Chapter 10 – Sympathy Is Not The Antidote

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“How long can you hold your breath for, Clere?” Gale asked.

“About four minutes?”

“That’s pretty bad. You need to be able to hold for an hour at least.”

“WHAT?!”

Gale, Sunny and I met up after school to discuss our strategy to catch Sunny’s assailant. I could not believe Gale wanted me to hold my breath for one hour. We are not amphibians, for crying out loud!

“To set up a trap, we need to make sure that Sunny looks alone during a journey back home. I can detect abnormal activity in a wide area, so we need to stay in one spot and not move.

Sunny had as spoken to Zeel, and they had stopped monitoring the shortcut route between the Academy and Sunny’s home.” Gale continued.

“Why can’t we follow Sunny from a distance instead?! Isn’t it insane to be able to hold your breath for an hour?!” I asked.

“That’s because your footsteps are not silent enough. The top assassins can do what I can do, which is to hear footsteps and to hear how others breathe. You will not be able to escape their detection skills at this moment.

Athena can hold her breathe an hour and a half at the least.”

I slumped my shoulders in disappointment. It felt lousy being compared with my elder sister. As martial artists, the ability to hold oxygen in our bodies was largely correlated to the amount of energy and stamina, so in essence, Gale was pointing out my lack of training in front of Sunny.

“That is freaking insane. Doesn’t it mean I am useless to help Sunny at all?”

“That’s not true. Improving your footsteps may take a long time, but I have a breathing technique that I can teach you by which you can saturate your body cells with oxygen easily.” Gale answered.

Gale made it sound so easy that it felt unbelievable.

“You’ve been slacking in your training. Thus your energy reservoir in your body is weak. Energy is similar to air, like how God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul. The power that sustains life is this energy.

In short, before we can go into techniques and battle strategies for your training, your fundamentals must be strengthened. I noticed you excel in understanding and your execution of techniques are impeccable, but you lack the necessary strength, stamina, and speed to keep up with your opponents. As we work together to help Sunny, I will train you in those areas.”

I stole a glance at Sunny, and she was soaking up every word from Gale like a sponge. She seemed very eager to improve on her combat skills.

Gale motioned me to turn around and said. “Face your back towards me and sit up straight. I’m going to examine your body with my energy.”

As Gale place his palms on my back, I felt a great warmth flowing from Gale’s palms into the deepest recesses of my soul and body. It felt soothing and comfortable.

Suddenly Gale jabbed me at several points on my back, and I yelled at each sharp pain. I turned and glared at Gale, but he ignored and gave me a few more jabs as though he was punishing me for doubting him.

For some strange reason, energy began to well up like a spring, and I could feel the power emanating from my fingertips.

“Let me reiterate the basics to you. Every human being is born with energy within them. Energy flows within our bodies via channels and energy can be stored in these channels together with various acupuncture points.

An untrained person will not even be able to use a single channel or acupuncture point to store and manipulate energy at will. With extensive training in breathing techniques, one can learn how to manage their latent power in their body, unblock the energy channels that hinder energy manipulation and grow their strength as a result.

I have unblocked the channels in your body that would have taken you years to unblock and also, I gave you some of my energy as well. Your body is adjusting to these new changes, and thus you should feel your energy growing at an unprecedented rate.

Now, let’s do a test. Hold your breath as long as you can.”

To my surprise, I held my breath for twenty minutes! Also, as I breathed, I could feel energy literally flowing into specific regions within my body in a circuit automatically with ease! It seemed as though my body had learned how to gather strength from my nostrils!

“The breathing technique I have just imparted to you is called [The Turtle Breathing Technique][1]. It is designed to saturate oxygen within your cells, and it is used for covert operations where you need to hold your breath against poison or if you are trapped underwater. As a bonus, it improves your vitality and keeps you young if you practice regularly.

Not all breathing techniques are created equal. There are breathing techniques that increase your speed and agility, while others that allow practitioners to meld poison with their energy.“

I marveled at Gale’s wealth of knowledge, experience, and strength in martial arts. Mom and Athena taught me breathing techniques before, but it never felt as potent and as effective as what I had learned from Gale.

Gale then turned to Sunny for a question. “How long does it take for you to walk home usually?”

“About twenty minutes.”

Gale smiled and nodded. “Since Clere has now managed to hold her breathe at the same amount of time, she will not be a liability in our operation here.

Sunny, you will need to maintain your usual pace so as not to cause any suspicion, and our operation might take a few weeks. We will need to be patient and keep on going until the assailant strikes again.”

