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 17

"What's that thing doing in here?"

"This is insane!"

"Look out, look out, look out!"

The Kolhotz High gymnasium was filled with pandemonium as a massive tank, covered in dust and chunks of concrete from the wall it had just smashed through, drove down the path to the ring with barely enough room to fit between the sections of bleachers. There were several people currently in its way, and one of them, the referee for the match, immediately bailed from the ring for her own safety.

Still holding Kiriko's throne atop their shoulders, the four shirtless servants of Kolhotz High's diva also found themselves directly in the war machine's path. "Screw this!" one of them shouted, promptly dropping his corner of the throne as he ran off. The others followed suit without argument, letting the throne fall to the floor in favor of getting to high ground.

Kiriko, who had been standing in the ring, stunned, now took notice of the unfortunate position her throne had been placed in. "H-hey! Don't just leave it there! Get back here and move it out of the way! NOW!" she demanded of her servants. The men, however, had no intention of putting themselves in harm's way again. Kiriko had bigger things to worry about than her throne at the moment, anyway. The tank was still approaching, and it only seemed to be speeding up as it came closer to not only the throne, but the ring, as well. "Stop, stop, stop! You stop that thing right now! Don't you dare come any closer!"

"Kiriko! Get out of there!" Yuki, her second, yelled out to her.

Revving its engine even louder, the tank showed no signs of listening to Kiriko as it plowed right over her wooden throne on its way up to the ring's apron. Terrified for her well-being, Kiriko let out an ear-piercing shriek and dove between the ropes and out to the floor. It was a smart move to make, but it turned out to be an unnecessary one. The tank, showing some amazing precision, came to a complete stop with the barrel of its main gun just inches from touching the ring's ropes.

The tank's rumbling engine was switched off from within, and now only the sounds of everyone's startled reactions filled the gym.

"That was scaaaary!" Azusa Shiratori cried.

Next to her, Mikado Sanzenin was on his feet, taking in the disturbing sight of the gaping hole in the gymnasium's wall. "To inflict such damage upon our sacred rink...unforgivable!" he clenched his fist in anger. "Who would dare do such a thing?"

Those on the other side of the gym weren't clued in to the identity of the tank's operator, either, but one man looked especially impressed as he laid eyes on the hefty piece of machinery.

"Ahh, my Leopard! It is none other!" Tatewaki Kuno burst with pride over the performance of the tank. "Such mobility, such power! Truly, it is a work of art!"

Nearby, Shampoo and Ranma looked to their left, each of them giving Kuno a stare that questioned his sanity.

"That one...belong you?" Shampoo blinked with surprise.

"Are you kiddin' me?" Ranma barked at his old nemesis. "Why the hell do you own a tank?"

Kuno raised an eyebrow, not understanding the pigtailed boy's inquiry. "Why, you ask? Why would I not own a tank?" he countered.

Ranma opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. Though he tried his best to come up with something, the more he thought about it, the more he saw Kuno's point. After all, this was the same guy who once had a sword possessed by the vengeful spirit of Musashi Miyamoto, and also the same guy who once purchased an egg of the legendary Phoenix. Was it really that surprising that he had his own tank? "Never mind," Ranma grunted in defeat. "So, wait...if that tank's yours, does that mean the one drivin' it is who I think it is?"

Outside the ring, Kiriko's chest was heaving in and out with her panicked breathing as she tried to calm down. She could've sworn she'd just seen her life flash before her eyes. The absence of the noise from before made it seem as though the tank had stopped, but she was going to be careful in making sure of that. Cautiously, she crawled up to the ring apron and peeked out over the top of it. As she could see, the tank had indeed stopped, and she was just in time to see its entry hatch open up.

In a flash, the tank's driver sprung out of the circular opening and landed atop the base of the machine's gun, her raven-black hair falling across her left shoulder. The Sakura Army erupted in boisterous cheer at first sight of her, and Kiriko, the one who was moments away from being declared the winner of the match, was beside herself with dismay.

Kodachi "The Black Rose" Kuno had arrived. "Kiriko!" she bellowed the name of the one hiding behind the ring. Taking several steps along the gigantic gun's barrel, she leaped into the air, did a full horizontal twist followed by a vertical one, and made a perfect landing in the middle of the ring. "If you wish to keep me away, it will take more than destroying a rickshaw or two!"

