Ranma and Co. is Copyright Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan, Inc. 1993 Ranma ½ is a trademark of Viz Communications, Inc.
A Ranma ½ Fan Fiction/Danny the Dog by S³

Circle that Binds - part 1

For the first time in many years, Soun Tendou was a truly happy man. This was the day that he'd been waiting for ever since his oldest and best friend had left, what seemed like ages ago. Wiping away a tear that threatened to overwhelm him, he reread the postcard that he'd found in the mail buried beneath a pile of bills and solicitations.

Tendou,
Bringing the boy. Be there soon.
- Saotome

"Short and to the point as always eh, Saotome," the Tendou patriarch laid the missive on the tabletop and shook his head. He was so happy!

"Girls, come down, I have something important to tell you," he called up the stairs. His daughters had walked in from school not too long ago, and they were probably working on homework or something like that. Such studious children he had.

"Ah, Kimiko, I've done my best with them. Hopefully, with the return of our friend Saotome and his boy, they can move on with their lives," Soun glanced over at the kamidana in the alcove where his dear departed wife's picture rested alongside another, newer frame.

Ten minutes later, he'd just finished explaining the arrangement to his daughters, when the doorbell rang. "Could that be them? They're even faster than I imagined." Mr. Tendou rose to see who was at the door, flanked by his eldest daughter, Kasumi, who was interested to catch a first look at her possible betrothed.

"Who is it, father," Kasumi asked from just behind her father's shoulder as he opened the front door.

Soun's reply was cut short as a set of burly arms wrapped around him in a crushing embrace.

"Tendou my old buddy! It's good to see you after so long," a rotund man, about the same age as Soun shouted as he nearly hugged the life out of his friend.

Kasumi was taken aback at such a forward greeting, but put it aside when she recalled just how long her father had mentioned it'd been since his friend last visited. Nearly ten years. Such a long time to her; almost half her lifetime. She politely coughed to let the man know that her father was having trouble breathing, and he promptly released him.

With a hearty pat on the back, Genma Saotome restored the air to his hosts lungs. He hadn't traveled so far to kill his one true friend.
"Come now, Tendou. Has life been so unkind to you this past decade? Why, I remember back when we struggled daily for life and limb. Fending off wild animals just for the next meal," Genma continued his reminiscing as he led the recovering Soun into the house. Trailing a few feet behind, a somber boy in his late teens followed the two men.

As they passed her by on the way to the living room, Kasumi got her first good look at the Saotome boy. He was dressed in worn jeans and a plain blue short sleeved shirt. Not very stylish, but probably the best he had. They were just in from a long trip after all. So she let that slide.

What did catch her eye though, was the way he carried himself. The boy walked with his shoulders hung forward and his gaze was almost on the floor. The eldest Tendou couldn't be quite sure of where he was really looking, since his hair was long, and he'd grown his bangs down where they almost covered his eyes. Since he was downcast, the hair ended up hanging like a curtain across his forehead.

Ever the courteous hostess, Kasumi offered a greeting. "Hello, My name's Kasumi. I heard you just came back from China."

Her gesture garnered no response. Though she could've sworn his head canted slightly to the side. As if he were listening intently to something far away. Maybe the boy was just shy, she thought. After he remained silent, she walked back over to sit with her sister. The boy started walking again, and eventually came to a halt next to his father.

The two men talked about old times for a few minutes, catching up on recent events and which baseball team was heading to Koshien this year. The whole time, the Saotome boy sat quietly, not looking at anything in particular, nor acknowledging either of the two girls.

This put Akane, the younger of the two girls, at odds. She'd been angry with her father ever since he broke the news that she might have to marry a boy she'd never even met once. Now, to add fuel to the fire, the boy shows up and doesn't say a damn word. No, "Hi, nice ta meetcha." Nothing. He never even gave his name. Elbowing her sister, Akane whispered,"Who does this guy think he is? Is he some kind of slacker? I mean, look at his hair. I don't even think he uses shampoo."

Again, Kasumi couldn't fathom anything about the boy. She wanted to agree with her sister, but would withhold any further judgement until they' been properly introduced. "Shh, Akane. I think he's just a little shy. Don't forget they were on the road a long time. Maybe we can offer to let him use the bath."

"Yeah, sure Kas. Give him a haircut too while your at it," Akane retorted, but already the heat had started to leave her voice. She'd had a bad day at school again, and was still indignant about being held after class by her math teacher. Besides, Kasumi was right, but the boy's attitude wasn't helping his case any.

The girls sat there, whispering back and forth for a little while longer. The Saotome boy still hadn't moved so much as a muscle since he'd taken a seat beside his father. For their part, the two men conversed about trivial things, with a loud guffaw or teary chuckle interspersed. Kasumi watched the byplay with mounting anticipation, surely they would get to the heart of the matter anytime soon.

They didn't have to hold their breath, as something the Saotome man said drew a stern face from their father. Almost instantly the pleasant laid-back atmosphere in the room changed. An air of solemnity surrounded the little wooden dining table as a Saotome's tone took on a subtle strength.

"Soun, as much as I relish catching up on things with you, I believe we do have other matters to discuss," the hint of iron grew that much more firmly as Genma redirected the conversation.

Soun Tendou recognized the words of his friend not by what lay beneath, but instead by the mention of his given name. The two men, and former comrades-in-arms, had long ago placed much emphasis on first names. If Genma pulled that card, then the joining of schools was a hazy prospect indeed. It had been a serious matter to the both of them, yes. But, also something decided before any of the children had come into this world. Thus, an assumption that it simply would be so.

From what he'd seen of the boy, the lad was quiet, well-mannered and disciplined. A little rough in apperance, but Soun knew what life on the road was like. Sweaty, unshaven, and worn tattered-clothing; all were part and parcel of the life of a wandering martial artist, as the boy undoubtedly was.

"Indeed, Genma. That is why you've come, is it not?"

