Posted: Wednesday 25 April 2007
Re-posted: Sunday 03 June 2012
Disclaimer: This fanfiction uses existing ideas, characters and or worlds, but is an independent work of art. I own nothing, hence the reason for publishing my writings here instead of in real books where I could make some money.
Change of Power
Chapter One – Decisions
It was early morning at the Tendo home.
It was the day after the disastrously failed wedding, and while most of the dojo remained in ruins, life must go on.
Ranma and Akane sat at the breakfast table, with Tendo Soun sitting across from them, smoking an after-breakfast cigarette, while Saotome Genma was playing with a ball and Kasumi was hanging laundry out to dry.
"So we have arranged for the wedding to be delayed," Said Soun after a long drag of his cigarette, exhaling a big puff of smoke. "Until you can sort out your personal affairs …"
"Pay attention!" Akane chastised Ranma. "All this applies mostly to you!"
"It was just as much your fault, Akane," Ranma retorted.
Sighing in frustration, Akane looked at the time, and immediately got up. "We've got to go!" she added for explanation as she pulled Ranma from his seat and started running, her school bag in her other hand.
For the entire school day, Ranma refrained from falling asleep. He was contemplating the events leading to their current situation.
Things would not have been this hard if he had been stronger! If something like Saffron happened again, there was no guarantee that he would be able to win at his current level of skill and strength. And there was no assurances that some miracle would happen again to help him win. There was only one thing he could do to prevent such a thing from taking place again; he would have to train, and in order to train safely he needed to go on a training trip.
There was only one, huge, problem with this answer; there was no possibility of him being able to get much training done if he announced his intentions to everyone, as they would follow him and somehow make his training worse or yield lesser results than he wanted.
He would have to leave alone. Now, the question remained; how would he do that?
Nearly a week later, Ranma came up with a plan. It may not have been a very good plan, but at least he had one.
He had gathered all the materials he thought he'd need, gotten all his money out of hiding and was ready to go.
"Pops," he declared one night at dinner. The day had gone well, without much in the way of disturbances. As such most of the members of the Tendo household were in a good mood, with the exception of Akane who had been offended when Ranma refused to eat her bento at school. "I think I need to spend some time with Mom. She seemed a little disappointed when the wedding was … interrupted."
At the mention of his wife's disappointment Genma bit back the protest he had been about to utter about Ranma being coddled by spending too much time with his mother, and instead nodded meekly. The others around the table shook their heads at the display while Nabiki edged away to sell the information to Ranma's suitors and rivals. The suitors would not dare fight over Ranma at the rebuilt Saotome home for fear of what Auntie Nodoka might do to them and their claim on her son if they did. But it would be good for the Tendo home's repair bill to have the fighting between the rivals taking place somewhere else.
"I'll be leaving tonight," Ranma added.
Again, Genma looked about to protest.
"I'm sure Mom will appreciate a surprise arrival by her son, wouldn't you agree, pops?" continued Ranma.
Genma's protest ended abruptly, and a reluctant nod was given again.
"Then I guess I'd better get going before it gets too late," Ranma continued. "It would be rude to wake Mom when I arrive, right?"
"Oh my, yes," Kasumi agreed. "I'm sure Auntie Nodoka wouldn't appreciate that!"
"What are you waiting for, boy?" a frantic Genma asked, knowing full well that any perceived fault in Ranma's upbringing would reflect badly on him. And having his No-chan angry with him was not something he wanted, as she tended to express her anger with her clumsily wielded sword. Come to think of it his mother tended to wave around a butcher knife at his father when she got angry, and his grandmother always jabbed his grandfather in the leg with a hairpin when she was annoyed with him. Maybe it was a genetic male Saotome trait to seek out excitable women with sharp weapons? "Get going!"
Giving Akane a look, Ranma got only an insulted sniff in return. She was clearly still upset with him about insulting her cooking.
As much as he wanted to tell her about what he had planned he knew that the secret would be out in a matter of minutes of him telling her, so that option was out. He needed more time than a few minutes head-start to successfully get this training trip under way.
Trudging upstairs to get his backpack, Ranma grumbled at the fact that Akane didn't even seem remotely upset at the idea that he'd be gone for a few days. Perhaps she simply hid it well enough. Though, over the last week, she had gotten a little less friendly. Not much, hardly noticeable to an outsider, but still.
On the way, he passed Nabiki, who had only gotten as far as to tell Ukyo of the planned visit, if the check-list next to the phone was anything to go by. That left Kuno and Gosunkugi.
