A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part III: Requiem for Youth
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.
"My goodness, what's with those girls?"
"They must be delinquents. How sad."
"Don't look! Don't look!"
Not wanting to get mixed up in any trouble, people moved to one side of the street or the other to clear a path for a trio of girls who happened to be passing by. The onlookers really couldn't be blamed for their assumptions given the rough appearances of the three. Between the crutches and bandages, Shampoo, Ringo, and Alysse looked as if they'd been involved in some form of gang scuffle.
"Wh-…why do I have to be mistaken for a delinquent?" Ringo sobbed.
"I might as well be one," Alysse muttered, "as much as everyone around here loves me."
Shampoo had already been dealing with the funny looks for a while now. She was no longer in any mood to correct people who got the wrong idea. "No pay attention those stupid ones. Is waste of energy."
The girls had had over two weeks now to recuperate since their brutal clash with Kodachi, but not one of them wasn't still showing signs of what had taken place that fateful night. Ringo, after undergoing successful surgery to repair her severed Achilles tendon, was up and about again, albeit on a pair of crutches. She had a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her though—it would be months before she could return to her more physically demanding activities, and that included her waitressing duties.
Alysse didn't have any extra accessories that gave away her condition, but the gingerness with which she walked and the constant clutching at her ailing ribcage had essentially the same effect. She, too, had a while to go before she would again be able to defend her title as Champion of the Extreme Gymnastics Federation. In fact, she was already dealing with speculation that either she would be stripped of her title due to injury or an interim champion would be crowned until she was able to return. Business was business after all; the show had to go on with or without its rightful champion.
As for Shampoo, the bandages covering her right arm were the present bane of her daily life. Though she wished she could say everything was fine now and leave the bandages at home, she hadn't reached that point yet. She would likely be back to one hundred percent long before the other two, but for now she would have to take it easy and wait for that time to come.
While Shampoo had remained relatively active over the past weeks, Ringo and Alysse were stuck in the hospital for a good duration of that time. They'd been antsy to get out and do things—together, of course—since their long-awaited release, which was why Ranma and Shampoo found themselves playing bodyguard for the two of them recently. Nobody had seen nor heard a peep out of Kodachi since she'd vanished after the fight, but everyone nonetheless acknowledged the threat of her seeking revenge was still there.
Ranma had been the one to watch over the girls for the past few days, hence why Shampoo had volunteered to escort them today—she figured Ranma had earned himself some time to relax. At the moment, Shampoo was bringing the girls down to the restaurant for a fresh meal to enjoy, and also to get them a little exercise along the way. That exercise, however, appeared to be taking its toll on the tallest member of their party.
One might have assumed Alysse was only advancing slowly so that Ringo could keep up with them, but that was far from the truth. In reality, Alysse was hurting the most of any of them right now; just walking around like this was a struggle for someone with her brand of injuries.
Shampoo had noticed the more frequent twinges in Alysse's facial expression and the labored sounds she made every time she drew in a breath, both of which gave away the pain she was feeling. The worried look Ringo was directing at Alysse showed she had also picked up on the increasing signs. Sensing a break may be in order, Shampoo slowed to a halt. "Alysse, you want stop and rest? No need push self too much."
"I'm…I'm fine," Alysse replied. She was digging deep just to keep herself standing up straight. "It's bad enough I can't work out right now. If I don't do at least this much, I won't be able to forgive myself."
"Alysse…" Ringo reached over and took the girl's hand in her own. She didn't know how much it helped Alysse bear that pain in her ribs, but she couldn't just sit back and do nothing when she saw her looking like that—not after all Alysse had already done for her.
Shampoo had a feeling just from the small smile appearing on Alysse's face that Ringo's gesture helped out plenty. There was still a ways to go before they reached the Cat Café. She was hopeful Alysse could hang in there the rest of the way.
"Wooooohahahahaaaah! What a haul!"
Elsewhere in the area, Happosai was up to his usual mischief. From building to building the old lecher sprang, adding to his precious collection at each stop. So stuffed with women's underwear was the sack he carried that it looked ready to split open.
