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.
Inside the private chambers of Amazon Elder Cologne, numerous books and tomes lay strewn across the floor and desk. Gripping a small paintbrush with her wrinkled, bony hands, she dipped the tip into a container of thick, white paint and continued to brush unusual symbols onto a chain of jade stones with the utmost precision.
After the commotion that Ranma had caused at the failed wedding of Ming and Shampoo, making peace with the leaders of that village was surprisingly easy for her. While she wanted to credit the positive relationship between the two Amazon villages for that, she had a feeling that the residents of the other village simply wanted nothing to do with Ranma and his monstrous pet anymore. Ming, at least, felt no animosity toward either Ranma or Cologne for the incident. He'd fought with everything he had against a strong warrior in a duel amongst men, and with that he was satisfied.
Once Cologne and Aroma had returned to Joketsuzoku, the Amazon elder informed the rest of the village about what had happened and then wasted no time secluding herself in her chambers. Things may have been smoothed over with Ming's village, but the images of his battle with Ranma that day were still at the forefront of Cologne's mind. She knew that Ranma's patience had limits and that eventually he was going to be pushed to a point where the feline beast within would show itself again.
A bead of sweat rolled down from Cologne's forehead as she made one last stroke of the paintbrush and set it down on her desk. Eying the chain of stones before her carefully, she leaned back in her chair and let out a deep breath.
"This should do it," she said to herself in Mandarin.
Hearing the roar coming from outside, Cologne turned and watched as the door to her chambers slammed open. With the old woman in his sights, a man wearing thick glasses and a white robe stomped toward her with rage burning in his eyes.
"You could benefit from being more respectful, Mousse," Cologne chided him.
"Respect?! Like you deserve that after what you've done!" Mousse snapped back at her. "How dare you marry Shampoo off while I'm out looking for Ranma?!"
"A wedding goes much more smoothly when you're not there making a ruckus," Cologne sighed. "In the end it was ruined regardless though. I never thought the son-in-law would show up there..."
Mousse's eyes widened with surprise at the news of the wedding's failure. He'd heard about Shampoo's wedding in a nearby village just earlier in the day, but he wasn't aware of what had transpired there.
"Wait...son-in-law? You mean..." Mousse began to say.
Cologne nodded. "Yes, that son-in-law. Ranma defeated Shampoo's groom and left with her."
While Mousse tried to sort out this new revelation, Cologne noticed the long-haired man leaning against the doorway behind him. She could tell immediately who it was. The scar across his face was unmistakable.
"Ranma is alive?' Jynn asked, peering over at her with his arms folded across his chest. "Where is he?"
"He and Shampoo have returned to Japan, of course," Cologne answered.
Propping himself up again, Jynn turned toward the doorway and looked back at Mousse. "Are you coming?"
With a troubled expression on his face, the visually challenged warrior clenched his fists together at his sides. "Ranma...stopped Shampoo's wedding...?"
"Mousse?" Jynn said, looking curiously at his old friend.
His resolve firm, Mousse spun around and began walking toward the door. "We're going!"
Jynn and Mousse both turned and looked back at the Amazon elder hopping out of her chair.
"I wish to come with you. There is something in Japan that requires immediate attention," Cologne said to them, a necklace of jade stones dangling in her right hand. "Do you object to my coming along?"
Getting a quick glance from his friend, Jynn shrugged his shoulders and walked out the door.
"Do as you wish..."
In the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, the sound of customers conversing and food sizzling in the kitchen filled the Cat Café while an energetic Ringo tied a fresh, white apron over the pink Chinese attire that Shampoo had lent her for the job. There was no need to worry about school since it was Sunday, so she'd come early in the morning to help Shampoo with random tasks before the customers began flooding in for lunch.
Shampoo was a bit surprised to see business pick up to the same level it was at before the Li and Meilin incident after only several days of being open, especially considering how long the restaurant had been closed. Many long-time customers expressed relief when the restaurant opened again, having grown fond of the cooking of Shampoo and her great-grandmother long ago.
Ringo, meanwhile, was a little rough around the edges in her first days of waitressing. A spill here and a broken plate there wasn't enough to upset Shampoo though, as she understood that this would take some getting used to. In the couple of weeks since then, the eager redhead had gotten much better through doing the repetitions of her job everyday. She was even becoming good at interacting with customers, which was perhaps the most difficult task for her to master given her shy and introverted nature.
