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 16

"One, two, three...wait, shouldn't there be four clubs in here? Ah, there it is! Now, hoops, hoops..."

The day of Kodachi's match against Kiriko had come, and in a hallway within the Kuno estate, just outside Kodachi's room, Ringo was making some final checks on the gymnastics tools contained within four large duffel bags. It was five minutes past noon. She and Kodachi would be departing for Kolhotz High School shortly.

Ringo had stayed the night at the estate since she and Kodachi both agreed there would be a lot to do the next morning. It was the first time she'd slept outside of the Tendo household since arriving from China. And as she lay there last night, trying to fall asleep in a spare futon right next to where Kodachi slumbered, she couldn't help thinking about how funny life could be. Barely over a month ago, she was petrified of the twisted gymnast. And yet, there she was, sharing a room with the girl. Somehow, the one she once feared had become...a friend, perhaps, and for that, Ringo was thankful.

The sound of Kodachi's door sliding open drew the young Saotome girl's attention, and as she lay her eyes upon the sight of the one standing in the doorway, her breath caught in her throat. Kodachi had put on a leotard that Ringo hadn't seen before. Mostly white in color, it had the designs of several black roses along both the front and the back, as well as a number of stray petals floating near each of them. Both the flowers and the petals were designed using black sequins that sparkled brilliantly in the light. And in addition to all of that, running down the front-left side of the item was its wearer's nickname, "The Black Rose."

For Ringo, who had only seen Kodachi using her simple, green leotard meant for school competitions, the new look was really something. "Wow, it's so pretty!" she clasped her hands together, marveling at the gymnast's outfit.

"Isn't it, though? I do adore this one," Kodachi spun around once to give her second a full view. "There is no need to hold back any longer when it comes to appearances. For this match, I intend to go all out."

Kodachi had intentionally maintained a low profile going into her matches against Mizuki and Sakura, but now that she had the match she'd wanted all along, that tactic was going out the window. Kiriko, as highly as she thought of herself, likely wouldn't take the chance of underestimating Kodachi anyway—not when she feared losing so much that she would have her fellow students try to convince Ringo to forfeit.

"Do you remember our signals? And our combinations?" Kodachi asked the redhead.

"Mhmm!" Ringo cheerfully nodded. "I'm ready!"

Kodachi offered a hand, helping her second to her feet. "Then, Ringo...let us go!"

"Mistress Kodachi! It's terrible!"

Just as the girls were ready to leave, Sasuke came rushing into the hallway in a panic. "Mistress, we've had intruders!" the Kuno family guardian informed her.

"What?" Kodachi narrowed her eyes at her servant.

Sasuke led the girls outside, where an unsettling picture awaited. The Kuno family had two rickshaws in their possession, one of which was meant for a single passenger and the other capable of carrying two. And, as Kodachi and Ringo now saw, both of them had been broken down and reduced to piles of rubble.

"I'm so sorry, Mistress! So very sorry! They somehow managed to avoid setting off any of my masterful traps," Sasuke apologized profusely. He was bowing so deeply that his forehead touched the ground. "I assure you, I will give our security measures a thorough overhaul immediately!"

Kodachi was quietly seething as she stared down at the rickshaws' remains. For the moment, she couldn't have cared less about the failure of Sasuke's defense system. Instead, what drew her ire was the one likely behind this invasion of her estate, and she knew exactly who to place the blame upon for it. "Kiriko..." she uttered the suspected culprit's name, "...you would go this far, would you?"

"How mean. I can't believe she'd do something like this," Ringo picked up one of the split chunks of wood, her eyes filled with pity as she studied it. She had no personal attachment to the vehicles, but seeing them go to waste like this still saddened her. "I guess we'll have to walk there."

"Nonsense!" Sasuke emphatically objected to the idea. "To help you preserve your energy, I will carry you both there on my shoulders if I must! If it would atone for allowing this to happen, please allow me to!"

"No," Kodachi rejected her servant's offer, much to his disappointment. Normally she wouldn't hesitate to actually force him to do such a thing, but the current situation had raised a red flag with her. "Destroying our transportation like this will slow us down, but that alone would not stop us from arriving at the site of the match. If this is all Kiriko had planned, there would be no point to it. Is that not right?"

Sasuke tried to follow along with the logic of the Kuno family daughter. "So...you believe there are more traps lying in wait, Mistress?"

