Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I really like this chapter. I hope you’ll like it too.
The last few weeks I’ve had a really easy time editing and I don’t know of it is just that I’m in a stretch of chapters that needed less help or if I’m rushing through because of CampNaNoWriMo. As always please let me know about any errors you encounter.
This chapter is brought to you by my supporters. I wouldn’t have the confidence or the means to post on a weekly basis without you guys. You rock!
“In light of recent events I think we’re going to need to take slightly more drastic action than we had previously planned,” Dr. Charlotte announced at the start of Rina’s next appointment.
“Does that mean this is going to hurt?”
“Probably,” Penny said with a shrug. “This is getting serious more quickly than we thought it would, so we have to act.”
“So what’s the plan? I’m able to deal with a little bit of pain if it means I’m actually going to be myself again.”
“Well,” Penny said with more than a bit of hesitation. “It might be more than a little bit of pain, and it won’t be the kind of pain that we can just sort out with an Advil. There’s the potential for deep psychological trauma. I guess if it does turn out that way you’ll be stuck in therapy with Charlotte for a long time.”
“Okay. What are the odds of me getting cured without deep emotional trauma?”
“That’s impossible for us to guess,” Dr. Charlotte explained. “Evidence seems to indicate that your symptoms aren’t stemming from anything in this world so we want to see if it might be coming from a past life of yours.”
“Do you really think you’re going to uncover something that is going to have that much of an effect on me?”
“If we’re wrong then odds are you’ll be just fine, but if there is something to this theory it is more than likely that we will be uncovering something pretty unpleasant that will have a lasting effect once you are consciously aware of it.”
“When you put it like that it almost sounds like the cure is just as bad as the disease,” Rina grumbled.
“It might be a bit worse than what you’ve been experiencing, but I think hearing this voice in your head is a sign of your condition worsening again. The fact that it was not a symptom you had last time worries me. We’re not following the old pattern here,” Dr. Charlotte explained.
“So you really do think that this is the only course of action we have available?”
“I wouldn’t be suggesting it if I thought we had time to investigate more options. This is the best course of action available to us now.”
Rina’s heart was racing as she tried to process what was happening. No matter what she did it seemed she was in danger. It was her own body, or rather her own mind betraying her. She knew she needed to fight back against what was happening to her, but she was hesitant to traumatize herself even further. Everything she endured up until this point left her past the point where she could easily regroup and gather strength from her reserves. Those reserves had long since been used up. She knew she could not keep fighting for much longer, and she wanted to be sure that she would not lose.
She had lost so much already. She could not afford to lose her resolve now. This would not do. She needed to make this push to get back on track to normal. She could feel herself drifting further away from the normal life she once had and she had to accept any treatments that stood a chance of getting her back to the life she once had.
“If this is the way we are going to get me on the track back to normal then I know we have to do it,” Rina reasoned.
Once she was convinced of this plan, everything started happening at a whirlwind speed. It began with hypnosis. She felt as though she was falling into a deep sleep. The voices of Penny and Charlotte sounded slow and distorted as though they were a recording slowed down to half speed. She did not sleep. If she was sleeping she would be dreaming. She would not be feeling this calm. She would not be hearing their voices. This was something entirely different. Normally she would panic, but she seemed to be incapable of feeling anything of the sort at the moment.
She started to feel something. The calm surface of her mind started to bubble as though the thoughts beneath were just starting to simmer. Her own awareness sank below the surface as something else rose up to answer the distant, distorted calls of Penny and Charlotte.
Who am I?
What kind of a question is that?
What am I?
Kitsune, of course.
Where am I?
Home. The tree. It’s blooming. Alone. Again. He left me again. I knew he would. He wouldn’t leave his work even when I begged.
I miss them. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to go back. I want my sister. Let me stay with my sister.
Everything is just the same as before.
Now I know. I know they’re out there and I’m not with them. I’m so far away. I’m so alone.
But you’re here. Who are you?
I don’t know you. Where did you come from? I don’t trust you.
Get out. Get out of my head. You don’t belong here. These are my thoughts. This isn’t for you.
Who am I?
Get out of my head.
Stop asking questions!
I don’t know you. You don’t even know my name. Get out.
Get out of my head!
Rina woke up to Dr. Charlotte’s office looking completely wrecked. Books were strewn across the floor. The doctor’s desk and the chairs were pushed back toward the wall. She had no idea what had happened.
