Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 14: Time Warp

Wherever the dark sorcerer had been spending his days lately, Magus once more stalked the night. The building he was presently stalking was the Neko Hanten, where Cologne, Shampoo, and Mousse, were (hopefully) fast asleep. The front door was locked, of course, and probably wired with any number of deviously intricate theft deterrents. Whether it was or not, Magus didn't care. He had other ways of entering homes uninvited. A third story window, for instance; especially one on a blank wall. Such a window was likely to be unlocked. Most burglars, after all, can't fly. Magus was not a burglar, but he could. The sorcerer soon found an appropriate window, and slipped silently into the darkened home.

Aside from the wan light streaming in through the single window, the hallway Magus found himself in was pitch black. This did not bother him in the least. As a master of Shadow magic, he had long become accustomed to the dark, and could see clearly in the most poorly lit caves and corridors. Regardless of this fact, it was not conventional vision that Magus needed now. With a subtle mental effort, Magus magically probed the area around him, trying to pick up a trace of the auras of the residents sleeping somewhere in the building around him. Soon, he found the residue of Mousse's aura. What he had been doing in the attic, Magus had no idea. But, with Mousse's reputation for poor vision, Mousse probably hadn't either. Magus locked onto Mousse's scent and followed it.

The aura traces led Magus to Mousse's sleeping form. The boy was curled up like some kind of pathetic puppy on the floor outside of Shampoo's bedroom. Magus had no respect for him. When Magus wanted something, he took it. It was true that that sort of behavior was usually frowned upon by others, but in this case it was what Shampoo expected. To earn a wife in the tribe of Chinese Amazons, one had to be willing to show one was strong and determined. Strength Mousse had, Magus was certain of that, perhaps even enough to defeat Shampoo and win her respect. But he lacked the strength of will to truly face her, and so lacked the strength of will to achieve his desires. Pathetic.

But none of this was important now. What was important was that Mousse was human now. Magus had learned several more details concerning Ranma and the people he associated with from Nabiki, in exchange for further care and feeding tips for her thriving Dark Fruit plant (Magus had not been so naive as to believe that Nabiki had told him everything he needed to know, nor had he been so foolish as to tell Nabiki everything she needed to know; truly she was a business woman to be reckoned with). Among the things he had learned was that Shampoo often locked Mousse up in duck form when he had been pestering her (which was frequent). This had the potential of causing problems for Magus, whose plans depended on having everyone important in human form this night. Almost everyone, he amended.

Magus would take care of Mousse in a minute. Cologne, he knew, was the greater threat, and should be neutralized as quickly as possible. Cologne's bedroom was, conveniently, located right next to Shampoo's. As softly as a shadow, Magus slipped inside. He stared thoughtfully at the withered crone sleeping peacefully before him. Now this was someone he could respect. This was a survivor. If the very fact that she was centuries old wasn't enough to convince him, Nabiki's description of her fighting prowess was. Despite the woman's helpless appearance, Magus knew that she was a force to be reckoned with. Wasting no time, Magus reached into a pocket and drew forth a leather drawstring pouch. From it he withdrew a handful of fine powder. Chanting an arcane verse, he liberally sprinkled the old woman with it. As each syllable flowed forth, the powder seemed to shimmer and be absorbed by the sleeping form.

Suddenly, Magus felt a hard blow strike him in the stomach, followed almost instantly by a jarring strike to the skull. The sorcerer reeled backwards, stunned. Almost reflexively, he drew his scythe from its hidden sheath in his flowing cape. But his opponent wasn't moving. Cologne was sleeping as peacefully as ever, but now had her long, wooden staff in hand. Magus sighed with relief. It must have been a reflex. Somehow, the old woman had detected him, and lashed out in response. Fortunately, he had worked enough of his magic to ensure that she couldn't reach full consciousness. Magus quickly finished the sleeping spell, ensuring that Cologne would spend the rest of the night in a deep sleep. Still, as he left the room, he couldn't help but to glance back at Cologne with a somewhat awed expression. Truly, she was a formidable woman.

