“I’m sorry, Meena. I just don’t know… I mean, the timing is just kind of bad is all.”

     Hironah toyed nervously with her teacup. The timing is awful. How could you even be asking me to do this?

     “I realize that a trip to Mianuus is the last thing you have in mind right now, but I don’t think anyone but you can get to the bottom of this. If Quen goes alone, he’ll only be turned away.”

     “Are you sure it can’t wait?”

     “I’m afraid not… I had intended to talk to Takae about this first, but…”

     It was mid-afternoon on the day after Blue’s funeral. Takae was still in bed. This didn’t surprise Hironah in the least, as he’d refused to get up since the morning after Blue’s death. It had been all she could do to convince him to rise and dress for the funeral. Chiesara was having paroxysms of distress though Hironah seemed content to let him be. If I was him, she thought, I’d be doing the same thing. In fact, I wish I could just go to bed and not get up, too. I would, if I felt that I had any choice in the matter.

     Instead, she was sitting at the small tea-table alone with Meena, who had surprised Hironah with what she felt to be a rather pointless request.

     “Maybe if you and Auntie Chiesara went or something… You guys were Champions.”

     “Unfortunately, my work won’t afford me the time, not with all the preparations for the Zeit. I’ve got to go back to Morika’en as soon as possible. That’s why I’ve asked Quen to go in my place… and you’re his niece Hironah. They won’t refuse you.”

     “I haven’t seen Harata in a couple of years, Meena.”

     “But, in light of the circumstances…”

     No. No, lady, I am not letting you convince me to use Blue as an excuse. We all owe him more than that.

     Hironah’s eyes narrowed.

     I shouldn’t have been surprised she’d be so stubborn, Meena thought to herself. This is Keyu’s kid.

     In truth, Meena was having a hard time looking at Hironah. She’d last seen her as a small child, and even then she’d been reminiscent of her parents. Now she did nothing more than batter Meena with long-forgotten memories of the Champions who’d been the closest friends she’d ever had, friends she was destined never to meet again.

     Hironah was of the same height and build as her mother had been all those years ago- slightly tall with voluptuous curves. Unlike Aya, her muscles were toned as a warrior’s from years of training. She moved with a grace reminiscent of Keyu, a few of her gestures mimicking his so perfectly as to make her a ghost. Her pale skin and raven hair, her cynical smirk, the way she had of knitting her eyebrows spoke so strongly of her long-dead father that Meena felt a pained longing for him smash her heart. The curve of her lips, the shape of those vibrant violet eyes were her mother’s, and within the calm serenade of her voice, in the stillness about her Blue lurked, his legacy more than just the school he’d started with Takae. Meena was struck by the idea that as she watched this girl she saw a long echo of dead and dying souls. It was like being shot in the heart.

     “I have to talk to Kaiya about this. I want his opinion… I’m sorry to say so, but I don’t think I can leave here now. There’s too much I have to do. And all this might just be stress… what with the Zeit coming up and Aki’s never been well.”

     “Akos-hieran is doing alright… We’re doing all we can for him.”

     “We? Who’s that? The Musubiki?”

     “Yes… we’ve been studying his case for a long time. We’re hoping to find a cure.”

     “Do you think you’ll find one?” Meena was a little taken aback by the tone of desperation in Hironah’s voice.

     “We’re trying… You miss him, don’t you? Maybe you could see him if you went to Mianuus. I saw him a couple of months ago when I was there on business- quite a handsome boy. It’s a shame, really.”

     “My family has all the luck.” Hironah had made the comment flippantly, but as soon as she’d said it she realized that she meant it in all its sarcasm.

     “We’ll find a solution. Don’t worry. In the meantime, you could do a lot to help out by assisting us with this problem. Kat’s honestly beside herself. It’s just not normal.”

     “I’ll think about it… but I have Kamitouki to think about as well. That’s my first priority. I’m sorry to hear about Kat’s troubles, but I have my own. I’m sorry, but I’m sure you can understand that.”

     “I do. I know Takae’s unwell… and you have the burden of the whole school on your shoulders.”

     I have the future of Kamitouki on my shoulders. Thank the gods Kaiya agreed to take over Blue’s duties.

     Hironah twisted the amethyst pendant she wore on a silver choker around her neck. Meena felt as though it was she who was being wrenched so. Aya… why did you let that happen to you? Why couldn’t you just let us help? She had to end this conversation. As much as she wanted Hironah’s agreement, Meena could no longer stand the sight of her.

