Chapter 17:

Vol 1: Ch 16: Rivalry

Realms of Destiny


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Kurogane kept running away from the dojo. He needed to get away or the heat in his chest might overcome him and cause him to attack someone. The last time this happened, someone had been taunting from the sidelines while he was duelling with Tobi, one of the most senior students in the dojo, the unusual surge of power broke through his shinai and several of the older boy’s ribs.

Kurogane was thankful for the heavy rain that had already soaked him to the bone. Although he didn’t know whether or not it did help with the heat, he felt like it should, and therefore it calmed him down just a little. He realized then that he had been running towards the town center and he had arrived at the bridge which led towards the forest. He slowed down and stopped at the intersection, realizing that he did not know where he was heading. He stood there thinking for a moment, perhaps he could hide under the bridge to calm himself for a while, or go into town. No, too many people. They’ll just stare at me again. He turned his head from left to right, heavy rain drowning out the sound of fast approaching footsteps from behind him.

“Stoooopppp!!” came the high-pitched scream of a girl. Kurogane turned back suddenly, but too late, Reina, thinking he would continue to run, did not slow down; ramming full-speed into the red-haired boy. They tumbled into a heap, Reina keeping a firm pin on Kurogane so that he would not run away. “*pant* Of course….*pant* …I can!”

“Rei! What are you doing?” asked Kurogane still shocked and dazed from the impact.

“*pant* Of course I can!” repeated Rei again having regained part of her breath.

“Can what?” Kurogane was confused, all his anger had dissipated since Rei effectively knocked it out of him, and it has now been replaced by confusion.

“I can always be there to save you.” She said, in response to what he last said to her before he ran off. Kurogane could only glare at her. He did not know what to say. He tried to struggle out of her pin, but the small-framed girl was a lot stronger than he expected. She realized what he was trying to do. “Don’t you dare try to run away.”

“I’m not going to run,” he said. He really wasn’t. It was the position that they were in that made him want to get out of it. To any passerby – Thank god there aren’t any right now – thought Kurogane, the sight of the two of them, Reina sitting on top of him, pinning him by the arms on the ground, would draw many suspicious looks. “Just, can you get off me before someone sees us like this?”

“Like what?” she asked, although as soon as she said it she realized what he meant. For a girl to be doing what she’s doing is unseemly at best. She blushed and hurriedly got off him. 

”S..sorry.” They both got up and straightened their clothing, although, that wasn’t needed as the rain was getting heavier and heavier, soaking them both. “Anyway, I’ll duel you Kuro-kun. Right here, right now!”

“Shouldn’t we head back? You’ll get sick staying in this rain for too long.”

“We’re already soaked.” Rei pointed out. Kurogane had to agree on this. “Who cares? It’s like taking a bath. Besides, I love rain.” She gave a smile. She was in her element and Kurogane can clearly see that she is enjoying this little adventure in the rain. “So,” she held her sword up with its scabbard on and pointed it at his face. “will you accept my challenge or not?”
“I…” he looked down her sword to its owner, eyes shining bright with excitement. Can always be there to save me huh? He closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, they too, were filled with fighting flames. “I accept your challenge.”

Without warning, Korugane drew his wooden sword and swung it into her scabbarded-metal one, marking the start of the duel. Reina bounded backwards to create space and quickly leapt onto the large wooden bridge where there was more empty space than the road they were standing on. Kurogane followed her onto the bridge and assumed an offensive stance in response to Reina’s defensive one several paces away.

“Word of warning Kuro-kun,” said Rei with a smug smile. “My defense is flawless.”

“My attacks will speak for themselves,” said Kurogane dashing into what seemed like an impenetrable defensive stance, Reina did not leave a single opening.
Kurogane swung his sword hard and fast into Rei’s guard. The wooden sword met the metal one, and Kurogane then realized that there’s no chance that he would be able to break this guard if he just used force, his weapon will simply not allow it. However, in this case, his advantage would be the lightness of his bokken compared to Reina’s katana, and therefore, if he could beat her speed-wise, he may be able to get into her guard.

