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 23

"Need hurry! Why this take so long?"

Within the Cat Café's bath, Shampoo had become covered in soap suds as she tried to finish cleaning up as quickly as humanly possible. After a passionate exchange between she and Ranma in the dining area minutes earlier, the next step in their relationship was, by all indications, waiting to take place once Shampoo's bath was over. It was the moment Shampoo had been looking forward to for months, no, for years now, and she wasn't about to postpone it any longer than she needed to. Taking hold of one end of a soaped up towel in each hand behind her, she scrubbed away at her back like there was no tomorrow. "Ranma, you wait right there! Shampoo no take much longer!"

Unbeknownst to Shampoo, however, was the volatile situation Ranma presently found himself in.

Outside the restaurant, Ranma was staring ahead at none other than Kodachi Kuno, and she back at him. Kodachi had made grand entrances before, but taking out all of the streetlights with her roses was a new one for Ranma. The dark mask covering her nose and mouth was different, too. Ranma didn't know what purpose that accessory served, if any, but there was one thing he was sure of: he'd never seen Kodachi exuding malice the likes of which he felt coming from her right now.

"Kodachi, huh?" Ranma finally spoke. He focused in on the dark red splotches on the girl's leotard. "That blood on ya...is it Kiriko's, or is it Mr. Tendo's?"

"Blood?" Kodachi asked, looking down at her attire as if she were unaware of the stains. "Oh, this? Kiriko's, I imagine."

Ranma took note of the fact that Kodachi wasn't even trying to hide what she'd done to her fellow gymnast. There wasn't a hint of remorse in her voice, either.

"That poor, poor girl," Kodachi shook her head, recalling everything she'd put Kiriko through two nights ago. "You know, Kiriko once said to me that no one would ever remember my name. Such irony it is, for I do not believe she will ever forget it after what I did to her! Ahahahahahaaaaa!"

As he listened to Kodachi's twisted laughter, Ranma began to see just what Sasuke and Kuno had been trying to tell him. This person standing before him felt nothing like the Kodachi he was accustomed to. This person was dangerous. "You got really bad timin', y'know that?" he grumbled, knowing all of this wasn't going to work well with Shampoo's plans for the night. "Guess I oughtta be grateful, though. You saved me the trouble of lookin' for ya."

"You were searching for me? Oh, Darling, I'm flattered!" Kodachi giggled, looking upon him with eyes that reeked of ill intent. "I, too, am searching for someone, but, regrettably, it is not you. Perhaps you could assist me, though. Would you be so kind as to tell me where my dear second is?"

"Ringo's somewhere safe, and you ain't gettin' anywhere near her!" Ranma declared. Though his heart wasn't into it as it would be against most adversaries, he took up a fighting stance and prepared himself for whatever may come. If he didn't stop Kodachi here, Ringo was going to be in trouble, and that wasn't something he could afford to let happen. "I don't wanna fight you, Kodachi, but I'll do what I gotta do to stop ya from hurtin' anyone else."

Even with half of her face hidden, Kodachi's reaction to Ranma's steadfast words was clear. Just from the look in her eyes and the deep, purr-like noise that passed between her lips, it was obvious that she wasn't concerned. Rather, Kodachi was intrigued.

Smiling beneath her mask, Kodachi held arms out at her sides—the right arm further than the left. "Here I am, Ranma-darling," she gave him an invitation to attack. "Come and stop me, if you can."

Ranma was ready to take Kodachi up on the offer, but what happened next made him hesitate. As soon as Kodachi finished speaking, she began to emit her battle aura. At first it only wrapped around her body, but then, it kept growing. And growing. And growing. Soon, the amount of aura Kodachi was projecting became tremendous. And, as it collected above her, stretching well beyond even the height of the restaurant's roof, it took on its own, terrifying form: a human skull wrapped in thorn-covered vines.

As the jaw of the skull opened and its empty eye sockets stared down upon him, Ranma stood frozen with his mouth agape. He knew Kodachi might be a little different than he was used to, but this...this was beyond anything his wildest imagination could have conceived. "You gotta be kiddin' me," his befuddled mind thought. "This is...Kodachi...right? Then...why does it feel like I'm standin' in front of the ghoul or the old freak?"

