Well this has been sitting in my document manager for quite some time now, about half finished. So here is the finished product of chapter six! It was originally supposed to be a lot different but I have a different plan for the next chapter. Thank you so much to all the wonderful readers, reviewers, and subscribers! It makes me happy to know that you are enjoying my fic. :) Hopefully you'll enjoy this chapter!
She wakes up screaming.
The sound echoes through the camp, scaring away any Archen that are nesting among the grounds and the castle towers. She sits up, only long enough to let the scream pass, and then she drops back onto the cot, pain shooting through her back, knees, and arms. Her head throbs at the sound of her own strangled cry, but it's the only scream that she can manage. She simply lies there, breathing heavily and drenched with sweat.
A wet cloth is placed against her forehead, and once her vision clears enough so that she can make out more than shapes, a slender maid is leaning over her. Her large brown eyes are tired, yet still all the more soothing, and her hands are very cold, despite the heat Girl can feel emanating from the warm wind outside the tent. She doesn't speak, as the feeling of nausea has not quite left her body yet. Every few minutes her stomach heaves, although slowly the sensation, along with the pain in her limbs, becomes bearable.
She looks around in a daze, taking in the sights around her for a little while. Through the pain, every sense is heightened; she can smell the hot, stale air of wounded bodies, feel every drop of sweat sliding down her skin, taste the dirt on her tongue, see the dinge on the walls of the tent, and hear the sounds of moving people outside. The sounds burn her like a hot iron; oh, how she wishes to be up and moving around, anything away from this stationary, sensuous spot she's in now.
The maid continues to daub at her hot, leathery skin. "You took a nice little slice to the back, now didn't you, child?" She's talking more to herself than to Girl, who cannot even begin to find the words she needs to express her confusion. Did she survive? Or is this all a dream? She can't tell, as things have faded slightly, although all senses remain alert and work overtime.
Finally, she lifts her hand, places it to her cheek, and breathes out. The air brushes her hand, sending chills up and down her spine. The small gesture is enough to let Girl know that she really is alive, and that the hellish battle wasn't her last. She rubs her cheek, continuing to breathe slowly, trying to calm her shaky body. She begins to go over the night's events, but everything blurs together and seems to worsen her pain, so she gives up and lets her mind wander.
The maid has her drink a little water, which is heavenly for her sore throat. She lifts one arm and drapes it over her eyes, the sweat burning as bad as the sand. She listens to her own breathing and the maid's, trying to muster up whatever speech she has in her to ask the maid what exactly happened. It takes a while, and when she regains her voice, it's quiet and shaky.
"A psycho cut, that's what."
"Psycho cut?" She's heard the name before, even though she's never seen the move used on a person.
"Yes. One of Kenshin's warriors. Right across your back; it knocked you out cold, enough so that you looked dead. You hit your head hard, but you should be all right. There are other warriors whose lots are worse than yours, child," the maid explains, tending to some small cuts on her chin. Whose lots are worse than yours, Girl thinks to herself. Death, she wonders? She shudders at the thought, and the very gesture sends a tough bout of pain through her back. She winces and whimpers, but breathes easily when the pain quickly subsides.
"And what of Kunoichi?"
"Lady Kunoichi? She's hurt, bruised very badly and beaten." The maid runs the cloth over her forehead gently, her icy fingertips grazing Girl's skin. "But she's safe and sound; our lord made sure of that. He takes care of his warriors, you know. In fact, he ordered us to search the field for any survivors, which is how we found you. He's going around to the tents now, visiting his army."
Girl laughs once, smiling slightly. "This is a wonderful way... For Lord Shingen to meet me, isn't it?"
"There isn't any need to worry. If he requested your presence in his army, it won't matter how you come to him. He treats us all like his own, child."
A comfortable silence follows, and as much as Girl tries to think over what the meeting may be like, her brain is fried, and the thoughts just increase the throb behind her headache. It lasts a few moments, the silence, and those few moments are golden. That's all they are, though - moments, and moments are fleeting, as the flap of the tent is flung open and a battered woman marches in.
