A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners. All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.
Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching, Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.
Book One: The Mandarin
Chapter One: The Fall
Day broke over the bowl-shaped valley, and turned the morning fog to gold.
Birds began their morning rituals of greeting the sun as the warmth began dissipating the mists, revealing a landscape dotted with numerous pools. Bamboo poles stood among the pools like silent sentinels over the strangely still valley. No animals came to the water to drink; no birds flew down to bathe, only the wind played over the pools. The wind… and a lone figure that danced from pole to pole as she flowed through sword forms.
The figure casually balanced on a pole as the slender, curved blades of her twin swords flashed through a complicated form before she effortlessly moved through the air to land on another pole. She stood motionless in the final stance, a sculpture of leashed energy frozen in time, radiating an aura of vibrant life even in her stillness.
Zhu Shu had come to Jusenkyo a week earlier, hoping the training ground would test her skills, yet she had found none of the monsters, vengeful spirits, or any of the hundred other dangers the white-haired storyteller had claimed could be found there; only the silent pools and the wind. Even the guide's small hut had been empty.
She had set her small camp by a freshwater spring on the cliffs overlooking the valley and explored the area, but had found nothing to explain the training ground's evil reputation. The cliffs her grandfather had trained her on were far more deadly than the bamboo poles, and they had nothing as soft as water to land in after a fall. Starting her practice on the morning of her second day, she had found the quiet valley a perfect place to reflect on her failed quest. The solitude and the daily rituals had been calming as she contemplated what awaited on her return to her home village.
Finishing yet another form, she vainly tried to think of a way out. The
thought of returning home a failure burned deeply, but there was nowhere in
She savagely cut off the thought as she started a new form, leaping to another pole, her hair streaming behind her as she flowed through the air to land softly on a bamboo perch ten feet away, the sole of her purple shoe making no more noise than the whisper of her swords as she moved through the Opening Fan and into Summer Raindrops. Her short, tight, sleeveless cheongsam clung to her like a second skin, leaving no loose folds of cloth to catch her arms or blades. The short skirt left her legs free to propel her into a leap that, after a twist in midair, landed her on yet another pole forty feet deeper into the grounds. The long ribbons trailing from her sword hilts danced around her like living snakes, their coils never touching or getting in the way as her swords flew through Hummingbird Kisses the Rose.
Sighing again, she concluded the form and let the ribbons settle. She'd improved her skills immensely in the last year, but that was meaningless. She'd failed in her quest for a husband she considered worthy of giving her an heir to Clan Dragon.
She could already feel her aunt's eyes on her, gloating. She'd not been pleased that Zhu Shu had begged her grandfather to be allowed to search for a husband, instead of accepting her aunt's arrangements. Sung Li might have the purest bloodline in the village, but Zhu Shu had no wish to marry the letch. Yet, sadly, he had proved to be no worse than most of the boys she had found, and better than some. Better the devil you know.
If only he could have been….
A faint echo from the far end of the valley caught her attention. A voice. After a week of solitude, someone else had entered the valley.
Curious as to whom else would travel to such an out-of-the-way training ground,
and eager to escape her thoughts, Zhu Shu moved towards the sound. Dancing
from pole to pole, she crossed the small valley. As she drew near, she heard
a Chinese voice speaking a language that took her a few minutes to place as
Japanese. Despite her grandfather's insistence that she learn the languages
of the countries around
"And now we come to Legendary Training Ground of Accursed Springs…."
The speaker was a chubby Chinese guide in the standard-issue Communist uniform, leading two Japanese tourists, each wearing gi.
The taller of the two was rather heavyset, and was wearing a bandanna around his head. Strings behind his ears held a pair of round glasses in front of his eyes. The image in his aura showed a beggar wearing a suit of armor that was as soiled and stained as his clothes. She frowned at the obvious indications of chicanery even as she noted the small signs that marked him as a master martial artist.
The young man with him, though….
Zhu Shu stopped on top of a pole to study him more closely. He moved casually, yet with the same assurance of a master martial artist. But it was the image in his aura that captured her gaze.
He stood as a simple warrior, garbed in plain clothes that were worn with use, yet beneath the covering was a noble's armor, shining and strong. The outer coverings nearly concealed it, but what did show was undimmed. Only the haughty, arrogant look of pride on his face marred the image of nobility.
Intrigued, she watched as the pair dropped their packs and jumped to the pole-tops as easily as she could. Over the protests of the guide, they assumed stances on poles not far from Zhu Shu, seemingly oblivious to her presence, focused as they were on each other. She hopped a pole closer as they challenged each other, then watched in approval as they met in midair and traded a volley of kicks and punches.
She barely heard the guide warn, "Is very bad you fall in spring!" as she hopped to yet another pole for a better vantage.
The older man went flying with a splash into the pool at Zhu Shu's feet as the young man landed on a nearby pole. He watched with her as the water settled. Still seeming not to notice her, the young man called, "Hey Pops! We done already?"
Distantly, Zhu Shu heard the guide moaning. "Oh no! You fall in Spring of Drowned Panda! Tragic legend, very tragic!" The rest faded as to Zhu Shu's shock, a giant panda erupted from the pool straight at the young man. Too stunned to move, she watched as it batted the young man right at her. Instinctively she attempted to move aside, but stepping back, her foot found only air.
The boy's flailing foot caught her already off balance as he flew by to land in a pool about fifteen feet away. She fell towards the clear surface of a spring, her swords flying away from her hands as she vainly tried to change her trajectory. Then she hit with a splash, and as the water closed over her, she heard the guide lament, "You fall in Spring of Drowned Young Girl!"
The water was far colder than she expected and deeper than it had looked. She experienced a strange surge of dizziness that made her lose her bearings for a second, and then her head broke the surface. As she opened her eyes, she saw the panda run by, being chased by a buxom redheaded girl, in turn being chased by the guide. She blinked in confusion. They had the same auras as the older man and the boy, but strangely shifted to show the altered forms. They disappeared into a swirl of fog, and as she turned to dive after her swords, she heard a yell and another splash.
It took her nearly five minutes to find her swords among the rocks at the pool's bottom. As she came up for the final time, a low growl from behind made her turn and freeze.
Two large feline eyes looked at her from over a pair of canines a good nine inches long. She floated frozen for a few seconds until she realized that the huge cat didn't look hungry, but wet and disgusted. And if anything, she would have sworn it was leering.
It looked her up and down, then shook its head and turned to pad off with a sound suspiciously like a chuckle.
Stranger and stranger. Zhu Shu watched as the enormous catlike creature disappeared into the fading morning mist, before swimming to the edge of the pool. She grimaced as she realized the knots securing the front of her dress had come undone and, as she levered herself up onto a rock, she pulled it closed…
…Or tried to. It didn't want to stretch enough to cover her bosom. Her fingers found torn cloth where the knot-work had ripped free. She looked down and froze as she caught sight of her hands.
