountain pass leading up to the fortress was filled with shrapnel as he covered the advance with a storm of weaponry the likes of which he had never unleashed before.
Anko didn't think she'd ever been more utterly satisfied than she was when the sound of walls collapsing reached her ears. The look of utter shock on the face of the Hyuuga bastard was something she would savour for years to come.
"Ha," she said. "Those eyes didn't see that coming, did they? Looks like that precious Hyuuga blood doesn't for so much after all . . . "
If the look on the bastard's face was satisfying then the look on the princess's face almost curled Anko's toes. Oh, yes. Fear. There it was. Just what she liked to see from her prey before she made her kill. It wouldn't be long now. The children would free her and then she could play.
"Father," she asked. "What do we do?"
"They're only genin," he said, though his brow was furrowed. "And the boy, Saotome, is defeated. Even if he survived the triplets, he cannot possibly be ready to fight yet. No, they shouldn't be too great a threat. Go. Lead the defence. Destroy them. I will stay here and ensure that our captives do not find a way to become troublesome."
"Go! This is no time to question orders, child. You are ninja; act like it."
Hitomi stood ramrod straight and gave the bastard a stiff nod before storming out in an ever so dramatic swish of robes, ruined only by the wince of pain from the wounds Anko had inflicted upon her earlier.
"Teenagers, eh?" asked Anko. "Believe me, I feel your pain, even if you're a dead bastard walking. It's even worse when they can beat you."
Hiro raised an eyebrow. "Dead?" he asked. "I think not. I still hold the trump cards here, Mitarashi. My daughter is more than a match for any normal genin and I have an army of hardened killers to support her. What can you offer? Rookie genin and an army of cheaply hired mercenaries. Dead? No, I don't think so."
Anko laughed loud and hard. "Moron!" she said. "Do you think Ranma's the only weirdo on my team? I'll let you in on a secret, in a few years time? They're going to be the new sannin. Easy. So stick that in your expensive pipe and smoke it, bastard. You're going to die and I'm going to be there to see it."
"And enjoy it no doubt," murmured Hiro. "Who is the real monster here, hmm? Me or you? I do what I have to, all in a greater cause. You? You kill because it brings you pleasure. You may still wear the hitai-ate but you are as much Orochimaru's creature as you ever were, aren't you?"
Anko smiled at him, baring her fangs. "Why don't you let me loose and find out?" she asked. "I promise, it'll be fun."
"I'm in no great hurry to see what the snake teaches his students."
"Shame," said Anko, abruptly dropping the cheer. "And as for me being the monster . . . I'm not the one who just sent his daughter to her death."
"My daughter is far too capable to die here, have no fear. She is strong."
"Can't wait to see your face."
Half a dozen kunai slammed into the bandit's chest to form a half crescent before he gurgled once and fell backwards gasping for air that he would never be able to breath in again.
"Not bad, Mousse," said Ryoga as stepped over the body slammed an upwards arcing strike of his umbrella into the jaw of another bandit with predictably messy results. "Not as good as me, but not bad."
"Leave the arrogance to Saotome," replied Mousse shortly. "He wears it much better than you do."
"How dare you compare me to Ranma!"
"If the shoe fits . . . "
"Are you two here to fight or bicker like an old married couple?" asked one of the bandits, a particularly rough look sort with a vicious scare running down the left side of his face and through where his eye had once been. "Hey, so which one of you is the catcher then, if you catch my drift?"
"SHI SHI HOKODAN!"
Mousse would savour the look of shock on the face of that bandit for a very, very long time to come. The way his body was smashed to a pulp and then splattered against the wall behind him before the wall gave way under the sheer weight of the mass of green energy that had been fired at him was much less pleasant to see, admittedly, but he'd certainly brought it upon himself. Angering Ryoga was never a smart thing to do, not unless your name was Saotome.
"Holy shit, run! This ain't worth dying for!"
The group of bandits they'd been facing didn't get far before a female form stood between them and wherever they'd been running to. "Thinking of leaving so soon, boys?" she asked. "Don't be so hasty."
