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 26

Flashes of lightning and the roaring of thunder all around, Shampoo had a sharp glare fixed on Kodachi Kuno from the roof of the clothing store she stood upon. The battle outfit she wore—all black with yellow trim—whipped in the wind gusts that came in out ahead of the storm, though much of her blouse was anchored down by the dark-colored breastplate over her chest. She had arrived not a moment too soon, using her Shadow Bind to spare Ringo additional injury that Kodachi had been looking to inflict.

Down on the street below, Kodachi struggled, trying with all her might to fight out of Shampoo's technique. In truth, Shampoo hadn't even wanted to use her Shadow Bind. As furious as she was right now, she would've liked nothing more than to just dive down to the ground and straight-up engage the one who'd hurt Ranma and a handful of others over the past few days. Unfortunately, taking out Kodachi wasn't her only concern; she also had to ensure the safety of the two girls who had taken on the task of combating the gymnast before she'd arrived.

As she surveyed the area, Shampoo could see the spot where Alysse currently lay motionless. At the very least, she was far enough away from Kodachi that she wouldn't be in immediate danger. The same couldn't be said of Ringo, who remained in a rough, bloodied state right at Kodachi's feet.

"Is it not enough that you took my darling Ranma from me, you hussy?" Kodachi snarled up at the unwelcome arrival that was Shampoo. "Do you bear so much spite towards me that you must also interfere with my revenge on this despicable girl?"

Shampoo wanted badly to finish what the others had started, but, in order for her to fight freely, Ringo was going to have to move away from Kodachi. Otherwise, Kodachi would likely have the time to attack Ringo as soon as Shampoo released her Shadow Bind. "Ringo, Shampoo need you get away from that one!" the Amazon girl called out to her restaurant's waitress.

Ringo wasn't all there mentally after the beating she'd taken. She had heard Shampoo, however, and she was able to understand the request. With blood dripping down her face from the cuts she'd received earlier, she reached out and clawed at the pavement, pulling herself along as best she could. Given the shape her body was in, though, it was a slow process. Very slow.

Under normal conditions, the speed at which Ringo was crawling away from Kodachi wouldn't be a concern for Shampoo. On this night, however, there was an enormous problem threatening to rear its ugly head, and Shampoo, with a quick glance toward the sky, could see it coming ever closer. As if the thunder and lightning weren't enough of an indicator, the wind also carried with it the scent of rain, and rain was going to pose a serious issue that was very particular to Shampoo. She'd been in such a rush to save Ringo that she hadn't even thought of bringing an umbrella with her—not that there was any guarantee she'd be able to use it properly while trying to fight Kodachi. In any case, Shampoo had a definite time limit on how long she had to get the job done, and, as Ringo inched her way along the concrete, the clock was ticking.

As she stood there immobilized by Shampoo, watching Ringo gradually move away from her, Kodachi's rage swelled. After all she'd gone through to make Ringo pay for her betrayal, she couldn't take the idea of the girl getting away from her now. She wouldn't accept it. Whether Shampoo or anyone else stood in her way, she was going to teach Ringo a lesson if it was the last thing she ever did.

"You think I will allow you to escape?" Kodachi hissed at her former second.

Her emotions boiling over, Kodachi began to emit a strong battle aura. At first, it simply surrounded her body. But, it didn't stop there.

Shampoo watched closely from above as Kodachi's aura rapidly grew. It began to collect above the gymnast, and soon it took on a form much like what Ranma had described seeing the previous night. The aura had molded into the shape of a human skull wrapped in thorn-covered vines, and, with Kodachi looking to free herself from Shampoo's technique, the skull turned and faced its eerie, empty eye sockets toward the one preventing its master from moving.

Though Shampoo's Shadow Bind could suppress one's body, what it couldn't suppress was their aura. Whether that would turn out to be a problem or not depended on the one the technique was being used on. She'd seen her great-grandmother use her aura to attack without moving her body before, but it required incredible control to pull it off. The question was, did Kodachi, even at her young age, have that level of control?

