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 19

The collection of students in the Kolhotz High gymnasium sprung to their feet, jaws dropped in amazement. With the help of what was essentially a cannonball, Kodachi had just demolished the ring. The wood that supported the canvas was no more, and now all that remained within the confines of the ropes and ring posts was a grid of support bars that were incapable of holding the full weight of a human being on their own.

After executing her surprise attack, Kodachi descended from above and landed atop the ring post in her corner. "Did I get her?" she wondered, looking toward the mess of splintered wood to see what had become of her adversary.

Kiriko Nakajima wasn't the only one in the ring when Kodachi's cannonball had struck, though. The referee, who shared in that misfortune, now found herself sitting on the gym's floor after the wood had given out beneath her feet. Her bottom was a bit sore from the fall, but she was otherwise unhurt, which was good since she still had a job to do. She quickly scoured the debris for any sign of Kiriko, and there, ahead and to her right, she spotted a pair of feet sticking out from behind a large chunk of wood. The official stood up and hurried over to the fallen gymnast to assess her situation.

When the referee reached Kiriko, she found her in a very precarious position. Kolhotz High's diva—her face strained from all of the energy she was expending—had her chain wrapped around the top rope and was holding onto it as if her life depended on it. Her other hand was tightly clutching onto the top of a piece of wood that she was balancing against the floor. The important detail, though, was whether or not any part of Kiriko was touching the ground, and the referee dove down to check on just that.

Suspense filled the gymnasium as everyone waited to learn of what the official saw. She practically had the side of her face flat against the floor as she got as close a look as possible at Kiriko's feet. Then, assured of her call, she stood up...and threw her arms out to either side. "Safe!" she declared. "Kiriko has not touched the floor!"

While the Kolhotz students breathed a huge sigh of relief, the Sakura Army could only express disbelief at the result. Thanks to the quick reaction time with her chain and her luck in having that chunk of wood to grab onto, Kiriko had managed to keep her feet a mere one inch off of the floor. Realizing how bad of a position she was in right now, she quickly swung her lower body over to the side of what remained of the ring and wrapped her legs around the bottom rope. Then, pulling on the chain to give herself a boost, she yanked the rest of her body over and used the ropes to scamper back to the ring post in her corner.

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, Kodachi dropped down into a crouch and ran her hand through her hair. She was absolutely beside herself. The attack was executed perfectly; Kiriko hadn't seen it coming at all. And yet, the match wasn't over. Kiriko had found a way to survive again. "How...how did she...?" Kodachi mouthed, slamming her good hand down into the turnbuckle pad in front of her. "It was perfect, and still...still she...do I battle with not just Kiriko, but the goddess of fortune as well?"

Out in the crowd, Shampoo was just as surprised as Kodachi that the match was still going on. "Kiriko girl very lucky she no lose there."

"Yeah, no kiddin'. Bad break for Kodachi," Ranma concurred.

"That...was...such...CRAP!" Sakura fumed next to them, kicking the first bleacher with the full force of her foot. "That sucks! That damn Kiriko. Whatever, at least it wasn't a total loss."

"Oh yeah? Why's that?" Ranma glanced over at her.

"Because...Kiriko can't do her Rhythm Dance now," Sakura told him. "The only reason she can do that move at all is because she doesn't have to worry about her footing with that big canvas to land on. Ya get it? Since 'Dachi destroyed the canvas, Kiriko doesn't got that anymore. If she tried to do her dance, with all of her concentration on her offense and not on her footing, she'd touch the floor before she ever landed a hit on 'Dachi."

It wasn't hard for Ranma to see Sakura's point, especially since he'd been in the same situation before. He himself had wiped out the canvas to expose the cheating of the St. Hebereke Gymnastics Club during his own match with Kodachi, and he knew the ring posts and ropes alone didn't provide much in the way of stable footing. A move like Kiriko's Rhythm Dance, he figured, really would be difficult to pull off in such conditions. Sure, Kiriko had run along the ropes a bit while performing the move before, but it was the safety net of the canvas being there that had allowed her to do it. Running along the ropes and staying there would undoubtedly be far greater a challenge.

Over in her corner, Kiriko felt like that last scare had taken a year off of her life. Despite surviving by the skin of her teeth, she wasn't in a much better mood than her opponent, either. Her Rhythm Dance, which she was sure would finish Kodachi off, had been thwarted. And she, just like Sakura, knew that using it again wasn't going to be an option with the ring in its present condition. Nonetheless, there was good reason to be optimistic. After all, she still had two good arms, while Kodachi, thanks to the chain whips she'd taken earlier, had one of hers hanging uselessly at her side.

Kiriko, still extremely sore and breathing heavily, ascended up to a standing position where the top rope was between her knees to help balance herself while her feet both sat on the middle rope. "Yuki, give me the yo-yo hoops!" she instructed her second. With her one arm advantage, she was favoring the idea of keeping her distance and wailing on Kodachi until the Black Rose fell from her perch.

"Here!" Yuki tossed her partner one of the requested hoops—one, and only one.

"Well? I said hoops! Plural! Give me more!" Kiriko barked at the other girl.

"There aren't any! The rest of them are all buried under the mat!" Yuki pointed to the mess down below.

Kiriko grit her teeth in annoyance. This was a huge oversight. She'd never imagined she would need more yo-yo hoops than her Rhythm Dance and another stray attack or two would require, thus she knew Yuki was right in saying there weren't any more. Reclaiming the others from below wasn't going to work, either. Yuki couldn't do it since seconds weren't allowed inside the ring, and Kiriko herself couldn't do it because it would take time and leave her open to attack—a chance which Kodachi wouldn't miss.

