See Chapter One for Disclaimer People say I don't know when to stop, when to say 'Okay, enough'.
That's because there is no stop; not for me. I never quit, never give up, never stop fighting.
There will never be a time where I'm ready to just roll over and die.
I don't believe in anything after this life, so there is absolutely no reason to ever let go.
Besides, I like this life. Parts of it suck big-time, but most of it is great. Give me a hundred lifetimes, and I'll still have things to do, adventures to live, people to meet, fights to win.
You want to try and take all that away from me?
You're welcome to try.
Scott knew that he was in trouble. He and his people had done an excellent job of keeping the Yakuza inside the building from escaping, and for several minutes now, no sign of life had been visible from their positions. Unfortunately, it seemed that some of the clan members who had been invited to tonight's shindig had decided to arrive fashionably late. Either that, or this little war was making so much noise that word was spreading through the surrounding area that something was happening.
Whatever the cause, he and his handful of people were now facing a steadily growing number of bad guys, arriving both on foot, and in cars, and all of them were spoiling for a fight. Scott himself was pinned down along with two others, between a junked pick-up and an overflowing dumpster. It was a great defensive position, so long as none of them tried to leave it. The others were apparently in similar situations, and things weren't going to get any better. Leaning as far around the front of the truck as he dared, he fired three times at the nearest group of Yaks. He doubted he hit any of them, and the storm of answering gunfire made him reluctant to stick his head out again.
A quick glance over his shoulder showed the Citadel standing dark and silent; only a faint glimmer of lights on the third floor giving any evidence of human life at all. It looked like Faith had done her part… but that wasn't going to save Scott, or those that had followed him here.
* * * * *
Faith was using her knife, her empty hand, and her feet against a Samurai sword, and it was working just about as badly as she'd feared it would. Twice she'd tried to get in close, blocking with the knife; and twice she'd nearly had her arm removed as a reward for her trouble. Fresh blood ran from her left elbow in a steady stream, oozing from a deep slice to her bicep. I was wrong; he's going to kill me. All I can do now is drag it out a little.
She was running away, scrambling around the room in an attempt to stay beyond the reach of that sword. Vaulting over the railing that separated the room's upper half from the lower, she landed in a crouch, beside the mat where Akamori had been sitting when she'd first entered. A bone-deep twinge ran up her leg from the stab wound through her thigh, and it folded under her. She went with it, rolling to the side barely in time to avoid being run through as he landed beside where she had just been. He was proving to be as mobile as a novice Slayer, too. She found herself wondering if he were something weird, like a former Slayer's twin brother. Nah, that's too strange. More likely he's some kind of Japanese demon nobody's ever heard of before. Giles would probably know… too bad he's not here; and that he hates my guts.
Back on her feet, she found a small, ornately carved table covered in little wooden boxes. Snatching it up with her free hand, she hurled it at her steadily advancing foe. With a contemptuous movement, he batted it out of the air with one hand, while the other kept the tip of his sword fixed exactly on her left eye. Still leaving a trail of blood on the smooth stone floor, Faith was backed slowly up the stairs. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Running away wasn't sounding like such a crazy idea just now, but with the sorcerer's chorus keeping that barrier up around the building, it wasn't even worth thinking about. The wall to her right had several large windows spaced along its length, maybe she could arrange to throw him out of one. Not that a drop of a little more than two stories would do any damage to someone as tough as him, but she was just about out of ideas. Wait a minute… not quite out of ideas.
Testing her weak leg, she braced on it and waited. Akamori never slowed; he came forward, a blindingly fast cut leading the way. Shield.
The glowing barrier appeared with the speed of thought, interposing itself between the descending blade and her body. The weapon rebounded off of the shield, the impact making her hand sting on the handle of her knife. In that instant, before he could recover, she dropped the barrier and fired a front kick straight into his groin. It didn't connect full-force, he was able to partly turn; her foot mostly caught him on the hip. It still hurt him, though, and she followed up with a slash that drew bright blood from his side. For the first time, she saw him lose his composure. With a snarl distorting his otherwise handsome features, he backhanded her across the face, hard enough to make her stagger. A horizontal cut would have left her in two equal halves if she hadn't managed to shield again, but this time he was ready for it. Now he was the one to step in, pivoting to fire a side kick into her ribs with enough power behind it to send her flying backwards. She expected to slam into the stone wall, but instead her back struck something that shattered, and she flew through the window in a shower of glittering fragments.
