Ranko , Part 26:
"Hold fast!"


An astonished murmur goes through the crowd watching the ring. Akane has jumped up again and winces at the pain shooting through her ankle.

Announcer: An astonishing thing has happened in the ring.

Most of the ring is obscured by steam from the boiling water. As it slowly lifts, the onlookers see Ranko crouching on the ground, clutching at her arm.

Announcer: Saotome Ranko has thrown herself in the way of the water, to save the little pig that is her mascot. That must really hurt. Will she have to quit to treat her injury?

Akane slowly sits down, the tears in her eyes stem in equal part from the pain and from her feelings about what she has just seen.

Akane: [thinks] You sacrificed yourself for P-chan. Ranko - and I thought you hated him.

P-chan is just as astonished as she is. He sits on his haunches and stares disbelievingly at Ranko. Ranko takes her eyes off Kodachi for a second, to glance over at him.

Ranko: [thinks] If that water had hit him and he'd changed while he's got that chain around him, he would've been crippled or even killed. Or Akane would've killed him. [turns back to Kodachi] Now I've got to fight her with the pig and my arm holding me back.

Kodachi: Give up now, Girl. Go home and lick your wounds, while you still can.

Ranko: I hate to have to tell you this again, but you're crazy! Do you really think I'll let you go unpunished?

Kodachi: [laughs] Oohohohohooo! Then face the wrath of the Black Rose!

Kodachi lunges forward with clubs in both hands. Her arms blur, as she strikes in a pattern, not unlike Kunou's multiple strike move with the bokken. Ranko is driven backwards and jumps up onto one of the corner poles. She fights off Kodachi's strikes with one club of her own, as best as she can. But Kodachi's attack is so fast that it looks as if she was using twenty clubs at once.

Akane frowns at the picture. She, too, feels reminded of Kunou's moves. Suddenly a voice snaps her out of her ponderings.

Kunou: Ah, I wonder. My sister has never truly been able to use this technique. Surely she is resorting to a sort of trickery, as is her wont.

Akane's head turns, as if it was affixed to a turntable. In the row behind her sits Kunou.

Akane: Your sister?!

Kunou: Indeed, Akane-san. But even though she is, I have to admit that her trickery and twistedness are far beyond anything I have ever experienced. I feel sorry for the pigtailed girl, to be set against her. I will seek her out after the match and comfort her.

He breaks out in a smile at the thought - Akane breaks out in sweat.

In the ring, Ranko has realized that she will lose, if she allows Kodachi to press her any further. Bunching up her leg muscles, she jumps high over Kodachi's reach. While she is above her, Ranko throws her club at Kodachi's still blurring wrist. Kodachi, who was following Ranko with her eyes, loses her rhythm. Out of her numbed hands, clubs fall to the ground - ten; fifteen; twenty clubs. Ranko lands on the other end of the ring.

Ranko: Why, Kodachi. I didn't think you were coordinated enough to hold two clubs - let alone twenty.

With a cry of rage, Kodachi runs at Ranko. Ranko sidesteps with a grin, expecting her to run past, but to her astonishment, Kodachi falls. She hits the ground hard, beside Ranko. As Ranko looks at her, she sees that Kodachi's feet are tied. The chain that connects P-chan with Ranko's wrist is wrapped around Kodachi's ankles and P-chan is busy, chomping on her thighs.

Ranko: [thinks] Ryouga?! [to P-chan] Hey, thanks!

Kodachi squirms out of the chains and away from Ranko. Her face is flushed; She is steaming with anger. Again, her ribbon flashes out of the ring.

Ranko: [thinks] Uh-oh. Not another kettle.

But something else hangs entangled in the ribbon, when it snaps back into the ring. It is Kunou. Kodachi hurls her brother at Ranko, but Kunou whips out his bokken and slices the ribbon, before he reaches his target. He puts the wooden sword away again and bows to Ranko. Then he turns to Kodachi.

Kunou: My sister, you know you have my admiration for your sneakiness and trickery, but I will not partake in any action against the love of my life, the pig-tailed girl. [leaves the ring]

Ranko: He's your brother? [thinks] Figures, that the two biggest weirdoes in Nerima would be related.

Kodachi: OhohoHOHOhoHOOO! How ironic that you should be the love of my brother, when your own relation to my love is so obviously evident.

Ranko: My what?

Kodachi: Why, of course. Has Ranma-sama not told of me and our romantic night above the roofs of Nerima? I'm sure he has - why else would you so suddenly turn up and challenge me? You do not want your brother to date me!

