Chapter Six ~ Memories Over the Campfire

AN: I warn you that Kentarou's speech can be a bit tricky...since he's a bit drunk ^^;

He'd always liked campfires. They made light and heat, and you could have one just about anywhere. You could lose yourself for hours watching the flames lick at the wood and listen to it crackle. Campfires meant warmth and food and friends and sleep. They meant that the day was over and you got a little bit of comfort for a while.

So why didn't he feel that way now?

He shot down another gulp of sake from the now half empty bottle. Shion was right; it was damn good. Everything in his sight was a bit fuzzy now. He usually hated being drunk. He liked drinking, yes, but being drunk meant you were slow and stupid and couldn't fight. And in his line of business, you had to keep on your toes.

But right now, he didn't care. Actually, he was looking forward to getting smashed. Maybe then he'd be able to stop thinking about it.

He took another sip. The fire swayed a bit. He groaned and leaned his head against his hand. Damn you, you have any idea how long I looked for you? You bastard, didn't I matter at all? Didn't I -- Hyne almighty, I need a drink.

And so he got one. He'd drink until the hurt went away. He just hoped there was enough sake left.


The soft voice pulled him out of his pensire misery. It took some effort for his eyes to focus on the dark hooded figure standing just one the edge of the firelight.

"Kentarou, what's wrong?" she said, stepping forward. The flickering light lit up her purple eyes peering out from under the hood.

"Th'hell are you doin' up, Sakana?" he grumbled, though he wasn't at all irritated.

"I went out to look at the stars and I saw your campfire." She paused briefly to glance at the three fire faeries huddled to the other side of him. She smiled hesitantly to say hello. They all sneered and one made a hissing sound like when you spit in a fire. With that, they scuttled off into the darkness. Sakana's smile quickly fell and a cold feeling grew inside of her. But she forced it back and tried to forget. Kentarou couldn't see it, so there's no point in getting upset. Besides, he needs you now.

"Like a drink?" Kentarou offered dully.

Sakana eyed the bottle warily. She never had alcohol, and she wasn't sure this was a good time to start.

"No thanks. Just how much of that have you had?"

"Not enough."

They both fell silent. He stared blankly at the flames; she stared at him. He had taken off his shirt and shoes, so all he wore were his well-broken-in pants. He was muscular, not to the point of being excessive, but sleekly powerful. Beads of sweat clung to his tan skin from sitting too close to the fire. His hair, usually tied back, had been let down, and it fell to about his collarbone. It looked like the surface of a pond at midnight. Sakana wasn't sure why, but she suddenly had the urge to run her fingers through them.

What struck her the most, however, was how different he looked. He sat hunched over, elbows on knees, his hands clasped like he was praying. The amused spark had gone from his face, and Sakana was pretty sure it wasn't from the sake. Seeing him like this, with his guard down and his feelings so close to the surface, Sakana had to remind herself to breathe. To her eyes, he was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. Don't you dare, Sakana, you'll only get hurt. You know the rules, and you know what would happen. Don't be so stupid, she tried to convince herself, but she didn't sound all that confident, even to herself.

"Do you want me to stay, or do you want me to go?" she asked quietly. She didn't want to bother him. He blinked at her, then shrugged and motioned to the ground beside him.

"Have a seat."

"Want to talk?" she said, sitting down next to him, her heart racing at being so close, while at the same time wishing she could be in his arms again. She hugged her arms around her legs instead.

Kentarou was quiet for a long time. He took a sip from the bottle, never breaking his stare into the fire. It took him a while to answer, but Sakana was patient. It was something faeries were good at.

"Seven years ago," he started slowly, "when I was still a kid, a bunch of guys from our camp found about, it's hard to think...this caravan, I'd guess you'd say, goin' through th' Chimera Mountain Pass. Bringin' gold 'n' silver 'n' silk 'n' just 'bout ev'rythin' that sucks in people like us. I's too inexperienced t'go, 'cuz I'd only joined a few months earlier. But Shion'd been there since he's a kid, I mean, a lil' kid. 'N' they needed someone small." He paused, as his voice grew thick. "Shion was my best friend. No, he was my brother. Kinda like you 'n' neko-chan. We went ev'rywhere together. We didn't even need t' talk; I always knew what he's thinkin'. So they ride off this one day, sayin' they'll be back by tomorrow. Well, they never came back. Somethin' got 'em 'n' the caravan."

"Dark fae?" she prompted, since he had lost himself in memories. He shook his head.

