Chapter 62:

The beautiful flowers soaring into the sky, swirling up higher.

Higher.

Time treads on and my breath halts. Slower.

Slower.

Aya cocked her head to the side and raised a palm up to the sky.

Blood trickled down onto her face from her hand. Red liquid oozed down her arms. She choked, gripping her side, that was flooded with crimson blood up to her chest.

She heaved, red hair falling out of her ponytail, her eyes growing fuzzier as the bright light of the sky started to blur and disappear. Aya pushed herself upright against the tree and breathed hard.

Her chest rose and fell.

Her apron had been torn off her body, discarded down the hill and she saw the material fly up into the air. Half her body was covered in open wounds, her dress fell off her shoulder on one side.

A rustling by her side alerted her to the presence of someone else. Aya's head lolled to the side, barely any life left in the movement.

"Who's there?" she breathed, her voice fading with fatigue and aching. Her eyes narrowed marginally, but her mouth remained open, attempting to suck in as much oxygen as possible to her tired muscles and a heart she knew was failing.

A small boy, lanky but still full of potential stumbled towards her clumsily. He fell onto his knees after he cleared the tiny hedge, his clothes torn off him and scratches visible all over his exposed skin. He had matching red hair to the woman who leaned against the tree, but his eyes as he raised them, showed no will to live.

Their eyes met as recognition hit Aya in her daze.

"Ren…" she whispered.

Her son's eyes swam, he searched her face with penetrating indigo eyes.

She extended her arms, half-expecting him to fall into them. Her eyes blurred again whilst her skin flushed.

Ren took a step back, just as Aya read his facial expression and lowered her arms accordingly.

"It's not your fault—" she started. She stopped when Ren fell to his knees.

"Who did this to you…mom…" Aya hesitated. "MOM!" he leaped towards her and gripped her shirt collar. "WHO DID THIS TO YOU? I-I…I'll kill them…" he sobbed.

"The story of how Aya-sensei died is a touching one," Miya stated. She tightened her grip on the pole, fearing that if she didn't, she might just fall under the weight of the match unfolding before her. Wind thundered past her cheeks with alarming speed. Papers that had been left lying anywhere suddenly rose into the sky, dancing in lines parallel to the ground. "I don't think Ren was ever able to forgive himself or Akira for it…If he had known…I don't think he would have allowed himself the luxury of losing to Akira. If he had known he was fighting for a little something more than just my freedom, well," a wry smile spread across her face. "I don't think…no, let's say I'm absolutely positive he would have won."

Akira got up easily.

"Don't hold back on me!" he shouted across the square. Ren wiped his mouth, still remaining on the ground, his eyes still as violent as ever. "Show me how angry you REALLY are! If I have to die today, that's the price I'm willing to pay! Give me the battle I've always desired!"

Miya shook her head. "Akira never seemed to understand that Ren was different from us—me and him. Ren had people who loved him and no reason to fight…we were the ones reeking of the stench of solitary souls, forever cursed to hate this world we lived in. But perhaps he did understand it," she tilted her head, "in his own warped way, that is. The only way Ren would even consider us is if we were, literally, the last people on the planet that cared for him…so with that sort of logic, he killed the person he thought was closest to Ren."

Midori kept her eyes focused on Ren, her arms folded—perhaps against the cold—whilst she followed his movement across the grounds.

"Why did he choose me?" she queried lightly. Midori's eyes looked over at Miya in apprehension. "If you were so important in his past, why not choose you?"

"…"

Miya stopped, unsure of how to respond.

She glared at Midori for a little while before her countenance cleared.

"Weeelll…" she turned away from the silver haired girl in a maid costume and placed her hand by her side. "My orders really could be interpreted as bringing Akira in dead or alive," she smiled ruefully, lifting her knuckle to her lips. "But on the other hand, I suppose if I he did choose me, I'm not sure who I'd choose. Even though my brother has put us through all this pain, I don't think I'd ever have the strength to go against his will…nor would I ever raise a hand against Ren…so," she laughed. "I'd be stuck, wouldn't I?"

Something caught Midori's attention in Miya's face. It was something she had come across once, on Ren's face…but she couldn't quite place it.

"Oh," Miya blinked. "Take a look at that. They really are fierce competitors…can you believe they even sunk a ship?"

Midori turned.

She widened her eyes in shock. She sprinted over to the edge of the balcony and leaned her weight over, trying to get a good look at what could have possibly gone wrong in those few moments she had looked away.

"Wha—?"

The area that was once a square had become a giant hole in the centre of the city. The windows of the buildings around had been broken and the shutters had caved in under some unknown weight that seemed to still be present in the air.

Midori felt something grow heavier in her heart.

"It l-looks like an earthquake hit this place!" Midori's shock was evident on her disbelieving face.

"He's getting serious," Miya murmured, her tone implying a slight desperation.

"PUT ME DOWN!" Honoka struggled, her face a clear testament to how incredibly incensed she was. She beat his back and the crown of his head with her fists and her legs wriggled in protest.

"Calm down or you'll fall over."

"First put me down! I can walk by myself!" Honoka insisted. "I'm still angry with you!"

Natsu Tanimoto looked to the side, seemingly ignoring her.

"URGHH!" she growled.

In a moment of utter desperation, Honoka bent down and bit Natsu Tanimoto's neck.

Honoka received the right response this time. Natsu let go of her legs in a second to pry her teeth out of his neck.

