A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part I
Author's note: This story is a continuation on the Ranma 1/2 anime, including the OVA's and movies. Therefore, keep in mind that anything exclusive to the manga hasn't happened in this story.
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is not my idea, it was created by a very talented manga artist named Rumiko Takahashi. The only characters I'll claim are my own original characters that I've added into this story. Just so you know.
As the light from Jynn's Shift technique dissipated, Ringo, Shampoo and Ranma found themselves staring at a scene that was like something out of a nightmare. The overcast skies allowed little sunlight to pass through and a light fog enveloped the entire area, but it was still easy enough to see the desolate surroundings. The ground was littered with dead grass, mud, and the skeletal remains of animals.
Ringo let out a shriek and grabbed hold of Ranma's shirt as she noticed a tiny skull next to her feet. "This place is awful! Where are we?!"
Shampoo had only heard stories of this area, but she could tell immediately where Jynn had brought them. "This is...Valley of Death..."
"Valley of Death?" Ranma asked her, still trying to take in the disturbing scenery.
"Is valley in northern China that surrounded by mountains," Shampoo replied. "Many things that come here no can get out...and they die."
Ranma grimaced as he leered over at Jynn. "Man, what bad taste. What the heck kinda place to fight is this?"
"I don't ask questions, I just brought you where they told me to," Jynn replied with a shrug, then pointing toward a fork that split two muddy paths through the dead grass. "As you can see, there are two paths in front of you. Shampoo, Meilin is waiting for you at the end of the left path. Ranma, Li is waiting at the end of the right one."
Ranma and Shampoo were silent as they stared forward at the two paths before them. Then, without a word, both of them walked up to the fork in the paths and stopped.
"Please come back safe, you two!" Ringo yelled. She was a nervous wreck, but she knew this day had to come eventually. She could only hope that things would turn out for the best.
Ranma and Shampoo looked at each other for a moment before Shampoo stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Ranma. Tightening her grip around his shoulders, she put her mouth next to his ear and began whispering to him. "Ranma be careful..."
Ranma didn't get the chance to respond as Shampoo quickly let go and took off running down the left path. Ranma scratched his head as he was left to wonder why she took off so suddenly. "Jeez, you don't gotta tell me that..."
Ranma turned to Jynn one last time before heading out. "Jynn, don't let nothin' happen to Ringo. You got it?!"
"You have my word," Jynn assured him.
With one last glance toward Ringo, Ranma turned around and began running down the fork's right path.
Apparently having no intention of watching either Meilin or Li fight, Jynn took a seat on a large rock nearby and motioned for Ringo to do the same.
"It might be a while, so have a seat and try to relax," Jynn said to her.
"How can I relax at a time like this?!" Ringo shrieked, refusing to sit down. "Ohh, please let them be okay..."
Jynn simply shrugged off the refusal and rested his head on his palm. In his mind, there wasn't any question about what the results of today would be. He'd never seen either Meilin or Li lose before. To him, they were shining examples of both unrivaled strength and complete freedom, something he'd never experienced until he met them. In his mind, those two losing wasn't just unlikely, it was impossible.
While Shampoo ran along the muddy path, it was hard for her not to notice the gloomy sights surrounding her. The further she ran, the more bones she saw scattered along the ground. Dead, barren trees could be seen through the fog. If there was ever a place that could be called hell, this was it. After running for several more minutes, Shampoo stopped as she reached the end of the path and found herself staring at a wall of rock with an entrance at the base.
Shampoo knew Meilin was probably waiting inside, but she couldn't help wondering why she would want to fight in such a place. Cautiously, she walked in and began moving down a dimly lit corridor. She wouldn't have put it past Meilin to ambush her out of nowhere or leave some sort of trap for her, so she kept a close eye out for anything strange and proceeded very carefully. It wasn't long before she spotted a brighter area ahead of her. Once she made her way to the end of the corridor, she came upon a vast cavern with no ceiling to it. The gloomy skies above lit up everything in the roughly 60 foot diameter cavern, and standing at the opposite end was Meilin. Wearing only sandals and a black tank top and tight-fitting shorts with a red gourd tied to her waist, she calmly rested her hands on the hilt of her snake sword that was planted in the ground in front of her.
