Family Curse

A Ranma ½ fanfic by jimra

Disclaimers are for those who are not stalked by the darkness within, and that excludes Ranma in this particular part. However, I will give a darkfic warning up front. Then again, it would be hard to believe the Nekoken training in detail could possibly be anything but a dark and disturbing part, right?

Chapter 5: The True Nekoken Training

--

Nodoka entered the children's room carrying a now-clean Ukyou just in time to see her husband finish binding Ranma's wounds, the man's eyes carefully scanning the child for any damage he might have missed. The Saotome matriarch quickly dressed her unconscious charge in pajamas and gently set her in the bed next to her best friend, and almost immediately, the little girl curled into a ball in her sleep, just one more indication of the traumatic events that had occurred earlier in the day. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Genma nod to himself, obviously satisfied with the bandages now wrapping most of their son's body, and he stood. The auburn-haired woman looked directly into her husband's eyes, seeing the pain and fear there, and he nodded toward the door. Quietly, Nodoka walked to the open shoji and stood, waiting for her husband to follow. Genma took one more long look at the sleeping form of their son before turning and exiting the room, and Nodoka quickly followed, carefully sliding the door closed without making a sound.

Genma did not stop outside the shoji, but rather, he walked directly down the stairs. Nodoka followed her husband down and into the kitchen, where the bald martial artist poured himself a glass of cold sake. This, Nodoka knew, was an indication of tremendous stress on her husband's part; he never liked his sake cooler than steaming, saying that it was not enjoyable otherwise. To drink sake at room temperature, he must be very worried indeed.

After Genma finished his first glass in one long pull, he poured himself another and, after a moment, he poured a second one. Silently, he handed his wife the second glass, and Nodoka's worries reached new highs; Genma knew that she did not even like the rice wine, so handing her a glass of the traditional Japanese alcohol indicated that this discussion would be extremely troubling.

Still without speaking, Genma picked up the sake bottle and walked into the tearoom, and after pulling a leather-bound book from the shelf, he seated himself at the table, laying the book in front of him. Nodoka followed, after a moment's hesitation, settling opposite her husband at the table and looking with some trepidation at the book. Finally, after drinking half of his second glass, he spoke.

"Nodoka," he said, his voice tired and full of pain and sorrow. "You must be wondering what was going on in that clearing." The auburn-haired woman nodded mutely, and he went on. "That was the training method for a powerful martial arts technique, the Nekoken."

Nodoka felt her anger rising. If Genma was teaching her son in such a barbaric manner, she might have to invoke the contract. Her anger must have shown on her face since Genma winced and quickly said, "I never wanted either of the children to even know of the technique, much less learn it."

Nodoka calmed, replying, "Then what happened, anata?"

Genma sighed before continuing. "I assume that Ranma or Ukyou stole the manual from my pack. It was probably our son, since I caught him once, reading the manual during our trip. I took it away from him, but I guess he must have read enough to know that it described the training method for a powerful technique." A bit of wistful pride broke through Genma's sorrowful mask as he continued, "Ranma has always been excited to learn a new technique…and impatient as well."

The master of the Saotome Ryu stopped there, draining the rest of his glass and pouring himself another. While he nursed his third cup of sake, Nodoka asked, her voice incredulous, "What kind of martial arts technique requires a pit of cats?"

"The Nekoken," Genma replied, "makes the practitioner nearly invincible. It increases speed, agility, strength, and balance to an incredible degree, and the full master of the technique can manipulate his ki to create razor-sharp claws that are capable of shredding almost any material. There are, however, two drawbacks."

The Saotome matriarch, despite her dislike of sake, found herself taking a long swig from her glass, not even tasting the liquid, as Genma continued. "The first drawback is the obvious cruelty involved in the training, which cannot be performed on a student over the age of ten. In the words of the creator of the Cat Fist, 'A student over the age of ten can usually fend off the cats, and such a student has generally already formed a strong, complex personality and self identity.'" Genma paused for a large swallow. "That last bit leads into the second drawback: the practitioner must literally go insane to use the technique to its fullest potential. He will be afraid of cats, and when exposed to them, he will become a cat, mentally."

