Kurama limped down a side street towards the Rusty Dragon. Despite the warm glow from a corner street lamp, he could feel the cool breeze on his face. The battle in the catacombs had taken its tole. While no longer as disciplined as he once was, years of battle ensured that he hadn’t lost all of what he learned during his monastic training.
To an extent, pain can be controlled. Like many of his order, certain breathing techniques can be employed to harness one’s inner energy and gain mastery over their very being. Pain can be suppressed, denied. He paused under the lamp and focused on his breathing. Beads of sweat formed on his brow and began to slide down his face. All the while sweat mixed with blood. Had anyone been watching they would have seen his body tremble with the exertion. What once was easily accomplished, now caused Kurama to strain under the effort. He could feel his chakra chaotic and unbalanced. Previously an unbreakable line of chi that ran from head to toe was now frayed and damaged. Stubborn, he continued to push through what should have been a routine exercise. Sweat poured down his face as he continued the battle in his mind’s eye. Strands of energy continued to slip through his fingers as he attempted to bring order to the chaos. He almost succeed several times only to lose control at the very at the last moment.
What seemed like an eternity later, he was forced to accept this was now beyond him. He staggered but managed not to fall over. His body had reached it’s limit and he painted the ground with vomit. He hadn’t healed his wounds or fully erased the pain, but he had managed to at least dull it to something more manageable. He took a few moments to collect himself before he entered the inn.
The bloodied Tian entered to room with a far less pronounced limp. Several of the patrons stared in shock and awe as he made his way to the bar. Too tired to make out their words, he understood he was the topic of their hushed whispers. He could only imagine what he looked like .
“Sweet barleybrew! You’re a mess! What happened Kurama?” She dropped her bar rag and rushed around the bar to greet him. Despite the pain he managed a smile. “Breathe easy. It looks worse than it is.” She applied light pressure to his midsection which elicited a grunt. “Nonsense.” She admonished. “You’ve cracked at least a few ribs you idiot. Why haven’t you seen a healer?!?” Kurama simply shrugged, “Still had things to do. Besides, didn’t I promise to check in on you?” She shook her head in disbelief. “What am I supposed to do with you?” She took his hand in hers. “Let me take a better look at your injuries. I have healing kit in the back.”
Ameiko lead Kurama to a small office behind the barroom. “Take a seat on that chair while I see what what we have to work with.” Quick to comply, he gingerly lowered himself onto the chair. He watched as she rummaged through her stuff. “My injuries aren’t bad. They’ll heal quickly. I’m more concerned with yours.” He noticed she stopped but didn’t turn around. He pressed on. "So much has happened so quickly. Your father and brother.” He watched her shoulders tremble for just a moment or two before she regained composure.
“I’m fine”. She answered. “I’ll just need a few days to wrap my head around it all. It’s not like I was terribly close to either of them…haven’t been for a while”. He could hear the pain in her voice. With the kit in hand she turned to Kurama. Her eyes glistened from withheld tears. He frowned slightly; unsure what to say. “Hey, I know what it’s like to lose loved ones. I wont push, but you don’t need to to do all this on your own. I’m here if you need anything. You just have to ask.” She paused halfway to the bloodied monk and cracked a small smile. “Maybe I should check you head for injury as well…getting soft on me Kurama… careful, or a girl might start to get ideas.” She circled behind him. Likely to hide her face he supposed. After a few moments she moved around front once more and audibly tsked. Their eyes met.
“Your shirt is ruined.” Concern evident on her face. “Take it off so I can get a better look at you. When we’re done I should be able to mend your shirt with a minor spell. I’m no wizard but I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way.” Kurama grew visibly uncomfortable. "Uh… " he mumbled. Before he could say more she had already begun to cut his shirt from him ensuring she didn’t aggravate his wounds further. “Wait! Stop.” He pleaded too late.
Once she removed his long sleeved shirt the room took on a warm pink glow. "Kurama! Your arms!” Exposed, his arms pulsated with a warm pink light. Occasionally either arm would crackle with some kind of mysterious energy. He watched her face, mouth slightly agape as she looked at him for what seemed like the first time. Each arm from the shoulder down looked like it was sculpted from rose quartz. He studied her expression as he removed his gloves. Like his arms, his hands were the same. “It’s still me.” he quietly stated. He wiggled his fingers for emphasis. She watched him tenderly flex his arms. They certainly moved like normal limbs. “Can…can i touch your arm?” She inquired. The young Tian simply nodded in confirmation.
Slowly she moved her hand closer and touched his arm with her finger. He humored her prodding until she grew more comfortable. He could feel the palm of her hand and her small warm fingers explore his left arm. “They feel like crystal but give off warmth?” She said confused. “I don’t understand. I thought you were of Tian decent like me?” He whispered but not sure exactly why, “I am Tian. Just like you… or my sister. But I have the blood of celestials coursing through me as well. Some manifest halos, radiant skin, wings, or a melodic voice. My gift” he said with derision, “were these accursed arms. My family thought they had been blessed. I was a gift from the angels they had said. Growing up it was always the same. Kurama, my business isn’t doing well please share your blessing. Kurama, My child is sick, please heal her. Kurama, pray for a good harvest. I had no real gift. When things worked out I was praised, but when they didn’t, I was selfish, lazy or cruel and uncaring. It was miserable Ameiko, and lonely. I don’t know where I would be if it hadn’t been for my sister. She was my only friend. My hero… She saved me.”
“She was the gifted one. Heideko wanted to explore the world and make a difference but our family forbade it. As far as they were concerned, her role was to train and protect me. I wasn’t allowed to leave the estate. She worked so hard to be recognized but nothing she ever did could compare to their special boy.”
“It took weeks of planning in secret, but we managed to obtain passage and sail away from our home in the early hours of morning. I wasn’t ready, but she wouldn’t leave without me. So I joined her. What choice did i have? I followed my only friend so she could take the spotlight and finally realize her dream.” Anger crept into his voice and a few tears slid down his cheek. “But I wasn’t strong enough and she was killed.”
“Shh…” Ameiko gently whispered. “I need you to stay still so I can clean your wounds.” Time passed as she tended to the broken monk. A few times Kurama felt soothing healing magic flow over his head and back. After a while he began to feel more like himself and her administration of healing became secondary to their continued conversation that carried into the early morning. Neither had noticed Kurama hadn’t touched his flask since he entered the tavern.