NEUTRAL GROUND 1:

On the Road, To Jusenkyo by Gregg Sharp

A Ranma 1/2 fanfic, revision 4

WARNING: this was the story that started the whole "Bet" thing.

oh, Kasumi-chan, will you do the honors?

"Hai, all characters, situations, places, are: (c) of Takahashi Rumiko, Viz, Kitty Films, Shogokukan, and a number of other VIPs. My goodness, we're owned by that many people? Oh, sorry. No smear or copyright violation is intended, please look both ways before crossing the street, the rain in spain falls mainly on the plain, Gold Digger is (c) Fred Perry, and very bad you fall in spring."

Kasumi-chan? Try to cut down on the caffeine.

"Oh my. Gregg-san, about that scene where I get my curse?"

Ah, Kasumi-chan? There were objections to the Twins plotline. Even though that meant one of you was going to college while the other kept up the house...

"Vox populi writing?."

*sigh* Hai, Kasumi-chan. Hai.

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Toltiir was usually in the guise of a little black cat with a plaid collar. He was an Elder god, 950 billion years + old, and considered very very dangerous. Especially if he liked you.

His companion was Takahashi, goddess third class, limited license. Portfolio: bizarre romantic subplots.

They were drinking rice wine.

On seeing this, Urd had grabbed her sister Belldandy's arm and "borrowed" Sleipnir again just to put some distance between THOSE two and herself.

The two quickly decided on a bet. Takahashi would place a tiny change in this timeline, and the two would monitor the results. Toltiir would then make a similar tiny change, and the two would check THOSE results to see who had the greater change.

Of course, you know that this later snowballed. That was how it started, however. Just a tiny little thing.

It was Takahashi's move, she had decided to go first, and Toltiir had acquiesced.

"What timeline will you alter?" The cat asked the woman, who was dressed as a Japanese manga author for no apparent reason.

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Shampoo flicked her hair back over her shoulder. "Too bad. If you don't remember, you don't have to die!" Halfway through the sentence Shampoo began her attack. It wasn't a killing blow, of course. She just needed to prove that she *could* then this weak girl would back off. No problem.

"Shampoo! Stop!" Ranma leapt in the way, grabbing at her hands.

For a moment Shampoo snuggled against her airen. "You I love."

"Now WAIT a..." Ranma's protest was interrupted by Akane slamming down into his head with her elbow.

"That's it, Shampoo. You want it, you've got it." Akane leapt forward. "Let's see you..."

Shampoo flipped the clumsy slowpoke overhead, not really paying attention. "Stupid violent girl. Shampoo have chance to get cuddling done. You go practice, come back when challenge."

"AAAAAAGHHHH!" The sound of an uncute tomboy falling onto a pile of broken boards and bricks made an oddly unforgettable impression.

Shampoo started at that noise, then rushed over. "No no no. Stupid violent girl no die! Shampoo no ready go back to China!"

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"Ah, redeeming a darkline," said Toltiir with a nod. "Good enough."

"Soun pulls Shampoo off before she can stop the bleeding. By the time Nabiki and Kasumi figure out what Shampoo was doing, they've called Doctor Tofu. Shampoo was beaten rather severely by Genma and Soun, and Tofu falls to pieces with Kasumi hovering around while he works." Takahashi made a gesture. "Akane dies. Ranma forgives Shampoo, especially after it was made apparent that Shampoo had been trying to save Akane's life. Still, it's not nearly what I would prefer. So, just a little change only a few scant weeks previously."

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Genma stopped at a sudden thought. This would be the last stop in the training journey, the boy was coming along well. Why not send the postcard now, tell old Soun what was going on, and that the families would be united soon. Heck, Soun was probably out of shape and could use the training himself. If Ranma met his future bride in "neutral territory" it might be better for everyone.

Genma quickly wrote out a letter, putting in details that a postcard wouldn't have room for. This would work, and the plan he and Soun had put together all those years ago would finally come to be.

-------

Soun turned over the letter and smiled.

"Akane, Nabiki, Kasumi! Pack your bags, we're going on a little trip."

-----

Nabiki dialed the number she'd gotten from her father's address book. If the scanty details she'd gotten from her father were correct, they were going to meet an old friend of her father's and that friend's son in some really out of the way place. Even by flight to Tibet
using Ace's Cargo and a mule ride the rest of the way, this would stretch her finances far more than she'd like. By the sound of it, these two had been on this training trip for nearly ten years, and that meant...

"Hello, is this Mrs Saotome?" Nabiki thought it likely that after a ten year absence, the mother would want to meet the son. If they pooled resources, it shouldn't be so much of a drain on the dojo's tenuous finances.

