((collaspes)) It's here! The final chapter of Trial by Heart! ((wipes away tear)) This is the first multi chapter story I've ever finished...((places hand over heart)) I would like to thank you all for coming along with me as I made my way through this endevor. Truly it was the fact that so many peoplewere behind me and urging me on that this story was finished. ((bows)) Thank you all. Espeically you J-kun, for painstaikingly putting up with my changes, editing this piece multiple times, and allowing me to use him as a wall to chuck ideas at and see which ones bounced back. Personal thank yous to each of my reviewers shall be at the end.
And now I present you with the final chapter of Trial by Heart. I hope you all love it just as much as the other chapters. Ja ne!
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the idea.
Asuna and Negi, with Chamo on his shoulder, stood in the guest spot in the stands that was reserved for high ranking people. It was placed in the exact center of all the stands, over looking the field quite nicely. On either side of them sat the Headmaster and Eishun in the chairs of honor. Asuna rested her arms on the railing and looked out at the field, absently brushing back a strand of hair as it was blown about by the wind. The field seemed to be about the size of a soccer field. To Asuna's right at the end of the field was the locker room building, and to Asuna's left at the end of the field was a cliff. The cliff's edge went around the opposite side of the field, serving as something of a boundary. It was quite a drop to the jagged rocks below. The stands where people sat or stood to watch the Duel were all located on the other side of the field, opposite the cliff. Negi nudged Asuna and pointed, and Asuna's eyes were drawn to the center of the field where two people stood. One Asuna recognized immediately as Setsuna, but the only thing she could tell about the other was that she was an older and taller practitioner of the Shinmeir sword style. Asuna figured that she must be Setsuna's opponent.
"Who's the other woman?" Asuna asked as she stared down into the field.
"Aoyama Motoko," Eishun answered softly, his eyes also trained on the field, "She's…the leader of the Shinmeiryuu."
Negi's eyes widened as he looked up at Asuna.
"Not only that." With a start, they turned to see Konoka walking to them. Negi and Asuna shifted so that Konoka could stand between them. She didn't look at her grandfather.
"She was also Secchan's teacher." Though her voice was calm, her hand gripped the railing so tightly that the normally slightly pinkish flesh was white.
"The Challenged party can choose any Champion that they have access to," the Headmaster stated emotionlessly. "As Setsuna-kun challenged the leaders of the Associations, we had no choice but to choose the strongest. Each side must fight to win."
"Don't worry, Konoka-san, it will be alright," Negi whispered as he looked up at her. Konoka bit her lip but looked down at Negi and tried to smile before locking her gaze on Setsuna. She thought only one word,
"Setsuna," Motoko smiled and eyed her former student as she gently scratched the crest of the crane on her shoulder, "I must say, it came as something of a shock when I learned that it was you who had Challenged the Associations." Before Setsuna could try to reply, Motoko continued,
"However, now that I see you, it makes perfect sense." Motoko's eyes softened, "You have grown so much since you left." Setsuna blushed and made a hasty bow, averting her eyes.
"Aah, thank you Motoko-sensei! I'm not worthy of such praise from you." Motoko laughed as she held out her arm for the crane to step down upon. She launched the majestic bird into the air as trumpets blew, signaling that the Duel was about to begin.
"But some things never change. You are still very much you, Setsuna." Setsuna looked up with a frown, as she tried to figure out whether or not that was a compliment. With a sigh, Motoko's stance shifted, her hand alighting on the hilt of her sword, her demeanor now serious.
"Setsuna, I would have you know that, had I the choice, I would not be fighting you." Setsuna smiled as she too rested her hand on the hilt of her sword.
"I understand, Motoko-sensei." And she did. Motoko was honor-bound to fight for the Associations, no matter her own personal feelings.
"I bear you no ill will." The trumpets ceased their blaring as the Headmaster and Eishun stood up.
"Know that no matter what happens, you will always have a place here," Motoko whispered before turning to face the crowd. Setsuna felt her heart skip a beat. The gesture was wholly unexpected, and while Setsuna knew that it could never come to be, her heart still felt lighter upon hearing the words.
"Sakurazaki Setsuna!" Kaoru called from her place high atop the stands. "You are here to face Trial by Combat on behalf of Konoe Konoka, daughter of Konoe Eishun, granddaughter of Konoe Konoemon."
"Should you win," Sanosuke cried from the other end, taking up the speech, "The Kansai Magic Association and the Kanto Magic Association will give up their claim on Konoe Konoka's life, giving her the freedom to choose her own path and her own partner."
"However," Kaoru continued, "should you lose, you will forfeit all contact with the Konoe family. You will not communicate with anyone of this family in anyway, and you will be banished from Mahora Academy. Should you fail to meet these demands, the penalty is death. Do you accept these terms?"
Setsuna unsheathed her blade and raised it so it was vertical in front of her face, clutching it between her two hands. She stood facing the Elders' seating, looking up to meet, not the Headmaster's or Eishun's eyes, but Konoka's. Then she bowed deeply,
"I pledge that I will uphold the sacred bonds that I have evoked through claiming the Challenge, no matter the outcome." Setsuna's voice rang clearly through the field, and Konoka felt her heart twist in her chest.
"Your opponent," Sanosuke added, "the chosen Champion for the Kansai Magic Association and the Kanto Magic Association is Aoyama Motoko, Leader of the Shinmeiryuu. Meet her not with hatred, but with honor."
