A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part II: Queen of Extreme
by rkOujirou

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.


Chapter 2

With the sun shining down in the late afternoon of an early June day, three friends strolled out the doors of Furinkan High to freedom after another long day of classes.

"Uwaa...it sure is nice out," Ringo Saotome beamed cheerfully. Naturally, she was the only one of the three who actually wore her school uniform like she was supposed to. "So, how did you two do on the Japanese history test?"

Behind her, Ranma and Ukyo cringed at the memory of the earlier exam.

"Lousy," the pigtailed boy muttered.

"I don't think I did that great either..." Ukyo sulked.

"Really?" Ranma asked, perking up a bit. "Well that's good. Least I ain't the only one that did bad."

The okonomiyaki chef chuckled a little at her childhood friend's reaction. "Go failures!"

Ringo looked on with disapproval as the two shared a high-five to celebrate their poor grades. "Come on, you guys. You shouldn't be proud of that. If you want, I could help tutor you to get your grades back up."

Neither Ranma nor Ukyo seemed too enthused about the offer.

"That sounds like lots of fun, but I need to go get the restaurant ready for tonight, Sugar," Ukyo told her, quick to avoid the possibility of any painful tutoring sessions. "I'll see you guys tomorrow!"

"'Kay. See ya, Ucchan," Ranma said to her.

"Bye, Ukyo!" Ringo waved.

After her classmate had left to tend to her business, the girl with the perky red ponytail let out an audible sigh that caught the attention of her former male half.

"What's wrong with you?" Ranma asked.

Ringo had thus far avoided letting Ranma know about her unusual agreement with Kodachi, nervous about how he might react to the prospect of her missing some time at the Cat Café , but she didn't have the luxury of putting it off any longer.

"Well-"

"Hey..." Ranma interrupted her all of a sudden, coming to a stop while staring closely at something beyond the school's gates. "Ain't that...Kuno's rickshaw thing?"

Looking to see what the pigtailed boy was talking about, Ringo was both surprised and dismayed to see that the Kuno family's rickshaw was, indeed, sitting out by the gates, just as Kodachi had promised.

"Oh gosh, she wasn't joking. She really did send someone to get me..." she pouted, drawing a curious look from Ranma.

"Huh? The heck's goin' on?" he asked.

Once he'd spotted his target, the Kuno family's servant popped out from the rickshaw and rushed over to Ringo, kneeling before her like she was an angel sent from above.

"Greetings, Miss Ringo!" Sasuke said excitedly, only to sour a bit as he noticed who was standing next to her. "And...Ranma Saotome."

"Yo, Sasuke! How's Kuno doin'?" Ranma asked the subservient ninja.

"Resting comfortably at home, no thanks to you!" Sasuke snapped back at him before turning his attention to the redheaded girl again. "Forgive me, Miss Ringo, but Mistress Kodachi has been a bit impatient today. If you don't mind, shall we get going?"

While Ringo stood twiddling her fingers, looking very hesitant to go along with him, Ranma was fast becoming annoyed with his lack of understanding in this entire situation.

"Okay, I must've missed somethin' important. Someone mind tellin' me just what the heck's happening here?!" he demanded.

With a pained groan, Ringo realized that it was finally time to explain herself.

"Well...last night, Kodachi came to Mr. Tendo's house and asked me to help her with a gymnastics tournament of hers..."

"Kodachi?!" Ranma asked in disbelief, knowing well the history between the twisted gymnast and Ringo. "I thought she couldn't stand you..."

"She can't," Ringo sighed. "She must really not like the person she's after if she's asking for my help. I...I tried to tell her that I had to work, but she ran off before I could!"

"I figured as much..." Sasuke hung his head in shame. "But...Mistress Kodachi is more energetic than I've seen her in months! It's so wonderful to see her inspired again after all she's been through! I can't thank you enough!"

"All she's been through, huh..." Ranma thought to himself, having a fairly good idea of what Sasuke meant by that. He hadn't seen Kodachi since that night she stumbled away from the Cat Café, and there was probably a pretty good reason for that, he figured.

The heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts quietly glanced over at Ringo, who looked extremely uncomfortable despite Sasuke's gratitude toward her. Folding his arms over his chest, the pigtailed boy pondered the dilemma to himself for a moment before addressing his former female half.

"You wanna help her, Ringo?" he asked.

"W-well...I said I would..." the redhead meekly replied.

Briefly nodding his head, Ranma then turned to Sasuke for some information. "Hey, you know when this thing starts?"

"O-oh, yes! The qualifying event for the tournament is being held in the evening two days from now. If Mistress Kodachi qualifies, she would then have matches at certain intervals afterward, though I'm afraid I don't know the specific dates yet," the Kuno family servant explained.

"Qualifyin's in two days, huh? Alright, that settles it then," Ranma said, flashing an approving look in Ringo's direction. "Take a couple days off and go help 'er out, Ringo. Me and Shampoo can handle the restaurant 'til then."