Kodachi wanted nothing more than to hop over the ropes and wring Kiriko's scrawny neck after what she'd done, but doing so would be risking disqualification in their match, and she knew it. She was eager to bring some pain to the girl, but first and foremost, she needed to win this contest.

"Kodachi-!" the brown-haired diva hissed venomously. Just as the Golden Pair had done yesterday, the Kolhotz Victory Assurance Club had clearly failed in their attempts to keep Kodachi from showing up. And Kiriko's throne...what had happened to her throne? Kiriko hurried past one ring post, then past another on her way to the opposite side of the ring, where she came upon the devastating sight. Her throne had become a flattened mess of wood and red fabric, having been crushed beyond recognition beneath the weight of the Leopard tank. Furious, Kiriko began jumping and stomping her feet into the floor like a child throwing a tantrum. "That! Was! Brand! NEW!"

Despite how glad she was to see that Kodachi had made it, and how much she loved seeing Kiriko mad, the gymnast nicknamed "Heavy Metal" looked oddly down as she hung her head in the front row of the crowd. "Ahhhh, she totally outdid me," Sakura vented. She then turned and grabbed Ranma by his collar. "A tank? A tank? Me ridin' out on my bike is supposed to be the best entrance in the EGF! How d'ya expect me to beat comin' in on a tank? Huh?"

"You're gettin' depressed over somethin' like that?" Ranma incredulously asked the girl next to him.

With Kodachi already in the ring, Ringo Saotome, dressed in a bright red track suit and looking somewhat nauseous, quietly made her appearance from within the military vehicle. Popping only her head out from the open hatch, she let out a groan of discomfort and collapsed her chin down onto the tank's roof. "I can't believe...I just rode in a tank. I think I'm going to throw up..." she uttered, trying to ease the sickness in her stomach. "Urk! Never again...never, ever."

As Ringo tossed Kodachi's tools out of the tank and groggily made her way out, chants of the Black Rose's name filled the gym. Now, for the first time, Kodachi noticed her very unexpected section of fans. And right there in front, from left to right, were Shampoo, Ranma, Sakura, and her dear brother. "All of you...?" she mouthed, overwhelmed by the sight.

Temporarily putting aside her relegation to second place as far as grand entrances went, Sakura rose to her feet and stood proudly before her army as she met eyes with Kodachi. "Told ya I'd bring friends, didn't I?" she grinned.

Sakura had mentioned yesterday that she would bring a friend or two, but Kodachi never imagined she would bring an entire mob like this. She wouldn't admit it, of course, but she was grateful for the move. With this, Kiriko's home field advantage may have been completely nullified. The younger of the Kuno siblings now looked to her older brother, who raised his wooden sword into the air.

"Victory shall be yours, my dear sister!" Tatewaki Kuno shouted with passion.

That her brother was there was no surprise to Kodachi, as he had made his intentions known last night. Nonetheless, she did appreciate Tatewaki's support. From the least surprising member of the crowd, she now looked to perhaps the most surprising one, that being Shampoo.

Still reluctant to throw her support behind her old rival, Shampoo instead waved to the red-haired girl stumbling along on the outside of the ring. "Ringo! Shampoo hope you do good!" she called out to the weary second.

Shampoo's selective cheering was fine with Kodachi. She didn't much care for the idea of the one who had stolen her man rooting for her, anyway. There was only one person left, and, with great interest, the Black Rose shifted her head to look at him.

"Ah, what the heck," Ranma gave in, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm rootin' for ya, Kodachi, so ya better win! Got it?"

"Ranma-darling..." Kodachi blushed at the words of encouragement. As much as she had tried to bury her feelings for the pigtailed boy, she couldn't deny that they still existed to some degree. And now, here he was, voicing his support of her. Ranma, Tatewaki, and the thousands of students that Sakura had brought along for the ride. It was an incredible feeling—one that brought a smile to Kodachi's face, and nearly a tear to her eye.

Kiriko wasn't about to let this end well for Kodachi, though. Not a chance. Spotting the referee, who had gotten back to her feet after a hasty exit from the ring, she ran over to her and grabbed her by the shirt. "You! Raise my hand right now!" Kiriko demanded of the official. "Those five minutes ended, and that means Kodachi didn't get here in time and I still win! ME! Now do your job and raise my hand!"

