Summary: Ukyo finally arrives at Kanna, but not before running into some trouble on the road. Kirara is not happy.
Ukyo had been seeing the mountains in the distance for so long that it almost came as a surprise to find himself at their base. The path up the mountain was marked by a large, elaborately carved, and completely ineffective wooden gate. His feet hurt, and he barely spared it a glance as he trudged on.
He had been walking for perhaps an hour when he discovered a problem. The path had been getting steadily narrower and more treacherous as it wound its way upwards; here, at a hundred feet above the ground, it had given way entirely, creating a five-foot gap. He eyed it nervously. Can I jump this? Or should I backtrack? No, there’s no other way up this mountain…unless I try to go through the Shikimoribito…Oh, I can’t jump with all this! Setting his bags and his guns down, he leaned against the cool, damp stone and shut his eyes. What am I going to do?
A sound from above him—a cough, the sound of a shoe scuffing against stone—made him freeze. A pebble skittered down the wall past his head; his eyes opened, but he didn’t dare move a muscle. Fellow travelers? On this road? No, I couldn’t be so lucky. I should keep moving. Moving meant jumping, so he gathered up his bags and backed up for a running start.
For a split second, just as his feet left the ground, he thought, I’m not going to make it—and then the bone-jarring impact of his feet hitting the ground again reverberated through his body. He gasped in panic as his bags swung on his shoulder, nearly pitching him off the ledge before settling into place. Finally, once everything had blessedly stopped moving, he breathed a sigh of relief and began to walk again. This time, he glanced over his shoulder periodically.
It was while he was walking under an overhang that a low, steady growl reached his ears. Slowly, hands shaking, he pulled out his gun. A puma? Whatever it is, it must be right above me, if I can hear it from here. For a moment, he wanted very badly to run in the other direction, but forced himself to remain calm. I fought Nobuseri. A puma is nothing. Facing the way he had come, he edged out from under the rock and aimed the gun upwards at an angle.
He barely had time to register its dusty gray and brown stripes before it pounced and he pulled the trigger frantically, emptying a full clip of bullets into it in midair. The heavy body, which was larger than him, landed partially on top of him and knocked him flat on his back with a thud. The air rushed out of his lungs, and he spent several seconds gasping for breath as pain rocketed up his back.
Ukyo stared wide-eyed at the head with its large, protruding fangs. Not a puma. A mountain tiger. Mountain tigers were native to the northern mountains, but he had heard reports of them traveling farther south over the years. However, he had never heard of them settling so close to Kougakyo. Its blood was soaking into his pants; suddenly nauseated, he kicked at it until it rolled over the edge.
Once the weight was off him, he rolled onto his knees as the nausea swept over him, swallowing hard. Disgusting. There’s so much blood…and the stench! This is definitely worse than the Nobuseri.
He wasn’t sure how long he knelt at the edge of the cliff with his eyes shut, praying that he wouldn’t throw up, but the nausea faded eventually and he began moving again. The blood dried on his pants; for lack of a better method of removal, he scraped at it with his fingernails as he walked.
The GPS led him to a fork in the path, and he paused. Alright, then. Now I should… He looked down just in time to see the screen go dark. He shook it, but no image appeared. Annoyed, he smacked the power switch. It remained dark. Oh, not now! As a last resort, he knocked it harshly against the nearest rock. Nothing happened, and he swore loudly, jumping in surprise as the echo reached him.
Damn it. He picked the one on the left.
The silence was nothing short of oppressive; to pass the time and to take his mind off the fact that he was utterly alone, he began to hum as he walked. He was repeating the same tune for the fifteenth time when he realized that the path dead-ended at a sheer cliff face. Well. I could go back and retrace my steps, but that would take hours. I don’t have hours. Could I climb up? He took a few steps backwards and craned his neck up. The top of the cliff was only about 15 feet up. It’s not that high, and there’s surely flat ground on the top. I should be able to pick up a path from there; there’s more than one way through here to Kanna.
