Davros's Fanfiction

Chapter Twenty-One

Seeing that the elite ANBU had been pretty much useless didn't come as the shock it probably should have to Ranma. It had been the same with the elite Phoenix-people soldiers: they'd been elite right up to the point where they'd actually had to fight people who were capable of fighting back. They'd been able to smash through those morons like they weren't even there and she guessed the ANBU weren't any different.

"This is bad," said Kakashi. "I never thought they'd infiltrate the ANBU."

There weren't many people still standing. The genjutsu had taken out most of the people in the stadium and left the ninja of the population stood amidst a horde of snoozing civilians and rookies. Then again, many was relative. There'd been tens of thousands of people in the stadium before and now there was maybe a hundred ninja or so moving around looking to be spoiling for a fight around those tens of thousands who were now comatose.

It looked like they were going to be fighting the Suna guys. At least that was what she was getting from the way Genma and the guy with the half-veil were staring each other down in the arena. The psycho kid didn't look like he was going to be doing much, at least. Didn't even look like he could stand without his siblings holding him up. So much for the big, bad blood-lusting lunatic.

There was quite a few of them, though, ninja with the Suna hitai-ate. Oto, too. No-one was attacking, yet, but it was bound to come.

"Are you fit to fight?" asked Gai.

"Against these losers?" asked Ryoga. "Always."

"Ranma?"

She looked down at the tray she had hanging around her neck and quickly shoved the last pork bun down her throat. "Might as well ask a fish if it's ready to swim," she said. "Not like this idiot could hit me hard enough to keep me down for longer 'n it takes to catch my breath."

Well, she wasn't exactly going to tell him that she was about three steps away from total exhaustion, was she? There were enough enemy ninja stalking around the place to make Joketsuzoku, with all their super-powered old biddies, nervous and the village leader was being held with a knife to his throat. It wasn't exactly the sort of thing you could beg off with a sick note. And she'd still only ran into one ninja that would be more than a vaguely annoying nuisance in a fight if she pulled out the stops.

Damn that freak.

Huh, it wasn't just the jounin, her, and Ryoga still standing where they'd been watching the fight from. Pinky was still there. Cowering behind her seat, but still awake. Ranma hadn't been expecting that; maybe she wasn't as totally useless as she'd looked when she was trading girly slaps with Ino. Maybe. Ah, no. Then again, no, she wasn't. She chose that moment to stick her head above the parapet and with a head of hair that bright what came next was about as far from a shock as Saffron throwing a strop and spitting fire at someone.

The ninja that came swooping down to slice a few chunks off her didn't get very far though. Before he'd even come into stabbing range a pair of spiked chains wrapped around his body and, well, it turned out that the human body really did have a lot of blood in it.

"About time you showed up, Mousse," said Ranma. "I was beginning to think you'd stood us up."

And that was the mark. Whatever the ninja had been waiting for before they made their move on seeing pink hair and one of their guys get cut down. Ranma turned her eye to the pair that dropped down from the stadium roof towards her. Two of them, masked and wearing the symbol of Oto, coming in fast. Well, fast for them, she supposed.

Ranma waited till they were almost on top of her, for the triumph to rise in their eyes, before she moved. In one motion she yanked the tray free from around her neck and smashed it into the face of the one coming to her left while twisting around to hammer a roundhouse kick into the jaw of the other. Both fell to the ground as if they'd had their strings cut.

She looked up from the pair just in time to see Ryoga flick his umbrella away from him and send blood cascading away with a look of disgust on his face. "These guys are soft," he said. "One hit and they fold."

"That's probably because you have their brains on your umbrella," said Mousse. "Idiot."

"Kakashi, look! The central tower!"

Kakashi turned to look up. Ranma followed his gaze. "Barrier technique. Looks like a good one."

"No, look inside the barrier."

"Orochimaru!"

Ranma, Mousse, and Ryoga looked at each other. She could see the same thing on their faces that she knew was on hers. They all wanted to be up there, they all wanted to get their hands on Orochimaru, they all wanted to get their own back for being humiliated by the bastard. "Let's go."

"Wait!"

Kakashi's call came far too late to have any effect. They were already gone. Honestly, who did he think they were? The sort of people who stopped to think before picking a fight with a ridiculously powerful opponent? Where would the fun be in that? There'd be at least two mountain ranges left standing if they were that sort. Boring.

Ranma was first to land on the tower roof with the other two not far behind. "Wow," she said. "That barrier's a lot bigger than it looked from down below."

"You're wasting your time," said Faceless Masked Ninja One. "It's impenetrable."

Ranma turned to watch the battle inside the barrier for a moment. Neither Orochimaru nor the Hokage were moving. They were just stood there staring at each other. Well, staring at each other and ripping the ground up with their auras. That was fairly impressive, she supposed, but if you've seen one guy burning the place up with raw ki then you've seen them all and then some. No-one was going to top Saffron's aura of flaming, apocalyptic doom, anyway.

And she'd still beaten the overgrown firebird. She was just that damned awesome. Ranma Saotome didn't lose to anyone, not in the rematch.

"Such awesome chakras."

"And they even have masked cheerleaders," said Ranma. "Cute."

She got the impression that if it weren't for the masks she'd be getting some truly fearsome glares from the ANBU. Meh. She'd felt better killing intent aimed at her before. Lots of times. Lots and lots of times.

"This is boring," said Ryoga. "Bakusai tenketsu! Bakusai tenketsu! Bakusai tenketsu!"

Ranma barely had the time to channel the ki to her feet to stick to the shuddering roof and glare at Ryoga before the whole building promptly collapsed around them and made the whole sticking to the roof part pretty pointless.

"I swear, there are times I really wish the old mummy hadn't taught you secret Amazon techniques," spat Mousse as he shoved his way free of the parts of the roof that had fallen on him.

"Stop whining," said Ryoga. "It's not my fault you're too stupid to dodge."

"The barrier's gone!" shouted one of the ANBU. "Get him! Get Orochimaru!"

Who was she to argue?

They didn't get more than a few steps forward before a massive blast of wind smashed them all back the way they'd came and scattered the debris of the tower far and wide across the arena. Ranma managed to stay on her feet - wind was wind, even if it was a blast aimed at her - and came skidding to a halt against what had been a support pillar with a slightly painful crunch.

Orochimaru was stood in the centre of it all with a look of utter disdain on his face. "I have no time for prey who would interfere in the affairs of predators," he said. "Kill them, my servants. Kill them all."