Gale turned to me again. “We will hide at a spot along Sunny’s path overlooking the place where the assailant may most likely strike and at that point of time, you will have to hold your breath as long as you can to avoid getting detected by professional assassins. I will stealthily patrol the area from time to time in order not to get caught off guard if the assailant managed to attack Sunny at where we least expected.”

We all nodded in approval and proceeded to execute our plan. Gale scouted the area and made several markings on trees to highlight areas that the assailant might strike. After that, he chose a few spots for us to hide amongst the branches of trees around the area. I stayed in one place while Gale would move around in intervals.

For the first week, nothing happened. Sunny was going home, and there were no attacks. There were very few people who used that mud path, and on occasion, we would see a couple of drunkards conversing loudly and breaking the tranquility of the place.

It was pretty dull for the most part.

My energy and strength improved tremendously because I kept up with these breathing exercises daily for an hour every morning.  By the end of the week, I was able to hold my breath for thirty minutes.

We decided to continue monitoring for a couple more weeks because the assailant might be suspicious about the sudden disappearance of Zeel and his friends’ who had patrolled the area regularly. Our patience was rewarded when Gale suddenly signaled to me that he detected an unknown presence lurking in the area after a few days into our second week.

We continued to hide, and I could see Sunny within my line of sight as she continued to walk towards us, being oblivious to danger. My heartbeat became louder and louder as I felt excitement and tension rushing across my body.

As I stole a peek at Gale’s countenance, Gale was as cool as a cucumber. All he did was to pick up his wooden sword in anticipation of an attack.

Suddenly, from the top of a tree, the assailant came crashing from above with two daggers, attempting to catch Sunny by surprise. The assailant’s blades were glowing with energy as though it could puncture any guard that Sunny might put up.

Gale threw his wooden sword with precision and knocked one of the daggers out of the assailant’s hands. The impact from the wooden sword was so substantial, the assailant was also thrown on to a nearby tree and crashed on to the floor!

Sunny and I were wide-eyed at Gale’s battle prowess.

“It is your turn now, Clere! You have grown in strength in this short period, and you should be able to defeat this assailant at your current level.

There seems to be a couple of people who are monitoring in the shadows. Thus I am going to remain hidden until they reveal their hand.”

I held my brush that was made from a special alloy and jumped in front of Sunny to confront the assailant. Gale disappeared promptly and hid in another secret spot.

The assailant slowly picked herself up from the ground as she faced both Sunny and me. As the sunlight shone on the assailant’s face, I could not stop staring in amazement.

“Oh my gosh! Why do you look so much like Satori?! Who are you?!”

The assailant smiled and ripped out her mask. A pale-looking girl with long black hair with dead fish eyes looked back at us.

“I guess the cat is let out of the bag. I have an accomplice who helps to disguise me to whoever I want. Was it you who threw that wooden sword just now?”

Some rare and talented individuals could create skin masks and use cosmetics to transform a person’s face and impersonate anybody they want. I shuddered to think what would happen if I was being impersonated instead.

“…More importantly, why are you targeting Sunny? And why are you impersonating Satori?”

The assailant took a dagger from her pouch and readied herself for an attack. “I have a personal grudge against Satori, and attacking Sunny is a test.”

“A test?! What kind of test is that?”

“The Hundred Flowers Of Death is fascinated with Sunny. They are seeing the immense potential of her talents at such a young age, and they are thinking of recruiting her to join their ranks. However I want to join the Flowers of Death, and both of us wield twin daggers. They only wanted one assassin between the two of us.

The one who survives gets to join the Flowers of Death, inheriting the code name ‘Death By Daggers’.”

Both Sunny and I were surprised at this revelation.

“Wait, but I never did want to join — “

“Your refusal is not the point. The Flowers Of Death pick their candidates and force them by drugging them, threatening them, seducing them with material possessions or power to take revenge. It can be anything in the world that they will use to force you to join them.

They always choose beauties as their comrades, so it is flattering to be picked by them.”

I immediately recalled that Kasumi was one of their targets and a sudden rush of blood flowed to my head. “Are you all crazy?! Manipulating others to join you all?! No one should be coerced into doing something that they do not want!”

“THAT’S RIGHT! THEN WHY SHOULD SATORI COERCE MY BELOVED TO JOIN HER GROUP!”

We jumped because of her sudden outburst. “… What do you mean?”

Tears began to flow from the assailant’s eyes.

“My boyfriend and I transferred to the same middle school as you a few years ago. My boyfriend was well-known for his unarmed combat skills as he belonged to a martial arts clan, and Satori knew about it. Satori tried to get my boyfriend to join her group so that she can win the annual competition for fighting in middle school, but I disagreed.