He studied the cliff through squinted eyes. It was not entirely vertical, but instead went up at a steep angle. There were pockmarks in the rock, as though smaller rocks had bounced down it. He sighed and adjusted the bags on his aching shoulder, shortening the straps on Benzaiten’s sling so that it wouldn’t bounce so much. “Might as well.”
He had never climbed anything before. It surprised him how difficult it was to support his own weight while he reached for a new handhold. His hands were soon scraped raw and red from the rocks; if it hadn’t been such a painful fall, he would have flinched away from putting them to the cliff face. His leg began to throb halfway up; biting his lip, he ignored it. Almost there…
As Ukyo scrabbled at the top of the cliff, someone grabbed his hand. The shock—he had not been looking up—nearly made him slip. He looked up into the weather-beaten face of a man with tangled silver hair and a cruel smirk. “Who…?”
The man and his friends—five men who had evidently set up a campsite by the cliff’s edge—helped him to his feet. Ukyo sighed with relief as his feet touched the ground firmly once more. “Thank you.”
One of the men, a skinny guy with brown hair, grinned broadly and drew a katana from the sheath at his side. “Nah, thank you. We’re gonna eat well tonight!”
Typical. I go to make amends to Kanna-mura and run straight into a gang of brigands. He met their anticipatory gazes with a glare of his own. “Are you aware of exactly whom you’re dealing with?”
A large, burly man with a ponytail pulled out a gun. “Yeah, I do. Some guy who’s gonna be dead in a few minutes if he doesn’t give us his stuff!”
Faster than Ukyo could track, the silver-haired man lunged forward and grabbed the bags—and his gun—off his shoulder. The sudden absence of weight made him list to the side; for a few terrifying seconds, he was sure he was going to fall off the cliff before he righted himself. “Hey!”
The man ignored him and picked up the rifle, examining it in the bright light. His compatriots began rifling through Ukyo’s bag, sneering at the clothes and books. “Hey, looks like we’ve got us a right little prince here, we do!” One of them held up the paperback novel Ukyo had thrown in to read if he was especially bored and hooted with laughter.
Another one unwrapped the bar of soap Ukyo had brought and took an exaggerated sniff. “Scented! Hoo boy, we got us a rich kid!”
Ukyo’s face burned with embarrassment and rage. “Those things are mine.”
“Not anymore.” The skinny man snickered and tore open the smaller bag. “Jackpot! Hey, guys, come check this out!” Before he could protest, the man was unrolling bolts of fabric and tearing open a bag of snacks. The bullets for Akemi’s guns were experimentally loaded into his pistols, and her clothes were held up to the sunlight. “Oooh, does the little prince have a girlfriend?”
The silver-haired man ran his fingers over the engravings on Benzaiten’s stock. “This is a fine gun. Where did you get it?”
Through gritted teeth, Ukyo replied, “The national shooting tournament two years ago. The rifle prize.” His fingers clenched on his handgun. He felt acutely powerless; for the first time, he understood how the peasants could have been driven to rise up. If they felt like this against the Nobuseri all the time…no wonder they snapped. If he didn’t know it would surely result in his death before he ever reached Kirara again, he would gladly have shot these scheming, smirking bandits.
“Oh, really? Hmm.”
Ukyo growled low in his throat. This is enough. “Don’t any of you know who I am?”
One man chuckled. “Why should we care? You’re only alive right now because we feel like not throwing you over the cliff, kid!”
“Kid? Kid? I am Matsubayashi Ukyo. I am the Amanushi!”
His outburst made the men pause. Their leader raised an eyebrow. “Former Amanushi.”
He folded his arms across his chest. All eyes were on him, and he felt himself unconsciously straighten up. “Ah…yes.” I never thought I’d find myself regretting that decision. “However, I still have a considerable amount of influence with the court and with the city of Kougakyo. I can make it well worth your while to help me out. You see, gentlemen, I was on my way to the village of Kanna when I was so rudely accosted by you. I would very much like to continue in that direction.”
“Yer askin’ a lot, k—my lord. Why should we help you?”
A faint smile flickered across his face. “Considerable monetary rewards and the personal gratitude of the former Emperor.”