"Of course, of course. The boy and I, we managed to make it back to Japan nearly ten years to the day, if memory serves," Genma took this time to acknowledge his son. In fact, this was probably the first moment that any of the Tendou's had seen the man even look his offspring's direction. Genma made a point to ruffle the boy's hair. "Ranma here, is one of the best of his generation. I'll even admit that he could give some of the older ones a run for their money."

"That's good news, old friend. The school's will be even more prosperous than we could have hoped!"

Akane was tired of waiting around, trying to keep her opinions and thoughts on the whole matter bottled up. "So, he's a martial artist too? Is that what you mean?" She eyed him openly now, since everyone else's attention seemed to be riveted upon the boy. "I'm not in the mood to deal with some old-fashioned arranged marriage right now. We're all still in school," she exclaimed, pointing out Ranma's state of dress. "Do you even go to school? Traveling all over for ten years, did you even have the time?"

"Akane, don't point at other people, it's not polite," Kasumi chided her sibling in a whisper only audible to Akane.

"Now, Akane, you've only just met Ranma. No one's saying any of you have to get married right away," her father attempted to placate the simmering girl. "Genma, what does your boy make of all this. Surely, he would like to put in a word or two?"

It appeared to everyone that Genma was a bit hesitant in replying. "The boy? He knows what's best for family honor, as I'm sure your daughters can understand as well. Old-fashioned or not, this is about maintaining family honor. Simple as that." The portly Saotome folded his arms as if that were the end of the argument.

"You see Akane, this is about what's best for the schools," Soun added as a final say. This meant that Akane was going to have to find another way around this mess. If she could talk to this Ranma, and make him see her point of view, then maybe that would be enough to convince the fathers. Her's was usually a pushover in most situations. She loved the man dearly, but he was who he was. And that meant honor was to be held up above all else. Not that she didn't share that particular conviction, but this situation was just too much, and too strange for her to wrap her mind around in one afternoon.

"Fine, whatever. I'm going out to the dojo. If anyone needs me, don't bother. I need to think about this whole...thing," Akane stood up abruptly, not about to let her father, and some stranger she'd never met, try and dictate her future.

Kasumi watched her sister leave, words waiting on her lips. She thought better of saying anything in front of their guests though. That wasn't the kind of support Akane needed. Not that the strong willed girl ever really expressed a need for Kasumi's help. She was too proud for that. An independent girl;
not yet a woman, but trying so hard to become one.

"Father, shall I make some tea for our guests?"

The sound of his eldest daughter's voice jarred Soun's attention back to the events at the table. He was a little worried about Akane's outburst, but he supposed girls will be girls, and left it at that. Besides, it wasn't as if she dismissed the whole thing outright. She did say she was going to think it over. He was sure, that with a little time, she would warm up the idea of an arranged marriage. Once she got to know the boy, it would all work out, he was sure of it. And then there was dear Kasumi.

"That would be excellent Kasumi. Would you like Ranma to accompany you," Soun offered as a way to get at least one of his daughters to know the lad.

"It won't take long, but he's welcome to join me if he wants."

The whole time Genma was beginning to look slightly nervous, but he hid it behind a stern mask. Something even Soun would have trouble seeing past, especially since his fire-cracker of a daughter had tried to undermine the whole deal. He would need to keep an eye on her. She was undoubtedly the Tendou heir to the school, as he'd noticed the way she carried herself. She was a little stiff in the shoulders, but that was likely due to having concentrated her efforts on strength training. The Tendou girl filled her clothes out well in all the areas save for the bust line, the mark of a dedicated athlete if nothing else.

While Genma was busy contemplating new plans of action, Soun was talking about getting drinks or whatnot. That caught the large man's attention. "Yes, that sounds fine," he added just before he caught the rest of the conversation about Ranma going with the girl. "Ah, Soun, there's a little more that I need to tell you about the boy before...," but he trailed off mid-sentence as Ranma stood up and wandered after the older teen of his own accord. "...ah, that's strange."

"Hmm, what did you say Saotome," Soun turned back to his friend as Kasumi and the boy dissapeared through the curtain that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house.

"Ha, hah, nothing old friend. Say, do you still have the old shogi board?"

With that, their minds moved far away from current events as they went on a hunt for the board, which Soun remembered was stowed away in a cupboard by the washroom. He seldom had occasion to pull it out in the past, as no one else in the family played. Soon, everything else was forgotten as the game began in earnest.

Kasumi decided she would take the opportunity presented to get to know Ranma, even if it was just to chat. She didn't have all that many friends at school, but that wasn't much of a real concern to her. She spent the majority of her time studying for entrance exams, and applying for any financial aid that she qualified for. The dojo hadn't seen a student outside of Akane for going on seven years now. Father just didn't have the drive that he once held, she had to admit.

"So, Ranma. You've been traveling all around since you were, what, six or seven years old? What sort of places have you been to?" Since he'd been awfully quiet since he arrived, she wasn't all too sure what to talk about. She also didn't hang around too many boys her own age, so the task was daunting in of itself. At the moment, she was retrieving the tea cups, so she only saw him as a shape out of the corner of her eye.

He hadn't so much as moved an inch from where he'd stopped upon entering the kitchen. "Ranma"
Kasumi asked again, wondering absently if the boy was mute, or just horribly anti-social. Grasping the last cup, she put it on the counter and gave her guest her full attention. Upon turning around, it appeared that she already had his. He was alternating his gaze from her, to the tea kettle she'd set out,
and finally back again. His head was half canted to the side, set in the same way as when she'd first introduced herself by the front door. The overall effect of his pose was vaguely familiar to her, though she was at a loss as to what exactly he reminded her of.

Now that she was much closer to him, she noticed something odd. Since he'd been sitting sort of hunched over back at the table, she'd not noticed it, but there was a thick metal necklace hanging about his throat. What a strange decoration, she wanted to say, since it caught her by surprise. Kasumi wanted to ask him about it, even if it was a little rude in her view. However, Ranma never even answered her first question which made it difficult to continue asking him much of anything. So caught up in her flustered state, that she almost missed it when he spoke.

Just one word was all he said,"Eight."