For an instant she thought her next impact would be with the street below, but it was only a heartbeat later when she struck something and rolled. She was on the roof. The third floor was only half the size of the lower two, but it was set off-center; the other side was the one where it was a straight three-story drop to the ground. This was a largish flat area with some kind of rock and sand garden the only thing breaking up the otherwise flat and featureless surface. As she regained her feet, Akamori stepped through the broken window after her, his eyes burning with the desire to kill. Blood stained his side, but it didn't look serious enough to change the outcome she saw looming. Well, it's just about that time.
In a way it was funny. The thing that bothered her the most wasn't the thought of her approaching death, it was dying like this; alone, with no one to know how hard she'd fought, how she'd never stopped trying.
No, dying wasn't so hard, but it was a terrible, terrible thing to be alone, to die alone.
Raising her knife, Faith waited for the end.
* * * * *
Scott was nearly out of ammunition now, and could see no way out that involved him and the others still breathing. Their foes knew it, too. They were beginning to edge closer, realizing that the return fire was coming less and less often. Eric and Becky were huddled down next to him. Eric was bleeding heavily from a wound to his side, and she was trying her best to staunch the flow of blood. Scott doubted the wound would prove fatal; the Yaks would kill them all long before he bled to death. When his own gun ran dry, he took up Eric's; might as well take as many of them with him as he could. Raising himself up to shoot over the hood of the pick-up, he came face to face with five of the enemy. They were less than twenty feet away; they all had assault rifles leveled at him. Scott braced himself; fully expecting to die in that moment… but he didn't. The men weren't firing, they were looking over his head, at something behind him. A flicker of light washed over their upturned faces, and despite himself, he turned to look.
The Citadel loomed, silent and brooding, darkness filling nearly every opening and window… except for those faintly-lit windows on the third floor, and except for whatever it was that was giving off periodic flashes of golden light. Eric and Becky both stood, and at various points around the building he could see others breaking off the fighting to simply stare upwards. It was crazy; he had a perfect opportunity to turn around and blow away several of the enemy… but he couldn't do it. Something, some strange expectation was gripping everyone present. They knew that whatever it was that was happening on that rooftop, it was the most important event of the night. Whatever happened there would decide everything. As one, they stood and watched; waiting.
* * * * *
Taryuu knew that he was risking his master's wrath, but he'd been unable to remain hidden any longer. As the others followed behind him, he made his way into the third level's main room. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
The circle of sorcerers were still performing their appointed task, but the room was otherwise empty. The shattered window offered a clue, and he moved to stand at the opening. Outside on the roof, Akamori struck at the girl again and again. Each time the sword flashed towards her, a five-sided pane of golden light materialized, turning the attack aside. Despite this, Faith was clearly desperate, retreating across the rooftop. It seemed that the battle's end was very near indeed.
* * * * *
Faith was managing to stay alive, but that was all. He couldn't get his sword past her shield, but she couldn't get close enough to do any damage with her knife, either. He was too good with the blade, too good with his hands and feet, too fast and too strong for her to beat. If he'd only had the skill, she could have taken him. If he'd only had the physical abilities, she could have taken him. If only… but he had them all, and he was going to win. Either she was finally going to run out of blood, or her knife would run out of energy to power the shield. When either of those happened….
The sword came down, descending in a diagonal towards her left shoulder. She shielded, blocking it and lunging with her knife hand extended, trying to reach him before-
He withdrew, his longer blade looping around and up from underneath, a split-second away from removing her exposed arm at the elbow-
She pulled it back, diving to her right as she did so, rolling across the roof, trying to flank him and get a shot at his back-
Another sword cut, straight down, and she shielded again, stopping the blade before it could pin her to the roof. From her prone position, she stretched out one leg and swept his feet from underneath him, then rolled frantically after, blade stabbing down towards where he should be-
No good, he'd gone with the sweep, turning an awkward fall into a shoulder roll which put him back on his feet and in position to make a low cross-cut, right to left, trying for her arm again-
She stopped short, rolling back out of reach and springing to her feet, ignoring the warning twinge and sudden weakness in her damaged right leg.
They faced each other, each focusing on their opponent to the exclusion of everything else. Somewhere close behind her was the window she had been kicked through just a minute or two earlier. For a moment Faith considered re-entering the building through that window. Inside, there were loaded guns scattered everywhere, and a maze of darkened corridors and rooms through which she could stalk him. It seemed like a plan, but he must have read her mind. Before she could edge towards the opening, he advanced in a flurry of attacks that immediately put her completely on the defensive. Shielding frantically, backing away, she was agonizingly aware that with the wall at her back she was running out of room to retreat. When he pressed forward, trying to trap her against that stone barrier, her response was pure instinct. She crouched, then uncoiled upwards with all the strength left in her legs, turning a slow backwards somersault as she arced upwards, then down atop the third floor roof.
