Yunomi’s Story-Book Two

Part IX Sober

Yunomi lay in Reaper’s bed, smiling contentedly. She traced the tattoos on her Lord’s arm with her fingertips, something she never tired of doing. Reaper had made love to her in a way he never had before, gently and thoughtfully. Yunomi had loved it, but she was puzzled. They always had rough and tumble sex, punctuated by moments of tenderness, but it could hardly be called gentle. In fact, she thought, the only times he was truly gentle with her was when he used his healing touch. Then she realized- this was his way of healing the rift between them, the only way he knew how.

She leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Reaper smiled at her and caressed her face. “You know where I learned that?”
“Um, Reaper, that may be more information than I need.” Yunomi knew about his time with the Demi-Demons, thanks to an unpleasant little troll hoping to magnify their estrangement. At the time it had been another knife twisting in her heart.
He laughed, guessing what she meant. “I learned it from you.”
Yunomi was surprised. She had never presumed to teach her Lord anything about love making, knowing he had learned from far more experienced tutors than her. “How so, Lord?” she asked.
“I didn’t realize it until I saw you with Kane this afternoon. The way you touched him and spoke to him, he’s never known kindness or trust. And neither had I, until I met you. It was easier for me to mistrust you, to believe you had betrayed me.”
“But you know Kane and I are not lovers?”
“I never believed that, I spoke in anger.” Reaper took Yunomi’s hand and placed it over the calligraphy on his chest. “You are my moon, and I am your cold stream. Your love is the one thing I can rely on in this world, and I almost lost you through my own lack of trust.”
Yunomi looked away from him. “Trust is a hard thing for us, my Lord. It doesn’t come easily, and is often betrayed.”
“You’re going with Kane, aren’t you,” he stated.
“Yes, Lord. He and I must share this quest.”
“To prove my devotion to you, Lord. There will always be a danger to you if the mace is in the wrong hands, and you will always doubt my judgment.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to me, Nomi.”
“But I do, Lord. You know it. You knew my promise to Kane would not allow me to stay out of this.”
Reaper sighed. “I knew. But now I don’t want you to go. I fulfilled my promise, and you returned to me. Don’t leave me again.” It was a command, not a plea.

Yunomi smiled to herself. Reaper never learned to ask nicely, she thought. “It will be a while yet, Lord. I’m not ready physically or mentally, and we have to have some sort of plan.” She put her hand on his cheek and looked straight into his eyes. “Lord, I want to stay with you until I’m ready to go. Please let me.”

Reaper looked away from her and she felt her heart sink. Then he pulled her to him and held her head against his chest. “You are the most stubborn, hard headed, fearless thing I have ever known. You make me so angry, yet I can’t harm you. You are very precious to me.”
“I love you, Lord, to the very depth of my soul,” Yunomi whispered.
“Then you can stay.”
Yunomi sat up and pushed Reaper onto his back, then lay across him. “Good, cause I’ve really missed you.” She grinned and began to kiss him playfully. Yunomi soon made Reaper forget that she would be leaving him again.

Reaper awoke with a jolt early that morning. He was relieved to find Yunomi sleeping curled up beside him, her hand on his chest. He had dreamed she was gone.

Over the next couple of weeks, Yunomi stayed completely sober. She spent her days working out in her dojo, and learning everything she could about the Light Realm and the enemies she would be facing. Her nights were spent with her Lord. Each time he made love to her as if it were the last, and continued trying to convince her not to go. Every day she grew stronger and more knowledgeable about what lay ahead.

Kane was moody and restless, eager to get on with the quest. Yunomi decided a diversion was needed, and one afternoon took Kane to Casino el Camino to play pool and see some old friends of hers. Sandia was at the bar visiting with Bob and Laura when they came in.
“Yunomi!” Sandia shrieked, leaping off her barstool and running to hug her friend. “Damn, girl, we thought Reaper had killed you,” she whispered. “Where have you been? You look great!”
“Thanks,” Yunomi laughed. “I’m sorry, it didn’t occur to me that you would worry. Reaper and I are companions again, and I’ve stopped drinking. But I’ll be leaving on business soon, and I wanted to see you before I left.”
“I’m really glad things worked out for you. It was scary there for a while. Um, who’s your friend?” Sandia eyed Kane with more than curiosity.

Yunomi recognized the look on Sandia’s face and wasn’t sure this had been a good idea. “This is Kane. He’s new in Dark Side.”
“Hi, Kane. You want a beer?”

