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.
Additional note for this chapter: Anyone particularly familiar with the Tokyo area may notice some inconsistencies such as things being mentioned that may not have been built in what was technically Ranma's time, a.k.a. the early 1990's, or that may not exist, or maybe travel times from one place to another being unusually short or long. Well, the arena mentioned in this chapter is fictional, obviously, and we'll just consider certain transit lines that weren't built yet to be fictional in this case as well. And I have no way of knowing what the travel time is from one area to another as I've never been there, but we'll just assume it works as is. If anyone does know, feel free to enlighten me. And now, on with the story!
Inside the guest room that he and his father stayed in at the Tendo home, Ranma finished snapping the sling for his right arm into place over his long-sleeved, blue Chinese shirt that he liked to wear on occasion. Although the weather had been warming up, it still got chilly at night, hence the long-sleeved attire.
"Man, I can't believe I got myself into this right after I finally got done with all that studyin'," Ranma grumbled to himself. "I hope she's not draggin' me to some chick movie or nothin' like that..."
At a time when the heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts would have gladly lazed around the house and taken it easy for a few days, he somehow found himself set up on dates with Shampoo and Akane tonight and tomorrow respectively. A date or two wasn't anything he couldn't handle, but the negative backlash he'd already felt from the girls he wasn't going out with was something Ranma wanted no part of. It actually made him wish someone like Ryoga or Mousse were still around to serve as a distraction.
Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Ranma noticed that the time was currently a quarter to five in the evening.
"Guess I'll get goin'..."
After shutting the door to his room as he stepped out into the hallway, Ranma put his left hand in his pocket and strode down the staircase toward the door. This wasn't any big deal, he thought. It was just some overdue fun for Shampoo to celebrate still being alive after their nightmare adventure in China. Kodachi, Ukyo, and Akane might not like it much, but that was something that just couldn't be helped.
As Ranma neared the bottom of the staircase, he realized that someone was waiting next to the front door.
Leaning back against the wall with her arms folded across her chest and a glass of water in one hand, Akane Tendo's eyes locked onto the man walking down the stairs.
This was just what he needed, Ranma thought sarcastically. Taking a deep breath as he readied to brave the storm, he calmly walked up to the door and slipped his shoes on.
"You're really going?" Akane interrupted him.
Ranma looked uncomfortably at his clearly unhappy fiancée. "Yeah?"
Inwardly fuming, Akane averted her eyes from the pigtailed boy. "Do you really trust her?"
"This again?" Ranma asked, sounding annoyed as he placed his palm over his face. "It's just a stupid date, would you relax?"
Akane reached her occupied hand back, threatening to splash him with the glass of water she was holding.
"H-hey...!" Ranma stammered, raising his good arm to shield himself.
Luckily for him, Akane was able to regain control of her emotions before she invoked his Jusenkyo curse, stopping her hand's momentum without spilling a drop of the water. To say she didn't care for this whole situation would be a gross understatement, but at the same time she realized that making Ranma upset right before he was about to go out on a date with another girl probably wasn't the best move, even if that girl did claim to only be his friend.
Ranma quirked an eyebrow at the youngest Tendo daughter as she slowly let her hand fall to her side.
"Be careful," Akane said quietly.
Not sure what to make of Akane's behavior, Ranma slid the front door open and headed out. "I'll be back later."
Once the door slid shut, Akane leaned back against the wall again and lightly banged her head against it. Was she worrying too much about nothing, she wondered? Ranma even said it was just one stupid date, no different than what he'd be doing with her tomorrow night. And, much as she hated to admit it, Shampoo really hadn't done anything deceitful since she and Ranma had returned from China.
"This is stupid," Akane muttered to herself. "I just need to stay busy and keep my mind off of it."
"He really went, huh?"
Turning around curiously, Akane was surprised to see none other than Ukyo walking down the staircase.
"Where did you come from?" Akane asked.
"Nabiki's old room," Ukyo replied, pointing her thumb up the stairs. "I was waiting to see when he left."
"That's called trespassing, you know..."
"Oh please, you have weird people barging into your house all the time," Ukyo snorted. "Anyway, forget about that. We've gotta get moving before we lose sight of Ran-chan and that bimbo."
Akane looked confused as she peered over at her classmate. "You mean...follow them?"
"Uh, yeah!" Ukyo replied, sounding as if it should have been a foregone conclusion. "Aren't you coming?"
Akane leaned back against the wall and began twiddling her fingers, suddenly feeling torn about what she should do. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on them, she thought, but was there really a need?
"It's not like anything's going to happen," Akane said, turning away and folding her arms again. "No matter what Shampoo wants, Ranma only thinks of her as a friend."
"I know! I know Ran-chan's not interested in her like that," Ukyo explained. "Look, maybe nothing happens. That's fine. But say something does happen...and you're not there to do anything about it. What then?"
A feeling of uneasiness began to stir in the Tendo daughter as she pondered her classmate's words. "If something does happen..."
With a deep sigh, Akane reluctantly propped herself up off the wall and headed toward the kitchen to drop off her glass.
"I'll grab my jacket."
After a short walk from the Tendo residence, Ranma strolled up to the Cat Café's entrance and noticed a sign on the door to alert customers of special operating hours for the day.
"Closed at 3 o' clock today. Guess that makes sense."
The pigtailed boy took a deep breath before sliding the door open and stepping inside.
"Oh, Ranma!" a cheerful Ringo greeted him, still dressed in her pink waitressing outfit.
"Yo. Where's Shampoo?" Ranma asked her.
"She'll be out in a second," Ringo smiled, making sure her Amazon employer wasn't within hearing distance before whispering something to her former host body. "Did you bring any money with you?"
Ranma leaned in and gave the redhead a sharp look. "You know darn well I ain't got any money."
"That's what I thought," Ringo sighed, reaching into her apron. "Here..."
Ranma blinked as Ringo swiftly slipped a paper bill into his shirt pocket. "What's this?"
"Five thousand yen."
"H-hey, I don't need this! How am I supposed to pay ya back for-?"
"Ranma," the girl with the ponytail interrupted, placing her hands on his shoulders, "don't worry about it, okay? Shampoo's been looking forward to this a lot, so I want you guys to have fun."
Before the pigtailed martial artist could argue any further, his date for the evening sprung out from the hallway in the back of the restaurant.
"Nihao!" Shampoo said excitedly.
It was immediately apparent to Ranma that something was different than usual about his lavender-haired friend, but it took him a moment to realize that it was her attire that initially threw him off. Shampoo was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a long-sleeved, white, button-up blouse complete with a brown, leather purse hung over her shoulder. Not exactly the usual Chinese apparel she sported.
"What Ranma think?" she giggled, performing a little twirl for him. Her pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow only added to the new look.
"You...uh...you look good," Ranma finally managed to say after the surprise began to wear off. "I wasn't expectin' ya to dress like...well..."
"Like a Japanese girl?" Ringo laughed, prompting the pigtailed boy to nod in response. "She wanted to do something special, so we went shopping after we closed the restaurant yesterday. It really suits her, don't you think?"
