"Explain, please?" Nabiki repeated after Ryouga put his clothes back on. The boy was glad Kasumi had passed by the koi pond and noticed his outfit there. The other girls were less pleased that it took a bit to dry them again.
"Where do I even start?" Ryouga pleaded.
Ranma spoke up first. "For starters, what made you jump into my arms like that?"
"To be entirely fair, that was... call it a moment of hope," Ryouga said, haltingly but tender. "That maybe I could still be with you in another way."
Ranma sighed and rested a hand on her face. "Being 'with me' in pretty much any way is only a problem if you leave, dummy."
"I may not love you but you're still a good guy, Ryouga. You're an honorable, strong fighter, with good taste and all that. Any straight girl would be lucky to have you."
Ryouga could feel his spirits be lifted with every word.
"But to me, you're a very, very good friend and rival, no more."
The boy's heart nearly stopped.
"I'm sorry, Ryouga. I never meant to lead you on back then. I thought that one Valentine's Day you would've noticed?"
"... Yeah, I think I recall what you're talking about. All the girls in class got chocolate from you..."
"And I bought you lunch. Because that seemed like a nice gesture without the implications."
"Yeah, I guess it was. Pretty good bread too I think," Ryouga recalled with a fond smile. "I guess I made the wrong decision afterwards. Clearly, you still cared for me..."
"I do care for you, dummy."
"So I thought, maybe if I prove my worth?"
Ranma gave Ryouga a firm hug. Not the kind between lovers but a friendly hug, insofar as the height difference allowed such a distinction. "Dummy."
"I'd hate to interrupt a tender moment," Nabiki interrupted, "but how's that relate to you being cursed?"
Ryouga smirked painfully at the memories he dredged up and sat down. He took a slow, deep breath, and recounted his tale.
"It was a few week ago, somewhere in China..."
Ryouga held a weathered photograph up to the guide's eyes, indicating the red-haired schoolgirl sitting next to him.
"Honored customer is lucky. Red girl was here just days earlier!"
"Where'd she go?"
"Away, sir. Back to Japan I guess? But she bring terrible souvenir."
Ryouga's breath hitched. He took the guide by the shoulders. "What happened," he growled.
"Oh sir, is very sad story what happen to red girl, sir. Come with me."
Bringing Ryouga to a particular cluster of cursed springs, the guide launched into his story, explaining that the springs would turn whoever fell into them into a different form, the whole hot and cold water angle, and that Ranma had fallen into this one particular spring that Ryouga didn't catch the name of -- the guide had said it in Chinese.
"Then she jump into niangniquan to try undo curse," the guide continued. Ryouga had missed the first spring's name but caught the other one, though he still didn't know what 'nyannichuan' actually meant.
"But honored sir, most rare thing happen!"
"Red girl turn into half cat half girl!"
Ryouga couldn't believe what he heard and for moment, he fell into wondering what his beloved must look like in such a state.
He grabbed the guide again and shook him around. "How?!"
"Well, honored sir, I-- I... kan lai shiji hen--"
"What does that even mean!?"
"So so sorry, I not know the words and customer scares me and--"
A young girl screamed a shrill battle cry and ran at the two men. The last thing Ryouga heard before an ominous splashing noise was that girl shouting "duzi likai baba" at him.
The last thing he felt before all-encompassing wetness was a surprisingly heavy shove.
For a moment, all was water.
For a moment after, everything was panic, as Ryouga Hibiki knew full well what this water would do to him.
For a second or two, all was meow.
Plum, careful not to join his moist fate, stuck her hand into the spring and grabbed Ryouga by his bandana, pulling him back out with ease and carrying him to the hut she and her father shared.
"Damn, Hibiki. That's some story," Nabiki said in appraisal.
"Oh my," Kasumi agreed. "Imagine being a top martial artist and getting knocked down by a little girl."
"As if it wasn't already bad enough that I turn into a housecat," Ryouga argued. "The plan was to become like Ranma!"
