It wouldn't be long before they reached Konoha and their missions over. It had been a long journey back from Oto no Kuni, but it was just about over. The monument was within sight and they could be back within minutes if they put their feet down and made haste. But they weren't. They were trudging along with all the speed of people who'd much rather be going in the opposite direction but realise that they really can't do that.
Ranma knew why he felt that way. They'd failed and they'd failed pretty badly. Their mission was massively incomplete. The ninja who'd been working the area? Free to go about their business. Whatever rock they'd been hiding under? Totally undisturbed. So, those were their two goals for the mission going by completely unaccomplished. Not the best first time out for a trio of newly minted special jounin looking to avenge their dead sensei.
They did have a couple of consolation prizes, decent consolation prizes at that, in Aoi and the now very greatly reduced number of living mercenaries in the area who'd be even slightly willing to take Orochimaru's shilling and go up against Konoha in his name. The ones who'd made it out of the bar intact sure as hell wouldn't be keen on trying that sort of job again if they had any sense at all and word would, hopefully, spread about what had happened which would dissuade any other morons who might happen to be thinking of that sort of career.
But those were just that: consolation prizes. They weren't the prize they'd had their eye on at the mission. They weren't the assigned objectives. No matter how handy they were, they were secondary targets and the primary goal had been left untouched. It was a failure. And it was a failure that had left people Ranma had promised to protect dead.
That part stung. He'd promised that he'd get them out safely in exchange for their help and Ranma Saotome always lived up to his word. But he hadn't, had he? They were dead. They'd given him the information just as they'd said they would and he hadn't been able to protect them. He hadn't lived up to his word and people who hadn't deserved to die had been killed and killed painfully by a bunch of sadistic thugs.
So, Ranma was moving with very little enthusiasm. Reporting in with failure wasn't on his top ten list of things he wanted to do before he died and went off to be awesome in the afterlife. He'd never really failed before, at least not in a way where he couldn't pull off a comeback victory, and he really, really didn't enjoy the new experience. It was as bitter a thing as he could imagine.
Worse, it had been his first attempt at getting some revenge on Orochimaru for Anko. His big promise to avenge her and take down Orochimaru looked a long, long way from being pulled off. He knew that beating that monster was going to take more than being pissed off and promising to kill him and it would take a while to train up to a level where he could manage the job, but falling at the first hurdle left him feeling sick to his stomach.
Those were the thoughts that filled his mind as he trudged his way back to the village alongside a group of similarly miserable looking companions and the thoroughly bored looking Yasu. It wasn't the most sociable group you'd ever see and the unconscious Aoi being carried on Mousse's shoulder didn't add anything to goings on.
But no matter how slowly you trudge along you eventually reach your destination whether you like it or not. It was with mixed feelings that Ranma saw the freshly repaired walls of Konoha and realised that he would be reporting to the Hokage in very short order. At least they were repaired and it looked like the village was getting back to the state it'd been in before Orochimaru had wrecked the place. That was something.
They did get some strange looks as they entered the village and as they made their way to the tower. Ranma supposed that even in a ninja village people didn't typically walk around with an unconscious woman draped over their shoulder. Or maybe most ninja stuck to the shadows when they carried that sort of package. It amounted to the same thing. And it certainly made for a short visit to the reception area of the tower because the slightly chubby ninja manning the front desk took one look and waved them right on through to see the Hokage.
It was with no small amount of trepidation that Ranma stepped through that door to see the old man. He really had no idea what to expect on reporting a failure. The old guy was a reasonable sort, or at least he seemed that way, but Ranma didn't really know him and he hadn't been in Konoha all that long really. He didn't know how they handled failure. He'd never admit it, but he was nervous.
The Sandaime was facing away from them as they entered, staring out of the window with a steady flow of smoke coming from the pipe he was smoking. Judging by the body language he was all kinds of tense. Something was going on. Probably more trouble. The guy was running a village of super-powered fighters at war with another. There was no shortage of trouble to be had.
"We're, uh, back," said Ranma. "It didn't go all that well, but we've brought you a present."
The Sandaime turned around to face them. His brow furrowed slightly for a moment as his gaze passed over Yasu, but it was gone almost enough that Ranma almost doubted that he'd seen it. Then his gaze settled on Mousse and his package. "Who is she?" he asked around his pipe.
