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.
For the sun to rise over the Nerima Ward of Tokyo and be met with utter lifelessness was unheard of in this day and age. Yet, come morning, it did just that.
Gone were the students shuffling off to school. Gone were the folks commuting to work. Gone were the delivery trucks, the aroma of breakfasts being cooked, and the early-morning shoppers. Even the birds, always so chipper to start the day, had sensed danger and fled.
The city was empty, and the quiet that fell upon it was deafening.
About two hours after dawn, atop one of the taller office buildings in the city, Ryoga and Meilin took in the deserted metropolis.
"I've seen some bad things," Ryoga said, subdued, "but…this might bother me even more."
Even with Akane's repulsion field up and functional, there was still a stiff breeze shifting Ryoga's hair around. That they could feel the wind blowing led to some curious thoughts from both he and Meilin regarding the field they sat within, specifically involving what all it actually repelled. If air could pass through, did that mean it only rejected solid matter? Or was there more to it than that?
And it wasn't just the wind; sound was also coming in from outside. That much became clear when they heard several military jets flying overhead, high enough in the sky that they were actually above the top of the field. They may have been Japanese aircraft, or perhaps American ones from an air force base. Either way, it wasn't surprising. When a section of Tokyo housing hundreds of thousands of people suddenly became inaccessible, the world was going to notice. They could only imagine what kind of discussions were going on beyond the barrier.
"Should be any time now, right?" Ryoga asked.
"If the information we got is on point," Meilin replied. "So far, everything has matched up."
Hearing the door to the roof squeak, the two of them looked back.
Side by side, Ranma and Shampoo came walking toward the other half of their team. Ranma had chosen to don the very same white-and-black attire he had worn to face off against Li. This time around, Shampoo had come with a matching battle outfit.
Shampoo didn't have with her the sword she wielded against Kodachi. Instead, she was back to carrying the dual maces she was so accustomed to using, along with some smaller projectiles packed away at her waist.
As was often the case, the only weapons Ranma felt necessary were his fists.
"Yo, sorry we're late," Ranma said. With a calm air about him, he stepped up next to Ryoga and stared out from the roof's edge. "Feels kinda creepy, don't it?"
"Yeah," Ryoga replied. He eyed Ranma for a moment before turning back to the city. "You seem different now."
"Really?" Ranma blinked. "How so?"
Off behind them, a knowing grin spread across Meilin's face. "It's true, you give off a more mature vibe now. Ryoga was the same way after I took his virginity." She winked at Shampoo, who knew right away they had been seen through. "Congratulations on becoming a woman."
Blushing, Shampoo glared back at her. "You no need make big deal of that."
Meilin scooted over, giving her a little nudge. "So? How was he? Did he rock your world?"
Shampoo clasped her hands over her reddened cheeks, the memories of last night overwhelming her. "Ranma so manly," she said, swooning. "Is best night of Shampoo life."
"Ohh? Well, come on! Let's get some details!"
For once, Ranma and Ryoga were on the same wavelength. "Women," they both muttered.
Ryoga placed a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "Well, better late than never, right? I mean, it's been so long since I became a man. You were really behind on this one, weren't you, Ranma?"
"Hey, screw you!" Ranma snapped. "I was just waitin' for the right moment, all right?"
Ryoga put on a shrewd smirk. "So you say. Maybe you just weren't confident in yourself?"
"Like you were any better!" Ranma retorted. "Meilin probably had to pin you down to keep ya from runnin' away that night at Shampoo's village!"
"What was that, you jerk?" Ryoga snarled, getting right up in his rival's face.
Ranma didn't back down an inch. "You heard me, pig boy!"
The boys were nose-to-nose, each with a handful of the other's shirt. It was like old times for them, and it was just what they needed. Ranma's annoyance mellowed, Ryoga closed his eyes, offering a small smile, and the two of them let go.
Everyone grew silent, not only Ranma and Ryoga, but Shampoo and Meilin as well. As much as they appreciated the short moment of fun, they couldn't ignore the giant elephant in the room forever.
"You ready for this, Ryoga?"