The young waitress seemed aghast at the suggestion. "But...but I never miss work...!"

"Yeah, no kiddin'. You've worked like every day since Shampoo reopened the place," Ranma sarcastically pointed out to her. "Go do what ya gotta do. We'll be okay."

Ringo solemnly lowered her head and looked down at the ground, not sure what to make of all this. "Well...if it's not a problem, I guess I could go..."

"That's wonderful! Thank you so much!" an overjoyed Sasuke told her as Ranma began to walk off.

"I'm gonna get goin' then," the pigtailed martial artist briefly waved his hand. "See ya tomorrow, Ringo. Don't get too banged up over there."

"I'll try not to. Bye, Ranma..." Ringo waved back to him with a hint of sadness in her voice. Even with Ranma's blessing, she still couldn't help feeling bad about missing her job duties for the first time since she'd started being the Cat Café's waitress.

"We should hurry, Miss Ringo. Mistress Kodachi is going to be upset if we arrive any later," Sasuke informed her.

"Right," Ringo said, taking a close look at the rickshaw as she followed him. "We're going on this? I feel bad having you pull me there, though..."

The subservient ninja was quick to dismiss any guilty feelings she may have had. "Please do not worry! It is my duty as a servant to the Kuno family! If I can get you to Mistress Kodachi even a second earlier then any effort is well worthwhile!"

"Mmm...if you put it that way..." Ringo replied, still sounding a bit unsure.

Once his passenger had settled into her seat, Sasuke took his place at the front of the contraption and firmly grabbed hold of the bar at his chest.

"Hold on tight, Miss Ringo! Here we go!"

Taking off with unexpectedly high speed, Ringo's head jerked back as the rickshaw blazed down the street with her red ponytail blowing in the wind behind her.


Inside the Cat Café restaurant, which was beginning its daily spurt of afternoon business from students stopping by for a snack after school, Shampoo was leaning up against the counter with her eyes fixated on the clock high atop the wall.

"Is almost time now..." she said with an amused smile.

As the young Amazon warrior had found out during her tenure at the restaurant, there were several people who had unbreakable daily routines, virtually guaranteeing their arrival at exact times of the day.

"Five, four, three, two, one..."

Just like clockwork, the door to the Cat Café creaked open just as Shampoo's countdown ended, and in walked the familiar girl with long, blonde hair that she'd become accustomed to over the past few months.

"Nihao," Shampoo waved to her.

"Hey," Alysse smiled back, dropping her gym bag on the floor next to her usual table. "How's business?"

"Is like always," the lavender-haired girl replied, placing a ready-made glass of ice water on the table as her customer sat down. "Now wait for other one..."

Alysse felt embarrassed as she saw Shampoo direct her attention up at the wall clock. "Oh god, did I show up at the same time again? I still can't believe I do that. I'll have to change things up one of these days to throw you off."

"But that no is fun for Shampoo," the restaurant's manager joked. "Now...five, four, three, two, one..."

*...*

Seconds passed by as Shampoo and Alysse stared at the door, waiting for the expected arrival of the restaurant's energetic waitress. This, however, appeared to be a rare instance where Shampoo's clockwork theory was proven false.

"Ahh..." she grumbled, double-checking the clock to make sure she had the right time. "Ringo make Shampoo look silly. Where that girl at?"

Perhaps having her answer, Shampoo took notice as the door suddenly began to creak open. The Saotome that entered wasn't the one she was expecting, though.

"Yo, I'm back," Ranma stepped inside, shutting the door behind him.

"Ah-! Ranma!" Shampoo hopped over to him, gleefully wrapping her arms around his neck. "No think you ever get here before Ringo."

"First time for everything," he told her, tossing his schoolbag behind the kitchen counter. "Ringo's gonna be busy with somethin', so she's takin' a few days off."

Sitting at the table next to them, the mention of the redheaded waitress's absence grabbed the full attention of Alysse, who spun around and glared at Ranma as if he'd just told some sort of cruel joke.

Shampoo, likewise, appeared stunned at the unusual news. "Aiyaa...hell freeze over. Ringo never miss work before...she no even come late one time. Some bad thing happen?"

"Nah. I guess Kodachi asked her to help with some gymnastics thing," Ranma explained.

"That crazy girl?" a further confused Amazon teen asked. "Shampoo think that one no like Ringo..."

"Yeah, me too, but whatever," Ranma shrugged. "Sounds like they might be at it 'til the middle of the week, so it's just you and me here for a few days."

Quick to spot the upside of any situation, Shampoo hopped up into Ranma's arms with a bright gleam in her eyes.

"That no is good. What ever we do by selves?" she playfully responded, nuzzling her head against the pigtailed boy's cheek. "Ah...boy customer no be happy if boy Ranma serve food though..."