"Fine, give me a ribbon, then!" Kiriko snapped at her second again. Once she had the ribbon, she leaned down and put a hand over her mouth to hide what she wanted to say next from prying eyes. "And put our little trick into action. We're going to give Kodachi a blast from the past."

Yuki knew just what Kiriko meant. With an understanding nod, she began digging through the bags of tools at her feet.

While that was going on, Ringo stood outside Kodachi's corner, utterly shocked that the special move she and Kodachi had worked on so much had failed. More importantly, though, the morale of her partner looked to be facing a downward trend. "Kodachi, it's okay! She's still in bad shape, right? You can win this!" she bellowed words of encouragement to the dark-haired girl.

Kodachi finally raised her head. Across the ring from her, Kiriko looked ready to continue. Ringo was right; she couldn't afford to mope right now. This match wasn't over yet. Not by a long shot. "Ringo, ribbon."

The Cat Café's waitress tossed a ribbon up to Kodachi's right arm, as requested. "You can do this, Kodachi!"

Kodachi took those words to heart. She could do this, and she was going to do this. Even with one arm, she was going to do this. Using the same technique as the other competitor, she walked away from her corner along the middle rope with one leg on either side of the top rope.

Kiriko did the same, stepping out to the midpoint of the ropes until she and Kodachi were facing each other from opposite sides of the ring. Her ribbon was going in her right hand, while her yo-yo hoop sat idle in her left. Another trickle of blood dripped from her nose—a recurring effect of the hit she'd taken from the ring bell earlier.

Then, with the crowd stamping their feet against the bleachers in the background, Kiriko made the first move. The Kolhotz representative whirled her hoop at Kodachi, and Kodachi wasted no time swatting it away with her ribbon. The hoop returned to the grasp of Kiriko, who didn't seem bothered at all by the failed attack as she began bobbing the hoop up and down like one would a normal yo-yo. After a few seconds, she again hurled the hoop Kodachi's way, but the result was the same as Kodachi deflected it back at her.

"So far, so good," Ringo silently assured herself. As her eyes surveyed the ring, however, she noticed something happening straight ahead from her. Kodachi was too focused on Kiriko to notice it, but Yuki was rubbing her hands along the middle ropes on both sides of Kiriko's corner. It was strange. Too strange. Yuki hadn't done anything like that all match, and there didn't seem to be any reason for it. It just didn't make any sense, at least not until Ringo remembered something important that Kodachi had disclosed to her last night. "Wait, in their last match, Kodachi lost because the ropes were...greased. Is...is she...?"

Despite two successful defenses against Kiriko's attacks, Kodachi wasn't pleased at all with the situation. She could see what was going on; Kiriko knew she had the advantage, and she was going to take her time and pick Kodachi apart slowly if need be. For Kodachi, attacking with her ribbon wasn't going to work, either. If she did, Kiriko could just do the same with her own ribbon and entangle them, leaving Kodachi without any defense against the hoop. It was a tricky situation—one that was going to require some tact if Kodachi wanted to improve her chances of victory.

"Ringo," Kodachi addressed her second, keeping her gaze fixated on her opponent, "...prepare a hoop, and throw it my way when I say."

Ringo badly wanted to disclose to Kodachi what Yuki appeared to be up to, but it would have to wait. For now, she grabbed one of the remaining hoops from the tool bags and stood ready for her partner's signal.

While Kiriko again played with her hoop as if it were a toy, she allowed a cocky smirk to cross her weary face. "How does it feel, Kodachi? Knowing it's just a matter of time before you lose, that is," she taunted the other gymnast. Then, as the hoop returned to her hand, she tossed it Kodachi's way once more.

"Ringo, now!" Kodachi commanded.

Acting quickly, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke snapped her ribbon at the incoming hoop, knocking it up and away yet again. This time, though, she lobbed her ribbon up toward her mouth and caught its handle with her teeth before looking toward her corner, where the hoop Ringo had grabbed was now coming her way. Taking the hoop as she spun back toward the ring, Kodachi hurled it not at Kiriko, but at the space between Kiriko and her hoop.

It had all happened so fast that Kiriko never even realized what Kodachi's objective was until it was too late. Kodachi's hoop sliced right through the string connecting Kiriko's yo-yo hoop with her hand, turning the hoop into nothing more than a standard tool. While Kodachi's hoop went sailing off into the crowd, Kiriko's—no longer bound by its string—continued on its upward path until it collided with the ceiling. The impact not only cracked the material atop the gymnasium, but also dislodged one of the large lights that shone down from above. As Kiriko's hoop fell back toward the ring, so did the light, only for it to be stopped after a few feet thanks to its sturdy power cord keeping it in place.

While Kiriko's hoop dropped harmlessly onto the ring post in her corner and hooked itself there, many of the students—concerned about the possibility of the light falling on them—kept their eyes glued to the swinging object high above the ring. For the time being, though, it looked as if there was no danger of the light's cord giving out.

Kodachi's plan had been executed without a hitch; Kiriko no longer had any of her dangerous yo-yo hoops at her disposal.

"Why, you little..." Kiriko snarled angrily at her opponent, "...that was my last one!"

Fuming over the loss of her modified tool, Kiriko snapped her ribbon out toward Kodachi. Having already grabbed the ribbon handle from her mouth, Kodachi returned fire with her own ribbon, and the two tools wrapped themselves around each other. Now, with the two ribbons entangled over the remains of the ring's canvas, a tug of war ensued.

