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 18

Before an upbeat crowd of thousands at the Kolhotz High gymnasium, Kiriko gripped her newly-acquired black hoop in her right hand and set her sights on Kodachi. After being embarrassed by losing the third exchange in their club duel and suffering the first knockdown of the match, Kiriko had vowed to show Kodachi what she had learned since their last match three years ago. Now, she was going to do just that.

"Eat this, Kodachi!" Kiriko yelled. Reaching back, she hurled the hoop straight toward Kodachi's face.

Kodachi, though, needed only to tilt her head to the side to cause the hoop to miss its target and fly off behind her. "What exactly did you learn? How to miss?" she mocked Kiriko's empty declaration. "Oh, how silly of me. You knew how to do that during our last match, as well."

Still armed with her dual clubs, Kodachi moved in to engage in some close combat with Kiriko, who now had only the one red club that Yuki had passed to her. Even though she was at a clear disadvantage, however, Kiriko looked nothing but pleased with the current situation as she grinned at the approaching gymnast.

"Kodachi, look out behind you!" Ringo suddenly shouted from the floor.

Ringo's warning came too late. Kodachi's head snapped forward as the same hoop Kiriko had just thrown came back around and struck the back of her skull. Kodachi hadn't seen it before, and even now she just barely caught a glimpse of it, but there appeared to be a string connecting Kiriko's finger and the hoop.

With Kodachi off-balance, Kiriko now looked to put her single club to use. She swung away, aiming for the side of Kodachi's head. Luckily for Kodachi, she wasn't rattled enough that she couldn't see the attack coming. Planting her foot against the mat, she threw her upper body back, and all Kiriko's club managed to do was whiz by her ear.

Kodachi attempted to stand up straight and regain her balance, and it was only then that she noticed something was amiss. "Wh-...what is..." her voice trailed off. Kiriko's club swing hadn't hit its mark, and yet there was a loud ringing in Kodachi's ear for some reason. She felt dizzy, too, and she was having a difficult time just staying upright because of it.

"What wrong with her? Hoop hurt that much?" Shampoo took notice of Kodachi's awkward movement.

"The club missed, so it's gotta be," Ranma assumed.

"It didn't miss," Sakura immediately corrected him, pointing to the tool in question. "Take a good look at that club of hers."

As Ranma and Shampoo would notice, there was something peculiar about Kiriko's club. "Is full of holes?" Shampoo made the curious observation.

"You got it. That thing's not meant to land a hit when it's used. It's got something funky goin' on in it that makes it put out this wicked noise when it goes by your ear, and it makes ya feel like you drank one too many beers," Sakura explained to them.

"Sound, huh? I've heard of martial artists usin' weapons like that before, but I never thought I'd see it here. That's actually kinda impressive," Ranma had to admit.

"Kiriko's got a string attached to that hoop, too, and she uses it like a yo-yo. That and the weird club are one of her favorite combos," Sakura added. "Now...I wonder if she's gonna use that next."

Kodachi had to grab onto the top ring rope as she continued to struggle with her equilibrium, and Ringo had no idea what was happening to her. "Kodachi, what's wrong? Are you okay?" the concerned second called out to her partner.

Kiriko tossed aside her hoop and club, and then grabbed from the air a pair of ribbons that Yuki had tossed to her. It was time to take advantage of the golden opportunity. Still grinning like a jackal, she whipped one ribbon forward, wrapping it around Kodachi's feet. She then yanked on it, causing Kodachi to lose her footing and fall down onto the middle rope. The second ribbon came into play next as Kiriko wrapped it around Kodachi's throat this time.

With her setup complete, Kiriko strung the second ribbon under and around the top rope and used it to pull Kodachi upward by her neck. Once she had Kodachi at the right height, she put all of her force into yanking on both ribbons. With the top rope between the two gymnasts, and Kiriko pulling on ribbons wrapped around Kodachi's ankles and throat, Kodachi's body wound up being viciously stretched out like a bow about to fire an arrow. It was a move only Kiriko used, and one of very few submission maneuvers in the Extreme Gymnastics Federation—a move she liked to call the Queen's Contempt.

"Damn! She got it on!" Sakura jolted to her feet in the front row.

"Kodachi!" Ringo cried out. This was all unfolding right in front of her, as Kiriko had set her hold up near Kodachi's corner of the ring.

Having her body stretched out like this was painful, but Kodachi couldn't even scream with the ribbon wrapped around her windpipe. Her hands were clutching at the ribbon, desperately trying to pull it away so that she could breathe, but she wasn't having much luck. The match had barely started and already she'd gotten herself into a dire situation.

"That's it! How's it feel not being able to breathe, Kodachi?" Kiriko gleefully taunted her struggling opponent. "You can't do anything about it, either, so you might as well just give up! Even if you don't, you'll pass out soon enough, and then all it'll take is a quick ten count and I'll beat you again! Hahahahahaaa!"

The referee was watching Kodachi's hands closely to see if the Black Rose would tap out. Kodachi wasn't going to endure that humiliation, though. Against Kiriko, she would rather lose consciousness than quit.

While Kodachi continued to fight off a seemingly impending loss, Ringo was racking her brain over what she could do to help. "Okay, okay, calm down," she silently told herself. "Kodachi can't move, but her arms are still free, so...maybe there's something we can use!"

Ringo dropped down and began digging through Kodachi's bags of tools with a fury. Something, something...there had to be something in one of them that could work. Kodachi couldn't see Kiriko since she was facing away, and there was a few feet of distance between them. That eliminated a lot of options, but still...there had to be something!

Then, at the bottom of one of the bags, Ringo believed she had found that something. "That's it!" she exclaimed.

Kiriko, pulling on the twin ribbons with all her might, had her body arching upward and her head facing the gym's ceiling, and thus she didn't notice Ringo passing something to the restrained Kodachi. "Stop fighting it, Kodachi! You can't get out!" Kiriko screamed. She tilted her head down to be able to check on Kodachi's condition, but then something caught her attention. There was a black nozzle poking out from behind Kodachi's shoulder, and it was pointed right at her.

Before Kiriko could even discern what the nozzle belonged to, she was blasted in the face with a white, dry chemical powder. Her vision and breathing compromised, Kiriko flopped down to the ring mat, letting go of her ribbons and freeing Kodachi in the process. Kodachi, gasping for air, fell forward over the middle ring rope and landed on the ring apron next to where Ringo stood. As everyone could now see, the item the Black Rose had in her possession was a red fire extinguisher.

"Kodachi, are you okay?" Ringo moved closer to check on her.

Kodachi was too preoccupied with unraveling Kiriko's ribbon from her neck to answer, but, from the looks of things, she was still able to go on.

"Whoa, nice save, Ringo," Ranma lauded the efforts of his former female half.

"Thank god," Sakura was finally able to relax and sit back down. "I thought 'Dachi was done for."

Kiriko, meanwhile, was more focused on clearing the powder away from her face than taking the chance to knock Kodachi off the ring apron. With the referee visible in her sights, she crawled over to her and used the official's striped shirt to wipe the fire extinguisher's contents away from her eyes, nose, and mouth.

"What do you think you're doing? Let go!" the referee chided her.

Once Kodachi had both ribbons successfully removed and some air back in her lungs, she slipped under the bottom rope and back into the ring, still with the fire extinguisher in-hand. Though still trying to catch her breath, she actually managed to make it back to her feet before Kiriko did. Now it was time for some payback. The fans knew what she had in mind, too. They could see it in her eyes.

Kiriko pulled herself to her feet using the ropes, and Kodachi was waiting with the fire extinguisher aimed right at her. To the great pleasure of the Sakura Army, Kodachi pressed down on the operating lever, and Kiriko, along with half of the ring, became shrouded in a white cloud. Kiriko hit the mat again and flailed around like a fish out of water as Kodachi relentlessly sprayed her with the pressurized powder.

"Stop...*cough!*...stop tha-...*cough! hack!*...aaaaaahhhhh!" Kiriko pleaded to no avail.