"Two orders ready!" Shampoo shouted from the kitchen.
"Coming!" Ringo called out, rushing over to grab two bowls of steaming hot ramen noodles from the counter.
Things were always fast-paced during the lunch and dinner hours, but Ringo still enjoyed working with her lavender-haired friend.
Once the lunch hour had ended and the restaurant emptied, Shampoo joined the redheaded waitress in cleaning off the tabletops.
"Ringo be sure get every spot," Shampoo said, grinding a sponge against a drop of dried soup on one of the tables.
"Right!" Ringo replied with enthusiasm.
Hearing the bell on the door jingle all of a sudden, the two girls turned to greet what they thought was a customer coming in for a late lunch.
"Welc-...Ranma?" Shampoo asked, watching a baggy-eyed girl with a pigtail stumble through the doorway.
"H-hey..." Ranma said, using a chair to brace herself. "Man, I'm so tired of studyin'..."
The sight of an exhausted Ranma was nothing new to Shampoo these days. In the times he'd come to the restaurant for a chat since they'd returned to Japan, this was how he'd always shown up. The task of trying to make up all of the schoolwork he'd missed during his time in China was proving to be an incredible challenge for him, even with the help he was getting from Akane and Ukyo. It was still possible for him to pass his courses, but Shampoo was beginning to worry about whether or not he could hold out for the one month remaining in the school year.
"Are...you okay, Ranma?" Ringo asked worriedly.
Looking Ranma over with concern in her eyes, Shampoo walked up to her, placed a hand on her cheek, and rubbed her thumb under Ranma's left eye. "Silly Ranma need to rest once in while. Why you girl right now?"
Feeling confused, the pigtailed girl looked down at herself and blinked. "I'm in girl form? Didn't even notice..."
"Ranma..." Shampoo began to say, but a panicked look on Ranma's face stopped her.
Rushing over to Ringo, Ranma yanked the apron off of her and picked her up with her good arm.
"W-wahh! Ranma, what are you doing?!" Ringo shrieked.
"Just hide for a sec! I'm beggin' ya!" Ranma pleaded, tossing the screaming Ringo over the counter and into the kitchen.
Putting the apron on herself with haste, Ranma grabbed the sponge that Ringo had been using and started scrubbing one of the tabletops.
Shampoo was about to ask what exactly Ranma was doing when she heard a bell jingle again. Glancing toward the door, an annoyed look came over her as she saw Akane walk into her restaurant.
"Oh, hi Akane!" Ranma greeted her in a very peppy manner.
"Hey there...Ringo?" Akane said, quirking an eyebrow at the girl.
"Yep, that's me!" Ranma exclaimed. "What brings you here?"
The youngest Tendo daughter began to stare suspiciously at the redhead cleaning the tables. "Yeah...did Ranma come by here a minute ago?"
"Nope! We haven't seen him!" Ranma replied cheerfully.
"Is that right?" Akane asked, eying the cast on the girl's right arm. "Say, Ringo...when did you hurt your arm?"
Ranma gulped while trying to come up with a good explanation on a whim. "Oh, this? Umm...I was carrying some boxes today and hurt it! Yeah!"
Akane folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at the girl. "Oh, really? And since when do you wear your hair in a pigtail? Didn't you tell us you liked the ponytail better?"
"Well...umm...! T-there's nothing wrong with changing it around every now and then, you know?!" Ranma said, laughing nervously. "The boys always say it looks good on me, and I do love compliments..."
Unable to bear the character defamation any longer, a blushing Ringo shot up from behind the kitchen counter. "Ranma, I do not act like that!"
Akane nodded to herself while Ranma slammed her forehead against the table she'd been cleaning. "That's what I thought. Ranma, do you want to pass your classes or don't you? I could always find something else to do with my time if you don't want help studying."
Letting out a deep sigh, Ranma took off the apron and tossed it on the table. "Yeah, I wanna pass..."
"Then quit playing around and let's get back to work," Akane ordered her.
Resigned to her fate, Ranma slumped over and dragged herself out the door.
Akane shook her head as she looked over at Ringo. "Sorry for the trouble."