"Of course, there are. Kiriko's aim is likely to ensure that we do not show, and forcing us to travel by foot makes us easier targets for them," Kodachi explained.

Though it sounded like extreme behavior on Kiriko's part, Ringo didn't doubt the analysis of her gymnastics partner. After all, if anyone could be considered well-versed in the art of ambush, it was Kodachi. "What should we do, then?" the waitress asked.

After giving it some thought, a wicked look crossed the face of the Black Rose. She had something incredibly sinister on her mind. "Sasuke," she looked to the guardian, "...there is one other vehicle within the confines of our residence, is there not? A very safe, sturdy vehicle, and a favorite of my dear brother, if I recall."

All of the color drained from Sasuke's face as he realized what she was speaking of, prompting Ringo to bat her eyes with interest. She didn't know what Kodachi was talking about, but whatever it was, Sasuke looked absolutely horrified.

"S-surely you don't mean..." the family servant stammered. He was white as a ghost. "M-M-Mistress, I am quite certain it is not legal to-!"

Already beyond the point of reason, Kodachi cut him off. "Sasuke," she flashed a grin that reeked of evil intent, "...prepare the Leopard!"

For anyone walking the grounds of Kolhotz High School on this day, it was nearly impossible to not know of the gymnastics match being hosted there. A large notice, which sat just inside the gates to the school, both promoted the match and pointed the way to the gymnasium where it was being held. The path to the gym was lined with posters featuring glamour shots of the school's representative, Kiriko. And the gym itself, which was actually the ice rink converted for the occasion, had a promotional banner—also featuring a flattering image of Kiriko—above its entrance that spanned the entire width of the building.

Neither the notice at the school gates nor the banner on the gymnasium bothered to mention the name of Kodachi Kuno, instead choosing to label the event simply as Kiriko Nakajima's semi-final match in the Queen of Extreme Tournament.

And on their way to the gym, walking amongst a steady stream of Kolhotz High students who had made the journey to school on this Sunday afternoon, were two of the few not expected to be in Kiriko's corner today: Ranma Saotome and Shampoo.

"Someone sure thinks a lot of herself," Ranma muttered as he and Shampoo walked along. He wasn't particularly impressed with the seemingly endless display of Kiriko's photos in his line of vision.

"Aiyaa, is very bad taste," Shampoo concurred with his feelings. The path was so offensively cluttered with posters that she felt a genuine urge to do the environment a favor and wreck them all. She'd never seen Kiriko before, but she got the impression that the girl was a massive egotist.

To their relief, the inside of the gym wasn't decorated as a tribute to Kiriko like the outside was. Unfortunately, that was only because there was no need for it. The students of Kolhotz High, who filled up a solid 60% of the bleachers, had more than enough paraphernalia supporting their school's gymnast to keep Kiriko happy. Signs, banners, and even t-shirts and thundersticks bearing Kiriko's name littered the sea of her fans.

Mikado Sanzenin and Azusa Shiratori—who had her new toy dragon, Christophe, in her lap—were both comfortably seated in the front row. For now, the entire Kolhotz crowd was bunched together in their section of the bleachers. The remaining space, which would generally hold the visiting fans, was completely barren...except for one man.

"Ringo right. Kuno girl no have fans," Shampoo stared up at the empty section of seats.

"Yeah, sure looks that way," Ranma let out a soft sigh. He had tried to give Ringo some hope yesterday that more fans would show up on Kodachi's side, but it looked as if that optimism was all for naught. "C'mon, let's go grab a seat. Least we'll have plenty of room."

Ranma led Shampoo past the four-sided ring in the middle of the gym and over to the front row of bleachers on the other side, where Kodachi's lone supporter sat. That supporter was her brother, Tatewaki Kuno, age 19.

"Yo, Kuno," Ranma halfheartedly greeted the man he could never seem to get along with.

The once-named Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, whose face still showed the imprint of Ukyo's spatula, wasn't expecting the pigtailed martial artist's presence here today. "Ranma Saotome! You cad!" he stood up, angrily pointing his wooden sword at the tip of Ranma's nose. "Why have you come here? Seek you vengeance for the thrashing I delivered in our last exchange?"

"If there was a thrashin', I sure as heck wasn't the one on the wrong end of it," Ranma was happy to remind him. "We're just here to watch this Kiriko lose, man."

"Oh? Here to support my sister, are you?" Kuno asked with surprise.