Raising Kiriko's hand was the referee's job, but she had to wonder if that path of action had changed with Kodachi's sudden appearance. Unsure what she should do, the referee looked to the owner of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation, Hiroyuki Tanaka, for direction.

Mr. Tanaka, however, didn't appear ready to make a call just yet. Instead, as he surveyed the chaos all around him, he looked to be mulling over a decision.

"What? Were we...too late?" Ringo wondered, becoming worried when she overheard the commotion.

Kodachi was silent as she stood alone in the ring. With Kiriko's talk of a deadline, it wasn't hard to piece together what had happened here before she arrived. Preparing the Leopard had taken more time than she imagined, hence the tardy arrival of she and her second. She just hoped the promotion's owner would find it in his heart to give her a chance to compete. For things to end this way, without the match even happening, would be nothing short of a nightmare for her.

"Why that spineless little...!" Sakura fumed at Kiriko's behavior. "She's still trying to get outta the match!"

"She right, though. Kuno girl come too late," Shampoo pointed out. It was an unpopular opinion on that side of the gym, but it was also the truth.

The Sakura Army had picked up on what was taking place, as well. They came to see a match today, and they were going to let the decision-makers know it. Thus, with their thousands-strong voice, the group rang out chants of, "Let them fight."

"Let them fight! Let them fight! Let them fight! Let them fight!..."

"Shut up!" Kiriko screamed at the rowdy outsiders.

Tanaka could hear the chants loud and clear, but what to do? Kiriko wasn't wrong; Kodachi hadn't made it inside the gymnasium within the five minutes allowed. She was here now, yes, but would it be fair to allow her to compete? What move would be in the best interest of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation?

Declare Kiriko the winner, or let the match go on. It was Tanaka's call to make.

The older, mustached man beckoned for the announcer's microphone, and he gave the fans his decision. "Kiriko is right. Kodachi did not arrive before my deadline," he stated for all to hear.

Kodachi's heart sank in her chest, as did that of Ringo. Both girls felt like they could collapse to their knees after the EGF's owner had spoken. Was this it? Was it really the end, after all they'd been through?

Tanaka's words earned him a chorus of boos from the Sakura Army, but were met with an exalted reaction from a very happy Kiriko. "Yes! Yes! I win, I win, I win!" she celebrated.

"However," Tanaka suddenly continued, putting an abrupt end to Kiriko's elation, "...I'm not one to leave our fans disappointed. They all came here to see a match, and, for that matter, so did I. Therefore, I am officially reversing my earlier decision. Kodachi Kuno will be allowed to compete here today!"

"Yes!" Ringo jumped into the air with joy. She regretted it as the nauseousness came back to her, though. "Ugh..."

Kodachi, who thought her chance for redemption had just come to an unceremonious end, was finally able to exhale. It wasn't over, she quietly told herself. It wasn't over.

"Man, Kodachi's seriously lucky," Ranma chuckled in amusement at the close call.

Shampoo nodded her head in agreement. "She very, very lucky."

"A fine decision!" Kuno stood up and applauded the old man for being lenient with his sister.

Sakura couldn't help snickering at how things had turned out, either. "The old guy knows what people want. Ya can't ever take that away from him."

The roof nearly came off the building as Sakura's fans, too, threw their hands up in approval of the decision. None of the Kolhotz students liked seeing their representative sided against, but even they had been looking forward to seeing the match, and thus there wasn't much complaint from their end.

Any and all complaining came from Kiriko alone, who went absolutely ballistic over Tanaka's call. "Are you kidding me? That's the worst decision I've ever heard!" Kiriko grabbed the EGF's owner by his tie and yanked him forward in her fury. She then used her free hand to point to the damage done to the gym by the tank. "Do you see that? Do you see what she just did to our gym? She shouldn't be allowed to compete! She should be in jail!"

"Yes, I do see that, Kiriko. The Kolhotz gym will clearly need a little work done after today," Tanaka calmly answered her. "You, on the other hand, seem to be very spry and in perfect condition! So, this match is going to happen, and since we've already wasted so much time here, I'd like it to happen right now."

"No!" Kiriko angrily threw her sunglasses to the floor. "No, it is n-!"

