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 25

Priscilla Winters, the undefeated Extreme Gymnastics Federation Champion. She was, according to what Sakura had once said, a lone wolf who competed without a second and held nothing but disdain for the Japanese because of the way they'd treated her growing up. Ringo had never seen her. All she knew about Priscilla was that she would be waiting for Kodachi in the final round of the Queen of Extreme Tournament if Kodachi would have won the match versus Kiriko several days ago.

As such, it was hard for Ringo to believe that Priscilla had just now suddenly appeared before her. Maybe the only thing harder to believe was that she'd been right beside her all along.

"Pri-…Priscilla? You're…Priscilla?"

As a lightning flash lit up the sky in the distance, the storm clouds slowly drawing nearer with every second that passed, a wide-eyed Ringo stared up at her friend, absolutely shocked at what she'd just learned. "That…that can't be true! If Kodachi would have beaten Kiriko, then-"

"She and you would have faced me in the final round," Alysse confirmed for her.

Ringo staggered backwards, shaking her head. "But…why? Why? Why didn't you tell me?"

Hearing that tone in Ringo's voice, a tone that spoke almost of betrayal, was enough to make Alysse's heart ache. "I had my reasons, but I want you to know that I never did it to hurt you, Ringo," she assured the girl. "There's a lot we have to talk about, and we'll get to it once this is all over. Right now, though, you need to leave Kodachi to me and get away from here."

While Ringo and Alysse were talking, the mind of one Kodachi Kuno was busy piecing together the puzzle that was now laid out before her. She knew now why she'd felt as though she recognized Alysse from somewhere the last time they'd come across one another. Alysse was the younger sister of Kodachi's mentor, Katrina "Cat Five" Winters. She was the girl that was always glaring at Kodachi from afar while Katrina was teaching her the art of rhythmic gymnastics. She was the one whose real name Kodachi couldn't quite recall up until now. She was the EGF Champion who chose to go by her middle name, Priscilla, while competing. And she was Ringo's friend.

It all made sense. Oh, yes…Kodachi understood it all now.

"Ahahaha…AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA! So that is it! So that is how it is!" Kodachi, having deduced her own conclusion, howled with deranged laughter as she threw Alysse's championship belt to the ground and looked toward her. "All this time, the two of you were arranging my loss to Kiriko because you were frightened by the thought of defending your title against me! I see! You are a complete and utter coward!"

"Wh-what? No…no, that's not true, Kodachi!" Ringo adamantly denied the accusation.

"She's telling the truth. Ringo never knew I was the Champion, and it makes me sick that you would even think someone as kind as her would try to sabotage you," Alysse shot an icy look Kodachi's way. "And while we're at it, I can finish off Kiriko in less than a minute, so why would I ever be scared of facing someone that can't even win against her? Huh? I'm the best damn gymnast this country has to offer, and you…you're just a mistake that Katrina made—one that I'll gladly fix myself!"

Ringo was speechless. She couldn't believe Alysse had just said those things. It was like throwing gasoline on an already out-of-control fire, and, judging by the way Kodachi's face contorted with rage, it was undoubtedly effective. Sporting the title of Champion and an undefeated record, Alysse had the right to be confident in many situations. But not here, Ringo thought. Not now.

"Alysse, stop! You can't fight with her!" Ringo pleaded with her friend. "This isn't…you don't understand what she-!"

Before Ringo could speak any further, a sudden torrent of wind mixed with black rose petals threatened to knock both she and Alysse off their feet. Beneath the road's lone, flickering streetlight, an incensed Kodachi was twirling her ribbon with its renewed violet glow, causing the constant gale that slammed up against the girls. She had heard enough.

"Ringo…and Alysse," Kodachi fixed a vengeful look on the pair. "You two, for what you have done to me…you shall both pay dearly!"

Alysse threw her arms up to shield her eyes and shifted her weight forward as she tried to keep her balance. Now, for the first time, she began to feel unsettled. She'd never bothered to watch the matches of others, including those of Kodachi. There was simply no need; she didn't believe anyone posed a threat to her. So to see Kodachi, or anyone for that matter, creating such a wind with nothing but a single ribbon wasn't something she'd expected.

"How…how is she doing that?" Alysse wondered aloud as her long hair whipped in the gusts.

While Ringo, too, fought the winds, she could see her fears becoming a reality. As she suspected, Alysse knew nothing about chi energy. She had no idea the extent of what she was up against right now.

Kodachi cackled with delight while watching the girls struggle. "You know, I discovered this power of mine long ago while training with Master one day. She did not appreciate it, though. She claimed it had no place in a rhythmic gymnastics competition, and she made me swear not to use it. So, like a good little girl, I did as she asked, and I became so accustomed to not using it that I forgot all about it," she said, speaking of her days of learning the art with Katrina. "But, thanks to what the two of you did, I was able to remember it all! And since this is no sanctioned competition, I'm sure Master will not take issue with my actions. Then again, even if she did, I would rip you both to pieces regardless."

With a snap of her ribbon, Kodachi created a final, powerful gust that sent both Alysse and the already sore Ringo tumbling back to the pavement. It was only the setup for Kodachi's real attack, though, as she wasted no time spinning her ribbon into a more compact funnel where a mass of her chi energy quickly grew within.

After being knocked over, Alysse rolled twice before regaining her poise atop one knee. The wind before may have been perplexing, but the bright, purple sphere she now saw growing within Kodachi's ribbon was even more so. If Kodachi was using it, she assumed it had to be bad. She just had no idea how bad.

Ringo was slower to right herself after the gust, her body still trying to shake off the effects of the initial blast that sent her flying before Alysse had shown up. She, too, had wound up on one knee, but, seeing that dangerous-looking ball of energy that Kodachi was producing, she knew she couldn't remain that way for long.

"Are you ready?" Kodachi asked with a devilish grin. "This skill is my absolute favorite. The power of its blast holds such beauty, like the explosion of a nova high up in the stars. That is why I have named it as such. So, without further ado, I present to you...my Nova!"

Kodachi, with her attack—her Nova—ready to fire, reached back in preparation to launch the chi sphere. The crazed gymnast's eyes were locked onto Ringo, and Alysse, taking notice of that fact, jumped into protection mode.

"Ringo!" Alysse shouted, reactively whipping her ribbon at the girl. The tool wrapped itself around Ringo's right arm, and Alysse readied to yank her out of harm's way.

At that moment, however, Kodachi's eyes shifted over to Alysse, and the grin on her face widened. Picking her target, she chose to fling her Nova straight at the EGF's Champion.

A sense of panic could be seen in Alysse's eyes. She'd been focused on Ringo to make sure that her ribbon snagged the girl properly, and by the time she'd noticed that Kodachi had targeted her, her weight had already shifted back, directly toward where the Nova was headed. She didn't even have half a second to react. With no means of escape, she merely tossed the handle of her ribbon away so that Ringo wouldn't be drawn any closer.

"Alysse!" Ringo screamed.

The ball of chi energy slammed directly into the left side of Alysse's gut, and, with a violent boom, it exploded.

The nearby walls and pavement cracked from the force of the blast, and Ringo, being as close to it as she was, was blown back into the nearest wall. An eerie silence followed, the only sounds those of bits and pieces of concrete falling to the ground, as well as another rumble of thunder from the approaching storm.

In the midst of the quiet aftermath, Ringo cringed as the pain from impacting the wall ran up and down her back. Very slowly, she began to push herself up, and, as her head began to clear, she immediately looked to the spot where Alysse had been.

Nothing. Alysse was gone.

