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 15

*ding ding*

Somewhere in the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, a bell atop the door of a dressmaker's shop rang, signaling the arrival of a customer. Upon hearing the noise, an older woman—looking to be in her late 50's or early 60's—peeked out from within her workroom behind the counter.

"Ah! Miss Kuno! Welcome!" the gray-haired clothier greeted one of her regular customers.

Kodachi Kuno flashed the hoity-toity woman a smile. "Bonjour, Madame Dubois," she shared her own greeting in French. Though she hid it well, Kodachi had a lot on her mind right now. After all, there was only one day left. Tomorrow, her long-awaited chance for redemption would come. It would be the day she met Kiriko Nakajima in the semi-finals of the EGF's Queen of Extreme Tournament.

"I presume you are here for that item?" Madame Dubois inquired.

"You presume correctly," Kodachi confirmed the woman's assumption. "Is it ready?"

With an air of confidence about her, the seasoned dressmaker bent down underneath the counter and produced a light box with the name "Kuno" written on it. Lifting off the top of the container, she carefully grabbed the piece of clothing within and held it up for the gymnast to see.

Kodachi's eyes were practically sparkling at the sight of the magnificent piece of attire.

"I made it similar to your last order, as requested, yet added enough of a different touch to make it feel unique," Dubois beamed with pride in her work. "What do you think?"

"It is...perfect! I was right in trusting you with the task, Madame," Kodachi praised the woman's skill.

Madame Dubois took a quick bow. Kodachi's reaction was just as she'd expected. "You certainly were," she agreed. "The one you plan on giving this to is a very lucky girl, indeed."

The younger Kuno sibling still hadn't taken her eyes off of the dressmaker's work as Madame Dubois placed it back into its box. Nearly a week earlier, she had asked the older woman to make the item not for herself, but rather for her second, Ringo Saotome. Ringo had never asked for any thanks for helping Kodachi as she had, but Kodachi still felt compelled to show her gratitude. This, she thought, was the ideal gift, and she couldn't wait to see Ringo's expression once she first saw it.

Kodachi had already decided that she would give Ringo her present tomorrow after the match. She only hoped that they would be in a celebratory mood once that time came around.

"Well then, allow me to prepare this for your journey home," Dubois placed the top back over the box. Before she tinkered with it any further, however, the older woman cast a curious look at something over Kodachi's shoulder. "Erm...who is this, if you don't mind my asking? A friend of yours?"

Considering she had entered the shop alone, Kodachi had no idea what Madame Dubois was talking about. "I beg your pardon? Who are you-?" she began to ask. When she turned her head to look, though, she suddenly spotted a mass of pink hair right next to her face. "GYAH!" the Black Rose shrieked in surprise. Kodachi jumped away from the girl who had snuck up on her—a sometimes terrifying gymnast who bore the name Sakura Okazaki. "You! What are you doing there, you demon?"

Sakura—dressed in a grungy leather jacket and jeans—wore a big grin on her face, clearly pleased with herself for scaring the wits out of Kodachi. "I saw ya come in here, so I followed ya," she said, pointing to the door.

Now that Kodachi thought about it, if Sakura had been standing there the entire time, she probably... "Did you see it?"

The girl nicknamed "Heavy Metal" gave Kodachi a sly look. "I did."

Kodachi could feel her cheeks turning red already. "Not a word. Do you understand me?" she stared menacingly at her fellow gymnast.

Tapping her finger against her chin, Sakura acted as though she were mulling over the demand. "Hmm...tell ya what, treat me to lunch and I'll forget all about it!"

"Oh, blackmailing me now, are you?" Kodachi hissed at her.

The wild, pink-haired girl couldn't keep herself from snickering at Kodachi's seriousness. "I'm just kiddin', 'Dachi! Lighten up!" she patted her one-time opponent on the shoulder. "I think it's cute ya got that for the little waitress girl. Ain't my style, but I bet she'll like it."

Kodachi Kuno was giving her adversary of two weeks ago a look that could kill. "Would you like to tell me why you are here before I strangle the life out of you with my ribbon?"

"Uwahh, scary!" Sakura held her hands up, the threat seeming to entertain her more than anything. "Relax, I just came to see how you were feelin' for tomorrow's match. You ready for Kiriko?"

"I have been ready for that she-devil for ages," Kodachi emphatically answered her. "Rest assured, she will wish she had never stepped into a ring with me for a second time."

"Now that's what I like to hear!" Sakura gave an approving thumbs up. "Might be nice to bring some fans along this time. Some of the girls from your school or somethin', y'know?"