Not wanting his journey to be hindered, Ranma slipped into his room and got his backpack.
As he was about to leave through the window, the door opened, revealing Kasumi.
"You're not going to Auntie Nodoka, are you?" she asked sadly. "Are you running away?"
"NO!" Ranma protested. So as not to attract any unwanted attention, he swept Kasumi into the room and closed the door behind her. "I'm going on a training trip, and I don't want anyone to follow me!"
"Why?" asked Kasumi. "Why can't you let the others know?"
"Because they'd follow me!" Ranma hissed, sounding more angry than cautious, and regretted it from the hurt look on the elder girl's face. "I wouldn't get any training done if they followed me, and then it would only become a vacation from the city, bringing all my problems with me!" he continued, trying to soften his voice some.
"Why do you need to get stronger?" Kasumi asked. "If what your father said is true, you killed a God to save Akane's life. What possible reason could you have for needing to get stronger?"
"It was a fluke!" Ranma admitted in a growl. "If it hadn't been for the Gekkaja, I would have died long before that battle! If it wasn't for Akane's shrunken, frozen body throwing itself at Saffron when she did, I would never have managed the final attack! I need to get stronger, I can't leave things to chance! I wouldn't be a proper Martial Artist if I did! A Martial Artist is supposed to protect the weak. How will I be able to do that if I get killed by my next opponent? You must have noticed it, right? That my real opponents seem to grow in strength, while I only grow in bursts when one of my friends have learned a new trick that they try on me! What if my next opponent isn't as overconfident as Saffron? I'll lose for sure, and Saotome Ranma doesn't lose! I can't trust my dumb luck to come to the rescue anymore …"
Kasumi was silent for a moment before nodding in understanding.
"I would appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone," Ranma added hopefully as the young woman turned and reached for the door.
"Don't worry, Ranma-kun," Kasumi assured him with a smile, turning her head to look at him over her shoulder. "I know how to keep a secret."
Turning to the door, Kasumi and Ranma were shocked when Akane slid it open, a look of outrage on her face.
"Ranma!" she yelled. "What are you making my sister keep a secret?"
Though Ranma had to admit, the scene might look compromising; Kasumi alone with him in the guest room promising to keep something a secret, he was still hurt at the implied accusation of him having tried something with Kasumi.
"Nothing, Akane," Ranma yelled back. "She just came to say goodbye, unlike someone else I know!"
"Why would I say goodbye to an insensitive jerk like you?" Akane retorted.
"Never mind," Ranma bit back yelling at her that he would be gone for a while. It would just give away more than he wanted to. "Goodbye."
Without another word, Ranma hopped out the window, backpack in place, and gritting his teeth to keep from calling Akane an uncute tomboy for being so angry with him for no good reason.
An hour later, Ranma was almost out of Tokyo, and reclining in a somewhat comfortable seat on the train headed for Mito.
He had heard rumors of a temple there that practiced minzoku-shinto, and decided to at least check with them if there was any chance of them curing him of his fear of cats. Though he was loath to admit it, felines were his greatest fear and having someone potentially taking advantage of that fear in battle would not be a good thing. It had to go.
And while he waited for the train to get there, he practiced stuff space, the one good technique Mousse had in his arsenal. He had picked up the mechanics of the technique already during their second encounter, but never really had much use for it until now.
The only thing he dared practice with was a blank notebook he planned on using with the list he had made of things he needed to learn or do during this training trip, and so far he had managed to hide it for exactly five seconds before it tumbled out of stuff space.
He needed more work on the technique, Ranma concluded, and started again.
For the remainder of his trip to Mito, Ranma practiced placing things in stuff space. By the time he arrived a few hours later, he was able to keep half his pack in stuff space for a short while. He still needed practice, though.
However, before he could do much else Ranma's stomach announced that it was tired of being ignored. The problem was that very few shops or restaurants were open at three in the morning, and those that were weren't very respectable or reliable.
Salvation came in the form of a vending machine that advertised several fresh salads, yoghurts and onigiri standing next to a vending machine for soda pop. They were both freshly stacked three times a day, according to the label, and it was a small shop in town that performed the service and got the money. An all-around good idea for making money while sleeping, in Ranma's opinion, because some travellers would always be hungry no matter if the train they traveled on had a dining cart or not.
The two thousand yen he needed to sate his hunger were well worth it, though. Those onigiri had been very good.
