“You’re still too skinny, Seiken! Doesn’t Hironah feed you?”
Chie broke her embrace from the Decameron to pinch his side. Discomfort evident on his face, he replied,
“Yes, ma’am. She does.”
“Mom!” Yume cried. She rooted her feet firmly to the ground in an effort to keep from hugging Seiken herself. Beaming, she asked him,
“How have you been?”
“Very well, thanks. You?”
“Good… But this year at school is killing me. I don’t know what made me think I could take so many classes.”
“You’ll be okay. I know you’re very smart.”
Yume laughed.
“Who told you that? Kaiya?”
She turned to look at the Night’s Herald. He stood beside Hironah, who was holding Takae’s hand. He shot Yume a sly smile.
“Wasn’t me.”
“Sure.”
“It’s so good to see you two!” Chiesara cried, gathering both Kaiya and Hironah in her arms. She held them both bunched together, until they were finally released. She planted a kiss on both their cheeks.
“It’s good to see you, too, Auntie,” Hironah replied. They hadn’t seen each other since the funeral. “How’s the house?”
“We should be able to move in soon- about a month or so.” Chie’s gaze turned serious. Making sure the Decameron was out of earshot, she said to Hironah alone, “Thank you so much for sending Seiken out with Sirrah last month.”
“Don’t worry about it. He was happy to go.”
“But… if he hadn’t been there…”
Hironah saw the pain in her aunt’s eyes.
“It’s all right. He was there. I’ll see to it that he always is.”
Remnant was no more. Sirrah had seen to that. Long before they’d come to fruition, Yoshiki had shared his plans with Hironah. She’d insisted that Seiken go with Sirrah. If Yoshiki was to have his revenge, she wanted the Decameron with him. She didn’t know why. Like many other times throughout the course of her years, she’d been driven by feelings that lurked deep within her heart. Blue had always told her those feelings were a gift, that she shouldn’t ignore them. She had once, the day she set out for Mianuus, the tide of her soul telling her that trouble brewed at home. She was determined not to ignore them a second time. For that reason, when the day came she ordered Seiken to go with Sirrah. He did so without question. It wasn’t until the phone rang in the middle of the night that she understood the reason for her nagging feelings.
It was Renta, Yoshiki’s best friend and right hand.
“He’s been shot, Hironah,” he said mournfully into the phone. “Bad.”
“How bad?” She asked, no betrayal of emotion in her words.
“Bad.”
“If he’s dying, Renta, I want to be with him. Where are you guys?”
“Just south of Tiensha.”
“I’ll come out… but I’m not gonna make it before morning. Will he last that long?”
“I dunno, Hironah. That Decameron you sent keeps insisting that he’ll live… but I dunno. Never seen a guy live, shot like that. By my estimate, you might make it in time.”
“I’ll leave now.”
“Hironah… in case you don’t make it… He loved you. A lot.”
“Oh, I’ll make it.” The fierceness in her voice was the first emotion she’d displayed. “Give me the coordinates.”
It took her all night and into the morning, but Hironah finally found the place where Sirrah was encamped. They all knew why she was there, and parted in such a way to make a path to the tent where Yoshiki lay. She spoke to none of them, but plunged ahead, not stopping until she came to Renta, who sat guard outside the tent.
“You made good time,” he observed, answering Hironah’s unspoken question.
“Renta…” Hironah bit her lip, silencing herself.
“Go say goodbye, Hironah,” he answered her, dark eyes lowered. “That Decameron is still saying that he won’t die, but I don’t believe it. I don’t want his lies. That’s my best friend in there… Go make your peace. At least he’ll die in triumph.”
Hironah entered the tent.
“There you guys are!” Yoshiki’s raucous voice called out.
He’d survived, as Seiken had promised he would. No one understood why. Among Sirrah and their allies, both Yoshiki and Seiken had become the stuff of legend. Back at Kamitouki, unanswered questions lay like shattered glass between Hironah and the Decameron. It was only relief and gratitude that kept her from confronting him.
“You dope,” Hironah answered. “We told you we’d wait here. Where’s Uncle Kieran?”
“Behind me… somewhere.”
After her uncle materialized out of the crowd, Hironah and her family, along with Seiken, turned and made their way into the Zeit.

