A/N for rev. 2: Thanks to a review from Bree R. I realized that the part of this chapter where Ranma meets Sasami needed work. So I revised that part and replaced the originally posted version with the revised version. Except for the aforementioned part everything else should be the same.
Chapter 3: Meetings
Two days later:
Shigeru Aoba was having a bad day. He was sitting in the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka thinking hard about what to do now. Just earlier today he had failed the Tokyo University Entrance Exam and he had failed badly. Even though he had spent the last three months learning just for this Exam the moment the Exam started he had forgotten everything. Just yesterday he would've been able to recite all questions and answers forward and backward from memory. Now he had to think about what to do now; he had been so confident that he would ace the exam that all of his plans for the future revolved around being a Tokyo-U student.
Now all that remained of that dream was the overpriced video-camera he bought yesterday to record his triumphal entrance into the sacred halls of Tokyo-U. Frustrated he looked out of the window and wondered once again what to tell his family. He was just about to turn away from the window, to maybe start a conversation with the businessman in the seat beside him, when he saw something that almost caused him to forget to breathe.
Parallel to his window on the high-speed rail-line of the Shinkansen ran a cheetah. Now it's already very unusual to see a cheetah outside a zoo or a circus in Japan, but to see one running beside a bullet-train and keep up took the cake. A short look at the display showing the current speed of the train showed that they were currently traveling at 245kph and the cheetah didn't even look like it was straining to match the speed. Slowly with suddenly nerveless fingers Shigeru dug out his video-camera from the backpack sitting on the floor between his feet. Carefully he turned the camera on and zoomed in on the spotted cat.
Although he could see the cat through the viewer as well with his own eyes he still couldn't believe what he was seeing. Another sort look towards the display, this time with the camera, showed they were now traveling at over 260kph.
"What's so interesting out there?" the businessman beside Shigeru suddenly asked.
Shigeru didn't answer immediately or even gave indication he had heard the question, he just kept the camera trained on the cat.
"See for yourself, you wouldn't believe me," he finally answered.
Intrigued the businessman stood up, leaned over Shigeru and looked out of the window. A moment later his jaw would have given Shigeru an concussion if it weren't firmly attached to his face.
"T-that's impossible!" he exclaimed breathless.
Meanwhile the cheetah had noticed his audience, turned his head to look at the dumbfounded men, gave them a cheeky smile and stuck his tongue out at them, before increasing his speed and vanishing out of sight towards the front of the train. The businessman sunk boneless back into his seat.
"Did that cheetah just blow us a raspberry?"
"Yeah," Shigeru replied shortly and stared at his camera like it was made from pure gold. An idea formed in his head and a wide grin appeared on his face.
Two and a half weeks Ranma finally reached his goal richer by some experiences he could have done without. He was now painfully aware that racing a bullet-train and grinning into a camera was a BAD idea. Thanks to this little stunt it had taken him two and a half weeks to travel a distance that at the speeds he could travel should have taken only hours. The reason for that were the countless hunters, camera-teams from TV-Stations and miscellaneous folks that were after his hide after seeing the video. Ranma was pretty sure to have actually spotted an amazon hunting party three days after his race with the train.
So he had spent the last two week dodging lunatics with rifles out the get their fifteen minutes of fame. Finally he had given them the slip by laying a false track leading towards the north while he continued south. Thank god those lunatics thought, cheetahs were as hydrophobic as normal house-cats. She had reached Okayama soaked to the bones, female and in a very foul mood and immediately vanished into the forest surrounding the city, all the time making sure not to leave any tracks behind.
The first two days Ranma spent with looking for a place to hide in case of an emergency. She found such an place in the form of a cave near the Shinto temple she had remembered from the training trip. The entrance to the cave was secured with an old rusted trellised gate that was luckily unlocked and could be closed and opened by a cheetah, if said cheetah didn't mind the taste of rust. The interior of the cave was quite spacious and even contained a small stream running through a deeper lying chamber that definitely wasn't natural in origin. After securing her emergency hideout Ranma made her primary camp at the foot of the mountain on the opposite side from the cave entrance.
Admittedly she hadn't made much progress in regaining her human form in the five days she had already spent in the woods, but Ranma wasn't the type to give up. With dogged determination she spent several hours each day in meditation and then almost as many hours looking for hot water. During the later she carefully stayed far away from the large house at the base of the lake and the Shinto temple further up the mountain. What was left of the day was spent hunting food, which was easier said than done when you're hunting in a forest where you have to constantly dodge trees. The only thing she had to be careful about was not accidentally running into the pack of wild dogs that roamed the forest.
Of course those dogs weren't really a danger to her, but being ambushed by a pack of wild dogs wasn't exactly her idea of a fun time. After all dog tasted like wolf and wolf tasted like bear and bear tasted awful. She always got the creeps when she thought of Akane using bear-meat during one of her cooking experiments.