"I'm sorry, what do you mean? Eight?"

This time, Ranma looked away slightly as he replied, "Eight years. Not six or seven years."

"Oh, I see," and then she realized what he was talking about. But, that would make him the same age as her! Kasumi thought for sure that he was younger, possibly even more than Akane's sixteen years. He certainly looked it, with the baggy clothes and tousled shoulder length hair. "So, did you like it, on the road I mean?"

He was quicker to respond this time. And the answer was just as brief, "No."

"Oh my, it must've not been very fun for you then," she struggled for something more to say. One word answers made it hard for her to sustain any kind of conversation. She wondered if perhaps Akane would have an easier time talking to Ranma. They did share more in common after all. Maybe once the tea was done, she would send him her way.

Out in the dojo, Akane was having a discussion all her own, with a punching bag. Left jab, elbow,
spinning backfist. Again and again she pummeled the sand filled canvas. The dull thuds of impact filled the room as the young Tendou worked out her frustrations. It never failed to amaze her how five minutes of beating the tar out of could settle her nerves so effectively.

Just as she was about to start in on another round with the heavy bag, she heard a knock at the dojo door. If it was anyone other than Kas, she was going to explode. "Yeah, who is it," Akane called out,
walking over to grab a towel to wipe the sweat from her forehead.

"It's Kasumi, and Ranma," her sister's voice came through the door, muffled and quiet. Not that it was ever loud.

Akane huffed and blew her bangs out of her eyes before sliding the door open. It figured that her sister would drag along the bane of her future existence. She didn't have anything against the guy, since she'd only met him thirty minutes ago. But, his reason for being here was a major problem. "Dad didn't send you two out here did he?"

Shaking her head, Kasumi told her sister that the two men were busy playing a round of shogi that was apt to last all night the way they were having at it. She'd left the tray of tea on the table and they'd all but ignored it so far. That left her with little to do but visit with their other guest. "I was thinking maybe the two of you could find something to do," Kasumi motioned toward the Saotome boy who was standing in the doorway, looking out at the koi pond. "I tried talking to him while I made tea, but he's very, reserved," she leaned over, stage-whispering to her sister.

Taking her sister's comments into consideration, the gi-clad girl walked over and stood by Ranma. His father said he was one of the best of their generation at martial arts. That alone was enough to catch her attention. Besides, even if the comment was fatherly boasting, the guy'd been out training for ten years. Maybe he'd picked up a handy move or two that she could incorporate into her own growing list of techniques. "Hey, Ranma, you want to come inside, so I can shut the door. It's getting a little cold out."

Ranma turned at the sound of Akane's voice, and fixed his eyes on her for a moment before dragging himself out of the doorway.

"Thanks," she slid the door shut, "Say, you wouldn't mind showing us a bit of your art would you?"

She was rewarded with a look from him that plainly stated he had no clue what she was talking about. Either that, or he was being conceited. "I know you just got in an all, but I wouldn't mind seeing something basic I guess. Nothing too fancy." None of her friends were martial artists by any stretch,
so she was just hazarding guesses on how to go about asking for a demonstration. It wasn't like she was asking him to do acrobatics. She just wanted to see how the two schools compared to each other. Preferably without resorting to sparring him. That wasn't her style. She didn't want a 'win-lose'
situation, not yet anyway.

While she was gauging his reaction and waiting for a him to say something one way or the other, she noticed the strange metal ring clasped to his neck. Some kind of fashion statement? "Hey, are you wearing a collar?"

As the words left her mouth, she wondered if maybe she should've said 'necklace' or a word other than collar. The look she got from her sister confirmed her doubts. She might as well forget about any demo if Ranma took offense to her question. But, she didn't have to worry, as he only gave her another weird look. Alright, play it like that, she thought. "This thing on your neck, what is it," she puncutated her statement by walking up to him and reaching for the metal 'whatever-it-was'.

Her fingers barely managed to brush up against the cool surface of the collar when they were batted away before she could blink.

"Whoa, ok. Settle down, I won't touch your stupid collar. Fine. I just wanted to know why you're wearing it," Akane was already moving back toward her sister. He didn't have to slap her hand like that if he didn't want someone to touch his goofy collar. "He should've just said something earlier."

"I did say he was reserved Akane," Kasumi added she watched her sister rub her reddening hand.

"You call that reserved? He might as well have tried to bite me. How old is he anyway, twelve?"

"Actually, Akane, I think he's eighteen."

"Right, I'm supposed to believe that," Akane scoffed.

"Well, he doesn't look it does he."

"Or act like it for that matter," the younger of the two shook the numbness out of her hand. "He's pretty strong, I'll give him that."

The sisters stopped bantering between themselves and looked over at Ranma, who hadn't moved a muscle, and was watching them in turn. Kasumi was about to say something, anything to break the tension that had sprung up in the dojo, but her sister beat her to it. "Sorry about all of that, and the whole necklace thing. Look, we're just trying to deal with this whole sudden engagement. Did you just find out about it too?" If he didn't want to talk about martial arts, then maybe the arranged marriage hanging over their collective heads would prompt a discussion.

"Fish. I saw the fish outside, in the water," Ranma pointed out much to the confusion of the girls.

Moving the final piece, Soun secured his victory at last. "Saotome, it looks as if the game is mine," he announced with a dry tone, but cracked a smile as the words fell.

"Indeed so, Tendou. That puts you still three victories behind me. Hah!"

"Now, Saotome, no need to gloat. Shall we play again, and give you the chance to try and keep your lead?"

Genma grumped, but began resetting the shogi board nonetheless. He hadn't had so much fun in a long time. Probably more than a decade ago in all actuality. And that was a very sobering thought indeed. "Tendou, what say we get a few drinks in us before the next match starts?"

"A good idea. I'm sure I have a bottle of genjou or two stored away for such an occasion," Soun stood up to find the drinks, and came back shortly. "Here we are," he eyed the board as he poured two saucers. "I believe it's your turn to start."