Girl lifts her arm to look at her guest, a smile lighting up her face when she sees Kunoichi. "Kunoichi!" She tries to sit up, only to fall back down, wincing from the pain.
Kunoichi stops beside the cot as Girl looks up at her, taking in her appearances. Bruises decorate her skin, while rust-red stains are scattered across her clothes. Her lip is busted, her skin freshly scarred, and she has a slight limp, something she seems to ignore, although the irritation hides behind her eyes. She looks down at the recruit, who after being tossed into battle, looks good. If one can consider beaten 'good'.
"How is she?" Kunoichi addresses the maid, as if Girl hasn't said a word.
"I'm all right," she says, which Kunoichi ignores, her lips pursed as she waits for the maid to speak.
"She should be fine, Lady Kunoichi. The worst of her injuries is her back, but even that should start to heal within a few days."
"And she can walk?"
"What of her head? It's bandaged, I see."
"She hit it hard when she fell."
Kunoichi turns to look down at Girl. "Do you feel fuzzy?"
"A little," Girl replies, resting her forearm against her forehead.
Kunoichi folds her arms, her lips pressing together even harder than before. She scrutinizes what she sees before her, although something along the lines of guilt and frustration dances behind her eyes like fire. She stands in silence, words having left her, something which infects even Girl, who can't think of anything to say to her guide and fellow warrior.
The maid begins to toss away soiled bandages. Kunoichi paces for a moment or two, arms still folded, a stained knife at her hip. Girl clears her throat, which hurts, although it's bearable as she opens her mouth to speak, only to be silenced by a raised hand from Kunoichi.
"Next time? I need you to keep up with me, all right?" Kunoichi's voice shakes. "Sometimes I wonder why we bring kids out here, kids who don't know how to fight or what they're supposed to do with themselves. So just keep up, okay? And don't say anything."
"Don't. Keep up, all right?"
"All right?" She stresses the words. Kunoichi will never understand why children are thrust into battle this way.
"All right," Girl sighs, her forearm at her forehead as she looks up at the woman with glossy eyes.
Kunoichi nods. "Good." She pulls the knife from her hip and orders Girl to outstretch her hand. "Take this. It's not a good enough weapon to fight with, but at least it's enough to defend yourself next time. Psycho cuts are nasty things to deal with and it will scar you forever. Understood?" Girl nods, taking the knife and holding it between two leather palms. "I have to go and check on other warriors. Don't get yourself killed while I'm gone, okay?"
The two warriors fall to silence for a few moments, as if Kunoichi is debating whether or not to leave. She hasn't fulfilled her task - yes, she's brought the kid to the castle, but she hasn't been introduced to Shingen yet. Her brow knits together, a frown highlighting her lips, stretching all the way to her dark eyes, which are worn from the previous battle. But the thought that this is just a kid, just a child still haunts Kunoichi. She can't let this raggedy piece of meat go out on her own again. It almost got her killed last time.
Kunoichi sighs, taking Girl's wrist between her slender fingers. "Stand up. I have to take you to Lord Shingen now."
Girl sets the knife aside, allowing Kunoichi to pull her up, wincing for the umpteenth time. She squeezes Kunoichi's hand as she swings her legs over the side of the cot, which look mangled but seem to be strong enough to support her weight. The older woman pulls her to her feet, beginning to release Girl from her grip when the younger one stumbles, grasping her shoulder for support. Kunoichi's eyes widen slightly as she straightens up to offer a little extra so that Girl can right herself on her feet. This girl... She's really reliant on me, isn't she? Kunoichi's impatience and dissatisfaction dissipates as she steadies the kid.
"I'm sorry," she says quietly, letting Kunoichi go. Girl feels the sand beneath her feet, an unwelcome feeling. It stings her feet. "Where are my boots...?"
"The maid threw them out. They were torn to pieces, kid. We have to give you new ones anyway," Kunoichi replies, clearing her throat.