Magus took a moment in the hallway to apply the same treatment to Mousse. Pitiful as the sleeping boy was, Magus didn't want to risk anyone seeing what he was going to do next. Plus, he was unsure whether he could open the door without waking the fool up. Once Mousse was locked into slumber, Magus dragged him away from the door, and slipped into Shampoo's room.

He found the purple-haired girl curled up in her bed, almost like a cat would sleep. She was snoring lightly. This one, Magus knew, was much like her great-grandmother. She was powerful, clever, knew exactly what she wanted, and pursued her goals with ruthless enthusiasm. Magus could respect that. Her continued failures, however, caused Magus to wonder if she was really as clever as she seemed. But all of this was idle thinking. He had work to do.

Magus began with the same sleep spell he had used on the others. He didn't want Shampoo to awaken before he was finished and gone. The next thing he did was to produce a vial of clear liquid from a pouch on his belt. 'My own home-brewed Chiisui-ton,' he thought with a smirk.

Years ago (or a few years hence), while Magus had been researching Jusenkyo, he had stumbled across the lost Musk dynasty. In the past, whenever a man of the Musk desired a wife, that man would drop an animal into the Spring of the Drowned Girl at Jusenkyo, and then freeze that animal into human form using water from a magical bucket called Chiisui-ton. Anyone or anything cursed by a spring of Jusenkyo would be permanently stuck in cursed form if splashed with water from that bucket. Though the current Musk dynasty had abandoned the practice, the magical artifact still remained. Magus, learning of the Chiisui-ton, had been intrigued, and so, in exchange for a number of magical favors, had borrowed the bucket for study. As it turned out, the spell on the bucket had been a fairly simple one, and easy to decipher (evidently it was much easier to cement the curse than it was to cause it in the first place--Magus was still uncertain how the Jusenkyo springs operated). It had been easy to duplicate the spell, and he had cast it on a few glass vials.

It was water from one of these vials that Magus poured onto Shampoo's sleeping form. The obvious effect of this was the same as any other time cold water had crossed Shampoo's path. The sleeping girl swiftly contracted, limbs bending and reshaping as she sprouted soft white and pink fur all over her body. Soon, Shampoo was an adorable kitty, curled up and purring amidst her pajamas and bedsheets. The less obvious effect was that she was now that way to stay. No longer would warm water restore her to her former self. Not even water from Kaisui-fu, the magical kettle that served as a counteragent to the Chiisui-ton, would be of any help. Magus had altered the spell from its original form. Now, only he had the cure.

Magus stalked out of the room, a smirk playing across his lips. 'Probably best not to be here when she wakes up,' thought Magus. Yes, Shampoo was surely going to have kittens when she found out what had happened to her. But he had to hurry. Phase two was far from complete.

* * * * * *

The next phase of phase two, perhaps unsurprisingly, found Magus at the Tendo property. As he had at the Neko Hanten, he was dusting everyone with his sleeping powder, and confirming that everyone in the house that had a choice was human (well, except for Frog; but Magus's original enchantment had left Frog human enough for his purposes tonight). There were only two cases that he had to worry about. Genma typically slept in panda form, but he slept so soundly that Magus wondered if there was any point in dusting him at all. Eventually, he decided that it would be best to leave nothing to chance.

Although, chance had certainly been on his side that evening. In addition to finding Mousse human and sleeping, he had practically tripped over Ryoga, who had been sleeping in a pup tent on the Tendo lawn. While Magus had known Ryoga was cursed from the moment he laid eyes on the boy, he had only recently discovered that Ryoga usually slept in pig form with Akane on the nights that he was in town. Magus wondered if even Nabiki knew this. She certainly hadn't mentioned it to him, but that could merely mean that she'd been saving it to bargain with later. Magus didn't bother to try to guess why Ryoga had chosen to sleep outside that night, but it certainly made Magus's job a lot easier.