She landed on her feet, but the damaged leg betrayed her at last, folding under the stress of impact, and she sprawled. A moment later Akamori vaulted into sight, landing around ten feet away, and with considerably more grace than Faith had managed. She came to her feet, trying to keep as much weight as possible off of her right leg.
When he advanced, she found herself backing away again. It shamed her, it gave lie to her whole 'I'm Faith, and I never quit' attitude, but she just couldn't see a way to beat him. She'd barely managed to do more than mess up his hair, and she was practically dead on her feet. Of course, most of the damage had been done by his people, not by him, but that really didn't matter much, here at the end.
She reached the center of the roof; this area was much smaller than the level they'd just left, with less room for her to evade him. She figured she could draw things out for a fair while; her knife still had an enormous reserve of energy.
He came at her in that predatory glide, perfectly balanced, staring right through her. The sword came up, then shifted from side to side as he moved through various stances, testing her defense without ever launching an attack. Faith's eyes ached from the strain, she had the overwhelming feeling that the first time she blinked, the first time her concentration wavered for even an instant, it would be over. A twitch of the blade, a dip of two inches, and she shielded high, expecting a head-splitter to already be halfway to her skull. Realizing it was only a feint, she stepped back, but had already moved forward and shifted to bring his sword blurring in from right to left, waist-high to her. She shielded there, and the weapon rebounded off of the barrier, but the impact transmitted to her knife was so gentle she barely felt it; another feint. He spun forward, his living body actually passing through the shield pane itself, and it was reflex that drove her hand forward, trying to bury her own blade in the target she'd suddenly been given. Akamori responded by meeting the wrist of her left hand, the hand that held the knife, with his own left hand, driving it up and away from his body for a bare second.
Faith had that frozen instant of time to realize that he had used his own body as a barrier to block her vision, to hide his action as he swung his other hand wide around the edge of the single shield pane she'd materialized, pulling his sword around the barrier and into range. Desperately she leapt backwards, she called for a full shield, and was immediately surrounded by a twelve-sided construct of golden light-but it was too late. He lunged forward to stay with her, and his sword was inside the reach of the mystic barrier--which harmlessly formed through his nearer shoulder--, and even as he shifted slightly to avoid the wild slash of her dagger, his blade was thrusting straight for her chest.
Her knife was out of position for a deflection and she was back on her heels and unable to dodge. As quick as thought, her right hand snapped across and grabbed his sword blade… just as it punched into her flesh, a bare inch below her sternum. She gasped, and they both stood there, transfixed. Slowly, his free hand rejoined the other on the hilt of his weapon, and he began to apply pressure. Blood was already streaming from where Faith's hand held the blade, preventing it from moving more than a few inches into her body. Straining, she tightened her grip, whitening her fingers and causing the blood to flow faster. Despite her best effort, the sword slid an inch farther into her chest, and then an inch more. She took a step back, but he matched her, and the edge of the roof was only a pace or two behind her. Sharp.
Faith brought her knife across and hacked down at the sword blade, aiming at a point just beyond her own hand. If the preternatural edge of her weapon could cut through the blade impaling her…. Gold and ebony sparks sprayed from the contact, and the jolt jostled the sword and sent a spike of agony through her, but his weapon was not even scratched. Her hand slipped a bit more, and the midnight blade slid a bit deeper. She would have screamed her fury, but she couldn't draw a deep breath. She settled for slashing weakly at the only part of him that was within reach; the hands that gripped the hilt of his sword. He read the movement as soon as it began, and rather than let her knife touch him, he pulled the sword free; pivoting as he did so, twisting the blade as he raised the hilt so that the sharp edge was uppermost, and then jerking it away in a blindingly fast movement. Twin agonies tore through her, from her chest, and from her right hand, which had been cut away in a line from halfway down the outer edge of her palm, to the base of her index finger. All four fingers fell away, landing in a puddle of her own blood on the roof in front of her.
She pressed her maimed hand to the hole in her chest, and this time she did manage a faint scream as she hurled her knife at him with all her might.
Perhaps he'd grown overconfident; he knew he had hurt her, and hurt her badly, and after the final cut he had taken a step away, sweeping his sword through an intricate flourish to clean it of her blood. He turned just in time to take the thrown knife in his left side, just below his arm. The magically sharp double blade sheared through skin and muscle with equal ease, and Faith caught a glimpse of a rib gleaming in the dim light before he clamped his arm against his side. The knife clattered to the roof, and she staggered back a step, overcome by despair. Missed him, or as good as, anyway.
