Lost Library Email Form Lost Library Mailing List
Lost Library Home Page


A seeming eternity ago, when he was about six, Ryouga's father had told him that during those times when it seemed the world made no sense regardless of how diligently one tried to sort things out, it was best to ask the heavens for answers. "From matters of the heart to the injustices of life, turn to the skies and direct your questions there, and the answers will come to you, and you'll be made to understand your place in things." Ryouga had been incredulous, but now that he found himself embroiled in such a situation and it seemed the only avenue that remained open to him. He had never done this before, never felt so confused that he needed to, but no matter how hard he thought, answers were not forthcoming. So now it fell to this last desperate act.

Looking skyward with a hopeless, searching stare, he said, "I've got a question for you. It's silly, really. I kind of feel embarrassed asking, but I really don't have anywhere else to turn. I hope I don't seem stupid in asking what might be obvious to anyone else if they were in my situation, but I'd really like to know exactly how is it that I can be standing in the middle of an American desert one moment, and then a flash of light later, the next thing I know I'm waking up in the middle of China wearing nothing but a pair of torn purple pants? I've never owned purple pants in my entire life! Purple pants look stupid! SO WHY AM I IN THEM NOW?!"

The cries startled Lin-Mei, the eight-year old girl who was helping lead Ryouga after discovering him in her grandfather's crops, up the trail. She looked fearfully over her shoulder towards him, an action that had been repeated earlier. "<Grandfather, he's yelling again. This time at the sun.>"

The old man, Yun-Lo, said, "<I know. He's obviously unbalanced, but powerful. You saw what he did to the wild boar that tried to attack him. That beast could have overpowered any ten men in the village, but he managed to knock it out in one blow.>"

"And why am I carrying all of these sunflowers?! I don't even like sunflowers! The pollen makes me itchy!"

"<We'd better get him to the Master quickly.>" Lin Mei shuddered at the display.

"<Yes. Quickly.>" There was a touch of hesitation in the old man's voice. While it was true Yun-Lo had no love of strangers —especially half-naked foreign ones with bad taste in clothing who had appeared in a crater caused by an explosion which had shaken the village last night— he still wondered if even this belligerent youth deserved to meet what was probably going to be his end at the area's new sovereign lord. The stories Yun-Lo had heard of those that dared to defy the Master… well, if even one of them were true, he would be showing fealty with a smile on his face from now until the end of his days.

It had not always been like this. Things were peaceful until three years ago when the new lord appeared out of nowhere and announced his takeover of the region. All attempts at resistance to his absolute rule proved futile in the face of the raw power he and his minions commanded. The consequences to resistance were severe, and ended very quickly. Still, in spite of this, life was not unbearably bad. Aside from using the villagers as slave labor, forcing them to build a huge fortress in the mountains nearby, and providing a small amount of their crops to feed him and his handful of close lackeys, the lord made little in the way of demands. He kept to himself, though strange lights and sounds frequently emanated from the mountain where the newly built fortress stood. The bizarre displays would appear during both day and night, but Yun-Lo was too sensible to allow curiosity to get the better of him. The affairs of those more powerful than he were beyond his concerns. The credo of his life was to keep his head down, be obedient and all would be well, or at least as well as could be expected. He was no revolutionary, no hero. He was just a pitiful farmer his entire life, and he intended to die as one as well, but not for some time, if he had any say in the matter.

The only reason he dared go to the Master's fortress now was that there was a standing order about reporting anything unusual directly to the lord. For whatever reason, he seemed fiercely territorial about his claims, and dealt with intruders harshly. The boy was certainly unusual, and Yun-Lo would be damned if he would risk his life for some overly loud stranger. If such disobedience was discovered, he shuddered to think of what would happen to him and his family. No, there was no doubt about what he would do. He would lead the boy to what was most likely his doom and not look back. Guilt was for those who could afford it, and the old man had been poor since his birth, though even if he possessed a thousand times the money he had now it would still not be enough to afford the Master's anger.

"I know somehow this is all your fault, Ranma! Thanks to you, I'm going through hell once again!"

Yes, Yun thought, he would be poor until the end of his days, which would hopefully be more than the few this boy had remaining.

Act 1, Scene 8: Ten Rings to Rule Them All, Part 1

A Ranma ½ / Avengers (the superhero group) fusion
by DB Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.

Any and all C+C is appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

Author's notes: The idea for the opening here was created in my mind long before the events of Sept. 11. Just in case someone thought I wrote that part as some sort of reaction to it, this is not the case.

Hasam tugged at the collar of his white shirt. The garment was far too small to fit his six-plus foot, three hundred pound well-muscled frame. It felt like a snake was constricting around his chest. He would have sworn his wife had shrunk his clothing in the wash, save that he didn't have a girlfriend, much less a spouse, to wash his clothing for him. The pus-green sweater/vest that went over the shirt did nothing to help either his breathing or his eyes, as it clashed miserably with the baggy plaid pants he wore. Actually it clashed with everything he had ever worn in his twenty-five years of life. The ensemble was rounded out with shoes so blindingly white that they were nearly mirrored surfaces. Idly, he wondered if lasers would bounce off.

Head aching from staring at his clothes for too long, Hasam sought relief by looking to his right where his partner and best friend, Fekish, sat. Of average height, a slender build, and a year younger than his companion, Fekish was similarly attired in eye-burning wear. As an added bonus, he also wore a bright purple hat with a white cotton ball affixed to the top that swung violently around whenever he so much as shifted his neck. The assault on the senses was only made easier by the fact that there was less of Fekish to go around. Unlike Hasam, the clothing chosen for his friend seemed better suited for his size, though given Fekish's usual easygoing nature, his companion could have worn an iron maiden and still seemed obliviously happy.

It was times like this Hasam would have considered color blindness a blessing. Choosing to spare his eyes from further torture, he turned his attention to the only other passenger in one of the backseats of the stretch-limousine. Col. Akbar sat across from the duo, trying patiently not to look at them.

"Why are you making us wear these ridiculous outfits again?" Hasam said miserably to his superior.

The Colonel forced his eyes upon his subordinates and laughed, "My dear Hasam, you are going incognito on this flight. The whole industrialized world is set against our peoples, firmly convinced we are nothing more than a bunch of terrorists."

"But we are terrorists," Hasam pointed out.

"Freedom fighters," both Fekish and the Colonel said as one.

It took every ounce of willpower Hasam had not to roll his eyes in front of his superior. At least Fekish's reflexive regurgitation of political-religious jargon could be understood since the shorter man was probably the most impressionable human being on the face of the planet. He was fairly certain Fekish could be talked into stripping in front of a convention of nuns and singing "I'm a little teapot short and stout," with only five minutes of prodding. That was one of the reasons Hasam had been assigned to him: to keep him from doing anything stupid or giving away any secrets he knew about the movement.

The Colonel's tone remained carefree and easygoing. "Be that as it may, the two of you are going to fly out of this country in your disguises." He handed booklets to each of the passengers. "Here are your passports."

As Hasam looked his over, his jaw nearly dropped into his lap. "My name is supposed to be Sven Svenson, a professional golfer from Iceland?! Do they even have golf courses there?"

"Several," Fekish answered cheerfully as he began absorbing the information contained within the passport.

"Ingenious, isn't it? No one would suspect Icelandic golfers of being terrorists. I came up with the disguises myself." The Colonel preened over what he obviously considered an impressive achievement.

Hasam grasped Fekish's cheek and pulled. "I think our skin's a touch on the dark side to try passing ourselves off as coming from an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that was settled by Europeans."

The Colonel waved his hand dismissively. "Bah! It doesn't matter. The Japanese think all gaijin look alike." He carefully handed Fekish an awful-looking briefcase decorated in yellow and pink pastels. "This is the item you're going to take on the flight with you. Don't worry about passing through customs. Its contents are impervious to detection. However, no matter what, you must not open it. It must remain sealed."

"It's a bomb, isn't it?" Hasam growled as Fekish accepted the briefcase without a word.

The Colonel looked insulted. "Don't be ridiculous; it's no bomb. This is a very valuable item we obtained here in Japan. It's the reason to our being here in the first place. It's imperative that the case gets back to the homeland, which is why we've taken such drastic measures to ensure you can fly it home without fear of being detained."

"Oh. When you put it that way, that makes things a little different." Hasam relaxed slightly.

The Colonel added, "Although on the offhand chance your presence is somehow detected and it appears you will be arrested by the authorities, there's two concealed buttons located on the top of the case. Push them at the same time."

Fekish held the case up by its handle. He spotted two nearly concealed studs next to each lock on the top. "You mean these?" He brushed his fingertips across the tops.

"DON'T TOUCH THEM!" The Colonel dove for cover. In the enclosed confines of the limo, that meant lunging headfirst into the floor.

"It is a bomb!" Hasam resisted the urge to hit the Colonel with the briefcase, mainly in fear of setting off the explosive rather than out of any respect he held for his superior.

"Nonsense," the Colonel scoffed, recovering quickly. "As I said before, it is not a bomb. Although even if it was, you should be proud that I would bestow upon you the opportunity to do such a great deed that would usher you into Allah's arms."

Tearing the briefcase from Fekish's grasp, Hasam began gesturing wildly about with it in his hand. "I'll tell you what, if blowing one's ass up is such a great opportunity to be ushered into Allah's arms, and everyone has such tremendous respect for all that you've done for our cause, why don't I give you the case and you can get on the plane with it, while I hang around this plane of existence for a while longer?" He thrust the case in the Colonel's direction.

The man waved the overture back. "Alas, it is a tempting offer, but it is not my fate to do such for the cause. I am much too important to our organization in a number of ways and am quite irreplaceable."

"No, you're not. I've seen what you do, and frankly, it's not that hard to sleep in most of the time, boss people around when you are awake, and spend money on good food and better women. I can do it quite easily." He thrust the case back in the Colonel's direction.

He refused it again, this time with a pointed scowl. "This is not a negotiable point. It is imperative the two of you take this briefcase and go on the flight, as you have been ordered."

"Fine," Hasam sighed. "Since it's so imperative that we get this case to the homeland, can you at least tell us what is inside?"

The Colonel shook his head. "It is on a need to know basis, and you do not need to know. I can tell you it was not easy to acquire and cost us a tremendous sum of money, but it was worth every cent. In our hands, its contents can change the face of the world and bring victory to our righteous cause. That stupid, trusting infidel woman will pay for her greed and improper lifestyle eventually, when the time comes to turn our attention to this festering pit of infidels and their unbelieving ways. I will personally see to it the woman is taught her place in the proper scheme of things and is brought low. Ha ha ha ha!"


"Yes, Mistress?"

"You alerted the authorities at the airport to be on the lookout for two foreign terrorists in their early twenties, one very large and one average height and a bit slender, dressed in suspicious clothing and carrying a briefcase with yellow and pink pastels, correct?"

"Several minutes ago."


"Mistress, why, might I ask, are you doing this? I mean, you did sell them the product in the first place. And if you want it back, why don't we simply retrieve it from them ourselves instead of bringing the authorities in on it?"

"Several reasons. First, I want it back because I don't trust those buffoons to not use it against our interests in some way, which was part of the sales agreement. I'm just not waiting to give them a chance to stab us in the back first. Second, we can't allow anyone to know of our involvement in the retrieval. It would be bad for business if potential buyers became aware of our stealing our own product from the people we sold it to. That makes direct involvement out of the question. Third, there is no need to expend our resources in retrieving the object when the authorities will do it for nothing. Finally, it's much easier to get it from the police than it would be from our clients."

"Remarkable. We will come out of this situation with a tremendous profit and at virtually no risk. I stand in awe of your business savvy, Mistress."

"As well you should. As well you should."

"Such a stupid woman, like all of her gender." The Colonel continued to grin at his perceived intelligence and wisdom.

That made Hasam worry all the more, because the Colonel was neither intelligent or wise, just lucky; and his luck rarely extended to those around him.

This was a terrible situation; Hasam could feel it in his bones. He was being made into a sacrificial lamb, and supposedly their religion was against that sort of thing. But sensing the Colonel would not be swayed from his plan, Hasam remained silent and waited for an opportunity to think about the situation the first chance he could once he was away from his superior.

All too quickly they arrived at Tokyo Airport, and Hasam was not any closer to a solution than before.

"We are here." The Colonel clasped both men's hands and thumped them both on the shoulder. "May Allah travel with you."

"I'd just as soon he distracted the authorities rather than travel with us," Hasam said ominously as he exited the vehicle. Fekish was close behind him, still smiling vacuously.

"So long, my friends." The Colonel waved once at the duo, then shut the door. As it closed, Hasam could hear his superior hiss, "Get us the hell out of here!" to the driver. The car sped off a moment later, tires squealing on the pavement.

"Isn't odd how he only refers to us as his friends when he needs us to do something dangerous?" Hasam said idly. Fekish merely shrugged.

Paranoia ate away at Hasam's senses like a sea full of sharks devouring a bloodied fish in their midst as he and Fekish entered the airport. He was certain every eye in the terminal was focused on them, ready to pounce upon him long before they ever made it to the plane. And once that happened, even Hasam didn't want to know what those damn buttons did. The Colonel had to be lying. It had to be a bomb.

Unable to take the pressure, the big man spun on his compatriot. "Fekish?"

Fekish waved his finger. "Ah, ah, ah. We're undercover."

Hasam's eyebrow twitched. "Excuse me, Bjork."

"That's better, Sven. Now, do you think the green in Reykjavik is in need of repair? I want to improve my golf game the next time we go on tour, and as they say, it's only on a good green that you can properly hone your game. That Woody Tiger fellow is awful good."

"Knock it off!" Hasam hissed. "You're good with locks and explosives. I want you to open up that briefcase and find out what's inside."

"But the Colonel told us not to." Fekish suddenly became uneasy. He shifted his weight between one foot and to the other, swaying back and forth almost as rhythmically as a metronome.

