A Ranma ½ / Tenjo Tenge crossover story
Disclaimer: Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty and Viz Communications own Ranma 1/2. Oh! Great, Madhouse Production and Geneon Entertainments own Tenjo Tenge.
The pigtailed boy ducked under the umbrella swing and flipped back to safety once it passed over his head. Before he could counter-attack, he already had to weave through a swarm of razor-sharp bandannas. They swirled, dangerously close to his Chinese-make red shirt and precious mane of raven hair at times, but he managed to dodge them all without a scratch.
"How dare you!" Ryoga yelled, enraged. He tore yet another tiger-striped, yellow bandana that matched the color of his shirt from his forehead, leaving countless more beneath, and began twirling it in his left arm. His elongated canines gleamed like fangs in the sun as he glared at the other boy balefully. "I went through hell to get to that empty lot for my challenge, and—"
"And what?" Ranma asked, interrupting his erstwhile friend as amused blue eyes met enraged brown challengingly. "You want me to feel sorry for you not finding your own backyard, literally?"
"Shut up!" Ryoga exclaimed.
"She waited for you, you know," Ranma nevertheless continued. "For over three hours." He pressed the palm of his right hand to his chest. "I got her to give you this much, and you still didn't make it."
Ryoga stopped in place, a bandanna he was twirling wilting, as his fists clenched. "It took me four days of agony to get to my duel, only to have you steal my thunder!"
"Steal your thunder?" Ranma raised an eyebrow.
"Shut up!" Ryoga cried out again, a strong blush covering his face. "You made me look bad in front of her, but that's not all! When I finally saw her again, her clothes were torn, and she was crying. How could you be so cruel to a girl?!"
"Crying?" Ranma gaped, a look of shock on his face. "Torn clothes? But I only—"
And then Akane malleted him into the ground, ending the fight.
There she was! Ranma nodded to herself. The crazy girl hadn't changed much from the time she appeared suddenly at the gates to their junior high, smiling viciously while the enormously long sword she held was balanced on her shoulder. A few beaten-up boys littered the ground around her. Ranma never did find out whether trying to hit her or on her sealed their fate.
Back then, she came to their school like some dojo challenger, demanding to fight with their legendary Guardian. Ranma had tried to explain to her that this Guardian was legendary for being lost a lot, like at that particular moment. It hadn't really gone well, but she relented at last, after he gave her Ryoga's address.
He thought that it would be the last he'd see of her, but there she was again, the next day, once more waiting at the gates. That time, however, she was waiting for Ranma.
He hadn't been all that surprised to hear that Ryoga wasn't there when she visited. The only times he had known Ryoga to return home on time were when he lead the eternally lost boy there himself, by hand. As he tried to tune the ranting girl out, Ranma mused that at least it wouldn't be his problem for much longer. His old man was taking him to China or something.
He nodded at all the right places, which seemed to mollify the girl with the knee-long silvery-lilac hair enough so she didn't try to cave his head in. She merely gave him a challenge notice and asked him to deliver it to the Guardian, since they were obviously friends. Ranma should have known better, but at the time, he could see no danger in agreeing.
The challenge notice got to Ryoga, all right, but Ryoga himself wasn't there at the stated time and place. Ranma had been waiting for him as well, feeling he should say goodbye to his friend before leaving the country.
The first sign of trouble, when he left the tent he was occupying on his third morning of camping out at Ryoga's backyard, was the tip of that ridiculously long sword, mere inches from his nose. After his eyes uncrossed themselves from instinctively trying to look at it and losing their focus, he leapt back into his tent. A vertical slash followed his escape, literally leaving a glowing blue trail in the air as it cut through the tent, collapsing said tent's remains on top of Ranma.
As he struggled with the sturdy fabric, only tangling himself in it, one thought fought over to the surface of his mind amidst many other jumbled ones. Mustn't die. Just that.
Till this day, he couldn't recall how he got out of the ruined tent and came to face the insanely-grinning girl. He couldn't remember what accusation he yelled at her, though he doubted it was a good-natured, "I accept your challenge." The fight itself remained a kaleidoscope of blurred colors and gurgled sounds for him. And he had never, ever managed to recollect how it had ended, although one thing was clear — he had been the winner.
He left with his father to China the next day, and he never expected to meet that crazy girl face-to-face again.
Well, that was about to change.
"You don't look as bad as I thought you would," the red-head commented, glancing over the other girl thoroughly, from head to toe. "To hear Ryoga tell it, you were a regular mummy, and a crybaby to boot." She smirked. "At least he was wrong about the former." She looked like she had more to add, but got interrupted by a quick punch directed at her face. Dancing around it, the red-head frowned. "Hey, I wasn't done talking here!"
"You came to pick a fight with me, didn't you?" her opponent threw back at her, following her words with a round kick, which was dodged just like the first attack. "There's no need to work so hard for it. All you had to do was ask." She grinned savagely, and dropped into an aggressive stance, her antennae-like hair bouncing in tune with her unrestrained chest.
"Fine, I'll kick your ass again," the red-head said, shrugging. She crossed her arms behind her back, and smiled cockily. "Don't make me wait all day, tomboy."
"What—" she growled, sending several rapid punches at the smaller girl, following them with an uppercut that missed by quarter of an inch, "—do you mean, again?!"
"Innit obvious?" the red-head asked, curiosity coloring her voice. "You totally suck, compared to me." She darted forward suddenly, and flicked her middle finger at her opponent's forehead. "See?" she asked, smiling. "Not a challenge."
"My, what happened to you, Ranma?" Kasumi asked, gasping, as the boy hobbled into the Tendo home.
"A cute tomboy happened," he grumbled, but didn't elaborate.
"A… cute tomboy?" the eldest Tendo daughter repeated, blinking, before her face lightened up with a smile. "I'm glad there is progress between you two."
"Yeah," Ranma said dejectedly. "Progress. Girls are scary when you insult their age, weight, lineage, friends and sexual preference."
"I… suppose we are," she replied, somewhat taken aback.
"I'm going to bed," Ranma said quietly, beginning to slowly ascend the stairs. "See ya tomorrow."
"Pleasant dreams," Kasumi said, waving at him confusedly.
"Whoa, deja vu," Ranma exclaimed, taking a step back as soon as he set foot on the school yard.
A pair of boys who were following him stopped as well, and turned to face him. "What's up?" one of them, Hiroshi, asked.
"Yeah," Daisuke, Ranma's other friend, added. "I mean, we leave school every day after classes. I can see why you would feel as though you've already experienced this present situation at some point in your past, but…."
As Daisuke's voice trailed off, Ranma wordlessly pointed through them and towards the school gates. As they turned back around to see what he was staring at, Ranma spoke, "It's just like in my old school. That violent chick is a bad omen." He sighed in resignation. "And it turns out she finally found out about the curse, too."
A girl in a high-school uniform different from Furinkan's was standing at the gates, an insanely-long sword resting against her left shoulder. Several boys from martial arts clubs were lying on the ground all around her, faces down. She spotted Ranma, and grasped the sword firmly, before unsheathing it and pointing its tip at him.
"Yep," he said, ignoring the questions his friends were asking him about the curse. "Just like in junior high…."
"Make way, make way," Hiroshi called out, walking with his schoolbag slung carelessly over his shoulder.
"The Guardian, Saotome Ranma-sama, is coming, and he looks pissed today," Daisuke joined his friend, walking alongside him. He glared at a boy from a neighboring class, the other boy breaking off contact meekly.
Behind the two, Ranma was following at a more subdued pace, his left hand massaging his forehead. "Cut it out," he growled, louder than he intended.
All conversation stopped around him, and a murmur of, "Yes, Ranma-sama," greeted him.
"Man, I never should've told those two idiots about junior high," he grumbled, trying his best to ignore the way other students were treating him now. "And it's all that stupid chick's fault. She'll pay for this. Oh yes…."
Hiroshi and Daisuke threw the classroom's door open, and strode in as if they owned the place. "Step aside for the mighty school Guardian," Hiroshi intoned gravely, making eye contact with each student, his eyes lingering on the female ones.
Ranma resisted the urge to hit his head against the doorframe. "Can't they come up with something new, at least, instead of repeating what all those ass-kissers would say back at junior high?" he muttered, this time keeping his words quiet, to avoid alienating what friends he still had in the school. Shaking his head, he made his way for his desk, pointedly ignoring the fearful looks thrown his way. "Oh yes, she'll pay," he promised again, an evil smile dancing on his face.
"Yo," Ranma greeted his target from his perch on an open windowsill.
"What are you doing here?" the silver-haired girl asked in a dangerous tone of voice, her antennae-like hair moving as she turned her head to glare at him.
"You made my school life hell, so I figured I'd come and return the favor," he said, smiling at her. "So, wanna do it here, or somewhere more private?"
"Is this delinquent bothering you, Natsume-san?" a student with short green hair and a boyish face asked, coming up behind the girl, as whispers spread like wildfire around the three.
"It's the middle of class," Natsume Maya hissed at Ranma. "Go away."
"Hey, that's not what you said last time," he told her, a frown on his face. "Well, you weren't speaking so much as grunting and—" A fist impacted against his face, faster than he could see, and Ranma flew out of the window. He shook his head, and righted himself before landing safely in the schoolyard on his feet. "Hey, that was a cheap shot, you tomboy!" he yelled at the window, shaking his fist. "I wasn't done insulting you yet!"
"You bastard," the boy who came to Maya's aid returned from the open window. "I, Takayanagi Mitsuomi, will be your opponent!"
Ranma glanced at the other boy, raising an eyebrow when Mitsuomi stumbled, leaning more and more out of the open window in jerking motions, and then crossing the threshold with one final, mighty push. The other boy flapped his arms comically a few times on his way down, making Ranma crack a smile, until landing on his head.
"And stay out, losers," Ranma clearly heard Maya grumble, as she slammed the window shut.
"I… guess she's really studious?" The pigtailed boy shrugged. "Whatever, we can always get together after school." He turned his attention to Mitsuomi. "So, wanna fight?"
"Hey, Kasumi," Ranma slurred through his busted lower lip, attempting a wave but abandoning it almost immediately, when he noticed his arms weren't cooperating.
"Oh, my!" she exclaimed, the remark strangely appropriate for the situation. "Did you have another fight with the 'cute tomboy', Ranma-kun?" she asked, taking in Ranma's weary and downtrodden appearance.
Ranma suddenly found himself being dropped to the ground. "Here you are," Maya said, dusting her hands off. "I got you home, you should be fine now."
"Macho… chick," he groaned, hopelessly prone.
"Ah, I see you're better already." She smiled, though her eyebrow started twitching, and made sure to step on his head as she turned around and walked outside the Tendo property.
"So that was Cute Tomboy-san?" Kasumi asked, cocking her head as she stared at Maya's back. "My, it's not nice to two-time people, no matter how manly that is, Ranma-kun," she chided, her lips twisting into a worried frown. "You should just pick one."
Ranma sighed, inadvertently inhaling some dust.
