Part Thirteen: Hiroshi and Satoshi
The irony of the situation is not escaping me. However, I'm too angry, and too worried, to really put that to good use. I'm not going to dare try anything with Takeshi around, not when he could that easily take Kasumi from me in that permanent way that I dread to think about.
It's not making sense. Him being here... But then again, it does. It makes all of the sense in the world... Ever since his gold was killed, he had it out for every other gold-rider in existence. That's why he's so familiar. Why didn't I remember who he was earlier...?
This isn't the first that I've seen him, he was in Johto, we've fought, and yet I didn't remember at all. And if I had, then maybe we wouldn't be here. At least, maybe the table would be turned.
I really don't like the way that he's looking at Kasumi, but it seems that he's taking his job seriously. It would be easy to fight, wouldn't it? And it would be easy for him to kill Kasumi...
I don't think she's helpless, no, she's too strong and independent to be helpless. But I can worry, can't I?
I know that I can...
As we go lower, it's getting darker and darker. The lights that were more abundant, and that's few enough as it was, above are even more rare in the depth of the palace. I can smell the bitter taste of the dungeons...
And that's when Kasumi shrieks, and I try and turn but all it gets me is a shove down the stairs. When the world decides to stop spinning, and I can get to my feet, I'm looking up at Takeshi. There's two of him, and I wipe at the moisture near my eye... It's blood... Mine, I suppose. I notice then that he has my dagger. "You should watch where you drop these, dragonrider, shouldn't you?" He asks in a mocking tone.
He slashes at me and I try and roll back. It succeeds, and I don't get a scratch. At least, not for now. But this is just the beginning, and he doesn't look like he's joking.
Maybe if I try and keep his attention off of Kasumi... then she'll be all right. But I have to win. The quarters are close, dark and cramped, but I can't let him win this. I can't...
He attacks again and I catch my blade across my shoulder. The pains intense, yes, but I use the momentum of the attack for one good thing. Catching Takeshi, and flipping him over so he's the one who tumbles down the stairs this time.
I reel for a moment and catch myself before turning and hopping down the stairs. I go for my dagger and he grabs my wrist, pulling me down. If Kasumi's saying anything at all, I really can't tell. My blood is pounding in my ears so intensely I can't hear anything else right now...
We wrestle for the dagger, and on this footing we're going nowhere and fast. He squeezes my wrist and it goes tumbling, clattering down a new flight of stairs. But at least it's gone...
"It's your kind that ruined my life." He hisses, slamming my head back against the stone beneath my head. My vision blurs and I kick up at him, catching him in the gut. He hisses again and tumbles back. Thank the gods for heavy riding boots...
I stumble to my feet and suddenly my dagger gets tossed to me. I nearly lose my hold on it, and I notice that Kasumi slipped past us when we were rolling and wrestling. I smile and now I feel that I have a proper edge on Takeshi.
I don't have to say anything, but I lunge Takeshi. He sidesteps and his gaze turns on Kasumi. He takes a heavy step and I throw myself at him, knocking us both to the ground. We roll down another flight of steps and my visions heavier than before. I didn't think one could hurt this much, not much has even happened! Well, I have lost a lot of blood...
I expect Takeshi to do something. But he lies still. I force myself up and try to stand. My daggers embedded in his back. "I guess I did it." I murmur, and then I fall.
It's all dark for a moment... and then Kasumi's kneeling beside me and I'm looking up at her. "You're hurt badly." She murmurs, touching my forehead after she kneels.
"That's an understatement." I mumble with a grin.
She smiles, a painfully forced one, but there are tears in her eyes. "You can't leave me, Hiroshi. Please don't leave me."
I grip her hand and squeeze, smiling as reassuringly as I can. "It's just a little blood loss, Kasumi. I'll be fine."
"You're being silly and brave. Most of the blood on you happens to *be* from you, Hiroshi. You can't leave me."
I close my eyes, and I hear her inhale sharply. "Hiroshi!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," I murmur. "I won't leave you, believe me. You're too important. I couldn't leave you alone..." Her hand tightens on mine.
"I love you." She whispers, and I feels tears on my cheek.
"I know. I love you too."
She smiles wider and more tears fall. "Lay back and let me tend to you now, all right?" I nod and rest my head back on her lap. This is nice... She begins to murmur a prayer and I can feel a tingling sensation. It's... I immediately begin to feel better than I had before.
"Thank you, Kasumi." I murmur, opening my eyes in order to receive my first kiss from her. I can't help but blush.
"I'm all bloody." I whisper.
"And I still love you. Do you think you can stand?"
"I know I can. Can I do something else first?" I ask. She looks perplexed then nods. I shift, sitting up, and then I wrap my arms around her and kiss her. It's nice, and I can feel it throughout my body like fire.
"That's what I wanted." I murmur and she breathes heavily.
"Hiroshi... want to again?"
I smile and do so... but I part and help her to her feet. "Come on, we have to get back to the higher levels."
"And how do we do that? This place is a maze..."
"I think that I can help you." We hear a jolly old voice and turn to the old man who's standing above us on the stairs, in the shadows. "That is, if you two lover birds are finished for the time being."
