When the earth gave way and she disappeared from sight, for one confused moment he thought he was back in the nightmare. He started to scream, but long habit had already clenched his jaws shut on the sound, which emerged as a strangled groan that was not heard in all the confusion. He rushed forward, shouldering the Tamori aside, and threw himself to the ground, forcing himself to crawl carefully towards the edge. His caution was for nothing — the ground gave way under his weight and he fell, though not on her. Thank the Fortunes.

He could see she was hurt, though she denied it. But he was distracted by the other, who introduced himself as Toro. Not a threat, it seemed. The Mirumoto called down that he was going to get something to pull them up, and was gone. He picked her up, apologizing with a look, but he could not have done otherwise — he was still in the nightmare’s grip, and he had an overwhelming need to reassure himself that she was real, and alive. He held her close as he spoke with Toro, trying not to be distracted by her warmth, and her slight weight in his arms.

In mid-sentence, Toro was suddenly being dragged towards the pool of water by what he knew to be a troll, though he had never seen one himself. The thing had a ferocious strength, and Toro struggled in vain. All his fears were suddenly gone, boiling over into rage and a fierce gladness — here was something he could do. He would teach this monster what it meant to threaten his family — he would teach it to die.

He dropped her, putting himself between her and the troll, a small part of his mind begging her pardon for his lack of courtesy. His first attack took it in the legs as he tried to knock it down, but its inhuman strength kept it on its feet. A whip of fire sliced the air — the Tamori? — whistling as it fell, opening long weals on the creature’s back. He readied the hammer for a second blow, but before he could swing, its mouth opened, and its tongue, horrible and black, shot towards him, piercing his armor and driving completely through his shoulder, The pain was intense, but that didn’t concern him — what did was the sudden loss of control, the wavering of his hammer as his body staggered from the blow. He willed his arms to steady — an arrow suddenly blossomed in the troll’s side — Toro fluidly shifted his grip — and the hammer fell, sending up a shower of black gore. The troll collapsed into the pool. He stumbled back, waiting to see if it would move again. It did not. He braced the hammer on the ground, supporting himself and breathing hard, as Toro disentangled himself from the corpse.

She fussed over him then, chattering at him anxiously as she plied him with bandages. He let her. It was strangely comforting. And in truth, he did not feel well — he was nauseous, his shoulder throbbed, and he could not keep thoughts of taint from his mind. The Mirumoto finally appeared at the edge of the hole, looking a bit sheepish. He grinned at that. Then the rope was lowered, and he made sure she went up first. As they were pulling up Toro, he walked over to the troll, now slowly sinking in the pool, and despite his wound, he raised the hammer again and again, smashing the monster’s head until it was indistinguishable from the muck on the pit’s floor. Only then did he allow himself to be heaved up.

Later, after the Tamori and, surprisingly, Toro had worked their healing, he sat close beside her, not touching, reassuring himself that all was well. The look of concern in her eyes confused him. The battle was over, it had only been one troll. He would have a new scar, but what of it? Everything was fine.

While the Dragons and Toro discussed the nature of truth, he slipped a haiku into her sleeve, murmuring “Don’t ever do that again.” Much to his shock, she frowned, drew it out of her sleeve, and started to unfold it. He hastily folded her hand around it again and pushed it back. The look in her eyes froze his heart — baffled, yet eager to please, no warmth at all. He stood up suddenly, feeling nauseous again, and walked quickly away.

The wild egret knows
Her safety can be found on
The mountain’s scarred flanks


L5R : Jade Winds ednoria