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 22

Breathing in, breathing out. Slowly inhaling, then exhaling. Keeping the mind clear of thoughts.

With the sun starting to set and dusk approaching, this was all Shampoo was doing as she faced the worn-down straw dummy with her eyes closed out behind her restaurant. Never did a day pass where she didn't dedicate a fair share of time to working on her very much incomplete Speed of Light Fist. She wasn't so optimistic as to believe that she was close to mastering it, but she did feel confident that she was making progress, and that was the important thing.

Shampoo had some extra time to put into her training tonight since Ranma had taken off as soon as the Cat Café's dinner hours were over. Shortly after Ranma had returned from the day's classes at Furinkan High, his father, Genma, had shown up at the restaurant and informed him of certain events that had taken place at the Tendo estate last night that were both surprising and upsetting. Ranma hung around to help Shampoo through the busy business hours, then set off in search of answers afterward.

There was definitely nothing discreet about Kodachi's actions. She was bold, and she was intent on exacting revenge upon Ringo. Last night was proof that she would go after those close to Ringo in order to find the girl, and if and when Kodachi chose to attack the Cat Café, Shampoo was going to be ready.

When Shampoo heard something atop the nearby wall all of a sudden, her first thought was that Kodachi had picked now as her aforementioned time of attack. Shampoo whirled around toward the setting sun, prepared to defend herself. As she took in the sight of a figure up above, though, the shape of a handle to some object on the person's back led her to ease up. It wasn't Kodachi, she realized. Unfortunately, it was someone she was even less eager to see.

"So there you are. I was starting to think no one was here," Ukyo Kuonji spoke, not sounding too happy to see Shampoo, either. She hopped down from the wall and took a few steps closer. "Does Ran-chan know what happened to Kasumi and Mr. Tendo?"

"Ranma hear from father. He go to hospital after restaurant close," Shampoo told her. She turned around to face the dummy again, closing her eyes just as she had before.

Ukyo wasn't sure how she should feel about the girl being so willing to lower her guard around her, but her initial reaction was that she didn't like it. "I guess there was more to Kodachi than we thought."

"Is more crazy than think," Shampoo partially agreed, still facing away from her visitor.

Though she hadn't come here for a confrontation, Ukyo was finding it hard to resist. After all, who knew when she would get a chance like this again? "Maybe it's good that Ranma's gone," she suggested. "Now we can chat."

Shampoo could only sigh as she looked up toward the darkening sky. She knew this was coming; she'd felt the tension in the air from the moment Ukyo had arrived.

"That last challenge I sent you...why did Kuno show up to answer it?" Ukyo asked, getting straight to the point.

"Kuno?" Shampoo glanced back at her. "No know about that."

"You're lying!" Ukyo snapped at her old rival, not buying her innocent response.

"Is truth," Shampoo calmly stood by her claim. "Shampoo throw okonomiyaki far away as soon as read it."

Somehow, that reply put off Ukyo even more than the idea of Shampoo lying to her. "You...threw it away?" she clenched her right fist, glaring angrily at the other girl. "Why? Why won't you accept my challenge? Just tell me!"

"Shampoo no have to," the lavender-haired girl refused. This conversation had gone exactly where she'd figured it would, and she didn't see any point in it. Done with Ukyo for the time being, she stepped over to the restaurant's back door. "You give up now. Shampoo never fight you."

Shampoo twisted the doorknob and opened up the door to head inside. Then, all in an instant, everything went black. Shampoo's head was slammed forward into the edge of the door's frame, and she dropped to the floor just inside the restaurant's back entrance, unmoving.

There, looking down upon her victim, Ukyo stood with both hands gripping the handle of her spatula in front of her. Her mouth agape, she let the over-sized utensil fall to the ground. She raised her hands up, then let them fall to her side again. Her body language reeked of someone struggling to cope with what they'd just done. "Damn! I...I didn't mean...I didn't want to..."