Behind her, a three-story drop to the street below yawned. From the corner of her eye, she saw a fair-sized crowd gathering, watching her final moments. A familiar tingle crawled across the skin of her back; the proximity of the barrier that surrounded the building, keeping her from escaping. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
From this close, she could actually feel the resonance created by the sorcerers maintaining the barrier. Obviously it enclosed the rooftop as well as the building itself, or she would have been fried already. A few steps away, Akamori had finished examining his wound. His once serene expression was twisted with anger now, and his hand was white where it gripped the hilt of his sword. Seeing her still watching him, he used the tip of his blade to hook her knife up off the roof, and flip it over the edge. No screams followed, so she supposed it had missed killing anyone down below.
Faith swayed where she stood as a wave of weakness went through her, and she realized she was in real danger of toppling backwards over the edge. Maybe I should go ahead and do it.
She thought bleakly. The fall wouldn't kill me, normally, but the barrier would. That way I'd at least keep him from having the satisfaction of killing me.
It was tempting, but she found she couldn't do it. Perhaps she really didn't know how to quit. Since she felt like she was about to collapse, she compromised and sank to one knee, just half a step away from the drop. Warm blood from the two latest wounds was flowing down her stomach, and she swallowed against the terrible dryness in her throat.
"If I were to follow the guidelines of your television and movies, this is the part where I would offer you one last chance to join me, yes?" Akamori was walking slowly forward, obviously enjoying her helplessness. "I might even be tempted to do so; you are quite a beautiful woman, and the power you possess has an attraction all its own." "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Faith closed her eyes, wishing the voices would stop. The proximity of the barrier carried them to her all too clearly…. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open. Wait. I've been hearing those voices all night, and not just when I was close to the barrier. They were faint and mixed-up, but they were there the whole time, in the background.
"But beauty is not an adequate recompense for the humiliation you have offered me, or for the damage you have wrought." He was standing just in front of her now, still wary of what she might try, though they both knew that she had no weapons left, and her wounds left her no match for him otherwise. I'm not a sorcerer. If I've been feeling their magic all night, it's been because I was touching it. It isn't just a wall, then, it's a field, filling the entire building. It's clearer at the edges, because of the contrast with the outside….
"Your power might have been useful, but you've proven beyond any doubt that you are too willful to be tamed."
Faith's eyes came into focus, and she stared up into his face. Satisfaction dominated the emotions she saw there, pleasure at finally beating such a persistent enemy. He actually seemed reluctant to finish her off; maybe she could use that.
"So--" Her voice was rusty, and she coughed painfully before trying again. "So, it's too late for us to be bestest friends?" "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
He seemed unable to hear the chanting; or else he had grown used to it.
"I'm afraid it is far too late for that." He looked down at his blood-soaked side; obviously the wound troubled him, though he was ignoring it in a remarkably Slayer-like fashion. "It was too late the moment you did this." With a final step forward, he was within arm's reach of her. His face twisting with barely-leashed fury, he laid the bare blade of his sword on her right shoulder, the edge just touching the side of her neck. "I want satisfaction before you die." His usually melodic voice was harsh and grating now. "Can I make you beg, before I kill you? Can I make you scream?" The lightest of pressures, and the sensation of the sword's edge became a tiny bite of pain. His expression held the promise of more pain to come. "I believe I can." "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
The tingling sensation of the field edge was crawling across her back; the same feeling she'd had when she first entered the building. It was already there when I got here; I walked right through it.
She gazed up into his face, watching as he fought to keep himself from killing her quickly. He lied to me when he said it was there to keep me in. I know what it is now; I know what to do.
She was already kneeling, which seemed to please him, now she reached out with her left hand, touching him on the waist. He tensed, but with the sword poised to take off her head, he knew he controlled the situation.
"I'll beg, if you want me to. I'll say I'm sorry, if it'll help." Her hand slid upwards, under the loose cloth of his tunic. His eyes widened fractionally; for just a moment he seemed uncertain. In that moment, she wrapped her hand securely in the cloth and straightened her good leg in an explosive movement. He could have cut her throat, but that wouldn't have prevented what was about to happen, and his survival instinct overruled his need to kill her. He tried to kick away, but he had no purchase on the roof as she used her arm to lift him. He brought the hilt of his sword across in a blow that came close to shattering her jaw, but that did not slow her as she propelled them both backwards, into empty space. Hammering his fist down on her wrist, he forced her to let go, but by then it was too late; they were falling.
* * * * *