“Someone’s coming,” Uneme announced quietly.

     Yume looked up as two motorcycles tore into the dusty lot. Before Kaiya’s even rolled to a stop, Quen leapt from it. He hit the ground running and whizzed by them, shouting,

     “Go! They’re behind us!”

     He leapt onto the back of Hironah’s bike and they sped off the way they came. Uneme took Mirai’s hand and ran with her to a motorcycle he had parked in the lot.

     “Go with Kaiya,” Yume said fiercely to Seiken. “I’m waiting for Yoshiki.”

     “Yume, if he-”

     Her blue-green eyes blazing, she repeated,

     “Go with Kaiya.”

     Sighing, Seiken trotted off to climb onto the back of Kaiya’s bike. Uneme and Mirai raced off in the direction opposite the way Kaiya and Hironah had come, followed closely by the Night’s Herald and Seiken. As they passed her, Kaiya smiled and signaled Yume to wait. Seconds later, Yoshiki tore into the lot.

     “Hurry up, Yume!” he shouted.

     With an intense feeling of relief, she leapt deftly up to sit behind Yoshiki.

     “Hironah?” she shouted over the noise of the engine.

     “Behind us! Listen, Sis, you might have to shoot some people. Think you can handle that?”

     “I-”

     “Good!” Without looking, he fumbled one of his handguns out of its holster. He passed it back to her. “If you see anyone who isn’t us, shoot them, okay?”

     “I’ll try…”

     “You’re a good sport.”

     He grinned widely as they ripped through the narrow path through the woods. This was kind of fun.

     Uneme raced through the exit route as quickly as he possibly could. His motorcycle, with a sidecar, was far less maneuverable than the others’. Still, it was safer for Mirai, who would’ve made an excellent target riding behind him. Gripping a pistol in one hand, he peered over his shoulder. The only ones he saw were Kaiya and Seiken. However, he doubted Hironah, Quen and Yoshiki had managed to pick off their pursuers.

     Shit’s gonna hit the fan when we get to the highway.

     In the sidecar, Mirai was laughing.

     “My teeth feel funny!”

     “Great. Crouch down more, will you?”

 

     The highway was choked with traffic, people attempting to escape the chaos at the Zeit. As the motorcycles wove through the gridlock, Yume searched in vain for her parents’ car. Yoshiki glanced occasionally over his shoulder. They’d been unable to shake those that chased them. Shots rang out.

     “We got ID’d!” Yoshiki had shouted in an attempt to fill his sister in on what was happening, why they were being chased.

     Yume didn’t care. All she knew was that this was the most terrifying experience she’d ever had. Clutching the sweat-slick pistol in her hand, she prayed over and over that she wouldn’t be forced to fire it.

     Behind Hironah, Quen fired at one of the men that chased them. He missed narrowly, his bullet puncturing the tire of a car.

     We’re going to end up killing innocent people, Hironah thought desperately. Please Uneme, get us off the highway.

     Kaiya turned back to Seiken and smiled.

     “Well, this is an interesting turn of events, isn’t it?” he called. Seeing that the Decameron was frightened, he added, “Don’t worry. Yoshiki and I have gotten ourselves out of tighter fixes. This is nothing.”

     When Seiken didn’t answer, Kaiya asked,

     “Can you use a gun?”

     “No.”

     “Damn. I was hoping you’d do the shooting. I hate the damn things. Wanna drive?”

     “I don’t know how.”

     “I guess that’s one more thing I’ll have to teach you when we get home.” Kaiya laughed. “Listen, take this anyway.” He passed the handgun back to Seiken. “I don’t want to end up hitting you by mistake. Do your best.”

     “I- I will.”

     “Okay.”

     “Kaiya…”

     “What?”

     “Nothing.”

     Mirai was laughing again.

     “It’s like fireworks!” She exclaimed, watching sparks erupt as the sidecar dragged against the side of a van.

     We’ve got to get off the highway, Uneme thought, gears grinding in his mind. There was an exit ahead, not the one he wanted, but good enough. He knew his way through the back streets surrounding Mianuus as though he’d lived in each of the neighborhoods for years. He signaled to the others to follow and dodged between the cars as best he could, striking more sparks from the bumper of a sedan.

     All of the motorcycles swerved off the highway, with their enemies in hot pursuit. Even on the off-ramp, shots were still being fired. The Prime Sun had begun its descent, followed by the Black… an echo of the chase below. Hironah sped ahead, her hands forming a coded signal to Yoshiki as she did so. He would be their rear guard. She and Quen would ride in front, just behind Uneme and Mirai, covering them from whatever may lay ahead.

     Of course, regardless of the detour, those that pursued them followed.

     “Shoot, Yume!” Yoshiki shouted. He had a pistol drawn as well.

