Just like to mention, this is a sort-of fanfic-but-not. ^^;;; There's no Hells Gate storyline from the game, as I chucked that, and I changed the attitudes and especially the backstories of both Hibiki and Kaede around… a lot…
So I suppose this really isn't much apart from it borrowing the looks and parts of personalities of two characters from a game and one of the stages. ^_^;; Ah well, hope you enjoy it anyway.
~ Japan, 1864 A.D.
Hibiki Takane walked along the mountain path, a slight chill working its way up her petite frame as she did so. It was an almost barren and desolate path, littered with plenty of beige rocks and stones here and there and the odd crevice. She peered to her left, where the road dipped sharply and very quickly became a cliff-face. Large trees, with stumps as thick as a giant's thumb, sat near the edge of the cliff. Some even teetered over the edge, seemingly falling and clinging on for dear life, their moment of terror made to span extra hundreds of years instead of what should have only been seconds.
Hibiki stopped for a heavy breath, and to adjust her wrapped sword, preventing it from digging into her shoulder. She stood there for a moment, the wind whipping at her face, and sighed. Turning her head once more towards the trees, she decided to see just how much farther she had come. Cautiously, the kunoichi approached the ledge, taking one step at a time. As she neared the edge, she eyed the trees, and tried to think of them as bars, like a prison that would prevent her from going any further. Yet when she realised that the gap between them was double her size, she quickly forgot that notion.Just be quick, nothing to worry about… you won't fall…
She ran a vacant hand through her dark brown hair, and made sure, for the hundredth time that her long ponytail was done up by the small yellow bow. Setting her sword down on the ground, she gripped a tree after making sure that it was upright. Hibiki stepped a slight bit closer, when a gust of wind blew up from below, surprising her and making her yelp in fright. She watched as her thick, silky red battle kimono and the bright yellow tie keeping it together flapped in the wind, and closed her eyes. Steeling herself, she moved nearer to the edge and forced herself to look down at the cliff and her sandals, and then at the harbour below, from which she had come yesterday. It was a beautiful scene – the sky was a light early-morning blue, the mass of people rushing about below looked smaller than ants, and the sea stretched on for miles beyond that. It was a shame that this picture was ruined for Hibiki how high she was from the ground.
Okay… okay… I've made some progress.
Hibiki pushed herself away from the tree and tried to stop herself stumbling as she stepped back. She picked up and dusted her sword, and continued walking in her chosen path, noticing her pulse had quickened considerably.
Not too long now. I'll be at the teahouse soon, and from there, only another few hours or so walk to Shimiji.
The town of Shimiji was famous for many things, one of which was its fantastic teahouse that lay on the path towards the town. The town itself was also famed for its wonderful mountaintop views – it lay right at the top of the monstrosity. Yes, wonderful views, but it was a killer for anyone who wished to visit the town, who had to walk many miles up the rocky mountain path to reach it.
Yet Hibiki had to walk it. She had been asked by her father to travel to Hokkaido to buy his medicinal herbs. Hibiki agreed, thinking of it as a repayment to her father for his good deeds to her that he had performed all his life. Her sword was one of them, and her blade arts another. Old Genzo Takane had been a master swordsman since the age of 18, trained in the Draw-Blade arts. Such arts are usually sealed away to women – according to her father, women were supposedly meant for cleaning, not fighting.
But Hibiki always felt a special connection to her father. She didn't know why he went against his feelings about women fighters, especially after vocalising them to her, but she knew that he genuinely cared for her, and was teaching her these things so she could protect herself. He had forced her to take her sword along with her, just in case she was attacked along the way to Hokkaido. It was a good idea, and Hibiki felt safer only by just hugging the wrapped sword to her chest. It felt light in her hands, but she knew how sharp it was, and how long her father had slaved over it to make sure it was perfect…
Hibiki knew her stance was incorrect. Her foot was angled wrong, the sword pointing in the wrong direction, in line with the metaphorical opponent instead of against. Her weight was fully on her back foot instead of being centred, and worst of all, her hand was tucked into her special fighting kimono rather than it resting upon the hilt of her sword. And yet she knew all of this, and the look on her father's face told her that he knew as well.
"No," he said. "No, Hibiki. Turn your blade to the side, so th-- ah, that's it. So it's wide against your opponent, yes. Shift your weight forward a bit. Move your foot… good."
Hibiki looked up at her fathers face. Genzo smiled down at her, gently held her wrist, pulled his 12-year old daughter's hand out of her clothing, and set it on the hilt of her sword.
"You know this is one of the most important points of Draw-Blade, Hibiki…"
"But father! It's cold out here!"