At that last statement, Nodoka drained her glass, quickly pouring another from the bottle on the table. Imagining her son mentally becoming a cat disturbed her greatly, and she almost did not want her husband to continue. However, Nodoka was made of stronger stuff than that, and her only question to Genma was, "What can be done?"

Genma sighed. "Later masters, realizing that super-powerful, uncontrollable martial artists were more of a liability than an asset, found ways to manipulate the training so that the practitioner does not fall into the cat state, and while that limits the effectiveness of the technique, it is preferable to the insanity. The problem is, these techniques are even more painful, and they require the trainee to repeat the initial training many times."

Nodoka's eyes widened. "You mean, put Ranma back in that pit?! No! We will just have to leave it alone!"

If anything, the pain in Genma's eyes increased at her outburst, and he replied, "That is impossible now, No-chan. Once begun, the training must be completed or Ranma will always be like those that just had the initial training. The training actually alters the ki of the subject, and without the complete training, he will slip into the insane state when exposed to cats."

"Then you must finish this training?" Nodoka asked, already knowing the answer. "There is no other way?"

"There is no other way, No-chan," replied Genma, his tone resigned.

--

Ukyou started awake in the darkness, fear crystallizing around her heart like ice. Slowly, the ice began to melt as she realized that she was curled up in a ball on the bed she shared with her best friend, and it was dark because it was night outside. She stretched out on the bed and rolled onto her back, trying to figure out how she got there. Unconsciously, her hand snaked out, clasping Ranma's hand for comfort, and she was surprised to feel bandages wrapped around her best friend's unmoving palm and fingers.

Twisting around to part the curtains, Ukyou looked at the visage of her friend, eyes widening in horror. Most of the pigtailed boy's body was wrapped in gauze bandages, some having darkened from staunching the flow of blood from one laceration or another. Her friend's eyes were shut, but the sense Ukyou got from Ranma was not of peaceful sleep, but one of blank unconsciousness. It was as if her best friend's soul was missing from his body. In fact, the small chef would have thought her friend dead if not for the slow, rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.

"Ranchan," she whispered, racking her memory in order to remember what had happened to him, but it simply would not come. Silent tears traced lines down the girl's face as she clung desperately to her best friend's hand, and Ukyou spent the rest of the night searching unsuccessfully for some way to comfort her friend and herself.

--

Nodoka and Genma entered the children's room just after sunrise, the cheerfully bright light and merrily singing birds seeming to be a travesty after what had happened to their son. Nodoka herself still could not quite wrap her mind around the fact that Ranma had done this to himself, not once thinking about what the training would be like. She certainly could not expect a seven-year-old to think rationally about these things, but the consequences were almost more than she could bear. The fact that her husband had told her that it would become far worse before it got better left her at a point beyond that which words can describe.

As they entered, the sight of little Ukyou, hugging Ranma's unconscious form and silently crying into his gauze-covered chest made Nodoka's heart clench, and the auburn-haired mother quickly outpaced her husband, gathering Ukyou into her arms. That action actually required some effort, as the little girl clung to Nodoka's son with a strength that most would find impossible in a child her age, but in the end, the Saotome matriarch succeeded. Ukyou, now lacking the object of her concern, immediately latched onto the older woman, shuddering sobs shaking her small frame.

"It will be alright, Ukyou-chan," Nodoka cooed soothingly into the small girl's ear, stroking her soft brown hair. "It will be alright."

Genma then got her attention, saying, "No-chan, you and Ukyou stay in the house. I am going to take Ranma into the dojo…to continue the training. What ever you hear, don't come in. This is for your own protection, so don't argue with me No-chan."