Walking the streets of Mito, Ranma tried to get directions to the temple. Of course, being as it was the middle of the night there were very few people to ask directions, and some of those that were out were not of the sort of people one wishes to speak to or even encounter.
So Ranma had to settle for finding it himself.
It was about six when Ranma found the temple on a hill on the edge of town, and the slowly rising sun did a good job of warming him up after the light chill of the early spring night.
Standing at the top of the steps leading to the temple, was a Shinto priest in every-day robes, sweeping the steps just outside the torii gate placed at the top.
The priest was an old man with a thinning white goatee reaching as far down as his chest.
As Ranma got closer, the old priest stopped his sweeping and looked up from his work.
"May I help you?" he asked.
Ranma hesitated for a moment.
What if his fear of cats was taken away? How would that feel? What would be different?
And what if they couldn't do anything for him?
Seeing the priest waiting patiently for his answer, Ranma took a deep breath, and plunged into it.
"My father instilled a fear of anything feline in me," he blurted, trying to formulate himself as concisely as possible. "I hoped there would be a possibility of someone here having the ability to remove this fear from me, because trouble keeps finding me, and having such a incapacitating handicap will only end in someone getting hurt, should those who fight me take advantage of my fear."
The priest stared at Ranma for several moments, and Ranma almost thought he had not spoken clearly enough, when the man spoke.
"There is nothing anyone but you can do to overcome your fears," he said. "This is a small temple, I am the only priest here. But if you are dedicated, I may be capable of helping you help yourself. The real question is: are you prepared to face your fears? Because that is what you need to do so if you wish to be rid of this curse."
"I'll do whatever it takes," Ranma agreed firmly. He had to, if he wanted to survive an encounter with lethal intent with someone who knew his weakness enough not to push him over the edge.
"Here," the priest stated with a nod, handing Ranma the broom. "I will take your backpack to the guest quarters while you finish sweeping the steps. And do a good job of it, if you'd be so kind."
Though he was tired, Ranma didn't like the idea of rejecting a favor for someone who would help him. And that it was a priest didn't help settle his resolve against the favor.
Dutifully, Ranma accepted the broom, handed his backpack to the priest and started sweeping.
By the time darkness once more covered the land Ranma had swept all the steps, the courtyard, raked the rock garden, and scrubbed the floors. Thankfully the water got dirty before it got cold and thus had to be exchanged for clean water, so it didn't get to trigger the curse.
Every four hours he had worked, the old priest had given him food and water. It was meager in taste and aesthetics, but filling and enough to sate Ranma's immediate hunger.
To put it mildly, Ranma was tired. He had been up for two days in a row, and performing continuous tasks throughout that time.
"Are you tired?" asked the old man, causing Ranma to turn to face him.
"A little," Ranma replied, trying to hide his drooping eyes and slouched stance of a moment ago.
"Does that mean you are ready to give up?" asked the old priest. "Because staying here would mean hard work, day in and day out until you have gotten yourself back in order."
"I'll do anything to get rid of my fear!" Ranma stubbornly declared. He wasn't about to turn into his father, who shied away from hard work and shoved what little was forced on him onto someone else.
"Anything? Even serving as the janitor of this temple for the duration of your stay?" prodded the priest.
"Anything!" Ranma repeated.
"Good," the priest affirmed. "Now, follow me, I'll take you to what will be your room while you are here. You look dead on your feet. You have an early morning to start your cleansing, and you need to be refreshed."
"What am I going to clean tomorrow?"
"You misunderstand, young one," the priest corrected. "You will not be cleaning anything tomorrow."
"Your first day was a test," the priest elaborated. "Designed to measure your desperation, your dedication, your will and humility. Had you not been humble enough to do the chores set before you, you would not have been dedicated enough to keep with the cleansing you will come to do with your spirit. Had you not had a strong enough will, your desperation for a cure would surely have taken over, and you would have demanded I help. Someone as impatient as that would never be able to cure themselves of what spiritual problems they have. Now, here is your room. It lacks decoration and modern conveniences such as electricity and computers, but it will be adequate. Sleep, you have a long day ahead of you."
For the next week, all Ranma did apart from eating and sleeping, was learning meditation. He silently cursed his father for thinking this was unimportant during the ten year training trip. It was hard trying to close out your mind from random thoughts and ideas. It was difficult to see the world without losing focus, and it was an arduous task fighting his desire to leave.
More often than not, Ranma fell asleep, and was awakened by the priest nudging him with his foot, causing him to fall over.
It was on the eighth day of Ranma's stay that the priest, who had yet to reveal his name, took Ranma to a room filled with pigeon holes and stacks of scrolls and books.
