A/N: Don't expect this story to be updated for a while...probably not until I've got all of it written (then I'll upload thew whole thing). Enjoy, and review if you are so inclined.


Prologue

He who Runs, He who Fights, She who Watches the Sky

And They who Scream

X-X

Z-Day-9:35 A.M.

X-X


Ken


"Are we going to be forever, Ken?"

That voice, so soft, yet so evil, the sound that plagued his nightmares. So pure, so tainted by his own taste on her mouth. Despite his better judgment he had shared his sin with her. So innocent, so slow, their first love. They'd often said it'd be their last. City lights polluted the night sky like everywhere else remotely urban in America. Even miles away from the city as they were, the lights of society still pursued. Yet the stars still shone, their furnaces of destruction so far away.

They were closer than they thought.

"Of course," he responded, sealing their demise with a kiss.

The longer they lay there, in each other's arms, the more oblivious they became to the world around them. Duress, Ohio could wait. Hell, the whole world could wait. But the two could feel it deep inside themselves, a sadness without a source, so pronounced, it felt like a wound. They would sidle closer to each other, and pretend all was fine, but the closer they got to each other, the more the pain intensified. It was that night they both knew, though neither would voice it.

The world was going to change, and it wasn't going to wait for them.

"KEN!"

She turned her head to face him. Her once flawless skin was now an earthen pewter, carelessly glazed with sickening shades of red. Her long blonde hair was matted with the lives of countless men. Her eyes were the same as they were in life; the cracked blue porcelain that men saw in the deepest and blackest depths of hell, eyes that were forged in heaven then cast out.

And then he wasn't holding her on the grassy hills outside the city; he was stumbling back into concrete, something cold replacing her in his hands.

He raised his gun, his hands trembling. The metal was sticky with blood. So much blood.

Two shots rang out.

The shells tinkled as they hit the ground, the sounding tearing into his ears with finality.

So much blood.


Kenneth Pyrrhos's head snapped up from its previous position of lolling backwards. Even though he should've been used to the nightmares by now, they still seemed so real. He could still hear her scream if he listened hard enough. He could still fell that numbness in his chest where she used to reside. This one had been particularly vivid and the first one quite like it he'd had in months.

I love you, Ken.

His hands immediately grabbed onto the edge of his deck so hard, his knuckles had turned a stark white and the veins of his hand stood out in even sharper relief. His world shook briefly, and his grip on the desk tightened. His sage green eyes were wide. However even as they relaxed along with his body, his irises still held a dangerous edge to them, like jade that'd been dropped one too many times; nothing could make the pieces whole again.

His normally lightly tanned skin was pale, and tiny beads of sweat rolled down his face. A splintering sound brought his attention down to his desk. His grip on the wood had left cracks in the side. He really shouldn't have been surprised; he'd been doing strength and combat training from a young age. Tentatively, as if the desk would strike back if he moved to fast, he released his iron grip. He blinked, and tried to stop his racing heart.

Slowly, he ran a hand through his long, messy dark, blood red hair. With two deep breaths he regained himself and looked around. He noticed the sakura trees were in bloom, and their pink petals dominated the view out the window. He then turned his attention to the classroom.

Everyone was paying attention to the teacher as they should be. She was, as far as Ken could tell, having been asleep for most of the lesson, teaching the class about the Second World War. No one seemed to be fazed by the magnitude of death and destruction the war had caused. He guessed it just seemed so far away to them- it wasn't exactly very prevalent for him, either, but he was no stranger to death and destruction.

Like most, he'd gone through a phase where his classmates would've disgusted him; he would've easily strangled the girl in the front row who had the nerve to doodle as the teacher described the aftermath of Nagasaki. He further calmed himself, and pushed all his thoughts aside.

He was beyond that now. He was safe, he was all right.

Now, with a practiced, if not forced, cool, he took another look around. He noted without surprise that two seats weren't occupied. It seemed like Michelle and Dimitri came to class even less than he did. However, other than those two, none were looking at him. His distress, it seemed, had disrupted none of his fellow students in the classroom.

Except one.

"And the U.S. sent their red stars, the two atom bombs..."

Three rows ahead of him, and one seat to the right, a pair of amber eyes were fixing him with a look of interest; the same amber that caught the dragonfly in its depths, an amber that often trapped Ken in its light. They belonged to an attractive looking girl, with long, well formed legs, a slender build and generous proportions.

The girl tucked a strand of her auburn hair behind her ear, and looked pointedly at his desk. Ken looked down, and found a folded piece of paper perched haphazardly on the edge of his desk. It teetered back and forth, balancing on a razor's edge between nihility and meaning. He looked back up at her with confusion, and she favored him with a coy grin, and then turned back around. With cocked eyebrows, Ken plucked the note up and read its message, written in stylistic, narrow lettering:

I don't know how school works in America, but here you shouldn't sleep in class. Besides, most girls don't find snoring and drooling very attractive.

-Rei

Ken exhaled a brief noise of amusement. Of the few people he'd befriended since he'd come to Japan, Rei Miyamoto was by far his favorite.