Her nails had grown to nearly an inch and came to razor sharp points, while her fingers looked to be slimmer. Then she noticed her raven black hair was now sun gold. Momentary confusion gave way to the sudden memory of the guide's voice, "Now, whoever fall in pool take form of panda…."
In shock, she raised one of her swords and looked in the long, narrow mirror. Her normally oval face was now more heart-shaped, and her normally jade-green eyes were a luminous emerald, with a more pronounced tilt. They dominated her face, and the slit pupils recalled the eyes of her guardian deity. Ebon lashes swept out to frame those dragon eyes, and spun gold upswept eyebrows gave that face a nearly unearthly exotic beauty that her pointed, almost animalistic ears only accented. The pointed upper and lower canines added to the wildness of her appearance. As she stood, she realized she had gained nearly a foot in height and had filled out enormously. Her expanded bust had ripped the ties free on her dress, and the skirt had ridden up several inches. Strangely, her shoes were only a little tight.
Remembering the panda, she figured she was extremely lucky; beyond the long fingernails and that exotic face, she was still human looking. She had no idea what she was, but at least it wasn’t completely an animal.
She took off the dress and wrung it out, then did the same for her underwear; damp was better than soaked. She rigged a way to tie the dress closed and redressed just as her ears caught the sounds of distant combat from the cliffs above. She sprang towards a pole to investigate, and narrowly missed falling into another pool as her altered size threw off her reflexes. Opting for the safer course of running, she sprinted towards the distant noise.
Several minutes later, she was on a ledge partway up the cliff when she caught the sound of a lone hiker above her. The sounds of the panda and the girl were fast approaching too, and as she was trying to find a way up, the pair passed by and a large object came over the cliff towards her.
She dived to the side as the shadowy form plummeted past, realizing too late it was another poor victim of the duo, a strong-looking boy with a huge pack. She winced as he landed in a pool below her with a huge splash.
Zhu Shu hurried back down the path from the ledge, not trusting her jumping ability. It took several minutes to get back down to the edge of the pool. She was too late; the panda had already snagged the small black piglet that had crawled out of the pool, half drowned. He skipped away with the piglet as Zhu Shu drew up to the edge of the pool. She snagged the unfortunate boy’s pack with one of the ribbons on her swords and dragged the incredibly heavy thing out of the pool. She left it at the water's edge and snapped the ribbon dry as she followed the panda's trail.
She arrived at the guide's hut just in time to see him holding the piglet over a large cooking pot and called out to him, “Don’t cook that pig!"
It was too late; even as the guide turned towards her, his eyes widening, his hand had released the piglet and it was falling towards the boiling water. Zhu Shu dived to rescue him from the scalding water, but as her hand and the piglet hit the hot water, two things happened simultaneously: Zhu Shu lost her balance as she suddenly lost a foot of height and about thirty pounds; and a naked boy replaced the piglet.
Zhu Shu couldn't stop herself as she crashed into him and they both fell over the stove to the floor, followed by the pot of water. The boy scrabbled wildly to avoid the water and gallantly tried to push Zhu Shu out of the way as well, but his hand met the already ripped ties, and with a loud rip, the dress and Zhu Shu parted ways.
She landed in a sprawl with a bruised rear, clad only in her panties. The boy on the other side of the puddle of steaming water looked at the shredded dress in his hand, then at Zhu Shu. A gout of blood poured from his nose as his eyes rolled up into his head and he fainted.
For a few seconds, there was only stunned silence, then the guide spoke. "So sad. Now have no pig to cook nice for lunch."
Zhu Shu fled the hut only long enough to retrieve a new dress from her campsite, but found the pig boy had departed while she was gone. The panda had obviously availed himself of the hot water as well, since the older man had replaced him. She noted he gave her an appraising look before bowing, like he was checking her for visible weapons.
"Hello, young lady. I am Genma Saotome of the Saotome school of Anything Goes martial arts, and—" he waved over at the table where a once again male teen sat eating ravenously from a big bowl of noodles, "—this is my son…"
"Ranma," he said around a mouthful of ramen.
Zhu Shu bowed and assayed her broken Japanese. "Song Zhu Shu, Song school of Sword Dance." She noted the nod from the boy as well as his appraising look. She glared up at the father. "Zhu Shu upset with panda man. Knock in spring. Not look where throw son. Careless!" She put real venom in her look.
"See, Pop! You've ruined more than just my life!" Ranma chimed in.
"Um… er… well…." Genma grinned sheepishly. "I-I don't suppose a simple apology would be enough?" he asked hopefully. Zhu Shu shook her head. Genma eyed his son rather appraisingly, then asked, "Um… Do you think we could discuss this… er… privately?" His eyes darted towards the door.
Zhu Shu noted his look suspiciously, but curiosity won and she nodded, wanting to see what he planned.
She followed Genma outside to a stand of trees out of earshot of the hut and asked him, “What you up to, panda man?"
"Well, as you can see, we are but poor wandering martial artists, and I possess nothing with which to repay you for the unfortunate accident you suffered, unless… May I ask you why you are in Jusenkyo?"
"Perhaps, if I know the nature of your quest, I can aid you in some manner to repay my debt."
She knew he was stalling, but she answered anyway. "Zhu Shu seek husband."
Genma's eyes lit up as he saw an apparent easy way out. "Then nothing could be simpler. My son is nearly finished with his training and must soon seek a wife, a martial artist of equal skill. You appear to be such a godsend. I offer you Ranma's hand in marriage."
Zhu Shu looked away, at the hut, conflicting desires fighting in her thoughts. She didn't trust Genma, and she didn't know Ranma, but she remembered the hidden nobility buried in his aura, the indications there was far more than showed on the surface.
Moreover, his curse was… intriguing. How would he handle it?
Honor demanded she produce an heir, whatever her desires. Ranma possibly offered a chance to satisfy both… yet she could not commit to a marriage that might not be suitable. Ranma could prove to be a worse letch than even Sung Li, and she'd be in a just as intolerable a situation. Nevertheless, there was a chance….
A chance to possibly be happy versus a return in failure to accept a marriage she didn't want was no choice at all.
"Zhu Shu tells you what do. Panda man visits training grounds, yes, no?"
"Zhu Shu travel with. See what kind of husband Ranma make. If like, will betroth. If not…" In a lightning fast move, she pulled her swords from behind her back and caught the surprised man against a tree, her crossed blades just touching Genma's Adam’s apple. "Zhu Shu takes payment out of panda man's hide!!!" She grinned at Genma's uneasy swallow.
Zhu Shu retrieved her small pack from her camp and returned to the guide's hut to find the Saotomes sparring again. She watched them, and had to admit Genma had trained Ranma well. His style was unorthodox, a blend of so many schools that Zhu Shu could identify barely a dozen moves. She had sparred with many masters of various schools in the last year, yet she was unsure she could beat Ranma in a challenge; his very unpredictability would give him an edge. She had at best a fifty-fifty chance without calling on her clan's secret techniques, and it wasn't even certain then.
