A Vision of Escaflowne Fanfiction
The standard disclaimer: Yeah, okay I stole these characters from the marvelous creators of The Vision of Escaflowne...and Rurouni Kenshin too. Yadda yadda yadda. Please don't sue me ^_^ The main story line is of my own delusional imaginings. Blah blah blah. Please do not distribute. Thanks.
A Broken Land shall rise again;
Vengeance and Hunger as Guidance.
The Wheel of Fortune turns.
Feathers tipped in Blood;
The Dragon's Sword forged in heated Battle.
Thy Kingdom's Heart it shall possess.
CHAPTER VII: "Challenge"
Celena looked around the hall, wondering if she could drag one of the audience chairs over to sit on while they waited for the light to go away. It would probably be a long wait. Come to think of it, she'd been sitting in that damn coach for 3 days already, so why would she want to sit even more?
Already restless and wrestling with her fear for Allen, Celena turned to study her unusual companions.
The big guy was looking more and more like the wolfmen tribe that was not far away from the Fanelian tribe. She could almost hear him growling under his breath with a deadly look on his face. His light amber eyes added to the animalistic impression he was currently giving off. Calder was a tall heavily muscled man, darkly tanned. He was clean shaven and had a strong stubborn jaw to match his attitude. Celena guessed that he was in his late forties if you went by his short bristling peppered gray hair. She vaguely remembered Allen saying that Calder hailed from Daedalus, a hot coastal country known for it's intricate puzzling inventions and toys and the deadly sword dances that Calder was acclaimed for.
Raden, the Advisor, was just a plain wreck Celena mused. The poor old guy looked like someone had just taken his favorite baby blanket away. Celena stifled a laugh at the ridiculous thought. The things her mind wandered to when she was bored.
Raden was more in his mid fifties, tall like Calder, but thin like a flagpole. His hair was still a dark brown, with only a few strands of grey shooting through, which made his dry parchment like skin even paler. His watery blue eyes held a sharp edge of intelligence. He grew a beard, which was customary of many of the higher merchants back in Asturia. What was so unusual about it though was how long it was. It almost reached his stomach and he actually braided the long strands of hair to keep them from flying all over the place. Celena remembered watching him a couple years ago eating soup. He had a peculiar habit where he would toss his braided beard over his right shoulder before he would eat.
Celena blinked in surprise as the undulating sphere of light suddenly flared and then dwindled away. It had been only minutes since the strange light swallowed up Van, Merle, Allen and Seiki.
As soon as the light had trickled away, Calder was on his feet snarling like a feral beast. Before Celena or anyone else could protest, he snatched Seiki by the back of her shirt and threw her almost halfway across the room.
Celena froze she watched Seiki, quickly adjust her mid-air flight so she would land on her feet. The momentum however was too much for her to handle and Seiki slid into the wall with a violent crash. If she had fallen on her head, her neck would have snapped in an instant.
The ring of steel echoed in the hall as Calder, relentless, started after Seiki with the intention of making sure she never moved another muscle for the rest of her life.
"Calder." Van's quiet voice stopped Calder in his tracks. "Don't harm her."
Calder swung around, mouth agape. Van shook his head, forbidding any comment and looked at Seiki grimly. Seiki was slowly pulling herself up, her loose hair clinging to her face.
Merle quickly ran over to help Seiki up, but Seiki refused to look at Merle or anything else except for the floor.
Van turned away from them and motioned to Calder to come back. He saw the question in Calder's eyes and said simply, "She's Hitomi's daughter."
Calder hesitated and then slowly nodded in understanding. He cast a quick look of concern at Seiki who stood motionless on the other side of the room.
Seiki shivered as she felt Merle gently support her as she stood. She couldn't quite feel Merle's touch and everything sound like she was underwater. She couldn't bring herself to look up, her mind still partway in the depth of her subconscious.
Her mind sluggishly understood that she had to pull her mind completely out of her subconscious. Her last moments with her mother made it very difficult for her to leave. Emotionally Seiki felt completely drained.
If she could, Seiki would've been perfectly happy to stay in a coma.
She experimentally moved her hand. Little by little her senses became clearer and movement because quicker. The first thing she noticed was that her face was wet and her hair clung to her cheeks.
The second was the pain stabbing in her side. She hissed softly as she pressed her fingers into her ribs. A fracture in her rib...maybe broken. She wasn't sure.
Her mouth twisted. Well there goes my pride too.