Although she was fine with her quiet advancement through the tournament, there was just a hint of disappointment in Kodachi's eyes at the mention of her fans. "The St. Hebereke School for Girls remains either unaware of or unconcerned with my matches," she explained. "Not that it is any worry of mine. I shall simply walk into my contest tomorrow without any support just as I have the others."

"Yeesh. That's totally gloomy," Sakura cringed. "Well, maybe I'll bring a friend or two with me to help cheer ya on."

Kodachi couldn't help but take notice of the girl's last remark. "Are you saying that you intend to be there?"

"Hell yes, I'll be there! You're the only one left that stands a chance against Priscilla, remember?" Sakura reminded her.

The mention of Priscilla Winters, the Extreme Gymnastics Federation Champion, was more of an annoyance to Kodachi than anything. Here she was, entirely focused on Kiriko as she should be, and this girl had to keep blabbering on about another gymnast.

"Speakin' of that, she had her semi-final match earlier today. Priscilla, I mean," Sakura informed her. "She beat the 4th Seed in 18 seconds."

What once was of no concern to Kodachi now piqued her interest. The 4th Seed was only one step behind Sakura, after all. For Priscilla to beat a high-ranked girl like that in such quick fashion, just how good was the Champion?

"It's all Kiriko, Kiriko, Kiriko with you. I know. I get it," the pink-haired gymnast spoke. She sounded noticeably more serious now, shedding her playful nature for the moment. "But just like the rest of us, I know there's a competitor in you, too. Ya hear me say stuff like Priscilla's undefeated and that she won her match today in 18 seconds, and ya start thinkin' about what you'd do if ya got a crack at her."

Kodachi fixed a sharp look on the girl, but she wouldn't say anything. She didn't confirm that the statement was right, nor did she deny that there was some truth to it.

"She's in the finals, 'Dachi. She's waitin' for one of ya," Sakura painted the picture for the one who eliminated her from the tournament. "You want her? Beat Kiriko and she's all yours."

After a moment of silence, the daughter of the Kuno family began to chuckle to herself. A tiny smirk had even crossed her face. "You know-"

*groowwwwl...*

Whatever Kodachi had planned on saying was abruptly interrupted by the astonishingly loud sound of the other gymnast's stomach growling.

"Hey, 'Dachi," Sakura weakly uttered, placing a hand over her empty belly, "...I really was kinda hungry. Buy me lunch."

Kodachi's eye twitched as she glared at the would-be mooch. "Purchase your own food, you glutton!"

"C'mon, I'm broke! I'll let ya ride my bike with me to a fast food joint. How 'bout it? I know ya want to."

"I most certainly told you 'no' the last time!"

"Aww, you're such a stick-in-the-mud, 'Dachi..."

"AND I TOLD YOU TO STOP CALLING ME THAT!"


"Thank you for coming!"

While the door closed behind a pair of customers leaving the Cat Café restaurant, Ringo Saotome collected the payment from their table and headed over to the kitchen counter where the cash register awaited. It was just another day on the job, but it definitely didn't feel that way. The gymnastics match Kodachi considered her most important was less than a day away, and Ringo was having a tough time keeping her mind off of it.

Over by the counter, an apron-clad Ranma was taking a load off of his feet when the waitress approached with money in-hand. "Hey, you sure you wanna be workin' today? Don't you and Kodachi got that match tomorrow?"

"Oh, it's fine. It actually helps calm my nerves a little," Ringo replied as she worked the register. "To tell you the truth, I think I might go crazy with worry if I wasn't keeping busy here."

Ranma, not really minding one way or the other, shrugged his shoulders. "Fine by me. If you wanna go practice or somethin', you can go whenever ya want. 'Kay?"

"Okay," the redhead nodded. The sound of the restaurant door opening then grabbed her attention. "Wel-...come..."

Ringo's voice trailed off as a dashing, well-dressed young man stepped foot inside the establishment. Though a grin first crossed his face when he met eyes with the young waitress, that pleased look turned to one of surprise when he spotted the pigtailed boy next to her. He was someone that both of them recognized.

"Well now, if it isn't Ranma Saotome," the man said, a hint of disdain in his voice as he brushed back his brown hair.

"Mi-...Mikado?" Ranma stuttered. He had to look twice at his old enemy to assure himself he was seeing the right person.

Mikado wasn't alone, either. Next to him, a long-haired girl in a frilly yellow dress emerged, bouncing into the air to make sure her presence was known. "Azusa's here, too!" she announced to the entire dining area.

The Golden Pair of Kolhotz High School had appeared once more, and Ranma was none too happy about it. "You two...I thought I got rid of you guys a long time ago," he grumbled. "Ain't it a little late to be lookin' for revenge for that stupid ice skatin' match?"

