|Obligations: Chapter 21
|When they finally reached the top of the stairs, they walked
into a scene of past devastation. Ashes smeared the walls that weren’t
collapsed, blood smeared the ground, lights flickered and electrical systems
sparked. There was no sign of any living being except themselves.
|Ryoga’s breath drew in and he walked to a column, reaching
|Ranma’s breath drew in and he walked to a pile of rubble,
|Shampoo wrinkled her nose and then shrugged.
|Mousse adjusted his glasses and started prowling the area.
|Kuno folded his arms across his chest.
|Akane followed Ranma.
|Ukyo looked around and remarked, "Tokyo Tower?"
|Kuno nodded, "He’s on the trail, at least."
|Heads swiveled around. Cologne laughed, "I guess we couldn’t
keep you out of it, could we?"
|Happosai moved from the rubble he’d been inspecting and
puffed on his pipe as he looked at the group, "I felt the battle and came
to see, but was too late. Mina is here – very nearly the full Team… What
|While Cologne briefly filled in the Martial Master, Ranma
and Ryoga rejoined the others. Both had in their hands strips of light
blue cloth. Ranma tied his around his wrist. Ryoga just held his, clenching
|Miyuki’s headbands… Akane glanced around, noticing
more of them scattered in the broken room. Apparently, she’d put up quite
|"Kuno!" Mousse’s yell brought the others to him quickly.
Kuno looked down at the pile of charred ashes and his breath hissed in
and he turned to Shampoo, "I thought you said there were only Magicians!"
|"Now," Shampoo shrugged. "Demon was first to show. While
Shampoo fight, Mousse-ones showed."
|"Demon??!!!" Several voices rose.
|Shampoo glanced around, annoyed, "Shampoo defeat demon!
Stop worry! No others show."
|Mousse chewed his lip, "But it does mean that the reverberations
were felt on the other levels."
|"Yes…" Kuno agreed, "Unless…" he looked at Shampoo, "I apologize
for stopping your tale earlier. Tell us now, exactly what happened."
|Mousse nodded, "That would make a difference."
|"Stop talk and listen." Shampoo glared at Mousse. And then
glanced to Cologne, "Shampoo had met Healer day before. Shampoo and Duster
|"Duster???" Cologne’s hair went up in the air as her battle-aura
flared. "How dare you give a Name to an outsider!?!"
|Shampoo stood solid, "She be Shampoo’s friend. She be Ranma’s
soul-sister. Her sensei be Amazon. I give her Name."
|Cologne continued to glare.
|"Now, now, L’l-Cologne – surely you can discuss this with
your lovely grand-daughter at another time," Happosai’s voice was calm
|Cologne’s battle-aura died. Stiffly, she apologized. Shampoo
was silent for a moment more than shook her head and started again, "Shampoo
and Duster visit museums. Other day, Duster have problem with Medallion,
but today okay."
|"Problems?" Kuno asked, "What sort of problems?"
|Shampoo glanced to Ryoga and blushed slightly before returning
her gaze to Kuno, "Control… Healer take care of it. And Shampoo’s bells
|"Bells?" Kuno blinked.
|Mousse waved a hand, "General Wards. They’ve got other uses,
but…" he shrugged. Kuno nodded thoughtfully.
|"Morning was at museum. When we come here, all seemed fine.
Shampoo was looking through long-glass, Duster was at map," Shampoo gestured
to one of the displays that was now a crumpled mass of fiberboard. "Then
demon come in through window and attack Healer. Duster repel attack long
enough for Shampoo to aid. While Shampoo fight demon, ones like Mousse
|Kuno and Mousse both broke in at this point.
|"How many?" Kuno’s voice was serious as he asked for the
|"Can’t you just say ‘Magic Users’?" Mousse’s voice showed
that he was starting to get annoyed at the continual reference.
|Shampoo half-shrugged, then answered Kuno’s question obliquely,
"Shampoo still fight demon. Duster start fight Majokussors."
|"Never mind, Shampoo." Mousse’s voice was close to sympathetic.
|Shampoo blushed and said something in rapid Chinese to the
white-robed Magician. It sounded close to an explanation.
|Mousse shrugged, "Sorry. I forgot about that."
|Shaking his head, Ryoga suggested, "Shampoo – if it’s easier,
how about if you tell it in Mandarin – we can translate later for those
who don’t speak it."
|"Oh, like you do?" Ranma was not happy at being one of those
|Ryoga glanced at him, "I’d be stupid to go into China without
knowing the language."
|Ranma growled at the reminder that he did just that.
|Kuno broke in, "That’s a good idea, Ryoga-kun. Shampoo?"
