Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I’m not sure how I feel about this chapter. I have a feeling it will be obvious that this is part of the story that I did not have a clear, planned out vision of when I started writing it. These scenes were planned, but never really planned. With time and another round of rewrites I think I can make it much better. For now this is what I have.
If you’re interested in reading The Dreams as a .pdf, .epub, or .mobi please check out chapters 1 – 39 here.
With this chapter like every other chapter I owe a huge thank you to my fantastic supporters. If you enjoy my writing please consider becoming my Patron. This week I added a Discord server as a brand new perk. Now we can get together and chat whenever.
She was alone. The strange men took Hibiki and left her all alone. She could not stop them. No one thought she could do anything to help in this situation, and with the way she felt right now she was inclined to agree with that assessment. Even Hibiki told her not to do anything, not even to wait for him.
Rina did not want it to be that way. She knew she was better than this. Shock froze her in place and in thought. She felt nothing and her thoughts slowed to a sluggish crawl so she did not react at all for several minutes.
Then the despair came. Her legs buckled and she sat with jelly legs that could not lift her up from the floor. Being stuck like that did give her a chance to get her mind back in order.
At first, none of it felt real at all. She could easily just deny that anything had happened at all. Hibiki might as well be in the next room because it certainly made more sense than him being arrested and taken away to some strange place. Her mind strained to remember what the men had said. She knew it was something unusual that she had never heard before. Diyu. She had no idea what it meant other than it must have something to do with souls because they arrested him for interfering in the reincarnation of her soul.
As her thoughts started to thaw out she felt a bit guilty for being the reason Hibiki was arrested. She had never asked him to do the things he did to her soul, but she was here and she did care about him deeply and maybe he would not have been caught if he had not been here with her keeping and eye on her and making sure she did not suffer anymore because of what he did.
Her mind launched past working at a normal pace and started absolutely racing. Hibiki wanted her to live her life normally and not to waste her life away waiting for him to come back, but she knew that she would never be able to live with herself if she did that. She had to do something to help him.
She might be the only person that could help him. No one else was going to jump to his defense. She did not know how many other people knew the truth about him and she was not going to go around sharing his secret with random people in his life to find out. She was his best and possibly his only chance to get out of this. She needed to get to where he was being held so she could speak on his behalf. It might not be enough, but she had to try.
It had to count for something if the person possessing the soul he had tampered with wanted to speak in his defense. She knew doing so would be going against what he asked, but she did not think that she would be able to live any sort of normal life knowing that he was being held prisoner and possibly going to be punished for his mistake.
She suffered a lot over the past few months because he tried to bring Yuzuki back with her memories intact. She had to wonder if she would be the same person if she had a different soul, or if she still had the same soul but he had not tampered with it. There was no way for her to know, but she did know that her life as she knew it now only came about because of what he did.
Although she did suffer through a lot of hardships, in a way she did feel grateful to him for what he did. She liked who she was as a person, and if he had not altered the nature of her soul she might not be herself. If he had no interfered she might not have met him, and she could not imagine her life without him in it.
That settled it for her. She needed to find a way to go after him. There was no question about it. She had to get him back.
She realized she had no idea where to go or how to get there. Hibiki had been taken by men who did not see a need for using things like doors to enter and leave a room. There was no way she could even begin to guess how to follow them on her own. She needed someone with a much better understanding of the working of the world outside of common human knowledge.
She did not know at all where to begin. The first person that came to mind was Dr. Charlotte, but Rina doubted she could help her in this situation. This was more about Hibiki than her and dealt more with doing than thinking. There had to be someone who knew where she needed to go and how to get there.
Hibiki knew all about it, of course. She did not know if it was a massive oversight on his part to keep her in the dark about all of this or if he felt confident that he would not get caught after more than nineteen years. Whatever reason he had for failing to mention it to her after she started learning the truth about him did not matter. All that mattered was that she did not know what to do or where to go.
She had a brain wave while she sat on the floor trying to process everything. It occurred to her that there were other kitsune she could reach out to. They had been staying away and giving her and Hibiki space, but she should be able to easily get in touch with them. She was not entirely sure that they would have answers to all of the questions that now came to her mind, but she had a better chance of getting some sort of assistance from them than from anyone else she knew.
Her thoughts picked up pace. She did not have a phone number for Masami or Yuuto, but Hibiki would have their numbers in his phone. Now she just had to hope that he did not have his phone on him when he was taken away.
She got to her feet and with speed that made her a bit light headed. She rushed out of the room and up the stairs to Hibiki’s room. Her eyes wildly scanned the room for his phone charger.