"Yes, but the Colonel isn't here to give orders now and the situation has changed."

"It has?"

"Yes. I'm in charge."

"Oh, well, I guess that makes sense." He stopped moving back and forth.

"Of course it does, and you know I've always looked out for you. Now do me a favor. Go into the nearest restroom. Go into one of the stalls and close the door behind you. Then open up that damned case without setting off any booby-traps and tell me what's inside."

"Okay." Fekish obeyed the orders and walked off.

Hasam watched his partner enter the restroom. The feeling of being watched grew exponentially. Had he held less loyalty to his friends, and liked Fekish less than he did, he probably would have left the airport outright. The Colonel was lying. Oh, he might have been technically telling the truth, but he was putting their lives on the line while he sat back and watched events unfold. Hasam hated that. He preferred the idea that in his god's eyes, all men were equal, rather than those that had money were important, and those that had nothing were useful as cannon fodder. He was no different from the Colonel, at least not in the ways that mattered. There was no reason their leader could not have been here instead of himself. It was times like this he seriously questioned his faith, or at least those religious leaders that supposedly knew what it meant to be faithful.

Tension continuing to build, Hasam paced back and forth frantically, drawing stares from passers by. He tried to stop calling attention to himself, but even when he scratched his nose, he felt eyes boring in on him. He began to sweat uncontrollably, despite the cool air of the terminal. An odd compulsion to stand on top of a trashcan and shout out to everyone to quit staring at him grew ever more powerful. His breaking point was fast approaching.

He was mopping the sweat from his brow for the third time when Fekish reappeared, smiling happily and carrying the case as though it contained nothing more than clothing. That eased Hasam a great deal. There was no way Fekish would be so casual if he were carrying a bomb. Still, he had to make sure.

"So, Bjork, what's in our golf bag?"

"We don't have a golf bag."

"I meant was there a bomb in there?" Hasam hissed.

"That's not what it sounded like."

"Think of it as code."

"Like Pig Latin?"

"If it'll make you feel better, fine."

"Okay. No ombay, on the friebcasay."

"Stop that right now. No more code. Just speak quietly." Hasam swatted Fekish over the head with his hat.

Fekish leaned closer. Hasam bent down to hear more clearly. Softly, the smaller man said, "There's no bomb in the case."

The air left Hasam's lungs in a rush so loud that the gasp drew several people's stares, but he didn't care. He hadn't been sold out after all. He wasn't going to be blown up. He should have trusted the Colonel. The next time he saw his superior, he would apologize profusely for his rude behavior. "So what is the item we're smuggling back home?"

Fekish looked up to the ceiling as the list formed in his mind. "Well, there were lots of things. Let me think. Inside there were several shirts, sweaters, pants, socks, edible underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, K-Y Jelly, unused condoms, a tube of talcum powder, a pair of suspenders."

Hasam began to tune out as his partner's voice continued its listing of the common items. He wondered if it was drugs they were smuggling, perhaps in the talcum powder. It seemed odd, but who knew how they were raising money anymore?

Fekish continued. "A bag of golf tees, toothpicks, bio-weapon kept in a metal cylinder with status readout on the side, lint brush, argyle soACK!"

Hasam twisted the shorter man's collar so hard with his meaty fist that he threatened to crush Fekish's windpipe. "What was that about a bio-weapon?"

"It's located in the top portion of the case," Fekish gasped out. "Right next to some sort of device that gives out a false image to x-ray machines."

"How do you know it's a bio-weapon?"

"Oh, that's easy. I dated a biochemist while we were here. She'd get a little drink in her and then would go on and on about the different types of bio-weapons her company had her make. I paid attention to what she said because women like it when you take their jobs seriously, respect their opinions, and listen to what they have to say. I read that in 'Cosmo'."

Hasam cut him off. "And what happens if we push both those buttons on the top?"

"It'll release the gas from its container, and depending on the toxicity levels, it could conceivably kill everyone in the airport."

Hasam tuned everything else out. So, they had been betrayed, set up to die by their self-proclaimed 'superiors.' Well, he'd show them how superior they were when he and 'Bjork' left their little package behind. "Leave the case. We're out of here."

"But, what about the mission? If we abandon it, we'll be punished."

"If we get on that plane, we'll be dead. I'd say all other punishments fall somewhat short of that." Hasam considered the situation. "We can't just leave the case in the middle of the airport. Someone will think it's a bomb and they might grab us before we get out of here. And there's no way I'm risking taking it with me. We're ditching it, now." Hasam looked around, finally spotting a solution to their problem. "See those two guys over there? The ones standing next to the gate and looking around like they're trying to spot someone?"

Fekish looked to where his partner was pointing. There were two men. One was huge, even larger and appeared more powerful than the sizable Hasam. The other was about Fekish's height and had a similar build. Both were wearing trench coats and hats low to their faces. "Those two suspicious individuals that are trying hard to not look suspicious? Yes."

"They're foreigners that just arrived here. I watched them disembark the plane while you were in the restroom. Go over there and play 'dumb tourist,' and ask them in broken Japanese to watch the case while you go to the restroom. Then head out the front entrance. I'll meet you there."

Hasam left, making Fekish swallow his doubts and force himself to obey the orders. Casually, he went up to the pair and bowed before them. "Excuse, please. I am most humble golfer from Iceland. Must use restroom. Please watch case so no one steal."

"Is your name Bjork?" the smaller man asked.

Fekish froze. How did the man know? Was it a trap? What could he do? How should he respond? Important decisions were best left in the hands of superiors, who tended to be smarter than him. Racking his mind, he came up with the only wildly elaborate and nearly insane plan that he felt might get him out of this dire predicament.

With a sly smile on his face, he said, "Yes." He prayed answering the question would work, since he was all out of other ideas.

The smaller man slapped his companion on the back. "See? I told you so. Didn't I say he looks like a Bjork the instant he headed toward us?"

"Yes, you did," the big man sighed in a tired voice.

Smirking, the smaller man told Fekish, "Yeah, go on. We'll watch your case."

Fekish bowed once, and ran as fast as he could towards the exit of the airport.

The two men looked at the case in front of them. "It hurts just to look at it, doesn't it?" the big one asked.

"I think it has a great color-scheme," the shorter one replied.

"You would."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That you have a terrible fashion sense."

"Feh! You're just jealous because your outfit isn't as flashy as mine."

"Oh, really? Why don't we take off our trench coats and ask someone?"

"We can't do that. We're supposed to be," the smaller man whispered, looking around. "Undercover. People will know we're super villains if we show off our costumes."

"So if the costumes will give us away, why didn't we just come in our normal clothes?"

"Then how would the people we're supposed to meet recognize us if we didn't wear our costumes?"

"We could have described ourselves to them."

"Oh, come on. What would we tell them? Be on the lookout for a pair of Chinese men. One of them is somewhat slender, fast, and likes wearing wolf skins while the other is seven feet tall, has four hundred pounds of solid muscle, and likes tiger skins? Lots of guys look like that. They'd probably walk off with the wrong people."

"Okay, but let me ask you this. You're saying that they're supposed to recognize us by our costumes, right?"


"How are they going to recognize us if we're wearing trench coats over our outfits?"

"Oh, that's easy. We'll… Umm, that is we can just… Actually we can… Ohh. Look at those. Are those titties?"

"Where? Where?!" It took the larger man a moment to spot the woman heading in their direction. She did indeed have an impressive pair of breasts, her open tan vest and tight, white tee shirt only enhancing the fact. They barely noticed that aside from having a good body, she was also attractive, with a long mane of black hair that traveled halfway down her back, bound only slightly by a red bandanna on top.

"Do you think she's one of the people the boss hired?" the thin one asked.

"Oh, that would be great. Maybe she would show us her titties if we asked nicely."

"I bet she would. You know what they say: nothing ventured, nothing lost. Let's go ask." The shorter man picked up the briefcase and joined his partner in heading towards the attractive woman.

Located no more than twenty feet away, hidden behind a column and trying to blend into the crowds, Agent Kaori Otani of the undercover unit of Airport Security looked over the description of the terrorists she and her men had been given. Aloud, she said, "Two foreign terrorists, both men in their early twenties. One very large and the other average height and somewhat slender, dressed in suspicious clothing and carrying a briefcase with yellow and pink pastels on it." She turned to her two partners. "Sounds like a match. What do you think?"

"I think that hot looking chick has got to be at least a…" Ryo Saeba held out his hands in the woman with the tan vest's general direction, and cupped them, squeezing slightly as if testing the ripeness of a pair of invisible tomatoes. "38-C," Ryo concluded.

Kyo Saeba looked between the hands and the breasts in the distance. "Hmm. Sorry, Kaori. I'm afraid I have to go with Ryo. Look's like he's got the better match to me."

She grabbed one ear on each of them, then brought the ears together rather violently. Each man's respective head followed the path their ears had taken. Their heads produced a similar thud. "Ow!" both said as one, enhancing the brothers' identical nature.

"Would you two idiots pay attention?!"

Ryo said, "Is this another one of your jealous rants because we found yet another woman that's more attractive and feminine than you?"

Kyo nodded in agreement. "Yeah. You have to get over this obsession you have with us. I hate to tell you this —not that it will stop me from doing so-but men just don't find you attractive, except the gay ones that mistake you for a guy."

Ryo pointed out, "And she does get an extraordinary amount of lesbians hitting on her. Some of them quite good-looking."

"It's that butch, tomboyish way she dresses. I hear women like that go for that look."

"Think we should try that? I mean dressing like butch women."

"Couldn't hurt."

It took everything Kaori had not to pull out her gun and shoot both of the egocentric, chauvinistic, deluded buffoons. "Knock it off! Pretend for just one second you got your job based on actual abilities instead of the fact your uncle is in charge of the force. We are in the middle of an assignment. We need to get that obnoxiously decorated briefcase, with the highly toxic substance in it, away from those two stupid-looking guys in the trench coats without setting things off."

"You don't want us to set the guys off?" Kyo asked.

"No! The briefcase. We don't want them to set the briefcase off."

"Oh, is that all?" Ryo said. He and Kyo nodded to one another, removed themselves from the cover of the column and headed towards the two men without another word.

Kaori paled. The two idiots were dead, which wouldn't have been so bad, save for the fact they were going to take her and everyone else in the airport with them. She briefly considered gunning the pair down before they drew too close to the terrorists, but couldn't bring herself to pull the trigger. It was too quick a death for them. All she could do was close her eyes and say a prayer.

"I swear by all that is holy I will go with you two idiots to Hell and torment you there even as you tormented me in this life."

The two trench coated men were about to approach the woman when they found two identical twins, about their age, stepping in front of them and preventing them from walking up to the woman and asking her about a quick peek of her breasts.

Kyo said, "Would you mind giving me the briefcase?"

"Our partner would appreciate it greatly," Ryo continued. "She's going to bitch a lot if we don't get it for her. Actually, she'll bitch a lot anyway, but she won't turn quite as red if we have the briefcase than if we don't."

The pair looked at one another, then shrugged. The shorter man said, "I know what it's like to get yelled at. Our boss does it to us all the time. Do the veins on her forehead pop out?

"Oh, all the time," Kyo assured him.

Ryo said, "We tried playing tic-tac-toe with them once, but she got angry with that, too."

The smaller man elbowed his companion in the ribs. "Hey, we ought to try that with the boss."

"It would be pretty funny," the larger man agreed.

"Here." Feeling sympathetic to the twins' plight, the shorter man handed Ryo the briefcase.

Ryo turned back to where Kaori still remained behind the pillar, nearly chewing on the concrete in anxiety. "We have it! And I still don't see why you were whining so much about getting it! All you needed to do was ask politely!"

"Get out of the line of fire!" she shouted, rounding the column and pointing the gun at the two suspicious men. She was joined by the other twenty members of her unit, all of whom followed Kaori's lead and burst from their concealment, aiming their guns at the strangers. "You two put your hands behind your heads and drop to your knees, right now!"

The pair looked the situation over. The larger one said, "I think our cover's blown."

"I'd be inclined to agree."

"Our instructions were clear if that happened. This is the moment you've been waiting for."

"You got that right. Let's do it!"

Both men threw off their trench coats just as the circle of undercover personnel closed in on them. All of the civilians who found themselves between the two groups ran for cover in a mass panic. Only one left coolly, the woman who had been the focus of both the foreigners and the twins' attention.

As their trench coats hit the ground, both men pulled their masks on and stood revealed before the law enforcement personnel in all their brightly dressed glory. The larger man wore a full-bodied costume. It was plain brown around the hands and lower arms, along his boots and lower legs, and across his pelvis, shoulders, upper chest and mask. A dark orange covered the few remaining areas of his costume. Only the area around his eyes and mouth was cut out, allowing him to see and breathe easier.

The smaller man wore a costume that was dull yellow, only broken up by blue along his hands and upper arms, and on his boots. A large blue 'W' was in the center of his chest. The only other odd feature was a tiny set of white wings on his mask, located around the ears.

The law enforcement personnel drew back. Kaori kept her gun leveled at the pair as she said, "Tell me these guys aren't super powered beings. We seriously can't deal with SPBs."

In response to her question that was more of a plea, the larger man ripped up a huge section of walkway that several of the police were standing on, knocking them off their feet and sending them into various states of unconsciousness as they fell in among the debris.

"Shit!" Kaori only hoped the large man was not invulnerable as well as strong. She lined her gun sights up with the head of the man, and aimed at the mouth. Maybe she would get lucky and he'd have it open when she fired. Insides weren't anywhere near as invulnerable as outsides on these guys, or so she had heard.

Just as her finger squeezed the trigger, there was a yellow blur and she suddenly found herself without a pistol. It took a moment for the pain of having her finger nearly ripped off to set in, and she clenched her teeth in agony. Other men weren't as stoic as they shouted out, holding their hands in pain. Kaori was one of the few to realize what had happened to their firearms.

