Realms of Destiny
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Dinner was cooked and eaten and the dog still did not return.
“Neesan, I could’ve walked to and from that ledge several times by now. Are you sure he’s not lost?” Tora was clearly worried. Chibiku and the teenager had gotten on very well. Tora is an avid animal-lover, and the thought of the four-legged mutt being captured and taken to the Shadow Hands’ headquarters to be experimented on could’ve given him nightmares. Fear wasn’t an emotion Tora had ever been worried about, but ‘worrying’ is another matter. There’s a soft spot in his heart for fluffy animals. “I can go find him for you.” The boy offered.
“Perhaps we should.” Reina thought it unlikely that Chibiku would get lost on his own, but the story of animal experimentation that she heard from the Shadow Hands member in the village yesterday gave her an unpleasant mental image as well. She put her hands to her mouth to create an amplifying effect, intending to call for her dog but before she could do so there was a gravelly sound from down the riverbank, like something big being dragged. Everyone turned from the trees to the water. The sun had gone down and everything was dark. Whatever it was looked like an injured animal but it was definitely bigger than the dog they were looking for. Tora caught the red scarf before anyone else and called out in joy.
“Chibi! What’s that he got right there?” on closer inspection, the object that the dog was dragging along the riverbank was twice the size of the one doing the dragging. “Is that…?”
“A person?” Sousuke’s eyes widened. He hurried towards Chibi and his find. Tora held his head up and made sniffing noises.
“I smell blood.” Tora rushed after Sousuke. Reina dropped her dinner and did the same.
The figure was darkly clad and was being dragged, by Chibiku by the cuff of the shirt, which itself, was soaked with what could only be a mixture of water and blood. The unconscious figure appears to be a young man, of a similar age to Reina. He had chin-length black hair, but in full contrast to his dark clothing, he was deathly pale. He had what looked like a wooden sword attached to his belt as well as a grey scarf.
Sousuke placed two fingers on the young man’s neck, and felt a weak pulse. Sousuke quickly picked the man up and carried him towards the fire to take a closer look.
“We’ll have to get these wet clothes off him.”
“Tora, can you boil some water? Use the pot in the tent.” The boy did as he was told.
“What is it?” He was working swiftly to remove the wet clothing. Beneath the kimono he found a layer of dirty bandages, they were stained dark by the blood coming from the man’s chest.
“Doesn’t he...look familiar to you?” Reina asked him uncertainly. The sharp features, strong brows, of the young man they have rescued brought back an image of a certain boy she used to know. Sousuke hadn’t had the time to look at the injured man’s face, for he was busy with the wound. He ran his eyes towards the dark head, but didn’t notice anything. The young man had a foreign look about him, but nothing was particularly odd. He didn’t have time to unwind the bandage, so he took out his pocket knife and carefully cut through the bandages. He then handed the knife to Rei.
“Here, sterilize this with the fire, and quickly.” Reina took the knife but glanced back again. She heated the blade over the campfire for a bit then returned. Tora had already finished his task and was sitting by the stranger. He made a face when Sousuke peeled the bandage from the man’s chest. Sousuke’s green eyes widened when he saw what looked like a massive tattoo going down the man’s right flank.
“God…what the hell happened there? Eww…” Tora covered his mouth with his hand to try to keep his dinner down.
“Reina, the knife please.” Sousuke took it from her hand but returned it when a thought crossed his mind. “Actually, I think we’ll have to sew him up before we close the wound.” He turned to Tora again. “Tora-kun, in my pack you’ll find a green medical bag, can you get it for me?”
“You mean this?” he held up the bag in question. “I thought you might need it.”
“Yes, that’s it.” Sousuke began his work immediately. He found the gut and needle and closed up the man’s wound. Reina handed him the hot knife, and her eyes went immediately to the large scar as well. When the metal made contact with the injured man. He gave a spasm and screamed. His eyes flew open, and Reina saw that they were dark brown. The man passed out right after.
So it really isn’t him. Reina thought to herself, disappointed and relieved at the same time. But they’re so alike! She saw the pile of wet clothes by the fire and decided she needed time to think. “I’ll go wash these.” She picked them all up and headed to the riverside.
“Will he be alright?” Tora asked Sousuke. The older man shook his head slowly then gave an uncertain shrug.
“We’ve done all we can. He’s lost a lot of blood. I’m surprised he’s even still alive. Now it’s up to his luck, I think.” Sousuke looked long and hard at the injured stranger. True to what Reina said, the man did look familiar. Very familiar. Although the birthmark was different, the hair colour different, and where the red magical gem should be, there was a gaping bloody hole. But why would anyone want to take a chunk out of another man’s chest like that? ...whatever the case that doesn’t matter right now, Sousuke thought. Whoever he is, it is important that he survives. The two of them helped carry the injured man into the tent.
“You know, Sousuke-nii, I haven’t mentioned this earlier but… this guy, he reminds me of the Shadow Hand Demon who attacked my dojo. I don’t even know why. I mean, the hair colour’s different, and the eye colour as well.”