I blush and stammer but I don't know what to say.
The blade of Sakaki's dagger -- well, *my* dagger, at one point -- levels against my throat. "The dragons of your land are helpless, dragonrider, is this true?" He has led me into a small, dark cell of a room -- floors above the dungeons but hardly better living conditions, I'm sure. "You have no fighting forces left that can stand up to ours, do you?"
I don't answer him, but instead reply with a question of my own. "What have you done with Shigeru?"
He smiles. "My son is in his quarters. He sneaks off often -- I'm not sure if he's told you. I'd have had to attend to disciplining him sooner or later; I might as well start that now. I expect he'll be very co-operative, as long as I hold you." The point of the blade digs into my throat, and I fight the urge to wince. A thin trickle of blood runs down over my chest.
"The next time he tries to escape," Sakaki tells me, almost as if he's musing on it, "I will let one of my guards have you. And I'll have him watch while it happens."
My face burns with humiliation. I'm a *soldier*. Surely he can't do that to me. But I know that he can, and will. I also know that Shigeru will not try to escape. Unless he is trying to rescue me at the same time. But I've gotten to know him fairly well in the time we've been together, and I don't think he'd risk it. But the first chance I get...
"Every time my son disobeys or composes himself in a manner that does not please me," Sakaki continues, looking pleased at my anger, "you will suffer for it." He runs the blade of my dagger across my cheek, not cutting. "If he behaves himself, perhaps I'll allow him to look at you for a few precious little seconds. But the moment he steps out of line..." He slices my shirt down the front, grazing my chest. It's painful, but I don't bleed.
My gaze doesn't waver. *I don't care,* I think defiantly. *I don't care what you do to me. I'll try and escape as soon as your guard is down -- I'll make sure that Shigeru is safe and that you can't touch him. I'll die before I ever give up!*
"You won't see your lover again," he tells me softly. "But you'll know when he misbehaves. I'll cut the message into your flesh."
I stay silent.
"Now tell me about your dragons," he orders. "They are useless, aren't they? I've rendered them all helpless."
I continue to meet his eyes, but I don't say a word.
He backhands me -- hard enough to send me to the ground. I start to rise in a defensive crouch, ready to fight with him again.
"Strike at me once," he warns in an ominous voice, "and I use this dagger to cut my son's fingers off -- one at a time."
"Now tell me," he asks again, eyes burning as he watches me. "The dragons of your homeland are all useless. All of them! Is this not the truth?"
All of them? I shake my head slowly. "No."
He frowns dangerously. "You're lying."
I stand. "I don't lie."
"Perhaps." He makes a dismisive sound. "It doesn't matter, at any rate. I'll have you broken in time. And then perhaps I'll have Shigeru see you lick my boots as I walk into your room."
My face burns once more. "In your dreams, maybe!"
He laughs. "I'll have you calling me your master before a week has passed. I wonder if you'll even cry out for my disobedient son when I slice that beautiful pale skin and spill out your blood."
My fury seems to amuse him. "Muse on that for a time, dragonrider," he says cruelly. "I'm off to attend to my son. But, be assured, I *will* deal with you again later."
I glare after him as he leaves the room. *You won't win,* I think vehemently. *I'll see to that!*
"Who are you?" Kasumi demands. The old man steps closer. He doesn't seem to be threatening at all... But he is wandering around the dungeon levels of Sakaki's palace, so one doesn't truly know.
"My name is Yukinari, Kasumi. It is an honor to meet you both. If you want, I can help you up from the levels."
Kasumi stammers. "H-How do you know my name?"
She blinks. "My name."
"You don't know your name? That's not a very good thing at all..."
A vein near her eye begins to twitch, and I put myself between them. "How can you help us?"
"Why, I can show you the way out."
"Why would you help us?" Kasumi asks, annoyed at the old man still.
"Because these are desperate times." He says. "Come now, want to go?" He asks, motioning with his staff. I look at Kasumi and she shrugs.
"We have no other choice. Let's go, Hiroshi."
I smile and nod. "All right."
We begin to follow him up the stairs. "We have to find Satoshi first, and then Shigeru. We can't let Sakaki..." We don't know what he wants to do to them, but no matter what, we can't let it happen.
"But where is he keeping Satoshi? And Shigeru's room? We don't know anything about this place, Hiroshi." Kasumi says, matteroffactly. And she's right. Very right...
"We're not going to let that get to us." I say softly. "If there's one thing that I learned from Satoshi, it's that you never give up. And have I given up yet?"
A small smile touches her lips. "No, you have not. And you'd best not, either."
"That's what I'm here for." I grin. Now...
"Shssh, children, I'll be right back." Our strange old guide pops around the corner and we're left alone.
"What do you think he's doing?" I ask.
She shrugs. "I have no idea..."
I creep closer and he nearly gives me a hearattack as he reappears. "Come along, come along, the coast is clear!"
He must be trying to kill me...
I nod and Kasumi and I follow after him. Our trip is filled with moments like that, moments where he makes sure the coast is clear. I must admit, I never thought a palace like this would have so many wandering chickens in it...
And then I nearly run into Yukinari. "What...?"