She'd been the first one brave enough to talk to Ken and his friends a month ago when they relocated. Apparently, they'd been the object of much speculation. A young Ex-Navy Seal, and his three adoptive children, who were just 7 years younger than him, moving from a country that was putting out nothing but silence on the radios. Some said they were really part of an American plan to eliminate the Japanese government. It was almost believable, as no nation across the world had had any correspondence with the United States for over a year. It was a widely held rumor that their government had simply fallen apart, and that they were the dangerous criminals who'd caused it. The rumors only got more fantastic from there.

She'd completely disregarded every one of them.


Ken shaded his eyes against the sun. Though he'd often deny it, he enjoyed the warm weather of Japan. He was lying on his back on a relatively low branch of a sakura tree. That is, if one considered 15 feet off the ground relatively low. He had one leg bent at the knee, an arm folded behind his head, and stayed balanced from years and years of experience of climbing trees.

He was in his Fujumi Academy uniform; black and red sneakers, a pair of black pants, a navy blue t-shirt and a black collared jacket with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. In his right hand he held his phone, a sleek, black high-end model, equipped with a touch screen and built in speakers. Said speakers were playing music just loud enough for him to hear. Violins blended seamlessly with modern rock guitars to deliver an uplifting melody.

As the song lapsed into its first refrain, Ken couldn't help but hum along. A preference for American Rock was one of the only things he'd brought with him overseas. He swiped through his playlist impatiently, not listening to one song for more than a minute. When he finally settled on a song he let his attention drift to his surroundings, but not onto any one thing.

He felt the gentle caress of a slow, swelling wave of heat, combated by an easy breeze that rolled through the tree. His vision was tainted by the pink shadows the sakura blossoms cast. Their faint scent stole into Ken's reluctant nose, but its appreciation was equally faint in the young man's mind. Classes had yet to start, and people were milling about the courtyard, talking about what they'd done over the summer and various pointless topics.

No one strayed within ten feet of him or the tree.

Ken didn't crave attention or friendship from anyone, but Fujumi Academy's students' fear of him and his friends was beginning to annoy him. He'd noticed their whispering when they thought he couldn't hear, their avoiding him, their scared silence when he asked for directions, their trepidation at merely being in the same room as him. Ammon had advised him simply to ignore them. So that he did.

Ken didn't try to remedy the situation, nor did Micah or Dimitri. Maybe it was for the best they didn't make any ties. Ken yawned and stretched, receiving a feline contentment from doing so. He heard a commotion across the yard, but disregarded it. A beam of sunlight managed to pierce the pink petals of the sakura blossoms, and Ken lazily raised a hand to block the light.

"Hey! You up there!"

Ken blinked the sun out of his eyes, and rolled over to see the speaker. His movement dislodged a single sakura petal. The speaker was a girl. She had long auburn hair, pulled back into a pony tail that had two strands that stuck up. Her eyes were a kind, if not mischievous, amber, with long dark lashes shading them. He faintly noticed her friends were a few yards behind her, looking at her with panic stricken faces. Both Ken's and the girl's eyes followed the path of the pink petal. It fluttered down to earth slowly, gravity doing its best to accelerate the sakura blossom's descent.

It wouldn't make it.

The girl raised a small hand and caught it in her open palm. She gently closed her fingers around it.

The second the petal touched her skin, Ken felt like a spell had been lifted, and tore his attention away from it. He looked at her with a mixture of reverence and curiosity. Reverence because she'd talked to him despite the obvious objection of her friends. Curiosity because she'd managed to make him interested in what she had to say.

"If you need any help getting settled in I can help. I'm Rei Miyamoto. What's your name?" she said, throwing him a bright grin.

Ken simply looked at her, his face impassive. He tucked his phone away into his pants pocket. Then, much to her surprise, he rolled off the tree branch. Ken spun agilely in midair, and landed easily, his legs bending to cushion the impact. He landed a mere foot away from the Miyamoto girl, and met her eyes briefly as he stood to his full height.

She had to look up to maintain eye contact.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and his look of vague interest and similarly vague amusement changed fluidly to a blank one. The look was so brief, the girl wasn't quite sure she'd seen it. He then turned lazily and slinked off towards his dorm, his movements all easy and of a muscular grace hard to achieve. The girl looked at him with amazement, which turned into quickly turned to indignation.

"Hey!" she shouted after him.

Ignore them, Ammon had said. Ken rolled his eyes, possibly at the girl, or even at himself.

"Kenneth Pyrrhos," Ken called out, not turning around, but giving the girl, Rei, a lazy wave over his shoulder.

Though he couldn't see it, she smiled warmly and waved back.


Ken and Rei had grown closer throughout his time at Fujumi Academy, and he'd often be her work out partner when she wanted to work on her sojutsu, and she, his, when she pestered him enough. He'd often be her unwilling, but uncaring soundboard whenever she wanted to vent about her childhood friend, Takashi Komuro, offering her phrases such as 'Well, that bites.', 'Oh, sorry, you talking to me?', and sometimes the rare, spirited 'Why don't you just give up on him!'.

