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Obligations: Chapter 17

 

"Kuno. You're late," the teacher didn't glance up from his notes, "Go stand in the hall."

"I'm not here for school," and Kuno walked fully into the classroom. The teacher and the students all looked up in surprise -- and were even more surprised. Tatawaki Kuno wasn't dressed in his school uniform, nor his Kendo gi, but in a rich blue tunic that extended down to his knees but was split below the waist in four sections. It was embroidered with flowing green kelp and light blue streaks. His black pants were tied to his calves in a cris-cross patter with bright blue cording. The class was stunned to silence – all but Nabiki.

Her voice flowed sarcastic, "And so enters the Blue Thunder."

Kuno grimaced, "Nabiki Tendo. I would have speech with you."

Nabiki raised an eyebrow, but her image was spoiled by the teacher's glower, "Out of my class – the both of you! And Kuno – I still need your homework from last week!"

Grabbing her books, Nabiki strolled out past a semi-respectful Kuno who was bowing to the teacher. As the door shut behind them, she asked, "What is up with you?"

"Excuse me?" Kuno asked, puzzled.

Nabiki gestured at his outfit and also remarked, "Missing classes two days in a row…"

Kuno shrugged, "Verily, I should not have been back until tomorrow, therefore, I'm not really missing class…"

"Where's the dog?" Nabiki looked around, reminded.

"Spots is back with his mother." Kuno sounded disgruntled, then changed the subject by answering her other question, "And I didn't feel like changing." He smothered a yawn, "What I was wondering – when is, uhh, Miyuki going to be back?"

She stared at him in disbelief, "You called me out of class for that?"

"Yep," Kuno's smile came and went like the sun in a break through the grey clouds of rain: The memory of it lingered on.

Nabiki studied him for a moment. "Miyuki will be back tomorrow – when I told her you'd be back. Is something wrong?"

He shook his head, wrinkling his nose and pursing his lips, thinking about the question even as he denied it.

"So what did you find out?"

"A lot of interesting things – and very little relevant," Kuno admitted, "I had to search pretty far back to find any mention of the village at all. It finally showed up in Tatawangu Kuno's journal – 260 years ago."

"That's a bit more than 'three generations'!"

Kuno smothered another yawn, "Tell me about it."

Nabiki's eyebrows shot upwards, "Were you up all night?"

"Mostly," Kuno shrugged, "I was checking on some other things this morning, and I wanted to check with you, and now I'm going back to the Estate so I don't miss the Healer when she comes over. I'll get some sleep as soon as I get back. But I also wanted to ask you to let me know if the Healer stops by your place first."

Nabiki frowned, "Something is wrong, isn't it?"

Kuno laughed, "Na-chan – stop worrying so much! I can handle it."

Hearing her childhood name that Tatawaki hadn't called her in ten years, Nabiki backed up until she hit the wall, her eyes widening and her face turning pale. Kuno blinked in surprise, then he realized what he'd called her. He bit his lip. "Sorry," he muttered as he turned away. He stood there a moment, his back to her; then he abruptly strode off, leaving her still standing there. Nabiki didn't notice, her eyes squeezed shut, trying to keep the tears back. When she looked up finally, her face under control, the hall was empty. Too much. Too much. Nabiki resettled her grip on her schoolbag and headed home. Mama… Mama, I still miss you. But you aren't at home anymore. And nothing is the same anymore. Her eyes hardened, "Nothing."

 

Shampoo snorted, "Hunk of junk."

Miki burst into giggles, her eyes sparking brightly, and she glanced around to make sure no one had heard Shampoo's comment about the famous three-hundred year old sword.

Tossing her long purple hair back, Shampoo grinned, "It be true, yes?"

*You’re the one who wanted to see the Sword Museum first!* Miki couldn't stop laughing as she shook her head and dragged Shampoo to the next room over, where the great samurai armor stood silently, their wearers long gone, their swords in display cases for curious tourists to look at and wonder.