Ranma, in the midst of having Kodachi's aura projected upon him, felt something was amiss with himself, and that something would become apparent as he glanced down at his feet. His one foot that had been out in front of him was now behind him.

"I took a step back? From Kodachi?" Ranma realized. Faced with that level of battle aura, his body had reacted by wanting to retreat. "Man, I ain't ever gonna live that down."

Pulling himself back together, Ranma moved his foot forward again. "This is stupid! Her battle aura don't mean nothin'!" he told himself. "Whether it's skill, brains or actual battle experience, I've got her beat. She ain't gonna be able to keep up with me if we fight. Let's just get this over with!"

Ranma was up to the task, but Kodachi would show that she wasn't so easy to predict. All at once, that massive battle aura of hers dwindled into nothing. Ranma, unsure what to make of it, now appeared puzzled. Did she not want to fight, after all?

"Hmm," Kodachi tilted her head as she looked to be pondering something. Raising her right hand, she tapped a finger three times against her cheek. "Now that I think about it, all I really want is to know where Ringo is. Maybe it would be easier to just have that Chinese bimbo tell me."

In a flash, Kodachi bent her legs, and then sprung up into the air and onto the roof of the Cat Café. All of a sudden, it seemed as though her target had switched to Shampoo.

Ranma didn't like anyone going after Shampoo in the first place, but for Kodachi to do it right now was especially bad. Shampoo was in the bath, and she had no idea Kodachi was here. She wasn't even dressed, much less prepared to defend herself.

"Oh, no you don't! Get back here!" Ranma shouted at her. Wasting no time, he followed Kodachi up to the roof with a jump of his own.

As soon as Ranma's head eclipsed the roof's ledge, however, he found something unpleasant waiting for him. A purple sphere of energy, the same sort that had helped Kodachi in taking down Kiriko and Soun Tendo in back-to-back nights, was headed straight for his face.

Looking for some way to avoid the ball, Ranma quickly planted his right hand on the ledge and flung himself up and to the side, narrowly evading the attack as it soared past him. It was Kodachi's chi energy, no doubt about it. Even after Kuno had alluded to Kodachi having such an ability, Ranma was still surprised to see it. He wasn't out of the woods yet, either. As he hung in the air, Kodachi's ribbon, now glowing a deep violet color, was sharply whipped toward him.

Ranma could have tried to grab the gymnastics tool and take it from her, but something about that glow it was putting out told him he shouldn't. With little time to react, he twisted his body around in midair just as the ribbon reached him. The very tip tore through the fabric of his shirt and whizzed by the side of his face, but that was all it would get the chance to do. Having avoided major damage for now, Ranma finally touched down on the roof.

A thoroughly entertained Kodachi stood across from the pigtailed boy on the other side. "My, so very nimble you are!" she complimented him.

Ranma reached up and placed his hand against his cheek, then held it out to take a look at it. There was blood on his hand, more than would be produced by the cut from catching Kodachi's rose before. As he thought, the ribbon had gotten a piece of his cheek. He understood now just how careless he'd been. Kodachi had been baiting him, using Shampoo to make him rush hastily into a bad situation.

"You are very protective of that girl, aren't you?" Kodachi mused.

"You're damn right, I am!" Ranma snarled at her. "Your fight ain't with Shampoo, and it ain't with Ringo. Right now, your fight's with me! So come on!"

"Oh?" Kodachi took a close look at the martial artist, eying him from head to toe. "Are you sure you are in the proper shape for battle, Ranma-darling? You look a little...stiff."

Ranma narrowed his eyes at the crazed Kuno sibling. "What're you talkin' about?" he inquired. But, at that moment, Ranma would start to realize just what she meant. His legs, his arms...just a matter of seconds ago, they'd felt fine. And yet, now, the reactions of his limbs felt sluggish. The more he tried to move, the worse it seemed to get, too. "Wh-...what the...!"

Grinning beneath her mask, Kodachi opened up her left hand, allowing a powder to fall from it and drift away in the wind. "Did you not notice that you were downwind of me? How very silly of you."

Though he tried desperately to move, Ranma's body was failing him. "Paralysis...powder?" Suddenly, the reason for Kodachi's mask was apparent; she just didn't want to inhale any of the powder that was blowing Ranma's way.

