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Everyone stared down at Touma, who was now sporting a pair of white tipped, blue-furred fox ears and a matching tail. "A what!" Akane demanded as she quickly turned from her cousin to Arial and back again.
"A fox demon," Cologne murmured, here eyes narrowing speculatively. How interesting. "I have heard that there was such a spring, but no one has ever confirmed its existence."
"It looks like it has been confirmed now," Shu muttered sarcastically.
Cologne automatically brought her staff down on his head. "Don't be insolent, Great-Grandson. It is not becoming."
"Nani!" Everyone with the exception of Arial and Touma looked at Cologne and Shu.
"Ya mean," Ranma-chan came up from behind them, still fingering the lumps on her head. "You are related to the old hag?" A moment later Ranma-chan was checking out how her third lump measured up to the previous two. Cologne was very free with the business end of her staff.
Ryo had silently stepped up to Shu. "You are related to them," he hissed, motioning with his head at Cologne and Shampoo.
"I don't wanna talk about it," Shu hissed back.
"Ahmn. I think we have more important things to worry about than stray Amazons," Akane interrupted waspishly. Shu glared at her. "What about Touma?"
Arial bent down and sat Shin-O on the floor, then knelt in front of Touma. She waved her hand in front of Touma's blank, gold flecked blue eyes.
"Touma?" She called out softly. "Touma, anyone home?" No response. Arial frowned softly and cupped his chin in the palm of her hand. Slowly she turned his face back and forth, paying close attention to his eyes. The gold flecks shifted with the movement and gleamed back at her. An ice cold finger of sensation made its way down her spine. This was not good. Not good at all.
"What's she doin'?" Ranma-chan asked.
"No idea," Seiji responded. Silently the small group watched as Arial bent forward and peered deeply into his eyes, searching. A moment later she sat back, visibly shaken.
"Oh boy," she breathed out.
"What?" Akane asked.
Arial shook her head, indicating that she would answer in a moment. Arial brought her right hand up in front of her face, her middle and index fingers pointing up, and began to chant softly under her breath. The more sensitive people in the room, Seiji, Cologne, Shin, and (surprisingly enough) Ranma felt a slight energy shift in the air.
"What's she doin'?" Ranma-chan asked again.
"She is looking," Cologne said evasively. The Nermia crowd looked at her strangely. She said nothing more, so they turned to the Trooper crowd. Shu just held up his hands and shrugged his shoulder in a 'haven't-a-clue' motion. The others were not paying them any attention.
Arial abruptly stopped chanting.
Arial looked up at the crowd. "Touma . . ." she began. She paused and took a deep breath. "Touma is a youko."
The Nermia crowd, with the exception of Cologne, face faulted. The Trooper crowd gave Arial a variety of assorted looks. Several of them looked up to the heavens (or in this case, the ceiling) rolling their eyes.
Arial was not paying attention. Her gaze was focused on the dark-haired girl next to her. With great interest she watched as a muscle in her cheek begin to twitch wildly. Ranma-chan, who was now standing behind Akane, noticed it as well, and quickly shuffled away from his fiancee.
"Arial," Akane began in a deceptively pleasant voice, "we knew that already. You were the one who identified Touma as a youko, remember?"
"No," Arial turned away from Akane and looked back at Touma. "That was different," she said in a soft voice. "When I said that Touma was a youko, I was referring to his physical form."
"I see," Cologne said softly. She was beginning to see where Arial was going, as was Seiji, who was turning a rather interesting shade of pale green. No one else had a clue.
"That hasn't changed any Arial," Ryo pointed out. "He is still the same."
Sadly, Arial shook her head. "No, his form hasn't changed, he has changed." Arial stood and turned. She gave them all searching looks. Most of them had no idea what she was talking about. Ah . . . how to explain? "Ranma," she stepped toward the red-haired girl. "You are cursed with the form, the body of a young lady. Your curse did not affect the way you think, how you act or what you are like inside." She then placed her hand over Ranma-chan's heart, earning her a nervous look from the red head. "Your true self, your soul, has remained unchanged."