Shampoo giddily stepped up next to Ranma and nudged him in his good arm. "Shampoo glad you like. You is ready to go?"
"Oh, uh, yeah. Where we goin', anyway?" he inquired.
"We go to Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena on Odaiba."
"O-Odaiba? That far?" Ranma asked, not at all expecting that they'd be making a trip to the popular island sitting in Tokyo Bay. "You even know how to get there?"
The Amazon girl whipped out a piece of paper from her purse and handed it to him. "Shampoo ask customer for direction earlier."
Scratching his head as he read the directions over a few times, Ranma eventually had an idea of where they needed to go.
"So we gotta take a train to this stop, go to the Shimbashi Station, then take the Yurikamome transit line over to Odaiba. What're we gonna do when we get there though?"
"Shampoo tell you later," she smiled, playfully sticking her tongue out at him. "We go now?"
Ranma was eager to find out what she had planned, but in the end it didn't matter, he figured. He'd find out soon enough.
"Yeah, let's get goin'."
After locking up the Cat Café, Shampoo walked up next to Ranma and the two of them began their trek to the train station.
"Have fun, you two!" Ringo shouted, waving goodbye to them from afar.
"See you tomorrow!" Shampoo called out, waving back to her waitress.
"I'll be back later!" Ranma yelled back to her. "And thanks for...y'know..."
Watching her two friends walk down the road together gave Ringo a fuzzy feeling all over. She knew how hard Ranma had been working on his studies since he came back, and she knew better than anyone just how tough it had been for Shampoo to try to keep her distance and let him concentrate. Finally, she thought, the two of them could unwind and enjoy themselves for a change.
"Have fun, huh?"
A chill ran down the redhead's spine when she heard the aggravated voice speaking directly behind her. She knew who it belonged to without even having to turn around.
When Ringo looked back, she saw a second acquaintance of hers, who looked equally annoyed, standing next to the okonomiyaki chef.
"And...Akane. What are you two doing here?"
"Looking out for Ran-chan's well-being," Ukyo replied sourly.
"Exactly," Akane said in agreement as the two of them began trailing their targets. "Ringo, tell Kasumi to leave me some dinner when you get home, okay?"
Much to the surprise of her friends, Ringo jumped in front of them and held her arms out to stop them from going any further.
Akane eyed her nervous classmate curiously as she came to a halt. "What are yo-?"
"Please, I know I can't stop you from doing this," the redhead began to say, so frightened about taking a stance that her hands were trembling, "but... please, don't cause them any trouble?"
Ukyo reached forward to place her hand on Ringo's shoulder, planning to assure her that they wouldn't do anything unless the situation called for it. But when she grabbed her shoulder, Ringo suddenly let out a brief cry of pain.
While the rattled okonomiyaki chef retracted her arm, Ringo quickly cupped her hands over her mouth. This wasn't good, she realized.
"W-what?" Ukyo cried, looking extremely worried that she'd done something to hurt her friend.
The redhead looked unusually tense as she shook her head. "N-no, it's nothing! I'm sorry if I scared you! My shoulder is just a little sore from work today, that's all!"
Ukyo didn't think anything of Ringo's sore shoulder, but Akane wasn't quite so sure about her story. "Ringo, she barely touched you. Let me take a look at that arm-"
"No!" Ringo shouted, hurriedly backing away when Akane reached her arm out. "It's okay, really! I need to go home and help Kasumi with dinner now, so...!"
Her patience at its limit, Akane shot her arm outward and yanked the collar of her friend's waitressing outfit aside. The youngest Tendo daughter's eyes widened when she saw that nearly all of Ringo's shoulder had a large bruise on it.
"Stop!" the redheaded girl cried out, pulling herself out of Akane's grip. "I said it's fine..."
Ukyo wasn't sure what to make of Akane's actions as she stared over at her. "What is wrong with you, Akane?"
With a deep sigh, the Anything-Goes martial artist glared coldly at Ringo. "I noticed...right after they got back from China last month, you stopped using the bath when anyone else was in there. You've always been wearing clothes that cover up your neck, arms, and legs since then too."
Ringo looked incredibly uncomfortable as she stood holding her hand against her shoulder.
"I thought you hated fighting, Ringo?"
The part-time waitress knew there wasn't any point in hiding it any longer. Akane had found her out.
"Shampoo...she didn't have anyone to practice with since her great-grandmother stayed in China, so..."
Snorting angrily at the reply before Ringo could even finish, Akane turned away and walked past her friend in disgust. "Forget it."
Seeing how terrible the girl with the ponytail felt, Ukyo gently wrapped an arm around her and gave her a light hug. "Sorry, I know how it is for you. I don't blame you, okay?"
Ringo remained silent, too upset at the moment to utter a reply.
"Look, I'll talk to Akane about it," Ukyo assured her. "You head on home, Sugar."
The okonomiyaki chef took off after Akane, leaving a heartbroken Ringo standing by herself outside the restaurant. Trying to fight off the tears forming in her eyes, she fell to her knees and clutched her shoulders tightly.
"I...I just wanted to help..."
While waiting for the next train to arrive, Ranma made sure to read over the directions to get to Odaiba one last time. Better to double-check than mistakenly pull a Ryoga-esque move and hop on the wrong train, he figured.
"Is right one?" Shampoo asked him.
"Think so..." Ranma answered, for the most part aware of what he was doing.
In hindsight, he was glad Ringo had lent him the money earlier. Thanks to that, he was able to buy the train tickets to get he and Shampoo where they needed to go. Those wouldn't be the last train tickets they'd be needing today either, not to mention there might be other things to do that cost money once they got there.
"Y'know, it's funny," Ranma chuckled, "as long as I've been here, I ain't really used the trains that much. Heck, I've never even been to the part of Tokyo where Odaiba is."
"You no want go before?" Shampoo asked him curiously.
Ranma pondered the question for a moment before answering. "It ain't that. I guess I just never needed to go before, so I didn't. I ain't usually got money layin' around though, so I probably couldn't have gone anyway."
Giggling a bit at the pigtailed boy's response, Shampoo reached into her purse and handed him the tickets she was given yesterday. "We go see that tonight."
Glad that he was finally being informed of what he was being dragged to, Ranma quickly grabbed the tickets and read them over. "Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena...Cherry Blossom Bash...Extreme Gymnastics Federation?"
The name rang a bell to Ranma, who placed his hand on his chin as he tried to remember where he'd heard it.
"Oh, I remember! Some guys in class talk about it sometimes," he recalled.
Shampoo watched his reaction closely, a bit concerned that he wouldn't be interested. "What Ranma think? Is okay?"
"Well, gymnastics ain't really my thing, but it's supposed to be a lot of fun to see live, so I don't mind checkin' it out," he answered, much to his date's relief. "This is martial-arts rhythmic gymnastics though, ain't it? Like the same thing Kodachi does?"