Ranma's ill-tempered suitor was about to turn around and head back home, but the feeling of a pair of eyes staring a hole through her made her look toward Shampoo. Akane wasn't sure why, but the lavender-haired Amazon was glaring at her furiously.
Ringo quickly became nervous when Akane returned Shampoo's icy glare with one of her own. The tension in the air inside the restaurant was incredible. Ringo didn't like it, but she could feel just how much the two disliked each other. It might not be today, this week, this month, or even this year, she thought, but eventually things were going to break down to the point where they wouldn't be able to hold themselves back anymore.
Slowly backing away while keeping her eyes locked on Shampoo, Akane finally turned around and walked out the door, putting a merciful end to the intense staredown.
Ringo let out a sigh of relief as she walked over to the table and began putting her apron back on. "Well, it was Ranma's choice to go through this..."
Not saying a word, Shampoo closed her eyes and went back to scrubbing the table. She hated seeing Ranma and Akane together more than ever, and Ringo could tell. In a situation like this, the timid waitress just wasn't sure what she could say to Shampoo to calm her down.
The jingle of the door's bell suddenly ringing through the restaurant once again, Ringo turned toward the door to greet the new customer.
"Welcome-!" Ringo said, her voice trailing off when she noticed the long, blonde hair of the woman who entered. She was wearing a navy blue jogging suit and carried a black gym bag with her, and her hair, Ringo noticed, was absolutely radiant, stretching all the way down to the back of her kneecaps. "Wow, what pretty hair..."
Seemingly taken aback by the redhead's compliment, the woman had a surprised expression on her face as she looked over at Ringo.
Finally realizing what she'd just said, Ringo took her eyes off of the woman's hair and began to blush. "I-I'm sorry! That was so rude of me!"
"N-no, it's fine," the blonde woman assured her, her cheeks turning a light shade of pink as well. "I'm just...not used to being complimented by strangers. Thank you."
A loud, cracking sound startling the both of them, they turned around to see Shampoo walking back toward the kitchen while the remnants of a wooden chair showered the dining area.
She'd finally let out the anger from earlier, Ringo thought to herself with a grimace on her face.
"Did...I come at a bad time?" the blonde woman asked.
"No, not at all! Please, sit wherever you like!" Ringo said emphatically. "Can I get you something to drink to start off your meal?"
"Water's fine," the woman replied, seating herself at a nearby table.
"Coming right up!" Ringo said, hurrying to the kitchen.
Shampoo was still fuming to herself when the redheaded waitress got back to the kitchen.
"Are...you feeling better?" Ringo asked her nervously.
"No really," Shampoo snorted in reply. "How dare Akane come to Cat Café when Shampoo talking to Ranma?!"
Ringo rubbed her head while trying to think of a way to diffuse Shampoo's anger. "I know, but she's just trying to help him..."
"That no is excuse!" Shampoo said angrily, slamming her palms down on a chopping board. "If Akane want come here, then maybe Shampoo go there."
"There?" Ringo asked curiously. "You mean...to Mr. Tendo's house?"
Shampoo nodded affirmingly before tossing a batch of dried noodles into some boiling water.
Overcome with a renewed concern for everyone's safety, Ringo cupped both of her hands over her mouth and let out a groan. This could get ugly in a hurry, she thought to herself. She could only hope that somehow, some way, things wouldn't end up like she thought they would.
That evening, a rickshaw led by the Kuno servant, Sasuke, pulled up outside the Tendo residence.
"We have arrived, Miss Tendo!" Sasuke announced to the rickshaw's occupant.
Stretching her legs out once she set foot on the ground, Nabiki smiled down at the miniature ninja. "Thank you for the ride. You really didn't need to do that though."
"No, it was my pleasure!" Sasuke replied, sounding honored to have been able to bring Nabiki home. "I...I know it may not be my place to say this, but...thank you so much!"
"Hmm? For what?" the middle Tendo daughter asked him.
Sasuke felt embarrassed as he looked down at the ground. "Master Kuno never had any kind of direction in life, nor did he ever think about his future. I think you've given him that direction he needed, Miss Tendo. For that, I'm very grateful to you!"
Nabiki chuckled to herself a bit while brushing her hair out of her face. "No need to thank me for that. This isn't charity work, it's something we'll both profit from. Get what I'm saying?"
"Y-yes, of course," Sasuke replied with an understanding nod. "Well then, please stop by anytime you wish, Miss Tendo! Farewell!"
