Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Double Exposure ( Chapter 56 )
A Tale of Two Wallets
(An Altered Destiny)
Written by Jim Robert Bader
Proofread by Shiva Barnwell
Happosai came bounding home with his latest bag of treasures in hand, hoping that he would make it in time before a house full of chowhounds ate all the consumables at the Tendo dojo. It was not that he minded the crowd (after all, it consisted of some of the cutest lovelies in all of Nerima), but they ate like a horde of famished Mongol warriors, and it was all a poor old man could do to get in his share of the wonderful grub prepared by the loving arts of such master connoisseur's as Silk and Kasumi.
Imagine his surprise when he arrived in the yard finding no horde of hot-blooded pulchritude, and no dinner either, just a forlorn-looking Soun sitting at his Shogi board looking morosely at the spot normally occupied by his amoral cousin, Genma. The sight was so wretched and pathetic that Happosai alighted down beside him and asked, "What's the matter, Soun old boy? You look like your best friend was ordered to commit seppuku."
Happosai had meant the line to cheer up his wayward student, (after all it wowed them during the Tokugawa era) but instead Soun turned a miserable gaze towards Happosai, then wordlessly directed his gaze towards the front foyer of the house…or rather at the space that used to be occupied by a door at the front of the building.
"Oh," Happosai said, not without a tinge of sympathy, "One of the girls got a bit high-spirited, eh? Which was it this time? At-chan? Comb? The old woman? Can't have been Silk, the house is still standing…"
"It was Shampoo," Soun said almost numbly, "Comb's daughter, the one who claims to have an interest in my daughter, Nabiki."
"Oh, that cutie?" Happosai was surprised at hearing it was one of the younger generation, no doubt following in the traditions of their elders, "Did Genma's boy say something to upset her?"
"It was the old woman," Soun murmured softly, "Cologne."
Happosai's eyes narrowed, "I might've guessed that. That old bag of bones hasn't learned a thing since the old days. She used to be such a cutie herself…who'd guess she'd turn into such a handful," he sighed, "Guess I'd better have a talk with old prune. I'm about the only one here who can get her to see reason."
Soun came out of his daze with a sudden sharp look of genuine alarm, "Please don't start trouble, Master! If you two get into another fight, I don't think my house could withstand it!"
"Calm down, Soun old boy," Happosai patted his student on the shoulder, "I didn't say I was going to fight her…what, do you want to marry the old bag? I just meant that I can talk some sense into her, maybe find out what caused the cutie to go off like that. Just leave everything to me and I'll fix things up real find, you'll see."
Somehow Tendo Soun did not seem ready or willing to accept that assurance at face value, but so great was his fear of the old man terror that he wisely kept his silence. Soun wanted to weep at the injustice of it all, that he, a man in his declining years, with three beautiful (but as yet unwed) daughters, should be tested by the kami with trials that would break the resolve of a Buddhist saint. How could anything be worse than this, he wondered, not wanting the fates to provide him with an answer.
Unfortunately one came walking by in the form of Kodachi, who strode through the front doors, taking stock of their non-existence condition, and said, "Oh dear…have I come back home at a bad time? I take it I missed something interesting while I was away at classes?"
"Kodachi-chan," Kasumi said brightly as she came out from the kitchen, and the two girls began to chat brightly as if nothing at all were out of the ordinary. Soun did react in surprise, though, when he saw Kodachi stand on tiptoes and plant a kiss on the mouth to Kasumi, who returned the kiss with equal affection.
"Well, well," Happosai said brightly, "Things are looking up already. You know Soun, seeing young people behave like that gives me a real hope to humanity. Oh well, better put my beauties away so I can freshen up and hunt down the old woman."
And with that he vaulted away, leaving Soun to whimper silently at the injustice…
"I wonder where everybody is," Akane stared at the trail of destruction leading from their yard to parts unknown in a nearly straight line, "You think whatever did this will be back to cause more trouble?"
"I don't know," Ukyo stared at the hole in the wall, followed by another and another, "Looks almost like an elephant got loose and went charging through here."
"And elephant, in Nerima?" Akane snorted, "Yeah…right."
"Well hey," Ukyo smiled at her, "Why not an elephant? I mean, stranger things have happened in this district, right?"
"Right," Akane nodded, "Just another typical day in the neighborhood for the Tendo Dojo."
Both girls turned around to see Ryoga standing there in her yard looking dazed and bewildered in their direction.
"Ryoga-kun?" Akane asked, "What happened? Where are all the others?"
"I don't know," Ryoga replied, "Shampoo went crazy and stormed off, then everybody started chasing after her, only I-uh-must have gone the wrong way…"
"You mean you got lost again, Sugar," Ukyo smirked, "That figures."
