The scent of soil and sweat fills my nose. My entire body aches with fatigue and there is a sense of weakness deep within me, as if my strength has been greatly depleted. Something clings tightly to my side, something soft, fragrant and warm. From the distance, I hear the sounds of birds chirping. A hard sensation digs into my back while I lie on the ground. I instinctively try shifting into a more comfortable position, but the clinging sensation intensifies and presses down against me, preventing me from moving. I hear an annoyed grumble come from the very edge of my slowly recovering awareness.
What in the world happened? Think. The last thing I recall was Kira talking to me back in the hospital, then after that, darkness. But there were dreams, dreams in which I was fighting to rescue her from someone. Were we kidnapped? Did we manage to get away? Where are the rest of our friends? I rack my brain for answers, but more confused imagery is all I get in return. A pair of men quarreling, interrupted by someone wielding a sword. Snakes, snakes everywhere. And finally, fire that cleansed everything.
Snow falls gently over my body, providing the heat coming from whatever it is by my side with a pleasant contrast. Hold up, why do I feel the snow falling all over my body? Where are my clothes?
Fearing the worst, I slowly open my eyes and see a canopy of trees looming over me, the morning sun shyly peeking from between the branches. Good, this is great actually. I recognize where I am right now. Its the Heath, the large park near the Academy, where I had fought my duel with Ken. I am not locked away at some unknown location or facing any immediate danger. Strange circumstances aside, it would not take me long to get back to the Academy's dorms from my current location.
"Good morning." a sleepy voice whispers into my ear.
"Gah!" I jerk upwards in surprise and roll across the dirt and grass. As the assorted pebbles and branches rub against my body, it does not take my mind long to appreciate the fact that yes, for some reason or other, I am in the nude.
And right in front of me is Kira pouting in my direction, lounging on the grass completely naked, idly playing with her disheveled twin tails.
I blush furiously while desperately trying to make sense of the situation unfolding. How did we go from the hospital to the Heath? And why are we naked? I clasp my hands over my privates in a lame attempt at salvaging what's left of my modesty.
Kira hums happily, "Like or love? I think I have the answer to that question now. I never realized you wanted me so badly, Tensei."
Shit. That means we did it. How am I going to explain this to Sera and Irene? How am I going to break it to Kira that I don't have the foggiest idea about what had happened?
"Uh, the last thing I remember was the hospital ..." I say, before meaningfully leaving the sentence uncompleted.
Kira crosses her legs and sighs, "Yeah. We were discussing your move to Ascension Tower. Remember that?"
I nod. I do remember something like that. Kira also seems to be taking my amnesia really well too. This might not be a complete disaster after all.
"We were kidnapped, Tensei." Kira frowns, "Mike had lost control over his people. I don't know why they did it, but that's how things panned out."
"Is that why I can't remember anything?" I press. Being kidnapped would explain much of the weirdness we were in right now.
Kira coughs lightly, a trickle of blood escaping her lips. She takes a breath and continues her explanation, "I think so? I heard them talking about keeping you drugged while we were imprisoned at the Tower."
"You're hurt!" I rush forward and hold Kira in my arms gently, ignoring the growing pain slowly building from somewhere within me. Kira melts in my arms and brushes her cheek affectionately against mine.
"I'm fine." she whispers while stroking my lips with her fingers, "I can hang on until we get to a doctor."
"If the Representative's people did this," I ask, "what happened to him then?"
Tears flow from Kira's eyes as she buries her head against my chest, sniffling, "When Mike knew what had happened, he tried to rescue us. There was a fight and you managed to break out of wherever you were being held."
As I am still digesting what Kira is telling me, a sob escapes from her, "Mike didn't join us in escaping. I think he might be dead."
Dead. Deceased. The word hits me like a truck. Representative Michael had promised to help me in my fight against Nicholas, and now he's become yet another casualty in this blasted fight over my inheritance. Another person I failed to save. As my rage builds, I sense the familiar tension in my spirit core pushing outwards, seeking to break through my limits. The power within me gathers, and -
"Agh!" I shout as a sharp pain lances through my heart. The spirituality coursing through my core abruptly dissipates and the same feeling of emptiness I experienced when I first woke up floods through my veins once more. Something's wrong. I don't know what exactly, but my senses tell me that something has gone very badly wrong with my spirit core.
"Don't force yourself Tensei." Kira urges softly, "You've been very busy the last night. Not just rescuing me, but also with ... other things."
"Yeah." I agree as Kira lays my head over her lap and begins to massage my temples, "We need to get to a hospital quickly." First things first. I can explain matters with Sera and Irene when I meet them again.
"I don't mind Tensei." Kira replies simply. I make a confused sound, not sure what she's talking about.
"Your face is an open book. That's one of the things I like about you." Kira smiles, "So honest and sweet. I don't mind being last. After Irene and Sera."
"Kira -" I gasp in surprise. How long had she known?
"You love me, Tensei, I know that now." Kira ruffles my hair fondly, "Just like I love you. I'm not a selfish person Tensei. If being with you makes Sera and Irene happy, then I'm all for it as well. Just let me stay by your side until the end."
I gaze at Kira's calm face, not sensing any deceit in her words. How admirable. This is a side of Kira that I had never seen before. If she can be so generous, how can I not follow suit? Allowing her to stay with me is really the least I can do.
"Mike was the only family I had." Kira murmurs, "He didn't want me to give up my dream no matter what. For Mike's sake, I will see it to the end."
"Dream?" I ask, allowing my mind to drift away as Kira strokes my face. Is it something like being the world's greatest idol? I could get behind that. I'll support Kira's dream with all my strength.
"One day I'll tell you." Kira beams, "On the day it comes true."
"We're here Irene." Celeste tells me as the cab drives off, leaving us at the main entrance of the von Amsterg manor.
"This is a mistake." I shrink away from the double doors, repaired from the previous altercation that took place here. How things have changed.
"There is no other way." Celeste urges, "This is the only safe place for you. And the only place you can have a future."
I glance about, feeling like a foreign interloper. Celeste is sure of her plan, but she is ultimately just a young girl. There's no guarantee that things will work out the way she predicted. In fact, the odds are on the two of us being thrown out on our behinds without any ceremony. The only reason why I agreed to this madness is because things had gotten so dire.
"Come on." Celeste gestures, "The radio said it already, ORPO has pulled out from Ascension Tower. The patrols will be back on the streets soon. There's not much time."
That's right. There really isn't much time left for me. I don't have any good options left. I square my shoulders and join Celeste in walking towards the manor's entrance. Celeste reaches up and raps the ornate knocker against the double doors. Silence, then I hear the sound of shuffling feet coming from the other side. With a creak, the doors are opened by a young maid.
"Welcome to the von Amsterg manor." the maid greets, "What is your business - eh!"
"Eh!" Celeste cries out in surprise as well upon seeing the maid. My mouth dries up almost immediately. We just got here and things are already going wrong.
"Sera?" I ask.
"Inspector?" the maid shoots back with a question of her own.
While Celeste and I are still reeling from shock, Sera lowers her voice and queries, "Are you here to seek shelter as well Inspector?"
Before I can respond, Celeste cuts in, "Something like that. We're here to discuss an important matter actually."
Sera steps aside and waves us inside the manor, saying, "Sure. What is this about?"
"Not with you." Celeste dismisses as we follow Sera into the palatial residence. I try signalling to Celeste not to be so standoffish but she ignores me and presses on with her point.
"We're here to see the master of the family."