"She's a jounin from Oto," said Yasu. "Boring girl, talks a lot of crap and doesn't fight all that well, but she was running the place."
"Very well," said the Sandaime. "She will be useful. But the mission debriefing can wait. We have more important things to deal with at the moment."
Ranma blinked. "Huh?"
"Sasuke Uchiha has left the village to join Orochimaru. I do not believe this decision was entirely voluntary, but he must be stopped either way. You will reinforce the team I have already dispatched and bring him back. Judging from the information we have, they're heading towards the Valley of the End."
"Opposition?" asked Mousse.
"We have no information on that," said the Sandaime. "But I know Orochimaru. He wouldn't allow something like this to happen without being close by. It's too important to him and his goals. You can expect to see his latest collection of young fools interfering."
The guys from the exam invasion. Ranma wasn't really bothered about fighting them again - they weren't much of a factor for him; just some dumb kids with some power ups that made them last a little longer in a real right - but if they were going to get in the way, well, he was in just the mood for making some of Orochimaru's minions regret taking up with him.
"Sasuke is your primary objective, but I would appreciate it if you could ensure the survival of the previous team. They are young and I would prefer to see them serve the village for many more years before they reach their end."
Ranma nodded and turned to leave with the others.
"Hitomi, Yasu, please stay. We have things to discuss. And leave your package here, Mousse. I'll see that it reaches Ibiki for proper disposal."
The tone of the old man's voice didn't exactly leave a lot of hope that Aoi would be coming out of the other end of the T&I department in one piece. To be honest, Ranma was fine with that. She wouldn't be any loss to the world. None of the trash who would work for Orochimaru going along with and even agreeing with the things he did would be. Let them rot.
It didn't take long to find the fast signs of battle. In a clearing not too far from the village, a clearing that might not have been a clearing before the battle judging by the amount of damage that had been done, there was laid out the chubby kid from the exams next to the minion Ryoga had knocked around before they'd moved on to fighting Orochimaru himself. Both looked very much the worse for wear as the three of them pulled up to check.
"This one's dead," said Mousse. "No pulse."
Ranma couldn't say he felt much of a loss there. If you take up with someone like Orochimaru, it catches up with you eventually. He knelt down next to the exam kid, he couldn't remember the name, and tried to find a pulse. It took a while, but he find it. Weak but definitely there. "This one's alive," he said. "Looks like he took a beating though."
"I'll send up a signal for the medics," said Mousse. "They'll take him back for treatment."
There was no talk of anyone turning back with the kid. There would have been no point. The medics would see the signal and arrive to treat him as quickly as they could have dragged him to the hospital. And if they didn't, that meant there were none there to treat him and he was in trouble either way. It wasn't something Ranma relished doing, but they left him there. He wasn't bleeding out. He wasn't worsening. He was just beaten up and knocked out cold.
From then on there were signs of battle everywhere from scorched and smashed trees to discarded weapons. The kids had clearly been fighting a running battle with Orochimaru's guys all the way. Pretty impressive considering how they'd seemed pretty useless for the most part at the exams. Naruto had been kinda strong but clumsy and not too clever and he'd lost to Mousse which was never a good sign. Other than that, the others were either complete dicks, pretty useless, or in hospital with most of ther bones broken as far as Ranma knew. So he was kinda surprised they'd been able to hold their own with Orochimaru's pet kiddies and a bit impressed. Tougher than they looked, he guessed.
It didn't take too much longer before Ryoga spotted the next member of the group at work.
"There's the kid with the dog," he said from where he'd stopped atop a tree. "Looks like he's getting beaten up."
And he was. He was fighting a guy with two heads - even by Nerima standards that was a little bit crazy - and he wasn't coming off the best in that exchange. Ranma wasn't quite sure how that worked. Two heads meant twice the target for delivering concussions, surely? He didn't see how that would help someone in a fight.
"I'll take care of this one," said Ryoga. "I'll catch you up when I'm done."
Ranma opened his mouth, but Ryoga was already away. And in the right direction, for a change. "Well, great," he said. "Who needs to worry about sticking together anyway? I'm sure you'll find your way back to use with no problems whatsoever. Moron."
There was no point chasing after Ryoga. They'd just wind up fighting and wasting even more time than the moron inevitably getting lost would. It'd be about as useful as trying to persuade a Kuno that the world really didn't work in the two and two makes twenty-two way that they thought it did.
