It is early morning, but the sounds of fighting can already be heard from the practice hall of the Tendou Dojo.
Akane is standing in the middle of the hall, sweating, but looking happy. She is holding one rhythmic gymnastics club in each hand.
Akane: Phew! That Kodachi will get the fight she's looking for.
Ranko is sitting along the wall, watching her.
Ranko: So, you're pretty confident?
Akane: [twirls one of the clubs] Yes. That week of training with Ryouga was a real help.
Ranko: When he was able to find the practice hall, anyway.
The club bonks off Ranko's head.
Akane: And your "giving him directions" didn't help either. What did you think of, sending him off in the direction of Osaka?
Ranko: [rubbing her head] Well, I figured he was just as likely to turn up here, as if I had pointed him on the right way.
Akane: Hmph! He taught me a lot during this time, and I'm confident that I'll be able to hold myself at the match today.
Ranko: But we'd better watch out, or Kodachi will try to disqualify you "in all fairness" before you get your chance.
Meanwhile, Ryouga is fighting his way through the underbrush of a deep forest.
Ryouga: [grumbles] Curse you, Ranko! This is your fault.
At the St. Hebereke School for Girls, Kodachi is already awaiting her opponents. They meet her in the corridor before the changing rooms.
Kodachi: So. You are Tendou Akane - and you brought your little girlfriend, too.
Ranko just snarls at her, while Akane evenly meets her gaze. Kodachi extends a hand.
Kodachi: Very well, then. May the better one win.
Akane eyes the hand suspiciously at first, but then - when she cannot find any hidden weapons - takes it. Kodachi shakes Akane's hand for a second, the lets herself fall backward, pulling Akane with her, and throwing her into the air. Akane just somersaults over her and lands on her feet. She turns to look at Kodachi disgustedly.
Kodachi: Ooops, I must have slipped.
She lies without any sign of shame. Akane and Ranko enter their room, without saying another word to the other girl. A bouquet of black roses, lying on the table, is quickly disposed of via the window. Akane changes into her leotard and tights, and is just about to put her clothes into the locker, when Ranko stops her.
Ranko: Akane! Look.
She points upwards, where a bucket is balanced on top of the locker, just waiting to drop onto anyone opening the door.
Akane: A bucket of water. How childish.
Ranko: You think that's just water in there?
Akane gulps. She puts up a stepladder, that was leaning against the wall, and carefully climbs up, to remove the bucket. Ranko watches her, when suddenly her sense of danger goes off.
Ranko: [thinks] That stepladder. It was just too damn handy, nearby. [out loud] Akane! Don't step on the last step!
But it is already too late. The last step gives under Akane's weight and the girl falls. She lands heavily, her left leg twisted beneath her. She grits her teeth and expels her breath. A single tear is rolling from her eye.
Akane: [quietly] Ow.
In a flash, Ranko is by her and helps her stand. It is obvious that she cannot stand alone - her ankle is twisted. Akane sits down on a chair. She looks sad and angry at the same time.
Akane: So that's it. Kodachi wins after all.
Ranko: [determined] No, she doesn't!
Akane: I'm in no state to fight, Ranko. We'll have to forfeit this match. I was the last substitute our team had.
Ranko: Well, you're looking at the new substitute. That Black Rose will be sorry she ever messed with you.
Akane: But Ranko...
Ranko: What do you want? I can fight; I can wear your leotard - it's stretchable, isn't it? - and I'm a girl.
She spreads her arms in a "What more do you want?" gesture. unfortunately she brushes up against the locker with her hand and the bucket falls down onto her head. It did contain only water, after all.
Ranma: Err, if I can find some hot water, that is.
Ryouga is pushing through a field of of shoulder-high grass.
Ryouga: Curse you, Ranko! I will miss Akane's match because of you.
Suddenly he vanishes downwards from sight.
A very angry squeal echoes over the field.
Akane is still sitting on the chair nursing her ankle, when Ranko comes back. Ranko is now wearing the leotard, and Akane is back in her clothes.