"Including the part where I'm a girl?"
"... not initially but I suppose that might've helped? They had a spring of drowned man there too, I think. Anyway, she got me some hot water and a scolding. And my clothes shortly after."
"Then what happened?"
"I left and wandered off," Ryouga replied in a mumble. Nabiki raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
"That wasn't quite the end of it, wasn't it?"
Ryouga sighed. "No, no it wasn't. Things got worse."
The boy next found himself in a village, clearly still in the same general area as the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyou. The first thing he noticed was that there was a tournament of sorts in progress. The second was that most of the participants and audience members were female, and all of them looked like fearsome warriors even from a distance.
The third thing he noticed was a beautiful spread of food sitting there on a large table. Though he was certainly hungry, Ryouga knew better than to just sit and eat, especially since nobody else was. He didn't know what the large sign in front of it meant, but maybe he could figure it all out.
As such, he carefully tapped a lady in the back of the audience, close to the table, on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, miss? Ah... wo bo hui so... chonwen?" he fumbled, barely recalling the words.
The lady blinked in mild confusion, then seemed to realize what the outsider meant and pointed at him. "Not speak Chinese?" she said, then pointed at herself. "Not speak Japanese! Is okay!"
They shared a laugh for a few seconds, then devolved into confused gesturing. From what Ryouga could make out, that table full of food was for the contest winner. He could've guessed as much. Also, the young lady with the voluminous purple hair and the dual chui currently about to win was apparently named Shanpu or something, and the lady he was "talking" to was Candy, Condi-something-or-other.
"So if I defeat her," he gestured, first at Shanpu, then at the buffet, "I get to eat that?" he mimed using chopsticks.
"Yes," the girl nodded. "Or share it," she added with a smile, her arm sweeping across the crowd.
Ryouga cracked his knuckles and walked up to the crowd. "Well, let's see how this goes."
"So this one girl was just about to win the prize when I came in," Ryouga finished. "Hopped onto the log they fought on, waited for the right time to move, and knocked her out with a single kick to the face. I was halfway through some pork when the runner-up woke up and stumbled towards me."
"Back for more, or did she want some food too?" Ranma asked.
"Neither, though after she did what she came to do, I did stuff a bun in her mouth to distract her and make my escape."
"I figure if you weren't restrained somehow, escaping would've been easy," Ranma taunted goodnaturedly. "What did she do though?"
"Kissed me, full on the lips."
All the women in the room softly gasped.
"I know, right? I've always wanted my first kiss to be with Ranma," Ryouga admitted, pain evident in his tone of voice.
"Why, though? Why would she do that?"
"From the way Condy and the other women reacted to the kiss, she wanted to bed me or something. She said... 'wo ai ni' real lovingly-like?"
"I know those words," Nabiki ominously spoke. "She said 'I love you'. From what you told me, I think I can guess why."
Ryouga glared expectantly at Nabiki.
"Well, if the village was full of women, and the competition was only between women -- it was, right?"
"As far as I could tell I was the only male participant."
"Right. So assuming this was a matriarchal warrior society -- that means the women are in charge and they all kick ass, numbnuts -- if someone from outside were to prove themselves better than their best... yeah, they'd probably want you to marry into the tribe. Add your strength to theirs."
"Ryouga," Ranma chuckled, "I think you are not as unlucky as you might believe."
"And he's such a cute kitty too," Kasumi added, feeling a little empty-armed.
Ryouga laughed uncomfortably. "To be honest... I haven't felt safe since that day. I feel like Shampoo's out there, waiting to haul me back to China..."
DUN DUN DUUNNN~
Well, here it is! I didn't think I'd get to include Shampoo in any worthwhile capacity, what with the Saotomes not visiting and thus not eating her prize. But then I figured Ryouga could go there, and the rest is alternate history.
As they say on Youtube, don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe.
|Previous chapter||Index||Next chapter|