Dr. Charlotte and Penny were up against the opposite wall with shocked looks on their faces. Rina sat up, wondering what exactly was going on.
She was not sure if she was safe where she was sitting since it appeared that neither of the other two women seemed particularly inclined to leave their place along the wall.
“What happened?” she asked when it seemed as though she would not get any sort of explanation otherwise. Speaking hurt her throat, as though she had been speaking for a long time without a drink of water.
“You really don’t remember anything at all of what happened?” Penny asked.
“No. I went under and then everything went blank until I just woke up. What happened?”
“Everything was fine, going exactly by the book until we tried to get information from you about your past life. Then all hell broke loose.”
“What do you mean?”
Dr. Charlotte got over her shock and stepped forward to start checking on Rina’s physical well-being. Rina was still too confused to give much thought at all to her vitals. She wanted to know what had happened. Seeing two shaken psychics and a wrecked room convinced her it could not be anything good.
Penny took a deep breath before continuing. “We tried to get back to one of your past lives and it seems we ran into someone who was very unhappy to find us snooping around.”
“Who?” Rina asked.
“You wouldn’t say,” Dr. Charlotte chimed in. “You wouldn’t happen to remember that detail, would you?”
“I don’t remember anything at all.”
“It seems that we might be on the right track, but we were terribly unprepared for what you have down in the depths of your soul. I’ve never seen that sort of energy unleashed over a line of questioning before.”
“Energy? Are you saying I did this?”
“You sure did,” Penny assured her. “You got pissed off and pushed us and everything else in the room away from you. I would never have guessed you were this strong.”
“Are you sure I did this?”
“It was all you,” Dr. Charlotte assured her.
At first it seemed as though everything had returned to normal. Yuzuki was back home. Souma was gone again for work. Then it became apparent that this was not at all like the normal Yuzuki remembered. A large number of refugees started passing through the area, which was a sure sign that at least one army was heading their way. If they were lucky it would just be an army passing through. On the other hand, if two armies decided to clash near here they would all be in trouble. The village would likely be destroyed, and anyone who tried to stay behind put their lives in their danger.
Yuzuki knew she would be safe at home. Her pocket dimension around the tree house would keep them from actually being involved in whatever would happen outside the boundaries of her sphere of influence. Knowing she had this ability made her want to protect as many people as possible. She knew she could not keep everyone safe, though.
Most of the residents of the village were packing up and leaving in anticipation of the worst. Living in an exposed community like the village required them to be prepared for these border disputes to erupt into all-out war. They would flee for their lives, and rebuild when it was safe to return.
There was one person in the village that did not have the means to escape and that was also the only one that Yuzuki had any real connection to. Hisako was only human. She had no way of knowing just how these things worked, and that put her in real danger. She knew even less about these things than Yuzuki, and Yuzuki knew she was notoriously naive about the world even now. This was something she knew about, and for once she could do something to help someone she cared about.
She needed to take action before things got too bad out there. The trip to town would be dangerous enough now and every hour she put it off made it that much riskier. Souma would probably be upset if he knew she was even considering doing this sort of thing, but he was far, far away working and that meant he could not stop her from doing what she felt she had to do.
She hurried as fast as she could to the village. Then she rushed through the tavern and upstairs to Hisako’s room, completely ignoring the scant collection of regulars that still lurked downstairs for the first time ever. She barged into Hisako’s room with no regard for trifling things like propriety.
Hisako was in, looking just as worried and strained as Yuzuki felt.
“Are you packed?” Yuzuki asked breathlessly.
“Your things. We need to get you out of here. It isn’t safe. You’re coming home with me until this all blows over.”
Hisako shook her head. “What would be the point of going with you? From the sound of it, this whole area is going to get flattened. I might as well stay here where I can at least help tend to the injured.”
“If you stay here you won’t be tending to the injured, you’ll be killed. Come with me. We’ll both be safe, and we’ll both help everyone we can once the army has moved on.”
“How are you planning to stay put and not meet the same fate as this village?” Hisako demanded. She still refused to budge.
Yuzuki started to feel a little desperate. She had assumed Hisako would come with her without question. A promise of safety was all it would take to get her moving, but she was not a skeptic like her teacher.
“I’m not completely useless, you know. I can make a small area completely safe so no one can get in unless I allow them to come in. Please, just pack so we can go.”
“You’re as ridiculously persistent as always, I see,” the midwife muttered as she started stuffing bandages, tools, and medicine into a bag.