Shampoo would find that out in a hurry. As Kodachi let out a piercing scream that echoed throughout the night, the skull that had formed above her opened its jaw, blaring out a horrific howl of its own that gave voice to all of Kodachi's anger and sadness. Then, incredibly, the skull rocketed outward, straight toward the rooftop where Shampoo stood.

"Is no way! Kuno girl even can do this?" Shampoo thought in disbelief.

It was tough for Shampoo to swallow that Kodachi was capable of what she was seeing, but the proof was right before her eyes. With that mass of aura heading for her, she didn't have the time to stand there looking surprised, either. Unless she wanted the aura to collide with her, she was going to have to move. Doing so would also mean having to break her Shadow Bind, but taking a hit from Kodachi's aura would more than likely end with that very result anyway. She had no choice.

With the skull-shaped mass closing in on her, Shampoo purposely released her bind on Kodachi. Then, with great haste, she bent down to pick up the weaponry she'd brought with her before springing high up into the humid night air. Kodachi's aura crashed into the ledge of the roof, taking out a chunk of the top of the building in the process, but what it didn't manage to get was any piece of Shampoo.

Regardless, Kodachi was now free to move her body again, and she immediately set her sights back on Ringo. "Ringo! You come ba-!"

Kodachi had just begun to speak when, suddenly, her battle aura dissipated. A confused look coming over her as she began to feel dizzy, she then stumbled backwards. Kodachi felt as though she'd figuratively hit a wall, and that was essentially the truth of it. Using her aura in that manner had taken a lot out of her, and that, combined with how much energy she had expended fighting Ringo and Alysse, had left her exhausted. "No…" she groaned, looking toward the injured redhead once more. "I must…keep going!"


Her attention drawn to the sound of her name being called from the sky, Kodachi raised her head to look upward. There, from high above, Shampoo was descending toward her, and she was coming in fast. Not wanting Kodachi to go after Ringo, Shampoo had intentionally drawn the vengeful gymnast's focus to herself, and she was ready to deal with whatever came her way. In Shampoo's left hand was a metal shield measuring two feet in diameter. In her right, the very sword she'd been sharpening earlier in the day.

As much as Kodachi wanted to stop Ringo, she couldn't just ignore Shampoo. The girl Ranma had chosen was formidable, that much she knew. Shampoo would need to be dealt with. And thus, twirling her ribbon out to her side, the tool taking on its violet glow once again thanks to its user's remaining chi energy, Kodachi snapped it up at her incoming opponent. "Stay out of my way, you pest!"

Rather than dodging the ribbon, Shampoo held her shield out in front of her, and, as the two objects made contact, a shower of sparks flew outward. The shield, however, remained intact, and Shampoo continued to plummet toward her target with her sword raised and ready to strike.

Kodachi's ribbon had obliterated everything it had touched tonight, so for Shampoo's shield to survive a hit from it was quite unexpected for the Black Rose. And now, with that ominous-looking sword bearing down on her, she was caught in an unenviable position. Even if she tried to maneuver her ribbon to attack again, it would be risky. If Shampoo managed to fend off that strike as well, that sword of hers was going to leave Kodachi in a world of hurt.

Using her better judgment, Kodachi leaped back out of the path of Shampoo's blade before it was too late. Shampoo would land upon the road right where the gymnast had been standing, driving her sword into the concrete as she came down. That small battle would be won by the sword as it ended up leaving a large gash in the pavement where it had struck, and Shampoo quickly sprung back up into a fighting stance.

A brilliant flash of lightning lit the area as Kodachi, her ribbon glowing and ready, and a much fresher Shampoo, both sword and shield prepared to be put to use, directed intense stares at one another.

The wounded Ringo, now with Shampoo between herself and Kodachi, peeked back at the standoff as another droplet of blood dripped down from her chin. "Sham…poo…"

Shampoo could tell from that first feeling of Kodachi's ribbon striking her shield just how dangerous the gymnast's attacks were. Ringo and Alysse had been keeping their distance from Kodachi for good reason while they fought. Regrettably, Shampoo didn't have the luxury of such an option. As she looked to the active sky again, she could see that the leading edge of the lightning-illuminated clouds was drawing uncomfortably near. There was no way she had the time to play it safe and wait for an ideal moment to attack.

