Meals at the Tendou Dojo had settled easily into a new status quo. First, it was just Soun and his three daughters enjoying a calm meal together, made by the eldest sister. Then Ranma, Genma, and Nodoka joined in. There was now friendly bickering between Ranma and Akane, teasing between Ranma and Nabiki, and quite regularly fighting between Ranma and Genma as the father tried to steal parts of his daughter's breakfast and called it training. And often enough she'd be in her catgirl form after getting dunked into the koi pond during pre-breakfast training.
Then, a Ryouga was added. Those times he was around, he happily joined in breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Soun was happy enough to have him there.
And then came Ryouga's betrothed from China, and with her a reason for Ryouga to stay put and as such join the family meals much more regularly. Shampoo, much to Kasumi's delight and relief, tended to bring her own food.
Today, the warrior girl was missing, and Kasumi may not have been the first to notice, but she did bring it up first. "Y'know, I haven't seen Shampoo around lately."
Ranma looked up from her rice bowl. "What do you mean, Kasumi?"
"She's usually here in the afternoon but lately she's been out until at least the evening," Kasumi explained. "I wonder what happened?"
"You mean besides getting her intimates sandpapered?" Ranma half-jokingly guessed. As she'd hoped, the phrase unsettled her father enough to make him not try to steal the bit of fish that was rightly Ranma's. Ryouga, for his part, flushed red.
"Ranma!" he and Nodoka both cried out. "No, it wasn't that. That didn't even happen," Ryouga finished on his own.
"Sure it didn't," Ranma teased, sticking her tongue out and licking the air.
"Oh, where did I go wrong," Nodoka muttered into her sleeve.
"Nodoka, dear... that line would work better if you were in your adult form," Genma said. "And didn't chuckle."
"Ah well, I'm sure we'll find out what she's up to soon enough," Akane offered as she finished her bowl and put it back down. "Seconds, please?"
"Famous last words, sis," Nabiki snarked. "Famous last words. Let's just finish breakfast and get ready for school."
Later, Ranma, Nabiki, Akane, and Ryouga made their way back home after school. Nabiki rode on Ranma's back, though she had made a preference for bridal-style quite clear, as Ranma and Ryouga took the high road -- that is, they ran and jumped across the rooftops.
Akane had tried, but had fallen behind (at one point literally) and had taken to simply running on street level, which suited her well enough as her school uniform wasn't particularly conducive to high-altitude parkour. She, Nabiki, and Ranma had in fact agreed to go on a proper training run later, with all three of them in pants.
How Ranma had convinced the school staff to allow her to not wear the girls' uniform all those weeks ago was beyond Akane. The only concession made was that Ranma would wear the boys' uniform pants and even that she did rarely.
Stranger still was how easily Ryouga had integrated into the school. The leading theory held that defeating Tatewaki Kuno was just about all one needed to do nowadays, but then Ryouga disproved that by somehow not running into the guy at all.
Ryouga didn't slow down at all, except to let Ranma catch up so he could follow her. As such, it surprised the youngest sister to see him stop altogether. On second glance, she could see why -- another person had appeared in his way. Akane quickly looked around to confirm nobody was watching, and jumped up to a roof nearby.
The newcomer was an old woman. Very old, from the looks of it, with long white hair trailing down far behind her as she balanced on a cane half again as gnarled as she.
"Wo zhaodaole ni, nuxu," said the old crone.
"Elder," Ryouga replied in greeting, with a little bow. "You know I don't understand Chinese."
The crone laughed softly. "Of course you don't. Still, dear Shanpu was not mistaken in her report. Here you are... and so are we."
"We? You and Shampoo or am I missing someone...?"
He knows this old woman, Akane considered. Called her 'elder'... she must be from Shampoo's village.
"Indeed you are, and she missed you."
Before Ryouga could ask, a second figure jumped up onto the roof behind him and, much to both Akane and Ryouga's surprise, hugged him tightly from behind.
"Hibiki," a youthful voice chirped in Ryouga's ear.
"Ah! Candy," Ryouga recognized. He slipped out of the hug, turned around and gave the first warrior he'd met a warm and friendly hug in return. "Akane," he called out, "this is the girl I told you about, my friend Candy from the village!"
"My name Kanji!" said girl corrected.
As Candy bowed to Akane, and a mildly confused Akane returned the honor, Ryouga turned back to the elder. "So why are you here, Elder Cologne?"
"To watch over Shanpu and her husband-to-be, of course."
"If it were anybody else we'd probably bring you back to the village once you're officially wed, but experience tells us that's not exactly feasible."
"As much as I'm loathe to admit it."
"So you do admit you suck at following directions?" Ranma said, having noticed Ryouga and Akane weren't following her any more and doubled back. "Who's this ol' prune?" she asked as Nabiki dismounted her.
"I am Elder Koron of N?jiézú, child, here to keep watch over my great-granddaughter and her husband-to-be."
"Huh, neat. Then that must be Sign Language Girl over there?"
"Her name is--"
"Candy, I know."
"Show a little respect, girl!" Cologne cried as she shot forward and rapped Ranma over the head with her cane. "Interrupting an old woman like that."
"Ah geez what's that stick made of," Ranma muttered, nursing a new and very sore spot on her forehead.
"Anyway, you might be wondering where my great-granddaughter's been running off to lately."
Ryouga and the girls all nodded in agreement.
"We've opened a restaurant to support our stay here," Cologne explained, pointing at a building not too far from the dojo. "Shanpu is our primary waitress and occasional delivery girl, and Kanji fills in for her and cleans."
"That explains why Shampoo smells so nice lately," Ryouga pondered out loud. "I was wondering why I smelled shumai."
"That our special yesterday," Candy confirmed.
"So should you ever feel like some good Chinese food, you'll know where to go!" Cologne cackled. "Kanji, gen wo lai."
As Cologne and Candy ran off in one direction, Ryouga and the girls prepared to continue in the other. Ranma crouched a little to allow Nabiki to climb onto her back, but she pulled her back upright by her pigtail and jumped into her arms instead.
"So. Shampoo as a restaurant delivery girl, huh?" Nabiki asked. "There's no way that would end in pain for anyone, right?"
"You never know," Ryouga answered with a shrug, unseen by the others. "I didn't see any bikes in the village, and I can't imagine her running for a longer-distance delivery."
"I can. In fact, there she is right now," Ranma countered, looking off to the side. On street level, Shampoo was indeed quickly catching up on Candy and Cologne, by bike.
"I don't think she intends to brake," Nabiki remarked.
With a loud clang, Shampoo all but parked on top of her fellow warrior. Ranma paused in her run just long enough to see Candy stand up unhurt, impressed at how such resilience was apparently common in their village. She did not stay around long enough to hear them argue.
"Ryouga shi wo de zhangfu, xiao jian ren!"
"Shanpu, bie tanxin..."
It would've been worrisome if they weren't clearly joking.
Another relatively short chapter, mostly just to set up the current school situation, introduce the Nekohanten crew, re-introduce Candy, and explain how exactly a cat is very much not fine too.
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