Kyo was excited for this trip. His father had gotten approval from Akito to let him leave the country (temporarily) provided he was not gone longer than a year. Considering he was still a high school student, that was a reasonable demand.
So his dad booked a trip to the infamous springs of Jusenkyo...at least once Kyo had mastered basic Chinese enough that he could ask more than where the bathroom was or order food. If they were going to make a trip to another country, then he wanted Kyo to experience it properly. Besides, it was good for him to learn another language.
One plane flight to China, followed by a rather dull week getting to the training ground itself (it was supposed to be training, so they walked with weights around the wrists and ankles) but eventually the found it.
The guide was on a break, and Kyo couldn't read a word of Chinese.
Kyo looked across the odd expanse of pools.
"So why exactly is this place so infamous?"
"Something to do with the pools of water. It was written in an archaic kanji, so I couldn't really read most of it. Apparently the Amazons use this place to punish tribe members who break the rules, something to do with honor. Depending on which pool they fall in, they have to suffer a different punishment. From what I was able to read, it was more of an embarrassing one than anything too bad," said his father absentmindedly.
"You're not going to try and convince me on those poles are you?" asked Kyo suspiciously.
"Kyo, do I look that foolish to you? There's plenty of room to train on the ground and even I don't know the trick to pole jumping without falling," said his father amused.
Kyo and his adopted father decided to do some light stretches and katas, since it had been a long walk to the training ground.
Once they got to sparring, Kyo slowly lost sense of where his feet were.
So when the guide came off break and found them fighting, he was quick to yell out "Sirs! Be very careful not to fall in springs or you'll be cursed!"
Kyo, who's head automatically turned when he heard the word 'curse' failed to block his father's punch which sent him flying into one of the larger pools of water. The guide shook his head.
Kyo popped out of the spring a few moments later sputtering, as the guide walked up.
"Ah, too bad. You fell into Spring of Drowned Girl. Tragic tale of girl who drowned in spring many year ago. Now whoever fall into spring takes on body of young girl when hit with cold water," said the guide shaking his head.
Kyo reluctantly pulled his gi forward and very nearly screamed. He had breasts! And a quick check proved he no longer had 'that' between his legs.
He looked at his father with open annoyance.
"Dad...why exactly didn't you ask why the springs were so infamous?!" he, er, she asked irate.
"Er...I didn't think it would matter that much considering...?"
He had asked why they were infamous before they reached the place. He just thought that the Sohma clan curse would prevent Kyo from getting one if he fell in. The only reason he avoided the poles was because his footwork wasn't that great.
"Come inside while I get you hot water. Springs not very popular, but occasionally unlucky traveler picks up curse."
"How bad is this curse, and what exactly is it?"
"Is shape changing curse. Being hit with cold liquids turns you into whatever spring you fell into, in your case the Spring of Drowned Girl. Hot turns you back, though there are a few things that can affect the curse such as pressure points and spells. The Amazon village a few miles away guard the majority of the springs, but it's not often used. Some claim that it also comes with a water-attracting curse, but I've yet to see that."
"Amazon village? I wasn't aware it was so close," said Kyo's father.
The guide had a Japanese translated copy of the Amazon laws. Kyo dove into them...maybe they could help with his *original* curse.
Apparently his dad was wondering the same thing, because he gave his son a one-armed hug.
"Well, at least we know that seems to be overridden by this new one."
"Yeah, but will it stay like this if a girl...?"
"We'll cross that road when we come to it."
"If sirs like, I could introduce you to Elder Kon Lon. She's generally the one in charge of the springs."
"How far is this village?"
"About ten to fifteen kilometers."
It was unusual, but not rare for the man who watched over the springs to bring visitors. One was a boy with orange hair and a man who could be his teacher.
A quick explanation had them sitting in a small house with Elder Cologne, as the foreigners had a bad habit of calling her. She got used to it, even if it did result in an unfortunate misconception that all the powerful Amazons were named after beauty products.
At least this...Kyo...boy tried not to mangle her actual name.
"So what seems to be the issue?"
The Sohmas had been relieved she spoke Japanese, as their Chinese was barely passable.
