Subject: [FFML2] [fanfic][ranma] Bedlam Fire Chapter 8
From: Allyn Yonge
Date: 2/17/2001, 11:29 AM
To: ffmlrefuge@listbot.com, ffml@patchmonkey.net, ffml2@listbot.com

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The  characters  of the Ranma 1/2 universe  are  the
creation   and   possession  of  the  brilliant   Rumiko
Takahashi.  They  belong  to Rumiko  Takahashi  and  her
licensees   (Shogakukan   Inc.,   Kitty-Fuji   TV,   Viz
Communications   Inc.)  No  copyright  infringement   is
intended.   
          


"The Green Lantern", copyright ALL-AMERICAN COMICS
 # 16 (July 1940)   
               
(Note: Green Lantern #16  provided the inspiration for this
story. However only the colour green remains.)



WARNING: This story contains scenes that some readers may
find sexually suggestive and/or violent.          


Extended author notes will be added at the end of
of Chapter one and again at the end of the final chapter.


************************************************
*
          

          Bedlam Fire


Chapter 8 
************************************************
*

     She was cold.

     A wind blew out of the west and cut her like a thousand
knives. The ember of power at her center guttered and flickered
like a candle in the wind. It could no longer shield her from the
ice and wind of the high plateau.  Her bare feet were sliced to the
bone by sharp ridges of stone and a trail of blood followed her
like a red snake. 

     She was tired.

     The cold and hunger had overcome the fire a hundred
kilometers past. Only thick headed stubbornness kept her
lurching forward on legs that were as numb and lifeless as two
sticks off a dead tree. 

      She fell, over a half inch crack in the rock that might as
well been a boulder. In slow motion she saw the icy ground
rushing toward her face and put out a hand to catch herself.

      But her body and mind were mired in glue and she
slammed into the ground, smashing her nose and slashing her
cheek to the bone. There wasn't any blood, she was too cold for
that now. He limp body bounced once and slid down a slight hill,
stopping in a twisted heap at the bottom.

     She was dying.

     There had been nothing to eat since shortly before she
had found the young rabbit. This land was barren of life and she
was starving to death.

     Moonlight turned the sky and ice to silver, and the stars
were so bright and clear in the cold  thin air she could reach out
and touch them.  A streak of light blazed a trail across the night
and vanished. 

     *What are stars mama?* Four year old Tendou Akane
clasped her mother's hand tightly as she stared up at the night
sky.

     *They are souls,* Tendou Yukako finger-combed
 the child's inky tresses, smiling as she pulled a leafy
twig from the tangles, *looking down at the earth. And when
you see a shooting star, it's a baby being born, or an ancestor
returning to earth, to watch over you.*
               
     Her mind was clear now. The fire was almost dead and
the cold had burned away all her anger, her mistakes and
sorrows and illusions, leaving only the face she'd had before she
was born.

     "mama . . .i'm sorry mama. i tried to be a good 
 girl . . ."

     Another light burned across the night and her dying eyes
followed it as it seemed to pass behind a hill, where firelight
gleamed from the window of a yak-herders hut.


     
     


************************************************

               
     "We got company." Ranma didn't look up from his bowl,
but kept shoveling rice into his mouth. He took a swig of tea and
casually stirred the fire with a stick, being careful not to let the
small flame destroy his night vision.

     "Are you sure," Mu Si asked doubtfully. "I don't-----"

     "Ranma say, Ranma sure." Shan Pu said positively.
"Where great grandmother?" she reached behind her back, as if
scratching an itch, checking her hidden throwing knives.

     "Haven't seen her since we made camp," Mu Si replied
softly, slipping a bolt into a cross-bow hidden up his sleeve.
"Probably off meditating, to focus her power on controlling that
thing."

                Picking up her bowl Shan Pu made as if to take the
dirty dishes and clean them. "Maybe woman stealers. Now
Ranma glad we use water-proof soap?" She looked into the
shadows out of the corner of her eye, which gave her the best
night vision. One shadow seemed slightly deeper than the rest.
"Mu Si go left, Ranma right. Shan Pu go middle."

     "All right children! Play nice."

     At Ke Lun's cackling laugh several shadows detached
from the darkness and stepped into the light of the fire.

     "We were just testing Shan Pu, Elder."  A stocky girl
with long sandy hair tied in an elaborate knot at the back of her
head bowed low as she spoke. "It seems her skills have suffered
from soft living."

