A/N: Well, the website isn't quite ready to debut yet but most of the stuff is finished, and since my conscience really started to get to me concerning all my readers who have followed me all through this fic and now are being unfairly stood up, I have decided to break my hiatus. With respect to that, I extend my sincerest apologies to anyone who has been offended by the insanely long wait; I had intended to debut our website with the final chapter of RM, but I guess that's not going to happen.
Please note, though, that I do plan to debut the website with my next upcoming RenHoro fic, "Eternity in an Hour." Please keep an eye out for it in the near future.
With that said, then, on to this chapter. It is, as hinted before, the final chapter of this story! That means that yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am FINISHED. What a relief, huh?
Specifics about the content: I played with the mood and the atmosphere quite a bit in an attempt to keep you guessing as to how things will turn out. In the end, though, everything is final; don't bug me about it. Though I will say right now that if you're curious, just think about what kind of writer I am; I don't change. That should answer all your questions and predict the ending of this story for you.
Finally, I would like to thank all of my wonderful readers (yes, that means you!), especially those who have faithfully stuck with me through the entirety of this monstrously long story. Your reviews and comments really make my day, and inspire me to continue writing, so THANK YOU for all your support! It's people like you who make us authors truly happy.
I leave you now with sincere apologies and even more sincere thanks. I hope you've enjoyed reading this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it, and I hope to see you all at the debut of "Eternity in an Hour!" -MeeLee
RESCUE ME: FINALE
Drip, drip, drip. Usui Horokeu wanted to yell at that stupid leak to shut up, but he knew that that would not do anything. In fact, he was not even sure if it was a leak in the wall, or whether it was simply his own blood from the beating he had gotten not a few minutes ago.
He coughed, slowly pulling himself to a kneeling position. His cell was completely dark, just like—no. He was not going to take that direction of thought. Ren was safe for the moment, and that was all the mattered.
Pressing a hand to his head in an attempt to quiet the pounding in his skull, Horohoro tried to remember what had happened. After seeing Ren stricken down by Bailong and then carried away by the kyonshi and his daoshi master, Horohoro had been dragged roughly outside the facility, where he had been loaded onto a truck and blindfolded. After about an hour-long drive, someone had struck him in the head with something, causing him to black out, and he had awoken in this place, which to the best of his knowledge was a POW camp. At least, they treated people here like POWs—which was precisely why he currently felt like he had just been through several cycles in a washing machine.
Horohoro coughed again, tasting blood in his mouth. He had been here for several hours already, and had already been through three brutal interrogations. Being Japanese and thus unable to speak a word of Mandarin did not help the situation either. The rebels had managed to secure a translator, but his Japanese was choppy at best and Horohoro suspected that he was only telling his employers what was necessary to make them continue beating their victim. The Ainu gritted his teeth, his hands clenching into fists. This was not fair—if he told them the truth, they beat him, and if he lied, they still beat him. It was a lose-lose situation.
Well, not entirely, he reflected. At least they hadn't raped him like they had Ren. Yet.
His thoughts were interrupted when the door to his cell suddenly gave a low rumble. He blinked, turning slightly toward the sound, trying to open his eyes fully which was rather hard because they were swelling. The door gave another rumble, and suddenly there was a loud crash as the padlock on the outside broke. An instant later the door swung wide open, bathing the Ainu in light.
He barely had time to blink before someone called his name and rushed inside, dragging him to his feet. He would have struggled had he not recognized the voice. "Ren…?"
"Yeah." The young Tao swallowed hard. Horohoro was in bad shape, his eyes blackened, blood flowing from endless cuts, his body bruised and broken.
When the Ainu spoke, his voice was choked with blood. "What are you doing here?"
"Rescuing you, what do you think?" Ren snapped. "Now come on, can you get up?" He slung one of Horohoro's arms over his shoulder and helped the Ainu up, propping them both up with his kwan dao. "We have to hurry. Someone must have heard me break the lock."
"I don't understand," Horohoro said as they made their way slowly down the hall. "How did you escape from En?"
"Had a little help from my sister," Ren answered.
Horohoro blinked. "What? But didn't she—"
"I changed her mind."