"Prey?" shouted Mousse. "I'll show you prey, you bastard!"

None of the weapons Mousse launched at Orochimaru even came close to him. That wasn't really a surprise, but seeing them getting knocked out of the air by a flurry of arrows was. Ah, minions. In a flash there were four minions stood between the Konoha-nins and Orochimaru: the guys who'd been pretending to be ANBU. Wonderful.

There was a really fat, tall guy with a mohawk, a little redhead who was, of course, nowhere near as hot as she was, a guy wearing lipstick who just so happened to have an extra head sticking out his back, and another guy with four arms. Not exactly your regular weekend crowd, that was for sure. Two heads? That was even weirder than the Musk. And those guys were part animal. Well, she supposed it matched. A freak having freaks as his lackeys,

The guy wearing lipstick brushed the hair back from his front head and smiled. "Oh, man," he said. "ANBU. This is gonna be quite a fight."

"Those three aren't normal genin, either," said the guy with four arms. "Did you see their fight? They're pretty high level for genin."

"Who cares?" asked the redhead. "Just more shitty rat Konoha bastards to kill."

"You shouldn't talk like that, Tayuya," said the fat guy. "It's not ladylike."

"Piss off you, Jirobu, you fat bastard."

"You three take care of these jokers," said one of the ANBU. "Keep them from getting in the way."

Ranma gave him an askance look. "What did we do to deserve having to waste our time on these idiots?" she asked. "They're not worth. Hey! Stop running off to the good fight and listen! Dammit, I don't want to be sat at the kids table."

The ANBU were gone, headed off to the fight that actually mattered, leaving Ranma stuck with the freaks and weirdos that Orochimaru had recruited to be his meat-shields along with Ryoga and Mousse.

"The four-armed one with the bow is mine," said Mousse, whose expression didn't exactly speak of a good end for the four-arms. "You two can have the rest."

"You sure?" asked Ranma. "I've got more practice with fighting crazy weapons freaks than you."

"Shut up, Saotome. This one's mine."

"No-one's even pretending to listen," said Ranma as Mousse went haring off, launching away a nice, little storm of kunai at his target as he went. She shrugged. "Don't suppose there's anything new there."

"Kuchiyose no jutsu!"

A large cloud of smoke billowed over the area and when it passed there was a trio of massive monsters stood behind Tayuya, who had a flute held to her mouth. They were pretty big, Ranma had to admit. At about fifteen feet tall and half that across each, they certainly were a sight. Weird looking things, too. The one to the left that was wrapped in bandages to the point where it was basically mummified, even if its arms bound away, was just bizarre. How was it supposed to hit her? The other two at least looked like fighters and had visible weapons to give them a bit of intimidation factor for the rubes.

"The bitch is mine," said Tayuya as black marks began to run over her face. "You two can go beat up the retard."

"I never thought I'd be saying this," said Ranma, cracking her knuckles. "But I'm going to have to teach you a lesson in manners."

The bandaged monster didn't so much as have time to blink, behind its bandages, before Ranma had covered the ground between her and it and smashed it away with a flying roundhouse kick. The centre beast barely had time to lift its club from its shoulder before Ranma's fist crashed into its midsection and catapulted it back into the third monster, sending both crashing to the ground in a heap.

All in all, it took less than a second, and Tayuya looked utterly gob-smacked as Ranma turned to face her. "Come on, girly," said Ranma. "You're going to need something better than that to beat me."

And there was the more. Chakra, a horrible, vile chakra, erupted from Tayuya and the black marks on her face thickened and congealed into one solid mass before lightening to a light brown. More startling were the horns that forced their way out of the girl's forehead and the eyes that went from a dark brown to a distinctly inhuman, slitted yellow.

"You're pretty strong, rat-bitch," said Tayuya. "But I've got plenty more techniques left to make you scream."

Ranma blinked and squinted her eyes as the brightness of the sun seemed to go up ten notches all at once. What the hell? What - genjutsu! Ranma went to put her hands together to form the hand seal that would dispel the technique but found that her arms simply didn't move. That got a frown. No-one had warned her about that particular trick, that was for sure.

If there'd been any question about it being a genjutsu before then it was quickly answered when the sky turned red and Ranma found herself kneeling on a muddy field strewn with human skulls and her arms held out wide at her sides by some sort of strings.

"I suppose I could wait for your to slit my throat or something," said Ranma. "But that'd be boring."

With that she flared her aura as high as she could. It was almost disappointing how weak it came up, damn Ryoga, but the blue light that flooded out of her still shattered the illusion like so much glass.

And she came out of the illusion just in time to be knocked off her feet by a unidentified flying fat guy. The pair of them hit the ground hard and skidded, Ranma getting crushed beneath the sheer bulk of the guy, before the came to a halt by smashing through a concrete block that had once been part of a wall. Jirobu didn't look like he was getting to be getting up anytime soon, the blood dripping from his mouth and the glassy look on his eyes being a fair hint, so Ranma tucked her legs in between his gut and her and launched him away into the wide blue yonder.

"Watch where you're throwing your opponent, bacon breath!"

"It's not my fault you're too stupid to dodge, Ranma!"

Ranma growled. "When this is over, I'm going to beat you like you're an Amazon," she shouted. Oh, that got her a dirty, dirty look from Mousse. Meh. Wasn't her fault he had the sense of humour of a brick. She turned back to Tayuya. "Okay, I've had enough of you."

Tayuya raised her flute to her mouth. Ranma moved. The only sound that came out of the instrument was a sort of garbled squeak.

"Told you," said Ranma. "Time to end this."

"You broke my fucking flute!" screeched Tayuya. She looked almost as demonic as you'd expect someone with horns to look. Which is to say less so than Happosai. "I'll kill you."

"Yeah, yeah. Heard it all before."

Ranma was mildly surprised at the speed of the girl's attack. Why, it was almost fast enough that she'd have had trouble dodging it when she was twelve. And there was the follow-up with the other arm - that almost rated a thirteen! The crater that was left by the wayward punch wasn't bad, either. Good few metres around and not too bad on the depth to boot.

She was just leaning back to somersault away from a high kick aimed at her jaw when a wave of cold ki that seemed to slither up and down her spine blew over her. The distraction of that lasted just long enough for the blow to strike home and knock Ranma off her feet and into the air with a nice cracking sound of boot on flesh and bone.

Well, as ways to get jarred into paying attention, there were more pleasant ones. She still managed to land on her feet, though, and smacking Tayuya away as she charged in to follow up her attack wasn't exactly a great strain. No, she was far more interested in what was going on with Orochimaru, Sarutobi, and the ANBU who seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth . . . unless that blood on the ground was all that was left of them.

