Title (which it has now!): Redemption
Summary: Ukyo is in considerable pain. Kirara ponders.
There were clouds on the horizon, turning the northern sky into an ominous gray smear. However, even if Ukyo had been blind his headache would have let him know of the impending rain. He was glad he had packed his raincoat, although he fervently hoped he didn’t need it. The cold wind pierced straight through his jacket, and he shivered. I should hurry up. This had better be the right way… He cast another glance at his GPS. It is. He tried to walk faster, something he only managed with difficulty due to the uneven terrain and the fact that he didn’t have a free hand to balance with; the hand not clutching the GPS was occupied in trying to keep his bags on his shoulder. The sword and gun at his hips thumped against his body as he walked, and he wondered briefly if they would leave bruises.
He walked for three hours before stopping to rest and eat some of the food he had packed. The granola bar was dry and a little stale, but still perfectly edible. He dropped the foil wrapper on the ground and continued on. Out of sheer boredom, he went through his bag, discovered a shakuhachi he had left in one of the pockets, and tried to play a few songs as he walked. After realizing that it was out of tune and that he sounded a bit like a dying cat, he put it away. He was heading east; after several more hours, the setting sun behind him made it hard to see the GPS screen. I should stop for the night and make camp. Where’s that book?
The area he was traversing was mostly dense forest, but as he walked he came to a small clearing. Dropping his bags with a sigh of relief, he dug out the book on wilderness survival. Alright, let’s see here. Campsite should be flat and dry…well, it’s flat, although I don’t know if it’ll stay dry once that rain hits. To build a fire…ah, it’s not that cold anymore, I don’t need one. Good thing I bought that sleeping bag. He unrolled the bag in question, shook out a few crumbs of indeterminate origin, and laid down on it. Not bad. His leg and back throbbed dully, so he took a few painkillers and unwrapped an umeboshi for dinner.
That’s better. He buried himself in the sleeping bag; as a precaution, he threw his raincoat over it. He had been on the road all day; finally, he yawned, rolled over, and went to sleep.
He was woken up by a crack of thunder and a throbbing pain in his head that shot all the way down to the base of his spine. Fat wet raindrops pelted down on the raincoat he had covered himself with; they sounded almost like fireworks, and each splash sent a pulse of pain through his head. The ground underneath the bag was rapidly getting soaked; he was no longer warm. He whimpered and shut his eyes against a flash of lightning. Cold! Benzaiten-sama, please have mercy on me. So much pain… He wasn’t sure how long he lay there, curled up in his sleeping bag, before regaining the ability to think clearly through the pain. Argh…should I move? No, I can’t; I’d just get colder and wetter. I should just stay here, try to go back to sleep.
He shut his eyes and tried to ignore the pain and the cold. He must have drifted off; he was woken up sometime later by a distant roar. The rain had stopped, so he sat up. The night sky was pitch black, but he heard something flying overhead—something big. His eyes were useless, so he shut them and listened.
He heard the sound of engines, those used by Nobuseri. Suddenly, he was no longer tired. No. No! Did I miss some? I must have missed some, or…maybe they’re from another prefecture and looking to fill the vacuum. Where are they heading? Oh, I hope not towards Kanna-mura…no, after what that village did no Nobuseri with half a brain would go there. It wouldn’t go well for them if they did, would it? He allowed himself a twisted smile. I should know.
Ukyo was still tired, but no longer quite as cold. The ground underneath his sleeping bag felt squishy and comfortable, so he settled back down and listened until the roar of Nobuseri had faded into the distance.
Judging by his watch, it was nearly ten when he finally woke up the following morning; he was running late. The long and boring task of drying and cleaning the mud-, grass-, and leaf-encrusted bottom of his sleeping bag took up even more of his time, so that it was three in the afternoon by the time he was able to get going again. To make up for lost time, he walked as fast as he could; this soon made him limp badly, but he gritted his teeth and ignored the pain. I need to get to Ishii-mura. From there to Kanna is only a day. Just one more day until I can see her again, until I can make things right.