But back to more pressing concerns. Magus had no idea how Robo's robotic body operated, but he knew that some machines had devices for detecting intruders. Whether Robo had such devices on his person to protect him while he slept, Magus had no idea. If he did, they hadn't detected him while he subdued Ranma and his father. Perhaps the robe Robo had taken to wearing muffled his detection equipment. Another problem was that Robo slept on his feet. Magus needed the robot to be human during phase three, and that was going to be a problem. First, he would have to pour cold water on him. Under the best of circumstances, that would tend to wake even a deep sleeper, let alone a robot with a heightened sense of touch. He had to get up close, too. If Magus doused him from a distance, he'd turn into a standing, sleeping human. Standing, sleeping humans generally became falling, sleeping humans, and then angry, conscious humans.

Magus formulated a plan. First, of course, he needed water. Magus silently retrieved a cup full of cold water from the bathroom in the hall. Back in Ranma, Genma, and Robo's room, Magus stood in the doorway, water in one hand, sleeping powder in the other. Magus braced himself, and then entered a sort of yoga-like trance to prepare for shadowporting. Shadowporting had the effect of rendering Magus's body intangible and undetectable through any means save sight for a short period of time, usually long enough to walk a few yards, or to prepare an attack. It was a technique he had developed soon after being stranded in the Middle Ages by Lavos. It had been a necessary step in earning the respect and loyalty of the monsters he was one day to use to gain access to the power he needed for his revenge against Lavos. Generally he shadowported to get into more strategic positions during a brawl, but it was a somewhat taxing procedure physically, even if it put next to no drain on his magical reservoir. Here, though, it would certainly be worth it. Magus phased into his Shadowform and glided across the room and through Robo, rematerializing behind his back. Wasting no time, Magus dumped the water on Robo's head. He caught the damp, groggy, awakening girl, and hastily eased her to the floor. Working feverishly, he sprinkled his powder on her, and spoke the words to return her to her slumber. Robo's eyes came dangerously close to flickering open before her tensing body relaxed once more. Magus sighed in relief.

More at ease now, Magus sauntered over to where Ranma was sleeping. 'What a fool,' Magus thought. 'He has power, true, but when it comes to using that power to do anything but fight, he is as naive as a child.' Why Ukyou would care so deeply for such a simpleton was beyond the dark sorcerer's knowledge. But care she did, and Magus intended to fulfill her happiness. With the whole house magically asleep, Magus felt free to speak a few words aloud to the sleeping boy, "You would come to thank me for this, were I ever stupid enough to allow anyone to know what I have done. You will be happy with Ukyou, and undoubtedly, she with you. I envy you your happiness." With that, Magus casually doused Ranma with water from one of his Chiisui-ton vials, locking her permanently into female form. As a final step, Magus dipped his finger into a tiny pot of red cream, and smeared a single red line across Ranma's forehead, just below the bangs of her crimson hair. The cream shimmered, and then was absorbed by Ranma's skin without a trace. Magus stood, and gathered all of his magical materials back into their pockets. It was time to begin phase three.

* * * * * *

The next morning, Ranma awoke, stretched, and realized that she was a girl. For most men, this would probably lead to violent hysteria. To Ranma, however, it was commonplace. She felt around on her tank top and soon detected the tell-tale moisture that she knew would be there. "Nabiki," she sighed. Usually Akane's opportunistic sister had the decency to change her back to normal once she had taken her 'candid' photos of Ranma's sleeping form. The first time Nabiki had tried it, Ranma had awoken to find her bedroll warm and damp. Ranma had been embarrassed, to say the least. She had been relieved when she found out the truth, so relieved that she hadn't even been angry at Nabiki. In retrospect, however, she should have at least asked Nabiki for a share of the profits she made by selling the photos to Kunou.

A delicate snore caught her attention. Ranma turned her attention to the source, and saw Robo, sprawled on the floor in girl-form, half-buried in her white robe. Her, too? wondered Ranma. Sure enough, Robo's blue hair looked damp, as was the collar of her robe. What, had Kunou taken a fancy to her, too? Ranma grinned in spite of herself. "I shall date thee ALL!" Yup, Ranma could see that easily enough. Ranma gazed at the sleeping girl appraisingly. She was pretty cute, Ranma conceded. At least when she was asleep, and not decking Magus. Ranma shook her head. Robo'd seemed almost like Akane for a moment there.

