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 OC's that I've added into this story. Just so you know.
Akane pulled her hand out from the hole she'd drilled through Ranma's torso, bringing a fresh splatter of blood with it. So intense was the pain Ranma was feeling that he collapsed, gasping, clutching at the void in his abdomen.
"You know, Jusenkyo was pretty smart," Akane said, studying the blood dripping away from her hand. "If you wrap a strong enough current of wind around your fingers, you can drive them through a human body like chopsticks through tofu."
Ranma barely even registered Akane's words to him. He couldn't speak, he couldn't think clearly, he couldn't do a thing; the agony racking his body was just too overpowering.
Around the fallen martial artist, Cologne, Mousse, and Jynn sunk back down beneath the rotted ground. Zonbi no longer needed them for the time being; his master had everything under control.
Akane knew Sakura was still somewhere nearby, but she wasn't particularly concerned with the girl after what Cologne had just done to her. Focusing on her primary target, she knelt down beside Ranma, her foot settling in the crimson pool growing underneath him. Jamming one of her knees up against his back, she grabbed him by his pigtail and yanked his head upward. "I know you'll pass out soon from all that blood you're losing. So, before that happens, I'm going to tell you a story. And it goes a little something like this:
"One day, there was a young girl walking home from school who saw a wounded snake in the grass. She didn't like snakes; actually, she couldn't stand them. She was a kind girl, though—too kind for her own good—and she brought that snake home with her and tended to it. And as soon as that snake had been nursed back to health, you know what it did? It bit the girl.
"As she lay there dying, the girl asked the snake why it had done such a thing. She'd taken care of it, she'd saved its life, so why? And the snake looked right at the girl with its cold, beady eyes and answered, 'You stupid girl, I'm a snake.'
"Lucky for her, the girl didn't die. She survived, and thanks to that snake, she learned her lesson. The next time she saw a snake, she killed it before it could hurt anyone as the one snake had done to her. And she hoped someday she would see that snake again, just so she could do the same thing to it."
Akane tugged Ranma up even further, arching his back to its limit. She moved her face closer to his. The hatred in her eyes was immense. "Do you understand what I'm saying, Mister Snake? You lied to me, and you hurt me. And for that, I'm going to take away from you every...single...thing you care about."
It would have been enough to just unhand Ranma's pigtail, but Akane added an exclamation point by whipping the boy's head down into the pavement as she let go of him. She then looked up, her eyes falling on the Cat Café restaurant. This place was practically a symbol for that which had caused so much of her grief. It was right here she had seen Ranma and Shampoo kissing on that dreadful night that seemed so long ago now. They'd probably been having their fun in there in the months since, she thought, happy as could be that she wasn't around to get in their way.
Her stoic expression twisting into a scowl, Akane stood up and put one hand out in front of her. "Why don't I start…with this."
Akane's lips started to move, but they weren't generating anything that could be heard by others. All they were doing was silently reciting a spell that would help Akane direct her anger at something she had only the utmost disdain for.
The ground started to rumble. From out of the rotted earth, several gigantic fingers made of stone emerged. An accompanying hand soon rose from beneath the road, and then, as Akane raised her own hand up above her head, so did an entire arm. It was as if the limb of an earthen colossus had been summoned in the middle of the city.
When one of Akane's fingers moved, so did that of the stone extremity. When she balled her hand into a fist, it did the same. Satisfied with the response, she reached her arm back.
Ranma, though in a hellish state, could tell what Akane wanted to do. Removing one bloody, trembling hand from his wound, he reached out and managed to touch the tips of his fingers to Akane's ankle. "Sto…p…."
Unfortunately, all Ranma's action served to do was give Akane the cue to make her move. She swung her fist downward, and the stone arm, following her movement, drove its giant knuckles directly into the Cat Café.
The booming sound that followed was incredible. Wooden beams snapped, windows shattered, and walls were blown away as if they were made of cardboard. In an instant, the restaurant was reduced to a flurry of rubble and personal keepsakes sent scattering about by the massive stone creation.