Genzo sighed, then turned away, and looked at the empty tree behind them. It was a blossom tree, and the pride of the Takane garden, but instead of being filled with the pretty pink petals it usually would have been, it was the maze of dark brown twigs and branches it always was during the wintertime. There were small patches of blossom on some twigs, and every so often, the wind would blow one or two of the petals away. Genzo lowered his head slightly at the tree – it had been planted years ago, when Hibiki was still a toddler, in memory of her mother who had passed away only a year after Hibiki was born.
"My girl… Draw-Blade is a defensive style. Your opponent must not read you and your movements, and you must wait for a mistake to be made on their behalf."
Hibiki had lost her stance by now. She had twisted her body to look at her father, and craned her neck up to watch his head and vigorously listen to his quiet voice.
He continued, "When that mistake is made, you must strike." He paused for a moment. "You must strike quickly and accurately. Putting your hand elsewhere other than your sword is most likely to get you killed more than anything else that you might do."
On that note, there was a flash of movement. A second afterwards, Genzo turned around, and leant down to his daughter's height. He put his closed fist out towards her and opened it out into a palm.
In it lay a single blossom petal.
"I don't want you to have any victims on your conscience, Hibiki… but I'd rather you did so instead of you yourself becoming a victim on someone else's conscience…"
Along the path, Hibiki smiled. It was an old memory, at least five or more years old, but to her, it was still as clear as the present day. It, too, was one of the reasons why she was travelling.
She hurried along the path.
It took about another half an hour for Hibiki to reach the Shimiji teahouse. She had turn reached a section of the path that turned sharply to her left and disappeared, and set in the massive dirt walls of the mountain was a dull, grey stone. Her face beamed as it dawned on her that this was the marker stone which signified where the town of Shimiji begun. Hibiki broke into a run - a run which had been building up alongside her anticipation of reaching the first of many markers during her journey to Hokkaido. Tucking her sword under her left arm, she swung her right to speed her along as much as possible, while keeping the smile on her young face. The stone passed her sight as a blur to her side, and the cloth in which the casing to the sword rippled and flapped angrily in the corner of her eye.
Hibiki spun around the corner, and witnessed the sight in front. The path curved upward slightly, leading to a brightly coloured tent in a shade of orange, which from her position seemed to be mounted for show. She couldn't help imagining a grand show of lights behind it, highlighting the tent as a Holy Grail. The famous teahouse of Shimiji!
At this, she smiled even wider.
Kaede lay back in the wooden chair, protected from the sun by the wide shade of the tent. He sighed and squinted at the Sapphire-blue sky above him. White fluffy clouds passed over his eyes, entering from the top of the teahouse, spending a minute or two slowly floating over him, and disappeared over the rough mountaintop upon which the town of Shimiji stood.
He sighed again, and frowned. Kaede was a wanderer, a lone soul. He enjoyed travelling, and he enjoyed swordplay. Indeed, he'd found some great opponents while he was out, before he'd stumbled across Shimiji during a tiring hike around the mountains.
Of course, they weren't great enough to beat me.
His frown disappeared, and a thin grin spread across his face. He just sat, his arms positioned behind his head, while sitting behind a rocky wooden table upon that lay only a single cup which had once held tea not two minutes ago, and his blade - long it extended over the end of said small square table.
Kaede didn't think he'd find anyone to fight here; Shimiji was a busy merchants town, a place for buying and selling goods, and usually not where warriors stayed. Most ignored it and passed it by due to a lack of interest in what the town held, but Kaede was tired and needed rest. It'd been two days since he first arrived, and just one more drink at the teahouse would settle hi—
He stopped thinking for a moment. His eyes had wandered down while doing so, and had been gazing over towards the people entering Shimiji from the path that lay before him. Speeding down that very same path now, he noticed was a young girl…
His eyes followed her as she ran closer, and veered off to step inside the tent. He watched, only his eyes moving, her move in and out of the ten or so tables that had been placed outside, and the odd chair here and there. But his eyes were not fixed on her body – instead they were fixed on her wrapped sword that she carried. True, it could've been a ceremonial sword, he said to himself, but Kaede looked at her clothes, and it gave her away instantly. She was a swordsm—no, swordswoman.
Kaede centred his own eyes, and looked at the cracked, rough rock wall two metres in front of him. Inbetween him and that rock, in the space of a minute, only five people walked by. Kaede felt some anger rising in him, similar to a pool of magma, preparing to spill out onto the earth.
