The light shining into his eye flicked off, leaving Ryou to blink away red afterimages.

Yuki swapped the pocket flashlight for a pen and his patient's chart. Ryou took this as permission to put his glasses back on.

"Good eye movement, no signs of retinal tear. MRI showed no intracranial swelling or concussion. Sutures are okay." Then in the same breath and tone, Ryou's brother added, "I can't believe you would be dumb enough to get involved in a gang fight. Why didn't you call the police?"

"I was not thinking straight, I told you."

The stare Yuki gave him above the rim of the chart suggested that the idea of Ujiie Ryou not thinking straight did not fit into his version of reality. It seemed he'd rather suspect him of some bizarre business-related reason to intervene in a fight. Fortunately the police had been nowhere near as suspicious of the department head of an important financial firm.

"I have some clothes here for you," said Yuki, giving up on stubborn brothers. "Your assistant dropped them off."

"Sasaki? I didn't see him."

"Since he also brought folders and a laptop, I did not allow him to enter your room. Until you're discharged, you're my patient - or rather Arimata-sensei's, but she let me be the attending since you asked for me. I'm not having a head trauma case pestered less than twenty-four hours after admission."

"You said I wasn't concussed."

"No, but you were in a car accident and then pelted with stones or whatever. You need rest."

Ryou reminded himself that Yuki had, from the earliest age, gone through life with that faintly hostile, suspicious air on his angular face, and so that 'whatever' was not necessarily a sign his brother doubted his story. It was a good thing Yuki had decided to become a surgeon rather than a physician, though; he had the drive, the skill and the lack of more than rudimentary bedside manners that would allow him to go far in his chosen profession.

Yuki put away the chart and pen and rearranged his stethoscope. He looked different in those scrubs; professional, confident, mature. Ryou's perception of his brother had lagged a bit, clinging to the sullen, abrupt adolescent of a few years back. This soon-to-be surgeon was a surprise. Somewhat good looking, too, despite the semi-permanent frown. Their mother would probably not have to arrange an omiai for Yuki, which was good as he would never put up with that kind of parental interference in his life.

Hands in the pockets of his scrubs, Yuki stared back at him with a curiosity he did not try to hide. He was obviously intrigued by the set of circumstances that had landed his older brother in his care last night. It would have been better if Ryou's Nissan had not reappeared near Daisiki General, where the ambulance he had called had naturally taken them. Why the Nissan had reappeared near Daisiki General was a question he was trying not to contemplate. It was true that fleeing through the streets of definitely-not-Tokyo last night with a foreigner bleeding out in his car had made him think of medical care and then of his brother by thought association, but he did not see how that could have influenced anything. Since he understood absolutely nothing about that experience last night, speculation was not going to get him very far.

"What I don't understand-" Yuki started to say when a soft knock interrupted him. Daisiki General was not an exclusive clinic like some, but it had private rooms and the president had naturally made sure his oldest son was in the best available.

The door opened and Detective Kimura stuck his head into the room. "I apologize for my intrusion, doctor," he said, not sounding all that sorry.

"You've already talked to my brother today," Yuki said sharply before the detective could even explain what he wanted. "He's told you all he knows. It's seven o'clock at night, he needs to rest."

"Oh? Arimata-sensei said he was going to be discharged tomorrow. I took it he was doing well." Kimura gave Ryou a kindly smile. He had a face built for it, benevolent, round, a little shiny, as friendly as a full moon. Ryou suspected it was a mask as adept as his own.

"It's okay, Yuki," he said before his brother could get into an argument. "Did you want to see me, detective?" They must have found inconsistencies in the story he had spun for them. It was inevitable. Now he was going to have to be very, very careful.

"Yes, I wanted to ask you a few more questions about the man you rescued." Kimura sat down on a chair near the bed after a respectful nod.

"I don't think I can say I rescued him," said Ryou with the automatic modesty one would expect of him in the circumstances. "I swerved and crashed to avoid him as he staggered out into the street, and then I just got him away from those hooligans. I'd gotten lost while driving around the town, I'm not even sure where all this happened, or why."

"Yes, you told me all this earlier," said Kimura in a way that left Ryou no way of guessing how badly the detective doubted his story. "Tell me, Ujiie-san, did he say anything to you?"

"No, he was injured, he couldn't tell me his name or what his attackers wanted."

"I mean, did he speak to you? Did he say anything?"

