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 3

After two days of exhausting sparring sessions in Kodachi's dungeon, as well as a couple of morning jogs that became morning sprints thanks to her excessive partner, a depleted and slumped over Ringo Saotome staggered out the doors of Furinkan High School alongside Ranma, who wasn't very energetic either, albeit for unrelated reasons.

Conspicuous by her absence was the third member of their small clique, who'd been avoiding them completely ever since walking in on a sensitive scene at the Cat Café restaurant.

"Things sure change fast..." Ranma grumbled to himself.

"They do," Ringo responded softly, knowing well what her former male half was referring to. "I'm so tired. I wish I could go home and take a nap, but Kodachi's qualifying event is today."

"She's really been runnin' ya ragged, huh?" the pigtailed boy asked her.

Ringo nodded. "I'm starting to wonder if I bit off more than I could chew..."

"Hey, don't talk like that. Compared to helpin' me and Shampoo in China, this should be easy for ya," Ranma assured her.

"Just because it should be doesn't mean it is..." the worn down red-haired girl was quick to point out.

As they walked, the two of them took notice of the spatula handle sticking out from over the shoulder of a girl going by them. Ukyo Kuonji, who had an emotionless look on her face, took a brief moment to peek back at them, but clearly had no intention of stopping for a chat.

"Uh...b-bye, Ukyo...!" Ringo nervously waved to her friend.

The goodbye would go unanswered, however, as the young okonomiyaki chef simply looked away and continued heading for the school gates.

"Man, gimme a break, Ucchan..." Ranma said with a loud sigh.

"I understand why she's upset with you, but why is she avoiding me too?" Ringo pouted.

"Beats me. Maybe she don't wanna talk to anyone right now..." Ranma replied, sounding troubled while he looked at the overcast skies that appeared to be growing darker. "Looks like it's gonna rain. C'mon, we'd better get goin'."

Though they continued along their way, they wouldn't get far as a rickshaw suddenly roared in from out of nowhere and came to a screeching halt in front of the Furinkan gates, startling the daylights out of Ringo.

"Whoa-!" Ranma shouted, though not nearly as loud as Ringo's simultaneous piercing shriek. "Ah...huh?"

With her family servant gasping for breath at the front of the device, Kodachi Kuno, who still had a black eye from the run-in with her old rival, stood up in her St. Hebereke school uniform and pointed a finger down at her rattled second.

"Ringo, get in here this instant! We have traveling ahead of us!" the re-energized gymnast commanded her.

Ringo blinked as she looked up at Kodachi, more focused on her uniform at the moment than her words. "You went back to school?"

"Of course! What else was I supposed to do while you were not available?!" Kodachi asked, acting as though her return to school was nothing special. "Now get in here before I drag you in myself!"

"We...we're leaving already?" the young waitress hung her head in despair. "So much for a rest..."

With Ringo dragging herself over to the rickshaw, the Black Rose made the mistake of letting her gaze wander and accidentally made eye contact with the man who'd been standing next to her second. Ranma and Kodachi, neither having seen the other since that fateful night in front of the Cat Café, stood looking at each other in uncomfortable silence until finally the dark-haired gymnast, red cheeks and all, folded her arms defiantly and looked away from the pigtailed martial artist.

"Well now, if it isn't Ranma Saotome! You must be quite miserable having chosen that clearly inferior girl over a beautiful flower such as myself," Kodachi berated him.

"Oh yeah, I'm all torn up about it," Ranma sarcastically responded. He sure didn't miss her attitude, but in a way he felt relieved to see her still acting like her usual self.

"I have no doubt. It is your own fault, you know," Kodachi gave him a sharp look.

Not wanting to get into an argument with the brash Kuno sibling, Ranma simply shrugged his shoulders and faintly smiled up at her. "Guess I can take the blame for that one. Anyway, I gotta go. I'll see ya, guys."

Though she'd talked big, the look on Kodachi's face was anything but heartless as she watched the man she once yearned for walk away.

"Hey..." Ranma said, looking over his shoulder at them one last time, "good luck."

Regrettably allowing herself to blush at the pigtailed boy's words, Kodachi quickly shook her head to regain her composure. "L-luck is not necessary for a Kuno! Sasuke, we're leaving!"

"Yes, Mistress Kodachi!"

On the same road, but walking in the opposite direction, Ukyo was struggling to keep her emotions from flaring up during the stroll back to her restaurant. Naturally, she'd gotten upset about seeing her Ranma-honey with Shampoo at times over the past few months, but never like this. Ranma was her childhood friend. He was the reason she wanted to stay here. And yet, now...

"What's the matter with me?" Ukyo asked herself, her voice so quiet that it was barely audible. "I can't talk to Ran-chan. I can't even look at him..."

The melancholy cook stopped and leaned back against a concrete wall, hoping to sort some of her thoughts out before she went crazy.

"I...thought I'd get used to it by now, but it hurts even more than it used to," she murmured, watching some of the people walk by on the other side of the street.

"Maybe I shoulda gone, after all..."

Her mind wandering, Ukyo continued looking at some of the passersby across the road, including one girl in a Furinkan High uniform that had a surprising resemblance to someone she knew.

"She looks exactly like Akane from the back," Ukyo noted, not thinking much of the observation. "From our school, too...I wonder who she is."

Then, as she was heading out of sight, the girl looked to the side and gave Ukyo a view of the side of her face. The forlorn Kuonji girl immediately jumped away from the wall with a look of pure shock.

"Akane...?! Akane!"

Without even looking first, Ukyo rushed across the street in pursuit of her old rival, forcing an oncoming car to skid to a stop to avoid hitting her.

"Are you crazy?!" the driver shouted.

Ukyo ignored the upset motorist, keeping her eyes squarely focused on the girl in the school uniform.

"Akane! Hey! Stop!"

Not so much as acknowledging Ukyo's shouting, Akane turned the corner into the line of businesses that included Ucchan's Okonomiyaki and disappeared from the young chef's view.

"Darn it, Akane! Get your fanny back here!"