Out of frustration, Ukyo twice kicked the exterior of the restaurant. "Damn! Damn!" She picked up her spatula again, and, eying the practice dummy, lopped off its straw head with a single, forceful swing. "DAMN!"

The dummy's head hit the ground and settled into place, and Ukyo began to calm down after her outburst. She fell back against the wall and silently stared at Shampoo for nearly two full minutes. She had done this. She'd laid Shampoo out. It had happened. There was no taking it back now, and that was something that Ukyo was slowly starting to accept.

Having set herself on a dangerous path, whether intentional or not, Ukyo hopped up to the top of the wall and looked back at her fallen adversary one last time. "You guys can deal with Kodachi yourselves," she declared. And with that, she was gone.

Elsewhere in the Nerima Ward, one Ranma Saotome was strolling down a quiet road, hands in his pockets and mind still trying to grasp the reality of what was happening around him. Not long ago, he'd left the hospital where Soun and Kasumi Tendo were being treated. Genma, Nabiki and Dr. Tofu were all present, as well. According to nurses, Kasumi was likely to be released before the night was done. The same couldn't be said of her father.

After his hospital visit, Ranma was ready to dismiss any assumptions he previously held about the one deemed the "Black Rose." This wasn't just Kodachi. This was something different. What that was, Ranma wasn't sure. He knew where he might be able to find out, though, and that place was now coming into view. That place...was the Kuno household.

As Ranma came upon the perimeter of the estate, he sprung up onto and then over the wall next to the gate. Casual as could be, he proceeded toward the Kuno home and onto the walkway outside it, where Tatewaki Kuno already sat. Typically, Ranma's actions would warrant an objection from the elder Kuno sibling, or at least some snide remark about entering the premises uninvited. On this occasion, however, there would be nothing of the sort.

"An ominous wind blows on this day, does it not, Ranma Saotome?" the cross-legged Kuno addressed his visitor.

Ranma plopped himself down not far from where his old nemesis sat, his eyes staring off into the distance. "Y'know, I get how Kodachi could do what she did to Kiriko and Kasumi. I do. But Mr. Tendo...he ain't no joke. He's a strong martial artist who was in perfect health, and Kodachi...she almost killed him," he said, still sounding as if he didn't quite believe it. "I don't get it. What am I missin' here, Kuno?"

While Tatewaki wasn't thrilled with the idea of sharing sensitive family information with his greatest rival, he recognized that there were more important things at stake here than a little pride. His sister needed to be stopped and brought back to her senses before she caused harm to anyone else, and to that end, Tatewaki would do what he must. "A number of years ago," he began, "...our mother left us out of the blue and never returned. My sister...she took it quite badly, and, perhaps as a way to cope with our mother's departure, she changed."

"How so?" Ranma asked him.

"She became violent," Kuno answered, shuddering at the memory. "She would indiscriminately attack myself and our father, and later she would even do so to those she had never met. Our father soon fled because he feared living with Kodachi so."

"Whoa, whoa, wait a sec," Ranma stopped him. "That was the reason your old man disappeared back then?"

"Indeed," Kuno confirmed.

Suddenly, the fleeing of Furinkan's Principal Kuno yesterday made much more sense to Ranma. Kodachi's father already knew what he was dealing with, so he got out again before it was too late.

"Fortunately, my sister would be stopped after some time," Tatewaki went on. "You see, she recklessly attempted to bring harm to a certain woman, and she was defeated quite handily. I believe that woman went by the name of...oh, what was it? Katrina...Winters, if I recall. Quite the skilled warrior she was, if not somewhat unrefined. In any case, she took an interest in my sister, and she even instructed her in rhythmic gymnastics. From then onward, Kodachi returned to being...relatively normal, I suppose."

"Until this weekend," Ranma added, glancing over at him.

Tatewaki Kuno replied with a nod. "After she was betrayed by your acquaintance, my sister fell back into that volatile state of long ago. No...it was not that. What she has become now is far worse than before," he corrected himself. "This time, I am afraid she seems able to conjure up black magic."