Ryoga frowned in the other girl's direction, but Akane disrupted his ugly line of thought as she growled, "Shampoo again? What's her problem? If she did this then she can go jump into a storm drain for all I care!"
"She…had a pretty good reason for getting angry," Ryoga ran a hand through here he used to have nape hairs, only to encounter the peach-smooth space there, which caused him to frown all the more, "The old woman got her upset, and it had to do with telling her a lie about a friend who Shampoo thought was dead, but…"
Just then a sound distracted all of them, and seconds later a figure came hurtling towards the dojo at break-neck speeds. The motorcyclist popped another wheelie, then brought her machine around to a skidding stop and killed the engine, flipping her purple locks out of her eyes as she smiled at Ukyo and Akane, a leather-jacketed Shampoo who resembled the one they knew about as much as a stranger.
"Nihao," she said, not cheerfully as she normally would but rather with a matter-of-fact acceptance of their presence, "You like Shampoo bike? Is almost new, just needs new paint job."
"Huh?" Ukyo reacted, "You feeling all right, Sugar?"
"Shampoo?" Akane blinked her eyes twice.
"Shampoo is fine," the Amazon said, then she amazed everyone by hopping off the bike, bending down and lifting it to the level of one shoulder. She carried it upside down in the manner by which one might carry a normal bike, heading through the gates and past the hole she had earlier created, moving around to the side of the house where the garage stood standing, little used and almost forgotten.
"Bike need fixing," Shampoo said matter-of-factly, "You no mind Shampoo work on it. Sorry about wall, Shampoo fix that later."
"Huh?" Akane said as she watched the Amazon set the bike back down on a patch of gravel, then go into the garage itself and come out moments later with her father's rusted tool kit, "H-Hey…!"
"Is okay," Shampoo said as she sat down and began to systematically lay out the contents of the tool kit, "Shampoo know what doing. Engine sound funny, think maybe it have dirty carburetor, also maybe need clean rings in gasket…"
"All right," Ukyo said, "Who are you and what had you done with the real Shampoo?"
The Amazon just made a rude noise and set about systematically taking apart the motorcycle engine. Within a matter of minutes she had the whole thing laid out upon a cloth she had produced somewhere and was busy working with a set of brushes, having fetched a solution of some sort from the kitchen. Even Kasumi had been sufficiently roused with curiosity to come out to investigate, finding Shampoo hard at work on the motorcycle as though she knew every part by name and was familiar with their functions.
"Oh my," Kasumi said brightly, "I didn't know you were into motorcycles, Shampoo-san."
"Indeed," Kodachi agreed, "One would never have mistaken you for a Motorhead."
"Funny Rose girl think Shampoo no have brain?" Shampoo asked without looking up, "There lot you not know about Shampoo. Now please no distract, Shampoo very busy…"
"Tadaima," a voice called out from the house.
"Oh my," Kasumi turned around to see the large group entering the yard, "Everyone is back, and just in time for dinner. Nabiki, Shampoo's working on a motorcycle. Isn't she talented?"
"She ought to be," remarked Hairbrush, "I taught her everything grandmother would let me."
Ranma and Shampoo came up to find a dirty-faced Shampoo, her hands covered in grease, working over the parts of the motorcycle as though she were a qualified automechanic. The sight alone was so incongruous that they both blinked their eyes with almost synchronized timing.
"Oh my," said Nodoka at their side, "Does that ever take me back to the old days. I remember when Kimiko-san and I took shop together. We never did become all that proficient with the machines, but I do remember making a lovely teacup for my father. Your daughter is so very talented, Comb-san, I just know that she'll make Ranma a wonderful Mistress…"
"Mistress?" Comb lifted her eyebrows.
"Or a second wife," Nodoka amended, "You know I would never slight your little girl, especially someone who will make me a proud grandmother some day, and hopefully very soon."
Hairbrush knelt down a short distance away from Shampoo and said, "<How does it, little Orchid? It looks as if you've found yourself a new hobby.>"
"<It's just like it used to be, Father,>" Shampoo said pleasantly enough, "<My hands remember everything you taught me, so much so I wonder why I ever stopped doing this, even to please she who was once my great-grandmother.>"
"<About that,>" Hairbrush said delicately, "<Are you planning to hold a grudge forever against the old woman? Granted she deserves to be punished for causing you tears…>"
"<I would rather not talk about it just now, father,>" Shampoo replied, "<But I would value your opinion as this one believes that she has heard a rattling noise in the muffler, and a slight alternation in the piston action of the main rotor.>"
"<You caught that, eh?>" Hairbrush nodded with approval, "<I was going to mention it myself, but it's plain to me that you've forgotten none of my lessons. Always know your machines, whether they are carbon-fuel based or the simpler tools of a martial artist.>"
"<I remember everything, father,>" Shampoo replied, "<But I value your expertise, and you can help me out by checking the alternator to see that it isn't shorted. That fool whom I liberated this from obviously did not know the first thing about proper maintenance and probably never even used the right octane for the engine. I want this thing to carry me where I wish to go without blowing up or losing torque power.>"
"<Hopefully this one will last longer than your last bike,>" Hairbrush said with approval, "<Well, I'll see what I can do to help, but it looks to me as if you're already tending to the basics…>"
"<Father is at it again,>" said Ling-Ling to her twin sister.
