Through the Night

 

Part Nine: Hiroshi and Kasumi

 

When we're well on our way and I feel that Kasumi's relaxed, I call to her over the sound of the wind and beating wings, "How are you, Kasumi?"

She takes a moment to reply. You know, as much as I like spending time with Satoshi, we do really get to spend time together so very rarely... I'm glad that I have time alone with her. There's a part of me that says that I'm betraying a friend.

And then there's that voice that tells me he's glad to be alone with Shigeru. So I smile and listen to Kasumi's reply.

"I still love it!" She calls back, and I feel like my smiles going to split my face apart. I'm glad she likes Koori the way she does. I don't know why, but I somehow know that I need his approval. And I think I have it...

Speaking of Koori... the wound does seemed to have had the time it needs. That salve *is* fast acting, and that's what he needed. A bit of rest and something to eat. The wound's healing well... And he's practically better than ever now. I'm glad, if I lost him... it would be like losing a part of my soul.

Like the Johto rider whose face I just can't place, whose name I just can't remember. He was a gold rider once, he was on our side. That is for certain... but he's fighting for the enemy now, he is the enemy. What was it like to lose his dragon? He was never the same again, that's sure...

And that hatred... the hatred that I felt when he looked at me. It was like he wanted to make me suffer the same way that he had suffered. That or worse...

"Hiroshi, are you all right?" Kasumi asks and I snap back out of that daze.

"I'm all right, Kasumi, don't worry." Just a reassuring squeeze and we continue to fly. She doesn't say another thing, so I'm not sure if she believes me or not. I hope she does, I really am all right.

The forests speed along below us, and we're close to the Sekiei Kougen now, very close. I hope that Erika made it back safely... I also hope that they think enough not to jump to conclusions and send all of our forces south.

We're going to need to keep our defenses...

We're there in less time than I would have thought, and I help Kasumi down off of Koori's back. "Koori, take a rest, you deserve it... you need it." I smile and he rumbles. "I'm going to take Kasumi to Wataru..."

And with that I smile at her and she takes a deep breath. "All right, let's go, Hiroshi." I love it when she smiles at me. It makes me feel warm inside...

The halls of the fort are strangely empty. But it is early in the day, and with Johto's advances in the South, there's any number of reasons why it could be thus. We pass through the levels, on the way to Wataru's...

"What is he like? This Wataru..."

"He's a great commander," I reply lightly. "and I know that he'll want to help you, Kasumi." She smiles again and then we walk in quiet, it's a comfortable silence. I'm just glad to be near her...

The things is, we find Wataru before we even reach his office. He's on one of the middle levels, gazing at one of the grand maps near the library. His hands poised near his chin, and he looks thoughtful. "That's him," I whisper to Kasumi, and then I move towards him with a vengeance.

"Wataru-sama?" I call. He looks to me almost immediately, and relaxes.

"Hiroshi, you made it back. Lady Erika informed us of you taking Lady Kasumi to safety..." I nod politely, and his gaze flickers to her. Yes, she might not look like any heir in her current garb, but she is truly the leader of the Orange Islands now. "I am sorry that we must meet on such a sad occasion, milady Kasumi."

They begin speaking to one another then, and I'm thankfully left out. They speak of the current situation. Scouts have brought back news. That's why it's so silent, I muse. A good chunk of our forces are out on one thing or another. And then they speak of what is to be done for the Orange Islands, and Wataru invites Kasumi to speak in his office.

She shoots me a look and smiles then accepts his offer, "I will talk to you later, Hiroshi," He tells me and then leads Kasumi up. I sigh and watch them depart, I watch them until they're gone.

There's a lot that I could do, I muse. I get myself something to eat then go back to check on Koori, carrying an apple that I toss from hand to hand. Koori... He's eating as well, and I sit there and watch him. "Are you glad to be back?" I ask, and he rumbles a reply. I smile.

"I am too."

I didn't even get to make my report to Wataru. This is somehow inherently strange... but I'm sure he just wanted to speak with Kasumi first as it is her lands that are being conquered. Please don't tell me I'm jealous of my commanding officer... I sigh and take a bite of the apple.

