Part III


Part III

                Contentment was me – lying on a hill with the sun shining warm and bright on my face, a gentle summer breeze keeping me just cool enough for the summery day, just behind the bench where Hilary and Kenny sat.  If I wasn’t highly connected to a Phoenix, I’d almost feel feline – like a cat napping in a sunbeam.  Oh, and to make it just that much more complete, in the distance I could hear the voices of children shouting and cheering excitedly while their hero – two-time World Champion Beyblader, Kinomiya Tyson – looked on with pride as he conducted his little seminar.  It wasn’t the happy kids so much as the ringing and clashing of beyblades that made my world calm and content.  There’s nothing like that sound…especially when the battle is being fought between two bladers of equal skill and strength.  Then…then there’s almost a musical quality to it, the bangs and crashes and metal on metal scraping…echoing like notes in a melody that, if one knew what they were hearing, could judge that ability and power alone.  I’d met few bladers who could – my teammates of the Bladebreakers, certainly, and maybe a handful of others.  When the sound stopped, I lazily cracked an eye open to take stock of the scene below (Tyson being mobbed by his kids to be next to battle him, Kenny and Hilary watching with amusement, and Rei approaching with a bag full of the meat buns Kenny had requested earlier for lunch) before closing it again and returning to my peaceful doze.

                Then suddenly my little piece of heaven was shattered by a wild yell (sounding vaguely like a human being, but I wasn’t positive on that) and a massive dust cloud which announced the passing of the source of that yell – annoying me to no end.  Still, seeing that it was some outrageously red-headed kid in ragged clothes who was attempting to challenge Tyson to a battle, I chose to ignore it and tried to go back to my nap, particularly when Tyson turned him down.

                The sound of blades clashing gained my attention again within minutes.  Apparently Tyson had decided that he needed to teach the pipsqueak (who loudly announced his name was Daichi) a lesson, and defend his title, so he had given in and accepted the challenge.  I watched with vague interest – until the kid began to show that he did have some skill and talent, despite what he appeared to be.  He was even giving Tyson a run for his money in power. 

  *** ***

                “So you think you can outlast me, do ya?  Well, let me give ya a piece of advice!  Your Dragoon doesn’t even come close to my Strata Dragoon.”  Daichi smirked confidently.

                Tyson stared at him, not sure he heard correctly.  “Wha?!”

                “Strata…Dragoon?”  Kai stood, definitely interested now.

                “Strata…”  Rei asked, confused.

                “…Dragoon?”  Kenny finished, echoing Kai.

                “But…mine’s the only Dragoon!”  Tyson exclaimed emphatically.

                “Correction!  Yours used to be the only Dragoon.”  Daichi stated smugly.

                “You’re lying!  And you’d better stop before I clock you pal!”  Tyson instantly started fuming.

                Daichi continued to taunt Tyson until there was only one thing left in the bluenette’s mind – taking this insolent pip-squeak and his false Dragoon down.

  *** ***

                I watched Tyson come from behind and kick Daichi’s blade out of the dish in typical Tyson style.

                But it wasn’t over.  It should have been, but Daichi pointed out in loud retaliation to Hilary that he didn’t come from a place with stadiums or dishes.  He played in all of nature.  Since his blade was still spinning, he considered the fight still on.  Tyson had no choice but to keep going, and it was something of a rare experience for him to blade in the open like this.  I watched, wondering if I should step in – but choosing not to because Tyson would never forgive me.  Kenny was trying to plot something with that laptop of his, Hilary and Rei were cheering Tyson on, but I just observed, waiting for it.  Tyson could do this, I knew.  He didn’t defeat me, didn’t battle such life and death battles like the ones he’d fought against Tala, or Zeo, or any of the other tough challenges he’s faced, he didn’t win two World titles all on a fluke (no matter what I constantly told him about his damned luck).  I did, however, speak up long enough to remind him to stick to his game plan and not get sucked in by Daichi’s techniques.

                Surprisingly, he actually listened to me.  Daichi didn’t stand a chance.

                In true champion form, Tyson looked around, saw an opportunity, and took the risk necessary to win.  He pulled it off admirably.

                “Alright.  I knew he had it in him.”  I murmured to myself as I turned and walked away.  Daichi was defeated.  There was no reason for me to hang around any longer, so I was going home.

                Had I stayed, maybe I would have met yet another new foe with real skill…not to mention gotten Max’s news about the upcoming World Championships.

                Round three was here.  It was what could be my last chance to prove not only to myself that I was worthy, but to Tyson as well.

~~~~~~~~~~

                I caught the announcement from Mr. Dickenson on TV that evening, and the news about the new format of the World circuit this time around intrigued me a little – and the same time disappointed me.  I knew I’d be still be fighting with my team, but which of my teammates?  It was true that the only person I considered a true rival was Tyson, and it was true that the only person I ever truly worried about losing to was Tyson, but I wasn’t so arrogant as to not pay attention to those coming up behind me, those who also had real skill and held a possibility of proving themselves worthy of a rivalry with me.  And those bladers were my own teammates – Rei and Max.  According to the new rules, there was a possibility that they could defeat me or Tyson and somehow end up partnered with one of us and move on to the Championships – or with each other, Kami forbid Tyson and I get beat that badly.

                I had no idea what to expect, but I was reasonably certain that it would end up down to myself and Tyson – no matter what else happened.  And I could be content with that.  There were (in my opinion) no other bladers who could possibly make a better tag-team – if we didn’t strangle each other first.  We were friends, we were teammates, and I was closer to Tyson than any other human being on earth, but we could scrap like cats and dogs when the occasion rose.  It had lessened somewhat over time, but it still happened, on occasion, that we’d rub each other the wrong way and our tempers would flare.  Fire and storm…

                Phoenix and Dragon.

                The parallels were undeniably there, but I didn’t pay attention to them.  Didn’t notice that I’d been ensnared long ago.  Temptation and ambition and a fervent desire to prove to someone that you’re worthy of everything they’ve done for you and given to you…  Well, I could make excuses until the end of time.  The fact remained that my vision of reality was distracted by other things, when my focus should have been on another aspect of our relationship entirely.

                I wasn’t the only one who discovered a different path for themselves.  I ran into both Max and Rei at the BBA main offices two mornings later.  It was really early and I’d gone there to see Mr. Dickenson about the upcoming tournament.  I stopped in the doorway and raised my eyebrow at the luggage that the genki blonde was sitting on and the bag on the floor beside Rei.

                “What’s going on?”  I asked, wandering into the room.  “Didn’t expect to find you two here so early.”

                “Kai!”  Max looked up at me, his face brightening a little.  Only then did I note that he’d been staring at the floor rather worriedly and almost dejectedly.  I frowned.

                “Hey.”  Rei greeted me with a solemnity that was characteristic of him when he was actually being totally serious.  Something was off.

                “So?”  I stopped and sat on a bench, watching the two of them curiously.

                “Well…” Max hesitated, glancing at Rei who sighed and slumped a little.  “We’re both leaving, Kai.”

                My eyebrow shot up again, clearly demanding clarification and explanation in my own silent way.  Rei answered.

                “I’m going back to the White Tigers, and Max has been invited to join the All-Stars.”  He informed me, folding his arms defiantly.  “We both have agreed to it.  You see…”

                “We want our chance at the World Championship.”  Max interrupted, his bright blue eyes fierce and pleading with me to understand.  “We are good bladers.  We each want to have the chance to be the best…even if it means that we have to go through you, and through Tyson, to do it.  We would have been so happy to have been partnered with either of you, Kai, but…”

                “…But we think that this is the path for us to follow if we want to prove to you and Tyson that we are just as good as you.  And that we can be strong bladers without relying on each other.  Team work is everything that goes with it has been good for us, we’ve learned so much…but now it’s time for us to branch out on our own.  We each have teams that we can lead, that we can teach everything we’ve learned as Bladebreakers.”  Rei paused, his own golden eyes daring me to argue with him.

                I just looked at them impassively.  They obviously didn’t know me well enough to know that of course I understood this.  Of course I was going to let them go without a fuss.  And of course we’d all still be friends, even if we were about to try and beat each other into the bey-stadium for a title.  Standing, I turned to walk out.

                “Kai!  Aren’t you even going to say something?”  Max demanded, sounding very disappointed – and vastly relieved.

                I stopped in the doorway and glanced over my shoulder.  “Do whatever you think you need to do.  If you think you’ll get past me, good luck.  Tyson may take some convincing, but I don’t.  So go.  And when it’s over…”

                They exchanged surprised glances, then smiled at me.

                “Thanks, Kai.  We’re sorry to drop Tyson on you like this.  I get the suspicion that he’s going to be a handful, once he gets the news…” Rei’s face fell.

                I waved over my shoulder, a silent command not to worry about it.  I’d kick his ass into understanding if I had to.  And I left them standing there, the last time I’d see them again in person until we met up again across the dish, in whichever match of the World Circuit fate dropped us into.

