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 16: Truth
There was no answer. There was never any answer.
Down the empty residential road Kodachi Kuno walked, her body swaying with every step. The city around her was encompassed by an eerie quiet. Since leaving the grounds of her family's estate, she hadn't laid eyes on a single soul. Everyone was just…gone.
People aside, most everything else along the way appeared normal and intact. There was that strange, looming ice structure off in the distance, though. Nearby, there was even an unusual stone pillar standing tall over the area. Where did those things come from? Why were they there?
Coming up on an intersection, Kodachi slowed to a crawl. She looked to her left, her dark hair shifting in the wind. There was a road that way leading up a hill.
With a pivot of her foot, she set out up the steep path.
"Sasuke-? Is that you-?"
Elsewhere, within the Tendo compound, Akane made no attempt to hide her smugness as she gazed upon Ranma, whose panting and sweat-drenched skin painted a picture of exhaustion.
"Cologne said it herself," Akane said, "that the necklace she gave you wouldn't keep Yanlou's spirits under control forever. They must hate my guts for what Jusenkyo did to them. They're keeping you alive just so you have a chance to take me out. I'll bet they're the reason you've been able to use that Shift so much, too. Am I wrong?"
Ranma, taking long breaths, placed his hand over the jade necklace he wore as if to assure himself it was still there. "So long as we're figurin' things out," he said, "why don't we talk about those lights over your head?"
Akane raised an eyebrow at her former fiancé, the two spheres of light still hovering above her just as they had been for a while now.
"You had three of 'em before Jukai got you, then ya came back lookin' fine and one of 'em was gone," Ranma pointed out. "Those things heal ya, don't they?"
The air of conceit around Akane diminished. "Well, you always were perceptive," she conceded. "I'll let you in on a little something about this spell: each one of these spheres takes about a fifth of my full magical capacity to create."
A fifth? Ranma gave that claim some thought. If that was the case, and there were three of those things to begin with, did that mean Akane wasn't even using half of her magic potential to fight he and the others?
"Like they say, it's harder to build something than to tear it down," Akane said. "Still, it's an insurance plan I felt was worth using. I just never expected to lose one of them because of you or that scum with the bird."
Akane's expression darkened. "I was careless with you two," she said. "It won't happen again."
Ranma was concerned about that look Akane was giving him, but something she said stuck out in his mind. She didn't expect to lose one of her healing spheres against he or Jukai? What did that mean? That she didn't consider them a threat? That couldn't be true. If it was, why would she dedicate so much of her magic to using the spell in the first place?
Just then, Ranma noticed two of Akane's fingers curling upward at her side. Perhaps guided by his intuition, he brought his eyes down where, at his feet, a burst of flames erupted from out of the yard.
Ranma jumped back, but not fast enough to get his arms and legs away from the fire. He cried out as the flames scorched his limbs, burning away his pant legs below the knees.
Akane gave Ranma no reprieve, conjuring a pair of fireballs in her palms and heaving them at the ailing martial artist. Ranma, trying to bear the feeling on his skin, danced around the searing projectiles, allowing them to explode against the compound's wall. Akane simply produced another two though, forcing Ranma to painstakingly flee the onslaught.
Ranma took to the top of the wall, running along it as he avoided the blasts of flames around him. "Ain't you burned enough down already?" he shouted.
"I'll burn everything if I have to," Akane said, not letting up.
Continuing to dodge the balls of fire, Ranma leaped over to an adjacent wall and kept going. Akane…she was serious when she said that, he thought. Jynn, Mousse, Cologne, Jukai, and so many others…all of them were dead because of her. He didn't want to treat her as an enemy, even after all she'd done to him. But, at some point, enough was enough. What choice was she leaving him here? He didn't want anyone else to die at her hands. He couldn't allow that to happen.
As another burst of fire exploded against the wall at his feet, Ranma dropped down to the ground below. Placing his hand against the grass, he vanished, using his Shift to reposition himself behind Akane. He went to attack, launching himself forward. As he closed in on Akane, however, a light at his feet made him hesitate. He sprung back just as a wall of flames erupted around Akane, protecting her blind spot.