I'll see her soon enough, I can be apart from her for that length at least. I take another bite, and continue talking with Koori. "You like her, don't you...?"

~~~~~

I step inside Wataru's office, and turn to him, expecting the worst. He's told me the condition of our country, which was bad enough... Johto is *very* efficient. They've blocked everything off and holed themselves into a defensible position -- it's going to take a war to get them out, that's for certain. And, the High Cleric... I wonder if they might be holding him somewhere... I still cling to that hope, that he's still there, not... I glance up at Wataru.

He bows. "High Cleric." And that solemn statement tells me more than I really wanted to know, at all. It breaks my heart.

"Commander." I nod in response, my face a mask of control. This is something I've become an expert at, not letting the anguish show. "There is something you're not telling me. We won't be able to rescue my people, will we?"

He shakes his head, and looks almost old. My first impression was one of strength, but now I see only weariness. "There's a small situation, my Lady. We cannot hope to liberate the Orange Islands. And I fear we will be next, for..." He rubs a hand over his eyes. "We've just lost half our defensive power."

"What!?" Now the mask does drop, and I'm left staring at him, stunned. "Commander, what are you saying?"

"Just that, my Lady," he growls, obviously trying not to seem defeated by the situation. "I don't know how they've done it, but just about every dragon in our force is dead useless!"

I force myself not to respond. Hiroshi's gold is fine, though... And Satoshi's silver... "And our white dragons, Commander? Have they been affected as well?"

"No." He frowns. "And that makes it interesting, doesn't it, my Lady? We can't hope to reclaim your lands with only a small attack force of white dragons. They have blacks, reds, blues, and greens all at their command -- we have only a fourth the power they can put forth."

I frown right back at him. "I sincerely hope you aren't planning to abandon hope, Commander."

That makes him look up. "Never, my Lady. We'll be fighting to the end. But I hope you understand, we can't free your country. I was hoping you'd arrive, because I must beg for the help of your dragonriders in defense of our homeland." His eyes bore into mine.

My response is automatic; there's really no need to think it over any more. Johto has invaded our lands, so there's no chance of alliance, and I wouldn't have it, even if offered. "Of course, Commander. We are at your service; you only need ask." I turn, then, toward the window, where I can see into their training grounds. They are very like ours at the moment -- no golds in sight, only those white dragons and their riders who managed to escape from our homeland. Except, near the corner, there's one speck of gold. *Koori,* I think.

"Hiroshi's gold is fine, Commander," I tell him, turning back once more. "We had left another rider earlier -- Satoshi was his name -- and he had a silver that seemed unaffected as well. I'm not certain what it means, but if it will help..."

He faces me, eyes level with mine. "I had hoped to talk with Hiroshi about this... And Satoshi has a healthy dragon as well?" At my nod, he looks thoughtful. "Surprising, my Lady. Everyone else with a metallic colored dragon has either reported back injured, or not reported back at all. I wonder..."

"Would you like it if I inspected your dragons myself, Commander?" I ask suddenly. "I am a Cleric, and, though I know my powers won't work on dragons, I may be able to find what's wounded them."

Wataru offers a smile -- and, faint though it is, I feel better on seeing it. "I would be grateful, my Lady. But perhaps you should rest. Whenever you feel up to it, please come and see me."

I curtsy as best I can in the clothes I have on, a gesture of respect, and he bows with that same respect. "I will, Commander. If you will excuse me, now..." I head for the door.

"If you see Hiroshi," he adds. "I'd truly appreciate if you let him know I wish to speak with him, my Lady."

I nod. "I'll remember that, Commander."

Then I step out the door -- and go to find Hiroshi.

~~~~~

Koori can be so very amusing at times. And I'm glad that I can just... not have to worry about anything. I finish off my apple and Koori snorts. "Oh come on, Koori, begging isn't becoming of you." I smile, though, and I move so that I'm actually standing next to him.

I know that we don't exactly talk... but I've always been able to understand him. And... Well, I don't know what I'd do if he *didn't* like Kasumi. But that's not the problem. He does. I pat his side. He turns and exhales and ruffles my hair.

"You really think so? Do you think she...?"

My question gets cut off by the sound of someone approaching. I turn, and I don't think I've ever smiled so much in my entire life. "Kasumi!" She smiles back at , and I rush to meet her. But it's touched by something heavy... I hope that Wataru was easy on her.

