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Obligations: Chapter 20

 

There were two more attacks before Nabiki told them the autos were on. Kuno asked them to stay at their posts for a while longer, and then he did something to draw out another attack. It was repelled in a flash of energy that all the Warriors could feel but none of them saw.

"Nice Focus," Kodachi remarked, "No waste with light or sound."

Pre-empting Nabiki's reply, Kuno's words were clipped, "Mina-san: Report up to the Brief Hole."

"Hai," agreed Kodachi.

"What?" said Akane.

"The Brief Hole?" Ukyo questioned.

Nabiki laughed, "Just come up to the house and Kodachi and I will show you the conference room."

 

When they all finally ended up in the same place, Kuno and Sasuki were sorting a bunch of items on a long table.

"Heck no – not that one." Kuno barely looked up as they came in, examining a bracelet, and talking to Sasuki.

Sasuki put the teapot in a small pile of stuff on one side and then pulled out an amulet out of the large pile in the middle of the table. He looked once at it and immediately put it in a pile that was between him and Kuno. Kuno finally put the bracelet there too. They both reached for new items.

Without pausing, Kuno commanded, "Kodachi, go get the sword out of the armory and also get some things for the others."

Kodachi nodded and left.

Nabiki sat down on a couch at the far wall, leaving the others standing in the doorway.

Ranma clenched his fists, "Kuno-sempai – is my sister in trouble?"

Kuno put down the ring he was holding, his eyebrows arching. He looked a question to Nabiki, who shrugged slightly as she answered, "Miyuki – the Healer."

"Sister?"

"It's a Soul-Bond."

"Oh. No wonder we all got involved."

"Kuno!" Ranma wanted an answer.

Kuno obliged him, "Hell yes, she's in danger. Taking the Demon Amulet into the Tokyo Tower was not a good idea."

"You said you'd explain that when we got in here. Well, we're here now." Akane's voice was steady, but dangerous.

Kuno scratched his head, "We don't have much time."

"They need to know what they're going into," Nabiki rebutted.

Kuno inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Keep sorting," he instructed Sasuki, then walked to another table and sat down. Akane and Ranma followed him, Ryoga started pacing, and Ukyo stood for a long moment before sitting on the other side of Ranma.

"Okay, Kuno – What is a Demon Amulet and what does it have to do with Miyuki?" Ranma was almost too anxious to think. Akane glanced over at him in concern. Ryoga stopped pacing briefly, then resumed.

Kuno looked around the group, "Good job out there, mina-san. Thank you for your help." He didn't give them time to comment. "The Demon Amulet is what the Healer had been referring to as a Talisman. It is a very powerful magic item, extremely rare – almost unique. It was lost three hundred years ago, found 40 years later, and then a War broke out to gain possession. My ancestor was involved in that war, but diverted all his resources instead to protecting the village nearby. A Wizard's War can be a devastating event. Now, the amulet is found again – and a War has started again."

"But what is it?"

"It's a very rare magic—"

"You already said that."

"Imprudent fool. I was going to say that it's a rare magic that can control or destroy a demon – any oni that is summoned from the Side Plane. In and of itself, it is not dangerous – what makes it a danger is that it is so rare that everybody wants it. There are four groups after it that we will have to battle. The first are the Evil Magicians who want it to control demons. The second are the Good Magicians who want to destroy demons. The third are Neutral who want it for the power and to do either of the above. Actually, the others want it for the power too." He raised his voice slightly, "Sasuki."

"Hai!" The small ninja was instantly at his master's side, kneeling while holding up several of the items they'd been sorting. Kuno took them and nodded, dismissing the ninja. "These are all protective magics. If we are going to be confronting magicians of the class that would be involved in a War, you're going to need some protection against the spells they will be attacking with." He shoved them out on the table and indicated they should take some. Glancing around, he grimaced at Ryoga, "Will you stop putting holes in my best conference tables and wearing a rut in my rugs?" He tossed Ryoga a silver armband that the Martial Artist automatically caught.

"What's with you, Ryoga? – You weren't like that at the Gate," Akane asked.

After putting on the armband, Ryoga shrugged and resumed his pacing. "I was doing something then – I was needed to defend the Gate. Now… I'm still needed elsewhere and I can't get there."

"Is it Miyuki?" asked Ranma anxiously.