What started out as an even match of strength turned lopsided in a hurry when Kiriko wrapped her second hand around her ribbon's handle. "Now what, Kodachi? You can't overpower me with one arm!"

Kodachi didn't have to be told of her chances; she knew they weren't good. The one who lost out here was going to be without a tool temporarily, and that was certainly a less-than-desirable outcome. But...maybe there was a way she could turn this in her favor. "You do not think so? Show me, then!" she challenged the other girl.

Annoyed with Kodachi's persistence, Kiriko put even more force into trying to yank the ribbon free of her opponent's grasp, and she succeeded. Unfortunately for her, it didn't happen in the manner she would have liked. Kodachi, seeing that Kiriko was going to turn it up a notch, had willingly let go of her ribbon. Kiriko wasn't expecting that to happen at all, and, with as much strength as she was pulling with, she lost her balance and fell backward.

"Whawawawaaaah!" Kiriko screamed. She let go of the entangled ribbons and desperately grabbed the middle and bottom ropes to keep from falling. Her feet swung about halfway down the width of the ring apron, dangling dangerously close to the floor outside the ring before she was able to right herself and pull her legs back up to the ropes with the rest of her body.

Letting go of the ribbon had been a trick used against Kodachi during her match with Ranma—or Ringo, as Kodachi believed—and she was all too happy to turn it around on someone else. Now, with Kiriko unarmed and struggling on the ropes, it was time for Kodachi to go back on the offensive. Putting one foot on the top rope, she sprung off of it and over to the ring post in her corner. "Ringo, club!"

Ringo dove down, scooped up a club from one of the tool bags, and tossed it up to Kodachi. There was something she needed to inform her partner of before the next exchange occurred, though. "Kodachi, the middle rope around her corner is greased!"

Kodachi's eyes widened as her second's claim reached her ears. She didn't have the time to stand there and ask what that piece of information was based off of, else Kiriko would be able to regroup, but it was something she would have to bear in mind. Would Kiriko really use that underhanded trick again? What a ridiculous question; of course she would!

Setting that aside for the moment, Kodachi jumped from her ring post to one in a neutral corner, then hopped down onto the middle rope and advanced toward Kiriko, who finally pulled herself up so that she was straddling the top rope.

Yuki, seeing the trouble her partner was in, tossed a pair of regulation clubs her way. "Kiriko!"

With Kodachi mere moments away from attacking, Kiriko leaned back and spotted the incoming tools. Catching one in each hand, she bounced forward and crossed them in front of her just in time to block Kodachi's club from drilling her in the jaw. Undeterred by the block, Kodachi kept on attacking and putting pressure on her nemesis. Kiriko was defending with everything she had. She wanted to get back to a standing position, but Kodachi just wasn't allowing her to do so.

"Damn her! Whatever, Yuki should have it ready by now," Kiriko thought. It seemed like the perfect time to put her special trick into action.

When Kodachi next attacked, Kiriko blocked it, then pushed off on Kodachi's club using both of her own. With that little bit of extra time she'd bought herself, Kiriko then sprung off the middle rope and into a back flip, landing on the ropes over on the other side of her corner. Kodachi didn't follow, allowing Kiriko time to get back to her feet. Then, for the second time in the match, Kiriko made a "bring it" motion with her hands, beckoning Kodachi to come to her. "Come on. Come on!"

Kodachi understood perfectly what this was all about. With Kiriko's corner being between the two gymnasts, Kiriko wanted Kodachi to take that path to get to her—the path that led right over the ropes that Ringo believed were greased. "I see. You really are attempting this treachery again, you harlot," Kodachi bit down on her bottom lip, inwardly cursing the other girl. "Well, in that case...perhaps I shall play along!"

To Ringo's horror, Kodachi jumped over toward Kiriko's corner, looking intent on landing directly on the greased middle rope. "Kodachi, no!" she screamed.

Kiriko was grinning like a jackal as she watched Kodachi fall into her trap. "That's it! I've got you, now!"

As Kodachi's feet hit the greased rope, they slipped, and her entire body went flying between the ropes. The Sakura Army rose to their feet in concern as Kodachi looked to be on her way out to the floor, but luckily, there was something in Kodachi's path: Kiriko's second, Yuki. Tossing her club forward at the unsuspecting girl, Kodachi grabbed the top rope with her now free hand and planted both of her feet into the club, driving it straight into Yuki's face and knocking the girl's glasses off. Kodachi used Yuki to push off of, kicking her body back toward the ring, where she landed on the ropes on the other side of Kiriko's corner. Yuki, meanwhile, went flying from Kodachi's kick. The back of her head slammed into the bleachers when she landed, leaving her down on the floor, clutching her cranium in pain.

"Kodachi!" Ringo called out to her partner, tossing her a replacement club.

Kodachi, feeling the wrenching pain in her ribs again after exerting her body like that, caught the club and backed away from the greased portion of the ropes, ready to defend herself. Kiriko, however, wasn't coming after her.

"Hey, hey! Referee, that isn't allowed! Disqualify her!" Kiriko complained to the official.

This time, Kiriko may have been right. "Time out!" the referee halted the match, walking over to Kiriko's corner outside the ring. "Kodachi, attacking seconds isn't allowed!"

Kodachi knew that was, in fact, part of the rules, but she wasn't unprepared for this turn of events. "Oh, I did not do it on purpose," she claimed, pointing to the middle rope. "That rope is unusually slick, and it caused me to slip. I believe you would do well to inspect it."