Setsuna and Motoko turned to each other and bowed.
"Champions, to your places!" Kaoru cried.
Setsuna sheathed her sword and turned, walking toward the end of the field with the locker room building. Behind her Motoko walked toward the end of the field with the cliff, her long ebony hair blowing gently in the breeze. When they were a good 20 or 30 feet apart, the both turned to once again face each other, hands resting lightly on their sword hilts. Asuna heard Konoka take a deep breath, and the pigtailed girl reached over to squeeze Konoka's tightly clenched hand.
"BEGIN!" Sanosuke and Kaoru shouted together.
Asuna tensed at the call, expecting both participates to explode into battle. She blinked, her muscles relaxing as neither player moved. Her eyes flicked from Setsuna to Motoko and back again, expecting one of them to do, well, something! But nothing happened. Both swordswomen merely stared at each other from across the field, Setsuna in something of a crouch.
"Aaaah" Asuna started hesitantly but then shut up as she glanced at the focused faces of the Konoe family. She looked over at Negi, but he looked just as confused as she felt. With a frown she focused her gaze back to the field,
What's going on…
Setsuna loosely gripped the hilt of her sword as she watched her former teacher closely. Motoko's words echoed in her head,
The first move can determine the winner and the looser of a battle. Most fights end in the first 2 minutes because someone charges in too quickly and makes a crucial mistake. Don't be that person.
Setsuna took those words to heart and waited, preparing herself and watching for signs of Motoko's movements. She would wait Motoko out, being in no rush to end the battle. She wanted to win, even if it took the day and night to do so.
The crowd shifted restlessly as the two faced each other down, neither making a move. The headmaster's hands clenched the armrests of his chair as his old eyes stared down at Motoko. Konoka heard her grandfather mumble, under his breath,
"Get it over with, Motoko…"
As if the Shinmeiryuu leader had heard him, Motoko suddenly whipped her sword out of it's sheath, slicing it up through the air to her right side. Just as quickly, she sliced it down in front of her, and a whirlwind seemed to spring from the tip, zipping across the distance between herself and Setsuna. Setsuna sprang to the side, unsheathing her own sword and bringing it up to block Motoko's blow that came on the heel of the whirlwind. Setsuna grunted at the strength behind the blow, being pushed back, her heels making a deep rut in the grass. Rather than try and meet that strength, Setsuna slipped to the side, letting Motoko's sword slide past hers, twisting to try and slash through the small opening that was left. With ease, Motoko seemed to glide around Setsuna's probing blade, moving a few steps back. They circled each other wearily.
Konoka swallowed hard, unconsciously squeezing Asuna and Negi's hands. Just like that, it had begun.
Once again Setsuna waited, her sword raised defensively before her, watching her former master. Another of her teacher's lessons went through her head,
If you know you're outmatched, then it's worthless to go on the offensive. If you defend well, you can get a feel for your opponent's methods and find a way to counter them. One is apt to make more mistakes attacking than defending…
This time, Setsuna didn't have very long to wait as Motoko came at her again. Motoko shot forward, feinting to the left, then bringing her sword up from below, the tip heading for Setsuna's sword wrist. Once again, Setsuna moved to dodge the impending blow, pivoting to the side and bringing her sword around to slash at Motoko's exposed side. Motoko, faster than thought, reversed her grip on her sword's hilt and brought her sword around to block Setsuna. The raven-haired woman flicked her wrist, causing her sword to push Setsuna's upward. Setsuna jumped back, and with a jolt realized what her former teacher was trying to do. Instead of aiming to kill, or at least seriously injure Setsuna, Motoko was trying to disarm her. Without any weapons, she'd be forced to forfeit the match. To put it simply, Motoko was trying to beat her without harming her. While this gesture deeply touched the young swordswoman, she knew she could use this to her advantage.
I've got one chance. Setsuna thought grimly, and readied herself. This time, as Motoko came at Setsuna, once again aiming for her sword arm, Setsuna deliberately stepped into Motoko's attack. Instead of blocking or dodging the sword, she brought her own sword up. Her sword sliced past Motoko's, almost touching as they passed each other side by side. She winced slightly as Motoko's blade cut into her arm, but as Setsuna had suspected, or rather had hoped, Motoko had not expected to hit flesh. She jerked away and as she did so she left herself momentarily open for Setsuna's sword, heading straight for Motoko's neck.
There was a collective gasp from the crowd.
"What is she doing!" The headmaster almost growled, rising slightly in his seat. Eishun shook his head,
"She was trying not to harm her student," Eishun replied softly. The headmaster's hands clenched slightly, then released. Asuna's, Negi's, Chamo's, and Konoka's eyes remained trained on the field.
A piece of fine raven hair fell to the grassy field as both swordswomen stepped back. Motoko raised a finger and ran it through her hair, stopping at the shortened tuft. She smiled slightly, almost sadly.
"That was very good Setsuna. Had it been any other Shinmeiryuu master, I do believe you would have won just then," she said softly, her eyes boring into Setsuna's. A trickle of blood ran, unheeded, down Setsuna's arm.
"Had it been any other master, they would not be trying to spare my life," Setsuna replied, just as softly.
"Caught that, did you?" Motoko asked with a weary sigh, looking down at the piece of her hair Setsuna had cut. "Very observant. You always were my best student. Although..." When she looked back up, her normally soft eyes had hardened, sharpened.