Unimpressed with Kuno's choice of words, Ranma shot him a dry look. "Black magic? Come on, man, really?"

"I do not jest, Ranma Saotome!" Kuno snapped back in defense of his analysis. "I saw it with my own eyes! My sister...she conjured some peculiar, purple light within her ribbon. It was not of this world, I tell you!"

"Purple light?" Ranma immediately thought to himself. "That ain't black magic. Sounds more like...did Kodachi learn how to use chi energy?"

Among those of his generation, Ryoga was the only other one besides himself that Ranma knew could manipulate their own chi energy and use it in their offense. For Kodachi to be able to do the same would have sounded ludicrous to him before yesterday. Then again, the idea that Kodachi could defeat Soun Tendo would have as well. It was possible. It definitely couldn't be ruled out.

"Allow me to impart this wisdom upon you, Saotome," Kuno spoke up again. "My dear sister is not presently the same one with whom you are familiar. If you intend to stop her, I would advise you not to take her lightly. If you do, then you, too, may well fall before her."

Ranma could acknowledge that Kodachi was more dangerous than he'd first thought, but insinuating that even he might lose to her? "Yeah, right. Like that'd happen," he scoffed at the notion.

For the time being, Ranma had learned all he was going to. It was time to head back home.

By now, darkness had mostly taken over the skies, and the streetlights were firing up to provide light to those still wandering the roads.

Over at the entrance to Ucchan's Okonomiyaki, the lights also helped to illuminate a notice that had been posted outside the door. That notice read as follows: "Ucchan's Okonomiyaki will be closed indefinitely due to the owner being away. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we look forward to seeing you again upon the restaurant's reopening. Thank you!"

There was a sharp, slapping noise as a girl's palm smacked up against the piece of paper, her nails ripping through it as she partially closed her hand. That girl, with a light, vertical cut on her forehead where the door frame had broken through her skin, was an extremely livid Shampoo.

"Ukyo want Shampoo attention?" the fired up Chinese Amazon glared furiously at the written notice. "Now Ukyo have!"


Far from the chaos that had been erupting in other places over the last couple of days, Ringo's friend, Alysse, was parked on her living room sofa and watching television after waking up from a short nap. When she first awakened this morning, Alysse couldn't wait to get out of bed and spend the day with Ringo in the comfort of her own home. Things hadn't gone quite as planned, however, as Ringo was still asleep when Alysse got up, and she then remained in bed the entire day.

If she wasn't so sure that Ringo could use the extra rest, Alysse would have gone in there and woke the girl up herself. As it was, though, what she had hoped would be a fun day had wound up being an insanely boring one. Such was life, she figured.

"Alysse?" Ringo entered the room all of a sudden, rubbing her still sleepy eyes.

"Ringo!" the blonde girl perked up in a hurry. "Finally up, huh?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry for sleeping so long," Ringo apologized.

"Don't worry about it," Alysse brushed her concerns aside. She gave the sofa cushion next to her a couple of pats, beckoning the other girl to join her. "Come have a seat."

Though it felt to Alysse as if Ringo had been sleeping for more than a full day, her guest had actually woken up not long after Alysse had gone to sleep the night before. Ringo found a stack of clothes waiting for her once she was up, and took the opportunity to change out of her school uniform. When she wandered downstairs for a glass of water, she even found a plate of dinner that Alysse had prepared for her wrapped up on the kitchen table. After that, Ringo sat around lost in thought for a long while. Mostly, she thought about Kodachi. How much she wanted to talk to her. How much she wanted to tell her what had really happened. How much she just wanted things to be back to normal between them. Eventually, she grew tired again, and since Alysse was already asleep, Ringo went back to bed herself.

"Thank you for the food and the clothes," Ringo said as she sat down next to her friend. There was nothing extravagant about the borrowed attire, a plain white t-shirt and a pair of black workout pants with silver stripes down the sides, but they were much more comfortable to sleep in than her school uniform. "I had to roll the pant legs up a little because they were so long."

