Ryoga stood triumphantly over Genma's prone form. "Because of the
Saotomes, I have seen Hell. Now, I get to send one of them there."

Genma didn't move.

Ryoga crouched and leaned in close. "I bet you thought you could run
forever, didn't you? I bet you thought you'd get off."

Genma didn't move.

"No... I bet you knew that I would beat you. Deep down, I bet you did.
That's why you were running. Running like all the devils of Hell were at
your feet. You were scared of me. You were a coward."

Genma didn't move.

"Well now, it's all over. I'm going to put you out of my misery. Then,
I'm going to find your son, and I'm going to kill him, too. Two rounds
to the back of the head. Nice and clean. Not like you." Ryoga started to
reach for the rusty scalpel he kept in a pouch on his belt.

Genma made his move.

Ryoga's next words would have been "you, I'm going to make you suffer",
but he never got the chance. Rising from the floor like an angered
cobra, the base of Genma's hand collided with Ryoga's nose. Caught off
guard, thinking more of peeling off Genma's skin one layer at a time
than of the possibility the older fighter was not down for the count,
Ryoga took the full brunt of the attack, sending cartilage flattened
into his skull and a hot spray outward. Genma's face, clothes, fingers
were spattered in blood.

Genma rolled sideways, lifting his body off of his other arm, but Ryoga
was on his feet and clutching the bloody geyser in the center of his
face. Genma rose, slowly, knowing that the combination of the bleeding
and the humilitation meant that Ryoga wasn't about to come close again.
"Saotome Genma never runs from a fight. NEVER." He spat out a mixture of
blood and saliva. "Can Ryoga say the same of himself?"

Ryoga tried to sound tough, but couldn't manage it with blood filling
his sinuses. "Dis isn't ober, Saotobe!"

Genma sighed. "It never is, with you."

Then Ryoga was gone, leaving a trail of small red spatters on the floors
of the facility. Genma didn't bother to give chase; he knew from
previous encounters that if Ryoga didn't want to be caught, no force on
Heaven or Earth could catch up with him. He waited at the elevator for a
few minutes, to make sure the boy wouldn't double back, then went down
to speak with Dr. Ren.

Once out of Jusenkyo and following the directions given to him by the
ghoulish doctor, it would be three weeks before the Saotomes would see
another human being, and it would not be on friendly terms. Genma knew
they were being followed for about a week before their trail was bold
enough to step forward; Ranma had only noticed it three days prior. It
wasn't Ryoga, he knew that much, for he gave too much of his position
away and hesitated far, far too long in the attack.

They had encountered highwaymen before, and always dispatched them with
ease, partially due to their superiority in combat and partially because
any raiders with the skills and weaponry to defeat them wouldn't bother
with such obvious destitutes. No, when the Saotomes were attacked, it
was usually by the mad, the desperate, or both, and the case was the
same this time.

Genma knew the attack was coming, probably before the attacker did, but
purposely did nothing; this was, after all, a training trip for his
son's benefit, and sons did not become stronger by having their fathers
do things for them.

The attack came from above, a young man leaping from the canopy of trees
holding a crude spear. Ranma had him disarmed, flat on his back, and
with the shaft of his weapon over the attacker's neck in less time than
it would have taken him to fall out of the tree unhindered. Genma was
duly impressed at his son's prowess.

"Very nice, boy." Ranma nodded, then stepped off the attacker's chest to
allow Genma room to deal with him. Genma grabbed both ends of the spear
-- not much more than a stick with a scrap of metal embedded in one
side, he noticed -- and looked into the attacker's eyes. He was no more
than a child, even younger than Ranma was, and as with all these cases,
Genma thought it his duty to scare him a little. More than a little.

"Just what did you think you were doing, kid?" Genma asked, lifting up
on the spear just enough for enough air to pass that the kid could
answer.

"I--" he gasped, "-- I heard some travelers were coming through the
forest, and, and I thought you were merchants! Oh God, if I'd have
known it was you, I wouldn't have, I wouldn't have, oh God please don't
kill me, please urk"

Genma pressed down, tired of the boy's simpering. "Don't try to flatter
me. You don't know who I am. You didn't care, either, until my son laid
you out. What's your name, boy?" Again, he lifted the shaft.

"Please, please don't kill me, I'm sorry, I'm too young urk"

Genma pushed down again. "Tell me your name, and don't tell me anything
else. Do you understand?" He lifted again.

The kid responded, as calmly as he could, though stuttering on the verge
of tears. "My name is T-tuh-Taro, muh-mister--"

"NO!" Genma howled. "YOUR NAME IS DOGSHIT! YOUR NAME IS GOD-DAMN FUCKING DOGSHIT, NOW TELL ME YOUR FUCKING NAME BEFORE I RIP YOU OPEN LIKE A FUCKING FISH!"

"muh-my name is duh-duh-duh-Dogshit, sir!"

"That's right, Dogshit! Now, if I let you go, what are you going to do?"
"Dogshit" started to answer, but Genma cut him off. "I'm going to tell
you what you're going to do. First, I am going to lift up your weapona
and allow you to get up onto your hands and knees. If you try to run
away from me, I am going to kill you. Second, you are going to crawl
over to the campfire. You're not going to stand up, because you don't
have the right to stand up. Only real men can stand tall. You're going
to crawl on your hands and knees like a dog. Third, you are going to
take a handful of that -- " Genma gestures to the ashes in the ring of
stones that marked where their fire had been -- "and you are going to
eat it. Do you know why you're going to eat it, Dogshit?"

Dogshit slowly shook his head, his eyes as wide as the moon and staring
up in nameless terror.