"That may have cost you your life," she had barely finished speaking before Motoko shot forward, her blade a blur in the air as she slashed at Setsuna from every angle imaginable. Setsuna tried to dodge as many as she could, her own body seeming to blur as they danced across the field.
Endurance. That is the key to success. When you are tired, you make mistakes. Don't waste precious strength blocking your opponent's blows. More energy is saved through avoidance… Unfortunately, Setsuna was forced to use her sword to block Motoko's blows as well as dodging, the blade moving too quickly for her to predict it's movements until the last moment.
"I had no idea Setsuna could move so.fast," Negi whispered, awed at the two blurred figures on the field.
"But it is not fast enough…" Eishun's voice was low and regretful. Negi blinked and frowned, his eyes straining to see the two figures more clearly, not understanding. It looked like they were still in a stalemate, both were moving so quickly it seemed impossible to tell if one was faster than the other. Until…
Setsuna finally saw an opening and immediately went for it, ducking under Motoko's next cut and slicing her sword low for the older woman's stomach. Motoko leaped back nimbly on her toes and Setsuna also stepped back, her breathing heavy. Tiny trickles of blood ran down her body from the numerous nicks and cuts visible on her arms and legs and along with the sides of her body, where her clothing was torn.
Konoka's breath caught in her throat as she stared at Setsuna, seeing nothing else. All the cuts were shallow, none fatal, but there were so many of them, all of them slowly seeping precious blood…
Setsuna swallowed, her eyes remaining grimly on Motoko. As they stood watching each other, Setsuna's hair band suddenly split in two, sliced neatly down the middle. As the hair tie fell to the ground, Setsuna's black hair fell about her shoulders.
"Now we're even," Motoko stated, once again fingering her shortened lock. Setsuna didn't bother to reply as she allowed the wind to blow her hair out of her face. Instead she slowly went into a different fighting stance, bringing up her sword and crouching down, ignoring her wounds and steadying her breathing.
The slight change in Motoko's eyes was all the warning Setsuna had before a bolt of lightning suddenly flashed out of the older woman's sword.
Raimeiken! Setsuna identified as she leaped to the right side to avoid the potentially fatal electric charge. She cried out and scrambled back as another bolt of lightning cut her off, so close that the light left spots in her eyes and she became temporarily blinded. Motoko kept on, advancing on Setsuna as she continuously sent bolts of lighting at her. Perpetually blinded by the attacks, it was all Setsuna could do to dodge them as she backed away from the burning light.
Up in the stands, it was clear that Setsuna had no chance. The people were quiet as they watched the loosing battle, and the headmaster sat back, running his hand over his bald head in a tired gesture. He wished there was someway to get his granddaughter away, so she would not have to witness Setsuna's final defeat, but he knew there was no way short of force. Instead, he watched as Motoko continued to drive Setsuna closer to her ultimate fate.
Setsuna grunted and gasped with each step back she took, the lighting having burned her arms and cheeks, causing the cuts there throb with each beat of her heart. Frantically her mind raced to try and find a way to gain control, or at least drive Motoko away, but all she could see where the spots before her eyes, all her energy put into not being caught by the bolts. And so, it wasn't until she took another step back, only to have her foot meet nothing but air, did she realize Motoko's aim. And by then it was too late. For just a moment Setsuna scrambled to both regain her balance and to get away from the cliff behind her, but that moment was all Motoko needed. The Shinmeiryuu master went low and Setsuna screamed as Motoko's sword sliced across her legs, a jolt of lighting tearing through the muscles of her knees. Unable to stay standing and already unbalanced, Setsuna fell back, still clutching her sword, and disappeared over the cliff.
The silence that followed Setsuna's fall was loud as everyone stared at the spot where she had disappeared. The headmaster sighed and closed his eyes. It was over.
Motoko turned and slowly made her away back across the field, her sword held limply in her hand.
If she fell into the river, Motoko hoped ferverently, maybe…maybe she'll still live.
"No!" Asuna shouted, the one word echoing across the stands. She pounded her fist into the railing, heedless of the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I…I can't believe it…" Negi whispered, trembling. They both looked at Konoka who stood still as if frozen to the stands, still watching the spot where Setsuna had fallen.
Asuna and Negi both said at once, but where cut off when she shouted,
Their heads whipped around to follow where Konoka pointed, and the Headmaster's eyes flew open, then widened in disbelief as two glorious white wings arose from beyond the cliff. Each long strong stroke brought Setsuna higher in the sky, as she rose so high that even the people in the highest seats had to tilt their heads up to watch her. With her shoulder length hair being blown about her in the wind, and her sword clutched tightly in her hand, glinting in the sun, Konoka thought she looked like a guardian angel.
"Now do you see how determined she is, Father?" Eishun asked softly, just for the headmaster's ears. The headmaster's sharp gaze turned to Eishun.
"You knew she would do this." It was not a question, but Eishun nodded anyway.
"To be able to sacrifice everything for Konoka, wasn't that a quality you wanted in her partner?"
Konoemon didn't bother to reply as he turned to watch the renewed battle.