She set up traps to cause my beloved to break up with me, and then seduced him into joining. After he entered, he realized that Satori never loved him, and he committed suicide.”

So this incident is indirectly caused by Satori after all! I wasn’t happy that Sunny and I were caught up in this mess.

The assailant continued. “The Flowers of Death supports vengeance and personal justice, so I pleaded for them to allow me to join. They had already scouted Sunny and was about to make a move, but due to my pleas, they suggested I take a test.

By coincidence, I found out Satori had offended some of Zeel’s friends recently. Thus I tried to kill two birds with one stone by impersonating as Satori while I duel Sunny in a fight! I will laugh if Zeel manages to break some of Satori’s bones!”

This girl must have gone mad. I sympathized with the assailant’s plight, but to use Sunny and Zeel was too much.

“Zeel is very admirable for taking care of delinquents around the city and show them how to live an honest life. Both Sunny and him are orphans from a young age, and he had worked tirelessly to send Sunny to school.

For you to use them for your vengeance is unacceptable — ”

“THEN WHO WILL SYMPATHIZE WITH ME?!” The assailant yelled.

A massive wave of killing aura burst out of the assailant in an instance! Her mental state was increasingly unstable, and I suspected that she might spring a surprise attack.

“Stay behind me, Sunny,” I said.

“I can also fight, Clere! I have my daggers with me!”

The assailant began regurgitating her misery to us loudly.

”I LOST MY BELOVED TO THAT WITCH! Michael was my dream, my everything! We had planned to graduate together, get married and settle down for life.

I begged him to come back to me! He said he was sorry for leaving me and then took his own life! How cruel is that!”

In the midst of the assailant’s tirade, I noticed the assailant’s left hand was trembling. That hand looked hurt from the injury inflicted by the wooden sword earlier.

“It doesn’t matter anymore, does it?! I will become a Flower Of Death and then exact my revenge on Satori when I’m stronger!”

Without warning, the assailant came charging at us at high speed. I noticed that whenever the assailant attacks, her daggers would glow and afterimages of her hands could be seen which made it difficult for me to know where her blades would plunge into since it masks the daggers’ trajectory.

Sunny stood in front and parried the daggers with her own, and as the assailant was pushed back, I pushed forward her with my strokes by drawing a [十] with my brush and hardening the brush tip with my energy. The assailant managed to duck the strokes by dodging to a corner, sprung near to me and then swung her left dagger upwards to slice my chest.

I jumped back to evade, but the dagger caught my clothes, and it tore! Gosh, my chest was exposed!

‘Is Gale looking at me now! So embarrassing! But if it’s Gale, I don’t mind though… wait, when did I give a pass for Gale to look at me like this?!’

Light formed on the assailant’s right dagger again, and she unleashed a hyper speed thrust with her blade towards my chest, but I was too caught up with my torn clothes that I failed to parry the attack in time.

Suddenly, a black cloak wrapped around me protected me from the piercing attack and covered my nakedness.

‘… Where did Gale get this cloak from?! That Gale is surprisingly acting like a gentleman, even though he is obsessed with bear panties.’ I thought.

The assailant jumped backward at the sight of the black cloak in shock.

“How did you get that cloak out of nowhere?! Is somebody hiding out there as well?!”

I ignored the assailant and began pressing the assailant with my attacks using a series of calligraphy strokes. These strokes were defensive sword techniques that cover a large area as though I drew on an invisible canvas, so the assailant could not find enough space to sneak pass my frontal assault.

The assailant eventually showed signs of weakness because she was unable to use speed as her advantage to sneak by me, and having a weapon that has a short reach did not help. I managed to force her to retreat backward and backed her up into a corner.

As the assailant could not retreat anymore, she jumped upwards in an attempt to climb on to the branches above her, but Sunny threw her dagger in the assailant’s path and caused the assailant to misstep, effectively forcing her back to the ground.

While the assailant was in midair, I swung my weapon towards her and landed one clean hit on the assailant’s side with the shaft of my brush. One of the assailant’s rib bone broke, and she coughed out blood as crashed onto the ground.

The assailant struggled to react, and I lost no time to knock off the dagger in her right hand. Sunny came running and used that opportunity to grab the assailant’s left hand to disarm her blade. We both then pinned the assailant down together with our body weight.

Suddenly, chains came from above and crashed toward both Sunny and me. Both of us jumped away from the assailant to dodge the chains, and we looked up to see who attacked us.