While the rickshaw sped off toward the Kuno residence, Nabiki shrugged her shoulders and started walking toward the door.
Meanwhile, in Akane's room, Ukyo was helping Ranma go over Japanese history material for another of his makeup tests tomorrow while Akane prepared some problems to help her fiancée understand his next Calculus topic. Ranma, however, was feeling a lack of motivation at the moment.
Poking the corner of a stack of flashcards into Ranma's cheek, Ukyo tried to rouse her old friend from his position slumped over Akane's desk. "Come on now, Ranma-honey, we're making good progress! Only a few hours left..."
The pigtailed boy lazily swatted away the flashcards being jammed against his face. "C'mon, you guys. Just a little break? Please?"
"You can have a break when we're done. Now man up and get back to work," Akane told him. "Honestly, you were the one who wanted to do this you know."
Ranma let out a groan as he picked himself up off the desk and leaned back in his chair. "Man, this is too much..."
Without warning, Ranma's nose began to tingle when a succulent aroma danced around him. Briefly forgetting what he was doing, Ranma sniffed the air to figure out what it was he smelled all of a sudden. "It's...food. Oh man, that smells good. Where's it comin' from though?"
Akane was also curious after noticing the smell of food in the air. "That's weird. Why would Kasumi be cooking something again? We already had dinner..."
"It's not Kasumi," Ukyo said, her eyes focused sharply on Akane's door. "A chef doesn't forget the smell of someone's cooking. It's that bimbo's ramen."
The sound of footsteps coming from the hallway drew closer and closer until the door to Akane's room slowly cracked open. The three turned and looked as an incredibly nervous Ringo peeked her head into the room.
"S-sorry to interrupt you, but...umm...R-Ranma has a visitor..." the redhead announced.
Lacking the cautiousness that her waitress had shown, Shampoo slammed the door open and burst into the room with a metal carrying case in hand.
"Oh, hey. What's up?" Ranma greeted her in a very casual manner.
Realizing that Ukyo's prediction had been dead on, Akane narrowed her eyes and glared at the Amazon wrecking ball. "Shampoo? What are you doing here?"
After briefly sticking her tongue out in response to her rival's question, Shampoo turned and smiled at Ranma. "Shampoo think maybe Ranma need energy to study, so bring special ramen for snack."
"Really?" Ranma asked, his face brightening up significantly at the mention of food.
Shampoo opened up her case and put a steaming bowl of ramen and a pair of chopsticks down on the desk in front of Ranma. "Is very good, so eat up!"
"Yeah, this smells great! You're a lifesaver," Ranma replied gratefully, snapping the chopsticks apart as he got ready to dig into his food.
Unfortunately for Ranma, the sound of Akane and Ukyo clearing their throats drew his attention before he could begin eating.
"Aww, c'mon, just a little break? Just lemme eat real quick, I'm starvin'!" the pigtailed boy pleaded with them. "I'll do as much as ya want after this, I promise!"
Akane's nose began twitching with annoyance as she looked over at Ukyo. They didn't like Shampoo's intrusion one bit, for obvious reasons, but Ranma seemed like he would be much more reasonable if they just let him eat.
After getting a quick shrug from Ukyo, Akane let out a sigh and raised her palm into the air. "Five minutes. Then Shampoo leaves and you get back to work."
"Deal!" Ranma replied, digging into his snack without hesitation.
There was an obvious disturbance in the air between Akane, Ukyo, and Shampoo while Ranma ate. Ringo wasn't sure what she should do, but she felt better being able to keep an eye on the situation herself rather than leaving the room. Considering the incident at the Cat Café earlier, anything short of an all-out battle could be thought of as a positive result.
"So! Umm, what's different about the ramen, Shampoo?" Ringo asked, trying to make conversation to keep things calm.
"Shampoo use some different vegetables that help energize body," she replied. "Use special type of mushroom most."
"Mmm, so that's what that is," Ranma commented in-between bites.
Upset with the fact that Ranma was enjoying the ramen so much, Ukyo folded her arms and let out a huff. "I could've cooked you something if you were hungry, Ran-chan..."
"Maybe should think of that sooner," Shampoo giggled.
"Why you-!" Ukyo snapped, reaching for her giant spatula as she shot up from her seat.
