The shadows were descending when Fallon limped back to the corner. Metal door still down, no signs of discovery. And then the open, the reveal, a little girl huddled, eyes squinting even with only dim light overhead. “You can come out now. It’s done.”The girl took Fallon’s offered hand and climbed out, the long length of her skirt loose enough to not hinder her motion much. Her tiny fingers could not wrap around the width of Fallon’s palm, and so held onto the edge of flesh, digging in as much as possible to secure their grip. Once she was steady on the higher ground, her gave Fallon a long once-over. “You are hurt.”
Fallon’s step back, hand slipping from those tiny fingers, was in motion before the girl even finished speaking, and the brief look of hurt on her face that shut down in blink speed spoke of the learned necessity of hiding feelings. Unfamiliar, the shake of regret that coursed through Fallon now, but it wasn’t something to be acknowledged. Fallon asked, “You’re not a healer, are you?”
The girl shook her head, that piercing stare too mature for such a small thing. “You don’t like healers?”
“More like they don’t like me.” The glance around showed nothing moving, nothing waiting to pounce on them. Time to get back to the important parts of the night, and feelings shoved aside. “You obviously don’t belong around here. What’s going on? Where do we take you?”
“Nowhere.” It was a soft sigh of sound, defeat within a breath of air.
“Why’s that? You like dust?” The little girl didn’t respond; the hem of her dress was a fascinating item to behold at that moment. Fallon swallowed down the aggression her injuries had coaxed to the forefront and kept her voice from raising as she asked, “Okay, you’re stuck with me for the moment. Can I get something to call you?”
Dark hair fell to the side as the little head went sideways, those brown eyes observing, too intense for the rest of the body. “Aiko.” And wasn’t that voice too sad of a sound to bear?
Fallon turned on her heal, calling over her shoulder as she began to walk towards the camp she had set up not long before she had heard a little girl’s cries and gone to investigate, “C’mon, we need to hunker down. I got some food too.”
“I’m hungry.” It was said as though the words were a surprise, an unexpected shock.
“Yeah, probably not something you deal with. It’s not fancy, but you’ll be okay with it.”
It wasn’t fancy, the mishmash of canned foods eaten without being heated up and a couple energy bars that were probably past an expiration date. “I didn’t get a chance to hunt,” Fallon said as though she needed to explain, but the little girl, belying her refined looks which no doubt also held a refined palette, simply ate everything that was presented, until she sat the food down and shook her head at the offer of more.
It was a clear night with no need to set up any kind of covering, so Fallon concentrated on making the secure spot as comfortable as sleeping on the ground in the open air could possibly be. If the little girl got more of a bedroll than she did, well, so?
Aiko took to all the necessities of being outside without the creature comforts of a home better than expected. The girl was almost unnaturally docile, going along without pushback to whatever Fallon said. It grated on Fallon in ways she couldn’t explain, couldn’t put into words. It rubbed her like sand in her clothing when she couldn’t stop and would have to deal with it for hours more. She had to live with it; like hells she liked it.
It only took Aiko being asleep for ten minutes before he spoke, as Fallon sat cross legged next to a large rock, alternating between watching Aiko and looking at the surrounding area. “Do you have a new pet?”
“Please shut up, it’s been a long day.” And Fallon was brittle in ways that weren’t part of her world, the worry for this girl taking up a place in her she didn’t have space to give it. The last thing she needed was his derision.
“She belongs to that compound.”
Fallon tamped down on the urge to snort, the tiny movement of Aiko’s chest a reminder of the girl’s exhaustion and need for sleep. “Thank you, Captain Obvious. I got that part. I also get she’s something, the power on her is radiating. Any clue?”
“No. Her power is sleeping as she is. Any around her will be awaiting its reveal.”
“So… someone’s trying to kill her? Before things are found out? Or maybe someone tried to grab her but didn’t quite make it, someone else intervened? And if someone was grabbing her, was it for her sake, or to use her for their benefit?” Fallon’s fingers beat a quick tap on her leg while her mind raced through possibilities, but stilled as an undeniable truth was brought forth. “Whatever is going on, with the way she’s acting, don’t think she’s too sad to be away from whoever’s waiting for her at home.”
“You are asking many questions about a girl you need to leave behind in morning light.”
Within Fallon a small part rebelled at the words, even as the truth of them settled within her bones. “Seems like a quiet pet so far. Does what she’s told without any issues. Easy to feed.”
“You are being ridiculous, weak in a way I have never seen before.”
That stung, but Fallon pressed on. “What’s weak or ridiculous about trying to figure something out about a situation that is obviously wrong?”
A storm not of her own mind brewed within Fallon then, pure will and the dominance of that only comes from those used to being obeyed in all things. “Tenro will never accept one whose allegiance is divided, whose mind is not set. Are you saying you will not complete what we have traveled to accomplish? Over this unknown child?”
A whip of wind picked up then, blowing over Aiko and disturbing her blanket, the air swirling around Fallon, strands of copper and blood red streaks falling across her face, partially shading eyes that glowed like molten gold in the moonlight here, over dry sand and uncompromising land, over the destruction the Great Collision wrought. Fallon’s voice deepened, the voice of the woman she would be coming from the body of the girl fighting to survive long enough to become her. “Do you not know who you speak to? Do you think I travel and fight and bleed to be some pawn, some pathetic, mindless, fearful creature? I will be the wielder of Tenro, and it shall bow to my will.”