Next to Ranma, Shampoo looked to have taken an interest in the new injury Kuno had obtained last night. "Why half you face red?" she asked Kodachi's elder sibling.

"Hmph. It is merely a consequence of playing the game of love," Kuno brushed off the significance of the mark. "A maiden's feelings can be quite complex, you know."

"Uh-huh. Who'd ya hit on this time?" Ranma pressed him further.

"That is none of your concern!" Kuno snapped, refusing to answer.

Her curiosity not satisfied, Shampoo moved in for a better look. "Mmmm..." she eyed the imprint closely, "...this one...is Ukyo spatula?"

"Really?" Ranma blinked. After studying the wound further, he couldn't believe he didn't notice it before. "Hey, you're right! Were you seriously hittin' on Ucchan, Kuno?"

"Silence!" Kuno erupted in a booming voice. He had zero interest in discussing last night's events any further. "Ranma Saotome...we have had our quarrels, but I will overlook your transgressions for today. If you have truly come to see my sister achieve victory, then let us cheer her on with all our might!"

Ranma was actually glad that Kuno had no desire to fight for a change. He wouldn't have wanted something like that to be a distraction for Ringo and Kodachi. Still, he had his doubts about just how much of a difference their support would make. "With all our might, huh?" he murmured, looking again at the expanse of empty rows above them. "Don't think it's gonna matter much with the crowd this lopsided."

Meanwhile, back in her locker room, Kiriko was keeping occupied by making some final adjustments to her appearance before the start of the match. She had her medium-length brown hair tied into a ball in the back, while single locks hung down in the front on either side of her forehead. The leotard she wore, a notably sleek piece of apparel, was covered from top to bottom in a red, black, and white camouflage pattern. There would be additional accessories added for some extra flare, but only when she was ready to make her entrance.

Kiriko was seated in front of a mirror, applying a coating of mascara to her eyebrows when her second, Yuki, entered the room with a clipboard in-hand.

"Kiriko, it's time," the dark-haired Yuki announced. She was dressed in a tracksuit with colors that mirrored those of Kiriko's leotard.

"Already? Ugh! They always make me rush my makeup," the gymnast snorted in annoyance. Then, eager to learn the fate of her opponent, she stopped for a moment to look at her second's reflection in the mirror. "And? Kodachi?"

"Not yet seen in the building," Yuki answered the question she knew Kiriko was asking, and she answered it with pleasure. "It would appear our insurance policy did its job."

Approving of the news, a pleased expression crossed the face of the Queen of Extreme Tournament's 2nd Seed. "Leave it to the Kolhotz Victory Assurance Club," she cackled to herself. "I guess we shouldn't keep everyone waiting, then. Tell them I'll be right out."

"Understood," Yuki replied, adjusting her glasses on her way out. Once she had left the locker room, she decided to check in on the Kolhotz Victory Assurance Club, or KVAC, one last time. Kodachi not being here was a good sign, but Yuki wanted to make sure things would stay that way. Grabbing a handheld transceiver that had been hanging off of her belt, she brought it to her mouth and spoke. "KVAC Team 1, what's your situation?"

Yuki waited for five seconds. Then ten. Then twenty. Oddly, there was no reply. "KVAC Team 1, do you copy?" she tried to contact them again. There was nothing but silence on the other end, though. Figuring there may have been technical difficulties with their device, she changed the frequency of her own transceiver and tried contacting another team. "KVAC Team 2, come in."

Again, Yuki waited for a response. But after thirty seconds, there was still nothing. "Is this thing broken?" she wondered, roughly tapping the device a few times. Opting to give it one more try, she changed the frequency to contact yet another team. "KVAC Team 3, please respond."

"It's no good!" a panicked voice suddenly cried on the other end. Mixed in with it was the sound of a loud rumbling noise in the background that only seemed to be growing louder. "We can't hold her! Retreat! Everyone RETREAT!"

The transmission from KVAC Team 3 was then abruptly cut off. Not at all delighted with what she had just heard, Kiriko's second raised an eyebrow as she looked down at her transceiver. "What in the world is happening out there?"

The KVAC unit was 50-strong, and yet it sounded as if they were running away from a mere two high school girls. It was a worrisome thought for Yuki, but she also knew that the point where KVAC Team 3 was positioned was still quite a ways from Kolhotz High. So long as they could slow Kodachi down, she found it unlikely that the Black Rose of St. Hebereke would make it to the gymnasium in time.