"I'm glad you could make it," Meilin said with a smirk.
"Shampoo no miss this for world," Shampoo replied sourly.
Meilin giggled to herself briefly and took a deep breath. "I hear you went to Seven Luck Mountain. How's my dear sister doing? I haven't seen her in such a long time..."
Shampoo walked further into the cavern and began stretching as Meilin continued to stand around. "Monlon just fine, but still no happy with you."
"Honestly, she needs to learn how to relax and let things go," Meilin sighed. "So, how's your little cut doing?"
Shampoo lifted up her shirt slightly to show Meilin the now barely visible wound from when she'd attacked her. "Is no problem now. Shampoo get revenge for what you do that day!"
"Ooh, testy," Meilin said with a smile. "That might be a little tough without your shadow trick though."
Shampoo looked down at her feet and noticed what Meilin was referring to immediately. The way this place was set up, the light from above caused only a very tiny shadow to appear beneath her. If she'd needed to use her Shadow Bind it would be extremely limited, but Meilin had the wrong idea about the technique.
"So sorry. I don't normally need to do this, but that shadow move of yours is a little cheap," Meilin said to her.
A confused look appeared on Meilin's face as Shampoo suddenly burst out laughing at her. "Stupid girl! Shadow Bind no have use in one-on-one fight!"
"What do you mean?" Meilin asked, sounding more annoyed now.
"If Shampoo catch somebody shadow, Shampoo no can move either. We just stand still if Shampoo do that!" Shampoo replied, continuing to laugh at her opponent's failure to put her at a disadvantage.
Meilin angrily lifted her snake sword from the ground and raised it above her head. "Don't you mock me!"
With a swipe of her arm, Meilin's snake sword began extending toward Shampoo just as it had a month earlier. Shampoo was well aware of her attack this time around and swatted the snake sword back at the white-haired woman with one of her maces. With a quick flick of her wrist, Meilin made the sword fold back to it's single-bladed appearance.
"Things different when you attack Shampoo from front, yes? Now is Shampoo's turn to attack!" Shampoo yelled, reaching into the pack around her waist. She pulled out three throwing knives and flung them at Meilin before charging toward her.
Meilin swiftly knocked the knives away with her sword and stepped forward to engage the Amazon warrior. Sparks lit the cavern as Meilin's sword and Shampoo's mace collided at high speed. Shampoo and Meilin traded fierce blows several times, each blocking the other's attack with their weapons. As Meilin took another swipe with her sword, Shampoo jumped high into the air and threw half a dozen throwing knives down at her. Reacting as quickly as she could, Meilin flipped backward out of harm's way, but not before one knife put a gash in her forearm before planting itself into the ground.
Meilin briefly glanced at the blood trickling from her forearm as Shampoo landed on the ground a short distance from her. "Nicely done, but I still can't see how you managed to defeat my sister."
"Shampoo just getting warmed up!" Shampoo yelled as she ran toward Meilin again.
Meilin raised her snake sword above her head and unleashed it from a distance once again. Shampoo swatted the extending segments away, but this time it came right back at her. Not expecting Meilin's control of the sword to be so precise, Shampoo had no way of blocking it in time. She tried to leap out of it's path, but the tip of the sword's end segment caught her right hand and dug into it. Shampoo winced as she landed on the ground again with blood dripping down her fingers.
Seeing an opening, Meilin folded the sword back up into a single blade and ran toward Shampoo. She tried to connect with an overhand slash, but Shampoo quickly swatted it away with one of her maces. With incredible hand speed, she smashed her other mace directly into Meilin's abdomen. Meilin cried out in pain as she jumped back and out of Shampoo's attack range and fell to one knee, desperately trying to catch her breath. She felt a sharp pain with every breath, which she feared was the result of some cracked ribs. She was quickly beginning to realize that she'd underestimated Shampoo's speed.
"You still think Shampoo weak?" Shampoo asked her coldly.