"We were curious about an issue with this Jusenkyo curse. Specifically what would happen if another shape-shifting curse interfered with it. So far it seems one of the requirements for the original curse has yet to cause him to shift when it's met."
"May I ask what 'curse' you are talking about? Shape shifting curses are rather unusual."
"It's a hereditary curse that occurs only when the previous victim dies. The next to be born into the clan will be the next bearer, whether they are main house or branch. Some of the parents generally don't handle it well. Kyo is an exception to the rule. He has a secondary curse that activates when the bracelet he wears it taken off."
Cologne gave him a look.
"He is the Cat then. I thought the name Sohma sounded familiar, but I have honestly never heard of a case where one of the afflicted have come into contact with the Jusenkyo curse as well."
This was quite the conundrum. Never before has someone already cursed to change shape fallen into one of the springs. Especially one as odd as the Sohma clan.
"Wait...you know about that curse?" said Kyo in shock.
"The Sohma originally came from China, child. It was here that they were cursed, and seeking a cure they went to Japan. Eventually they ended up staying as the clan had made many enemies in China while looking for a cure. There was also rumor about a prophecy being made that the one to reverse the curse would be born on the island, but no mention was ever made of when that person would be born."
Kyo honestly had no idea the family was originally from China, but it did make some sense.
"As for your shapeshifting curse, there is a simple way to see if the Jusenkyo has altered it in someway. Xian Pu, could you come in here please?"
Xian Pu (commonly called Shampoo by foreigners, to her annoyance) came into the house. She had heard about the foreigners coming into the village, but she didn't know what her grandmother wanted.
"First we'll test this out in your girl form," said Cologne.
A simple cup of water, and Kyo was a girl. It was still weird, but to be honest he would rather be stuck a girl than a cat.
Cologne told Shampoo something odd, but the girl didn't ask questions. She hugged the cursed boy and to the shock of both, nothing happened.
"Hmm...it would appear that the Jusenkyo curse is either overpowering or confusing the original. Let's see what happens if you are back in your natural form," said Cologne.
This time there was a poof of smoke and Kyo ended up a cat.
"Great..." sighed Kyo.
"Look at it this way boy. Whenever you end up as a female you won't have to worry about your family curse acting up. Of course you could chose to become female permanently," said Cologne.
It was an unusual way to use the Jusenkyo curse, but the fact none of the Sohma thought to simply change their genders as a way to cure it was something that privately surprised her. The Springs were somewhat famous after all.
There was another poof of smoke, and Kyo was quick to put his clothes back on.
Xian Pu wasn't that surprised. Most people who got an animal curse generally had trouble keeping their clothes on. At least Kyo didn't have to search for water to switch back.
"This is quite the conundrum. For now you may stay in one of the guest houses until we figure out what to do with that troublesome curse of yours," said Cologne.
"Thank you, Elder," said the older Sohma.
"Do you know of anywhere I could practice some katas?" asked Kyo.
"A martial artist are you?" said Cologne with some amusement.
"This was supposed to be a training trip that doubled as a vacation," said Kyo.
"Perhaps my granddaughter could provide you with a decent sparring partner. Very few have been able to beat her since the last contest."
Kyo perked up at that. Before he left the house he activated the Jusenkyo curse to make sure he would avoid any awkwardness of turning into a cat. This new curse seemed more like a mixed blessing than a nuisance.
Xian Pu did not seem very impressed with Kyo. It probably had to do with the fact very few bothered to properly learn martial arts these days, and those that didn't looked down upon the idea of fighting in general. Kyo took it up to try and one-up that damn rat Yuki, but instead the bastard still beats him.
He still kept at it, despite this attitude. He hoped to one day beat that damn rat, but he mostly trained because he honestly enjoyed it. He didn't have to be the best, but he wanted to do his best.
Kyo dodged Xian Pu's weapon, noticing his girl form was much faster and far more flexible. He should put that to use.
Xian Pu wasn't expecting the low sweep, or the sudden punch that followed it. He could see the stirrings of respect start to form. Kyo was a black belt after all, even if he wasn't entirely happy with his ability.
He would never consider himself 'good enough' until he could beat Yuki and get his freedom.
He hadn't expected to win against someone who had been training their entire life with masters, but the fact he lasted that long against her had at least earned her respect.