~~~~~~~~~~

                The morning of our prelim-tournament I was up on the roof of the BBA, feeding a stray cat that had become almost like a pet.  I had gotten a tearful phone message from Tyson the night before about Rei and Max’s defection.  I didn’t call him back, however, unsure of how to deal with him when I couldn’t understand how he felt.  I understood how Rei and Max felt about leaving, but Tyson…couldn’t.  And I didn’t know how to explain it to him without hurting him more.

                I sighed, making some comment to myself about how everyone seemed to be against me these days.  And suddenly a shadow fell over me, scaring my feline friend off, and an unrecognizable voice telling me that it wasn’t entirely true.  Some weirdo in a ninja outfit was standing with the sun behind him, telling me that I had to stick with Tyson and hold the team together, that I was the only one left.

                Which of course immediately put my back up.  No one tells Hiwatari Kai what to do.  Absolutely no one.  Especially when it comes to blading.

                “The only person who will decide my path is me.  Nobody else!”

                I looked up at the stranger, ready to fight if I had to, and discovered myself to be alone.  Things just don’t stay normal in my life.

                I shouldn’t have been surprised by Tyson’s relief when I showed up for the beginning of the tournament – the initial stage that would determine the teams that would battle it out all around the world in a series of tournaments to determine the World Champion.  It was painted on his face, and made his voice kind of soft and thick…  That was distracting enough, but his words threw me and the undying faith in his eyes as he spoke made my heart palpitate madly, and gave me a curious fluttering sensation in my stomach.

                “Well you sure took your sweet time getting here!”  Daichi stated, hands on hips.

                “Just leave the guy alone, will ya, Daichi!”  Tyson admonished.  “He’s here now and that’s all that really matters!”

                “Uh…I’m pretty sure you’ve never talked about me like that before, and I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.”  Kai kept the blush from his face, but the strange look he gave the bluenette spoke volumes.  Tyson just grinned at him, knowing Kai wasn’t trying to be grouchy – and that he didn’t really mean it.

                Daichi entered the prelims, too.  I knew he’d at least come in third place – as Tyson had already defeated him, and I knew I could beat him easily if I wanted to.  No one else around here was good enough to even be concerned about.  And it wasn’t only Daichi, it was Kenny, too.  Skill-wise, I wasn’t worried, but if anyone could come surprise us, it would be the Chief.

                I was loathe to admit it, but with Max and Rei leaving to pursue the World title, those same old nagging ambitions of mine were creeping up on me again.  Thoughts about beating Tyson were floating around again.  I wasn’t sure I liked that, so I shoved it to the back of my mind and concentrated on winning my battles – not that it required that much concentration.

                At one point, I was walking back toward the locker room intending to sit back and relax before my next battle, but as I approached the door, I stopped at the screaming match Tyson and Daichi were having on the other side, listening intently.  Apparently they’d just broke the news to Daichi that if he won his last Block B match (against me, I might add), he didn’t go up against Tyson for the tournament, he teamed up with Tyson for the World Circuit.  The kid’s cries of anguish were enough to pierce my poor ears – and set those stupid thoughts raging again.

  *** ***

                “Don’t tell me that!  It’s not true!  It’s all lies!”  More and more childish statements poured out of Daichi in a supreme tantrum of disappointment, culminating in, “I want to fight Tyson!”

                The others stood around resignedly as he continued to vent.  “Who’s stupid idea was this anyway?  And how can there be more than one World Champion?!  That doesn’t make any sense at all!”

                Kai stood just outside the door.  He could hear every word clearly.  And he couldn’t help but agree with Daichi on some level – just not as vocally or childishly.

                “There can only be one Champ!”  Daichi yelled at the top of his voice.

                Tyson had enough at that point.  He quite firmly told Daichi that he wasn’t going to win against Kai, and he wasn’t going to be Tyson’s partner, so he may as well just give up anyway.  It was harsh, but it was true at that point.  And Tyson had to rub it in Daichi’s face that he and Kai were going to be the next World Champions, hoping the kid would get the picture and lay off.

                Of course, Daichi had a blading spirit that matched Tyson’s own, even if neither could see it quite yet.  He wasn’t about to give up.

                “I’m gonna whip Kai, and then I’m gonna whip you, ya got that?!”

                “He’s not grasping the ‘tag-team’ concept.”  Hilary commented as she and Kenny looked on.

  *** ***

                Maybe…Daichi had a point.  Maybe…I was deluding myself.  And maybe…

                Damn it!  I hated this.  I turned and walked back to the stadium as DJ Jazzman came over the intercom and announced the next match –  Daichi versus me.

                They revealed the dish in the BBA’s customary showy way.  I could care less.  This kid was annoying me even more – if it were possible.

                We launched, and Daichi was obviously enjoying himself, as the dish was apparently a replica of the kind of territory Daichi came from and was used to blading in.  The advantage was Daichi’s – or so it seemed.  I sat on the volcano’s peak, patiently waiting.  I knew that my seeming apathy was worrying Tyson, Hilary, and Kenny up in the stands, watching us battle.  And in a way, I couldn’t blame him.  I wasn’t entirely in the game, after all.  My thoughts were still raging about what I’d heard them arguing about before.

                I heard Tyson yelling at me from the stands, and I knew he was telling me to get with it already.  But I wouldn’t attack until I was ready, and I’d do it only when I’d come to the decision about whether or not I truly wanted to be on the team, truly wanted to fight alongside Tyson, truly wanted go through yet one more Championship round – or whether I wanted that title for myself badly enough and was willing to fight against Tyson to get it.

                Daichi’s words kept replaying in my head, over and over again.

                There could be only one Champ.  But if I wanted to be a World Champion, I had to go through Tyson, not battle with him, and that meant I would have to do something I had vowed (and firmly believed until now) that I would never do again.  I would have to betray him.  I didn’t have to like it, but maybe this time I could finally get this out of my system, and finally put the past and my ambition behind me.

                Daichi was right.  And I’d made my decision.  The roar of a dragon – so like the call of Dragoon as he was about to go on the attack, yet completely different – drew me back into my battle, and I realized I was one hit away from being defeated.

                The hell I’d let this little mountain monkey defeat me!  I’d show him just how far he had to go to be in the same league as Tyson and myself.

                I called out Dranzer with everything I had in me at that moment.  It was a quick, destructive, decisive victory.  And it took all of two seconds.

                I felt a little badly for Daichi, but it would only benefit him in the end.

                “That was one awesome battle, Kai!”  Tyson gushed at me with typical enthusiasm, excitement, and…pride.  Internally I winced, wishing I could beg him not to do this because it was just making it harder on both of us, knowing what I was going to do to him.  “And I knew you’d pull it off!  Now it’s just you and me, buddy!  Off to the World Championships!!!!”

                “Yeah.”  I couldn’t not answer him.  But my voice was soft and I’m sure some of the sadness and regret leaked out in it against my will.  “I know.”

                Then Mr. Dickenson made another announcement that added another twist.  It wasn’t just going to be a tag-team event, it was going to be a Round-Robin – with reserve bladers as alternates should either of the main bladers not be able to battle.  And the one to choose our alternates was the weirdo in the ninja outfit – who apparently Tyson already had encountered.

                Daichi was chosen first.  No big surprise there.  But the big surprise to everyone was Kenny.  The ninja-wannabe, whom Tyson called Jin, picked Kenny to be the second alternate because he had the attitude and spirit of a blader, and the knowledge of how our blades worked that few bladers had.

