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For Reika

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Reika is a house dog, not a fighter. But she's smart, too, and she knows enough about brutes like Hougen to guess what will move them. When he leans in to crunch Hiro's face, Reika forces her ears forward, sets her tail wagging. Plays sweet, like a good pet. This, only she can do, and she prays for her friends' forgiveness as she turns her back to them.

Hougen strays closer to the edge, lost in perverted thought. He pants despite the cold, little vapor-clouds rising as his tongue lolls out of his mouth. Reika's heartbeat pounds in her ears alongside the rush of the river, and she thinks of all the times she's been helpless, used.

"I have a woman's will—" she tells Hiro.

This is how she wants to be remembered. Not fickle, but finally strong.

"—the power to never change my mind."

Hougen realizes, too late, which of her words were hollow. You devil!—she hurls herself into the dane's side. The bodyslam tangles their limbs, her momentum leads them to water...and impact takes the breath from her lungs. Icy water soaks her thick coat, current pulls her legs out from under her.

Downstream, Hougen struggles, his raging curses turned to bubbling gasps for air. Reika takes comfort they will drown together.