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.
Chapter 10: Jewel of Eternity
Yesterday evening, Ranma felt it would be wise to place a few select base points for his Shift around town just in case things didn't go as smoothly as he and the others hoped. As it turned out, it was the right call. Thanks to his foresight, he was able to arrive at the spot where Jusenkyo's Jewel of Eternity had been summoned shortly after Akane and her servants showed up there.
He dripped with sweat. His forehead was busted open. He was outnumbered. And yet, after learning the truth behind the condition of Mousse—and almost certainly Cologne and Jynn as well—none of that mattered to him.
Boldly, Ranma charged alone toward the pyramid-like structure before him.
Yasei, discreet as could be, crept back out of Ranma's way. A battered Zonbi, however, placed himself in front of the steps, ready to intercept the threat to his master.
"It's fine," Akane's voice came from above, drawing a pair of raised eyebrows from her servant. "Let him through."
Akane turned away, continuing her ascension up the lengthy staircase. Zonbi, showing some reluctance, hesitated at first to heed her command, but heed it he did, stepping aside to clear the way.
Ranma paid no mind to the servants as he ran past them; he couldn't do anything for Ringo right now, and figuring out how to dispose of Zonbi would take longer than it would take for Yasei and Akane to join in on the fight. All he could do was try to keep Akane from getting her hands on that jewel, and to that end he leaped up into the air and soared over top of the sorceress, landing just a few steps in front of her.
Faced with a seething Ranma blocking her path, Akane drew to a halt. "Well, look at you, still alive," she said, unflinching. "And awfully spry, all things considered. Did you want me to show you that amazing something so badly?"
"None of that matters!" Ranma snapped at her, baring his teeth. "You…what you did to me was one thing. Maybe I even deserved that a little bit. But Mousse, Jynn, the old hag…tell me you didn't kill them, Akane. Tell me I'm wrong about this, that it's all some kinda mistake!"
Unfazed by the pigtailed boy's sharp voice, Akane cocked her head to one side. "And what if I did kill them?"
His eyes closing for just a moment, Ranma inhaled deeply. "You…stupid idiot!" he shouted. "Do you even realize what you're doing right now? This isn't a game, Akane! These are people's lives!"
"A game?" Akane said, her eyes narrowing. She stepped forward, prompting Ranma to move to the side and looking him dead in the eye as she passed, the tips of their noses barely an inch apart. "This is the furthest thing from a game."
Akane kept on walking, leaving Ranma behind.
"Hey!" Ranma snarled, reaching out for her. "Don't you w-!"
Before Ranma could touch even the fabric of Akane's gi top, he was suddenly blown back. Led by his arm, he went tumbling down the pyramid, only coming to rest upon one of the bottom steps.
Groaning, he grabbed hold of his wrist. His hand quivered involuntarily. It was as if he had been hit by a powerful electric shock just by trying to make contact with Akane.
Ranma, shaking off the stinging feeling, peered up at Akane's back. This was exactly what Ryoga and Meilin were talking about: a barrier that protected Akane so long as both of her servants were alive. Defeating Zonbi would have eliminated the issue, but that wasn't to be.
Pulling himself together, Ranma got back on his feet. His body wasn't going to be able to slow Akane down, that much seemed apparent. But maybe, just maybe, his words still could.
"Stop running and fight me!"
The ringing sounds of metal crashing against metal reverberated around Hikarigaoka Park.
Amidst the stench of tempura and gunpowder, Shampoo fought off her back foot, aiming just to survive the onslaught that followed Ukyo's initial attack. The only part of her attire not covered in tempura residue and burn marks was her right sleeve which was almost entirely blown off by the explosion, exposing the bandages wrapped around her arm. Atop her shoulder, several streaks of blood crept downward—not from the old wound left by Kodachi, but from above her right ear where shrapnel from Ukyo's ceramic container caught her, spilling red droplets down along her singed hair and skin.
The noise and rumbling from Akane's summoning of the Jewel of Eternity were both heard and felt in the park, but it changed nothing between the girls; Ukyo didn't care, and Shampoo wasn't in a position where she could allow herself to care.
Ukyo attacked like there was no tomorrow, repeatedly pushing back Shampoo, who guarded against the spatula shots with her left mace over her right to take the brunt of the impact. Ukyo smelled blood; she wanted to go for the victory. Shampoo's defense wasn't crumbling, though.