"I'm going to teach you a lesson, Dogshit. Because see, Dogshit, I like
you. I wanna help you out. And if you keep trying stupid shit like this,
you're going to get killed. And I don't want you to be killed, that
wouldn't be too nice -- now would it? And I'm gonna teach you not to do
anything like this ever again. Oh, it'll be bad now, but buck up, kid!
You've got your whole life ahead of you!"

Genma's speech by this point was no longer the screaming, enraged
insanity he had used before. Now, he used the cooing, friendly
instability that people found so much more dangerous.

"So, after you have your meal, you aren't done yet. Fourth, I am going
to break your legs. Maybe just one of them, depending on how well you're
doing. Then, last, me and my boy are going to leave. You can stay here.
If you can get back to whatever hovel you crawled out from alive,
that'll be great! You can just stay here of course -- always plenty of
ash for you to eat -- but I don't think you want to be around here when
the wanamingoes come by. They're attracted to screams. 'Course, if I
hear you call for help, I'll kill you before they get the chance. You
understand all of that, Dogshit? For your sake, I hope you do."

The boy nodded and swallowed, the lump in his throat stopped halfway
down by the spear over his neck.

"Good. Now, come on, get up! Don't want to waste any time, now!"
Genma lifted the weapon from the boy's throat and stepped off of his
body. Trying to choke back sobs -- and failing -- the boy turned over.
He rose on his arms, collapsed onto them, and abandoned all efforts to
hold back his tears. He turne toward Genma, tears streaking down his
ruddy face, looking for some word, some expression, some movement from
the man to show that it's okay, you've done enough, you can stop now.

Genma's face was stone and impassive.

Dogshit -- Taro -- gulped and rose on his arms again, this time staying
stable upon them. He stepped forward once, twice, then terror shook him
and he collapsed once more. He thought he heard movement from behind him
and rose once more without even looking back. He crawled forward, the
palms of his hands pierced by the uneven and rocky soil. He finally
pulled himself to the remains of the fire. He stopped a moment, shifted
his weight to his left arm, reached out with his right. The ashes coated
his hand the instant he touched them, a fine powder working into every
crevice and wound on his palm, a dust inside the joints of his fingers,
making grey lines where the skin folded. He held a small mound in his
hand and looked back once more, expecting this time, this time, that he
would be told he could stop. This was cruel. It was wicked. Nobody would
do this. Certainly, the man would laugh a dark laugh and say that that
was enough, that his point had been proven?

"Eat up," Genma nodded. "Eat up if you want to grow up to be big and
strong. If you ever want to grow up at all."

Taro winced his eyes together first as reflex, then kept them shut so he
couldn't see the meal in front of him. He opened wide and pulled the
hand closer to his mouth. Simply bringing it closer had dried his mouth.

Then, hoping to end it quickly, he stuffed the hateful mound into his
open mouth all at once.

The reaction was immediate and the taste horrific. Before he could even
close his mouth, he had already spit out a good portion of it, choking,
dying on its dryness. It devoured every speck of moisture in his mouth,
in his entire body. He was sure he felt sand running through his veins.
The grey powder coated every surface within his mouth. His tongue, his
tonsils, his cheeks, all felt as if they had been turned to ash as well.
He swallowed the hateful dust; first only a tiny amount. He tried to
swallow again and gagged, spitting up another grey cloud. He fell over
and rolled onto his back, then commenced coughing and choking as if he
was seconds away from death. His eyes rolled back in his head, and the
thought to look at Genma was far from his mind.

Genma was ready to finish the encounter, and without a word walked to
the prone, spasming form of the boy. He stepped on the boy's right leg
to steady it as it jerked to and fro, then sat down upon the boy's knee.
He placed one hand near the knee, one hand near the ankle, and pushed
inward. The bone snapped with a mimimum of effort, and Genma stood up
again. The boy tried to howl in pain, having forgotten any warning,
admonition or danger after being consumed by agony, but no sound would
escape the ashen tomb of his mouth.

Genma grabbed his traveling pack from the ground and started walking in
the direction he was set on at Jusenkyo; and Ranma soon followed. The
son maintained silence until he thought they were out of the boy's
earshot, then spoke up.

"That was pretty vicious, Pops. He was just a kid."

Genma's tone was pleasant and conversational, now that he no longer was
trying to intimidate someone. "He'll live. Most likely. If he dies, it
would be just as if he had ambushed a traveler not so forgiving as I.
And if he survives, he will carry this lesson with him the rest of his
life."

"Yeah, but that's a hell of a way to teach someone a lesson, especially
when they were just being young and foolish."

"Mercy never hardened anyone," said Genma, and that was that.

They saw it days before they reached it; it was impossible to miss once
they were nearby. The forest stopped as abruptly as if some artists had
ceased to draw them into the Earth, and the nearly flat, white and grey
plain stretched out into the horizon in mockery of all works, of all
things. It was the corpse-city they had both heard of in their travels,
and the place that they were told they would find a wise elder who could
help them with their newfound encumbrances. It was Beijing. The legends
said it was once a thriving city of thousands of thousands -- millions.
Now the wind passing over it sounded like the last breath of a body
lowered into his grave.

Once they set foot upon the crushed, powdered reamins of the city, they
had expected some form of welcome. They knew the elder was not alone
here, and thought that whether or not the elder knew of their coming,
that her guards would patrol around her home. They found no-one. Behind
them were green matchsticks sticking up from the horizon. Ahead as far
as the eye could see, the city was as flat as if the hand of some cruel
God had reached from the heavens and pressed it down.

Tired, they made camp for the day when they reached the outskirts. When
they awoke, the sun had sunk below and they still had not been met by
the guardians of this place. Ranma and Genma looked at each other,
shrugged, and began their hike over shattered glass and molten metal, on
to the horizon.