Chapter XIII

Kaori was glad that it was raining outside on this particular day, giving her an excuse to wear a sweater and gloves to cover the bandages wrapped around the still healing wounds she'd received two days before. Hayate, being a Demon, had healed after no more then a day, leaving him with nothing more then a faint, fading scar of what once was a gaping gash.

Bowling balls flew down the lanes with a thunderous rumble, crashing into the pins at the end. It was one of the few bowling alleys around that weren't computerized, or motion censored. Real balls. Real pins. A real accomplishment when a strike was hit. However, the real treat was watching Hayate struggling to figure it out.

"So let me get this straight..." he said, looking at the ball in his hands, "I put my fingers into these holes here on the ball?" He pointed at the three finger holes on the bowling ball, which automatically changed size to custom fit each bowler.

"Yeah," Kenta said with a nod, "And then you roll it down the alley to the pins there at the end. Like this," He gestured by picking up his own ball, walking onto the polished wooden alley floor, and then taking several large steps toward it before releasing the ball, one leg crossing behind the other in perfect form as he sent the ball with just the right speed and direction to hit the pins dead in the center and bowl a strike.

"Nice shot!" Saki said with a grin and a thumbs up. Kenta smiled slightly, embarrassed, but returned the gesture.

"And my fingers won't get stuck?" Hayate asked skeptically. Not that it was really a problem. If worse came to worse, he could slam the ball into a wall with enough force to shatter it, but he preferred not to do something like that. Typically, displaying to much of his abnormal strength around normal humans got Kaori angry.

"It fits to them automatically, so you don't have to worry," Kenta said with a smile, "Just try it, it's your turn," he pushed Hayate toward their alley and Hayate looked down the lane skeptically. It wouldn't be that hard, right? Like target practice back in the Demon world. He backed up a few steps, then copied Kenta's movements exactly, releasing the ball into the lane. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly, it didn't work out as planned.

Rather then smoothly fly down the alley like Kenta's had, Hayate's bowling ball bounced a couple of times, too much force behind the throw, and then turned into the gutter, harmlessly sliding right passed the pins at the end. A couple of girls in the next alley giggled and Hayate's face reddened in embarrassment as he turned to retrieve the ball from the return a second time.

"One more turn, right?" he asked Airi. The girl nodded, trying her best to hold back her own laughter with what appeared to be a sympathetic smile. Kaori, however, was grinning from ear to ear at the sight. Watching Hayate struggle with the simplest human things was incredibly amusing.

"Don't throw it so hard," Kenta said, "just let the ball do the work. You can do it!"

"Still, I can't believe he's never been bowling before..." Saki said.

"He's a poor deprived child," Kaori stated simply, watching with her arms crossed, and Saki laughed softly. Kaori had opted to stay out of the game, unable to grip the bowling ball with her cut hands, but she didn't mind. It was more fun to watch this then to play.

Hayate shot a glare at Kaori and Saki, an obvious indication that despite the loud rumbling of other bowling balls, he could hear everything they said. Kaori waved at him, sticking her tongue out, and with a roll of his eyes, Hayate turned back to the alley. "Alright, I won't lose to you..." He said to the bowling ball in his hands quietly. He tried again, and this time the ball slid smoothly down the lane with a slight tilt to the side. At first, he thought he'd actually make a decent hit, but the ball drifted further and further until at the last moment, it missed the end pin by a hair and fell into the gutter with a clunk.

"That's not fair!" He exclaimed, pointing, "That should've hit! This stupid game is cheating!"

Now even Kenta laughed, "It's not possible to cheat, Hayate," he said, "You just had the wrong angle. Don't be a sore loser; you'll get the hang of it!"

"Yeah, don't worry, Hayate," Airi said teasingly as she stood with her own bowling ball to take her turn. Like Kenta, she bowled a strike, drawing a chorus of cheers from the others save for Hayate, who sat with his arms crossed, his jaw dropped. Airi shrugged at him, "Guess bowling isn't your sport. You can do everything else, so don't complain," She told him.

"Kaori, are you sure you don't want to play?" Saki asked Kaori, looking at her friend with her hands on her hips, "Come on, just a few rounds! It'll be fun!"

"No, really I'm fine," Kaori said with a smile, "I'm not in the mood, you know? Just spending time with you guys is more than enough for me,"

Saki frowned, unhappy at the response, "That won't do for us, though," she said, "You've got to play, come on!" She took Kaori's hand and the girl bit her lip, wincing slightly.