Setsuna soared across the sky then suddenly dived down at Motoko,
"Zanganken!" Setsuna shouted as their swords met in a ringing crash, and a V shaped crevice was cut outward from where Motoko stood, along with two thin cuts, one on either of Motoko's cheeks. With a cry of her own, Motoko put all her strength behind her sword and pushed back. With a mighty sweep of her wings Setsuna was back into the air, only to once again dive at Motoko, maneuvering herself so that the sun was at her back. With the harsh rays of the sun streaming down from directly behind Setsuna, Motoko could not follow the half-demon's movements with her eyes, or risk being blinded by the sun. Instead she had to rely solely on her ki and her senses to find Setsuna's movements. Their swords came together again and again as Setsuna attacked, using the advantage of height and mobility her wings gave her for all it was worth. Each time she dived at Motoko at a slightly different angle, aiming for her arms, her neck, her legs, her chest, whipping around the older woman, lashing out, then flying away before Motoko could counter.
"I don't understand," Negi whispered, awed at how Setsuna had turned the tables so that she was the one controlling the battle,
"Why didn't she use her wings before?"
"Because the Crow demon clan, forbides it," Konoemon answered, his voice oddly neutral, "By showing her wings to such a large group of people, even those of the Shinmeiryuu, she will be forever condemned by all of her clan. When word of this reaches them, I have no doubt that they will disown her completely."
"White wings means bad luck to them," Chamo spoke up from atop Negi's head for the first time. "They believe that the people who see 'em get bad luck as well. By showing her wings, she's basically screwed all these people, and that won't sit well with those bird demons."
Asuna's jaw clenched. "So if she looses, she's cut loose all her ties, hasn't she?" The silence that followed was all the answer needed. Konoka brought her hands up and pressed them to her chest, over her heart.
She's given up so much...for me. Konoka thought as she watched Setsuna battle. Setsuna's last words echoed in her mind. Secchan…
Setsuna's breath came heavily as she continued her assault on Motoko, her advantage of height and mobility actually allowing her to score several shallow hits. Their swords clashed again and again, but Setsuna never let herself be drawn into a close quarters battle. The moment Motoko blocked a swing, Setsuna would be on the move, flying away only to dive again at her former teacher. Her torn legs hung limply, her wings beating hard, taking all of the strain of her mobility upon themselves. Setsuna ignored the pain that radiated from every inch of her body, ignored the rapid beating of her heart and the labored breathing of her lungs, all of her being focused on her attack. This was the only advantage she would have, if she did not defeat Motoko while she had it, all her effort would be for naught.
"Samidarekiri!" Motoko shouted slicing her sword through the air as Setsuna dived for her. The wind caused by her sword seemed to harden and sharpen, and Setsuna snapped out her wings and beat them furiously, narrowly rising above the attack. Motoko continued to send the attack at Setsuna, who had to use every flying maneuver she knew to avoid being sliced in half. She whirled and dived, rose and fell through the air.
"Shin Raikouken!" the half demon cried, her sword glowing with the power she infused into it. A bolt of lighting came down and struck right directly before Motoko, causing the area around her to explode with the energy Setsuna shot into it. As dirt and rubble fell about Motoko, she was disoriented for a moment, giving Setsuna the opportunity to make her move. She swooped down low, the tips of her wings brushing the grass in the field, then just before she ran into Motoko, rose up before the older woman, bringing up her sword as she flapped her wings to raise her body up. Motoko, sensing the attack, brought the length of her sword down to meet the tip of Setsuna's.
Setsuna should have been able to easily over power the block, or at least gotten away with no harm done.
But the blood that had been running down her arms from her numerous injuries had pooled in her hands, causing her hilt to be slick with it. And too late she realized her grip was weak, her thumb resting on the side of the hilt, instead of wrapped around the opposite side of her fingers. Motoko's block held enough strength that when the tip of Setsuna's sword, intended to cut into Motoko, clipped the Shinmeiryuu master's blade, the sword was momentarily caught and flipped. As Setsuna felt the hilt slip from her grasp, she frantically beat her wings, somersaulting in midair away from Motoko to land on her torn legs. She pushed off from the ground, only faintly hearing her the muscles in her legs tear as she charged at Motoko empty handed, her wings streaming back behind her in the wind. Motoko brought her sword up above her head, then swung it down, intending to make it a swift mercy cut to her former student's neck. When Setsuna was a scarce foot away from Motoko, just before the blade bit into her neck, she swung her wings before her as hard as she could, the one strong beat effectively halting her headlong charge. Motoko's sword sliced down deep into the marrow of Setsuna's right wing.
"Dear God…" Konoka heard her grandfather whisper, "She used her wings as a shield."
With a mighty heave Setsuna swept her wings out and away from her. Motoko's sword, caught deep in the bone, was pulled out of Motoko's grasp and flung away. As Setsuna's wings unveiled her, Setsuna's arm came up and pressed the knife she always kept hidden against Motoko's throat.
"Yield," Setsuna croaked around her soar dry throat, her gaze unblinking, heedless of the blood and sweat running into her eyes. Motoko stared down into those eyes, at the fire and desperation in them. She saw Setsuna's arm trembling, knew the grip she held on her knife was weak at best. For a long moment, they stared at each other.
"I yield," Motoko said softly.
"I yield!" she cried louder, for all to hear. There was a moment of stunned silence, then the crowd erupted into shouts and cheers. Sanosuke and Kaoru shouted Setsuna's victory from high above the stands as the audience exclaimed their disbelief, admiration, and excitement to each other. Motoko ignored the shouts and instead smiled down at Setsuna, who still had the knife pressed feebly against her neck.
"I yield, Setsuna. It's over."