Even with his vision blurring, Ranma knew the extent of what had happened. Just like that, the home and business he and Shampoo shared together had been destroyed. Maybe he wasn't ever fond of being a busboy, but the two of them had made some great memories in that place. And now it was gone.
Its purpose served, the arm-shaped mass of stone crumbled into a huge pile of smaller rocks upon the street.
"That…felt really good," Akane admitted. Kicking away Ranma's hand, she took a step back. "Zonbi, get it for me."
At his master's direction, Akane's pale servant lurched forward. He leaned over Ranma and reached into the pigtailed boy's pocket, pulling out a wooden cube much like that which had housed his own soul not long ago. The unusual markings on the cube, he noticed, were glowing a shade of green.
Akane beamed with pleasure as Zonbi handed the item over to her. Closing her eyes, she raised the cube close to her mouth and recited the very spell she'd used to unseal Zonbi back in China. Before long, the sides of the cube fell away, unveiling a crystal shining brightly with a green hue.
Knowing what the crystal was for and what it meant for her, there were few things Akane had ever admired as much as the radiant rock in her hand. "Look at her. So pretty, isn't she?" She fondly rubbed the crystal against her cheek. "Mmm, she's a picky one, though. I can't just stick her in any old corpse like I did with Zonbi. She needs a living body, one that's in tune with the power of Jusenkyo."
A sinister smile spread across Akane's face as she peeked down at Ranma again. "And wouldn't you know, the perfect body is right here in this city."
Ranma didn't like the malicious tone in Akane's voice. What did she mean? Who was she talking about?
Akane wasn't going to elaborate for her ex-fiancée; she would let him fret over it for a while. Her business with Ranma finished for now, she spun around, turning her back on him. "If you live to see tomorrow," she said, "I'll show you something amazing. If not, it's no big deal. You'd just be dying a day earlier than you would have otherwise." She gestured for Zonbi to follow her. "Let's go."
Zonbi complied, and he and his master began their departure from the scene of carnage they'd created.
Groaning from the pain in his gut, Ranma outstretched his hand in the direction Akane was heading. His body felt cold. He and Sakura both needed help, but Akane was about to do something horrible; he could feel it. She needed to be stopped. Somebody...somebody had to…
Wobbling, Ranma's hand dropped flat against the blackened pavement. He laid his head down, unable to muster the strength to hold it up any longer. His eyelids felt so heavy; he couldn't keep them open no matter how much he wanted to. Giving in, he allowed his weary eyes to close. After that, everything went dark.
Elsewhere, along a residential road, Shampoo and Alysse were tending to Ringo after the girl's sudden collapse. The boom resulting from the Cat Café's destruction had reached their ears, but they were all oblivious to the circumstances surrounding the noise.
Ringo was frantic in trying to get back up. She was badly shaken though, enough so that just standing was proving difficult.
"Ringo, stop!" Alysse pleaded with her. "Just try to calm down, okay? What's wrong? Does your foot hurt?"
Shampoo was kneeling in front of Ringo, just trying to get a good look at her when the girl reached out and grabbed her by the sleeve.
"Sh-…Shampoo," Ringo spoke, her voice quavering, "Ranma…something…happened…"
"Ranma?" If Shampoo wasn't at full attention before, she most certainly was now. "What happen Ranma?"
"Something bad!" Ringo cried. "Shampoo, please…go help him!"
Although she herself had no evidence of anything going on with Ranma, Shampoo knew there was something to Ringo's intuition. The redhead had spoken to her before of a link that seemed to remain between she and Ranma since their separation into two bodies, and particularly of times when she'd felt surges of emotion from him. It wasn't just a baseless guess, Shampoo told herself. If Ringo felt something was wrong, there was a good chance it was true.
Shampoo stood up. Slowly, she backed away from the other two. Ranma meant everything to her. If he was in danger, the only thing that mattered was that she be by his side.