And so they went on, Mousse and Ranma, bouncing from tree to tree as they moved in the direction the old man had pointed them. They didn't get too much further before they reached another distraction. This time it was another one of the kids from the exams fighting the chick Ranma had taken down before they reached Orochimaru, the genjutsu user, and it was Mousse who headed down to take care of things. Ranma didn't bother to complain. Mousse had looked like he meant business and time was wasting. He moved on alone.
It was with no small amount of irritation that Ranma finally met his own obstacle. He didn't recognise who they were fighting, but it was the guy in green who'd wrecked himself and the brat who'd put Hinata in the hospital. The second made it tempting to just walk on by and leave them to it, just for a moment, and leave him to enjoy being beaten to a pulp by someone much, much stronger but it was just a moment.
The guy they were fighting was obviously older than the two kids, probably about Ranma's own age, and while he didn't wear a hitai-ate it was obvious that he was an Oto-nin from that ridiculous purple bow all of Orochimaru's personal minions seemed to wear around their waist. He was a bit of a pretty boy, too, with the white hair and his facial features. He'd go down a treat at a Tokyo high school.
He was a pretty good fighter, too. Ranma could see that immediately. There was no wasted motion, no telegraphing in his attacks, and he seemed to be anticipating every attack that Neji and Lee sent his way with the way they were landing absolutely nothing at all on him. Lee wasn't moving as quickly or as cleanly as he had at the exams, he probably wasn't fully recovered, but he was still pretty damned quick on his feet and Neji was far from a slouch despite being a total arse, but they weren't scoring with anything and they looked more than a little battered themselves. Particularly impressive given that Neji was a Hyuuga and it didn't take more than a glancing hit for them to start racking up damage.
But it wasn't to be. Lee went in quick and hard, with a loud shout of exertion, aiming a straight punch at the Oto-nin's head. That attack missed by a fraction of an inch as the Oto-nin leaned away just so and then Lee was catapulted back by a short punch to his ribs that lifted him off his feet and sent him flying. Neji moved to cover but a roundhouse kick quickly smashed him away from the action as well.
The Oto-nin . . . well, Ranma wasn't entirely sure. It looked like he made his forearm bone break and bulge out of the skin to use it as a sword or something, but who would be crazy enough to do that? Either way he was holding it like a sword, it looked sharp like a sword, and the downed Lee wasn't going to be able to get out of the way in time before he got filleted.
Time to make his move. Ranma kicked off from the tree he'd been perched atop and got the Oto-nin neatly with a drop-kick to the temple that sent him crashing off to the side. That allowed him to drop into position just so between the Oto-nin and the kids he'd been fighting.
"Hey, kids," said Ranma. "How's it going?"
Ranma tried to play it casual but being so close to one of Orochimaru's scumbags set his teeth on edge. He was just itching to do some damage and it took a serious effort of will to not just charge in and start hitting until the guy fell over and stopped moving. But that wasn't his way. That wasn't how he fought. So he clung on to what was left of his soul of ice and waited for the bastard to make the first move.
"More trash," said the Oto-nin. "Don't you people ever get tired of this?"
Ranma saw red. Literally red as his grip on his fury slipped and his battle aura exploded outwards around him. One of Orochimaru's thugs calling him trash? He'd had enough of the guy already. He crossed the gap between them with a single bound and lashed out with a rapid-fire series of punches to the bastard's torso that connected again and again and again as he attacked with his full speed.
As the Oto-nin reeled backwards from that assault, his baggy shirt torn and charred from the impact of the strikes, Ranma stepped in and smashed a leaping uppercut into his jaw that sent him flying into the air. That took the battle into mid-air combat where the Oto-nin's attempt to recover was slapped aside with contemptuous ease before Ranma smashed a roundhouse kick into his chest to send him slamming back to the ground.
So much for waiting for him to make the first move.
"Perhaps you are not the same grade of trash as the rest of these fools," said the Oto-nin from a crouched position. He rose to his feet. "I am Kimimaro."
That was when Kimimaro sprouted a bone from his forearm. And pulled it free to use as a weapon. Which was quite possibly the weirdest thing Ranma had ever seen, but he didn't have the time or the interest to talk about it. Orochimaru's pets were only good for one thing.
