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.
"Mmm, not bad. I guess some people do have good fashion sense these days."
While Akane was occupied with summoning Jusenkyo's Jewel of Eternity, her unruly servant, Yasei, kept herself busy tracking down some new attire.
Her current place of interest? The Maxi Flavor clothing shop, which specialized in punk-style garb. The store was still lit up inside with industrial rock tracks playing over the speakers when she arrived—no doubt it had been hastily abandoned after Akane's ultimatum earlier in the day.
Yasei went through any number of shops over the course of the evening, not a single one of which she found suitable to her tastes. With each stop, the amount of people she came across on the streets dwindled. After a while, she stopped seeing them entirely.
Now, in the midst of an arid night in the ghost town the Nerima Ward of Tokyo had become, Yasei may have finally found something she could live with.
She did a twirl in front of a full length mirror on the store's wall, the green plaid skirt she had found rising and falling with her movement. The skirt went well with her hair, as did the dark green, sleeveless vest with pyramid studs on the chest flaps and frayed edges around the shoulders.
Yasei wasn't all about the green scheme, though, mixing in some black with a pair of knee-high leather boots and fingerless gloves. She even added some white with leggings that featured spiral designs on a black base. Throw in some mixed black-and-green armbands and her outfit was complete.
For the most part, Yasei liked what she was seeing. There was just one exception, that being the lone streak of red hair amongst her otherwise bright green locks. Just a glimpse of it was enough to make her scowl.
"Tch, it would be perfect if it weren't for this crap. I hate red. Why didn't this part change like the rest? Akane probably screwed something up. Damn amateur. Whatever. Once I'm free, I'll go find some dye."
She turned her back on the mirror, taking a quick look around the rest of the shop. "Guess I'll go find something for that mistress-worshipping stiff since I'm here," she muttered, walking towards the other end of the store. "Do they even make clothes big enough for him? He's like fifty freaking feet...tall..."
Yasei abruptly pulled up. She backed a few steps, all the while eyeing a dress on one of the store's mannequins. The dress, a stylish mix of black and violet, didn't stand out amongst the shop's other products as a whole, but it contained a certain element that captured Yasei's interest. Down on the dress's waistline was the design of a flower, one that was made to look like a black rose.
She didn't know for what reason, but that rose brought about a number of disconcerting emotions within her. Hesitantly, she reached out for it. Her hands, she noticed, were shaking.
"Again…it's this feeling again! This…what is it? What is it, dammit?"
Gnashing her teeth, Yasei picked up the mannequin and heaved it into the shop window, cracking the glass just short of its breaking point. She stumbled backwards, one hand covering her face.
"It's you, isn't it? I know it's because of you!"
Backing into a mirror, she spun around and slammed her forehead into it. Over and over again, she rammed her skull against the glass, shrieking with every hit.
Shards of the now-broken mirror fell away, dropping to the floor. Yasei, panting, slowly looked up. In what remained of the mirror was the reflection of blood dripping its way down the bridge of her nose from a cut above her eyebrow.
"I get it now. I know what it is."
Grinning maliciously, she dragged her fingers through the blood, smearing it onto her cheek. "I can make this feeling go away. All I have to do…is kill her!"
Among the individuals still within Akane's repulsion field, there were those who planned on facing off against her, those who weren't yet sure what to do, and then those who intended to stay for other reasons.
One man who fell into the last group was the acting head of the Kuno family, Tatewaki Kuno.
Out by one of the ponds near the Kuno estate's main home, the kendo practitioner-turned-businessman quietly observed a curious sight. The family's pet crocodile, Mr. Green Turtle, had flopped over onto its back at the edge of the water. Kuno had never seen such behavior out of the reptile before, nor had he ever heard its growls carry such a melancholy tone.
"My dear sister, even this proud beast has been left to weep over your absence," he said, lowering his head. "How very tragic."
Over the past few weeks, the estate had been visited numerous times by police, they in search of the same person Kuno was desperately hoping to locate. Each time, their searches turned up nothing. In a way, Kuno almost wished they would find something. At least then he might have some assurance that the person he was looking for was still alive.
Mixed in with the chirping of crickets, Kuno heard the familiar sound of someone landing upon the ground behind him. "You've returned, Sasuke?"
"Yes, Master Kuno," Sasuke replied, down on one knee.
"Have you any news of my sister?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
As always, Kuno found the lack of information troubling. "Unfortunate," he said. "I've no ideas as to where she may be, but we mustn't give up."
Clenching a fist at his side, Sasuke nodded. "Of course."
Never before in Sasuke's life had he felt such a strong sense of guilt. With each day that passed, each day that Kuno was made to wallow in concern for his younger sibling, it only grew stronger. Sometimes in life, however, people were made to carry secrets that they could entrust to no one but themselves.
The burden was heavy, but Sasuke would shoulder it. He would shoulder it all for the sake of protecting those he had sworn to watch over.
"Master Kuno," Sasuke spoke, "are you sure you won't leave this place?"
What Sasuke referred to wasn't just the estate, but Akane's repulsion field. It would have been child's play for Kuno to exit the field—with where it had been positioned, the edge was mere inches from the outside wall of the estate—but thus far he had expressed an unwavering desire to not leave without his sister. Well, that, and for one other reason.
"Absolutely not!" Kuno roared. "Did you not hear my love, Akane Tendo, requesting to meet with me tomorrow? After our agonizing time apart, you would insist that I, Tatewaki Kuno, neglect such an invitation? Are you mad?"
Kuno brushed his hair back with a huff. "I am not certain what she meant in regards to surpassing humanity and such, but no doubt we have much to discuss after so long."
Sasuke's forehead wrinkled with worry. There were times when Kuno's delusional thinking was downright dangerous to his own health, and this, Sasuke thought, was one of them. He wasn't entirely certain what Akane's words had meant either, but her invitation sounded anything but friendly to him.
