A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part II: Queen of Extreme
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.
Quiet. Shaken. Stunned. Any of those three words, if chosen, would have described well the current state of Furinkan High School. The institution, with its students normally so full of life, had collectively been left speechless by the sight of what awaited them on the school's clock tower as everyone arrived for the day's classes. The students had seen some bizarre things over the years thanks to the likes of Principal Kuno and Happosai, the old lecher who had a fondness for stealing the girls' gym shorts and undergarments, but nobody had ever seen anything like what they saw today in the form of Kiriko Nakajima's battered body.
Kiriko was carefully removed from the clock tower once rescue personnel arrived, and was then transported to the nearest hospital. She was alive, barely, but she was an awful mess. Shampoo was soon notified of the incident by Ranma and hurried to the school to join he and Ringo, both of whom were questioned by police. For most everyone else, classes went on as planned despite the gloomy mood the events of this morning had brought about.
Ringo, however, was an exception. Rather than being in her usual classroom, she was seated in a science lab with the blinds pulled down on the windows to conceal her whereabouts. It was clear by her name being slashed into the clock tower that she was Kodachi's next intended target, making it unwise for her to attend classes normally—not that she would be able to pay attention to lectures with everything that was going on, anyway. Shampoo and Ukyo both stood guard in the room to protect the girl. The lab wouldn't be needed by teachers for another hour, giving them some time to contemplate what their next move would be.
Inside the lab, none of the three girls spoke. Ringo had her head down, still in disbelief that Kodachi had done such a thing to Kiriko. Ukyo stood against the wall by the door. Shampoo stood across from her, next to the windows.
Although Ukyo was there to look after Ringo, she spent a lot of her time staring over at Shampoo. She wanted to say something to her in the worst way, especially regarding why Tatewaki Kuno had shown up to answer the last challenge she'd sent Shampoo's way. Ukyo would have to bite her tongue and keep quiet for now, though. No matter her issues with the Amazon girl, she knew this wasn't the time nor the place for such talk.
All eyes shifted to the door as it slid open, where in walked a very subdued Ranma Saotome. Silently, he closed the door behind him and leaned back against the wall next to Ukyo.
"Are the police gone?" the okonomiyaki chef asked him.
Ranma pressed his fingers over the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, trying to alleviate some of the stress building up in his head. "Yeah. They're gonna be lookin' for Kodachi now."
Ever since she'd arrived earlier, Shampoo had noticed how troubled Ranma both looked and sounded as a result of the morning's events. In fact, he looked more troubled by it than anyone else with the exception of Ringo, which Shampoo found strange considering Ranma had no attachment to Kiriko. She didn't know what ailed her pigtailed beau so, but it was something she was going to keep in mind.
"We need protect Ringo until they find Kuno girl, yes?" Shampoo assumed.
Ringo hung her head even lower. "I'm sorry, you guys," she apologized, upset over the inconvenience this was causing her friends.
"Don't apologize. This ain't your fault," Ranma assured her. As far as he was concerned, the only one Ringo needed to be worrying about right now was herself. "It'd be nice if we could hide ya somewhere 'til someone finds Kodachi, but..."
"Yeah, it won't work," Ukyo understood what her childhood friend was thinking. "Kodachi might be watching the school from somewhere. If that's the case, she'll know Ringo's here, and she can just follow her as soon as she leaves. And where would we hide her, anyway? Kodachi probably knows where all of us live, and no one else is going to take Ringo in knowing that they might get caught up in things."
"Exactly," Ranma sighed. "Actually, if we knew Kodachi was watchin' the school, that'd be perfect. Then I could just use my Shift to take Ringo outta here, maybe find somewhere outta the way where she could stay on her own 'til this all blows over. But if we don't know where Kodachi is, there ain't no guarantee she won't spot us after I use it. I guess we don't got much choice but to just stay with Ringo all the time."
While Ranma had said that, he failed to mention another option that had run through his mind. He still had base points for his Shift technique over in China, which left open the possibility of taking Ringo all the way over there. Obviously, Kodachi would never know that Ringo had been taken so far away, and leaving Ringo in the care of Cologne and Aroma at the Amazon village would assure her safety. With the news of a sorceress running amok over there, however, Ranma worried that he may be putting Ringo in even more danger if he were to take her to China right now. Thus, that idea was ruled out in a hurry.
Everyone in the lab looked at each other. They all heard it; someone had called out Ringo's name nearby. The call was followed by the sound of a door sliding open, then shut, followed by what sounded like someone running, and then another door opening.
"Ringo? Are you in here?"
After a brief pause, that nearby door closed, and more heavy footsteps were heard. They kept on going and growing louder, until finally they stopped right outside the door to the lab.