The storm outside and within subsided, the wind falling in a final puff to her feet, her hair settling along her face and neck as no more words were spoken. Fallon pushed her hair back, sighed, and laid down, the too rocky ground under her as she closed her eyes to rest as she could through the night.
Morning brought with it all the questions and complications the night before had never resolved. Aiko was distinctly dirty now, though she still shone bright and pure, hair somehow falling in long waves around her without the help of a brush.
Fallon let her finish the dried fruit in the supplies, and the girl perked up with even that little bit of sweetness. Now would be as good a time to talk as any. “You know I can’t take you with me, right?”
“I know.” Aiko took a sip of the water, handling the canteen as elegantly as if it was porcelain china.
Fallon cleared her throat. The next bit had to be said, but how much did Aiko know? Did she want to introduce into this girl’s world the tense thoughts she’d been living with overnight? “You don’t seem to like your house. Want to tell me what’s going on?”
Aiko’s head fell forward, her hair shielding her face. “They took me from Mother, and now they’re waiting on me, but they don’t like me.”
Waiting? Probably talking about her powers, but… “Who took you from your mom?”
Fallon waited, but no further explanation was forthcoming. “And you dad, is he the one who hates you?”
“My brother, though we do not share the same mother.”
It was a dim picture to be sure, but there was a smudge here and a line there, something to start forming Aiko’s story. “Why did they take you from your mom? She and your dad aren’t married?”
Aiko’s head fell further down, and though her face was still covered, her chin had to be almost to her chest. “He is married to another.”
The compound Fallon had passed was huge, which spoke of money. However, that was a non-issue. What mattered to Fallon was the sheer energy that flowed from the place. Whoever was there was probably strong, important, before the Great Collision, but with the Collision they had become invincible, and it seemed, would not hesitate to use whatever was necessary to solidify their position – including taking a little girl away from her mother because she had a sleeping power within her. “Is that why you’re out here? You trying to get back to your mom?”
It was dry and dusty, the ground she and Aiko sat on. So dry and dusty, the tears that fell from Aiko’s eyes, tears that Fallon only knew about because of the moisture hitting that dry and dusty ground and nothing from the girl’s voice or body language, almost immediately disappeared, sucked up and made nothing by the arid nature of everything around them. “He said he would take me back, but after we had left, when I asked where Mother was and where we would be living, he told me Mother had died, and I was going to stay with him.”
The story kept getting worse, but there was no time to allow Aiko to grieve. Too many people were unaccounted for, and Fallon had to get the players straight, and figure out who was still a threat. “Aiko, who is he? And is he still out there, after you?”
“Saito-san is Father’s Wakagashira. He speaks with the animals. They all listen to him.”
So, druidic powers then. Not common outside of elves, rare enough to be interesting, and could be a bitch to fight against if he had decent enough control, which if he was high enough to be able to grab Aiko… yeah, he had decent enough control.
Well, hells. “And how did you escape?”
There were no more tears now, and Aiko’s head unbent, lifting to look straight at Fallon. Her perfect face was scrunched in confusion, little fine brows meeting at a point above the bridge of her nose. “I do not know. After he told me, there was a flash, and I was on the ground. And then I was surrounded by those boys.”
Not unheard of, extreme emotions making magic flash or break through controls, maybe manifest for the first time. It hadn’t been enough to truly awaken her power, but she had been put on the path. Even now the magic was starting it’s long pull up from deep within her where it slept. To Fallon, it was like looking at water that had just started to boil; the slow roll of water, maybe a small pop, but it wouldn’t be long before it would be roiling across the entire surface, consuming and changing everything.
No, Fallon couldn’t take Aiko with her. The path to Tenro was one that needed to be travelled alone, and Fallon couldn’t afford the distraction. On top of it all, helping in any way put a target on Fallon that she’d be hard pressed to fight now. The people who surrounded Aiko were not thug level magic users or dumbass shifters. There was real power at that compound, the kind she was not yet ready to face.
But… but… would leaving her here be a safe choice? Was her mother dead, or was that a claim to make Aiko pliant? If her mom was alive, could Aiko get back to her? Would the woman even want her? Maybe Aiko wasn’t taken, maybe she was given up. And if she was taken and Fallon just left her at that compound, she’d be leaving Aiko with a man who, blood or not, kidnapped her for her power and a brother who she described as hating her. Leaving her in a home that Aiko, so pampered and soft, willingly and without a word spent the night eating shitty food and laying on rocky ground, all for the small chance of not going back quite yet.
“You cannot get involved. There has not been a Dragon Slayer in over ten thousand years. Do you believe the path to Tenro so mundane there is no hurry, and any fancy may waylay it?”
Fallon packed. Not a lot – there never was a lot. She made do with whatever she found on her way. Sword on her back, small pack next to her hip, she looked down to Aiko, who had not moved, not one inch through all the emotions and the uncertainty as she told her story. Aiko, who looked as she did the day before, waiting for the first blow to land. “C’mon, kid. Let’s see if what he said about your mom is true.”
Posted with permission from the author.