Pre Story Notes:
Physical and mental endurance has its limits. Everyone has a true breaking point. When reached, the body does what it must, and no amount of personal willpower is going to stop it.
At this very edge of human endurance, your character suffers the most torment, but also the most incredible strengthening. Military training is all about pushing would be soldiers to these limits and then, when they've been broken, forging new, stronger individuals. And as you gain this perspective, your outlook changes to reflect it.
Still, for most it takes more than their own willpower to reach this point. And even if you've undergone this level of punishment before, you can still be broken from one level to an even higher level. Eventually, it is something you cannot do on your own. And you need help to keep going.
Let's roll on.
"EEEYAH! I said I'm not asleep!" I snapped as I sat up to- Wait what?
"You could have fooled me!" Luna said in a near panic after spitting out my hand. "You did a convincing job of passing out!"
"Passing-" I began, the urge to panic suddenly rising…
"You nearly fell on top of me!" The feline shouted. "And I'll just add that I believe your story to the fullest!"
I looked at the cat, which motioned to the side.
"She however, might not!"
I was awake, oh so awake as I twirled in the direction indicated. I tracked in on movement just a few feet from the bed. Human, girl, purple hair… Oh god is that?
"Aiya? Strange man has talking cat?"
It is… There's no mistaking that broken dialect.
"I'm sorry if we bothered you," Luna began. "I can assure you there is a good explanation as to why we're he-"
"Is trick!" The girl snapped, eyes getting dangerous.
"What?" Luna stopped.
"We're dead…" I laughed.
"You is trick sent by Mao Mao Lin!" the girl snapped louder. "He never know when to quit!"
"We're so very dead…" I continued.
"Young lady!" Luna snapped. "I assure you I don't know who this Meow… Meow…"
"Mao Mao Lin" I paused to correct.
"Mao Mao Lin," Luna continued. "I assure you we're not associated with-"
"Kill?!" Luna snapped as the girl spun. "Isn't that a bit hasty?"
The young lady reached into the corner and retrieved very large round object.
"Shampoo's about to smash us with a Chui…" I laughed.
"Do something!" Luna snapped.
"Like what?" I asked as Shampoo raised her weapon high.
"ANYTHING WOULD BE A GOOD START!" Luna yelled as she jumped away.
I dove sideways; getting snagged by the covers I was inexplicably under as Shampoo came down with all her might. There was a loud crack as the bed snapped under the force of the impact. The rough landing on the floor combined with the loud snap served to jar me to my senses.
"I'm okay now," I blinked as the purple haired killing machine turned her head.
"Missed!" Shampoo huffed in disappointment.
"What do we do?" Luna snapped in terror as I worked to dislodge myself.
Shampoo spun, hefting her Chinese weapon around at Luna, who jumped over the swing as the dresser behind exploded into splinters. In the mean time, I finished getting my legs out from the covers as I spied the way out.
"Run for it!" I ordered.
We both tore for the exit, the Mossberg dropping off my shoulder with a clatter. Dammit! Though it's not like I was willing to use that weapon as much as I thought. What am I going to do? Shoot her?
"You no escape!" The Joketsuzoku warrior snapped as she gave chase. She was probably right too. I was barely out of the room and could feel myself slowing down. The girl was stronger than a world class athlete, faster, and had infinitely more stamina. She'd catch me and kill me before I could even get out of the building. I was already losing… If only someone would dump some water on her and turn her into a harmles- HELLO.
I reached my hand out and caught myself on the doorway to a bathroom I'd almost run past, looking back as Shampoo came out of her room with the grin of a predator.
"What are you doing?" Luna ground to a halt.
I looked at the feline once and then at Shampoo as she started towards me. Then ducked into the bathroom, hitting the light switch and grabbing a sink handle. The satisfying hiss of running water greeted my ears as I cupped my hand under the stream.
"You trapped now!" Shampoo snapped smugly as she appeared in the entrance. "Now you d-"
The Chui slammed into the floor next to a pile of pajamas, and one very shocked looking purple and pink kitten.