He threw slash after slash in a continuous combo – Soratenshi no Odori – “Sky Angel’s Dance”, a rather advanced technique taught by Hakuda which Kurogane was able to master faster than anyone else. When one attacks the opening becomes most prominent at the end of a set of attacks. The longer the chain, the longer it would take to wait for an opening; Kurogane had managed to master this technique to the point where he could maintain an infinity loop. Kurogane had hoped that Reina’s heavy sword would either be too slow for his attacks, or the continuous parry would tire her out. However, Reina had been practicing day and night with her new katana and to his amazement, it moved as swiftly as his wooden sword did. He could not break through her defense, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before she –

Reina saw it, the pattern in Kurogane’s seemingly-infinite combo. She could read his oncoming attack, and with a well-timed upward swipe she caught the tip of his sword and directed it upward. The weight of her sword gave that movement extra momentum and his sword nearly flew out of his hand. Her attack did not end there as she allowed her sword too to arc all the way around, using it as counterweight to pivot her summersault kick aimed at his opening, a pressure point on his jaw. He could see what she was doing but could not dodge in time so he quickly jumped in order to shift her target to his chest. At least there he would not be knocked out. The attack sent him flying backwards, but he was able to recover swiftly by placing his hands on the ground bouncing back into a summersault. He landed safely on his feet at the time Reina did, sword planting tip-first towards the earth.

“Point, to Rei-sama!” said Reina, mimicking Sousuke. She grinned mischievously at Kurogane. The kick just then did not hurt him. It was in fact the first time that anyone had ever landed an attack on him since he started training at Soratenshi no Ryu dojo, and this made him very happy. He’s actually enjoying the fight, someone who can match his skills, at last. He could not keep a straight face any longer, he was smiling. As he did so, Reina held out her hand, palm up, and beckoned with her four fingers for him to ‘bring it on’.

“Don’t get cocky little miss.” Said the boy with a smile and he dove in for another attack. He aimed first a high blow, followed by a leg sweep, which she jumped over, and a myriad of attacks from different angles. The jumped, clashed swords in mid-air, and landed just to dash back in, exchanging techniques acquired through years of practice and learning.

Reina realized then that her first hit was lucky as Kurogane probably expected her to be slow with her katana, but now that he knows, he would not make the same mistake again. The two continued to fight at a stalemate; Kurogane attacking flawlessly with speed, accuracy, and resolve while Reina parried and blocked, throwing the appropriate counter here and there. They both used a mixture of sword arts and martial arts, thoughtfully integrated the way they’ve been taught by Reina’s father. On instinct, Kurogane drifted into his Soratenshi no Odori combo again and as Reina was about to deliver her diverting attack she was distracted by the sound of her name.

“Rei-sama! Kurogane-kun!” it was Sousuke, calling to them both from the road some distance towards the bridge. Reina only paused for half a second, but that was enough for Kurogane to circle behind her and delivered a sideways kick to her side, sending her skidding sideways.
“Don’t interrupt Sousuke-sempai! We’re in the middle of a duel here.” Shouted Reina across the river. She felt a sharp pain in her side and placed her hand there. Kurogane had probably broken her rib. Sousuke had reached them both by now, but because of what Rei just said, he did not stop them. Although he was slightly worried that Kurogane would injure her, he knew that Rei was a skilled fighter.

While the heavy rain hid their full condition, Sousuke could see that both twelve-year-olds would have been covered with possibly equal amount of minor scratches and wounds. However, he could clearly see also that both of them were enjoying themselves greatly, Kurogane more visibly than Reina, which surprised Sousuke. He knew that most of the students in the dojo didn’t respect Kurogane enough to fight him, and those who did were never able to give him a positive challenge before. Sousuke believed in both of them, and he knew that if there was anyone Kurogane would care enough about to make an effort to not hurt them, it would be Reina. Sousuke lifted his hand and nodded to indicate that he understood, allowing the two to resume their match. Both duelists resumed their favored stance.

Before they could begin on round two, however, Reina held up a hand which stalled Kurogane’s.

“Can you hear that?” asked Reina, cocking her head to one side, trying to place a name to the mysterious sound she just heard. The only things the other two could hear were the showering raindrops and the coursing river underneath. Reina then looked upstream and there she found the source of the noise she was hearing. It was a panicked yelping of a puppy that was some distance upstream and coming down very fast. “It’s a puppy!” she pointed to the small speck floating towards them.

“What?” that was Kurogane, echoed as well by Sousuke, both boys unsure how exactly Reina was able to hear and see beyond the heavy rain. As the distraught animal floated closer, Kurogane and Sousuke finally saw what she meant.

“Hold on! I’ll be right there!” shouted Reina.

