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Inside the Neko Hantan, Shampoo burst out of the swinging doors carrying a huge tray covered with heaping bowls of noddles. "House Special Ramen. Enjoy!" She skillfully sat a bowl down in front of each person, with the exception of Shu. He was resting his head on the table. She gave him a curious look, then sat his bowl down besides him. She gave everyone, especially Ranma, a big smile, then bounced over to the corner table to see if the Americans were now ready to order.

"Shu," Shan Lai softly shook his shoulder. "Lunch."

"I'm not hungry," he mumbled.

"Shu . . ." Shan Lai looked at him with concern. Reluctantly she started on her bowl of Ramen.

"Seiji." Arial poked her cousin in the shoulder until he turned to her.


"Look," she whispered, and pointed into the kitchen.

Sighing, she would more than likely keep bugging him until he looked, he turned toward the counter and into the kitchen. Quite clearly visible on a shelf was a small wire cage with a white duck in it. The duck was staring glumly at the lock.

"What do you think?" Arial whispered.

"I think," Seiji whispered back, "that I am glad we are having ramen for lunch."

"No, not that! What do you think of the duck?"

"That it is probably in for a bad day."

"Seiji!" she hissed, her eyes narrowing in annoyance. "Seriously. Look at the duck and tell me what you think of it!"

"Okay, okay." <Anything to get you to stop bothering me.> He turned back and gave the duck a closer look. It was a white duck. The duck that had attacked Ranma? Probably. The duck grabbed the cage door with his wings and shook hard. What the . . . he gave the duck a closer look. It was kind of hard to tell from this distance, but it seemed to -feel- the same as Akane's pet. It had a human presence.

He turned quickly to Arial. She was staring at the duck in wide eyed shock. He turned back. Seiji's eyes opened wide in surprise as the duck reached into his chest feathers with his wing tips and took out a small pair of glasses. The duck put them on, and bent down to study the lock.

"Well," Arial whispered in a numb sounding voice. "That is not an ordinary duck, is it?"

Slowly he shook his head and turned to Arial. "No, it is not," he replied just as softly. "That duck has the same type of presence as P-chan." Arial turned to look at him in curiosity. She had known there was something different about the pig, but not what. "A human presence."

"Human?" she whispered in astonishment. "Both of them?" Seiji nodded, and as one they both turned to stare at the duck.

"I wish they would stop that," Ryo muttered in irritation.

Touma swallowed a mouthful of noddles. "Who?"

"Seiji and Arial," Ryo growled. Touma glanced toward them. They looked at each other, then turned to stare into the kitchen. Shin, Akane, and Ranma also looked at them.

"Something wrong?" Seiji and Arial spun around and saw that everyone at the table was staring at them, except Shu.

"We were observing the duck in the kitchen." Seiji informed them. "Have any of you notice anything strange or unusual about it?" Akane and Ranma immediately took a great interest in their bowls of noddles. Without looking up, both shook their heads.

"The white duck from earlier?" Shan Lai asked in a dry voice. "You mean besides the fact it wears glasses?"

"Come now. Lets not go through this again." Touma sat his chopsticks across his empty bowl. "There is nothing strange with the duck. There is nothing strange in Nermia. We have already been over this."

"When was this?" Arial asked in a low voice. "I don't recall any such conversation."

Several people shot Touma looks that clearly stated that he should have kept quite. Shin placed a hand on Arial's arm, <I'll tell you later,> and then spoke up. "Well Touma. Ryo and I have been talking, and we think that Arial might be right."

"Same here." Touma turned to Seiji. "There are some unusual things going on here Touma. Very unusual."

Suddenly there came a loud clattering from the kitchen. A moment later a young Chinese man with long black hair and wearing an equally long white tunic burst into the dining room.

"Saotome, I will defeat you!" The young man ran across the room toward a large potted plant, tripped over Shampoo's foot, and crashed into the wall. The five Americans briefly looked up and then returned to their discussion.