The longer the assault wore on, the more Ukyo felt something was amiss. Shampoo wasn't growing weary, but rather the opposite; she looked more focused than before. Not only that, but Ukyo got the feeling they were going in circles as they fought. Eyes wide and alert, Ukyo hurriedly jumped back once, then again, well out of Shampoo's range.
The girls glared at each other from afar, both taking the chance to catch their breath.
"You think you can lure me in like that?" Ukyo said, reaching for the bandolier over her chest. "I was there when Ran-chan learned that move!"
Taking three of her smaller spatulas between her fingers, Ukyo flung them Shampoo's way and charged in again.
Shampoo tossed her left mace upward and grabbed the handle with her teeth, digging her free hand into a pack at her waist. Trying to goad Ukyo into the Hiryu Shoten Ha may not have been successful, but it did earn her a much-needed respite. She threw a trio of throwing knives back at Ukyo, and then a second round before taking to the air.
The first wave of knives crashed against Ukyo's spatulas with a loud clang, while the next forced Ukyo to twirl her larger cooking utensil to deflect them. By the time those were dealt with, Shampoo was already plummeting toward her with the mace back in hand. Without the time to evade, Ukyo raised her weapon over her head and braced herself as the heavy blow of Shampoo's mace came down on her.
Ukyo grit her teeth, her feet again being pushed down into the ground as she felt the jarring impact run down her spine. She quickly backed off, but this time Shampoo was the one to press the advantage. The Amazon darted forward, swinging for Ukyo's head. Ukyo leaned back, watching as the bulky weapon whizzed past her nose. Shampoo spun counterclockwise, gathering momentum for a strike from her right. Ukyo saw it coming and raised her spatula to block, but the attack never came; it was a feint. Planting her right foot to change gears, Shampoo turned and brought her left leg up to attack. Ukyo's reaction was too slow this time; Shampoo drilled her shin into the young chef's right shoulder, and Ukyo, feeling like she was hit with a sledgehammer, went tumbling along the park's grass.
Shampoo kept up the pressure, going airborne in her pursuit of Ukyo yet again. As Ukyo rolled to her feet, she undid two of the smaller containers at her waist. Tossing the ceramic jars up in front of her, she sliced through them with her spatula, bringing the weapon up over her head just in time to defend against another of Shampoo's thunderous blows from above. Ukyo, wincing from the feeling the attack left in her shoulder, retreated back again.
Not willing to let Ukyo rest, Shampoo tried to follow the girl. Oddly, however, she found her feet unable to move with the rest of her body. Looking down as she lost her balance, she noticed a thick, light-colored substance sitting underneath her shoes. This was Ukyo's special adhesive batter with rubber cement mixed in, and it gave the okonomiyaki chef just the opening she wanted as she moved in and slammed the flat side of her spatula into Shampoo's cheek.
Shampoo, sans her shoes, went flying before landing hard on her bad arm. She wasn't quick to get up, just as much because of how she landed as from the attack itself. Luckily for her, she wasn't the only one who needed some time. Ukyo kept her distance despite Shampoo's condition, her hand gripping her right shoulder and her eyes taking a keen interest in the bandaged arm of her opponent.
Wiping a spot of blood from her lip, Shampoo pulled herself to her feet. Slowly, she stepped toward Ukyo, her bare soles dragging along the blades of grass.
"This what Ukyo want?" Shampoo asked.
With a slight nod, Ukyo reached inside her blouse. "This is exactly what I wanted!"
Ukyo rushed forward. Shampoo followed suit. As the two of them neared each other, Ukyo pulled out a large bag of flour and used her spatula to break it open, clouding Shampoo's vision. Believing Ukyo would move, Shampoo passed through the cloud and aimed to her left. She was only half correct, though; Ukyo had moved to the right, giving her a wide-open shot. She rammed Shampoo's right arm with the side of her spatula's blade this time, drawing a loud yowl from the girl.
Bulldozing ahead, Ukyo kept up the attack, focusing on Shampoo's right side. She dropped another pair of containers with the adhesive batter on the ground just to give Shampoo one more thing to pay attention to, and it worked. Though neither was as significant as the first, two more shots from Ukyo's spatula got a piece of Shampoo's wounded arm while she tried to avoid the sticky substance. There was no mistaking it, Shampoo thought; Ukyo knew her arm was hurt, and she was targeting it.