"Griffins. Sons 'a bitches slaughtered 'em all. We went out three days later when they didn' come back. Only foun' half 'o 'em. 'R what was left. Foun' one guy in a tree 'n' his insides in a bush fi'ty feet 'way. I was sick fer hours. So it wasn't a s'prise that we couldn' find Shion. But I was crushed. I fought like hell when they tol' me t'come back. An' I went out 'most ev'ry night after that callin' for 'im. For weeks I did that. Luckily I didn' get killed by monsters at night. But then I wouldn't 'a cared. Shion was dead, and I wanted t'be, too." He stopped again. Sakana thought for a minute then said in a serious voice:

"He's Kaika's slave, isn't he? The one we saw earlier."

"How'd y'know?"

"The way you looked at him. You were thoroughly disturbed."

"Can y'blame me? There was no way he could've survived. If he was there, that is. He jus' tol' me what really happened. Shion split off from th' group b'for they got there. He saw a unicorn off 'n the distance. A buck. I'm sure y'know how much magic's in their horns. People'll pay an arm 'n' a leg for 'em. So his idea was simple 'nough. Kill th' unicorn, get its horn, then ride back 'n' help finish off th' raid."

Sakana winced. Despite what human myth had made them out to be, unicorns were not peaceful, gentle creatures. They were fiercely territorial, wild, and violent. Not only that, but if you did manage to kill them, it was very bad luck.

"But it didn't work out that way, I take it?"

Kentarou shook his head. "Oh, he killed it; he was always damn good with a kodaichi. But after he hacked off th' horn 'n' caught up with th' others...I mean, shit, nobody'd should've seen somethin' like that..."

"He saw the griffins attack?"

"Worse th'n that. When he heard th' screamin', he got off his horse an' crawled under th' bushes so he could see without bein' seen." He face grew grim. He rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. "He got there as ev'ryone was dead or dyin'. Not twenty feet from where he was hidin', his dad was lyin' on th' ground. There's a griffin on top o' him, rippin' his guts out with its beak. It was eatin' him, Sakana, and th' poor bastard was still alive. Shion couldn't move 'cuz he was so scared. He lay there 'til th' whole pack o' 'em was gone. Seein' that really messed 'im up. Hell, it'd mess anybody up, but 'specially at that age."

"...Did he hear the griffins' scream, too?"

"Yeah, he did."

Few people went up against griffins and survived. They were the lucky ones; they didn't have to live with the memory of the horrible screech griffins made as they hunted. That in itself was enough to give a person nightmares for the rest of their lives.

But to watch his own father be eaten's amazing he kept his sanity, Sakana thought as Kentarou went on.

"He wandered 'round th' forest for who knows how long...he don't even know. Was too scared t' find his way back. Th' griffins got his horse, too. Didn't know where he was anymore."

"Mother of Fae, the poor thing..."

Kentarou gave a short laugh. "Don't go feelin' all sorry fer 'im; I'm not finished. After weeks 'r months 'r whatever, he meets that stupid feline slut, whats'r name..."

Sakana smiled in spite of herself. "You mean Kaika?"

"Yeah, that one. She'd got stuck in a rock slide, 'n' prob'ly would've died if it wasn't for 'im gettin' her out. Should've left her there. Anyway, she's real hurt, but he sticks around 'til she gets better. So as a thank-you-very-much, she tells 'im he c'n stay here, without th' whole slavery thing. See, a while back, there was this plague 'r somethin' that swept through th''Ki...hell, th' Kirikas, that's it...but it only got to th' males. They all died, so th' Kirikas started capt'rin' human guys to use as f'ckin' breeders. They're 'most completely like cats before; now they're some half-breed mutt things. Shion might've fathered some o' 'em, but he's no way a' knowin' with th' way they get 'round."

"So why..."

"Why did he stay here? Think 'bout it. He's got ev'rythin' he could only get by stealin'. No more cons, no more pickin' pockets, no more raids. No more chances a' gettin' caught 'r killed." He ran his hand through his hair and sighed angrily. "That an' he likes Kaika."

"You mean he loves her."

"No, he likes 'er. Shion don't b'lieve in love. Never has. He's like any o' th'other trash you saw in my camp when it comes to women. Dun matter who's tent it is as long 's he's gettin' some. We found him with Blank's girl once. Stupid sonuva bitch..."

He chuckled in remembrance. Sakana smiled awkwardly and blushed. This wasn't a topic she was used to. The whole concept of physical displays of affection was a bit foreign to her. Faeries had not need for it.

Kentarou's voice grew serious again.

"Shion didn' want t' find th' love a' his life 'r anythin'. He didn' give a damn 'bout any a' th' girls he's with. Half th' time he'd forget their names by mornin'. But he did wanna find someone he liked. Y'know, someone he could live with without gettin' tired a' her. That's as deep as he'll go's far's relationships 'r concerned."

"What does Kaika think of him?"

