“I never got a chance to say thank you… for what you did for Yoshiki.”

     “Don’t worry about it, Yume.” Seiken smiled softly at her. “There, you’re all set. You should try and get some sleep.”

     “Thanks…” she said, looking down at her stitches. With a sigh, she added, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep.”

     “I could give you something.”

     “It’s alright. Just… I’m scared. And sad.”

     “I know,” he replied quietly. Yume looked up at him and saw worry and sorrow that mirrored her own etched on his face.

     “Kaiya’s your friend, too.” She reached out and took Seiken’s hand. “What you had to do must’ve been hard for you.”

     “He’ll get better, Yume. Don’t worry.”

     “Really? You’re not just lying to me to make me feel better, are you? Yoshiki does that all the time.”

     “I promise I’m not lying. Barring any unexpected complications, he’ll be okay.”

     “Yoshiki always acts like Kaiya hurting himself is normal, and like nothing bad will happen.” Yume let go of Seiken’s hand. “But he’s only human. He’s not one of those gods he hangs out with.”

     “I know that, Yume. He’ll get better this time, though. You can go talk to him tomorrow.” Seiken pulled down the sheets on the bed and made her lie down.

     “Can you ask Yoshiki or Hironah to come in? I want to talk to them before I go to bed.”

     “I will, Yume… but I’d rather that you tried to get some sleep.”

     “I will after that. Goodnight, Seiken, and thanks for… all your help.”

      “You’re welcome, Yume. Goodnight.”

 

     “Go to bed, Hironah.”

     “No. You sat up with Blue all those nights. You did with Yoshiki, too. You’re always the one that stays up with them. I’ll watch Kaiya. You go to bed.”

     She didn’t remove her gaze from the Night’s Herald as she spoke. He was unconscious, laid out on a bed in the suburban house they’d been taken to. She wished that he would wake up and tell her one more time not to worry, that everything would be fine.

     “Hironah… You’ll only drive yourself crazy, staring at him like that… but if you really want to stay up a while longer you can stay with me.” Seiken’s voice was soft.

     “I can’t sleep. I couldn’t live with myself if I went to sleep and woke up and he… wasn’t there.” Tears filled her eyes and she glared at the prone figure of her best friend. “Damn it, Kaiya. Why do you do this stuff? Why are you always trying so hard to be the strongest and the bravest? You couldn’t just pull the hell over?”

     “He’ll make it, Hironah. It’ll be okay.”

     She turned to look at the Decameron.

     “You got a family, Seiken?”

     He nodded.

     “Are they as crazy as mine?”
“Not that I can remember… I haven’t seen any of them in a long time.”

     After some thought, Hironah said,

     “Kaiya told me you’ve been a Wanderer for more than twelve years.”

     “Yeah, I have.”

     “You were never able to find another Outpost?”

     “They’re shutting down, not starting up. Even the one outside Rien is in danger. It’s safer for us not to be in a large group.”

     “I really don’t understand why your Clan doesn’t just align itself with someone and be done with it.”

     “How could we? What then? If someone came to our door in need of help, would we have to send him away because he was on the wrong side?”

     “So, the Decameron will treat anyone, regardless of personal beliefs? That seems silly.”

     “It’s not silly. It’s… well, moral, I guess.”

     “It seems stupid to me to heal your enemy just so he can go back to attacking you.”

     “By that logic, I shouldn’t have helped Yoshiki… or Kaiya, for that matter.”

     Hironah glared at Seiken furiously.

     “It’s true. It wasn’t the Ghost Clan that burned my Outpost to the ground, Hironah.”

     After a moment of silent contemplation, Hironah asked,

     “Does Kaiya know that?”

     “No. I never told him.”

     “Why not?”
“It would only cause him pain to tell him something like that. It wasn’t his fault.”

     “You really care about him, don’t you?” Hironah peered at Seiken, suddenly curious about the depth of the friendship that had been developing between him and the Night’s Herald.

     “Kaiya’s shown me more kindness than anyone I’ve ever met.”

     “Yep, sounds like Kaiya, alright… loving and compassionate,” Hironah said with abrupt bitterness. “I just wish he didn’t hate himself so much.”

     “You think he hates himself?”