"Dumb Mousse." Shampoo walked over to his prone form. "No wear glasses, no see anything." She reached down, pulled out a pair of huge bottle glasses and delicately placed them on his face. With a sigh, she grabbed him by the neck of his tunic and dragged him back into the kitchen.

"Who was that?" Arial asked in a quiet voice.

"Mousse," Ranma replied with a sigh. Who was going to show up next? Ukkyo? Nah, she never went to the Neko Hantan if she could help it. That would leave, now lets see, Kodachi, Tubassa, Azuza, Makado, Miss Hinto, Principal Kunou, Happosai . . .

"Uh," Shan Lai gave Ranma a curious look. "Who is Mousse?"

"He comes from Joketsuzoku in China." Akane told her. "He is in love with Shampoo, but she won't have anything to do with him . . ."

Shu looked up in mild interest. There was something he had to know. "How did you meet them? Cologne, Shampoo and Mousse? The residences of Joketsuzoku rarely leave their village. Why are they living here in Japan?"

A giant sweat drop broke out on the side of Ranma's face. "Uh . . ." He thought fast. Couldn't tell them the whole truth, and he was a horrid liar . . . "Pop and I were on a training trip in China last year. We passed through Joketsuzoku, and due to a misunderstanding I had to fight Shampoo. I won," Ranma winced. "Then she tried to kill me." Shu's eyebrows jumped up almost to his hairline. "I came to Japan, met Akane, and when Shampoo showed up, I made peace with her. She left, came back with the old hag and said we were engaged."

Ryo shuddered. "Nasty."

"How awful for you Ranma." Shan Lai turned to Akane. "And for you as well. It must be so difficult."

Akane gave her a curt nod. Shan Lai had not idea . . .

"Joketsuzoku, Joketsuzoku," Arial frowned to herself in thought. "I know I have heard of that village before."

"Nice story, now what really happened." Everyone at the table turned to Shu, who had finally started to eat his noddles.

"Ah," Ranma gazed at him nervously. "What do you mean?"

"Your story makes no sense." Shu swallowed a mouthful of noodles then continued. "Amazons marry the men who beat them in combat. They don't try to kill them."

"Shu," Touma gave Ranma an apologetic look, not noticing the strained look on his or Akane's faces. "Ranma was there. You were not. I am sure he knows what happened to him."

Looking very much relieved, Ranma turned to Touma. "Thank you Touma."

Touma nodded without looking at him. "You are welcome."

Shu just shook his head. The was something Ranma wasn't saying. Something important. Amazon females never tried to kill the men who defeated them, wether or not they liked them. Tradition was very strong in Joketsuzoku, and on pain of death tradition was not broken. His face fell and he took a deep breath. That was why . . .

There was a loud clattering from the corner table. Everyone at the center table turned to look, and Cologne and Shampoo stepped out of the kitchen. Two of the Americans, the ones who had been sitting next to the wall, had stood up, a beat up knapsack on the table in front of them. It appeared that they were in some sort of disagreement with the other three, all who wore dark suits and sunglasses.

"Interesting." Touma gave the Americans a closer look. "Those men look like American secret service agents."

Seiji rolled his eyes. "You have been reading too many spy novels Touma. What would secret service agents have anything to do with such scruffy individuals?"

"Selling information," Touma promptly replied.

"And some people talk about how wild my imagination is," Arial muttered darkly and scowled at everyone present. Shin and Seiji immediately flushed and Ryo looked a bit nervous.

The Americans, deeply involved in their conversation, did not notice that they had just become the objects of the nine teenagers attention. One of the two scruffy Americans, the tall one with the slicked back hair, opened the knapsack and took out what seemed to be a bottle of mineral water.

"Water?" Shan Lai softly questioned. "Since when do spies deal in water?" No one payed her any attention.

The second American also pulled out a bottle of water. Simultaneously the popped out the stoppers. The other three men immediately tensed. At the center table, Ranma stood up, all of his instincts screaming 'DANGER' at him.