The flames receded and Akane spun around, chucking another pair of fireballs. Ranma jumped back once, then again, the fire splashing against the ground and setting the grass ablaze around him. Akane twirled her hands above her, forming two swirling rings of fire this time that she threw one after the other. They came at Ranma like gymnastics hoops, taking aim as they cut through the air. Ranma hopped up off the ground to avoid the first, then flattened himself out in the air as the second zipped over his body, the heat intense as it passed by. He touched back down safely, the wall behind him bursting into flames as the rings of fire struck.
Watching the fire ignite in Akane's palms yet again, Ranma clenched his fist. "You don't think I'll do it, huh?" he said in a low voice.
Ranma lowered his hand to the ground and disappeared, using his Shift to appear behind Akane once more. Her wall of fire rising to protect her, Akane looked back over her shoulder. There was Ranma, arms covering his face, barging straight through the flames.
"Idiot!" Akane snarled.
Akane whirled around, heaving the fireball in her left hand at the pigtailed boy. Ranma leaned to the side, the fire grazing his cheek as he landed at Akane's feet. Each of them reached back with their right hands, baring their teeth. Akane's ball of fire hit Ranma square in his chest, but not before Ranma's fist drilled her in the left side of her ribcage.
The impact of Akane's fireball sent Ranma flying back out through the flame wall, where he landed hard upon his back. Groaning in pain, he tore off his burning shirt and flung it away. His upper body, arms and face included, were covered in burns.
The flames surrounding Akane dissipated. She was doubled over, holding her side. Looking up, she glared at Ranma as she watched him try to collect himself.
"I am so sick of you!" she yelled.
Akane turned her fingers upward. Ranma, seeing this, quickly slammed his palm against the grass, using his Shift to get himself away just moments before a raging fire burst up from the ground where he had been.
Immediately turning the other way, Akane looked to see if Ranma was coming at her from behind. There was no sign of him, though. She waited for him, and waited some more. Growing impatient, she brought forth two masses of fire in her hands, twice as large as any she threw at Ranma before. She tossed both of them at the nearest wall of the residence, the resulting blasts of flames causing the wall to crumble into a fiery heap.
"The longer you hide, the more I'm going to destroy, Ranma!" Akane warned him.
Two properties down, Ranma sat back against the home of one of the Tendo family's neighbors. His mouth hung open as he tried to catch his breath. The pain from his burns was impossible to shut out.
"What's it going to be, Ranma?" Akane called out to him again, her voice easily heard within the empty neighborhood.
Ranma looked around at his surroundings. His eyes settled on the back entrance of the home he was next to. Gradually, his gaze drifted down to his sweaty palm.
"I'm only gonna get one shot at this," he told himself.
Nearby, Akane was outside the Tendo compound now. She stood in the road with her arms open, welcoming Ranma to come at her. When he didn't, she responded with a shrug.
"Suit yourself," she said.
Akane raised a hand up above her head and swirled it around, forming a giant ring of fire. Before she could even think of throwing it, though, a sound coming from behind caught her ear. Allowing the ring of flames to dissipate, she raised the fire wall around her and looked back. Something struck the flames and forced its way through them, only it wasn't Ranma. It was a tea kettle.
Swatting the kettle away, Akane noticed something else passing through the wall to her right. This time it was a frying pan. She knocked the kitchen utensil aside and spun around, now seeing a soup bowl coming at her. Again, she batted it away and turned around, expecting to see another object behind her. But there was nothing there.
Akane heard a clank in the same direction the soup bowl came from. Spinning her head, she looked back just in time to see a rice cooker strike her between the eyes.
The wall of fire around Akane dropped. That was the moment Ranma chose to Shift in next to her. As Akane reeled from the blow of the cooker, Ranma reared back with his fist tightened, his knuckles lined up with her face. Akane wasn't completely out of it, though. Catching sight of Ranma, she formed a fireball in her hand and flung it outward. As Ranma's punch came down, the flames struck him in his right eye, blowing him back as Akane hit the ground.