"Bad kitty!" I snapped in English as I pointed down at her, then shook my head. That was horrible.
"What did-" Luna began, cautiously walking back over to us.
"Long story short," I began. "We're in another fiction I know called Ranma One Half. Shampoo here is a character. She's got a curse from a place called Jusenkyo. Cursed Spring of Drowned Kitten I think it was. You hit her with cold water; She turns into a cat. You hit her with warm or hot water…"
I noticed the vapors of steam and looked at the faucet again, then reached and turned the handle to shut it off. Good thing water ends up cold when it sits in the pipes.
"She turns back to normal." I continued again.
"That sounds rather formulaic," Luna commented as she looked at Kitty-poo. The pink kitten just glared back.
"I wasn't expecting it to be quite this easy," I shrugged. "The way things have been going for me, I would have expected her to be leery of the bathroom… Maybe break my leg."
"So now she's harmless?" Luna asked. Shampoo turned towards the moon cat with a glare and let out a hiss. Then with a flash of pink, and purple, dove right into Luna, who yelped in surprise before the whole thing devolved into a ball of teeth, claws, and snarling hisses. Calling a Joketsuzoku warrior harmless to her face was a wonderfully efficient way to die.
"Heh…" I let out a tired laugh at the raging furball. "Heh heh…"
This is so unreal. I'm watching Luna from Sailor Moon have a throw down with cat form Shampoo from Ranma One Half. Maybe this isn't happening. Maybe I'm dreaming. This is all one long convoluted dream after marathoning anime all day, and I ate some bad Chinese take out. Or maybe I stayed up too late reading one of those convoluted crossover fanfics and I have to be to work in the morning. My mind was out to lunch, and this was the result. The guys on Spacebattles would LOVE to dissect this dream…
"Heheheheheheheheheh…" I continued unsteadily.
"If you don't mind!" Luna managed to choke out amidst the flying teeth. "A little help here!"
"Oh," I blinked, coming back down to Earth a little. "Sorry…"
I stepped over to the animal brawl and reached down, trying to pluck Shampoo up so she couldn't rip Luna to shreds. I had to yank my hand back once to prevent getting my wrist clawed open. And then tried again.
To my displeasure, Shampoo managed to come about after a slash to Luna's face and sink her teeth into my outstretched hand.
"Eyeaheahaaa!" I shuddered. I was awake again. Fully awake! Yes sir! That was pain. Which was good. It means I'm still alive, but bad because it means I'm not DREAMING!
"Enough!" I snapped, lashing out with my free hand. I caught Shampoo in the side and mashed her against the ground. Probably a bit rough, but then again, she bit me. I was sorely tempted to drop kick the cursed feline through the goal post of life just to prove a point.
Once Shampoo was adequately immobilized, I grabbed the kitten by the scruff of the neck and lifted her away from the ground. Then with a step over her Chui, began walking back towards her room to collect the Mossberg.
"Thank you," Luna huffed, one eye closed with a minor scratch. "I'm not made to brawl with alley cats."
Shampoo squirmed in my grip at the retort but otherwise got nowhere.
"Stop struggling," I sighed. "Someone needs to work on your attitude."
Returning to Shampoo's room, I leaned down to pick my shotgun up by its strap, shouldering it. Then turned and sat down on the surviving corner of the bed with a flop and a creak.
"How long was I out?" I asked Luna.
"Had to be about a minute, maybe two." The moon cat responded. "Like I said, you simply passed out."
"How'd you come with me?" I asked.
"I jumped on your back trying to wake you up," Luna continued. "The next thing I know, you're under covers, and I landed on her."
"Great," I shook my head. "Now I've got unwanted baggage on my own personal trip to hell."
"Well pardon me for trying to help," Luna snorted. "I did manage to wake you up before she could kill us both."
"Yeah," I sighed again. "There is that."
I turned Shampoo around so I could look directly at the kitten.