The three men threw their chairs out of the way and started to rapidly back away from their table. The two scruffy men smiled, nasty smirking type smiles, and swung the contents of the water bottles at them. Two dodged and got out of the way. One did not.

Everyone at the table watched in horror as one of the men shrieked as his body shriveled into his cloths. The suit collapsed onto the ground, a small form squirming inside. A moment later a large black crow crawled out from underneath the blazer and screeched.

While that had been happening, one of the two who had dodged the water had reached the center table and had grabbed a glass of water off of it. Paying his stricken friend no heed, he rushed the corner table and threw the water at the two men.

The water struck the dark-haired man square in the face. He reached up and whipped the water off of his face with his arm and reached for another water bottle. His stocky blond companion followed suit.

"Scatter!" Ranma yelled as he hauled a surprised Akane out of her chair. "Find some cover, and don't get splashed!"

After that, confusion reigned. The two scruffy Americans seemed to have an unlimited supply of water bottles as they ran around the room screaming oaths in English at the two men in dark suits. They in turn tossed anything they could get their hands on at their two attackers. The crow hopped around the room, cawing madly. The Troopers and company tried to stay out of the way, having no clue as to what the heck was going on.

Chairs and tables were overturned, and plates and glasses were broken.

Arial peeked out from behind the tipped over table she was hiding behind and watched as a gold baboon, who was carrying the knapsack, exited out the door with a giant sea otter right behind him. The crow clumsily flapped out of a broken window, followed by an orangutang and the last of the suit men.

She watched as a pink and lavender Siamese rushed up to the broken window, a dark look on her feline face. Arial swallowed hard and leaned back against the table, totally confused. What the heck had just happened here?

On the other side of the room Shan Lai was gasping for breath. "Get of you big lug!" Shu rapidly rolled off of Shan Lai and sat on the floor next to her. She stayed where she was, taking in great breaths of air into her starved lungs.

"You okay?" Shu asked in concern.

"Yes," she gasped out. "Now that I can breathe, that is." She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around. The restaurant was a wreck. "Hell, it looks like a war zone in here!"

Cologne hopped over to them on her cane. "Are you two all right?" They both nodded. "To think that such a happening would occur." She sadly shook her head. "The two of you were fortunate to come out unscathed." A siamese cat jumped over a table, off of Shan Lai's head and landed in front of Cologne.

"Meow!" the cat spat out with feeling.

"Yes," Cologne agreed. "They will pay for this Great-Granddaughter."

Shu and Shan Lai stared at the cat. Great-Granddaughter? The cat? Shampoo?

"Akane, you okay?" Shu and Shan Lai turned toward the unfamiliar female voice and watched as an equally unfamiliar red-haired girl pulled Akane to her feet.

She brushed her short black hair out of her face. "I'm fine, just a bit shaken up." Akane looked around the mess and saw Shu, Shan Lai and Cologne. "What happened?" She and the red-haired girl started to walk over, and the siamese jetted into the kitchen for some hot water.

Shu and Shan Lai watched as the two girls approached, then Shu turned to Cologne. "Who is that?"

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Seiji shoved his wet blond hair out of his eyes. "Wet!" he spat out in disgust. "My cloths are ruined!" He looked at the sleeve of his blue silk blazer, his dry clean only dark blue blazer. Someone would pay for this!

"Ohhhh," a soft moan came from behind one of the many overturned tables. Seiji started to crawl toward the sound, then frowned. He looked down at his hands. His blazer's sleeves were hanging over his hands. <What the . . . > He sat up and held up his hands. Impossible. The sleeves were hanging over his fingers. Silk didn't shrink or stretch. His blazer had been tailored to fit. What had happened to it?

"Seiji?" He looked up at the pre adolescent voice. Peering around a table was a young boy with long black hair, bright blue eyes, and wearing Ryo's T-shirt. "Is that you Seiji?" the boy asked, his bright eyes growing wide as he looked at Seiji.