He still went about his day, sparring with his father in the morning over the koi pond, eating breakfast, and going to school. And yet, he didn't resort to taunts during the exercises, attack his father's food with his usual vigor, or bother to lie down and take a nap in class, opting to look outside the window instead.
"So he kicked your ass," a voice suddenly sounded from outside, drawing his attention from the teacher's monotonous drivel about some trivial historical event. Others in the class joined him in looking out the window, just in time to see a long mane of silver hair descend from above their line of sight. A heart-shaped face followed it quickly.
"He's obviously stronger than you thought," Maya lectured, hanging upside-down effortlessly from an upper-story windowsill, her focus solely on Ranma. Not getting an answer, she shrugged and continued. "He's the third-ranked in the Katana. It's not unexpected from a gang run by my brother, you know. Had it been my big brother, the fight would've been entirely one-sided."
"The hell it would!" Ranma exclaimed, surging to his feet. Students seated around him shuffled back quickly, and nervous chatter picked up in the background, but he ignored it, giving Maya his undivided attention. "Ranma Saotome doesn't lose!"
"Then what do you call that sorry debacle?" the silver-haired girl asked, smirking infuriatingly. She let her hands drop, using only her legs to hold her in place, and shook her right index finger at him. "If you were just someone who was going to call it quits after meeting the first fighter who was stronger than him, then I've been wasting my time with you."
"The first round doesn't matter!" Ranma protested angrily. "I'll be back! Ranma Saotome always wins at the end, you'll see!"
"You'll have to show me, then," she returned challengingly, and placed her hands on the windowsill, doing a handstand for a moment before pushing off. She somersaulted through the air, doing several flips, before touching down lithely on the ground, and looking up expectantly at his window.
It opened not a second later, and Ranma leapt out of it, dropping silently through the air and coming down in a crouch, his eyes trained on her. "Let's do this," he said flatly.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing, pulling all those acrobatics in a short skirt?!" Akane yelled from the open window Ranma had vacated the classroom from.
"Let's take it somewhere else," Maya suggested, loud enough for her voice to carry to the second floor of the school. "Somewhere private, with just the two of us."
Ranma just nodded curtly, and bunched his legs. "I know just the place." He leapt away, calling out, "Follow me!" over his shoulder.
Maya gave Akane a victorious smirk, and did as she was told.
She lunged forward with a snap kick, viciously aiming at his chin. He bent backwards, twisting his spine in ways no normal human should have been able to achieve, narrowly avoiding the attack. His grin, though, was relaxed with a touch of boredom creeping in, belying the precision and effort of his body.
Enraged at his perceived taunting, she lunched a flurry of rabbit punches at his midsection, and her anger grew when he danced out of the way, giving her fists a wide margin.
"This time for real!" she called out, snarling, and leapt towards him. Her unrestrained breasts bounced, and he blinked, hesitating for but a moment. She used it to her advantage, grabbing the back of his head with both hands and bringing it to meet her rising right knee with all of her strength.
He stumbled back, a spray of blood erupting from his nose, but she wasn't finished. Before he could even manage to right himself, not to mention whip himself into any semblance of defensive posture, she twisted her body in mid air, and kicked at his unguarded neck, using the inertia from her spin for added power.
This time, he reeled back, teetering dangerously to one side. She helped the motion, planting her hands on the top of his lowered head to propel herself higher, and then came down with a nasty axe kick aimed at the back of his head.
She felt an impact, and used the momentum to leap backwards, coming to a crouch. "How's that?" she asked triumphantly, panting from exertion.
"Not bad for a weak girl," he returned, and she noticed that he had not gone down as she'd expected him to. He was still leaning a bit to the side, but his left hand was protecting the back of his head, an angry red mark on it from the blow she intended to down him with. He raised his head at last, and there was an infuriating smirk playing across his lips. "But pretty sub-par for a tomboy."
She swore in her mind, but allowed herself to show no outwards reactions beyond an annoyed scowl. "You're pretty tough," she admitted grudgingly. "Maybe tougher than any of the regular Katana members." She saw him preen in pride, and mirrored his earlier smirk. "But they're all flunkies of my brother, and you're not even a blip on his radar."
"Why don't we see about that once I kick your ass again?" he challenged, indignation clearly visible on his features.
"It would be an amusing fight… for all of its three seconds," she said dismissively. "And I gave you two seconds too much for the sheer amusement factor."
This time, he was the one to attack without warning. He charged, kicking up at her, and she leapt back. Only when she was in the air and saw him launch himself after her did she realize that it was a feint. But by then, he was already within range. A spin kick at her head was quickly followed by a side kick aimed at her abdomen, a flurry of punches that barreled through her defenses and marred her face and an elbow at her back — the blow that hurt the most, she reflected with detachment.
She hit the ground, doing a perfect impression of a belly flop, and the force was enough to send her bouncing an inch back into the air. The pain was overwhelming, but she sent her right arm towards the ground and pushed her body off to the side, turning the bounce into a roll. As she came to a kneeling position a few feet away, her arms raised to protect her upper body, she saw him rise from his own, retracting his fist from a literal crater in the ground. He was being showy, she realized a brief moment later, as she watched the bits of dirt and dust drop from his fist. Showy, and yet he wasn't holding back.
"Not bad for a weak little girl, eh?" she asked, throwing his words at him while wincing at the pain talking brought her. At least she didn't feel any blood in her mouth, she though with relief.
"I guess it's true," he agreed with a shrug. "Cute tomboys trump uncute ones."
She frowned, not sure how to take it. "Thanks!" she said suddenly, a smile spreading across her face. "You're the first fighter I've met who called me cute."
"Eh-heh." He scratched the back of his head nervously. "Really?"
"Well, yeah," she said, rising to her feet slowly, a handful of dirt held securely in her left fist. "So, is it true?"
He frowned, and peered closer at her. "I suppose that swelling cheek might be a problem," he admitted at last.
She winced, and took a step closer. "It might?"
He stepped towards her in reciprocation. "I guess. Sorry about that?" He sounded confused.
"Are you sure?" she asked him insistently. "Do you think you could check it from up close?"
He shrugged, and closed the distance between them, hands held in the pockets of his pants nonchalantly. "I suppose—" he started saying, as he leaned towards her face.
She head-butted him then, and threw the dust she held in her hand at his eyes as they flew open in shock at the blow. A fist flew towards his solar plexus, and he was forced to block it, unable to dodge in time. He retaliated with a wide-spanning backhand, more to buy himself some breathing space than as a serious attack. She opted to duck under it, and came up with an uppercut, using her legs like a tightly-wound spring.
It got past his guard, blowing his hands out of the way and throwing him onto his back over a foot away. She pressed on with her attack, stomping on him, and only luck made sure he had his hands over his privates at the time, which helped disperse the force behind the kick.
He rolled away frantically, and leapt to his feet, alternating between blowing on his hands furiously and using their backs to wipe the remainders of the dust from his eyes. "That was cheap!" he complained, pointing at her accusingly.
"Life's tough," she replied, launching herself at him. "We're fighting, not playing kempo."
Her charge was met with a gust of wind, as he simply wasn't there when she arrived, fist first. She spotted a moving shadow on the ground, and raised her head, noting his flying form. She decided not to fall into the same trap twice, however, and didn't meet him in mid-air, ceding that realm of combat to him entirely.
Instead, she tried to guess his landing spot and be there to greet him. She succeeded, and kicked up after he had already started his descent. Her leg rose above her head in a straight line, and there should have been no way for him to avoid being hit. And yet, he hung in mid-air for a brief moment, balancing himself on the sole of her shoe with a single finger, and then bounced away in an entirely new direction.
"Nice splits, you spread your legs like a pro," he called out as he landed, and came to face her, a smirk she began to see as his trademark adorning his lips once more.
"So it's another portion of the fight we're supposed to pass with idle yet witty banter?" she asked with feigned boredom, examining her nails and blowing on them, refusing to rise to his bait.
"Nah," he replied suddenly, taking her by surprise with his serious tone of voice. "Fighting you 's kinda fun, so I don't wanna waste time talking."
"I… never knew you felt that way," she said candidly, just barely managing to stop herself from gaping.
He shrugged. "More fighting, less witty banter."
And the fight was joined once more, in Ryoga's backyard.
The words, "You're home late," greeted her as she entered her darkened home.
Maya whirled around, just as the light switch was flipped up, finding herself facing Shin Natsume. "Oniisama!" she exclaimed, stepping back in shock. Taking a moment to steady herself, she went on in a calmer tone of voice. "I was not aware you had planned to stay up so late."
"Did you have fun, Maya?" he asked, an edge to his voice. He looked as handsome as ever, his long mane of silvery-blue hair rivaling her own, but there was also present a cold, beautiful cruelty she could sometimes see lurking under the surface.
"You've used that evil Ryugan again, haven't you?" she replied with a question of her own. "Oniisama, you know it harms you each time you rely on it. Ranma says that things which force one to rely on them extensively soon become a crutch for that person, without even their notice…." She trailed off at the sight of the strange look on his face.
"Ranma," Shin repeated, rolling the word on his lips as if to get a feel for it. "So that is the name of the boy I've seen you meet, time and again."
"…yes," she admitted in a small voice, her calm crumbling in his presence. "But we're just fighting! He's helping me become stronger, strong enough to—" She cut herself off abruptly, staring horrified at her brother.
"I see," he said at length. "Very well." Relief visibly colored Maya's face, but he went on regardless of it, as if he hadn't noticed. "You have two more months to train, until the preliminaries start."
"The preliminaries?! What— Oniisama, he does not even attend our school! The rules say—" she protested.
"I make the rules," he cut her off. "If you can't form a team with him by the time of the preliminaries, a team that would make it to the finals, then your time spent with him 'training' is wasted," Shin said, going over 'training' with a mocking tone of voice. "Show me results, and I'll acknowledge your effort. If you cannot, tell me now and I will resolve your problem for you."
"We'll be there at the finals," Maya said, her voice trembling from equal doses of fright and excitement. "We'll be meeting you there, Oniisama."
He turned around and left for his room silently, without so much as a nod. As soon as he was gone from her sight, Maya's knees gave out and she collapsed on the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. She let off a shuddering breath, and wrapped her arms around her.
She closed her eyes.
Maya sat on her desk, chewing her fingernails nervously. As soon as she saw Ranma swing into the open window of her classroom, she jumped off and practically ran towards him. "We need to get you registered at my school," she insisted, her eyes wide and pleading.
"Umm, okay?" he ventured, taking a few steps back. "Does this mean we're not gonna fight today?" he asked, barely able to keep from whining.
"Here, sign those," she told him instead, and shoved a stack of papers at him, held together with a black binder.
He shrugged, but reached into his pockets to look for a writing utensil. She noticed his dilemma, and a pen appeared in front of his face, as if by magic. Taking it, he glanced at her with open suspicion. "It's not a prank, is it? Like one of those pens that squirt water, all so you could have a nice laugh?"
"Sign. Now," she threatened him, and reached below her desk, pulling out her long sword from underneath it.