His voice was so adamant, so unyielding, that Nodoka found herself nodding before she even thought about his command, but in all things martial, Nodoka knew that Genma was the expert and master. Firming her own resolve, the auburn-haired woman answered, "Yes, husband."

Nodding back to her, Genma's face softened. "I also have a request," he said. "I don't know how long it will take me to complete the first phase of the training, but we will need the cats for the second. Please feed them each day."

A heavy feeling of dread and revulsion settled in the pit of Nodoka's stomach at the thought of even returning to the clearing where those awful yowls emanated, but considering her conversation with Genma the previous night, the Saotome matriarch understood the necessity of his request. Again, she nodded her assent to her husband.

Genma leaned over their son, giving his bandages a quick once-over, and he said, "After I change a few of these bandages, we are going to begin."

Not wanting her husband to see the pain on her face, Nodoka turned from the room and left, carrying Ukyou down the stairs to the kitchen where she could gather some tuna to feed the source of her son's pain.

--

Making certain that the doors to the dojo were locked securely, Genma looked back at his comatose son lying bonelessly on the wood floor. Almost shuddering at the pain he was about to inflict upon his son, the Master of the Saotome Ryu walked slowly over to the boy, kneeling in front of his small form.

"Son," said Genma, his voice heavy with sorrow, "I never wanted you to have to go through this pain, but now it is unavoidable. I'm sorry."

Pushing his memories and regrets away, Genma set about his task, bracing himself against his son's likely reaction to the first of many painful encounters with the Touched Soul technique. Interlacing his fingers with those of his son, the gi-clad man began to focus his ki into his hands, and clenching his teeth, he began to force his ki into Ranma's ki paths, forcibly widening them. Ranma's reaction was predictable, considering the soul-searing pain that this technique caused, and Genma winced as his son screamed, the boy's eyes flying open.

Continuing to increase the pressure and amount of ki he was using, the Musabetsu master began to shape the ki paths in Ranma's arms, removing the twists and kinks that the initial Nekoken experience had put there. Ranma, for his part, continued to scream, and the first of many kicks connected with Genma's gut, causing the older man to grunt.

Heedless of his son's continuous attacks, the bald martial artist pressed on, moving beyond Ranma's arms and into the chakra points at his son's center. At this point, the pigtailed boy finally passed out from the pain, and Genma felt a few tears leak out of his eyes. Nonetheless, this was necessary, and the elder Saotome would continue until the task was complete.

--

At the first screams from inside the dojo, Ukyou had reflexively tried to go to her best friend, banging on the locked doors, but Nodoka had quickly restrained the girl, who once again latched onto the older woman. The cries of pain did not stop for nearly an hour, and the two females spent that hour sitting in the tearoom, both silently crying.

Finally, the screaming ended, and an ominous silence settled over the house. Genma still had not come out of the dojo, but at least the auditory evidence that Ranma was in pain had ceased. An hour later, Ukyou managed to let go of the Saotome matriarch, and the elder woman had left to purchase additional tuna and cat food. For the young Kuonji girl, time seemed to crawl by as she sat, staring at nothing. Somewhere deep down, Ukyou blamed herself for what Ranma was going through; shouldn't she have done something to stop him from jumping into the pit?

Morning turned into afternoon as the traumatized girl sat, never moving more than to breath, and when Nodoka placed lunch in front of her, Ukyou just stared at the food. She knew, peripherally, that the elder woman was worried about her, but the budding chef could not seem to rouse herself from her depressed state.

Finally, as the sun was setting, the doors to the dojo opened, and Ukyou looked up to see a weary-looking Genma walking out of the fighting hall carrying the limp, unconscious form of her best friend. The master of the Saotome-style Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu walked into the tearoom slowly, and after settling his son on a couple of cushions, he walked into the kitchen, returning quickly with a large glass of sake and sitting next to Ranma at the table.