He believed himself that women shouldn't fight – it was an insult to all he worked for over his 17 years, to have a woman equal, or worse, better him. Women had their uses… cleaning, bearing children, cooking, but to fight? It was a matter of honour, only for men.
He spun his head around, his face clearly angry now – a fact even he knew. Kaede searched the opening in the tent, but it was dark inside. No one could be seen, yet he knew that there were at least another eight or so people inside.
And that girl… waving her sword around in the open… in front of me. In front of all these people! What… insolence!
No, he would not let this go.
At last, Hibiki Takane could relax. She sat on her own little stool, with a tiny table in front of her at the very back of the teahouse. She had rested her sword on her lap, and held the tiny mug of strong tea in her hand.
To be honest with herself, it wasn't what she was expecting. The tea she was drinking was nice, yes, but it wasn't the best. And she'd certainly expected more than just a tent.
Oh well… at least she could just sit here and rest for a little while, and gain some of her robbed strength back.
Her legs felt like lead as she tried to stretch them. Her muscles groaned in pain and relief at the same time while she twisted her neck around a few times to loosen it out a bit. Finally, Hibiki let her head hang loose, and closed her eyes, sighing.
Then she looked up again, and standing at the entrance was the man from the front. Hibiki could tell that he was looking at her, but she didn't know why… she didn't want to give him a reason to be angry – he carried with him a large katana blade that he rested on his shoulder with a fist closed around the handle, and Hibiki didn't wish to give him any reason to use it. She averted her eyes, and at glanced her own sword, reassuring herself though she was not sure of what, exactly.
However, curiosity overcame her, and she looked up once more. This time she was looking straight at a white silk shirt instead of the tent scene that should've been there. She breathed in momentarily, and looked up at the man standing before her. It was the same man who had stared at her as she walked in, and he was staring at her once more, just down this time. His face looked…
Hibiki didn't dare to let fear take her over. The girl assessed the situation. She could just have easily run past him in another place, but the other tables, chairs and people in the teahouse prevented her from doing this. She couldn't fight him in a cramped place like this, either. People might be hurt…
She was unsure of what to do. She kept looking up at him, but noticed his hair. It was impossible not to notice it, for it was a sharp blonde that hung over his head in a messy fringe.
Hibiki hadn't seen blonde hair before, but she'd heard the stories of the gaijin – people from the Western continents. Yet this man was different… he had the looks of a Japanese, and wore a traditional Japanese silk shirt. No, she decided, he couldn't be a gaijin. Not to mention, only a Japanese person would wave a katana around like that…
She was about to speak, to ask him what he wanted, but before she had the chance, the man spoke.
"So, you think you can fight?"
Hibiki gripped her cup a little, however much she didn't want to, but as he spoke these words – words that could have easily be used as a joke – his face was rock solid.
There was no instant answer for Hibiki. This was the first time she'd ever been in a situation like this, and at once she realised that there was no way to prepare anyone for a mental confrontation such as the one she was facing now. The longer she left her answer, this man was becoming more and more agitated; she could tell.
Finally, the man broke in front of her. He whipped his hands around, carelessly flaring the katana around, even as his right hand was still closed around it, and gripped the side of the tiny low-quality wooden table and effortlessly threw it out of his way.
"Dammit, answer me!"
The man lifted his sword into the air, showing that he was about to strike, and yes, he was serious.
The women screamed, and the men shouted. All of them ran, hoping, praying, that the sharp blade would not reach any of them. Hibiki didn't think, but instead let her reactions do the work. Picking her sword up from her lap and simply dropping the cup of tea, she darted for his left – he used his sword with his right hand, and diving straight into the sword there would not be a smart choice to make. Her body curved around his, and she tried to quickly work out a path to get outside, to a place where she could fight him.
The girl worked herself around the table in front of her as fast as she could, not wasting time to move it, and reached another table. She looked to move either side, but in the customers' panic, the chairs they had been sitting on had been left out on both sides, blocking her way.
No, another way, quick—
Hibiki threw herself onto the table and tried to turn herself sideways in midair. As she did so, the man roared, and spun around. Hibiki rolled herself across the table for dear life, and saw the blade heading for her in a flickered, almost slow-motion way. The man spun his blade in the air, so it was pointing straight down at the earth, and the table.
As the blade reached where she had been a second ago, she heard a loud rip of fabric and a splitting of wood, and when Hibiki rolled off the edge, the bottom of her long kimono gave way, and she was left with a foot-long rip near her ankles. She didn't even turn back to see just what the vicious man was doing, but instead just ran. All of this had taken about six or seven seconds, but to Hibiki it seemed to be minutes.