"OW! Dammit what is WRONG with you?!" he yelled, but the more he shoved, the deeper her teeth went. "You're going to bite into a vessel you idiot!"

The wrestling went on for a little longer than a while as Natsu tried to get Honoka off his back.

"Take your punishment!" she snarled, throwing her arms around his neck. "Ultimate Little Sister Move!" Honoka announced.

"Break it up you two," a voice intoned.

"..."

Honoka looked up.

She tilted her head in confusion. "Akisame-sensei? And…" there was a rustling in the bushes as another person came out from behind the thicket of green growth surrounding them. It was her male counterpart, and with a hint of underlying annoyance, Honoka made a face. "Oniichan."

"What was with that tone?!" Kenichi Shirahama waved his well-defined arms around him angrily.

"Well, anyway," Akisame continued, ignoring the heart broken look on Kenichi's face. "Since you've woken up, I suppose you should know where we are…you see, we are on the other side of the island," he indicated the jungle environment around him. "Because, as the case seems, your condition was not as bad as we first assumed. However, I was unable to complete the treatment of your leg, which would explain Hermit carrying you—"

But not why he's here, Honoka thought jadedly.

"—but I happen to know a man on the remote parts of the island who might be able to help us. He's an old friend of mine."

"Question," Honoka raised a hand.

"Yes, Honoka?"

"Why are these two here?" she pointed accusingly at Kenichi and Natsu.

"No need to be so rude!" Kenichi yelled.

"Watch it, shrimp!"

"Ah, of course," Akisame stroked his chin. "Good question. I was able to convince Hermit to come along—" for some unknown reason, Natsu's eyebrow twitched. "—and Kenichi's been following us."

"I was worried about my little sister," he laughed, scratching his head uneasily. "I thought he might be taking you out here for training in the middle of the night."

"How cruel do you think I am?" the Jujitsu master took a few steps forward before looking over his shoulder.

Kenichi sweat dropped.

"I'd never make Honoka train after training hours," he walked on.

A silence was shared to admire the sounds of nature and the rabbit running across the screen.

Your reason isn't what one would expect under the circumstances, Akisame-sensei… Honoka bowed her head in disappointment. What you're basically saying is that my broken leg doesn't even pose a problem to you.

Midori was unsure if she had ever seen anything like this before in her lifetime.

Wind was blowing everywhere and the sky was clouding up and she was in the midst of a tropical storm.

Yet, the sky was the last thing she could even manage to tear her gaze away for.

Ren's aura had turned a frightening dark black colour as he approached Akira, who was barely standing, and whose aura was barely visible in comparison.

Akira attempted to surge forward and punch Ren, but before his fist had even reached an inch of Ren's body, his opponent gripped his wrist and lifted it up above his head.

Akira gritted his teeth and lunged his other fist behind him and forwards suddenly.

At the same time, Ren mirrored his movement, and with astounding speed, his punch landed first in Akira's stomach, sending him back in a wave of ki. But before he had fallen back far, Ren moved in and turned on the spot, raising his leg that hit Akira's gut and part of his rib.

There was a terrible sound of Akira's gasp, throaty with blood coming out of his mouth.

Ren repeated the action with his other leg and Akira finally gained enough speed to zoom back towards a building.

Akira hit a wall and tumbled down to the ground in a heap afterwards.

Miya whistled.

Ren cleaned his fist of the spit and blood Akira's face had drenched it in as he took a few steps towards him.

Akira got up onto his rear and leaned against the concrete wall that was rippled with cracks. He wiped his mouth silently.

"That's the look," he murmured. "That's the look I've wanted to see for so long…" he smiled, widening his arms tiredly. They shook under the weight of fatigue. "Kill me, Ren…kill me and join me."

Ren loomed over him, a disgusted look on his face.

He raised a foot and stomped Akira's face.

"What a boring turn of events," Miya folded her arms. "Akira never even stood a chance when Ren was serious," she flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Disappointing," she gazed intently up at the sky as a raindrop hit the ground.

And then another.

Until a torrent of rain was pouring down from the sky.

"What will you do?" Miya queried loudly, placing her hands on her hips and turning to Midori. "Are you backing down?"

Midori narrowed her eyes for silence.

Akira screamed in pain as Ren lifted his foot one more time and thrust it squarely into his chest. Blood spurted out of his mouth and some of his wounds.

"Are you still insisting he doesn't have the guts to do it?" Miya speculated. "Or are you waiting for some sort of miracle to stop the fight…? Like Ma Kensei for example? Both of you are hopeful that in the last second he will hesitate," Miya pointed up to the Chinese Kenpo master who had his hands behind his back steadily, his eyes hidden behind his bowler hat. "Unrealistic hope like that will only get a man killed today."

Akira sagged against the wall and fell sideways.

Ren took another step forward.

"Kil-killing me…will be the only way to enter the Path of Asura," Akira's arms trembled. "B-but, I can't let you do it this—" Akira lifted his foot and it seemed to go through Ren's chest as the amount of ki could be seen from Ren's back as he stumbled back, "EASILY!"

"I don't see it," Midori whispered.

Miya smiled.

"That's right," she murmured. "You used to be a fighter of that path. The Path of Asura that is…I remember, you were on the wanted list for quite a while. I suppose you mean you don't see the look of a killer in his eyes yet," Miya laughed. "Or are you just stalling?"

Midori's fist tightened.