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Blood and Honor

by Zephir

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Chapter 6

There's a hint of excitement and energy in the air the following morning, most of it over Rika's win, and most of that felt by Rika herself. She walks down the hallways with a confident gait, putting a little spring in her step, so to speak, and even smiles and waves to people as they pass her. She flips her ponytail off her shoulder and grins as she rounds the last bend and walks down the hallway leading to the sparring room. She glances around at the architecture idly, studying the... rather bland, Spartan decor. The walls are all simple stone painted white; the floors a dirty, scuffed beige; and the ceiling high and flat. Even the air is plain and drenched with the stench of old sweat and grime.

She breathes in deeply and exhales loudly, taking in the scents happily. Nothing like a good workout in the morning. She walks up to the gym's double doors and pauses to push against them, opening them up wide and stepping inside. A man flies through the air in the center, somersaulting and landing hard on the mat with a yelp. A loud slap of flesh against flesh sounds as another man takes a punch to his chest and doubles over, then takes a high knee to his face and reels back again, falling on his back. Vargas stands over him, breathing hard but otherwise undamaged, looking unusually intense and perhaps even a bit angry.

She pauses at the doorway and watches him beat them up, then when she catches his eye she places her hands on her hips and scoffs tauntingly. "Takin' it out on the little guys, huh?"

He glares at her for a second, then glances at them and watches them get back up. He looks back up to her and pants, "Just a warm-up."

"Really? Care to take on a real sparring partner?" She asks, sauntering over.

He looks her over from her head to her toe and back again, then shifts his weight and turns around to grab two sets of sparring gloves, tossing one set at her. "You come here to gloat?"

"No, not at all," She starts. "Just came for my daily workout."

He narrows his eyes at her and finishes putting on his gloves, then slaps them together and starts walking in circles around her, waving his fists around in a loose fighting stance. "Interesting moves you showed yesterday."

She jabs at his face and has her shot blocked quickly and easily. "You like 'em?"

They spin around each other for another half-circle until Vargas throws a fast right jab, left jab, right bodyblow combination. She blocks them all easily and starts hopping on her toes as he answers. "Was wondering where you learned 'em, actually."

She hops a few times on her toes and then stops, bobbing first to her left and then to her right, swinging with a rapid series of jabs and bodyblows that he manages to block and dodge with ease and speed. "You're pretty good," She remarks.

"So I thought." He suddenly attacks her with a wild flurry of punches and low kicks, forcing her back a few steps before she finally counters his offense and sticks him in the face and chest a few times. "Then you come along!"

"Hey, don't be a sore loser jus' 'cause I had your ticket that day!" She lunges back at him with her own combinations and forces him back a few steps, pushing them both back to where they first started.

He finally hops back a step and holds his gloves ready, taking a short breather with one arm high and the other low, both bobbing up and down. "You still haven't answered my question!"

She hops on her toes again and starts moving in a circle, then tilts her head sideways and asks almost playfully, "What question?"

He jabs at her face twice and has them both blocked, she grinning at him the whole time. "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"

She pauses mid-step and starts bouncing in the opposite direction, changing the flow of their little dance. "I used to be an Imperial soldier. You learn things in there, y'know?"

He circles about her a couple times, then rushes at her suddenly, punching away. She blocks them all, but he drops down suddenly and sweeps her legs out from under her by swinging his leg into them. She falls flat on her back and lies there for a moment, staring up at him smile down at her, satisfied. One man in the audience laughs giddily at the sight. She sits up on her hands and nods at him wordlessly, then gets back up and raises her fists again. "Okay... okay..."

He raises his, also, and starts circling again, then charges with a jab with a kick aimed at her ribs. She blocks the jab and the kick and comes back with a standing sidekick of her own, aimed at his head, but he leans back to avoid the kick and drops down again to do another sweep. She scouts it out beforehand and simply hops over his leg and waits until he's standing again to kick him in his chest, making him stagger back from the force. He glares at her through narrowed eyes and bared teeth, watching her taunting smile. "The Empire doesn't explain where you learned moves like that."

She stares at him for a moment, still smiling, then cocks her head and glances away. "I did some traveling before I was drafted. I went up north to Figaro and met a martial arts master."

Martial arts master... He steps back on the mat and raises his fists again, holding his place and stance. She raises hers as well and pauses, then charges at him with a fast series of jabs and low kicks. He blocks them all and counters in-between her attacks with some offense of his own, using jabs and kicks wherever he can. They trade blocks and parries like this for a few seconds, flesh and gloves meeting each other over and over until that's the only sound heard in the gym besides their grunting and panting. At one point he ducks down and tries to sweep her feet again, but she jumps and upon landing tries to do the same to him. He hops too, and swings a high roundhouse at her that goes over her head as she ducks. While she ducks she puts some spin in her legs and leaps in the air, spinning in a half-circle until she's facing up at him in mid-air with her feet stretched out at his chest. When he stops spinning and looks down again, he sees her two feet collide with his chest and shove off.

