Chapter Eight - Welcome Home, Goodbye Part I: Michika
It was the hardest decision she would ever make. Too many events had happened, too many things she was left in the dark. Just why they were after her, she had no idea nor did she understand why they wanted her. Master Odin warned her to find her guardian angel and hide, but she refused. In her dreams, the woman in chains told her to run, but she didn't listen. Rydia wanted to face this invisible and possibly impossible task head on, whoever the mastermind behind the mess she was now involved in was.
But she didn't want anyone else to get involved.
The three people Rydia stumbled upon by chance, she began to think of as a family. It was an odd family, but she never had a family to begin with so Rydia took whatever experiences she had to understand what a family was. Sakana was the wise and protective older sister - quiet around others but always someone for the young sorceress to confide her problems in; except for the one problem that Rydia was in now. Shion was the dependable older brother - always willing to listen and always capable of lifting up a dark mood with his humor. And Kentarou....
Rydia paused as she placed the last of her daggers into the holster Kaika gave to her, her thoughts walking in circles as the thought of Kentarou crossed her mind. She hadn't really quite grasped at what he meant to her yet. At first, she found him rude, arrogant and a bit rough at times. He was utterly unpredictable, a mystery that Rydia found intriguing yet frustrating to understand at the same time.
The young sorceress sighed, shaking her head. This was no time to think about such strange ideas. Tucking the holster in the sleeve of her kimono and securing her satchel, Rydia took in a deep breath and sighed again. She was hesitating, she knew.
But she had to do this.
Gripping the satchel tightly, she closed her eyes and began whispering a spell that would forever sever the bonds she had held deep within her heart….
[Michika Village - Three Weeks Earlier]
"Sakana! Sakana!!!" It was about the third day in a row since she had not seen the sky faerie. Three days since that…incident. After Sakana witnessed Rydia and Kentarou's fairly awkward moment, she had seemingly disappeared among the crowd of Kirikas and their human slaves. One would think that Sakana would stand out with her blue skin and hair (nonetheless her wings), but she was small - even smaller than Rydia by half an inch or so - and it made it difficult to find her in the crowd of the tall Kirika.
Out of exhaustion and frustration, Rydia plopped herself down on the front patio of Kaika's home and smoothed out the new set of clothes she was wearing. By Kaika's insistence, Rydia wore her friend's gift to her - an outfit that somewhat deviated from the green and white kimono she had worn for the past few weeks from traveling. Knowing that the sorceress was still quite self conscious of her body, Kaika ordered her maids created an outfit that kept the sorceress both comfortable and cool from the heat. Rydia traded in her worn pair of shoes with thick leather-laced sandals, and her mended kimono with a simple light blue dress that fell around her ankles. To provide more movement, the dress was slit on both sides around thigh length and she wore white pants underneath. The dress was sleeveless, leaving Rydia with the only uncomfortable part of the outfit with her uncovered arms. The sorceress had to admit that she was very pale from the years of covering nearly her entire body and she needed some color. But she hated the sunlight. Not in a vampiric way, but she hated the way her skin reacted by just the warmth of the sun's rays. It felt like she was going to be burned by fire and her skin would turn black from the rays. It was one of the many oddities about herself that she didn't like all that much.
Rydia snapped out of her thoughts at the sound of his voice and looked up. Kentarou's amber eyes met her mismatched ones before she looked past him.
"What?" was the first question that escaped her lips.
"Where the hell have you been for the past three days?" Kentarou asked. "I can't get around this place without having everyone stare at me and speak to each other when I don't have a damn clue at what they're saying."
Rydia looked down at her hands again. She didn't want to let him know that she was deliberately avoiding him for a variety of reasons. What disturbed her even more was that Kentarou didn't seemed very fazed by what happened three days before, with the exception of the few hours immediately afterwards.
"I've been looking for Sakana," she replied at her hands. "I wanted to ask her about something, but I haven't been able to find her." An awkward pause lingered and she mustered the courage to look back up at him. "Besides, why don't you ask your friend? He knows the Kirika language, too."
Kentarou, for once, was at a loss for words. He really didn't want to do this, but it was Shion who talked him into it. His best friend had a knack for teasing the amber-eyed bandit and he also had a sharp eye when it came to women's moods. The latter portion was probably due in part from his long stay with Kaika.
