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Lillies Upon our Graves

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Kurogane wandered down the darkening streets, watching people around him hurry about to their homes. No one paused to spare the menacing-looking ninja any attention whatsoever, which suited the Japanese warrior just fine. Cold wind attacked his exposed face and once again he was thankful for the fact that he had been already dressed in winter clothing from the last world they had visited. The weather was not as cold as the previous world, but with the manju once again having dumped the kid and the mage who-knows-where in this world, he was pretty much on his own. He had been on his own for nearly a week now, constantly searching for his companions without much success. He was lucky that the mage had had enough sense of mind to spell his sword back into his arm in case of a scenario just like this, for the world they had arrived in was not quite a pleasant place to be in without some weapon for self-defense.

From what little information he had gathered during his time there, Cavahall was a city divided between two major warring factions. The city had sky scrapers that reached high up into the sky, vanishing out of sight far above the smog-filled skies that rarely ever let any sunlight through. The air was heavy with exhaust fumes, the dark underbelly of the city contrasting sharply with the glitz and glamour broadcasted on the big holo-screens hovering high up above his head, counting down the time limit for some upcoming tournament.

Hearing thunder rumble across the sky, the ninja figured it would be best to wait out the stinging rainfall in the shelter of a bar. If the black, sludge-like rain let up early, maybe he could even head out to look for the others a little longer. The first of the drops began pattering against the littered streets behind him just as Kurogane ducked inside a cramped-looking bar, The Prickly Pan. Pulling out his cred-card- something he’d acquired via gambling on his very first night there- the ninja ordered himself a stiff drink to chase off the cold as he cast a look around.

Random, soot-covered strangers surrounded him, some laughing raucously in their drunkenness while others tried to drink their sorrows away, while others still lay slumped across counters and tables. A pang of irritation and disappointment hit him as he realized that he could not spot the familiar flash of blond nor the brown mop anywhere. Throwing back the amber liquid from the glass of questionable hygiene, the ninja ordered himself another shot as he turned his attention towards the holo-screen mounted on the wall behind the bar.

Promos ran on them in a constant loop from the sponsor of the tournament, an organization called ‘The Company’ which pretty much owned and ran the whole of Cavahall. Except for the parts currently occupied by a rebelling faction known as ‘Liberalists’, though according to the latest news broadcast, another sector of the city had been reclaimed in a recent raid against them. The Company had apparently also acquired several rare ‘Unnaturals’ during the course of this attack. Some bar goers cheered at the news, while others merely shook their heads in disgust and looked away. As the broadcast gave way for some sappy romance movie, people around him began placing bets on who would win the latest tournament.

Kurogane downed his second drink of the night, feeling the liquid burn down his throat as he marveled at the fact that while he could not read the language, he could still understand what was being said around him. A fact that assured the ninja that at the very least, one of his travelling companions was somewhere close by. The range of the manju’s translating abilities had spread quite a bit during the time they’d spent travelling, so he couldn’t be completely sure how near or far away the thing was. But if he was lucky, maybe the kid or the mage had already met up with it and were looking for the rest of them. As soon as they were all together, they could head off to the next world. After all, a week was normally the maximum amount of time the kid could spend in any particular world before the urge to move on started to overwhelm him. The one time the kid had tried to push his limit and stay a little longer in Clow had not been pleasant for anyone when he’d developed a fever that nearly left him comatose until they finally departed. For the kid’s sake, he sent up a silent prayer that they’d be able to meet up long before it ever came down to something that drastic.

He was on his third glass when the lights flickered and blacked out, followed by the unmistakable sounds of screams and gunfire. The loud conversation inside the bar fell silent so suddenly Kurogane could hear the man sitting next to him gulp in fright. The ninja tried to squint through the glass window to see what was happening outside but the soot and sludge-rain had blackened the panes to opaqueness, making it impossible for him to discern anything.

As quickly as it had begun, the gunfire outside ceased and the last of the screams died down. For a heartbeat, everything was still and then chaos reigned.