"Hmph. How presumptuous," Mikado brushed off the insinuation that he was here for such a reason. "I wouldn't mind a little retribution, but you aren't the one I came for today. You see, I'm only here to speak with my red-haired beauty."

Ringo batted her eyes as the unabashed playboy set his sights on her. "M-me?" she asked. She certainly knew of the figure-skating duo thanks to Ranma's memories, but what they might possibly want with her after all this time was a complete mystery.

While the Golden Pair approached the counter where Ranma and Ringo stood, Shampoo—having heard part of the conversation—popped her head out from within the kitchen to see what the commotion was all about. "Ranma know these ones?"

"Kinda. Really wish I didn't, though," Ranma muttered.

Little did Shampoo know what type of situation her appearance had just gotten her into. Much to Mikado's delight, a new, enchanting figure had entered his vision, and, for the moment, his target had changed.

"And who is this breathtaking flower?" the handsome ice-skater asked, speaking of the Amazon girl. Putting his infamous forwardness on display, Mikado walked right up to the counter—ignoring both Ranma and Ringo on either side of him—and gently tilted Shampoo's chin upward with his hand.

"You want Shampoo break arm?" the Chinese girl warned him.

"Now, now. No need for hostility," Mikado calmly said to her. He wasn't someone accustomed to backing down from this type of challenge. In fact, it only made things more interesting for him. "You know, I have a very special greeting I like to bestow upon visions of loveliness such as yourself."

Mikado moved in close, looking to give Shampoo the same "special greeting" he had given to over a thousand other girls, including Ranma in his female form. Shampoo, of course, realized his intentions, and she wasn't having any of it. Reaching back with her right arm, she prepared to drive her palm straight into the underside of the boy's chin. The chance, however, would never come.

Mikado's head abruptly snapped to the side, and his hand fell away from Shampoo's face. As quickly became evident, Ranma had planted his foot into the side of the boy's cranium, effectively stopping him before Shampoo could do it herself. "Try that again and we're gonna have problems," Ranma angrily threatened his old adversary. "She's off-limits. Got that, ya lech?"

Still frozen in a pre-attack position, Shampoo stared wide-eyed at her pigtailed beau. As Ranma's stern warning to the ladykiller sank in, she allowed her arm to fall back to rest, and a look of satisfaction slowly crossed her face. Ranma had just protected her. Granted, he had done similarly during their date at Odaiba months earlier, but that was only from a group of common delinquents. This time, he had stopped the unwanted advances of a good-looking man. That simple act alone allowed Shampoo to see just how much Ranma cared about her.

Once Ranma had peeled his foot away from Mikado's face, Azusa popped up next to her skating partner and began prodding the affected area with her finger. "Does it hurt? Does it? Does it?"

There was an ugly cracking noise emitted from Mikado's neck as he adjusted his head back into place. "Perhaps another time, then," he conceded, pulling a small comb from his shirt pocket. After some quick grooming to his hair, he put the comb away and focused his attention back on Ringo. "Now, as for our talk..."

"What the heck would ya wanna talk to Ringo about?" Ranma asked, leaning back against the counter and folding his arms. Their reasons for being here were just as lost on him as they were on the Cat Café's waitress.

"Ringo, is it? A charming name for a charming girl," Mikado complimented the redhead.

*poke poke poke*

Azusa still hadn't stopped jamming her finger into Mikado's cheek, forcing him to grab hold of her hand to put an end to it. Naturally, she then used her other hand to continue where she left off until Mikado grabbed that one as well.

"As you should be aware, Azusa and I are known as the Golden Pair of Kolhotz High School. Without question, we are the pride of the student body," Mikado reminded Ringo, still fighting off Azusa's insistent attempts to break free of his grasp and continue poking him. "There is, however, one other celebrated athlete at our school who stands out above the rest."

"There is?" Ringo tilted her head, not really understanding where he was going with this.

"Yes, and I believe you are familiar with her," Mikado pointed out. "She is the finest gymnast to ever grace the halls of Kolhotz High. Her name...is Kiriko Nakajima."

"Kiriko?" Ringo gasped. "She...she goes to the same school as you?"

"That's right!" Azusa joined in on the conversation, apparently having grown bored with trying to poke her skating partner. "Kiriko's super good! Nobody ever beats her except the Champion!"

Next to them, Ranma looked lost as far as understanding what they were talking about. "Kiriko? Who's that?"

"So embarrassingly uninformed, Ranma Saotome. Kiriko will be Kodachi Kuno's opponent tomorrow," Mikado explained to the pigtailed boy, then turned back to the red-haired girl once more. "And Ringo, I understand you are Kodachi's second. If that's the case, I'm sure you realize just how hopeless her situation is. Someone who only managed to earn the 11th Seed in the Queen of Extreme Tournament, and she's competing against a gymnast of Kiriko's skill? It's painfully obvious that Kodachi has zero chance of victory."

