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    Tsukihana
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Do vaporwave kitsune count technicolor sheep? - 25. Chapter 25

His sense of excitement and wonder are palpable things as I feel the soft brush of the backs of his fingertips against my spine as he zips up the dress the remaining few inches.

Twirling to face him, I give him a very long appreciative and appraising look as I allow my gaze to travel all the way up his towering 6’8 frame. Part of me is tempted to pull on his crisply knotted black tie so that I can kiss him, but it is the satisfied side of me that is loath to muss such an appetizing display.

The dragon wore a suit in a way that should be considered sinful.

Like a gentleman, Hikaru holds out his arm for me to take hold of, adhering to my wish to not be carried about everywhere. Smiling up at him, I happily rest my palm in the crook of his elbow. There is something to be said in favor of walking side by side with one such as him.

Steadfast as stone, Genghis is waiting just outside the entrance to the wing of the house. I flash him my most brilliant smile, which he returns with a dour look and a sardonically arched brow.

Touche, Manservant.

“Report.”

“The female is asleep. She fared passably through the night, and took her medication without difficulty every four hours, as instructed.”

“And the other?”

“There was some… apprehension at first. He is distrustful of the guards as a whole, but eventually he settled down after being assured that he would be granted audience at first light with you… and her. He is currently awake and has been provided with a morning meal.”

“Very good. We are headed there now. Any word on the other matter?”

“I will inform you the moment there is.”

Hikaru nods as we reach the bottom of the stairs, ending their little tete a tete. His opposite hand reaches up to clasp mine where it holds the crook of his elbow as we step down onto the white marbled floor. With a small nod for the fresh set of men stationed at the front doors, we make an immediate left and return to the hallway from the day before.

Passing the first to our right, where Frau is slumbering, he pauses before the second door and raps twice on the door before opening it wide. Bowing for me to precede him into the room, I find Ein sitting on the bed and enjoying a tray laden in fresh fruits, sausage links and various other treats.

“My Lady!”

Hopping off of the bed, he crosses the room to hug my legs. Other than a bandage wrapping his head and his arm, I am thankful that he seems no worse for wear.

“I will not feel at ease until I hear it from you, Amethyst One, how fares Frau? The sky-dwellers will say anything…”

Holding up one hand, I quiet him.

“They told the truth. Frau is resting peacefully in her own room which is right next to this one. I saw with my own eyes her wounds were treated. You did it, Ein. You saved her.”

With one hand I reach out and gently pat his head. Behind us I hear the sound of a throat clearing, and looking over my shoulder I see Hikaru is waiting patiently beside the door to allow us a moment.

Ein also looks back and hurries to back away from me, his tail bumping against the side of the bed.

“The Pearl Dragon…”

Just as he did the night before, the green anole kobold throws himself to the carpet at his feet. After a moment, he raises his eyes to meet mine and entreats me, “My Lady, would you give me the honor of a proper introduction to the Dragon.”

“Of course,” turning to Hikaru I raise my voice in a very official sounding tone, “Hikaru the Dragon, may I have the honor of presenting to you, Ein of the Lost Ones. He is honored to be before you.”

At my feet, Ein is practically shaking with excitement as he waits for an answer from one so prestigious as a true Dragon.

“Please rise, Ein.”

“I could not possibly…”

“I insist. A warrior need not prostrate himself before me.”

“Do I deserve to be called such? The others… I failed them.”

“But not Frau. There is no such thing as a perfect battle, Ein. We must mourn the lost, and celebrate the life that is saved because of you.”

Just a fraction his head raises to look up to where Hikaru stands over him.

“Is it truly alright?”

Crouching low, I offer him my hand to lift him to his feet.

“Stand, Ein. The Dragon is my husband, we are Mated.”

Ein rises from lying prone upon the floor to bend his knee before Hikaru.

“Oh, Pearl Dragon, please allow me to pledge myself to you, Mate of the Amethyst One, whose coming was foretold to us by the Spirit Dragon. My life is yours, as we the Lost One have pledged ourselves to the White Dragon who has since risen to the sky above. Let the accords be struck once more.”

Bending to place one hand upon Ein’s shoulder, Hikaru answers.

“You do me great honor, Warrior Kobold of the Lost Ones. I accept you among my ranks, and look forward to the honor you will bring me.”

“My thanks, My Lord!”

Standing ramrod straight at his full three feet, Ein snaps off a salute worthy of any soldier to his commander.

“You may be at ease. If you are feeling up to it, I do have some pressing questions that I would like to ask you. They pertain to the attack and might be hard to answer, but the information you give me could aid me in finding who is responsible. Even bring vengeance for the fallen…”

Ein thumps his small green clawed fist against his chest.