A dark red showed itself beneath Shampoo's bandages and seeped through to the surface. She temporarily backed away and, as Ukyo closed in, reached back, ready to strike. Ukyo wasn't afraid; the range advantage was hers, and her opponent was reeling. She was going for it.
Ukyo swung her spatula, but Shampoo, rather than swinging her mace, threw the weapon from her hand. Caught by surprise, Ukyo was struck directly in her throat. While Ukyo stumbled back, gasping, Shampoo grabbed the mace out of the air and took a sharp swing at the other girl. Ukyo managed to raise her spatula up, but there wasn't enough strength behind it to keep her upright as she was blown back.
Shampoo bolted toward Ukyo, swinging wide as she went for the finish. Though Ukyo was still defending herself, the vast strength of Shampoo's blows were knocking her spatula into her chest, pushing her back over and over. Jumping away, she pulled out another flour bag and blasted it open for some cover, but Shampoo burst straight through the cloud and continued after her.
Ukyo backpedaled, her wrists and arms feeling numb from having to block the juggernaut of an Amazon's offensive. Then, all of a sudden, Shampoo eased up. Her eyelids feeling heavy, she stumbled ahead, taking one more wild swing at Ukyo before collapsing face-first into the grass.
Falling onto her backside, Ukyo, breathing heavily, held a hand against her throat. Her eyes never left Shampoo, making absolutely sure the girl lying in front of her remained motionless. Only when she was assured of her success did she breathe a sigh of relief and start to stand herself back up.
"Guess even…a Chinese Amazon can't handle some flour mixed with sleeping powder," she said, leaning against her spatula to help in getting upright.
Still favoring her shoulder, Ukyo sauntered over to Shampoo and gave the girl a kick to the gut, flipping her over. Sure enough, Shampoo's eyes were closed.
"Too bad for you," Ukyo said. "Maybe you should be more careful what you charge thr-"
Ukyo was quickly silenced as one of Shampoo's maces smashed into her face, knocking her away. Grabbing at her nose, she dropped to a knee. "Wh-what?!"
With tension in her brow and blood dripping from her nostrils, Ukyo watched as Shampoo sat up and flopped over, taking hold again of the mace she'd thrown. Shampoo weaved back and forth, as if trying to find her balance. Planting one foot after the other, though wobbly, she was soon back up and standing.
Ukyo pondered so many questions upon seeing Shampoo rise. Did Shampoo not inhale enough of the powder? Was it not potent enough? Was Shampoo just immune to it somehow? But the reason Shampoo was standing right now was none of those things.
"Her eyes…they're still closed?" Ukyo said, blinking.
The powder, Ukyo realized, was no failure. Shampoo was fighting in her sleep.
Back in the center of Akane's field, Ranma bounded up the rough stone steps of the pyramid while Zonbi and Yasei looked on from below.
"You're too late, idiot," Yasei muttered, folding her arms over her chest. "Why even bother?"
Akane kept on her usual pace in heading for the Jewel of Eternity, allowing Ranma the chance to catch up to her. Before long, he was right at her back.
"Look, I get it! This is all about me, ain't it?" Ranma said to her. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry! I didn't know what I wanted back then. I didn't plan on kissin' Shampoo that night, and I sure as heck didn't plan on you seein' it. It just…happened."
"Oh?" Akane snorted. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Well, what's it gonna take then, Akane?" Ranma asked, following a mere step below her. "How far's this gonna go? You gonna take it out on Shampoo? My parents? Ucchan? All just to get back at me?"
Out of Ranma's view, a smirk spread across Akane's face. "Good, you're catching on," she said.
"They've got nothin' to do with this, Akane!" Ranma snapped. He reached out for Akane's shoulder to stop her, but another shock from the barrier protecting the sorceress promptly blew him away. Down the side of the pyramid he went, coming to rest roughly halfway to the top.
Panting, Ranma looked down at his hand. It still trembled from the impact. "Half an inch," he murmured.
There was no time to waste; Ranma hurried back up the stone structure toward Akane, who drew nearer and nearer to the strong teal glow at the peak.
