Author's Note: (This story is about another of the kagaijin, a doctor named Kentama. This story takes place quite some time after Tsuyoken's, and is for the most part, unrelated. Be warned; there is a lot of buildup before we actually get to the sex, so if that's all you're after, you'll want to overlook this tale, I'm afraid. I hope your efforts are well rewarded, if you stick it out, however. Enjoy!)
Hatoko let slip a curse as she hung up the pay phone. A young couple sipping cocoa out of Styrofoam cups muffled some snickering laughter as they passed, but Hatoko was too pissed to take notice. Her loan application from the local branch of Mizuho bank had been denied, and as she had just discovered, so had her tab with Katsuhito's hiking supply store. Until she paid what she already owed him - which was nothing less than a small fortune compared to the meager sum she had to her name at the moment - there would be no new equipment for her upcoming field expedition to Mount Usu. Three banks and now one store owned by a friend of her family were all telling her the same thing - give up on writing the thesis for now, and take some time off to get a job and build up some funds.
Hatoko didn't have that kind of time, and she knew it. Mount Usu was becoming volcanically agitated, and without the data she could capture out in the field at the volcano's peak, her thesis on the Toya caldera would never be the fantastic breakthrough she knew it could be.
Shuffling dejectedly out of the phone booth, Hatoko Shiratori folded her arms and jutted out her lower lip in a petulant scowl. As she stormed her way through the busy streets of downtown Sapporo toward her tiny apartment, she muttered every foul diatribe she could summon about bankers and tubby, red-faced, balding men whose names happened to be Katsuhito.
That night, she took stock of what she did have, and was surprised to find that although some of her equipment was so old and battered that it looked questionable, she did technically own what she would need to climb up the side of Usuzan (another name for Mount Usu). Her ropes and cords had seen better days, and were even frayed in places, but they held firm when she tested them with her hands. Her clips and hooks were still fairly new, and although she didn't have enough emergency supplies, she didn't think it would be a problem. She was an experienced climber, and Usuzan was a relatively gentle slope in most places. It wasn't until you hit the lava dome that things got particularly steep and dangerous, and she didn't intend to take any chances. As long as she ate like a bird for the next week and saved the weekly allowance her parents could afford to send her, she might be able to just make it.
She sighed as the familiar guilt came back to her. She hated having to sponge off of her folks like this. She was twenty-two, for goodness' sake! If it had been up to her, she would have divided time between schooling and work to help make ends meet, but her parents had been adamant that she focus on schooling first, and work second. Unfortunately for her, their ethic hadn't changed even into her master's studies, and although they were able to afford to keep her housed in this apartment and stocked with a decent amount of food - not to mention a little spending money besides - she wasn't happy about having to accept it. Like most people her age, she wanted to be completely independent and reliable. Having to tell people she still lived under her parents' thumbs was embarrassing, so it was a topic she avoided fiercely.
Shaking her head to ward off the unpleasant, yet customary evening brooding, she went to the pantry and glanced hopelessly through the empty containers and crumpled wrappers. She hadn't saved enough money to buy groceries this week, and the pickings were very slim. She whooped for joy when she made the miraculous discovery of an unopened cup of microwave ramen, and as she skipped to the small appliance with her cup of instant ambrosia, she began to whistle merrily. Although she often felt burdened and angry about her situation, she was easily distracted by the minor successes she made in her day-to-day life. This sort of happy-go-lucky state of mind could get annoying to people in a hurry, but most of her friends had gotten used to it by now, and she only dated men who were upbeat like her, so they didn't often mind it either.
As she hovered near the humming microwave, Hatoko noticed her reflection in the smudged glass, and she repressed a chuckle. Her shoulder-length, very darkly brown-colored hair was sticking out in odd places, as her angry march home had been plagued by a blustery tail-wind, causing her hair to fly out in front of her as she traveled. She made a face at the reflective glass and laughed at the wild-looking monster that grimaced back at her. Smoothing out her hair with her hands, she sat down in a folding chair and let her mind wander, invariably turning her thoughts back to Connor.
Connor Fulbright was an American she had met at school last term. They had immediately hit it off when they met, ordering the same meal in the cafeteria in adjacent lines. After striking up a conversation, they soon found that they enjoyed each other's company quite a bit. One thing led to another, and before long they had entered into a full-blown, intimate relationship. Connor had told her so many sweet things, like how he loved the way her face changed when you looked at it from different angles, or that her dark brown eyes were like bottomless chasms of water on a moonless night. He would tap her blunt nose and call her his little "oni-chan," to which she would always punch him in the arm, as his playful term of endearment translated to "ogre-girl." This was coupled with the (intentional, or so she thought) fact that the name also sounded like a pun on the word for "big brother." Upon receiving her admonishment, he would then laugh and make her chase him, and much enjoyable roughhousing would follow after. She had been so sure that she loved him. He had been a big brother, a best friend, and a lover all rolled into one, and she never thought she'd find another man like him.