And therein lay Sasuke's dilemma.
Off to the side, a startled growl drew the looks of Kuno and Sasuke to the pond. Mr. Green Turtle, as if frightened by something, frantically rolled back over onto its stomach and scurried down into the water.
"How unusual." Kuno blinked. "In any case, I shall be retiring for the night. I must be well-rested for my rendezvous with Akane Tendo. Sasuke, come."
As was the case on any other night, Kuno would be requiring the aid of Sasuke's shadow puppet show in helping him fall asleep. Normally, Sasuke would be more than happy to help. An uttering of compliance would come, and along he would go.
Tonight, though, Sasuke uttered no such words of compliance, nor did he leap up to follow his master inside. Come tomorrow, inside this field, no one's lives would be safe; such was the warning of Akane Tendo.
There were lives Sasuke was responsible for. At this point, the threat of the police force was moot compared to the greater threat looming over the city. Despite Kuno's wishes, Sasuke couldn't in good conscience allow him to stay here. If he needed to give his master some incentive to leave, so be it.
"OWAH!" Kuno yelped, dropping face-first to the ground. While Sasuke paused, surprised by the sudden show of klutziness, Kuno looked to his feet. "You dare to…wh-…what is this?"
Down in the grass, a thick vine about the same width as Kuno's sword was slinking about, looking as if it were trying to get a good grip on the earth. Before his eyes, a second vine sprouted up, then a third. Five more then appeared in rapid succession.
Kuno wouldn't even get the opportunity to express his bewilderment at the occurrence before he was unceremoniously blown up into the air by a gigantic flower bud that had shot out of the earth beneath him. As Kuno crashed to the ground, the dirt from the event settling around him, the bud rose to a height of nearly seven feet in the yard of the estate, bringing a look of utter disbelief to the face of Sasuke.
After momentarily joining his servant in gawking at the impressive plant, Kuno set an irate look on him. "Sasuke! You dare call yourself guardian of this estate? The plight of my sister is no excuse to slack off in weeding the grounds!"
"Wee-…I did no such thing!" Sasuke argued.
Their bickering stopped there. Kuno's and Sasuke's eyes were drawn to the oversized bud as it underwent a swift maturation, its outer layer changing color from green to pure white. Like a lotus in bloom, the petals from the flower peeled away one at a time, gradually unveiling at its center not a stigma and the surrounding stamens as one would expect, but a person. A girl. Yasei.
"A dryad?" Kuno gasped, astonished by her appearance. "I did not know we had such creatures in Japan."
The blood from earlier still smeared across her face, Yasei scanned around, assessing her surroundings. "I know this place," she said, her gaze settling on the two individuals before her. "And I know you."
Sasuke stood with his mouth agape. He most assuredly hadn't seen this bizarre girl before, but there was an uncanny resemblance that he couldn't shake from his mind. "Y-…you're…!"
"Sasuke, is it?" Yasei cut him off. "Where is…Kodachi?"
The resemblance may have been there, and she may have even expressed a familiarity with the younger of the Kuno siblings, but Sasuke knew right away there was a stark difference between this girl and the one he was reminded of. "No…you aren't Miss Ringo."
"Where is she?" Yasei pressed again, her piercing eyes staring a hole through him. "She must be here somewhere, right?"
A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Sasuke's cheek. This girl…he could feel the bloodlust emanating from her being, and the actions of her vines that had sprouted from the ground before were only exacerbating his worries as they had begun to grow outward in a flanking manner.
"Ahem!" Kuno commanded Yasei's attention as he stood. "I know not who you might be, but I regret to inform you that my dear sister's location remains a mystery. If you have business with her, I shall gladly-"
Snapping up from the ground with unexpected speed, one of Yasei's vines whipped Kuno across his nose, knocking him flat on his back.
"Master Kuno!" Sasuke cried.
"Kodachi," Yasei hissed, bringing Sasuke's eyes back to her, "…where is she?"
Sasuke, his heart pounding, swallowed hard. "I don't know."
"I don't know!"
Yasei's glare took on a murderous quality. Her face contorting with displeasure, she raised her right hand, pointing her index finger toward the sky. "Fine. You can die, too."
Beneath Sasuke, the ground began to tremble. On any other day, he would have assumed it to be an earthquake. Given Yasei's presence, though, it was apparent this was no natural happening. On either side of Yasei, an enormous vine erupted from the earth, each with the thickness of an oak tree's trunk. The vines soared 30 feet into the air, well above the home and walls of the Kuno estate.
Staring up at the towering vines, Sasuke gulped. "Oh, dear."
With a flick of Yasei's wrist, the tips of the vines plummeted toward Sasuke like javelins. He dove for cover, the first vine grazing his leg before driving itself into the ground. Sasuke sprung off his hand, pushing himself further away as the second vine came down. Again, he narrowly avoided a direct hit.
Sasuke didn't think twice about what to do next. Knowing he was no match for the strength of Yasei's pets, he scampered toward the main home for cover. Kuno, having seen the vines' power himself, shook off the smack he had taken to his nose and followed in Sasuke's footsteps.
The vines didn't bother to pull out of the holes they had dug. They burrowed ahead on their way back to the surface, ripping up the earth with ease, and right back after their targets they went.
Kuno and Sasuke bounded through the nearest door leading inside, a quick glance over their shoulders letting both know that the vines were right on their tails.
"M-M-Master Kuno, what shall we do?"
"You need ask, fool? We shall protect the estate! Commence preparations for our defense!"
The sound of wood snapping behind them was the only warning the two would get that things were about to go south. The vines tore their way into the home, through the walls and whatever else got in their way, and they closed in fast on Kuno and his servant.