"With that in mind," Tanaka cut her off, "...I am going to give you until the count of ten to get back into that ring. If you do not do so, I will award this match to Kodachi, and she will be the one to move on to the tournament's final round!"

The tables had turned. Kiriko, who almost had a forfeit victory within her grasp, now found herself the one on the verge of such a loss. On Tanaka's command, the referee slid back into the ring, and the owner gave her the signal to start the count.

"One...!"

Irate, Kiriko ripped the feather boa away from her neck and tossed it into the old man's face. "You can't do this!"

"I can, and I am! Now get in there!" Tanaka ordered the upset gymnast.

"...two...three...!" the referee continued, and Sakura and her fans, always happy to fan a fire, counted out loud along with her.

Shedding her last extra piece of apparel, Kiriko tore off her silk robe and flung it into the ring apron, unveiling her camouflage-themed leotard. She was desperately trying to think of some way out of this, but her options had been fairly well exhausted.

"...four...five...six...!"

Inside the ring, Kodachi was getting an immense pleasure out of watching Kiriko squirm. As the Kolhotz representative laid eyes on her, the Black Rose curled her index finger a few times, gesturing for Kiriko to come join her.

"You don't deserve to face me, you trash!" Kiriko barked at her.

"...seven...eight...!"

Running out of time, Kiriko got up in Tanaka's face yet again. "Listen to me, you old goat! You call this off right now, or so help me, I'll-!"

"...nine...!"

Tanaka defiantly folded his arms across his chest. He wasn't going to change his mind.

Kiriko couldn't put it off any longer. Her face contorting with rage, she dove through the ropes and into the ring, making it in just milliseconds before the referee would have counted her out.

"Hey, way to go, Kiriko! I knew ya could do it!" Sakura mockingly congratulated her fellow gymnast from the front row, and her army did likewise with a tongue-in-cheek round of applause.

The match was officially on, and Kiriko was officially pissed. Out of frustration, she rolled to her feet and kicked the bottom ring rope over and over again. There was no escape for her. If she wanted to earn another opportunity to become the EGF Champion, she was going to have to face Kodachi again and put at risk the glory of her crowning moment—her defeat of the Black Rose three years earlier.

"Yuki!" Kiriko snarled, calling for her second to get up on the ring apron. The match they didn't expect to happen was now happening, and that called for an impromptu strategy session.

Likewise, Kodachi signaled for Ringo to hop up onto the apron for a talk of their own.

"Looks like it all worked out...except for my stomach," Ringo managed to force a smile despite her wooziness over the tank ride.

"Try to bear it for now," Kodachi instructed her. "Ringo, this is how we are going to start the match..."

While Kodachi and Ringo went over their game plan, the event's announcer retrieved her microphone from Mr. Tanaka. A lot had happened so far today, but one thing that had yet to take place was the formality of the gymnasts' introductions.

"Your attention, please! The following is a semi-final match in the Extreme Gymnastics Federation's Queen of Extreme Tournament!"

Whether they were there in support of Kiriko or Kodachi, everyone in the crowd felt good hearing those words. It was a sign that the contest they had all come to see was finally about to begin.

"Introducing first, the visitor," the announcer began, garnering a massive pop from the Sakura Army. "Coming to us from St. Hebereke School for Girls, she is the tournament's 11th Seed, Kodachi 'The Black Rose' Kuno!"

Eager to show their support, the Joudai High students started up their chants of Kodachi's name yet again, and Kodachi, now assured that she and Ringo were on the same page, took notice. It was a different feeling to see so many people going wild for her. Even the girls at her own school had never put so much energy into their cheers during her competitions. These were the same students who had rooted against her and even thrown toilet paper rolls at her during her match with Sakura, but that all seemed like an eternity ago right now.

Shades of the Kodachi of old, the Black Rose brought a hand to her mouth and blew a kiss out toward the section of her supporters.

"Y'see that? She's gettin' into it! That's the power of my army, right there!" Sakura boasted to Ranma and Shampoo. "Let's go, 'Dachi!"

"And her opponent, hailing from Kolhotz High School," the announcer continued, now sparking cheers from the other side of the gym, "...she is the tournament's 2nd Seed, and was also the runner-up in last year's tournament! Let's hear it for Kiriko Nakajima!"

