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.
Deep within the Kuno Estate, Ringo Saotome, wearing the clothes she always used for physical education classes at Furinkan High, was crumpled forward and holding the back of her head as a ribbon dangled from her hand. There was a new crack in the wall of Kodachi's training dungeon after the gymnast's second had been sent flying into it forcefully.
"Would you mind telling me what that was supposed to be, Ringo?" the shrill voice of Kodachi Kuno chided the fallen girl.
Still groaning from the blow, Ringo slowly raised her head. "S-sorry, Kodachi," she apologized. "I just-"
"You were not paying attention!" the Black Rose accused her. "Need I remind you that we are training for the most important gymnastics match of my life? Need I?"
"No, I know," Ringo replied. She knew very well just how much the upcoming chance for revenge against Kiriko Nakajima meant to Kodachi. "I guess I'm just still worried about Ranma."
Kodachi gave the red-haired girl a disapproving look. "And for what reason would that be?"
"I told you, he got hurt this afternoon!" Ringo reminded her.
"What of it?" Kodachi asked, not sounding concerned in the least about the condition of her former love interest. "Ranma's taste in women may be absolutely atrocious, but his strength and toughness cannot be denied. There is no need whatsoever to waste your time worrying about that man. Do you understand?"
"I-...I know that. He even told me not to worry before I came here," Ringo admitted.
"Well there you are," Kodachi put an end to the conversation. "Now stand up and let us continue!"
Dealing with Kodachi could be exhausting at times, but Ringo had to agree that she made a good point. Ranma wasn't someone that needed, or frankly wanted, concern from others.
Ringo got back to her feet and put her worries aside for the time being. Right now she had a responsibility as Kodachi's second to attend to. Everything else would have to wait at least until tonight's training session was finished.
Inside the mostly empty Cat Café restaurant, a lone, shirtless man sat with his legs up on a table in the dining area. With the restaurant's hours of operation having ended for the night, Ranma Saotome was getting a chance to think to himself in peace. He had 21 fresh stitches in his side from the damage done by the beak of Jukai's falcon earlier in the day. Bandages had been placed over other lacerations on his back and cheek and he also had an ugly bruise on his chest, but all in all the heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts had been in worse shape following past battles.
Ranma had stuffed himself full of Shampoo's cooking once they'd returned from the hospital, but even that didn't do much to brighten up his outlook. Though he defeated Jukai in their battle, something about the contest had left a bad taste in his mouth.
Hearing the sound of light footsteps approaching, Ranma soon found himself joined by Shampoo, who pulled up a chair and sat down next to him.
"Ranma no look happy for one that win battle," Shampoo pointed out.
The pigtailed martial artist shook his head. "It shouldn't have been that easy, Shampoo," Ranma suggested. "That guy...somethin' wasn't right with him. There's no way he was a hundred percent."
"Ranma think so?"
"You were watchin', weren't ya? Didn't ya see how thin he was? And he wasn't movin' as fast as he did that first time he showed up here. And then once we got outta that bathhouse he got even slower. Ain't no way he'd get winded that quick! And on top of all that, he coughs up that blood?"
Shampoo wasn't able to pick up on some of these things from the distance she watched the battle at, but she could see what Ranma was saying.
"Then he just gives in and says that I won like that..." Ranma continued. "Maybe he didn't plan on winnin' at all. Maybe he was just keepin' his word that he'd come back, even though he was..."
"No can do anything about that," Shampoo said with a shrug.
"Yeah, I know," Ranma quietly admitted. "That don't mean I can't be ticked about it though. Stubborn jerk. And what the heck did he mean by, 'I'll leave it to you?'"
Before Ranma could discuss Jukai's cryptic message any further, he and Shampoo heard the door to the restaurant slide open. A familiar girl with a spatula strapped to her back peeked inside, then put her hand over her mouth as she took in the condition of her childhood friend.
"Ran-chan!" Ukyo gasped from the doorway. "So it really was you!"
"Oh. Heya, Ucchan," Ranma halfheartedly greeted her.
Shampoo wasn't sure how Ukyo would act after their last volatile meeting, but for the moment the okonomiyaki chef seemed content with ignoring Shampoo and keeping her focus on Ranma.