The yellow-garbed man dropped the last of them in a pile at his feet. "It's not nice to point your guns at the future rulers of the planet."

The larger one said, "You tell them, Mint."

Mint turned on his comrade. "No! When we're in costume, we use our super-villain names. I'm the Whizzer."

The big man appeared embarrassed. "Aw, come on. I don't want to be called by my name. I like Lime perfectly fine. It's been my name my entire life."

"No way! You have to. It's all part of being a decent super villain. You have to have a cool name and people call you it. That's why I picked yours for you. It'll strike fear into your adversaries."

"I don't think 'Power Man' is going to strike fear into anybody."

"But it's appropriate. You've got power, and you're a man. So that makes you Power Man."

"Well, I guess you're right."

Kyo recovered enough to say, "Okay, so his super ability is that he's big and strong, so that makes him Power Man. That means you, with your name being the Whizzer and that color of costume you're wearing, must be your super ability is to…" He trailed off

Ryo picked up the line of thought. "Ewwww! That's completely disgusting."

Whizzer looked at them, confused. "What is?"

Kyo gave him an 'are you that stupid?' look. It was one that only children really mastered, most adults forgetting how to do it as they got older. "It's obvious. With your name, and the color of your costume, you can only have one super power…"

"…That of super peeing," Ryo finished.

Whizzer recoiled at that. He pointed accusingly across the terminal to where Ryo stood. "That is not my super human ability. I'm super—"

Ryo saw him disappear.

"—Fast." Whizzer finished as he stood next to Ryo, the officer's wallet in hand.

Ryo grabbed the offered limb that held his wallet, then pulled out a set of cuffs. "All right. Being a terrorist is one thing, but there's nothing lower than a pickpocket." Ryo slapped the cuff on the appendage he was holding, only to discover…

"Hey, I cuffed myself."

"Told you I was fast." Whizzer side-stepped Kyo as the officer tried to hit him with a stun baton, allowed the man to trip over his outstretched foot, and caused Kyo to hit his twin with the baton.

Kyo looked at his brother's stunned form. "Curiously, I don't feel the slightest bit of remorse at that." Not one to let a decent opportunity pass by, Kyo kicked his brother once again in the side, intent on blaming the super-villain later.

"Dog pile on the big guy!" Kaori shouted to the remaining personnel as she retrieved the briefcase and seek cover as the men obeyed her orders and threw themselves at Power Man. As commander of the operation, it was her duty to call in reinforcements, such as every military and law enforcement person in a fifty-kilometer radius to come to their aid. She only prayed it would be enough to stop these two monsters before the casualties became too high. This screwed up, loser situation was exactly why she loathed super powered beings. And every time she encountered another one, her anger grew. She didn't care if the media had dubbed some of them heroes. They were all a threat. Something had to be done about them before it was too late.

High above, perched on the slanted rooftop of a tall building overlooking several blocks, Hawkeye stared down at the city streets, perturbed. She had been looking for some sign of criminal activity, but all she managed to catch was a couple of purse-snatchers and the start of a cold. They had been hardly worth the effort of the glue arrow used on them, and she had no anti-histamines to stop her sniffling. It was looking like she would have to call it a day. She would have preferred operating at night, but there was the restaurant to run and school to eventually enroll in, so this was the only time Ukyou had available to hunt down criminals for the rest of the week.

The stuffiness in her head warned her it was time to give up and call it a day when she spotted a quick movement below. Two female police officers bolted out of a restaurant and into their car. On a whim, Hawkeye shot a cable arrow into the ground next to the rear driver's door and slid down the length of cable even as the car started up.

Hawkeye knocked on the window. "Excuse me." She made out the name on the driver's badge. "Kobayakawa-san, I'm one of the heroes that's new to this town, name's Hawkeye. You need any assistance?"

The pair looked the archer over cautiously. Kobayakawa was the first to speak. "I remember you. Aoi said you helped him nail some would-be rapists last week."

"Saturday night," Hawkeye confirmed.

"Right. Well, as nice as the request is, I'm afraid we can't allow unauthorized personnel to ride in our vehicle without—" Kobayakawa found her speech interrupted by her partner, Tsujimoto, tapping on her shoulder.

"Let him in," Tsujimoto whispered in Kobayakawa's ear. "Since we're dealing with superpowered bad guys, we can use the help. We're authorized to let people ride with us in emergency situations. Besides, he's wearing tights and has a seriously hot ass. This might be our only chance to hit on a major hunk."

"I'm not that superficial," Kobayakawa said.

Tsujimoto gave her a warning stare. "How long have we been partners?"

Kobayakawa considered that and sighed. "Fine, I am. But I'm more subtle about it than you."


To Hawkeye, Kobayakawa announced, "Hop in the back."

Hawkeye could feel herself blushing as she accepted the ride. She had caught the 'hot ass' comment. A pity it had to come from a female. It was times like these Ukyou hated impersonating a guy to help keep her identity secret. At this rate, she would never get lucky enough to find a boyfriend. It was too bad, too, since she had met a number of good-looking male officers during the ensuing weeks of her new second career. However, she couldn't hit on them for fear of them freaking out, and she certainly didn't trust any of them enough to confide her secret identity. With the way her life was going, she feared ever having a chance at finding a decent boyfriend.

The hero known as Daredevil finished tying up the latest of his so-called 'Rogue's Gallery': The self-proclaimed, 'Master of Disguises,' a name so unwieldy that even the villain in question had taken to calling himself just MoD. Daredevil made certain to use the coarsest set of chains that were concealed in his voluminous crimson-colored robes.

"Curse you, Dirtdevil!" MoD snarled. "How did you know it was me under this nun-disguise? I thought it was foolproof!"

Daredevil pulled with far more force than was required on the chains. "First, my name is Daredevil. Second, you made the mistake of using aftershave, as well as the allowing the smell of gunpowder cling to your habit. There isn't a nun around that would use Brute and shoot firearms."

"Obviously you never attended a Catholic school," the man muttered.

While MoD was still lamenting his fate, Daredevil's acute hearing picked out the sound of a police car heading at top speed in his direction from two blocks away. Quickly, the masked man threw one end of the chain over a nearby lamppost and hoisted the criminal up into the air.

"Hey! I'm chaffing here! I'll sue you for physical abuse and excessive force!" MoD roared.

"I can recommend a good lawyer for you," Daredevil muttered as he wrapped a different chain around a lamppost and swung through the air. His timing was perfect as on the downside arc of his swing the police cruiser turned the corner and started to whip by. Daredevil landed deftly on the moving vehicle's roof, then lay flat and grabbed onto the sides without allowing the driver to be aware of his presence.

As Mousse traveled overhead, he was barely able to hear the officer's radio over the roaring of the engine. "Confirmation on two super villains at the airport. One is really strong and called Powerful Guy. The other has something to do with urination, evidently. Be advised and grab a poncho."

Daredevil sighed from his perch on the roof. It just figured; yet another loser super-villain to deal with, and a perverted one no less. Didn't they have any standards? Daredevil swore he would be going after the strong one, no matter how tough he was. Anything was better than fighting another putz.

"Where do you think you're going, Boy?" Genma shouted to his son's back as the pair continued up the road. It had taken Genma nearly an hour to track his son down, given the tremendous lead the youth had built up since he had departed the Tendou residence earlier in the morning. It would have been no cause for concern, except the boy had taken all of his belongings with him.

Ranma continued walking forward while answering, keeping his back to his father. "I told you, Pop. I'm buying a plane ticket to China, and finding a cure." He shouldered his pack, with the disguised shield strapped to it, for emphasis.

"Foolish boy, you can't possibly afford air fare to China."

"I can if I sell this useless hunk of metal strapped to my back." Ranma patted the paper-wrapped shield.

"But you need that to become a great and powerful super hero."

Ranma stopped and gave his father a surprisingly soft look. "You're absolutely right, Pop. I need it to become a great and powerful super-hero."

"Then you've seen reason and are coming back home?"

"I've seen reason and am not becoming a super-hero." With the matter decided, Ranma doubled his pace. It wasn't that far to the airport, just another five miles or so.

Something uneasy shifted in the pit of Genma's stomach. For some reason, the boy sounded determined this time. Really determined. "But your mother-"

"Can go join S.H.I.E.L.D if she wants to help bust super villains and wear a flashy skintight costume. I'll keep practicing martial arts, fine! I like that. But this being a heroic paragon of the country crap is over! I am a normal guy, except for that stupid curse thing that you gave me. I am not a super-hero, nor a super-hero sidekick, with a cowardly panda as a mascot!"

"I'm a cute animal sidekick, not a mascot," Genma insisted.

"It's over, Pop. Deal with it.'

"But, Son-"

Ranma spun in anger upon his father. "Damn it, Old Man, you don't get it! I'm tired of every time there's a little trouble you throw me into that ridiculous costume and tell me to get my head taken off by some lunatic who can freeze me solid with his breath or secretes acid through his pores! I am not a human target! I'm just a kid that hasn't even been able to make more than a handful of friends in his entire life because I have to run around and train thanks to this stupid idea Mom had! I'm tired of you guys trying to make me into something I'm not. I'm sorry I drank that super soldier crap that I don't even remember drinking. I wish I had never seen it in the first place, then I'd be normal and not have to put up with this dumb stuff. I don't care if I've done some good here and there. It's not like I even need the costume for any of it. I just want to be left alone."

A police car rolled past, sirens blaring, in the direction of the airport.

Genma was about to make some remark about how if Ranma hadn't drank the formula he'd have probably grown up a skinny wimp when he sensed the seriousness in his son's ultimatum. It was not totally unexpected. Once Ranma had gotten older and realized there was a world outside of training to be a super hero, he had been resistant to fulfilling the pledge. Usually he'd agree with the plan once Genma talked some sense into him, but other times he would dig his feet in and become almost intractable, causing Genma to waste hours explaining how things had to be. But this time it was worse, undoubtedly due to the curse, being engaged to one of the Tendou girls (which one was still up in the air), and living up to the high expectations of him now that they were becoming a reality. But in the end, it didn't matter. The boy had to toe the line. It was up to Genma to deal with the matter before it got out of hand.

The older man adjusted his glasses, one of the signs that he was going to deal with a matter in complete seriousness. "The world needs you, Ranma. It needs heroes now more than ever. You have the potential to be one of the greatest, not just because the super soldier serum runs through your veins or because you have an indestructible shield, but because you have the will to keep on going where others would falter. Once you're determined to do something, you keep at it until the job's done. That you have the abilities you do makes it all the easier for you to accomplish your tasks. You fought that Hulk even though he was far more powerful than you. You defeated Ulos, even though he could bench press a Toyota, and you won because you persevered. That's what I mean."

Another car roared past, momentarily interrupting the speech. Genma waited until it trailed off into the distance to speak again.

"Strange days are upon us. I've been feeling it building up for the last few years, and I think the dam broke recently. You have heroes and villains popping up all over the place. It's true there were a handful in the early days of my childhood, even in my grandparent's day there were a few. But now, now it's like it's all hit at once. You're a basically good person, maybe even better than me, I'll admit. You'll be one of the best, someone that can be trusted above so many others. You should be the one people look up to, largely in part because you don't want the job. It's harder to abuse power you don't want to wield, and power you'll have. People will believe in you and follow you. They'll trust their lives to you, if you let them. But you have to let them, boy, otherwise there's no telling who they'll follow. All I know is, it would be better if it were you instead of someone else.

"It's not easy. Responsibilities never are. But you're more than capable of managing it, once you set your mind to it. You just have to believe in yourself." Genma adjusted his glasses again. It was all he had to say. There probably could have been more, but it would have just been repeating the same thing in a different way. Best to leave it as was and wait for his son's reaction.

Two more police cars roared past, sirens screaming that something dreadful was occurring. The pair watched the vehicles travel down the road until they were out of sight.

Genma looked at Ranma expectedly. It was a hard look, one Ranma had rarely seen on his father. Under different circumstances, with different issues at stake, he would most likely have relaxed his defenses and listened wholeheartedly to what the older man was trying to tell him. But not this time. Something told Ranma this was where an important decision had to be made. Either he would set out on the course his parents had dictated to him since as far back as he could remember, or set out on one of his own choosing. It was perhaps the most important decision of his young life, and couldn't be decided to casually. And then it happened in the blink of an eye. A resolve he had never known settled upon him. He knew what was right for him, and he wouldn't back down, no matter what.

Ranma looked at his father, gave a sad shake of the head, and sighed. "Fine, I'll follow those police cars and help them out if they need it."

Genma beamed at the declaration. "I knew you had it in you. I've never been so proud of you as this moment, Son, and I mean that. Choosing to become a super-hero is-" Genma abruptly stopped as Ranma handed him the wrapped up shield.

Before the older man could say another word, Ranma informed him in a calm and controlled voice, "I'm going to help them out, but it's going to be as Ranma Saotome, not Captain Japan or Bucky. I'm never using that shield again. Find yourself someone else to play superhero."

Without another word Ranma ran at top speed in the direction that the police cars had taken, not even giving Genma a backward glance. In his mind, it was over.

Genma was left holding the shield, uncertain of what to say. More slowly he followed, the feeling of a lifelong dream shattering into a thousand pieces echoing with every step taken.

Officers Kobayakawa and Tsujimoto pulled up in front of the airport, joining a handful of other police vehicles that had also arrived there.

"So where do you think the super-villains are?" Kobayakawa asked as she tried to find a decent place to park.

A one meter ball of twisted plastic and metal, the remnants of a sushi stand, came hurtling through one of the walls of the airport and landed squarely on the hood of their car, caving in the entire front portion of the vehicle and forcing it to an instant standstill.

