Tales of Two Amazons
The heat of the flames that nearly surrounded her was almost too unbearable for Ikimono Miki to withstand she scrambled to outrun the fire that was consuming the forest around her. She repeatedly cursed her idea on coming to the mountains to train during one of the driest series of warm-weather months in the history of Japan. But what she regretted more was that she wasn't alone in her flight. When she had mentioned to Shampoo and Mousse that she was going on a training trip while they closed the Nekohanten and went on vacation during the time that Kohei and Akane, and Ranma and Ukyo went on their honeymoons, her best friend, Juuman Aremi, had immediately offered to go with her, which was no surprise to Miki. And of course, she accepted as she and Aremi have been inseparable since childhood. They did everything together and never felt that they got in each other's way. The only times they were apart were during their separate club meetings at school or when one had to make deliveries from work. But now, Miki's regret was putting her friend's life in danger.
They had been training together, with Miki teaching Aremi the Amazon techniques that she should have been taught while growing up, but was neglected of because of her unknown past. During their training, a storm had been gathering and a bolt of lightning struck a tree right on the edge of their camp, setting it ablaze and causing it to fall between them. The fire immediately ignited all of the foliage around them, preventing the two girls from escaping together. They had scattered in opposite directions.
Miki continued to ignore the heat and the smoke behind her as they continued to build while she continued to dash along the flow of a small river towards the edge of the trees as it came into view.
Are-chan, please be all right, she thought as she got out of the range of the flames and continued to flee from the smoke. However, she had gotten enough of it in her eyes to allow it to affect her sight in such a way that, as she continued to run through the water, she failed to see the sudden drop right in front of her.
"Kyaaaaaaaaaaaaahh...!" she cried as she suddenly felt the pull of gravity against her tall body. She couldn't tell how high the cliff was, but her life began to flash before her eyes, all of the memories happening to be moments of her accident prone nature.
"Are-chan, you're so good with a sword," five-year-old Miki observed as she saw her best friend practice with her blade and execute an advanced kata that only her mother knew on the first try.
"Thank you, Mi-chan," the seven-year-old Aremi smiled as she sheathed her blade.
"I want to be as good with a sword as you, Are-chan."
"Your mother will begin teaching you as soon as you're ready. But I'm not really that skilled, grandpa Haruka calls it 'natural talent.'"
As the two of them walked away from the training field and back towards the village with her brother and parents, Miki thought, I know I'll be as good as you, Are-chan. I'm not going to let anything stop me.
Later that night, after everyone had retired for the evening, Miki snuck into her family's basement where their weapons were stored. She was overwhelmed by the number of different swords, staves, bonbori, and spears that hung along the racks on the side of the wall. She lifted one of her mother's swords off of the shelf, but it was too heavy and pulled her hands down to the ground as it fell. The style of construction was much different than Aremi's light blade. This one was much thicker and more curved, like a scimitar. But Miki wasn't going to give up. Using all of her strength, she was able to hoist the weapon from the floor, but in her attempt to execute a practice swing, the imbalance of weight caused her arms to fall back behind her and the blade to slice into her right shoulder. Had anybody been in the room
they wouldn't have been able to tell which was louder, the piercing shriek of her pain or the loud CLANG of the sword as it hit the ground. She had already fallen down to the ground and was laying in a pool of blood when, just as she was about to black out, she caught a blurring image of her father rushing down the
The next thing that Miki remembered was waking up in bed, with Aremi and Kohei watching over her. She didn't even have the strength to move much more than he head, but she could see a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around her right shoulder and several vials of ointment next to the futon.
"Mi-chan you're awake!" Aremi immediately hugged the young green-haired girl from the left side as best she could.
"Don't try to get up," her older brother directed. "Father said you lost a lot of blood and nearly died. It will take you weeks to get your strength back."
As her two closest loved ones offered her anything she might need and while Kohei helped her drink some water, Miki's mind recalled exactly how this accident had happened. When she remembered how it was her attempt to swing a sword that brought her to his, she could only break down and cry, barely avoiding choking
on the water. When the bandages came off several weeks later, the scar that stayed behind would forever remind her of that incident. Since that night, Miki has never fought with a weapon that held a blade of any kind.
Ten-year-old Miki leapt from tree branch to tree branch in her training for coordination and speed. Her agility and overall strength had been increasing at the same rate that Kohei's and Aremi's had at that same age. While her patience still needed work, her focus had been improved enough to allow her to master this exercise and she completed it more swiftly each time. However, because of her bad luck, today's exercise would end unexpectedly as she leapt onto the limb of a tree that had died long ago, causing the fragile wood fibers that held the branch to the trunk to break beneath her weight. Because of her height above and ground and the suddenness of the fall, she was unable to position herself to land properly and reduce the blow of the impact. This time the yelp of pain she gave out as she hit the ground was drowned out by the loud SNAP of her leg breaking.
"Ow..." Miki whimpered as she began to crawl under the tree. The adrenaline running through her system was dulling out most of the pain at the moment. No one watching her would have been able to tell she was so calm only because she was actually on the verge of panic, not knowing what to do. Her fear intensified as she heard a low growl come from nearby. She became dumbfounded as she saw a starving old wolf come walking into the area. The heavy foam around its mouth was enough to send her over the edge.
"K-k-k-k..." she stammered, then erupted, "KYAA!!!"
Her scream served a dual-purpose as it not only startled the wolf, causing it to leap at her in a pounce, it was also her salvation as, when it was only a few centimeters from her neck, it was hit in the side by a heavy flying kick. The old animal was sent rolling several meters into some thick bushes. Miki didn't have to see the young man's face to know who it was.
"Big brother!" she exclaimed happily as her hero had come.
"Miki, don't watch!" Kohei shouted without turning his head, then attacked the wolf again.
"Be careful, it's rabid!" she warned as she obeyed and closed her eyes. She could hear the wolf growl again and Kohei leap around a few times, then the loud CRUNCH that came a few seconds later made her want to vomit as she had a good guess as to what had happened. She knew that her brother had won, but the potential sight of what he had done to the wolf still made her feel queasy.
"It's all right now, Miki," Kohei's voice spoke softly in her ears a few seconds later. When she opened her eyes, he was examining her leg.
"Can you move it?" he asked.
"No," she shook her head, beginning to sniffle as her adrenaline rush ended. "Big brother, it hurts."
"It may be broken," he looked up, then called, "Are-chan!"
Within another few seconds, their blue-haired friend responded to the call and arrived.
"Mi-chan!" she exclaimed and ran to her side upon seeing her on the ground. "What happened?"
"The branch of the tree I landed in broke and I fell," she choked, trying not to break out in tears as she normally did.
"Her leg may be broken," Kohei informed the older girl. "Please wait with her while I find Father and Mother," he then ran back towards the edge of the trees.
"Why do these things always happen to me, Are-chan?" Miki complained as she repeatedly wiped her eyes once her brother was out of sight. "I find and slip on puddles of water that no one even steps on. I've fallen down the stairs countless times. I lean on railings that break. I trip over rocks and fall into mud when I'm wearing something nice..." her list went on and on as Aremi sat next to her and held the younger girl's head to her chest in a supportive hug. Some of her accidents would have been declared funny by some people. For instance, she once stepped on a bar of soap in the bathhouse and slid all of the way out into the water of the hot springs. The other incident had only happened the previous month: She was climbing another tree to look at a bird's nest, lost her balance, and got her foot caught between some others, leaving her hanging upside down. If Aremi hadn't been with her, she would have been there for much longer, at least until someone walked by the area.
"Don't worry Mi-chan," Aremi assured her. "This is the first time you've gotten seriously hurt in a long time. You'll be back on your feet before you know it."
Miki knew that her friend was always right, so she didn't worry any more as her parents and Kohei returned with a stretcher.
No! Miki suddenly thought as she broke her mind of her flashback, I've gone through much worse and I'm not going to let falling off a waterfall kill me! With only split-seconds to spare, the tall girl positioned her body to absorb the blow of her plummet. Even though she was able to land properly, the height of the fall and suddenness of the impact, along with her already present exhaustion from training and running, caused her to black out.
Meanwhile, back inside the forest and in the midst of the inferno, Aremi was also able to stay ahead of the growing blaze, but she didn't know for how long.
Mi-chan, please be safe, she silently prayed as she found her own salvation, a river cutting through the midst of the trees that was different than the stream Miki had found. Without hesitating, Aremi ran into the water and swam her way upstream against the flow of the current. At its deepest point, the water level reached her neck, giving her much better protection against the heat and smoke. She had no reason to worry about damaging any of her possessions as she'd left all but her sword behind, and it had never rusted since the day she was discovered, wearing it on her side. For only two years she had known the truth about her past and while it had been devastating for her to hear it, she had no regrets about how her life had turned out. As she continued to swim, ignoring the force against her, she continued to pray for Miki's safety rather than her own. She had known Miki for fourteen years and, even though she was two years older, the two of them had been the closest of friends since the day they met.
Deep within the Bayankala mountain range of the Qinghai province of China, a tired, scared, blue-haired little girl wandered almost mindlessly through the area. Her body was dirty and her clothes were full of tears and holes. A light sword lay strapped to her side and all it did was drag along the ground as she walked, not even realizing it was there. She was lonely and afraid. She couldn't call out for her moth for she didn't know who she was. She couldn't call out for her father for she didn't know who he was. She could only remember wandering for a week, eating nothing, sleeping in the cold under the night sky, and hadn't found any water in two days. As her tiny body was unaccustomed to such hardships, she was soon face down in the dirt and unconscious, maybe to never awaken again.
Not too far off, the middle-aged Ikimono Haruka smiled with satisfaction as he watched his grandson, Kohei, perfectly execute an advanced routine of moves from his family's animal-like style of martial arts that he had shown the little boy only a day before. His brown eyes and long, graying hair both seemed to sparkle in the sunlight and emphasize his pride. His grandson was the fastest learner of the Art that he'd ever seen, especially since he was being taught two styles at the same time. Haruka saw a bright future for Kohei: he would rise to become a strong leader, return to Japan, and return the empire to its former glory before its mistakes in the Second World War. Fortunately for Kohei, his parents weren't as radical and had been teaching him that his training was to help him protect his two-year-old sister and all else who were unable to fight for themselves.
"Very well done, Kohei," Haruka commended him. "You will be a master of our family's style in no time."
"Thank you, grandfather," the six-year-old bowed. He was a very polite boy who respected his elders and who his parents were very proud up, especially as he always stood up for that which was right.
"Our training is done for now," Haruka continued. "You may go and play."
"Thank you, I will," nevertheless, he was still a child and ran off towards the village.
As he reminded his grandson not to wander too far, Haruka began walking back towards his home, only to hear his name be called after a few seconds.
"Grandfather! Grandfather! Come here, quickly!" Kohei's voice shouted. Haruka immediately ran towards his grandson's cry. When he found him several meters off the side of the main road leading home, Kohei was carrying the long, blue-haired girl on he back. But because he was tired from his training, he was unable to stay upright.
"I found this girl," he spoke. "Who is she?"
