Through the Night

 

Part Three: Shigeru and Satoshi

 

The forests east of Fusube are dark and hard to navigate. That's why I'm glad I grew up in this area, or else I'd have no chance of being able to find my way through the darkness. It's a simple enough spell that I use to summon up a globe of light. That makes it that much easier.

It's been -- hours, I think -- more time than I thought could be possible. Normally I would have been greeted by a dragonrider or two by now. Ibuki's more than once had to been sent after the Lord's runaway son...

She's never been happy with it, and she's always let me know.

This time, however...

It makes me wonder if my father has more important things to handle than worrying about the antics of his headstrong son... And the only thing that could make me think that would that he could have some plan to take upon the eastern lands.

Maybe it's best that I left.

It's pitch black out, beyond the soft white globe of light. If anyone is looking... then it would be very easy to find me, I'm practically a beacon in the night. I shake my head and smirk. I'm going to have to rest soon, but I need to press on a bit more.

If I remember the map from the father's office right, then if I continue traveling east then I will in time find the Kanto City of Nibi. Not that I know what waits for me there. It's better than what I am leaving behind me.

And that's only if they don't come for me. They could just be waiting for when I've fallen asleep for the night. That's happened before. I've fallen asleep, and woken back up in Fusube. Father never was happy with me after stunts like that...

I thought I would be able to go on for longer than this, but even now I can feel exhaustion starting to creep down upon my senses. I should find some place to rest for the night... No, I'll press on for a bit more.

If I ever deny that I'm not stubborn, then I'm blatantly lying through my teeth.

I should have eaten before I left... One more thing that I should have done, and there's no way that I can change it now. The light is beginning to flicker. I must have been trudging more through the darkness than I had at first thought, if it's fading all ready...

I take a deep breath of the night air, it's cool and heavy with the scents of the forest. And then there's a sudden contrast from darkness to star and moonlight, as the summoned globe fades completely and I stumble out into a clearing.

I have to rub my eyes, and I glance around. There's something I know that I should be remembering about this, I know... I take a step forwards, and then there's a loud grunt. I freeze.

"Oh shit..." I mumble. One of my fathers gifts for any who would attempt to invade... or escape... are elementals created from the earth itself. If you trip the trap, then you're, as a guard I knew once before he was put to death, 'shit out of luck'...

The ground rumbles and I stumble back into the darkness of the trees. The ground's cracking and there's a form rising. Vaguely humanoid features, glowing red eyes... Eyes that have fallen on me.

Oh fuck me, this is not my night.

Hopefully it shouldn't be formed completely yet, and I dash off across the clearing as a heavy, slow arm slams down into the earth behind me. That, I reflect as I duck into the forest again, would have hurt.

There's no way that I can cast spells while I'm running, and the most important thing on my mind right now is getting away before it can track me again. Even now I can hear it crashing through the forest behind me...

Mejiro, guide me, please...

It's about then that I hear the flapping of wings and I glance up above me. My foot hits a root and I go tumbling down. I scramble back to my feet. That must be Ibuki, come to gather up her Lord's annoying son...

She's going to give me a ration of shit for this stunt, that I'm sure of.

I regret having let my self trip that trap, and then I had to go and trip for real... This really is not my night.

If only I can get out of it's range... Then it wouldn't be able to follow me. Maybe...

I think I can hear running water.

Have I said it's not my night? No, it's not at all.

I should have stopped before I let this happen, but when you're running for your life you don't think about these little things. I flail and go crashing forwards, barely keeping myself from falling into the river. Maybe if I can cross it... the elemental wouldn't be able to follow, if I know my lore.

I hope that I do...

I find a fallen log and I cross it slowly so I don't risk falling into the rushing water. I'm glad that my book of spells is water proof, or else I could lose it all...

I do make it across. My breathing heavy and I can barely see for my exhaustion. I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself. It's not every night that one has a near run in with death. On the other side of the water, the elemental's standing impotently. And then it starts to melt back into the earth beneath it.

I take another deep breath. That truly was a close call...

And then a hand clamps around my ankle. Oh shit! I fall back and start to get drug into the muddy earth, towards the water. Oh Mejiro, this is not my night at all! And I know I've said that a million times before.

I drag my book out of my pack, whipping through the pages. There has to be *something* I can use against this thing... Wait, that's it!

It's simple enough, and as the words leave my lips cold energy gathers and then strikes the muddy arm. It freezes right up through the murky water.

And now I'm at an impasse.