Happosai had been making up for lost time since his return from China, both when it came to his thieving ways and in annoying the living hell out of Ranma. Soun Tendo was also none too happy that one of the first things he got upon his return home from the hospital was a lecture from his master for being beaten by "the likes of" Kodachi. Having Happosai around did provide Soun an oddly comforting distraction from certain other issues that plagued him though, namely his still-missing youngest daughter.
Content that he'd picked his immediate surroundings clean, Happosai bounded off in a westerly direction to go see what goods another location held. What he never noticed was that a watchful pair of eyes had been following his movements from high above.
Atop the tallest building within miles of where it stood, the lower portion of a Chinese-style dress swayed in the summer wind. Only when Happosai disappeared from view did the one wearing that dress finally feel comfortable returning her focus to what lay down below, straight ahead of her: the outside of the Cat Café.
It had been months since she'd taken in the sights of the Nerima Ward of Tokyo—its sunny sky, its wide array of businesses, its colorful inhabitants. Truly, for her, it felt even longer than that. But here she was soaking all of it in once again, only this time with a very different outlook on life. At last, Akane Tendo had come home.
She closed her hands and flexed both of her arms, then did it a second time. She felt good. The lingering effects of her scrap with Cologne were behind her. There was no need to wait any longer.
Akane narrowed her penetrating eyes at the restaurant, where within she knew her target to be. She was ready.
"Zonbi, let's go."
Shampoo being out with Ringo and Alysse at the present time meant there was no one to prepare food at the Cat Café, and thus the restaurant would remain closed until the dinner hours rolled around. This had allowed one Ranma Saotome to catch up on some reading of the manga variety at one of the dining area's tables, where he had his legs kicked up on a second chair for added comfort.
After everything that had gone on lately, Ranma was appreciative of the short break. As if the whole Kodachi thing wasn't bad enough, Yanlou showing up in his room and Shampoo subsequently touching it had nearly given him a heart attack. He and Shampoo had very carefully stashed the cursed scythe away in the restaurant's storage area beneath the kitchen later on that day. Thankfully, Shampoo seemed fine and Yanlou hadn't caused any trouble in the time since then, but that didn't keep the stress of having it around from getting to Ranma. It also didn't keep him from continuing to question how and why it had ended up with them in the first place.
Ranma had hoped some peace and quiet and a few laughs from his reading material might help him put any thoughts of Yanlou in the back of his mind for a bit, but the peace and quiet part, it turned out, wasn't so easy to come by. The sound of a leather boot tapping against the floor was grating on both his ears and his nerves.
Lowering his book, Ranma stared across the table at an unwelcome guest who'd shown up not long ago: a particularly irritated Sakura "Heavy Metal" Okazaki. "Y'know, it's kinda hard to focus when ya keep makin' noise like that."
"Then tell me what I wanna know so I can leave, Loverboy," Sakura demanded, glowering impatiently at him.
Ranma's eye twitched at the use of that nickname; he didn't know why, but boy did it ever annoy him. What also annoyed him was that Sakura, for who knows how many days now, had been trying to pry information from him that he flat out didn't possess. "For the last time, I ain't got no idea where Kodachi is."
"And I'm sayin' I don't believe you!"
"Aww, gimme a break, would ya?" Ranma set aside his book, brought his feet down, and leaned over the table. "Look, if I knew where Kodachi was, I'd have told the police about it so Ringo and Alysse could walk around without havin' to be scared to death all the time. Why d'ya wanna see Kodachi so bad anyway?"
" 'Cause what?"
"Hell if I know! I just feel like it, all right?" Sakura snapped at him. With a huff, she leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. The sunlight coming in from outside faded as some clouds passed by, and Sakura's eyes now took on a vacant look. "Ever since that night she let me go, I've just…thought I need to talk to her again. I don't even know what I'd do or what I'd say if I saw her, but…god, screw this! It's too complicated to explain! Just tell me wh-!"
Sakura cut herself off as her eyes fell on Ranma again. Something was different now. Not only was he not paying attention to her, but his breathing had hastened and he was clutching at his right wrist, looking panicked almost. "H-hey…you okay over there?"