Yuzuki started packing another bag with more medical supplies. They would need as many supplies as they could carry, and they needed to get back home as soon as possible. She already felt as though they were cutting it too close, and they could be in serious trouble if they did not start moving soon.
“We’re not going to be able to carry everything. As long as we have the essentials we should get going.” Yuzuki said as the moments spent packing started to drag on.
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting just a bit?”
“I’m not overreacting. Even if this is just one army passing through rather than a battle breaking out we’re pretty much defenseless if we get caught out in the open. They’re not going to care if we’re more interested in tending to the wounded than fighting for one side or the other. We’ll just be collateral damage.”
Hisako did not argue after that. Her mouth was set in a grim line, and she finished packing her bag quickly. Yuzuki was not sure if her teacher believed her or if she just did not want to argue anymore. She could not worry about that too much. As long as Hisako moved fast she could not be bothered with worrying about being believed at this point.
They got out of there as soon as they loaded up as many medical supplies as they could each carry. Without even conferring, they both knew they were likely to need as much of it as they could carry and would probably still find themselves running out of certain things.
When the time came for them to actually leave the village and take the trek out through the forest Hisako started to hesitate again. Yuzuki knew that they could not risk standing out here arguing whether or not this was the correct decision. They needed to move. Being out in the open would be bad enough, but standing still made them an easy target.
She grabbed her mentor’s hand and pulled her along with her out of the village and along the shortest, safest route she knew back to the tree house. She did not bother arguing with Hisako. As long as she kept her mouth shut she felt sure that they would make it back just fine. Once she opened her mouth there was a chance for doubt to find its way into her mind. Right now she needed to be sure she was doing the right thing.
Hisako had no trouble keeping up. Getting dragged out of bed at all hours of the night to tend to injuries and occasionally births around the village and the surrounding area meant that her body had adapted to sudden bursts of activity with very little warning. They made it back in just about the best time Yuzuki could have hoped for, and she considered them to be very fortunate not to have run into anything too dangerous.
The village was closer to the approaching army than the tree house. From the village, she saw the smoke from their fires. Out here it was almost possible to pretend nothing was happening. Almost. There was still a faint smell of smoke in the air. She knew there would be more, worse smells as the army drew closer, but for now she could keep herself from being too badly bothered.
“We’re here,” she announced with a relieved sigh as they crossed the barrier surrounding the tree house.
“You live in a tree?” Hisako asked.
“Yeah. Didn’t I ever mention that?”
“I think I would have remembered that. You really think I’m going to climb up there?”
Yuzuki smiled. “It’s not that hard.”
“See if you still think that way when you’re my age.”
“You’re not that old,” Yuzuki insisted.
“I’m old enough. My tree climbing days are long behind me.”
“But, if you don’t stay with me in the tree where are you going to sleep? The garden?”
Hisako sighed. “Are those really the only two options?”
She glanced around just to check that there was nothing she missed that might be used as a shelter. Even though she had been pushing the boundaries of her pocket dimension out as she felt herself growing more capable, there still was not a huge amount of space contained within it. Most of the ground was covered by their ever expanding garden.
“I think you’re going to want to stay in the tree with me. Some of Souma’s plants aren’t very friendly.”
“I’m not even going to ask. Now, how do I get up the tree?”
That was a problem Yuzuki was more than happy to help her solve. She showed her mentor the way up the tree and then instructed her where to grab on as Hisako made the climb herself. Once inside Yuzuki gave her a quick tour of her home.
“It’s bigger than I expected,” Hisako admitted.
“Well, it is a big tree,” Yuzuki agreed.
“You have more space in a tree than most people around here have on the ground.”
Yuzuki did not know what to say. She felt a strange mixture of pride and shame from what Hisako said about her home. She did not like it so she did her best to change the subject.
“We might be here for a few days depending on how things turn out. I hope you don’t mind helping out with the garden.”
“So you drag me out here and now you expect to get free labor?”
That was enough to push Yuzuki’s buttons. “I Know you didn’t exactly want to come out here with me, but I’m trying to keep you alive. This might not be the sort of place you’d like to stay, but it is the only safe place I have. Your bad attitude isn’t going to make this easier for either of us.”
“You’re right. I’m being awful when you’re just trying to help. No one else would have bothered. No one else has bothered.”
“Don’t be. You’re the only one who seemed to care at all about anyone else today.”