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 15: Deep Freeze
Running along the streets of the Nerima Ward, Meilin hurried towards the swirling magic circle in the sky. That, she knew, was where she would find Akane.
As Meilin drew nearer, the red color of the circle grew brighter. Then came the explosion. Meilin instinctively dove behind a sturdy-looking office building just as the blast hit. Her ears popped, and the ground shook at her feet. As debris from the surrounding structures fell around her, she took care to avoid being struck by anything that might cause significant injury.
Finally, everything settled down. No longer seeing the giant magic circle up above, Meilin continued on. The buildings closer to the explosion were much worse off than the ones near where she took cover. Running through the rubble, she came upon the blast center, and, in the middle of it, Jukai.
Meilin rushed over to the former soldier. He was sprawled out on the road, his head elevated on an inclined chunk of concrete. His clothes reduced to shreds, he was covered in blood. His left arm was gone entirely.
Speechless over Jukai's condition, Meilin scanned around the nearby area. Atop the bank at the edge of the destruction, she spotted Akane. The two of them locked eyes, Meilin shooting Akane a nasty glare from below.
"Meilin?" Akane said, raising an eyebrow. "How did she...? Wait…if she's here, does that mean…?"
Meilin, keeping an eye partly on Akane, knelt down by Jukai. His eyes were barely open. His breathing was weak. Meilin opened her mouth to say something, but she couldn't find the words.
With a loud squawk, Jukai's falcon, in its smaller form, came flying back over after being blown away by the force of Akane's attack. It landed next to its master, letting out a melancholy cry as it nuzzled its head against the man's cheek.
Jukai slowly raised his shaking right hand, prompting the falcon to hop up onto the back of it. Shifting his head slightly, he brought his hand over to Meilin who, unsure what to do, lifted her wrist up off of her lap. Jukai's bird left its perch, landing upon Meilin's forearm before hopping its way up onto her shoulder.
Bringing his hand back, Jukai, his eyelids drooping, caught sight of Akane looking down at him from afar. Grinning, he curled up each of his trembling fingers but the middle one, flipping the sorceress off with no shortage of glee. Then, his hand dropped to the pavement. His body ceased to move.
The falcon crying atop her shoulder, Meilin leaned over and closed Jukai's eyes. "You were a fighter right to the end," she said.
Over on the bank's roof, Akane used her wind magic to help her spring high into the air. When she came down, she did so just a few feet from Meilin, the same wind helping to cushion her descent.
Meilin stood herself up, and she, along with the falcon, entered into a stare down with Akane.
"Well, this is a surprise," Akane said. "Were you the one who fought my servants?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," Meilin replied defiantly.
Akane's eye twitched with annoyance at the abrasive response. "Where's Ryoga?" she asked.
"Why?" Meilin inquired. "You want to pretend to be his friend and take advantage of him again?"
"I did what needed to be done to get the jewel," Akane said. "I don't have a problem with Ryoga at the moment. You, though…I never did like you from the moment we met."
"Oh, really? That goes for both of us then," Meilin told her. "What was it? Was it my personality? Was I too mean to you? Or maybe…it was because I stole away your backup option after Saotome dumped you?"
Akane's expression turned ice cold. "You should learn to control that mouth of yours."
All of a sudden, Meilin felt goosebumps on her skin. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Pulling her folded-up snake sword from its sheath on her back, she lunged for Akane. The sorceress, backing away, waved her hand in front of her, where a foot-thick wall of ice rose up from the ground. The wall took Meilin's attack, slowing her sword as she sliced clean through it.
Cracks spread throughout the severed top portion of the wall, breaking it into large chunks of ice that came down at Meilin. She took a step back, avoiding the falling ice while using her sword to smash the chunks she couldn't get out of the way of. Behind the ice, Meilin caught a peek of Akane sneaking in. She swung her sword at the girl, but Akane ducked down, kicking Meilin in the shin and dropping her to a knee.
Akane balled up her fist and threw it at Meilin's face. The falcon atop Meilin's shoulder, though, bit down on Akane's fist with its beak, stopping her momentum. With her free hand, Meilin grabbed hold of Akane's gi and yanked her downward, drilling her with a sharp headbutt. Akane reeled back, and Meilin, keeping hold of the gi, took her sword and swung for her opponent's throat. Akane quickly dodged to the side, the sword shaving off the ends of several strands of her silver hair. To Akane's right, a growth of ice shot up from the ground, ramming into Meilin's midsection.
The falcon left its perch and took to the sky as Meilin was thrown back, sent tumbling along the frozen ground away from where Jukai's body lay. Before Meilin could even stand, another ice pillar burst up from below, knocking her into the air. Meilin grimaced as she felt the impact of the ice, her body still tender after the hits taken from Cologne.
