CHRONICLES OF DUSK: BLOOD BLADES
Chronicle II
Chapter 6: Impossible Calculation----
Authored by Bleu Ciel

I—+—I

Author's Note: The battle took longer than I thought because of a lot of editing. I didn't expect it to be this epic, honestly. But now, at least I was able to portray both some of Takehiko's secrets and his actual true skill - a skill all shounen characters should have other than being really really agressive. Honestly.

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The harsh winds blew like the devil's breath in the wild, overgrown grassfield where Takehiko the Thousand Blades swordsman and his opponent, a komuso allegedly behind shinobi killings, fought. The shattered skies darkened, the ray of light here and there overburdened by the harrowing clouds that passed over that left a foreshadowing of the words that came from the legendary swordsman himself - a story Ren of the Hollow ninja clan thought she would never hear as long as she was alive.

"That's right," Takehiko said, a blank stagnant look on his face as he showed the glowing brother blades Fuujin and Raijin towards his opponent. "It's no coincidence that these two 'brother swords' were owned by two real brothers before. I assure you, far from it."

"No," Takehiko said with gritted teeth, holding both swords close almost reluctant to say another word, Ren looking closely, seeing only a distorted face filled in agony in him. "These swords... they literally contain the essence of the swordsmen that previously owned them. Swords... that are literally the soul of the samurai that previously were their masters. Tainted... by me."

"W-Wh... W-What is the meaning of this!?" the komuso spat, taken aback.

"What does this mean?" even Ren said aloud, unable to hold herself back with what she just heard.

"These swords were specially forged by an old blacksmith friend of mine. It was he that re-forged every single one of my swords, and know many of the secrets I held within. All of the swords I carry - no, the burdens I carry with them - they were swords from people I have previously slain."

Ren and the komuso could only gasp, the kunoichi especially taken aback by what the swordsman had just revealed so carelessly, knowing him to keep much to himself and no one else. 'Why? Why is he saying all this aloud!? Could it be that he knows this komuso from before...'

Just then, Ren's eyes dilated, realizing what other truth could come from revealing such truths from the Thousand Blade's own mouth. 'No---! Or is it... It can't be! Is he... trying to tell ME!?'

'I-I don't understand,' Ren continued, feeling a sense of unease, struggling to find a reason for his irrational behavior. 'Why is he telling me all this all of a sudden? Why now? Is it because of last night? Is he... trying to tell me something else? Something important?'

'Whatever it is,' Ren confessed to herself, feeling her heart beat faster with dread, 'whatever is going to happen soon... I'd rather he never tell me anything than for whatever it is to happen!'

"...Why is it that you need to tell me any of this?" the komuso asked straight-forwardly. "There's absolutely no need for you to reveal the reasons behind your legend, although it IS really convenient for our readers. Or are you expecting me to feel pity about your dark past?"

"Heh, pity? No. You probably have a dark past too anyway, considering the cliche-ness of this sequence and the whole I-hate-ninjas thing. A need, however? Definitely," Takehiko explained. "This knowledge is necessary for you to forge something for me. You ARE called the Artisan, no? You WILL forge me this blade whether you like it or not."

"Hmmm... Heh heh... Heh heh heh," the komuso lightly chuckled. "I can't believe you'd threaten me with such an overused cliche phrase, but I must admit I am rather curious... Alright, I accept. Defeat me, and I will forge whatever you desire to the very best of my abilities. Otherwise, be defeated... and die. I will ask you something, however... My sword, the legendary Grasscutter, why resist such a tempting offer? You seem to have no reason, given your explanation so far."

"On the contrary, I have explained everything," Takehiko disagreed. "The swords I carry - the burdens within them... They are only swords of the people I've killed. You will live to forge me my blade, and therefore it cannot be mine."

"Understandable," the komuso nodded, thinking of something else. "...Do you REALLY have a thousand swords in there? How do they all fit?"

"This is fiction."

"Never mind, then," the komuso shook his head, dismissing whatever he had asked. "A last question, if I may. Why swords of the people you've killed?"

