China has always been known for its secret, mystical locales, spoken of mostly in whispered legends. Even during the Communist regime of the late 1980s, these legends persisted. Legends about places hidden in the mountain ranges, such as Bayan Har, or Bayankala as it was known at the time. These mountains were where one could find, as the locals could inform you, the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyō, or the Springs of Sorrow as some called them. To actually find the Cursed Springs was another matter altogether. Today, one could use online map services with high-altitude photographs to easily locate several small villages tucked away around the Springs. But this story is set in the 1980s, and such things were much more difficult back then.
The Saotome family, on what could be termed a “train-cation”, had managed to find the Cursed Springs and had a tent set up a safe distance from the many pools of ostensibly-cursed spring water. It was a particularly nice and sunny day, so the father of the family sat comfortably outside, just in front of the tent. This was, no surprise there, Genma Saotome. One might expect to find him meditating, clad in his old white gi, but instead he wore a ridiculous Hawaiian tourist shirt and khaki shorts as he happily tended to a breakfast stew. From a small hut a further bit away from the springs, the guide he had hired walked up to camp, attracted by the smell of good food.
“Oh honored customer, you make good camp food. Brings tears to eyes, yes?” the guide commented. Genma merely smiled and growled appreciatively, focusing on breakfast. With his wife and child the way they were, mere growls had grown to usually be enough for the simpler statements, and with the guide it made for a nice way to avoid translation issues.
When Genma was done with the stew, he turned towards the tent and called out, “Nodoka dear, Ranma, breakfast is ready!”
Nodoka was the first to appear from the tent, clad in a practical outfit — capris and a nice tunic-like shirt — and took her seat next to her husband. After a few minutes, Ranma followed, her red hair glistening in the sun and her well-developed breast almost jumping from the unbuttoned Chinese shirt she had bought just the second day after she arrived in China. Luckily for the guide’s sensibilities, she was wearing another shirt underneath, even if it was just a plain black T-shirt.
“What'd you make, Pops? More from your studies under the old pervert?” the grinning girl asked. Despite her mother’s best effort to raise a fine young lady, Ranma had grown to be something of a little brat, another biting jab always ready near the surface, and only kept in check when it regarded her mother.
“Now Ranma, old master Happōsai may have been a bad man, but you have to admit that your father learned a lot of good skills under him,” Nodoka scolded, internally thankful that was all her daughter had said. Genma growled once more in agreement. Sometimes he really looked like a big fat teddy bear or something, and the shirt wasn't helping.
As Ranma brought the guide a bowl of food, she gazed at the nearby springs and felt she had to ask.
“These springs look kinda good, but is there a purpose to ‘em? I mean, these are the sacred training grounds, right?”
The guide was all too happy to do his job and talk, even if his Japanese was questionable at best. “Oh yes, dear customer. Visitors use to stand on bamboo poles and try fight without falling into spring below,” the guide happily explained, even making some vague kung-fu gestures, as far as his portly frame allowed him to. Unfortunately, before he could continue his story, the redhead had run back to camp.
“Pops, guess what? These bamboo poles and stuff make great training,” Ranma explained to her father in a rush. It was true — the Saotome School of Indiscriminate Grappling specialized in mid-air combat, which meshed perfectly well with what little the guide had been able to tell Ranma.
“I suppose it couldn't hurt to do some more training, girl,” Genma verbally agreed. With that, he sauntered back into the tent and returned wearing his gi, a slightly ratty old number with his school's insignia on it.
“This is gonna be great, I just know it,” Ranma said to herself as she took her turn to change. Her gi was in better shape and had a similar but subtly different insignia on it — whereas her dad's gi carried the insignia of his Master Happōsai as a sign of lingering respect for the old demon, Ranma's gi specifically stated the Saotome School. Within moments, father and daughter were each standing on a bamboo pole suspended in the pools, as Nodoka sat at a close distance somewhere between the camp and the pools, and the guide was trying to verbalize his protests. He hadn't gotten a chance to continue his story and his Japanese was lacking. But then again, his customers were even worse in Chinese. Before he finally worked out what to say, the two martial artists had jumped at each other, exchanged some kicks and blows and landed on the opposite poles.
“Oh sir and lady, you must be careful not to fall in springs,” the guide exclaimed as the fighters wobbled a bit in regaining their footing. “Is very bad result!”