"I heard about the damage nearby and some of my customers were saying it was you and some other guy that did it," Ukyo explained as she walked up to the table where Ranma and Shampoo sat. "I guess they were right. You look awful, Sugar."
"It's no big deal. Ain't half as bad as it looks," Ranma downplayed his injuries.
"Well that's good," Ukyo sounded relieved. "You sure tore up some of the businesses around here though."
"I couldn't help it, Ucchan. I tried to stay away from there, but things just...y'know...happened that way," Ranma snorted.
"Ranma always get lost in fight. No think about everything cause damage to," Shampoo giggled.
"Now that's the pot callin' the kettle black," Ranma retorted, a point which Shampoo didn't deny as she continued to laugh.
Ukyo found little amusement in the Amazon girl's words. Still irked by the challenge she'd had rejected the last time she came to the restaurant, the young cook now set her sights on Shampoo.
"At least Ran-chan has the backbone to accept challenges, you gutless bimbo," Ukyo brazenly insulted her rival.
Shampoo's demeanor took a quick turn for the worse. Incensed by the comment, she shot to her feet and was shaking in anger as her chair fell back against the floor.
"H-hey..." Ranma looked back and forth between the girls, suddenly finding himself in a very unfriendly environment.
"What? You got a problem with what I said?" Ukyo gave Shampoo an intense look. "Why not prove me wrong?"
The glare Shampoo was giving Ukyo made even Ranma worry for his old friend. Shampoo wanted to prove Ukyo wrong in the worst way. She still had her reasons for not doing so, however, and she wasn't going to allow herself to be goaded into this battle.
"Shampoo think is best let Ukyo and Ranma talk alone," Shampoo finally said. Keeping her anger in check, she immediately turned around and walked out of the dining area.
Ranma grimaced from his chair as he watched Shampoo leave. He could only imagine the pain and suffering that was about to be inflicted upon some inanimate object at the hands of his girlfriend.
"Jeez, Ucchan. Ain't this goin' a bit too far?" Ranma questioned her.
"Ran-chan," Ukyo looked down at him, "...you're my best friend and all, but stay out of this. You just wouldn't understand."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Ranma grumbled as the okonomiyaki chef walked away.
Once Ukyo reached the door, she looked back over her shoulder at the pigtailed boy before leaving. "I'm glad you're okay," she told him. "Don't get too crazy now. You need to take care of yourself and heal up."
With that piece of advice and a friendly smile, Ukyo waved goodbye and shut the restaurant's door behind her.
Now alone again, Ranma let out a frustrated groan over Ukyo's actions. "Man, gimme a break, Ucchan," he muttered, sliding his feet down from the table to the floor. "Guess I oughtta go talk to her-"
The injured martial artist was about to get up to go calm Shampoo when he heard the restaurant's door slide open again all of a sudden.
"You forget somethin'?" Ranma asked, assuming the visitor was Ukyo once again. That assumption, however, was incorrect. Rather than Ukyo, Ranma saw a man with long, black hair and a dark blue robe step into the restaurant. He hadn't seen him lately, but the scar on the man's face reminded Ranma of someone. "Wait...Jynn?"
The former associate of Li and Meilin, and also the man who once bore the name Perm as an Amazon, cracked a smile as he shut the door behind him. "It's been a while, Ranma," Jynn greeted the pigtailed boy, then noticing his damaged condition. "You look...unwell."
"I'm just fine, thanks," Ranma sneered at him. "Forget that, what the heck are you doin' here? Shouldn't you be in China?"
"Yes, and I'll be going back there very soon. I only have some brief business here with you," Jynn replied. Strolling over to the table, he pulled out the chair across from Ranma and took a seat.
"Oh yeah? What business ya got with me?" Ranma blinked.
There was a hint of discomfort in Jynn's expression as he leaned back in his chair. "You wouldn't know it because the government has kept such a tight lock on information getting out of the country, but there has been a situation unfolding in China as of late," he said.
Ranma raised an eyebrow at his unexpected visitor. "What kinda situation?"
"An ugly one. Everyone is in danger. Some are already dead," Jynn answered, sounding extremely serious. "Meilin has been secretly leaking information to me, so all that I know is what she has told me, but one thing she made very clear...is that it all began with the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo drying up."
