Chapter 4: Counterattack

"Say it, Red Hawk! My name!"

Ryu was a disciplined warrior. The agony he was in did not fog his brain, though he kept his eyes tightly closed and thought, I've got to get out of here, no matter what! But what could he do? The pain was almost overwhelming. He struggled for each breath and could not even twitch with the weight of Radiguet's boot pressing into his kidneys.

Radiguet leaned down slightly, his weight on the blade he used to pin Ryu to the floor. "It's easy, you just say 'Emperor Radiguet', yes! And you obey me! Beg me! And then I'll let you rest, forever!" And he twisted the blade.

The pain tore a grunt from Ryu, but he opened his eyes in a sort of madness and snarled, "I'll never yield to you, Radiguet! No matter what you do I'll defeat you!"

Radiguet was amused. "Ha, you're a stubborn -- " he broke off in surprise. His hand halted in the midst of a move to strike, and not by his choice. Confused, he stared wide-eyed at his frozen fingers, unable to tilt his head. My body is not free? As if it were not mine..? Not possible...

And there was a whisper in his mind. A voice tilted through him, reaching for his attention. "Ra -- Radiguet..." it whispered insistently.

He knew that voice. It was so small to interfere with him. I sealed away his mind.... "Toranza...." He could twitch his fingers, with great effort.

The voice reached again, insisting. "Give it back."

Fighting the rising feeling inside him, the attempt to push him out of place, he threw his head back and grabbed at his temples, snarling, "Toranza! Damn you!" He was thrown off balance and staggered.

Ryu was aware only that he was free of the weight on his back and something was going on with his enemy. Radiguet's acting really strange. Now's my chance! He reached for the blade pinning his hand to the floor, fighting to keep from making a sound that would bring Radiguet's attention back to him. The pain of freeing his hand was worth it.

The voice was still insistent, calling. "Radiguet! Radiguet! " His body was cold and hot. Sweat trickled down his face as he dug in and anchored himself as best he could. Still, that voice fought him. "Give me back my body! Give me back MYSELF!"

He writhed, trying to pull control completely back to him. He snarled, "Are you going against me?! I am Radiguet!" It was a monumental struggle. And then....

"Radiguet!!" screamed a voice. He raised his head in surprise, for this came from outside him. He had completely forgotten about the human who was suddenly bearing down on him, blade whirling to strike.

"Red Ha -- " he started to say. But then it was his turn to have the huge blade piercing through his body. Red Hawk drove it in all the way to the hilt. And for an instant they were face to face. On one face was fierce, human determination. On the other was an amazement that transcended pain. And then the pain made it past the amazement, and Radiguet uttered a squawk of agony before his naked soul vanished, leaving a startled Ryu to gape after him. And then....

Acrid scent, screaming metal. Lyta's voice calling frantically, "Ryu, what can we do? We'll be killed if this goes on!"

Thoroughly confused, Ryu found himself sitting at Jet Icarus' controls. Th -- this... what's happening?

"Ryu!" called a familiar voice in his ear. "Don't just sit there! He's stunned, you have to strike now!"

For just an instant, Ryu saw him standing over him. Beloved face fierce and scolding, fists in black leather gloves. "GAI?!" Then he snapped out of it. He knew where he was, and what he had to do. "Birdnic Saber!" he shouted.

"Roger!" Ako answered him.

"Birdnic Saber!" they called the command together and the blade materialized in Jet Icarus' right hand. Sweeping it up and around, they cut through the head of the dragon-thing pinning them. Sweeping down they sliced through the binding spine and it fell apart with a screech of fury. And now they were able to attack the giant thing that faced them. Pieces of it flew in every direction when they struck.

Radiguet had won control of the body. Toranza had been silenced when Red Hawk pinioned him on his blade. Now, as his creation began to deteriorate, he chuckled low in his throat and then began laughing.

At last it exploded. Stones rained against Jet Icarus' back. Smoke and dust billowed around its feet. It turned its head to search for a sign of the enemy, but none came. It took them a long moment to realize, and Lyta voiced it first in a kind of shock. "I -- it's over?"

Ako, weary from the fight, saw far below them something shimmer. "Ah! Look there!" she called the others.

Slowly, the half-seen shape at their feet became solid. Jet Garuda lay on its back, right arm only connected by a few of the heavier wires. In its cockpit, J1 and J2 were the first to regain consciousness. The other three still lay limp across their control boards. J2 was confused, and J1 held his hand against his pounding head.

Lyta chuckled in relief. "We did it. We got everyone back safe."

Ryu's vision went dark. In the aftermath of the battle, pain shivered deep in his body. With a gasp and a low groan of agony, he sagged forward and heard Ako's panicked, "Ryu, what's wrong?"

Fighting the pain, he slipped his helmet off and rubbed his right hand against his face. "N -- nothing, I'm all right," he reassured his teammates. He could breathe now, and the pain was easing slowly. It wasn't real, but I still hurt and I'm so tired. They left Jet Icarus. He walked behind his two friends, watching them with a peculiar mixture of envy and love. They were both bounding in victory, lively and excited. It just figured. He thought wearily, Radiguet's illusion was only for me. But I heard Gai's voice. Thank you, Gai. Thank you for fighting with me again. He could picture his dead friend, in a paisley shirt, those damned black leather gloves he almost always wore, the favorite dark brown jacket. Loosening his collar and flashing the victory sign at Ryu, Gai would have said, "It's over, don't embarrass me."

Ahead of him, Ako called, "Kaori, Chokan, we won!"

Kaori's voice was shrill with relief as she raced towards them, Aya cuddled in her arms. "Ryu, all of you!" Lyta, laughing, nudged him and cleared out of the way. And then his wife was in his arms, and he could hold them both close and sigh his relief.

Beyond them, Lyta had crossed his left arm onto his right, and was flipping the birdy to an enemy defeated. Ako cupped her hands in front of her mouth and called, "Woohoo! You two go for it!"

Chokan was mildly annoyed, but long accustomed to Ako. She simply said, "Shouldn't be doing that in public."

Kaori pressed her cheek against her husband's chest, unable to hold both him and Aya at the same time. His arms were strong around her, his breath in her hair. She said shakily, "I'm so relieved you're safe." And he was so relieved to have her and be back with her, and little Aya. So good to be alive. Kaori pulled back and looked pleadingly into his eyes. "Is it... is it over? The fighting is over, isn't it?"

Aya tugged at her father's shoulder lapel. "Papa," she said happily.

But the question Kaori asked pealed in them. It wiped the smiles from Lyta and Ako's faces, and Ryu had to pull himself together to answer her grimly, "No. Not yet." He drew a steadying breath and told them, "Radiguet is alive again." Chokan stood still. No surprise showed on her face, only the old preparedness for battle. Lyta and Ako looked pained and determined. And Kaori held Aya close. The little girl patted her mother's face, not understanding the pain and wondering what was making Kaori so sad. Jet Icarus stood behind them, towering over them, metal torn and battered from the recent battle. And Ryu clenched his fist and said grimly, "From here on, the new war has just begun."

This blue sky is the children's future.
To protect it from evil...

Time Gallops By


Part 2 Chapter 1