Presently, Nodoka joined the other three, laying out a sparse meal of rice, pickles, and grilled salmon, but Genma held up a hand when she moved to rouse Ranma for dinner. "Don't wake him, No-chan," he said. "He shouldn't eat anything during this phase of the training."

Dinner was a morose affair, no one speaking, and once the silent meal was consumed, Genma rose, and picking up his son, the Saotome patriarch carried Ranma up to his room, followed quickly by Ukyou. The brown-haired girl watched as her sensei put Ranma in their bed, and after he left, she quickly changed into her pajamas and joined her best friend in bed, holding him close until she fell asleep.

--

As he was walking back down the stairs from the children's room, Genma felt tears falling silently from his eyes, his actions, and those he would still have to do, forcing the emotional response. Sitting down at the table, he sighed heavily, but an arm encircling his shoulders did give him some comfort. Reciprocating his wife's gesture, Genma drew Nodoka into a loving hug, murmuring, "This will take some time, my kitsune."

--

Over the course of the next four days, Genma repeated his actions, using the Touched Soul technique to strengthen, widen, and shape his son's ki paths in order to prepare him for his return to the pit. The imperfect Nekoken, the one taught only with the pit, would leave the subject insane, having a severe phobic reaction to cats, but using the Touched Soul to guide the student's ki development would limit that fear. Certainly, it took a great deal of time, much more than with the imperfect version, to manifest all of the attacks available to a Nekoken master, but the learner would remain sane.

On the third day of the Touched Soul training, Genma ordered that the cats be starved once again in preparation for the second phase of the True Nekoken training, and on the fifth day, the Master of the Saotome Ryu finally woke his son in a more normal way than using the Touched Soul.

--

Eyes wide with fear, Ranma followed his father through the woods; only a week previous, this path led to a place where he thought he would learn a great new technique. However, after five days of intense, mind-numbingly painful training and his initial foray into the pit, Ranma was, for the first time in his young life, truly terrified.

"I don't want to go back into the pit, Otousan," he tremulously said.

Genma stopped as he spoke, turning to his son. Ranma could see the sadness and resignation in his father's eyes as he said, "I'm sorry, son, but there is no other way. Once begun, the training must be completed."

Shoring up his courage as much as he could, the pigtailed boy nodded, and Genma continued leading him toward the pit. As they approached, Ranma could hear the terrible yowling of the starving cats, and that was almost enough to break the young martial artist's resolve, only the stoic form of his father giving him the resolve to continue.

They arrived at the training site five minutes later, the sound of the cats within the pit causing Ranma's skin to crawl, and he stood there trembling in fear as Genma opened a bag he had carried with them, wrapping the contents, long cords of fish sausage, around his small, gi-clad frame. Once Genma had finished, in an encouraging voice, he said to his son, "Once in there, do whatever your instincts tell you, and in that manner you will learn the technique."

Nodding shakily to his father, Ranma stepped forward, fear already clutching his heart like icy claws, but nonetheless, the young martial artist stepped off the edge into the nightmare.

Like déjà vu, Ranma watched as the cats surged forward, and just like before, he was pulled to the ground, the agony of rending claws and biting teeth becoming distant. Again, he felt the predator, that primal, savage part of himself in the darkness, stalking him, and the fear was palpable. He ran from the dark beast, trying to hide, but there was no escape, no solace. Finally, the creature leapt at him, his fear peaking.

This time, however, nothing stopped the beast from claiming its prize.

--

It took all of Genma's willpower to watch his son enter the pit, and he almost leapt after him when the screams of pain and fear began to emanate from the pit, only the knowledge of the alternative, the imperfect Nekoken, keeping him from saving his son from this nightmare. After about ten minutes, Ranma's screams cut off, and the elder Saotome was about to jump into the pit, since this part of the training was useless if Ranma fell unconscious. Another sound stopped him from entering the pit, a deeper yowling than the other cats, and Genma braced himself.