"I don't know," Haruka muttered. "Give her to me," he took the girl from the boy and cradled her prone body in his arms. "We'll take her home and nurse her back to health. Then we'll find out who her parents are and where she came from so we can return her to where she belongs." He looked at her face, which was red and swollen, as if she'd been crying until the moment she fainted. However, it was the sword that had fallen from her belt that Kohei had retrieved that intrigued him further. Why would such a young girl be carrying such a weapon? he asked himself in his mind.
The older man and his grandson quickly carried the unconscious girl to his home in the center of the village of Ryuchiezu, the abandoned Amazon village that had been given to his people. Haruka immediately placed her in a futon in his spare bedroom and ushered Kohei out, explaining that she needed to rest. He closed the door and let her sleep in peace, planning to return to watch over her as soon as he ran an errand.
Only an hour later, Haruka was walking home from purchasing necessary ingredients for the stew he needed to make to feed the mysterious girl when his daughter in law, the Amazon woman Ji Lu, came running up to him. She was a beautiful woman, with flowing green hair that reached down to her knees and sparkling ocean blue eyes. However, her eyes were filled with fear as her face also contained a frantic expression.
"Airen's father," she spoke hurriedly, "have you seen Miki?"
"Did she wander off again?" Haruka asked.
Ji Lu nodded, "She was playing on the floor in our house and I only turned my head for a second-"
"Your daughter can't sit still," he interrupted. "This impatience will not be good for her when she begins training under you."
"She is only two years old!" Ji Lu argued. "She's learning how to see the world for herself."
"She takes after you," he teased, causing her to give him an angry pout. "Let me put these away and check on the girl Kohei and I found." He calmly entered his own house and stored the food away. Once that was finished, he opened the door to the room where he'd laid the little girl. Inside, the two adults saw the missing Miki, her arms around the sleeping girl and whispering, in Chinese, "[Don't cry,]" as she hugged her. This came as a surprise as she was only able to speak a few words in either language and had never even said anything close to that before.
"I don't think Miki will be getting into any more trouble today," Haruka whispered to his daughter-in-law and the two of them made their exit quietly to leave the children alone.
Several hours passed before the blue-haired girl even began to show signs of waking up. Haruka had come inside several times to check on her and Miki, who never left the stranger's side the whole time. When the girl finally began to exhibit signs of life, her first sight was that of a smiling green-haired girl looking over her. She laughed in excitement when she saw the sapphire blue eyes for the first time.
"[Who are you?]" she asked, her throat very dry, even though Haruka had given her some water while she was out cold.
"[Miki!]" the younger girl pointed to herself happily, then asked, "[Who you?]"
The older one couldn't help but smile at this stranger, she was so cute! But as she tried to think of the answer to her question, her smile faded.
"[I... I'm... I don't know...]" she began to cry again. "[I don't know...]"
"[It okay,]" Miki hugged her again. "[Don't cry.]" This lasted the entire night, even after Haruka had long found out she was awake.
The next morning, after the girl had calmed down, been able to rest, and eaten something, it became the time to ask about her family.
"[What's your name?" Haruka asked her, being as calm and understanding as possible. The girl only spoke Chinese, which wasn't a problem as she and everyone else in the village was fluent in both that and Japanese. He would never figure out how Miki, who had fallen asleep and was still curled up next to the girl, knew to address her in the Mandarin language.
"[I don't know,]" the girl shook her head, but was no longer crying.
"[Who are your father and mother?]"
"[I don't know.]"
"[Where do you come from?]"
"[I don't know.]"
"[Don't worry, little one, we'll help you find your answers.]" Haruka turned to his son, Shinji, and Ji Lu, "You were right, she has amnesia."
"When I examined her, I couldn't tell what had caused it," Ji Lu sighed. "It's been too long."
"What are you going to do, Father?" Shinji asked. He was a tall man with spiky black hair that looked short in front, but hung in a rat tail down his back. His green eyes matched the shade of healthy grass.
"We will search for her parents and home. If we find nothing, I will take her in as my own."
"What about her name?" Shinji asked again.
"I will give her a new one. In fact, I already have one in mind."
"What is it?"
"No, Juuman Aremi. She is not my real granddaughter but I will treat her as such."
Shinji lowered his eyebrows, "Father, what is your real motive?"
Haruka silently sweatdropped, then scratched the back of his head as he laughed. "She's a very strong girl to have survived so long in the mountains on her own. With the proper training, she'll grow up to be a great warrior and make the perfect bride for Kohei. Their children could very well become the greatest martial artists this world has ever seen.
The little girl, whose new name was to become Aremi, blinked as she saw the two younger adults sigh.
Waking up and finding Miki sitting over her, telling her not to cry was Aremi's first memory after the incident in which her memory had been erased by the same people who had killed her true parents and burned her birth home, and birth name, to the ground. She had nearly fallen into complete shock when she learned the truth from her grandmother; that she was a full-blooded Chinese Amazon, just like those who destroyed her life. But she grew to accept her heritage despite the fact that she would never forgive them for what they had done and, given the opportunity, avenge her parents by defeating the one who delivered the killing blows.
As she continued to swim along the river, Aremi noticed that it grew out into a lake that fed the flow she had been working against for the long while. She saw a haven from the fire, which was actually several kilometers behind her now, an island with a large tree that had holy markings around it that couldn't be touched by the blaze when it caught up. Her thoughts of the past ended as her running and swimming had fully drained her strength, leaving her to collapse under the enormous tree on her island haven just as she reached the shore.
"Where is this?" Miki slowly asked as she sat up. Once she regained consciousness, she found herself lying in a futon in a small room in some kind of small building that was possibly part of a temple. Her Amazon training uniform lay folded up next to her and she was dressed in simple white gi. A sharp stab of pain in her shoulder and the fact that her arm was in a sling gave evidence that it could be broken... again. Miki sighed as she slowly felt along her bad arm and, while she found no evidence of a break, she'd definitely sprained her shoulder and possibly dislocated it as well. The lack of light in the room informed her that dusk was oncoming and that she had been out for hours, since the storm that caused the fire had brewed that morning. But as she looked around the room, her initial dread was confirmed as she saw that she was alone. A cold chill washed over her and, despite her hugging herself with her free arm to assure herself it was okay, she began to tremble.
"Are-chan...?" she called silently, closing her eyes and beginning to tear up. "Big brother...? Akane-onee-chan...? Anyone...? Please... don't leave me alone..." Her fear slowly reached its peak and she could do nothing more than curl up into a ball and cry, repeating, "I don't want to be alone... Bad things happen when I'm alone..." several times. The sound of the door sliding open was enough to turn her attention to whomever had entered.
"Are you awake?" a young man in matching white gi with strong brown eyes and a completely bald head asked.
The monk had no idea why her reaction was what it was as Miki suddenly screamed in fear and scooted backwards towards the wall, shouting, "It's not true! Big brother and Ranma-onii-sama killed you! Go away! Never come to haunt me again!" What he couldn't have possibly known was that whenever Miki is overtaken by her fear of loneliness to the degree that she was at the period, she involuntarily recalls traumatic experiences in her life and relived them in hallucinations. The monk reminded her of Gekijo Hashin, the man who killed her parents, destroyed her home, and had done unspeakable things to Aremi!
"Kaksui-san!" came a girl's voice as she approached the door. The monk, named Kaksui, had wisely stepped back outside and turned to the new girl.
"Makoto-san," he addressed her, "I seem to remind her of something terrible."
"Let me try," the tall brunette entered the room. Her ponytail was all that Miki needed to see to trick her mind into thinking that this was who she wanted to see.
"Are-chan!" she leapt forward and clinged to the unknown girl, thinking she was Aremi and sobbed heavily for the next several minutes.
"Poor girl," Makoto whispered, "you must have gone through something awful."
Soon afterwards, Miki began to calm her nerves and regain voluntary control of her thoughts. Ever since her fear had been fully established, she had never had an attack this severe. Even if she had to leave home for a time, her fear could still be kept in check for at least a few days. She supposed that because of what had happened in the forest and nearly dying again triggered it to such a high degree. After she took a few deep breaths, she looked up to see the girl with green eyes and brown hair.
"Are you feeling okay now?" she asked.
"Who are you?" Miki replied with a question.
"Kino Makoto," the girl answered, giving a reassuring smile. "You're at an unnamed temple in the Yokohama region. Kaksui-san found you at the bottom of the waterfall earlier today."
"What about Are-chan?" was the first thing that exited Miki's lips.
"My friend, Aremi. We were training in the forest when the fire broke out and we got separated."
"I'm sorry," Kaksui shook his head, "but you, young lady, are lucky to be alive. That was a 40-meter fall and all you did was dislocate your shoulder.
This time Miki didn't even flinch upon seeing him as she explained, "Thank you for helping me. I have a high tolerance for pain. I'm very accident prone."
"You look like you're seventeen, the same age as Makoto-san." Kaksui mentioned, "But I've never seen someone look as afraid as you were when you woke up. I won't ask what caused it but please feel free to rest here as much as you need."
Miki smiled at the man who was showing her such great hospitality, but mentally sighed as she remembered the two events in her life that created her fear of loneliness.
A six-year-old Miki walked hand-in-hand with her grandmother, Sakura, as they headed towards the hot springs for an afternoon soak. Sakura had come down with a cough a few days before and the little girl thought that a good mineral bath was what she needed to get well. The incident became one of trauma as the young Miki's attention was stolen by a butterfly. She broke from her grandmother's grip and, after following it carefreely for a few moments, she turned back to her, only to see her collapsed on the ground.
"Grandma?" she asked, gently shaking her. "Did you fall asleep?"
Miki spent the next several minutes trying to wake her father's mother, but had no success. She began to panic when, every time she lifted her hand, it simply fell back to the ground, limp. The streets were empty as most of the villagers were out working in the fields or at their various trades so she couldn't see anyone to call for. But after only another few seconds, she began to call out for somebody, anybody to come help. Another ten minutes passed, with Miki now being in a crying frenzy of worry, before an adult heard her and came to her aid. Miki had seen this man many times but her panic kept her from remembering his name.
"Miki-chan, what's wrong?" he asked.
"I-it's grandma, she won't wake up!" she exclaimed, hiccuping because of her crying.
The man placed two fingers on Sakura's neck and shook his head after a few seconds, not being able to register a pulse.
"I'm sorry Miki-chan, your grandma is dead."
"D-d-dead?" She didn't know what the word meant, but the sound of it sent a cold chill down her spine.
"NO!" she shouted again and ran, not knowing where, she just ran. Her blind flight soon caused her to collide with someone, but it was the right person.
"Mi-chan?" Aremi asked as she placed her hands on her shoulders. "What's wrong?"
The green-haired girl couldn't say anything as she just sobbed. Miki had never told anyone that she blamed herself for her grandmother's death because she had left her for those few moments. When she had been alone, a bad thing had happened.
Eleven-year-old Miki watched in awe as she saw her brother shatter a large boulder by merely touching it with his index finger!
"I did it..." Kohei wheezed after seeing the enormous rock break apart. He looked terrible after having sat in the training cradle all day and having the boulders slam into his body numerous times. He looked to be in a lot of pain and was covered with numerous large bruises and bumps.