Outside, mixed in with the sounds of the demolition her vines brought about, Yasei heard the boys' cries. That was her trigger to move in. Stepping forth, she proceeded over the destroyed portion of the walkway outside the home and through the ruined door frame on her way inside.
To anyone unfamiliar with its layout, the Kuno home was a labyrinth of corridors and spacious rooms. Although the vines made things easier by creating some shortcuts, navigating through it all was still no easy task. Yasei, however, was familiar with the place to a degree, just as she was with Kuno and Sasuke. Where the floor had been destroyed, she used her vines as a bridge to keep moving ahead.
There was a haste to Yasei's step, an eagerness to finish off her prey. Through broken walls and old, traditional-styled rooms, she followed her pair of vines all the way to their tips, which resided at one end of the home's lengthiest hallway.
Yasei had expected to find a pair of bodies waiting for her. Much to her chagrin, there was nothing of the sort to be found.
"They aren't dead?" She raised her head, peering down the hall. "What a waste of time. You can't hide from me!"
Yasei took off briskly down the corridor, her twin vines ripping through the walls as they escorted her along. To her right, the removal of a set of doors exposed the expansive Kuno family meeting room. With nothing in the room other than a mat upon which to sit, there was nary a place to conceal oneself within. Yasei took one look at the empty space and moved on, certain her prey had hidden elsewhere.
Further and further she went along the lengthy stretch of hallway until, eventually, she came across the next divergence in her path: a staircase leading downward, the bottom of which was shrouded in darkness. This time, she stopped to do some investigating.
Yasei took in the darkened path for a time. Though through no memory of her own, this staircase was familiar to her.
"The third step is a trap. The eighth one, too. Do you think I'm stupid?"
At Yasei's beckoning, her vines pulled away from their guard duty and plunged into the staircase, smashing the steps entirely. As the pieces of wood dropped down into the chute below, the vines wrapped around each other at the staircase's entrance, using their mass to block off the opening.
"So much for your escape path." Smirking, Yasei continued down the hall. "Once I finish checking these rooms, I'll just head down-"
A loud snap sounded off. Suddenly, Yasei felt the floor open up beneath her. She reached out, hoping to grab hold of her vines, but they were too far away to make it in time. She disappeared into the trap door, dropping down into the very style of defense mechanism she had just thwarted.
"I HATE THIS HOOOUSE!" Yasei fumed.
Whatever pitfall she had slipped into, it was pitch black. There was nothing fancy about it, either. Unlike the trap below the staircase, this one wasn't designed like a poor man's roller coaster ride. This was nothing more than a straight drop.
Yasei wasn't sure how far down the chute went, but it didn't matter in the end. Shallow or deep, her course of action would be the same.
Down where the fall ended, a large number of plants sprouted up through the floor. From each one grew a series of particularly resilient leaves the vast size of which no other organism on the planet could boast. The plants multiplied with amazing speed, their collection of leaves piling up into the thousands within seconds.
By the time Yasei reached the final stretch, the leaves had effectively formed a cushion for her. She landed upon the top leaf, which fell into the next one, and the next, and so on, her momentum decreasing with each hit. Nearing the bottom, the leaves reached a point where they couldn't be compressed any further. That was when they sprung upward, offering just enough oomph to boost their master to a safe landing upon the solid ground.
As Yasei would notice, this area provided no more light than the chute had. "You little pests!" she snarled, trying to find her way in the dark. "Where the HELL is this?"
Yasei may not have been able to see, but her ears were still plenty functional, enough to hear the path to the chute she had fallen through slam shut. At last, a chain of bright lights upon the ceiling lit the blackened space she found herself in. Holding up an arm to shield her eyes from the brightness, Yasei took a look around her. She was in a square room 20 feet on all sides, and each of the walls, as well as the ceiling, was made of pure iron.
The wall furthest from her emitted a sharp, creaking noise. Three separate panels that made up the wall flipped over, exposing something that had been hidden behind them: a trio of giant, oversized fans.
Yasei, thoroughly unimpressed, scoffed at the unveiling. "What, are these things supposed to stop me?"
With an emphatic click, the blades on the fans started to turn. Even Yasei wasn't prepared for what was to come next. The fans powered up to top speed in virtually no time at all, blowing the girl right off her feet and slamming her back against the opposite wall.
The wind speed was tremendous. Yasei's entire body was pinned down, her cheeks rippling and her hair whipping around in the gusts. Off to her side, the plants that had cushioned her fall had been torn out of the ground with ease and blown into the wall just as she had been. As much as she wanted to vocalize her outrage over it all, she couldn't manage even that with as much pressure as the wind was putting out.
Out of the corner of her eye, Yasei spotted something moving. A small door had opened up near the top of the wall on her right, through which one of her two targets was now gleefully cackling down at her.
"Gyahahahaha! How do you like it?" Sasuke gloated. "Sarugakure School, House of Gadgets: Super Typhoon! We were forced to rethink our defenses when they failed to contain Ranma Saotome, and now you see the fruits of our labor! These specially-made fans put out wind speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour! I'd like to see your puny weeds do anything in the face of their might!"
The glare Yasei fixed on Sasuke was nothing short of ferocious. Even through the heavy sound of the fans, the "puny weeds" remark was audible enough to rile her to no end.
In the center of the room, a massive vine several feet wide exploded up through the floor. It aimed for the fans, looking to crush them beyond further use. The vine was going nowhere, though. As powerful as it was, it could do little more than stand its ground in the face of the intense wind.
Fuming inwardly at her vine's futility, Yasei relented, allowing it to be blown back. The vine was strong enough not to be ripped out of the ground, but was nonetheless ineffective as it crashed against the floor.
"Hah! Is that all you've got, foolish girl?" Sasuke taunted her.