                Once that was settled, Tyson brought up a question that I was quite interested in hearing the answer to, also.  Who was this guy, and why was he being put in charge of the team?

                Why?  Because he was Tyson’s older brother, Hiro.  Someone Tyson hadn’t seen in years, and the someone who had taught Tyson the basics of blading way back when…

                Tearful reunions are…messy.  And I was happy for Tyson – even though he’d never TOLD us that he had a brother.

                But did he have to keep up with the waterworks?  Embarrassing…

~~~~~~~~~~

                Hiro called a meeting and practice session, and both Tyson and Daichi were completely pumped up.  They dove into training with a ferocity I’d never seen – particularly out of Tyson.  I followed a little more sedately, figuring that even if I wasn’t going to stay on the team, I still needed training.

                The whole time, Tyson kept making comments about how awesome we were going to be together.  Every time it was like a knife stabbing me through the chest repeatedly and guilt threatened to overwhelm me.  I wasn’t sure I could take much more of it.

                We took a break after a while, and watched Rei’s prelim battle with Lee.  I was impressed.  Obviously he was determined to make it to the finals – maybe as determined as I was.

                He won, unsurprisingly.  But Tyson’s enthusiasm got to me.  I had another decision to make, and it wasn’t easy.

                That night I made a difficult phone call.  If I was going to attempt to battle my way to the finals and settle my score with Tyson, I needed a team to blade on.  And there was only one team I knew would be willing to take me, let alone one that I was willing to blade on (outside of the Bladebreakers).

                The Demolition Boys…newly re-named the Blitzkrieg Boys.  It had been Tala’s idea, now that they were no longer under my Grandfather and Boris’ thumbs.  But they were still world-class bladers, and capable of participating like any of the other teams we’d met in our adventures.  So they were attempting to redeem themselves and show the world they weren’t the monsters that the past had tried to make them.

                I’d say that pretty much summed up my life, right?

                Tala was highly amused to hear from me…but he didn’t sound surprised.  Not one bit.  He said he’d meet me in a couple of days, to finalize the deal and to go to the BBA and register me as a member of the Blitzkrieg Boys.  I was to meet him at the Bay City harbour docks.

                In the meantime, I would bide my time with the people I would always consider my team.  The people I’d consider my friends even if they hated me after this.  I…had to let it all go, give it all up.  I had to.

~~~~~~~~~~

                There were a lot of things I regretted in my life.  I’d been fortunate enough to have had Tyson to help me to forgive myself and to help me get over some of those regrets.  Unfortunately, new ones kept popping up to replace them.

                Tyson’s brother gave us all a day off, saying he had some plans for special training that he had to arrange.  In the meantime, we were to relax.  I watched Tyson and the others leave the BBA training facility, and I had to quite literally hold myself back from running after them and throwing away the decisions I’d made to just stick with them and forget about what I really wanted.  I hated to do this to him.  But if I wasn’t doing this just for myself.  I was doing it in part for him, because no one would give him a fight like I would.  No one could match him or challenge him like I could.

                And I knew that once the initial shock of betrayal had been set aside, Tyson would understand, and he would find that I wasn’t the only one with a score to settle.  He knew, had always known, that I held a small grudge against him for that first Regional tournament where he defeated me.  The unknown kid who took down the reigning champ.  I’d never had the opportunity for a rematch.  This was that opportunity.

                I had no choice but to take it.

                I’ll just keep telling myself that whenever guilt threatened to drown me.

                My latest regret would be not attempting to tell Tyson myself, not giving him the courtesy as my teammate – and worse, as the person I was closest to in this world – to tell him I was leaving his team for another in order to battle him in the finals as our other teammates had already done.  That I was abandoning him and betraying him.

                How could I tell him that, though?  How?  I came to the conclusion that it was best if I just disappeared.  But I’d be watching him closely, because I wanted to know if he was the Champion I saw in him, if he was truly my one and only rival…my one and only everything.  This was a test – for both of us.

                So it was that I met with Tala and was welcomed back to the fold of the Russian team.  And so it was that Hiro, in that weird, enigmatic way of his, somehow knew what had been going through my mind all this time and what I was going to do.  Since he knew, there was no need for me to say or do anything else about it.

                I left Tyson to the care of his brother, to Hilary and Kenny.  And even to Daichi.  I hoped someday he’d forgive me.

~~~~~~~~~~

                I knew he wouldn’t take it well.  And I expected our first encounter after the fact to be somewhat loud and full of typical Tyson-filled insults and anger and disappointment and…betrayal.

                But I had hoped he would at least wait until we were alone to yell and scream at me.  Because then I may have screamed and yelled right back.  However, he just had to chase me down, and catch up with me when the Tala and the others were right there with me.  I couldn’t let them know just how much he affected me, couldn’t let Tyson know, either.  So I said nothing while he railed at me in pure fury and was held back by my teammates, and told off by Tala.  All I could say to him was typical of me – but totally fake, not that he could see that in his state – and tell him it was nothing personal, but I had a reputation to maintain and I couldn’t do it with him. 

                Inside, I was dying a little with each angry, betrayed word.  Outside I was as cold as a block of ice – colder than even one of Wolborg’s attacks.

                After our first battle (the first leg of the tournament circuit was in America, in Max’s home city of New York) and the ensuing drama with Tyson, I needed to get out and get some air.  I left our team’s hotel room that evening and headed for the roof.  It was chilly, and it was quiet – even in a mega-city like New York – and it was just what I needed.

                My peace and quiet was shattered, though, when Tala joined me at the edge of the building, sitting down cross-legged on the ledge and staring out at the city below.

                “So are you ever going to tell me why you REALLY left your team?”  He asked, folding his arms over his chest.  I grunted in a non-committal way.  Not very likely, wolf.  I thought.

                “You realize I’m not stupid, right?  Because as if you left just because you don’t think you could make it to the Championships with him.  You may have fooled Bryan and Spencer, but not me, Hiwatari.  You forget that I know you.  Maybe not as well as that blue-haired Dragon of yours, but I know enough to know your motives.”

                “If you know, then why are you asking?”

                He snarled at me, making me smirk.  We totally rubbed each other the wrong way, but we were a decent team.  His training – and my own secret, private training – was improving me day-by-day.

                “You are the most infuriating…”

                “Suck it up, Tala.”  I sighed, having lost my peace.  Surprisingly, I did feel somewhat better.  Tyson had taken a big loss today against Lee of White Tiger X, and Rei.  He hadn’t taken the loss very well.  I knew he was still confused and letting it rule him, but I also knew he would eventually find himself again and come back stronger than ever.  I would be prepared, and I hoped the other teams would see that, too.  Underestimating Tyson was a mistake.  “Come on.  We need our rest.”

                I heard him follow me, but I mostly ignored his presence.

                That night I dreamed.  I dreamed of the battle I would one day soon fight against Tyson…but I never saw the result of that battle.  It was as if there was no conclusion.

~~~~~~~~~~

                Battles came and went.  My own were nothing worth mentioning, even though Tala and I battled a new team, F-Dynasty.  The American leg of the circuit was over, and we were off to Europe.  It was there that they announced the next scheduled matches – and guess who our next opponents were.  Yep.  Tyson and Daichi.

                Or so I thought.

                The Blitzkrieg Boys and I appeared for the match…but when the BBA Revolution appeared, Tyson was no where in sight.  I narrowed my eyes at the group, my focus burning into the elder Kinomiya’s head.  He was responsible for this, I knew.  No one else could keep Tyson from a match – no matter what Tyson’s state of mind was.  I could hear – barely – the conversation going on over there, and everything I heard was only succeeding in pissing me off.  I knew Tyson was probably off somewhere absolutely fuming.

                I also felt horribly sorry for poor Kenny.  This was his first official tournament battle for his team.  And what a way to make your entrance as a blader, and not just the brains behind the scenes – against Tala, of all bladers.  I wouldn’t have admitted it aloud, but had it been me he faced, I’d probably have gone easy on him.  I wouldn’t have let him win, of course, but I would have gone easy.

                Tala would not, and did not.

