First sprouting of wings. Kana's bike seat stolen. New friendship formed.
Rakka rushed into the guest room, finding the girl twisting in her bed, and her brother next to her in his own bed, looked terrified.
“Hikari,” was all Rakka said before she hurried over to the crying patient, reeling a long piece of leather strap from her white summer dress pocket. She wrapped it around her thumb – trick Reki had taught her when she had gone through this very process herself.
“Here, bite on this so you don’t get your tongue.”
The girl bit, carefully at first, but as the twitches arching her back became more violent, Rakka had to strain herself to not show how much her thumb hurt even with the leather strapped around it.
Next she got to witness what she had been on the receiving end of last time. Agonized tears streamed down the girl’s cheeks, and Rakka had to be stronger than ever before not to show how desperate she was for this to go well. She stared at the wailer’s arching back as the shoulder blades bulged, and the skin slowly gave in to a pointy, blood-red object. It grew bigger, and the wails grew louder. Rakka tried hushing the crying girl by stroking her hair and telling her everything was going to be all right, but she never expected it to be this hard to sound believing – or even coherent – with a wrecking pain shooting through your finger every second.
But she had to think of the one in the bed, who right now was way over her head in pain and desperation. Rakka knew how it was far too well, as did every other Haibane. It was a process each of them had gone through shortly upon arriving at the birth home. And it was necessary, above all else.
Rakka kept staring at the phenomenon before her, through peering eyes. The two objects, reminding her of spires in their folded state, she knew were about to reveal their true form, and when they did she had to be ready.
Across the room, by the other bed, Hikari was trying to calm the poor boy, watching all of this unravel as, Rakka was certain, he sat there in shock.
Here they come! Rakka braced herself, and having a quick glance at Hikari by the other bed, who gave her an encouraging smile, she decided to try a trick of her own. As the spires broke completely through the skin, they unfolded at one end to become feathery, bloody wings. The unfolding jolted the girl’s body and she released a icy shriek that Rakka was certain at least would wake the others sleeping on ground level in Old Home, if not even the ones underground.
She put a comforting hand on the wailing girl’s cheek, and she got her thumb back eventually. She continued to look the girl in the eyes, smiling warmly, until the girl, her face teary and contracted, met her gaze. Her sobs blended intervals with her brother’s, who had fallen asleep again in Hikari’s gentle care.
Hikari, who had been busy putting him back in bed, had been stroking his upper arm all this time, and now she smiled at Rakka, nodding approvingly.
Suddenly the door burst open and Kana barged inside, but she stopped in the door, looking almost perplexed at the scene, where Hikari smiled at her while holding a finger to her lips, and Rakka tending to the wing of a sleeping patient. Rakka was drenched in sweat, and her fearful expression had not yet completely left her face.
“Over already? Oh man, why do I always miss the action?!” Kana seemed sorry at first, but Rakka assured her that there hadn’t been much to see anyway, and smiled. Kana crossed her arms, “Yeah, right.”
Hikari got up from the chair as Nemu yawned as she entered the room. “Did we miss anything?”
Kana turned to her, clearly annoyed. “Only the sprouting of the first wings in an entire year! Nemu, if you hadn’t been so slow we could have witnessed it!”
“Don’t blame me. It was you who seemed to think I didn’t know the way by myself,” she stated drowsily.
“Well, I’m gonna continue making breakfast. Nemu would you take over here?” Jikari was getting ready to walk back into the kitchen.
“No way is she taking this post!” Kana leapt to the case. “If this kid has a sprouting, I’m not gonna miss it!”
Hikari shrugged. “Suit yourself, but are you sure you’ll be ready when it comes?”
Rakka chuckled at Kana’s caught-off-guard face. “Uh, well … I think I’ll be…”
Hikari and Nemu had already vanished out into the kitchen.
Rakka was cleaning the blood from one wing off into a small bucket of water. Kana tried to understand the reason behind the smile on her lips while doing this, because frankly the blood-stained wings were kind of freaky.
“Kana why don’t you go into town and buy some more cheese and salad?” came Hikari’s voice from the kitchen.
“Oh man, do I have to? Nemu’s got nothing to do but help you, and you can’t do much without those ingredients anyway. Besides, I’m busy watching the kid.”
“Nemu can take over your post for a while. I’m sure the first sprout was activated early only because of the tumble she did before. If the other one’s normal, it shouldn’t be here before this afternoon. Besides, you know Nemu’s got some experience with this anyway!”
Kana got up, annoyed. “Ugh, fine, fine, but I expect this spot to be free when I get back. You better stay awake, Nemu!” Then she left.