“Rei, no!” shouted Kurogane and tried to grab her, but he was too late. She dove into the coursing river. “Damn it!” he grabbed her sword and quickly jumped from the bridge onto the river bank, running along the bank trying to follow her. Sousuke caught up with him and held out his sword so that Rei could grab as she was floating down.

“Rei-sama, grab hold!” shouted Sousuke as he crouched low to brace himself, holding out his sword. By this time, Rei had managed to make her way to the puppy and holding it on one hand, tried as best she could to beat the fast currents of the coursing river. She grabbed hold of the sword and held the puppy up so that Kurogane can take it from her. He did so, however, her hand slipped from the sword that she was holding and she floated downstream to Sousuke’s horror. “Rei-sama!”

“I’m okay, I’ll be right....there…agh!” she gave high-pitched squeal of pain as her broken rib began to hurt from the arm movements she was making. She swallowed a mouthful of water, and to make matters worse, she could feel her legs freezing up into a cramp. Kurogane could see that something was wrong, and before Sousuke could pull his outstretched sword back, the younger boy dove into the river and swam towards Reina. She had swallowed a lot of water by this point and her legs were in pain and dragging her down, she disappeared under water just as Kurogane got close enough.

“Rei-sama!” Sousuke called in horror, he ran as fast as he could to try to get ahead of the two, and as he did so Kurogane emerged from under water with Reina in his arms. “Kurogane-kun, grab!” he held out the sword again and Kurogane grabbed it. Sousuke pulled both Kurogane and Reina up and laid her down into the riverbank.

“Rei, wake up! Wake up!” he was giving her several light, fast slaps on her cheeks in an attempt to bring her consciousness back. “Sousuke what do I do?” Kurogane nearly screamed, eyes wide in panic. Sousuke had never seen him this distraught and scared before, save from when he had had his bad dreams many years ago.

“Move over.” The older boy told the younger. “She’s swallowed a lot of water, we must get it out.” He bent down and put his ears close to her face, she was still breathing, faintly.
“How?” asked Kurogane. Sousuke swallowed as he thought back about his past training, he had only ever been taught this by his master, but had never actually performed one in practice. He tried to think back to his master’s teachings. It had been two years ago, he hoped he could remember what to do.

“First, we must get some air into her lungs to chase the water out.” Said Sousuke. He moved close towards the upper half of her body, his right hand under her neck, supporting it, his left hovering over her face. He then realized what he’s about to have to do and he could feel his cheeks flush. Sousuke you idiot! It’s not a kiss, you gotta save her now! He swallowed, nervous.
“What now?” asked Kurogane, wondering why Sousuke was hesitating. He doesn’t know much about people who drowned, but if Reina really couldn’t breathe properly right now they had to act fast.

“Please excuse my insolence, Rei-sama.” Mumbled Sousuke as he made up his mind, squeezed her nose shut with his left hand, inhaled deeply, bent down, and placed his lips on hers. Kurogane could only watch in stunned silence - feeling embarrassed, but still keeping his eye on the situation - as Sousuke did this three times, stopping to count to three in between each breath. After the fourth attempt they both sat and watched, hearts pumping rapidly in anticipation.

After five seconds, which seemed like fifteen to Sousuke, Reina began spluttering and coughing up water. Sousuke gently lifted her head and shoulders up and rested it on his knees, Kurogane moved by her other side. They looked at her expectantly, glad beyond belief that she was conscious again. As her eyes slowly opened she could see her two roommates looking down at her with an expression of mixed worry and relief. She turned first to Kurogane.
“Rei-sama, thank god.” Said Sousuke, almost in tears.

“Kuro….kun…you saved my life….thank you…” she managed to say weakly before passing out again. Kurogane’s worried look was replaced by a surprise one, as was Sousuke’s.

‘Kuro-kun….Thank you.’ she said. Thought Kurogane. Not, Sousuke. She sees him, and thanked him. For once, it was not Sousuke-sempai, but him. The two boys looked at one another as though seeing each other for the first time. Judging, gauging, measuring one another in silence.

“We should head home,” said Sousuke, breaking the awkward silence. He lifted Reina up easily and begun walking, Kurogane retrieved Reina’s katana and his own bokken which he had left some way upstream. To his surprise, the puppy they’ve just saved was still there, unconscious by the swords. He quickly slotted the swords under his sash and picked the puppy up; Following Sousuke as he carried Reina home.

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