Suddenly the Ainu understood. "You told her," he said in a low voice.
"Yes." Ren said no more, peeking carefully around the corner before helping Horohoro along, pulling him into a partially open door. They found themselves standing before a ladder leading upwards toward a hatch in the ceiling.
"Up there?" Horohoro asked, looking uncertainly at the ladder.
"Yeah." When Ren saw the Ainu's hesitant look, he frowned. "What, you afraid of heights?"
"N-No," Horohoro lied.
Ren rolled his eyes. "You go first then," he said, giving his friend a small push toward the ladder. "I'll be underneath you, so if you fall, you'll fall on me."
At this, the Ainu could not help but grin. "Man, I wish we were back home," he said, "because you have no idea how dirty that sounded."
Ren blushed. "Just go!" he snapped. Horohoro chuckled despite his painful condition and obeyed, making his way slowly up the rusty metal ladder. When he reached the hatch, he heard Ren say from beneath him, "Turn the handle clockwise twice and then push up. Make sure there aren't any sentries when you go out." Horohoro nodded, doing as the Tao said and eventually pushing the hatch open. He frowned at the darkness outside. "Ren, the sky is overcast."
"I don't give a shit. Hurry up."
"But that means it'll rain soon—"
"Horo, don't make me shove my kwan dao up your ass! Get moving!" Ren snapped angrily.
At this, the Ainu turned with a mischievous glint in his eye. "You can always shove something else up my ass," he said.
He laughed as Ren blushed for the second time in the last minute. "Usui Horokeu, if you don't get moving right now, I swear I'm going to—"
But Horohoro was already out, blinking at the half-darkness, leaning heavily on the concrete base beside him to keep himself from falling. They were in a rather densely forested area, and he could see no guards. Turning, he watched as Ren sprang lithely out of the open hatch, closing it firmly behind him. The Tao quickly came up to him, allowing the Ainu to lean on him again as they headed for the woods.
They walked for a few moments in silence before Ren finally whispered, "There's a river not far from here. If we cross it, we'll be at the ocean in about a day. From there, I guess we'll have to find a boat."
"Better not be Shen Li's boat," Horohoro growled.
"I'll think of something," Ren answered, and frowned when he felt Horohoro grow heavier on his shoulder. "Horo, you all right?"
"Y-Yeah," the Ainu answered. "Just…a little tired, that's all…" But Ren knew that he was lying when all of a sudden his feet gave out beneath him and he sank to the floor.
"Horo!" Ren bent down, but recoiled from touching him when the Ainu began to cough violently. Blood hit the floor, and Ren bit his lip. "Are you okay?"
The Ainu waved him off. "Fine," he whispered in a hoarse voice. "Really. D-Don't worry…"
Ren pressed a hand to his friend's forehead and frowned. "You're not fine!" he snapped. "You're burning up. We'd better—" The bushes rustled, and Ren stopped in midsentence. Horohoro looked up, fighting against the dark spots that were beginning to gather before his eyes, and saw several dozen men step out of the forest and into the clearing in which they were currently standing. They were armed and dressed in neat uniforms—an entire battalion of rebel troops.
For a moment the soldiers seemed just as shocked to see the two shaman as the two shaman were to see them, but then suddenly there came another voice. "Well, well, well," it said, and a tall man stepped out from within the ranks of the soldiers. He wore several medals on his arm, proclaiming his superiority to the rest of the soldiers—Ren recognized him as a captain.
"What have we got here?" the captain said, peering down at the Ainu curled up, bleeding, on the ground, and the Chinese standing protectively over him. "A foreigner and…" He blinked when he got his first close look at Ren. "Why, look here!" he cried. "My, I do believe this is a Tao!"
Ren slowly brought his kwan dao up, glaring at the rebel captain. "My name is Tao Ren," he said, "son of Tao En and heir to the throne. And you and your troops will move aside right now and let us pass, or you'll live to regret it."
At this, the captain broke into a hearty laugh. "My dear Master Tao," he said, "I do believe you're a little outnumbered, aren't you?"
Ren's eyes narrowed. "That never stopped me before."