Takehiko's eyes bulged, his body quivered, shaking, holding the swords to his own. "I... Heh, Ren was right. I AM a weenie."

"It's true," Takehiko bluntly explained. "I hesitate to kill, and yet I have killed when needed... And all the swords I've carried with me, the owners of the people I've killed... I killed them all by accident. All of them."

"B-B... B-By accident!?" Ren said aloud, unable to stop herself. "A thousand swords, each representing a life... all of them killed by accident!?"

"So many died from an accident," the komuso suddenly realized. "Wait--! The destroyed town of Minoru... It... It was---!"

"Minoru Town!" Ren mouthed, realizing the connection. "The town that died, sprayed with blood in a single night... Takehiko Minoru the Thousand Swords and the people he'd killed represented by every sword he possesses... It can't be coincidence."

Takehiko looked away, his hair covering his eyes. "I... cannot comment on that. All I can say is... The 'Thousandth Sword' I hold can only be as strong as the curse of every man, woman, and child I've killed with my own power."

"I understand. Enough," the komuso spoke with a raised hand, readying the Kusanagi high above his head with one hand and his priest's staff in the other. "I'm sure our readers have had enough teasers with backstory explanation... Let's get to what's truly important."

"What's important?" Takehiko thought aloud, thinking of a certain ninja. "Umm... Fan service?"

"Why am I getting this feeling he's thinking of something stupid about me right now?" Ren angrily said from the distance.

"No, not THAT," the komuso explained. "A badass fight with no logical explanation whatsoever!"

"Oh," Takehiko realized, readying his own swords. "I still prefer the fanservice though."

"Die, Thousand Blades!" the komuso exclaimed as the winds erupted a violent gale once more, crashing through the grassy plains, sending hundreds upon hundreds of the torn grass and earth towards his two-sword opponent.

Takehiko stood on the defensive, shielding with the Fujin on one hand as hundreds of sharpened grassblades made small but multiple cuts all over his body. As the torrential winds stopped, Takehiko combined the brother swords once more and aimed the Raijin at the Artisan with a flick of his wrist. "Raiijuuga," he exclaimed, sending another shot fast as lightning towards his opponent.

The lightning god fang hit its mark once again, tearing another hole in the straw basket that fully covered the komuso's head. "D-Damn," was the komuso's only reply. 'S... So fast!'

"LESSON ONE: He who strikes fast, strikes first," Takehiko said, spinning both blades in the ready. "I read that from a manga."

"Well, allow me to give a lesson of my own!" the komuso exclaimed, jumping towards the sky, airing down directly below the blinding sun.

"An overused but effective trick," Takehiko said, lifting the Fuujin higher than its brother, reflecting his sight with the swords to look at his opponent without directly looking at the blinding light. Prepared and ready, he parries the Kusanagi with the Fuujin, both simultaneously unleashing their latent wind prowess.

However, Takehiko underestimates the Kusanagi's control over the wind as the komuso flips around, cutting the grass around them and sending them swirling around the swordsman. Much to his surprise, however, Takehiko simply tripped himself over, dropping himself to the ground as the blades of grass swirled above him. With another Raijuuga, Takehiko cleared the obstacles and prepared to make his own move. Gathering his energy to the tip of his fingers, Takehiko wrote kanji letters at the air along his Fuujin.

"Sacred blade of the winds, temper the earth with golden strings - !Shizenkinran!" With Takehiko's declaration, the severed blades of grass swirled around his tampered steel, a swirling force of nature that surrounded the Fuujin like a tornado, stretching at least three meters long of swirling torrential winds. With a shout, the Thousand swordsman sweeps the swirling blade across the field, clearing the grassy plain like an oversized lawnmower.

'D-Damn!' the komuso gasped, the swirling torrent blasting across him too quickly to counter, the Kusanagi disarmed from his hands. Takehiko swung the nature-tempered blade again, going straight for the komuso a second time, defenseless without the wind-shifting sword. However, as the winds connected to the battle-worn priest, Takehiko was surprised as the winds scattered, seperated by some spherical force of energy emenating as the komuso merely threw a fist in the air, dispelling Takehiko's wind-shrouded spell.

