"What's eating you, Ranma? After a school day like that, you'd think there'd be nothing to bother you."
Akane certainly wasn't wrong to ask, as far as she knew, watching her new friend walk on the top of the fence as usual. The school day had gone remarkably well — Ranma had quickly built up the reputation she wanted, or at the very least gotten quite far with it, and Akane couldn't think of any reason why Ranma seemed so oddly lost in thought.
"Hah? Oh, nothing. Just this one thing that happened," Ranma replied, shaking off her funk. "Something doesn't quite add up."
"Are you going to share with the rest of class?" Akane joked.
"Oh okay, I guess I could tell you. It's what this one guy told me just after lunch." Ranma started and jumped off the fence to properly communicate the story. Akane couldn't help but visibly wince as she saw Ranma's ample talent nearly smack her in the face. Some day, she or Kasumi would talk Ranma into getting some proper support. "So this guy comes up t'me and tells me he ran into this mysterious traveler in front of the school gate."
"Mysterious traveler? What makes a traveler mysterious?"
"Well, he said they had this bigass cloak on, and the goggles. Like a desert wanderer a' some sort."
"Huh. I guess Furinkan takes all sorts of weirdos."
"I'm gonna try and not take that personally. Anyway, this traveler asked Tsukasa — I just remembered his name — where, and get this, where Furinkan High is," Ranma continued, adding the same incredulous emphasis the other student had used.
"Even though they were standing right at the gate?"
"It gets better! He pointed at the gate, straight line to the school, the traveler thanked him, and went straight the other way!"
Akane nearly tripped in surprise. "That's... that has to be on purpose."
"You'd think so. Go the other way and come back later or some such? That'd make sense. But very little in at least my life makes sense. And here's where it gets interesting to me: y'remember when Shampoo and I told ya about our nightmares and I mentioned that old friend from school? Well, friendly rival more like I guess ya could call it?"
"Ah, rivalry! Something unsurprising to balance it out."
"Har har. Anyway, Ryouga Hibiki was his name, and he was absolute shit at following directions, or making his way around. He was the kind that'd get lost in his own house."
"Oh, that Sounds rough."
"Yeah, I used to walk him home after school, else he'd not even get there. Anyway, I heard the guy tell me about this mysterious traveler, and I immediately thought 'hey, he must be talkin' about Ryouga. Ain't nobody else that dumb.' But it's the strangest thing."
"The way Tsukasa told it, that mysterious traveler was not a guy. He kept using feminine pronouns to describe this person. And I may not know Tsukasa specifically very well, but by my count the only Furinkan student who's ever shown trouble telling boys from girls is Kuno."
"Well, you didn't make it easy for anyone really," Akane quipped, then stopped dead in her tracks. "You don't think..."
"I dunno what to think. If it was Ryouga, he'll probably appear sooner or later. Likely later, considering ."
As the pair went on home, just after they passed the clinic, they ran into a middle-aged man puzzling over a map at the roadside, a bag at his feet. He was dressed in a sharp Chinese suit, black in color, with a matching cap and big round glasses, and had some clearly well-maintained facial hair.
"Excuse me, sir?" Akane said as she approached the man, "can we help you?"
The man looked up from his map, paused to process the offer, and replied in a fairly noticeable accent, "Yes, please. I looking for, ah... Tiandao wuguan. Dao...jo? I say right?"
"Tendou Dojo, sir?" Akane confirmed while Ranma stood back to study this new person.
"Yes, yes. Is what I say, Tiandao! You know where I find?"
"I'm Akane Tendou, sir. I live there. Just follow us."
"Ah, xiexie... thank you."
The pair continued on their way, followed at a respectable distance by the Chinese man.
"Y'sure 'bout leadin' this old guy to your house, 'Kane?" Ranma asked with an undertone of worry. "We don't even know who he is."
"Unless you know of a way to hide ill intent, I think he's just a guy with an interest in Anything Goes. From China."
"I can think of a way or two, but I think I'll trust your judgement," Ranma conceded.
"Hey, worst comes to pass, I'm sure you could defend me."