The ponytailed man gestured to the contents of the bags spread out on the ground. “With all this, we’ll live like kings for months! Your gratitude ain’t worth that much.”
He felt something behind his eye start twitching. “On the contrary. My gratitude will ensure you never have to steal again. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? No more camping in all weather hoping someone with more money than sense happens along. No more hiding from passing imperial patrols. You might even get jobs with pensions!”
“Pensions, you say…?” The leader looked interested. “Would there be any openings for a former bodyguard?
“Aw, Kuwabara-san, you can’t seriously be considering it?”
Kuwabara glared at the man who had dared to speak up. “Every winter it gets harder and harder for us. Soon we won’t be able to survive. Kanna-mura isn’t exactly a tourist destination, you know.” He turned back to Ukyo. “If we get you off this mountain in one piece, you’ll pay us?”
“Well, not on the spot, but…” He paused. “If you give me back my things as well, I will certainly owe you a very large favor.”
“Hmm.” He drummed his fingers on the stock of Ukyo’s rifle and stared off into space before wheeling around to face his men. “Right, boys, put the Emperor’s things back where y’found ‘em! And someone go get the land cruiser!” He met Ukyo’s eyes and grinned. “We’re takin’ you down this mountain in style.”
Ukyo snatched his rifle out of the man’s unresisting fingers. “I’ll be taking this back, then.” As the man Ukyo had dubbed Ponytail Guy sprinted down the pathway out of sight, the others began clumsily setting his bags to rights. Ukyo stepped away from the edge oof the cliff and watched them warily, trying to discern if any of the supplies meant for Kanna were disappearing down their pockets. Eventually, everything was crammed back into his bags, and there was nothing to do but stand around awkwardly and wait for the man and the cruiser to show up.
He pulled out his bottle of pills, now grown alarmingly light, and rattled it. I’ll have to go for refills in a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll send a letter to the doctor. His shoulder, leg, and back all ached from his climb; when he moved his arm experimentally, he was rewarded with searing pain. “Ouch!” He dry-swallowed a pill and felt the pain recede. Okay, that’s better.
The cruiser rumbled around the bend in the road; as Kuwabara gestured proudly to it, Ukyo winced. The color scheme was equal parts rust and rock-colored camouflage, with so many dings and scratches that he half suspected it to be repurposed from the war.
“There she is! Beautiful, right?”
Ponytail Guy unfolded a set of stairs for Ukyo to climb. As he hauled himself and his bags up the stairs, Kuwabara fixed him with a cold stare. “We’ll be waiting for word from you.”
“I’ll send someone in a few weeks.”
As Ponytail Guy and his sole passenger sped down the mountain, Ukyo began to plan. He would send people to the bandits, yes. But they would be Imperial soldiers. Thugs and brigands should not be allowed to operate so close to my dear city…or to Kanna.
At his request, the cruiser dropped him off at the base of the mountains. Far in the distance, he could see a rock shaped like a bird’s wing, a landmark he remembered from before. The village was just beyond that rock. The sun was low in the sky, but not yet setting. He stretched, feeling cartilage crack in his spine, and began walking again. Soon. Soon I can rest. Akemi, Kirara-kun…I’m coming.
The medication he had taken earlier was now in full effect; while it dulled the pain, its side effects were starting to take hold as well. He stumbled over the rough ground several times, catching himself on his hands and knees. Each time, he yelped in shock as the already raw skin was scraped open further. They bled sluggishly, and he wiped them against his pants in an attempt to stop the irritating tickle. By the time he reached the rock and collapsed against it, they had stopped bleeding, enabling him to clean them with a damp cloth.