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The meeting between families had gone relatively without problem, though it ended up taking an extra two hours for the trip despite or because of the presence of the mules.

This brought the group to the aforementioned "Training Ground Of Cursed Springs" that Genma had been throwing hints out about. "Legendary battleground" and "ancient training spot for masters of the martial arts" were phrases he'd heard from the person selling him the
guidebook, and he didn't hesitate to parrot bits and pieces of the salesman's spiel. It made him seem far more informed than he actually was.

Soun Tendo came up with the idea of getting pictures of his family at such an infamous site, making a family portrait with all three daughters, Ranma, and his father.

"Look, nothing to it," Nabiki grabbed one of the bamboo poles, and slowly moved climbed up until she was balanced (shakily) upon the top, like Ranma, Akane, and Genma. A couple of twitches, but she eventually got to the point where she wasn't windmilling her arms.

Kasumi stood nearby, looking up and shaking her head at how silly the whole thing looked.

Nodoka Saotome and Soun Tendo looked on from the side, waiting for that odd Chinese Guide to come out of his hut. He'd ran in there saying something about having "so many visitors to Cursed Springs all at same time."

Soun adjusted the camera. He wanted to get several shots from different angles.

*CLICK* one photo while Kasumi smiled, Nabiki tried to catch her balance again, and Genma and Ranma glared at each other.

Genma caught Soun's eyes. While they were waiting anyway, they might as well do it now.

"Daughters," Soun said loud enough to catch everyone's attention. "I said that I had some important news to tell you, but I think I'll let Genma tell you since it WAS originally his idea."

Ranma glanced at his father. Why did the old man have to make such a stupid promise to his mother? They were going to hit him with some stupid suggestion like going shopping or something, and he'd have to be "a man among men" and not complain about it or "off with their heads."
It was a good thing his stupid oyaji warned him about this "man among men" contract shortly after the two families had met on the trail. Ranma shuddered to think what might have happened otherwise.

Nabiki, Akane, and Kasumi expectantly watched Genma as he balanced on his own pole.

"Many years ago," Genma started. "It was decided that the two schools of the 'Anything Goes' style of martial arts would be joined. My son would marry one of Soun's daughters."

"WHAT!?!" Three women erupted. Nabiki nearly fell from her perch.

Akane growled at Ranma, but it penetrated that he had turned pale and was looking just as shocked. He hadn't known either, then. The glare was turned in full upon the two fathers. Well, he was probably a pervert anyway, he was a BOY after all.

"So you see, Ranma, you'll need to choose one of these three as your fiancee." Ranma's mother smiled. "But not right now, I think."

Ranma almost fell off his pole, his shock so obvious that it penetrated Akane's anger a second time. Ranma would have expected his father to do things to screw up his life, but his mother? Of course, if he complained now then that wouldn't be very manly, would it? Maybe a
gentle protest of some kind?

"I..." Whatever Ranma was about to say would remain unknown. A yellow and black blur sliced through the bamboo pole he was still standing on. Ranma flipped away, leaping to two other poles before he regained enough balance to stop.

The Jusenkyo Guide, finally having found his map, was halfway out the door when he noticed what was going on. "Oh, sirs, very terrible you have fight at cursed springs!" Naturally, this stopped the Jusenkyo Guide's forward momentum. He had been the Guide here for many years, and didn't want to end up cursed. He stuck around because this job was still better than his cousin Lo's job - quality control testing at a landmine factory.

"WHAT?!" Nabiki's reaction to the projectiles raining down from above was predictable. She lost her balance, which hadn't been too secure to begin with, screamed briefly and made quite a splash as she entered the pool. She clawed briefly at the surface before being drawn under, though Kasumi and Nodoka noticed the skin of her hands were CHANGING as she reached for air.

"Poor girl she fall in Spring Of Drowned Cat, now whoever fall in spring take body of cat!"

Akane merely yelped and turned to face her attacker. There was a boy atop one of the ledges throwing the odd missles. Akane glanced down to find that the odd weapons were..."bandanas?"

As another bandana cut through her pole, an idle portion of Akane's mind noted there was a cat getting out of the pool that Nabiki had fallen in, and her father and Mrs Saotome were running
forward. Then Akane hit the water herself.

Kasumi managed a startled "Ara!" and tried to get away from these bandanas that were actually digging into the ground and slicing through the poles. She was able to get a short distance before she saw Ranma slam into a pool. Avoiding the splash, Kasumi felt herself sliding
in the mud towards another of the springs. "I really don't want to be here, please let this be a dream sequence."

"Ranma, I shall destroy your happiness!"

Genma flipped back out of the way of yet another bandanna only to miss the pole. "I'm NOT Ranma! Oops."