A beautiful short girl with twin pig-tails and a tall girl with long straight hair wearing a full body coat and a hat came walked out from behind a tree instead!

“They are not above us?! How did the chains come from above then?” Sunny asked.

The tall girl retracted the chains and kept them hidden within her full body coat.

“You have passed, Miss Alyssa. Your desperation and desire for your justice have reached our ears. We choose you over Sunny and welcome to the Hundred Flowers of Death!”

Sunny exclaimed in response.

“Who are you?!”

Both girls ignored Sunny’s question, and the tall girl laid Alyssa to rest her on her shoulders. The short girl gazed at the trees behind me as if she was looking for someone.

“Can the man who has been hiding for so long reveal himself now?”

Gale came down from behind and stood tall with an air of strength, looking absolutely ready for battle. The short girl then peered at Gale for a moment.

“…Not bad in both looks and skills. Are you Hideki Mizushima?”

“…No. I am Gale Gainsborough.”

“Ah, my apologies then. I thought someone who is so skillful must be the brother of Kasumi Mizushima.”

The tall girl then nudged the short girl a little.

‘…We have no business here Celinda, so let’s head back to our place.”

I did not know what to do. On the one hand, it felt terrible letting Alyssa be taken in by the Flowers of Death. On the other hand, it was her wish to join them and to interrupt felt inappropriate too.

I looked at Gale, and he had a confused expression as well. We were apparently at a loss.

”I’m sure she will be alright, Gale!”

Sunny’s words suddenly pierced our silence, and it broke us out of our thoughts. Indeed, it seemed silly to worry about Alyssa as these girls came to monitor and save Alyssa in the shadows. Gale turned to Sunny and nodded his head in response.

”Yeah, you are right.”


———-


After the battle, Gale, Sunny and I went together to find Zeel and informed him of what happened. Zeel was exhilarated that this was over and he was beaming from ear to ear.

“Gale, I really thank you for everything you have done! My sister is my only kin, and I cannot imagine what I will do if she was harmed in any way!”

Gale then grabbed me on my shoulders and pushed the accolades to me in front of Zeel.

“Clere did most of the work here. She was the one who fought with the assailant and managed to bring her down.”

I was embarrassed, and Zeel acted sheepishly. Zeel and I did not like each other from the get-go since our initial impressions of each other were poor. Zeel struggled to form words in his mouth for a few moments, but he eventually blurted out.

”You know… the first time we met, I thought you were a pretentious stuck-up brat. I now have a different perception of you, and I thank you for all the trouble for my sister.”

A sharp knife pierced my heart as I was bluntly referred to as a pretentious stuck-up brat. In response, I gave a poker-face smile and replied.

“I thought you were just a hooligan without brains too. I’m glad that we have put this matter behind us — “

“Hooligan without brains?! Why you — “

Sunny immediately pulled Zeel back as the latter was seething with annoyance. Gale just stood there and laughed, offering no help to either of us at all.

After Zeel calmed down, he looked at Gale with glistening eyes.

”I’m impressed with you Gale! I wish you will become part of my family one day! I leave my sister to your hands, and you are free to do whatever you want with her in a love hotel, but take responsibility when the time comes!”

“D-Do anything I want with her?! What the heck do you mean?!”

Gale blushed uncontrollably and started stuttering. In a flash, Sunny hugged Gale from behind to give him a peck on his cheek!

”YAY! We even have my brother’s approval! Let’s rendezvous some time soon, shall — ?”

”NO YOU DON’T!”

I pulled Sunny off from Gale and glared at Gale intensely.

”YOU ARE TO STAY AWAY FROM HER OR SHE MIGHT POUNCE ON YOU, YOU GET THAT?! THAT’S AN ORDER FROM YOUR CLIENT AND YOUR DUTY AS MY BODYGUARD!”

Sunny was not looking pleased with my response and hugged Gale even more tightly in retaliation.

”So only you get to hang around Gale?! He is not a slave you know?”

”Y-You… You should at least have a sense of decency —“

Gale was getting exasperated with all these, and he attempted to bring it down.

”A-Alright girls, let’s not fight! We should better…”

”NO! You are not getting out of this, Gale! It’s because you are so soft to girls that you are making me a bodyguard for you instead!”

I couldn’t help feeling frustrated, anxious, angry and just plain upset that Gale was getting all the attention which he did not deserve! ARGH! Is there no common sense in this world?! I hurriedly pull Gale away from the Zackloft siblings and berated Gale along our way home.


———-


[1] [gui xi gong] is [龟息功] , which translates to [Turtle Breathing Technique].

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