"Lady, whatever you're paying them, it isn't worth dying for."
"Who said they'd be the ones dying?" she shouted back. And then she bit her thumb and started to run through a long series of handseals.
"Get the feeling we should do something to stop her?"
"Kuchiyose no jutsu!"
"Oh, man. Am I ever glad Ranma isn't here to see this."
Whatever she'd done it had summoned quite possibly the largest creature Mousse had ever seen. Nothing he'd ran across in the Jusendo area had prepared him for the sight of a thirty feet tall cat with claws approximately the same size as him staring at him with bloodlust in its eyes.
"Not so confident now are you!"
"Well . . . this is new."
Ranma shivered and almost fell out of the umisenken as he crept past a group of panicking bandits. His c-c-hellspawn radar was twinging worse than it ever had, even worse 'n when Kuno had filled half the damn school with cats and then a damn giant tiger that was bigger 'n he was. The decision to do this instead of getting stuck into the main battle was looking better all the time.
And it had been going so well too. One second they'd been winning with ease and now they'd lost half their forces to some damned giant animal that could breath lightning and crap thunder. Well, the second part was a guess, but it wouldn't surprise him one bit if it was true. Damn it worse than fighting Ranma! At least Ranma's new tricks made sense. What sort of martial arts technique summoned giant animals to fight for you?
"Hibiki, this isn't looking too good."
"No shit," growled Ryoga as his iron cloth bandanna attack slid off the flesh of the beast without leaving any apparent mark. "Right now would be a really good time for one of Ranma's fancy tricks."
Ryoga winced as another lightning blast scythed through half a dozen of the guards they'd brought along for the battle as he easily dodged it with Mousse. It was turning into a massacre and he felt ill, deep in his gut, at the thought that he was at least partially responsible for it. All his life he'd tried to be an honourable martial artist and now he'd helped lead a whole bunch of people to their deaths in a fight that really didn't have much to do with them. Sure, they'd hired on to guard the train, but he was pretty sure that assaulting a fortress wasn't part of that contract.
"Shit, shit, shit. This is no time for you to get all broody, Hibiki. We need to fight."
"Huh? Oh, yeah."
And then with a roar of defiance Ryoga hefted his umbrella and leaped forward to attack the great beast.
"And that would be why my daughter will prevail," said the bastard easily. "They have nothing, no matter their talent, at that age and rank that could see them to victory against my daughter's summons. She is simply too much for them. You've lost, my dear."
"I still hear fighting," said Anko, her expression fierce. "And my brats can't be counted out until you see corpses."
"Your faith in your students is admirable but it is misplaced. They cannot win, no matter their talent."
"Same to you, bastard. Same to you."
The feel of a wall smashing beneath your weight as your slammed into it was never a terribly pleasant thing, really, but the feeling of hopelessness that came with it this time made it a truly bitter pill to swallow. The damned cat was just too strong. Nothing he'd done had even phased it. He'd peppered it with kunai, slashed at it with a storm of swords, blown it up with gunpower, wrapped its legs in chains, battered it with blunt weapons, and even went at it with fists and feet. And after all of that he didn't think he'd done more than scratch it.
To top it all off, there was that damned girl who'd spit fireballs at him every so often to really liven things up. Brilliant.
Mousse groaned and lifted himself back to his feet, bones creaking with strain, ready to resume the fight just as Ryoga slammed his umbrella down on the giant cat's nose with an enormous crunching sound. The wail of feline pain that came forth from that was absolute music to Mousse's ears. The enormous blast of lightning that came forth from the creature's mouth a moment later and caught Ryoga square in the chest . . . not so much.
Okay, Ryoga had slammed through a wall, had the rubble collapse on him, not so unusual, but the fact that he wasn't straight back up roaring defiance at all and sundry . . . that was new. And disturbing. Ryoga didn't stay down easily and something that could him on his back was something Mousse really, really didn't want to be hit with. Ever. That way laid pain.
"What's wrong, glasses boy?" taunted that damned girl. "Scared?"
