I am Shanpu of the Joketsuzoku, and I am content.
I am the best warrior in my age bracket, and today is another contest in which I can prove my worth. I am confident that this day will be like the last; that I will be victorious against my sisters. Great grandmother always said not to be overconfident, but sometimes it's very hard not to be a little cocky.
I defeat my final opponent within a few minutes and watch her fall off the suspended log on which we do battle. I watch her massive bulk impact the ground and make dust fly up, but I'm high on the log and the dust doesn't bother me. Once again, I have proven myself in the eyes of the other villagers, of my sisters, and of my great grandmother.
A girl, no older than myself, and what seems to be her pet panda helped themselves to my prize feast. I see the old guide, Mister Durian, standing near them with his oh-so-common look of panic on his face. He tells the girl something. Perhaps he's explaining the contest to her? I would care more if I wasn't angry at the loss of my feast. The guide turns to me and explains how the girl wants to fight me for the right to the feast, and I accept, eager for some vengeance.
To my shock, the match is over in seconds. This girl, though we stood on opposite ends of the log, was right in front of me in the blink of an eye. The next thing I knew I'd been kicked in the face and almost flying off the log. As I watch the referee take the girl's hand and raise it like she had mine, I let my anger cloud my mind.
This girl was an outsider. Joketsuzoku law was clear on what to do if an outsider bested a villager in combat. If they were female, they were to be hunted down and killed to restore the loser's honor. If they were male, they were to be wed, to ensure strong blood for the next generation. The females were to be given the kiss of death, males the kiss of marriage. But as I stumbled over to the outsider girl and grabbed her by the jaw, my clouded mind drives me to taking a third option.
The kiss of death was to be given on the cheek. I lick her cheek instead. The moment my tongue slips back behind my lips, I realize I had slipped up and, I'll admit, I panic a little on the inside. I try kissing her again, but between my internal panic and the girl's reaction to getting licked, I miss my intended target and kiss her square on the lips.
Mister Durian had seen it all and he was very well aware of our laws and customs -- he was after all himself of Joketsuzoku. He screams, grabs the girl by the wrist, and runs out the gate, the panda trailing close behind him.
I curse to myself as great grandmother comes to me. "Shanpu," she says, "what did you just do?"
"Shanpu not know for sure," I reply, my grammar atrocious as always. My sisters think it a cute affectation, but I don't care for it. I've never been very good at talking like the others.
"Follow me, then. I will explain everything you need to know."
I nod and follow great grandmother to our house, then into my room. "Great grandmother know why Shanpu... lick outsider girl?"
"I've always thought this time might come, my child."
Was licking someone really so shocking?
"I think you're old enough to know now. To know what happened... to my great granddaughter."
"But Shanpu is great grandmother's great granddaughter?"
"She was, and you are. Sit, and let me tell you what I mean."
Little Shanpu was but a week old when disaster struck. Her parents were overjoyed to have her, and equally if not more distraught at the idea that they'd lose her so quickly after. The village's doctors had no clue what ailed the little one, and their best treatments could offer no relief.
Another two weeks later, the baby had wasted away. Her parents were understandably inconsolable. Yet another week passed, and there was no change.
Their grandmother had a plan, though. The original idea was to get them a pet, to at least tide them over with a small and cute creature to coo over. She'd found the cutest little kitten on her short journey to find some sort of medicine, or even a clue, to save little Shanpu, and kept the kitten in her room.
But that idea now seemed... insufficient. What her granddaughter and her husband needed was a baby. A human infant to coddle, without any odd health problems to take it away from them again.
Though she despised the Musk, those deviants certainly were onto something. The village elder took her kitten and travelled down the path to the cursed springs of Jusenkyou, where she found Mister Durian. The guide, understanding the plan as it was told to him, guided the ancient woman to a particular spring near the edge of the grounds.
Carefully holding the sleeping kitten in a rubber-gloved hand, she lowered it into Nyannichuan.
"Welcome back... Shanpu."
"So now you know."
"...Shanpu... is not human?" I ask, my mind a blur.
"Trust me, you're as human as they come, my dear. We all make mistakes when we let our anger get the best of us. It's human instinct that drives us then."