As she turned the same corner, Ukyo could see that Akane was again in her sights up ahead. She bolted through the sidewalk, dodging body after body while running past her own restaurant, until finally she saw Akane turn the corner into an alley.

"That's a dead end! I've got her now!"

Her heartbeat quickening, Ukyo ran to the alley as fast as she could, sliding on her feet as she turned into the entrance.

Ukyo let out a gasp, still surprised despite knowing who she was chasing, as she found Akane standing just a few feet away with her back turned toward her.

"Akane...hey..."

Then, ever so slowly, the youngest Tendo daughter turned around with her schoolbag in hand, looked into the eyes of her classmate, and cheerfully smiled at her.

"I'll have the seafood okonomiyaki today!"

Not sure what Akane was talking about, Ukyo blinked as she gave her a confused look. "Huh? What are you-?"

Ukyo wouldn't get the chance to ask what she meant. Right before her eyes, Akane suddenly faded away and disappeared, leaving her to wonder just what was going on.

But, just as quickly as she'd vanished, Akane reappeared all of a sudden to Ukyo's right, this time with a scowl on her face.

"Akane, what-?" Ukyo began to ask her.

"I don't care anymore. Let her do what she wants."

Again, Akane's words made little sense to Ukyo, who watched as her old rival vanished into thin air once more.

"I've had enough! Stop this!" the frustrated cook pleaded. "Get out here or I'm leaving, Akane!"

Ukyo turned around, tired of the tricks and ready to go, but jumped as she found herself staring into Akane's eyes again.

"Akane..."

Looking sad and in need of comfort, Akane slowly reached her hand out to the girl with the large spatula on her back.

"Come with me..."

Ukyo's eyes widened as she was struck with a feeling of déjà vu. This, she realized, was just like the night Akane had run away.

Hesitating slightly, Ukyo reached out to grab her hand. As she soon realized, though, there was nothing there to grasp. Her hand passed right through that of Akane, confirming what she'd already begun to accept...the fact that this Akane wasn't real.

Still with that upset look on her face, the image of Akane faded away into nothingness, this time for good.

Ukyo still had her hand outstretched when the cloudy skies started to open up and small droplets of rain began falling. It was only a few sprinkles at first, but fast turned into a steady stream of water coming down on the area.

"I must be losing my mind..." Ukyo said softly.

Letting her hand rest at her side again, she looked up into the sky and let the drops of rain run down her face before falling to the ground.


With the evening beginning to descend upon them, Kodachi and Ringo stood under their umbrellas in front of a large building in the Kita Ward of Tokyo.

"The Tanaka Training Complex, constructed by the founder of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation, Hiroyuki Tanaka," Kodachi said, reminiscing about her previous visit to the building three years earlier.

"It's huge..." Ringo marveled at the size of the place. "Umm...will Sasuke be okay out here?"

After pulling the girls' rickshaw across three different wards to get them here on time, the Kuno family's servant was practically lifeless with exhaustion. As soon as his passengers had climbed out of the rickshaw, he wasted no time crawling into it and falling asleep under the protection of the retractable top.

"Your worries are wasted on inconsequential matters," Kodachi told her, the sleeping ninja being the least of her concerns at the moment. "Come along, now."

Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke gathered her courage and swung open the door, leading her comparatively calm second inside.

The sight within the complex was one to behold as over a hundred girls stood either talking to one another casually or warming up for the upcoming event. Holding two complete rings and enough free space for a number more, the main room alone put Kodachi's dungeon to shame.

Right as the two entered, a large, hulking man in a black business suit walked over to them with a clipboard in his hand.

"Name?" he asked.

"Kodachi Kuno."

The official flipped through the pages on his clipboard until he came across Kodachi's name. "Ah, here you are. And your second's name?"

There wasn't an immediate answer, as Ringo had found a fascination with the sights of the inside of the Tanaka Complex and was distracted for the moment. Kodachi, irritated at the girl's lack of attention, promptly reached over and pinched her arm to bring her back to reality.

"Oww!" Ringo shrieked, looking over at the gymnast and then at the official as she rubbed her arm.

"Your name...?" the man asked her again.

"Oh! Um, Ringo Saotome..." the girl with the ponytail blushed.

After taking down her name, the official pointed over at a door to his right. "Okay, Ms. Kuno. The dressing room is right over there for you to get changed. If you have any questions, please come ask me."

Once he'd left, Kodachi got to take her first look around at all of the other girls she'd be competing against.

"It's amazing how many others are here, isn't it?" Ringo asked her.

The dark-haired gymnast wasn't sharing the same excitement. Her hands were shaking and she could feel the butterflies in her stomach. She was nervous as could be, and Ringo could tell.

"Kodachi, you're shaking. Are you okay?"

"I...I am perfectly fine..." Kodachi said, although not very convincingly. "There are just...there are many memories of all of...this..."

As she tried calming herself down, the Black Rose suddenly felt her second grab her hand.

"Wh-what are you doing?!" Kodachi yanked her arm away.

"What? I thought it might help..." Ringo explained, not seeing any problem with what she'd done.

"I do not need my hand held like a child!" the gymnast chided her. "Never do that again!"

"Alright...sorry..." Ringo meekly apologized.

As luck would have it, scolding her second had relieved some of Kodachi's tension. What nervousness was left, however, quickly turned to anger as she spotted a familiar girl in the crowd.

With a shimmering white leotard, a white fur boa around her neck, and the same silver-framed sunglasses Kodachi had seen her wearing days earlier, the conceited, brown-haired gymnast known as Kiriko Nakajima was seen talking to a group of three other girls, completely oblivious to the presence of the youngest Kuno sibling.

"Ringo, I have two things to tell you," Kodachi said to the redhead. "First, that girl in the white fur over there is Kiriko."

"Ohh, so she's the one who did that to your eye..." Ringo looked over at Kodachi's adversary.

"That is correct," Kodachi affirmed. "And second, I hold a firm belief that, when attacked, one must return the favor..."

Ringo watched curiously as the furious gymnast started walking over to the girl in white. "Umm...Kodachi...?"