I might not be in immediate danger any more, but I am stuck to the arm of a frozen earth elemental. Have I said this before? This is not my night...

~~~~~

It is such a beautiful night. I smile happily as I feel Shiika's muscles surge under me. I love to fly, I love the night air as it fans across my cheeks while my silver soars through the air. But I don't let myself linger on those pleasures. Getting distracted isn't good if I'm on border duty, even if I don't believe that there will be any kind of trouble. If there was and I missed it, then others would suffer for it.

Shiika makes a pleased noise beneath me, and I reach from the dragonsaddle to pat her neck. She loves it as much as I do, maybe more. This, I think, is why I never protest when I'm given border duty. This makes it all worthwhile.

Still... it's so *boring*...

My silver suddenly shrieks, and I glance downward as she dips abruptly. No worries about me losing my balance at the movement; I'm used to these sudden course changes. But I don't think on it, because down there in the trees, just inside the border, I see movement...

"Good work, Shiika," I whisper, and then we're near level with the tree tops. Yes, there's movement. Rapid movement, in fact. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that was someone running through the forest with a torch.

But why on earth would anyone do that? They're an easy target, for one, and this close to the border, isn't that the slightest bit dangerous? I scratch my head. This doesn't make sense...

The light beneath abruptly dies. "Shiika!" I say, alarmed. We can't lose it... I won't be able to rest knowing that I saw something and lost it -- that could mean anything, and I'd rather not take chances. My silver seems to agree with this, and dives in past the trees, smoothly avoiding any crashes, to enable me to watch the forest floor more closely.

There isn't much room to navigate, but if any dragon was ever built for forest travel, it is Shiika. She's far better coordinated than I am on land, I think ruefully, keeping my eyes peeled for our target.

"Shiika... there!" I use the reins to tilt her head towards a small river that is running through the forest. There's a bedraggled looking figure just on the bank -- still alive, by the movement, but not going anyplace either. "Let's go down," I tell my silver softly, and she takes us gracefully to a landing by the river.

Shiika's wings cause quite the mini windstorm as she lands, and I notice the person by the river -- someone who looks about my own age, actually -- shielding their face from the dirt that flies up. "Sorry about that!" I call out over the sounds of my silver's landing. Hey, no need to be impolite...

He looks up, and his mouth opens but I can't hear any sound come out. I can sort of see him now, burnished red hair, rapidly widening eyes, looking as if he'll be tall and strong when standing. I think I like the way he looks. He's also wearing noble's clothes, I notice as well, though badly treated. No sign of a torch anywhere...

Oh well. I dismount smoothly, leaning forward as I do to murmur a quiet instruction. "If there seems to be any trouble from him, Shiika, protect me." She snorts an assent.

I regain strength in my legs quickly enough and walk over to where this new curiousity lies. "Um..." Well, may as well start off with a simple question -- I don't think I can just ask 'are you evil?' and expect an accurate answer. "This may sound silly, but... why are you lying on the ground by the river?"

He doesn't answer that right away. "Wh-who are you?" he whispers instead, and his eyes are drawn back to Shiika. "Y-your dragon... it's..."

"Isn't she beautiful?" I smile fondly at my silver. "Maybe not as classy as a gold, but perfect, don't you think? Her name is Shiika. And mine is Toraeru Satoshi." I hold out my hand. "Want some help up?"

He blinks at me. "I can't... I... My ankle's caught." He glances back. "Um... What are you... I mean, you have a silver dragon. You're from over *there*."

"Over there?" I repeat. Oh right... He's probably from Johto, and they don't have silver dragons. No wonder he was so shocked when he saw Shiika. "Oh. You mean my homeland."

"What are you doing over on our lands?" he asks -- not indignantly, really, but with a certain amount of curiousity.

"Our lands are just right over there." I point. "I'm on border duty, so when I saw your light, I came to investigate." I thought about the situation for a minute. "I guess I'll have to take you prisoner now," I tell him, smiling apologetically. "I mean, because you're from Johto and I've caught you. I hope you don't mind..."

"Prisoner... Oh, yes!" His eyes light up. "You'd better! Take me back to your stronghold and never let me go back home! You can't let me go now -- I could be dangerous."

"Oh, good." I'd thought he might put up a fight, but... I guess he understands. "Er... should I tie you up or something? Now that you're my prisoner and all. Do you think I should?"

He looks at me like I'm insane. "What?" I protest defensively. "I've never had a prisoner before! I don't know what to do."

"I'll probably regret this later," he murmurs, closing his eyes as if he's in pain. "But I think that generally, one does tie up those that they take as prisoners."

"OK." I wonder if I remembered to pack any rope. Usually, it's a good idea to have some, because you never know what you might need it for, but... I probably forgot. "I don't suppose you have any rope on you, do you?"

He stares at me for a moment, then sighs. "Yes, probably," he says. "Somewhere in my bag."

"That's good, because I'm not sure that I have any." I smile and reach over to dig in his bag. Yes, he does have rope. A nice long coil of it, too. "Oh, excellent, you came prepared. I don't think I have enough supplies for the both of us."

"What about the dragon?" he asks.

"Shiika? Oh, she likes to hunt her food." I unravel some rope. "OK, now hold out your hands."

He closes his eyes again, with that pained look spreading across his features. I wonder if he might have hurt himself somehow... "Um... I think you might need to get me free before you take me in, dragonrider."

"Oh, right." I move back to look at the branch coiled around his ankle. Actually... on closer inspection, that's not a branch at all. It looks like the arm from a frozen earth elemental. "It looks like you got into some kind of trouble. Oh, and my name is Satoshi. I think I told you that already. You must've forgotten."

"Right. Yes, I did get into trouble, but it was a mistake." He sighs. "Can you please cut me loose?"

"Sure. Shiika..." I look up at my silver again. "Sever this for me, please." Her razer-sharp claw descends, and then my new prisoner is freed from the earth. He sits up, brushing himself off, then shudders as he realizes that there is a severed hand still clinging to his ankle.

"Er... Satoshi? Can you get this thing off me?"

"OK. Hold still." I take out my dagger and slowly pry the fingers off of him. Earth elementals are pretty tough... "There." I sit back and smile. "OK, now hold out your hands, together."

I proceed to tie him securely, then look up at Shiika. "I think I can just walk back past the border, and we'll camp out there, OK, girl?" She tosses her head, affirmative. "Let's go, then," I say cheerfully, and lead the prisoner onward.

I can't wait to tell Hiroshi about *this*. More exciting than the usual border duty, for certain. *Good,* I think, in satisfaction, and busy myself looking for a place to camp for the night.