Ranko: Ranma's not my brother, you dolt!

Kodachi: And still you bear the same name, and your resemblance to him is remarkable. It is no matter whether you are his cousin, sister or whatever; it is no matter that you are the love of my brother; I will not permit you to stand in the way of my love.

She pelts Ranko with the remainder of her clubs, lying strewn around her, but Ranko simply swats them out of the air with her rope, that she twirls so fast that it acts like a solid shield.

Ranko: Kodachi, you are one sick person. And you haven't got the slightest clue. This isn't about love - this is about what you did to Akane; and I won't let that go unpunished.

Slowly but inexorably Ranko advances towards Kodachi, who grows more and more frantic in her throwing. Kodachi calls out to her second, and requires a hoop. When it flies to her, she catches it deftly by letting it rotate around her hand. Faster and faster it spins, until she sends it whizzing towards her still advancing opponent with a flick of her wrist.

Ranko keeps herself behind the rope, still twirling as fast as ever. In the audience, Akane yells out in surprise, when the hoop cuts through Ranko's "shield" like butter. Ranko drops to the ground, only a hair's breadth between her and the hoop. Light glints off the implement as it whirrs onwards.

Ranko: Th-that's a razor!

Having not met anything to stop it, the deadly hoop carries on its trajectory - right into the direction of the terrified audience.

Ranko: No!

She drops her now useless rope and grabs another ribbon. Praying for success, she sends the cloth hurtling after the hoop and manages to catch it before it plows a deadly path through the hapless watchers. It clatters to the ground.

Kodachi: An opening!

Without losing a split second, Kodachi recovers her trick club and lunges at Ranko with its spikes extended. Ranko is caught from behind, but can twist sideways, so only her shoulder is grazed. She drops forward, and Kodachi already imagines the battle won. But Ranko uses her momentum to do a lightning fast ground loop that ends with her bringing her legs up to grab Kodachi's outstretched weapon.

Twisting with all the force she can muster, Ranko levers Kodachi into the air by her own club. Even as she flies up, Kodachi begins to laugh.

Kodachi: Oohohohohohohoooo!

Ranko: [thinks] What do you have to laugh about, you weirdo? When you hit the ground outside the ring you're out!

As Kodachi nears the highest point of her arc, she pulls out a whistle and blows it. A shiver runs through the ring; Suddenly it jerks and begins to move. Kodachi laughs.

Ranko: Oh no! The ring is moving towards her and she'll land inside!

She looks around frantically. Suddenly she grabs P-chan.

Ranko: Ryouga! You gotta help me. Hold fast!

Ranko throws P-chan at the chain out of the ring. The chain wraps around a supporting beam and the pig holds on tight to the chain with legs and teeth.

Ranko: I hope your monstrous strength doesn't leave you in this form, Ryouga.

Ranko's faith in P-chan is rewarded. She braces herself against a corner pole of the ring and with P-chan as anchor she is able to stop the ring's movement. As the ring jerks to a halt, at the far side the boards beneath the ropes break and out tumble some girls in leotards. Hastily they scurry away.

Announcer: There is the secret of the moving ring. The entire rhythmic gymnastics team of St. Hebereke was pushing for a win.

~*~

Meanwhile, with a scream of frustrated rage Kodachi plummets to the ground, landing head-first in the middle of the audience.

~*~

The referee holds up Ranko's arm, announcing her the winner.

Announcer: With Kunou Kodachi out of the ring, Saotome Ranko is the winner of this match. Fuurinkan High wins the contest!

Akane limps towards the grinning Ranko and gives her a big hug, speaking equally of her relief to see Ranko survive unhurt, and her joy about the win.

Akane: Ranko! That was incredible.

The girls from the Fuurinkan High sports club run up to them.

Girl: We never dared hope for such an ending!

Girl2: We just wanted to avoid the shame of not even being able to compete - and you won!

Ranko: I just hope that Kodachi has learnt her lesson.

~*~

Amidst the applauding audience, Kodachi is stuck upside down between two seat rows. She is wedged between one seat and the back of the one before it, pedaling frantically to get free. The man who is sitting on the seat, looks happily at the girl, squirming almost in his lap.

Seamus: I think I jus' died an' went to heaven.

Kodachi: Aaaargh! Somebody help me out of here!

-- End of Part 26.


Part 27: "Who is this woman?"


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