"…That idiot's got things to do," he carefully explained. "B'sides, I don't want to get in between his and whatever-her-name's business."
"Her name," Rydia correctly tersely, "is Kaika. How many times have I told you that?"
There she goes, leading the subject into something else, Kentarou noted to himself. Even if it had been just a short amount of time he had been with her, Kentarou found the sorceress rather predictable.
"I ain't good with names," he said, trying to look at Rydia in the eye but she kept on looking elsewhere. "I can recognize faces pretty well but not names."
Rydia frowned. Liar. You call Sakana by her name. "Is that why you call me 'neko-chan'?"
Kentarou froze for a split second but not long enough for Rydia to notice. He couldn't tell her why he really called her 'neko-chan' for the very reason he didn't know why himself.
"That's for me to know and for you to find out," he told her with a grin.
Seeing that she wanted to say something back, he quickly added, "If you want to know where Sakana is, then just go towards that building with all those kids hangin' around. She's been playin' around with them for the past couple of days."
The look in her tired eyes brightened. "Oh Hyne, I didn't even think of going there…."
Without thinking, she leaped up at the bandit and gave him a fierce hug. Kentarou had remained frozen by the act and before he could even react, she let him go.
"Thank you so much, Kentarou!" she said to him cheerfully. "That saves me a lot of time!"
"Uh…sure…" he uttered back as he watched her run and disappear around the corner.
The warmth of her touch, the scent of her hair, and the brightness in her eyes…they were finally beginning to sink in his head. Kentarou heaved out a frustrated sigh, brushing back his already ruffled hair.
"So much for trying to ask," he muttered to himself.
He really had to sort out these mixed feelings of his. Soon.
[Somewhere close by]
Two shadows chuckled sinisterly in the trees.
"Oh my, such a strange twist of events, don't you think, sister?" the first shadow commented.
Her older twin smiled. "Indeed."
All the woman could to was stare in bewilderment as Raiden began releasing the chains that had bound her from escaping.
"If you hadn't attempted to escape before, these chains would not have wrapped around you and you would have been able to live freely with less pain," Raiden told her in a dull voice. "And if you had not contacted the girl, then you would not have -"
The demon silently caught the angel's anticipated punch, his eyes continuing to look at her emotionlessly. "Why?" the woman asked, this time with more conviction. "What are you here?!? Why are you doing this?"
"Schala - "
"You out of all people should know the reason why Hyne had kept Orion sealed into two entities, Raiden," Schala continued, her melodic voice getting angrier at each word she spat at the demon, "but why are you helping his minions to resurrect him??"
Raiden calmly lowered her shaking fist, his eyes breaking out one mask he held in sadness.
"You know why," he softly replied.
The tears that she bravely tried to fight back began to fall. Schala looked away from him then.
"For sixteen years, you disappeared without a trace," she whispered. "For sixteen years, I watched over that girl when it should have been you watching her." Schala paused and frowned when she realized that Raiden did not react to her words. "Do you realize who that girl is? Or did your soul contract exchange those precious memories for your powers and a meaningless revenge?"
Why didn't I think of going to the playground earlier? Sakana loves children, Rydia thought absentmindedly as she marched through Michika's bustling streets. A wave of shock and sorrow struck her, and Rydia stopped. Her hand slowly crept to her chest as she tried to get a hold of herself. What in the world…?
"Oi…are you all right?" a deep masculine voice asked behind her.
Rydia jumped a few inches in the air, startled by the voice. She turned around to see a very confused and concerned man behind her. Her eyes blinked a few times before the name could register in her head.
"…Shion…right?" she asked. "You're Kentarou's friend."
Shion laughed at her reaction. "I'm surprised you remember my name. He told you some more about me?"
Rydia couldn't help but smile and all of a sudden felt very shy. She remembered a few hours after "that incident" and trying in vain to search for her faerie friend, she saw a very flushed Kentarou yelling at Shion who was laughing. When she had confronted the two, it was then Kentarou revealed to her that he and Shion were old childhood friends.
After Shion had left, the bandit told her a variety of "warnings" about his friend:
"He's sly, horny, and dangerous so when you ever talk to him, keep your guard up or else you'll end up getting hurt." He had a very serious look on his face.
One description confused her, though.
"…Horny?" His look turned darker.
