She looked like someone who'd tripped. That's all she had time for. The bayonet of Suzu's rifle was plunged into her chest, then used to swing her into Usagi's thrust just as the human found the trigger, blowing a hole through Suzu and Miki both. Only then did her eyes widen with fright, as she reached out to me, asking me to catch her.
Then she was gone.
The magic - the madness - came instantly, my whole psyche narrowing to a razor's edge. I attacked - and in that very instant, several bodies hit me as one. As I fell, I knew the other one, the engineer, had lagged for just that reason, had seized Yuko and thrown her into her mates, neatly knocked us all down like ninepins. Knowledge already buried in my coward's heart blossomed crystal-clear in my consciousness.
The Sisters had hidden their mirth behind paper fans as they spoke of their primitive firecracker, their tiny soup-can ship, their bulging clown-suits. But I saw men willing to strap onto a towering pillar of explosives and ride it into the sky, trust their lives to archaically complex clockwork and their ability to keep it ticking. The Watatsukis regarded the tech, I, the technicians. They were the pinnacle of their people: engineers, scholars, geniuses. Heroes.
And before that?
They had been warriors.
And still, I let my friends die.
I don't wake up screaming. That's storybook nonsense. You scream when you tear yourself upwards from the deep well of sleep, because you found a monster, a horror down there. It's always a monster you've been dreading during your waking day.
There's no monsters in my dreams.
I roll off the futon, grimacing at the damp feel of the padding. Sweating again? With the humid air wet enough to drink, it hardly matters. I run stiff fingers through my hair, trying to get blood flowing through my scalp, my skin, my [i]brain, but the oppressive, swampy heat of August will not be denied. I stretch a little anyways, rising on my toes to touch a ceiling timber, just to loosen the joints.
That kills a few seconds.
Just several hours till sunrise to go.
I pluck one of my shirts off the floor at random and shrug it on, doing up a couple buttons haphazardly. Just in case. Nominally attired, I stride from my room into the long, endless halls of Eientei. Tonight, at least, I have something tangible to do.
In a quiet room facing the courtyard a young man lingers near death. Eirin treats our patients at the clinic in town, of course - but only Kaguya could help him. They spin romantic tales in town of recuperating in a hidden mansion in the forest, gently nursed by mysterious beauties, but the reality is blood and bile. If you're brought here, you need reassembly, not nursing.
I found him on my way back from the village; a torn mess of blood and flesh rasping out his last. A few feet away, a youkai lay dead with a small folding knife buried to the hilt in its temple. I reached Kaguya in time, but even with time to spare Eirin's not sure she can restore him.
I slip into his room, shutting the door behind me. Only the gentle oomph-sigh of the respirator can be heard. Rhythmic like a heartbeat, or a clock? Stupid thing to think about. I ignore the monitors and feel his forehead - too warm, as I thought. With one finger I trace the tattoo on his shoulder - a red globe with an anchor. Eirin had reacted to that, just a little tremor behind those cool slate eyes. Pointing out old scars on his body with stiff little jabs of a forefinger, disdain curling the corners of her expression. And... sadness. Always sadness in hospital rooms (especially for young men who'd just been out camping) but it usually doesn't fog Eirin's features even slightly. Now it follows her, a little cloud of unease towed in her wake.
I step to the opposite door and slide it open, revealing the courtyard. The night breeze feels wonderful on my bare legs and the porch-boards are cool against my feet. A half-moon is high in the sky, throwing long, jagged shadows across the courtyards landscaping and that annoying thing that went donk all the time until I broke it.
The lambent light fizzles over my bare skin, intensifies into a tingle in my ears. Rabbits will die if alone, they say - but no rabbit is ever alone, are they? The soft light tugs at something deep inside, a magnetic tug towards my kin. So tempting, to reach out and touch them like I used to -
But only to hear the refrain, louder. I can't shut down the link completely; you can slow your heart rate, but not stop the beat. I hear their whispers from time to time, just often enough to keep it from drifting too far from my thoughts. And very, very occasionally, a few will whisper to me, in the dead hours of the night.
The princess thinks Eirin calls me ?Udonge? because I'll blossom into something beautiful here, on the impure Earth. But that's Kaguya - uncaring, thoughtless, apathetic - but never cruel. Unlike Eirin. I know why she calls me Udonge - like a Hourai branch, I descended from the heavens and strewed chaos.
I look over my shoulder at the patient. The moonlight softens his square features, revealing the boy he was, only a few years ago. I stride briskly into the couryard, ignoring the little sticks and rocks biting my bare feet as I evacuate the room, fighting back the burn in my eyes.