"This is where you will spend two hours a day from now until you leave," explained the priest. "Even if I have spent several decades maintaining this temple and helping those in need, I have never gotten far in reading these texts, though they contain records of spiritual maladies, cures, treatments and discoveries that my predecessors have written down going back over a thousand years. I want you to look through them and see if you can find one case that closely resembles your own, and see if the priests had a cure for it. You must still spend an hour practicing your meditation, but the rest of your time is now free to do what you wish."
"What?" asked Ranma, trying to keep an incredulous tone from creeping into his question. "You want me to go through all of this? Half of them look like they will crumble at the slightest touch!"
"That also reminds me," the priest added. "Would you be so kind as to transfer the texts that are about to fall victim to the ravages of time to new scrolls? I would appreciate it greatly if the advice of those who came before me lived on for a while more."
Groaning in resignation, Ranma sat down at the desk in the corner, and opened up a musty old tome.
There it was; the solution to his biggest problem. The best way to cleanse the mental scarring left by the Neko-Ken, to be rid of his greatest fear.
It had taken another week, fourteen hours of reading and transferring texts to get the information he had been looking for, originating a hundred years before the Neko-Ken was banned when it was more common to find insane Martial Artists or warriors with mental and spiritual trauma.
He had gone through about a fourth of the library in his search, slowed by smudges in the ink and stiff, crumbling paper whose content he had to transfer to new scrolls.
In that week, he had gotten a better grasp of meditation, still not very good, but better than he was to begin with.
He had restarted his practices with the stuff space technique, and could hold his backpack in it for nearly three hours before it came tumbling out.
He had started doing morning runs, like Akane usually did only his version was somewhat more intense, involving running along slim objects and jumping above obstacles.
He had, with some of the wisdom given to him in the texts, managed to get a better grasp around ki. Apparently the way he had been gathering, channeling or harnessing ki had been a self-destructive way. If he continued relying on his confidence to harness his ki he would soon only feel that emotion, and end up getting killed doing something he shouldn't be capable of, or taking on an opponent vastly more powerful than him. The proper way to harness ki, was to use no emotion. Emotions were poison to someone harnessing ki, because as with confidence, the user would rely solely on the emotion of foci. No, the strongest, pure ki, was also the most difficult to harness, because it was difficult to remain calm in a battle situation, but he had started getting the hang of it.
Using ki, Ranma found he could make himself stronger to a certain degree. He found he could lift things he normally could not. He found his speed could be increased, and the length and height of his jumps tripled.
But for some reason, it felt almost like cheating, doing things that way because it wasn't him, strictly speaking. It wasn't his body that performed those tasks, he wasn't physically strong enough to do those things himself.
This would have to be rectified.
But that could come after he had gotten past his cure.
Ranma had his suspicions that the old priest had known about the cure all along, because a large part of it was meditation, to get in touch with one's inner self, clear away what didn't belong and start the healing.
This was why he and the priest were sitting in his room, both surrounded by a ring of burning candles, and Ranma surrounded by an additional ring of chalk drawn on the ground, connected to four spirit wards to repel evil spirits.
Though there was no chance of any evil spirit inhabiting Ranma's body, the instructions were very specific about the added precaution, if for nothing more than peace of mind.
Then the meditation started.
At first, Ranma had difficulty properly entering a meditative trance, excitement and expectations running through his mind, distracting him.
But then the world started falling away.
At first, Ranma feared he had fallen asleep again, but then he heard a most fiendish sound. A yowl.
Not many creatures made that sound and those that did were mostly of the feline family.
For some reason, Ranma could not become as terrified as he normally was at the slightest sign of a cat of any sort, instead, he found himself curious.
Where was the sound coming from?
Floating through empty darkness, Ranma looked for the source of the sound.
It felt like an eternity, floating around, judging distance only by the increasing volume of the yowls.
Then it appeared.
Hanging in the middle of space before him, was a huge, black sphere made of small bricks. On first glance, it was as big as a mountain, but that was probably only perspective more than actual size.
The sounds were coming from this sphere.
Circling the sphere, Ranma found no entrance, door, window or opening in the thing. And the inspection took a lot of time, as well.
Curious, Ranma reached out to touch it.
"Don't do that unless you're serious," interrupted a female voice. Causing Ranma to turn around in a start, where he was confronted with a redheaded woman that reminded him of his female form, looking at him with an expression of apathy.