Down on the ground, Akane formed two giant icicles above her palms and heaved them at Meilin. Righting herself in the air, Meilin managed to smash the pair of icicles away with her sword. Before she could drop back down to earth, she felt something beneath her. The falcon, in its larger form once more, swooped in and caught her on its back. The bird carried her away from Akane for the moment, the air temperature becoming gradually warmer the further they went.
"Thank you," Meilin said, grabbing at her gut.
Looking back to the previous area, Meilin saw the freeze spreading across the streets and buildings. Fighting Akane down there, she thought, might not be the best idea.
While scouring for anything else going on down below, Meilin's eyes picked up on something. "Was that…?" she spoke, looking to the falcon. "I need you to do something."
A fair distance from the frozen grounds, the falcon let Meilin off. It continued to fly around at a low altitude so as to not let Akane know that it was alone.
Meilin, meanwhile, ran to the stairwell of a nearby apartment complex. As it turned out, she wasn't mistaken in what she saw. Laying on the steps was Ranma, a bloodied steel bar sitting at the stairwell's base by his feet. Ranma held his abdomen tightly, his hand and shirt stained red from the wound. His body dripped with sweat, his breaths heavy and rapid.
His awareness hazy, Ranma shifted his gaze over to his visitor. "You're still…good, huh?" he said, laboring just to speak. "Where's…Ryoga?"
"Resting," Meilin replied, stepping closer. "He gave everything he had to take out Zonbi."
Swallowing, Ranma nodded. "And…Jukai?" he asked.
Meilin lowered her head. "Dead."
Ranma, his face contorting with frustration, bit down on his lip. "Akane…"
"She's not who you remember," Meilin told him. She knelt down next to him, taking a long look at his injury. "I don't know how much I can do for you…"
"I'm…fine," Ranma insisted. "I just…need time."
Meilin didn't understand how time alone would heal something like that, but, as she knew, Ranma wasn't exactly normal. "I'll do what I can," she said, standing. "Watch yourself. Don't die."
Ranma offered a weak smile at those words. "That's my line. Don't…get crazy."
Giving him a quick nod, Meilin ran off. After passing a few homes, she hopped up onto the next one's roof and brought a hand to her mouth, whistling to call the falcon back to her. As the bird circled around, she grabbed onto its back, the falcon carrying her up into the air again.
"Get comfortable, Saotome," Meilin spoke. "Akane won't live long enough to fight you again."
As they drew closer to the frozen area, the temperature took another dip. It was cold enough that Meilin could see her breath, and still growing colder. Looking down from a distance, she searched the area for Akane, but couldn't see the girl where she last left her.
"Where did she…hmm?"
Exactly where Meilin was expecting to find Akane, an enormous pillar of ice suddenly shot upward. With a base the size of an entire city block, the pillar grew rapidly into the sky. At the same time, numerous flat tracks of ice, each several feet wide and deep, grew outward from the base like branches from a tree. The tracks bent and veered in different directions, crossing over one another at various points. More and more branches sprouted from the base, all of them collectively forming a playground of ice above the city.
As the falcon flew around the branches in its path, Meilin, looking upward, spotted Akane sliding along one of the icy tracks above them. Before they could do anything, however, the bird abruptly attempted to alter its course. Meilin took her eyes off of Akane to ascertain what had alarmed the creature, but not in time to notice the block of ice coming at her from below. Roughly the size of a basketball, the ice chunk slammed into her right shoulder, knocking her from the bird's back.
Meilin fell through the air and came down hard on one of the many tracks of ice. Groaning, she tried to get herself upright on the slick surface, only to find herself with some company as Akane landed on the same branch. Despite her poor balance, Meilin tried to swipe her sword as Akane, propelled by the same wind magic she used earlier against Ranma, came at her. Akane, though, slid under the blade with ease. Twisting her hips, Akane drove her leg right into Meilin's gut, blowing the girl clear off the branch.
Down Meilin plummeted yet again, clutching at her abdomen. This time, though, her fall was broken by a bed of feathers as the falcon got underneath her before she fell any further. Together, they ascended higher, Meilin getting settled atop the bird as she looked to get a better view of Akane. For now, all she had a view of were several ice chunks being chucked down at her from above. Rearing back, Meilin unleashed her snake sword, its extending segments whipping about and deflecting the ice away.
"That ice could come from anywhere!" Meilin told the falcon, grabbing its feathers tightly with her free hand. "Keep an eye out for it and don't let it hit you!"
Up above, Akane sprung upward from branch to branch, trying to keep the height advantage in her favor. Not even needing the command from Meilin, the falcon pursued their target. Just as Meilin said, blocks of ice came at them from all sides. Some, the falcon dodged. Others, Meilin had to take care of with her weapon.
"This is annoying," Meilin grumbled.
