by Mark Patraw
Homepage: Mark's Art Page
"Usagi! You bad bunny! Get back here; your splint isn't finished yet!"
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But the rabbit didn't listen, it was too terrified of the fox to do anything but run. This it did poorly, because one of its legs was badly mangled.
"Kitsune! Leave Usagi alone! You've done enough damage for one day!"
The fox, Kitsune, reluctantly obeyed her command. It sulkily padded to the open window on the east side of the small, cluttered room and jumped up onto the edge, where it glared at her with its golden eyes.
"Don't you give me that look, Kitsune! You've been bad, and you know it. If you're going to kill something and eat it, fine - but don't leave it half alive to suffer like you did with Usagi." Nakoruru lectured the fox, her brow furrowed furiously in disapproval.
The fox seemed to consider this for a moment, and then it leapt out of the window and ran into the forest, its red tail flashing for a moment before it was gone.
Nakoruru sighed. Kitsune would never learn. He had a mischievous mean streak and that was all there was to it. She surveyed the havoc the two animals had wrought in the small room in her grandparent's house that she shared with her little sister, Rimururu. It was a good thing she was home alone, or she'd be in trouble for sure. It was terrible. Cracked dishes and bowls here and there, clothing in disarray, and…where was Usagi?
"Usagi? You can come out now, Kitsune is gone… Usagi?"
A fluttering noise came from the window, and suddenly a large weight was resting on her right shoulder.
"Hush, Mamahaha, you'll scare Usagi more." Nakoruru smiled as she turned her head to greet her old friend. The large, auburn falcon moved Nakoruru's long, black hair out of the way with her sharp beak and proceeded to rub her downy head under Nakoruru's chin. Mamahaha cooed softly.
"Hee! Hee! Don't do that Mamahaha, it tickles! I'll get you something to eat in a minute…what? Galford! Are you sure? Coming here? How far away? Oh no! I've got to clean this mess up before he gets here!" Nakoruru exclaimed as she frantically began to run to and fro, struggling to get things back into order. Mamahaha leapt off her shoulder with a loud squawk and found a new perch near the ceiling. Nakoruru knew she was more excited than she ought to be, but she couldn't help it. Galford was so…
"Oh, Usagi! Where are you?"
At last she found the poor thing wedged far underneath Rimururu's cot. Usagi was shivering terribly, and whimpering in pain. The rabbit's wound had torn more, and its brown fur was matted with fresh blood.
"Usagi! You shouldn't have run! I wouldn't have let Kitsune hurt you. Come here; I'll fix you up."
Galford handsome, boyish face and golden hair were banished momentarily from Nakoruru's mind as she concentrated on the injured Usagi. Gently, she set the leg back into place again and bandaged it with leaves and a bit of moist bark. This would keep the wound clean, but it wasn't enough. The rabbit's leg would not heal properly; the muscles and tendons had been damaged too badly by Kitsune's powerful jaws.
Nakoruru knew what she had to do.
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and placed both of her hands on the rabbit's injured leg. She began to hum the ancient healing song her grandmother had taught her when she was barely old enough to remember such things. Soon, Nakoruru could feel a warm sensation begin to grow underneath her hands. A beautiful feeling spread throughout her body, sending tingling sensations up and down her arms and legs and then back again. She began to sing louder and rocked back and forth with Usagi in her lap. Now she could feel the rabbit's heart beating through the fire in her hands. Nakoruru listened closely to the rhythmic pulse until she detected the small irregularity that meant pain. This she focused on, tuning her words to the throb of the gash. Shortly, she hit upon the correct pitch and her song became a whisper as she began the real work. The verses took on physical manifestations in her mind as she used them to manipulate the subtle signals Usagi's heart sent her. Sweat beaded her brow, but after several minutes had passed, the rabbit's heartbeat was flawless and she knew she had succeeded.
Nakoruru opened her eyes. Usagi's bright, black eyes met hers, free of pain. The rabbit's mottled, pink nose wobbled in gratitude.
