A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part II: Queen of Extreme
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.
"Y'know, it was nice gettin' away and all, but it feels kinda good to be home again."
"Shampoo think so, too."
In the late afternoon hours of a mostly cloudy day, Ranma Saotome and Shampoo returned to the Nerima Ward of Tokyo for the first time in over a week. Their sudden training trip was plagued by more problems than either of them would have liked, but things had worked out for them in the end. With Genma now out of their hair and on his way back to dealing with Nodoka pressuring him to get a job, the two teenage martial artists were on their own again and ready to get the restaurant back up and running.
"There Cat Café is," Shampoo pointed to the restaurant as it came into view.
"Nice to see it's still in one piece," Ranma joked. Though most of the building-destroying elements of the recent past, otherwise known as Ranma's rivals, weren't in the area at the moment, coming back to an intact home still never quite felt like a guarantee. "I sure hope Ringo's still in one piece, too. Who knows what Kodachi's had her doin'."
"Ringo no like fight, but she still tough girl. Shampoo sure she fine," the Amazon girl smiled.
"Yeah, guess you're right," Ranma scratched his head. "I worry 'bout her too much."
"That what brother do, yes?" Shampoo giggled.
"Brother, huh?" the pigtailed boy thought aloud. "Man, that feels weird to say."
Once they reached the door of the restaurant, Shampoo grabbed her key from her backpack and unlocked it, sliding the door open to reveal the darkened and unoccupied dining area.
"We home!" she announced, happily trotting inside.
"Back to work I guess," Ranma grumbled. "H-...huh?"
Upon stepping inside the Cat Café restaurant, the heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts suddenly found himself enveloped in a strange fog that seemed to appear from out of nowhere.
"Hey, Shampoo! What the heck's with this fog?" he called out to his girlfriend. "Shampoo?"
There was no reply from her. The fog was so thick that Ranma could barely see his own hands, much less anything else around him.
"What's goin' on here?"
Then, just as fast as it had shown up, the fog around him oddly began to dissipate. What Ranma would find waiting for him wasn't the inside of the Cat Café, though. Looking down at his feet, he could see that he was now standing on a cement bridge that was about ten feet wide. Whether he looked behind or ahead of himself, he could still see nothing beyond the bridge as the fog remained too thick.
"Whoa...where is this?" he wondered aloud. "Hey! Anyone here?"
Not entirely sure what to do, Ranma cautiously began walking forward in hope of finding some answers. He kept an eye out for anything of note as he strolled along the structure, hopeful that he might at least spot a change in scenery. Minutes passed without any such sighting, however, and he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The scenery looked exactly the same and the only sound he could hear was that of himself.
"This is some weird stuff," he noted. "Did I fall asleep or somethin'? Feels more like a dream..."
Looking ahead, Ranma finally noticed something different in front of him. It was faint and tough to see clearly through the fog, but it looked like there was someone standing on the edge of the bridge.
"Hey, maybe I ain't alone here," the pigtailed boy blinked. "Yo! That you, Shampoo?"
As Ranma got closer, it became clear that it actually wasn't Shampoo he saw. Rather, it was a short-haired girl in a white sundress.
"Uhh...hello?" he tried to talk to her.
With Ranma nearing the spot where she stood, the girl slowly turned her head and looked over at him. Her familiar face nearly made Ranma fall over.
"A-Akane?" he lit up with surprise.
Akane didn't say a word, continuing to stare at him with a sad look in her eyes.
"Wh-...what're you doin' here? Where've you been?" Ranma asked, inching closer to her. "Don'tcha know everyone's been worried sick about ya?"
Not giving him an answer, Akane turned away and looked back out over the bridge.
Ranma didn't understand what was going on here at all, and he certainly didn't understand what Akane was up to. "Akane? Hey..."
The youngest of the Tendo daughters closed her eyes, ignoring her former fiancé. Then, to Ranma's horror, she suddenly leaned forward and began falling over the edge of the bridge.