The technique Shampoo had been practicing during much of her free time recently, the Speed of Light Fist, would have been perfect in this type of situation where time was so much of the essence. Shampoo had no confidence that she could pull off that move right now, though. Not yet. Even trying to do so would leave her in an incredibly vulnerable position. For now, she would have to do things the way she was more used to doing them: charge in and go all-out.

Without a second to spare, Shampoo bolted forward and went after Kodachi, and the Black Rose, in response, whipped her ribbon straight out ahead of her. "Come and try it!" Kodachi boldly challenged her one-time rival for Ranma's heart.

The ribbon slashed into Shampoo's shield, leaving a visible cut across its center. But, to Kodachi's surprise, the defensive item remained in one piece yet again. It wasn't as though Kodachi was failing to cut through some flimsy piece of metal. Quite the contrary, as Shampoo's shield was incredibly thick and sturdy. However, the same could be said of the utility poles and other solid objects that had been cleaved apart by Kodachi earlier. The difference wasn't necessarily the make-up of Shampoo's shield. Rather, it was more an issue of how much of a punch Kodachi's ribbon was still packing now that she'd been worn down some.

After breaking through the first ribbon slash, Shampoo pushed forward, and Kodachi, unwilling to back off a second time, held her ground. She brought her ribbon back around and snapped it at her approaching adversary again, but Shampoo, closing the distance in a hurry, used her sword this time to deflect the tool, sparks flying once more as the two weapons came together.

Kodachi hadn't imagined that even Shampoo's sword could neutralize her ribbon's attacks now. She didn't have time for another go, either, as Shampoo was right in front of her. With her sword held high, Shampoo swung the deadly weapon downward, and Kodachi quickly weaved to her left to get out of its path. The sword's edge, though, would manage to catch Kodachi's right ear lobe as she moved, drawing a small amount of blood from the dark-haired gymnast—a close-combat blow the likes of which had been rare tonight against someone so dangerous to be near.

That little cut would have been negligible had that been all the damage that was done, but what Kodachi didn't realize was that Shampoo had read her movements perfectly. Shampoo never planted herself after her sword strike, instead following through with her entire body. Because of that, all it took was a quick turn and her left foot was in just the right position to strike. Shampoo thrust her leg out, planting her heel straight into Kodachi's chest with an on-point kick and sending the Kuno girl tumbling backwards.

Kodachi cringed from the shot she'd taken, smacking the pavement hard before rolling back to her feet. She was still reeling from the blow even after she stood up, but she had absolutely no time to recover. Before she knew it, Shampoo was right back after her.

The lightning flashes were almost right above them now, and Shampoo could sense that the rain was going to start falling at any moment. She advanced forth, using her shield to absorb several of Kodachi's ribbon slashes as she moved in. The shield again survived the barrage as Shampoo closed the gap, her sword ready to strike once more. Kodachi was thinking twice about hanging around after that last exchange had gone sour, though, and, as Shampoo came down with another swing of her sword, the Black Rose this time jumped well away from her before the weapon could do any further damage.

Shampoo didn't stop, raising her shield back up as she instantly resumed pursuit of the gymnast, but Kodachi had put some distance between them for a reason. That reason would become apparent as, twirling her ribbon out to her side, Kodachi spun up a quick Nova within the tool's funnel.

"Let us see you block this one!" Kodachi snarled.

Reaching back, Kodachi launched the mass of chi energy at Shampoo. Surely the shield wouldn't save her opponent from one of her Novas, she figured. And true, considering the damage they'd been shown to cause, it likely wouldn't. The only problem? Shampoo had no intention of blocking the attack in the first place.

With the Nova looking to meet her head-on, Shampoo launched herself forward, twisting herself around in mid-air and somehow maneuvering her body underneath the energy ball as it passed by her.

"Wha-!" Kodachi gasped, stunned by the Amazon's skillful evasion.

The Nova struck the road and exploded, and Shampoo, with the blast occurring just behind her, used the force of it to rapidly propel herself toward Kodachi.

Shampoo was unflinching, her eyes locked onto the other girl and her sword raised and ready to do what needed to be done. As fast as Shampoo was coming in this time, Kodachi had almost no time to react. She couldn't counter with an attack of her own. All she could do was try to thwart Shampoo's move.