In fact, over the course of 6 months, he felt he could say, with reasonable confidence, he knew Rei Miyamoto. However, much to Rei's frustration and constant questioning, he'd revealed little about himself. One of her most frequent questions was what forced him to move, and each time she asked he'd respond;

'If it's ever relevant to the situation, which I pray it never will be, I'd tell you. But don't get your hopes up.'

She'd always press further, but Ken was nothing if not stubborn. Ken allowed himself another faint noise of amusement at all the pouty faces, puppy dog eyes and various other expressions she'd put on to try to convince him to tell her.

True to her word, she'd helped him get acquainted with their classmates. It hadn't taken away the fearful edge from all of their minds, but he knew a select few of the Japanese students who didn't care about his background, and were willing to talk to him outside the timid 'Um, are you using this stall?'.

As all these thoughts flashed through his mind a mile an instant, he felt his mood lift, and he drew a silver mechanical pencil from a pocket on the inside of his jacket. Ken flipped over the note and brushed some nonexistent eraser shavings off the paper. He clicked out some lead, a witty retort already designed in his head. The tip of the pencil dipped down and tapped the paper.


The hot, summer rain poured, beating down her pale blonde hair. She sat on a park bench, her knees drawn up. Her lips pressed gently against her kneecaps, as she refused to cry. She didn't cry, regardless of circumstance. She wouldn't change that fact, especially for him. She felt a shadow sit down next to her. The bench creaked in surprise.

Then, there was another shadow on her face, from a black and green flat-brim that usually adorned his blood red crown of hair. It shielded her somewhat from the rain, but he sat uncovered. His jade eyes hid from her. A salty rain fell from her porcelain eyes, and she threw herself at him. She felt the tension leave him. His shoulder blades seemed to smile into her front.

"You're a real idiot for thinking a hat will make me forgive you."

"I love you too, Natalie."


The pencil snapped in Ken's grasp. Shards of plastic dug into his hand, and a drop of his crimson blood fell on the paper. But the pain it caused was secondary. In his chest, there seemed to be planted a wild beast, clawing and maiming his 6 months dead heart. The beast's clawing reached a fever, and to Ken's horror he felt a pulse deep in himself. Ken stood abruptly, drawing the attention of everyone in the room, including Rei.

"I need to use the restroom," he said, in perfectly fluent, unemotional Japanese.

The red headed man didn't wait for the teacher to excuse him and simply walked out of the classroom, his right hand clutching his cut left hand. He brushed past Rei, not looking at her, but as he walked he felt the weight of her amber eyes upon him, imploring him to look back at her. Ken strained his very being against the temptation, but just before he crossed through the door frame, he turned to glance at her. He saw her amber orbs laced with concern and in their reflection his own eyes, unintentional desperation clouding them.

Another earth shaking thump pulsed through his chest.

Ken wasn't fully sure how he got to the bathroom. He wasn't even aware of his surroundings as he padded down the hallways at a breakneck pace, disregarding any students, teachers or mop buckets that happened to be in his way. He'd eventually reached the door of the small, unisex bathroom and plowed through it, not locking the door behind him. A pale, flickering light illuminated the tiny room. No one used this bathroom, which was exactly why Ken's erratic mind had plucked it from the list of places to go. Not because he had use the bathroom, or clean his cut. He needed to talk to Ammon. He needed to run.

With his uninjured hand he pulled his phone from his pocket and awkwardly typed a text with his one thumb.

'Ammon I need 2 com home, now'

A frustrated hiss then another message.

'*come*'

Ken waited for a few long minutes, only accompanied by the horrid beating in his chest. His phone didn't give any sound, but Ammon had responded.

You're running again, Ken. I thought that Miyamoto girl would help you with that habit of yours.

His chest gave anther indignant thump. Ken growled in annoyance, and wrote another message.

'Daymares. They've come back.'

His phone was still devoid of a message, and again, Ammon Aether spoke to Ken.

You'll never escape them by running.

More typing, now frantic.

'Ammon, I need your help! I don't know what to do with myself, I feel like I'm coming apart.'

The phone was silent, its screen deathly still.

If you want to heal, then let yourself be healed.

Ken nearly ripped out his hair, and hurled his phone to the ground. Considering Ken's strength, it wasn't surprising it shattered, spraying shards of plastic and glass onto the floor. He placed a hand on his chest, trying desperately to calm his revived heart. His head snapped up when he heard a knock on the door.

"You decent, Ken?"

The voice that came from the other side of the door was the very one Ken had been dreading he'd hear.

"How'd you know to find me here?" Ken said, his voice just above a whisper.

"Simple," Rei said and Ken could imagine her putting her hand on her hip, "You're the type who likes to be alone when you're upset."

There was a pause, in which she hoped for Ken to speak, but after a few second of not hearing an answer, she plowed on.

