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Blood and Honor

by Zephir

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Chapter 7

Dust throws into the air, following Vargas' foot like a tidal wave erupting from his soles. His foot swings in a wide arc, setting him into a low defensive stance as his hands block a strike from her. Rika then throws a punch, and makes the mistake of letting her guard down on her left. He grabs her wrist skillfully in his right hand and in one swift motion brings his left leg around in a high sidekick that knocks her back. She stumbles back, bleeding from her nose, and can only watch as he lands a heavy backhand across her chin, knocking her on the ground.

She lies in the sand for a moment, breathing dirt and groaning through the intense pain, then feels herself being lifted by her shoulders onto her knees. She grunts again and struggles against his arms feebly as he grips her chin in one hand, and her head in his other. He bites down on his teeth and tenses up, preparing to snap her neck, and in that one very brief moment he considers everything that happened to get them to this point.

***

The day had started off normal enough: breakfast at nine, shower at ten, and a few hours of meditation and light exercise after that. Then he'd wound up in the sparring room, doing some light workouts when the announcement came: the next fight, and the last one both would have to fight in, would be between him and Rika. It was the last match, the championship bout, the one that would end it all for them, that could allow the victor to retire at the top of their game.

But he wasn't going to worry about any of that then. He'd simply gone about his routine, eaten his dinner, and meditated in his room until the time came. Rika, meanwhile, had spent her day doing much of the same. She'd taken her preparation very seriously, warming up in her room with muscle exercises and concentration exercises, never stepping out of her room to talk with anyone... but such is her way. And then it was time.

She and Vargas both left their rooms and went to their places, silent and contemplative. Neither was feeling especially joyous or especially disturbed, or nervous. Both were intense, putting their game faces on and speaking with no one, placing this match far above any other they had ever fought. Each person defeated the other in battle, each person being the only one to ever have done that. Cicero had considered talking with them beforehand, but decided against it. They needed to focus.

The time drew nearer and nearer until they were opposite each other, in the waiting areas behind the pit, ready to go out and prove their superiority to the other. They breathed deeply and cleared their minds of thought, waiting only for their names to be called.

And they were, and they stepped out into the pit.

***

It all comes down to this. This is the moment thousands of people have been waiting for since Vargas and Rika were announced the top seeds in the tournament, the moment where the best meets the best and everyone will find out just who is superior. Spectators lean forward in their seats, bite their nails, and shift nervously around, watching as they both square off in the pit below and do... nothing. For the longest few seconds it seems like they'll just stand around and do nothing, but a bellowing voice echoes over the arena, and gives them their explanation. "Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please?"

A pause, for dramatic effect. "Today is a special occasion, not only because this is the final battle to crown our champion, but also because this is only the third battle to be fought under Marandan pit rules in this Colosseum."

Trapdoors open in the floor and posts arise through them, with loops for chains and ornamental tops. Several stagehands come through doorways and begin hooking chains up to the posts while the announcer continues. "Long before Maranda was known as a place of tranquility and beauty, it was once a center for the study of the art of war, and the birthplace of many great warriors. This heritage lives on today in this recreation of the infamous cage and pit fights of the First Hundred Years. In this match the rules are essentially that there are no rules. No holds are illegal, no technique unwarranted. There will be up to three rounds, with the winning condition for each one being that one fighter must be sufficiently wounded or incapacitated such that they can no longer continue. Usually this requirement is fulfilled by death."

Rika glances up to the announcer's box on those words, taking her eyes off Vargas for only a moment. He, too, looks up at the announcer, but uses just his eyes. "One death per fighter is allowed, but two deaths, barring extenuating circumstances, will not be reversed. The best two out of three wins the match."

