The Vengeance of Umenohana
Time slowed down. Koji could see the blow coming, but he couldn't stop it in time. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain on the side of his mouth, and everything was water. The sound of bubbles rushing from his mouth and nose was thunderous. He blinked slowly, feeling the water rush at his eyes. He began to see whirls of red drifting from his face, his arms and chest. It was worse than he'd thought
And at that moment, Sugen's words came back to him. "I know this all may be too much for a boy so young," Sugen had told him seriously. "And so, if blood should ever stain the umi no wakame, you must say farewell to Umenohana, and you will stand alone on the bridge, and your heart will swell, as mine does."
Koji had nodded thoughtfully. He was about to ask a question, when Sugen spoke again, as if reading his mind. "Fight for yesterday's misfortune, tomorrow's future, and today's happiness. Rush into it with the zeal of youth and the faith of innocence, and stay in it with the realism to expect that you will die before the mission's end, and the will to keep on fighting anyway."
It was Koji's philosophy, almost word for word.
That was as close to oneness as Koji and Sugen ever got.
Koji blinked again, and the red trickle was settling like dust on the waving green tendrils that stretched up from the wet sand. I can give up, thought Koji. I've been given the sign. I can give up at any time...
And, with renewed strength, he stretched out his aching arms and swam for the surface.
It was around now that Taro, from his safe perch behind the rocks, was wondering if he should burst out now, and try to kill Samei himself, but he knew that if Koji couldn't, it was a lost cause for him. Still, there was something to be said for the element of surprise and the strength of rage and grief, and at least if he died, he would die honorably, trying to avenge the death of Koji as well as Umenohana herself...
While he was still weighing the options, there was a mighty splash, and there was Koji, wet, dirty, and dripping with blood, but there, and alive, and with eyes flashing as fiery as ever. Taro had to stop himself from cheering out loud. He should have known Koji wouldn't go down that easily.
Samei was unfazed. He somersaulted through the air, performing a complicated and showy move that Koji could easily predict. Perhaps he hoped to confuse Koji with his movement. It didn't work. Koji grabbed the bo from Samei's hand and threw him off-balance, ending his form early. Samei saw now that this was no near-death final attempt. Koji was back in it for real.