"I can't tell," Ryoga shrugged again, "This is the first time I've ever felt the Family Call." He glanced at Ranma, "It's not a real call – the person isn't shouting my name or anything – I can just feel that I'm needed somewhere."

"Kuno-sempai," Ukyo interrupted the discussion that wasn't really contributing anything, "What about the fourth group?"

Kuno grimaced.

The others looked at him and Ryoga stopped his pacing.

"The Demons will want the Amulet so they can be neither controlled nor destroyed."

"Oh… Shit…" was the general response.

Nabiki stood up, "Damn you, Tatawaki – if you knew the danger, why didn't you try harder to find Miyuki-chan this morning?!"

"Because it wasn't so dangerous this morning!"

The others looked at him and Ranma and Ryoga started forward, fists clenched.

Kuno rolled his eyes, "I mean that – if she hadn't gone to the Tower, everything would have been fine. She had the thing so nicely sealed and herself with such control that even knowing what and who I was looking for, I couldn't get a single seeking spell to find her. And Kasumi-san let her go off on her own – if there's any single person who can accurately judge a danger, that would be Kasumi-san."

Nabiki and Akane automatically nodded in response to that statement. Ranma said in anguish, "I knew she should have stayed."

Kuno shook his head, "No. She stayed exactly as long as she could have. Any longer, and the Demons would have been able to sniff it out. No. Everything the Healer did was correct for what she carried. The only mistake she made was Tokyo Tower, and I suppose she may not have known about that – it's fairly recent as far as power foci go, and not obvious."

"What is the deal about taking it to the Tower?"

"The Tower is unstable and erratic, its power not in smooth channels. Any magic in its presence has unpredictable results – sometimes more power, sometimes different results, sometimes it disappears. In this case, the shielding around the Amulet was burnt out and the presence of the Amulet was broadcast just about over the whole damn world. I felt it instantly, and tried to get there, but within those few seconds, several Wizards had already gotten there and put up a barrier. Then, fifteen minutes later or so, they all disappeared, and the Amulet and the Healer with them."

"How do you know Miyuki was with them? That they didn't just take the Amulet and go?" Ukyo quietly asked.

Kuno acknowledged the logic, "Two reasons – first, I had seeking spells still active on both the Amulet and the Healer, and if they'd separated the one on the Healer would have been able to get through. Second – the Wizards attacked both the Tendo household and my Estate, looking for the Amulet. They didn't have the Amulet or they wouldn't have been looking for it, and the only way the Wizards could have known of our homes and our involvement was through the Healer."

Ranma and Ryoga both paled on the instant. Akane and Nabiki weren't looking too stable themselves.

Just then, Kodachi came in, her arms full of weapons. "Here. And you've got more Warriors."

"Huh?" Kuno lost his poise, but regained it as the China group walked in behind Kodachi.

"Shampoo!" Akane stood up and ran to the Amazon, hugging her.

"You're okay!" Ranma also stood up, but prudently didn't go over.

The rest stared at the battered Amazon who stood as straight and dignified as ever, but her clothes were in tatters and her lovely purple hair had been burnt half off. Even as she reassured Akane with a quick hug and pat, her dark magenta eyes burned with anger and righteous vengeance.

"Greetings, son-in-law," Cologne said, "I was hoping we weren't too late to join you."

"Old… I mean, Oba-sama… what…?"

Cologne turned to Shampoo, "After cleaning her up, we came straight back here, so we don't know yet."

"Almost straight," put in Mousse, pushing up his glasses, "There's a nice teleportation block around this place. Had to go back to the Tendo's."

Shampoo put Akane to one side and inspected the weapons Kodachi had brought. She reached her hand out for one sword, but Kuno stopped her.

"That one is mine." He took it, and looked the others over quickly. He glanced back at Ryoga and then pulled out a weapon that in length was somewhere between a long dagger and a short sword and tossed it to Ryoga.

Ryoga caught it by the hilt and immediately dropped it, shaking his hand, "I can't use it." Sasuki picked it up carefully by the scabbard and put it on a chair.

Kuno shrugged, "Worth a try." He turned to Shampoo and the others, "Choose any others that are here."

"Shampoo," Ryoga's voice was pleading, "What happened to Miki?"

