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NaNo excerpt

I actually wrote this a few days ago, but I'm rather proud of how it turned out.

[F]ar off in the distance, Kentaro could just spot two enormous mountain peaks. The Messenger's voice echoed inside his skull: "The Sword of Thunder lies atop one of those peaks. Claim it, and its power shall be yours."

Squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw at a firm angle, Kentaro started toward the twin peaks. As he started to walk, he heard a distant rumbling, and cast a glance over his shoulder. To his horror, the rock behind him had started to crumble away, making it impossible to turn back. Then he felt the ground beneath his trailing foot start to crumble, and started to run. He dashed toward the two mountains, the ground crumbling away behind him. His heart pounded and his breath rasped painfully in his lungs, but he pressed on, determination lending him strength.

Reaching the twin peaks, he stared at their sheer, nearly vertical faces, and resisted an urge to groan. **This is going to be a tough climb...and I've no idea which of these has the sword. And there may not be time to try for the other one if my first choice isn't it. But how to choose?**

He took a deep breath. **Don't think. Make a choice, and deal with the consequences, for good or ill.** With that thought firmly in mind, he approached the peak on the left, and tried to grasp for a hand-hold on its face. He felt something slice into his hand, and pulled the appendage back with a hiss of pain, then started at the place he had tried to grasp. To his astonishment, the cliff was not rock, as he had first thought, but metal - a mountain of shining steel, its jagged edges sharp as any katana's . Squaring his shoulders and taking a deep breath, he started his climb again, trying to avoid the worst of the sharp edges. Nevertheless, he left a trail of red hand- and footprints as he climbed. As he made his painful way up the mountain, a cold, biting wind lashed around him, but he gritted his teeth and pressed on.

After what seemed an eternity, he reached the top of the mountain. Weary and bloodied, he collapsed on the cold steel, his breath coming in painful gasps.

He barely had time to catch his breath when he heard the sounds of metal on metal. Raising his weary head, he saw a huge figure clad from head to foot in ornate battle armor the same color as te mountain itself. A voice that shook the very air itself issued from within the figure's helmet: "Draw your sword."

Weary beyond belief, Kentaro nearly refused, but then he remembered the vows he had made to his father, the people of Okami Province, and his friends, and found the resolve to stand. As he drew his blade, the hilt scraped the abused flesh of his hand raw, but he swallowed back the pain and assumed a fighting stance, his blade raised to meet his opponent's.

The first blow of his mysterious opponent's sword nearly battered him to his knees, but he stood firm, parrying the blow with his own blade and then striking a blow of his own. The strike sent sparks flying off his opponent's armor, but that was all. Kentaro barely managed to block the next blow, and gritted his teeth against a cry of pain as the force of the blow sent him backwards, his feet sliding painfully against the steel beneath them. He felt the cuts from the climb reopen, and prayed he wouldn't slip and fall.

Blow after blow rained down on him, but he did his best to focus past the pain and keep fighting. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, his clothes were stuck fast to his body with sweat, and every muscle in his body cried out for release.

Suddenly, a titanic blow struck him, battering him to his knees. His sword fell from suddenly-nerveless fingers, and his vision blurred with pain and exhaustion. At that moment, he thought of giving up.

He heard the heavy tread of his opponent's footsteps on the steel of the mountaintop, and then looked up through strands of sweat-soaked hair to see the armored warrior looking down at him. "You are exhausted. I can see how your limbs tremble. You have lost a great deal of blood." He paused, then rested his huge blade point-down on the ground as he regarded Kentaro, who knelt on the cold steel, his heartbeat thudding in his ears like a huge drum and his breath coming in noisy gasps. "Yield to me, and I will spare you."

For a moment, the offer was extremely tempting. After all, what had the quest gained Kentaro but the absence of home and family, encounters with monsters, and pain and suffering? How easy it would be to yield, return to Okami, and let someone else deal with this quest to stop Lochiel. After all, what proof did he have that the sorcerer was even the threat Aidan had made him out to be, but the word of a red-haired foreigner and the visions of a woman he was forced to wed, but did not even love?

No.

From somewhere deep inside himself, he found the strength to rise. He thought of his friends, his family, and the people of the land he loved. **They put their trust in me. I cannot let them down.** Renewed strength flowed through his limbs, and he strode forward with renewed purpose, his sword lashing out at his opponent with the speed of a striking snake. His eyes gleamed with steely resolve. "I am Kentaro of the Inuyama Clan...heir to Okami Province...son of Inuyama Ichiro...and I," he battered aside a blow from his opponent's sword, "will," - he forced his opponent back another step - "not," - steel rang on steel as he struck his opponent's hand off at the wrist, "yield!" With that, he sliced off his foe's head with a mighty blow.

It was only then that he realized his foe had shed no blood. Cautiously, he prodded at his opponent's fallen armor with the end of his sword, and discovered that there was nothing inside. **What in the name of the Thousands of Myriads-?** As he watched, the suit of armor vanished like morning mist.

"Well done, young samurai," a familiar voice said. "You have passed your test." Kentaro turned, to behold a maiden with golden skin, her long silver hair falling to the ground. Her kimono was made of a latticework of tiny, metal-hued squares; upon closer inspection, Kentaro could see that it was actually formed of metal squares, and that her hair was a mass of delicate silver wire, her skin pure gold.

Kentaro prostrated himself before her. "Lady."

"Rise, Kentaro of Okami." Her voice was soft, but carried the hint of steel within. He did as she bade him, to see that she held out a katana across her outstretched palms. From its gold-and silver handle to its black sheath ornamented with designs of roiling silver storm clouds, it was a work of art. "The Sword of Thunder is yours. Use it well."

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