Frantic, Ringo looked down the road where she believed the blast may have sent the girl. And there, far, far away, barely visible within the darkness of night, she finally spotted her. The Champion...was down. Her body was curled up on its side, and she wasn't moving at all. So strong was the force of the explosion that Alysse's shirt had been ripped right off of her and lay in tatters in the road.

"Ahahahaaah! That was simply wonderful!" Kodachi joyously celebrated the results of her attack. She had dispatched Alysse with just one of her Novas, further amplifying her already soaring confidence. "Such a foolish girl! Does this look like a gymnastics ring to her? Out here, against the likes of me, that championship belt of hers may as well be a paperweight!"

While she lay there staring at her fallen friend, Ringo's mind was largely blank. Those mocking words from Kodachi, however, managed to register. How dare she, Ringo thought? How dare she?

A fire lit under her, Ringo gingerly made her way up to her knees, and then back to her feet.

With one target down, Kodachi now turned her attention back to the other one, which also happened to be her prime target. It was seldom that she'd ever seen Ringo upset, but looking at her right now, even with the limited aid of light, she could see an anger in Ringo's expression the likes of which she'd never seen before. "Ohhhh, what is this? Are you mad?" she taunted her former second. "You brought it on yourselves by plotting against me! Perhaps it was not such a brilliant idea after all, now was it?"

Ringo stayed incredibly still as she continued to glare at Kodachi.

"Oh, but do not worry," Kodachi went on, the streetlight above her flickering off momentarily. "In the end, you will be sharing the same fate as he-"

Suddenly, as the streetlight came back on, Kodachi gasped. Ringo, who had been a fair ways away not even a second earlier, had closed the distance and was now directly in front of her one-time partner. Kodachi tried to pull away at the last instant, but Ringo was simply too fast.

"DON'T…"

Ringo lifted her right leg and spun around, drilling Kodachi on the left portion of her face with a vicious kick. Kodachi felt it, too, as her body began to fall to the side.

"…YOU…"

Planting her feet, Ringo came around from the other direction this time and drove her left fist into Kodachi's gut. The breath driven out of her, Kodachi bent at the waist, groaning in pain as her mouth hung open.

"…HURT…"

Ringo put her foot to work again, raising it straight up and kicking the hunched over gymnast on the underside of her chin so hard that her entire body was knocked up into the air.

"…ALYSSE!"

With the stunned Kodachi right above her, Ringo jumped up into the air, twisted around, and whipped a kick into the other girl's chest. Kodachi went sailing into the metal gate of one of the homes that lined the street, crashing into it with such force that the gate came off its hinges. Both Kodachi and the gate fell to the ground, but while the gate stayed put, Kodachi's body bounced twice before finally coming to stop when she slammed back against the door at the home's entrance. A distant look in her eyes and a sizable crack in the door behind her, Kodachi's head slumped forward. Her body was still, and her voice quieted.

Ringo, huffing and puffing after her emotionally-driven offensive, looked down at the prone Kodachi for a moment, then held her fist up in front of her. She couldn't believe what she'd just done, and not in a good way. She felt terrible. She never wanted to do something like that. She never wanted things to end up this way.

Any further reflection on her actions would have to wait, though. Right now, Ringo's immediate concern was the health of her injured friend. After taking one last look at Kodachi, Ringo hurried off to check on Alysse.

"Alysse! Are you okay?" the redhead cried as she ran up and knelt beside the girl.

To Ringo's dismay, Alysse appeared to be anything but. The blonde gymnast's eyes were open and she was shifting ever so slightly, but she was severely rattled after being struck by Kodachi's chi attack. With her shirt having been torn away by the impact, the black sports bra she wore underneath was all that covered her chest. Her hands were shaking, and she seemed unable to focus on anything around her. Alysse may not have even known where she was at the moment.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, Alysse! I'm so sorry I got you involved in this!" Ringo teared up as she cradled the girl's head in her hands. "Okay. Okay, everything's going to be just fine, Alysse. I'm going to get you out of here, so just hang on!"

Unfortunately, before Ringo could even get the chance to lift her friend up, another explosion rocked the darkened road. The stone wall next to the gate of the home that she had just rushed away from had been blown into numerous pieces that were now dropping all over the place.

Ringo had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach regarding the source of that blast, and as the dust cleared and the culprit came into view, her heart began to race once more. Staggering out from the property she'd been knocked into, a woozy Kodachi stepped over what remained of the wall and back out into the street. Looking the worse for wear after the blows dealt to her by Ringo, she spat to the ground some blood that had collected in her mouth. Then, turning her head to look down the road, she set her sights on the one who had caught her off guard.

"You vile, vile girl!" Kodachi angrily snarled at Ringo, starting to advance toward her. After being assaulted as she had, she was no longer in any mood to toy around with her prey. "You were mistaken to not finish me off. I assure you, you will not get a chance like that again!"

Ringo wasn't confident in her fighting abilities by any stretch of the imagination, but still, to see Kodachi walking around again so soon after the hits she'd just taken was astonishing to her. As much as she wanted to just rush Alysse away to safety, there was no way she could outrun Kodachi while carrying the other girl, and she knew it. If she wanted to protect Alysse, she was going to have to play the decoy.

Gently laying her friend's head back down, Ringo stood herself up again. She took a few steps forward, and then, bending at the knees, she sprung high up into the air and landed atop one of the streetlights that Kodachi had knocked out earlier. "Kodachi!" she called out to the approaching gymnast. "I'm the one you want, right?"

"Oh, you have no idea," Kodachi replied, practically salivating at the thought of wrapping her ribbon around the girl's throat.

"Well, here I am! Come and get me!" Ringo challenged her old partner.

Kodachi halted her forward progress, pausing for a time to consider her options. A quick glance at Alysse reassured her that the gymnast was in terrible shape, as she should be after taking a direct hit from that Nova before. Ringo's intentions to lure her away were obvious, but Kodachi didn't necessarily mind that since Ringo was the one she wanted most of all. If need be, she could just come back for the other transgressor later.

It was a simple choice to make, and once Kodachi had made it she began twirling her ribbon, which took on that familiar, violet glow. "As you wish," she responded, gladly accepting the challenge. With a furious demeanor, she then whipped her ribbon up at the streetlight.

Ringo jumped from the light just before Kodachi's ribbon sliced through it, and the severed top portion came crashing down into the street. Landing on top of the roof of one of the nearby homes, Ringo watched as Kodachi hopped up onto the stone wall bordering the road and launched herself toward her target. Ringo sprung over to the next rooftop to get away, and then the next. Kodachi followed without hesitation, and the chase was on.

With the wind picking up from the approaching storm and gusting against the front of her body, Ringo darted from rooftop to rooftop like there was no tomorrow. This wasn't only about leading Kodachi away from Alysse; it was also a chance to get her out of the residential area altogether. Ringo didn't want any innocent bystanders to get dragged into this. At this time of the night, with inclement weather nearing, a business-heavy area would likely have fewer people around. That would be the type of destination that Ringo would be aiming for.

Kodachi was thus far able to trail the redhead, but it quickly became apparent that Ringo was the faster one between them. Catching her, she realized, wouldn't be so simple. "So briskly you move! After sparring with you for so long, I really should have remembered such a thing," Kodachi remarked as she sprang forward to the next rooftop. "Do you recall those days, Ringo? Back when you were pretending to assist me? Back when you were plotting to stab me in the back?"

"You're wrong, Kodachi! I was never pretending!" Ringo defended herself yet again.