Ranma ran over to the edge to try to grab hold of her, but it was simply too great a distance for him to cover. He could only watch as his hand grabbed nothing but air and Akane fell from the bridge, disappearing into the foggy abyss below.
Hearing his name being called, Ranma was shocked to find himself standing in the entrance to the Cat Café again. Shampoo was waving her hand in front of his eyes, seemingly trying to get his attention.
"Ranma? You is okay?" she asked him.
The pigtailed boy quickly looked around the dining area to confirm where he was before turning his attention back at her. "That's you, ain't it, Shampoo?"
Shampoo gave him a funny look. "Of course is Shampoo. What you talking?"
"Did you...see that?" Ranma asked her.
"What see?" Shampoo blinked, looking back at the floor behind her. "There is mouse run around?"
He didn't know how or why he'd seen it, but it was becoming apparent to Ranma that everything he'd seen with Akane wasn't real.
"N-no...nevermind. I'm just seein' things. It was a long walk back here," he brushed the incident off.
Shampoo looked at him again with worry, placing a hand on his cheek. "Ranma sure you is okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he smiled. "We oughtta get our stuff unpacked."
Convinced for now that Ranma was okay, the lavender-haired girl nodded her head in agreement. "Shampoo go do that then. We need clean up dust here before open tomorrow, too."
While Shampoo headed back to their living quarters to start unpacking, Ranma shut the restaurant door and took a seat at one of the tables. What he'd seen may have been an illusion, but he couldn't help wondering if it meant something.
"What was that all about?" he thought to himself. "It's probably nothin', but...is Akane in some kinda trouble?"
Hearing the sound of the restaurant door sliding open again, Ranma figured it must have been a customer checking if they were open.
"Sorry, we're closed toda-...oh, Ucchan!"
"Ran-chan! I thought I saw you guys walking in here," Ukyo beamed, shutting the door behind her. "You just get back?"
"Yeah, just now," he told her. "How's things been goin'?"
Ukyo took a seat next to him. "Oh, you know, business as usual. Ringo and Kodachi really made some noise though."
"Really? I was wonderin' about that. How'd they do?" her childhood friend asked.
"Well, Kodachi won her match the day you left...sort of," Ukyo muttered, recalling the underhanded tactics the Black Rose used to win her match against Mizuki. "But yesterday was the big news. I don't know how they did it, but those two pulled off a win over one of the best girls in the tournament."
"Wow, no kiddin'?" Ranma laughed. "I guess Ringo and Kodachi figured out how to work together after all. I didn't think it was possible."
"They had a little fight after the first match, but it looks like they're on the same page for now," Ukyo told him. "Kodachi got pretty messed up yesterday, though. Soon as classes were out today, Ringo took off for the Kunos' place to check on...her..."
Seeing that his friend appeared to be distracted by something behind him, Ranma looked over his shoulder and noticed Shampoo walking back into the dining area.
"Oh, is Ukyo here. Shampoo wonder who you talking to," the Amazon girl said.
"Yeah, she saw us comin' in here," Ranma explained.
While Shampoo headed into the kitchen, Ukyo continued to give her a sharp look from her seat. Ranma looked back and forth between them a couple times, curious what was going on.
"Hmm?" Ukyo finally looked back at him.
"You okay?" Ranma asked her.
"Y-yeah! It's nothing, Sugar!" the okonomiyaki chef replied with a nervous laugh. "So, how was your trip?"
"Oh man, you wouldn't believe how bad it went," Ranma chuckled. "It went okay at first, but then we got in a little fight over somethin'. And then to make it worse, Pop showed up, and then..."
Ukyo was glaring into the kitchen again, tapping her finger loudly on the table while doing so.
"Ucchan? You sure everything's fine?" Ranma raised an eyebrow at her.
Shampoo exited the kitchen and appeared to be heading back toward she and Ranma's living quarters again, and the girl with the large spatula on her back was watching her every step of the way.
"No...it's not fine..." Ukyo growled.
