Monday, July 16, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 5

Serenity awoke in Botan’s house late in the morning, wearing the same clothing she’d had on the day before.  Ratoshi’s gift, the curious scarlet pendant, was still around her neck.  Rays of sun streamed through the skylight, warming her face and body. 
She lay in bed for a while longer, trying to recall exactly what had happened in Ratoshi’s backyard the night before and how she’d ended up between the sheets of her own bed.  Nothing came to mind.  With a loud yawn, she extended her arms above her head in a deep stretch and eventually got up.  After showering and putting on a button down and a pair of denim shorts, she stood in front of the mirror and teased her hair, reshaping her customary faux hawk and side bangs. Her mind continued to draw a blank where the night before was concerned, no matter how hard she tried to remember.  Her eyes were tinged gray, reflecting the confusion and the dash of fear that were mixing in the pit of her stomach.
            Just as Serenity finished playing with her hair, there was a knock on the door.  “It’s open,” she said, wondering who had decided to pay her a visit.  With a sigh of relief, she noticed in the mirror that the gray in her eyes was beginning to fade to white. 
Turning from the mirror, she smiled as Mitsuru Yoshimara crossed the threshold.  They hugged, and Serenity stepped back to appraise Mitsuru’s outfit, hoping to learn something from her impeccable sense of style.  Today, she wore a colorful, knee-length dress that accentuated her curvaceous figure and wedge heels that seemed to lengthen her already long legs; her light denim jacket gave a casual touch to the ensemble.  Her long purple hair was pulled back into an up-do, drawing attention to her expertly made up face and prominent blue eyes.
            “Suru, you make me feel like I need a makeover,” Serenity whined.
            Mitsuru smiled warmly.  “A little retail therapy will take care of that soon enough.  I propose that we go shopping together today.  But first…” She reached into her purse and took out a brown paper bag, handing it to Serenity.  Inside were a pastry and a small bottle of juice.  “I brought you some breakfast.”
            Mitsuru sat and watched as Serenity ate, giggling at her attempts to keep up conversation around bites of cheese danish.  “So, I heard you had a bit of a rough night last night,” she began. 
Serenity fingered the barcode stamped on the back of her neck for a moment.  “Part of the night is a blur, actually.  The last thing I remember is sparring with Kurama.”  Her hand slid around to where the pendant still hung on its chain.  “I was in the backyard with him and Ratoshi.  But I woke up here.  The space in between is completely blank.”
Mitsuru nodded calmly.  “That’s because you were unconscious.”  She regarded Serenity’s genuine look of surprise and watched the faint gray hue appear in her irises.  “I happened to see Ratoshi and Rumichi before they flew you back home, and they told me that you’d fainted after beating Kurama in a sword fight.  Ratoshi said something about a lot of Spirit energy coming from you and the sword you were holding in the moments leading up to your collapse.”
Serenity took a couple of sips of juice while she silently pondered what Mitsuru had just told her.  After a few seconds, Mitsuru spoke again.  “Ratoshi also mentioned that there was something strange about your demeanor later in the sparring session.”
“Oh?  Can you define ‘strange’?”  asked Serenity.  A splash of brown joined the light gray in her eyes, an indication of her increasing curiosity.
“I’m not quite sure.  I think she said you seemed…fiercer…than usual.”
Serenity finished the last bite of her pastry, drained the remainder of the juice, and stood up, brushing crumbs off her clothes.  “That’s interesting.  I guess I got caught up in the moment.  Our contest did get pretty heated.  In any case, I never thought I could actually beat Kurama, especially with a weapon I’d never practiced with.”
Mitsuru got up and threw the paper bag and juice bottle away.  “Beginner’s luck, maybe?  Or perhaps you’re just naturally talented with a sword.  Who can say?”  She shrugged as she held the door open for her friend.  “In any case, enough thinking about the past.  Let’s focus on the here and now, and the money we’re going to blow in the near future.  Come on, I’ll drive us to the mall.”