And so, Kodachi, without even the time to jump away, chose to fall back toward the ground. Shampoo soared in close and swung her weapon down at the vulnerable gymnast. Kodachi, however, would use Shampoo's momentum to her own advantage. Raising her legs up, she caught the blade of Shampoo's sword in-between her feet and flung both weapon and owner off behind her.

Kodachi quickly rolled up to a standing position, and, as Shampoo flipped around and landed, the gymnast snapped her ribbon out toward her adversary. Shampoo dove in again, raising her shield to block the attack. It would turn out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, however, as this time the shield could take no more. The ribbon split the round hunk of metal in two, its repeated strikes finally doing the object in.

Shampoo wasn't deterred, though. She knew her shield was bound to give out at some point if she fought like this. While a large piece of it fell to the ground, she took the remaining chunk of the shield that she was holding onto and chucked it at Kodachi, who had to use her ribbon to swat it away. This gave Shampoo an opening as she swooped in and took another swing at the girl with her sword. Kodachi ducked to her left, avoiding the strike, but this time around Shampoo planted her foot and came back with a second strike.

Kodachi tried to back away, but the tip of the sword caught her right cheek, cutting it open cleanly. Then, with her other hand now free without the shield, Shampoo followed up immediately by reaching out and grabbing hold of Kodachi's injured left arm. Kodachi cried out as a rush of pain ran through her bruised limb, and Shampoo, looking to give her something more to wail about, yanked the gymnast toward her, jumped up into the air, and smashed both of her feet flat against Kodachi's face.

Kodachi was sent flying by the sudden dropkick, and she hit the ground hard. Breathing heavily, she spat blood from her mouth as she pushed herself up off the road. Kodachi had a frightening look about her as she peeked up and saw Shampoo darting toward her again. She wasn't ready to give in yet, and she let Shampoo know it as she bolted to her feet and snapped her glowing ribbon repeatedly at the other girl.

Sparks rained down into the street as Kodachi's ribbon and Shampoo's sword made contact over and over, Shampoo having to make sure she struck the ribbon just right every time so that it didn't slice through the blade of her weapon. Closing in on Kodachi, though, had become increasingly dangerous for Shampoo without the aid of her shield, and the difficulty of doing so while still trying to defend herself had brought her advance to a temporary halt.

"Ohh, what is the matter? Have you lost your nerve along with your shield?" Kodachi taunted her adversary while their weapons clashed.

The very insistence that Shampoo was apprehensive in the face of Kodachi's offense right now was downright infuriating to the young martial artist. "If really think that, you no can be more wrong!" she shouted back at her.

Shampoo wasn't afraid, she was merely being cautious. She wanted nothing more than to dive right in and go after the deranged gymnast. But, very quickly, that want was about to become a need as Shampoo caught sight of sprinkles of rain beginning to fall around her, one of them landing upon her shirt's sleeve. Her time, she realized, was almost up.

Really feeling the pressure now, Shampoo decided that she had to just go for it. And so, throwing caution to the wind, she pushed forward through the barrage of ribbon slashes, deflecting everything she could with her sword along the way. Shampoo closed in, smacking the ribbon away again, but Kodachi had begun to adapt. She maneuvered the tool to curl around this time, coercing it to come back over to Shampoo's right arm. Shampoo couldn't stop it, and the edge of the ribbon dug through her sleeve and into her skin, carving a path from her forearm all the way up to her shoulder.

Shampoo grit her teeth as the pain shot through her arm. It hurt like hell, but she couldn't stop now. She had to maintain. Kodachi had held her ground to get that hit in, and Shampoo needed to make her pay for it. Gripping her weapon tightly, she swung the blade sharply at the other girl. Kodachi tried to move away despite having stuck around too long, but she could only manage to get so far before the sword sliced through her leotard and into her right shoulder.

"AAAAAHHH!" Kodachi screamed from the sting of the blow.