"What did Wataru-sama have to say?" I ask her and she sighs. I lead her to a place where she can sit, and she glances at me and then to Koori. When she looks back to me, her eyes are flooded with... something... and then she informs me of all that Wataru has told her.

It's almost hard to swallow. The fact that the dragons... but not Koori and Shiika? They're otherwise useless... "He wants to speak with you, Hiroshi." She says in a calm voice.

"Wataru-sama?" I ask, and she nods. "Hai... do you think that Koori would let me examine him? I know that I should rest before I go about this... But... it's all that I can do."

I nod. "All right... You might be able to tell what's wrong, I'm sure, Kasumi. I have faith in you."

She smiles back at me. "I'm not so sure, Hiroshi... But... I think you should go to him, now. It is surely important." I nod and squeeze her hand. There's something that I could say here, something that means more than I could explain. That I...

"I will see you again, Kasumi. Until then."

She bids me farewell and I make it to Wataru's office. Along the way, I'm just trying to digest all tat I've been told. The way that Johto has dominated the Orange Islands... and now this difficulty with the dragons. Maybe that's why the fort is so... empty... I had thought that it was because our forces were out. No... there's almost nothing left...

Koori and Shiika... are they truly the only ones? It's hard to take...

But i'll fight to the end for my home, for the ones I care about. And I'll do everything that I can for Kasumi and her country. Even though I'm sure that it might be impossible... No, I'm not going to let myself get down. I'm going to listen to Satoshi's advice on a situation like this. I won't let myself lose hope.

"Wataru-sama?"

"There you are, Hiroshi," He tells me.

"What did you wish to speak to me about, sir?"

He proceeds to inform me of what must be done. I think the plans are simple enough. Not only that, he told me of Lady Erika's safe return; I had hoped she had made it back...

"Lady Kasumi has assured me that we will have the aid of her dragonriders... the ones who have escaped. Yet... is it true that Satoshi's silver is well?"

I nod.

He taps his chin. "I do not understand this. Two out of *all* of our dragons... Either the gods have turned against us... or this is some plan of the Johto Lord..."

I have a sudden desire to return to Satoshi so that I can speak with Shigeru maybe he knows something of what is going on, since he *is* the son of our greatest enemy...

And I know that I must trust Satoshi more than I can explain, because I do not bring up Shigeru to him at all.

"I think that you need to get in touch with Satoshi, and as soon as possibe," Wataru tells me. "it's not safe for him to be alone like this on guard duty."

"But he is not alone, Wataru-sama..."

He stares at me hard. "I know he is with Shiika, but that does not mean that he is untouchable, Hiroshi."

I didn't mean Shiika...

"I know, Wataru-sama."

"Take this night to rest; you've had a long day and we don't want to put any unwanted strain upon Koori."

I nod and he dismisses me. I walk down the halls, looking over what he has told me, and what I can do about it. I think that I will be having that talk with Shigeru when I see him next...

But for the time being, I'll make myself back to Kasumi, and muse over these thoughts. When I find her, she's talking to Koori. I smile and listen to her voice, and then she turns and grins at me.

"There you are."

"I'm sorry I was so long..."

"It's all right. How did your talk with Wataru go?"

"It was fine..." I end up informing her of what he told me. She knew a good chunk of it all ready, I'm sure, but still...

"You're going to seek Satoshi out?"

I nod. "Hai, tomorrow... I think that I wish to speak with Shigeru." She stares at me long and hard then nods. "I understand."

"Would you like anything? Something to eat, anything at all?"