Her mind filled with thoughts of vengeance, Kodachi Kuno strutted over to Kiriko with a purpose. As she neared, the other girls talking to Kiriko began to notice her, but they had no idea what exactly she had in mind until it happened. Placing her hand on her adversary's shoulder, Kodachi spun the surprised gymnast around and violently slapped her across the face, drawing a collective gasp from the stunned room.

As her sunglasses fell to the floor, Kiriko turned and looked at her assailant with rage evident in her eyes.

"KODACHI-!"

Kiriko immediately lunged at Kodachi, starting a skirmish that had to be broken up by the other gymnasts as they tried to pull the two girls apart.

"What are you doing here?! Huh?! What the hell do you think you're doing here, you trash?!" Kiriko shouted, trying to free herself from the other girls that were holding her back.

"Taking back my rightful place, you vile harpy!" Kodachi snapped back at her. "And heed my words, I will make you bow before me and beg for forgiveness!"

"Let me go! I'll kill her!" Kiriko screamed at the other girls again.

"ENOUGH!"

The tense situation came to a standstill as several EGF officials in suits stepped in-between the two girls.

"No more, you understand!? Save that energy for later!"

Ringo hurried over to join the other girls in restraining the Black Rose. "Kodachi, are you crazy?!"

Then, as the sound of one person's clapping and laughter began to echo throughout the room, the girls looked over by one of the walls to see who it was coming from. With her wild pink hair resting over the shoulder areas of her pink and black leotard, the gymnast who Ranma and Shampoo had once seen compete, Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki, found great amusement in Kodachi's actions.

"Wooo! New girl's got some spunk! I like her!" Sakura laughed.

"Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you, you hyena!" Kiriko barked over at her.

Not intimidated in the least, Sakura wiggled her fingers in Kiriko's direction to make light of the threat. "Oooh, scary!"

Once the other girls let the brown-haired gymnast loose, she was quick to retrieve her sunglasses and put them back on before addressing the one that had slapped her. "That black eye's looking real nice, Kodachi. I don't know what made you think that you can even hope to compete with a superstar like me, but you're going to regret coming here! You hear me?!"

Kiriko walked off in a huff alongside her second, leaving Ringo to try to talk some sense into Kodachi.

"You could have gotten thrown out of here for that!" she chided the brash Kuno.

"Perhaps, but it was worth it. I feel much better now," Kodachi brushed her hair back, exhaling deeply as she began to head toward the dressing room. "All in due time..."

After Kodachi had changed into her green school leotard, there was a 20-minute wait for any other entrants to arrive before the group of nearly a dozen Extreme Gymnastics Federation officials gathered the girls together to officially start the competition. The one who spoke, a slender, older man with short gray hair, a mustache, and a gray business suit, was none other than the owner of the company himself, Hiroyuki Tanaka.

"Ladies, I'd like to welcome you all to the qualifying for this year's Queen of Extreme Tournament," he said atop a podium. "Here today we have 54 gymnasts and their seconds. As you should know, our champion is automatically given the top seed in the tournament. That leaves 15 spots for the rest of you to compete over."

"Today you'll each be competing in two exhibition matches against random opponents, and using only one type of tool that will also be randomly chosen. You'll also be giving a one-minute demonstration where you'll have the opportunity to show off your overall skills to us. The officials and I will judge your performances and decide at the end of the day which 15 of you will be entered into the tournament. Your past records will also factor into our decisions."

"Now then, we have a lot ahead of us with 54 of you here, so why don't we kick things off? Our first match of the day, in Ring One..."

Up on the wall behind the podium, a giant screen began flashing three sets of text. Two of them were the names of all of the gymnasts being scrolled through, while the other represented the weapon possibilities.

The girls all watched the screen intently, some of them hollering for their names to come up out of anticipation. Finally, after several nerve-wracking seconds, the scrolling stopped and the random first match was chosen.

"Kodachi Kuno vs. Ryoko Nishida! The weapon for this match will be the ribbon!"

Receiving some stares from some of the others, Kodachi seemed intrigued by the result. "The opening act, am I?"

"Oh gosh, already?!" Ringo said next to her, starting to feel some jitters herself. "Wow, I hope I don't mess up..."

"I will require no help with this one," Kodachi smirked, drawing a confused look from her second.

"If it is just a ribbon against ribbon match, I believe only one will be needed to thrash this no-name opponent..."


Meanwhile, over a thousand miles away, Ryoga and Meilin had returned to the fog-covered Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo under orders from General Khan. Their objective: find out who, if anyone, left the springs the day that the Jusenkyo guide and the five cult members were killed, and track them down. It was an unusual mission compared to everything else the two prisoners had done since their capture, but one that Ryoga Hibiki was eager to take up after witnessing the scene of horror inside the springs days earlier. And although detective work didn't sound all that exciting to the antsy Meilin, she'd found other perks in their current mission that more than made up for it.

"I was wrong. This is going to be fun!" the white-haired woman beamed, walking hand-in-hand with her lover again to keep him from getting lost inside the wall of mist. "We finally get to camp out again! Just the two of us. It feels like it's been forever since the last time we did that..."

"It sure does," Ryoga reminisced. "It might be dangerous if whatever came out of this place is nearby though..."

"If anything came out of here," Meilin was quick to correct him. "Even if we don't find anything, we can always lie and say we're following the big bad sorceress's trail somewhere. That way we won't have to go back to the base for a while."

Meilin's relaxed attitude drew her a curious look from the directionally-challenged martial artist. "You really don't think whatever killed those people is still around somewhere?"

"No, I'm just not worried about it," she smiled back at him. "Even if whatever did it is still out there, it's not going to beat us. We're the strongest team in the world. Right, honey?"

Ryoga laughed a bit at the remark, sharing the same confidence in their combined strength as his partner. "Right!"

As they neared the area of the springs where the bodies had been removed from, Meilin became more subdued, looking as though she had something on her mind.

"Hey, Ryoga...do you ever regret it?"

"Regret? Regret what?" he asked.

"You know...getting together with me," Meilin said quietly, lowering her head. "If you weren't with me, you'd still be free. You could be back in Japan right now fighting Ranma...and snuggling up to that Akane girl as her pet pig..."