"Who are you?" he demanded, commanding his heart to return to a normal pace. "What are you doing here?"
"A vague description would be to say that I am you," said the woman, matter-of-factually. "But that would be too undefined. A more accurate reply would be that I am the parts of yourself that you deny; theoretical intelligence, empathy and your cursed form.
"As to what I am doing here; this is my home, so to speak. This is where you banish those traits of your mind that you do not want or cannot handle and I only spoke up because if you touch those bricks, fear will return to you. Those "bricks" that make this barrier are made from pure fear, pain and terror, and behind them you will find what you become every time you face a cat from which you cannot escape."
"But I have to," Ranma stated. "If I keep having this weakness, I'm a danger to myself and others! I must face what hides behind these bricks!"
The woman nodded in understanding, and floated back, fading from view, leaving behind some terrifying parting words. "If you let your fear consume you, the shock will either kill you or drive you permanently insane. Take care."
Shaking off the shivers that went down his spine at the woman's warning, Ranma dug his finger into a brick, intent on crushing it to make the removal of the others easier.
What he got, was a shock of fear and pain so powerful that he suddenly found himself curled into a ball, shivering. He couldn't even remember anything but pain or fear until he found he had moved on his own. The woman hadn't been joking when she told him about this thing.
As the feelings ebbed away, Ranma returned to his upright position, and faced the brick sphere.
Maybe if he used the Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken, he would move fast enough not to be hit with as much fear, and the bricks would be gone quicker. Like ripping off a band aid quickly to lessen the duration and amount of pain removing it would cause.
"Kachu Tenshin Amargh!"
Scratch that idea.
After what felt like an eternity of terror and pain, Ranma managed to get back to his senses.
He had managed to get out five more bricks before the fear had registered, but the trade-off wasn't as good as he had thought. He personally thought the fear and pain was ten times worse than when he had broken only one.
What was disheartening was that underneath the bricks he had removed, was another layer of bricks.
Sucking up every ounce of courage he had, Ranma started the long and terrifying process of pealing the layer of bricks off. Maybe there was an opening somewhere under the first layer.
En eternity later, and hundreds of glimpses of his time in the dark, cat-filled pit, Ranma was finished with the first layer of bricks.
There was no opening in this layer, either.
And the sphere hardly looked any smaller.
The bricks Ranma had gotten loose or destroyed disappeared somewhere in the darkness, leaving Ranma alone with only the yowling sphere.
Gritting his teeth, Ranma continued his work.
Brick after brick, layer after layer, Ranma tore through the terrible feelings.
After the fifth layer, when the sphere looked a little smaller, the fear became less incapacitating.
After the twentieth, the fear and pain was manageable, and the process picked up speed.
When he reached the fiftieth layer, Ranma hardly flinched as entire scenes from the pit played through his mind.
After the hundredth layer, Ranma hardly noticed anything as he ripped away the layer, ten bricks at a time.
Finally, nearly four hundred layers in Ranma found that there was a smooth, hard surface under the current layer. It couldn't be larger than a basketball, but so dark it didn't reflect light off the illumination that came from nowhere.
With the last layer finally gone, Ranma picked up the small sphere, and spun it around in search of anything to dig his fingers into.
Unexpectedly, the sphere gave in to his hands, leaving them pressed into it enough for his entire hand print to be left behind, if he had been able to remove his hands.
With a final yowl, lightning coursed through him, and the sphere melted along his hands. It then spread up his arms, down his torso and legs, before continuing up his neck and covering his head.
He didn't even have the power to scream as he felt himself suffocate under the darkness.
When Ranma again opened his eyes, he found that he was looking at the ceiling of the temple guest room.
"Huh?" Ranma was very confused. Hadn't he died when that black stuff suffocated him?
"Ah, you've awoken."
Looking to the side, Ranma saw the old priest entering the room, a tray of assorted foods in his hands.
"You look perplexed," the priest continued and sat the tray down on a miniature table over the bed. "Perhaps some food will help clear up your confusion."
Before he even realized what he was doing, Ranma had devoured nearly half the food on the tray. He must really have been hungry to act like that.
"How long has it been?" Ranma asked, swallowing a mouthful of rice. It may normally taste very bland, but at the moment, it tasted heavenly. "It felt like years and years passed in there …"
"Are you referring to how long since you started convulsing in pain, or how long it has been since you went from meditating to being unconscious?" asked the priest.