 

"This way, Uc-chan!" Ranma pulled her along as they raced down the hallway, dodging around fellow students. Behind them, Akane's voice rose in a furious shout, "Ranma!"

"Why am I running?" Ukyo wondered, even as she ran next to the laughing youth beside her, "Ranma -- what did you do this time?"

Ranma's laughter didn't interfere with his long strides, "I told Akane you were much cuter than she is." There was a second before Ukyo could unhook her spatula. "Ouch!" Ranma grabbed his head, feeling the bump raising there, "What'd ya do that for?"

"How dare you!" Ukyo fumed, not putting her spatula up, "How dare you call me cute only to insult Akane!"

Akane ran up, but stopped to let Ukyo finish.

Ukyo's eyes were blazing, "Respect me for me -- and if you call me cute, tell it to me -- not just to make Akane mad!" She slung her spatula back on her shoulder, nodded to Akane, and left. Akane glanced at Ranma, tilted her head up in disgust, and walked after Ukyo. The two girls walked out the school building side by side.

"Ah, geez…" Ranma looked after them, "Tomboy!" His friends came up behind him and Hiroshi slapped him on the back, "Aw -- too bad, Ranma."

"Yeah," Daisuke agreed, watching the girls, "Three fiancées and he can never say the right thing to any of them."

Ranma rolled his eyes, "But I don't want any of them!" he shouted. Simultaneously, he was hit by a flying mallet and a spatula. As he lay twitching on the floor, Hiroshi and Daisuke exchanged glances over his body, "Ranma… you really need to keep your mouth shut." "Yeah."

 

Ryoga readjusted his tent flap and squinted mournfully at the bright sunlight. The wind gusted more sand in and he let the flap fall, rolling onto his back in disgust. "Oh that does it. I hate the desert. I 'm going back home." Akane-san. I never should have left you. He sat up and packed up his stuff, then folded up the tent. Setting his pack on his back, he adjusted his cape over it. He stood for a moment, breathing in the dry crisp air, as he looked about the never-ending sand – secretly liking it, even as he prepared to leave it.

 

Ranma tossed a pebble in the pond, resting his head on his knees, staring at his girl's reflection. I've got fiancées by the dozen – and I'm a girl half the time. Damn curse.

"Is he still sulking?" Ukyo walked onto the patio, munching on a shaved ice.

"Yeah – he sulks good, doesn't he?" Nabiki glanced up from the journal she was reading.

Akane walked out behind Ukyo and sniffed loudly.

Ranma lifted his head, she's the one sulking… He sighed, I guess I should apologize…

"Ranma! What have you done to her?"

Caught at a disadvantage sitting on the ground, though Ranma rolled quickly to avoid the spikes and knives flying at him, his shirt was ripped in three places by the sharp weaponry.

"What the…" Ukyo let the ice cone drop as she pulled out her throwing spatulas and looked around; but unable to spot where the attack was coming from.

Akane narrowed her eyes at the roof, "Mousse! Stop that!"

The tall male Amazon jumped down, his long black hair and white robe flowing around him as he landed. But his intense eyes were wild with anguish as he tracked Ranma, "What have you done with Shampoo? You beast!"

Akane took a step backwards – Mousse was serious. She glanced in confusion to Ranma, who was hauling himself upright, shirt half-falling off. He didn't notice the girl's immodesty as he stared at Mousse. Akane shook her head, No, he definitely doesn't know what's going on…

"Mousse-san," Kasumi's soft voice floated over the yard and stopped the White Swan in his tracks. Reluctantly, he looked to her. Kasumi gently shook her head, "We haven't seen Shampoo for days – Ranma knows nothing."

"Ooo, Onii-san…" Nabiki mummered quietly at the last remark, her mouth twitching up.

"No…?" Mousse turned his head up to the roof, then back. His voice told his emotions, "Shampoo is hurt – she's in pain… I can't find her! I can feel her, but I can't find her. I can always find her…" He sank to his knees.