The forest soon gave way to grassy plains, and he stopped dead.
He could see the village in the distance. The fence around it, which had been made from lashed-together tree trunks, bore gaping, smoldering holes. A Raiden hovered over the village, aiming its cannon at the buildings inside. Distantly, he heard screams and gunshots. The shrieks of women and children mingled with the shouts of men and the metallic, distorted voices of the smaller Nobuseri.
For a moment, he was filled with the nearly overwhelming urge to run far, far in the other direction and hide somewhere nobody would ever find him. Machine samurai…so many of them. Attacking the village, burning the houses…a voice telling me to run. I need to run! He shuddered violently. As his hands began to shake, he balled them up into fists. No. I am not four anymore, and I’m no coward. I am not going to leave these people to be slaughtered. He dropped his bags and ripped the larger one open, pulling out Benzaiten and loading it with shaky hands. His arm hurt as he lifted it to his shoulder and squinted through the scope, aiming as best he could for the Raiden’s head. The gun wobbled badly, and he shut his eyes and tried to focus. Deep breaths. Deep, slow breaths. Gradually, everything stilled. He barely breathed as he aimed again and began to channel ki through his arms and into the bullet. Light gathered at the muzzle of the gun and stayed there, pulsing slightly, until he squeezed the trigger and released it.
The recoil nearly knocked him on his back, and he had to fight a sudden wave of dizziness as his shot, now something that would have not looked out of place coming from a battleship cannon, hit home and exploded the Nobuseri’s head into shrapnel. He allowed himself a smug smirk before slinging Benzaiten over his shoulder and drawing his sword with one hand and his gun with the other. He left his bags on the ground and began to run towards the village, wheezing only a little.
Many of the Nobuseri that had been attacking the village began to come towards him, only to stop in confusion as they saw him clearly. One shouted, “You! You turned my comrades into mindless drones! You let them die!” It lunged at him, and he fired, hitting it in the chest. As it dropped, a Yakan charged him and he stabbed it, a single brutal thrust through the body. He barely paused as he yanked his sword out and continued.
Three attacked him at once, resulting in a barrage of bullets and frantic slashing until they all went down. He heard one approach from behind, but as he turned to attack it, he stumbled badly. The plains only looked even from a distance. Ow. I can’t keep running like this. I… A Mimizuku slashed deeply into his arm, and he cried out in pain as he shot it. The Tobito that had been sneaking up on him tried to bring its sword down on his head, a blow he just barely parried. He yelped and jumped backward, using the scanty distance gained to shoot it in the head.
His fighting took him closer to the village gates, where a fair number of dead Nobuseri were riddled with arrows. A young man with a bow took aim as he approached and impaled a hapless Mimizuku. Ukyo spared him a grin before a Tobito zooming from the left caught his full attention. This time, the bullet caught the thing in its main body, which promptly exploded. He gasped as something slammed into his side, sending stabbing pain through his chest. More Nobuseri left off harassing the villagers as they saw him.
Oh, dear heavens… He couldn’t afford to miss as they rushed at him. Thankfully, the villagers who were still in fighting shape proceeded to trim the numbers a bit. He saw one old man bash a Mimizuku in the head with a shovel, saving him the bullet.
The next few minutes dissolved into a frenzied blur of aiming, firing, and blocking. When his bullets ran out, he used his gun to block as he slashed and stabbed wildly with his sword. Soon, he found himself fighting back-to-back with a sickle-wielding peasant, who barely seemed to notice him. A Mimizuku thrust its sword at him, a blow he blocked with one hand as he dispatched it. His breath came in ragged pants now; his wounded arm dripped blood, but he couldn’t rest. The adrenaline rush was wearing off, and he became more and more aware of the pain in his side.