"Why don't you ask your cat friend, what's-her-name, about his reputation?"
She hadn't had the chance to ask Kaika as she was busy with leadership duties, but Rydia could somewhat see what Kentarou meant now that she was seeing Shion up close. He was very handsome and the absence of the scar obscuring his face made his looks stand out even more.
"Um…yeah, a little bit," she replied after a moment's pause. She was trying to let her smile go away but couldn't stop.
Shion noticed this, smiling back. He had a great many encounters before like this. Heh, now I can see why Kentarou acts so different around her. She's kind of cut in an odd way. "Sorry I scared you. You just looked like you'd been hit by a ship or something; had to snap you out of it."
Rydia shook her head. "It's all right." I don't know what got to me, either.
"I was on my way to see Sakana…um, the faerie that's with me…" she trailed off, not knowing how to exactly explain to him without being too direct. So, instead, she changed the subject. "And you look different without your scarf, so it took me a second to recognize you."
"Ah, I get that a lot," Shion replied, staring off into the street. "Can't keep that thing on forever. It gets humid in the day here."
"Hmm…yeah…that's true…" she followed his gaze, her mismatched eyes focusing on a random tree across the street. Shion took a moment to get another look at her. It had only been a few days since he became acquainted with Kaika's friend, so he really only had a few lasting impressions of her. However, this time he could see some traits that made her stand out from a normal human. It wasn't noticeable at a first glance, but Shion being the keen observer he was - one of many skills that made him such a necessity with Blank's troupe when he was a kid - could see some things about Rydia that most people probably didn't see. He wasn't a magic expert or anything but remembering back to how he met Kentarou as a child reminded him that those infused with a lot of magic ability always seemed to have some sort of aura emanating from their bodies. Rydia, the young woman standing next to him, was no exception.
In a way, they're kind of the same… he thought. This girl and Mano-chan.
"Oi," he said to break the silence and she looked up. Shion pointed at a small restaurant across the street. "Why don't we take a seat over there and talk some more? I'm sure your friend won't come out of the daycare for a while."
Kentarou's warnings were beginning to signal in her head and she hesitated.
To her reassurance, Shion laughed. "Ah, don't worry about whatever Kentarou said to you. I ain't going to do anything out of your comfort zone. I just want to talk." Seeing the confused look on her face, he added, "I'm guessing that idiot didn't ask you, huh?"
When Rydia shook her head, Shion sighed, "Figures that he didn't."
He guided her over to the restaurant as he began to explain.
"I guess it was a few days ago or something like that," he said and pulled out a chair for her to sit. Rydia was surprised by the gesture but she assumed that he often acted gallant towards women out of habit and took the seat. Shion grabbed a chair nearby and took a place across the table. The sorceress couldn't help but admire at out…perfect he looked. The long strands of his chocolate brown hair seemed to fall at exactly the right places and his green eyes seemed to change into different shades of the color whenever he moved. They were mesmerizing, his eyes.
Kentarou's eyes are kinda like that, too, except they're gold… Rydia thought as she watched Shion. She immediately froze at that thought. What in the world was she thinking about?
"Come to think of it, I think it was on the night I got him plastered," Shion corrected, looking out in thought.
"…What was it?" Rydia asked cautiously, trying not to think back on that night where she and Kentarou shared the same bed.
"Well, we were just talking about old times and whatnot," he continued, looking back at her. "And he asked me to tag along with you three."
Rydia's mind went blank. "Huh?"
Shion chuckled. "The idiot's made some points that I gotta get out of this village for a bit. If I stay here in Michika for the long run, I think I'm going to forget how to speak in the common tongue." He sighed. "So he asked me to come with you three. Said that you and your friend are on some heavy duty business with the guardians."
Rydia looked away, down at her hands. She had nearly forgotten about her mindset while resting in Michika.
"…How does he know that?"
Looks like I hit a nerve, Shion noticed as he continued. "Though he may not act like it, Kentarou's got a knack for figuring out these things. Not only that, but he's got a heavy background in magic. He probably knows the same amount of things that you do, maybe even more."
At this, Rydia looked back at Shion, surprised. She remembered back to the events at Mt. Collaseus when she had only met Kentarou the day before.
"I told you before; I've never paid attention to a damn word what my boss says."