     “You don’t know Kaiya the way I do, Seiken. You think he does shit like this for the hell of it? He’s been beating the piss out of himself since we were kids. I’ll bet you all the money in the world he told you to look after the rest of us instead of taking care of him, too.”

     Seiken didn’t answer her, and Hironah peered at his downcast face.

     “He did.”

     “Yeah, he did.”

     “That’s our Kaiya… suicide commando.”

     “Yoshiki says-”

     “I know what Yoshiki says. He thinks Kaiya’s so great and so tough and wants to be just like him. He thinks Kaiya does it all out of remarkable inner strength and unfailing loyalty.” Hironah laughed bitterly. “He just does it out of stupidity. And he knows he’ll get himself killed one of these days.”

     “We both know that none of those are the reason, Hironah.” The Decameron refused to look at her.

     It was silent for a long time. Hironah, through tears of fury and sadness finally said,

     “I guess you two did get to know each other pretty well.”

 

     Hironah was hunched over a mug of coffee, glaring at the morning sun with malice. She’d barely slept, and even then nightmares kept jarring her awake. Uneme came to sit beside her.

     “How’s Kaiya?” he asked.

     “Alive,” Hironah replied sullenly. Uneme gathered from her tone that Kaiya was not a subject she wished to discuss. Sighing, he stretched.

     “Need a hired gun?”

     “Why? Did you get fired?”

     “After last night?” He smirked. “I have little doubt of it.”

     “But… that wasn’t your fault.”

     “I should’ve gone on with Mirai when the rest of you stopped. I know that. I endangered her.”

     “Why didn’t you just go on?” Hironah asked, her curiosity piqued.

     “I just… didn’t want to leave the rest of you behind.”

     “Why not?”

     “I like you guys.”

     “You don’t even know us.”

     “I like what I’ve seen of you then.” Uneme smiled. “What’s not to like?”

     “Oh, there’s plenty.”

     “Same could be said of all of us.”

     Hironah didn’t reply.

     “You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever met,” Uneme said sincerely. “And braver than a lot of men for that matter. I like all you guys. You fought valiantly last night… but you’re not like a lot of other people, I guess. I want to know more about… all of you.”

     Hironah looked at Uneme with a smile.

     “Sorry, but I can’t afford to pay you anything. I’ve only got Seiken cause he lets me pay him peanuts.”

     “Seiken’s amazing. Where’d you find him?”

     “Takae hired him to… Taka hired him.”

     Uneme put his hand over Hironah’s and looked into her eyes, his own yellow irises deep with sincerity.

     “You’ve had a lot of trouble lately. I learned a lot about Kamitouki after I met you at the beach. I’m sure your heart is heavy… and Kaiya getting shot doesn’t help. I want to tell you that you’ll get through it, that you’re strong and can face anything… but somehow those words seem hollow, like they wouldn’t help. And I know better. Once you’ve lost something or someone you loved, it’s gone, and knowing you can never get that person or thing back will shadow you throughout your life. All I can say to you is that everything changes. Once we’re happy, we try as hard as we can to force everything to stay the same, but it can’t. We are all ephemeral.”

     Hironah pulled away from him, glaring.

     “What did you just say?”

     “I said we’re all ephemeral.”

     “Who told you that?” She still glared at him, apprehensively.

     “A close friend of mine. A Night’s Herald. He… passed… a year or so back. Shot in the heart by a member of Kries, part of the Ghost Clan.” Uneme’s eyes moved away from Hironah’s and she could see the shadow of memory in their pitted depths. He seemed to be gazing very far away. She moved closer to him.

     “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s alright, Hironah. I just… I miss him a lot sometimes. I miss everybody. I like being on my own, not having to worry about anyone, but… it does get lonely sometimes.”

     “Uneme…”

     “Yeah?”

     “If you want, you could probably stay at Kamitouki for a while… until you found a new job. Or you could join Sirrah. I’m sure Yoshiki would be happy to have you.”

     “I’d be happy to have who, now?” Yoshiki asked with a yawn as he walked into the room.

     “Uneme. For Sirrah.”

     “Hell yeah, I would. Wanna join?” Yoshiki turned on Uneme with a grin.

     “I’m still mapping out my options,” the Angemal hedged.