Seiki heard Merle inquire softly if she was okay. Seiki clenched her fist to her side. Who was she fooling? Apparently no one.
Seiki raised her eyes and met sienna eyes across the room. She clenched her jaw when she saw the look in Van's eyes. Confusion. Loneliness. Accusation. Hitomi was dead, Van was alone, and Seiki killed her in coming to Gaea.
She forced herself hold his gaze, enduring the maddening mixture of almost hatred. She straightened her back and gave back as good as she got. Bitterness. Loss. Denial. My mother forced me to leave her, she died before I could say goodbye, all because she wanted me to give a message to you. In the end it was all for you.
I hate you.
Seiki could feel herself becoming cold. Her body was starting to quiver from the shock. Her heart felt like a block of ice.
"It's done." Her words dropped like falling icicles. She pulled away from Merle walked to the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" Van grimaced inwardly. It sounded incredibly pompous. What right did he have? Van mentally squashed the question. He made a promise and he refused to break it. He would keep his promise by any means possible.
Hitomi's daughter froze. Daughter. Gods, Van thought, she's almost the same age as me.
Seiki remained where she was, not looking back. "My job's done isn't it? I've delivered your precious message. I have better things to do now."
Van shivered at the lack of emotion in Seiki's voice.
So different from the girl he met only days ago.
"Are you going to look for your brother?" Allen spoke up suddenly.
Seiki glanced back at Allen. "Mother told you? I guess that doesn't surprise me. Yes, I'm going to look for Seiji. It's one of the reasons I'm suppose to be here."
"No." Van couldn't allow her to leave. There was too much danger.
Seiki turned slightly as she stared at him. "It's not one of the reason I'm here?" She asked flatly.
Van's lips thinned. "You know what I mean."
Allen gave Van a questioning look. "Van?"
"I made a promise. I intend to keep it." By any means possible. Van left the words unsaid, but Allen could practically see the words hovering in the air. Van walked over to Seiki, ignoring Merle's pleading glance.
"Seiki." She refused to look at him, opting instead to study the fascinating dragon carvings on the main doors.
"Seiki," Van repeated, "if I could give you a choice, I would. But I can't. I've received some disturbing news from an old...friend. Gaea's not safe to wander around alone, not now. If things settle down, I'll do everything I can to help you find your brother, but we have to wait until I get more news."
"Seiki, please understand that I promised to keep you safe. I intend to keep it."
Seiki finally turned to look at him. Her eyes looks like little chips of green glass. "A promise." Her gaze drilled into him. "I made a promise too. To my mother on her deathbed."
Van shook his head. "It's not the same thing."
"Oh, I see," Seiki laughed bitterly, "Your promise is worth more than mine?"
"I didn't say that!" Van shouted with frustration. Why did she have to twist everything he said? "I'm saying it's dangerous out there! You'll get hurt going out alone!"
"My father trained me since I was four years old. I can protect myself just fine. Do you really think I'd be stupid enough to go waltzing around, proclaiming myself "Mystic Moon Freak" while I go looking for my brother?"
"Seiki," Allen gently touched Seiki's arm before she could draw another breath to continue her rant. Allen glanced at Van, Raden and Calder, asking for their indulgence.
"I have an idea that may help out." Allen held his hand out to Seiki, "Will you listen? That's all I ask."
Seiki hesitated, and with a frown slowly nodded.
Allen appealed to Van. "Let her prove herself." Seeing the outright rejection in Van's eyes, Celena hastily continued for her brother.
"Let her prove she can protect herself. If she can, what is the harm in letting her search? It would be cruel to keep her here while she knows her brother is out there, possibly in danger."
Van shook his head. "And just how is she suppose to prove herself?"
Allen raised an eyebrow. "Van, you have one of the best sword masters serving as your captain. Why can't Calder test Seiki himself?"
"What makes you think he would be fair in testing me?" Seiki asked skeptically.
"Life isn't fair. Real life situations don't care about cheating or disadvantages." Van pointed out coldly.
Seiki looked at Calder, meeting the large man's stony gaze. "If I pass, I go free. If I don't, I remain here. Is that the deal?"
Seiki yanked open the heavy door and walked out.
The slam of the door faded away in the hall. Merle looked worriedly at the closed doors, unable to decide whether or not to go after her friend. She glanced at Van.
"Van, I don't know if this is a good idea. Hitomi never said to stop her daughter from searching, but to help her from doing herself harm!"