The applause that followed from the Kolhotz students was decent, but nothing like what Kodachi had just received, and that fact incited one Mikado Sanzenin. "Is that all you have? Shameful! Chant her name! All of you!" he demanded of his fellow students as he bolted to his feet. "We mustn't lose to those outsiders!"

Spurned on by the tongue-lashing, the students, and Azusa, as well, started to chant Kiriko's name as per Mikado's instructions. Unlike Kodachi, however, Kiriko didn't blow a kiss their way, nor did she even look at them. Their representative opted instead to continue conversing with her second, completely ignoring her fans.

"Seconds down!" the referee ordered as she stepped to the center of the ring. Ringo complied immediately. Yuki, though, was taking her time to have some further words with Kiriko, and that drew the ire of the referee. "I said seconds down!" the official repeated herself, and this time Yuki did so. "That's better. Do either of you need me to explain the rules?"

Kodachi lightly shook her head in response, while Kiriko made no gesture at all. From the moment Yuki had descended to the floor, Kiriko had done nothing but glare at her opponent, and the referee took that as a "no."

The girls knew the rules perfectly. There were three ways to win: knocking your opponent out, your opponent landing anywhere that wasn't part of the ring, or your opponent being disqualified or giving up. Using anything but the tools to attack, using a forbidden tool that was too dangerous for the match, or someone's second getting physically involved in the match were all grounds for disqualification. The referee would count to ten at a gymnast's command if one of them knocked their opponent down. If the downed gymnast couldn't stand up by the count of ten, they would be considered unable to go on, and their opponent would be deemed the winner.

Ringo unzipped the duffel bags outside Kodachi's corner of the ring, and Yuki, after setting her clipboard down against the ring post, did the same. The match was ready to start.

"Kodachi, are you ready?" the referee asked, and was given a nod in reply. "Kiriko, are you ready?"

Kiriko, just as before, gave no answer as she persisted in staring a hole through Kodachi.

The explanation of rules was one thing, but the referee wasn't going to start the match unless she was certain that Kiriko was ready to compete. "Kiriko, answer me! Are you-"

"Ring the damn bell!" Kiriko suddenly snapped at her.

That was good enough for the official. With a quick flick of her hand, she signaled for the bell to sound.

*ding ding ding!*

And just like that, the rematch between Kodachi and Kiriko had begun. No more stalling. No more delays. No more excuses.

The fans on both sides erupted in a flurry of hoots and hollers, claps and whistles. They could tell how much these two disliked each other, and that made them all the more excited to see what would happen. It was an atmosphere absolutely full of energy.

Neither gymnast had moved from their corner yet, nor had they taken any tools from their seconds. Kodachi just looked around at the raucous crowd, taking it all in. This was it. She'd worked so hard to get a shot at redemption, and now she had it. Kiriko was across the ring from her. The bell had sounded. She had earned her chance, and now, in front of the thousands here bearing witness, she was going to make the best of it.

Kiriko didn't give a damn about the atmosphere or anything of the like. Still steaming over the very fact that she had to compete in this match at all, she took a step out from her corner toward Kodachi. "You think you belong here with me? You're nothing! NOTHING!" she screamed at the dark-haired girl. "You really think you're on my level? Huh? Then prove it! I challenge you to a club duel, right here, right now!"

Having been issued an unexpected challenge, Kodachi narrowed her gaze at her opponent. This wasn't the way she had anticipated the match would start.

"Club duel?" Shampoo batted her eyes. "Why Kiriko girl want that?"

Two seats over, Sakura didn't look especially happy with the turn of events. "She thinks she's a better technical gymnast than 'Dachi, that's why."

"Is she?" Ranma posed the question.

Sakura didn't have an immediate answer for him. She had faced both Kodachi and Kiriko, and based on those experiences, Kiriko was easily better. But there was another variable to factor in, that being Kodachi's time away from competition that had affected her skills during their match. With two weeks of further catching up, just how much better would the Black Rose be? How sharp had her skills gotten in that time? How much had her conditioning improved? "We're gonna find out, Loverboy," Sakura finally said to him.

"Hmph. Fear not, for my sister has worked tirelessly as of late," Tatewaki Kuno assured the others. "She will not allow herself to be beaten in any such competition."

Outside the ring, Ringo looked up at her gymnast, curious as to what she wanted to do. "Kodachi?"

"Ringo, change of plans," the younger Kuno sibling informed her second. She then shot a fiery look back at Kiriko. "I accept!"