"What are you saying?" Shan Lai whispered loudly in the now still room.
Arial let her hand drop to her side. "Touma," Arial's voice dropped to a mere whisper, "Touma is a youko. A fox demon. His soul is no longer that of a human."
The room grew silent as what Arial had said sank in. Akane stared at her cousin, up at his blue ears, and then down at the long bushy tail that curled behind him. Slowly she began to shake her head. Ryo, Shu and Shan Lai all stared at Arial for a moment, then their gaze shifted to Touma. His soul changed. Now a fox demon. As one the three teenagers turned to Seiji for conformation.
They were not reassured. Seiji looked to be in a mild state of shock. His skin still had a faint greenish tint, and his lavender eyes were wide with a sick sort of horror. He could -feel- that Arial was correct. Touma was not, was not the Touma he knew anymore. He was still the same, but not. What was this going to mean?
Shin-O, who was sitting quietly on the floor next to Arial, silently observed everyone's reactions. He lifted up a paw and gently patted Arial's leg. <Ari?> A bit startled she looked down, then sank down to the floor next to him. Without hesitation she swept the large cat into her lap for comfort. "Oh Shin," she whispered as she held him tight against her chest.
Shin-O froze. In the midst of all of this, this, he realized as Arial squeezed him tight (and incidentally pressing him firmly against one of her more prominent female attributes) was something he did not need. It was a good thing, he thought, that he was covered in fur, so that no one could see the blood rushing up his cheeks.
Meanwhile, Seiji had more or less came to his senses. "Arial," he started and turned to her, "do you have any idea . . ." his voice trailed off as he saw that, as an ocelot, Shin was getting a bit more familiar with his cousin than he was comfortable with. Even if they were engaged and considering that Shin was one of his best friends . . .
Before he had a chance to do or say anything, a sharp whistle from the direction of the kitchen caught everyone's attention.
"Water hot." Casually Shampoo bent down, socked the duck that had been clinging to her leg hard in the head, and with him in her arms walked toward the kitchen. "I go get. Turn Arien and Touma-fox back to normal."
<I see she forgot about me,> Shin-O whispered a bit shakily. He had discovered that it was a bit difficult to think straight with Arial holding him so. What everyone was talking about (or not) was not at the forefront of his mind anymore. Arial jerked her head up at the sound of his voice and loosened her grip (much to Shin-O and Seiji's great relief).
"Don't worry Shin," Arial whispered softly. "There will be plenty of water for you." Sadly she looked at the still catatonic youko. "Touma won't be needing any."


The group had relocated to the living quarters of the Neko Hantan. This was not the sort of thing one dealt with under public scrutiny. (Though it must be noted that the public, having noted that all the windows of the restaurant were broken and the insides a wreck, had decided that they would be better off -not- knowing what was going on. This was Nermia after all.) Everyone who was under the normal Jhusenkyo curses had been turned back to their uncursed forms.
Everyone quietly sat around, not at all sure of what to do. They watched as Cologne sent Mousse to board up the windows and to start cleaning the restaurant. She had already sent Shampoo to the kitchen to prepare something. After Mousse crashed into the doorframe and then stumbled out the door, Cologne turned to the waiting teenagers.
Cologne's eyes swept across the nine youngsters. Four more unprepared victims of Jhusenkyo. One of who displayed the unusual ability to manipulate the elements. Her newly discovered great-grandson. Bluu She's son, who seemed to have inherited her great strength. She passed over the girl who was sitting next to him as inconsequential and her gaze stopped at the young blond girl who had identified the youko. Her eyes narrowed. That girl possessed an unusual amount of spiritual energy. She could be either a great ally, or a great foe. Time would tell.
