Mikau: Hello everyone! Thank you for reading so far, and sorry I'm not so regular with my updates. Things have been really hectic for me lately, so I've not always had as much time to write as I would like. Anyway, I'm leaving tomorrow to study abroad, so it might take a while to get the internet up and running so that I can update. I'll try my best, but I'm going to be taking classes and running around like a tourist, so it might be a week or two before you hear from me again. Until then, please enjoy this chapter!
Disclaimer: I own nothing, regrettably.
Discovery and Resignation
Well, that settled it. No wonder she had seemed so familiar. No wonder my soul called out to hers. From what I had seen earlier that night, I was absolutely sure of everything. This Façade girl was the reincarnation of Fade, my dearest friend and love from my second life. She was also the reincarnation of Yukio, my precious older brother from my first life. She was my loved ones come back to me after all these years, and she was dying.
All at once I understood everything, and in that same moment, I was certain of nothing. I had planned to use Façade to further my world domination plot, but now that she was ill and drained of furiyoku, she was useless, and I didn't know what to do with her.
I couldn't use her anymore, but I also couldn't just leave her out in the desert to fend for herself. She was sick and dying. I couldn't abandon Fade or Yukio despite their altered, snippy form. I was stuck with her until her death did us part, and that was the most painful thing to think about. Now that I knew who she was, it would be like losing the two of them all over again. I would finally see their disease do them in.
I stormed out of the guest tent and went back to stargazing to relieve stress. I couldn't stand seeing her lying there like that—face wan and ghostly.
"Master Hao?" Macchi cautiously approached me. "How's Façade doing?"
I shook my head. "She's bloody dying." I seethed. "Take a seat if you want."
The redhead warily sat a few feet away—not like it would do much good if I decided to lash out at her. "Are you okay, Hao-sama? I know she would have made your plans a little easier, but…you seem a smidge more upset than if it were just that."
"She…" I sighed, trailing off. "I'm fine."
Macchi nodded in response to my terse reply, wordlessly waiting for me to make the next move.
"I knew her in my past lives." I volunteered, the silence milking the words from my lips.
"She was important to you?" Macchi inferred.
"Very much so." I mumbled. "She was my brother who took me in and protected me after my mother was murdered. He raised me and taught me to be a shaman. He was killed by the people he trusted because they thought that he was a fox spirit."
"She doesn't seem to remember you. She's so hostile towards you, despite being on her deathbed." The witch observed.
I shrugged, not quite understanding it myself. "She was like that in my second life with her too. She didn't retain her memories then either."
"And what then was she to you in your second life? Your brother again, or something else this time?" The Englishwoman slowly extracted the information she desired.
"No, this time she was female." I answered her questions automatically, without a second thought. "She was to be Yohken's bride, but she died before then. We were friends, and at the end, we were in love."
"'L-love'?" Macchi balked, hearing that word on my lips.
That was enough to break the spell of haziness over me, and I suddenly realized what kinds of things I was telling her of my own will. "Well, that's enough for tonight. Perhaps you should go to bed now, Macchi?"
"B-but, Master Hao, I—" She began to protest.
I stood and took her by the shoulders before the entire sentence could leave her lips. I placed my own over hers, gently shushing her.
"M-m-m-master!" She gasped in astonishment.
I kissed her again and, pulling away, said, "Goodnight, my sweet Macchi, and thank you so much for your help earlier. Run along now."
"Y-yes, Hao-sama." She stuttered in a daze as she scurried back to her room, hands over her lips, as if she couldn't believe what had just happened.
I took a deep breath in through my nose and gently expelled the air out my mouth as I retook my seat. "God help me."
"A strange phrase for you to utter, Hao-sama. I thought that you didn't believe in 'God'." Luca smiled weakly, exhausted, as he sat down on the rock beside me.
"It's just a saying; don't read into it." I growled softly, turning my gaze heavenward. "I'm stressed out right now, and it's all just a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I really wish there was a supreme being I could turn things over to when it gets to be a bit too much."
"I think we all do sometimes. Some people even are fortunate enough to have religion to fall back upon. Not for you, though, I suppose. Well, at least she's sleeping soundly, and she should be on her feet by morning. That's good news to take your mind off things." Luca tried to console me and take a little of the weight from my shoulders.