They weren't any good anyway. Girl tries to rationalize about the boots, but those were her sister's boots. She brushes it off, trying not to let the sadness well up in her throat and under her eyes, but it takes more effort than it's worth. Kunoichi waits for Girl to get herself right on her feet, before she grips her elbow. She doesn't want to baby Girl, but she doesn't need the kid to fall flat on her face, either.
"I thought Lord Shingen was coming around to the tents?"
Kunoichi pushes aside the tent flap. "He is. But my task included delivering you to him."
Girl nods, shielding her eyes from the sunlight. The sky over Terrerra is a cloudless blue, stretching out endlessly above them. That blue sky is almost ignorant to the blood that had been shed the night before, but maybe it is a good omen. The two warriors step into the sunlight, which bakes the sand below their feet, and together they start off to find their lord.
"How is the Rapidash?" Girl questions, rubbing her fingertips over her bandaged wrist.
Kunoichi keeps looking straight ahead, eyes cast out over the battlefield. "Who knows? May have been a casualty." Her voice is so quiet that Girl can hardly hear her.
"A casualty?" Her eyes widen slightly, but she chastises herself. Casualties will become a common thing for her now. Nothing should surprise her anymore.
"Yes." Kunoichi glances down at the kid. "How old are you?"
"You're thin for a girl your age."
"Terrerra is dry. My mother feeds us enough so that we have just that - enough. Never more."
"You live on rations?"
Girl looks down at the sand. "I wouldn't say that. She does what she can so that we can survive. The war impacts every corner of every kingdom, Lady Kunoichi. Our warriors have to eat. So there isn't always enough to go around. Things have always been this way."
Kunoichi looks out ahead of her again. "Tell Lord Shingen. That's something he'll want to know."
Girl nods as her companion's grip slackens and releases her elbow. They walk in silence now, a comfortable silence. Neither of them focus in on the battlefield as they walk, simply focusing on finding their lord. Kunoichi has been a warrior long enough that it never takes her long to find him, though, and within minutes she's stopped in front of a small tent similar to the one in which Girl was housed.
"I'm surprised he fits in these small things," Kunoichi mumbles to herself.
Girl smiles at the remark, thinking that Kunoichi is exaggerating a bit. But then again, everyone says that about Shingen. She sees his silhouette inside the tent and realizes that she is truly about to meet the warlord of Terrerra. And as she waits, a lot of things run through her mind, some just sensations like the sand beneath her feet - she remembers how much it really burns - and then there are the serious thoughts.
She wonders how she is supposed to greet him. Is she supposed to wait for him to address her? Or is she supposed to fall on one knee, or both, and bow. Or should she just bow? She almost doesn't believe that this moment has arrived. The journey here seems like it happened a lifetime ago, even though it was only last night. Quickly she casts her eyes to Kunoichi, stopping herself from reaching out to the woman. A striking thought that she may be dead crosses her, but she pushes it aside. She would know if she was dead.
Girl tries to quiet herself. She doesn't want to seem nervous and scattered, because those are qualities a warrior shouldn't have. But this change has happened so fast, that she's not sure quite how to carry herself right now. Her mind leaps forward trying to collect itself, although in doing so she gets herself more scattered and less at ease.
The flap of the tent opens and Kunoichi touches Girl's shoulder, sending her one glance, before quickly bowing. "My lord."
Girl's eyes widen as she follows her companion's lead, bowing as Takeda Shingen steps out of the tent.
"Lady Kunoichi!" His voice is like an earthquake, and Girl swears she hears the Archen fly from the towers as if they've been startled. He could be so loud as to raise the dead... Kunoichi straightens and smiles, the most sincere smile Girl has ever seen on anyone's face, and as she herself straightens she is left speechless at the sight of the warlord.
"Lord Shingen," Kunoichi greets. The two have already spoken, enough for Shingen to know that Kunoichi's injuries aren't mortal and that she survived the battle nearly unscathed, compared to some other fights they've been in.
Shingen opens his palm to the girl beside his trusted warrior. "Is this the warrior I sent you for?"