“I know.” Sousuke told him. He looked confused now, and even more somber and serious than he did when he was working on the wounded man. Chibiku was lying by the injured man’s side, keeping him warm, and licking his hand protectively.
“You…knew?” Tora raised an eyebrow. “How?” He stole a glance outside the tent flap. Reina was still out of earshot by the riverbank. “I wanted to ask you this earlier, without Reina-neesan hearing: you knew since back then, didn’t you? The person who attacked my dojo?”
“Yes. I’m sorry Tora-kun. I could only guess, but it is highly likely that we’ve got the same person.” Sousuke looked torn.
“The same person who…massacred the rest of your kenshis?”
“This person right here?” Tora felt a surge of anger but on seeing the state of his sworn enemy that feeling was rapidly replaced by pity then frustration.
“I…I can’t be sure. He was younger than you when he left us. It was six years ago.” The only way to be sure was to wait for him to wake up. If he wakes up at all.
“Surely, no person can change past recognition over a period of six years?”
“When did you last see him Tora-kun?”
“Hmph.” The two sat and brood in silence, watching the unconscious stranger struggle with the angel of Death. It was not long before the boy broke it. “Why did you tell neesan that he’s dead?”
“What would hurt you more Tora-kun? That the person you loved had just died a painless death…” Sousuke’s green eyes drifted towards where the black tattoo on the stranger’s body was; They held such sadness the boy could almost feel it, “…or that he massacred all your friends, blinded your father, and destroyed the very place you call home?”
Reina spread the bloody garments on the rocks where she washed them. She had tried her best to wash the hakama trousers and the scarf, only the kimono left to go. She held the top up to look at the extent of the stain and heard a soft clink as a small object dropped from one of the sleeves. It looked like a charm. The blood had stained that as well. She picked it up and froze, as she looked upon the two cranes surrounded by lotus flowers. She traced her finger on top of the embroidery that she painstakingly done herself three times over before she got it the way she wanted it. She hurriedly hid the trinket before continuing with the washing.
Reina no longer knew what she was going to do next. A charm alone will not prove that this person is Kurogane, especially those eyes, and the apparent black hair. She can’t hold it in Sousuke’s face and demand he admits that this person is her best friend. But Reina believed, from the depth of her heart, that she’s found him at last, and it brought tears to her eyes. He must live.
She finished up her washing and spread the wet clothes on the logs by the fire before heading into Sousuke’s tent that he’d given to the injured man. Tora had retreated to his own tent and was fast asleep. Sousuke was watching the man sleepily, training with magic all day had taken a lot out of all of them, and the medical emergency didn’t help either. Reina entered the tent and laid a gentle hand on her sempai’s shoulder.
“Sousuke, go rest in my tent. I’ll take first watch and look after him.”
“I…I’m okay, I can watch him.” He tried to rub the sleep from his eyes.
“You were half asleep when I came in.” Reina pointed out. “Go on, I’m more awake than you are. I’ll call you when I feel like I need the sleep, promise.” She gave him a reassuring smile.
“I promised you the truth…” he began.
“It can wait till morning.” Said Rei. “Go. Sleep. I insist.”
“You sure you’re okay with him by yourself?”
“Don’t worry, I really doubt he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and attack me.” She assured him jokingly.
“Alright then.” Defeated, Sousuke crawled out of the tent. “Good night.”
“Good night.” She watched him go, listening for the sound of her tent flap opening then closing. She turned towards her old friend. “I hope I can make this work, Kuro-kun.” Taking all she had learned today about feeling the spirit of the wind, she attempted to communicate and ‘feel’ something else. She felt for the spirit of life. Thinking back on her miraculous rate of recovery and how she saved an injured bird once before, somehow, she believed that she could channel her life force to heal living things as well. She had to be right. She put her heart and soul into it, resting her hand gently on his injured chest. “Heal him, Reina.” She commanded herself.
She felt something move in her veins, and her gem pulsed and glowed. The energy went from her chest down towards her hand then onto her patient.
“Rei…” she barely heard him mutter her name, but it was definitely there. She felt him call out to her, the way the spirit of the wind spoke to her.
“Kuro-kun?” with her other hand, she held his hand tight. “It’s me, Rei. You have to fight Kurogane-kun. Live. You must live. I’m right here. Not only me, but Sousuke’s here as well. It’ll be like the old times.”
“Rei…I’m sorry…everyone.” Said Kurogane again, a single tear rolled down from his eye. “Kumiko…I’m so sorry…” Without warning, Reina felt a sudden wave of sorrow coming from the link she had forged while healing her friend, the guilt and regret were so strong that it brought tears to her eyes. The sudden surge startled her and she broke the connection. All the minor cuts on Kurogane had healed completely and his breathing became stronger and more even.
When the connection broke, Reina felt drained and hurt, as though she had not only given him her life force, but she had also taken some of the venom that was plaguing him into herself. She realized how far she’d backed off from him then, and hurriedly moved back to hold his hand tight. If what she just felt was a glimpse at his feelings, she couldn’t imagine what her old friend is going through.
“Kuro-kun…I’m here. I told you, I will always be there for you, remember? Let me help you, Kuro-kun. You’ve saved my life once; let me save you this time.”