~~~~~

I really am very, very sure that I'm going to regret this later. But at least for now... actually, I'm not quite sure what else I'm going to do but follow him.

He seems to be nice, though, nicer than I'm used to seeing put into human form. So I guess it's not completely a loss. My night's suddenly looking much brighter than it was fifteen minutes ago... Of course, fifteen minutes ago, I was running from immediate death. And now...

Now I'm just a prisoner of a cute insane dragonrider from Kanto... Dear goddess I did not just think he was cute! Well... actually, he is. And I'm allowed to look. There's nothing wrong with that...

In the light cast from the night, it makes his skin seem like an extension of the pale white, and his hair is cut edge jet black. His eyes... they're a warm shade of brown that makes you just want to melt.

See, I'm allowed to look.

I sigh and he glances around, "I think this is a good place to camp... what do you think, Shiika?" His dragon snorts, and I don't know with who that I should be enthralled. The silver dragon or her equally entrancing black-haired rider...

Oh Mejiro, maybe it's *not* my night! I'm not going to fall for my *captor*. There's something inherently *wrong* about that. And that's my final decision. Of course, I'm stubborn and I never do as I've been told...

So it's just a matter of time.

Maybe I should have let the earth elemental get me... I sigh again, and he gestures and I take it that it means that this is were we're going to be camping. I sit down and my bag bangs against my back. I guess it's just a matter of time before he goes through my stuff, right? I mean, he did before, but actually pay attention to it this time? I...

And then it hits me. I made it, I actually got out of Johto!

That might even mean that my father can't touch me here, he can't get to me... I am tired, I realize just as suddenly. Now that I've calmed down, the exhaustion has returned, yet in a much more subdued tone.

Satoshi goes about the little clearing by a large club of trees, making camp. I watch him, and then stare at my bound wrists. This isn't my night at all...

"Are you hungry?" Satoshi's voice snaps me out of *that* reverie. I blink and stare at him.

"Huh?"

He laughs and shakes his head, "I said, are you hungry?" All I can do is shake my head. He nods, "All right..." That doesn't stop him from getting himself something, though. "Shiika, you can go eat now if you want, I'll be all right."

She stares at her rider, and then at me. I guess I don't look like much of a threat... What? I'm the tied up white mage son of the most powerful black mage who currently exists? I'm not a threat at all, and I'm not being sarcastic.

She kicks up more dust as she leaves, and Satoshi finally sits down when it's cleared. "Sorry for that..." He takes a bite of whatever it is he's eating, it's some sort of ration I suppose, and chews thoughtfully before speaking again. "So, why were you out here anyway?"

