Through the Night

 

Part Six: Hiroshi and Kasumi

 

I think that that must have been the longest night that I've ever had to endure. And to think that I'm a *soldier*... I'm acting like a child. But Kasumi... she's new and she's different. I don't think I've ever met someone like her. And I don't mean the part of her that is "woman", or "noble"...

She's different, and she's special, and...

I don't want to have to wait anymore. Koori snorts and blows through my hair. His eyes are amused and I can't help but grin. I came out to visit him in the morning. There's nothing else that I can do here, actually, so it made sense.

"Do you like her?" I ask, plucking a blade of grass up and twisting it over and over between my fingers. Koori gazes at me with a smirk on his maw then looks away. "Oh come on, don't play like this! It's important..."

Not that I know why. It just... is.

He snorts again and I can tell that he does indeed like her. "She's special, isn't she? Or am I really just a helpless romantic at heart?" He nods at the last and I roll my eyes. "Oh well thank you kindly, Koori!"

It's not even midday yet, I muse as I glance at the sun. "Ne, Koori..." I murmur. "I'll see you later. I want to get something to eat before the afternoon rolls around. Is that all right with you?" I ask with a grin.

He hmphs and I have to bite back a laugh. "Have fun in the sun, Koori. I'll be back with Kasumi later this afternoon, all right."

He makes this noise which I've come to associate with "get out of here now" and I mock bow and then turn on my heel, jogging across the wide field back towards the palace. There's something off, this morning...

Something that I can't quite place.

I must have too much on my mind. I don't normally worry this much... I'm lighthearted, as Satoshi's put it. You know, I need to get to know Kasumi more... I want to know everything about her. I wonder if she'd share... I know I would with her.

I do end up getting myself something to eat. I'm not as hungry as I thought I was...

Oh I need to just unload some of this. I'm stressing over nothing... And that's when I realize that I'm nervous about seeing Kasumi again. Seeing her at dinner the night before was different... there was a room seperating us. So I don't know why I'm acting this way...

I shake my head and sigh and rest in the quarters set aside for the dragonriders. It's... empty here, so it gives me time to think. I see the Johto riders once, they're muttering amidst themselves...

That one... the one with the slit eyes, he's looking at me and it sends another shiver down my spine. I just don't *like* him...

I leave the room behind. I don't want to be late to meet Kasumi... I tag the servant from before. "Um..."

"Yes, Dragonrider Hiroshi?" She asks with a pert smile.

I smile in return and run a hand through my hair. "I wanted to ask a favor of you..."

"Oh," She tilts her head to the side. "what is it, Dragonrider Hiroshi?"

"Well..." Why am I so nervous? I'd best not be blushing... She muffles a giggle. Oh gods... I am, aren't I? "I'm blushing, aren't I?" I mumble. She nods.

"I'm sorry..."

"It's all right. I'll just, uh, go this way..." I get away from her as fast as I can. Why am I acting like this?! I'm a soldier, I'm not a romantic fool! I shouldn't be nervous... I'm just going to take her riding, there's nothing serious about that, I...

I sigh and run my hands through my hair again and again. I must be losing it.

