Scorched – Chapter 06

Chapter 06

Finding Yuriy was no hard feat as the nurses were well aware of his status as a champion blader and of the red-haired boy as his former teammate.  They’d let him go to the room without much fuss, although they did warn him that their patient was not to be disturbed under any circumstances.  He couldn’t really muster the energy to snort at the presumptuousness that he’d be so stupid as to do such a thing, and before the nurse had finished talking, he’d already turned and stalked down the hallway she’d pointed him in, keeping to the windows all the way.

Yuriy’s room was darker than his, cramped and cluttered with machines.  The unconscious blader himself looked nearly mummified, bandages swathed left and right over his face and what little torso poked out of the hospital blankets.  The shadows cast a dusty shadow over his face, and Kai, finding no harm in opening the curtains, walked over to the windows and tossed the stiff cloth aside, allowing the warm sunlight to pour in.

Once he was here, though, Kai found himself at a loss.  What did one do when visiting someone?  Yuriy was unconscious, so there was no point in talking to him.  He hadn’t brought anything to occupy himself either.  True, he’d only come here as an aside, leaving Max and Rei to their (albeit friendly) squabble for now, and it wasn’t like he was particularly good friends with the other.  They had the comradeship that came from an acknowledgement of similar histories and similar mentalities, but nothing more.

If he’d known Yuriy during his days in the abbey, then those memories had long since been lost to the sands of time.  The red-head himself had shown no signs indicating the existence of a former camaraderie .

In the end, Kai settled for awkwardly standing by the head of the bed, staring down at Yuriy’s closed eyes.  Strange, that he’d still be unconscious.  The boy was just about as hardy as Kai was, so by all rights he should be awake already.

Kai remembered little of his life before Japan.  His first clear memory was the day he’d woken on a hospital bed, wrapped in bandages much as Yuriy was before him.  Confused and surrounded by a language he did not understand, he had (shamefully) panicked.  It was only with the discovery of Dranzer and the comfort of her comforting wings wrapped around him that he calmed.  Anything before that time, though, was fogged in haze, razed by heat and pain.  He remembered his life from that time as facts, like he’d read a passage from his biography.  They lacked emotional attachment.  Only two remained – sickeningly naïve awe and pride.

Every time the thought crossed his mind, he was disgusted at the gullible child he must have been, especially now that he knew the true face of the abbey.  It was why he avoided reminiscing whenever possible.

He stood by the bed, losing track of time.

The next time he came back to himself, he had to shake himself awake, straightening himself with alarm.  He cursed himself.  He’d practically dozed off standing.  It wasn’t like him to let himself drift off in the presence of others, no matter how fatigued he may.

Kai glanced up at the clock.  Thirty minutes had passed … Max and Rei were probably making a fuss at the moment about how long he’d been gone.

With one last glance at the prone Russian, Kai hurried out of the room, intent on putting as much distance between him and the room as possible.

His predictions were proven correct merely moments later when he was practically plowed over by a hysterical American.

“Kai, where were you?  We’ve been looking for you!” cried the blonde.

“A walk,” was the only response Kai gave.

“I’m sorry we kept arguing!  When we looked around, you were already gone, and we shouldn’t be arguing in the first place, since it’s really bad, and you’re the patient so we should—”

“You should do nothing,” Kai interrupted before Max could get any idea of coddling him into his head.  “Friendly arguments are fine, Max.  Calm down.”  He turned to Rei.  “So, which of you am I fighting?”

Rei had an easy smile on, now that Kai was in his sight.  Kai suspected that Rei was afraid he’d pulled a runner.  “In the end, we followed your suggestion and just flipped a coin.  Max won.”  The smile waned a little.  “We really are sorry for arguing in front of you like that.”

Kai waved his hand indifferently.  “Max, let’s go outside.  We’ll have to improvise a ring, as there are none at the hospital.”

A cheerful nod, and the two followed him outside.

The two bladers stood approximately six feet apart in a clearing, readying their launchers.  Rei stood to one side, acting as the referee.  Despite the lack of announcement or planning, a small crowd had appeared on the outskirts of the grounds.  Kai saw his doctor appear in the corner of his eye.  He mentally challenged the man to stop him, but it seems that he didn’t have such an intention in the first place.  Good man.  He knew that his “patient” knew his own limits.

“First blade to fall wins,” announced Rei.  “No beasts allowed in this match, and don’t wreck anything too badly. Are you ready?”  The Chinese looked at both challenger’s faces.  Kai met his eyes and nodded imperceptibly. Max did the same.  “Set … launch!”

At his mark, Kai pulled his cord with grit teeth.  He heard Max’s cry and saw Draciel fly from the blond’s launcher to meet Dranzer with sparks flying.  Even though this was only a practice match, there would defeat the purpose if he didn’t put his all.  The other knew this as well.

Dranzer, for all its speed and power, could never and would never be able to push through Draciel’s defenses straight on.  Kai ordered his blade to circle around as he searched for an opening.

He was mildly surprised when Max unexpectedly started trailing him.  This must have showed on his face because next thing, Max spoke.  “It wouldn’t be fun if I just played punching bag, Kai.  I’m gonna liven things up a bit!”

Even an amateur could see that the green blade couldn’t keep up with Dranzer in full flight, and Kai felt the thrill of battle take hold of him once again as he considered every way to turn Max’s flight of fancy to his advantage.  It was a tingle, from head to fingertips.  He felt charged with adrenaline as he urged Dranzer to circle around his opponent and strike.  He felt a thrum of energy run through him when the clang of blades reached his ears.