"Sheesh." He shook his head, but quickly went over the forms, putting his signature where it was needed. He found it interesting that all the relevant details had already been filled out, including his precise measurements. "So, mind telling me now why I just transferred here?" he drawled out, holding the documents back towards her.
She just said, "Smile!" and pulled out a Polaroid camera. A flash went off, and he shielded his eyes reflexively. Then, he felt himself being drenched, and the sensation that always came with a new center of gravity.
Opening her eyes, Ranma frowned. "So it was all a joke after all?"
Maya lowered her water pistol, and handed over a new folder instead, this one held together by a red binder. "You already have a pen, so this should go quicker," she commented, readying her camera. "Want me to take your picture now, or after you're done with the forms?"
"Screw the forms!" Ranma exclaimed, throwing them at the silver-haired girl's face. As papers fluttered to the ground, landing in messy heaps all over the classroom's floor, she glared at the other girl. "I thought you were different, but here you are—" She shook her head, an expression of disgust dominating her features. "Is this—" She pointed at her chest, "—just a joke to you?"
Maya sighed, and lowered herself tiredly into her chair. "That's not how it is at all."
"It isn't?!" Ranma pressed on. "That what is it?"
"My big brother wants us to fight in the tournament," Maya said, sighing again. "You don't want to cross him." A shudder passed through her. "You really don't. Trust me on this."
"I… think I see," Ranma said at length. "Back when I was still on the road with Pop, and he was lots stronger than me, anything he said went. Sparring over food, training… whatever. I couldn't really stand up against any crazy idea he had until, well, I could stand up to him." She gave the other girl a sympathizing gaze. "Don't worry, I'll help you deal with your brother."
Maya allowed herself to smile. "Thank you," she said simply.
"No big," Ranma replied flippantly. "Though… why did you have to turn me into a girl?"
"Might as well make use of your curse," Maya told her. "There's a requirement for five entrants per each group that wants to fight in the tournament." Seeing Ranma about to say something, she added, "Best part, though, is that there's no rule about everyone on the team having to fight at the same time."
Ranma nodded. "I guess that makes sense," she agreed, and bent down to pick the dropped forms up. A flash made her look up, surprised. "What was that?" she asked, surprised.
"That one was for Takayanagi's private collection," Maya replied with a smirk, which widened as she saw Ranma sputter.
They both stood facing each other at their now-usual meeting place, the stage of their first battle, their gazes locked. A long silence stretched out between the pair, somehow avoiding the usual discomfort that comes with it.
"Not going to charge wildly at me again?" he asked her at last, shifting his body to present his left side to her, reducing her target area. His left arm bent at the elbow, and rose, presenting the back of his hand to her to serve as a physical buffer between the two of them. His right arm opted to guard his stomach, that hand balled into a fist.
"What's this, return of the witty banter?" she asked with a snort, failing to rise to his bait. She idly noticed that she had gotten better at controlling her infamous temper as she kept on battling him, while settling into her own stance, standing diagonally with her right leg leading, and her arms held in front of her like a boxer would.
"Maybe you should get that big-ass sword of yours again," he returned, thumbing his nose at her, immediately following if with a gesture of 'come at me.' "You might prove a challenge, then."
"And speaking of swords, how's that inner thigh cut working out for you?" she replied with humor that didn't have to be feigned. "Had I been off by an inch—"
He came at her with a straight punch to her face, a punch she caught on her crossed forearms and deflected to the side. A retaliatory kick came at his side as he embraced the motion and span, launching a backhand with his left hand. Both connected, and the fighters separated, leaping back from each other.
"Not bad for a tomboy," he grumbled, pressing a hand against his side.
She shook her head to clear it of the cobwebs, and ignoring the stinging of her left cheek. "Your insults are getting stale, Brat," she returned, giving him her best condescending glance.
"Hey, hold on!" he protested, his pain forgotten in a moment. "I'm older than you! Where do you get off calling me a brat?!"
"Oh, so the brat does not know his place," she drawled out, a smile playing out on her lips. "What acts like a brat, looks like a brat and talks uncouthly like a brat must be a brat, Brat."
"The hell you say!" he protested, shaking his fist at her. "You want me to beat some sense into you again?"
Her smile widened. "You're welcome to try, Brat."
He came at her, and his anger almost overwhelmed her for a brief moment. As she wavered, stunned, he quickly closed the distance, his hands crossed in front of his chest. He threw them outwards suddenly, literally batting her defenses to the sides, and launched a kick straight up at her chin. She teetered backwards, from the combination of the attack and her own surprise at it, and then she felt an impact against the back of her legs, and the teetering turned into freefall.
She didn't waste any time and stretched her body, her hands rising to her head, then over it and leaning back towards the rapidly approaching ground. As soon as they made contact, she cart-wheeled out of the way of his follow-up spin kick. She didn't get hit, but her clothes gained a tear — from air pressure alone, she realized. He didn't connect that time, so that was the only possibility that made any sense.
He kept on spinning in place after that kick, and his leg shot out several times. She could see air distorted at the apex of those kicks, which didn't seem to connect with anything, and back-flipped several times, dodging in a random pattern she didn't bother trying to calculate beforehand, opting to trust in her instincts.
A trench dug itself in the ground to her right, then to her left, disturbing the dust and raising it in clouds. The clouds themselves seemed to get sliced by something invisible, and she dropped to the ground into a low crouch, eyeing her opponent warily.
He slowly came to a stop, ending up facing her while standing on his left leg, the other bent at the knee and supporting itself on the left one. His hands were left at his sides. "Just because you've seen through the technique doesn't mean you can avoid it forever," he said slowly and clearly, as if wanting to make sure she heard every word and understood it.
"Yes," she agreed, nodding for extra emphasis. "Doesn't mean I can't try it, anyway."
He smiled. "That's the spirit."
She saw him lower his right leg and make a motion as if he were going to start spinning in place again. She wasn't about to let him, and sprang from her crouch, leaping into the air and bringing her body into a tight roll through the air towards him. As she began her descent, she uncoiled at the last possible second, bringing her right foot at him with a variation of an axe kick, using it when it connected to redirect her landing.
She back-flipped and came to a halt in front of him for the briefest of moments, and then she was moving once more, replicating his earlier move. She didn't have time to get a running start, not if she wanted to take him by surprise, but she already brought her arms to rest crosswise against her chest as she landed, and now used it to her advantage when she turned his attack against him. His hastily made defenses were pushed aside, and a kick was launched upwards.
It was intercepted by his leg executing a hasty block, but her point had been made. Just to make sure he still remembered it afterwards, though, she head-butted him, ramming the top of her head against his chin.
He stumbled back with a grimace, and tested his purpling jaw with his hands. "Do you have to keep doing that?" he asked, distaste evident in his voice, once he'd ascertained that nothing had been broken or dislodged.
Shaking the cobwebs out of her head for the second time that fight, she shrugged. "I very much doubt there's anything to injure in that thick skull of yours."
"Figures I'd just get crap for taking you seriously," he groused, but the ghost of a smile on his lips took much of his tone of voice.
"That's all you've got?" she goaded him on, bringing her fists up. "I'm just getting warmed up!"
"I'll get you warmer!" he called out in return, and kicked up a cloud of dust, bursting through it in her direction. She leapt back, and he followed, concentrating on kicking at her legs.
She danced out of the way of most of the attacks, taking a few hits along the way, and then suddenly leaned back gracefully and did a handstand, going for a scissor kick that took him by surprise. He grunted, bringing his hands to guard his head reflexively, and she spun on her hands, gaining momentum for a series of consecutive kicks that connected with his ankles.
She smirked, but that smirked quickly gave way to a look of alarm when he toppled over her, and she realized that her inertia disrupted her balance too much for her to get away in time.
They collapsed in a heap, him on top of her. There was another long silence, much like the one at the beginning of the fight, only this one tense and loaded. With what exactly, she could not say.
"I guess I really should've practiced that move more," she admitted quietly, more to herself than anyone else.
He shrugged uneasily. "Umm, yeah. Not ending up pinned down from your own move is a good thing to practice."
She colored visibly. "Shut up!" she chided him, turning away. "At least it looks better than yours. Where did you get it from, a girly anime?"
"A guy named Kuno gave me the idea," he said, ignoring her dig. "I can't really move while doing it, or use my arms for it, but gimme a week and I'll be break-dancing through it!"
She snorted, her blush receding somewhat.
"And yours?" he asked her suddenly. "Got a pervy stalker of your own at that school you go to?"
"Who, Takayanagi?" she asked, confusion coloring her voice, before her blush returned. "Actually… Street Fighter."
"Cool game," he commented, not noticing the way her cheeks reddened further.
"Yeah, I like Chun Li the best. Though Ryu's not too bad either. And Ken. Those two guys are inseparable."
He nodded, which brought their noses together. "I know! They're an awesome fighting duo."
"The ambiguous duo? So you think they're a couple, too?" she asked hesitantly. "I mean… there're signs, and side-stories…." Maya chewed on her lower lip. "The television series even had that naked swimming pool scene, but—"
"I don't think that much about it," he responded quickly, blanching. "Or at all, really, beyond the 'Ryu and Ken? Training partners,' part."
"Manly partners," she agreed readily.
"What's the word?" Ranma got a faraway look in his eyes for a brief moment as he searched for the right term. "Platonic fighting buddies! Just like us!"
"Umm." Her body shifted underneath his. "Maybe we should get up now."
He nodded again, and she averted her eyes. "Yeah."
"You I kill!"
Ranma whirled around at the battle cry, and dropped into a crouch not a moment too soon, as a curved scimitar passed scant inches above her head.
"You seem popular in both forms," Maya deadpanned, outwardly projecting indifference even as she tensed for a possible battle.
"For ruin tournament, Ranma die. Stand still and Shampoo erase shame, yes?" the purple-haired Chinese girl with the aforementioned scimitar asked in a conversational tone of voice, taking another swing at Ranma.
The red-head danced out of the way, and hid behind Maya. "Gimme a friggin' break! I thought it was a buffet!"
"Is so," Shampoo agreed, nodding firmly. "For victor!"
"I won that fight, too!" Ranma protested, her eyes glaring with accusation at Shampoo over Maya's left shoulder.
"Also true." Shampoo shrugged. "Is why Shampoo give Kiss of Death. We fight now, yes?"
Ranma whimpered. "Just what I needed. That, and the stupid tournament Maya's brother wants us to fight in," she ranted, gesturing wildly with her arms. "I swear, tournaments are bad news! Pop was right when he told me not to enter those…."
Ignoring Ranma for the time being, Maya looked Shampoo over, giving her a calculating glance. "As you have just heard, Ranma and I happened to enter a tournament right here at my school. Many of Japan's best fighters would gather to compete in it. It's a great honor to even get to the finals, not to mention win in them."
Shampoo's eyes narrowed. "What catch?" she asked, looking at Maya with distrust.
"You need to be a student to compete, but that's not really a problem. My big brother is the current Student Council President, and what he says goes in this school." Maya paused suddenly, examining her nails with an air of casual indifference. "Of course, there is also a certain rule — a person can't enter the tournament single-handedly. They have to be part of a team, with at least four other members."