"Well done, Kohei," Ji Lu applauded as she lowered him from the tree. "Now that you've mastered the Bakusai Tenketsu, seeing things with your mind's eye will be much easier and your tolerance for pain will increase many times."
"Thank you, Mother," he spoke as he slowly stood up. Ji Lu had to support him as they slowly made their way home. Before she followed them, Miki looked back at the training area and thought, Big brother mastered this in only a week. It increases tolerance for pain and helps you see things with your mind's eye. If that's all it takes, I'm going to master this by tomorrow morning!
"Miki!" her mother called.
With her new resolve firmly established, Miki jogged to meet up with her mother and brother. She would be back.
Sure enough, late that night, well after the whole village had gone to bed, Miki returned to the training ground. Using her ingenuity and flexibility, she was able to place herself in the training cradle and set up a simple pulley system to send the boulder falling at her. Once everything was in place, she closed her eyes, cleared her thoughts with a deep breath, and released the boulder. As the large rock began its fall, she searched for the breaking point with her mind. But as the large rock came dangerously closer, Miki soon found out why her mother had waited until Kohei was fourteen before beginning the training.
Miki's shout of absolute pain carried across the forest, causing every sleeping animal to awaken, as the boulder connected with her body, breaking both legs, one of her arms, and several ribs, none of which were as fully developed or strong as a fourteen-year-old's. Miki dared not move as the boulder swayed back and forth in front of her, almost taunting her. She silently growled at the rock as she sat helpless in the cradle, hoping to not be bleeding internally. She couldn't call out for help as it hurt her greatly to even breathe shallow breaths. The next several hours before dawn passed unbelievably slow for Miki as her tears slowly fell and soon formed a large puddle on the ground.
"Please come soon, anyone..." she quietly prayed aloud. "Don't leave me alone... Bad things happen when I'm alone... I don't want to be alone..." She repeated those phrases countless times before she was finally found by her mother well into the morning. The scolding she got from her parents and grandfather were still far more bearable than laying in a body cast for two months and have the experience repeat in her mind over and over during the nightmares that came every time she slept. Each time she said, "Bad things happen when I'm alone," whether in her dreams or while awake, she began to believe it more and more.
Miki had to endure more pain as several of her muscles atrophied and she literally had to learn how to use them again, and at the level she had reached in her training. That experience changed her forever. From that time on, she would never let Kohei or Aremi out of her sight for fear of being alone and having bad things happen to her.
"Don't worry, Mi-chan," Aremi had assured her nearly daily since that time, "I'll never leave you to be alone."
The darkness outside that Aremi saw as she opened her eyes informed her that she had been out cold for several hours. But what startled her was that she wasn't beneath the large tree anymore, but inside a strange room! She immediately leapt out of the futon and onto her feet. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead when she also realized that her sword was missing! She wasn't entirely defenseless without it as she was almost a full master of the Ikimono-family style of martial arts, she didn't feel complete without her weapon. It had been found along with her by her adopted grandfather an for a long time was the only clue to her past. She also considered it as her third best friend.
"You're awake," a kind, elderly voice declared from outside the room and an older man with long gray hair, a small moustache, and glasses opened the door. "You were unconscious when I found you under the holy tree of this shrine."
"Who are you?" Aremi asked.
The old man sat at the table inside of that room, "Come. Sit. Enjoy a cup of tea and we'll chat." Aremi could sense no hostility from the man and sat across the table from him. "As for who I am," he continued, "I'm just an old shrine keeper. My name is Katsuhito."
"Aremi," she introduced, "Juuman Aremi. Ojii-chan, thank you for helping me."
"I never would have imagined anyone coming through that blaze," he looked out the window where the fire could be seen on the hillside. "But we're safe here. How did one such as you get involved in such a disaster?"
"My friend and I were out training in the area where the fire started and we got separated."
"Hmm," Katsuhito looked thoughtful. "So, indeed, this belongs to you," he reached under the table and withdrew her sword and belt, "your kind face certainly isn't the one belonging to a thief." He sat the weapon on between them. "Where did you get this? The one who forged it must have been a grand master smith to create such a magnificent blade."
"It belonged to my father. He was a champion swordsman, but he died when I was a little girl. I don't remember him at all." She picked up the blade. "My grandpa Haruka said that I was found with it, and I only recently learned that it belonged to Father. But from the day I wielded it, I've worked to develop my own fighting style."
"I know a little about sword fighting. Perhaps I could observe you in action and see if I could give you any advice. In developing your style you must have had some accidents that wounded you."
"Oh no, ojii-chan," Aremi shook her head. "I've never once injured myself or even accidentally cut a single strand of hair."
"Hmm, tell me more."
The two continued to converse for the next hour with Katsuhito admitting to Aremi that she bore a great resemblance to his deceased daughter. He invited her to stay the night and as long as it was necessary before she fully regained her strength. She had wanted to leave immediately to start looking for Miki, but he was able to convince her to at least rest in the morning as travelling alone at night had become unsafe, no matter how skilled they were. He also asked and she accepted to give him a demonstration of her style before she left the next morning. The fire was no longer a concern as workers had been able to begin the process of containing it.
As she laid in her futon and stared at the ceiling while waiting to fall asleep, Aremi thought back to what she had said to the kind old man about her natural ability with a sword. Upon learning of her father's skill and that the blade belonged to him, she had learned that his spirit passed on all of his knowledge of the sword to her after he died. The events from her life that led to her developing her style began to fill her mind as memories resurfaced.
Aremi was five-years-old, at least that's what everyone had figured, and had been living in the village for a year when her grandpa Haruka approached her before their daily workout one morning. She had grown to love her life in Ryuchiezu and everyone always treated her as if she'd been born there. She and Miki had already cemented their friendship and Kohei watched over her with the same degree of love and compassion that he held for his younger sister.
On that morning, a month after her fifth birthday, her birthday being calculated as the day she was taken in by Haruka, March 31st according to the Western calendar, he spoke to her.
"Aremi," he was holding something, "it's time that you learned how to use a weapon. Starting today, we're going to include practicing with this bokken, When you are ready, I'll give you your sword." She didn't know at the time that the sword he was talking about was the same that she was wearing when she'd been found.
The little girl's eyes widened with glee as she took the bokken from Haruka. She didn't know how, but the moment she grabbed the hilt, something in her mind awakened and she began to see images of an older girl, looking like her, mastering the use of the blade. She was practically in a trance and almost didn't hear her grandpa's instructions.
"We'll begin with the proper stance," Haruka didn't even get to finish his sentence before she entered the correct standing position and began taking some proper practice swings.
"Like this?" she asked.
"Impressive, Aremi," he watched in awe as his eyes widened. "That's exactly what I was going to show you."
"Thank you, grandpa Haruka," she smiled at him but otherwise didn't turn her focus from her workout.
The middle-aged man smiled again as he watched her repeat the same swings for as long as she was able to repeat the execution. It was her first time holding a sword that he knew of, but she looked as if she'd already been practicing with it from the day she was born.
Aremi's progress with the sword proved to develop much faster than Haruka had first guessed, but at a very nice pace after he saw her natural ability grow more and more. She had only been practicing with the bokken for a year before he deemed her ready to use a real blade. He explained to her that it had been attached to the belt she wore when she was found two years prior to that time and that it had always belonged to her. It greatly resembled a katana, but was a few centimeters shorter, but also very light and much stronger than it looked. Whereas she was natural with a wooden sword, the moment that steel blade was placed in her hands, she immediately became one with her weapon as she again began to see images of an older version of herself executing attacks and techniques that weren't even in the range of the style her grandpa had shown her. Her mind told her to begin practicing for these techniques and that they would be necessary at the right time.
"She's a true prodigy," Haruka remarked as Aremi practiced the routine he had taught her, "for one so young." His eyebrows shifted as he saw her suddenly shift her weight and change her fighting stance. He was about to inform her that she had adopted the new stance, but as he observed it, he could see no openings and there was plenty of room for her to react to any situation. This was amazing! She had improved on the stance without seemingly thinking about it!
She's already in the process of developing a new style, Haruka thought, dumbfounded, by the time she's a young woman she'll be teaching me new techniques.
"I did it!" fifteen-year-old Aremi couldn't hold back her excitement as she saw the straw dummy in front of her literally fall to pieces. "I finally perfected my Suzumebachi no Su technique!"
"The 'Hornet's Nest?'" asked Miki, who had just stepped inside to learn why she was so excited.
"Mi-chan, you're just in time," she was already setting up another dummy. "Do you remember the technique I've been working on?"
"Of course. Are-chan you've been working yourself to exhaustion trying to perfect it."
"I finally did," she smiled. "Watch."
Miki could only be a spectator in awe as her longer-haired friend, took a deep breath, then charged at the dummy. Her body moved in such a way that as she ran by the figure, it looked like she ran right through it, delivering a single slash to cut it in half. But Miki knew better, she could sense the replicas created from Aremi's chi that also slashed at the figure from seemingly all directions. After each replica's attack, they rejoined the real Aremi in her body. Aremi had stopped at the same distance from the former figure, but on the opposite side, and for a second it appeared that she hadn't landed a single blow. That is, until the dummy split in half, then fourths, sixteenths, and so on until it was just a pile of regular straw on the floor.
"Are-chan that was incredible!" Miki applauded, moving over to examine the remains of the practice dummy.
Aremi thanks her then looked up at her sword and stared at it, falling silent.
"I didn't learn a thing by myself. My sword taught me everything. Why do I have the skills I do? What will they be used for?" Her excitement had dwindled as something resurfaced; A question that she hadn't been able to answer in over ten years now, "Mi-chan, who am I?" She slowly fell to her knees and softly began to weep, repeating, "Who am I?"
This hadn't been the first time that this had happened and Miki knew exactly what to do. She knelt by her best friend and gave her a long hug, not letting her go and assuring her that she would find out her past some day. Miki also worked to cheer her up by reminding her that she was the greatest friend anybody could ever have. These incidents, whenever they would occur at seemingly random points because of Aremi's fear of herself, would be the only time she would ever cry.
Despite Aremi's natural skill with a sword, she never bragged about it or did anything to show off. In fact, her greatest concern was harming someone. The first time she defeated Kohei in a spar, she gave a completely different reaction than was expected.
"Ko-chan!" she exclaimed in concern as she ran to his fallen side after knocking him down with the flat-bladed version of her Hornet's Nest technique. He was out cold.
"Ko-chan, are you okay?" she repeatedly asked, then began to apologize, "I'm so sorry. I didn't realize that it would be that strong." She hefted the older man onto her back and carried him home to watch over his awakening. It wasn't until he did regain consciousness and congratulated her on her victory did she realize that she had indeed won the match. Since that day, she had always beaten him, or anyone else, when they sparred using weapons. But Aremi still knew she had much to learn and how to control all of it properly.
The next morning, Miki awoke slowly as her eyes focused and her mind recalled the events of the previous day. As her habit for years had been, she had awoken at dawn. Because her normal combat uniform was clean and still lay folded next to her, she put it on, but soon forgot, then remembered that her arm was still in a sling.
