The Shadow threw the dagger at the panel that was above the counter and responsible for lighting behind it and slipped into the shadow stream before it even hit.
As fast as she could, Ayane darted towards the counter, seeing many shadow springs flicker in and out of existence along with the withering out of the light source.
The Shadow emerged from under the counter, clearly seeing legs vaulting over it. She grabbed them, bringing a foot to immediately step against the counter for support.
With a yell, Ayane heaved and flipped him over her and onto the rack of glass bottles behind her, hitting some herself.
She lost track of them both among the tumultuous sounds of glass shattering all over them.
Drenched in alcoholic drinks, Ayane felt something kicking her on the sides.
“You stupid girl!”
His full weight came upon her, but before he could get a grasp of her neck, she thrust at his face and pushed against one of his arm’s elbows, his right, making it impossible for him to grapple properly.
Ayane kneed him and tried to wrest control of him but he sunk a fist deep into her belly, knocking the wind out of her.
Even if she was at such a disadvantage, fighting up close like that against someone stronger and heavier, that she was already fighting for her life, it was still her best bet beating him.
Talentless at using the dark arts, he had instead dedicated himself fully to martial arts. The Head of Mists was notoriously the best in the clan, and that was without the optical illusions helping him out. It was why he had been given the job.
Ayane locked around his neck and pulled it to try and strangle him with her shoulder, but he managed to put his face in there instead and then pressed hard between her ribs to weaken her hold.
Argh, he knows grappling as well.
She used the two seconds of strength she had in her to reposition her right foot on his hip and then let go, all of sudden, to direct that strength into a very strong push with her leg. He hit the counter violently while she drew a dagger, her last one, but he rebounded off the hit to kick it out of her hand.
The Shadow rolled to the side but was intercepted with a kick that made her flinch and halt the tumble.
She blocked two kicks with interlocked hands and then leaned out of a punch that he dropped with his entire weight, unsuccessfully. It hit her hard, but she was still able to position her arms to grab his punching one.
Not using sight at all, the Shadow lashed out with her legs to trip him while pulling on his arm.
He crashed on the ground and was kept from tumbling by her holding and pulling his arm while rolling her body on top of him.
The Head of Mists groaned loudly in pain and frustration.
Alas, they were right next to one of the bodies, and it kept the Shadow from getting the Head of Mists into a decent position. Smelling blood, she felt something hard hit her head.
Fully conscious of what she was fighting for, Ayane kept herself awake by yelling out in challenge, using all the force she could muster to throw him over herself at the counter again.
She made it halfway to a decent crouch before getting tackled again, all without recovering any kind of decent eyesight. Fighting blind, her head still reeling from the pain, she reacted to grapple attempts while feeling around for something she could use.
She tried to open her eyes but nothing made sense. Ayane realized she should probably be knocked out from the blow before, but wasn’t out of sheer stubbornness. Getting out of an arm lock, she reached inside her pouch and took out a smoke bomb, and slapped him with it.
It worked like a strong punch that hurt her hand as much as it did him.
She crawled away.
It was clear then that she didn’t have enough of a mastery of grappling to compensate for his weight advantage. Ayane would have to risk normal hand to hand, so she struggled to keep her eyes open and to recover some sense of space, even as she felt a human body under her hand.
“You would doom everyone for the sake of revenge,” a judgmental and angry voice came at her, revealing the location of the Head of Mists. “You evil little girl!”
She crawled over the body, the smell and taste of blood filling her senses that were already overwhelmed with the alarms being sent by her muscles and, of course, the head itself.
Ayane coughed and then heard and sensed the rush of movement heading towards her.
She flipped, even without seeing, and raised her foot to intercept the inevitable lunge. The surface of his body fell upon it, but her legs were pushed open to allow for the body to interlock with hers.
The Shadow lifted her hand to cover her eyes and felt it immediately struck by fingers, and following that, her neck was grabbed. She hugged him with her legs and straightened her back fully so that he could not reach her neck properly. It gave her a couple of seconds of respite, but he roared in despair and pushed against her strength, overpowering her so brusquely that grabbing her neck again made her whip back and hit the floor with the back of her head.