"But he said -"
"That he never paid attention to a damn word what Blank taught him?" Shion finished for her with a smile. He laughed. "Hell, that's what he tells to anybody he doesn't know all that well. It's to throw you off for asking him about his past, his culture and his knowledge in magic."
Rydia remained silent as Shion's smile faded; the look in his eyes distant as he went back to memories. "It makes you forget to ask him about the color of his eyes."
He looked at Rydia. "You probably know the meaning behind amber eyes, right?"
She nodded. "Someone who comes from a village that uses demon magic…or a heretic."
"I'm not going to tell you the details about his hometown. That's for him to explain to you eventually if he wants to. We've known each other since we were real small, even before he joined up with Blank's troupe; and I can tell you one thing about the idiot that hasn't changed: whenever he decides on something, he'll stand by on that decision no matter if it means endangering his own life. If it's worthwhile, he'll stick with it. I think that's why he's still here, staying with you and your friend."
And he feels drawn to protect you, Shion wanted to add but he didn't want to create any more awkwardness between his best friend and the young woman in front of him. Instead, he paused to let the meaning of his words sink in.
"So, that's why I decided to come with you guys," he said after a while. He winked at her, "Have to keep Mano-chan in one piece away from you ladies."
Rydia giggled. "Mano-chan?" Her giggles soon turned into fits of laughter as the meaning of the name came to her.
Glad that the sorceress was in a lighter mood, Shion joined in with her.
"Ah, so you know Melbane? Man, Kentarou's gonna have a hard time to keep anything away from you. He used to have loads of fun talking smack to me in that language."
Rydia tried to calm her laughter. "Well, Master Odin taught me a lot of languages when I was little. He said it would be easy for me to hide my real language by just being fluent in a lot of them."
"Really? He must've been quite the old geezer."
"Yeah…he was," Before she could drift to unwanted memories, a thought crossed her mind.
"What about Kaika?"
Shion's laughter immediately died down as he looked out into the street.
"I haven't…I haven't told her yet," he murmured.
[Somewhere close by…]
"When are we going to have some fun, Sis?" the shadow asked impatiently. "I can't stand watching this anymore!"
"Calm down, Jax," her older twin replied, her amber eyes narrowing at her younger twin sister. "Ryuuho has not given any word yet. The girl's powers need to expand and grow before we can take her to Orion."
"We could easily give her that power, couldn't we?" her mirror image tried to point out, glaring.
The older merely smiled. "Perhaps. But don't you think that we have found our perfect prey to force her to grow in her friend?"
[Michika Village - main street]
He had been wandering aimlessly around the village with no particular destination to reach to. Because he did not know the Kirika language, he could not understand the rolling purrs and receptive clicks of the tongue that echoed every time he passed by a group, which seemed to be at every block he went. The patch that Rydia had given him kept Kentarou from being harassed by the other Kirikas but it did not keep him safe from words of conversation, most likely about him, that the did not understand.
Being so lost in a village like this, it felt as if he was a social outcast again. He wasn't oppressed like the human male slaves, but at least they knew what the Kirikas were talking about even if it was just one or two words.
It was one of the reasons why he wanted Rydia to tag along with him, not just because he wanted to apologize to her or talk to her. True, he could have hung out with Shion again, but he respected his friend's personal business especially after he said that he wanted to go along with them. It had been seven years since Shion had disappeared, but after their reunion, Kentarou saw that his best friend hadn't changed much. With the exception of his rather intimate relationship with Kaika, Shion had not changed at all whereas he had changed too much. He probably saw much more than Shion had now, and he probably knew much more - especially of the situation that he was in now.
It had been years since Kentarou used magic, but it did not mean that he couldn't see the magic around him. The meaning of his amber eyes to outsiders was one thing, but his eyes also provided a use to detect auras around him. Sakana and Rydia were the first people where he could clearly see a high magic concentration around them. Given her true nature, he now wasn't as surprised as before about Sakana.
However, Rydia was a different story. Her aura seemed to change with her blind to the fact that it changed. The aura change didn't bother Kentarou as much but the way it changed disturbed him. It seemed as if every time she got stronger, the aura would grow darker. Yet when she was around him, it would revert back to its normal brightness - matching the optimism of her personality.
Maybe that was why he was so drawn to her.