                But I needn’t have worried.  Kenny managed to surprise us all, even me.  He fought valiantly, with pure and true loyalty to his team and most especially to Tyson.  I hid a smile as he actually gave Tala a bit of trouble.  You go, Chief.  Show him you weren’t a Bladebreaker all this time for nothing, even if you never spun a blade yourself.  I told him silently in approval.

                He didn’t fail me.

                When it was my turn, I went up to the dish and glared hard at the man who called himself a coach.  How dare he deprive me of the opportunity to take on Tyson?  I didn’t care if Tyson was having a crisis – I wanted to test for myself where he was at and compare myself to him, so that I had a clue as to how work I was going to need for the finals.  And how dare Hiro put his nose in my business like this.

                I’d already had my battle with Daichi.  I had no wish to have another.  So I threw my match – and made a blatant statement of disapproval and annoyance at the same time.  It looked like a freak accident, but I knew perfectly well Hiro knew it was no accident that my blade just happened to hit Daichi’s in such a way off the launch that it ricocheted towards his head, just missing him by little more than a few inches.  Cool as a clam, he didn’t flinch, didn’t even move, and I recalled Dranzer with a thought.

                Tala gave me hell for it – he wasn’t stupid, and knew that had been deliberate – but I ignored him, and he didn’t press the issue.  Instead, he went up against the mountain monkey for the first time… in a tie-breaker, since he barely defeated Kenny in the match after mine and Daichi’s.

                It’s a wonderful thing to see someone find their rival.  As Tyson was my rival, my goal in everything, my reason for everything, so to did Daichi become Tala’s.  Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating more than a little, but the rivalry was there.  Tala thinks I didn’t notice, but I did.  Just as my energy was devoted to meeting Tyson in the finals, so was Tala’s to meeting Daichi after that battle.  I was highly amused by it all.

                Tyson suddenly appeared at the sidelines, making a big fuss.  I was relieved to see him, relieved to see that he had indeed found himself again and hadn’t abandoned his teammates.

                After all…that was my thing, not his.  He would never do that.

~~~~~~~~~~

                Sunny Spain.  It was a beautiful country, and one that we had never been to yet.  It was the next stage of the circuit, and things had begun to heat up in the standings.

                Oddly enough, this time I could sit back and relax somewhat.  The other teams didn’t worry me all that much, and the likelihood that I would be facing Tyson any time soon was pretty slim.

                Well, I suppose I should be somewhat worried about my upcoming match with Max.  I knew he was no slouch, even though most tended to underestimate him, and often considered him the weakest blader of all of us Bladebreakers.  In some ways this was true.  But on the other hand, if you underestimated him, he could and would walk all over you.  He was smart, he was quick (when he wanted to be), and his defense was nearly iron-clad.  He’d gained the experience over the years we had bladed together

                The crowd was less than charitable about their feelings toward the PPB All-Starz when Max and Rick walked out into the stadium, after the mishap they’d had with Barthez’ Battalion – the team that had come out of nowhere and defeated the Majestics, completely shocking the rest of the blading world.  Of course, the crowd couldn’t know that there had been some illegal goings-on during that match, and that what had happened had not been Rick’s doing, but a ploy by Barthez, that team’s coach, to win the sympathy of the fans and build support for his team.  It was a dirty trick, and while Max and Rick were unable to do anything about it (not that the big guy seemed to care one way or the other), let alone anyone else, I knew that Tyson would teach Miguel and his team a lesson when they finally met up in the dish.  So I wasn’t going to do anything about it either.

                Except for this crowd…

                “SILENCE!”  I raised my voice over the boos and jeers coming from the crowd.  Sometimes, it’s nice to be feared and revered, because I got instant, shocked silence.  I didn’t say much, after all, so when I did, people tended to listen – particularly when I was mad.

                “Show respect for our opponents or else!”  I threw out the warning, glaring around at the fans in the stadium, then glanced at Max opposite me over the dish.  We exchanged a look, and he smiled at me.  He understood me.  I hoped Tyson and the others, and Rei (wherever he was) were all watching and I was certain that if they were, then they understood, too.  The masses are asses, as Toynbee once said.  I wasn’t surprised when things remained relatively subdued and quiet after that.

                I was right about one thing, Max was no slouch.  And if I had underestimated him, I would have lost.  And this battle, too, was a rematch in the making.  The last time I had battled Max in an official tournament, I had won, but that match had been the one where he’d gained Draciel, and when he’d proven to be someone to look out for.  He’d given me somewhat of a challenge back then and he did not disappoint me this time either.

                It looked like he’d finally gotten the hang of battling as a blader chosen by one of the Four Sacred Spirits.  I knocked Draciel out, in the end, and we exchanged nods and smiles – since I wasn’t going to say a thing, and really, I didn’t need to.  That’s what happens when you spend three years (give or take) practically a part of someone, which is one of the reasons the Bladebreakers were always so strong and achieved so much.  We were four parts of a whole, in a way.  We were…Bladebreakers.

                Then Tala, the fool, underestimated Rick’s power, and lost his match.  Which left me battling with Rick for a tie-breaker.  Yeesh.  The arrogance of this guy was going to earn him a lesson, compliments of Dranzer and I.

                I did it by demonstrating why I was as good as I was.  I took the techniques that Max had developed and used them myself on Rick.  I know I shocked a few people, not the least of whom were my former teammates.  I could feel approval from the fans in the stands.  And I knew, if I looked, I’d find Tyson up there watching.  Somehow, irrational as it was, I could feel him, and in a way it was soothing.  He was still mad at me, I’m sure, but I knew he was beginning to put it behind him and look forward.

                And that is exactly how I wanted it.

                Oh, and I was also on the money about Tyson teaching Miguel and his team a lesson in good blading and fair-play.  He hadn’t lost his blading spirit, and he was fully prepared to show Miguel where he was going wrong, and teach him to find that spirit in himself and fight for it.

                Just one of the many things I respect and admire about Tyson, and one of the many things he had to teach me, once upon a time…

                A lesson well learned.

~~~~~~~~~~

                I don’t know what’s up with the BBA, but damn.  Do they have to keep picking these hot countries to go to?  First Spain, now Egypt!  It’s a really good thing I do well with the heat.  My teammate, on the other hand…

                “Ugh…” Tala groaned, dragging himself into the hotel room we shared and dropping onto a bed.  “Thank god for air conditioning.”

                I just snickered and pulled out my blade kit to clean up Dranzer.  “You’re pathetic.  You’d better get used to this heat, Tala, if you expect to be able to blade and win.”

                “Not all of us are immune to any kind of weather like you, Hiwatari.”  He grouched, rolling onto his side and giving me his back.  “Go soak your head.  Which of us is team Captain?”

                “Who cares?  Like I take orders from you anyway.”  I pointed out, buffing my attack ring after checking it out thoroughly for damages.

                “Yeah, yeah…  And if you weren’t as good as you are, I wouldn’t put up with it either.  I’d kick your ass.”  Tala gave me an icy glare and got up, going to his bag to dig out clean clothes.  “I’m taking a shower.  You should get ready for the welcome supper tonight.”

                “You could always try.” I commented absently.  “And I will later.  We have plenty of time.”

                He shook his head at me and walked by on the way to the bathroom.  Pausing, he stopped and stared down at me.  “Kai…when are you going to get over your obsession with beating Tyson?  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand wanting to face him again and have the chance to beat him, because I’m no different.  But…it wouldn’t be the end of my world if it never happened.”

                I slowly raised my gaze to him, my eyes full of ‘back off’ and ‘don’t talk about what you don’t understand.’

                “Don’t give me that glare, either.  I’m becoming quite immune to your attempts at intimidation.”

                “Look, just stay out of it.  This is something I need to do, and I’ll do whatever I have to.  I’m winning my matches, Tala, so you have nothing to complain about.”  I narrowed my eyes at him.  “Go shower.”

                “You know what?  I don’t know why I bother.”  Tala turned on his heel and stalked into the bathroom with a huff.  I smiled and went back to cleaning my blade.  I knew he meant well, and he was concerned.  Tala had slowly been regaining his humanity, as well as his blading spirit, thanks to the encounter he’d had with us in that first World Championship.  He took being captain very seriously, and for all that we weren’t exactly friendly most of the time, we were…not friends exactly, but as close as it got to it.