"Both, if you wouldn't mind …"
"Very well," nodded the priest. "Almost three seconds after you entered your trance, the convulsions started. They weren't enough to make you fall, but enough to be known as convulsions. The spasms lasted for two minutes before you let out a gasp and knocked yourself unconscious against the floor when you fell. It has been three days since then. Luckily the fire didn't do you much harm."
"You were surrounded by candles, boy," the priest chuckled. "Did you think that crashing against the floor would not upset one of them? I was fortunate enough to salvage this from the fire, though."
Holding out his hand, Ranma saw the priest hold what looked like a thin string, or a whisker.
It took a moment for Ranma to realize that this was /his/ dragon whisker! The very same that held his pigtail in place!
Reflexively, Ranma's hand went to the base of his neck, where usually a familiar weight rested, finding only skin and stubble in its place.
His pigtail was gone!
"If it helps," the priest added. "I had a barber come in and clean up the mess made of your hair. I believe most people will find you more presentable with your current hairstyle."
The priest reached within his robes and produced a hand held mirror, which he held up before Ranma.
While he still had hair, it was not the same as before.
The pigtail was gone, as was most of his bangs. The sides were very short, as was the back, while the top had a little more, and his bangs now just brushed against his forehead.
"As I said," the priest continued. "Presentable. But on to more important matters than vanity. When you lost consciousness there was something at the tip of your fingers; white, inch-long claws. Am I to assume you were successful in your venture?"
Raising his hands, Ranma saw nothing of such implements on them.
"Indeed," the priest said. "They were made of energy and shaped like tigers' claws."
"Ki claws?" Ranma asked, and continued staring curiously at his fingers.
"Indeed not," protested the priest. "I do not believe they were made of ki. If I had to say what source it was I would say the claws were made from chi."
"Chi?" asked Ranma, curiously. "What's that?"
"To put it simply," started the priest. "Ki is the energy produced by living creatures. You use it regularly to boost your physical abilities when you do your training, from what I've seen."
"I can also use it for attacks and other things," Ranma added.
"Really? That would explain your radiance of power. It is really astounding that someone as young as you has managed to attain such a level of control over ki. I am nearly eighty and can only perform minor tricks such as infusing demon wards with energy to activate them, and exorcise evil spirits from living creatures and objects, and perhaps even gleam a little of the spiritual world through the Sacred Flames if I'm lucky. But on with my explanation. Chi, is the energy found in trees, rocks, air, water, the sun, the moon, the stars. In short; it is elemental energy."
"Then how did I get claws made from that at the tips of my fingers?"
"It is possible," the priest continued. "To channel chi into doing things. It is a great deal more difficult than summoning ki, which itself is very difficult for those who are only just beginning, but it can be done. I have never done this myself nor do I know anyone who has, but it is recorded in some of the scrolls in the private library of this temple about cases where great warrior monks managed to do things such as walking on water, scaling any surface without tools, even deflect sharp swords with their forearms without injury.
"There was even record of one monk who could replace lost body energy continuously through meditation. It is said that he sat on the same rock, day and night, wind, rain and snow for weeks without eating, sleeping or relieving himself. Unfortunately, a Warlord heard of this monk, and when he wouldn't teach anyone how it was done, the Warlord had him killed in a fit of rage."
"But, how did I get chi claws?" asked Ranma. "I didn't even know what the word meant. And everyone who saw me in my catlike state said that I used Ki Claws to fight with, not Chi!"
"My dear boy, the feral state you have gone into until now has only been the infant state of the Neko Ken," the priest explained. "Now that you have faced your fear it has grown, and with it you have gotten access to a more mature weapon; namely chi claws."
"For someone who didn't know how to help me, you sure seem to know an awful lot about the Neko Ken," Ranma observed suspiciously.
"I have studied the subject closely for sixty years," the priest admitted reluctantly.
"Why didn't you tell me instead of making me look for it myself?" Ranma demanded. All that time wasted could have been spent training, or getting rid of the fear!
"Because, there is nothing more rewarding than achieving such things on your own," the priest stated. "And I know well how desperate some people can get when something is important to them. Had I let on that I knew how you could be freed from your fear, you would not have gone through proper preparations, and demanded that I reveal the secret to you. And the knowledge and training you received here will not do anything to slow you down in the future."
"But, still …"
"What is done, is done," the priest recited. "We can't change the past, and you are better off for having done all I asked of you, wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes," sighed Ranma.
"Good," nodded the priest, and got up. "Now, finish your meal and get some more rest. In the morning I suspect you would want to fully explore what changes have been made. You should spend a few days getting accustomed before you continue with your life."