He falls onto his back and rolls backwards and up on his knees, while she pushes off of him and lands on her back, then kicks her legs and pushes off the floor, standing upright again in one motion. They both pant heavily and glare at each other, but Vargas breaks the silence by wiping his mouth off and standing up again. "Who was your master?"

She waits for him to get on the mat again and raise his fists before she follows suit and answers. "Duncan, of South Figaro."

She wastes no time in charging straight at him, leaping in the air with jumping kick. He knocks her bare foot aside and blocks the jab aimed at his throat, then counters with a hard body blow that she blocks, but still stumbles back from his power. He charges forward quickly to capitalize, and they trade more jabs and low kicks until she manages to kick him in his chest, pushing him back again. She then jumps at him in the air with a high kick, but he grabs her leg suddenly and twists, throwing her into an uncontrolled roll that ends with her landing on her back.

Three guys in the audience get excited at that and make several exclamations, hopping a bit and pushing on each other. She lies there for a moment just breathing, taking a rest break and studying him, then finally lets her body go loose and stretches out. She pauses for another moment, then asks him while still looking at the ceiling, almost out of breath, "And who was yours?"

He pauses for a long moment, trying to decide if he should tell her or not, while also wondering how they got onto this whole conversation in the first place. "...Duncan."

She lifts her head and looks up at him, somewhat surprised. "Duncan?"

He nods his head at her, and decides to say nothing more in response... partly because he's too tired.

We trained under the same master...? She asks herself, still lying on the ground and staring at him. Finally she rolls over and gets back on her feet, raising her fists again. She starts hopping on her toes again, although weakly, and moves in a semi-circle off to his side. He starts to raise his own fists and follow her, completing a half-circle, and then lashes out with a few quick jabs. She blocks them and returns with a few jabs of her own, and they then graduate to trading several kicks and punches, and hopping over leg sweeps and ducking under spinning kicks. She kicks high and he ducks, he returns with a punch that she blocks, she tries to kick him in his ribs but he knocks that aside and then counters with a kick that she also blocks. They block a few punches from each other again and then try to kick each other at the same time, which only ends up with both of them blocking the other's kick and pushing off, shoving them away.

She hops back a step and starts bouncing on her toes again, ready to go, while he starts to raise his fists again, but stops himself and lowers his arms. "You know... kickboxing isn't really my thing."

She stops moving for a moment and stands still, though she still holds her arms up. "Yeah... me, neither."

They remove their gloves and toss them aside in front of a slightly confused crowd, then start circling around each other. He glances and points to one of the men in the crowd, realizing they almost forgot something. "Ref us."

The man gives him a blank gaze and then nods, reluctantly moving closer to take up his role. They hardly pay him any attention and raise their hands again, starting to circle each other once more... only this time their hands are in a grappling position, not a boxing one. They walk around in a semi-circle for a second, then lunge and grab at each other's shoulders. She then steps sideways and presses her right forearm into his shoulder and pushes her own shoulder into his, trying to force him back. He being stronger and larger, he holds his ground and wraps his arms around her shoulders, then twists sideways and lifts her up with all his strength.

She's pulled into the air and tossed to the side, falling over on her back and rolling back over onto her front. She hardly has time to think before he jumps on her again and wraps an arm through one of hers. She scrambles around and tries to reverse their positions, but he keeps an iron grip on her arm and tries to wrap his other arm over her throat. She fights hard and finally manages to flip herself over, worming out of his arm lock and placing one of her own on his wrist. He tries to fight out of it, but she wraps her legs around his waist and starts rolling to her side, flipping over on top of him and pushes against his arm, pinning it against his chest. She presses her forearm down on his chest and tries to pin him, but he fights against it and manages to keep at least one shoulder from touching the mat.

They hold position for a long moment, fighting each other, and then she decides to ask him a burning question. "If we had the same -- master, then why-urgh-didn't we ever -- see each other?"

"I never--" He starts, lifting both of his shoulders from the mat. "Actually joined -- the regular school -- until late."

"Home training?" She asks, pushing his shoulders back to the ground.

"Some," He grunts through gritted teeth.

The referee scurries over and drops to one knee beside them. "One, two--!"