As the game began in earnest, and the men had downed a few drinks, the Tendou patriarch decided to voice a few of his concerns about the matter of joining the schools. "I couldn't help but notice, about your boy, Ranma."

"Hmm, what about the boy?"

"He seemed to be taking everything very well, considering."

"Ah, fear not Tendou, the boy is a little on the quiet side," Genma captured another of his opponent's pieces in a deft move.

"But, he did seem a little...I can't explain it," Soun shook his head in mild frustration. He took pains not to offend the other man at times, but they'd pretty much grown up together. So, he decided to be as blunt as was within his bounds. Or it could've been the alcohol working him over. "Come now Saotome. You are stepping around something. I can see it in your face."

Which was certainly true of the balding martial artist. He was fidgeting around with his glasses,
pretending to clean a smudge that wasn't there. Slipping the lenses back on, he took another drink and re-composed himself. "You have me Tendou. It's true. The boy, he's, well," Genma searched for the right words to describe the situation. And then he had an idea that would make everything clear. "Take a look at this Tendou, it should help explain things," the rotund man reached for his knapsack, and pulled out a well-worn book that had been wrapped in an old cloth. Handing it over to his friend, he let Soun leaf through it.

"Is this a training manual? Some of these techniques are quite daring."

"That's what I thought too, back when I stumbled upon it years ago."

Soun took that to mean the martial artist had probably 'liberated' it from some unlucky source. As he skimmed further and further into the book, his eyes gradually widened, considerably more so once he reached an especially worn segment toward the end. "You actually found it Saotome? The dreaded cat-fist training technique," Soun's words held no small measure of awe and dread in them.

"Yes, and I wish that I'd never come across it."

Reading more of the details involved in the training, Soun regarded Genma. "You don't mean you put the boy through this?"

"Around the middle of the first year of the trip. We'd just arrived in an older prefecture, and I found the perfect place. Just as the book describes. It did take some effort on my part to gather all of the cats,
let me tell you. But, finally, everything was in place, and I proceeded with the training."

"Genma, but the last page says the technique is unusable. More of a cruel joke than anything else," the long-haired man was aghast.

"I only found out much later. You see, the last page was stuck to the page before it. There wasn't anything to claim is was a fake technique. The book claimed it would make the practitioner unbeatable. An unstoppable warrior. Think of it, the perfect technique right there, within my grasp. As a martial artist, I had no other choice. But, had I known of the cruel truth, I would've found some other way."

"You still haven't told me what happened to the boy. What went wrong?"

Ranma's father sighed and rubbed his forehead. "What went wrong, well, the training itself was a wash from the very start. I tried using different kinds of fish for the paste, more cats. Everything I could think of to improve the methods. None of them worked though. I put the boy in the pit around five, maybe six times. The first few went badly, and the boy didn't seem to be learning anything, other than how to curl into an infuriatingly tight ball," Genma paused at the memory, taking another sip of sake.

"You know the feeling Tendou, I'd do anything for the art, and this was my one regret. In the end, I may have gone too far. I don't know the exact details of it myself, but the final time Ranma went into that pit, the ordeal must have been too much for the boy's mind. He snapped down there. The cats were going crazy, hissing and spitting, yowling in the darkness. I'd put a lid over the hole you see, so none of the cats would escape. The lid also kept me from seeing what was going on. Only when the scuffle died down, did I dare to risk a peek."

"Had the cats somehow calmed down?"

"No, far from it Soun. They were all dead. In fact, I had trouble telling that any of the remains had once been cats at all. There was so much blood and carnage. And in the middle of it all, looking pleased with himself, was my son."

The shogi game had long since stopped in favor of the riveting tale that was unfolding, and despite himself, Soun was interested to learn the fate of Ranma that day. "Was it the cat-fist?" Had the boy somehow learned a bizarre fighting technique, Soun wondered.

"At first, that's what I thought," Genma nodded. "Then the boy took notice of me, and growled. I found myself almost instantly on the defensive as he leapt up at me from the bottom of the pit. He might have gotten to me right away if I'd not have shut the lid so quickly. Even that didn't hold him for long."

"He was growling? Like a...," Soun's conjecture was interrupted by Genma.

"Yes, like a dog. Later on, after I found the hidden page, I realized that his mind must've snapped from the stress back in the pit. Instead of losing his mind to his fear, he adapted to it instead. If there's one thing I'm proud to say, is that my boy is very good at adapting to new situations. That alone has placed him leaps and bounds ahead of other martial artists."

It was all beginning to make sense to Soun. As the tale neared its end, he came to the same conclusion Genma had, all those years ago. "Ranma's mind somehow became like that of a dog, the natural enemy of all cats. Is that right, Saotome?"

Genma nodded in assent. "That's what dawned on me as well. But, unfortunately, I was never able to fully restore him to his right mind. I tried many methods that have been proven successful in the past in mental hospitals. After reading over several books on the subject of shock and personality disorders, I determined that what Ranma needed was a greater shock to his system that would overshadow the barrier in his mind. That's part of why we are only now returning to Nerima. I found a partial cure in the wilds of China."

"A partial cure? But, he seemed to be acting fine to me. Not at all how a dog would behave."

"True Tendou. But, acting is all it was. A boy with the mind of a dog, that's trained to act like a man. But, in China, we stumbled upon a mystical place. A cursed training ground, where I hoped to use magic to cure him. A place called, Jusenkyou."

---

It had been raining nonstop for what felt like ages to the two waterlogged travelers. Slogging through the underbrush, Genma Saotome pushed aside an errant branch and held his arm out to signal a halt to the boy. It appeared that the path he'd been told about ended here. The torrents of water must've washed away the path in a mudslide, for the cliff ahead had sloped off into a miniature waterfall, the contents of which vanished into the mists far below.

Overlooking the steep drop, the hefty martial artist grumped. This meant they'd have to find another way down into the valley. "Come on boy, it looks like we need to backtrack a little," he turned away from the drop off and walked past his son, who followed wordlessly. This would all be worth it in the end, Genma thought, if the legend could be believed, his son's cure was waiting; for down there, lay the pools of sorrow, Jusenkyo.

