It was the perfect night for a bash. The moon was full and the fog had rolled in, bringing with it the stagnant stench of the south marshes. The castle, which normally sat in near palatable darkness, was now lit as brightly as a Christmas tree, for multiple protection spells and power blockers now sparkled across the buildings and courtyard. After all, it wouldn't do for one guest to 'accidentally' kill another. Skeletal guards watched from every corner, seeming indifferent to the flow of party goers.
Of the guests themselves, many had brought their own honor guard, most of which hunkered outside the gates of the estate. Only the invited were allowed within the castle itself (minion dung is hell to clean up, no matter which kind of cannon fodder you prefer).
"Balooga caviar. Surely my Storm, I've educated you enough that you know what that is."
"There is a - guest who simply insists on it. I thought that he wasn't going to make it to my soiree. Now the kitchen informs me that we have none in reserve. I need you to go to Penochae. The town is but ten miles away, and you should be back in plenty of time for your grand introduction."
"I'll leave right away, Master D'aray." Walking through the courtyard, Ranma shook his head. -Probably just wants me out of the way, so the surprise won't be ruined by any snoopy guests. Well, the faster I leave . . . Sheesh. I don't wanna - want to come back either.-
Leaping and catching himself up in the winds, he glided northwest towards the village.
* * * *
"Couldn't of set this up better myself," Brand grunted, cleaning his fingernails out with a knife. Six foot-seven and broad shouldered, Brandon 'The Brand" Thos's muscled bulk seemed to dominate the small cabin.
"Overconfidence," Sarah replied, in her usual blunt manner, checking and rechecking her specialized gun clips. Both were dressed in hodge-podge outfits that somehow combined urban commando with sci-fi convention freak.
On the other wall three others sat. A lady in hooded, long flowing white robs rested serenely with her hands folded in her lap. Opposite her a short man in black ninja gear seemed to melt into the darkness.
Between then sat their leader. This was a gathering of hunters, some of the best in the world. And where there was a hunting party there would be Roy Johnson. Roy was considered the best team leader in the world, as well as several parallel dimensions. No one knew how old he was or even if Roy was his real name, but you could be sure that if Roy was involved that the hunt would be successful. "Let's be sure that we are not the overconfident ones. Our information has been sketchy in places, and I'd hate to lose such a ripe find."
"The little miss over there," said Brand, indicating the women in white, "should take care of most of the nasty surprises they've set up for party crashers."
"Nevertheless, lets go through everything again."
No one in the group groaned or rolled their eyes at this request. They were all seasoned professionals, and knew from experience the results that could come from even the smallest mistake.
It was time to hunt.
* * * *
As Ranma approached Panochae, it was obvious that not all was well. Between the flames erupting from various buildings and the screams of their inhabitants, he caught the hint that trouble was abroad. So, he landed amongst the trees for a more stealthy entrance. As he approached, the problem became clear. A half dozen trolls and around thirty goblins were looting the village and slaughtering the inhabitants.
-One of the guests must have told their troops to 'go play'.- Well, as his Master wasn't there to control his actions, he was free to follow his own heart. Free to be Ranma. Free to kick major darkside butt.
Unsheathing his katana's, he leaped into the fray. Cutting his way through, he did his best to clear away for the remaining villagers to make an escape. Ranma grunted with effort. These goblins were a lot tougher that he'd thought they'd be. -Someone's elite troops no doubt.- The shouts and the fire also seemed to be drawing others.
-Looks like the locals have all cleared out. I'd better hurry back. Somehow I don't think any caviar survived this.-
Just then a wagon exploded in flames and twin high pitched cries reached his ears. Rushing to the site, he found two little girls, obviously sisters form their matching soot smudged jumpers. The smallest of the two clung to her sister, eyes scrunched shut. Ranma knelt beside them, using his cape to shelter them from the fire.
"Vampire, why do you protect these?"
Ranma looked up to find themselves surrounded. A burning building stood on their left and the enflamed wagon to the right. Goblins and trolls approached across the ground, and black winged lower class demons circled in the air.
~MY STORM, COME TO ME NOW!~
The call was so strong, so forcefull, that it was all Ranma could do to stay still. -Not yet! Flames, maybe a little wind application of the Hiryushotenha. Reaching out to the winds, he began to pull in and swirl the cool night air.
The goblins advanced. He sent a few vacuum blades to the front and the rear, temporarily causing the attackers to back away. -Almost there,- he thought, feeling the winds closing the spiral.
~TO ME, I COMMAND YOU!~
Ranma felt like he was being torn in half. The pull within his mind fought the determination within his heart. He would not abandon the children!
Then with a shriek, the world around him exploded into a screaming vortex that tossed his opponents away with centrifugal force, leaving him and the two young ones unscathed. All went quiet. It took Ranma a moment to realize the extent of the silence. His Master's pull, his voice, even the faintest feeling of his presence was gone.
Almost absentmindedly, he flew the two girls near a group of cowering villages among the trees. He couldn't help but smile at their wide eyes as he flew away.
He had to be sure. It would probably be dangerous, but he had to know for sure if the $&*# was dead. He grinned again. Just being able to think that of him was a positive sign. He really hoped that this wasn't another test.
Wrapping himself in the Umisenken just outside the gates, he proceeded inside with caution.
* * * *
The hunters stood near the ruins of one wall. Those of their quarry who hadn't been obliterated, had fled, but they held some satisfaction that most of the major players had been eliminated. Some had, however, gotten away, and as long as any of the darkkind existed they would never rest.
"Something moves," murmured the lady, her eyes following something across the grass. A tense silence followed.
"Anybody else?" Roy asked softly. The others indicated the negative. The lady stood with a soundless shifting of white cloak and flowed toward the disturbance.
Ranma approached the spot slowly. He could feel it. D'aray's death. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Ranma felt a shiver run through his body. He couldn't stop shaking. His control wavered and he lost the Umisenken. Wrapping his arms around himself, tears began to run down his face. He tilted his head back, a smile tugging at his lips. Then a whisper of a sound caused him to jerk around.
Hunters. Suddenly Ranma was a torrent of wind. -No!- He was finally free! He - he wanted to go home. The stress of the day overwhelmed him and he thoughts became irrational. Yeah. He'd go home and find a cure. Cologne would know something, or Doctor Tofu, or Happosai, or . . .
"It's all right child. Look at me little one."
Ranma focused on the figure in white in front of him.
"I will not hurt you. My name is Seleena." She smiled softly. "What is your name?"
The joy welled up inside him again. "R-Ranma. My name is Ranma."
"Hello Ranma," she held out her arms to him as one would to a child before scooping them up.
The winds slowed, then died. Ranma found himself wrapped in soft arms. His knees gave out and she sat down, still holding him, murmuring soothing words until his breathing became slow and even.
Brand stepped forward.
"You will not touch him. I have given my word. He will not be harmed."
"But . . ."
"Lady," questioned Roy, "why do you do this?"
"He is an elemental avatar. It is against the Code to kill him."
"But if we . . ." Sarah began, but Roy shook his head.
"He comes with us," he said, picking the boy up off the ground.
Brand grunted. "At least now we know why they were having the party.