     "Maybe not so soft, Mani." Shan Pu tossed three bowls
in the air with her right hand, her left flickered and a long knife
pierced all three at the top of their arc. As they started down a
muffled thunk marked Mu Si's arrow splitting them down the
center. Almost immediately he had the crossbow cocked,
reloaded and centered on the girl's chest.

     "Just what are we supposed ta eat off now?" Ranma
complained.

     "You _are_ getting soft," Mani stalked forward, "letting a
male talk back." She poked Ranma in the chest. "Didn't anyone
ever teach you manners?"

     "What's up with these guys?" Ranma directed his inquiry
toward Ke Lun, ignoring gender distinctions.

     "I have no idea," Ke Lun moved into the light, looking
first at the new comers, then at her own small party. "but I'm
sure
_someone_ will tell me why you are here."

     "I sent for them, Elder."

     To Ranma's amazement Mu Si moved forward to kneel
before Ke Lun.

     "I feared for Shan Pu's safety and thought it best to have
an escort until we reached our borders. I sent a message from
Rizhao."

     "You did well."

     "I am sorry for----what?" Mu Si said faintly.

     "You did well, boy." The Amazon matriarch smiled
sourly at the kneeling boy. "It was bound to happen sometime, if
only by accident. Now----get up. I'm getting a crick in my neck
looking at you."

     "It is indeed the end times," A new voice, a furry
sounding contralto that sent a shiver down Ranma's spine,
spoke. "when the blind see. What next," Tall, with hair so blond
it was almost white and ice blue eyes the speaker moved with
negligent grace into the light. "will the dumb speak?" she pulled
off Shan Pu's cap and patted her bald head as she circled  her to
stop beside Mu Si. "I warned you about using those cheap
conditioners."

     "H . . .hello Aziza," Mu Si tried to scuttle away on his
knees. The willowy Amazon was stronger than she looked and
faster.  She pinned Mu Si with a lazy seeming movement of her
foot.

     "Don't keep running away sweetie," she twisted a lock of
his hair around her finger, "Or do you _want_ me to chase you?"

     "No tease Mu Si!" Shan Pu stalked forward, pushing the
taller Amazon back a pace and Mu Si gratefully darted behind
her.

     "Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to herd cats." No one
noticed Ranma's flinch as a third Amazon moved into sight, a
pleasantly plump fortyish woman who hid a weight lifters build
under a layer of padding. "Girls, don't embarrass me in front of
the Elder. Or our guests."

     "Hiya, sugar!"

     "U . . . Ucchan?" Ranma's mouth dropped open as the
okonomiyaki chef stepped into the light, followed by-----

     "Kasumi! Nabiki?"

     "Good evening, Saotome-san."

     "konatsu?" Ranma was beyond shock. Then his heart
skipped a beat as he suddenly realized that if _they_ were
_here_ then----

     "Akane! Where's Akane?"

     "Oh dear, isn't she here yet?"

     "I think you better sit down, Ranma," Nabiki moved to
put a hand on Rama's arm. "Things have gotten a little . . .
complicated."

************************************************

                   "Little baby, lay your head
                  On your pretty cradle-bed;"

     The sweet soft voice of the young mother drifted across
the desolate mountain side. Her husband was helping a neighbor
who'd broken his leg and he wouldn't be back for at least
another day. They depended on each other, those who lived at
the top of the world.

               " . . .now the day
                 And the light are gone away;
                 All the clothes are tucked in tight;
                 Little baby dear, good night."

     Touching his soft cheek gently, she tightened the sheep-
skin wrap more tightly around her son. She wanted to cry, he
was so beautiful and perfect. The most wonderful thing in her
life, except for the man who had given him to her.

               "Yes, my darling, well I know
                How the bitter wind does blow;
                And the winter's snow and rain
                  Beat against the windowpane;
                But they cannot come in here,
                    To my little baby----"

     The door crashed open, slamming against the wall with a
force that shook the tiny house. She had a moment to see an
apparition,  a snow daemon come to life, standing in the
entrance. Moonlight and shadow danced and capered over the
thing in the door and instinctively she turned away, protecting her
child with her body. But there was no protection from the fire
that blazed from the thing in the door, washing across the floor
like new spilled blood, washing woman, child and everything in
scarlet flames.