"I'll be getting out here." Hawkeye darted out of the backseat to leave the two officers cringing in anguish as they stared helplessly out their shattered front window and at the remains of what had been, five seconds ago, their mode of transportation.

"That's the third one this month!" Tsujimoto wailed. "The chief's going to bust us to a street beat for sure."

"We barely knew ye," Kobayakawa said philosophically as she patted the car's cracked dashboard, while the press began to converge on the area, happy to start photographing the destruction and ensuing mayhem in the name of greater ratings.

"Are we set up yet?!" News reporter Akemi Shutaro tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for her idiot cameramen to finish their job and get her on the air. She had to hurry, or else she wouldn't scoop that sleazy tramp, Arika Miamata and Channel 4, who were no doubt already on their way in an effort to cover this breaking story. Akemi had to beat them, just like she had during the Hulk's reign of destruction a few months ago. She was going to win the award for reporter of the year. She could feel it all the way down to her toes. All she needed was a few more coups, like maybe an exclusive interview with that reclusive Captain Japan person, or even his raunchy sidekick, Bucky. Maybe she'd even get lucky and they would show up to battle these super villains and she could wrangle an interview of them after their triumph. She could just see Arika's face once it turned green with envy.

Daydreams of award nominations were set aside as one of the cameramen gave a triumphant cry of joy. "It's ready. We're on in three, two." He silently mouthed the final "One."

Akemi screwed on her brightest smile for the masses watching at home. "Good evening. This is Akemi Shutaro of Channel 6 bringing you this late breaking story. Tokyo Airport has come under assault by forces of a super-powered nature. Originally authorities acted on a tip about terrorists trying to smuggle a bio-weapon into the country. But upon trying to recover the item, these brave men and women discovered the container of evil was protected by people unknown, with powers unknown. But judging from the sounds of carnage coming from within, it's going to take a full-powered assault to bring these super-powered perpetrators of evil down."

Between the heat and the dull thrum of the vice president of public relations' voice, Kodachi Kunou was about ready to doze off in the chair despite its inherent discomfort. She could swear the entire board of directors of Kunou Industries was handpicked for their ability to speak in a monotone no matter what information they were delivering. From news they had made billions to telling her they were near bankruptcy, their voices never wavered, not even for a moment. Kodachi would lay good odds if any of them were shot, their screams of pain would be in the same droning voice as well. That she had been working on the quinjet project most of the evening did not help matters, but the least the man could do was modulate his voice a few octaves up or down and pretend to have interesting information.

A yawn escaped her lips as her lids grew heavy. They were about to close for the second time in the meeting when a red light on her armrest control pad began flashing. The pad was actually positioned below the top of the long table and out of the line of sight of the members of the board. Subtly, Kodachi's finger touched a button to visually display what had caught the program's notice, but chose to leave the message silent, opting for it to subtitle the reporter's speech, which, knowing Kodachi's luck, would probably have been delivered in the same monotone as that of her board.

As the words flashed across the screen, Kodachi's head shot up from its lolling position. A smile spread across her face, one that was mistaken by the speaker, who assumed she was pleased with his report on the current public perception polls concerning the company.

Kodachi rose from her seat. "An urgent matter which I must personally attend to has come to my attention. Finish up and adjourn the meeting."

There were words of protest, the most animated discussion the assemblage had made for the day, but Kodachi ignored them. Boardrooms were just another form of imprisonment anyway, with words and pie charts serving as restraints instead of bars. Even having to wear a chest plate felt less confining. And when it came to wearing the all-encompassing suit of armor, it felt downright liberating.

At long last it was time for the Iron Rose to enter the fray again.

Akane fretted nervously as she tried hard not to listen to what was going on in Doctor Tofu's backroom, which was difficult since a glass had somehow ended up in her hand and was now placed against the closed door. She wasn't eavesdropping, not really. She was just looking out for her employer's welfare, which was what attentive nurses did. Tofu had been acting strangely ever since that bizarre incident where those two supper villains had completely destroyed the new addition to the office before being apprehended by the authorities a few weeks ago. Luckily, the doctor was insured by Damage Control Inc., who specialized in covering cases of destruction by super-powered beings. There was still some question as to who was actually at fault since the villains claimed they had only taken over everyone's minds in the district and not destroyed any housing. Their declarations were silly, though. Akane never had her mind taken over. She would have remembered that sort of thing.

Since that night, the doctor had been acting strangely, and not in the 'Kasumi is breathing the same air that I am so let's dance' strange, but secretive strange. Akane's feeling was that it might have had something to do with the destruction of the equipment he had received from his American friend. The entire apparatus he had built ended up destroyed when the building collapsed. Tofu had spent the better part of a week salvaging what he could from the debris, coming up with several boxes of chemicals that had been sheltered by falling crossbeams. But whatever it was that had been retrieved, he was being secretive with it. No matter how persistent she was, she couldn't get the doctor to reveal anything. Instead, when she asked, he would behave even more nervously, as though he was trying to hide something, which only served to fan the flames of interest further.

What had also caught her attention and was cause for greater concern was that sometimes when the doctor was alone in the backroom, he would talk to himself. And not just some idle pondering of questions out loud, but lengthy and intense conversations. Occasionally it sounded like there was another voice in the room as well, a woman's voice, but that was impossible. Akane would know if someone had entered the room, since there was only one door leading to it and with the way her desk was situated Akane was stationed directly in front of it much of the day. Lately she would check before the doctor retreated back there just to make sure no one was hiding in it beforehand. Every time she searched, it was empty. Yet once the doctor returned to the backroom at the end of the day and locked the door behind him, the soft talking would begin. Akane had even gone so far as to peek through the high window to the room once so she could see firsthand if anyone else was present, but it was devoid of other people. It was just the doctor mixing some chemicals and making comments here and there to no one in particular. Once Akane thought she heard a feminine voice respond to one of the doctor's queries, but she realized it must have been the wind or a neighbor's radio drifting towards her ears and creating the illusion it had come from within. The room was too small and sparsely decorated to conceal another person.

The strange matter made her hope Tofu hadn't gone insane. But if he had, Akane Tendou swore she would remain at his side to help nurse him back to health any way she could.

Of course there were added stresses that would have added to the doctor having a potential nervous breakdown, such as the arrival of his mother. From the moment she appeared, Mrs. Ono seemed intent on getting her youngest son to live up to his filial obligations to settle down and raise a family. Akane had mixed feelings about that. No one had the right to force Tofu to marry someone, even if she was his parent (and boy, did Akane sympathize with that predicament). On the other hand, if he was to consider settling down with some girl, maybe one who would be graduating high school in a few years, well, Akane certainly couldn't see any problem with that. She had even received the Mrs. Ono mark of approval in that respect, after giving Akane some bizarre hip test that the old woman deemed a good method of screening prospective bridal candidates. However, Mrs. Ono lacked the patience to wait for Akane to get older, and was insistent Tofu marry soon. And, much to Akane's concern, for some odd reason the old woman seemed insistent that Kasumi was the perfect match for her son. It showed how little Mrs. Ono understood Dr. Tofu. Both he and Kasumi were nice people when taken individually, but they went together like oil and maple syrup. Akane knew that was a bad mix. She had tried it in Home Economics, and it hadn't turned out well at all. Everyone that sampled the mixture had agreed on that.

No, it would be far better for everyone concerned if Kasumi married someone younger, like Ranma. Now there was an ideal suitor for Kasumi. Akane was going to have to try harder to make everyone see that. Ranma was the sort to go for older women too, since he was so physically mature already. When it came to him emotionally, well, that was another reason he needed an older woman; to help him become mature. Sure, Akane could do it if she felt so inclined, and Ranma wasn't the bad sort. Not bad at all. Very handsome, and he could be nice at times. She had seen him be so on more than one occasion, like that time he helped rescue a puppy that had somehow ended up in a tree it had become stuck in. While it was truly unfortunate the puppy turned out to be rabid, Ranma had no way of knowing that when he set out to rescue it. Afterwards, he had only grumbled about the shots for a little while, but it was still the thought that counted. He tended to be a bit dense at times and was as emotionally sensitive as a rock, but he was not an unpleasant person to be around. Not bad marriage material for any girl, perhaps even herself, if she was pressed on the matter.

No, no, no! She had to stop thinking of him like that in relation to her. Kasumi was his ideal match and Kasumi he would marry, or Nabiki, in a pinch. Akane already had her own interests. It would take time, that was all. Time for Dr. Tofu to figure out that the one he was looking for was right under his nose the whole while. None were so blind as to the things right before their eyes, or so the old saying went.

Two words from the nearby television caught her attention and shook her free of her concerns. Akane had left it on for background noise while she filed the doctor's patient files (which, thanks to his machine building and hiding in the backroom, he had fallen way behind with). Now the regular programming was interrupted due to some special report about super villains attacking an airport and holding the authorities at bay.

Excitement filled Akane's heart. Another chance at action, another chance at losing her disability and moving like… No, moving better than those around her. Another chance to prove that she could be superior to everyone else instead of the joke they treated her like, and a lame joke at that.

But there was Tofu to consider. What was he doing behind closed doors? Would he be all right if she flew off to play hero again? What if this was the time he went over the edge and she wasn't around? Of course, he seemed perfectly fine all day. He had seen his patients and there were no complaints from any them about his treatments. It was silly, since he had been working in the backroom for over a week and nothing bad had happened. It was not as though his sanity was on a tightrope or anything, he was just secretive and talked to himself. The clarion call to battle filled Akane's ears like the roaring of one's heartbeat after an intense run. She wanted to soar through the sky again and command the thunder to do her bidding as she smote her foes with fist and hammer.

Akane knocked on the door, the fast patter of her fist giving away her anxiousness to leave. "Dr. Tofu, all the filing's done. It's about time for me to go. Would you be all right if I left you alone now?"

"Sure, Akane. Thanks for all the help. I'll be fine. " The voice behind the door sounded aware and cheerful.

That settled things. "I'll hold you to that." Akane grabbed her cane and hobbled out of the office as best as she could. There were several alleys nearby that she could use to change. All she needed was one tap of the cane and then it would be time to fly to the airport and kick some butt as only the Goddess of Thunder could do.

Dr. Tofu poked his head out just as Akane left the office. He looked curiously at the door to his clinic as it swung shut. "'I'll hold you to that'. What was that supposed to mean?"

"Is she gone?" a tiny, feminine voice asked.

Tofu turned to see the diminutive Kasumi standing on his desk once again. It was odd how her presence didn't have the same effect on him when she was in her miniature state. Oh, he still bore a heady feeling when he was in the same room with her, but he was coherent and could think quite well, though sometimes it required a bit of concentration. It was actually very nice to have conversations with her that didn't involve dancing with Betty-chan or trying to devour some inedible substance and perceiving it as a normal reaction to talking with her. Of course there was the drawback that she was a mere centimeter or so tall at the time, depending on her mood since she seemed to be able to control her actual height.

"Is she gone?" Kasumi repeated.

"Yes, she's gone," he finally answered.

Now free to do as she pleased, Kasumi flexed her wings and took off, flitting about the office. "Good. It'll be nice to fly around without worrying about Akane seeing me. I wouldn't want to frighten her. It would be difficult to explain what's happened to me. It's far better she never finds out about this. I don't think anyone but you would understand."

Tofu watched her fly past, still marveling at her quickness and agility. It was like watching a hummingbird, considering the speed at which she darted through the air. It was less distracting now that she had finally sewn some outfits for that size. Although for some reason she had a developed an affinity for daring garments that fit her snugly in many of the more sensitive areas of her body. Had she worn any of them at normal size, Tofu wagered he wouldn't have been the only one to become incoherent around her. She explained it as a way to keep people from connecting Kasumi Tendou with the Wasp, since even if someone was able to see through her disguise, there was no way they would believe a girl as conservative as Kasumi would dare wear such risqué clothing. Tofu was uncertain if that was the whole story. Kasumi seemed to revel in being able to wear such garments and act less reserved than in her normal housekeeping role. Some of the things she said made him blush furiously.

The change in behavior seemed to hover around her idea of them becoming super heroes together. Since acquiring her powers, she had become intent on tracking down and taking on more super villains. Tofu's thought processes went along different lines. He was perfectly happy being a doctor and was content to leave confrontations with insanely powerful homicidal people to others more suited to the role. He had even less desire to walk around at a height of forty feet and go around kicking people that, frankly, could hurt him back an awful lot. Unlike Kasumi, he had been rendered unconscious during the fight, the first time such had happened in his life, and there was no urgent need to repeat the experience. But no matter how persuasive his arguments were, Kasumi would not be swayed. To make matters worse, her enthusiasm was infectious. Between her obvious delight at the chance of becoming a super hero, combined with Tofu's desire to protect her, he had reluctantly agreed to become one as well. However, it was under the condition that it was only part-time since he did have a business to run. Thus, with his course decided, 'Giant Man' had been born.

Making outfits had been both easy and difficult. Easy for him, difficult for Kasumi. Since Hank Pym had planned on experimenting with the size changing upon himself first, he acquired a uniform composed of unstable molecules, a new innovation from an American scientist named Richards. These unstable molecules somehow enabled the outfit to change in accordance with the wearer's form, a sort of variation on the ultimate elastic. It was so effective that even when Tofu grew, the outfit would change in size instead of tearing. He didn't understand how it worked, only that it did and saved him the problem of buying material large enough to cover his giant frame.

That solved his clothing problem, but not Kasumi's. Since there was only one outfit made up of unstable molecules, another couldn't be purchased. They were so incredibly expensive that even if Tofu sold his practice he still wouldn't have enough money. Henry hadn't bought his; Richards had apparently given him the uniform out of friendship. That had left Kasumi to seek out an alternative. Her answer was to sew up a number of outfits when she was at Wasp size. She had to put them on when she was small, and wasn't able to grow with them on since the material would rip, treating everyone to a real eyeful of her.