“Why? It's that cold?” Ranma joked as she turned her head towards the guide. Genma saw his opening — he had been training his daughter from the day she was able to form her first coherent sentence, which was a training request. He had found the girl talented and feared the day she'd become stronger than her father. Still, he wasn't so stupid as to use his old master's own training methods on the girl. Instead of having her run away from a crime scene, she'd just run. Once or twice, he had angered some local wildlife to provide extra motivation, but Nodoka didn't quite approve of such tactics. Still the girl was very skilled at the Arts, and he had lost a fair amount of fights recently. This was exactly the chance he was waiting for, and he paid the guide no mind.
As Ranma turned back to face her father, his foot was already too close to her face. She fell down from her bamboo pole. The guide looked shocked and turned ever paler with every centimeter the girl came closer to the spring's surface. Unlike her father, Ranma did consider the guide's warning something to heed. Grabbing the pole with her feet, she pulled herself towards it and swung around to try and land on the ground.
She misjudged and launched herself towards a different spring. Lacking the height to correct her course with another pole, all she could do was curl up and endure. On some level she could tell that the process took less than a second or two at most, but it felt like so much longer as her body compressed, mass shifting, legs awkwardly bending in ways a human’s legs should not...
“Oh, is so very bad, honored customers! Poor girl fall into māonìquán,” the guide rattled as he and Nodoka ran over to the spring in question.
“Into the what now?” Nodoka asked, worried about the bubbles on the surface. She couldn't quite make out her daughter's shape below the surface, and when her clothes surfaced, she nearly fainted. Genma jumped from pole to pole, over to the disaster area and down to catch his wife before she fell into another spring right behind her.
“Good catch, honored customer. If woman fall in that spring, honored customer would have two daughters,” the guide joked, trying to mask his nervousness as to Ranma's fate. Shortly after, a very wet cat, pinkish white with red accents, clambered out of the spring as the guide started to explain. “Māonìquán has very tragic story of cat what drown here eighteen-hundred years ago. Now whoever fall in this spring become cat. Very tragic.”
“You weren't kidding then, when you joked about this other spring?” Genma asked as he picked up his transformed and visibly shaken daughter, shivering in his arms. The guide merely nodded in reply.
“Not to worry, honored sir. Curse can be reverted with hot water, but cold water turn daughter back to cat,” the guide offered. Genma growled again, though this time, it was distinctly uncertain what the growl meant.
Unnoticed, clouds started to gather overhead as the party walked back to camp, Genma still carrying his feline daughter in his arms, mewling helplessly. Ranma didn't like this new form one bit — it was cute, but very weak. When they had arrived, Genma handed Ranma over to Nodoka, and used the campfire and the guide's assistance to heat some water. Nodoka gestured for the two men to turn around as she set the cat down in front of her and carefully poured the hot water.
Ranma was glad to be back to normal and happily accepted the shirt Nodoka held out, the same shirt she had been wearing when she got up. Ranma liked fairly loose fits, so she had bought the shirt a size or so too large. As she buttoned it up, it was large enough for her to cover the important bits just fine, so there wasn't quite as much of a hurry for pants. But before she could take and put on the pants, she overheard Genma and the guide discussing her fate.
“Is there a way to fix this permanently?” Genma demanded. “If I wanted a pet, I'd just go and get one. I never wanted one that's part-time and actually my daughter.”
“Honored customer, I understand,” the guide tried to placate the burly martial artist. “There may be way.”
“Well, speak up. What is it?”
“If daughter is lucky, niángnìquán may revert curse. But honestly, I not too certain. Is this spring right here.” The guide figured pointing would be too ambiguous, so he kicked a small pebble into the correct spring.
Forgetting all about pants, Ranma dashed across to the springs. The clouds had been gathering, and halfway to the spring, tell-tale ripples from the pebble identifying it, the first raindrops started to fall. Just as Ranma jumped towards the spring, she started to transform again. Before she had shrunk enough to fall out of her shirt, she was submerged in the magic spring water that she hoped would cure her…
When Ranma resurfaced, she was at her regular size, the first hint being that she was still in her shirt. Unfortunately, a rather bad error in judgment made itself clear when Ranma shook her head to clear off some of the water.
As he watched the result of these circumstances clamber onto the edge of the spring, the guide adjusted his cap and considered his next report to the village elders.
Well, I guess they always wanted to know what happens when you mix two curses...