Kaida walked Chiyo back to the resting area where she met up with Rei who was covered in mud. "What happened to you Rei?"
"I got knocked off," Rei said sadly. "But not without giving the girl a good fight!" She looked Kaida and Chiyo over and noticed Kaida was down. "Seems the two of you look fine. So why the long face?"
"Well," Kaida began. She relayed what happened in her match to Rei. She included everything about how Jo would scare Chiyo and the horse, and how Chiyo got hit in the flank. Kaida showed Rei a tender mark showing where she'd been struck. "I'm upset at her for hitting Chiyo, despite it being an accident, and I feel cheated out of a good match. I didn't want to win like this."
"Is Chiyo going to be alright?"
"Yeah," Kaida rubbed Chiyo's neck as she talked. "I patted her down to make sure she didn't get hurt anywhere else, then put some ointment on the welt. It'll be a bit sore but she'll be fine."
"I can't believe Machida would risk scaring Chiyo and her horse. That should have been banned from the start."
"No, I should have been a better rider and calmed Chiyo down when she got scared."
"You're a fine partner for Chiyo." Rei put her hand on her friend's slumped shoulder. "If it had been anyone else, I highly doubt that Chiyo would have run a second time. Both she and Yami are very aware of how much you want to be on the team and both of them would do anything to make it happen. You've proven yourself to them, so trust their judgment and believe in yourself."
Kaida stood silent for a moment. "Thanks, Rei, I needed that."
"What are best friends for?"
Kaida clapped her hands to her face turning her cheeks a bright red. "Okay, I will do my best in the third round!"
"That's the Kaida I know."
The two girls relaxed and strategized for the final upcoming round. Asa wrapped some cloth around Chiyo's side to act as a bandage as they were waiting. The next few rounds flew by and soon, Tsuda was going to announce the last pairings of the competition after the principal made an announcement. "I am disheartened to say that we have had to disqualify a candidate from this event." The audience talked amongst themselves, trying to figure out who it was. "This leaves us with 39 remaining students competing. As such, we have decided to have one individual face off against one of the teachers. Tsuda Hisako has volunteered to be the opponent of whoever gets drawn last."
This announcement put everyone on edge. All the students hoped and prayed that they did not have to face off against their own teacher. The principal finished speaking then handed the floor over to Tsuda. "Let's hear the final match-ups shall we?" He pulled out two pieces of paper. "Here we have Kaida Fujihara versus Kaba Jiro."
Kaida was relieved to not be going against Tsuda. In fact, she knew Kaba. He was in the same class as her last year. She looked around but couldn't find him or his mythical creature anywhere. It was some relief to be going up against someone she knew. Thoughts swirled in her mind of what tricks Kaba would try during their match. Her attention came back when she heard the last name called. "Finally, it is myself facing off against Rei Iwasaki."
Rei's face turned pale. Kaida could tell how nervous she was. Kaida set her hand on Rei's shoulder, and just as Rei had cheered her on, Kaida wanted to cheer her friend on. "I know you'll do great! Believe in Asa. Believe in yourself."
Rei managed a smile, "That's my line."
The girls waited to hear the order in which they would be competing. Rei was in the first round and Kaida in the fifth. Kaida said some final encouraging words to Rei before she went off to face their teacher. "Stay calm. Chiyo and I will be cheering you on from the sidelines."
Rei gave a nod of gratitude and rode off on Turnip. Kaida watched as she met with Tsuda at quadrant two. Tsuda was dressed up in the same gear that was given to the students and he was riding on Tani's back. Having only seen Tsuda in work clothes, she thought him silly wearing the armor. His lance was just as beaten up as Rei's and Kaida noticed a crack at the tip.
The match did not last very long. When the whistle blew, Turnip and Tani ran down the field. Both riders raised their lances. Before Tsuda's weapon could make contact, Asa used her cloth and wrapped it around Tsuda's lance. She yanked the lance out of line which cleared room for Rei to strike, knocking Tsuda to the ground.
Rei met Kaida back at the resting area where she let out a big sigh of relief. "Phew! I'm so glad that is over and done with."
"That was so cool!" Kaida shouted. "How do you feel?"
"Well, I didn't do well on my second round so I'm a bit nervous about the results. But I am also happy to be done with the event. I couldn't have done it without Turnip or Asa though." Rei gave Asa a hug before turning back to Kaida. "Now, you need to win your third match."
The second, third, and fourth rounds all went by, and then it was Kaida's turn. She had been called out to quadrant four where she met with Kaba and his phoenix, Hano. Kaida thought back to her time last year when Kaba was in her class. He was the nice guy, the teacher's pet. Although he wasn't popular, he got along with just about everybody. Kaida had a feeling that this match would be one she and Chiyo could enjoy.
"It's been a while Fujihara," Kaba said. "I heard about what happened to Chiyo in your last match. Is she alright?"
"She's just fine. We're ready to win."
He laughed at her enthusiasm. "You're optimistic. Good luck, but just know I won't go easy on you."
"I wouldn't want you to." The whistle blew. "Good luck to you and Hano." Chiyo took her place at the end of the field. Kaba took his horse and stationed it at the other end. Hano flew down from the sky and rested on Kaba's shoulder. Her feathers were blazing embers, her wings were long and magnificent. No matter how many times Kaida saw the phoenix, she was always mesmerized by the red hues radiating from the bird.
The whistle blew once more and the two riders were off. Hano flew off into the sky, gliding over Kaba. As they were riding, Kaida had a suspicious feeling. Something was amiss. Without Kaida's knowing, Hano dived down and scattered embers all over the field. It wasn't enough to harm anyone but the smoke rose up and made it difficult for Kaida to see. Chiyo whinnied and Kaida ducked down, avoiding a near hit from Kaba.
"You know if-" Kaida coughed. "You do that, you won't be able to see either."
"Don't worry, Fujihara," Kada smirked. "It's not you that I need to see."
Kaida looked up to see Hano circling her and Chiyo. "So that's it. Hano is telling him where we are." The two went back to their starting positions to begin the next run. Kaida's hands were shaking. She didn't want Chiyo to get hurt like last time. Sensing her discomfort, Chiyo snorted and shook her head. "You're right, I need to get it together." She looked over at Hano. "You can't use your vines against the flames, they'll just burn. If only we could track Kada like he is tracking us." The time to think was over, the whistle blew to start the run.
Like the first time, Hano dropped embers causing smoke to blind Kaida. She was sure that it was the end, until Chiyo jolted, causing Kaida to lean back. She saw Kada's lance go right past her chest. "Chiyo, you can sense where he is?" She asked. With a definite nod, Kaida had a plan to set in motion. As Chiyo trotted back to the starting position, Kaida relayed her idea on how to beat the smoke.
The whistle blew and Chiyo took off at a gallop. Once more, Hano dropped her embers and smoke clouded the area. Kaida stayed calm and with a steady hand, she held the lance right above Chiyo's horn. She held her position. Chiyo's ears twitched before she lowered her head. Kaida moved the lance to keep it right above her horn. She couldn't see what happened next, but she felt a thud against her lance and heard a man's voice shout, which was followed by a thud.
When the smoke cleared, Kaida was able to see Kada sprawled on the ground, with Hano circling him. Kaida had let Chiyo be her guide. She felt excitement and pride knowing that she won by believing in herself and her mythical creature.