Though Mikado Sanzenin was entitled to his opinion, his belief that Kodachi couldn't possibly win made Ringo display some rare displeasure.

Azusa was ready to pile it on, too, until something caught her eye. At the edge of the kitchen counter sat a plastic figurine in the shape of a very cartoonish dragon. With its buggy eyes and curled whiskers, it was something Azusa just couldn't resist. "Christophe!" she squealed, grabbing the small toy and clutching it to her chest. "You're just adorable!"

Not appreciating the childish girl's antics, Shampoo leaned over the counter and plucked the dragon from Azusa's hands. "That one belong Cat Café," she told her.

"Ahhh! Christophe!" Azusa cried, reaching out for the decoration in vain. "Give it back! Give it!"

Mikado paid no mind to his partner's woes as his talk with Ringo carried on. "I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Kiriko likes to...drive home the point that she is better than her opponent. In other words, she will ensure that both Kodachi and yourself are thoroughly humiliated," he explained to the girl with the ponytail. "I would just hate to see such a thing happen to a sweet, innocent girl like you, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to see it happen to Kodachi, either. So, please, I'm asking you to convince Kodachi Kuno to forfeit tomorrow's match. I think it would be best for both of your sakes."

The very idea of what Mikado was suggesting pushed Ringo over the edge. "I won't!" she loudly declared, drawing looks from all of the customers in the dining area.

"What? But...why not? Surely you don't believe Kodachi can win," Mikado said with amusement. His expression made it seem like the idea of Kodachi winning was a joke.

Ringo was clasping onto the edge of her apron tightly enough that her knuckles were turning white. "This match means so much to her...you have no idea. She's been training so hard, all just for this one chance!" she exclaimed, tears starting to well up in her eyes. "I don't just think Kodachi can win, I know she can!"

Despite Ringo's seriousness, Mikado looked like he was trying to suppress his laughter at the response. "That's absurd," he shook his head.

Behind them, Azusa continued to plea for the plastic dragon. "Gimme, gimme, gimme! Give my Christophe back!"

Shampoo, deciding she was willing to bargain with the girl, held out her empty palm. "20,000 yen," she demanded.

Now presented with an opportunity to get her precious dragon back, Azusa turned around and began tugging on Mikado's shirt. "San-chan! Gimme 20,000 yen! Hurry!"

"20,000 yen?" Mikado finally gave his attention to the excitable girl. "What in the world for?"

Azusa pointed at the dragon in Shampoo's hand, jumping up and down all the while.

"For that silly thing? Absolutely not," Mikado solidly refused the request, returning to his previous business. "Won't you reconsider, Ringo? You know, I still vividly remember how touched you were to receive my kiss. I don't usually give a girl my special greeting twice, but if Kodachi were to forfeit, I may be willing to make an exception for you. What would you say to tha-...augh!"

Before he could finish his offer, Mikado was suddenly flattened against the restaurant floor by a dining area table wielded by Azusa. In a rush to get her dragon back, Azusa reached into Mikado's pocket and grabbed his wallet. She emptied it completely, taking the 32,000 yen inside—12,000 yen more than was asked for—and eagerly forked the stack of bills over to Shampoo.

"Is deal," Shampoo smiled, handing the dragon over.

"Yay! Christophe! Christophe!" an elated Azusa cheered. Her dealings here were finished. Grabbing the unconscious Mikado by the collar of his shirt, she looked to Ringo and stuck her tongue out at her. "Bleehhhh! Kiriko's gonna crush you!"

With that, Azusa dragged Mikado to the door of the restaurant, inadvertently bumping his head up against numerous chair legs and the feet of customers along the way, and the two of them finally disappeared.

"And don't come back," Ranma muttered. His curiosity aroused, he then turned to Shampoo. "Did that dragon thing really cost 20,000 yen?"

Shampoo winked at him, looking especially proud of herself. "Is no even worth 200 yen," she boasted.

"Hah! Nice!" Ranma laughed, and the two of them shared a quick high five for getting the best of the Golden Pair.

Even after the figure-skating duo had gone, Ringo was still steamed over Mikado's insistence that she ask Kodachi to forfeit. "I can't believe he wanted me to do that," she fumed.

"Hey, Ringo, you said Kodachi's matches are at the other girls' schools 'cause she's a low seed, right?" Ranma recalled the rules of the tournament. "Does that mean her match tomorrow is at Kolhotz High School?"

"Y-yes, it should be," Ringo answered. "Why?"