"Physical arts," Takehiko said under his breath as the komuso dropped to the ground, well and unharmed. "I was wondering why you were so awkward with the blade. You don't specialize with kenjutsu... you're a martial artist - a taijutsu expert!"

"I had hoped to hide this skill for an upper hand, but I guess it was just self-preservation reflexes," the komuso nodded, the cover around his head beginning to fall off. "I could say the same to you, neh? I may not know much about the soul of the samurai without Reikonken being the priest that I am, but I know enough to see you aren't as adapt to it as well."

'W-What? Is he talking about Thousand Blades?' Ren thought aloud, surprised at the statement. 'I don't know much about kenjutsu, but everything I've seen with his sword techniques has been pretty amazing so far. But then again, I don't have Reikonken either...'

"...That doesn't matter," Takehiko dismissed, aiming his blades at the ready. "Aren't you going to fight me with what you're best at - hand-to-hand combat?"

"Only a fool would fight blades with a fist," the komuso said, ripping off the cover over his head, revealing his face true to form. Moving towards the disarmed Kusanagi, he looks at it, and then points it threateningly at Takehiko. "What I have... is enough."

"Y... You're that priest!" Takehiko exclaimed, surprised at this new revelation, looking straight at his opponent's face with much understanding. "The same priest along the procession. The one we met at the road..."

"Oh? We've met?" the Artisan asked. "Sorry, but I'm quite bad with faces and names, save my own. I do remember talking to a samurai couple walking along the road yesterday. That was you?"

"Yeah..."

"Nice hair."

"Sh-Shaddap!" Takehiko said, face flushed red. "I like my character design! A-Anyway, are you really the Artisan or some copycat?"

"I AM The Artisan, Thousand Blades. My name... is Shirou Takumi," the priest replied calmly. "That woman I thought was your samurai wife... That was the ninja then, on the road?"

"Yeah... What of it?"

"Damn, I should've known," the Artisan replied, smacking his lips. "Then, I could've killed her when I had the chance. Such a shame, neh?"

"You," Takehiko gasped. "So you really are the one killing the shinobi?"

"Of course, but only some half of the recent dead that I've heard from the Imperial Tenma Elite's report," Takumi explained. "According to the report, not only shinobi have been dying, but peasants, thieves, soldiers, warriors... even some of the Tenma themselves. According to the report, he simply vanished over the Great Sea."

"...So there's someone else out there."

"True, but I can take the credit for many of the ninja's deaths," Shirou replied, a burning anger piercing from his eyes, seething with rage. "I hate ninja... I hate them all. And after I kill you..."

He held his fists tight, grip twisting on his sword, his teeth clenched, shearing blood. "...I'll kill your ninja friend too."

But before he was able to act, the air around Takehiko suddenly grew cold as ice.

"...NO, you won't."

In that single instant, Takehiko disappeared from his sight, leaving a blur that cleared the tall plain of grass beneath him, from where he stood the ground had burned beneath to a smoldering crisp. As those blades of grass quietly and gently hovered towards the ground, Shirou and Ren could only gasp as only silence drowned the mightly plains that was once covered with the sound of a harsh wind.

And then, as if by instinct, Shirou sensed death coming from his right side. Feeling immediate danger, his hands moved the Kusanagi to a defensive position. In the next second, a crackling parry echoed throughout the field, Takehiko holding the lightning-weilding Raijin against him like a demon possessed.

Shirou parried him back, sending Takehiko on a somersault backflip back which didn't stop his assault. As he turned right-side up, both Raijin and Fuujin glowed with an awesome power as he lowered himself gently above the tall grass as if he levitated with the power of the wind-wielding sword. Takehiko didn't slow down in the least, putting his sword in the double Iai position.