Shampoo wasn't going to let her off with just that, either. With a ferocity in her eyes, she reached out and grabbed a handful of the front of Kodachi's leotard, pulled her in close, and smashed her forehead into Kodachi's as hard as she could. Shaken up by the headbutt, Kodachi swayed back, and Shampoo, letting go of the girl's clothing, raised her leg up and drove her foot right into the underside of Kodachi's chin.

Kodachi flew through the air, blood now running down from both her shoulder and a cut that had opened up on her forehead. Again she crashed back against the concrete, ending up on one knee as she rolled over. She was still there somehow, but she was seeing stars after the vicious hits she'd just taken. Although Kodachi was holding her own, Shampoo was putting a beating on her. All of the damage she'd accumulated throughout the night was piling up, and, in her condition, there was no telling how much more she could take.

Even with her arm bleeding profusely, Shampoo knew that she had Kodachi on the ropes. The rain was picking up, though. She didn't have much time. "This bad! Need finish now!" she frantically told herself.

It was now or never, and Shampoo launched herself at Kodachi with every intention of ending the skirmish in the next exchange. "Is over, Kodachi!"

The Black Rose, on spaghetti legs after getting back to her feet, firmed herself up as she spotted Shampoo closing in. With blood running down along her nose from her forehead, she twirled her glowing ribbon, determined as ever to exact the revenge she'd set out to achieve. "I…I SHALL NOT FALL HERE!" she bellowed into the night.

It was going to be a clash of wills and strength. Kodachi whipped her ribbon forward. Shampoo reached back with her sword. A bright flash of lightning lit the sky, and then…the two weapons collided.

The thunder roared, and the rain, ever increasing, began to pour down upon the Nerima Ward of Tokyo.

In the middle of the downpour, her hair and leotard becoming drenched in a hurry, Kodachi Kuno collapsed to her knees, her breathing heavy and erratic. Behind her, a heavy object made some noise as it fell from the sky above and stuck itself point-first into the pavement.

That object was the severed blade of Shampoo's sword.

Kodachi turned and looked back over her bloodied shoulder. Not far from the broken blade, Shampoo's clothes lay in a heap in the middle of the road. The shirt and breastplate had been cleaved right through by the ribbon, and the hilt portion of Shampoo's sword was also sitting amongst the fabric.

More confused than anything about what had just happened, Kodachi staggered back to her feet. Staring down at the pile of clothing for a moment, she gingerly reached down and snapped up a portion of Shampoo's damaged shirt for a closer look. What would wind up catching her attention wasn't the shirt itself, though. Rather, it was the small animal that was uncovered beneath it.

Her fur soaked by the heavy raindrops falling all around, Shampoo, now in her cat form, met Kodachi's eyes as she stared up at her. Things had gone from hopeful to terrible all in an instant. The storm, which had concerned her ever since she departed from the Cat Café earlier tonight, had gotten the best of her, triggering her Jusenkyo curse just as the weapons of she and Kodachi met. What she was going to do now, she genuinely had no idea.

Kodachi hadn't been expecting a cat to appear beneath Shampoo's clothing, but she didn't seem particularly interested in it, either. Instead of focusing on the furry creature, she surveyed her surroundings for any sign of Shampoo's human form. Of course, the girl with long, lavender-colored hair was nowhere to be seen.

"She stripped her clothing off…and then ran away?" Kodachi surmised regarding what had taken place. "Not only is she a coward, but a pervert as well it would seem."

Assuming that Shampoo had fled, Kodachi tossed aside the scrap of her adversary's shirt that she'd picked up and opted to turn her attention back to her primary target, Ringo.

The Kuno siblings had always had difficulty wrapping their heads around the effects of Jusenkyo curses, and for that Shampoo was fortunate. Had Kodachi known that the cat she was looking at was, in actuality, Shampoo, things likely would have turned out very poorly for the girl from Joketsuzoku. Even now, though, the position Shampoo found herself in was an awful one at best. She was stuck as a cat, and one with its right front leg hurt and bleeding from Kodachi's ribbon slicing up her arm while in her human form. Even though Kodachi had been worn down considerably, she was still far from defenseless. If Shampoo tried to attack her as she was now, Kodachi would almost certainly dispose of her with ease. So what could she do? She needed to help Ringo and Alysse, but what could she possibly do without getting herself killed in the process?