He attacked in a blur of arms and legs that forced Kimimaro to back off and give ground to avoid being pulverised, but the Oto-nin quickly recovered to counter attack with a series of rapid-fire slashes of his bone blade that sent Ranma into a temporary retreat that separated them again.
Okay, Ranma had a pretty good idea of where they stood after that exchange and with what he'd seen earlier. Kimimaro was good, better than most of the ninja Ranma had come across, but he was beatable.
"I thought ol' snakey would have have trained you better than this," said Ranma. "I can see you coming from a mile off. Guess he's got plenty more where you came from, though, eh?"
It never hurt to try and unsettle an opponent and that seemed to strike a mark as Kimimaro's brow furrowed and his eyes sparked ever so slightly. It wasn't much but it was about the most feeling he'd seen from the guy. It was a start.
Ranma got all the proof he needed of it working a moment later when Kimimaro flew across the turf towards him with his bone blade ready. Ranma saw the stab aimed at his face coming a mile away and quickly leaned just so to allow it to pass by harmlessly. But it was a feint. The Oto-nin's other hand sprouted another blade from the palm which was headed straight at Ranma's heart.
A feint within a feint. Ranma twisted around in a way that would have made most double-jointed people feel faintly jealous and went from being flat on in front of it to watching it pass by side-on. Kimimaro tried to jerk back but not quickly enough, not from that over-extended position. Ranma's elbow slammed into the bridge of the Oto-nin's face with a loud thud.
The force of that impact staggered the bastard and that was all the time Ranma needed. He snapped around, a blur of motion, and struck the Oto-nin square to the left of his sternum.
"Dokuja Tanketsu Sho."
Ranma knew exactly how powerful a blow that was and how much damage it did to be hit with it. He'd been as good as finished with a single strike when Ryu Kumon had used it against him and it had taken hours for him to be able to walk properly again without pain. It was enough to rip a less durable man apart. It had taken Hiro Hyuuga's heart in a single blow and that man had not been a weakling.
And it stopped dead against Kimimaro's rib-cage. Ranma's wrist gave way and his fist fell open against his opponent's chest as pain lanced up his arm. If it had any effect on Kimimaro, Ranma couldn't see it. Well, there was a glimmer of pain in his eyes, but no break. The thud of the impact echoed, loudly, but the ribs did not break.
His feet moved. He tried to pull back out of range, but not quickly enough. His scrabbling took him back but Kimimaro's forward motion was quicker and his bone blade found its target.
But not fully. Ranma's footing was sound enough to roll with it and pull back away. His armour was sliced through. His skin broke, he felt the warmth of blood on his chest, but it was a shallow wound. Not enough to even slow him down never mind really damage him.
More attacks came as Kimimaro tried to press his advantage. Ranma's footing wasn't sound. He couldn't stay away. More strikes landed, his armour held off some, split under others, and a number of shallow cuts were opened in Ranma's flesh as more and more struck home.
It took a few moments but Ranma found steady footing and with a single bound he was away. He leapt back a good thirty feet, opening clear room between him and his enemy,and in the moment that bought him he took stock of things. He was hurt, his chest and arms burned from the shallow cuts that had been gouged out of him, and his right arm ached from the failed yamasenken strike, but the damage was superficial.
But he was angry. He could feel it boiling inside of him and the soul of ice just wouldn't come. His first chance at one of Orochimaru's real minions and look how it was going. Look at how good a job he was going of making up for getting Anko killed.
Kimimaro charged. A column of burning red ki rocketed forth from Ranma's hands and met him midway with the force of a speeding freight train. He was smashed off his feet and carried away by the blast as it carved across the clearing and into the copse of trees on the side before being obscured in the cloud of dust and splinters kicked up the attack as it pulverised the trees that had been behind the idiot.
The guy was proving to be annoyingly durable. A ki attack like that really took it out of Ranma. Firing off emotions as a weapon wasn't exactly kiddy play and it always left him feeling slightly emptied afterwards. That last one left him feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth. He'd put everything behind it.
His danger sense flared, but he was already moving. A bone - a spinal cord - tore through the ground he'd been standing on just as he leapt aside from there. Kimimaro was still alive. Still standing. His shirt had been completely destroyed, leaving the skin darkened by his cursed seal quite visible, and several patches of skin had been burned away to reveal a layer of gleaming white bone underneath, but he was still standing. And he was wielding his spinal cord like a whip.