"Of course!" Seiji snapped. "And who are y . . ." his voice trailed off in shock. His hands crept up to his throat. "What happened to my voice?" he squeaked. It had changed. The pitch was higher, almost soprano. What was going on?!

"Seiji," the boy stood up and walked over to Seiji as well as he could in his oversized cloths. "It's me. Ryo."

"Ryo?" Seiji's voice quivered and he started to shake his head back and forth in denial. "This is impossible. What happened to you? What happened to me?"

Chibi Ryo shook his head. "I-I don't know. I got splashed. And then this," he motioned to his diminished form, "happened."

"You, you are a child," Seiji whispered. Chibi Ryo nodded. "I was also splashed." Seiji placed the palms of his hands on the floor and stared Ryo straight in the eyes. "What happened to me?"

"Uh," Chibi Ryo looked at Seiji nervously, then averted his eyes. "Uh, well, um, I don't know how to say this . . ."

"Say what?"

"Uhh," Ryo glanced back at Seiji, more accurately at his chest, and swallowed, once again averting his eyes as his cheeks started to turn red. "Seiji," Chibi Ryo whispered, "your shirt . . ."

"Huh?" Seiji looked down. His blazer was unbuttoned. His white silk shirt was also wet, and transparent. The blood drained out of his face as he saw what was bothering chibi Ryo.



Arial lifted her head. That was it! Time to head back home, no matter what anyone said. She had told them that Nermia was strange, but noooooo, no one listened to her. Well, they would have to now! She was going to tell Shin right now.

"Shin?" Arial gaze quickly looked around the room. She didn't see him anywhere. "Shin?" she called a little more loudly. "Where are you?"

<A-A-Arial . . . > Shin's mind voice stuttered out. <I-I . . . >

"Shin?" Arial called out more ungently, why was he mind speaking to her? "Where are you?" Something soft touched her thigh the same time Shin answered her. <Here.>

She looked down, and slowly her hand crept up to her mouth in horror at what she was seeing. Sitting next to her was - a cat of some sort. The cat looked almost like the South American Ocelot she had seen in the Tokyo Zoo two weeks ago with Shin, except this ocelot's fur was a russet color instead of a tawny gold. Its eyes were a beautiful sea-green. A very familiar sea-green. Arial's blood ran cold.

"By the Gods," she choked out. "Shin?!" The ocelot nodded reluctantly. "You," she gasped, "you . . . you . . . "

The ocelot's eyes grew wide in alarm as Arial's breathing became quick drawn and erratic. <Calm down Arial! You are going to hyperventilate!>

Arial gave a curt nod and closed her eyes, concentrating on calming down. A minute or so later, after her breathing had returned to normal, she looked up and into the ocelot's sea-green eyes. Shin's sea-green eyes. "Shin," she whispered in a broken voice, "what happened to you?"

<I am not really sure.> He looked down at his furry paws, and shuddered. <I was hit with some of that spring water, right after I pushed you behind the table. And then this happened.> Shin-O closed his eyes at the unpleasant memory. <My body shrunk, I grew fur, and I was nearly trapped in my cloths. It was horrible.>

"The water turned you into an ocelot? How is that possible?"

<I am not sure, but,> A recent memory flashed through his mind. Of what the koi in the Tendo pond had told him that morning. Of a boy turning into a girl, and a man turning into a panda upon submergence in water. His feline eyes narrowed. <I do believe that Ranma knows.>

"Ranma?" Arial got up on her knees and peered over the table. "I don't see him anywhere." She mentally checked off people. Shu and Shan Lai were near the counter, with Cologne. Akane was walking toward them with a red-haired girl. She frowned. Where had she come from? A moment later her eyes narrowed. And why did she have the same not-right feeling that she had felt with P-Chan and the duck? The girl would defiantly have a human presence.

Quickly she searched the rest of the room. On the other side of the counter, next to a large collection of overturned tables, she saw the backs of two heads, one with wavy blond hair and the other with a longish shock of black. Seiji and Ryo. Where were Shampoo, Ranma and Touma?