Ranma's mind was too overwhelmed to even process the question. A sickening feeling had spread throughout his entire body, and it wasn't without its physical effects. Most noticeably, his right arm was tingling from his shoulder all the way down to the tips of his fingers.
"Hello?" Sakura tried again to get through to him. "You need an ambulance or something?"
Though he was feeling off, Ranma knew this wasn't an illness of any sort. No, this was something else—something he'd felt before. It wasn't quite the same, but…it felt similar to when he and Shampoo had gone to the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo before returning to Japan, as if something within his body was trying to warn him of danger.
Swallowing, Ranma turned his head toward the restaurant's entrance. For a good ten seconds he just sat and stared, not saying anything, not moving a muscle. "Sakura," he finally spoke, his voice taut, "you got your bike parked out front?"
"Huh? Uh…yeah? What about it?"
Ranma stood from his chair, serious as Sakura had ever seen him. "If you get the chance, you get on that thing and get as far away from here as ya can. If not, there's another door in the back. You use that and you just run, got it?"
"Wh-what? What are you talking about? Are you going nuts or something? Hey!"
Ranma, cautious as could be, stepped forward, closing in on the entrance while a puzzled Sakura followed behind. Sakura was half-certain she was being led along on a practical joke, but there was nothing humorous about this situation to Ranma. Something dangerous was nearby, and whatever it was, he believed it to be right on the other side of that door.
By the time Ranma reached the entrance, his face was bathed in perspiration. He grabbed the door's handle and listened for a moment to the sounds beyond it. Nothing out of the ordinary—yet. Steeling his resolve, he threw the door open.
The sky had grown cloudy since the last time Ranma had peeked outside, but there was nothing else noteworthy about what he saw. People were walking to and fro just as they always were, none of them standing out as suspicious nor acting startled in any way. It couldn't have been more normal of a sight for this time of day.
Ranma took one step out onto the pavement. Then another. Then another. While Sakura remained at the doorway, scanning down the road both ways in search of her own answers, Ranma stood still, concentrating on what might be coming. And something was coming. Or rather, it was already here. Maybe no one could see it, including him, but it was here. He could feel it. Where, though? Where would it come from?
Hearing a shrill scream, Ranma swung his head around. A woman had thrown herself back against the wall of a shop on the other side of the street, terrified at what she saw at her feet. Other passersby soon followed suit, and the reason for it all was an abrupt change in the very ground they'd been walking upon. At a central point in the road, the concrete had grown dark and softened. That effect rapidly spread outward in all directions.
Everyone took off running now in fear that the ground was about to give out beneath them—a reaction for which Ranma was thankful. The fewer people around, the better. Things were about to get ugly. "I knew it!" Ranma rushed back to the restaurant's entrance and shoved Sakura back inside.
Sakura, losing her balance, fell back onto her rear. "Oww! Hey, what the f-!"
"Go! NOW!" Ranma shouted. He only got a brief glimpse of the surprise his thunderous tone had brought about in Sakura before he slammed the door shut.
Ranma wouldn't have to wait for the enemy to make their presence felt. Something suddenly grabbed hold of his ankle. Gasping, Ranma looked down to the darkened pavement. A pale human hand had emerged from the ground, and it didn't seem intent on letting go of the one it had caught.
"What the hell?"
When Ranma tried pulling away to free himself, he found the eerie extremity's grip was nothing to scoff at. He bent down and tried to pry the hand off of him, but even that proved to be futile. Whoever this was, they had some strength to them.
"Dammit! All right, let's see what ya got!" Ranma roared.
Fed up, he unleashed his Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken on the hand, pummeling it with a lightning-quick barrage of punches. It held out at first, but eventually the damage it was incurring became too great to retain its grip. The fingers slipped away, and then so did Ranma, leaping back a safe distance from that which had bound him.
Ranma's pulse was racing. He didn't take his eyes off the hand, waiting with bated breath for whatever may come next.
The hand pressed itself flat against the rotted concrete now, and the ghoulish figure it belonged to rose up from beneath the ground. He was a behemoth of a man, towering well above Ranma by the time his entire body was above the surface. Whether it was his startlingly pale skin or his oddly colored eyes, Ranma didn't consider the creature human from the moment he saw him. In his mind, this person was more like a monster—one that, from what he'd just seen, appeared to have control over the now-darkened ground.