"You're more than welcome, little sister. Now stay away from Kitsune, or you might not be so lucky next time." Nakoruru smiled softly. Usagi leapt out of her arms, cantered about in a circle for a moment on her newly healed leg, and then she was gone.
Nakoruru felt a little nauseous. The healing process always made her sick afterwards, even a relatively small wound like Usagi's. "This is because you take the poison and hurt of the injury into yourself, my little treasure." her Grandmother would kindly answer when she questioned why this occurred.
Nakoruru remembered becoming very ill once after saving the life of a badly injured stag when she was nine years old. She had almost died. "You must be very careful with the gift of healing, Nakoruru." her Grandmother had whispered to her through quiet sobs when she had recovered enough to awaken, "In saving another, you may give too much of yourself and pass on to the next life."
Nakoruru remembered these words well. She didn't want to die, but she couldn't stand to see anything suffer either. I just have to be very careful, she told herself, and pull back before it becomes too late…if I can.
Suddenly, she felt invisible eyes watching her, and she spun around, a smile spreading upon her face even though she half-heartedly tried to stop it.
His willow like frame filled the entire doorway, and her heart skipped a beat at the sight of it. Oddly, he was completely covered in ebony ninja garb and armor, even his face. Usually he wore a deep blue, like the vast sea he had traveled across as a young boy to reach Japan. He almost looked like Hanzo himself in that get-up, except he was too tall to be the Iga master. He must have wrecked his stuff in training and Hanzo gave him some old armor of his to wear, Nakoruru guessed.
He didn't move; he just stood there leaning on the wooden frame watching her. She wanted to embrace him, but didn't dare. The silence began to feel uncomfortable.
"Hey! Where's Poppy?" She blurted, trying to break the silence. Galford's dog and constant companion was nowhere to be seen, which was very strange indeed. Poppy followed him everywhere.
"Poppy's dead." He stated simply.
Nakoruru gasped, and tears began to collect at the corners of her eyes. Galford seemed strangely unaffected. Was he in shock?
She loved Poppy! Poor Galford, that dog had been his only friend for so long… She wanted to comfort him, but something held her back.
"How terrible! What happened?"
"I snapped her neck. I hated that mangy mutt." He growled. And then he laughed. A horrible, cruel laugh - Galford never laughed like that.
Nakoruru couldn't believe her ears. Something was very wrong. I must be having a bad dream, she thought to herself.
Galford reached up and tore off his face cowl. Nakoruru stumbled backwards in shock at what it revealed. It was like looking at an old friend and a complete stranger at the same time. It certainly looked like Galford, but his hair had gone completely white, and those eyes… Whatever this thing was, it wasn't Galford, not the kind man she knew and loved, or was it?
"You're not Galford! You can't be!" She stammered, as she slid her dagger out of the hilt at her side to protect herself.
She was fast, but he was much faster. His blade was out before hers and an angry buzzing noise and a flash of light split the air. She shrieked and fell to her knees, the weapon useless at her side. Nakoruru's entire arm had gone numb to her shoulder; she couldn't move it to save her life.
"Oh, but I am Galford, sweet Nakoruru! Or at least I'm what he would be if he wasn't such a coward." He sneered as he advanced on her, his boots thumping dully on the floor.
Mamahaha launched herself at Galford in a diving attack from the shadows above to defend her mistress. Light flashed again accompanied by that awful buzzing noise, and Mamahaha lay on the ground twitching feebly. Small wisps of smoke rose from her charred wings.
"Mamahaha!" Nakoruru screamed as she tried to crawl to her friend's aid. She didn't get far; Galford grabbed her tightly by the hair and pulled her to her feet to stare into what passed for his eyes.
"She's fried chicken now, honey. It's just you and me now." His cruel smile deepened, exposing his too-white teeth.
"Galford, why are you doing this? What's wrong with you?" She sobbed. None of it made sense, it had to be a nightmare.
"Why? Because I can. And there's nothing wrong with me, except that I'm in need of some entertainment. Fortunately, I think you're exactly what I'm looking for." The lightning in his eyes cast ghastly, purple and blue shadows across his face as he chuckled again, yanking her hair more tightly.
"You and me, we're going to have some fun together."