     In the Parklands surrounding Mianuus, hundreds of tents, pagodas and temporary buildings had been erected to house the Zeit. Within them, an astounding array of wonders of every nature was on display. There were pagodas dedicated to each of the Nine Clans. There was an entire building devoted to the “House of the Future”. It had taken the family a long time to finally drag Chie out of it.
The family had separated, Chie, Kieran and Takae (who took no notice of his surroundings) still poking around in a tent devoted to the study of possible air travel. The younger generation had gone on to explore a display entitled “The Future of Warfare”, where Yoshiki, Hironah, and Kaiya fell into a subdued debate on whether or not the Musubiki had stolen trade secrets from Kamitouki.
They stood now in a large, colorful tent entitled “The Hall of Fantasy”. The creatures it housed were astounding, a testament to the incredible heights the Musubiki had reached in genetic research. Yume stood before a fiberglass enclosure, gazing down at a lizard that looked back at her intently. It was like no other lizard she’d ever seen. It had a long, spiked tail and powerful hind legs, like those of a lion or other beast of prey. Its front legs were much smaller, more attuned to grasping and rending. Its long neck ended in a spiny head. Small, leathery wings were folded to its body. As she watched, it sighed a breath of flame.
“What is that?” she breathed.
“Says here it’s a dragon,” Yoshiki read the sign above the enclosure. He looked down at the lizard greedily. “Could you imagine what Sirrah could do with one of these?” he said in a whisper.
“It’d probably eat all of you.”
“Uh-uh. It’s too small.”
“Think it’ll stay small?” Yume shuddered and turned away from the enclosure. Her eyes fell on Kaiya, who stood surrounded by the cages of strange animals. He looked horrified.
“They’ve made themselves gods,” he whispered. “This is wrong.
“Lighten up, Kaiya,” Hironah laughed beside him. “It’s just a bunch of weird animals.”
“No good can come of this.”
Hironah sighed and rolled her eyes. When they fell on Seiken she groaned.
“Not you, too.”
He looked as though he was in pain.
“I think maybe I should go outside,” he said. Turning, he stumbled into someone.
“Hold up,” the man said.
“Quen!” Seiken looked up, surprised.
“It’s nice to see you all again.” Quen smiled. “Like them?” He gestured at the creatures in the tent.
“They’re very… interesting,” Yume answered hesitantly, when she saw that Hironah was busy trying to hush Kaiya, who’d opened his mouth to speak.
“I think they’re great!” Yoshiki put in enthusiastically.
“They’re merely folly, a little something to lighten the mood,” Quen informed them. “An enjoyable project for many of us.”
“What’s going to happen to them after the Zeit?” Yume inquired.
“They’ll have to be put down, of course, though some of the more benign specimens may be auctioned.”
“That’s awful!” Yume exclaimed.
“It’s practical,” Quen countered emotionlessly. “Some will, no doubt, grow beyond our control.”
Kaiya, successfully muzzled by Hironah, turned his attention to Seiken. The Decameron had his hand to his head, his eyes screwed tight shut.
“Are you alright?” the Night’s Herald asked in alarm.
“They… Their voices… I really think I should get out of here.”
The nightmare sound in Seiken’s head threatened to drive him insane. The garbled, formless wailing, the sing-song of meaningless phrases pounded at him, ringing in his ears. The fevered noises, bereft of meaning, made him feel as though his heart was both swelling and constricting in his chest.
“Ah, so they never quite solved that problem,” Quen observed without apparent worry. “Some of you Decameron can still hear them.” His eyes narrowed. “But very few.”
“I’ll take you outside,” Kaiya said gently, taking Seiken by the arm. “We’ll wait for you guys out front.”
“There’s no need,” Quen put in. When the others looked at him coldly, he went on. “Mirai will speak in a few minutes. I’m sure you’ll want to see her.”
“Where is she?” Yume asked, casting about.
“This way.” Quen led them through a part in the fabric of the tent, which opened into something of a corridor.
“Mother put a lot of work into her. I’m sure you’ll be very impressed to hear her speak.”
“What did Meena do for her?” asked Kaiya, recalling Seiken’s words to him about Mirai’s being “touched”. Had the Sabian found some way to help her?
“You’ll see,” Quen replied mysteriously. “By the way, mother and I met Chiesara, Kieran and Takae earlier. I left her with them to look for you.”
“I hope my mom’s not saying anything too embarrassing,” Yume thought aloud.
“Here we are,” Quen announced.