"She's still dying." I pouted.
The great sage shook his head at me, frowning at my distress. "I know, but you should be grateful that you two still have some time left together. You should make the most of this next week. It could be her last."
"That makes me feel so unbelievably better." I rolled my eyes, my voice dripping in sarcasm like snake's fangs.
"It should, Hao. She's not dead yet. There's time." The priestly man tried to persuade me.
I wasn't having any of it. "She doesn't remember me. It's a waste of my time. All I am to her is what I am in this life—her captor. She hardly knows me."
"Well," Luca shrugged, about ready to give up since I wasn't cooperating, "spend time with her anyway. Let her get to know you. She doesn't remember a lot of things, Hao. It's conceivable that being with you could help her regain the memories of her past lives, and you could even make some new memories with her. Don't give up before you even try. That's not like the Hao that I know." He stood, patted me on the shoulder, and walked back to his lodgings.
I watched his back as he strolled off and stared for a long while at the tent door when he was out of sight. I mauled things over in my mind as I sat there. He was right to some degree. It may help if I tried to interact with her, but I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to put forth the effort. She would be dead within the next few weeks. Did I want to expend energy on befriending her if it was only going to hurt when she died and left me behind a third time? On the other hand, it could indeed be my last chance. There were many variables, and my head was beginning to throb.
I got to my feet and headed to Façade's tent. I pulled back the folds and slipped in. Looking down at her, she was awfully pretty with her short, fox fur hair that swung forward so that it was a bit longer in front.
They had always had orange hair. It was a different shade in every incarnation, but they were always redheads. It was that fact that had gotten Yukio in trouble. Who had ever heard of a Japanese man with bright orange hair? His father and mother had both had standard black hair, and their fathers and mothers before them were the same.
It was a similar story for Fade, even though she had never known her parents. Both the Patch and Toho tribes had predominately dark hair. She was an oddity with her pale skin and blazing locks, but it didn't mark her for suspicion and fear like it did Yukio.
Façade was lucky. She had been born an Irishwoman, so red hair was almost a given. She wouldn't be looked down on or attacked because of her looks.
From a young age, I had heard what people thought about Yukio and his hair and eccentricity. It had always bothered me, but, so as not to upset my brother, I had never said anything about it. He hated squabbling, and I wasn't about to be an instigator. I shrugged it off for years as the servants and lower officials being stupid and inferior.
It was the night that we had a high-ranking official visit us that I heard his thoughts about Yukio and realized that even people of higher rank were ignorant fools.
A governor of the lower sixth rank from a province to the south was making his way to the capital. It was a long journey, and so he was lodging at our estate for a few days to rest and recuperate before going before setting off on the road again.
The rainy season was upon us, and the muggy humidity was killing me. I was ten at the time, and Yukio was just about to breech his twentieth year. The clouds seemed unyielding, and hardly a day passed that we didn't see a torrential storm.
We spent our days inside playing Go, chess, and shogi. We gossiped with our gentlemen into the night and traded correspondences with court ladies. Their poetic responses to our indirect advances came on perfumed paper that, when in bulk, was almost overwhelming.
I, myself, being just a bit too young, didn't directly send or receive any letters, but it was fun to peek over the other men's shoulders and offer suggestions as they composed their carefully constructed replies.
Normally in the rainy season, Yukio would take me a ways off into the woods to fish, his favorite pastime, but, at the moment, my brother was in poor health, so, the majority of the time, we remained inside.
"Isn't the heat just dreadful?" Souji, a delinquent novice monk whose camaraderie my brother enjoyed, sighed as he stretched, in the middle of reading a letter to the company.
"Yes, yes." Akira, a page in our service since childhood, another of my brother's companions, snorted. "Absolutely dreadful, now what does she reply? This lady has wit for one born so low; now, what does she reply? Tell us man!"
"I've lost my place." Souji shrugged. "Let's hear one of our young lord's instead."
"I fear I'm not of the humor at the moment." Yukio sighed, struggling to breathe in the heat.
"You left off where she was comparing you to the cold moon in winter." I reminded Souji, even if he was only pretending to forget as to avoid the embarrassment at the woman's frigid reply.