Her expression showing the frustration she'd been feeling the past few days, Ukyo Kuonji jumped up from her chair and slammed her palms down on the table.
"Y'know something, Shampoo...I can beat you!"
Ranma stared wide-eyed at his childhood friend, as did Shampoo, who stopped to look back at her.
Ukyo clenched her hands into fists, not taking her eyes off of the lavender-haired girl. The after-school chat with Ringo last week had been eating away at her ever since and she was determined to do something about it.
"I know I can beat you, and you know it, too! That's why...I'm challenging you to a battle right now," she declared. "You and me, Shampoo. Give me an answer."
Months earlier, Shampoo had felt a bit surprised that Ukyo never challenged her right after Ranma made the choice to begin their current relationship. But given that so much time had passed since then, she may have been even more surprised by this sudden challenge.
Things had changed over the last few months, though. In particular, Shampoo's feelings toward certain matters had changed.
After some consideration, Shampoo looked Ukyo straight in the eye and gave her response.
"Shampoo answer...is no."
Ukyo nearly tripped over her chair after hearing the reply. She was stunned. Never in a million years would she have expected Shampoo to turn down her challenge.
"No? NO?" the okonomiyaki chef shouted. "Are you kidding? Why not? Tell me!"
Not torn in the least about her answer, Shampoo turned around and continued walking to the back of the restaurant. "Shampoo say no. That why not."
The Amazon girl disappeared from sight and left her scorned challenger alone with a puzzled Ranma.
"Wow, that was kinda out of the blue there, Ucchan," he glanced up at her. "Where'd that come from?"
Ukyo was no longer in any mood to talk. Seething with anger, she slammed her fist down into the table and let out a frustrated growl.
"She's looking down on me. If she thinks I'll give up that easy, she's got another thing coming!"
Ranma watched uncomfortably as his friend stormed out of the restaurant, slamming the door closed on her way out.
"Man, we ain't even been back five minutes and this happens?" he groaned.
With Ukyo now gone, Ranma stood up and headed to the back of the restaurant where he found Shampoo putting away some of the clothes she'd brought on their trip.
"Yo," he said, leaning up against the door frame. "You kinda surprised me there. Don't think I've ever heard ya turn down a challenge before."
Shampoo set down one of her shirts and looked back at him. "Ranma think Shampoo is coward?"
"I'd have to be a moron to think that," he assured her. "I'm sure you got a good reason for sayin' no."
Though she didn't want to get into details, she confirmed for the man she loved that he wasn't wrong.
"Is good enough reason for Shampoo."
Satisfied with the answer, Ranma shrugged his shoulders and gave her an approving look.
"That's all that matters then."
"We're almost there, Kodachi..."
Inside the Kuno estate, Kodachi had one arm draped over Ringo's shoulder as her second helped her back to her bed.
One day removed from a brutal quarter-final match against Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki, the younger Kuno sibling was now feeling the intense aftereffects of her efforts. The damage wrought by Sakura's thumbtacks, barbed wire, and other heinous tools, as well as the exhaustion brought on by Kodachi pushing her ill-conditioned body past its limits, had left the Black Rose of St. Hebereke nearly incapable of moving about on her own for now.
Though Kodachi's violet nightshirt that she was currently wearing, mostly for the ease of putting it on, stretched down past her knees and covered up most of the damage, its short sleeves couldn't hide all of the bandages wrapped around her arms. Practically her entire upper body, as well as the wound on her forehead, had to be bandaged after her match. She'd undoubtedly paid a price for not quitting as Ringo had pleaded with her to do multiple times during the match.
But even as the pain echoed throughout her body with every step she took, Kodachi Kuno had no regrets. She'd defeated Sakura in the end and earned the prize she'd entered the Queen of Extreme Tournament to attain. She'd earned a semi-final match and a chance for retribution against her nemesis, the tournament's 2nd Seed, Kiriko Nakajima.
"Okay, here we go..." Ringo gently helped her partner down onto her mattress.