"Liar!" Kodachi growled at her. While still in hot pursuit of her ex-partner, she pulled out a black rose and flung it toward her fleeing enemy.

Ringo had most of her focus on what lay straight ahead of her to avoid any missteps, but, luckily for her, she peeked back to ascertain Kodachi's position just in time to see the rose heading her way. Having been warned by Shampoo of the paralysis drug that Kodachi's roses had been soaked in, Ringo knew that she couldn't allow any of them to touch her. She shifted her upper body to the side, watching as the rose whizzed by her left cheek.

There was more where that came from, though. Set on bringing Ringo within attack range, Kodachi continued to chuck roses her way in what was more of an attempt to pressure and distract the girl than to cause damage. Ringo's bread and butter was her agility, after all, so Kodachi had to accept that actually hitting her from this distance wasn't likely.

Kodachi's efforts would prove futile, however, as Ringo was able to dance around the roses with relative ease while not missing a step. Her soreness from earlier was hardly noticeable at the moment, largely wiped out by the rush of adrenaline that came with her brief assault on Kodachi. All things considered, the situation was unfolding well for her. Now it was just a matter of leading Kodachi to a more suitable place to fight, and that goal looked ever more attainable as, surveying the landscape before her, Ringo saw that the line of homes was coming to an end with a large cluster of non-residential streets and buildings awaiting on the other side. She was almost there.

Kodachi wasn't planning on sitting back and letting Ringo lead her wherever she pleased, though. She was tired of this chase. She wanted blood, and she wanted it now. If she couldn't slow Ringo down, she would just have to speed herself up. And, twirling her ribbon off to her right side with that objective in mind, she spun up another Nova within the tool's funnel.

Her eyes drawn to the violet glow behind her, Ringo picked up on Kodachi's impending move. "She's going to shoot another one of those things at me? From way back there?" she curiously wondered. It didn't make any sense. Kodachi had to know that there wasn't a great chance of it hitting given Ringo's speed and how far apart they were. If she was just trying to apply more pressure, even tossing roses would be more effective. Dodging multiple smaller attacks was more taxing for Ringo while running than making sure she avoided one large one, after all. So what was the point?

As it turned out, the point was never to shoot the Nova at Ringo in the first place. While coming to the edge of a rooftop, Kodachi jumped up into the air and, at the same time, flung the sphere of chi energy down at the roof. The thunderous blast that followed shattered nearby windows and did a plethora of damage to the affected home, but, more importantly, it also catapulted Kodachi forward at a much greater speed than she'd previously been moving at.

Kodachi was closing in on Ringo fast, and Ringo understood perfectly now the reason behind her ex-partner's actions. Fortunately, with one last jump, Ringo was able to cross over into the business area like she'd been aiming for. There would be no time for celebration, however, as Kodachi, soaring in like a rocket, crossed over as well and suddenly had Ringo within her attack range.

While still airborne, Kodachi whipped her glowing ribbon at Ringo, who had to lean all the way back at a ninety degree angle just to narrowly avoid it. Then, not yet done, Kodachi brought her ribbon back around and aimed for Ringo's legs, but the girl flipped back over the path of the dangerous tool, and, after touching ground again, took another jump back for good measure to get herself to a safer distance.

For the moment, Kodachi halted her advance. There was no longer any need to rush. "No more running for you," the gymnast licked her lips in anticipation.

Kodachi was right. For Ringo, the time for running was over. The area they were in now was lined with clothing shops and small restaurants, among numerous other businesses. There were some lights on here and there, but, for the most part, the buildings appeared to be closed and empty just as Ringo had hoped. Now all that remained for her was the monumental task of actually stopping Kodachi.

Whether Ringo stood a chance of accomplishing that feat or not remained to be seen, but at the very least she was in the exact position she wanted to be in right now. The wind was blowing away from her and toward Kodachi, just the way Ringo needed it to be in order to avoid suffering the same fate as Ranma in regards to Kodachi's paralysis powder.

Kodachi, though, was becoming aware of what Ringo knew through her tactics alone. "Not touching my roses, and now leaving me downwind? Someone is well-informed," she spoke, making known that she was onto her prey. "But, it really is all for naught. You see, I have no intention of using such a shortcut against you as I did with Ranma. That would be no fun at all, now would it? No, no. I want you to struggle until the very end!"

Ringo watched intently as Kodachi rapidly spun up another Nova within her ribbon. She could tell right away that Kodachi was about to come at her with an all-out offensive. "If I'm going to stop her, I'll have to find the right opening to attack," Ringo told herself. Moving in at a less-than-convenient time was simply too dangerous given Kodachi's capabilities. "I can't be careless. Just need to wait for the right moment!"

And so it began.

Kodachi launched her Nova at Ringo, who nimbly jumped away to avoid the explosion as the chi energy collided with the pavement. The blast caused cracks to open up in the road, and if each nearby window wasn't shattered, there was at least a sizable crack in it. While shards of glass rained down onto the sidewalk, Kodachi took off after Ringo, her ribbon glowing violet and her eyes blazing with malice.

Before Ringo had even set foot on the ground again, Kodachi whipped her ribbon at the girl's chest. Ringo ducked down as far as she could to avoid the swipe, and then, as she landed, she sprung several feet up into the air as Kodachi brought her ribbon back around and aimed it at Ringo's lower body again. While it didn't make contact with its intended target, the ribbon tore through the metal door frame and wall of a closed pastry shop they were next to. Much like how it had sliced clean through the top portion of a streetlight earlier, it was a good indication to Ringo of the power of Kodachi's chi-infused tool. Taking a hit clearly wasn't an option. If the ribbon could cut through steel like butter, a human body certainly wasn't going to fare well against it.

Kodachi pressed forward, Ringo worked her way back, and the ribbon swipes continued. Ringo bobbed, weaved and jumped, avoiding the deadly tool at all costs. Meanwhile, anything the ribbon touched in the process was taking severe damage. The outsides of businesses were being shredded, but it simply couldn't be helped.

"Yes, keep dancing! Let us see how long you can last!" Kodachi shouted, grinning with delight as her ribbon tore through a utility pole.

Unfortunately, that was all Ringo could do for the moment was dance around to avoid the weapon. Kodachi was attacking too quickly for Ringo to do anything but stay on the defensive—for the moment, at least. As Ringo took to the air again, she arched backwards to evade another cut of the ribbon, and the tool wound up slicing through the large, wooden sign above a floral shop. The severed halves of the sign fell toward the ground, and, as fate would have it, spotting them gave the redhead an idea.

"That's it!" Ringo thought to herself. Grabbing the large chunks of wood from the air as she flipped around, she flung both of them at Kodachi one after the other.

The projectiles were little more than an annoyance to Kodachi, but she had to deal with them nonetheless. There wasn't even a need to move out of their path. All she had to do was cut them down, and so she did. With two flicks of her ribbon, the pair of wood chunks became a quartet that flopped down into the street. The little bit of offense from Ringo had proven to be harmless, but it had still served its purpose.

Using that distraction to her advantage, Ringo had already sprinted forward and was closing in on Kodachi to strike her directly. By using her ribbon to deal with the sign pieces, Kodachi had allowed Ringo a fraction of a second more to make a move. Kodachi, however, was well aware now that she needed to mind Ringo's speed. The question would be whether or not that fraction of a second was enough time for Ringo to do something.

Ringo neared her old partner, and Kodachi, focused as could be, already had her ribbon zipping toward the girl. Kodachi wasn't backing down, leaving it Ringo's call to make. It would be close. Extremely close. Was the time she needed there, or was she rushing into a grave mistake?