     She fired a shot, and the bike behind them swerved. They followed behind the rest, behind Uneme, through the crowded side streets and onto a suburban highway, which was relatively deserted. The Prime Sun tinged the landscape with red.

     They haven’t given up, Uneme realized. This is where the real battle will happen.

     And so it did.

     The six motorcycles that followed them fanned out, some taking over lanes meant for oncoming traffic. Uneme reached back, firing over his shoulder, but missed his mark. Not by much, though.

     They’ll fall easily now, he told himself.

     One of the men that pursued them raced ahead to come up beside Hironah and Quen. Anticipating his action, Hironah threw herself against the handlebars, and the shot he fired sailed between her and Quen. Meena’s son fired one lethal shot into the forehead of the man, and his motorcycle went careening into the guardrail.

     Yume fired wildly at the two motorcycles that followed them. Nothing she did seemed to make any difference. I should’ve learned to use a gun at least, she thought bitterly. Suddenly, a searing pain ripped through her.

     Yoshiki’s bike swerved as he sought to catch Yume, who was falling. He caught hold of her and somehow managed to right his motorcycle.

     “Hang on!” he screamed at her.

     “Just point it and pull the trigger, Seiken,” Kaiya instructed. “If anyone we know is in your line of vision, just wait until they’re not.”

     The Decameron swallowed hard. He saw someone coming up beside them… a man with a sawed-off shotgun, raised at Kaiya’s head. In terror, Seiken fired at him.

     “Great!” Kaiya called, as the man and his bike were careening off in the distance. “Keep doing that!”

     It was growing dark.

     Uneme’s shot took out the one nearest him. Only three were left, but they seemed to be the most skilled. This wouldn’t be as easy as he thought. Beside him, Mirai called out,

     “Are you shooting people?”

     “Yes,” he replied through clenched teeth.

     “How come?”

     “Because they’re trying to kill us!”

     “Oh,” Mirai answered, picking at her fingernails. “You get them good, then.”

     Uneme’s gritted teeth made his jaw ache.

     “Hold on, Yume!” Yoshiki yelled back at her.

     She grasped at him weakly.

     “Shit! Yume, are you-”

     “It’s not that bad. Just keep going.”

     Hironah lashed out at the man who rode beside her. He swerved and she missed. In an instant a shot fired from Quen’s gun rang out. The man swerved again to avoid the bullet, putting himself once more in Hironah’s reach. He was busy trying to keep steady on his bike and never saw the blade that seared off the top of his head, just above eye-level. In one last reflexive motion, he fired a shot. It grazed Hironah’s arm, causing her to cry out in fury. Momentarily, her motorcycle veered, visible only as a red taillight to those behind her. Without warning, she swung the bike around, nearly causing Quen to fall off.

     “Hironah, what are you-”

     “I hate these bastards!” She screamed. “They’re gonna die!”

     Quen held on for dear life as Hironah sped back to face what remained of their enemy.

     “Shit,” Kaiya said softly as a blossom of red appeared through his robes.

     “Kaiya!”

     “Just return fire, Seiken.”

     The motorcycle swerved. Kaiya swore again.

     “But-”

     “Look, Seiken. I got a job. You got a job. You do yours, alright?”

     Looking behind him, Seiken caught sight of the man who’d fired on them. He was trying his best to aim when Hironah swung into his line of vision, facing in the opposite direction. What do I do now? Fighting panic, Seiken took a shot at the motorcycle behind them. Though he missed, the bike swerved. He saw a flash and heard the shot fired from Quen’s gun. The man on the motorcycle disappeared into the darkness.

     As he passed by another smoldering bike, Yoshiki thought, The one behind me is the last of them. A bullet whizzed by the side of his head. That was a bit close. He felt Yume’s weight pressing against his back. She was leaning a bit too heavily on him, but he tried to put any concerns for her out of his mind. Can’t do anything until I get rid of the jerk behind me.

     In one swift motion, he spun around, grasping the front of Yume’s sundress to keep her from falling. With his free hand he fired at the man behind him. The enemy’s motorcycle wavered and he snarled as the bullet lodged in his shoulder, but he kept coming. Damn! Yoshiki returned to facing forward and felt Yume flop against him. He couldn’t hear her groan over the engine, but he felt her voice on his back. I’m gonna have to turn around, he thought, knowing the man would’ve recovered his balance by now.

     “Yume, do not fall off!” He yelled, preparing to pull a U-turn. It was then that he noticed the headlight coming at him. Hironah whizzed by, screaming a battle-cry at the top of her lungs. “Well, hooray for berserker half-Angemal,” Yoshiki said to himself.

