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 14: Freedom
Ranma, gritting her teeth through the burning sensation upon her chest, pulled her hand away from the hole in her shirt and set it down in her lap. She looked over her ex-fiancée carefully, from her feet which hovered a couple of inches off the concrete, to her fists imbued with magic, all the way up to that penetrating stare directed at the one she despised more than any other, as well as the three spheres of light floating above her.
Managing a smirk despite the sting from the burn, Ranma gingerly got herself moving again and stood up. "The real fight, huh?" she said. " 'Bout time. I was gettin' tired of runnin' all over the place."
Ranma brushed herself off, gladly taking whatever breaths Akane afforded her during the momentary reprieve.
"Hey," she spoke again, "since we ain't messin' around anymore, mind doin' me a favor?"
Akane paused, eyeing Ranma as if she were out of her mind. "As stupid as it is for you to ask me for anything, I might just humor you and listen this one time," she replied. "What is it?"
"Well, I was just thinkin', with all that magic of yours, you can probably conjure up a little hot water, right?" Ranma asked. "How 'bout you change me back into a guy?"
"Oh?" Akane said, raising an eyebrow. "What's this? Is the high and mighty Ranma Saotome willing to fight a girl with his full strength?"
"I usually wouldn't," Ranma said with a shrug, "but this time I'll make an exception. Unless…you don't think ya can beat me as a guy?"
Akane scoffed at the girl's words. Raising her right hand, she twirled her fingers in the air. Between she and Ranma, a swirl of steaming hot water formed, which she was all too eager to toss the redhead's way.
The wave of water splashed onto Ranma, who, with the deeper voice of his male form, let out an audible groan. His soaked clothes steaming, he paced back and forth to compose himself.
"Good enough?" Akane inquired, a hint of amusement in her tone.
After a few moments, Ranma, settling himself, nodded his head. "Perfect. Thanks."
Putting her weight down on one foot, Akane sprung high up into the air—a full eight feet—before coming back down with a surprisingly gentle landing, her sole never touching the road below. She repeated the action once more, the wind beneath her propelling her upwards effortlessly.
"Then…" Akane spoke, making another soft descent, "let's get started."
The instant she came down, Akane burst towards Ranma, her left elbow pointed outward and aiming for his face. Ranma had never seen such speed out of Akane before, but he knew to expect the unexpected considering her new power. Swerving to his left, he felt the pressure of Akane's attack as her elbow brushed by the tip of his nose. At the same time, Ranma twisted his body and raised his right foot to counter with a high kick. Akane, though, used her newfound speed to swirl around and kick Ranma's left foot out from under him. Falling back, Ranma used his hands to spring himself away and create some distance.
Akane closed in quickly—too quickly for Ranma to react as he took Akane's knee to his gut. Ranma doubled over from the impact, but he hadn't lost his wits. Taking the chance to wrap one arm around Akane's leg, he balled up his free hand and came up with a punch directed at her jaw. Akane's right wrist moved over in a hurry to block the blow, however, and Ranma's fist, colliding with the wind swirling around it, was blown back, followed by the rest of his body.
Flipping around in the air as he flew, Ranma got his feet down and slid to a stop along the road.
Not far away, Akane bounced up off the ground several more times. "Mmm…feels good."
Shaking a hint of numbness out of his hand, Ranma brushed his face against the fabric on his shoulder to clean away the accumulating sweat. "That wind…makes her faster, huh?" he said, unable to contain his grin. "Sounds fun. Let's do this."
Back in the center of Akane's field, Meilin sat stunned as she watched a familiar man approach she and her unconscious lover, Ryoga. His shaggy, dirty blonde hair shifting in the breeze, a brown-feathered bird sat perched atop the shoulder of his open military jacket.
"Jukai!" Meilin exclaimed.
The ex-military commander from China flashed a smirk the girl's way. "Been a while, you prisoner scum."
It instantly struck Meilin just how hoarse Jukai's voice was. Now that she took a closer peek, his cheeks were sunk in as well, and his arms thinner than she recalled. He appeared staggeringly gaunt, almost frail looking.
"Looks like you guys had a hell of a time here," Jukai commented as he strolled over to them.
"Never mind that," Meilin said. "What…happened to you?"