A small trickle of blood dripped from his nose as he remembered the last time Kasumi grew without suitable garments on. He shook the memory from his head. There were more important matters to be concerned about. During the course of the last few weeks, Kasumi had sewn many outfits for herself, spending most of her free time doing so. The one she was currently wearing was creamy white. Offsetting the material were blue boots and blue edging around the neck where a 'W' formed part of the border that led down to the top of her bosom. The amount of cleavage shown (small, in reality, but not so insignificant when one realized it was proportional to the rest of her) was far more revealing than anything Kasumi had ever worn before. One arm and leg had been left completely bare between the outfit and her glove and boot. Certainly it saved material, but with how high both were cut, it left little doubt that despite her duties around the home, Kasumi had managed to stay in very good shape. The mask she wore covered the upper half of her face, allowing her brown hair to flow freely behind her as she darted through the air.

As for Tofu's own outfit, he was happy that it covered everything but his mouth and eyes. With Kasumi lending a hand, the outfit was now dyed red save for his boots, gloves, and shorts, which were black. The hood had been redesigned to go over his face as a mask, something far more necessary for him than Kasumi with his larger features. The outfit might have been plain compared to Kasumi's, but Tofu preferred things that way. He was a man of simple tastes, after all.

The other item Tofu had been working on was something Henry had left in his notes, a variation of the Pym Particles using compressed gas rather than the machine. It was cheaper to make, and with the chemicals Henry had sent that Tofu managed to salvage, simple to mix. There were two problems, though. One was the gas only worked to shrink an object. The second was that without the gas that reversed the shrinkage, one would remain trapped at that diminutive height, potentially forever. On the beneficial side, once mixed together the gas could shrink other items too, such as clothing and whatever might be held within the hands.

Given the limited supply and the risks involved with the gas, the machine was clearly the better option, but since it was smashed far beyond any hope of repair, this was now the only other alternative if Tofu sought to become smaller. The reason for that was that it would allow him to go anywhere that Kasumi could. There would be times when he would be unable to grow and use his increased strength or endurance, and the gas could be the only way for him to travel out of sight or escape from a foe. Likewise, if Kasumi encountered any dangers and became incapacitated in some small, out of the way place, it would allow him to come to her side and be a help rather than a too-large hindrance.

"Doctor Tofu, did you hear that?!"

The excitement in Kasumi's voice was unmistakable. So lost in thought was Tofu though, that he had failed to hear what she was referring to. "I didn't catch that?"

Kasumi pointed to the television that had been left on. "They're saying that there are a couple of super villains assaulting the airport. Let's go out there and stop them."

Inwardly, Tofu cringed. He didn't think he was ready for this —he doubted he ever would be— but Kasumi was so delighted that he couldn't bring himself to argue with her. "Sure, but how do we get there? It's too far to fly, and it would take a long time for me to walk even at my full height." He only hoped the distance would dissuade her from traveling out there and allow the authorities to handle matters.

Unperturbed, Kasumi said, "Put some clothes on over your outfit, and we'll take a cab. I'll hide in your pocket until we get there."

A soft sigh escaped Tofu's lips. He chose clothing that was cheap and worn, since he might have to grow and ruin it. It appeared the first 'official' case for the new superhero team of the Wasp and Giant Man was about to get underway. The only bright side would be the adventure would serve to keep him out of his mother's sight for a while. Compared to her constant harping about marrying and raising a family, fighting super-villains would almost seem relaxing.

The squad car Daredevil had stowed away on pulled up a short distance from the newly shattered remains of Kobayakawa's car. He leapt off the roof before the car even stopped, landing as nimbly as a cat before running into the terminal. For just a brief moment, his radar sense caught the edge of someone with what seemed to be a bow and quiver full of arrows run into the building ahead of him. Whether friend or foe to the villains inside, he was uncertain, but he entered the structure with a more cautious step, mindful of any ambushes.

Five more shots were right on target. The bullets impacted in the exact spots they were aimed at. Each of the metal projectiles imparted a tremendous amount of force. Combined, they were enough to crack an engine block in half.

Power Man looked casually down at his chest where the bullets had hit. "Jeez, you guys don't know when to give up." He hefted a set of interconnected seats over his head and threw them at the security personnel as though he were in kindergarten playing a vicious version of musical chairs. The width of the makeshift missile allowed Power Man to strike all five of the officers at the same time. The force with which he threw it guaranteed their medical plans would be activated.

With the last of the distractions dealt with, Power Man turned to watch the yellow blur that was his partner finish off the last of the latest wave of attackers. "How many did you get?"

Whizzer pulled to a stop directly in front of the big man. "Total, or just in this latest batch?"



"Shoot! I've only got twenty-seven. No, wait. Twenty-eight. I almost forgot the one who tried hitting me with a tire chain. Where do you suppose he found a tire chain in the middle of an airport?"

"Near a tire?" Whizzer shrugged. "This is getting a bit hectic. I hope those people we're waiting for show up soon. I'm getting tired of running around and beating up these annoying pests. They're almost as bad as the Chinese army. Not really dangerous, save in large numbers."

"I still say we don't need any help. I think the four of us are more than enough to deal with any threats to the boss or his plan. Besides, we only need a couple more days."

Whizzer shook his head. "No way. Four people aren't enough to call us the Lethal Legion."

"But you're the only one who calls us that."

"Right now, but when we become famous and masters of the world, it'll strike fear into the hearts of everyone."

"I'd rather be respected than feared."

"Fear is better. At least that's what the boss always says, and you can't deny he's gone a long way ruling through fear instead of respect."

"Good point. I guess you might be right. Maybe calling ourselves the Lethal Legion is a good idea. You're definitely better at this super villain stuff than I am."

Whizzer gave an affectionate punch to his comrade's shoulder. "Just follow my lead. I'll make an ultra-tough, yet stylish, super villain out of you yet."

"That would be a change over most of the guys I usually fight. Actually, it would be a change from everyone I've fought," a voice called out.

Power Man turned just in time to have a well-aimed Billy club ricochet off his face. Even as the cylinder bounced off the floor and returned to the thrower's hand, the huge man's sole reaction to the blow was to rub his jaw. "Congratulations. That's the hardest hit I've taken all day."

Underneath his mask, Daredevil scowled. Not only was his opponent still standing and refusing to show the slightest effect from bring struck in the face with a full-forced throw, but the huge man's heartbeat hardly moved up a notch from its already low rate. It appeared he was finally going to have his skills taken to the limit. Now confronted with the actuality of his long-standing desire, he was no longer certain that was necessarily a good thing.

"Ohhh, you're a super hero, aren't you?" Whizzer asked, barely able to contain his excitement. "What's your name?"

"Daredevil." Even Mousse was surprised at the heart rate of the person speaking to him. It was like a hummingbird's, only faster. It was a miracle it didn't explode on the spot from the way it should have been overtaxed.

Unable to contain his joy, Whizzer began vibrating uncontrollably. "This is great! I was hoping we could fight one of you super heroes. China doesn't have any to speak of. It's kind of boring, really. But when I heard I was coming to Japan I got excited, especially with the deluge of heroes that have been coming around recently. I've been reading about them in Newsweek. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm the Whizzer."

Daredevil cringed. "The Whizzer? It sounds like you have the ability to go to the restroom really fast." Suddenly 'Stilt Man' didn't seem like such a stupid name.

Power Man turned on his friend. "I told you that outfit was a dumb color and the name was stupid, but you wouldn't listen."

"I know, I know. It never occurred to me people would associate my name with that. I'll change my costume and name at the first opportunity when we get back. I had several costumes made up and a list of other names to go with them since I had such a hard time deciding." Whizzer returned his attention to their opponent and pointed at the large man. "My friend over there is Power Man."

"That's not my real name. It's Lime," Power Man explained.

"Oh, that's much better," Daredevil said. Okay, maybe they didn't come across as the brightest of opponents, but at least they didn't have completely moronic powers. Of course, that could be actually bad, all things considered.

Whizzer turned to his comrade. "Take him on one at a time or together?"

"Why not together?"

"Good point. We wouldn't be decent bad guys if we fought fairly."

Whizzer was just about to rush forward when a movement from out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. It was very quick, and one with lesser reflexes would not have had time to react, but such rules didn't apply to the speedster. Impossibly fast he ran, preventing the shaft from hitting him at a closer range, but the distance still wasn't enough as the force of the explosion from the blast arrow ripped into the floor of the terminal right where he had been standing a moment before. Between the shrapnel and the force from the blast, the Whizzer found himself knocked off his feet and sent crashing to the ground.

"That didn't feel good at all," the speedster moaned as he tried to regain his footing and failed on his first attempt.

Hawkeye rushed out into the open with another arrow notched in her bow. She had maneuvered behind her opponents while they had wasted time with the newcomer, Daredevil, if she had heard correctly. Apparently he was on her side. It was hard to tell lately. One thing Whizzer had been on target about was the sudden proliferation of super heroes. Hawkeye had already met two. It would be good to talk with another one. She felt a bit alone in the world with her newfound occupation, and the idea of having a partner appealed to her in some way. Of course she would have to prove her worth and help Daredevil in taking out these two buffoons before she could 'talk shop'. Given how bright the bad guys in question seemed, she and Daredevil should be deep in conversation in under ten minutes.

Power Man hurled a sizable potted plant at Hawkeye before she could get a second shot at the fallen Whizzer. She was able to leap out of the way of the large projectile as it continued hurtling through the air until it hit an ATM machine, cracking it open like a bulky piñata that spewed money out of its innards instead of candy.

Seeing the move bought Whizzer enough time to get back to his feet, Power Man cracked his knuckles and turned to face the man who had dared to assault him with the throwing stick. "Two-on-two just means it'll take longer."

"But not long," Daredevil leapt into the air and sent a volley of chains shooting out from the sleeves of his robe. Rather than hurling them directly towards his large opponent, the blind adventurer whirled them around twice before spinning the weighted chains at Power Man. The metal encircled his upper body several times, pinning his arms to his side.

It took only the slightest bit of exertion on the villain's part to expand the muscles of his chest, snapping the chains as though they were nothing more than string. He held one of the shattered links in his hand. "Is that the best you can do?"

A large metal bat appeared from the robes and into Daredevil's hands. He swung with all his might, delivering a solid blow over the top of Power Man's head.

The large man shook his head again. "Pretty good swing there. I felt that too. You should try out for the major leagues."

Daredevil's radar sense informed him that the impression of Power Man's head that had been left in the length of metal meant it would be a good idea to abandon the weapon. He tossed it aside and made a mental note to replace it later, since he only had two left in his robe. "Fine, we can do it the old-fashioned way." He fell into a fighting stance.

"Good." Power Man took a swing at Daredevil's head. The red-garbed adventurer easily got out of the way.

"You're fast." The huge man took another swing. Again his opponent ducked. "Go ahead, don't fight back," Power Man taunted as he lashed out with a third fist that failed to connect. He wasn't concerned. He had sparred with Mint, or rather Whizzer, on a number of occasions, and this Daredevil was nowhere near as fast as the speedster. Like his friend, the smaller man would eventually tire and slow down, and then all it would take was one, two blows at the most, and the fight would be history. It was just a question of stamina now, and Power Man's was as impressive as his prodigious strength. All he needed was time.

Across the terminal, Hawkeye sprang back up and notched an arrow, pointing it at where the Whizzer had been lying a handful of seconds before.

There was no one there.

A blow connected with the back of her head. The cry of, "Surprise!" came hot on its heels.

Training coming to the fore, Hawkeye rolled with the blow and came up firing in the direction of the voice. The quick recovery seemed to surprise the speedster, and he barely shifted his head to the side fast enough to avoid the metal-studded arrow from hitting him right in the skull. He ran backwards to gain some distance from his opponent. "Hey, that was nasty. If it had hit, it would have left a big lump on my head."

"That was the idea!" Hawkeye cursed as she shot another stun arrow at her opponent, but he darted out of its way as well. He did the same to another blast arrow, which sailed past and blew up yet more of the terminal, though this time the explosion was too far out of range to affect him.

"I thought you were going to be dangerous, but the only danger I'm facing is falling asleep from boredom." Whizzer yawned for effect.

Hawkeye grinned. Now that she had some grasp of his tactics, she came up with a plan. She fired again, this time the arrow going high over his head. A net opened up the moment it passed over the villain.

Or at least where he had been. Unfortunately, it was with this arrow's release that Whizzer changed tactics and instead of dodging, advanced forward with blinding speed and struck his opponent squarely in the jaw. Though his strength was average, the velocity of the blow served to increase the damage it inflicted and sent Hawkeye sprawling painfully to the ground.

"Damn!" she muttered through a sore jaw. She had barely seen him move. This was almost worse than the time she had been hypnotized into believing her arrows were snakes.

As she returned to her feet, bow and arrow at the ready, the blur hit again, knocking her flat. The salty tang of blood assailed her tongue. A third time, and she couldn't even return to her feet as he kicked her in the gut at super speed. Her opponent made certain to move back a good fifteen meters after administering the blow. Hawkeye tried returning to her feet, but fell over once. She was going to need several seconds to recover.

Confident he had the upper hand, Whizzer said, "You only have trick arrows, don't you? No super powers at all."

"Sorry to disappoint you." The speedster seemed to have an affinity to talk excessively. Hawkeye used this to her advantage as she regained her bearing while still pretending to be so disoriented she couldn't stand up. Another plan came to her. She hoped she could get him to wait another handful of seconds so she could enact it. As long as the idiot kept toying with her, she had a chance.

Whizzer gave a sad shake of his head. "A pity. You're just a trained weapons user. Not a real super hero at all. I feel like I'm wasting my time."

Gnashing her teeth at the insult, Hawkeye let her hand slip to the quiver on her back and pretended to fumble with the arrows. Just a few more seconds.

