Disclaimer: I don't own Tsubasa.
Wow, this is my first multichapter fic in forever. Don't worry- I have it all finished already, so I promise I'll never leave it hanging. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
The passage was dim, and silent apart from the soft click of Kurogane's boots on the dusty grey linoleum. He'd passed a few people in the rooms with the main exhibits, but it was a small museum in an out-of-the-way corner of the city, middle of nowhere.
He idly glanced into a display case, one of the many which lined the corridor. The glass was sparkling, a stark contrast to the shabby, peeling paint and grubby floor of the corridor. The spiders which spun their webs in every corner of the building had obviously been chased away from the artefacts, which lay on a bed of pure white, spotless silk. An earring, a jewelled brooch, a child's toy… The plaque next to them said the objects had been discovered a few miles outside of the city limits, into the desert. Believed to be about five to seven hundred years old.
Kurogane sighed, and reached up to tug at the collar of his shirt. Drowsiness hung over this world like cobwebs, and it was beginning to get to him. Everyone seemed to live in a soporific haze. When he left the inn he was staying at in the mornings, the landlady would wave at him sleepily and carry on whatever she was doing, a dazed smile on her face. Kurogane had been tempted more than once to stroll downstairs naked, just to see if she would DO anything.
It had struck him as the kind of thing the mage would have done. With that grin on his face.
He'd have to leave this world, and soon. It was chilling how many people had said, when he'd asked how they got there, 'Oh I was just passing through, and…' and trailed off into some rambling reminisce.
It was an easy place to get to, a large city on the outskirts of civilization, tucked into the desert as neatly as a diamond set in a ring.
It seemed harder to leave.
So Kurogane had decided to give it one more day and then go. When he'd arrived here, however, he had felt so sure he was close, that he had found the right place. After all, the witch had told him he'd know it when he saw it, hadn't she? He'd wandered around, talked to people, smiled through endless ramblings of drunk men he met in inns and toothless old women with too much time on their hands. He'd spent hours walking the city, listening on the wind that barely stirred the hot air for some whisper, some smell, some taste of Fai.
After a month, he hadn't seen anything. But that was the story of his life now, after he'd made the decision to search for Fai. A series of misses around corners and in passing, the feeling of being nearly somewhere and yet knowing he was still lost. Every day he longed for something concrete, something he could hold onto, but all he got was rumour and myth. Yes, a blonde man passed this way. We felt a strange presence in the woods to the north. First man to stay at our inn when it opened, tall man he was… called himself Yuri or Yuuki or something, began with Y… Gave me a handsome tip as well, I never forgot him…
Kurogane had heard the last one from an old woman, who must have been at least eighty. She said it had been over fifty years ago, and in a town a long way south of where she now lived.
The trail was getting colder, and he knew it.
And yet, in this world the feeling was so strong the force of it had left him breathless. The last time he had felt this close, he had still been with Sakura and Syaoran, still looking for those damn feathers.
Kurogane was reading the letter again. Syaoran had given him a disapproving look, but it didn't matter. He knew it by heart, and spent every moment he could running over the lines in his head anyway. Sometimes, when it was late at night and the only sound was the soft rustle of wind in the trees, he could imagine Fai saying it. No matter how hard he tried, though, the only expression he could conjure up for the desperate fantasy was the one Fai had worn in the few days before he left: worried, tense, the smile straining a little at the edges.
He wanted more than anything else in the world to see the mage's grin again.
The symbols on the letter were neat, regular and perfect. It was obviously a translation of some kind- Fai couldn't write in Japanese. Even if he could, never as flawlessly as the letter showed, not a brushstroke out of place.
The paper was already yellowing slightly, and the deep creases had obscured some of the words. Kurogane brushed a finger down a column of text, and read it through again.
I'm sorry I have to leave like this, but I've been looking for someone and I think that I'm close to finding them. It's the magic in this world- I know you won't be able to feel it, but I can. I'm not sure if I'll be back in time to catch you before you leave, but don't wait for me. I hope you understand.
Kurogane looked up. Syaoran was standing over him.
'Mokona says there aren't any other feathers in this world. We need to move on if we're going to find any. We've been here for a week longer than we needed to already,'
Syaoran said it all in a rush, as if he'd been planning what he wanted to say in his head for a long time. He looked at Kurogane nervously, before turning his gaze to the floor.
It hurt him, in a dull way, that Syaoran hadn't been able to look at him in the end.
'We can't leave Fai behind,' Kurogane said, staring at the letter in his hands dully. Syaoran made a frustrated noise.
'In his letter he said he might not be back. He said not to wait,'
Kurogane's head shot up, and he stared at Syaoran in barely concealed anger. Something flickered in Syaoran's eyes, but the boy had held his gaze.
'I can't leave him,' he said slowly. The slight nervousness in Syaoran's eyes had disappeared, replaced with a fury that could probably have matched Kurogane's.