Meilin glanced over at her lover, afraid for a moment of how he would respond to her question. But as she felt him tighten his grip on her hand, those worries of hers began to dissipate.

"No," Ryoga emphatically told her. "I do miss Japan, but...I'm happy when I'm with you. Besides, I'll be able to go back there again once we've served out our punishment here...and I'll take you with me..."

Her partner's cheeks turning red, a touched Meilin leaned over and pulled him into a long kiss.

"I love you," she purred, resting her head on his shoulder as they continued walking.

"I love you, too. Don't ever doubt it," Ryoga assured her.

Once they reached the heart of the springs, duty kicked in again for the two martial artists as they began to examine the area where they'd found the six bodies during their first visit. Back then they'd only checked to make sure there wasn't anybody dangerous lurking around before people came to collect the bodies, but now that they were taking a closer look, there were certain things about the area that piqued their interest.

"You can still see his footprints," Ryoga pointed out as he knelt down by where the Jusenkyo guide had been found. "Weather should have wiped them away by now, but they're still here..."

"Nothing surprises me in this creepy cloud," Meilin said. "Two people came in here from the same direction as us to collect those bodies, and they didn't wander around any, so it shouldn't be tough to ignore their footprints. What we need is to find some leading away from this spot..."

Concentrating on the spot where the cult members were found, the former Seven Lucky Gods member soon picked up on something important.

"Ryoga, look at this..."

Walking over to his partner's location, Ryoga leaned over and took a close look at the ground where she was pointing. "Blood..."

"And it's leading away from where the bodies were," Meilin added, staring at other blood stains in the grass. "If some sorceress or whoever really did punch a hole through them like we thought..."

"Then she'd have blood dripping from her hand..." Ryoga finished, understanding what she was getting at.

As the two of them followed the gradually decreasing trail of blood, Ryoga paid special attention to the footprints that ran alongside the blood stains, and in doing so he picked up on another peculiar observation.

"Wait...hang on," he said, prompting Meilin to stop as she watched him point to two of the prints. "These two are the same, so this is one person...right?"

"Mhmm...and?" the white-haired woman quirked an eyebrow at him.

Ryoga looked up at her, pointing down at another footprint that was in-between the other two. "Isn't this one different?"

Getting a better look, Meilin carefully studied the three footprints and came to the same conclusion that her partner had. "You're right...so maybe it wasn't just one person that left here. And look, one set of prints is deeper...and they have a lot more distance between them than the others. So...one of them was running away..."

"Then maybe one of the guys from the cult tried to escape?" Ryoga suggested.

"Maybe. This is weird," Meilin blinked. "Let's follow them and see how far they go."

Even after the droplets of blood disappeared, the unofficial leaders of the Special Operations Orange Team followed the footprints around now empty springs and rock ledges, winding their way along a path that eventually ended with them standing outside the cloud of mist that encompassed the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo.

"Great. We leave the cloud, and now they're gone..." Ryoga grumbled, looking along the ground for any further trace of the prints.

Reaching into a pack tied around her waist, Meilin pulled out a compass to check what direction they led to. "Hmm...looks like they were heading northwest. Maybe we won't need those footprints anyway."

"You think they kept walking that way?" Ryoga asked her.

"Only one way to find out," Meilin winked back at him.

"Yeah," Ryoga nodded. "Let's go."


With the sound of the steady rain falling outside in the background, Ukyo Kuonji sat at the counter of her dimly lit restaurant staring off into space. She had a kettle of water heated up on one of her stoves, ready to serve customers tea whenever she decided to open the restaurant for the night, but she'd been sitting in silence for two hours now and still wasn't feeling up to it.

Getting upset with her childhood friend the other day had left a bad taste in the okonomiyaki chef's mouth, and that was certainly still lingering in her mind. But what plagued her now were a mass of questions regarding what she'd seen, or thought she'd seen, on her way back from school today.

Did she really see Akane, or did she just imagine seeing her? Why did she see Akane? And what did those things that she said mean, if anything? No matter how hard she tried, Ukyo couldn't come up with any of the answers.

Maybe she was just stressed out, she figured. Maybe in the end all she needed was to lie down and sleep for a while.

When the sound of the door to her restaurant opening caught Ukyo's attention, she assumed it was a confused customer who didn't realize that the business wasn't open at the moment.

"Sorry, we're closed," she said, glancing over at the door.

The young chef was surprised, to say the least, when she found that it wasn't a human that had slid the door open, but an animal. A white and pink colored cat, to be precise.

"You..." Ukyo scowled down at the rain-soaked feline as it pushed the door shut with its small head.

Greeting the restaurant's owner with a nonchalant "meow", the cat hopped up onto the counter next to her and headed straight for the stove with the kettle on top of it. Being careful to avoid the heat, it grabbed the kettle's handle in its mouth and hopped down to the floor again, strutting through the curtain in the back of the business that lead up a flight of stairs to Ukyo's living quarters.

"Hey! Get your furry butt back down here!" Ukyo shouted from her seat, placing a hand over her aching forehead. "Come on, I don't feel like dealing with this now..."

Not up to a pursuit at the moment, the annoyed cook sat back and quietly waited until she heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs a minute later.

"It no was rain when Shampoo leave Cat Café. Silly clouds no can make mind up..."

Drying off her soaked lavender hair with a towel, Shampoo emerged from behind the curtain wearing only a white robe she'd found upstairs. Then, with a pair of unfriendly eyes glaring at her, she calmly walked over to the stool next to Ukyo and took a seat.

"My bath robe...you're actually wearing my bath robe..." Ukyo said, amazed at the audacity of the Amazon girl. "Are you trying to pick a fight with me?!"

"No want fight this time," Shampoo replied, still very sedate as she continued drying her hair, "...just want talk."

"Talk?" Ukyo asked, not sounding thrilled with the idea as she folded her arms in front of her. "Can't imagine why. Shouldn't you be off enjoying your life with Ran-chan?"

Despite the particularly venomous reply, Shampoo kept her cool, setting the towel down on the counter before turning to face her old rival. "Ranma no is in good mood. Maybe Ukyo tell Shampoo why?"