She turned back to the unfortunate young man who had been splashed with 'spring of drown fox demon'. It was rumored to be one of the forbidden springs of Jhusenkyo, one that was not to be disturbed for any reason. What to do with him? Her first and foremost inclination was to kill him. Youkos, under the best circumstances, were a great nuisance. Under other circumstances, a deadly threat. Killing would prove difficult though. Son-in-law would definitely interfere, as would Great-Grandson. Akane posed no problem, getting rid of her would be a plus, but then there were Great-Grandson's companions.
Barring the one girl, those three were of an unknown quantity. She had noticed upon there first meeting that Great-Grandson and his four male friends all possessed unnaturally high ki abilities. Well-honed ki abilities. And one was a water elemental (for she knew that his abilities to manipulate water went further than ki manipulation), no, she narrowed her eyes, best to wait and see. Too much was going on here that she was unaware of, dangerously unaware of. An she hadn't reached the age she was at by acting without knowledge of what was going on around her.
Of course there was also the off chance that she wouldn't have to kill him. If his humanity remained intact . . . Yes . . . She gave the blue-haired youko a speculative glance. If so, he could prove to be quite valuable to her . . .
"Great-Grandmother!" Shampoo walked into the small family room holding a steaming pottery mug in her hands. "Special tea ready." Cologne nodded and hopped toward her great-granddaughter.
Meanwhile on the other side of the room . . .
Arial bit down on her lip nervously. <Shin, I don't trust her. Did you see how she looked at Touma?>
Shin gave a small nod, watching as Cologne quickly spoke to Shampoo in Chinese. <Okay everyone,> Shin broadsent to everyone. (Except Touma, who they couldn't reach in the state he was currently in.) <What is your opinion of what is going on?>
<Touma is in great danger.> They all glanced at Arial. Her voice was a bit muffled, as they could only hear her when she was in contact with Shin. <She,> there was an acid bite to Arial's mental voice that was quite audible, <is not to be trusted.>
<I agree,> Shu quickly said, causing everyone to quickly glance at him in surprise. <The Joketsuzoku are highly superstitious, and youkos are usually killed on sight. Kitsune as well. I don't think that the fact that Touma was born human will be much protection.>
<Aren't you two overreacting a bit?> Ryo asked. This -was- Shu's great-grandmother they were talking about after all.
Both shook their head. <The Joketsuzoku are very traditional Ryo,> Shu told him. <And very dangerous.> He glanced over at Ranma. <That is why I didn't believe Ranma's story. By tradition, Amazon females marry the men who defeat them in battle. They kill females. Ranma must have first fought her as a girl.>
<Hold on! > Shin gave Shu a wide-eyed look. He did not believe what he had just heard. <You mean that Shampoo tried to kill him because he beat her in a fight as a girl?>
Shu nodded. <And they kill those who break their laws,> he turned away from his friends. <Like Amazon females who break their oaths and run off with someone the tribe considers inferior to them.>
<Shu . . . >
<Khu Lon is not to be trusted,> Shu spat out. <Not for anything!>
<Don't worry,> Seiji's eyes grew cold. <She is not going to do anything to Touma.> His eyes shifted to Shu. <Or you.>
"What is that?" The Trooper group turned to Akane. She was looking at Cologne, who had walked over to Touma with the pottery mug.
"Something that should snap him out of his shock."
"His . . . shock?" Seiji asked carefully.
Cologne gave him a quick look, she did not like the tone he had used. "His mind is in shock, due to the change of his soul. If he does not come out of it, he will be lost. This tea will bring him to his senses."
"Ya mean you have a special tea for cases like this?!?" Ranma exclaimed. Cologne closed her eyes and sighed.
"As I stated before, changes of the soul, while uncommon, do occur. The tea was not made for that purpose however. There are times when one is so greatly shocked, that the mind retreats into its inner recesses to hide. This tea will numb the shock and bring the mind back."
"You should start dishing that stuff out to all the people who have looked at your ugly face . . ." Before anyone could blink, Cologne had used her staff to toss Ranma into the wall. He crashed into it with a resounding crash, then slumped onto his face onto the floor.
"Ranma no baka," Akane said absently, a reflex action almost. Most of the Trooper crowd were staring at Ranma with their jaws hanging open.
