In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Pt3: Sword Raised High, Head Higher

tagnone

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Chapter 10: The Heart, Reinvigorated

Togai grunts as he takes one step after another, the burden of Mizuka slung across his shoulders gradually straining his legs.

"Matsuoka-san! I wonder, how much of your screams will get my darling to change her mind? Or, perhaps, will the sight of your lifeless body send her over the edge? The possibilities are thrilling! What do you think?"

Mizuka can only bear to whimper, pain mixed with terror-laced tears as the red stain on her shoulder spreads.

Togai smiles. "Don't worry. We've got all night, and I've got more than enough of you to make her change her-mind?"

Tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-

"Hm! Do you hear that? Could it be?" Togai picks up the pace.

"Hh! Hnokuh!" The footsteps get louder. Togai's demented smile stretches wider.

"Oh~ So exciting! The hunter becomes the hunted! The hunted becomes the huntress! Is this fear I feel? Is this what it feels like to be scared? Am I… scared?"

TMP-TMP-TMP-TMP-TMP-TMP-TMP-TMP-

The running stomps of shoes across the cold hard floors becomes too loud for Togai to shrug off. He turns around, ecstatically beholding a shadowed silhouette charging towards him at full speed.

"Are you feeling it now, my Honoka-chan?! That sweet, burning desire to hurt?"

Honoka says nothing; Drawing the bokken in a charging thrust, her eyes glaze over in single-minded focus.

Togai wags his finger with an accompanying "Ah-ah-ah!".

Mizuka's reflection glints off Honoka's glasses as the hostage is pitched at her.

"Can't hurt your friend now, can you?"

Mizuka screams as her bulk flops a meter through the air, straight towards her friend.

Steeled gaze remaining upon her target, Honoka seizes Mizuka with one arm and rams the sword straight into Togai with the other.

"You are not my friend."

The force of the blow halved, Togai nevertheless stumbles back as he sucks wind and clutches at his chest.

"Oh! Oh, I think I felt that." Togai unbuttons the middle of his shirt, curiously drawing a finger across the fresh welt upon his chest.

"It will blossom into quite the bruise, Honoka-chan! Now we match just like a couple, don't you thinkKKEH-" Togai's head turns sharply, followed by his shoulders, his chest, and the rest of his body. The lightning-fast blow sends him spinning backwards, slamming into the floor.

"We are NOT a couple."

Honoka's legs tremble as her combat high wears off. She falls to her knees, propping herself up with the sword. Through panting breaths and tear-stained eyes she whispers hoarsely to herself:

"Mishio… Mishio-san! I beg this of you; Do not watch over me any longer! Instead I implore this of you: Watch me, instead!"

"Oh, Honoka-chan…" Togai's arm twitches forth, dragging his limp body forwards.

"You're putting my gift to great use. Yes, this is what I want to see. It's making me so-ptuh!-happy. Very well!" Togai slowly slouches his way up, reaching for an object tucked behind a fire extinguisher. Bearing a blood-dribbled smile, he brandishes his sledgehammer.

"Our date officially begins, now." Togai doubles back towards his darling. With Mizuka behind her, Honoka makes her stand.

"Don't worry, my Honoka-chan." Togai rushes to her, demented smile unchanging. He readies his charging swing. To be struck even once by that head would mean the end of everything. "Perhaps you might suffer a broken bone or two, but I'll make sure not to hit you in the vitals!"

Now of all times, Honoka's body remains unmoving. He swings. She lashes out with the speed of a striking viper, yelling the Kiai she was encouraged to shout out loud in her Kendo days.

"TEI!!" A slight step back, the sword swinging down with the force of fury no longer suppressed.

"Oh!" Togai looks with admiration as it smashes into his upturned fingers, Honoka's own backstep just enough for the hammer head to merely graze her shirt.

"HA!" Honoka drives the sword straight up, uppercutting straight into Togai's chin. Had his tongue been out it would have been sliced apart from the force of his jaw snapping shut.