The announcer stops and looks around the pit at Vargas and Rika, while the stagehands finish their work and exit, clearing the ring for the two. Cicero rises to his feet and inspects the area, a virtual study in barbarism: chains run from post to post in a circle, enclosing the area in a ring of steel studded with sharp spines and tacks, ensuring that anyone foolish enough to get pushed against them would be cut. The posts are large and thick, made of a metal so sturdy they almost beg to be used as weapons. Atop each post is a small torch, lit with a hot-burning fire meant to make the ring hotter than it normally would be, to make the fighters more aggressive... and, incidentally, to push them to their limits. Sand covers the floor, but it barely conceals the hard, dark rusty brown steel floor and the emblem etched into its center: the emblem of the Dragon's Neck Colosseum. Cicero steps forth a step and halts, letting a deep silence fall over the small arena until all attention is focused on him, save for Vargas and Rika, who continue to stare off in deep intensity.

"...Begin!"

A gong crashes behind him and the two in the pit draw their weapons, each donning a pair of their finest claws. They start circling each other, brandishing their weapons, waiting for a good opening... then charge at each other at the same time, flashing steel blades about in a flurry of quick parries and swinging arcs. They trade strikes for some time, she swinging at him with a backhand and him ducking, he countering with an uppercut and she dodging. Kicks hit air and punches find nothing as they both read each other and manage to avoid or block most of their offense.

Rika wonders why he can follow her so well suddenly, then scowls as she continues to block and parry. Should've never gotten in that spar with him...!

She narrowly ducks under a wide swing by him, then decides to mix it up when she rises to her feet again. She waits while he kicks at her, catching his leg, and then immediately follows it up with an Aurabolt that catches him square in his chest. Pain shoots through him as she lets go and allows him to fly straight back and into one of the poles, smashing his back into it before falling on his face. Groaning and aching, he rises to his feet again and tries to assume a defensive stance, but she moves too fast and catches him across the chest with a few well-placed slashes that slice him up from shoulder to waist.

He gets frustrated quickly like this and counters with an Aurabolt of his own, at least managing to push her back and give himself room. Dust swirls in the air as she skids to a stop and falls to one knee, panting, then she looks up and grits her teeth while making another charge at him; her attack, however, meets only more metal as he parries and blocks her attacks, gaining the advantage by going over to a strong defense. Unable to get anything done, she grunts and kicks off his chest, backing away and loosening up with some practice sweeps and poses.

A split second passes as they both regain their bearings, then they charge at each other, each hoping to gain the offensive. Flurries of parried strikes intermingle, but neither can gain any kind of advantage, instead just trading blows indecisively again. Rika begins mixing kicks into her arsenal, but the first one she throws gets caught by him... allowing her to hop up and kick him in the back of the head, falling on the ground herself but still hitting him. He grabs his head and steps back while she kicks her legs in the air and spins over and back onto her feet, getting up as he comes at her again with his fists flying. She manages to parry each one and lashes out with another kick, this time catching him in the ribs.

She smiles at the sight of his wince, then throws another kick at him, aimed at his head, one which he ducks under and crouches to attempt a legsweep counter of his own. Thinking fast, she hops over his foot, then hops again as he tries a second time, only he starts to slowly rise up on his second attempt and winds up throwing a high spinning roundhouse at her, aiming for her head. She ducks under this, too, and counters with a legsweep attempt of her own, but he also hops over her foot and prepares to dodge a kick, then reels in pain as she quickly spins while rising to her feet and slashes the backs of her claws across his stomach, cutting three long gashes in him.

Seeing him distracted and off-balance, she grins and drops to one knee while casting a spell, throwing her hand out in front of her as she finishes and summons a second-level fire spell. He sees it coming though, and in the split second that it's cast he disappears in a haze of smoke and reappears before her, punting her in the chest. She falls over backwards and grunts, surprised, then starts rolling sideways in the dirt as he continually tries to plant a knee in her or slash at her with his claws. Finally she manages to get far enough away to roll over and get back on her feet, where she throws a hasty Aurabolt at him; which, as she expected, he deflected using his shield. Seeing her opening, she rushes at him just as his shield drops and engages him hand-to-hand, managing to get the better of him soon enough and pummel him with backhands, bodyblows, kicks, and slashes. Tasting victory is close, she steps up the ferocity of her attack and begins to ignore the pain his punches and cuts cause on her, finally getting the shot she needs, and taking it.