Ranma took a moment to appreciate the sheer weirdness it took to use your own spinal core as a weapon. "You are one persistent scumbag," he said finally. "Why the hell won't you just die?"
"I will not fail my master."
The whip came down.
"Kijin Raishu Dan."
Ranma smirked as the vacuum blade ripped forth from and sliced through the air to collide with Kimimaro's bone-whip as it came down. That'd show him: a vacuum blade could cut through steel, never mind bone. His attack would be smashed to bits.
That smirk vanished very quickly as the vacuum blade struck. The bone-whip chipped and fractured at the point of impact, but it didn't break and it was still coming. Ranma was flat-footed from firing the vacuum blade. He wouldn't be able to dodge in time and he knew it. The best he could do was raise his arms into a defensive position and hope that his bracers, reinforced with his will, would be able to take it.
The attack struck and Ranma winced as he felt the bracer on his left arm give way and the bone dig into his flesh. It didn't get too deep, the bracer stopped that, but it still hurt like hell. And it hurt even more when Kimimaro yanked the whip back out, dripping with Ranma's blood, ready to attack again. It took a serious effort for him to not give away how much that had hurt. He didn't think it would hinder him too much, but it stung like hell.
But it wasn't the sting of the blow that hurt. It was the fact that he wasn't getting anywhere. Why wouldn't this bastard just die? He was just another one of Orochimaru's collection of thugs and scum, so why wouldn't he just die like he deserved.
Kimimaro brought the whip around again but Ranma had no intention of sitting around and waiting for another attack. No chance. One free hit was all this bastard was getting from him. Ranma catapulted himself forward to close the gap between them in a heartbeat and attacked. First he unleashed a rapid-fire series of body punches. That staggered the Oto-nin and left him open. Ranma then followed up with a low sweep kick that connected with Kimimaro's ankles and sent the already off-balance Oto-nin crashing to the ground.
From there Ranma jumped back to a ready position on his feet and, before Kimimaro could move out of the way, slammed the heel of his foot down onto the Oto-nin's whip hand with a loud crack. He dropped the whip and Ranma then pivoted and kicked it away with all his might, sending it flying off into the distance. The far distance. It went well out of sight.
Ranma had to dodge quickly to avoid the uppercut that Kimimaro sent his way as retaliation. He mostly made it with a chunk gouged out of his armour vest being the only damage taken. Kimimaro followed up with a lunging stab, murder in his eyes, but Ranma simply leapt backwards and cleared a space several metres wide between them.
"Fail your master?" Ranma taunted, the last word being spat out like it was the most foul curse he could imagine. "You call me trash, and you call Orochimaru master. You must be insane. He's a monster."
Kimimaro crossed the distance between them with a long bound and Ranma had to react sharply to block the strike by getting his forearm inside Kimimaro's swing. "You know nothing," said Kimimaro. "You understand less. You're nothing more than a child playing a game."
"And that's coming from a guy following around a murdering traitor like some sort of little lapdog begging for approval. You couldn't be any more pathetic if you tried. Orochimaru's scum. You're just trash waiting to be swept away."
That got a reaction. Kimimaro's yellowed eyes darkened further as his lips twisted into a snarl of pure, bestial rage. That was the ticket. Now the bastard got to feel just like Ranma felt about this whole damned thing. Ranma took no small amount of satisfaction from that. If he had to be off-kilter and full of anger, then so should his opponent. Let them have the same damn thing; it was all their fault anyway.
They clashed, again, in a blur of arms and legs. Kimimaro's fury leant his blows an extra dose of speed, more power behind them, too, but they were predictable. Telegraphed. He'd let himself get wound up to the point of getting stupid which was just what Ranma had been hoping for. It was almost no challenge at all to handle someone who'd let themselves be put into that sort of state no matter how strong, quick, and skilled they were.
Of course, Kimimaro was devilishly quick. Ranma had to give him that. He had to be very, very precise in his movement or he'd be skewered anyway even when he could read the attacks being sent his way. And he wasn't exactly mounting a stiff counter-attack between dodges as the attacks came in. This guy was no Kuno to be easily smacked around and left in the dust.
Eventually, though, Ranma was a little imprecise in a movement, a little slow, and the bone sword skewered him through his armour to impale him through the heart.
Kimimaro looked utterly satisfied with himself for a moment as he looked down, chest heaving with exertion, at his impaled enemy, frozen with an expression of shock on their face, as he stcod victorious. Then Ranma winked at him and vanished into the wind.