That will be easy to fix, she thought. Now that she was relaxed and was used to this sort of thing, she simply took hold of her upper arm and popped her shoulder back into its appropriate place. The loud sound that it made was enough to startle Makoto out of her futon, shouting, "What was that!"
"Don't worry," Miki assured as she finished dressing, "it was just me."
The other tall girl was taken aback, "Y-y-your arm!"
Miki looked at the brunette with innocence and question, "You don't know how to replace a dislocated joint?"
Makoto shook her head.
"When you live like this your whole life," she opened the door and gestured to the temple and mountains, "you learn how to fix these injuries no matter where you are."
"You've been living in these mountains your whole life?" Makoto assumed she was referring to the mountain range where the temple was located.
"Sort of," Miki turned to the west, her back facing the rising sun. "My big brother, Are-chan, and I were all born and raised in China. We grew up in a small village in the Bayankala mountains and have been learning the martial arts all of our lives. Big brother was trained the hardest; having to wake up at dawn, train, attend our school, then train for the rest of the day, six days a week. Are-chan and I weren't worked as hard, but we do have something to show from our training."
"Wow, so you must be really good."
Miki's reply was modest, "I'm skilled enough to survive on my own."
"All right, then let's see how good you are," Makoto challenged, then began dressing into her gi. "I came here three years ago for personal reasons and returned to improve my skills even more. Miki-chan, I want you to go all out."
"I'm sorry, Makoto-chan, but I need to look for Are-chan and make sure she's no hurt. Thank you for your help." With that, she began to leave.
"Wait!" Makoto called and ran to intercept her. "That fire is still burning! Look at all the smoke up there!"
Miki did look up towards the higher peaks and could still see smoke rising from the fire she had escaped from, it didn't seem as big as it had when she was in the midst of it.
"Are-chan isn't in here, but could still be hurt. I know she ran in the opposite direction I did and that's where I intend to go." The young half-Amazon girl could sense anger rising from her new friend, who tall, but not as tall as her, but at the same time she could tell that she respected her concern for Aremi. However, the anger won out.
"I'll make you show me how good you are!" Makoto shouted and suddenly charged towards Miki's front.
The green-haired girl simply leapt to the side and turned to her, saying, "Makoto-chan, I don't want to fight you. We have no reason to fight. You're not my enemy."
"I am until this is over!" the pony-tailed girl unleashed a series of punches and kicks.
She's being reckless in her anger, Miki thought as she dodged the assault with her Amazon speed, then realized, I have a chance! This will see how much I've learned and also calm her down.
"Stop dodging and attack me!" Makoto growled.
"You're against my attack as we speak," Miki replied calmly as she led the other girl towards the center point of a spiral. As soon as her foot reached the midpoint, she raised her arm.
"HIRYUU SHOTEN HA!!!"
Miki's expression turned to joy and satisfaction as the whirlwind appeared around her. This was the first time she had successfully executed the Ascending Dragon Wave.
Can you see it, Mother? she thought, I've finally mastered it. Big brother, I wish you were here to see this too. What Miki didn't realize, but all of her future opponents would, is that her size allowed her to excel in ki attacks, thus making the whirlwind the biggest one ever created by a single person against a single person. The tornado just barely avoided causing damage to the temple.
As her opponent was lifted by the vortex, Miki's thoughts turned to her brother and the special training he had done with her to enhance her skills and the overall example of brotherly love he had set for her.
"Miki," sixteen-year-old Kohei stood by the fire that he'd just built holding a pouch filled with chestnuts, "Mother has entrusted me to teach you the Amaguriken after I offered to do so. This is the first special technique of Mother's people that you will learn and it will prepare you to learn the Bakusai Tenketsu when your body is strong enough to endure the pain.
"I know, big brother," she looked down at the ground. That incident had only occurred a year before and was still constantly on her mind. It wouldn't be until she did master the Breaking Point where she could cast it from her mind.
"As you know, the purpose is to remove these chestnuts from the fire without burning your hands. In other words, move so fast that the heat has no chance to affect you. I'll demonstrate." He dumped the pouch full of nuts into the fire, took a deep breath, then executed the familiar technique of infinite punches in mere seconds to remove the nuts. "Were you watching?"
"Yes, big brother."
"The trick is to forget that the flames are there. Only yourself and the chestnuts exist. Gather your strength, use your full speed, and execute the technique."
"All right, I will." Miki stepped up to the fire and knelt beside it.
"But before we begin-" he stopped her.
"Would you like one?" he smiled at her, holding one that he'd just cracked open.
"Big brother!" Miki called as she ran out of the house in the pre-dawn light. "Are you leaving without saying good-bye?"
"Miki," Kohei stopped, "I didn't want to wake you."
"But you're leaving for another three-week training journey," she hugged him. "I'll miss you."
"I'm going to miss you too," he returned her hug. "But it's Father's wish that I go."
"Why Jusenkyo?" Miki looked up at him with worry in her eyes. "You could come back as a snake, a dog, a yeti, or anything! I know that other fighters in the village who've gone there bought back large quantities of water from the Springs of Drowned Man and Girl. But what if you don't come back?"
Kohei put his usual reassuring hand on her shoulder, "If what I plan to do works, I will only become stronger because of it."
"Be careful," she finally spoke quietly, as she let him go.
"Hey!" Miki raised her arms in defense as the onslaught of water continued to drench her.
"Attacks can come in many forms, Miki," Kohei laughed as he splashed her again as they sat in the hot springs. "You always need to be ready should one be aimed at you."
"Miki smirked and giggled, "Like this?" and returned the volley of water back at her brother.
Most people would have thought that the friendly war was being fought between two young children, but the rest of the villagers knew better when it came to Kohei and Miki, and often Aremi. The siblings were seventeen and thirteen, but they still hadn't grown up in the respect that they loved to play games.
"I must go!" Kohei exclaimed as soon as the village's priest finished his reading of the strange giant man who had appeared at the village's aura. He wasted no time in dashing for the gate that led towards the field being used for the battle.
"Big brother!" Miki rushed in front of him to block him with outstretched arms. "Mother and Father will win!"
"They're in danger! They don't know that Hashin can regenerate his energy somehow. He's a half-god! He's a monster! I must help them!"
"But then you'll be in danger..." her voice fell soft.
"I'm sorry Miki, but we can't let this happen."
"Ko-chan," Aremi had caught up to them. "Let me go with you."
Kohei shook his head, "Are-chan, stay with Miki for me. Both of you promise that you won't leave the village until I return from this battle."
"I will," Aremi didn't hesitate.
"O-okay..." Miki was a little slower but agreed.
"Pray for us, you two," with that, he ran to begin the fight that would forever change all of their lives.
"Come back alive!" Miki called after him. She had never felt more helpless than at that moment, knowing that while her skills in the martial arts were above average, they still weren't good enough for that battle. She only watched him go as Aremi stood next to her, watching the same sight.
"Big brother, you're awake!" Miki shouted and hugged him the instant his eyes opened after his near 24-hour bout with unconsciousness after barely surviving his battle with Hashin.
"Miki... Are-chan..." his voice fell quiet and he avoided eye contact with them. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't save them."
"It wasn't your fault, but you beat him. We didn't know how long it would be before you woke up so we've already buried Mother."
"How did I get here?"
"We've been waiting for you to ask that," Aremi smiled and turned to the door. "Come in." And in walked an obviously Amazon girl as given away by her lavender hair.
"Nihao," she greeted.
"Big brother," Miki introduced, "this is Xian Pu, the daughter of our mother's sister. She and her friend saw the end of your fight and brought you and Mother's body back."
"I never knew our mother had a sister."
"Shampoo was told Gel died when Shampoo was infant," Shampoo explained to him.
"Because of Amazon law, when she married an outsider but didn't bring him back to her village, she was considered dead," Miki practically growled under her breath.
Kohei slowly made his way to his feet, "That also may be why we've never been to Mother's home village. Xian Pu, where are you currently living?"
The older girl looked at the ground as she answered, "No. Shampoo and Mousse have wandered for all of past year."
"Well then," he put his hands on his cousin's shoulders, "you may stay here as long as you like."
Miki and Aremi smiled as they saw Shampoo's face brighten. It was no small wonder why Miki loved her brother so much, he showed kindness to everyone who deserved it and at the same time always stood up for what was right.
"Miki! Miki!" Upon hearing her name, the long-haired half-Amazon halted her exercise and turned her head to see Shampoo bounding towards her. Her face already stated that she had good news: "Kohei's home!"
Those words were all she needed to hear to lift her spirits, causing her to dash back towards her family's house. She was truly glad to hear the good message and couldn't wait to see her big brother again after nearly five months, which was the longest they'd ever gone without seeing each other since she was born. However, a scheme was forming in her mind.
I'll have to give him a good welcome, she thought as a sneaky grin formed on her face.
"Thank you for allowing me to stay last night and for breakfast, ojii-chan," Aremi bowed as she finished the meal that Katsuhito had prepared for her, "but I must look for Mi-chan." The two of them stood at the top of the stairs leading to Masaki Shrine. Before they had eaten, Aremi had given the old man a demonstration of her sword technique, for which he was very impressed, but still found some points to give her advice.
"Your dedication to your friend is admirable," the elderly man told her. "My grandson will me visiting me for the rest of the summer in a few days. It's a pity he won't meet you. It would benefit him to spend some time with a girl like you."
Aremi only smiled again, "Ojii-chan, if your grandson is anything like you he'll have no trouble winning the hearts of women. Katsuhito only smiled, then suddenly lowered his eyebrows and reached for his broom.
"Don't move," he instructed, "there's a large spider crawling up your uniform."
"Huh?" Aremi looked down and, sure enough, a good-sized arachnid was making its way up her combat dress. The old man himself was ready to simply brush it off of her, but even he was caught off guard with the girl's, "Kyaa!" as she immediately drew her sword, knocked it from her clothing, and sliced it cleanly in half before it reached the apex of its flight.
"T-thank you," she slightly stammered, "I can't bear being around spiders." Her brow had become covered with sweat and her face had lost all of its color. Katsuhito simply swept the remains of the spider from the walkway.
"A deep rooted fear," he immediately figured. "Did you have an experience when you were a child?"
The blue-haired Amazon visibly shuddered as the memory returned to her mind.
The entire Ikimono family and Aremi had taken a trip into the deeper portions of the Bayankala. All three of Kohei, Miki, and Aremi were being taught survival skills and receiving special training. However, as all three of them were still little, they did enjoy the opportunity to explore this unknown area once their workouts for the day were complete. With the adults admonishing them not to wander too far, the three of them began the survey of their surroundings. They hadn't gone but half a kilometer when Aremi spotted a small cabin tucked away in the mountainside. The three decided to check it out before returning to camp and arrived a few minutes later.
"Who would've thought that someone would live all the way out here," seven-year-old Aremi commented.
"It must have been a long time ago," Kohei observed, looking into the dust and cobweb-filled entry room. "Nobody is here now."
"Let's go inside," Miki suggested and, being the impulsive girl she was, run in ahead of the other two.
