Tendou Akane's eyes are wide with surprise.
Akane: Rhythmic Gymnastics Wrestling?
She is sitting in her room on her bed. Before her on the floor sit a few girls from her school sports club. Ranko is also there, sitting a little to the side, listening.
Girl: [pulls a big schematic diagram from nowhere] The fighters use only the techniques and tools of rhythmic gymnastics in their match.
Girl2: Our school is to fight against the champion of Hebereke High, but all girls that are qualified are in no condition to fight. Our School's honour will be lost!
Girl3: The only girl in the sports club who has a chance of representing our school without months of training is you!
Akane: I'm not sure if I can do this. But If you want me, I will help.
Ranko, who is listening to all this, looks up to see Akane's pet P-chan squeeze out through the door crack.
Ranko: [thinks] Where are you going Ryouga?
The girls cry tears of thankfulness.
Akane and Ranko are in the practice hall; Akane is wearing her gi. Around her on the floor is an arrangement of rhythmic gymnastics tools: clubs, a rope, a ribbon, A hoop and a ball.
Akane: OK, let's see how these work.
She takes up the clubs, twirls them experimentally and leaps through the air, letting the clubs spin. She lands with her arms outstretched to catch the descending clubs, but they clatter to the floor several meters to each side. Blushing embarrassedly, she shoots Ranko a "don't say a word" look, but Ranko is just looking on impassively.
Ranko doesn't move a muscle, while Akane entangles herself in the ribbon, breaks the hoop, and crushes all the tools to sawdust in a screaming fit. When Akane has finished, Ranko speaks.
Ranko: Perhaps... those girls confused enthusiasm for violence with fighting experience.
Akane turns to her, flushed red with anger.
Akane: It's my first attempt! I never did this in my life, so cut the smartass comments. How am I supposed to handle these things if I never trained with them before?
Ranko: Well, this will be expensive training, if we have to buy new tools after each round.
Akane blushes, half with anger, half with embarrassment, and is on the verge of shouting a response, when the door shifts open. Ryouga is standing in it, his hair still slightly damp.
Ryouga: I can train you.
Ranko: Where did you learn Rhythmic Gymnastics Wrestling? [slaps her forehead] Duh! What am I doing, asking Ryouga where something was?!
Ryouga calmly takes up a ribbon and lets it spin towards Ranko with incredible speed. Ranko has to jump to avoid being hit by the cloth that's spinning so fast that it cuts like a razor. Her clothes are ripped at the right shoulder and the legs. Her heart thumps from the sudden shock.
Ryouga: The important thing is that I can prepare Akane for her match.
Akane: You would do that, Ryouga? That's so nice of you.
She hurries to get another set of tools for herself. Ryouga looks after her in bliss. Ranko leans over to him and asks him in a low voice.
Ranko: Did you tell her, yet?
Ryouga: [staring at Akane, fidgeting] I'm working myself up to it.
Ranko: Well, you're certainly working yourself up to something, P-chan.
Ryouga: [hotly] Who is P-chan?!
Ranko: I know who P-chan is. The question is, when will Akane finally know?
Ryouga punches at Ranko; Ranko evades.
Ryouga: How am I ever going to confess, if you never give me a chance? You're always putting me down in front of her.
Ranko: Chances to confess to her are not mine to give. If you had any courage, you'd make your own opportunity.
But Ryouga is not listening anymore. By now the two are fighting steadily; Punching, kicking, dodging and countering. Ryouga sends Ranko flying outside, where she lands gracefully, anticipating his next move.
There is a shadow in the trees beyond the Tendou garden walls. It watches with interest as the girl is flung out of the house, ducks under the flying kick of the young man and sends him head-first into one of the big ornamental boulders. As the fight moves forward and back, the shadow observes. Finally it has seen enough.
Shadow: [thinks] This must be her - Tendou Akane. Who else but this formidable fighter would they have chosen to stand against the Black Rose of St. Hebereke? Train well, Akane. The fight will be upon you soon.
The shadow vanishes from its lookout point with a bout of laughter that borders on insanity. A few seconds later the fight ends as both fighters, distracted by the unnerving sound, fall into the garden pool.
That night, Ranko shifts open the door to her room and enters, yawning loudly. She changes into her pyjamas, lies down on her futon and looks upwards, where she stares right into the face of a teenage girl in a leotard, clinging to the ceiling. The girl has black hair tied to a pony tail at the side of her head; She holds a black rose between her lips and a large wooden mallet behind her back. Before Ranko can say a thing, the girl dives down towards her, obviously intending to crush her beneath the giant mallet.
Ranko backflips out of the path and lands in a ready position, even as the Mallet crunches into the futon. Surprisingly, the panda, sleeping on the other mat, doesn't even stir. There is a bouquet of black roses lying next to him.
