Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 34

It sounds impossible, going from being consumed with hatred, ambition, jealousy, murderous intent, and intensely focused on completing a task one minute, to walking through a rainforest, holding the hand of the one you love, perfectly relaxed without a care in the world the next.

But that’s exactly what happened. When Dani and I were reunited in the middle of the deadly final exam, all previous cares and obsessions were demoted to the “meh, whenever I get around to it” level of importance. We serenely strolled through the jungle, hand in hand. Everything seemed right again. I spotted a trip wire in our path. We went around it to a safe distance, and I threw a stick into it. A trap door opened, dropping the stick into a pit over 10 feet deep. Huh.

We kept walking nonchalantly. Eventually, the girl had to bring us back to reality.

“Uh, Milo? What happens next? What about your dreams, and the prophecy?”

“Well, I guess that depends. If they don’t disqualify me for working with you, then we already have the key and three of the power cores, so there’s a good chance that we’ll win. Then, I could still be an agent. If they do disqualify me…well…your dream was better than mine anyway.”

She gently bumped me, and pushed my next step off the path. This activated a small landmine. Fortunately, I heard the click of it activating, and I leapt sideways, pushing myself and Dani safely out of the way of the blast. Without giving it a second thought, I continued the conversation.

“As for the prophecy, maybe I’m not the Shadowy One. I don’t know. But, one time, you said that I was your one. Your only one. That’s much more important to me than being some Shadowy One. Plus, who says I can’t fulfill the prophecy and have you in my life at the same time? Except Hanson. But who cares about him?”

Dani laughed. Then, she leaned her head against my shoulder.

“Everything’s going to turn out OK, right?”

“Of course it will.” I replied. “We’re together now. We can handle whatever comes our way.”

Out of nowhere, a dark form suddenly pummeled me. I flew backward, and my hand left Dani’s. I landed cleanly in a low, legs spread apart position, ready to fight the attacker. I was not at all surprised to see Kazushita facing me. What did surprise me was the fact that he was holding a very deadly looking weapon in his hands: a steel mace, with sharp metal spikes around the head. Geoffrey accompanied him, holding a large machete-like knife.

Dani backed away from them, and stood by me. She looked afraid, but not panicked. It only took me a moment to infer what had happened.

“Hanson talked to you, didn’t he?” I queried my two opponents.

Kazushita nodded.

“If we kill the two of you, we both get passed as agents.”

“And I suppose he gave you your weapons, too.”

“He told us where to find ’em.” He tapped the pole of his weapon in his hand. “Been waiting a long time for this, Milo.”

I clenched my fists, and concentrated on the fight that was about to come. I had beaten Kazushita before, but this time, not only did he have an assistant, but they were both armed with lethal weapons, and I didn’t even have my pointed stick. No matter. This was it. This was one fight that I could not lose.

In contrast to the fights where we were fighting hand-to-hand, Kazushita immediately rushed forward with his weapon on the attack. I stepped forward to intercept. My left hand caught his right forearm, and I pushed him back with a quick strike to the chest. When Geoffrey came from behind, I did a rapid cross stance side kick to stop his approach. Kazushita wildly swung the mace toward me. I caught the handle and guided it through to strike Geoffrey in the gut. While my attention was on the smaller opponent, the larger boy lashed out with a low kick into my leg. I went down to my knee from the blow. Kazushita fiercely whipped his weapon toward my face. Being unable to dodge due to being knocked to my knees, all I could do was shield my head with a cross block using my forearms.

The spiked dome of the mace smashed into my arms and sent me flying backward, tumbling topsy-turvy until I stopped myself in a forward crouching position. Blood dripped from my arms from where I was hit with the devastating weapon, but I could still fight on.

The Japanese boy closed the distance, raising the mace above his head. As he telegraphed his attack so obviously, I was able to dodge the downward smash. Then, I punished him with a knee strike to the chest. After stumbling back, he swung the weapon around again downward, and I barely caught the handle before it hit. Kazushita put all of his strength pushing down, and I used all of mine to resist. While in this lock, Geoffrey sprinted toward me, brandishing his machete. Damn! What now?

Right before Geoffrey could strike, he was knocked for a loop. Oh yeah! I almost forgot Dani could fight! She wasn’t on a level with Kazushita or myself, but she could certainly hold her own. With the stress of the other attacker coming at me gone, I was able to come up with a way to escape from Kazushita’s attack. With a quick sidestep, I forced the head of the mace past me, then performed an ippon seionage on his right arm. He flew off of the path where we were fighting, and bumped into the trunk of a tree. At least, it looked like a tree. Upon touching it, the trunk split open, revealing a series of whirling saw blades. Kazushita barely managed to roll away from the deathtrap. That was the nastiest device I’d seen in this entire test, and I honestly wouldn’t even want my worst enemy to end up in it.