The sounds of familiar laughter caught his ears and he looked up. Kentarou hadn't realized that he had been walking through all this time of thought and he found himself in the middle of the main district. His hearing guided him to the source of the laughter where he saw Shion and Rydia sitting together in a restaurant nearby. Normally such a sight didn't bother him much, Shion had an undistinguishable trait to talk to women easily, but for some odd reason seeing his best friend talk to her so amiably sent a warning bell in his head.
Kentarou tried to shake off the feeling, continuing to walk along his random path. Yet the feeling still lingered like an animal that refused to go away until it was rewarded. Seeing his best friend and Rydia together, laughing so amiably sent not only warnings in his head, but it also aggravated him. It wasn't long ago, before she had gotten injured, where he would always see her annoyed expression: her angry at his jests and he smiling in triumph. Now she was laughing together with his best friend and Kentarou felt lost, alone.
He paused abruptly in his thinking. Lonely? Since when was I ever lonely?
Kentarou found a small clearing where a few trees stood. He took a seat, happy that he was far enough from the in comprehendible chatter of the Kirika tongue yet still close enough to see the top of the restaurant where Shion and Rydia were at. He looked up at the sky, wondering where in Hyne his thoughts were wandering to.
[Michika village - nearby Kentarou]
It was a fun filled afternoon yet Sakana was exhausted. She headed to the building's gate and paused to turn around and smile at the line of half Kirika, half human children who trailed behind her.
"Now, Auntie Sakana has to go now and find her friends," she said to them in a motherly tone. "I'll be back tomorrow, okay?"
Sakana smiled again at them before she turned back and left the makeshift day care center. The sky faerie had found the village of the Kirika clan quite intriguing and had spent the last three days learning about the culture and the village itself. She had found it surprising that the children of the Kirika knew the common tongue, especially since the rest of the clan spoke in their own tongue - a language that was lost in comprehension with the sky faerie.
I wonder how much longer will we stay here… came her thought. She had wanted to ask Rydia when they were going to leave the village to search for the next guardian, but the sorceress looked so calm and at peace that Sakana decided to wait a little bit longer before asking.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder if Rydia had forgotten what she was going to do in the first place.
As she walked through the village, her eyes spotted Kentarou from afar. She wanted to call him, but she saw the look in his eyes. She had never seen such a look in Kentarou before as they looked contemplative, angry. It wasn't the kind of annoyance he would flash at Rydia from time to time when she would say some witty remark in return for his; it looked like the kind of anger that could not get what he wanted.
I wonder if it has to do something with Rydia…she pondered as she hid herself from view lest he would see her. He has been acting odd since that night he was in Rydia's room…
An undesired emotion welled up inside of her, something that scared her. Sakana knew hatred, anger, sorrow, pain…but this emotion was completely different and entirely new to her. She didn't like it whenever she thought of Kentarou and Rydia together, but it would always appear, no matter how small the thought. Even though they met each other by accident, or perhaps by fate, Rydia was the very first person to see her, to understand her. So there was no reason why this strange and dark emotion should rise inside her.
Do you really think so? a strange voice asked her. Or is it because YOU want to be the center of attention for that man, a mere mortal?
Startled, Sakana looked around, frantically searching for the voice. It wasn't from anyone she knew.
The owner chuckled at her efforts. It's no use, fae. You'll never find us.
Sakana glanced around once again, her violet eyes narrowing slightly in frustration. Who are you?
The voice laughed. Sakana, for a second, could have sword that the laughter began to sound like two people. You'll know in time, fae. For the moment, just call us…your conscience.
[Michika Village - later that day]
Rydia sighed for the second time that day, collapsing onto her bed in exhaustion. She had accomplished nothing, so far. Again. However, her talk with Shion had given her some more insight about the bandit that accompanied her and Sakana, and about Shion himself.
It must have been a hard decision, to leave Kaika after so long, she considered as she stared listlessly at a random pattern on the covers she laid on. She had known Kaika since childhood, and she knew that this news would be hard on the new Kirika leader. Kaika was not one who let go easily, and it was even harder for the Kirika to let go of someone she was very close to, including Rydia. The deaths of her parents and close family friends from mysterious illnesses and war left a deep scar in Kaika's soul, far worse than the physical wounds she was inflicted by her enemies. The only reason why she let Rydia go was because that the Kirika knew that the sorceress would come back no matter how long she had to wait.