I sit on a bench near the balcony where I first truly met Kasumi, and sigh as I glance toward the open structure. I shake my head and glance at my boots. I must be losing it, I repeat with another sigh. I must be...

~~~~~

Gods, I thought that my duties would never end! How strange is that, especially since they seem to have ended early this afternoon? I must be more infatuated than I thought... every moment that I am away from Hiroshi makes me long all the more to be with him. I cannot help but wonder if he feels the same about me.

I smile to myself, quickening my pace as I walk through the hallway to my room. I cannot be dressed in my fancy gown if I'm going riding on Hiroshi's dragon, now can I? But I want to be with him so badly... I had actually considered going right to the training grounds without bothering to change first. Still, it just wouldn't do to let things like that slide. I will need a less formal outfit -- loose breeches and a tunic and doublet, probably. I've worn like outfits before, so nobody should be *too* scadalized to see me in it.

At least, I hope not, because I don't relish the idea of riding Koori in a dress.

*Oh, who cares?* I feel like skipping through the halls now, but settle for humming a little tune under my breath. I'm free for the afternoon! And I get to see Hiroshi again! I can't wait! The way he makes me feel when he's around, it's just so wonderful... And thinking about him sends shivers down my spine. I've never met anyone like him before... I don't think I ever *could* meet anyone like him; he's something so special that it makes my heart sing...

I grin happily; when did I get so romantic? Hopeless... But I don't care, because I'm so happy to be going to see him. It's wonderful. I can't wait to be riding on that dragon; it's going to be an unforgettable experience, without a doubt. If only I could walk faster... I'm practically running.

"Lady Kasumi?"

I stop in my tracks. Oh no, not now... "Your Grace?" I turn and plaster a phoney smile that doesn't feel like staying there across my face. Damn him, damn him, *damn* him! Why doesn't that wretched man just leave me alone? Can't he see that I have things to do?

Apparently not. "I heard that you were free this afternoon, my Lady?" he commented, moving forward to smile at me. "Would you care to spend a few hours with my poor self?" He bowed. "We could talk over tea and cakes..." Was he trying to tempt me with food?

I would've laughed in his face if he weren't an ambassador. "I'm sorry, your Grace, but I've made other plans." I'm doubly grateful to Hiroshi now; he's saved me from a fate worse than death! "And I must hurry, or I'll be late. If you'll excuse me..." I turn to leave.

"My Lady." He grabs my hand. "Think it over." Now I'm feeling slightly afraid; there's a warning look in his eyes that I don't like at all. "You may be... safer... staying with me."

"What on earth do you mean, your Grace?" I ask as politely as I can. I pull my hand from his. The look on his face could send shivers down my spine that would be very different from the ones that thoughts of Hiroshi sends. It's almost... threatening.

"Nothing, Lady Kasumi." He smiles once more, and the look is gone from his face. "I'm sorry to have kept you from your appointment. Please, carry on."

I've never been more relieved. "Thank you, your Grace." I hurry onward, resisting the urge to shudder. What was that all about? I'm worried now, and can't get back into my earlier lighthearted mood. I still want very much to see Hiroshi, though, so I hurry to my room and change, then rush out, nearly knocking over a maid in my haste. I murmur an apology and keep going.

The field is fairly crowded when I arrive, but then, the afternoon is a good time for flying. White dragons litter the air, beautiful but no longer holding quite the same enchantment for me that they did before I laid eyes on Koori. I see riders all around me; most of them recognize me and bow -- the red hair is fairly conspicuous, I suppose. A few just smile, as if they think they know me, but can't quite recall where from... I don't mind that at all. I like being normal, for once in my life.

I see a flash of gold and recognize Koori -- as if I could miss him -- just inside the area where trainers can mount. I suppose he's waiting for Hiroshi, who is nowhere in sight... Well, I *could* go over and wait with him, but I'm so nervous about approaching the gold without Hiroshi around. I'm not sure if Koori likes me or not, and I wouldn't want to offend him. My heart is at stake here; I don't think Hiroshi would like to spend time with me as much if his dragon hated me. So I let my eyes drift away from the gold as I wait for him.

Near the inner edge of the training grounds, I notice a black dragon and its rider, watching the dragons in the air. For some reason, especially after speaking with the Johto ambassador, seeing him there gives me the creeps. I don't know what he's doing, either; shouldn't he be training if he's out here? There's a bitter, almost hateful sort of look on his dark-shadowed face, which chills me right to the core.

"Kasumi!" I turn, then, and face a beaming Hiroshi. He looks as thrilled to see me as I am to see him. My heart leaps at the sight of his face. *Gods, does he know how handsome he is?* All thoughts of the ambassador or his dragonrider fade from my mind.

"Hello, Hiroshi," I greet him, smiling. "Are you ready to take me flying, like you promised?"

"Of course, Kasumi." He takes my hand and leads me off toward that flash of gold I had spotted before. Koori looks pleased to see us -- mostly Hiroshi, I'd imagine, but I'd like to think that he might like to see me as well. I smile up at him almost shyly.

"Hello, Koori." He bends his head at me, and I would swear that he smiled! Oh, maybe he *does* like me! I glance at Hiroshi for guidance. "Can I...?"

"Go ahead." He's grinning, so it must be all right. Hesitantly, I pat Koori's smooth muzzle, and the gold closes his eyes in pleasure. Oh, excellent! I love this dragon -- not as much as I love his rider, of course, but I love him all the same.

"Well, Kasumi," Hiroshi interrupts, smiling happily at the both of us. "Shall we go? Or did you want to stay here and pat Koori all afternoon."

The dragon raises his head and snorts at him, making Hiroshi laugh. "Oh, don't be that way," he tells the gold affectionately. "You want to fly just as badly as we do, and there will be plenty of time later for Kasumi to pet you." Koori tosses his head, and Hiroshi laughs again.

I am enthralled by this scene. It's so fascinating, the way they communicate. I know that the smile on my face must be a mile wide, and I just can't help it...

I think I could seriously fall in love with this Hiroshi. *Very* seriously. And I just don't care at all.