She did not know if it was a matter of luck or just a matter of Hibiki’s lack of attachment to his phone, but it was still on the charger where he left it the night before. She felt numb and half out of her mind from the rush of adrenaline she just experienced. She nearly tripped over her own feet trying to get to the phone as quickly as possible.
Thankfully she was able to sit down on the floor once again and did not have to worry about losing her balance and falling over in a wave of light headedness. Her hands were shaking and she struggled to pull up his contacts. She did not trust herself to speak on the phone. It was too much to explain and she did not trust herself not to become a blubbering mess as soon as she opened her mouth. That settled the matter and she decided to send a text message to Masami to ensure that her message got across before she fell apart. Even coming up with the right words for a text message was a struggle. Finally, she found a way to keep it short and sweet and sent her message.
“This is Rina. Hibiki’s been taken to Diyu. I don’t know what to do.”
She sat with the phone in her lap, staring at it and willing Masami to respond. She did not know what to do until she got a response. Each second seemed to stretch on for an eternity.
Hibiki’s phone vibrated. She jumped.
“I’m coming home. Don’t go anywhere.”
She felt relief wash over her. She would not have to be alone in this anymore. Then she started to panic again. Masami was a kitsune. She knew about what Hibiki did, which probably meant she knew about Diyu, but that did not necessarily mean that Rina would be safe with her now that Hibiki was gone.
After making the effort to get to the phone and send the message, her body seemed to be ready to give out on her again. She went numb again. Her mind did not want to deal with anything more and it shut down to prevent even one more notion from crossing her mind.
She waited. Her shut down to prevent thoughts and therefore prevent her from panicking somehow stopped her from getting caught up in the passage of time. In this way it felt as though it took almost no time at all for Masami to arrive home.
Somehow Masami just knew where to look for her. She did not call out for her at all, but came in through the door and headed straight to Hibiki’s room. She put her hand on Rina’s shoulder and this simple action effectively broke her trance.
She broke out of her own mind and turned to face Masami. She tried to smile to show her gratitude, but the attempt brought her close to tears.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she managed to say.
“Are you okay, Rina? You’re white as a sheet.”
She shrugged. It was beyond her at this point to even know what okay might be. Her priorities were elsewhere right now. She would have time to be okay once she brought Hibiki home again.
Masami wasted no time in assessing the situation and going into mothering mode. She helped Rina up off the ground. “Let’s go to the kitchen. I’ll make some tea and we can figure out what to do.”
She did not trust herself to speak again just yet so she mutely followed along after Masami. Now that she was here, Rina’s mind turned to the task of figuring out what she needed to ask first.
They sat at the kitchen table while the kettle heated up. Masami looked strained, which seemed understandable under the current circumstances, but she appeared much more composed than Rina felt.
“Hibiki’s been taken to Diyu?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Do you know who took him?”
“I don’t know. Their skin was blue. They weren’t human.”
Masami nodded. “Oni.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“It isn’t, but I think he stands a better chance since you said they were blue.”
Rina did not know what blue oni had to do with Hibiki’s chances now that he was arrested, but she did not want to waste time asking questions about something like that. She needed to go after him so she could help save him from whatever terrible fate awaited him if he was found guilty.
“I want to go after him,” she whispered while looking at her hands. She did not think she would have the nerve to say if she looked at Masami.
“Diyu is not a safe place for humans.”
“Well, I’ve recently discovered I’m not exactly a normal human so at this point I’m not sure where I’m safe anyway.”
After a long pause Rina, gathered up enough nerve to look up. Masami was watching her with a strange look on her face. She seemed sad and tired, it was the sort of expression Rina was becoming all too used to seeing these days. It meant that someone knew something she did not know about the situation she found herself in.
“I’m not sure it makes a difference anyway,” Masami admitted. “Diyu is behind so many magical barriers that it might take weeks or even months to unravel it all without getting caught.”
“What if I helped?” Rina offered.
“Can you do that?”
“Well, Hibiki was trying to help me see if I could do any of the magic I used to do, but he mostly knows about plants and I was never good at that sort of thing.”
“It probably would help if you got training from someone who actually grew up learning about that kind of magic, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. It probably would.”
Masami sighed heavily. “He pretty much didn’t tell you anything at all did he?”
“Tell me about what?”
“I knew it. He was so worried about how you reacted at first that he never told you about the rest of us. I knew it was a mistake to give you two so much space. As if he was the only one that wanted you back.”
“What are you talking about?”
The kettle started to whistle. Masami got up, turned off the burner and moved the kettle off the heat before returning to the table. Apparently, tea time was now postponed.
Rina waited. Whatever was going on was apparently a big deal and she could not help but be curious. She could not even bring herself to be mad that she was apparently once again being kept in the dark by Hibiki. It seemed most of her life was in some way being kept secret from her and she would uncover each secret one by one.