"I thought you might. I have long legs because I'm so tall," Alysse laughed a little. "We can try to find you something else to wear if you want."

"Oh, no, these are fine," Ringo assured her. Curious as to what Alysse was watching, she took a peek at the television. "Cartoons?"

"You're never too old for them," Alysse insisted. "These are cartoons I used to watch back when I was little, before I had to move here because of my dad's work. They kind of bring back good memories for me."

Ringo was still interested in the whereabouts of Alysse's family. She didn't want to bring up the subject out of nowhere, but since Alysse had mentioned her father, Ringo figured now might not be a bad time to ask about it. "Umm...I'm sorry if I'm being too forward, but where are your parents at?"

"Oh, don't worry. It's no big deal," Alysse downplayed the topic, not seeming put off at all by it. "They're in Singapore for the next few months, again because of Dad's job. Until then, I get the house to myself."

While she was glad she hadn't ruffled any feathers by asking about it, Ringo couldn't help wondering how living by herself made Alysse feel. "Don't you get lonely without them around?" she asked.

Alysse offered a shrug in response. "I'm used to it. I get to talk to them over the phone every day or two, so it's not that bad," she said, flashing a smile over at the other girl. "And getting to know you helped a lot, too."

"Really? I'm glad, then," Ringo returned the gesture.

For the next couple of minutes, the two girls sat back and watched the cartoon's story unfold. Ringo kept quiet as she tried to understand what was going on, while Alysse would snicker every now and then when she found something amusing.

"So...one skunk likes the other and keeps chasing her, but she doesn't like him?" Ringo asked, wondering if she was seeing things right.

"No, no, the girl is just a cat that always finds some weird way to get a white stripe painted over her back. And the skunk, who's really...passionate, sees her and thinks she's a skunk, too. The cat can't stand the skunk's smell though, so she runs away," Alysse thoroughly explained the setup.

As the show went on, the cat would run, and the skunk would hop along at his own pace, yet still somehow beat the cat to her next hiding place. After this happened a second time, Ringo began to giggle. "This is funny! How does he keep getting there before her?"

"Hmm...I bet he would say," Alysse deepened her voice to sound more like that of the skunk, "...it is ze powére of love!"

"Ahahahahaha!" Ringo got a laugh out of the imitation. "Oh gosh, you're good at that!"

Spurned on by the favorable reaction, Alysse turned her body toward Ringo and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Ma chérie!" she continued to speak in that deep voice, kissing the air several times to further mimic the skunk. "We could make ze beautiful music togezére!"

Alysse kissed the air a few more times, and that was when she noticed just how close she'd gotten to Ringo. Not only that, but Ringo was staring back at her, batting her eyelids as if taken aback by the blonde girl's actions.

Coming to realize what she'd just done, Alysse let go of Ringo's shoulders and backed away in a flash. "Oh, crap! Crap, crap, crap!" she thought to herself, starting to panic. "Even for a joke, that was WAY too much! I totally just weirded her out! That was so stupid! STUPID!"


Now it was Alysse's turn to be surprised as Ringo burst out in a fit of laughter. "Wow!" Ringo held her sides as she broke down laughing. "That was...that was perfect! Ahahahahahaha!"

"W-was it?" Alysse nervously asked, inwardly breathing an enormous sigh of relief. "Thank god! I didn't weird her out, after all!"

Alysse had gotten a little too relaxed in her own home and allowed herself to do something she wouldn't have normally done, even if it was just a joke. Thankfully, Ringo didn't seem to mind the performance. It led Alysse to wonder, though...had she spoken sweet words not in jest, and had she kissed her for real...how would Ringo have reacted then?

"Jeez, that was too funny," Ringo wiped a tear from her eye once she'd finally gotten all the laughs out of her system. "I've never seen you do anything like that before, Alysse."

"I-...it was for your eyes only, so don't go telling anyone about it," Alysse demanded, feeling embarrassed by the whole thing. "Anyway, aren't you hungry? You haven't eaten in a while, right?"