"Sakura, your turn," Hayate said quickly. He wasn't quite used to calling Saki by her nickname, thus remained with her real name. Saki turned to look at Hayate briefly and in that moment, Kaori silently thanked Hayate.

"Oh, you're right!" She said. She turned away, taking her hot pink bowling ball from the ball return and grinned, "Let me show you how a real bowler plays," Then, she turned and threw the ball down the lane, straight into the gutter.

"Oh yeah, real talent!" Kenta said, laughing. The others, even Kaori and Hayate, joined him and Saki responded by sticking her tongue out at her friends.

"Make fun of me all you want, it was just a bad first round!" Saki insisted indignantly, retrieving the ball from the return and going again. The rest of the game went similarly, with Hayate steadily getting better and better at actually hitting the pins, and in the last frame of the game, he actually made a strike (a large accomplishment that he felt entitled him to a soda, which Airi happily supplied)

That single game was all that they had time for before Saki got a call from home, "I applied for a job over at a nearby restaurant!" she'd explained when she got off the phone, "Apparently, they called and want to schedule an interview, so I've got to get home..."

"Here, I'll give you a ride," Kenta said, jingling the keys of his parents car in one hand. Saki gladly accepted and with a quick goodbye, the two left, leaving Airi, Kaori, and Hayate behind.

At first, the three were silent as they sat on the wall of a planter just outside the bowling alley. The clouds had begun to clear, allowing the waning moon to rise into the blackening sky and they gazed up at the slowly appearing stars.

"That was fun, don't you think?" Kaori asked at last, looking down from the stars at her best friend. Initially, Airi didn't look at her, then, she lowered her gaze to stare Kaori straight in the eyes, blue-green meeting brown.

"Yeah, but you didn't bowl at all," she said. She looked down at Kaori's hands and the blond self-consciously stuffed them into the pocket of her hoody, "I'm not stupid, Kaori. I know you're hurt. It wasn't cold enough in the bowling alley to be wearing gloves and a jacket. What happened?"

"It's nothing, really," Kaori said quickly. The last thing she wanted to do was relive any of the battle that had caused her injuries in the first place, "I don't want to talk about it, so please drop it, ok?" Kaori thought Airi was going to press the issue, holding the girl's eyes briefly with her own, then Airi looked away with a sigh, back up at the sky.

"Alright, whatever you say," she said at last, "Just try not to get too hurt when you guys are fighting, ok? And Hayate? You make sure you protect her,"

At being addressed Hayate straightened up, his voice caught briefly, "Uh... yeah, of course," he said quickly, "I am, so you don't have to worry..."

He was cut off by a sudden roar of thunder accented by a bright flash of lightning. Both were instantaneous, a sign that a storm was right upon them, but looking up, there was no rain falling anymore. The clouds were still present, but the lightning didn't seem to even be coming from above.

Hayate stood up, his entire body tense as he looked up at the sky. Another flash of lightning, roar of thunder, and Hayate's snapped his head downward, eyes darting to the left in time to see the lightning rise up from the ground and scatter.

"What was that?" Airi asked with sudden panic, rising to her feet as well and hiding behind Hayate.

"It must be a Demon," Hayate answered, "And a pretty damn powerful one by the look of it..."

"If it is, then they must be attacking something," Kaori said. For some reason, her heart was pounding, every muscle in her body begging her to go toward the source, "It might be a civilian. We've got to go help!" She started forward, but the sleeve of her jacket was caught tightly by Airi, holding her back.

"Hold it!" she shouted angrily, "Are you crazy? There's lightning," As if to emphasize her point, another blast of thunder erupted, the light shooting up from the alley between two buildings.

"I know," Kaori answered, "And every second we spend here opens up the opportunity for someone to get hurt! I'll be fine, Airi. Just find somewhere safe to go!" She pulled out of her friends grip and ran. Hayate right beside her. She unzipped her jacket, pulling the book out in the process. Water from the earlier rain soaked her jeans as she stepped into ankle deep puddles, crossing the abandoned street as yet another crash of thunder erupted.

(–)

Rika was running. She didn't know where, but she just knew that she had to run. Azure was right beside her, his left arm blackened from burns, his clothes torn in several places. Both were breathless as they sprinted down the alleyway in search of an exit.

"Raikeru!" They heard behind them. Azure was first to react, skidding to a stop and spinning around to face the oncoming burst of yellow lightning. Rika stopped not long after, the sky blue spell book in her hands glowing madly.