"It was long-repressed feline instinct that informed your actions today, my dear. You've been like this for sixteen years -- your formative years, the most important to shape a person -- were almost entirely spent as a human." She stops to cackle for a bit. "There was one feline instinct we didn't bother to suppress though."
I tilt my head at her, wondering which instinct great grandmother means.
"You were never very fond of hot water. Or proper grammar, for that matter."
"Why hot water important?"
"It would turn you back into your true form, a cat. Until the next time you are doused in cold water. Between your natural aversion and your favorite soap... it still wasn't easy to keep you human all the time, but we managed."
I don't get it. What about my favorite soap? Great grandmother must've noticed my expression. "The soap is specially made to prevent curses from triggering for a while, so the few times you did bother to use hot water..."
"But why Shanpu lick outsider girl? Would think Shanpu try scratch outsider girl face off, no?"
"I've been wondering about that myself, my dear. But not for very long. Tell me, could you love a woman, in the romantic sense?"
I stop to consider my sisters and blush.
"That answers that question," great grandmother cackles. "And just to be sure, could you love a man the same way?"
Almost immediately, I giggle a little at the thought and nod. Then I think of the blind idiot and decide to make him the exception.
"Then it is obvious to me, and I've made my decision. Shanpu?"
"Yes, great grandmother?"
"Normally, our laws would have you hunt down and kill the outsider girl. However, I can tell that you are somewhat... smitten with her."
"No. I will give you a rather unique chance here, as is my right as elder, and yours as champion. You are to hunt down the outsider, and when you find her you are to decide if you will kill her... or marry her as if she were a man."
I remain silent in shock. "Great grandmother not mean..."
"I don't give opportunities to bend the laws like this lightly, my dear, but I do value your happiness. Collect your equipment and go, she can't have gotten that far yet."
I have lost sight of the outsider girl, but find her pet panda in an alley. It is not my target, but it may lead me to her. To my surprise, it carries a kettle full of hot water and looks out the alley to see if anyone's watching. It does not look up, where I am.
I thought seeing a panda be stealthy about a kettle was surprising, but nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing it lift the kettle over its head and drench itself with the contents, only to change form much like I must've done when I was an infant... no, when I was a kitten. A burly old man stands below me, adjusting a training outfit much like the outsider girl's.
This panda was a man. It-- he was not the outsider girl's pet at all. It was hot water what turned him into a man, so that was his true form. Very interesting. I decide to pay extra attention to this outsider panda man, who shortly leads me to a tourist merchandise stand where he picks out a postcard -- an image of a panda munching on a bamboo shoot. I wonder for a second if he chose this card because of his own cursed form, and follow him to a tavern. He writes something on the card. A quick flash of my hair distracts him and he's momentarily frozen in fear, looking around like a cornered animal. I take my chance to peek at the card but can hardly make out the characters, which I do recognize as Japanese, with some Latin letters on the address half.
The burly outsider mutters something I can hardly understand as he fails to locate me, but I catch what seem to be proper names; "Ranma", "Tendou", and "Nerima", and that the outsiders need to get back to Japan.
I know enough and make a plan as I sneak back outside and towards the docks. As much as I dislike hot water, I need my cat form -- my true form for this part of the plan. I distract a random tourist and steal his coffee, then find a secluded spot. A quick breath, I close my eyes, and I toss the hopefully not too hot coffee right in my face.
The world seems larger now, yet not uncomfortably so. My vision feels strange but only for a moment, until the different colors and field of view seem as natural as ever. I expect, when I get doused in cold water again, I'll feel the same way about human vision. I shrug off the idea and sneak onto a boat headed for Japan. I'll find my way around when I get there.
Akane Tendou was known to go on fairly lengthy jogs in the morning. She was the only Tendou sister who regularly trained, even if it was without a proper instructor -- her father certainly wouldn't do it, and he ran the family dojo! But Akane was in no mind to care.
She stopped running at the unexpected Sound, finding a cardboard box on the sidewalk, with a little cat in it, with pinkish-white long fur, purple ears and socks, and what seemed to be little bell ornaments.
"Oh aren't you cute? Hey, isn't your box supposed to have something on it? 'Free to a good home' or something like that?"
"Well, I'm not just going to leave you here alone in the street like that. I'm Akane Tendou, pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Tendou, Shanpu thought. I knew I was lucky to find that dictionary on the boat. Now, I know this is Nerima. Furinkan, I think? I don't expect there to be many different Tendou households... let's see where this takes me.