     “Well… Sirrah takes pretty good care of you. We’ll feed you, house you, and burn you up reaalll good when you die… provided we can recover the remains, of course.”

     “Compelling,” Uneme laughed.

     “The goons bring in the newspapers like I asked?” Yoshiki queried.

     “Don’t call them goons. They’re Uneme’s coworkers,” Hironah chided.

     “It’s okay. They are goons.” Uneme was still laughing. “And yes, they did. The papers are on the table in the kitchen.”

     “Thanks a bunch.”

     Yoshiki walked out.

     “See? That’s why I like you guys. You make me laugh. You’re not all stuck up and stuffy like Qu- other people.”

     Hironah giggled.

     “You were gonna say Quen.”

     “Yes?” the man himself asked from the doorway.

     “Morning, Quen,” Hironah called in a manner that suggested nothing but innocence. “You sore from last night?”

     “I feel fine.”

     “Well, that’s some good news at least, amidst the bad. Uneme’s telling me he’s lost his job.”

     Quen walked across the room and seated himself in an armchair across from the sofa where Uneme and Hironah sat side by side. He crossed his legs and lounged.

     “Do tell,” he said.

     “Because of last night. Not taking Mirai ahead as he should’ve.”

     “And would you, Hironah, keep in employ a person who you’d entrusted with the safety of… say, Yume- who did the same thing?”

     “Probably not,” she admitted.

     “Then it’s only appropriate, wouldn’t you say?”

     “But it would depend on the situation.”

     “And was there any reason in the situation last night that would’ve made it difficult or impossible for Uneme to do his duty?”

     Sensing that she was losing the argument, Hironah fell silent, then decided to change course entirely.

     “You know, Quen, it’s been nothing but trouble for me since you set foot on the grounds of Kamitouki.”

     “You had trouble before that.”

     “Not the kind of trouble I’m talking about…” Hironah looked darkly at Quen. “That kind of trouble seems to follow you.”

     “Sorry?”

     “Don’t play stupid! Your own mother begs me to go to Mianuus for no reason, and Remnant strikes? How about yesterday? What the hell was that?”

     “I’m sure Mother would be grieved to know of your contempt for the small favor she asked of you, just as she was grieved to hear that Kamitouki was struck in your absence. As for last night… as with all the rest of the violence in your life, you brought that on yourself.”

     “What!?” Hironah spat.

     “I helped you out of that situation at great personal peril, far greater, Hironah, than you will ever comprehend. Not only was there danger to myself, but also to Mirai- my mother’s work. I could’ve left you. I should’ve left you. And, in your silly emotional state, you forget the fact that those men recognized Yoshiki and decided to follow. No doubt they realized who you were as well. And Kaiya. He doesn’t exactly try to make himself incongruous, does he? You brought that violence on yourselves. And one of your number will pay the price.”

     “If you mean Kaiya, Seiken says he’ll be fine,” Hironah said triumphantly.

     Quen observed her quietly for a moment, then said,

     “A lot of Mother’s deadlier weapons are still available on the black market. Don’t think I can’t recognize them.”

     Hironah was gripped by a sudden panic, forgetting her argument.

     “Which of the men had her gun, Quen?” she asked desperately.

     “I can’t say for sure. And there were more than one of them.”

     “Quen…”

     “I just know that I saw them.”

     “The guy that shot Kaiya?”

     “Dunno.” He looked at her with his customary lack of emotion. “All of you but Yoshiki were wounded. One of you will be dead by nightfall.”

 

     “Damn. Look at this shit.”

     Yoshiki handed the newspaper to Uneme, who gazed down at the article. He’d been reading about the riot at the Zeit. The article Uneme looked at described how the gang members had ridden through the traffic, killing off selected targets as they sat trapped in the gridlock.

     Yoshiki put his head in his hands.

     “If my parents were in there, they’re dead now.”

     “It doesn’t mention them,” Uneme said hopefully, speeding through the article. “It would.”

     “What do you think I’m looking for?” Yoshiki sighed. “There’s nothing.”

     “Then they probably got away.”

     “I wish I knew for sure…” Yoshiki glared down at the tabletop. “At least I know Yume’s gonna be okay.”

     Uneme was silent, still reading.