His limbs felt like lead, and he had to struggle to hold himself up. As he bandaged the scrapes and did all the other little grooming tasks that would hopefully make him fit to be seen by other people—chief among them the task of getting as much blood off his clothing as possible—he had to stop periodically to let out a jaw-cracking yawn. He rubbed his eyes, hoping it would wake him up, and stared at the sky. I’m so close…oh, if I could just stand up…
While his body felt sluggish, his heart felt light as a feather. A low chuckle wormed its way up through his chest and out of his mouth, surprising him for a second or two. I’m going to see her! The chuckle grew into a laugh, which slowly rose in volume and echoed off the rocks. “Kirara-kun! I’m on my way!” I gave up my throne, my position, my everything for you! And now I’m going to see you and meet your family and make amends for what I did and what I tried to do and… “You don’t even care! You barely know I exist!” His laughter took on a hysterical edge. All that I did this past week was for you, that you might think well of me, but you don’t even like me! Well, we’ll see. I’ll win you over no matter what it takes.
When the sobs faded and he had regained his ability to breathe without pain, he stretched expansively and pulled himself to his feet. Soon he would be in Kanna. It wouldn’t do to be seen laughing like a madman.
Komachi had to keep her guard up as she walked. Behind every rock and tree stump, an enemy might be lurking. A rustle in the bushes caught her attention, and she prodded the shrubbery with the long stick she carried. “Come out, Tomi-chan. I know you’re in there!”
Something collided with her from behind, knocking her off her feet. She squeaked in shock as her enemy started to laugh. “You’re it, you’re it!”
“You cheated, Okara-chan!”
Tomi popped up from the bush and grinned down at her. “It’s not our fault you weren’t looking!”
Okara hid her laughter in her sleeve. “You’re just made because you didn’t think of it first.”
Komachi got to her feet and smiled. Faster than Okara could track, she tapped her friend with the stick she still held. “Tag.”
The girl took off at a dead run, and her friends followed. Komachi was laughing, out of breath as they left the village and drew closer to the ravine. “I’m gonna get you!” Suddenly, Okara stopped and dove under the land cruiser the village had gotten from the Shikimoribito. The others went after her, only for Tomi to have a hand clapped over her mouth as Okara motioned to the young water priestess to stay quiet.
At Komachi’s questioning glance, Okara motioned to the bridge. She leaned over to see around the cruiser; a gasp escaped her mouth at the sight before her.
He was dirty, bandaged, splattered with dried blood, and bent over under the weight of the bags on his shoulder, but he was still unmistakably Ukyo.
She darted out of the way. “Should we go?” she mouthed.
Okara nodded. As one, the three girls crept back to the village; once they judged the distance as being far enough, they began to run and did not stop until they reached Gisaku’s house. “Elder, elder!”
The old man hobbled out, leaning heavily on his cane. “Yes?”
They stumbled over each other’s words at first, but Komachi’s voice won out. “Ukyo is coming! We saw him crossing the bridge!”
“Really, now.” Gisaku stared at the horizon for a while before continuing, “I’d like to know what he has to say for himself.”
News traveled quickly in a small village like Kanna. Men and women left their chores and began to gather in the village square; as one vast, multiheaded, single-minded entity, they moved towards the entrance to the village.
As Ukyo walked, he kept an eye out for people, but saw nothing. They can’t all be inside on a day like this. Maybe they’re all in the fields or something…of course, when I come to properly atone for what I’ve done, there’s nobody here. He continued down the road and eventually began to make out a large group of people coming towards him. Unsure of what to do, he settled for simply standing and waiting until they drew close enough for him to make out facial features and their bright red-and-blue clothes. Oh. He had to swallow past a sudden lump in his throat. I’m finally here!
He was so caught up in scanning the crowd for a red headdress and a crimson shirt that he failed to notice that many of the villagers bore expressions of decided ill-will.
Kirara was starting preparations for dinner when what seemed like the entire rest of the village swept past her house. She carefully set down her buckets of water and called out to Shino as she passed. “What’s the matter?”
Over her shoulder, the girl shouted back, “Komachi-sama saw Ukyo crossing the bridge!”
If she had been holding anything, she surely would have dropped it; as it was, she had to hang onto the window frame until she felt steady again. As she spoke, her voice seemed to come from far away. “He’s…here?”
Behind her, she heard Akemi stop boning a chicken and stand up. “My brother is here?” She grabbed her sandals and shoved past Kirara to run after the crowd. “My brother!”