"So," Arial turned away from Ranma's prone body and looked at Cologne, "that tea will snap Touma back to reality?"
"Yes." She hopped to the youko, then turned to Akane. "Make him drink this." Akane gingerly took the cup and looked at the liquid inside. She frowned slightly, then sniffed it. She immediately turned green.
"This is ghastly," she gasped out, holding the cup as far away from her and Touma as possible. "You want me to give him this?"
"It is the only thing that will bring him back."
"But . . ."
"Here, let me." Arial took the cup away from Akane and sniffed it herself, then nodded. "That should work alright." With the others watching she held the cup up to Touma's lips. "Here, drink this," she murmured softly, as though he could hear her and tilted the cup, the green-brown liquid filling his mouth. He swallowed instinctively.
"How much?" Arial asked Cologne after Touma had swallowed several times.
"That should be enough. Step back and wait for it to act."
"Are you sure that wasn't a poison?" Ryo whispered to Arial when she sat down between him and Shin.
"At this point, it doesn't really matter. She was right about that. If he doesn't snap out of it, we have lost him. What happens to him after that is moot."
A faint sound broke off their conversation, and everyone turned to Touma. With wide-eyed fascination, they watched as he paled, then turned a shade of green which clashed horribly with his hair. Emotion crept into his gold flecked eyes, horror. Suddenly he grasped his throat and began to gag.
"Awful!!!" he croaked out, coughing and wheezing violently. Touma squeezed his eyes, which were now watering, shut. He hadn't had anything that bad since the last time he had eaten his cousin's cooking.
"How do you feel?" a softly worried voice asked.
"Queasy. Very queasy," he coughed out. A glass of water appeared in his hand and he quickly drank it down.
"The aftereffects of the tea are quite rough on the patient though."
Blurrily Touma peered at Cologne. "Tea? Patient? What are you talking about?" He rubbed the tears from his eyes and looked around. Everyone was staring at him. He tilted his head. "Why are you staring at me?"
"Touma?" Touma turned to Seiji, then frowned. He looked . . . strained. As though he had received a bad shock and had yet to recover from it. "Is that you?"
Touma blinked. "Who else would it be?" he asked puzzled. He turned to his cousin. Relief was on her face.
"TOUMA!!!" she cried out and glomped onto him, squeezing him tightly. "You are okay! We were so worried about you!"
Touma quickly turned to his friends. "What is going on?" he asked them, a bit of panic entering his voice.
"Touma," he turned to Ryo, "do you remember anything about what happened in the restaurant?"
"After those goons started tossin' the water around?" Shu added.
"Uhhh . . ." Touma carefully pried Akane off of him and thought for a moment. Then he shook his head slowly. "No. Everyone was running around, the next thing I remember was that tea . . ." he paused. Everyone was giving him a worried look again. "What is it?"
"Uhh . . ." Shin gave Touma a pained look. "Remember that discussion we had about how strange Nermia was, the one you didn't agree with?" Touma nodded. "Well, it seems that Nermia is a bit stranger than we all thought . . ."
"Spit it out Shin," Touma turned to Shan Lai. "Nermia is weird. You just got turned into a demon."
Touma stared at her. He blinked, twice. Then he turned to Shin. Before he could say anything, Shin nodded.
"She is right Touma. That water, it was cursed. You got splashed with 'spring of drowned youko' water. It turned you into a youko. A fox demon."
Slowly Touma began to nod. "Riiight. A fox demon." He glanced at the others. None of them would meet his eyes. "And you expect me to believe this?"
Arial had gotten up while Touma was talking and had removed a mirror off of the wall. "Touma," Arial held the mirror up in front of him, "look."
"This is ridiculous," Touma told her, not looking into the mirror. "Cursed water? Do you know how that sounds?"
"About as strange as mystical armor," a dry voice replied. Touma scowled at Arial. Sighing, Arial reached out with one hand and tweaked one of his ears. It immediately twitched out of her hand. Touma's face froze in astonishment, then he looked into the mirror.