"Hey, Robo!" Ranma called, prodding her.

"Mrph," Robo replied, curling up in irritation.

"Wake up!" Ranma insisted.

"Will you let me sleep?" Robo finally protested, squinting at Ranma through sleepy eyes. "Wait. What am I doing on the floor?" Her eyes opened further. "And what am I doing in human form? I did not go to sleep this way."

"It was probably Nabiki," Ranma replied, earning a puzzled look from Robo. Patiently, Ranma described, in length, the depths to which Nabiki was capable of sinking.

As Ranma spoke, Robo's irritation grew. By the time she had finished, Robo was livid. "This is intolerable," she muttered. "I must have been asleep for nine hours, thanks to her! Six hours wasted! Six hours that I could have spent on other, more useful activities-"

"Like what?" Ranma asked, curious. As far as she knew, there wasn't much to do in Nerima at 3 a.m.

"That is not the point!" Robo floundered. Ranma wondered if Robo even knew what her point was, or whether she was just ticked off.

"Come on!" Robo urged. "We must inform Nabiki of the impropriety of her behavior!" Yup, definitely ticked off. Ranma didn't think she had ever seen Robo this mad. Not that she had much time to think, with Robo gripping her wrist like a vice and half-dragging her out of the room.

* * * * * *

In another part of town, Shampoo was awakening. She stretched luxuriantly and yawned before curling up again on her warm bed. 'What a wonderful night's sleep,' she thought to herself. She began to feel a deep seated rumble spread throughout her body. It was coming from inside of her. Shampoo's slitted eyes popped open in alarm, and soon narrowed again in irritation. She was purring. 'I must be in cat-form. Now, when could that have happened?'

Oh, well. Her Great-Grandmother would be along soon enough to open the door for her, and she would probably bring hot water with her. She just hoped that Mousse wouldn't be around to slobber all over her when she transformed.

Just then, the door swung open. 'Speak of the devil,' thought Shampoo. Mousse's hair was a mess, and his clothes were rumpled. 'He must have spent the night sleeping in front of my door again,' Shampoo concluded. 'Fool.' As usual, Mousse had pushed his glasses up onto the top of his head, and was squinting at the room like the blind idiot he was. 'Oh, well, might as well make the best of it,' thought Shampoo. She meowed softly, trying to get the lovesick boy's attention.

Mousse's eyes abruptly focused on a space not too distant from Shampoo's actual location. "Oh, good morning, Shampoo," Mousse called out cheerfully. Shampoo was surprised. Normally, Mousse would have immediately been tripping all over himself trying to help Shampoo change back to normal. Today, he seemed oddly calm. "Did you get trapped in this room again?" he asked sympathetically. Then, to Shampoo's utter shock, Mousse sat down on the bed and began to pet her.

Shampoo's fur rose. Just what did he think she was, a cat? This was not like Mousse at all! Perhaps she had hit Mousse a little too hard last night. Probably best to have her Great-Grandmother take a look at him. 'Not that I care for his health, of course,' she thought hastily. It was just that she needed him to do his share of the chores.

Suddenly, to Shampoo's acute embarrassment, she found that her fur had settled down again, and she was actually purring! The petting felt wonderful, but she had no intention of allowing it to continue. Still, relaxed as she was, Shampoo couldn't bring herself to hiss at Mousse when she shook herself free.

Mousse followed her out the door. "Would you like some breakfast, kitty? I think we have some leftover fish for you." Shampoo seethed. Leftover fish? This was getting very annoying. Once she changed back, she was going to have a few choice words to share with Mousse. Shampoo began to run, in an attempt to get away from the irritating fellow. Mousse made no attempt to stop her, and was soon out of sight.