The lab's door flew open, and there stood a heavily-breathing girl with long, blonde hair. With the strap of a black gym bag over her shoulder, she wore a school uniform that none of them were familiar with—one that included a red skirt shorter than those the Furinkan girls wore, as well as a red necktie around the collar of a plain white shirt.
"A-...Alysse?" Ringo stared with surprise at the familiar girl in the doorway.
"Ringo!" Alysse lit up at the sight of the redhead. Dropping her gym bag just inside the door, she ran over to the seated girl and wrapped her in a tight hug. "You're okay! Oh, thank god! I was worried sick about you!"
The focus of some curious stares from the other three in the room, Ringo blushed at the unexpected embrace of her friend, who sounded like she was on the verge of breaking down crying. "Alysse! Wh-what are you doing here?"
"I heard what happened, so...I left school and ran here as fast as I could," Alysse answered with a sniffle, still panting against Ringo's shoulder as she tried to catch her breath.
"Wait, you heard about this already? At another school?" Ranma raised an eyebrow.
"How you know so fast?" Shampoo asked, equally interested in how quickly the information had spread.
Slowly releasing her hold on Ringo, albeit reluctantly, Alysse stood herself up straight. She'd barely even noticed the others in the room until they'd spoken up. Honestly, she would have rather not thrown herself onto Ringo like that in front of everyone else, but she'd gotten caught up in the moment. Nothing she could do about it now. "I overheard my classmates talking about it. It's probably going around a lot of other schools, too. Kiriko Nakajima is a rather well-known athlete, even at rival institutions," she informed them. "Now you tell me, what's going on here?"
Next to her, Ringo gloomily looked away. "Kodachi...she..."
"This girl named Kodachi's a little ticked at her," Ranma answered on Ringo's behalf.
"Kodachi did this?" Alysse asked, turning back to Ringo. "Why? What happened?"
Ringo hesitated to give the blonde girl an answer to her question. Trying to explain all of this would also involve disclosing things like the bizarre chills and voices she'd been dealing with lately, and possibly the fact that she was once a part of Ranma. Those were things she hadn't told Alysse about yet since she really wasn't sure how the frequent Cat Café visitor would feel about them.
"Uh, maybe you guys can talk about it later," Ranma suggested, picking up on Ringo's discomfort. "Sounds like ya know Kodachi already, so that makes this easier. Oh, Alysse, this is Ukyo," he gestured toward the girl with the over-sized spatula. "Ucchan, this is Ringo's friend, Alysse."
Alysse had noticed before that there was someone standing near Ranma, but she'd been so focused on everything else that she hadn't taken a good look at her. Now, she finally did, and although it wasn't much, seeing Ukyo brought about a reaction as Alysse's eyes widened a bit.
Ukyo stared back at Alysse with a quizzical look about her, as well. "Ringo's...friend?" she asked, sounding as though there was something she didn't comprehend.
With a sudden sense of urgency, Alysse strode over to Ukyo and put her mouth up to her ear, whispering something that no one else in the room could hear. Alysse then backed away, and Ukyo immediately glanced over at Ringo, who was as confused as could be about what she had just watched.
Ranma and Shampoo shared likewise perplexed looks.
"Alysse know Ukyo?" Shampoo blinked.
"Yes, I've tried her okonomiyaki before," Alysse claimed. "She's quite the cook."
"Y-yeah, I thought I'd seen her in my restaurant before. Guess I was right," Ukyo added, though not sounding as convincing as the other girl.
Alysse and Ukyo appeared to be on the same page, but to both Ranma and Shampoo, something felt off about their interaction. The mystery over what had been whispered between them made it feel as though the two of them were keeping something to themselves.
"So," Alysse spoke up, "...now what?"
"Well, like we were just talkin' about before you showed up, me, Shampoo and Ucchan are gonna have to look after Ringo 'til Kodachi ain't a problem anymore," Ranma explained to the newest arrival. At the moment, he really didn't care what, if anything, was going on with Ukyo and Alysse. Ranma's foremost priority right now was Ringo's safety.
The redhead's well-being was Alysse's greatest concern, as well, but one look at her face showed her displeasure with the current plan. "Does Kodachi know where you live?" she turned and asked Ringo, to which she nodded in reply. "And does she know you work at the restaurant?"
"Mhmm," Ringo nodded once more.
"You absolutely shouldn't be at those places, then," Alysse insisted.
"You no worry about that," Shampoo chimed in, looking to ease her regular customer's worries. "Ringo stay with Ranma and Shampoo as long as need to. We protect her."
"And what if you can't? You don't know what lengths Kodachi might go to!" Alysse snapped at Shampoo with an unexpected ferocity. She wanted Ringo to be safe, and she'd seen samplings of the kind of skill Ranma and Shampoo had, but leaving Ringo somewhere known to Kodachi still came off as a terrible idea to her. No, if Ringo needed to be kept safe, Alysse had a better plan. "Ringo should come stay with me."