But he was damned if he was going to let that bitch beat him! He had to get back for Shampoo and no mouthy girl with inhuman eyes and a giant cat for a pet was going to stop him before he could get back to her. He didn't even realise he'd called the weapon from its storage space till his favourite sword, a slightly longer than the usual dao of Amazon design, was resting comfortably in his grip. Well, who was he to argue? If he couldn't beat the monkey, he'd beat the organ grinder.
Another bolt of lightning creased his once-white robes as he passed the creature's mouth on his way to the top of its head but he was moving too quickly for the thing to get another bite at him and then he was on there in front of the girl with the lavender eyes, who suddenly looked ever so much less confident about the situation.
"What's wrong, little girl?" asked Mousse in a mocking tone of voice as he assumed a stance with his weapon held high above his head. "Scared?"
The girl's eyes hardened and then she charged at Mousse, leaning to the sword out of the way of the log-splitting blow he sent down at her head, before lashing out with a left-handed blow at his shoulder that he span out of the way of in a whirl of robes. She continued her advance, throwing a series of finger strikes at Mousse as she went, strikes that Mousse dodged with an agility that he rarely displayed with his usual ranged combat style.
And then Mousse ducked underneath a strike aimed at his throat and replied with an upwards thrust of his sword that would have went straight through the girl's heart if she hadn't leapt away at the last possible moment, though not quite quick enough to avoid the sword penetrating her own battle dirtied robes and opening up a gash in the center of her chest.
The Amazon warrior was never one to let an advantage slide and he immediately went on the offensive, swinging his sword with a speed that left after-images in the air, launching strikes that had the girl dodging in utter desperation, likely tapping reserves of speed that she didn't even realise that she had, and opening up several gashes along her chest and arms as they went even still.
Eventually a swing went a little too wild or the girl dodged too smoothly, Mousse couldn't tell which, and she was able to catch his wrist with a frantically thrown kick that knocked the sword out of his grasp and skittering away across the top of the monster's head before it slid off the edge and fell to the ground with a clearly audible clatter.
"And now my turn," said the girl before she darted forward in a blur. Too fast! Mousse tried to back off but it was too late. Blows started striking across his chest and with each he felt himself grow ever so slightly weaker. "Four palms!" He tried to dodge away but he just couldn't manage it. "Eight palms!" He feel a burning feeling start to build in his chest. "Sixteen palms!" He couldn't help but gasp in pain. "Thirty two palms!" It felt like his chest was on fire and he couldn't even move to try and defend himself. "Sixty four palms!" The last strike , despite striking with minimal force, knocked him off his feet and sent him sliding back off the creature's head.
Well, it hadn't been entirely in vain. The last thing he saw before he slid off entirely and fell to the ground was Ryoga slamming a rising strike into the back of the girl with his umbrella, sending her flying off her pet herself. Victory of a sort. Typical that it would be that damned pig who got the victory while he got pounded into the ground, though. The only way it could be worse would be if it had been Saotome.
"I'm scared," sniffled Aya.
Anko rolled her eyes. "We'll be out of here soon enough, brat," she said. "Help's on its way."
"Still remarkably confident, I see."
The floor shook and for a moment the room was bathed in an unholy green light. "Yeah," said Anko. "And that'd be why. Scratch one summon. Probably one daughter too."
"You . . . " Hiro's voice trailed off for a second before he marched over to where Anko was sprawled out and dragged her to her feet by the scruff of her neck. "What was that, woman? Answer me!"
Anko laughed in his face. "Don't suppose it matter now," she said. "That, my soon to be gutted friend, was the shi shi hokodan. Perfect edition. Great for clearing out those hard to reach spots. And everything around them for a hundred metres or so."
Hiro tossed her away, drawing an ever higher wail from Aya, before he started to pace up and down. "No," he said. "My daughter is no fool. She will have survived; my ambition is not blunted yet."
"Do you think it matters?" Anko laughed from her position sprawled out in a most unladylike position on the ground. "You're about to be finished for good. They're not going to stop with some stupid summon. You lose."