"Mi-chan, wait for me!" Aremi was the first to go in after her. Even though the two girls were only two years apart, their weight differences were significant enough such that when Miki stepped onto a large piece of rotting floorboard, nothing happened. But when the older girl stepped in the exact same place, and with a loud SNAP, the floor gave way and she fell straight through down into the basement.
"Are-chan!" the two siblings exclaimed in unison as they approached the newly formed hole from opposite sides. They hadn't even finished their concerned shout when they could her their friend screaming from below.
"Run and get Mother!" Kohei quickly directed his sister and immediately searched for a way downstairs since the hole was too small for him. Miki immediately complied and ran back towards the direction from which they'd come while Kohei found the descending staircase. The hole in the first floor provided enough space for the sunlight to shine through and allowed Kohei to see his friend covered nearly from head-to-toe with spiders. She had landed right in the middle of a large number of nests and was frantically trying to brush them off, but they just kept coming.
"Get them off!" she cried again. Kohei wasted no time in rushing over to her and helping her brush the eight-legged creatures from her. But as he took some from her arm, he saw her wince in pain. Looking at the palm of his hand, he saw a large smear of Aremi's blood. There was only one way for him to get these spiders off of her without aggravating the bite wounds. Luckily for both of them, Kohei had been taught this skill and mastered it very recently.
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!!"
Utilizing the technique that even fire couldn't penetrate, Kohei quickly picked each and every spider from Aremi's body that he could see and pulled her to safety from the rest. Ignoring the pain from the bites that he had initially sustained, Kohei quickly carried the blue-haired girl back upstairs where he could asses her condition. What he saw wasn't pretty; trickles of blood ran down her arms, legs, and face and she had passed out from the shock.
"Forgive me, Are-chan," he said as he examined under her clothes to make sure there weren't any that had snuck beneath, of which there were a couple. He then used the green sash from around his waist, representing a 3rd-level student of the Ikimono style, to clean the visible trickles of blood from her wounds. As the next few minutes passed, he exhaled a sigh of relief that none of the marks were smelling, giving him the sign that those spiders weren't poisonous. But she was covered with literally hundreds of marks and those were dangerous enough to make her lose a lot of blood.
Kohei had only finished tearing his sash apart and made several makeshift bandages to bind some of her wounds when Miki returned with their mother. Aremi was taken back to that camp and didn't wake up again until the next morning. Since that incident, the sight of any spider, whether real or depicted, brings that experience to her mind.
"But I am impressed with how you handled your reaction," Katsuhito continued, bringing the young woman back to the present. "You could do well to teach my grandson."
"Thank you, ojii-chan," Aremi's smile returned.
"At the bottom of the shrine is a highway, go past the train station there and follow the road until you reach some crossroads. Head east from there and you'll come to a small village. It's not very well known, but its location makes it ideal for searching for your friend. It's the last village before several of the temples in these mountains for people travelling on foot."
Before she could turn to leave, Aremi had to do one more thing. She turned back to the old man and gave him a big hug.
"Thank you for everything, ojii-chan," she thanked again, "I'll continue to train and return to visit you one day. And I'll be sure to bring Mi-chan with me."
"I'm looking forward to it," he smiled and patted her back.
Soon afterwards, Aremi waved goodbye one final time as she began her long trip down the stairs from the Masaki Shrine and began walking down the road towards the village that her new grandfather had suggested she begin her search for her best friend. It would be a day's walk, but she knew it would be worth it.
"What kind of move was that?" Makoto asked first thing after she had woken up after experiencing the Hiryuu Shoten Ha.
"It's a special technique that only my people know," Miki smiled, wrapping a bandage over the other tall girl's bruised head. "But I hadn't mastered it until now. Thank you for your help, Makoto-chan."
"Don't worry about it. And there are some special techniques that only I know. But sorry for picking a fight with you. I just wanted to know how good you were." The brunette smiled, "I still have a lot of work to do."
"Don't give up, Makoto-chan," Miki put her hands on her shoulders. "Keep training with Kaksui-san and continue to increase your focus and you'll find the strength you need to win every battle."
"Thank you, Miki-chan," Makoto's determination became projected in her eyes. "I'll work harder than ever." She then realized something. "Oh, before you leave, can you do me a quick favor?"
"What is it?"
Makoto handed her a postcard, "I didn't tell me friend that I was coming up here again and I don't want them to worry. So if you could drop this in the mailbox by the bus stop at the bottom of the path leading to the temple I'd really appreciate it."
"I'd be glad to," she took the card.
"They came up to be with me three years ago. I don't doubt they'll do it again."
"When you're with your friends you can overcome any hardship," Miki smiled, bowed, and took her leave, carrying the map that Kaksui had given her, which pointed in the direction of a remote village northeast of the temple at the foot of the mountains.
I'm sure your friends care about you as much as you do them, Makoto-chan, Miki thought as she walked. Once those words passed through her mind, she again began to think of Aremi and the times they had spent together. Even growing up, the only times they were apart were when they were separated for training trips in their different styles, or when they were forced apart during the worst night of the saddest period in her life's history: when Hashin took her away.
"Such hatred..." Aremi stated as Miki glanced over to her. Her friend was watching the battlefield on the horizon as if she were in a trance. "Did you feel the hatred contained in that last attack?"
Miki nodded and continued to rely on what her friend felt. All of Aremi's skill with the sword had given her the ability to sense chi to a much greater degree than anyone in the village. It had become so perfected that she was also able to read the intentions and emotions from that person. And from what Miki could tell, it was difficult for Aremi to not become overwhelmed by Hashin's evil.
"What about big brother?" the taller girl asked.
"Ko-chan is fine, but he's falling fast after somehow surviving that attack. If he doesn't win soon he could die."
"No... Not him too..." her world was falling apart at that moment. Her parents' chi had disappeared, signaling their deaths, and she was now about to lose her brother.
"Oh no," Aremi's voice fell quiet, "he's... he's..." A loud explosion from the valley on the other side of the hill caught her off guard, but caused her smile to return. "He's done it! He won!"
"What?" Miki was slightly confused.
"Look!" Aremi pointed to a figure that was soaring through the air towards a deep mountain peak.
"That's Hashin!" Miki realized. "Any minute now big brother will walk triumphantly back here." Tears of both joy and sorrow filled her eyes, knowing that three had entered that battle, but only one would return.
"He's barely alive," Aremi bluntly informed her. "His chi is barely there... Wait, there are two more people who just entered the area!"
Miki wanted to run to the field, but she had promised her brother not to leave the village. Five excruciating minutes passed before they saw two strangers, a man and a woman, carrying Ji Lu's body and Kohei, climb over the hill. The man wore strange white and blue robes and had medium-length raven black hair while the woman wore a reddish Amazon combat uniform similar to Miki's blue one and her lavender hair reached just below her shoulders.
"Who are they?" Miki asked.
"I don't know," Aremi answered, "but they look like Amazons."
"[Hey!]" Miki waved and hailed. "[Over here!]"
The two strangers saw her and continued to make their way to the village. This time, the two girls broke into a run to intercept the unknowns. Once they met up with each other, Miki ignored the woman at first and took Ji Lu from her.
"Oh Mother..." she fell to her knees, hugging the prone body and allowed her tears of mourning to fall. She ignored the conversation between Aremi and the strangers.
"[Thank you for bringing them back,]" Aremi had taken Kohei from the man. "[Was there the body of another man?]"
The lavender-haired girl shook her head, "[Those were the only ones.]"
"[Then uncle Shinji...]" she brushed that aside. "[Come with us. You two look very tired and I'm sure Kohei will want to thank you too when he wakes up.]" She led them back towards the village, giving Miki time and space to mourn her loss. Her mournful cries could be heard throughout the entire valley.
"He's gone!" Miki practically howled in disbelief after she had searched the entire village and been unable to find Kohei. A brief interrogation of her aging grandfather had revealed that he had left during the night on a journey. Hashin had returned the previous evening and subjected the village to his demands, taking one of the girls with him.
As Miki thought about why Hashin had come in the first place, her mind traced back to a source of the pain she had been feeling since seeing the dead body of her mother. Hashin had thought that Kohei had been the one who had defeated the immortal adult leader of the Phoenix People, Saffron, and only wanted to declare himself stronger than him. But, thanks to Kohei, they had learned the name of Saffron's real defeater.
As Miki reached the peak of the hill just outside of the village, which was on the opposite side of the small valley where Kohei's battle against Hashin had taken place, she faced the east and shouted bitterly, "Saotome Ranma! Because of you, my parents and big brother were taken from me! If I ever meet you, I'll make you feel my pain!"
The shouts of practice echoed across the training field as Miki repeatedly swung her bonbori. She was working out the frustration she had felt that morning upon discovering Kohei's leaving. Her initial reaction was to pack her bags and follow him, and Aremi was getting ready to leave with her. However, Shampoo and Mousse convinced her that if they followed him, they'd have less of a chance of finding him, and if he returned before they did, they would only miss him for so much longer. While the younger girls wanted him to be with them, they agreed that waiting for his return would be the most sensible option. After all, China was enormous.
"He'll be back," Miki practically growled, "big brother isn't one to run away. He's gone on a training journey so he can beat Hashin. But if he doesn't, I'll kill him myself!"
"Mi-chan, I've never heard you act in such a way," Aremi, who was training a few meters away, sounded shocked.
"Are-chan what did we do to deserve this?" Miki tightened her grip on her weapons, which were the last gift her mother had given her. "Either one of us could be chosen and taken away at any full moon now!"
"Don't worry, Mi-chan, I won't let it happen to you," she sheathed her sword, put her hands on her shoulders, and continued to smile.
"Are-chan, you never stop smiling," the taller girl commented. "How do you do it?"
"Because I'm always with my best friend and thinking about how wonderful she is."
The sentence seeped in Miki's heart and, the next thing she knew, Aremi was hugging her as she cried into her shoulder.
"No! NO!!! Not her! Anyone but her!" Miki struggled against Mousse's grip, trying to break free. Her worst nightmare had come true; on the night when Hashin returned to take another girl, his choice had been Aremi. She wasn't going to accuse her of breaking her promise to never leave her alone as it was not her choice. But she had no idea if she was ever going to see her best friend again.
"Miki, calm down!" Mousse continued to hold her back. "She'll be fine!"
Before she was taken out of sighed, Miki saw the blue-haired girl turn around and, through the commotion, she heard her quietly say, "Mi-chan, I'm glad that it was me and not you." Even during this, her smile never faded. She was dressed in the silk dress that had been reserved for her wedding, now Hashin was making a mockery of its special use! Then, before Miki's eyes, she was gone.
"Are-chan..." Miki stopped her struggle and again fell to her knees, sobbing harder than when she mourned the loss of her parents or when Kohei had disappeared. "Are-chaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!"
The green-haired girl felt Mousse's hand on her shoulder as he assured, "We'll get him, Miki. He'll pay for what he's done."
