39 Fist of Shadow
Baketsu was confident. Pale used a spear, a beginner weapon. No matter how fast it was, it was predictable, unlike the versatile sword.
"Before we begin, Warrior Pale, I gotta warn you. I've comprehended the Stone Body art to Middle Completion. It means you have no chance at winning."
Pale smirked. Arrogant. Baketsu grinned back. He looked forward to teaching him a lesson.
Baketsu blinked. He immediately regretted that decision; in that moment, the spearman had crossed the distance between them.
Baketsu felt Pale's spear smashing into the side of his head, dazing him, then the spear haft cracked onto his ankle. Unbalanced, Baketsu began to fall sideways, but Pale's rising spear haft struck his solar plexus, sending him stumbling backward instead.
Clutching his chest in pain, Baketsu gasped for air. 'My... My Stone Body art? It doesn't nullify his attacks!?'
He forced a grin to hide the pain, "Why didn't you tell me you had some skill, Outsider?"
Pale pursed his lips, resting his spear behind his head on his shoulders, "Because I don't underestimate my opponents. Maybe it's different in a sect?"
Baketsu yelled as he rushed forward. He needed to control the fight, to get the spearman to fight at his pace. Pale lifted up his metal spear, blocking a sparking sword slash. But Baketsu followed with a clean kick to the abdomen and a slash across his chest armor.
Baketsu decided to raise the stakes, "Fist of Shadow."
Pale's eyes widened in shock at seeing thick, vibrant purple smoke churning around Baketsu's fist. Baketsu smirked. The smoke was a feint! He halted the ki in his fist and swiped his blade low from the opposite side. But even still, Pale managed to deflect it with his spear.
'This guy... What kind of ridiculous reflexes does he have?'
Baketsu focused ki in his legs, leaping up and hooking onto a tree branch with his arm. Below, Pale swept his spear but found no target. Pale looked left, he looked right--
Baketsu dropped, lifting his sword up high and slashing it downward-- But Pale set his spear above him, horizontally. It was blocked again!?
'What kind of training has this kid done?! I even hid my presence with that attack!'
"Baketsu!? Why was that attack so much stronger?" Pale complained.
"Because you're getting weaker!" Baketsu retorted with annoyance.
"No, come on. Really?" He insisted.
"Tch. Used my legs to jump off a tree."
"Nice!" Pale nodded, thrusting his spear.
Baketsu dodged and grabbed Pale by the arm, kneeing him in the side and elbowing him in the face. Only then, did he feel better, "Thanks."
Pale yelled, trying to punch with his offhand, but Baketsu saw it as a chance. With Pale's arm grabbed and his center of weight shifted, Baketsu repositioned his body for a shoulder throw. Bam! Pale hit the hard ground. Baketsu reached for his concealed weapons, hoping to finish off his stunned opponent.
Pale rolled as if his life depended on it-- making Baketsu miss every single dart he threw.
'Ugh, this is a nightmare! Why'd I have to be so impatient? I had him!'
While Pale got to his feet, Baketsu drew his last concealed weapon.
He waved it mockingly. The last three he had were smeared with a waxy poison, the one he held, included. He just needed a single cut to gain a tremendous advantage.
He threw it at Pale's stupid face.
With another clang, Pale's spear deflected it, launching it up to fall harmlessly into the distance.
'Okay, that's just not fair.'
Baketsu looked over to where the dart fell, then back to his opponent, "Neat trick. Can you do it again?"
Pale pointed his spear, ready. "I'm ready for as many as you've got."
"Well, I was just asking because I'm totally out."
"Oh. Then to answer your question: Yeah, I can."
Pale used his spear to vault up, jumping and slamming his spear down.
'Predictable! Aha!' Baketsu stepped to the side to dodge, but then he saw the opposite end of the spear smash into his face. And he didn't see it, but he felt the metal rod smash into the side of his ribs.
In a panic, Baketsu flipped sideways, managing to dodge Pale sweeping his spear low.
Upon landing, Baketsu rushed forward-- he was out of tricks and flourishing attacks. He started attacking using the Ivory Judge sect's basic blade techniques. Faster! Stronger! The fight was taking too much of his stamina and he needed to end it soon!
Pale blocked the sword attacks far too easily, "How'd you do that flip?"