Ranma's face went blank. He was stunned. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. In fact, he didn't want to believe it.
"Aha...ahaha...AHAHAHA! C'mon, man, that ain't funny. Don't joke about tha-"
"This is no joke. The Cursed Springs are no more, Ranma. I went and confirmed it for myself before I came here."
This was a shocking blow to Ranma. He still didn't want to believe it. Even though he was unable to step foot onto the grounds of the Cursed Springs the last time he'd visited there, they were still his best bet for a cure to his curse. If the springs had dried up, so had his best remaining source of hope.
"I know that is some unpleasant news for you, but it isn't the worst of it. Will you hear me out?" Jynn asked him.
Though his mind was still racing while trying to comprehend the last bit of awful news, Ranma was willing to deal with it later. "Y-...yeah, go ahead. I dunno how this can get any worse though. That was my cure, man," he slumped down in his seat.
"You're about to find out," Jynn told him. "Apparently something came out of the Cursed Springs when they vanished. Right now military and government officials believe that it may have been a resurrected Sorceress Jusenkyo, the one whose powers created the springs in the first place."
"Legends say she terrorized the land thousands of years ago with her magic prowess. Whether it really is her or not, whatever came out of those springs has already slain at least 40 men. And I believe you deserve to know that Meilin and your friend, Ryoga, are on the front lines in the military's effort to locate and destroy her."
"That's correct. And I suppose that brings me to the reason I came here," Jynn said, reaching into the right sleeve of his robe. What he pulled out was a small, wooden cube with peculiar markings on it. "This."
Ranma examined the tiny cube, but wasn't sure what to make of it. "Okay...what is it?" he scratched his head.
"Nobody is certain," Jynn responded, an answer that didn't much impress the pigtailed boy. "Elder Cologne found this cube and one other acting strangely in a storage room of hers. Combined with the information I was given by Meilin, the old woman concluded that the incidents may have something in common. In other words..."
"You think this sorceress or whatever might need these things?" Ranma guessed.
"It's a possibility," Jynn nodded his head. "Elder Cologne decided to err on the side of caution and separate the two cubes. I was asked to leave this one in the safe keeping of yourself and Shampoo."
Reaching outward, Jynn gently placed the wooden cube in Ranma's right palm.
"Wait, she wants me to have this thing?" Ranma gave Jynn an odd look. "What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Just keep it safe," the Amazon man instructed him. "This way, in the event that something happens to us, Jusenkyo wouldn't be able to obtain both cubes until she locates the one you possess. It does, however, also place you in the line of danger. If you aren't willing to accept that responsibility, I would understand if you asked me to return the cube to the old woman."
Ranma didn't even have to think about Jynn's offer as he clasped the cube in his hand. "Nah. If she's givin' this thing to me and Shampoo, that means she trusts us with it. I ain't gonna go sendin' it back to her," he said. "But I got one big problem with all this."
"And that is?"
"I can't just sit here knowin' that you, the old hag, Meilin, and Ryoga are all over there takin' on this sorceress. If that's how it is, I'm comin' over there to help."
Jynn looked offended by the suggestion as he suddenly stood up from his chair. "Absolutely not!"
"I wasn't askin'," Ranma told him with determination in his eyes.
"Stop and think for a second! China is a dangerous place to be right now because there is so much uncertainty surrounding Sorceress Jusenkyo or whoever this murdering entity may be," Jynn explained as he began to lose his cool. "If you go to China, or even if you tell Shampoo everything I've told you here today, she will go there and her life will be at risk. Is that what you want?"
The harsh words from Jynn brought back horrifying memories in Ranma's mind of Shampoo's severe injury at the hands of Li. Jynn was right, he quickly acknowledged. Shampoo was a strong martial artist that could take care of herself, but Ranma didn't want to endure the pain of potentially losing her again.
"Listen, Shampoo is an Amazon warrior, but Elder Cologne, Mousse, and myself would all prefer for her to stay here with you where there is no immediate danger," Jynn told him. "As I said, you won't be completely safe so long as you hold that cube, but in the unlikely event that Jusenkyo escapes the might of China, at least you may be able to learn something from it before she comes looking for that item. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Grudgingly, Ranma took Jynn's words to heart and stuffed the wooden cube in his pants pocket. He wanted to fight, but protecting Shampoo was more important to him right now. "Fine, I hear ya. I won't tell Shampoo 'bout none of this. Just be careful, man. All of ya."