"But is a few hours sleep really too much to ask?" I seemed to direct the question at the cursed feline as my voice rapidly became depressed. But it was more rhetorical. "I don't know how much more of this I can take… I'm losing it. Just four hours of sleep without being disturbed would be a good start."
Shampoo said nothing, which was expected. But she did turn her head sideways.
"But then I just end up appearing in beds of people like you," I could hear my voice suddenly grow a bit of anger. "And all you want to do is kill kill kill… Not even stopping to think about how the hell some unconscious guy suddenly appeared without notice in the first place. I'm simply another pervert that needs punishment."
"Get a hold of yourself," Luna advised cautiously. "You're sounding more like Usagi on a bad morning every second. And you are heavily armed. Now is not the time for you to have a nervous breakdown. We don't need you going postal."
"Right," I sighed again. "Focus."
I looked at Shampoo again, my arm now shaking from holding her in the air for so long.
"It's not like I've had a captive audience though," I continued. "Just someone to vent at I guess. Though, she is cute like this."
Shampoo blinked back at me. It was the cutest little kitten face I had-
"I'm awake," I jumped, shaking Luna off my free hand.
"Good," Luna nodded. "If you pulled me along, it would be worse if you ended up dragging her along too."
"I'm sure she'd be all the rage at parties," I snarked. "She could be my personal cyanide capsule. I just hit her with warm water when I'm in a bad spot, and she turns into an angry, naked, embarrassed warrior chick who promptly runs me through with the first pointy thing she can find."
"Come on pull yourself together," Luna admonished. She seemed to be good at that. "You got results in an hour that Lazy Bones couldn't match in a month of Sundays. If you can survive that, you can handle this."
"Right," I nodded. I was taking advice from a fictional talking cat. Heh… "I can handle this. I just need to stay focused."
Breathing deeply to try and calm my nerves down, I looked at the now bored looking kitten I was really getting tired of holding in the air.
"I'm going to put you down now," I stated. That seemed to make Shampoo perk up just a bit. "Just do me a favor and quit trying to kill me."
I turned and placed the cursed feline on part of the bed's remains. After I let go, Shampoo continued to stare at me, cocking her head to the side curiously in that way only cats, or people in cat bodies, could do.
"There," I indicated with a nod. "The strange man is not going to haul you off to Mao Mao Lin.
"Who's this 'Mao Mao Lin' anyway?" Luna asked.
"Crazy depressed three thousand something year old Chinese cat spirit," I shrugged. "He really wants a wife, but he's too deadbeat-"
Heheh… Cat spirit… dead. Heh…
"He's to deadbeat to get any takers. He went after Shampoo here once for, obvious reasons."
"I see," Luna nodded. "I guess there's no method to keep out of trouble in these strange reality hops then."
"Welcome to my life for the past thirty hours," I commented. "Five worlds, and out of those, four have tried to kill me."
"You seem to be good at surviving," Luna complimented.
"Knowledge is power," I shrugged, looking towards the door. "Isn't that right Cologne?"
"It is indeed," the old 'hag' came around the threshold, giving Luna quite the shock. "You are quite a perceptive young man to sense my approach."
Well yeah… Given the response time people have to the sounds of combat in a small building, the fact that we managed to have plenty of time for a bedside chat meant the place was either empty, or someone was watching. In other words…
"I guessed," I shrugged.
"A perceptive guess then," Cologne nodded sagely. It was kind of hard to get the hang of all these absurdly short old folks popping up. Cologne could be more than waist high on me. And how the hell did she stay balanced three feet off the ground when she was so far away from the center of gravity of her walking stick?
Still, she radiated a somber kind of perceptive calm, as if she had you analyzed, labeled, and filed in the right category by the time she finished looking at you. It was a far cry from the far more impulsive and destructive nature of her granddaughter, Shampoo.
"You seem greatly troubled," the ancient one began again at length. "I perceive it is the predicament I overheard, correct?"
