Written by Jason E. Turner
As they hovered in the trees, Ayame studied her old sparring partner, Rikimaru. He was very much alive, very much at one with his mind, body and spirit.
He was her reason to get up in the morning. Now more than ever.
She snapped back to the situation at hand when a lazy leaf departed from the tree branch she was on.
A guard noticed it.
Without hesitation, Rikimaru was the first to jump down and slash. He removed a guard’s head. The guards decapitated body struggled. The head was voiceless, but had the pained expression of shock. As the life in the eyes faded, the body fell limp on top of the head.
“He is far superior than the way he used to fight!”
The Black Dragon dispatched two foes with a single strike.
“Look out, Ayame!”
She lunged out of the way of a spear. The foe cursed and dashed at her with the tip of the spear whistling as it pierced the cool night air.
She disemboweled him for his attack, and his guts steamed as the hit the ground.
Rikimaru grunted with each attack he made.
Another guard was slashed. And another. Soon, after the last guard was killed in the scuffle, Ayame let her guard down.
Just then, a guard feigning death leaped to his feet.
As he leapt in the air, The Black Dragon closed his eyes. He withdrew his blade and made a clean swipe at the assailant.
“It looks like his blade did not even make contact.”
However, she was reassured as the body split in two and fell several paces away from each other.
Rikimaru glared at Ayame.
“Have you been lazy about your training? You could have been killed! Never let your guard down!”
Rikimaru stepped towards her.
“NEVER HESITATE! You cannot afford to be arrogant and assume you’ll win every fight. You always do that!”
Ayame began to steam. All she saw was red. From her embarrassment and her anger.
“Who the hell do you think you are?!?! You come back three years after I cried for you every day? And accuse me of being lazy? You bark lectures at ME?!?! Back off, dead man. I am still a little shocked that you are breathing. And if think you can boss me around the way you used to, you gotta another thing coming!”
Ayame went berserk and attacked Rikimaru!
He dodged her. But it only made her even more mad. This was worse than sparring the Dragon.
She continued to attack, but he evaded every time.
“YOU SON OF A BITCH! I will KILL you.”
She kicked him square in the face. The blow rocked Rikimaru. His nose started bleeding.
He tasted his own blood. Rikimaru peeled off his face cover. His teeth snarled with rage. He took two steps towards Ayame. The Dragon tried to intervene, but Rikimaru heart punched him. The Dragon winced and fell to his knees. Rikimaru threw his sword and it punctured and stayed in a tree.
He walked towards Ayame. She was afraid. She had never, in all of her life, seen this side of him.
Rikimaru’s voice made the hair on Ayame’s neck stand at attention.
His voice was ice cold and spoken through clenched teeth.
“I dare you to do that again.”
She felt the heat from his blood. He got closer to her.
She back flipped and kicked him in the exact same spot. Blood gushed out of his face and sprayed on her legs. He did not fall. Now she was really afraid. So much blood.
His sinewy forearm wiped some of the blood from his chin. Ayame smiled at him. She thought he was playing a trick on her.
She was wrong.
Rikimaru crouched like a tiger.
“So, Ayame, you want to play rough? Come on. Let’s play!”
Suddenly he leaped with his knee stuck out.
When it connected with Ayame’s chin, she thought she was struck by lighting. Everything moved at half speed as she flew back into a tree. She hardly noticed the noise of the tree snapping from the force and her body fell like a rag doll.
She began to cry. Rikimaru yanked his sword out of the tree he embedded it in, and the tree smoked from the friction. He stormed off. Like a hurricane, he had just shown his dark side to Ayame for the first time in her life.
The Dragon rushed over to her. He helped her to her feet.
“What happened, Dragon? Did I push him too hard?”
“It’s not a question of pushing, it’s a question of him giving in to his dark impulses.”
Ayame was dizzy from the blow still. She threw an arm around the Dragon. He tilted her head up to look at her chin. It was black and swelling fast.
“I told you Ayame. Anger, when tapped with focus, is powerful. Master Rikimaru was at complete focus when he lashed out at you.”
“Lashed out, Dragon? It felt like a hurricane was thrown at my chin.”
He wiped away her tears.
“Don’t let it get you down. I think he only hit you with about a third of his full power. You are lucky he did not break your jaw, or worse.”
Ayame looked at the tree where Rikimaru put his sword.
“Thank you for saving me, Dragon. I owe you one.”
He looked away.
“I should have stopped Master…He was out of line. You don’t owe me anything.”
Ayame kissed him on the cheek. She winced, but had the energy to speak.
“I now realize why you are such a fierce opponent. You have an even more fierce master.”
Walking alone, Rikimaru was gripping his sword tight. he closed his eyes and thought about Ayame and the way he unleashed fury at her.
He never cried before. This was the first time.
He sat down by a tree, and promptly went to sleep.