"Who did you say should give up? Who?" Kodachi derided her opponent while she was down. She was loving every bit of this.

By the time Kodachi had gotten her fill and cut off the fire extinguisher, Kiriko was a dazed, powdery mess. Her entire figure—hair, leotard and all—was covered in the flame-dousing material. And things weren't about to get any better for her. As Kiriko got back to her feet, Kodachi grabbed the extinguisher by its lever and swung the entire canister forward, smashing Kiriko square in her forehead and knocking her flat on her back.

"Aiyaa, that one hurt..." Shampoo cringed as she heard the clank of the canister colliding with Kiriko.

"Hell yeah! What a hit!" Sakura gleamed with joy at Kodachi's attack.

Over on the other side of the ring, Azusa was up and jumping around, beside herself over the hit Kiriko had just taken. "Kiriko! Nooo!" she cried.

"Calm down," Mikado instructed her. "A blow like that won't be enough to keep down the finest gymnast Kolhotz High has to offer."

Kodachi tossed the extinguisher out of the ring, then turned her attention to the referee. "Count!"

The referee did just that as she began her ten count for the downed Kiriko. "One...two...three...!"

Though she was seeing stars from the blow to her head, Kiriko was aware enough to know she was being counted down. She flopped over onto her stomach and grabbed at the bottom rope, using it to help bring herself up.

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

Kiriko grabbed the middle rope, followed by the top one as she continued working her way back to an upright position. To her benefit, it was still early in the match, meaning she had plenty of energy left in her.

"...six...se-...!" the referee stopped herself. At six-and-a-half, Kiriko—who had a fresh red mark on her head where the fire extinguisher had hit—made it back to her feet.

But, by the time Kiriko was up, Kodachi already had something else cooking. On one side of the ring, she had a ribbon raised above her head and twirling around her body. The ribbon quickly got up to full speed, and at that point caused a torrent of wind circling around Kodachi to envelop the entire ring. And mixed in with that wind was a signature of the younger Kuno sibling: a plethora of black rose petals.

Kiriko held her hands up in front of her face to shield herself from the wind and petals. "This is...she did this against Sakura, but...it's different!" she noticed.

"Kiriko!" Yuki called out to her partner. Sensing trouble, she tossed Kiriko a ribbon and a club to use however she felt necessary.

"Let us see how you fare against this," Kodachi gleamed with confidence. "Ringo, now! Club Cannon!"

Ringo began tossing clubs from one specific duffel bag into Kodachi's ribbon, and just as the move's name implied, the clubs shot toward Kiriko as if they were fired out of a cannon. In a quick move to protect herself, Kiriko began whirling her ribbon back and forth in front of her. Kodachi was actually surprised with the result. Ringo was tossing clubs up as quick as she could, but Kiriko was successfully deflecting every single one that came her way. Even with the wind and rose petals making conditions difficult, Kolhotz High's diva was still managing to control her ribbon.

Unfortunately for Kiriko, she was putting forth a lot more effort to defend herself than Kodachi was putting forth to attack. Then, when a stray rose petal hit her in the eye, Kiriko's concentration was broken just enough for her defense to fall. The Sakura Army roared as club after club began to strike Kiriko head on. With nowhere to run, she had no choice but to cross her arms in front of her to protect her face while she waited for Ringo to run out of clubs...or so she initially thought.

Through the small viewing space around her arms, Kiriko was able to discern a glaring weakness in Kodachi's attack. Keeping covered up as she took several more hits, she rolled forward along the mat until she was on Kodachi's left side.

"She found out," Kodachi thought. Because Ringo was tossing clubs from one spot, they always shot toward the same area after striking Kodachi's ribbon barrier. By rolling around to Kodachi's side, the clubs had no way to hit Kiriko unless Ringo changed positions, which she didn't have time to do.

"At least give me a challenge, Kodachi!" Kiriko boasted. She lunged toward the Black Rose and jammed her club into the ribbon to stop it.

The club pierced the barrier and disrupted the ribbon's flow, but it wasn't done with enough force to maintain its course. The club, and Kiriko's arm along with it, ended up being knocked away, and Kodachi took full advantage. With a club of her own waiting in her free hand, Kodachi slammed it into the chin of her unprepared opponent.

"Well played, sister!" Tatewaki Kuno applauded Kodachi's tact.

Kiriko backpedaled a few steps, and Kodachi took off after her. Kodachi tried to strike her again, but Kiriko was able to regain her composure and blocked the attack with her own club. For a moment, the two were locked in a stare down as they held their tools in front of themselves. Then, with a little push-off, Kodachi sprung back to the far side of the ring.

Curiously, Kodachi again began twirling her ribbon around herself—this time in the opposite direction to account for her altered ring position. She was going to execute her Club Cannon a second time, despite knowing that Kiriko had found out how to counter it. Ringo wasn't sure what Kodachi was thinking, either, but she wasn't going to question her. She did the same as last time, hurling clubs into the ribbon one after the other.

"You really think that'll work again?" Kiriko snarled at her opponent. For Kodachi to attempt this once more was an insult to the Kolhotz representative's intelligence. Kiriko whipped her ribbon around to knock the clubs away again, and she wasn't going to wait for a petal to smack her in the eye this time. She succeeded in getting herself out of harm's way and rolled to Kodachi's right this time. Kiriko then rushed forward and drove her club into the ribbon, this time with all of her strength to avoid being left in a vulnerable position. This time, though, the ribbon suddenly exploded into a blinding mass of black rose petals.

"What?" Kiriko gasped.

Unable to see, Kiriko still followed through with her attack, but Kodachi wasn't there anymore. All the gymnast could make out within the storm of petals was a single club that was mixed in with them. And, as she soon found out, it was no ordinary tool. The club emitted a short-lived, but blindingly bright flash of light, and Kiriko threw herself back to the canvas with her hands over her affected eyes, screaming in frustration. "What the hell was that?" she angrily fumed.

Atop one of the ring posts, Kodachi smiled down upon her fallen nemesis. "Ringo! Ribbon!" she called out to her second, and was quickly tossed the tool she desired. "Now then, what to use...ooh, that looks fun!"

Spotting something to her liking, Kodachi whirled her ribbon around and flung it toward the announcer's table outside the ring, where it wrapped itself around the ring bell used to signal the start and end of the match.

Kiriko flailed her arms around in search of one of the ring ropes, and then, once she found one, hurried back to her feet. She wouldn't remain that way for very long, though. Still blinded by the modified club's flash, she never saw Kodachi's ribbon—with bell attached—swinging toward her. There was a resounding "ding" as the bell smashed her square in the nose, and Kiriko was knocked flat on her back again.

While the Kolhotz students looked on in dismay, the Sakura Army again roared in favor of Kodachi.

"Hey, she tried that against me, too," Ranma recalled, albeit not too fondly. "Good thing it hit Ryoga instead."

"Huh?" Sakura blinked, giving Ranma a funny look. "What's that mean? You sayin' you had a match against 'Dachi?"

Realizing what he'd just let slip, Ranma turned away from Sakura. "Uh, no...well...never mind," he grunted in defeat. He really didn't want to get into an explanation of his curse right now.

"That right. Ranma beat Kuno girl before," Shampoo chimed in, amused by the topic.

"What? Seriously? Even though you're a guy?" Sakura stared closely at Ranma, dumbfounded. "When the heck was this?"

Ranma slapped a hand over his face. Why, oh why, did Shampoo have to keep this going, he wondered?

"Referee, count! Count her down!" Kodachi ordered the official back in the ring.

Once again, the count began for Kiriko. "One...two...!"

Kiriko, who had blood dripping from her left nostril after it was just smashed by the bell, looked to be in a total daze. Outside the ring, Yuki was pounding on the ring apron while shouting for the gymnast to get up.

"...three...four...five...!"

The racket coming from her corner seemed to help Kiriko wake up a bit as she rolled over and clawed for the ropes, trying to pull herself back up once again.

"...six...seven...ei-...!"