Vargas lifts his shoulders from the ground suddenly, breaking the count and lifting himself back up in the air. He gets himself a few centimeters off of the ground and then pauses, gripping her arm as she holds his, and then whips himself over. Caught unprepared, she finds herself thrown off balance and rolled over, though still gripping his arm and with her legs wrapped around his waist, which he uses as leverage to reverse their positions. Her back slams on the mat loudly, feeling as hurt as the sound was loud, forcing air from her chest in a grunting vowel kind of sound.

"One--!" Says the referee, but he hardly says that before she lifts a shoulder from the mat.

She grunts and uses all of her strength just to keep a shoulder up, his build being so much larger and his power so much more that she can't match him there. "He teach you -- this?"

He growls and tries to force both of her shoulders down, but she keeps switching from holding one up to the other, never giving him a chance to pin. "Taught -- myself."

Finally he forces both of her shoulders down and leans in, pressing his forearms into her.

"One, two, three!" The referee stands up quickly and steps back, giving them room.

They both suddenly relax on the count of three, with Vargas sitting back and releasing her while she lets go of his arm and unwraps her legs from his waist, splaying out. He sits for a moment and pants, then places his hands on his thighs and gazes at her. "Wanna go for two out of three?"

She turns her head to the side and stares off in the distance, past the crowd and into nothing, panting breathlessly. She looks back at him after a long pause and relaxes a bit more. "Yeah."

With a loud, drawn-out growl and gritted teeth, she plants her knees into his stomach and pushes high, planting her hands on his shoulders and flipping him over her and onto his back. Flesh hits the mat behind her as he somersaults over; then she kicks her legs up over her head, backwards, and rolls over on top of him again, using his shoulders for leverage. She tries to pin him again right away, but he powers out before the referee can begin counting and plants his feet into her abdomen and then pushes off, throwing her off of him and into the air.

She drifts back about a meter and lands her feet, groaning for the force of it, and then stands up and backs away, totally out of breath. Her hands rise up in the air in front of her in a grappling position, then dip down along with the rest of her body as he charges her full-on. As he gets near he tries to grab her, but she ducks low and plants one hand on his stomach and her other on a thigh, then pushes her shoulder into his torso and lifts up, tossing him back and over her onto the mat.

The spectators all pull back and say a resounding "Oooo", some also clapping and laughing. Vargas lies on the matt for a second, then flips over and glares up at her standing back from him, holding her hands ready and breathing steady. She holds one hand out to him and waves towards herself, motioning for him to get up, to which he narrows his eyes and growls and then rises to his feet. He spits once and starts to circle around her again, watching her hands, feet and eyes for any telling signs of her next action.

"So whatever happened to the old man?" She asks almost casually.

Caught off guard, he can only think to blink at her and ask, "...Huh?"

"Y'know, the old guy. Duncan?" She asks while still circling. "How's he doin' lately?"

Suddenly she springs forth and clasps him by his shoulders, while he does the same, pretty much from reflex. They lock up for a moment until she steps forward and adjusts her position, catching him in a headlock quickly. He tries to power out and reverse it, but she keeps one step ahead of him and blocks, then grips tighter. With a snarl and grimace, he plants his feet on the mat and grabs her around her waist, then lifts her up in the air and over his head, holding her there for a moment and then dropping down on his back. She gets dumped on her back as well, though the force of falling from that height knocks the air out of her.

The spectators simultaneously exclaim "Oooo!" and watch with curiosity as she just lies there, blinking and staring at the ceiling. For a moment she honestly can't remember what she's doing there or why she's on her back, but it suddenly clicks and she rolls her head to the side to see him getting on his feet again, equally winded. She stares at him and rolls over, starting to get up, too. "Hey... so... how's he -- doin'?"

He stands up and stares back at her, waiting for her to get back on her feet, just panting. "...I don't... feel like talking about it..."

"...Why not?" She asks, tilting her head.

"I just don't." He starts circling again and raises his hands, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on her.

She shrugs and does the same, then charges at him, ducking at the last moment. He reaches for her but ends up grasping nothing, and then feels himself being lifted in the air as she places her shoulder into his gut and grabs him around his waist. He just holds on while she powers him up onto her shoulders and arms, groaning, then twists to her side once she's gotten him up as high as she can and slams him down on the mat. He lands flat on his back, and hard. She scrambles over on top of him quickly and pins his shoulders, watching his blank gaze and fighting his feeble attempts to power out of the pin.

"One, two, three!" The referee stands back and raises his fist, indicating a pin for her.

"Daddy kick ya out'?" She asks, getting off him.

He blinks at her, confused. "What?"

She bends over and steps away, leaning her face closer. "Daddy? Duncan? ...Why don't you wanna talk about 'im, huh?"

He scoffs and starts to get up, but stops and glances at her again... then scoffs again and rolls up onto his feet. "I don't want to. 'Ey, can't you just leave well enough a-OOF!"

