Tenchu: The Flames of Fudo

Part II: Illumination

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Rikimaru and Ayame confess after a violent physical battle, Lord Mei-Oh takes recognition of the two ninjas' union and Ayame's power.

Upload Date: 8/12/09

Chapter 8: Doubt

"What the devil did you try to do to your arm?" a very frustrated Yukihoko admonished Rikimaru as soon as her eyes had rested on the dried blood coating the side of his arm. Before going to Lord Gohda, Rikimaru and Ayame reluctantly agreed that their wounds could not be left ignored, not to mention that they would be chewed up even more by Yukihoko if they waited longer to have their injuries treated. Besides, the fact that the both of them were sporting mysterious injuries when they hadn't been assigned on a mission would hardly go unnoticed by Lord Gohda. It would have eventually led to an explanation about their "relationship" that neither ninja was ready to give. "It looks as if someone cut you and burned you! Either that or you tried to cauterize the cut!"

"I'm afraid the first choice rather matches the situation," Rikimaru answered as scenes from the fight with Ayame drifted across his mind. "I'm not really sure what happened."

Yukihoko gave a sigh and led Rikimaru to one of the futons. "Sit." She turned to Ayame and inspected the freshly bleeding wound on her back.

"What were you two doing? I don't think I even want to know," Yukihoko muttered as she led Ayame to the futon next to Rikimaru and went over to her shelves, quickly gathering bowls, vials filled with pungent liquid, and rolls of cloth.

"We were practicing," Ayame answered simply.

"Did I not tell you to stay in bed until you've had a good amount of rest?" Yukihoko asked, failing to keep her tone annoyance free.

"You might have mentioned it…" Ayame said after pausing as if trying to remember. As she said this, her lips twitched slightly, the corners turning up and making for a tiny smile. Yukihoko looked at her incredulously. Ayame seemed oddly...happy. The only times Yukihoko had seen Ayame this content was when she was with princess Kiku. She was hardly this agreeable when the princess wasn't around, much less when Rikimaru was in the vicinity.

Yukihoko shot a glance in Rikimaru's direction. He too was acting differently. He didn't have his tense demeanor like he usually had when Ayame was nearby. He seemed calm, and he was regarding Ayame with a different kind of look, one that could almost be described as gentleness. His shoulders weren't hunched up, but rather loose and lower than they usually were. Of course, Yukihoko was a professional. Perhaps any other person looking at these two would hardly have noticed something, unless they searched long enough.

"There's no use hiding something from me, you two," Yukihoko said as she stood between them, looking from Ayame to Rikimaru and back and forth repeatedly. "I can see it."

Both Rikimaru and Ayame shifted uncomfortably on their futons. It was an amusing sight to see the two ninja clearly caught off guard when they usually were the ones in control of a situation.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Ayame said, turning away.

"You lie just as bad as you are trying to hide your discomfort. Both of you." Here Yukihoko paused and let her words hang in the air before continuing again. "At any rate, I won't tell Lord Gohda."

Ayame flicked her eyes quickly toward Yukihoko. "...Why not?" she asked cautiously. Rikimaru regarded the healer with curious eyes, choosing to remain quiet.

"Everyone has secrets." The healer moved to tend to Ayame's back, a roll of cloth and bowl of water in hand. She lifted the back of the kunoichi's blood soaked shirt and began cleaning the wound.

"Thank you," Ayame muttered quietly, turning to face the healer and performing a small bow. Rikimaru did the same.

Yukihoko nodded and pushed Ayame gently to make her face forward again. "Besides," she began, "Lord Gohda has enough to worry about with the village attacks. Are you going to tell the princess?" Yukihoko cut some cloth and laid it aside, then began applying a thick cream to the newly cleaned cut. Ayame winced as she felt the sting of the ointment, but otherwise stayed still, thinking about her answer.

"Maybe." Ayame smiled slightly at the idea of sharing this not so little secret with her "little sister."

Yukihoko nodded, tugging Ayame's shirt back in place. She quickly cleaned and dressed the wound on Ayame's arm and then moved over to tend to Rikimaru.