"Not in here!" Akane shouted, successfully getting Ukyo to stop and sit back down before eying the Amazon. "I know what you're trying to do."
Shampoo looked back at Akane and grinned confidently. "And what that?"
Everyone in the room went silent when the sound of someone bellowing Ranma's name came from the direction of the front door.
"What on earth was that?" Ukyo wondered aloud.
Ranma dropped his chopsticks on the desk and looked around as the voice shouting his name boomed through the air once again. "Sounds like someone's callin' me out..."
Quickly standing up and walking out of the room, Ranma hurried down the stairs and headed for the front door. The curious group of Akane, Ringo, Shampoo, and Ukyo wasn't far behind him. When they got to the door, Soun, Genma, Kasumi, and Nabiki were already looking out to see what the commotion was.
"What the heck's goin' on?" Ranma asked as he pushed his way out the door. Once they got outside, Ranma and the others found a group of three people standing inside the front gate of the Tendo residence.
Those three people were Mousse, his old friend Jynn, and Cologne.
"She's back..." Genma groaned.
"Mousse? Great-Grandmother?" Shampoo asked, clearly surprised to see the Amazons standing before her.
Cologne smiled at her great-granddaughter from atop her cane. "Have you been well, Shampoo?"
"Now is not the time!" Mousse shouted, turning toward the object of his hatred as he stood in front of Cologne and Jynn clad in his favorite white robe. "Ranma!"
"What?" Ranma asked, his reaction to the Amazon crew showing up more annoyance than anything. It was then that he noticed the taller man standing next to Cologne. "And who the heck are you?"
"You don't recognize me without the mask?" Jynn asked him.
Ranma blinked several times before it finally occurred to him who he was talking to. "Ohh, you're that jerk that was spyin' on us for Li and Meilin."
"Jynn?" Ringo mouthed, cringing at the sight of the scar across his face. "My gosh, what happened to you...?
"This?" Jynn asked, pointing to the scar. "Just a little something Mousse gave me in our younger days."
"Mousse gave ya that? No kiddin'..." Ranma laughed, amused by the story.
The force of the loud yell caused everyone to turn their attention to Mousse, who still had his glasses resting on his forehead. His intolerance for idle chatter evident, the ill-sighted warrior seemed far more serious than anyone had seen him in a long while.
"I heard you stopped Shampoo's wedding," Mousse said calmly, his gaze focused on Ranma. "Is this true?"
"Maybe," Ranma replied with defiance. "What about it?"
Mousse's eyes narrowed at the pigtailed boy. "So, it's true then. In that case, I'd like to thank you. The old woman tried to have Shampoo married while I was gone. I'm glad things didn't work out that way."
After his noisy arrival, Ranma was surprised to hear Mousse thanking him of all things. "You just came here to thank me?"
"No," Mousse replied, closing his eyes while he pondered the decision he'd made one last time. There was no turning back, he thought. This was the right time for him, for Shampoo, for Ranma, and for everyone else who'd been involved over the years.
Everyone watched as Mousse walked forward with determination and stopped in front of them. Looking up into a man's eyes, he grabbed him by the scuff of his gi and pulled him in close.
"You wouldn't have stopped that wedding unless you'd gotten serious about her, Ranma," Mousse said.
Akane, Ukyo, Shampoo, and Ringo, among others, immediately looked over at Ranma to see what kind of reaction he had to the accusation.
The heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts was confused at first, but that initial feeling quickly gave way to a bout of anger brought on by embarrassment. "What?! First of all, put your glasses on, moron! That ain't me!"
"What?" Mousse said, sliding his glasses down over his eyes. Upon closer review, the one whose gi he'd grabbed hold of was actually Soun Tendo. "You're not Ranma..."
"You don't say..." Soun replied dryly.
"And second of all," Ranma continued, "don't go decidin' what I think of people! I ain't serious about no one, got it?!"
Undeterred by the declaration, Mousse stormed over to Ranma and looked him in the eyes.
"I don't believe you," Mousse told him. "That doesn't matter though. No matter how you feel about her, I know I still love her."
When the glasses-wearing Amazon glanced over at her, Shampoo folded her arms and looked away. "Shampoo tell you many time that you just stupid friend from child time! That never change, Mousse!"