"She did it!" Asuna cried, jumping up and down as she was unable to contain herself. She grabbed Negi's hands and they twirled around, laughing and cheering. Eishun smirked at his father-in-law.
"Such strength at such a young age! I wonder how strong she'll be when she's older. What a partner she'll make some lucky gu-"
"I get it Son-in-law," The headmaster growled. He rubbed the back of his head and sighed. "I may be a stubborn old fool, but I'm not a stupid stubborn old fool." A small smile graced his lips.
"I give up; she's won." He glanced at his granddaughter, whose back was too him as she stared down at the field, at Setsuna.
"They've won." No sooner had the words left his lips, before a horrified scream pierced the air.
I yield Setsuna…I yield…yield…The words echoed in Setsuna's mind. She had done it. She had won. The knife dropped from numb finger tips and Setsuna swayed as her vision began to blur. The sounds of voices cheering faded, her mind not registering the frown on Motoko's face or the frantic way her lips were moving as she closed her eyes. Konoka…you're free, was Setsuna's last thought as she slipped into the inviting darkness, feeling nothing as she fell.
Motoko leaped forward barely catching Setsuna before she hit the ground. She watched, horrified, as more and more blood flowed from Setsuna's wounds, her legs so mangled and torn that they were hardly recognizable as legs, seemingly merely a bloody mess.
"MEDIC!" she cried as she frantically tried to stop the bleeding. "Dammit! WE NEED A MEDIC OVER HERE!"
Konoka had hardly believed it as the happy shouts rang through the air. Setsuna had done it; she had won the tournament. She remained rooted to the spot, her eyes glued to the half demon as millions of thoughts raced through her mind. And so she was the only member in the crowd to see Setsuna dizzily step back; to see the knife drop from her fingers; to see Setsuna fall. Fear unlike any she had ever known seized Konoka's heart. She screamed Setsuna's name, and then she was running, running out into the field, her heart taking over her body before her mind knew what was going on, and before anyone could stop her. She fell to her knees next to the swordswomen, and Motoko looked up in surprise as Konoka appeared next to her. Konoka was barely aware of the older woman's presence as she took Setsuna from her, settling Setsuna's head on her lap. She took hold of one of Setsuna's limp hands, heedless of the blood, and squeezed it tightly.
"Secchan?" she sobbed. "Secchan? Please you have to wake up! Don't die Secchan! You can't leave me alone!"
Setsuna floated in an endless see of darkness. It was so peaceful, so quiet, and she was so very tired.
Setsuna stirred. That voice…that name…
She knew that voice. She would go through hell for that voice. The voice sounded sad…that wasn't right. That voice should never be sad. She must make it happy, then she could rest…
Setsuna groaned and wearily opened her eyes, blinking up at the blurry face before her, trying to focus on it.
"Ko…chan?" she croaked, before a fit of coughing seized her.
"Secchan!" Konoka pressed a hand to Setsuna's face, smoothing back her bangs.
"Please don't try and talk. The medics are coming. You're going to be okay! You just have to stay with me until they get here, okay? Then they can heal you!" Konoka's voice was high with worry, and the hand that stroked Setsuna's hair trembled. Setsuna squinted up at Konoka's face, then slowly raised one bloody hand and lightly touched Konoka's cheek, wiping at the tears there. Konoka stilled.
"Don't…cry," Setsuna said softly, "You're free… You're free….koishii…." Setsuna trailed off as her eyes rolled up into the back of her head. Her hand dropped like so much dead weight from Konoka's cheek, and the hand Konoka held went limp.
"Secchan? SECCHAN!" Konoka screamed again. There was a burst of bright white light, so bright, that Motoko had to look away or risk being blinded. Konoka's head was thrown back, her pupils so small that they were mearly pinpricks, her mouth gaping open as waves upon waves of white magic flowed out of her and into Setsuna. Motoko watched in shocked awe as Setsuna's legs, which Motoko had been sure would never carry weight again, healed before her very eyes, and the gouge in her wing closed as if it had never been. As more people raced out into the field, Motoko came back to her senses. She brought back her hand and slapped Konoka, hard, on her cheek. Abruptly the white light went out, as if turned off by a switch, as Konoka reeled back from the blow. She blinked, then stared at Motoko uncomprehending, one hand raised to the rising red mark on her cheek.
"What...why..." she stuttered,
"You were using too much of your magic too quickly, Ojou-sama," Motoko told her as people ran up. "Had you continued to do so at that rate, it would have caused too much of a strain on your body. Your heart would have given out." People swarmed around them,
"You would have died." Motoko stood as the medics picked up Setsuna, wings and all, and put her on a stretcher.
"But-" Konoka started,
"Let our doctors take care of her now," Motoko said kindly, cutting her off. "You've done all you can." Konoka swallowed and nodded, scrambling up to follow the medics as they loaded Setsuna into an ambulance that was driven onto the field.
"Konoka-ojousama," Motoko called out, and Konoka turned around.
"She isn't always as strong as she seems. She needs someone to protect her, just as she protected you. Take care of her; there is more than one way for her to die." Konoka stared at Motoko, and her eyes hardened. She nodded once, sharply, before racing to the ambulance. Motoko sighed and watched it go, heedless of the chaos that had erupted around her.
"How is it that at 15 they've found something that I've been searching for all my life?" she muttered to herself, still watching long after the ambulance had disappeared.