"This looks so strange...I don't think I've ever seen anything like this before," Yukihoko muttered, inspecting Rikimaru's wound. "Really, it looks like someone cut you with a...sword fresh from the blacksmith's fires. It was a sword, right? Who did this to you?"

Ayame cleared her throat, and Yukihoko looked over to see a sheepish expression take hold of her features. "You did this to him? Ayame, although I'm very curious about your reasoning, I'll save that question for later. Right now I want to know how in the world you did this!"

"I'm still asking myself that," Ayame answered truthfully, remembering how she had glanced down at her swords, shocked senseless to see fire emerge from nowhere, licking across the steel. She had briefly forgotten about the incident in her crazed rage against Rikimaru. "We were practicing, and then I saw flames appear on my blades and...I don't know. Maybe I imagined it."

"No," Rikimaru said, finally speaking, "I saw it too."

"Flames?" Yukihoko had a strange look on her face, as though she had just realized something. "Like...no, it can't be. It's a myth," she muttered quietly to herself.

"What do you mean 'It's a myth'?" Ayame asked.

"There's something called 'The Flames of Fudo,' an ancient myth about the fires that tried to purge Japan of all its evil. They say that one person is bestowed the power, but only in the event of great evil. I don't know much of it, it's more of an old wife's tale if anything."

Ayame and Rikimaru were quiet for several moments. The silver headed ninja was the one who spoke up first. "There's nothing else that explains it...do you know who might be able to tell us more about it?"

"No, I'm afraid not...there must be some other explanation for it..." Yukihoko looked skeptical though as she finished her thought. Could it be real? Unless there was some other power that caused mysterious flames to erupt across one's weapons, which she highly doubted. "Is this the first time that something like that happened?"

Ayame nodded.

"Actually there might be someone you could talk to. The old monks in the temples know a good deal about ancient myths."

The kunoichi sighed. It seemed like answers were going to have to wait for now. "Thanks Yukihoko."

"We better go. Ayame, Lord Gohda is waiting for your report about the villagers," Rikimaru said.

Ayame looked at him suddenly, with the strangest expression on her face. It was as though she suddenly realized something...and from the look of it, that something wasn't very good.

"Ayame?" Rikimaru initially thought that she was still angry about the fact that he had followed her on her mission. The look on her face was gone, and instead she turned away to give Yukihoko a smile.

"Thank you," Ayame said quietly, standing up with ease, the pain in her back barely noticeable. Rikimaru did the same and followed behind her.

Yukihoko shut the shoji door behind them and leaned against the wall.

Kids. Yukihoko had been with them for so long, watching as Ayame developed a bitingly sarcastic persona while Rikimaru became stoic and seemingly emotionless, watching as they grew and matured. Yet in her eyes, she could still see their young teenaged selves, buried deep under the hardened assassins they were now.

Despite her initial frustration with Ayame's stubbornness and the couple's sudden mysterious attitude, Yukihoko couldn't help but allow a smile to appear on her lips.

Rikimaru and Ayame were silent as they ascended the stairs leading to the floor where Lord Gohda's study was located. Ayame walked beside him with brisk and quick steps, having no problem keeping up with his long strides. He snuck a sideways glance in her direction. She seemed troubled. He knew because of the way her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, her lips set in the tiniest of pouts so that only he could notice that something was wrong.

"Is there something you want to talk about?" Rikimaru asked after several moments of silence.

Ayame stopped walking abruptly and faced him. "I had forgotten all about the mission...all I could think about was how you saved me. That was it. I wasn't even thinking about the villagers!" Ayame whispered, her eyes looking at everywhere and everything but him. "How is this going to work?"

"Ayame, you took a serious blow to the head and you were unconscious for two days. What do you expect?"

She shook her head. She wanted to believe it, she really did. I've had worse happen to me, and something like that never slipped from my mind for a second. She had a question that was just waiting to jump off the tip of her tongue, but somehow she held it in check. It wasn't the most appropriate thing to say, at least not right now. Instead, Ayame gave a shake of her head, her messy ponytail making a tiny breeze on her neck. "I don't want to talk about this right now."