She tackles him just as he turns to face her and grunts, "No!"

They splash and roll on the mat for a bit, scrambling and clawing at each other as they attempt to get some sort of hold or pin on the other. Finally she gets him in a sloppy pin and gets up to a two count, then has it reversed on her and winds up on the bottom as he tries to pin her. The referee gets up to a two again before she breaks the hold and reaches up with a leg, planting it on his chest and pushing off. He fights her at first but can't hold off forever, eventually giving up and drawing back... but not before he grabs her leg and falls back, wrapping his legs around it and applying an ankle lock. She starts squirming and sits up, reaching for him and her leg.

One of the spectators points and whispers something to the guy next to him as she slaps at his hands futilely, then reaches over with her other leg and begins to kick at his hands repeatedly. With a final, pained grunt he lets go and rolls off to the side, leaving her to hold her poor ankle and sit in place. He gets up and turns back to see her trying to get up, but having trouble getting her foot to support her weight. He almost smiles and goes over to her to finish the job, but ends up being grabbed and rolled over on his back, back under her again as she tries another pin attempt. They roll back and forth for a while until he gets a hold on her and locks on tightly, his fists wrapped around her waist. He stands up with her, holding her from the front, and then powers her into the air and starts to lift her over his head to powerslam her, but only gets her up to his chest level before his arms give out on him. Her whole body weight comes down on his chest and shoulders as she rolls over onto him, and both of them collapse on the mat, she falling over right on top of him.

They just lie there for a very long moment, too tired to move or speak. Their hair fell down during their match and is now splayed out all over the place; her hair covers his chest and falls on the floor, his hair spreads out in a wide blanket over the mat, and more of her hair's fallen up in his face. Neither of them cares to do anything about their position and so they both lie there and take something of a break. The referee stands dumbfounded and fumbles for something -- anything -- to do, turning to his buddies for help. "What do I do?"

One of them leans forward and tells him, "Count 'em out."

"What?"

"Count 'em out, you know," He says, slapping the back of his hand in his other palm.

The referee nods and says, "Oh, okay..."

He then turns around and looks between them, still confused, and starts counting. "One... two..."

He keeps counting until he gets to five, when she finally works up the energy to turn her head over and look up at him. "Yo... ya gonna move 'er wha'--?"

He doesn't answer her for a while, letting the referee count to seven. "...You first."

She sighs heavily. "Uhhh... fine."

The referee counts eight as she plants one tired hand on the mat, then pushes up and plants her other hand.

"Nine..."

She then scoots over and rolls right on top of him, making a sloppy pin attempt. The referee falls down to one knee and counts to two, but Vargas shifts out of the pin and tries to roll her over again, and they end up getting into another tumbling battle of holds, locks, and pin attempts. She grunts at him during one of these attempts, "So, you gonna tell me?"

"Tell ya what?" He grunts back.

"DUNCAN."

"I told you, no."

She tries to wrap his head, but he evades and goes after her exposed arm. She grunts at him again, "I'll keep asking until ya do."

"Okay, you wanna know?"

"Yes."

"Fine."

He growls and manages to grab her around her torso, then rolls over and tries to pin her, going nowhere as she fights him on it hard. "He died, okay? He died."

He feels her head duck down and start rubbing into his chest hard, causing his skin to burn, then feels his grip on her loosen and finally slip as she breaks out. The people stand on their feet as she gets him a surprise hold and flips him onto the mat, landing on top of him and forcing his shoulders down, putting all her weight on him.

She holds her breath and grits her teeth as the referee counts... then sighs in relief when he gets to three and rolls back and away, letting Vargas kick out and flail for a moment. She somersaults backwards and rolls to her feet, looking up at him with a grin and noting his disappointed look. Then the weight of what he'd said sinks in and her smile fades into a frown, but she doesn't have time to let that sink in, since he gets up and charges her, knocking her on her back again. They tussle for another moment, eventually ending up with her getting some sort of wristlock on him from the side while kneeling. "...How'd he die?"

He starts standing up and mutters, "He was killed."

"Killed?" She asks, then is pulled from her feet as he breaks the lock, grabs her legs, and lifts them off the ground, literally pulling her feet our from underneath her. "Whoa-OOF!"

Another "Oh!" comes from the crowd, while she just lies there and stares up at him, who pants and stares down at her. "I killed him."

He watches her somewhat stunned and silent gaze, returning it with a stony one. "So you see? I'm a murderer."

With that said, he steps over her and walks away through a gap in the gathered crowd, not saying another word. A dead hush falls over the room after he leaves, most of them stunned. For her part, she sits there through that long moment and just stares off after him... hardly thinking about anything at all, actually, besides those three words, I killed him.
Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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