"I am not a jounin by fluke," he snarled in return. "Your students may be strong but I have skill and experience that they cannot match. I will not die here."
Anko hopped back to her feet. "You wish," she said. "Every traitor gets his in the end, bastard. Here's yours, being served up piping hot by a genin team. Enjoy."
"No, no, no. I won't die while the main family still lives. Your children may be strong but my resolve is stronger still. This doesn't end here."
"Oh, look at that. Little Hiro wants to pull an Itachi on his family."
"Don't you dare compare me to that animal," snarled Hiro, hands twitching as they convulsed into fists. "I have reason to want those . . . things dead. They enslave us. They torture us at a whim. And why? Because their blood is purer than ours? I won't have it. They won't have my daughter."
"Yeah, yeah," said Anko dismissively, taking great delight in the way Hiro twitched at the tone of her voice. "Tell it to someone who cares."
Anko really couldn't claim to be surprised when the back of Hiro's hand sent her crashing to the ground.
"I won't be beaten by trash like you, Mitarashi. I won't allow it."
"Behind you," snarled Ranma.
Hiro whirled around, faster than Ranma had seen him move in their fight, but nowhere near fast enough. As Hiro's body came to face him he lashed out with one of the yamasenken moves he'd taught himself based on what Ryu had done, the dokuja tanketsu sho, and the man's body just . . . broke. Ranma's hand smashed through his ribs as if they weren't even there and kept on going straight through and out the other side, taking the man's heart in the process.
Hiro sagged immediately, though his eyes never left Ranma's. "How . . . embarrassing," he choked out around the blood pouring freely from his mouth before his body went completely slack. Didn't take a genius to realise that he was dead.
"Nice one brat," said Anko with a bloody grin. "Don't know how you managed to sneak up on one of those stuck-up bastards but I owe you one."
Ranma said nothing and didn't look up from where he was staring, which was the junction between his arm and Hiro's chest and the blood steadily pumping out from that point of the man's chest.
"Come on, get me out of these cuffs," said Anko. "I've got some favours that need repaying to these bastards."
Ranma still didn't respond.
"Oi!" called out Anko. "Don't tell em you're going to get all weepy over that guy, kid. He was a grade-A bastard of a traitor with more betrayal on his mind. You really don't strike me as the sort of person who'd go along with someone slaughtering their family for shits and giggles."
Ranma shook his head and looked away from the grisly sight. A moment later he yanked his arm free, restraining the grimace that threatened to appear on his face at the feel of that move, and then went over to Anko to let her loose.
Anko promptly stretched in a way that'd have had Ryoga letting loose with the single largest explosive nosebleed in all of history when the cuffs dropped off. "You have no idea how good that feels," she said. "Man, I hate being tied up."
"Cheer up, brat. You just took out an A-class missing-nin as a genin. I think the last team that managed that was the Densetsu no Sannin and you didn't even need help," said Anko. "Anyway, you going to take his head or do you want me to do it?"
"You any idea what those eyes of his are worth?" asked Anko. "Can't let those fall into enemy hands. And we we'll need proof for the bounty."
Before Ranma could reply an anguished cry interrupted them. "Father!" cried Hitomi. "Damn you!"
Anko's launched herself forward at the girl, kunai in hand. Hitomi tried to dodge but was caught flat-footed and got nowhere. Ranma simply moved and appeared between the pair of them to catch Anko's weapon hand at the wrist.
"What the hell are you doing?" snarled Anko.
Ranma lashed out with a quick punch that caught Hitomi on the temple and knocked her flat out. "I reckon we've done enough killing for one day," he said. "We'll take her back with us."
"She's just another missing-nin. Kill her and be done with it."
"She's never had a chance," replied Ranma. "Never been anything but what her bastard of a pop wanted her to be. I reckon the old man'll want to give her that."
"This is ridiculous."
"I'm not letting you kill her and we don't have time to argue about it."
"No respect. That's what I get from my students. We'll be having words about this one, Saotome."
Anko stormed off in a huff at that point, and promptly hacked off Hiro's head in a most violent fashion as Aya whimpered in the background.