“Rina, you know we’re all kitsune, right?”
“He didn’t bother to mention I’m your sister, did he?”
Rina’s thoughts ground to a halt. Her sister? Yuzuki’s sister.
Masami nodded and smiled weakly while blinking back tears. “Once you bring him back I’m going to have to smack that idiot for keeping us a secret. We’re only helping him because we love you too.”
“We? So is… is Yuuto Akimitsu?”
“And is Kouta Kyo?”
“No. Kyo’s grown now and living on his own. Kouta is our youngest.”
“Kyo’s grown up? I only remember him as such a little guy…”
Masami looked ready to cry. “I’m just so glad you remember us at all. I’ve missed you.”
“You know, I’ve always wished I wasn’t an only child. I wish I’d known I had a sort of sister all along.”
That got Masami to smile. “Well, let’s have some tea to calm our nerves and then see if between the two of us we have enough magic to crack open a path to Diyu.”
“What do you think?” Souma asked. He was brimming over with pride.
Yuzuki looked at the brand new little house at the edge of the forest clearing. She could not form words for a moment or two. Somehow it had not seemed real at all to her until she saw it with her own eyes.
“It’s really here. You built a house.”
He hugged her from behind. “Do you like it?”
She nodded. She was still trying to take it all in. Not just the house, but the entire clearing, as well as the fact that this was the human world. Her mind tried to inventory all the differences. She could not bring herself to trust how similar it seemed to the world she knew so well.
“Do you want to take a look inside?”
She forced herself to get out of her own head. “Okay,” she agreed.
Souma took her hand in his hand and led to her to the house. He was so proud of his handiwork that she could not help but get caught up in the excitement too.
Inside was roomier than she expected from the outside. She noted that there would be plenty of room for their family to grow in this space. She did her best to look over the rooms while Souma hovered over her shoulder watching for her reaction.
She found it almost impossible not to like this house now that she saw it. It defied her expectations. When Souma brought her here she had not expected so much of the work to be done already. She could see them being happy here. She could not help but feel proud of the work he had done.
“It looks like the house it ready to go, but what about the garden?” she asked in a teasing tone.
His eyes never left her. His only concern seemed to be in getting her approval.
“The garden is the easy part. I can set it up in no time. I just wanted to be sure you like it here.”
She could understand his concern after she nearly fell apart when he first brought up the idea of moving to a new home. She still felt nervous, but time had done its job and desensitized her to the idea. Moving no longer felt like the end of the world to her, and now that she saw the home he was making for them here, she found it possible to imagine living here. Before today she could not envision living anywhere but the tree house. Even as she came to terms with the fact that it was not a safe place for her anymore and it would only become more inconvenient and dangerous every day, she had trouble imagining living anywhere else.
Now she had a very clear mental picture, and she did not have it in her to resist its charms. Many of the things that made her love their current home also held true for this place. Souma built this house for her. That alone was enough to make her love it.
“Do you think you’ll want to move in soon?” he asked gently.
She smiled. For once she knew what she was feeling would make Souma happy. She felt as though she spent so much time lately feeling anxious and making Souma miserable through her inability to explain why she found all of the changes happening in their lives to be so terrible.
Fortunately, she had started to feel a bit calmer again. She could accept the changes happening, even if she was not yet particularly thrilled about all of them. She no longer felt as though her life was falling apart around her at every reminder that life would never be the same for her again.
“How long would it take us to move?” she asked, hoping it would get a smile.
“Not long,” he assured her. “But I’ll be the one doing the moving. You’re going to sit back, relax and avoid heavy lifting.”
She rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t planning on doing any heavy lifting.”
He drew her into a hug. “You might not be planning on it, but you tend to get carried away with helping and take on more than you can handle, so just let me take care of this.”
“No way. There’s stuff I want to be sure doesn’t get broken and I’m not trusting you to pack it all and get it here safely.”
“Come on, Yuzu. When have I ever broken any of our things?”
She huffed. “Well, maybe you haven’t, but that doesn’t mean I trust you to pack everything so it will make it here in one piece.”
“We don’t’ even have that much stuff,” he insisted. “Once everything is bundled up it’ll only take me a few trips to bring it all over.”
“Ha!” she exclaimed in triumph. “You don’t even know. We didn’t have very much at first but think about it. We’ve been accumulating things. We both have summer and winter clothes. You’re always bringing me presents. And lately you’ve been bringing presents home for our kit too.”
He looked thoughtful for a moment before speaking again. “I guess I have brought home a lot of stuff, haven’t I? It doesn’t look like we have all that much more than we did before.”