A worried look now came over Kiriko as the referee, performing due diligence, checked the rope in question. "What? What is this?" the official asked, staring at the grease on her hand after she rubbed it over the rope. "Kiriko! Why is this on the rope?"

"Wh-why are you asking me?" Kiriko looked away, playing innocent. "Old man Tanaka hired the idiots that put this ring together, not me. One of the oafs probably spilled something there!"

The referee eyed Kiriko sharply. She hadn't seen anything going on, and thus she had no definite proof that Kiriko was the one behind the slick ropes. For now, all she could do was rule on the status of the match. "Kodachi is not disqualified! This was accidental contact as a result of a slip!" she declared, much to the delight of the Joudai High students. "Time in!"

After all that, the match was going again, only now, Kiriko was without her ailing second. She could have raised a fuss about not giving Yuki time to recuperate, but she knew she was already fortunate to escape penalty for the grease on the ropes. Pushing her luck too much may not end well for her. Plus, despite the ruling not going her way, the current situation was still in her favor. Kodachi had only one club, while she had two. "Kodachi!" Kiriko hissed, lunging over to the other set of ropes where her adversary was waiting.

Kodachi held up her club to protect herself as Kiriko's dual clubs converged on her. Kiriko hit her landing, feet on the middle rope with the top rope between her knees just as before, and the club war was on. Their bodies were sore and growing more tired by the second, but Kodachi and Kiriko swung their clubs at each other with more vigor than they had even at the start of the match. Kodachi was on the defensive more often than Kiriko because of her arm disadvantage, yet Kiriko just couldn't seem to land the big hit she needed.

The wild exchange continued on for half a minute, and then, Kodachi got fed up with defending herself. As Kiriko took another swing, Kodachi, rather than blocking it, attacked at the same time. Each girl's club smashed into the other's cheek, leaving both of them wobbly. Kiriko was the first to recover, though, and drove one of her clubs into Kodachi's face a second time. Kodachi was staggered, and Kiriko went for a third hit, but Kodachi suddenly whipped her arm forward and knocked Kiriko back with another shot to the face.

"This trash...she just won't go down!" Kiriko thought, frustrated. She returned fire with another blow to the face, but fall Kodachi did not.

Kodachi wasn't even trying to defend anymore. "As if something like that would bring me down!" she silently fired herself up.

With a liveliness in her eyes, Kodachi smashed Kiriko in the cheek again. This time, Kiriko didn't defend, either. Kiriko bounced back, landing another hit. Then Kodachi. Then Kiriko. Then Kodachi. And they just kept going.

As the thousands of students watching stood and applauded, what had started out as a battle of skill had turned into a battle of spirit. Defense was being completely disregarded. Each gymnast was daring the other to give them their best shot, each determined to prove that they were better than the other.

"Go, Kodachi, go!" Ringo yelled from Kodachi's corner.

Out in the crowd, Shampoo surprisingly joined the Joudai High students and jumped to her feet. "You keep going, Kuno girl! Beat that stupid one!" she passionately shouted.

Ranma quirked an eyebrow at Shampoo, not believing what he was hearing. He had a feeling she might have secretly been rooting for Kodachi, but he never expected her to make it this obvious. Any thoughts about poking fun at her for it were soon dismissed, however, as he recalled the elbow he'd taken to his side the last time he did so. Best to keep his mouth shut this time around.

"Now this is a fight! You've got this, 'Dachi!" Sakura cheered her on.

"Show her your indomitable Kuno spirit, Sister!" Tatewaki Kuno raised his wooden sword in the air. "Fight until she falls!"

The back-and-forth club strikes persisted, the ordeal now reaching the one-minute mark. Both competitors were starting to show signs of tiring. The attacks were slowing down, and both girls were breathing very heavily.

"Kiriko! You're the best! Go, go, go!" Azusa played the cheerleader role on the opposite side of the gym.

"Do it for the pride of Kolhotz High, Kiriko!" Mikado joined in.

The blows began to slow even further, and with every shot, the supporters of the gymnast that landed the hit voiced their approval. No matter anyone's feelings toward either girl, they were both putting on a hell of a showing, and Hiroyuki Tanaka, on the edge of his seat over by the announcer's table, couldn't have been happier with his decision to allow the match to go on as he observed the spectacle. This level of competition was more than he had ever hoped for.

Kodachi landed yet another hit, and the sweat that had been dripping down Kiriko's face went flying. Then, her cheek red and swollen, Kiriko responded with another shot of her own, and the sweat flew from Kodachi's face as well. Both girls were exhausted and gasping for air, but neither wanted to give in. Kodachi flung her arm forward with as much strength as she could muster and hit Kiriko yet again. Kiriko swayed backward, then ahead. She raised her arm to swing her club again...but then, she let it fall to her side. Drained and unable to land another blow, Kiriko fell forward, and at the same time, so did Kodachi. The two worn out gymnasts collapsed against each other, the only thing holding them up being the weight of their adversary.

While a torrent of support poured in for either of them from the fans, both girls were just trying to catch their breath as each of their heads were pressed up against the shoulder of the other gymnast.

"I...am going...to be champion!" Kiriko declared in-between breaths. "Why...why won't you...just get out of my way?"

"I came here...to put an end...to this facade that has played out...over the past three years," Kodachi weakly replied, her face—still partially stained green from some of Kiriko's mist that hadn't been washed off—showing just as much of the punishment inflicted upon it as Kiriko's was. "And that is...just what I intend to do!"