I can't help but wonder why he had to ask that at all. I can't exactly tell him the truth, now can I? I sigh and glance away. At least not looking at him makes it somewhat easier. "I've been traveling from Fusube City and I ran into a bit of a problem." And the problem need not be explained, as we both remember the elemental.

"Fusube City?" He's confused for a moment. "I thought that'd been destroyed in battle five years ago?" I have to blink at him. Yes, Fusube had been destroyed, but rebuilt and changed the city...

"You don't have very accurate news about the depths of the inner cities here, do you?" He shakes his head. Hey, maybe I could have a place... But I've never thought of myself as a traitor. Now isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?

"You know," He pauses for a moment. "you've never told me your name."

I blink again and stare at him. He's right. And maybe it's not completely accidental that I've kept forgetting... But it's not like he's going to know who I am. "My name's Shigeru, Ookido Shigeru."

He smiles, it's a very beautiful sight... Oh dear Mejiro, please strike me down. I can't be *thinking* these sort of thoughts. It's *wrong*. It... how can it be wrong when he seems so right?

I don't like this, this haven fallen hard. I'm just his prisoner... "Are you all right? Are the ropes too tight?" I shake my head.

"I... No, it's not the ropes." I close my eyes for a moment and sigh.

"You keep doing that... did you hurt yourself? Are you sure you're all right?"

"You, Satoshi, worry far too much."

"Well you, Shigeru, make me worry."

"I..." I don't know what to say so I glower at my wrists.

"Well... I know I shouldn't be doing this, but you can tell me something about yourself. I don't bite." He laughs softly and I can't glare at him as I lift my gaze again. "I mean, you're wearing noble's clothing..." His voice trails off.

"Well yes, I was a noble in Fusube City..." That much is true. I sigh again. "It's changed so much since my... since *he* came to power." I miss the way that my home once was... not all citizens of Johto are evil. Just like I know for a fact, that not all people from his lands are good...

"I... I don't know much about it, actually." He murmurs. He's finished eating. When did he do that? I'm not sure. Actually, for that matter, when did his dragon get back? I won't ask...

That's just the beginning. I really should let him know that I can barely keep my eyes open... but we keep talking and talking, about little insignificant things and I just keep feeling myself fall harder and harder... I know it's too late for me. And that hurts so very much...

"Ne, Shigeru, you can hardly keep your eyes open... maybe you should go to sleep."

I try and sigh, and yawn instead. "You care too much, dragonrider. I'm just your prisoner..." But I settle back against the tree that I'm sitting against, and he smiles this strangely contented smile.

"My name's Satoshi, you know..."

I can't help but laugh. "I know."

"Good night, Shigeru."