Shampoo blinked, "Miki?"

Three voices immediately replied, "Miyuki."

"Oh," Shampoo's eyes turned dangerous again, "The ones like Mousse took her."

"Magic Users," put in Mousse.

Shampoo waved a hand to dismiss the correction, "Then the others all left too."

"How did it start?" Ranma asked.

Kuno interrupted, "Now that we're all equipped, we'd better get going – I think we'll have time for more background later. Just tell us quickly what opposition we’ll be facing."

Shampoo grimaced, "Many, many ones like Mousse. They coming… When left, five had Healer, twelve other immediately vanished, others followed."

"As uncertain as ever," Kuno sighed. "Everybody, take as much of the protection magic as you can." He turned to Kodachi, "I'm leaving Sasuki here. You're sure you and Nabiki can handle everything?"

"Hai!" Kodachi nodded. So did Nabiki. Sasuki stood silently, torn between his duties.

Kuno nodded, "Then all Warriors, follow me upstairs." He left and the rest followed, leaving Kodachi and Nabiki alone in the room.

They went up two flights of stairs before walking down a hall to a large octagonal room.

Mousse looked around in admiration, "Nice setup."

Kuno didn't reply, but gathered a few materials off shelves, "Feel free to take anything you think you might need."

Mousse felt up his sleeves, "No… I'm supplied."

"Right. Ryoga."

Ryoga jumped slightly.

"Focus on the Call."

"I can't do anything but!"

Kuno rolled his eyes, "I mean really concentrate. I need a location fix, and you're the only one with even a clue."

Obediently, Ryoga tried to hear the jangle in his nerves. He started to pace the floor. The pain… I'm needed – we're needed. I need to take them with me. We need to get… Miki. Miki, it is you, isn't it? You're the one in need. But you're not calling to me… or even to Ranma; you're just in great need. Ryoga could feel it. He could feel… He winced, his hand going to his side.

"Ryoga?" Akane's anxious voice queried his reaction.

Ryoga blinked a couple of times, pulling out of the feeling. That hurt.

"No, no. Like you were just doing – you had it there for a moment," Kuno was doing something over at a workstation, Mousse watching over his shoulder.

"Uhh," Ryoga felt his side again, but there wasn't anything now.

Shampoo was sitting on the floor, back against the wall. She said quietly, "Healer was hurt. You feeling her pain."

Ryoga's mouth tightened; he knew a serious wound when he felt it. And so much time had already gone by… Stopping his restless movements, Ryoga closed his eyes and concentrated, standing as still as he could.

In the room, a whirl of dust started picking up from wherever it was, circling and getting closer and closer to Ryoga. The floorboards shook. The group scattered to the walls, getting out of the way of the wind. All but Ranma, who forced his way through to stand next to his friend, and Mousse and Kuno, who concentrated on the workstation. Blue light started sparking from where Kuno sat. Mousse brushed them aside with his sleeves and stayed where he was.

"Got it… Damn, that's a powerful barrier they've got up." Kuno sat back, disgruntled, "No way are we getting through that." Behind him, Mousse nodded.

The wind kept circling and Kuno looked around, noticing it for the first time, "Uh, Ryoga… I appreciate the dusting, but you can stop now."

Mousse glanced over, "He's trying to break through the barrier – he managed it once getting to Shampoo at the Tower."

Shampoo nodded, "And all like Mousse instantly attacked."

"Will you stop calling them that? They're not like me! I'd never hurt you."

Kuno cleared his throat, "Will somebody please stop Ryoga before my house is torn apart?"

The group all looked at each other. Ranma was the closest… He touched his friend's shoulder, "Ryoga?"

No change.

"Well, it's a little extreme…" Kuno pulled his sword out from its sheath.

Akane squeaked, "What are you going to do with that?"

Kuno ignored her, putting the tip of the sword into the dust whirl. There was a loud 'crack' in the air and the sword flared blue. The wind died and Ryoga staggered back into Ranma, who steadied him.

"What the hell?" Ryoga regained his balance.

Kuno put the sword away, "We can't go in directly – they've got too powerful a barrier up. Stand down for now. I'm going to have to take a different approach, and a frontal assault is not a good idea."

Ryoga glowered at him, but stayed silent. He started to pace again.

Kuno watched him.

