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.
"Ukyo! You hear Shampoo?"
Shampoo pressed her back up against one of the park's sturdy trees. Her eyes darted around the fog in front of her, on the lookout for any sign of an enemy attack.
This was the fourth time she'd called out to her teammate. Not once did she hear a response. Nothing about the mysterious fog was normal—not the speed with which it swooped in, and definitely not its ability to limit sight and sound to such a great degree within it.
Shampoo ground her fingers into the handle of her mace. If she tried to escape the fog, she would lose the cover of the tree behind her. If she stayed put, she might come under attack at any time.
Which of the two was she most willing to risk?
Unbeknownst to Shampoo, just a matter of feet from her within the heavy shroud of fog, a reunion of old friends was taking place.
Akane and Ukyo stood staring at each other for some time—Ukyo gawking as if she'd just been visited by a ghost, and Akane trying to contain her amusement over it. A space of just a couple of yards around them was clear of the fog—only as much as Akane believed she would need.
Eventually, Ukyo's situation set in. Her mouth closed, and her eyes narrowed. Gripping her spatula with both hands, she raised it up, poised to put it to use.
The smile never left Akane's face as she observed Ukyo, nor did that expression of hers that exuded such sheer curiosity. "So that's how it is?" she asked. Now, her smile vanished. "All right."
Akane threw her arms out at her sides, startling Ukyo. The okonomiyaki chef swallowed hard, frantically trying to guess what sort of move Akane would make.
But Akane wasn't attacking. All she was doing was leaving herself open. Maintaining a defenseless pose, she tilted her head to one side. "What? Not good enough?"
Taking it even further, Akane spun the other way, turning her back to Ukyo.
The oversized spatula shook within Ukyo's grasp. She didn't know what to make of this. Akane was inviting her to attack, daring her even, but why? Would it even do anything if she tried? Not if what Ryoga and Meilin believed was true. Just what was Akane thinking?
When Ukyo didn't bite, Akane peeked back over her shoulder. "No?"
It was a free shot. Ukyo remembered knocking Shampoo out with one shot just weeks earlier. If she could do the same to Akane, how much would that turn things in her side's favor? Quite a bit, she imagined. If only the thought of doing so didn't leave such a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Slowly, Ukyo lowered her weapon. "What happened to you?" she asked.
"Me?" Akane faced Ukyo's way again, dropping her arms. "I woke up."
The answer made Ukyo bare her teeth. "What's that supposed to mean?" she barked at Akane, her voice shaking. "You almost killed Ran-chan!"
"Oh? Ranma lived, huh?" Akane said, unnervingly nonchalant about it. "That's good. Today wouldn't have been as fun otherwise."
"Fun?" Ukyo thought. Tearing up the city, hurting people…this was fun to her? Ukyo's nails dug into the metal of her spatula's handle. "Akane…"
"What?" Akane asked. "Why are you angry about that?"
"Because Ran-chan is my friend, that's why!" Ukyo snapped back at her.
Akane rolled her eyes. "Oh, that's right, isn't it? Back when I left, you said you wouldn't go with me because you didn't want to leave him." Her gaze sharpened. "How's that been going for you? Is it everything you dreamed it would be?"
Those words were like an arrow to Ukyo's heart. She always tried so hard not to think about it—about how wrong she had been. Always putting on a smile to get through the day, knowing that creeping feeling was festering beneath it.
Her anger turning to shame, Ukyo looked away.
"I know," Akane said, softening her tone. "Sometimes when I watched through Ringo's eyes, I would see you, and I could tell. I know all about it, Ukyo."
Ukyo hung her head. Even as Akane stepped closer, she paid no mind to her. "That's not…it doesn't matter!"
Akane walked right up to her and placed a hand under the girl's chin, tipping Ukyo's head up enough that she could look her in the eye. "Why not?"
Well to the southeast of Shampoo's and Ukyo's current position, another of the three pillars summoned by Akane sat just outside the water-themed section of an amusement park. It was right out in the open on the park grounds, making it easy to see if anyone were to approach it.