~~~~~

I'm so glad that I got to her in time... I didn't want her to have to wait. "You didn't wait long, did you?" I ask as I make preparations for flight. She shakes her head.

"No, not at all..." She's still smiling, it's so very beautiful... I pull my mind back to the task at hand.

"Good, I would have hated to do that to you... all right, you'll be sitting in front of me, Kasumi," I smile at her, "I don't want you to fall off..."

She grins back at me. For some reason I think she has more faith in me than I have in myself... "I'm not worrying about that at all, Hiroshi. So..." I flash another smile and help her up onto Koori's back, to the saddle. I secure her and then sit behind her.

"Is everything all right?" I ask softly. She nods. "This is just so... I can't even begin to explain it!"

I smile. "All right then... I suppose I should let the real show begin, hmm?" She laughs softly and nods. "I cannot wait..."

"Good, because here we go... Let's go, Koori." He beats his wings a few times, to gain lift and then he springs and we're in the air. It's always exhilarating the feel of the air, Koori beneath me... I can only imagine what it's like for Kasumi.

Maybe... the first time I ever flew with Koori... That could be close.

"Are you all right?" I ask her softly, close to her ear. She nods. "I..."

"You don't have to say anything," I murmur, and then I pay actual attention so I don't do anything adverse for our flight. This is wonderful... It's a rare occasion that I fly with another. And yes, Erika was nice and all, but Kasumi... she's *Kasumi* and she's beyond any possible words I could ever think of.

Satoshi really will love to hear about this...

I'm not trying to let Koori dazzle her... but he does have a mind of his own, and he's enjoying showing off for the good Lady. And I love him for it. The sea's sparkling beneath us and she's tense with excitement. I think I feel... I'm not sure... but I like her being this close.

I'm glad she's in front of me, I'm blushing again... I just can't explain this. I don't spend enough time with people, honestly... I wish I knew what I was missing. Or... no, it couldn't be. It's... different. It's... not possible.

So it's like I'm showing her the entire world. You can cover a lot of distance with the span of a dragon's wings, and that's what we're doing. The mountains toward the center of the island, back to the sea, then emerald flashes beneath us...

There's so much and I wish I could show it to her, all of it. I don't want to lose her, you know... I don't want to have to leave her the way I know I will. I...

What was that?

"Koori, did you see that?" It was a flash of black... and I don't like the feeling that I have suddenly. I loosen one hand on the rein to hold tighter with my right, and I wrap an arm around Kasumi's waist. I don't think she knows that I think something's wrong...

"Hiroshi?" I hear her over the wind.

"Kasumi..." There it is again. I turn to look back, and I don't like what I see. This isn't good at all, it's a black dragon. Dammit, what is Johto trying to pull now?! "Hold on tight!" I tell her and with a nudge direct Koori to swoop just as a blast of acid sears over us, dashing to the right and skimming close to the water. Koori's maneuverable and that's what we need right now. Speed and an ability to dodge. I'm not going to let her get hurt, dammit!

"What's wrong?" She asks, panicked.