"What the hell do you think I'm trying to do?" Van snapped at the end of his temper. "That stupid girl has no idea how dangerous it is out there! She'll end up getting herself killed and see how good that will do her brother then!"
Merle straightened in anger. "She's not a child, Van. She's more than capable of taking care of herself. You know that Van. It's not going to get you anywhere to treat her like she's a child."
Allen interrupted quietly. "And you're not her father either, Van."
Van spun around, his lips white with anger, his limited patience at its end. "What the fuck does that suppose to mean?"
Allen shook his head his blue eyes meeting fiery sienna ones. "Van..."
"Don't." Van gritted through his teeth. "I don't want to hear it."
Celena gently touched Van's arm. "Please you two, quit arguing like this. Van, I've never seen you this angry before. Can you both please put this aside until later? There are things that need to be done."
Raden spoke up, having finally gathered his senses and the situation. "Your Majesty, Calder will have to prepare for the Challenge, choose his tests and his men." He paused significantly. "And you, your Highness, will have to tell me what the hell is going on with Himura Seiki."
Seiki slammed the door to her room, deriving what satisfaction she could out of the loud crash it made. She leaned heavily against the door.
Mentally she indulged in a colourful sailor-like commentary about feral bodyguards and fascist kings.
Verbally, "Ah *bleep*!"
She slowly made her way to the bed, crawled onto it and then curled up in a fetal ball. She stared dully at the staff that lay propped up against the wall.
"Prove myself, huh?" she stared at the staff longer and felt a wheezy chuckle escape her. Was this surprise? Here Seiki had thought that she would be prepared for everything. The idea that she actually expected a society stuck in the middle ages socially to accept that she was capable of fighting like a man?
Seiki no baka...you're such an idiot!
She laughed again and clutched her side as it complained about the fact that she was breathing. Gaea still has problems with women running around in pants! She laughed harder unable to stop, aware that she was sounding just a wee bit hysterical. Sucking in more oxygen might be a good idea. Slowly she calmed down.
Prove myself...god, how cliché.
The irate thought set her off again. The knot of pain became more intense as she laughed herself into exhaustion. Eventually the laughter died and Seiki's eyes stung with tears.
"Oh man...this is worse than PMS," she moaned softly, "I want to go home. Seiji, where the hell are you?"
She rolled onto her back and stared at the canopy above her bed. Unconsciously, Seiki started to chew her lip. She was curious about this Calder...person. Mom didn't mention him at all, but she DID mention Van's previous captain and mentor, Balgus. She frowned. Didn't he used to be one of the three great swordsmasters of Gaea?
Seiki bolted up and cursed silently when her ribs screamed bloody murder. Oh geez, didn't Allen say something about Calder being one of the three? She squeezed her eyes shut and carefully rubber her temples as she chanted *Why me Why me Why me Why me Why me* in her suddenly pounding head.
The knocking at the door yanked her out of her self-imposed misery and after she arranged herself on the unhurt side of her body she asked who was at the door.
"It's Merle, Seiki. Let me in?"
Poor Merle. She sounded upset. It was kind of strange that Merle would be so protective over Seiki considering the fact that her mom and Merle got along as well as cats and dogs.
Hitomi once speculated that she was probably a dog in her previous life or something like that. Maybe Seiki had some cat in her.
Seiki figured whatever the case she should let her it. It wouldn't be good to upset Merle further by ignoring her.
A mad Merle would be a baaaaad thing.
"Ne, Seiki? Can I ask you something?" Merle watched as Seiki lazily toyed with the loose thread on her bedspread, as she lay sprawled across the immense bed.
"Mmmm? What is it Merle?" Seiki picked out a stitch, watching the unraveling string grow longer.
"Do you hate Van? For what he's done, I mean..." Merle fidgeted. Seiki had been withdrawn and quiet. As far as Merle could tell, not a flicker of strong emotion had crossed her face since Seiki had crossed tempers with Van.
"Done?" Seiki looked mildly surprised. "He hasn't done anything to make me hate him...yet." She pulled another stitch out. Okay, so she was lying. A big white lie never hurt anyone. She had an intense urge to shove His Majesty's royal crown in a place...gah, nevermind, don't go there.
Merle chuckled nervously. "You looked ready to eat him alive when he suggested it would be too dangerous for you to look for your brother." Seiki felt her heart shrivel into a tiny piece of minus-30-degrees-with-a-minus-40-degree-wind-chill-factor ice. Yes, there was THAT.