"Lashield!" she shouted. A layer of ice surrounded Azure's left arm, expanding and stretching into a large round shield. He raised said arm in front of him protectively and the jagged lightning burst slammed into it with enough force to shatter the fragile ice, sending a shouting Azure shooting back from the force of the impact right into Rika's expectant arms. She lost her balance upon catching him, falling with a splash into a deep puddle of rainwater.

"Azure, are you ok?" She asked the younger boy worriedly, completely disregarding her now soaked clothes. Azure gritted his teeth to hold back the pain as sparks of electricity emitted from his limp arm. Stunned, he thought to himself, from the lightning.

Azure pushed away from Rika to rise, then turned to help the girl up himself, grasping her hand and pulling her up to her feet. "I'm ok," he insisted tiredly, "This is nothing compared to what I went through back home. Just focus on fighting, Rika!" he said.

Rika bit her bottom lip, worried. She would have preferred not to fight at all, but looking passed Azure to their approaching opponents made it obvious she didn't have a choice. One of them, the one with the turquoise spell book, was a middle aged man with shoulder length blonde hair tied in a ponytail and blue eyes. It was apparent that at one point in his youth, he was quite handsome, but age was quick to change that, making him look quite a few years older than he truly was. He wore very aristocratic clothing in comparison with the demon.

This one was tanned, no older then fifteen or sixteen with golden hair and piercing red eyes that were the most demon-like features Rika had ever seen. He was wearing a simple tank top and tattered jeans, his thumbs hooked into his pockets as he walked forward with a rather bored expression, "You know, it's not fun if you don't fight back," he said, "This battle is supposed to be a challenge, not a walk through the city. Come on, fight me!"

"Be patient, Ari," the older man said with a distinct French accent, "Besides, the less they cast, the easier it is for us,"

"Rika!" Azure said sharply, raising both hands upward. The older girl opened the glowing spell book and searched the words briefly before finding what she needed – the first spell should do some significant damage while they were distracted.

"Runae!" She shouted. The book flashed, as if recognizing being used, and from Azure's palms, large shards of ice shot out, flying toward Ari and his book owner. The red-eyed demon watched it approach, a smirk spreading across his lips.

"That's more like it," he said with a grin, "But it's not going to cut it, you know! Giles?" He said over his shoulder to the human as he crouched down.

"Rashield!" Giles shouted shortly after, the turquoise spell book in his hand glowing just as bright as Rika's. Ari slammed his palms into the ground and a few feet in front of them, an enormous golden shield composed of electricity shot up. In the center was a lightning bolt, the gem in the center turquoise and accenting against the yellow barrier. The large shards of ice slammed into the shield, seeming to push through initially, but Gile's book glowed brighter and within moments, the ice was being shot right back at Rika and Azure, sparking with electricity.

"Darn it," Azure muttered under his breath. He turned to Rika, whose eyes were wide in shock at their own spell being turned against them, and shouted, "Run!" The girl didn't move, however, and desperately, Azure tackled her to the ground to shield her with his own body, protecting both her, and the spell book from the icicles that, though not directly hitting them, shocked them with sparks of electricity from all sides.

Rika bit back the scream that rose in her throat, keeping it at bay for the initial shock, but when it didn't stop after a few seconds, she no longer could. She held the book close to her stomach, curling around it as the lightning illuminated hers and Azure's bodies, and when at last the electricity faded, both fell to their knees, breathless. Tears fell involuntarily from Rika's eyes, mixing with the rainwater in the puddle beneath her.

"Rika!" Azure exclaimed. He managed to push himself to his feet, turn to Rika, and put his hands on her shoulders. "Are you ok? You have to get up, come on!" he said. And Rika wanted to. She really did, but something in her wouldn't allow her. Was it fear that paralyzed her? Or this electricity? "Rika!" Azure tried.

"Looks like your partner's given up," Ari said in irritation. Azure spun on his heel to face the older demon, his fists clenched and his light eyes narrowed furiously. Ari was only a few yards away, his arms crossed unhappily. "No fun. This wasn't even a challenge. What a complete waste of my time. Giles, let's burn his book already. I don't want to look at that pathetic face of his,"

Ari raised a hand to Azure and Rika and already electricity was beginning to spark within it as the spell book in Giles' hands began to glow. "Raikeru!" the man shouted.

Simultaneously, another book was glowing nearby, the bright yellow light illuminating the darkened alleyway. As Giles cast his spell, the holder of this spell book cast her own, "Jikir!" The lightning shot forth from Ari's hand, but it was quickly thrown off course as a powerful, fist slammed into his face from the side, propelling him to the right with a strong burst of wind that shot forth after the impact.