In an uncharacteristic moment, Mousse chuckled a bit at the fiery response of his love interest. "That's right, that won't change. That won't change...until I beat you, Ranma."
The Tendo family and others were all wondering to themselves where Mousse was going with this.
"I can't keep living in a dream though," Mousse said. "That's why...this is the last time."
"Last time?" Ranma asked curiously.
Mousse nodded affirmingly. "I've learned a lot since we last crossed paths, Ranma, and one thing I learned was that I need to get serious and take what I want or I might lose it forever. Do you understand?"
Ranma quirked an eyebrow at the male Amazon, waiting impatiently for him to spit out what he wanted.
With passion evident in his eyes, Mousse raised a finger and pointed it into Ranma's face. "You against me, one last time. Right here. Right now. If I lose, I give up on marrying Shampoo for good. She's all yours. But if I win, Shampoo will marry me instead of you. Do you accept?"
Shampoo looked at Mousse with a shocked expression on her face. She couldn't believe that Mousse was actually saying he would give up on her if he lost. "Mousse..."
Always one to make light of a dramatic moment, Ranma simply scratched his head and shrugged. "I dunno 'bout all this marryin' stuff, but I don't back down from a challenge. You're on."
Akane and Ukyo shared a torn look for a moment. Despite their fondness for Ranma, his losing would mean that Shampoo would have to marry Mousse. It was the perfect chance to take her out of the equation for Ranma.
Ringo and Shampoo, on the other hand, were more concerned than anyone given the current state of Ranma's health.
"Ranma, you can't! You'll get hurt if you fight with a broken arm!" Ringo cried out.
"I might, yeah, but I'll take my chances," the pigtailed boy replied.
Looking upon Ranma's broken arm with concern, Shampoo clasped her hands to her chest tightly. "But, Ranma...what if lose? Shampoo believe Ranma can win now, but it be better if wait until arm is okay again."
"Nah, that won't happen. Mousse ain't gonna wait. This is the perfect chance for him," Ranma said with a smirk as he peered over at his opponent. "You said it yourself once, that you didn't need pride if it got in the way of winnin' Shampoo. Ain't that right?"
"I'm glad we understand each other," Mousse replied, not having any argument with Ranma's sentiment. "Are you ready?"
Before the battle could commence, Kasumi stepped in-between the two to stop them.
"Please wait!" the eldest Tendo daughter pleaded. "It would be a bother if the house was damaged, so if you have to fight could you please do it somewhere else?"
"She's right, it's been nice not having to spend money fixing all the damage you guys cause. We'd like to keep it that way," Nabiki added.
Taking the initiative, Ranma hopped up onto the retaining wall and began running away from the home.
"Mousse, I'll meet ya at the vacant lot! Hurry up!" he shouted.
"You don't have to tell me twice, Saotome!" Mousse snarled, chasing after him without hesitation.
After whispering something to Jynn, Cologne and the former colleague of Li and Meilin took off toward the vacant lot where the battle would take place. It wasn't long before Shampoo, Ringo, Akane, Ukyo, Genma, and Soun all followed them.
Once everyone had gathered at the vacant lot and Ranma and Mousse had thoroughly stretched out their muscles, the two were ready for their final battle to begin. The sun was beginning to set in the background, so there was only so much daylight remaining. That didn't bother the two determined men though. They were going to finish this whether it was light or dark outside.
"Don't regret this, man," Ranma said to him.
"I don't regret anything. Ever," Mousse replied bitterly.
The most interested bystander for this battle was by far Shampoo, who looked extremely concerned at the moment. Regardless of who won, the outcome was going to have a major impact on her life. Mousse may have been an annoyance to her, but his determination and resolve were admirable traits in a man. In this battle, however, Shampoo was hoping that, even with his right arm broken and suspended in a sling, Ranma would be able to fend off Mousse once again.
"Feeling uneasy, Shampoo?" Cologne asked her.
The lavender-haired girl nodded in reply. "No like to see Ranma fight when hurt, especially when fight this important."
Cologne smiled up at her great-granddaughter assuringly. "You'll just have to believe in him."
"You can do it, Ranma!" Akane shouted, voicing her support.
"That's right! Beat him up good, Ran-chan!" Ukyo added before whispering something to Akane. "Even though we want him to lose this time. Right, Akane?"