|She nodded. And remembered how it had begun:
|Duster grinned at her friend as
they walked up the stairs. Shampoo grinned back -- no spineless elevator
for this Amazon! And Duster didn’t seem to mind. Duster didn’t actually
seem to mind anything. Shampoo had persuaded her to switch the plans around
and they’d spent almost the entire day already in the Sword Museum before
finally getting to the Tower in barely enough time for daylight. And all
that after a very long night at Roppongi. A very long night. Shampoo grinned
again – this time in remembrance. She’d never known Tokyo could be so much
fun. She’d never cared to know. But being out with her friend… Maybe Shampoo
should have tried harder to make friends with some of the others. But she
didn’t really want to. Ranma was a good friend – a sparring partner and
a delight to joke around with. He took things about as seriously as Shampoo
did most of the time, which was not at all. Akane was a nice person, but
nowhere on Shampoo’s sparring level and a jealous little devil to boot.
Every time Shampoo would pull a joke on her, Akane would throw a absolute
fit and make it into a serious match. And she was the one who said she
didn’t want Ranma! Yeah right! Ukyo… Ukyo was strange. Great-grandmother
had tried many times to throw the two of them together to make a team,
and they would for the moment – and then they’d be right back to old again.
Ukyo at her store cooking her onim… pancake meals, and Shampoo back at
work training in the mornings and working the Cat Café in the evenings.
Admittedly, half of that was Shampoo’s fault – she just couldn’t seem to
warm up to the other girl. Competing with her for Ranma… it all became
very real when they got together. Ukyo and Kodachi and Shampoo... Battle
auras flared every time. Kodachi was nice enough, but despite her attachment
for Ranma, she was very ordinary. The gift that her brother had in measure
had passed Kodachi by altogether. As for being friends with the guys… Shampoo
shook her head. No. It wasn’t to be done. Being friends with guys only
got girls trouble. Look at what had happened with Mousse – a very good
friend, the person she thought she could rely on the most, and as soon
as his hormones started in he became the person she least wanted to see.
Too obsessive. Too confident. Too needy. And still my friend… He’d
backed off a lot in the last year, watching her and Ranma and Akane. But
Shampoo still didn’t trust him like she used to. If she even thought about
suggesting they go out and see the sights of Tokyo, he’d think it was a
date or something. So she never did.
|Opening the door at the top of
the stairs, for a moment, all Shampoo did was stare. Duster wormed her
way in under Shampoo’s arm so she could also see – and gasped in delight.
Shampoo grinned down at the Healer as the blue-green eyes sparkled with
delight and joy.
|"Y’you can see for’rever!"
Duster walked past Shampoo and straight to one of the tall glass windows,
pressing her nose up against the invisible barrier and just staring.
|Shampoo closed the door and wandered
around the room, noting what she could remember of landmarks. Eventually
Duster stopped staring and went over to one of the large maps in the room
to study them. Shampoo picked out the general area for Nermia and put a
coin in the long-distance viewer to see it better.
|And then an oni burst through
the window yelling, "I will have my revenge!" It started to fly towards
an old man and his grandson, but then it turned its head. "Is that…?" The
oni’s face split in a wide grin – a disgusting sight. "It will be mine!"
And it changed its flight to attack Duster. Duster hadn’t been wasting
time, but had dropped her pack and stepped out to an area with enough room
for her to use her staff. Sharp blades protruded from both ends and also
the sides at the ends. As the oni rushed upon her, she calmly deflected
its attack, leaving a smear of oozing purple blood on the oni’s face and
|The oni howled and became more
serious on its attack. By that time, Shampoo was there, her sword in hand,
her battle-aura flaring, both a defense and an offense around her. The
oni grinned and met her in battle.
|Needless to say, the rest of the
people in the Tower ran out, by stairs and elevator. The old man pulled
out a long whip and started to move in to help. Duster raised a hand to
amulet under her shirt and looked worriedly to the broken window. Shampoo
didn’t hear what Duster told the old man, but he nodded and left, taking
his grandson with him. Shampoo was glad – this was her battle and she could
handle this oni! And the oni damn well knew it. Its grin had faded, leaving
a look of concentration and appreciation in its place. It knew it was going
to die this day. And Shampoo knew that it would remember her when it eventually
made its way back again. That was okay – Shampoo would remember it too!
|"Shampoo – you’d better leave."
Duster’s voice was very very worried. She gripped her staff and stepped
back to a column. A tinkling of bells could be heard throughout the room.
|My bells? But the wards—
Shampoo blinked as she blocked a blow from the oni and took a moment to
look around. And barely ducked the second blow, distracted by the flicker
of lights in the room. She recognized well the effects of the teleportation
of Magicians. Oh Curses…! The wards fell. The oni pressed its advantage
in her distraction and Shampoo couldn’t divide her attention enough.
|"Jakir – what are you doing here?