Digging deep, both girls pushed off of each other and swung their clubs at the same time. Both hits landed on their opponent's jaw, and neither girl could keep her footing afterward. Kiriko fell toward the inside part of the ring, while Kodachi fell outside of it. Amidst gasps from their respective fans, the two gymnasts clutched at the ropes as they fell, their feet swinging dangerously close to the floor.

The referee changed her position repeatedly, switching back and forth so that she could check on both competitors.

"Hang on, Kodachi!" Ringo screamed to her partner.

Kodachi was holding onto the bottom rope for dear life, both with her good arm and with one leg that she had wrapped around the rope. On the other side of the ropes, Kiriko had hold of the top rope with one hand and the middle rope with the other, while her legs dangled close to the floor beneath the ring. Thus far, the referee had determined that neither girl had touched the floor.

"C'mon, 'Dachi! Get back up!" Sakura urged her on.

It was slow, and it was being done very carefully, but both Kodachi and Kiriko were navigating along the ropes to get to a safer position. Kodachi crawled along the bottom rope, around the ring post, and over to the side of the ring between her corner and a neutral corner, where she began making her way back to her feet at the midpoint of the ropes. Kiriko moved around her corner, too, making sure to avoid the middle rope where the grease had been applied, and wound up on the side of the ring between her own corner and the other neutral corner, where she also made the gradual move to get back to her feet.

Once the girls were up, they both draped themselves over the top rope. They were now on opposite sides of the ring, staring across at each other as they tried to recover some small amount of energy to go on.

The match wasn't going to last much longer; everyone could see that. And right now, if anyone had an advantage, it was Kodachi. After all, the gymnasts were at a far distance from each other, which nullified the use of Kiriko's one-club advantage, and Kodachi was the only one whose second was currently able to help her partner. She knew it wouldn't stay that way for long, though, as Yuki would likely recover soon from the blow to her head. Thus, the question became, what should Kodachi do while she still had the bonus of a second?

Long-range attacks would be the obvious course of action here, especially since Kiriko was stuck with nothing but two clubs. Hoops, however, she would still probably be able to deflect. A ribbon could be useful, but in reality, Kiriko could, and would, likely just hide behind a ring post where she was safe from the ribbon until either Yuki came around or Kodachi moved within range of her clubs.

As Kodachi continued to regain her breath, the answer that came to mind would be that she had to lure Kiriko into an exchange that Kiriko believed she would win. And, given the current situation, Kodachi just happened to have a little something up her sleeve that may do the trick.

"Kiriko!" Kodachi called out toward the other side of the ring. She moved up to where she was standing on the middle rope again, then pointed her lone club at her opponent. "With my one club, I am certain I can defeat your two clubs in a single attack. Therefore, I challenge you to one final exchange! What say you, Kiriko Nakajima?"

Kiriko narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the gymnast across the ring. This all sounded too good to be true. "Whatever you're up to, I'm not falling for it!" she defiantly responded. "You wouldn't take a risk like that! How dumb do you think I am?"

Kodachi could see that it was going to take some further convincing to lure Kiriko in. "What did you say before? That you wished to show me how large the gap between us was, correct?" Kodachi brought up Kiriko's earlier comments. "I agree that there is a gap between us, but you are wrong about one detail: I, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke, am the one that is far above you, and you need to be shown that once and for all! That is my only reason for this. So, Kiriko Nakajima, do you accept, or do you yield?"

Now Kiriko's attitude changed. Kodachi had targeted the diva's most vulnerable spot: her ego. "Ha...hahahahahaha! You? Above me? That's hilarious!" Kiriko mocked Kodachi's claim. "Come on! Come at me! I dare you!"

Kiriko was officially on board with Kodachi's challenge. With the final exchange of the match looking to be at hand, the entirely of the crowd rose to their feet in anticipation of what was to come.

"What the hell is she thinking?" Sakura vented over Kodachi's strategy from the front row. "This isn't the time to get crazy! Just pick her off from a distance!"

Others that knew Kodachi better weren't so sure of the Kuno girl's intentions, though.

"Ranma, you think she really do this?" Shampoo asked her pigtailed beau.

"You kiddin'? It ain't like her at all," Ranma scoffed at the idea. "There's gotta be somethin' else goin' on in her head. The heck's she up to?"

If there was something else going on, however, Ringo sure didn't know about it. "She's going for it all when she's outnumbered in clubs? Kodachi, what are you thinking?" the waitress silently fretted at ringside. "She can't be serious about this! Please, tell me she's not!"

Kodachi had laid the foundation for her plan. Now, she needed to relay it to her second. Reaching behind her back with her good arm, she made a motion that would lead anyone to believe she was simply adjusting her leotard. But, hidden from Kiriko's view, she also stuck out her middle and index fingers three separate times—a sign that Ringo recognized.

"That signal...oh! OH! Now I get it, Kodachi!" Ringo thought to herself, immensely relieved that Kodachi had a better plan in mind than what she was letting on. This particular plan required a certain type of tool, though, which meant that Ringo would have to do some quick searching. "Okay, need something big. Something big...aha!"

Kodachi was ready. Ringo was ready.

On the other side of the ring, Kiriko stepped up onto the middle rope, as well. "This trash is really going to hand me the match," she gleefully thought. "All I have to do is block her attack with one club, knock her to the floor with the other, and it'll all be over!"

Many wondered if Kodachi would really go through with such a risky move, but all doubt was soon put to rest. Kodachi raised one foot up, placed it against the top rope, and jumped out toward the middle of the ring.

Kiriko, the look of a victor already on her face, jumped out to meet her. She reached back with one club, ready to attack as soon as Kodachi's club was blocked. "This is it!" she told herself. "Bye bye, Koda-...eh?"