Coffins were rising out of the ground between the snake bastard and the old man. They weren't particularly flashy as coffins went, just plain wood with a number written on the front, but they still caught the one. One rose, two rose. The old man looked seriously worried. That wasn't something Ranma was used to. She didn't exactly know him like the back of her hand but he hadn't struck her as someone who got scared easy. And he looked like his eyes were about to pop out of his head when a third coffin, with the number four on it, started to rise.

Ranma quickly turned and intercepted Tayuya's charge with a fist to the temple. She went down like a ton of bricks. "It's been fun," said Ranma. "But I've no more time to play with you."

Tayuya didn't so much as twitch. Meh. She needed to toughen up if she was going to play with the big boys. What sort of self-respecting wannabe demon got knocked flat out by a single punch like that? Weak.

The third coffin wasn't there when Ranma landed next to the old man. The doors on the first two were open, though, and an armoured ninja stepped out from each. From the first coffin stepped a tall, long-haired man wearing armour of a dull red. From the second stepped a man of similar height wearing blue armour with fur around the neck and shoulders. Both were unnaturally pale and had a grubby, unkempt air about them as they staggered out of the coffins.

"You should leave, Ranma," said the old man. He looked and sounded like Ranma had never seen him. Like someone who really was the strongest fighter a village of super-powered killers. It was a little unnerving. "This is not a battle for children."

Ryoga and Mousse dropped down to join them. "And leave you to fight three-on-one?" asked Ryoga. "Where's the honour in that?"

"It's been a long, eh, monkey?" said the second corpse.

"Oh, it's you," said the first. "You sure got old, Sarutobi. I didn't recognise you."

"I did not expect to meet you again in this world," said the Hokage. "It is most regrettable. Please prepare to be defeated, Shodai, Nidaime."

"Shodai?" asked Ryoga. "Nidaime? As in the first two Hokages?"

"None other, pup," said the Nidaime. He turned to look at Orochimaru, who promptly threw the now empty coffins aside to step closer to the zombies. "So this guy summoned us from the dead? You don't see something like that every day."

"If that's so, Sarutobi," said the Shodai, "I guess that means we would have to fight against you."

Orochimaru smirked. "How about you stop the tedious old folks chatter and get to the interesting part, hmm?" he said. "I didn't come here to listen to the decrepit reminisce over their glory days."

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" asked Sarutobi. "Using the dead as your tools. Nothing good will come of playing with time."

"Oh, I disagree," said Orochimaru. "You have an entire village of fools who will eagerly throw their bodies between you and my attacks and my servants have already proven too weak to stop them. It's a poor ninja who doesn't adapt to such circumstances."

There wasn't much to say really. She was normally all for throwing insults at her opponents to throw them off, but this guy was absolutely not going to be affected by any of that. He wasn't like Ryoga, Saffron, or Happosai - opponents who'd lose their grip and do stupid things if you annoyed. He was more like Cologne, the one who Ranma'd never been able to rattle, except, you know, evil and zombie-summoning.

Orochimaru formed a hand-seal and the Hokages' skin flushed and started to take a more lifelike look. They straightened up, stopped staggering, and suddenly they looked kinda dangerous. "Shall we begin?" he asked. A pair of kunai, seals attached to their hilts, appeared in his hands and he plunged them into the heads of his summons. The pair of them straightened as if they'd been given an electric shock. He laughed. "Complete."

"Old man, how tough are these guys?" asked Ranma. "They on his level? Weaker stronger?"

"The Shodai and the Nidaime are worth ten of scum like him," said Sarutobi. He sighed. "I do not know how strong they will be. It depends on the power of my foolish former student's technique. In life, at their peak, they were more powerful than I have seen him to be."

Oh, now there was some good news. She wanted to kick the hell out of Orochimaru and then she was faced with a couple of zombies that were as strong as he was? Brilliant. All she needed was for Saffron to show up looking for round three and everything really would be just hunky-dory. Oh, hey, how about Herb and his retarded minions, too? Make it a real party.

"You wound me, sensei," said Orochimaru. "I summon these old fools so that you may experience the pure joy that comes only from hurting those who were once your masters and you insult me in such a way. Such ingratitude."

"Enough words, Orochimaru. This shall be settled only with blood."

Well, that was enough for Ranma. She'd never been one for hanging around when there was a fight to be getting on with and she closed the distance between herself and Orochimaru in a blur of motion. All that only to meet a fist that smashed into her jaw with enough force to make her see stars.

"Pathetically predictable," said Orochimaru. "I had higher hopes than this for you."

Ranma rubbed her jaw and hopped to her feet just in time to get a face-full of boiling water as Sarutobi's fireball met the Nidaime's water shield in an explosive clash. Behind that had been a charging Sarutobi but now he was sent scurrying back in the face of the oncoming torrent.

This time when Ranma got up he felt a whole lot happier. The aches and pains had faded away and he felt almost as if he hadn't gone fifteen rounds with Ryoga. That and he was in his real body with his real strength and that always - always - felt like he was waking up after spending the last few hours or days in a body that was half-asleep and didn't quite fit properly.

No time to stand around wondering at how great it was to be himself again, though. There was enemies to be defeated. Hmm, charging in fist first didn't seem to work all that well against these guys. Something else was needed. He looked at Ryoga and tried to communicate his attentions; Ryoga nodded.

"MOKA TAKIBASHA!"

"SHI SHI HOKODAN!"

The two ki attacks roared forth and mixed together in a glow of blue and green as they raced towards their targets. The targets didn't even move to dodge. They just stood there, waiting, as a tidal wave of energy rushed towards them. It was more than a little odd and Ranma understood why when the floor in front of them split open and a wooden wall sprouted up and around them from that gap.

When the light of the attack striking that barrier passed the barrier still stood. Scorched and dented, but it stood. Okay, that was impressive. But since when could wood of any sort stand up to attacks that smashed through concrete like it was made of bamboo? Madness.

"Mokuton!" shouted Sarutobi. "Watch yourselves."

Ranma had heard of mokuton, but he didn't know much about it other than that it was a bit legendary. He didn't need to after seeing it shrug off an attack like that so easily. It was bad news. Well, it would be good news if he was the one using it, but it was always the bad guy that got the insane new techniques. Well, the brainwashed dead guy. Anyway, it was annoying.