"About as ready as I can be."
Meilin couldn't help but laugh over the absurdity of it all. "The four of us are going to save the world from Jusenkyo, huh? Sure sounds crazy when you think about it."
"It no matter if is only us four," Shampoo said, her grip tightening around the handles of her weapons. "Shampoo no stop until deal with Akane."
Just then, the door to the roof slammed open. Everyone jumped to attention. As far as they knew, they and Akane's team were the only ones left within the field, leading them all to assume they were under attack.
The one who approached from the doorway was a girl all right, but she was no Akane. Her long hair swaying in the wind, the handle of a large cooking utensil poked out from behind her. Two ceramic containers were strapped onto her back, while a number of smaller ones lined her waistline.
To the surprise of all, Ukyo Kuonji had arrived.
"U-…cchan?" Ranma uttered his friend's name. "What are you doin' here?"
"I eavesdropped a little outside your hospital room yesterday," Ukyo said, a hint of darkness in the areas beneath her eyes. "I'm here to help stop Akane."
"Are you serious?" Ranma asked incredulously. "I thought you were leavin'!"
As Shampoo caught Ukyo's eye, the two of them shared a tense, lengthy stare. What was going through their minds, the others could only speculate.
"This isn't going to be some fight on the playground, girl," Meilin warned her. "If you aren't prepared to put your life on the line, you should leave."
Ukyo bit down on her lip. "I know that," she insisted. "Even so, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I let more blood stain Akane's hands while I ran away and did nothing. That's why…I have to fight."
"How are your skills these days?" Ryoga inquired.
"Better than they've ever been," Ukyo answered, squaring her shoulders.
After briefly pondering to himself, Ryoga looked to his old rival. "Ranma, we did say splitting into three groups would be our best strategy. If Ukyo is working with us, we could do it."
Ranma was hesitant to agree to it, and understandably so. Compared to the others, Ukyo's combat experience was lacking. He wasn't sure she had ever been in a life or death battle before.
Ukyo had her resolve, though, and this was no time to be wavering. Ryoga was right: three groups would offer the highest chance of success.
In the end, Ranma knew this was the best solution. "Okay. Shampoo, Ucchan…change of plans."
Within Akane's room at the Tendo home, her servants, together again, were at their master's side awaiting the summoning of Jusenkyo's Jewel of Eternity.
"Don't you dare complain about it," Yasei grumbled to her cohort. "No one around here makes stuff big enough for you. I didn't even find that in a shop, I found it on this big wax figure thing."
Zonbi shifted around, rotated his arms, whatever it took to get a better feel for the new clothes Yasei had brought him: an outfit comprised entirely of black leather, including an ankle-length trench coat.
"Well?" Yasei said.
Groaning, Zonbi raised his head. "It works."
"It had better work," Yasei snorted.
Akane's female servant was a picture of impatience as she paced back and forth from wall to wall. For her, the retrieval of the jewel couldn't be over with soon enough. Somewhere out there, Sasuke was enjoying the head start he had gotten on her, and she couldn't wait to chase him down and wring Kodachi's whereabouts out of him.
Yasei's pacing ceased. She and Zonbi glanced at each other. The home, and everything else in the vicinity, shook. Outside, a rumbling formed in the distance.
"She's finally done?" Yasei said. "Took long enough."
While Yasei and Zonbi couldn't see what was happening, Ranma and the others most definitely could. Around Akane's field, which was several miles in diameter, three stone pillars as wide as buildings rose up from the ground. Each an equal distance apart as if at the points of an equilateral triangle, the pillars didn't stop growing until they had reached a height of nearly 400 feet.
The rumbling quieted.
Ranma, just like Shampoo, Ryoga, Meilin, and Ukyo, looked from one direction to the other, assessing the pillars' positions. "Just like you guys said."
Back at the Tendo home, Akane's eyes slowly opened.
"How are you feeling, Mistress?" Zonbi asked her.
Akane tilted her head back and raised her arms at her sides, giving her muscles a good stretch. "Refreshed," she said.