A couple of hours later, Serenity sat with Mitsuru in a crowded food court.  Shopping bags of various sizes were piled at their feet.  Mitsuru had finished her lunch and was now fidgeting in her chair, anxious to get up from the table and back into some more stores; across from her, Serenity calmly sipped lemonade.
            “Sorry, Suru…I needed the break.  I never knew shopping could take so much out of a person,” said Serenity.
            “Beauty is a sacrifice, dear.”  Mitsuru replied with a wink.  She started gathering their purchases.  “When I’m through with us we’ll need a wheelbarrow for all this stuff.  Shall we continue taking the mall by storm?”
            Serenity nodded, pushing her chair backward. 
Before she could rise from her seat, a pair of hands covered her eyes from behind.  She squirmed, kicked, and tried to pull the foreign hands from her face. 
While Serenity struggled to free herself, she heard the scrape of Mitsuru’s chair against the floor.  “Would you like me to burn him alive?” she heard Mitsuru ask.  Serenity felt the surrounding air increase in temperature and knew that Mitsuru was preparing to change into her wolf demon form or set the intruder on fire if the need presented itself.
            Suddenly, the man removed his hands from Serenity’s face with a loud sigh.  When he spoke, his voice had a hint of laughter in it.  “Ren, I was only messing with you.  You and your BFF over there are no fun at all.”
            Serenity stood up and turned to face the newcomer, heart still pounding in her chest.  No one had called her Ren since she was eight years old; only people in the tight inner circle of her childhood even knew of the nickname.
She stared intensely at the man towering over her, trying to figure out who he was—or perhaps who he had been.  He wore basketball shorts and an athletic shirt that showed off his tan, well-muscled body.  A detailed lion head had been tattooed on his left bicep.  The gleam in his hazel eyes matched the mischievous smirk on his face.  His steely purple hair was bound in thick dreadlocks that reached the small of his back.  It was this final detail that allowed Serenity to identify him.
            “Oh my gosh…MANE?”  The blue and gold in Serenity’s eyes betrayed her feelings as she hugged the man.  Serenity broke free from the embrace and looked back at Mitsuru, who was scowling at the man.  Just as she was beginning to facilitate introductions, Mane stepped forward.
            “I’ll take care of this myself, Ren,” he said.  “My name’s Kaze.  Kaze Tategami.  My friends call me Mane on account of this stuff growing out of my head.”  He picked up one tight, heavy rope of hair between his thumb and forefinger before offering Mitsuru his hand.  She stared at his outstretched hand for a moment without blinking, and then shook it, allowing her eyes to wander upward to Mane’s face.  “Mitsuru Yoshimara.  I’ll forgo the ‘nice to meet you’ that you’re probably expecting; I was honestly a few seconds shy of burning you to a crisp,” she retorted.
            “I apologize for scaring you, but there was never anything to worry about.”  His mischievous grin widened.  “Besides, I don’t bite…unless it’s absolutely necessary.”  Mitsuru tried to keep a serious expression, but eventually her frown faded; Serenity was pretty sure she saw the beginnings of a grin on her face.
            Before Mane could work any more of his seemingly potent magic with her friend, Serenity stepped in to change the subject.  “Mane, is your brother here with you?”
            Mane pointed past Serenity.  “Amake’s coming to join us now.  He and I were using the virtual reality game in the arcade to spar, and I beat him pretty badly; he was probably off licking his wounds somewhere for a while.”
            “I heard that, Kaze,” said a soft voice from somewhere behind Serenity.  Her eyes widened as she turned around.  The man who stood in front of her beamed in response.  He looked much like his older brother, except that he had a smaller build, his body was less tan, and his hair barely came past his ears; his smile lacked the roguish edge that Mane’s had, but it was not devoid of its own captivating charms.
            Serenity allowed herself to be pulled into yet another embrace.  “Who would’ve thought we’d run into you, after all this time?” Amake muttered, his smile an afterthought on his lips.  Dropping his voice even lower so Mane and Mitsuru couldn’t hear him, he added, “Actually, I’m quite upset with you.”
Serenity pulled out of Amake’s arms slightly and searched his face for any sign of anger.  But his features were calm, and his smile still had not completely faded.  “Upset…?  Why?” she whispered in his ear.  “What did I do?”
            “We can discuss that another time.  Perhaps tonight, if you don’t mind me paying a visit.”
            Serenity nodded.  After a brief pause, Amake released her.  When they turned to face the others, Mitsuru commented on their long, dramatic hug.  Mane chuckled at Mitsuru’s wisecrack while Serenity and Amake glared at both of them in turn. 
A few minutes later, Mane, Mitsuru, Amake, and Serenity left the food court and strolled around the mall together, talking and laughing as if they all had been close friends for ages.

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