Hurts…what is this? I can barely breathe. During a lull in the fighting, he tried to suck in a deep breath, only to nearly pass out from the searing agony the act brought him. “Ack!”
“Are you…? Oh, my goodness!”
He turned around, blinking at the sickle-wielding youth who had finally noticed him. As he opened his mouth to ask what the matter was, the last Yakan came into view and leveled its gun at them. As Ukyo shifted his weight to attack it, it fired. He could only stare in horror as the boy was mowed down. Before he could move, the Yakan was pierced with a dozen arrows, all fired in quick succession from the archer behind him. Blood seeped out of the holes, and he knew the operator must be dead.
Gradually, the sounds of fighting faded, and he realized the battle must be over. All he could see was the dead boy in front of him. He was my shield. The bullets hit him, but not me. He saved my life. He’s so young…must be around my sister’s age. And he’s dead because of these machine samurai.
The survivors began to gather in the village square. A woman with a bandaged shoulder saw the boy’s body and rushed forward with a scream. “Yoichi! My son!” She began to cradle his head on her hands, sobbing violently.
The boy stirred feebly. “Ma…that you? You…you’re hurt.” He gave a rattling sigh, and his head lolled back on his shoulders as he died.
She began to wail, and Ukyo cast a glance at the rest of the villagers. Many of them were wounded, some quite severely to Ukyo’s eyes. A few were crying over other bodies, their fathers or siblings. He saw one young man kneeling by a woman’s body and sobbing. I was going to do that. I was going to put the people of Kanna through this pain…I’m a monster. I don’t even deserve…no, I can’t start thinking like this now. If I hadn’t been here, right now, these people would be in even worse pain. Hey, Kirara-kun…think you might want to look at me if you heard about this? He smiled faintly.
A woman in an ornate red and white outfit gave a small cry of shock as she saw him. “The Amanushi!”
He turned towards her. “Oh, please don’t bow. I gave that up, you know.”
She caught sight of his side and gasped, clapping a hand to her mouth. “You’re hurt!”
As he looked down at the jagged pieces of metal sticking out of his ribs, his legs slowly crumpled under him, and he fell to his knees. So that’s what that was… Dimly, as darkness encroached upon the edges of his vision, he realized how much blood he had lost and how much everything hurt. “Help…” He managed to gasp before the darkness rose up and swallowed him entirely.
“What should we do with him?”
“He killed the Nobuseri for us. Just for that, we should help him.”
“He used my nephew as a shield! Did you see him? He didn’t even try to help! And then he stood there and smirked! We should kill him!”
“He used to be the Amanushi. If we kill him, it might go badly for us later.”
“Did you hear what he tried to do to Kanna-mura? I heard he tried to destroy it…”
“Impossible! I heard he was going to visit it when his engines died!”
“Well, I heard from a girl who lives there that he did try to destroy it, and that the Kanna samurai gave up their lives to kill him and stop the Capital before it plowed into the village.”
“You’re drunk, Shuuji.” Hisui, the mikumari of Ishii-mura, shoved her way past the villagers to get to Ukyo. His arm had stopped bleeding and would heal up on its own. They had removed the shrapnel from his side and bound the wound, but had not bothered to check for further damage. Blood had already seeped through the bandage, and she briskly motioned for one of the men to help her unwrap it. “We are not going to let him die. Not only did he kill the Raiden, he also fought very bravely against the other Nobuseri. I am sorry about Yoichi, Rin-san, but it was not the Amanushi’s fault. Someone fetch me a bucket of water.”
The wound was unwrapped and water was brought, and Hisui settled back on her haunches to get a closer look. There were three irregular puncture wounds in his side; she could see where a piece of metal had been stopped by a rib bone. She sighed. This is going to take a lot out of me. Slowly and carefully, she ladled the water over his wounds and held her crystal above it. It pulsed with light and she shut her eyes against the glow as dizziness swept over her. “Water, please. Heed my call; seal up this man’s wounds.”