Yunomi shook her head at Sandia, but Kane nodded yes. Sandia poured a mug from her pitcher and handed it to him.
“Be careful, Kane,” Yunomi mindspoke. “Too much of this is what made my head hurt.”
Kane lifted his mask a bit and sipped thoughtfully at the beer, then mindspoke back. “It’s good, but I’ll be careful. Who is this woman?”
“Your brother’s minion, and my best friend. She’s a good person, you can trust her.”
“Are you two going to just stand there, or can we have a conversation or something?” Sandia demanded.
Yunomi realized that Sandia had been completely left out of their mindspeak. “I’m sorry, Kane doesn’t speak. We have our own communication.”
“Umm, interesting. What’s up with the mask?”
“Sandia, we need to talk.” Yunomi took her friend by the arm and pulled her aside. “Kane is Reaper’s younger brother. They do not get along. Kane’s a Fire Lord, and his face is scarred. Be nice, but watch yourself.”
“Okay, okay! He’s just really interesting, you know? Hey, Kane, you wanna shoot some pool?” Kane cocked his head, not sure what Sandia meant. “Come on, I’ll teach you!” She grabbed his hand and started toward the stairs. Kane looked to Yunomi.
“It’s all right. I’ll be there in a minute.” Yunomi turned to talk to Bob and Laura as Sandia and Kane headed to the pool room. “Bob, thanks for all you did for me. I’m sorry I put you and Laura through that.”
“It’s okay, Yunomi. We’re just glad it worked out for you. You had us worried for a while, but it’s good to see you back to yourself.”
“Thanks. If you ever need anything, you know I’ll be here for you. I owe you both a lot.” Yunomi shook hands with each of them, then headed upstairs to see how Kane’s pool lessons were progressing.
Sandia was watching in wonder as Kane sank several balls in a row. “He’s a natural, he’s already picked up the basics,” she told Yunomi. There was a fresh pitcher and two mugs on the nearby table.
“Yeah, just watch what basics you teach him,” Yunomi muttered as she passed Sandia. She put her hand on Kane’s shoulder. “Are you having a good time?” He nodded. “Is it okay if we stay here a while? Some friends are coming by to see me.” Kane nodded again, watching Sandia the whole while. “She’s kind to me, and not afraid,” he mindspoke.
“Okay, let me know if you want to leave.” Yunomi was uneasy about the way Kane and Sandia looked at each other. There was an obvious mutual attraction, and she wasn’t sure this was a good thing. Her friends arrived, and interrupted her thoughts. Yunomi greeted them happily; it was good to be able to have sober conversations.

Sandia abandoned Kane’s pool lessons so Yunomi and her friends could play doubles. They sat together on the couch, Sandia pointing out to Kane how certain shots were made. Yunomi and her friends played late into the afternoon, and when the evening bar crowd started coming in, she decided it was time to go. Looking over at the couch, she saw Kane and Sandia apparently deep in conversation. Kane had his arm around Sandia, his head cocked toward her, listening.
Yunomi touched Kane’s arm. “I’m going over to Reaper’s. Are you ready to leave?”
He shook his head and mindspoke. “Sandia is telling me about the Dark Side.”
“Okay, let me talk to her for a minute.” Yunomi pulled Sandia aside again. “Keep a close eye on him. He’s got a temper and I’m not sure what might set him off. I’m trusting you a lot with him, Sandia. Keep him out of trouble and get him back to my house when you’re done, okay?”
“He’s staying with you? Is there something I should know?”
“Don’t start with that, I already had to go through it with Reaper. No, he’s staying in the front room. Just make sure he gets back safe.” Yunomi was dubious about leaving Kane at el Camino, but didn’t want to push the issue with him. It was time to find out if he could take care of himself in Dark Side.

Yunomi returned from Reaper’s earlier than usual the next morning. She wanted to be sure Kane had gotten home all right. The house was dark and quiet. The door to Kane’s room was ajar, and Yunomi silently pushed it open. His mask and clothes were in a heap on the floor, along with some others. Kane was sleeping soundly, his massive arms wrapped around Sandia. She opened her eyes, saw Yunomi, and grinned sheepishly. Yunomi shot her a glare, shook her head, then went in the kitchen to make coffee.

She was halfway through her first cup when Sandia crept in, wearing one of Kane’s shirts. It almost swallowed her. Sandia got her coffee and sat down. “Hi,” she said shyly.
Yunomi sighed and gazed at her friend. “Sandi, you are literally playing with fire.”
A faraway smile crossed Sandia’s face. “Yeah, I know,” she whispered. Yunomi put her head in her hands. The situation was clearly out of her control. Sandia reached over and patted her friend’s knee. “Girl, he’s a big boy, it was his decision. I swear I didn’t push anything.”
“I trust you, Sandi, but if Reaper finds out it could be very bad for you.”
“Then let’s not tell him,” Sandia smiled. She took a sip of her coffee. “Damn, this stuff is vile!”
“Well, girl, you better learn to make it, cause Kane likes it.” Yunomi laughed.

The women finished their coffee, then Sandia dressed and left. Yunomi went to the dojo to work out. She was almost through her final kata when Kane wandered in, coffee cup in hand. He sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. Yunomi finished her kata, then sat next to him. He was wearing only a pair of jeans, and Yunomi could see that the burn scars ran across his chest and shoulder also.
“Hey.” Yunomi greeted him. “I talked to Sandia this morning.”
“I like her,” Kane mindspoke. “She makes me feel good.”
Yunomi smiled to herself. Yeah, I bet she does, she thought. “Kane, she’s your brother’s minion. Being with you could put her in danger.”
“I’ll protect her.”
Yunomi put her hand on his knee. “We’ll be leaving soon. You won’t be here for her.”
“We won’t be gone long. Lady, you have my brother. I need someone, too. She’s your friend, be happy for us.”
“You’re both very special to me, Kane. I want it to work out for you, but please be careful. You hardly know each other.”

Kane nodded and got up to get more coffee. The conversation was obviously at an end. Yunomi headed for the shower. She had done all she could, they were on their own. She could only hope that nothing bad would come of Sandia and Kane’s relationship.