Meilin was still breathing heavily as she snarled at her opponent. "I just let my guard down...that's all. I won't make that mistake again..."
Trying to ignore as much of the pain as she could manage, Meilin slowly stood herself back up. Her carelessness had caused her an early handicap in this fight, something she couldn't afford to let happen again. Now completely focused, she held out her sword and readied to assault the Amazon once more.
Along the other muddy path, Ranma was moving quickly toward the area where Li was waiting. One thing that was beginning to catch his attention was the faint sound of rushing water in the distance, which was much easier to hear in a lifeless place like this that had few sounds than it would be anywhere else. It might not matter in the end, but he felt better knowing as much as possible about the environment he and Li would be fighting in.
As Ranma reached the top of a small hill, he came across a clearing that had many fewer obstructions on the ground than the path he'd just run along. From here he could also see a muddy river off in the distance, the source of the sound of rushing water that he'd been hearing. But more important was what he saw halfway between himself and the river. There, sitting on a small boulder, was Li. He was clad in the same black Chinese shirt and pants that he wore the last time he'd seen him and had his scythe, Yanlou, strapped to his back. He had one foot on the rock and the other on the ground below as his ponytail swayed with the wind behind his head.
Li looked up and smiled with anticipation as his eyes met with Ranma. The pigtailed boy calmly continued walking forward for several minutes until he finally reached the area where Li was waiting, never taking his eyes off of his target once. When Ranma stopped in front of the boulder, he and Li took a long moment to stare at each other before Li finally spoke up.
"You seem well," he said to Ranma.
"Yeah, I bet," Ranma replied angrily, remembering the bad state he was in the last time Li saw him. "Why'd you wanna fight in this kinda place?"
Li shrugged his shoulders as he continued staring into Ranma's eyes. "I didn't care where we fought. We just came here because it was advantageous for Meilin to fight your friend in a spot nearby, that's all."
"That so? Well, whatever," Ranma replied indifferently. "Me and Shampoo got some people waitin' for us in Japan, so let's hurry up and get this over with."
Li chuckled to himself at the response as he hopped off the boulder. "You sound awfully confident considering what happened the last time we fought. Did you forget what happened already?"
"Like I'd forget that. Things ain't gonna be the same this time, pal," Ranma said, his eyes full of confidence.
"That's what I'd like to believe," Li said with a smirk. "I went to a lot of trouble to put all this together. Week after week I waited, always hoping for that slim chance that you'd improve enough to fight with me evenly. I hope this time you'll provide me with the challenge I've desired, Ranma Saotome."
"I'll give you the challenge of your life," Ranma replied coldly.
One at a time, Ranma began removing the weighted bands from his forearms and then from his legs. With each band removed, there was a loud thud as he let it drop to the ground. Once they were all off, Li watched somewhat amused as Ranma hopped around to get used to the feeling of not wearing the weights anymore.
"Do you honestly think wearing those ridiculous things improved your chances against me?" Li asked arrogantly.
Without any warning, Ranma sped toward Li and swung at his face. Caught off guard by Ranma's speed, Li couldn't raise his hands in time to block the punch. Ranma's fist connected with Li's cheek and sent him leaping backward to get some distance between himself and Ranma.
Li began laughing as he rubbed his face while Ranma danced around some more to get used to his speed. "Well now, I wasn't expecting that. Want to try it again?"
Ranma shot him a quick glance before speeding forward again, this time swinging a kick at Li's ribs. Li managed to see this attack, however, and blocked it with his forearm. Ranma followed with a series of punches that Li successfully blocked each time. Ranma took one final swing at Li's face, but Li read it and caught Ranma's fist in the palm of his hand. The fact that Li was already adjusting to his speed was something that didn't come as a surprise to Ranma after the display he'd put on in their first encounter back in Japan.
"Much improved, but it's still not enough," Li said with a wicked grin.
Expecting a frustrated reply from his opponent, Li was surprised to see Ranma grinning arrogantly back at him. "Yeah, you're right, this ain't enough..."