Shanpu let Akane lift her out of the box and carry her back home. She wasn't very surprised to find that there was a dojo on the grounds. It all made a fair amount of sense. When Akane got inside, still carrying Shanpu in her arms, she immediately went for the kitchen, knowing that her big sister Kasumi adored cats.
"Kasumi, I found a cat in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. Can we keep her?"
"Oh my what a beauty," Kasumi crooned. Shanpu mewed and closed her eyes, basking in the adoration. "Sure we'll keep her. Who would throw out such a pretty kitty? What's your name, honey?"
"I'll think of a good name for her later," Akane said as she put Shanpu down. "Well, I'm gonna practice some more, then maybe take a bath."
Shanpu followed Akane to the yard just outside the and watched her set up some cinder blocks, which she then broke into tiny little bits. Too much power, not enough control... cute though, Shanpu considered. As she batted a newly-produced pebble away, another girl she didn't recognize appeared in the door. She just caught the tail end of the conversation: "Then I guess this wouldn't interest you."
The mustache man must be Akane's father, I figure. He called her and the other two -- her sisters -- to the living room and now explains why. He tells them about the son of his friend, and my ears perk up at the name "Ranma", confirming what I'd hoped. My plan is going swimmingly so far and indeed Mister Mustache holds up the very same panda postcard. He speaks of an arranged marriage, and I worry a little.
He said Ranma Saotome was his friend's son. If Mister Panda is Ranma's father...
Did Ranma have a Jusenkyou curse too? The same as mine?
It doesn't matter. If he is even half as handsome as she is cute, and at least equally strong... My mind is made up. I will stay here, wait for Ranma Saotome to arrive, and surprise him.
Let these sisters and their father squabble. I'll wait.
Familiar noises ring out from the front door, violent and angry. Everybody rises, expecting to meet Ranma. I look outside and smirk at the rain. These people are in for a surprise.
As expected, Ranma is a girl now and the burly man is a panda. I didn't expect Mister Panda to carry Ranma over his shoulder, though. I dive out of the way when the Tendous run back, afraid of Mister Panda.
When Ranma introduces herself, Mister Mustache confirms it -- they were expecting a son. He embraces my Ranma as such, and finds out about the little surprise.
Well, okay, two of them, and not so little. If I was in my human form, I'd have bigger surprises but let's not get distracted.
Mister Mustache faints just when I decide to explore my new home.
I find myself on a ledge just outside the bathroom. It's not raining as much as before, but I'm still careful not to stray too far from the walls. After all, I don't have my clothes with me and would have to go retrieve the pack I've hidden near where I'd put my cardboard box. I look through the window, covered in shadow, to find my Ranma, in his... her? Whatever. Ranma's a beautiful, strong young woman now. Like me. She fills a bucket with water and lets it fall over her as she sits next to the steaming bathtub.
How could I kill such a specimen? I'm glad I messed up now.
Ranma gets in the bathtub and I watch their... yes, "their" will do. I can't see much of their body with all the steam and water, but I watch their hair change color from an interesting shade of red to a deep black. It reminds me of my fur -- my hair is a shade of blue bordering on purple, yet my fur is pink. My Ranma sits there muttering about what to do. They must be referring to the curse. If this is the first time since they arrived that they changed to a male, the Tendous must be quite--
My Ranma gets up and I try to get as good a look at their male form as I had their female form earlier, when Akane suddenly opens the door, as naked as both of us but for a towel on her arm, and we both get a good eyeful of my Ranma.
She steps back again, closes the door, and leaves. My Ranma relaxes and gets out, when Akane suddenly screams from outside. I can hear her running as I watch Ranma quickly dry off and get dressed in the same outfit they arrived in, though it fits them better now.
Akane screams from outside, something about a pervert in the tub. When Ranma leaves and goes back to the living room to reintroduce themself, I slip in through the window and sit in a corner of the laundry room. I can just make out what they're saying from here.
Mister Panda says his name is Genma Saotome, but I think I'll stick with "Panda". It fits him better, I think. They speak of visiting Jusenkyou to train, and how they got their curses. At one point even Kasumi snaps at Panda -- I didn't think she could.