"I dunno who or what you are, but you look like you got some kinda problem with me," Ranma said, a bead of sweat dripping down from his chin.
His terrifying gaze locked onto Ranma, the recently-named Zonbi held out his hand, his palm facing upward. "I know you have it," he said in a deep, deliberate voice. "Give it to me."
Ranma inched back, his eyes widening. He understood now what this was. A person with this strange power coming in search of something in his possession? That something had to be the cube Cologne had entrusted to him, which meant this man was...
Zonbi cracked his neck, not letting up with his intent glare. "Give it to me. Now."
That was the last thing he could allow to happen, Ranma told himself. He didn't know what the cube did, but there had to be a good reason Cologne didn't want Jusenkyo to have it. "What if I don't feel like givin' it to ya?"
Tilting his head toward the sky, Zonbi raised both arms at his sides. At that moment, the ground began to stir—not just in one place, but at two separate spots. As Ranma looked on, two more bodies rose from the ground, both of which he recognized. Their long hair dirtied and their robes torn and discolored, they were the Amazon duo of Mousse and Jynn.
Ranma, open-mouthed, stared at the two in disbelief. "M-...Mousse? Jynn?" Clenching his fists, he shot a furious look at Zonbi. "What did you do to them, you freak?"
Zonbi lowered his arms, emitting a light growl. "They are under my command now."
Shaking his head, Ranma turned to the Amazons again. Their skin was so pale it was scary. "Mousse! Jynn! You guys hear me?"
"They cannot hear anyone any longer," Zonbi said. "If you do not wish to share their fate, give me what I came for."
Ranma was trembling with anger. Maybe he'd never gotten along well with Mousse, maybe Jynn pissed him off at one time because of his association with Li, but they were still comrades of his. They didn't deserve for this to happen.
"You...you're gonna pay for this," Ranma snarled. "You want your stupid cube? C'mon over here and get it!"
Zonbi offered a content growl in response to Ranma's declaration. "As you wish."
At once, Mousse and Jynn launched themselves at Ranma. Mousse would stop a fair distance away. Jynn kept coming. Ranma didn't want to fight them, but it looked as if he would have to if he wanted to reach his true enemy.
As Jynn neared, his weapon of choice appeared from the sleeves of his robe. Each of his hands had attached to it a razor-sharp metal claw as long as his forearms. They were deadly weapons, particularly against the unarmed, but Ranma wouldn't back up. He stood his ground and the clash began—Jynn fully on the offensive, and Ranma ducking and dodging, striking the sides of the claws in an effort to break them, and landing an odd blow to Jynn's exposed body when he could.
It perplexed Ranma how Jynn had even gotten caught by Jusenkyo in the first place. Considering he had the Shift technique in his repertoire, he should've been able to at least escape if he was ever in any danger. The fact that he hadn't meant there was a reasonable probability he couldn't for some reason—something Ranma knew he would have to bear in mind.
Thus far, Zonbi hadn't budged, seemingly allowing for Jynn to size Ranma up. Mousse, though, was about to join in on the fray. Circling around to the side, Mousse flung a series of weighted ropes at Ranma to try to restrain him.
Ranma dove out of the way, only to find himself engaged with Jynn yet again once he'd escaped. He could sense he was going to have trouble mounting an offense now that Mousse had gone on the attack; Jynn was skilled enough that getting reckless in this situation could mean taking one of those metal claws to his throat. If he wanted to end this quickly while still conserving some energy for the big fish, he would have to get creative.
Mousse kept up with his rope usage, and Ranma continued to evade while fighting off Jynn. With each dive that Ranma took he touched his hand against the softened concrete, gradually laying the groundwork for the plan he'd concocted. After a fourth time, he saw his chance. Mousse was standing in front of the first spot Ranma had touched, which was the first spot he'd covertly placed a base point for his Shift technique at. With this, he had a chance to take Mousse out and turn this into a one-on-one fight.