Ren gasped. 'That's--'

'--An instant-kill art,' Shirou muttered in a panic as he also placed the sword in the Iai stance. "No, you don't! Kusanagi Gale Blades!" he exclaimed, swiping the sword with ferocity as the winds once again shifted to his favor, sending even the once harmless blades of grass flying towards the Thousand swordsman like sharpened knives.

Takehiko simply looked up, eyes eager to finish the battle with a careless but powerful blow. "Finishing move - !Raizetsushin!"

Shirou's eyes blurred, losing sight for only moments, but in those few precious seconds the battle was drawn to a quickened halt. Before he could even turn finish his move, Takehiko had already gone past behind him, a vacuum trail of lightning in his wake from where he was to where he now stood. Takehiko stood still on his follow-through, his blades still eager with discharge, a blank stare on his face as he waited for his blow to take effect. And then...

Shirou's sword falls, the biggest parts blown half, the edges unsharpened and broke apart as the lightning-quick art took its toll on the Artisan's blade. "My... My Kusanagi..."

"Divine Art, Raizetsushin," Takehiko muttered as he took the swords back into their enlightened scabbards. "Another of my 'patented' arts, this move requires both of the brother blade's full strength, transferring every bit of these sword's limited Renkonken into a move that is nearly invisible, several times the speed of sound. In its wake, nothing is left alive. Usually."

Takehiko turned around. "Give up, Shirou. You're completely outclassed."

"...Heh... Am I, now?"

Suddenly, the winds stopped, and instinctively Takehiko knew what Shirou's threatening words meant. 'Crap, I forgot! The Shinshiku--!'

"--Too late," Shirou breathed last, as he had already readied the flute of divining set upon his lips, ready to play the tune that would make him nearly invincible for approximately the next ten minutes.

"NO!!" Takehiko exclaimed, slamming the komuso back and forth with the dual elemental blades. Shirou, playing the tune with eyes closed, dodged left and right effortlessly, dashing like a dance and evading like the wind. In a last-second effort, Takehiko threw the Fuujin spinning to the tranced priest, who continued to play the flute until...

With a short surprising snap, the Fuujin's latent wind abilities tear the delicate wooden instrument in half, Shirou's hands raised up, catching the wind sword like it was nothing and simply dropping it to the ground. At that moment, he opened his eyes, and lifted the flute from his lips with only a simple phrase.

Shirou grinned. "...I win."

Takehiko gasped, taking a step back, sweat dropping from his worried brow, with Ren feeling the same dread. At that moment, Shirou now had every knowledge he needed to take them both down, and only in the next ten minutes. Worst of all, there was no running away.

Shirou's grin grew wider, looking at the Thousand Blades from high up as he lifted his head with confidence. "So... you've cornered me, you've figured out my skills and the powers the flute bestows me. You've trapped me, forced me to reveal my true identity, and now you've broken whatever power that remains within my flute."

"BUT," Shirou exclaimed, suddenly kicking Fuujin onto his surprised opponent, slicing a light cut upon his left forearm, making it bleed profusely with the Fuujin's latent powers.

"This is as far as you go. Sorry, Thousand Blades... I guess you weren't up to it. I will end your legend today."

"...No," Takehiko threateningly replied, picking up his Fuujin and placing it back in its scabbard along with its brother-blade. Right after, he wrapped a bandage tightly around his wounded arm, soaking the bandage completely red with its blood. "No," he stated again, tightening the bandage fiercely as he opened up his sword-carrying cloak once again. "Even if I have to fight you with only a single arm, even if you know every single move I'm about to do from now until tomorrow... I WILL take you down!"

"Big words," Shirou mocked, pointing his broken sword at him, "for someone who has one arm."

"Shichishito, release!" Takehiko screamed, releasing a scabbard with one hand from his oversized cape, coming at the confident priest with full force, releasing the sword's multi-ended spines.

"...Fool," jerked Shirou, who simply rotated his priestly staff to the opposite end, where with a simple push, a blade suddenly rushed up and delivered a countering blow.