"None of your business," Jukai spat. As he pulled up in front of the duo, their metal collars drew his attention. "Heh, those old things, huh?"
Kneeling down by Ryoga, Jukai reached out for the boy's neck, only to feel Meilin's hand slap itself over his wrist.
"Don't you dare touch him," Meilin growled, glaring at him sharply.
Sighing with annoyance, Jukai tried to rip his arm from Meilin's grasp, but the girl had a strong grip on him. "Maybe you don't remember too well, but I'm a fighter," he said to her. "If I wanted you two dead, I'd do it in combat like a man."
Meilin, not yet ready to back down, narrowed her eyes at him.
"Just this once," Jukai said, locking his gaze with hers, "trust me."
Though she didn't care much for Jukai, Meilin couldn't deny the pride he always put on display as both a man and a warrior. Gradually, she loosened her grip on his arm and let him go.
Grabbing Ryoga by the shoulder, Jukai rolled him over onto his stomach. He reached into his own pants pocket, where the jingling of metal preceded him pulling out a small key ring.
"China's military is really damn confident in their methods," Jukai said, sliding one of the keys into a hole on the back of Ryoga's collar. With a slight turn, a panel featuring a keypad opened up. "So confident…that they never bother changing certain codes."
Jukai punched in a series of nine digits, hitting the larger confirmation key when finished. With a loud click, the collar unlocked itself, separating just beside the panel. Lifting Ryoga's head a bit, Jukai pulled the collar away from him and tossed it down the road.
Speechless, Meilin dove over top of Ryoga, carefully checking his neck for any sign of issues. Spotting no penetration marks, she looked wide-eyed at Jukai.
"Well?" the ex-soldier said. "I don't have all day here."
After a brief pause—more out of shock than hesitation—Meilin turned her back to Jukai and sat down again on the concrete. She felt the pressure against her neck as Jukai grabbed hold of the metal device. Next came the sounds of the panel opening, and the keys being pressed. Finally, there it was: the click, and the subsequent feeling of a weight being freed from her. Jukai removed the collar himself, throwing it away just as he had Ryoga's.
Meilin reached up and touched her hands to her neck. It seemed like it had been so long since she'd done this without the collar there. There was no pain, no sign of trouble. She was…free—she and Ryoga both. Having already been resigned to dying one way or another, the sudden and unexpected feeling of freedom was so much for her that she couldn't keep her tears from flowing.
Only when Meilin saw Jukai stand up and start walking away did she fully snap back to reality. "Why?" she asked him, wiping her face dry. "Why did you help us?"
"Let's just call it a little 'up yours' to those guys for discharging me after all I did for them," Jukai replied, continuing on his way.
The selfish reasoning didn't surprise Meilin one bit. "And?" she said. "Where are you going to go now?"
"Damn, mind your own business already," Jukai snorted. "I owe someone an ass kicking, so I'm gonna go give it to 'em. Simple as that."
His falcon stretching its wings atop his shoulder, Jukai quietly took his leave.
Meilin, meanwhile, leaned back, propping herself up with her hands. After casting a glance at Ryoga, she tilted her head towards the sky briefly, then looked down into her lap.
"I'm not a good person. I'm a criminal," she spoke softly. "I should just put you on my back and take you out of here right now. We could live out the rest of our lives however we want, let everyone else deal with Akane. We're free now. We really could. And you're such a good guy that you probably wouldn't even be that mad at me about it."
Pulling her knees upward, Meilin rested her head upon them. "But…you won't be able to stay away from Akane so long as she's running amok, will you?" she said. "I know you won't. Of course you won't."
Meilin reached for her sword and, grabbing hold of the hilt, yanked its blade out from the road.
"That's why…I need to fight her," she said. "If you and I are ever truly going to be free, I have to do it."
Looking over Ryoga's face, Meilin ran her hand through the rough hair on the back of his head. "You remember your promise, right?" she asked, expecting no answer. "If I kill her, you said you wouldn't hate me for it."
Meilin's eyes took on a look as sharp as her sword.
"I plan on holding you to that."
Elsewhere, the series of fast-paced exchanges between Ranma and Akane raged on.