Kodachi, no longer feeling threatened thanks to Ranma's current state, began casually strolling toward him. "Oh, yes, and the rose you grabbed before was soaked in a liquid version of it. If the thorns were to break through your skin, the paralyzing process would be accelerated," she explained. Once she was standing directly in front of Ranma, Kodachi reached out and grabbed his hand, taking a look at the wound her rose had left. "Just as I thought."

Ranma could do nothing as Kodachi swung her foot forward and kicked him flat onto his back. "Ko...da..." he tried to speak her name, but not even his mouth was operating properly now.

Letting her ribbon fall from her grasp, Kodachi stomped down on Ranma's chest with one foot, drawing a groan of pain from him. Without any further need of her mask, she reached up and tore it off. She was practically salivating as she looked down upon Ranma. It was as if she were sizing up the prey she'd just captured. "Does this not remind you of the first night we laid eyes upon each other, Darling?" she asked him. "You remember it, don't you? The night you stole my heart?"

Slowly, seductively, Kodachi lowered herself down onto Ranma and straddled his body. She looked deep into his unsettled eyes, brushing her hands across his damaged shirt all the while. "We were on the roof of the Tendo home, and you were on your back, just like this."

Using just her right hand, Kodachi grabbed within the cut her ribbon had made on Ranma's shirt and ripped it open completely, exposing his bare chest. She placed her hands against his abs, and then, gradually, she moved them upward across his upper torso and kept going in the direction of his head.

"And I was about to afford you the honor of giving me my first kiss," Kodachi reminded the man beneath her. "Sadly, Akane Tendo interfered on that night. But," she lowered her voice to a whisper, gripping both sides of Ranma's face tightly, "...who will stop me now?"

Fate, as it turned out, would not intervene a second time, as Kodachi bent down and forcefully pressed her lips against Ranma's. Kodachi closed her eyes, savoring her victory, and Ranma could do nothing to fight back. What started as a simple kiss evolved into more, as Ranma could feel Kodachi's tongue roaming around inside his mouth. She was going to milk this moment for all she could and enjoy it to the fullest.

Once Kodachi was finally content, she broke the kiss, pulling her face away from that of Ranma and reopening her eyes. With a look of great satisfaction, she licked around her lips as she looked down at her old love interest, just basking in the feeling that was her first kiss. "Oh, Ranma-darling, it tastes of sweet, sweet redemption after so long. And yet," she moved her hands down onto Ranma's throat as she spoke, and the joy on her face quickly faded, "...so very, very...disgusting."

In a quick swing of her emotions, Kodachi clamped down on Ranma's throat, viciously choking him. "You did not deserve to be my first kiss!" she hissed into his face. "The moment you chose that inferior bimbo over Kodachi Kuno, you were no longer worthy of me!"

Gagging as he struggled to breathe, Ranma would be given a fortunate break as Kodachi abruptly released her grip on his windpipe. But, as Ranma was gasping for air, Kodachi then reared back and slapped him across the cheek as hard as she could, leaving a dark, stinging red mark on the boy's face. The paralysis powder, Ranma noticed, may have immobilized him, but it did nothing to hinder the pain from Kodachi's slap.

Kodachi stayed there for a moment, just admiring her handiwork, and before long, that demented smile of hers returned. "Ahahaha. Ahahahahaha! AHAHAHAHAAHAAAAHAAAAAA!"

Picking up her ribbon again, Kodachi got back to her feet. "Oh, what fun I've had tonight! I really did want to know where Ringo is, but, even if you could speak, you would never tell me, would you? You're far too proud after all, Ranma-darling," she said to him. "But, that is perfectly fine. If you will not tell me where Ringo is, then I shall just have you deliver a message for me."

Kodachi held out her right arm, and her ribbon began to twirl. Within the ribbon's funnel, another mass of violet-colored energy began to grow, and Ranma could only watch helplessly, knowing well how this was likely to end for him.

Meanwhile, down in the restaurant's bath, Shampoo was running a towel over her hair as she finished drying herself off. She hadn't calmed down one bit since she'd left Ranma in the dining area. It had taken her longer to clean up than she would have liked, but she made sure the time spent was doubly productive by using it to plan what all she might want to do with Ranma tonight, and in what order. If Ranma wanted to dictate the pace then so be it, but if not, she was prepared.