'A hidden spear!' Takehiko gasped, backing off with his Shichishito. "I knew it... there was a spear under that staff all along. If I didn't guess so, I'd say you've already killed me with what knowledge you have right now of the future."

"What's worse," Takehiko erked, looking at the golden-coated blade of the spear, "it's from the same material as your Kusanagi!"

"Right on the mark. You're quite a strategic man, Thousand Blades," Shirou commented greatly, quite impressed at his worn-down opponent. "I'm no longer surprised at how you've managed to live so long. Yes, I've reforged the original Grasscutter into a sword, but I made sure to leave a bit in case someone like you shows up. Lucky me, neh?"

"Well? Come on," Shirou mocked, waving to the bleeding Takehiko. "Because of your last desperate move to disarm me, you no longer have any Reikonken. So come and fight me... I have more than enough time."

'Ten minutes of knowledge,' Takehiko thought to himself, tightening further the cut in his left forearm. 'Maybe more, maybe less... Every move I make at that span of time is known to him... No time to think...'

"Not moving?" Shirou urged, lifting his spear. "Fine then... Then I GO FIRST!!"

Ren, from the distance, holding her own with the chakra shield still up and running, tired and constantly losing chakra, watched from the distance. 'Damn, this plan is taking a lot longer than I thought. Even with my enormous chakra levels as a part of the Infinity bloodline, a barrier this size taking up my chakra will only last about another half hour! If the Thousand Swords doesn't defeat him by then...'

'A spear,' Ren continued in her thoughts. 'Not too knowledgeable on close-range weaponry myself, but I heard that you need at least THREE TIMES the strength when fighting someone of more equal strength. Consider their sizes and body built, I'd say they're about the same, but... Now that the Thousand Blades has somehow stupidly wasted all his Reikonken - the one spiritual power of swordsmen - AND most of his chakra in the previous battle, I'd say this is not a very equal battle at all!'

'Heh, the Thousand Blades has simply underestimated me,' Shirou thought, parrying with even force against Takehiko's multi-ended blade. 'I already know exactly what this particular sword's latent abilities are. Admittingly genius, really: The Shichishito, a sword of legend perhaps. It's powers were meant for use by the priests of the high temple, absorbing their inner Seishoukon - the spirit energy of one's such as I. So, he's planning on using my powers against me? Well...'

'But something about my sense DID surprise me,' Shirou said, his usually unnerving sense dulled quite a bit. 'In only a matter of moments, he shall release a sword that absorbs chakra. Not only this, but he will also be performing a technique more know as the stuff of myths and fairytales... and that could only mean he himself possesses the ninja-born energy!'

'I don't get it... Is he a ninja, or a samurai?... Is it possible to be both!? Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be all that I should watch out for... Minoru Town, the town that was bathed in blood in a single night by a blinding flash of light that could be seen for miles... If he has that kind of weapon or power at his disposal, I'll be destroyed if he sees himself losing the advantage!'

'But, I have my saving grace... With the last thread of power that the Shinshiku had given me of the future, I foresaw it! Just before my vision of the future faded away, he had an opening! Yes... In that last shred of time, HE WILL DIE! And I will kill him quickly before he uses his ultimate move!'

With his confidence regained, Shirou closed in on Takehiko with his spear Kusanagi. Spinning it around with a whirl, the komuso performed the pinwheel with his spear, attacking Takehiko from both his left and right. Takehiko guards twice, thrice, and with a sudden flip, uses one of the Shichishito's many edges to trap the middle of the spear.

"Pointless," Shirou smirked, knowing full well what the Thousand Blades would do, spinning his Kusanagi in place. Takehiko loses grip of the multi-tined sword, only to spin around and release another.

"Ninto... release," Takehiko hissed quietly, a black-scabbard blade with a straight blade unleashed from his overly-enlarged undercoat. 'I have only a little chakra left after that last fight with the Poisonleaf and I haven't fully regained because of the poison... Perfect!'