Nearly thirty minutes later, they'd made it down the mountainside and into the valley proper. Miles from civilization, the two Japanese had struggled, working their way into the very heart of mainland China. Jusenkyo had not been an easy place to reach, by any means. It was nestled within the Bayankala range, making for rugged travel, and next to no forged paths.

Despite the seemingly remote location, once the Saotomes pierced the veil of mist that enshrouded the valley, they found themselves staring at a small, but tidy hut. At first, Genma thought the place to be abandoned, but the very faint telltale sign of smoke trailing upwards from a hole in the thatched roof was proof to the contrary. It occurred to him then, that whoever lived here, would likely know if the legends surrounding the valley were true. Actually, the first thing that came to mind, was a chance to dry off someplace warm.

"What do you think, Ranma? Shall we check it out," while the large man didn't expect much of an answer from his son, he constantly conferred with the boy. Where words wouldn't work, Ranma never failed to indicate he was listening. Genma had long ago come to understand the little nuances that made up his son's responses. The lilt of his head, a halting step in disagreement, those things were all part of the intricate sum that composed his boy's unique personality. Ranma the dog.

That was why he'd dragged his son here, across an ocean and a desert. Though in hindsight, Genma wished he'd not chosen the rainy season to make the long trek in.

"You sirs are fortunate this one was home. To come here on such a day, is maybe, unlucky. But,
honored customers, tell this one, what has brought you all the way to the pools of sorrow," the owner of the hut was quick with his questions, spoken in broken, but quite formal Japanese. The two dirty and sodden visitors had come knocking scarcely five minutes ago, and now were in the process of wringing out their clothes into a wooden bucket that he'd provided.

Genma finished shaking the water out of his gi top, and started on Ranma's. The boy had shaken himself in the doorway upon entering, and seemed quite satisfied with the resulting spatter of droplets flung from his unruly locks. That alone was one of the few habits that Genma'd been unable to change. Mostly because it didn't happen often, and hardly ever in the presence of others. When the boy had been younger, it hadn't mattered much in the first place. As his father had found out, children could get away with the most bizarre behaviors and only have the parents, in those cases, Genma himself, to blame.

"So, this is really the place then, Jusenkyo," Genma spoke, but the other man wasn't quite sure who his guest was addressing. "I was told this place holds a very powerful magic."

"Yes, honored customer. There are many cursed springs here. Many," the little man had been boiling water for a pot of tea while he waited on these new visitors to the valley.

"Cursed springs. Then the legends are true, a cursed training ground. You hear that boy! We've found it, after so long," Ranma's father hung the damp garments over the bucket, after dumping the water outside. Fishing a change of clothes for the two of them from his pack, Genma dressed his himself and his son. "When this weather clears, I wish to take a look at the springs. I have one in mind. Do you have a map of the valley," He asked their host.

"No sirs, but if this one would be acceptable as a guide? This one knows each spring by name and tragic story," the Jusenkyo guide was happy for once that a visitor was actually waiting around to ask for directions. Too many had gotten themselves lost, and had only succeeded in adding to the already lengthy list of tragic stories he had to memorize each year. If he could be of help, and have these two on their way by tomorrow, then he would be happy. Though it was nice to have company once in a while.

For his part, the elder Saotome was pleased to hear such an offer. It would save him time in having to check each spring one by one. Using the wrong spring by accident was also unthinkable. He would not have a son that was not human in body as well as mind. No mere animal could be heir to Musabetsu kakuto Saotome Ryu. It was unthinkable. This was his last resort; only a handful of springs in this valley had the potential to cure Ranma as he saw it. It had to be a spring cursed by the death of a human being.

"We're looking for the spring of drowned young man," Genma informed the guide as light glinted off of his spectacles.

---

Soun was transfixed, "Saotome, did you find it then? The spring of drowned boy?" As Genma had yet to go into detail of the true nature of the waters of Jusenkyo, Soun could only wait until the tale had fully unfolded. His bespectacled friend had recounted one harrowing adventure after another, finally reaching near the end of his, and the boy's journey.

"Where was I? Ah, you see, with dire warnings from the Jusenkyo guide, we, Ranma and I, had to wait until the rain completely ceased. Otherwise, it would be dangerous to go out near any of the pools if by chance they had overflowed onto the pathways."

---

After an hour of restless waiting, the steady drum of rain on the rooftop slowly faded. A look outside the hut showed that the mist was still thick, but that it was beginning to fray out into wisps as it neared the small building. Genma wanted to do this, and get back to Japan as soon as possible. Life on the road was harsh, and he wanted to be back in his own house. See his wife, and finally train the boy properly. So much left to do, and here he was feeling far older than his forty odd years should account for.

"Sirs, this one would humbly suggest waiting for the rain water to dry before visiting the pools. It would be very tragic indeed if one stepped into the mixed waters of Jusenkyo."

Taking the advice into consideration, Genma decided to wait a little longer. Besides, what was a few hours wait in the face of ten years on the road? But a drop in the ocean, he thought. He was getting a little nervous about this whole thing after all. This was the last resort, no, the last hope, for Ranma. Genma would be damned if he'd let some half-baked 'doctor' dig around in his heir's mind. Jusenkyo would work, it had to.

Across the room, Ranma was sitting idly, staring at something only he could see. He'd been amiable the whole trip, mostly due to the rain. The boy didn't really like to get wet, but he loved to play in the puddles left from the rain. But not here. His son had been apprehensive the whole morning. Genma supposed it was something in the air, Ranma was sensitive to that sort of thing. It'd been handy many times in the past, sort of a living barometer. Genma only had to pay attention to his son's moods to figure out certain weather patterns, something he might come to miss in the future.

Checking the conditions outside every so often, the guide finally determined it was relatively safe to show his customers to the pool they'd requested. "Honored customers, it is time to go now."