"<Those two will be at it until it gets dark,>" Lung-Lung agreed with a mildly disgusted expression.
"Ah…Shampoo?" Ukyo spoke up, gaining the Amazon's somewhat annoyed attention, "I was hoping to share something with you and Ryoga that I brought with me from China."
"What?" Nabiki turned around to stare at the Bishonen girl.
"You went to China, Ucchan?" Ranma asked in some amazement.
"Yeah," Ukyo said quietly, "I went to Jusenkyo. I brought back something I wanted to share with you guys."
Shampoo turned a sharper look her way, "Jusenkyo?"
"Jusenkyo?" Nodoka blinked, turning to glance at Silk with a questioning expression.
"Ah, yes," Silk hastily turned and said, "Kasumi, is dinner almost ready?"
"Yes Auntie," Kasumi replied with a puzzled expression, "I just need to boil some more Ramen…"
"Nodoka-chan," Silk smiled as smoothly as her name, "Would you care to help is prepare to serve dinner? These young people must be starving what with all the excitement that they've been through today."
"If you only knew the half of it," grumbled Akane, taking Ryoga by the hand as she said, "Why don't we do this in the dojo? Ukyo-san's got something important to tell you."
"That's good," Ranma said, "I got something to tell you, Ucchan," he pulled out a scroll that he's been carrying with him.
"Father," Shampoo turned back to the man next to her, "You maybe help in kitchen? Shampoo want see what Ukyo brought from China."
"We'll do this later," the man smiled with approval
"Oh my," Nodoka turned back to the men, "Don't tell me you also cook, Hairbrush-san?"
"Well, someone in our family has to," he turned a wicket grin at Comb, who seemed mildly vexed at his teasing expression.
Comb leaned over to Shampoo and said, "Whatever Kuonji-san has planned, be quick about it, little one. I'm not sure how much longer we can delay her finding out the truth about the curses."
"Curses?" Atsuko looked up, as did Genma, who had been resting across her shoulders.
"We'll explain in a few moments," Ambergris averred, giving Shampoo a wry look as she said, "You look like you've been using machine oil for body lotion."
"Is fine one talk," Shampoo half-smiled, "Whale Puke."
Perfume also moved closer to Shampoo, wrinkling her nose as she said, "No tell Perfume you really mean keep stinky, oily, bad-smell contraption, Cousin?"
"Mind own business, Cousin," Shampoo smiled back, "You is just jealous."
"Of that thing?" Perfume scoffed, "Perfume rather run than ride two-wheel death trap."
Ukyo glanced around and said, "Hey, where's the old woman? I thought she was going to be with us when I did this."
"The Matriarch appears to have retired for the day," said the elder Lotion, who handed Ukyo her all-important knapsack, "Which is not to say that we won't see her again before we know it. Here, you will need this for what you seek to accomplish."
"Thanks," Ukyo turned a glance towards Akane and asked, "You up to this?"
"Sure," Akane nodded, "Why not? In for a centimeter, in for a kilometer."
Ryoga looked at the shorthaired girl at his side, then at the Bishonen girl, and his expression started to darken…
Cologne moved without her usual energy, walking slow and listless in the direction of the Nekohanten, her mind on both Shampoo and her recent confrontation with the High Council, of having to listen to the galling sound of Be-Dea seeking to be conciliatory while actually giving Cologne a tacit ultimatum.
"You have been high handed in managing the affairs of your charges," her long time rival had said, "Ordinarily this would be your own affair, but as it affects both our Champion and the Tribal Enforcer this matter cannot be treated as a light one. You must work to mend fences with your great granddaughters, Matriarch, or declare yourself unworthy to be our leader. If you fail to make peace with the past and cause these two to become alienated to our society and culture, then you will have lost two promising warriors, and the tribe will have lost the potential that they represent…"
Be-Dea had exploited the opportunity that Lotion's return had afforded her and turned many ordinarily sympathetic ears against their Matriarch, leaving Cologne with no option but to play out the hand that she had dealt herself by her actions. It was not a happy situation that she found herself in, for Shampoo's love for her had turned to bitter hatred at the discovery of what she perceived as a betrayal. Cologne could not even hold it against Shampoo that she was being judged so harshly. In her place she might feel the same, had felt the same in the days when she was a young girl and suffering under the tutorage of her Elder.