                The next day we had a match with Barthez’ Battalion.  Tala defeated Aaron in the first round, and I went up against Miguel – who switched with Claude at the last minute against Barthez’ wishes – in the second round.  It was an easy win, but it was a fair one.  No tricks were attempted, and they stood up to their coach, firing him.  The crowd cheered for Miguel, even though he lost, and it was good to hear.  He deserved it.

~~~~~~~~~~

                Battles continued on, and the standings grew ever more intense and cut-throat.  The last leg of the Round Robin tournament was taking place Down Under, as they say, in Australia.  I’d watched Tyson grow with every challenge, every battle he faced.  And here it was no different.  He faced a crisis – from what I could tell of the brief times I saw him, either around the stadium or on TV.  The pressure of being the twice-over World Champion, working his way toward a three-peat, was beginning to take its toll on him.

                Ayers rock.  An ancient, aboriginal sacred site.  In a way, it became somewhat sacred to us as well.

                Something was buzzing in my mind, something old and powerful.  It’s call was pulling me to that heap of stone out in the middle of nowhere, and I followed it.  Tala watched me leave, demanding explanations, but I told him to just worry about himself and the rest of the team, and leave me alone.  He backed off reluctantly, since he really couldn’t stop me when it got down to it.

                I took a bus as far as the tourists were allowed to go, since one couldn’t just go climb the famous landmark anymore.  But that never stopped me, especially when I was being called there.  I slipped past the security, snuck up the winding path to the top, and stood there staring out at the wide, wild expanse of country surrounding the mountain of red rock.  There was an odd pedestal-type alter there, but I couldn’t read the inscriptions or decipher the symbols on it so I ignored it.

                I wasn’t there long when Rei appeared.  Then I realized why this place was so significant, and what it was that had called us here.  It wasn’t the rock itself, it was our Sacred Spirits.  We were of the Four, after all, and our connection surpassed everything, including the bonds of a normal team.

                “Kai!  Hey, man, you’re here, too?  For Tyson, right?”  Rei greeted and walked up to me.  I was leaning against the alter with my arms folded over my chest and one ankle crossed over the other.  “How did you know to come here?”

                “I don’t think so.”  I’d deny that adamantly, even though it was more than the truth.  Not that I could fool Rei.  “Dranzer.”  I answered his second question, shrugging.  Rei nodded.

                “Yeah.  I didn’t figure it out until I was half-way up the mountain, but Driger was urging me to come here, too.”  The raven-haired blader folded his arms.  “What do you suppose it’s all about?”

                I shook my head.  “I’m sure we’ll find out, though.”

                “I don’t know.  Do you think something happened to Tyson?  Or Dragoon?”  Rei frowned, worrying his bottom lip in concern.

                I frowned at that idea myself, turning to face the sun.

                “I don’t know.  But hopefully when he gets here, we can find out.”

                It was nearing sunset when Max joined us.  He waved happily at us, approaching at a run.  We greeted him, and went back to the task of waiting.

                Rei looked off toward the direction of the buses and tourists down below.  “I have to admit, I’m anxious to see him again.  I’ve been worried about how he’s handling the pressure lately.  It’s been like he’s lost his purpose for blading.”

                “Yeah.  I’m worried about him, too.”  Max agreed.

                I said nothing, but I was worried more than they were.  I knew what being a champion was like, after all, but they didn’t.  Not like Tyson and I did.  And this time there was a considerable degree more of pressure on him to take the title for a third time.  He was doing it without the team he’d come to know, trust, and rely on.  Now he was leading his team on his own, without our support.  Anyone would quake under those conditions, even me.

                But like I said, I’d never admit such a thing.  I do have an image to keep.

                We waited for hours.  I don’t know why we didn’t leave after a while, but something was holding us there, hoping – almost desperately – that Tyson would show and everything would make sense to us.

                I was beginning to believe that maybe he wouldn’t show, that he finally had reached a limit to his abilities to cope with the pressure of being a celebrity and the pressures that came with the responsibilities he now held for his team and the sport.

  *** ***

                “I came to meet Tyson, too, but I guess he’s not coming.”  Max stated at one point, sighing in defeat.  “I suppose he as too much to worry about as World Champion to meet with us anymore.”

                The three of us were watching the sun set, still waiting.  But even our patience only went so far.

                “I don’t know what’s wrong with him!  I wanted him in top condition.”  Rei clenched his fists in bitter disappointment, and I didn’t blame him.  I knew what he felt like, since the same ideas were going through my own mind.

                “Yes.”  Max agreed.  “But…I’m sure he’ll be fine.”  He looked up at Rei.

                “Yeah, you’re right.  Tyson will get over this in his own way.”

                “If he’s a true champion, he will.”  Kai stated, adding his two-cents in.  He didn’t doubt for a minute that Tyson would let him down.  He couldn’t, and Kai wouldn’t let him.

  *** ***

                The sun was blazing familiar shades of reds, oranges, and golds, and turning the sky into a riot of colour as evening fell when the last member of our group finally came running up the side of the mountain, a fierce determination I hadn’t seen in ages on his face and in his stormy blue eyes.

                Relief was a soothing balm to my nerves when I saw it.  He was back.  My eternal rival had found himself again and he was back.

                He stopped in front of us, breathing a little hard from the run and the climb.  His eyes landed on each of us, stopping on me and holding steady.  I returned the gaze, letting him know he had my total, undivided attention.  When Tyson spoke, the determination there rang in my head like a bell.  “There’s something I need to tell you guys, okay?  I…I am a blader first, and a champion second.  Rei, Kai, Max…” he pulled out his launcher and blade, preparing it for a launch.  “From now on…I’m the challenger!”  He launched his blade with ferocity and I don’t think any of us could hold back a smile.  “Just like you guys!”

                Rei and Max laughed, delighted to see our friend back as Dragoon blasted through solid rock and demonstrated that Tyson was indeed back on his game.

                “Nothing to worry about.”  Max glanced at Rei, who returned the glance in relief.

                “Nope.  Nothing.”

                Each of us stepped up to that pedestal-alter, and the symbolism wasn’t lost on any of us.  Four bladers, four elements, four sacred spirits, standing at the exact points around the alter that marked the four directions of a compass.  We may have been on different teams, battling on our own terms against one another, but we were still One.  Still Bladebreakers.

                “As far as I’m concerned, any one of us could win this championship.”  Tyson stated.  “But you’re going to have to bring your best, because you’re going to have to go through me to get it.”

                There was silence after Tyson’s words.  And really…nothing any of us could say to that.  We stared at each other around the alter, the sunset blazing behind me, the wind picking up around Tyson, the clouds gathering overhead and the scent of on-coming rain in the air from Max’s direction, and the red, red earth under Rei’s feet, appearing even more scorched from the sunset.  In silent agreement, we turned and left that sacred spot as one, each going off in our own direction.

                As I walked away, I added to Tyson’s declaration in my head.  Rei…you’ll have to go through me to get to Tyson, and I don’t plan on losing.  Good luck in your own battle with Tyson, Max.  You’ve earned it.

                The real battle would start now.  Everything that came before…was little more than a prelude.  Now…the gloves were coming off.

~~~~~~~~~~

                I sat in the team booth with Bryan and Spencer watching Tala and Lee battle it out.  I wasn’t sure what was up with Rei’s old friend these days, but he wasn’t blading like he should have been for someone of his skill and power.  He hadn’t been blading as expected the entire tournament, in fact.  I knew Tala was a tad frustrated with the lack of competition, and I couldn’t blame him.  At least he had Daichi to look forward to, eventually.

                For me…I was preparing myself for the next match, which would be against Rei.  I had never fought him myself, not one-on-one in an official match like this before.  Training sessions aside, I didn’t know what to expect this time around.  I knew he’d be tough, and I’d have my work cut out for me, but I was confident that I could defeat him.  I had to, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

                Tala drove Lee’s blade right out of the dish and took a victory.  He came to the bench and looked down at me.  “Are you ready to beat the best of White Tiger X, Kai?  Kai?  Kai!?”  I ignored him, remembering the training I had put myself through in Russia in order to develop a new, incredibly powerful attack that I’d been saving for just such an occasion as this.