The wooden barrier split in the centre and the halves peeled apart in a way that reminded Ranma of the way Hiro's flesh had parted beneath his fist. He had a moment to wonder what was coming next and to jump backwards to put a little breathing room between him and the enemy before a massive water-dragon came roaring out of the gap. Ranma got a good look at it as it roared past where Orochimaru had knocked him and it looked like it'd bite the heads of the Orochi and go looking for more.

Ryoga's reaction was sharp. He quickly ran through a series of hand-seals and slammed his hand down on to the ground in front of him; immediately a thick wall of mud and rock rose out of the ground in front of him with a shuddering roar.

And then they met. Dragon met barrier in a deafening clash that kicked up a dust cloud that billowed over the whole arena and irritated Ranma's eyes something fierce. Not enough to stop him from slapping the bits of rock that came hurtling her way out of the air, of course, but it wasn't much fun.

"Ranma," came the whisper into his ear from just to his left. "I need you to be ready with your wind bullet attack. Remember, wind fans the flames."

Ranma whipped around just in time to see an image of the old man fade away into the air as if it had never been there. What sort of technique was that? Some sort of bunshin, maybe, but the normal one, the one that just disappeared, couldn't speak - it didn't have any vocal cords to do so with. And the solid ones, like his wind clone, didn't just fade away like that.

A loud roar and a terrific heat off to the side drew Ranma from his wondering. He turned to see a dragon of pure fire race past him, blistering the air as it went. No time to think, he just formed the hand-seals. "Kaze dangan no jutsu!"

He had to turn away when his wind bullet met the dragon. Staring into that inferno was like staring into the sun. Just too much. And he could feel his clothes heating up and starting to smoulder slightly just from being with a few metres of the blaze. It was ridiculous and even with his head turned away and his eyes closed the explosion set spots dancing in his vision.

When he opened his eyes again the place looked like the surface of the moon. Most of the debris had been blown away or melted and what little grass there had been on the dirt before had simply been scorched away to leave beyond a distinctly barren looking terrain where the fire had struck.

But beyond that stood three ninja. And one of them, the Nidaime, had his arm held out straight in front of him and a thick wall of water beyond that. He'd shielded the damned attack. What sort of freakish water power did it take to do that? Water beats fire, but that sort of fire? It should have boiled the whole lot away like it wasn't even there no matter how much water he could summon. But there it was. A wall of water. Still standing.

The Shodai formed a seal. "Mokuton Hijutsu: Jukai Kōtan."

Ranma had a moment to wonder what the zombie was trying to do when a tree came tearing out of the ground beneath his feet and catapulted him into the air. He rolled with that and was able to twist aside and dodge as another tree tore up through the space where his head had been a moment ago. When the next tree came he was ready for it and as it hurtled past him and upwards into the sky he kicked off it to launch himself towards the Shodai.

The Shodai reacted quickly to this move and broke his seal to throw a straight, right-handed punch at Ranma's head the moment the boy landed. Ranma leaned aside and the blow whistled by harmlessly. Then Ranma launched his strike. Armour cracked and splintered and finally smashed entirely as Ranma threw his full strength behind a rapid series of punches from both hands that eventually threw the Shodai back and through one of the trees he'd summoned in the newly grown forest.

As the Shodai crashed back Ranma moved to attack the Nidaime. He managed only a few steps towards that man before he had to dodge in the face of a torrent of water that had been spat forth by his target. That leap carried him to a few metres short of Orochimaru and seeing that bastard's smirk filled Ranma with the desire to smash his teeth. Remarkable, because even Saffron hadn't inspired that feeling.

But before he could attack Orochimaru the man launched forth a pair of massive, thick snakes from his sleeve that crossed the distance between them and coiled around Ranma before he react to dodge. Both snakes stayed, fangs bared, at his neck for a moment before they struck down.

Their bite connected with nothing but the lump of debris that Ranma had replaced himself with. He had just enough time to sigh in relief before he looked up and the Shodai's fist met his neatly exposed jaw. Ranma saw stars as the blow catapulted him back the way he'd came. Since when did ninja hit that hard?

"Didn't I take that guy out?" asked Ranma as he landed next to Sarutobi. "I'm pretty sure I did. The whole part where I smashed his armour and his ribs gave me that impression."

"A Hokage is not so easily defeated."

Ranma sprang to his feet and set about brushing all the bits of wood that were left on his shirt from the all the trees he'd smashed through. "I guess so," he said. "Oh, and the zombies don't seem all that quick. The trees aren't as strong as that barrier either."

Orochimaru's voice drifted through the trees. "Sensei, you're boring me," he said. "If you don't do something interesting, then I will."

The old man's frown made his wrinkles look deep enough to double for the Grand Canyon and then some. Ranma could almost see the thoughts running through the Hokage's head as he thought about what to do. Probably a lot of options as old as he was; the letch and the ghoul had always had a dozen tricks for every situation. Okay, most of Happosai's tricks were forgotten at the first sign of a woman, but he still had them.

"Kuchiyose no jutsu!"

A large monkey appeared in a cloud of smoke. An extremely large monkey. Wearing clothes. "Whoa," said Ranma. "It's just like that martial arts tea ceremony fight all over again. Uh, you're not into tea ceremony, right, monkey-man? You don't look like you are-"

The monkey didn't look too impressed as he turned to look at the Hokage. The old man was giving Ranma the strangest look he'd ever received as well. Tch, you'd think they'd never heard of martial arts tea ceremony or something. "Children, Sarutobi?" he asked. "What sort of a battle would you summon me for and have use for children?"

""Who are you calling a kid?" shouted Ryoga. Mousse quacked from where he was perched atop Ryoga's head - stupid duck-boy. Then his expression turned to confusion, "And since when did monkeys talk?"

The monkey ignored him and cast its eyes over the battlefield. "Orochimaru," he said finally, making the name sound like some sort of foul curse. He looked back to the Hokage. "I told you to kill him when you had the chance."

"That's what I'm trying to do!"

"It's too late now, Sarutobi."

Ranma felt a flicker of killing intent at the edge of his senses and turned just in time to see the two zombie-kages came bursting out of the foliage towards the summoned talking monkey. It barely seemed to move as it slid out of the way of the Shodai's punch but the overhand strike it landed on the top of the Shodai's head was plenty solid enough to knock the tall man back down through the trees. The Nidaime met a similar fate: his punch blocked by a forearm and then a roundhouse punch smashing him back the way he came.

Monkey was good. Ranma didn't think he could do much better. A little better, of course, because he had style, but not much.