Ranma's childhood friend shook her head, aware that Shampoo already knew the answer to that question. "You know...I remember the day Ran-chan came in here to talk to me about everything. I pushed him and told him to go to you, thinking I'd be able to just step back and be his friend even if he chose you over me. I was wrong...I was stupid and wrong. I don't know why I thought I'd be able to do it..."

Her emotions boiling over, Ukyo scowled over at her visitor again. "But that's okay, right?! He has you now, and you're the only one he needs."

"If that true, then Shampoo no could be more happy," the lavender-haired girl told her. "But...that no make Ranma happy. Shampoo see many time that Ranma still feel bad for hurt Ukyo, Akane, and crazy Kuno girl too. He still want be friends with all girls. No like when they is mad..."

Ukyo reached up and began rubbing her head again, hesitant to reply to her old rival's words.

"Why you no move on and find other boy?" Shampoo asked her.

"Because you don't just forget your first love that easy!" Ukyo angrily snapped back at her, trying as best as she could not to cry. "I...I've always loved him! I still do! You can't just expect me to move on and forget about him like that, dammit!"

"Shampoo love Ranma too..." the young Amazon immediately responded, locked in a stare down with the young chef. "Shampoo love Ranma more than anything in whole world and no can stand when he feel bad. That why...if Ukyo love Ranma so much, then you no should want see him unhappy."

Shampoo's last line hit Ukyo hard. It wasn't as though it were some revelation. Deep down, Ukyo already knew it and had been angry with herself over not following through on it. But it was a little different when, instead of just convincing herself of it, she actually had someone else telling her the same thing.

Closing her eyes for a moment as she contemplated to herself, Ukyo jumped when she suddenly felt Shampoo's cold palm pressed against her forehead.

"Wh-what are you-?!" the brown-haired chef swatted her hand away.

Shampoo pressed her hand against her own forehead, comparing the temperatures of the two. "Mmm...Shampoo think Ukyo have fever. Maybe send Ranma over with soup later. Is okay?"

"What?!" Ukyo blushed. As nervous as she felt about talking to her pigtailed friend, there was a significant part of her that just wanted things to be the way they used to be between them again as soon as possible. And, embarrassing though it may have been, being treated for the illness that was probably picked up from her run through the rain earlier wasn't a bad opportunity for them to talk again.

"Aren't you afraid I'll steal him back from you?" Ukyo asked.

"No is worried," the Amazon girl responded without hesitation. "Shampoo trust Ranma."

Not particularly liking the answer, Ukyo let out a sigh and looked away.

"Do whatever you want, then..."


A loud collective gasp filled the Tanaka Training Complex as a short-haired girl in a blue-and-white leotard flew into the air and beyond the ropes of one of the two rings, knocked completely out cold as she was caught by some of the other girls before she could hit the mat-covered floor. Inside the ring, the pink-haired gymnast given the nickname "Heavy Metal" had a demonic smile on her face while holding a cracked club in her extended right hand.

"Winner: Sakura Okazaki!" the referee proclaimed.

Her performance rattling the nerves of her potential opponents, Sakura discarded the broken club and threw her arms into the air in disappointment as she hopped out of the ring. "Boring, boring..."

Near the back of the crowd of other gymnasts, a very tender Kodachi and her second watched on, anxiously waiting for their second chance of the night to impress.

"Wow, she won both of her matches in under ten seconds..." Ringo said in amazement.

"That girl is a brute, nothing more," Kodachi huffed, not much admiring the technical prowess of Sakura.

In her first exhibition match of the day, the Black Rose's opponent was a 14-year-old who was essentially a rookie to the sport of martial arts rhythmic gymnastics. The novice, Ryoko Nishida, was clearly nervous and at a huge disadvantage in experience, and in the end Kodachi's initial prediction for the match came true. Even though she wasn't in her best form, she simply overwhelmed her opponent with her skilled ribbon usage, forcing Ryoko to roll out of the ring to safety and give Kodachi a win without even requiring Ringo to lift a finger.

A while later, Kodachi was called into a separate room to give her one-minute skill demonstration to another set of EGF officials. Unlike in her first match, however, her lack of proper training over the course of the last few months showed this time. She put on a decent demonstration, but a few stumbles and some mishandling of her tools had her extremely upset with herself and swearing that she would make up for it by stepping up her training sessions with Ringo, whether the young Furinkan student liked it or not.

About forty minutes later, after having cooled off a bit, Kodachi was now focused on her second exhibition match. So long as she grabbed another definitive victory, her demonstration mishaps wouldn't be enough to keep her out of the tournament, she figured. But, much as she didn't want to think about it, her body was still feeling the effects of pushing herself so hard for the last few days. The more she had to exert herself, the more trouble she was going to wind up having.

"Ringo," Kodachi got the redhead's attention, "did Kiriko have her first match while I was in the other room?"

"Oh, yeah," Ringo answered. "She won really easy, too...but it wasn't like Sakura's matches."

"How so?"

"Well...she took her time and let the other girl try to attack her, but then she'd fight back until the girl had to run away and try something new. It was like Kiriko wanted her to know that she couldn't touch her..."

"That is precisely what she wanted," Kodachi glared through the crowd at her conceited nemesis. "That wretched woman...I wonder if I would be fortunate enough to draw her as my next opponent..."

Up on the wall's large screen, the names were again scrolling by to determine the next match to take place at the first ring.

"Let it be Kiriko and I..." Kodachi pleaded. Even in her current condition, she would gladly risk her body if it meant getting to take some shots at Kiriko.

Moments later when the scroll came to a stop, Kodachi's name was, indeed, on the screen. But it wasn't the match-up she'd hoped for.

"The next match is Mizuki McLoughlin vs. Kodachi Kuno!" one of the officials announced. "The weapon will be the hoop!"

There was some very audible interest in the match amongst the other girls from the moment it was announced. Being of half-Japanese, half-Irish descent, Mizuki McLoughlin was a regular presence in the Extreme Gymnastics Federation who had participated in the previous two Queen of Extreme Tournaments.