Once in the kitchen, Shampoo leapt up onto the counter near to the sink. After a few moments of grappling with the hot water faucet, she determined that she wouldn't be able to turn the water on by herself. Mousse probably wasn't going to be any help, and her Great-Grandmother was nowhere to be seen. Shampoo scanned the room. There! On the stove, someone, probably her Great-Grandmother, had started a kettle of water boiling. There was no steam, so the water probably wasn't boiling yet. If she could just-

Strong hands closed around her small body. "Now, now, Shampoo. You know that you're not allowed on the counter. What will the customers think?" Mousse again. He lifted Shampoo off the counter, and set her gently on the floor. Idiot! Deluded or not, Shampoo was sorely tempted to bite him. Fortunately, she resisted the urge. If Mousse was really distracted enough to think that she was a cat, then attacking him would probably just get her kicked out of the kitchen. Far better to change back first, and then give Mousse a hefty piece of her mind. Shampoo leapt up to the stove, and pulled the tea kettle down on top of herself.

Ouch! The water wasn't boiling, but it wasn't cool either. Shampoo screeched in spite of herself as the hot fluid splashed over her. Now silent, Shampoo waited for the transformation to take place. To her horror, absolutely nothing happened.

* * * * * *

At the Tendo home, Nabiki lifted her eyebrows as Ranko continued her frustrated screaming. Well, this had been quite a morning. First, Robo had dragged Ranko down the stairs, ranting about pictures and too much sleep. During Robo's tirade, Nabiki had somehow managed to figure out that she was accusing her of including her in the same sort of candid photography that she practiced with Ranko and Akane. Unfortunately, she had had absolutely no opportunity to inform Robo that she had the wrong suspect. After a while, the irritated girl had stomped off to the bathroom to change back into a robot. For some reason, Ranko had followed. Nabiki had no idea why. After all, Robo knew where the bathroom was, and was perfectly capable of operating a faucet by herself. Mere minutes later, Ranko had begun screaming something unintelligible at the top of her lungs.

It wasn't long before Ranko returned to the breakfast table. Looking very, very unhappy, Ranko blurted, "Dad, it's happened again! I'm stuck in girl-form!"

Nabiki froze, and narrowed her eyes. What on earth was Ranko talking about? To her relief, no one else seemed to know what Ranko was talking about either. She hated being the only one in the dark.

Soun Tendo threw a gaze to the giant panda sitting beside him. "Saotome. What is your daughter talking about?"

Genma immediately flipped up a sign that read, [Don't ask me; I'm just a panda.]

Now it was Ranko's turn to freeze. "Daughter? What're ya talkin' about? I'm a guy!"

'Well now,' thought Nabiki. 'This is getting better by the minute.' Ranko had always been a devoted tomboy, but this was the first time she had ever claimed to be an actual boy.

"Um, are you all right, Ranko?" asked Akane.

"Looks like you might've hit her a little too hard last night, sis," said Nabiki.

"Ranko?" asked Ranko, looking puzzled. Then she grinned. "Oh, I get it. Is Auntie Saotome here?" Ranko put on a sickeningly cute expression. Everyone else just continued staring at her.

"Auntie Saotome?" asked Kasumi, looking desperately confused (though no more confused than anyone else was feeling), "Who is that, Ranko?"

Now Ranko was starting to look seriously worried. "You know! Mom! She's not here? What's wrong with everybody?"

Looking concerned, Crono suggested that Ranko might want to see a doctor. Ranko looked upset. "Look, there's nothin' wrong with me, except that I can't change back to normal! I'm a guy! What's goin' on here?"

"Ranko, calm down-" Marle began.

"I don't want to calm down!" Ranko interrupted, beginning to sound hysterical. "And I'm not Ranko! I'm Ranma, and I'm a guy! A guy!"

Akane tried to put a helpful hand on the confused girl's shoulder, "C'mon Ranko, I think you should see Dr. Tofu."

Ranko tore free. "Lemme go, ya tomboy! I don't have time to see a doctor! I've gotta find a way to change--urk!" Akane's wooden mallet ended Ranko's strange ranting, for the moment anyway.

Akane looked very concerned. "Help me carry her." Marle quickly stepped forward and joined Akane to support the stunned Ranko as they directed her out the door. Nabiki followed. She, more than anyone, was eager to see what all the hubbub was about.