"Thank you, Hao-sama." The young monk faked a smile for me. "She goes on to say that her cheeks redden at the thought of my lavish attentions as of late, but seeing as I was, up until now, as cold as the moon's unseen half in the deep slumber of winter, she has no time to spare for my quickly changing appetite. There's a nice piece of poetry here too, but I'll spare you all."
Akira laughed heartily as Souji blushed. "That's what happens when you chase too many ladies at once. One or two are bound to turn cold if you leave them alone for too long."
"It must be hard to pursue many women at once." I observed. "Why bother with it if it's so troublesome?"
Akira chortled fondly at my innocent question. "My young lord will understand when he is a few years older and understands a few more things about relationships between men and women. When he does, he will surely understand why it is better to have as many women as he can possibly maintain."
Souji smirked at Akira's innuendo and patted me on the back. "And I would wager that Lord Hao will have no problem at all finding female companions since he takes after his esteemed older brother so much."
"He is quite lovely, isn't he?" Yukio smiled tenderly as he stroked my long, dark hair.
"Hao-sama may even be a match in beauty to you, Yukio-sama." Akira tried to stifle a laugh, and I could hear his thoughts, wishing that we were women.
"Yes, perhaps." Yukio looked up at the door. "Our esteemed guest has arrived."
The screen door slid open, and a female servant bowed low to us. "Forgive my interruption, my lords, but our guest, the Governor, has just arrived."
Yukio rose shakily to his feet. "Show him to his room so he may refresh himself, and then lead him to the room that has been prepared for the entertainment." He turned back to his companions. "Come join us for a round of Go, if you like."
"Yes, my lord." The servant bowed again, excusing herself.
"We'd be honored, Yukio-sama." The two men bowed and hurriedly made their way to the door to move to the prepared room ahead of us.
As soon as they were gone, Yukio smiled. "They seemed in a bit of a rush to go, didn't they?"
"You scared them a little when you announced the Governor's arrival before being told about it yourself." I shook my head and straightened my brother's robes for him.
"Ah, well." The cool-as-a-cucumber redhead shrugged and allowed me to fuss over him. "Who's the elder sibling here? I've forgotten."
"You can't go see the Governor all sweaty with your clothes wrinkled. You don't take care of things yourself, so I have to deal with them." I took a wet cloth and wiped his brow.
"We're all sweaty in this terrible, muggy haze of ever-falling mist." Yukio countered, his lopsided grin plastered to his face along with a few stray bits of hair, making him look ever so endearing. "Besides, I'm a governor too, and I'm of a higher rank. Who cares how I look?"
"Yes, yes." I fished a brush out of his dresser drawer and set out to tame his short hair; by that time it was only halfway down his back. "He's lower sixth rank, and you're upper fifth. You wear red robes while he wears light blue; big difference there. Besides, I care how you look. Won't you please try to look presentable for me?"
"If you ask like that." My imp of a brother kissed me on the forehead and stole away the brush to be used on my own messy locks.
"Do I look okay?" I fiddled with the hem of my robes as he made me stand still to be made up.
"You always look gorgeous, Hao." My happy-go-lucky friend laughed at my concern. "Don't worry about what people think so much; you're beyond them."
"Says the one who was born to his station." I grumbled. "I still can't help but think sometimes that I don't deserve to be here."
He easily waved away my protests and dolled me up further. "No, you, above anyone else I've ever met, have earned your place here. You've worked hard as my student, and you've learned court behavior even better than I ever bothered to. You're a natural, my dearest darling. You belong here." He gave my long tresses a final brush before smirking wickedly. "Now, are you ready to wow the Governor with your beauty?"
"Yes, Yukio." I murmured halfheartedly.
"Try to enjoy yourself." He urged. "Just because I hate these public gatherings doesn't mean that you have to as well. I hear he's very good at Go. Perhaps you'll get to play him. You could beat him if you cheated."
I rolled my eyes, sighing at his teasing. "You plan to cheat to win against him, don't you?"
"I do. I was born with this gift of insight, so why don't I just use it?"
"I can beat him without reading his mind." I shrugged and headed to the screen door.
"There's no doubt in my mind about that." Yukio gave one last laugh before resuming his cool demeanor and following me out into the hallway.
Mikau: Well, I hope you all enjoyed it. I'll try to update as soon as possible, but I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in China. Until then!