Out at ringside, as Ranma, Shampoo, Kuno, and a few thousand Kolhotz students awaited the start of the match, an important figure was scanning the crowd. That figure was the Extreme Gymnastics Federation's owner, Hiroyuki Tanaka, who was seated along with two of his subordinates next to the announcer's table. Dressed in his light gray business suit, the slender, older man with his signature mustache had his eye out for someone.

"Is something bothering you, sir?" one of his subordinates asked.

"Hmm? Oh, not at all. I was seeing if our Champion might be here to scout her opponent for the finals, but it seems she isn't," Tanaka turned back toward the ring. "Then again, I suppose it really wouldn't matter to her who wins."

Over the next few minutes, the number of fans entering the gym tapered off to only a few stragglers. During that time, three men had also dumped off half a dozen crimson-colored bags filled with Kiriko's tools next to the ring. Ranma and Shampoo found it strange that another set of tools hadn't been deposited by the ring's opposite corner, but neither suspected that anything was wrong for the moment. Then, as the clock wound down to the official start time of the match, a female announcer stepped between the ropes with her microphone. The crowd whistled and cheered for her appearance, knowing their wait was over.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's now time for what you've all come to see! Are you ready?" the announcer asked those in attendance. An energetic round of applause from the fans let her know that they definitely were. "Then here...we...GO!"

Right on cue, the lights in the gymnasium went out, leaving everything and everyone in total darkness.

Reminded of an enjoyable scenario that played out between herself and her beau not too long ago, Shampoo had an idea pop into her head. Moving her left hand over, she began feeling around for Ranma's arm. Then, once she found it, she wrapped herself around the muscular limb and leaned in close to his face. "Ranma remember what happen last time we in dark?" she purred, her breath tickling his skin.

Ranma was thankful that no one could see his face right now, because the combination of thinking about what happened in the Cat Café's storage room a week ago and feeling Shampoo's chest pressed against his arm at this very moment was making him feel just a bit on the uneasy side. "H-hey, you ain't plannin' on doin' that here, are ya?" he nervously asked her.

Shampoo giggled at the idea. She actually wouldn't have minded it. "Why you ask? Maybe Ranma want to?" she offered.

Even though he couldn't see the mischievous look on Shampoo's face, Ranma just knew it was there. Somehow, he had no doubt that if given the chance, she would definitely go through with it, even with an audience of several thousand there to watch.

Luckily for the far more reserved Ranma, the appearance of a spotlight shining upon the locker room exit signaled the start of one competitor's entrance, and, in doing so, let him off the hook. "Oh, hey, it's startin'!" he pointed to the light, diverting the attention away from himself.

"That too bad," Shampoo playfully sighed as she broke her grip on his arm. From the start, she hadn't intended to put on a show with Ranma for the Kolhotz students, but she did love teasing him. "We wait until go back Cat Café."

Ranma shot a bewildered glance Shampoo's way, not sure what to make of her closing remark. Was she being serious about that or not? He would have to let that thought brew for a while, as the first gymnast for today's match was ready to make her way to the ring.

Throughout the gymnasium, a lulling, mysterious piece of music began to play, and the students roared with approval knowing that their school's representative would be the first to enter. The music transitioned from an introductory sequence filled with chimes and various woodwind instruments into an electronic melody that felt like something from an out-of-this-world sort of dream, and it was then that Kiriko emerged into view with Yuki leading the way.

Just as she had done when she dropped in on Kodachi's quarter-final match against Sakura, Kiriko was carried to the ring atop a wooden throne—a new one cushioned by soft, red velvet to replace the throne that Sakura had ruined—that sat upon the shoulders of four strapping, shirtless men. She wore a scarlet, silk robe over her leotard, and a feather boa of similar color dangled from her neck.

Kiriko immersed herself in the love of her fellow students, waving like a member of royalty as she stared out into the sea of her fans through a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses. And then, the coup de grace. With the spotlight following her along the path to the gym's center, a blizzard of reflective, red confetti began to fall from the ceiling, showering itself over everything from the ring to the onlookers in the furthest reaches of the bleachers. The whole scene was like something out of a fantasy, just as Kiriko intended it to be.