As if rising to Sasuke's challenge, a second vine of similar size rose up through the floor, this one directly in front of the middle fan. A third vine followed, sprouting up just beside it. Much like the first, they couldn't move forward enough to attack the fans, but Yasei had expected as much. For these two, their purpose wasn't to attack; it was only to block the wind.
Protected from the onslaught by her vines, Yasei fell forward, dropping to a knee. She wanted to shut Sasuke's mouth in the worst way, but there were still fans on either side of her. If she went after him now, her vines would only be blown back. Dealing with the fans would have to be her first priority.
Now that the wind had been blocked off in the center of the room, the first vine that had been blown back earlier was free to move. If it could gather some momentum, Yasei thought, drilling through the other vines and into the fan behind them would be easy.
"Think you're clever, do you?" Sasuke snickered boastfully. "Allow me to drag you back down into despair!"
Just as with the wall before it, a set of three panels flipped over up on the ceiling now. Each panel contained yet another fan, these ones pointing downward.
Yasei had no time to follow through on her plan as the fans started up, unleashing a torrent of wind that forced her flat onto her stomach. Her vines felt the pressure as well, each giving way and being pinned down by the overwhelming gusts which, at the same time, freed the wall's middle fan to continue performing its role uninterrupted. Again, Yasei was blown back against the base of the opposite wall, unable to even stand due to the force of the fans above her.
Sasuke couldn't have been more proud of his handiwork, puffing out his chest while watching Yasei wilt before him. "Haaaahahahaha! This is what happens when you underestimate the Kuno family! Now, beg for forgi-!"
The Kuno estate's guardian batted his eyes. He couldn't see Yasei's face now that she was laying against the floor, but it was abundantly clear that she hadn't given up yet. Down at the base of the wall where the fans were situated, a bevy of smaller, thinner vines, each a mere half an inch thick, had begun to creep up through the floor. Despite their numbers, they collectively occupied such a small area that the wind from the fans on the ceiling didn't have a great effect on them.
"These are so much smaller than all the others this girl has attacked with," Sasuke thought. "If the larger vines could not stand up to the wind, surely these would lose out as well. What does she intend to do with them?"
On each fan, there was a small gap between its frame and the tips of the blades to keep them from colliding, and that space was exactly where the vines poured into. After they had gotten past the blades, they grouped together, combining their strength to launch an attack against the fans' motors.
One after the other, a series of bangs rang out from behind the fans. The one on the right came to a stop. The middle fan only slowed at first, but halted entirely soon after. The fan on the left, completely broken away from its motor, crashed down onto the room's floor.
Sasuke's jaw dropped. He couldn't believe what had just happened. "Sh-…she-!"
More ear-twisting sounds came, this time from above. The vines, having dealt with one set of fans, had snaked their way up and over the room's outer wall, ending up on the ceiling where the other fans resided. It was a repeat performance as the vines tore into the fans' motors, bringing Sasuke's Super Typhoon to an end.
The wind had ceased, and Yasei, her hair frazzled, raised her head. The one who had been mocking her was dead in her sights.
Sasuke, jumping with fright, slammed the small door on the wall shut, disappearing from view.
"What's wrong?" Yasei snarled, standing herself back up. "I thought you wanted to PLAY!"
The three larger vines Yasei had summoned, now free to work as they pleased, blasted into the iron wall Sasuke had fled into. Even the metal was no match for the force their combined strikes brought as the vines cut through the wall like it was made of paper.
With a path opened up just large enough for her to leave, Yasei stormed through the opening in the wall. As with the previous room at first, only darkness awaited her once inside.
Yasei had just passed through the opening when she heard a thunderous slam behind her. As she whirled around to check what it was, the lights came on, allowing her to see that a sturdy metal plate had slid down over the gap. Not only was the plate large enough to have blocked off the exit, it was also heavy enough that it severed Yasei's vines from their roots.
Akane's servant quickly assessed her location. Four iron walls and a ceiling. Again, she was contained within a perfectly square room, and that wouldn't be the only similarity.
It was déjà vu as three panels making up one of the walls rotated around. In here, there were no fans to be found on the other side. Instead, Yasei found herself face-to-face with three gigantic speakers, all of which activated simultaneously.
Yasei, throwing her hands over her ears, crumbled to her knees as a horrific, deafening noise echoed throughout the room. Trying to bear through what felt like a direct attack on her brain, she clenched her teeth so tightly that her gums began to bleed.
Up in an opening near the top of an adjacent wall, Sasuke, earplugs and all, beamed down at the intruder. "Sarugakure School, House of Gadgets: Eardrum Destroyer! Kneel there 'til your ears bleed, brigand! Gyahahahaaaa!"
The blood trickling down her lip, Yasei glared lividly at the Kuno family guardian. "Enough of this crap!"
There was a rumbling underground. Soon, another of Yasei's mammoth vines burst up through the floor. She didn't care about disabling the speakers just yet, though. First and foremost, her vine made a beeline for Sasuke.
"Too slow!" Sasuke shouted. He hopped down into the room just as the vine smashed into his cove in the wall. Down in the same space as Yasei, he was exposed and vulnerable now, but that was fine by him. He had done his job.
Behind Yasei, a section of the wall had rotated around. From there, out came Tatewaki Kuno. Yasei was so focused on Sasuke after all of his taunting that she had practically forgotten about his master. Ears plugged and wooden sword raised high, Kuno closed in on her with great swiftness, and down he swung.
The snap that followed was completely inaudible over the shrill of the speakers.
Kuno, eyes wide, staggered back, the base of his wooden sword all that remained in his hand. At Yasei's back, a massive leaf the same height as her had sprouted up from the floor. Its toughness was undeniable. The leaf had taken the strike from Kuno to protect Yasei, breaking his sword in the process.