"Shadow kenjutsu, ninjato blade of nightmares - !Shadowing Blade!" Takehiko said, writing kanji along its edge, concentrated chakra emanating from his fingertips that could not be seen without trained eyes. With the last letter written in the air, Takehiko raised the sword and ran it across the ground. As the earth was torn aside, a black fissure appeared, torrenting along the broken land. With a strong swipe upwards, Takehiko unleashed the full fury of his samurai-ninja art.

'Shadow kenjutsu!' Ren gasped, seeing it for the very first time in her life. 'A technique that can only be done when kenjutsu is combined with chakra energy instead of the samurai-born Reikonken. I've only heard of it, and not in the best of sources... said to be created by the Akuma swordsmen themselves...'

The stalagmites of black energy cast up, racing towards the Artisan with devilish ferocity. The komuso simply evaded, his eyes wide with glee. 'This is it! After he performs that art, a couple of parries, and then... his opening! Unfortunate that he had only a single opening all this time, but I will take what I can.'

Shirou rolls to his right, sticking his spear directly to the ground, aimed threateningly at Takehiko. With a sudden kick, he surprises the samurai by launching the Kusanagi directly to his line of sight. Takehiko blocks the spear with his Ninto, but is disarmed by the Grasscutter's latent powers. With his ninja blade launched into the air, Takehiko was unarmed, however ready to take yet another out of his jacket.

'Not this time!' Shirou charged, relying on his knowledge of the melee arts to finish the fight. The Artisan leapt at Takehiko, going directly for his arms and prevented him from arming himself with another blade. Takehiko counters by flipping the Ninto's scabbard up, snapping the komuso's arm away, as his other hand tried to swing it against the parrying Shirou. Unfortunately, Takehiko was stunned as Shirou spinned halfway, evading the counter-punch, and used his right foot to trip and pin him to the ground. 'His opening!'

"Goodbye, Thousand Blades!" Shirou exclaimed victoriously.

"...Heh," Takehiko grinned, landing his hands perfectly onto the ground. With a strong heave up, Takehiko backflipped and kicks Shirou directly in the chin, sending him flying in the air. Flipping himself back up, Takehiko then proceeded to perform katas and aims his hands at Shirou. "Shadow kenjutsu, shadow of the tyrant... !Nightmare Blade Jutsu!"

With his words, the opened earth where his Shadowing Blade technique torrented from appeared once again, this time controlling upwards to the unsuspecting Artisan. The black torrent swirls around underneath the falling but conscious Shirou, ready to strike at any time. With Takehiko's raised hand open and still aiming at his opponent's falling body, Takehiko finished the battle with a closed fist and one final command.

"...Crush."

Upon that, the torrential power that spawned from his shadow kenjutsu swallowed Shirou in an almost unending whirlwind of blades, pinning him down finally for the count as he falls to the ground, beaten and drained. The swirling black torrent stops, solid, and materializes back into his Ninto sword and his Shichishito sword.

"Th... Your two blades!" the komuso exclaimed, trying to get his body up.

"The Ninto is no ordinary ninja blade. It was built specifically to bind shadow kenjutsu and to materialize in shadow kenjutsu arts. The Shichishito is the same... except for Seishoukon."

"N-No... It wasn't my Seishoukon you were using against me... it was your own!?"

"That's the strange thing about the Thousand Swords," Ren explained unto herself. "In this island country, there are three useable forms of energy: Reikonken of the samurai, Seishoukon of the spiritual, and Chakra of the shinobi. Being born unto only one of these is common, but he is somehow able to use all three forms of energy in battle."

"I... I don't understand," Shirou said weakly, trying to get up. "H-How... How were you able to beat me!? I saw... in my future... your... your defeat..."

"Of course you did, and normally it would be true," Takehiko said, picking up his blades and storing it back in his jacket. "But let me ask you: that last opening I had that you took advantage of... was that scene at the very end of your prediction?"

Suddenly, Ren and Shirou thought it all too clearly.

"N-No way!" Ren gasped.

"Y... You couldn't have--!"

"I did," Takehiko smirked. "I calculated TEN MINUTES AND FORTY-ONE SECONDS of all my moves, give or take a second or two."