As was Setsuna's way, she became fully aware the moment she woke up. Before she had even opened her eyes, she knew that she was lying in a strange bed, in a strange room. She knew there was an open window, approximently 6 feet to her left from her bed, and a closed door about the same length from her bed to her right. She knew there was a small table besides the wall on one side of her bed and that her sword was sheathed and propped up against the wall on the other side, within easy reaching distance. All these details she became aware of in an instant, then were pushed aside to her subconscious to be looked at again if needed. There was one glaring detail however, that remained forefront in her mind. Without opening her eyes, she knew that there was a beloved figure sitting besides her bed, and what's more, this person was holding her hand. Thus, as Setsuna opened her eyes, she was already mentally cursing her blush.
"You're awake!" The relief was evident in both Konoka's voice and her eyes. Setsuna's blush deepened as Konoka squeezed Setsuna's hand a little tighter.
"How long have I been out?" Setsuna gasped around a dry throat.
"Three days," Konoka told her as she passed Setsuna a glass of water from the small table with one hand, the other still clutching Setsuna's. Setsuna took the glass with her free hand, and gulped it down in one long swallow.
"The doctors said that you had….lost a lot of blood. And that it would take your body a while to replenish the energy." Konoka continued softly as Setsuna drained the glass. The chocolate haired girl took the now empty glass from Setsuna, and Setsuna's hand tingled where their fingers brushed. The swordswoman cleared her throat,
"Where are Asuna-san, Negi-sensei, and everyone?"
"Asuna and Negi-kun are somewhere around here. I believe Chamo-san was stealing underwear from some of the more…umm, "gifted" female patients and Asuna took it upon herself to set Chamo-san straight. Negi-kun went to make sure he'd still have a familiar once Asuna was done with him." Konoka giggled and Setsuna smiled, whether at the thought of what Asuna would do to Chamo, or at the sound of Konoka's laughter, she wasn't sure.
"As for Daddy and Gramps," Konoka continued thoughtfully, "I think they're meeting with the different council members in the Magic Associations. I guess there's a lot of paperwork to be done."
"I bet," Setsuna replied dryly. They would have their hands full canceling marriage contracts and documenting the Duel, let alone convincing all the old farts in the council of the outcome. Setsuna's mind drifted as she considered all that Eishun and the headmaster would have to do to ensure the safety of Konoka's new marriage rights. It was abruptly brought back, along with a rush of blood to her face, as Konoka began to rub the back of Setsuna's hand with her thumb.
"So…" Konoka said idly, her head tilted down as she watched her thumb trace little patterns on the back of Setsuna's hand.
"Did you mean it?"
"M-mean what?" Setsuna stuttered, her throat suddenly dry again as she watched Konoka get up from her seat and sit on the edge of her bed without letting go of her hand. Konoka fiddled with Setsuna's fingers, her gaze still on their hands,
"What you said…" Konoka answered softly. She scooted a little closer to Setsuna, who scooted a little away.
"Aaaaaaauuuuum..." Setsuna's mind raced as she tried to figure out what she had said to Konoka. Had they even talked before the Duel started? Asuna and Negi were supposed to have kept Konoka safe at the school- Setsuna's eyes went as wide as dinner plates as the memory of the locker room came rushing back.
I love you
She had said that.
WHAT had POSSESED her to say THAT?
Immediately the answer floated through her mind,
Because I never expected to see her again.
Why why why was she still alive?
She was going to kill Asuna and Negi.
Konoka watched in amusement the play of emotions that went across Setsuna's face. Confused, thoughtful, stunned, panicked, and of course the ever present, and very cute, blush. Konoka folded her knees and brought her legs onto the bed, then continued to scoot forward.
"W-w-well, w-what, I mean, I-I-I guess I, that is, w-w-what I m-mean to say," Setsuna babbled and stuttered on as she frantically scooted back. Suddenly she realized that the bed underneath her had disappeared, and she almost fell over the side, the only thing keeping her partway on the bed were her legs gripping the other edge, and Konoka's tight grip of her hand. Konoka giggled again as Setsuna's free hand scrambled to find a grip in the blankets. There was a mischievous glint in the younger girl's eyes, and she yanked on Setsuna's arm, hauling the panicked swordswoman back on the bed, mere inches away from herself.
As Setsuna's wide eyes stared into Konoka's large doe like gaze, she froze. Her mouth continued to move, as if trying to revoice her stutters, but no sound emerged.
"It's a yes or no question, Secchan," Konoka said softly as she moved closer,
"Did…" Konoka tilted her head up,
"...you…" Setsuna remained frozen, her eyes trained on the face that was coming closer, her mind seized with panic.
"...mean it?" The last words were but breath against Setsuna's cheeks before Konoka had closed the gap between them, her lips lightly pressing against Setsuna's. Setsuna's eyes widened still, her pupils dilated, and her entire body went so red that it looked like she had 3rd degree sunburns. There was a loud popping sound and Konoka broke away, startled. Then her face broke out into a grin and she reached out to lightly trace a feather with a finger tip.
"Is this a yes?" she asked, laughter in her voice at the wings that had sprouted from Setsuna's back in response to the kiss. Her dancing eyes turned to Setsuna's face and she giggled, for it looked like a frightened shocked tomato. A lump appeared in the taller girl's throat, and she swallowed hard. Twice.