A quick glance at Alysse's glass of ice water produced a devious smile on the face of the lavender-haired girl, a sure sign that a plan was forming in her sometimes mischievous mind. And, as in some instances, this was one of those times where Ranma could read her like a book.

"No way! I ain't doin' it! Don't even think about it!" he immediately protested.

"But girl Ranma look just like Ringo. Is perfect," Shampoo tried to persuade him. "You no care about business?"

"Not THAT much I don't! I already had to be a waitress for that old hag once and I ain't doin' it again!" Ranma declared.

"...she's not coming..."

The debate between the two martial artists came to an end as they both watched a troubled-looking Alysse rise from her seat and pick up her gym bag.

"Alysse leave already?" Shampoo asked with a surprised tone.

The blonde-haired girl turned her back to the Cat Cafe's manager, hiding the conflicted expression on her face. "I'm...not very hungry tonight. I'll see you another time..."

Leaving her glass still filled with water, Alysse hurried to the door and promptly left the restaurant for the day.

"Huh...that's weird," Ranma blinked his eyes.

"Ringo-!"

Calling out the name of the absent waitress, none other than Ukyo Kuonji suddenly burst into the Cat Café looking as though she were in a hurry. Holding a notebook in her hand, she was hoping to find Ringo standing before her, but instead found herself staring at a sight that made her stomach churn.

As the look on the okonomiyaki chef's face soured, Ranma, who was standing there with Shampoo in his arms, quickly set her down before addressing his childhood friend.

"H-hey! Ucchan...!" he greeted her, nervously rubbing the back of his head. "What's up?"

"Is Ringo here?" Ukyo asked, the displeasure evident in her voice.

"Ringo? Uh...nah, she's busy tonight..." Ranma told her.

"Oh, I see," Ukyo coldly replied, holding up the notebook in her hand. "I forgot to give this back to her today, but I guess I'll go drop it off at the Tendo's place."

After turning toward the door, Ranma's former fiancée looked back over her shoulder and shot both the pigtailed boy and Shampoo an icy glare. "Sorry for interrupting you. Please, continue."

Ranma cringed with remorse as he watched Ukyo storm back out the door of the restaurant. It was unintended and certainly within the rights of he and his girlfriend, but he still regretted that Ukyo had to see he and Shampoo acting so close.

"Spatula Girl still mad..." Shampoo said.

"Seems like it," Ranma groaned, rubbing his hand against his forehead to alleviate a fast-growing headache. "Guess it ain't somethin' that's just gonna go away so soon..."


"Hang on! We're almost there!"

Surrounded by a cloud of dust, the Kuno family's rickshaw nearly tipped over as it soared around a street corner with Sasuke at the helm. Right now, the only thing on the mind of the subservient ninja was to get his passenger to his mistress as quickly as possible, and neither passing vehicles nor pedestrians were going to stand in his way.

With the Kuno Estate coming into view, Sasuke pulled the rickshaw through one last intersection and labored to maneuver it over an incline in the road before finally bringing it to a stop in front of the main gate.

Panting loudly, he let go of the handle and wearily dropped to his knees. "We...we made it...!"

As he turned around to check on his noticeably quiet guest, Sasuke found a wide-eyed and frazzled-looking Ringo gripping both sides of the rickshaw tightly from having to hold on for dear life during the ride. Her hair now a complete mess, the girl in the Furinkan school uniform slowly looked down at her chauffeur and batted her eyes.

"Next time...maybe don't go quite so fast...?" she asked, her hands shaking as she let go of the contraption.

"Oh, I-I'm sorry about that. I was instructed to hurry in bringing you here, that's all," Sasuke apologized, catching his breath as he directed the redhead to the gate. "Please, come along."

After grabbing her schoolbag, the still unnerved Ringo carefully climbed out of the rickshaw and followed Sasuke inside.

"Please avoid straying from where I walk, and try not to touch anything either. One wrong move and you might set off one of our many defense mechanisms," the Kuno family servant told her.

"Oh, don't worry. I remember," she replied.

Sasuke looked slightly confused as he glanced back at her, but quickly realized what she meant. "That's right, I suppose you have been here before. How silly of me."

Ringo may not have actually been to the Kuno Estate before, but Ranma had, and some of his unfortunate experiences with the traps were lingering in Ringo's mind as she and Sasuke made their way indoors.

"Hey, can I ask you something?" Ringo said while they walked.

"Yes, of course," Sasuke nodded.

"Before...you said you were happy to see Kodachi inspired after everything she'd been through. What did you mean by that?" Ringo asked.

Sasuke seemed uncomfortable with answering the question, but tried to respond appropriately as best he could. "W-well...I'm not sure the mistress would want me to say, exactly. But...let's just say she didn't handle the news of Ranma Saotome and Shampoo very well."

A sad expression came over Ringo's face as she began to remember what her friend, Akane, was like on the night she ran away. Thanks to Ukyo, Ringo knew that Kodachi, too, was outside the restaurant that night and saw Ranma kiss Shampoo with her own two eyes. And if Akane was that torn up about it then she could only imagine that Kodachi's reaction was painfully similar.