I stood and slowly walked up to the dish, waiting for Rei.  I hoped the others were watching again, because I wanted Tyson to see how determined I was, how badly I wanted to face him, and how far I was willing to go to do it.  And As Rei approached from the other side, I kept my gaze somewhat neutral.  In a way, I was a little miffed at him for leaving Tyson as he had – Max, too, but not as much as Rei.  I don’t know why, but somehow Rei’s defection had irked me.

                No matter who gets in my way…I will be victorious!

                We went at that battle like there was no tomorrow, like it was life and death.  Neither of us were willing to back down or cease pushing ourselves as hard as we had to.  I took out the bamboo rods that were placed all over the dish, leaving crumbled debris in my wake and no where for Rei to hide, then proceeded to go after him almost viciously.  He was no better in his attacks on me.  Rei gave as good as he was given.

                Half-way through our battle, we were both showing signs of the strain and of how tired we were becoming.  We had been expending our energy almost recklessly, it seemed, hoping to make this quick and take victory before the other knew what had happened.  Only we were too evenly matched, and it wasn’t turning out that way at all.

                The only difference between us was the level of our confidence in ourselves, and the fact that (in my mind, anyway) I wanted it more.  I wanted this victory more than Rei did.

                Simple as that.

                One massive explosion later, I was still on my feet and Dranzer was still spinning in the dish, while Rei was face down across from me – though Driger was still spinning strong.  Very well…if he just wouldn’t lie down and accept his defeat, I’d have to force him to do so.

                I waited patiently for Rei to find the strength to get up again and keep going.  And when he did, he earned a great deal of respect from me for it, because not many were willing to go that far to try and beat me.

                Ouch.  He sent Dranzer slamming into the side of the dish in front of me, forcing me to go down on one knee to keep myself and my blade anchored in the dish and still in the game.  Okay, so he wanted to play rough?  I’ll give him rough.  “You’ll have to do better than that, Rei.”  I stood up.

                “Don’t tempt me, Kai.  Don’t tempt me.”  Rei was staring at me somewhat shocked, and at the same time not really.  That attack of his…I think he may have had issues with how I’d left Tyson, just as I did him.  Oh well.  Neither of us had the right to throw stones on that issue.

                I raised a hand, reaching up to pull off the scarf from around my neck – the one I wore for weight training.  It landed with a thunk! of sound and took a piece out of the floor.  Ahhh…much better.  I cracked my knuckles and began to centre myself for the attack, while we waited for word from the judges as to whether or not they would end the match for a clean up/repair break.

                No such thing.  It was on, and Rei and I didn’t waste any time pussy-footing around.  The problem was…there was one thing that Rei had on me in skill.  Speed.  And he was most definitely proving it with this initial move.  Unfortunately for him, I was beginning to figure out where his blade was by sound and the evidence of his passage that was left behind.  Put the two together, and I was almost able to actually see his blade again, which was enough for me to unleash some tricks of my own.  I stopped his blade in its tracks with some well-placed feathers.  I sent Dranzer after Driger with pure force and fury, and Rei’s blade went flying.  I’d won the match – but it was hard won.  I recalled Dranzer, feeling a little dizzy and wobbly on my feet, and turned to get the hell out of there before I collapsed.

                “Kai!”  Rei’s voice made me pause.

                “Yeah, Rei?”  I managed to ask in a steady voice.

                “I wish you good luck…in the finals.”

                “Thanks.”  I smiled to myself, and continued on toward the exit, ignoring Tala and the other two.

                Once I’d managed to get out of sight, I let myself fall into the wall and propped it up for a while, breathing heavily and trying to regain enough of my strength to get through the rest of the day without appearing as if I’d just come out on the wrong side of a battle.  I looked down at my blade, my hand shaking slightly.  Gods.  If Tyson was more powerful than Rei had been…I was almost ready to face him.  But now I had a really good idea just how much work I had yet to do, so let my head fall back against the wall and my eyes close.

~~~~~~~~~~

                The next match was going to be a big one, a match I wouldn’t miss for the world.  I had handled Max fairly well, but now…it was Tyson’s turn.  They hadn’t faced each other in an official match before, either, so this was going to be just as interesting as my own had been against Rei – to hear those two announcer guys tell it.  Koala Dome?  Who the hell came up with these lame names anyway?

                I sat up in the stands with my team, exhausted but way too keyed up to be somewhere recovering when I had to watch this battle.  Grudge match indeed.  Not to mention decisive.  Both Max’s team and Tyson’s were tied in the standings, and this match would determine who went on to the finals.

                And thus…faced me.

                Daichi was up first against Rick, and as he reached the dish, he glanced over directly at where we were sitting, and grinned at Tala – much to my vast amusement.  I fought not to snicker at his expression, though he did give me a side-glower in warning anyway.

                The match started up and those two wasted less time than Rei and I did.  At one point, I heard someone in the stands nearby ask if anyone else smelled something burning.

                “Huh…I can smell it, too.  Must be from the friction of their blades.”  Tala commented, watching the match closely with more interest than I’d seen him display in anything for a long time.

                The force of their blades and the vibrations of their blades grinding at each other busted right through the bridge across the middle of the dish where they’d been fighting.  They kept up the momentum, though, and soon they were cracking right through the dish itself.  It was amazing, really.  Powerhouses in their own right.  I threw a quick glance at Tala, and hoped he knew what he was getting into if he went up against Daichi in the finals.

                Daichi’s last attack cut right into Rick’s and sent his blade shooting up into the air, taking out a light way up in the ceiling of the stadium.  He’d taken Rick down, and it was up to Max if the All-Starz wanted to stay in the tournament – and vice-versa, it was up to Tyson.  I watched Daichi collapse in exhaustion, knowing exactly how he felt.

                While Rei and I had been mostly evenly matched, with somewhat similar styles of blading (mine was power and endurance, while his was speed and balance), Tyson and Max’s skills were also evenly matched – but their styles were the polar opposite of each other.  Max was a defensive blader, while Tyson was all about pure offense power.  This was a clash of the titans, and had I been a nervous person, I’d have been sitting on the edge of my seat, clutching the seat in front of me with white-knuckled hands and biting my nails off.

                But I’m not, so I just watched with an unreal intensity.

                Then too, if I believed in signs…then the stadium they fought on was a big one.  Ayers rock.  My eyes widened, and I could see the shock and dismay on Max and Tyson’s faces.

                This battle was insanely intense, just from watching in the stands.  I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my friends down there at the dish.  And then Max pulled something I hadn’t expected.  He had learned from me in our battle, and the battle I fought with Rick, and switched his style in the middle of the battle by going on the offensive with Tyson.  Once again I had to readjust my view of the blonde kid.  There were few bladers who could do that and not screw it up, and he’d just shown me he was one of them.  A faint smile crossed my face as Tyson looked like he wanted to kick something.  I think he wasn’t expecting that move of Max’s either, but he didn’t let it phase him for long.  He just did what he does best – fight back with everything he has.

                I watched with no small amount of awe as Tyson unleashed a windstorm unlike anything I’d seen from him before.  He was trying his very best to push Draciel and Max out of the dish with just the pure force of that wind.  Amazed by that, but even more so that Max was holding out against it and then actually advancing forward on Dragoon…  Phew.  That was just way too close a call.

                Max’s strategy shouldn’t have surprised me.  He always was a fantastic strategist when it came to blading.  He pretty much led Tyson around the dish by the nose the entire time…until the final moments when Tyson proved why he was a two-time World Champion.

                He rode out Draciel’s Gravity Control like a surfer rides the waves, and when the time was right, he unleashed Dragoon’s Galaxy Storm and that was the end of that.  I felt badly for Max, but at the same time was rather proud of him.  He’d definitely proven himself out there.

                And Tyson had done what I need him to do – win that match and advance to the finals.  Expectations fulfilled, I left the stadium fully satisfied with the outcome.  There was only one team left standing in the way of our battle – F-Dynasty.