Turning herself around, Shampoo burst into an all-out sprint. She was off to the Cat Café, springing onto and over buildings, light posts, and anything else that stood in her way.
Shampoo was out of sight in a hurry, and back on the road, Alysse was left trying to understand what exactly had just transpired. Why did Ringo think something had happened to Ranma? And why was Shampoo so quick to believe her? It was strange. Although they'd been together so often since meeting, Alysse felt there was much she'd yet to learn about Ringo—not that she hadn't tried; Ringo always became uncomfortable when topics about her past came up in conversation, and thus Alysse wouldn't press her about it. Now, however, Alysse was starting to wonder if these were things she needed to know.
Ringo grabbed at Alysse's arm in an attempt to pull herself up, and Alysse gave her a hand.
"I'm okay. We…we need to go there, too, Alysse."
"We will. Just take it easy, all right?" Alysse got Ringo back up on her good leg and helped her steady herself. "Don't let go until I get your crutches, okay?"
Ringo did as she was told. Once she'd gotten her crutches back, she was eager to get a move on. "Let's hurry. I have a really bad feeling about this."
As much as Alysse wanted to inquire about that bad feeling, she wouldn't have felt right about it given how frazzled Ringo already was. Best to leave it for another time, she figured.
The two of them resumed their trek to the restaurant now. At the same time, they noticed they weren't alone. Another pair was coming their way from the other end of the road, one of them much taller than the other. Neither Ringo nor Alysse were in the frame of mind to be paying attention to random people strolling down the street, but, as the others came closer, Ringo slowed her progress. Three steps later, she stopped. She rubbed her eyes, thinking she may have been seeing things. Squinting, she took another look up ahead.
Alysse, curious, cast a glance at the ones drawing near before turning back to her girlfriend. "Ringo?"
Ringo was staring forward, open-mouthed. She wasn't seeing things at all, she realized. It really was Akane walking toward her, that familiar smile of hers and all. "Akane? Akane!"
Dropping her crutches, much to Alysse's fright, Ringo hopped on one foot over to Akane, who was waiting with open arms. Ringo wrapped Akane in a tight hug, and Akane, in turn, hugged her right back. "Where have you been? We were so worried about you!"
"It's all right," Akane whispered into the girl's ear. "I'm back now. Everything's going to be just fine."
Ringo had only been focused on Akane, but now that she got an up-close look at what stood behind her old friend, the looming visage of Zonbi gave her a start. "U-umm…who is he?"
"Shhh," Akane quieted her. "Don't worry about him."
While Ringo was welcoming Akane back, Alysse was trying to measure up these two people whom she didn't recognize. Ringo wasn't able to see Akane's blood-stained hand on her back, but Alysse could see it clear as day. As if that wasn't enough of a concern, something about Akane's smile was also making Alysse leery. The way Zonbi kept his eyes on Alysse only exacerbated her caution. "Ringo, who is this?"
"Oh, this is my friend, Akane!" Ringo was about to introduce Alysse to Akane as well when the situation she was dealing with prior to her old friend's arrival crept back to the forefront of her mind. "Wait, we don't have time for this! Akane, I think something happened to Ranma! We need to hurry t-!"
Ringo had created some space between them, but Akane abruptly pulled her back into their embrace. "You don't have to worry about that." She patted Ringo on the back as if to comfort her. "Really, I feel like I'm always telling you not to worry so much. I even did it the last time we talked, remember? Right before we put Kodachi in her place."
"Wh-…what?" Ringo blinked. She peeked over at Akane, not sure she'd heard her right. "Ko...dachi?"
The cold, dark laughter that followed from Akane was nothing short of disconcerting to Ringo.
"Ahh, she was always making fun of me, looking down on me, sticking her nose in my business," Akane said, grinning with a twisted pleasure. "I wonder how much she cried after you walked out on that stupid match of hers. If only she knew it was really me back then!"
Alysse, sensing something was very wrong, stepped closer, but Zonbi mirrored her movement.