Ranko: It's all cleared. The judges have accepted me as a substitute and the match will begin soon.
Akane: Ranko - do you really think you can go into a match with someone like Kodachi unprepared?
Ranko: Hey, I watched you and Ryouga train for a week, after all.
She picks up the ribbon and whips it clear across the room, where it ties around both clubs and the hoop. She snaps it back and catches the tools deftly.
Ranko: Willya toss me the rope, please?
Akane stares at her. Then she slowly reaches over, picks up the rope and throws it to Ranko.
Akane: W-why didn't you snag it, too?
Ranko: Hey, it's my first time. Cut me some slack.
A gong sounds.
Ranko: Uh oh, gotta go now. See ya out there.
Akane stares after the leaving Ranko for a time.
Akane: [thinks] I'm beginning to believe that Kodachi will be sorry.
Announcer: Here are the champions.
The crowd in the hall around the ring roars approval at the entrance of the two girls.
Announcer: For St. Hebereke stands... Kunou Kodachiii!
Kodachi's supporters applaud wildly. They know what awaits them after the show, if they don't. Akane freezes as she hears Kodachi's full name.
Announcer: And on the other side, for Fuurinkan High fights... [rustles paper] um, Saotome Rankooo!
Kodachi glares across the ring at her opponent.
Kodachi: [thinks] Saotome Ran... -ko?
The referee calls them to the middle of the ring, to shake hands and begin to fight. Ranko stretches out her hand, not expecting Kodachi to try anything before everybody's eyes. She is wrong.
Kodachi: For you. A little something that I found wandering the corridors just now. I thought that you'd need a mascot.
Ranko pulls at the chain that Kodachi has just attached to her wrist. At the other end hangs a little black pig with a bandanna around its neck.
Ranko: [grits her teeth, to P-chan] Well, well, Ryouga. Always turning up where nobody expected you.
P-chan does not answer. He is too busy biting Ranko's arm.
Trying to use Ranko's diverted attention, Kodachi lunges at her with a club outstretched. Ranko is barely able to duck. Out of the corners of her eyes she sees something happen to the club.
Akane, who is sitting in the front row, jumps up, ignoring her bad ankle.
Akane: Referee! That club has spikes!
But when Kodachi holds out her club, the spikes have vanished again, just like they appeared. Kodachi grins smugly. Meanwhile, Ranko has taken up her own clubs and launches her attack. She never makes it.
His little legs a blur, P-chan has circled Ranko, wrapping the chain, that binds him to her, firmly around her legs. Ranko stumbles and falls flat.
Ranko: Ryouga, you pig, you're gonna pay for that.
She frantically rolls to the side, to evade Kodachi's next move, but the Black Rose scores a glancing blow to her side.
Ranko: Unnnh! [frees herself of the chain, to Kodachi] And you will pay, too.
She throws a club at Kodachi, who laughs and sidesteps it easily - right into the path of the hoop, that Ranko has thrown with lightning speed. The hoop catches around Kodachi's throat, choking her for a second. She lets the tool clatter to the ground and looks at Ranko hatefully.
Kodachi: [coughs] So, you want to play it the hard way, girl? Then try this!
On the table of the judges stands a tray with cups of tea and a kettle of boiling water on a heater. Kodachi's ribbon lashes out of the ring and snags the kettle. With a flick of her wrist, she sends it flying at Ranko.
Kodachi: Let's see you shrug off the Attack of the Boiling Water!
With a look of intense concentration on her face, Ranko aims one of her clubs and throws it with all her force. It's obvious immediately, that it is not going to connect with the kettle. Instead, the blurring club slices right through the tautly stretched ribbon that holds it, thereby sending the kettle far off its mark, missing Ranko.
But as the kettle sails out of the ring, it turns over and a stream of boiling water leaks out. Right down towards the squealing P-chan.
The water hits, and in the audience, Akane's eyes go wide.
Akane: P-... P-Chan!
-- End of Part 25.
Part 26: "Hold fast!"
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