"Shampoo think is same," she replied, snickering to herself as she remembered a story she heard. "Maybe Ranma want compete when we there?"
Ranma grimaced with embarrassment as memories of the past flooded back to the front of his mind. "Hey, that was before you even got here. How'd you hear about that?"
"Ringo tell Shampoo that one," she said, holding one hand at her mouth to keep from laughing.
"Ohh, right. I guess she'd know since she was kinda part of me back then," Ranma muttered in reply.
His lavender-haired friend noticed his discomfort, but she still felt it necessary to throw one last jab in. "Shampoo no think pink leotard suit Ranma."
Ranma paled as he leaned over and put his hand over his face. "C'mon, don't remind me..."
"Shampoo sorry! No could help self," she laughed. The vision of the manly Ranma doing gymnastics in a girly leotard was too absurd for her not to poke fun at.
With the sound of the train drawing near, Ranma propped himself back up and watched the metal contraption come to a stop in front of them.
"Alright, let's go," he said, leading Shampoo inside one of the cars.
What neither of them noticed was the two girls peeking out from behind a nearby pillar, watching their every move like hawks.
"Well, there they go," Akane said to her partner in snooping.
"Yup," Ukyo replied, then feeling the need to clear something up before they proceeded. "Hey, don't you think you were a little harsh with Ringo?"
Akane groaned as she was reminded of the incident earlier. "I know, alright? I know. I'll apologize to her when I get home."
"What was that about, anyway?" Ukyo asked her. "I know you hate Shampoo, but why get mad at Ringo for something like that?"
"It's not her fault, I know," Akane said quietly, already feeling remorseful about the way she'd treated the redhead earlier. "It's just...I asked her to spar with me a lot, and she always told me she didn't like fighting. But then she has no problem helping Shampoo train?"
Ukyo knew there had to be some good reason for it, whatever that may be. Ringo wasn't one to play favorites, after all.
"Well, you have other options, like your dad. Shampoo doesn't really have anyone else since Cologne stayed in China, so maybe that's it," Ukyo suggested. "Or maybe she was just afraid you'd hurt her..."
"Excuse me?" Akane snarled.
"Hey, I'm just saying, I've heard how you get in spars," Ukyo pointed out.
"And sparring with a wild Amazon girl is going to be better?" Akane asked, sounding agitated.
"Good point," Ukyo conceded before recognizing the need to focus on their mission. "Okay, let's go. We'll get in a different car so they don't see us...though..."
The okonomiyaki chef stared suspiciously at a dark-haired girl shrouded in a black cloak that she noticed entering another one of the train cars. "Is that who I think it is?"
Akane peered over at the area where her classmate was looking, but failed to see who she was referring to. "Who?"
Seeing that the woman in question had already entered the car, Ukyo motioned for Akane to follow her and hurried toward the door. Just moments after the girls entered the car, the door closed behind them and the train began moving, leaving them to seek out the woman they'd followed inside.
It wasn't long before Ukyo caught sight of a long, black ponytail sticking out from behind a newspaper.
"There," she said, wasting no time heading over to the female with Akane close behind.
Hearing someone clear their throat in front of where she was sitting, the girl poked her head out from behind her newspaper to see who was disturbing her.
"I knew it," Ukyo snorted.
"Kodachi too, huh?" Akane commented, sounding plenty displeased that the Black Rose happened to be on the same train as them.
The feelings were mutual, as Kodachi frowned at the sight of her rivals for Ranma's affection. "The peasants. How unpleasant to encounter you here..."
"Watch it!" Akane snapped back at her.
Ukyo began rubbing her head, feeling a headache coming on very quickly. "I guess you heard about Ranma-honey's little date too?"
"Of course. My information networks are flawless," Kodachi replied arrogantly.
Akane immediately scoffed at the response. "Please, you probably just had Sasuke hiding underneath our floorboards again."
"That is of no concern to you," the scornful gymnast told her, shifting her gaze to the window at the front of the car that gave her a view of Ranma and Shampoo sitting together. "I do not know what you two plan on doing, but I shall not allow that hussy to put her filthy hands all over my Ranma darling!"
Ukyo and Akane could understand her feelings, but they knew better than to jump the gun in this situation.
"Yeah, that's great and all, but if you try to stop it now you'll just make Ran-chan mad at you," the okonomiyaki chef explained to her.
"What then?" Kodachi snapped, jumping out of her seat to get in Ukyo's face. "Do you intend to let this travesty proceed?"
Akane was already beginning to tire mentally as she shook her head in response. "Nothing is going to happen between them, okay? We're just going to...make sure of that, I guess."
The Black Rose wanted badly to end to her suitor's date this instant, but if making Ranma angry at her was the result then it simply wasn't an option. Regrettably, she thought to herself, the peasants were probably right in this case.
"Fine then," Kodachi pouted, folding her arms across her chest as she sat back down. "But the instant she tries anything, I am putting a stop to this awful date!"
"Fine," Ukyo agreed, breathing a sigh of relief. "We all want the same thing, so let's try to work together just this once. Okay?"
The defiant gymnast shrugged her shoulders and bit down on her lip, not at all happy with the current situation.
While the three girls tried to relax and waited for the train ride to end, Akane glanced through the window at the front of the car and watched her fiancée and Shampoo conversing. She couldn't tell what they were talking about, but Shampoo certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, getting a good laugh out of whatever Ranma was saying.
Angrily gritting her teeth, Akane quickly turned away from the window. Even though it was just two friends talking, she still couldn't stand the sight of Ranma and that girl together.
After an adventure through a busy part of Tokyo that neither he nor Shampoo had ever experienced before, Ranma and his date eventually reached the Shimbashi Station and boarded the Yurikamome transit line bound for Odaiba. During their earlier train ride and journey to the next station, the sun had slowly begun to set at one end of the sky. As a result, the two teenage martial artists now found themselves looking out at the orange sky casting its glow upon Tokyo Bay as the train crossed over the Rainbow Bridge that connected the island of Odaiba to the rest of Tokyo.
"Aiyaa, is pretty," Shampoo said with a sparkle in her eyes.
Ranma didn't think much of the sight, but he'd never been one to get taken in by scenery anyway.
"Ah! Ranma look over there!"
Turning to see what Shampoo was pointing at, Ranma soon noticed the giant ferris wheel towering in the distance.
"Hey, I've seen that thing on tv before," he recalled. "It's one of the biggest ferris wheels in the world."
Shampoo seemed genuinely impressed with the sight of the giant wheel. "It look fun."
It took a moment for Ranma to realize that Shampoo may have been hinting at something.
"You wanna go on it?" he asked her.
The lavender-haired girl glanced over at him with a hopeful look in her eyes. "You think there enough time?"
"Dunno," he shrugged. "We'll go see if it's still open when the gymnastics thing's over though. Sound good?"
Excited about the possibility, Shampoo happily nodded in response.
It wasn't long before the train reached the station and Ranma and Shampoo finally set foot on Odaiba. The two of them initially had no idea how to get to the Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena, but a helpful map located directly outside the station showed them exactly where it was located. Luckily for them, it was a relatively short distance from where they were.
