Chapter 35:

Vol 1: Ch 34: Only Human

Realms of Destiny

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Once again, Kurogane fell into his phantasm-filled dreams, but somehow, his princely-self had not come to his aid this time. He first thought that odd, but that didn’t bother him as much. However, it became even odder when he couldn’t summon his own powers to drive the phantasms away. He tried again, this time reaching for his gem to focus the energy. Annoyance became panic when he realized that his gem was not there. He remembered then, that his fake father had taken it from him, and instead of the gem there was a gaping hole.Bookmark here

Though the hole itself was no more than the size of the gem, it felt as wide and as deep as his entire chest would allow. Am I dead? Is this hell? He wouldn’t be surprised if it was. But he saw something then that he had not seen for six years, the light from within the darkness. He ran towards it but found that he lacked the energy to run as fast as he used to. He reached for it nonetheless and opened his eyes…Bookmark here

His first reaction was automatic, his hand flew to his chest and felt the cool, hard, but soothing surface of a gem. His heart dared to hope that all the terror was just one long nightmare; Kumiko’s death, the Kumichou’s betrayal, the gem being torn from his chest…but the hole was still there. He felt it as deeply as ever, and when his hand came away from his chest, the cool stone came away with it. He looked at his hand and saw that a blue stone was wound tightly to it by what looked like a necklace. Wherever he was, the light was dim, he recognized the dark canvas and enclosed space of a tent. It was dark outside, the sun had not come up, but the gem in his hand glowed and pulsed with a soft blue-green light, and he felt like it was giving him strength.Bookmark here

“Rei…?” he would’ve recognized that gem anywhere, he sat bolt upright to look for its owner. The motion nearly caused him to lose his vision and collapse back down, small but strong arms held him up. His sight returned to him and his eyes rested on a familiar face, more beautiful than he had remembered for the 6 years they have been apart. “Reina?” his voice felt like it wasn’t his, it was shaking so badly.Bookmark here

“Kuro-kun.” The girl, now a young woman, hugged him firmly but gently, taking care not to put too much force on his injured body. “It’s you…” she sobbed in a whispered voice. “It really is you.” Bookmark here

The hug was painful but Kurogane welcomed it, his hands came up and hugged her back. Neither knew how long they had held each other. Reina hugged him tight not only because she had missed a close friend she thought dead for six years, but because she knew he needed it.
Kurogane held her as tightly as he ever held anyone, as though she was the only thing left in his world, even the most important part of him, his gem, wasn’t with him anymore; and nothing will ever fill that void. Bookmark here

After a while, Reina broke the silence. “They told me you were dead.”Bookmark here

“For a moment there, I thought I was.” Said Kurogane. He detached himself from her embrace and began unwinding her gem from his hand. “I believe this is yours.” He clasped it in her hands. She unravelled it but instead of putting it over her own head, she put it over his, so that the blue gem hung around the same position as where his red one used to be.
“Hold on to it for a few more days, you need it more than I do. It should help you recover faster.” Bookmark here

Reina studied her old friend. She looked at him long and hard then, from the tip of his black hair, cut slightly differently from his younger self; somewhat neater, yet, because of what he’s been through, it now looked as unkempt as ever. She then looked at his face, the same features, but now without the baby fat. His features have sharpened, strong brows, and his eyes…though they were no longer garnet-red, still looked the same, if somewhat less bright. She had thought back then that his flaming red hair, and eyes were exotic and beautiful but now, the man she was looking at was no less handsome than Sousuke. Although, perhaps a different kind of handsome. Kurogane was melancholic and dark, especially now that he was missing his gem, he had gone very pale, and she could see dark circles around his eyes. “Your hair…”Bookmark here

“You haven’t seen me for six years, and the first thing you think of is my hair?” Reina didn’t expect him to throw that kind of comment back at her, and she froze; she didn’t know whether or not he was being serious. He gave a soft laugh to indicate he was joking, and she laughed with him. She was used to Kurogane being ever so serious, hiding an occasional smile for when they were alone, but somehow, this Kuro is more open to her than he used to be.Bookmark here

“I was about to move to your eyes as well, but seeing as the hair was most noticeable.” She tried to explain.Bookmark here

“So I cut it a little,” he ran his hand through his short hair, brushing out a few tangles caused by the ordeal he’s been put through, but he felt a twinge of pain when he hit a knot, a pain he was unaccustomed to. When his hand came back down, a few loose strands came away. “Ow. What’s happening to my scalp? What happened to my hair?” his eyes widened when he saw its colour.Bookmark here

“And that was why I commented about the hair. And your eyes, they’re dark brown now. You look very…”Bookmark here