"Enma, transform," said Sarutobi. "Please. It's time to end this."

"One last time. Just remember that even I can be cut by the Kusanagi."

Enma took to he air with a leap towards the old man and, with a puff of smoke, he transformed into a long, thick staff that Sarutobi snatched out of the air promptly took control of as if he was born to wield it. But Ranma was more interested in what the monkey had said. "That bastard has the Kusanagi?" asked Ranma, looking and feeling faintly offended. "The Kusanagi?"

"You've heard of it elsewhere?" asked Sarutobi. "No, there's no time. Tell me later. For now, I have a plan, but you must do what I say. There's no time for questions. You just have to trust me."

Ranma listened. He couldn't find any fault in Sarutobi's plan, not on the fly, and so he followed. He took a deep breath, slipped into the umisenken, and then ghosted away into the foliage as Ryoga formed the hand seals to summon or conjure or whatever the hell he did to create that damned golem he'd spooked the hell out of him with back in their exam match.

And seeing it in the daylight without a hurricane blasting around him was something else entirely. That thing was huge. Watching a thirty foot tall version of Ryoga made out of solid rock come rumbling up out of the ground was the sort of thing that had been confined to Ranma's nightmares before. It looked like it'd be able to pick him up between two fingers and swallow him whole in one bite. Well, at least it wasn't Kuno. That really would be straight out of a nightmare.

The golem was under attack almost the minute it came out of the ground. Water bullets came hurtling up from where the Nidaime was perched with Orochimaru and the Shodai, and they scored good hits. The golem was too massive and too solid for the bullets to blast it apart like the dragon had the barrier, but each hit still gouged large chunks out of it and soon the air was thick with dust and debris as the golem staggered on towards its targets despite the beating it was taking.

One particularly large bullet sheared right through the left arm of the golem and sent the rest of the arm crashing down to the ground with an almighty clatter, but through the debris of that blast the golem reached its target. Its remaining arm, hand curled into a fist, slammed down into the ground with a force that shook the earth and blasted up a cloud of dust that obscured everything. The last thing Ranma saw before it billowed over him and he was reduced to relying on his sixth sense was Sarutobi and Ryoga leaping off the head of the now ruined golem with weapons held ready to attack.

It didn't matter, though. Picking out Orochimaru's presence was like picking out the giant in a village of dwarves. His presence was simply vile now that he'd stopped concealing it; it was a horrid taint at the edge of Ranma's senses, something vile and disgusting yet omnipresent, that reeked of death and decay and malice. It was impossible to miss for anyone who could actually feel auras.

Ranma picked his way through the foliage, moving carefully in order to make no sound, as Sarutobi attacked Orochimaru with his monkey-staff. It was an impressive sight, the old guy moved well, but the signs of strain were already present and Orochimaru's expression, in the instants that it was visible to Ranma, never changed from the ever-present smirk.

There it was! An opening! Ranma darted forward, a blur of motion, towards the exposed back of Orochimaru. "Dokuja tanketsu shō!"

The strike connected cleanly and with full force. Ranma felt the body of his enemy twist and break beneath his hand, but it didn't tear through his flesh like it had Hiro's and as Orochimaru was thrown away from him he could see no blood on either the man or on his own arm.

Orochimaru landed in a heap, his back twisted at a totally unnatural angle, and for a moment Ranma thought that was enough and they'd beat him. But then, before Ranma's eyes, the body twisted. With a series of cracks the spine moved back into place till it looked as if the strike had never landed at all.

And the snake rose back to his feet in a movement that was entirely unnatural. "Do you not understand?" he asked, evil sneer firmly in place. "I am eternity made flesh. I cannot be-"

Sarutobi's staff caught Orochimaru in the temple and catapulted him away. "Back to the academy for you, student," he said. "There is no place for villain's exposition in a ninja battle."

"So be it. Daitoppa!"

Ranma flickered his way through a series of seals that allowed the wind to simply flow around him but Sarutobi was not so fleet of hand and was blown away with the others caught in the blast.

"Impressive," said Orochimaru. "Your wind affinity is impressive. But I have no more time to play with children."

Ranma didn't see it coming. One moment Orochimaru was crouched a few dozen feet away from him speaking and the next there was a sword hurtling forth from the bastard's mouth towards him, extending like that crazy girl Mariko's baton had, but much, much faster. It was pure instinct that had him catch the blade between his palms before it skewered him..

Catching the blade didn't save him. The force behind the strike was incredible and a moment later Ranma found himself airborne with only his palm grip between him and a messy, painful death. He could feel it slipping, too, as the force of the strike wore through his grip. The tip of the blade was pressing at his sternum already and he could feel it slowly penetrating his flesh as it wore through his defences. In that moment he appreciated the fear of death in a way he'd never had cause to before; his survival was entirely dependant on a monster not being determined to kill him.

And then, after a long, terrifying moment, he landed, crashing to the ground with enough force to expel the air from his lungs and the sword withdrew back the way it had came. Ranma almost laughed in relief. He'd made it. He'd survived being attacked with the Kusanagi.

Pain pricked his relief and he looked down at his hands. There was no way he could restrain the wince that came when he saw the state of them. A long slash marred the centre of each palm and the moment he noticed that the pain of it burned through him. But he forced that down, pain was nothing, and looked further. There was another wound, in the centre of his sternum, much narrower, but deeper. He really had been a heartbeat away from death.

"My, my, you are a mess."

Ranma looked up to see Kabuto picking his way through the trees toward him with a small smile on his face. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Orochimaru-"

Kabuto pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and Ranma could have sworn that they gleamed. "Oh, I know," he said. "I know. But it's the duty of any good Konoha-nin to assist their Hokage, yes?"

"I suppose, but-"

"You worry too much, Ranma," said Kabuto. His grin grew slightly. "You look like you need a medic. Lucky for you, there's one stood here in front of you."

Ranma rose to his feet. "You can heal me?"

"Oh, yes," said Kabuto. His hand took on a green glow and a light humming sound filled the air. "Just stand still and it'll be over in an instant."

Ranma wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He needed healing and there was a healer. Perfect. Always take an opportunity, that was what he'd been taught, and he didn't see any reason to change that.

Agony. Agony flooded through Ranma as Kabuto's hand touched his chest and he gasped with it as he felt his lung simply deflate and burn. He wavered on his feet for a moment before falling to his knees. "What-"

Kabuto's foot caught him underneath the jaw and sent him crashing to his back. Dark spots danced in front of his eyes as the pain threatened to swallow him whole. "Oh my," said Kabuto. "This loser seems to have punctured your lung. How could that have happened?"

