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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 up.
Ranma’s breath drew in and he walked to a pile of rubble, kneeling down.
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."
"What trail?"
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 happened?"
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 it tightly.
Miyuki’s headbands… Akane glanced around, noticing more of them scattered in the broken room. Apparently, she’d put up quite a fight.
"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 visit—"
"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 and soothing.
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 help."
"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 start appearing."
Kuno and Mousse both broke in at this point.
"How many?" Kuno’s voice was serious as he asked for the information.
"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."
"Magic Users."
"Magok…"
"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 to wait.
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 chest.
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 it."
"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 the room.
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.
 

 
 
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