She was my only challenge, you see. Fencing with
anyone else was a chore, busy work. I will always
cherish my duels with her; she's the only one quick
enough to make me feel that surge of adrenaline, the
only one who can come close to surprising me anymore.
Even before I loved her, she was the only one who
could make my heart race.
She's a beautiful and dangerous creature. Other girls,
the girls I've dated, are nothing like her. They're
adoring to any pretty face that gives them attention,
crowding around eagerly like puppies in the pound.
These docile things only turn on each other, using a
few choice giggles and nasty remarks behind an
unfortunate girl's back. Words are her weapon as well,
but while theirs is a cloaked dagger, hers is a full
sword. She uses them openly, edging in a few sharp
barbs between our duels. Even talking to her gave me
the pride of a challenge, that I was finally dealing
with an equal. My girlfriends grew jealous at times,
me being all alone for hours with her at 'our place.'
But they came and went. Our duels never did.
It wasn't very long before I started to notice the way
the sun shimmered on her curls, the smile that crept
up her face when she thought of something to tease me
with, the quick grace with which she moved. I studied
her so closely before, hoping to reveal some way to
overcome her in a duel. Now habit slowly transformed
into obsession, into madness. My heart now not only
raced when she fought me, but every time she graced my
But how could I even begin to win her? She'd only
laugh at my little chivalries, saying, "What, am I one
of your girls now, Ruka?" No, you're not some princess
always in need, you're not like the other girls. But
then what are you? All I know how to do is save and
protect, fight and defend. There must be some crack in
your armor, something I can save you from.
One day we were walking back from fencing practice, me
and her. There were three elementary school girls in
the deserted quad, delighted that they could play
where they were not welcome. A jump rope and
hoola-hoop lay discarded on the ground. The sun was
beginning to set, but the threat of darkness didn't
concern them. There was something so peaceful about
watching them frolic against the orange sky, all
smiles and free limbs. Juri doesn't normally take to
children, but something made her smile when she saw
them. "That one," she said, pointing to a girl with
steel-gray eyes and gold hair pulled back into a short
ponytail, "looks like my sister."
"I didn't know you had a sister," I said with a smile,
always delighted to know a little more. Another piece
to my patchwork of what she is, what she was, what she
will be. I'm lucky to get the small bits that I do.
"Yes," she said, smile retaining, "Sometimes she'd
play with me and Shiori. It didn't happen often,
but...I loved it when she did. Once we stuffed a
sleeping bag full of blankets then took turns getting
in and sliding down the stairs. My parents were really
angry when they found out."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "It still sounds like
fun. But who's this Shiori? You've never mentioned
For a moment she acted as if she didn't hear me.
Something inside her constricted, and I could almost
see the muscles tightening beneath her skin. "She was
a friend of mine," she said. Ruka noticed the past
tense. "We had a fight a while ago, about some guy."
"You don't strike me as the type to worry about things
like that," I said, trying to hide my shock with a
smile, "I mean, about guys. But I suppose we all have
"No," she said suddenly, "I didn't like him. She
thought I did, but...well, they're together now.
She...really doesn't like me anymore. It's kind of
confusing. Don't worry about it."
"No, come on," I said, forcing a smile, "What, you
don't think I'm smart enough to understand? You insult
me, Juri." I'd never seen her like this.
She cracked a half-smile. "I wouldn't blame you. I
don't even know if I understand it." It wasn't like
Juri to refuse a pot-shot, much less one that I
practically offered to her. "But...I don't know. Even
though she doesn't like me...she's still very special
to me." She turned to me suddenly, a smile like no
other blooming on her face. It even seemed as if her
eyes were smiling, glittering with something I'd never
seen in her before. "I don't know if you could
With sudden horror, I realized, "Yes...I think I can."
I turned away from her, looking at the sky that had
now faded to night.
The three girls were now just shadows against the
stars, dancing in a circle with hands interlocked. The
pony-tailed one sang, "Curly Locks, Curly Locks, will
you be mine? You shall not wash dishes, nor feed the
swine! But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam, and
sup upon strawberries, sugar, and cream!"
I tried to keep my face blank. "There's something," I
whispered to myself, breath heavy, "There's something
to save you from."