Ranma couldn't believe it and rage quickly filled him. Kabuto was a traitor - he was working for Orochimaru! "Bastard-"

Kabuto's foot smashed into Ranma's mouth, and Ranma felt the blood spill from his busted lip. "Now, now," said Kabuto. "There's no need to swear. Surely a genius would have better ways to express their self than profanity?"

Ranma's response was to spit the blood from his mouth into Kabuto's face. Probably not the smartest thing he'd ever done, but he'd be damned if he'd show any sort of submission to anyone. He had just enough time to ponder that before Kabuto's heel cracked down onto his nose and a whole lot of blood joined the dark spots in front of his eyes with a real, nice crunching sound.

"Prepare to die, Kabuto!"

He'd never thought he'd be glad to see Ryoga, but there it was. Ryoga looked as angry as Ranma had ever seen him and with the blood already spattered across his umbrella and clothes he looked damn intimidating. Kabuto looked slightly surprised for an instant before the grin returned and he pushed his glasses up. That was all he had time to do before Ryoga charged, umbrella cocked.

It came as an unpleasant surprise to Ranma when Kabuto actually managed to duck beneath Ryoga's attack and let the larger boy charge on past him. Even more of an unpleasant surprise when Kabuto's hand, glowing with energy once more, slashed into Ryoga's back. The lost boy had just enough time to look shocked before his eyes turned glassy and he toppled onto his side like a colossus that'd had its base smashed out from underneath it.

"This will of fire nonsense is so very annoying. Why won't you just-"

Kabuto was interrupted again, this time by a hailstorm of kunai that he only just managed to leap out of the way of in time to avoid being made into a pin cushion. A duck swooped overhead before banking to the side and coming around for another run. Saved by Mousse? Oh, man. They'd never live that one down.

On second thoughts maybe not. Kabuto flicked his wrist and with that a line of glowing ki was launched forth to wrap around Mousse's neck. The duck quacked loudly, and then Kabuto twisted his wrist to swing it around and slam it into a nearby tree with enough force to almost knock it out of its roots. Mousse gave one more quiet quack and then went silent.

"Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Killing you, Ranma."

There were times in his life when Ranma had serious cause to regret all the trouble he managed to find. Seeing Kabuto charging towards him, both hands glowing, was one of those. He was going to die and he was never going to get to see Akane, his mother, or his pop ever again. There was nothing he could do to stop it and he couldn't bring himself to take his eyes away from the incoming killer.

A pair of snakes cut through the air and wound their way around Kabuto, who looked surprised for a moment before he disappeared in a puff of smoke to be replaced by a thick log.

Anko appeared between Ranma and Kabuto in a flurry of leaves. Ranma almost felt like fainting in relief, but he quickly suppressed that. It'd be a manly sort of faint but still. "You stay the hell away from them," she said. "Or I'll make you bleed like you've never bled before."

Kabuto smiled and pushed his glasses back up. "You don't really think you can stop me, do you?" he said. "You're far too weak."

"Kakashi warned me about you," said Anko. "There'll be no more free victories from here on out."

"You're nothing more than a failed experiment, Anko. Why don't you just run away and preserve your worthless existence for another day? It wouldn't be the first time, would it?"

Anko's lips peeled back as her expression settled into a predatory smile. "Why don't you come over here so I can show you how worthless I really am?" she asked. "Or is the little boy too scared to take on his master's former apprentice?"

Kabuto's expression was similarly predatory. "It's been far too long since I had a good battle," he said. "Don't disappoint me."

And then they moved. It was almost eerie the similarity in how they moved. Both fighters opened by pulling a trio of kunai from the holster they kept at the back of their waist and launching those weapons the way of the other. Those weapons met mid-air in a clash of steel that left both attacks nullified, and then the two fighters were on each other in an exchange of fist and feet.

As they exchanged blows, Ranma tried to pull himself to his feet. Bad idea. He got to his knees and then the world tilted around him, went dark, and then he was back on the ground gasping for breath that just wouldn't come and with what felt like a fire burning in his left lung. Kabuto hadn't been kidding when he said he'd punctured the lung. Damn, damn, damn.

He looked up just in time to see Anko reel away from Kabuto with blood spurting from a thin cut that had been slashed down her cheek. Before she could retake her guard Kabuto darted forward and slashed a glowing hand down across her sternum. A terrible cold swept through Ranma's gut for the instant that he thought Kabuto had killed her but before he could react in any way Anko turned a muddy brown and the body began to dissolve.

Kabuto whipped around just in time to see Anko complete rising out of the ground, hands flashing through a series of handseals. "Katon: Goukakyuu No Jutsu." A good-sized fireball rocketed forth from Anko's mouth towards Kabuto, but Anko wasn't finished there. Her hands had already moved seamlessly to the seals for a second, follow-up technique. "Fuuton: Daitoppa."

Ranma had to shield his eyes from the monstrous fireball created by the combined wind and fire techniques. He'd had no idea, none at all, that Anko could do something like that on her own. The fire ripped through the forest and set everything in front of the direction Anko was facing ablaze in a massive conflagration that quickly began to spread around the arena. As ways to take out one guy went, it was damned excessive . . . and fit Anko down to the ground.

"Failed experiment, my perfectly formed arse," said Anko, her chest heaving slightly from the exertion of her attack. Ranma realised that he couldn't feel Kabuto's ki. She'd got him. "Ranma, what's your status?"

"I've had better days."

"Don't move around too much," said Anko. "Medic-nins know just where to hit to really mess you up."

For once in his life Ranma really didn't feel like making a smart alec reply. He was just too busy coughing up blood to acknowledge that, yes, Kabuto really did have a way of making it hurt. If Kabuto wasn't dead, he was going to make sure that the traitor wished he was next time they met.

Anko leaned over Ryoga with a pensive expression on her face. "Doesn't look too bad," she said. "Wait a-"

She reacted smartly to leap back out of the way as Ryoga threw a hard uppercut at her jaw. Ryoga? No. The moment Ryoga reached his feet he grabbed hold of some loose skin by his temple and tore his face away like a mask. Kabuto. "You're stronger than I expected," he said. "But then that's not saying a great deal."

With that expression on her face and the inferno that she'd created raging around her Anko looked positively demonic. "Where is he?" she ground out. "Where is Ryoga?"

"Oh, he's around," said Kabuto. "Somewhere, in this pleasant little bonfire you've created for us to enjoy. You might want to move quickly. Strong as he is, I don't think he'll last too long if he gets caught in this."