A smirk crossed the face of Kolhotz High's diva upon hearing Kodachi's answer. This was just what she wanted. Now that she had successfully goaded Kodachi into a club duel, she had every intention of pulling the Black Rose into her pace.

The two seconds each tossed their gymnast a pair of standard clubs, and Kodachi and Kiriko, ready for their first exchange, stepped out of their corners. At first, they only circled each other in the ring, taking their time and measuring up one another. Then, Kodachi extended one of her clubs toward Kiriko, who tapped it with one of her own. That was their starting signal, and the two of them got to it.

A flurry of club shots flew between the gymnasts. They started simple and compact, then got more wild as both of them grew eager to land a hit. Kiriko took a swing from below that missed, then threw one from the left side that Kodachi ducked under. Kodachi responded by firing off twelve shots in a row. All were aimed at Kiriko's face, and all were successfully thwarted by the Kolhotz representative's defense as she blocked them with her own clubs. Kiriko broke the cycle by taking a strong swing from the side, which Kodachi deflected. Then another shot came from the opposite side, or so Kodachi thought. What Kodachi believed was a legitimate attack turned out to be nothing but a feint, and while her attention was focused on the club in Kiriko's right hand, that in the girl's left hand came up from underneath and rocked Kodachi's jaw hard enough that it made her backpedal a few steps.

First point: Kiriko.

"Yes! Yes! I told you, I'm the best!" Kiriko threw her arms up in victory. Yuki applauded her gymnast from down below, and Mikado, Azusa, and the rest of the Kolhotz students joined in on the celebration. So enthralled with her minor win was Kiriko that she climbed the turnbuckles in her corner of the ring and urged her cheering section on.

"She's that happy over one hit?" Ranma muttered, wondering to himself what was going through Kiriko's mind.

"Maybe is just act so get in Kuno girl head," Shampoo suggested.

The thought of someone outdoing Kodachi in the use of mind games was difficult to grasp, but Ranma could definitely see someone of Kiriko's personality attempting such a thing.

While Ringo was showing concern over her gymnast's small loss, Kodachi rubbed her jaw, feeling her pride hurting more than her face. "Are you quite finished?" she snarled at her adversary.

Kiriko hopped down from her corner looking incredibly upbeat, which was surprising to many considering how foul of a mood she was in before she had landed that hit. "Aww, is someone mad?" she gleefully taunted Kodachi. She then raised her clubs up, ready to have another go. "Want to try again?"

Twirling her clubs around in her hands, Kodachi lunged in and went on the attack. Kiriko was entirely on the defensive as Kodachi relentlessly tried to land a blow, backing her opponent up with dozens of swings. That aggression was just what Kiriko was counting on, though. The more frustrated Kodachi grew, the wider her attacks became, and when Kiriko saw one she liked, she took advantage. Kiriko threw her club out to block Kodachi's strike and jumped forward to attack with her free club. Kodachi caught on, but just barely as the club whizzed by the bridge of her nose.

Now Kiriko was on the offensive. She kept Kodachi occupied with a barrage of attacks from all angles that took all of the Black Rose's focus just to deflect. Then, after one particularly sharp blow, Kodachi noticed Kiriko stepping so close that her foot looked as if it would land behind the visiting gymnast. Kodachi, thinking Kiriko was trying to trip her, turned her attention downward to avoid the move. This, too, was a feint, though. Now that Kodachi was distracted, Kiriko pulled her foot back, stepped forward with her other one, and drilled Kodachi in the right cheek with her club.

Second point: Kiriko.

"Oh, yeah! All! Day! Long!" Kiriko gloated, and the cheers resonated from her schoolmates once again.

Kodachi, not even rubbing the spot where she'd been hit this time, stood silently for a moment. Then, avoiding eye contact with Kiriko, she backed up into her corner, grabbed the top rope on either side of her, and squatted down next to the canvas. After two straight losing exchanges, she had some regrouping to do.

"Damn it! She's falling for Kiriko's feints!" Sakura gritted her teeth in the bleachers. "C'mon, 'Dachi. You can't choke now."

After that last hit, Ringo had become even more worried. As she looked up at Kodachi, she could see that the gymnast had her eyes closed. What was going on her mind right now, Ringo didn't know, but she was going to give her partner some encouragement. "Kodachi, you can do this!" she told her. "I know how far you've come since the last match, and I know you can beat Kiriko! You have to believe in yourself!"

