Wait...what? Who is this girl!?

That had been my first thought the night before, when I had materialized in my room and was greeted by the extremely out of character Rena. The smile on her face was not the same smile she showed to her peers or teachers when feigning emotion. It had a sincerity to it, an emotional depth. It had been a genuine smile of happiness, lighting up her face and making it seem twice as cute as normal.

It had been so surreal that I had put myself to sleep almost immediately (well, I was also insanely tired at that point), and almost thought it a dream.

Then, the morning came.

"Don't tell me you're going to sleep all day, on your first day back! Wake up sleepyhead!"

An incessant tugging at my side accompanied the oddly toned voice. It was a familiar voice, but at the same time, very foreign. The voice of Rena Alistross, tinged with a sweet annoyance.

I woke up, and rubbed my eyes.

"Ugh...I feel so dead.."

Fumbling for my glasses, I put them on half-blind and was rewarded with an extreme close-up of Rena's face. We were separated by mere centimeters, and I could clearly see the outline of her wide violet eyes and small, oval-shaped lips. As you might expect from me, I turned rather beet red, rather quickly.

What I (and maybe you), did NOT expect, was her turning red as well. As if realizing the compromising position we were in, she quickly looked away, with an "unnng"-like expression. It was very cute, I assure you.

But it was also very weird.

After coming to my senses, I asked tentatively, "Um...did I miss something here?"

"W-w-what do you mean!?" She almost shouted her answer. It seemed she was recovering a little slower than I was.

"You are...Rena, right?" I asked her directly. It was understandable that I would be suspicious of this, right? And it certainly wasn't impossible for someone to impersonate Rena in appearance alone. That was a simple enough illusion magic (though I couldn't see any traces of that).

She avoided my gaze before answering, "Yes, I'm Rena. Who else would I be?"

"Then...what is with this display of...emotion? I thought you had something against that? Or rather, that you had no choice on the matter?"

To the heart of the matter than. Even though I had just awoken, I understood my body was ready to respond to a threat. This was the result of my many months of training. Even falling asleep so easily the night before had been a critical mistake I should no longer be capable of committing.

"Really? That's what you want to ask? After you left me here, all alone for two whole YEARS, without even a single word or message of where you had gone, the thing you want to talk about after returning is something stupid like THAT?" The way she looked at me and the anger in her voice were legitimate. It seemed the pain I had caused her was real.

"Ok ok!" I put up my heads in mock surrender. "I'm sorry, okay? What can I do to make it up to you?"

Don't think I've forgotten how you avoided the question, either.

She beamed at me, as if I had spoken some magic words, "That's more like it! Well, considering its the Christmas break, how about you take me shopping for the day?"

This is...really weird.

"Uh...like, at a mall? Like, on a date?"

She stiffens at the word, but only for a second, then replies, "If you want to call it that, then sure! But this is more like your punishment for leaving me alone."

So that's how I found myself at the mall on that winter afternoon. We walked around and looked at clothes I didn't know she knew existed, and talked about obscure things like the school year ending and the happenstances of the neighborhood. Throughout it all, she had a bright, vibrant smile on her face. She carried the conversation, breaking me from my thoughts many a times, and always laughing. It was quite literally, a completely different person. In fact if you had told me that she was Rena's twin sister, I would have been more likely to believe you than what she was trying to say was the truth.

In total, it was an aimless, pointless date. We spent several hours just walking around, barely buying anything. I let her lead the entire way, as this was supposed to be my 'punishment.' And if you're angry that I didn't go into more detail, then I guess all I have to tell you is that it didn't seem all that important to me. Rena's peculiar attitude aside, I was thinking more intently about the events following my return.

At last we found ourselves sitting in the open food court area. What typical fast food meal we were eating is irrelevant. It's here where the important conversation happens.

"I bet it's been a long time since you've done something like this, right Mark?" She asks me with a smile, sipping her drink in between small bites of her burger.

The question makes my memories squirm slightly, reminding me exactly how long it was since the last time I ate fast food at the mall.

It really has been long huh...

"I haven't exactly had the opportunity to, recently. And when did you become such a fan of these things?" I shot back.

"Oh...only recently. A lot has changed in the last two years, you know."

"Well I wouldn't say 'a lot'...you've only grown about 4 cm since the last time I saw you. And your chest ha-" I get cut off.

"OK, OK, I get it, jackass." The delightful blush that appears is reward enough for my banter.

"Now, shouldn't we be talking about something more important? Like what's been going on with the Ritusin these past two years?" Finally, I can't wait any longer, and go to the heart of the matter.

The expression she answers me with is a troubling one. A little bit of guilt, a little bit of sadness, the range of emotions I have never seen dance across her face for me.

"Did you have to spoil the mood like that so easily? Are you so quick to end this?"