Thinking of Akane's horrendous cooking almost always lead to thinking about the girl herself and the rest of Nerima. She could vividly picture the reactions of everyone in Nerima should she go back after regaining human or at least humanoid form. His father would lament about his ungrateful son turning into a were-cheetah but would still push him at Akane. Akane for her part would start calling him perverted beast instead of just pervert. Nabiki would try to milk the situation for every penny it was worth. Kasumi would smile and continue to go about her things as before. Ukyo, already showing signs of having enough, would probably give up and hopefully remain her friend. The amazons were a bit harder to predict; either they'd start to hunt him down or they would redouble their efforts to snare her in marriage. The Kunos simply were too insane to predict with any amount of accuracy. And regrettably she didn't know her mother enough to predict how she would react.
And finally there were Ryouga and Mousse. Ranma still vividly remembered them leaving her behind to die. Normally she wasn't the type to carry a grudge but what these two had done was simply unforgivable in her book. Secretly she had hoped to run across Ryouga, preferably in his cursed form. Except Akane nobody would miss P-chan and Ryouga could have simply gotten lost permanently.
She sometimes wondered if Mousse would make a good Peking-duck. This thought was accompanied most of the time with a nasty grin on her feline face and a watering mouth. As far as Ranma understood amazon tribal law he, as the husband of an amazon warrior, even had the right to demand Mousse's head on a platter.
Then there was the question what those two had told the others about his disappearance. It was likely they cooked up some story about Herb killing her or beating and dragging her back to china to use as a brood-mare or some such bullshit.
Thinking about these things had by now only accomplished that her thoughts were dark enough that continuing to try to meditate was pointless, so Ranma got up and stretched herself extensively in the way only cats seem to be able to. Slowly she started to make her way back to what she called her den, giving the house at the lake a large breath. She had quickly realized that this house was something like the local counterpart of Nerima. The many explosions she could hear coming from the house only firmed her in this belief.
She had almost reached her den when suddenly the strangest creature Ranma had ever encountered jumped out of a piece of shrubbery to land directly before her paws. Ranma blinked at the strange creature and actually took a step back. The animal looked like a cross between house-cat and rabbit and had long brown fur and a strange red gem in the middle of it's forehead. It didn't just look strange it also smelled strange; part animal and part something that could be mineral in nature.
Dumbfounded Ranma stared at the strange creature and tried to make sense of it's very existence, the creature returning the look. It apparently came to a decision and started to make hectic sounds that sounded like variations 'Miyah!'. Then it suddenly jumped back into the piece of shrubbery it had come from. Nonplussed Ranma just stood there and waited. And wouldn't you know it, a few moments later the head of the thing reappeared and it made the same hectic noises in Ranma's direction. Ranma got the message, the thing wanted her to follow. Having nothing better to do, she did exactly that.
Whatever the cat-rabbit-thing was, it was fast. Ranma in short order found herself standing at the edge of a small clearing. To her left a small light blue haired girl was lying on the ground clutching her right ankle. Opposite the girl was the pack of wild dogs Ranma had so far successfully avoided. Growling loudly the first dog jumped toward the girl. Ranma didn't think she just acted.
It had started with her not looking were she was going and tripping over something hidden under the fallen leaves on the ground. At first Sasami had thought nothing worse than dirtying her clothes had happened, but when she tried to get back up a sharp pain had laced through her right ankle and she had immediately dropped back on the ground with a short cry of pain.
"I think I twisted my ankle," she told the now very concerned looking cabbit. "Could you go and get help Ryo-chan?"
Clearly reluctant to leave her friend behind Ryo-Ohki had darted away from the clearing into the direction of the Masaki house. It would be days later when Sasami realized, if she had asked Ryo-Ohki to change into a space-ship and transport her back to Tenchi's house she would have completely avoided what happened next.
The small cabbit hadn't been gone for long when Sasami heard something rustling across from her in the bushes.
Thinking it was Ryo-Ohki with help she called out. "I'm here!"
The rustling stopped, then suddenly half a dozen gaunt scruffy looking dogs came out of the bushes. For a moment the dogs and Sasami stared at each other before the largest one seemed to come to a decision. Growling the dog advanced on what it perceived as easy prey; it's underlings followed also growling. Panicking Sasami tried to crawl away from the dogs, but it was too late the largest one jumped forward it's jaws opened for the fatal bite.
Sasami had reacted like every little girl does when the dog had come at her; she had ducked down, curled up into a small ball and closed her eyes, hoping somewhere deep inside it would be over fast. The dog never reached her. She heard two bodies hit each other, a short brutally cut of whine of pain and then dull sickening crunch of a body hitting a tree at significant speed. Something moved in front of her and then snarled loudly. In response the small girl curled up even tighter only dimly aware that whatever had snarled had been facing away from her. She clearly heard paws beating a hasty retreat and then nothing.
As nothing had happened after a few moments Sasami allowed herself to hope. Maybe Ryo-Ohki was back with help. Slowly, careful to make no fast movements, she uncurled and opened her eyes. Ryo-Ohki, running toward her from the side, had indeed come back with help. Said help was sitting serenely on it's haunches in front of her giving her would could have been a concerned look. It took her only a moment to realize that she knew this large spotted cat. A cheetah, she recalled the news calling this cat. But the last she had heard everyone believed this cat to be further up in the north.
"But the news said you were up in the North!"
The large cat seemed to grin, giving off an air of smug confidence like saying, of course they do.