*SPLASH!*

"You stand in the way of my righteous vengeance!"

"Oh sir! You fall in Spring Of Drowned Panda, terrible tragic story..."

"Meow!" Nabiki-neko agreed and ran to the pool where a coughing and barely conscious Akane was now trying to pull herself out. Akane began to slide back into the pool when a fifteen pound cat locked her teeth into her sister's clothing and dug her claws into the ground for all she was worth. She was holding, but the difference in mass was just too much.

Nodoka saw the problem and changed course to come to the rescue, only to find the path cut off by another set of bandanas slicing into the ground. She looked up to see the boy open his umbrella and leap from the cliff.

*SPLASH!*

The boy had landed now and was trying to keep an eye on Nodoka Saotome while looking for Ranma. One of the other pools erupted.

"Kasumi!" Soun said with relief. "Kasumi?!?" Kasumi landed atop one of the bamboo poles, assuming a combat stance as she balanced perfectly.

A cat looked up at Kasumi and meowed.

"Ah, that one fall in Spring Of Drowned Amazon Warrior. Very terrible tragic story of fight between great warrior of the Amazons who fight powerful demon here 2,300 year ago. She slay
demon then fall from wounds into pool where she drown. Terrible story, sirs, now whoever fall in spring take body of Amazon."

Kasumi frowned. That was not how SHE remembered it.

Nabiki-neko meowed something that sounded curious.

Ranma erupted out of the pool. It sank past the otherwise all-consuming fury that someone was screaming. His mother, who was supposed to be so tough was screaming at the sight of him. Ranma had felt his body change, and was now wondering if he dared to look.

Ranma's eyes caught a glimpse of the attacker and rage built up again. The boy looked familiar but he was attacking his mother! Wings caught the air, and Ranma banked towards the figure.

A bandana slammed into each wing, which were sufficiently tough that there was no damage, but Ranma had only been a dragon for less than one minute and really hadn't logged more than a few seconds of flight time. He went down.

*SPLASH*

Nabiki was watching as Ranma came floating back up to the surface of the pool, face down. Cursing that she had the small cat body, she ran towards him, finally leaping atop his back.

She glanced around, Kasumi wasn't paying attention, blocking the few projectiles that came her way. Nodoka was trying to get the unconcious Akane to start breathing. The panda was trying to get over to where he could assist his wife, while Nabiki's father was on his knees crying about what had happened.

Howling in frustration, Nabiki BIT the body underneath her but couldn't seem to get her teeth to penetrate the soft flesh. *Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up.* Memories of the hospital, of her mother's dead body, of the last time she'd allowed herself tears when her mother wouldn't wake up.

The body beneath her abruptly spasmed and Nabiki felt a moment's relief before she hit the water. The sensation of CHANGING again came over her.

"Agggghh. Those two fall in Nyannichuan. Terrible tragic story of..."

Nabiki almost wept for joy. She had hands again! Well, sort of. Too wasted to move, she watched as Ranma got his second wind. Her ears flattened as she caught a look at their attacker, her tail switching back and forth in agitation. Claws extended, Nabiki watched for an opening as a catlike persona took control.

Nabiki's eyes widened as she saw Ranma move. Ranma wasn't a dragon anymore, but he was still changed. Long red batlike wings popped out of nowhere from midback and the redhaired girl wearing Ranma's clothing (now with a new set of openings on the back) leapt into the air.

"Ranma?!" The attacker seemed startled as Ranma bore down on the boy, whose umbrella was still blocking another strike from Mrs Saotome. A moment later, Ranma had connected with a flying (literally) kick to the boy's head.

Said boy went backwards, landing almost in another pool. Before he could move he felt a katana pressing lightly against his neck. He looked up to see a very unhappy looking panda, an unreadable expression on the face of the katana-wielder, and a red haired girl in the remains of a red Chinese shirt glaring down at him.

"Uhm, sorry?" Ryouga meekly managed.

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in this alterniverse, pools mix with the last spring being the dominant. Ranma fell in dragon/girl, Nabiki fell in cat/girl. Kasumi fell in the Splitting spring in version 1, i got enough feedback on that to change it, and there was enough positive comments about Kasumi the Amazon in Happi Days that it seemed appro. The other possibilies that i'd narrowed it down to were Werecheetah or Angel. It's not in fanfics, but one of the observed rules of the manga seems to be that nothing really Bad ever happens to Kasumi. Akane made the Akanenichuan early. Ryouga hasn't been cursed to this point, but if you think he's getting off that easily...


2001: This was the first time i'd written Nabiki as a catgirl. Somehow the concept seems so natural that i keep returning to it.