Kunoichi nods, turning towards her, taking her shoulder. Girl is pushed forward, not roughly, but it jolts her a little. "Yes. This is... This is the girl."
Shingen catches her hesitation, but casts it aside, although there is something akin to curiosity hiding behind his eyes. He looks down at her, smiling widely, which surprises Girl. "Are you Kotone and Heihachi's child?"
Girl is caught off guard by this question. She doesn't expect the warlord to know something so personal, to address her parents as if he knows them; and she rarely hears her father called by his name, Heihachi. She nods, catches herself, and answers. "Yes, Lord Shingen." She would like to ask how he knows them - of course he would know her father, but she didn't expect him to know him that intimately. But she buries the question.
Shingen laughs boisterously, like he remembers her parents fondly. "How is Kotone?"
"She is tired. Healthy, but very, very tired," Girl replies.
"And what of your grandfather?"
"He is well. If you saw him again, I'm sure you would think that he hasn't changed at all."
Shingen laughed again, his hands resting on his sides. "And you, my child?"
"Painfully aware of the battle that took place last night."
The warlord is yet again amused. Girl understands what people mean when they say he is lively, that nothing can seem to dampen his spirits. "That was an unexpected assault on our kingdom by Kenshin of Illusio. But it must have been a wonderful way to introduce you to the army - you have already had your first taste of battle."
Girl nods. "It wasn't the introduction that I expected."
"Those are the types of introductions that we have to be prepared for. In time, you will learn to expect such things, as in times like these, nothing ever seems to go exactly right," Shingen says, nodding. "Now, what is your name?"
Kunoichi looks between her lord and the young warrior. "She hasn't told me her name. I've been calling her Kid, but her family calls her Girl. I-" Shingen holds up a hand to stop her.
"Let the child speak."
Girl stands, hands limp at her sides. What is she to say? "Whatever you deem an acceptable name will do just fine. I mean no disrespect..."
Kunoichi's cheeks turn red with a white heat and she's about to say something when Shingen again stops her. "You have a name. What is it?"
I can't say... It's practically a curse word for us to say... She swallows. "My mother - Kotone... She has never called me by a proper name."
Shingen is taken aback. "I did not doubt Kunoichi, but I wanted to hear it from your own mouth. Surely you have a name."
"Yes. But only my father has ever used it."
Kunoichi doesn't understand why Girl is being so stubborn, but Shingen believes that he knows. He looks to Kunoichi, giving her a small sign to leave him with the young warrior for a few moments. The woman is surprised, although she does understand that her lord knows something that she doesn't, so she takes her leave quickly.
Shingen reaches out with his hand to place it on the girl's shoulder. It's heavy and rocks her, thick like the branches of an oak. "Heihachi chose your name."
Girl nods. She hasn't heard her father's name used so frequently. "Yes."
Shingen knows for sure that this is it. "Your father has been gone a long time."
"I don't remember his face anymore." She doesn't remember him anymore. It has been so long, and her mother has done so much to erase him from their life. She resents her mother for it, but feels ashamed of herself for that.
Before him, there stands the example of what his kingdom has become. Every warrior he speaks to has lost so much from this civil war, that it disgusts Shingen and makes him crazy. "There will be nothing left of Terrerra when this war is over," Shingen says, squeezing her shoulder. "But for you to hide the name your father gave you would be a disgrace, especially since you have taken to his path. I believe that he would want you to use it instead of remaining a nameless face."
"And disobey my mother?" Girl is torn, although she understands Shingen's words.
"It is not disobedience. Your mother is simply afraid to be attached again."
Girl stands there, faced with the dilemma. She has grown tired of being the nameless face Shingen speaks about. She loves her mother, but cannot stand the idea that her mother has gone so far as to treat her name like a curse word. And the last thing she wants is to disgrace her father. All she has ever wanted is to show that she has his honor.
"My name is Chiyo."
Comments, critique, questions - anything of the like are welcome. :) All reviews are appreciated~