While she was happy to have found a possible solution to her quest, she was thoroughly annoyed at the loss of her best practice dress. It had been the only one she'd had that could stand up to the contortions of her daily exercises. The rest would survive a normal fight well enough, but she was out of luck for practice. Early morning kata seemed her only option.
She found a good spot to continue watching the pair as she began to alter her remaining dresses to accommodate a sudden dousing. As she sewed away the hours, she studied Ranma out of the corner of her eye, observing his various moves and style. She was definitely intrigued. Ranma was at least a martial artist of near her caliber, or above.
She smiled as she applied the finishing touches on her last dress and put it away, returning her gaze to the still ongoing brawl just as Ranma landed in the pond next to the guide's hut yet again. Now seemed as good a time as any to begin feeling Ranma out.
The once again female boy emerged from the pool to find Zhu Shu standing in front of him with wooden practice swords point downward in her hands. He flung his long ponytail back over his shoulder. "Whadda you want?” he grumped.
"Zhu Shu be honored with Ranma spar?"
He gave her an appraising look and shrugged halfheartedly. "Yeah, I guess so. Hey, Pops! I'm gonna spar with Zhu Shu!"
The panda gave Zhu Shu long look, then grunted and wandered back into the hut.
Zhu Shu stood by politely as Ranma stripped off his shirt and wrung out the water, his rosy-pink nipples erect from the cold pond. "You've been watching me. I saw you while Pops and I fought."
Zhu Shu nodded, a slight smile on her face.
"Studying my moves, right?"
"Whatcha think?" He asked, cocking a hand on one hip jauntily as he slung the shirt over his shoulder.
Zhu Shu smiled. "Ranma very good. Unpredictable. Against opponent who never fight before, Ranma probably win quick."
"You think you could beat me?" The challenge in the redhead's eyes was unmistakable.
"Zhu Shu see." She raised the twin swords. "Zhu Shu face many in last year. No-one beat."
"I ain't just anyone," Ranma grinned. "And I never lose."
Zhu Shu tilted her head at the boy-turned-girl. "Zhu Shu see." She gave Ranma a warm smile.
Ranma put his shirt back on and assumed a stance. "Whenever you're ready."
They sparred most of the afternoon, Ranma learning quickly that Zhu Shu was too fast not to take seriously, even though she had decided not to use any of her clan's secret techniques. A few good, hard smacks had gotten him over trying to hold back, without her having to resort to anything beyond purely physical skills.
As it was, he'd managed to learn unarmed counters to almost all of her sword techniques in a few hours. It was almost frightening how quickly he picked up things her grandfather had spent years teaching her. All he lacked was training in advanced chi techniques, though from the sheer levels of barely-disciplined energy she could feel flowing through him, once he learned them, likely no-one she had ever met would match him. He had even started matching her un-chi-augmented speed, which no-one she had fought had done.
It had been a pleasure to actually find a sparring partner that she didn’t have to hold back on, but who also wasn't trying to prove he was her better on general principle. He did have a huge ego, but once he had established she could hold her own and wasn't trying to show him up, he'd relaxed and simply enjoyed their sparring. They'd stopped frequently to explain to one another how this particular attack was done, or which counter would be more effective against a particular move. By mid-afternoon, she'd started to demonstrate for Ranma some of her more advanced moves, as he showed her various attacks of the Saotome School.
By early evening, they had forged a strong respect for their respective skills, and had begun feeling each other out as friends, deciding they actually liked each other. He certainly showed that he liked her cooking.
They talked while Zhu Shu was cooking, Ranma and his father polishing off a meal large enough to feed a court outing, and afterwards Ranma helped her with the dishes. Genma had spilled the dishwater on Ranma as they were finishing, and Zhu Shu had made the panda clean up the mess, secretly enjoying the grin on the redhead's face. It made her feel good to know Ranma had appreciated the support. All in all, she had to give Ranma credit for being one of the nicest boys she'd ever known. Ranma hadn't even complained too much when Zhu Shu had told him she'd already put away the kettle and wasn't going to pull it out again just to heat water. The redhead had just looked at the panda and shrugged. The slight smile he gave Zhu Shu just before the lights were doused let her know he thought it was poetic that Genma would have to sleep in wet fur.
As she meditated before sleep, Zhu Shu thought back over everything that had changed since that morning, reflecting that the gods sometimes had a strange sense of humor. She just hoped that this time, they weren't pulling a joke at her expense….
Around midnight, Zhu Shu woke to a scream. A quickly lit lantern revealed a horrified Ranma standing in the middle of the hut staring at the trickle of blood running down his legs. Zhu Shu shook her head, her heart going out to the newly female Ranma. She'd been horrified her first time, too.
The Panda grunted, holding up a sign that Zhu Shu couldn't read. She waved him away. "You go sleep. Zhu Shu deals with. You no can help."
"What's wrong with me? Why am I bleeding?" a plaintive wail came from the frightened redhead.
"Nothing wrong. Ranma be okay. Is female thing."
Genma grunted, then went back to his mat. The Guide turned beet red and dove for his bed as well.
Zhu Shu paid them no mind as she drew her small brazier out and blew the coals back to life.
"How can I be ok?!! I'm bleeding to death!!!"
"Ranma be silly. Not bleed to death. Is only female cycle. Happen every month." Zhu Shu said matter-of-factly.
"Every MONTH!?!?" Ranma whimpered, his eyes huge.
Zhu Shu nodded. “Every month."
"You mean I'm going to bleed like a stuck pig every month?!!" He sounded on the verge of hysteria.
Zhu Shu set a kettle on the brazier and looked at Ranma patronizingly. "Ranma be okay. Zhu Shu knows. Zhu Shu have cycle too. Stop whining."
Ranma recoiled, but anger replaced the near panic in his eyes. "I am not whining!” he whined.
"Are too. Cycle fact of life. Accept."
"I'm a guy!! I don't have to get used to it!!"
"Ranma is girl now. Must deal with fact of life."
"Only until that water's hot!"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No. Water not for change. Ranma stay girl until cycle done."
"Like hell, I will!!"
Zhu Shu put her hands on her hips and glared at the redhead. "Idiot. Many waterfalls near. Much rain. Many ponds. Ranma cannot stay boy. Will change many times. Cycle is there each time. Blood on clothes unless use pad. Will use many pad. Zhu Shu not has many. Cannot waste or Zhu Shu have none for her cycle. Ranma stay female. Get over cycle. Use fewer pad. Not waste!"
"But this is ridiculous! I’m bleeding everywhere, and I'm cramping!!!"
Zhu Shu rolled her eyes. "So? Zhu Shu does same every month. Ranma not get sympathy. Stop whining."
"I'm not whining! I'm in pain!"