"Alright, this place ain't too far away," Ranma said. "Let's go."
While the two of them walked toward their destination, Shampoo decided to have a little fun and linked her arm with Ranma's.
"Man, people are gonna think we're a couple if we look like this y'know," Ranma said to her, sounding embarrassed.
"It no matter," Shampoo smiled. "Is no one Ranma know, yes?"
"Then they think what want."
Ranma had to admit, she had a valid point. It wasn't like they would run into anybody they knew, right?
"Alright, I got it," he finally replied, reluctantly willing to go along with the arm-in-arm stroll despite any looks they might get.
Once they got closer to the arena, Ranma noticed that a growing number of people walking in the same direction as them were dressed in pink and black clothing. Not only that, but some of them were carrying folded up signs and banners, as well as different types of noisemakers. It was only a small taste of what he and Shampoo witnessed when they turned the corner around a pastry shop and saw the Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena for the first time.
"What the-?" the pigtailed boy exclaimed, amazed by the sight.
There were three lines of rowdy people stretched out along a sidewalk outside the arena, all waiting to get their tickets punched and enter the massive building. Like the people Ranma had noticed earlier, many of them were decked out in pink and black attire and had banners and other various objects with them.
"Is so many people!" Shampoo marveled. "We need get in line to go inside?"
"Seems like it," Ranma replied.
While the two of them headed to the back of one of the lines, Ranma noticed a large electric banner on the outside of the arena which read, "Extreme Gymnastics Federation presents Cherry Blossom Bash: Priscilla vs. Sakura III."
"Priscilla and Sakura, huh?" he said, catching the attention of some fans standing in front of him. "Wonder who the favorite is."
A black-haired girl dressed like a punk rocker quickly spun around and got in Ranma's face. "What're you talkin' about? Sakura's gonna beat that bitch this time! Who cares if Priscilla's never been beaten? If anyone can do it, it's Heavy Metal!"
The girl's passionate declaration drew a rousing ovation from a number of the others in line, who joined in with pro-Sakura banter of their own.
Shampoo blinked curiously as she watched the wild fans go off. "They no like that Priscilla girl?"
"Guess not," Ranma laughed, amused by the fans' antics. "I still ain't sure 'bout the gymnastics thing, but this place sure is energetic."
Back at the nearby pastry shop, Akane and Ukyo cautiously poked their heads out from behind the corner of the building to monitor the situation from afar.
"Extreme Gymnastics Federation?" Ukyo said, squinting her eyes to read the electric display on the building. "Since when have either of them been interested in gymnastics?"
"Who knows," Akane shrugged. "We're going to need tickets if we want to get in there though."
"You bring enough money?" Ukyo asked her.
"There you are!"
When the duo turned around to see who was screaming, they found an irritated Kodachi Kuno glaring at them.
"How dare you leave me back at the station?" she yelled.
"You expect us to wait while you go stand in front of a window and start putting makeup on?" Ukyo snapped back at her.
"A beauty such as myself must never go into battle not looking her best!" Kodachi declared, running her hand through her hair. "Now then, where has my darling Ranma gone?"
Akane calmly pointed her finger at the arena around the corner. "See for yourself."
Walking up next to the two other girls, Kodachi poked her head out and quickly spotted the object of her affection and his date near the front of a line of people.
"So there they are," she observed. "What on earth are they do-"
When Kodachi's eyes met the banner on the front of the arena, she immediately let out a gasp and fell backward onto her rear.
"N-NO!" she screamed, clutching her head tightly with both hands.
Ukyo and Akane were equally confused about the gymnast's sudden breakdown.
"Now what's wrong with you?" Ukyo asked with annoyance in her tone.
The girls were beginning to notice that Kodachi looked physically ill, cupping her hands over her mouth and breathing heavily as she scooted back against the pastry shop's wall.
"I...I cannot...go in there," the dark-haired gymnast quietly told them. "You peasants...I...I entrust Ranma darling to you..."
"Stop calling us that!" Akane fumed before turning around to check on Ranma and Shampoo. "Hey, they went inside! The longer we wait, the tougher it's going to be to find them..."
"Go!" Kodachi screamed at her rivals.
The sometimes maniacal Kuno sibling wasn't their friend by any stretch of the imagination, but Ukyo and Akane didn't feel great about leaving the clearly troubled girl by herself. They had an objective, however, and Kodachi was urging them to go.
"Fine," the okonomiyaki chef said reluctantly. "Let's go, Akane."
While Ukyo and Akane headed to the back of the line in front of the arena, Kodachi looked up into the sky and began taking deep breaths to calm herself down.
"Extreme...Gymnastics...Federation..." she mouthed, her hands still trembling violently. "Why...why must I remember such awful things?"
The Black Rose pulled her legs in close to her chest and buried her face in her knees, completely indifferent toward the curious looks from passersby.
"Even after I chose to forget...why do you still haunt me, Master?"
Inside the packed corridor of the arena, Ranma and Shampoo were following signs with section numbers on them to figure out where exactly they were sitting.
"What one we looking for, Ranma?"
"The tickets say Section 4, which is...there!"
After spotting the sign that read "Section 4" a short distance ahead of them, Shampoo excitedly pulled Ranma by the hand toward the main area of the arena. The fantastic sight before them when they reached the entrance was one that left even Ranma speechless.
The bowl-like inside of the arena held a vast sea of fans dressed in pink and black along with banners supporting the competitor named Sakura. There were two levels of seats that stretched all around the oval-shaped space, those being the lower part that included Section 4 and an upper deck above that. An electric banner that stretched all around the border of the upper deck read "Cherry Blossom Bash" in large, pink letters and had an animated sequence of pink cherry blossom petals falling all around it.
In the middle of the floor below sat a square ring surrounded by three dark blue, nylon ropes and a steel post at each corner to hold the ring up. On each side of an apron that covered the underside of the ring was a graphic of the letters "EGF," the 'E' with a torn ribbon wrapped around it, the 'G' with a cracked club sticking out from the side, and the 'F' with a broken hoop dangling from the top. And on opposite sides of the square structure were large steel ramps that led competitors to the ring, each with an "EGF" banner above it that was similar to the logo on the ring apron.
Dazzled by the spacious arena, Shampoo took a step out onto the concrete staircase that led downward through the sections of seats. "Shampoo never see thing like this before..."
"You and me both," Ranma added. "This ain't nothin' like those matches they had at school. There's gotta be thousands of people here..."
"Hey! Ranma! That you?"
Suddenly hearing a voice calling out his name, the pigtailed boy scoured the rows of seats below him for a moment before finally spotting some familiar faces.
"Hey, I know them!" he laughed. "C'mon, Shampoo!"
The lavender-haired Amazon blushed when Ranma reached back and grabbed hold of her hand as he led her down the stairs. Even though she'd been clinging onto his arm earlier, this felt entirely different since Ranma had initiated the contact this time. Inwardly, she had to wonder if Ranma even realized he'd done it.