"I had no idea..." the red-haired girl said quietly. "I didn't see her for such a long time...I thought she just moved on."

"If only that were the case..." Sasuke shook his head, directing her to stop as they came up to a staircase that lead downward. "Here we are, Miss Ringo. Mistress Kodachi is waiting for you down there."

Nervously peering down, Ringo saw nothing but darkness at the bottom of the staircase. "Down there...?"

"Yes. Please don't worry, it's safe," Sasuke assured her. "Oh! Just make sure you skip over the third step. That one triggers something...unpleasant."

"O-okay..."

Making her way down the stairs, Ringo very carefully passed over the third step and stood still on the next step down for a moment just to make sure everything was in order.

"Seems fine," she said, sounding relieved as she looked up at Sasuke again. "I'll go on ahead, then. Thank you."

"My pleasure," the subservient ninja nodded back at her. But just as he was about to leave, it struck him that he'd forgotten one very important detail about the staircase. "Oh, no! Wait! Don't step on the eighth stair-!"

Ringo had no time to react as her foot came down on the eighth step, triggering the entire staircase to open up like a trap door.

"WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH-!"

The young girl's surprised scream trailed off as she disappeared into one of the many pitfalls of the Kuno household, leaving a pained Sasuke to drop to his knees with regret at the top of the staircase.

"I'm so sorry! Please forgive me, Miss Ringo!"

Down below, Ringo continued her free fall, using her hands to hold down her uniform skirt so that it wouldn't obstruct her vision.

"Somebody help me! Huh...?"

After a brief fall through the darkness, something was finally coming into view at the bottom of the pit.

"That's...a funnel...?"

Awaiting Ringo down below was a gigantic metal funnel that spanned the entire circumference of the pit. Bracing herself, the red-haired girl made contact with the funnel's sloped edge and was redirected down into a small chute.

Trying to gain some control of herself, she placed her schoolbag underneath her and used it as a cushion as her downward slide continued. "Okay, that's a little better...! But where is this thing taking me?!"

The chute made a sharp right, then a sharp left, and finally took a 2-foot dip that left Ringo with a sore bottom as she hit the lower level and kept on heading downward. From here on the path appeared to straighten out, which gave her hope that the ride was almost over.

"Come on! Somebody stop...this..."

As she looked ahead, the young waitress suddenly spotted what looked like a white rug obstructing the chute's path. She wasn't quite sure what its purpose was, but she did know she was on a collision course with it, and that definitely wasn't a good thing.

"Eeeeek!"

Crossing her arms over her face to protect herself, Ringo slammed right through what turned out to be a giant furry pelt that was heavily doused with flour. With the ride continuing on, she slowly lowered her arms and gasped at the sight of her uniform completely covered in the white cooking material.

"My...my uniform..." she sobbed.

Unfortunately, her dirty clothes had distracted her from the fact that she was about to collide with another one of the pelts. Without the time to defend herself, she crashed into a second one, which not only gave her uniform another coating of flour, but her face as well.

"Blech!" she coughed, spitting out some of the flour that had gotten in her mouth. "This is so mean! Get me out of here! I mean it!"

And, as if things weren't bad enough already, Ringo's spirit sank as she saw not an exit ahead of her, but a third flour-covered pelt.

"No! Not again-!"

*fwap!*

Given another fresh dose of flour to deal with, Ringo held on as the chute then began a spiraling motion with an increase in the slope, which resulted in her sliding down at an even faster rate.

"Yeeeep! Too fast! Too fast!"

Then, as the chute straightened out again, Ringo finally saw a light at the end. The only problem was that she was moving too fast to have any control over herself.

"Oh, please be a soft landing! Please be a soft landing!"

Reaching the end of the chute, Ringo's eyes widened as she flew out into an open area...that happened to be 10 feet above the floor. Finding herself in a free fall yet again, she did what she could to soften the impact with the floor by rolling as she hit, but the momentum from the chute kept her rolling over and over again until she finally crashed into a wall and came to a stop face-down on the ground.

Emitting a loud groan after the ordeal she'd been through, Ringo let out another cry of pain as her schoolbag fell from the sky and landed on the back of her head. "Ouch..."

"What are you doing?"

With bits of flour crumbling from her face to the floor, Ringo slowly raised her head to see Kodachi standing with her arms folded before her. The dark-haired gymnast was dressed in the green leotard of the St. Hebereke Gymnastics Club, and the area around her injured eye, Ringo noticed, had turned a dark shade of red as it began the slow process of healing.

"You took the trap door down here? What are you, some sort of masochist?" Kodachi eyed her curiously. "There are perfectly good stairs for a reason. Use them next time."

"M-masochist?!" Ringo blushed as she peeled her flour-covered body off the floor. Even the most kindhearted people had breaking points, and the young waitress' buttons were being seriously pushed at the moment. "Now look...!"