Leaving the hut, Genma followed the guide with Ranma loping along in between the two men. Winding around dozens of small pools, they finally came to a spot just near the edge of one of the larger pools. It was more like a small pond in Genma's opinion, with the large bamboo poles jutting out of the center. For balance training maybe, he supposed. The bamboo was too regularly placed to be natural.

"This is the pool you seek," the guide intoned. "The Spring of Drowned boy."

"You're sure about this, guide? There's no sign on this one, like the others," indeed Genma felt his concern was well warranted. Each of the other pools had small signs written in chinese near their banks.

The guide nodded, and rooted around in the grass at the pool's edge, eventually picking up a sign. "You see, sirs? This is the sign. Fallen from the rain maybe."

Before the guide could say much more, Genma had taken his son by the collar about his neck and heaved the boy into the waters.

"Ah! What you doing sirs," the guide hadn't expected the customer to toss in his son. Especially into a pool that would hardly be making any difference. "Honored Customer, this is Spring of Drowned Boy,
why," his question was cut off as the unwitting participant of the whole affair broke the surface of the water.

"Boy, how do you feel? Any different," Genma waited eagerly as Ranma swam back to the bank and started climbing out. Even then, the Saotome patriarch knew something was a bit, off. "Boy?"

As the customer's son made his way out of the water, the guide was thinking the same thing as Genma. The boy looked, smaller, somehow. That's when his foot stepped onto something hard, prompting him to look downwards. He was standing on a sign post for one of the springs. Moving his foot to read the characters, his eyes went wide as the symbols registered. "Sirs, that is the wrong spring," though he knew it was far too late at this point. "Is spring of," again he was cut off.

The girl that had clambered out of the water wasn't what he'd been expecting at all. Nor was he expecting the confused, not so pleased expression on said girl's face. "Drowned girl," Genma finished the guide's sentence with a droll tone . This wasn't going to go over well back at home. Imagine,
leaving with a son and returning with a daughter. His wife was going to kill him for sure.

---

"But, Saotome, who is it then, that is with my daughters right now, if as you say, your son is now a girl?"

Neither of the Tendou sisters could figure the boy out. When he wasn't babbling about obvious things,
he was giving them the oddest looks. Almost as if he were waiting for something. After mentioning the Koi, he'd hedged his way back to the doorway, and stood there ramrod straight. Akane nudged her sister, and they exchanged shrugs. "What's his deal," she asked before looking awkwardly back at their guest.

"Of course there's fish in there. It's a pond," she pointed out, not knowing what else to say.

"Akane, maybe he wants to go see it, and is trying to be polite about it," Kasumi suggested in a whisper. "We could go take a look."

Her sister was dubious about that though. "Kas, is it a good idea to let 'master of the obvious' over there near deep water? I mean, he doesn't seem all there, you know? What if he falls in and drowns"

"Akane, I don't think he's going to fall in. Besides, it's barely a meter deep," Kasumi reassured her sister. "We can go, um, take a look around the back yard if you like, Ranma," she said, moving toward the door.

The moment the door to the dojo slid open, Ranma was off and moving before either of the sisters had a chance to react. Kasumi herself was bowled over by the large body brushing past her.

"Hey! What's the big deal," Akane shouted after the obviously crazy boy. Helping Kasumi to her feet,
she scowled, rushing out after the nutcase. She couldn't figure out what kind of game he thought he was playing, but she was getting tired of his act. Just because he was too stuffy to show her a little bit of his art, didn't mean he had to act like a little kid over it.

Even though it was starting to get dark, she spotted him easily enough, kneeling down next to the pond as a matter of fact. Why had he been in such a hurry to see a bunch of fish, Akane wondered, slowing to a halt a few meters away from the older boy. "Why'd you run off like that? You knocked my sister over, jerk," irritated, Akane almost pushed the boy into the water out of spite, but held herself in check when she heard Kasumi's faint tread on the ground behind her. Guest or not, that had been plain rude.

"My, he really did want to see the fish didn't he," Kasumi spoke as she came up behind them.

At this point, Ranma, mostly ignoring the two sisters, had since kneeled down and had his face inches from the water. Watching the fish lazily float by, his head leaned from side to side as each new fish passed.
Akane gave up and left, before she actually followed through and kicked Ranma into the pond. Kasumi watched her leave in a huff, and shook her head. Maybe this boy wasn't as into martial arts as his father had claimed. Either way, she sat back on her heels in the grass and sat quietly until her eccentric guest was done.

Just as Genma was wrapping up the story of Jusenkyo, Akane came inside from the backyard,
brushing past the two men. As she passed by, Soun called to her. He nearly regretted it when she turned to look at him, still scowling. "Akane, are you getting along with Ranma?"

"With that weirdo? Hah, as if. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my room. I still have some homework left," true to her word, she vanished up the stairs a moment later, punctuating her ire with a door slam.

"Is she always that agreeable Tendou?"

"No, it comes and goes Saotome. Something she inherited from her mother. You remember how Kimiko was," a note of longing and regret accompanied Soun's words.

"Ah, I see the resemblance now," Genma searched for something else to take his friend's mind off of his departed wife. "Don't forget Soun, we'll have to tell the girls not to take off Ranma's collar. I wouldn't want them getting hurt. Hopefully, I can fix this mess before too long. Then we can surely join the schools!"

"Our dream will come true then Saotome. Count on me to help you in any way I can. Ranma must come to his senses, for everyone's sake."

The fathers celebrated to the future with another bottle of Genjou.

Once the sun dipped below the horizon, and Ranma could no longer see the fish in the depths of the pond, he got up and stretched. It had been fun, and now he wanted to do something else. "Let's go"
he reached down to shake the tall girl and get her attention. "Hey, hey. Let's go."

Kasumi blinked, trying to put a face to the strange voice that had woken her. Sitting up, she looked around the dark yard for a second, not fully aware of her surroundings. As the cobwebs cleared from her mind, she recalled watching the Koi, and feeling fairly comfortable in the autumn air. I must have dozed off, she belatedly realized, feeling a slight flush across her face. Falling asleep in front of a guest,
how embarrassing! And her mind finally matched a face to the voice. Ah, Ranma had been trying to wake her up!