The half-Amazon only half-listened for a few seconds, then leapt to her feet and ran, not knowing or caring where. Her tear-filled flight soon brought her to the north end of the village, where the cemetery lay. She collapsed to the ground in front of her parents' marker, saturating the ground with her tears. She didn't know how long she was there and she didn't care. At this point, her mind was raging a battle of internal struggle: Would she continue to wait for Kohei or should she go after Aremi and try to take her place? She couldn't come to decision and simply continued to sob.
"I'm all alone now," she choked, not hearing the quiet footsteps approach her.
"You're not alone," a calm voice in front of her comforted. Through her blurred eyes, Miki was able to raise her head and see Shampoo squatting in front of her. The younger girl, who had placed her trust in her cousin immediately after meeting her, glomped her and buried her head in her chest. Another unmeasured period of time passed before Miki simply cried to sleep.
"Never again," Miki promised herself.
As she prepared a makeshift camp for that night, Aremi hummed her favorite song, a happy upbeat tune that had been taught to her by Kohei. A warm feeling washed over her as she thought of him. In truth, her feelings of friendship with him had always been as strong with him as they were with Miki. But also towards Kohei, she had developed a love for him that was nothing less than unconditional. And while he had decided to marry another girl, she was happy because he was happy.
Aremi, as now she was named, was sitting with her newly adopted grandpa Haruka. She had been in Ryuchiezu for only a couple of weeks. Her parents could not be located, so she was taken in by the Ikimono patriarch. Because she had been afraid, she didn't go outside much. But one day, Haruka's family came to visit and formally welcome the little girl to the community. This was the first time she met with Kohei since he found her.
"Hi, Aremi," the six-year-old smiled and greeted her, wanting to make her feel welcome. "I hope we can be friends."
"[Huh?]" She couldn't speak Japanese yet so she didn't understand him.
"[Hi, I hope we can be friends,]" he greeted again, switching languages.
"[Aremi, this is Kohei,]" Haruka explained, then added under his breath, "He's your future husband."
"[Oh,]" the little girl realized, then noticed that he was staring at her, which frightened her. "[Grandpa, why is he looking at me like that?]"
"Kohei," he stated, "it's not right to stare."
"I'm sorry, Grandfather, I can't help it. Her hair is a pretty color of blue." Blue happened to be his favorite color.
He was always honest, and once Haruka told her what he had said, she began to think that maybe he wasn't scary after all.
"Are-chan, try and catch me!" Kohei called as the children their age were playing a game that could easily be described as Tag. Many of the kids often accused Aremi of playing favorites as she'd initially go after him. But anyone who wasn't wary and stayed too close to them would get faked out and tagged by her. However, Kohei himself was easy to trick as all she had to do was "trip" over her feet. However, this time she wasn't pretending.
"Ah!" Aremi exclaimed as she stumbled over an unseen rock that had been buried in the dirt.
"Are-chan!" Kohei must have known that she wasn't tricking him this time, for whenever she did, he didn't move nearly as fast. But this time, and quickly dove to catch her and was just in time.
"Thanks, Ko-chan," she smiled and kissed his cheek. "But now you have to catch someone," then got up to scramble out of his reach.
"Hi, Mi-chan," fourteen-year-old Aremi called as she saw Miki leaving her house with Kohei. "Where are you two going?"
"A brother/sister picnic," Miki chimed. "We have to do something to get him to relax on the one day of the week he doesn't train, or he'll train anyway."
Aremi's smile stayed where it was. "Have a good time," and she processed on her way.
"Are-chan, wait," Kohei quickly reached out and grabbed her hand, holding her back. "Did we ever say you weren't also our sister?"
Aremi had known already that that was her standing in Kohei's heart, and she didn't mind it at all. She still continued to express her unconditional love for him, even always telling him how much she loved him. However, he would always smile back and tell her that he loved her too, the same way he said it to Miki. She always respected his independence and the incident on her fifteenth birthday proved her point.
"Happy birthday, Aremi," Haruka greeted her first thing that morning. He hobbled over to her using his cane. Not long before that day had he lost the use of his leg in an accident and he hardly even left the house any more, causing her to volunteer to care for him as he had for her. But that morning, he had a big surprise for her.
"Thank you, grandpa Haruka," she smiled and offered her arm to support him.
"I've been looking forward to this day," he took her arm and led her into the next room where, hanging on a pole, was a newly woven silk Chinese dress that matched her eyes and hair perfectly.
"Grandpa Haruka, it's beautiful!" She ran over and examined it, then noticed the particular style it was woven in. "This is a wedding dress!"
"Of course," the aging man grinned, "today you are going to marry my grandson."
Aremi turned to face him in surprise. "Really?" She had been dreaming of this day for a long time, when she would be able to be with her Ko-chan for the rest of her life. But she then asked, "Does Ko-chan know about this?"
Haruka shook his head. What he didn't know was that Kohei did know about the arranged marriage between them when he thought that he didn't.
The young woman's head became flooded with confusion. Kohei would indeed marry her if he was told to, even though he and Haruka weren't getting along lately. But what about his feelings? Wouldn't he want a say in the matter? He would suddenly have to see her as more than his second sister.
"I refuse," Aremi folded her arms and turned her back to him and the dress. "If he wants to marry me, he'll ask me himself." There were no tears in her eyes nor breaking in her voice as she made that declaration. In fact, she genuinely smiled the whole time. Even though Haruka tried to convince her otherwise, she remained adamant about allowing Kohei to make his own decision. She never regretted that statement and still didn't even after her married another girl, because it never changed his feelings for her at all, and he was still happy.
As sleep began to overtake Aremi, she took one last look at the stars and wished, "Good night, Mi-chan, Ko-chan, I love you both."
The next morning, Miki's spirits were renewed as she walked along the old, lonely highway down from the temple towards the village that stood at the crossroads at the base of the mountains. She had been able to find a large pond the previous night and used it for a much needed bath. Upon being cleansed, she renewed her journey to hopefully find Aremi in the town.
After another few minutes of walking, she came upon a fork in the path, one in the direction of northwest and the other to the east. she had come from the southwest and guessed that if Aremi had come down this road, she'd come from the northwest path. The tall girl decided to wait for a few minutes before continuing on in hopes of catching her best friend coming down. She had only stood there for a few seconds when she heard some rustling in the bushes nearby.
"Are-chan?" she guessed hopefully. Sadly for her, it was not her friend but rather two men wearing heavy work clothes that emerged from the shrubs.
"Hey hey, Shunsuke," the front, who was obviously the elder of the two elbowed the other in the ribs, "look what we have here."
"Yeah, Ichiro," the second replied, "she's a cute one." He then turned to Miki. "Yeah, little girl, where are you going? Are you lost?"
Miki simply put on a cute smile to fake them out as she could sense their hostility, especially with the comment on being a "little" girl despite her height, "I'm just on my way to the village east of here."
The two men looked at each other and broke into a huddle.
"Big bro," Shunsuke whispered, "she could be trouble."
"Yeah," Ichiro agreed, "if she tells anyone that she saw us, our plan'll fail."
"Let's make sure she doesn't get there then."
"I can get her."
The two brothers nodded at each other before breaking apart and turning back to the green-haired girl.
"Sorry little girl," Ichiro began moving towards her, "but you're coming with us."
Miki's smile simply turned into a devilish grin as she quickly spun around and delivered a high kick to his face.
"AUGH!" the man cried as he fall back and held an obviously bleeding nose.
"Big bro!" Shunsuke exclaimed, then turned back to the "little" girl. "You wench, what do you think you're doing?"
Miki remained in her fighting stance and merely responded, "I didn't say I was going to go with you, did I?"
"Feh!" Ichiro got onto his feet. "I don't think you could take us both on!"
The girl just shrugged, "Maybe not, but I have to warn you that I have more power in my index finger than both of you in your whole bodies combined." She raised her fist and extended her finger to show it. The two men saw that expression and only burst out laughing.
"Do you see that, Shunsuke?" Ichiro guffawed. "She's going to hurt us with her finger!"
Miki's plot to catch them off guard worked perfectly as her mind's eye found the correct spot in the road and she immediately thrust her finger into it.
Despite the previous incident earlier in her life with the Breaking Point technique, her stubbornness had overpowered her fear and she was determined to learn the move once she was strong enough to withstand the repeated attacks of the oncoming boulders. As a result due to her ability to generate greater amounts of chi than either her brother or Aremi, the explosions created from her using the technique were far larger than anyone else she knew who also knew how to shatter boulders with a single touch.
The two brothers shouted, "What the-" in perfect unison as the shrapnel from the explosion repeatedly hit them all over their bodies. They didn't even get to react as Ichiro found himself the recipient of another one of Miki's kicks, this time to the side of the head and over his eye. Shunsuke then found himself taking a blow to the ribs that knocked out his wind. As both of them crumpled to the ground out cold, the half-Amazon girl brushed her loose hair back and squatted beside them.
"You two should be grateful my big brother isn't here," she informed them. "He and Ranma-onii-sama are the greatest fighters in the world." However, her little speech was enough to drown out the approach of another person. Miki's body became overshadowed, which was noticed by her, but as she turned her head she was only in time to see a third man bring a club down against the back of her head. The young woman could only exclaim a brief gasp of surprise before blackness overpowered her and she lost consciousness.
Not too far back along the road, Aremi was also walking along and making her way to the village. She had gotten an early start that morning after a night under the stars and was also hoping to meet up with Miki either along the way or in the town itself. She was just listening to the rustling of the trees due to the wind when it carried the sounds of shouting. Aremi quickly increased her pace and saw, in the distance, three men; one was laying on the ground and the other two were talking. The blue-haired Amazon's instincts told her to stay out of sight, which she complied to. Moving stealthily through the trees and bushes, Aremi was soon able to listen in on the conversation.
"I can't believe you two!" one of them shouted. "You got beaten by a girl!"
Girl? Aremi thought.
"I'm... sorry..." the second was obviously winded and having trouble regaining his breath.
"Good thing I came along when I did. You two could have let her ruin everything!"
"It won't... happen again..."
By now Aremi could see them up close and what they were talking about. She had to cover her mouth with her hands to keep from exclaiming Miki's name when she saw her knocked out on the ground.
"You get our brother," the angry man ordered. "I'll take this troublemaker back to the boss. She could have warned the village about our raid!"
Aremi's eyebrows lowered as she saw the man reach down for Miki. These guys are bandits, I could stop them now but that won't defeat the whole gang. I only have one other choice. Knowing exactly what she had to do, she reached for her sword...
The third man and Shunsuke both looked up to see the long-haired girl, hands raised in surrender and completely unarmed, step out of the trees.
"I heard everything," she admitted.
"Well now," the third man looked her over. "You're a smart one to give yourself up like this. So you're going to come along quietly?"
"I will go with you on one condition: that you leave her be," Aremi's voice remained calm and steady.
"Leave her here?" Shunsuke had finally gotten his breath back. "Ha! Our big bro will want to get revenge for what she did to him!"
Aremi didn't stop as she got on her knees and bowed, "Please leave her be. I'm begging you."
The third man was beginning to look thoughtful as he muttered a "Hmmm..."
"Akira-!" Shunsuke began.
"Shut up!" he interrupted. "If she's coming on her own free will then she won't cause trouble. Plus once we're gone the troublemaker won't be able to follow us and will have no way of warning anybody where we are."
