Chapter 5: The Tower

The four travelers had moved off the main road and had finally slowed down when Retsujo put voice to something that had been bothering her for some time.

"Hiniku, if you're such a great martial artist how did you end up in the net? I mean shouldn't you have had good enough reflexes to get out of the way?"

The man in question blushed a bright scarlet before muttering. "I sleepwalk."

Retsujo stared at him for a moment before starting to howl with laughter. "You-you-you sleepwalk?" she finally managed to choke out before once again succumbing to mirth.

Even Akusai found this funny enough to smile slightly.

Hiniku blushed harder if that was possible. "Shut up." He said.

Retsujo grinned. "Alright I promise not to bug you about it if you promise to teach me how to fight."

The blue haired man was surprised. "You want to learn how to fight? Why?"

"I hate being useless and back there I was."

Hiniku stared at her hard for a moment. "Fine. But remember you asked me, so no complaining."

Retsujo glared at him. "I'm not going to start complaining." She snapped, peeved he'd even consider it.

He grinned. "You're far too easy to tease."

Akusai ignored the pair's conversation. Tenma had just returned from scouting along their back trail for signs of pursuit. So far, there were none.

That night, while dinner was cooking, Hiniku started giving Retsujo her lessons. Later, they stood watch in turns as Akusai had yet to enlighten them about Tenma. He wouldn't unless it proved necessary.

It was mid-morning the next day when Itooshii changed into his wolf form and began growling. Hiniku whirled around looking for the cause of the animal's agitation just as armed men burst out of the bushes beside them as more men came running down the path towards them.

Akusai grabbed hold of his staff and watched calmly as the men surrounded them. Retsujo moved beside Itooshii and put one hand on his back while she watched the soldiers with wide eyes.

"Didn't you idiots learn anything from the last time?" Hiniku asked, noticing that the soldiers were all wearing Lord Kenryoku's colours.

The leader, a different one from before, stepped forward. "We have orders to bring the stranger-girl with the silver book to our lord." He said simply before raising his sword to signal the attack.

Once again Retsujo found herself standing in the midst of fighting, all but useless. This time however, both Akusai and Hiniku were beginning to find things difficult. Obviously the last group of soldiers had given this group information how they fought as these soldiers and the three mages with them were making things hard for them.

Hiniku had begun resorting to his Earth Wave, a technique in which he struck the ground at such a point and intensity that a wave of earth would go speeding towards the intended target. Only problem was, the mages kept countering it.

When it became clear they had no hope of winning, Akusai hit one more soldier in the head before returning to the girl's side. He wasn't about to reveal Tenma, so he did the only other thing he could think of. He hastily began drawing symbols on the ground with the end of his staff. The symbols glowed gold and Akusai pushed the girl into the space, the symbols flashed and she was gone. Before he could jump into the circle, the Kasuookami jumped there and disappeared. Glaring about, the mage stepped into the circle and was much disgusted when Hiniku jumped in at the same time. As soon as they had landed, Akusai cut the spell and glared at the waggy-tailed puppy and the stupid blue-haired man, both of whom should have been left behind.

"What was that?" Retsujo asked. She had been quite surprised to suddenly find herself in a box-like room made of stone.

"Transport spell." Hiniku replied when it became clear Akusai wasn't going to say anything. "But I was under the impression such spells took a long time to set up and execute."

"It was preset." Was all the explanation either of them got out of the mage.

"Where are we?"

"My tower." Akusai said shortly as he moved towards the door.

Not knowing what else to do the others followed him out, down the hall and down a flight of stairs until they reached a large airy room that contained a huge wooden table surrounded by several matching chairs as well as two comfy looking armchairs before the massive fireplace. Above the fireplace was a painting of a pretty woman with black hair and bright green eyes, she was wearing a locket that looked like the one Akusai had. She was smiling and holding an infant with the same dark hair as her.

"Who's that?" The insatiably curious Retsujo asked. It had already crossed her mind that perhaps this was an ancestor of Akusai's or even his mother.

