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Obligations: Chapter 19

 

Akane paced the borders of the North Gate. Ryoga stood on the wall and watched the outside, seemingly oblivious to her worry. Akane turned towards the path back to the Main Gate. And then came back. "I hate this!"

Ryoga glanced down, but didn't comment. Then they both heard a howling – a noise that seemed to swallow the air and the life and their hopes. Akane rushed back to the Gate, looking for the source, but Ryoga shook his head and gestured to the speaker. Most of the noise was coming from it… however they could also hear the original – coming from the South. Akane glanced that way… "Ranma," she whispered.

Then Ukyo screamed. Ryoga hopped off the wall and started in her direction, and then stood in silent agony as he remembered his duty.

"Ukyo!" Ranma's voice came though, faintly over the howls.

"Uh…" The sound of fighting and an alligator's roars were clear, "Sorry – it st—" there was a long pause, "it startled me. I think—" 

"Ranma – behind you!" Kodachi's voice came clearly enough.

"Got it!"

The howling stopped. But the alligator's roars didn't. Ryoga and Akane looked at each other. "The waiting is the hardest part," Akane remarked. Ryoga nodded.

"Uh, Kuno-sempai," Ukyo's voice was strained, "If you wouldn't mind, I think we could use some help here…"

There was a crack of ice-break and the sky turned frozen blue. Then silence.

"Kodachi-sama – if you wouldn't mind reporting on your station?" Susuki's voice came through the speakers for the first time.

Ryoga and Akane frowned at each other, each wondering what had happened to Kuno.

Kodachi's voice was a bit strained, but clear, "We had Dire Wolves that attacked the Gate while Tatawaki was dealing with the blob. Ranma-sama and I got them all with no breach."

"And you, gracious Kuonji -sama?"

Ukyo's voice was definitely strained, but not quite hysterical, "I don't know what it was. It had bulbous eyes and a long neck – it bled green goo and the goo is everywhere… It's gross. Green Turtle is hurt pretty badly. I think the Blue Thunder must have finished… it… the thing… whatever the heck it was… Anyhow,…it's not moving. Well, the tail is still twitching, but it was doing that before – eewww… nevermind the tail – Chibi just ate it." Ukyo's voice trailed off.

A high-pitched whistle in two quick bursts could be heard through the compound. Kodachi spoke, "I'm recalling Green Turtle. Can you handle the area with only Chibi? Otherwise Akane can join you."

Akane screamed.

Ryoga cursed.

They both jumped into the air and twisted around, landing on the opposite walls, staring down onto the ground where muddish brown tentacles were waving in beneath the Gate. Ryoga glanced over the wall and blinked at the huge mass of dirt piled up on the outside of the Gate. The tentacles on their side were expanding, elongating, stretching forward into the compound… Ryoga loosened his belt and snapped it out straight, jumping down to the ground, slicing at a tentacle. The end of the tentacle fell off. And merged with the earth below it. The first one reformed itself into a tentacle again. Ryoga stared, that was dirt – I know it was – it wasn't alive, but it's moving… It's dirt…

"Ryoga!" Akane called his name in too late of a warning as the ground below him formed a large tentacle, yanking him off his feet. Another tentacle emerged beside him, hovering for a moment. And in that moment, Akane bashed its dirty little pieces to smithereens. Ryoga twisted around and sliced the tentacle trapping his legs. Then he grabbed Akane and jumped for a tree as the whole area around them started spouting tentacles. "Damnit!" Ryoga stared at the mass around them, "That first one got into the dirt here and now it's inside… – Kuno! This thing is inside the perimeter and I don't think we can stop it!"

Susuki's voice was strained, "Try. Tatawaki-sama can't help you right now."

Akane and Ryoga looked at each other. Ryoga handed her his umbrella.

"What are you going to do?" Akane whispered, recognizing that grim look in his eyes.

"What I do best," Ryoga replied, and looked down at the ground. Then he leapt.

As he fell, the earth sprouting tentacles everywhere, waving up out of the ground reaching up to him. Ryoga ignored them, focusing his attention on the mass as a whole, tracing its connecting points… He hit the dirt, his hand outstretched, "BREAKING POINT!"

Akane belatedly realized what he was doing and opened the umbrella, hunkering down as much of herself inside its protection as she could. Rocks bounced off of the umbrella in a force that knocked her backwards even as it protected her from direct hits. She was flung back with almost as much speed as the rocks flying around her – which turned out to be a good thing as the tree she'd been in fell over as the ground under it collapsed. As soon as most of the rocks had stopped hitting the umbrella, Akane twisted it around and used the unique umbrella as a parachute as she gently settled to the ground, alighting on a mound of irregular ground. Boulders were strewn everywhere. Akane glanced around: The courtyard looked nothing like the peaceful arranged garden with its paths and bushes and stonework – it was instead a disaster zone. Everything was tumbled and thrown around – there wasn't a single tree left standing. No, there's one… Akane walked to it, folding the umbrella and feeling a little lost with the amount of chaotic destruction around her. But where's Ryoga? She turned around, not seeing him anywhere. But instead she became aware of some rather urgent queries from the Gate speaker. She walked slowly back to it, her head turning to take in the destruction around her.

