By: Tellemicus Sundance
Taking Shame, Giving Blame
He didn't remember how he got there. He didn't know why he was there. He didn't have a firm grip on his memories. They were jumbled in a chaotic heap of clear and fresh to hazy and forgotten. He couldn't feel his body, like the worst-case scenario for body paralysis.
Why was he here? What's going on? Where was he? Was his friends and family alright? Was he dead and in some void between heaven and hell? What was that—?
An argument? Where were they? Who are they? They did sound familiar. One voice was quiet, yet forceful. Another was definitely worried but kind. The third seemed…surprised and agitated. These voices were the most familiar, but the fourth one was undeniably cheerful and rather loud.
Just like how he usually was.
Then, all at once, things snapped into place. Wincing at the burning of his muscles, Odd let out a loud groan. Trying to raise himself off the ground, he felt kind hands descend onto his shoulders.
Cracking his eyes open to view the person, he immediately wished he hadn't. Insanely bright colors flooded his vision, almost blinding him. It was a pain someone usually felt when some inconsiderate creep would shoot their headlights into a person's eyes while driving at night.
"How are you doing, Odd?" a kind voice, Aelita he realized, asked. "You okay?"
"Sure," he groaned. "As long as you define 'okay' as in 'heaps of agony.'"
Loud laughter erupted from somewhere nearby, making Odd wince again. Even his hearing was ridiculously sensitive!
While Aelita was checking up on their blonde friend, Ulrich and Yumi kept a close watch on the strange kid. Keeping herself in a loose stance, Yumi was ready to sic her weapons upon the kid should he do something remotely suspicious.
Surprisingly, she couldn't get a clear image to what his intentions were through his body language. His stance, his walk, even the subtle way that he kept one hand near his weapons' pouches just all screamed out that he was a seasoned warrior; thus quite deadly. Yet he approached unarmed and in perfect view of them, so he was either foolish or extremely confident. When he spoke or gestured, it was cheerful and almost heartfelt, like he was among old friends.
"About time you two showed up," the small kid said cheerfully. "Although you just missed all the fun stuff."
"Who are you?" she demanded.
The boy grasped his chest as if in pain. "Yumi-chan!" he whined. "You don't recognize me? Oh, that hurts. We had such fun a few nights ago!"
The insinuation wasn't lost on the pair. Yumi fought to control a reflexive blush that was threatening to break through her makeup. Ulrich's reaction was nothing more than an almost accusing glance toward her. Their reactions led to loud chuckles from the boy.
Returning their attention to the Lyoko newcomer, Ulrich practically growled out, "What do you want?"
"To prepare the heroes of the Resistance," was his simple reply. If he'd not spoken it with such conviction and determination, they wouldn't have taken him as being serious.
Suddenly, he crouched down and rushed them with incredible speed. Speed that easily rivaled Ulrich's best. Before they could react, he grabbed them by their throats as he raced between them.
Hearing their cries of surprise, Aelita look up in time to see her savior slam her friends hard into the ground. After a moment, he lifted them up and leapt surprisingly high into the air. Then all three disappeared.
The next thing that he knew, he was no longer in the overwhelming heat of a desert. Rather, a wind of bitter cold and snow tore through his uniform. The sudden change in climate practically froze his muscles and nerves.
He glared at the boy as they descended. He'd lifted Yumi above them and seemed to plan on using him as a cushion for when they landed. Ulrich tried to pry the boy's hand off him, but the kid had a grip of steel.
They landed on what felt to Ulrich as thick glass. He could actually feel the cracks forming under him before he heard them. Then the added weight of the other two caught up and the ice broke.
The boy thrust Ulrich under the surface. The freezing water felt trillions of white-hot needles were being driven into his skin and burning. It took him only a second to right himself and swim for the hole that he'd created in the ice.
After only a few moments, Ulrich lay shivering on the ice, gasping for a breath. Then a sound reached his ears. Footsteps. Turning, he saw a pair of feet walking towards him. Looking up, he felt his blood run cold, with no help from the environment.
Pulling herself out of the debris that had once been a tall oak tree, Yumi looked up towards the kid. He hung upside-down under the branch of another oak. Then a wave of pain rushed through her. In less than a few seconds, she'd been subjected to two crushing blows that probably would've easily killed and severely injure her on Earth.
"Yeah, I bet it hurts," the boy said quietly. "To know you face an opponent whose faster, stronger, and better equipped does wonders to humble a person."
Looking back up at the kid, Yumi's pain seemed to flare. She was alone. No one could help her here. She was drastically outmatched. Instinctively she knew that he was close-quarters fighter.
While she was fair in hand-to-hand combat, in Lyoko she had no decent weaponry to use. Her fans were designed and used strictly for blocking lasers and attacking long distance.
"What do you want from me?" she asked as he dropped to the ground.
"Enough talk!" he barked. "Fight me!"
And fight, they did.
Wearily, Ulrich heaved his aching body out of the snow bank he'd been thrown into. Though his body was devoid of any injuries, his lungs were burning for air, even as he took deep, long breaths. His muscles were cramped or pulled. His adrenaline and need for agility were the only things that were keeping him standing.
If his body was experiencing any of these problems, Tadashi didn't show or even seem to notice. His focus was entirely on Ulrich. Studying, strategizing, and glaring all at once; just as Ulrich remembered him to be like.
"Your form is sloppy," Tadashi said. "Your reflexes have dulled and you lack the will to fight."