Shampoo wrapped the towel around her body and tucked it in beside her breast so that it stayed in place. She was ready as could be. "Ranma," she spoke, her voice filled with fiery passion and determination, "...tonight, you belong Shampoo!"


Shampoo jumped as she heard a loud, thunderous noise above her. That noise was soon followed by part of the ceiling crashing down, and by something big falling straight through it and splashing into the bath water. The power to the bathroom light was cut off, leaving the only illumination coming from the flickering light of the bedroom through the hole in the ceiling up above.

Stunned for a moment, Shampoo stepped over to the bath to see what had fallen. As she would find out, that falling object happened to be her pigtailed beau. "Ranma!" she shrieked, her eyes wide with shock as she pulled his head up from the water.

Ranma was out cold, and Shampoo immediately took notice of his injuries. His hand was bleeding, his cheek was bleeding, his shirt was in tatters, and almost his entire chest was red, as if it had just been hit hard by something.

Seeing Ranma this way left Shampoo in a state of fury that surpassed even the time after Ukyo had struck her from behind earlier today. She glared upward through the newly created hole in the ceiling, a trickle of blood running down from her bottom lip as she bit down on it. Whoever had done this hadn't followed Ranma down here. In that case, Shampoo would go to them.

After setting Ranma down on the floor of the bath, Shampoo bounded up into the bedroom, and then out onto the roof in her towel. She looked every which way for Ranma's attacker, but whoever it was, they hadn't stuck around. There was no one to be seen on the darkened road along the front of the restaurant, nor anywhere else nearby.

Shampoo, shaking with anger, clenched her fists at her sides. What had looked like it was going to be a promising night had been completely ruined, and there was nobody around to pay the price for it.

Her overflowing emotions spilling out, Shampoo bellowed loudly into the night. "WHO DO THIS?"

"Phew, finally done!"

Elsewhere, over in the kitchen of Alysse's home, Ringo was drying her hands off after wiping clean the last of the dishes from she and Alysse's dinner. Alysse had wanted them to do the dishes together, but Ringo was insistent that she should do it by herself so that she was pulling her weight while staying there as a guest. Alysse didn't think of it as work, more of just another activity they could share really, but nonetheless she eventually caved in and let Ringo take care of the dishes on her own.

Now that her task was finished, Ringo took off the apron she'd been wearing and trotted out of the kitchen...then stopped. Something was...wrong. She turned her head to look in a southwesterly direction. All she saw before her was the wall of Alysse's house, but far, far beyond that sat her workplace, the Cat Café restaurant.

"Ranma?" Ringo spoke the name of her former male half.

In the midst of Ringo's spacing out, Alysse, carrying her gym bag with her, stepped into the home's entryway from the living room. "Ringo?" she blinked, noticing the girl's odd behavior. "Something wrong?"

The young redhead seemed to snap back to reality upon hearing Alysse's voice. "Huh? Oh, no, it's nothing," Ringo assured her. Something really didn't feel right, but that wasn't a piece of information that Ringo wanted to burden Alysse with right now. Speaking of the blonde girl, seeing the strap of that gym bag hanging over her shoulder left Ringo to wonder if she had plans. "Are you going somewhere?"

"Hmm? No, no, I'm just taking this up to my room since I left it down here yesterday," Alysse replied. As if she could ever bear to leave Ringo somewhere by herself while Kodachi was still on the loose.

"Ahh, okay. You always have it with you, so I got the impression you might be heading out," Ringo explained her thought process. "Umm, I hope you don't mind my asking, but what sort of things do you keep in there? I've always kind of wondered, and I never remember to ask."

When posed with that question, an odd expression came over Alysse's face—one that made it seem as though she was caught off guard and not prepared to answer. "O-oh, you know...a water bottle, towels, things like that," she stuttered over her reply. "I'm a bit of a workout nut, if you haven't noticed."

"Yeah, I had a feeling," Ringo chuckled. When they'd gone to the pool together not long ago, Alysse's physique and swimming prowess left Ringo with little doubt that the taller girl had a regular and extensive exercise routine. "Hey, Alysse...am I...keeping you from your workouts?"

Alysse couldn't help but smile as she responded with a shake of her head. It was just like Ringo to worry about this sort of thing. "Ringo, believe me when I say that I couldn't care less about working out right now. Some things are more important than that," she winked at the other girl. "Anyway, you haven't taken a bath since you've been here, have you? Why don't you go take one?"

