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Shiori and Ahlen's Duel

by Jeff and Dare - excerpt from MGC

Ahlen matched with a defensive posture. His eyes narrowed. "Who are you?" he asked.

"My name is Shiori, pirate of the Orange Rose," she introduced herself. "I've been on a quest for six legendary swords. I'm holding one of them." She waved her thin rapier blade in a fanciful manner. "You've got another." She began moving sideways.

The almost-ritual dance between combatants began, Ahlen recognized. It did not cease to amaze him how people from different worlds usually fought in the same way. The way of violence and killing, it seemed, was an inter-dimensional constant.

The pirate broke from her circling motion to begin a lunge. Ahlen knocked her sword back with a swipe of his own. Each time Shiori would circle a bit, lunge in a different place, testing Ahlen's defenses, seeing where his weaknesses may lie.

"You dance the swords well," commented Ahlen.

"I was trained at an early age," responded Shiori. "Come, let's see if you dance any better?"

Ahlen obliged with quick strikes using his wrists. They were rapid blows, all of which Shiori blocked with her rapier. She pushed on the last strike to force Ahlen back, giving the two combatants a little more room again.

"This is going to prove a most interesting duel," mused Shiori. "I see you have a sharp mind. It's going to be a battle of wills you know. Not like fighting that monster from before."

"Monster?" Ahlen asked.

"You would know, you fought him earlier today." There was a cold chill to her voice. "How I would have liked to have run him through but his reckless fighting overwhelmed me."

"Dachend, you mean?"

"Bah!" spat Shiori. "I don't care about names when it comes to people like him. They all fight for blood, for the joy of killing. They don't see the art of it." She screamed and began her attack anew. Ahlen felt the tension rise this time as her strikes were more fervent. He knocked each away successfully. Shiori stepped back once more, letting the conversation stir.

"You can't have my sword," Ahlen said, starting this time. "I've lost too much to gain this blade."

Shiori paused and dropped her stance. Ahlen could have taken the opportunity to attack but he had too much honour to do such a cowardly thing. And Shiori knew it.

"Funny, I too lost much in receiving this sword." She held the blade up in the light, admiring it. She twirled the handle in her hand before snatching it in the air quickly. "I'm sorry Ahlen, but I must have the sword. I'll kill you for it, if that's what it takes."

"Why do you want it so badly?" he bit.

Shiori pondered telling him but she stopped. "I think we've had enough talking."

As Shiori was the agressor in this duel, so she began the offensive. The real offensive this time. No testing and poking at defenses. Her attack would be retractable.

She had one advantage that he didn't. Her style of fighting was unknown to Ahlen as he had admitted earlier. His style, on the other hand, was somewhat familiar to her. Thus she had the upper hand.

The blade whistled as she began her successive lunges and strikes, complex combinations that strived to drive the opponent from one position to the next. It was all a matter of timing, precision and calculation.

Ahlen noticed he was having trouble keeping up. This style of fighting, akin to fencing, was hard to follow. At the moment, all he could do was react and drive back her strikes. The nagging feeling that she was setting up something was hard to drive from his mind.

A strike met with a block, a lunge to the torso was parried at the last second. Shiori feinted to the left and went right. Ahlen caught that barely but exposed his lower left flank. She took the opportunity and scraped him, leaving a flesh wound that stung.

Ahlen jumped back instinctively and put his hand on his side to feel the wound. He gave her an angry glare and ignored the pain as was his training.

Shiori remained uncharastically silent. She didn't have time to talk.

Ahlen, slightly enraged at the wound, decided that defending wasn't the way to defeat this woman. Kimiko died fighting with the sword. Ahlen would not let anyone take Mizu no Heiwa from him.

He drove forward and started striking his own offensive. Surprisingly she knocked away his attacks or parried them with her rapier. The thin blade she held was deceptively strong and reflexive.

The clanging of metal resounded in the large hallway as the blades met eachother at every pass. Ahlen's strike-strike-swipe combo was easily deflected. He kept it up several times to set a rhythm. On the fifth swipe, he faked and ducked low, swinging at her lower body. Shiori was slightly surprised to see that coming and jumped back. But not before Ahlen's edge caught her thigh.

Clutching her wounded thigh, Shiori gritted her teeth and examined her wound. A slow stream of blood trickled down her leg and over her boot. She cast him a look.

"I thought you said you didn't know fencing," she accused.

Ahlen answered by resuming his defensive stance, this time blade extended. "I'm a quick study."

Shiori tossed the rapier into her right hand. "I only save using my good hand for worthy advesary," she jested, using the psychological attack again.

Ahlen ignored it, as he was taught to. If one dwells on things he can't know, then doubt would root in his mind and grow until it blinded his reasoning. He didn't let unknown variables cloud his judgement. He focused only on those he knew. And right now, he knew she was a good match.

There was one advantage that he was aware she had. Stamina. The effects from the morning's fight with Dachend was beginning to flare up througout his body. Damn me and my arrogant mouth, he cursed silently. He knew that Shiori had fought Dachend too, or so she said, but he doubt they had the same sort of gruelling contest of strength and endurance as he had been through.