Once her throne had reached ringside, Kiriko stood up and flipped over the top rope into the middle of the ring. As the lights in the gym came back on, she twirled around twice, threw her hands into the air, and took in one last burst of cheers from her adoring followers.

"An effective and stylish entrance, as always," Mikado clapped, voicing his approval from the front row.

Not all in attendance had enjoyed the spectacle, though. As Kiriko's entrance music faded out in the background, Ranma and Shampoo, along with Kuno, were now stuck with the chore of picking the red confetti out of their hair and brushing it off of their clothes.

"I think I liked Kodachi's bomb-mixed-in-with-the-fireworks entrance better," Ranma complained, flicking two pieces of the confetti away from his shoulder.

Shampoo plucked another piece out of the boy's pigtail for him. "Ranma, you help get stupid paper out Shampoo hair," she demanded, looking plenty irritated.

"For once, we are in agreement," Kuno sided with his rival and Shampoo for a change. He was on his feet, swatting some of the remaining bits of confetti falling from above out of the air with his sword. "This accursed paper shall rue the day it fell upon the visage of Tatewaki Kuno!"

The men carrying Kiriko's throne moved over to the opposite side of the ring—the side nearest the gym's front doors—to clear the way for Kodachi's entrance from the locker room area. "Don't go too far," Kiriko instructed them, not yet removing her extra apparel since she didn't believe there would be a need to. "I don't think I'll be very long."

Kiriko's fans started to simmer down as the gymnast herself leaned back against the turnbuckle pads in her corner of the ring. Now, it was time for Kodachi to make her entrance. And time was what she was certainly taking a great deal of to do so. As the seconds ticked away, those watching from the bleachers started to look around at each other, all of them wondering what exactly the holdup with Kiriko's opponent was.

"So...is Kodachi comin' out now, or what?" Ranma scoured the building for any sign of the Black Rose.

Inside the ring, Kiriko smiled knowingly at the locker room exit. No one was going to come out of there, but she and her second were the only ones in the building aware of that fact.


Shampoo poked Ranma in the arm when her ears began to pick up on something. "Ranma, you hear what Shampoo hear?" she asked, listening closely.


Ranma heard it, too. "Yeah. And it's gettin' louder. Who...?"


They and everyone else looked to the gymnasium's front doors just in time to see them fly open with one swift stomp from a steel-toed boot. To the astonishment of the Kolhotz High crowd, thousands of students from Joudai High School in Tokyo's Suginami Ward—all decorated in pink-and-black attire and wielding nearly twice as many signs and banners supporting Kodachi as the Kolhotz students had for Kiriko—poured into the gym. And at the front of that mob, Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki, her face painted half-silver and half-black with the word "Black" written on one cheek and "Rose" written on the other, led the charge with a megaphone in-hand. "The Sakura Army is in...the...HOUSE!"

Kiriko, up until now as chipper as could be, had a nasty scowl on her face thanks to the new arrivals. "Sa-ku-ra...!" she hissed at the unwelcome gymnast.

Sakura's followers advanced further in, purposely bumping into the men holding Kiriko's throne along the way, and then flooded onto the empty section of bleachers around Ranma and crew. In order to make room for their large posse, many of them forced the Kolhotz students to scoot further down.

"Hoo-...hooligans! There is no end to them!" Kuno thrust his sword outward, ready to attack. "Saotome, I shall handle this! Do not interfere!"

"Whoa, hold on there, Blue Thunder. I think these guys are on Kodachi's side," Ranma quickly advised his rival.

"What? My sister would not associate with such delinquents!" Kuno argued, aghast at the very suggestion.

Spotting some faces she recognized in the front row, Sakura jumped up onto the space directly between Ranma and Kuno to address her crew. "All right, you crazy bastards! Today, we cheer for the Black Rose!" she bellowed into her megaphone. The Sakura Army followed up by chanting Kodachi's name at the top of their lungs.

Two seats over from Sakura, Shampoo leaned forward and looked to Kodachi's now perplexed brother. "Ranma tell you so," she smirked, rubbing her man's correctness in Kuno's face.

On the other side of the gym, Azusa was holding her hands over her ears to block out the chants. "Aaaahhh! They're so loud!" she whined.

"Such a raucous bunch. They have no place on our school's grounds," Mikado concurred, looking upon the wild fans with disdain.

Now that her crew had settled in, Sakura, grinning from ear to ear, plopped herself down next to Ranma. "'Sup, Loverboy! What'd we miss?"