Seiki looked at Merle blankly as she fiddled with the thread. She licked her lips and said slowly, "I don't think Van can understand just how dangerous I can be."
Merle shivered at the look in Seiki's cold green eyes.
Seiki struggled to keep her face smooth and impassive as she followed Merle towards the main practice area just past the army barracks. Sharp pains stabbed her with every breath she took, and she could feel her eyes start to water from the effort to keep her discomfort hidden.
When Merle had left to room to allow Seiki to change into clothes more appropriate to a challenge, Seiki had tightly bound her ribs with a roll of bandages from her bag. It would help keep the swelling down a little, but if she pushed it too much...
There was no way in hell she'd give that *bleeping* king the satisfaction of knowing that she was hurting.
Seiki shifted her grip on her staff and followed Merle around the corner where they passed under a large gate that opened up in the practice area. It was open air and spacious to allow the training of a sizable quantity of men at a single time, or several guymelefs.
Van stood by Calder along with Allen. Beside them was a rack of swords and further down was a table with an assortment of different weapons that ranged anywhere from small daggers to a huge battleaxe. Raden and Celena sat in the seats just behind the weapons, quietly talking to each other.
On the field, about half a dozen men where sparring with each other. The clash of swords rang in the heated air along with the grunts of sweating soldiers. The far side of the field, a few more men were testing their skills in archery on wooden post targets. There were a couple of stray men running around the arena. One huffed and wheezed his way past Calder, who barked at him to pick up the pace.
Allen was the first to notice Merle and Seiki. He smiled a greeting, silent encouragement in his eyes. Seiki kept her eyes on the ground. She was still having problems dealing with the knight for some reason. It was like he was out of some cheesy historical romance about knights and princesses. Seiki winced inwardly. The guy IS a damn knight what the hell is she thinking about?
Van turned around and nodded to Merle. His eyes met Seiki's. "Are you ready?"
Seiki could feel her jaw clench. She couldn't understand why she was getting so worked up. Van asked a perfectly reasonable question. Oh, but it felt to her emotionally overworked brain like he was asking if she wanted to give up.
Gah, get a grip girl.
"I'm ready." Seiki felt proud of her steady voice.
Van nodded. "Calder?"
Calder hollered out a few names and dismissed the rest of the men from the field. "Art, Horus, Farell. Front and center."
One of the archery men came over, one of the swordsmen, and the runner that WASN'T gasping his way around the arena. Calder glanced over them and jerked his chin at the table and rack. "Pick your weapons."
Turning to Seiki, Calder paused to give her a hard look. Seiki returned his gaze knowing that if she looked away the man would brand her a coward before she even started. Calder nodded approvingly and proceeded to explain the trial.
"You will fight each of these men. Each will have a different weapon. You may have your choice of weapon against them. If you defeat all three, you will fight me. If you win, you are free to leave. Do you understand?"
Seiki watched the men pick out their weapons. The swordsman picked up the heavy battleaxe, the runner picked up the slender daggers, and the archer selected the sword. Sly old bastard, Seiki thought to herself. They were all playacting for her benefit earlier so she wouldn't know beforehand what their skills would be.
Calder waved a hand at the weapons. "Choose one?"
After one last look at her opponents' final choices, Seiki shook her head. "I've already chosen." She hefted the curved staff so Calder could see what she was referring to. Calder raised an eyebrow, studying the staff and then examining her face. Seiki guessed whatever he saw he liked because he grunted his approval and gestured the first man with the battleaxe forward.
"Art, you will begin."
"Wait." Van spoke suddenly. Calder glanced at him questioningly. Van held Seiki's eyes as he spoke. "All at once. Fight all three at the same time."
Allen protested, "Van, that's too much! All three and then Calder?" He stopped under the force of Van's glare.
"The world out there isn't fair, Allen. What if she's ambushed? People don't wait around for you to recover before they attack."
Seiki grimaced. Van was sounding like a broken record. She went back to studying her opponents while Allen gallantly attempted to argue for her cause.
The man with the battleaxe would be slower, and the easiest to avoid because of the weight of the weapon. The archer with the sword she would have to keep an eye on. He probably had more stamina than the other two, plus he used a fine blade. A lot lighter than the axe, and if a strike hit it would carve through her like soft butter. That wasn't something she would have to worry about though since she suspected Van would never forgive anyone for seriously harming her. Mother's orders. The runner with the daggers would probably try quick light slashes in order to distract her. She wasn't quick sure what they were trying to prove with their choice of weapons, but in the end it never mattered to her.