When Mister Mustache lines up his daughters and tells my Ranma to pick one, I worry. These people are nice and I wouldn't want to have to fight them over my Ranma...
"Pick the one you want; she's your fiancee," Soun indicated.
Kasumi and Nabiki immediately pushed their youngest sister. "Oh, he wants Akane."
"You must be joking," Akane argued. "Why would I be--"
"Well, you hate boys, don't you?"
"You're in luck -- he's half girl!"
"Me? Marry that pervert? N--"
Ranma watched it happen in front of him. Despite Mr. Tendou being quite clear about it being his choice primarily, these ladies were awfully quick to make the choice for him. He hadn't had anywhere near enough control over his own life, and Ranma Saotome would be damned if this too were chosen for him.
"Hold on a moment, girls. Hold your horses before ya go and shove your little sister onto me, okay?"
At his outburst, Kasumi and Nabiki released Akane and sat back down in their own assigned spots.
"One. Your dad said I got to pick the one I want." He turned to face the man beside him. "And with all due respect, Mr. Tendou, I'll need some time to get to know yer daughters well enough 'fore I can even begin to pick."
Soun fidgeted a bit and squeezed Ranma's shoulder that he'd rested his hand on earlier. "I suppose you have a point, sonny. There's no need to rush," he agreed with a slightly nervous laugh.
In the laundry room, Shanpu sighed in relief.
"Two. What's the deal with 'pick the one you want' anyway? Arranged marriage is bad enough on the face of it, but okay I can sorta kinda understand where ya comin' from here, uniting the schools and all that, but seriously? 'Pick the one you want'? You couldn't have phrased that better?"
"Mmm... perhaps I could've, and I do feel bad about it now... is there a three?"
"Ah yeah, I nearly forgot it though. Akane?"
Akane glared at the newcomer she'd called a friend earlier.
"Why'd ya call me a pervert?" Ranma asked, looking almost hurt. The effect was enriched by his cutesy female face. Akane stammered for a moment. "I had the sign up and everything -- do you usually barge in without checkin'? You're lucky I was just gettin' out of the tub! I don't even wanna imagine what could've happened if I was doin' somethin' perverted."
"I... I overreacted a little, I guess," Akane admitted. "...still a pervert though."
"Hey, at least it's not occupied now if ya still want," Ranma smirked.
"Oh yeah, that's right!"
Akane spots me on the laundry bin as she comes in and takes off her dress.
"At least you're not some sex-changing pervert, right girl?"
I tilt my head at her, slightly worried about being branded a species-changing pervert, and follow her into the bathroom proper.
"And with all this, I still haven't given you a name."
I consider having a pet name, but decide to minimize the damage. I look around and spot a few bottles on a little ledge. I can't read the labels but one of them seems right for my purposes, so I carefully maneuver around the wet spots and bat away what I hope is a shampoo bottle. Akane watches curiously as she fills the washing bucket with, I note with trepidation, water that's not hot enough to count for Jusenkyou's purposes.
"You like that bottle?"
I pat the bottle some more, hoping to give Akane the right idea.
"You like the shampoo?"
"What do you say that's your name, huh? 'Shampoo'?"
"Well, that's settled then. Welcome to the Tendou Dojo, Shampoo."
Naming crisis averted, phew. Now for the next part of operation befriend the nice girl. When Akane is nice and relaxed, I meow at her.
"What is it, Shampoo?"
I consider my methods for a second and decide to put on a little act. I walk over to the abandoned washing bucket and instead of grabbing it by biting the rim, I pretend to try and hold it in my forelegs, like a human would. I huff theatrically at my planned failure and instead place my paws on the rim and push it under the faucet.
"Ah, where'd you learn to do that? You're almost like a person, Shampoo."
I huff at Akane in mock insult, then reach for the faucet. One paw won't do -- they're too small and I lack thumbs -- but I manage to twist the knob with both paws, without falling over. I hop down and push the now much heavier bucket towards Akane. I couldn't possibly lift it and I have no intention of making a mess, so here's hoping she gets my meaning.
"You want me to...?"
I sit upright and pretend to run my arms through my hair. It just makes my bells jingle.
"...You want to wash yourself like a person, Shampoo?"
She reaches over the edge of the tub and grabs the bucket. "Well, I never did see a cat who wanted to get drenched, but if you're sure..."