Shampoo was listening raptly, her sword lowered. "Aiyah," she said softly, her eyes widening. "Japanese rules very strange."
"It might be a bit difficult for you to find three more team members at such a late stage," Maya continued, ignoring Shampoo's outburst, "but luckily for you, we have an open spot on our team."
"Your team?" Shampoo asked, and then her eyes hardened. Her scimitar rose in a single motion to point at the center of Ranma's forehead. "Is enemy, not ally!"
The red-head let off an, "Eep!" and dropped from sight.
"It's true that you may want Ranma here dead," Maya allowed, ignoring the whimpering that resumed from behind her back. "But there is an extra special rule in this tournament!" She raised her right index finger, drawing Shampoo's eyes to it. "The Captain of the team that wins in the finals becomes not only the ruler of the school, but is also recognized as the penultimate—" Maya shook her head briefly, "—I mean, the best fighter of his team. Everyone knows it, and none challenge him… or her."
She let all that seep in, before pointing at Shampoo in a sudden motion that startled the Chinese girl and made her take a step back. "How would you like to be our team's Captain?"
"Shampoo Captain means Ranma admit Shampoo is better fighter?" Shampoo asked slowly.
Maya elbowed Ranma in the face with a nonchalant gesture, cutting off her string of protests. "Of course," she said smoothly. "The Captain is the strongest fighter on the team."
"Shampoo need ask Great-Grandmother first," the Chinese Amazon finally said, after thinking the proposal over. "Is okay?"
Maya nodded. "Sure thing. Now, to take care of the minor details, just come with me to get you admitted to the school? All you'd need to do is sign a few papers… hardly five minutes of your time."
Shampoo nodded, uncertainty returning to her features, but allowed Maya to drag her inside the school building.
Left alone, Ranma blinked, and then sighed. "At least she didn't head-butt me this time," she said to no one in particular, and then began walking towards the school gates, heading to the dojo.
They ambushed Ranma in an empty classroom, all four of the Martial Arts Cleaning Club flinging their buckets of murky water at the pigtailed boy blindly, charging right in afterwards with furious battle cries. They struck the chair he had been sitting on, reducing it and the adjacent desk into rubble and kicking up a small dust storm.
And they were still watching the cloud dissipate, wary for any hint of movement inside, when they heard someone clear their throat off to the side. As one, the four turned their heads towards the windows, displaying uncanny synchronization.
A red-headed girl was reclining across a windowsill, clad only in a pair of black slacks. Her back was arced slightly, enhancing her natural talents, and only the red Chinese shirt she was wringing out in front of her chest helped preserve her modesty.
Satisfied that she had their attention, the red-head snapped the shirt in the air several times, firming it rigidly like iron each time it was fully unrolled for a brief moment, and finally put it back on. Ignoring the way their eyes remained glued to her chest, even covered as it was now, she popped her knuckles, first on her right hand, then on her left.
"That was dirty. In more ways than one," she said in an accusatory tone that was at the same time strangely flat. "You will pay."
Three of the club members blinked as her form suddenly wavered, and then disappeared, as if the girl had been but a mirage. The fourth one's eyes popped wide open instead, however, as the girl reappeared, her fist dug deep into his stomach. He curled around her left fist, his head coming down, and she slammed an uppercut into his face. The sudden, brutal onslaught that took him off his feet, and froze his comrades in place with shock.
The red-head grabbed the long mop he was holding as he flew back, ripping it out of his hands, and twirled it above her head experimentally before slamming its business end into another fighter's cheek. She kept on slapping him with the dirty mop, his cheeks quickly becoming a strange mix of red and brown, before turning it around suddenly and driving the other end between his legs.
Her second opponent collapsed, and the other two sprung into action, finally unfreezing. Their mops sought her out, demonstrating that even at half strength, their club still had its superb synchronization. Her leg shot out, snagging one of the now-empty buckets lying nearby and kicking it up to her hands. She used it as a shield against the two-pronged attack, twirling it around her body by its handle like a three-piece staff, as her opponents rained blows on her, now alternating between attacking to keep her on the defensive.
She kept defending and moved in a semi-circle, maneuvering herself between the two of them. When she got there, she threw her bucket at the one to her right without giving him a single glance, and blurred into action towards the fighter to her left. His mop was kicked up and smoothly broken in the middle with a straight punch, the end grabbed and used to backhand the boy she was facing. He stumbled back a few steps, and she kicked back suddenly, halting the momentum of the bucket her other opponent sent in return at her unprotected back.
She kicked it up, and then quickly followed it into the air. Once airborne, she spun to kick it back again, flinging the broken-off half of the mop after it. A surprised cry ending in a gurgle told her that while the bucket had been deflected, the mop flying in its shadow found the boy's Adam's apple as its mark.
Smirking, the red-head turned to face her last remaining opponent, who had just managed to shake the cobwebs out of his head. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way," she told him matter-of-factly. And then she advanced upon him.
"Was it really necessary to tape them up to the flagpole in their underwear?" Maya asked her sparring partner, as she observed their next challengers, the school's Battle Ice Sculpting and Hockey club.
Ranma shrugged. "I told them we could do this in one of two ways. Easy and hard."
"Which did they choose, I wonder?" she asked, tapping her lips thoughtfully.
Ranma shrugged. "Does it matter? It's all water under the earth."
"Bridge," Maya corrected him instantly.
"Whatever," he responded, giving her a raspberry.
As the two continued to bicker, the challengers quietly forfeited the match.
"My, just what I always wanted," Maya murmured, turning around slowly to take in the dozen of bokken-wielding seniors surrounding her. "All of this for little old me?" she asked, pointing a slender finger at herself and gracing the boys she was facing with a sultry smile.
The three in her direction blushed, and their practice swords wavered. A stern rebuke from their leader, however, brought them back to full readiness, and the six foot tall senior stepped into Maya's field of view.
"I am the newly-appointed captain of the kendo team," he said, brandishing his bokken in a silent challenge, "the rising star of the kendo world, Kuno Tatewaki, age seventeen, newly transferred to this sub-par learning establishment in my pursuit of the pigtailed goddess!"
"Aren't you the creep from Ranma's old school?" Maya asked curiously, squinting at him. "And you don't really look old enough to be a senior." She tapped her forehead thoughtfully. "And now that I think about it, Ranma did say something about that Kuno guy of his buying his way out of trouble, being a spoiled rich kid…."
"Enough!" Tatewaki announced, swinging his bokken horizontally in an overly-dramatic fashion. "Thy do not have to beg, fair maiden! Should you win, I shall allow thee to date me!"
Maya placed one hand on her waist and hid her frown with the other. "Well, there's an incentive for losing, if I ever heard one," she quipped, and was rewarded with a few smothered snickers.
Kuno saluted her with his practice sword, lightning striking outside the window as thunder rolled majestically. "I strike, my bouncy goddess!"
She blurred, and as the air pressure from his attack tore a hole in the left shoulder of her school uniform, exposing a white bra strap beneath, Maya's forehead met Kuno's nose with a solid crunch. The boy collapsed backwards, a spray of red in his wake, and Maya straightened out, frowning again.
"Ranma was right about that hard head of his," she groused, rubbing a quickly reddening spot on her forehead. "And about that stupid habit of head-butting people for being morons," she added quietly. "Yes, that has got to go."
The remaining kendo club members murmured around her, and Maya gave them her full attention once more. "So, who's next?" she asked, posing seductively.
Her exposed bra strap chose that moment to snap.
"We won?" Ranma, currently female, asked her teammate as she exited the school's kendo dojo, wearing a gi top along with the standard issue school skirt.
"I knocked them out in droves," Maya responded nonchalantly, shrugging. The gi top slid down at the motion, and she winced, pulling it back up instantly.
"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" Ranma asked, concern replacing her indifference. She leapt nimbly off her perch in the lowest tree branch where she had been waiting for the other girl, landing lightly on the tips of her feet in front of Maya.
The silver-haired girl blushed as she found herself almost nose-to-nose with Ranma, but waved the other girl's concerns aside. "They were a hundred years early before they could challenge the Natsume Goshin Ryu. It's nothing."
"Like hell it is," Ranma responded flatly. "You got dog-piled, didn't you?" Using her silence as an answer to the affirmative, she continued, "They must've landed a solid hit on you. No shame in it, really. The best martial artist in the world doesn't fear the second best, but a bunch of lucky halfwits who might get into range."
"It's not that," Maya protested. "Really, I'm fine. There's nothing to worry about, really!"
Ranma sighed, and shook her head. "Maya, Maya, Maya…" she intoned gravely, "When people say those things, it makes them look even more suspicious, ya know?"
"Don't worry, I won't think any less of you," Ranma said consolingly, taking the other girl's hands in one of her own, while the other pulled the gi top open. "So just let me get a look at—" She abruptly stopped.
"My shirt got totaled," Maya told her flatly. "I'm sure you can see that, though."
Ranma nodded dumbly.
"You realize you're dead, right?" Maya asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ranma looked up at her, and nodded again. "I'm, umm, glad to see that you're so healthy," she said awkwardly.
With Shampoo's return, ancient great-grandmother in tow, the newly-renamed Todo Amazons club continued to win, progressing to the finals. Most of their wins were by default, as word got out that they were untouchable. Shampoo believed it was her prowess, while Maya secretly thought that word of Ranma's cruelty to defeated opponents, heavily borrowing from some set of Saotome Secretly Desperate techniques or some such, spread amongst the other teams.
Sugano Kagesada, however, firmly believed that the reason behind their easy wins was the way the strongest man of Todo Academy, Shin Natsume, massacred the entire kendo club after receiving word of what happened in their attempted ambush of his younger sister.
In addition to Shin, numbers two and three of the Katana — Bunshichi Tawara and Mitsuomi Takayanagi, respectively — were listed as members of the opening five of his Enforcers Group. Just the thought of the monster known as Todo's strongest man was enough to make a grown man break into sweat, and having him act subservient to Shin made the charismatic leader appear on a whole new level. Three wins out of five was all a group needed to take the finals, and the confidence Natsume Shin was displaying by picking two no-name extras to his leading team was openly flirting with arrogance.
None of this inspired any confidence about the ultimate fate of the Todo Amazons in the finals in Sugano.
"And now, the moment you've all been waiting for!" the announcer's voice carried over the excited whispers of the students gathered at the gym. "Who will win the annual tournament, becoming the new Enforcer Group? Will it be the residing champions, the Katana?" The hall erupted into cheers, and calls of 'Shin!'. Appearing unhindered by the ruckus, the announcer continued, "Or will it be the challengers, the dark horse who rode the winds of victory all the way to the finals, the Todo Amazons club?"
The hall erupted in cheering anew, the audience having restrained itself during the announcement itself. The challengers chose that moment to enter the arena, lead by their captain, who was clad in a close-fitting Chinese mini-dress. Catcalls became rampant, and Shampoo's name was carried on almost everyone's lips.
The purple-haired girl gave a small smile to her teammates, and waved back at her fans. "Is intimidating," she admitted to Maya, who was standing half a step behind her. "Just a bit," she added almost instantly.