     The small tent was stuffy and crowded, filled to capacity with onlookers. Mirai sat on a raised platform, in what could only be described as a throne. It was carved of onyx, shining dully in the light. She wore a dress of black satin, a string of black pearls at her throat. Her hair was swept up in an elaborate knot, and a black satin band encircled her head, hiding the scar that Seiken had seen at the beach. She was striking in her bizarre beauty, though she gazed emptily out over the crowd. Above her hung a banner, upon which was written only “The Oracle”.
Oracle? Kaiya, struck with worry, turned to Hironah. He was surprised to see her waving to someone. A man, dressed in black, standing on the platform, nodded to her. For the tiniest fraction of an instant, a smile twisted his thin lips. So that’s Uneme. The Night’s Herald turned to say something to Seiken, but the words died in his mind when his eyes fell on the Decameron. He was gazing at the marble-white face of the girl on the platform with a sorrow that Kaiya found incomprehensible. He had no time for inquires, however, as an announcer took the platform. The man, dressed in a sleek black suit, began to speak,
“Ladies and gentlemen! You see before you a woman who truly is, must surely be counted as, a wonder of our age! We, the Musubiki, in reaching far into the legends of the past, have managed to gain mastery over the future! With the all-seeing eye this young woman can reach beyond the murky borders of time and view images of what is yet to be. I give you- the Oracle!”
The people in the tent clapped and cheered as the announcer deftly removed the black band from Mirai’s head, exposing the scar there. As they watched, the scar twitched and the flesh began to part, revealing an eye, blue and piercing. The eye gazed out over the crowd with a comprehension that the colorless ones on either side would never be allowed. Those two eyes closed slowly, while the blue remained open, sweeping the crowd. After a time, Mirai spoke, all three eyes opened once again.
“As the world spins under the gaze of two suns, the land shall be torn in two by the hands that sought to stitch it together. The Highest and Lowest will fall, and centuries will pass before the people stand again as one.”
She fell silent.
The announcer laughed nervously.
“Come now, Mirai, that one was a bit grim, don’t you think? You don’t want to upset people… Why don’t you tell us something happy?”
She smiled slightly. Without losing her ever-present look of child-like vacancy, she said,
“Uneme, all of your dreams will come true.”
The Angemal bowed theatrically. A few people in the crowd laughed. As the demonstration progressed, the announcer bade Mirai to predict for chosen members of the crowd. When she’d finished, the third eye, the blue eye, closed. The announcer tied the band back in place and the crowd roared.