Akane didn't seem so pleased at the thought. "I know...I know, but...still...I want him to win."
The okonomiyaki chef gave Akane a puzzled look at the response. "You're out of your mind..."
Ringo, meanwhile, was fidgeting nervously, just hoping that Ranma wouldn't further injure himself.
"You haven't changed," Jynn chuckled as he looked over at her.
"Oh...hush!" Ringo pouted. "I just worry is all..."
Everyone watched Mousse and Ranma take up their stances for the battle to begin in the snow-covered lot. Their breath took form in the cold air as it left their mouths. Their knuckles cracked as they clenched their fists. And when a crow that was perched atop a nearby wall began flapping its wings and took off into the sky, they two of them jumped toward each other to start their attack.
"Come here!" Mousse screamed, sending a weighted chain flying from his robe's sleeve.
With a confident smirk on his face, Ranma moved his head to the side and let the chain go sailing over his shoulder as he ran in to attack. If everything was going to be this easy then he wouldn't even break a sweat, he thought to himself. As it would turn out, Ranma's assessment was a bit premature. At the back end of Mousse's chain was a hooked blade that came soaring out of his sleeve. Ranma's eyes went wide when he first saw the blade and he quickly moved to the side to get out of its range, but avoiding it completely was impossible at this distance. The blade grazed the side of Ranma's neck before sailing over his shoulder along with the rest of the chain.
Ranma winced as a trickle of blood began to drip down his neck, but he didn't have time to worry about that. The male Amazon had closed within striking range and stepped in to begin his assault. Reaching his arms back, a large blade swung out from each of his sleeves and stuck out like giant claws. Ranma had no choice but to duck as Mousse brought the blades together in front of himself with the intention of cleaving his opponent's head right off of his shoulders.
"Feel my years of anger and frustration, Ranma Saotome!" Mousse yelled out, bringing one of his arms up from the ground and barely missing Ranma's chin with the blade.
Performing a dance of death, Mousse swung his blades at Ranma relentlessly while moving in a fluid motion that allowed for maximum control of he and his weapons. This was nothing new for Ranma though. Mousse had used this type of attack in one of their earlier battles, and he knew how to deal with it.
Finally mounting a counterattack, Ranma used his Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken to strike Mousse's blades with his one arm every time Mousse swung at him. Stopping the robed warrior was difficult when he was attacking like this, but breaking his blades would leave him vulnerable long enough to mount an offensive.
"It's just like their other fight," Akane said as she watched the ongoing battle with great interest. "Ranma kept shattering those blades of his until he ran out."
"And Mousse remembered that," Jynn replied, drawing Akane's attention. "It won't happen this time. He upgraded nearly all of his weapons during our journey."
Everyone quickly began to see that Jynn was right. Ranma was getting a number of solid strikes in on Mousse's blades, but they simply wouldn't break.
"Mousse wasn't just searching for Ranma while we were gone. That whole time, he was getting himself ready for this decisive match," Jynn added. "If you underestimate him because of his poor eyesight or his awkward actions, he'll send you to an early grave before you know what hit you. Mousse is an incredibly fierce warrior when he's motivated."
Ranma was beginning to accept the fact that Mousse's blades weren't going to shatter, and that wasn't his only problem. He was finding it more and more difficult to get strikes in because of how Mousse was attacking him. The Amazon was pivoting to Ranma's side constantly, never allowing him to defend or counter without having to turn around.
"Not bad. He keeps attacking from Ranma's right side to take advantage of his handicap," Soun observed.
Cologne nodded in agreement. "Mousse is more than willing to exploit any weakness he can find in the son-in-law. Honor means nothing to him in this battle."
"It's fine. My boy can figure a way out of this," Genma replied, sounding more hopeful than sure of himself.
The pigtailed boy in question was beginning to lose his patience with Mousse's assault. Tired of trying to get punches through the swift blades, he brought his hand to his side and devoted himself fully to dodging the attacks. Mousse made no adjustments, continuing to pivot and push Ranma back with his blades.
"Why...why won't he attack?" Ringo asked, a great deal of worry in her voice.
"You see how hard he's concentrating? He's planning something," Akane said to her. Even she wondered what exactly it was though. Was he just waiting for an opening to attack?