Akane's utilization of wind magic to amplify her body's speed caused Ranma enough trouble that, even with his quick fists, he was the one gradually being backed up. Bringing out his Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken early, he aimed his rapid strikes for the jewel in Akane's chest, but was continually blown back by the wind surrounding the girl's hands. Trying to find holes in Akane's defense was no easy task with how swiftly she moved her arms to block him. The more Ranma tried, the more he came to realize some risks would be necessary to get through.
Along the empty street, Akane threw a spinning kick at Ranma's head with her right foot, then another with her left as her body came around. Ranma, ducking one after the other, immediately sprung up to grab the Jewel of Eternity, but Akane lowered both of her wrists into his path. Again, the strong current of wind blew Ranma off his feet, this time into a utility pole.
Ranma barely had the time to register the pain in his back before Akane charged in, taking a huge swing at his face. Akane's fist caught nothing but the pole, however, taking a basketball-sized chunk of concrete out of it as Ranma dropped down. Escaping between Akane's legs, Ranma figured an extra distraction couldn't hurt. He reached up and grabbed onto Akane's gi bottoms, yanking them down around her ankles as he slid away.
Knowing he didn't have long, Ranma popped up, aiming to attack Akane from behind. All he got in the end, though, was a backfist to his cheek as Akane whirled around on her wind-boosted feet. Taking the wind to his face this time, Ranma went crashing through the window of a coffee shop. He smacked into the back wall of the business, where he, along with numerous cups and containers, dropped down behind the counter.
Outside, Akane pulled her pants up and tightened them around her waist. Making her way into the shop, she stepped over the broken glass, kicking a table aside along the way.
"Funny," Akane said, her tone lacking any semblance of humor. "Did your gutless father teach you that one?"
Out of Akane's view, Ranma's reply came with an audible groan. "Actually…yeah…" he said.
Akane hopped up onto the counter expecting to find Ranma, but, interestingly, there was no one down below. Spinning around, Akane spotted the pigtailed boy coming in with a flying kick, blood trickling down his ear from hitting the glass before. Akane quickly raised her hand up to block, the wind throwing Ranma right back out of the shop through the broken window. Just as Akane leaped off the counter to launch herself after him, however, Ranma managed to touch his hand to the ground, vanishing before the sorceress's eyes.
Not yet out of the air, Akane tried to turn around again, but Ranma, boosted by the very wind magic causing him so much grief, was too fast for her. He landed a solid kick to the side of Akane's face, sending both of them flying through yet another window panel adjacent to the one already destroyed.
Shards of glass spilling everywhere, the two of them rolled along the road outside.
"But that one," Ranma said, wobbly as he hurried to his feet, "...was all me!"
Knowing he couldn't afford to waste any opportunity presented to him, Ranma rushed over to Akane. He left his feet as he dove at her, again going for the jewel…but his forward progress was brought to an abrupt stop.
Akane, dribbles of blood along her upper arms and her face reddened from the kick, held up one palm in front of her with which she used a fierce gust of wind to keep Ranma at bay. Sitting herself up, she furrowed her brow at her opponent.
"Aren't you clever," she spat.
Amping up the power of her gust, Akane sent Ranma soaring hundreds and hundreds of feet into the air, well above even the tallest buildings within her repulsion field. The cry from Ranma's mouth quickly became distant as the wind carried him away.
Getting back to her feet, Akane swirled her arms in front of her, where a distortion appeared in the air. Using her wind magic, she forged it into a spear difficult to discern with the human eye.
"Let's see you Shift from way up there!" Akane bellowed.
As the wind relented and Ranma descended from above, his sharp eyes spotted the spear ripping through the air on its way towards him.
"Crap," Ranma muttered. "Time to get fancy."
He did have some confidence in his ability to adjust his body midair, and it was about to be put to the test. Concentrating hard on the incoming attack, he watched and waited, readying himself to twist around it if he could. Then, suddenly, something grabbed him by the shoulders. Ranma gasped as he was pulled out of the way, the spear rocketing past him on its way into the sky above.
Looking up to see what had snatched him, Ranma found himself staring at the underside of a giant bird.
"Yo, Pigtail!" Jukai, peeking out over the bird's wing, greeted him with a wide grin. "Looks like you're getting your ass handed to ya!"