"The hoop, is it? This will take longer to finish..." Kodachi thought aloud. "Ringo, I will be needing your aid for this match. Do not mess up."

"R-right...!" her second nervously replied.

The crowd of girls watching the match in the other ring began moving over to watch this more appealing contest as Kodachi grabbed four plastic green hoops from a large rack and slid into the ring. Outside, Ringo grabbed over a dozen more of the hoops and stood ready to supply them to Kodachi when given the signal.

After a brief strategy session with her second, Mizuki, who had long, dark red hair tied into two braids behind her head, hopped into the ring wearing a silky green and white leotard. Holding three white hoops in each hand, the grin on her face showed a hint of excitement over the opponent she'd been given.

"I've heard of you. You ambushed some of the girls on my school's team about a year ago," Mizuki said to Kodachi. "Best o' luck, Black Rose."

"You should keep your luck for yourself," the far less enthused Kodachi shot back at her.

Twirling the hoops around their arms in their respective corners, Mizuki and Kodachi locked eyes as the referee stepped to the middle of the ring.

"Ready...start!"

Right from the start, Mizuki darted toward Kodachi and hurled one of the three hoops twirling on her right arm at her. Cautiously opting to avoid the head-on clash for now, Kodachi jumped back and took to the air, letting Mizuki's hoop sail underneath her. Kodachi then sprang off the top ring rope, soaring high above the ring and tossing one hoop from each of her arms down at her grounded opponent.

The sound of the plastic hoops cracking echoed throughout the complex as Mizuki countered Kodachi's attacks by tossing two of her own hoops into the others, shattering parts of the tools with the force of the impact. With three hoops remaining, Mizuki hurled two of them one right behind the other at the Black Rose, who was setting herself up to land on the other side of the ring. Not wanting to leave herself defenseless, Kodachi used her remaining two hoops to create a shield in front of herself, standing firm upon her landing and letting Mizuki's hoops crash into her own.

Her hands stinging from the impact of the collision and her hoops cracked open, Kodachi went on the offensive, making a beeline for Mizuki. She flung one of her damaged hoops at Mizuki as she moved in close, forcing the girl with braids to sacrifice her last hoop to deflect the attack. But after Kodachi's hoop had been knocked away, Mizuki found that her opponent was no longer in her field of vision.

"Wha-?"

By a stroke of luck, Mizuki looked down by her feet just in time to see Kodachi crouched down on the ring mat next to her. With as much force as she could muster, Kodachi sprung upward and fired her last hoop directly at her opponent's throat. Taking advantage of her honed reflexes, however, Mizuki bent backward as the ill-intentioned hoop grazed the front of her leotard and barely missed the tip of her chin before sailing off into the distance.

With Kodachi now vulnerable, Mizuki immediately capitalized by raising her last hoop into the air and heaving it downward at the representative from St. Hebereke. Kodachi was still plenty nimble despite her poor conditioning, though. Seeing the attack coming, she quickly leaped back out of the way, doing a handspring to create some distance as the hoop crashed into the mat.

"Kodachi!" Ringo shouted to get her partner's attention.

The younger Kuno sibling, hearing her second's call, grabbed from the air four hoops that had been tossed her way and began twirling two on each arm as Mizuki, too, restocked with four hoops from her second.

It had been one of the more high-level exchanges of the day, and Mizuki and Kodachi had many of the other gymnasts, particularly the younger ones, watching them intently, while some of the others whistled and urged them on from the group of onlookers.

"Not too shabby! I'd better be careful," Mizuki hopped up and down a few times, seemingly enjoying herself.

Kodachi, on the other hand, wasn't having fun at all. Already starting to breathe heavily, she was feeling the soreness in her body worse than ever after the fast-paced start. And in this match, where she wasn't able to use her own tools, there just weren't any shortcuts to victory. If possible, she needed to end the match soon while she could still move around freely, and unfortunately she had no choice but to try winning it fairly.

"Come!" Kodachi shouted.

Mizuki was happy to oblige the demand. "Fine by me!"

The half-Irish gymnast moved forward and readied to whirl another hoop at her opponent, but, to her surprise, the Black Rose beat her to the punch and tossed one of her own hoops at Mizuki's midsection. Caught off-guard by the quick move, Mizuki stopped the twirling of her four hoops and used them to block Kodachi's attack. It was only after the hoop cracked off of Mizuki's barricade that she realized Kodachi had fired a second hoop her way. This time the hoop was simply too close and moving too fast for Mizuki to react to it, and it ended up smacking right into her exposed collarbone.

Cringing in pain as she was knocked back by the attack, Mizuki wasted no time retaliating by going on the offensive again and heaving one of her hoops at Kodachi, who took to the air again before it could strike her. Soaring above the ring, Kodachi twirled around to dodge two of Mizuki's remaining hoops as she threw them up at her, whirling one of her own downward into the ring after that only to watch Mizuki block it by letting it deflect off her last hoop.

When Mizuki saw that Kodachi was preparing to land on top of one of the corner ringposts, she immediately tossed her last hoop toward it and called for her second to toss her more. Kodachi, having to make sure she landed safely, fired her last hoop down into Mizuki's and knocked it down to the ring mat before planting her feet solidly on the ringpost.

"Ringo!" Kodachi yelled out.

"Right!" her second acknowledged, tossing another hoop up toward the corner of the ring.

The inexperience of Ringo came into play, however, as the hoop she tossed began to sail out of Kodachi's range.

Forced to reach out further than she would have liked, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke nearly lost her balance on the post as she barely managed to snag the hoop from the air. "Hey...!"

"Oops!" Ringo gasped.

By the time Kodachi had regained her balance, Mizuki had already gone on the offensive again. Whirling another hoop near the ringpost, Mizuki caught Kodachi directly in the shins, hitting her with enough impact that it jarred her feet right off the post.

Frantic to stay alive in the match, Kodachi, who was about to fall out of the ring, wrapped the hoop Ringo had thrown her around the top of the post and held on for dear life, barely managing to keep her feet from hitting the floor. Mizuki wasn't about to let her recover though. The seasoned gymnast fired two more hoops at the part of Kodachi's hoop that was hooked around the post. The first blow cracked Kodachi's hoop badly. The second one broke right through it.

