Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 18: Time for Revenge

Magus waited uncomfortably in a side alley. Uncomfortably, because he was waiting with a twenty-four-year-old eight-year-old girl who could easily overcome him should she ever decide it necessary. Magus could, of course, easily kill her by physical means (and the thought had its appeal), but his attack would have to be swift and lethal. At any rate, he still abided by Ukyou's injunction against killing, and he had no intention of breaking that promise, save under the most extreme of circumstances.

There was, of course, no substantial reason to kill her anyway. The two of them were, for the time being at least, allies. Not to mention the fact that Miss Hinako had absolutely no knowledge of the discomfort she caused her companion. "Isn't this exciting?" she whispered enthusiastically. "So many delinquents at once!"

"Hmph. Just make sure that delinquents are the only ones you hit," Magus answered irritably.

Miss Hinako scowled. "I always hit what I aim at, Magus." Then she looked thoughtful. "Of course, my aim isn't always perfect, I suppose."

"Bakusai-Ten-Ketsu!" Ryoga's voice split the air, along with the pattering sound of a section of stone wall being reduced to powder by his powerful Breaking Point technique (a technique Cologne taught Ryoga to use against Ranma, in an attempt to further Ranma's training; with it, Ryoga was able to find and attack the key stress points in any solid object, reducing the object to shards--fortunately, the technique didn't work on living creatures). The collapse of the stone wall indicated that the frontal assault had begun, and attention would, hopefully, be shifted away from where Magus and Miss Hinako waited.

Miss Hinako whispered, "That's our cue."

Magus grabbed the girl ungently by the shoulders, causing her to yelp in protest, and hovered with her up to the roof of the Tendo home. He wanted this over with as quickly as possible. All the discomfort Miss Hinako caused him was doubled while he was in physical contact with her. If he generated so much as a magical spark toward the girl, he could be sucked dry in an instant.

Magus set Miss Hinako down and began adjusting his gloves. Miss Hinako rubbed her sore shoulders. "No need to be so rough," she scowled reproachfully.

"Just watch for your target, girl," Magus answered brusquely. "And when I start casting magic, keep your little parlor trick away from my targets."

"You don't need to remind me," Miss Hinako answered. What Magus had already known--that Miss Hinako was a bottomless pit for magic users--had been rediscovered by the others in their attempts to craft Double Techs to use on their foes. That problem alone made her somewhat undesirable in the cooperative combat style. Magus, too, disliked combining his skills with anyone else's (save under special circumstances), believing that doing so reduced the effectiveness of his own techniques. So, the two of them had elected to work their abilities independently from an excellent vantage atop the Tendo home.

They didn't have long to wait. Ryoga's unsubtle entry into the Tendo property had been like kicking a hornets' nest. Blue and red uniformed band members appeared at every opening, running toward the point of detonation. This time, no one stepped forward to fight one-on-one; the band immediately stepped into a formation recognizable as that of their 'Dischord' attack. The Director himself soon appeared, tugging on his uniform jacket as he ran (the attack had evidently caught him at an inconvenient time). "Now," Magus whispered to Miss Hinako.

Miss Hinako already had her coin in hand. "Happo-50-Yen-Satsu!" she shouted, and green light poured forth. The beam struck the Director dead on, and he almost immediately collapsed into a drained heap. Miss Hinako, now in adult form, flipped the coin into the air and caught it. "Like shooting ducks in a barrel," she noted with satisfaction.

Magus ignored her, instead preparing his own technique. The band below had fallen into disarray, but was already collecting itself into three groups around three musicians, who had apparently taken charge with the loss of their leader. The three musicians appeared to be a trombonist, a saxophonist, and a drummer. Magus chose the group led by the drummer, and began to weave his spell. "Dark Mist," he chanted, and a wave of blackness swept across the drummer and his soldiers. They all reeled in the sudden nausea the debilitating spell caused, and several actually dropped to the ground.

Miss Hinako initiated her technique once more, and green light cut through the ranks of the trombonist's legion, leaving a trail of drained musicians in its wake. The trombonist herself was able to leap out of the light's path. Miss Hinako staggered a moment, and then recovered. "I'm taking on too much energy," she muttered. "Better dispose of some of it. Happo-No-Yen-Coin-Return!" The reversed flow of energy struck the saxophonist's troop dead center, scattering many.

By now, the three section leaders had had enough of presenting themselves as targets to their strategically placed adversaries. They quickly led the thirty remaining band members into the Tendo home, stopping only long enough to collect their incapacitated Director.

"Well, we've done our part," noted Miss Hinako. "The rest of the battle is in their hands."

Magus frowned. "You may stay if you wish, but I don't intend to leave anything to chance." With that, Magus stepped off of the edge of the roof and glided into the house through an open window.