The count was halted. Though she was woozy and still hunched over as she clung to the top and middle ropes, Kiriko was back on her feet. She brushed her hand across her upper lip and then pulled it away, only to see the blood on her fingers. "No! My perfect nose!" she whined.

In the meantime, Kodachi had discarded her ribbon and picked up a pair of clubs that remained in the ring from her last Club Cannon attack.

Kiriko, seeing that Kodachi was coming for her again, stumbled back into her corner and threw up a "T" sign with her hands. "Timeout! Timeout!" she called for a break in the action, despite the fact that timeouts weren't allowed during matches.

"Oooooohohohoo! How foolish," Kodachi laughed at her cowering opponent. She was ready to move in, but then, out of nowhere, the same red club that Kiriko had used earlier came up from behind and whizzed past her ear. "Wh-...what?" she staggered back, feeling the effects of the sharp noise again. "When did she...?"

Kiriko's lips curved into a sinister grin as the club slid back into her hand. It, too, had a yo-yo-like quality built into it. The call for a timeout was merely a ploy to retrieve the club from where she had dropped it on the other side of the ring. "Sucker!" she shot back at Kodachi. "Yuki, now!"

"No! Kodachi, look out!" Ringo called out to the gymnast, watching as Yuki tossed a ball up to Kiriko.

Hitting a switch on the ball, Kiriko heaved it at Kodachi and then ducked for cover in her corner. Kodachi's equilibrium was so out of whack that she had no chance of defending herself. As soon as the ball hit her chest, it exploded into a hundred miniature clubs that shot out violently in all directions. Nearly half of them struck Kodachi, who fell to her stomach, writhing in pain.

"Aww, hell. Those things hurt," Sakura cringed, having felt the impact of that particular tool before.

"Look that way," Shampoo nodded her head. She had no sympathy for her old rival, but it did look like the last attack stung pretty good.

Kiriko dropped her club again and took a new ribbon from Yuki. Looking incredibly pleased with her handiwork, she slowly approached Kodachi, smiling as she watched her struggle to get up. "You'll have to do better than that to beat me, you trash," she insulted the other girl. Twirling her ribbon, Kiriko whipped it forward and wrapped it around Kodachi's neck from behind. "I know! Why don't we try that again, only this time we'll do it in my corner!"

Kolhotz High's renowned gymnast began dragging Kodachi across the ring by her throat, presumably to put her in the same Queen's Contempt submission hold that had failed to end the match earlier.

Seeing what was about to happen, Ringo knew she had to help out somehow, else the match could well be over. She began digging through one of the tool bags and grabbed the first thing that came to mind: a white-colored ball that was part of a particular combo move that she and Kodachi had planned. "Kodachi, here!"

Kodachi was about halfway across the ring when she saw the ball flying in. She knew right away what Ringo had in mind, and she didn't consider it a bad idea at all. There was a black bullseye on one side of the ball; that was where she would need to hit it for this to work.

Kiriko was using both hands to pull Kodachi along with her ribbon. She wasn't much worried about a counter-attack from Kodachi given their current positions, but that would turn out to be a mistake. Kodachi kicked the ball right on the mark and right up into Kiriko's face, where it burst and completely doused the diva's head and shoulders in its contents: a gallon of maple syrup.

"What the...?" Ranma batted his eyes at the strange result of the attack.

Shocked and aghast, Kiriko dropped her ribbon and stood frozen with syrup dripping down her leotard as laughter rained down from the Joudai High students. The humiliation wasn't over, though. By the time Kodachi had loosened the ribbon from her windpipe, another ball was heading in from her corner. Back in an upright position this time, she again kicked it right on its bullseye. With syrup clouding her vision, Kiriko took the next ball right above her chest. This one exploded into a mess of white feathers that stuck themselves to the syrup, making Kiriko look like a giant chicken.

"Syrup and feathers? How juvenile," Mikado grumbled with disgust as his fellow students put their displeasure on display, as well.

Hearing Sakura howling with laughter in the front row, Kiriko wiped the syrup and feathers away from her eyes and glared at Kodachi in disbelief. "Are you KIDDING ME?" she shrieked. "Look at me! LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID!"

Kiriko quickly became very alarmed, however, as she saw another ball land in Kodachi's grasp. "Did you think that was all?" Kodachi teased her, lobbing the third ball her way.

Letting out a frightened scream, Kiriko dropped down to the mat in a hurry, watching as the ball sailed over her head and landed harmlessly on the other side of the ring. She wondered what outrageous thing it might do, but as it turned out, it did absolutely nothing. The ball simply rolled to a stop and sat there. "Hah! That one was a dud!" Kiriko stood back up, taking some enjoyment out of the seemingly failed attack. As she turned back toward Kodachi, though, that enjoyment vanished in an instant.

"Was it?" Kodachi smirked, tossing yet another ball at her.

Kiriko gasped in pain the moment the ball struck her chest, and for good reason. The ball popped, showering her with thousands of prickly stickers that were covered in cactus-like needles. Many of them embedded themselves into the front of her leotard on impact and pierced right through to her skin. Others snagged onto her arms and hands, while a healthy amount of them fell and stuck into the canvas around her feet.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Kiriko screamed. She could hardly catch her breath from the pain of the stickers all over her. "What...what the HELL are these things?"

Kodachi, who had acquired a strand of rope from Ringo, wrapped her new tool around Kiriko's legs. "Grass burrs. Quite painful, are they not?" she answered her ailing opponent. Then, with a strong tug, she used the rope to pull Kiriko's feet out from under her. Kiriko fell flat on her back, and, unfortunately for her, right on top of all of the excess burrs that were on the ring mat.

"Ohhhh! Ohhh!" Kiriko jolted to a seated position, crying out in agony as hundreds of burrs dug into her back and arms. "Ohhhh, you BITCH! Oh my god, I HATE you! I HATE YOU!"

Kiriko's arms and hands were trembling as she worked her way back up to her knees, trying as hard as she could to avoid getting any more of the burrs attached to her. Now covered in maple syrup, feathers, and the prickly stickers, she was a complete mess—a mess that was being dominated by Kodachi at the moment.

"Oh, man, that's gotta hurt like hell," Ranma shivered just imagining what Kiriko felt like right now. "Those things hurt even more when ya try to take them out, too."

"Ringo, time to bring out the big one," Kodachi instructed her second, who unzipped one of the tool bags that was previously unopened. "Now, Kiriko, I am going to bestow upon you a certain embarrassment that I experienced during my previous match. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did."

Outside the ring, Ringo barely managed to squeeze the requested tool out of the duffel bag. Then, gripping it with both hands, she heaved it over the top rope and into the waiting grip of Kodachi. It was a trash can—heavy, aluminum, big.

"Hey! Now we're talkin'!" Sakura cheered on the use of a tool that she was more familiar with than anyone.

Kiriko had her back turned to Kodachi as she was finally able to stand up. Then, looking over her shoulder, she noticed the Black Rose coming down from the air—the open end of the trash can heading right toward her. In an act of desperation, Kiriko spun around, threw a kick into the air, and connected her foot with the rim of the can. The heavy piece of metal was jarred from Kodachi's grasp and flew into the crowd, right into the waiting arms of none other than Shampoo.

With one threat taken care of, the diva of Kolhotz High took off for her corner to get something to defend herself with. "Yuki! Clubs! Clubs!" she called for some tools.

"Oh, I do not think so," Kodachi shook her head. Taking the rope she still held, she again wrapped it around Kiriko's legs.

Just as Kiriko was about to grab the clubs that her second had tossed, Kodachi pulled on the rope and Kiriko fell to the ring mat face-first. The grass burrs, already digging into her chest, sunk in even deeper. Kiriko let out another yowl of pain, slamming her hand against the canvas several times as she tried to cope with it.

Now that Kiriko had been momentarily incapacitated again, Kodachi looked around the ring for her trash can...which was nowhere to be seen. Still intent on putting it to use, she scoured the ringside area for the unorthodox tool. It wasn't long before she noticed it sitting in the lap of the Amazon girl in the front row.

