The telephone in the hall had been ringing for a long time before Hironah finally picked it up.

     “Hello?” she said wearily into the receiver.

     “Hironah? Did they get you guys, too?” It was Yoshiki.

     “Yeah.”

     “How bad? Is everybody okay?”

     “Seiken says they should all pull through… A couple of your guys are in pretty rough shape, though.”

     “Who?”

     “Micha and Juriaan.”

     “But they’ll be okay?”

     “Seiken says so.”

     “Hironah… They burned the house down.”

     When she could finally bring herself to speak, Hironah asked,

     “Are Uncle Kieran and Aunt Chi okay?”

     “They’ll be alright. Haven’t got a possession to their names now, though. I guess you were right. The trip to Mianuus was a bad idea.”

     Hironah only sighed.

     She’d known something was amiss the moment she and Seiken stepped off the train in Nira. There was a nervousness in the bustle of the townspeople. They eyed her with a mixture of worry and apprehension. No one seemed to want to speak to them. As soon as she reached the wooded hillside and the gateway into Kamitouki, she knew what had happened. Her organs speared by the cold shaft of terror, she ran up the stairs.

     “Kaiya!” she cried, running across the flagstones of the courtyard, past the destroyed monuments, hacked doorways and shredded banners. Mercifully, he answered.

     “Hironah,” he called back, hurrying to meet her. They embraced, clasping each other tightly.

     “What happened?”

     “Remnant. They sacked us.”

     A thousand desperate, unspoken questions passed between them while Hironah simply stared at Kaiya.

     “It’ll be all right, Hironah,” he assured her. “But… did Seiken come back with you? We could use his help.”

     “He was behind me…” She turned. Seeing the Decameron mounting the last of the stairs, she called to him. “Seiken!”

     He ran across the courtyard. Kaiya led him away hurriedly, leaving Hironah to stand alone amidst the destruction. It was only after a few minutes of shocked silence that she realized Kaiya had greeted her covered in blood.

     “Is everyone there really okay?” Yoshiki asked. Hironah understood the couched meaning of the question.

     “Yeah… Kaiya and Bel both got hurt, but you know how they are.”

     “How’s Uncle Taka?”

     Hironah didn’t answer.

     “Hironah?”

     “He’s… you know.”

     It was Yoshiki’s turn for silence. After a while, when neither of them had said anything, he spoke again.

     “I want revenge. As soon as everyone in Sirrah is back up to full speed I’m getting it, too.”

     “Yoshiki-”

     “You want it too, Hironah. Don’t pretend that you don’t.”

     “I’ve got other things to worry about.”

     “I know that. So do I right now… but the day’s gonna come, Hironah. It’ll come.”

     “It will. I know.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say to comfort him.

     “Listen, Yume wants to talk to you. I’ll call tomorrow and get the low down from Seiken about my guys. Take care of yourself, kiddo.”

     “You, too.”

     There were muffled noises as the phone on the other end of the line changed hands.

     “Hironah? Are you okay?”

     “Yeah, Yume, I’m fine. Are your parents alright?”

     “Mom’s flipping out. You know how she gets. She keeps going back to the house trying to find stuff.”

     A vision of Chiesara sifting through the ashes in search of beloved trinkets made Hironah’s throat constrict.

     “Kamitouki’s still standing?” Yume asked.

     “Yeah. There’s a lot of damage, but we’ll fix it.”

     “Kaiya got beat up, didn’t he?”

     “He’ll be okay. Same can’t be said for the guys he fought from Remnant. We’ve got one here in a coma.”

     “Hironah…” Yume’s voice turned nervous. “You don’t have Meena’s phone number or anything do you?”

     “Maybe… I know Taka had her address. Why?”

     “Well, if all of us got hit, I was thinking maybe Quen’s place did, too.”

     “I’m sure it hasn’t. It’s different, Yume.”

     “I know it is. I just want to know for sure. I was wondering…”

     “Wondering what, Yume?”

     “Don’t you think the whole thing is kind of strange? I mean, we get sent on this wild goose chase and Remnant just happens to know you and Yoshiki are out of the picture?”

     “They spy on us, Yume. Just like Sirrah spies on them.”

     “Yeah, but… Hironah, didn’t Quen strike you as a little, well… odd?”

     “Honestly, yes, but Uneme told me that everyone thinks Quen is odd. He said-”

     “Uneme said?”

     “Yeah, he said Quen’s a strange bird. Even the Musubiki think so.”

     “Uneme told you this?”

     “Yeah.”