In that split second before it would be determined, Ringo came to a vital conclusion: she wasn't going to be able to pull it off.

Planting her feet against the pavement, Ringo sprung back away from Kodachi, the ribbon clipping the very bottom of her shoe on the way out. She would need more time. That's all there was to it. Time would be a hard thing to find, though, as Kodachi lunged forward and immediately resumed putting the pressure on again with her ribbon.

Ringo was on the defensive once more, right back where she started. "This is bad! How am I supposed to find a big enough opening if this keeps up?" she wondered in the midst of ducking and dodging Kodachi's attacks. "Come on, Ringo! Think! What would Ranma do?"

While Ringo was doing some urgent brainstorming, somewhere nearby she began to hear the sound of sirens. She paid it no mind at first, as she had to keep her focus entirely on Kodachi for obvious reasons. The noise, however, grew louder. And louder. And soon, off in the distance behind Kodachi, flashing red lights entered Ringo's view as a police cruiser turned the corner.

"You two! Stop right there! This is the police!" the officer within the car ordered them through his loudspeaker. "I repeat, stop right where you are!"

This was a development that Ringo probably should've expected given the ruckus Kodachi had caused, and one that had her extremely concerned—not for herself and Kodachi, but for the officer. That concern was compounded as, out of the corner of her eye, Kodachi shot the approaching cruiser a menacing glare. The distraction didn't stop the gymnast from pursuing Ringo, but it was the equivalent of an insect buzzing around her head—she could leave it be and put up with the annoyance, or she could deal with it on the spot.

"No! Kodachi, don't!" Ringo pleaded, sensing the girl's bad intentions. Not wanting the officer to get dragged into this, she desperately called out to him. "Turn around! Please! You have to get away from here!"

Unfortunately, the policeman had no intention of running from his duty. "Stop right now!" he repeated his order. "If you do not, I will have to use force! Stop immediately!"

Finally pushed too far, Kodachi temporarily ceased her chase of Ringo and swung her body around to face the police car. "Force? I will show you force," she hissed. Twirling her ribbon out to her side, another Nova grew within the tool's funnel in a hurry.

"Kodachi, stop!" Ringo shrieked. The officer had no idea what he was getting into. But, as much as Ringo wanted to help, there was nothing she could do.

Enraged, Kodachi reached back with her ribbon. "Do not interrupt me EVER AGAIN!" she screamed, and with that, she flung the destructive sphere of her chi energy at the oncoming police car.

Taken by surprise by the strange light, the officer made a last-second attempt to swerve to avoid it. By then, though, it was too late. Kodachi's Nova slammed into the spot between the road and the bottom of the car and exploded, the force of the blast splitting the pavement and sending the vehicle flying over ten feet into the air. The car flipped upside-down, fell back toward the ground and crashed down into the street on its top. Its flashing lights were crushed, its metal frame folded, and its windows shattered. Various gear from within the car lay strewn about the road, and inside, the officer hung by his seat belt, barely conscious after the ride he'd just taken.

The pest was out of the way, but Kodachi wasn't interested in admiring her handiwork. It was time to get back to the important issue of properly dealing with her former second.

Kodachi whirled around and leaned forward, ready to resume her chase of Ringo...only this time there was no need for a chase. Ringo was already right next to her. That opening she was looking for? She'd found it.

With a loud cry, Ringo slugged her fist into Kodachi's gut. The blow shook the Black Rose, who hunched over, mouth agape and gasping for air.

Ringo knew that wasn't enough, though. As much as she hated it, she would have to keep laying into Kodachi if she wanted to stop her for certain. After following through with her first attack, she came around from Kodachi's right side looking to plant a sharp kick against the girl's head. Kodachi should've been feeling the effects of the opening punch enough that there wouldn't be a problem, which made it all the more stunning to Ringo when her kick was abruptly blocked.

Ringo's eyes shot open wide as she saw Kodachi not only staring back at her, but actually smiling, her teeth still stained with blood from earlier. Somehow, even after being rocked by that fist to her abdomen, Kodachi still had the presence of mind to reach up and grab Ringo's leg before the kick could connect. And now, it was time for Kodachi to retaliate.

Throwing Ringo's leg back to the side, Kodachi took her glowing ribbon that she held in the same hand, stepped back for some additional room, and whipped the tool at Ringo's head.

Because of Kodachi tossing her leg, Ringo was left off-balance. She had no means of jumping away from the ribbon. The only thing she could think of was to just throw her weight back and fall down as quickly as possible, and so she did. She saw that purple glow flash right before her eyes, and for a moment, everything seemed to move in slow motion. Was that it? Was she even still alive? She genuinely didn't know.

Ringo must have been alive, though, because she yelped as she felt her body hit the pavement. She had avoided Kodachi's ribbon, but not entirely. As she sit there on the ground, breathing deeply and struggling to comprehend how close of a call it had been, she felt blood running down her cheek and dripping down onto her arm. The edge of the ribbon had put a large gash in her cheek, and Ringo was lucky that was all it had done. Had she moved any slower or hesitated at all, she would have died, and that thought filled her mind and body with terror the likes of which she'd never felt before.

This time, Kodachi did stop to admire what she'd done. Finally, she'd caused some visible damage to the one who had dared to betray her. And, seeing how frightened Ringo looked at this very moment, Kodachi could tell that the damage wasn't just physical. Mentally, it looked as though the fight was already won.

Kodachi, looking elated as she smiled down at the girl, held up her thumb and index fingers a short distance apart. "This close, was it not?" she gloated. "Congratulations. You live to fight on. But…for how long?"

Kodachi began twirling her ribbon to build up yet another Nova, and Ringo, still reeling from her brush with the end, could only blankly stare up at her. Her hands were shaking, and, no matter how much she commanded her legs to move, they just wouldn't do it. She needed time to recover, but there was no way Kodachi would allow it.

Grinning maniacally, Kodachi reached back to unleash her energy sphere upon her trembling prey.

"Ringo, close your eyes and plug your ears!"

Out of nowhere, a voice called out to Ringo. And she heard it.

Kodachi heard it, too, and was about to look around for the source when she noticed something hit the ground next to her. It was a small, black object, and it was making an ominous hissing sound. What she didn't realize was that the object was a flash bang grenade that had been acquired from the downed officer's car.

Ringo wasn't aware enough to think for herself just yet. And so, merely adhering to the anonymous command, she closed her eyes and jammed her fingers into her ears. Not even a second later, the grenade went off, emitting a blinding flash of light and a deafening boom.

Kodachi let out a loud shriek. Startled by the noise, she wildly flailed her ribbon outward and sent the Nova flying into the outside of a sporting goods store. The resulting explosion destroyed the business's windows and did plenty of additional damage to the walls and inside of the store, but the real story was the effect it had upon Kodachi.

"What was THAT?" Kodachi angrily shouted. Blinded, she randomly whipped her glowing ribbon around to keep any potential attackers at bay. A matter of seconds passed, and then, gradually, her vision started to return.

Kodachi looked around closely. The police car was there, and the shaken-up officer still inside. Ringo, on the other hand, was no longer in front of her. Kodachi scanned the street up and down, left and right. Her target, however, had vanished. "Where did you go, you traitor?" she growled, slicing through another utility pole out of frustration. "You get out here RIGHT NOOOOOOOOWWWWW!"

Well within hearing range of that impassioned battle cry, Ringo sat back against the inside part of the checkout counter within the sporting goods store that had just been blown open by Kodachi's Nova. And she wasn't alone. She could hear the rough breathing of the one who had saved her just now, and she could feel that individual leaning up against her arm. As she peeked over to her right, Ringo found sitting next to her none other than her injured friend, Alysse.