Feeling proud of herself, that everyone still believed her to be in the North, Ranma was totally unprepared when the girl suddenly lurched forward, wrapped both arms around her, buried her face in the fur of Ranma's neck and started crying. Ranma almost bolted right then and there; of all the possible reactions she hadn't expected this to happen. Helplessly, even as a large female cat Ranma didn't know how to deal with crying girls, she cast a look at the rabbit-cat-whatever-thing trying to silently convey; do something! The rabbit-cat seemed to get the message and tried it's best to calm the distraught girl down, without noticeable results.
Okay the rabbit-thing isn't getting anywhere, means I gotta do something before someone else comes and mistakes this! She could vividly imagine someone stumbling into the clearing and mistaking the situation. Knowing her luck this someone would be some kind of super-powered lunatic that attacked first and asked questions a lot later. A small part of her almost expected Akane to suddenly appear with her mallet already on it's way down to connect with her head as punishment for making the small girl cry.
A half remembered fragment of a text about cats she had once read suddenly popped into her mind. Something about acats purr being known to have soothing affects on people. Seeing no other options open and getting increasingly uncomfortable Ranma started purring. It didn't take long for the purring to show results. The girls sobs eased, then stopped and finally she loosened her vice like grip around Ranma.
"Thank you," the girl whispered.
Ranma nodded, but started wondering what she should do now. Leave? No, too dangerous the dogs could come back. Puzzling out her next course of action Ranma saw the girl trying to stand up and fall back down the moment she tried to put weight on her injured foot. Heaving an internal sigh, knowing nothing good would come from this, Ranma laid down and motioned with her head for the girl to climb on her back.
"You want me to ride you?" Came the astonished question.
Ranma nodded. At least she's quick on the uptake. Slowly the girl climbed on Ranma's back and held on to her neck fur when Ranma stood up and slowly started moving in the direction of the house at the lake.
No good deed goes unpunished! Was the thought that went through Ranma's head when she had reached the house. The large wooden logs standing to both sides of the gate had already given her the creeps. The floating woman with the wild spiked cyan hair holding what for all intents and purposes looked like a light-saber only added to Ranma's bad feeling. But the floating woman was just the first to appear, in fact she had literally just appeared in mid-air brandishing the light-saber. More people filed out the house; a young man Ranma's age with another light-saber, a young woman with purple hair and regal bearing surrounded by at least a dozen small floating logs, an old man in the clothes of a Shinto priest and finally a short red-head a few years older than the girl currently on her back.
It was those last two that really gave Ranma the willies. While the others had impressive auras, Ranma was sure she'd would've been able to win against them if she still were human. But the priest had the refined aura of a master martial artist capable of wiping the floor with Ranma. And the red-head, well she couldn't put her thumb on it, but Ranma was sure she didn't want to mess with the red-head.
"Sasami get away from that beast!" The purple haired woman with the logs shouted.
Ranma cringed as lightning started to crackle between the logs. She knew the only reason why the woman hadn't already fried her to a crisp was the girl on her back. Nervously she shuffled a step back.
"It's okay!" The cyan haired woman suddenly spoke up, her light-saber vanishing while she floated down to stand on the ground. "Ryo-Ohki says the cat is okay!"
"Are you sure Ryoko?" The purple haired woman asked, lightning still crackling between her floating logs.
"Yes I amsure Aeka!" Ryoko said exasperated.
Ranma gave the cat-rabbit thing sitting in front of her a dubious look. When and how had it said that? Further thoughts were interrupted by Aeka rushing forward and pulling Sasami from Ranma's back. The others approached more slowly, with only the young man looking vaguely uncomfortable approaching a large wild-cat.
Disbelieve widened Ranma's eyes when the saw a semi-transparent computer appear in mid-air right in front of the small red-head who immediately started typing on the floating construct. Now Ranma didn't know much about computers, but she knew enough to know that they didn't just appear out of nowhere floating semi-transparent in mid-air.
"Is Sasami going to be okay Washu?" Aeka asked. The red-head, Washu, shot the regal looking Aeka an impressive glare causing Aeka to hastily add. "Chan. I meant Washu-chan!"
Smiling Washu replied. "It's nothing serious just a sprained ankle. I can fix that in a matter of moments!"
Of to Ranma left Ryoko had started to ask Ryo-Ohki about what had happened and actually seemed to be able to understand what the cat-rabbit-thing was telling her in these annoying 'Miyah!' sounds.
Adding to her sense of unreality was that with those people so close Ranma could now smell them. Except for the young man not a single one of them smelled like a normal human and the young man didn't smell entirely human himself. Casting a last quick glance at Sasami, who looked okay now, Ranma decided to leave before she got dragged into whatever weirdness was going on here. Turning around she made for the gate flanked by those large creepy logs.
"You're leaving already?" A voice raspy from age asked from directly beside her, making Ranma almost jump out of her fur in surprise. It was the old man in the Shinto priest clothes.
How'd he get beside me without me noticing?
"Too bad," the old priest continued. "It's been a long time since I last spoke with one of your kind. And I really would like to know how you got that Jusenkyo curse."