Aremi raised her head and reminded them, "Only if you promise to leave Mi-chan alone."
"You've got an interesting proposition, beautiful," he reached down and touched her cheek. "Will you be our gang's servant girl?"
The pony-tailed girl didn't hesitate in her answer, "Yes, I'll be your servant."
"Fine then," Akira moved away from the prone Miki. "Stand up." Aremi obeyed and got onto her feet before he turned to his brother, "Shunsuke!"
"Right!" the other man quickly grabbed Aremi's arms and pulled them behind her. She didn't resist as she felt coils of rope behind her wrists together and her arms to her sides. She did, however, react when Akira suddenly delivered a blow to her stomach to wind her and lifted her onto his shoulder.
"The boss'll be happy about this one," Shunsuke commented as he hefted Ichiro onto his back piggy-back style.
"Nothing beats a pretty girl, all right." Akira agreed as he carried Aremi away. "We'll leave her tied up in camp until after the raid, then teach her how to be a great servant girl."
With her air gone and her breath short, the men's words fell more quietly in Aremi's ears as she was carried further and further away from Miki and into the woods. Before she passed out, her last thoughts were, Mi-chan, I'm glad I was able to help you. I'm counting on you...
Not too long after the gang had left did Miki begin to stir and show signs of awakening. Her vision was blurry when she opened her eyes, but a few blinks soon remedied that. As she shook the cobwebs from her mind, she quickly remembered what had happened and leapt to her feet, only to fall back on her rear from being too dizzy. The tall girl was able to notice that she was alone, however, and questions began racing through her mind. What happened to those men? Why did they leave me? And- a small flash of reflected sunlight in the bushes captured her attention.
"What's this?" she pondered aloud as she crawled over to it. Her eyes widened as she recognized Aremi's sword and belt with enough of the blade unsheathed to reflect the sunlight once it hit it.
Are-chan was here! her mind shouted in excitement as she fully sheathed the weapon and picked it up. Tears began to fill her eyes as she continued thinking, She probably gave herself up for me. But she promised she would never leave me to be alone- No, I can't be selfish now. Her face took on a serious expression as she forced herself to stop from crying. Are-chan is counting on me to help her. Why else would she leave this? Miki didn't seem to care about what happened in the past that gave her the scar on her right shoulder anymore as she again lifted the sword, attached the belt around her waist, and looked around for any sign of her dear friend.
It only took a few minutes for Miki to stabilize herself in a standing position and find two sets of footprints in the dirt. Both had the marks of casual tennis shoes but they were very deep in the ground, suggesting that the people were either very heavy or they were carrying extra weight. The half-Amazon's suspicions were confirmed as her fingers caught a very long strand of sapphire blue hair while she ran them along the ground.
"I don't know if you wanted me to follow you or not, Are-chan, but I'm not going to let anyone do what Hashin did to you ever again!" Her determination at full, no, overflowing capacity, Miki took to the trees and followed the fresh trail.
Another fifteen minutes and nearly two kilometers into the forest brought the tall girl to a large clearing. She stayed well hidden as she surveyed the area. There were about half a dozen tents set up with one in the center and the rest surrounding it. Voices of about the same number of people could be heard coming from them, but they didn't keep her attention as, on the other end of the clearing, she discovered Aremi. She was standing perfectly still as Shunsuke and another man, probably the one who'd ambushed her earlier, tied her to one of the trees. The ropes binding her to the wood ran around her shoulders, waist, thighs, and ankles while her hands were behind her. Obviously they were making sure she wasn't going anywhere soon. The tall girl scowled as she snuck along the perimeter of the camp towards her captive friend. She was soon close enough to hear the conversation.
"We were right about the boss being happy about her, huh bro?" Shunsuke asked.
"Who wouldn't be with a girl like this?" he responded as he touched her face and hair. "A pretty face, fantastic legs, and a gorgeous body. She's going to make an excellent servant girl."
"I wonder what kind of 'service' she'll provide," Shunsuke chuckled. That statement only increased Miki's scowl, but Aremi didn't move a muscle or say a word. She was definitely waiting patiently.
"We'll find out later," Akira grinned, "it's almost time to head for our 'jobs' in the village. Those people are so dumb to think they can trust a group of men who are just looking for work. I can't wait to see their faces when we leave with all their valuables. Let's go." The two men laughed and continued to talk about Aremi and brag about how easy their raid against the small, rural village would be as they walked away. Miki wanted to run in and slam their heads together, but it would be better to wait and free her friend without the risk of being caught.
Aremi exhaled a sigh of relief after the two men had left. She had wanted to tell them off but she needed to be patient and wait for Miki to warn the village, stop their raid, then come get her. She had sacrificed herself instead of attacking for that reason along with the one that they could have hurt her in her unconscious state during any fight. She knew her friend would either warn the village, which she was hoping, or come alone and wait for the gang of bandits to leave before setting her loose and they could both escape undetected in time to intercept the thugs on their return trip. The reason she was hoping that Miki would warn the village was because it would save the people from feeling the pain of loss as their loved ones could be hurt.
After testing the tightness of the ropes, she knew that she wasn't going anywhere on her own for quite a while. Aremi continued to watch as a few thieves, riding Jeeps and motorcycles hidden in the tents, emerge and roll down into and through the woods. She counted about six but guessed there were a few more she hadn't seen. After a few minutes, the camp was silent and empty, except for her.
Only another moment passed before the blue-haired girl heard soft movement behind her and the sound of a blade being drawn. Aremi recognized the sound as her own sword and quickly turned her head, shocked to see Miki holding the blade. The taller girl's arms were trembling visibly and she held it very loosely, showing that holding a drawn blade made her very uncomfortable, but she did her best not to show it.
"[Miki, you came for me!]" she exclaimed in Chinese out of the instinct to dissuade potential eavesdroppers.
"[Of course,]" she replied, "[you knew I wouldn't leave you behind.]"
"[I'm sorry for worrying you. But I was hoping that you would warn the village and come get me after you stopped the thieves.]"
"[It's too late to change that now and you know I can't fight my best without your support. I'll cut you loose and maybe we can help stop them before they-]"
Both girls were stunned when one of the thieves in the gang easily grabbed the sword from Miki's hands due to her loose grip, quickly spun around to the other side of Aremi, and held the blade to her throat.
"Thought you could sneak in and save your friend, huh?" the man asked. He was dressed like the others only he also had a bandana wrapped around his head and a thin scarf around his neck to use as sweat wipes. "I saw you the minute you got here and can't believe how easy it was to catch you. Now, if you don't want your friend here to lose her pretty neck you'll do what I tell you to."
Aremi dare not even swallow as she feared that the slightest increase in pressure on her neck would be enough to cause the sharp edge to pierce her skin. She turned her eyes to Miki, who looked slightly torn about what to do. She looked between Aremi and the thief, and soon lowered her stance.
"What do you want?" she asked softly, eyes looking at the ground.
"There's more rope in the tent closest to us," he directed. "Go get some and be quick about it, or your friend gets turned into a practice dummy." Miki's loud swallow was audible enough to show she understood and broke off into a run to the mentioned tent.
As she watched her friend go, Aremi began to think about how they would escape now. She didn't get to think about it for more than a second before the thug turned back to her.
"I don't know what you were saying," he informed her, "but I'm just going to make sure you two don't speak at all while we're gone."
Aremi managed to remain calm, despite the heavy beads of sweat that now appeared on her face as the thief reached into his pocket and withdrew a rag. She didn't want to risk making him angry, so she opened her mouth to show that she understood his message. The man grinned with satisfaction as he stuffed the rag into her mouth, removed his bandana, and tied it around her mouth and pulling it so it was clenched between her teeth.
"There now, anything you want to say?" he asked, taunting.
"Mmph..." Aremi spoke into her gag and shook her head. At least the rag was clean and kept out most of the taste of the man's sweat.
Miki moved as quickly as she could to pick up the coils of rope that she'd been ordered to retrieve and get back before the man could hurt Aremi with her own weapon. She knew exactly what was going to happen to her; she would also be tied up and held captive by the gang, not knowing what would happen to her and Aremi or if there were even going to escape. She worried even more that her friends and relatives back in Nerima would all return home with the two younger girls still missing.
Having gathered what she thought the man would consider enough, the tall girl rushed back to the edge of the clearing where he waited. She wasn't surprised to see that Aremi was now gagged and expected the same fate as well.
"Is this enough?" Miki asked, presenting her arms' load.
"We'll find out," he answered. "Turn around."
Miki again did as she was told in order to protect her friend and could only feel guilt out of her failure as her wrists were tied behind her back, her arms to her sides, and to the tree next to Aremi's at the shoulders, waist, thighs, and ankles. Once she was secured, the thief discarded Aremi's sword where it landed only a few meters away from the blue-haired girl.
"Any last words?" he smirked.
"Why are you attacking an innocent village?" she quickly asked. "What did they do to yo-mmmmff!" The thief laughed in satisfaction as he stuffed another rag into the green-haired girl's mouth before tying his scarf around her head over her mouth.
"You two girls are a work of art," he remarked, admiring them. "Now that you're not going anywhere I can leave you lovely ladies here as I meet up with the gang so we can hit the village." The man continued his fits of laughter as he rolled a mini-bike from the bushes, revved it up, and sped off. The two girls looked at each other and nodded, knowing what they had to do. Before the gang returned later that afternoon, one of them had to struggle free and that moment was the best time to start.
Aremi had no idea how quickly the time was passing as she was using every ounce of her strength and focus to struggle in her bonds and try to reach the knots. Because she was tied to the tree, she couldn't lean forward at all except for her head, which didn't help in trying to get her wrists free. With the way her hands rubbed against the bark, they were getting fairly scratched up. Her gag also only made it possible to breathe through her nose, forcing her to take breaks every now and then to recover her air. But after several hours of wriggling, she was making slow progress and getting closer to freeing her hands. Once they were loose, she would have a much easier time undoing the rest of the ropes. As she continued to become drenched in sweat, it only helped to lubricate her arms.
Every so often she would look over to see how Miki was progressing. The taller girl was just as hard at work at her struggling, but it looked like she had made little progress as the long sleeves of her training uniform were preventing her wrists from being greased with her sweat. The poor girl had to be baking in the heat of the late afternoon as there was no chance for any air to blow through her uniform at all, causing Aremi to worry that she would pass out from sunstroke. She was becoming so concerned worrying about Miki that she almost failed to notice that the rope binding her wrists suddenly slid along her arm far more than it had previously.
"Mmmmph!" she exclaimed in excitement.
"Hmmm?" Miki turned to face her.
Aremi knew that her friend wouldn't have understood her so she just winked and thought to herself, Of course! It's so hot today that the heat from the sun and my body heat are expanding the ropes. Now if I can just get them over my hands and- oh no! The noise of an engine in the distance that was coming closer cut her off. This isn't good! They're coming back! The Amazon would have scowled if she could have as she still needed to undo the ropes binding her arms and her body to the tree after freeing her hands. If they were caught before getting completely loose who knew what would happen to them!