Finally, they gained enough ground to find themselves closing in on the sorceress. Coming up on the branch where Akane was, they got in position for Meilin to take a swing, and take it she did. The extended blades slashed through the air towards Akane's waist. Akane was quick to jump, though, leaping over the sword on her way up to the next branch with some room to spare.
"Follow her!" Meilin shouted.
The falcon did just that, swirling around the chunks of ice that continued to come their way as it flew higher. It wasn't long before they had another chance to attack. Meilin took her time, waiting for just the right moment. When Akane jumped up to another track, that, Meilin decided, was her moment. Knowing where Akane would land, Meilin swung her sword again, aiming for the ice branch itself. As Akane's feet came down, the blades struck the ice below her…and stopped.
"What?" Meilin exclaimed. "It's that thick?"
Meilin yanked her sword's blade out of the cut it made in the track. She had hoped to slice straight through the ice to get to Akane, but that proved to be more difficult than she expected.
The ice blocks came at them again, one striking the falcon in its underbelly despite its efforts to dodge. As the falcon expressed its pain, Meilin made a quick judgment call.
"Back out for a minute!" she commanded.
Flying away from Akane's position, the falcon swerved around the extending branches of ice as well as the blocks coming at them as it soared upward, well above most of the tree that loomed over the Nerima Ward.
Meilin kept an eye out for Akane down below while giving the bird a chance to regroup. "Even though we should have the advantage in the sky, this ice is making things work in her favor," she said. "We need a new plan."
While Meilin quietly pondered their next move, the sun shining down through the top of Akane's repulsion field got in her eye. She glanced upward, shielding her vision as she took a longer look. "That's right…you don't know about that, do you?"
Just then, the falcon veered to its right. As Meilin soon noticed, they were under fire from another bombardment of ice.
"Go!" Meilin yelled.
Meilin struck down another pair of ice chunks as the bird sped up, eventually getting them in a position where they could use the tree's tracks for cover. After that, Meilin retracted her sword.
"Sorry to ask this of you," she said to the falcon, "but I need you to avoid the ice on your own so I can concentrate. Go as fast as you need to, just stay above her. Alright?"
The falcon gave her a shriek in acknowledgement.
Flying at an upward angle, the bird agilely dodged the ice coming at them as Akane rode the paths below. At Meilin's side, hidden from Akane's view, her sword's blades began to glow with a reddish color.
"Keep following her," Meilin said. "Get me closer."
The bird dove down, swerving around the incoming ice as best it could. The glow of Meilin's sword grew bright as she watched Akane slide along one of the branches.
"Come on, come on…" Meilin mouthed quietly.
The instant Meilin saw Akane hop down to the next track, she swung her sword outward and raised her arm, the string of red blades rising up into the air along with it. With a snap of her wrist, each of the connecting points for the blades made a clicking sound.
"Happo Solar Flare: Serpent's Tears!"
Meilin brought her arm down sharply. Each of her sword's blades after the first separated from one another, firing downward and leaving bright red streaks trailing behind them. The blades tore through the branches of ice with ease, the force breaking several of them off from the tree and sending the severed ice crumbling to the city below. Amongst that falling ice, Meilin heard Akane's cry.
The ice's weight brought it crashing through the roofs of a number of the city's buildings unfortunate enough to be beneath it, adding to the damage already plaguing the area.
"That was for Ryoga," Meilin hissed, spitting over the side of the falcon. "Come on, let's make sure she's-"
All around her, Meilin saw the branches of the ice tree moving. They closed in on she and the falcon quickly, all of them wrapping towards the base of the tree.
"Get out of here!" Meilin screamed.
The falcon flew up in an attempt to escape, but the ice was already enclosing above them.
"Down! Down!" Meilin shouted.
They went into a rapid dive, narrowly avoiding being crushed by one of the branches. The ice moved fast, threatening to trap them against the base pillar. As they neared the tree's lower half, they saw the very bottom closing up.
"There!" Meilin said, pointing down and to their right. "Take that opening! Hurry!"
The bird pushed itself to its limits, soaring for the break in the ice. With Meilin's snake sword down to one blade, all she could do was compact herself against the falcon as much as possible to better their odds. The ice collapsed around them, the bird's wings brushing against it.
All of a sudden, Meilin felt herself being enveloped in sunlight. She and the falcon made it.
Meilin raised her head. Immediately, the sun was blocked out by a piece of ice comparable to a boulder. It came right at them, ramming into its targets with ferocious power.
The bird and its rider were knocked apart, both of them sent crashing against the outside of a library building down on the ground. Meilin, breathless from the impact, dropped down to the pavement on her rear and fell back against the library's exterior. Her eyes angling upward, she saw a wave of water coming at her, but was too shaken up to react. The water hit her and froze in an instant, trapping everything from her shoulders down in ice.