     “Duck!” Hironah yelled back to Quen. Leaning forward, she speared her enemy on Dawn’s blade and furiously flung his body over her head. He sailed over Quen and landed with a squishy thud on the pavement. Hironah swung her motorcycle around once more and called, “Brace yourself!” to Quen. She proceeded to run the fallen man over with her bike, just for good measure. Peering around, she said, very calmly,

     “Well, I guess that’s that, then.”

 

     Yoshiki was the first to come to a stop beside the fallow field. As soon as the last of their pursuers had fallen, he’d shot ahead of the rest of them, signaling for them to follow. He took the first exit he could find. He leapt from the bike and then steadied it and helped Yume down. She made an effort to stand, but her knees shook and buckled beneath her. Yoshiki propped his motorcycle on its kickstand and crouched down beside her.

     “Okay, let’s see it. Where’d they get you?”

     She moved her hand away from her side, revealing the gash where the bullet had grazed her.

     “Oh, you’ll be fine,” Yoshiki said casually, secretly offering up a prayer of relief and gratitude to any and all of the gods he could think of. “Seiken will be here in a minute. He’ll patch you up.”

     Yume only nodded miserably. Yoshiki looked over his shoulder to see the headlights of the other bikes coming up the deserted street. Everyone present and accounted for, he thought. Just in case… a little distraction may be in order.

     “You just had your first battle, Yume! I’m so proud of you!”

     “I was useless,” she replied despondently.

     “No way. You held yourself together really well for your first time.”

     “I was so scared. I’m still scared.”

     “Everybody gets scared, Sis- people shootin’ at you and all.”

     “You and Kaiya don’t get scared.”

     “We’ve been doing this for a long time. And it still gets scary for us once in a while, too.”

     “Why do you do it, Yoshiki?” she looked up at him pleadingly.

     “Somebody’s gotta do it.”

     “Why you guys?”

     “I guess it’s like what Quen said. Because we can.”

     “I’m afraid, Yoshiki. Don’t you ever worry that one of you will- will get… killed?”

     Yoshiki looked down at his sister. He hid so much from her, so often without thinking. She had no idea how many funerals Kaiya had performed for Sirrah, how many times Yoshiki had looked down upon bleeding friends sighing out their last goodbyes. Whenever she asked after any of his fallen comrades, he’d tell her they’d quit.

     “Naw, not really. Way I see it, me and Kaiya are gonna live forever.”

 

     Kaiya killed the engine.

     “Get off, Seiken,” he said wearily to the Decameron. Without at word he obeyed, and watched in silence as Kaiya parked the bike.

     “Let’s take a look at you,” he said when the Night’s Herald was finished.

     Kaiya looked at him dully, with eyes that seemed to be unfocused. It could’ve just been their odd colors, or the darkness. Seiken reached out to help him remove his robe, which was now stained heavily with blood.

     “Okay… it’s a little dark. Let’s turn the light back on.”

     Kaiya reached over and fumbled with the switch.

     “Alright, come over here… Well, Kaiya, when you get shot, you don’t mess around, do you?”

     How in the name of the gods are you still standing?

     “I’ll be fine,” Kaiya said thickly. “You should go check on everyone else.”

     “Sorry, pal. You’ve got the lucky number. You get to go first.”

     And what the hell am I supposed to do for you here, stuck in the middle of nowhere?

     “C’mere. Lie down. Here.” Seiken took off his shirt and balled it up. He placed it under Kaiya’s head. He heard footsteps behind him.

     “Kaiya!” Hironah cried.

     “Hey, Hironah,” the Night’s Herald replied. “You doin’ okay?”

     She stared wordlessly at the bloody hole in his chest, just below the collarbone on the right-hand side.

     “Don’t worry about that,” he smiled. “Seiken will take care of it.”

     She looked frantically at Seiken, but the Decameron’s face was a cool mask of professionalism.

     “I could use more light, Hironah,” he said. “Could you get everyone else to bring their bikes over, too? Thanks.”

     “What are you going to-”

     “Please, Hironah.”

     Something in his tone of voice told her that she’d be better off doing what he asked. With a last glance at Kaiya, she went to tell the others what had happened. She dragged her own motorcycle over, trailed by Uneme. Finally, she went to retrieve Yoshiki’s, after having a brief conversation with him out of Yume’s earshot. The motorcycles were set up in a semicircle around Seiken and Kaiya. After a moment of pointless staring, Hironah realized that she truly did not want to witness what was going on in front of her. She walked away, leaving Mirai standing alone, watching Seiken emptily.

     “We can’t stay here,” Quen said flatly to Uneme.

     “I know, but we haven’t got much choice in the matter.”

     “Of course we do. Take Mirai and go to the safehouse.”

     “I will. Shortly.”

     “Shortly? What are you waiting for? You have a duty to perform,” Quen eyed the Angemal. “There won’t be anything for you to do here. The Night’s Herald will die and we’ll leave.”