"KIEN!" Sword fully raised and drawn back, Honoka slams it into Togai's head. Dazed as he was from the blow to his chin Togai is sent hurling into a door to his left, knocking it off its rails and sending both it and him smashing into the adjacent room.

The schoolgirl maintains her post-strike stance, her chest heaving with deep breaths. She slowly approaches the forcibly-opened entryway, bracing herself mentally. She hears a series of very calm coughs, then silence.

"Hohohoho…" Honoka grips the sword tight and braces herself. The stamp of his foot on the fallen door, and she is ready.

"…It looks like you're not the only one Oguchi-Sensei is helping!" Togai leaps out, bringing down a baseball bat.

"SEI!" Fast as a bullet she has already launched herself past him, a decisive strike masterfully impacting Togai's stomach long before his descending bat reaches his shoulders.

"GI!"1 One swift turn, and her second decisive blow smashes into his temple as he turns to behold his 'darling'.

Togai drops the bat. He stumbles, threatening to collapse, concussed mind on the verge of shutdown-

Tttttik!

Togai's arm flies up and down in a blur, extended blade stabbing into his shin over and over. Clearly experiencing some degree of pain, Togai forces himself back from blacking out.

"Oh! Oh, Honoka-chan! That was close! I was almost knocked out there… So dangerous! What if I fell and hit my head somewhere bad?" Togai grins with chilling calm as his dark-hued pants begins trailing fresh waves of blood.

Honoka says nothing and strikes once more. Her eyes open slightly in alarm as her sword is caught against the blade's grip.

"Ehehe, yes, silly me…" Togai whips his arm back and thrusts towards Honoka - she blocks just in time, seeing the huge scratch across the wood of her sword.

"…I was always better with knives than large, brutish implements. What was I thinking?" Togai thrusts in a rapid series of strikes, putting Honoka on the defensive. She strikes back, and he uncaringly raises his arm to block the blow.

"So much pain! To be hated so much, I've never felt such things before! I wonder, what sound would I make if you broke my bones?" He snakes his hand around to grab the sword, thrusting his knife towards her chest.

"Enough…" Honoka hisses through her teeth, pulling on her sword while ignoring the bloody gash curving up to her collarbone.

"No." Togai smiles serenely through his bruised and bloodied visage. "Life is never enough."

"Enough!" Honoka sharply levers the blade forwards, twisting Togai's wrist and releasing it from his grasp. One powerful swing and Togai's other hand is smashed into, releasing the blade and sending it off into the darkness.

"I-said-enough!" Honoka screams, smashing her chipped and battered sword into Togai, over and over. Seemingly defeated, he chooses to spread his arms wide.

"Ah ha ha ha… Yes… Hurt me! HURT ME!" Enraptured by such violence coming from the formerly meek and withdrawn girl, he embraces every blow raining upon his body. The bokken smashes into his cheek, sending a fresh bout of bloody spit across the floor.

"To suffer is to live! To live is to suffer! This pain that I am in, does it mark the proof of my existence?!" He laughs madly, Honoka panting more and more with each strike she makes. She gradually slows, and so does his laughter die down.

"-Nnn-no… No…" Togai presses his palm into his temple once more, pained thoughts sparking within his grey matter. This pain in his skull, it was not the same as the agonies his body suffers-

"No… NO! That is not enough!" Completely ignoring the sharp blow to his neck that would have crippled lesser bullies, Togai launches himself forth and seizes Honoka's shoulders firmly with his broken hands, staring straight into her eyes.

"You do not truly seek to strike me down for good-you hold back!" With a surge of strength, he hurls her against a half-filled shelf, collapsing rows of books and knocking trophies down.

"You are not doing your absolute best!" Collapsed to the floor, Honoka reaches for her dropped sword. Togai kicks it away.

"You are not yet ready!" He picks her up and flings her against the rack once more.

Dok-dok-dok - A particular object wobbles within its squarish holder, rocked by the repeated impacts.