Yunomi continued to spend her nights with Reaper, and Kane spent his with Sandia. One night Reaper casually asked how Kane and Sandia were getting along. Yunomi looked at him thoughtfully, then said “You already know or you wouldn’t have asked. How do you feel about them?”
“It’s helpful. Sandia is loyal to me, and now I’m sure where Kane is at night.”
Yunomi punched Reaper in the shoulder. “You sneak! Did you put her up to this?”
“No, they truly care for each other.” He rubbed the spot where Yunomi hit him. “But did you think I wouldn’t find out? Few things in Dark Side escape my notice.”
Yunomi relaxed and smiled at her Lord. “I knew you would find out, I just wasn’t sure how you would take it. You usually see the worst side of a situation.”
Reaper smiled back. “You know me too well. But I’ve given you reason to mistrust me. Don’t worry, I won’t interfere with Sandia and Kane.”
Yunomi kissed him lightly. “Thank you, Reaper. Your decision has relieved me greatly.”

Reaper made fierce love to her that night, but something had changed. Yunomi could feel him distancing himself from her. For the first time in several nights, he didn’t ask her not to go with Kane. It disturbed her somewhat, but she shrugged it off as one of his moods.

Over the next couple of days, Yunomi came to the decision that it was time to leave. She was feeling strong, and had learned all she could about the mace and the Light Realm. Kane was restless and eager to go, despite the distractions Sandia provided. Yunomi went to Reaper’s house, trying to think how to tell him she was ready to leave. He greeted her at the door with a solemn expression, taking her hands and drawing her to him. Yunomi had never seen him look like this before. His face showed a mixture of sorrow and resignation, and came closer to frightening her than anything he had ever done.
“My Lord, what troubles you?” she asked in a worried tone.
He looked away from her. “When I gave this quest to Kane, I did not expect him to return from it. I knew that you would feel obligated to go with him, but my anger and mistrust overrode my feelings for you. Nomi, you will not survive this quest. My dreams have told me so.”

Yunomi staggered as if struck. Her Lord’s dreams never lied. It had not occurred to her that she could die in the Light Realm. “Lord, we must do this. As long as Iuvart and Carnivean have the mace, you and Kane are not safe. We can do this, Reaper, we can get it.” But now she was trying to convince herself as well.

Reaper turned and looked at her with infinite sadness. “This will be our last night together. You are ready to leave, and I am resigned to losing you. I have loved you in my own way, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Tears rose in Yunomi’s eyes. Her Lord had never admitted that he loved her. This, and the thought that she might never see him again was almost too much for her. She looked as if she were about to fall. Reaper caught her and held her tightly against him. “Nomi, I’m sorry.” Another first; Reaper never apologized for anything.
“No, Lord, don’t. I took this on myself. I want to do this for you, and I will come back to you. I swear it on my honor, I will come back to you.”
“I hope so, Nomi, with all my heart.” They spent the rest of the night in each other’s arms. When daylight came, Yunomi kissed her sleeping Lord goodbye for possibly the last time, and returned to her house.

Kane and Sandia were still sleeping. Yunomi began putting together the items she had gathered for the quest. She kept herself busy with the preparations, trying not to think about what Reaper had told her the night before. After a while, Kane and Sandia wandered in. “Kane, it’s time to go. Lets get ready,” Yunomi told him. Kane cocked his head. He had been ready to go for weeks, but had waited for Yunomi to regain her conditioning. He shrugged, and went to put his gear together.
Sandia frowned at her friend. Something was definitely wrong. “Yunomi, what happened? Did you and Reaper fight again?”
Yunomi shook her head. “No, everything’s fine, it’s just time for us to get on with this.” She looked at her friend with sad eyes. “Sandi, you’ve been a great friend, I love you like family. Don’t let Reaper give you too much shit. You’re all he has left, but you know how he can be.” She stood up and hugged Sandia.
“Girl, you sound like you’re not coming back! What happened last night?”
“I’ll do the best I can, but there’s no certainty that I’ll be back.” Yunomi lowered her voice. “Reaper dreamed that I died, and his dreams are prophecies.”
“What about Kane?” Sandia whispered.
“He’ll be fine. I’ll make sure he comes back to you.”

Tears were rolling down Sandia’s face as she hugged her friend again. Kane came out of his room, dressed in jeans and a long sleeved shirt, with his pack in his hand. Yunomi had made black and white reversible cloaks for them both, and a shroud to carry the mace in. She had learned about the shroud from a book in Reaper’s library. Apparently the mace affected those who carried it adversely over time, and the shroud would keep her and Kane safe from it’s power. Yunomi carried her sword, some shurikens, and a change of clothes.

Their plan was simple; they would use Carnivean’s old tunnels to get into the Light Realm undetected. Yunomi would create a disturbance while Kane got the mace. He knew the palace well, and was sure he knew where the mace would be kept. How they would get out of the palace and the Light Realm was a little less clear.

“I’m ready.” Kane mindspoke to both women. When he saw the look on Sandia’s face, he became concerned. Sandia turned to hug him, and he picked her up like a doll so they could be face to face. He often did this, preferring not to look down at her. Sandia threw her arms around Kane’s neck, and they kissed passionately. Yunomi turned away. Reaper had become increasingly remote the night before, and by dawn it had been clear to Yunomi that he already considered her dead.

