Realms of Destiny
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Kurogane sat by himself in utter darkness, the Sealed Room. The room was aptly named, for the name was self-explanatory. He is in a room, and it’s completely sealed, no windows, no vents, no air holes, not even a gap between the floor and the door. There was no light of any kind. Being in this room, time lost all meaning.
Well, not entirely. The only time that mattered was the number of hours it took for the air to run out. The utter darkness didn’t bother him. Even if it did, he could have easily conjured fire, but that would just burn down the precious little air he had in the chamber.
The Shadow Hands’ leader had imprisoned him in here before as punishment for losing control of his power a few years back. Then, he was beaten black and blue for it and when he was put into the room, he lost track of time, fell asleep and had his nightmare again, only, he couldn’t wake up, or didn’t know how to wake up for wake or sleep, it was all darkness that he saw. Three days sealed inside the room, unable to contact the outside world, when the guards opened the door to let him out, they had thought him mad. Kurogane had to be dragged out kicking and screaming.
Now, he merely sat with his back against the wall opposite the door. Now that he had good control of his powers, and his dreams troubled him no more, being locked in this room only had symbolic meaning. He was not really imprisoned. He could break out of this room whenever he wanted; all he had to do was blast a hole in the wall or forge a tunnel through the ground. But his father was cranky today, probably the sake, and he did disappoint him by failing to kill the Tiger. So Kurogane allowed himself to be punished.
Kurogane reached into the left sleeve of his haori and produced a charm. He couldn’t see the sky blue bag that surrounded it, nor the writing written on it, nor the embroidered crane and lotus flowers. But he could hear the sound of the bell that was attached, and his fingers recognized every feature of that charm. He had held onto it every day for the past six years, the one token of the past that remains with him to this day.
He must have drifted off into a dreamless sleep for he woke up to the sound of clinking metals. A sliver of light entered the room from the direction of the door. His hearing had improved over the years and he could hear some of what was happening on the other side of the door, which had the thickness of an adult hand span. He sensed the presence of 3 people, one guest and two guards, but the guards weren’t talking anymore; there were only clinking noises of keys as the newcomer fumbled for the right one. Interesting. He thought. The light from the little gap in the door was still painful to look at. Every so often a shadow covered it as the person outside looked in to see if he was in there.
Click...the door cracked opened.
It took the figure a while to pull the heavy metal door wide enough for the figure to shuffle in, the sound it was making could’ve woken the entire building. But Kurogane knew that it was only because of the silence in the room and the echoes in the hallway that made it seem so.
Light seeped in, as did the air from outside, it was cool and welcoming, even though it probably didn’t even come from outside but just the hallway which was several stories underground. He put the charm back into his sleeve.
“Waka?” a small female voice called out, afraid that she might wake the guards.
“Kumiko?” the girl squeezed herself between the little gap she was able to make from pulling the heavy door, and quickly scuttled to his side. She produced an unlit candle from what looked like a bento box, tied up in a piece of multi-purpose cloth. “Kumiko, why are you here? Do you want to get in to trouble?” he whispered urgently.
“I brought a candle…” she held it up to his face. “do you mind?” Kurogane sighed and took it from her hands. He gestured for her to stand back before he blew softly onto the wick. It lit up. He could see the serving girl’s face in the soft light created by the candle, but not for long because then Kumiko shied away from the flames as soon as she saw it burn. Kurogane set the candle on the metallic floor of the room and walked to the door to push it shut. Before he did so, he peeked out and saw the two guards fast asleep. A half-eaten onigiri in the hands of each of the guards.
“Are you mad?” he rounded on her, not unkindly but disbelieving. Kumiko shrunk back on reflex, her eyes fixed on the floor she could hardly see. “If those guards remember you drugged them…”
“I’ll replace their onigiris with normal ones.” She assured him. “You haven’t had anything to eat since you’ve got back this morning. It’s the middle of the night, you must be hungry. I’ve brought some food.” Without being told, she used the little light there was to try and unpack the bento box, staying as far away from the flames as possible.
“I’m being punished by the Kumichou.” Explained Kurogane. “Not eating was the point.” He refused to start eating, though his stomach was protesting just as stubbornly.
“Repenting was the point. And you know why you’re in here don’t you?” the servant girl argued. “If you’ve already learned, there’s no point in continuing the punishment. Why would you want to be punished?” Though still fearful of nearly everyone in the house, the years with Kurogane had made the battered-girl a somewhat bolder woman; she’d learned to talk back to him. The red-haired man wanted to say ‘because I deserved it’ but he couldn’t say it to her face. Kumiko had been punished for as long as she remembered for a wrong she did not commit.
Fortunately for her, on the day Kurogane was named ‘wakasama’ or the Young Master, he had forbidden the Shadow Hands members from bullying the girl. There were no more bruises and cuts on her arms and her face became more and more beautiful. Were it not for the burn scar that covered half her face, which she tries her best to hide under her dark brown hair, the men would have been all over her in an instant.