It was only then that Ringo noticed the vast expanse of the room she'd fallen into. It was the height and width of a typical school gymnasium, if not a little bigger, and the entire thing, she quickly noticed, was absolutely covered in gymnastics tools. From racks sticking out of the floor to pegs protruding out from the walls to strings hanging down from the ceiling, a mind-boggling collection of ribbons, hoops, and other tools was scattered evenly throughout the area.

"Welcome. This is my personal dungeon," Kodachi formally greeted her.

"Dungeon? That's...kind of eerie, but...it sort of fits this place..." Ringo noted aloud.

"Indeed," Kodachi agreed, tossing the redhead a small towel to wipe her face off with. "Listen and listen well, for I will only explain this once. We are training to enter the Extreme Gymnastics Federation's annual Queen of Extreme Tournament."

Though it had been a while, the organization's name immediately rung a bell with Ringo. "Extreme Gymnastics Federation...that's...isn't that the same thing Ranma and Shampoo went to see? Oops-!"

Ringo hastily placed a hand over her mouth, shocked at the words she'd just uttered. She couldn't believe that she'd let a mention of Ranma and Shampoo slip out right in front of Kodachi, especially after what Sasuke had been telling her earlier.

"I-I'm sorry!" she quickly apologized.

"Yes...they did go there on that awful day," Kodachi sighed, taking a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing. "And...the same ones who competed at that event will be among my opponents, all aiming for one of the 16 spots in the tournament. At the qualifying event, every entrant competes in short matches against others with only one randomly chosen basic type of tool at their disposal; either the ribbon, the club, the hoop, or the ball. That is why, for the time being at least, we shall train using only the basic tools."

Her face mostly wiped clean of the flour, Ringo began shaking some more of it out of her hair while trying to follow Kodachi's explanation. "Okay...so, what do you get if you win this tournament?"

"If you win...then you are the new champion," the Black Rose answered. "The current champion enters the tournament as well, but defeating her would only result in the championship being vacated until the tournament is over. Of course, I have no interest in any of that. There is only one thing I want...and that is Kiriko Nakajima."

"Kiriko? Is she the one who did that to your face?" Ringo asked her.

Shaking with anger, Kodachi brought her hand upward and placed it over her bruised eye. "This...this is the least of the damage that horrible woman has done to me! I will not stop until I unleash my vengeance on that harpy, and I expect your full dedication to this for just that purpose! Is that understood?!"

"I'll...try my best," the red-haired girl replied with a degree of uncertainty.

"Good," Kodachi said approvingly. "Did you bring your leotard?"

"Umm...I don't actually own one, so I just wore my clothes from gym class underneath my uniform..." Ringo explained with a hint of embarrassment in her voice.

"Gym clothes? Hmm...I suppose that will have to do for now. Hurry up and change so that we may begin sparring," the gymnast instructed her.

"Ehh? Sparring?" Ringo glanced over at her as she undid her blouse. "Do we have to?"

"Yes, we have to!" Kodachi snapped. "We have only two days until the qualifying event and sparring is the only way I can get into good enough shape to do well with such little time to prepare!"

The Cat Café's waitress didn't like the idea of direct combat, especially against someone as dangerous and unpredictable as Kodachi Kuno. She'd promised to help the determined gymnast though, and, for now, she was willing to do what it took to get her qualified for that tournament.

"I guess it's okay, then..." she said, kicking her flour-covered skirt out of harm's way. "Can I at least have some time to practice?"

"Practice?!" Kodachi shrieked. "You are unbelievable!"

"But it's been a really long time...!" Ringo insisted.

Trying not to lose her cool any further, the younger Kuno sibling sat down on the floor in a huff and folded her arms again with agitation.

"I will allow you ten minutes and not a second more!"


"He usually doesn't call us here at this time of day..."

"It's probably something to do with those bodies we found. This should be exciting..."

At a military base located just outside the city of Fuzhou on the east coast of China, Ryoga and Meilin had been summoned by General Khan, the man responsible for issuing all of their orders, for a yet unspecified reason. Given what they'd found inside the thick mist hovering over the Jusenkyo Springs just a day earlier, however, they had a reasonable hunch about why they were being called in.

Once they'd reached the General's office, Meilin, who had a history of showing disrespect since the day she was apprehended, didn't even bother to knock before opening the door and waltzing inside.

"You wanted to see us?" she asked in Mandarin as Ryoga closed the door behind them.

Looking up from a pile of papers on his desk, General Khan, who was a balding and heavy set older man in his 50's with a thick gray beard, shot a look of disapproval at his two visitors. "You're late."

"And you're overweight," Meilin brashly insulted him. "I know you're a busy man, General, but I'm sure even your fat ass could find 30 minutes of free time a day to do a little exercise."