Ringo nearly jumped up from her seat at the very suggestion. "No! I couldn't do that!" she adamantly protested. "If I did, I'd be putting you in danger!"
"You don't have to worry about me. Kodachi doesn't know enough about me to find out where I live, so it'll be fine," Alysse defended her proposal, then whipped back around toward Shampoo. "Trust me, let me take care of her. She'll be safe with me."
Shampoo didn't necessarily agree with Alysse's point that she and Ranma might not be able to protect Ringo, but she had to admit, she would feel better if Ringo weren't around if Kodachi were to attack. "Is no bad idea, but is problem get Ringo out of school," she said.
"If Kodachi's watching, and she knows what Alysse looks like, that goes for both Ringo and Alysse now," Ukyo pointed out. "There's nothing stopping Kodachi from just following you guys and attacking whenever she wants."
Ranma didn't mind Alysse's idea, either, but it was a moot point if they couldn't get she and Ringo out of here safely. "So if my Shift won't work, then somehow we'd have to get the two of them outta here without Kodachi knowin' it's them."
The lab grew quiet for a minute as everyone racked their brains for some sort of plausible solution.
Then, soon enough, Ranma perked up. He had an idea. "Hey, Alysse," he got the taller girl's attention, "...can you stay here today 'til classes are over?"
"I'm not leaving Ringo's side, so if she's staying, then so am I," Alysse told him.
"Ranma have plan?" Shampoo asked, sensing the pigtailed boy had something brewing.
"Yeah, I might have somethin'. Gonna need ya to come with me for a few minutes, though," he notified Shampoo before turning to Ukyo and Alysse. "You guys look after Ringo. We'll be back."
While Ringo moped over the fact that Alysse was getting dragged into her problems now, Ranma and Shampoo headed out into the hallway. Ukyo watched intently as Shampoo stepped out, her eyes never leaving the Chinese girl until the moment the door closed. Even in this situation, she just couldn't shut her personal grudge out.
Now by themselves, Shampoo followed just behind Ranma as they walked down the halls of Furinkan High. She didn't know where they were headed, but quite frankly, that wasn't much of a concern to her. More importantly, Ranma still wasn't acting himself, and that wasn't something Shampoo could just ignore.
"Ranma, you is okay?" Shampoo asked him.
Still walking ahead of her, Ranma's body drooped—a display of poor posture that he rarely put on. "Yeah, I'll be fine," he halfheartedly replied. "All this stuff, it just...it brought back some bad memories. Seein' how messed up Kiriko was...it made me think about what happened with you back in China."
Shampoo remembered well what Ranma spoke of. The scar just below her throat was a constant reminder of it. However, she believed there was more to Ranma's mood than just that. "Is no just Shampoo," she corrected him. "Is Li, too."
For a moment, Ranma stopped. Shampoo expected him to say something, but, after a brief pause, he simply continued walking ahead.
"Ranma!" Shampoo went after him, frustrated by his silence. "You no ever talk about Li, but Shampoo know it bother you! Shampoo always see it!"
Perhaps disappointed in how obvious he'd been, Ranma let out an audible sigh. "There ain't nothin' wrong with tryin' to forget ya killed someone," he said to her, a clear tone of remorse in his voice.
After hearing that, Shampoo had had enough. Speeding up her pace, she walked ahead of Ranma to block his path, then spun around and faced him. Ranma came to a stop again, raising his head to look at her.
"Before meet Ranma," the girl nervously spoke, "...Shampoo kill seven persons—five girl, two man."
Ranma took a step back. He was absolutely floored to hear those words, and his expression couldn't hide that fact. This was something he'd never known about Shampoo. Perhaps more interesting, though, was that she didn't speak of it with regret like he had.
"When Shampoo stay in Japan, start to see things different. But before, kill when necessary is part of Amazon life," Shampoo explained, not wavering in the least. "Li and Meilin come for Ranma and Shampoo life, and someone else maybe come another time. If that happen, we may need kill that one if we want stay alive. If it save Ranma, Shampoo do it in heartbeat."
It was a lot to digest, but Ranma understood what Shampoo was saying. He did. When Shampoo's life was threatened before, he drove his fist through Li's heart. If given an absolute choice between killing an enemy and letting Shampoo die, he would do the former every time. Still, it wasn't in his nature to kill anyone. He hated the idea of it, and that likely wouldn't ever change.
"Heh, I guess I shouldn't be so surprised to hear that about ya. You always were seriously tryin' to kill me when ya thought I was a girl," Ranma managed a brief laugh at the memory, attempting to lighten the mood. He found it tough to look Shampoo in the eye, though.
Shampoo placed her hands against Ranma's cheeks and straightened his head out, forcing him to look at her. "Now that Ranma know, you think bad of Shampoo?" she asked.
