6 A Days Reprieve Miwa

    Kenten rushed in with the medication half an hour later. Aurora was looking a bit feverish after her most recent exposure to miasma and subsequent purification. So much exposure in so few days.

    I was as gentle as possible as I applied the balm, but she started in pain under my touch. Still, she did not seem to wake. I kept watch over her for at least an hour and found myself enchanted by this young woman.

    Her courage knew no bounds, and she was certainly powerful, even if still fragile. I remained by her side, hands clasped in front of my chin, until her breathing eased and her bruise began to heal normally.

    When I was satisfied she was going to recover well, I fell into my own bed, feeling like I had to catch up on a month of fatigue. Kenten and Chiki were the first to watch over the rooms, so I should have slept before my turn came.

    Yet, despite my exhaustion, sleep did not come. My ears were attuned to the sounds of her rising and falling breaths, and every irregularity caused me to lift my head and check on her.

    My mind drifted to the many events of the past few days. I was still amazed by Aurora's ability to charm the townspeople, especially after I had seen her fight. I wondered how the people would feel about her had they seen her in combat.

    And the spells she used. My gods, the sheer diversity of spells was astounding. I had never seen someone expel miasma from an infected person's body before purifying it, but it was a brilliant idea. If she could have cast that on herself back in the forest, then maybe her shoulder wouldn't have been so badly injured in the first place.

    She started in her sleep again, and I lifted my head from my pillow to check on her. She settled back down moments later.

    She shouldn't have even been in this bad of shape. I was angry with myself that I had let that boy steal her away from right beside me. Had he raped her, I surely would have helped Ijil kill him... The boy, meanwhile, had been handed over to the town's militia.

    His sentence was four days of prison, since he was only fourteen. Ijil confirmed that he was sufficiently infected for the heresy of obscenity to have changed his character, which did little to dull my anger. I could still see the anger in Ijil's eyes, as well, but he realized the boy wasn't entirely in control of his own actions.

    All of this weighed on me for a long while, but in the end, fatigue finally overtook me, and I slipped into sleep. Chiki awakened me a few hours later so I could take second watch. The watch went by uneventfully, and I was glad to find Aurora resting soundly as I lay back down for more sleep.

    The next day, I decided that Aurora needed a serious break. Whatever reason Kayuki had for teaming her with us, it was certainly not for us to let her go through all this. At this rate, I was sure she wouldn't last another day. The town wasn't the source of heretics. As Saints, we could tell that much.

    First thing in the morning, I spoke with Kenten and Fuin about taking a full day off with Aurora, so that she could think of something else. We were on a mission, though, so a walk around the town was all I could offer.

    Both Kenten and Fuin thought it was an excellent idea. Based on what we had seen of the town the day before, we were fairly certain it should be safe enough, at least for a little while.

    "Don't let her out of your sight," Kenten said.

    "Of course."

    "I'm serious, Miwa. If you look away for even a second, you had better at least be holding her hand."

    "Is my Enkha commanding me to flirt?" I asked.

    "I don't care how you do it. Just do not let her get hurt," he said. Fuin was nicer about it, but he basically echoed the same message.

    I waited for Aurora to come down for breakfast to tell her that we would go through town together. She smiled, and said she would love to see more of the town, indeed.

    I figured that she might have guessed that I had strictly no idea what else to do and agreed to come with me to soothe me. Honestly, I wasn't sure which of us needed the break more, but I certainly needed to feel that she was alright.

    "Aurora-san, isn't this mission too much for you?" asked Tenshi who came as he saw us eating breakfast. As always, Tenshi wasn't going to beat around the bush. Aurora-san leaned back on her seat and seemed deep in thought.

    "I think Master Kayuki thinks there's a hidden truth behind what's happening here," she then answered. "Through the reports he received, and most likely through some other intel, he found something very suspicious. If so, my God will reveal that to me. My bet is he suspects something neither deduction, nor investigation can reveal."

    "And what the hell can that be?" asked Kenten. "Is there a way to reveal it before you end up killed?" His voice showed great impatience.

    "I haven't discerned anything suspicious so far," she said, letting out a sigh. "I wonder if Master Kayuki has made a mistake, and this is just a case of heretics having a big camp that hasn't been found yet?"

    "For as long as I've been in the guild, he has never made such a blunder, though," said Kenten. "But lately he sure looks restless for some reason. Two years ago, he even went and roamed around the Kingdom and Empire on his own..."

    "Was he in such a state two years ago?" she asked. Her tone made us all turn our heads toward her. Her face was much darker, and Yoten's eyes focused.