"Don't worry, we just have an unwanted guest..." I tell her simply enough. "I'll get you back to the palace, Kasumi. I..." The black is now on our tail, but we're beyond it's reach. Thank you, Koori, *thank you*!

"We'll be back soon, don't worry."

"Hiroshi..." I don't want to try and think of what she's thinking. I just want to get her to safety. Because either this rider is rogue and just trying to kill us because of Koori... or it was something planned and he's here for Kasumi...

I suddenly fear for the palace and I urge Koori to faster speeds. We leave the black dragon far behind. "Hiroshi!" Kasumi yelps. This can't be good...

It's only been... what... by the sun, we've been out for an hour or so. Not long at all... but we missed a lot, that is a definite. I should have thought of this... but I was thinking so much about Kasumi... the palace is being *attacked*, there's fire, there's...

There's enough chaos that we go unseen as I find a place to land. I snag her hand and help her down. "Come on, I'm getting you to safety!"

"But - ..." She's dazed.

"Kasumi, listen to me, please. I'd hate myself if you got hurt..." And this is enough my fault as anyone else. I... "Please..."

She just resigns herself to follow after me. "Koori, hide yourself. I'll be back!"

He roars in agreement. And the thing is... it blends with the chaos around us. I expect anything but what I find next... it's Lady Erika and dragonriders from the Orange Islands. "Hiroshi!"

"Lady Erika..." I'm still holding Kasumi's hand.

"You have to get Lady Kasumi away from here, they're after *her*!" I feel pale, and Kasumi looks it. They're after her... because she's the heir.

"What?" I ask softly. "I mean... what about the High Cleric?" Erika's features are grim. Words don't have to be expressed.

"Just get her out of here, you hear me! I'll find safety with this rider," She motions to one with light brown hair. "but you must protect Lady Kasumi."

We haven't even been here long and now we have to go... "Kasumi..."

She's in shock, I think. And then she goes limp. Oh, this much look so very cliché... I catch her before she falls and pick her up. "All right, I'll get her to safety..." I murmur.

"Good. GO." Erika orders and I do so.

This... it's like a fragmented dream, that's what it is.

"Hiroshi..." Kasumi says, and I put her down on her own feet. She wobbles for a moment and grips my shoulders. I don't like the look in her eyes...

"You can't, Kasumi, you can't. As long as you survive, then there's hope. Please don't try and sacrifice yourself, *please* don't try and sacrifice yourself... Kasumi..."

I don't like to feel like I'm begging, pleading. But I don't want to let her get hurt and that's what would happen. I trust her abilities as a cleric, yes, but there's a difference between faith and war.

"Don't risk yourself, please..."

She's torn... "Hiroshi." That, I might add, was *not* Kasumi. I spin and stand in front of her protectively. I feel like some sort of knight with his lady... It's strange. It's that one dragonrider again. The one who makes me feel uneasy...

And you know what? He has a sword, and I don't have one. Oh why *me*? "Kasumi, *run*!" I tell her, snag her hand, and pull her after me. She follows willingly and I risk a glance back. He's just standing there and *smiling*, that's not right...