************************************************

     The impossible figure of a young girl raced across the
mountains, dancing from rock to peak like a fairy creature.
Behind her, a woman and babe lay, as if asleep, in the stillness of
a stone hut, lit by the flickering glow of a banked fire.

************************************************

     " . . .and then we met up with Guri," Naibki nodded
toward the stocky middle aged Amazon, "and she brought us the
rest of the way." The middle Tendou sister looked a little
nervously around the dark. "I . . .uhhh . . .we kinda figured
Akane would already be here by----"

     A dark shape dropped from the sky with a crack of
displaced air.

     "----now!" she squeaked, scuttling backward, only
stopping when Ukyou snagged her with one arm, unlimbering
her battle spatuala with the other. Swinging Nabiki behind her
the master of God-Sent-Okonomiyaki took an aggressive
stance.

     "Kiima!"  

     "Who?" Ukyou asked in a bewildered voice.

     "How nice," Kasumi looked up from the fire. "I should
have tea ready in a few moments. Did you have a good flight
from Mount Phoenix?"

     "What's the bird-brain doin' here?" Ranma asked Ke
Lun, glaring at the winged woman. "An' where's your two
chicken boys?" he frowned at the Phoenix warrior.

     "Kakakaka," A night winged form  dropped from the
sky. "Koruma is here!"

     "Kikikikiki," Strung bow in hand a second figure landed
opposite Kiima. "Masara comes!"
     
     "I thought this was going to be a private meeting, old
crone." There was a pattering of rock as a stocky boy in tiger-
skins bounded into the light.

     "Yeah," a wolf clad boy moved in from the opposite
direction. "You said . . .you're a girl!"  Mint teleported suddenly
to Aziza's side. "I will have tea with you," he began unfastening
the Amazon's shirt.
                                        
     "Oh great," Nabiki put her head in her hands, "what is
this,  Testosterone Central?"

     "Who _are_ these guys?" Ukyou was beginning to share
Nabiki's bad feeling. She'd heard stories about Phoenix
mountain and----

     "I also will have tea!" Lime picked up Mani under his arm
and started to carry her into the darkness.  

     ----the Musk. She discretely checked to make sure her
bindings were secure and her jacket firmly buttoned.

     "You're cute." Aziza ruffled Mint's hair, shifting a little to
provide easier access to her chest, quickly demonstrating why
Shan Pu's nickname had been "tiny".  Endorphin poisoning isn't
pretty and Mint fell to the ground, frothing at the mouth.

     "Put me _down_!" Mani grated from her position, similar
to a sack of potatoes, under Lime's arm.

     "I will have tea with you." Lime said happily,  hooking a
finger in the Amazon's blouse and splitting it down the middle. "I
will----

     "Stone-crusher-fist!" Muscles bunched in her forearm
and shoulder as she demonstrated the technique on the "stones"
nearest to hand.

     " . . .have tea with you. I will have - - -" Sweat beaded
his upper lip and his eyes took on a slight look of strain.

     Mani put a little more muscle into it and . . .

     "----tea. With you. I will . . ." Lime stumbled slightly.

      . . .twisted.

     " . . .have. Te . . .eeeee . . .." His eyes rolled up in his
head and Lime dropped like a . . .stone.

     "You broke him," Aziza complained, looking over from
where she was  helping Mint to his feet. "If you don't want him,
give someone else a chance."  

     "What is this!" Kiima stared haughtily around. "You
called me away from my duties with Lord Saffron to meet with
this rabble?"

     "But Captain," Masara said, startled, "you said if you had
to deal with another tantrum from Lord----owwwwww!"
Masara rubbed his head, looking warily at Kiima.

     "Rabble!" Mint  recovered sufficiently to stalk angrily
forward. "Who are _you_ calling rabble? Freak!"

     "What the hell's goin' on here!" Ranma rounded on Ke
Lun, eyes snapping furiously. "You're supposed to be helpin'
Akane."

     "FREAK!" Steel hissed on leather as Kiima's sword
leapt into her hand. "Listen beast-boy, I'll teach you-----"

     "Be silent."

     Ke Lun didn't raise her voice but the effect was the same
as if she'd cut their tongues from their heads.

     "A great evil has appeared. Greater and older than you
can imagine. Jian Yoi Guai, destroyer of the Amazon nation has
returned."                         