Ranma could tell just by looking at Shampoo that she was worried about how he would respond. What she had just told him was probably something she would have been happy to hide from him for the rest of her life, but she'd told him anyway, for his sake. Now, it was Ranma's turn to put her mind at ease.
"Nah, this don't change nothin'. No matter what ya did back then, you're still you," Ranma assured her.
A relieved smile crossed Shampoo's face. "If Ranma kill someone, that no make Shampoo think different of you, either," she said to him. And with that cleared up, Shampoo leaned in and shared a kiss with the pigtailed boy to solidify her feelings. "Ranma understand?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Shampoo. I needed that," Ranma admitted. He really hadn't wanted to talk about the Li incident with her before, but now, he was kind of glad he did. It felt better than keeping it all bottled up inside him.
"So, what Ranma plan for Ringo and Alysse?" Shampoo inquired, getting things back on track.
Ranma, confident in his idea, flashed her a smirk. "C'mon, I'll show ya," he led the way. "I ain't any good with girls' clothes sizes, so I'll be countin' on ya."
The morning's events proved to be a distraction to students throughout the day's classes, but just like any other day, the hours passed by and everyone was dismissed to head home in the late afternoon. At that time, a stream of uniformed Furinkan students filed out of the building. Not a single one left the school grounds without at least glancing back at the clock tower which Kiriko was hanging from earlier—the clock tower which still bore Ringo's name.
Within that crowd of students, three girls in particular walked near each other. Two of them, both wearing the normal uniform of Furinkan's female students, walked alongside one another. One of them was shorter and had light brown hair hanging down to her shoulders. The other had long, black hair that stretched down as far as her elbows, and she had a white gym bag that she carried with her. The third girl, walking behind and off to the side of the other two, was Ukyo Kuonji.
Once outside the school gate, Ukyo kept on walking straight en route to her restaurant. The other two girls turned right and headed in a separate direction.
"So far, so good. Just keep acting natural so you don't stand out, Ringo," the taller girl said to the other.
Ringo, a brown wig sitting atop her head, tried her best to do just as Alysse suggested.
This was all part of the plan that Ranma had devised. Since there was no way to get Ringo and Alysse to Alysse's home without a guarantee that Kodachi wouldn't spot them at some point along the way, Ranma concluded that the best way to go about this was to have the girls leave the school and head there without Kodachi being able to recognize them. Thus, both were loaned wigs from the drama club, and Alysse borrowed a spare uniform the school had, as well as a white gym bag owned by the P.E. teacher. The white bag was just big enough for Alysse to stuff her own gym bag into, concealing what would have potentially been a giveaway to her identity.
Alysse sat in on Ringo's classes throughout the day with both of them in full disguise to help give the impression that they were normal students, but that was the easy part. The tough part was leaving. It was a risky move since they would be traveling without any escort, but if it worked and could get Ringo into hiding, Alysse was all for it. Shampoo and Alysse had also exchanged phone numbers in case something came up and one needed to contact the other.
"Alysse, I know this is all to keep me safe, but...is it really right for me to hide?" Ringo asked her friend. She was one of those who'd taken a long look back at the defaced clock tower as she was leaving. Despite the circumstances of what happened at the end of the match yesterday, she still couldn't shake the guilty feeling that insisted this was all her fault.
"I can understand why you would think that, but nobody wants what happened to Kiriko to happen to you," Alysse answered her. "So, for us...for me, please, let us keep you safe."
Though simple, Alysse's words opened Ringo's eyes to something she'd lost focus of; they reminded her that she had to take other people's feelings into consideration, too. How would Ranma, Shampoo, Ukyo, or the Tendo family feel if something happened to her? For that matter, Alysse, who had rushed who knows how far to Furinkan High to check on her as soon as she'd heard about what had happened...how would she feel? Ringo's existence wasn't a normal one, that was for sure, but there were people around her who cared about her. Even though it would pain her to not be able to explain to Kodachi the truth of what had happened in yesterday's match just yet, she would have to bear it for now. She would bear it for the sakes of all those who wanted to protect her.
Relenting, Ringo nodded in response to the girl in the black wig, and the two of them proceeded on their way.
Meanwhile, still inside the school building, Ranma and a girl with long, darker brown hair watched from a top floor window until Ringo and Alysse had disappeared from sight.
"Nice, looks like it all worked out," Ranma stood proudly, having watched his plan unfold without a hitch. "I doubt Kodachi saw the disguises comin', but even if she did, she'd probably think Ringo and Alysse went the same way as Ucchan. They should get to Alysse's place no prob now."
"Is good. Now Shampoo can relax," the uniformed girl next to him pulled off her brown wig, letting down the lavender-colored hair that had been pinned underneath.