The window blew inwards, shooting shards of glass everywhere. Years of training came into play as the ninja flipped off his barstool and behind the counter, pulling the scared-looking bartender down with him as he went. A half-filled glass of alcohol shattered on the ground next to the warrior as the raucous drunk that had been seated next to Kurogane only moments before slumped over the counter, dead. The ninja had not known the man but he could recall him having placed all his possessions on the line for a bet that someone called La Lupa-420 was going to win the tournament once again. Now, as the ninja looked up at his face, his vacant grey eyes stared into thin air, blood beginning to trickle from his parted lips. The backup power source kicked in right then, giving his corpse an eerie wax-like quality in the dull glow that now emanated from a few ancients bulbs on the ceiling.

Tearing his gaze away from the sight, he spared a glance towards the whimpering man curled up on the floor next to him before cautiously peeking out from behind the counter. He took note of the fact that every single customer in the bar was dead, their bodies riddled with shrapnel from the explosion and surprisingly enough, bullet holes. As silently as possible, the ninja brought together his hands and summoned his sword, ignoring the fact that his unusual ability seemed to cause the bartender added distress.

“Stay here and try not to get killed,” he warned the man, slipping over the counter without any effort before dropping to a crouch on the other side. Using the shadows and dead bodies around him for cover, he carefully made his way over to the destroyed window and hazarded a look outside, even as he tried to figure out why The Company would raid Sector 64B, an area already under its control. Unless…had the Liberalists had launched an attack in retaliation to the raid mentioned on the news? But why go after innocent civilians? So far, from what he’d managed to gather about the way these rebels operated- from the gossip and speculations going on around him in the bars and the news on the holo-screens- they normally favored hitting the more posh areas where all the upper-class level bureaucrats and power junkies held property or businesses.

Stealing another look outside, Kurogane noted that the rain and general darkness outside made it hard to make out much apart from a few blurry shapes darting down the streets, the gunfire and screams now sounding a little further away. He decided to wait out the rest of the raid in the relative safety and cover of the now-destroyed, corpse-littered bar and made to banish his sword when a flash of gold darting right by the window made him stiffen. It only took him a fraction of a second to identify the source as Fai before he was racing out into the pouring rain after him. He was careful not to call out the blond’s name and attract unwanted attention to the pair of them, but he did try and force his legs to move faster to catch up with the swiftly moving magician. For some reason, the blond was moving at vampire speed, rushing straight towards the sounds of gunfire and screaming.

Before Kurogane could do anything to stop him, the blond had rounded the corner and vanished from sight. A second later, something barreled right into him, knocking him into a wall, nearly making him lose his grip on Ginryuu. Shaking his head to clear his vision, the ninja readjusted his grip and only barely managed to block the swipe of vampire claws aimed for his throat before kicking his attacker away. Bringing up Ginryuu in an offensive stance, he struggled to make out the features of his assailant in the gloom. A flash of thunder had his heart leaping to his throat as he caught a glimpse of a familiar face framed by messy, wet bangs. Their lips pulled back in a feral snarl, exposing a set of fangs that the mage had rarely ever displayed except on those cold nights in Infinity when he had forced the magician to drink his blood. But it wasn’t the magician that appeared to want to rip him to shreds. The wild cat-slit eyes that followed his movements predatorily as he readjusted his stance to cater to this new development were never supposed to have been any color apart from gentle, heartwarming amber.

The kid made no motion of having recognized him, darting across the space that separated them in a fraction of a second, forcing Kurogane to twist out of the way to avoid hurting his apprentice.

“Kid!” He yelled, dodging around the brunette’s claws for a third time, “It’s me!”

Still, Syaoran did not seem to recognize him as he kept up the attack, claws swiping through the air fast enough to nick Kurogane’s flesh arm. If Kurogane had thought the boy was feral before, he seemed to be well beyond a mindless animal now as blood welled up from the newly-inflicted wound and the brunette raced towards him with more ferocity than before. Deflecting the assault with a fluid move, Kurogane followed it through with a sharp jab from his metal arm before dropping low to avoid having his face ripped off. The fight was intense but somehow, it lacked the grace Syaoran had developed over the years through endless hours of practice. There was nothing coordinated about his attacks whatsoever, his movements driven completely by mindless, predatorial hunger. But what could have led to him being in a state like this in the first place? Had he perhaps slipped into another coma and the mage had been forced to give him some of his own blood to keep him alive?