Meanwhile, Akane's words had led Ringo to recall that day she'd walked out on Kodachi, and also the voice she'd heard in her head immediately before it happened. "Akane? N-…no…what do you-"
"Can't you feel the connection between us, Ringo?" Akane asked. "You, who were born from Ranma's Jusenkyo curse, and me, the one who gained Jusenkyo's power. I was always watching, waiting for the perfect time to get back at Kodachi. And that's just what I did. Thanks to me, she'll never be able to trust anyone again for the rest of her life!"
Ringo pushed away from Akane, shaking her head in disbelief. "You…you're not Akane! You can't be!" She tried to break free, but Akane held tightly on to her arm.
"Ringo!" Alysse jumped forth in an effort to aid Ringo, but Zonbi moved in and caught her. Sweeping around to her rear, he used one hand to restrain her arm behind her back and the other to cover her mouth. Alysse fought to escape, but Zonbi was far too strong for her to overpower.
"Stop! Don't hurt Alysse!" Ringo shrieked. She would have to worry about herself, though. Before she knew it, Akane's intimidating eyes were bearing down on her again.
"You helped me a lot by getting close to Kodachi like that," Akane said. All of a sudden, her smile disappeared. It was replaced by the bitterest of frowns. "But…that one night…you tried to stop me from interfering in Ranma and Shampoo's date, didn't you? You even sparred with Shampoo after you always told me no when I asked."
"Don't you try explaining yourself, Ringo. You always liked Shampoo better, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?"
"No! You're wrong, Akane! I-!"
"YOU…betrayed me, just like Ranma did." Akane raised her free hand up into the air, the crystal she'd just acquired shining a brilliant green at her fingertips. "And for that…this is your punishment."
Akane drove her arm forward. Ringo gasped. The crystal had been run straight through Ringo's shirt and deep into her chest. As a horrified Alysse looked on, Ringo's body was surrounded by a bright green aura.
Alysse flailed wildly with her free arm, doing anything and everything she could to try to break away from Zonbi's clutches. She ignored the pain coursing through her ribs as best she could, but, no matter what she tried, she couldn't do anything. A product of the sheer helplessness she felt, tears had begun to stream down her face.
The aura swirled around Ringo's body from top to bottom, the force of it snapping the tie that had bound her hair in its ponytail. Ultimately, the aura was absorbed into her just as it had been with Zonbi.
In Zonbi's case, the strange aura had the effect of strengthening his body's muscles. With Ringo's body, however, any changes were limited strictly to appearance. Ringo's hair—flowing freely now—and even her eyebrows, once red as a rose in bloom, had become as green as the glow of the crystal within her chest. The only exception was one streak of hair near the front of her right side which, for one reason or another, retained its red pigment.
Alysse was momentarily still, stunned by the change Ringo had undergone, and Akane, still holding the girl up, pressed a finger to her forehead. Just as with Zonbi, this was done to create a mental link with which to quickly pass along information and help her understand Japanese. Akane's new servant, though, wasn't Zonbi—in many ways.
Baring her teeth, the green-haired female swatted Akane's hand away from her. "Don't you touch me!"
Akane let go, and the girl backed away. Unaware of the shape she was in, she put her weight on her cast-wrapped foot, let out a howl and dropped to the ground. "Owwww! Ngh!" Grabbing at her stricken limb, she glared up at Akane. "Are you stupid? What kind of useless body did you put me in?"
Alysse had stopped fighting against Zonbi. She was too overwhelmed, too confused by the change she saw in Ringo to even move. That wasn't how Ringo would act, and those weren't things she would say. What had Akane done to her?
Of course, Akane knew the truth—that this was no longer Ringo they were looking at. She could have done without her new servant's feistiness, though. "I guess that means it all worked," she muttered.
Like a wild animal, the girl tried ripping away the cast protecting her foot, but without much luck. "Stubborn, huh? Fine!"