Without her hoop to support her anymore, Kodachi quickly wrapped her feet around the post as the rest of her body fell back, her hair nearly brushing against the floor.

"Kodachi! Hang on!" Ringo called out to her.

The twisted Kuno sibling had somehow survived two scares so far, giving the other girls watching some quality entertainment in the process, but she was in severe trouble. With a flimsy hold on the post, she tried to pull her aching body up to grab hold of it with her hands, but the poorly conditioned muscles in her abdomen wouldn't make it easy. Gritting her teeth, Kodachi struggled to work herself upward, finally managing to get her head up to the same height as the post. Crying out with determination, she reached forward to grab the post, but would only get her fingertips to brush against it.

From the other side of the ring, a white hoop thrown by Mizuki smashed right into the bridge of Kodachi's nose, the sound of the impact making a number of the onlooking gymnasts flinch. From her spot outside the ring, Ringo could only watch in dismay as the shaken Kodachi fell from the ringpost and smacked down onto the floor below.

"Winner: Mizuki McLoughlin!" the referee declared.

While a collective groan came over the crowd of gymnasts who were disappointed in the shortness of the match, a clearly upset Ringo rushed over to check on her partner's condition.

"Kodachi, are you okay?!" she cried.

Happy with her performance, Mizuki responded to a short applause she received from some of the other girls with a playful bow before exiting the ring to celebrate the victory with her second.

With Kodachi still on the floor trying to regain her bearings, Kiriko Nakajima, who was all smiles, strolled over to Ringo and placed her hand on the redhead's shoulder.

"Aww, don't worry. She would have lost anyway, Sweetie," Kiriko mockingly comforted her. "That was lovely of you to make her lose her balance like that, though. Thank you so much."

The pompous gymnast's words only making her feel worse, Ringo, with tears starting to form in her eyes, turned and swatted Kiriko's hand off of her, displaying an almost unheard of bout of anger as she glared up at the girl.

"Ooh, someone's touchy," Kiriko laughed as she started to walk away. "You should be happy. You probably saved her the embarrassment of being crushed in front of a big crowd...again."

Ringo was far from a negative person, but she was beginning to see why Kodachi disliked Kiriko so much.

Left to themselves while the next exhibition match of the day was being arranged, Kodachi, with some help from her second, was finally starting to get her aching body upright after taking the nasty hit to her face.

"Are you okay...?" Ringo asked her again.

"No, I am NOT!" Kodachi shot back at her in frustration. The hoop had left a red mark on the bridge of her nose that, along with her still-healing black eye, did no favors for her looks. What hurt most of all at the moment wasn't her face, however, but the result of her match. "If I still qualify for this tournament, we are putting in extra time on our coordination!"

"Um...right..." a somber Ringo replied. "Sorry, Kodachi."

While the remaining exhibition matches took place, including Kiriko's second match, Kodachi and Ringo sat far away from the rings pondering to themselves what all had gone awry today. Even as the last match finished and the EGF officials moved into another room to determine who qualified for the tournament, the two of them could only wonder what sort of chance Kodachi had of being selected.

A decisive victory over a relative rookie, a so-so showing at the skill demonstration, and a loss against a solid opponent were the stats that the Black Rose had racked up on the day. It wasn't awful by any means, but it wasn't great either. And with 53 other gymnasts present and only 15 open spots in the tournament, the question would appear to be just how much promise the officials saw in Kodachi during her loss against Mizuki, and whether or not it would be enough to sneak her into the top 15.

Nearly an hour after the matches had ended, there was a loud ruckus starting up amongst the other gymnasts as the EGF officials made their way back into the main room of the complex with the qualifying results in-hand.

"Come on! Let's hear it! Let's go!"

"High seeding! High seeding!"

"This is it! My name's gettin' called today! Wait for it!"

Raising her head from the hanging position it had been in most of the time since she'd sat down, Ringo watched as Kodachi slowly stood up from her seat and looked down at her.

"Sulking will do nothing for us. Come."

"Yeah..."

With Ringo and Kodachi moving up behind the growing crowd of gymnasts and their seconds, Extreme Gymnastics Federation owner Hiroyuki Tanaka stepped up to the podium to announce the tournament selections.

"Ladies, it is my pleasure to now announce those of you who have qualified for our annual Queen of Extreme Tournament," the older man in the business suit began. "But first of all, I would like to thank all of you for coming here today and putting on a show for us. I welcome all of you, whether you qualify this year or not, to keep working hard to earn future spots in this tournament and at all of the other shows put on by our organization."

"Now then, I'm sure you're all anxious to hear the results, so let's get on with it, shall we?" he continued, drawing a number of nervous looks from the girls listening. "The 1st Seed, of course, would be our champion, who...I don't believe is here today. Oh well, no matter. Moving on, then, the 2nd Seed for this year's tournament...is Kiriko Nakajima!"

"She is...such a high seed..." Kodachi mouthed, genuinely surprised with the announcement. She'd expected Kiriko to qualify, but for her to be the second highest ranked gymnast easily exceeded her expectations.

"Is that weird?" Ringo asked.

"No, I suppose not..." Kodachi replied. "She had such a low seed the last time. That awful girl must have improved considerably..."

Other than Kodachi, there was little surprise amongst the other gymnasts over the decision to make Kiriko the 2nd Seed. That is, aside from one particular competitor who felt that she'd been robbed.

"What?! That's a load of crap, old man!" an irate Sakura Okazaki bellowed from afar. "Are you blind?! How does she get seeded higher than me?!"

"Because I'm better than you? Duh..." Kiriko gloated, now wearing her sunglasses and fur boa again. "It was the obvious choice."

"The HELL you are!" Sakura protested. "I want an explanation, old man!"

Tanaka had a feeling that the vulgar, pink-haired gymnast would take exception to the choice, but it was never an easy task to deal with her. "Our specific criteria are for us to know, Sakura! If you feel slighted then try to defeat her in the tournament!"

"You're damn right I will!" Sakura angrily retorted.