"I'm fine, Ranma." Akane spoke absently. She looked down at the umbrella in her hand. "I think…" She looked to the Gate. There was nothing there but piles of loose dirt. "I think it's dead, whatever it was. But I'm rather afraid you're going to have some major landscaping to do when this is over."

One of the boulders in the middle of the field shattered and Akane jumped ten feet in the air, landing on the wall, the umbrella poised in one hand and the dagger in her other. "Ryoga!" She ran to him in relief, putting the dagger away. As Ryoga stood there, dusty and rumpled, she hugged him tightly, glad he was safe. Ryoga…

Ryoga blinked. He'd sent the Breaking Point out through every attachment of the Dirt Monster, shattering every connection and portion of the monster. It had spread almost to the house in the short time they had watched it. A part of him was still focused on the past danger. The other part him was very much aware of the sturdy soft body holding him close. He blinked again. Akane?

"Oh, Ryoga!" Akane hugged him close, reassuring herself that he was really there, "I thought you'd-- I didn't see you after the blast. I'm glad you're safe!!" And then she finally let him go, backing up a step as she looked at him. And then cursed herself silently. Damn. I forgot about that. Ryoga was totally and completely shell-shocked, unmoving, eyes glazed over. Akane shook her head, I should have known better, but… But he was her best friend – how could she not have been happy that he was alive? Oh bother it. He'll just have to get over it. But she tried once more, "You're my dearest friend, Ryoga. I don't know what I'd do without you."

Ryoga blinked, his vision slowly coming back into focus. Akane was standing in front of him, worried and anxious and reassuring all at the same time. He looked at her in wonder, Akane? Do I have a chance after all? But the look in her eye was also wary, evaluating him, watching to see what he'd do… No. His usual dark gloom settled upon him once more, and he glanced around the yard, seeing the ruin there. I'm a servant of Chaos. I create nothing but violence and destruction. Akane is better off without me.

Akane rolled her eyes, recognizing the funk. If it's not one thing… She cleared her throat and handed him back his umbrella. He took it, not meeting her eyes. Akane shook her head, Oh never mind. We've still got a job to do. The young Martial Artist walked back to the Gate, head up, eyes scanning for trouble, hand hovering by her dagger.

As soon as Akane turned her back, Ryoga lifted his eyes and watched her. He noticed the automatic assumption of Warrior status and the way in which she watched for danger. And his teacher-side came to the front, proud of the way Akane could pick up and learn techniques that it took most people years to learn. This is essentially her first real battle situation, and look at the way she's responded to it! I swear, Ranma won't even recognize her when we rejoin the Team. The thought took him aback and he hovered on the edge of the black mood again, but then shook himself out of it. Akane was right – the troubles weren't over yet.

 

Akane… Ranma stared at the speaker in the wall. The delight in her voice as she called out Ryoga's name… His insides knotted themselves up. Damnit! I should be there! Not Ryoga! I should be with her!

"Ranma! Stop that!!" Nabiki's voice was commanding.

Ranma blinked and glanced around. Everything seemed normal… Well, all right for the moment, at least. "What?"

Nabiki sighed, "You were tapping into the base Power. I can't have anybody meddling with it right now while I'm working on the program."

"I was what?" Ranma blinked, "Base Power? What the heck?"

"I don't have a clue as to what you thought you were doing – just don't do it again!"

Kodachi grinned, "Oh, that's what happened earlier."

Ranma looked tiredly at her.

"When you melted the wall," Kodachi explained, "I didn't think that was normal. There aren't many that can tap into the Family Base like that." She shrugged her elegant shoulders, wincing slightly as the movement aggravated the injury she'd taken in the last fight. Frowning at that involuntary revelation of her weakness, she walked to the speaker, "Sasuki – is Tatawaki-sama up yet?"

Oh, Ranma glanced at the wall in question, so it's not a technique. He was disappointed as the Martial Artist in him was always seeking something new.

"Yes, I am," Kuno replied, his voice dripping with weariness. "Good job, Ryoga. Sorry I couldn't help on that one."

"Uhh… Your landscaping…" Ryoga's voice was hesitant and apologetic.

Ranma rolled his eyes – only Ryoga would care about that at a time like this. Though Akane had made the same remark… What the heck does it look like over there?

Kuno chuckled, "Never mind, Ryoga-kun. It'll give Sasuki something to do while we're gone."

"Oh, thank you, Tatawaki-sama!"

Ranma glanced to Kodachi – Sasuki had sounded eagerly sincere – not sarcastic.

Kodachi grinned, "He'll get to redesign the area from scratch and put in bunches more traps. A chance like that hasn't occurred here since his grandfather put in the washing machine below, replacing the outdated bamboo pit."

The air over the wall sparkled and shimmered, crackling with an energy that could be felt as a golden light wove a spider's pattern in the air.

Ranma's mouth dropped open as he watched it, and he nervously pulled out the shortened sword.

Kodachi waved a hand at him, "It's okay. Nabiki's testing some of the Autos."

Ukyo and Ryoga's sarcastic voices came over the speaker, "Thanks for the warning!" 

"Oh, did that do something?" Nabiki sounded surprised.

Kodachi grinned, but kept silent. Kuno answered Nabiki briefly, "The dome is up."

"Oops – I mean, 'that's interesting'." The golden light disappeared.

"Nabiki…"

"Almost done. Give me another ten minutes."

Each of the Warriors stayed at their posts, waiting for the next attack.


 
 

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