"This is the room where your friend Satoshi is being kepy. Step lightly, and go fast. Perhaps you will help his disposition."
"But, Shigeru... where is he?" I ask, my gaze on the door.
He snaps off a long line of directions and smiles at us both. "Got it?"
Kasumi nods. I'm glad because he lost me somewhere around, three halls, two rights, a left and a right... "Okay." I try and open the door. It's locked, obviously.
"Oh yes, how could I forget." He mumbles something and taps the door with his staff. "No scoot and rescue your friends." I try the door this time, and it opens. I push it open, and that's when I see Satoshi, current condition and all... Well, I'm not exactly perfect with all of this blood, now am I?
"Hiroshi?" He's surprised.
"Come on, we have to go get Shigeru. Sakaki has a surprise waiting for him..."
"But how did you get here?"
"Oh, Yuki..." I turn to gesture, but our guide is gone. "He's gone."
"Are you all right?" Kasumi asks. Satoshi nods.
"Just... we have to get to Shigeru."
"I think that's a plan of action that we can all agree with."
"But where...? Sakaki will find us if we wander around aimlessly."
"Leave that to me." Kasumi says, gesturing for us to follow us. And I half keep my gaze on her, and Satoshi as well...
"Are you sure...?"
"I'm fine. You, on the other hand, look like you fell down several flights of stairs."
"I did." I admit softly. I turn the tables before he can reply. "Are you sure Kasumi can't do something for you?"
Do something for me? "Hiro, all I have is a scratch down the front and a little cut on my neck. That's nothing." I glance down at the condition of my shirt. "It just looks bad because of how my shirt is torn. Kasumi should save her energy."
"All right, if you say so." He shrugs. "But it might be better if -- "
I don't let him finish. "I think it'd be better if we found Shigeru as soon as possible. And what if *he's* hurt? I want Kasumi to be able to heal him, and if she wasted her power on me, I'd never forgive myself." I quickened my pace.
"Um... Satoshi?" Kasumi catches up to me. "Do you know where you're going?"
I blink. "Well... no."
"Than maybe you'd better let me lead, all right?" She moves ahead of me without waiting for my answer. Well, that *did* kind of make sense, didn't it?
Still, I can't help being worried. I mean, Shigeru is virtually a prisoner somewhere in this horrible place, and I have no idea where to look for him. I want to run to wherever he is and take him in my arms, never to let him out of my sight again. And he might be hurt right now, or even dying... Why is Kasumi moving so slowly?
"We need to hurry!" I urge her, practically skipping with impatience. "Kasumi, please move faster. We have to find Shigeru before something awful happens to him!"
"Be patient, Satoshi," she replies, almost calmly. I want to scream with frustration. Shigeru is in danger, and she's being calm? Doesn't she understand at all? "We can't go running around blundering into things, can we?"
"But Shigeru -- "
"Will be fine," she finishes firmly. "As long as you calm down and try to get ahold of yourself, Satoshi! The last thing we want to do right now is put Shigeru in further danger."
That shuts me up. I can almost feel tears flooding my eyes, but I angrily blink them away. I'm not going to cry like a child who's lost his favorite toy. I just... I can't shake the need to get to Shigeru as soon as possible and ensure his safety. The thought that my actions might endanger him fills me with an agony I can hardly stand. What if he's being punished because I escaped?
Hiroshi puts his hand on my shoulder. "I know what you must be going through, 'Toshi, but we can't just rush into this. We have to make sure it's safe to get to Shigeru."
"Sorry." I feel embarrassed. What kind of soldier am I being right now? "It's just... I love him..."
"I know that." He nods. "You've just got to remember not to let your guard down."
"Yeah, yeah." I sigh. "It's just hard, to think he might be suffering right now. I just... I want... He..." I can't properly voice these feelings.
"Gotcha," Hiroshi says softly, and we both manage small smiles at that. This makes it seem more familiar, at least.
Kasumi leads us down a nice little maze -- what a memory she must have to recall the directions that 'Yuki-something' gave them. I know Hiroshi didn't, because he looks about as lost and confused as I feel right now. Kasumi moves through the halls with a serene confidence, and the two of us just tag along behind like puppies. I keep waiting for her to stop and announce that we've gotten to where Shigeru is, but... It seems to take forever, the twisting and turning through endless dark hallways. And of course, there are the guards -- but they aren't looking for us, so it's not altogether difficult to avoid them.
"How does she remember all of this?" I whisper to Hiroshi, as we take another turn down a side hallway.
He shrugs. "Got me. Maybe she uses magic or something."
"Concentration," Kasumi says, from up ahead. "It just means keeping your ears open, love. You'd be surprised what you can pick up."
We both manage to look sheepish at that.
I grin at Hiroshi, finally catching on to what Kasumi has unintentionally announced. "'Love', hmm?"
He blushes. "Well..."
"We're nearly there," Kasumi announces softly, interrupting. She catches my arm before I can rush forward. "Just wait, Satoshi. Soon enough, you'll get be with him." Right.
"If it was 'soon enough'," I say, "Then I would be with him right at this moment."
Because anything beyond 'now' is far too late.