Zhu Shu folded her arms and nodded sagely. "Ah. Zhu Shu understands. Zhu Shu stronger than Ranma. Zhu Shu not run from basic fact of life. Ranma whine and give up." She loaded as much sarcasm into her voice as possible.
"I've never given up on anything in my life!" Ranma hissed.
"Ranma give up now."
"Like hell! If you can stand this, I can!"
Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow archly. "Ranma think can match Zhu Shu?"
"Zhu Shu see." She said as she poured warm water on the towels she had brought out. "For now, we clean Ranma and brew tea for cramps." At the startled look from Ranma, she laughed. "Zhu Shu deal with fact of life, not mean she like cramp."
Ranma couldn't help but laugh.
The next morning, Zhu Shu rose before the others and took out her bathing supplies. Through half closed eyes, Ranma watched as she looked over her dresses and sighed before grabbing one and heading out the door. After she had left, Ranma opened his eyes fully and sighed as well.
Zhu Shu made him feel so strange. The Chinese girl was an absolute enigma. She was demure, but at the same time possessed an aura of complete confidence. She'd cleaned the hut and cooked dinner last night with competent ease, radiating an aura of contentment and tranquility, but when she'd made his dad clean up the mess he'd made after dinner, she’d displayed a mettle that had commanded his father's swift obedience.
Then there was their sparring match. Zhu Shu had treated him as neither a competitor nor an incompetent, like his dad did. She had simply shown him that she respected his style and considered it a match to her own. She was totally dependant on her weapon forms, which he viewed as her biggest weakness, but in her specialization, he had been hard pressed to match her. He had enjoyed the challenge, since it had forced him to push his endurance for moving at speed, and he found he had enjoyed the way Zhu Shu treated him. She hadn't tried to belittle him, or correct him, or treated him like a fool; she'd simply accepted Ranma as he was. Like Ukyo always had.
Zhu Shu had nothing else in common with Ukyo, the boy Ranma had been friends with when he was six, but she treated him like Ukyo had. Like… a friend. Zhu Shu hadn't put on any airs; she'd just been herself and let Ranma be himself….
Or herself, as the case may be at the moment.
He sighed as he sat up, only mild twinges from his stomach and the heavy odor of blood reminding him of why he was still a girl. He was embarrassed about last night. He'd been convinced at first that he had irreparably damaged himself experimenting, but Zhu Shu had been the calm rock in the storm he had needed.
And he had yelled at her.
Another sigh escaped his lips. He really owed Zhu Shu an apology.
He stood to follow the Chinese girl and slipped out of the hut noiselessly. He followed the path around the hut to the small pool with the waterfall, then stopped to stare at the vision in the mists before him….
Zhu Shu was standing on one foot on a rock beside the pond and Ranma drank in the sight of her…. Zhu Shu extended one leg and Ranma's eyes followed the long graceful arc of her calf up to her thigh and from there to the joint of her legs, then up the soft flatness of her stomach. From the swell of her breasts to the arch of her supporting foot, she was all smooth curves and shapely muscle. Her smooth, pale skin and utter lack of body hair gave her the appearance of a finely carved Greek statue, brought to life by some whimsical god. Ranma had never seen anyone so exquisitely and completely feminine.
He watched as Zhu Shu completed her warm up stretches, then reached behind her back to draw forth her swords. Ranma's eyes widened — Zhu Shu was just as nude from the rear; he’d confirmed that just seconds ago — then the question of where Zhu Shu had hidden the swords faded from his mind as she flowed into her sword forms.
Ranma had speed. He had skill. And until now, he had thought he had grace — but for all the styles he knew, he had to admit he could not match Zhu Shu's elegance of motion. Almost, he could hear music as he watched her dance through the forms of the Song school, and he could not find any better term for how Zhu Shu moved. From the intricate weaving of the long narrow ribbons spiraling around her, to the hypnotic patterns of her twirling swords, Zhu Shu moved to a rhythm only she could hear, but which called to something primal within him.
Strange emotions warred within him, causing unfamiliar hormones to flow as his female body began to feel flushed with warmth and unaccustomed pressures began to build. A small trickle of blood started to drip unnoticed down his face from his nose as the sensations grew stronger. He felt torn as the sight of Zhu Shu made him wish that he could study her, and learn from her that same aura of desirability.
Ranma's breath caught when he realized what he'd just thought. Wanting to be desirable?!! What kind of thing was that to bethinking? Everyone would laugh at him, and his father would hold him up to ridicule in shame of a son who had such thoughts! He had to get rid of this curse! He had to find a way to be a male full-time again before this female body drove him mad!!!
Zhu Shu apparently knew he was there, though. Ranma watched as Zhu Shu put away her swords with a flourish, then turned to look at him standing there limply like a fool. But the sparkles in her eyes made Ranma realize she wasn't angry or embarrassed.
"Ah. Ranma. Come join Zhu Shu in bath. Zhu Shu smell blood from here. Come! You wash her back, she wash yours,” she said with a laugh.
Ranma stood there in shock as Zhu Shu gracefully did a back flip to dive with barely a splash into the pool. Then his jaw dropped further as a pale blonde head broke the surface and green dragon eyes sought his. "Come! Come! Zhu Shu cannot wash back by self!” the vision sang in a musical voice that rang in his ears.
Ranma shook himself as he thought, Ah,whathahell; we're both girls anyway. It's not as if the water will reveal my real body. What's the big deal? She doesn't have anything as a girl that I don’t have, right? Justifications firmly in place, he nodded to himself. Slowly, he approached the pool with its wet dream. His Dad had told him Zhu Shu had been cursed, but….
"I had no idea you'd look like that in your cursed form,” he finished aloud.
Zhu Shu shrugged. "No big deal. Annoying. Zhu Shu has enough men try use her already. Only make worse."
Zhu Shu gave Ranma a long look as the redhead slipped off his loose top and shorts before gingerly removing the panties Zhu Shu given him. Ranma was relieved to see only a little fresh blood. As he slipped into the water, Zhu Shu finally answered.
"Ranma will find pretty is not always good. Many men find Zhu Shu pretty. Want to posses her. Think in love only because she pretty. Try to make Zhu Shu into pet. Now she is more pretty. Make problem worse. Ranma girl now; will find out."
Ranma blushed. "Umm…."
Zhu Shu gave him a sidelong glance. "Zhu Shu not worry about Ranma. Is friend. Zhu Shu safe as she want to be, yes, no?" She smiled warmly, showing too-long canines.
Ranma blushed harder. “I-I wanted to apologize for yelling at you last night…."
Zhu Shu laughed. "No worry. First day hormone very bad." She held out a washcloth and a bar of soap. "Now, is Ranma ready for female lesson?"
Zhu Shu nodded emphatically. "Lesson. Ranma have female body now. Have much to learn about. Must take care of."
Ranma stared at her. "How can you be so calm and matter-of-fact about this?" He shook her head. "I mean, this must be the worst thing to ever happen to either of us, and you just shrug it off."