Ranma looked to be mulling over something in his mind. "Y'know, I kinda want to see that jerk Mikado's face when Kodachi wins," he said, glancing at the lavender-haired girl behind the counter. "How 'bout it, Shampoo? Feel like goin' to see the match?"

Shampoo had to give that one a little bit of thought seeing as how cheering for Kodachi wasn't something she ever envisioned herself doing. But, on the other hand, it was a chance to go out and do something with Ranma, and she was always up for that. And they did have a good time at the last EGF event they attended. "Mmm...no really care about crazy Kuno girl, but maybe fun watch Ringo," she nodded her head in approval. "Shampoo go!"

"You're both coming? Really? That's great!" Ringo beamed happily at the idea. "Kodachi doesn't have any fans, so a little support would be nice, even if the rest of the crowd there is cheering against us."

"Hey, who knows. Maybe she'll have a few on her side after that last match ya told us about," Ranma tried to be optimistic.

Now that Mikado and Azusa were gone, Shampoo scoured the dining area to assess the current business situation. For the moment, she noticed, things had slowed down. There were half a dozen customers finishing off their meals, but no one else had arrived recently, which made it the perfect time for a little respite. "Ranma, you watch restaurant for few minute? Shampoo go take break," she told him.

"Huh? Oh, sure. Go for it," Ranma gave her the go-ahead. Shampoo had been taking a lot of short breaks over the past week, and Ranma knew exactly the reason for it.

Shampoo hopped over the counter, after which she would be heading for the door that lead out to the back of the property. As she passed by Ranma, though, she stopped, wrapped one arm around him, got up on her tiptoes, and gave him a long-lasting kiss on the cheek. A few of the customers took notice and watched, but Shampoo had never minded any of that. Once she was satisfied, she pulled her lips away and moved them right next to Ranma's ear. "Thank you for protect Shampoo," she whispered.

"Uh, y-yeah, don't mention it," a blushing Ranma looked away.

Ranma's embarrassment drew an amused giggle from Shampoo as she let go and proceeded on her way. He had definitely enjoyed that, she thought.

After she reached the back door, Shampoo opened it and stepped outside onto a small strip of land behind the building. The spot once contained just empty boxes and crates, but now a straw training dummy stuck out of the ground, as well. The area wasn't very spacious, being only a few feet wide and just slightly longer than the Cat Café itself. It was enough for Shampoo's present needs, though.

Since finding the scroll for the Speed of Light Fist last week, Shampoo had resumed her attempts to master the difficult technique that she'd begun to learn from her Great-grandmother so many months ago. It seemed so simple in theory; approach from the front-left, gather all of your strength, and strike with your right fist. The technique was so much more complex than that, though. Pulling off the move with as much speed as it required meant moving fast enough that no one, no matter how skilled, could pick up on it in time to avoid it. And with a window of time that small, executing the attack wouldn't allow for any thinking. She was going to have to train her body to react properly, and who knew how long that might take.

Still, Shampoo knew better than to rush this. She was going to do it the right way—the way her Great-grandmother had taught her. She was going to take it step by step. And the first step? Clearing her mind.

Shampoo moved to where she was facing the straw dummy. Closed her eyes. Exhaled deeply.

Only a matter of seconds would pass before Shampoo's eyes shot open again, though. Something was coming at her from behind. She could feel it.

Whirling her head around, Shampoo caught sight of a spinning object soaring over the wall and plucked it from the air with one hand. It was a cardboard box, small and white in color. And, as her nose was telling her, there was a scent coming from within that she recognized.

Shampoo opened up the box, where laying inside she found precisely what she suspected: a serving of okonomiyaki. It was a finely crafted dish—mixed with squid, shrimp, green onions, and other ingredients—capable of making those with even modest hunger drool. What most stood out about the okonomiyaki wasn't the alluring scent or the delicious look, though, but the message written in sauce atop the dish.

The message read, "Tonight. Second field of Furinkan High. 9 o' clock. Be there, you coward."

Undoubtedly, it had been sent by Ukyo. She had issued another challenge to her old rival.

Shampoo became aggravated upon reading the words inscribed with sauce, particularly the last one. The previous time she had seen Ukyo, the okonomiyaki chef had called her gutless. This time, she had called her a coward. They were fighting words, and it wasn't as though they weren't having an effect. Shampoo wasn't giving in, though. She hadn't let Ukyo get to her before, and she wasn't going to this time, either.

"Stupid Ukyo," the young Amazon growled, "...when Shampoo say no, Shampoo mean no!"

Rearing back, Shampoo took the open box and flung it like a frisbee high into the sky. Ukyo could wait at Furinkan High School for as long as she wanted tonight; Shampoo wasn't going to show up.