From out of the corner of Kiriko's right eye, something suddenly caught her attention. The mangled trash can Kodachi had wailed on her with was flying through the air, and it was on a direct path to come right between the converging gymnasts. Then, as Kiriko looked back at Kodachi, she saw the reality of it all; she'd just been baited into a trap. Kodachi had raised her feet up, allowing her club to fall to her side. From the very start, she hadn't planned on attacking with her hands.

The trash can moved between the two girls, and Kodachi was in perfect position to put it to use. "Disappear, Kiriko!" she shouted, and with that, she drove her feet straight into the deformed hunk of metal.

Kiriko threw her hands up to try to protect herself, but it made little difference. The trash can smashed into her hands and face with an incredible force, and both gymnasts flew back from the point of impact. Kiriko sailed through the air on such a path that the back of her knees hit the top rope, and she looked to be heading out of the ring. As her knees sprang forward, however, her feet hooked onto the outside part of the middle rope, and the rest of her body was prevented from dropping out to the floor.

Kodachi, too, hit the ropes as she flew back. The momentum pulled her body over the top rope, and, dropping her club, she grabbed hold of it to keep herself from falling. Her right leg became caught underneath the middle rope, though, and pulled it upward as she fell over. As a result, her ankle became snared between the top and middle ropes, leaving her dangling upside down above the floor outside the ring.

Meanwhile, after Kiriko's body first bounced upward from the recoil of the ropes, one of her feet slipped free from the middle rope. There wasn't enough bounce to free the other one, though. Kiriko, barely conscious, was hanging over the edge of the ring and holding on with just that one foot hooked onto the middle rope. Her hands dangled dangerously close to the floor—close enough that the referee rushed over to check it out.

While the decision was being made, Kodachi, herself in a problematic position, grabbed onto the bottom rope and yanked herself over it and onto the support bars inside the ring. Her foot was still caught in the ropes above, but it would be a moot point so long as Kiriko had made contact with the floor. Had she done it? Was it finally over?

After thoroughly surveying the scene, the referee sprung up and threw her arms out to either side. "Safe! Kiriko is not touching the floor!" she declared.

Kodachi, Ringo, and everyone rooting for them couldn't believe it. Kiriko had been knocked silly, and still she remained in the match.

"You're kidding me!" an exasperated Ringo exclaimed.

"'Dachi! She's KO'd! Finish her off!" Sakura impatiently called out to her fellow gymnast.

Expressions of dread came over the faces of the Kolhotz High students. Their representative wasn't out of it yet, but the situation looked grim. Kiriko was completely defenseless.

Kodachi scrambled to free herself from the ropes. She needed to finish off Kiriko fast before the diva regained her senses. She tried reaching up to grab the ropes that bound her foot, but the pain in her ribs was just too great to stretch her body that much. Desperate, she grabbed onto the ring's support bars with her one good hand and tried pulling herself free. She was in such a weakened state that she just didn't have enough strength to do it, though. It may not have worked out well, anyway, since it was questionable whether or not the support bars could hold her full weight.

Agitated by her lack of progress and the time she was wasting, Kodachi looked toward the spot where Kiriko hung from the ropes. That one foot of hers was all that was keeping her afloat in this match, Kodachi noticed. Were it to be freed from the middle rope, it and the rest of Kiriko's body would drop over the top rope and to the floor outside the ring, effectively ending the contest. If that was all that needed to be done...

"Ringo, ribbon!" Kodachi yelled to her second. Yes, if she could just wrap her ribbon around Kiriko's foot, she could coerce it off of that rope.

"Right!" Ringo nodded. She dove down into the tool bags, picked up a ribbon...and then abruptly stopped. "Wh-...what..." Her body began to shiver, and an intense, frightening feeling spread throughout her. "N-...no...this is..."

Out in the front row of the crowd, Ranma felt a strange chill run down his spine. "Whoa, what the..." he began to say. It was a bizarre feeling he couldn't explain, almost as if his body was trying to warn him of impending danger. Then, as he looked around to see if there was anything out of place, he noticed something: a faint, green glow coming from his pants pocket. Realizing what the cause of it likely was, he whirled around to make sure Shampoo wasn't looking, which she wasn't—her eyes were completely focused on the ongoing match. Ranma then reached into the pocket and pulled out the wooden cube that Jynn had given him for safekeeping. Sure enough, the peculiar symbols on each side of the cube were glowing.

Ranma quickly stuffed the cube back into his pocket. Luckily, everyone was so focused on the match that they hadn't noticed the object. Still, why was it glowing all of a sudden, he wondered? What did it mean?

Up in the ring, Kodachi was still trying to wriggle her ankle free from the ropes as she looked back to her corner again. "Ringo, hurry!"

Ringo remained down below the ring apron, though. She could hear Kodachi calling out to her, but she couldn't move at all. "Not now!" she cried, holding herself tightly. "What is this? What's going on?"

"There's no need to worry."

The young redhead's eyes shot open wide as she heard another voice inside her head. This voice...she'd heard it once before. "Wh-who are you? Tell me!" Ringo pleaded.

"It's okay," the voice calmly spoke to her, "...I'll take it from here."

Kodachi was getting extremely restless. Precious time was wasting away. "Ringo!" she shouted to her corner again. Seemingly reacting to her call, a head of red hair rose up from behind the ring apron at last. It was Ringo, but...something wasn't right. As Kodachi met eyes with her, she could feel something different. There was no kindness in Ringo's eyes. Rather, they were cold, and hateful. "Ringo?"