Shin-O jumped onto the edge of the table, and nearly toppled off. If Arial hadn't grabbed him, he would have fallen onto his face. <Coordinating as a cat is not as easy as one might think,> Shin grumbled. This was going to take some getting use to. He rapidly shook his head, what was he thinking? He did not want to get use to this! Shin-O placed his front paws on the table (he was still being held by Arial) and looked around. <There he is, by Akane.>

While Shin-O and Arial had been talking Akane and the girl had approached Shu, Shan Lai and Cologne and they had begun to talk. Arial stared at the group for a moment, then leveled the back of Shin-O's head with a level look. "Say that again. He is nowhere in sight."

<No,> Shin-O's mind voice had a slight bemused quality to it. <The red-haired girl. That is Ranma.>

Arial's mouth dropped open as she looked back at the girl. Slowly she shook her head. "I don't believe it," she said numbly. That was as far as she got before a sudden high-pitched shriek from one end of the room caught every ones attention. Arial swept Shin-o up in her arms without thinking and joined the others in rushing over to see what was wrong.

By the time she had navigated around all the tables and chairs, everyone else was already at the far end of the counter, standing in a half-circle, faces pale, eyes open wide in disbelief. Arial squeezed through, and froze.

Huddled on the floor with her dark blue blazer held tightly closed was a lovely girl with almost white wavy blond hair. Her eyes were tightly closed, and she was softly moaning. Her companion, a dark-haired boy wearing some vastly oversized cloths looked up at them with a fretful look on his face.

"Seiji," Akane whispered softly and knelt next to the girl. "Don't worry. Everything will be okay." She turned to chibi Ryo. "For both of you. I promise."

"Okay!" The red-haired girl stepped forwards. "What kind of stupid thing is that to tell them?"

"Shut up!" Akane jumped up and slammed Ranma-chan into the floor with a mallet that just appeared in her hands. "I thought you could at least sympathize with them Ranma! You are such a jerk!"

Ranma-chan moaned softly and clutched her head as she got to her feet. <Kawaii-kune,> she thought to herself, knowing darn well that if she had even so much as whispered it, she would be back on the floor with a new lump on her head.

"Ranma?" Shu whispered, then looked at the girl and the dark-haired child. "Seiji? Ryo?" Bending down, he looked straight into the boy's bright blue eyes. "Ryo, is that you?"

The boy nodded, looking as though he was about to cry.

"And you," Shu turned to the girl. She now had her eyes open and he could see that they were a pale shade of lavender. Seiji's eyes. "Seiji?" His voice cracked on the last syllable and he started to snicker. Seiji-chan glared up at him with hard, tear filled eyes.

"You had better not laugh," she warned in a shaky voice. "Or you will be so sorry . . ."

"Hot water for Ranma!" Shampoo exclaimed as she burst out of the kitchen holding a tea kettle aloft.

"Yes!" Ranma-chan spun around, and fell flat on her face as Akane tripped her and quickly intercepted Shampoo.

"I'll take that." Akane quickly snatched the kettle away from the puzzled Shampoo. "Ranma can wait." She lifted the kettle and poured half of the water on Seiji-chan.

The rest of the Troopers and Co. gasped in amazement as Seiji turned back to his original self.

"I'm me! I'm me again!" Seiji quickly got to his feet, while rapidly buttoning up his blazer. "You have my eternal thanks Akane."

Without replying she walked over to chibi Ryo. "Don't thank me yet," she said grimly as she poured the last of the water on chibi Ryo. A moment later Ryo was a teenager again.

"Such a waste of valuable water." Everyone turned to Cologne. "To have traveled all the way from Jhusenkyo with so many bottles of water, and then to waste them in such a manner . . ." she shook her head sadly. "What fools."

"Big deal," Ranma-chan grumbled as she once again got to her feet. "Shampoo, got any more hot water back there?"

Shampoo nodded. "Have second kettle heating. Be hot in few minutes."

"What is going on?" Arial asked in a quiet voice. Everyone turned to her. No one had even noticed that she and Shin-O were there.