They both knew it was over then, by how she grunted in defeat.
“It is sad, but I will kill you,” he announced, in-between grunts of effort and pain, in a voice that was no longer placid, but rather hurt and struggling. “Then I will take care of Falk and-ugh- go back to lead the survivors.”
Her temper flared, reawakening the possibility that it wasn’t over.
The Shadow’s vision returned. It was the only hope she had, her mind seemed to tell, and so even if flickering and blurry, it returned. They were still in the smoke, and she was running out of breath fast.
“We could do it together,” he continued, amidst the struggling, “we could.”
He was whispering. The Head of Mists had his head right next to hers to keep her from having a good angle to hit him with.
She knew the choke hold she was on, there was no way she was getting out. She was going to pass out, and then he would kill her.
Adrenalin pumping for dear life, her brain informed her of some movement caught by her peripheral vision. She turned her head as much as she could and caught sight of what it was.
A third soldier was lying face up, holding one hand over a neck that was bleeding. Gargling and suffering through silent grunts, hidden by hers and the Head of Mists gasping.
He was looking back at her and reaching out, with a knife in hand. The Head of Mists would not spot him, his view of him was blocked by her head.
Ayane couldn’t help herself from moaning with effort as she tried to reach for the soldier.
Maybe the Head of Mists would realize she was trying for something other than just flailing about, but what else did she have? She focused on that one hope and reached out, with all the strength in her.
The Head of Mists whispered further.
“But you had to…be good…”
Ayane just moaned in effort.
The soldier, eyes open wide and gravely, looked down to see her fingertips barely touching the cable of the knife, which he was holding by the blade. Ayane felt her head on fire as if it was about to burst. She was on the verge of passing out.
The Soldier’s eyes looked right in hers in recognition–he could tell–. His look turned downtrodden, accepting something as mental preparation, and then he turned around to reach further.
Blood gushed out of woman soldier’s neck now that it had gravity working against it, but the cable came into Ayane’s reach.
With a grunt that was as triumphant as it was desperate, the Shadow brought the knife around and, without hesitation, sunk it into the side of her would-be killer.
The Head of Mists yelled in pain.
He pulled his head back in an instant of confusion. Ayane twisted the knife while growling at fate, at the notion that she was to die at the hands of that despicable traitor. She pushed free of his weakened hold to head-butt him. It hurt her as well, but she removed the knife and allowed for his body to quickly lose most of its capacity to produce force, at roughly the same speed as it bled out.
The Head of Mists brought a hand over the wound, whimpering in a long moment of painful disbelief.
Ayane wasn’t taking chances, a wounded man could still kill her, especially him in that situation. She punched him in-between the eyes and then flipped her body with her remaining strength to elbow him off of her.
The Head of Mists begrudgingly and sadly complied.
Weaving, short of breath and hurt, Ayane pushed herself to turn and get on top of him, placing the knife on his neck.
His mask was stained over his mouth, and it twisted as he frowned away from her gaze. She considered removing the mask, he gave her a moment to do it, but she didn’t.
“You…” he coughed blood to the side, further staining the mask, and did not look back up again at her. “You think you have won…but you gain nothing with this. You only lose.”
The Shadow moaned in pain and lifted her head high, looking down at him with eyes that were still trying to focus, even if he would never be able to tell through the lenses.
That had been her choice.
If indeed they lost too much because of it, then they would just have to accept it and move on. If she had indeed doomed all to die because she did not take his assistance.
“Better to lose everything,” Ayane said, in a weakened but firm tone, “than to gain nothing but misery.”
The Head of Mists coughed again, beginning to bleed out his mouth. He very subtly shook his head, his facial expression impossible to tell under his mask. His voice up again, accusingly.
“Misery that… is but yours. Any of them–those lost because of my actions…they would have done the same.”
“It is too bad that they are dead then, and I am here instead.”