The last things he sees before losing consciousness are her fist backhanding him across his face and cutting him, then her high roundhouse kick to his head, and lastly her claw embedding in his chest, right at the heart. He stands on his feet for a long moment, coughing blood and slowly becoming more relaxed, before he finally falls to his knees and then his back, defeated. The crowd gives her a standing ovation, cheering for the victor of round one as she revels in the adoration. She spins in a circle while celebrating and comes back around to face him, watching as curing magics emerge from the air and surround his body, sealing his cuts and healing his bruises. He opens his eyes and looks at the dirt for a second, confused, then remembers where he is and looks up to see her bow to him.

"Youuu..." he growls as he gets up and shakes himself off.

He composes himself and walks over to her, taking a stance. "The winner of round one: Rika Terral!"

Do you have to announce it? Vargas asks himself through gritted teeth. They square off across from each other and touch each other's left claw together, then start walking in a slow circle in a trancelike state. So intense and focused are they that they don't take their eyes off their opponent, concentrating up until the final moment, when they lash out at each other from their lock. They can only trade blows and kicks for a while, she blocking his punches, he dodging her kicks, she parrying his weapons. The deadlock lasts for some time, until he catches on to a pattern she follows with her footwork.

Shuffling his feet this way and then that, he manages to get in close -- very close -- and locks one of her claws up in one hand while tying both their legs up, then tries to cut at her torso with his free hand. She blocks it just barely and struggles to break out of their lock, then gasps and falls over as he pulls her feet out from under her with one of his own while shoving her with his arms. She falls flat over and looks up to see him jumping in the air again, aiming at her with his knee and drawing one claw back. She rolls away again and stands back up on her feet, but he comes down on his soles and starts swinging, cutting at her torso and gashing her across her shoulders and abs.

She falls back at first, but soon finds herself being pressed against the spiked chains at the edge of the ring, but just as soon as she knows what's happening, he grabs her hands in a lock and she feels her back being cut and pressed into the barbs lining the chains. She screams long and hard while being leaned into it and has to listen to the crowd go nuts over the event, cheering madly at the carnage, then clenches her jaw and pushes against him, using all her strength to muscle herself off the chains and back on her feet, where she kicks him in the ribs and finally breaks the hold. He backs away a step, then ducks to the side after she spinkicks him in the chest.

Gaining momentum, she rushes at him and manages to get another slash in to his torso, cutting up his left pec. He counters quickly however, and uppercuts her across the right side of her head, opening a gash running from the bottom of her chin up to behind her ear. She groans and is tempted to grab at the wound for a moment, but bears through it and deflects the next few rounds of his fighting. At length they end up kicking each other in the stomach and pushing away, both falling to one knee on opposite sides of the ring. They pant and growl, flashing their weapons; then he holds his up and looks at it, then at her. "Whaddaya say we do this bare-knuckle?"

"No weapons?" she pants.

"No weapons." He watches her the whole time, his face holding an expression of sincerity.

"...Okay," she says, then stands and removes her claws. "Hand-to-hand, the ancient rules."

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

"Just like Duncan taught us."

"..." His demeanor seems to darken at the mention of his father's name, and although she cringes somewhat and feels like apologizing, it's hardly the time for it.

Instead she strips off her weapons and throws them away, outside the ring, while he does the same and just stands there, arms relaxed. Hushed murmurs fall over the crowd at this, as people wonder what they're up to in the pit. She loosens up, too, and assumes a stance, waiting for him to move... which he doesn't. Well, not at first, anyway. He pauses for a second to let the moment sink in, then switches into a pose suddenly and rushes her, immediately locking her in a flurry of fist and wrist parries and blocks. He reaches out with his fist and has it slapped away; another try with his other fist has it blocked outright, but his other fist reaches back around and tries for a bodyblow.

She blocks that, too, and reaches up to kick him in his chest. He scouts it out, however, and reaches down with one hand, grabbing her ankle and yanking up. Her momentum and his strength combine to make her fly into a back flip, but she also hops up as he counters and counterattacks as well, kicking her foot into his chin on her way into the backflip. Surprised and dazed, he stumbles back and regains his footing while she takes the initiative, running at him with her fists bared. The first thing he does is let her come at him, and then grab her hand and duck down, using her weight and speed to throw her over onto her back. He keeps a firm grip on her arm as she falls, then when she's down he twists her arm back and applies pressure to her elbow and wrist, and presses his knee into her shoulder, locking her in an armlock.