"Not like back at the village?" Maya whispered back, pretending to give her attention to the crowds.
"Your school… better than village," Shampoo said, but there was no malice or even regret in her voice. "Better fighters, better people. Back home, Shampoo have no one to challenge, no one to talk to. Not even date, because of stupid Mousse." The last sentence was muttered resentfully. She shook her head, and proceeded to slowly take in the people in the audience, speaking as she did so. "Crowd not fake, too. Shampoo can tell. Back at village, people clap for Shampoo. But only because Great-Grandmother nearby, or because they think Shampoo kick their ass if they don't. People never… they never clap for Shampoo… because they like Shampoo."
"I knew we were alike," Maya told her, closing the distance and coming to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other girl. "You're not the only one who wants to be seen for herself. Only in my case, there is only a single person who I wish would look at me, and see me surpass him. I want to always keep on fighting him with everything I have, and have him fight me back for real."
"Maya's brother, or boy-type Ranma?" Shampoo asked curiously.
Maya's mouth opened, perhaps in surprise, before closing half-way. She gave Shampoo a sharp look, and was about to speak, when Ranma walked up towards him female teammates, pre-empting her response.
"Hey, how about letting Kuzuo go out there first?" he asked, jerking his thumb at the cowering boy standing near the entrance they all used to get to the arena.
"Boy-type Ranma is too, too cruel," Shampoo chided him, shaking her right index finger at the pigtailed boy. "Trash Boy obviously scared weakling, only extra for tournament entry. He no fight at all, if Shampoo have any say in it. And Shampoo captain, so Shampoo have say."
"Jeez," Ranma grumbled, shrugging. "Fine, have it your way, you crazy violent tomboy chick. We don't really need Kuzuo anyway, so it's all good."
Maya nimbly left the area, as Ranma and Shampoo continued to bicker amongst themselves, and approached their last remaining teammate. "It would look bad if you refused to at least show your face at the finals, Kuzuo," she told him, once she was close enough to not need to shout over the cries of the crowd.
"How many times do I need to tell you guys, my name's not Kuzuo!" he protested, livening up in an instant. "It's Sugano! Sugano! Ever since that violent Chinese chick grabbed me by the balls and made me join her crazy boy-hating club, you all have been belittling and making fun of me, and I'm sick of it! I'll—"
"Be sick of it near the arena," Maya told him matter-of-factly, and grabbed the boy by his bangs before dragging him after her as she made her way back.
"Captain go first. Is okay?" Shampoo's voice didn't leave any doubt as to the answer she expected to get, though she briefly made eye contact with Maya after speaking. The other girl gave her a smile, and Shampoo nodded, steeling herself for the combat. She made a sharp twisting motion with her wrists, and giant maces appeared in her arms. She tested their weight, and smirked in satisfaction.
"Useful technique, that," Ranma commented, leaning against the side of the arena.
"Great-grandmother teach," Shampoo said with pride, her chest swelling noticeably. "She know all techniques of village. When Shampoo ask for training for tournament, she say Shampoo finally ready for special techniques. Over month, she teach Shampoo."
"I bet I could have it down in a week, easy," he returned, thumbing his nose at her.
"Boy-type Ranma not part of village, so point is moot, yes?" Shampoo said arrogantly, and smirked as he deflated. "Now sit tight with Trash Boy while Shampoo win finals for everyone, yes?"
Ranma seethed, but didn't move from his deceptively-relaxed position at the side of the arena, as he felt Maya join him there. She prodded him lightly in the ribs with her left elbow, and he grimaced, then gave her an almost-imperceptive nod.
"Is fighting time," Shampoo declared, all of her pre-battle bravado and bantering moving aside for seriousness and concentration.
"Luck!" Ranma called out to her, as the Chinese girl leapt lightly onto the arena's surface.
She turned back, and the arrogant, victorious smirk was back on her face. "No need luck, only skill," Shampoo told him, but then a moment later her expression softened. "But thank boy-type Ranma anyway."
"I'll be your opponent," a male voice announced.
Shampoo turned back to face its origin. "Who comes to challenge Shampoo?" she asked, raising a delicate eyebrow.
Calls of, "No way!" sounded all around the arena. A particularly excited spectator cried out, "That's Tawara Bunshichi, the strongest man of Todo!"
Bunshichi snorted, picking at his nose and overall ignoring his would-be challenger.
A purple-bluish glow erupted around Shampoo, covering her head-to-toe. Her hands, still holding the maces, rose to shoulder level and she crouched slightly, placing her weight on her forward foot. There was a gust of wind as she pushed off it towards her opponent, her form almost blurring to the naked eye. The right mace came crushing on Bunshichi's head a fraction of a second before the other one was to strike at his ribs from the front.
Both maces hit flesh, and heat rose from the points of impact as they were forced to come to a complete stop in an instant. Bunshichi grunted, and then dropped his hands from their blocking positions, ostensibly unconcerned of any threat Shampoo could be towards him in their close proximity.
"Huh?" he said in disdain. "That's your best shot? Go back home, little girl." He flicked a booger in her general direction lazily.
Biting back a Chinese curse, Shampoo leapt back, the unnatural fire around her flickering. And then, one word penetrated the battle haze around her mind, coming through clearly through the cacophony of voices cheering and yelling at the same time. It was her name, and it was being carried on the lips of many in the audience.
Shampoo's battle aura steadied, and then winked out completely, as her eyes gained a look of intense concentration once more. "You is obstacle," she told Bunshichi. "Shampoo take care of obstacle. Is promise."
Before he could respond, she lunged at him again. As she closed the distance between them, the maces in her arms shot at him in a hail of rapid thrusts and jabs. The unshaven boy tried to deflect them, but they came at him at a constantly-decreasing intervals, and there came a blow he wasn't able to deflect in time, forcing him to block it on his forearm.
Shampoo capitalized on that, increasing the speed of her attacks even more, and sent hundreds of blows at him in the span of a second, targeting that blocking arm itself with her right mace, rather than any softer target.
He kicked up at her, and she blocked his leg with her other mace. The hand holding it trembled, buckling under the stress, but Shampoo went on relentlessly to attack her opponent's block once more. The concentrated attack drew into seconds, and the hundreds of jabs turned into thousands, all hitting the same area; an area which was beginning to get an angry red tint to it.
Bunshichi's eyes widened in realization, and he leapt back, getting a third of the arena's length between them. He gingerly prodded his left forearm, and couldn't block out the wince that act brought on.
"Is ancient Chinese secret," Shampoo haughtily announced, swaggering towards him. Though she seemed slightly out of breath, her words snagged his attention in an instant, nonetheless. "Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken, revised." She raised an eyebrow slowly, deliberately. "Make Disgusting Boy move from spot. What trick Shampoo do now, before take seriously?"
"Well, there's a part of your body I've taken seriously from the very start, Toots," Bunshichi spoke, leering at the way Shampoo's chest jiggled as she approached. "How about we go somewhere private and—"
She scowled, and pulled her right foot back before kicking at his groin with all her strength. A fire ignited in Bunshichi's eyes, as he blocked the attack with his knee and shifted into a ready fighting stance. "Hey, watch the family jewels!" he called out to her.
It was her turn to snort, as she came at him maces-first, jabbing at speeds that left them but a blur to the spectators. He weaved in and out of her attacks, his feet sending small ripples of air whenever they made contact with the ground. Realizing he wasn't going to just stand there and accept her blows anymore, Shampoo resigned herself to creating a chance for herself. Her attacks became more random, deviating from the pattern of consecutive thrusts concentrated in the same area.
But as she attacked, throwing her all into it, a small part of her mind registered that her opponent had yet to seriously respond in kind, opting to stay on the defensive for the most part. Then, her blow went widely off target, and her eyes widened in realization. She struggled to bring her weapons to guard herself, and managed to do so just barely in time to block Bunshichi's fist, which was covered with blue fire, tendrils of it trailing behind visibly.
His fist impacted against her right mace, which she couldn't bring to an optimum guarding position in time, and wrenched it out of her grasp, sending it flying over her right shoulder, deformed at the point of impact. Her right wrist hurt so badly she couldn't remember feeling that way in years, and that was when her Great-Grandmother had put her through the Bakusai Tenketsu training—
With an indecipherable cry, she sent her remaining mace flying at the ground at her opponent's feet. He seemed surprised for a brief moment, easily dancing out of the way of the projectile, but scoring a hit on his legs hadn't been her goal. The stone arena exploded on the point of impact, creating a geyser of rock and dust, which blasted Bunshichi from all sides.
She leapt back to gain some breathing room, avoiding getting nicked by most of the rocks and only suffering a few shallow cuts and a bruise on her thigh. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed her teammates' actions. Kuzuo was yelling something she couldn't hear over the roar in her ears. Ranma was holding her deformed mace, his eyes full with concern she had never seen him direct towards her before. Maya locked eyes with her, and smiled. Shampoo found herself returning that smile, and turned away from her team, coming to face the dust cloud that had yet to settle down.
Maya had somehow known what she should have realized from the very start. That, for a girl who had spent her entire life training in combat, this fight was fun. It was the most fun she could remember herself having in forever. None of her injuries, including her damaged wrist, mattered to her in the face of that realization.
She grasped her right sleeve with the opposite arm, and gave it a mighty pull. A strip of cloth came off the one-piece dress, and she used it to bandage her wounded wrist, using her teeth to help tie a knot to keep it in place. The crowd cheered, but she blocked their voices out, now. She didn't have much time, she knew — there was no way such an adversary would be defeated by this simple attack. No, all it bought her was some breathing room and time to recover.
She snapped her fingers on her left hand, putting the wrist though a semi-circle motion, and a spear appeared in it, red threads fluttering in the wind from where they were tied to it at the place wood met steel. She gripped it tightly midway through, pointing its business end at the dispersing cloud of dust, her right hand held protectively in front of her neck.
"Okay," Bunshichi said, the dust finally clearing and revealing him standing on the exact same spot he was occupying before her attack. "That really hurt." His clothes were in tatters, especially his pants. The large boy himself, however, appeared to be unhurt, aside from a nasty gash on his cheek, a trail of blood seeping from it to drip onto his chest, and several purpling bruises alongside his legs. "How about you heal me with those knockers of yours?"
Shampoo's reply was to stab the spear into the ground before her, and use the wooden shaft's flexibility to launch herself into the air. Once flying towards her opponent, she turned the leap into an overhead slash with the blade.
He leaned to the side, almost carelessly, letting the spear pass through harmlessly, and grabbed it past the blade. He pulled on it roughly, sending a punch flying at her with the other hand. Shampoo twisted her body in mid air, putting her all into a kick at his head. She could avoid the counter to her attack, but decided to retaliate with one of her own, using the speed boost he had unwittingly given her.
She almost beat him to it, but in the end, both attacks hit simultaneously. Shampoo's stomach curled around his fist, the back of her dress exploding outwards, and her eyes watered with pain, but her efforts were not all in vain. Her foot hit his already injured cheek, sending a spray of blood flying into his eyes. Bunshichi reflexively wiped at it with his other arm, letting her spear go in the process.