His mask shuffled as his face opened in realization. After three seconds of feeling a frail body without an ounce of fight in it, Ayane felt she could remove the knife.
Doing so, she sat up to the sound, feeling her body sore and hurt from the near-death experience.
The Head of Mists had been rendered speechless. At last. If she had to hear one more thing out of that mouth, she would probably stab it as well.
Breathing loudly, with the smoke dissipating around her, the Shadow stood up. He didn’t even have his hand over the wound anymore, allowing it to bleed out like a small fountain, and was still with his head to the side, to avoid the sight of her.
As her nervous system got things more and more under control, her senses became clearer. There were glass shards sticking out of his bandages at several places, bloodied. There were glass shards on her too, she could feel them.
Time was short. The Shadow did not feel at ease to nurse herself properly, but she had to remove the shards, so she started on that. She also pulled her mouth mask down so she could spit the blood that was in there.
Another tooth came out. She felt around, finding it was another one at the back, on the left. She wasn’t nearly as bothered by that loss as she had been by the other one since this one hadn’t happened due to her being stupid and stubborn and was in no way connected to her getting a lot of people hurt and killed.
That one was connected to justice being dealt.
That’s what it was to her. The Head of Mists was one of the Kagekawa and was responsible for an inordinately high amount of death. If he had had his way, he would have been the last human left standing.
Ayane had spent the better part of the past week feeling like some kind of alien. No hate for the Beasts and endless feelings of pity and compassion for people she didn’t even know, even for her enemies. However, looking upon the defeated, dying, broken visage of that horrible man, she knew she was normal.
Ayane wasn’t under some kind of affliction, not when she could still abhor someone to such a degree.
She felt no desire to save him. No desire to see him survive the mortal wound she had inflicted in self-defense, and it did not feel like self-defense at all. She did not even want to him die in peace. Ayane took out the last of the shard and threw it at him in spite.
The Head of Mists shivered, still alive.
“The stand we made at Magni could have very well happened at Kagekawa,” Ayane started, accusingly. “Zaniyah would have been spared so much pain, and almost dying. Hugo could still have his legs. Eliza could still be alive. The Don could still be alive.”
She took a breath and looked down and around at the dead soldiers, pausing for impact. Then she looked back at him, renewing her will to let him know.
“Many of the Beasts are against this war, did you know that? Would it matter? Maybe we could have split the land instead of being forced to surrender it all if we had found out about that before they had already–” the building shook.
It interrupted her but also made her realize she was rambling. She couldn’t do that, she had no time. At the same time, though, Ayane felt the need to make him understand the kind of man he really was.
“We could have done so much more if not for your…exceptional skill.”
The Head of Mists gave no response, but that didn’t dissuade her from finishing her thought.
“You are a despicable coward, Head of Mists, and you deserve much worse than what I leave you with.”
His body trembled in disagreement.
“I,” he managed to yell.
Her temper flared, her grasp on the knife squeezing murderously, but something held her back. He was already dying, she just didn’t want him at peace.
She suddenly felt above soiling her hands further on punishing him. Spending more time on him. He was not worth any of that. His voice only steeled that resolve, so her hold relaxed, and she nodded at herself, unseen to him, as he spoke.
“I am not afraid of dying,” he said, defensively. “I just did not want it.”
The Shadow pulled her mask over her mouth again.
“No one cares,” Ayane told him, as she vaulted over the counter. She walked away, making sure not to do it silently. She was disregarding him. Discarding him. That was what he deserved, for who he was and what he had done.
“I wonder if the same can be said of those that have passed away because of you.”
Ayane spared a glance to catch sight of the soldier that had died to pass her the knife and saw him half-turned to face the ground, a puddle of blood still growing beneath his face.
Swallowing regret and trying not to choke on her anger, the Shadow marched towards the stairs leading up.
Enough time had been wasted, far enough. It was time to face the Mad Genius, it was time to bring an end to the worst days mankind had ever experienced.
And fight so that they are not the last.
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