     “Hironah, since when do you give a damn what strangers tell you about other strangers?”

     “I’m just saying-”

     “You like him! Kaiya’s going to be so jealous!” Yume laughed, a strange, echoing noise in the phone.

     “Yume, be sensible-”

     “You do! I saw you guys holding hands when I woke up. It was cute.”

     “That’s really, really not important right now.”

     “Alright, fine. But if you ask me, I think Quen and Meena had something to do with all this.”

     “Yume,” Hironah said patiently, “that’s really not possible. Quen and Meena are Musubiki. Remnant is Ghost Clan. Totally different.”

     “They could be double agents.”

     “Yume.”

     “Alright, Hironah. You know what? I’m scared, okay? This whole thing is scary. Whatever’s going on with Harata is scary. Quen’s scary. What happened on the beach the other night was scary. I haven’t got anyplace to live. That’s scary. If I can’t make all of this work out in my mind, if I keep not knowing why any of this happened, it’ll drive me crazy.”

     “Uneme told me that we’ll understand what happened at the beach when we go to the Zeit.”

     “Uneme again. You so like him.”

     “Enough, Yume.”

     “Fine. Speaking of people we hardly know, how’s Seiken doing?”

     “Who likes who now? He’s busy. If you wanna talk to him I could probably go find him for you.”

     “I was just asking. I don’t like him like that. And don’t bother him if he’s busy.”

     “Whatever. I think you’re barking up the wrong tree, anyway. I’m pretty sure he has a crush on Kaiya.”

     “Good for him, then. He can be the one to comfort our boy after he realizes your heart’s been stolen by a tall, dark Angemal.”

     “Yume, your mind never ceases to astound me.”

     Hironah’s cousin blew a raspberry into the phone.

     “That’s very mature.”

     “I’m the baby. I don’t have to be mature. Anyway, I’m gonna go. We’re at Renta’s parents’ place. They probably don’t appreciate us tying up the phone line on top of everything else. Give my love to Kaiya and Uncle Taka, and say hi to Bel and Seiken, okay?”

     “Sure. Are you guys gonna be okay?”

     “We’ll be fine. You worry about yourself.”

     “Will do.”

     After a brief sign-off, Hironah hung up the phone.

 

     “Hironah.”

     She didn’t answer, engulfed as she was in trying to right a fallen monument.

     “Hironah?”

     Recognizing Seiken’s voice, she decided to continue ignoring him, in hopes that he would go away. Instead, he helped to set the monument upright. Once it had been returned to a standing position, he addressed her again.

     “Hironah?”

     “What is it, Seiken?” she asked wearily.

     “It’s about Kaiya. Could you tell him to lay off a little? He needs to take a break. He won’t listen to me.”

     “I’ll talk to him.”

     “Really, Hironah. He didn’t get hurt badly, but he should rest anyway… or else he could end up with complications. You’re the only one he listens to.”

     “I’ll talk to him. He wants this place set right as much as I do, though. And the wounded are his students. This is his home, Seiken. You’re not from here. You’re not one of us. You don’t get it.” In her exhaustion, Hironah let the bitter words slip out without thought.

     The Decameron merely stared at her.

     “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

     “What? It’s true. I’m not one of you.” He turned his crimson eyes away from Hironah. “But I do have some idea how you feel, and I care what happens to Kaiya. You’ll tell him to be careful?”

     “I will.”

     “That’s all I wanted.” He turned abruptly and walked away from her.

     “Damn it! Seiken,” she called after him. He didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry, alright? It’s just- just I feel like my whole world’s been torn apart.”

     He turned back to her. From the look on his face, she could see that was something he did understand. Very well.

     “Don’t worry about it, Hironah. We’re all tired. If… if you wanna talk about it… I’ll be around.”

     “Thanks, Seiken. I’ll be okay. This is just… hard, is all.”

     “I understand.”

     As she watched Seiken walk away, Hironah fought another wave of exhaustion. She’d been up all night, as had Seiken and Kaiya. The Decameron had finally convinced Bel to get some sleep sometime in the hours after midnight. The tall, muscular Corduran had been grazed by several bullets.

     Remnant’s attack on Kamitouki had occurred in the early morning hours while Hironah slept on the train back from Mianuus. They’d been driven back by the students- a jumbled collection of Angemal, Corduran and Night’s Herald- and the members of Sirrah that had remained behind on Yoshiki’s orders. As Hironah had feared, the once-disorganized Remnant had grown in power since being officially adopted by the Ghost Clan.