"You too, Satoshi..." At least when the darkness falls, I don't have to worry about him, and about everything that is going wrong... And how I wish it could just be right.

~~~~~

I wake up early, and have to force myself to sit up. *Great, I beat the sun up this morning...* I sigh, but it's impossible to go back to sleep now -- if I let myself snooze, I won't be able to get up again until the day's half over.

Shiika opens one eye as I stand, even though I'm trying to be quiet. No matter how much I try to sneak around it, though, I can't fool my dragon. She's far too observant.

"Go back to sleep," I tell her softly. "I'm just going to get some breakfast -- then maybe we can leave sooner this morning." Unlike me, Shiika can sleep for any amount of time she wishes, and still be up when she has to. It's something I envy her for every morning.

Rations will be my meal again -- I can't risk a fire this close to the border. Even though I have Shiika, we still don't want to get caught by some other dragonrider. And now I have a prisoner too, someone who might be pretty important if he's a noble.

I glance over at Shigeru, who's still asleep -- lucky him. Well, he didn't eat last night, so he'll probably be hungry this morning. I dig through my bag for more dry rations. Hope he doesn't mind the food; it's all I have, so I can't offer any better. Though he looks like the kind of person who's used to eating off of silver trays brought in by servants...

I shrug. Oh well, he's a prisoner, so I guess he'll just have to rough it for a while. But then, he might be OK with that too, since he was out here in the woods all by himself anyway. I watch his face as if it can give me clues. Not a bad face, actually. I grin. The red hair intrigues me, too. It's like fire...

I think he can feel me watching, because he stirs, cutting into my daydreaming. Oh good, he's waking up. I hastily pull out some of my rations -- enough to keep us going until lunch time, anyway. *I hope he's used to flying.* It can get pretty tricky if you don't know what you're doing.

His eyes slide open slowly, and he blinks, looking around as if he's not quite sure where he is. He's got nice eyes, too -- stormy blue-grey, like thunder clouds.

"'Morning, Shigeru," I say cheerfully. "Want some breakfast?"

He looks up at me in confusion, then understanding seems to dawn in his eyes. "Um... Sure." Sitting upright, he yawns and stretches, then reaches out with his bound hands for the food.

I hand it over. "Did you sleep well?"

"Well enough," he answers, grimacing as he tries to eat the rations. They do take some getting used to, I have to admitt. "Considering it was on the ground."

I shrug. "You get used to it after a while. But I have an important question for you, Shigeru. Have you ever flown before?"

He glances over toward Shiika nervously. "Not very often."

Not a good answer. "Do you think you can manage today?"

"I guess so. Ugh, how do you eat this?" He's staring at what remains of his ration in disgust. "It's revolting!"

"It's good for you." I grin wickedly. "And it's all I have, too, so I guess you're going to have to get used to it pretty quickly."

"Well, I have more food." He nods helplessly toward his bag; obviously, he can't get it off with his hands tied up like that. "Can't we eat that?"

"There's not enough of it," I remind him. "But I guess *you* can, if you really can't stomach my rations. I'll get some out for you."

He sits back so that the bag is upright and I can root through it for a while. "You have a lot of food," I comment, looking through it. There's plenty of good stuff here -- fruits, bread, meat... "Except most of it won't last as long as we're going to be out here. So I guess you'll be eating rations after all."

He sighs, and I have to laugh at that. "Can I just have some fruit, please, dragonrider?"

"Satoshi," I remind him -- for the third time -- and hand him a pear and a couple of oranges. I close up the bag and then turn back to my own food. Shiika isn't there any more; she must have gone hunting. "I guess we have time." I shrug, biting into my ration. It doesn't taste *that* bad...

"Good." He bites into the pear as if it's the best food in the world; he must be really hungry, I guess. Maybe he was last night, too, but didn't feel like eating. I content myself with watching him attack the fruit and finish up my own meal.

"Now what?" he asks, when he's done. I blink at him -- does he realize that Shiika is standing behind him? Oh, probably not...

"Look up," I say helpfully. He does, and then nearly falls back in surprise. I laugh.

"It's not *that* funny," he grumbles, trying to gather the tattered remains of his pride. Shiika snorts a little as if to disagree. You know, I think she likes him...

"Shiika likes you, Shigeru," I say out loud, grinning at my silver. Now the grouchy look is gone from Shigeru's face; he looks awed.

"Does she?"

"Yup. And that's good, because it means she'll be nice when you try to mount." I have to bite back a laugh, noticing his discomfort. "Come on, it's not that hard. I'll just clean up the camp and you can get on. Shiika knows what to do."

My silver lowers a wing, like a ramp of some kind. "See?" I bend to my task. "Just go ahead, Shigeru. I'll be with you in a few minutes."

"Are you sure it won't hurt her?" he asks apprehensively.

"Nope. I've done it plenty of times. Just climb on up." I finish my task fairly quickly, and turn to attach everything to Shiika again. Shigeru is sitting awkwardly in the saddle, that comically apprehensive look still on his face.

"Er... Satoshi?" he says, as I get on in front of him. "How am I supposed to hold on?"

Uh-oh... That's right, he's still tied up. "Um..." I turn in the saddle. "Just a second." There are straps on dragonsaddles meant to hold riders on -- but this one is supposed to be for a single rider, and I can't be sure he's secure. I fasten about half of the straps around his legs, then sit back. I'm going to need the rest... Hmm...

I grin suddenly. "OK, I know how we can do this!" Still facing him, I untie the rope that holds his hands bound.

"Are you leaving me untied?" he asks, looking confused. I smile brightly.

"Nope!" Turning, I slide my legs into the fastenings, nudging them tighter. Still, I've kept a firm grip on his wrists. "OK, now you won't be able to fall off!" I tell him triumphantly, and loop his arms around my waist then proceed to tie them again, in front of me. "There, see? You'd have to take me with you, and I never fall off." I turn to grin at him.

His face is the same shade as the apples he had in his bag. "Something wrong?" I ask, concerned. "You look flushed."

"Uhhh... nothing!" If possible, he turns even redder, and his arms squirm a little in their positioning around my waist. I feel a twinge of something I can't explain... he feels warm this close to me, and not unpleasantly so. "This is just fine, Satoshi. Just... fine." Now he's breathing funny, too.

"Are you sure you're OK?" I ask skeptically.

He nods rapidly. "Yes, I'm fine! Let's just get out of here!" His words spill over themselves in their hurry to get out.

I shrug. "Well, all right, if you're sure." Turning, I shift my attention back to Shiika. "Let's go then!"

A few strokes of her powerful wings, and we're off.

 

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