"You don't confide in anyone, you go it alone, you don't let anyone kno-"

"Go back to class," he growled, her voice too truthful for his ears. He'd much rather she lie to him like everyone else. 'You're going to be okay, Ken', 'It'll get easier'. Of fucking course he wasn't fine. Of course he'd lived in hell from that moment. He knew it, on some level. He just didn't need to hear it.

The thumping in his chest became more prominent.

There was another moment of silence.

Ken was afraid she could hear how loud it was.

"I'm coming in," Rei said firmly, and the brass knob began to jiggle, the door began to open.

With speed not surprising for Ken, he slapped his bloodied hand to the door and it clicked shut. He heard Rei let out a startled sound, but in a second she was pounding on the door.

"Let me in Ken!" she yelled, her banging increasing in frequency, then ending in one final pound. From the vibrations, Ken could tell it was directly opposite of where his hand was holding the door in place.

"Let me help you," she implored in the same low voice Ken had used earlier.

Slowly, the door opened. Rei stepped inside as Ken almost stumbled backwards and leaned against the opposite wall. She closed the door behind her, and leaned back against it. Her feet crunched down on the pieces of Ken's phone. Suddenly, to Ken the room was much too small. He could feel the heat coming off her body, and smell the sweetness of her scent. Her amber eyes were trying to catch his green ones, but Ken looked determinedly at a stained turquoise tile to the left of her feet.

"So what happened?"

"Don't know what you're talking about," Ken said, raising his hands to shoulder level, turning up his palms and shrugging.

Rei's next question died on her lips and a light gasp came out instead as she saw Ken's injured hand. Ken saw where she was looking and quickly shoved said hand into his pocket. Rei stepped forward and forcibly pulled his hand back out. Ken could've stopped her, but found himself incapable of anything but going along with it. She examined his hand carefully, her fingers still holding onto his wrist.

"How'd this happen?" she asked, holding his hand a bit higher for better light.

"Pencil broke," Ken growled in pain as she brushed her fingers over the cut itself. He let out a hiss as she plucked a shard of plastic from his hand.

"I've got some first aid stuff in my locker, c'mon," Rei said, pulling Ken towards the door. Her small hand had wrapped itself gently around his larger one and the thumping in Ken's chest became almost pleasant.


Dmitri


Normally at 9:35 in the morning, everyone was in class. Normally at 9:35 in the morning, the kendo club's practice dojo was empty. Normally at 9:35 in the morning, the kendo club's dojo was quiet; after all, if the first two requirements were met, the third would stand to reason.

Today was shaping up to pretty abnormal.

Two figures, a man and a woman, clashed inside the dojo, and they seemed to have been going at it for a while; their mat and bodies were wet with their sweat. Their bokken were mere dark blurs as they danced around, with and through each other's strikes. Their bodies were moving fluidly to the raw, powerful beat their wooden swords orchestrated. The sword's movements were no longer foreign to the arms of Dmitri Gorya.


"Kill 'im!"

Dmitri didn't want to kill this man. He had floored him in the first few minutes of their brawl, despite his opponent's dancing red switchblade. Fights like this were common, but they almost never ended in death; no one ever put their life on the line. So how had he ended up on top of him, a knife jut inches from the man's throat?

"C'mon, little nigga! Kill that shit stain!"

"Ain't like the bitch ass ain't have it comin'!"

Have it coming? Dimitri didn't think anyone had death coming to them.

"You've been wit' us since you was a toddler. Don't tell me you gonna pussy out now!"

Once he had his opponent pinned, one of the onlookers tossed him an ugly looking knife. Then had come the chanting; 'finish him, finish him!'. Dmitri was thirteen; he just wanted to chase the pretty waitresses at the bars he really was too young to enter (running with the Mob had its benefits), and use his monthly pay check to buy the most expensive cheesecake he could find. He didn't want to kill this man.

"Just stab and twist, kid."

Dmitri looked up. The voice wasn't jeering, or mocking, but grim and understanding. The owner was a man with greasy black hair, and a scraggly beard; he was one of the higher ups in the organization, but Dimitri could hardly remember any of their names or faces. He was just a courier who carried money, drugs, and messages between bosses.

"Let me tell you something, kid," the greasy haired man continued at Dmitri's look. The shouting of the crowd became muffled, weak and pointless in comparison to the power of the man's words, "When you choose this life, there's always a risk of death. Everyone knows that; they accept it. Our live are forfeit from start. Sparing him would be the biggest dishonor you could give. He knew the risks, and now he has to pay the price."

Numbly, he let the man's words reach him, and he nodded. The man gave him a haggard smiled. It turned into a shuddering grimace when Dmitri looked away.

Dmitri brought his arm back.


Crack!

Their furious dance came to a halt. Dmitri's sword had splintered at the base of the blade, leaving him holding nothing but the navy blue string wrapped handle. The woman laughed, covering her mouth with a pale hand. They'd both decided to skip class to practice their forms, and when they met they'd decided practicing together would be more productive. Though they hadn't coordinated it, neither should've been surprised. They both had met here almost every day for the last 6 months.