Whizzer tensed as Hawkeye finally drew an arrow, but even he was taken aback as the archer proceeded to fire it into a wall off to the side, halfway between the speedster and his opponent. "Absolutely pathetic. I hit you four times, and it was only four times since I didn't use my repeated punching ability, and you still fold up like a house of cards." He made a disappointed sound as Hawkeye slowly regained a vertical base and drew another arrow, pointing it at the opposite wall.

The bumbling move made Whizzer sigh once again. "I'm going to do you a favor and break that bow and dump all your arrows in a river. This line of work is too dangerous for a normal person like you. I think I'll keep the mask, though. I'll make a trophy out of it since you are technically the first super hero I've beaten, even if you aren't all that super."

"You know what your problem is? You talk way too much." Hawkeye spat in his direction.

"And now you won't talk at all!" Whizzer began to run forward even as Hawkeye finally fired the notched arrow into the opposite wall. The speedster would be aiming for his opponent's jaw this time, intent on reducing it to powder with repeated blows for daring to imply that he pontificated too much.

He was so intent on beating Hawkeye to a pulp that he failed to see the wire tied to each arrow, one that was now taut thanks to the second shot, and at ankle level. He felt it though as he unwittingly ran into it, tripping over the wire and rolling across the ground at an inhumanly high speed. His momentum was too great for him to stop as he smashed into a service desk next to one of the departure areas. Now it was his turn to be stunned.

Once her opponent encountered his makeshift break pad, Hawkeye immediately drew another stun arrow. This time she would not miss.

Power Man threw his twentieth blow, this time almost touching the red-garbed adventurer's mask. He was getting close now, and this Daredevil was starting to show signs of fatigue, not to mention fear. The idiot hadn't even tried to throw a punch the entire time.

Feeling unusually generous, Power Man said, "Look, you aren't even bothering to fight back, not that you could harm me. Why not just run for it? I'll let you go. Unlike Mint, I mean Whizzer, I don't really care about fighting you super types. I just want to finish my job and go home." He threw a half-hearted punch in Daredevil's direction, hoping it would persuade the nuisance to go away.

"A generous offer, but I think not." It was the opening Daredevil was waiting for. With a flick of the wrist his Billy club appeared in his hand. He jammed it upward with all the force he could muster, aiming at one critical spot on Power Man's arm. It was practically an all-or-nothing blow, since the blind man would be off-balance if the attack failed.

Daredevil's aim was true as the end of the club hit at just the precise spot at the shoulder, causing Power Man to cry out in pain and grab his now limp arm. It was just as he thought. The man's skin was supernaturally tough, but not enough to make him immune to pain. A powerful blow, one strong enough to shatter a normal man's arm, delivered to the center of a cluster of nerves located at the shoulder was enough to at least temporarily neutralize one of the big man's limbs. Satisfied that Power Man was not invincible, the blind man went for his next attack.

"I'll kill you for that!" Power Man raged as he brought his good arm up. However, Daredevil stepped back, throwing some sort of white powder into the larger man's face. The move was unexpected enough that Power Man couldn't close his eyes in time. Instantly, his eyes teared up, blinding him. All he could do was roar in even greater agony and flail about.

Blinded, Power Man missed the smile that blossomed on Daredevil's features at another gamble that had worked. As obscenely strong as the appropriately named Power Man was, his eyes were not so tough that they could ignore the effects of salt thrown into them. However, sensing the effect this newfound, albeit temporary, handicap had on his opponent: the now racing heartbeat, the awkward charging and colliding into objects that were in 'plain sight', and the anguish both physical and mental of losing one of the primary senses, made Daredevil feel a slight bit of remorse. Blindness was not something he wished on anyone, no matter how well he had managed to adjust to his own condition. That Daredevil possessed little choice in the matter did little to ease his conscience concerning his actions.

Power Man threw an awkward blow in Daredevil's general direction, one that had no hope whatsoever of striking its intended target. The blind one took advantage of his opponent's clumsy blow by grabbing him under the arm and placing a leg in front of the large man's own. One quick toss later Power Man was flat on his stomach, temporarily winded by the unexpected attack. Daredevil brought out a pair of titanium handcuffs, hoping that with Power Man's hands brought behind him, he would lack the leverage necessary to summon his full strength and shatter the restraints.

Suddenly, he heard a movement come from somewhere behind him. His radar sense made out a figure, slightly smaller and lighter than him, racing up in what would have been anyone else's blind spot. The person, a woman if his radar sense was accurate, was quick and inhumanly silent; he could barely detect her footsteps even with his heightened hearing. But no one could sneak up on the 'man without fear'; not even an ant. Forewarned, Daredevil had time to judge the way she approached and mentally prepared a counter-attack.

He half turned and flung his hand behind him. A large number of chains with weighted objects shot out, arcing to where this mystery woman would be, taking her out long before she reached him. Much to Daredevil's own surprise, she either sensed the attack or her reflexes were better than his. She nimbly leapt aside without breaking stride, allowing the chains to go harmlessly past.

And then she was upon him, attacking without hesitation. Daredevil could hear the sound of something small cutting through the air as she brought her arm forward, something that held the smell of well-oiled metal that reached his nostrils. She had pulled a weapon, small and sharp, possibly a sai, from the way it cut the air and did little to affect her 'profile' as defined by his radar sense. Daredevil parried the blow at the last second. A clang rang loud in his ears, and the muscles of his arm protested slightly over the impact they suffered. The woman was strong, not with Power Man's level, but judging by the force of the blow, possibly as strong as Daredevil himself.

Just as quick she ducked under his counterstrike. His senses reached out and told him more of her physical attributes even as he simultaneously formulated his next attack. Lighter and a couple of centimeters smaller. Heartbeat, though excited, not so fast as to indicate panic. Style very controlled and professional. Someone used to fighting then, and in superior physical condition, but nothing to indicate superhuman abilities. She wore little clothing, and it was skintight, judging by both the image produced in his radar sense and the fact he could not hear her outfit rustling as she moved. Long hair though; he could hear it move with every motion of her head. The scent of her skin was fresh, not so much perfumed from soaps and oils but closer to the smell a younger person produced. Somewhere within five years of his age, possibly older, but highly trained and possessing no compunction against killing, since the blade thrust was a fatal one for his head. Still, she would fall short of his own skills. Aside from his own superior physical abilities and Stick's mentoring, no one was as highly motivated as he was at fighting and winning. He had failed to protect someone once. Never again, no matter the cost.

Having taken the measure of his opponent, Daredevil feinted an attack to the head with his club and followed up with a kick to her mid-section. She blocked the first, then much to his surprise, bent backwards to evade the second rather than leaping out of the way. It was a near thing, he could feel the tips of his toes scrape against her uncovered stomach, but her flexibility allowed her to dodge the kick and left her in a position to counter attack while he was very vulnerable.

Counting on her trying to skewer him again, he put everything into deflecting a blade thrust from her right. However, she surprised him once more by lashing out with a punch to his chest with her free hand, then followed it up with a kick to the back of his knee, bringing him low. He tried to bring his billy club back around, but had it unceremoniously kicked out of his hand.

Her opponent temporarily disarmed, the woman tried to skewer him again with her sai. But even she was surprised by the speed he employed to produce another billy club that blocked the blow.

"Damn Hidden Weapons Technique," she hissed, her voice a higher pitch than Daredevil would have imagined. It also said something about her that she recognized the style. Not many would, it was not common knowledge and few mastered it. And, unless he was mistaken, there was just the faintest hint of an accent underlying her Japanese. It was in the inflection of 'Hidden'. No one else could have detected it, he barely had even with his superhuman hearing, but it was there. A Chinese accent, or so he thought. It was hard to tell, and unimportant at the moment.

He pushed the thoughts out of his mind as he finally connected with a kick to the woman's side. She let out a tight gasp of air, but he could feel her roll with the blow, taking little damage from it. Recovering quickly, she threw the sai directly at his head. It was an unusual move in that it wasn't really a throwing weapon. He batted it out of the air, and then found himself confronted with a spinning leap kick the woman had decided to deliver while the blade was in mid-air. By the gods, she was fast and skilled. Even he would have had difficulty matching that feat. So instead, he moved back, allowing her toe to strike the floor rather than the leg she had been aiming at.

At the last second he understood his mistake. Concentrating so much on staying alive, he had forgotten there were two opponents, and not realized that the other one had recovered. Despite being off-balance, he shifted forward, and the fist that was aimed at his head only stuck a glancing blow off the base of his neck and shoulder. Against a man with normal strength, it would have only hurt somewhat. From Power Man, it was like someone driving a metal bar into it. Daredevil fell unconscious immediately.

Hawkeye aimed her next arrow at the Whizzer's stomach. She could not wait for this fight to be over. That costume of his was just tasteless, and was making her eyes sore.

She released the bowstring. There was a twang and the snap of the bow itself as the arrow was released. A smile blossomed on Hawkeye's face. There was no feeling in the world quite as satisfying as the slight jerk that a bow produced when an arrow was fired from it. She had tried to explain it to other people, but only fellow archers who allowed themselves to be fully immersed in the art understood. It was the result of becoming one with a weapon, a conjoining of sorts. Perhaps it was some sort of psychological substitute for not being able to become one with a man, but it still served to thrill and excite her even after she had fired tens of thousands of arrows in her lifetime.

And this arrow was no different. It sped through the air, true to its target. It was just about to strike when it encountered another object mere centimeters before its intended target. Almost in slow motion, Hawkeye saw the shaft cut neatly in half by a curved katana, both halves harmlessly tossed aside.

A scowl creased her features as she looked at the man who dared prevent her from achieving victory against the annoying speedster. He wore a garish outfit, reminiscent of someone out of a Dumas novel. Frilly ornamentation outlined his ridiculously outdated eighteenth-century European garb, and the color scheme was only slightly less painful than the Whizzer's, a sedate purple with red spread throughout, mostly in the leggings and vest. He even had one of those ridiculous plumed hats with what appeared to be half a peacock's butt stuck in it. A bit of black hair rolled out from underneath the hat to come almost to his shoulders, and he wore a large a purple bandanna to cover his head and the upper half of his face. Two eyeholes were cut out, allowing him to see.

"What are you, the Musketeer?" Hawkeye asked.

The man bowed. "No, I possess no musket. Such a weapon is unseemly and inelegant. I find only the naked steel of the sword is suitable to a warrior of my caliber."

"Musketeers didn't use katana either," Hawkeye pointed out.

"I tell you I'm not a musketeer. Regrettably, my weapon was only manufactured in the katana version. It's what we were going to market first."

"Musketeers weren't really known for marketing things."

A sheen of sweat would have formed on the warrior's brow, save for the fact that the bandanna that also served as his mask soaked it up. "Ah, forget I said anything about marketing. It has nothing to do with my secret identity, which you need not concern yourself about. And I am not a musketeer."

"Then who are you?"

"I thought you would never ask."

Suddenly, Hawkeye wished she hadn't since she sensed a speech coming up. There was something about the man that hinted at the ability to pontificate about anything. far worse than even Whizzer could manage. She attempted a preventive measure by firing a grapple arrow at him, but again he slashed the attack out of mid-air.

"You did not let me finish my introduction."

"No need. I'll just call you 'Dead Meat' and leave it at that." She fired another stun arrow, which he sliced in two as casually as swatting an annoying insect.

"You did not wish to feel outclassed by learning my identity," He continued. "I do not blame you. There are none that can rival one such as myself." He almost missed the next arrow shot at him. "Once I was a wealthy scion of a noble family, the idol of all who glanced at my handsome visage. I had it all, looks, a sophisticated nature, intelligence—"

"A mouth that never stopped moving."

"Your uncouth language betrays the low born status you suffer from. It is called verbosity, and it is suitable when one as wise as myself begets the opportunity to impart knowledge to knaves such as yourself." A fifth arrow struck the ground. "Since you seem intent upon futilely attacking me, I shall give you the short version of who I am so that this fight might end more quickly. I do have someone to meet, after all. Now then, I was dissatisfied with the life of the idle rich, I became a wandering adventurer. A warrior of sorts, a handsome, dashing young warrior who is the idol of women and the envy of all. I hide my identity from jealous fools who would do me harm because they are inferior to me, men such as yourself. Bearing that in mind, know now that you will meet your doom at the rapier-like wit of the Swordsman." He struck a pose.

"That name's not quite as lame as I thought it would be."

"Of course not. I picked it out myself."

"Too bad I can't say the same for the rest of you, especially that outfit. You should have gone with a more home-based image, like a samurai or something."

"The costume shop was all out of samurai outfits, so I stole this one. I can make anything look good, given my handsome features."

Hawkeye could not help herself and snorted in laughter.

The laughter was more than the Swordsman could take. He stepped forward, his intent unmistakable.

Hawkeye fired another arrow. This time she nearly hit the oaf due to the closer proximity and the lack of time her opponent had to react to the projectile. Finally she had hope. She took a half step forward before she realized something was wrong. It took a moment to figure out what it was: Whizzer was no longer lying in a half-formed heap next to the wall.

A gust of air tickled the back of her neck. She turned as fast as she could, ignoring the Swordsman for a moment. It was as she feared; Whizzer stood behind her with his arms crossed casually as though he had been there the entire time.

"Crap!" she had the time to say as his fist came at her before she could bring her bow to bear. For some odd reason, she found it easy to focus on the fist. Odd because usually he was little more than a blur when he moved. She saw it hitting her in the stomach…

…And it felt like she had been hit with a dozen sledgehammers. She was unable to breathe, unable to do anything other than instantly black out from the pain, almost wishing for death as agony dragged her down to a darkness that sought to claim her.