Not far from the Cat Café restaurant, a rickshaw was en route back to the Kuno estate with the master of the house, Tatewaki Kuno, aboard. A day of scouring antique shops and haggling with their employees had left the elder Kuno sibling seeking some relaxation, especially since he had come away from his travels today empty-handed.

"Sasuke, I grow impatient! Can you not move with more haste?" Kuno asked the one pulling the contraption.

"M-my apologies, Master Kuno! I am going as fast as I can manage!" the family guardian answered. The long day had left him exhausted.

"How shameful," Kuno sighed with disappointment. "And you call yourself the guardian of the house of K-mmmph!"

"What was that, Master Kuno? I didn't understa-..." Sasuke began to say, but went silent upon seeing his master, who surprisingly had something flat and round covering his entire face. "M-Master Kuno! What on earth happened?" Sasuke gasped, bringing the rickshaw to a halt.

Irritated, Kuno reached up and pried the object off of himself. "Unforgivable! Who dares throw this...okonomiyaki at the handsome vision of Tatewaki Kuno?"

Despite the impact with Kuno's face, the writing in sauce remained intact enough that it was still legible.

"Oh? There appears to be a message," Kuno noticed the words. "Tonight. Second field of Furinkan High. 9 o' clock. Be there, you coward," he read it aloud. "This...this is...!"

"It sounds like a challenge, Master Kuno," Sasuke offered his opinion.

The arrogant practitioner of kendo held a similar thought. "Indeed, this is a challenge," he said in agreement. "A challenge...in love!"

"A...what?" Sasuke blinked.

"Do you not see? Clearly some charming woman who bore feelings for the great Tatewaki Kuno was deeply saddened by my departure. She has deemed me a coward, believing I fled from her love!" he explained to his servant. "Why, perhaps...perhaps it is even Akane Tendo! Did she not depart because of Ranma Saotome, but rather because she was so very forlorn without I? Augh! What a fool I have been!"

Sasuke was speechless. Somehow, he was amazed that his master actually believed what he was saying.

"Sasuke! Let us return to the estate at once!" Kuno commanded. "I must prepare myself..."


That night, after the sun had set and the skies had grown dark, a kimono-clad Kodachi Kuno sat alone on the walkway in back of the Kuno estate. Surrounded only by the sound of the crickets chirping, it was a nice place to quietly reflect on what lay ahead of her tomorrow.

Kodachi glanced back over her shoulder as she heard the door behind her slide open.

"Excuse me, Mistress," Sasuke appeared, apologizing for the interruption. "Miss Ringo has arrived."

Still wearing her pink waitress outfit from her job, Ringo stepped out onto the walkway to join the raven-haired gymnast. "Sorry I'm late. It got really busy at dinnertime today."

"It matters not," Kodachi patted the wooden boards next to her—an invitation for her second to take a seat.

While Sasuke disappeared back indoors, Ringo sat down next to Kodachi, her bare feet hanging just far enough down that the tips of the blades of grass below brushed against her soles. "Wow, it's really nice out here," Ringo admired the ambiance of the night. The sky was clear and the moon full, casting a glow down on the grounds of the estate that reflected beautifully off of the surface of the pond where Mr. Green Turtle slept. "Hey, is it really okay to not be training tonight?" she asked.

"Yes. Rest is important, as well," Kodachi answered. "We must ensure that we are in our best shape for the match tomorrow, must we not?"

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Ringo saw her point. While she wasn't sure whether or not she should bring it up, the Saotome girl felt compelled to address the pair of unwelcome guests who had entered the Cat Café earlier in the day. "Kodachi, does Kiriko go to Kolhotz High School, by any chance?"

Kodachi quirked an eyebrow at the girl, surprised that she knew that piece of information. "Yes, I believe that is where we shall be heading for the match," she confirmed. "How did you learn of that?"

"Well, these two I kind of know from there came to the restaurant today."

"And?"

"And...they said you couldn't beat Kiriko, and they wanted me to ask you to forfeit the match. I told them I wouldn't, though! Really loud, too, so they knew I was serious!"

From the sound of things, Kodachi was almost certain that Kiriko herself had sent whoever Ringo spoke of for the sake of intimidation. Knowing that, however, only gave Kodachi more confidence. "She does not wish to face me," the Black Rose deduced. "That witch knows perfectly well she should not have emerged victorious in our first encounter."

It now occurred to Ringo that in all the time they'd been training together, Kodachi had never mentioned the details of her initial match against Kiriko. "Umm...it's okay if you don't want to talk about it, but what did happen in that match, Kodachi?"

There was a sound of fingernails scraping against the fabric of Kodachi's dark-colored kimono as the daughter of the Kuno family clenched her hands. It wasn't a memory she was fond of. She had already betrayed Ringo's trust once, though. If she didn't explain the circumstances behind her loss, would it lead her second to believe that she was just making excuses and being a poor sport? Whether that would be the case or not, it wasn't something Kodachi wanted to risk.