Kaede sighed and took up the knife. “Ukyo or no Ukyo, dinner needs to be fixed.”
Kirara nodded her assent even as she slipped on her sandals and headdress. “Grandmother, I’m going to go after Akemi-san.”
The mob had stopped just outside the village. Akemi dodged around them, occasionally having to resort to a well-placed elbow. “Oniichan!” Her voice could barely be heard over the invectives being hurled at Ukyo. She raised her voice in a near-scream. “Oniichan!”
Ukyo was surrounded by the people of Kanna. He did not quite know what to do; throughout his travels, he hadn’t once thought that he’d get a reception like this. All the voices around him melded together in a single wall of angry sound. Unconsciously, he let out a nervous whimper. This is not good… Then a single voice pierced through the cacophony, and his head snapped up. “Akemi?”
Seemingly from nowhere, his sister rushed into his arms. “Oniichan…I missed you.” She sniffled into is chest before letting out a choked sob.
He felt tears prickle the corners of his eyes. It’s been so long. I thought she hated me, that she didn’t want to track me down because she didn’t want to see me. I suppose I was wrong. He wrapped his arms around her, enfolding her in a tight hug. “I missed you too.”
The shouting around them slowly died down as the girl pushed herself away from him. “What took you so long?” As she reached up to tap his forehead in mock-reprimand, she gasped in shock. “What happened?”
I must look awful. “…I’ll tell you later.” He looked down at his pants and shuddered. I do look awful. His gaze traveled up to her face. There was something different… He moved her bangs away from her forehead and flinched back in surprise as his fingers encountered the scar tissue there. “Is this…from the battle?” If one of my Nobuseri did this to her, I swear I’ll throw myself over the cliff.
She sighed and looked at her feet; Ukyo’s heart nearly stopped as she waited for her answer. Finally, she spoke. “It’s from the first battle… What about your face?”
He shrugged. He had honestly never asked how the scars on his face had come about, but he could hazard a guess. “Shrapnel?”
“And it should have taken your eye!” An old woman shouted, shaking her fist at him. Her outburst set off another wave of shouting; someone threw a clod of dirt at him, and he twitched as it broke against his shirt.
“Get out of here, you bastard!”
“What makes you think you can just walk in here?”
“Oh, are you sorry now? That’s not gonna make up for what you did!”
“The samurai died because of you!”
“Stop! Stop it! I helped save this village, he’s my brother, leave him alone!”
“I will not!”
Ukyo’s eyes flickered from the angry faces in the crowd to the no-less-angry face of his sister. They really don’t want me here. Was all this for nothing? Did I waste all this time? No…I can’t go unless I see her. Gradually, he became aware that the shouting was fading away, and that the crowd was parting. As though he was waking up from a dream, he saw her walking through the crowd. Kirara…
She was wearing the same outfit she had worn the last time he had seen her, that horrible time on the Imperial ship when he had been half-crazy with pain and fear. Her lovely hair was a little longer, and her pretty face bore a suspicious expression. She spared a quick glance for Akemi before fixing her gaze on him. Ukyo felt as though he might faint. “Ah…Kirara-kun.”
A thousand thoughts were racing through Kirara’s mind. She wanted to run away, to scream, to hit him. And yet… He was splattered with dirt and dried blood; his once-shining, waist-length hair hung in tangles to the middle of his back. He wore dark, simple clothing and no makeup, and there were two fresh scars tracing his right cheekbone. She could see a gun and a sword strapped to his side. She took all this in via quick, distracted glances; she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from his. As she watched, he let his bags and his gun fall to the ground—and where had he gotten that, she wondered—and, to her utter astonishment, dropped to his knees before her.
“Kirara-kun…I’m sorry.” His voice cracked, and he swallowed audibly. “People of Kanna-mura…I don’t expect anyone to forgive me…but I’m sorry.”
“Get up.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded harsh. “The village elder wants to see you.”
Ukyo froze for a second before struggling to his feet. He almost didn’t make it; as his leg buckled under him, Akemi caught him. “Watch it! You okay?”
He smiled at her. “I’m fine. This leg’s been a bit bad since…well, since.”