"The Loverboy stuff again..." Ranma grumbled over the nickname. "Ya missed gettin' a bunch of confetti dumped on ya. That's about it."

"Hah! Perfect timing, then!" Sakura laughed. "Come on, 'Dachi! Get out here and beat this bitch!"

Kiriko sneered down from the ring at the pink-haired gymnast, then finally forced herself to look away. "Who cares? It doesn't matter," she muttered. "Kodachi still won't show up, and that means I've got this thing in the bag."

The bleachers, once with plenty of open space, were now packed to capacity. And with the distraction that the Sakura Army's appearance had caused now having passed, the focus returned to Kodachi's entrance...which still wasn't happening. As Sakura's fans continued to chant Kodachi's name, everyone's eyes sat upon the locker room exit, and they waited...and waited...and waited. Nobody was coming out.

"Hey, where the hell is she?" Sakura, looking for answers, threw her hands into the air.

"Ranma, where Ringo and crazy Kuno girl?" Shampoo peeked over at the boy.

Ranma would've liked to have known that himself. "Dunno," he shook his head, "...but somethin' don't feel right here."

The EGF's owner, Hiroyuki Tanaka, was growing impatient. In order to learn what the delay was all about, he sent one of his aides back to the locker room to investigate. A minute later, that aide returned to ringside, alone. "Sir, Kodachi Kuno isn't back there," he whispered to his boss.

Tanaka, looking none too happy, stood up from his chair. On a day when he was looking to enjoy an exciting match, it now seemed he had a difficult decision to make.

Up in the ring, Kiriko leaned over the top rope and peered down at the old man through her sunglasses. "If the coward isn't here, you know what to do!" she giddily waved to him.

That especially upbeat demeanor of Kiriko was starting to rile Sakura's suspicions. "Hey, Kiriko! What the hell did you do?" she growled at the underhanded girl.

"Me?" Kiriko, who was again all smiles, feigned innocence. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Sakura bit down on her bottom lip, not believing that answer for a second. "Why, you little..."

The chants of Kodachi's name had died down and were instead replaced by the same confusion that had spread throughout the rest of the gymnasium.

The referee for the match, in search of some sort of decision, exited the ring and headed over to Mr. Tanaka. "Sir, what should we do?" she asked him.

Tanaka knew he had to make a call here, but what to do, that was the question. He didn't want to see a semi-final match in his tournament end in forfeit, and he knew the fans didn't want to see it end that way, either. On the other hand, it was Kodachi's responsibility to have been there at the designated time. He had to draw the line somewhere between what the fans wanted...and what was fair.

And so, the EGF's owner came to a decision. With the eyes of the crowd upon him, he held one hand up above his head with all five fingers outstretched. "We will wait five minutes!" he announced to everyone. "If Kodachi is still not here within that time, Kiriko will be declared the winner!"

While those supporting Kodachi breathed a sigh of relief, Kiriko wasn't a happy camper. "WHAT?" the brown-haired diva shrieked in disbelief. "That is WAY too lenient! Why does she deserve the extra time?"

"Five minutes, Kiriko! That's my decision!" Tanaka stood by his call.

Clearly upset, Kiriko took her frustration out on the middle turnbuckle pad in her corner by striking it with her knee. "Fine! Whatever!" she fumed. To make herself more comfortable, she took a seat on the top turnbuckle, and the countdown began.

Down below, next to the ring apron, Yuki found Tanaka's decision to be immensely nerve-wracking. Kiriko didn't know what she knew—that Kodachi might be approaching the school via some unknown but effective method right now as they sat and waited. Whether the extra five minutes would matter, she wasn't sure. It all depended on what Kodachi was using to travel, and whether or not the Kolhotz Victory Assurance Club could manage to impede her progress. The only certainty was that these next five minutes would feel to her like an eternity.

"You think that girl have something do with this?" Shampoo asked the snarling Sakura.

"Oh, yeah. It's written all over her pukey little face," the gymnast with wild hair continued to glare at Kiriko.

"Something undoubtedly must have happened to my sister," Kuno said in agreement. "She would not have missed this for the world. I cannot imagine she would be absent if foul play were not involved."

Sakura batted her eyes, turning toward the sword-wielding man seated beside her. "Sis-...ter?"

"Yup. Kuno here is Kodachi's big brother," Ranma gestured to his rival with his thumb.