Irritated by the comment, the General's eye twitched as he glared coldly at the white-haired woman. "That sharp tongue of yours is going to be the death of you. Don't forget that you're a prisoner who's lucky not to be rotting in a jail right now."

"Whatever," she shrugged. "What did you call us here for?"

General Khan grabbed a folder from one end of his desk and handed it over to Meilin. "You were right, the guide for the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo was among the corpses you two found inside that mist. We're in the process of notifying his immediate family. As for the other five corpses, these are photos of their bodies."

While Meilin opened the folder and began looking at the contents, Ryoga stepped in closer to get a better view.

"Hey, what are these?" he asked, hindered by his inability to comprehend the Mandarin language.

"Pictures of the bodies we found yesterday," Meilin explained, turning her attention back to the General for a moment. "Speak in Japanese so Ryoga can understand you too."

"And why, exactly, should I have to cater to his needs?" Khan protested.

"Because if you don't, I'll have to repeat everything you say to him," Meilin told him. "That's more annoying, don't you think?"

After a brief moment of thought, the General slammed his palms down on his desk and leaned forward as he stared angrily at Ryoga.

"Learn to speak our language, dammit! That's an order!" he reluctantly barked in Japanese, gesturing to the photos that Meilin held while sitting back down. "Now both of you take a good look at those and tell me if anything catches your eye."

While not a pleasant sight, the two prisoners examined the photos closely as instructed. As they both soon noticed, there was one distinct feature that all of the bodies had in common.

"They all have the same tattoo, don't they?" Ryoga pointed out.

"You're right," Meilin agreed, looking up at General Khan again. "What is it?"

"That tattoo is the mark of a cult who, to our understanding, was out to bring a sorceress back from the dead," he carefully explained. "That sorceress went by the name of Jusenkyo."

The eyes of the woman from Nekonron widened at the mention of the name. "Jusenkyo...?"

"Ring any bells?" the General asked her.

Still fresh in the mind of Meilin was the conversation she'd had with Kirin at Seven Luck Mountain earlier in the year. As he'd told her, Yanlou, the black-colored scythe wielded by her deceased associate, Li, once belonged to the sorceress named Jusenkyo. And, as she'd personally witnessed, the spirit that emerged from the broken scythe cried out Jusenkyo's name before entering Ranma Saotome's body.

"It all sounds ridiculous and we'll have a hell of a time digging up any information, much less reliable information, on this supposed sorceress since 5000 years have apparently passed since her death. But...the water from all those springs disappearing and that mist hanging over the place are just too unusual to ignore," Khan told them.

As absurd as it all may have sounded, the things Ryoga saw at the springs left him a little more convinced than others that something supernatural had taken place there.

"Do you think she was resurrected?" he asked.

"And then what? She kills the ones who brought her back? That makes no sense," Meilin argued.

Leaning back in his chair, the General grabbed a cigar from a wooden box on his desk and lit it, blowing a puff of smoke into the air as he tossed another folder over to Meilin.

"I'm not sure what to make of this crap, but you two are going to find out for me. Your formal orders are in that folder," he told them. "You're being sent on a special assignment to find out if anyone left the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo the day this incident occurred and to track them down if you find anything."

"Fun," Meilin sarcastically commented.

"You'll be reporting in twice every day to inform us of your status and findings. Is that understood?" Khan asked them.

"Yeah, yeah..." Meilin nonchalantly answered.

"Good, you leave first thing tomorrow," the General instructed them. "And since you'll be given a certain degree of freedom with this mission, let me remind you both about something..."

With a cold smirk on his face, the older man leaned forward in his chair and gestured to the position locators on each of Ryoga's and Meilin's legs. "Keep in mind that those things are filled with a very lethal poison. You try to force them off, they activate and inject you with the poison. You'll be dead within an hour. Or, if you decide to disobey my orders or try to flee the country, I just press a little button here and you'll be injected with that poison wherever you are. Do you understand your positions?"

For Ryoga and Meilin, the locators were a cruel reminder that they were still prisoners despite not being anywhere near a prison facility.

After the not-so-pleasant departure from their meeting, the two of them began heading back to the barracks of the Orange Team to prepare for their new mission. While Meilin didn't think much of it, Ryoga looked much more interested in what they were doing than he had for any previous mission they'd been assigned.

"This is going to be a boring one," Meilin complained.

"Maybe, but I'm glad we get to look into it," Ryoga told her.

Intrigued, the white-haired woman raised an eyebrow as she glanced over at her unusually serious lover.

"You still feel bad about what happened to that guide, huh?"

"Yeah..."

"That sounds like you," Meilin smiled at him. "Alright, then. Back to the mist cloud we go."


Inside the lower levels of the Kuno Estate, the floor of Kodachi's training "dungeon" lay ridden with ribbons, clubs, and numerous other tools as the sparring session for the day came to a standstill. And in the middle of it all, the once heralded Black Rose of St. Hebereke was down on her hands and knees, covered in welts and desperately trying to catch her breath after the rigorous period of combat.