It wasn't long before Akane noticed that her servants were decked out in different garb than she remembered. She promptly turned a sharp look on Yasei. "What did I say about staying put last night?"
Of course Akane would assume it was her doing, Yasei thought. Not that it wasn't.
"Relax, nothing happened," Yasei told her, thinking it best not to mention her visit to the Kuno estate. "We're in a hurry, aren't we? So let's go get your jewel already."
As irritated as Akane was with Yasei's behavior, her servant was right about one thing: time was of the essence.
"Fine," Akane said, relenting. "The jewel's unlocking mechanism is in the form of three pillars that we need to activate simultaneously. You two are going to the nearest pillars. I'll take the one farthest from here. Don't put yourselves at risk in any way. I need you both alive until I get the jewel."
Zonbi nodded his head. "Understood, Mistress."
"Yeah, yeah." Yasei waved her hand dismissively. "Let's get this over with."
"I'll be right behind you," Akane said. "There's…something I need to take care of first. Also, Yasei…"
"Huh? What now?"
"I need you to do something for me."
The appearance of the three pillars was exactly what Ryoga and Meilin had been expecting, and for that they were thankful. Anything different would have required a rethinking of plans that they didn't have the time for.
"To go through all this trouble, Jusenkyo sure was protective of that jewel," Meilin said. "Akane should be on the move now."
"Yeah. We should be heading out, too," Ryoga suggested.
Though they had certain pieces of information, Ryoga and Meilin were never given specific details of how the Jewel of Eternity's unsealing worked. They had to believe, and Ranma and Shampoo agreed, that if the pillars were there, Akane and her servants would have to make contact with them. For their plan to be successful, they would need to keep their target away from the pillar and take them out as soon as possible. The need to locate and single out that target was the reason they had decided to separate into groups.
Before Ukyo's arrival, the others had planned on taking their chances splitting into only two groups; going in three groups was simply too dangerous. Ranma heading out alone was one thing; he could use his Shift technique to get out of any precarious situations. The others didn't have that escape, though. If they ran into Akane alone, things were going to end badly.
The two-group strategy, however, left open the possibility that their target could reach one of the pillars at the location no one had gone to. While Ranma could have used his Shift to take he and Shampoo to that open pillar once another of their enemies showed up at their location, if their target arrived at the open pillar sooner and made contact with it before they arrived, the plan would end in failure. Luckily, Ukyo's presence erased the need for any such concerns.
With the Shift at his disposal and base points littered throughout the field, Ranma would be going solo. If their target came to his pillar, he would signal the others to join him. If one of the other groups encountered the target, he would employ his Shift to join them instead.
As for the other teams, the sorting came down to one factor: the teamwork Ryoga and Meilin had built up was invaluable, making it a poor idea to separate them. They would be heading to the second pillar, and that left only two individuals remaining. It wasn't a pairing Ranma and the others would have made if they could help it, but the needs of the situation left them without much choice. Going to the third pillar would be the team of Shampoo and Ukyo.
While Ukyo kept her distance from the others, Ranma looked to Shampoo. "Is this really okay?" he asked, his voice low. "I know you guys ain't got along lately."
Shampoo peeked back at Ukyo for a second. "Is no problem," she assured him. "Akane is one we need worry about."
Knowing they had to get moving, Ranma decided to leave it at that. As he and Shampoo locked eyes, a silence formed between them. This was it. Their time was up.
There were so many things they wanted to say, and yet there wasn't a need to say any of it. Each of them already knew what the other was thinking.
Stepping in close, Shampoo leaned forward and put her lips to Ranma's, and the two of them shared a long, loving kiss. They broke apart, eyes closed, and pressed their foreheads up against each other.
"We don't have all day," Meilin reminded them.
Ukyo glanced over, watching the two for a moment. Sneering at the sight, she couldn't avert her gaze fast enough.
Finally, Ranma and Shampoo stepped back, putting some space between them.
"You be careful, ya hear me?" Ranma said to her.