"How'd you like my 'Hundred in One Blows'?" the Whizzer bragged to his fallen opponent. It was a move he disliked, since he had to stand still to deliver it, but it had power behind it, or more specifically a lot of little power behind it since it was him hitting one hundred and one times in the blink of an eye. Employing it was an intense act of concentration, and his arm usually felt tired after using it more than three times within an hour, but even on an off day it could still hurt even the massive Power Man.

Whizzer was admiring his handiwork when he found a sword thrust under his chin.

"I required no assistance in dispatching my foe, knave," the Swordsman said in a voice that held more pomposity than menace.

"It was personal. He made me run into that wall and it hurt like heck. My back is still aching." Whizzer grabbed at it and winced slightly for the man's benefit. "Hey, did you say your name is the Swordsman?"

"Indeed. The veritable 'Blue Thunder' of Japan." The warrior momentarily forgot he was with a possible opponent and bowed. "I see my reputation has spread beyond this island. Soon, the whole world shall know of my stature and skill. Ha ha ha ha!" he laughed to the heavens, which responded with a lightning bolt striking in the distance.

The effect delighted the Whizzer, as well as learning the name of his ally. "Great! You're one of the guys we're looking for. I'm called Whizzer."

"Truly an odious super-power. Still, it could have been worse. You could have been named 'The Crapper'."

"That's it! I'm ditching the name now. Call me Mint until we get back and I change my name and costume," he grumbled. "Anyway, now that you're here. Allow me to welcome you to the Lethal Legion."

"That is the name of the group I'll be leading?"


"Of course, for one of my intellect and birth, it is only fitting that I lead."

"Actually, I think the boss is the one in charge. He's the one who actually has the brains and power to take over the world. He's also the one who hired you as added muscle and paying your fee and all."

"Oh yes. I sometimes forget that in severing my ties to the past to keep from being killed, either through mysterious other powers or boredom, I now need to lower myself by occasionally accepting contributions in return for lending my talents to those deserving of them. Now, as to my payment, once we're ruling the world, I am to be given Kyoto, correct?"

"That's what the boss said. He's always held the opinion from the beginning that once he takes over, he'll need strong people who are easy to manipulate to delegate leadership roles to. He seemed to think you, me, and Power Man should fit the bill in those regards."

The Swordsman held his sword up high above his head. "He could have chosen no more suitable warrior to enlist in his cause."

Having finally met the Swordsman, Whizzer found himself inclined to agree, even if he was nothing more than a weapon wielder and not a true super villain in Whizzer's estimation. "Now all we have to do is wait for the other recruit and we can get out of here."

As though in response to the speedster's statement, the deep baritone voice of Power Man carried over to where he stood. The words spoken were something along the lines of, "Those really are titties?"

"Yes, they are, and you may not touch them! Try it and you'll lose an eye."

Both Whizzer and Swordsman turned to see the squabbling pair heading their way. Power Man was walking slightly behind a very attractive woman. She wore a skintight body suit, boots, and curious long gloves that went halfway up to her elbow. Her mane of long black hair was partially kept under wraps by a bandanna. All of her attire was the same blood red color. A pair of sai stuck out of a sash tied at her waist, and the hilt of a katana poked out of a scabbard strapped to her back.

Whizzer was at her side within a blink of the eye. "Aren't you the girl Power Man and I were approaching earlier?"

"Yes, you idiots. I can't believe you tried to come into contact with me when you were obviously being watched. Were you trying to get me caught, too?"

"Actually we just wanted to check out your breasts." Power Man started to bring his hand forward to paw at them again. In retaliation, the woman the woman lashed out with her foot between his legs. Power Man's eyes crossed slightly. "I think I felt that, too. Oww." He backed off much more eagerly this time.

Swordsman was at the woman's side in an instant. Taking his foppish hat from his head, he gave a deep formal bow. As he rose back up, he pulled a bouquet of flowers from the hat and handed them to the woman. "Alas, never in all my years have I met so lovely and lethal a maiden. Already my eyes swim in your allure and bask in your appearance. My life has been naught but a void bereft of love until this moment. Allow me to humbly introduce myself. I am but a wandering warrior called the Swordsman, and I shall ever be at your service from this point onward. Might I ask your name, oh dark maiden of danger?"

"I am Elektra of the Hand. I am their chief assassin and the member assigned the task of rendering aid to this self-proclaimed future emperor of the world." She looked at the bouquet in disgust, then handed it to Whizzer.

He stared in awe at bouquet and told Power Man, "Look, she must like me a lot. She's given me flowers and already gotten to first base."

Swordsman ignored the woman's gesture; he already had his eyes settled on his prey and her adoration of him was inevitable. "I see. Since we will be future comrades in arms, and relying on one another in life and death situations, it would be best if we got to know each other better. Therefore, at the first available opportunity I shall allow you to date me."

"And I shall allow you to bleed all over me if you try," Elektra said with a tongue as sharp as her sai.

"Then it is a date." Swordsman bowed again, causing the assassin to roll her eyes.

She turned to the other members of this inane 'Lethal Legion' she was supposed to be temporarily aligning herself with at the behest of her masters. The trio appeared stupid, but powerful and skilled. She would be able to thrive among the fools, especially since they seemed overly enamored with her. From what little information she had gleaned from her masters, their boss was far more brilliant. There was the realistic potential for him to possibly emerge victorious in his attempt at laying claim to, if not the whole world, at least a significant portion of it. If he did, in return for their cooperation the Hand would be given free reign to spread their influence through the entirety of Asia without fear of reprisals from the authorities. And if he failed, the ten million dollars he had deposited in their bank accounts for hiring her services would still allow the organization to come out ahead.

"Time to go," Whizzer announced.

"Ewww. That's disgusting, you pervert! I don't wanna to see you go to the bathroom all over the place. Find a restroom or something."

A quartet of heads turned to the source of the remark.

Whizzer shouted, "All right! Another super… hey, he doesn't have a costume."

Ranma cracked his knuckles. "You got that right. I'm no super hero. I'm just a normal guy called Ranma Saotome that's going to kick all of your butts."

Whizzer shook his head sadly. "Someone take care of this loser with delusions of grandeur. We don't have time to waste. We need to fly back to China. The final stage of the plan is almost ready to begin, and the boss wants us back as additional muscle in case something unexpected happens." Whizzer knew he was going to get yelled at for this delay. He just knew it.

"He's mine." Power Man moved forward, intent on twisting Ranma into a swan. He had been practicing origami, and thought he was pretty good at it, but wanted the additional practice to hone his skills. He lunged at the youth, but found his hands managed to clutch nothing but air.

Ranma somersaulted over the big man, easily dodging the lunge. While spinning directly overhead, he unleashed a punch that connected with the top of the cranium of his more powerful opponent. Power Man clutched his head from the pain. Even Daredevil hadn't struck that hard.

As Ranma came out of his aerial roll, he landed on his feet and before Elektra, who had anticipated his trajectory and already held her sai in hand. She stabbed at him three times, constantly missing by only the slightest of margins. After the third slash, a foot met her jaw, knocking her off her feet and losing her hold on one of her weapons.

Not even waiting for her to land, Ranma went to the air again to deliver a leap kick to the idiot in the musketeer costume. This was all too easy, he thought to himself. It was exactly like he had told his father; he didn't need some stupid costume and shield to defeat super villains. He was Ranma Saotome, not Captain Japan. He was a master of the School of Anything Goes martial arts and would prove it by defeating this pack of losers and shipping them off to the police.

He lined the heel of his foot up with the forehead of the Swordsman. Ranma anticipated this one being the easiest of the lot. People that used weapons tended to rely upon them too much, and it was only a sword. Even as the villain lined the point of the blade in Ranma's direction, he was already figuring out how to evade the stab thrust and attack on the follow-through.

And just as quickly all thoughts were driven from Ranma's mind when a yellow bolt of energy leaped forth from the hilt of the blade. Caught completely off-guard by the nature of the attack, Ranma was struck fully in the chest. Pain erupted from his body as the power from the blast diverted his course in mid-air and drove him backward.

Ranma had fallen no more than halfway back to the ground when he felt someone grab his ankle. The next thing he knew there was a yellow blur, and then he found himself hurled through the air so quickly that everything became a shifting field of various colors, far too fast for his eye to follow. The disturbing flight only stopped when the grip on his ankle released and his toss through the air ended with his collision headfirst into a wall.

Equilibrium helplessly destabilized, Ranma tried to get both his wind back and return to his feet. He accomplished neither as a red boot struck him fully in the chest, jaw, and back. The only thing that stopped the beating was a booming voice which declared, "My turn."

Air replaced concrete as Ranma felt himself hoisted up, suspended like a small child in the hands of a giant. He recognized Power Man's mask as the big man brought him face-to-face. The only details Ranma could make out around the man's mask were the piercing gaze through the eyeholes and the cut out portion of the mouth, which was curled into a sneer. Neither seemed to bode well for the youth.

Ranma fought back with the only skill still left to him. "You're still slow."

A fist met the top of his head, one with five times he force he mustered when doing the same thing to the large man. "And you're unconscious." He tossed Ranma's limp body aside.

"We're out of here," Whizzer declared as he headed towards an exit that would take them to one of the airstrips.

"No plane will take us out of here. The airport has been sealed thanks to your cover being blown," Elektra pointed out.

"We have a private plane, and I can be very persuasive." Power Man slammed his hand into his fist. All present could almost feel the room shake.

"I suppose you can be," Elektra admitted. Stupid, but very strong. She would have to be careful among this nest of vipers. Of course, it did not hurt that she was the most poisonous of them all.

The quartet departed the terminal and headed to one of the planes that awaited them. No one that remained tried to get in their way.

Red warning lights flashed in her helmet as the Iron Rose's sensors spotted a familiar hammer-wielding goddess flying in the same direction she was. Using her jets, the armored warrior maneuvered closer to Thor. The blonde gave a warded salute as the two flew through the air. The Iron Rose returned the gesture, remembering the somewhat tempestuous meeting they had when confronting that bestial Hulk so many weeks ago.

"What brings you here?" the Iron Rose asked, using her loudspeakers.

"I did see upon the television scenes of carnage delivered by those who would seek to do others harm. I took it upon mineself to alleviate the fears of the masses and defeat these perpetrators of injustice and give them unto the authorities. And thy presence?"

"Same reason. Shall we team up?"

"The Goddess of Thunder requires no assistance, even from one such as thyself, armored warrior," Thor scoffed. "But I will not force thee to leave, as thy conscience has deemed that thou should be here to render what aid thou might. Simply stay out of mine way and all shall be well."

"Oh, I'm certain it will," the Iron Rose replied coldly. Who did this pompous gaijin think she was in ordering someone as high born and powerful as Kodachi Kunou around as though she was some mere school crossing guard? Well, the Iron Rose would show this cocky goddess what true power was when they confronted the villains that had assaulted the airport. She would defeat them so quickly that Thor would turn as green as the Hulk in envy.

The duo flew above the airport, witnessing the scene of chaos. Dozens of police vehicles were spread out in the front of the main terminal. From above it seemed they were primarily divided into two groups. Some trying to control the increasingly growing crowd of press and curious onlookers, while the rest steeled themselves for the assault on the building.

Both Thor and the Iron Rose landed among the group preparing to enter the terminal. The goddess' touchdown was as gentle as a feather, while the boot jets of the armored warrior kicked up a cloud of dust that momentarily obscured her from view. Once the dust settled, the pair addressed the crowd.

"What transpires here?" Thor inquired of the woman who appeared to be in charge.

Kaori shot the goddess an irritated glare. "Great, more of you guys. Well, it doesn't appear the first couple of you vigilantes did much good. We had a report from the tower that an unauthorized plane took off on its own. Someone said they thought they saw the bad guys who were tearing up the place board it, and they brought friends. Just be happy they weren't your buddies, or I'd be hauling you off right now."

"First couple of us?" Thor asked.

"Yes. They were dressed like clowns, like you, I mean. They went in before you. Some archer and that Dirtdevil guy."

Thor's brows narrowed at the implications, and she leveled a scowl at the officer, leaving no doubt as to her opinion of them. "I have no such allies, and I assure thee they were not mine companions. I have no peers here on Midgard."

"You got that right." Ryo said, staring at her chest. Since his brother had said all that needed to be said, Kyo simply drooled in agreement.

Kaori seethed at the twins' attitude, but turned her anger to the goddess before her. "What about that one?" She pointed at Thor's flying companion.

"This one is called the Iron Rose, bodyguard to the head of Kunou Industries," Iron Rose answered as her instruments began to monitor the situation. She thought she had managed to get a lock on the transponder signal coming from the plane that had illegally taken off from the airport. She couldn't follow it; her boot jets weren't built for long distance and the armor was too heavy for her to fly that fast. But the information might be useful later.

"Our meeting is by coincidence, I assure you." Thor said. "So, might there be more base villains still within the confines of yon building?"

"Possibly. We were just about to go in-"

"Thou need not worry. The Goddess of Thunder shall take care of matters. Merely keep the throngs back and out of harm's way while I deal with things." Thor turned on her heel and headed to the terminal, determination in every step. The Iron Rose followed in her wake, paying close attention to her helmet's sensors and keeping a lookout for trouble.

"Wait! That's a restricted zone!"

"Restricted to others. Thor treads where others fear to follow."

Kaori's fury doubled. She knew from the beginning it was a futile warning that was too late to prevent the goddess from barging in anyway, which made her seethe all the more. She was rapidly coming to hate super beings of any kind. Things were a lot more peaceful and safer without them running around. Something should be done about them, both the good and the bad ones since there was so little difference between them. They had no respect for the law or authorities, acting like a bunch of American cowboys and causing untold havoc and damage. All of them needed to be put out of commission so the police could do their job once again.

She wondered if she should contact her 'Uncle' Peter in America about the problem. During one of his visits, her father's old friend had once mentioned the difficulties with heroes in the United States and what measures he felt should be taken to control them. From what she had gleaned, his attitude concerning them was very similar to her own. He was an influential man in his government. Perhaps it was a matter worth looking into.

