Brothers in Arms
by Dark Amethyst
* * * * * * * *
= = = N = = =
By the time morning comes and we’re both awake, Rachael is able to rise shakily to her feet. She stands waveringly beside the bed, feeling relieved at her progress.
“You’re well enough,” I agree. “I’m going to leave you now. You’d better lie down – you’ll lose at least half your strength.”
“Then don’t go yet – please!” she begs. “I want a shower so badly! And I need to eat something!”
“Very well,” I assent, “Come one.”
Rachael ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ over the apartment as we leave the bedroom, looking around with wide appreciative eyes.
“How can you afford this?” she demands, amazed and somewhat suspicious.
“I robbed a bank.”
She believes me joking until I run the memory through our mind. The half-smile slides off her face.
“To the shower,” I order. “March.”
The following experience in the bathroom proves highly amusing…to me at least. She’s childishly embarrassed about various matters – nearly unable to use the toilet, and closing her eyes while she showers. I don’t make things any easier by ‘helping’ her to lather her body – more thoroughly than necessary.
When she emerges at last, clean but flustered, she moves tiredly into the kitchen, our energy starting to wane. She rummages to find something to eat – but there are few groceries.
I ponder our situation while she eats crackers voraciously. We need more energy. It’s taking too long to regain it. I want my powers back. All of them. And at the moment I’m not sure if I can even support my form. Perhaps it would be worth risking it one more time…
“Risking what?” Rachael’s mind, unavoidably listening, has grown suspicious.
“Never mind,” I dismiss. “Eat. You’ve got to get back to bed.”
Enough submissiveness remains in her that she obeys outwardly, but she’s still suspicious and her mind waits alertly to catch and interpret my next thought.
I get angry and she, in turn, feels resentful.
“Come on, Rachael,” I sigh. “This situation isn’t easy for either of us. Go on back to bed. I think we’ll have one more nap before I go.”
“I’m not very sleepy”, Rachael sighs once she’s lying down again, hands folded over her chest. She begins to use me as a book, as usual, flipping back and forth through my memories.
She questions me about things she’s learned – about the stars, mostly – and I correct or clarify where necessary, impressed by what she’s retained. It seems she has amassed, in just these few days, knowledge that took me years to attain…simply by having it run through her mind. How much will she retain after I leave her, I wonder…
In her meandering, Rachael suddenly conjures the memory of the Japanese girl from the other day. I realize that this memory briefly passed through my mind yesterday, but I’d assumed Rachael hadn’t noticed it. Now I desperately try to clear my mind. It’s no good, though. Rachael latches on to the memory and chips relentlessly away at the scene until she has the whole story.
She reruns it several times, feeling increasing horror and outrage – fear of me, loathing for me…then suddenly…she goes blank. Absolutely blank. I’d think her sleeping, but I know better.
“Rachael?” I prompt her, just to be certain.
“Yes, my lord?” she replies with cool obedience.
I have no response, so I don’t answer. How calculating she can be…and what iron control. What a warrior she would have made.
I feel an answering but brief rush of feeling from her. It could be pride. But it’s gone to quickly to analyze.
I take a deep breath and resign myself to silence – each of us waiting for the other to fall asleep…
= = = R = = =
“Rachael?” Nephrite prompts me. He’s finally woken up. I’ve been awake for some time…very glad for the time ‘alone’. “How are you feeling?”
He’s suspicious of the cool submission of my tone – but he doesn’t pursue the question further.
“Very well. You’re strong enough now. I’m going to leave you. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I answer, with inexplicable hesitation.
A curious and unpleasant sensation comes over me – as though I were getting the ‘flu extremely quickly. Energy flows rapidly from me. I feel it being drawn out…leaving my limbs numb and my mind faint.
A hazy mist forms gradually beside the bed…magically gathering itself by degrees into Nephrite’s form. I stare at him entranced…by his gorgeousness, and by the strange spectacle. At first he’s nearly transparent…insubstantial. But by and by he grows more real, like a ghost putting on flesh.
This process can’t have taken more than a minute, but it leaves me completely drained, staring up at his shining blue eyes helplessly.
“Are you alright?” he asks, looking me over briefly.
“Yes,” I manage to respond. I feel tense and breathless, unsure whether the cause is my health or being under Nephrite’s gaze.
“I’m going out to get some food,” he states, moving to the door. “You rest.”
After a moment I hear the front door shut and a lock turn. I relax at last, letting out a tense breath with a huff.
Food, indeed! Well…I suppose that’s very vaguely true. But damned if I’ll be a party to it.
I struggle to sit up, then rest again. God I’m weak. There’s no hope of running away. But I’ve got to. Who knows if I’ll get another chance. He’s only leaving me now ‘cause he thinks I’m too weak to get away.
He’s right, though. I can barely stand.
I test this theory by getting shakily to my feet.
Perhaps I could get somebody to rescue me…if I could just get to a phone.
Moving with painful slowness, I search through the apartment. No telephone. I begin to panic – both at the time that’s passed and at my increasingly shaky legs.
Wasting no steps, I plod directly to the door and move out into the hall, pushing the button for the elevator, which is the only feature of this landing, save for a stairwell door. When the elevator arrives, I stumble forward into it.
I can’t make it out to the street, it’s obvious. Randomly I push a button, then stagger into the hall when the elevator opens. I move to the nearest apartment door and knock. No answer.
I move down the hall and try again…twice more…to no avail.
As I slide my shoulder along the wall to the last door along this hall, I reflect hopefully that someone will probably call the police when they find me collapsed on the floor.
I raise my hand and knock weakly. To my relief and surprise, the door opens a crack and an elderly man peers out suspiciously.
“Please,” I beg him, trying to seem calm but probably failing. “I need help. Please…can I come in?”