Ranma slammed his palm against the ground to activate his Shift. Something immediately felt amiss, though. He should have vanished and reappeared behind Mousse, and yet there he knelt, still in the same spot. A look of bewilderment came over him. "Wha-?"
Distracted by the failure of his Shift, Ranma ate a shin to the face courtesy of Jynn and was blown back. He shook it off as well as he could, popping back up to his feet to once more fend off Jynn's assault. The kick he'd taken stung, but the mental implications of his Shift not working were far worse. It had never not worked before, so why now?
"What are you trying to do on my territory?" Zonbi said from afar.
"Your...territory?" Ranma asked, swaying away from another swipe of Jynn's claw.
Ranma's eyes lit up. The ground! All of the pavement that had become discolored must have been the "territory" his enemy spoke of. The Shift technique worked by using the energy of the earth, so if Jusenkyo had control over that earth, it stood to reason the Shift wouldn't work. That would also explain why Jynn hadn't been able to get away.
"I get it," Ranma muttered under his breath. "Ain't gonna be able to Shift, huh?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Ranma saw that Mousse was about to change up his game. Springing up into the air with a boost from Sakura's motorcycle, Mousse pulled several knives out from his sleeve and reared back to launch them at Ranma. His attack, however, would be brought to an abrupt stop when a ribbon wrapped itself around his neck from behind. Yanked out of the air, Mousse came crashing to the ground flat on his back.
"Don't touch my bike without permission, asshole!" an irate Sakura screamed at him.
Ranma wasn't happy to find out Sakura had hung around, but he knew he needed to take advantage of the opening. After knocking Jynn back, Ranma dashed over to Mousse as the Amazon warrior was getting up and drove his knee into his face. Ranma poured on a series of blows, culminating with a fist that slammed Mousse back into the outer wall of the Cat Café.
Mousse went limp, dropping down onto his backside, while Ranma spun around just in time to intercept the relentless attack of Jynn. Ranma started to get the upper hand now that he didn't have to worry about any interference from Mousse; more of his shots were getting through. Finally, one of his punches rocked Jynn's jaw. The force of the blow spun Jynn around, where a second opponent awaited. Her chain-laced ribbon wrapped around her fist, Sakura slugged Jynn in the face, spinning him back around the other way where Ranma was ready to finish the job. He knocked Jynn clean off his feet with a kick to the chin, then jumped into the air and landed a spinning boot to Jynn's chest that sent him sprawling down to the concrete at Zonbi's feet.
Ranma locked eyes with Zonbi now. Even after seeing his puppets brought down, Zonbi was emotionless.
"Hell yeah! Don't mess with the best!" Sakura boasted. "Wooo! Not bad, Loverboy!"
Despite the small victory, Ranma was in no mood to celebrate. "You moron! Why didn't you run?"
"Excuse me?" Sakura looked offended by the very thought. "You expect me to run from a fight? Screw that! I'm no chickenshit!"
"That's not the problem here!" Ranma argued, not looking away from Zonbi. "This ain't some street fight, Sakura. You got no idea what this guy is."
Another low-pitched growl emanated from Zonbi's lungs, and the giant cocked his head. "These ones weren't enough? Whatever. I'll just use her."
At Zonbi's beckoning, a third body shot up from the ground. The new enemy, perched atop her staff, was a shriveled-up woman whom Ranma knew all too well. Her age hadn't done her looks any favors before, but now, with her skin as pale as that of Mousse and Jynn, she looked beyond terrible. It was the Amazon elder herself, Cologne.
Sakura grimaced in disgust at the sight of their next adversary. "Ugh, that is hella creepy. What's with the ancient mummy?"
"N-...no way," Ranma staggered back a step, his voice shaking. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. "The old hag, too? That's...how did she-?"
Without warning, Cologne rocketed straight toward Ranma. Still taken aback by the woman's capture, Ranma wasn't prepared to fend her off. He braced himself and took the end of Cologne's staff to his forearms, which was enough to knock Ranma off his feet. It also allowed Cologne plenty of time to achieve her primary goal. Before Ranma had even hit the ground, Cologne was speeding in the direction of Sakura.