Kiriko, just to rub her superiority in even further, went to every side of the ring and raised a hand to her ear to listen to the crowd's reaction. The response was positive where the Kolhotz students sat, of course, while a storm of booing and hissing rained down from the Sakura Army. To Kiriko, anything she could do to antagonize that bunch was well worth it.

"Sister, be not discouraged!" Tatewaki Kuno shouted to his younger sibling. "Stand! Stand and fight as a proud Kuno!"

Her eyes opening again, Kodachi took one last deep breath, then stood herself back up. She slowly stepped toward the center of the ring, where Kiriko waited, grinning at her like a jackal.

"One more time," Kodachi requested.

All too willing to oblige, Kiriko performed a "bring it" motion with her hands. "Let's go, trash."

Kodachi moved in and went right at Kiriko with another speedy assault. Over and over again, Kodachi swung away to try to connect with the brown-haired gymnast's face, but Kiriko was managing to protect herself from every single one of them. And now, Kodachi's swings were getting wild. This exchange was playing out exactly as the last one had.

"Is she that stupid?" Kiriko wondered to herself with amusement. "If she's going to make it easy for me, I'll go right ahead and take it."

The Black Rose took another wide swing, and Kiriko was ready. Just like last time, she batted it away and closed in on Kodachi to score another hit. This wasn't going to end the same way it had before, though. This time, Kiriko was abruptly stopped in her tracks as the base of a club came seemingly from out of nowhere and connected with her forehead.

"Ngah!" Kiriko yelped in surprise.

The diva had taken the bait. Knowing that Kiriko would go for the opportunity if it presented itself again, Kodachi feigned being outmatched. Then, as soon as Kiriko made her move, Kodachi literally threw her club at the girl's face. And now that Kiriko was stunned, the gymnast from St. Hebereke was going to finish in style.

Kodachi grabbed the club she'd thrown out of the air as it bounced off of Kiriko's face. Kiriko, knocked back by the blow, held her clubs out to protect herself as she tried to regain her composure, but Kodachi swatted them out of the way with a powerful upward blow. With Kiriko's guard gone, Kodachi followed through on her motion and delivered a thunderous uppercut to the Kolhotz gymnast's chin with the club she'd just reclaimed. Kiriko was knocked up into the air before falling rear-first on the ring mat and collapsing back against the bottom ring rope.

Third point: Kodachi.

"Yes! She did it!" Ringo pumped her fist in Kodachi's corner.

The Joudai High crowd jumped up in jubilation over Kodachi's first strike, and Sakura was no exception. "'Atta girl, 'Dachi!" she shouted.

"Hey, how 'bout that?" Ranma laughed.

Shampoo kept any joy she may have had very tempered. "Least this no be boring," she allowed.

"Did I not say there was no need for worry?" Tatewaki Kuno bragged. "My sister shall never allow this detestable woman to defeat her."

Still down after the shot to her chin, Kiriko appeared stunned by what had just taken place. She couldn't believe she'd just fallen for Kodachi's trap. In fact, she wouldn't let herself believe it. There had to be some other explanation, she thought. One thing was undeniable, though: she was down, and Kodachi wasn't.

Kodachi, still glaring at her nemesis, raised her clubs above her head in victory with the Sakura Army loudly chanting her name in the background. "Now who is the trash?" she taunted her fallen foe.

Kiriko's momentum had vanished. Enraged over the sight of Kodachi enjoying her successful strike, she chucked her clubs out of the ring in anger. "Enough of this!" she shrieked. "Yuki!"

Knowing exactly what her gymnast wanted, Yuki took a black-colored hoop and a dark red club out of her collection of tools and passed them through the ropes to Kiriko.

In reaction to the change, Kodachi backed away to a safe distance. Their club duel, she figured, was over.

As she got back up on one knee, Kiriko took the hoop into her right hand and the club into her left. Shielded from Kodachi's vision, she pressed a small button on the hoop, which made a faint clicking noise that only she was able to hear over the energetic crowd. "No more screwing around," she cackled coldly to herself as she sized up the Black Rose. "Now, Kodachi...I'll show you what I've learned over the past three years!"


End of Chapter 17