Baketsu rolled his eyes, "Practice, I guess."
Clang. Clang. Clang. Three sword slashes had set a rhythm, which Baketsu fully intended to break, "Fist of Shadow!"
It was perfect. Baketsu's purply smoking fist found its way past Pale's spear, smashing into his chest and sending him stumbling back and into a kneel.
It was a chance Baketsu couldn't pass up. He leaped forward to finish it, "Fist of Shadow!"
Trying to smash his fist into Pale, he missed, striking the ground, causing an explosion of rocks and debris. It was fine, though. Baketsu rushed through the dust cloud where he assumed Pale would be and found he'd guessed correctly. A connected high kick to Pale's chin had him staring at the sky and opened him up to Baketsu's blade. As fast as the spearman was, Baketsu managed a superficial cut against Pale's armored abdomen and scored two deep, bloody gashes on his forearms.
He was quite proud of himself until somehow, Pale's spear haft pushed him against a tree, knocking the wind out of him. Pale stood grounded, his stance wide, rotating his entire body and smashing the spear into Baketsu's stomach. He coughed painfully, a crimson glop of blood marring Pale's cheeks.
Baketsu slapped the spear away. He had taken too much damage from that attack and was a half-step away from unconsciousness. "I won't go down so easily!"
Hoping he sounded more confident than he actually was, Baketsu rushed forward, swiping his sword high, slashing to the side, leaping up and slamming his blade down. The bastard blocked every attack! But against Baketsu's continuous attacks, he could only get pushed back.
The kid was a monster. His spear was too strong. His reflexes rivaled those of a sect elder. If he and Taree were to work together, they might even be able to beat Yoshio!
Baketsu swung his sword, but Pale had already stepped back. He was wide open. Baketsu shut his eyes and time moved slowly as he waited for death. The butt of the spear smashed into his throat, collapsing Baketsu to the ground painfully. He couldn't breathe, but he could cough, tears forming at the corners of his eyes and his face turning red. He kicked out and rolled from side to side, praying for the pain to go away.
Pale prodded Baketsu on the side with his boot, "Huh. I thought that would be enough to kill you."
Baketsu glared up at him, wishing that looks could kill.
"Why didn't you kill me, stupid Outsider?"
Muto Baketsu had applied a bitter-smelling unguent to the cuts to staunch the bleeding and was tightly bandaging his arms.
"I dunno. Did you want me to?"
"Che. I guess not. Alright, all done."
"Your medicine stinks."
"And I've never had a girlfriend," Baketsu responded indignantly. He was annoyed at failing such an important mission. And all because of the Kimura young mistress! "Quit complaining! You can wash off the medicine after a day or two."
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Pale looked down, frowning.
"Eh? What's wrong, Outsider?" Baketsu asked.
Pale looked up with concern in his eyes. "So I'll be fine after a day... But what're you gonna do about getting a girlfriend?"
Baketsu groaned, "Shut up before I fight you seriously. You think you're so--"
The sound of glass shattering and falling reverberated throughout the crystal forest, interrupting their conversation.
Baketsu stood up hurriedly, his eyes full of panic, "No, no! Not again!"
Pale stood, as well, his spear ready. The ground began to shake and the pools of water began to warp and twist as if in pain.
Baketsu grasped both of Pale's shoulders, "Listen to me. Take the girl and hide. Don't try to fight the creature that's coming out."
Pale nodded, confused, "Okay, but what do you mean?"
"You'll know, Warrior Pale! Grab her. Grab her and go! I'll go that way, and you go the opposite!"
A roar comprised of dozens of voices shook their world. The dying bleating of a goat being slaughtered. A frantic man hiding in fear while praying for death. An angel casting its judgment upon an entire race. A mother crying for her stillborn child.
Pale placed Taree over his shoulders, "Baketsu, come with us. We have a better chance together."
Baketsu shook his head violently, "No, Warrior Pale. You'll understand soon. Now GO!"
He turned to leave, but Pale called out again, standing with his chest forward, "Warrior Baketsu. I spared your life. You owe me."
Baketsu hesitated and turned his head back, "Then I'll owe you in the next life."
The dark-haired boy pulled up the cloth to cover his face and dashed away. Pale turned with Taree secure on his shoulders and ran with all his might.