Much like the rest of Akane's field, the park was littered with bizarre, shivering flowers, but that didn't stop the team of Ryoga and Meilin from marching on in. They concealed themselves beneath a pair of water slides—one under each slide. Sooner or later, a member of Akane's group would arrive, or so they believed. Depending on who it was, there was a chance the park would turn into a battlefield.
Ryoga and Meilin each kept an eye out on a different end of the park. They were well-versed in the art of scouting from their time in China, and in non-verbal communication as well. If either of them spotted anything, just the brush of a finger against the slide or a light tap against the concrete was enough to get the other's attention.
While Ryoga watched to the north and east, Meilin covered the area to the south and west. She had to figure, given how close to the southern edge of the field they were, that their enemy was more likely to come from the west. It was just a matter of time.
Meilin wouldn't have to wait for long.
Ryoga, hearing a ruckus behind him, whirled around. Meilin was sticking out from under the slide, grabbing for the snake sword at her back. She flailed her legs wildly, trying to free herself from an ensnarement of vines at her feet.
"Wh-what?" Ryoga stammered.
Meilin, her sword unsheathed, severed the vines with one clean swipe, but they kept coming. "Ryoga, they're on you, too!"
Ryoga looked to his feet. Meilin was right: vines were sprouting up from the pavement and wrapping around his legs just as they were hers. Pulling out his umbrella, he beat the persistent plants away.
The duo worked their way out from the slides, fighting off the vines until they bumped into each other. They had more room to work now, and together they gave the vines no chance of coming close to them, cutting them down with ruthless efficiency. In time, the vines pulled back.
"Did we stop them?" Meilin wondered aloud.
The earth trembled beneath them. Sensing something was coming, they jumped away right as an enormous vine burst through the ground where they'd stood. The giant plant, growing higher than even the park's roller coasters, leaned forward, taking aim at its targets.
Meilin's snake sword unraveled, Ryoga tore a bandana from his forehead, and the two of them launched a combined attack that cleaved through the vine at its base. It toppled to the side, coming down with a loud crash and crushing several of the park's attractions underneath it.
Meilin—retracting her sword—and Ryoga eyed what was left of the vine, leery that it would regenerate as the small ones had.
They each felt a hand press against their back, and their eyes widened.
"BOO!" a voice shrieked.
The duo spun and leaped back, Meilin swinging her sword and Ryoga his umbrella out of self-defense. In front of them, a girl seated atop a massive dandelion reeled backwards out of harm's way.
"Whoa!" Yasei laughed, holding on to the flower to keep her balance. "Hey, hey! Watch it!"
"Ringo!" Ryoga gasped.
Just hearing the name made Yasei's eye twitch. "That's not my name," she snorted. "Anyway, you guys are so boring, swinging at me like that! I was just having some fun with you. Sheesh. If you want a fight, go find Akane or something."
Meilin quirked an eyebrow at the girl. "You don't want to fight with us?"
"Nah, don't care." Yasei waved her hand in front of her. "Not about you guys, at least. Besides, it'd be a pain. I'm not tangling with you unless there's something in it for me."
Ryoga, though surprised by Yasei's stance, was relieved. He didn't want to fight her in the first place, after all. Still, something was bothering him.
"How did you know we were here?" he asked.
"Ahh, that?" Yasei smirked. The stem of her dandelion bent over, lowering her close to the ground where one of the many unusual flowers scattered throughout Akane's field stood. She gave the flower a gentle tickle under its petals. "They're such hard workers, aren't they? When they shake like this, they make sound waves that map out the whole area. If you can see the waves, picking out a living creature in them is easy."
Meilin's jaw dropped. The ramifications of that information were huge. "So Akane knows where we are?"
Yasei tapped a finger against her chin. "Mmm…she can only see the waves for so far, so probably just whoever's around her pillar," she replied, cupping the trembling flower in her hand. "She isn't like me. My babies tell me everything, so I know about both you and your friends."
Ryoga and Meilin tensed up. They hadn't expected that something like these flowers would be in play. If Akane learned about all of them through Yasei, there was no way she would let their plan succeed.
"I don't feel like telling Akane, though," Yasei blurted out all of a sudden, the dandelion raising her back up into the air.
"Y-…you don't?" Ryoga blinked.