Miss Hinako scowled. She was no coward, but the battle plan called for she and Magus to guard the exits and pick off any who attempted to escape. It had been agreed that none should be allowed to pull back and regroup. With Magus gone, her sentry duty would be more difficult. The man was insufferable. "Delinquent," she muttered crossly. Hopefully, he wouldn't get in anyone's way.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, Marle, Crono, Lucca, Ukyou, Mousse, and Akane were beginning their frontal assault. The retreating band had evidently forgotten that their base of operations was an acquired possession, and had locked the front door to prevent pursuit. Akane withdrew her own housekey, unlocked the door, and stood back. "Megabomb," chanted Lucca, augmenting one of her home-built cluster bombs with her own fire magic. She cracked the door open, tossed in the grenade and slammed the door again. A chain of explosions could be heard.

When the sounds died away, Crono and Ukyou opened the door again and dashed through, passing the four singed and unconscious musicians who had formerly been guarding the door. Another four charged across the room towards them. "Tazer," Ukyou and Crono cried in unison. Ukyou tossed a spread of specially prepared spatulas, each trailing a thin copper wire. Each struck an oncoming opponent. Crono concentrated and channeled a bolt of carefully controlled lightning into Ukyou. Ukyou's body emitted a yellow glow as the magical electricity flowed along the copper wires and into the band members, who were in turn lightly toasted by the spell.

The moment Ukyou and Crono's technique was complete, another ten musicians streamed in, forcing the two to draw their weapons and fight in much closer quarters. Their combat was made easier, however, by Akane and Marle, who had used their distraction to sneak in via a window. "Crushed Ice," they called, and Marle began to concentrate. The air chilled, and roughly two-thirds of the attacking band members found themselves encased in a large chunk of ice. Akane wasted no time in smashing her way through the glacial mass with her mallet, reducing the ice to shards and the trapped musicians to unconsciousness. The odds thus reduced, Akane and Marle joined Ukyou and Crono in fighting one-on-one, while Mousse and Lucca ran past them into the house.

* * * * * *

Thatsenov was not the bravest or most skilled of the Director's minions. The only reason he was first-chair tuba was, simply, because he was the only tuba player. This wasn't to say that he couldn't fight, of course. He was the best Tuba-Kwan-Do fighter on the planet (although, he was quite possibly the only Tuba-Kwan-Do fighter on the planet), and more than capable of holding his own in most fights. He had even learned a few solo sonic attacks, something few others in the band had accomplished. But in spite of all this he much preferred the safety fighting in groups provided, and was, therefore, quite uncomfortable with the task he had been given: to stand guard over the incapacitated Director until the enemy was defeated.

The reluctant guardian took some comfort from the fact that to get to his secure location in the attic, the enemy would have to fight its way past everyone else below. That final comfort was stripped away when Thatsenov felt a presence behind him. He spun, shouting, "Who goes there?" but found only shadows.

Suddenly, a keen blade parted the air, once, and then twice. Thatsenov's combat tuba fell from his clammy hands in three neat pieces and clattered to the dusty floor. A figure clad in black glided silently into the light, a long, gleaming scythe held ready in one hand. Thatsenov looked up into the pale face of Death.

"Are you ready to dance with the reaper, boy?" whispered the voice of Death.

With that, Thatsenov fainted.

Magus nudged the musician's unconscious form with one foot, a satisfied smirk playing across his thin lips. He turned his eyes onto the Director, and found the weakened man studying the boy with a resigned expression. "The fellow never did have much backbone, more's the pity," he rasped. His eyes fastened onto Magus's. "So what now?"

In answer, Magus strode over to the helpless man, slung him over one shoulder, and glided out of the room.

* * * * * *

Genma, Soun, Ayla, Ranma, Frog, and Ryoga had circled around the house to attempt an attack from the rear. They had encountered resistance less numerous but no less determined.

The opposition did give Ayla, Genma, and Soun a chance to try the Triple Tech they had devised. "Area Kick!" The three of them launched themselves back and fourth across the room in an intricate web of airborne kicks, striking every adversary and dropping many. Genma, Soun, Ranma, and Frog engaged the remainder, giving Ayla and Ryoga the opportunity to slip past.

The two of them met Mousse and Lucca at the base of the staircase. "Robo's in Nabiki's room," Ryoga informed them, and the four headed upstairs.

In the upstairs hallway, they found real opposition. "This, I believe, is as far as you go," remarked Troffimov tonelessly. Beside him, Noranov grinned eagerly and Blattislov glared hatefully.

"We'll just see about that," snarled Mousse. "Lucca?"