'Sakura-hime needs more feathers. Even you must have seen how ill she looks,'
At the time, Kurogane's mind had erased the dark circles under Sakura's eyes and added colour to her pallid cheeks. Now, as he remembered her, she'd looked gaunt and deathly pale. The smile she had worn in those last few days had only lent a macabre edge to the illusion.
'I told you I can't leave without him,'
Even with the jagged ultimatum, there was no real force in Kurogane's words. Just a dull, flat acceptance of things as they had to be. Syaoran heard it, and his face collapsed into disappointment.
'I have to find more feathers soon, Kurogane. Even- even if you're not with us,'
There. One of them had said it. Kurogane was shamefully glad it hadn't been him.
He made sure both of the kids were asleep before he left. He told himself Mokona would look after them.
He'd stayed six months in that world, trailing from town to city to village, searching for word of Fai. He'd only ever got the occasional rumour, or a snatch of gossip involving a tall, smiling man. He'd searched every place he could think of, and a few others told him about.
Eventually, he'd cracked and done the one thing he'd promised himself he would never do.
He'd called the witch.
'What is it you want this time, Kurogane?' she'd asked.
'I want Fai,'
Simple and to the point. He didn't want to speak to her any more than he had to.
'I'm sorry, but it would cost more than you could ever afford to pay for me to tell you where he is,'
She had her arms folded loosely and tapped the fingers of one hand on her elbow. The hem of her dress swished in the dusty street, but seemed strangely impervious to the stains. It only reminded Kurogane of the dirt crusting his own clothes, and his collar began to itch.
'What?' he demanded.
'I could let you search for him. You know he's left this world. You will follow, I believe,'
'I'd follow him anywhere,'
'Well then. The price is simple. The letter,'
Kurogane reached into his pocket and pulled it out. He knew every crease and wrinkle of the paper, every stroke of every word. What did it matter if he had the actual thing? He half held it out to her, then froze. His hand involuntarily jerked back a little.
'You're going to take my memories of what it said,'
She laughed. 'I don't need to. You've always struck me as a man who needs something solid to hold on to, so this is an equal trade,'
Kurogane held out the envelope. She reached out and took it from his fingers.
His hand wasn't shaking.
'You'll be able to travel between worlds now,' she said, her tone suddenly brisk and businesslike. 'It won't necessarily be a place Fai is, or even where he's been- you haven't paid enough for directions. Maybe if Fai had written a longer letter,'
She smiled at her own joke, and disappeared with a puff of nothing.
Kurogane stood very still for a few minutes, then began to wish he'd asked how the travel thing worked. He looked up at the sky. It was night, and the slimmest crescent moon barely lit the darkness. The stars seemed to have faded away.
'Take me away from here,' he said, feeling foolish.
To a casual observer, he would have simply vanished in a wisp of smoke.
So he'd searched. And searched.
He'd found nothing.
Here, however- here he might be on to something. He'd heard that this museum had artefacts found in the desert, and even though no-one had mentioned a Fai-like person yet, the feeling had been so strong, he'd been unable to resist a visit to the tiny, strange building in a half-forgotten corner of the city. It was far away from the bustling marketplaces and busy streets of the trading centre, where Kurogane had searched.
But when he'd arrived at the museum, it had felt like home.
So even after a few hours spent trawling display cases full of dusty old bowls and coins, Kurogane felt no desire to leave. The warmth enveloped him and left him with a sense of contentment he'd almost forgot it was possible to have since he'd left his home, and after that since his new home had left him. He wandered up to the next case, containing a display of antique weaponry. For the first time that afternoon, his curiosity was piqued. He pressed a finger against the glass and traced the lines of a beautiful sword, looking even more elegant against the harsh blocks of the gun beside it.
There was a layer of thin drawers underneath the display case, and he pulled the top one out curiously. It slid out without a noise on well-oiled castors, revealing a tray full of daggers, carefully laid out from plain pieces of sharpened flint to perfectly wrought steel blades, polished to perfection. One had a matching sheath, the shape of a dragon pressed into the leather. He had owned something similar, once. A small sign underneath it said it was a replica, and that the original was in the drawer below on the right, but had been badly damaged from exposure to the elements.
Kurogane pulled out the drawer, and his heart stopped.
It was his. The same crack in the wooden handle, worn smooth from wind and sand, the same small notch on the end of the blade.
The dagger he'd given up for lost or stolen on the night that Fai left.
TO BE CONTINUED
He read the short note, written in spidery writing, that accompanied the dagger. Short-bladed dagger, designed for throwing. Assault weapon. Dated 1200s. The note on the replica read almost exactly the same, except for the few words of explanation.
Kurogane shuddered. That was over six hundred years ago. How had he got so far behind?
Sometimes he thought he'd never catch up. It was moments like this when he was so close to some sort of truth when he most keenly felt Fai slipping away from him, inch by inch.