"Ah...you're right. Actually, a bath sounds pretty nice," Ringo agreed with the suggestion.

"Right? Then, after that, I was thinking...maybe we could bring some blankets and pillows down to the living room and have a little slumber party tonight. Watch a movie, talk about stuff, that sort of thing," Alysse twiddled her fingers, averting her eyes from Ringo. "Or...we don't have to, if you don't want to."

Ringo giggled a bit at the idea. "Sure. It sounds like fun."

Alysse, who was worried that Ringo might think a slumber party sounded stupid and childish, perked up at the girl's answer. "Really? Great! I-...I mean, yeah, it'll be fun," she tried to contain her excitement. "I'll go find you some fresh clothes to change into once you're done with the bath."

While Alysse headed upstairs with her gym bag, Ringo looked off in the direction of the Cat Café again. It may have just been her imagination, but she could have sworn she'd felt something before. Whatever the case, she could only hope that Ranma and Shampoo were still safe and sound.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, a lone girl stood before the entrance to the Kuno estate. With all sorts of questions and still no answers, she let out an annoyed snort as she watched the gate close in front of her.

That girl was Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki.

"So nobody knows where 'Dachi is, huh? That's great. That's just great," Sakura muttered to herself. Having not gotten any helpful information out of those closest to Kodachi, she hopped back on her motorcycle and fired up the engine. "Well, the hell with that. I didn't come all the way here just to go back empty-handed. I'm gonna find her ass even if it takes me all damn night!"

Cranking hard on the throttle, Sakura sped away from the Kuno residence. The only others she knew that were familiar with Kodachi, besides Ringo, of course, were Ranma and Shampoo. With that in mind, she figured it might be worth stopping by the Cat Café to see if they had any leads she could use.

Throughout the streets Sakura rode, her leather jacket and loose-fitting jeans whipping in the wind along with her pink hair. About halfway along the route to the restaurant, she opted to make a brief stop by a set of three vending machines outside a closed market. This had the potential of being a long night, and grabbing a little something to keep her going sounded like a wise idea.

Sakura got off of her bike and stepped up to take a closer look at what the machines held. One of them had an assortment of drinks to choose from, another contained snack foods, and the third one had a fair selection of beer. For a moment, she eyed the machine with the beer.

"God, that sounds good. Too bad I can't tonight," Sakura said with a disappointed sigh. "Gonna grab some coffee and back away before ya tempt me any more."

Knowing her goal for the night would prevent her from any enjoyable drinking, Sakura began sizing up the coffee selections in the normal drink machine. It was a warm and humid night, but she could never stand cold coffee, so one of the heated cans would have to do. One brand that cost 120 yen stood out to her, and she settled on that.

Sakura reached into her jeans pocket to fish out the money, but her quest for caffeine was about to encounter a serious roadblock. Out of nowhere, a violet light flashed by before her eyes, and sparks flew from the three vending machines. As a startled Sakura jumped back, the upper portions of the machines slid to the side and crashed down onto the ground, spilling various cans and coins everywhere. All of the machines had been sliced through by a single, diagonal cut.

"So many interesting people lingering outdoors tonight," a female voice spoke all of a sudden.

Her heart beating wildly from the scare, Sakura turned to her right, where there stood the very person she'd been looking for. "Kodachi..." she mouthed, for once not using her abbreviated version of the girl's name. As she looked Kodachi over, she couldn't believe it was the same gymnast she'd just been rooting on two days ago. That dirty, blood-stained leotard, and that expression that made her question the bearer's sanity...was this really...her? "Holy hell. What happened to you?"

Kodachi, fresh off of her destruction of Ranma, slowly twirled her ribbon in the air beside her as she grinned menacingly back at her fellow gymnast. "I believe you should be more concerned with what will happen to you," she suggested in a threatening tone.

Sakura now turned the rest of her body to face Kodachi. "Why? You gonna do to me what you did to Kiriko?" she asked, not showing any fear whatsoever.

"I am considering it," Kodachi answered her honestly.

"Oh, cut the crap, 'Dachi! I'm not scared of you!" Sakura snapped back at her. "Do you have any idea what you did?"