~~~~~~~~~~

                The last leg of the tournament was returning to the home of the World Champion…back to where it all began.  There’s an irony in that, I suppose.  Returning to Bay City was a relief to me, in a way.  No matter what happened here this time, I knew that the probability of my career as a blader continuing was fairly slim.  After this…I would probably retire from active tournaments and competitions.  I’d never stop blading completely, of course, but no more competitions.

                Maybe I could finally have a real life, and maybe…something would change enough in my life that I could be around Tyson without feeling like I didn’t belong there, wasn’t worthy to be there.

                A press conference was held to announce how the three remaining teams were going to battle it out for the title.  BBA Revolution was going to have to face F-Dynasty, since they were tied for the other spot in the finals.  Not surprisingly (to me at least), Tyson and Daichi declared that they wanted a tag-team match against the brother-sister duo, and they accepted.  I had been watching Tyson and Daichi all this time, and I had seen his improvement, their team improvement, and with that degree of it, I was sure they could be more than a match tag-team style for F-Dynasty.

                They had better be, at least, because if Tyson screwed this up I was going to kick his ass from here to the moon.

                I watched their match from the locker room with Tala, and I don’t know why I bothered to worry at all.  For a brief moment it looked like Tyson and Daichi were going to fall into the same trap they had the last time they’d fought F-Dynasty, but then they pulled a fantastic feint and totally blew the twins away.

                Now that it was official, there was nothing standing between me and my ultimate goal, the one thing I believed I wanted in life more than anything.