"H-…how can this be?" Kuno stammered. He was certain Yasei hadn't noticed him. Even without her direct commands, it seemed there were plants keeping her safe.
The leaf, pulling to one side, sprung back the other way right into Kuno. Like a giant fly swatter, it slapped him across the room, knocking him up against the wall. A stinging pain rushing throughout his body, he slid down onto his backside, breathless.
Yasei looked to her right, off to where Kuno had fallen. Her vine pulled out of the wall, facing him now. A change of targets was in order.
Fortunately for Kuno, Sasuke hadn't yet exhausted his bag of tricks. A section of the wall against which Kuno lay gave out, causing him to slump backwards. There was no solid ground behind the wall, and the weight of Kuno's body carried him right over the floor's edge. As Kuno vanished, the wall flipped back up to where it had been before, ensuring a delay in any possible pursuit.
Miffed, Yasei turned to Sasuke just in time to see him sliding into another part of the wall. A trap door opened at Sasuke's feet, allowing him to coast out of the room on the heels of his master. Just as with Kuno's exit, the wall returned to form once Sasuke was through. With that, Yasei had been left alone in the enclosed chamber.
Her brow twitching with annoyance, Yasei eyed the speakers that had been blaring that awful noise ever since she came in here. Her vine speared itself into one speaker, got another as it came around from behind, and then pierced the third, ripping them all clean out of the wall for good measure. Finally, the noise had stopped.
As golden sparks from the wires rained down around her, Yasei stood up, cracking the knuckles on her right hand. "You've had your fun. Now I get to have mine."
Elsewhere, further below in the labyrinth-like estate, Tatewaki Kuno was in the middle of a ride down a winding chute. It looped around more times than he could count, only straightening out near the end. Upon reaching the exit, Kuno went flying through the opening, sliding to a stop along the wooden floor of the estate's single most spacious room.
Moments later, Sasuke popped out of another chute higher up on the wall. After sticking his landing, he hurried over to check on Kuno.
"Master Kuno, are you all right?"
Still gripping his broken sword, Kuno struggled to his feet. "You believe such a trivial blow would affect the great Tatewaki Kuno?"
"N-no, of course not!" Sasuke insisted.
Kuno peered around the room. The lighting was dim; only the secondary lights were turned on, while the main ones, those meant for when the space was in use, remained powered down. Even with the light provided, however, Kuno could still see that the entire expanse of the floor was littered with gymnastics tools.
"Mistress Kodachi's dungeon," Sasuke said. "I had thought it best that we regroup here, but…should we not take this chance to escape, Master Kuno?"
"And abandon the estate? Never!"
"Never, I say!"
The boys ceased their arguing. Hearing an ominous creaking beneath them, they both looked downward. Across the vast floor of the dungeon, thousands upon thousands of tiny, short-stemmed bulbs sprouted up from the wood.
"Wh-what is this?" Sasuke gasped.
The bulbs took on some color and bloomed rapidly, each sporting a floral form that bore a strong resemblance to a sunflower. The only discernible difference with these, apart from the smaller stems, was that there were no seeds in the center as would be the case with a typical sunflower. Rather, the center of every flower bore only an open void that looked strikingly similar to a mouth.
Kuno placed a hand over his nostrils, put off by the strong scent of pollen in the air. "These things...what a stench."
Behaving awkwardly, the flowers swayed from side to side, bouncing around as if looking for something.
"M-Master Kuno, what are they doing?"
"You ask me? How should I know?"
In time, the flowers nearest them began to face their way. Sasuke could have sworn he heard one of them emit a squeak, but he wasn't certain of it. When a second flower let out another, longer squeak, he knew he wasn't imagining things.
Before they knew it, those squeaks had turned into constant shrieks, and a chain reaction was set off. The actions kept spreading further out. Soon, every flower in the dungeon was letting out that high-pitched noise in the direction of Kuno and Sasuke.
Kuno narrowed his eyes at the bizarre spectacle. "This…does not bode well."
The boys struggled to remain standing as the ground quaked at their feet. Something big was coming, and it arrived with a bang. Fresh dirt and chunks of wood exploded outward when an enormous sunflower-like creature, already in bloom, shot out from the floor. Roaring fiercely, it grew close to the height of the ceiling 75 feet above. It had a mouth just like the smaller flowers, but this one's came with something more: jagged growths within that appeared to function as teeth.
"D-…do you still wish to stay, Master Kuno?" Sasuke stammered.
Looming over its prey, the imposing flower dove towards them to launch an attack.
"I stand my ground!" Kuno declared. Stepping forward, he pointed the remaining half of his wooden sword out at the monster. "Come, foul beast!"
Though Kuno's spirit was in the right place, he may as well have been trying to fight a wild boar with a toothpick. The flower ignored the sword's strike, taking it and the rest of Kuno's left arm into its mouth as it chomped down onto him.
Kuno cried out in pain as the flower's teeth sank into his shoulder. The beast lifted him off the ground, shaking him around like a ragdoll in its grip.
Sasuke could only watch in horror as the monster toyed with his master. "Master Kuno!"
Losing its interest in Kuno, the flower whipped him clear across the dungeon and out of vision. Now, it set its sights on Sasuke.
"You…I wouldn't try it if I were you," Sasuke warned.
The monster couldn't have cared less about Sasuke's words. Opening its mouth, it lunged for him just as it had for Kuno.
Sasuke reached into his waistband, taking hold of a round, dark-colored item concealed inside. "You want something to eat? Try this!"
He chucked the spherical item up at the creature, striking the roof of its mouth. Reacting, the flower bit down on it.
There was a loud pop. The monster jerked upward. Showing signs of confusion, it tried to open its mouth again, but couldn't. The item Sasuke threw filled the inside of the flower with an adhesive goop that even something of its massive size wouldn't have an easy time breaking free of.