“…Human?”Bookmark here

“…’different’ was what I was gonna say.” She finished. “So, you didn’t do anything to change it?” Kurogane was still staring at his black hair thoughtfully.Bookmark here

“No.” he said, absentmindedly. He then placed his palm onto the ground and muttered “Earth.”Bookmark here

“Yes, you’re still on Earth,” Reina assured him. “You’re not dead.”Bookmark here

“It’s not moving.”Bookmark here

“Is it supposed to?” she cocked her head to one side, a gesture he came to miss. That made him smile.Bookmark here

“I’ve lost my powers.” He said, more to himself than to her. However, the grey-eyed woman caught on immediately.Bookmark here

“With your gem.”Bookmark here

“Yes.” He turned to look at her. “How did you know? Also, how did you find me? Where are we?”
“Okay, one question at a time, I’ve got loads for you as well. It’s still very early in the morning, we had a long day yesterday, I think that Sousuke and Tora-kun are still sleeping.” She put her hand to his lips to quiet him then listened carefully. When she didn’t hear anything that indicated anyone waking up, she turned to him again. “Walk with me?” He nodded, and she led him out of the tent.Bookmark here

Kurogane was slightly shaky when he tried to stand, but after collecting himself, he managed alright. At his full height, Reina realized just how much he had grown. They weren’t so different in height six years ago, and yet, now he’s standing a head taller than she is. The autumn air was cool but refreshing, the sound of the river flowing helped drown out the noise they were making, but not the snoring of the person in the tent next to the one they were in.Bookmark here

“No….that one’s mine Chibi….” Kurogane heard the tent speak.Bookmark here

“Tora-kun sure likes his food.” Reina giggled. “Let’s get away from them before we wake them up.” She took his hand the way she always had and led him away from the campsite. When Kurogane was sure that they were out of earshot he asked her.Bookmark here

“Was that Kazegami Tora?” he gestured towards the direction of the tents.Bookmark here

“Yes. Do you know Tora-kun?” her memories brought her back a few days ago when the boy had described to them the culprit who assailed his dojo. She felt a pang of guilt which did not belong to her, then she saw it on his face. “Wait. Don’t answer that. It’s been so long, tell me how you’ve been.”Bookmark here

“I…I’ve been fine.” Reina raised an eyebrow and pointedly eyed his missing gem. He saw the look and corrected himself. “I was fine up until the point this happened.” The memories came back to him and his thoughts went back to the painful event. He felt like a massive idiot, allowing himself to believe something as bizarre as him having a powerful father with a yakuza at his disposal. The respect and acceptance he received from his subjects and ‘brothers’ were so sweet he never tasted the poison. He paid for it at a price he never dared imagine, and Kumiko paid with her life. The thought brought tears to his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away so Reina would not see. But through her gem, she felt the trace of happiness when he thought of his time since he left Soratenshi followed by overwhelming sadness.Bookmark here

“I’d like to hear your story, but you don’t have to tell me now if you don’t want to.” She gave his hand a squeeze. Kurogane had never been too keen to share any of his troubles with anyone. In the past, Reina was really good at squeezing it out of him, but now she didn’t feel like it would be appropriate. “I’ll answer your questions first. We are by the Sokawa river just next to Onitsuba. If you follow the river down the other direction from our camp you’d reach the village. We set out looking for you.”
“You set out to look for me?” A myriad of questions flew into his head just then. ‘Why are they looking for me?’, ‘Does she know what I did to all their classmates…and her father?’ She probably doesn’t, otherwise she won’t be so glad to see me. She also said earlier she thought me dead. ‘What happened to her father?’ The last time Kurogane saw his master, the middle-aged man was covered in blood on the floor of the dojo. He could’ve been dead. “Reina, how’s your father?”
“Well, we set out to look for the Shadow Hands….my father?”
“Is he…Is he alright?”
“He’s doing alright yes. Though he’s blinded now, and his health is failing. But he says he’ll be fine on his own. He’s a very capable blind man.”
“Thank god.” Kurogane muttered, relieved. Kurogane would lose this friend too if he ended up killing her father; not that he could guarantee she’d forgive him if he said he killed their classmates. “I mean, thank god he’s faring well despite what you’ve just described.”
“I’m sure he’ll be glad to know you’re alive, Sousuke as well.” She said that out of courtesy. Piecing everything together, she realized that both her father and Sousuke must have known Kurogane was alive, but they were determined not to let her find him. “Imagine the look on his face when I bring you to him.”Bookmark here

Oh, if anyone knows, he would know I’m alive. He must have seen everything too, yet, he chose not to tell Rei. But did he tell Sousuke? To her he said. “Really?”Bookmark here