Ranma had to give Kimimaro credit. He wasn't stupid. He knew what had happened and tried to move before the trap could be sprung, but it was too late. The wind dragon was already summoned and Kimimaro managed no more than a couple of steps before it slammed into his back and carried him into the air, impaled upon its translucent teeth, blood and viscera dripping from its maw as it rose up and into the sky.
The dragon rose a to a height of a few hundred feet, wind blowing in a gale around it and smashing away at the trees to widen the clearing they'd been fighting in through simple destruction, before it reached the apex of its climb, glinting as the sun shone through its translucent body. It hung there for a moment in an image that would have been quite striking if not for the struggling, bleeding man trapped in it jaw.
And then it changed course and catapulted itself downwards with a tremendous thud to slam the trapped Oto-nin down into the ground with earth-shaking force. Ranma had to widen his stance and dig in to keep his footing as that impact rumbled shook the ground and had to protect his eyes and turn away slightly to keep the cloud of dust it kicked up out.
He turned back a few moments later as the dust cleared and squinted to try and see through what was left of the billowing wreckage kicked up by his attack. Not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do unless you had, say, some magic eyes that could see for miles and through walls and all the rest of it, but Ranma couldn't see Neji to kick him into doing something and he supposed that getting crap in your eyes would be even worse if they were ninety percent pupils and a thousand times more sensitive than normal.
Moments passed. The smoke cleared further. And that revealed Kimimaro slumped on his side, surrounded by splatters of his own blood that spread out for a good ten feet around him, not moving. His back was to Ranma, but it didn't look like he was moving. Not breathing. Ranma didn't get any sense of the guy being alive never mind able to fight on. He was too still and Ranma didn't get the sense of him being the tricky sort who'd play dead to try and get an advantage.
But, still, Ranma'd thought he'd won once already and been wrong. This guy wasn't exactly laying down and paying dead on demand. Bastard and scum he might have been, working for Orochimaru, but he was strong and stubborn and he hadn't gone down easily. He'd been a decent opponent. Taken some serious hits and given some damage in return before being beaten. Ranma had to give him that little bit of token respect, even if being a decent fighter was all the guy had going for him.
Kimimaro still wasn't moving. Ranma sighed and relaxed. It was over. No-one could survive that, he guessed. It had been a hell of a hit. That technique drained the hell out of him and took way too long to pull off, but it had a punch worse than anything Akane had ever cooked up.
With the fight over all the aches and pains of it that had been neatly covered up by the adrenaline started to make themselves felt. He was sore all over and the places along his chest and arm where those bone swords had managed to dig into him were hurting like hell. And he was tired. Very, very tired. Those big techniques didn't come cheap and he'd let himself fight angry which was even worse.
He sighed and stepped back. Okay, fight over. Mission still to finish. He had to get moving. He'd have time to be tired later when it was all over and done with and he was back home with something to eat and a bed waiting and a kiddy ninja returned home safe and sound to explain exactly why he'd wandered off with some of Orochimaru's pet monsters. That'd probably be a fun little conversation but Ranma doubted he'd be in on it.
Ranma turned and walked away, towards Neji and Lee. "Hey, you two," he said as got near them. "You hurt?"
They didn't look it. They were banged up, bruised and tender looking where Kimimaro had whacked them, some shallow cuts here and there where he'd managed to slash them with his bones, but nothing that looked particularly dangerous. They'd got off lightly. Kimimaro clearly hadn't been taking them all that seriously. Even when he got up close to them he couldn't see any particularly serious injuries on them. The worst damage was probably to their pride. It was never a whole lot of fun to get knocked around by someone who was out of your league.
Neji opened his mouth to say something, but then his eyes widened and he sprinted past Ranma. An instant later Ranma's danger sense flared right up to 'you're about to die - messily' levels and Ranma twisted around just in time to see Neji spin up a storm with a quickly executed kaiten that - just - deflected away the enormous bone spear that Kimimaro - alive! - had been driving towards his back.
For a moment Ranma was flat-footed. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. How could Kimimaro be alive after all that? Even Ryoga would be in no state to press the attack after taking a hit from the technique Kimimaro had just been on the receiving end of. And yet there he was up and about, alive, intact, and attacking with his cursed seal thrumming away all over his body.