     The Ghost Clan had been a thorn in the side of not only Kamitouki and the government, but many others scattered throughout the country. Overseen by powerful Empirians and financed by wealthy GelbFausts, the Ghost Clan insisted that the country return to days of old. They strove to restore the system that had gradually been broken down under Harata’s rule. While the powerful members of the organization sought to sabotage the government from the inside, gangs of angry thugs patrolled the countryside on their behalf, wreaking havoc on anyone they felt was breaking the Law of Clans.

     Kamitouki had been a prime target. In the eyes of the Ghost Clan, everything was wrong with Kamitouki. The founders lived in a mixed-Clan household, raising a little half-breed child. Hironah understood that according to the Old Laws, she should have been destroyed at birth. She’d spent her early childhood in hiding, her parents in constant worry that someone would turn her in. It didn’t help Blue and Takae’s case any that they were both men. While that in itself didn’t break any of the Old Laws, there were many in the Ghost Clan who felt very strongly that same-sex relationships ought to be banned. Then there was the school itself- a blend of martial arts and religion, a mix of Clan ideals. The fact that Kamitouki would accept students of any Clan incensed the members of the Ghost Clan beyond measure.

     The teachings of the school alone were enough to bring damnation. All students, regardless of Clan, were instructed by Blue (and later Kaiya) on the art of meditation and the Path of the Night’s Herald. Takae, later joined by Bel, taught a variety of martial arts techniques. The Night’s Herald and Corduran taught together how to meld this knowledge. Warriors trained in Kamitouki were fearsome fighters, steadfast in their actions and still within their souls. All of the Corduran graduates were adepts in the Gift, and even some of other descent had learned to sense the magic coursing through the air, even if they couldn’t use it. Yes, that ignorance of Clan boundaries had been enough. Coupled with the family that founded it, Kamitouki became unbearable.

     For as long as she could remember, Hironah’s little family had been harried by the Ghost Clan. They were not alone. Chiesara and Kieran, with their decision to marry and raise children, also brought down the wrath of the organization. Yoshiki had grown up terrorized, leading him to join and later take over Sirrah. While Hironah saw this as a natural transition, she knew her aunt mourned her son’s life as an outlaw. She’d wanted better for him. He was a talented artist, but had given up any real pursuit of that career to lead Sirrah in their fight against the hated Ghost Clan. Not one member of the family kidded themselves- they all knew Yoshiki risked his life weekly. Of all of them, it was Yume who suffered most from fear of his loss.

     It seemed inevitable that this battle would go on until one the factions was defeated. Neither was willing to give up. Hironah, throughout her life, had concerned herself with little more than the immediate problems of her family, though her recent trip to Mianuus had made her wonder. What was going on in her country? The trouble with Harata- be it real or exaggerated- had made her consider the frailty of the Empire. If something were to happen to him, what would become of the rest of them? The attack on Kamitouki confirmed not only her hunch that trouble was brewing in Nira, but also the fact that should Harata fall, there would be even less standing between the school and those who sought to destroy it.

     Resolutely, Hironah put those grim thoughts out of her mind. She needed to concentrate. There was a lot of work to be done.

     It wasn’t until the middle of the night, when she couldn’t sleep, that she allowed herself to feel. Seated on the floor before Takae, who stared without seeing her, she broke down and wept, her head in his lap.

 

     “Damn, Kaiya. I said ‘Hold still’, not ‘Turn yourself into a statue’.”

     “I’m still, aren’t I?”

     “Yes, very much so. You don’t have to be anymore, though. I’m finished.”

     Kaiya gazed down at his arm, which was freshly bandaged.

     “Thanks.”

     “I’ve gotta do your side next. Lay down.”

     Kaiya did as he was told.

     “Roll over a little.”

     While Seiken went to work, Kaiya stilled himself once more. His mind far away, it wasn’t until Seiken swore softly that Kaiya became aware once again of the room he was in.

    “You didn’t listen to either of us, I guess,” Seiken said. “You were picking things up.”

     “Yeah…”

     “You tore some of the stitches. I told you that would happen.”

     “Sorry.”

     “Say sorry to yourself. I have to do them over.” After a while Seiken said softly, “You’re gonna get an infection.”

     “I won’t, promise,” Kaiya answered with a smile.

     “I’m serious. I keep telling you, I can’t help you if you aren’t willing to help yourself.”

     “I do my best. I get distracted and forget. You know how it is.”

     Instead of arguing, Seiken continued his work in silence. Kaiya went back to thinking of things very far away. He didn’t move until Seiken said,

    “All done.”