“You were family, Kuro-kun. You still are.” She smiled that same smile that always brightened his day. “Oh, you had another question, about how I knew about your powers.” To demonstrate she brought her hands together and said “wind”. Kurogane felt a breeze and saw a little sphere of fast-moving air in her palms. “Tora-kun taught me how to do that.” Just as quickly as it came, the sphere disappeared. Reina looked surprised, but then she remembered that the source of her magic is hanging around Kurogane’s neck. She moved to him. “I can do better, let me borrow that just a second.”Bookmark here

“It’s yours.” He reminded her. She didn’t remove it from his neck, just put one hand on top, then tried to conjure the sphere again. This time it stayed around for longer.Bookmark here

“That’s all I could manage after six hours yesterday.” She said disappointed. “Sousuke made a fire bird. If only I knew how.”Bookmark here

“I can make a fire bird.” For once he was confident that he can outdo Sousuke on this front. It would be nice to be able to impress her after what she’d done for him.Bookmark here

“You can?”Bookmark here

“Well, I could, when I had my powers.” An idea struck Kurogane just then. He could feel the energy move within him when Reina used her powers. Even though it was keeping him intact, he could feel a lot of energy coming from it; a different kind of energy to his own gem to be sure, but energy nonetheless, and just as strong. He hoped what he was thinking was right. It must be, he’d seen Murayama do it. “Let’s see. Face that way, towards the river, and hold out your hand like you did.” She turned her back towards him.Bookmark here

“Like this?” Then she felt him move close to her, so close that she could feel the gem on his chest pressed against the base of her neck. He mimicked her pose and placed his hand under hers, the other wound around her waist. “Kurogane, what are you…?” then she felt it, the surge of power coming from her gem that she did not know she possessed. It was like healing Kurogane, but this time he was guiding her powers for her. And before she knew it the sphere had grown and transformed into a massive eagle bigger than she was. The form was translucent and clear, and though she knew it was made up of strong pressured wind, the air around it didn’t seem out of control at all, the wind was confined to the shape of the giant bird. With a gesture of his other hand, he sent it flying high into the sky, swooping down the river, leaving a trail of wake as its claws made contact with the water. “Kuro-kun, that was amazing! Where did you learn to do something like that?” The eagle disappeared into a gust of wind somewhere down the river.
“Did you get the feel of that?”
“Yes, it felt wonderful!” her smile nearly reached her ears, and her pearlescent grey eyes were bright with joy and laughter.
“Do you think you can do it yourself now?”
“I’m…not sure, can I do that?” she was unsure. That must have been some advanced stuff, she doubted even Tora could do it.Bookmark here

“Of course, that power was all yours, I merely guided you; just remember what it felt like, then repeat.” She could feel him begin to move back to give her space.Bookmark here

“Stay there.” She called to him and he stopped moving. “I need you next to me.” She felt him blush. “I…I mean, I need the gem around your neck next to me.” But she had to admit to herself that it felt good him holding her like that. She felt protected.Bookmark here

“I see. Go on then, try it out.” She did. And true to his words, two smaller eagles shot out of her hands and flew into the air.Bookmark here

“Kuro-kun…”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“When you had your powers, were you able to conjure something that wasn’t there?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“For example, a fireball where no source of fire exists.”Bookmark here

“Sure, although a source always exists. Just not in the same form as what you wish to conjure.” He let go of her and turned to look at her when he spoke. “Here, sit.” He led her to a nearby rock where both of them were able to sit. “For example, a piece of ground is an accumulation of lots of earth. With lose gravel, I can break them apart and reform them as a bigger boulder if I have enough.”Bookmark here

“So say, if I have little pieces of snow I can form a big ice block?”Bookmark here

“Yes and more. To make ice, all you need is water. You freeze water. Or, if it’s advanced enough, technically, you should be able to use just the moisture in the air. I can’t prove this though, I’m no expert in ice element myself.”Bookmark here

“Can you help me again? I’ve never got my ice element to work cuz there’s no ice for me to work with.” She gave him puppy dog eyes which reminded him of the first time she did that, trying to get him to teach her to swim. He gave a soft chuckle.Bookmark here

“What’s so funny?”Bookmark here

“Your puppy-dog eyes look is just the way I remembered.” He saw her blush.Bookmark here

“I’m not a kid anymore,”Bookmark here

“No, you’re a beautiful woman.” She looked him in his hollow eyes but saw within them warmth. It was as though the ice wall around the red-haired boy’s heart had finally melted. The thought made her smile.Bookmark here

“You laugh a lot more than I remembered.” She told him shyly. “But that’s a good thing. It’s good to see you again.”Bookmark here

“It’s good to see you too.” He replied.Bookmark here

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