* * * * * *

By the time they had reached the good chiropractor's workplace, Ranko had regained her senses. Unfortunately, her wits remained totally off kilter, and she was screaming incessantly for them to let her go so she could change back into a man. She had to be strapped down to the operating table before Dr. Tofu could even get close.

The doctor's expert hands swiftly touched Ranko's body in several key pressure-points, reducing Ranko to a wonderfully quiet half-conscious state. As Ranko protested feebly, eyes half-closed, the doctor took various measurements and performed several tests. Finally, he turned to Akane and said, "I'm afraid that I can't find anything wrong with her, physically. Her temperature is fine. Her blood pressure is up, but that could be due to her state of agitation. I can't really say more without a more thorough physical examination, but Ranko seems to be a perfectly healthy young woman."

"I'm a man!" Ranko mumbled resentfully.

Dr. Tofu continued, as though uninterrupted, "I would tend to imagine that the problem is psychological--though it could have been triggered by physical trauma." That last was directed at Akane.

"Hey, I haven't been hitting her any more than usual!" she protested. Then she reconsidered. "Well, she did start acting a little strange after I hit her last night. She was being thoughtful and helpful while we were trying to figure out who-" Abruptly, Akane's eyes narrowed, and she skewered Nabiki with a glance. Marle's eyes, too, had flashed in the older girl's direction. "Which reminds me, Nabiki. We have a few questions for you when we get home."

Nabiki felt vaguely uneasy. She had no idea what her sister was talking about. However, she hadn't done anything out of the ordinary lately, and wasn't particularly worried. "You don't say," she uttered dryly.

Dr. Tofu, more interested in Akane's recollection than in her household politics, remarked, "It could well be that Ranko's odd behavior yesterday is related to the delusion she is under today, but not necessarily. She's always been a rather extreme tomboy."

Akane nodded vehemently. "I've never figured out where SHE gets off calling ME a tomboy!" Suddenly, Akane realized what the doctor was getting at. "Hey, is this anything like the time Ranko hit her head and started acting all sweet and nice?"

Dr. Tofu beamed. "Exactly! Here's my theory: when you hit Ranko yesterday, she started to return to that nice, sweet girl persona. Then, for whatever reason, Ranko rebelled against that and swung completely over into the opposite extreme. So, now she thinks that she is a man, rather than just a tomboy."

Akane looked thoughtful. "So, what do we do? Hit her on the head again?" Akane distractedly lifted her mallet into the air, causing a wide-eyed Ranko to twitch within her confinement.

"No, not yet," said the doctor. "This is a slightly different situation, so I'd advise you to wait a few days. See if she recovers on her own." Dr. Tofu threw a glance at Ranko and then leaned forward to whisper to Akane. "Then you can think about trying to knock some sense back into her." The doctor straightened again. "For now, I'll just hit a few pressure-points to keep Ranko calm for an hour or two. Hopefully, by that time she'll be over her hysteria, at least." Dr. Tofu's skilled fingers worked their magic again, and Ranko was fully conscious and back on her feet. It was amazing what a chiropractor of Tofu's calibre could do. Ranko still looked unhappy, but she wasn't raving like a lunatic anymore.

With her thought processes no longer a tangled mess, Ranma was finally able to think over what had happened. She knew that she was not Ranko. That was just a name she assumed when her mother came to visit, to prevent the woman from discovering that her only son had become a daughter. Her name was Ranma, and until today had been cursed to change from male to female form when splashed with cold water. But today, she was unable to change back again. That had happened on a few occasions before. Practically the day Ranma had met the old woman, Cologne had inflicted a pressure-point technique on her that made her unable to touch warm water. On another occasion, Ranma had been frozen into girl form by water from the magical bucket Chiisui-ton. Today was different. Now, everyone seemed to think that she had always been a girl. No one seemed to know about his curse. Something weird was going on.