"Yo! If it ain't Hiroshi and Daisuke," Ranma greeted his friends from school.
"I knew it was you!" the shaggy-haired Hiroshi exclaimed.
"Hey, man," Daisuke greeted him. "How'd your tests go?"
"Passed 'em all!" Ranma boasted. "So, what're you two doin' here?"
"You kidding? This match is gonna be huge! We wouldn't miss this for the world!" Hiroshi passionately explained, raising his fist up into the air. "I didn't know you were an EGF fan though."
Ranma scratched his cheek as he peeked back at the girl standing behind him. "Well, I ain't really..."
The black-haired Daisuke leaned forward to see who his longtime classmate was referring to. "Hey, isn't that Shampoo?"
"Nihao," Shampoo smiled, briefly waving her hand to greet them.
Hiroshi looked back and forth at the two several times before a shocking realization occurred to him. "Ranma...and Shampoo...holding hands..."
Ranma felt confused as he looked down, only then realizing that he was holding Shampoo's hand. Embarrassed, he quickly let go and put his hand back in his pocket, a move that the Amazon girl couldn't help giggling at.
"You're on a date, aren't you?" Hiroshi cried, shaking his fists out of jealousy. "I'm so envious!"
"You could just get a girlfriend, y'know..." Ranma joked.
"How are we supposed to do that when you take all the girls?"
"Hey, easy, easy," Daisuke chuckled before turning back to Ranma. "So, where are you two sitting?"
As more and more crew members began to take their spots near the ring, some of whom were bringing out the competitors' gymnastics tools and placing them at ringside, Ranma pulled out the tickets to double-check he and Shampoo's seating arrangement. "Let's see...Section 4, Row 1, Seats 4 and 5."
"R-ringside seats?" Daisuke asked in disbelief. "Holy cow, man. How'd you pull that off?"
The Anything-Goes martial artist wasted no time pointing over at his date. "You'd have to ask her."
Both Hiroshi and Daisuke turned toward the Amazon for clarification, but were quickly denied.
"Is secret!" Shampoo smiled, grabbing hold of Ranma's arm again. "We go now, Ranma?"
"Huh? Oh, sure," he said before turning back to his classmates. "I'll see you guys later, alright?"
"Sure thing," Daisuke called out to him as he and Shampoo began descending the steps.
"Go to hell, you enviable bastard!" Hiroshi added bitterly.
Shortly after Ranma and Shampoo had reached the front row and taken their seats behind the metal railing separating the crowd from the ringside area, a well-dressed man in a black suit entered the ring with a microphone in his hands and held it up to his mouth.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Extreme Gymnastics Federation's Cherry Blossom Bash!"
The announcement drew an incredible roar of anticipation from the thousands in the crowd before the announcer continued speaking.
"First off, I would like to announce that tonight we set a new record for an EGF event with 8, 939 fans in attendance!" he said, much to everyone's delight. "Thank you to all of you for coming here on this momentous night! And now, it is time for the first of two preliminary matches before our main event of the evening!"
A number of spotlights positioned on the ceiling above the ring began shining green and yellow lights all over the arena and an upbeat dance tune started to play as a gymnast and her second walked out onto one of the ramps, waving to the audience as they gave her an ovation.
Meanwhile, up in the upper deck, two girls were closely eying the seats below to spot the targets they'd lost sight of.
"I can't believe all they had left were these nosebleed seats!" Ukyo grumbled. "These things weren't cheap either..."
"We're lucky they had seats at all," Akane told her, continuing to scour the sea of fans for her fiancée. "Found them!"
"Down there in the front row. Look..."
When Ukyo focused her sights on the first row of seats below, it wasn't tough to pick Shampoo's unusual hair color out from the crowd.
"That's them alright," she noted, taking a deep breath as she sat back in her seat. "Guess we just sit back and watch the show for now."
Over the course of nearly an hour, the crowd inside the Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena enjoyed some interesting moments during the preliminary matches. The first match was a competitive, back-and forth contest that ended after one girl lost her balance trying to spring off of the top rope and fell to the ring apron, only to be knocked to the floor outside after being struck in the face with three modified hoops at once. The second match, on the other hand, quickly turned one-sided after one of the girls was stunned by a swift club strike to the side of the head. She was soon overwhelmed with a torrent of ribbon lashes to the point that the referee stopped the match. The crowd was a bit disappointed that neither girl had a chance to use any of their special tools, but they knew not every match was guaranteed to live up to its potential.
Once the ring area had been cleared and crew members began bringing out the tools for the girls in the main event, the crowd wasted no time erupting in anticipation of the bout.
With everyone in the audience standing up and a deafening chant of "Sa-ku-ra" filling the arena, Shampoo pulled Ranma to his feet and leaned in close to him.
"Is so noisy!" Shampoo said, talking loudly so that Ranma would be able to hear her.
"No kiddin'!" he yelled back. "This is actually kinda fun! I can't wait to see why they're all goin' nuts over this last match!"
The two both watched curiously as several crew members muscled half a dozen gym bags that appeared to weigh quite a bit to the spot outside one corner of the ring. After dropping those off and walking to the backstage area, they soon returned with a combined eight trash cans filled with various tools and set them down outside the opposite corner of the ring.
While the crew moved over next to the television commentator's desk, the ring announcer was given the go-ahead to begin the introductions and promptly entered the ring. The roar of the crowd only growing louder, the announcer stood silent for a moment, nodding his head knowingly as he waited for the thrilled fans to calm down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is now time for our main event!"
Much to the surprise of Ranma and Shampoo, as well as Akane and Ukyo in the upper deck, the entire arena suddenly went black. The lights going out only intensified the chanting of Sakura's name, however, and when three drum beats echoed throughout the building, the electronic banner bordering the upper deck flashing pink with each beat, the audience knew who was coming. The drum beats gradually intensified until finally the music broke out into a heavy metal anthem with lyrics that described the person coming out as a one of a kind warrior that put fear into everyone she faced. Up above, the upper deck's banner changed to read "Sakura Okazaki" in bright pink letters and had an animated effect of shattered glass falling in the background.
With the lights coming back on and pink spotlights shining over the crowd, the sound of not only electric guitars echoed throughout the arena, but the revving of a motorcycle as well. Turning to one of the steel ramps, Ranma and Shampoo both watched as a girl with long, wild-looking pink hair, black boots, and a pink and black leotard with the silver design of crossbones across the abdomen rode out onto the ramp on her motorcycle with a leather-clad girl with short, bright red hair holding onto her from behind.
A massive applause rained down from the crowd as Sakura pumped her fist in the air several times to acknowledge her fans before blazing down the ramp on her bike. Then, as she reached the bottom of the ramp and turned to the side, she and the other girl began high-fiving everyone leaning over the railing from the front row as they took a joyride around the ring. Ranma and Shampoo went with the flow and stuck their hands out, both receiving a slap from the wild-looking gymnast and her second as they cruised by.