With those cold eyes, Ringo looked down at the ribbon in her hand, then back to Kodachi. A dark smile crossed her face. Then, the unthinkable: she allowed the ribbon to fall from her hand and down to the floor.

"Ringo? What are you doing?" a bewildered Kodachi asked her second. Ringo's only answer, however, was to start walking away from Kodachi's corner. "Ringo!"

On the other side of the ring, amidst the developing chaos, Kiriko was beginning to stir. Her eyes opened, and she soon realized that she was hanging upside down. She was groggy, but she wasn't aware of the match ending yet, and thus, her fighting instincts kicked in. As she looked up, she saw that one light that had been loosened by her hoop earlier still hanging from the ceiling by its cord. Then, tilting her head toward the ground, she noticed a ribbon sitting near her hand, and snatched it between her fingers. Slowly, arduously, she would use the strength of her one leg hooked onto the middle rope to try to pull her aching body up...and she did.

With blood dripping from her nose at an even greater rate thanks to Kodachi's trash can, Kiriko—now seated on the top rope—surveyed the scene. Ringo was walking away from the ring, and Kodachi was screaming to her. What that was all about, Kiriko had no idea. She looked to her left. Her last yo-yo hoop that Kodachi had cut the string to was sitting around the ring post in her nearby corner. She looked up to the ceiling again, right at that hanging light. An idea was putting itself together.

Ringo kept on walking, staring at Kodachi with those heartless eyes all the while, and then finally turned away as she started walking past the Leopard tank that she and Kodachi had rode in on. She was heading straight for the gymnasium's exit.

"Ringo! Did I do something wrong? If I did, then I am sorry! I apologize! Just come back!" Kodachi screamed, tears starting to form in her eyes. "Ringo!"

"The hell is THIS? Where does she think she's going?" Sakura asked in confusion.

Tatewaki Kuno, interested in learning the very same thing, turned to Ranma for answers. "Saotome, what is the meaning of this? Why does she leave my sister's side?"

"Like I know!" Ranma snapped back at him.

Having been around Ringo so often at the restaurant, Shampoo could tell something wasn't right with her. "Ranma...that really is Ringo?"

Ranma didn't know how to answer. It was Ringo's body all right, but he'd never seen her with that sort of look on her face, completely devoid of warmth. And this was all happening at the same time that the cube had started to glow. Was there some kind of connection? What could that thing possibly have to do with Ringo, though?

Everyone's focus had shifted away from the match, but that didn't erase the fact that it was still ongoing. Kiriko, having grabbed the damaged hoop that sat on the ring post, looked to the ceiling and measured up a new target. She then whirled her hoop upward, sending it straight on a path for the hanging light's cord. There was a bright flash of sparks as the cord was severed by the hoop, and then, the large light began to fall toward the ring.

Kodachi had completely forgotten about her opponent. Her second—her companion—was walking away from her, and now, Kodachi broke down crying. "Ringo! Were we not going to win this together? Then why?" she wailed, tears streaming down her face. "WHYYYYYYY?"

Up on the ring's top rope, Kiriko grinned maniacally through the stream of blood from her nostril as she flung her ribbon into the air and wrapped it around the descending light. "Lights out, Kodachi!"

With a tug of her ribbon, Kiriko brought the heavy light down onto the back of Kodachi's head, and the sound of shattering glass resounded throughout the gym. The fans of both gymnasts were speechless as they watched Kodachi's body be driven down into the ring's support bars, which began to come apart from the force of the impact. The bars managed to hold Kodachi up in the end, but it didn't matter. The broken light rolled away and dropped down to the floor beneath the ring, leaving Kodachi laying there...limp and unmoving.

Kiriko wobbled a bit, then dropped her ribbon's handle and gripped the top rope tightly with both hands in an effort to maintain her balance. "Count! Count!" she yelled to the referee.

While Kodachi's leg may have been tangled in the ropes, most of her body was still on top of the support bars, which was all that was left of the ring's canvas. Thus, according to the referee, this situation did, indeed, constitute a down, and a ten count could therefore take place. "One...two..."

"Sister! You must rise!" Tatewaki Kuno urged his younger sibling, not yet giving up hope.

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

Sakura turned away, hands locked across the back of her head. She couldn't bear to watch this.

"...five...six..."

The Extreme Gymnastics Federation's owner, Hiroyuki Tanaka, put his head down. For such an incredible match to come to this was a travesty that he wished he didn't have to witness.

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

Neither Ranma nor Shampoo knew what to say. They could only look on helplessly as the count neared its end.

"...nine..."

Some members of the Sakura Army still believed that Kodachi would spring back up. That she would knock Kiriko from her perch and win out of nowhere. That she would go on to face Priscilla Winters in the tournament's final round. That she would save them all from the reign of the undefeated Champion that everyone deplored.

Kodachi wouldn't move, though. She just wouldn't move.

"...ten!"

Kiriko, laughing hysterically despite her body's condition, slipped down from the ropes and landed on the floor. The ring bell never rung, as it was buried beneath the rubble under the ring, but the result of the match was the same regardless. The referee ran over to Kiriko and raised her hand into the air.

The announcer grabbed her microphone to do her job, as well. "Ladies and gentlemen, your winner, and moving on to the final round of the Queen of Extreme Tournament, Kiriko Nakajima!"

The crowd was stunned silent, all of them racking their brains over what in the world had just happened. Even amongst Kiriko's fellow Kolhotz High students, who should have been celebrating her victory, there was no joy in the result. All they could feel was pity for Kodachi after watching her heartbreaking reaction to her second walking out on her.