Ranma flailed around on the pavement, clutching at his eye as he cried out in agony. A short distance away, Akane sat up, blood running down her nose from a fresh cut on her forehead courtesy of the rice cooker. She wiped at the blood, taking a look at it in her hand before turning her attention back to Ranma.
Lifting her hand upward, Akane summoned a wind that blew Ranma up off the ground and held him there. Ranma, still trying to recuperate, felt a huge weight settle atop him as the gravity increased, keeping him sandwiched between the two forces in midair.
Akane got back to her feet and raised up her free hand, where another large ball of fire grew over her palm.
"No more escaping for you," she hissed.
Readying herself to launch the giant fireball, Akane stopped when something massive suddenly entered her vision. A dragon—no, a collection of chi energy in the form of a dragon—was coming right at her. Backing away, she threw the fireball at the dragon, which plowed through the projectile as if it weren't even there. Akane made a number of sizable leaps backwards, the dragon tearing up the road as it pursued her. Eventually, the dragon relented, allowing Akane the time to ascertain its source.
Ranma, released from his magic confinement, felt himself being caught. Opening his left eye, he saw the face of a familiar middle-aged man with glasses.
"P-…Pop?" he spoke.
"Sorry I'm late, boy," Genma Saotome said, looking over his son's awful condition. "This is terrible."
Ranma tried to open his other eye, but the pain was simply too much, causing him to grimace. "Did you…do that?" he asked his father, speaking of the dragon.
Swallowing hard, Genma looked ahead from where he stood. "No…"
Curious, Ranma turned his head to see what his father meant. At that moment, everything became very clear.
Standing in the road, staring down Akane with his battle aura raging around him, was the founder of Anything-Goes Martial Arts, Happosai.
Faced with the new presence, Akane narrowed her eyes at the notorious lecher.
"There you are, you disgusting old pervert."
Well to the southwest, oblivious to what was happening with Akane and the others, Yasei sat comfortably atop an oversized dandelion in the baseball field, one leg crossed over the other. In front of her, some thin vines had Alysse strung up by her wrists. Another, larger vine was wrapped around the gymnast's broken ribs, causing her such discomfort that she could barely lift her head.
"Love?" Yasei asked, sounding thoroughly unimpressed. "That's it? That's why? You love this girl?"
Alysse opened her mouth to answer, but all that came out was a whimper of pain.
Yasei shot her captive a disdainful look. "That must be what this feeling I can't shut out is," she grumbled. "How stupid. You humans still act like you believe in this garbage, but everyone only looks out for themselves in the end. I'll bet right now all you're really doing is thinking of a way to escape and save yourself."
"N-…never…" Alysse replied weakly.
Yasei's eye twitched. "Oh, really?"
With a snap of Yasei's fingers, the vines let go of Alysse, allowing her to drop to the ground. The landing was far from soft, though, leaving Alysse to writhe in pain as she clutched at her ribs.
"There! You're free! Go!" Yasei ordered. "I won't attack you or anything, so go on. Get out of here."
Rather than heed the command, Alysse clawed at the grass, ever so slowly dragging herself closer to Yasei. "Ringo…" she uttered. "Give her…back…"
Scowling, Yasei hopped down from the giant flower. "Cut the crap!" she screamed. "You think she wouldn't leave you behind in the same situation? She wouldn't think twice about it!"
"She…wouldn't. Never," Alysse declared, inching nearer bit by bit. "Ringo, she's…the kindest, sweetest person I've ever met. Give her back. Give her back…to me."
From behind, a thick vine wrapped itself around Alysse's throat, yanking her up to her knees. The plant constricting her breathing, she tried to pry it away, but she was no match for its strength.
"What a waste of time," Yasei spat. "Just die alre-!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Yasei spotted a flash of violet. A collection of thick leaves burst out of the ground, forming a barrier for her protection just before the light struck, setting off a blast that rocked the area.