"J-Jukai?" Ranma blinked. "How the heck did you get in here?"
"Never left," Jukai replied, turning his attention to Akane down below. "I was waiting to see where Jusenkyo would show up when I heard she was coming to Japan. Turns out she came right to me. Now I get to see what the bitch really looks like."
Back on the ground, Akane squinted her eyes up at the unexpected visitor. "That guy…he's the one my puppet dealt with," she said, recalling the encounter back in China. "What's he doing here? Was he the one who fought my servants?"
Jukai's falcon, in its larger form, turned back towards the inner part of the field and Akane so as to avoid flying too close to the field's edge.
"So, how is she?" Jukai asked. "She strong?"
Ranma really wanted to interrogate Jukai about the obvious deterioration of his body, but this was no time for such talk with Akane in their presence. "Well, she's thrown about half a dozen different kinds of magic at me so far," he explained. "She's got some kinda wind swirlin' around her hands and feet, too, and it ain't easy tryin' to get around it. Makes her pretty quick."
" 'Bout what I expected," Jukai said. "Bet she's all full of herself now that she's got that jewel. If my body was what it used to be, I'd have been here before she had the chance to get that thing."
Akane, waving her hands before her, turned her palms upward. Up near the top of her field, a swirl of storm clouds took form. They expanded rapidly, blocking out the sun and bringing darkness to the city. As the wind picked up, claps of thunder rumbled and lightning streaks flashed within the clouds.
His hair blown back by the winds, Jukai had to smile at the development. "Interesting!"
"Hey, look!" Ranma called out, pointing off to their west.
Not far away, a funnel made its way down from the clouds. It dropped more and more until it touched the ground, and the newly-formed tornado came right at Ranma and Jukai, threatening to pull them in with its strong wind current.
"That supposed to scare us?" Jukai barked. "Show 'em what you've got, buddy!"
Fighting its way through the current, the falcon pushed onward and broke away, carrying its passengers out of immediate danger.
"There's more of 'em!" Ranma shouted.
Two additional twisters came down in their path, but Jukai's bird, putting its swiftness and skill on display, weaved around them sharply without getting drawn in by their winds.
Seated atop his partner, Jukai smirked as he looked down at Akane again. Despite her prey evading the tornadoes, the sorceress's expression was filled with utter confidence.
"That's a nice, cocky look you've got there…" Jukai said.
While the tornadoes may not have hit their targets just yet, Ranma didn't like the damage he saw them doing to the city. "Hey, if we don't stop this, there won't be nothin' left of this place!"
"This isn't the time to worry about some stupid buildings, dumbass!" Jukai chided him. "But…if you really want it to stop, there might be something you can help me with."
"You got an idea?" Ranma asked.
"Maybe," Jukai replied. "Remember that one move you used to win our fight? How 'bout you use it to shoot me and my buddy into that smug bitch over there?"
Ranma, knowing the move Jukai spoke of, stared up at the former soldier incredulously. "My Hiryu Shoten Ha? That's insane! What if she-?"
"No what-ifs!" Jukai snapped. "We can make adjustments on the fly if things go bad. I don't think we'll need to, though."
"How do you know that?" Ranma inquired.
"Call it a gut feeling," Jukai said. "Well? We doin' this or not, Pigtail?"
Ranma quietly pondered the plan. As ridiculous as it sounded, Jukai did seem awfully sure of himself. Unfortunately, Ranma didn't have any better ideas at the moment either. It was worth a shot, he figured, if nothing else.
Swinging his legs for some momentum, Ranma flipped himself upward and latched onto the falcon's underbelly.
"Now we're talkin'!" Jukai said excitedly. "What do you need us to do?"
"Just pick an angle and start spinnin'!" Ranma said.
"Hell yeah!" Jukai roared. "Let's go, buddy! Graze the road!"
Avoiding the tornadoes as they came back around, the falcon swooped down close to the ground and flew along the street, lining Akane up in its sights.
Akane watched curiously as the bird started to rotate in mid-flight. "You think you can hurt me?"
Widening her stance, Akane held her palms out in front of her waist and her head, one above the other. Soon, each of them glowed with a white luminescence. She slowly moved each hand clockwise, forming the border of a circular screen of light.