"Well... I am a bit hungry..." I smile. "All right then, let me lead the way." She smiles back at me. I just hope Rindou isn't on duty today...

~~~~~

I feel more weary than I'd like to let on as I follow Hiroshi down through the halls of this fortress. Ordinarily, I'd be watching the turns and where we're going, but I just can't bring myself to do anything but follow blindly. I'm sure that at least part of this problem is my lack of food, but I don't feel incredibly hungry at the moment...

There was nothing the matter with Koori. Of course, I hadn't expected to find anything. I'd have been unable to heal any wounds or illnesses -- I could tell that right away -- but it was very obvious that Hiroshi's gold was in excellent condition. I couldn't help but wonder what I'd see when I looked over the others. Anything? Nothing? Actually, I predicted that I'd find nothing. What had happened to the Indigo dragons sounded very much like black magic -- the kind that Johto was famous for.

I could see why Hiroshi wanted to speak with Shigeru.

"Here we are." His bright voice snaps me out of my reverie immediately, and I shake my head slightly to clear it. Hiroshi is already searching through some food supplies, while kitchen workers hurry around us, not stopping to notice that we're raiding the food. This is... strange.

"Is Rindou on kitchen duty today?" Hiroshi asks suddenly, when a worker stops long enough to give a brief greeting. There's a worried note in his voice.

"She's lying down," the boy answers, and the blond dragonrider gives a sigh of relief. "I think she said she had a headache or something..."

"Good," Hiroshi mutters under his breath, as the worker moves on.

I'm fairly certain that I probably should be inquiring into that further, but at the moment, I am just too tired to care about anything but food and rest -- in that order.

"Here." Hiroshi hands me some fresh fruit, which he'd grabbed from a dish that's likely intended for those of higher rank. Well, I *am* of higher rank, I suppose... He helps himself to the bread and cheese. "Want anything to drink? We only have water, but..." He shrugs.

"Yes, please." I'm certain that I won't be able to eat without having something to drink as well. Hiroshi fills a mug up with water from a small cooler and hands it to me as well.

"I'm sorry it's nothing fancy," he apologizes. "But it's the best we can do. We all have to just fend for ourselves around here when we're grabbing a bite to eat outside the normal mealtime."

"I understand. It's all right." I smile at him, and he leads me over to a set of tables. There are a few people eating, but no huge crowds. I suspect that it isn't common for these soldiers to eat outside of their mealtime -- but duty demands it at times, I suppose. I settle in beside Hiroshi and concentrate on eating.

"I'm going back to the border first thing tomorrow morning," he says suddenly, as if this were the first time we'd spoken about it. "I know Wataru wants Satoshi out of there, and after listening to his reasoning on the matter, I'm really worried. Besides that, it's also important that I talk to Shigeru right away -- but you know this already, I guess."

"Right." I think I understand what he's *not* saying in there, as well. One, he intends to do something that he considers fairly dangerous -- since, at this point, flying a gold anywhere near the Johto border could involve some amount of bloodshed, if he's spotted. And two, he intends to leave me behind. I put that matter aside for the moment -- it can be brought up when he tries to leave. I have something else to ask him.

"Hiroshi," I begin, making certain that I have his attention, "I don't suppose you've thought about *why*, exactly, you and Satoshi have the only two dragons who haven't been affected by whatever has incapacitated the others, have you?"

The expression on his face at that is just too cute. He blinks. "I... hadn't really thought about *why*. Maybe because we weren't here when it happened..."

I shake my head. "Your commander has already explained to me that others who have been sent out either returned by land with injured dragons, or have not returned at all." His face blanches at that. "You and Satoshi have the only unaffected dragons out of your entire army. Why do you think that is?"

He sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. His food is barely touched; I think this whole thing is troubling him a great deal. "I'm not really sure, actually. It seems strange. Why us? What do we have that the others don't?"

"Did you ever think that you might have been chosen for something?" I suggest. It's a long shot, of course... But I've been taught to be open to these sorts of possibilities -- I work my own magic, and I've dealt with a god...

He looks perplexed. "Chosen by who? And for what? And why did they have to knock out our army to chose us?"

"I wouldn't think that a benevolent god would knock out your army," I correct him. "That could have something to do with our enemies. I'm saying that perhaps someone -- a god, or some supernatural being -- could save only a few dragons from this blight, and yours were the ones chosen." I pause to let that sink in.

Hiroshi appears to take me at my word, nodding slightly as if to accept the possibility. "But why Koori and Shiika? Is there something special about them that the others just don't have?"

I shrug. "Ask yourself if there's something special about *you* that nobody else has."

That one stuns him, I think. He sits in silence for a moment. "All right," he says finally. "Then that's settled."

Now it's my turn to be confused. I hadn't expected that. "What's settled?" I ask him suspiciously.

"Well," he says, quite calmly, turning to face me, "since Satoshi and I have been chosen, it's up to us to set things right. So that means I'd best get started, don't you think?" He gets up from the table without giving his meal another glance.

As I get up to hurry after him, I have to reflect that this was not exactly the response I'd had in mind when I brought up the subject...

 

Next