"Ha…hahahahahaha!" Sasuke accepted his success with a nervous laugh. Even knowing the adhesive's strength, he couldn't have possibly known if it would work in such a situation as this. "Take that, monster! That's what you get for messing with the great Sasuke Sarugakure!"
As giddy as Sasuke was, he had greater concerns right now than taunting the flower, namely the well-being of Kuno. He pushed off his lead foot, looking to dash to the other side of the dungeon...and fell flat on his face. His legs were ensnared by something, and a sharp pain was running through his calves. Grimacing, Sasuke looked back. A pair of vines, thick and covered in needle-like thorns, were wrapping their way around his lower body.
Sasuke tried to free himself, but the vines had a vice-like hold on him. They stretched upward, entangling more of his body. He wailed in pain as the thorns punctured his skin and muscles, his cries drowning out the sound of the wooden floor breaking behind him. As the vines reached his neck, stopping there, his pulse raced. He could hardly even form a thought amidst the agony he was in.
The vines, lifting Sasuke up off the ground, turned him around. A lotus-like flower had grown within the dungeon, the same sort that he had seen outside earlier. Unfortunately for him, what was inside was the same, too.
Walking out from the flower, Yasei strolled up to Sasuke with a swagger in her step. "What was it you called them? 'Puny weeds'?"
The vines grew tighter around Sasuke's body, digging the needles in even deeper and drawing a pained scream out of him.
"Well? How is it? Not so funny now, huh?" Grabbing Sasuke by his head, Yasei pressed her fingernail up against his eyeball, threatening to gouge it right out from its socket. "I'm running out of patience. Tell me where Kodachi is, or I'll make you wish you had."
"I," Sasuke uttered, his lips quivering, "...I don't know!"
Incensed by the reply, Yasei yanked Sasuke upward, getting right up next to his face. "Tell me where she is, you ugly wart!" she bellowed. "Tell me! Tell me! TELL MEEEEEE!"
A muffled cry filled the dungeon, only this one wasn't from Sasuke. Sensing something was awry, Yasei spun around to see her giant flower collapsing to the floor, its body split right down the middle from top to bottom.
"WHAT?" she exclaimed.
Hearing the unusual sound of crunching coming from her prisoner now, Yasei looked back to Sasuke—an action she would regret. Rearing back, Sasuke sprayed a peppery substance from his mouth into the girl's face.
"Aaaaagghh!" Yasei backed away, wiping at her eyes. "What the HELL is this crap? It burns, dammit!"
Still wrapped in the vines, Sasuke watched as the figure of Tatewaki Kuno soared over top of him, a steel katana, shining in the dim light, in-hand. The top of his kendo uniform stained with blood from wounds the flower had inflicted, Kuno lunged for Yasei with only his right hand gripping the sword and swung downward.
Yet again, a massive leaf sprung up from the ground to defend Yasei. The sword, though, wasn't as ineffective as the wooden one had been before. It tore into the leaf enough that all the plant could do was alter its path, sending part of the blade across Yasei's shoulder.
Hissing, Yasei jumped back to create some distance. Kuno didn't follow, instead taking his sword and severing the roots of the vines that held Sasuke.
As Sasuke dropped to the floor, he was left to stare at his master in wonderment, and at the weapon he now wielded. "M-Master Kuno…that sword…"
"My dear sister did always like to claim my possessions as her own." Kuno chuckled. He thrust his sword outward. "Behold, the Kuno family heirloom: Leviathan! Even your plants shall cower in fear at the sharpness of this blade, demon!"
Sasuke groaned with every movement as he attempted to get up. The vines may have been cut off from their roots, but they were still wrapped around him, their thorns buried deep in his skin. Removing them would be an arduous task. It was only fortunate that Kodachi had been keeping the sword Leviathan in her dungeon, and that her brother had found it. If nothing else, it would give them a better chance of defending themselves. The question was, for how long?
Across the room from them, Yasei, who had been grabbing at her shoulder, removed her hand. There was blood on it. The wound wasn't deep enough to hinder her much, but her reaction to it would have led anyone to believe otherwise.
Sasuke sensed it right away, a change in Yasei's demeanor. Her eyes became like a wild animal's, almost crazed in its desire to rip its prey to pieces. With that single strike, Kuno had awakened something far more dangerous in her.
"Looks like you found a real weapon to use," Yasei said, flashing a deranged grin. "You think it's sharp? Interesting! Let's have some fun, huh? Let's see how it does, your sword...against the hardest of my vines!"
In front of Yasei, another band of vines burst through the floor. They continued to rise up one after the other, each one bending forward, leaning towards Kuno. By the time all was said and done, two dozen of them had assembled.
These new vines weren't terribly intimidating in size, being only five or six inches in width. They did, however, have something that set them apart from the others Yasei had summoned, that being a tough, scale-like membrane that served as a coat of armor.
No matter the challenge, Kuno wasn't going to back down. "Come! I, Tatewaki Kuno, shall not fall!"
The moment Kuno took a step forward to attack, one of Yasei's vines shot forth. Its speed was greater than Kuno had expected, but not impossible to follow. Kuno flicked his blade out, catching the vine before it could reach him. The two weapons clashed. Neither broke under the pressure of the other. One, though, did succeed in knocking the other away, and that was Kuno's Leviathan. Yasei's vine, swatted aside, retreated back to its brethren.
It was an exchange that Kuno had won, and yet, it was he who looked like the defeated afterward.
Sasuke knew why it was. He felt the same way. "The vine...it wasn't cut?"
Despite the result, Kuno stood his ground with pride. "Do you waver? I said come!"
Yasei was more than happy to oblige as her entire collection of armored vines went on the offensive. Attacking in twos, threes, sixes, any combination possible, they threw themselves at Kuno, pushing him backwards, taking blow after blow from his sword and coming back for more.