"Y-You didn't leave an opening right up until the very end on purpose," Shirou realized.

"...Just so the prediction from the flute would show that opening at the very end of Shirou's prediction of the fight!"

"It was all simple really," Takehiko explained for no reason. "Before I attacked you, I knew that you had the Shinshiku and would use it to predict any move I did. If so, then I wouldn't be able to get remotely close to you, much less even defeat you as long as you know the future. So I waited, knowing you would pass these windy plains. The winds here are particularly strong enough to disturb your playing, and will allow me, even for a brief moment, to distract you enough."

"Of course, even if I managed to get close to you, I wouldn't win as long as you knew a bit of what I did. The question was: how long can you predict the future for?" Takehiko continued. "So I had some help from Ren. I had her try to attack you from close range, and the moment you noticed a hint of danger, withdraw her immediately. This way, I could calculate how much I needed to stall you for."

"N-No way, that's impossible!" Shirou said, finally standing up, holding his bloody wounds closed as he demanded an explanation. "The way you lost all of your Reikonken, that time I reached for my flute and predicted the time after, you showing me the fact that you could use chakra... You... You planned all that!?"

"Mm-hmm, though I had to change a tactic or two after knowing you specialized in taijutsu," Takehiko grinned. "Then, knowing you would take advantage of the fact that I had no Reikonken, I made sure to attack you relentlessly to prevent you from using your own skills..."

"...all the while, calculating at the very last moment where I would leave an opening on purpose for you to take advantage of, ten minutes and forty-one seconds later," Takehiko finalized.

'I... I can't believe it,' Ren gulped, surprised at that overly complicated explanation. 'I've seen him do some amazing things before, but not to this magnitude! I was right: it wasn't his skills or his ability to have the three forms of energy that guaranteed his legend...'

'...it was his amazing ability to take advantage of both his skills and his opponent's! He's a freakin' genius! A master strategist!'

"...You've lost," Takehiko said firmly, standing tall before Shirou who weakened by the moment. "Now just for the sake of asking politely, will you do as I ask? I only need one favor."

'Heh, this man,' Shirou thought, recalling his own nature. 'No calculations unchecked, no strategy unthinkable, and yet all of them risky as hell... It makes me wonder exactly what kind of life it is he leads to make him this do-or-die all the time. But for now...'

"...I had no chance... You win, Thousand Blades," Shirou smiled, falling down, finally unconscious.

"...Ah, crap," Takehiko sighed, scratching his head as he bent down to pick up the unconscious komuso. "Now I gotta carry your ass. Haaah, if only you were Ren... Which reminds me, she must be tired by now, putting up that chakra barrier this entire time. I guess I better check."

I—+—I

"Hey, Ren! You okay?" Takehiko said, carrying Shirou's body behind him. "Sorry the battle took so long... Where ARE you? You need a lift? I can carry you on my back, if you want..."

"No, hah... N-No thanks, ya perv," Ren said, heaving heavily, exhaustion taking her toll on her body. "Damn, you idiot! Hah, hahh... Jeez, that was exhausting, I've never erected a barrier of that size before, and---"

She paused, looking at Takehiko who was carrying Shirou on his back. "Oh~3... I... That's perfect..."

"Wh... Perfect? What're you---" Takehiko looked around, and then suddenly had a black-and-white realization right off. "Wh-- OMG, NO REN! NO! Ren, I AM NOT INTO THAT!!"

"W-Wha?" Ren said, realizing what she had acted up on, dismissing the thought. "Wh-- I... I never said you were into a-anything! Of course, even if you were, with the komuso's body, all hunched up on your back and hugging you tightly... It's just like in my manga..."

"What the heck!? What kind of dirty things do ninjas think of all the time!?"

"I wasn't thinking anything dirty, Thousand Swords! H-Hey, what're you doing!? Get back here!"

"No! Back off, you crazy ninja! I'm outta here!"

To be continued...