     "What is that to Lord Saffron?" Kiima returned her blade
to it's sheath, but kept her hand on the pommel. 

     "Only the strong survive," Mint seconded. "If the
Amazons can not defeat their enemies, they should perish." Lime
nodded enthusiastically from his place on the ground, but his
eyes were fixed worshipfully on Mani.

     "Two thousand years ago the remnants of the Amazon
nation came out of the Burning Mountains," Ke Lun pointed
north toward the Mongolian border, "fleeing the green death."

     "Fleeing starvation more likely," Kiima scoffed. "Nothing
can live in the Burning Mountains, it's death to come within a
hundred Li of them."

     "Once that land was green and fertile," Ke Lun stared at
Kiima until she squirmed uncomfortably under the matriarch's
gaze, "and the Amazon's were a great nation. Less than two
hundred, children and babes-in-arm, walked out of the
mountains. All that Jian Yoi Guai spared in it's death throes.  Or
what we thought it's death, and the last of our warriors and
shaman with it." She untied the bundle at her waist and unrolled
it with a flick of her wrist. Kiima, Mint and the others jumped
back as the statue of Kwannon, goddess of mercy, tumbled
through the fire in a shower of sparks. It came to rest, tilted at a
slight angle and a sullen green glow surrounded the cold metal.

     "What is it?" Lime reached to touch it.
     
     "NO!" Ke Lun moved quickly to stop him.

     "Stupid!" Ranma was faster and yanked the tiger-boy
away by the scruff of his neck. "Ain't ya got any better sense
than that?"

     "The Daemon's power resides in this statue. Or most of
it. Some . . .some has escaped and possesses Tendou Akane."

     "We listened to your touching story," Kiima walked
carefully around the statue, examining it from all angles. "while
we sat in the rocks above. So your little _friend_ has had the
bad luck to tangle with a daemon." Kiima shrugged. "Again,
what is that to Lord Saffron?"

     "Mt. Phoenix is not so far from the borders of the Burning
Mountains. What the daemon has done once, it can do again.
And again." Ke Lun looked calmly at the arrogant representative
of the Phoenix people. "The daemon lives for pain and
destruction."

     "We can protect ourselves----" Kiima began.

     "You can't even keep your plumbing in working order,"
Ke Lun snapped sarcastically. "and a human child defeated your
great Lord Saffron. What will you do if you face a real
opponent?"

     "Hey!"

     Kiima ignored Ranma's outburst. "He was lucky. And
Lord Saffron felt pity for the weak."

     "Now wait just a ----" Shan Pu stopped Ranma with a
hand on his arm.

     "Fool!" Ke Lun began to glow with power, brighter and
brighter until Kiima was forced back, shielding her eyes.
Koruma and Masara tried to aid their Captain, but were held in
place by the force of Ke Lun's will. With a sharp cr,y that
stunned the small crowd, Ke Lun lashed out with her
staff----and the statue fell into three pieces.

     "w . . .what  . . ." Dazedly Kiima raised herself from the
ground to see Ke Lun wrapping the broken statue into three
bundles.

     "Take this to Saffron," She thrust one bundle at Kiima.
"we must keep the daemon's power divided." When Kiima still
seemed reluctant Ke Lun's eyes flashed with anger. "Will you
doom your people? Your Lord!? Take it to Saffron." Unable to
resist Ke Lun's compulsion Kiima took the bundle and sprang
into the air, followed by Koruma and Masara.

     "Take this to Herb," Ke Lun forced a second bundle on
Mint. "Tell him what you have learned."

     "No tea?" Lime said sadly, staring at Mani.

     "GO!" Ke Lun's shout propelled the two beast-boys out
of the camp and into the night.

     "And the third piece," she tied the diminished statue to
her waist. "shall go to the Amazons."

     "Dammit," Ranma grabbed Ke Lun and spun her around.
"What about Akane! What are you gonna do to help her?"
     
     "I already have," Ke Lun said placidly. "I have assured
that she can not easily gather more of the Daemon's power."

     "Yeabut . . .Akane's out there," Ranma waved a hand at
the darkness. "somewhere. We gotta find her and help her."

     "We do not have to find her," Ke Lun went to the fire
and accepted a cup from Kasumi. "According to what Nabiki
has said," she took a grateful sip of the tea, "Tendou Akane will 
find us."