"Master Kuno…" Sasuke watched the battle unfold with tears in his eyes.
In part, Sasuke's tears were from the painful process of ripping the thorns away from his body. Perhaps even worse than that, though, was seeing his master, blood dripping from his dangling left arm after the monstrous flower had bitten him before, still attempting to fend off Yasei's assault.
Kuno fought valiantly, but with only his right arm capable of wielding Leviathan, he was becoming overwhelmed. As many attacks as he defended against, nearly as many got a piece of him, the hard membrane of the vines shredding his skin as if the scales atop a crocodile's back were whipping against him. With each strike, his kendo uniform became more tattered, further stained with his blood.
"You want to touch me? Huh?" Yasei hollered. "This is what you get! Hurts, doesn't it? Come on, bow your head and beg me to make it stop! Do it!"
Ailing or not, Kuno was steadfast in his stubbornness. "Never!"
Two of the vines were knocked away in succession. The next sliced into Kuno's upper arm. Another was deflected. One more cut against his thigh. Another deflection. Another strike, this time just above his hip. The one after that struck his temple, staggering him. With every hit, more droplets of blood fell to the floor.
Kuno's legs buckled briefly. Still, he held on, fighting the vines off with everything he could muster. "You would attack the Kuno family? You would bring destruction upon this estate?" He glowered at Yasei, the sword shaking within his grasp. "I shan't allow it!"
The remarks brought Yasei to the point of laughter. "Oh, really? Let's see if you'll allow THIS!"
With Kuno reeling, all 24 vines shot toward him at once. There was no way for him to defend against them all, nor any way for him to dodge with the shape his legs were in. The vines hit him head-on, puncturing his skin, ripping into his already damaged body. Kuno, his mouth hanging open, collapsed to the floor in a heap.
"You won't allow it?" Yasei mocked him. "I'm the one who decides what's allowed and what isn't, idiot! What's wrong? That all you got?"
Yasei held her vines back, essentially daring Kuno to get back up. And he would do just that.
A trembling, bloody mess, Kuno jammed the tip of his sword into the floor, using it to help him back to his feet. Though he made it that far, he couldn't let go of the sword's hilt. It was all he could do just to remain standing. He was in too much pain. He had lost too much blood.
"Did you…not…hear me?" Kuno's voice shook, his eyes struggling to focus. "I…I shan't…allow…"
"You shan't allow it. Uh-huh." Yasei gestured Kuno's way, her armored vines lining up for one final, collective attack. "I'm bored now. See ya, Tatewa-"
Yasei's eyes darted to her right. Too late. A potent smoke bomb detonated at her feet, completely shrouding her vision.
"SASUKEEEE!" Yasei yelled out, knowing exactly who the culprit was.
"My apologies," Sasuke said from within the smoke, "but I cannot forgive anyone who would bring harm to Master Kuno or Mistress Kodachi!"
Covering her mouth, Yasei waded through the cloud and out into the open air. Across the room, Sasuke, finally free of the thorny vines, knelt with Kuno draped over his back, his hands gripping one of the pegs in the floor that Kodachi had always used for target practice with her hoops.
"Sarugakure School, House of Gadgets: Great Flood!"
Sasuke pulled the peg downward, triggering a passageway to open up in the ceiling high above. A spring loaded into the floor then exploded up into the air, blowing both he and Kuno out through the opening.
Yasei wasn't about to let them get away, but, as soon as the boys disappeared from view, she began to hear a rumbling all around her. She tilted her head upward. From above, a torrent of water came pouring down right on top of her. All around the dungeon, similar ports opened up on the walls and ceiling, dumping tens of thousands of gallons of water into the room. It wouldn't stop until the space was flooded to the very top.
Outside, the force of the spring sent Sasuke and Kuno up through the roof and out into the night air. Their landing wasn't the softest—first onto a tree branch, then down to the hard ground—but anything was better than being stuck indoors with Yasei.
"Ahh…ouch," Sasuke groaned. "Master Kuno? Master Kuno…"
Spotting his master's body a short ways away, the loyal family guardian crawled over to him. Aside from his breathing, Kuno wasn't moving. Even before they had been catapulted out of the dungeon, he had already passed out.
"Master Kuno," Sasuke sobbed, "you were magnificent. You defended the estate as well as you could. For so long as I live, I shall have your efforts etched into my memory!"
In his present condition, Kuno was looking in need of a hospital visit. Regrettably, all hospitals within the repulsion field were currently unstaffed, which left Sasuke with a decision to make. It should have been simple: take Kuno and leave the field to reach a hospital outside. But for Sasuke, it wasn't that simple at all.
"Oh, this is such a problem! What should I do? What should I do?"
Sasuke fell silent. His teeth chattering, he looked toward the ground. There was a tremor within the earth, growing in intensity.
A tremendous boom rang out from the main home, and Sasuke bore witness to a startling sight. A vine, looking much like the armored variety Kuno had just fought against, had blasted its way through the roof, only it wasn't as Sasuke had remembered it. The vine, rising to an astounding height above the estate, had grown to roughly 40 times its previous size in both length and thickness. Rather than a simple vine, it now looked more like a tower.
Another crash sounded off, then another. They just kept coming, and soon, the vine was joined by all 23 others, each taking a large chunk of the home with it as it rose up from within.
Sasuke sat there stunned, aghast. Collectively, the enormous vines had left the Kuno home in shambles. It didn't even resemble a building any longer, only a pile of debris.
And the damage to the home wasn't the worst of it. No, even worse was what Sasuke spotted atop one of those vines.
Yasei, her hair and clothes soaked and dripping with water, stood upon the largest of the vines, a fiery stare locked onto Sasuke. "Thanks for the drink! Time to die, worm!"