"You..." the winded Kodachi shot her second a venomous look, "you dared...*pant*...to insinuate...*pant*...that you r-...*pant*...required practice...?!"

Standing across from her, Ringo, too, was breathing heavily and feeling the sting of the ribbons that had whipped across her skin. But although she was standing on spaghetti legs at the moment, she was the only one was actually on her feet.

"What? I did!" she insisted. "I just...*pant*...I got used to them...*pant*...after a while..."

Gritting her teeth in frustration, Kodachi struggled to pull her exhausted body to its feet. Her legs were shaking, not wanting to move anymore, but the determined gymnast finally brought herself back to a standing position, albeit a very wobbly one.

"We...*pant*...we are done for the day..." she informed her training partner, stumbling past her as she made her way toward the staircase.

"Eh? We are?" Ringo asked, sounding somewhat confused. "But...*pant*...we can keep going if you want. I'm okay. Really..."

"Well how wonderful for YOU!" Kodachi angrily hissed back at her.

The young redhead jumped a bit at the surprising outburst. She genuinely had no idea why Kodachi was so upset all of a sudden. It was only as she watched the weary gymnast painstakingly walk away that she then realized which one of them it truly was that couldn't go on any longer.

"Oh! I-I'm sorr-!"

"Come over here...!" Kodachi shouted at her, still trying to catch her breath. "I will...*pant*...show you to...*pant*...our bathing area..."

Ringo blinked curiously as she looked over at her. "Bathing area...?"

"Yes, bathing area..." Kodachi impatiently replied. "Or would you rather...*pant*...go home covered in sweat?"

"N-no, of course not!" Ringo quickly answered, dropping the ribbon she'd been holding as she hurried over to follow the dark-haired girl.

After a slow ascent up the stairs that was pleasant for neither of them, and one where Ringo had to be reminded which steps to avoid due to the traps, the two of them began their stroll through the maze-like halls of the large estate toward the bath.

"This house is so big..." Ringo marveled at the home.

"Of course. We, as such an esteemed family, would accept nothing less as our living quarters," Kodachi boasted.

Then, as they came closer to the bathing area and turned into another hallway, a startled Ringo let out a shriek when she came face-to-face with what looked like a mummy in a kendo gi.

"W-w-what is that?!" she cried, cowering behind Kodachi.

"Plsh dn nnt bm mfrid," the creature mumbled incoherently from behind its bandages.

"Brother dear, what are you doing out of bed? You should be resting," Kodachi scolded her injured sibling.

With a perplexed expression on her face, Ringo stepped out from her hiding place and took a closer look at the man who was bandaged from head to toe. "Tatewaki?"

The elder Kuno brother lightly nodded his head, pulling his bandages away from his mouth so that he could speak. "My apologies, ponytailed girl. I had no intention of frightening you."

"Oh, no, it's okay. I should have recognized you," the redheaded Saotome laughed, feeling a bit silly. "I heard about what happened with Ranma. Sorry about that. He's been really...excited ever since he got his cast removed."

Tatewaki Kuno waved his hand a couple of times, brushing the issue aside. "Think nothing of it. It is but a mere scratch that the cretin was fortunate to have inflicted upon me. Next time he will not be so lucky."

"Enough, brother dear. You need rest to heal your wounds," Kodachi chided him again. "And Ringo and I will be using the bath, so please keep your distance."

"Yes, of course," Kuno responded, ready to head back to his room.

Before he left, however, the man once known as the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High turned to Ringo to say one last thing.

"I thank you for taking care of my sister."

"Um...sure..."

While watching the proud Tatewaki Kuno walk off, Ringo couldn't help being somewhat impressed with him. "Even after being beaten so many times, he keeps getting back up and trying again..."

"Yes, my dear brother is admirably resilient," Kodachi said in agreement. "Sadly, I do not possess such a trait."

"Kodachi..."

"Come along, now. It is not much further."

The Black Rose quietly guided her second through the last small bit of the journey to the Kuno family bath, which promptly ended when they came upon two doors, one of which bore Kodachi's name and the other bearing that of her brother.

"You each have your own bath?" Ringo asked.

"Naturally. We both have our own tastes when it comes to the design," Kodachi calmly explained, very noticeably wincing in pain as she leaned forward to slide the door open. "Come in."

Upon entering Kodachi's personal bathing area, the sight before Ringo's eyes almost left her breathless. "Amazing, it's like a hot spring!"

Apart from the large bath, which very much resembled a natural hot spring, there was a forest of bamboo in the background along with a number of small decorations. There was also a washing area with a floor made of black cobblestone and that contained a number of wooden buckets and bottles of shampoo and soap. And, rather than having faucets, hot water streamed from the mouths of several lion's heads that were carved into the stone wall.

"Yes, it is a rather quaint place," Kodachi said, wincing again as she slid the door shut behind her.