"A-...Alysse?" Ringo softly spoke the girl's name.

It had taken a while for Alysse to get her wits back about her, but she'd done it, and she quickly went to work tracking down Ringo and Kodachi. Once she'd come upon the scene of the battle, the blonde gymnast found the flash bang grenade near the wreckage of the police car and used it to get Ringo out of harm's way. But now, as she sit propped up partly by the counter and partly by Ringo's arm, something was off about her. Alysse's eyes were almost closed, and her head was starting to droop.

Ringo, her hands still trembling, reached over and shook her friend by the shoulder. "Alysse? Hey...Alysse?"

Alysse's eyes shot open, and, as if startled, she snapped her hand out and grabbed Ringo by the wrist. Once she saw who was with her, however, her look softened, and she allowed herself to relax. So shaken was she from Kodachi's Nova before that she was still drifting in and out of consciousness. Considering the entire left side of her abdomen had turned a distinct shade of red from the force of the direct hit she'd taken, effects such as that weren't surprising. What kind of damage it had done to her ribcage, one could only wonder.

"Alysse, you're hurt. You're hurt so bad," Ringo sobbed as she took in the sight of the gymnast. She couldn't imagine how much it must have hurt for Alysse to even breathe right now, much less move around.

"It's…it's nothing," Alysse pridefully uttered, though the pain in her voice betrayed her words. "At least…you're safe."

Safe for now, maybe. Kodachi was still on the loose, though, and if she couldn't find the one she was after, she was going to hurt more people until she did.

"I...I can't stay here," Ringo reluctantly shook her head, knowing what she had to do. "I have to get back out there before-"

"No! You are NOT going anywhere!" Alysse passionately declared, cringing from the pain in her side again.

"I have to, Alysse," Ringo argued. "If I don't, she'll-"

"Can you beat her?" Alysse promptly interrupted the redhead.

That was one question that Ringo didn't want to be faced with right now. What could she say? After what had just happened out there, what could she really say? "If…if I can just keep her away from everyone else, I can-"

"Can you beat her?" the Champion repeated herself.

There was no talking her way around it. Ringo knew the answer, and, looking up into Alysse's eyes, she gave it. "No."

After taking a deep breath, Alysse slid herself upward along the counter to get more comfortable. She knew just from seeing Ringo frozen before Kodachi just now that Ringo wasn't capable of defeating her on her own. Getting Ringo to admit that was for the best.

"What did she…what was that she hit me with?" Alysse inquired regarding the light that had struck her earlier.

"Huh? O-oh, that was Kodachi's chi energy. She...manipulates her body's energy into her ribbon and uses it to attack," Ringo tried to explain to her. "Ranma can do it, too, but…I've never seen his attacks explode like Kodachi's do. Probably…she's condensing a lot of energy down into a smaller ball, and then it expands outward when it hits something. That could be why it's so destructive."

Alysse already knew she was in unfamiliar territory as far as Kodachi's attacks went, but she was at least glad that she now had a basic idea of what was going on. "Chi…energy, huh? Okay. Okay," she slowly nodded her head, accepting the idea with surprisingly little fuss. It was a strange concept, but there was simply no reason to doubt what Ringo was telling her. She had no incentive to lie in this situation. "How long can she keep doing those things?"

How long? How long, indeed. Ringo paused for a moment while she considered the issue. No matter the person, their pool of chi energy wasn't infinite. Considering the amount of chi-based attacks Kodachi had already used, she'd proven that her pool was likely quite large. But…

"There has to be a limit," Ringo said, her eyes showing a sparkle of hope. "Whenever Ranma used his chi too much, he would get tired. Kodachi's limit could be bigger than his, but…she has to have one. That's it! Alysse, you're the best!"

Ringo had an idea of how to put that knowledge to use, and Alysse did as well. But, at the same time, their ideas differed in one key aspect.

"All right," Alysse grimaced as she tried to move. "You…you stay right here. I'll go...take care of this."

"What? No!" Ringo grabbed Alysse by the arm to hold her down. "Look at you! You're already so badly hurt. This…this isn't your fight, Alysse. Please, just let me handle this, and-"

"No! I won't do that, Ringo!" Alysse adamantly refused to stay behind. "You…I promised I wouldn't let Kodachi hurt you, but…" she started to say, becoming choked up as she raised her hand and brushed it across Ringo's bloodied cheek, "…I already failed, didn't I?"

"Alysse..."

"Why? Why are you trying to shoulder all of this by yourself? Don't you know how much you mean to people? Don't you know how much you mean to me?"

Watching Alysse wipe the tears from her eyes, Ringo really did get a sense of how much her friend cared for her. It meant a lot to her, too, enough that it actually brought a smile back to her face. "Thank you, Alysse. But…this all started because of me. I can't run away anymore, I just can't. I need to stop Kodachi, no matter what."

Still drying her eyes, Alysse bit down on her lip as she looked away for a second, then turned back to Ringo. "You're going to fight?" she asked her. "No matter what?"

With a determined look, Ringo nodded her head. "Yes."

Ringo was resolute in her decision, and Alysse knew she couldn't reason with her any further. So, she was going to do the only thing she could do. Reaching over, she clasped Ringo's hand in her own and looked the redhead dead in the eye. "Well, I am, too, because I'm not leaving you," she declared. "No arguing. If there's going to be a fight, then we fight her together. You...and me."

As much as Ringo hated the idea of Alysse putting herself in any further danger, and she REALLY hated it, she could see that Alysse had no intention of listening to any protests. It was so silly that it almost made Ringo want to cry. The two of them would just have to indulge each other's selfish desires, perhaps right to the very end. "All right, Alysse. Let's do it," she relented. "You and me."

And that was that. They would fight Kodachi. Together.

With Ringo's agreement, Alysse now had to consider exactly how to approach their task. In their current shape, they were going to need every bit of help they could get. And, as Alysse surveyed the merchandise of the store they were in, she spotted a thing or two that she believed would suit their needs.

Outside, the lightning flashes had become brighter, the thunder louder, and both more frequent as the incoming thunderstorm drew near.

Kodachi, furious over Ringo's disappearance, continued to whip her ribbon around and slice it into anything she saw fit. "You cannot hide from me, Ringo!" she bellowed as she took out a nearby streetlight, not budging an inch as it crashed down into the street beside her. She'd had enough of playing hide-and-seek with her former second.

"You know what will happen if you do not face me!" Kodachi loudly tossed out a threat to the girl. "How many more must suffer for what you've done? Need I let that Chinese bimbo feel my wrath? Or perhaps the one with the spatula? Answer me, Ringo!"

Just then, Kodachi's ears picked up on a thudding noise behind her. She quickly spun herself around, hoping that the sound was Ringo somehow giving away her position. What she wound up spotting, though, was instead a soccer ball flying straight at her. It wasn't part of a serious attack, as demonstrated by the fact that Kodachi merely had to tilt her head to the side and allow the ball to sail off harmlessly behind her. Rather, it was simply a means to get Kodachi's attention.

The Black Rose of St. Hebereke appeared somewhat surprised now as the one who had kicked the ball stood before her. The one responsible was Alysse, and the soccer ball wasn't the only thing she'd brought with her. The gymnast had several packs from the sporting goods store around her waist, their shoulder straps snugly fit near both sides of her neck. The packs were also further tied down by bungee cords so that they wouldn't hinder her movement so much. What lay inside of them remained a mystery to the Kuno girl.