There was an awkward stare shared between Shampoo and Kodachi. It wasn't as if Shampoo was there cheering for Kiriko, but she wasn't exactly cheering for Kodachi, either, which led the Black Rose to question whether her old rival for Ranma's heart would be willing to relinquish the trash can. That question, though, would be quickly answered.

"Aiyaa, what this doing here?" Shampoo turned her head away, acting oblivious as to where the trash can came from as she raised it over her head with one hand. "Shampoo no want this. Someone hurry and take."

Kodachi appeared baffled, raising an eyebrow at the lavender-haired girl. Was she actually trying to help her?

"Kodachi!" Ringo called out to her partner, tossing a new ribbon into the ring.

Grabbing the fresh tool out of the air, Kodachi unwound it and looked back to Shampoo. The trash can was still being hoisted up for the taking. Deciding not to pass up the gift, Kodachi flung her ribbon out into the bleachers, wrapped it around the trash can, and swept it off of Shampoo's hand. Letting go of the ribbon, she then caught the can with both hands and turned around, setting her sights on the slowly recovering Kiriko once more.

Outside the ring, Ranma nudged Shampoo with his elbow. "Well look at you gettin' into it, Miss I-Don't-Wanna-Cheer-For-Kodachi," he joked with her.

Shampoo drove the point of her elbow into Ranma's side in response, causing him to keel over in pain. "Shampoo no know what you talking," she feigned ignorance, not willing to admit she'd just helped out the other girl.

"Oww. My...mistake..." Ranma groaned.

Kiriko, still in a world of hurt from the burrs, used the ropes to pull her back to one foot.

Kodachi initially wanted to dump the trash can over the other girl's head, but now she was starting to think otherwise. Looking back and forth between her tool and her target, she finally just shrugged her shoulders. "On second thought..." she said under her breath.

As Kiriko finally got back to both feet, Kodachi took the trash can and simply chucked it at her. The base of the can slammed into Kiriko's face, the sound of which resonated throughout the gym and made fans from both schools wince. Kiriko fell back and hit the mat hard, her eyes taking on a far away look that signaled just how out of it she was.

"Yes!" Ringo celebrated the hit from the visitor's corner.

"Count!" Kodachi commanded the official.

"One...two...!"

Somehow, even at the count of two, Kiriko was already stirring. She reached for the ropes, loosely grabbing the bottom one with one hand.

"...three...four...!"

Kiriko kept on going, pulling herself up to the middle rope, but then collapsed onto it.

"Kiriko, you can do it! Go, go, Kiriko!" Azusa rooted her on.

"...five...six...seven...!"

Using a quick burst of energy, Kiriko bounced off of the rope and grabbed the top one, trying desperately to beat the ten count and keep the match going.

"...eight...nine...!"

At the count of nine, the referee stopped. Kiriko was wobbly and still not entirely all there, but, with the help of the ropes, she was back up yet again.

"No! She was so close!" Ringo exclaimed, disappointed.

"How persistent..." Kodachi muttered. "Ringo! Hoops!"

The Cat Cafe's waitress tossed a pair of the requested hoops into the ring. The Black Rose caught one in each hand, then began twirling them around her forearms.

Kiriko, on the other hand, staggered away from the ropes without any tools in her possession. Her entire upper body slumping forward, she turned toward Kodachi. She didn't call for anything from Yuki, nor did she look like she was in any position to attack. Instead, starting to exhibit some peculiar behavior, she merely began to sway her body from left to right.

"And what is this supposed to be?" Kodachi scoffed at her. "If that is all you wish to do, I will not argue. You just stand right there!"

Kodachi whirled the hoop off of her right arm and straight toward the other gymnast's already battered face. Now Kiriko raised her head, and Kodachi didn't know what it was, but there was a different look about her. Her actions suggested a change, as well. Though her condition was unenviable and the hoop was nearing at a high speed, Kiriko managed to sidestep the attack while maintaining complete composure.

The hoop soared past Kiriko and deflected off the top rope and into the entrance aisle. Afterward, Kiriko moved right back to where she stood before and continued swaying her body back and forth as if nothing had happened.

Outside the ring, a confident smirk crossed the face of Mikado Sanzenin. "It looks as if this match is about to end," he predicted. Azusa and the rest of the Kolhotz students could see what was happening, too.

Annoyed, Kodachi hurled her second hoop at the girl. Kiriko, however, did the exact same thing, stepping to the opposite side this time. The hoop missed, and Kiriko stepped right back into place again. Then her posture abruptly changed. She stood upright, and the constant swaying of her body became more pronounced. Her arms began pumping, and there was even some kick in her legs. Kiriko looked surprisingly energetic again considering how poorly she'd been faring throughout most of the match. In fact, with the way she was moving, it was almost as if she were dancing.

"What that one doing? She look silly," Shampoo inquired about Kiriko's actions.

"Yeah, I don't really get the point. She's a sittin' duck without any tools, ain't she?" Ranma concurred.

Sakura, though, looked far more concerned about the unfolding situation. "No...it's not like that at all," she told them, standing up. "'Dachi! You gotta stop her before she gets her rhythm!"

"Rhythm?" Kodachi wondered aloud, hearing Sakura's warning. "Ringo! Ribbon!" The redhead tossed in a purple ribbon, which Kodachi unwrapped in a hurry and held out in front of her as she watched Kiriko's strange movements. "I do not know what she speaks of, but if you are going to wobble around like that, I shall just have to bind you."

Kodachi was ready to flick her ribbon out toward the other girl, but then something caught her eye. Hoops—a lot of them—were being tossed up into the ring by Yuki. One-by-one, Kiriko—still bobbing her body around—caught the hoops, then tossed them back up into the air. Even as the number grew, Kiriko was catching the ones that came down, tossing them up again, and repeating the process. By the time Yuki was done, Kiriko was juggling a total of 20 hoops.

"Crap! It's too late," Sakura looked on, worried.

"What? Is this some kinda attack?" Ranma asked her.

"It's not just an attack. It's Kiriko's ultimate attack: Rhythm Dance," Sakura had the displeasure of informing him. "When she gets in a pinch, she starts listening to a beat in her head and uses that to dictate her moves. Instead of thinking about what to do next, she just feels it out and does it."

"Rhythm Dance?" the pigtailed boy turned his attention back to the ring.

Erring on the side of caution, Kodachi took a wait-and-see approach to this bizarre spectacle. Up until now, she'd had Kiriko reeling from a swath of attacks, so not trying to finish the girl off just yet was a difficult choice to stick to. Kodachi didn't know what to make of all of these hoops, though. If she attacked right now, she might be setting herself up for some kind of trap. Kiriko was annoying and mouthy, but she was also clever and conniving, and being reckless against such an opponent could wind of being the end of Kodachi's tournament run.

Finally, the juggling looked to be coming to an end. Kiriko allowed all of the hoops to fall into her waiting grasp, holding ten in each hand once they'd all come down.

Kodachi watched carefully as Kiriko continued to dance back and forth. What was she planning? What was the point of all of this?

On her seventh bob after the juggling stopped—a movement to her left—Kiriko weakly lobbed one of the hoops at Kodachi. And then, on the eighth bob—a movement to her right—her real dance began. While Kodachi batted away the single hoop tossed her way, Kiriko tossed nine others high up into the air at full force. Then, with five left in each hand, she sent ten hoops—all of the yo-yo variety—soaring straight at the Black Rose.

With the hoops coming in low, Kodachi took to the air to avoid them. The hoops followed, though, as they turned upward and began approaching from below. And, as Kodachi quickly noticed, the hoops that Kiriko had thrown up into the air beforehand were now spinning down toward her. Using her ribbon, Kodachi whipped away the falling hoops that were close enough to disrupt her actions. Now the hoops from below were closing in fast. In fact, they had gotten too close to do anything about with her ribbon. It was time for an evasive maneuver. Showing some impressive athleticism, Kodachi twisted her body just barely over the hoops, almost as a pole vaulter would. The hoops skimmed the back of her leotard, but she had avoided the brunt of the attack.

