Water of life

Warnings/notes : Otogi/Honda, references to Anzu

Disclaimer : I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh. This ficlet is part of 'Feast of the king's shadow', meaning its title is taken from this novel by Chaz Brenchley.

written at 24th october 2003, by Misura

**********

The oasis was a small one, far from all the main trade-routes and grand temples. Most young people took off for the big cities when they reached majority, scowling at their parents' worries and warnings about the dangers that lurked in the world out there.

Most of them never returned. Most of them never even sent a message to reassure the ones who had stayed behind that they were doing all right. Perhaps because messenger-services were expensive, especially to a nameless village in the middle of nowhere. That was, at any rate, the excuse that was used.

"Of course we understand they need every bit of money for their own. Life's so expensive out there," the older people would say and then they'd shake their heads wisely, lamenting their own fate, never having seen the great pyramids of Gizah or the grand palace in Thebes.

Honda found it odd, how everyone seemed to be so full of places they had never visited. He had been living in this village for sixteen years now, but not once had he experienced any kind of curiosity to what lay beyond the horizon. At least, not enough to make him pack his bags.

His mother was sure he would, some day, blessing the gods for every day on which she returned home to find him still there. As if he'd sneak off without telling her he was leaving! Maybe it was because of his father though ... *he* had left that way too.

There were days when he pictured himself going away, only to find his Dad and bring him back. Then his mother wouldn't be so sad and alone anymore and he'd have a normal family. Honda chuckled and shook his head. That was nothing but a nice dream. Something that could only happen in a faerietale.

Whistling sharply to Inu, his dog, to keep him from running off to far, Honda was answered with a sharp bark. Normally, the animal would come sprinting back when he was called, so apparently there was something that kept his interest.

Honda frowned and quickened his pace. Hopefully it wasn't some snake or wild animal, either of which would be dangerous to a curious puppy who was still too young to recognize a threat. When he sighted Inu he noted he had worried for the wrong party. Sagged down in the sand next to the dog, with one hand clutching a staff for support was a young man with black hair, wearing the clothing of a mage.

Noticing Honda, he grinned weakly before his legs gave way entirely and he slumped to the sand, too fast for Honda to catch him. Inu barked sharply, scooting out of the way as he knelt next to the mage, fumbling for his water-bag. Judging by his looks, the man had traveled for days without water, his lips scorched and raw.

"Inu! Go get help! Get Anzu!" Brown dog-eyes stared at him uncomprehendingly. Honda cursed, lifting the mage's limp body in his arms after pouring a bit of water through his opened lips. A pink tongue darted out, lapping at a few drops left. Green eyes opened blinkingly, staring at Honda in confusion.

"Who ... where ... ?" His voice croaked.

"Uhm, don't worry, you're safe." Honda stammered. "I'm Honda." he added, after a while.

"Otogi." The name was a bare whisper. Just when Honda was about to ask if Otogi was *his* name or if it was the name of the person the stranger had been trying to reach, he passed out again. Which was probably a good thing, considering the awkward way Honda dragged his body back to the village.

*****

"Ah, my savior finally drops by for a visit!" Honda hardly recognized the cheerful young man who greeted him thus as the utterly worn-out traveler he had brought with him a mere three days ago. "I was beginning to think you wouldn't come anymore."

"I was busy." Honda replied, slightly taken aback. "If I'd known you - "

"Never mind, never mind. I didn't mean it as a reproach. Your name's Honda, isn't it? I vaguely recall you having told me that. I'm Otogi, first-class mage." Green eyes sparkled as Honda gasped. He had thought first-rank mages were all too occupied with their studies to ever leave their temple. And he definitely had never heard of anyone as young as Otogi obtaining that position. "My official rank's only sixth, but really, that's only because they're too jealous of my powers to allow me a promotion."

Otogi winked and Honda found himself smiling in return. Somehow, the black-haired mage's arrogance suited him, making him more rather than less charming. Charming ... Honda blushed at the word his mind had come up with to describe Otogi. It sounded more like a word to use for a girl, or someone he was in love with.

"My orders were to return to Thebes as fast as possible after delivering a package in Achmim so I took a short-cut through the desert. I thought it'd be doable." Otogi grinned wryly. "This once though, it seemed Lady Luck wasn't on my side. If you hadn't found me ... "

" ... you'd still have reached the village." Honda protested. "It's not such a big thing I did. I merely helped you along the way a little, that's all."

"Modest words." Otogi murmured. "However, you *do* admit you did me a great service. One I would like to repay. I may not have the power to grant riches or titles, but my magic *does* count for something." He eyed Honda expectantly. "So ... any wishes you'd like me to fulfill?"

Honda blinked, needing a moment to take in the question. Did he have any wishes? Were there any things he wanted to accomplish in his life? Nothing immediately came to mind. It bothered him in some vague way. What good was living without any purpose?

"I can't really think of anything." Honda admitted.

"Ah well, the offer stands." Otogi sounded slightly disappointed. "And I'll probably be around for another couple of days. Miss Anzu insists I need more rest before I venture off again." He grinned.

"Oh." Honda replied weakly, not quite knowing what to say.

"I could take you away from here." Otogi added suddenly, his eyes sparkling as if he had just had the greatest of ideas. "You could come with me to Thebes, see the world. Wouldn't you want that?" There was a pleading note to his voice, as if he wanted Honda to say 'yes', though Honda himself couldn't think of any reason why that would be the case.

"Not particularly." Uncomfortable with the way Otogi stared at him for *that* answer, Honda quickly excused himself, mumbling something about work.

*****

"Are you *sure* you won't join me?" It was the third day after his first visit to Otogi. Every time he had come to visit the green-eyed mage, Otogi had asked him the same question. Today would be the last time though. Anzu had reluctantly declared her patient to be sufficiently recovered to travel onwards.

"Yes." Honda replied firmly. He would not disappoint his mother at the last instant. She knew about Otogi's offer, since he had overheard Anzu telling her about it. Probably because Anzu thought he was going to accept it and had wished to prepare her for the bad news.

Otogi sighed. "I guess this is farewell then. It was nice to get to know you, Honda. I definitely hope we'll meet again some day."

"So do I." His cheeks were flushed again. Because he meant it ; the thought of never seeing Otogi again was not one he enjoyed one bit. Staring at the ground, he heard Otogi's footsteps dampened by the sand, slowly removing themselves. Only when he couldn't hear them anymore did he dare to look up. "So do I." he repeated, softly.

"Then follow him." A female voice spoke from behind him, as a bag was tossed in the sand at his feet. Inu jumped at it like a full-grown hunting-dog, growling enthusiastically. Honda turned around.

"Mother ... ?" She smiled, a hint of sadness in her expression.

"If your father had asked me, I would have left everything behind for him. But he didn't. Apparently he didn't care as much as I'd imagined him to. That mage though ... he *does* care. As do you. You can't simply let him walk away like that. I'll miss you and Inu of course, yet to keep you here would hurt my heart much worse."

They stared at each other in silence for a few moments, before he slowly picked up the bag. She smiled again, knowing they had both made the right decision.

"You'd better hurry up." He nodded, embracing her quickly, almost guiltily. Then he ran off after Otogi, Inu darting around his feet.

~ending of this snippet~