Unfortunately, she discovered one day that he was also an asshole. Apparently, she hadn't been the only one he'd been "roughhousing" with, and when she learned that no less than three other women shared her man with her, she summarily belted him in the nose, called him a gaijin dickhead, and stormed out of his life forever.
That had been a couple weeks ago, but the pain still felt fresh. Although she had buried herself in her studies, she couldn't help thinking about him constantly. They'd had such wild, passionate nights together, and he would always swear afterward that he was going to marry her someday, if he could ever figure out how to be an ogre like her. When she had discovered how much he had really lied to her, she knew she'd never forgive him again, and she was sure she'd never forgive herself for believing his lies and subsequently going all the way with him.
He had made her feel beautiful, and that had been quite a task, considering the fact that she was remarkably tall (grotesquely so in her own mind). In high school, while other girls had gone on dates and to parties, she had been out in her back yard, digging up rocks and geological samples, because there weren't any boys at her school much taller than she was, and she didn't like the way they stared at her as though she was some sort of freak.
Although she didn't think she looked the least bit attractive, the truth was that she wasn't at all homely. At five feet and nine inches, her lithe, tall frame was unusual for a woman of her nationality and race, but it gave her a rather exotic quality that didn't exist in most other girls around her. Her face was roundish and dimpled, and when she laughed it appeared to shine with a beauty that couldn't be summoned in any other way. Her dark eyes were bright and nearly always smiling; as was her wide, full-lipped mouth. Her figure was athletic and well-toned, as the work she did for her passion in volcanology and geology often thrust her out into the harshest environments with rigorous demands of her stamina and strength. Her slender, shapely legs were more of an asset than she gave them credit for, and their length made them seem to go on forever when she wore short skirts or bathing suits. Her breasts were admittedly small, but they were pert and surprisingly appealing when taken as part of the whole of her body.
She had the potential to be devastatingly sexy if she really set her mind to it, but she was usually too wrapped up in her studies to worry about her sex appeal. She preferred to wear knee-length shorts, tank tops, and hiking shoes as her regular ensemble, and the effect of these outfits was decidedly comical on a woman of her stature, but they were comfortable and practical, and her comfort made her more bouncy and outgoing. Thanks to her likable personality and outgoing demeanor, she managed to attract the attention of a fair number of men, despite her odd choice in clothing and her unusual height.
It wasn't until she went to college that she finally began dating and having fun with boys. However, as her experience had been with Connor, all her other relationships had been busts. She was beginning to think that most men were just horn-dog primates, and that maybe her friend Mitzi had had the right idea when she'd revealed to everyone last New Year's that she was a lesbian. Giggling at the silly idea of how completely clueless she'd be in bed with a lesbian lover, she was jerked away from her train of thought with a jump when the microwave beeped at her, alerting her that her dinner was now edible.
"Well, Usuzan," she sighed with a grin, picking up one of her printouts of the satellite photos and staring at it as she had so many times before, "looks like it's just you and me. From now on, I only have eyes for you, Baby."
"D'you think you'll find yourself a hot mate while you're on vacation?" Sanjima guffawed, elbowing his employer with a wicked grin. "I've heard there are all kinds of eager human girls into those outdoorsy mountain climber types. How about it, Kentama?"
"Kindly stop jabbing me and shut up," Kentama laughed good-naturedly. "I'm not going on this vacation to add more complexity to my life, I'll have you know. I want some time away from my work, out in the middle of nowhere, where it'll be quiet, peaceful ... and did I mention quiet?"
"Aw, why do you have to be such a stick in the mud?" Sanjima laughed. Although he was Kentama's assistant, he got along well enough with his boss to warrant ribbing him occasionally about his lack of a love life. "You're not getting any younger, you know. Besides, it'd be great to have a pretty little lady around here. Not that you're not pretty, after all, but you're not really my type."
"You're such an ass," Kentama shot back with mock disgust. "Even if I did meet the woman of my dreams out there, I certainly wouldn't bring her back here. You'd screw her senseless the first moment I turned my back. I've never met such a licentious idiot."
"I can't help it if I've been blessed with a healthy appetite. You make it sound like I'm some kind of sexual deviant. I'm hurt, boss."
"Why don't you just go find yourself a mate then and be done with it?" Kentama laughed, turning the nagging back in Sanjima's face. "You're the frustrated one here, not me. Sapporo's only a quick train ride away. You can get any kind of girl you want there. Even with your homely human face you could get lucky and attract at least one or two moved by either pity or desperation."
"I am a handsome devil; it's true," he laughed, ignoring Kentama's facetious insult. "But you'd be surprised by how difficult it is to find the right girl. All the good ones are already taken, and it seems like all the ones that aren't won't give me the time of day. Sometimes I feel like the only way I'll get laid is if I club one on the head and drag her here by the hair."