We just have to get back to Koori. How hard could that be?

~~~~~

I'm numb. Seriously, I can't think right now. I can't feel. I'm cold inside, and all I can do is let Hiroshi pull me along with him. I don't even want to think about what that Johto dragonrider was smiling for...

The High Cleric... I can only imagine what's happened. It took one afternoon for everything to fall apart. What will happen to the Orange Islands now, when I will have to rule and before I can, I'll have to be taken away? How can I leave them, though? They'll be suffering...

I want to break away from Hiroshi and run back to make sure everyone is away safely. But that's such a stupid thought, I'm surprised I even considered it. The most good I'll be able to do is *out* of enemy hands, not in them. I have to get away with Hiroshi now, but I'll come back. If I have to crawl through the sewage area, I will come back. I'll have an army at my back if that's what it will take to get Johto away from my homeland! Anger boils in my veins, and I run faster, no longer just letting Hiroshi pull me after him. The faster we get to Koori, the faster we can leave, and the faster I can return to reclaim my lands.

A black dragon swoop down in front of us, and Hiroshi comes to an abrupt halt, automatically putting himself between me and the enemy. From the dragon's back, the Johto ambassador smiles at us. "Going somewhere, my Lady?" he asks, voice laced with sarcasm.

I glare at him fiercely, but say nothing. I don't really know what to say anyway. Hiroshi stands in front of me, but there is a noise from behind and the other dragonrider comes up behind us, sword raised, still smiling. He doesn't say anything, but then, he really doesn't need to: his face expresses enough hatred and dark triumph without words to add to it.

"As you can see, dragonrider," the ambassador announces, in satisfied triumph. "There is no way out of here. Surrender now, and we'll give you a clean death -- refuse, and the Lady watches you suffer."

My breath catches as I glance up at Hiroshi -- but a grin is spreading across his face, and then... I blink. Is he... laughing?

"Hiroshi...?" My voice is barely a whisper. What on earth could be funny about this situation? We're caught in a dead-end, surrounded... How could he find his own death so amusing?

"Perhaps, your Grace," he remarks casually, eyes sparkling almost wickedly, "you should have done more research on the gold dragons we use for border duty." At this, he glances back at the dragonrider behind us, and I see a flash of recognition in his eyes. "You had a fighter, didn't you?" he murmurs, and then everything explodes.

The black dragon screams in pain and rage; it didn't even see Koori's attack coming. I glance up at Hiroshi in astonishment; he doesn't look surprised, only determined. How did he get Koori to come to him? "You see," he finishes softly. "They're really very good at sneaking up on people." The dragonrider from behind us lunges in for an attack...

But it's too late. Hiroshi pulls himself expertly onto his gold's back, yanking me up in front of him one-handed. We don't have time for fastenings... "Trust me, Kasumi," he whispers urgently into my ear, and then Koori takes off and we're airborn once more.

"All right..." I'm not sure if he can hear me. The reins are in one hand, and he's holding onto the saddle as well. I trust him to handle this; from what I've seen of the bond between him and Koori, I think he can handle this trouble.

The dragonrider who'd been attacking us with a sword is now chasing us on his own dragon -- a black, naturally. Koori dodges its acid breath and keeps going, through the clouds, trying to lose it. The black appears to have been built for speed as well, because it keeps with the gold's flight.

Hiroshi mutters a curse under his breath. "We're going to have to fight him, Koori," he shouts. "Think you can?"

In answer, the gold wheels abruptly and shoots a wall of flame back at the enemy, who dodges. I feel light-headed; this much adventure, coming so suddenly... It's really too much. I'm used to seeing ice blasts, so the fire shocks me somewhat -- and it's so close...

The black aims another burst of acid in our direction, and Koori dodges with calculated slowness; a hint of it hits on his right hind leg. He roars, but I get the feeling he's in less pain than he's letting on. The black moves in for the kill, and that's when Koori lets loose another fire blast, this time scoring a direct hit on the black's left wing. I watch in horrified fascination as the beast screams and drops back, slowly making its way back in for a painful landing. It can't follow us, not any more.

"Good, Koori," Hiroshi murmurs. How can he be so calm? I never thought I'd be witnessing a battle, especially not from such a viewpoint... "The other was taken out of action when you attacked it on the ground, wasn't it?"

The gold snorts an assent, but there's pain in the sound as well. "He's wounded," I say softly, unable to fully focuss on the situation yet. I'm thinking in fragments; it hasn't been able to completely catch up to me at the moment.

"I know," Hiroshi answered grimly. "I don't have the proper salve for it; I didn't think we'd need it for an afternoon flight. All I have with me are the emergency food supplies..."

I look down at the ground. It's unfamiliar... "Where are we?" I ask now. Koori's injured, we're lost -- what next?

He glances downward as well. "By the border between Johto and the Sekiei Kougen," he answers, and then his expression brightens as he seems to recognize the area. "Satoshi!" he breathes suddenly, as if a solution to our problem can be summed up in that one name.

Well, maybe it can. I'm honestly in no position to think right now, so I let Hiroshi take me wherever he will. I can only think of one thing: reclaiming what was stolen from me.

 

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