"So it was you that threw that thing before," Kodachi sneered at her blonde-haired adversary, speaking of the flash bang grenade. "This is quite the oversight. I did not think you were so sturdy that you could be on your feet so soon after being hit by my Nova."

"Or maybe you're just not as strong as you think you are," Alysse retorted, deliberately trying to get under Kodachi's skin. Though she acted tough, her voice still gave away the significant pain she was in. "It makes me sick. No matter how many times I asked, Katrina always refused to train me. And then, she goes and trains someone like you instead. What did you ever do to deserve her attention? Huh? WHAT DID YOU EVER DO?"

Posed with that question, an amused smile formed on Kodachi's lips. "She did not ever tell you why she trained not you, but I? That is so terribly like Master," she coldly chuckled, at the same time starting to twirl her ribbon again. Another dangerous Nova soon grew within. "How unfortunate. It seems you will never know."

Poised to attack, Kodachi flung her ribbon forward and shot the ball of chi energy toward Alysse. No sooner had the violet-colored mass left her ribbon, however, when she was suddenly struck hard in the back of her head by something. Alysse was able to predict the Nova's path well enough to leap out of harm's way as the attack hit the ground and exploded, but, even as Kodachi stumbled and clutched her head, Alysse didn't attempt to take advantage of the situation by mounting an offensive.

Patience was the game here. Recklessness was the one thing that couldn't be afforded.

Hissing and seething as her head throbbed from the blow, it didn't take Kodachi long to spot on the pavement the object that had hit her: a baseball. Whirling her head around, the enraged gymnast found the one who had thrown it standing well behind her. This time, it was Ringo. The redhead was decked out in packs from the sporting goods store just as Alysse was, and, from the looks of it, she'd had enough time to mentally recover from her close call before.

"There you are, you little sneak," Kodachi snarled at her former second. Furious, she spun up yet another Nova within her ribbon. "This resistance is all pointless!"

Kodachi turned herself around and flung the chi sphere at Ringo, but, once again, she was dealt a blow from behind. It was different in this instance, though, as several points of sharp pain flared up in her back and the backside of her upper right arm. Ringo, still physically in reasonable shape, successfully avoided the explosion with her speed as the Nova crashed down into the road near her.

Reeling from whatever had just hit her, Kodachi adjusted her body so that she had at least partial vision of both of her opponents. She didn't yet know what Alysse had thrown her way, but the blonde gymnast was twirling her own ribbon in her hand now—the one gymnastics tool she'd brought with her from the spot where the battle had first begun. Reaching behind herself with her right arm, Kodachi managed to remove three of the objects that had been embedded into her back. They were golf tees, each with a little bit of fresh blood from Kodachi on their sharpened tips. In addition, several red spots were slowly growing on the back of her leotard where the tees had struck.

There were two additional tees stuck in the back of Kodachi's right arm. She momentarily reached her left hand up to try to grab them, but she didn't move it much at all before she stopped, strangely just letting the hand fall back to her side. She was going to leave the tees in her arm for the time being—a questionable decision that didn't escape the notice of Alysse.

Given the difficulty she'd just experienced, Kodachi was finally forced to stop and take stock of the current situation. Ringo was to her left, Alysse to her right. As it was, she couldn't attack them both at once. Standing here, with both of them staying out of range of her ribbon wasn't an option, either. She was going to have to go after one of them, but which? Ringo didn't appear particularly comfortable, but she was still plenty fleet of foot. Alysse, on the other hand, was breathing heavily, and her eyes were struggling to stay open. The girl looked as though she could barely hold herself together.

It was an easy decision to make.

Alysse was glad that things had gone well so far, but she had a feeling she knew what was coming next. As she stood there waiting for her opponent to make a move, Kodachi began to look her way. Then, with a quick push off of her left foot, Kodachi launched herself toward her fellow gymnast.

The Black Rose spun up a Nova within her ribbon right off the bat and whipped it at Alysse to put some pressure on her. Alysse managed to jump back away from the resulting blast, but Kodachi pressed forward and went after her with a fury. She swiped her glowing ribbon over and over, the Champion just barely out of range each time. Alysse wasn't retreating without fighting back, however, as she would toss softballs into the air one at a time and snap them back at Kodachi with her ribbon. They were little more than a minor annoyance to Kodachi, though, who sliced each of them in half as she continued to advance on her target.

Kodachi was gaining ground, and Alysse, falling dangerously close to the maximum range of Kodachi's ribbon despite how much she was pushing her pain-racked body, was left with no choice but to move to the next part of her plan. Digging into one of her packs, she threw two things up into the air—one softball and one sealed plastic container—and used her ribbon to fling both of them Kodachi's way.

Kodachi was experiencing a case of tunnel vision, focusing completely on Alysse and not at all on the objects zipping toward her. She sprang forward, slicing through the softball and then the container as if they were nothing. The cutting of the latter, though, would turn out to be a costly mistake. The plastic container, upon being opened up, showered Kodachi's face, and, particularly, her eyes, with a powdered nutritional supplement, temporarily blinding the vengeful gymnast.

"AAAAAAGGHHH! What IS this?" Kodachi screamed. Rubbing at her eyes at first, she then took to flailing her ribbon around just in case someone was moving in to attack her, just as she had done when the flash bang had gone off earlier.

Alysse, who was now at a more preferred range, and Ringo, who'd been following behind the girls, were playing it safe, though, and they knew just what to do. While Alysse flung another round of softballs, Ringo grabbed several donuts used for baseball training and heaved those, too, at Kodachi. The projectiles pelted the Kuno girl up and down her body, and hit hard they did. One of the donuts would nail Kodachi right in the jaw, jolting her enough to drop her to a knee.

More than causing damage, the attacks seemed to raise Kodachi's ire even further. Irate, she sprung up to her feet again, and, with limited vision, shot a fiery look toward Ringo now. "You little PESTS!"

Her emotions getting the better of her, Kodachi took off after Ringo this time, starting by hurling another Nova, and Alysse, in turn, followed them. Though she was now the target of Kodachi's aggression, Ringo stayed calm and focused as she retreated from her ex-partner, avoiding the sphere of chi energy with relative ease. Much like Alysse had done, Ringo chucked baseballs at Kodachi while continuing to back away, only she did so using her bare hands rather than a ribbon. Kodachi sliced through the first of them, but her impaired vision and impatience prevented her from stopping the next two. One of them smacked her in the shoulder, while the other struck her collarbone. The hits certainly didn't feel good, but so fired up was Kodachi at the moment that she barely paid them any mind.

"I will catch you, and when I do, you will SUFFER!" Kodachi cried out toward the redhead.

Ringo was starting to near Kodachi's ribbon range, but, while she could have increased that distance using her speed, she had something else in mind. Reaching into one of her packs, she pulled out a folded up tent, snapped it outward to unfold it so that it covered more area, and then let it drift Kodachi's way.

Naturally, with the tent itself being no threat, Kodachi easily tore through it with her ribbon. Once the remaining shreds had left her line of sight, though, Kodachi realized that Ringo had vanished. That brief moment where the tent had blocked Kodachi's vision was all the agile Ringo needed to make a swift escape.

The following moments that Kodachi wasted looking around in vain for Ringo would prove meaningful as well. Alysse was well prepared to put that confusion to use, and Kodachi, upon remembering that she had a second opponent, swung herself around just in time to see a golf ball soaring toward her head.