"You have yet to have what it takes!" He grabs Honoka by the hair and slams her head into the window, over and over, before flinging her back against a desk and shelf. Glasses deformed from the window collisions, the world blurs and her ears ring.

"…remaining sense of humanity holds you back - that is why you lose!" Togai yells in restrained violence and gentle fury; what could almost be thought of as a dotingly, affectionate manner of angry chiding. His excitement building to fever pitch, Togai gleefully throws Honoka against the shelf for a final time, and she collapses to the floor in a broken heap.

Bump! - The object dislodges from its bracket at last, rolling off into the darkness.

Togai stands over Honoka's waist, crouching down to gesture before her bruised, broken visage, her own eyes half-shut from his unhinged batterings.

"And haven't you forgotten something, my darling Honoka-chan? The game is still on! And just as I predicted, it was you who came to me in the end! Now that I have you in my grasp, I shall never let go, forever and ever! I WIN!!!"

He wraps his battered, swollen fingers about Honoka's neck, and squeezes.

Donk. Drrrrrr… - The object gently bumps against the wall, with just enough force to send it rolling back in the opposite direction.

"Ugh-hh-kk-hkk…" No longer able to fight him off, Honoka pulls limply against his vice grips to no avail. Through her bruised eyes, she gives Togai a final spite-filled glare. Her lungs burned, begging for air. His response: to squeeze tighter.

"My sweet breathtaking vase, so cracked and chipped with abuse… Let me be the one to finally shatter you into a billion little pieces, let me be the one to pick up every last shard of your broken visage…"

"G-gh-go to hell."

"…let me be the one to recast you into something both beautiful and terrifying: A monster just like I, trapped in this hopeless, rotting world, trapped but not alone!" He squeezes tighter as he burns her slackening visage into his mind. The moonlit sight of her eyes gradually rolling back, a twisted triumph of a memory to cherish.

Drrrr… Tump!

Fixated upon the girl beneath him, Togai never saw what was coming from above.

CRUNCH!

Having cushioned its fall on the back of Togai's head, the object rolls down his back and hits the floor with an unceremonious thud.

Togai says nothing. His eyes gradually roll into his head as his grip slackens upon Honoka's neck, allowing her to sharply take in new gasping breaths and return to full consciousness. She manages to raise her head just enough, seeing Mr. Oguchi's prized trophy, a bowling ball, roll off into the darkness.

Once more, misfortune came to Honoka's rescue.

Honoka watches in absolute stillness as Togai's head flops down. His arms slouch further and further, hands splaying uselessly onto the floor. She squeaks as he finally collapses upon her. Honoka's pupils shrink as Togai's head rests upon her stomach, blood seeping unto her body. He manages to turn just enough to see her face one last time, giving her a look of gentle sadness.

"Oh, oh… My sweet Honoka-chan…" Togai laments as blood fills the whites of his eyes,

"I can't feel anything, anymore." With a sad smile on his face, Togai stops moving.

Honoka takes one deep breath after another, daring herself to wonder if the nightmare was finally over. She lifts her hands upon his shoulders, pushing the limp Miyata Togai off of her. Bloodstained, disheveled, shivering, battered yet unbroken, Honoka wraps her arms around herself tightly. Purged of all thoughts and emotions, ignoring the pain of her body, she breathes deeply, again and again.

"Honoka…" Honoka partially fades back to reality, seeing Mizuka standing halfway at the doorway.

"M-Mizuka. I need, I need, I need-" With her mind in static Honoka struggles to get up, to say something coherent. She falls back to her knees. A new thought crosses her mind: She wants to ask how Mizuka managed to free herself of the bonds. She opens her mouth, but says nothing.

She stares at the pistol aimed in her general direction. And the other. And another. And then a rifle. Then the lights flicker to life as the switches are hit.

Black-clad adults, armed and armoured, stream into the room with the sound of thick rubber boots clomping across the fallen door. Gun-mounted lights swing across the room, casting their glow upon Togai's body and every sight of damage sustained in the brawl.

It was the mysterious outsiders.


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