In an explosion of flying cats and tree branches, Ranma emerged from the pit, crouching on all fours and growling at Genma. The master of the Saotome Ryu fell into a stance, facing off against his now-bestial son. He had known that this was the result of the imperfect Nekoken, but the bald man had not expected Ranma to reach this state after only two trips into the pit.

Before Genma could continue along that line of reasoning, Ranma leapt at him, and the Saotome patriarch was reminded of why the Nekoken training was almost as dangerous to the teacher as to the student as Ranma used a ki claw to open a long slash down his right forearm. Ignoring the pain, Genma swept forward, using all his skill and speed as a practitioner and master of the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu to close with his son's berserker state. Thankfully, since this was Ranma's first time using the uncontrollable Nekoken state, the boy was somewhat awkward in his actions, and Genma managed to snag the boy's left arm.

'Now for the hard part,' thought Genma, hoping his son did not hurt him too badly as the man moved into the third phase of the true Nekoken training. Hitting a pressure point on Ranma's shoulder that would temporarily immobilize the limb, the elder Saotome interlaced his fingers with those of his son, initiating the Touched Soul technique. Ranma hissed and yowled in pain as Genma began using his own ki to once again straighten the younger Saotome's ki paths, and Genma winced in pain as the boy's ki claws pierced the back of his hand. Regardless of the pain, the Saotome master used his son's distraction to snag his other hand, forcing even more of his ki into his son.

As he worked, Genma stared into Ranma's eyes, watching for some effect as he forcibly straightened the ki paths, in effect, forcing the berserker to become subordinate to his son's original personality. For now, the boy's eyes were empty, those of an animal that lived solely on instinct, but after about ten minutes of agonizingly slow work, Genma saw a change, ever so small. The light of consciousness was slowly returning to Ranma's eyes, though it was still mixed with bestial rage and agony.

It took nearly an hour, but slowly Ranma's yowls changed into human screams, and the ki claws vanished as the young Saotome's original, human personality subsumed the beast. Finally, when he could see nothing but a human will in Ranma's eyes, Genma released him, the boy falling to the ground and convulsing, as though he had touched a live wire. Exhausted from the extensive ki drain using the Touched Soul while keeping his son from gutting him, Genma fell to one knee beside his son.

"Is it over, Otousan?" whispered Ranma, finally lying still, but the boy's tone one of both terror and exhaustion.

"Not yet, son," answered Genma, regret in his exhausted tone. "Soon, but not yet."

--

Because they were both injured and exhausted, Nodoka had to dress the wounds on her husband and son, but she was just glad that Ranma, for the first time in nearly a week, was conscious in her presence. The week had been hellish, one where a mother had to willingly listen to her only son screaming in agony every day, but Genma had assured her that it was all necessary. Seeing Ranma once again conscious, if subdued, reinforced her trust in her husband. Her son was getting better, despite the brutality of the method.

Ranma was once again covered in scratches and bites from the cats, which was to be expected since phase two of the training involved his return to the pit, but the state of her husband was what really concerned the Saotome matriarch. Between the long slash down his forearm and the four deep puncture wounds in the back of each of his hands, Nodoka was seriously thinking of driving him to the hospital for stitches, only the fact that she couldn't explain what had happened to Genma stopping her from such actions. As such, the auburn-haired woman was glad that she had taken some nursing classes when she was younger, and while a doctor would probably done a better job, she had sewn her husband back together with some black thread she kept in the family medical kit. It was always best to be prepared when everyone in your family was a martial artist.

The family sat down for dinner together for the first time since Ranma had originally entered the pit, but it was a quiet affair. Although he had not eaten in six days, Ranma picked at his food, barely eating half of his rice, and when Nodoka questioned him about his lack of appetite, he just said that he wasn't hungry.

Deciding leave it at that, the Saotome matriarch just nodded at her son, and when he asked to be excused, she nodded her assent, Ukyou leaving the table with him. Turning to her husband, Nodoka asked, "How much longer, Genma?"