I nodded, my head swimming as I did so. Shampoo seemed to take after Luna's example and nipped my finger.
"Awake," I jumped.
"Hmmm…" Cologne gave me a brief measuring gaze. "Come with me child."
When the Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku gives you an instruction, you obey. In my case, I had little reason not to anyway. I followed the hag down the stairs and into her restaurant, flanked by two cats.
"At first I thought it was Mousse trying something stupid when the banging started," Cologne commented idly at me. "Then it got unusually quiet and I heard the water running. I thought that rather odd considering their conditions…"
Cologne indicated over her shoulder at Shampoo, referring to her curse. And silently reminding of the fact that Mousse turned into a duck himself when hit with cold water.
"Then I heard you two talking," she continued. "The brazen manner in which you were speaking wasn't what I expected from robbers, so I decided to wait. And as they say, good things come to those who wait."
"And you got a free story," Luna chimed in, falling into the role of walking exposition.
"Indeed," the Matriarch responded. "Though I do have to wonder where Mousse is considering the commotion."
"If he's passed out in the sink in duck form…" I began, mind drifting to the mental image of a duck sleeping amidst a pile of dishes in a sink full of water. That was, funny. Cologne turned to me as I suppressed a chuckle, then angled her head slightly and bounced into the kitchen area.
"Ah," she began. "Well, that explains that."
"I was just jo-" I began, but stopped. "You're kidding right?"
"Knocked out in the power soak," the Matriarch shook her head as she returned to the dining area. "He'd better be finished by lunch time. Or I won't give him any more extra breaks."
"Health department's going to roast him if they catch him like that," I smirked, chuckling a little more at the thought of Mousse being rotated on a spit. As I did so, Cologne eyed me again for a few seconds, then leapt over to a cabinet close to the ground to retrieve a small bottle full of brownish liquid, and a small glass. Then she hopped back over, indicating for me to sit as she placed the glass on a tabled and filled it slightly with the liquid from the bottle.
"What's this for?" I asked.
"You're suffering from the onset of delirium due to sleep deprivation," Cologne commented casually. "At this rate you'll be a gibbering wreck by sunrise."
I looked at the glass of dirty-looking liquid and gave it a sniff. It smelled rancid.
"So this is…" I began, unsure.
"We've got something for sleep deprivation," the ancient one continued, bouncing over to another cabinet. "You should down that quickly…"
Okay. She wasn't going to poison me. That wouldn't make sense considering Cologne could beat me black and blue with her ugly stick before I could unsafe and fire Mossy…
Picking up the glass, I inspected it one more time. It smelled familiar, but I couldn't place it. Touching the glass to my lips, I tilted it back intending to drink. Then the taste registered.
I jerked the glass away, spilling it in the process.
"Ugh!" I snapped, fully alert again. The crap tasted like a punch in the face. "This reminds me of whiskey."
"It IS Whiskey," Cologne commented idly, fishing something out of a cabinet and bouncing back over to refill the glass to its previous level. "Scotch actually. And I'd really not like it if you wasted Lagavulin like that. Imports are expensive."
"This stuff tastes like something you'd only drink on a dare," I continued with disgust.
"It's Scottish Whiskey," Cologne raised and eyebrow. "That's probably how it got invented. I did warn you to drink it quickly."
"So, why do you have this again?" I asked.
"Whiskey has its medicinal uses," she shrugged. "Personally, I can't stand it. Too intense… Now drink."
I nodded, pinching my nose and knocking back the glass as fast as I could. It was like drinking liquid smoke while watching Robin Williams go on about the invention of Golf. I did my best to fight off my gag reaction and swallowed. The nasty tasting crap left a mild burning sensation as it went down.
"Now," the matriarch continued, placing what looked like a Hershey's Kiss in front of me. "Eat this."
"And what is this?" I asked.
"Three thousand year old Chinese remedy," the ancient one commented. "We're no strangers to the need to stay up for days on end during times of conflict. Especially when we need to retain sharp mental focus at the same time. This remedy deals with that. It'll remove your fatigue, allow you to focus, and keep you from being tired for eight hours."