"Then we'll talk about it later," Rikimaru said and continued walking. He stopped once he noticed that Ayame wasn't walking beside him.

"Rikimaru, do you think about me on missions?" the kunoichi suddenly blurted out, the burning question escaping from her lips before she could stop herself.

The silver haired ninja thought about this for a moment. If he said no, he would be lying. But if he said yes, he would be admitting to himself and to Ayame that he wasn't always completely focused on his missions. He was human.

"...Sometimes," he eventually replied.

Ayame smiled in relief. But there was a part of her that felt horrible...how could she be happy that Rikimaru wasn't totally focused on his missions? He was destined to be a legend, the ninja who had brought down the Lord of Hell, helped end the reign of the Burning Dawn, and had defeated Tenrai. She couldn't believe that she was doing this. She didn't want to ruin him.

"Stop it. Don't think about me. I don't want to be distracting you during missions."

"It's not that simple Ayame," Rikimaru said, though smiling slightly behind his mask. He was forgetting how difficult she could be, but he was surprised by how he didn't seem to mind it this time. He was even starting to like every frustrating second of it. Still, the weighty thought of what they were doing felt both right and wrong at the same time. He couldn't kick the thought out of his mind about how they were partners, and what consequences their situation might bring when they were on a mission.

The sound of Ayame's sigh brought him back from his thoughts, and together they walked toward Lord Gohda's study.

Rikimaru and Ayame seated themselves before Lord Gohda in his study.

"Ah, Ayame, feeling better I presume?" Lord Gohda asked genuinely, a kind smile on his aging face.

"Yes Lord Gohda, much better, thank you. I have news from the mission," Ayame began instantly, the mission's happenings flooding into her mind. "The villagers were taken to another place. In the village, I noticed that the ninja bore the mark of Lord Kojuro."

Lord Gohda gazed at her questioningly. "Lord Kojuro?" Rikimaru looked equally as surprised. "I hardly doubt that Lord Kojuro would do something as such..."

All three of them knew that the lord was notorious for drowning himself in the luxuries such as money, women, food, and fine clothing. To Lord Kojuro, these four were the only things that mattered. Though he was an indulgent man, he wasn't desperate. It was uncharacteristic of Lord Kojuro to do something as daring as ordering ninja to invade villages for no apparent reason.

"There must be someone else behind all this. I want both of you to go and see if the villagers were taken there, or if you can get any more information."

"Yes, there must be…I remember a woman in the village. She seemed out of place though, her clothes were different," Ayame said.

Lord Gohda sat up straighter. "What was her name?"

"I don't know, she never said. Our meeting was brief, she disappeared and her ninja attacked me."

"Thank you Ayame. Perhaps we will gain more answers when both of you return."

Rikimaru flicked his eyes over to where Ayame sat, watching her expression. She only nodded at Lord Gohda's reply.

"Lord Gohda, I apologize for my lateness in reporting this to you. I...I was not myself after I woke up."

"If this were any other time, I would have punished you for this. Punctuality in reports is most critical, particularly in this situation," Lord Gohda sighed. "But, there's nothing we can do about this now. There have been no reports of any happenings in Kojuro Province so perhaps we are not too late."

Author's Note:

First of all, I'd like to apologize to my very patient readers! I abandoned this story for so long that I had to do some digging to find my old password and email so that I could log back in XD But hey! I came back! I don't want to blog about how busy I was/am on here, but I might start a blog later. I'll put the link up in my profile. I know this was a short chapter but the next one will be long and action packed I promise. There will be some new characters to look forward to so stay tuned!

And about Ayame's being late to reporting to Lord Gohda about the villagers...it's true that if it were any other situation, Ayame pretty much screwed up the lives of those villagers. That is IF they were taken to Kojuro Province, which they weren't. Lord Kojuro only offered up his ninja to help along with the collection and transportation of villagers somewhere else...Just wanted to clear that up, I don't want anyone thinking I made Ayame super irresponsible or anything.

As always, review and let me know how I'm doing! Is my writing rusty? I haven't written in so long!