Glad that he was able to get through to the normally stubborn martial artist, Jynn allowed a relieved look to cross his face.
"I thank you for understanding. This is China's problem, so allow us to deal with it, Ranma."
On the other side of the Sea of Japan, hours after nighttime had fallen over the land of China, Meilin stood by herself with her hair being whipped around by a military helicopter landing nearby. The unofficial Commander of the Special Operations Unit's Orange Team had been expecting the visitor, but asked Ryoga to stay behind with Akane since she didn't want the youngest Tendo daughter to listen in on the meeting. She also considered that it may be best for Ryoga to not listen in, either, considering what was about to be discussed.
Once the helicopter landed and its blades began to slow, an excited, orange-haired man hopped out of the cabin and hurried over to his Commander. The pilot remained inside the chopper.
"Yo yo, Commander! I did what you asked!" Gibbon, another member of the Orange Team, informed Meilin in Mandarin.
Days earlier, Meilin had ordered Gibbon to take a print of the bottom of Akane's shoe and head to the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo to find out what he could about the shoe owner's actions there. What he found would go a long way in determining whether or not Akane's story about what had happened to her at the Cursed Springs was actually true or not.
"Good job. Tell me what you learned, Gibbon," Meilin instructed him. After putting up with Akane's presence despite having doubts about her story, the white-haired warrior was ready to learn the truth.
Wearing a proud smile on his face, Gibbon held up the print of Akane's shoe that he had taken with him. "I found the same prints at the Cursed Springs, Commander! They were definitely the same! Definitely, definitely!"
For Meilin, that was one piece of information confirmed. Akane was undoubtedly at the springs when the incident they had been investigating occurred. Now it was time for the important part. "And what can you tell me about those prints?" she asked her subordinate.
"These ones were deeper than any of the others, Commander! And they were spread further apart, too!" Gibbon explained to her in a loud voice. "I think whoever made 'em was running, Commander!"
Meilin's eyes narrowed at the thin-figured man. "You're sure?"
"Positive, ma'am!" Gibbon grinned widely at her.
As Meilin recalled, Akane had said that she threw one of the cloaked men into a spring and then ran away that day at the Cursed Springs. In addition, when Meilin and Ryoga had been investigating the springs, they saw only one set of footprints that looked like the owner was running while another set of prints appeared to be from someone going at a much slower pace. What Gibbon was saying about the footprints matched up with Akane's story.
"Is there anything else for me to do, Commander?" Gibbon asked.
"No...that's all for now, Gibbon. You can go," Meilin told him. "Oh, and if the General gets nosy, don't let him know what you were doing at the springs. Make something up. Understood?"
"I understand! Please call me again soon, Commander!" Gibbon saluted her. The look of pure satisfaction on his face showed just how much he enjoyed getting orders from his Commander.
While Gibbon returned to the helicopter and the pilot started the aircraft up again, Meilin began heading back to where Ryoga and Akane were waiting. She felt torn about how to take the information she'd just received. On one hand, Gibbon confirming part of Akane's story meant that Meilin could probably get away with not watching Akane as closely from now on, even though her suspicions weren't completely quelled just yet. But on the other hand, the news also took away a potential reason to get Akane away from Ryoga for good.
Then, in mid-step, Meilin came to a sudden halt. Something bright had appeared out of the corner of her eye, and it wasn't the lights of the helicopter. Wanting to see what it was, Meilin spun her head around just in time to witness what would turn out to be a horrific sight.
"Wha-?" she gasped.
An enormous, horizontal pillar of light roared across the plain and enveloped the helicopter, causing it to explode almost instantly. The blast was powerful enough that it knocked Meilin off her feet and sent her rolling along the ground as bits and pieces of the chopper began to fall around her. The light pillar persisted for two more seconds and then finally dissipated into the air, but the damage was already done.
Her ears ringing, a stunned Meilin slowly lifted herself to her knees and took in the scene around her. The helicopter carrying Gibbon and the pilot was gone. Only parts of it remained, some of which were still on fire from the aircraft's explosion. A plethora of smoke was rising up from the earth and trees could be heard falling to the ground off in the distance.
