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Ashes of the Phoenix

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The ground was uneven and uncomfortable. He couldn't sleep. And this fact disturbed him. He had slept through worse conditions, but his mind was working at a mile a minute. Tonight was not a night for pleasant dreams...

Shenhua was such a curious young woman, and he had thoroughly enjoyed their conversations throughout their travels. She seemed to be very knowledgeable. He had admired her curiousity and her constant questions had helped to pass the time.

But as he and Shenhua had sat next to the brilliant fire they had made, she had suddenly asked him about his family and friends back home. The people who were closest to him. The people he had left behind. The people who were so far away. The questions were innocent enough, yet they stabbed at Ryo's heart as he reluctantly opened up to Shenhua.

His journey in Hong Kong had been a long and arduous one. And yet, through all of the troubles, struggles and setbacks, he had never once allowed himself to miss home. He had never allowed his thoughts to linger too long on the people and places he loved. They were too far from his reach. Simply a fading memory, though the more he tried to forget, the more they became etched into his very soul.

The bustling streets of Dobuita seemed insignificant once Ryo had reached Aberdeen, yet he still was reminded of his hometown each time he saw a young child run across his path. Each time he heard a shopkeeper call after him. Each time he watched the sun set over the peaceful waters of the sea. Had it really been so long ago since he had been watching the same scene in the Yokusoku Harbour?

It was now that the guilt began to settle in. He had promised Ine-san and Fuku-san that he would write to them, a promise he was now doubting he had ever planned on keeping. And the dojo. He could not describe in words how much he missed the dojo. He had been fortunate enough to cross the paths of many martial artists, yet none of the dojos appealed to him the way that Hazuki Dojo did. He missed his father more and more...even as he convinced himself that he was doing this all for him.

Try as he might, he could not hide from the memories forever.

The guilt and misery Ryo felt had only multiplied when Shenhua had began to ask about Nozomi. He had foolishly showed her the picture they had taken together at the harbour.

Finally fully rejecting sleep, Ryo sat up and took the picture out, examining it. The pain in his heart ached as he saw the mix of emotions upon Nozomi's face in the photo. If only he had realized when he had taken that picture how different things would soon be. She was in Canada now, and he was sitting awake, alone and cold in a cave in Guilin.

He eyed the fire, seeking a solution. A perfect way to rid himself of the memories. This photo could become ashes, leaving his painful memories far behind as well. Or so he hoped...

As Ryo sat, contemplating throwing away his final connection to a woman who meant more to him than he would ever admit, he heard a sweet soft voice filter through into the cave. It was Shenhua. She was standing guard, singing a melodious tune, a song he was certain sounded familiar. But he could not quite place it.

He put the picture away and headed outside of the cave, in search of Shenhua.

And once more his memories were buried by the burden of his endless journey...