Shaking his head, Tanaka moved on to the next selection before the argument progressed any further. "The 3rd seed for the tournament...is Sakura Okazaki..."

Again, there was little surprise over the choice considering Sakura's dominant performances in her exhibition matches. Sakura herself, however, was still steaming over the previous selection.

"I should've been the 2nd Seed..." she grumbled.

"The 4th Seed," Tanaka continued, "is Svetlana Ivanov. The 5th Seed...Suzume Miura. The 6th Seed...Mizuki McLoughlin."

The half-Irish gymnast was elated with her ranking, excitedly hugging her second. "Wooo! That's our highest seeding yet!"

Her opponent from the earlier exhibition match was feeling quite the opposite. With six spots already filled and ten to go, Kodachi's chances were slowly dwindling down. Her nerves feeling more jittery by the second, she clenched her fists tightly to relieve some of the stress.

"I must have made it...I'm positive I did..." she told herself, drawing a concerned look from her second.

With her business already finished at the event, Kiriko Nakajima walked out from the crowd of girls and smirked as she eyed Kodachi through her sunglasses.

"That detestable woman...she wishes to see my disappointment if I do not make it..." the irritated Kuno daughter thought to herself.

"The 7th Seed, Yuki Hasegawa. The 8th Seed, Umiko Sonoda," Tanaka announced.

"That's half of them..." Ringo said, biting down on her lip as the butterflies kept growing in her stomach.

The EGF owner had a brief chuckle before moving on as the two previously announced entrants had a very vocal celebration. "The 9th Seed, Hiroko Fujimoto..."

Her hands beginning to tremble, Kodachi looked over at Kiriko again and saw her looking even happier than before.

"The 10th Seed, Fujiko Kobayashi..."

Still not hearing her name called, Kodachi's face contorted with frustration.

"This is absurd! Could I have been left out?! Have I really fallen so far?!" she quietly anguished.

"The 11th Seed..." Hiroyuki Tanaka continued, "Kodachi Kuno."

"YESSS!"

Startled by the loud outburst, nearly everyone in the room stared back at the dark-haired gymnast with her hand thrust into the air.

After her initial rapture had passed, Kodachi fast became aware of the fact that the eyes of the complex were upon her. Blushing profusely at her actions, she cleared her throat and folded her arms, trying to give off the impression that she wasn't surprised at all. "Hah! The 11th Seed...surely I should be ranked higher than that..."

As the other girls turned their attention back to the owner, Kodachi heard a loud sigh of relief being emitted from the red-haired girl next to her. "What was that for?"

"I...I'm just so glad," Ringo exhaled again, placing her hand over her chest. "I'm so glad I didn't ruin everything..."

Mr. Tanaka continued on with his seeding announcements, but the tournament's 2nd Seed had completely lost interest. Kiriko was stunned, and not in a good way.

"That man must be getting senile in his old age. Trash like you doesn't belong in my ring," Kiriko removed her shades as she slowly approached the Black Rose and her second.

"It would appear the officials think differently," Kodachi was happy to point out. "Tell me, if you are defeated by so-called trash, does that make you trash as well?"

Kiriko showed no lack of brashness, getting right up in Kodachi's face. "You are sadly delirious. Do you even realize what you are? You're an 11th Seed. They never even make it out of the first round."

"It should come as quite a shock then. Even moreso when this 11th Seed defeats you," Kodachi retorted, sounding extremely confident in herself.

The disgusted Kiriko could only shake her head at the nonsense she was hearing. "You're only putting off your inevitable failure, Kodachi! You'll never make it far enough to face me, and you know it!"

"You're wrong!"

Having heard enough out of Kiriko's mouth, Ringo stepped in front of her and looked her straight in the eye, leaving Kodachi feeling perplexed as to what on earth had gotten into her normally timid second.

"We'll make it there!" Ringo boldly declared, much to the amusement of Kodachi's arrogant nemesis.

"For an unqualified second, you have a big mouth, girlie," Kiriko snorted, looking up at Kodachi one more time before taking her leave. "Just so you know, I'll be there in person to see you fail this weekend, you trash."

With the seeding announcements wrapping up and Kiriko done talking for the time being, Ringo turned back around to find Kodachi staring down at her curiously.

"What?" Ringo blinked.

"I was not aware you had such passion in you," Kodachi teased her.

"Ah...gosh, maybe I went a little overboard..." the young Saotome pondered, looking embarrassed. "That girl is just mean though! She...she makes me want to beat her!"

"Oh?" Kodachi smirked. "I'm glad you feel that way, because that is precisely what we are going to do."

Once the final qualifier for the tournament had been announced, the Extreme Gymnastics Federation officials put a graphic of the tournament brackets up on the large screen on the wall for everyone to see.

"Congratulations to those of you who qualified. Now, here are the brackets for this year's Queen of Extreme Tournament," Tanaka said to the girls. "As always, the highest seed will start out facing the lowest seed, the next highest seed will face the next lowest seed, and so on. If you are on the west side of the bracket, your match will be held at our arena on Odaiba on Saturday afternoon starting at 3 o' clock. If you're on the east side of the bracket, your match will be at our Odaiba arena on Sunday afternoon at the same time."

"Good luck to all of you. I'm looking forward to an interesting show."

As the owner stepped down from the podium, Kodachi, Ringo, and the other qualifying gymnasts and their seconds carefully began combing the brackets for their names.

"We are in the east bracket, so our first match will be on Sunday," Kodachi determined. "That gives us four days to prepare."

"That isn't much time to get ready..." Ringo said with a hint of concern.

"We have no choice," Kodachi replied, looking over the brackets again for another name. "Good. Kiriko is in the east bracket as well. But, with these seedings...we cannot meet until the semifinals. That means I must win two matches before I can face that harpy again. And my first match..."

Ringo's eyes widened as she noticed who Kodachi was matched up against in the first round. "It's her..."

Kodachi nodded, looking to her left at the opponent she'd faced earlier in the day. As she soon noticed, the girl with braids was staring right back at her with a confident smile on her face.

"I will be facing the 6th Seed...Mizuki McLoughlin."


End of Chapter 3