Ranma-chan grew bug-eyed. "Cat!" she screamed and started to run in panicky circles around the room. On her second lap, Akane once again whipped out her mallet and smashed him into the floor. Everyone gave Akane a nervous look then turned back to Arial.

"Arial," Seiji stepped toward his cousin, "are you okay?" She nodded mutely.

"Oh, what a cute kitty Arial," Shu snickered as he looked at the cat she was hugging and reached out to pet it. "Where did you get it?"

The ocelot's eyes immediately turned frosty and his tale started to swish angrily. <If you value your hand Shu, I wouldn't!> Shin-O warned his friend.

Shu snatched his hand back as though he had just burnt it. "SHIN!" Everyone gaped at Arial, who nodded, tears in her eyes, and the ocelot she held.

"Can someone explain what is going on here!?!" Shan Lai propped her fists on her hips and looked at Akane and Cologne. "What the hell has happened to them?"

"Jhusenkyo." Cologne stated. "They have been splashed with water from Jhusenkyo."

"Cursed springs," Akane added. "The water turns you into whatever last drowned in it. Hot water reverses the effect."

"Until splash with cold water," Shampoo looked at Ryo, Seiji and Shin-O. "Then turn back into curse form."

Seiji and Ryo paled, and Shin-O stiffened.

"Isn't there a cure?" Shu asked. "I mean, hell, they can't stay like this!"

"Water from Nanniichuan would cure them," Cologne lowered her head. "But there is none in Japan."

"I think I am going to be sick," Seiji moaned as he shakily leaned against the counter. "I am going to turn into a . . . a . . . "Seiji couldn't bring himself to say it.

"A girl," Akane said flatly. "Be thankful. It could be worse."

"Worse?!" Seiji gasped out. "I don't see how!"

"Quack! Quack!" The white duck that they had seen earlier flew out of the large open pass-thru that led into the kitchen and flew to Shampoo.

"There's that, for example," Akane stated. Seiji's eyes grew wide as he realized what Akane was talking about. Slowly he turned to Arial and stared at Shin-O. His knees buckled and he sank to the floor.

"We have got to do something!" Shan Lai exclaimed. In the background Shampoo was trying to pry the duck off of her leg. "We can't just do nothing!"

<We should return to the Tendo's,> Shin thought at Arial and the rest of the Troopers. <It will be more private. Then we . . . > Shin-O paused and quickly looked around. They were missing someone. <Where is Touma?>

"Hey, you are right." Shu quickly looked around. No blue haired genius. "Touma is missing." Akane and Cologne gave Shu a strange look. Where had that come from? It sounded almost as if he had been answering someone, but no one had even mentioned Touma . . .

There was a low moan from Ranma-chan as she reached back and felt the new lump on her head. No one payed her any attention.

"Touma?" Akane called out, suddenly very worried about her cousin. "Touma, where are you?"

"He has to be around here somewhere," Shu took a deep breath, then released it. "He couldn't just vanish, you know."

They split up and quickly searched the small restaurant. Ryo found him a few minutes later, quietly sitting behind a table only a couple of feet from the one that Arial and Shin-o had been hiding behind.

"I found him! Seiji, get over here quickly!"

Seiji ran over and gasped, a hand slowly creeping up to cover his mouth. Cologne appeared, seemingly out of thin air. Her eyes opened wide at the sight before her.

"What is it . . . Touma!" Akane fell to her knees in front of her cousin. He was blankly staring ahead, oblivious to his surroundings. "What has happened to him?" She gently shook him by the shoulder. He did not respond.

Arial silently came up from the other side. "Youko," was all she said.

(To be continued . . .)

NOTE: For those who are curious, and have no idea what Shin-O looks like, ocelots are small wild cats that live in South and Central America. They generally weigh between 18 and 25 pounds and look a lot like small leopards, with golden-brown fur and open black spots. Do not ask how one got to Jhusenkyo, or under what circumstances it drowned under. Some things shall always remain unknown.