The Amazon stumbled back, holding a hand to her stomach, and coughed up some blood. She took a few quick breaths to steady herself, and slid into a defensive stance, placing the spear at shoulder level, facing her opponent.
"You should use that thing to hold yourself upright," he said, spitting a glob of blood to the side. "You look like you're about to fall over if someone sneezes at you."
"You is welcome to try," Shampoo rasped, glaring at him defiantly.
He sighed, shook his head, and then blurred towards her suddenly. She barely avoided his kick, using the flat of the spear to direct the attacking foot away as she dodged. His foot landed, and he shifted his balance to it, using it as a focal point for a spin kick.
Shampoo avoided that attack as well, dancing out of the way. The kicking leg suddenly rose impossibly high, before coming down on her swiftly, the attack turning into an axe kick. She was forced to hold her spear horizontally, supporting it on her injured wrist, to buy herself time to get out of its range. Her defense was successful, but her weapon faired poorly, stopping the descending foot for but a brief moment before the wood broke under the force behind the attack.
Shampoo winced as her injured hand was jarred, but forced it to catch the broken-off half of the spear, holding both parts of the weapon in her arms defensively. He launched a straight punch at her head, and she deflected it, hitting the attacking hand on the side with enough force to make it whoosh next to her head, the air current stirring up her hair, instead of going through her face. Another kick followed, and she forced its aim lower, jumping over it with some difficulty.
She concentrated, harnessing her emotions under a tightly-controlled sense of purpose, forcing herself not to attack, even when opportunities presented themselves. Three more kicks were sent her way, two of them diverted successfully. The last nicked her left forearm, and she knew it was time to execute her plan.
She threw her broken spear pieces at the ground to his feet, first one, then the other. He jumped back, startled, and then glanced at her in confusion when nothing happened, the wood clanking against the stone ground. She made sure to give him her most arrogantly superior smirk, and a touch of anger entered his eyes, lighting them with an unnatural fire.
He came at her with a renewed vigor, and she started taking hits. Two punches that got through to the kidneys, making her gasp involuntarily; a kick that almost shattered her windpipe, but was blocked on her crossed forearms instead, which bore the brunt of the damage; a vicious uppercut that she avoided, yet gave her a fresh bruise on her chin from air pressure alone.
Before he could lower the arm from that uppercut, Shampoo stopped dodging entirely, shifting her left foot back for added support, and replied with an uppercut of her own, seemingly feeble in comparison.
Fierce winds erupted from the Amazon's fist, the whirlwind hitting Bunshichi on the chest, even though he blocked the actual arm that made the attack. His eyes widened, and he flailed his arms, trying to regain his balance, but the moment passed and the winds sent his body flying high into the air, a great dragon rising from Shampoo's fist to batter Bunshichi and carry him away.
Shampoo allowed herself a brief smile of content, and sank to her knees in the eye of the tornado of her creation. 'This was a good fight,' she thought to herself, strangely detached despite releasing her hold on the Soul of Ice her great-grandmother had taught her. The winds raged on, the dragon showing its might to the foolish outsider male who challenged her, and all was right with the world. Seemingly an eternity later, there was a wet thump as the dragon finally expended its fury, letting the mortal escape from its claws.
She smiled again, closing her eyes as her hands dropped to her sides, feeling heavy like lead to her. Her entire body ached, and she desperately needed a bath, and some bandages, but she'd done it. She'd won. Won against that monster.
"All outta tricks now, darlin'?" someone asked her from behind. But all there was in direction was the arena itself, and no one should have—
Shampoo felt pain in the back of her head, and then her consciousness faded.
Bunshichi stepped from behind her, catching the purple-haired girl as she toppled forward and laying her carefully on the ground. He gave the Amazon's teammate a glance, and snorted. "Take care of the rest, Takayanagi," he said with deliberate casualness, and then turned around, walking out of the gymnasium, while ignoring the calls of the Katana members and the roar of the crowd.
Once the doors to the arena hall closed behind him, he stumbled, using the wall to help keep himself upright. "Damn, that's one tough chick," Bunshichi groused, rubbing his back while wincing. Shaking his head, he kept on heading out, balancing himself on the corridor's wall once in a while.
"This fight won't go like the previous did," Ranma said firmly, stepping onto the wrecked arena. "This is a rematch, the one that counts, and Ranma Saotome doesn't lose!"
"You're talking about the one where I pasted you, I assume?" Mitsuomi asked leisurely, already waiting for the pigtailed boy near the arena's center.
Ranma's hand shot into the air, catching the staff Maya had thrown him without even looking at her. "I've trained really hard to erase the shame of that earlier, clumsy fight. This time, we go at it till the bitter end!"
"Bring it on," Mitsuomi told him, not wasting more time on banter.
Ranma threw the staff high into the air, making it twirl horizontally, and then leapt up after it. He caught the circling staff, and twisted in the air with it, adding to its speed, before dropping at his opponent with an overhead swing. Mitsuomi back-flipped out of the way, tagging Ranma's shoulder with a kick in the process. Ranma went with the inertia of the hit, taking a step backwards. In a fluid motion, he shifted his grip on the staff to the middle, placing one end under his armpit, and turned on the foot supporting his weight. The staff cut a horizontal, moonlike shape through the air with a whooshing sound, and impacted against Mitsuomi's raised forearm, which he held at his side to guard from the attack.
The flexible staff bounced off, and Ranma went with the motion again, turning on his place in the opposite direction. He took the staff in both hands, raising them above his head and twirling it horizontally again, before utilizing that speed and momentum to launch a diagonal, downwards attack at Mitsuomi's other flank.
It was blocked as well, and Mitsuomi retaliated with a straight punch at Ranma's face. The pigtailed boy leaned his head sideways as he stepped closer, invading the other boy's personal space. The staff did a vertical twirl in his arms, and he struck from below at Mitsuomi. The green-haired boy dodged backwards, avoiding a hit on his chin, though the front of his shirt got ripped by the passage of the staff.
Ranma placed the staff horizontally at shoulder level, holding it near its end with one hand. He struck at Mitsuomi with a series of quick jabs, while his other hand gripped the base of the staff, directing the way its other end went.
The other boy evaded the attacks, though he gave ground in the process. Exploiting a momentary lull in Ranma's attacks, Mitsuomi launched a spin kick at him, buying himself another brief reprieve and allowing him to go on the offensive. He leapt at the pigtailed boy, coming down with an axe kick that sent a spider web of cracks in the stone as Ranma dodged, and shifted his balance to that foot, using it to spring forward at his opponent. With the added boost, Mitsuomi reached Ranma, coming at him with a glowing fist.
Ranma gripped the staff in both hands, spreading them at shoulder width, and blocked the blow with the wooden weapon. A look of surprise, then pain registered on Mitsuomi's face, as he pulled his fist back slowly from the unbroken staff.
Not waiting for his opponent to recover from his shock, Ranma did a half turn and sent the other boy back with a side kick to the stomach. Mitsuomi snapped out of his bewilderment in time to receive the business end of a staff in the face, and his head reeled back from the blow. This time, as during the block, the staff didn't bend in the slightest.
Despite the confusion and the damage the blows that got through wrecked on his system, Mitsuomi avoided the follow-up series of thrusts and the overhead slash that they preceded, and managed to get some distance from Ranma. "That felt like stone," he said out loud, more to himself, as he glanced briefly at his fist.
"Iron, actually," Ranma spoke, a smirk playing on his lips. "Nice, huh? I developed it just for assholes who I don't want to block with my bare arms." He snorted, flipping his pigtail over his shoulder. "Turns out it's useful to hit assholes that I don't wanna touch, too."
A fierce blue glow spread over Mitsuomi's fist. "Parlor tricks," he said, scowling in distaste. "They won't work against the full power of the Takayanagi School." The green-haired boy ran towards his opponent, rearing his hand back, and sending a powerful punch at his chest.
Ranma's staff wilted in his hands, sagging listlessly, and he folded it around Mitsuomi's arm, following up by smoothly stepping inside the other boy's guard and doing a half-spin crowned by an elbow that found Mitsuomi's throat. The green-haired boy recoiled, his hands going reflexively to his throat, and Ranma whipped him across the face with the now-deformed staff, as if it were a wet towel. Mitsuomi kept stumbling back, but hasn't regained his balance and composure before Ranma landed a straight left on his eye.
Even though his opponent finally had his guard up, Ranma ran at him, and then on him, using the other boy's raised arms as stepping stones. Once he touched down upon them, he leapt back, and sent his strange staff flying through Mitsuomi's guard once more, making it wrap around his neck like a chain. Ranma pulled on his end of the staff, and Mitsuomi coughed, stumbling forward this time.
Mitsuomi groped for the staff, and pulled on it blindly in an attempt to ease the pressure on his airways. Ranma was ready for that, and came at him willingly. He used the other boy's arms as a stool once more, getting himself purchase to launch a vicious snap kick at Mitsuomi's brow.
Ranma back-flipped as soon as his foot hit, and once airborne released the other end of his weapon from Mitsuomi's neck with a flick of his wrist, the wooden weapon once more fluidly forming into a regular staff. He turned to look at the other boy, and his breath was caught in his throat. Mitsuomi was down on the ground, struggling to rise. Mitsuomi was downed. Mitsuomi could be downed.
Mitsuomi could be defeated, Ranma felt for the first time. Not just theorized, rationally and intellectually, but felt it as truth deep inside.
"Wet cloth, variation of iron cloth," he told his supine opponent in a casual tone of voice. "Gotta work on the name, but it works alright, I'd say."
Mitsuomi wiped a layer of sweat off his forehead, flicking it to the ground, and leapt back onto his feet. Ranma watched him, giving his staff an idle twirl above his head before leaving it in his right hand, pointing forward, its tip leaning downwards. The two began circling each other, the distance between them closing slowly.
Mitsuomi was the first to attack, kicking out at Ranma's legs. The pigtailed boy jumped, pulling his feet in and nimbly avoiding the strike, turning the leap into a back-flip. His hands made contact with the ground first, and he used their support and his momentum to kick up with his right foot. Mitsuomi avoided both the attack and the bluish trail of air following it, which only hit the ground on the way up, splitting the stone.
Mitsuomi came at him with an elbow strike, and when it was blocked on Ranma's forearm, he followed through with a palm strike from the other hand. It landed, but Ranma caught him in the chin with the staff, rattling his teeth. Undaunted, both of combatants threw themselves back into the fight. Each sent a punch towards his opponent, Mitsuomi with his right and Ranma with his left, and both strikes hit, giving them matching bruises on opposing cheeks.
Ranma made the staff wilt once more, and sent it, snakelike, flying at Mitsuomi's feet. It snagged then, and Ranma pulled with both arms, sending the other boy airborne. Ranma met him in the air, landing on his stomach with both feet and driving the air out of his lungs. They hit the ground, and Ranma flipped away, just in time to avoid a blast of red energy that went on unhindered to crash into the ceiling and tear a beach ball-sized hole in it.