One at a time, a collection of thick, green vines broke through the pavement from below and dug in between the cast and the girl's leg. The pressure the vines exerted was far greater than what she could do on her own. Soon, the cast began to split and tear. With a little more convincing, it broke off completely and fell away.
That was only the beginning. Now that the cast was gone, three of the vines slipped under the girl's skin and ventured inside her leg. They wrapped their way around the tendon that had been operated on, integrating with it and the muscles and bones in the vicinity, strengthening the leg to the point that their master would be able to use it properly.
The girl used her nails to sever the vines at the opening in her skin. It was time to test her fix. She stomped down on the foot once, then again. Rolling to her knees, she got back to her feet. Two more stomps. There was a hint of pain there still, but for the most part she was satisfied. "That's more like it."
"See? That wasn't really worth complaining about, now was it?" Akane chided her servant. "Do you understand what's going on?"
Putting on display her temperamental side yet again, the girl stepped up to Akane and got right in her face, close enough that their noses were nearly touching. "Oh, yeah, I got it. You took out the old witch, and now I guess you expect me to bow down and serve you, huh? Well think again!" She spun around, looking to Zonbi now. "And you! What do you think you're doing following her around? We don't need anyone giving us orders anymore! We can do whatever we want!"
Sighing, Akane rubbed at her temple. "I guess Jusenkyo's memories of you being a problem child were right."
The defiant servant wasted no time re-invading Akane's personal space. "I didn't like being bossed around back then, and I don't like it now. I want to have fun, get it? And that's what I'm going to do. You got some kind of plans? Do them yourself!"
Akane had been keeping her cool up until now, but her patience had run out. She grabbed her servant by the throat and clasped down on her wind pipe. The strained look on the girl's face as she struggled to breathe did nothing to convince Akane to let up. "I don't feel like putting up with your attitude. I may need you alive, but that doesn't mean I need you to have free will. I can turn you into a mindless puppet if I really need to, you hear me?"
The girl was thrown to the concrete, hacking and gasping for air. With that, Akane hoped she'd gotten her point across. "You do what I need you to do, and you can have all the fun you want after. How about it?"
Clutching at her neck, the girl scowled up at Akane, looking as if she wanted to rip her face off. She spat at the tips of Akane's feet, prompting Akane to reach out for her again. Fortunately for the girl, she had more to add to her response. "Okay!"
Akane stopped, apparently willing to hear her servant out.
"I'll follow you," the girl hissed, "but only until you get what you need."
Gradually, Akane rescinded her hand. "Good. That's all I'm asking."
The girl, still seething internally, got back up. She hated this. Still, putting up with Akane for a short time was a whole lot better than the alternative option.
"Now that we're on the same page," Akane said, "I'll give you a name, too. From what I've seen out of you, I think I've got one that's just right. How does-"
There was a brief twitch in Akane's eyebrows. "What?"
Akane's servant had a distant look about her, and that combined with the name she'd just uttered had captured her master's attention. Just as quickly as the behavior had shown up, however, the girl batted her eyes, seeming to come back around. "Huh?"
"What did you just say?" Akane asked her.
"I didn't say anything!" the girl snapped back. "You deaf? Open your ears!"
Akane felt unsettled about this. Her servant shouldn't have had any of Ringo's memories, and yet she'd just spoken Ringo's name. The fact that the girl couldn't remember doing so was also peculiar. She seemed fine again now, so Akane didn't consider it a great cause for concern. It was something she would have to monitor, though.
"Forget it," Akane said. "I'm giving you the name Yasei. Any complaints?"
Yasei looked as if she wanted to mouth off again. Wisely, she swallowed her words. "No." She was done causing a fuss—for now.
"All right, then." Akane started to walk, motioning with her hand for her servants to follow. "Come on, both of you. We're leaving."
"Where to? Don't you want that jewel thing?" Yasei asked, grudgingly following along behind her.
Akane paused for a moment. "We'll get to that," she said. "There's...something I need to take care of first."
Now that Zonbi's job of preventing interference was complete, he tossed Alysse aside like a ragdoll as he went to join his master and fellow servant.