Ari hit the wall across the alley with enough force to crack the hard brick, grunting upon impact. Azure's eyes widened in shock. The attack was so fast, he hadn't even seen it happen, and wouldn't have believed it were it not for the lightning demon leaning heavily against the wall and the white haired young man standing where Ari once stood, a fist extended.

Hayate lowered his fist, hooking his thumbs in his pockets like Ari had done not too long ago, leaning back slightly to look down at the demon, "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" he asked.

As Giles backed hastily away from Hayate, Kaori ran to Rika and Azure. The young Demon raised his fists protectively, but Kaori disregarded the defensive stance, kneeling before him, "Are you ok?" she asked him. Then, she noticed the girl behind him and her eyes widened, "Miss Teruyama?" she asked, surprised.

The sound of Kaori's voice made Rika's eyes widen and she looked up to stare at the girl in disbelief. The sight of the yellow spell book in Kaori's hands surprised Rika as much as Kaori was shocked to see the sky-blue book in hers. Suddenly, Rika was able to speak again.

"You have a-" Both girls stopped, realizing they'd spoken the exact same question. Kaori shook her head briefly to clear her thoughts and stood back up, turning away from Rika and Azure to face Hayate. Ari was standing straight once again and he looked absolutely furious.

"Forget it," Kaori said, "Hayate and I will take care of this guy. You get out of here while you can," She returned to her partner's side, leaving a bewildered Rika and confused Azure behind.

Ari rubbed his head with a feral growl that seemed almost inhuman (Kaori had to remind herself that it in fact wasn't) as he stared daggers at Hayate. Giles was quick to return to the red-eyed demon – the one place he was fairly certain he'd be safe. "Who the hell are you?" Ari asked Hayate.

"I may as well let you know, huh? After all, it'll be the last you get to know before I send you crawling back home on your hands and knees," Hayate said with a smirk. The condescending tone in his voice brought another growl from Ari's chest, his teeth bared in irritation and his eyes seeming to darken into a deep maroon. Hayate raised his right hand, pressing two fingers to touch the corner of his forehead before flicking them outward in a mock-salute to the demon across from him, "The name's Hayate Uzuki. Nice to meet you," He said with a ring of sarcasm.

Ari's eyes widened in surprise at the introduction, the anger fading away into absolute shock. His once dominant posture and demeanor quickly retreated into one of much more submission as Ari took a single step back, away from Hayate and Kaori. "H-Hayate?"

Kaori's eyes narrowed in confusion at the sudden change in behavior. She'd just seen this boy confidently attack Rika and that other boy, and now he was cowering like a puppy at the mere mention of Hayate's name. She looked curiously at her partner, as if expecting some sort of explanation, but Hayate didn't return her gaze, keeping his gray-green eyes locked on Ari as a small smile started to play at the corners of his lips.

But Ari swallowed his fear, holding his ground and raising his fists confidently, "S-so what! I'm not going to let a name scare me!" he decided, "You want me to send you back first, then that's entirely on you! Giles, let's roast these annoying flies!"

"Pretty confident, aren't you?" Hayate asked, punching a fist into his hand and cracking his knuckles, "Alright then, show me that light show of yours,"

Why does he always have to antagonize...? Kaori asked herself as she watched Ari's anger beginning to show once more. The demon's face had reddened slightly as he straightened up, holding out both hands and bracing himself for what seemed to be a powerful attack. Why was that guy so scared though...Sometimes, I wonder if Hayate's really a good guy or not...

Giles' spell book began glowing brightly across from Kaori and the blond girl opened her own shining spell book in preparation to counter-attack whatever was thrown at them. "Raikeru!" Giles shouted after a moment's deliberation.

From Ari's extended hand, a powerful bolt of lightning shot forth, followed almost instantly by a crash of thunder that shook the ground beneath Kaori's feet. Would Hayate's wind spells be able to stand up to this lightning, she wondered?

"One way to find out!" Kaori said aloud. She adjusted her footing on the wet floor, her eyes narrowing slightly as she pressed a hand to the spell book and shouted, "Jikir!"


A/N: Ahem… well I think I owe everyone an apology for the amount of time it took me to get this up. To be perfectly honest, I've had it done for months, but had intended on adding more. But, after reviewing the entire story for a refresher and re-reading this chapter, I realized that this is just far enough for this chapter. The next one I hope will come sooner – with school though, I've been having some trouble staying active (I think my last update was right before I started college…) Anyway, now that I've re-read, my muse is pretty active! So here's the latest chapter, and coming up after this, it's Hayate vs. Ari! Sorry for the delay~ don't forget to review.

SNE121