"As you know, we were both in that tournament three years ago," the gymnast began. "Though Kiriko had the skill of someone seeded much higher than she was, I was very much in control of our match. Regrettably, there was one thing I did not notice."

"Something you didn't notice?" Ringo blinked. "What was it?"

"Kiriko's second," Kodachi said, her face contorting with bitterness, "...she applied grease to the top rope around her corner. I attempted to use that rope as something to spring off of late in the match, and I slipped. Kiriko took advantage of that moment to knock me out of the ring."

As Kodachi spoke, she started to more clearly remember the feelings of grief and disgrace she felt after that match. Ringo could hear in the girl's voice just how torn up she was about it, too.

"I was the one trained by the great Katrina Winters. I was destined to become a champion and lead the Extreme Gymnastics Federation in her stead. And yet...I was met with defeat in merely the quarter-finals of that tournament," Kodachi said, her hands trembling. "My shame was too much to bear. I left the organization that day, and I did not return."

"So that's it," Ringo looked upon the Black Rose with pity in her eyes.

Really, what Kiriko and her second had done to Kodachi was no worse than the stunt Kodachi herself had pulled against Mizuki McLoughlin in the first round of this year's Queen of Extreme Tournament. With everyone's high expectations piled up on her shoulders, though, for Kodachi to lose in that situation, Ringo could only imagine how she felt afterward. More so than being upset with the ones who had planted the trap, Kodachi was probably upset with herself for falling for it.

And Ringo had seen how Kiriko acted at this year's qualifying event. The girl spoke down to Kodachi as if she truly believed she was the better of the two, leaving Ringo with little wonder as to why Kodachi despised her so much. Three years ago, Kiriko had probably rubbed her victory in Kodachi's face mercilessly afterward. Back then, her belief that she was better than Kodachi didn't appear to be the case. But now, at a time where Kiriko has been consistently competing and Kodachi is working herself back into prime condition after a long layoff, it may very well be true. To be seeded even higher than Sakura, Kiriko had to be good. Very good.

"But now you have another chance. Right?" Ringo said with a smile.

That bright demeanor of her second was a welcome, calming sight for Kodachi after she had just dug up that unpleasant memory. "Yes, that is right," she said, returning the gesture, "...and I have you to thank for it."

Ringo almost couldn't believe what she was hearing. Genuine gratitude? Coming from Kodachi? It sure sounded like it. Granted, they were getting along better now than they ever had before, but it was still a shocking thing to hear.

Not thinking much of the dumbfounded look on Ringo's face, Kodachi looked back out toward the estate grounds. "It has only been one month, but it certainly feels as if we have come a long way in that time."

"You have, for sure! I really haven't done that much, though," Ringo laughed, showing her modesty.

Kodachi was easily feeling better than she had a month ago, or even during her match with Sakura. Both her strength and her conditioning were at higher levels than they had been in quite some time. To say that it was only her that had gotten better, however, would be incorrect.

"No, we have both improved," Kodachi corrected the redhead. "Your throws have become more accurate, and you seem to have learned my patterns and are able to better predict which tools I will need. It is no exaggeration to say that our chemistry has improved greatly."

"Really? I guess I never noticed," Ringo thought back on her performance.

"You do not give yourself enough credit," Kodachi insisted. "You know, I must admit, I did not care much for you before you agreed to become my second."

Ringo faltered at the sheer bluntness of the admission. "Ahahaha, I, uh...I sort of got that feeling when you kept attacking me out of nowhere."

"Yes, well...I believed you were keeping Ranma-darling from me. That is old news, though. Water under the bridge," Kodachi coughed, making a concerted effort to move the conversation along. "The point is...my opinion of you has changed during our alliance. You are not the contemptible girl I once thought you were. In fact, you are actually quite..." she paused, then turned to avoid eye contact, "...tolerable."

"Um...th-thank you," Ringo managed a chuckle. Being called tolerable wasn't exactly the best compliment in the world, but it was something, and she figured she should consider herself fortunate to get even that out of someone of Kodachi's nature. "As long as we're being honest, I...was always pretty scared of you before."

Kodachi didn't appear to be put off by the comment as she gave a light shrug in response. "I suppose you had reason to be. I did intend to force you to reveal Ranma-darling's location before his return, and by whatever means necessary at that," she said.

Ringo found the very thought of what may have happened had Akane and Ukyo not been there to protect her back then disturbing. "A-anyway, like I said, I was scared, but...after seeing you take your training so seriously, and then being there when you wouldn't give up in your match against Sakura...I think I started to admire you a little," the red-haired girl told her. "And now when I look back on it, I'm glad I decided to be your second."