While Shampoo struggled with her dilemma, Ringo was still struggling just to move. The rain doing its part to wash the blood away from her wounds, she had been ever so slowly dragging herself toward Alysse in order to check on her friend and, somehow, try to get the both of them to safety. As Ringo peeked back down the road, however, she was met with a sight that made her freeze up in fear. There, weary but still standing, Kodachi was stumbling back toward the two girls she'd fought earlier. She was in poor shape, that much was clear, but she was still in far better condition than Ringo was at the moment.

"Well now, look who it is. Did you think I had forgotten about you?" Kodachi hissed as she approached the wounded girl.

Falling over onto her backside, Ringo tried to scoot herself in the direction opposite of Alysse. She knew well that she was the one Kodachi wanted most. If she could lead Kodachi even a little further away from Alysse, the better the chances were that the unconscious gymnast wouldn't get caught up in whatever was to happen next.

"What…what happened to Shampoo?" Ringo asked, now having to show concern for yet another of her friends.

"Oh, that hussy?" Kodachi grinned through her rain-soaked lips. "Like the recreant she is, she ran off in fear of my prowess, leaving you and your fellow schemer at my mercy."

Ringo knew that couldn't be the truth. Shampoo, who had courageously put her life on the line to protect Ranma several times before, was no coward. No, given the rainy conditions, Ringo had a fair idea of what had really happened. Even if she was right, however, Shampoo wasn't going to be in any position to help her.

Ringo was truly on her own at the moment. On her own, and, sadly, helpless. She couldn't fight in her condition, especially being on one leg due to her severed Achilles tendon. She couldn't run away on one leg, either, and she wouldn't even consider doing that and leaving Alysse behind anyway. There really wasn't a good choice to make in this situation. In the end, there was only one thing that the girl could think of.

Having gotten as far away from Alysse as she was going to get, Ringo painstakingly began to work her way up to her knees. There was no way she would be able to stand in the shape she was in; this was the best she could hope for. Though it hurt to move, she would eventually make it, and once she finally did she faced Kodachi head-on and raised her arms out to either side. "Here. This is...what you want, isn't it?" Ringo uttered, cringing from the agony racking her body.

Unsure what to make of Ringo's actions, the pleased look faded from Kodachi's face.

"If this...if this is what it takes to get you to stop this, to stop hurting people and just go back to being the way you used to be," Ringo became choked up as she spoke, "…then go ahead, Kodachi. Do what you have to do."

Kodachi cocked her head as she sized up the girl. "You would stop resisting and offer yourself up to me just so that I cease with all of this?"

Ringo was in such poor condition that she could barely stay upright, but she didn't back down from her words.

Seeing that unwavering look in Ringo's eyes, Kodachi sneered at her in disgust. "Very well."

Plenty willing to give Ringo what she wanted, Kodachi tossed her ribbon aside, and then, reaching into the left sleeve of her leotard, she pulled out a different ribbon. As she unraveled the new weapon, the difference in the tools became clear. This new one was much longer than the first.

Kodachi raised her arm up and began to twirl the ribbon above her head, where, aided by the increased size of the funnel, a massive Nova began to grow within. "Everything I have left," she said with a fiery look in her eyes, "…I shall unleash it all upon you for what you have done to me!"

The scorned gymnast wasn't kidding. She poured every bit of her remaining chi energy into the Nova, which was already growing to a considerably larger size than her previous ones. So powerful was the mass of energy that the rain falling from above began to wrap around it as it grew.

Even as she watched Kodachi's Nova build, Ringo had no regrets about what she was doing. Others wouldn't like it, but it was her choice to make, and this is what she'd chosen. "Alysse, Ranma, Shampoo, everyone…I'm sorry," she silently apologized to her friends. "It's my fault she became like this. This is all I can do for her!"

Soon, Kodachi could muster not a morsel more of her chi energy, and at that point her ultimate Nova was finished. Spanning a good portion of the road she stood upon, the attack was at least five times as large as any of her other Novas. And now Kodachi, with lightning crackling in the skies above, fixed a rage-filled glare on her former second. "Repent for what you've done, Ringo!"