"Zhu Shu no can change curse. Ranma no can change curse. Could be worse."
"How? I'm a boy who turns into a girl! How could it be worse?!!"
Zhu Shu shrugged as she began soaping up her arms. "Easy. Could be pig."
Ranma started to say something, then stopped. He shook his head and laughed. "You're right. It could be worse. Very well, Zhu-sensei. Teach me."
An hour later, after Zhu Shu had finished her lesson, Ranma realized there was a lot about females he had been ignorant of.
He was glad Zhu Shu had been willing to teach him, and that she had been so patient, and hadn't laughed, or made him feel dumb. She'd been completely straightforward and honest with all her answers. Ranma had blushed till his ears burned asking some of his questions, but Zhu Shu had never betrayed a trace of embarrassment, nor had she balked answering any of them.
She'd been such a good teacher that it wasn't until Ranma was watching her dry off that he'd realized that he had not even thought of Zhu Shu as sexy the entire lesson. It surprised him; he had just seen Zhu Shu in more intimate detail than most husbands saw their wives, and it hadn't even occurred to him how weird it all was.
He'd just spent an hour with a stunningly beautiful girl and had just accepted it as natural! He had to get out of this female body before it drove him crazy!
He dressed hurriedly and went around to the front of the hut just as Genma was coming out.
"Ah! There you are, Boy. Prepare yourself! I won't go easy on you just because you're a girl!!!"
Normally, it took two days to travel to the Amazon village, but the Saotomes sparred so much and meandered so much that the journey looked like it would take closer to a week. Zhu Shu really didn’t mind, as it was giving her the opportunity to spend time with Ranma and get to know him better.
It had been three days since they had left the Guide's hut, and Ranma's period had been blessedly brief. He had stopped bleeding on the second day, and the poor boy had been overjoyed to return to being male.
At least until the brief shower near morning.
Ranma had gone out looking for breakfast as Zhu Shu was doing her forms, and while he had returned male, he hadn't said much about where he'd found hot water. Genma hadn't even bothered to ask, just started in with "training" as they traveled, but Ranma had been giving Zhu Shu furtive glances since then.
It was dinner time before they really had a chance to talk. Ranma casually volunteered to help Zhu Shu clean the dishes at the small stream a little ways from their camp. Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow, but nodded when Genma just grunted as he lay down to sleep.
At the edge of the stream, Ranma looked over at the forms of the two men by the fire to make sure they weren't close enough to hear before sighing in relief.
"What Ranma want?" Zhu Shu asked. "Been looking Zhu Shu all day."
Ranma sat down on a log. "Do you know anything about Chinese magic?"
Zhu Shu perched beside him. "Zhu Shu know herbs. Some magical. Zhu Shu not know much. Zhu Shu not wizard." She gave him a raised eyebrow. "Ranma need spell?"
Ranma sighed. "Maybe. I don't know. I was hungry this morning and found an inn. The innkeeper was making porridge, and it smelled so good…."
Zhu Shu sighed. "What Ranma do?"
"I was hungry!" He said defensively. "I didn't know it was some screwy spell!"
Zhu Shu nodded sagely. "Ranma want know if can undo."
Ranma grinned ruefully. "Yeah, I mean, you're Chinese and all."
Zhu Shu rubbed her temples. "Zhu Shu Mandarin. Not Court Wizard. What spell?"
Ranma undid his ponytail for a few seconds, and in the time it took for him to retie it, it had grown six inches. "It's a hair spell, and the only way to stop my hair from growing until it's all gone is if I keep it tied with a Dragon's Hair." He held up a long strand of thick hair. "Do you think you can fix it?" He asked hopefully.
Zhu Shu took the strand and looked at it dubiously, then at the desperate hope in Ranma's eyes. "Zhu Shu not know. Not know the ingredients of spell."
Ranma handed her a piece of parchment. She looked the ancient slip of paper over and sighed. "Zhu Shu try. Not make promise." She took out her small brazier and blew the coals to life, setting a small kettle on it to warm. Then she pulled out her herb kit as she scanned the parchment carefully. Ranma watched her as her hands rifled through the kit and pulled out various items to toss into the kettle.
"Don't you need to look for which herbs you're grabbing?" He queried.
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No. Aunt makes sure Zhu Shu can do blindfolded."
"Why'd she make you train so hard? I, mean, it's not like martial arts or anything."
Zhu Shu gave him a long look before sighing and shaking her head. "Martial arts not all, Ranma. Good servant have many skills. Zhu Shu must be as good servant as warrior."
"Why though? I mean, even I know the Communists wiped out the old Chinese imperial government. There's no Emperor for you to serve."
Zhu Shu snorted. "Communists only wipe out pretenders. Zhu Shu family serve real Emperor. Wait for return many centuries. Makes no difference. Duty is to serve."
"That's silly, though. I can understand keeping up the family school, but why all the other stuff? From some of what you've told me, your aunt was a harder taskmaster than your granddad, and she didn't even want you to learn fighting."
Zhu Shu nodded as she finished chopping herbs and dumped them into the kettle. "Aunt is very traditional. Females learn home arts, males fight. Had Zhu Shu had a brother, he would be warrior."
"Oh. Man, that could have been some sparring match, then."
Zhu Shu gave him a raised eyebrow. "What mean? Zhu Shu not challenge?"
"Nah, you're a challenge, but, no offense, you're a girl. Guys are just better at martial arts."
Zhu Shu gave him an impenetrable gaze for several long seconds, then looked down at the kettle. "Ah. Zhu Shu sees."
Ranma missed the faint disappointment in her voice as Zhu Shu finished with the small kettle. "Is that the cure?” he asked.
Zhu Shu looked down at the pot. "Not know. Zhu Shu only know few herbal charms. Healing, love, luck. Maybe magic, maybe not. Zhu Shu never try before. Aunt make learn as part of studies on herbs. This charm of reversal. Maybe fix Dragon Hair spell." She handed him the kettle.
Ranma looked down at the mix. "I have to drink this?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "Dragon Hair in porridge. Charm is same."
Ranma lifted the pot and gulped the potion down. He wiped his lips. "Hey, that was pretty good! How long does it take to work?"
Zhu Shu reached up and tugged the hair holding his pony tail loose. "No know. Will see."
Ranma held his breath.
His hair hung quietly, showing no inclination to grow.
"Yes!" he exclaimed softly as he jumped up. "I'm cured!"
He didn't see the branch he stepped on that tipped up and dumped him in the stream. He stood spluttering in the cold water. "Damn it!"
Zhu Shu handed him the hair. "Zhu Shu sorry." She said apologetically. "Seem only fix part of spell."
Ranma looked down to see a long mass of red hair, growing longer by the second. He quickly wrapped his hair into a ponytail and tied it off. "It’s not supposed to grow when I'm a girl!"
They looked at each other. "Reversal,” they said simultaneously.
Zhu Shu gave Ranma a downcast look. "Zhu Shu is sorry."