“I will answer anything you ask, My Lord.”

“Start from the beginning. What happened after it became apparent that Lady Moon was gone?”

Turning, the kobold walks back to the bed, pulling himself up to sit beside the food laden tray.

“The smell of ashen smoke… we could tell this was what called out to the Amethyst One. It was the same smell which followed her when she first appeared to us, and so it was not surprising when she disappeared with it. The personal decisions of the Amethyst One are not for us, the Lost Ones, to understand. After a while, we sensed the scent lingering outside and we thought it was our Lady returning to us, and Katia rushed towards the entrance to greet you…”

His voice becomes very small and trails off for a moment as a haunted look fills his eyes.

“She never had a chance to scream or even call a warning… It happened so fast after that… The witchlights, they guttered and died around me. What sticks in my memory, something I will recall for the rest of my life is the shadow inside of shadows, the overwhelming scent of smoke, and the thud of my kins’ bodies hitting the dirt. After the lights died, I ran blind in the direction of Gunter. He was closest to me… but I only made it a few steps before I was struck myself, and out cold I went.”

“Smoke…”

“Aye, it was very different from Lost Ones. It made Ein think of the fields afire after harvest.”

With a heavy sigh, Hikaru grabs two chairs from a small table against the wall. Setting them down beside the bed, he gestures for me to sit down.

“You have gone pale. Please, Moon, sit before you fall down. I do not like the stricken look on your face.”

He makes sure I am sitting comfortably before turning back to Ein.

“Can you tell us what happened after you regained consciousness?”

A look of abject horror shadows his eyes, and his mouth opens and closes like a gasping fish as he searches for the words.

“Take a moment, Ein. I apologize for pushing you. Just take a deep breath.”

While the kobold visibly takes in a deep fortifying inhalation of air, Hikaru turns to me.

“You look as though you are going to faint, what is the matter?”

The words keep replaying in my mind in some kind of sick cycle, and the more I seek to deny their veracity… the truer they ring.

“Kemuri, my cousin.” Of their own volition the words escape me as no more than a ragged whisper under my breath. “It cannot…”

“When I woke…” Both of our heads turn back to Ein as he begins again. “The witch lights were bright once more and everything was gone silent. No one moved, I called out but none answered. I’d have never known that Frau lived yet if not for her grasping my foot and scaring me to death. I fetched something from the store room to mend her up best I could, and all the herbs, food, everything was still there… So it was not food that my kin died for. Liebli and Baba, they fell side by side and the sacks… it was the only thing I could tell was disturbed. I did not look too closely, I was terrified. As soon as I had her wrapped tight in the blanket I made way for the city. My Lady, her scent is hard to mistake… Once I found it I did my best to follow it to its end. That is how we came to be outside of your gate, My Lord.”

Barely pausing for breath, the words tumble from him in a rush. As though if he does not force them free then he will choke upon them and the memories they summon. Silence falls in their wake and Ein is staring off at some point upon the wall in front of him, seeing but not seeing.

“That is enough. Thank you for your openness, and I give you my vow that I will do what I can to ease this ache that you feel. Feel free to eat without reserve, and if there is something you require, all you need do is ask. Frau is receiving the best care that can be provided, and is expected to recover so you must build your strength so that you can be a source of comfort to her. You are a guest in my home, Ein. Never a prisoner, so give my men a chance. In a way, they are your brethren now.”

“I will do so, My Lord. You are right.”

“We will check back in on you. Be at ease. If you will excuse us, I need a word with my wife.”

Nodding to the kobold, Hikaru offers me his arm. Taking a moment I give Ein a hug before looping my hand through the crook of his elbow, grateful for his strength beside me. As the bedroom door shuts behind us, he makes a right and leads us in the direction of his office.

“Where are we going?”

“To make sure you are seen to.”

“Nothing is wrong with me.”

“Maybe not physically, but I can see the way your eyes dim and the turmoil you are trying so hard to hide. We have as much time as you need. Besides there is truly something I wish to discuss with you and it just as soon be hashed out in private.”

Genghis appears behind us, one hand waving in an attempt to stop Hikaru.

“Twenty minutes, Genghis. Then I will hear what you have to report.”

His steps falter before nodding in accord.

“Yes, Sir.”

The doors to the office close behind us and we are ensconced together alone.

“You don’t have to do this. It’s obvious that you have many matters waiting on you, and there is no need to coddle…”

“Shh.”

He places a finger against my lips before gathering me into his arms.