Kurogane easily side-stepped the next attack, catching hold of the kid’s forearm before using it and the brunette’s momentum to throw him into an upturned garbage can. Sparing a quick glance around for the mage- in case the blond knew of some better way to subdue the boy- he rushed forward. Driving Ginryuu’s hilt into Syaoran’s temple, Kurogane knocked him out. Still clutching his sword in one hand, he bent over the unconscious boy to check him over. Despite the freezing rain, the brunette was burning up, his breath coming in shallow rattles.

It was a wonder Kurogane had not noticed it before. The kid was running a very high fever. Which was probably why he was completely out of his mind. And why he had been so easy for Kurogane to take down. He supposed the accelerated healing rate must have been slowed down some as well, if the boy was still sick even after being turned. But what in the world had the blond been thinking to even turn the kid in the first place?

Gunshots and shouts rang through the air, the words suddenly completely incomprehensible to the ninja as bright lights shone in their direction. The meat bun must have strayed out of range. Seeing the sword in his hand, no matter how loosely it was being held on to now, caused the newcomers great alarm as guns were instantly pointed at him.

The previous orders were repeated in harsher, angrier tones. Kurogane frowned, readjusting his grip on Ginryuu as he assessed the situation. These men were under the employment of The Company and the kid now fit the definition of an Unnatural in their eyes. The former made an occupation out of capturing the latter, so that didn't really leave Kurogane with much choice in what he was to do now. He could only hope the mage would show up soon enough to even the odds before things got nasty. Not that he didn’t have faith in his own ability to keep the kid safe. But he did not know how fast Syaoran would wake up and what state of mind he’d be in when he did.

The orders- probably for him to discard his weapon and step away from Syaoran, if their gestures were anything to go by- were repeated for a third time. There was a ring of finality in the silence that followed promising dangerous consequences if he were to disobey. Spreading his feet apart, Kurogane readied his stance, narrowing his eyes as the men exchanged alarmed looks.

“Not a chance in hell.” He spat, darting forwards, relying on his skills- acquired through years of practice at avoiding projectiles- to dodge the bullets fired towards him.

What little he couldn’t dodge, he deflected with Ginryuu’s magically-blessed blade. He was doing rather well at holding his own until reinforcements arrived with faster weapons. He tries not to hiss at the sting as a bullet grazed his side. The rain began to fall harder, making the ground slipperier and more difficult to land on every time he flipped or spun out of the way of an incoming attack.

Soon enough he was pushed to the defensive- a position he had never imagined himself to be in for longer than a couple of seconds. And then he was being forced to retreat as all he could do was deflect bullets so fast his muscles screamed in agony. He could hear a commotion on the other side of the line formed by the reinforcements and could only spare enough thought to pray it was Fai before he focused his attention back to protecting the kid. Another bullet got through his defenses, this one embedding itself deep in the circuitry of his mechanical arm. Although he felt no pain, the arm slowed in its response time, something that cost him dearly when three sharp, tiny somethings punched their way through his gut and chest. He barely had time to gasp as a fourth bullet tore into his shoulder, knocking him off balance. His foot collided with something as he stumbled backwards, sending him sprawling onto his back as Ginryuu slipped out of his grip and rolled away.

He struggled to get back to his feet. He couldn’t let them take the kid! But a sudden numbness spreading out from deep within him made it impossible to move. Something warm bubbled up his throat, leaking from the tiny punctures in his body, burning trails down his rapidly cooling flesh even as the rain kept up its merciless assault.

He had always known that he'd die- one did not become an assassin without acknowledging that truth- but whenever he had pictured it, it had always been in a way where his life had served the purpose of protecting the people he cared about. Now as the sounds of gunfire and thunder and rain began to fade away into his too loud (too raspy) breathing, his only regret was having failed to protect the kid. He heard more yelling, but the words were still impossible to make out. Though that was probably as much a fault of his senses failing him as it could have been him not actually understanding the language. His last thoughts as his body began shut down were a silent apology to the kid and a prayer to the deities to watch over him and the mage before his eyes slid close and he knew no more.