She mentally sighed heavily. Would have been more fun if they could have done something like jousting or whatever. Dragon hunting maybe? Nah, cruelty to animals, though meeting a true dragon would be kind of cool.
Seiki shrugged her shoulders and stepped forward. "Allen, that's enough. Don't worry about it. If His Majesty wants real life action, he'll get it." She strode to the middle of the arena and waited.
A slight breeze tugged a couple hairs loose from Seiki's ponytail. She figured she should have probably braided it this time, but dismissed it as she watched the three men cautiously circle their way around her.
She swore she could hear the sweat fall off of the Advisor's face.
Seconds ticked by and Seiki could see that the men were unsure of where to start. They didn't want to hurt her, but they didn't know what she was capable either. They were roughly 50 feet away from her while they circle, measuring her stance and posture.
If they underestimated her, even a little, she would make them pay.
With a loud chorus of yells they attacked at the same time. Quickly, ferociously as they had been taught and trained to be. Seiki's eyes narrowed. They were holding back though. She could see it as they came toward her as they slightly staggered themselves in a way so they didn't fall upon her at the exact same moment. It wasn't enough to be obvious, but she could see it. That was all she needed.
Two in front of her on either side and one behind her. The one with the daggers behind her was way behind the others by about a second too slow. He was uncertain and his aura radiated it.
Stupid. It was stupid to underestimate anyone with a weapon, even if it WAS just a really long stick.
Mr. Battleaxe charged forward, swinging the axe in a wide arc behind him. Swiftly, Seiki pivoted into Battleaxe, jamming the end of her staff into his midsection. A sharp twist of the staff, and the battleaxe spun into the air.
Seiki could hear the singing of the sword in the air behind her. Swinging around, the staff met the steel of the blade. Seiki wrapped the staff around Mr. Swordsman's sword arm, reversing, and neatly tossed him over her shoulder. She quickly spun her staff behind her, batting aside a flying dagger, and smashed the staff into Mr. Dagger's jaw.
The battleaxe fell to the ground with an audible thud.
Déjà vu, Seiki thought vaguely to herself. Didn't Mom say something like this happened to Van? Pain tickled at her, eating away at the short burst of adrenaline. She forced her mind away from it and faced Calder.
Celena sucked in a breath as she watched the battleaxe hit the ground. "Wow..." she breathed in awe. Merle shook her head agreeing silently with Celena.
"She's fast. Really fast." Merle said and slid a glance at Van who stood off to the side with his arms crossed over his chest, Allen at his side. Raden had left the seats to join Van and to get a better view of the contest. Celena leaned over and whispered into Merle's twitching ear.
"Van doesn't look too happy."
Now THAT was stating the obvious. Van's lips were pressed so tightly together, Merle could see fine white lines starting to form. If he kept doing that, his face would turn as sour and wrinkled as an old man...or worse, like the Advisor. Merle sighed. You'd think he would at least be happy with the fact that Seiki could defend herself against more than competent men. The three soldiers that Calder had chosen were among the top of their divisions, no slouches at all.
Merle had a feeling that the soldier who threw the dagger was probably going to get a reprimand. If Seiki hadn't been up to the task she could have been seriously injured. Besides, tossing away your weapon like that in a non-lethal situation was incredibly…Merle searched in her mind for the word…dumb.
Allen ambled over to where the two girls were whispering to each other, leaving the other to men to wait for Seiki and Calder to commence fighting. Merle could see that some of the men who were in the ring earlier had begun to sidle back in to discretely watch the matches. The men were curious about the little girl who was challenging, and now knowing that some of their best had been beaten soundly, they wanted to see how she would fair against the great Calder.
Allen slid onto the bench with a faintly sardonic smile on his face.
"I'd thought I would join more amiable company. His Highness is getting a little...twitchy."
Merle raised an eyebrow. "Issat so? About what I wonder?" she drawled sarcastically. "Afraid that Seiki might actually have a chance to 'escape'?"
Allen eyed her warily, "Merle, there's no need for that. I don't agree with his tactics either, but maybe it's best to keep Seiki here. Van's told me a little bit about a letter Dryden wrote to him about some happenings near Zaibach, and it doesn't sound good. It's a good reason that Van's worried. If Seiki goes wandering over there looking for her brother, well..."
"It's wrong," Merle hissed trying to keep her voice down. "It's wrong to force her. I never thought I would disagree with anything Van would do...but this...this. Oh, she's Hitomi's daughter! Shouldn't we help, not stop her?"