I curl up and close my eyes as I let the cold water touch me. The bucket ends up a kind of plastic hat as I quickly grow to human size, and I hear Akane gasp.
"Sha... Shampoo? Is that...?"
I lift my head, still crouching on the floor with only my mass of hair to cover me, and slowly open my eyes.
"Is me," I confirm in a whisper. I channel my Ranma and paraphrase, "Shanpu sorry about this."
To my relief, Akane does not freak out. She lays back down in the tub, her gaze alternating between the bathtub faucet and me, still crouched and unmoving. I must look pretty silly with that bucket on my head but I don't want to alarm Akane any further.
"You," she starts after a minute or two, "you change, then? Like Ranma?"
"Who are you, really?" Akane asks seriously, but with genuine curiosity.
"Am Shanpu, from Joketsuzoku village in China."
"Joketsu... women warriors?"
"Hmhm. Too strong tribe of warriors who live not far from springs Panda tell about. Shanpu best of generation. Panda and ai-- Ranma come to village after getting curse during contest, not read sign. Eat Shanpu prize feast!"
"They did, huh? That Sounds believable."
"Ranma challenge Shanpu for win prize, but Ranma too, too good. Or maybe Shanpu too angry, hard to tell, hard to recall. Joketsuzoku law say if outsider girl defeat warrior of village, outsider girl must die. If outsider man defeat warrior, must wed."
"No offense but that Sounds a little bit barbaric."
"More than arranged marriage?" I ask with a barely hidden smirk.
"You heard all that, huh. So what happened next?"
"Shanpu too, too angry for losing, not think. Want give Kiss of Death to outsider, lick cheek instead, panic and give wrong kiss!"
"The Kiss of Marriage, I guess it's called? Licking him though... jeez."
"Talk to great grandmother, she tell that Shanpu likes boys and girls. Not big surprise really. Tell that because great anger Shanpu act on instinct. Instinct say outsider girl hottie, lick her."
"That's some messed up instinct," Akane mutters.
"Is not for cat."
"You mean... that was cold water earlier, huh?"
"Great grandmother tell how Shanpu replacement for parents' lost baby. Raised human, not knowing really cat."
"Awww, that's so sad."
"Hmhm. Shanpu have good life though. Is content. Great grandmother take pity, tell to hunt down outsider girl like suppose to... but get to choose after, kill or marry."
"Huh... you're not gonna kill him, are you?"
I laugh at Akane's question. After seeing my hope confirmed that my Ranma is equally hot in both forms, it seems so stupid to even consider killing them.
"Normally... obstacles are for killing. If Akane become engaged to Ranma, become obstacle. But Shanpu not care about that. Too nice, too pretty to kill."
"Really?" Akane blushes.
I smirk. "Maybe not like Kasumi, not that pretty, but yeah." I reach out one hand. "Friends?"
Akane takes my hand and gives it single, firm shake. "Yeah, why not. Friends." It's wet, but not enough to trigger the change, which reminds me of a minor issue.
"Should turn back, have no clothes here so not leave bathroom," I announce as I finally get up. Akane looks at me with what I think is awe.
"That... may be a good idea. Do you have any elsewhere?"
Smart girl. I nod, recalling where I stashed my gear. "Akane remember where find Shanpu? Hide pack nearby."
"Yeah. I could check it out tomorrow."
"Good," I say, and join Akane in the tub. I still don't like hot water, but I'll need it. The moment most of me is submerged, I disappear under the water.
The irony of a cat doggy-paddling to keep her little head above water is not lost on me as I make my way out of the bathtub and shake myself somewhat dry.
Akane softly laughs at me, but I don't care, because my plan is going well.
I jump over the tub and out the window, up to the first floor and into what I figure from the decor must be Akane's room.
The next morning, I sit on the edge of the roof and watch Panda and my Ranma practice in the yard, doing battle above the pond. My Ranma loses by being distracted and falls into the pond. They announce they'll be in the bathroom (no doubt to prevent a certain young lady from ignoring the sign) and I see my chance for the next step of my plan.
Akane had left a moment earlier to find my pack, so we're all set.
I sneak down to the bathroom window again. My Ranma is there, relaxing in the hot water with his eyes closed. I smile at the sight as I slip inside and fill the bucket. Such things are much easier the second time, I find. Ranma stirs at the Sound and our eyes meet.