* * * * * *

Shampoo strained futilely against the chains wrapped tightly around her feline body. It was her own fault, really. She had definitely overreacted when the pot of hot water failed to return her to her proper form. Screeching and hissing and scratching and clawing, it was no wonder that Mousse had thought her fit to be tied. The boy had then run off to find Great-Grandmother, which suited Shampoo just fine. Great-Grandmother would be able to help. She was very wise. She would know what was wrong with her, and what was wrong with Mousse.

Meanwhile, Shampoo was uncomfortably immobile. The skin under her fur felt swollen and puffy where the hot water had scalded it, and her fur was wet and matted all over. Shampoo loved to take showers, but absolutely hated water as a cat. It was a trait she shared with most cats, she supposed. That fact brought her little comfort.

Footsteps approached. "Hmm, why did you tie her down, Mousse?" asked the familiar voice of Great-Grandmother. Shampoo's kitty heart leapt in her chest with relief.

"I'm sorry, Great-Granny. She went crazy, and I was afraid she'd hurt herself," Mousse replied.

"No matter." Shampoo felt the chains encircling her body loosen. She stretched luxuriantly, ignoring the soreness of her skin, and turned a quizzical glance on Great-Grandmother.

To her slight annoyance, Great-Grandmother carefully touched Shampoo at various points along her sleek feline form, apparently checking for injuries. 'I'm fine, Great-Grandmother,' Shampoo thought angrily.' Just help me to change back, will you?' To emphasize her impatience, Shampoo meowed loudly.

"You say she dragged a pot of hot water over herself? Probably just some minor burns then. She'll be fine in no time at all. As for her 'crazy' behavior, I'd say that was probably normal behavior for a cat who had just been doused with scalding water, wouldn't you?" Shampoo couldn't believe her ears. Unless this was some sort of elaborate test, Great-Grandmother seemed to be under the same spell as Mousse! Shampoo meowed again, a little desperately this time. No one paid any attention.

Mousse nodded, a bit sheepishly. "I suppose I'd have been pretty upset myself. Still, I'm glad she's all right."

Cologne smiled, a somewhat ghastly expression on her shriveled old face. "I know how fond you are of Shampoo, but I wouldn't worry too much. And speaking of fondness for females, how are you getting along with Lucca?"

To Shampoo's horror, Mousse grinned broadly, his eyes taking on the same sort of star-struck look they normally reserved only for her. "Oh, she's wonderful! She's so sweet, and smart, and clever, and she really likes me! I think I'll ask her out tonight!"

Shampoo felt a strange twisting sensation in her gut. She was utterly dismayed, but why? It couldn't be jealousy, could it? Shampoo had always dreamed of getting rid of Mousse! She'd been so happy when Lucca had arrived to distract her unwanted admirer, hadn't she?

Perhaps. But could it be possible that she had only thought she was happy, secure in the knowledge that no woman would ever truly turn Mousse away from her? But now, now Mousse seemed to see her as nothing more than a pet. Now there was nothing to stop Mousse from finding a more welcoming companion, and he had found one in Lucca.

Suddenly, Shampoo felt very lonely. Since she had been a young girl, Mousse had always been with her, pestering her, doting on her. Shampoo had managed to lose him for a while when she made her first attempt to track down and kill the red-headed girl who had made a fool of her in her own home village. Shampoo had found her, but had also found love, love in the form of Ranma Saotome, the only man who had ever been able to defeat her in combat. Shampoo had been utterly heartbroken when she learned that the two were one and the same. The trek home had been a long and lonely one, and Shampoo had found herself wishing for even Mousse to keep her company. The desire had seemed strange then, but now it seemed more sensible. Shampoo felt bruised, discarded, undesirable. She wanted Mousse to want her again!

Shampoo voiced her anguish with a plaintive meow. This time, she caught Great-Grandmother's attention. "Mousse, perhaps you should let Shampoo outside. She may wish to find some secluded area in which to lick her wounds." Before Shampoo could protest, Mousse had picked her up and carried her outside. The door closed behind her as Mousse stepped back inside. The sky looked cloudy, and threatened rain. Shampoo was on her own. Or was she?