“There are times when there is no need for that strong face, little fox. If you hurt, there is never a reason to pretend that you don’t. Not in front of me… Do not hide from me, Mi Tiefal.”

My arms return his embrace, burying my face against his chest as the tears that I have fought to hold in, break free in a torrent to soak the front of his jacket.

“I can tell that they came to mean a lot to you in a short amount of time. It is okay to mourn, Moon.”

“What if I did this to them? I did… I brought him there… If not for me, they would have never met this violent end.”

“How can you be absolutely sure it was him?”

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I look him in the eye.

“I am not stupid, Hikaru. Ein all but spelled it out. Why? I have no idea… Truly, I only know what he told me as he lured me away into the city. You were right about everything. I walked into a trap for the sake of family, and while I was cloistered away in some office. He…”

I cannot quite push the words out. They choke and stall in my throat, as though refusing to give them voice could make them less true.

“Just as I exude the scent of Jasmine, so does my cousin smell of smoke… who is a trained assassin. I cannot overlook these changes in him. This monster is not the little cousin who visits the graves of our mothers every year or stops in to eat with me in Kyoto. This place has done something… changed him. I can’t…”

My mind feels disjointed, no longer able to string words together into anything coherent.

“Shh… It’s okay, I understand. Let it out.”

The feeble wall that I have built around me since arriving in this world breaks down completely. Great wailing sobs heave out of me, mourning for the kobolds who died because of my choices, anger at myself for being such a blind fool where Kemuri is concerned.

Lifting me up into his arms, Hikaru carries me to sit upon his lap behind the huge ebon wood desk. After long minutes, the tears finally begin to die away. I hear a desk drawer opening, followed by the soft clink of a bottle and two saucers being placed down.

“Sake?”

“Just a little. To calm your nerves.”

“I did not expect to find it here.”

“You would be surprised how much easier it is to have good sake made, than to reproduce the scent that is uniquely yours.”

Pouring us each a cup, he tips his back and waits for me to do the same. With a shaking hand I drink my own, savoring the soft sweet burn down my throat and the warmth that spreads through my body.

“Thank you, it helps.”

“Thought it might, little fox.”

Hikaru lowers his mouth to place a gentle kiss upon my lips.

“I will not let these atrocities go unanswered. Ein has placed himself in my care, and it is my duty to investigate. As The Dragon, I did not carve out this peace bought in blood to let things like this slide into unknown obscurity.”

“What are you going to do?”

“First, I need you to lead me and my men to the kobold’s den. We are going to retrieve the fallen, and I want to see with my own eyes the state of the scene. That is all I will ask of you… to show me where it is. Beyond that you can trust me that I will see them properly buried and memorials made.”

“When do you want to go?”

“The sooner the better, Mi Tiefal. I will be with you every step of the way. If you feel that you are able, I will have the preparations made.”

“I will do whatever is needed of me to give my friends the peace in death that they deserve. Thank you, Hikaru, for everything that you have done so far.”

“You do not have to thank me, little fox. I am glad that I can do something to heal your heart, but I was not lying when I said this falls under my purview. If something like this happened to anyone in my employ or living under my protection, then I would afford these same efforts. Stay here, Moon, and have another cup. I will see that everything is made ready.”

Settling me into the large leather chair as he stands up, he walks to the carved office doors to confer with Genghis, who assuredly is waiting just outside. While I am left alone, I take him up on the suggestion of pouring another cup for myself.

I feel fractured, like the very essence of myself has been torn asunder. It’s so unlike me to feel this sense of insecurity. Everything I have done in my life, I have faced with single minded self assurance. This is the first time that I have reflected on how my actions have brought about such a detriment to someone else. It’s a sobering feeling. Ironic, as I feel the sweet burn of the sake down my throat.

Part of me almost wishes that I could lose myself in the dull incognizance of alcoholic intolerance, but years of imbibing gives me little effect other than the simple enjoyment in the act itself. It is near impossible for me to feel the succor of drunkenness, at least from this particular drink.

I have no right to dull the ache in my heart when I think of the kobolds. The only supplication I hope to find in alcoholic haze is the strength to face the scene that awaits me and to help them find the justice that they deserve. The carved office doors open once more and both Hikaru and Genghis enter this time.

“My apologies, Mi Tiefal. The appropriate preparations are being enacted. If you would like to head upstairs and see if I have something more sensible for you to wear for what lies ahead of us, I will be here in the office signing off on the needed paperwork. I will be right here when you are ready.”

“Of course, that sounds like a good idea. I will return shortly.”

Copyright © 2021 Tsukihana; All Rights Reserved.

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