Kodachi cocked her head, not sure what the other girl was talking about. "I have done quite a bit as of late. Could you perhaps be more specific?"

"Kiriko," Sakura clarified for her. "Because of what you did, Kiriko can't make it to the finals of the Queen of Extreme Tournament. You know what that means? Old man Tanaka had to give that bitch, Priscilla, the win by forfeit! She just won the damn thing for the fourth year in a row, and she didn't even have to break a sweat doing it!"

Kodachi shrugged her shoulders, completely indifferent about the news. "And? Kiriko could not win anyway. You said that yourself, did you not?"

"Even a microscopic chance that Kiriko might win would've been worth it just to knock that damned Priscilla off her throne, but thanks to you, we won't even get that!" Sakura angrily told her. "And now look at you! You've got the cops after your ass! You think Tanaka's ever gonna let you back in the EGF now?"

Faced with Sakura's criticism, the demeanor of the Black Rose darkened. "I do not care," Kodachi hissed in reply. "Kiriko got what she deserved, and I am done with the Extreme Gymnastics Federation. There is only one thing I am concerned with right now, and that is teaching my traitorous second a lesson."

Sakura wasn't happy with Kodachi as it was, but nothing made her more upset than hearing the other gymnast say she didn't care about the EGF anymore. "Dammit, 'Dachi! Why do you think I wanted you to beat Priscilla?" she boldly shouted. "Sure, yeah, I wanted to see someone take the championship title from her. But after that, before I graduated next year and went off to America to chase after Cat Five, I wanted one more match with you! Tanaka Arena on Odaiba! Filled to capacity! You and me for the EGF Championship! A rematch after that war we put on at my school!"

Kodachi could see that Sakura meant what she said. She could see it in her body language, and she could hear it in her impassioned words. To say she fully comprehended those words, however, would be a mistake. "I do not understand how that desire of yours has been lost," she said. The twirling of her ribbon stopped, and she shot a deadly glare at the other girl. "If what you wish for is a fight, I shall be happy to oblige you right here and now."

Sakura really did feel like socking Kodachi just once after hearing that. Kodachi didn't get it at all. "I don't want a fight! I want a match!" Sakura corrected her. "Thousands and thousands of people watching us go at it, roaring with every hit! All that excitement in the air! We could have put on the greatest match in EGF history, 'Dachi! That's what I wanted! To be a part of that! With you!"

For once on this night, Kodachi remained still, and quiet.

Across from her, Sakura's chest was heaving in and out after spilling her guts to her one-time opponent. She didn't know what was going through Kodachi's mind right now, but Sakura had said what she'd come to say, and that was good enough for her. "If you wanna come at me, then you go ahead and you do it," Sakura welcomed her to make a move. It was clear just by looking at her, though, that she didn't want to clash with Kodachi outside of a gymnastics ring.

Her face showing her displeasure, Kodachi raised her ribbon up...then let it fall again. Over and over, she bobbed the ribbon up and down as she seemingly tried to decide what she wanted to do. Soon, she started to bat her eyes, and a wince followed. Her body now trembling, she slapped her right hand over her face.

Kodachi peeked at Sakura from between her fingers. She was confused, and she was wavering. Why was this happening? She didn't understand it. Not at all.

Finally, Kodachi let her hand fall to her side, and she began staggering forward.

Sakura stood her ground as Kodachi approached her. No matter what Kodachi's intentions were, Sakura just wasn't the type to back down.

Then, partway to Sakura, Kodachi changed course. She kept walking, but rather than heading straight for the pink-haired girl, she veered to her left. Seconds later, Kodachi was standing right beside Sakura. Neither of them looked at each other. Neither said a thing.

Sakura waited, and, breaking the silence at last, Kodachi issued her a command of two simple words.

"Go home."

With that, Kodachi left, vanishing into the darkness of the night. Sakura, not expecting things to end in such a way, spun around to catch the other girl, but the only remaining trace of Kodachi's presence was a flurry of black rose petals falling from above.

Amidst the mess of vending machine debris all around her, Sakura held out her hand, watching as one of the petals fell into it. She wasn't the sort to normally let herself get down about things, but somehow, looking at that rose petal in her hand, she felt a sadness within her heart.

"You've got no beef with me...huh, 'Dachi?"

End of Chapter 23