The ground shook from the force of the explosion, a cloud of dirt shooting up from a newly-formed crater in the field. The vine strangling Alysse was ripped from its root as she was blown off into the outfield, striking the chain link fence at the very edge. Yasei, her leaves as well as her dandelion shredded, went tumbling hard to the other side of the baseball diamond. Both of them lay there stunned, trying to piece together what just happened.
"My, my, what is this?" came a girl's voice. "Have the conspirators turned against each other?"
Alysse, dragging her head along the grass as she held her ailing ribs, was greeted with the vision of a dark-haired girl in a leotard stepping onto the field. "K-...Koda…chi…"
Her disheveled, bright green locks covering her face, Yasei looked up from her stomach, eyes wide as could be. "You…!" she shouted. "You're supposed to be…what are you DOING IN HERE?"
Eyeing Yasei as she walked, Kodachi spun up another Nova within the funnel of her ribbon and launched it at Akane's rebellious servant. Another set of leaves rose up to protect Yasei, but they could only do so much. The impact of the Nova's blast tore through them a second time, sending Yasei bouncing along the grass.
"Did you betray her the same as you did me, you traitor?" Kodachi asked, glaring down at the girl as she moved.
Yasei, trying to push herself up, took a close look at her arms. They were covered in dirt and grass stains. "How dare you…" she said under her breath, "how dare you…"
Seeing a familiar, violet light ahead of her, Yasei quickly snapped back to attention. The third Nova hit hard, ripping through yet another wall of leaves and blowing Yasei even further across the field. Rolling to a stop, she groaned over the unpleasant feeling racking her body.
"You even changed your look, I see," Kodachi noted. "As if I would ever not recognize that vile face of yours!"
Over in the outfield, Alysse had to use the fence for assistance just to get herself back to all fours. "No…she's not Ringo, Kodachi…"
Yasei, her legs wobbly, fell to her backside as she tried to get up. Only then did she get a good look at the state of her wardrobe. Her vest, skirt, and leggings all had significant tears in them from Kodachi's assault.
"Do you know…how long it took me to find clothes I liked?" Yasei hissed, clenching her teeth. "You…I'll KILL YOU!"
At Yasei's beckoning, three enormous vines shot out of the ground. With bases the size of several tree trunks, they rose up to towering heights before their tips descended, taking aim at the Kuno family daughter.
As the vines neared, Kodachi, her ribbon glowing with a bright violet hue, slashed her tool just one time out in front of her. The ribbon cut into the giant plants like they were made of paper, the vines reeling back as their tips were sliced down the middle. Kodachi lunged forth to the bases of the vines and took another swipe, cutting through all three of the plants cleanly in one go.
The vines collapsing to the ground around her, Kodachi continued her slow advance towards Yasei. "A new trick of yours?" she asked.
Yasei's mouth hung open for a moment, but she composed herself quickly. Between she and Kodachi, a monstrous Venus flytrap erupted from out of the earth. The massive plant, standing nearly 30 feet tall, didn't allow its prey the chance to come to it. Instead, it went on the attack, diving at Kodachi with its lobes open like a pair of jaws ready to consume.
Her ribbon still aglow, Kodachi made two cuts in an 'X' pattern, followed by a third, vertical cut down the center of the plant's head. The flytrap dropped to the grass in pieces, Kodachi stepping over them on her way to Yasei.
"Is that all?" Kodachi asked, cocking her head.
Yasei couldn't help but gape at the ease with which Kodachi dealt with her pet. That surprise, however, turned to anger in no time at all. Yasei, finally getting herself standing again, widened her stance. A crazed look in her eyes, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "You want to look down on me, huh? You want to look down on me?"
All around Kodachi, numerous speckles of orange-colored light floated up from the field. She stopped momentarily, watching as the phenomenon spread, encompassing the entire baseball diamond as well as the trees just outside of it. Collectively, the small lights bore a resemblance to a swarm of a million fireflies.