"I am going to gut you like a fish."

"Now, now, there's no time for posturing, Anko," said Kabuto. He looked far too happy with himself for Ranma's tastes. "Your student could be burning as we speak, and if you don't drag him out then who will? Oh, but if you run off to save him, then who keeps me from finishing the job with your other students. Quite the dilemma, don't you think?"

If Ranma had thought Anko looked demonic before, that was nothing compared to how she looked after that pronouncement. She wasn't so much radiating killing intent as personifying it. It came as a bit of a surprise to him that Anko was actually kinda scary, even if he did call her psycho.

Kabuto sighed theatrically. "It seems that you're going to lose another team," he said. "Such a shame. People might think it's becoming a habit-"

He barely had time to dodge as Anko flew at him, launching kunai forth like a knife-throwing machine gun all the way before she entered hand-to-hand range. Blows were exchanged at lightning speed and Ranma was left wondering when Anko, who he'd always thought was a bit weak like most ninja, had got so fast.

But it wasn't enough. Again Anko was the one forced to retreat as a glowing hand cut through the air she had been inhabiting a moment beforehand.

"How disappointing," said Kabuto with an exaggerated sigh. "I'd hoped for a more interesting battle than this. Well, it shouldn't be long now . . . you're just not strong enough to go through me."

The look in Anko's eyes was absolutely wild. "Strong?" she snarled. "I'll show you strong, you little bastard."

And then she moved, blazing enough killing intent to drop a child at twenty paces as she went, arm cocked, kunai in hand, to deliver a murderous blow. Her aura was blowing off enough energy that it would have been heading into the visible spectrum if she'd been trained that way.

But it was for nothing. Ranma was too tired, too hurt, to follow it as he normally would but one second Anko was charging and the next she was still as a statue with blood dripping from a deep wound on her chest. Kabuto was by her side, half a pace distant, grinning, as if he were playing a particularly amusing game.

That didn't stop her of course. With a snarl she twisted around and slashed her kunai through the air towards Kabuto's face, but he simply leaned back and allowed it to whistle harmlessly through the air in front of them. And, then, still smiling he smashed the palm of his hand into Anko's nose with a sickening crunch.

Anko reeled back and Kabuto stepped in with a pair of hard punches that rocked her head to and fro before he snapped off a crisp uppercut that caught her flush on the point of her chin and dropped her to the ground.

Ranma's heart filled with dread as he watched Kabuto grab Anko by the lapels of her now blood-spattered trenchcoat and pull her to her feet in front of him. Kabuto tutted. "Look at you," he said. "To fall into such an obvious trap . . . and you were Orochimaru's apprentice, his chosen student from a team of supposedly elite genin? Pitiful, really."

Ranma pulled himself to his feet but there he stopped, a terrible wave of nausea rolling through him and freezing him in his tracks, wavering to and fro as black spots danced in front his eyes.

"I had hoped for something more interesting," continued Kabuto. "Something to stretch my skills a little. But," and he paused to sigh theatrically, "you have disappointed and it's now time to conclude our business. Any last words?"

Anko coughed and spat up a mouthful of blood. "Yeah," she said. "I have some last words: you're an idiot."

Kabuto's expression turned to confusion. "What?"

Ranma couldn't see what exactly happened for Anko's body, but Kabuto's eyes went very, very wide and his complexion went very, very pale and he saw what looked like a snake writhing around Anko's midsection before it withdrew back into the folds of her coat. Whatever it was it looked as if it had been effective, though - Kabuto wasn't so much as twitching, and it looked like he was doing his best not to scream.

Then Anko stepped away. Ranma couldn't help but wince when he saw the hilt of a kunai sticking out of Kabuto's crotch. It was just instinctive. But it had nothing on the sympathy pain he got when Anko twisted around and slammed a roundhouse kick right into the hilt of the kunai. Kabuto kinda screeched and dropped to the ground. There were definite tears of pain.

"Something to remember me by when you're singing soprano," said Anko by way of explanation before zipping off in a flurry of leaves. She returned a moment later with a singed looking Ryoga over one shoulder and a comatose duck perched on the other. "Make sure these two idiots don't get themselves killed."

Anko was covered in blood. Between the blood dripping from the long wound that had been slashed down the left side of her face, the deep, deep cut that had been carved out of her chest just below her breasts, and the spatter pattern on her coat from where she'd stabbed Kabuto, she looked like she'd been bathing in the stuff. And she looked absolutely in her element.

But what was coming up behind her was a little more eye-catching. There really weren't words for it or anything he could actually do about it so Ranma just pointed. Anko whirled around just in time to see the tsunami heading their way and summed up all their thoughts quite well. "Fucking Senju."

And then the wave crashed over them. Pain, a twisting, burning agonising pain, burned inside Ranma as his curse triggered and he couldn't even work up the breath to scream with it as the world went dark around him.

When he came to again he was a she and she was hanging from a tree branch by her now rather battered shirt with a duck on top of her head. She'd found herself in worse positions in the past, she was sure, but she was having trouble remembering them. At least she could breath. Sort of.

"You are truly inhuman," said Sarutobi. That got Ranma's attention. The old man looked like he'd been through the wars but he was still standing. "How many bodies have you stolen?"

Orochimaru was laughing. But it didn't sound like his laughter. The voice was just too high-pitched, too girlish, and when Ranma tracked across to actually look at him . . . he was a she. Which wasn't all that remarkable - boys turning into girls was kinda ho-hum for Ranma - but her eyes . . . there was nothing human in there. They had all the features that people talked about when they were looking at cute girls, though the snake thing was weird, but there was nothing there - no emotion, no warmth, no nothing. The eyes were the windows to the soul and Orochimaru's showed a vast, all-consuming emptiness that honestly gave Ranma a case of the creeping horrors.

"This is my third," said Orochimaru once she'd quieted her laughter. "But soon I will have another, one stronger and even more beautiful."

"Sasuke."

Orochimaru's features settled into a predatory grin. "Yes," she said. "He will come to me for power soon, but before then we have business to settle." Orochimaru's drew his hand down across her face and when it had passed she was the familiar man. "But for that I think you would prefer this form, no? It seems right that the trash of Konoha should recognise its destroyer as they curse his name."

"Konoha will not fall," said Sarutobi. "Not to the likes of you, Orochimaru."

"You will be dead soon, along with your foolish subordinates, and then you will have no more influence on what is to come."