Now that it was brought to her attention, Ringo realized that Alysse was right. "Yeah, I guess I am a little hungry," she said, placing a hand against her empty stomach.

"That's what I thought. Well, why don't we go whip up some dinner then?" Alysse suggested. "I'm not that great of a cook, so you'll have to help me out."

"Yeah, sure!" Ringo happily agreed.

The two of them stood up from the couch and stretched out their muscles, then headed for the kitchen to get to work.

"Hey, Alysse," Ringo spoke as they walked, her voice sounding more downbeat now, "...do you think everyone is alright? From Kodachi, I mean?"

Alysse had been hoping she could help Ringo forget about all of that during her stay here, but she knew the odds were against her on that front. "Shampoo hasn't called here, so I'm guessing everything is fine," she replied. Of course, that also could have meant that Shampoo had come under attack and wasn't able to call, but Alysse preferred not to cause Ringo any unneeded worry.

"Oh. Okay," Ringo said, hanging her head as she moved. "I hope you're right."

The only phone call Alysse wanted right now was one telling her that Kodachi had been caught. Then at least Ringo could relax and go about her life as usual again. If it took a few extra days, though, that would be just fine by Alysse. Having Ringo here, all to herself was nothing short of pure bliss.

While Ringo and Alysse settled in for the night, Ranma was making his way back to the Cat Café amidst the sound of chirping crickets. His visits to the hospital and the Kuno estate had been informative, but ultimately, Ranma still wasn't quite sure what he was dealing with in Kodachi. That, he figured, might just be something he would have to see in person to understand.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as Ranma approached the restaurant, which quelled any concerns he had that Kodachi might have attacked while he was away. Once he reached the entrance, he slid open the door and stepped inside. "Yo, I'm...back..." his voice trailed off.

The outside of the building may have appeared ordinary, but the inside was anything but. The restaurant's dining area had been turned upside down. Tables, chairs, chopsticks and other debris were strewn all about the floor. And, in the middle of everything, Shampoo sat on the lone standing chair, her body draped over the lone standing table.

Shampoo, holding an ice pack over the back of her head, now sat up to look at Ranma. There was a bandage over the cut she'd received earlier on her forehead, and her skin was glistening with a recent sweat she'd worked up. Without Ukyo to direct her anger toward, Shampoo had obliterated the wall out behind the building, turning it into nothing more than a long row of rubble. She was more forgiving to the furniture in the dining area, but if she hadn't needed it to run her business, things would have been different. Shampoo could put up with the verbal taunts, but by physically attacking her, and from behind no less, Ukyo had pushed her past the limit of what she could tolerate.

"Kasumi and father is okay?" Shampoo asked the returning pigtailed boy.

"Yeah...they'll be fine once they heal up," Ranma replied, and that was all he would say on that topic as he closed the door behind him. The only thing he cared about for the moment was what he was looking at. "Forget about that, what happened here? What happened to you?"

Shampoo didn't want to talk about what had taken place with Ukyo, but there was no way Ranma wouldn't ask about it; not with the mess she'd left the restaurant in. "Shampoo slip and fall, hit head on accident," she claimed.

As Ranma walked toward her, he could see through Shampoo's lie without even giving it any thought. He'd been around her enough at this point to know the difference between when something just mildly annoyed her and when she was really, truly angry about something. The scorching look he saw in her eyes right now revealed the truth: she was pissed. No little slip and fall would make her this upset.

"You ain't that clumsy, and you know it," Ranma said, stepping up next to her table. "What happened?"

"Shampoo tell you, is just fall," the Amazon girl stuck by her story.

Deciding she was done talking about this, Shampoo stood up and tried to walk away, but Ranma grabbed her by the forearm to stop her. "Who did this to you?" Ranma asked, deadly serious in wanting to know. "Was it Kodachi?"

"It no was Kuno girl," Shampoo glared back at him. She tried to pull free of Ranma's grip, but couldn't do so. "Ranma let go now!"