As Kodachi spun around to get Kiriko back in her line of sight, however, she found something unpleasant awaiting her. At some point, Kiriko had knocked a ball up at her, and it was now just a few feet away from her chest.

The alarm showing in her expression, Kodachi crossed her arms in front of herself just before the ball exploded. Much like earlier in the match, a hundred miniature clubs flew out in all directions, striking Kodachi all over the front of her body. Cringing, the Black Rose fell back down to the ring and took a knee, her body rattled by the numerous hits.

There would be no time to rest for Kodachi, though. Kiriko, maintaining a constant offense, had her yo-yo hoops closing in on Kodachi again—five from the right, and five from the left. Kodachi needed to get out of there, but she was going to take the opportunity to arm herself with another tool while she was at it. She quickly grabbed a club that was sitting by her hand, then jumped back into the ropes, far enough back that the hoops converged just in front of her rather than on her.

Kodachi knew that if she was going to stop Kiriko, she needed to go on the attack herself, and that was just what she did. Using the bounce off the ropes for momentum, she sprung forward toward the Kolhotz High representative. Kiriko, seeing her coming, lobbed another hoop of the non-yo-yo variety at her. Kodachi again swatted it away with her ribbon, but this time there was another surprise waiting for her. Kiriko, too, had dashed forward for an exchange. The distance between them closed fast, and Kodachi, surprised by the move, reacted by swinging her club out toward Kiriko's chin.

Kiriko proved to be elusive, though. Kodachi had barely put her club in forward motion when Kiriko jumped to the side and landed all the way up on the top rope. It was a perplexing move, and one that afforded Kodachi an opportunity. If she could just snag Kiriko's feet with her ribbon, the brazen diva would almost certainly fall out of the ring. With that as her aim, Kodachi readied to fling her ribbon at Kiriko's ankles, but one of the girl's yo-yo hoops was coming at her as well.

"How irritating!" Kodachi fumed, forced to use her ribbon to swat the incoming hoop away.

Continuing her unusual behavior, Kiriko now began running along the top rope, turning at every corner of the ring as she came upon one of the posts. She was constantly whipping her yo-yo hoops at Kodachi to keep her occupied, and more trouble was coming from her second as Yuki hurled more normal hoops up to her. Catching the hoops as they arrived, Kiriko did like before, tossing them into the air so that they would fall toward where Kodachi stood.

It was a prime spot for Kodachi to attack, but with hoops coming from both above and from the side, she was just too busy defending herself to mount an offense. As the last of the hoops fell from above, Kiriko finally dismounted from the top rope and landed back in the ring, but her attack persisted. After Kodachi swatted away that last hoop, one of the yo-yo hoops immediately followed from the side. Then another. And another. With each one, Kodachi had more difficulty catching up to it. Then, when a fourth one came in, the Black Rose was overwhelmed. It struck her directly in the cheek, snapping her head back. Reeling from the blow, Kodachi was unable to protect herself as yet another of the yo-yo hoops swirled in and collided with her collarbone, knocking her back again.

Kiriko was armed and ready to make full use of the situation. Rather than just using one, five hoops now came at Kodachi all at once, and she couldn't do anything but throw her arms up to shield herself. The hoops struck cleanly, and their combined force knocked Kodachi right off of her feet and directly toward a very dangerous spot. Unable to stop herself, Kodachi looked to be on a path out of the ring as she flew right between the top and middle ropes.

The Sakura Army, along with Sakura herself, gasped at the sight. Kodachi wasn't so out of it that she would allow herself to fall, though. She had the presence of mind to grab hold of the middle rope on her way over and swing herself underneath it, re-entering the ring between the middle and bottom ropes. The Joudai High crowd breathed a sigh of relief, but one that came far too early. When Kodachi rolled back into the ring and raised her head, there was another ball right next to her face. This time, she couldn't do anything at all. It detonated, pummeling her head and the rest of her body with the impactful mini clubs.

The force of the attack knocked the stunned Black Rose right back to her feet. Kiriko had all ten of her yo-yo hoops together now, and they were all flying straight down at her opponent.

"Kodachi, move!" Ringo cried from her corner.

There was no reaction from Kodachi, though. The ten hoops slammed down into the back of her head, viciously driving her face-first down into the ring mat. Her body went limp, sprawled out on the canvas and unmoving. Kiriko had brought her down at last, and she'd done so with authority.

"Ohh, man. That ain't good," Ranma said, folding his arms.

Sakura could only shake her head from the front row. "Kiriko makes mistakes because she's not thinking, but the second ya try to make a move, you're about to get hit with somethin' else," she said, knowing well what Kodachi was going through. "That's why there's only one person that's ever been able to shut down her Rhythm Dance."

"Who that?" Shampoo glanced over at her.

"The Champion, Priscilla," Sakura answered. "She's so damn technically gifted that she can pick up on Kiriko's rhythm and make her pay for her mistakes while not getting overwhelmed by all of that offense. That's why Kiriko can't beat Priscilla, and that's why 'Dachi needs to win this. But, at this rate...damn!"

Inside the ring, Kodachi still hadn't moved. Kiriko could have had the referee start her ten count at this point and tried to win the match that way, but, in her Rhythm Dance state, the thought never crossed her mind. Instead, she took her yo-yo hoops and, using five at a time, whipped them repeatedly into Kodachi's prone body.

"No! Stop! She's down!" Ringo pleaded with Kiriko. Her plea fell on deaf ears, though, as Kiriko kept on attacking without even flinching. Ringo knew Kodachi's feelings on quitting; she'd been very clear about it after her match with Sakura. Still, this was getting out of hand. Kodachi was being pummeled, and she looked like she might be out cold. Where was the right point to draw the line? How long could Ringo sit there and watch the assault until she jumped in the ring to stop it herself?

"Ugh! Ahh!"

Finally, some pained cries were coming from the mouth of Kodachi. She was conscious. Laid out and being battered, but conscious.

"Kodachi, please, get up! You have to get up!" Ringo shouted to her.

As another stack of hoops smashed into her shoulder, a groggy Kodachi heard the words of her second and raised her head. She planted one hand against the mat. Then the other. Struck in her lower back by another blow, she grit her teeth and pushed herself up off the canvas. When the hoops came back again, they came from the front and targeted her head. Kodachi raised her arm in front of her face to protect herself, and the hoops hit it hard. The impact knocked Kodachi's forearm back into her body and pushed her back to her feet in a crouching position. She had dropped her club somewhere along the way, but somehow she had never let go of her ribbon.

Kodachi willed herself back up, and Kiriko switched back to her previous pattern of having the yo-yo hoops attack one at a time. Once again, Kodachi, still reeling from the latest string of attacks, whipped her ribbon to and fro, having to stay on defense because of the volume of attacks. In this case, it may have been a good thing, though. She needed some time to recuperate, and to think of a way to stop Kiriko, as well. This would allow her just that.

"She just does not stop attacking with these accursed hoops!" Kodachi thought to herself, frustrated. "If I try to counter-attack, I will end up the same as before. How, then? How can I stop this harpy?"

Kiriko's barrage of hoops persisted, but so did Kodachi's defense for the moment. It was obvious to anyone watching, however, that Kodachi was the one tiring more quickly. If things kept up like this, she would be the first to falter.

Kodachi wouldn't allow that to happen. She couldn't allow that to happen. It took her a minute to formulate something, but now, she had a plan. "Ringo! Hoop!" she yelled.

Ringo wasn't sure what good a single hoop was going to do in this situation, but she wasn't going to argue. As was requested of her, she took a hoop and heaved it into the ring at an angle where it wouldn't be knocked away by those belonging to Kiriko.

The moment Kodachi grabbed the hoop, she stopped using her ribbon and tried to go on the attack. She reached back to throw the tool, but one of Kiriko's hoops whacked her in the cheek just as she was letting go. The hoop, sent astray, ended up not going for Kiriko, but instead spun along the edge of the ring, ripping up the canvas until it hit the rope and came to a stop.

"Hahaha! So pointless! You're going to lose!" Azusa poked fun at Kodachi from Kiriko's cheering section.