Years of hard work had kept Kumiko slender; genetics made her tall. Kurogane had found a few more orphans and took them in to help her with the overload of chores she was made to do. The Young Master then sent her to help out in the kitchen. Fuma Kumiko’s cooking skills are second to none among the kitchen staff. How she managed to do that with her fear of fire was a mystery to the world. Kurogane eyed the bento hungrily. They were only left-overs from the night before, but even those seemed a good relief.
“Thanks.” He said very little as he ate the food in the box. It tasted better than anything he’d had for weeks. The tempura may have gone soggy, but the onigiri had dried fish in it, his favourite. There were a few pieces of red maguro sashimi, left over from the night before, the otoro must have gone to the Kumichou earlier in the evening. He finished off the tamago-yaki, and was about to pick up another onigiri when Kumiko reminded him that she had to replace that with the drugged ones. He took a bite out of each of them before handing the onigiris back to her. “You do realize that you will be punished for this if you get caught right?”
“I won’t - get caught, I mean”
When he saw her out, he took the candle with him, blew it out at the door, helped her switch the onigiris on the guards and allowed her to close the door.
“Kumiko.” The young wakasama whispered to his servant before the gap between them closed completely, he reached out his hand to grab her wrist.
“Yes?” came the soft reply.
“Thanks… I owe you one.” He gave her a smile which made her blush and look down at her own feet.
“You owe me nothing, waka.” His hand lingered on hers’ before she pried it off her wrist. She looked into his ruby-red eyes. “It was you who saved me first.” She didn’t give him the chance to argue. “See you tomorrow, if not, I’ll come again the day after.” With that, she pushed the door shut with both her hands and all her might. Locking the door, and returning the keys to one of the guards by the door whom she took it from. She made her way back to the servants’ quarters. “Goodnight waka.”
Kurogane dreamt again, but not the scary dream with all the phantasms. He had learned to fend them off somewhat since he was able to control his powers. This time, he dreamt of a childhood memory, of a boy and a girl; A chance meeting by a crystal clear lake, with a rocky ledge jutting out into the water, surrounded by tall trees. It wasn’t his, this memory, and yet it felt familiar. It reminded him of his own memories, when he and Reina were together in their little secret hideout in the forest, where he’d taught her how to swim. But in this dream, there were others, it was another boy, and another girl. The boy had red hair like him, but the girl had ash-brown hair. She reminded him of Rei though, and that made his hand move toward his gem as it throbbed a little.
It has been six years, she must be a beautiful grown woman by now and probably married off to some young lord. The boy and girl toppled into the lake and the girl disappeared for longer than natural. Forgetting himself, Kurogane made towards the water to help as well but he felt a strong hand hold him back.
“Don’t worry about that one, they’re fine the two of them. Let them enjoy this moment just a little” he turned and saw a familiar face. Proud and tall with a regal air about him, it was the armoured figure that saved him countless times from the phantasms when Reina was not there, and helped him fight them off even when Kurogane no longer feared them.
“You, what are you doing here?” he asked. There aren’t phantasms here today.
“What I’m always doing here. Like you, I’m dreaming…of a long lost past.” The nostalgia was so clear in his voice that Kurogane could feel it too.
“But it’s my dream.”
“You said past.” Kurogane looked at the boy in the water again, he had a little princely crown, not different from his red-head companion. “Is that you?”
The figure nodded. “I’ve long forgotten this ever happened.” said the prince, he sounded sad.
“Who are you really? Why are you always in my dreams? And why am I dreaming of your past?”
The armoured figure gave him a look that said ‘you already know the answer’. It was a tired look of someone who has waited, waited a very long time for him to come up with the answer.
“You know who I am. Even the you who have forgotten who I am has an idea of who I am.” He turned towards Kurogane to look him up and down. The younger man also looked the armoured prince up and down, from the tip of his pointy ears, his flaming red hair, his garnet-coloured eyes, and the heartgem lodged firmly in his chest.
“You’re…a part of me?” was what he’s always thought. Seeing as magic is nothing new to him, he dared hope. “Me from the future?” It would’ve been cool to grow up into a powerful and handsome prince.
“More than the former, less than the latter.”
Kurogane was clearly confused. The figure standing next to him is clearly older than him, yet, he had a childhood memory that Kurogane was confident did not belong to him, and it felt real somehow. More than a part of him, yet, less than his future self.
”You’re me…from the past?” It was just a guess because Kurogane couldn’t find an explanation for that answer himself.
“Not ‘you’, Shindou Kurogane, and not the past.”
“I’m tired of your riddles, just tell me who you are already!” this well-bred prince was probably a part of him like he thought, but he’s finding his roundabout way of talking annoying; especially in a dream where he almost had the answer. Dreams always end too soon.
“I am the real you, of the present. But only you can help us both remember our real name...before it’s too late.” Kurogane had a million questions for the ‘real him’ just then but he couldn’t ask. What did he mean by ‘too late’?
Light shone in.