Shampoo, too, had donned a Furinkan school uniform and a wig to secretly watch over Ringo throughout the day. She wasn't too high on the idea of going incognito, but the problem was that Kodachi may have been aware that Shampoo didn't attend school. Hence, if Ranma and Shampoo were both spotted in the same classroom, it would have given every indication that Ringo was in there as well.
"No can wait to change. Shampoo no like wear things like uniform," the Chinese girl complained about her attire, tugging at the constraining sleeves that had been bothering her all day.
"Oh, yeah?" Ranma peeked over at her. "That's too bad. I think it looks good on ya."
Initially surprised by the compliment, Shampoo batted her eyes at Ranma. Then, she turned a sly stare on him. This was a chance for some fun. "Aiyaa, Ranma like that kind of thing?" she shifted over, brushing her rear end up against the pigtailed boy's leg.
"H-hey, there's still some people here!" an embarrassed Ranma quickly scanned around to make sure no one had seen that. "And what kinda thing are you talkin' about?"
Shampoo stepped behind Ranma and draped her arms over his shoulders, not at all interested in whether anyone else was watching them. "If that case, maybe Shampoo get own schoolgirl uniform and wear just for Ranma," she playfully suggested, bringing one hand up to tickle Ranma on the underside of his chin.
Now Ranma had a good understanding of what Shampoo was insinuating. "Wait, schoolgirls? Hold on, I am not into that sorta thing!" he argued.
"Whatever Ranma say," Shampoo smirked at him.
"You don't believe me at all, do ya?" Ranma muttered.
Shampoo shook her head, giggling, and Ranma let out a huff in response. Shampoo didn't know how much Ranma appreciated the teasing, but she hoped it at least brightened his mood a little after everything else that had gone on in the last 24 hours.
Secretly, Shampoo also made a serious mental note about the schoolgirl uniform. Despite Ranma's refusal to admit any such interests, getting a uniform for her own private use might prove to be useful for certain...endeavors in their free time.
"We go home now?" Shampoo asked now that she'd had her fun.
"I do not have a thing for schoolgirls," Ranma grumbled, insistent upon getting the last word in that debate. "And no, not yet. There's a guy I gotta talk to first."
With Ranma leading the way, he and Shampoo traversed down to the bottom floor of the main school building and outside. They would continue on over the school grounds until they came upon the entrance to the gymnasium, otherwise known as the principal's office...or his main office, at least.
"Gym? Why we come here?" Shampoo blinked.
"'Cause this is where the Principal oughtta be," Ranma replied.
"Principal Kuno, Kodachi's dad."
Ranma shoved open the doors to the gym, giving view to the always bizarre scene within. Grass, tropical plants, palm trees, and the partly cloudy sky painted on the walls and ceiling provided a Hawaiian sort of atmosphere that made Furinkan's headmaster feel more at home.
Shampoo wasn't especially familiar with Principal Kuno, but from what little Ranma had mentioned of him, the fact that Furinkan's gymnasium looked like some kind of tropical island didn't come as a great shock. Without questioning the decor, she followed Ranma inside. "Why Ranma want talk to Principal? Is because what Sasuke say is worry you?" Shampoo asked, curious about Ranma's motives.
"What, about Kodachi bein' dangerous, you mean? Yeah, right," Ranma shot down the idea. "Kiriko's just a gymnast, and she was hurt from the match yesterday, too. If Kodachi was waitin' to ambush her somewhere, she'd be easy pickins. You and me are different, though. Even if she wants to do that to one of us, she ain't gonna be able to. That's why I ain't worried."
"Then why want talk to Principal?"
"Because it don't hurt to get a little more information. Heck, he might even know where Kodachi is."
The pair moved on into the deepest part of the gym, where they soon spotted the wooden loft the principal used.
Once they reached it, Ranma stepped up to the base of the loft's ladder. "Yo! Anyone home?" he called out. When no one answered, he looked to Shampoo briefly. "Wait here a sec."
One rung at a time, Ranma ascended the ladder leading up to the loft until he had a good view of the inside, which interestingly contained only the principal's desk. It was a discovery that Ranma found unusual. Sure, there wasn't a ton of stuff there the last time he'd checked, but there was definitely more than just a desk. And where was the principal, anyway? "That's weird," Ranma noted. "Is he g-"
Out of nowhere, a large poster weighted by a heavy bar at the bottom had unraveled down from the loft's ceiling, and the bar fell directly onto Ranma's head. Dazed by the hit, Ranma fell back and slid all the way down the ladder, smacking the back of his head against every rung before finally falling next to Shampoo's feet.
"Ranma, you is okay?" Shampoo knelt down next to him. The only response she got from him was a pained grunt.
"Aloha, everybody!" a speaker suddenly blared from atop the loft.
As Shampoo, and now the recovering Ranma looked up at the poster, they found that it displayed a life-sized image of Principal Kuno himself.
"That nutcase!" Ranma growled, rubbing his head. "What's this supposed to be?"