Kana jumped on her bike and headed for town, over the bridge and left along the yellow dirt road. To her left was the Hill of Winds, which had been Kuu’s favorite hangout spot. It was a hill overlooking the little town of Gure, where most of the people lived, and most of the Haibane worked.
Kana, as much as the other Haibane, missed Kuu – her gentle and carefree spirit, and the fact that she had easily been mistaken for a boy by her boss, had often caused a wave of laughter at Old Home when she had come home with her stories.
Kana smiled at the memories. Kuu was gone – maybe forever, maybe not – but her aura had left a distinct and permanent mark on Old Home and its residents. Kana didn’t regret her going beyond the walls, but at the same time…
Kana arrived at the grocery store and dismounted her bike. The streets were buzzing as usual: small-talk; gossip; business talk. She entered the store, and ten minutes later, she came out again with salad, cheese and a chocolate bar. She looked at the small notebook in her hand. It had only one page left, but luckily the clerk had been kind enough to grant her the groceries, because she had told him about the newly arrived Haibane.
Finishing her chocolate bar, she headed for where she had parked the bike, but it wasn’t there anymore.
“Crap! What’s going on? Where’s my bike?” Kana almost yelled. Today’s unfortunate events were really starting to get on her nerves.
After having looked around for almost an hour, she found the bike by the bridge leading to the Abandoned Factory.
Over that way lived another group of Haibane. The two groups went far back, but at the time there was too much differentiating them – or so they thought – and so they split up to different parts of the city’s outskirts. It was only last New Year’s Eve that certain events between key persons on either side managed to make up. All went well, and now there were quarrels with anyone, although the districts stayed divided.
Kana hurried over to the bike, but, as she approached it, noticed that the seat was gone.
“Great, now I’m gonna be even later and everyone’ll ask me all sorts of questions!” she groaned. “Well, I better start walking.”
Then she noticed a boy sitting on the bridge looking out on the canal.
“Aha! So you’re the one who stole my bike! Admit it and I might go easy on you!”
The boy looked up at her, and when she tried to picture herself seen from his eyes, she was pretty proud of the picture. As she saw it, she was an ominous threat looming over him like that, hands in her sides; staring him down.
The poor kid looked like he didn’t know what to say or do, looking perplexed at Kana, then her bike, then Kana again. “…Oh, that’s yours? That’s a very nice bike.”
“Don’t play coy with me! Why’d you steal my seat? Now I have yo walk all the way home. I hope you’re proud of yourself!”
The boy looked even more confused, if that was even possible. “But … but I didn’t steal your bike seat.”
Kana scoffed. “Yeah, well, who did then? It just vanished by itself?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything, but if you want, I can help you look?” he seemed honest enough, and Kana’s tough look loosened up a bit.
“No, it’s okay. I gotta get home.”
She turned and was about to walk off with her bike when the boy spoke up. “Wait, you’re a Haibane, right?”
“Yeah, what’s it to you? I thought everybody in town knew by now.” Kana didn’t turn back to him.
“Well, if you’re not living over across this bridge, you must live at the old fort outside of town. I used to play with you Haibane all the time when I was younger. Is Kuu still around?”
Kana’s thoughts froze on a picture of the young Haibane’s cheerful face, and suddenly her voice changed from sharp to rather mellow.
“She’s gone. Away.”
“What? No, she can’t—“
“You heard what I said, you pest! Now beat it before I call your parents!” He wasn’t really annoying or rude, and Kana had the feeling he didn’t mean any harm, so she didn’t get all worked up over this. Besides, wasn’t she supposed to learn to cope with Kuu’s and also Reki’s absence?
The kid lowered his gaze into the water below. He looked genuinely sad. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just … I dunno, things aren’t going too well at home, and… Well, I’m just used to seeing her, you know?”
“Aren’t we all,” Kana muttered silently, but suddenly the kid lit up.
“Hey, I’m sorry about your bike, and I realize you gotta go, so I won’t bother you anymore, but you work at the clock tower, right?”
Kana didn’t know how to figure this guy. He knew almost obnoxiously much about her and the Haibane. She almost grew wary but turned more toward him. “Yeah?”
“Cool,” he simply shrugged. “You think I could stop bye to say hi sometime?”
The question caught Kana a little off guard. He was a complete stranger, but yet he couldn’t be more than a year younger than her, which also made the question kind of flattering.
She threw her hands in the air in a ‘your-choice’ kind of manner. “Sure, whatever. I mean the clock tower is free for everyone to enter, right?” When he put up a dumb face as some sort of reply, she gave him a wave, “Well, see you,” turned and walked away.