Lucca nodded, and the two of them shouted, "Thermal Web!" Mousse unleashed a number of chains in a fan-shaped pattern, fastening the ends to the ground where he stood. He then leapt to a wall and produced another fan of chains. He repeated this process a few more times until a spider-web-like network of chains festooned the area, most densely around the three section leaders. Lucca reached out to touch the nearest chain, and glowed red as she channeled her fire magic into the web of chains. In moments, the entire network was glowing white-hot.

"Just try to stop us now," Lucca taunted them smugly.

Noranov laughed, "We don't have to move to attack you, you fools! Horns up!"

Before anyone could react, the familiar tune of 'Dischord' filled the air. Oddly, Ranma could feel no affect. "Ha! It didn't work! There's not enough of you."

Troffimov's eyebrows lifted condescendingly, and Blattislov (the only one able to talk while playing) snarled, "Look at your friend, and then tell us again whether there's enough of us."

Ranma whirled along with Mousse and Ryoga to see Lucca hovering about a foot off the ground. Her body was vibrating visibly, and her teeth were clenched. Blattislov smiled a venomous smile and said, "Now, you're gonna do just as we say, or we'll rip your friend into kibble, understand?" The drummer added a subtle extra rhythm to his drumming, and Lucca cried out in pain.

Mousse was incensed. "Put her down, you fiend!"

"I don't think so," Blattislov responded. We'll just wait, all nice and cozy, until these chains cool down. Then, we'll collect all your friends and put you all into a nice, safe box. You lose, homeboy."

Mousse looked ready to do something rash, so Ayla snapped, "Mousse not do anything! Ayla not want friend Lucca dead, and Mousse also not want! There nothing we can do."

Ryoga gritted his teeth. Once more, there was absolutely nothing he could do. He had more than enough reason to feel depressed, if only he could-

"That's enough of that, bandana-boy!" barked Blattislov. "You even start to think of trying one of those Shi-Shi-Whatevers and the girl dies. And that goes for all of you. No fancy-pants martial arts tricks." Continuing his rhythms with one hand, the drummer reached out with the other to carefully feel a chain. "Ah, nice and cool. All right, follow us."

The mistake that Blattislov made at this point was really not his fault at all. After all, having just obtained four new prisoners, it was perfectly understandable that he should want to make sure that the original two were still secure, particularly since the four backup players had been dispatched to help repel the invaders. So, Blattislov opened the door to Nabiki's room just far enough to see in. Unfortunately for him, it was also just enough for Happosai to see out...

Happosai was lying in a happy daze. Robo had tired once again, and temporarily stopped her abuse. As soon as Happosai recovered his own strength he would be free to show his boundless affection for all females once again.

Happosai's demented daydreaming was interrupted by the click of a door opening. Was it, perhaps, that nice Director fellow, come to deliver another luscious prisoner? No, it was just his flunky, Blattislov. But wait! Just beyond...yes, it was!

While Happosai had not dwelled long at the Village of Chinese Amazons, he had stayed long enough to learn of an intriguing artifact that had existed many thousands of years in the past. All he had to go on was a few sketches and some vague references in a few ancient documents, but Happosai had learned that one of the founders of the village had possessed unique underwear of astounding quality: A bikini, crafted from the grey fur of an animal that no longer existed. The memory had haunted Happosai's thoughts for many years, before he finally resigned himself to the fact that those wondrous undergarments would remain ever beyond his reach. But now, through some twist of fate, Happosai's wish had been granted. And all that stood in his way was a wall of sound and six tired musicians.

Blattislov, satisfied that the prisoners were still secure, carefully closed the door and turned to taunt their new captives once again. No sooner had he done so than a loud explosion could be heard. An object like a small cannonball reduced Nabiki's door to splinters, burst through Blattislov's bass drum, and clamped lecherously onto Ayla's chest.

Without the steady backbone rhythms only a drum could provide, the 'Dischord' attack fizzled, dropping Lucca to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Ayla calmly pried Happosai loose and regarded him with the sort of look one normally might reserve for slugs found in one's salad. "Must...have...fur..." mumbled Happosai, groping weakly towards Ayla's clothing. He had evidently been quite drained by his breakout. Ayla casually tossed Happosai at Noranov, and the tiny pervert evidently decided that the stunned trombonist would do as a temporary substitute.

While the enraged musician beat Happosai with her trombone, her fellow section leaders tried desperately and futilely to overcome their four opponents. Blattislov, unbalanced by his wrecked drum, was the first to fall, the point-blank target of a now unrestrained Ryoga's 'Shi-Shi-Hokudan'.

Noranov (having disposed of Happosai by sticking him into the bell of her horn and blasting him out of an open window with a masterfully executed solo rendition of the '1812 Overture'), was felled by a single, powerful uppercut, courtesy of Ayla. Troffimov was floored by a dual attack of 'Hypno Waves', one provided by Lucca, and the other by Mousse.