"I told you not to overdo it," she said, a brilliant glint in her sapphire eyes.

The speaker was a girl of average height, with long dark purple hair, and her bangs covered her forehead. She had an athletic build, with toned muscles, but still feminine in nature. She had noticeably ample bust, and slim shoulders. Her sapphire orbs were still laughing at the man even after she'd stopped making noise. She had on a pair of black short shorts and a black tank-top, the standard practice uniform for members of the kendo team.

Dmitri didn't seem to annoyed at his situation and tossed aside his sword. He stood tall, much more so than the girl. He had dark skin and curly dark brown hair. He had it back out of his face, and it went past his shoulders at its longest. He had strong, handsome features, thanks to a father he'd never known. He had defined, thick muscles on his torso, and his black t-shirt strained against his wide shoulders. His lower half was covered by a baggy pair of black shorts. His eyes were a living copper, seemingly alive with the strange current that ran through his metallic irises.

"But how can a man improve unless he pushes himself to his limits, Saeko?" he asked, walking over to the sword rack and selecting a new bokken.

"You make a good, but gender biased, point," Saeko Busujima said picking up a water bottle from the ground and taking a refreshing sip, "but this is the 24th bokken you've broken since you've been here."

He laughed sheepishly at this, and ran a hand through his messy curls. His copper eyes turned upwards as he swallowed dryly, the strain of their exercise briefly taking a toll on him.

"Water," he said, leaving interpretation up to her.

Saeko nodded, and tossed him her bottle, which he caught easily in his hand without looking. With two gulps he drained the bottle, crushing the plastic as he heaved a large exhale. He then set his bokken down, and gripped the bottom of his shirt and poised to take it off, but he glanced at Saeko as if remembering she was there.

"Mind?"

"Do I mind?" she repeated, shaking her head and giving a small chuckle.

"What?" he asked, peeling off the sweaty black garment to reveal his defined musculature. Saeko noticed the network of pale scars on his side, in addition to a tattoo of a compass on his shoulder. Not for the first time, though; she'd witnessed Dmitri's body countless times, due to the man's apparent aversion to wearing a shirt. In fact, (possibly due to her feminine side) she could recall more times with Dmitri shirtless, rather than wearing a shirt. The first time she'd met Dmitri had been here.

And he hadn't been wearing a shirt.


Saeko pulled her uniform off and her practice uniform on quickly. Though her expression would only display a confident calm, she was quite excited. It was the first Kendo practice of the year, and she was anticipating a good season. Tsugumi Academy just got a slew of new recruits from Kazakstan, all who'd been practicing swordsmanship since their infant years. Surely they'd be exciting opponents.

Saeko hadn't faced a strong opponent in a long while; it was beginning to get to her.

As she did her long purple hair into a high ponytail, she could hear the team members warming up. She then heard a shout of pain amongst the clanging of bokken. She frowned and sat down to retrieve her shoes.

"They're going a little too hard for practice," she murmured, slipping her feet into her shoes. It wasn't as if she minded; the harder they went, the better her team would be.

Saeko jumped nimbly to her feet and was out the locker room door.

The sight that greeted her wasn't a pleasant one.

A mass of kendo team members were crowding around a single figure. He was tall, and shirtless. He had bright brown eyes, and Saeko noted with a vague feminine interest, he was quite handsome. He was holding two bokken in his hands and his large, defined muscles flexed as he tightened his grip on the wooden swords. As she looked around, she could see those standing around him were merely his most recent opponents; the winded and unconscious forms of more members littered the dojo. He wasn't without his own injuries; bruises frequented his forearms and stomach, and a particularly dark one dwelt on his right collarbone. But unlike his opponents, her teammates, the bruises seemed inconsequential to him, as if he barely felt them. One on accord, the remaining Fujumi Academy Kendo Team members charged at the dark skinned man.

They didn't stand a chance.

The large man simply spun, slashing both bokken seconds apart from each other. The motion of the first bokken blocked the oncoming attacks, and the second to knock back the attackers. The few that were still standing were felled by a few more of his quick, decisive blows. He'd simply shrugged off any blows they'd managed to land on him in the short space of time. Her eyes widened a small amount at the display of his prowess.

"Come on," the tall man growled. His voice was low and powerful, "You're all weak."

This statement sparked Saeko into movement. One of the fallen men raised his head wearily at her approach. Despite the blood running down his face from his most likely broken nose, he grinned, and looked defiantly at the man.

"Now you're in for it!" he yelled weakly. A faint cry went up from the rest of the fallen team, the phrase 'Get em' captain' prominent.

The tall man turned her way, and eyed her with curiosity.

"You're their leader?" his Japanese was a little rough, but completely understandable.

"I am," she said, stooping to pick up a bokken, its owner twitching on the floor nearby, "and you are one of the American transfers, are you not?"

"Yeah."