A nostalgic feeling of fear ran through Li's body as he saw Ranma's eyes change into those of a wild feline. The yellow glow of those eyes was the same one that drove him to the brink of madness when he used to fight Yousuke.
"This should be plenty, though!" Ranma yelled. His chi energy gathering in his hand, Ranma broke free of Li's grasp and swiped his fingers across Li's chest as if he had the claws of wild beast.
Li had instinctively started to jump back as Ranma swiped at him, but he couldn't avoid all of the attack. He cringed when he felt the skin on his chest being ripped through by Ranma's hand. Once he was safely out of Ranma's range, Li looked down at his torn shirt and the blood seeping from his chest. It had been a long time, but he knew this feeling all too well.
"You...you learned Yousuke's Tiger Claw Style..." Li scowled, shooting Ranma a look of pure anger.
Ranma hadn't seen Li looking so frustrated and angry before, but he didn't let it phase him. He simply looked at Li with his cold, feline eyes and smirked. "I told ya, things ain't like last time. You keep holdin' back like that and you're gonna get hurt."
Li took a deep breath to calm himself down before looking up at Ranma again and smiling. "Seems I might have taken you too lightly. Maybe this will be exciting after all..."
Inside the cavern, Shampoo and Meilin were once again engaging in close combat. Sparks lit the air as Shampoo blocked several attacks from Meilin's folded up sword. Knocking the sword away once more, Shampoo swung her leg at Meilin's head as she spun around. Meilin saw it coming, however, and batted the kick away with her free hand. With Shampoo now off balance, Meilin thrust her knee into Shampoo's abdomen, knocking her to the ground. Shampoo rolled into a kneeling position and took a moment to regain her composure as Meilin's snake sword began to unravel once more.
With a powerful cry and a quick flick of her wrist, Meilin sent her sword's segments flying toward Shampoo again. Shampoo knocked away the initial strike with her mace, but Meilin manipulated the blades to keep striking relentlessly. Strike after strike, Shampoo was somehow managing to knock the blade back. After knocking the blade away close to twenty times, Shampoo swatted it away once more and reached into her pack, swiftly tossing a pair of her knives at Meilin before she could attack again. She was counting on the assumption that she would have a moment to attack when Meilin attempted to dodge her knives.
Shampoo began to close in on Meilin, but she never did dodge the knives. Instead, Meilin maneuvered the nearer segments of her sword to block the knives while the end ones continued to target Shampoo. As Shampoo's knives were deflected away, the end segment of Meilin's sword swung back around and caught Shampoo in her shoulder before she could react. Shampoo cried out in pain and fell to one knee as the blade dug into her shoulder and caused blood to start running down her arm.
Letting her sword fold back up, Meilin stared at Shampoo with a wicked smile across her face. "Clever idea, but it takes more than that to get to me."
Now bleeding badly from both her shoulder and her hand, Shampoo stood up and held her maces out in front of her with her good arm. "Shampoo swear no lose this fight!"
Meilin's demeanor turned bitter as Shampoo declared victory despite her being at a disadvantage. "If there's anything I hate, it's a stupid girl that can't acknowledge when she's beaten!"
The white-haired rogue rushed at Shampoo looking as though she were going to attack with her sword, but as she raised it in the air she instead swung around and delivered a kick to Shampoo's injured shoulder. Hindered by the already injured shoulder and unable to react in time, Shampoo was struck full force and flew from Meilin's foot into the side of the cavern. Shampoo immediately grabbed hold of her shoulder and cringed as she fell to the cavern floor.
"Ready to admit defeat yet?" Meilin asked as she watched Shampoo writhe in pain.
After taking a moment to get used to the pain in her arm, Shampoo slowly stood up and shot a confident smirk toward Meilin.
"Why are you smiling at me like that?!" Meilin yelled, becoming increasingly frustrated with Shampoo's unwavering determination.
"Shampoo win now, that why," she replied, reaching her good hand into the pack around her waist.
"I'm getting really tired of that attitude of yours," Meilin said angrily as she leered back at the Amazon. "In fact, I'm going to put an end to it right now!"