She struggles against him for a moment, trying to break free while biting down on her teeth through the pain. Getting nowhere in a hurry, she finally relaxes and thinks for a second... then reaches up with her free hand and rakes him across his eyes. He staggers backward and holds his eyes, groaning and releasing the hold. She rolls out from under him and gets back on her feet, ready to throw anything she has at him, but finds herself being charged by him again. He rushes at her blindly, however, since his eyes are still aching from her rake, and she gets an idea.

He closes the gap between in but a second, but she thinks faster and ducks low under his arms, then rams her shoulder into his gut and grabs him around his waist, lifting him into the air and running forward a few steps before slamming him back down into the dirt again with all her might, knocking the air clean out of him. He coughs and lies on the ground under her, stunned. The crowd goes wild for that one, giving her another standing ovation. So out of it is he that she's able to mount him and start pummeling away at his face and chest for a good few seconds before he snaps out of it and reverses, winding up on top of her, pummeling away at her face. She covers her face at first and tries to block him, to no avail, then reaches up while he punches with her legs and wraps them around his head. He stops his attack once she has him in this odd hold and tries to break free, but she pulls back and throws him off of her and back into the dirt, giving her time to get back on her feet.

They both get up at once and rush at each other without a moment's hesitation, but his offense has taken something out of her and she misses spotting the cues that he's going to strike at her with a kick first. She gets ready to block a punch, but instead she sees him spin around and throw a very fast, very strong high heel kick at her, which catches her dead in her chin and throat and knocks her flat on her back. She lies on the ground blinking and coughing, very much dazed and confused, while he comes back around and stands there, watching her struggle to her feet.

He moves in a semi-circle while she gets up and starts spinning around, trying to find him again; and when she does, he goes straight into hitting her with hard hooks and uppercuts. Unable to make any sense of what's happening anymore, she can only stagger backwards under his assault and take the hook, then the uppercut, then the body blows and jabs, then the kicks and punches... though she does try to fight back with her own offense, it's all easily sidestepped and parried and countered with more punches and kicks. Finally he presses her close to the chains again and begins slamming her with hooks and backhand chops, bloodying her lip and nose in short order.

She falls back against the chains finally, but can't feel the pain shooting through her as she's near to being knocked out. He watches her reel, bouncing off the chains for a second with her hands up in a weakly held stance, then reaches back and spins around hard and fast, knocking her to the ground with a mighty spinning roundhouse kick to the jaw.

The crowd bursts again, cheering him on while the announcer sits forward in his seat, waiting for the judgment call from the referee. Meanwhile Vargas steps back and relaxes, nodding at her, while she lies in the dirt and breathes dust, not moving an inch although she's still technically somewhat awake. Getting his call from the referee, the announcer sits forward and bellows, "The winner of round two: Vargas!"

The thousand-plus crowd explodes into cheering again, giving him an ovation now. He ignores their cheering mostly, and watches as curing magic washes over her, healing most of her wounds in an instant. She blinks and lifts her head -- painfully -- to look around her at the dirt, then rises onto her knees and turns to face Vargas, glaring at him. She doesn't bother dusting herself off as she stands, instead just assuming an offensive stance and waiting again for him to move.

She doesn't have to wait long, because he goes right back on the offensive and throws a few punches and kicks at her that she easily sidesteps and dodges. He spits in the dirt and pulls back for a moment to throw a high kick at her, which she ducks under and then grabs him around his waist quickly and lifts him in the air. She holds him high for a second and twists him to the side, then spins and throws him back down on the ground, suplexing him. Phased for only a second, he quickly counters by grabbing her head and using his feet to roll her over on the ground beside him, then rolls back over on top of her and starts punching at her face again.