"The training has five phases, No-chan," he answered, his voice heavy. "We finished phase three today, so perhaps a week or two, depending on how well Ranma takes to learning phase four."

Sighing, Nodoka moved to sit next to her husband, wrapping her arms around her love and drawing what comfort she could from his embrace.

--

After having a bath, Ranma was lying on the bed he shared with his best friend, a haunted look on his face. He could remember everything up to when the beast leapt at him, but from there until he found himself in agony facing his father, there was nothing. The only clues he could find from the missing segment of time were the odd emotions he had felt when he was becoming conscious. Ranma was incredulous at having such emotions; the boy could not comprehend the bloodlust, the savage need for the hunt, which had been practically vibrating in him as he awoke.

Before he could continue along that line of reasoning, Ukyou entered the room, wearing her pajamas. Not saying a word, the brown-haired girl climbed into the bed next to him, putting her arms around him in a tight embrace. Reciprocating the gesture, Ranma held his best friend close; it was obvious from her expression that he was not the only one having a rough time with the training.

"Ranchan," asked Ukyou, her voice small and weak, "are you okay now?"

"I dunno, Ucchan," he answered, his voice equally tremulous. "Dad said that I've completed more than half of the training on the way back, so I hope so."

Ukyou began to tremble, so Ranma tightened his embrace on her, stroking her back. "I'm just glad you didn't go into the…the pit."

When she didn't answer, Ranma looked down, finding his best friend asleep in his arms. Shifting slightly, careful not to wake her, the pigtailed martial artist reached down and drew the blankets over them, holding his best friend until he fell asleep.

--

The next morning found Genma and Ranma in the dojo, but this time the elder Saotome was not preparing for another round of Touched Soul training.

"Alright, Ranma," said Genma, his voice once again confident. "It's time for you to learn the Touched Soul. That will allow you to manage your own ki paths, and thus keep the berserker state in check."

"Hai, Otousan," replied the newly confident student.

"Since I've used the technique on you," Genma continued, happy that his son was recovering well from the traumatic Nekoken training, "you will notice that your ki paths are much larger and more ordered, and this will make you much more adept at manipulating your ki. Now it is time to learn how to do so."

Motioning for his son to imitate him, Genma knelt on the dojo floor in seiza. "Close your eyes and meditate, son. Control your breathing and feel the flow of ki through your body."

--

Ukyou knelt outside the dojo, mimicking the position of her sensei and best friend. Although she was not formally a part of this training, the young chef was still trying to learn something, and the best way at the moment seemed like participating incognito.

--

It had taken two weeks, but Ranma was finally able to control his ki using the Touched Soul technique, and the young martial artist was now capable of summoning a thin battle aura at will. It had been a long and painful trek, but the pigtailed boy was within sight of finishing the Nekoken training, and for Ranma, it was not a moment too soon. He was ready to put this whole traumatic experience behind him. Of course, his father had explained what the final phase of the training was after practice today, and Ranma was at least apprehensive about it. 'I have to go in the pit again…' he thought, fear tingeing his mental tone.

The night before, as he and Ucchan had been in bed, the girl had asked him about the final phase, and after he had answered truthfully, Ucchan had cried herself to sleep in his arms. Now, though, his best friend was accompanying his father and him to the pit, and she would not answer why. Even Genma had warned her not to join them, but Ukyou was resolute.

The yowling from the pit was the same, and the fear coiling in Ranma's stomach still tried to make him run away, hiding from this responsibility. However, the added confidence from consciously taking control of his ki paths buoyed the pigtailed boy, allowing him to face the final phase of training without trembling in fear. Glancing at Ukyou, Ranma could see that her skin was pale with fear, and he tried one last time to convince her not to watch.

"Ucchan, why don't you go back to the house and wait with Okaasan?" he asked. "You don't look so good."