Even after all that had happened, Ringo didn't hate Kodachi for what she'd done, or for what she was about to do. Her tears mixing in with the raindrops running down her face, Ringo simply looked back toward the Kuno girl, the one she'd come to enjoy being around until their camaraderie had taken such an abrupt, awful turn for the worse, and offered one last request. "Don't let your hatred control you, Kodachi."

That wasn't what Kodachi wanted to hear. The plea only incensing her further, she brought her ribbon down and unleashed her strongest of attacks.

The gigantic Nova struck, and it exploded in grand fashion. Absolutely everything in the immediate area shook from the force of the blast, which created a huge crater in the road. Shards of glass spilled out everywhere from light bulbs and windows that had shattered, and cracks spread along the nearby sidewalks and buildings without exception.

And there, high above the road. Ringo's body flew through the falling rain. Having been thrown into the air by the blast, her clothes barely hung off of her, shredded by the Nova's impact. Even the binding on her hair had broken, allowing her soaked, red locks to flow freely.

When Ringo finally came back down, it was upon the roof of a three-story bookstore. She initially landed on a skylight that looked down into the building, cracks spreading throughout the glass as her body struck, and then kept on rolling until she bumped into the roof's ledge, silent, and still.

In the aftermath of the immense blast, the sound of a pair of feet touching down upon that roof was hardly audible amongst the roar of the ongoing storm. Those feet belonged to a wobbly, weak Kodachi, who had nothing left as she stood there for a moment, just taking in the sight of the end result of her final attack.

Gasping for air and limbs burning with fatigue, Kodachi allowed the handle of her ribbon to fall from her hand. Then, as well as her exhausted body could manage, she dragged her feet along the rooftop as she proceeded over to the spot where Ringo lay.

"Do not...let my hatred control me?" Kodachi repeated Ringo's words, which, to her, were nothing short of audacious. "And just who do you think was the CAUSE of my hatred?"

Her rain-soaked hair clinging to her skin, Kodachi came to a stop as she stepped up next to Ringo. Reaching down, she grabbed hold of the girl's torn shirt with her right hand and, with some extra effort from her tired arm, she pulled Ringo up to get a good look at her.

Ringo, out cold but still breathing, looked awful. Blood was being washed away from the numerous cuts all over her by the falling rain, much of it from the nasty gash on the back of her foot. Her hair was a sopping wet mess, and her clothes were ravaged beyond further use. And yet, as bad as she looked, it wasn't as bad as she perhaps should have looked.

Kodachi's hand shook as she grasped what remained of the girl's clothing. Her eyes stung with tears, and she couldn't stop herself from sniffling. She didn't understand why she'd done it. With her ultimate Nova ready and guaranteed to crush her vulnerable target, she'd lowered the trajectory of the attack at the last instant. Because of that, the Nova had struck the road first and not Ringo, preventing the explosion of chi energy from unleashing its full fury on the girl.

"Why?" Kodachi whimpered, her heart feeling as though it were being tugged in different directions.

Even though it had only been a matter of days, it felt as if the only image of Ringo that Kodachi could remember for the longest time was that of the girl looking back at her with those cold, emotionless eyes as she walked out of Kolhotz High's gymnasium during the match over the weekend. But now, as Kodachi looked upon Ringo's face, oddly peaceful-looking despite what the redhead had been through, she began to recall other memories.

Kodachi remembered when she had first approached Ringo after encountering Kiriko in the park on that one fateful day. Surprisingly, the first words out of Ringo's mouth had expressed her concern over Kodachi's wounded eye. It hadn't even been an entire month since that day, yet it felt like so long ago now.

She remembered how Ringo had helped her wash her hair after their first training session together had left Kodachi, her body frail and out of shape from months of inactivity, without even the strength to raise her arms up to her head. She remembered how Ringo had cared for her after the match against Sakura had left her so sore that she couldn't so much as move around on her own. And, most recently, she remembered the night before the match with Kiriko. She and Ringo had clasped their hands together, promising to give it everything they had the next day and walk out the victors. Not just Kodachi, but Kodachi and Ringo. Together. As a team.