"Is there anything we can do?" Ranma asked, moving back to stand next to Akane.

Shaking his head, Kuno motioned to Mousse, and the two of them started a low-voiced discussion.

"Excuse me?"

All heads turned to the quiet Ukyo. She blushed but held her ground, "If you can get a location fix on where they are, why don't you just teleport us to just outside the barrier? I presume it's not a physical one."

Kuno shook his head, "It's not exactly a location fix – it's more a fix on the energy patterns that we use to identify them. We would need to find a way…" he trailed off and turned to look at Ryoga again.

Ryoga paused, "What?"

"Keep pacing," Kuno sounded thoughtful.

Shrugging, Ryoga complied.

"That could be…"

Mousse nodded, "His normal method of getting around. Not his translocation, but the gradual phasing he does."

Ryoga paused again, "I don't normally have any control over that. And if it was going to happen, I'd be gone by now."

"With all the pacing you're doing… You're trying to go. You don't know you are, but you're trying. And still blocked by the barrier." Kuno scratched his head then looked at Mousse. "It's more subtle…"

"But we still need a way of getting through the barrier."

"It's set up for Magic Users."

"More general – Ryoga isn't a Magician."

"But he's got a Talent." 

"So what is that barrier set against?"

The conversation kept on.

"Hey, Ryoga – do you have any way of contacting your family?"

Ryoga shrugged, "Voice mail and e-mail. But we all respond to different things, and if nobody else is here, then it's not likely they'll show up."

Ranma blinked, "Different things?"

"Yeah… That's why I'm not trained – nobody was quite sure what I do yet."

Cologne snorted. They all looked over to her and she shook her head, indicating for them to ignore that.

"Oh!" Kuno smacked his fist into his hand. "Training!"

They all looked back to him. Kuno put two fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Most of the group winced and put their hands over their ears.

There was a whine at the door and a scratching sound. Kuno opened the door and Spots came in.

Ryoga stared, "No. Absolutely not. No way. Checkers would kill me if anything happened to her puppies."

Ranma glared at him, "You care more for your dog than for Miyuki?"

The instant Ranma's words sank in, Ryoga turned a shade of pale white and said in a strangled voice, "That's not what I… I didn't mean that."

"Enough of that," Kuno impatiently gathered the group in, "Mousse – form a bonding shield over the group, tied to Ryoga without hindering him." He knelt down, "Spots, we need to get to where Ryoga is being Called, but there's a barrier. Can you take us by the Way?"

Spots frowned, his tail beating slowly but not enthusiastically. He walked over to Ryoga, who automatically laid a hand on his head and rubbed his ears. The two looked at each other for a long moment. Finally, Ryoga shrugged, "He can get me into the paths, but that’s all. He’s not bound to me." Then Ryoga’s eyes opened wide and he looked over at Kuno with intense astonishment.

Kuno shrugged, a hint of embarrassment in the motion. He asked, "What about Checkers? Are any of the Matane bound to you, personally?"

"Matan…" Ryoga gulped. "No. Checkers is bound to the house and the family as a whole. The puppies are too young–" he glanced between Kuno and Spots, "were too young to make a formal binding."

"Getting Ryoga to the paths will probably be enough," Mousse broke in, "His talent is strong and the need is stronger."

"His way is rarely direct…" Kuno grimaced, "That’s the best we’re going to get." He gestured for Ryoga to proceed.

Ryoga looked down at Spots again, then focused his thoughts. The call. A picture in his mind came of laughing blue-green eyes. His heart twisted, Miki… He walked to where he felt her. I will get to her. Miki. A cold nose bumped his hand and he twisted his fingers in Spots’ hair. And kept walking.

The group watched as Ryoga started wandering around the room. Not pacing, but just aimlessly moving. And then he walked out the door… Ranma and Kuno were at his side. The rest followed very closely behind.

Kodachi looked up from a computer screen as they walked through a study. Her hand rested on the curve of a sword next to her, but she made no comment. Rather, she simply watched as they walked around the table and then back out through the same door.

Ryoga opened the door to a closet. And closed it and walked down the hall. He got to a set of stairs and started climbing.

Ranma leaned over and whispered to Kuno, "Your house doesn’t have this many stairs!" Kuno impatiently gestured for silence. They kept climbing.

 


 
 

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