"Hell no. Forget her," Yasei grumbled. "She can figure it out herself."
It was another fortunate break, Ryoga thought. For one of Akane's servants to be so brazenly disloyal was odd, but it was a positive for them. Just thinking about what might be happening at Akane's pillar, however, was making his partner antsy.
Meilin's eyes locked onto Yasei, her sword bobbing up and down in one hand. "Ryoga," she said, "this one's right here in front of us, all by herself. If we just take her out then-"
"No!" Ryoga refused emphatically. "There's an innocent girl inside that body, Meilin, and we're not giving up on her."
"I know! I know, but...we just need to trust in whoever ran into her."
Grinding her teeth, Meilin stepped back, relenting. Under no circumstance did she want to allow Akane to acquire the Jewel of Eternity. Any opportunity to stop her was difficult to ignore; but then, so were Ryoga's wishes. For now, she would listen to her lover, and she would wait.
Meilin had to wonder, though, just who ended up at Akane's pillar? And for that matter, who ended up at Zonbi's?
In a residential block on the southwest side of the field, Ranma Saotome knelt behind a wall connected to the iron gate of a small home. On the other side of the road just a few houses down, the last of the pillars stood amongst a pile of debris that was once someone's residence.
Ranma kept his eyes peeled, waiting to see who would show up. It was hard, though, keeping his mind off of what might be going on elsewhere.
Had anyone from Akane's posse arrived at the other pillars? Was everyone else okay? Was Shampoo okay?
He knew this wasn't the time to worry, but left alone with his thoughts like this, what else was there to do?
Looking out through the bars of the gate beside him, Ranma squinted. His lower body flinched. Outside, the color of the pavement was darkening. The blackness spread quickly over the road and beyond, swallowing even the areas inside the gates of nearby homes.
Ranma had seen this before. It was no surprise to him what came next.
From out of the softened concrete rose the towering body of Zonbi. He didn't bother scanning around for threats. Eying his one and only priority, he walked sluggishly toward the pillar.
Back in his hiding spot, Ranma grabbed a flare gun from his waist. "So I'm the lucky one, huh?" He chuckled. "Fine by me."
Ranma pointed the gun upward and pulled the trigger, firing a round high up into the sky. The flare exploded with a loud pop that echoed throughout the field.
Zonbi stopped momentarily as the noise drew his attention. He watched the flare dissipate, then looked to the spot from where it was fired. Inside the gate, he saw no movement.
He turned back to the pillar, brushing off the disturbance, but the only thing in his view now was Ranma's leg.
Ranma smashed his knee into Zonbi's face, drawing a pained groan from the giant as he was knocked right off his heels.
At the amusement park, Ryoga and Meilin spun their heads as they heard the burst of the flare from afar.
"Over there…that's Ranma!" Ryoga exclaimed.
Yasei, too, was looking to the west. Knowing the movements of Akane's enemies and now seeing the flare and Ryoga's and Meilin's reaction to it, she was starting to understand. "Ohh, so you're after the big stiff," she said, a sly grin spreading across her face. "You know something, huh?"
Now that Zonbi's whereabouts were confirmed, Ryoga and Meilin were eager to join up with Ranma. There was just the issue of whether or not Yasei would let them.
"Since you aren't interested in us," Meilin said, "you won't mind if we leave, right?"
Leaning back on her dandelion, Yasei sighed. "Come on, can't you guys just wait 'til Akane has her stupid jewel before you rush off to die? If you slow everything down it's just going to slow me down, and I've got places to be!"
Yasei appeared truly annoyed by the idea of that, enough so that Ryoga and Meilin thought it best to ready themselves for a scuffle. The girl's demeanor abruptly changed, however, as she seemed to become lost in thought.
"Waaaait," Yasei drawled, rubbing at her chin, "if you guys did take Zonbi out, maybe you could get rid of Akane for me while you're at it. That'd be good, too." After pondering further, she shrugged her shoulders. " 'Kay, you can go."
The declaration was met with skepticism from Ryoga. "Seriously?"
"Sure," Yasei told him. "Whether you kill Zonbi or die trying, it's a win-win for me. I'll be free either way, so, yeah, go for it." She flicked her hand in a shooing motion.