Cologne sniffed as she thought back to those ancient days, to her own grandmother, a towering giant in her eyes for all that Cologne had grown taller in her thirteenth year, and would grow taller still before the day when she won the rank of tribal Champion. What a pity her grandmother had died before she could see that happen, leaving Cologne all alone without an Elder for guidance. When her twin brother, Rogaine, had courted that demoness, Ganglot, and later went into battle to meet his death, it had left Cologne very much alone and vulnerable. She might have status in the village, but she was without family, having only a nephew who was raised by the Demoness, Razor, the father to Atsuko and their line of the Hibikis.
Cologne had suffered in silence, training methodically to retain her station year after year as the Matriarchy went to another House and rivals came along to make the struggle interesting but not very fulfilling. There had been such a void within her heart that Cologne had thought it might never be filled, only one day a strange man had come into her life and turned it upside down, an annoying, vexing dwarf of a man whose selfish opinion of his own greatness was only exceeded by the kindness that he could display to those weaker and more than himself, an outsider male by the name of…
Cologne blinked. Was that a pebble that had just careened off of her head? Impossible! She would have sensed the slightest particle that was coming in her direction. She whirled about to discover who had launched the impudent projectile, staff in hand against the foe who would dare to assault and Amazon Elder…
"Up here you old bag!" a voice taunted her from the ledge of a wall she had been walking past.
Cologne blinked her eyes and said, "Happy?"
The little man alighted on the sidewalk a short distance from her position and said, "What a sorry sight you are, drooping your head like a feeble old lady! Where do you come off feeling self-pity, huh? You think you're the only one around who ever screwed up in raising their granddaughter?"
Cologne reared back in a challenging stance, "And who are YOU to criticize? You've been an absolute terror to every male member of your line, and a source of humiliation to every girl-child who could claim you for their Elder!"
"I may have been a bit strict in teaching my boys how to behave," Happosai inclined his head with a taunting expression, "But I never had to lie to them to get them to do whatever I wanted. Terrorized, intimidated them, bullied and humiliated them, humbled and starved them, but I never had to lie to them, and you know why? Because in spite of it all, I still respected them enough to tell them exactly what they were in for!"
"Are you saying that my lie of omission was more terrible than all the awful deeds you subjected your son, grandsons and great grandsons to in order to make them heirs to your school of martial arts?" Cologne demanded hotly.
"Ask yourself that," Happosai retorted, "You think Shampoo's ever going to want to even look at you again? A fine Matriarch you are, taking a thing like that lying down. You're too soft to be the leader of the Joketsuzoku. You ought to hang out with the Zen Nuns or join a Shaolin Temple for the old and decrepit…"
"I'll show you who's old and decrepit!" Cologne cried as she unleashed a Chi-bolt at where the little man had been standing, only Happosai was not there but back on the ledge where he had been standing a moment before hand.
"Your aim's as bad as your eyesight, you old bat!" Happosai taunted, "Come get me if you still think you can hobble fast enough!"
"Fast?" Cologne's hair began to curl around her head as her rage created a Chi-force wave around her, "You don't know the meaning of the word, Happy!"
"Talk's cheap!" Happosai called out to her from halfway down the block, but Cologne was already moving like the wind, hurtling after him like an avenging banshee…
Shampoo's Diary Continues:
Of the many shocks that I have endured this day the strangest yet was to befall me, for though I had long thought Lotion dead her return had brought joy mingled with sorrow and anger, much of it directed again my own Elder. I think I was still very much in shock when Kuonji called us into the dojo to make the announcement that she had gathered Jusenkyo water in order to attempt to cure us.
I cannot place in proper terms the feelings that possessed me upon seeing Lotion alive and well, and in the company of one whom I had mistakenly believed was my enemy for the past two years since our parting. Sitting down under the same roof as Ambergris-a name that it still seems odd to write about without the trembling rage I have felt for so long-as though we were merely long-parted friends and not bitter rivals. My cousin was sitting between us as if she expected that she would have to play mediator, a role quite odd considering how she never got along with Amber in the old days. I think the real buffering force, though, was Lotion.
She was sitting beside Perfume while casting fond looks towards me, yet I could tell from the way she smiled at my cousin that it was her company that she was mostly enjoying. I think with me there were memories that got in the way of our enjoyment of our reunion. We had very happy times together, yet it was all in the past now, and we both sensed this to be the truth, just as I could sense that there was a close bond between her an Ambergris without feeling the telltale signs of resentment on my part.