     “I have a surprise for you,” Quen informed them as they exited the tent.
“What?” Yume asked eagerly.
“The Musubiki have allowed Mirai the chance to meet with you, as a token of our gratitude for the help you showed her at the beach. She’ll be accompanied by Uneme, of course.”
“Did you ever find out what she was doing there?” Hironah inquired.
“There was an incident, but I’m afraid that’s not information for the public domain.”
“In other words, you know, but you’re not going to tell me.”
“That’s correct.”
Quen led the others to an area that was roped off for use by only members of the Musubiki’s inner circle. It was outdoors, set up like a picnic area. A few people sat within, chatting idly. It was a beautiful autumn day, the sky above a cloudless blue. It was cooler in Mianuus than in the south, and Hironah shivered involuntarily. At least, she told herself that it was the weather that caused her to shake so. After a brief conference with the guards, Quen took them within the boundaries of the restricted area.
The six of them sat down to wait at a table. Kaiya looked hard at Quen for a moment before asking,
“Your mother did that?”
“She was not alone of course. It took the skill and knowledge of many of our members to imbue Mirai with the gift of foresight.”
“Why?”
“Why?”
“Yes, why did the Musubiki decide to… do that?”
“Because we can, I suppose.”
It was Seiken who spoke next, staring down at the tabletop.
“But… Mirai’s… she’s a p-person. How could you?”
“I think you misunderstand. Mirai has been blessed through science. I assure you, she leads a very happy existence.”
“Blessed?” Kaiya asked, his voice still quiet, patient. “From what I’ve heard, it’s more of a curse.”
“For Mirai it is no such thing. Mother warned me that you and Hironah might have strong feelings about Mirai’s ability. Perhaps you forget that she knew Blue quite well years ago. She still remembers the anguish his visions caused him. Mirai feels none of that. She is in no way harmed by the things she sees.”
“Because you made her an idiot?”
“How do you know that?” Quen asked coolly. “You only assume we had anything to do with Mirai’s mental state.”
“Come on, guys,” Yoshiki put in. “I think you’re taking this a bit too seriously. It’s just a gag, right? An act? She can’t really see the future.”
Quen opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again when he caught sight of Uneme and Mirai approaching.
“Ask her yourself,” he said coldly.
“Hello, all,” Uneme said cheerily as he pulled out a chair for Mirai. “It’s good to see you all again. Yume, you look fantastic. Yoshiki, nice work on Remnant. When I heard about that I was astounded. I heard about Kamitouki, too,” he said, his eyes on Hironah. “Is there any way I can help?”
“It’s all under control,” she answered with a smile.
“Well, if you think of anything…” He turned to Kaiya, extending his hand. “You must be Kaiya. Hironah told me a lot about you.”
“Well met,” the Night’s Herald replied.
As Uneme sat down, Mirai’s empty gaze lingered on each of the people seated at the table.
“Hullo, Quen,” she said brightly. Her eyes moving on, they fell on Seiken. “Oh, hello! I met you at the beach party.”
“How have you been?” the Decameron asked, no trace of the discomfort he felt in his words.
“Today was very busy! The ladies came to make me pretty, and then I had to talk in front of a lot of people.”
“I saw you.”
“Really? Was I pretty?”
“Yes, very,” Seiken replied sincerely.
“You’re pretty, too.” Mirai reached out and patted his hair. Yume giggled and Yoshiki guffawed.
“Mirai,” Uneme said sternly, “remember what I told you about touching people?”
“Yes, Uneme.”
“And have you forgotten that you had something that you wanted to say to Seiken?”
She stared at the Angemal, not comprehending.
“This is the man who saved you from drowning.”
“Ohhhhhh…” She tilted her head, observing the Decameron again. “Then, I wanted to say ‘Thank you for saving me’.”
“You’re very welcome, Mirai.”
She said nothing more to him, but turned her eyes skyward and said,
“No clouds today.”
Yume kicked her brother under the table as he started to laugh again. Hironah turned to Uneme and asked,
“How have you been?”
“Can’t complain. I caught hell over the beach fiasco, but-” He shrugged. “I might be able to get a couple of days off after the Zeit’s finished. If you don’t mind, I’d really like to visit Kamitouki.”
“That would be-” Hironah was cut off by Yoshiki.
“You guys hear that noise?”
“What noise?” asked Yume.
“Shhh… listen!”
Yume cocked her head.
“Sounds like… buzzing, kind of…”
Yoshiki’s eyes locked with Hironah’s for an instant and he swore explosively, causing Yume to jump in her seat. His hand moved reflexively to the pistol he wore slung at his hip, but of course it wasn’t there. Yume stared at Yoshiki, open mouthed, as a stream of profanity issued from him. Hironah turned her eyes on Kaiya, who looked back at her grimly. Uneme drew his gun, as did Quen, who was apparently allowed to carry a weapon, unlike the other visitors to the Zeit.