Meanwhile, Dani dodged a series of well executed blade attacks, throwing a kick or two into the air in order to create a little space between her and her attacker. Geoffrey reached his Machete back to stab, but I stepped in and grabbed his wrist. He flipped his head around in surprise that I had come in from behind, then back to Dani as she rushed in to hit him in the face. With his free hand, Geoffrey managed to deflect her attack, and follow with a front kick to her stomach. She fell to the ground in pain. Our opponent then comboed into a back kick on me, knocking me back and making me release my grip on his wrist. Kazushita was waiting for me, and attacked with a roundhouse toward my chest. I raised my arm to block, but the forceful strike still sent me stumbling backward. He then continued with a blow with his mace. I intercepted his attack with a block to the forearm, but Geoffrey was right there to slash at my extended limb. I pulled it back just in time, only to allow Kazushita to swing his weapon again.

I did a backward handspring to get some space between us. These two had gotten the hang of working together, which made my task of staying alive that much harder. My adversaries didn’t give me much time to recuperate before charging in again. I carefully timed a spin kick to make them keep their distance, without getting my leg cut off by their weapons. They struck one after the other, and it was all I could do to prevent either of them from landing a lethal blow.

I was driven backward by the constant barrage, and started drawing dangerously close to the saw-studded fake tree. One more step back, and I might get shredded. Seeing my desperation, Kazushita whipped his spiked club with full force at me. I sidestepped to escape and used the opportunity to get away from the deadly saw trap. The strike with the mace carried through and struck the base of the fake tree. It very nearly toppled over on top of him, but it still stayed standing.

The two pursued me again as I tried to make it back to the path. Geoffrey caught up to me first, and swung with an overhead chop of his machete. I raised my arm to block at his wrist, but he dropped his weapon, grabbed my forearm and quickly moved behind me, pinning my arm behind my back. He then wrapped his other arm around me and held me still with all his strength as Kazushita rushed forward, preparing to deliver a killing blow with his mace. I struggled to escape, but Geoffrey used all of his might to torque my arm and prevent me from moving. I could see no way to dodge this one, and gritted my teeth in anticipation of the mauling strike.

Just then, Dani leapt onto the burly young man’s back, ripped the weapon from his grip, and attempted to choke him from behind. He growled with anger, and tossed her off of his back. He then attacked her with a series of punches. She barely managed to redirect them. Fed up with her resistance, he shouted fiercely and rose his leg into a powerful front kick. His great strength giving that kick at such close range sent her flying backward. She hit the ground and tumbled over once, slamming right into the base of the damaged saw-tree. It creaked, and started to fall.

Panicking, the girl attempted to get out of the way, but I could only watch in absolute horror as it toppled over, whirring saws facing down, directly toward her. Despite her best efforts to escape, there was nothing she could do. It landed directly across her legs.

She screamed as the wickedly sharp moving blades cut into her flesh. Blood sprayed everywhere. All three of us other students stared agape for an instant at the carnage. I quickly recovered, my down-to-business nature suppressing emotion. I knew that I had to get to her. If she had any chance of surviving, I was it.

Taking advantage of Geoffrey’s shock, I slammed my foot into his knee, bashed my head against his face, and used his own arm to swing him violently around and to the ground. Kazushita turned and attacked me, but I was done with his crap. Before he could contact me, I kicked him with a jumping side, followed by a double palm strike to his chest. He careened backward, hitting his head on a low tree branch and flipping to the ground.

In a moment, I had reached the fallen saw-tree. Dani was still crying in pain as I wedged my hands under a part near the top without any blades. Using all of my strength, I slowly lifted it, inch by inch, off of my girl. When it was two feet off the ground, I pushed it forward with a groan of exertion. Before it had even slammed back to the earth, I was kneeling beside Dani, her head and shoulders resting in my lap.

Frantically, I brushed her hair and blood from her face.

“No no no no! Dani! Come on!” I muttered unintelligibly.

My heart beat like a Taiko drummer after consuming 15 Red Bulls. What could I do? My girl, my girl was torn to shreds! Come on, I had to do something!

Dani had gone into shock, rapidly half-gasping for every breath. I couldn’t believe this was happening. After everything we’d been through for six years...When I ignored her like she was a pest…when I finally thought of her as a friend…when I was angry…when we had fun…when it finally got through my Fort Knox-like skull that she was the one that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She was everything that I wanted. I felt more passionate about her than I had ever felt about completing any prophecy. In fact, I didn’t even care what happened to the rest of the world. My world was literally slipping from my arms, and I was helpless do stop it.

My girl’s gasping breaths began to slow, and she closed her eyes…

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