Her chest began to hurt, and she had to fight off an urge to cough as she felt the crystal begin its work. The larger the wounds, the more backlash she suffered when trying to heal it. She knew it was possible to close up the injuries entirely, but doing so might kill her, and would certainly leave her bedridden for a long time. It was better to stop the bleeding and induce the wounds to scab over, letting Ukyo’s own body heal the rest over time. When it was done, she got to her feet slowly. “He’ll recover.”
“Mikumari-sama, where should we put him?”
She paused, thinking. There must be someone who can spare the room while he heals… Oh, I know. “Put him in the spare room in my house.”
A middle-aged man with a bandaged leg limped into the room, holding two heavy-looking bags and a rifle. “Shinji-kun and I found these just outside the village. Do you think they’re his?”
“Probably. Put them in my spare room.” There’s no way he could have made it from Kougakyo to here without supplies. “And if he wakes up and finds anything missing…” Her eyes narrowed, leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken.
Ukyo left Ishii-mura two days later. His side still hurt, but Hisui had done a very good job. He had slept straight through the funerals, but his recovery had been disrupted by the incessant din of repair work being done on the damaged houses; he was glad to be going. He had the sense that many of the villagers were not sad to see him go, especially given the arrival of a fast turtle eager to spread news. Thankfully, Hisui-san kept my involvement from making it into the actual papers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it spreads even faster by word-of-mouth. I wonder what they’ll make of all this? Of course they don’t know of the Nobuseri lobotomies, but this sudden attack on Ishii-mura after so much calm must make a few ripples. Why, I wonder? Why attack now?
His bags felt heavier than they had before, and he groaned as he hefted them more securely onto his shoulder. This time, he carried Benzaiten on its sling instead of safely tucking it away; he might need it while climbing the mountains that lay between him and Kanna-mura. Only one more day. One more day until I reach her. Oh, I can’t believe I’m so far behind. I can’t believe I was injured that badly. But…I don’t regret it. He allowed himself to grin. They called me brave, some of them! Me, brave! Me, a hero! And those stupid samurai called me cowards. I’ll show them. No, better yet. I’ll show Kirara-kun I’m not the same person I once was. Not the same spoiled, selfish brat I used to be.
Akemi was training in the bamboo grove for the first time in months. She had not lifted her guns in all that time, and they felt heavy and awkward as she attached the bayonets and made a few practice swings. As she continued, slashing at imaginary enemies, she felt her body begin to warm up. Yeah, I haven’t gotten as rusty as I thought. A grin spread across her face as she shot at a dead stalk, pretending it was a Yakan. Her bullet split it neatly in half, and she lunged at the pieces, slicing them up even smaller before they hit the ground. From there, she spun, knocked a branch into the air, and blasted it to shreds before it too could land. Hah! Moving a little quicker and flashier than was probably a good idea after so much time away from training, she dashed around the clearing, shooting and slicing bamboo. For good measure, she threw in a series of pirouettes at the end.
Almost immediately, the adrenaline rush began to wear off, and she winced. Ow…okay, I think I sprained something or pulled something or…something. Her legs hurt, so she sat down hard. Slightly better. I really shouldn’t have done that. Oniichan…when you get here, you’d better help me get back in shape. Can’t believe you’re in Ishii-mura and not here. What, are you walking here or something? Nah, you’re too lazy. Must be taking the long way.
She was putting her guns away when footsteps behind her made her pause. “Who’s there?”
Akkun? Why’d he come here? “What’s the matter, kid?” She turned to face him; he looked distinctly nervous and fidgety. Well, he’s not holding a rock…
The boy looked at his feet. “Wanna say ‘m sorry for throwin’ that rock at you. Shouldn’t have.”
You should be sorry. Little brat…then again, I can certainly understand the impulse. Wonder if he’d still be apologizing if he knew how close my brother is. She grinned at him. “It’s okay! Go play, kid.”