"Whoa," Sakura backed away enough that she could take in a full view of the master of the Kuno household. "You seem, like, really normal compared to 'Dachi."

Tatewaki Kuno nodded his head, understanding perfectly where Sakura was coming from. "Mmm, indeed. My sister can be rather...twisted at times," he explained. "The head on my shoulders, however, is quite level, I assure you."

"Yeah, right. She just ain't seen enough of ya to know what you're really like," Ranma corrected his former upperclassman.

"What? Do you imply that I, the great Tatewaki Kuno, am not levelheaded?"

"You heard me."

While Ranma and Kuno found bickering to be a good way to pass the minutes, Kiriko got some laughs out of her fellow Kolhotz students by raising her wrist up and looking down at it, playing out the act of checking the time on a wristwatch.

One minute passed. Then two. Then three. Then four. Still no sign of Kodachi.

"I don't have all day, Mr. Tanaka!" Kiriko finally complained to the older man. "I have things to do! People to see! Come on, come on, come on!"

The disappointment of how things had turned out today was evident in Hiroyuki Tanaka's solemn expression. Kiriko vs. Kodachi was an intriguing, fresh match-up for his organization, and yet, as the last few seconds until his deadline ticked away, it was becoming clear that the contest wasn't going to take place. "That is quite the pity," he sighed, dejected. Time had run out, and thus, he gave a brief nod to both the ring announcer and the referee. "Do it."

As the referee climbed back into the ring, Kiriko hopped down from her perch, elated. She knew what was coming, and the thousands in the bleachers did, as well. Motioning for Kiriko to come to the center of the ring and stand by her, the referee grabbed the gymnast's left wrist and prepared to raise her hand in victory.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer began, her very voice drawing both applause from the Kolhotz students and a great deal of venom from the Sakura Army, "...your winner, via forfeit..."

Sakura hung her head, just trying to control her anger with Kiriko as she waited for the result she knew she was about to hear. After all, she detested the EGF Champion, Priscilla, so much that she would probably be rooting for Kiriko when her title opportunity came, even considering what had happened today.

Ranma and Shampoo had no emotional investment in Kodachi winning, but they knew Ringo would be severely disappointed by this. That, and they really did want to see Kiriko lose, just to rub it in the faces of the Golden Pair, if nothing else.

And after seeing his sister rise from the ashes of defeat a month earlier, Tatewaki Kuno felt terribly for her. He hoped that she could maintain her passion despite this setback, but also greatly feared that she may regress back into the shell he found her in.

"...and moving on..." the announcer continued. In the ring, Kiriko was bouncing up and down on her tiptoes like an eight-year-old about to receive a big present for her birthday.


"...to the finals of the Queen...of Extreme...Tour-..."

*vroooooom...vroooooooooooomvrooooooOOOOM !*

The announcer stopped, allowing the microphone to fall to her side. Captivated by a peculiar noise coming all the way from outside, she then brought her eyes to the gymnasium's front doors. And the referee did the same. Then Mr. Tanaka and his aides. Then every one of the fans in attendance.

Something was coming. Something was coming fast.

"What the heck is that?" Ranma stood up, his curiosity over the noise piqued. Around him, Shampoo, Sakura, and Kuno got to their feet, too.

As soon as the noise reached her ears, Yuki felt a cold bead of sweat run down the back of her neck. She'd heard that sound before. It was the same one she heard before the transmission from the KVAC team had been cut off. "Don't tell me..." she gasped.

Kiriko didn't know what it was, but she didn't like the sound of it. She didn't like it one bit. "Hurry up and say that I won!" she screamed at the ring announcer. "Do it! Do it now! Hey-!"

Those in the bleachers nearest the gym's entrance got ready to move at a moment's notice as the noise grew deafeningly loud. Closer, and closer it came. And then, with the full attention of the building upon it, the source made itself known in grand fashion.

The gym's steel doors flew from their hinges as if they were made of paper, and chunks of concrete from around the doors' frame spilled onto the floor when a 68-ton, German-engineered tank exploded through the front of the gymnasium.

"A TAAAAAAAAAANK?" the shocked students from both schools echoed in unison.

Kiriko stood frozen in the ring, wide-eyed and mouth hanging open at what she was seeing. There was an unstoppable war machine barreling through the Kolhotz High gym, and it had her dead in its sights.

End of Chapter 16