Sandia was whispering to Kane, “Please come back to me, I need you here.”
Kane was confused by her intensity. “Lady..?” he mindspoke to Yunomi alone.
“She loves you, Kane, and she’s scared.”
“Ask her.” Yunomi picked up her pack and walked back to her room. She dressed in pale gray drawstring pants and white tee-shirt, then pulled on white Nike hightops. They were better for running and climbing than her customary Doc Martins. She shouldered her pack and went back to the front room for her sword. Sandia and Kane were still embracing. He had set her down, and was stroking her hair. He looked up at Yunomi. “Lets go,” he mindspoke.

Kane pried himself away from Sandia and put on his mask. He grabbed his pack and headed out the front door, Sandia following forlornly behind him. When they got to the front yard, Yunomi stood in front of Kane with her back to him. He rested his hands on her shoulders, and they disappeared. As they vanished, Sandia heard Kane’s voice in her head-”I’ll be back for you.”

I hope so, I truly hope so. she thought to herself as she turned to go.

Reaper lay in bed long past the pale Dark Side sunrise, thinking about Yunomi. He had pretended to be asleep when she left, so he wouldn’t have to say goodbye. But she saw through his ruse, kissing him on the cheek and saying she loved him before she went. She was the only being in all of existence who loved him completely and unconditionally, and he had knowingly sent her to her doom. He sat on the edge of the bed and shrugged. He was the Lord of Darkness after all, what did she expect? For a while, he had believed the Storm Child prophecy, but he had apparently been mistaken. Yunomi was not the one. He was fated to be alone. Before long, his time with Yunomi would be nothing more than a dim memory. The only thing that bothered him was the cold, hard pain behind the tattoo on his chest.

Part X Stairway To Heaven

Kane and Yunomi appeared in the woods near the place where Kane had freed her. They would re-enter Carnivean’s tunnels to make their approach to the Light Realm. After Yunomi had rescued her Lord from Iuvart, wreaking great havoc, the Angels had realized their vulnerability and taken measures to detect interlopers. If Yunomi and Kane had suddenly appeared in the Light Realm, Iuvart would know.

Kane had learned much in the Light Realm, because the Angels considered him an idiot and spoke freely around him. Rather than being offended, he had used his muteness to his advantage. One who never speaks hears much. Although he was intimately familiar with Carnivean’s tunnels, he suspected that the Demon Lord had placed new traps in them. Kane approached the hidden entrance cautiously. Everything seemed the same, but still... Kane lobbed a small fireball through the entrance. Steel spikes shot through the walls, ceiling and floor, forming a deadly grid.
“Cool!” Yunomi exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could do that!”
“There is a lot about me you don’t know,” Kane mindspoke to her, but she could see amusement sparkling in his eyes. This is going to be an interesting trip, she thought. Kane easily bent the steel spikes enough to allow them to squeeze through.
“There will be more traps. Stay behind me,” he sent.

Yunomi heartily agreed to do so. They walked the rest of the tunnel to Kane’s old quarters without incident. The doors to Kane’s room and the adjoining lab stood open, all seemingly abandoned. Kane entered his former residence and stopped for a second. Yunomi looked around. She had only gotten a brief impression when Kane helped her flee Carnivean’s lab. Everything was made of concrete and steel, and everything was scorched. Kane noticed Yunomi staring at the burnt furnishings. “I was not happy here,” he stated.
“Then why did you stay?” she asked.
“I had nowhere else to go. Carnivean had the mace, but promised me protection. He treated me badly.”
“How did you get involved with him in the first place?”
“There is no love lost between my brother and me. It was easy for Carnivean to convince me to turn against Reaper. But I paid dearly for that decision.”
Yunomi put her arm around Kane. “When the mace is destroyed, you and Reaper will both be free, and you have a home with Sandia if you want.”
Kane hugged Yunomi. “I want that very much.”
“Good, then let’s go get it.”

They walked quickly through the lab where Yunomi had been held prisoner and out the opposite door. Now they were in Carnivean’s old quarters. “Ooo, early Spanish Inquisition!” Yunomi exclaimed. Obscene Demon murals covered the walls. The furniture was made of various bones, some human, some not. In spite of the macabre furnishings, the place was gaudy and lewd. Yunomi looked around in disgust. “I have never seen such completely awful taste. Carnivean needs a decorator real bad.” Kane looked at her quizzically. “Don’t mind me, I’m being silly,” Yunomi laughed.
He nodded. “Sandia is silly sometimes.”
“Yeah, you should see us when we’re being that way together,” Yunomi smiled. “Let’s get out of here, it’s making me nauseous.”

Kane led the way to another door. “This way goes under the palace of Light, but it’s a long and dangerous route. The other door opens onto a tunnel to the surface, just inside the Light Realm. We must go the long way, to avoid detection, but it will be difficult.”
“All right, I’m ready.” Yunomi reached for the door, but Kane pulled her back. He looked around the room for a minute, found a long bone, then used it to push the door open. The rotting carcass of some dead creature fell from the ceiling outside the door with a sickening splat. Yunomi would have been covered with putrid flesh if she had gone through the door. “Is this Carny’s idea of a joke?” she wondered.
“No. Whoever touched that would never get the smell off of them, and it would attract creatures from the pit.”
“Oh, lovely. Creatures from the pit. I can’t wait.”
Kane either didn’t get or ignored her sarcasm. “Then let’s go,” he said. “Don’t get any of that dead thing on you, and maybe they won’t find us.”