"It doesn't have to be like this, Akane!" Ranma pleaded, coming up beside her. "I know you, and this ain't you. We can come up with somethin', you hear me? We can still go back to the way things were!"
Akane could only scoff at the suggestion. "You would like that, wouldn't you?" she said. "Maybe I'll find myself a nice husband, pop out a few kids, and we can have big, happy get-togethers with you and Shampoo and forget this ever happened. Is that what you want?"
"Why not?" Ranma replied. "Would it really be that bad?"
Before he could get an answer, Ranma had to shield his eyes from an unexpected brightness. He was so focused on Akane that he hadn't even realized they were standing just a few steps shy of the top of the pyramid.
Once Ranma's vision adjusted, he got a good look at exactly what Akane sought after. Atop the pyramid was a thick stone column that served as a pedestal. It was inside a small indentation on top of that piece of rock where a shining, teal-colored jewel—perfectly round and one inch in diameter—sat in place. A transparent, triangular seal surrounded the jewel, covered with bizarre markings the likes of which Ranma had only ever seen on the wooden cube he once possessed that contained Yasei's spirit.
Beside Ranma, Akane had a glint in her eye as she took in the sight of the precious gem.
"You were right, this is about you," Akane said. "But it's not all about you. Jusenkyo actually taught me something useful: having this power means I don't have to live the same way everyone else does. With this jewel, the world becomes my playground, and I can do whatever I want with it."
Akane stepped up to the column and, placing one hand upon the seal, mouthed a series of silent words. One at a time, the peculiar markings vanished from the sides of the transparent barrier. Then, so did the barrier itself.
Allowing her fingers to fall upon the jewel, Akane took hold of it and brought it close, admiring its sheer beauty. Millions of tiny particles of light danced around inside the shining gem, giving the impression that it had a life of its own.
From its vibrance to its brightness, everything about Jusenkyo's Jewel of Eternity gave Ranma an awful feeling in the pit of his stomach. Just being in the presence of it made his instincts scream "danger." It was no wonder Ryoga and Meilin were so insistent on preventing Akane from acquiring it, he thought. But now that it had come to this…
"I don't want to fight you, Akane," Ranma said, swallowing hard. "But if you go through with this, I'll go as far as I gotta go to put a stop to ya."
Akane turned to face him, her lips curving into a frigid smile. "I can't wait to see you try."
Without a moment's hesitation, Akane pulled aside the top of her gi and shoved the jewel against her chest just above her heart. As if it weren't solid at all, the jewel sunk into her skin, melding with it. Over a dozen streaks of teal-tinted light spread outward from the stone across her upper body, and Akane, wide-eyed, wailed like she never had in her life.
Akane doubled over, screaming and grabbing at her chest, trying desperately to rip the jewel out. Excess magical energy, like little lightning bolts of teal hue, ripped outward from her body, tearing holes in her gi bottoms and slicing through the stone at her feet.
"Akane!" Ranma lunged for his ex-fiancée.
As the girl arched backwards, crying out at the top of her lungs, Ranma thrust his hand sharply at the jewel in her chest. The gem's presence, however, did nothing to affect Akane's barrier. With a loud crackle, Ranma was thrown down the stone steps yet again, landing hard on his back.
By the time Ranma looked up, so bright was the light around Akane that he could barely see her within it. Her horrific, bloodcurdling screams, though, those were most certainly still reaching his ears. The bolts of energy lashing out from Akane's body intensified rapidly, reducing the top of the pyramid to rubble and threatening to do the same to the rest of it.
Ranma dove down the nearest corner of the structure to get out of harm's way. Despite the rush, he managed to land a safe distance from Zonbi and Yasei, neither of whom could peel their eyes away from the spectacle involving their master.
In a matter of seconds, the entire pyramid was destroyed, and the rampaging energy forced the three at the structure's base to retreat even further back to escape its wrath.
Ranma was just beginning to wonder how far the danger would expand to when, just like that, came a quiet. Gone was the light and everything else, leaving only the sound of the last bits of stone from the obliterated pyramid settling into place.
Over where the structure once stood, a thick cloud of dust hung around the massive pile of rocks. Not a thing was seen within.
On the fringe of the destruction, Ranma, Zonbi, and Yasei all stood in complete silence, waiting, watching.
What, if anything, was about to emerge from that cloud?
End of Chapter 10