"She is dead so it does not matter." Akusai replied shortly.

"So where are we exactly, and I know we're in your tower,"
Hiniku said hastily as Akusai began to glare at him. "I mean where is your tower in relation to the rest of the world?"

"We are a two day journey from Meitatsu. We will spend the night here and leave in the morning." Akusai told them before turning to face Retsujo. "You girl, will come with me."

Deciding it was in her best interests to obey, Retsujo followed Akusai and for lack of anything else to do Hiniku and Itooshii came as well.

They were led up four flights of stairs to the dusty attic. Akusai led them to the back of the room, forcing them to eel their way past bundles of dirty parchment, strange shaped boxes and other oddments. At the far end of the attic were six trunks. Akusai tapped the blue one with the end of his staff.

"Take any clothes that will fit out of here. You are not to open any other trunks." And with that Akusai turned around and left, leaving Hiniku and Retsujo to stare after him.

"Well you might as well do as he says. Your clothes stand out way too much." The blue-haired man suggested.

The young girl nodded and knelt, opening the brass-bound trunk. Inside neatly folded were two silk dresses, five skirts with matching blouses, nine pairs of pants and ten shirts. Retsujo left the skirts and dresses where they were and pulled out the pants and shirts. She held them up to her one after the other and finally brought downstairs one pair of loose black pants, one pair of tight brown leather pants with matching shirt, and one pair of dark blue pants with silver vine embroidery up the side. Along with the pants she brought down the full-sleeved matching shirt to the blue pants, a sleeveless red shirt that laced up the front and a tight, long-sleeved purple shirt.

Excited to try the new clothes on, Retsujo left Hiniku in the room with the fireplace and found a small side room to change in. After trying it all on, she decided to wear the blue outfit for the rest of the day and the leathers for when they left the next morning. She packed everything else into her satchel which was starting to get heavy.

When she'd put her new clothes in her bag, Retsujo had removed the book and laid it aside. Now, sititng in one of the comfy chairs in front of the firplace, she idly opened it again and flipped to the first page. She was shocked to find writing on it. She flipped through the book and found that only the first twenty or so pages had words on them. She turned the book back to the first page and read.

'I went to stand but found I was already standing. In the middle of a clearing. In a forestI whirled around but only saw trees in every direction. What is going on? I wondered. "This must be a dream." I said aloud…'

By the end of the written pages Retsujo found herself blushing slightly. The book was writing itself based on what happened to her. What was worse, her feelings and thoughts were there too. From now on no one is looking at this book, she vowed to herself. It's too embarrassing.

So she put the silver book at the very bottom of her bag and started chatting with Hiniku about his martial arts style. This seemed to be the blue-haired man's favourite subject as he waxed eloquent on it for near two hours.

He probably would have continued for another couple of hours but Akusai arrived and motioned for them to follow him. Down one flight of stairs to the ground floor of the tower, down one hall and they were in the kitchen. On the big wooden table there, was fresh bread, raw vegetables and roast chicken.

Akusai sat down and began helping himself so the other two followed suit. "Did you make all this?" Retsujo wanted to know.

The mage merely gave her a look that made it clear he wasn't going to answer her. The girl shrugged and continued to help the other two demolish the meal, while feeding tidbits to Itooshii who was under the table waiting for things to fall.

After dinner, Akusai led them back upstairs and stopped in front of two side by side doors. "We leave in the morning." He said before turning back around and leaving again. Shrugging to one another, Retsujo and Hiniku entered the rooms which turned out to be quite luxuriously appointed.

Each of them had a four poster bed with curtains, a massive rug over the cold stone floor, two comfortable chairs and one huge window looking out at the forest's edge.

Retsujo stood admiring the view for a while before deciding to climb into bed. After all it had been a long day and tomorrow promised to be longer. Sighing happily as she slid under the covers, she started wondering how her brother was doing. He had to be worried sick by now. She wished she could send him a message saying she was alright and not to worry. Retsujo sighed once and before she could formulate another thought, fell asleep.