They carefully stepped around the carcass and headed down the tunnel. Kane set a fast pace, and Yunomi often had to trot to keep up with him. After what seemed like miles, the tunnel forked. Kane unhesitatingly took the right fork. Almost immediately, the atmosphere changed. The tunnel became musty and wet, with a pallid green light emanating from the walls. Yunomi picked up a rock and scratched a spot, finding that a luminous fungus or algae of some type was the source of the light.

Kane had slowed his pace considerably. He seemed to be listening for something. They proceeded a while in this way, Kane stopping now and again to listen more carefully. They had just rounded a curve when Kane flattened himself against the wall. “Shoggoths,” he mindspoke. “Be very still.” Yunomi followed his example and stood against the tunnel wall. Two Shoggoths slurped along the tunnel floor. They vaguely resembled the creatures Lovecraft had written about, but were much more grotesque than Yunomi had imagined.
“Shoggoths!” Yunomi mindspoke. “I had no idea they were real.”
“They’re very real, and very dangerous,” Kane thought back. One of the creatures stopped in front of him and snuffled at his boot. Kane tensed, but kept still. The thing seemed satisfied and oozed off down the tunnel. Kane shuddered. “I hate those things, they’re disgusting.”

Yunomi looked at him curiously. The Shoggoths had been pretty awful looking, but didn’t seem bad enough to disturb someone like Kane.
“They didn’t seem too bothered by us,” she observed.
“My scent is familiar to them. I often wandered these tunnels.” Kane looked after the retreating creatures. “They’re gone. Let’s get out of here.”
“Why did they upset you so much?” Yunomi wondered.
“They’re gross. They’re immune to fire.” Kane took off through the tunnel so fast that Yunomi again had to trot to keep up with him. She was still puzzling over his reaction to the Shoggoths when she sprawled headlong to the tunnel floor. “Kane!” she mindspoke even as she rolled instinctively away from the tunnel wall and sprang to her feet. The thing that had tripped her emerged from the wall as another dropped from the ceiling onto Kane.

They were long limbed and hairless humanoids, their skin the exact color of the tunnel walls, glowing fungus and all. Their eyes were large and lidless, like fish eyes. The one that dropped onto Kane had wrapped it’s arms and legs around him and was clawing at his back and thighs with dagger-like nails. Yunomi had regained her feet and drawn her sword before the one attacking her could get a grip.

Kane head-butted the creature on him as it tried to sink it’s teeth into his shoulder, then ran it into the wall. Still it clung to him. Yunomi cleaved her attacker from shoulder to opposite hip, then turned to help Kane. A third thing leaped onto her back as she turned. Yunomi immediately slammed backwards into the wall with all her force, then grabbed the creature’s forearm and flipped it over her shoulder. Once it was on the floor in front of her, she easily beheaded it. She turned her attention to Kane again, but he had already broken the creature’s grip and twisted it’s neck.

Yunomi and Kane stood back to back, breathing heavily and waiting for further attack. They could hear high pitched chittering from different places in the tunnel, but could see no movement.
“We’ve scared them,” Kane thought to Yunomi.
“Yeah, but how bad? There seems to be a lot of them.”
“They’re cowards. They’ll follow us for a while, but won’t attack unless we let our guard down.”
“Okay, fine. Let’s move on.’

They walked in silence for a while, listening carefully and turning around often to check the tunnel behind them. The things continued chittering unseen in the dim light.
“What are they?” Yunomi asked.
“I don’t know. Things, green things. Trolls, maybe.”
Yunomi saw that Kane was bleeding from scratches on his back and legs. “Kane, you’re hurt. Let me help.”
“Yes, when we’re away from them.”

They continued on, and after a while the chittering faded. Kane was bleeding badly now, and Yunomi asked him again to stop so she could check his wounds. Her own had not been too deep and she had healed them as she walked. Kane stopped and sat down, pulling his shirt off so Yunomi could see his back. There was so much blood she couldn’t see the injuries clearly. She pulled off her own torn and bloody shirt and mopped the blood off Kane’s back with it.

“Shit!” she breathed. There were at least five deep punctures and several long gashes. “Kane, this is bad. Try to relax. I’m going to heal these for you, but it will take a while.” He nodded, and took a deep breath. Yunomi concentrated for a moment, then placed her hands over each wound in turn. When she was finished, she examined them to be sure they had healed well. “All right, how bad are your legs hurt?”
“Not bad. I’ll take care of it. You watch the tunnel behind us.”

Yunomi smiled at his modesty, and dug another shirt out of her pack. She pulled it on as she turned to watch the tunnel. She could hear sizzling behind her, and a faint burning smell. It occurred to her that some of Kane’s scars might be self-inflicted. The chittering down the tunnel was becoming audible again. “Kane, they’re coming back,” she mindspoke over her shoulder.
“I know. Give me a minute.”

Yunomi was peering down the tunnel, trying to see how close the things were when Kane appeared beside her. He had discarded his blood covered shirt for a faded red denim one. He cocked his head and listened intently, then shot a fireball towards the sound. “That will keep them back for a while.” Then he turned and incinerated their bloody shirts with a casual gesture. “They shouldn’t think they can hurt us,” he explained. Then, as if it had just occurred to him, he asked “Lady, you’re not hurt, are you?”
“No, my wounds weren’t deep. I healed myself.”
“Good. Let’s go while we can.”