The two blades sang once more as their weilders resumed the fight. Both had taken cuts from the other. And for each, there was a personal stake in not losing.

Shiori changed tactics with slashes at Ahlen's body and faced. He blocked those easily and countered with quick strikes of his own. The two attacked and defended waiting for one to make a mistake, leave an area open, and the other would not hold back.

The next few strikes had surprising tenacity in them as Ahlen felt his sword being knocked from side to side. A swing at his chest was narrowly avoided as he side-stepped out of the way. The offending plant behind him was cut neatly in half.

The pirate pivoted quickly to catch Ahlen's blade on its downswing. She pushed off on it and forced Ahlen back a little. Rushing, she jabbed and lunged anew, meeting his blade at every strike. Sweat trickled down her cheek.

Ahlen crossed his arms in a double-slice manouver. Coming down on the first strike, Shiori caught that easily but the second slice that came immediately as Ahlen uncrosshed his arms with a slight wrist motion was unexepected. The slice cut deep into the blonde woman's shoulder.

Instead of recoiling in pain, Shiori swung her rapier at his head. Ahlen ducked quickly and tried jabbing through her middle. She blocked quickly with a downstroke and pushed him away. Ahlen fought for balance as he landed but the heel that came flying at him was too fast. Shiori's roundhouse kick sent him flying against the wall, knocking his sword from his hand. Shiori ran at incredible speeds to run her rapier through him. Ahlen had no time to recover and block and released a chi blast in defense. The energy was absorbed by Shiori's rapier but it knocked her back.

Ahlen picked up the blade. He blinked as sweat dripped off his black hair. He couldn't do that again. Chi blasts were harder to control ever since he came to this world and not a good idea when already exhausted.

Shiori was shaking off the blast when she saw the blademaster rush her on the ground. Rolling away, she got up quickly and blocked his thrusts. She saw that the opposing blade dipped a little too low. She swiped it harshly, knocking it out of balance and slashed at Ahlen's chest. He regained control but not before her cut had left a bloody line across his front, shirt tattered.

The two paused for a moment to catch their breath. They eyed eachother carefully, trying to see what the other was thinking. Ahlen didn't like that tactic. His sensei said his eyes betrayed him sometimes. So he closed them.

Shiori was taken aback. Was he going to fight her with his eyes closed? This will be an easy oppurtunity, Shiori thought, as she drew out her pistol. While guns were never the most eloquent way to end things, time, as usual, was never on the side of the pirate. Her protector, her teacher, her, she didn't want to think about that. Taught her that while elegance and style is important, it should never come in the way of expediency. She drew her pistol out, remembering Larzak's lessons, and aimed straight for the sword hand, hoping to end the violence without any more effort than necessary, and without any more pain than necessary as well.

The shot was perfect. She didn't miss. However, Ahlen had erected a chi-shield and was unharmed. In the same instant, he released another chi blast, despite the warning he gave himself earlier. It was a well-played manouver. However, it drained yet more energy from his body.

The blast caught Shiori's left hand, knocking the blaster to the floor, out of reach. She snatched her hand away reflexively and shook it, testing her nerves.

Ahlen's eyes were still closed.

"Well, it is the quickest way," Shiori explained, hoping her voice would break his concentration, "and it's not like this thing was set on kill. I just want the sword, not your life. That could have been the easiest, less painful way for both of us, since neither of us will surrender." Then she realized that speaking only gave away her position. Wisely, she clamped her mouth shut.

Ahlen focused on two things. His blade and her blade. Nothing else could be seen. What was not there, did not exist. When the images of the blades were firmly planted in his mind, Ahlen advanced. His feet were planed firmly on each step, feeling the area around him. His senses would be his guide. The weariness that tugged at his will become only a whisper.

A slight change in the air signalled her blade was moving. He caught the strike immediately. He had watched her enough to know how she fought but he still relied on his senses so that he wouldn't be fooled by change in tactics. The blade in his mind moved back and forth, lunging and striking. His sword matched hers at every turn.

Suddenly an image fluttered across his mind. From his peripheral vision, he saw a woman, clothed in nothing but a veil that moved gracefully as she did. She danced along the corner of his vision and vanished. He opened his eyes quickly and barely caught the oncoming swing of Shiori's rapier. She jabbed at multiple points, Ahlen just managing to catch them. He forced himself to step back.

Shiori paused. She saw the confused look in his eyes. "Like I said, if you surrender," she said again, "I won't view any personal shame in it."

Ahlen shook his head quickly, blinking a few times to see if he was losing concentration.

Shiori caught on. "You saw her didn't you?" she probed. "She speaks to you."

"Why are you after this sword?" Ahlen countered.

"Not just that sword," answered the pirate, "But four others like it."

"Why?" he repeated.

"Once I have all six swords of reality, I can use it to change the world."

Ahlen blinked. Change the world, he repeated in his mind. He gave her a suspicious glare. "How do you mean? What do you plan on doing?"