Ranma trudged out of the stream dragging the sodden mass of his soaked hair. "It's not your fault, Zhu Shu. I asked you to try."
Zhu Shu tilted her head. "Maybe less likely to lose hair as girl type Ranma. Still, Zhu Shu wish had been able to help."
Ranma smiled at her. "Hey, you tried. That's what friends do."
Zhu Shu nodded. Yes, that was what friends do.
Zhu Shu looked at the wall of weapons that surrounded her, and remembered Ranma's words from that night and sighed mentally. She should have known, should have paid better attention to the pair when they had arrived at the Amazon village. She knew about the Amazons, but when she heard the guide telling the pair about them, she had thought it would be okay. She had wanted to see the tournament better, thinking the purple-haired warrior was overmatched by the huge woman she was facing, and had gotten caught in the crowd, unable to reach Ranma before he made his horrendous challenge. She should have known she had to watch the pair.
Green fire rippled down her blades and a faint green aura surrounded her as she turned to survey the hard faces that had surrounded her following Ranma and Genma's hurried departure, but she didn't believe her clan's secret techniques would do more than slow the Amazons down. So far, they hadn't attacked….
A disturbance in the crowd attracted her eye and she watched nervously as the ripple moved towards her. The crowd parted, and a small, wizened figure balancing on a pole hopped into the ring, followed by the dark purple-haired Champion that Ranma had just bested, her own bright purple battle aura flaring in response to Zhu Shu's. Zhu Shu gulped and quickly grounded the points of her swords and allowed her chi to drain back into her.
"Most Revered Elder, I am at your mercy. I ask forgiveness for any offense I have given," she said.
The crone nodded approvingly. "You have manners at least." Her gaze rested for a moment on the faint dragons etched on Zhu Shu's swords, and her eyes widened slightly. "You are Clan Dragon,” she stated half-questioningly.
Zhu Shu nodded.
"Tell me, Child of the Dragon, why do you travel with such ill-mannered fools?" The elder asked more gently. A murmur of surprise ran through the crowd at the elder's change of tone.
"I am on a husband quest, Revered Elder. I wished to see if Ranma Saotome would prove to be a worthy mate."
The elder raised an eyebrow, “The girl who defeated Shan Pu? Do you seek a husband or a sister-wife? Explain yourself, Child."
Before Zhu Shu could answer, or query what a sister-wife was, she was interrupted. "I would think the answer obvious, Loremaster. The child smells of Jusenkyo," another voice said behind her. She turned her head slightly, but could see only another staff from her current position.
"There is no need for forgiveness, Child of the Dragon." the second voice ordered, “You have not offended us. Stand proud as the warrior you are. We will not harm you."
Zhu Shu rose and turned to face another elder who, if anything, looked even older than the Loremaster.
"I am Ke Lun, Warleader of the Amazons, Child of the Dragon. Shan Pu is my great-granddaughter." She glanced over at the purple-haired Champion and motioned with her hand. The Amazon’s battle aura blinked out as she stepped meekly behind her elder. The white haired elder addressed Zhu Shu again. "This Ranma Saotome, he is a Jusenkyo-cursed male?" she asked sharply.
"He is, Honored Warleader."
The elder looked her up and down appraisingly. "Have you a claim on him, Child of the Dragon?"
Zhu Shu bowed slightly. "I am his friend, Honored Warleader."
"Friend? What kind of friend abandons his companion to face possible vengeance for actions he has done?" The elder asked, eyebrow raised. "For all they knew, you too could have received a Kiss."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Ranma is new to friendship, and his father controls his actions too often. Ranma Saotome has much in him of honor, yet it is often overshadowed by his father's questionable actions. Genma sought to betroth Ranma to me secretly to repay his debt to me for causing my curse. I arranged instead to travel with them to observe Ranma's worth as a husband."
"Seek you his hand?" The elder asked intently.
Zhu Shu thought about it for a long moment. Ranma possessed so many of the qualities she wanted, but it had become obvious that he lacked the one most desired aspect she had hoped for. Their talk that night by the stream had made that painfully obvious. Without that, making him her husband would be… too painful.
In the end, she sighed. "My quest has not yet been fulfilled, Revered Warleader. I am Ranma's friend. I claim no other ties. I am aware of Amazon Law, and I seek no challenge for his hand. He is for Shan Pu to take as husband. And yet…."
"Yes, Child?" Ke Lun asked gently.
"Ranma Saotome is not like other men. I do not believe he can be tamed to be an Amazon male. To try and make him such may break him."
Ke Lun gazed at her silently for a long moment, then waved the ring of warriors away. She addressed Zhu Shu again. "It is said that Children of the Dragon see much that others do not. Would you join us in my hut for tea? I feel we have much to discuss before my great-granddaughter sets out on her hunt…."
Ke Lun interrogated Zhu Shu for hours, digging for every scrap of information she had on Ranma. Shan Pu sat by, listening, at first jealously, but soon realizing she had no cause. Before long, she was laughing at Zhu Shu's descriptions of Ranma reactions to being treated as just another girl, and the stories of their travels together.
Zhu Shu found her heart going out to the cute Amazon girl. For Shan Pu, the world was mostly black or white, with very few shades of gray. She was a warrior; proud of her strength, and for her, losing to Ranma had been a shame beyond bearing, redeemable only with Ranma's death. Her Amazon pride demanded she be the best, and for a non-Amazon woman to prove better was an insult that could not be borne.
Yet once she had found out that Ranma had been male, Shan Pu's shattered world restored itself and her spirit had soared. Amazons admired strength and skill above all, and for a male to possess enough of both to defeat any Amazon on purely physical level, let alone a Champion, made him a more desirable mate than any amount of wealth or beauty. Even tired as she was from having fought all of the other opponents, Shan Pu would have overmatched most of the best martial artists Zhu Shu had fought over the last year, but Ranma's speed and power had been too much for the wearied Amazon. Shan Pu hadn't even had time to focus her chi. Ranma's kick had swept her off more than just the log.
It was obvious. Shan Pu was head-over-heels in love. The small glances off into nothing whenever she mentioned his name, or the little sighs of happiness when she thought about him, they all told Zhu Shu the Amazon had fallen, and fallen hard.
It was even more obvious in her aura. The image Shan Pu projected was a shy, blushing maiden wearing the armor of a warrior, yet still radiating a sense of innocence. Zhu Shu was reminded of the looks Ying Ying had worn on so many occasions as they grew up, and it made her smile softly at the memory. Hopefully, that innocence wouldn’t lead to Shan Pu's downfall too.
Ke Lun wasn't so simple though. She was far too old to think in black and white, and she shielded her aura to well for Zhu Shu to see anything. As she heard more of Zhu Shu's story, her brow furrowed deeper in thought.
Finally, she sent Shan Pu off to make dinner and talked to Zhu Shu alone.