They picked up their gear and took off through the tunnel. After a while, the corridor widened and opened into a grotesque cavern. Great stone formations were everywhere, all gray and damp. The light changed, too, growing dimmer as the fluorescent fungus disappeared. Some of the formations seemed to give off a pale light.
Kane stopped. “Very dangerous here, stone monsters.”
“Okay...” Yunomi sent dubiously. “How do we deal with them?”
“Avoid them. They’re slow, but they will crush you if they can. Don’t get between them.”

Yunomi thought of the stories some cavers she had known told her when she was still Human. They said that deep in the caves they explored were monsters disguised as cave formations. They only moved when you weren’t looking directly at them, so one could never be sure if there were actually monsters or not. She also remembered the disguised gargoyles that had attacked her and Reaper, and the Rock Men from various old science fiction movies. She wondered what these stone monsters were like.

The cave was dark, and Kane held a small ball of light in the palm of his hand. He continually surprised Yunomi with his abilities. “I know the way through here. Keep me in sight if you have to move away from the monsters,” Kane sent. He started off down the trail through the cavern. It was easy going for the first mile or two, then the formations crowded in on the trail and it became rocky and difficult. Kane bounded gracefully from boulder to boulder, while Yunomi struggled over or around them. He would often stop and wait patiently for her to catch up.

Sometimes she thought she heard a sound, or caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. “Be careful,” Kane sent to her. “They’re starting to close in.” Yunomi watched him climb a nearby formation for a better look around. His speed and agility matched his brother’s, a fact he hid with a shambling gait and feigned clumsiness. Yes, she thought to herself, there’s a lot about Kane I don’t know.

Kane jumped down from the rock. “Come on, they’re moving to block the trail.” He took off to the left of the trail, to move behind the gathering rock monsters. Yunomi had yet to see one, and wondered how Kane could pick them out from the formations. She was hard pressed to keep Kane’s light in sight, but moved as quickly as she could in the rocky darkness. They managed to circumvent the blocked section of trail and were soon back on track.

A stony rumbling came from behind them. They know they missed us, Yunomi thought.

Then she heard the same rumbling closer, and above her. A stone slammed into her head, knocking her to the ground. Large stones rolled from the slope above, crashing into her side and hip. Stunned, she was barely aware of the hulking monolith sliding down the slope toward her, or of Kane scooping her up out of the monster’s path at the last second. He carried her easily, leaping along the trail at a rapid pace. The cavern walls narrowed, then they were back in the tunnel system. Kane had left the rock monsters far behind.

He set Yunomi down gently, and examined her head wound. She stirred, and put a hand to her head, then tried to sit up. She gasped in pain and fell back, holding her ribs. Kane pulled her hands away and lifted her shirt. A terrible black and purple bruise covered her side from breast to hip. He cautiously felt her side, causing her to wince. “Lady, your ribs are broken.”
She sent no reply. The blow to her head had knocked out her mindspeaking ability. Kane laid a hand on her head wound. “No,” she gasped. “I’ll be all right.”

Kane pulled back his hand, and sat down a couple of feet away from her. “I can heal without burning,” he sent in a hurt tone. But Yunomi had faded from consciousness. Kane moved back to her side and touched her head again. He knew she would not be all right, and was not able to heal herself this time. He concentrated intently. He could heal without burning, he told himself. Pushing her hair away from the wound, Kane touched it carefully. The wound began to heal, and Yunomi stirred.
“Kane,” she smiled up at him, and then winced. “Shit, I think my ribs are broken.”
“Lady, let me help you,” Kane pleaded.
She lay still, breathing shallowly. “Please do, I don’t think I can help myself.” Her head still hurt, but was improving rapidly. Kane realized that she hadn’t been afraid of his healing, but that her injury had kept her from thinking clearly. He touched her side again, and she felt warmth spreading over her injured ribs.
“Oh yeah, that’s better.” Yunomi could breathe deeply again. But when she tried to sit up, there was a sharp pain in her hip. She untied the drawstring on her pants and slid them down some. Another mass of deep bruises covered her hip and thigh. She lay back down. “Oh man, I’m a mess.”

Kane hesitantly laid his hands on her bruises, and when Yunomi looked up at his face, she could see that his eyes were closed. He felt the question in her mind, and when he had finished healing her, he answered. “I don’t want to think of you the same way I think of Sandia, but sometimes it’s hard not to.”

Yunomi was surprised. She had never considered that Kane might find her attractive. “Kane, I think of you as a brother. I never meant to tempt you.” She rearranged her clothing.
“It’s all right, I can deal with it. It’s one of the reasons I call you “Lady”, to remind me of who you are.”
Yunomi smiled. “What are the other reasons?”
“You deserve it. It conveys respect that my brother will not give you. It was cruel of him to tell you that you would die on this quest.”
“His dreams are prophecies,” she muttered, and looked away.
“Yes, but sometimes he’s wrong.” Kane rested his hand on her shoulder. He took his mask off and ran his other hand through his hair. Yunomi could see the exhaustion in his face. He had carried her far, and the healing had been difficult. She was on the edge herself. They had been in the tunnels a long time.

“We are not far from the Light Realm,” Kane sent. “We need to rest here while we are still in Dark Side. It’s safe, the tunnel beings will not come this close to the Light.” Yunomi agreed. They both needed the strength they would gain from a Dark Side sleep. She pulled her cloak out of her pack and lay down with the black side out, using her pack as a pillow. Kane did likewise. They lay back to back, facing opposite ends of the tunnel. It never hurt to be careful. Within seconds, both had fallen into the rejuvenating Dark Side sleep.

Yunomi awoke first, and for a few seconds was confused and disoriented. There was no way to know how long she had been asleep. Kane had rolled over onto his stomach and was still sleeping soundly, one huge arm draped across Yunomi. She smiled, and quietly extricated herself, then walked a few paces up the tunnel. She warmed up and stretched. Although her hip was still sore, she ran through some abbreviated kata. Deciding that Kane had been too shy about healing her hip, she worked on it herself, then turned to cleaning and sharpening her sword.

Kane was stirring behind her. “Lady?” he sent.
“Right here, “ Yunomi sent back. Kane was going through the same brief period of disorientation upon awakening.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Good, strong.” she replied. “And you?”
“I’m not sure yet. Better, I think.” He got up and stretched, then walked over to watch Yunomi sharpen her sword. “How’s your head?” he asked as he softly touched her temple.
“Fine, you did a good job.” Yunomi smiled at him.
“I was worried. You couldn’t mindspeak, and you couldn’t hear me. At first, you didn’t want me to heal you. You said you were all right.”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t listen to me,” she laughed. But underneath, Yunomi was alarmed. She hadn’t thought that a blow to the head could cause her to lose mindspeech. She finished her sword and sheathed it, then got up to put her gear together. Kane finished first and stood waiting as Yunomi secured her sword across her back.

As they walked through the tunnel, the light gradually grew brighter. A series of left and right twists began, each turn leading to a lighter section. Kane made a turn and stopped so abruptly that Yunomi almost ran into him. A wide chasm split the tunnel. Yunomi stood beside Kane and peered into it. She could not see the bottom.
“Okay, what do we do now?” she asked.
“I can jump it. I often did before.” Yunomi looked at Kane in amazement. The chasm was at least twenty feet wide.
“I guess I could transform and fly over,” Yunomi mused.
“No. We’re too close to the Light Realm. They would detect you.” Kane thought for a minute. “I can throw you across.”
“Excuse me?”
“You know how to roll, I can throw you across.”
“I have a rope in my pack.”
“We’ll tie it around you, then. It’ll be faster to throw you.”

Yunomi sighed. It was possible, she supposed, and Kane had his mind made up. “All right. Throw the packs first.”
Kane nodded, and easily tossed his pack across. Yunomi carefully tied her sword in her cloak and bound it to her pack before she let Kane throw it. “No rope?” he questioned.
“No. Let’s go for it.”

Kane picked Yunomi up, testing her weight. He decided to toss her underhanded, like a bale of hay or a log. They briefly discussed the mechanics, then Kane picked her up again, one hand on her sternum and the other on her thigh just above the knee. “Are you ready?”
“Oh yeah, let’s go.”

Kane took a couple of running steps and hurled Yunomi with all his might. She sailed across the chasm, tucking her head and going into a forward roll about a foot on the other side, coming up on her feet.

“Yes! That was f'ing awesome!” She was laughing and doing a short hopping dance she sometimes did when pleased with the outcome of something. Kane smiled behind his mask. No wonder his brother had claimed her. She was the most joyfully fearless soul that Kane had ever met. Yunomi gathered their packs and stood back. Kane backed up and ran toward the chasm, leaping high in the air at the very edge. He went into a front flip and landed on his feet in the same place Yunomi had.
“Show off,” she muttered, handed him his pack, then held up her hand for a high five. Kane slapped her hand, then laughed audibly, a deep, rumbling sound.
“We make a good team,” he sent.
“Yeah, we do.” Yunomi was thoughtful. She might survive this after all, and would have Kane to thank for it.

“We’re in the Light Realm now. It’s only a few miles to the palace.” Kane sent.
“Are the tunnels guarded?”
“Not really. There’s an occasional Cherub patrol, but they won’t question me. You should put your cloak on.”
“Cherubs?” Yunomi sent a mental picture of the irritating creature she had met on her first trip to the Light Realm.
“No, that was a Putti. They’re just annoying little spies. Cherubim are like Seraphim, just a different caste. They have lesser duties.”

Yunomi had taken out her cloak and donned it while Kane explained the differences in Light Beings. She also put on her dark glasses, remembering the horrible glare of the Light Realm.

They walked for miles, through gleaming, spotless tunnels. Yunomi wondered how Kane knew the way, because there were no distinguishing features. She asked if she could alter her appearance slightly without setting off alarms. The answer was yes, so she paled her hair and skin to a milk white, giving her a reason for being cloaked against the light.

As they neared the area under the palace, a squad of Cherubim came around a corner and ran into them.
“Brother Kane!” the surprised squad leader squawked. “We haven’t seen you here for some time. What’s your business?”
Kane pointed up, indicating the palace.
“You’re here to see Lord Iuvart?”
Kane nodded.
“And who is your companion?”

Kane turned and motioned for Yunomi to come forward. He pointed to his mouth and ears, then shook his head. Yunomi raised her head, and the Cherubs drew back from her white skin and dark glasses in horror.

“She is surely afflicted!” the squad leader gasped, then frowned. “A suitable companion for you, Brother Kane. I’ll never understand why Lord Iuvart tolerates you in the Realm, but you have his blessing. Carry on.” With that, the Cherubim moved away down the tunnel.