     “I’ll let you have some time to think it over. I have to return to Morika’en tonight, but I’ll leave Quen here in Nira. If you can’t help us, I guess he’ll just have to go on to Mianuus alone.”

     Meena stood up and extended her hand to Hironah.

     “It was good to see you again,” she lied.

     “Have a safe journey.”

 

     “Meela! Meela, if you’d just listen to me for a second-”

     Pause.

     “C’mon Meela, my uncle just died.”

     Pause.

     “What the hell’s that supposed to mean? That’s a damn insensitive thing to say!”

     Pause.

     “Yeah, well you might have a better idea about what’s going on if you’d come with me like I asked you.”

     Pause.

     “Yeah, I know. I know how you feel about funerals. I know how you feel about everything. You never shut your yap.”

     Pause.

     “Well, it’s true. Look, I’m the one having a hard time here-”

     A long pause. Yoshiki stood in the foyer, phone to his ear.

     “Yeah, yeah, uh-huh.” His voice dripped sarcasm. “Look, this is my family, okay? It doesn’t get much more important than-”

     Pause.

     “No, it’s not because I care about them more than you. This is a real problem- Meela? Meela! Gods, you’re such a bitch,” he whispered to no one. She’d hung up on him.

     When Yoshiki reentered the room where he’d been sitting with Yume, Hironah and Kaiya, his sister sighed heavily.

     “I wish you’d just break up with her.”

     “You’d say that about any girl I was dating,” Yoshiki replied. “You’re just jealous.”

     “Jealous? Don’t be dumb, Yoshiki. All you two ever do is fight.”

     “We make up afterwards,” he said with a sly smile.

     “I just hate to see you wasting your time with someone who doesn’t appreciate you.”

     “And where am I supposed to meet such a person? You know how people feel about dating… well, people like us. And Meela stayed with me even after her parents found out. They threw a fit. So, she’s a little selfish. She’ll outgrow it.”

     “A little selfish? She wouldn’t even come here with you!”

     Hironah looked over at Kaiya, who appeared to be studiously ignoring the conversation. While she agreed with Yoshiki that it was difficult for young people of mixed Clans to find relationships, she wondered what Kaiya thought about it. Hasn’t been easy for you either, has it? His duties at the school and the temple kept him so tied up that he had few friends. He’d never been able to keep a girlfriend for longer than three months. Unlike Yoshiki, Kaiya never complained, didn’t bemoan his lot in life. Yet there had been many occasions on which Hironah wondered what it was that ran through his mind during those brooding moments of silent speculation that gripped him. It was probably related to the thing, she reasoned, but couldn’t be entirely sure. He never spoke to her about it.

     Despite a great number of eccentricities in his appearance, Hironah had always felt that he was handsome. He was shorter than Yoshiki, but stockier, and unusually strong for his size, thanks to Takae’s training. He had a casual, easy grace, shot through with an air of intense determination. He always dressed in the customary clothing of the Night’s Herald, but like Yoshiki and many other young Diasminian men wore a number of silver earrings in his ears. He wore his straight, night-blue hair in a fashion that Hironah frequently questioned- one side grew to his earlobes, while the other he kept completely shorn. His most eccentric feature, however, was his eyes. Hironah recalled that they had frightened her quite a bit as a child. Unlike every other set of eyes that she’d ever seen, his were not uniform, being two different colors entirely, one a deep caramel brown and the other a vivid green. However, despite the unsettling difference in their shades, those eyes often radiated a soft kindness, evidence of Kaiya’s gentle spirit. Hironah turned to him and asked,

     “Have you seen Seiken?”

     “Seiken? No, not since morning… You gonna tell me what that lady wanted?”

     “Who, Meena? Yeah, I’ll tell you later. Right now I got stuff to do, some of which involves a certain Decameron. I hope he hasn’t left already. He does seem like the type who’d just slink off without saying anything.”

     “Cut the guy a break, Hironah.”

     “I like Seiken,” Yoshiki stated, ignoring his sister’s latest remark and jumping into the conversation. “He’s a laugh if you can get him to open his mouth.”

     “Didn’t Blue get to be kind of fond of him?” queried Yume.