His insistence made Ryou cautious. Sure, the stranger had spoken a little, but since the first words that came to mind referred to the persistence of garbage-monsters, he had no intention of mentioning them. He took the safer option without hesitation. "No, he was pretty incoherent and he passed out soon after I started driving."

Kimura did not proceed to pepper him again with all the questions he'd already asked this morning, the reasonable questions such as where had all this happened exactly, what had the men who'd done this looked like, how long had Ujiie-san driven after the event, why hadn't he called an ambulance sooner. Ryou had given as little information as he could, hiding behind the excuse of panic-born confusion from his accident, the violence he'd witnessed and having a stranger bleeding all over the leather interior of his car. He'd expected Kimura to finally challenge this when he showed up tonight, but the detective merely nodded.

"Even if he didn't make sense, did he use any recognizable word at all?"

He was definitely fishing for something..."No. Why?"

"I see, I see." Kimura got to his feet. "Never mind, I just wanted to confirm something."


"It appears this foreigner doesn't speak any Japanese. No English either."

Kimura was already turning to go, but he was looking over his shoulder, studying Ryou's expression as he dropped those words, and his astute gaze was in no way as casual as his tone. But Ryou had years of experience keeping his face impassive by now. The president, his father, had seen to that.

"Oh, you mean he's awake?" was all he said.

Kimura smiled, still watching him. "Yes, he came to early this morning. A tough man, that one. Even though his injuries weren't critical, he'd gotten badly battered and had lost a lot of blood. He can't seem to tell us who he is, though, where he comes from or what language he speaks. We were wondering if he said anything to you."

"How could he if he doesn't speak Japanese?"

"It appears he doesn't speak Japanese," Kimura corrected him gently. "But neither is he making much effort to communicate. Never mind, we'll find out who he is soon enough. If you'll excuse me-"

"May I see him?" Ryou had to ask, letting the words slip past his better judgment. The question had been burning in him this morning when Kimura had interviewed him, and he'd been forcing the words back every time his brother checked up on him. The Tokyo outside the hospital window was real, but so was the place he'd been last night. Ryou's mind was laboring in an effort to reconcile the two, because he knew that as long as he lived, he'd never forget those brief minutes spent there however much he tried. He knew he hadn't hallucinated it; even if the stranger he'd brought back and the cut on his forehead weren't witnesses enough, the undeniable experience of it would still be carved into his mind. Dreams just weren't that complete and cohesive, with the empty streets, a bashed-in mailbox, the silence, the smell of dust and snow, the monsters and the adrenaline and a stink of blood he could still almost taste... He could not let it go like that, he had to understand what had happened, he had to put this experience in its context. The man he'd brought back from over there was the link between the two worlds, the living proof. It might be safer to bury his head in the sand, go back to his condo, get drunk, have a panic attack and go to work on the Noruma account the next day, but Ryou could no more do that than fly.

Kimura did not look surprised at the request. The speed with which he turned around to hand Ryou a shiny smile suggested he'd been hoping for it. "If you don't mind, Ujiie-san. He might remember you."

"Wait a minute," said Yuki. "My brother needs to rest, not get dragged across the hospital to see some criminal who got himself bludgeoned half to death"

Ryou was already slipping the robe his mother had brought him over his hospital clothes. "It’s alright, Yuki. Besides, we don't know he's a criminal. Maybe he's a tourist who was attacked by vagrants."

"A man doesn't end up in that kind of state if he doesn't know his attackers or speak their language."

"You mean you saw him?" Ryou glanced back at his brother in surprise.

Yuki shrugged in his usual prickly way. "You were asking about his health, so I just went to check. But he is not a man you should concern yourself with. Ito-sensei, the head of ICU, told me he's been been repeatedly struck by a bat with nails in it, or something like it, and kicked around and struck in the head. You're not telling me a tourist would get into that kind of fight to save a measly camera. Is this really necessary, detective?"

"Have no concerns, doctor." The faint frown on Kimura's otherwise smooth demeanor gave Ryou the intuition the detective had not wanted that many details of the case spread around. "He’s done nothing violent or threatening since he regained consciousness. Because he was badly assaulted by persons unknown, and cannot give us an explanation or an ID, I stationed one of my men outside his door as a routine measure. It will be fine."

"That still doesn't mean my brother has to go see him- and certainly not like that!"