"Me know all you keiki be wantin' da headmasta to give you da big fun, but sometin' come up very sudden! So, me be goin' on da surprise vacation, yeah!" the message went on. "And 'dis got nuttin' to do with my lil' Kocchi! Nuttin' at all! You be smart and run away if you be seein' her, 'dough! Aloha!"
Based on his message, Principal Kuno had fled, and, thanks to his latter words, there was little doubt between Ranma and Shampoo as to why.
"He run away because scared of Kuno girl," Shampoo voiced the obvious truth.
Miffed by the principal's actions, Ranma jumped up the ladder and tore down the poster, ripping it into pieces until he was satisfied. "That guy...he's overreactin' just like Sasuke," Ranma's eye twitched in annoyance. "Seriously, it's just Kodachi!"
As the day wore on, Ringo and Alysse finally neared the end of a long trek from Furinkan High. So far, there had been no trouble for them whatsoever, nor any sign of potential danger. They weren't in the clear quite yet, but it looked as though their disguises had served their purpose.
"That one, up ahead," Alysse pointed to a home with its exterior painted white. "That's my place."
Ringo shook her head to try to keep herself awake, then tried to pick out with her eyes the house Alysse was pointing to. The girl's lack of sleep had caught up to her during classes earlier, and now her body was just dying for some rest. Her frayed nerves over the possibility of Kodachi attacking all day weren't helping one bit, either.
"Oh, that one," Ringo dragged herself along, just hoping she would be able to make it there. Her eyelids had never felt so heavy. "Hey, Alysse, are you sure this is okay? Won't I be imposing on your family?"
"You don't have to worry about that," Alysse told her. "I'm the only one living there right now."
Ringo was reminded that Alysse had mentioned something similar before about usually being the only one at her home. Did she have no siblings? And where were her parents? Ringo didn't want to be so forward as to ask such a thing out of the blue, but it did seem odd to her.
The two girls walked the rest of the way to the house quietly. It was a very normal-looking home by modern Japanese standards. The area of the property was smaller than that of the Tendo estate that Ringo was accustomed to, but the space was probably more than enough for Alysse if she was living there on her own at the moment.
They entered through the short, metal gate outside the house, and Alysse unlocked the door and led Ringo inside. The blonde girl took one last look around for anything suspicious. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she then closed the door behind them.
Much like the outside of the home, the inside seemed fairly normal as Ringo peeked around. Straight ahead was a staircase that led to the upper floor. Up ahead and to the right of the entryway led to the kitchen, while to the left looked to be a living room, where a large-screened television sat in front of a sofa.
"Welcome to my home," Alysse smiled over at her friend.
"Oh, thank you for...having me over," Ringo replied with a yawn, groggily slipping off her shoes.
Alysse set her gym bag down on the floor, then gave her arms a much-needed stretch above her head. "Well, I guess we should find you something to wear," she suggested, knowing Ringo most likely didn't have a change of clothes with her. "What would you-"
Feeling a weight against her right arm, Alysse abruptly stopped speaking and turned her head. The weight, she noticed, was Ringo's upper body. Ringo's eyes were closed, and her shoulder and head were leaning up against the taller girl for support. Overcome by her exhaustion, Ringo had fallen asleep.
"I guess clothes can wait," Alysse said softly with a bit of a chuckle. Removing the wigs from both she and Ringo's heads, Alysse hoisted the girl up into her arms and began carrying her up the stairs. The curtains were already closed on all of the windows in the house, so there was no need for disguises any longer.
Alysse brought Ringo to the top floor, then started to head for the first room on the left—her room. That course of action wouldn't last long, however, as Alysse quickly stopped herself. Bringing Ringo in there, she thought, would be a mistake. Looking around for a better option, Alysse took Ringo instead to the first room on the right—a room that had been unoccupied for years now.
Inside the room, there wasn't much. A bed, a desk, a dresser; that was it. All Ringo needed was a place to sleep for now, though, so it would do just fine. After pulling back the bedsheets, Alysse gently set Ringo's head onto the pillow and laid the rest of her body down, then pulled the blankets over her. She didn't want Ringo to have to sleep in her school uniform, but she didn't have the heart to wake her up and make her change. She was going to let the girl sleep for as long as she needed.
With Ringo now perfectly situated, Alysse knelt down at the side of the bed in her borrowed uniform. "You know, I feel kind of bad. Even with what you were going through, today was actually fun for me," the blonde girl admitted in a whisper, brushing the hair away from Ringo's face. "I wish...I'd been able to go to school with you every day, right from the beginning. Then we could study together, eat lunch together, go on school trips together...we could do it all."
Alysse allowed her fingers to slide down Ringo's cheek and brush over the girl's lips. Then, with a loud gulp, Alysse started to lean forward. Her face was turning red, and her heart was beating so loudly that she swore she could hear it. She cupped Ringo's cheek with one hand, bringing her own face closer to that of the slumbering girl.