"This is irritating! I should be in my dungeon preparing for the next match, not incapacitated and bedridden!" Kodachi fumed as she laid down. "How dare that brute turn a beautiful flower such as I into a human pincushion? I shall never forgive her!"
"I know you want to train, but you'll be a mess for the next match if you don't let your body heal first," the red-haired girl warned her. "Besides, we have two weeks before you face Kiriko, right?"
"Which is now 13 days, and every minute of it is precious!" the Black Rose snapped. "I must have the utmost preparation if I am to destroy that harpy!"
Feeling somewhat guilty for the gymnast's current predicament, Ringo took a seat next to her on the bed and hung her head slightly.
"I'm sorry, Kodachi. If I were a better second, maybe you could have beat Sakura without getting hurt so much," she apologized.
Hesitant to respond, Kodachi's eyes shied away from her second. Normally she wouldn't hesitate to blame her troubles on someone else. Yesterday, however, the problems Kodachi encountered were either a result of her own mistakes and lack of conditioning or Sakura's barbaric yet effective offense, and she knew it.
"Do not be a fool. You performed just as you needed to, and you did so with mere days of preparation. A gymnast could not ask for more from her second," the bedridden Kuno girl told her, embarrassed that she'd even admitted such a thing.
"Really?" Ringo raised her head.
"Yes. But..." Kodachi turned to her again, a serious expression on her face, "...do not ever ask me to quit again. To quit is a shameful act not befitting a Kuno. I may have to endure horrific pain, but there are things in this world that are worth that agony."
Ringo Saotome hadn't gotten along with Kodachi much since she'd met her, but her feelings toward the once mischievous gymnast had undoubtedly changed over the past couple of weeks. The passion she'd shown in their dungeon training sessions was contagious. The determination she'd shown in her vicious match against Sakura was inspiring. And the pride she'd just shown in talking about her refusal to quit was admirable. Though she was once a person that Ringo wanted to avoid more than any other, the young waitress was actually beginning to respect her.
"I get it. I won't ever ask you to quit again," the girl with the ponytail smiled. "Hey, are you hungry?"
"Hungry? Well...a bit, I suppose," Kodachi admitted.
Ringo hopped off the bed and to her feet. "How about I go make a snack then? It won't take long."
"You are capable of cooking?"
"Of course! I'm not as good as Kasumi, but she taught me how to make lots of things."
"I see. Very well, then."
"Okay! I won't take too long, I promise."
The cheerful Ringo took her leave to go fix some food, and Kodachi was now alone in her room. With a light sigh, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke looked up at her ceiling and gently closed her eyes.
"Perhaps...she is not so contemptible after all."
Elsewhere in the Kuno estate, Ringo was strolling through the halls toward the kitchen area, which Kodachi had luckily shown her the location of one night after their training session.
"Hmm...I wonder what I should make," she said to herself. "I'm not even sure what kind of ingredients they have here. Well, I'm sure I'll think of somethi-"
Ringo suddenly let out a loud gasp as she felt a familiar chill run through her body. The cold feeling was intense, forcing her to crumble to her knees and wrap her arms around her shivering body.
"No! Not again!" she cried, curling up even tighter.
It was just like the chill she'd felt while working at the Cat Café a month earlier. There was something more to it this time, though. It gave Ringo a strange feeling of fright, despair, and grief all at once, wrapping her heart in darkness.
"NO! Please...no more..." the terrified girl whimpered.
Ringo's eyes shot open as she heard the distinct sound of a voice in her head. It would only utter that one phrase, though, as the chill left the redhead's body immediately after it was spoken.
Though her body was returning to normal, Ringo was badly shaken to the point that she was trembling with fear and uncertainty.
"Wh-who was that?" her voice shook. "What's happening to me...?"
Meanwhile, across the Sea of Japan, Ryoga and Meilin were running to the north across mainland China, both of them trying to capitalize on a rare opportunity after gaining some valuable information.