The vines descended, taking aim at Kuno and Sasuke with Yasei joining along, riding hers like a surfboard through the air.
Seeing those gigantic vines bearing down upon them, Sasuke, terrified, abandoned all hope of victory. He and Kuno no longer had any chance of winning. Perhaps they never had such a chance to begin with.
A million thoughts ran through Sasuke's mind. What was he to do? What did he hope to accomplish? What was the best method to achieve that end? His options were limited. None of them were ideal. Among them, only one stood out. It was the only one that offered even the slightest chance of fulfilling his mission.
It was a gamble. It pained him to no end. But, he had no choice but to take it.
Without delay, Sasuke threw Kuno upon his back once more and took off running. As the vines crashed down into the ground around him, threatening to crush he and his master, Sasuke's senses escalated to new heights.
Run, run, run. Keep Kuno alive. That purpose coursed through Sasuke's veins, driving him to make it to the outer wall of the estate.
Sasuke didn't even know if he was breathing in that moment. He bounded off a tree branch, sprung off the top of a statue, leaped to his right to avoid one of the vines. He had to make it. He had to.
There it was. The wall was just ahead of him, and the edge of the repulsion field with it. He didn't dare look back; he knew what was coming for him. He dove to his left to escape a vine, bounced off another tree to avoid one more.
The wall, just a few meters away. This was it. Sasuke leaped into the air, shouting out with everything he had left. He could feel the vines on his tail. Were they just feet away? Inches?
Even as Sasuke reached the field's edge, he knew he could be pulled back just like that. He made contact. His face began to pass through the field, then his shoulders, then the rest of his body, and Kuno's as well.
Everything before him became clear. He dropped down into the road with a thud, his master rolling off his back.
Sasuke's entire body was trembling. He could barely catch his breath he was shaking so badly. Frantic, he looked up to the wall of the estate. Yasei was right there looking down at him, the tip of her vine at the edge of the field. She was so close, and yet, she wasn't pursuing them any further.
Finally, it all started to sink in for Sasuke. He had made it. He had gotten his master safely outside the field. And he had guessed right: Yasei couldn't leave it. For she and the field to appear in the same day, it would have been too much coincidence for them not to be related.
Yasei's prey had escaped her, but it wasn't a look of anger she directed at Sasuke from atop that wall; it was a look of utter bewilderment, the wet locks of the red streak in her hair hanging over her right eye.
"What are you doing?" she asked, cocking her head to one side. "You're just leaving Kodachi in here with me?"
Sasuke had succeeded in one aspect of his plan. Now, the time had come to attempt the other.
"Me? Abandon Mistress Kodachi?" Sasuke scoffed at the notion. "Did you really think I would keep her within the Kuno estate?"
Yasei squinted down at him.
"The authorities have searched every inch of the estate several times over in recent weeks," Sasuke told her. "I'm not so stupid as to try hiding her in there."
"Why fight, then? Why not just leave the field from the start?"
"To protect the estate! What else?" Smirking, Sasuke shakily stood himself up. "That may not have been possible, but more importantly, both of them, Master Kuno and Mistress Kodachi, are safe and sound outside of that field. And as guardian of the Kuno family, I'll make sure you are never able to reach either of them!"
Sasuke monitored Yasei's expression intently. She knew of him, that much had been made clear upon her arrival at the estate. She knew his name, and she knew his meaning in life. So then, Sasuke wondered, what would she do?
Yasei kept her gaze on Sasuke for what felt to him like forever. She was gauging him just as he was her, trying to decipher the truth of the matter.
The staredown only lasted so much longer before Yasei's lips curved upward into a faint, but dark smile. "That sounds fun," she said at last. "Tomorrow, I'll be free. When that happens, I'm coming to hunt Kodachi down, and the both of you, too. Enjoy your head start, little guardian."
The vine Yasei stood upon pulled back, as did the rest. Just like that, they were gone.
Sasuke, at his limit both physically and mentally, dropped to his knees. He bent down, his body curling up, and the tears he had been holding back came streaming out.
He had succeeded. If Yasei knew him, she also knew he would never abandon a member of the Kuno family he was sworn to protect, and Sasuke had used that knowledge perfectly.
Yet, there was no pride for Sasuke in his small victory. For him, there was only a feeling of guilt and shame.
"For-…forgive me! Forgive me! Forgive me for failing you!" He could barely choke out his words as the tears ran down his face. "Please, I beg of you…please stay safe!"
Within the Kuno estate, Yasei and her vines had dispersed, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. In just a matter of minutes, the history of the estate had been reduced to rubble. Not all, however, was lost. If only Sasuke had stayed, choosing simply to dump Tatewaki outside the field, Yasei may then have realized that there was still something worth protecting inside the walls—or rather, underneath them.
Below the outer wall of the estate furthest from the repulsion field's edge was a small room surrounded by thick concrete. There was only one entrance, activated by the tiniest of switches along the bottom of the wall. So small, so obscured by grass was the switch that even the police had never come close to running across it.
Inside the room, only the lights of medical equipment powered by a generator provided some semblance of illumination within the darkness. Several artifacts had been left inside, namely a slew of gymnastics tools. A fresh set of clothes was also present, including a black leotard, imprinted upon it the designs of black roses in a violet color—the second favorite such clothing item of its owner. Everything lay beside a bed upon which the one they had been left there for slumbered.
For weeks now, she had been resting peacefully under Sasuke's watch. IV drips provided her with water and nutrients. A monitor kept Sasuke aware of her heart rate and blood pressure. Medicated bandages and stitches in some areas did their part to mend her body.
But still she slept. Even as her home was left in ruin, she continued to sleep. Breathing in, breathing out. Only that.
Left on her own within Akane's field, how much longer would her rest last: the youngest of the Kuno siblings, Kodachi, the Black Rose.
End of Chapter 6