Horohoro struggled to rise but found his limbs unwilling to move. "Ren," he whispered, "Ren, what's happening?" The two Chinese had been speaking in Mandarin, and though he could not understand the words, he could recognize the characteristic coldness in Ren's voice, along with a certain mocking tone in the soldier's voice that reminded him of Yang Juhong.
Ren ignored him. The conversation continued between the Tao and the rebel soldier, and Horohoro began to grow uncomfortable as voices rose and tensions heightened. He opened his mouth to speak again, but found to his disgust that blood had almost completely clogged his throat. Looking up, he beat against the darkness seeping into his eyes—he could not black out, not at a time like this. Not when Ren needed him.
But already the darkness before him was growing, and even as he faded away he thought he heard from far away the cries of men and the sound of gunshots.
My name is Tao Ren.
It sounded like the rain, but the air was dry. It was not the rain. It was him. Him, and the people he had killed.
He wanted to move, but he also did not want to. It was so peaceful here, lying on his back, looking up at the gray sky. He wished he could see the sun, but there were only clouds. But that was okay. He liked gloomy days. He had been raised that way.
My name is Tao Ren. I am dying.
He was tiring of the gray, and so he closed his eyes, and went to black. Yes, this was even more peaceful, the black was good. He liked the black. And no more red, either. That was good.
Still the black, still the peace. Then…black is going. Where is the black going? And what is coming?
My n…is T…Ren.
Nothing. Nothing is coming. But this nothing is good too. Isn't it?
The rain woke him, the cold droplets bombarding his face like so many tiny needles. Usui Horokeu jerked in his sleep and suddenly came awake, gasping for breath and curling instinctively into a ball. His thin clothes were soaked through, and despite his Ainu background, he was freezing.
He stayed in that fetal position for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts and overcome his sudden dizziness. At long last, he managed to open his eyes, pushing himself up on his arms, and nearly screamed when a flash of lightning revealed the scene before him.
The entire clearing was littered with dead bodies. Puddles of dark blood decorated the floor, and several of the men had been slashed completely apart. The lightning from above flashed on broken blades and cracked guns, and peering into the darkness through the rain, Horohoro could see no end to this field of corpses.
Very slowly, he hauled himself to his feet, rubbing his arms in a feeble attempt to warm himself as he limped forward, one tiny step at a time. "Ren?" His voice was weak and small. "Ren!" he called again. There was no response, and he continued forward, staring in shock at the death that surrounded him. "Ren!"
Body upon body…rivers of blood…drip drip drip…
Dark wounds…mouths open in silent screams…eyes blank and dead…
He stopped when his foot kicked against another body. Looking down, he was stunned to see the face of the soldier Ren had been talking with before. Dark blood was still flowing from the large wound in his chest, and peering closely, Horohoro suddenly saw that the blade of Ren's kwan dao was still buried in the wound. The handle had been broken off only a few inches above the blade.
Feeling his blood run cold, Horohoro ran forward. "Ren!" His feet gave out beneath him and he slammed into the floor, crying out as sore nerves screamed in agony. Gritting his teeth as the blood began to flow, he slowly lifted his head, blinking as he struggled to peer through the thick wall of rain. And then he saw him.
"R-Ren…" Lying half-turned on the wet ground, Ren made no response. Reaching forward, Horohoro grabbed at the ground with his hands and dragged himself slowly forward along the ground toward the fallen Tao. After several agonizing minutes that dragged by like centuries, he finally reached his friend.
"Ren?" Slowly he managed to bring himself to a sitting position and, bending down, he gently gathered the young Tao into his arms. "Ren, you okay? Hey, wake up." But Ren did not move and his eyes remained closed. Quickly Horohoro scanned him, and saw to his horror that blood was flowing freely from several gunshot wounds, two of which were in Ren's chest. "Hey, Ren. Ren?"
Still the Tao did not move, and when Horohoro touched his face, he found that the skin was cold. "Ren," he whispered, gently shaking the other shaman. "Ren, this isn't funny. Wake up now." For some reason, tears began to flow down Horohoro's face. Why was he crying? Ren was alive, after all. He just needed a little rest, that was all.