“That’s because I have it organized and put away so it doesn’t make a mess.”
“Where did you put it all? You never asked me to add more storage space and I haven’t seen all this stuff which is probably why I forgot about it.”
She smirked, savoring the brief moment where she managed to have Souma stumped. “You might have been able to find a bit of extra storage space by growing the tree out a bit more, but once I practiced I was able to make as much storage space as we’d ever need.”
“You put all our stuff in a pocket dimension?”
“Yep,” she announced proudly.
“So I’m going to need you to help me with the move, aren’t I?”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Yuzuki knew she was being smug, but she relished the opportunity to remind him that she was not useless.
He sighed and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “You’re still not doing any lifting.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she promised. She could not keep the victorious grin off her face. She only hoped he understood she only teased and played with him like this because she did not want to acknowledge just how restricted she felt. She wanted to keep herself as far away from the fear and despair as possible now that she had managed to break free from that cycle.
“I don’t want to make you worry about anything or make any more work for you. You have enough to deal with right now and it is the most important job in the world so I’ll take care of everything else.”
She understood what he was thinking and she appreciated the sentiment, but she also knew just how bored she would be if she stood by and allowed him to take over every aspect of their lives that did not directly connect tot he kit growing in her womb.
“You better not start doing everything for me or you’ll have to start thinking of ways to keep me entertained too. I’m not sick or too fragile to do anything. In fact, I can still do almost everything I’ve always done and I don’t want to stop.”
He drew her into his arms. She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the soothing sensation of being close to him and feeling both safe and wanted. His intentions were good, but she had to draw the line somewhere. She had a feeling that he was trying to distract her from the discussion right now and she knew she needed to stay firm on this subject or she would end up feeling useless and bored to tears.
“I just want to take care of you,” he whispered.
“You’ve always taken care of me,” she insisted.
“Not enough. I’ve failed you so many times and I won’t let it happen again.”
She shook her head. “Everything is fine, Souma. I’m fine. Our kit is fine. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Is it wrong to want everything to be perfect for you?”
“Who ever said I wanted perfect? All I want is you here with me, and now that we finally have this house you can finally stop going away all the time.”
“About that, Yuzu, the money I’ve saved up now won’t last forever. I’m still going to need to work.”
“Not with those smugglers,” she said icily.
“No. I’ll find something else here in the human world, but I’ll still have to go out to earn money so we can afford nice things.”
“You won’t have to work much. We won’t need a lot that we can grow or make for ourselves. You’ll see. We’ll have the farm to take care of, and the house, and our kit. It’ll be plenty to keep both of us busy.”
“You want me to be a farmer.”
She could hear the disappointment in his voice. “What’s wrong with being a farmer?”
“It’s not very exciting.”
She frowned and pulled away from him so she could look him in the eyes. “You’re worried about excitement? I just want you to be safe and you’re worried you might be bored?”
Her blood boiled. It was not just that he seemed to think that this new life they were trying to build together would not be interesting enough for him, but that he seemed to want to be elsewhere doing other things, and she knew she would not be there with him. She knew she had responsibilities and she accepted them. It was only fair to expect him to do the same considering he was equally responsible.
He responded to her anger by immediately trying to placate her. He put his arms around her and held her close “I just want to have something to keep myself from getting stuck in too much of a routine.”
She sighed. As much as she just wanted to keep the peace, she felt as though she needed to not keep this to herself and let it fester. She could tell that he would not understand her point of view unless she expressed herself with great care.
Pausing to think seemed to lull him into a false sense of security. She could tell from the way he held her that he thought their disagreement had ended and the matter was dropped. She hated to prove him wrong, but she needed to vent before it was too late.
“Souma, I need you here. I can’t handle all of this alone. I won’t be left alone all the time again. I’m sorry if you want more excitement in your life, but right now I really need you to put up with a quiet and boring for a while.”
He was quiet for a moment. Yuzuki felt his arms tense slightly in response to her words. She knew he was not particularly thrilled with the way she presented her point of view, but she needed to be firm. The way he left all the time hurt her and he had to know that.
“Yuzu, if you need me to be here with you, I’ll be here for as long as long as you want.”
“It’s not just about needing you here right now. I want you around even when I don’t need you. Don’t you ever miss me just because?”
He placed a light kiss on her nose. “Every hour of every day I’m not with you.”
“Well, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to miss me for a while?”
There was a thoughtful pause. “I guess that would be nice.”
He pulled her a bit closer until the only thing between them was the slight swell of her belly. He kissed both of her cheeks lightly before moving in for a deep kiss that took her breath away. Just like that, everything felt right with the world again.