     “You’re a mercenary, right? Have you ever done work for the Ghost Clan?” Yoshiki asked suddenly.

     “No. I considered doing a job for them a couple years back, but decided against it.”

     “How come?”

     “I don’t know, really. Kind of just a gut feeling.”

     “But you’re neutral in this whole… thing?” Yoshiki was staring at Uneme with a calculating look.

     “I suppose. For me it’s always been more about looking out for myself. I’ve got reasons of my own to dislike both sides of the conflict.”

     “But, after something like this,” Yoshiki gestured toward the newspapers spread all over the table. “They were killing innocent people! That’s what the Ghost Clan does. They use their own values as an excuse for sending armed men out to slaughter the people they disagree with, even normal families with little kids and all.”

     “I didn’t say I liked the things the Ghost Clan does. In fact, I find some of their tactics disturbing.”

     Yoshiki fell silent, obviously deep in thought. Uneme went back to perusing the newspaper. After several minutes of silence, Yoshiki nodded to himself. Abruptly, he spoke again.

     “Listen, Uneme, don’t tell this to Hironah, okay?”

     “What?”

     “I’m taking Sirrah to wipe out the Ghost Clan at its roots. We know where they are. I’ve been sitting on it… It’s not going to be easy. But after yesterday…” He shook his head.

     “You know where they’re operating out of?” Uneme asked, incredulous.

     “Yeah, I do. I wasn’t going to act on it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve changed my mind. This is never gonna stop, Uneme. It’ll never stop until the Ghost Clan and the ones behind it are taken out.”

     “You think Sirrah can do it?” Uneme looked skeptically at Yoshiki.

     “Somebody’s gonna have to be the one to do it. Since nobody else seems to want to do the honors, might as well be us.”

     “It’ll probably end up as little more than a suicide mission.”

     Yoshiki snorted.

     “Don’t matter. We won’t know until we try… and I want you to come with us.”

     “Me?”

     “Yeah. We’re gonna need all the experience we can get our hands on.”

     “But you don’t want Hironah to know about it?”

     “I didn’t say I didn’t want her to know about it. I said I didn’t want you to tell her. I need to do that myself.”

     Uneme was quiet for a while before he finally said,

     “I’ll consider it.”

     “You can think of it as another job. I’ll find some way to pay you if I have to, though I doubt it’ll end up that way.”

     “Why’s that?”

     “I just have a funny feeling you’ll be having a change of heart.” Yoshiki said the words lightly, but his gaze was intense.

     “Oh?”

     “Hironah’s my cousin, Uneme. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.” And I may like you and all, but Kaiya would have to be dead before I’d pick you over him.

 

     “Is Hironah still mad at me?” Kaiya asked.

     “She’s pretty pissed,” Yume admitted, avoiding his gaze. “You know how she gets when you do stuff like last night.”

     Kaiya sighed.

     “I don’t know what she thinks I could’ve done otherwise.”

     “Pull over?”

     “I couldn’t have done that, Yume,” he said patiently. “I had Seiken riding with me, and I had no idea what happened to the rest of you. I had to make sure that we all got to the same spot together, in case one of you needed him even more than I did. And if I’d stopped, we’d have been sitting ducks. Seiken could’ve gotten killed. One of the rest of you could’ve gotten killed trying to help us. I know I pushed myself, but I also know what I’m capable of and what my limits are. And look, it all worked out. I’m fine.” He smiled at her. His teeth were still stained where the blood had run through them. Yume laughed at him.

     “You can’t even sit up!”

     “Naw, but I will. Probably tomorrow.”

     Yume shook her head. He could barely move.

     “You okay?” Kaiya asked with genuine concern. “Yoshiki told me you got hit.”

     “I’m okay,” Yume replied with a slight waver in her voice. “I had to get stitches. It’s hurts a lot.” She felt mildly ashamed of herself, admitting that to Kaiya. He’d been awake last night, lying on the pavement as Seiken started carving him up. She hadn’t seen it herself, but she’d overheard Hironah telling Yoshiki while she was supposed to be sleeping. He’d never cried out.

     “I’ll bet it does,” Kaiya said warmly. “But you’re sure you’re okay? You look kinda pale.”

     “Yeah. I couldn’t sleep last night. That’s probably why.”

