A STORM OVER BLOSSOMS CHAPTER 23 'NOCTURNE'

"You have to eat something, kaa-san," Taichi said in frustration as his mother pushed the scrambled eggs away from her again. She had hardly touched any food since Hikari had gone missing, and had grown painfully thin. Her cheeks were sunken in a face that was fast becoming skeletal and her shoulder bones protruded sharply beneath her silky robe like the stubs of an angel's broken wings. Her wrists were so fragile that he could have snapped them with his bare hands.

"Do I have to feed you? Is that what you want?"

Disgusted by what he was doing but too worried about her to do anything else, he picked up his spoon and dipped it in the mound of egg. He held it out to her, but she knocked it aside with one hand, sending egg splattering across the fridge and cupboards. Taichi threw the spoon at the floor, "FINE! STARVE YOURSELF! JUST LEAVE US LIKE HIKARI DID! BECAUSE THAT'LL REALLY MAKE UP FOR WHAT YOU DID!"

Tears rose in his mother's eyes, and he was instantly ashamed of his outburst. She had only had this breakdown because she blamed herself for Hikari running away from home. She did not need him to add to her guilt. He sat down opposite her again, "I'm sorry, kaa-san. I didn't mean that."

"But it is the truth," she replied in a voice rusty from disuse, "I hate the truth. I wish it would go away and leave me alone with my lies. They keep me safe like guardian angels ranged around my bed. One day, I will learn their names and then they will become the truth . . ."

Taichi sighed, picking up her almost untouched plate and taking it to the sink. His mother could carry on rambling for hours once she got started and he needed to get ready for soccer practice. When he gave her pills to her, she would stop talking and he could help her back to bed. He wished there was more that he could do for her, but she was beyond his help.

"Okay, time for your medicine," he said as cheerfully as he could, taking the bottle of pills off the windowsill and dropping two into a glass. He filled it with water at the sink and then stirred the pills around with his finger until they dissolved. He wasn't sure if they were meant to be taken that way but his mother refused to swallow them whole. He handed the glass to her, "There you go."

She took a small sip from it before hurling it at the wall. It shattered on impact, glass and water exploding outwards. Instinctively, Taichi put up an arm to shelter his eyes, although he was standing nowhere near it. Hot frustration surged in him again, "WHY THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT? WHY DO YOU MAKE EVERYTHING SO DIFFICULT?"

"I . . . I can't tell the lies from the truth when I drink that. The truth might come to me and I might name it and . . . ." she trailed off, looking at her hands in her lap, "I hate the truth . . . ."

"Stay where you are. I'll clean it up," he said resignedly. He couldn't expect logic from his mother in this state, any more than he could stay angry with her. It was like being angry with a lost child who cried and screamed because she could not find her way back home. His mother had gone missing somewhere in her own mind.

He had just fetched a cloth from the cupboard and was mopping up the water when the doorbell rang. He felt his heart begin to pound in his chest. No- one - not even Sora - knew how bad his mother really was. He had kept the truth from his friends, thinking that they would phone social security in a misguided attempt to help him and he would end up being taken away from her too. His mother would never survive losing both her children.

"Kaa-san, you have to go to your room for a bit. There's someone at the door."

"Then I should answer it," she said with a distant smile, standing up and adjusting her flannel robe, "It might be the light. It often comes to visit me in the morning, and we dance together to the music that only we can hear."

"Please, kaa-san . . ." he begged, but she had already shuffled to the front door and was clumsily fiddling with the latch. As Taichi moved to stop her, the latch slid open and the door swung outwards. Nausea rose inside him as he saw Ms Takaishi standing there, looking young and pretty in a blue, sleeveless polo-neck and khaki skirt. Her car keys dangled from a finger. Of all the people it could have been, he thought, she was the worst. He could have explained to Yamato or Takeru why they could not phone social services, but he didn't have a chance of convincing their mother. As Yamato always said, Takaishi Natsuko was the most paranoid, overprotective woman in Japan. He didn't know how he was going to pull this off, but he prayed his mother wouldn't do anything too strange.

Hiruko didn't even seem to notice the other woman, staring past her to a point that Taichi could not see from where he was standing. He wondered if she thought she saw the light that she had been rambling about earlier and desperately hoped that she would not start dancing in the middle of the hallway if that were the case.

"Hikari . . . ." she whispered as she pushed past her, "You're home . . . ."

"Kaa-san, come on!" he said impatiently, going after his mother, "You know perfectly well that Hika . . . ."

The words died in his mouth as he saw the girl in his mother's arms, her head buried in her chest. Both of them were crying. Hikari was thinner and paler than he remembered her, and there were ugly scratches and bruises all the way up her arms. She was dressed in a too-large Odaiba Junior High T- Shirt and a pair of tracksuit pants that bagged down around her ankles. Takeru was standing a little way off from them, a genuine smile on his face for the first time in months.

Worried and overjoyed at the same time, he turned to the younger boy, "Takeru! You found her? What the hell happened to her?"

"It's a long story, Taichi-san, and Hikari really should tell it to you in her own," he replied evasively, "Anyway, it's got a happy ending. That's the most important thing, right?"

"Yeah, that's all that matters," Taichi smiled and went to welcome his little sister home.

********

In the deeps, the maimed god drags himself through the halls of his underwater kingdom, blood marking his slow passage. His face is a charred ruin; the stubs of his tentacles trail limply at either side of him; his legs have been burnt off completely. By all rights, he should be dead. Y'ha- nthlei is already singing his dirge, the sad, low song echoing through the hallways, but that only makes him more determined to survive. Hatred is all that sustains him now, all that keeps the spark of life burning fierce when it should have been extinguished in Seiryuu's attack. He will have his revenge on them, no matter the cost.

After what feels like an age of agony, he comes to his throne room and pulls himself through its great bone-doors. He sees Hydra stir in her pool, alert as always to the scent of blood and death. She lifts up her beautiful head and looks at him with her dark, wondering eyes.

"Mother of the Deeps, you who gave life to the seas and all who swim in them, I ask you to give me new life," his voice is as ruined as his face. The liquid syllables of their language sound harsh and grating to his ears.

"You know the price that you must pay," she replies in her own soft and lilting tones.

"I know the price and I regret it with all my soul, but I will not go into eternal death like this."

She inclines her head in understanding and begins to sing. It is a song that has not been heard since the world began. It is the first ripple of a sleek body through the water; the first splash of a wave against a sandy shore; the first cry of a bird flying high above the ways. Dagomon shuts his eyes as the song vibrates through him, closing his gaping wounds, restoring bone and flesh. When it is finished, Hydra lies still in the water, her eyes closed forever.

Without looking back at her, Dagomon leaves his throne-room. Now that Hydra is gone, Y'ha-nthlei will soon follow. He can already feel its life-force fade around him as it sinks slowly into death. He cannot afford to waste any more time. There is an army to gather and a new kingdom to establish in the deeps.

********

THE END

********

Yatta!

I know some of you thought you would never see those two words. Thank you for all your patience and support. I know some of the recent parts have had their problems, but . . . well, so have I this year. ^_^;

However, to call this the end might be a little deceptive, because I'm going to begin on the rewrite soon. At the moment, I'm thinking less Fushigi Yuugi and more Lovecraft. I just wanted to wrap up this version of it before I started it, because I had a feeling people would kill me if I didn't. ^_^