He seems afraid. I find it unbelievable that my Ranma could be afraid of anything, but he still shivers at the sight of me and crawls towards the far end of the tub.
Forget it, time for the big reveal. I push down hard on the rim of the bucket, flipping it over me and triggering my curse. The mess I expected isn't so bad -- I just have a dumb plastic hat again as I sit on the floor.
"Huh? Aren't you that girl who licked my face?" my Ranma asks, suddenly not so afraid anymore.
"...Ni hao to you too but... why were you a cat? Did you also get a curse?"
I lean against the edge of the bathtub and smile at my Ranma as I tell my story. From behind the door, I hear something heavy being delivered.
"And that why Shanpu want bring Ranma back to village," I explain to the family seated around the table in the living room, once again dressed in one of my own outfits, like a proper human. "But Shanpu willing to compro... compa..."
"Compromise?" Nabiki fills in for me.
"Xiexie. Shanpu willing to do that thing for sake of Ranma. Shanpu think Akane good friend, want help. Respect good fighters, schools joining is good thing."
"That's a very nice thing to say, Shampoo," Kasumi compliments me. "But what kind of compromise do you have in mind?"
"Not have to bring Ranma back. Not immediately." I shake my head a little. "By Joketsuzoku law, already married. Shanpu know not place to say but think Akane should get engaged to Ranma."
My Ranma and Akane fire off another lovers' quarrel while their parents look me over.
"Assuming we did respect your claim, what would you have to offer the Anything Goes school?" Mister Panda asks.
I smile at him. "Thousands and thousands of years worth of ancient technique."
Mister Panda must enjoy that answer seeing how he grins and his glasses fog over.
"Wouldn't your curse be an issue though?" Mister Mustache asks. "I mean, the boy's phobic." He glares at Mister Panda sitting next to him, who cringes a little.
"He'll just have to get over this little phobia, Tendou. With enough gentle exposure to a cat that won't try to rip his face off..."
I notice Kasumi nodding at the "gentle exposure" part, and we both shiver a little at the rest.
"It's decided then!" Mustache calls out, getting the attention from my Ranma and Akane. "Ranma and Akane shall be wed, and Shampoo will stay with them."
"What?" both of them cry out.
"I'm pretty sure your wife would consider having a concubine to be something a 'man among men' would do."
"Well," Panda agrees, "she is awfully traditional." He mutters something about cheating, but I don't care as I pull my Ranma and Akane into a three-way hug.
"And she makes such a cute pet too," Kasumi comments.
Nabiki nods. "And if anyone says you can't marry two women, or have a concubine, she can get away with playing the pet. Seems tight to me."
"You be too, too cute together," I tease as I hold my Ranma and new friend close.
"No way I'm marrying that pervert."
"Oh? Akane rather marry Shanpu? Can be arranged," I purr in her ear. I can almost hear the blush on my Ranma's face. I give her cheek a little lick and turn to my Ranma while Akane recovers from the shock.
"Why would anyone wanna be engaged to that un-cute tomboy?" my Ranma asks. I know he lies. I can tell.
"Akane not un-cute. Just too angry to show often. Have issues, maybe talk later?"
I hear Akane gasp and fall silent.
"Look at Akane now," I whisper, lick my Ranma's cheek, and pull back from between the two. I watch as my Ranma looks at his new fiancee.
"Well damn," he whispers back, and alternates his gaze between Akane and me. I give her a soft, sideways hug.
"This might be worth a try, even if she's a... cat."
Nabiki coughs. "Just don't try anything funny, Saotome. Tomorrow's a school day and both of you are going."
Well, that should be interesting. As my Ranma argues back about school, I reach for a cup of tea and for a moment, I consider emptying it over my head. I drink it instead.
There's another Chinese curse, beside Jusenkyou, that's surely in play here. The one about interesting times.
Times are going to be interesting indeed. But for now, I can relax.
...My Ranma must've said something stupid. Akane angrily reaches for her teacup and changes me back. She reaches into my pile of clothes, picks me up and shoves me into my Ranma's face.
I'd be more upset about this if it wasn't a little funny.
Interesting times indeed.
I am Shampoo, beloved pet of the Tendou family... and I am content.