After several more seconds of action, Mousse very suddenly jerked back and leaped a fair distance away from Ranma. Grabbing the fresh wound on his neck, Ranma looked over at Mousse with an excited expression across his face.
"You were goading me into the Hiryu Shoten Ha..." Mousse said venomously.
"He noticed after all," Cologne said, somewhat impressed by Mousse's improvement.
Shampoo had her hands clasped tightly to her chest as she stared at her pigtailed friend with concern. "Ranma..."
Standing himself up straight, Ranma wiped his blood-covered hand against his pants and began to stretch out his legs while smiling over at Mousse. "Not bad. You woulda walked right into that before."
Not at all flattered by the compliment, Mousse retracted his blades back into his sleeves while glaring back at Ranma. "I've been preparing for this moment for a long time, Saotome. I fixed all the weaknesses I used to have...and I'm going to defeat you. If you want Shampoo then you'll have to give it everything you've got, Ranm-!"
Everyone gasped when Ranma appeared next to Mousse out of nowhere and kicked him in the face, sending him flying into a concrete wall. Mousse let out a cry of pain as he slumped to the ground, surrounded by pieces of the wall he'd just crashed into.
When the spectators shifted their attention back to Ranma, they were surprised to see him collapse to one knee and begin to breathe heavily. Most of them weren't even remotely aware of what they'd just seen, but the Amazon crew knew all too well.
"He used it..." Jynn said, his voice laced with curiosity. "So he really did learn Li's technique. He must have put a base point on Mousse during the initial exchange, but why use that now? Is he really that reckless?"
Faintly recognizing what Ranma had done from somewhere before, Akane glanced over at the Amazon elder next to her. "Elder Cologne, that was the Shift that Ranma did, wasn't it?"
"He never told you?" Cologne asked curiously. "That is correct. I still am not clear on how he learned it though."
Trying to shake off the exhaustion after using his Shift technique, Ranma suddenly noticed a small white bag sitting next to his feet. Blinking several times as he tried to figure out where it came from, he frantically shot to his feet and tried to get away.
Ringo shrieked when the small bag exploded and sent Ranma flying through the air and to the ground. The impact knocking her into Genma, Ringo was horrified as she watched Ranma rolling around in the snow to put out the fire on his clothes. "Ranma, are you okay?!"
"What...what the heck did I just see?" Ukyo asked, she, much like many of the others, feeling incredibly confused at the moment.
Impressed with the level of technique he was seeing, Soun wondered if his old friend had seen what he saw. "Did you catch it, Saotome?"
"Sure did, Tendo. Mousse planted that bomb next to Ranma the instant he got kicked," Genma replied. "That's something considering he didn't even see Ranma coming. His reflexes are amazing."
Once the fire on his clothes was extinguished, Ranma was still gasping for air when he rolled into a sitting position and snarled angrily at his opponent. "You...you jerk..."
A weary Mousse pushed himself up along the wall with his legs until he was standing up once again. Jynn had told him about the Shift technique, and while Jynn wasn't completely sure that Ranma knew it, he had a strong feeling that was the case given how he vanished from the site of his battle with Li last year. But considering the physical toll it took on the user's body, Mousse wasn't expecting Ranma to use it at all, much less at this point in the battle. He had a large crack in his glasses and a trickle of blood coming from above his left eye from the force of the kick, but Mousse was still plenty willing to fight.
"You know what to expect now, Ranma?" Mousse asked, dragging himself away from the wall. "I'm giving you everything I've got!"
Still dizzy from the use of his Shift, Ranma slowly got to his feet and stood up. This wasn't the same Mousse that attacked with training potties, he realized. Mousse had become much more practical and alert since they last fought. Whether that was Jynn's influence or just his increased desire for Shampoo's hand in marriage, he needed to treat Mousse as if he were as much of a threat as Ryoga at the very least.
"You think you can beat me?!" Ranma shouted, eager to engage Mousse once more. "Bring it on, man!"
For a brief moment, Mousse closed his eyes to refocus himself. Reminding himself of how Ranma had stopped Shampoo's wedding, the Amazon warrior was filled with rage once again. Why, he thought to himself? Why did it have to be Ranma? After all this time, it should have been...
Glaring at Ranma with a raging fury, Mousse shook off the impact of the kick he'd taken and soared toward the pigtailed boy.
"IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME, RANMA!"
End of Chapter 19