Ryou stopped, having only taken one single solitary step towards the door. "The detective said it was safe."

"It is not safe - or hospital policy - to let a head trauma case walk around like that!"

"But you said I wasn't conc-"

"There's a wheelchair right outside, sit on the bed, give me one minute - do not move."

Whether it was adherence to hospital policy, fussiness or genuine concern - or an interesting mix of all of the above - the doctor wouldn't be budged, so Ryou went with the flow. His head felt no more than sore, he wasn't dizzy or at risk of passing out, but there was the odd moment when something - an ambulance siren outside, the clang of instruments on a metal tray in the hall, the sight of his bandage in a reflective surface - that would bring the whole experience galloping back to the forefront of Ryou's memory once more. It left him a little weak at the knees, fingers twitching to feel at his face to make sure none of the maelstrom of memories, confusion and feelings inside were making it onto his face.

Yuki produced the wheelchair, Ryou sat down, Kimura took charge of the handles so smoothly it almost felt entirely natural, as did his casual, "You can go about your duties, Ujiie-sensei, I'll keep your brother perfectly safe and unbothered."

"You haven't found out anything about this guy at all?" Yuki asked, following right behind them, either missing the hint or choosing not to pick it up. "How about his clothes?"

"What about them?" asked Kimura guardedly.

"The nurse who cut them off said you'd asked her for them. They were odd, according to her. She said they looked homemade."

"I'm afraid I can't comment on that, doctor."

That nurse had no idea what 'odd' was. Fortunately for her peace of mind, Ryou had, in the few minutes before the ambulance came, managed to strip the foreigner of his tunic with the reinforcing metal disks. It'd turned out to be laced down both sides with leather tongs and easy to remove. High around his waist had been cinched multiple layers of cloth falling to mid-thigh like a skirt, which would presumably protect both his stomach and crotch. Still in the head space where only data mattered, he had removed that too, along with the man's sword belt. Then he'd buried the items as deep as he could in one of the shop dumpsters near the car where hopefully nobody would notice them. There would have been too many questions and complications if the hapless tourist he'd saved had come equipped in armor. But he hadn't been able to do anything about the stranger's pants and undershirt, the latter too tight to slip off without causing his injuries to bleed more, despite Ryou's jacket knotted around him to staunch the flow. Both garments had been dark brown, where they weren't sodden with blood, made of crude linen which did have a handcrafted feel, but it sort of went with the long hair plaited with disks. Ryou had hoped it would not excite too much comment, that the stranger would pass for one of those Westerner new-age type visiting Asia to connect with some nostalgic and inexact vision of the past or some such.

The only thing he had been totally unable to control was what the man would say when he woke up. He'd hoped to pass off talk of monsters and deserted streets as hallucinations, trauma, the influence of drugs, anything. It was not like anyone would believe the foreigner without proof, though it would still have required some finessing on Ryou's part. But now that seemed to not be a problem at all. That was just a little too good to be true...Why wasn’t the man talking? He could speak Japanese. Apart from that last word, 'magian', Ryou had understood everything the stranger had said, even when he would rather have gone ignorant.

"We're keeping him in his own room," said Kimura, exiting the elevator at the Intensive Care floor. "He'll be fit to be discharged by next week. We're just not sure where to. No embassy has come forward to claim him, unfortunately, and he's not actually done anything wrong since Ujiie-san can't remember him being armed or fighting back." Ryou kept his face on neutral as an image of the stranger swinging the sword, the one that'd been dropped back in the construction site, floated through his mind. "If he won't tell us who he is, where he's from and what he was involved in...well, the rest needn’t concern you, Ujiie-san. Here we are."

Ryou pushed up his glasses. He didn't really see the policeman getting up from his chair to salute, or the nurse peeking at them curiously from the corridor.

Apart from hospital clothes, the foreigner was exactly the same as Ryou remembered. He sat there in the raised bed, resting his back against the incline, hands on his knees, a pose that was considerably more active and watchful than one usually saw in a hospital. He was so...real. There was an intensity about him that had not looked out of place when he was fighting for his life in a construction site, but here made him stand out in a way that was much harder to conceal than bloodied armor. Ryou found himself wondering how on earth the police hadn't already figured it out the whole skein of lies when it all seemed as obvious as the bed's blankets. With this man, and all that had happened last night, staring at him, things like the Noruma account suddenly seemed like a dream Ryou had woken up from.