"Okay," Ranma agreed. "But …"
"Why did you study the Neko Ken so much?" asked Ranma. "To my knowledge, the technique has been banned for about fifty years."
The priest sighed and looked into space for a moment. "My younger brother trained to become a Martial Artist," he finally confessed. "His Sensei was not doing a very good job and he only had the one student at his school. Desperate, the man decided to have one skill in his school that others did not, in order to attract more students. He chose the Neko Ken, simply because the number of Masters of that technique was incredibly low. It killed nearly ninety percent of those that attempted to learn it, and drove nine percent permanently insane. Of the remaining percent, not even a third ever practiced the Art again and shunned all things feline, and the rest either decided that they were Elite Masters simply for surviving the technique and not losing their minds, and took on opponents vastly stronger than them, or were frightened into submission by brief exposures to cats, only to be killed.
"My brother's Master truly thought his student could be one of the extremely few to conquer the pit, the insanity and fear. He was wrong and was killed for it by my feral brother, who killed himself once he came out of his feral state and found what he had done. I became a priest, and studied every aspect of the Neko Ken since then. You are the first actual person I have gotten the chance to help overcome their fears, and I only hope my brother will forgive me for not being able to save him."
Left alone, Ranma went to sleep, half the tray untouched. The story was an eye-opener, and having seen himself doing what the child had done if his father had not been resilient enough to survive the panicked mauling he was told he had given him as he fled the pit.
He wasn't going to dwell on it too long, but he had lost his appetite.
The next day, Ranma found he had no more stamina than before he delved into his own mind. He wasn't any faster or stronger. He was, however, a little more flexible and could nearly feel some of his surroundings. His senses were slightly more sensitive, and when he had run into a cat out on the prowl for small rodents in an alley it hadn't frighten him at all.
The feeling of knowing he used to be terrified at the mere mention of the creatures, but no longer was, was almost as strange as a gender-changing curse. But it was mostly a relief.
After breakfast, Ranma had meditated, and managed to make the claws grow from his fingers again.
A few test swipes told him that the claws were far more effective than those people had told him about. These were lethal if they hit someone like the others did.
He had managed to reduce an entire tree to splinters with two swipes, and gouged deep trenches in the dirt for over a hundred meters from where Ranma had stood. He had apologized profusely to the priest for destroying the only tree and doing damage to the temple grounds, but was told only to plant another tree in the old one's place, clean up the splinters, and fill in the trenches, something Ranma gladly did.
He also discovered that this new ability was very tiring. He could barely hold the claws for more than a minute before he felt tired and the claws faded from existence.
However, the lack of energy hold the claws for longer wasn't what bothered Ranma, he could just keep training hard, and his reserves would naturally increase. What bothered him what that claws wouldn't have a long reach. Granted, when he focused on it the claws would cut through anything within a hundred meters without lengthening, but Ranma didn't like having some weapon that was purely offensive in nature.
If he had to have a weapon, he would have preferred something with a longer reach and with possibilities of blocking attacks.
Sighing, Ranma felt strong enough to start up the claws again, and as such started meditating again to bring them forth.
During this process, Ranma couldn't help but fleetingly wish that he had a katana instead of claws, but dismissed it.
Imagine his surprise when instead of the tingling, warm feeling at the tips of his fingers, Ranma felt it across his palms.
Looking down, Ranma saw a pure white katana, appearing to be almost a 3D computer model with a soft glow and without any colors or reflection. It was almost an exact copy of the Saotome Honor Blade that his mother carried around, complete with sheath.
Carefully, Ranma gripped the hilt, and gave a little tug.
The sword was free from the sheath, and the blade looked deadly sharp, and held an unbreakable strength.
This was so unreal.
Pulling the sword out fully, Ranma ran a finger along the blade, and found that even without any pressure applied with the finger, a clean cut still came of it.
Sucking on the finger, Ranma swung the blade around, testing its weight, which was surprisingly similar to a proper sword.
"I wonder …" he mused aloud and returned the sword to its scabbard.
Starting his meditation again, Ranma tried focusing on a bo staff instead of a katana.
The weight in his hands slowly shifted, and when Ranma looked, there rested a six foot long bo staff on his outstretched hands.
This weapon also had the look of a detailed white computer model without color or sheen.
For the next hour, Ranma tried his hand at creating every single weapon he knew of, making sure to take a breather between each, and then started up again.
After that hour, Ranma was very tired, but also very excited. It appeared he could create any melee weapon he could imagine that did not require any complex machinery, such as crossbows, bombs and guns.