Despite Ranma's misgivings, they got to the Tendou dojo without incident. "Well, here we are," Akane indicated to their follower. "Please wait, sir, so nobody gets surprised or anything."
The man nodded and stood there, just inside the gate.
"Daddy? We're home!" Akane called out.
"With a visitor," Ranma added.
Soun looked up from his newspaper. "Who is it?"
"Chinese guy, forgot to ask his name. Was lookin' for the dojo."
"Really now?" Soun asked nobody in particular as he put down the newspaper. "Well, show him in!"
Ranma beckoned the visitor, who hefted his bag and entered the room proper. "Ni hao, master Tian—Tendou," he greeted with a respectful bow. "Please, allow to introduce myself. Sache, from Niujie zu. Come here to relieve worry for my daughter."
"You must be referring to Shampoo," Soun quickly picked up.
At the door, Ranma finally realized who this old man was. It made her feel a little dumb, that she'd treated this harmless man so coldly on the whole way home without even bothering to ask.
"Shanpu, yes. Not seen her since day of tournament, only know what happen from what zumu tell me."
Internally, Mr. Sache still wasn't quite over never having gotten the chance to say goodbye to his little girl, and though Sache would absolutely never dare say it, even in a whisper, he had to admit to himself that deep inside he resented his grandmother a little for just giving his daughter away to this outsider, even if he could understand why she'd done so.
"I believe she's out in the backyard." Soun cleared his throat with a cough, took a deep breath, and called out Shampoo's name. Not ten seconds later, Ranma nearly got bowled over by a purple blur that resolved into a little cat in a tiny training gi, also purple, sitting on the table. A fair armload of little wood pieces behind her tracked a line back to the yard, as the little cat had until that moment been hard at work retraining herself and had already graduated from exploding soft, then harder fruit to pulverizing wooden boards.
"Shanpu, wo de nu'er?" Sache asked, fiddling with his beard. "Na zhen de shi ni ma?"
"Shi de, baba," Shampoo replied softly, only slightly affected. Sache held out his arms. Shampoo carefully jumped into her father's embrace. Father and cat-daughter hugged about as long as any could've expected, until Sache put her back down on the table and stood up.
"I have seen enough. Luanma," he called out to the girl in the doorway trying to remain stoic.
"I am certain zumu said already, and I am happy with what I see, but as Shanpu's father I must repeat. Treat my daughter well, as you have clearly done so far."
The implicit threat of fatherly retribution was clear enough. His was the kind of look Soun gave off whenever Kasumi's well-being was the least bit threatened. That this didn't happen often was all but a testament to how effective a stern fatherly scowl could be.
"Where you go now, baba?" Shampoo asked as her father hefted his bag. His expression softened as he turned to answer his daughter.
"I was thinking... your baba is good cook, yes? Maybe start restaurant in area. Chinese food always popular choice. Will be around, you and friends can visit."
"Wait, don't you need a license and such to open a restaurant?" Akane whispered at Ranma.
"I'unno. If ya really wanna know, ask Nabiki."
"Yeah, I figure if anyone would know about running a business..."
"Or a racket, right?"
Shampoo on the other paw only nodded at the idea. "An' mama?" she asked, pulling on Sache's pants leg. Soun hid behind the newspaper trying to hide his reaction to how cute all that looked.
"... Your mama is as she always is."
"Will she come too?"
"Afraid not, Shanpu. With our champion gone, village can not afford to lose more warriors."
Shampoo was just about ready to cry at the thought she'd not see her mother again, but knew that such were the ways of the Joketsuzoku.
That same evening, just after dinner, Ranma laid on her back in the grass of the yard, next to the koi pond, with Shampoo curled up on her stomach.
"Gotta admit, Shampoo. If your old man does open a restaurant, he's set to make a killin'. Those were some good noodles."
"Ye, an' Kasumi no' haveta raise finger," Shampoo agreed, her tiny belly equally full of quality home cooking.
Neither of them noticed the figure on the roof until said figure cast a threatening shadow over them. A mere second later, the figure jumped down at them, wielding a large bamboo umbrella pointed right at the prone tomboyish girl.
"RANMA SAOTOME, PREPARE TO DIE!"
|Previous chapter||Index||Next chapter|