    "You met and were recruited by Kayuki two years ago, right?" Yoten asked. "He came back right after recruiting you, and if I remember right, he hasn't gone away since then..."

    "He recruited me out of one of my divine missions," she answered. "His god had given him a mission complementary to mine. Ah... Master Kayuki is a wild savage in civilized clothes. He dragged me through my mission and pushed me to the point that I broke one of my soul-weapons. It's still unusable," she complained.

    We paused. She did tell us that one of her soul-weapons was broken, but sometimes it was easy to forget she wasn't at her best right now. And a mission that was given to her that complemented Kayuki's mission... So he was away because of a divine mission, too? He never told us anything about that though.

    "What..." I began

    "I'm sorry, I can't speak of it," she answered. "My God has made sure to tell me that we must not speak of what happened back then."

    "But the way you asked..."

    "Ah, ah..." she laughed nervously. "Trust this adept: if this situation was the same as before, Master Kayuki would have come with us. My take is that he believes that this place is seriously infected by heresy, and that there's barriers from the Abyssal of Deceit. I am the Shard of Truth, I can see through them, so he likely sent me for that."

    She didn't seem like she was lying about this. And honestly, Kayuki was likely counting on us to keep her safe... A job that I didn't feel we were doing so well.

    "Get up, and let's go somewhere," I said.

    I didn't expect Chiki to follow us, but he tagged along in the morning. We went to the town's tailor since our clothes had been damaged during the forest and camp attacks. The shopmaster was an old man as amiable as a slash in the face, but his works he had on display were high quality enough that he could afford that attitude. Once he was finished, he almost kicked us out of his shop, and again I had no idea where to go.

    Still, I learned that all the clothes that she was wearing were hand-made so that they could be clipped and unclipped easily to be ready for battle or look like she was in casual clothes in an instant. Chiki bought her a few accessories, and I bought a hairpin, which went well with her pink eyes and hair.

    Around midday, Chiki said he had to do some rounds, and went his way. While the inn's food was good, I decided to take her to a food stand. She didn't seem very picky with her food, and she swallowed the whole thing quickly, seemingly satisfied.

    "Is there any food you dislike?" I asked to strike up a conversation.

    "I hate onions," she laughed. "I really can't stand the taste."

    I tried to smile naturally. Hopefully I did because the bowl that she had swallowed was an onion soup. Sometimes, a soul-injury could leave a mark or even take away a sensation. Until she could reinvoke her soul-weapon and properly relink with the broken part of her soul, she wouldn't have her sense of taste back. It had to make life seem very bland. I gulped down the rest of my onion soup, hoping to get rid of the evidence before she noticed what had been in the bowls.

    I went to pay the bill and contemplated what to do after that. I decided to take her to a place where I could sense lots of animals. It was the courtyard of an old lady.

    "Those are all animals who were found injured, or too young to care for themselves," the old lady said, petting a cat. "Great Saint, could you please look at some kittens I have just brought in recently? They are in a very critical state... I am unsure they will survive."

    I told the woman to show them to me and she bolted inside, coming back with a basket of very young kittens. The small creatures immediately purred as I caressed them, and I used my magic to heal them. This gift of the God of Nature allowed me to use purifying or healing magic on animals without harming them. Had I tried that on a regular human, he would have died ten times over.

    I looked at her play with the kitten for a while. It was somewhat strange. The previous eve, she had mass-executed heretics and bandits; today she was holding with the greatest delicacy a creature as frail as a leaf. She was so attached to them that we had a bit of difficulty leaving, but we finally managed, and I said that it was time that we went back to the inn.

    We had strayed a little outside of the town, to more isolated houses our unit had passed when first entering town. As we turned around and headed back toward the town, a group of heretics surrounded us. I was relieved that it was only a few humans.

    "Oh, come on," Aurora-san said. "If Genji hears I've been attacked by humans again, he's going to lecture me for hours."

    Hearing that, I remembered that in her squad, there were two men, Genji and Leon, and I somewhat felt moody. I wiped the heretics out, and turning toward her, I told her that Genji would never find out because she didn't have to specify the details of our missions to regular members. She looked at me and nodded saying that it was probably best that way.

    We made it back to the inn, and she went to our room saying that she was dead tired and needed rest. I ended up alone in the inn's lounge. The inn was big, but it was rather empty. There was hardly anyone around, with the exception of the group of adventurers and a few others. That was definitely due to the heretics.