     “You were very brave,” he said, gazing up at her with his mismatched eyes full of sincerity. “Not many people would’ve been able to keep their heads as well as you did. Yoshiki, Hironah and I are all very proud of you.”

     “I wasn’t very helpful,” Yume said dejectedly.

     “Yume, by keeping your cool and not panicking, even after you were hurt, you probably spared a lot of people’s lives- Yoshiki’s especially, and mine.”

     “Yours?”

     “Sure. If you’d been freaking out, I’d have had to send Seiken to take care of you… and then finished bleeding to death.” He smiled softly at her, his gaze gentle. “Yume, I know you think that the three of us look down on you in a way, like we think you’re a wuss or something. It’s not like that. It’s just that we all have training and we’re fighting all the time. You don’t know the same stuff, and you have different interests. If any of us ever tried to take one of your economics classes, you’d definitely have the upper hand. Probably be ashamed to be related to us.” He laughed, a noise that rumbled in his congested lungs. If it hurt, he didn’t show it.

     “I’d believe you, Kaiya, but you guys never even let me try to be like you. You know, maybe I could’ve been a good fighter, too.”

     “I know you would’ve. We all know it. We didn’t need you to prove to us how strong you are, the way we had to prove it to each other. We already knew.” Kaiya’s eyes took on a cast of remembered pain. “You survived something that most likely would’ve killed any of the rest of us, and you recovered. I loved having Yoshiki around, but that was the saddest summer of my life.”

      “I don’t really remember it at all,” Yume admitted. With a shudder, she added, “I remember what happened after that, though, having to re-learn to do everything… Gods, it was the worst. It still hurts if I think about it hard enough.” Suddenly she smiled. “But you were there. You came out for that month and, well, I know it’s impossible, but it felt like finally someone knew what I was going through. Everybody wanted to help, but with you, it was different. I don’t know why, but you understood. I’ll always be grateful.”

     “You don’t need to be. You were such a great kid, Yume. Nobody could help but adore you. The thought that we might lose you was… it was awful. I was glad Blue let me take the month off from studying to go help you with rehab.”

     Yume’s head fell. Her hands fiddled with the seam of the borrowed t-shirt she was wearing. She was silent for a long time before she spoke again.

     “I’m really scared, Kaiya.”

     “I know.”

     “I want you to make me a promise,” she said, looking directly at the Night’s Herald. “If something happened to Mom and Dad and Yoshiki finds out but won’t tell me, I want you to promise me that you will.”

     “I’ll tell you.” Kaiya’s expression was honest. “I won’t try to keep anything from you.”

     “You swear?”

     “I swear.”

     Yume looked down at Kaiya. He’d been a part of her life since the day she’d been born. He’d always been there, solid, strong, and cool-headed. Even in those times when he was “pulling stunts” as Yoshiki called it, he always seemed to know exactly what he was doing, never lost control. He was pale now, and his eyelids had the appearance of being too heavy. She could hear the occasional rumble of his breath in his chest. He’ll be okay, she told herself, grasping at the words that everyone else kept repeating because she realized that the thought he might not be terrified her.

     “You’re tired,” she observed casually. “I’m gonna let you get some rest.”

     “Okay.”

     “Kaiya, really… you’ll be alright?”

     He smiled again.

     “Yeah. Don’t worry about that anymore. Worry about yourself. I want Seiken to take a look at you. You really look like shit.”

     “Thanks so much, Kaiya.”

     “Seriously, Yume. If he walks in here right after you leave, I’m gonna send him right back out after you.”

     “Alright, I get it.” As she rose to leave, she turned back to look at Kaiya. “I love you, you crazy boy.”

     “I love you, too, Yume.”

     She walked out of the room, a bit unsteady on her feet. Kaiya watched her go and contemplated getting up to follow her. It was be embarrassing to have to crawl, but he really wasn’t sure whether or not she was all right. After some thought, he decided to trust Seiken to take care of her. He’d just wait a bit and see what the Decameron had to say. He fought to stay awake, trying to focus on something in the room through vision growing dim. Damn it, he thought as he lost consciousness again.

     Yume wandered into the hallway and nearly ran straight into Seiken.

     “I don’t feel so good,” was all she said before falling headlong into his arms.

 

 

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