Ke Lun looked at Zhu Shu intently for a long moment, then asked, "Tell me what you See, Child."
Zhu Shu looked into her teacup. "It will not be easy for her, Revered elder. Ranma has… much to learn. I fear he will break her heart, and she will have no defense against it. As much as I see the warrior in her, I see an innocent as well." She sighed. "What I know of Amazons I know from tales, yet it seems to me that much of that knowledge is true. As such, I would say that Ranma shares a warrior's heart, but his pride makes too many of his choices. If Shan Pu tries to take him as an Amazon would, to conquer him, she will only drive him away. His pride would not allow him to capitulate. He has no knowledge of the Way of Hearts or the Arts of Desire, and he would see such attempts as an effort to prove her superiority. His pride will never allow for such submission, any more than hers likely would. I fear they will cause each other much heartache before achieving a compromise."
Ke Lun nodded. "I fear I agree with you. It is the Amazon way for the woman to rule. We find it produces a much more stable society. However, I am aware that outlanders suffer from the annoying notion of male superiority. We will just have to work around it. Ranma is a worthy warrior in combat, but there is more to a warrior than skill at arms. He is at least worth cultivating. I know that to be true, else you would not be his friend. Would you see him happy?"
Zhu Shu nodded.
"As I would see Shan Pu happy." Ke Lun looked thoughtful. "Happy or unhappy, he will be her husband; there is no choice in Amazon law in this. Shan Pu must marry Ranma, but I fear they shall both require much cultivation. She must learn not only how to love him, but how to make him love her. That will not be easy." Ke Lun looked at Zhu Shu in appeal. "Would you aid me in achieving this end?"
Zhu Shu stood and bowed deeply. "I am honored beyond words at the request. I will, Revered elder."
Ke Lun smiled. "Good." She looked at Shan Pu in the kitchen and sighed. "At least there is one area where I know they will understand each other."
"Honored Warleader?" Zhu Shu asked questioningly.
Ke Lun looked back at her. "You were cursed at Jusenkyo, were you not?"
Zhu Shu nodded.
"May I see your form? I have much to consider to ensure you both are prepared for your journey. It would be helpful to know how much I need to protect you against your curse."
Zhu Shu nodded. "I have no major disadvantages, Honored Warleader. If I may have some water?"
"Shan Pu. Bring water." Ke Lun commanded. The violet haired Amazon came in a moment later with a bucket. "Dinner is ready, Great-grandmother."
"Thank you." Ke Lun handed the bucket to Zhu Shu, and raised an eyebrow after she had changed. She seemed almost about to say something in surprise, then shook her head and chuckled. "Forgive a foolish old woman her worries, Child. You are correct. So long as you practice in your cursed form as well, you should face no great disadvantage if you get wet in a fight. Alas, Shan Pu is not quite so fortunate."
A small pink and purple kitten jumped up in Zhu Shu's lap and purred. Zhu Shu looked over and saw Shan Pu's clothes laying next to the bucket. Then down at the kitten. It had Shan Pu's aura, and winked at her. Zhu Shu smiled back and began scratching her head as Ke Lun continued.
"While my great-granddaughter is our village champion, she unfortunately ran afoul of the leader of some of our enemies when she was thirteen. I had sent her out to gather herbs, and she was ambushed. She accounted herself well, and with the aid of her cousin, sent them running, but alas, as they fled, their last attack knocked her over a cliff above Jusenkyo."
Shan Pu growled for a second, then butted Zhu Shu's hand with her head in a demand for more scratching. Zhu Shu giggled.
Ke Lun shook her head. "And she’ll let you keep that up all night. Shan Pu. Go change and serve dinner."
The pink kitten bounced down and scurried off, dragging her dress.
Ke Lun watched her go. "I suppose, if she had to be wed to any outlander, I should thank my ancestors it’s to a cursed one and a warrior. With that as a base, maybe we can build a proper marriage."
She turned back to Zhu Shu. "Having a friend who understands it will help as well. We are aware of Jusenkyo, Child, but we avoid it. Shan Pu has no shame from the circumstances of her curse, but she still bears the stigma of it. A childhood friend of hers left several months ago, vowing he'd find her a cure. He's a fool, but well-meaning. Having a strong husband like Ranma will counteract the effects of her curse socially."
Zhu Shu nodded. "I can understand that. Being the female heir to my Clan has led to my share of strange looks."
Ke Lun raised an eyebrow at her. "You are the last?" She shook her head a second later. "No, of course you are, else you would not carry the Dragon's Fang and Talon."
Zhu Shu nodded, surprised Ke Lun knew of her sword's names. "I am. My father and mother perished when I was young. Only my aunt and my grandfather remain."
"And your aunt has no children?"
"She— she has proven barren." Zhu Shu admitted.
Ke Lun nodded. "I see. Your grandfather has trained you well. How well we shall see tomorrow." She smiled as Shan Pu came out of the kitchen with several bowls. "For now, we get to enjoy my great-granddaughter's cooking. And be sure to rest well tonight. You shall leave after tomorrow's practice…."
Shan Pu's bonbori intercepted the lightning-fast thrust of the practice sword in Zhu Shu's left hand as she just barely jumped over the blade sweeping for her feet. She carried the motion into a full somersault as Zhu Shu quickly turned the sweep into a cut through the bamboo pole she'd been standing on. She landed on another behind the Mandarin girl, but just as quickly abandoned it as Zhu Shu's sword flickered through it as well. Shan Pu launched her own attack in mid leap, the air pressure wave shattering the bamboo pole a second after Zhu Shu blurred into motion straight up. As Shan Pu landed, she had a sudden sense of danger, and barely raised her bonbori in time to intercept the swords' descent towards her head.
Green fire flickered along the blades as they sliced through the shafts of her bonbori like they were air. Shan Pu turned her crouch into a drop down the side of the pole, catching it just long enough to halt her momentum and brace her feet for a leap past another pole.
The pole snapped off at its base as she snagged it in passing, splinters trailing from the ragged end as she landed by a small boulder. She took two steps and used the pole to vault upwards.
Zhu Shu met her in mid air, her blades blocking every move of Shan Pu's staff. Green fire twined around the sphere defined by Shan Pu's spinning weapon as she turned Zhu Shu's ribbons aside, then with a violent explosion of air pressure, they flew apart.
Shan Pu marveled again at Zhu Shu's speed and skill as she angled for a new perch. The Mandarin girl had been no challenge in unarmed combat, but she was nigh unstoppable with her swords. Ke Lun had even allowed her to use the Amazon’s secret techniques against the mysterious scion of Clan Dragon, and she was still just holding her own. Zhu Shu's style was so fast and furious it was like fighting an octopus. She'd gone through eight bonbori in the course of the sparring match, and still wasn’t sure Zhu Shu had been pushed to her maximum speed yet. She focused as she descended and concentrated on moving faster.