************************************************
     
     The power was divided. She could feel it. Her head
turned, tasting the winds of change. Two were moving away, so
quickly that they were already almost lost to her much
diminished senses. The third . . .the third was slower, but
vanishing quickly.

     No matter.

      She changed direction, running hard to the north.

     She knew where to go.

************************************************

     "Herb! Herb! Where are you!"

     Herb, Master of the Ryuu Sei Hishou, Son of the Dragon
and four hundred twenty first Prince of the Musk, sighed as his
meditations were interrupted by two familiar voices. He stepped
from under the frigid water of the sacred waterfall to great his
life-long attendants. 

     "Herb, Herb," Lime burst through the brush that
surrounded the secluded grotto. "I held hands with a woman!"

     "Liar,"Mint was on his shield-brother's heels. "You
shouldn't tell stories to Herb."

     "I'm not lying," Lime scowled mulishly at his companion.
"She was----"

     "Not holding your _hand_!" Mint finished triumphantly.
"But I almost had tea with a woman. AND she touched my hair.
And she said I was cute. And she----"

     Herb sighed again, rubbing his temples. "Other than tea
and hand holding, did Ke Lun have a reason for summoning a
representative of the Musk? Or did she only wish the pleasure of
your company?"

     "Oh no, Herb," Mint turned from his recitation of the
treats he'd found in his travels. "She gave us----Breasts!"

     "OH!" Lime and Mint crossed the ten meters separating
them from Herb in an instant. "The beautiful breasts that Herb
took such loving care to nurture----" Lime went cross eyed,
admiring the breast closest to him.

     "----have grown since we were gone!" Mint wiped away
a tear at the evidence of Herb's green . . . .thumb.

     "IDIOTS!" Herb slammed his two henchmen into the
ground with a delicate fist, then upended a kettle of steaming
water, transforming almost instantly from female to male. "I am a
MAN! I've _always_ been a man!" Angrily he jerked a robe
over his nakedness. "Now then, what did----" He stopped short
as Mint and Lime began patting his chest.

     "What did Herb do?" Mint fell to his knees, looking up at
his prince with puppy-wolf eyes.

     "Father has gone away," Lime said sadly, still confusing
the homophones for the masculine parent and the secondary
female sex characteristic.

     "Would you ST----" Herbs anger deflated almost as
soon as it came. "Never mind. What did Ke Lun want?" He
pulled Mint to his feet and started back to the palace.

     "Oh, I almost forgot. She gave us this," Lime untied a
bundle at his waist," to give to you."

     Herb drew back from the bag with a reptilian hiss that
demonstrated conclusively he was a child of the dragon.

     "How dare you bring this evil to the holy places!" A
corona of energy crackled angrily around the Prince of the
Musk.

     Lime dropped the bag in his startlement  and took a step
back, Mint keeping pace with him.

     "Evil?" Mint asked timidly.
                              
     "Are you blind that you can't see it? Tell me," Herb said
in an awful voice, "where you got this _abomination_, and why
you bring it here?"

************************************************

     Aziza lay her spear across her shoulders and let her arms
dangle comfortably across the ends. If she were smart she'd
head back to camp. Guri was always telling them that of the
three things most important to a warrior, the first two were
sleep.  And Mu Si was too shy and quick for the third.

     But she didn't want to sleep, not just yet. She'd never
been in this part of the mountains before and something about
the sheen of moonlight on ice called to her.  Twirling around she
felt as if she were falling through eternity. Dancing with Moon
Shadow, her grandmother called it, letting go of your self and
allowing your spirit to fly free.

     Dancing along the ridge line she looked up and watched
the moon play hide and seek among the clouds, dreaming of
cloud ships, blue roses and celebrating in the  ballroom of the
gods. 

     She'd always had too much imagination to make a good
warrior. She thought too much, and her vivid imagination made
the horrors of a war lost or a battle won all too real. It had taken
a tremendous effort of will to strike a solid blow, even in
practice, and her first kill on the hunt had left her with nightmares
of blood spattered earth churned up by the last spasmodic  kick
of a dying deer.

      Shaking away thoughts of battle and blood she reminded
herself that she _had_  overcome her weakness, turned it to her
advantage. She would never face a fight with the same joyous
abandon of Shan Pu, but _she_ was known for her cool
precision with a bow and her quick, surgical spear----

     A tiny pattering sound as a pebble broke free to slide
down a hill side, a shivering in the shadows, where no shadow
should be, brought her spinning around, her spear coming off her
shoulders in middle-guard position.