"Every plant from ancient trees to blades of grass are my babies, and they'll gladly share their energy with me," Yasei said, grinning wildly. "Now…kill her!"
All at once, the speckles of energy bombarded Kodachi from all sides. Countless explosions rang out, their impact hidden by a thick shroud of dirt and dust from the earth.
The final bang was followed by a deafening silence. Yasei, and Alysse as well, kept their eyes on the cloud around Kodachi's position. When a heavy breeze came by, it carried away with it the dust as it passed. The girls could only stare in astonishment at what they saw.
With her hand raised above her head, there was Kodachi, her illuminated ribbon twirling around her like a shield. The ground at her feet was completely torn up from the strength of the blasts.
Having weathered the attack, Kodachi dropped her defense. "Flashy, but ultimately worthless," she said, stepping forward again. "Now then…"
Suddenly, Kodachi felt something on her ankle. It was a vine—one of the very same armored vines Yasei used to fight against her brother, Tatewaki. Kodachi reached back to cut it away, but another vine grabbed her arm from behind. Dozens more piled on, wrapping themselves around her arms, her legs, and her midsection, one of them making sure to rip the ribbon's handle out of her hand.
As the vines lifted Kodachi up into the air, Yasei laughed maniacally. "You fell for it!" she exclaimed. "That's what you get for looking down on me, Kodachi! Now you're all mine!"
Kodachi tried to fight out of the vines' grip, her brow twitching as they tightened around her body in response. "Do you really think this will hold me?" she asked, sneering down at the other girl.
"Hah! Don't bother trying to act tough in front of me, you idiot!" Yasei snarled back at her. "Really, I should've known this would work. I mean, you were stupid enough to let Akane trick you into thinking your precious Ringo screwed you over!"
Kodachi paused, giving Yasei a sharp look. "Excuse me?"
Bursting out with laughter again, Yasei pointed her finger at the trapped gymnast. "See? You still don't get it!" she said. "This girl never did anything to you. It was all Akane using the power she got from Jusenkyo to take over this body and walk out of your match. Then she even gave the body to me once she got to Japan! All just to teach you and this girl a lesson."
Dead silent, Kodachi's expression went blank.
"Aww, does it feel bad knowing what you've done now?" Yasei asked, taunting her. "Well, it should! Thanks to you playing into Akane's hands, all this girl ever thinks about is how bad she feels about it! Kodachi this, Kodachi that, I'm sick of it! It never stops! But now…now, I'll make it stop. I'll put an end to it!"
Another of the durable vines came up out of the ground, pointing its sharp tip at Kodachi's heart.
With the vine looming in front of her, Kodachi's head drooped. "Akane…Tendo, you said?"
Batting her eyes, Yasei tilted her head. "Huh?"
Yasei froze as an immense battle aura abruptly enveloped Kodachi, taking the form of a skull wrapped in its own thorn-covered vines. The penetrating gaze of the skull's empty eye sockets locked onto Akane's servant, imposing its intimidating presence upon her.
On the other side of the field, Alysse instinctively grabbed onto the fence, the fierce battle aura leaving her breath caught in her throat.
"You've told me something very interesting," Kodachi said to Yasei. "For that, you have my gratitude."
The skull let out a piercing roar, shredding the vines holding Kodachi captive before shooting out at Yasei. The girl gasped, her leaves sprouting from the ground to protect her once more. All they could do, though, was spare her from a direct hit. The leaves were destroyed, and Yasei was thrown back, slamming hard onto the grass as the aura dissipated.
Yasei, her entire body trembling, pushed herself up. Out ahead of her, Kodachi, freed from the vine imprisonment, drew closer. Yasei attempted to stand, but her legs gave out on her. Again and again she tried, only to repeatedly fall back to her rear.
"Did you know?" Kodachi spoke. "When the body is overcome with fear, it sometimes fails to respond appropriately."
"Shut up!" Yasei screamed, trying to steady her legs in a panic. "I'm not afraid of you!"