She used the springiness of a bamboo pole to absorb her momentum and landed on a nearby rock, scanning for Zhu Shu. A flicker of green from far overhead gave her a split second warning before a bolt of chi shattered the rock under her feet. Shan Pu flipped in mid-air and began grabbing the flying shards, launching them at Zhu Shu in a cloud.
Zhu Shu's ribbons flashed around her in a globe and pebbles flew in all directions. Her descent slowed until she almost seemed to be floating as she dropped down lightly on a pole top in the middle of the training ground. Shan Pu waited, catching her breath as Zhu Shu closed her eyes. Warily, the Amazon prepared to defend.
Zhu Shu inhaled a long breath, then with a shouted, "Revealing the Mind's Eye!" She jumped simultaneously in two directions.
Shan Pu did a double take at the twin Zhu Shus, trying to figure out which one was real, but neither sight nor sound gave an immediate cue. Zhu Shu was too skilled to make any noise when landing. Shan Pu looked over to where her Great-grandmother watched. How could the Mandarin girl know the Amazon technique of "Splitting Cat's Hair"?
No matter, the figure on the pole to the right was too still. A light breeze rippled the skirt of the real Zhu Shu's dress. Shan Pu feinted towards the fake, then launched herself at the real one.
To her horror, at the last second, the illusion faded away, pole, ground, and Zhu Shu vanishing to reveal the…
Shan Pu rolled through the pile of practice weapons at the edge of the practice grounds with a clatter, rolling to her feet as Ke Lun called a halt. She released her chi, the world resuming its normal flow as she walked forward to meet Zhu Shu at the center of the Amazons' training ground. Ke Lun hopped over on her stick.
"Very good. I would say you should balance each other out nicely." Ke Lun said approvingly. "I have your supplies packed, and you may leave on your quest immediately."
Shan Pu nodded as she turned to the shorter girl. "I haven't had that good a match in months. I almost wish you had been in the tournament."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Almost?"
Shan Pu's smile widened. "Almost. You might have won, and then you'd be marrying Ranma."
Zhu Shu's smile seemed to sadden slightly. "No,” she said simply.
Shan Pu cocked her head. "Why not? I can see you like him."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Ranma is for you. He is my friend, nothing more."
Shan Pu gave her a sidelong look. "You could marry him with me. I would be honored to have you as a sister-wife."
Zhu Shu raised her eyebrow. "Sister-wife? I heard the Loremaster ask me about that, but I dared not question what she meant."
Ke Lun interjected. "Amazon law allows more that one warrior to share a husband as sister-wives, Child of the Dragon. We have always out-numbered our men, so long ago, we made… accommodations."
Shan Pu nodded happily. "And then you could have Ranma too!"
For a long moment, Zhu Shu considered, and looked almost as if she was on the verge of accepting, then a shadow crossed behind her eyes, and she turned away. "I am honored by the offer, Shan Pu, but I cannot accept as yet. I have not fulfilled my quest to aid you in finding him. I can make no decision till then."
Shan Pu's eyes narrowed for a second as she thought. Then she brightened again. "Then, if you will not be my sister-wife, will you be my blood-sister? I owe you so much for enabling me to redeem my honor, Zhu Shu. Please let me do something to thank you."
Zhu Shu's emerald green eyes met hers. "I have never had a sister, Shan Pu. I hope I will prove worthy of the honor."
Shan Pu hugged her and whirled her around. "Wonderful! There is nothing two sisters together cannot do!"
Ke Lun nodded. She smiled approvingly at Shan Pu as she turned to the Mandarin girl. "Our ceremony is simple, but binding. If you do not truly wish this, it may be refused without shame."
Zhu Shu smiled shyly. "No, Honored Warleader. I will accept Shan Pu as my blood-sister," she replied formally.
"As I accept Zhu Shu as mine." Shan Pu added.
"Then hold forth your weapon hand." Ke Lun intoned as she pulled a long throwing dart from her sleeve. The two girls held forth their right hands, palm up. Ke Lun raised an eyebrow at the faint scar in the palm of Zhu Shu’s hand, but said nothing as she used the razor sharp tip of the dart to slice a small cut into each girl's hand. "By blood you are joined, by blood you are bound, two families joined as one, true sisters now are found."
Shan Pu and Zhu Shu joined hands, a flash of green chi swirling around purple as the link was forged. As they removed their hands, only small scars remained where the cuts had been.
"Sisters, in so much more than blood," Shan Pu said with a happy smile.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes." A fondly distant look came to her eyes, as if she was recalling some memory. Shan Pu was too excited to notice, but Ke Lun catalogued it, deciding she would not pry. Yet.
"Now, let’s go find my husband," Shan Pu said as she picked up her pack. "If we hurry, we should catch up to him by nightfall."
Zhu Shu’s raised eyebrow let Ke Lun know she thought Shan Pu was being far too optimistic. She chuckled as she handed Zhu Shu a pack. "Here you are, great-granddaughter. Some dresses for your travels. I noticed yours were a trifle worn."
Zhu Shu blinked, then smiled as she took the present. "I am honored, Honored Warleader."
"No. Great-grandmother." Ke Lun corrected.
The smile on Zhu Shu’s face was enough repayment.
Ke Lun stood and watched as the questing girls vanished into the trees on the Saotome’s trail before turning and going back to the elders' hall.
"They are off?" The Loremaster asked as she entered.
"Yes," Ke Lun answered. "Though from the speed with which her fiancé ran away yesterday, it may be some time before she catches him. Still, Shan Pu is our finest young warrior. She will succeed."
"And what of the Child of the Dragon?"
"She is wise in many ways, but still a child. I'm hoping her friendship with Shan Pu will temper my great-granddaughter's impetuousness." She sat down. "Primarily, I am relieved to have found that Clan Dragon yet survives."
"Are you sure she is truly a Dragon?"
Ke Lun nodded. "She bears the swords, and the mark of her blood link to them in her palms. Only the true Heir would be so bonded."
"She may have found them. It has been three hundred years since we last heard of the Clan. There has been no sign of them since we avenged them against the Musk. Perhaps the swords themselves created the bond."
Ke Lun nodded negatively, old memories playing behind her eyes. "No. She is the Heir. Of that, I have no doubt. A scavenger could never have mastered the Song School. And she is a master. With the Talon and the Fang in hand, I am not confident that Shampoo could truly best her."
"High praise indeed, Ke Lun, that you would rate her so well against your own progeny. Strange, then, that she seems so… unprepossessing."
"Yes. I will go to her home village and talk to her grandfather. There are many questions that need answers. For now, she is safest with her blood sister."
Murmurs of surprise ran through the assembled elders before the Loremaster waved them to silence.
"It seems you have decided what you believe already. Very well, Ke Lun. We will leave this in your hands. Perhaps Fate has given us a second chance to fulfill our oaths." The Loremaster looked around at the nods from the other elders. "It will be interesting to see how things develop."
Ke Lun nodded. "Indeed…."
To be continued.
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