     “Yeah,” Hironah answered reluctantly. She was suddenly overcome by the memory of Blue’s last word to Seiken, when the Decameron had gently told him he would leave the family to spend their last moments alone. Blue had whispered only “Erishkegal”, the meaning of which was obviously quite lost on Seiken. The Decameron answered simply “Goodbye, Blue… travel well,” before leaving the room.

     “What did it mean?” Hironah had asked Kaiya later.

     “I don’t know. Erishkegal is the goddess who rules Pandemonium… but you knew that. Maybe it was the eyes.”

     “Huh? What’s that got to do with anything?”

     “Ever seen anyone else with red eyes?”

     “No…”

     “Hers are red, too… Maybe he just wasn’t thinking straight, Hironah.”

     “Maybe.”

     The memory still nagged at her.

 

     What did she want?

     Kaiya had been standing there, half-hidden in the doorway, for what must’ve been at least fifteen minutes. He watched as the red light of the Prime Sun glinted off Dawn and Dusk, dying sunset reflected on steel. Hironah was on the exercise grounds outside, practicing with her blades. He was relieved to see that she’d taken the time for her daily ritual, despite all the running back and forth she’d been doing. It always gave her comfort, and Kaiya secretly enjoyed watching her. As she went through the graceful motions, he would witness a transformation come over her, worries slowly ebbing, replaced by peace. He would at times watch her in secret silence, as he did now, with a feeling of wonderment. It was his custom to turn away after she’d finished, to leave her alone with the serenity he’d seen. Today, however, as she sheathed Dawn and Dusk, he stepped from the doorway.

     “There you are, Hironah.”

     She turned as Kaiya called to her, and he watched with dismay as her peace slipped away, anxieties creeping into its place.

     “Hey, Kaiya.”

     “Did you find Seiken?”

     “Yeah… I asked him to stick around for a couple of days. He seemed kind of relieved, actually.”

     “Makes sense… Must be hard not knowing where your next meal’s coming from. Meeting him has really made me think a lot more about what’s happening to the Decameron.”

     “They think they can stay neutral forever. It’s killing them.”

     “Do you think they’d have it any easier if they chose a side? Look at us… or Yoshiki, even.”

     “At least we’re doing something… and our enemies only strike from one side. The Decameron are going to have to accept that things have changed. Things are only going to get worse for them if they don’t.”

     “I guess… Can I ask you now what it was that Meena wanted?”

     Hironah sighed heavily.

     “She wants me to go with Quen to Mianuus.”

     “Why?”

     “She’s worried about what’s been going on there… apparently Harata’s gone strange.”

     “Strange? Like, strange how?”

     “I don’t know exactly… reclusive, refusing to meet with anyone… and Meena said that Kat was really cagey last time they met, slipped her a note.”

     “What did it say?”

     “Help.”

     “That’s it?”

     “Yeah… but I don’t see why Meena’s asking me to do this. At any other time I’d go, but… now?”
Kaiya looked skeptically at Hironah.

     “What are you going to do?”

     “I don’t know. How could I leave here now, even for a couple of days?” Hironah shook her head in frustration. “We both know Takae’s about to lose it, and Yoshiki was saying something about Remnant making problems again.”

     “Sirrah can handle Remnant.”

     “Maybe… I heard they got official sanction from the Ghost Clan, though. They’ll have better weapons and training now. Yoshiki’s guys are a really tight crew, but still. Can I really take the chance and hope that Remnant doesn’t try anything while I’m away?”

     “It is only for a couple of days. It’ll be okay here. Bel can handle it. He’s more than competent, you know that.”

     “What about you?”

     “I’ll go with you. You can’t go by yourself.”

     “No, Kaiya. I need you to stay here.”

     Kaiya sighed, then looked directly into Hironah’s eyes.

     “I made a promise, Hironah. Blue asked me to watch over you. I know you’re a grown woman and you can take care of yourself… but there was something in the way he asked me, like… like he had a reason for it. You know, like he knew something.”

     “You’re just being paranoid, Kaiya. Of course he asked you to protect me. He was my father. He can’t take care of me anymore, so naturally he asked you to do it.”

     “Whatever the reason, I promised.”

     “Well, I need you to stay here. I need you to stay with Taka. You’re the only one I can trust to take care of him.”

     “Bel-”

     “Bel has students to deal with.”