Ranma danced away from his downed opponent, mindful of the bits of ceiling breaking off and falling down on the arena in a pale rain of concrete. Mitsuomi coughed, and rolled to his side, spitting. Ranma watched him as his green-haired opponent rose steadily, casually wiping a thin trail of blood running from the side of his mouth as he did so.
"Go Ranma!" Sugano shouted from the sidelines, and the pigtailed boy smirked.
"You're going down," he told Mitsuomi, supplementing his words by holding out his left fist towards the other boy, the thumb pointing towards the ground. Ranma smirked. "And Oniisama is next."
"Don't disrespect Shin-san!" Mitsuomi exploded, his eyes lighting up with rage.
He came at Ranma anew, fists flying, both alight with eldritch energy. The pigtailed boy forced flexibility into two key points in his weapon, turning it into a three-piece staff, and whipped it around his body in defensive patterns. Each blow that landed on it brought on a flash, not unlike from lightning. The heavy thumps, audible a split-second afterwards, only served to make the illusion more real.
Ranma smiled, trying to enrage his rival further, but inwardly his resolve was starting to crack. Already, he was forced to give up ground, although not much and discreetly. Could he really beat Mitsuomi? Maybe the other boy hadn't been fighting at full power before? If that was true, could he still come out on top?
Ranma shook his head violently. A Saotome always won his duels. And this was the rematch, the fight that counts, so he had to win it. There were no ifs, buts or maybes about it.
But he was still on the defensive, unable to find a single moment to turn the tables on his opponent. Mitsuomi was good, there was no question about it. And even when he went completely on the offensive, there was simply no weak point in his defense to exploit. Besides, it was all he could do to avoid being hit—
Ranma blinked, his train of thoughts derailed by a sudden idea. A memory came unbidden to the surface, images of his teammate fighting that human tank, Bun-something guy. There was a way to get past Mitsuomi's defenses after all, and Shampoo had shown it to him with her own battle.
Ranma's defense slipped, as the three-piece staff in his arms extended much too far. He visibly struggled to bring it back under his control, but it was too late, for Mitsuomi was already there in the opening that was created. His fist buried itself in Ranma's left side, and Ranma's shirt, way sturdier than mere silk had any right to be, gave no protection against that ki-enforced blow.
Mitsuomi smirked, but his face adopted a look of confusion almost instantly afterwards, as he found his right arm snagged by the three-piece staff, which quickly collapsed into a chain holding it connected to Ranma's side. His eyes flew to meet Ranma's, and widened at the triumphant light held in them.
And then Ranma stepped in, closing the distance between them to almost nothing, and used his pivot foot to put more power into his own ki-enhanced punch, which impacted against Mitsuomi's chest, unhindered.
An unnatural stillness blanketed the arena for a moment, and then the back of Mitsuomi's shirt became tatters, blown away outwards by an unseen wind. Both fighters coughed up blood, and Ranma let his versatile staff drop to the ground, discarded, holding his now-free left hand against his side.
"I copied your technique," he told Mitsuomi, wiping his lips of blood with the back of his right hand. "The one you used to defeat me last time."
The other boy merely nodded curtly. "Only Shin-san had done it before," he said with some difficulty, sinking to his knees.
Ranma studied his opponent, wary of a sudden attack. When the wait stretched past a minute, he asked simply, "So… this mean you're giving up or what?"
Mitsuomi glanced up to meet Ranma's eyes with his own. "Can you actually move from that spot without collapsing?" he asked pointedly, through gritted teeth.
Ranma blinked. "I don't see what that's got to do with anything," he replied.
"I see." Mitsuomi frowned. "You do realize there'll be a rematch, once I have retrained myself under Master Fu?"
Ranma tried to shrug, teetered dangerously, and opted for a curt nod instead. "After you recover from all that internal damage, go for it."
Mitsuomi returned the nod, and then his eyes closed, and he keeled over, landing with his face in the ground.
"Victory," Ranma whispered, smiling brightly.
"Hey, move your ugly carcass," Maya called to him jauntily from the side of the arena. "Other people have to fight, too!"
"Yeah, sure, you bet'cha," he told her in a disdainful voice.
Her left eyebrow twitched, and Maya closed the distance between them in one long-ranged jump, turning on her pivotal foot as soon as she landed and kicking out high with the other one. The kick hit squarely against Ranma's chin, lifting him off his feet and sending him flying clear out of the arena, where he bounced off the ground several times before finally coming to a stop near the stands.
"If you couldn't move out of the way on your own, you should've said so from the start," a wizened voice rasped from above the supine boy.
He raised him head with some effort, and his eyes met Cologne's. "Ack! Ghouls!" he wheezed out, and tried unsuccessfully to scramble away, his palms sliding across the ground, unable to get much traction.
A staff embedded itself into the ground right next his head, drawing Ranma's eyes towards it, as his futile attempts to get away ceased entirely. "I would hit you, but unconsciousness would likely be a blessing for you in your state," Cologne said calmly, leaning across the railing of the stands.
Ranma winced, and then attempted to shrug. "I've been worse." He frowned. "And all those times had to do with Maya. What a violent chick."
"She would have made a good Amazon," Cologne agreed, nodding. She cocked her head, an expression of curiosity on her face. "Do you think she will win?"
"Against her brother?" Ranma snorted. "It's only like her friggin' goal in life, so I doubt she'd try hard or anything. What are you, brain-dead?"
"Oh, I have no doubt she would give it her best," Cologne said conversationally, not reacting to the insult. "What remains to be seen is whether her best will be enough to, pardon the pun, best Natsume Shin."
"That brother of hers is going down, one way or the other," Ranma asserted, and used the old woman's staff to help place himself in an upright position, settling to watch the arena.
"If you say so," Cologne said simply, and then withdrew her staff. "I will go and look over my great-granddaughter." She chuckled, then. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
She slid her hand inside her robe, retrieving a hermetically closed water bottle, which she flung at him. Ranma tried to catch it, but it bounced off his forehead instead, dropping to the ground near his feet and rolling away slowly. "What did you do that for?!" he exclaimed with a scowl.
"For your next fight," she merely said, before walking away.
Shin stopped five feet from his sister, and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Let's see how far you've come," he told her, raising his head to look down at her through lazily-closed eyelids.
Maya lunged forward, slashing at her brother's neck with her open right palm. He flowed back and to the side like water, and Maya turned her attack into a backhand, her fingers passing a mere inch from Shin's throat. Before her right hand even completed the move, she sent the other one, bunched into a fist, at Shin's stomach.
He caught it in his right palm, and flicked at her forehead with his free hand. Maya growled, stumbling back and wrenching her hand out of his grasp. Glaring at her brother, she kicked high at his chin, a kick he blocked on an elbow, and followed it with a series of rapid punches at his face.
Shin dodged them all with an outwards carelessness, merely weaving his head sideways to allow her fists to pass through nothing but air. She launched another kick, and he blocked with his elbow again, only this time she grabbed onto his limb, wrapping both arms around it. Before he could react, she used his elbow as a pivot, and put her body into an improvised headstand. Her legs wrapped around Shin's neck, and she pushed off him with her arms, giving a pull on her legs.
Shin teetered, and then he was sent flying. His back hit the arena, and Maya landed on his chest a moment later, her legs still wrapped around his neck.
"Even though you are my brother, perhaps I overdid it with the service," she commented, looking down at his dazed expression.
His eyes regained their focus, hardening instantly, and she took it as her sign to back-flip off him. Maya did several more languid leaps backwards, stretching her body as she did so like a tigress.
Shin placed his hands on the ground above his head, and used them to launch himself upwards, coming up to an upright position. He didn't wait for an attack, this time, opting to come at her. His open-handed palm strike was blocked on her crossed arms a short distance from her ribs, and he let Maya latch onto that arm. She twisted around him, one hand entrapping his right, the other launching an elbow strike at his ear, but he was ready for that. Before her attack hit, his left cross hit her in the small of her back, causing her to cry out in pain and abandon her hold on him.
"Show me something beyond this service," he sneered, as she backed away, her guard raised against a follow up attack that would not come.
She scowled, and broke into a run straight at him. It only took her a few steps before she was invading his personal space, and then she dropped and did the splits suddenly, her fist snaking out to strike at his groin. He blocked the attack with his arms, bending over slightly to stop her hand way before its target.
Maya's scowl turned into a smirk, and she pushed off his arms, her body dropping backwards. Her arms hit the ground first, and she used them for extra stability, kicking up at him, her skirt flying in the wind.
That kick was defended against as well, but Shin saw too late that it was only a feint, designed to cover the sweep against his feet. Though it hit, he remained on his feet, albeit unbalanced. Not giving her brother the chance to recover, Maya pushed off the ground with her arms, putting herself into a headstand, and then her feet did the splits once more. Without a care for any feminine decency, she used her arms to put her body into a turning motion, and dozens of kicks were sent at Shin's midsection.
He didn't manage to guard well against them for some reason, and though they lacked any serious power, Shin was not unaffected by Maya's attack. He acted confused, and was having trouble regaining his balance, which allowed Maya to repeat her first attack. Her legs snaked around Shin's throat, and his body slammed against the ground for the second time that fight.
He lay there for a long moment, and Maya let him go without a taunt this time, choosing to back away to a safe distance before he launched a counterattack.
Shin finally stood, and Maya blanched at the dead look in his eyes. Purple fire came into being, surrounding Shin like a myriad of writhing snakes, and she raised her fists.
The sound of flesh striking flesh registered to her before she even saw the attack. Maya blinked, and there was her brother, his palm strike blocked on Ranma's right forearm.
"Hey, do you really have the time to daydream in the middle of a fight?" the pigtailed girl asked, turning her head just enough to keep both Maya and Shin in her field of vision. The forearm she used to block Shin with looked scorched, and the red-head winced. "Now look what you've made me do, you violent tomboy."
"This… this is my fight!" Maya exclaimed, but before she could continue, Ranma cut her off.
"Yeah, yeah, how dare you interfere with my fights, I'm a martial artist, too… yadda, yadda." The red-head snorted. "Got something new to say, while you're at it?"
"We'll be… we'll be disqualified!" Maya gasped, still trying to wrap her mind around the situation.
Ranma shrugged. "Never cared for the title or anything. Don't wanna have to take care of no school, either. And you come to classes even less than me." She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Plus, once you lost to 'big bro' here, not even my greatness and assured win in the next fight could do something to pull a victory for us. I mean, Kuzuo… there's a reason that guy's called that. With him as a deciding point, we're as good as done."
Maya's mouth opened and closed several times, nothing audible coming out of it. Ranma put a smile on her face, and turned to face Shin fully once more. "Got a problem with the new arrangement, big bro?" she asked him cockily.
He observed them silently, his face emotionless. A long moment passed, then another, and Ranma's arms sagged an inch, the red-head sighing audibly. "Very well," Shin finally said at length, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his pants with a careless attitude that seemed like second nature to him.