Kodachi snapped the ball away with her ribbon, but, much like the clubs that had struck her upon Alysse's arrival, there were more hidden from view by the first. Kodachi tried to whip her ribbon around again to deal with the next one, but it came in far too fast for that. The golf ball slammed into her nose, and another then smacked her in the forehead. Half a second later, a barrage of six more golf balls hit Kodachi all at once. Most of them struck her in the chest, but one managed to nail her right in the throat, and that one hurt most of all.

Staggering back and falling to a knee again, Kodachi let out a pained groan, and Ringo, formerly hidden from view, dropped back down to the ground well behind her. Again, the duo of Ringo and Alysse played it safe and waited for Kodachi to make a move. There were marks all over Kodachi's body from where she'd been hit by the various sporting goods, and the smaller blows were starting to pile up. Perhaps more noteworthy, though, was the fact that Kodachi was starting to breathe harder now, and it wasn't just a reaction to the golf ball she'd taken to the throat.

It hadn't happened right away. More likely, it was a gradual thing that had taken place throughout the battle. But, finally, it appeared as though the energy Kodachi had been expending was starting to catch up to her.

"It's...it's working! Alysse and I can really do this!" Ringo thought to herself with exuberance. The signs of tiring that Kodachi was exhibiting were extremely encouraging. If they kept it up, Ringo and Alysse could really bring this entire mess to an end.

Kodachi, perhaps starting to realize that she was getting nowhere at the moment, had to force herself to calm down. She adjusted her body again, making sure that she could keep an eye on the movements of both of her adversaries. Neither Ringo nor Alysse were attacking. They were just sitting outside of her ribbon's range, the same as they'd been doing all along, and Kodachi was starting to get it now. The pair had no intention of forcing an engagement. They were just going to make her chase them around and waste energy while wearing her down with small bits of offense. Even with Alysse in poor condition, if this kept up, a point could very well come where she and Ringo would be able to bring Kodachi down.

For Kodachi, there was no way she could let it come to that. This called for a change in tactics. And thus, bringing her right arm across her body, she reached into the right sleeve of her leotard with her left hand and began to pull out a second ribbon.

"Another ribbon?" Alysse thought, greatly concerned at the sight of the extra tool. "This is bad! If she can use that weird power with two at once…"

But then, at that moment, something unexpected happened. Kodachi, noticeably cringing, stopped. Looking none too pleased, she then slid the extra ribbon back into her sleeve, opting not to put it to use.

"She…isn't using it?" Alysse silently wondered, puzzled by the crazed gymnast's actions. "Why? She would be so much more capable if she used two at once. There's no reason for her not to. Unless…"

Now that Alysse thought about it, there was something very consistent about Kodachi throughout this entire battle. Seeing Kodachi opt not to wield dual ribbons just now only further fueled her speculation that there was a good reason for it, too.

"Ringo!" Alysse called out to her friend. Using her hand, she gestured to a building straight ahead from Kodachi, halfway between them, and then used a nearby streetlight to aid her as she leaped up onto the building's roof.

Ringo, understanding that as meaning that Alysse wanted to discuss something, followed suit and met her atop the building. It must have been urgent, and she certainly hoped so, because for Alysse to just make the trip up here likely hurt more than she would ever let on.

With Kodachi looking on from the street below, seemingly content with not breaking up the meeting for now, Alysse raised her hand to block her mouth from view so that her lips couldn't be read. "Ringo," she addressed the girl, speaking softly enough that Kodachi couldn't hear her, "…did something happen to Kodachi's left arm?"

"Her…left arm?" Ringo asked, covering up her own mouth.

"She hasn't used it once this entire time. And when she was about to pull out a second ribbon just now, she looked like she was in pain," Alysse explained. "Do you know anything?"

Ringo gave it some thought. She herself hadn't done anything particularly damaging to Kodachi's arm tonight, and she hadn't seen her since the match against Kiriko. But it was then, as that match came to mind, that Ringo began to recall something. "Ah! That's it! Kiriko!" she said. "During the match, Kiriko hit Kodachi's arm really hard with a big chain. I don't think she used her arm at all after that."

It was almost humorous to Alysse. Kiriko, that brazen, trash-talking gymnast that she'd never cared for, had actually done something that wound up being helpful. "She might have gotten some revenge for what Kodachi did to her after all," Alysse suggested. "Ringo, this is a huge opening. If an opportunity pops up, I might try to do something. If I do, go along with it if you can, but don't put yourself in any danger. Got it?"

"Y-yeah," Ringo replied, though not sure she was liking the sound of it all. "Just be careful, Alysse."

"I always am," Alysse insisted. "Okay, then. Back to the plan."

With that, Alysse and Ringo split up and descended back down onto the road, one off to each side of Kodachi. The younger Kuno sibling hadn't moved at all while her opponents were chatting, and Alysse was glad for that. It had given her the time to communicate a strategy to Ringo that might bring this fight to a quicker end. Even though making Kodachi chase them around and tire herself out was working thus far, Alysse wasn't going to be able to keep it up forever in her current shape, and there was always a danger of Kodachi managing to land a blow that would turn the tide. If Alysse could just find a way to take advantage of that opening on Kodachi's left side, she and Ringo wouldn't have to worry about those uncertainties anymore. Now it was just a matter of waiting to see what move Kodachi would make.

Kodachi, in striking contrast to her behavior up until now, was taking her time, looking back and forth from Alysse to Ringo. What was going through her head, neither of the girls had any clue. They just knew that they had to be on their toes, because whatever happened was likely going to happen fast.

And it did.

In an instant, Kodachi shot off to her left and went straight for Ringo, and Ringo quickly started to back off while Alysse pursued the two of them. Kodachi, likely knowing now that her chances of landing a hit with her Nova weren't great, focused entirely on chasing after Ringo and trying to get within range to attack using her ribbon itself. Whether it be from tiring or maybe from something that had hit her during the attacks from the girls, though, Kodachi was moving slower than before, and that opened the door for Alysse to make a move.

Reaching into one of her bags, Alysse grabbed hold of a certain item inside. It was likely to do the job, but she would have to wait for the right moment to use it. "This is good," she thought. "If I give it everything I've got, I can get in close to her. Let's do this, Ringo!"

Ringo could see Alysse starting to close in on Kodachi, meaning that her friend was going to try to put into action what they'd just discussed. With her speed, Ringo could have kept far out of Kodachi's attack range, but doing so would have increased the chances that Kodachi would back off and turn on Alysse instead. What Ringo needed right now was for Kodachi to be focused entirely on her, and for that to happen, she needed to make Kodachi think that she had a chance of catching her.

Gradually slowing down, Ringo purposely fell close to the maximum range of Kodachi's ribbon, and Kodachi, her tool taking on that violet glow, began slashing away just as Ringo predicted she would. Kodachi went into full-on attack mode, swiping her ribbon relentlessly at the girl. She wasn't looking back to check on the one following her at all, and that was exactly what Alysse had been hoping for.

"That's it! Perfect!" Alysse silently commended Ringo's efforts.

While Ringo avoided the ribbon slashes by thin margins, Alysse pulled out from her pack the item she'd been holding, an aluminum baseball bat, and moved in on the gymnast. She would have to advance swiftly but quietly, doing everything she could to make sure Kodachi didn't see it coming. One good hit was all it would take. Even if it didn't knock Kodachi out, it would surely allow the opportunity to subdue her afterward.

This was how Alysse worked. There was nothing flashy about her way of competing. She was precise. She was calculating. She was intelligent. She could analyze her opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and their capabilities as well, and use that information to pick them apart. She could see every way Kodachi could attack using that ribbon in her right hand, and she knew how much time she would need to get out of the way should Kodachi turn and take a swipe at her. If this chance fell through, she would simply back off and look for another. Countless opponents had crumbled under the mental pressure of dealing with Alysse inside a gymnastics ring, and, even outside of it, Alysse fully intended for Kodachi to experience the same fate.