"Ren, come on. We have to get out of here before more of those soldiers come. Please, Ren?"
No answer. Ren remained there in his arms, cold and unmoving.
No. Ren was alive, he was alive.
Alive, yes, he was alive, he had to be alive, Tao Ren could not die.
Please, Ren, don't leave me…I love you…
Horohoro slowly hugged the cold body to himself, sobbing. Ren could not die…not now, when there was so much ahead of them…
Lightning flashed again, and a glimmer of silver at the very corner of his peripheral vision caught his attention. Turning, he was surprised to see the small dagger clutched in the rebel captain's hand, lying not far away. For a moment Horohoro only stared at the tiny weapon, before slowly reaching toward it.
About an hour later, the rain finally stopped and the clouds dissolved away. The sun peeked through, and a cool breeze began to blow. Eventually a small group of rebel scouts passed through the area, stopping to stare at the corpses spread throughout the clearing. At first they thought that a great battle had been fought here, but became confused upon discovering that all of the bodies were wearing rebel uniforms—all except for two. One they immediately recognized as Tao Ren, son of En and heir to the mighty Tao clan. The other, a lean blue-haired man, they had never seen before.
Phone calls were made, records were written, and before long the burials began.
The two figures slowly made their way up the grassy hill, one pushing the wheelchair, the other sitting in it. The sun was bright and the breeze was soft; it was a beautiful day.
It took them a few minutes before they finally arrived at their destination. Usui Pilika smiled softly as she looked up at the blue above them. "It sure is peaceful today," she whispered. Her blue hair had long since began to gray in the twenty years that had passed since the fateful Chinese civil war, and her voice was tired.
Sitting in the wheelchair beside her, Tao Jun nodded slowly. "When we were little, I used to take Ren out on picnics on days like this." She had not been able to walk for the last twenty years, ever since her father while he had still been in power had found out what she had done for her brother and had brutally punished her for rebelling against him.
Pilika laughed. "Oniichan did the same thing." She tucked a lock of blue-gray hair behind one ear, looking down at the two tombstones before them. "I was actually hoping he would take me on another one once he got back."
"Hm." Silence settled between the two women as they simply looked at the two gravestones. They had both memorized the etchings on each one.
Here lies Usui Horokeu…Here lies Tao Ren…
Finally, Jun spoke. "I think Ren would have liked to see my father dethroned," she whispered.
"Hm," Pilika said. "But he wouldn't have been too happy to know that you ended up losing the war."
"It wasn't that bad," Jun answered. "He would have liked the terms of the peace treaty. At least we didn't end up losing too much land, and all the remaining Taos were spared."
"Yes." Pilika sighed. "Do you ever wonder if they come to visit us?"
"Ren and Oniichan. Their spirits, I mean."
Jun shrugged. "Who knows?"
Pilika smiled bitterly. "I think Oniichan's probably avoiding me," she said softly. "He promised that he'd come back, and he didn't. I'll bet he's afraid I'm going to beat him up about it."
"Which you probably will," Jun said, and both women laughed.
The breeze blew in, stronger this time, and both Jun and Pilika relaxed in its cool touch. Finally, Jun opened her eyes and turned to her Ainu companion. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Hm? Oh." Pilika stepped forward, setting the small bouquet of roses carefully against her brother's tombstone. "Shouldn't you bring one for Ren?" she asked, turning to Jun.
The daoshi slowly shook her head. "He wouldn't want one," she said softly, before turning to face Pilika. "Would you mind taking me back now?" she asked. "It's almost time for lunch, and I'm sure you're hungry."
Pilika smiled. "Of course." She stepped behind Jun, and slowly the two women began their journey down the hill, leaving the two tombstones standing in the grass, paying silent tribute to two heroes, two friends, two lovers. And far away, in a land where the sky glowed and all was golden and beautiful, two people smiled and slowly walked away, hand-in-hand toward the endless light.
Parting words: Yes, folks, that ends it. Please don't hurt me for the angsty ending, but I was also trying to convey a sense of triumph with the epilogue; after all, though Ren and Horo didn't physically survive the war, they remained together. Once again, thank you all so much for reading and/or reviewing. My endless love to all of you.