"Gibbon..." Meilin uttered her subordinate's name under her breath. Still wobbly-legged, she managed to get back to her feet and better survey the damage.
What Meilin could now see reminded her very well of something she'd observed before. The blast that had just come through had left a long, wide trench in the ground that was covered with blackened dirt.
"It's the same," she mumbled. "It looks exactly the same as when Jukai fought the cloaked guy. That means..."
"Meilin, behind you!"
Recognizing the sudden warning as being in Ryoga's voice, Meilin quickly turned around to find an individual cloaked in black standing directly behind her. The person was at least a foot taller than her and held a large scythe over their head, ready to attack.
As the scythe's blade came down at her, Meilin used her reflexes to dive to the side and out of harm's way just before the ghastly weapon could cleave through her.
No sooner had Meilin hit the ground again that Ryoga struck the earth below the cloaked assailant with his index finger, causing it to burst into a shower of dirt and stones. The unknown entity leaped nearly 20 feet into the air as though it were nothing, slicing and batting away the rubble with the blade of their scythe before landing on the opposite side of the trench the earlier blast had created.
"Damn, he's fast!" Ryoga noted, hurrying to check on his partner. "Meilin, are you okay?"
"Thanks to you I am. Sorry, honey, I got careless," Meilin responded, sounding ashamed of herself as she took a good look at the individual that had tried to attack her. "Black cloak. Scythe in one hand. Enough power to create that blast earlier. It's just like Jukai said. Ryoga, it's her!"
Behind them, Akane, who had followed Ryoga after they'd seen the pillar of light, fell to her backside and pointed at the cloaked person in horror. "Th-that's him! He's the one that's been following me, Ryoga!"
Ryoga kept his eyes locked on their visitor as he helped Meilin back to her feet. "So this is Sorceress Jusenkyo?"
"It has to be," Meilin seethed, wasting no time unsheathing her snake sword. "This bitch...she just killed Gibbon!"
Initially surprised by the news, Ryoga bit down on his bottom lip in anger. "Gibbon...that was our teammate, you monster!" he snarled at Jusenkyo.
The cloaked sorceress held her scythe out in front of her, looking eager to go back on the attack at any moment.
"Be careful, Ryoga," Meilin cautiously warned him. "Remember what Jukai told us. We need to watch Jusenkyo's free hand for signs of one of those blasts of magic power."
"Yeah...I remember," the young martial artist nodded. "Akane, stay back no matter what! We're going to put a stop to this!"
Akane scampered away to what she hoped would be a safe distance. After the terror Jusenkyo had put her through, Akane had no desire whatsoever to defy Ryoga's wishes and get involved.
Jusenkyo stood ready on one side of the trench. Ryoga and Meilin stood ready on the other. A battle seemed to be imminent. Then, curiously, the resurrected Jusenkyo briefly shook her head.
Ryoga and Meilin didn't even have time to consider what the gesture meant as the sorceress slashed her scythe into the ground. A sizable cloud of dirt blew outward from the point of impact, temporarily obstructing Jusenkyo from the vision of the duo on the other side of the trench.
"Like that'll work on us!" Ryoga scoffed at the move.
It was a short-lived distraction as the wind blew the dirt cloud right past Ryoga and Meilin. They would find out, however, that the tactic was more effective than they had anticipated. Surprisingly, Jusenkyo had vanished.
"Ryoga, where is she?" Meilin asked her partner while darting her eyes all around the area.
"I-...I don't know!" Ryoga nervously replied.
The pair waited for a full nerve-wracking minute, but Jusenkyo didn't reappear. As Akane looked on, Ryoga and Meilin stood amidst the destruction looking immensely confused.
"Did she...run away?" Meilin wondered aloud.
Ryoga couldn't believe that was the case, but the longer they waited, the more it appeared to be true. "She shook her head right before she did that. Maybe she was saying she didn't want to fight us?"
Fuming, Meilin threw her snake sword downward so that the tip of it stuck in the earth. The chance to complete their mission had slipped away. "You think you can take out Gibbon and then just leave?" she screamed into the night. "When I find you, I'm going to KILL YOU!"
End of Chapter 13