She reached the tent entrance with no more problems, although there were still another four people struggling to get outside to safety, like herself, but couldn't all pass through the tiny tent opening. Hibiki had no time to wait. The situation seemed to give her a bizarre superhuman strength as she barged into the quartet, pushing them all out at once as the entrance to the tent ripped under the strain of all the people. Once she emerged into the fresh air, she noticed that she had pushed one man completely over. It was unlike her not to help, but in a situation where she was being chased by a person with a sword who intended to kill her, she had no choice but to run a bit further instead – down the slight dip.
Her gained speed during the brief sprint down forced her to almost skid to a halt, but she didn't have time to rest. Hibiki spun around to face the teahouse where her attacker would be appearing from any second now, and hastily unwrapped her sword. The string tie came away easily, and exposed the end of the light wood casing. She gripped it with her hand and whipped the rest of the fabric off, before hastily stuffing it into her side pocket.
Kaede walked out of the ruined tent and into the sunlight, and felt all the eyes of the town on him. The news had obviously reached there, and there were more people looking at him than who could've fit into the tent, and there were still several more people running down the path that led into the town – but upon scanning faces, the girl was not with them. He looked to his left, down the path that instead led away from Shimiji, and noticed the girl unwrapping her sword as fast as she could.
Grinning, he jogged towards her, and noticed the people who were once standing around her back away. She had just slipped the wrap into one of her pockets when she looked up at him with her pale face and wide eyes.
Kaede thought for a second that she might try running away instead of fighting, but the girl proved him wrong. She moved herself side-on to him, feet apart, one of her shoulders facing him. The sword was held behind her back, and being held lengthways across her hip, and the nearest arm to Kaede led the hand to hover over the wooden handle, which was of the same thickness and colour as the rest of the casing. With the sword holstered, it looked like a single large stick. The girl turned her head towards Kaede.
Who knows… this might be… fun.
Although five years had passed since Hibiki's father gave her the blossom-petal lecture, she still could not shake the feeling that she was… wrong.
It didn't matter now. If she was wrong then that was that and nothing would make the difference now. She would give herself a mental lecture about her stance after this.
Hibiki quickly assessed the man before something happened. She guessed that he might've been around the same age, but he was easily taller than her… that could be a problem. Trying to attack him at the chest would mean she'd have to aim higher than usual, or she might cut open the flesh of the mans stomach… and she didn't want to kill him.
She stood there, unmoving, waiting for him to make a move. Never attack first, her father had taught her. Use your opponents' mistakes to your advantage, and don't make any of your own.
Hibiki put her weight on her back foot, waiting for the man to attack her. He had obviously become bored with her doing nothing, and strained his hand around the handle of his sword. He let out a sudden, unexpected roar, and lunged forward, almost throwing his sword at Hibiki—
-- And she responded by briskly stepping to her right, out of the swords' range. Her hand which was previously just hovering over the handle, slammed down, and with a little grunt of effort, she drew it out as fast as she could, raised it up, and pushed the cold metal down against the mans' own blade. Hoping it was enough to delay him in attacking again, she brought the sword up, took a swipe at his chest--
-- But it wasn't. He moved backwards, and the tip of Hibiki's own blade missed him by mere inches. As he moved, he found himself free to move his own sword, and swung at Hibiki's abdomen. Like her own blade, it only just missed.
Damn! Sheathe it! Sheathe the sword! Her brain screamed. Expertly, Hibiki brought the sword to her back, and smoothly slid it into the casing, and resumed her stance. She quickly stole a glance behind her, and found herself staring at the ground, albeit five hundred feet down.
Oh God... the cliff. I've managed to move right to edge of the cliff…
Knowing she couldn't keep looking down for any longer and attempt to keep fighting, she looked back up at her attacker once again. His face was covered in a dark sneer, a dark happiness at what he had done. The sword hung, slightly loosely, at his side, and his body was stanceless – he just stood there, grinning. Sneering.
Without a hint of warning, the man brought his sword up, and slashed at Hibiki's left side. It was meant to have been easily seen, but frozen in fear, Hibiki could do nothing except use her sword to protect herself, She swung the whole thing around – case and all – and held it against her side.
A loud, hollow-sounding dok, and the sword she was holding jarred, and sent the shock of a painful impact right through her bones via her hands. She wasn't ready, and stumbled to her right when she was stopped all of a sudden by a heavy object.
Leaning against it for support, Hibiki braced herself this time, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth.
Silently, she hoped he would stop soon. Her arms were getting tired, and she knew that shouldn't keep this up for long. Opening up her eyes, she looked at him, and watched the man cross his sword-hand across his chest, and sword gleaming in the light from the other side of his body.