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep out here," Kasumi attempted to placate what she was sure was a slighted boy. The hand that helped pull her to her feet was welcome nonetheless, and she could barely make out an outline of the other in the dark. "Thank you."

"Let's go," Ranma said again, after the girl was up. Genma hardly ever wanted to play around anymore, and as far as he was concerned, Ranma had found a new playmate. One that even had fish! The other one, the Akane, she sounded too much like Genma. Maybe he'd done something 'wrong'
again. It was hard for Ranma to tell sometimes. So many things he wanted to do, Genma yelled at him for.

"It is getting rather late isn't it," Kasumi thought he meant for them to go back inside. Come to think of it, she hadn't started dinner yet. "Oh, I need to take care of a few things Ranma. Did you want to wash up? I'm sure you'd like to take a bath after your trip," she headed toward the house, noticing a small grass stain on the side of her dress once she was under the porch light. Shaking her head, she remembered the load of wash that needed to be done before morning, the dress would just have to be tossed in along with the rest.

Turning back to make sure Ranma was following, she was startled to find the boy hot on her heels. In fact, as she'd turned to look around, Ranma quickly spun, thinking he was missing out on something.
The scene was funny enough in of itself to elicit a small laugh on her part. When Ranma spun back around at the sound of her giggle, she apologized and waved it off. "I'll be fixing dinner, so you have time to take a bath if you like," Kasumi noticed a few leaves in his hair, and that his clothes looked much dirtier than she recalled from that afternoon. "In fact, I insist. Ask father, and he'll show you where the furo is," Kasumi then left the boy to his own devices, thinking everything was well in hand.

Ranma was less than happy. A bath? He knew what that meant, and didn't like it one bit.

Minutes later found one despondent Saotome staring with his shoulders hunched up at the outer tiles of the large bath. He'd rather be outside again, but the Kasumi's voice hadn't brooked otherwise, so he'd gone inside the bathing room without a fuss. That didn't mean that he had to actually get into the water though, which meant that he was likely to stand there, glaring at the water, until someone told him it was alright to leave. Face to face with the tub, Ranma's stomach growled. Time passed.

Once the door to the washroom that separated the house from the furo clicked shut, Akane shucked her clothes. She'd already changed out of her gi before studying, and wouldn't have bothered showering since her workout had been cut short by a certain houseguest. Her sister had, of course, said something about 'proper etiquette' and waved her off toward the bath when Akane walked by the kitchen. "She's not usually this stubborn, I can't wait until those two leave," she grabbed a fresh towel from above the hamper and slid open the door to the furo. So absorbed in her thoughts she all but walked straight into a wall that should not have been there.

Landing rear first with an audible slap on the tile, Akane's confusion was momentary as embarrassed anger burned it away the second she realized exactly what she'd collided with. "You," she sputtered at a loss, "Why are you just standing there? There's a sign on the door for a reason!" It was while getting back to her feet that she recalled something vitally important, and the towel unfolded. Partially covered,
and with her composure almost recovered, Akane was at a loss, more so since Ranma's attention wasn't focused on her. His being clothed helped a little, but only made the situation all the more odd. She'd walked straight into him, and he hadn't even flinched. All he did was stare at the furo, at least,
until she'd spoken.

He'd heard the doors open and shut, and even the pad of bare feet on tile. When someone bumped against him, he ignored it. Genma made a habit of things like that all the time, or he used to anyway. So, it really didn't bother Ranma, though he perked up a bit when the person started yelling, it was the Akane. That probably meant that they really wanted him to take a bath. But, he didn't have to like it. Sighing, he started fumbling with his t-shirt. Bath, bath, don't like the bath, the thoughts floated around. Off went the shirt, and down dropped the jeans. "I don't like baths," he might have said aloud, or not.

Akane couldn't believe what this boy was doing, stripping down right in front of her like this was the community bathhouse. If he thought she was getting in there with him, well, she just wasn't, fiancees or whatever. Keeping the towel firmly in place, she staggered backwards, with her free hand reaching for the sliding door. She'd forget this ever happened, and just tell Kasumi the bath was occupied, that's what she'd do. The only thing was, Ranma upended the rinsing bucket over his head before Akane made it out of the room. That stopped her as surely as if she'd been turned to stone.

Soun was putting away the shogi board when Akane's scream startled him into nearly dropping his prized board. Kasumi poked her head out of the kitchen to see what the matter was, while Genma polished his glasses and waited for the food. "It was going to happen sooner or later," he said to himself, looking over at the worried face of the eldest daughter. "I'm sure everything's fine with your sister," he paused as a door further into the house slammed open, and the sound of running feet reached his ears. Akane came barreling into the living room, with a hastily wrapped towel about her mid-
section.

"Ranma, he, the water," Akane babbled at her father, "There's a girl, and Ranma," her voice went quiet as she struggled to form something coherent.

Soun didn't understand at first, but the recent conversation with Genma clicked, and he figured out what his daughter was trying to get at. But, all that did was to slam home the fact that something terrible had happened to his friend's son on that trip to China. Did this mean that the curse was real? He was curious, but tending to his child was equally important.

"What's wrong Akane," the question came from her sister, who was still unaware of Ranma's condition.

Still holding her father, Akane let go when Kasumi's voice reached her, and she turned to warn her sister as well now that she felt the right words coming to mind. "Ranma, he's a girl, Kas. Right in front of me, I saw him change."

Kasumi took her sister to mean something completely different, and a bit more sensible. "Akane, some people are into that sort of thing, I think. I hope you didn't give him, my. No, her, too much of a hassle." Fixing a glare at the fathers, she continued, "You both knew of this? And you still wanted to try and go through with this arranged marriage nonsense," the frosty tone in her voice was unmistakable. Then Kasumi sort of frowned, "Ranma certainly looks rather like a boy."

Akane goggled at her sister, she thinks I meant Ranma was cross-dressing! "No, Kasumi, he's not dressing like a boy, he was a boy at first, and then turned into a girl!"