The eight then sat frozen at the table, listening. The buzzing sound grew louder, now identifiable even to Yume, who looked pleadingly around the table. A ways off, in the middle of the Zeit, they could hear the screams of panic rise up as the motorcycles crashed through barricades into the crowd. Then came muffled shouting, gunshots… more screams. Quen looked calmly at Uneme and said,
“We’ll follow the evacuation procedure as we practiced. I’ll cover you.” To the others, he added, “You’d better come with us.” When they didn’t move, he went on evenly. “The Musubiki foresaw this as a possibility. Rest assured, we’re well equipped to handle the situation. The police and our guards will take care of it. For now, though, we’d better leave.”
“Yoshiki, what’s going on?” Yume begged.
“Ghost Clan decided to strike, I guess.” He’d recovered his composure, and was in the process of reaching into one of his boots. He came up with a tiny handgun. From the other boot he produced a dagger. Catching sight of Hironah, he said,
“Oh, come on. You think I’d go anywhere unarmed? There’s a price on my head!” After a pause, he added slyly, “Besides, betcha Kaiya’s packing, too.”
Sheepishly, the Night’s Herald reached into a secret pocket of his robe and pulled out a long knife.
“Sorry, Hironah… but Yoshiki’s right. You never know-”
“Look, it’s not important right now,” Uneme cut in. “We’ve gotta go.”
They rose. Uneme began to walk away, taking Mirai by the arm and leading her along. The others followed behind him- Quen bringing up the rear, gun still drawn. The chaos hadn’t reached this far into the Zeit, but it was fast approaching. As they hurried along, Yume tugged at Yoshiki’s arm.
“What about Mom and Dad?” Hearing the panic in her voice, he steadied his own before answering her.
“Don’t worry. I’m going to go back for them as soon as I get you out of here.”
“But-” Yume couldn’t decide which image was worse- the thought of her parents under the guns of the gang members, or the one of her brother plunging into their ranks, pitifully armed as he was, in an attempt to save them.
“I’m invincible, remember? I’ll get them out, Yume.”
She gave in to her horror and didn’t say anything more.
“How did all of you get here?” Uneme asked Hironah as they plunged into a wooded area.
“Kaiya and I came up by motorcycle. Seiken rode with Kaiya. Yoshiki took his bike, too… And Yume came by car.”
“Her own?”
“No, with her parents.”
Uneme took in this information, thinking.
“I take it you all left weapons back at your bikes?”
“Yeah.”
He went back to pondering, obviously attempting to devise a plan.
Finally he spoke again.
“Most of, if not all of, the strike will be concentrated within the fairgrounds. There’s a good chance we’ll be able to make it to the lot where you guys are parked. After that, we’ll head to the suburbs. There’s a safehouse out there, but I’m not sure whether you’ll be welcome.”
“We can take care of ourselves.”
“I’ve no doubt of that.”
The eight pushed on until they reached the hidden lot where the Musubiki had parked evacuation vehicles. Before they came out of the woods, Uneme stopped them.
“This is the plan. Mirai’s my priority, and I can’t risk her safety. However,” he looked at Hironah as he said this, “I’d like to see all of us make it out of here in one piece.
“I’m going to stay here with Mirai. Yume and Seiken will remain behind with me. Quen will go with Yoshiki, Hironah and Kaiya to the lot. When they return, we’ll leave together.” He looked at Quen. “If you don’t return in twenty minutes, or if there’s any trouble here, I’ll take the others and leave.”
Quen nodded.
Yoshiki opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by Quen, who turned on him abruptly.
“Don’t go doing anything stupid,” he said coldly. “Your mother fought battles of her own when she was your age, and mine is with her. Mother’s still a very good shot. She also tells me that Takae’s adept at the Gift.”
“Not now, he’s not,” Yoshiki said sullenly. “He doesn’t even know where he is.”
“Be that as it may, your family is in good hands. And you have your sister to think about. If you run off, who’ll get her out of here?”
Yoshiki said nothing, his ice-blue eyes fixed on Quen.
“Let’s go,” Kaiya said suddenly. “Standing around’s not helping anybody.”
As the others strode away, Yume watched them go helplessly. She’d wanted to tell Yoshiki not to worry about her, that she’d find some way to take care of herself… but she knew he’d never listen to her. For one frantic moment, she considered going back for her parents herself. Then she realized the folly of this idea. What could she do anyway? Seeking comfort in her misery, she moved closer to Seiken. Wordlessly, he put his arm around her, and she buried her face in his shoulder.

 

 

 

  

 

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