    “Thanks.”

    Kaiya sat up and looked at the Decameron.

    “Something the matter?” the Night’s Herald probed.

    “Other than you not taking care of yourself?”
“Yeah… You look like something’s bothering you.”

     Seiken bit his lip. Kaiya waited.

     “Do you know anything about the Dead City?”

     “The Dead City?”

     “Yeah.”

     “You mean Mika’en?”

     “I guess…” Seiken shifted uncomfortably.

     “Mika’en, the city that was destroyed during the time when the Champions were fighting Caiaphas is sometimes called the Dead City. Is that what you mean?”

     “Probably. I don’t know.”

     “Well, Mika’en has been abandoned since that time. There are claims that it’s the center of the Ghost Clan’s activity, but nobody knows for sure. From what I know, it’s just an old ruin.”

    “Oh.”

    “Seiken… why are you asking?” Kaiya looked sidelong at the Decameron. He remained a mystery to the Night’s Herald. Through their stuttering, broken conversations, he’d learned very little about Seiken, who would ask very difficult questions abruptly and apparently without reason. Usually Kaiya was able to surmise where these questions were coming from, but this time he was stumped.

     “You know that girl, Mirai? She said something kind of funny to me.”

     “What?”

     “She said we’d meet again when a war started and would be stolen into the Dead City.”

     “That’s a strange thing to say.”

     “I thought so, too.”

     Kaiya fell silent, pondering. Finally he asked,

     “Do you have any idea what she meant by it?”

     “No clue… It might not have meant anything. She’s… touched.”

     “Touched?”

     “You know.” Seiken brought his hand up to his forehead. “Pretty bad. She had a scar from an old head wound. That might’ve done it.”

     “Is that why the Musubiki have her?”

     “Possibly. I don’t know the real reason, but that seems likely. They may be trying to help her.”

     “Maybe it was just crazy talk then.” Kaiya, seeing Seiken’s serious expression, smiled.

     “Maybe… she seemed pretty lucid when she said it, which is why it bothered me, I guess.”

     “Well, I can’t see any reason for you to go there… unless Hironah suddenly becomes obsessed with her heritage and sends you on a fact-finding mission.”

     “Huh?” The cloudy look on Seiken’s face was replaced by one of confusion.

     “Her biological father was born and raised in Mika’en. She’s never cared much about learning more about him, though.”

     “Why not?”

     “For one thing, he’s such a huge figure amongst the Angemal- the Legend within the Legend. Hironah’s always liked being a part of that, a part of something great and powerful and flawless. Of course she’s curious, but never enough that she’s wanted to trade in the god-like character for a more human one. Blue and Takae respected her choice. They built on Keyu’s legend for her, and omitted some of the less flattering stories. Aside from that, she knows better than to go chasing a past that isn’t going to give her any answers to the present. It almost certainly benefits her more to be part of the legend than the man, and she’s aware of it. He died before she was born, so it’s not like she had any opportunity to get to know him. Not like it was with her mother. She always wished she could’ve known her mother, at least a little. That was Aya’s choice, though. Blue made it very plain that she was welcome, but she never came. Hironah’s never regretted being raised here, though. Neither have I, for that matter.”

     After a few moments of speculative silence, Seiken asked,

     “You didn’t have any more choice than she did, did you?”

     “No. I was sworn to the temple here when I was two.”

     “And you don’t regret being raised by people who aren’t your own family?”

     Kaiya shrugged.

     “It’s common among Night’s Herald. My father did the right thing. Blue was very wise, and very, very knowledgeable. He was an excellent teacher and a skilled guide, and he and Takae both went out of their way to take care of me. I consider myself blessed.”

     “You miss him,” Seiken observed, not ungently.

     “Very much.” Kaiya was looking at his hands and didn’t look up as he spoke.

     “I wish I could’ve done something more for him.”

     “You did a lot, Seiken. More than anyone could’ve asked for. We appreciate it, sincerely.”

     “Kaiya, I…” Seiken seemed to struggle to find words. He bit his lip, put a hand on Kaiya’s shoulder. The two men looked at each other for a long time before he continued. “I wanted to do more. I… I hope I made the right choice.”

     Kaiya was silent for quite a while before he said,

     “There’s a lot I don’t understand about what happened, isn’t there Seiken?”

     The Decameron’s brows knitted, only for an instant as he frowned. Then, smiling slightly, quite calm, he said,

     “You should go to bed, Kaiya. I don’t want you getting sick.”

 

 

  

 

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