Alysse's hair fell across Ringo's shoulder, and their lips moved to within a few inches of each other. But, as Alysse stared down at her friend's face, she had a sudden change of heart. She quickly pulled back, trying her best to gather herself and calm down.
No matter how much she wanted to, Alysse couldn't do it. Not this way. Not like this.
Alysse took a deep breath, then placed her hands atop the blanket where Ringo's left palm lay. "I will not let Kodachi hurt you," she swore to the girl. "I promise, no matter what, I will protect you."
That night, after darkness had fallen over the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, Kasumi headed up the stairs of a very quiet Tendo home carrying some of Ringo's laundry with her. Kasumi had been informed of the day's events involving Ringo via a quick phone call from Shampoo earlier. Needless to say, she was incredibly concerned for the kindhearted girl, and she could only hope that Ringo would be safe.
Once Kasumi reached the top floor, she walked toward Ringo's room—formerly Nabiki's room—and entered. It was dark, and silent. Seeing the room that way brought a hint of sadness to Kasumi's heart. She was used to seeing Ringo studying before bed if she ever came by at this time of night.
With Ringo gone, Nabiki back at her apartment, and Akane off who knows where, only Kasumi and her father would occupy the house tonight, and that left it feeling eerily empty. Ringo's wasn't always the biggest presence, but it was a cheerful one. Always willing to help with this and that, always wanting to brighten another's day. And when that presence was suddenly gone, Kasumi noticed. She noticed, and she missed it.
Sighing worriedly to herself, Kasumi turned on the light. "Poor Ringo."
No sooner had she softly uttered those words that the light in the room suddenly went off again, leaving everything pitch black. Surprised by the abrupt outage, Kasumi tried to turn the light back on. After a few tries, however, the light still wouldn't return. "How odd," she tilted her head, wondering what could have happened.
As Kasumi turned around, she noticed there was more to it. The rest of the hallway was darkened, too, as appeared to be the lower floor since there wasn't any light coming up from near the stairs. She could recall such a thing happening once or twice during particularly nasty weather, but for it to happen out of the blue like this was new to her.
Kasumi figured it would be best to seek out her father and come up with a solution for all this. But, before she could do that, something caught her attention. Kasumi turned back toward the inside of Ringo's room, where outside the window was a bright, violet-colored glow. She squinted her eyes, trying to get a better look, but she had no idea what on earth it might be. Unfortunately, she was about to find out.
With a resounding blast, the glass from the window and debris from the wall exploded into the room. So frightened was Kasumi that she dropped Ringo's freshly-washed clothes and let out a high-pitched scream—one that would be quickly cut off. Amidst the falling pieces of the wall, a human figure bounded into the room and wrapped their hand around Kasumi's throat. Their momentum carried Kasumi and themselves straight back into the wall, and then right through it.
Coming out of the other side, Kasumi was forced out into the hallway and into the wall sitting opposite from Ringo's room. Her eyes were closed, her back was racked with pain, and the intruder's grip on her throat was strong, limiting her air intake. She opened one eye as far as she could, and, despite the power in the house being out, the light of the moon and the streetlights outside provided her with just enough vision to make out the face of her assailant.
"K-...Ko...dachi..." Kasumi choked out the girl's identity.
"Good evening, Kasumi Tendo," Kodachi Kuno greeted her with a deceiving politeness. With a crazed look in her eyes, she offered the eldest Tendo daughter a question of only three simple words. "Where is she?"
Kasumi's entire body shook with a mix of fear and pain. She knew, of course, that Kodachi was referring to Ringo. "Koda...chi...she..."
"Where is she? WHERE IS SHE?" Kodachi impatiently screamed into Kasumi's face. "Where, where, where?"
"Rin...go..." Kasumi managed to speak the redhead's name, "...she...wouldn't...hurt you! She wouldn't-"
"That is not what I asked!" Kodachi angrily tightened her vice on the other girl's throat, forcing a yelp out of her. "Where, Kasumi Tendo? Where is she? Where, oh where is my precious little second?"
So weakened was Kasumi that she couldn't even lift an arm to try to pry Kodachi's hand away. She was helpless. Even after hearing of what had happened this morning, she questioned whether Kodachi was really capable of such an act. Now that she faced the scorned gymnast, though, she questioned nothing. Never in her life had she seen anyone displaying the rage she saw in Kodachi's eyes.
Kasumi knew now why Ranma and the others were so thorough in their measures to protect Ringo. A girl with no will to fight may well be ripped to shreds by Kodachi as she was now. That was exactly why Kasumi needed to do what she could to protect Ringo, as well. She was no fighter, but there was still something she could do, no matter how pointless it may end up being.