As he ran off, she sighed and turned her face to the sky. Oniichan, you’d better be on your way.
Kirara’s knees hurt from kneeling in the dirt, but she didn’t move. She wasn’t finished praying yet. Great samurai, please continue to watch over us. Heihachi-sama, you once said that there were gods in the rice. Please be those gods of rice for us. Let the rice grow in abundance. And keep our village safe. She thought back to the fast turtle’s arrival that morning, bringing news of a recent attack on Ishii-mura by Nobuseri. The villagers had beaten them back, but not without casualties. Or without help. She shuddered. Sachie-san told us that the Amanushi had been seen in the village yesterday. He wouldn’t dare come here, would he? He must know he wouldn’t be welcome.
She got up, brushed herself off, and began walking back home. I wonder what he looks like now. Does he still wear that thick makeup? Or those outlandish clothes? Maybe he’s been scarred by the battle; I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s hideously deformed with the beating Kikuchiyo-sama gave him. It would serve him right if he was no longer han—no, I didn’t just think that! He was most certainly not even remotely attractive. But Akemi-san has that picture of him when he was younger, without makeup…he wasn’t that bad-looking. I can say that, at least. She blushed.
A small, traitorous thought began to form; before it had gotten to much more than the vague correlation between Ukyo’s perceived attractiveness and the fact that she had only ever seen him twice—and really, shouldn’t she take a better look at him before judging that?—she squashed it flat and began to concentrate on the chores waiting for her at home. There would be time enough to think about Ukyo after she’d started dinner.
Komachi was home when she got there. She was holding the water crystal and staring at it intently, making it flash. Kirara stood in the doorway and watched as it pulsed with light twice before emitting a steady, cool glow. “Good job, Komachi.”
The girl looked up and grinned. “Nee-san, I got it all bright. Did you see?”
“Yes, I saw. You’re learning so quickly.” Should I tell her? No, not yet. “I think you might be ready to learn how to heal small things now.”
“Really?!” Komachi jumped up and hugged her tightly. “Yay! When can we start?”
“Right now.” She slipped off her sandals and settled herself into a comfortable position on the floor, motioning for Komachi to sit next to her. “This is the way Mama taught me before you were born.” There was a bucket of water by the door, used for cooking. She splashed a little over her hands before making a scratch on the back of one with the rough edge of a broken fingernail. A drop of blood welled to the surface, and she winced as she continued, “Now, focus yourself. Can you see the scratch healing in your mind?”
The younger girl lowered the crystal until it just barely touched the back of Kirara’s hand. Nee-san is bleeding… I have to make it better. She felt her skin tingle and burn, and a wave of nausea hit her. She swallowed hard and focused all her energy on the crystal, making it glow faintly. Now, into the wound. “Water…heal. C’mon, heal!”
Before her eyes, the scratch closed. She shut her eyes and yawned, too exhausted to be happy. “Nee-san…did I do good?”
Kirara caught her before she fell backwards. “Yes, you did very well.” It took so much out of her…but it’s a good thing she managed it. If that time was a fluke, I’m afraid to think of what would happen to the village if someone was injured. We have to practice more often. “You should take a nap now. I’ll make dinner.”
The simple, everyday act of cooking did little to take her mind off Ukyo. He’s so close. If he comes here…well, it would make Akemi-san happy, but what about the rest of us? The villagers might drive him out. If they did…would I stop them, for Akemi-san’s sake?
She pondered that question for the rest of the night.
--Benzaiten is the goddess of beauty, music, words, and water. She also bestows wealth, making her a pretty appropriate deity for Ukyo to pray to. And yes, his rifle is named after her, although with different kanji.
--I plead guilty to theme naming with the mikumari here; Hisui means “jade,” to contrast with Kirara (“mica”).
Ukyo talks his way out of trouble. Kirara is less than pleased.