Meilin immediately raised her snake sword and sent it flying toward Shampoo, who was still standing next to the cavern's wall. Just as the sword's end segment was about to pierce Shampoo, she quickly moved to the side. With blood trickling down her cheek after so narrowly dodging the blade, she pulled her hand out of the pack and tossed three knives directly behind her as she rushed forward at Meilin as fast as she could manage. Meilin made a quick adjustment to retract her sword as she saw Shampoo closing in, but she soon realized that her sword wouldn't return.
"What's going on here?!" Meilin yelled out in confusion.
Unsure of what was happening and completely off guard, Meilin was unprepared as Shampoo moved in and sent her flying back into the cavern's opposite wall with a crushing blow to the chest from her mace. The impact of Shampoo's blow caused Meilin's snake sword to loosen from her grasp and fall to the ground as her body smashed against the side of the cavern. Not wasting the opportunity, Shampoo quickly rushed in and delivered another vicious blow from her mace to Meilin's arm.
Yelling out as she felt the bone in her arm snap, Meilin desperately reached into her shorts and threw a marble on the ground that exploded into a plume of smoke. While a coughing Shampoo ran from the smoke cloud, Meilin crawled away and clutched at her chest with her good arm. She was almost in disbelief of the change in momentum that she'd just fallen victim to. In search of some sort of answer, Meilin ran her eyes along the length of her snake sword until she saw the tip. The tail segment, she realized, had been pinned against the wall of the cavern by Shampoo's throwing knives.
Meilin was seething as she stared angrily at Shampoo. "You...baited me into a trap..."
"This fight over," Shampoo said to her with a deadly glare in her eyes. "You no can defeat Shampoo with one arm."
Meilin slowly got back to her feet, her eyes looking down at the ground as Shampoo's words sunk in. "Over? This fight...is not over, little girl. So long as I'm still breathing, I will keep fighting you! I will not lose to you! You, who defeated my sister before I got the chance...I will not lose to you!"
Shampoo watched as Meilin suddenly grabbed the gourd from her waist and yanked the cork out with her teeth. To Shampoo's surprise, Meilin filled her mouth with the liquid inside the gourd and spat a huge blast of fire directly at her. The Amazon rolled out of the fire's range, but not before her clothes and arms caught fire.
While Shampoo rolled along the ground to put the fire on her clothes out, Meilin ran over to her snake sword and ripped the hilt and first blade apart from the rest of the weapon. With her snake sword now essentially nothing more than a machete, Meilin rushed toward the preoccupied Shampoo.
With the fire finally out and her arms and clothes seared and smoking from Meilin's blast of fire, Shampoo raised her maces in the air to defend against Meilin's onslaught. Her maces were in a bad position though, and Meilin knew it. With one clean swipe from her machete, Meilin severed both of the maces at the top of their handles and kicked Shampoo in the chest, sending her sprawling to the ground.
"What's over?! Huh?!" Meilin yelled, raising the gourd to her mouth again.
Shampoo was angry at herself for leaving her weapons vulnerable like she had, but she didn't have the time to mull over it. With her maces now destroyed, Shampoo frantically reached into her pack to see what she had left. All that remained was one throwing knife. Knowing she wouldn't be able to dodge Meilin's next blast at this short distance, Shampoo had to think of some way to use her last knife to get her out of this dangerous situation.
As Meilin lowered the gourd from her mouth, Shampoo shot upward and kicked it into the air. Meilin was readying to spit another blast of fire when Shampoo's last knife split the gourd. The white-haired woman tried to stop herself when she saw the liquid splash in front of her, but a small flame that escaped from her mouth was all it took to ignite the liquid. Meilin dropped to the ground screaming as the liquid splashed her, engulfing her neck and cheek in flames.
Shampoo stood in stunned silence for a moment as she watched Meilin frantically trying to put out the fire on her throat. She didn't have time for pity right now though. She had to put an end to this battle and move ahead with her plan. With no weapons left at her disposal, Shampoo swung her foot at Meilin's head in an attempt to knock her out. Much to Shampoo's surprise, however, Meilin swung her machete upward and put a gash in her leg before her kick could connect.