I—+—I

NEXT CHAPTER: After that yet another pointless (but awesome) fighting sequence and several shounen-ai references, Shirou now begins to forge the blade for Takehiko's collection, all the while continuing their search for the real shinobi-killer Ren has been searching for. But before they even start, Takehiko is stopped by an unexpected opponent... his old kenjutsu teacher! The question is: his teacher from where?

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CHAPTER'S SKILLS AND TERMINOLOGY

1. Raijin and Fuujin - the 'brother blades' of two opposing elements and also one of Takehiko's favorite pair of swords. Raijin is the 'lightning brother blade' made of light metal, with small jagged edges and a straight thin blade, while its brother Fuujin is the 'wind brother blade' that is soft-tempered steel that focuses the weight on its grip. Raijin's original owner was an older brother who, in his nature, wanted to get things done as quick as possible. Fuujin belonged to that person's younger brother, who practiced carefulness above all else. Raijin and Fuujin are also two of Takehiko's strongest swords.

2. "He who strikes fast, strikes first" -Takehiko's lesson quote that was borrowed from the arrogant Roy Mustang of the manga, Fullmetal Alchemist. Why he knows this manga despite where this story claims to be in the distant past is a mystery that will never be solved.

3. Shizenkinran - a weapon-tempering move under the Stasis Art of Takehiko's kenjutsu style, "nature's golden-strings" allows the user to create an elemental attribute for their weapon based on the most prominent elements in the given area where it was used using one's central Reikonken. Kind of like the Geomancer in Final Fantasy, which is in and of itself a very nerdy RPG reference. If you still don't get it, I apologize.

4. Raizetsushin - one of what Takehiko calls 'patented' or Divine Arts, 'lightning-cut truth' is also one of Takehiko's most devastatingly precise techniques, but at a hefty price. A move only doable with both the Raijin and Fuujin at his command, Takehiko uses up most if not all of the Reikonken that the sword can use and concentrates it upon the brother blades. Using the Raijin's lightning-fast speed and the Fuujin's whirlwind surround-ability, the Raizetsushin is a hollow-point move that could instantly kill or destroy opponents in a line.

5. Shinshiku - the flute of divining that the komuso, Shirou Takumi stole from the Shinshiku Temple. A flute able to predict approximately 10 minutes into the future, the Shinshiku was believed to have been created as a gift for the gods and has been protected by warrior monks for ages. Why was it never stolen before? The answer: plot convenience.

6. Shichishito - Takehiko's special seven-tined foldable blade. This sword was designed specifically to absorb one's Seishoukon or spiritual energy, and convert it into a useable form of kenjutsu-like attack. The Shichishito was supposedly originally designed to be a bloody impaler for battle, but other theories state that its multiple tines were actually designed for catching blades in-between. The latter theory was widely accepted, since its original owner was a spiritual medium.

7. Ninto - a special shadow ninjato (ninja sword). Its original owner being an undercover ninja from an unknown clan, the Ninto is special in its ability to literally be one with the shadows, even forming black shadow-pikes when summoned. Unfortunately, not much else in known about this strange blade of the dark.

8. Shadowing Blade - a shadow-kenjutsu under the Shadow Art of Takehiko's kenjutsu style, Shadowing Blade is a move that can only be done by a person who uses kenjutsu and has useable amounts of chakra at the same time. Using the Ninto's latent powers as explained in #7, the black shadow-pikes can be summoned from the ground and attack the user's target. This also allows the Ninto to be transferred to a different location as a shadow.

9. Nightmare Blade Jutsu - used by Takehiko as a follow-up to his Shadowing Blade move as explained in #8, this Shadow Art uses the same concept as the Shadowing Blade, except on a higher, more specific level. With this jutsu, the user could also control the form and ferocity of the shadow-pikes that are summoned by the Ninto.

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Author's Note: Sorry if the amount of knowledge is overwhelming. Considering how I had to make each section of the story seperate stand-alone series instead of one long story, I had to explain several things over and over again for clarification. I also apologize for the random references.

Of course, it won't stop me from doing any more in the future, but hey - I'm still sorry. Please review!