Her knees shaking and her breathing ragged, Yasei finally willed herself back onto her feet.
"Is that so?" Kodachi asked. Stopping where she stood, she raised her hand up and pointed over at Yasei. "Ringo! Hold that girl still for me!"
Yasei blinked, offering Kodachi a puzzled look. "What are you playing at?" she asked. "This is my b-"
At Yasei's sides, her arms slowly lifted up, only she was making them do no such thing. Growling through her teeth, she tried to force them back down, but they wouldn't budge.
"No…! Stop it!" Yasei yelled out. "Damn you! Go away!"
Alysse watched Yasei closely, a tear forming in her eye. "Ringo…?"
Reaching behind her neck, Kodachi pulled a ribbon out from her leotard. Unlike her other ribbon, however, this one had a reflective quality to it that made parts of it glimmer in the sunlight. Kodachi twirled the ribbon out in front of her, sending a stream of wind at Yasei that blew the girl's hair back.
"Let go of me! Let go!" Yasei cried. "This is my body! Mine!"
Kodachi's ribbon took on its violet glow, the wind picking up along with it. "Have a pleasant rest," she said.
From beneath the ribbon's surface, hundreds of needles aglow with Kodachi's chi energy fired out in Yasei's direction. Around the delinquent servant, three layers of tough leaves rose up out of the earth and condensed around her, forming a protective bulb for their master. The needles struck the leaves head-on, instantly vanishing from sight within them.
Kodachi snapped her wrist, pulling her ribbon back and bringing the constant wind to an end. Just as Alysse did from afar, she watched and waited to see what impact her attack had.
One by one, the leaves surrounding Yasei peeled away, each of them riddled with tiny holes. When the last of them fell, the attack's effectiveness was clear. Yasei's body, from her arms to her legs to her chest and everywhere below her neck, had Kodachi's needles sticking out of it. Her eyes glazed over, she fell back and hit the ground with a thud.
Around where Yasei lay, more of the giant leaves sprouted up, wrapping themselves around her like a cocoon. They covered her entirely from head to toe before pulling her back down into the ground along with them.
Alysse, frantically trying to move to stop them, stumbled and fell. "Ringo!"
"Do not interfere!" Kodachi said sharply, drawing an exasperated look from the other girl. "Those needles were tipped with a sleeping solution. She will be asleep for some time, so just wait. Ringo will handle the rest."
Clutching at her ribs, Alysse clenched her other fist and struck the ground in frustration. Why did it have to be like this? Why did she have to wait, unable to do anything? This feeling of helplessness…she hated it.
"It appears I was mistaken about Ringo and yourself," Kodachi spoke up, her back turned to Alysse. "I doubt a mere apology would carry any value at this point, so allow me to make it up to you with this. You once asked why Master chose to train not you but I, did you not?"
Alysse raised her head, her eyes drawn to her fellow gymnast.
"Years ago, I asked Master the very same thing," Kodachi continued. "She said that you, who shared the Winters name, would always be compared to her by others. If she were to train you and your style came to resemble hers, the comparison would be even greater. You would forever be stuck in her shadow, and she did not want that for you."
Listening intently, Alysse hung on Kodachi's every word.
"Master wished for you to forge your own legacy and develop your own style that would one day surpass hers," Kodachi said to her. "That is why she did not train you."
Alysse dropped back to a seated position atop the grass. For so long, she was tortured by not knowing why. So that was it, she thought. All that time…
"Katrina…" she mouthed quietly. Hearing footsteps, she noticed Kodachi walking away. "Where are you going?"
"There is something I must take care of," Kodachi replied. "Do not come near me. Stay as far away as you can, because right now…I do not think I can control myself."
Kodachi's battle aura burst forth around her, the massive, chilling skull taking form over her head. Opening its jaw, the skull let out a bloodcurdling howl towards the sky that raised the hairs on Alysse's skin.
"Akane Tendo…I shall TEAR YOU APA-RT!"
End of Chapter 16