Ukyou only closed her eyes and shook her head, not answering vocally, and Ranma sighed. Obviously, Ucchan would not be daunted.

As the three martial artists entered the clearing, Ranma stepped forward, allowing Genma to wrap him in fish sausage once again. 'It's almost over. It's almost over," became Ranma's mental mantra, and with resignation, the seven-year-old walked to the edge of the pit. Taking a deep breath, and without looking back, he jumped in.

This time, as the cats surged forward and he felt himself once again being stalked in the darkness, Ranma applied the Touched Soul training, manifesting his battle aura. Suddenly, the bloodthirsty beast in the darkness with him stopped, and he could feel its uncertainty at this turn of events. Still, the creature felt the unending need to dominate this prey, and soon it approached once more, if somewhat more cautiously.

Ranma stood his ground against the berserker, clenching his teeth in concentration to avoid his terror. As his father had taught him, give in to the terror for even a moment and the beast would win. Since offence was often the best defense, Ranma attacked first, punching the berserker personality in the muzzle, which had taken the form of a black bengal tiger here in his mindscape. The creature yowled in anger and pain, and Ranma could feel its incredulity at its prey attacking back.

Managing to dodge its riposte, the pigtailed boy lashed out again, this time with a hammer fist to the beast's back, followed with a knee to its gut and a side kick that knocked the tiger to the ground. In a flash, however, the berserker was back on its feet, and Ranma failed to dodge its answering leap. The beast's forepaws slammed into his shoulders, claws extended and ripping into his flesh, and the tiger bore him to the ground. It was over a moment later, and Ranma's world faded to black when the tiger's jaws snapped toward his throat.

--

Ukyou screamed in fright when her best friend leapt out of the pit, showering the area with pieces of the branches that had once covered the opening, and Ranma landed in front of her, crouched on all fours, hissing. Unfortunately for her, a stray piece of debris had hit Genma in the head, knocking her sensei out, so Ukyou was essentially alone with the beast her best friend had become.

"R—ranch—chan?" she stammered, trembling in fear of her friend-turned-berserker.

Ranma's bestial, empty eyes turned toward the seven-year-old girl, narrowing as he studied her, and Ukyou had to swallow the lump that formed in her throat, her terror growing greater every second that passed.

Suddenly, Ranma leapt at her, and the little girl let out a shrill scream as she fell to the ground under her best friend's assault. The only thing that stopped the cry was the sound emanating from Ranma after he landed…the young boy had curled up in Ukyou's lap and was purring loudly.

Ukyou raised a trembling hand, experimentally petting Ranma's head, and the purring increased in intensity. Finally feeling her fear receding, Ukyou resigned herself to sitting here, petting her best friend, until Saotome-sensei woke up.

--

"I can't believe I failed again!" ranted Ranma, sitting at the table for dinner following his second attempt to finish the Nekoken training, but Nodoka was simply relieved that her son was becoming animated again. For too long, the Saotome matriarch had seen nothing but fear, pain, and horror in her son's eyes, and even this anger was better than that. Still, she longed for the days when Ranma would be happy again.

"Have patience, son," answered Genma. "Remember, you can't give the beast the least chance to gain the upper hand; you have to show that you are the master and it is your slave."

"Hai Otousan."

"But it's really cute when you act like a kitty," Ukyou put in, earning her a punch in the arm, courtesy of her best friend. That punch escalated into a full-scale spar that quickly migrated outside, and Nodoka smiled, happy that her family was finally getting back to normal after this ordeal. Of course, she would have to punish the children for sparring in the house, but that was something that Nodoka could deal with later.

--

'This time,' Ranma thought, fiercely shoring up his courage, 'I will win!'

Without further thought, the pigtailed boy hopped into the pit, the cats predictably swarming him as soon as he landed. Finding himself once again facing his inner beast, and knowing exactly what was occurring, Ranma did not even feel fear; he was too angry.