"I don't know really," Shiori replied honestly. "All I know is that I'll have the power to do so." She repeated as if stating a fact, "Once I have the swords."

"But how do you know something evil won't happen?!" protested Ahlen.

"Don't be silly," laughed Shiori. "Come on, you can feel the sword can't you? Do you feel any evil from it?"

Ahlen didn't but chose not to answer. Instead he shouted, "I can't let you! For the sake of those lives you may affect, I can't let you!"

He rushed at her this time with more conviction in his attacks. She blocked them but was forced back at each blow. He pushed her back against a wall. A hurtling overhand strike narrowly missed her head as she retreated to the side. His blade caught in the drywall, Shiori lunged at him, screaming. Ahlen pulled the hilt with all his might and took a large chunk of the wall with him. The explosive force surprised Shiori and dust caught in her eyes. She waved her blade frantically in defence and tried to clear her eyes. Ahlen pounded the block of drywall on the hard floor, breaking it off his sword. Shiori was still temoporarily blinded and he lunged again. Miracuously her blade struck his and she was able to knock him away.

Shiori threw him off her and onto the wall. She turned on one heel and attempted an inward thrust to Ahlen stomach. He knocked her arm away, but as she spun, her other elbow caught him in the middle. He doubled over but pinned her arms together so she couldn't strike. Instead she kneed him in the face. Ahlen fell over on his wounded side. He gasped in pain and rolled away, Shiori's rapier missing his body on her downward strike. He got up warily.

The last hit from Shiori took a lot out of him and it showed. The blonde pirate attacked viciously taking the chance to finish him. She lunged, thrusting and striking. She almost snarled on each attack. Ahlen used what little energy was left to block but his body was slowly giving in. A swing knocked his blade to one side allowing her to kick him in chest.

Ahlen fell back and hit the ground hard. He shook his head quickly, trying to clear it before Shiori could attack. The exhaustion and now pain was unbearable.

Shiori extended her rapier and lunged at him quickly without a thought to any counterattack. She knew there would be none. Ahlen did muster one parry before she knocked his blade away again and now there was no time to defend.

He was completely open and defenseless to her final attack. Shiori struck.

Time slowed and became hazy. A great light radiated from Mizu no Heiwa until it enveloped Ahlen. He saw a woman emerge from the blade, skin radiant as light and body naked except for a silky cloth. The woman merged with Ahlen's body just an instant before Shiori's blade tip entered his skin. The blade sunk deep in Ahlen's chest and through to the other side. The blademaster gasped at the feel of metal in his body.

But he felt no pain.

"What the--" Shiori cried as her blade smoothly sheathed into her opponent's body, a fatal blow. Instead, Ahlen stood with renewed strength. The rapier was still lodged in his chest, sticking out of his back. Ahlen stepped back and the rapier slid out of his body, making a liquid sound. The woman's image was superimposed on Ahlen.

With surprising quickness and inhuman speed, Ahlen leapt to attack. His movements were not jerky or rigid. Instead they flowed from step to step. Each movement of the arm, turn of the wrist, pivot of the hips was calm and devestating at the same time. His body moved with the harmony of water.

Shiori defended herself as best she could but Ahlen, with eyes calmly closed, was too fast despite his fluid motion. He struck and swung and cut at speeds to quick for to react. She managed to bring her blade against his body but it slid right through on each pass, like metal cutting through water. Ahlen ignored them and continued striking, slicing at her flesh. The cuts appeared as if coming from nowhere. Shiori tried to retreat but Ahlen was always in step with her. A final swing knocked the rapier cleanly from her hands. The Ahlen-woman turned on one heel of the boot, now that Shiori could not block. He extended the blade level to her neck and swung to slice her head off cleanly.

"NO!" cried a voice. It was more inward than outward.

The cry was like an explosion that rocked through Ahlen's mind. When his eyes opened Ahlen saw his blade hang just before Shiori's neck, nicking it slightly. A soft trail of blood trickled down her collar. She stood with eyes closed too, feeling defeated and ready to accept the penalty. She opened them and also saw where Ahlen's blade had stopped.

She had lost.

They stared into eachother's eyes. In Ahlen's face she saw calmness and serenity. She saw his mind was clear and in control; all aspects of pain, fatigue, exhaustion had been wiped clean. Shiori saw a face in Ahlen's eyes. It was the face of a woman with raven black hair. Her face was cut the same as his, only more feminine. The face was soft, still, restful; it was the face of someone who had just died.

In Shiori's eyes, Ahlen saw defeat. But not of a defeated person. He saw Shiori's sparking tenacity and confidence that drove her quest. And most mysterious of all, he saw a woman, a young woman, regal in appearance. She was a princess to Shiori and there was an inextinguishable flame that burned between the two. Ahlen knew that nothing would keep Shiori from her princess.

Shiori slumped her shoulders back, signalling defeat. Ahlen brought the blade, Mizu no Heiwa, Harmony of Water, slowly to his side. He gave a final look at Shiori before turning and walking away.

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