"No...you're...wrong!" Kasumi spoke as audibly as she could, her face showing the strain that came with her struggle to breathe. The more Kasumi refused to answer Kodachi's question, the tighter the grip of the Black Rose grew. "Ringo...wouldn't. You...are...her...fr-...friend..."
After using all of her energy to spit out those words, Kasumi went limp against the wall. She had passed out. Kodachi, seeing that she wouldn't be getting anything else out of the older girl, released her, allowing her body to slump to the floor.
"Friend?" Kodachi hissed as she stared down at the fallen Kasumi. Just hearing that word made her feel sick inside. "I have no friend!"
Then, thinking she'd heard something, Kodachi stopped and listened to her surroundings for a moment. Sure enough, she could hear the sound of heavy footsteps coming from downstairs.
"Kasumi!" the voice of Soun Tendo rang throughout the home. "Kasumi, what was that noise? Why is our power out?"
Once he spotted the light shining in on the upper floor, Soun rushed up the stairs in search of answers. What he saw when he got to the top of them provided every answer he needed. The upper part of his daughter's body jutted out from behind a wall, and standing over her, shrouded in the glow of the streetlights pouring in from the damaged walls, was Kodachi Kuno.
The loving father's face lit up with absolute fury. Knowing that someone had brought harm to his sweet, innocent Kasumi, Soun Tendo snapped. "What are you doing to my daughter?!" he howled, lunging toward Kodachi with no intent of holding back.
Kodachi, who had been holding a ribbon in her left hand since busting through the wall, took the tool into her right hand—her good hand. The Tendo family patriarch bore down on her quickly, but Kodachi didn't budge. Soun came within mere inches of his striking range. Then, a thin, violet light slashed through the air in the blink of an eye.
Soun's momentum slowed, and he reached forward and grabbed Kodachi by her left shoulder. He tried to clamp down on his daughter's attacker, but his strength just wasn't there. That frightening expression he once showed had been replaced by one of utter shock.
A frigid smile crossing her lips, Kodachi reached up and grabbed hold of Soun's hand. Effortlessly, she pried it away from her, then threw it back his way. Soun staggered back three steps, then a fourth. He looked down at his gi, parts of which now hung awkwardly. Beneath the damaged clothing, a fresh, clean cut across his torso was oozing blood at a rapid rate. What wasn't being soaked into the fabric of the gi instead dripped down onto the floor.
"Such a foolish man," Kodachi belittled the enraged father. Holding her right arm out to the side, she then began twirling her ribbon. "Fools should pay for their mistakes."
Within the funnel of Kodachi's rotating ribbon, a ball of violet-colored energy began to grow. As that ball grew larger, Soun came to realize his mistake. He had vastly underestimated his opponent, and it had cost him dearly. With a look of pure pleasure on her face, Kodachi flung her ribbon forward, effectively firing the sphere of energy outward. The ball struck Soun directly in his already wounded chest and exploded, sending out a thunderous shock wave that shook the entire Tendo home.
Deep cracks spread throughout the walls and ceiling, and a hole was opened up in the floor of the home's top story, dumping debris down onto the ground floor below. The door to the guest room once occupied by Ranma and Genma was blown clear off its tracks. Soun himself was sent flying straight back until he crashed into the wall by the top of the stairs, his body embedded into it by the sheer force of the blast.
His face blank, Soun collapsed forward out of the wall and fell face-first down to the floor. He had been soundly defeated, and beneath him, a puddle of blood slowly began to accumulate.
At the other end of the hallway, callous, uncaring snickers came from the direction of Kodachi. She swung her ribbon back and forth, slashing it through any part of the wall or floor it touched. "Riiiingoooo. Riiiiiiiingoooooooo," she sang the red-haired girl's name as she strolled forward. "Come out, come out, wherever you are!"
Kodachi continued on and came to the stairs, and then, her expression changed. Her playfulness disappeared and was replaced entirely by hatred. "Ringo!" she shouted, slashing into the wooden railing around the top of the stairs with her ribbon. A large chunk of the wood was cut away and tumbled down the steps, and Kodachi kept on slicing into the railing. "Ringo! Ringo! RINGO!"
By the time Kodachi was done, there was nothing left of the railing. It was literally in pieces at the bottom of the stairs. Panting loudly as she regained control, a twisted smile came over the face of the Black Rose once more. "Ahahahaha...ahahahahahaha!" she laughed to herself. "I see, you ran and hid from me! How very wise of you, Ringo. Very well. Let us play a game of hide-and-seek!"
Grinning from ear to ear, Kodachi took in the destruction she had just caused, eventually bringing her gaze to the badly injured Soun Tendo. "I wonder, though..." she looked over her shoulder, back at Kasumi's body now, "...how long will you be able to hide when those close to you are suffering in your place? That, I look forward to finding out! Ahahahahahahahahaaaaaa!"
End of Chapter 21