As she stood there in the pouring rain, Kodachi couldn't understand what it was she was feeling right now. "Why?" the torn gymnast choked out that word again. "Why, even after all you have done to me…why do I hesitate so?"

Kodachi, her lips quivering, slowly started to ease her grip on Ringo's shirt.


Suddenly, another brilliant flash lit the sky as a bolt of lightning reached ground not even a mile from the site of the battle. And, using that moment to her advantage, a small but swift Shampoo leaped over from the ledge of the building's roof and sank her feline teeth into Kodachi's hand.

"AAAGH!" Kodachi screamed, the pain causing her to release Ringo from her grasp. Ringo's body fell flat against the roof again, and Kodachi, angered over the cat's bite, flung Shampoo off to the side. "You little-!"

Between the powerful storm, Shampoo, and her own fatigue, there were many things distracting Kodachi at that moment—so many, in fact, that she never noticed the coils of a golden-colored ribbon surrounding her until it was too late.

"What?" Kodachi gasped.

The ribbon wrapped itself tightly around Kodachi's body, completely binding her arms and legs. She was then yanked backwards, right off of her feet.

Facing the sky as she was pulled back, Kodachi saw a ragged figure enter the view above her—long, blonde hair dripping with water, sports bra barely intact, and a black rose still protruding from her chest. It was Alysse Winters, Champion of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation.

Moving her broken body through sheer willpower, Alysse positioned herself directly above Kodachi, and, with a cry as loud as the thunder roaring all around her, she drove her feet straight down into the Kuno girl's chest. Below Kodachi, the bookstore's skylight, already cracked from Ringo hitting it before, shattered entirely as the gymnast went crashing down through it and disappeared into the darkness.

As soon as Alysse's feet touched back down on the rooftop, her knees buckled, and, already well past her limit, she collapsed beside her precious friend. "Rin…go…" she voiced the girl's name. Her hand trembling, she brought it over and cupped Ringo's wet, bloodied cheek.

"No one…will take you away from me," Alysse, her eyes closing, declared in a faint whisper. "No…one..."

Alysse became quiet now. Overwhelmed by her injuries, she had once again lost consciousness.

With both Alysse and Ringo down and out, Shampoo, still nursing a badly cut front leg in her cat form, gingerly pawed her way over to the spot where the skylight had once been and peered down into the darkened bookstore. The building was set up so that the skylight would shine down onto all three floors through a large opening in the upper two. Because of this, Kodachi had fallen not just onto the top floor, but all the way down to the bottom floor, bound by Alysse's ribbon and too worn down to do much to ease her landing.

Another flash of lightning provided the store some illumination, and thanks to that Shampoo was able to see just what had become of the Black Rose of St. Hebereke. Still with the golden ribbon wrapped around her, Kodachi lay with her back flat against the lowest floor of the building, a tiny pool of blood accumulating around the back of her head.

Kodachi's eyes were still creaked open, but there was no sign of alertness in them. She, like Ringo and Alysse, was out, and Shampoo could tell there wouldn't be any more surprises out of her tonight. At last, the fight was over.

Off in the distance, Shampoo could hear the sound of police sirens growing louder. She would have some company soon, and that was a relief, because Ringo and Alysse needed medical attention as soon as they could possibly get it.

While she waited for the authorities to arrive, Shampoo hobbled over to the girls to keep an eye on them. She wouldn't bother to check on Kodachi again, feeling the police would be plenty capable of dealing with the gymnast at this point. If she had taken another peek down into that hole, however, she would have seen that the only things there on the bookstore's floor were some rain water, shards of glass, and the blood that Kodachi had spilled.

Kodachi herself, though...had vanished.

While police swarmed the site of the battle, far away from that area and growing further by the second, the sound of heavy footsteps could be heard splashing in the rain. Those footsteps belonged to none other than Sasuke Sarugakure, who was panting as he ran, carrying in his arms the limp body of Kodachi Kuno.

"As guardian of the Kuno estate, I will protect you, Mistress Kodachi!" Sasuke declared, unwavering in his loyalty to the daughter of the Kuno family. "No matter the case, I will not let them take you!"

End of Chapter 26