"Well, if you do, be sure to doctor her lump before you hump the poor thing silly," Kentama chuckled. "I didn't take you on as my apprentice so that you could leave the injured untended. On that note, I'm leaving the clinic in your untrustworthy hands for the next week. You have my pager number if you need it, but if you get something you can't easily handle..."
"Call the hospital and let them take care of it," Sanjima finished for him. "I'm not a child, Boss. I know the drill. Have fun on your vacation, and don't worry about the clinic. I promise not to attach more than one or two arms to peoples' heads or to saw off anything that looks very necessary."
Laughing jovially, the two friends waved briefly to each other as Kentama took his luggage in hand and left the clinic. He glanced at his watch as he stepped out into the chilly November air. He had a half-hour before his train left. That would be plenty of time.
He was irritated by the fact that he was finding it difficult to put Sanjima's words out of his mind. It had been just one more reminder that, although he was already nearing thirty, he still hadn't taken the time to find a mate. It wasn't really for lack of desire; he had healthy, powerful urges just like any other kagaijin. It was more or less a question of inconvenience. He had taken over the clinic from his grandfather less than five years ago, and although he was considered a medical prodigy by many standards - so much so that the new king himself came to him for medical treatment and advice, as well as bringing his family when necessary - he was quite overwhelmed by the large amount of work his practice saw. He'd had to hire on an assistant almost right away, and thankfully, Sanjima was more than competent. Still, even between the two of them, they often had to work very late hours and neither had much time for personal lives.
"Perhaps I'm doomed to remain married to my work," he chuckled with a wry grin. "I only hope that Sanjima realizes the danger and makes the right decision for himself. What might be fine for me definitely won't be for a man who does at least half of his thinking between his legs."
He walked the rest of the way to the train station, making deliberate puffs of steam out of his breath as it hit the cold air. He had always loved weather like this. It made him want to run and work his muscles. He needed to get out more; he was constantly restless and moody when he didn't get a chance to go running after work, and even when he did, sometimes it felt like it just wasn't enough. Nothing could beat a trek through the mountains, so when this free trip to visit the volcano fell into his lap, he was happy to take it. The fact that it had fallen on a week in the colder, later part of fall would ensure that there would be fewer visitors than normal, offering more peace and quiet to his trip. He was going to enjoy himself, and as he walked into the station and handed his ticket to the woman at the turnstile, he resolved himself to squeeze as much enjoyment out of this trip as he could, even if he had to go running around on the mountain like a wild animal.
Hatoko kept glancing furtively over her shoulder as she made her way up the northwestern slope of Usuzan. She'd had to sneak past park officials to get here, as they required all non-cleared people to take the designated walking paths on the other side of the mountain, and she knew from experience with other volcanoes in the region that they wouldn't agree to her taking the more treacherous, yet informational route to the lava dome. When she felt certain that she had avoided being seen, she was able to concentrate more on her climb up the seven hundred-plus meter-tall mountain. It was a relatively easy climb, with a gentle slope and decent footing in most places, but she had to watch her step, as much of the pumice and basaltic andesite had eroded over the years following earlier eruptions, and the topology of the mountain allowed for a large amount of gradual breakup into very small chunks. It was quite treacherous in places, but Hatoko was careful, and as she studied the various formations and flow paths, she scribbled hasty notes in her field guide. The apparent composition of the rock from the distinctly separate eruptions was intriguingly similar. It was possible that the magma contained in the chamber beneath the mountain had changed only slightly over the centuries, and that thought excited her to no end.
"I've got to take some samples and get them back to the lab to analyze them," she exclaimed, digging some sample bags from her backpack and stuffing a few egg-sized stones into them. "The spectroscope will tell me for certain. Oh, I hope I'm right!"
She eagerly pressed on, making her way up the mountain and taking samples along the way. As she gingerly picked her way higher and higher, she was becoming more and more flushed with excitement. All the pieces were falling into place. Her theories about the volcano and its origins, the connection to the Toya caldera - it was all becoming so much more solid. She was amazed by how productive a single field excursion could be. This is what she had been wanting. This is what she loved. She couldn't wait to get to the top and see what else she could discover.
In her elated, nervous state, she often stumbled and tripped as she forgot to pay attention to keeping her footing, but she happily forged ahead, ignoring scraped knees and chaffed hands. What were a few bruises and scrapes when she was advancing the world of science? Having finished her data collection on the uppermost lava plain, she removed her climbing gear from her backpack and prepared herself for the more rigorous part of her ascent. Now she had come to the lava dome, and the going would be much steeper. She couldn't wait to clear this last obstacle and get what she came for!