With a sad sigh, she hefted the smaller of his bags onto her shoulder. “I’ll take this. Are you good for the others?”
“…Yes.” He had to swallow a sudden yawn as he picked up the rest of his things.
The crowd, led by Kirara, began to move towards Gisaku’s house. Ukyo was once again surrounded by the villagers, but this time he had his sister by his side. As they walked, she turned to him. “Why didn’t you send word when you were rescued?” Her voice wavered.
“Akemi-chan, I was in a coma for a month with a broken leg and a head injury. They had to screw together my spine. Even when I regained the ability to function, I…” He could not meet her gaze. “The last time I saw you was on that day. You hadn’t come…I thought you would have tried to stop me. I think some part of me wanted to be stopped. I thought you were going to fight the samurai for me. But you didn’t, you didn’t fight at all and so I thought you had given your allegiance to the samurai. That’s why I didn’t contact you.”
She stopped walking. Before he could think, she wheeled around and slapped him across the face. “I wanted to come! I wanted to stop you, to stop the samurai from killing you! But I couldn’t, because I‘d overeaten and overslept and Kanbei-sama didn’t wake me up! Not one of the samurai saw fit to wake me! They left before dawn and just—just dumped me with Kirara-chan like a civilian, so I wouldn’t stop them! They didn’t trust me. They thought I was going to turn on them. So they left me behind and everyone died. Oniichan, I thought you were dead for the longest time! And then Kanbei-san made sure everyone knew who I was, so nobody talked to me anymore except Kirara-chan and Shino-chan. And…so basically these past five months have sucked.” She took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “So. What’s been happening with you?”
He almost laughed as they started walking again. Oh, it feels good to be around my sister again. “Do you want the short version or the long one?”
“The complete one, silly.”
He told her. She gasped and cheered at all the right parts, occasionally thumping the man next to her on the shoulder to exclaim over her brother’s bravery. When he finished, she asked, “So Sakuzen-jisama is the magistrate now?”
“Yes. He seemed very happy when I told him, so I do hope he’ll perform his duties well.”
She paused, thinking. “Hmm. Oh! How’s Seiko-chan? You better have hired someone who knows what they’re doing.”
He spared a grin at the thought of the whale he had rescued from a cramped zoo tank and moved to his vast personal aquarium. Other women may have come and gone, but Seiko remained a permanent fixture in his harem. “I made sure to give her caretaker a raise.”
“Did you feed her before you left?”
He looked mildly offended. “Of course! And I patted her for you, too.”
“Sakuzen-jisama better take good care of her.”
“I’m sure he will.”
They came to a stop in front of Gisaku’s house. The old man himself was waiting in front; he looked Ukyo over with a critical eye before standing and motioning for them all to come inside. Shivering slightly with nerves, Ukyo did so. It was dim and crowded inside, with everyone sitting on the floor; he had to weave his way around groups of people to find a spot in front of Gisaku. Miraculously, he managed not to step on anyone on his way.
Gisaku favored him with a glare. “So. You are the former Amanushi. What do you want with our humble village?”
He squirmed slightly and kept his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him. I can’t lie here. I can’t obscure the truth here. No flowery words are going to help me now. “Gisaku-sama, I want to atone for my attempted attack on this village. I left the throne, resigned my post as magistrate, to come here. I could no longer live in such luxury with my misdeeds weighing so heavily on me. Please, all I ask is a chance to live here, to make things right again. I can’t apologize enough—not even my death would be apology enough—but if you would allow me to stay as a humble guest in this village, I pray that I might be able to make up for what I’ve done.”
He fell silent; as he prostrated himself before Gisaku, a wave of muttering swept through the crowd. With his face now obscured by his hair, he could allow himself a small smirk. A bit showy, but that should do it.
Finally, Gisaku’s voice cut through the chatter. To his mild surprise, he turned away from Ukyo to address Komachi. “Mikumari-sama, is this true? Is his heart pure?”