Ranma didn't keep him waiting, having already begun to cross the distance between them the instant it became clear Shin was willing to continue. Her leg kicked impossibly high, and the long-haired boy leaned back, letting it pass in front of his chin, only to be forced to use one of his hands to block a spin kick from his sister. Maya grinned, her right leg parallel to the ground, steady all the way from her torso to where it met Shin's left elbow.
Meanwhile, Ranma turned her kick into a backflip, kicking out with her other foot when she reached its apex. Shin guarded against it with his right arm almost absent-mindedly, the boy focused on Maya, but Ranma paid it no mind, rebounding off it. Her hands were cupped at her side before she even landed, swirling blue energy gathering between them, and once her feet made contact with the ground that energy was released towards Shin with a loud yell.
He brought his own palms together as the bluish ki blast bore down on him and caught it with them. For a brief moment, the ball of energy lay in his hands, crackling, and then Shin dug into it with his fingernails and threw his arms apart, literally tearing it apart, the leftover energy fizzling out harmlessly. That took but a moment, but in that moment he wasn't guarding himself from his sister, and she got a snap kick under his guard and squarely into his sternum.
Shin stumbled back a step, briefly shocked as one of his arms automatically went to his chest. His focus returned just in time to see a fist headed for his face, a savagely smiling red-head attached to it. The fist was batted aside, and the short girl was sent flying back from a vicious kick that went right through her defenses with brute force alone. As she flew, however, he stumbled once again, as his feet were swept by his sister. Maya, squatting on the ground, the tips of her fingers touching the ground and making her appear like a large predator, gave him a challenging glare, and shot up with an uppercut.
He avoided it, or so he thought, before the air torrent slammed into his face, momentarily asphyxiating him. Shin brought his supporting leg a step back, widening his stance to stabilize his footing, before he made any attempt at retaliation. Maya was still spinning in the air, having yet to reach the apex of her jump, and he grabbed her foot, unmindful of the way the air swirling around her cut into his exposed hand with the force of a hundred paper cuts.
A build up of energy alerted him to an imminent attack, and he brought his other hand before him, raised in a fist. An energy blast impacted upon it, blinding everyone as the gathered ki detonated, and the next thing he saw was the red-head's fist headed for his face again, on the heels of her energy attack. This time, Shin was unable to guard against the blow in time, and his head snapped sideways as Ranma hit his left cheek.
Tasting blood in his mouth, Shin screamed, and pulled on Maya's leg. He used his sister to bat Ranma away, before swinging his arm away and sending the silver-haired girl flying in the opposite direction. He brought his attention back onto Ranma, but was barely able to make a step towards her before the red-head had another swirling ball of energy ready between her cupped palms. Shin gathered his own energy, and released it at her in a menacing to behold purple wave. Ranma released her attack, but it wasn't enough against the tidal wave unleashed against her, and was carried away by the energy all the way to the stands, where she was slammed into them with enough force to make the building rattle.
A ki blast slammed into him at the same time from behind, and he grunted, suppressing the urge to nurse his singed back. Shin turned around, and saw Maya crouching, her hands outstretched towards him, palms together and facing forwards. He scowled, and grabbed the collar of his now-ruined shirt, tearing it off his body. He barely gave it a passing glance before flinging it away.
"I will take you seriously," he addressed Maya, not raising his voice. "Your girlfriend is not here anymore to help you. Are you going to continue this?"
"And just who—" came from behind him, making Shin turn in time to receive a flying spin kick in the face, "—said we were done?"
Ranma used the initial impact and converted it into more inertia for her spin, her other leg already flying out to hit against Shin's ear with a meaty smack. Her third kick was blocked, and she flipped away, blasting the boy in the stomach upon landing for good measure. Leaving herself in a crouch similar to the one Maya was in, she smiled triumphantly at her teammate. "Wanna finish this?" Ranma asked arrogantly, flipping her pigtail back in a gesture that conveyed confidence to all those who knew her.
Maya nodded, a firm look sliding over her features, and the two leapt at Shin as one. He was forced to fight defensively as he got his bearings together, but as soon as his head cleared, Shin went on the offensive once more. This time, however, his attacks were being countered. When he struck at Maya, Ranma was there to redirect his arm. When the red-head got too cocky and, as the result, too close, Maya met his elbow strike, blocking it on her arm. Ranma's crossed arms took the punch meant for Maya's sternum, and the silver-haired girl returned the favor a split-second later by redirecting the follow up strike with a kick.
Shin was stunned for a moment by their coordination, and they used that against him, executing a synchronized attack that managed to land yet another hit on his body, their fists charged with blue energy that burned when it made contact with first his chest, and then his chin.
The arena was silent as Shin was flung off his feet by the twin rising uppercut, and sent flying onto the ground, Ranma and Maya touching down soon after.
Ranma gave the fallen boy a long glance. Then she frowned, and asked in a voice full of irritation, "Hey, how come I gotta be the violent chick's girlfriend?!" He jerked her thumb towards Maya carelessly, making the other girl twitch.
"Is there anything wrong with me?" the silver-haired girl asked in a dangerous growl.
"Hah!" Ranma whirled around on Maya, pointing her index finger at her haughtily. "It's way easier to list what's right with you than the other way around!"
Maya's eyes narrowed into slits. "You don't say."
"I do say!" Ranma exclaimed, puffing out her already impressive chest. "Wanna make something of it, Miss Violent Tomboy?"
"I'll make you cry 'girlfriend' before I make you cry for real," Maya vowed, her hands spasming before she clenched them tightly into fists.
A pillar of purple flame off to the girls' side drew their attention from each other. Shin was standing in the pillar's center, his head bowed. Ranma had time to casually notice that the pillar extended beyond the arena's ceiling, before unbelievably solid purple light washed over her and Maya.
"Hey, you awake?" Ranma asked, content to continue laying on what she surmised was a hospital bed without opening her eyes.
"No," came the grouchy reply from the silver-haired girl.
Ranma snorted. Maya seemed sulky from her tone of voice. "I didn't know that you could throw a Hadoken."
"Look who's talking!" Maya returned with a snort of her own. "Heh, I guess I wasn't the only one training all this time to do a projectile ki attack."
Ranma scowled. "So we don't have that freaky Ryugan ability. So that long-ass Chokuto Reiki sword is just some long-ass sword for us. Who cares about that?!"
"Hear, hear," Maya echoed without much enthusiasm.
Ranma cracked her eyes open at last, looking in the direction of the other girl's voice. Sure enough, Maya was occupying a hospital bed to her left. "If that Takayanagi guy could do it, being normal and all, no reason I shouldn't be able to. I'm gonna be the best, after all!"
"Hey, and what about me?" Maya protested, opening her own eyes to glare at Ranma.
"You… can be second best, I guess," the red-head replied with a shrug that made her wince in pain. "Yeah."
"So you want me underneath you? Do you really think you could keep me there?"
Ranma blinked. Hearing the teasing in Maya's voice, however, she wasn't about to back down. "Well, it's all in a grip. Sometimes it's in the hold, though. Even with your freakishly unnatural strength, I should still be beat you into submission without too much trouble."
There was a short pause where none of them talked, Maya and Ranma just laying there side by side. "I really, really hate you," Maya muttered at long last, turning away.
"Umm." Ranma bit her lower lip, chewing on it in uncertainty. "Does that mean you don't wanna be my girlfriend now?"
"Don't be an idiot," Maya stated matter-of-factly, turning back to smirk at Ranma. "Besides, who else would take an asshole like you in?"
"Hey!" the red-head cried out angrily, making a move to rise from her bed.
As they bickered, neither Maya nor Ranma noticed that the door to their room was opened a crack.
"Oneesama… was like that?" a pretty chestnut-haired girl in a middle school uniform murmured, her hands flying to her mouth clumsily even as her eyes widened. "I see now…."
Aya Natsume closed the door to the hospital room her sister shared with the beautiful red-headed girl she was apparently involved with, and turned around. She was going to give her beloved older sister some privacy by walking back towards the elevators. Instead, she ran into what felt like a very squishy and yet impressively firm wall, Meeting what might as well had been an immovable object with her head made Aya stumble, and she fell on the floor in shock.
"Oh, is sorry," a voice said from above her, speaking in broken Japanese that sounded irresistibly cute at the same time. "Shampoo not watch where she go."
Aya moaned, her eyes fluttering open. "You… defeated me," she breathed out dreamily. She glanced at the lower half of her body, where her skirt was pooled around her knees. "And you saw my panties."
Shampoo blushed, and turned her head away.
Aya stood up, dusting her school uniform off a few times as she did so, before her hands latched onto Shampoo's cheeks, forcing the older girl to face her once more, just as she stood on the tips of her feet. She leaned forward, eyelids fluttering close, and her lips made contact with the Amazon's surprised ones.
"Huh," Cologne commented from the side, a flower bouquet in her arms. "Didn't see that one coming."
"So we've been out for a couple of days?" Ranma was asking, trying to keep from sulking visibly.
Sugano nodded, taking a seat next to the pigtailed boy. They were in the school's yard, lounging around the deserted area Maya has claimed as her own upon her acceptance into the academy. The silver-haired girl herself was high above them, spread over a particularly sturdy branch of the ancient tree that shaded the slab of stone that served as Ranma and Sugano's bench.
"That old Chinese medicine woman said it was the result of some people without proper training using too much ki at once and putting an undue strain on their bodies." At the indignant look on Ranma's face, and seeing the other boy lift his hand threateningly, balling it into a fist, Sugano raised both arms in an attempt to placate his teammate before things got out of control. "Hey, man, that's what she said! Don't kill the messenger, here!"
Frowning, Ranma dropped his hand back into his lap. "That sucks," he said curtly. A snort from above delivered Maya's response to the both of them.
"Hey!" Sugano exclaimed, snapping his fingers suddenly. "When did you use ki, Ranma? I never got to see you do anything flashy."
The pigtailed boy shifted uncomfortably. "You weren't paying close attention," he got out, looking away.
"No, I'm pretty sure I was watching your fight with Takayanagi pretty closely—" Sugano cut himself off as annoyance and the threat of violence appeared on the other boy's face again, and sighed. "I guess you're right, man. Besides, it's not like your sister could learn all of those flashy moves without you."
Maya erupted into laughter, and jumped off her branch to the ground, her long hair trailing her on her way down, glittering in the sunlight. "Yes," she agreed, once she brought herself back under control, "one might almost think Ranma and his sister were inseparable."
Ranma scowled at Maya. "Bah!" he exclaimed. "You're just jealous your girlfriend has a bigger bust than you!"
Maya turned a cold look at him, making him shiver involuntarily. "Was that a bust battle challenge?" she asked him in an icy tone.
"It…." Ranma trailed off, momentarily unsure of his response. The smirk making its way onto Maya's face made the decision for him. "Hell yeah!" he exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air. "You, me, cup of cold water. Let's do it!"
Sugano watched the pair run off towards the building they had claimed as their club after the kendo team had been disbanded, and shook his head. "All this time, and those three girls were playing for the other team. No wonder we lost." He sighed, and lay back on the slab of concrete, closing his eyes to take a short nap.
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