After everything that Kodachi had put Ringo through, that was definitely not something she had expected to hear coming from the girl's mouth. "Are you really?" she asked, batting her eyes.

"Mhmm," Ringo nodded and smiled.

The waitress' kindness was making it extremely tempting for Kodachi to go grab the present she had gotten Ringo and give it to her now. She was going to have to resist that temptation, though. The gift was something she wanted to give to her after tomorrow's match, and she was sticking by that plan.

It was a funny feeling that Kodachi was experiencing right now. Although this all started as her personal vendetta against Kiriko, she didn't feel like she was competing alone anymore. Instead, it felt more like she was one half of a team, and the other half was Ringo. She hadn't ever felt that way before when it came to gymnastics. A funny feeling, indeed. Yet, at the same time, it was...a nice one.

"Ringo," Kodachi looked the girl in the eyes, holding her right hand out toward her, "...tomorrow, we shall give it our all. We shall show everyone the fruits of our labor. And most importantly, we shall march into Kolhotz High School, bring Kiriko to her knees, and claim victory! What say you?"

Feeling infected by the impressive spirit of her partner, Ringo gladly clasped her own hand together with that of Kodachi. "Let's do it!"

"Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-!"

The sudden sound of someone's yelling drew the gazes of both girls toward the sky, where a body was rapidly descending toward the Kuno estate.

*crash!*

Kodachi and Ringo both winced as the individual smashed into the roof directly above them. Pieces of tile fell down from above, and the person's body followed. After it slid down the roof's angled slope and over the edge, the body fell to the earth, flat on its back.

With the light provided by the moon, the girls could see that it was no stranger. The one who had fallen was the master of Kodachi's very estate, Tatewaki Kuno.

"Tatewaki! A-are you okay?" Ringo looked upon him with concern.

"Brother dear, have you been antagonizing Ranma-darling again?" Kodachi inquired, not appearing to be as worried about his condition as her second. Her brother did have a remarkable resilience, after all.

Kuno, who had an imprint covering half of his face that gave the impression he'd been hit with something hard and flat, startled the girls as he abruptly sat up and held his arms out in a daze. "Ukyo Kuonji, I knew not of your feelings," he said, then promptly fell to his back again.

As Kodachi and Ringo shared confused looks with one another, Kuno sat up for a second time. "Forgive me! Run into my arms, dear Ukyo!" he shouted, and fell to the ground once more.

"Did...Ukyo do this?" Ringo wondered aloud. She couldn't even imagine what in the world had caused Ukyo and Tatewaki to run into each other.

Kodachi just shook her head as she stared down upon her sibling's fallen form. "My dear brother's limitless passion does him no favors, does it?"


Meanwhile, in the vicinity of Kolhotz High School, Kiriko Nakajima—her body shrouded in a comfortable bathrobe—was stretched out on a sofa inside the spacious living room of her family home. Her dark brown hair was wrapped up in a towel, her face adorned with a mask of pore-cleansing creme, and a slice of cucumber sat over each of her eyes. By all indications, she seemed more interested in maintaining her looks than in her upcoming match.

The gymnast remained still as she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Of course, she knew they belonged to her second, an exceptionally organized and to-the-point girl by the name of Yuki. With very short, black hair, a pair of thin-framed glasses, and a clipboard that was almost always present in her hand, Yuki had the appearance of a promising businesswoman, and her attitude matched her look.

"I do hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it would appear that the Golden Pair failed to convince Kodachi's second," Yuki informed her gymnastics partner.

Kiriko kept a straight face to avoid damaging her facial mask, but her displeasure with the news still showed itself as she pounded her fist against one of the sofa cushions. "Tch! Useless idiots," she snarled.

"What should we do?" Yuki asked her.

The Extreme Gymnastics Federation's biggest diva took a moment to quietly think to herself. "I'm better than that overrated joke, Kodachi, in every way. You know I am, and everyone else knows it, too," she told her second. "But...I've built my entire reputation on my win against her. If by some fluke she beat me, it would all be ruined. Do you understand? I can't afford to lose tomorrow, Yuki."

The black-haired girl wasted no time jotting something down on her clipboard. She understood perfectly. "Well then, unless you have any objections, I'll get in contact with our...'insurance policy.'"

After adjusting her glasses, Yuki took her leave to make the appropriate arrangements. Kiriko had voiced no objection to her plans, as expected. Thanks to her second, the ill-mannered gymnast would be able to sleep well tonight.

"Too bad, Kodachi," Kiriko smirked devilishly. "All of your efforts to come this far, but you won't even make it to our match tomorrow."


End of Chapter 15