I downed the thing in one gulp upon hearing that. It was indeed chocolate of some kind, but it had an odd flavor mixed in that tasted like cyan, cinnamon, and mint thrown together.
"It's not a substitute for sleep however," Cologne continued academically. "It will remove the effects of fatigue, but coming off its effects hits harder depending on how sleep deprived you really are. It also has some adverse side effects."
"LIKE WHAT?" Luna roared in my ear… I bolted out of my chair in surprise and slammed into the floor as if I'd been thrown out of a car.
"Hypersensitivity," the Matriarch looked under the table where I'd landed. Her voice sounded like I was at a live showing of ACDC and I was at point blank range. "One cannot forcibly sharpen the mind without sharpening everything else at the same time. That's what the scotch is for. It dulls the senses."
"This is dull?" I asked, feeling my heart beating like I had Caramel Dansen on at Ten-X speed.
"Give it a minute to kick in," Cologne instructed. "I should have warned you to eat that slowly, and you popped it like a pill. These remedies can be a bit temperamental."
Standing back up, I could already feel the effects. Aside from the throbbing, I no longer felt like a living incarnation of the god of WEIGHT. Not to mention it was getting easier to focus again. Wow! Those ancient Chinese really had it figured out. Then again, they had a lot of time to work on it.
"You got any more of that stuff?" I asked. I could feel a soft warm feeling mixing with the rest of my body, slowly damping the harsh sounds around me. "I could really use about a dozen of those considering what's been happening."
The Matriarch looked at me seriously. In retrospect, I suppose she was measuring me mentally to judge if I would end up on some kind of strange addiction to the remedy. The rapid beating of my heart did remind me of the symptoms people had when they were doped up on stimulant drugs such as Speed. It would be bad to get hooked on the stuff and end up giving myself a nice little heart attack in exchange for falling asleep and getting slaughtered by some random girl.
Oh, it was nice to have some logical reasoning back. Being able to hold a coherent train of thought for more than ten seconds was wonderful. Anyway…
"Unfortunately I only had that one at this time," the Matriarch informed me solemnly. "I was keeping it stashed as a little treat for Shampoo once she managed to get Son-In-Law to officially be hers."
That explained why it was a chocolate.
"Why would you want to give her a 'Stay Awake' pill as a wedding present?" Luna asked, turning her head to the side. I turned to look at her, a smirk growing as my brain instantly, refreshingly instantly, read between the lines.
"Because it keeps you going for eight hours and makes you hypersensitive," I ended by waggling my eyebrows. It took Luna a few seconds to register the meaning, but when it did, the cat managed to blush crimson right through her fur. Shampoo too, seemed to turn a slightly darker shade of pink.
"Hahahahahah!" Cologne laughed like sandpaper through a foam pillow. "So that's your true self. It's refreshingly confident. Just like Son-in-law. I can prepare more of those for you if you'd like. But it's going to take a few hours."
"I can handle that," I smirked, then added. "Now…"
"Good," the Matriarch nodded. Then she bounded away and returned with a broom and dustpan.
"What's this for?" I asked.
"I said I could prepare more of the remedy for you," she stated. "I didn't say it was free. Besides, you wasted a glass of Lagavulin. You WILL earn back for what was wasted."
Believe it or not I smirked more. This was just like Cologne to turn around and weasel or blackmail you. But for once, I felt so charged up it didn't matter. Bring on the cleaning. Still, that just left my tag along, Luna. Don't think I was going to let her escape any of the work just because she was a cat.
Thinking on it for a second, a mischievous little idea popped into my head. Perhaps I could earn more than just my bare requirements here. Maybe, if I exploited this…
"Hey, the mascot for this restaurant is a cat right?" I asked.
Cologne turned her head sideways.
"I happen to have a talking cat…"
Luna suddenly backed up looking nervous.