"Tell y' what I think. I think she dun give a damn 'bout 'im. But she knows damn well that he likes 'er, an' that he's stayin' by choice. That makes 'im better th'n her other slaves. Since he's not a slave, he's not public prop'ty. An' she likes havin' a man all t' herself. I tol' 'im that. I tol' 'im he's wastin' his life playin' whore to a damned cat. He's got all this talent, an' he's wasted it long 'nough. He needs t'be somewhere where he c'n have human contact 'sides th' guys in chains who aren't 'llowed t' talk."

"You mean like you?"

"Damn right like me! Do you have any idea how much I've missed that idiot? He died once 'fore an' I'm not gonna let it happen 'gain!"

"Kentarou -- "

"I asked him t' come wit' us."

Sakana blinked. "What did he say?"

"Said he'd lemme know by mornin'. Damn, when I think o' how many nights I cried ov'r that bastard --" He tipped back the bottle again, but it was finally empty. "Dammit, why's it all gone?"

"You've had enough, anyway."

"Sakana, dammit, don't..." his voice trailed off as for the first time that night he looked directly into her face. "That' I know's not th' sake doin' that."

She looked away self-consciously. She didn't know if he'd like her true face.

"...That how you really look?"


"Neko-chan'd that?" Sakana simply nodded.

"Take off your cloak. I wanna see."

Sakana had to remind herself that his request was completely out of curiosity and had nothing to do with that "other" topic. But she still felt shy as she pulled the hood back from her head.

Kentarou stared quizzically, but there was none of the confusion from before. It was more childlike, like a little kid trying to understand. Sakana's cheeks burned blue, and she couldn't bring herself to make eye contact. She didn't want to see how much it scared him.


She didn't look up.

"Sakana, look a' me."

Bracing herself, she raised her head. Even through the glazed look in his eyes, she could see the smile that was all Kentarou.

" doesn't bother you?"

"No, not at all. It's actually kinda...kinda pretty. Neko-chan did a good job."

Her blue cheeks turned almost indigo. He thinks I'm pretty, oh, Sweet Mother of Fae -- shut up, Sakana. He's mortal and drunk besides.

"Y'have t'be careful, though, if you're gonna go 'round like that. Some people dun like fae too much."


"They dun understand it, s' they're...'fraid. Don't worry, Sakana. I'll make sure you're okay."

Sakana thought she would die if she couldn't kiss him. It wasn't something she'd thought of before, and she knew it would hurt, but the thought still remained. But instead she looked into the fire and said:

"We should get you to bed, Kentarou." She stopped, checked herself, and went on carefully. "You need some sleep, and Rydia will worry if I'm not there." Idiot. Don't even think that for a minute. You wouldn't know the first thing to do, anyway.

Kentarou stood up shakily, resembling a newborn foal. He took one step, swayed, and fell over. Sakana caught him and steadied him by holding onto his shoulders.

"Why's th' groun' movin'?"

"Because you're drunk, that's why."

"Oh. Yeah."

"C'mon, Kentarou," she laughed. "I'll help you back to your room."

"Y'know, I really hate bein' drunk."

"I'm sure you do. Now lean up against me so you can walk."

"I c'n walk."

"Right. C'mon, we'll take it slow. Give me your arm...there you go..."

<Meanwhile, somewhere very close by...>

High up in a tree, hidden in the shadows, two identical figures watched intently. One was perched in the middle of the branch like a wildcat ready to spring; the other leaned nonchalantly against the trunk.

"The faerie is a rather intriguing target, wouldn't you say?" the second one mused.

"Definitely. She's falling fast for the boy, but she doesn't want to."

"You don't need Read* to see that."

She pulled an arrow out of the quiver across her back. She stroked the soft twin green feathers, ran a single finger down the length of the shaft, and played with the vicious looking blade at the tip. She delighted in the razor sharpness of it.

"It's almost too perfect. Oh, this is going to be so much fun!" the wildcat squealed, and flipped around the branch like a gymnast.

Her sister merely smiled with a cold ruthlessness. She brought the arrow to her mouth and licked the flat side of the blade. It tasted metallic, both from the iron and the traces of dried blood. The very thought of fresh blood, both mortal and fae, gushing from prey that she had killed with her own hands amused her. But she knew the kill would be pure ecstasy if they were patient and drew it out. Make them suffer. Make them scream with agony, both physical and emotional.

"I can't wait to see how our little sorceress fits into this. Mind games are always more fun with three," the crouching one said, grinning excitedly at her mirror image standing against the tree. "Oh, can't we start playing with them now?"

"We must wait and watch for a while."

"But I wanna do it now!"

"No, my dear sister. Wait. Besides, Orion has all the time in the world. We have no need to hurry."



* Read, or anything with a capital letter (like Fire, Water, etc.) is a type of Mind magic spell.