I had yet to hear the full story, of how a group of resentful warriors had confronted Lotion upon a bridge leading to the Sleeping Woman's village, how they had intended mischief at her expense as a crude means of striking back at me, only Ambergris interfered with their schemes and jumped into the waterfall to safe Lotion after she had accidentally lost her footing. Lotion had rewarded Ambergris by partially healing her face, but there is still a faint wisp of a scar to mark the cut that I placed there with my own hand. Somehow Lotion had worked her magic on both Amber's mind and body, because she professed to forgive me for marking her face, and she had even demonstrated a fair amount of pride in her scar, saying something about it making her look like some person named Emeraldis.
Two years apart…more than that now that I think upon it. Lotion had become even more beautiful than I remembered, and her spirit was so much stronger. I saw great confidence in her now, a sense of purpose and self-worth that had been absent in all the previous years when I had known her, both as friend and later as lover. I knew Lotion had a somewhat playful side, a tendency to enjoy games, and she is clever and insightful, which makes her a more well-rounded person. I knew she could make Perfume very happy, and my cousin deserves someone with a sensitive nature, who can understand her peculiar condition and not look down upon her or call her weak. I was happy to see Perfume smile as she talked with Lotion, smiling in a way that I have never seen my cousin smile, though Perfume has tended to be something of a flirt around our village, hiding her pain behind the fierce mask of an Enforcer.
Of course I had a very different reason for not wanting to continue my affair with Lotion now that we had been reunited. My husband and wife were watching me with hooded expressions, occasionally glancing towards Lotion before darting glances back at me, a question plainly unspoken in their eyes as they wondered about the part of my life that had come long before them.
In truth I was not certain how to handle this odd situation, so I elected to play coy, seeking to assure my loves of my loyalty and devotion while not acting as though I had a reason to feel nervous. I knew that I would have to explain myself there before too long, but I was still caught up in the confusion of conflicting emotions, my anger at she who was my great grandmother still burning bright among feelings of a less volatile nature.
Ah, but to return to Kuonji, my confusion there was almost as great as the sense of betrayal that I felt towards great grandmother. Kuonji had gone to Jusenkyo, met Amber and Perfume, and had brought Lotion back to me, her nominal rival. She had done this for me because of that incident from several nights ago where I had protected her from Mousse. Simple gratitude could not explain why she had risked herself this way, or why great grandmother had gone along with it and allowed her to bring back the Jusenkyo water that she presented to us in the dojo.
I saw Perfume's eyes dart to the first bottle that Kuonji removed from her knapsack, recalled her dread of Jusenkyo and wondered what force could have brought her all this way from China in the company of someone who carried a knapsack full of Jusenkyo water.
I saw Nabiki's eyes go wide as she looked upon the forbidden elixir that had cursed our beloved and myself, complicating both of our lives in ways too painful to mention. She revealed that she had already tested the water out upon Akane with the results not quite one hundred percent effective. Akane demonstrated this for us, removing the her shirt but not the bra beneath it, showing less of that strange modesty she has so annoyingly demonstrated in the past, as if finally overcoming her sense of inferiority regarding her body. Having already obtained a pot of hot water from the kitchen, she used it to reverse the effects that she revealed to us with a mere glass of water. I confess to being no less surprised than anyone present, for she had become like the people of Mount Phoenix, a winged woman whose extra limbs sprouted out from her backside.
Once Akane had returned herself to normal she sat down beside a most astonished Ryoga, looking sheepishly from him to Kuonji as if to explain the complicated state of affairs that had become her existence. I actually found myself both pitying and envious towards her for my own recently gained ability to glide was not actual flight itself, merely the ability ride air currents in my cursed form. I was brought back to myself when Kuonji addressed both Ryoga and me in one breath.
"So, you see guys," Ukyo was saying, "I thought I was bringing you the full cure, but it seems one dose of the Jusenkyo water only make a partial cure. I got three more bottles of Nyaniichuan water to go with the four bottles of Nanniichuan, so the way I figure that is one and a half cures of girl water, only two cures of the guy kind."
"Actually not even that," Lotion noted, "You left two of the bottles with the Matriarch, so what you have there are five bottles of Jusenkyo water, one full cure for either Akane or Shampoo, or perhaps even yourself should you want to go that route. Only one full cure for the boys as well, and half a cure beyond that."
"I don't care," Ranma said impulsively, "Half a cure, all the way a cure, it still means a cure, and I won't have to be a girl anymore, ever!"
"But if you cure yourself you leave your brother still cursed," the elder pointed out, "Unless you choose to share the water and each go for a half cure, I'm afraid only one of you will be completely cured without the Matriarch's cooperation."