"Well, that's that," said Lucca.

"Robo!" Ryoga exclaimed, suddenly remembering the reason for their haste. As if in answer, Robo punched through the wall, approximately three feet to the left of the open door. She had a haggard, haunted look in her eyes, and her left cheek periodically twitched with an unhealthy facial tick. Her hands were clenched into fists, and, for some reason, she was wet from head to toe. "Robo?" Ryoga asked, uneasily.

"Must...sterilize...pervert..." Robo mumbled tonelessly. She carefully eyed the room, obviously looking for stray lechers.

"Robo, snap out of it!" Ryoga implored her, grabbing her by the shoulders. Almost instantly, he let go. "Yuck! Happosai drool!"

"Sterilize...Sterilize..." Robo answered in the same monotone.

By then, the others fighting below had finished mopping up with the remainder of the Kielowitz International Martial Arts Marching Band, and had joined them in the hall. "So, what do we do with them now?" asked Ukyou.

"Well, we can't exactly kill them," said Ranma. "But we can't really keep them prisoner, either."

"Sterilize...pervert..." Robo added helpfully. A few eyed her with concern.

"Well, it would seem that you didn't need my help after all," came the dry, mocking tones of Magus. "I am astounded." The caustic dark sorcerer strode into view, Director slung easily over one shoulder.

"Magus," Ryoga noted dully. Then his eyes narrowed. "Aren't you supposed to be on the roof?"

Magus ignored him, carefully setting the Director upright. Even captured, drained, and helpless, the man exuded an aura of self-confidence and defiance. "So, you've won this battle. But we will be victorious, eventually, unless you intend to destroy us. But having fifty corpses on your hands would be a trifle difficult to explain, would it not?" The Director laughed confidently.

Robo suddenly seemed distracted. "Sterilize...pervert..." She paused, face twitching twice. Her fevered eyes semi-focused onto the Director. "Must...sterilize...Must...sterilize...Oh, you will do." Robo began advancing on the helpless man, whose evil laugh suddenly caught in his throat.

"I suppose we could let her kill him," Ranma suggested casually. "One body wouldn't be too hard to hide."

The Director paled. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Sterilize...Director...Sterilize...Director..." Robo chanted over and over again, still advancing.

"Then again, I'm sure we could come to some sort of agreement," the Director sweated. Ryoga squeamishly gripped Robo, preventing her from doing anything nasty to their prisoner. Robo didn't even seem to notice, continuing to walk in place, chanting her goal over and over again.

Suddenly, Ayla grinned. "Ayla have idea. Joketsuzoku need strong fighters. Joketsuzoku also need men. Marching band have many men, and all fighters. Exile to Joketsuzoku."

"That sounds reasonable," responded Marle, sharing Ayla's grin. "What do you say, Director? Exile, or Robo?"

"Sterilize...Director...Sterilize...Director..." Robo encouraged.

"Exile would be fair," the Director hastened to answer. Inwardly, he crowed victoriously. The fools! Wherever this 'Joketsuzoku' was, he and his band would escape eventually, and return to finish the fight more favorably.

"Great! Magus, go get Miss Hinako," Marle ordered. Magus scowled, but could see no reason to refuse, particularly with Ukyou looking on. "I think it's about time we helped Ayla with her problems."

Afterword:

I don't have anything meaningful to say in this Afterword.

Chrono Trigger Tip #18:

Regarding that strip of highway in Lab 32 in 2300 A.D., where you have to race that self-absorbed motorcycle robot: Is there any point to coming back here to race again later in the game?

Yep. But not until your characters are strong enough to easily kick Mutant butt. As you may or may not know, you don't HAVE to race against the robot to get across the ruins of Lab 32. You can simply walk across, but then you have to fight a whole Horde o' Mutants along the way. About halfway through, you can find a treasure chest, and in that chest is the Race Log. This device allows you to time yourself in your races. One of the robot's flunkies will teach you how to use it, and will reward you with prizes when you're able to achieve certain scores. Even better, it will allow you to adjust the view while riding, so you can have a frontal view rather than a side view while racing--though, at the cost of using the speed boosters.

So, how can I get a good score?

Well, you get a nice boost of speed every time your opponent crashes into the back of your racer, so try to get him to do that as often as possible. Likewise, at all costs avoid crashing into HIS back, as it slows you down. With practice, you'll be able to keep him bumping into your rear again and again for the duration of the race, and then you'll get some astounding scores. A true expert will be able to do this while playing in the mode where you have speed boosters, but are stuck with a side view (this is more than I can accomplish, but I'm sure it must be possible). This will allow you to make even better times, as you'll have the three speed boosters in addition to the boosts the opponent gives you. It is maddeningly difficult to accomplish, however, and even the Mindlessly Obsessive are not likely to succeed.

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