Celena shrugged carelessly. "Well, getting worked up about all this won't do her any good now. If she loses to Calder, she'll have to keep her word." She leaned back, tossing her comment at her brother. "Say bro, what do you think Seiki's chances are against Calder the Great?"
Allen frowned. "All depends on his choice of weapon I guess. Seiki's staff gives her more reach and better mobility. And she strikes quickly and decisively too. I bet we haven't even seen a half of what she can do with that thing." He paused as he glanced at Calder who stood pondering the weapons. "She's using moves that none of us are familiar with."
Celena shook her head. "I can't believe she took them all out so quickly. They're practically twice her size! I think Art could probably bench press her weight several times over if he wanted too."
Allen agreed. "I know. The guys were holding back a little too much which is why Van wasn't too pleased, but even then she didn't give them a second to think about anything. I know Van doesn't want her hurt, but I don't think that little fight tested her the way he wanted." He glanced at the Chief Samurai as he stood by with Van.
"But if Calder should choose his sword, The Serpent's Tooth, he has no equal. Staff or no, Seiki would lose for sure, I have no doubt about that."
"Is there a reason for that?" Merle queried, worried.
Allen shrugged. "The Serpent's Tooth is a little different from your regular type of sword. It may be bigger than most swords, but it's also much lighter, but extremely tough and flexible. It allows Calder an extraordinary amount of speed and range of movement. And he's strong, incredibly so. Meeting one of his strikes, it's like meeting a brick wall. Remember how he tossed Seiki around when we came out of the light? If she doesn't stay out of his grasp he could very well do it all over again."
"Hmmmm, so that's the way it goes, huh?" Celena murmured. "Eh? What's Van doing?" Van had walked over to Calder and spoke urgently to him under hushed tones.
"I don't know." Allen muttered, his brows furrowing. Calder looked unhappy at what Van was saying. Van insisted and Calder finally nodded his head. Allen could feel the blood draining from his face.
He turned and met Celena's eyes.
"He knows doesn't he?" Merle said in a dazed voice as she watched Calder select The Serpent's Tooth from the racks. "Van knows she has no chance against the sword? I don't believe this."
"By any means possible..." Allen said under his breath. His gaze wandered to Seiki to watch her reaction.
She stood casually with her weight on the staff she bore. Her eyes narrowed in interest as she watched Calder take a few brief swings with The Serpent's Tooth.
Calder loosened his muscles and then approached to where Seiki stood. He glanced back at Van who watched stoically, and then turned back to Seiki, nervously licking his lips.
Merle could feel the hair rise at the nape of her neck. "Something is wrong," she whispered furiously to Allen. "I've never seen Calder look nervous like that!"
Allen could only nod as he stared at the two combatants.
Calder roughly cleared his throat. "His Majesty has requested that you change your weapon."
Seiki raised a slender eyebrow. "Oh, he has, has he?" she replied coolly. Her face remained impassive. To Allen, it looked like her face was carved out of ice.
Calder bowed his head slightly, breaking eye contact. "He has chosen the First Blood match. Swords will be both our weapons."
Merle tugged on Allen's shirt urgently. "Allen, did he say First Blood?"
Allen nodded, not knowing what to say. First Blood would be the perfect way for Calder to test Seiki's true extent of her abilities without causing her any serious harm or injury.
Celena asked, "What's a First Blood match?"
"First Blood is normally reserved for honour matches...duelists if you like. It's usually for those among the knights who have a quarrel with one another and have something to prove or were disgraced somehow. The first to draw first blood wins the match and his honour."
Merle's mouth hung open, completely aghast. "And Van REQUESTED this?"
Allen gazed back at the king. "Apparently so. It will give Calder a chance to test her abilities without causing her undue harm. In the end it won't matter much though. She probably can't even use a sword, much less the ones we have here. They're heavy for one who hasn't trained with them. For Calder, wielding The Serpent's Tooth is like waving around a feather."
Merle made a noise that sounded like something between a hiss and a yowl. "Oh, when we get out of here, I'm going to..." Merle's sheathed claws came out as she shook with anger. "Imagine stacking the odds against Hitomi's daughter of all things!!! She won't have a chance!"
Celena let out a nervous giggle, and gently patted Merle's hand to encourage her to resheath her claws. "Please Merle, calm down. Allen said that she won't get hurt. We have to see this through..."
Seiki looked up at the sky, the faint breeze tugged at her hair. "A sword, huh?" she whispered and closed her eyes.