     “He will not!” Hironah yelled furiously. She’d been standing silently beside Uneme. The Angemal turned to look at her upon her outburst.

     “Hironah-” he began.

     “You obviously didn’t get a good look at him,” Quen cut in. “He’s dying.”

     Hironah, overcome by rage, punched Quen squarely in the jaw. She was shocked by his strength- she felt her own knuckles crack and he didn’t so much as flinch. In a flash, he grasped her wrist. He looked at her coldly and flung her hand away. Uneme caught her as she stumbled and held her protectively.

     “Quen,” he said. “Kaiya is Hironah’s closest friend. It’s wrong for you to speak so callously about him.”

     Instead of arguing, Quen said only,

     “I apologize.”

     Hironah, shaking in Uneme’s arms, said,

     “Seiken had better not let Kaiya die. If he does I swear… I’ll kill that skittish little bastard with my own hands!”

 

     “Who got hurt, Yoshiki?” Yume finally asked, unable to stand her own inner tension.

     “Nobody.”

     “Don’t lie. I know somebody did. Who was it? I’m gonna find out eventually anyway.”

     “It was Kaiya,” he answered, not looking at her.

     “Bad?” her voice came out as a squeak.

     “Not so good, but it’s Kaiya, so-” Yoshiki shrugged.

     “Yoshiki-”

     “He’ll be fine, Yume. This is Kaiya we’re talking about. He’s been having the crap kicked out of him since you were in diapers. Besides, he’d be too embarrassed to let some no-count thug be the end of him. He’ll stay alive out of sheer pride if nothing else.”

     “That’s not possible, Yoshiki,” Yume said softly.

     “Sure it is. Happened once already, remember? That time he dropped by Sirrah and the newbie was cleaning the gun and shot him by accident. He said that time it was just too much of an embarrassment to die like that. He wasn’t having any of it. Went to the hospital and wouldn’t even let me visit for a while.”

     “I never heard about that.”

     “Shit, that’s right! We promised each other not to tell anyone about it on account of Hironah… she would’ve been furious.” He gazed up at the stars. “I think we told her we went fishing or something.”

     “So that’s what happened! Hironah and I always knew the fishing trip was bogus. Who the hell goes fishing in the middle of winter?”

     “People who like ice fishing.”

     “Everybody knows Kaiya hates cold weather. That wasn’t one of your better lies.” Yume fell silent, staring down into her lap. After a while, she asked, “Do you really think he’ll be okay?”

     “He’ll be all right, Yume. Seiken will take care of him. I mean, the guy practically resurrected me. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not half as tough as Kaiya.”

 

     “Uneme, if you don’t take Mirai and leave now, you can consider yourself unemployed.”

     “Relax, Quen. Those guys back there had no opportunity whatsoever to call in our location. We’ll be fine here for a little while longer. You could take Mirai over to the safehouse and have some of the guys come back for the rest of us… though she does seem to be having a lot of fun playing nurse.”

     Uneme glanced over to where Mirai sat beside Seiken, handing him the instruments he pointed to, cleaning and replacing them when he handed them back.

     “The rest of you? We can’t have outsiders in the safehouse, Uneme, you know that.”

     “How are they outsiders? Aren’t they fighting for the same cause? And besides, these people ought to mean something to you. They’re the children of your mother’s friends.”

     “They are the children of other Champions. My mother may have been a Champion as well, but they are not her friends.”

     “You think she’d be happy knowing you left them to die?” Uneme looked hard at Quen.

     “She will understand that I did what I must. You’re letting your feelings mar your sense of duty.”

     “These are people, Quen. I thought the Musubiki stood for ‘All that is good and right’. How could you be so cruel?”

     “I’m just stating fact.” Quen turned away. “I’m taking Mirai to the safehouse. Don’t bother coming. You’re relieved of your duties.”

     Quen walked up to Mirai and stood over her.

     “We’re going,” he informed her.

     “I can’t go now,” she replied. “I’m busy helping Seiken.”

     “Now, Mirai.”

     “I don’t want to. I’m helping. And I like Seiken better than you, anyway.”

     “I know that you do, Mirai, but that’s not important.”

     She ignored him, instead reaching to hand Seiken a scalpel.

     “Mirai-”

     “Go away, Quen. I’m busy. You never let me do anything. Seiken’s letting me help. He doesn’t think I’m stupid.”

     “Mirai, everyone thinks you’re stupid. Because you are.”

     She went back to ignoring Quen.

     “Listen, Mirai, it’s dangerous for you to be here. We need to go someplace safe.”

     “Is not. Uneme will protect me. He’s like a hero. Now, go away. You’re distracting.”

     Quen gave up and walked away. Apparently no one was going to look at this situation logically.

     “Looks like you guys win,” he said to Uneme, who was smiling at him smugly. “I’m going to find a payphone.”

 

 

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