Ranma couldn't believe how combative Shampoo was getting over this. Whatever she was trying to hide from him, she seemed determined to keep it hidden. "Why won't you just tell me who did this to you?" he continued with his interrogation.

Her blood starting to boil just as it had after Ukyo's attack earlier, Shampoo got right up into Ranma's face. "Because Ranma no need to know!" her voice blared in his ears.

Perhaps infected by the girl's vigor, Ranma showed some of his own as he forced Shampoo back onto the table and leaned over her, still gripping her arm. "When someone hurts my girlfriend, that's somethin' I need to know about! Just tell me already!" he demanded.

Shampoo, who had dropped her ice pack to the floor, tried to fight her way back up. "No! Ranma let go!"

"C'mon, Shampoo! Who hurt you? Tell me!"

"Shampoo no tell!"

What happened next, Ranma had no idea. Maybe it was just he, as a martial artist, recognizing the fighting spirit of another warrior, but something switched on inside of him as he hovered over Shampoo on that table. That fiery look in her eyes. The sweat covering her skin. Her hair all spread out beneath her. Those toned arms that wanted to smash someone's face in, although she wouldn't tell him whose.

Shampoo was...gorgeous.

His mind going blank, Ranma bent down and pressed his lips over those of his girlfriend. The expression that came over Shampoo's face in that moment gave away her clear surprise at the unexpected action. She stopped fighting him and instead just stared up at Ranma's closed eyes. This forcefulness, this initiative...it reminded Shampoo of that fateful night where Ranma had kissed her after their date on the island of Odaiba.

After a few seconds, that point of realization seemed to come to Ranma as he suddenly became aware of what he was doing. His eyes shot open, and he quickly broke the kiss and pulled himself away from Shampoo.

The couple shared a silent look that felt to Ranma as though it lasted an eternity. Ranma wondered what he'd been thinking when he did that, and Shampoo wondered the same about him. A kiss like that was a normal thing for two young people in a relationship to experience, but Ranma was never the aggressor as he was just now when such situations arose. It was...different, for both of them.

Then, just as Ranma had opened his mouth to say something, Shampoo reached out with her free hand, grabbed him by his shirt, and yanked him down into a passionate kiss of her own. From there, the two of them let go of any inhibitions and hesitation, and they completely surrendered themselves to the emotion flowing between them.

Their tongues entwined, and their hands roamed across each other's bodies. Shampoo wrapped her legs around Ranma, and, wanting to take control, she used her strength to flip Ranma over so that she was the one on top. Ranma wouldn't allow that for long, though, as he pushed himself up off the table and back to his feet, gripping Shampoo's bottom with both hands to keep her elevated against him. The shift in weight would carry both of them back into the restaurant wall, against which Ranma pressed Shampoo as they carried on without a care in the world.

Shampoo held onto Ranma tightly, so much so that her nails left scratches across the back of his neck. Ranma was so lost in the moment that he didn't even feel the pain. He just indulged himself in this act of passion that he'd resisted for so long, until, finally, it was Shampoo who placed her hands on Ranma's shoulders and forced him back, putting some space between their bodies.

They were both panting now, just trying to catch their breath after their frenzied showing of affection. Each met the other's eyes as they soaked in what they'd just done together.



"Shampoo still sweat from before. Need take bath first."

"O-...oh. Okay."

Shampoo planted a deep kiss on her man, tightening her grip on his shoulders. "You no go anywhere. You stay right here," she instructed him, and then offered another kiss. "When Shampoo come back, we do...more."

After initiating one last meeting of the lips between them, Shampoo eased Ranma back until he released the grip on her rear end and let her down. She slowly stepped to the side and then away from the wall, brushing one palm along Ranma's chest while she moved. She was so reluctant to stop here, both because of how much she was enjoying it and out of fear that Ranma may change his mind. But, if this was going where Shampoo thought it was going, then she wanted to present herself in perfect condition.