The skin on her face and neck severely burned, Meilin was furious as she watched Shampoo jump back and grab hold of her now badly bleeding leg. "You...little...bitch!"
Shampoo was noticeably in pain as she grabbed at her leg and cringed. She'd never imagined that Meilin would cause her this much difficulty in this battle. She, admittedly, had turned out to be more tenacious than anyone she'd ever fought against. It seemed like no matter what Shampoo did, Meilin would keep coming after her until she was either unconscious or dead.
Meilin was angry as a hornet as she stood up and ran toward Shampoo with her machete in hand. Shampoo jumped back as Meilin swung at her again, several strands of her hair falling to the ground as the blade grazed them. Despite having badly damaged ribs and only one good arm, Meilin's attack speed wasn't decreasing.
The Amazon was left trying to think of some way to stop Meilin as she stayed out of range of her machete. Right now she was unarmed, and with Meilin's skillful use of her sword, sticking one of her limbs out could well result in losing it. Still, she couldn't afford to let Meilin walk out of this cavern. Not after what she'd done. Cologne had trained her to win in any situation, even one as challenging as this. There had to be some way to win.
"Is that all you can do is run?!" Meilin screamed at her.
Slowly, Shampoo closed her eyes and stood up. Taking a few breaths to calm herself down, she opened her eyes again and stared back at Meilin. "You come hit Shampoo if you can."
Meilin ground her teeth together and charged at Shampoo furiously. "You're taunting me now?!"
When Meilin swung her machete, Shampoo calmly stepped back and avoided it. Again Meilin swung at her and again Shampoo backed away, angling to her left ever so slightly. Undeterred by Shampoo's agility, Meilin continued to swing at her relentlessly. Again and again Shampoo dodged, moving back and slightly to her left.
Meilin began laughing as her swings came closer to making contact, one of them grazing Shampoo's cheek and shedding drops of blood on the ground. "This is fun! I wonder how long you think you can dodge me!"
As Meilin continued to swing, her machete came closer and closer to striking her opponent, while Shampoo's motions to her left were becoming increasingly sharper. To Meilin, it seemed like Shampoo was almost leading her in a circle as she desperately tried to dodge and wait for an opening. But Meilin wasn't going to give her that opening.
With one last swing coming only millimeters from her nose, Shampoo lost her balance and fell to one knee. Meilin looked down at her with a wicked smile and held her sword to Shampoo's throat. "It was a fun fight, Shampoo, but this is the end. Why don't you beg me for mercy? I want to see the pitiful look on your face..."
Meilin was expecting to see a look of fear in Shampoo's eyes, but instead what she saw was a look of confidence as Shampoo smiled up at her. "You right. This is end...for you."
The floor of the cavern began to tremble as Shampoo shot her fist up into the air. "Hiryu Shoten Ha!"
"W-what?!" Meilin yelled out. She couldn't do anything as a fierce cyclone of icy cold wind shot up from the ground and sent her flying out through the open top of the cavern and into the sky. She couldn't even cry out as her consciousness began to fade. Her last thought before her vision faded to black was one of bitterness and disappointment. It was the realization that she'd just played right into Shampoo's hands.
The cavern walls shook and pieces of rocks fell to the ground as Shampoo remained kneeling in a small crater on the cavern floor, her arm still hanging in the air from her upward thrust. Slowly, she let her arm fall to her side and panted heavily as she looked up into the sky through the top of the cavern. "Shampoo tell you she win, stupid girl..."
Battered, burned, and bloody, Shampoo slowly stood herself up and began walking out of the cavern. She'd finally overcome Meilin in an incredibly physical battle, but she had no intention of going back to where Jynn and Ringo were waiting. From the beginning, her intention was to finish off Meilin as quickly as possible and then head over to where Ranma was fighting. She knew Ranma wouldn't be happy if she tried to help him, but that was something she could make up to him later. The one thing she couldn't deal with was a life without Ranma if he was killed by Li.
Putting the pain running through her body in the back of her mind, Shampoo began trudging through the bone-covered ground in search of the battle between Ranma and Li.
End of Chapter 10