"You finally showed up," said the stranger. "Good. We don't have much time, magian, so listen to me carefully."

That brought Ryou back to the present in a hurry. Great, how was he going to explain this to the detective? It'd look like he was in collusion with a man who fought gangs for a hobby-

"What kind of language is that?" asked Yuki, nonplussed.

With every ounce of control Ryou had gained throughout his life, he managed not to betray his surprise. He knew without looking that Kimora, who had stepped past the wheelchair to stand beside him, was watching him out of the corner of his eyes.

"I don't understand him either," he said, keeping his voice on a tight rein.

The stranger's eyes flickered towards Kimura. When he spoke again, he appeared to be addressing the detective, but Ryou knew who he was talking to all right. "Nobody can understand me if they haven't studied the Lore and broken the Curse. I can't understand their jabber either. That just leaves you. You're going to get me out of this place and back to the Outlands."

"I don't understand what you're saying, sir," said Kimura in adequate English. "Do you understand me?"

Ryou, for his part, said nothing.

"If you don't get me back, my enemies will come looking for me." The stranger turned his gaze to the far wall, an unpleasant smile on his face. "But they won't find me, I'm not the one who brought us across the border. It was you. They'll find you through the traces you left when you crossed, and they'll get my location out of you if they have to kill every one of your friends and family to do so. If I'm back in the Outlands, they won't bother with you anymore. Come get me here the night after tomorrow at the time the moon rises."

Then there was silence.

With a faint click that sounded all too loud, Kimura hit the Stop on his phone's video recording. "He'll speak for awhile like that, and then he won't say anything more. Ujiie-san, did you understand him?"

"Not a word," said Ryou, perfectly composed.

Kimura waited, eyes flickering from him to the stranger and back, but since neither of them added anything and Yuki was starting to shift and frown in the background, he eventually opened the door and wheeled Ryou back out.

"That was a very odd language. I’ve not heard anything like it before," said Yuki, fingers tapping against the plastic casing of the drink dispenser as he waited for his coffee. "Though I almost thought I caught a word or two of Latin in there."

Kimura looked at him in surprise. "You know Latin, doctor?"

"A number of our Japanese terms in surgery and medicine come from Latin via the west, I learned a little of it to help me memorize them. I’m probably mistaken though. I didn’t actually understand any of what he said."

"I couldn't make heads or tails of it either, so I passed the recordings to a language and encryption expert at the NPA Research center. At first he thought it was very, very bad Latin." Kimura took a sip of his tea. "But when I sent him more samples, he said it more closely resembled antique Persian of all things. He sent it to one of his university acquaintances who studies dead languages. The professor listened to it and sent me an email demanding to know what kind of joke this was."

"Did they actually understand what he said?" Ryou asked carefully, thinking of the recording on Kimura's phone.

"No. I asked the professor of course, but it's a language that doesn't really exist and the tongue it borrows from is as dead as a doornail. I touched base with him shortly before seeing you this evening. He was going on about a bastard form of-..." Kimura checked his phone, thumb-scrolled around and read off, "a form of Avestan stripped of its sibilants - I think that's what that kanji means - with pronunciation and some conjugation borrowed from vulgar Latin. He suggested it was a hoax by an ancient languages student who hadn't done his homework well enough. Odd, isn't it?" Once more a flick of a glance at Ryou, though it was Yuki, staring at the detective with a hand outstretched towards a forgotten cup of coffee, that gave him the better reaction.

"But...why would anyone go to that kind of trouble?" Yuki asked, finally rescuing his cup to let a couple of orderlies use the machine.

"That's what we hope to find out," said Kimura, walking away to a spot of the cafeteria that had no nearby ears.

"I suppose he could be a linguist, like your professor- but then what the hell was he doing getting beaten up here in Tokyo?"

Kimura spread his free hand in a gesture that meant he had no comment. This did not stop Yuki from speculating aloud as he walked with them back to Ryou's room, in and around Kimura's polite interjections and remarks about discretion. Ryou was the only one who was silent. Persian, Latin, whatever, it didn't matter; when the stranger talked, Ryou could understand every word he said as if he were speaking in perfectly ordinary Japanese. That, and the monsters last night, the terrible rift in space, the snow and the wall, they were all telling him one thing.

He was going to have to figure out when the moon was due to rise on Friday.


About the author

Mal Chants


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