Calder coughed. "Ahem, yes. We have swords on the rack. You may choose one to your liking."
Seiki lowered her eyes and met Calder's. She smiled faintly. "I see."
"Seiki, you must win this match by drawing first blood in order to 'pass'." Calder said softly with a look that could almost pass for regret.
The smile faded and Seiki raised her voice to carry across the field to reach the king.
"If you think I'm stupid enough to try swinging around those crude things, forget it your Majesty." She shifted slightly so she addressed the king directly. "But then, you knew I couldn't wield one of those swords, didn't you? After all, I told you that myself."
The accusation hung in the air, and no one even breathed much less say anything.
Seiki shrugged. "It doesn't matter though, your Highness." She shifted the staff in her right grip and with her left hand twisted the head of the staff. There was an audible click, the sound of metal rasping.
Seiki stood with a long slender curved blade in her hand. Taking the staff/sheath, she jammed it into the ground. She looked up at Van, and gave him a chilling smile.
"I have my own."
Allen almost fell off the bench when he saw Seiki pull out her sword from her staff. "She knows how to use a sword?" he choked out.
Celena frowned as she studied the fragile looking blade Seiki now carried. "I dunno Allen. Do you think that puny little sword can handle Calder's? Looks like a toothpick compared to The Serpent's Tooth."
Allen sighed. "I don't know. I guess we'll see huh?" He watched as Calder and Seiki circled each other warily. In a blink of an eye Calder attacked, sweeping The Serpent's Tooth in a back arc. Seiki met the strike with the clash of her own sword fading back to lessen the power of Calder's stroke and disappeared.
Allen hissed. This was the same unbelievable speed they had witnessed in the hall. A shout, and he looked up to see Seiki twisting high about Calder. Calder swiftly turned to meet her and again they locked swords as she fell towards him.
With a grunt Calder deftly turned and heaved Seiki back. Seiki lightly landed on her feet and then both charged towards each other, Calder matching Seiki's speed.
Celena watched in awe as sparks flew where metal met. "I've never seen Calder move so fast! They're incredible." Seiki pivoted around wielding her slender sword in a lethal slash which Calder countered catching the blade with the hand guard of his sword. The metal screamed a long and torturous wail. Seiki quickly shifted her weight reversing her momentum, not allowing Calder to disarm her by flipping her sword away.
With a cry, Seiki changed her stance, sword facing down. "DO RYUU SEN!" The blade carved out a large rivet in the ground and launched large chunks of earth flying at Calder. Calder roared, and countered, his blade slashing the projectiles out of the air and choked in surprise when what seemed like invisible hands punched him in the gut.
Seiki took advantage of his momentary surprised to attack again, but she underestimated Calder's strength. He recovered quickly to handle Seiki's quick thrust and redirect it.
Breaking apart, they stood staring each other, breathing slightly heavier than when they first started. There was a faint gleam in Calder's eye, a look that Allen was almost sure to be approval.
The men were shifting about, muttering amongst themselves in disbelief. There were very few in Gaea who could match swords with Calder, and this small slip of a girl was not only holding her own, but managed to somehow place a few strikes. Her technique was so incredibly foreign in its speed and dexterity Allen could see that even Calder was surprised that she was matching swords with him.
They came together again, swords singing in the air to collide in a cacophonic symphony. Allen should see Seiki slide her sword to carry the momentum of Calder's thrusts instead of meeting them head on. Even she could see that she would be no match to Calder's strength. Seiki pivoted out of the clash intending to bring her sword up from behind. Calder was quick enough to see her intention and like a snake he twisted, bringing the hilt of his sword down between the back of her shoulder blades and driving her to her knees.
With a grunt, Seiki desperately swung her sword up to meet Calder's strike, barely holding The Serpent's Tooth an inch away from her face. She was tiring quickly, much faster than she was used to, as Calder's strength and power was so much more immense than hers. The shock that she had met someone with such incredible skill had worn off. The pain her side was now a constant misery, making her want to scream every time she moved. She slid the sword's edge along Calder's to redirect it and reversed her momentum so she somersaulted back out of Calder's reach.
Allen found himself standing along with Merle and Celena. Seiki looked exhausted, and something seemed to be paining her as she fought to keep the Serpent's Tooth from nicking her in any way.
The men were standing, cheering every time the swords met in a loud raucous roar. Allen found it difficult not to cheer for the obvious underdog.