Shampoo sniffled, struggling to keep her composure. "That Shampoo line. When this all over, Shampoo make so much delicious food even Ranma no can eat it all, so…" her lips quivering, a tear rolled down her cheek, "you no die! You promise come back to Shampoo!"
Flashing a smile, Ranma wiped the tear from Shampoo's face. "I'll come back, and I'll prove ya wrong about not bein' able to eat all that cooking of yours."
Those parting words were enough for Ranma as he looked out toward his designated pillar now.
In order to prevent Jusenkyo's Jewel of Eternity from being unsealed, they needed to use the opportunity of Akane and her servants all being separated to take one of them out.
With both of her servants alive, Akane was protected by a barrier of some sort, or so suggested the information provided by the Chinese military. If so, going after her was likely impossible.
Between the other two, Yasei was vulnerable, but no one had yet given up hope that Ringo could still be saved. So long as they could help it, targeting Yasei was undesirable.
Bearing all that in mind, the choice was a no-brainer.
"Everyone clear on the plan?" Ryoga asked them.
"Yeah," Ranma replied. Inhaling deeply, he smacked his fists together. "Here we go: Operation Kick Zonbi's Ass!"
Elsewhere, Akane was just about to head out. Yasei and Zonbi had already departed from the Tendo residence, but their master had one thing left to take care of.
Akane descended the staircase to the lower floor, stopping at the bottom. Peering down the hall, her face twisted with disdain.
"They're no different than Ranma," she said. "They were only thinking about themselves. They didn't care what I thought. They didn't care what I wanted."
Stepping forth with authority, she proceeded toward the end of the hall.
"I don't need people like that in the world I'm about to build."
Her heart racing, Akane burst into the living room. There, she looked around, perplexed. Her father had vanished. There was no Kasumi, no Nabiki. The only thing of note was a wooden sign left lying on the floor, reading, What are you doing?
"Genma!" Akane roared.
She kicked the sign across the room in anger. After she had gotten so worked up coming here, it took more than a few breaths for her to calm down.
"Whatever, it doesn't matter," she told herself. "Once I get the jewel, I'll have as much time as I need to find them. And Genma, too."
With her family gone, Akane no longer had any business here. She exited through the front door and, walking over by the gate, turned to face her old home.
"You kept me warm for a long time," she said, "but I don't need this place anymore. This is the last time I'll be here."
Flipping her palms upward, Akane mouthed the words of a spell. In each of her hands, a flame sparked to life, building up rapidly until they expanded into fiery spheres the size of basketballs.
Akane was emotionless as she eyed the house, the fireballs dancing at her sides. "Disappear," she spoke, "and take all the memories I can't stand with you."
Reaching back, she hurled one of the fireballs into the air, watching as it dropped down onto the home. Within seconds, flames had engulfed the roof and were already blazing through the upper floor.
The other fireball still in her possession, Akane set her sights on the Tendo Dojo now. Gritting her teeth, she heaved the ball of flames at the building, this time with great vigor. The fire exploded against the outer wall, and the dojo, too, was set ablaze.
"All for the sake of inheriting that thing, huh?" Akane snorted. "What a stupid dream he had. The Anything-Goes School…this isn't the last piece of it that dies today."
A section of the main home, ravaged by the fire, collapsed. This place represented so much of what Akane had known for the last 18 years of her life. Here, her father and late mother had raised her. She had grown up here alongside her sisters. She had met Ranma and his father here. Even the founder of the Anything-Goes School had been living under this roof.
And now, it was burning to the ground. All of it.
With this, there was no looking back.
Catching one last glimpse of the raging blaze, Akane turned her back on it and walked off. After a few steps, however, she stopped. She brushed a hand against her face. Atop her finger, what remained of a tear glistened in the morning sun.
"Strange. Here I thought you had to be sad to cry."
Akane wiped the salty fluid dry with her thumb and left through the gate.
Outside, she was pleasantly surprised to see countless flowers lining the sides of the road as far as the eye could see. Varying greatly in their radiant colors, the flowers, as tall as cornstalks, had petals that collectively took the shape of miniature satellite dishes. All of them, unlike normal flowers that remained still, were shivering where they stood.