How could he have even considered giving this up?

This was what he lived for, his everything.

And when a good minute or so passed without his blade making any progress on Max’s, he focused and channeled more strength into his blade, to forcefully pierce his way through Draciel.  It was like what he’d normally do for Suzaku, but—

He mentally shook his thoughts from his head.  It had come so unconsciously, like muscle memory.  Spirits shared energy with their bladers, but normal blades had no such advantage.  It was one reason (of many) why spirits were so sought after, since it turned the sport from one of mere mechanical  design and technique into a battle of the wills.  It allowed for immeasurable power in the hands of the right people.

Kai knew this better than anyone.

But all of this was pointless.  Dranzer was a normal blade, spiritless.  Even if he tried, there should be no response…

…except there was.

Kai watched with astonishment as Dranzer pushed forward with more force than ever before.  It couldn’t break through the mountain that was Draciel, but it could move it.  It pushed against the bulky blade until it was caught against a tree trunk, and still pushed forward.  The warm hum of power he usually associated with his faithful phoenix hummed through his veins, and, at that moment, he tasted certain, exhilarating victory.

“Draciel!” cried Max in alarm, but before he could shout any command to his turtle spirit Genbu, Rei’s voice cut in.

“Hey!  No damage to property, remember?  Kai, back off!”

Kai returned to himself with a gasp, and, responding to its master’s command, his blue blade retreated his feet, where it spun briefly before it sputtered and toppled.

He reached down and picked up his blade.  He stared at the top, as though he’d never seen anything like it.  Was this somehow because of his new blade, that he felt the power of his beast despite its absence?  Kai dismissed this notion almost immediately.  The blade was just a vessel for the spirit, and without the spirit, the blade was plastic, metal, and gears.

Or perhaps Suzaku was still alive … but no, even as he considered this possibility he knew with certainty that she was gone.  It wasn’t any visceral feeling, but a bone-deep conviction that seemed to have planted itself in his mind as undeniable truth.  She was gone.

But if she were gone, then what was that just now, that warmth that had suffused through him in the peak of battle?  It had felt like she was back, fighting by his side.

He was so consumed by his thoughts that he didn’t notice the other two staring strangely at him.  He raised his eyes and looked at them questioningly.

“Um,” Rei hesitated, “I said to back off, not to end the match … which means the victory belongs to Max.”

“Are you OK?”  Blue eyes scanned his face, and Kai wondered if something was perceptibly different.  “You never would’ve thrown the match like that, usually.  Is something wrong with the new Dranzer?  You seemed to be doing really well.  I’ve never seen anyone push against Draciel like that.”

Kai shook his head.  “No, it’s fine.”

“Do you need to rest?” asked Rei, to which Kai shook his head again.

“No,” he said.  He paused, considering his state of mind.  “No, I’ve … never felt better, actually.”  He said this with a slight note of wonder.  He could still feel the tendrils of the afterglow dripping over him. He put a hand to his chest and blinked when he found it thumping as hard, knocking against his ribcage as though trying to break free.

“Small wonder,” said Rei with a toothy smile, “You were grinning like a shark the whole time.  I’ll have to tell the Chief you like his creation that much.  I think he wanted to test out a new alloy and decided to have fun.”

“You weren’t on the receiving end of that grin,” muttered Max, shuddering a little as he turned Draciel over in his hands to inspect the damage.  “It’s really scary.”  Seemingly satisfied, he pocketed his blade.  Kai was almost blinded by the sudden beam that spread across the boy’s face.  “So?  Does this mean you won’t quit?”

Kai considered, but instead of replying, he turned to Rei.  “Are you ready for a match?”

The other’s eyes widened at the sudden change in topic.  “Who, me?” he asked incredulously, pointing to himself.

Kai gave him an exasperated look and nodded.

“You shouldn’t exhaust yourself so soon into your recovery…”

“I want to check something,” he stated succinctly.

His teammates looked at each other and, after a moment of silent eye-and-eyebrow conversation that they could only pull off because they’d known each other for years, turned back to him.

“I’m ready, but you really shouldn’t push yourself—”

“I’m not.”

“…If you say so,” said Rei uncertainly.

“He’ll be fine,” Max reassured his friend.  “After all, did you see the way he positively ripped his way across the grounds?  You can’t fake energy like that.  Dranzer wouldn’t be doing that if her blader were injured in any way.”

Kai kept silent, not seeing any need to disillusion the cheerful blonde.

The Chinese hummed his acknowledgment.  He was still narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Kai, though, as the latter waited for the two to finish their conversation.  “Fine, but if I see you falter one bit…”

“You won’t.”

At this, Rei sighed.  “Why do I even bother?”  With those words, he turned and walked a distance away from the two.  “Come on, let’s get this done and over with, so Kai can rest.”

Kai couldn’t help but smirk.  “I thought you wanted to fight me.”

“I wanted one of us to fight you, not give you two matches back to back and put you back in the hospital bed again.”

“Don’t worry, Kai knows his limits!”  Max chimed in as he practically hopped to his position.  (Both he and Kai ignored Rei’s muttered “Except he loves to push himself over them.”)  “He was just starting to get on a roll, too!”  He turned to see Kai and Rei getting into their stances.  “All righty!  Ready, set … launch!”

Blue and white streaks flew at each other with accompanying cries.

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