After circling around the entire front row and propping the motorcycle up on a kickstand, the two girls simultaneously hopped over the top rope and into the ring, a pink blast of sparks shooting out from the top of each of the four ringposts at the moment they touched the mat. It was a flashy display that Sakura's fans had grown to love over the years of watching her.
As the heavy metal tune faded and the spotlights dimmed, Sakura climbed up onto the middle rope in one corner of the ring and began waving her hands, urging the fans to be louder. The crowd gladly responded, showing no shortage of love for the pink-haired gymnast. Once she was satisfied, Sakura hopped down from the rope and stood facing the other entrance, anxiously awaiting her opponent for the evening.
"Well, that was somethin'," Ranma commented, peering over at the other entrance ramp.
Shampoo nodded in agreement. "Now is time see girl they no like..."
When the blaring of trumpets and other orchestral instruments making up a medley that was fit for an Olympian began sounding through the arena's speakers, the crowd's reaction was the polar opposite of what they'd given Sakura. The amount of hissing and booing was tremendous as a girl wearing a golden leotard designed to look like the flag of the United States of America strutted out onto the ramp with an American flag draped over her shoulders. Red, white, and blue spotlights moved to shine over her, making the gold glitter that covered her long hair, which was tied up in a large bun on the back of her head with one long group of strands on each side extending down the front of her body, shimmer brightly. Seeming indifferent to the crowd's hatred of her, the girl grabbed hold of her flag and raised her arms into the air, striking a pose as an incredible waterfall of golden sparks began to fall behind her.
In the midst of her opponent's entrance, the pink-haired gymnast in the ring had her eyes locked on only one thing: the leather belt with gold plates wrapped around the golden girl's waist.
As a sequence of golden stars fell behind the name "Priscilla Winters" on the upper deck's banner, the unpopular gymnast very slowly made her way toward the ring. At one point she simply stopped and closed her eyes for a moment, appearing to bask in the crowd's dislike of her. Leaving her flag behind as she reached the ring, she nimbly hopped up to the top rope in a nearby corner, turned to the audience, and raised her arms to pose for them once more. Already doing a fine job of displaying their dislike for Priscilla as the music faded out, the Tokyo audience was further incited when the golden-haired girl grinned wickedly and made a gesture implying that they could all kiss her ass.
"She sure isn't out to make friends, is she?" Ukyo said, not sure why someone would enjoy being hated that much.
"Why would she act like that?" Akane wondered, almost forgetting why she was there for a moment as she witnessed the spectacle. "She must be a horrible person..."
Tensions were extremely high as the announcer stepped into the middle of the ring to formally introduce the competitors.
"The following contest is for the Extreme Gymnastics Federation Championship!"
The crowd's booing quickly turned to cheers of anticipation as the two girls stared at each other from opposite sides of the ring.
"Introducing first, the challenger," the announcer continued. "From right here in Tokyo, Japan, she is Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki!"
The wild-looking gymnast dressed in pink and black pumped her fist in the air to acknowledge her supporters as chants of "Sa-ku-ra" rained down louder than they had all night. It took nearly an entire minute for the audience to quiet down enough for the introductions to continue.
"And her opponent," the announcer said, prompting the crowd to vocalize its dislike for the golden-haired girl again. "Formerly hailing from Jacksonville, Florida in the United States of America, she is the still undefeated Extreme Gymnastics Federation Champion, Priscilla Winters!"
Looking as if she were enjoying herself, Priscilla waved her hands to encourage the sour fans to jeer her even more before removing the championship belt from her waist and handing it off to the female referee. After giving the belt to a crew member near the television announcer's desk, the referee then motioned for the two girls to come to the center of the ring.
"Okay, you two know the rules," she explained to them. "This match goes until one of you touches the floor, gives up, or can't continue. If you're knocked down, I may start a ten count. If you can't stand up by the time I count to ten, this match is over. Let's have a good, clean contest, ladies."
Not yet ready to go back to her corner, Priscilla raised three fingers in front of her as she stared down her opponent.
"That supposed to mean something?" Sakura asked her.
"Yes, it is," Priscilla smiled confidently. "After tonight, this is how many times I'll have beaten you and dashed the hopes of your pathetic fans."
"Oh yeah?" the pink-haired woman said, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd when she suddenly raised her middle finger up to Priscilla's face. "This is how many shots it's gonna take me to knock you out, you miserable bitch."
Apparently satisfied, the champion smirked with amusement at the gesture and headed back to her corner.
Over in the front row, Ranma watched with interest as the crew members at ringside took the garbage cans they'd brought out earlier and began dumping ribbons, clubs, and other common gymnastics tools onto the floor all around the ring.
"Why the heck are they doin' that?" he asked.
"Maybe because American girl no have second?" Shampoo pointed out.
Ranma noticed that Sakura's second was setting up tools in her corner of the ring, but sure enough there was no one outside Priscilla's corner.
"Hey, you're right. I didn't even notice," the pigtailed boy said, scratching his cheek as he wondered how this worked. "So...how's she supposed to get tools?"
The two watched closely as Priscilla pulled a ribbon out of the neck area of her leotard. Unraveling the item while she walked over to one edge of the ring, she snapped it down onto the floor with amazing speed and precision and whipped two clubs up into the air before catching one in each hand.
"Okay, nevermind, I get it," Ranma muttered.
"That girl no is bad," Shampoo said, complimenting the unpopular champion's ability.
While she was waiting for the ring bell to sound and the match to begin, Priscilla started to comb over the first few rows of fans to get a better look at the scowls directed toward her. Then, in an awkward moment, her expression turned to one of concern as she spotted something that caught her attention.
Noticing the look on the gymnast's face, Ranma looked back and forth between she and Shampoo to see if he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. "Is she...lookin' at you?"
His lavender-haired friend looked extremely confused as she stood next to him.
"Shampoo think so, but no know why," she answered, trying to figure out what exactly that was about herself. "Never meet that girl before..."
When the referee called out to ask if she was ready, Priscilla hesitated for a moment before turning away from the front row of seats and nodding at the official.
Sakura did likewise, and with the ringing of the bell, the championship match began.
Meanwhile, over at the Tendo residence, Soun and Genma were enjoying a little after dinner television while Kasumi finished cleaning dishes. Or they were trying to, at least. Both of them had been feeling a bit uneasy throughout the night given the current activities of Genma's son.
"Everything is going to be fine, isn't it?" Soun asked nervously. "Ranma won't do anything...immoral?"
"No worries, Tendo," Genma told him, a bit more concerned about things than he was letting on. "He said himself it's just one little date he promised that Shampoo girl a long time ago. Besides, you know as well as I do he doesn't care about anything but martial arts right now."
Soun folded his arms across his chest and took a deep breath, trying to relax and stop thinking about Ranma's date. "I suppose you're right. That's probably why we can't seem to get he and Akane married."
The two older men shared a brief chuckle as Ringo appeared from the kitchen with a tray in her hands. Kneeling down, she carefully set two cups of tea down on the table and headed back toward the kitchen.