"O-o-o-o-ojou-sama!" Setsuna yelped, the only word that she could get her burning lips around. Konoka stuck her bottom lip out and crossed her arms below her chest, and the part of Setsuna's mind that wasn't frantically trying to create coherent thought registered that Konoka was very cute when she pouted.
"Secchan!" Konoka complained as she glared at Setsuna, "Lovers don't call each other Ojou-sama." Once again Setsuna experienced the unnerving sensation of her mouth moving but nothing coming out. Konoka reached out and trailed her finger down Setsuna's cheek,
"You should be punished," she whispered before once again pressing her lips to Setsuna's. As her lips gently massaged Setsuna's, the half demon's eyes drifted shut. After a long moment, Konoka eased back and Setsuna blinkingly opened her eyes and licked her lips.
"Hmmm" Setsuna broke off nervously as Konoka tapped her chin, peering at Setsuna thoughtfully. A gleam appeared in her eyes,
"You can do better," she said with a slow smile and then kissed Setsuna again. This time Setsuna had enough state of mind to kiss back, and when they broke away it was Konoka who was breathless.
"Koishii…" Setsuna sighed her eyes still closed. They flew open as the word she had spoke registered in her mind and she flushed again, but smiled hesitantly when she saw Konoka beaming at her, a light flush staining her own cheeks.
"Much better," she said smugly, almost to herself. She cupped Setsuna's burning face in her hands, the amusement fading as she stared into Setsuna's confused eyes.
"I love you too, Secchan. I'm so sorry it took me so long to realize that. If I had.." she trailed off and Setsuna was horrified to see Konoka's eyes fill with tears, "then maybe you wouldn't be in the hospital right now." The tears that Konoka had held back for three days, that she had not allowed to come out while Setsuna was being operated on, when the doctors had said how much blood she had lost, or when told how had her healing powers not come out of their own accord, Setsuna would be dead, finally spilled down her cheeks. Her hands moved down to grip Setsuna's hospital gown at her shoulders, and she pressed her face into a worried blushing Setsuna's shoulder.
"Don't ever do that again Secchan!" she cried, "Not for me, not for anyone! You could have died! You almost did! The doctors said it was a miracle that you could walk or fly again! I'll never forget when you collapsed on the field!" Konoka gripped Setsuna tighter.
"It was the scariest moment of my life! There was so much blood, it was everywhere and-" Konoka broke off her hysterical tirade as Setsuna pushed her gently back, then captured her lips with hers. The kiss was long and deep as Setsuna swallowed Konoka's sobs, offering all the comfort she could. When they finally broke away, they were both breathing heavily. Setsuna reached out and gently wiped away Konoka's tears.
"Don't cry. I'm alive and well, right? Please don't cry. I'll always be here to protect you." From above or beyond the grave, Setsuna vowed silently to herself. Konoka shook her head, then suddenly rose to her knees and pressed her forehead to Setsuna's, staring into the eyes that were less than an inch from hers.
"Just...be here, Secchan. With me," Konoka whispered. Setsuna gulped, at a complete loss for words. She could do nothing but stare into Konoka's eyes, amazed at the emotion she saw there, emotion for her.
Konoka sighed, then smiled softly and eased back, once again trailing a finger down Setsuna's cheek. She watched with interest as Setsuna's blush arose, and her wings seemed to shrink around her. How could someone who showed not a trace of fear or hesitation when fighting against the strongest swordswoman in Japan look so unsure of herself with such a simple show of affection? Motoko's last words to Konoka echoed through her head;
She isn't always as strong as she seems; there is more than one way for her to die.
"You still need rest," Konoka told her with a grin as she sat up and reached out to grasp Setsuna's arms. She twisted around, tugging the confused half-demon with her as she laid back on the bed. Hesitantly, Setsuna followed Konoka's lead, but only so far, stiffly leaning down on her elbows next to the shorter girl. With great care, Konoka pulled Setsuna down until she was laying beside her, then wrapped Setsuna's arms around her waist. She snuggled into Setsuna's loose and bewildered embrace.
"Comfortable?" Konoka asked softly, and Setsuna felt her heart flutter as the chocolate haired girl's lips brushed her skin. Tentatively, Setsuna tightened her grip, one wing coming around to cover them. Konoka felt Setsuna's small nod, and she smiled.
Setsuna thought that in such a…position….with Konoka, she would be both too nervous and too tense to sleep. But the sound of Konoka's heart beat, thumping in time with her own, and Konoka lightly rubbing her back, combined with her still tired body, was enough to lull her back to sleep.
Carefully, so as not to wake her, Konoka kissed Setsuna's neck. I'll protect you, Secchan.
The last of the personal replies to the reviews! ((wipes away tear)) thank you all again. You have no idea what all this means to me, and still means to me. If you could find it in your hearts to review this one last time, I'd be the happiest little fic writer around.
xSojix- Well the update may not have been soon, but it's there! I hope you like how I portray Motoko. Thank you so much for reading my story and I hope you continue to like it through the end.
Rain54- yay for more reviews! I'm so glad Setsuna and Konoka's moments touched your heart. I'm also glad you thought it was a cliff hanger lol, that was the intention, but one never knows if it'll work as such…You assume correctly! I hope you like the conclusion! Thank you so much for reading my fic, and I hope you see it through till the end.
