Realms of Destiny
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The sky brightened as the morning sun rose up to greet the two friends. Kurogane turned his gaze towards the bringer of a new day.
“I didn’t think I’d get to see another one of those.” He told Rei, smiling that melancholic smile, that seemed to be his usual smile now. “You like sunrises don’t you?”
“Sunrise?...Damn!” she looked back towards the direction of the campsite, her acute hearing had not picked up anything yet, her two companions may yet still be sleeping. “We have to get back. There will be panic when Sousuke finds out you’ve disappeared and me with you.” She had been so engrossed in practicing her magic and learning from Kurogane that she had forgotten about the time.
“Okay, let’s go back then.” He didn’t see a cause for her unease. She put both hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eye.
“Listen. You must not tell them who you really are.” She kept glancing back, fearing someone would walk in on them. It made Kurogane feel like a criminal on the run all over again. But then again, that is not far from the truth.
“Not even Sousuke?” he asked her. Reina rarely ever kept anything from Sousuke, though occasionally she would, only to tell him the truth in the end to surprise him.
“Especially Sousuke.” When Reina did not elaborate further, he went on.
“He will find out sooner or later you know; he’s not stupid.”
“I’d rather it be later. We all know that it was you who attacked the Chikyutenshi no Ryu dojo.” She explained. He was taken aback by that but didn’t object. She had hoped he would object. But he merely stood there, silent. “That is why we set out looking for you. Tora-kun to get the Masamune back, and Sousuke came to avenge our classmates who were murdered by the Shadow Hands…” She looked unsure then. If Kurogane’s not dead, then what other lie did he tell her? Was it really the Shadow Hands?
So Sousuke set out to bring me to justice for what I did to Soratenshi no Ryu. Kurogane knew then that his sempai must have known the circumstances of his crime, yet decided to keep it away from Rei. “Then why did you set out?”
“To see with my own eyes that you’re…alive.” That wasn’t the whole truth. Kazegami Tora had no reason to lie, and he was sure that she recognized his descriptions as well as Sousuke did.
“You came to see with your own eyes that I’m the murderer they say I am.” Kurogane stated the whole truth to her. “Well, it’s true. I did steal the Masamune. I did murder the students of Chikyuutenshi no Ryu…and many more besides. Sorry to disappoint you Rei, but I am and have always been the monster they believed me to be.” What was he thinking, hoping he’d just be able to go home with her and Sousuke? Of course he would have to answer for his crimes!
“No. You’re Kuro-kun, you’re just misunderstood. You’re not a monster. You taught me how to use my powers, and many other things.”
“And with my powers, I killed many people.”
Reina believed every word that he said, but she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that, having found him, she will hand him over for the crimes he’d committed.
“You saved my life.”
“And took so many others.”
“You don’t have the same eye colour and hair colour anymore. Sousuke wouldn’t be able to prove you’re you, and if I said so, he won’t accuse me of lying. Just take on a new identity.” She was pleading now. He knew why she was so intent on covering for him. But will she think he deserved forgiveness if she knew what he did?
“Do you even know what I did to Soratenshi no Ryu?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” She was barely listening to him, he could see her inner struggle, and the tears in her eyes.
“I hurt you, and everything you held dear. I nearly killed your father.”
“Don’t say it, I don’t want to know!” she put her hand to her ears, but it wasn’t doing much. He grabbed her wrist and tried to pry it lose as gently as he could. She was stronger than he thought at first. But she suddenly went weak.
“I have to answer for my crimes, Rei.”
“You already did.” She placed her hand gently on his chest, and Kurogane was made aware once again of the absence of his life’s core. “I will not lose you again.” That touched him deeply. He wished with all his might that he could just get away from this world, away from the Shadow Hands, away from everything, and just answer her wishes, and not let her lose him again. He didn’t want to lose her again either. However, those are mere dreams.
“I’m a demon. And for what I did, I deserve every ounce of wrath from the boy down there as well as Sousuke-sempai. Even from you, you have every right to be angry at me.”
“I forgive you. You don’t have to answer for anything.”
“But they haven’t, and they shouldn’t.” he lifted her chin gently. “Look at me.”
Reina looked at him, defiance in her eyes. She was not going to back down. She gathered her thoughts. Whining about not wanting to lose him now will get her nowhere. She must find a way to prolong his punishment. At least long enough so that Sousuke would be willing to forgive him too.
“You dying will not bring the sword back to Tora-kun. You must live so that you can bring it back to him.” At least this way she can be with him like this for as long as they find the Shadow Hands and retrieve that treasure.
“There’s no way he’ll get it back. It’s with the head of the Shadow Hands. That boy doesn’t stand a chance.”
“Tora-kun is very strong. And with Sousuke’s help and mine. You can lead us there.”
“No. I will not. He will kill all of you.” The thought of going back to Murayama Shohei with his electric elemental powers added to Kurogane’s own powers, risking Reina’s life in the process was something he could not bear to allow. If Murayama knew that he could get a hold of three more powerful gems, he would stop at nothing to attain them.
“He is only one man.”
“He is no ordinary man.”
“Neither are we. We’ve got magical powers.”
“Reina, you don’t understand. None of you can use your powers properly. Murayama can. Yes, he’s one of us. He taught me all I know. Plus, he now has my powers. One man, seasoned in combat, a criminal and a murderer; the most dangerous man in Japan, or possibly the world. Not to mention the experimental army he has at his disposal. Demonic dogs whom he injected with his own blood. You stand no chance.”
“If he has your gem, all the more reason we have to get it back.” Now that Reina found another reason to get to the Shadow Hands, she was determined to use it to back up her argument.
“You can’t. None of you can fight him the way you are. Neither can I.”