My husband and his witless half-brother exchanged looks, and I saw recognition of this fact war upon both of their features. It was Ryoga who said, "We could fight for it…the one who wins gets the cure…"
"Is your rivalry all you two ever think about?" Akane said in disgust, a feeling I oddly shared after so often watching these two be at odds over trivial issues.
"I'm with Akane," Kuonji stated firmly, "I didn't go through all of this just to watch you two jackasses beat yourself up like a couple of kids. Either we settle this like civilized people or I'm letting Cologne keep all of the Jusenkyo water. Let her decide how to parcel it out, I just want to get this over with so I can go settle accounts with my dad, the other jackass."
"But what about Genma?" Atsuko spoke up from where she sat alongside Ranma's father, "You could also cure him of turning into a panda."
"Or cure you of being a real vixen," Lotion pointed out, adding as warning when she saw the gleam in the eyes of my panda father-in-law, "Don't even think about trying to steal from Kuonji-san, Saotome. I am wise to your tricks, and believe me, you will never complete the motion."
"This is just for the guys," Kuonji said, "You two can find your own cures, this is between Ranchan, Shampoo and Ryoga."
"I don't quite understand this," my wife spoke up, "If a bucket of water could turn Akane into a duck, and only a little bit of it was needed to affect Shampoo's curse, then why shouldn't a full liter be enough to cure someone? There's got to be another factor involved, something that must be modifying the curses."
"I don't know," Ukyo sighed, "I went to a lot of trouble to obtain this stuff, and I thought it would be enough to cure everybody. Obviously I was mistaken, but if you still want to risk it, I'm game to offer this first bottle of Nanniichuan water to the first guy who wants it."
I saw eagerness and hesitation war on the faces of the two brothers, but then a thought crept into Ranma's face and he asked, "What happens if I'm just half-cured and not all the way cured?"
"You could turn into a Hermaphrodite," Lotion suggested, "A person who manifests the traits of both genders, male and female, in one body."
"Ah…" Ranma's eyes got very round, "On second thought, maybe you should try it, Ryoga."
"I'm willing to take a chance, do anything to be cured," Ryoga said as he stood up to receive the bottle from Kuonji, "If it means I no longer have to be a pig, then I'll do anything."
He upended the bottle over his head, splashing himself with the contents as we all sat still and watched with anticipation. We only had to wait for a moment before the change came over the lost boy, and suddenly his face transformed, became bestial and brutish, his lower tusks growing to a size much greater than his upper teeth and his nose became a snout while his face was covered in black fur. He turned to us and asked, "Well, how do I look?"
"Hah?" Akane asked as Nabiki's eyes went wide and I just stared at his stupid expression, torn between pity and want to laugh my head off on account of what he looked like.
"Ah…Ryoga," Atsuko looked on her son and said, "That's…an interesting look for you…"
"Half a cure indeed," Lotion sighed, "I had hoped the first time was merely an aberration."
"Huh?" Ryoga raised his hands to touch his face, only they had been transformed into a pair of clawed hooves. He stared down at the horror of it and for a moment I thought he was going to faint where he was standing.
"Ryoga," my husband said, eyes wide as if comprehending how he might have been affected by only a half-dose of the cure.
"Oh boy," Kuonji said, "Ryoga…I didn't expect that! Maybe you need the other bottle."
"Give him the cure, Ucchan," Ranma suddenly snapped, "Nobody deserves to go through life looking like that!"
"Ranma?" Ryoga looked at his half-brother with surprise, as if not expecting my husband to make such a generous offer.
"Right," Kuonji said, fishing through her knapsack as she removed another bottle and red the label, "No, this is Nyaniichuan water. You need the other kind…"
That was when fate intervened in the form of a pair of battling Elders. Without warning the Demon Happosai appeared, hotly pursued by an angry Great Grandmother, the two hurling taunts at each other while a wave of hot Chi sizzled the air with the Matriarch unleashing a devastating blast his way that only serve to put yet another hole into the walls of the dojo.
"You're getting weak, old woman!" the Demon Happosai called back in a rush, snatching the bottle out of Kuonji's hand and squeezing the contents full in the face of my great grandmother, "You need to cool off, you old hot head!"
Great Grandmother gasped, unprepared for what next occurred, which is no less than the rest of us were when we saw her grow to a stature that rivaled that of my mother. White hair became blue-black and wrinkles vanished from her features. Within seconds a complete stranger the place of my great grandmother, staggering backwards as she looked down at herself in obvious dismay.
"N-No…!" she cried as she turned to read her transformation in our expressions, "You idiot! Look what you've done! You've cursed me!"
"N-Nani?" Happosai stared up at the ravishing beauty who stood revealed before us, only she wasn't even wearing the same gown as before. Instead of the purple outfit great grandmother traditionally wore, this stranger was wearing a dress that was made from gold silk with purple trimmings.