Turning his back in contempt, the Japanese teenager walked further out across the frozen lake. Ulrich approached with caution. He didn't want to fight his friend. He wanted to know how he got to Lyoko, maybe even France. So many questions, yet he was acting as though this was just another sparring session.
"Just like when Taki-chan died," Tadashi growled over his shoulder, knowing the dangers.
Now it wasn't a friendly spar. It was a battle between two alpha males. Tadashi was questioning his ability, which he suddenly needed to prove. Shoving caution to the backseat, Ulrich found the will to lunge forward while ignoring his aching body.
As they fought with renewed vigor, Tadashi all but growled out, "How do you live with yourself while knowing that you failed?"
"Anger outweighs guilt," he grunted, slashing for Tadashi's side.
Ducking under the blade, Tadashi backed up as he said, "Maybe, but it's time that you face the facts and embrace the truth."
"While you could've helped to prevent it," the young samurai said. "Taki-chan's death was not your fault."
A fear rose in Ulrich and compelled him to attack. He had told himself countless times that if he could've done something, then Taki wouldn't have had to die. He would rather take the blame and shame, than to put it on someone who didn't deserve it.
Blocking Ulrich's furious slashes, Tadashi said calmly, "It was Riyo-sensei's fault."
That struck a nerve.
In his anger, Ulrich overextended his thrust. Tadashi sidestepped and grabbed the katana's hilt. With a sharp twist, he sent the weapon bouncing and sliding across the ice. Slamming his elbow into Ulrich's face, he succeeded in temporarily stunning him. A swift knee to the gut had him sliding the opposite direction of his sword.
Shaking himself of his befuddled mind, Ulrich carefully climbed to his feet. The cracking of the ice under them was not lost to the teenaged samurai as they glared at one another for a moment.
A sudden golden blur was more than enough of a warning for Tadashi to dodge to the side. With superhuman agility and strength, he caught Ulrich's extended fist and flipped him heavily onto the ice.
Backing away again, Tadashi voice was unreadable as he continued his lecture. "Your anger doesn't change the fact that Riyo-sensei failed to act."
"He was outnumbered six to one," Ulrich growled as he reoriented himself.
"Would that stop you?" Tadashi demanded as the younger boy climbed to his feet.
"I'm younger, stronger," he stated. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew that he'd said the wrong thing.
"Age is nothing!" Tadashi snapped as he suddenly attacked. Instinctively raising his arms to block the slash, Ulrich stepped inside the reach of the blade's arc. Only to be greeted by a fist to the stomach. "Strength is nothing!"
As he was again thrown back, he heard as all to familiar phrase. "Your will to act is everything!"
Climbing to his feet again, Ulrich looked sullenly at his one-time friend. He understood was being said. He just didn't want to believe it. It was easier to blame himself on what happened than to accept that he'd been powerless.
Powerless to do anything; but watch as the horrible scene unfolded.
Apparently Tadashi had calmed down enough to talk civilly again. "You are strong, you know? Probably stronger than any of your friends."
"You don't know my friends," Ulrich said quietly.
"But I know the rage that burns inside you," he replied evenly. "That incredible anger that pulls at the very essence of your soul, begging to be released upon those who have ever wronged you in the past."
There was something in his tone that had Ulrich lowering his guard. Someone knew what was wrong with. Someone understood that the gathering force of his anger was like water behind a dam: too much pressure would lead to the dam's destruction.
"Anger grants you great power," Tadashi said quietly. "But as you discovered, it has a terrible price." He looked straight into Ulrich's eyes and saw an emptiness that only a person who'd lost some precious to them would have. It was time to introduce him to his greatest fear. "You fear your own power, your own capabilities."
Lifting up his katana, Tadashi prepared for another attack. Once he tickled his friend's anger and fear enough, he was guaranteed to receive a worthy challenge. That was what all that earlier talking was for. He was subtly and not so subtly probing at defenses he knew were guarding the boy's true strengths.
"If you cannot accept and conqueryour own fears," he said, raising his voice for emphasis. "You shall never be able to beat me!"
"I NEVER WANTED TO FIGHT YOU!" Ulrich yelled back.
If Tadashi had a reply to this, it was not to be. For at that moment the ground shook violently. The air seemed to be charged with electricity as the sky darkened. The darkness started on the horizon and was fast racing across the digital sky. Then an overwhelming presence made itself known
How can she generate that much power? Ulrich asked himself. Though he wasn't in Lyoko when Odd did the same thing, he suddenly felt sure that his blonde friend had quite created the same force that Yumi had. What is fueling her to go to such extremes?
"You let your guard down!" Tadashi yelled as he slammed his fist into Ulrich's face.
As he collapsed, Tadashi brought his katana down on the ice under his feet. The ice, which had already been under considerable stress, finally broke apart under Ulrich's falling body and swallowed him whole into the cold water.
(VERY IMPORTANT Author's Note) Well, here it is. This is most definitely going to be my final chapter before I go active duty. Here's an update on my status.
Because my job specialty doesn't exist in the regular Army, I have to return to Fort Jackson, South Carolina on May 9. I will be there for more than two months training in a different job specialty. After that, I'll be shipped out to my new duty station. I hope to go to Germany, Europe.
I have no idea when I'll be able to post my next chapter, but I will definitely continue writing. That's a good pastime when you're bored and have personal time.
Also, for those of you who may be interested…I'm thinking of writing a Star Wars fanfic about Luke and Leia once I'm finished with this one. It's not anything other a mere storyline right now, but I hope to write it. But that doesn't mean I will. If any of you wish for me to write it, I will consider it. And your opinions mean a lot to me.
Until the next chapter: Clash of Swordsmen