Rydia flipped over on her bed, staring up into the wooden beams of the ceiling which was Kaika's home. She was no expert on love but she could see that her friend cared for Shion dearly. Something had happened between them, she knew, something that she didn't quite understand yet did understand at the same time. As a childhood friend, Rydia knew that she had to say something whether if it was going to benefit Kaika or not.
As she stared up at the ceiling, Rydia began to contemplate about her own goal, her own journey that she had no idea what was to be accomplished. She wanted to find out more of the reason behind her master's death but more importantly she wanted to know what his last words meant.
"Guardian angel…" she murmured.
Was the woman in her dreams, the woman wrapped in chains her guardian angel that she was looking for? Was that why Rydia kept on being warned? If that's the reason…why was she in chains?
A soft knock came at the door, breaking the sorceress away from her thoughts.
"Who is it?" she called, sitting up in bed.
"…Koneko?" came Kaika's voice very softly from the other side of the door.
Rydia got off the bed, walking towards the door. Something in her friend's voice caught the sorceress off guard and a sense of worry overwhelmed her.
"Kaika?" she asked as she opened the door. "(Kaika, what's wrong?)"
The sorceress was nearly knocked off balance as the Kirika leader embraced her, crying into her shoulder. Rydia realized that Kaika finally knew. Shion was going to leave her.
[Kaika's home - Guest room]
Kentarou had just finished re-polishing his twin swords when Shion entered. The bandit glanced up as he slid both weapons back into its sheath.
"Ever heard of knocking?" Kentarou asked his friend.
Shion just grinned. "You're forgetting that you're in my house, idiot. Don't have to knock."
He sat down in a hammock just across from his amber-eyed friend. Unlike Rydia's room, which was sparse of any furniture save for the bed and a folded curtain to change, Kentarou's guest room looked more like the typical room of an inn except that there were a variety of items that related to the Kirika culture, specifically to Michika Village. This also included a hammock that was used for recreational purposes or just used for an extra place to sleep.
Kentarou looked away from Shion, putting away his weapons behind the pillow of his bed for easy access. "It ain't your house, idiot."
"But it's my room that you're using," Shion pointed out with ease. His grin faded as he noticed that Kentarou found no amusement in his teasing. "What's up?"
Shion leaned back in the hammock, patiently waiting for a different answer as Kentarou began to take out his secondary weapons - knives like Rydia's. He knew Kentarou too well to see that nothing was bothering him.
When no other answer came, Shion spoke, "There's nothing between Rydia 'n me."
He paused as he saw Kentarou stop in mid-inspection before continuing on, "Just wanted to talk to her that's all. So she don't get all uncomfortable with me around. It talked to Sakana, too."
"And why're you telling me this?"
"'Cause apparently it's bugging you. That and you're being an ass right now."
Kentarou sighed in frustration. It was hard to not be friendly to Shion. Or hide anything from him for that matter.
"Look, I don't like her, okay?" he stated. "Just don't want Blank flaming my ass for not protecting her if something happens to her, that's all."
Shion smiled an all-knowing smile. "Your actions say otherwise, Mano-chan."
Kentarou bit his tongue to prevent from retorting out a response that would not follow his train of thought. Shion was right, he knew, but he denied the fact that he liked Rydia more than just who he thought was like another little sister. He needed some more time to think things though, but time was not giving Kentarou that option.
"Okay, so you talked to her," he said, changing the subject. "So what'd she say?"
"She's not sure what she's doing right now, but it would be fine with her to tag along 'long as Kaika's fine with it," Shion replied, his smile fading yet again. "Which - right now - is not."
"How come I'm not surprised."
"She's not what you believe to think, Kentarou. Kaika's lost a lot of people who're close around you, like you did back in Baksou. And being leader hasn't been easy on her."
Kentarou thought for a moment, beginning to understand. If he puts in that way…
"Rydia said that we're going to leave for her home in three days. And…I'm going with you whether those two like it or not."
[Somewhere close by]
The two shadows in the trees chuckled in excitement, their eyes glowing softly in the approaching dark.
"Should we send word to Ryuuho, Sis?" Jax asked her elder twin.
Her sister smiled as a plan began formulating. "Yes. By all means."