Ranko: Who the hell are you?!
The girl stands straight, mallet at the ready, and introduces herself.
Girl: I am Kodachi the Black Rose, champion of St. Hebereke High. I believe that you, Tendou Akane, are to be my opponent in next week's match. So let us both do our best and fight in all fairness. [lunges forward with the hammer]
Ranko: [dodges] This is "fighting in all fairness"? Ambushing a girl in her own... Hey! [points at Kodachi] It was you, wasn't it? You are the reason why all the rhythmic gymnasts of Fuurinkan High are out of the picture. Well, you made a mistake now; I am not Tendou Akane.
Kodachi: In that case, I apologize for the intrusion and will now leave you to search for my real opponent.
She moves to leave, but is stopped by Ranko, who blocks her way with a kick.
Ranko: Not so fast. If you really think I'll let you go to attack Akane now, you are even crazier than you look.
Kodachi: If I have to go through you to get to Tendou Akane - So be it!
Kodachi attacks with her mallet again. The descending wood is met by Ranko's foot coming the other way. There is no contest - The mallet is sent flying from Kodachi's grip. Kodachi regards Ranko, sweating. She pulls out a ribbon from wherever in her leotard she managed to conceal it.
Kodachi: You are good. How fortunate for both of us that it isn't you I'll fight next week. I shall return for Akane.
She spins her ribbon in a spiral pattern and a storm of black rose petals ensues. She uses the distraction to bound out of the door, outside. Ranko looks around. The whole floor is littered with rose petals. She runs to the door.
Ranko: [shouts] Hey! Who's gonna clean up that mess? I just cleaned up in here last Sunday!
On the roof, Kodachi stands, breathing heavily.
Kodachi: [thinks] I have to find out who Tendou Akane is and in which room she sleeps, if I am to cripple her before the match.
A voice pulls her out of her thoughts.
Ranko: Who told you, you could leave, Black Petunia?
Kodachi spins around. Behind her stands Ranko, as if she appeared out of thin air.
Ranko: You'll not even go near Akane!
She takes a flying leap, foot outstretched, at Kodachi; Kodachi ducks to the side, but in passing her, Ranko's other foot lashes out, impacting on Kodachi's temple. Unfortunately, Ranko did not calculate where the arc of her jump would take her, and so she sails far over the edge of the roof. Helplessly she watches the garden pool grow bigger beneath her.
When Ranma looks up, a second later, he sees Kodachi falling backwards over the edge of the roof.
Ranma: [thinks] Damn! She's unconscious. She'll break her neck.
With two jumps, faster than the wind, he jumps clear of the pool and catches the falling girl, carrying her back up onto the roof. Kodachi is already regaining consciousness. The first thing she sees is the man holding her.
Kodachi: [thinks] Oh. He's gorgeous. [out loud] I was.. [grabs him in an embrace] so afraid.
Ranma tries to politely extricate himself from her arms, but Kodachi keeps an iron grip. She is blushing, as she presses herself against her rescuer.
Kodachi: [thinks] To think that life at a dreary girl's school had already killed all hope of finding a man like this.
She lets go of Ranma, who quickly retreats two steps.
Ranma: Now look, just leave m...
Kodachi: Oh, but you must give me your name. You saved me.
Ranma: [reluctantly] My name is Saotome Ranma.
Kodachi: [whips out a bouquet of black roses] For you, Ranma-sama.
Ranma: Err, I'd rather you left now...
In that moment, the bouquet explodes into Ranma's face with a yellow gas. Ranma coughs, then suddenly falls to his knees.
Ranma: Hey! What... What...
Kodachi: Just a little touch of paralysis gas.
Ranma: Y-you're not crazy - you're completely insane!
Kodachi lovingly lays Ranma on his back and drapes herself over him.
Kodachi: Hush now, my lover. Take these lips of mine.
Ranma: [helplessly] Nnnnnnnnnn!
Suddenly Kodachi is flying. Akane is standing besides Ranma in her pyjamas. She's glowing with anger.
Akane: And right above my bedroom, too!
Kodachi: [lands] What an unromantic girl. Such tragic timing. [jumps away over the roofs] Despair not, Ranma-sama. We will meet again, soon. [insane laughter]
Akane looks down at the lifeless Ranma, who looks up at her pleadingly. She pushes him into a sitting position and kneels down before him, with her back to him.
Akane: Honestly, Ranma...
She puts his arms around her neck and rises, carrying him on her back.
Akane: What is it about you that always attracts this kind of girl? [grins] Is one girl as fiancée not enough? [laughs] Seriously, I don't think that we've seen the last of this.
Ranma: [thinks] Wait till you hear who that was. Kodachi, the Black Rose... And you'll have to fight that maniac next week.
-- End of part 24.
Part 25: "That Black Rose will be sorry"
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