     “Hironah…” Kaiya’s eyes narrowed. “It’s more dangerous for you going all alone to Mianuus than it will be for us here. You could just as easily be jumped by Remnant or any of the other gangs, for that matter. You can’t go by yourself.”

     “I’ll be going with Quen.”

     “You don’t even know Quen!”

     “Fine, you’re right. That settles it. I’ll just stay here.”

     “Aren’t you a little curious about what’s going on?”

     “Yeah, but…”

     “If this is a real problem, it would probably be best to get to the bottom of it before something… happens.”

     “Yeah, if. Taka’s a real problem. Trying to keep Kamitouki running is a real problem. Remnant is a real problem. Harata’s the Emperor. He has plenty of people to help him. He doesn’t need me.”

     “He didn’t come to the funeral,” Kaiya said softly, eyes lowered. “Don’t you want to know why?”

     “Things changed, I guess,” Hironah answered bitterly.

     “Yeah, but how?”

     Hironah stared hard at Kaiya. Why does he always know what to say to push my buttons? He’d obviously figured out that Harata’s absence the day before had needled her. Yes, she wanted to know why. She wanted to hear the excuses for why Blue had been ignored, why she and Takae had been abandoned in their grief. She wanted to know why it was that the Ghost Clan could sponsor gangs throughout the country to wage their war for them while rival gangs like Sirrah, who fought and bled for the Empire, were harassed by the police and renounced by the Musubiki. She wanted to know a lot of things.

     “I’m going,” she stated, “but you’re not.”

     Kaiya was silent a moment, then said suddenly,

     “Take Seiken with you.”

     “What? Why?”

     “He’ll be useful to you in a pinch, if you run into anything. And besides, you’ll get to know him better. It’ll help you decide whether or not you want to take him on permanently.”

     “You want me to keep him,” Hironah observed.

     “It would be good to have a resident Decameron, and I think he’d be helpful for Takae.”

     “Made yourself a new friend, have you?” Hironah watched smugly as Kaiya averted his eyes and smiled shyly.

     “He’s a nice guy, Hironah. I think you’ll get to like him.”

     You’ve been so lonely, though you’ll never admit it, huh Kaiya?

     “Alright, I’ll drag him along, if only for your sake.”

     Just don’t blame me if I send him packing afterward.

 

     “Seiken?”

     Hironah watched as the Decameron tensed, shoulders twitching, and turned around. Skittish bastard.

     “Oh, hey Hironah,” he replied.

     She observed him in the overhead lights of the dorm where they’d decided to board him for the length of his stay. Seiken was of medium height- taller than Kaiya, but shorter than Yoshiki- and of a rather non-descript build. His clothing- a red homespun shirt and black trousers- was shabby, and the leather boots on his feet had holes worn through them. His hair was brown, save for a vibrant red forelock, and was extremely straight, hanging well past his ears, which like Kaiya’s and Yoshiki’s were pierced numerous times. He had something of a hangdog expression, especially around his crimson-colored eyes. His entire being seemed permeated by a relentless anxiety, as though his soul quaked within and sent shivers of worry to his tattered surface. Kaiya had once wondered aloud if he’d always been that way, or if the years of homeless wandering had caused his desperate dishevelment. The only one who knew that for sure was Seiken himself, and he never had anything to say on the subject. He never seemed to have much to say at all.

     “Come out with me,” Hironah invited. “There’s something I want to ask you.”

     “O-okay.”

     Seiken put down the book he’d been reading. Hironah recognized it as one of Kaiya’s. The pair walked out into the night, still warm, but bearing hints of the coolness that would come with the end of the summer. Light spilled from the dorm and the training hall nearby, where a group of students would no doubt be sparring. Hironah found herself wishing she was in there with them… nights when she and Bel and Kaiya would spar always left the students in envious wonder, but that was an activity for happier days. She glanced over at Seiken after they’d gone a ways into a small garden in the trees. Something about him rendered small talk nearly impossible, so Hironah decided, as she usually did when speaking to him, to simply cut straight to the reason she had for seeking him out.

     “I have to take a trip to Mianuus. I’d like you to come with me.”

     “Me? Uh… um… why?”

     “Kaiya doesn’t want me going by myself. We decided to ask you if you wouldn’t mind going, as he can’t.”

     “Well… um, if that’s- if that’s what you guys want.”

     “I think it would make Kaiya feel better to know I was with someone he trusted.”