They didn't speak any further. Both seemed to know that the small talk would only go so far. She could practically feel his urge to lash out, but he didn't. No, from the carefully placed position of his feet, and the way his knees were bent, he wouldn't strike out wildly. He'd wait, for her to make her move, and he'd take any opening he could get. And Saeko didn't doubt he could make an opening or two. All in all, he looked like a formidable opponent.

"You appear to be strong," Saeko said, slashing her bokken through the air a few times to get some blood running through her veins, "strong enough to beat some of the best swordsmen in the Japanese Inter-School League."

"Ah, but it seems the swords-woman is in charge," he rolled his wrists, which were undoubtedly sore from all the rattling of his dual bokken use, "I am thinking it isn't for nothing."

"You are correct, I am the most skilled of everyone in this school." in her voice wasn't filled with arrogance, or pride, merely confidence and a matter of fact edge.

"Then will you allow me to fight you as an equal? In return, will you fight me as yours?" up to now, he'd made it clear of his ability to uphold his part of the bargain. So why shouldn't she?

A small, sadistic smile surfaced.

"Bring it on, American," she said.

"If you insist, mujercita," he inched his front foot forward. The longer his stride, the harder it would be for her to shake him, and the quicker he could get at her. She needed to do something now. The logical move was to advance.

She advanced, all right.

With a single step, she put herself inside his guard, and slammed his face with the side with the handle of her bokken. Before he could react, she spun and a roundhouse kick caught his chin. The large man stumbled backwards, and leaned on his bokken as he caught his breath.

He spat out a glob of crimson.

The wounds Saeko had inflicted his face were settling into two large, overlapping black bruises. She could see his eye begin to swell shut. Though he looked like he'd been through hell, his copper eyes were still grinning at her, as were his cracked lips. With the rolling of his shoulder blades, and the cracking of his neck and spine, he grew into his full height. He tossed one of his bokken over his shoulder.

"I thought you said you'd fight me as an equal. Don't hold back."

A second after he finished speaking, he moved. Or, more accurately, he flew. His feet barely touched the ground before he was upon Saeko, his bokken already parting the air at an incredible rate. There was a hiss of air, and the crack of wood. Saeko jumped back, her iced eyes widening in shock.

His bokken had ripped straight through hers in her attempt to block. She'd had to bend backwards quickly to avoid getting nicked. His own bokken now sported a few cracks. Without a word, he tossed his aside. He readied his hands in a fighting stance, his open palms and arced fingers facing Saeko. She cocked an eyebrow at him, but tossed her bokken aside as well. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong with this American boy, but it was strangely refreshing. Refreshing to have someone around who only cared about a good, long fight.

Half an hour later, twin sounds of flesh slapping against plastic mats could be heard. Both Saeko and the American had collapsed side by side, after an hour of kick-boxing, mixed martial arts, and all out wrestling. The fallen members of the Kendo Club had long since pried themselves off the floor and gone to their dorms out of shame, to enjoy the last of the fleeting summer break.

"What's-" Breath. "-your-" Breath. "-name?" the American heaved, his body now covered in a fresh layer of injuries, his lungs burning from the exertion.

Saeko's chest inhaled and expelled air a few times before she was able to speak.

"Saeko...B-busujima," a few more seconds of breathing separated her next, one syllable breath, "Yours?"

"Dmitri Gorya," he managed to breathe out quickly, and was soon overtaken by his panting.

Dimitri raised his fist, though his entire arm felt heavier than lead. Slowly he positioned it in the air between him and Saeko. She looked at his fist queerly, before recognizing the American gesture.

Her fist tapped his, and both of their hands fell to the ground, recovering to fight again. Theirs was a special kind of doom; a damnation they could both greet breathless and smiling.


"Dmitri," she said seriously, her mouth set into a line. Her eyes however gave her away, as their blue depths danced with mirth, "Many a girl would do practically anything to be in my position."

Dmitri Gorya looked at her with a blank expression as her words set in, then laughed, his frame jumping with each deep chuckle. It was a recurring joke between them about Dmitri's appeal to the girls at Fujumi Academy. Though he could've picked from any one of the most attractive girls at Fujumi, Saeko found it curious he didn't seem the slightest bit interested in any them.

Before she could dwell on it any further, her shirtless partner was ready to spar once again.

He had his body turned to the right, so that his side was facing her, his bokken's tip resting on the ground, held by his fully extended right arm. His left hand was raised near his chest. Saeko would never understand his form, but it certainly worked for him. The form he used (Dmitri always referred to it as 'The Shark Form', followed by his rendition of the Jaws theme) allowed him to exploit any opening and attack explosively, and used every part of his body for attack and both his hand and bokken for defense.

Saeko assumed her own stance, similarly turned, but her bokken was in both hands and held at eye level, the tip pointing at Dmitri. He grinned at her, and cocked his head back.

"Scared, mujercita?" he taunted, offering her his biggest shit eating grin. Saeko glared at him, her thin brows contracting at her nickname.

"Your arrogance will be your undoing," she responded, and with terrible speed, she closed in on Dimitri.