That only lasted a moment, but a moment was long enough for Rock Lee to catapult himself past Ranma towards Kimimaro with a shout that he was facing more than one opponent. His flying kick was quick and true and it accomplished absolutely nothing as Kimimaro promptly lashed out with his free arm and smacked Lee away without him ever coming close to landing a strike.
Lee landed several feet away from where Kimimaro was standing and didn't get back up. Ranma couldn't take his eyes off his opponent long enough to take a good look, but he'd seen a splash of blood as Lee had been slapped away and there was another one of those bone swords in Kimimaro's hand and it was glistening with blood.
"Neji, go take care of Lee," said Ranma. Something of a pointless instruction as Neji was already moving to stand between Kimimaro and Lee, but he wanted to make it nice and clear. "Get him out of here. Take him to the doctors. I'll take care of this."
Ranma could never get much of a read on Neji unless he was going into his insane 'time to murder my cousin' mode, so he didn't really have a clue how he felt about being told to get lost, but he nodded and went with the battered Lee tossed over his shoulder.
"So, that's just us now," said Ranma. "Ready to get this over with? I've about had enough of wasting my time on some brainwashed little pet thug. You realise that he doesn't give a damn, right?"
Kimimaro's face twisted into an impressive look of pure rage, which wasn't really a big leap from where it had been before, that looked quite impressively demonic on his seal-twisted body. "You don't understand," he spat at Ranma. "Orochimaru saved me. He made my life worth something. He understands me and I understand him. I will always live on in his heart."
Ranma's lip curled into his most derogatory sneer. "You're delusional."
Kimimaro lunged forward, what had been his right arm raised to deliver an attack with the massive bone spear he'd sprouted, but he was almost sluggish compared to before.
Sluggish or not, he'd do someone serious damage if he landed a hit with that thing. Ranma was going to have to bring out the big guns and he had just the thing. Something he'd been saving for just such a moment. He summoned the wind to his call and began to spin it around, spinning with it himself. Faster and faster and faster until the wind was almost whipping his clothes off.
Because the only thing better than seeing a cool technique is figuring out how to use it for yourself. Ranma couldn't figure out exactly how the real version worked, but he had his own version based on wind manipulation and that'd do him just fine,
Kimimaro's spear met Ranma's new technique with a shriek as he tried to force it through with simple, brute force. Ranma winced and redoubled his effort, seeking to throw the attacker away as the technique was designed to, but Kimimaro kept coming. Kept forcing.
It had to give. One of them had to have their strength give. Ranma bit down hard and forced his ki to its maximum, flaring his strength and funnelling it into his defence, and Kimimaro did the same. Nothing could be heard over the shrieking of the wind and the spear trying to force its way through that wind.
And then it gave. Kimimaro couldn't hold. He was blasted back. Ranma stopped his technique and took a deep breath as Kimimaro struggled back to his feet using that spear, what was left of it, for leverage. He was staggering but he was upright.
That was when Ranma realised his feet were burning. At least that's what it felt like. He hopped from foot foot for an instant before kicking the sandals off, sending them flying across the space that seperated him from his opponent where they slapped off his face and slid to the ground.
But Kimimaro didn't move. Didn't follow. Didn't do . . . anything. He was just stood there, staring blankly forward, learning on the bone spear that he had used to lever himself up. Ranma frowned. It didn't look like Kimimaro was breathing, but he knew he hadn't done that much damage with the last attack. Another trick? Maybe, but it didn't look like it. And someone could only hold their breath and remain perfectly motionless for so long.
Ranma closed in, cautiously, constantly listening to his danger sense as closely as he could until he was right in front of Kimimaro with not a twinge of danger to be felt. He was still motionless. Still not breathing. There was blood around his lips, too, a very brightly coloured and slightly foamy blood. Kimimaro had been bleeding internally and bringing it up.
It was impossible to know why Kimimaro'd been bleeding internally - though Ranma thought the damage he'd done to him probably hadn't helped - but he'd been bleeding internally, in his lungs, and that was never a good sign no matter what sort of weird cursed powers you had. Whatever the reason for it was, the bastard was good and dead. No breathing. No pulse. It was pretty conclusive.
He was tired and sore and a little bit satisfied at taking that first real step towards getting some payback on Orochimaru, but it was time to get on with the mission. Sasuke was the objective, not this guy.
And so he went.