"That's…the old ghoul?" Ranma said in a disbelief that was rival to my own intense confusion.
"Doesn't look old any more," Nabiki said in an attempt to make light of the matter, yet even for her the jest did not sound convincing.
"Elder?" Perfume gasped.
"Matriarch?" Ambergris said likewise.
Then, topping off this moment of strangeness came the strangest sound of all, the sound of Elder Lotion's laughter, which took us all by surprise as I do not recall the last time that I even heard an Elder of her station laughing. Great Gr-ah, she who was my Great Grandmother glared her way and said in a low growl, "I fail to see what is so funny."
"The jest of the fates," Lotion gasped as she wiped a tear from her eye, "Oh, ironies of the Gods, how mysterious and perverse are the twisting patterns that Destiny can take with we mere mortals."
"You did this to me!" Elder Kho-Lon hissed, "You arranged for all of this to happen!"
Lotion sobered and glared back towards my Elder then said simply, "Don't flatter yourself, Matriarch. I would hardly bend the laws of time and space to your benefit. This was done by a Lore Master who might at one time have surpassed me had he so chosen. Blame it on yourself for not finishing your business from long ago. Now you pay the price for hubris, and be assured it will be a steep one. Try asserting your illusion and see if you can restore your former image."
"What?" my wife gasped.
"Former image?" I asked with my confusion growing more intense by the second.
"Just try it," Lotion smiled, "You can't do it any more…can you?"
I saw my former great-grandmother frown then close her eyes and concentrate, but nothing appeared to happen. She opened her eyes again and stared down at her hands, then fear came over her expression as she turned back to Elder Lotion and gasped, "I can't do it! How…?"
"It is as I feared, or rather anticipated," Lotion said with a nod, "The magic of Jusenkyo is so intense it cancels out your ability to disguise your appearance. You can no longer manifest the illusion of the troll to hide your true age from those who might misunderstand you."
"Huh?" Atsuko sat upright, "Did you say illusion?"
"You never suspected?" Lotion asked without turning around, "I should think you, of all people, could have sensed the truth, that the Cologne that you saw before was a false image projected by the power of her mind. Cologne was never the old hag that you saw but rather the beautiful lady you see now. The Jusenkyo water merely dispelled the illusion and has prevented her from reestablishing her true age. What you see now is a Juraian princess revealed in her true form, the daughter of Yosho, three hundred years old yet preserved in state by the magic of her bloodline."
"No way!" Ranma protested, "That old freak was just an illusion?"
"You have noticed her tendency to perch upon her staff," Lotion smiled, "This was to conceal the fact that she was standing normally at eye-level. Her tendency to 'pogo-stick' is just another cute manifestation of the power of her former illusions. This is the true form of the Amazon Matriarch, Cologne revealed in all her glory."
"Great grandmother," I gasped, "Is this true?"
"I thought you weren't going to acknowledge her as your grandmother," Ambergris reminded me.
My anger returned full force as suddenly I knew the depth of the Matriarch's deception, that she had even been lying to me about THIS, and so I turned my nose away and said, "I do not care any more what she looks like, she is not my great grandmother!"
"Oh, but she is," Elder Lotion insisted, "But she had your grandmother at the age of two hundred and twenty. Even using Amazon age preserving techniques, it is not such an easy thing to stave off menopause for that great an amount of time."
"Cologne-baby?" I heard the demon Happosai finally gasp, then stare at the bottle in his hand that had the Japanese kanji symbol for woman. All at once realization seemed to come over him as he cried, "You have JUSENKYO WATER? Then that means…!"
All at once he shoved Kuonji to one side, went fishing through her knapsack, pulling out a bottle that had the make Kanji symbol taped upon it, and before anyone could stop him he uncapped the bottle and began drinking of the contents.
A moment later he gasped, staggering as he held a hand to his throat, his eyes wide with shock as he dropped the empty bottle.
"You fool," Elder Lotion declared, "You already bear a curse inside you, do you think another is going to go down as smooth as malt liqueur?"
"I feel…kinda woozy," the demon said, falling face down, and for a moment I almost dared hope that the Jusenkyo power was doing something terrible to his insides. Instead he began to change, his small frame growing larger, and in less than a moment he was like a very different person laying there, blinking his eyes and gasping, "Am I dead?"
I saw my father-in-law hold up a sign that read, "You wish!" but when Happosai sat upright he no longer looked the same, he was-if the truth must be told-quite passingly handsome.
"It worked!" he cried, feeling his face as he declared with joy, "I need a mirror, somebody! I'm finally good looking! Now the ladies won't run away from me any more! I've gotta see what I look like!"