The tall man continued smiling as he slashed his bokken upwards, his single handed blow knocking aside Saeko's two handed overhand strike. Her arms were thrown up, and she barely backpedaled in to dodge Dmitri's fist, which slashed through the air just as fast as his bokken. With a single stride, he was upon her again. This time, he whipped the wooden sword at her head with a flick of his wrist. Saeko surprised him by blocking the bokken with her arm, then jabbing her own weapon at his midsection. He let out an 'umph', and retreated a step.

Saeko rolled her arm gingerly; she'd most likely received more damage from that than he did.

The two gathered their wits for a long second. Dmitri's grin was gone, and his face was now set in a more serious scowl. He seemed to be examining her closely, his eyes trailing over her form, and, though Saeko knew it was merely tactical, she couldn't help but feel a small wave of heat rise inside herself.

She was a girl as well as a warrior, after all.

However as Dmitri came at her again, it was the thoughts of a warrior that took over. She met his bokken head on with her own, not noticing the smirk that flashed across his face. He let his blade slide along hers as he stepped closer. As he stepped, Saeko swung her sword, and Dmitri moved faster than she expected. In a flurry of movement, he'd spun around behind her. He wrapped a long arm around her waist, crushing her against his hard form, and pressed his bokken against her neck.

"I win, mujercita," he whispered in her ear, sending a tremor through her body. Saeko might've been able to muster up an icy, cutting response, but all she managed was a blush and a weak 'Shut up, Dmitri'.

She was a girl as well as a warrior, after all.


Michelle


Takashi Komuro was feeling like complete shit. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but now it was becoming a regular thing, with his ex-girlfriend parading her relationship with his best friend Hisashi around whenever she thought he was looking, and the new American boy who seemed to have captivated her as well. Talk about bipolar.

He was resting his arms against the railing on the East Landing of Fujumi Academy's Science Department. Class was supposed to be in session, but he decided to come out here instead, as he wouldn't be learning anything either way. At least here, he could have a nice view of the courtyard. And the sky, he mustn't forget the sky. Letting loose a small sigh, he ran a hand through his hair. Barely a second later, he heard a hiss, and an eraser was pelted at his head. It connected with what felt like enough force to cause brain damage.

"I told you not to move, Takashi!" the voice was loud and fierce, and spoken through a 4B pencil clenched between the owner's teeth.

The speaker was a girl. She had a slight, but well developed frame, with delicate shoulders and audacious curves. Her long black hair was held in a low ponytail that fell over shoulder. A pair of golden eyes glared at Takashi, over an obviously well used sketchpad, held with a few pencils between her long fingers. She sat on the railing a few feet from Takashi, balancing by hooking her feet between the railing.

Takashi grinned and ducked as the owner of the voice chucked another latex, name brand projectile at him.

"And now you're smiling," the girl growled, rolling her aurulent eyes and tossing her sketchbook and pencils to the ground, "great."

"Nice to know that you only care about me when I'm sad, Michelle," Takashi said, a small smile dressing his face as he tossed her eraser back at her.

The small piece of latex overshot by quite a bit, but the girl, Michelle, leaned back so her torso was parallel to the ground and her hand shot out to rescue the eraser from its fall. She brought herself back up, and tossed the eraser in with the pile of her art supplies.

For a while now, Michelle Calder had been drawing Takashi, but only when he was out here, on the landing. Only when he was saddened. Some days she forced him to stay still for hours, and she'd use her variety of pencils to sketch him, but always towards the end of his tenure, Takashi would shift his elbows, or change which foot he was favoring, and Michelle would yell at him for not being able to stay still. On days when the sunlight was too bright, or Takashi wasn't quite blue enough, they'd talk. It always surprised him how she could give substance to a meaningless topic, as their discussions were rarely of significance.

They'd talk of the weather, or of the different teachers she had yet to meet. They talked of the leaves, and of how life would be if humans could use photosynthesis. They talked of living underwater and of palaces underground. All their discussions had one thing in common, though; they all led to the sky.

"Well you are only interesting to draw when you're sad. You get the most engaging expression, and it looks great with the natural light. You're probably the most interesting subject I've ever done."

"Well thanks, I think," he said, going back to leaning against the railing and looking out above the wrought iron font gate and the pink Sakura Trees, to the sky.

"Don't worry, it was almost a compliment," she teased, also turning her gaze to the sky.

They were both silent. Until six months ago, Takashi hadn't really noticed, or had tried to notice the sky. But now, he saw so much of it he was shocked that he hadn't before. He saw its clouds as wisps of purity, slinking their way around under the sun's sinful gaze. The sun was a brilliant fire, whose flames fell to earth to warm it. He saw the sky, in its entirety. He looked to the girl who now frequented this landing as often as, or more often than he did. A content smile dripped from her golden eyes, an expression she only wore after she finished with a particularly good drawing, or was watching the sky, like she was now. It was her fault he now saw the sky.

She'd given him a gift of unimaginable proportion; she'd given him the sky.