Standing about 20 feet away from each other, Seiki could see beads of sweat popping up along Calder's forhead. Other than that, it was the only sign he was even exerting himself. If the Do Ryuu Sen affected him at all, he probably had a couple bruises along his ribs, but nothing too serious.
It's been so long since Seiki had fought someone who could match her, much less surpass her. It forced her to a higher level than her normal training, and her body was punishing her for it. She also had to deal with the fact that Calder's technique, though vastly different from her own, matched her speed and battle aura.
Seiki bit her lip. She had to hold back the Do Ryuu Sen so it wouldn't do any serious damage. She was sure that Calder could probably handle even her full out strike, but she couldn't take the chance of another accident happening like the LAST time.
Seiki sucked in a breath when a twinge jabbed at her again. She needed to finish this now. With her injury she wouldn't have enough strength to finish this fight if they continued on like this.
As she stood she shifted her sword so the lethal side was turned in, the unsharpened edge faced out. It was time to end this. Her heart hammered in her chest like a wild animal trying to get out of its cage. A nameless fear too slippery for her to grasp slid around in her mind.
She sped towards Calder, ducking his first strike and with a sharp pivot she twisted her body as she leaped her sword screaming a path in front of her. "RYUU KAN SEN TSUMUJI!" She felt the blunt edge of her sword connect a mere second before she felt an awful tearing in her side and a stinging pain on her right hand.
With a wordless cry, Seiki fell to the ground.
"Seiki!" Merle shouted out the same time Allen and Van did. They ran out onto the field where Seiki lay crumpled. Calder was not too far away on one knee clutching his side. He looked up ruefully when Van came to his side.
"Well, Your Majesty, it looks like you got what you wanted." He glanced at Seiki and the thin cut on her hand. "First blood."
As Calder stood he winced in pain, to the alarm of Van. He waved the king off and shook his head while he laughed in a wheezy sort of way. "Little spitting cat. I think she broke a couple of my ribs."
They both turned when they heard Seiki heave out a rusty chuckle. "I'm only returning the favor, kind sir, for breaking mine this morning." A concerned Merle and Celena carefully helped Seiki sit up.
Seiki carefully shoved her loose hair out of her face and wagged her scratched hand in Calder's direction. "You couldn't even leave me an interesting scar could you?" She snorted in disgust. "This puny little scratch won't even leave a mark."
Calder started to laugh a deep belly laugh out of sheer exhaustion before his broken ribs caused his laughing to sputter out. "You, my dear, are entirely too young to carry around battle scars. Besides your hand was the only place I could reach with that twisty thing you did at the end there." He grinned ferally. "I must say I'm VERY impressed. A little thing like you able to keep up with me. It's been a long time since I've had an INTERESTING match like this."
Merle, Celena, Van, Allen and Raden stood around the two former combatants in utter disbelief as they watched Calder and Seiki joke and laugh while they clutched their hurting ribs. The soldiers were milling around, talking excitedly with each other about the incredible fight they witnessed.
Merle threw her hands up in disgust. "That's it. Enough is enough. We have to take Seiki back to her rooms so I can bandage up those ribs of her. Seiki, I can't believe you! How could you accept the fight when you knew you were hurt! Allen can you lift her?"
"Gah!" Seiki shrieked as she scooted away from Allen and winced when her side protested against the rough treatment. When she caught her breath again she held up her head. "S'okay. I can walk. If you can drag my staff over here I can use it to lean on a little." She slid an apologetic glance at Allen. "No offence Sir Allen, but I don't like to be carried."
Allen inclined his head to accept her muted apology and went to snag the staff that stood a little ways to the side.
Once Seiki had her sword resheathed and maneuvered herself into a standing position, Merle and Celena started hustling Seiki back to her rooms.
"Seiki," Van's quiet voice stopped all three of them. "Please remember your promise."
Seiki glanced over her shoulder her countenance glacial enough to make Van feel like his tongue was cleaved to the roof of his mouth.
"I always keep my promises. Best you remember that...Your Highness."
Author's Notes: For those unaware of it, the Do Ryuu Sen and Ryuu Kan Sen Tsumuji are techniques of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu style that Himura Kenshin uses in the anime/manga Rurouni Kenshin. Seiji and Seiki would be Kenshin's great grand children as Kenshin was living at the time of the Meiji Era in Japan at the end of the 1800's.
The Prophecy, original characters, artwork and links © Melinda
Ho, dragonmmho 1999 - 2004. All rights reserved.