"Oh, thank you, Ringo," Soun smiled.
To Soun's surprise, the redhead uncharacteristically ignored him and left without a word.
"Now that's strange. Is she upset about something?" he wondered.
"Sure seems that way," Genma replied. "She's usually in such a good mood too. It must really be something to get that girl's spirit down."
Inside the kitchen, Ringo slowly walked over to the sink and set the tray down on the counter next to Kasumi.
"Thank you for doing that," the eldest Tendo daughter told her.
"Sure," Ringo replied weakly. It was easy for anyone to see that her mind was in a different place right now. "Hey, Kasumi?"
"Yes? What is it?" Kasumi asked.
"Could...we talk about something when you finish with the dishes?"
Kasumi noticed as soon as Ringo got home that she seemed bothered by something, so the request didn't come as much of a shock to her. "Of course! It shouldn't take much longer."
"Okay," Ringo said, quietly dragging herself out of the kitchen. "I'll be up in my room..."
The soon-to-be-wife of Dr. Tofu felt very worried seeing Ringo like this. Her not being cheerful just didn't seem natural.
"That poor girl. I wonder what happened..."
Back at the Hiroyuki Tanaka Arena, fans were screaming for the pink-haired gymnast to finish off Priscilla Winters after twenty-five grueling minutes of action had left both girls exhausted and the ringside area looking like a junkyard.
Broken clubs and hoops, ribbons, a wooden table split in half, a skillet, a microphone cord, and a destroyed snare drum were only some of the objects littering the ring and floor below. The ring's top rope was torn off on one side, leaving it dangling loosely around the other edges. And in the midst of the scene of carnage, Sakura and Priscilla were both trying to get back to their feet while the referee continued her count to ten.
"Ranma...this really gymnastics?" Shampoo asked her pigtailed friend in disbelief.
"I guess so long as they use tools it is," Ranma answered, genuinely impressed by the unique abilities and toughness of the girls. "This ain't nothin' like my match against Kodachi though. This is just crazy..."
At the count of eight, both gymnasts managed to stand up with the help of the ropes to pull them to their feet.
The left side of Priscilla's face was drenched in blood from a cut she'd sustained on her forehead earlier, limiting her vision after the blood had gotten into her eye. Not only that, but the red substance was also seeping from her nostrils after her pink-haired challenger had likely broken her nose with the snare drum. Her legs were wobbly, but her mind was still clear as she leaned back against a ringpost holding two clubs that she'd just picked up off of the canvas.
Sakura wasn't having the same problem with blood loss that she'd caused Priscilla, but her body was covered with welts and her face was badly swollen from taking so many repeated attacks from the champion. This match-up of her strength and power against Priscilla's speed and accuracy hadn't gone her way in their previous two encounters, but she had the golden-haired girl in a great deal of trouble at the moment, and she was determined to finish her off. Grabbing an electric guitar from her second, Sakura bounced off the middle ring rope to give herself some momentum and shot toward the champion.
The American girl waited for just the right moment and ducked to Sakura's left side just as she was about to swing her guitar. With her incredibly fluid motion, Priscilla then turned and aimed her right club for the back of her challenger's head. As she soon found out, however, Sakura's initial attack movement was a feint. The pink-haired gymnast saw right through Priscilla's counter and spun around before swinging her guitar as hard as she could manage.
A collective gasp came from the thousands in attendance as Priscilla's club struck Sakura directly in the chin, and the challenger's guitar, although it was a glancing blow, smashed into the right side of Priscilla's head and snapped into two pieces. Sakura immediately went limp and fell face first to the canvas while Priscilla spun around from the impact of the guitar and fell flat on her back.
"Oh man, that's it," Ranma said, wincing as he looked upon the fallen gymnasts.
With the crowd screaming for Sakura to rise from the mat, the referee once again started her count to ten. "One! Two! Three!"
"You've almost got her, Sakura! Get up!"
"Sakura! Knock her out!"
"Stand up, Sakura! Please!"
Caught up in the spirit of the moment, Shampoo cupped her hands around her mouth and went along with the frantic fans in cheering Sakura on. "She no can get up, Sakura! No lay there like that! Stand up!"
"C'mon, Sakura! Get the heck up! Everyone's rootin' for ya!" Ranma joined in, cheering on the representative of Japan.
"Four! Five! Six!" the referee continued to count.
The pink-haired fan favorite still lay motionless as Priscilla began to stir, weakly raising her arm up and grabbing hold of the middle rope.
The golden-haired girl pulled on the rope with all her might and managed to get to one knee as the audience cried for Sakura to move.
"Sakura!" Ranma and Shampoo both shouted together, trying along with everyone else to rouse the challenger. There was no hope this time though. Sakura had been knocked unconscious.
Priscilla, who had pulled herself to both knees, collapsed into one corner of the ring as the referee called for the bell to sound, an enormous expression of disappointment coming from the record audience.
At ringside, Ranma slammed his fist down onto the rail in frustration. "Damn! She was so close!"
"No can believe that!" Shampoo cried out.
After a quick word with the referee, the announcer grabbed his microphone to make the formal announcement of the result. "May I have your attention, please! Since neither Sakura nor Priscilla could answer the referee's ten count, the official decision is a draw! As a result, Priscilla Winters is still the Extreme Gymnastics Federation Champion!"
A deafening roar of jeers rang down from the audience as the referee walked over to Priscilla with the championship belt. The unpopular champion immediately grabbed it and clutched it to her chest, knowing very well she'd dodged a bullet on this night.
While Sakura's second and several EGF crew members hopped into the ring to check on the challenger's condition, the bloodied Priscilla wearily rolled under the bottom rope and to the floor. Although crew members offered to help her backstage, she defiantly brushed all of them off and began stumbling forward on her own.
The golden-haired girl very slowly moved along the ring apron until she was directly in front of where Ranma and Shampoo were standing. Breathing heavily as she raised her head, she then turned and looked directly at the Chinese girl in the white blouse.
"Again?" Ranma blinked. "You sure you don't know her?"
Shampoo watched as Priscilla pushed herself away from the ring apron and collapsed into a kneeling position in front of the railing. Lifting her hand up, she curled her finger several times, motioning for Shampoo to come closer to her.
Perplexed but curious, Shampoo leaned in close to the bloodied champion to see what she wanted.
"Don't...don't tell her..." Priscilla's voice shook.
Without another word, the American gymnast pushed herself to her feet and continued her slow trek backstage to a chorus of boos from the crowd.
Shampoo tilted her head as she watched her leave, not having any idea what the cryptic message meant. "No tell her?"
"What the heck's that supposed to mean?" Ranma asked.
"Have no idea..." Shampoo answered, still looking puzzled. "That one strange girl."
Shampoo would have had a tough time recognizing Priscilla even if she had seen her before since she was covered in so much gold glitter and blood from her match, but even so, she was positive she didn't know anyone who had such an awful attitude.