The Demon Amulet is mine – you’d be fried to a crisp if you tried to use
|"Hanta – I should have known you’d
show up, but I will never allow the Amulet to fall into your hands."
|"Little Girl, give me the Amulet
now and I’ll let you live."
|"Sukyu – you are a—"
|The magicians that suddenly flooded
the room were all talking at once and many were pressing in upon Duster,
trying to take the Amulet by force. Others were defending her… or the Amulet.
Within moments, the room had become a free-for-all battle, magicians against
magicians against magicians… Gold light and yellow light and red light
and flames and winds and projectiles and magic too dense to enumerate or
identify were bouncing throughout the room. And Duster was in the middle
of it all. On the other side, Shampoo was left very much alone to continue
her battle against the oni, only a few curious looks directed her way.
The sheer inattention combined with the threat to her friend made Shampoo
angry as she’d never been before in her life. The oni lasted two more seconds
before it was killed and Shampoo was plowing her way through to her friend.
|Duster tossed her an amused glance
as Shampoo moved to her side, the column at their backs. Shampoo very accurately
interpreted the glance to mean ‘what, you still here?’ with a high degree
of sarcasm. Duster’s staff was a continuous whirl of motion, diverting
spells and missiles alike. A green glow surrounded both of them. Shampoo’s
sword reflected the same light, with less brilliance. Most of the magicians’
attacks were being directed at each other, with the prize carefully not
blasted to bits in the fight, but there were numerous of magics trying
to snatch Duster away, others trying to protect her, others trying to bind
her, some just reflecting around until they got to her… And the magicians
had no compunction about attacking Shampoo. Other than she just wasn’t
important enough to worry about. The power in the beings that pressed in
the room… The auras alone were compelling and puissant. The magic was phenomenal.
|Shampoo’s sword broke.
|Instantly all the loose magics
swirling in the air near her swept through the now undefended space. In
that moment, Shampoo’s natural aura was her only defense against them.
She fell to her knees, involuntarily crying out her pain and shamed by
the show of weakness. Blood flowed from wounds created by wind razors and
flame knives and digger bolts and…
|A green aura flowed down to merge
with Shampoo’s blue one as Duster stepped in front of her, her staff still
moving. Shampoo gathered her strength and repelled the magics around her,
pulling out her maces and cursing her weakness. She stepped back out again
and the girls now stood back-to-back – the column having collapsed with
less rubble than there should have been.
|Duster’s staff stopped, caught
by a tentacle of brown light. Pulled from her hand, it dropped to the ground.
The magics rushed in upon her. Duster’s aura flared as she threw them to
one side. But not far enough. Shampoo saw the gush of blood from her side
as Duster twisted around. But Duster never cried out. Instead, she raised
one hand to her neck and the other to her forehead. And then she was back
in the fight again – her bandannas whipping out to create confusion and
consternation within the group of battling magicians who had nearly forgotten
that their prey could fight back. For Duster was angry and she fought instead
of merely defended. Fought with her Healer’s power and her Life’s song.
|But they had now been noticed
by the magicians. And the results were instantly overwhelming.
|Shampoo, down again upon her knees,
cursed the bonds that held her tight. She broke out of one and another
took its place. She supposed they should be grateful that it was one of
the ‘good’ magicians that had gotten to them first. But then, that close
to Duster none of the magicians dared to use their most destructive magics
for fear of destroying the Amulet. A glow in the air near her drew Shampoo’s
attention. It felt… familiar. It felt… friendly? Shampoo narrowed her eyes
– and barely recognized Ryoga as the power that surrounded him forced its
way through all the magics that were streaming through the room. The room
suddenly smelled of desert air and underground caverns. It smelled of hope
and— And every magician in the room turned to face the new threat. In unison,
they raised their arms at the glow… Shampoo cried out in fear and warning.
And the glow disappeared. Ryoga! Shampoo’s heart twisted for the
loss of her comrade and friend.
|"No!!!!!!!" A scream echoed throughout
|Shampoo glanced up to see Duster
fall to the floor, her hand reaching out for her staff and her body curling
into a knot around it. Instantly, there was a small knot of magicians around
her and then they blinked out of sight, taking Miyuki with them. The roar
of frustration and anger in the room shattered what windows had been unbroken.
The other magicians also disappeared in groups until all were gone. Shampoo
rose to her knees and crawled to the spot where Duster had disappeared.
My friend. I will find you. I will find you – and I will rescue you.
Or I will avenge you. I promise this.