Cologne jumped down from the roof, "You were our last hope, great-grandson. I don't know what it could be, but that Mousse cannot find her is odd."

"Shampoo is hurt?" Ranma clenched his fists, "How? Why? Where?"

"If we knew any of that," snapped Mousse, "Don't you think I'd be there already?" He stood up, shaking his head and absently folding long knives in and out of his sleeves.

Nabiki screamed, and they whirled to her and then back to where she was staring.

Ryoga also turned, taking off his mask and cape with one sweep of his arm as he prepared to fight, but saw nothing there.

"Oh, it's only Ryoga." Ranma straightened from his own crouch.

"Only…" Nabiki's hand was at her chest, "He just appeared there!"

Ryoga was still scanning the area, taking in the group with barely a glance and looking for danger. He remarked absently, "Only third time in my life I've ever translocated that abruptly."

"Trans…" Ranma blinked.

"Ryoga!" Mousse suddenly exclaimed, striding up and grabbing him by the shoulders. Ryoga instinctively tried to break away, and was shocked when he couldn't. Mousse stared at him for a fraction of time but very intently, "You can do it. You're a Fetch – you can help Shampoo. You came here – you can get to her."

Cologne's breath drew in sharply, "That could be it…" The others stared, putting together the pieces and not daring to move or speak.

Ryoga blinked, "Shampoo's in danger?" He squared his shoulders, "I'll try." I just translocated here – obviously for this. I can do it. For Shampoo. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the Amazon. He'd never been close to Shampoo – she'd never made any effort to know anybody but Ranma. Still, she was a part of their group. A warrior true. Lavender hair and bright eyes. Always up to mischief. No, he hadn't been close to her, not since she'd tired to cook him, but he would still defend her to his utmost if she needed his help. Which she did now. 'Sides, Miki said she wasn't serious about cooking me. The combination of thought about Shampoo and Miki seemed to galvanize something and he smelled crisp desert air. Opening his eyes, he saw a dark cave in front of him that he knew was his visualization of the route through – not real except in his mind, but a path nevertheless. Shampoo, he thought. And suddenly he could hear her. As though through a long cavern, distorted but recognizable. Ryoga's mouth twitched in a grin even as he renewed his determination to get to her: Shampoo was furiously yelling curses and insults in at least three languages that he recognized and some he couldn't. A battle. In his mind, Ryoga tried to step forward and could not. Frowning, he lifted his hands out to the mouth of the dark cave. There was something blocking his way. He curled one hand into a fist and brought it down. Whatever it was, it yielded enough to cushion his fist as in a bucket of wet sand before a recoil in the surface bounced his hand back. I will get to Shampoo, Ryoga put his hands on the wall, This is not whim, it is not love. It is duty, friendship, and need. "I will get through!" Under his hands, the barrier to the cave rippled in colors, but remained firm. Suddenly, he could see Shampoo in the distance – as through murky depths of muddy water. Shampoo was down on her knees, struggling against bonds he could not see. Even as he watched, she got a hand free, but had to dodge a streak of fire that came near her. Her lavender hair was darkened on the edges where it had been burnt previously. But in the midst of her fight, Shampoo's attention and worry were directed elsewhere. The scope of Ryoga's vision focused only on Shampoo and he could not see what she could. He called out Shampoo's name, stepping forward with all his strength and determination. The barrier yielded – first by an inch, then by two. Suddenly, Shampoo whipped around to face him, eyes widening and her lips shaped words… 'watch out'. Ryoga blinked. And then his vision was eclipsed by flame.

 

"Ryoga – you can get to Shampoo!" Mousse's command held longing and fresh hope over the worry.

Ryoga didn't ask questions but immediately closed his eyes and the group watching held their breaths. Would it work? They were all startled when a hot, dry breeze blew through the yard, and they looked at each other. The day was hot, yes, but not like this, and not dry, and not with the smells… the smells of baked rock and warm earth, and nothing more.