"How considerate," Meilin murmured. "Ryoga, let's go."
Ryoga didn't need to be told; he was off running to the west before Meilin even finished speaking. He looked behind him one last time before they left, though, back at the figure of the girl he once knew.
"Thank you," he said.
Yasei watched them leave, cringing at those words. "Did he really just thank me? What an idiot." She sat back and examined her nails. "I'm just looking out for me, stupid Ryoga. Nothing else."
Meanwhile, off to the north of where Yasei and Zonbi were, Ukyo was adrift in the ice-cold eyes of their master.
"You make it sound like your feelings aren't important," Akane said. "Why? Tell me."
Ukyo, her breathing escalating, shook free of Akane's touch and stepped back into the fog, out of the other girl's range. "Things don't always work out the way you want them to. That's just how it is."
Akane rubbed her fingers together for a moment before retracting her hand. "Why are you out here, Ukyo?" she asked. "I gave you a free shot at me and you wouldn't take it. If you're not here to fight me then what are you doing?"
"I-…I just…" Ukyo paused, shaking her head, "I wanted to-"
"Talk some sense into me?" Akane guessed. She closed in again, cutting the distance between them to mere inches. "Do you think I'm confused? That I don't know what I'm doing? Well let me tell you, I know exactly what I'm doing. I don't need anyone's help. Unlike someone, I'm actually honest with myself. I made my choice, and I'm following through with it."
Ukyo stepped back again, but Akane moved right along with her.
"What else are you out here for?" Akane persisted. "For who? For them? Those so-called 'friends' of yours that, even when they're around, make you feel all alone?"
Clenching her teeth, Ukyo tightened the grip on her spatula. "Stop it, Akane…"
"Why?" Akane demanded. "Does the truth hurt that much?"
"Stop it!" Ukyo screamed. Staggering backwards, she drove the edge of her weapon into the ground.
Ukyo leaned over the spatula's handle, panting. She didn't want to hear any more. She couldn't take it.
"What about you?" Akane asked, creeping up behind her. "What about Ukyo?"
Ukyo felt a hand brush her hair back. So close was Akane that her breath prickled against Ukyo's skin.
"What is it that you want the most?" Akane inquired. With a devilish smile, she brought her mouth to Ukyo's ear and whispered into it. "Tell me. I'll give it to you."
Nearby, Shampoo was growing impatient. She had opted to sit tight inside the fog and see what happened, but nothing was happening.
Time wasn't something she could afford to waste. If this was how it was going to be, she would have to make a move herself, she decided. But, before she could do anything, something did happen.
Shampoo didn't know why, but the fog was dispersing. She peeked out into the clearing from behind her tree. There, she spotted a figure making its way toward the pillar.
She didn't see Ukyo yet. Maybe it was her. Then again, maybe it was Zonbi. She needed to know for sure before she gave away her presence.
As the mist continued to clear, the figure became better defined. They weren't tall enough to be Zonbi, but their hair was too short to be Ukyo. Shampoo eyed them carefully. Her mouth ran dry. Average height, short hair, martial arts gi…she knew those features.
Not Zonbi. Not Ukyo. Akane.
Shampoo's heart rate jumped. She knew she wasn't supposed to fight Akane, but at that time, thinking about what happened to her village, to Cologne, and to Ranma, any semblance of reason left her. Stepping out from behind the tree, she launched herself at the sorceress.
Akane stopped. She turned and glared at her would-be assailant, her eyes burning with hatred.
Shampoo, fueled by rage, reared back with the mace in her left hand and swung for the girl's head. "AKANEEEEE!"
There was a resounding clang as metal met metal. Shampoo jerked back, batting her eyes. It wasn't Akane who had thwarted her attack; someone jumped in-between them.
Holding her spatula above her head, Ukyo stood directly in Shampoo's path, her feet dug firmly into the ground from the power of the Amazon's strike.
"Ukyo?" Shampoo gasped. "What you-?"
Ukyo shoved her spatula into other girl's mace, forcing her back. There was no doubt, no hesitation in her expression. She could see only one thing, and that was Shampoo.
End of Chapter 8