While Akane made her preparations, Ranma kept his cool amidst the increasing rotational speed of Jukai and his falcon. He waited for the right moment and, feeling ready, let go of the bird, allowing himself to be ejected into the air. Straightening himself out, he threw his right fist forward.
"Go-!" Ranma shouted. "Hiryu Shoten Ha-!"
The cool vortex of wind exploding from Ranma's attack rammed into the bird and Jukai, propelling them towards Akane at a blazing speed. Akane, though, made no attempt to ramp up her spell's completion.
As they drew closer to their target, Jukai and his partner grew more compact, gaining another sudden burst of speed as if they were shot out of a cannon.
Now, Akane's eyes widened. Moving her hands more briskly, she attempted to complete the circle, but, with her fingers a mere inch away at both the top and bottom points, the falcon's beak struck the light.
Like a giant drill, the bird smashed through the incomplete barrier and tore right through Akane's gi into her abdomen. Her face contorting with pain, Akane's mouth hung open as she was carried along by the falcon, her blood splattering down onto the pavement along the way. Seeing a structure up ahead, Jukai and the falcon unwound, slowing their momentum and sending Akane crashing through the bottom-floor window of a four-story bank.
The bird, pulling up, soared parallel with the building before returning to the brightening sky.
Jukai held his chest as he leaned over the side of his partner. Coughing up some blood, he looked back at the bank, smiling through his red-stained teeth. "Now we're even."
As the sky cleared and debris from the dissipating tornadoes rained down, Ranma stood frozen, his eyes not leaving the bank. He didn't think the combined attack of he and Jukai would be so effective. There was so much blood. It went far beyond the simple incapacitating Ranma was hoping to do. Getting his feet moving again, he rushed towards the building. "Akane-!"
While Ranma ran, Jukai and the falcon pulled up beside him.
"You'd better be going to finish her off," Jukai said.
"I'm goin' to check on her!" Ranma told him.
"Excuse me?" Jukai snarled back. "She's our enemy, you idiot! She tried to kill you!"
"I know that," Ranma said, glancing over at him as he moved, "but still, she's-!"
Ranma abruptly grew quiet, his breath taken out of him. A thin, steel bar falling from the sky was thrown at him by a gust of wind, impaling him in his lower left abdomen. The fierce wind blew Ranma down the road and completely out of sight.
Jukai quickly focused his attention in front of him, where other debris was coming his way. His falcon swerved through the air, dodging several large blocks of concrete. The vending machine that came after them, though, was too big to avoid. It slammed hard into Jukai, knocking him clear off his bird and down to the pavement below.
With Jukai struggling to right himself, his falcon circled around to pick him back up, but its master was pinned down by a huge weight as the gravity increased around him.
Jukai, fighting to raise his head up, spotted the falcon nearing. "Stay away!" he yelled.
The large bird obeyed, pushing back with its wings and drawing to a stop.
Doing what he could to resist the gravity, Jukai was able to push himself to all fours and angle his head upward. In the sky above him, a sizeable magic circle spun in place. It had an ominous red glow to it that grew brighter by the second.
Jukai directed his eyes towards the bank, where he saw none other than Akane standing at the edge of the building's roof. She had a hole in her gi where she was struck, the surrounding fabric bloodstained and all, but the wound behind it was gone. Above her head, two spheres of light danced around.
Seething, Akane bared her teeth at the one who had harmed her. "You want to keep getting involved in my business?" she hissed. "This was the last time."
The red light becoming blinding, Jukai got himself up on one foot, but no further. Unable to move, he glared up at Akane. "Ju…sen…KYO-!"
An explosion of red energy fired down from the magic circle, setting off a deafening boom that no one within Akane's field could ignore.
At the very edge of the repulsion field, in a tiny, concrete room beneath the Kuno estate, the bed and the collection of medical gear within shook from the force of the blast. At that moment, the rhythmic beeping of a particular piece of equipment increased along with the heart rate of the one it monitored.
The fingers on her right hand twitched. She took a longer, deeper breath than she'd taken in weeks. Her lashes fluttered, and, ever so slightly, her lids parted.
The eyes of Kodachi Kuno were open.
End of Chapter 14