Komachi panicked, looking around frantically for her crystal until Kirara pressed it into her palm. Ukyo saw her hand shake as she held the crystal at arm’s length. The glow nearly let up the entire room, and Akemi let out a small cheer as Komachi reluctantly nodded.
“Hmm.” Gisaku frowned, clearly thinking. “We’ll have to put you where we can keep an eye on you…”
Akemi wriggled excitedly and half-raised a hand. “I’ll watch him! Kirara-chan, we can put him in the spare room.”
I can stay…! I can stay with Kirara-kun…surely once she gets to know me a little better I’ll be able to win her over. He flashed his sister a triumphant grin, which she returned. However, he did not miss Kirara’s tiny sound of disappointment as he straightened up, feeling something crack painfully in his spine. “Gisaku-sama, please allow me to share with the village these small tokens of my gratitude. Akemi, open that bag.”
She unzipped it and gasped, pulling out a bolt of blue silk. “Wow! Hey, Kayo-chan, Suzume-chan, check this stuff out!”
He continued talking, ignoring his sister’s exclamations. “The things in that bag are for everyone to divide amongst themselves—”
“Oh, and you packed my stuff for me! And you folded my shirts! I have the best brother anywhere!”
“Except for that.”
While Akemi showed her brother around the village, Kirara and her family went back home to finish preparing dinner. The soup was beginning to boil. At Akemi’s urging, Kirara began chopping vegetables to add to the pot. She’s so happy, and I suppose that since he is her brother I really should celebrate a little…
As she sliced up a daikon, the door slid open. She knew from the pattern of his footfalls that it must be Ukyo; she did not look at him. She sniffed. Peach-scented soap… “Did you at least bathe before coming in here?”
She thought she could hear the smile in his voice. “Really, is that any way to talk to a guest? A guest who, I might add, has walked from Kougakyo purely to see you?”
She tried to focus on cutting the daikon into exactly equal pieces. “I have no desire to see you.”
“Nevertheless, I’m here and living in your house, so you have no choice.” He drew closer; she could feel the heat radiating off his body, and some small, treacherous part of her noted that he actually smelled rather nice. “Can I…help you with anything?”
The request was so straightforward that it startled her. Her hand slipped, slicing open her palm. The pain did not hit at first, as she stared at the blood welling up from her skin; after a few seconds, she cried out in distress.
Ukyo grabbed her wrist, forcing her hand upwards for a better look. “Oh, that’s not good. Wait right here, I’ll get some bandages out of my bag.”
“Don’t bother.” Her voice was tight with pain. “Komachi-chan! Bring the water crystal. It’s time to see how much you’ve been practicing.”
There was a fwump in the next room as Komachi dropped her end of the futon she and Akemi had been airing out and ran to her sister’s side. “Oneesama! Hold on.” Quickly, she splashed water on Kirara’s hand and touched the crystal to it until the cut was healed. “See, I’ve been practicing just like you told me to.”
“Good girl.” Kirara breathed a sigh of relief before realizing Ukyo still held her wrist, although he had loosened his grip considerably. His bandaged hand was rough against her skin as she pulled away. “Why don’t you take a look at Ukyo-san’s hands now?”
As Ukyo moved away and sank onto the floor to allow Komachi to treat his scraped hands, Kirara returned to her cooking. Can he really be trusted? He walked here to see me, he offered to help…he was even going to bandage my hand, if he is to be believed. He is a constant liar, but the crystal said he was telling the truth… She sighed. I don’t know what to believe. He was leaning on her table, studying his newly-healed hands with a look of wonderment. As Akemi plopped herself down next to him and began talking, Kirara studiously ignored them.
She could still feel the warmth of his hand on her wrist.
--The GPS Ukyo uses is very expensive due to the batteries needing to be so small. Replacement batteries are almost as expensive as getting a new one.
--It only shows up in the second episode, but in the scene where Ukyo is in his harem, you can clearly see that he has a whale in a tank. Therefore, I am making it into his “pet” of sorts. Normal people have goldfish.
--Sakuzen, the new magistrate of Kougakyo, is Ayamaro’s younger brother.
Kirara despairs. Ukyo does a good deed.