The sun was slowly dipping below the skyline, its descent beginning to color the horizon shades of orange. Blue shifted seamlessly to its polar opposite, and the sun had begun to lose its shape, blurring around the edges, and dripping, soaking the sky with fire. The brilliant arrangement of light lanced through the long windows of the Fujumi Academy Science Wing. It clung to the form of a rather despondent young man and was desperate for him to notice it.

But the young man trudged on, his black uniform pants and jacket branded with the colored glow of the sky. If he'd stopped, he would've noticed the beauty of the scene. If he stopped, and raised his head, he would've seen the sky. If he had held his heart closer to his eyes, he could've seen the colors of the sky. But he walked, with his heart dangling from his sleeve and his head down low, determined to see nothing but grey.

Sorrow is the most addictive of drugs, after all.

He pushed through the doorway, a dejected sigh sulking from between his lips. He was a bit surprised.

On the landing was another person, a girl. She was leaning on the railing as he often did. But on her face wasn't sorrow, and her body wasn't set in sadness. The multicolored light poured over her form, sitting pleasantly in the wrinkles over her black skirt, and the lines of her denim jacket. Her black hair accepted the light, and the array of colors the sky turned it. Takashi couldn't say he'd seen her before. Was she one of the new American students?

"Hello," Takashi said tentatively, pausing in the doorway.

She didn't turn to look at him. She seemed to still to be alive, like she was one with the slowly changing sky.

"Why are you up here?" she asked, only moving her jaw to speak.

"It's my usual spot," Takashi responded after a second, going to join he in leaning against the railing, "But why are you up here?"

"It has the best view in the entire school," she said, and Takashi could see a small smile bloom on her face. All this time she hadn't looked at him.

"View of what? You can only see the next building over, here," Takashi exclaimed, then added in a lower voice, "It's a sad little place, and that's why I come here."

It was only then that she looked at him.

In her golden eyes, was the sky.

"This place isn't sad," she said. Her tone was that of guiding one who didn't know how to see, "Look out there and tell me what you see."

It took him little more than a second to answer.

"A building, windows and some bricks."

"What else?" her golden eyes seemed to be looking forward to his action. No she was anticipating telling him.

Takashi was quiet for a moment, and thought hard; he couldn't come up with anything.

"What else is there?"

She smiled at him. Takashi couldn't say he'd seen a more beautiful smile; the simple beauty of the light playing around her was stunning.

"The sky, of course."

"You didn't come up here to look at it?" the girl looked at him, confusion splayed across her striking, sky lit features, "No, you didn't. But you should; the sky always cheers me up when I'm sad."

Takashi turned his gaze away from her, and his brown eyes fell onto the sky.

"Who said I was sad?" he spoke to the sky, and the girl answered.

"Because you're beautiful," she grinned, eating the sun's light, "or rather sadness is. I've never been able to explain it, but I find sadness in and of itself inherently beautiful."

"That's a strange thing to say."

The girl laughed, and her grin fell.

"Is it? Everyone tells me as much," she climbed up onto the railing, balancing on the heels of her feet. She reached a short arm out to the sky. Her long fingers curled lovingly around the sun, "But I can't help but think it. I'll forever be trying to touch the sky, but if I do, I'll fall. If I don't I'll hate myself. Either way, I'm doomed to sadness. I've found beauty in that fact."

Something happened. Takashi didn't know what; all he knew was that in an instant she was falling backwards. Instinct took over; Takashi reached out to grab her.

There was a brief moment in which she was out Takashi's reach. But his arms caught her.

He now held the weight of the sky.

Takashi Kumoro was a strong fellow.

He'd have to be.


"The sky is nervous today," Michelle said, a bit of foreboding in her usually pleasant voice, "It's quivering."

Takashi smiled, unaware that she was serious. Unaware the sky was serious. He simply continued to gaze at the sky, and the girl who seemed to always watch it. She was easily one of the most beautiful girls at Fujumi Academy, and many of Takashi's male friends were jealous of his friendship with her. They'd often insinuate that their relationship was more, and from the look Rei had throne him the first lunch he'd eaten with her, she'd only heard that part of the rumors. Takashi resisted the strong urge to groan.

"Why are things so complicated?" he grumbled, his gaze now shooting right past the sky.

They were about to get much more complicated.

"Sure, now, you get all despondent," she trailed off as she looked at the main gate, "Hey what are they doing down there?"

Takashi too tore his gaze from the sky. At the gate, a man had just bitten the PE instructor. He was howling on the ground, but soon got up, slipping for a moment in his own blood. His skin had gone grey, and his eyes pure white. He groaned, and his mouth leaked at the sound of a nearby heartbeat. The woman didn't last a minute under his strength. He had her pinned, and his teeth sunk into the delicate flesh of her neck. He jerked his head like a dog, ripping the chunk of flesh out.

The woman screamed.

And across Fujumi Academy, three recognized the scream like an old friend. They welcomed the pounding fear in their hearts, and the despair that stormed around behind their eyes. They relished them.

Because they knew that the clock had been set on its final countdown; the world was a time bomb.

Tick.

Tock.

Tick.

Tock.