Kodachi was unfazed by the result, however, as she resumed using her ribbon to defend herself. "Ringo, again!"

Once more, Ringo tossed her partner a hoop. Kodachi caught it, then pushed forward, keeping her ribbon going to block the yo-yo hoops as she charged forth toward Kiriko. She got to what she felt was a close enough distance, then let her ribbon fall to use the hoop. But, the instant Kodachi's ribbon ceased to defend, Kiriko jumped up and over to the other side of the ring, and she whacked Kodachi in the chest and arm with another of her hoops on her way over there. Kodachi was knocked back, and her hoop again rolled along the mat, tearing up a path along the adjacent side of the ring this time.

"What the heck's she tryin' to do?" Ranma questioned Kodachi's tactics.

"Shampoo no sure, but it no is working," Shampoo said.

"Ringo, another!" Kodachi commanded as Kiriko's yo-yo hoops did battle with her ribbon again.

Why Kodachi was so insistent on this strategy that didn't seem to be effective was beyond Ringo, but she had to have some kind of idea, otherwise she wouldn't be doing it. Kodachi was on the other side of the ring now, so Ringo had to throw at a different angle to get the hoop to her. Thankfully, that change didn't become a problem, as she managed to nail the throw.

Kodachi caught the hoop again. Her third try was more like her first try, dropping her defense immediately in an attempt to throw the tool. It ended the same as the first try, too, with her eating a hoop to her face while her own hoop rolled along and tore up the canvas on a third side of the ring. And this time, the hoop shot got her good.

Staggered, Kodachi fell back against the ropes, and the ribbon fell from her hand. She was defenseless. Kiriko saw this, and her attack changed. Instead of sending her yo-yo hoops one at a time, she gathered them and threw all ten at once. It was a finishing blow designed to knock Kodachi out, or, at the very least, knock her through the ropes and out of the ring. Either way, it would be Kiriko's win.

The hoops zeroed in on their target, and the aim was perfect. There was one small issue, though: Kodachi was playing possum. Without a second to spare, the Black Rose ducked down, allowing the hoops to soar over her and the top rope. It was time to put her plan into action. Kneeling down by the mat, Kodachi grabbed hold of the edge of the canvas that her hoops had ripped up. "Let us see you deal with this!" Kodachi challenged her opponent.

As the yo-yo hoops curled upward and were coming back to Kiriko, Kodachi flung the ring's canvas and the padding beneath—all of which had been cut free on three sides of the ring—high into the air, and, more importantly, toward Kiriko, who was standing next to the one edge that hadn't been cut.

Kiriko's vision was obstructed, but she wasn't going to let it stay that way for long. As her hoops came back, they sliced right through the top edge of the material falling toward her. Unfortunately for Kiriko, the cuts had little impact. The canvas and padding was so massive and so heavy that the ten cuts couldn't stop it.

At the moment she'd tossed the canvas into the air, Kodachi had rolled forward along the now-exposed wood that supported the mat to grab a useful tool still left at her disposal: her trash can, which had been sitting along the far edge of the ring, escaping the zone where the fabric had been cut. Then, as the canvas fell and covered her opponent, Kodachi rose up and heaved the heavy chunk of metal at the bump in the padding that gave away Kiriko's position.

With a loud thunk, the trash can made contact. The bump in the padding collapsed downward, and the canvas folded up with Kiriko buried beneath it.

Kodachi had done it. She had stopped the Rhythm Dance.

"Yes!" Ringo threw her arms into the air in celebration.

"No way! She freaking did it!" Sakura jumped up with excitement, as did her fellow Joudai students.

Tatewaki Kuno joined the gymnast next to him in celebration. "Magnificently done, Sister!"

"Heh, how 'bout that?" Ranma chuckled.

"Guess that one know what she doing after all," Shampoo added with a shrug.

On the opposite side of the crowd, Mikado couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Impossible..." he uttered.

Azusa and the rest of Kiriko's fans were speechless. None of them had ever expected to see the Rhythm Dance broken by anyone other than Priscilla Winters, and yet the tournament's 11th Seed had just pulled off the feat.

Kodachi, her legs wobbly, fell back against the ropes and let them support her weight. Though she had put a stop to Kiriko's Rhythm Dance, she had taken a real beating from it. She could feel the stinging pain from all of the hits she'd taken to her back, arms, and head, and her left cheek was already swelling up from the couple of times it had just been hit while she was trying to slice up the canvas. She was sore, but she was standing, and that was more than could be said for her opponent.

Down beneath the shredded folds of canvas, something was starting to move, and Kodachi locked her sights onto it. Kiriko, it appeared, was trying to get up. Kodachi wasn't going to let her off so easy after what she'd just been through, though. Not a chance. Dragging herself away from the ropes, Kodachi bent down and picked up her trash can, now with a fresh dent in its side. She then set a malicious glare on the covered body at her feet. She was going to enjoy this. Oh, yes, she was going to enjoy it to the fullest. Raising the hunk of metal above her head, she brought it down and slammed it into Kiriko with all her might, and the bump in the canvas flattened out as Kiriko's body was forcefully knocked back down.

Kodachi wasn't done. She sprung back to her feet, raised the trash can up, and slammed it down again. Then again...and again...and again. Kodachi was relentless, and the crowd reacted with every vicious blow—the Kolhotz students wincing, and the Joudai students cheering. When the number of shots hit six, Sakura's army began to count them out loud.

"Six...seven...eight...nine...ten...!"

Every single shot was accompanied by a grunt from Kodachi as she put everything she had into wailing on Kiriko, and they just kept on coming.

"...15...16...17...18...19...20...21...22...!"

"K-...Kodachi..." Ringo's mouth hung open. She was absolutely stunned at the ferocity of her partner's assault.

In the other corner, Yuki was shocked at the way things had turned around. First the Rhythm Dance was broken, and now this. She couldn't do anything to help, either, except try to rouse Kiriko with her voice. "Kiriko! Get out of there and fight back, or you'll lose!" she shouted as Kodachi continued to wail away. "You want Priscilla's title, right? Then get up! You have to get up!"

"...28...29...30...31...32...33...34...35...36...!"

Kodachi was starting to breathe very heavily through her mouth. As much damage as she was inflicting on Kiriko, her own stamina was being worn down in the process. She knew it, too, but she wasn't going to stop. Not yet.

"...37...38...39...40...!"

After the 40th blow, Kodachi dropped to her knees. She was out of breath.

"Wow, Kodachi..." Ranma looked on, partially impressed and partially wondering if he should be disturbed by what he was watching.

"Shampoo tell you that girl crazy," his girlfriend added.

With encouragement to keep going pouring in from the Sakura Army, Kodachi mustered up her strength and stood back up. She raised the hunk of metal that used to resemble a trash can over her head, and she brought it down again. Hard.

"...41...!"

The hits were slower, but the Black Rose kept on delivering them.

"...42...43...44...45...!"

Tatewaki Kuno was feeling much the same way as Ranma for once. He was happy to see his sister doing well, but this was a bit...excessive. "Kodachi...I say, she is like a woman possessed."

"Ohhh yeah, she's beatin' the hell out of her! Go, 'Dachi, go!" Sakura excitedly urged her fellow gymnast on.

"...46...47...48...!"

Her chest heaving in and out as she breathed, Kodachi's tired arms raised the trash can up and clobbered Kiriko with it yet again.

"...49...!"

Kodachi's arms hung limp now. She was so tired that she couldn't even lift the can up again. Her supporters, however, weren't having any of it. All of them on their feet, they chanted for Kodachi to land just one more shot.

"One more time! One more time! One more time! One more time...!"

Raising her head, Kodachi looked around at the ecstatic Sakura Army. She was winded and could barely feel her arms right now, but if these people rooting her on wanted one more, she was going to give them one more. With a determined cry, she willed her weary limbs to raise the can above her. Then, as forcefully as she'd delivered the other 49 hits, she blasted the unmoving lump in the canvas that was Kiriko's body.

"...50!"