The gymnast threw her arms up to protect herself out of sheer instinct, but one good swat from Cologne's staff was enough to break through her guard. Sakura was left wide open, and Cologne used that opportunity to drive her palm into the center of the girl's chest. Ranma heard very clearly the sickening crack that followed. Her face contorted with pain, Sakura went flying down the road from the point of impact. By the time she'd smacked against the pavement and rolled to a stop, she was nowhere near where the others were fighting.
"Sakura!" Ranma yelled out to her, that awful cracking noise still echoing in his mind. He leaped up to go check on her, but wouldn't get far as Cologne moved into his path.
To Ranma's dismay, both Mousse and Jynn rose back up again. Mousse moved to Ranma's left side, Jynn to his right. Hearing the sound of footsteps, Ranma then looked back over his shoulder where he saw that Zonbi had approached from behind. Together, the four of them had surrounded their target on all sides.
Ranma kept his head on a swivel, watching for any of them to make a move. This had gone from bad to worse in a hurry. Sakura needed help, but Ranma would have to somehow deal with Mousse, Jynn, Cologne, and Jusenkyo by himself if he wanted to get to her. And as if things weren't bad enough, Shampoo was unknowingly leading Ringo and Alysse right into this mess. Ranma knew he had to figure this out before they got here, but what could he do? Giving them the cube wasn't an option. He would have to think of something else.
Ranma had only just begun trying to come up with a plan of some sort when, oddly, he felt something press up against his back.
"Looks like you could use some help."
The voice Ranma heard left him holding his breath. All kinds of memories and emotions he hadn't thought of or felt for so long came rushing back to him all at once. It couldn't be...could it?
Ranma turned around just enough that he could see a girl leaning back against him. Her dress wasn't the sort of thing Ranma ever recalled her wearing, but he knew that dark hair of hers—he'd seen it nearly every day for years up until one night months earlier. On that night, he'd watched it disappear into the darkness, not to be seen again until now.
"Aka...ne?" There were any number of things racing through Ranma's mind as he eyed his former fiancée. "How did you...get here?"
"Look around, you idiot," Akane said. "Is this really the time to be asking things like that?"
Akane's demeanor was so different from what Ranma remembered; even having thrown herself into this dangerous situation, she didn't look the slightest bit tense or concerned. Whatever had happened since he'd last seen her, Akane felt like an entirely different person.
If only the circumstances of their reunion were different, maybe then Ranma would have had the chance to say the things he'd been wanting to say to Akane ever since their relationship had taken a turn for the worse. Their current predicament wasn't going to allow it, though. First, they would have to defeat Jusenkyo. "You been keepin' up on your training?" Ranma asked, facing forward.
"Have you?" Akane retorted.
Ranma felt Akane push off of his back in preparation for the fight to commence. If there was any substance to her newfound confidence, maybe they could figure a way out of this, he thought. "The old Anything-Goes team back for one more show, huh?" Dire as things were, Ranma managed a smile. "Once this is over, you and me are gonna have a long talk 'bout some stuff, Akane."
Ranma stiffened up. His breathing stopped. A jolt had just run throughout his entire body. Blinking, he looked down to where he felt it originating from. For some reason, Akane's hand, covered in blood, was jutting out from his abdomen.
Everything felt as if it were moving in slow motion. He must have been imagining this, Ranma told himself. Akane wouldn't have done such a thing to him. There's no way she would have. This was no illusion, though. This was real. The pain finally hitting him as crimson droplets pooled at his feet, Ranma, quivering, looked over his shoulder.
Akane's eyes were cold as steel—no hesitation, no remorse. "A talk? Fine by me. I'll talk, and you can listen."
Not far away, Shampoo and the others were still en route to the restaurant when Ringo came to a stop all of a sudden.
Alysse, slowing down, looked back at her. "Ringo?"
Shampoo turned around as well. To the other girls' surprise, Ringo had a horrified look on her face. Her crutches falling to the ground with a clatter, she buckled and collapsed to her knees.
"Ringo!" Alysse hurried over to her girlfriend's side.
Shampoo wasn't far behind. "Ringo? You is okay?" she asked, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder.
Her right arm shaking, Ringo touched her palm to her stomach. "Ran...ma..."
End of Chapter 1