"We're here." The cab driver pulled to a stop well outside the ring of police cars. "That'll be an extra five thousand yen, since you made me enter a miniature demilitarized zone as fast as I could."

"Thanks." Tofu paid the man and exited the vehicle. The moment he stepped out, the driver floored it and left. If Tofu had any sense, or the ability to say no, he would have done the same.

"What do we do now?" he asked his front jacket pocket.

Kasumi emerged and considered the situation. "Shrink down. I'll carry you with me, and we'll see if we can get the drop on the bad guys. No sense in us announcing our presence beforehand, right?"

Tofu admitted it made sense. Apparently Kasumi had given some thought to this super hero thing. Sighing, he looked for a place to take off his outer clothing and shrink down, mindful of where he would be storing the garments so they might be recovered later.

The contrasting symbols of ancient magic and advanced technology traveled side-by-side as Thor and Iron Rose walked through the length of the terminal. Everywhere they went there were signs of a tremendous struggle that had progressed throughout a considerable portion of the building. Shattered lights, overturned baggage carriers, support columns pulverized into dust. Billions of yen in damage had been inflicted upon the structure, and only unconscious law enforcement personnel were to show for it.

The duo had made it nearly three quarters of the way through the building when the Iron Rose's infrared scan showed a heat signature. "There!" She pointed for Thor's benefit, showing where the body of Daredevil lay limply upon the ground. "I think that's the Dust Demon person the officer mentioned.

Thor thought she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. She was uncertain, but she could have sworn it was a large panda carrying a boy about Ranma's age out of sight. But it had only been a fleeting glimpse, and she was uncertain if she saw anything. Still, the unusual sight made it a matter worth investigating. The goddess prepared to head off in that direction when Iron Rose interrupted her thought process by saying, "And there's the archer. It appears they failed to stop those super villains."

Thor turned to see what Iron Rose was referring to. Her eyes widened as they fell upon a familiar figure. "Hawkeye!" Thoughts of panda kidnappers forgotten, the goddess rushed over to the where the archer lay. As she drew closer, she recognized the handsome man she had met a short while ago when they had been forced to deal with the combined might of the Mask Gang, Ulos, and that arrogant watered-down godling, Raiden.

Thor cradled the fallen hero in her massive arms. "What base villains have the audacity to strike thee down, my comrade? If thou hast been mortally wounded, I swear upon the All-Father's name that I shall avenge thee!"

Iron Rose looked on in surprise. "The two of you are close?"

The question shocked the goddess out of her reverie and made her take a step back and realize what she had done. She dropped Hawkeye as though the archer was a hot potato. One that hit headfirst to the ground. "I am not a pervert! We barely know one another. I was just concerned that one so noble was struck down by treachery of some sort."

"I see." Iron Rose nodded, glad her faceplate hid her amusement.

Despite landing on her head, the fall served to jar Hawkeye awake. It took her a moment to dazedly revive and realize who now surrounded her. Thor she recognized, but the armored warrior was new. As the archer shook her head clear of the remaining haze around it, she noticed the look of concern and, was it affection the large woman seemed to be directing to her?

It almost certainly was. It seemed when it came to romance, this was the way Hawkeye's luck ran of late. Turning on the 'masculine charm,' she tried to unleash her best cocky swagger, which was coming out as weak as she felt, and said, "No need to worry there. I'm one hero who knows how to take care of himself. I had things under control until that sword-wielding jackass showed up and distracted me. Then I got double teamed, and they still needed a healthy dose of luck to beat me. Next time, I'll be the one mopping the floor up with their faces and sticking that sword where the sun don't shine."

"And with the Goddess of Thunder at thy side, victory is assured." An involuntary smile spread across Thor's lips as she placed her hand across Hawkeye's shoulders in a somewhat more than friendly manner. In some ways, the self-assured, and somewhat cocky, attitude the archer demonstrated reminded her of her old fighting partner and drinking companion, Fandral the Dashing, of the Warriors Three. Now there was a handsome man who knew how to party as well as seduce. His smile alone had lured dozens of ladies of Asgard into his bed. Thor remembered being a touch on the jealous side about the ease with which his friend scored with members of the opposite sex. But the scion of the Realm Eternal had her own ways of seducing women, from impressive feats of strength to her own royal lineage, many would…

Seducing women?

"I'm not a pervert," Thor said determinedly, removing her arm from Hawkeye's shoulder.

"Oh, I didn't think you were," Hawkeye said, all the while being secretly relieved that Thor seemed to be backing off. There was definitely something overwhelming about the goddess. Despite her obvious womanly build and attractive foreign features, there was some facet of her nature that felt aggressively masculine, a powerful presence that even Hawkeye failed to achieve. It made for some curious reactions in Ukyou's own female body to have it respond in such a way around another woman.

The heroes backed away from one another, one in confusion and the other in caution.

Iron Rose took note of their mutual behavior. This Hawkeye person was somewhat attractive in a bishonen way, though he was a bit slender for Kodachi's taste. She could understand the interest the goddess seemed to have for the archer. It reminded the Iron Rose of her own unattached state, something that would have to change at the first opportunity she had. However, there were other matters that had to be dealt with first.

She went over and examined the unconscious Daredevil. A woozy sigh escaped his lips as he slowly regained consciousness.

"Where are they?" he moaned.

"Most likely already departed." Now that the Iron Rose was able to view the crimson-clad adventurer more closely, she wondered what his build was like under his voluminous robes. That errant thought struck her as to just how lonely she was. "Are you all right?"

Daredevil jumped up to his feet and worked his muscles around. "My head's ringing a bit, but it's nothing I can't deal with." He turned to go. "I need to track those four down and bring them to justice. They're a menace to everyone."

"How wilt thou follow? They flew off, and thou dost not appear to be the type that can fly the skies the way the Goddess of Thunder can," Thor informed him as she considered how she might track the villains down as well.

"I don't know, but I have to find them." Daredevil silently raged against what had happened. The first serious threat he had come across, and he had been beaten handily. He had the situation under control until that woman showed. It was only thanks to her intervention that he lost. He had to defeat either her or that giant lump of muscle, otherwise he could never truly regard himself as a super hero, not if he failed so quickly to deal with a real threat.

"I might have a way of following them," Iron Rose told the others. "I believe I managed to get their transponder code. With the resources of my employer at my disposal, I believe I can track them down so long as they remain in this hemisphere."

That caught the interest of the others. Since no one had any better ideas, the trio clustered around the armored girl and began discussing about their next course of action.

While the heroes' discussion was going on, another was beginning. Genma the 'Wonder Panda,' had barely been able to snatch Ranma away from the scene of carnage before they had been spotted. For a moment he thought Thor had spied them, but either he was wrong or she had simply not felt inclined to follow. In either case it gave the panda a chance to communicate with his son.

He slapped Ranma in a nerve cluster in his back. The sharp bite of pain brought Ranma back to wakefulness.

As he came around, Ranma gave a groggy, "What's going on, Pop?"

Genma held up a sign. *You got your head handed to you by those guys.*

Slowly, bits and pieces of the fight came back to Ranma. Once the pieces all fell together, the picture they made created a tight feeling of anger that formed in the pit of Ranma's stomach. His father was absolutely correct. He had been defeated like a pitiful weakling. The quartet had beaten him in under a minute, none of them breaking a sweat in the process. True, mostly it was because that idiot musketeer's sword was able to shoot some kind of power beam, but still Ranma should have been able to avoid it. He had gotten cocky, and paid the appropriate price. To add to the humiliation, it had happened after his big speech on not needing the shield and outfit to play the hero.

His fist tightened into a ball. His fingers dug tight into his palm, turning it white with pressure and nearly breaking the skin and drawing blood. Fine, he had lost once. There was no way he was going to let it happen again. No way at all. He would get revenge, no matter what the cost.

Knowing his son's pride and sensing (and silently hoping for) what was to come, Genma signed, *Those others that were beaten up seem to be planning to track them down and stop them too. They've been joined by those two other people that helped you against those scary guys with the masks. If you asked, I'm sure they would welcome some further assistance. I don't know as they'd be willing to let someone that looks so normal to go along, though.*

"You're being transparent, Pop, but you're also right. Give me that damn costume. I'll play the icon of super heroism, at least long enough to kick those four guys' butts. No matter how far they ran, it ain't going to be far enough to escape me."

*That's my boy.* Genma handed Ranma the shield and outfit, relieved to allow Captain Japan to save the day once again.

"…So you're saying this quinjet thing has the capabilities to go anywhere in the world within a couple of hours?" Hawkeye asked.

"Indeed. It is experimental, but given the genius of my employer, I have no doubts whatsoever that it'll work. If those we seek were on that private jet, we should be able to track them down no matter where they hide. I'll just have to make a few adjustments to its tracking system in order to follow them." The Iron Rose smirked under her helmet. She was the only one who could help them discover the villains' location. As powerful as the hammer wielding goddess was, and as able as the two others might be, she was the one who was in charge and calling the shots. That was as it should be, for it was blatantly obvious she was the most brilliant, tactically sound, and noblest person present. With her in charge, the villains would be brought to justice in a matter of hours.

"So we should travel to thine headquarters?" Thor asked.

"That won't be necessary. I can summon it here with my armor. The tools I need to modify the equipment will be on board."

Something about her boasting caught Hawkeye's attention. "Wait a minute. I thought you said your employer was the one who made the thing. How do you know how to modify it?"

Under her helmet, Kodachi grimaced. Having a secret identity took some getting used to. Still, it was a mistake that was easily rectified. "I have no small ability in the field of electronics. Whereas I am nowhere near as brilliant as the beautiful genius, Miss Kodachi Kunou, I have capabilities that far surpass the average layman. Modifying the sensor systems aboard the quinjet will be simplicity itself for one of my numerous talents. Oho ho ho ho ho!"

The others cringed at the laughter. Protests at her ear splitting merriment were derailed as a new voice entered the discussion.

"Mind if I tag along? The name's Captain Japan, and I have a personal score to settle with those jerks too."

The quartet turned to examine the newcomer. Captain Japan stood before them, hands on his hips and shield slung on his arm in an attempt to look intimidating and impress the four before him.

On Daredevil's part, there was something about the newcomer that rubbed him wrong. He could practically feel the ego radiating off the hero. "I think we have the situation well in hand, pal. The four of us can handle things, so there's no need for you to-"

"He's coming along!" three voices said as one.

The words had escaped Thor's mouth before she realized it, though she felt no regrets and meant every word. This Captain fellow appeared to be a prime specimen of manhood with an impressive physique that bulged in all the right places and a height that allowed him to reach a level almost to her forehead, a rarity among the Japanese. His bearing displayed a combination of confidence and power, and she found herself being instantly attracted to this newcomer, even if for some odd reason his outfit and shield bore an uncanny resemblance to that Bucky harlot.

"And I'm not being perverted," she assured herself.

"You seem to be saying that a lot lately," Hawkeye commented. She too found herself smitten by the man's obvious charms. Of course, with her luck he might turn out to be a total jackass, but given the hunk of manhood in question, she was certainly willing to take the chance if it meant getting to know him better.

For her part, the Iron Rose remained silent after her proclamation. She was taken instantly by what was obviously her intended soul mate. That he was delivered to her like a gift from the gods was a clear sign they were destined for one another. At last the rose of iron she had become would be allowed to blossom in the hands of a man, as it was always meant to be. She tittered under her armor.

Resentment rose in Daredevil. He could tell from the sounds of their voices that all three were interested in the Captain for reasons other than practicality. Hawkeye's interest surprised him most of all. The blind youth made a mental note never to change clothes in the archer's presence. Still, that he was so casually ignored in favor of what his radar sense detected as little more than a walking side of testosterone and muscle irked him to no end. He vowed to keep a close 'watch' on this Captain Japan. Daredevil knew he was twice the man the egotist was, and would be eager to prove it at every opportunity.

Hackles were raised up and down the entirety of Captain Japan's spine. He felt uneasy at the attention suddenly directed his way and wondered if traveling with this quartet was the best idea after all. However, he needed their equipment and skills to track down the villains and pursue them. He had already made an offer that was accepted and would never back out now for fear of appearing cowardly. Still, for some odd reason he wondered if even with all the help they could give him, if hanging around them would end up being the greater of two evils.


To be continued.

Author's notes: It has come to my attention that some people have expressed justifiable concern over some of the behavioral differences between some of the more cameo type appearances of some of the other anime characters (Such as the YAU ladies in this) and the differences they display here from their canon counterparts. Part of it is that yes, I could simply fill such roles with original characters, however I want to try and maintain a balance between the super hero and the anime flavors to it. This is a fusion, so there are differences in some of the background of the characters. Just look at the differences in some of the primary members here, like Ranma and Ukyou. Some of the appearances of the other characters will be instrumental to the storyline. Koari as you can tell here, and the Goddesses from OMG! in the next story arc. Others will be less important, a la Speed Racer in chapter 3 and the like. So bear this in mind when saying, "Character X would react differently from what's here. Whereas you're probably right, I'm hoping what differences they display can be overlooked for the sake of their appearance, and I will try to keep their more canon personalities in line. Just wanted to clear that point up.

Well, another chapter down. Originally I anticipated everything I had outlined in my head to take only one 120K or so chapter. Boy was I wrong. It nearly doubled in anticipated size. Looks like 'Ten Rings' will be three minimum, to possibly four chapters, but very unlikely to stretch beyond that. We'll see as things progress.

Special thanks to:

  • Gary Ee
  • Christopher Horton
  • William Morse
  • Brian Randall
  • Kichigai
  • Gary Kleppe
Act 1-9
Layout, design, & site revisions © 2005

Webmaster: Larry F
Last revision: May 21, 2007

Old Gray Wolf