Fifty. Kodachi had hit Kiriko fifty times with her trash can. Sakura and her followers, impressed as all hell, gave the gymnast a rousing standing ovation. Sakura had gained a reputation as being one of the most brutal competitors in the Extreme Gymnastics Federation, but even she had never unloaded on someone with a trash can fifty times.

Kodachi, soaking in the reaction of the fans, looked down at her mangled trash can. It was practically flattened. Done with the receptacle for the time being, she tossed it over the top rope, where it landed near Ringo's feet. Kodachi had done a wealth of damage, but was it enough? That was the question. Exhausted, she stumbled back to her corner, wrapped her arms over the top rope on either side of her, and fell into a seated position on the middle turnbuckle. Then, dangling her pointer finger outward, she gestured to the referee to do her duty. "Count!"

The referee got into the best position to watch Kiriko, and the count began. "One...!"

There was no movement from Kiriko.

"...two...three...!"

Still nothing.

"...four...!"

Finally, from beneath the pile of fabric and padding, a single, shaking hand emerged and fell onto the bottom rope right next to her corner.

"No way..." Ringo mouthed in disbelief.

Kodachi only frowned as she picked up on the movement. Evidently, what she'd done wasn't enough to knock Kiriko completely out.

"...five...!"

"Kiriko, hurry! Get up!" Yuki yelled, slamming the ring apron with her palms.

Just how much awareness Kiriko had at this point was unknown, but she was at least alert enough to grab the rope that her free hand had draped itself over.

"...six...!"

Now Kiriko's other hand slid out from under the canvas, and then her head. Her face still plastered with syrup and feathers, she reached out with her free hand and grabbed the middle rope on the other side of her corner.

"...seven...!"

"Stay down, you vile harlot. Stay down," Kodachi quietly pleaded. She'd done enough. Her body was ready for this match to be over.

"...eight...!"

Kiriko wasn't going down quietly. Gritting her teeth, she pulled the rest of her body out from under the torn up mat and struggled back to her knees.

"Kiriko, hurry up!" Yuki bellowed into her partner's ear again.

"...nine...!"

One foot. Kiriko had gotten one foot under herself. The suspense was driving the onlooking students crazy. Would she do it, or had Kodachi won?

"...te-...!"

The count stopped. Half of the gymnasium erupted in cheer, while the other half groaned in dismay. Kiriko couldn't even stand, but somehow, some way, she had gotten both feet under her. The match was still on.

"Damn!" Sakura fumed on the outside.

"That girl tough," Shampoo allowed.

Kodachi threw her hands over her face. She couldn't believe it. After all of that, Kiriko was still able to get up.

"Yay, Kiriko! Yay! Yay!" Azusa bounced around on the Kolhotz side of the bleachers.

"Why are you cheering? She's still at a disadvantage," Mikado chided her, an act that made his skating partner stick her tongue out at him in response.

Right after she'd beaten the count, Kiriko collapsed forward into her corner with her chin resting on the middle turnbuckle and her arms dangling lifelessly. The showing of her current state only further perplexed everyone watching as to how she'd made it back to her feet, even if only for a second.

"Ringo," Kodachi spoke to her second, trying to get her head back in the game, "...give me a rope...and a club."

Ringo hurried to fetch the tools and hand them off to her partner. "Kodachi, she's so weak that she can't even stand up! You can do this!" she encouraged her.

Kodachi could see it, too. After all the blows Kiriko had taken in this match, and with the painful sticker burrs still jammed through her leotard and into her back and chest, she was easily in the worse condition of the two. Thus, finishing her off, Kodachi figured, shouldn't take much.

Outside the ring, Ranma didn't have a great view of it from where he was sitting, but, if his eyes weren't deceiving him, Yuki appeared to feed something to Kiriko while he was watching them. He didn't know what it might be or if it even mattered at all, but it certainly stood out as being suspicious.

"So...irritating..." Kodachi muttered, staggering over to her opponent's corner. "Let us end this, Kiriko!"

Once she made it to the corner, Kodachi wrapped her rope around Kiriko's neck and began pulling her limp body upward. Then, out of nowhere, that limp body sprang to life. Kiriko got her footing, spun her head around, and sprayed a cloud of green mist from her mouth right into Kodachi's eyes and face.

"Aaaaagh!" Kodachi screamed, dropping her tools as she fell back to the wood where the canvas used to sit. Her eyes burning, she desperately wiped at them with the sleeve of her leotard, but it wasn't of any help. She couldn't see a thing.

"Kodachi!" Ringo cried.

"Oh, that is cheap!" Sakura growled, angered by the underhanded tactic.

The crowd was stunned as the momentum shifted yet again. Kiriko had looked like she was on the verge of defeat, but clearly that wasn't the case. She was definitely showing the effects of the beatdown Kodachi had given her, though. Her lips stained green by the mist, Kiriko's legs gave out on her and she fell to her knees, using the middle rope to balance herself. Finally with a break in the action, she used her hands and sleeves to clean as much of the syrup and feathers away from her face as she could.

Kiriko finished up with her self-maintenance quickly, then turned and sneered down at her writhing opponent. "Kodachi...when are you going to learn your place? Huh?" she snarled at the Black Rose of St. Hebereke. As she pulled herself back to her feet, Kiriko's face contorted with pain from the feeling in her back and neck, which had taken the brunt of the trash can assault. "I'll teach you. I'll teach you, Kodachi," she declared, flashing a frightening look over at her second. "Yuki...give me the chain."

As per the request, Yuki dug through one of the tool bags for the item in question, and then tossed it up into the waiting hands of her gymnast. It really was just a simple chain. Three feet long. Thick, metal links. Menacing. Dangerous.

"Kodachi, she has a chain! Open your eyes!" Ringo warned her, sensing the present threat level the girl was facing.

Kodachi's eyes felt like they were on fire from whatever was in that mist. She was aware now that Kiriko was armed with a chain, but she couldn't see which direction the other gymnast was coming from.

Kiriko, still moving very slowly due to her own condition, folded the chain in half. Then, reaching back, she mercilessly whipped it into Kodachi's ribs. Kodachi fell to her stomach, holding the affected area and screaming in agony from the hit. "You're nothing! Didn't I tell you? You're nothing!" Kiriko yelled at the fallen gymnast. She whipped Kodachi again, this time in her left arm. Kodachi rolled around on the wood, screaming from the rush of pain yet again.

"Sister!" Tatewaki Kuno bellowed with concern from the front row.

Even Ranma was getting squeamish watching this. "Man, that is brutal," he winced.

Kiriko wasn't satisfied yet. As Kodachi tried to crawl away, the Kolhotz High representative whipped the chain into her side, striking the already wounded ribs again. Then came another shot to the left arm, and yet another.

Ringo was in tears watching the horrible scene unfold. "Kodachi!"

Stalking her prey now, Kiriko gingerly walked over to her trembling opponent and looked down upon her with disdain. "Do you still think you belong here? Do you?" she taunted Kodachi again. Now she had a good idea. "I've got it. I know just the way I'll finish you off..."

Kiriko wrapped her chain around Kodachi's neck once, tightened it, and then dragged her by the throat over to the ropes that faced Sakura and all of the other outsiders that came to cheer for Kodachi. Once there, she draped Kodachi's neck over the middle rope, wrapped the chain around both Kodachi and the rope twice, and yanked back on the ends so that the rope was cutting off Kodachi's air. "I'll choke you out right in front of all of these loudmouth idiots! Hahahahaaah!" Kiriko laughed maniacally.

Ringo grabbed her hair as she looked on helplessly from behind. She knew Kodachi didn't have any tools. If this kept up, Kiriko was going to win easily. But what could she do? Kodachi wasn't even facing her to take a tool if she threw it in there. Was there even anything she could do in this situation?

Then Ringo spotted something. It was subtle, but she knew it had meaning. Kodachi had her good arm outstretched, and at the end of it, she was sticking out one finger. Then, underneath where Kiriko was kneeling, Kodachi banged her right foot against the wood twice.

"One...one means club. And the foot...she wants me to throw a club there?" Ringo realized. "I...I don't know what it can do, but I have to try!"