"You're not going to win this time!" he shouted at the berserker personality, dropping immediately into a low combat crouch. Though the beast did not use words, Ranma could feel its confusion. It was almost as though the creature could not understand why its prey did not recognize his place.

With a growl, the tiger-like beast crouched, launching its black form at the pigtailed martial artist, but unlike the last time, Ranma caught the approaching claw, spinning and throwing the berserker past him in a classic Aikido technique. As per usual, the tiger landed on its feet and launched itself once again at the pigtailed boy, but Ranma was having none of it. Leaping into the air to meet his enemy, the young Saotome employed the hayabusa do to hang in the air, dealing out numerous telling blows before gravity could return him to the ground. True, the beast had gotten two good blows through his guard, raking lines of fire down either side of his chest, but it was obvious from the way the tiger limped after it got to its feet and Ranma had given better than he got.

The confusion rolling off the tiger actually began to have a tinge of fear when Ranma refused to give the beast a chance to recover, racing forward and landing a hard right knee on its flank. The force of the blow was enough to knock the berserker to the ground, and though it was somewhat contrary to his nature, hitting a downed foe, Ranma did not intend to ever let the beast have the upper hand again. As such, the pigtailed boy immediately landed a stomp on the tiger's left rear ankle, breaking the joint and causing the enemy of yowl in pain. After than, Ranma landed three hard kicks to the beast's midsection, but the emotions rolling off of the tiger, now fear and pain, stopped him from unloading a fourth.

Keeping his anger and determination to dominate the beast at the forefront of his mind, Ranma walked around to where the tiger's head was lying on the ground, and he grasped the creature with his left hand by the skin of its neck, lifting its head and directly looking into the eyes of the berserker with fire in his angry gaze.

"I am the master here," Ranma growled at the tiger, and when the beast made a half-hearted attempt to bite his face, Ranma didn't even flinch, restraining the action with his left arm and unloading a powerful slap with his right. Finally, Ranma felt what he desired: the berserker's emotional footprint in the strange mindscape was resigned, not longer seeming to think he was prey. Almost contemptuously, Ranma dropped the beast's head, turning away.

A spike in the beast's emotions warned him of the enemy's treachery a moment before the tiger got to its feet, intent on pouncing on the pigtailed boy from behind, but Ranma did not even bother to turn. Crouching ever so slightly, Ranma's leg pistoned out in a powerful back kick, catching the tiger full in the face and knocking the beast out. With a satisfied smirk, Ranma repeated himself. "Like I said, I am the master here."

With that, the black mindscape faded, and Ranma found himself in the pit, the many hungry cats cowering away from him, as though terrified.

--

When the commotion in the pit died down, both Genma and Ukyou rushed over to the side, looking down at a curious sight. Ranma was standing in the center of the pit, not acting like a cat, and all around him, the formerly angry cats were now doing their level best to get away from him, some even trying to climb the steep sides of the pit. A moment later, Ranma leapt from the bottom of the pit to land next to them.

"I did it," he said in a self-satisfied tone. "I defeated the beast."

Ukyou immediately ran over to him, throwing her arms around her best friend despite the dirt and blood that covered his lacerated body. "I'm just so glad this nightmare is over."

"Congratulations, son," said Genma, clapping him on the shoulder. "Let's get back to the house and tell your mother. I'm sure she'll want to celebrate."

It was three very happy martial artists that made their way back to the Saotome home in Sapporo, and with the dreadful training complete, they would no longer have to worry about listening to screams all day. Of course, as with any traumatic event, it would haunt the participants far longer than the events themselves lasted.

--

Author's Notes:

Well, I finally got this section written, and while it didn't turn out quite how I expected, that is half the fun of writing. I hope everyone likes how I portrayed the true Nekoken training, but if not, review and tell me about it. I know it wasn't very dark towards the end, but you had to know that this entire story wouldn't be dark. In any case, thanks for reading. Later all.