"You want to see your reflection?" Great-ah-The Matriarch declared, and with a swipe from her staff she sent the transformed perverted man out the door and into the koi pond.
"Hey!" Ranma said, "How come he got a full cure instead of a half-one like Ryoga?"
"Maybe it's because he drank the water instead of spilling it over his head," Ambergris spoke up.
"So it would seem," agreed Elder Lotion.
"So he's cured of being short and ugly," my wife huffed, "Terrific."
"But…I don't understand something, Grandmother," young Lotion asked, "Why has the Matriarch been concealing her true age if this is what she truly looks like?"
"Because among Amazons age defines a person," Elder Lotion replied, "It is easy to command respect from your peers when you have the wrinkles to show for it, but not so easy to hold their respect when you look no longer than a youth, and the Matriarch has never wanted to stand out that much from her peers. You have long suspected that they would treat you differently if they saw a young face staring at them in council, have you not…Elder?"
"You were the only one who knew the truth," Elder Cologne replied with a most sour expression, "Now everyone will know this, including Be-Dea. I can't even show my face around council without admitting that I've been concealing my true appearance all along. Admit that this is what you wanted for me all along, student."
"I admit no such thing," Elder Lotion replied, "And it has been a long time since you had any right to call me your student."
"But…great grandmother?" my Lotion said to her Elder, "Does this mean you also are hiding your true age from us by illusion?"
"No child," the old woman said gently, "What you see is the truth for me, and unlike some persons I don't have any need to resort to such illusions."
"Can we get back to the subject, please?" Kuonji asked as she rubbed her nose as if upset about the interruption, "Now…if I understand this right, drinking from the bottle will be twice as effective as pouring it on the outside? Terrific! Then that means the bottle I've got left can go to Ranchan! Here, take it and cure yourself, then we can give the last bottle to Shampoo, and the one I've got back at the Nekohanten can go to Akane."
Ranma accepted the bottle, looked at it, then looked up at Ryoga and said, "What about him?"
"Well," Kuonji said, "We still have one more bottle of Nanniichuan water back at the Nekohanten…"
"I guess I can wait for that," Ryoga said resignedly, staring at his hooved hands and feet, looking something like that cartoon beast that I've heard about who courted a beauty.
"Fine," Ranma said as he unstopped his bottle, then he surprised all of us by pouring the contents over Ryoga, "Then you can have this one, buddy."
Ryoga looked astonished, blinked his eyes, then transformed once again, this time resuming his human form completely. He gazed down at his hands, then felt his face and cried, "I'm cured? For real this time?"
"It would seem to be so," Elder Lotion said with clear approval, "You can test the theory and see if it is valid."
Ryoga saw the glass of water sitting by Kuonji, fetched and upended it over his head, and nothing happened. Ryoga's face lit up like a cliff that is kissed by sunlight and he yelped for joy, finding his cure was for real. His joy only lasted a few seconds though before he turned and stared wide-eyed at Ranma, "Why?"
"Hey, it ain't like I'm fond or you or nothing," Ranma folded his arms, "And it's not like I did this because we're supposedly brothers and all that. I just couldn't stand seeing you look like some kind of a freak, not when we can see for a fact that two dozes of water's what it takes to cure you on the outside. Far as I'm concerned you're still a pig inside, but Akane seems to like you."
Ryoga just stood there weathering the insults as if the only thing that mattered was the fact that Ranma had just done him a favor. It was as if he had never suspected that my husband was capable of acting in a selfless manner, and while I've been taught to believe that such mercy to an enemy is the height of foolish behavior, I was moved no less than Ryoga to witness how brave and considerate my husband truly could be. More than ever I knew that I love him, but for Ryoga it was plainly something of a revelation.
"Son in law," the woman who had been my Elder said simply, "You are always full of surprises."
"Ranchan," Kuonji breathed in an astonished manner.
"He did that for my Ryoga-chan?" Atsuko turned a questioning look towards Genma, who stared back stupidly her way as if he was having trouble recognizing this side of Ranma.
"Way to go, Ranchan," I hard Nabiki say with a cunning smile in his direction.
"That boy does bear watching," Ambergris murmured at the level of a low whisper.
"Either that or he very stupid," Perfume agreed, mirroring my own darker thoughts.
"A very noble and selfless deed, young War Master," I heard Elder Lotion say evenly, "But I think you forgot one very important thing."
"Yeah?" Ranma asked, "Like what?"
"Your mother is only seventy meters away from this position," Lotion explained, "And you still have your curse. Pray that she does not learn the truth before you obtain that last bottle."
There was a very long pause before Ranma glanced back at the Elder Lore Master and asked, the words, "Nani…?"
Comments/Criticism/Cures by the bottle: Shadowmane@msn.com