"At least she listens to some of the things I tell her," Akane muttered. "These should be useful."
She stared out ahead of her. The pillar she would be heading to was just left of straight from her position, roughly two miles away.
Akane's lips moved as she began to cast another spell. In front of her, a gust of wind swirled, gradually consolidating itself down until it could be used properly by the one who had summoned it. Patting the swirl of air to make sure it was stable, Akane hopped up on top of it and crouched down to better her balance.
At once, the gust took off. It rose up above the homes in its path, carrying Akane along at the speed of a motor vehicle. At her current pace, she would arrive at the pillar in just minutes.
Shortly into her journey, Akane squinted her eyes. Thanks to some help from her subordinate, she could see it: something lay ahead along her path, or rather, someone.
As the picture became clearer, Akane's stern expression changed, softening so much that even her bitter lips curved upward.
"This...I wasn't expecting. I was going to go right for the jewel, but...maybe taking a few extra minutes couldn't hurt."
Meanwhile, on the northern side of Akane's field, two of the individuals trying to stop her rushed through the streets toward their designated pillar. One had captured Ranma's heart, bringing about a hatred within Akane the likes of which she had never before felt. The other had turned down Akane's invitation to join her in departing from the city, choosing instead to stay by her childhood friend's side. They were the combustible team of Shampoo and Ukyo.
Though neither found the growth of the strange flowers along the roads to be a good thing, there was little they could do to avoid them; the flowers were everywhere. Still, they did their best to lay low while they ran, sticking to smaller roads, checking around to make sure they hadn't been spotted. For now, their only objective was to find out which member of Akane's group was coming to this pillar. If it was anyone other than Zonbi, they would need to leave without attracting the enemy's attention.
As they neared their destination, they entered the well-maintained grounds of Hikarigaoka Park. There were still trees blocking their view, but from the looks of it, the pillar had risen somewhere within there.
"Ukyo," Shampoo spoke up, "if Zonbi come here, we no fight until Ranma come. Is too dangerous when Zonbi have Great-Grandmother."
Ukyo didn't necessarily disagree, but regardless, she found herself irked by Shampoo's advice. "Why are you trying to tell me what to do?"
"Because Shampoo have experience."
"And I don't?"
"No like this," Shampoo told her. She didn't like Ukyo being here, and it wasn't just because of the differences they'd had recently. "Akane strong enough defeat Great-Grandmother, you stupid. You no need be here. Is too much risk."
Ukyo glared at Shampoo, her forehead crinkling. "You don't know what I need."
Feeling that hostile stare on her, Shampoo shook her head. There was no convincing Ukyo at this point. She would just have to hope things worked out for the better.
The two of them waded through the trees until they came upon a large clearing in the park. Just as they had suspected, the base of the pillar sat directly in the middle of it.
"There it is," Ukyo said. She stepped out in front of the trees, scanning around the area. "I don't…see anyone. Do you?"
"No," Shampoo replied. "This good, we get here first. We hide in trees, wait and see who come."
Despite Shampoo's suggestion, Ukyo wasn't quick to move back into the cover of the tree line.
"You listen?" Shampoo raised her voice.
"Yeah, I heard you," Ukyo grumbled.
She had just started to return to their hiding spot when, suddenly, everything went white. Ukyo jumped back as a thick fog enveloped everything in sight, including herself.
"Wha-…?" Ukyo stammered, her head on a swivel. She grabbed the spatula from her back, ready to defend herself. "Shampoo? Hey, Shampoo! Say something!"
There was no answer. She couldn't see a thing, nor could she hear anything in the intense fog.
"Damn! What the hell is this? Where did it all come from?"
Ukyo felt a hand grasp her shoulder from behind, startling her. "Holy-!" she exclaimed, letting out a huff as she spun around. "Don't scare me like that, you-"
She froze, her breath catching in her throat. Someone was looking at her with an icy smile, and it wasn't Shampoo.
Met with the shocked reaction of her old acquaintance, Akane Tendo had to chuckle.
"Long time no see, Ukyo."
End of Chapter 7