Slowly, as he stared at himself, he lifted a hand to his head. Fox ears. He had fox ears. Touma pinched one, and winced. He had felt pain. They were real. Touma looked harder into the mirror. With how short his hair was, he could tell that his fox ears began exactly where his normal ears should have been. Clinically he traced his hand around it. The ears were in the same position that he would have figured that a human would have had fox ears, if such a thing was possible. "Interesting."
Arial nearly dropped the mirror. Everyone in the room face faulted, evens those who should have figured he would have reacted in such a manor.
"Interesting!" Arial yelled, the mirror shaking in her hands. Touma quickly removed it from her grasp before she dropped it or hit him with it. "This is not interesting! How can you take this so calmly?!?"
"How should I be reacting?"
Arial stared at him her jaw clenching and unclenching, then she hung her head, her fists clenched tightly in an attempt to restrain herself from doing something to Touma. Shin stood up and put an arm around her shoulder comfortingly. "Come on Arial, calm down." He walked her to where they had been sitting.
"An unusual reaction." Touma turned to Cologne. "I have never seen anyone take to a curse so calmly before."
Touma shrugged. "What is done is done. Can it be removed?"
"Then I guess I have to get use to it."
"Get use to it?" Seiji gave his best friend an astonished look. "Touma, are you aware of what has happened to you? You are a -demon-. You are no longer human . . ." Seiji paused. From the look that Touma was giving him, he could see that Touma did not truly realize just what had happened to him. Seiji reached into his slack's pocket and pulled out something. <I am sorry Touma . . . > "Catch."
Touma caught the object Seiji had tossed at him, and dropped it with a pained gasp almost immediately after. He jumped out of his chair away from it, clutching his burning hand to his chest. "Seiji!?"
"That is what I was talking about." With the others watching, Seiji stood up and went to pick up the object Touma had dropped. He held up a strange looking pendant on a gold chain. Touma stepped back a pace, not liking how the object -felt-. "A demon ward Touma. You know what they do."
Touma, eyes wide, swallowed roughly, and looked down at his hand. There was a red burn mark on the palm, where he had made contact with the pendant. "Demon?" he whispered softly, reality finally sinking in, and looked up. Seiji nodded.
"OOOhhhhhhhhhh," a soft moan from the wall drew everyone's attention. Ranma sat up and looked around the room. He clasped a hand to his head and shakily wove his way over to Akane. "Don't mind me," he muttered as he collapsed. "I am just going to sit here for awhile." He blinked blurrily for a moment, "Oh, hi Touma. Glad to see that you are okay."
While that was going on, Cologne had hopped over to where Seiji and Touma were. She poked the pendant with her finger. "Interesting bauble. A protection ward, isn't it?"
Seiji nodded and tucked it back into his pocket. "Here," he held out his hand to Touma. "Let me see." Touma looked down at his burnt hand again, then held it out to Seiji, who winced. The burn had begun to blister.
Cologne shook her head. "That is a bad burn. You should put some ointment on it immediately."
Seiji took Touma's hand into his. "That isn't necessary." He cradled Touma's hand, palm up, in his and then ran the fingers of his other hand over the burn. Touma's hand jerked at the unexpected tingling. A moment later, Seiji removed his hand, the burn gone. Cologne's eyes widened, but she said nothing.
"Thanks," Touma said dryly and rubbed his thumb over his now healed palm, "But was that display necessary?"
"Well, I could have had Arial haul out one of her ofuda, but those are all offensive."
Touma shuddered and glanced at his palm. He could still -feel- where it had made contact with his skin. The idea of being in close proximity with one of Arial's little toys . . . he shuddered again. "Okay, I believe you," he whispered. " I am a demon. What now?"
"Why don't we head back to the dojo?" Everyone turned to Ryo. He, Shu and Shan Lai had been talking during the entire display, and they had come to the conclusion that they really needed to get back to familiar grounds. Before anything else happened.