Forcing her body to turn around, Shampoo bolted toward the back of the restaurant and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her in her haste. Her heart and mind racing, she fell back against the door for a moment once she was inside. "This it. Tonight is night!" she thought excitedly.

Shampoo practically tore her clothes off as she rushed to get herself cleaned up. The heavens willing, she was going to make this a night that neither she nor Ranma would ever forget.

Meanwhile, out amongst the scattering of overturned tables and chairs in the dining area, Ranma stood there...and stood there...and stood there, his mind struggling to keep up with everything that had happened, as well as everything that was going to happen. "Do...more?" he echoed Shampoo's exact words to him. It didn't come right away, but in time, the meaning behind those two words started to sink in. "Whoooooaaaaa..."

Feeling lightheaded, Ranma staggered back a couple of steps. "Okay, just relax, Ranma," he made an effort to calm himself. "You started this, and you're not gonna back out now. Come on, you're a man, ain't ya?"

Ranma scanned around the restaurant as he tried to settle his nerves, eventually setting his sights on the front door. "Maybe some fresh air ain't a bad idea," he decided.

Shampoo had specifically told him not to go anywhere, but just going outside for a minute couldn't hurt, Ranma figured. It wasn't like he was running away or anything...yet. Thus, he stepped out into the night air for a much needed breather. His head tilted downward, and his eyes stared at nothing in particular as he leaned back against the restaurant's outside wall.

"Okay. We're okay. We've been with her for a while now. This was gonna happen sooner or later," Ranma reminded himself. All the while, he took deep breath after deep breath to ease his nervousness. "It's okay, though. It's okay! You're ready for this! If you can survive a life-and-death battle with Li, then this oughtta be easy!"

Raising his hands up to his face, Ranma slapped his cheeks to help psyche himself up. "Alright! Let's do this!"

On that empty road running along the line of businesses that included the Cat Café, the sound of breaking glass suddenly echoed throughout the night. Ranma, noticing out of the corner of his eye that the road had darkened, shot a glance in the direction of the noise. From what he could tell, the bulb in one of the streetlights had apparently blown out.

"Mmm," Ranma groaned, narrowing his eyes, "...is that some kinda sign? What the heck's it supposed to mean?"

Then, as Ranma was still looking over that way, another streetlight went out, this time closer. As he heard the shards of glass from the bulb falling to the concrete below, he instinctively raised his alertness. One bulb blowing could be written off as a random occurrence, but two? That seemed unlikely.

Moments later, Ranma's eyes picked up on something flying through the darkness. It was thin, but fleet, and before Ranma knew it, the object he'd seen had pierced through the streetlight beside the restaurant. The area darkened, and would quickly do so even more as yet another projectile flew in, this time running through and breaking both lights that illuminated the Cat Café's banner above its entrance.

Other than the light glow from the windows of nearby buildings, the road was plunged into the black of night. Ranma, his eyes still adjusting, stepped out into the middle of the path and faced the direction where the objects had flown in from. Something was coming, but who? Or what?

It was fortunate for Ranma that he had such sharp senses, because the next projectile that came was aimed straight at his forehead. His reflexes moving him out of harm's way, he reached up and snapped the object out of the air. Then, keeping his guard up, he opened his hand. With one look, everything became abundantly clear to him.

It was a black rose, and blood trickled from Ranma's hand where a thorn on the flower's stem had cut him. There was no mistaking it. She had arrived.

Ranma looked up, allowing the rose to fall from his grasp. He could hear footsteps approaching, and soon, a figure appeared on the dimly lit road. She still had on that same leotard she'd worn at the match over the weekend, only now, it was stained with blood.

Dragging a ribbon along the road behind her, Kodachi Kuno, the lower half of her face from her nose on down covered by a dark-colored mask of some sort, stopped as she came face-to-face with her old love interest. Kodachi tilted her head as she looked upon him with those crazed eyes, a twisted smile hidden beneath her mask.

"Greetings to you...my darling, Ranma."

End of Chapter 22