One Winged Kuja- ((rubs neck sheepishly)) the story behind the cameos is that technaically…this fic was supposed to be a cross over. So instead of making up new people, I just sorta…borrowed…others. ((grins sheepishly)) I hope they didn't throw you off so much that you won't finish the story. Kaoru and Sano are really just minor characters. But thank you so much for reviewing, and I hope you dig this chapter too!
Yuki Myco- haha well I hope you read and review the last chapter as well! How'd yo like the konosetsu in this one? I hope they meet expectations! Thank you so so much for continuously reading and reviewing my fic!
Sid-((laughs and cleans up the blood)) no dieing! How could you finish reading my last chapter if you did? ((winks)) Responding to your review is the least I can do, since you're so kind enough to leave one in the first place! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review my story, and I hope you liked it through the end!
Astarael00-Well the story behind the random characters of Sano and Kaoru is that this fic was supposed to be in response to a cross over fic challenge lol, but the cross over bit sorta didn't happen. I needed characters for Sano and Kaoru's roles, and I figured why not bring them in? Motoko however, I had planned to do all along. We don't know the time span between Love Hina and Negima, so I took some creative liberties lol. I hope that dispite them (or even better, because of them) you continue to read my story till the end! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing previously.
Darkfumae-((blushes and rubs neck sheepishly)) gosh, thank you for such a high compliment! I hope this last chapter continues to meet your expectations! This chapter was a long one too, so I hope that makes up for it being the last lol. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story.
CommandoDude- haha Setsuna has her own cheering section! ((winks)) Did you like the battle? I really hope so! Thank you for reading and reviewing my fic, and I hope you saw it through till the end!
Sean- the thing with the characters is that this fic was supposed to be a crossover haha but that sorta didn't happen. I needed characters for Kaoru and Sano's roles anyway, so why not them eh? And Inuyasha reference was just a fun thing on my part haha, way to notice! ((scratches head)) well in the versions I read, I don't remember Setsuna referring to Eishun as captain, but different translations, different words I suppose. But it's all good! Thank you for reading my fic and I hope you continue to do so!
Shatin- I hurried as fast as I could, which I know isn't fast enough lol, but here it is! How'd you like the battle scenes? I hope Setsuna kicked enough ass to satisfy ((winks)). Thank you so much for reviewing my story, and I hope you saw it through till the end.
WillTheWatcher- haha I hope my cliffhanger brought you back to reading the last chapter! I hope you liked it! I tried to be as kind to Setsuna as I could, and hopefully the last scene made up for the battles haha. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story, and I hope you still like it!
Demonic archangel- ((whispers back)) the only time I log in is to update, so I totally understand. I hope you liked the story and thank you so much for reading and reviewing!
Akichi- yay for excitement! It always feels good to know someone is looking forward to my story. I'm so glad you like the confession scene, I worked really hard on that one, I wanted to make it just right. I hope you still consider my work great lol and thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story.
Secchan- ((blushes)) such a compliment! Thank you so much, and I hope you read the last chapter! Was it worth the wait? Thank you so much for reading and reviewing it!
Setenshi- thank you for the compliment on both of my fics! And also thank you for your support with the whole plagiarism deal, that still makes my blood run cold when I think of it. And thank you especially for likeing how I've written Konoka and Setsuna, my biggest fear has always been OOCness, and it's your support that keeps me going! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my fic.
Writer-jim- ((eyes widen)) that's the longest review I've ever gotton! ((bows)) thank you so much that you think my story was worth the lack of sleep! And I'm glad that me and Oka-kun could hook you into such a fantastic couple! ((grins)) You liked the cameos! Huzzah! Haha I'm so happy someone liked them and wasn't confused by them! I'm sorry that I couldn't add your Motoko/Shinobu coupling ((rubs neck sheepishly)) but truth be told I know nothing about that coupling, and I didn't want to do it any injustice. I hope you still liked the fic regardless and read it to the end. Thank you so so much for reading and reviewing my story.
Kohryu-((eyes widen)) please accept my humble apologies for getting you grounded! But I'm quite flattered that you loved my story so much! I hope this chapter makes up for it! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story!
Kota or AsunaNegi- Haha I'm glad I have connections of sorts that brought you in! I hope you continued to read my story and I hope you still like it! Thank you for reading and reviewing!
Yojimbo Sanjuro- Here it is! Did you like it? I hope you did! And thank you for taking the time to read and review my story.
Hasum!- ((rubs head sheepishly)) I can't tell if you liked the cameos or didn't lol. But I hope you continued to read my story anyway. Thank you so much though for reading and reviewing, regardless!
Muji- ((blushes)) thank you so much for the compliments, and of course I would continue! I can't leave you all hanging right? ((winks)) I hope you adored this chapter as much as the rest. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story.
Elestren- There it is! Did it satisfy as a final chapter? I really hope so! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my story.
Scygnus Darkhawk- well the wait wasn't very long for you was it Scy-kun? ((winks)) since it took ya so long to read it! But I can forgive that cause you reviewed. How'd you like the conclusion?
xX K-chan Xx- haha someone thinks I'm smart! Whoa. ((winks)) Did the conclusion work out to your liking? I really hope so. Thank you so so so much K-chan, for reading and reviewing my story!
Ayaka620- Here's the last chapter! Still find it interesting? Thank so much for reading and reviewing my story!
Puu-chan- I love the pairing too, and I hope you still love the story! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing my humble fic!
Skuld 511- I'm glad you thought the wait was worth it, and I hope you still think so! The final chapter is finally up and I hope you loved it too. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing it.