No, he's going for my right—
Reflexively, she swung the whole sword back over to the other side. Sweat dripped off her brow, and she noticed the individual beads shake off as she twisted her body in an effort to meet the blade head-on.
There was a solid clunk when wood met metal, and the mans' blade was pushed away as it met another oncoming object. His arms flailed about, leaving his chest wide open. Hibiki gripped the handle of her sword, ripped it out of the still-travelling sheath, and drew it across the chest in front of her. A splurt of blood shot out of him, and landed on her kimono.
He stumbled away, taken back by the blow that was dealt against him. Still he swung, and the blade sliced against the young girls' chest which had been left open by her strike against her opponent.
A feeling of dread quickly filled Hibiki, followed by sharp pain. Her arms wouldn't move, and she could only feel the blood rushing in to fill the thin cut, and feel the blood draining from elsewhere. Finally finding the strength to move, she ran forward a little while the man took more steps backwards.
Putting the sword back into its case, Hibiki slammed the end into the ground and leant on it for support with one of her hand. With the other she grabbed her kimono and looked down at her bare chest to see what damage had been done – it was light. Hibiki sighed in relief to see a long, otherwise shallow cut along the length of her chest. She would live from that, but whether she would live from the rest of this fight would remain to be seen. Once more, she looked up from the ground at her opponent.
The man was now bent over slightly while staring at the earth, holding a hand across his chest to stop the bleeding. It made Hibiki feel better to know that she'd done more damage to him than he'd done to her. He looked up with his sword still in hand. He stared at Hibiki again, with his teeth pulled back into a snarl, and blood that had run into his golden hair dripping down onto his forehead. Breathing heavily, he made an effort to stand up on his own two feet.
"You…." He tried to get words out of his mouth. Hibiki rested on her sword and waited to hear his smooth voice, eager to hear exactly what he had to say.
The man took some steps forward, and with a loud yell of both pain and effort, using his right arm, he quite literally threw the sword at Hibiki. It screamed through the air, cutting its way towards the young girl—
-- It found a target. Hibiki didn't have time to react as the blade skimmed over her left arm, taking off part of the sleeve of her kimono, slicing off skin like one would cut ham and taking the top off of her muscle. Landing elsewhere behind her, the pain was sudden and agonising and Hibiki couldn't help but scream.
She felt drained. Holding onto her sword as a support, she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth in an effort to mentally block all hurt, all pain out. All at once, she tensed up and felt her cushioned visions of the world snapped by harsh reality. She opened her eyes and saw her sight was smashed, like a mirror. Forgetting everything else and experiencing nothing but constant pain here, there and everywhere, she screamed at the top of her lungs once more, and ran at the man ahead, her sword in hand, still in its casing.
The rocks to her side were blurred. The ground blurred with speed, and the people watching in shock and horror blurred and melded into one. The only thing that stayed as it was, in Hibiki's sight, was her target in front.
As she neared him, her hand casually drifted to the handle of the sword. When near enough, she ripped the sword out with all of her strength and slashed at him just before she passed the man, and he was out of her vision. There was no resistance, or at least, she didn't feel any. Like a machine, the sword was instantly put back into the casing as soon as it wasn't needed anymore.
And suddenly, her sight returned to her. Hibiki skidded on the ground, and came to a halt. Her breathing rate had increased, and she felt the blood pumping through her body at an alarming speed. Twisting her body around, she looked at the man, who was still standing there.
Hibiki's fear of her killing him almost evaporated. She thought, maybe, she had missed. This was short-lived as a smooth red line appeared from his right shoulder right down to his left hips, Hibiki's eyes widened, and she felt the her blood drain from her face.
No matter how much she willed it not to happen, a wave of the man's blood came flowing out from the line, and spilled on the floor. Right then and there, in front of Hibiki, he fell, cleanly split into two halves, one bigger than the other.
For a short while, Hibiki couldn't do anything except stand there. Many emotions hit her at once – relief, fear, remorse, grief… however, remorse and grief won out.
Tears formed in her eyes, and the young girl fell to the ground on her hands and knees. The onlookers said and did nothing but look at her as one might look at a lion who had just finished ripping open a deer. Hibiki's tears were waterfalls, crashing to the earth. She choked, and tried to say something. Anything – but she couldn't.
She looked up once more at the man who had challenged her, and who was now nothing more than a bloodied heap on the floor. His blood had formed a puddle around him, but Hibiki couldn't look at him that way. Her tears stained her eyes, and he didn't look like a person anymore.
A victim on her conscience.