He considers, looking doubtful, and I struggle to keep my eyes open.
“Please…,” I repeat, giving up and shutting my eyes, resting my head against the door sill. “If I could just lie down…”
With a slight grunt of annoyance, or maybe acceptance, the gentleman opens the door wider and takes me by the arm with surprising strength.
Not bothering to open my eyes, I allow myself to be led a short distance, then collapse gratefully on what seems to be a couch…
= = = N = = =
“Come on, come on…,” I growl to myself. I’ve been standing here for at least a quarter of an hour and have found no prey yet. My patience is leaving me.
From behind the large cement pillar, I can see people passing on the street, but none so far have ventured into this parking garage where I’m lurking thug-like.
At last…just when I’m considering a change of tack, a woman emerges suddenly from a stairwell door. I startle slightly at the noise behind me, then smile as I watch her head for the rear of the garage.
She hasn’t noticed me – struggling with her shopping bags, and I walk soundlessly behind her until she reaches her car. She puts her bags down then, searching through her purse for her keys.
I take a deliberately loud step closer to her, and she turns to me with a gasp.
I can’t help smiling in anticipation, watching her brown eyes widen and her pulse pounding in her slender throat. Her glance darts quickly around, but she realizes she can’t get away.
“What do you want?” she asks shakily, restrained tears in her voice.
“Fear,” I tell her bluntly, seeing no reason to keep the truth from her. I reach casually into my belt and produce the impressively large butcher knife I took from the kitchen. I hold the silver blade up appraisingly between us…letting her admire it.
She lets out a brief experimental shriek, but I snap my hand up to cover her mouth.
“You may not scream,” I warn her, my face inches from hers, my tone furious. “Make another noise like that and you’re dead.”
She whimpers instead, her whole body trembling. I take my hand away.
“Please…,” she stammers quietly. “Take my purse. There’s money…”
“I’m not after money,” I remind her, pressing my body against hers and moving my knife up to her throat.
“Oh god…please…please…,” she cries, thoroughly terrified, tears running down her cheeks.
Satisfied at last, I reach out my left hand and draw out her delicious fear. She swoons against me, and I drop the knife to catch her under one arm.
The ball of energy grows to an impressive size, crackling with blue fire, dispelling the dimness of the parade. I want still more, but regard the helpless woman and feel a slight stirring of pity. Why kill her? She’s suffered enough.
I stop the flow of energy, and ease her prone body to the floor, retrieving my knife.
Straightening, I regard the beauty of the energy ball for a moment, feeling a strong nostalgic pang for home. Life was hard there, no question…and frequently unpleasant. Still…I belonged…I had a purpose. I’m a warrior. I need a mission.
I come to my senses finally, aware that time is passing and my risk is increasing. Hurriedly, I draw in the energy, nearly crying out at the glorious sensation.
Realizing that the woman can give a good description of me, I pause a moment to clear her memories, then hurry out to purchase some food and return to Rachael.
= = = R = = =
“Here, lady. Wake up. Come on…”
I’m brought groggily awake by these gruff words and a slight shaking of my shoulders. My host is leaning over me looking slightly impatient. He sits back when he sees my eyes squint open.
“Here,” he says again, and I notice at last that he’s offering me a bowl of soup.
“Thank you so much,” I tell him sincerely, bowing my head before taking it from him.
He leaves me to it and, being alone, I abandon manners and drink it from the bowl. It’s a lovely chicken broth, flavoured delicately with miso and scallions – and I don’t do it justice by inhaling it so quickly.
I finish it, and I’m just considering calling for more, despite how rude that would be – when I hear a loud knocking. I tense immediately and forget food, setting the bowl aside and listening intently.
I hear the door being unlocked, then instantly a violent bang which I assume is the door smashing open against the wall. I get to my feet, relieved that I’m able to do so without much difficulty. Moving carefully, I edge up to the side of the open door to my room, peeking out cautiously into the kitchen.
Nephrite is standing there, just within the front door, one foot on the old man’s neck, a strange blue haze floating up from him into the crackling ball in Nephrite’s hand. I would scream in terror if I didn’t know precisely what was going on. As it is, all I feel is rage.
Almost without thinking I find myself reaching a hand skyward and summoning the stars’ energy, as I somehow remember Nephrite doing. Turning the corner, I cry out in pure barbaric wrath, flinging my hands toward Nephrite, sending a bolt of energy spearing satisfyingly into his broad chest.
Almost in the same instant, however, he hurls his ball of stolen energy furiously in my direction, and I’m unable to dodge in time. It catches me in the shoulder and for a moment, my body buzzes as if I’d touched a live wire…then I fall to my knees…and then flat on my face.
= = = N = = =
I remain frozen a moment, my arm still outstretched, my pulse still pounding…my wound throbbing in time with my frenzied heartbeat.
I’m more stunned by Rachael’s action, Rachael’s ability, than by the injury. And as I ponder this, I grow less angry…and more excited.
An attack like that…stronger than the strongest youma. Think what she could do with training!
I step over the old man to go to Rachael. Examining her wound through the burned hole in her shirt, I grimace, realizing its seriousness. Gently I gather her up in my arms, then hurry her upstairs and back to bed. Certain that she’s not about to wake up, I go out yet again – for medical supplies.
When I return a short time later, she is still asleep, and I’m grateful for this as I clean then bandage her badly burned shoulder. Afterwards I do the same for my chest wound which is a bit less serious, wincing all the while. Nothing stings like an energy burn.
Satisfied that I’ve done all I can for her, I turn my attention to the next matter at hand. Producing the strong nylon cord I’ve also purchased, I bind her tightly – ankles and wrists – to the four corners of the bed. Then I pull up a chair to her bedside, and sit quietly…waiting for her to wake.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 8
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury