Hikaru staggered from his cabin chased by dreams that would not leave with the waking of his body. With the roll of the ship he closed the door leaning hard against it to balance his unsteady feet yet another roll sent him staggering to the railing. Dazed he stumbled forward one hand held the rail as the other sought purchase and found nothing. ‘Lost… all Lost…’ He shook his head as if to throw off the thoughts. “No,” he mumbled, “I’m not… I still have time.”
The wind clawed at his body, naked save for his smallclothes, yet he ignored its icy grasp and staggered on silent feet towards the bow. He rubbed at an eye with the heel of his hand and shook his head to bring focus. Flame! He needed a flame, a candle or lantern to center himself and drive off the dark dreams. The moon shed plenty of light having begun its retreat from full and Hikaru slowly worked his way to the bow and the lantern hung there.
He grabbed it from the rung and dropped into a kneeling position. Reverently he placed it in front and the light flared in intensity and became a beacon into which he stared. He prayed the old prayers to Ymeri, the ones now found only in the dusty tomes within the temple vaults. He did not seek her and given the dreams he hoped this night her attention was elsewhere for he suffered and could not face her presence in this state. He did it because they calmed him and set his thoughts back to their proper places. But if there was solace to be had in the flame this night it was destroyed by the feminine voice in his head. ‘Five years to search, five years before you must journey to my palace with or without the Phoenix.’
Hikaru nodded numbly to the flame as it shifted back to a normal intensity. Drawn by the old prayers she had looked at him and reminded Hikaru. Five years to seek the answer to her riddle and do what he must before she called him to her. Five years from the last lash and lick of flame on his skin that fateful day where the Daimyo and his followers looked on in dismay. But less than three now remained and he was no closer to unlocking the puzzle as he was the day he stepped beyond the borders of his home. And every day the weight of it dragged him lower, crushing him under his failure.
It wasn’t just the letter from home warning of the Daimyo’s black hands reaching out for him that pushed him to join the crew of the Champion’s Boot. It was his own desperation to travel faster and further that put his feet upon the deck and agreed to what little pay he could make as a cook’s helper. Yet that plan had seemed to backfire on Hikaru as well for they stayed only as long as necessary in any one place to turn a profit or aid a cause before moving on. He’d had no time to research and none to speak to as confidant. So he was trapped both physically and in his own mind over what he could do and where he could go. Less than three years before his debt was due.
The Phoenix holds the answers you seek
Safe within its lofty mountain stronghold
Only in Balance will the Path be opened
Yet Yang blazes in dangerous ascendance
Vengeance is not justice without tempering for
The brightest light cannot be seen without darkness
Transform, transmute, transcend and know truth
Or lose Yin to the darkness of the soul and be lost
The words were burned into his mind and he could see them as clearly as if they had been written on parchment. But without knowing more he could not pierce their meaning beyond needing the Phoenix to save his nation.
Mandy stared at Hiro’s back, her eyes tracing the multitude of wicked scars that crisscrossed its surface. These lash marks were not like the ones she’d seen used on the Boot to discipline the crew where the result was a shallow cut and plenty of pain to teach a lesson. No, these looked cruel and deep though healed as if meant to do much more than punish. She wondered if they still hurt him but knew he was unlikely to answer that question. Mr Hiro didn’t talk about his past.
She’d been drawn by the surge of light and had been surprised to see him kneeling there praying in Wing-Tai to the lantern. ‘What god lived in a lantern?’ she wondered. But it was cold and he was nearly naked so she approached and hesitantly called out, “Mr Hiro… Mr Hiro it’s cold out and, well you aren’t really wearing the right clothes to be out here.”
He turned towards Mandy staring past her for the longest of moments then smiled wearily up at her, “Right you are Mandy. Only a fool would be out here dressed like this.” She looked around for something to give him for warmth but the closest was the blankets on Johnathan that she dare not touch. “It seems Lockland has given me nightmares and I needed the cold to shake them from me.” She could hear the lie in his voice but he patted her on the head and stepped past her before she could answer. Not that Mandy was certain he would listen. There was a fever about his eyes, a burning intensity and need for something though he would not voice it. It scared her to see her friend like this but what could she do? Maybe one of the others would know, she’d ask a few of them tomorrow about it, discreetly.