     "Who is it! Who's there!" Her left foot went back, giving
her some distance from whatever lurked in the dark while at the
same time her  hand went to the signal horn hanging on her belt.

************************************************

     "You did right to bring this to me," Herb said, as Lime
and Mint fell silent upon finishing their recitation. "Get an armed
group ready. I want to drop this thing," indicating the still
wrapped bundle, with loathing, "into the Devil's Cauldron and be
done with it," he commanded, referring to the geothermal fields
at Yangbajin to the west. Some of the vents went miles into the
earth and this thing would be lost forever.

     "I will personally ----" the fine hairs on the back of his
neck rose, in an atavistic fear reflex.

     "Herb? What's wrong?" Mint was the first to notice
Herb's unnatural posture.

     "Be still," Herb whispered, turning his head as if listening.
"Be still."

     "There!" Herb's hand shot straight out, pointing to the
south east, toward Mount Phoenix. "There! It comes. It comes!"

     "What?" Lime shaded his eyes, peering at the clear sky in
the direction of Herb's pointing finger. "I don't see----"

     "Fire . . ."Herb whispered hoarsely. "The sky is on fire."

     His two attendants looked at the empty horizon, then
back at Herb, puzzled and a little concerned.

     "Herb," Lime began, worriedly. "there's nothing----"

     "Go," he grabbed Lime and Mint and pushed them
toward the grotto's exit. "Get the children and go, quickly. By
the eastern trail."

     "The east----Herb, that way leads to the . . .the
_women's_ village!" Mint was shocked, and a little excited, at
talk of using the forbidden trail. Tradition had separated males
from females for thousands of years and a man walked _that_
path for only one reason. 

     "I command it," Herb's face took on a hard, set look. 
His friends might be blind to the evil approaching, but he was
not. Crystal flames that ate at the vault of heaven. Green fire that
devoured everything in its path.

     "Take the children, the warriors and the elders. Carry any
who cannot keep up."  The entire sky was lit by flame and he
could smell the stench of evil, the same evil that rested in the
bundle the Amazons had sent.

     "Flee down the eastern way, gather the women 
and----"
     
     "Women?" Mint said happily. "I can have tea----" his
head rocked under the force of the blow. Bewildered he wiped
blood from his face.

          "There is no time for your stupidity," Herb said coldly.
"Take the women, the girl children and all who dwell there, but
leave any possessions that you cannot carry, and that quickly,
and flee. Do not look back." Herb summoned his power and the
air crackled with the discharge of energy.

     "Herb," Lime could finally sense, if dimly, the thing that
was approaching. "let us fight with you."

     "I will not leave you Herb," Mint moved to put himself
between his friend and the coming threat.

     "Go," Herb thrust the two behind him. "If you love me
----GO!" with that final command Herb launched himself into the
air.

     Lime watched his prince vanish into the distance, then
turned to his shield-brother. "You are fastest. Run to the village
and warn them. Tell them what Herb has commanded, then lead
them down through the eastern gate."

     "Wait," Mint grabbed the tiger-boy by the shoulder and
spun him around. "What are you going to do?"

     "I am going to gather the Hidden Masters from their
meditation-caves and follow Herb. We may be able to help."

     "No! I want to go----"

     "Someone has to warn the village," Lime started up an
almost non-existent path in the rocks. "and you're a lot faster
than I am."

     "What if something happens? You might need me."

     "I'll see you in time for dinner," Lime's voice drifted back
from the rocks, "and tell you about the glorious fight we had."

     Mint stared up the empty trail with stricken eyes. Then
the wolf's son turned and sprinted down the trail toward his
village.

************************************************

     "This is stupid," Nabiki pounded her gloved hands
together, trying to get some feeling back in her fingers. "What am
I doing out here?"

     "Looking for Aziza," Ukyou's breath fogged the air with
every word. 

     "Yeah, but why am "I_ here?" Nabiki grumbled. "I don't
know anything about tracking people, or wilderness survival or
stuff like that."

     "She didn't come into camp last night," Ukyou carefully
scanned the rocky ground. "and Guri wants us out in pairs, to be
safe."

     "But why am _I_ here, and why am I with _you_?"
Nabiki stuffed her hands under her armpits in an effort to thaw
them out. "I'd have thought you'd want to be with Ranma?"