“Huh, nice folks.” Yunomi sent sarcastically.
“Not really. They dislike me. I offend them.”
“Seems like I offended them too. Maybe they find everything offensive.”
“Pretty much. I was never sure what they expected out of me.”
“Well, let’s go kill all of them, then.” Yunomi disliked the Light Beings intensely, but Kane recognized her sardonic humor and chuckled.
“Maybe just most of them,” he replied, and Yunomi laughed.
They came to a room with a spiral staircase. “This is it,” Kane sent. “I’ll go first, and call for you if it’s all clear.”

Yunomi removed her cloak and resumed her normal appearance, then waited patiently while Kane climbed the staircase through the trapdoor at the top. After a few minutes Kane called her up with mindspeak. The trapdoor opened into an empty room, more of a closet, really, concealed from the main palace by a tapestry.

“The Seraphim are at meditation,” Kane sent. “That will allow us time to get into position. I’ll go to the vaults, and you wait on the big staircase. The Seraphim will come into the main hall when they’re done and see you there. When I have the mace, I’ll join you and we’ll get out of here.”

Yunomi had made herself familiar with the plans to the palace before she left the Dark Side. The meditation room opened into the main hall. A huge marble staircase along one wall led up to a wide balcony used by the Light Lords to address the Seraphim. A door on the balcony led to Iuvart’s private area of the palace. Kane knew a quick way out of the palace through Iuvart’s quarters.

Yunomi entered the empty hall and climbed the staircase to the balcony. She drew her sword and waited. The Seraphim would enter the hall at any time. Kane made his way toward the vaults where the mace was kept. The palace was almost deserted at meditation hour. The few Cherubim who crossed Kane’s path hurried to avoid him. He had often used the Light Being’s unease around him to gain access to the palace rooms. Kane entered the vaults without challenge and sought out the crypt of the mace. He muscled open the heavy lid of the gold crypt. It was empty.

“It’s not here.” Kane spun around at the voice behind him. The ancient vault keeper stood calmly regarding Kane. This man had been his only friend in the palace, and Kane had spent many hours exploring the treasures of the vaults in his company. “Carnivean returned it to the Temple of Soul’s Pain. Iuvart was uncomfortable with it,” the ancient continued. Kane nodded and extended his hand in thanks and friendship. The ancient shook it. “You’re doing the right thing, Kane. I wish you luck on your quest. Now go quickly, the Lady needs your help.”

The Seraphim had filed quietly into the hall where Yunomi stood waiting with her sword. They had not seen her. From the balcony her voice rang out. “I am Yunomi, Sword of Vengeance! I am acolyte and companion to the Lord of Darkness! I have come to take retribution on Lord Iuvart in my Lord’s name.”

The Seraphim turned as one toward her, shock and disbelief on every face. They stood silently staring for a second or two, then rushed to attack. Many had swords, they ran up the staircase. Others flew up to the balcony. Yunomi had expected this two pronged assault and was ready. She met the first two up the stairs at the top step and killed them easily, kicking their bodies back down to hinder and trip those behind them. The fliers came at her from the left, and she slashed quickly at them, then turned to kick the next wave up the stairs back into the crowd. One of the fliers grabbed her from behind, but was run through with a reverse stab of her katana. The Seraphim on the stairs were regrouping and starting up again. Yunomi had a few seconds to fend off the fliers before turning her attention to the stairs. The first Angel to meet her this time was a good fighter. His sword met hers blow for blow, pushing her back from the top step. The other Seraphs stopped, watching the sword play. There were dead and maimed Angels on the stairs and balcony, being carried off by just arrived Cherubim. Yunomi parried a vicious blow from her opponent and ran him through. The other Seraphim suddenly began backing away from her as she kicked the body off her blade. She put her back to the corner and grinned wickedly at the retreating Angels. “Bring me Iuvart!” she shouted at them.
“I’m here, shameless beast!” Iuvart came through the door at the end of the balcony, a disguised Carnivean waddling behind him. Yunomi smiled to see the empty sleeve of Iuvart’s robe. She was pleased to have done lasting damage.
“Evil creature, why have you returned?”
“I have unfinished business with you two,” Yunomi growled.
“Your Lord is a coward, to send a whore to do his work,” Carnivean sneered.

Yunomi’s eyes narrowed dangerously. She took a step forward, sword ready. Iuvart’s expression changed from one of stern authority to sheer terror. He pointed his remaining hand at Yunomi. “Unclean creature, I cast you into Hell!” A vortex opened in the floor under Yunomi, and she began to slide into it.
“No!” shouted Carnivean. “You don’t realize...” He was cut short by the sight of Kane coming up from behind them and diving headfirst into the vortex after the disappearing Yunomi. The vortex snapped closed behind them, leaving no trace.

Iuvart turned to Carnivean. “I don’t realize what?” he demanded.
Carnivean hesitated. He had not told Iuvart about the Storm Child prophecy. “The whore has certain, uh, powers. If she survives Hell, she could be much stronger.”
“Then let’s be sure she does not survive. Take two Seraphim and gather your Demons. I will be very disappointed if the witch escapes Hell alive.” As an afterthought, he added “And you might want to have a few words with Kane, also.”

Yunomi Book Two, first page.
Yunomi Book Two, second page.
Yunomi Book Two, third page.
Yunomi Book Two, fourth page.
Yunomi Book Two, fifth page.
Yunomi Book Two, sixth page.
Yunomi Book Two, seventh page.
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