Smacking her busted ribcage against the ground left Alysse quivering from the pain, but it was nothing compared to what she felt watching Ringo, or what once was Ringo, leaving her behind. "Wai…t…"
Stumbling to her feet, Alysse rushed forward. "Ringo!" She stepped past Zonbi, grabbed Yasei by the shoulder, and spun her around.
Yasei had already been in a foul mood. What Alysse had just done only made it that much worse. Incensed, Yasei slashed her nails across Alysse's face, opening up a cut on the bridge of the taller girl's nose and dropping her from the suddenness of the attack. "Don't. Touch. Me."
The ill-tempered servant turned and kept walking.
Alysse didn't care about the new wound dripping blood down her nose. Not bothering to stand back up, she lunged from her knees and grabbed hold of Yasei's ankle. "Give Ringo back to me!"
Whipping around the other way again, Yasei snarled down at Alysse with a raging fury in her eyes. "What did I JUST SAY?"
Behind Alysse, several vines burst out from the ground and wrapped themselves around her neck, pulling her away from Yasei. Alysse grabbed at the vines, trying to pry them off, but even more of them were sprouting from below. They constricted her legs, her arms, everything as they raised her up off the ground, restricting her movement to almost nothing.
Alysse couldn't call out for help, much less breathe properly with the vines choking her, and her predicament was only going to go further downhill. All around her body, giant leaves several feet wide with a length even greater began blooming from the vines. In the end, they covered every inch of her multiple times over until, eventually, not even a speck of light reached Alysse's eyes.
"Hurry it up, Yasei," Akane ordered her subordinate. She didn't bother to look back as she and Zonbi continued onward.
"I know!" Yasei shouted. She glowered up at Alysse, watching as the leaves tightened around the girl who had disappeared from view. "I told you not to touch me." Stepping away, she started back on the path her comrades had taken. "I'd go ahead and suffocate in there if I were you. It can't be any worse than waiting to be squeezed to death."
With that parting advice, Yasei left, same as Akane and Zonbi. There wasn't a peep coming from within the cocoon of leaves as it tightened more and more, threatening to crush Alysse's organs.
Perhaps the only thing that kept the leaves from doing just that was a sharp blade that came flying their way—the end of a string of blades connected together as part of the same weapon. It sliced into the thick leaves surrounding Alysse on its first cut, then through the vines holding her up on the way back. Partially freed from her bindings, Alysse and the remaining bundle of Yasei's plants fell into the strong, waiting arms of Ryoga Hibiki.
Ryoga, putting his inhuman strength to good use, ripped away the leaves from the incision his partner's weapon had made. Once Alysse had been uncovered, the vines gripping at her throat came off next.
Having recalled her snake sword, Meilin ran up to them, knelt down, and put her ear next to Alysse's mouth. The girl wasn't conscious any longer, but the ensuing sound Meilin heard gave her a small sense of relief. "She's still breathing."
Though knowing he'd helped save a life should have given Ryoga some solace, he was far from ready to feel good about himself. Forming his hand into a fist, he slammed it down into the ground, splitting open the concrete at his feet. "Daaaaamn!"
Meilin understood her man's frustration. She understood it all too well. "I know, Ryoga, but there was nothing we could do," she said, clenching her teeth. "We were too late. We…can't lay a hand on Akane anymore."
In the dark about what had taken place with the friends she'd left behind, Shampoo stood outside the ruins of the Cat Café, aghast at the destruction that met her eyes. She hadn't taken a single breath since she'd first caught sight of it all. Her restaurant was gone, and, far more significantly, the love of her life, Ranma, was face down on the road, his clothes soaked in a pool of blood.
Shampoo wouldn't remember much of what happened next. Her adrenaline kicked in, and her only thoughts, her only focus turned to that of keeping Ranma alive. She scooped him up in her arms, and she just ran. She ran, and she ran, and she ran like she'd never before run in her life.
End of Chapter 2