"The desert," murmured Cologne, her eyes fixed on Ryoga. Mousse prudently moved behind Ryoga, keeping a grip on his shoulder. Ryoga opened his eyes and Akane lifted a hand to her mouth, trying to keep back her gasp. The rich brown of his iris had leaked out, covering all the rest of his eyes. The brown of soil freshly turned, ready for the seeds of life. The breeze whipped through the yard, flowing faster and faster until it was a wind. Kasumi reached to hold her skirt down. Cologne's hair was lifted up until it was angled straight out. Ukyo's hair provided a dark counter-point as it also flowed in the wind. But little else in the yard was affected. The water of the pond barely rippled, the trees kept their leaves, the grass did not bend. The wind blew in a circle, gathering the dust and small stones into a closing circumference around Ryoga and Mousse.

"Well, no wonder the Family had problems teaching him," Cologne remarked conversationally, "the boy is pure Earth and Warrior. His Gate is a hard one."

Almost as if in response to her statement, Ryoga lifted his hands and spoke clearly and firmly, "I will get through!"

Mousse turned his head, not letting go of Ryoga's shoulder, "He's blocked, also?"

The ancient Amazon's breath drew in, "A barrier. A Wizard's Barrier. That's why we can't get through." Her face was grim, "Magic. Mousse – can you see anything?"

Mousse shook his head.

Ryoga moved slightly forward, his form flickering with bands of light and darkness. "Shampoo!"

"He's got it!" Ranma cried, excitedly. Then he abruptly realized that if his friend did go, Ranma would be left behind. He put an arm in front of his eyes and started through the circle of wind-blown earth. Ranma was almost to them when Mousse cried out and hauled Ryoga backwards, throwing Ryoga behind him and raising his long white sleeves in front of them both. A great gout of flame from nowhere bounced off his sleeves and vanished. Mousse dropped his arms, panting heavily, "That was close!" He looked in the air, "Shampoo…"

The wind had died in the instant that Ryoga had been thrown back, leaving a wide circle of dirt on the ground around him. Ranma dropped to his knees beside his friend, "Ryoga?" Akane, Ukyo, and Cologne moved forward, while Kasumi and Nabiki watched. Ryoga sat up, passing a hand over his face. His eyes were normal again. "Almost there…" he whispered in anguish. He stood up, using Ranma as a prop without seeming to pay attention to him. "I'll do it this time."

Cologne gently tapped him with her stick, "No you won't – there's magic involved. Tell us what happened."

"But Shampoo—"

"Tell us!" Cologne's command was clipped tones, sharp in her worry. Ryoga complied, summarizing the little he knew quickly.

"But you couldn't tell where she was?" Mousse asked.

Ryoga blinked, "Of course I could – I could recognize any part of the Tokyo Tower in my sleep!" He added sheepishly, "I end up there a lot."

"The Tower…" Cologne frowned and turned to Mousse who grimaced as he explained. "It's an energy focus. Fairly recent as foci go – still untamed. Wild magic gathers there and the currents are strong but unpredictable. Most Magicians avoid it."

"But Shampoo's caught up in a Wizard's War there? What has that great-grandchild of mine gotten herself into now?"

Ryoga and Mousse looked around in the same instance, "The barrier's gone." Mousse raised his long hands and gestured in the air. Suddenly, he and Cologne disappeared with a flash of white light.

Ranma glanced to his left, "So why are you still here?"

His friend grimaced, "I can't get a focus. My thoughts can't settle…" Ryoga blinked, "Shampoo's not in danger any more." But…

"She's not?" "How can you tell?" "Oh dear."

Nabiki's mouth, open for her own question, shut at her older sister's worried tone.