Now it was Kasumi's turn to be taken aback. This was certainly a different matter. "Mr. Saotome, did you condone Ranma's operation?"

The Saotome patriarch felt a headache coming on. "Ranma, boy! Get out here!" It would be best to just get everything out of the way. This was the part he'd been dreading, and it would only be worse later with his wife. If he could just work things out with the Tendou's, maybe the return home could be prolonged for a while longer, a few years if he was lucky.

They didn't have to wait long for Ranma to show, wearing only his collar. Kasumi blushed, Akane boggled along with her father, and Genma just shook his head. "Clothes, boy. Get your clothes on first."

By morning, things had settled down in the Tendou household. For Akane it was all going smoothly,
until she went downstairs to eat breakfast. The dog was waiting for her. Or that's how she felt at any rate. In actuality Ranma paid very little attention to the girl who constantly glared at him. He was far more comfortable in the presence of the Kasumi, barring that, even Genma would do. Not that any of those things were foremost, since there was food to be had. Food first, and everything else could wait.

Kasumi, had taken the whole matter in stride, mostly. If it bothered her, she certainly didn't let it show,
not in front of others. Truth be told, it had taken her longer that usual to get to sleep last night, though she'd risen early regardless. She wasn't sure which part affected her more, the curse Ranma was under, or the state of his mind. He didn't seem too out of the ordinary, but it would go a ways toward explaining some of his mannerisms. Watching him discreetly, she wondered if his eating habits were ingrained, or a canine mimicry, the boy was a voracious eater. Then again, she caught sight of Saotome Genma, maybe it was hereditary after all.

As soon as everyone finished, Kasumi began cleaning up, leaving her father to leaf through the newspaper, and Genma to nurse another cup of tea. Akane was already gathering her things for class,
and was heading to the front door before anyone could say anything. "Akane, I put your lunch on the counter. Don't leave it behind like yesterday," she called out after her younger sister.

"Don't worry Kas, I grabbed it when I came down. Thanks," the reply floated back through the open door, before being cut off. Kasumi just shook her head, Akane always did things the hard way. Especially over the past year. Did her little sister still blame herself? She hoped not.

Coming back out of the kitchen, Ranma was nowhere to be found. Kasumi wondered if she should say anything, though a second look at Genma changed her mind. He didn't appear too concerned, and he was the boy's father after all. Ranma was probably around the house, or out in the back, looking at the fish again. "Has anyone seen Ranma?" Pausing to towel dry her hands, she decided to see if he was in the backyard when the only response she received was the rustle of newspaper.

A thorough search of the grounds proved fruitless. If Ranma was anywhere around the house, he was very good at hiding as Kasumi had even taken a look at the crawlspace beneath the flooring. He wasn't in the backyard, or in the dojo. Feeling a hint of worry, she tried asking Genma if he knew where his son might have gone, but Saotome only shook his head. "I'm sure the boy's fine. He does this from time to time." He did however excuse himself to go search the area. Kasumi wasn't sure, but as Genma left, she thought he was muttering about ungrateful children, and dutiful wives. The last few comments might have been directed at her, but she couldn't be certain since her father started coughing.

She wondered if maybe Ranma might have followed after her sister. It didn't seem likely, given that Akane would have marched the boy right back to the house by his collar if need be. Those two hadn't gotten along from the start, though that was more to do with her head strong sibling if anything. Ranma was a bit distant to start an argument from his side. If what Genma said the night before was accurate,
then the boy would roll over for just about anyone, figuratively of course. His father hadn't sounded pleased in the least about that.

Kasumi felt a little bit silly calling out Ranma's name around the neighborhood like he was a lost child,
or a pet. She couldn't think of a better way to find him though, other than asking some of the neighbors if they'd seen a teenage boy wandering by. She'd gone out with the intention of helping Genma, but hadn't seen the portly man the entire time, not since he rounded the first corner at the end of the block. The thought that the boy's father had just circled around and gone back to her house did occur to her,
but she did her best to push it aside. After all, what kind of father would leave his child? She had no way of knowing that the version of the story told to Akane and herself wasn't the same that Soun had learned.

On a nearby side street Ranma sat on his haunches, fixedly staring at an orangish-brown cat. He'd been following it for quite a while, after seeing it walking along the Tendou's outer wall. So far, the cat hadn't reacted to his presence more than to mewl when he got too close. He followed it anyway, since it kept to higher places, making a game out of just keeping up. This was probably the most fun he'd had in a very long time. From the alley, to a wall, and finally to the roofs, the chase was on.

The Tendou girl was ready to check back at the house, when a large shadow passed overhead. Blinking, she looked up to a clear blue sky. Strange, she thought, there's not a cloud in sight. Her attention was suddenly pulled to the right by a flurry of motion. Craning her neck, she could just make out a figure darting across the rooftop of the house across the street. She'd known the boy for less than a day, but his wild mop of hair stood out anywhere she was certain. Ranma was running across the roofs, it was a wonder that she'd found him at all.

"Ranma, Ranma come back," she called out to the retreating form to no avail. She would have to get closer, but he was moving much faster than she could on the ground, and her shoes weren't exactly made for running in. But, she did anyway, for about a block and a half before her body got the better of her. "I need to get out more," Kasumi lamented through labored breaths. She'd lost sight of him again anyway a minute or so back. She couldn't be sure, but it seemed his present course would run him near to Furinkan, where Akane was attending school. Hopefully, she could find his father, as Genma would be more suited to pursuing the boy.

Meanwhile, the boy who thought he was a dog, was having the time of his life. Somewhere along the way, the cat had escaped him, but this new feeling of freedom that he'd found was too exhilarating for the details to matter. He ran, leaping from each new roof to the next, scrambling across the tiles,
searching for new heights and things to play with. And he saw it, a place larger than anything he'd found so far in this place Genma had brought him to. It was a huge multi-storied building, and there were only a few people around. If he hurried, he could make it to the top in no time.

-- end part 1--