    Tenshi and the others arrived a little after, and asked where Aurora was. I pointed up toward the room and told them that I asked Fuwama and Kintama to watch over her while she was sleeping.

    "The prince chose the same faith as Aurora-chan," said Tenshi. "If her mentor whips the prince into half what he whipped her into, you bet this kingdom's gonna be flourishing in no time."

    "Yeah, and Kayuki asked her to write to her mentor in person..." I said.

    "I don't like any of this one bit," said Kenten. "She's hiding something, and Kayuki too. Miwa, did she say something about it?"

    "Nope, and I won't insist," I told him flatly. "If we press her too hard, nothing good will come of it. Gods, she might use her magic to silence herself!"

    "Remember the reports from when her mentor first came to King Asami's court? How easy it was for him to see through people's lies and reveal their secrets?" asked Tenshi.

    "Yes. And?" Kenten said.

    "All I'm saying is I wouldn't be surprised to learn she can already see straight through your anxiety, Kenten. Don't push her," Tenshi said.

    "Alright, I get it," he said, annoyed. "She is strong and capable and kind. And she doesn't look down on anyone. Even I think she is a rarity in our line of work." He paused for a moment. "But it's unsettling that something big might be on the horizon, yet we don't see it coming."

    "I think she'll tell us anything we need, and I've seen her send a bird to Master Kayuki," I said. "She's likely consulting him on the matter before speaking to us. Kenten, not even you would go against his orders if he told you not to tell us something."

    "I agree," he said, his shoulders relaxing. "And Kayuki certainly thinks we're equipped for what's happening here. That aside, His Highness joining her faith... This would be a major event in the whole court."

    "I reckon," said Tenshi. "Her faith might end up a major one if the royals get interested in it."

    "How is her mentor?" I asked. "Kenten, you met him?"

    "No, but Kayuki asked her about him," Kenten replied. "She said that until she became a god-touched, he looked like a lazy idiot with no real skills for the divine. Then she became a god-touched, and for about two years, he was like a soulless demon, putting her life on the line whenever he had the chance. Past that period, she began to realize he was strong enough to let her make mistakes and learn from them."

    We could only laugh. That was kind of the by-the-book mentor. Ours had very similar educational programs. I had to admit that it was the most efficient and fastest way to enter smoothly into a faith.

    "Well, if her mentor is anything like mine was, just because he put her life in constant danger doesn't mean he would appreciate us doing so," Kenten said. "Miwa, you had better make sure she stays safe."

    He smiled as he said it, and he was definitely in a better mood, but the look in Kenten's eye told me he wasn't joking.

    I finally felt like going upstairs, and went into the room quietly; Aurora wasn't sleeping. She was looking at the ceiling. Her eyes drifted slowly toward me, a bit hazy, but slowly focusing. She began to smile when she focused completely.

    "I wonder... do I look like an air-head to you?" she asked.

    Her question was totally out of nowhere, and I shook my head as I tried to think of what could possibly be a good response. "Why would you?"

    "You know... we are drifters. What we see during these moments is a world that is so different than the one we live on... What I understand of it, what I can say of it. I wonder... if people who can't get that knowledge think I'm just bothering with the superfluous."

    "Let them all talk," I said. "I am a Saint, I know the gods aren't stupid enough to make people like you without a good reason. And it's kind of charming. I can catch you off-guard."

    Aurora looked at me. "Despite going out... there's not much I can do for you... tonight... again. Guess I'm not at my best lately. Doesn't bode so well for the two of us..." she said, her voice trailing with something like a strain.

    "That I'm still here doesn't reassure you?" I asked, a bit in disarray. "Look, I'm not disinterested, I didn't go to Sakura."

    "Ijil got her first," she shrugged. "But somewhat I feel too incompetent, and it's been years since I've felt like that."

    "Aurora." I made my tone stricter than I intended as I lifted her from her bed to make her face me. As if it had some persuasive value, I kissed her, and we lingered like that. I thought she would fall over in exhaustion after a few moments, but to my surprise, she locked an arm around the back of my neck and pulled me tight against her.

    "Maybe I have a little energy left," she said with a smile and an eager look in her eye. Moments later, I had fallen into bed with her.

    She was exhausted, and the time we shared was brief but passionate. As she fell asleep, a smile upon her face, I kissed her cheek and watched her doze off before slipping back to my own bed.

    Something was strange though... I couldn't put my finger on it. It didn't seem like usual. As I looked at her, across the divide between our beds, I still had that same feeling as before. Usually, that would be the point when I didn't feel much more attraction, but this time my desire wasn't gone. Now I only wanted her more.
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