As the sound drew closer, Aremi could see who was riding the motorcycle and her eyes widened. It was the man who she'd seen unconscious when she found the trio of thieves at the fork in the road earlier. The man had a bandage wrapped around his head, another bandage over his nose, and one of his eyes was swollen shut and black. He didn't even slow down until he was in front of the two girls and, even then, leapt from his bike in front of Miki and left his vehicle to fall onto the ground while still running. He cracked his knuckles as he approached the half-Amazon.
"Hmmmmf?" Miki asked.
"When I was told that our boss caught a snoopy green-haired girl," he grinned evilly, "I just had to come back early so I can pay you back for what you did to me." He raised his fists. "Let's bruise up that pretty face of yours so you can know how it feels!"
Aremi didn't know if the guy was bluffing, simply trying to scare her, or just plain stupid as he repeatedly punched at Miki's face, alternating between his left and right fists in using plain straight jabs. But despite her being bound, the tall girl expressed no fear as all she had to do was move her head to the side to dodge the attacks. However, Aremi knew that he had the intention to seriously hurt her and had the means to do so. With a final, powerful wrenching of her arms, she pulled her hands free from the ropes binding them, tore the cloth and rag from her mouth, but then thought, Now what do I do? An idea quickly formed in her mind. I've never done it before... but it's the only way to help Mi-chan! She immediately closed her eyes and began to focus her chi.
"Playtime's over little girl!" Ichiro grabbed Miki by her hair and held her head in place as he wound up for a strong punch.
"Mmmmmmmphh!" she yelped in pain from her hair being pulled more than fear.
"Stop it!" Aremi suddenly shouted.
Both Miki and Ichiro were surprised to see the older girl, completely free, holding not her discarded sword that still lay a few meters away on the ground, but one that glowed a fierce shade of blue matching the aura that surrounded her body.
Of course, Miki thought, Are-chan used the technique that big brother Kohei had been trying to teach her since Father died; the Genkaku no Suraisu! But I thought she'd never been able to execute it before. Is this her first time?
"How did you-" was all Ichiro got to say before the back of his head was the connecting point with Aremi's foot. He only continued to groan as he again fell into unconsciousness. The blue-haired girl quickly tapped a series pressure points to keep him out for several more hours.
"Mi-chan, are you okay?" she asked as she cleanly sliced through the ropes around the tree before releasing her hold on the sword created from her chi and untying the knots binding her arms and hands.
"I'm fine," the tall girl answered as soon as she could. "Thank you, Are-chan."
Her friend examined her over just to be sure before running over to her sword and returning it to its proper place at her side. "Did you count how many there were?" she asked.
"I counted about six when they all left," Miki explained as she slunk the unconscious Ichiro against the tree. "With him and the man who caught me that adds up to eight."
"With him out that leaves seven," Aremi smirked as her face took on a battle expression. "Mi-chan, are you ready for a challenge?"
"It can't be as difficult as our training or what happened when we got separated," she returned the smirk.
"We'll take our revenge on these bandits for attacking that village and... what... they..." her speech began to slow down as her face began to grow pale, "did... to... y-" she didn't get to finish as she suddenly fainted.
"Are-chan? Are-chan!" the half-Amazon called as she rushed over and caught her friend before she could hit the ground. She continued calling her name until another realization hit her mind. Oh no! The Illusory Slice can completely drain a person's energy if she's inexperienced with it and holds the sword for more than a split-second! As she heard the sounds of oncoming motors, Miki quickly her collapsed friend into the thicket and hid her. Don't worry, Are-chan, I'll fight for both of us, she thought as she developed a battle plan.
"The captives escaped!" one of the thieves declared upon seeing the cut and discarded ropes laying on the ground next to the girl-free trees. From her vantage point, Miki knew exactly what was going to be said next.
"Don't just stand there, you idiots," she recognized the voice as the man who's tied her up. "Spread out and search for them! They couldn't have gotten far!"
Word for word, thought the girl, then, as one approached, she purposefully broke a small twig to catch his attention.
"Gotcha!" Shunsuke's voice was also recognizable as he stepped into the bushes. "I'm just going to-"
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!!"
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!" The last sound he made was a loud THUMP on the ground as he collapsed from the onslaught of countless punches.
"You hear that?" another one asked the one with him.
"Yeah, let's get her!" They obviously were overconfident. What made Miki smile as she saw their approach was the fact that both of them short, making her next surprise attack even easier.
"Holy crap!" one of them exclaimed as he saw the fallen Shunsuke.
"Look at all these fist marks," the second observed. "Who could've punched him so any times in such a short time?"
"Nobody can do that!"
I beg to differ, Miki thought as she again created an intentional rustling sound to draw their attention. Both cautiously stepped over, peering into the bushes. As the got close enough, she stood to her full height.
"Hello!" she greeted with a cutesy tone and sweet smile. They were taken off guard by the fact that she was taller than both, giving her the opportunity to simply slam their heads together. As they collapsed, she commented, "I never knew thieves' heads made such a loud KLUNK sound when they hit their heads."
Miki didn't have any time to waste as she quietly scrambled another few meters away and leapt into one of the trees. when the next of her targets passed by, she again intentionally made a noise to capture his attention up towards her.
"There you are!" he pointed. "Come down from there!"
"I-I can't," Miki spoke with a fearful stutter and hugged the tree for dear life. "I'm afraid of heights!"
"O-ok," the man spoke reassuringly to try and calm her down. "Just jump and I'll catch you."
"You will?" the green-haired girl sniffled.
"Don't worry, I won't drop you."
He'll catch me all right. "A-all right, here I come." She didn't simply jump, but rather leapt down, feet first with her arms raised up to put her body in the shape of a Y.
Another one of the thieves suddenly found himself terrified as the girl's legs became surrounded with a flame that took on the shape of a dragon's head. Miki didn't hear exactly what he cried, but she definitely knew that "Mommy!" was in there somewhere.
"How does it feel?" she asked, standing over his charred, twitching body. "How does it feel to know that your 'servant girls' aren't as helpless as you thought?"
While the bandit didn't get to answer, she did get a reply as she found herself grabbed from behind as one of the three remaining thieves locked his arms under hers.
"Hey!" she squirmed and tried to kick him, but he seemed to have no trouble enduring the blows. He must be wearing heavy padding.
"Hey bro," the man called, "I got her!"
As Miki continued to try and break from the grip, she recognized the voice of the one who approached her from the front as the one who'd KOed her in the beginning of the whole mess.
"You really should watch your back more," Akira taunted, cupping her chin in his hand. "Now where's your friend?"
Miki had had enough with this guy and simply tried to land a punch, which fell several centimeters short due to her arms being restrained.
"Hey, you see that, Yuichi?" he asked. "She wants to punch me. Okay, girl, I'll give you another fair shot. If you hit me, we'll let you go." He laughed because he knew she couldn't hit him.
"You..." Miki growled as the fire appeared in her eyes. She didn't care if she hit him or not, she just wanted to take a good, hard swing. Channeling all of her rage into her arm as she winded up, she let loose with a loud cry of, "BAKA!!!"
"Huh?" Miki's angry expression turned to one of confusion as she suddenly saw Akira howl in pain as he held his smashed in face. How did my fist-? her thought was interrupted and a smile grew onto her face as she looked along her arm and discovered her bonbori in her hands. So that's how Akane-onee-chan and Xian Pu do it!
"Bro?" Yuichi released the half-Amazon and was examining his fallen comrade. Akira didn't say anything as he simply pointed back at her before falling over, having been KOed.
"You little... I'll make you pay!" He hadn't even finished standing up after making that threat before a blue blur flashed in front of him and, before he could react, his belt was cut, causing his pants to fall.
"Oh my!" Miki couldn't hold her laughter. "Even thieves still wear boxers with hearts on them!"
"Shaddap!" the beet red-faced man shouted as he charged forward. The tall girl didn't move as the second part of the attack came when she stepped aside to give the guy more room to land on his face while Aremi literally stood and surfed on his back as he slid along the ground from the blow to the back of the head from her hilt. The blue-haired girl leapt from the man to rejoin her friend before he slammed into a tree.
"Are-chan," Miki smiled, "nice timing."
"Thank you," she returned, her color having come back to her face. "Are you hurt?"
"No, but there's one left."
Both girls turned around to see the one who had used Aremi as a hostage earlier standing a meter in front of them. He was simply holding a pocket knife.
"I don't know how the two of you managed to escape and take out all of my men. But if you both just cooperate and come back to your trees, I might go easy on you."
"He's got a knife, Mi-chan," Aremi's voice was nonchalant. "Do you want him to go easy on us?"
"No," the younger girl folded her arms. "But I think we should go easy on him. After all, I don't want to kill anybody."
"Too bad," the leader of the gang sighed. "It'll be a shame to have to cut up two cuties like yourselves." He wasn't bluffing as he charged at them with his blade.
Miki was the first to respond as she simply knocked the knife from his hand with one of her bonbori and used her kick to break through the defense he formed with his other arm. With his body open, Aremi moved next.
"SHIGAMI NO GENKOTSU!!!"
Even though the Death God's Fist technique of the Ikimono family style of martial arts was normally used with a punch, Aremi had revised it to the point where she used an upward flying kick instead. She, however, wasn't going to finish the move and knock him back down as she only used his body to jump away so Miki could come from above and execute another-
The more powerful version of the attack would have formed a small crater in the ground had he hit it. Instead, Miki leapt off of him and Aremi had drawn her sword.
She unleashed a wave of chi that traveled along the ground and knocked the man off his trajectory, sent him flying parallel to the ground at increased speed until he hit the side of the center tent ni the camp, causing it to collapse on him. Once the two young women were done watching, they gave each other a victory hug and were finally able to celebrate their reunion.
"I didn't know what was going to happen when we were separated, Mi-chan," Aremi said. "But I'm glad our reunion was interesting."
"Me too, Are-chan," the younger sniffed, then regained herself. "Now, what are we going to about them?"
Both pondered over the dilemma for a moment before looking at each other and exchanging evil grins.
"Hey girls, come back!" a now conscious Yuichi shouted as he and the rest of the gang all hung in the large net suspended from on of the highest branches of one of the taller trees next to the camp. "Let us down!"
"Give it a rest, will ya?" Shunsuke retorted weakly. "They're long gone!"
"Shaddup, all of you!" came the voice of the leader, who was in the worst shape and stuck at the bottom of the pile of eight men. "Stop moving around so much!"
"Yes boss..." they all sighed as they could see the population of the village they'd just pillaged approach in the distance.
Far along down the road, well beyond the sight of the village, the two lifelong friends continued to walk along the highway on their way home to Nerima. They had left the woods, walked the rest of the way to the village, informed the people where the gang's camp was located, and simply continued through before anybody could stop them. Despite their brief appearance, they were to be remembered as heroes in that small community. But as the two girls continued their trip home, they excitedly told each other of their experiences from the previous day, their advances in their training, and how much everyone at home would enjoy hearing about it. Finally, they both renewed their promise to always stick together and never leave the other to be alone. Under the star-filled sky, one shot across the sky to carry that promise across the cosmos for all time.