Blood begins to flow from her mouth again regardless of her attempts at blocking, and for her next move she reaches up and jabs her thumb in his eye. He jumps and steps off of her, grasping his eye and muttering random syllables. She grins satisfactorily and sits up, watching him shake his head off and then try to attack her again. Even while seated she manages to hold him off with parries and blocks, easily countering with a throat jab that sends him backing away again. Her back pops while she gets up, an oddly good feeling compared to the rest of the match, and she stands ready again with her hands in a grappling position.

He spins once and shakes his head off again, then charges at her with his fists flying. She sidesteps and parries each one, countering once in a while with a few of her own that he also dodges or parries, then reaches up and tries to kick him in his chest again with her left leg. He grabs her leg at his side and holds her there, watching her hop and swinging at her with his free hand. She blocks the punch, then hops up with her one free leg and spins around to kick him in the back of his head, using his arm for leverage.

The blow lands hard and he finds himself knocked senseless once more, letting go of her leg and stumbling forward. She pushes up from the ground and gets back on her feet, intent on taking advantage by laying into him with more punches and jabbing kicks. He regains just enough sense to parry most of the blows, but still finds himself hit by a few of them. An especially fast and hard backhand lands across his eye and he spins about and falls to one knee. As he sits staring into the dirt he sees a drop of blood fall from his brow and into the dirt, from a fresh cut she just opened over his eye.

The next thing he sees is her foot coming in from the side and slapping him in the face, making him get back on his feet, though unbalanced. She doesn't let up her assault and continues swinging at him, but he soon gets angrier and finds a second wind, parrying her blows with more force and finally opening a hole he can use, punching away at her face and torso with all his ferocity. He quickly gains the upper hand and stuns her with an especially powerful uppercut, then spins and lands a hard and fast roundhouse to her face, which reopens the wound he'd given her behind her ear. That last one seems to knock her out of her dizziness and she fires back, punching and chopping at him when she has a chance.

They trade blow for blow unchallenged, punch for kick, jab for chop, bodyblow and right hook. He then balls his fists together and reaches back, while she uses that opening to sidekick him in his chest. Unphased, he draws back more and then swings his fists at her face, hitting her hard across the forehead. She falls over to the side and rolls once, standing back up. Her hair comes undone from the force and falls all around her, and when she looks up again and tosses her hair, he can see blood pouring from a wide gash above her eyebrow. She raises her fists again and steps forward, trying to hit him with more punches and hooks. He dodges each of them, then tries to kick her in her chest.

She grabs his leg just as he'd done to her, so he hops up and tries to kick her in the back of the head, too. Seeing it coming, she ducks under it and smiles, but he lands on his foot and then hops up and spins again, facing up and then driving the sole of his foot into her sternum. She reels from the blow and releases his leg, then trips and falls over on her back, coughing and gagging on dirt. He draws his knees up to his chest and plants his hands behind his head, kicking up from lying on his back to his feet in one motion, and then rushes over to her as she stands up again.

He gets ready to draw back for a downward punch when she suddenly rises up on her two hands and drives her feet into his chest. He falls on his back, rolling backwards and then standing back up on his feet, and can only watch as she runs over and leaps, driving a flying kick right into his head. Her kick sends him rolling over sideways and flying into the air, but he miraculously lands on his knee and foot, upright. She recovers faster than him still, and lands a double-fisted punch of her own while he's on the ground.

That knocks him over and opens a new cut over his forehead, from which even more blood pours free. His hair also finally falls out of his tie then and flails in the air along with his head, lying splayed out around him as his face hits the dust. He breathes in the sand for a second, angry and frustrated, before he feels himself being lifted onto his knees by his shoulders from behind. He growls and plants a knee under him, then spins around and gives her a hard backhand to her face, bloodying her lip again. She staggers back a step, allowing him to get onto his feet and charge her, but she thinks quicker and grabs his shoulders while falling onto her back and rolling. Her feet plant themselves in his stomach and she whips him over onto his back; then, still holding her grip on his shoulders, she rolls backwards on top of him. Mounting him yet another time, she gets ready to pummel away at his face, but then finds her own move being used against her as he pushes away and rolls her over onto her back and then backrolls over on top of her.