Ryoga answered Akane's question, "I don't know." He turned in a circle, "There's still danger, somewhere... But Shampoo's not it." But I'm needed somewhere. For the first time, I can feel it. This is the feeling Mother talks about. I'm needed, urgently. But I can't… "There's still a block." He started pacing in a circle, but didn't leave the yard – by normal means or elsewise.

Ryoga… Ukyo stared at him, is that why you always get lost? You follow danger -- the Protector. She glanced at Ranma, and then back to Ryoga. I still love Ranma, but… Ryoga… She shook her head – now was no time to be confused about feelings.

Nabiki grabbed her sister's arm as Kasumi started back in the house, "Onii-san," At Kasumi's look, she let go of her arm but persisted in her question, "What else is wrong?"

Kasumi bit her lip, "The Tokyo Tower… I never thought…" The eldest Tendo sister bowed her head.

The middle sister was puzzled, then she remembered Kuno in the morning and nearly the same question she'd asked him… Miyuki-chan. Miyuki was planning on seeing the Tower… A shiver of fear went through her. She looked up, hoping against hope, "Ryoga – did you ever find Miyuki?"

"Huh?" Ryoga blinked at the apparent segue but answered it, "No – I spent four days in the damned…" he paused, "desert? The block? A barrier?" His eyes narrowed, "Miki?" The Tower…

The walls around the Tendo home erupted in flames, reaching twenty feet in the air before dying out – leaving the walls untouched. The four young warriors instinctively moved to each other, back to back in a square. But there was nothing there.

Mr. Tendo and Mr. Saotome came out of the dojo, both with grim eyes. Mr. Tendo called out to his eldest daughter, "Are we under attack?"

Kasumi half-shrugged.

"Kasumi-chan," Mr. Tendo's voice was exasperated, "That's not an answer."

The graceful shoulders again moved but this time Kasumi also answered verbally, "It was more of a probe. The wards deflected most of it, and I let the rest through because we do not have what it was looking for."

Akane let down her guard position, turning to her sister in puzzlement.

Mr. Tendo's eyes narrowed, "Which was?"

"A single piece of very powerful magic–" Kasumi cut herself off, looking up.

All eyes lifted in the same direction as the sky turned a bright light blue – the color of compressed glacier ice. A darker streak of blue appeared in the distance as a loud cracking sound filled the air, like unto thunder, but sharper; more like an iceberg breaking off the Arctic.

As the others stood, gaping up into the sky, which was slowly changing to its regular color again, Nabiki cursed loudly and ran into the house. She was back before they'd had a chance to even start wondering. Tossing a long sword at Ranma, her eyes asked a question of Ryoga who touched his belt and nodded. Nabiki glanced once at Ukyo's spatulas and handed her sister the dagger that Ryoga had given her a week ago.

"What's going on?" Ranma asked as he automatically drew the sword partially out to check balance.

His dad blinked, "That won't do!" He picked up a kettle and poured hot water over the girl form, changing Ranma back to himself.

Nabiki pulled the clip back on her .38 and checked it, "That was 'Blue Thunder' – the ultimate defense in the Kuno Family – the Estates are under attack." She glanced around, "We'll head out to the Estates – you three remain here."

Kasumi nodded. The two fathers glanced at each other before also agreeing. Ranma read into their agreement, "But will this place be attacked? We need to defend Home!"

And I'm still being called… But the feeling was much fainter now and Ryoga could barely discern it. His heart contracted in fear, "Miki…"

Ranma's head whipped around, "Miyuki? Is she in danger?" Sister – have I failed you already?

Nabiki grimly replied, "It's all connected. Kasumi has this place covered. We need to help Kuno, then Kuno can help us find Miyuki-chan. He knows what she was carrying – and he damn well can't handle it on his own. We need Ryoga to get to Miyuki, but we need Kuno to get through the barrier."

Akane lifted the dagger in her hands, glancing at Kasumi, who nodded. Akane hopped up on the wall, "Then let's go."

 


 
 

Obligations-Start            Obligations-Ch16           Obligations-Ch18