     Ukyou's jaw tightened. She _should_ have been with
Ranma but----"He said he could move faster by himself." Which
hadn't made Guri very happy, but the pig-tailed boy had been
gone before she could object.

     "Yeah, well _you_ could probably move faster without
meeeee!" Nabiki's arms wind-milled frantically as she stumbled
over an uneven piece of ground and went sliding off the trail on
her butt. "Owwwww!" Rubbing her derriere she got about half-
way up before he feet shot out from under her and she hit the
ground again with an audible thump.

     "Verrrry funny. Ha, Ha," She glared up the hill at Ukyou
who was doubled over laughing. She rolled to her knees and
started to push herself to her feet, but the ground under her hand
collapsed with a crunching pop, soaking her hand through her
glove. "Oh, yuck. Now I'm wet and----" she frowned at the
sticky feeling on her hand and looked down, to see a pair of
blue eyes staring back at her through the ice.

************************************************

     "I am the Son of the Dragon," Herb's voice echoed
across the mountains. "You shall not pass, daemon!"

     Proud words. Brave words. Bleeding from a hundred
wounds that burned like acid, Herb wasn't sure how long he
could make good his boast. _If_ he could make good on it.


     "Dragon Spirit Flight!" The massive blast of ch'i hit the
rock face in back of the daemon and recoiled, slamming into it
from behind. It staggered the thing and Herb attacked again. He
was tiring. He _had_ to finish it quickly. There was one
 chance----

      "ancestors, aid me now," he whispered to himself.
"father dragon, give me strength." Reaching deep inside he
touched the core of power that was given to all the dragon's
children.  But he wasn't a dragon, only a son  of a son of a
dragon, so many generations past that the blood of the dragon
was thin. And the  power he grasped wasn't for mortals to wield
and live.

************************************************

     Pounding along the ridge line, twelve Hidden Masters at
his side, Lime raced to support his prince. The ultimate result of 
a thousand generations of training and breeding the Hidden
Masters had achieved final mastery of mind body and spirit.
They were surpassed in skill and power only by the royal family,
descended of dragons. Between them they had enough power to
level a mountain. Together, with Prince Herb, there was no
power that could defeat----

************************************************

     "Dragon's Storm!" 

     Grasping the white-hot star that burned at the center of
his being, Herb ripped open the door of heaven. Power roared
from the tear in his soul with a sound of thunder that shook the
foundation of the world.

************************************************

     Crying out in fear and pain as the heat of a hundred suns
washed over him Lime dove into a water-worn cleft in the
rocks. He lay huddled at the bottom as a thousand tons of ice
flashed into steam. The shrieks of Masters, too slow or too far
away to reach shelter, mixed with the thunder of exploding rock
and wind screaming like a dying soul.

     Eventually the ground stopped shaking and Lime, dazed
and battered, pulled himself out of the wadi in time to see
something materialize out of the fog of dust and trash kicked up
by the storm of battle.

     "Herb?"

     Burned and bloody, scaled armor ripped like tissue,
Herb, Prince of the Musk, staggered into the light, then sank to
the vitrified rock in a faint.

     "HERB!" Vaguely aware of the surviving Hidden Masters
struggling from shelter around him, Lime dashed across the
blasted landscape to his Lord's side.

     "Herb," He raised the dazed boy's head from the ground
and reached for the water bottle at his side. "Herb, you did it.
You killed the daemon."

     A shadow materialized from the swirling mist, solidifying
like a nightmare of green fire come to life. Lime felt his lips draw
back from his fangs in an atavistic reaction of fear and rage.

     "I want to play some more."

     A life time of training blew away like smoke in a storm
when the daemon spoke, leaving only the blood of the tiger. 
     
     "Claws of Thunder!"

     With a roar that shook the hills Lime sprang for the
intruder, determined to defend his prince to the death.


************************************************
END Chapter 8

Notes::
My "new" monitor arrived. Broken.
BAD bad UPS.

I still can't see what I'm doing.
Formatting looks good, but then
again I'm working on a 9" IBM 
screen. ^_*

It's going to take at least a week
to settle the insurance, according
to UPS. In the meantime I'm not
going to be able to write or C&C
very well. Yet another delay to 
Sukeban, Friends, Guy, etc.

Sorry about that.


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