After removing her school gym outfit and undergarments and tossing them aside, Ringo, who was looking over some of the bruises she'd gotten, was about to go wash herself off when she noticed the younger Kuno sibling cringing as she peeled the leotard from her body. And what struck the young redhead the most wasn't the numerous welts their sparring session had left, but the unbelievably frail state that Kodachi's body was in. Though she hadn't noticed it earlier, Kodachi's ribs were clearly visible from her abdomen, making it look as though she hadn't been eating regularly for quite some time.

Ringo may have been staring at the dark-haired gymnast's body just a bit too long, though, as Kodachi, who had just finished removing her leotard, was quick to notice the eyes of her new second upon her and get the wrong impression.

"Oh, so you are that way, are you?" Kodachi shot her a stern look, strategically placing her hands over her private areas. "I shall have you know that the fruit of this body is not for your ogling pleasure!"

"Eh...?" Ringo gasped, blushing furiously when she realized what Kodachi meant. "N-no, that's not what I was-!"

"You cannot fool me! I saw that lusting look in your eyes," Kodachi insisted, continuing to cover herself up as she went over to the washing area. "Not that I blame you, of course, but bear in mind my words!"

The girl with the red ponytail slumped over in defeat, feeling incredibly embarrassed as she, too, headed over to wash herself off. "That's not why I was looking, though..."

After letting her hair down and dumping some hot water over her head, Ringo seemed to get over her humiliating moment for the time being.

"Uwah! That feels good!" she smiled.

But, sitting to her right, Kodachi was having some trouble getting her body to cooperate with her. The battered gymnast filled a bucket with water to dump over herself, but her arms hurt so badly that the pain was too much for her to raise the bucket up off the floor.

"This is...absurd..." she angrily muttered to herself. "Very well. I will do this in one quick motion..."

Clearly agitated, Kodachi hurried to raise the bucket up before the pain became too great, but it was no use. She dropped the bucket to the floor before it got above her knees, and immediately began clutching at her agonized arm.

"Nngh! Th-this is...!"

*splash!*

Kodachi sat motionless with surprise as she felt herself being doused with hot water from behind.

"If you need help, just ask me," Ringo told her, reaching forward to fill her bucket with water again.

Not giving any type of negative response as of yet, the Black Rose sat still and allowed herself to be doused with water once more.

"Here, I'll shampoo your hair while I'm at it," the redhead cheerfully offered, removing the tie from Kodachi's hair to let it flow freely.

Ringo grabbed a bottle and squirted a handful of shampoo into her palm, spreading it out evenly before running her hands over the younger Kuno sibling's black hair. It was only after she'd begun massaging it into Kodachi's scalp that the gymnast began to react. Sniffling to herself, Kodachi crossed her arms in her lap and curled her body forward.

"Oops! Did I get some in your eyes?" Ringo asked her. It wasn't the shampoo that was bothering the frail girl though.

"I...I've become so weak..." Kodachi whimpered, ashamed that she couldn't even manage to wash herself after her sparring session.

"It's just because you haven't trained in a long time, right?" Ringo asked her in a calming voice. "You'll get stronger again, Kodachi. You need to make sure to eat so you keep up your strength, though."

Perhaps recognizing that her second made a valid point, Kodachi took a deep breath and collected herself as she sat upright again, allowing Ringo to continue washing her hair.

"Ringo..." she said, grabbing the red-haired girl's attention, "you seem to be in suitable shape. What manner of exercise have you been doing?"

Ringo batted her eyes, curious as to why Kodachi would ask such a thing. "Well...I used to practice with Shampoo, but I don't do that much anymore. All I do now is go jogging in the morning."

"Jogging?" Kodachi looked back at her.

The red-haired girl nodded her head. "I...used to go jogging with Akane every morning. Then...she left...but I guess I got used to the routine and just kept doing it. It feels really nice to go for a jog when the sun is just coming up."

A quick glance at Kodachi's face showed Ringo that she appeared to be thinking deeply about something.

"Umm...did I say something weird?" Ringo asked her.

"No. Actually, that is a superb idea," Kodachi replied with a hint of a smirk on her face. "From now on, I will be joining you for that morning jog to aid me in regaining my competitive shape."

"Ah...huh?!" the redhead shrieked at the sudden declaration. "You want to go jogging with me? Like...every day?!"

The dark-haired gymnast gave her a sharp look. "You do not wish for my presence?"

"Well, no...I-I mean, no, I don't mind-!" the very puzzled Ringo stammered.

"I should think not," Kodachi replied, exhibiting a bit more of the arrogance that Ringo was used to hearing from her. "I shall be in front of your home at promptly six o'clock in the morning. And do not oversleep or I will come awaken you myself."

Ringo's mind was filled with dread as she imagined what sadistic things Kodachi might possibly do to wake her up.

"I'll...make sure I get up on time..."


End of Chapter 2