Applause brought Ranma out of his euphoric daze.
"Very well done, young Ranma," the priest complimented. "Very well indeed. Even the journals of the Neko Ken Masters didn't mention this ability, and these were their private journals that detailed such intimate things as indigestion or moments of personal embarrassment."
Rubbing the back of his neck, Ranma didn't really know how to react. He was used to receiving praise, but for some reason, he couldn't start bragging. This skill was not entirely his own doing, even if he had suffered and worked for it. He only got this because a stupid technique that statistically speaking should have killed him. And it was this technique that had indirectly killed the brother of the priest offering him praise, which made pride even harder to display.
"If you plan on continuing with the use of those weapons, I recommend that you take up some more training on them," the priest continued. "You didn't seem very proficient in their use."
"I only learned enough to know how to best defend against them," Ranma confessed. "It's been sufficient so far."
The priest nodded. Ranma had, during the first week, told him of his life, incredible as some things may have sounded, and could tell that Ranma hadn't had a use for knowing how to handle a weapon before.
"In a few days, I assume you will return home," the priest stated casually, looking into the setting sun.
"Nah, I still haven't gotten much stronger," Ranma objected. "Though this has helped a great deal, I still need some time to train. Try out a few techniques I've seen used but never had the chance to practice, and try to put together some I've thought up based on various sources."
"In that case, maybe you would like to visit a friend of mine," the priest suggested. "He is a Master of a form of Martial Arts, and supplies me with all the wards, seals and charms I need when he comes by. He usually wanders around the woods and mountains outside Nagano. A good tip for getting him to teach you something would be to bribe him with food."
"What style does he use?" asked Ranma, interested. Learning new techniques always appealed to his interest.
"Martial Arts Calligraphy, I think it was," the priest replied, scratching his long beard in thought. "Yes, that was it."
"Eh? Why would I want to learn how to write?"
"Boy, after what you told of your numerous encounters with demons, possessed and ghosts, chances are that you'll do so again at some time," the priest appealed. "What better way to be prepared than to know how to make the seals, wards and such to defeat them and keep them from bothering people?"
Ranma couldn't fault the man's logic. It always was a problem when he came up against demons and ghosts, as they couldn't be defeated by normal means, which meant he had to have help, and that was something he didn't like.
"Okay," he finally admitted. "I'll see if I can find him during my trip, and bring some extra food for him."
"Excellent," the priest agreed. "I'll write a letter of recommendation so he'll know who sent you."
"Er, this isn't some revenge thing, is it?"
"Not at all, the two of us get along very well, and I am not as petty as to send someone to him if they bother me."
Author's Notes: Coming up with a beginning was incredibly difficult, because I needed to get a measure of how strong Ranma was at that time, to keep flamers from having a reason to send me some heat about how exaggerated I'm making his strength.
I have never visited a Shinto temple in my life, which can be easily explained by my living nowhere near any known ones (Then again, there could be some somewhere in Norway that I simply haven't heard of) and as such, I have no idea how they truly look, feel and operate. In that capacity, I have simply put together what I've seen in movies, anime and manga in an effort to make something close to believable. The location of the temple is also fictional, though there may very well be one in Mito.
The Shinto priest is not modeled after any specific anime/manga priests.
Minzoku-Shinto, as I understand it, is a part of Shinto that practices such things as divination, spirit-cleansing and so on.
The Inside of Ranma's head is just something I cooked up on the spot; it is not consciously taken from somewhere.
Referring to Ranma's claws as implements was actually a rather difficult choice, as claws are usually a natural part of the body of a predator, and as such not a real implement. But in this case the claws are not a part of the body, they are removable. I chose to go with the term implement, and hope not too many will flame me about this issue.
Credits: I'd like to thank ClanCrusher and HeeHaw for more or less forcing me to write a Prologue to the story. It is also on their advice that I have split this prologue into several chapters, and split the story into books, the prologue being the first book, the original beginning being the second book, and so on. The melting sphere spreading along Ranma was more or less inspired by the Matrix, when Neo touched that mirror after swallowing the pill.
Edit: I have changed the 'language' from UK English to American English, which should soothe a few ruffled feathers from those who continually spot 'spelling errors' in the text. Furthermore, I have edited out a lot of ellipses. It seems I was very fond of using them at the time I originally wrote this story. I would have simply continued writing, but as I sat down after a couple of years to continue I was appalled at how it looked and didn't want to leave the rest of the story a mess, so I went back to clean up.