Yes, this was the style of the undefeated, undisputed Champion of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation.

The chase going strong, Alysse sprung off of a delivery van that was parked in the street for a little speed boost. Then, once her feet touched ground again, Alysse lunged forward with everything she had, putting Kodachi just within range of her bat. The chance was here, and Alysse reached back with the bat off to her left, aiming to drive it straight into the left side of Kodachi's head.

Ringo was watching closely, readying herself to follow up on the attack when, all of a sudden, Alysse slowed down considerably. The bat lowered to her side, and, moments later, it fell from her grasp completely, making a clanging noise as it dropped to the concrete below. Alysse staggered forward for a few steps, then came to a complete stop. Up ahead of her, Kodachi, too, slowed to a halt.

What just happened, Ringo had no idea, but it wasn't good. It wasn't good at all.

Ceasing her pursuit of Ringo for the time, Kodachi began to twirl her ribbon again, spinning up one of her Novas within. And, as she turned to peek back at a gaping, stunned Alysse, a sinister smile played on her lips. "Your perceptiveness has betrayed you," she spoke, her voice dripping with satisfaction. "My arm was, indeed, unusable for some time. Unfortunately for you, it can at least do this much now."

As Ringo slid to a stop, she saw, thanks to the illumination provided by the street lights, the horrible reality of what had happened. Alysse had blood streaming down her chest where, below her collarbone, a black rose had been flicked back from Kodachi's left hand during the chase. The rose's stem, infused with Kodachi's chi energy, had broken through Alysse's skin with ease and pierced straight through one of her lungs.

"Alysse, NO!" Ringo screamed in horror. With haste, she bolted toward the girl in an effort to help, but she didn't make it in time.

Kodachi whipped her ribbon around at Alysse and struck her dead-on with her Nova. The blast sent the celebrated gymnast soaring through the air until she crashed into the outside wall of a small bakery. Motionless, Alysse then collapsed to the ground amidst the roaring of thunder in the background. For once in her life, she'd been outsmarted, and the consequences were great.

Ringo felt her heart sink as the scene unfolded before her. She needed to go help Alysse, but there was something she had to finish first. Kodachi had her back turned to her, and Ringo was going to take that opportunity to wrap up what Alysse had been trying to do.

Landing next to Kodachi, Ringo swung her right foot at the back of the gymnast's head. Kodachi, however, was ready for it. Her ribbon glowing violet again, Kodachi leaned back, and, looking up as Ringo's foot passed above her, she snapped her ribbon at the exposed limb. She couldn't use the tool to its full potential from such a short distance, but the damage done would be plenty as it sliced clean through Ringo's right Achilles tendon on the back side of her foot.

"EEYAAAAHHHH!" Ringo cried out as the pain hit her. Clutching at her bloodied foot and writhing in agony, she fell to the pavement, helpless.

Ringo had played right into Kodachi's hands. With that one costly mistake, her greatest asset, her agility, was gone.

Kodachi couldn't have been any more pleased with herself as she stared down at her squirming prey. "Well now, I suppose you won't be running away any longer, will you?" she taunted the injured girl.

Even though all she wanted to do was stay still and try to bear through the pain in her foot, Ringo was inwardly screaming at herself to try to move. She was only going to be in danger if she stayed like this. Somehow, some way, she needed to take Alysse and escape.

With tears running down her face from the immense pain she was in, Ringo scrambled over onto her front side and managed to push herself up to her knees. That was as far as she would get, however, as Kodachi abruptly moved in and punted the side of Ringo's head with her foot, knocking her former second into a rough daze that dropped her flat against the street.

"No, no, no. You are going NOWHERE!" Kodachi yelled down at her. "Did you think that you and your little friend were the only ones who could scheme? Apparently not, hmm? I made you two think my arm was useless, and you both fell for it! Now, the question is, what ever shall I do with you?"

Kodachi thoroughly scoured the surrounding area, eventually setting her sights on a women's clothing store that had large windows on either side of its entrance. "Oh, I just had a splendid idea! I believe this shall do for a start," she grinned, her eyes filled with malicious intent. Kodachi wrapped her ribbon around the neck of the still-stunned Ringo and pulled her up off the ground. "Let us see how you feel about this!"

Using her ribbon, Kodachi took Ringo and viciously slammed her into one of the clothing store's glass panes. The glass shattered upon impact, slicing away at Ringo's skin before she fell and rolled to a stop on the store's floor.

With shards of glass all around her, Ringo tried to get her bearings, blood running down from cuts all over her face and body. Unfortunately, Kodachi had no intention of letting up, and Ringo could hear the sound of glass crunching as her ex-partner hopped up onto the ledge where the window once stood.

"Oh, now that was FUN, was it not?" Kodachi beamed with deranged exultation. "What say we do that again?"

Ringo could do nothing as Kodachi snagged her throat with the ribbon one more time. After hoisting her up, Kodachi flung Ringo through the glass on the other side of the door this time. The window shattered from the force of Ringo's body hitting it just as easily as the first had, and Ringo, even further bloodied and battered, tumbled back out into the street.

Blood now streaming down her face from several new cuts to her cheek and forehead, Ringo, just out of sheer instinct, wearily tried to claw at the pavement to get away from Kodachi. In her current condition, though, there was little hope, and Kodachi was going to make sure she knew it. Ringo let out another pained cry as Kodachi strolled up to her and stomped down on her outstretched hand, smashing it into the concrete.

With Ringo laying at her feet, Kodachi then reached down and grabbed her by the ponytail, yanking her body upward to get a good look at her face. "What do you think now?" she asked the wounded girl. "Was it worth it? Was it worth it to turn your back on me, you little traitor?"

Ringo could barely think straight, much less speak. All she could manage to utter was the name of the one she was at the mercy of. "Ko…da…chi…"

Disgusted, Kodachi threw Ringo back down and stepped away from her. She wasn't satisfied yet. Not by a long shot. Her ribbon taking on that familiar violet glow, she began to twirl it once more. "I do not think you are sorry for what you've done yet," she insisted. "You will be, though. Oh, you will be."

A lightning flash from the imminent storm illuminating the skies around her, Kodachi raised her ribbon high above her head, looking to take out all of her anger and sadness on the one who had caused it.

Then, strangely…nothing. Kodachi tried to bring her ribbon down, but, try as she might, she couldn't move. "Wh-…what is this?"

What Kodachi couldn't see was that, beneath the glow of the streetlights, her shadow was connected to another shadow that began atop the clothing store she'd just wrecked. And on the other end of it, looking down from above with her lavender hair blowing in the increasing wind and her hands folded in front of her in a peculiar manner, was the other shadow's owner, Shampoo.

Finally, backup had arrived.

"Kodachi!" Shampoo shouted down at the Black Rose of St. Hebereke, grabbing the attention of the perplexed gymnast who was caught in her Shadow Bind.

Already assuming that Shampoo was somehow the cause for her paralysis, Kodachi glared furiously up at her unwelcome guest. "You…!"

Shampoo was already incensed over what Kodachi had done to Ranma last night, but seeing Ringo as she was now, a bloody mess as she lay before Kodachi, pushed the Chinese Amazon over the edge. "You want pick fight with Ringo? You want pick fight with Ranma?" she snarled in overflowing anger. "Now Shampoo here pick fight with you!"


End of Chapter 25