There was a sudden ovation from the audience as Sakura finally began to move. After being told by her second what had happened, she angrily stumbled to her feet and began kicking tools around the ring. Running her hands through her hair as she tried to deal with the disappointment, everyone still in the seats stood up and began applauding her performance. She may not have won, but they still appreciated her efforts.
Looking exhausted as she stared out into the crowd, she gingerly raised her fist into the air to acknowledge them.
After Sakura and her second had left the ring and headed backstage, Ranma and Shampoo stood up and stretched before they began following everyone up the stairs toward the exit. The surprisingly exciting martial arts rhythmic gymnastics show had finally ended.
On the balcony of the upper deck, Ukyo and Akane were closely watching the pair's movements as they left.
"Looks like they're heading for the front doors," Akane said.
The okonomiyaki chef nodded in reply. "Right, let's go."
As he walked along the corridor, Ranma soon began to remember something from earlier. "Oh, you wanted to check out that ferris wheel, right?"
"We still have time?" Shampoo asked, beaming as she recalled the giant ride.
"Think so," Ranma said, staring ahead at the flows of people leaving the arena. "Looks like there's another set of doors over there that leads that way. Let's take that. Looks less packed anyway."
Once they'd gotten outside, Akane and Ukyo immediately began searching the thousands of fans leaving the arena for Ranma and Shampoo. They'd assumed that the pair had left the building shortly before they got to the doors, but strangely they couldn't see them anywhere. The fact that the sky had grown dark over the last couple of hours didn't help their efforts either.
"What's going on, Akane? Tell me something here," Ukyo said, starting to worry.
"Maybe they haven't left yet," Akane suggested, already beginning to tire of following her fiancée around. "Let's just wait for a minute to see if they walk out."
One minute passed. Then three. Then five. Then ten. There was still no sign of them.
Once the flow of people coming out of the arena stopped, the girls got further away from the building to see if they could spot Ranma and Shampoo walking anywhere nearby.
"I can't believe this!" Ukyo growled. "It's like they just disappeared!"
The two were startled as a pair of hands suddenly grabbed them from behind and spun them around.
"I do hope you are not speaking of my darling Ranma!" a re-energized Kodachi said angrily.
"Are you still here?" Ukyo asked with surprise. "I thought you went home or something."
"I shall not return home until Ranma is freed from that Amazon hussy!" the Black Rose retorted, eying the girls sharply. "You've lost them, haven't you?"
Akane shrugged and placed her hands on her hips, not particularly concerned about it. "Like I said, nothing's going to happen. Why don't we just go home?"
"No, we are not leaving them alone!" the okonomiyaki chef shouted with determination. "If we can't find them, we'll just pick a direction and start looking around!"
For once, Kodachi was in complete agreement with her rival. "We haven't any time to waste! We must move out immediately!"
Wondering to herself why she continued to go along with this, Akane sighed deeply and began running behind the other two.
"Fine, let's go..."
After leaving the arena, Ranma and Shampoo began walking down one of the island's less populated roads on their way to the giant ferris wheel since it seemed like the most straightforward way to get there.
"That so much fun!" Shampoo smiled.
"Yeah, I'll admit, that was pretty good," Ranma agreed. "I never thought gymnastics girls could fight like that. Just watchin' it makes me wanna fight someone now..."
The pigtailed martial artist winced as Shampoo reprimanded him by pinching his arm.
"Ow! What was that for?" he snapped.
Shampoo looked back at him sternly. "You no pick fight until arm is better."
Ranma scoffed at the comment while rubbing the pinched area on his good arm. "I can still fight like this..."
"But fight better when have two arms," the Amazon said, sticking her tongue out at him. "Ranma need take care of self better."
Walking along the silent road, Shampoo found herself staring at the lit up ferris wheel they were closing in on. The different patterns of colored lights flashing and swirling around the side of the giant attraction made for an incredible sight.
"Wheel so pretty when is dark outside," she said quietly.
"It's sure different seein' it in person like this," Ranma added, noticing that the gondolas on the ferris wheel were in motion as he looked closely. "Looks like it's still runnin' too..."
"Hey, lookie here!"
Ranma and Shampoo came to a stop when they heard the call coming from the direction to their left. To their surprise, a number of ragged looking men emerged from a nearby alley, led by one in particular with a green mohawk and a leather jacket, and began walking toward them.
"That's a fine lookin' chick ya got there, buddy!" the man leading the pack shouted.
The men's torn clothes gave Ranma the impression that they were just some common punks, but he wasn't about to let his guard down around them. "What do you guys want?"
"Want?" the man at the front grinned, licking his lips as he eyed the lavender-haired girl. "We wouldn't mind havin' some fun with your chickie, if ya know what I mean."
Shrugging off the annoyances, Shampoo wrapped her arm around Ranma and smiled coldly at the men. "Shampoo no have interest in weakling like you."
"Weakling?" the leader yelled, he and his men bursting into laughter at the assessment. "Yo, buddy, I love this chick! She's fiesty and stuff, y'know? We're totally takin' her with us!"
Ranma had to try hard not to laugh at the idiot's desire to take Shampoo with him. They had no idea what they would be in for.
"I think she's a little too much for you guys to handle," the pigtailed boy smirked. "We'll take ya on if you want though."
The gang of men again broke down laughing at Ranma's offer.
"You and your chickie against all of us?" the leader cried, rubbing his finger against a scar across his cheek. "Are you outta your freakin' mind?"
Raising his hand into the air, Ranma counted the men one-by-one and began scratching his head. "Yeah, I guess the nine of you against us ain't fair. How 'bout all of ya just fight me then?"
"Ranma!" Shampoo yelled with concern. "You no should fight!"
A number of the men couldn't believe that the injured boy with the pigtail wanted to take them on all by himself.
"You hear that, boys? The one-armed wonder here thinks he can take all of us!" the leader chuckled. "You're on, buddy! Don't blame us if ya get messed up though!"
Reaching up to the shoulder area of his broken arm, Ranma unsnapped his sling, freeing the injured limb from it's confined state. After slowly unfastening his shirt, he then removed it and handed both it and the sling over to his Amazon friend.
"Ranma, you listen?" Shampoo yelled at him.
"Don't worry about it, alright?" Ranma said, giving her an assuring smirk as he began stretching in his undershirt. "I ain't got much of a workout since I fought Mousse and I'm all fired up from watchin' that match earlier. I need this."
The last thing Shampoo wanted was for Ranma to re-injure his arm on their date, but she knew all too well how stubborn he was. She could scold him all she wanted, but in the end he would probably still want to fight the idiots.
"You no is allowed to get hurt!" she told him, giving him a worried look. "Ranma promise?"
Ranma gave her a thumbs up as he strutted over to the group of men. "Promise!"
Several of the thugs pulled metal pipes out from their jackets as they snickered at the one-armed martial artist.
"This oughtta be fun!" the leader laughed, pointing his hand forward at their target. "Get 'im boys!"
Grinning joyously as the punks closed in, Ranma planted his feet firmly on the ground and readied himself for some fun.
"Don't regret this!"
End of Chapter 21