In the dark of the clearing, they stumbled out from opposite ends, before pausing and looking grimly at each other. The taller of the two turned abruptly and shed the long skirts and blouse, pulling off the headscarf easily and tossing it into the gurgling stream by the side. Underneath, the pale black tunic with the emblem of a dragon belting the loose robe gleamed in the moonlight, reflecting off the silver spikes that hung off the chain twined casually about the slim waist.
"You did well," Kogure spoke first, his voice soft. Sendoh stilled and remained silent.
I am the one…I failed.
The appearance of the two was unusual, to say the least. However, they were of the sort who worked in partnerships within the secret army he nurtured. These two were a rare couple, and virtually unknown, for theirs was a way of subtlety and cunning. The older of the two was a powerful magic master, Mitsui, one of the few necromancers who came under the race of the advancing evolution of the Faerie salamanders. The shorter, more unique of the two, was Ryota of the were-kin, his honed talent being that of shape-shifting, a chameleon ability that made his hunting a legend among those who knew enough of myths. They stood there, one hooded, the other’s pale blue skin glistening with scales in the opal light, silent and waiting.
The Archduke rose from the enormous, carved chair.
"You will do what is expected of you, unlike the ones who have failed me once and again. I trust you will use your…resources, to the utmost of your considerable abilities."
Before him, the two men bowed.
"The king will be all right," the old healer announced in a gravelly voice as soon as he had exited the royal chambers where Rukawa was resting. "An infusion of herbs and this powder of the crushed snow fruit here will rend him new like before in a matter of one seven-day."
Maki watched the stooped healer scuttle away down the hall, then leaned against the wall. His relief at the king’s wellbeing was endless, and yet for the first time in his life perhaps, it was not what troubled him more than anything did.
In his mind’s eye, he kept seeing the mysterious peasant woman of a cool summer evening, clapping with her half-smiles barely visible in the glow of the moon, her skirts sweeping the tendrils of grass that bowed at her bare feet.
Who are you? he asked silently, as his wrist guards scraped the edge of his sleeves. He pulled them out and straightened them, but his thoughts refused to be deterred. Why do I feel as if I have known you, and yet know nothing even of your name?
In his dreams, he tossed and turned in restlessness, his shoulder stinging from the medicine that had been applied.
Rukawa rose, as if in slow motion, turned, and saw the gaze of dark cinnamon eyes leveled at him with the point of a sword. It was happening, all over again. But he wasn’t afraid.
And somehow, that realization didn’t come as a surprise.