"Uhhh," Shin gave Touma a quick glance, then turned back to Ryo. "You are not suggesting that we walk back, are you?" Hiding how Touma looked would be very difficult, to say the least.
A small smile flashed across Ryo's face as his eyes darted to Cologne. "Not hardly. I think we should return as quickly as possible." He turned and arched an eyebrow at Seiji and Touma. "What do you two think?"
Touma gave them a bewildered look. Seiji glanced at Touma, then down at Cologne, quickly catching onto what Ryo wanted to do, then smiled. "Not a bad idea at all."
Arial had also figured out what was going on. "Can I walk? I am in no hurry."
Ryo, Shu, and Seiji all turned to her, scowling. Shin sighed. "It's not all that bad."
A long sigh. "Okay, if you all insist."
The Ranma group exchanged puzzled looks, then looked at Ryo. "What are you guys talking about?" Akane demanded.
"Are you guys serious?!" Touma broke in. "Do you understand what you are suggesting?"
<Yes Touma, we do.> Touma turned to Shin, who had a slightly grim look on his face. <We will explain it later, but right now just agree to it.>
Touma exhaled noisily, the tip of his tail twitching in annoyance. "Okay. Lets go then."
Shin turned to the Nermia crowd. "Are you coming with us?" he asked politely.
"Sure," Ranma shrugged and stood up. Akane stood up a moment later.
Cologne gave the Troopers a suspicious look. They were up to something, and she was going to find out what. And she also wanted to find out how Seiji had done that little healing trick. Great-Grandson's friends seemed to be very talented. "Come Great-Granddaughter. Mousse can take care of things without us here."
"Yes Great-Grandmother." Shampoo quickly sprang to her feet and bounced over to Ranma, glomping onto his arm. "Shampoo go with Airen!"
"Shampoo . . ."
Ryo looked around the room and nodded. Out of the Nermia crowd, only Cologne noticed that a glowing kanji appeared on the foreheads of the five young men. She also absently noticed the look of resignation on Arial's face.
The five kanji glowed brighter, and then Cologne felt a slight -shift-. When the light died down a second later, they were in the Tendo Dojo.


Nabiki popped the grape lollipop into her mouth and moodily wandered down the hall. She had gotten up late that morning, not wanting to catch the breakfast crowd, and thus missed Kunou's appearance.
<Kunou handing out roses to Akane and Arial, and then issuing a challenge to Shin. And I missed it!> she grumbled to herself. She was equally upset at missing a possible financial opportunity as she was at missing the entertainment offered.
Nabiki was still grumbling to herself as she passed the open door to the dojo. A slight wavering in the air caught her attention, and she paused.
A moment later the lollipop fell out of her open mouth as Akane, Ranma, Touma and his friends and the two Amazons appeared out of nowhere. It clattered noisily on the wood floor, shattering into little grape flavored fragments.


"What was that!" Ranma yelled as soon as he gathered his wits together. A moment ago, they were in the Neko Hanten, and then there was this light, and now they were at the dojo. Akane shuffled closer to Ranma, and on his other side Shampoo clutched his arm tighter.
Shin had turned to Arial. "I don't know why you make such a fuss over it."
"Because I just -don't- like it," she returned.
"Probably due to lack of control," Seiji straightened his blazer's collar. "If she was the one who could teleport, it wouldn't bother her at all."
Shu glanced around. With the exception of his friends, everyone was staring at them including, he quickly noted, Nabiki. "I don't think this is the place for that conversation."
"Teleportation." Everyone looked at Cologne. "Instantaneous transportation. Possible only by magic." She looked at each of the Troopers, one by one. All of them had participated in this. Her gaze finally stopped on Shu. "How were you able to accomplish this?"
"You already said, magic." Cologne's eyes narrowed at the flippant remark.
"What is going on here?" They turned and watched as Nabiki walked toward them. "How did you get here," she turned and looked at Touma, her eyes widening in surprise, "And what happened to Touma?!"

(to be continued . . .)