"Are you sure that she said she saw Jusenkyo?" Ryoga asked his partner as he ran, referring to an older woman they'd run across earlier.
"Just how many people do you think walk around wearing black cloaks while holding scythes? It has to be her!" Meilin barked back at him. "I just can't believe that old bird saw her and lived to tell about it."
The two prisoners of the Chinese military soon came upon a steep incline in the land and began scaling it.
"Are we close to that farming village yet?" Ryoga asked.
"I think so. If I understood that woman right, it should be right over this hill," Meilin told him. "If we're lucky, maybe some of the villagers will have seen her too."
Not slowing down for a moment, the two of them ran up to the top of the steep hill. There, waiting for them at the bottom of the hill on the other side, was the farming village the old woman had mentioned. But as they quickly realized, something was very, very wrong.
"No..." Ryoga's jaw dropped.
His white-haired partner shook her head at the nightmarish sight before her. "She's not hiding out anymore, is she?"
From where they stood, the unofficial commanders of the Special Operations Unit's Orange Team could see a scene of incredible destruction. The bodies of several men lay in the road and by buildings, some with grief-stricken women and children weeping over them. Most of the buildings either had giant slashes in them or had partially collapsed. There were even a couple structures that appeared to have been burned. The small farming village had suffered a significant attack.
Ryoga wasted no time running downhill toward the scene. "Come on, we've gotta help them!"
"If we can..." Meilin said, not sounding optimistic at all.
The two of them would endure the unpleasant task of checking on the conditions of the people sprawled out on the ground throughout the village. The further they went, the more victims they found. The number of bodies rose to 10, then 20, and then to over 30. Every one of them was male, and, unfortunately, not a single one had survived the attack.
Amid the cries of the men's families and the smell of death in the air, Ryoga was finding it difficult to cope with what he was seeing.
"I sent in the bad news," Meilin said, slipping their communicator back into her pack. "You okay, honey?"
Ryoga just shook his head, visibly upset. "They didn't do anything wrong, Meilin. They didn't deserve this."
"You're right. They didn't," she responded. "Life's never fair, though. Things like this happen to good people every day."
"How can you act so calm in a situation like this?" Ryoga snapped at her.
Meilin looked away from him, not exactly proud of her lack of sympathy for the villagers. "I can't help it, Ryoga. That's just...the way I am."
Ryoga gave her an apologetic look. "S-sorry. I just..."
"I know," his lover said, understanding where he was coming from. "If you want to help them, let's find out where Jusenkyo went and go after her."
"Yeah," Ryoga replied. "We need to make sure she doesn't do this to anyone else."
Scouring the area for a potential informant, the duo spotted what appeared to be a girl in a dirty sweatshirt sitting against the side of one of the buildings. With the sweatshirt's hood draped over her head and her face buried against her knees, the girl appeared to be shaking as she huddled up against a stack of wooden crates.
"Let's go find out if she saw anything," Meilin suggested.
The girl didn't look up once as the two military prisoners approached her.
"Hey," Meilin spoke in Mandarin, "...we're with the military. Where did the person who did this go?"
Strangely, there was no response from the trembling girl.
"Can you hear me? I asked you a question," Meilin gave her a stern look.
Sensing that the girl was frightened out of her mind, Ryoga knelt down next to her and tried to be of some comfort. "Hey, don't worry. It's all over now. We're here to help."
Ryoga reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder, but this only startled the girl. She let out a terrified shriek and fell down to the ground, holding her hands out in front of herself for protection. The girl's face was now exposed, however, and her expression would slowly change as she and the directionally-challenged martial artist were able to see each other clearly.
"R-...Ryoga?" she gasped.
Meilin batted her eyes in confusion and glanced down at her partner, whose mouth hung open in disbelief.
Ryoga immediately thought there had to be some mistake, that he couldn't possibly be seeing who he thought he was seeing. But as he looked into the girl's eyes that he'd seen so many times before, his doubts vanished. She was the real thing.
End of Chapter 9