There is an ineffable scent of cherry blossoms.
Soto and Mori stand facing each other. To Soto’s left is Jane, for once clearly resolved and visible. To Mori’s left is Noburu, short and wiry and grey. Cradled in Noburu’s arm is a long, wicked naganata, its edge catching the sunlight streaming down from above. He has tied up the sleeves of his robe so that they won’t interfere with his movement. Like Soto, he is barefoot. Soto, as always, has his daisho, ornate handguards and lacquered black scabbards visible, the handles wrapped with black knotted silk over shark skin.
Around the edge of the courtyard, evocative of a Chinese wirework film, stand disciples of each master, still, nervous. The air itself is thick with potential, Soto rooted and intense, but pure; Mori like a caged animal, bared teeth, animated by destructive intent. His weight shifts from foot to foot subtly and one hand flexes on the weapon haft, followed by the other.
At an indeterminate moment, Mori sucks in a breath and shouts “I, Uhei Morimoto Hanshi, challenge Soto Daimyo Hanshi to lethal combat, for the satisfaction of a matter of honor!” Soto bows slightly, and responds quietly “I, Soto Daimyo Kyoshi, accept the challenge.” They hardly move, but suddenly their bodies betray their lethal intent.
Nobur speaks up in harsh, guttural Japanese. “In accordance with the agreement between the combatants, neither has utilized any esoteric techniques in preparation for this combat, and will not do so until it begins, by the accord of their seconds. Is your master prepared?”
Jane’s eyes flash and she glares at Noburu and Mori with undisguised distaste. She breathes out, glances at Soto, gets nothing. Finally, “Yes”.
Mori whirls into a guard stance, barely restrained, and begins chanting under his breath. Wild power builds around him, and the air smells of iron. Soto shifts his stance slightly and places a hand on the handle of his katana, breathes evenly, the focus of his eyes softening, relaxed.
They build like this for a few moments, Mori repositioning and Soto making small adjustments. For those who are watching there is a clenching of the gut, a clenching of hands and jaws; breathing becomes more rapid. Mori seems to fill the courtyard, overflowing himself, swelling to its edges, pressing against the disciples and those who have come to keep the duel contained.
With a battle cry Mori hurls himself forward, and he blurs, there is a sound of rushing wind, and they collide, Soto’s blade flashing free in a lethal arc. Sparks and fire fly from Mori’s attacks and arc around Soto. Immediately both accelerate, flowing around each other, clashing with blinding speed and bursts of breath. Sparks shower around them and the air in the courtyard begins to heat with the frantic activity. Disciples take hesitatant steps backward, a few openly gaping at the shimmering spectacle.
Errant, crackling energies begin to arc away from the furious battle and precautions set up beforehand are barely able to contain them. The sense of brutality and relentlessness emanating from Mori increases to the point where it is palpable. Teeth grind unconsciously; muscles clench and eyes flash with violence.
All of this in a matter of moments, perceptible only afterward, on reflection.
There is a strangled cry from Jane, suddenly visible, closer to the two combatants than others, a visible effect holding off the aura of heat radiating from the combatants. With a snap like a thunderbold Soto’s katana shatters; Mori whirls and drives the naginata forward and Soto seems taken off-guard. Flagstones beneath their feet crack with an unseen impact –
and Soto is gone. Mori’s weapon is sheathed in a thick layer of frost and the courtyard is suddenly slick with ice. The heat has been sucked from the air entirely, leaving an emptiness behind.
Mori, his face pulled into a ferocious, triumphant snarl, breath heaving, looks around desperately, naginata whirling in a defensive pattern.
A moment later, there is a wet grunt, followed by a thud. Noburu collapses to the ground, his throat ripped from ear to ear, gouts of blood spattering to the ground. He looks surprised. For a moment Jane is visible before she leaps through the nearby wall and disappears with a rush of air.
The empty feeling deepens.