     Seiken felt his face flush, thankful for the cover of darkness.

     “I- I’d be happy to go then.” He hung his head. “But… I… well, I, um… I-haven’t-got-any-money,” he blurted almost inaudibly.

     “Huh? Oh, Kaiya will take care of it. You’ll be doing him a favor. When we get back we can discuss your future here at Kamitouki.”

     “Alright, Hironah. Anything I can do to help you and Kaiya… You’ve- you’ve both been very kind to me.”

     “You did a lot to help Blue,” Hironah admitted grudgingly. “We’re both thankful for that.”

     “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” Seiken murmured, almost to himself.

     “He spoke to you a lot, didn’t he? Did he tell you what happened in Pandemonium?”

     “Uh, nah… Not exactly in so many words, see… We, um, we talked about… lots of things, but not exactly… about that.”

     “But you know what happened.”

     “Beyond what I told you, I- I can’t say anything more. I’m sorry… I don’t know why it happened either.”

     “What’s ‘Erishkegal’, Seiken?” Hironah asked abruptly.

     “The Queen of the Underworld.”

     “Why did Blue call you that? Why, with all the things you two could’ve spoken about, was that the last thing he said to you?”

     “I… don’t know.”

     Sure you don’t, and I’m the future Empress.

     “Kaiya’s determined to find out what happened. Anything you know would help him a lot. You can tell it to him if you don’t want to tell me.”

     Seiken said nothing.

     “Well, anyway, I’ll tell you tomorrow when I have the travel plans. You can go back in now.”

     “Goodnight, Hironah,” he said, turning away. Looking back over his shoulder he added, “I really am sorry. I wish things could’ve been different.”

     Not as much as I do.

 

     “So, when are we leaving for Mianuus?” Yoshiki asked eagerly, rubbing his hands together.

     “We? There is no ‘we’, Yoshiki.”

     “Yes, there is. I’m going, too.”

     Hironah looked at her cousin in exasperation. She put down the stack of breakfast dishes she’d been holding. They hit the table with a rattling clink.

     “What are you talking about?”

     “Going to Mianuus. Your husband told me you were going and asked if I wouldn’t mind tagging along, since you so stubbornly refused to let him accompany you.”

     “First of all, Kaiya is not my husband, and second of all, no.”

     “Oh, please. Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time. And I am going. Loverboy is right, you need a bodyguard.”

     “Yoshiki, I could beat you with my eyes closed. Anyway, what about Remnant?”

     “What about them? I’m leaving part of Sirrah stationed here in Nira. It’s just a couple of days. I’m going with you- no ifs, ands, or buts.”

     Hironah sighed heavily.

     “Oh, are you guys talking about the trip to Mianuus?” Yume asked brightly as she entered the room and began stacking dishes and silverware. “I’m going, too.”

     “No, you are not, Yume,” Yoshiki said firmly.

     “I am so. You know I wanted to take a trip before I have to go back to school.”

     “We’re all going to the Zeit-”

     “That’s after school starts, and besides, I’ll be stuck with Mom and Dad the whole time. I’m going with you guys. I never get to see you anymore, Yoshiki. It’ll be fun to go together.”

     “It won’t be any fun if we get jumped. You could get hurt.”

     “I’m not scared,” Yume replied defiantly.

     “That’s because you’ve never been in a fight.”

     “Hironah,” Yume turned to her cousin, “tell Yoshiki I can go. Everybody else is going, even Seiken.”

     “Kaiya’s not going,” Hironah stated, “and besides, it’ll be boring. We’re not going on a sightseeing tour.”

      “I know, but I want to go. You guys always leave me out, since I was a kid. It was always you and Yoshiki and Kaiya. I always got left behind.”

     “Yume…” Hironah began gently, “you know why that is. Nobody wanted it to be that way, but-”

     “I’m fine, Hironah. I’ve been fine. I wish you guys would stop treating me like I’m so fragile. It’s bad enough that Mom and Dad act the way they do. Stop leaving me out.”

     “Fine. I give up. We’ll all go to Mianuus, harass the Imperial Family, turn around and go home. I’m sure it’ll be a blast.”

     As Hironah picked up the stack of dishes and walked out of the room, she wondered why it was that everyone she knew had to be so stubborn.

  

 

Want to comment? Visit this chapter on WordPress! Click here.