Kodachi couldn't breathe at all. Her left arm hurt so badly that she couldn't even use it to try to loosen the chain from around her neck, and the soreness in her ribs was only making things worse. Right now, Ringo was her last hope. She turned her head as best she could and tried her damnedest to open her eyes, even if only a sliver. And she did. Everything had a green hue to it, but there, back in her corner, she could see Ringo holding one club over her head.

"Kodachi!" Ringo got the gymnast's attention. Without saying anything more, she sent the club on a direct path to Kodachi's foot.

"Nighty night, Kodachi!" Kiriko glowered from behind the dark-haired gymnast.

The Black Rose was fading, but she wasn't giving up before she took her one last chance. She could only see the club coming part of the way, so she would have to estimate the timing based on that. Kodachi waited and waited for just the right moment, and then, she went for it. As the club's tip made contact with her right heel, she kicked upward with as much force as she could muster, and the base of the club was driven right up into its intended target: the very sensitive area between Kiriko's legs.

Kiriko gasped as the wave of pain hit her. Immediately letting go of the chain, she put her hands between her thighs and collapsed to her back, stomping the wood over and over again as she tried to ride out one of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world. The loosened chain, in turn, led to Kodachi's freedom as it unwound itself from the rope. Finally able to breathe again, Kodachi fell onto her side as her body began to recuperate.

"Yes! She did it! I can't believe it!" Ringo cheered Kodachi on. It was a low blow, the cheapest of cheap shots, but Ringo didn't so much mind the underhanded tactic this time around considering what Kiriko had done to force its necessity in the first place.

"Ohhhh, daaaaamn," Sakura cringed from the front row. She could almost feel that one herself.

Tatewaki Kuno batted his male eyes, confused as to what had happened. "I am...not sure I understand," he admitted. "Does that truly hurt?"

"Yes!" Shampoo, Sakura, and even Ranma—who'd taken his share of errant kicks from his father while training in his girl form—echoed in response.

"Hey, referee, that should be a foul!" Mikado complained. The official didn't agree. After all, a legal tool was used, regardless of where it hit.

Both gymnasts were down, and part of the referee's job included starting a ten count for both of them in such a situation. Thus, it began. "One...two...!"

The pain in Kiriko's groin was slowly receding, but she was still hurting all over, particularly from the grass burrs continuing to dig deeper into her back tissue.

For Kodachi, her lack of vision from the green mist was still a huge issue, and now her left arm and ribs were hurting badly from being whipped by Kiriko's chain. She was getting her breath back, but she would need to beat the ten count for it to matter.

"...three...four...!"

Kodachi and Kiriko both remained down. If neither could beat the ten count, they were looking at the possibility of the contest ending in a draw.

"...five...!"

Now, prying herself away from the wood, Kiriko was the first to sit up. Kodachi tried pushing herself up with both arms, but only one was working. Her left arm was so damaged that she couldn't put any weight on it.

"Kodachi, the ropes are straight ahead from you! Use them!" Ringo advised her blinded partner.

"...six...!"

Kiriko crawled over to the ropes, grabbing the chain she'd lost in the process, while Kodachi practically dragged herself over to the ropes on the adjacent side of the ring. Both of them made it at roughly the same moment, and then it became a battle to get back to their feet.

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

The girls put everything they had into getting up to a standing position. Kiriko used both hands to pull herself up with the help of the ropes, while Kodachi simply hung her right arm over the top rope and tried to muscle her body all the way up using that alone.

"...ni-...!"

Yet again, the count stopped. Kodachi and Kiriko, through sheer guts and determination, made it back to their feet at exactly the same time. Kiriko, holding onto the top rope, slid back into Kodachi's corner of the ring to help her stay upright. Kodachi followed the ropes, as well, staggering forward until she fell back against Kiriko's corner. Fans on both sides of the gymnasium roared for their respective gymnasts, stomping the bleachers and making all sorts of noise to root them on. For a match that almost didn't happen, this one was turning out to be a thriller.

"Kodachi, catch!" Ringo suddenly shouted.

As Kodachi opened her left eye just that little bit that she could manage, she spotted a water bottle coming at her from her corner. "Well done, Ringo!" she silently commended her second's thinking. Using what slight vision she had, she caught the bottle, unscrewed the top, tilted her head up and dumped the water into her eyes. It wouldn't completely get rid of the burning sensation, but it would go a long way in helping her see again.

In the other corner, Kiriko, still holding onto her chain, was seething in anger. Barely able to stand, she stumbled forth, away from the ropes. "You...pesky...piece...of garbage," she growled through her teeth at Kodachi, stopping once she had some room around her. "I've never...never used it twice. This time, though...I'll do it...because you need to know how big the gap between us really is!"

Kodachi tossed aside the empty water bottle and stared out toward her nemesis. Just as she had hoped, her vision had cleared up greatly. What she was able to see, however, wasn't what she wanted to see at all. Kiriko's arms had drooped and her body was starting to sway from side to side again. From the looks of things, Kiriko's words meant that she was going to put on an encore performance of her Rhythm Dance.

"Crap, she's doin' it again!" Sakura jumped up in a panic. "'Dachi, do somethin'!"

"If she gets going again, I shall not be able to stop her," Kodachi told herself, well aware of the danger that move presented in her current condition, "...but all is not lost. She does not realize what trump card I have set up for myself!"

Confident, but acting with urgency, Kodachi spun around and slapped the top turnbuckle three times with her good hand, then hopped up onto the ring post in Kiriko's corner.

"Three times...?" Ringo pondered the signal. "I get it! She's going to do THAT!"

Kiriko's swaying was picking up pace, and Kodachi was ready to go on the offensive. Crouching down to get some extra spring, the Black Rose jumped up into the air, high above the ring, where a ball that had just been tossed in by Ringo awaited her. Twisting her body around, Kodachi then slammed the ball downward with her foot, but cringed as the twisting aggravated the pain in her ribs. The ball missed Kiriko entirely, striking the wood near the north side of the ring, and Kodachi landed atop the ring post opposite from the one she'd jumped from.

"What that supposed to be?" Shampoo questioned Kodachi's choice of moves.

Not looking deterred at all by the miss, Kodachi did the same thing, jumping up into the air where another ball had been thrown. Again she kicked it downward, and again her agonized ribs disagreed with her actions. The ball went nowhere near Kiriko, slamming down into the wood on the south side of the ring this time as Kodachi landed back atop the ring post that she'd started from.

"She's gotta know those ain't gonna hit, right?" Ranma arched an eyebrow. "So what's she thinkin', then?"

Kiriko, who had already proven her dodging abilities while building up her rhythm earlier, wasn't even having to budge to evade Kodachi's attacks. And her arms were starting to move with the rest of her body now, a sign that she was almost ready to unleash her Rhythm Dance.

Looking unusually strained at her position on the outside, Ringo stuck with the plan, heaving a third ball up above the ring. "Please let this work!" she silently pleaded.

Kodachi, unfazed by her opponent's progress, sprung up into the air one last time, where that ball was waiting in just the right spot. Putting the pain in her ribs out of her mind as best as she could, she twirled around and delivered an axe kick to the especially dense ball, sending it screaming toward the ring with her heel. "GO!" she yelled out.

Though close, the ball wasn't on a course to strike Kiriko, which gave Kolhotz High's premiere gymnast no reason to dodge it...just as Kodachi had planned. The ball struck the wood near where Kiriko stood with a force unexpected by anyone, and, already slightly cracked by the previous two shots it had taken, the wood couldn't take any more. A sickening cracking sound reached the ears of all watching as the wood split into numerous pieces and fell through the areas between the thin, spaced apart metal bars that supported it and the canvas.

Nearly ready to pummel Kodachi with her ultimate attack once more, Kiriko's eyes now opened wide. As the wood crumbled underneath her, so did her footing. By the rules of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation, landing anywhere that wasn't part of the ring would result in a loss via ring out, and right now there was nothing but air separating Kiriko's falling feet from the gymnasium floor below.


End of Chapter 18