“Then we’ll train. And we’ll need your help. Therefore, you can’t turn yourself in now. He’s only got two gems. We have three people who can use special powers, and you said so yourself, that my gem is really powerful. Give us more time to get better. Then we’ll get your gem back.”
“I don’t want my gem back at the cost of your lives.” Reina cursed his stubbornness. Just then, she could hear Sousuke’s panicked voice calling out her name. She shouted back to let Sousuke know that she’s fine and had merely taken a walk in an attempt to slow him down in trying to get to her. They were running out of time. If Kurogane cared so much about their lives, and so little about his own, she’s just going to have to use that as leverage.
“Tora-kun will find the Shadow Hands with or without your help,” she spoke to her childhood friend in a low voice. “…and Sousuke and I will go with him with or without your help…” she saw his face drop, realizing he had lost this argument. She would’ve smiled had she not been so emotional at the moment.
“Rei, this is not fair.”
“…To give us a fool’s chance of success, or no chance at all…your choice.”
“No…” He remembered then, something that he’s forgotten for six years. He had never won a single argument against her.
“Here he comes, answer carefully.” Sure to her word, Sousuke appeared from around the bend of the river, Tora close at his heels.
“Rei, thank god you’re here. I woke up and didn’t see the two of you and I thought…”
“That I kidnapped her?” Kurogane offered. He looked at the man he once considered his role model and rival and felt as threatened as he had always used to feel. Sousuke was a grown man now, as comely and graceful as he ever was. With the sword on his waist that Kurogane remembered used to be on the wall of their dojo. With its perfect craftsmanship, ornate guard, and a grip inlaid with flecks of gold, the tall man with his green eyes looked like a samurai out of some fairytale. Without his powers and a proper sword, as broken as he was, Kurogane felt like a crippled ass compared to some general’s war horse.
“Well, no. Your injuries, should you be up and about like this? Um…” Reina shot Kurogane a look. “I’m sorry, I’m Akagawa Sousuke. This is Kazegami Tora-kun, and sitting next to you is Reina, my wife.”
“Wife?” Kurogane couldn’t contain his surprise and nearly lost his act. His eyes automatically darted towards Rei who looked as though she just remembered herself. She looked embarrassed. Yes, wife, Kurogane you idiot. She’s eighteen, and every man’s dream. In what universe will she still be unmarried? And who better suited to her than Sousuke the Mr.Perfect?
“Some honeymoon, huh? Hunting Shadow Hands.” Tora joked, sticking his tongue out.
“We, we were married two days ago.” Reina said in way of explanation with an embarrassed look, she was avoiding eye contact with anyone. Not the look of a happy maiden who had just gotten married. Kurogane did not see any of this of course; he only felt his heart drop, whatever was left of it.
“And you are…?” Reina looked up to see how he would respond to the question Sousuke just posed. The taller man was looking him up and down with his bright green eyes. There was a hint of recognition in them. “Excuse me for asking, but have we met?” Sousuke’s eyes narrowed distrustfully.
“Fuma.” Said Kurogane, giving him the first name that came to mind: Kumiko’s. “Fuma Kotaro.” Reina gave a visible sigh of relief.
“Kotaro-kun here told me this morning that the Shadow Hands did this to him.” Reina began spinning her tale. She gestured at his injuries. “And also took something very important to him as well. He would like to join us in our search for the Shadow Hands.” She stood up, relieved that Kurogane decided to take up the new identity, and held out her hand to help the injured man off the rock. “Let’s head back, I’m starving. And I’m sure our injured friend here is too.”
Being reminded of the fact, Kurogane remembered that he was indeed hungry. The last meal he had was the one Kumiko brought to him in the Sealed Room, however many nights that was. He nodded, and allowed her to help him up. Kurogane feigned weakened steps to make his injures look more believable, Reina winding her arm around his to prop him up. Sousuke seeing this, decided to cut in.
“Let me.” He offered his shoulder. Kurogane took it without a choice, else he would draw too much suspicion being close to Rei.
“Thanks.” They hobbled back towards the campsite.
Like Sousuke, Tora didn’t seem as cheerful as his usual self and eyed Kurogane suspiciously. However, he didn’t want to cause any trouble that morning so he played along. “Well, the more the merrier I guess.” He mumbled to himself. To Kurogane he said, “Hey, you sure you’ll be any good against the Shadow Hands? You’re still really injured.”
“Injured or no, you need me.” He told the boy. Sousuke stopped, and so did the rest of them.
“What do you mean by that?” The ex-wakasama had his story molded out and ready.
“I used to be a high-level officer of the Shadow Hands, before I discovered their demonic dark secrets. And before they betrayed me and killed my…sister.” With the name Fuma, he’d have to make himself related to Kumiko. “You don’t stand a chance against the Kumichou without my help.” Kurogane could feel the distrust growing with Sousuke and Tora already at the mention of being an ex-Shadow Hands member, but he was used to that, and it had to be done. Distrust towards him was something he must live with if he wanted them to trust him to lead them to the Shadow Hands.
“How can we know we can trust you?” Tora asked him, still skeptical.
“How can you trust anyone?” Kurogane threw the question back at him. “Everybody lies.” He exchanged a glance with Reina, who looked at Sousuke. “Last I heard, Tiger of the South, you lost your legs to the Shadow Hands’ Demon. I see the reports weren’t as accurate as they claimed to be.”
“Oh, he broke them alright,” Tora admitted grudgingly. That utter defeat was something he would never be able to live down, and will only be satisfied with a victory. “I just have miraculous recovery that’s all. You knew the demon?”
“Is his name…” Sousuke cut in as a soft whisper to the person leaning on his shoulder, so that Reina would not be able to hear.
“Shindou Kurogane is dead.” Kurogane’s answer was loud and clear; clear enough for everyone walking to hear.