"There will always be another to take up my mantle. Always. Never will the people of Konoha bend their knee to the likes of you. This is the will of fire. Your lack of understanding is why you could never have been the Yondaime."

Orochimaru's smile evaporated. "Meaningless words," he snarled. "I shall show you how very little your feeble ideology is worth, sensei. Watch as I make your subordinates pay for your weakness."

Sarutobi hefted his staff and hurled himself towards Orochimaru but the Shodai and Nidaime were between him and his target in a flash and Orochimaru was free. He had his sword in hand, extended in a lunge, and he was hurtling towards Ranma with hair trailing behind him in a long, dark streak.

Ranma had been on the brink of death so many times that day that he barely even blinked at seeing Orochimaru come at him. She'd already had her life flash before her eyes and felt her regrets and there was no way she was going to let that barely human bastard see any fear in her eyes. Even if she died, Ryoga would avenge her eventually. She'd take that.

Then Anko was between them. Anko with the sword piercing through her chest and out her back as she stood between Ranma and Orochimaru. Ranma had no breath for dramatic shouts or screams but she felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as she watched the blood drip from the point of the blade poking out of her sensei's back.

Orochimaru tsked. "Even in death you remain such a disappointing student," he said. "You have learned nothing."

Anko looked up to meet Orochimaru's eye. "Not nothing," she said. Even from her position Ranma could see the blood fall from Anko's mouth as she spoke. "I learned plenty."

"What? This will not save the child. She will die, and now you will die with her. It is meaningless."

"You always were an arrogant bastard, weren't you?" gasped Anko. "Well now you pay for it. If this is the last thing I ever do, I'm going to make it count."

Orochimaru's expression lost some of its arrogance as he tried to yank his sword out and pull away, but Anko's grip was firm. A snake slithered out from underneath the back of Anko's coat with a kunai in its mouth and whipped around to pierce the blade through the hands of Anko and Orochimaru, binding them together quite effectively.

"Let's die together," said Anko. "Master and student. It'll be beautiful."

"I will not be defeated by a pathetic mongrel such as you."

Anko began to form seals with the hand she'd bound to Orochimaru with a kunai. "I've been waiting for this for a long time," she said. "Don't spoil it."

Ranma thrashed against the tree. Her breath drew short and dark spots danced in front of her eyes, but she tore her shirt free - damn the strength of the material - and fell to the ground. But there she stopped, panting to try and gain the energy to move, but failing.

"Why do you struggle so much, sensei? Don't you like my Sōjasōsai no Jutsu. It's such a wonderful technique."

Orochimaru stilled. "You waste your time," he said. "If you have not even constructed a new technique, you will fail."

A pair of snakes poked their heads out from Anko's coat sleeve. "We'll see," she said. "Won't we?"

Ranma struggled to her feet but could no more than watch as the snakes bit down, one on Anko's wrist, one on Orochimaru's. Anko wilted almost immediately, the colour draining from her skin in an instant before she slumped forward onto Orochimaru, but Orochimaru was different. He snarled in concentration and, with a mighty burst of ki and a horrible tearing sound, he yanked himself free of Anko, almost tearing his hand in two in the process.

From there Ranma could see the effect of the poison on Orochimaru. His torn hand had gone from being ridiculously pale to being a horrid shade of grey, a grey that was slowly creeping its way up his arm. "Impossible," he said. "This is-"

"It seems that another of my wayward pupils has defied my expectations," said Sarutobi. "But Tsunade's gambit comes as a much more pleasant surprise."

"This isn't over yet, old man," snarled Orochimaru as his arm flopped uselessly to his side. "Tsunade's poisons were always keyed to Senju blood. This is not the end."

"You are no more a Senju than I am, student," said Sarutobi. "Or do you need to be reminded of basic genetics as well as everything else? Even that body you have stolen cannot be Senju - they are a dead clan, destroyed in the wars, and Tsunade is the last."

"But I have resurrected them!"

"No! I won't allow-"

The Shodai and Nidaime exploded, sending clouds of dust up into the air, leaving behind a pair of child corpses Ranma recognised from the exams and two large. swirling masses of colourless energy.

"Look upon my works and weep, old man. I am not without my resources."

Orochimaru shouted in exertion and doubled over as the energy crashed through the air and began to seep into him. The old man raised his hand and Ranma felt a surge of energy from him trying to pull the zombie-ki away from Orochimaru and for a moment it looked as if it might work as the energy began to pull away. But then he faltered and the energy resumed its original flow.

But Ranma wasn't paying much of any attention to what was going on. It was background noise. She was staring at Anko. Anko who wasn't moving or breathing or making even the slightest sound. She couldn't be dead. She just couldn't. Anko was going to teach them crazy ninja techniques and they were going to teach her crazy martial arts and it was going to be great. She couldn't be dead.

But she still wasn't moving.

Ranma looked away.

"It's over, Orochimaru," said Sarutobi. "You cannot win. Not now."

"My left arm may be useless, sensei, but I am hardly defeated," replied Orochimaru. "You can barely lift that ape. What makes you think you can defeat me in such a state?"

"That'd be where we come in."

Kakashi and Gai dropped down from the trees to stand by Sarutobi.

"Sorry we're late, Hokage, sir," said Gai. "We had to deal with an unpleasant infestation on the way."

"You should leave the excuses to Kakashi, Gai. He's better at them."

Ranma reached out and started to pull herself forward towards Anko. The effort, minimal as it was, left her breathless and retching but she still kept going. Right then it was the most important thing in the world to her.

"My servants! To me! Now!"

The Sound Four, minus one, appeared next to Orochimaru. The fat one had Kabuto tossed over his shoulder and they all looked as if they'd been beaten within an inch of their lives and back again. But it wasn't important.

"Your worshipful minions may have saved you from your fate this time, sensei, but we will meet again."

Tayuya and the one wearing lipstick slammed their hands down to the ground in front of them. A purple barrier promptly shimmered into existence to separate Orochimaru and his minions from Sarutobi and his.

"There will be no safe place in the world for you, Orochimaru. This I swear by the memory of those you have desecrated. I will hunt you down like the animal you are."

Orochimaru smirked. "I shall look forward to it."

And with that they were gone.

Ranma had reached Anko by then, though. She stopped for a second to catch what little breath she could and then she reached out to Anko's arm. "Anko?" she asked as she shook her arm.

There was no resistance to her shaking. The body simply flopped. That was the only response.

Anko was really dead.

Darkness fell. And this time Ranma didn't come to again a moment later.