Ranma! Of course! He would be able to help. He could overcome any challenge put to him (except, possibly, the challenge to choose a wife from among his many fiancees). Shampoo optimistically began to run across town to the Tendo home, conveniently forgetting the one big reason that this was a bad idea.

Shampoo leapt up onto the Tendo fence. There was Ranma sitting cross-legged on the ground in the middle of the yard, apparently sulking. She was in girl-form, at the moment. Shampoo dashed across the yard to her, and began to rub lovingly against her leg.

Ranma chose that moment to remind Shampoo of the main reason her hope was doomed. "A-A C-C-CAT!!!!" She screamed, leaping to her feet and running blindly. The terrified girl slammed into the side of the house, knocking herself out cold. Shampoo felt rather sheepish.

A few seconds later, Kasumi and Nabiki walked out of the house. Kasumi turned a mildly stern gaze onto Shampoo and said. "Naughty kitty! You know that you aren't supposed to be here. You frighten poor Ranko. Now, shoo! Shoo!"

Nabiki sighed with amusement. "Of all the people in Nerima, I wonder why that stupid cat took a liking to the one person with a pathological fear of felines. Oh, well, no accounting for taste." Kasumi and Nabiki gently, but firmly, evicted Shampoo from the Tendo property.

Shampoo was too stunned to resist. Nabiki and Kasumi evidently also thought she was just a cat. If they did and Mousse and Great-Grandmother did, who was to say that anyone else would remember Shampoo's true identity? Why should Ranma remember? Rain began to fall from the sky, lightly at first, but soon by the bucketful. Shampoo felt more lonely than she ever had before.

On the wet sidewalk just outside of the Tendo property, a soggy kitty began to howl with grief. But no one cared.

Afterword:

I know that there have been times that Ranma has thought that he/she was a girl, and I know there have been times that Ranma has been stuck in girl-form. However, to my knowledge, Ranma has never been stuck in girl-form with everyone else thinking that her true shape! See, originality is not dead! And, if I'm wrong, and someone has used this idea before, I will go and quietly throw up.

I have no idea exactly what the layout is of the Neko Hanten. I'm not even positive that Cologne, Shampoo, and Mousse make their home there. I hope that my educated guesses came close to the mark.

Another warning: I may be going out on a limb here. My only sources regarding Chiisui-ton and Kaisui-fu are fanfics, and the brief descriptions of them found on the Ranma 1/2 Universe Homepage (at least, back when that page existed). Then again, between those two, there's a whole lotta info to be had...

Chrono Trigger Tip #14:

I want to reconcile Marle with her father. What do I need to do?

Well, you've probably discovered by now that the Chancellor is not a particularly wholesome fellow. Aside from the fact that he tried to execute Crono early in the game, he's also been giving Marle rotten advice (he advises Marle to present a gift of high-cholesterol Jerky to her father, in spite of his high blood-pressure), and insidiously disruptive misinformation (he told Marle that her father had been too busy with affairs of state to speak with her dying mother). Even worse, once you've recovered the Rainbow Shell, the Chancellor puts the King on trial, accusing him of selling it (a national treasure) for personal gain. It's up to you to find the Rainbow Shell before the King is found guilty, and return with proof. If you go to the right-hand staircase at the ground level of the castle, you will find a new staircase leading downward. This leads to the Treasury, where you overhear a couple of the Chancellor's hired Monsters spill the beans regarding the evil plot. Fight your way to the Treasury, and you find the Rainbow Shell. It's still too heavy to lift, but there is a shard of shell that has broken free. Collect it, and return to the Court where Marle's father is on trial. When the Chancellor sees his plan foiled, he sheds his disguise, revealing himself to be a direct descendant of the very same monster that kidnaped Marle's great-grandmother 400 years before. When you defeat him, Marle and her father have a tearful reunion, where the truth behind her mother's death is revealed.

Oh, and the Mindlessly Obsessive will notice that the former Chancellor drops a key when you defeat him. You can use that key to free the real Chancellor, who is locked in a chest in the castle (how he managed to survive for months locked in that chest is anyone's guess). Can't win the game without freeing the Chancellor! It just wouldn't be right.

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