Kyo noticed another watching them with a frown. He had some pretty thick glasses on.
"He is Mu Tsu. Idiot thinks I'm his, despite the fact Amazon law says only those who can at least match the girl in question at combat may make such claims."
"What does Amazon law say about trying to be friends with said girl?"
"We do not make many friends. Few outsiders like coming out this far, and even fewer like the fact that women rule this village and can beat men," said Xian Pu.
"Well I have very few female friends, and I don't particularly care if you can beat me. So long as you don't take out the fact I was born male out on me, I wouldn't mind sparring with you while I'm here," said Kyo honestly. Finding out that he had essentially found an odd cure to the curse had been a blessing he wasn't looking for. Perhaps he could hope for a friend?
Xian Pu gave him a rather odd look. Normally when told about the Amazon customs, outsiders were either horrified about the 'barbaric' ways or tried to beat the Amazon so they could have a powerful wife.
None of them, to her knowledge, had asked to be her friend.
"You don't think our custom is barbaric?"
"Why should I? I think it's a good way to insure that only people who actually understand martial arts and take them seriously would marry into your tribe, and it keeps the bloodline strong," said Kyo. He never understood the whole 'martial arts is outdated' attitude some of the boys in his school had. Those that were remotely interested in the art rarely made black belt. They mostly thought of it as a hobby.
Xian Pu's opinion of him went up even more. He at least had some understanding of why the rule was in place. There had been incidents where an outsider married into the family and reacted badly to their children learning martial arts. It hadn't ended well, sometimes resulting in the outsider having their memories wiped and the Amazon filing for divorce shortly after.
Kyo's sleep was rudely interrupted by the sentries. He popped his head out and asked the first Amazon he saw "What's going on?"
"The Musk are leading another raid!"
Xian Pu and Cologne had briefly touched upon the only tribes that might know of the location of the Spring of Drowned Man, and from what he understood, the Musk weren't very nice. They periodically tried to 'raid' the Amazon village for women that they would force into marriage to act as breeders. Needless to say the Amazons hated them, and barely got along with them at all.
Kyo scowled. He hated the idea of someone forcing themselves on another like that.
His father was right behind him, agreeing to guard the younger girls so that some of the older ones could focus more on the raiders.
Kyo, however, went right into the thick of it.
He saw Xian Pu and ran towards her.
He narrowly ducked the weapons thrown at him, and threw a normally devastating punch. At least until he realized that his best wasn't exactly cutting it for people who knew more about fighting than he did.
Which left one option he normally wouldn't consider. However help was too far out and he didn't want to see any of the Amazons hurt.
He fingered his bracelet, and after thinking about it he slipped it off and put it in his pocket with the zipper on it. He had slipped out of his Gi because it had gotten dirty earlier, instead putting on his more casual clothes.
The reaction was instantaneous. Where his fists didn't do much damage, the Cat's true form, which always inspired disgust, did far more. Especially the claws.
Kyo wasn't going to concern himself over any potentially fatal injuries until after these jerks were gone. If the smell and appearance didn't put off the fighters, then his claws would.
The Amazons eyed the 'creature' warily. The only reason they didn't try to kill it was because of the smell and the fact it had taken care not to harm any of theirs. Cologne used her cane to pogo towards the group.
She barked something in Chinese, and the more powerful fighters dispersed.
"That was a risky gamble you took young one."
"My punches weren't doing enough."
His voice always sounded weird in this form.
Cologne eyed the 'creature' with interest. Very few outsiders would risk themselves to help the Amazons, and Kyo had taken a few hits in his cursed form. The fact he had willingly removed the bracelet to help them repel the Musk spoke volumes about his character. There was also the conversation she had with Xian Pu a few hours before the raid.
The boy was odd, but he was still a better man than half the idiots who came to the village. Just because he was a little weak now did not mean he would always be so...especially if she could convince the others to at least give him a few basic techniques.
Slowly Kyo's less pleasant form melted into his human one. His shirt was done for, but his bracelet was still safe in the pocket he had put it in. Once he was back to human, he was quick to slip it on.
"Come child. We shall treat those wounds of yours and talk in the morning."