From there he drives his forearm into her throat and tries to choke her out, and he watches her gag and cough and try to push his arm away. What he doesn't see is her knee shift between his legs, and then lift straight up... right into his crotch. Suddenly he lets go and rolls to the side, groaning and gripping the spot just below his belly button, while she coughs and sits up, trying to get her breath back.

Both of them get back on their feet slowly, feeling this close to fatigue and that much closer to passing out. Finally they get up again and make weak attempts at posing, then come at each other with teeth bared and fists flashing. He does something unexpected however, and ducks under her fist while spinning around behind her, jabbing her in her ribs on his way over. She gasps and clutches at the spot, then spins about and parries his punch, countering with a kick.

He grabs that but then throws her leg away, spinning her in a circle and then driving his forearm across her throat and chin. She falls flat on her back from it and lies in the sand for a second, blinking and coughing, then plants her hands behind her head and raises her knees to her chest, kicking up on her feet and spinning around. He also climbs back to his feet and stalks towards her, and when they meet again they trade another series of savage blows, matching double-fists and bodyblows punch for punch. They quickly made a bloody mess of each other, spreading blood around from their many open wounds as their exchange lasts for a good thirty seconds. Each hit is strong and powerful, but soon takes its toll on both of them, as she demonstrates when she finally falls to one knee.

He tries to take advantage quickly, but she blocks his punch and pushes him back, to which he raises his fists again and assumes a grappling pose. She starts growling and sets her feet under her, then charges at him full speed, trying to tackle him to the ground. He doesn't hesitate in ducking low and stepping to the side, then stretching his foot out and circling around her. His right leg sticks out to his side and throws a trail of dirt in the air, while he uses his other foot as a pivot and watches her run right on by and have to stop to turn around. Still very close to him, she doubles back and tries to punch at his head, but he uses his stance as a low defensive posture and blocks it, then watches as she throws another punch... and sees her let her guard down on her left side. Moving quickly, he grabs her wrist in his right hand and in one rapid movement brings his left leg around in a high sidekick that knocks her back. She stumbles and holds her hand up to her bleeding nose, and can only watch as he lands a heavy backhand strike on her chin, knocking her down.

He stands tall and watches her lie in the sand for a moment, breathing dirt and groaning, then walks over and grabs her by her shoulders to lift her on her knees. She doesn't seem to fight at first, instead groaning louder and grunting, but she tries to struggle against his arms feebly as he grips her head in one hand and her chin in his other. The crowd rises to their feet and begins cheering, calling for a finish. "Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!"

His teeth grit together and he tenses up to snap her neck, but he pauses as the day's events flash through his mind again, soon followed by rapid flashbacks and scenes from his childhood and early adulthood. Playing tug-of-war with his dad, roughhousing with his classmates, learning under his father... and that fateful day on Mount Kolt...

Suddenly none of it matters anymore. The killing, the bloodshed, the fighting... it's all hollow. He looks down at Rika's head in his hands and feels empty, despite his victory. One last time he tenses up and grips slightly tighter, then grabs her by her shoulders and throws her on her face, disgusted at himself. She coughs and gags, holding her throat with her hands, and turns to face him as she gets back to her knees. She watches him leave the pit in a hurry, not acknowledging any of the fans' cheers and praise, an expression of puzzlement on her face.

"Var-gas! Var-gas! Var-gas!"

***

He storms through his waiting area backstage, stopping only at a large barrel of water to fill a bucket and dump it over his head to wash himself off. Dirt and blood mix with the water and fall from his body onto the floor. Again he fills it and again he washes himself, then he starts to leave, but one of the men holds him back. "Sir, your wounds--"

"They can wait!" he snaps, throwing his arm off.

"But sir, I really can't--"

"I don't want it, you hear me?!" Vargas steps near him threateningly, letting his anger out on the poor kid. "I don't want it!"

"I really can't let you leave without healing you, sir!" he replies, standing up to him.

Vargas stares at him intensely for a long moment, then sighs in defeat and steps back. "All right, all right."

The kid steps aside and uses some controls to summon healing magic on Vargas, which seals his wounds and bruises, leaving only a few faint scars across his back and chest.