Descending from above, Akane dropped down in front of the immobilized girl. Snarling at Meilin, she leaned in close and clamped her hand over her enemy's throat.
"Do you know how much that hurts?" Akane growled. She had a burned, bloody slash in her gi along her left hip, and a fresh cut on her right shoulder as well. "Maybe I should let you know just how it feels."
Meilin, struggling to breathe, felt her throat growing colder. From Akane's touch alone, a patch of ice started to spread across her skin.
"Even better," Akane said, "why don't I just freeze your body so you don't feel anything ever again?"
The sound of glass shattering behind her grabbed enough of Akane's attention to momentarily stop her. Not letting go of Meilin, she looked back over her shoulder.
Next to the broken window of a bike shop across the street, Ukyo Kuonji stood with her spatula held out. With the help of her cooking utensil, she gingerly advanced towards Akane. The sorceress removed her hand from Meilin's throat, allowing the girl to breathe again.
Akane cocked her head as she moved a few steps closer to Ukyo, watching the young cook battling just to stay upright. "Looks like you got what you wanted."
"Yeah," Ukyo replied, "I did."
Ukyo kept going, coming to a stop only when she was within striking distance of Akane. They looked into each other's eyes, neither saying a word until, at last, Akane spoke up.
"So?" Akane said. "Now what? Are you on my side? Or did you come here to fight me?"
Reaching into her blouse, Ukyo pulled out one of her smaller spatulas and used it to cut the ribbon keeping her larger cooking tool tied to her right wrist. Without a second thought, she tossed both of them to the ground.
"No," Ukyo replied, shaking her head. "I'm tired of fighting."
Ukyo took a quick look around, viewing the image of the ravaged city, taking in what had become of it. She chuckled to herself, purely out of disbelief.
"Look at this place, Akane," Ukyo said, turning to her old friend again. "Isn't this enough?"
Akane said nothing.
"I know how you felt back then," Ukyo went on. "If anyone would know, it's me, right? But…doing this won't make you happy."
"It will," Akane retorted.
"No, it won't!" Ukyo exclaimed, her eyes welling up with tears. "And the more you do, the more you're going to regret it later."
While Meilin watched silently, Ukyo, sniffling, dragged herself over to Akane and slowly wrapped her arms around the girl's shoulders, pulling her into a hug.
"I'm done, Akane," Ukyo said, her voice muffled against Akane's shoulder. "Let's stop this. Let's just get out of here. I'll go with you this time, like I should have back then. Just…stop this, okay?"
Akane, after a moment of hesitation, raised her arms up. Gradually, she brought one hand up against Ukyo's shoulder and the other to the back of the girl's head, returning the embrace.
A spark flared from Akane's fingertips, striking the back of Ukyo's skull. The chef's body going limp in her arms, Akane gently set her down atop the cold road.
"Sorry," Akane told her, "but I can't do that."
Within her bed of ice, Meilin looked upon Akane with disgust. "This girl, Ryoga, even Saotome," she said, "…even after everything you've done, all of them still care about you for some reason. But you…you don't give a damn about anyone but yourself."
Sneering, Akane turned towards her trapped prey, only to feel someone grab her ankle from behind. Wondering if she didn't knock Ukyo out completely, she looked to her feet. It wasn't Ukyo, though. It was Ranma.
With a touch of the pavement and a flash of light, Ranma and Akane vanished.
It took some time for what happened to set in for Meilin. Her enemy was gone. For now, at least, her life wasn't in danger.
"I…couldn't do anything," she said, gritting her teeth. "DA-MN!"
As Ranma's Shift relocated he and Akane, a simple, aggressive movement from Akane was enough to convince Ranma to jump back. Panting, Ranma wiped the sweat from his face.
"You know, I'm getting tired of that technique of yours," Akane told him.
Akane surveyed her new surroundings: a property containing the charred remains of two buildings. This was what remained of the Tendo residence.
"Really?" Akane said, not sounding amused. "You brought me here?"
Turning to face her ex-fiancé, Akane looked him over, focusing on the bloodstained area of his shirt with a hole in it. "All fixed up and ready to go again," she said. "Something still isn't right, though…is it?"
Ranma, swallowing hard, didn't respond.
"I had a feeling when I first saw you today, but after this, I'm sure of it," Akane said with a smirk. "You…you're losing control over those spirits, aren't you?"
On the grounds of the Kuno estate, a lone girl stood clad in the black and violet leotard left at her bedside. The look in her eyes was distant as she took in the sight of her home left in ruin.
Offering a glance at the ice pillar looming over the city, she wearily shifted her feet in the direction of the gate.
"Sasuke-?" Kodachi called out in a low voice. "Where are you?"
End of Chapter 15