"...what do you mean?" I don't understand her question.

"I wonder...have you not noticed it yet, Mark? I think we've been together long enough now...and you are no longer so weak." She gestures the air, but indicates nothing.

I notice it then. Or perhaps I had noticed it all along, and I had just refused to acknowledge it consciously. There was a light gold mist flowing continuously from Rena's body, something that I had never seen from her before. It wasn't an aura so much as it was a spell, affecting everything around her and her personal space.

"What...what is this?"

"Do you remember, Mark? That feeling from two years ago, that I suppressed because it was necessary? That feeling, that almost brought you to the brink of madness, only to be saved by the unlikely appearance of the phoenix?"

She wasn't making any sense. The words coming out of her mouth were dutifully recorded by my computer-like mind, and I understood what each individual word meant. But their combined meaning, the sentence formed by that comprehension, lacked realism.

Perhaps she saw my confused face.

"You were so weak back then. Even in your newly awakened state, I could hide an emotion suppression magic from your 'eyes'. No doubt you thought they were your greatest strength back then. In reality, you were just unimaginably weak in every other area."

The dissolution of the soft gold aura. The lines of an incredibly old spell as it runs to the end of its course, having far surpassed its intended run time.

I thought back to that time.

An event that caused me to go to the edge of madness...

Something that broke me, but I was saved by a "phoenix?"

Wait...

Could she mean-

The last of the gold fades away. The magic ends.

"Do you not remember? How you felt when you first saw me kill in cold blood?"

Anger pours out, breaking the damming walls I didn't even know existed. Anger and fury and rage at the injustice, unfairness; pure remembered pain erupts from inside me. The feeling overwhelms me. It fills me to the brim of my entire being.

I lash out, doing the unthinkable. I aim my fist towards Rena's jugular, aim to crush her windpipe.

"Boundary Field 005: White Lotus Garden"

She floats back effortlessly, dodging. The surrounding food court disappears. The area becomes that of a old wooden dojo. Beneath me are the laid out sparring mats I was used to seeing at my old martial arts classes. Similar to the pure white generic battleground that the historians used for "clean" Ritus Battles, this was an area set up for the purpose of killing. The walls contain the motif of the lotus flower dancing along the wood panels as decoration.

This is, unfortunately, all lost to me. My assault continued without break.

Lunge into short range.

Punch to the upper right shoulder, feint to the left, follow with a right hook. Ignore her feint to the right side. Brush aside the left thrust, move in with front leg. Follow with a right front kick.

Read 5-no, 10 steps ahead.

It is not even conscious. I am reading her entire body now, adapting to the flow of the fight with my countless past spars against her. I know every move she will make, even before she has thought about making it. The way I am controlling this fight leaves her no other choice. I did it subconsciously, with the speed and skill the last 6 months had honed into me. It was likely that there was no longer a normal human being who could beat me in a straight up physical fight. That was the level I had reached.

Why am I fighting?

Why do I want to kill her?

Why?

Why?

WHY?

A part of my mind screams at me to stop. The rational, forward thinking, normally dominant part of my mind tells me to look at who I'm trying to kill, and stop. But for the first time in my life, I couldn't. It wasn't like I had no control over my body. It wasn't like there was some alien or magic presence pulling my body along like a puppet. A part of my mind wanted this. A part of my mind was putting in 120% into the idea of killing her. It's incredibly hard to explain unless you understand what I mean. It was like...my mind wasn't my own, but if I let up for just a second, it would absolutely feel like it was.

BLING

The pure white sword appears in her hand, drawn from the air and slashes down towards extended left straight. The cutting intent is pure and lacked all hesitation.

I expected nothing less.

SPARK!

Her pure white sword meets my half-transparent arm blade. The attachment which appeared from nether, starting from the joint of my elbow and extending to about 30 cm past my fingers, blocks her cutting edge. The contact emits a splash of sparks.

Rena's eyes widen for a second. For the first time in our short time knowing each other, I see the emotionless girl feel surprise.

But that's not where it stopped. Using the momentum from her downward strike, I spin around in a half circle to the other side. With my same-styled arm blade on my right hand, I slash backwards to where I knew her right side was exposed.

SPURT

Today seems to be a day of firsts.

For the first time, I wounded that emotionless girl who had saved my life. I made bleed the girl who had bested me in every area, who had crushed me so far into the ground that I had once doubted it was possible for any human to be that strong.

We turn and face each other.

The blood from her wound shows through her dress. Her eyes see me in a completely new light.

The struggle in my own mind continues. But it seems both sides are placed into temporary shock that we had managed to wound Rena.

"I will tell you now. The reason part of you wishes so desperately to kill me. But in reality it is quite simple."

The fight pauses temporarily.

"In truth, you absolutely despise me. But I took that emotion from you...so that you would still be of some use to me."