                It’s you and me, Tyson, in the re-match of epic proportions.

~~~~~~~~~~

                Maybe I’m a fool.  I had an advantage and I threw it away.  But…all I wanted was an official match with Tyson, on a level playing field all the way around, and that included the fact that he hadn’t had enough time to rest and heal up from his last match before he faced me.  My honour wouldn’t allow that condition to interfere.  So to level things between us, I asked Bryan and Spencer for a little assistance while Tala went out and attempted to win the first round against Daichi.  I was sorry that I wasn’t going to be watching and wasn’t going to be there in support of him (he was my teammate, after all), but this was what I had to do.

                So when I stepped out into the stadium, somewhat bruised and beaten up, the odd scrape and gash here and there, my energy depleted just enough to match what I estimated Tyson’s to be, I was totally prepared for the upcoming battle.  I could see the surprise and the admiration that shone in Tyson’s eyes as I approached, and the disbelief that I’d throw away an advantage like that, even if I did have my pride.  He gave me a rueful smile and shook his head minutely, as if to say, “You’re nuts, Hiwatari, but I knew you wouldn’t let me down even with everything that’s happened.”

                Apparently while I’d be evening the score, Tala and Daichi had tied their match.  Which left Tyson and I to battle for the title.  I don’t think there’s any way it could have been any more perfect.

  *** ***

                “So Kai…you up for this?”  Tyson asked, eyeing the damage Kai displayed.

                “Of course.  And…I’ve brought a friend.”  Kai showed Tyson his blade.

                “No way!”  Tyson blinked.  It was a new Dranzer blade.  Kenny and Hilary were a little surprised, but Hiro wasn’t.  He understood what Kai had done.

                “You’re not the only one who has already battled today, Tyson.”

                “You?”  Tyson’s face became quite serious.  “I see.”

                From nearby in the stands, Kai could hear Gramps – barely.  But he was strangely honoured by the Elder Kinomiya’s comments.

                “Heh.  For such a moody guy, Kai sure has class.  That dude just earned my respect.  I hope Tyson appreciates it.”  The old man stood up and yelled down at his grandson.  “Tyson!  Kai evened up the score ‘cause he wants a challenge from you!  Don’t disappoint him, yo!”

                “I’m ready when you are!”  Tyson declared, getting out his blade and launcher, prepping them for the battle.  “I may not have a fancy new Dranzer like you, but that’s fine with me ‘cause my trusty Dragoon has never let me down!”

                  Before they could get started, however, Mr. Dickenson revealed a new, special dish just for this battle.  Both bladers stared at the field they’d been given – one square mile of wilderness – the crowds gasped in awe and excitement.

                “Hmm…perfect.”  Kai smiled, looking across the expanse of the stadium dish at his opponent.  Tyson looked back, a smile of his own crossing his face.

                “Kai!”

                “You want to get started, right?”  Kai acknowledged, getting out his own blade and launcher.

  *** ***

                Right off the launch, things got amazingly intense and wild.  The blades collided without even hitting the ground first, and the shockwave was enough to make everyone present wince, and even Tyson and I had to take a bracing step back from the pressure.  But it didn’t deter us for long.  Every time our blades hit, the shockwaves that flew off the collision were thick enough to make the ground shake and the air harder to breathe.

                We kept trying to gain an advantage, doing our best to ignore the shocks and keep on attacking each other with ferocity.  I could feel in every hit in my bones, and in those hits there was a tinge of anger.  I didn’t blame him for it.  And I was glad that he was taking it out on me in the way that we both needed – in this beybattle.

                Whoa!  I went down on one knee after the last shockwave, wondering if maybe I did screw up and I should have thrown my pride out the window…  Then Tyson was calling out to me from across the dish.

                “Kai!”

                I looked up and saw his blade spinning toward me and kicking up a great deal of dust from the dish’s landscape.  He came at me and I stood up in a hurry, sending Dranzer flying up in the air to counter his attack.

                “I’m not out yet!”

                Dranzer dive-bombed Dragoon, forcing up boulders and chunks of earth all around Dranzer.  Tyson blinked in relief, as Dragoon had barely managed to avoid that one.

                “I gotta admit, Kai.  I definitely didn’t see that coming.  But now it’s my turn!”

                “You’ve played right into my hands!”  I grinned.

                “It was a trap?”  I saw the slight panic cross his face.

                My attack broke the plank he stood on across from my own perch above the dish below, and he fell with the debris.  He got up again quickly enough, so I didn’t waste time worrying about whether or not he was okay after that fall.  He looked up at me and grinned a little.

                “That blast took a chunk out of the beystadium, and it didn’t even slow Dragoon down.  Is that the best you’ve got, Kai?”

                “Not by a long shot.”  I replied.  “You should have stayed down while you had the chance!  Go, Dranzer!!  I went on the attack again, but Tyson put up quite a fight.  I had to admire how he used everything he’d learned over his battles from the other teams he’d fought, and how he was using them against me.

                My blade ricocheted off a rock after being picked up and tossed away by Tyson’s storm attack that he’d picked up from Daichi, and the storm engulfed the plank that I was standing on.  Down I went, joining my rival in the dish itself.  Ouch…that smarts.

                I got to my feet in time to see Tyson bring out one of F-Dynasty’s attacks next, making Dragoon fly up in the air and drop down onto mine, spinning on top of Dranzer.  I wouldn’t let him get away with that.  I spun my blade just a little bit faster and booted Dragoon off of it.

                The battle continued with me ferociously attacking and Tyson barely escaping.  From up in the stands, I could feel a sudden wave of understanding coming from the other two members of my former team.  Internally, I smiled.  They finally get it.  They finally get that this battle is the one I’ve waited for, prepared for, my entire life.  Now…Tyson was the only one left to figure it out.

                “I’ve traveled a long road to get here, Tyson.  This is my life’s work.  Everything I’ve seen, and everything I’ve done…it all starts and ends with you.  From the first time you defeated me, I’ve known it.  I’ve watched you grow ever since.  Sometimes you won, sometimes lost, but you always persevered.  No matter how bad things got, you always looked deep inside yourself and found the strength to continue.  And when a member of the team fell, it was you who was always there to pick him back up.  When I realized I could never be like you…the only thing left for me was to defeat you.  Only then would I have complete faith in my own skill and strength.  I had no choice but to find a way to win.  No matter what the cost to myself… 

                “That’s why I had to leave the team.  That’s why I trained with Dranzer in the frozen tundra of Russia.  And that’s why I chose Tala as my partner when he would much rather battle solo.  I hid myself away in extreme isolation, forced to survive in the most hostile environment I could find.  I gave up everything from my old life…and dedicated myself to training in mind and body.  To become the ultimate Beyblading machine.  Sometimes things got so bad that I was ready to throw in the towel.  But I just pictured you, Tyson, and it all came flooding back.”

                Kai made eye contact with Tyson and stood tall and proud as he spoke.  “I learned that no matter how tall the wall stands, there’s always a way to knock it down to size!”  Dranzer rose up from his blade in a fury of flame, and Tyson braced himself, preparing for the attack.

  *** ***

                We attacked each other again, and it was wickedly intense.  The shockwaves were pouring off our grinding blades in never-ending, continuous flows, and it was getting harder and harder for us to stay on our feet.  But we did it.  This was the battle I wanted.  This was the battle I’d been dying for.  All our strength and skill pitted against each other in a dance-like fight.  Neither of us letting up, pounding on each other to the best of our abilities.

                Finally, I pulled a rabbit out of my hat and unleashed it on Tyson.  I reversed the spin of my blade, countering the force of Tyson’s blade and thus, neutralizing it.  Everything suddenly just stopped – the wind, the flames, the shockwaves, all of it – but our blades kept on spinning.  Tyson and I exchanged grins and the crowd watched, stunned.  I knew perfectly well that no one had ever seen anything like this battle.

                Then the fight turned physical.  Now it was as if we were physically fighting each other as well as the battle with our blades.  I pushed him, he pushed back, we ground at each other with a ridiculous force that threatened to destroy the entire stadium.  We kept it up, and around us there was a strange silence as everyone watched in awe.

                And then…I let go of any restraints I had on Dranzer at the same time Tyson did the same to Dragoon, and the resulting explosion of pure power – flame versus storm – blasted upward and took out the majority of the stadium’s roof, and I’m sure it threatened a few satellites in orbit, too.  But Tyson and I were nearly unaware of it.  We’d both been knocked out for a moment with the explosion.

                Even that wasn’t enough to keep us down.  We slowly – albeit painfully – shoved ourselves up and to our feet again, swaying just a little.  Our blades had stopped, and it appeared as if it had happened at the same time.  So no decision made.

                We took a breather as we waited for the judges to tell us what was going to happen next.  Would we be allowed to continue?

                I didn’t care.  We were doing this.  Screw the judges.  Tyson and I prepared for another launch, and I could tell he felt the same.  Off came my scarf once again.  Time for extremes.

                Then came Mr. Dickenson’s announcement: we were both to be declared the winner of the tournament and to share the title, and the battle was declared over by a draw.

                Anger was righteous and raw.  No way was he doing this to me.  “NO WAY.”

                “Huh?”  Mr. Dickenson looked down at me from the nearly destroyed judges booth high above the dish.

                “You can’t do that to me!”  I absolutely fumed.  “Are you telling me that his whole tournament has just been a complete joke?!  That everything we’ve done so far doesn’t count because you decided we get punished for working hard?!”

                “Kai, please!”  Mr. Dickenson tried placating me.  But it wasn’t going to work.  Nothing would satisfy me but the continuation of this battle.

                “All I’m asking for is the chance to decide this in the beystadium!  Winner?  If that’s what you want, then you can have it!  All I want is to settle my battle with Tyson.”  I turned my furious, hard glare on Tyson.  “What about you, Tyson?  How do you want to settle this?”

                “Well…”

                “I can’t believe you’d want to leave this at a draw, either, especially being the defending Champ and all.  Well?  What do you say?”

                “Well, I…”  Tyson sighed and flashed a small grin at me.  “I say we finish this!”  He turned to look up at the judges and pled his case – and was supported in full voice beginning with our teammates up in the stands.  Rei and Max lent their voices to our cause, and the rest of the teams present, as well as the crowd itself followed.

                In the end…Mr. Dickenson really had no choice.

                Everyone in the stadium counted us down, and with a fierce launch, Tyson – my eternal rival and closest friend – and I went back to the business of trying to bring about a final defeat to it. 

                And I thought the last round had been like a physical fight.  This time it was very much like that.

                I didn’t know what he was up to, but I had to admit he was pretty damned tough.

                Something strange was happening the longer and harder we fought.  It was almost like I could feel him inside of my head, inside my very soul, and there was some weird connection between us – even stranger was that it felt so familiar.  What was this?

                Time seemed to stop in its tracks.  I could still hear our blades clashing, could still hear the faint roar of the fans around us.  But I felt like I was floating, and now I really could hear Tyson in my head…

                “This is really weird!  It’s like I can sense Kai’s every move!  No matter from where or how intense his attack is, Dragoon seems to be able to read it and put up a defense.”

                I blinked, shocked.

                “I don’t know what’s going on here, Kai…it’s like I’m suddenly psychic.”

                “Man, that’s freaky.  I was just thinking the same thing.”

                “Freaky or not, I came here to win, and that’s what I’m going to do!  The plan was to three-peat as World Champion, and I’ve come too far to let anyone or anything stand in my way.  That means you’re going down, Kai!  I know we used to be teammates, and even now I don’t look at you as my enemy.  You’re just another guy standing in my way to get to the top.  So when it’s all said and done, all I want is for you to think that I beat you fair and square, Kai.”   Tyson looked deeply into my eyes and smiled at me – and it hit me just how much I’d missed him.  “Sorry.  But I gotta get this battle over with.  No big deal…it’s just that I suddenly realized that going up against you is kinda cool, Kai, ‘cause we both get so into it.  When we fight, I completely zone out.  I just love that feeling!”

                “I know!”  I couldn’t help but agree with him.  After all…wasn’t that why I was here?  “I feel the same way.”  I smiled back at him.

                There it was again!  That fluttering in my stomach, the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears…  What was this emotion?  It couldn’t be what I thought it was…could it?

                I didn’t have time to consider it.  The scenery shifted suddenly, and we were surrounded by stars and light.

                “When I battle against you Tyson, it’s like I forget where I am because the competition is so intense.”  I stared at him.  “I’m serious.  But that doesn’t mean I’m just going to lie down and let you win.”

                “I…wouldn’t have it any other way.”

                We stared at each other, savouring the connection, trying to grasp the reality of our situation and wrap our heads around it.  And when we did, it was a silent agreement to continue that sent us into the next phase of our battle.

                “Dranzer!”  I cried out, preparing for what could very well be my final attack.

                “Dragoon!”  Tyson’s own cry rang out after mine.  It was a truly awesome sight to see.  We weren’t fighting in the stadium anymore.  We were battling in that surreal astrological landscape in our minds.

                Our Sacred Spirits collided again, and this time the explosion was colossal.

Suddenly I blanked out, and when I opened my eyes I was treated to the most awe-inspiring sight ever.  It was as if the entire universe was laid out before me – us.  Tyson was lying next to me on a white-sand beach, the gentle lapping of waves against the shore soothing and calming my soul.

                I sat up, and looked down at my rival, my partner in this place.  “Whoa…”

                “That’s got to be the most extreme battle I’ve ever experienced.  It’s like I left my body and watched it from somewhere else.”  Tyson’s description made me smile again.  A soft, un-Kai-like smile.  I was so warm…  “That’s why I love Beyblading.  It makes you forget about time, makes you forget about your problems, and it makes you focus on exactly what’s going on in the stadium.  I know it sounds kind of strange, but when you love something as much as blading, nothing else around you really matters…”

                The quiet, calm world disappeared abruptly and we were back in the stadium, surrounded by a fog of dust and smoke.  My ears were ringing, my body hurt, and I was so exhausted…

                It was over.  I could feel it.  Dranzer spun to a stop, and I went over like a ton of bricks.  I had lost.

                Tyson was now the World Champion of blading for the third time in a row.

                Almost immediately he was surrounded by our friends and rival teammates, as well as Gramps and the fans from the stands.  They rushed passed me to try and get to him, and I had to smile as I rose shakily to my feet.  I retrieved my blade, and sighed.  Well, it’s not what I wanted, but if I have to lose to anyone, I’d want it to be Tyson.  Way to go, buddy.  You deserve the win…

                Exhausted beyond belief, I turned and silently slipped away, unnoticed by anyone else – though I thought I felt Tyson’s eyes on the back of my head briefly, through that weird connection between us.  It hadn’t faded even though the battle had ended, and in a way, I didn’t want it to.

                Tyson…just wait until next time!

~~~~~~~~~~

 Part IV:   https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/beyblade/between-the-lines/part-iv/

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