"Thank you," Vargas tells him with a sarcastic tone and a slight nod of his head, then exits through the door in the back.

He walks straight through the many winding hallways beyond, heading for his room and bypassing the celebration ceremonies that he supposed they would try to drag him to. People catch on to his sour mood instantly and know to stay out of his way; most of them being employees who've known him for many months and know the drill. He goes around one last corner and locks his eyes on his room, and gets halfway there when he hears Rika's voice. "Vargas! Vargas!"

He slows his step gradually to a walk, but doesn't stop. "What?"

"Not going to the party?" she asks while taking step alongside him.

"Not my scene," he mutters.

"Funny, I figured you were the gloating type," she barbs.

He pauses for a second, seeming to darken in expression. "...Not today."

He speeds up and hurries to his door, leaving her behind as she stops and watches him go. She bites her lip and asks herself if she should ask him her burning question, then basically tells herself "whatever" and rushes after him. "Wait!"

He slows down again to a walk, and then halts completely, throwing his head back and sighing heavily. "What?"

"Wait!" She runs over to him and stops when she gets in front of him, while he turns around to face her at the same time. She pants twice to catch her breath, then asks, "Why didn't you kill me?"

He steps with his foot and makes to turn away from her. "I didn't have to."

She grabs him by his arm before he turns away and pulls him back. "I've seen you in there before! Something was different today... you could've finished me for good, but you didn't. Why?"

His mouth twists into a frown and he fumbles in his mind for what to do, what to say. Should he dodge her question? Should he make up a story? Finally he gives in and just lets his fears melt away. "Because I can't live with myself, okay?! I can't do this anymore."

She lets go of his arm slowly, gently, and looks in his eyes while a moment of silence passes between them. "What changed?"

He looks back in her eyes for a second, then glances away at a wall. "I hate myself. I hate everything I am, and everything I've done. I -- killed my own father, Rika! And what do I keep doing? Killing!"

She watches tears form in his eyes, keeping her peace while he basically bares his soul in front of her. "I'm a disgrace to everything my father taught me. I'm a failure at my life, Rika. I can't do this anymore!"

He turns around and starts to go to his room again, but she steps after him and calls out, "Wait!"

He stops walking, but doesn't turn around, instead throwing his head back again and staring at the ceiling while grasping his left shoulder with his right arm. He fights back his tears and stifles them while she goes on.

"It doesn't have to end here." She walks towards him, talking softer. "You can start over, be a new man."

Another long pause. "It's too late for that," he finally whispers.

"No, it isn't!" She walks in front of him again and looks up into his face. "I've seen it start already, Vargas. I'm seeing you change already."

He keeps staring at the ceiling, but eventually lowers his head and hangs it, keeping his eyes away from hers. She watches him avoid her gaze and takes his chin in her hand, lifting his eyes back to hers and telling him, "I don't think you've ever been the giving up type. Don't start now."

He gazes into her eyes for some time, thinking deeply. Finally he breaks the silence and asks her softly, "Why are ya doing this?"

His voice is genuinely begging and confused, and full of emotion. Caught completely off guard, she moves her mouth up and down as if to say something, but nothing comes out at first. Lost without an answer, she can only whisper, "I... I don't know..."

They gaze at each other for a long moment, until he suddenly moves past her and gets to his door. "No. No, I can't do it anymore..."

She hurries up to him and grabs his shoulder before he can open the door, then spins him around and throws him against it with force. "Can't do what?!"

He seems surprised only at first, but it soon passes as his eyes fall on the scar running from her chin to behind her right ear. He reaches up with his left hand and tries to brush his fingers against it gently, but she pulls her face away and looks at his hand, then traces it to her face and rubs her hand along the scar, looking up at him and waiting for his answer. He lowers his hand and looks into her eyes softly, whispering, "I can't kill anymore."

They stand there for a while, neither one moving, until he finally lowers his head again and turns to go into his room. She doesn't stop this time and lets him leave her standing in the hallway, her hand still fingering the scar mindlessly. A minute seems to pass before she thinks out loud in a whisper, "Maybe I can't, too..."
Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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