"Betrayed by one you trust. How terrible," Mikado lamented over the scene that had unfolded. "As the Match Breakers of the Ice, we pride ourselves on breaking pairs apart, but never have I seen such a blatant betrayal where we were not the cause."

Beside him, Azusa had to dry her eyes as she couldn't stop herself from crying. She had witnessed her share of hurt feelings as a result of the Couple Cleaver that she and Mikado had used over the years, but this was on another level. Several others in the crowd were brought to tears by Kodachi's emotional display, as well.

Yuki, finally coming back around after Kodachi had knocked her down, wandered over to Kiriko and helped the battered gymnast to her feet.

Kiriko continued to laugh euphorically as Yuki supported her weight and kept her upright. "Hahahahahaaa! I told you I was better, Kodachi! I told you!" she taunted the unconscious girl without remorse. "I'm the best! ME! Hahahahahaha!"

So happy was Kiriko to escape with a win that she didn't even care to admonish her fans for not celebrating. With injuries to be taken care of and grass burrs to be pulled from Kiriko's skin, Yuki slowly led her overjoyed partner back to the locker room area, where they were joined by some of the EGF's medical personnel.

The referee, meanwhile, hurried to the other side of the ring to check on Kodachi. Tatewaki Kuno had already left his seat to do the same.

Those who had come to support Kodachi weren't happy with the result, but none were more displeased than Sakura. As she stared at Kodachi's prone body hanging from the ropes, Sakura began to shake with uncontrollable anger. Then, she turned her head toward the gym's exit. She wasn't going to let this go unpunished. Not a chance in hell. Her rage getting the best of her, Sakura took off running, jumped right onto and over the tank, and set her sights on the individual who was leaving the scene.

"Ranma, she go after Ringo!" Shampoo alerted the pigtailed boy.

"Yeah, we gotta go after her," Ranma said, knowing things were about to get ugly.

Outside the gym, Ringo was walking along the concrete path leading away from the building, still with that uncharacteristically malevolent expression on her face. Even as she heard loud footsteps behind her, she kept on going, until finally she spun around to see who was approaching her. The only thing she would get to see was a clenched fist, though, as Sakura drilled her with as hard a punch to the cheek as she could throw.

Ringo fell, hitting the ground hard. "Oww, oww, oww..." she groaned, grabbing the throbbing area on her face. Painstakingly sitting up after the rough landing, she focused her eyes on Sakura, only now she had a look in those eyes that everyone was much more accustomed to seeing from her. "Wh-...what? Sakura?"

"That enough!" Shampoo came up from behind Sakura and hooked the enraged gymnast's arms to keep her from going after Ringo any further.

Ranma was right there, too, bending down to check on his former female half as soon as he arrived. "You okay, Ringo?"

"You...little...TRAITOR!" Sakura snarled at Ringo. "You make me sick!"

Ringo batted her eyes at the pink-haired girl, clueless as to what she was alluding to. "What? What do you mean, Sakura?" she asked, starting to look around at her surroundings now. "Why...why am I outside?"

"Oh, playing dumb now, huh?" Sakura glared down at her. She tried breaking free of Shampoo's hold, but was thus far unsuccessful in doing so. "Y'know, between every gymnast and her second, there's a bond of trust. And you...you just broke that. You're the worst kind of scum on this whole stinking planet!"

"I...I broke...what?" Ringo shook her head, still not understanding the gymnast's gripe. Confused, she turned toward Ranma. "What is she talking about?"

"Still acting innocent? You're pathetic," Sakura grew even more disgusted with Ringo. "Whatever, you don't gotta explain anything to me. I just hope you've got a better excuse for Kodachi when she wakes up."

Fed up with looking at Ringo, Sakura fought off Shampoo's arms and was freed by the Amazon girl as she stormed away, back toward the gymnasium.

For some reason, there was a horrible feeling in Ringo's heart that she couldn't shake. Why was Sakura so angry with her? Why wasn't she at ringside helping Kodachi? What was going on?

"Ranma, Shampoo, what happened?" the frightened girl asked her friends. "What did I...what did I do?"

Ranma and Shampoo shared an uncomfortable look with one another. This wasn't the Ringo that had just walked out on Kodachi. This was their Ringo, and explaining to their Ringo what she had just done was going to be one of the most unenviable tasks either of them had ever undertaken.

Back inside the gym, Kodachi's foot was gently freed from the ropes. Not one of the students present to watch the match had chosen to leave. Everyone just looked on in silence as Kodachi was loaded onto a stretcher, on which she would be taken to the school's infirmary for treatment.

Sakura returned just as the stretcher was ready to be moved. She walked right over to it, stared down upon Kodachi's body for a moment, and then gave her a light pat on the shoulder, followed by a respectful nod. She didn't take her eyes off of that stretcher even once as the medical personnel carried Kodachi away, and behind Sakura, the entirety of her army began to applaud for the defeated gymnast.

Over on the other side of the ring, Mikado Sanzenin offered his own applause in an unexpected demonstration of class, and Azusa and the rest of the Kolhotz students present followed his example.

Everyone in the gymnasium bleachers that day recognized and appreciated that Kodachi Kuno had fought valiantly. She was the 11th Seed in the tournament, ranked far below her opponent, and yet she showed everyone that she truly belonged in the same ring as her, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wasn't the trash that Kiriko claimed she was.

Kodachi's run through the Queen of Extreme Tournament, however, was now over, and her quest for redemption had just ended in the worst way imaginable.


End of Chapter 19