It only took the first twenty minutes of climbing for her to get her head out of the clouds and stop beaming like a twit. The rock was rough and sharp, and the climb was not a pleasant one. Every few feet, she had to create new footholds and knock in new nuts for attaching her carabiners and slings. It was slow going, because she had a limited supply of these things, and she kept having to cycle through them more frequently as a result. Before the span of an hour had transpired, she had become cold, tired, and raw. She kept looking up the slope, but no matter how far she came, it always looked just as high up. She was about fifteen feet up on a near vertical face jutting up from a small, rocky ledge, and although her altimeter told her she had only some thirty or forty meters before she reached the base of the rim, she was beginning to think that maybe it would behoove her to come back another time when she was better prepared for the task.
She was just unhooking the last carabiner clip from the tricam she'd set up to hold her for rappelling back down to the ledge, when the worst thing she could have imagined happened. She felt the unmistakable tremor of the rock as the mountain began to quake, and because it had taken her quite by surprise, she let out a frightened scream as the shaking grew in intensity and began to be accompanied by a gradually intensifying rumbling noise. She pressed herself flat against the cliff face and held tightly, hoping to all the gods ever mentioned that the quake was tectonic and not magmatic. Miraculously though, the quake subsided just as quickly as it had started, and then all was quiet. She waited with bated breath for several minutes before finishing her preparations for descent, and with shaking hands, she hastily began to rappel down the steep, rocky face.
She was barely five feet from the ledge when she felt the second quake hit, and this time it was much more violent than the first. Screaming again, she fumbled with her harness in a desperate attempt to drop from where she was and go for an emergency slide down the rest of the mountain. No sooner had she managed to unhook herself and drop to the ledge, however, than a deluge of gravel, stones, and big chunks of earth began raining down on her from above. She covered the top of her head with her hands and pressed her back against the cliff face, hoping to avoid most of the slide by hiding behind it. However, her efforts weren't good enough to avoid everything. A grapefruit-sized chunk of basalt broke off of the top of the cliff face and came down nearly vertically, slamming into one of the unprotected places near the front of her head, temporarily stunning her and causing her to fall onto her face across the ledge. As the mass of rock and earth began to subside, one final, large boulder came crashing down with it, and it landed squarely on one of Hatoko's legs, crushing her shin and ankle and pinning her to the ground.
The shock of the blow jerked her back to her senses, and she immediately screamed in agony. As the quaking subsided, and the falling rock ebbed off into a minor trickle of gravel, she howled and screamed in pain, desperately pulling against the rock ledge in an effort to drag her mangled leg out from under the heavy boulder. As she was on her stomach, she wasn't able to twist around well enough to try and push the rock away, but even if she had been, it was highly unlikely that she would have been strong enough to do so. She was pinned securely, and she was most definitely trapped. Feeling the pained heat flush her face as her eyes filled with tears, Hatoko tried desperately to keep from panicking. The quake would no doubt attract media attention, and maybe - just maybe - a news helicopter would fly by to get an aerial shot of the volcano. If it did, she had to be ready. Struggling to wriggle out of the straps of her backpack, she dislodged it and pulled it up in front of her face, crying aloud as the activity pulled at her throbbing leg and sent waves of pain shooting through her spine. She unzipped the emergency compartment of the bag and dug around until she found her flares and signal flags. She grabbed one of the flamboyant, neon-colored banners and opened up the telescoping stem, looking around for a place to plant it. Finding a small crack in the rock beside her, she jammed it in and returned to searching through her emergency supplies.
She cursed herself for cutting off her cell phone several weeks ago to save money. What she wouldn't give to have a working line out to civilization right now ... She looked helplessly at her two flares and tried to think of what she could do. She had to save them until she was sure someone would see them. But how long would that take? How long could she survive, knowing that the nights would be bitterly cold, and the wind at this elevation would be brutal? She felt the onset of hysterics setting in, and she tried to focus that energy into something productive. In the off-chance that someone might be nearby, she would put all her effort into crying for help. It was a ridiculously slim chance, but it gave her something to concentrate on, and she'd had enough survival training to know that she needed to keep calm as best as she could.
"Somebody help!" she screamed, shutting her eyes tightly and fighting off the urge to sob. "I'm trapped! I can't get off the mountain! Help me!"
She held her breath as she waited for an answer she knew would never come. When it didn't, she tried again. And again. And again. There was nothing else for her to do, so she continued for the next twenty minutes, becoming frantically surprised by how quickly her voice became hoarse and mute. After a while, she gave up on screaming for help and decided to cover herself up with the blanket in her pack and listen for any sounds of approaching life.
Thankfully, she didn't have to listen long. It was only a few minutes before she heard crunching noises that signaled to her that someone was ascending the mountain from below and coming in her direction. Her head shot up as every sense became alert and focused. Someone was definitely coming.
She tried to call out to get the unknown person's attention, but her voice had all but disappeared, and for some reason, her head was swimming. Maybe the hit she'd taken to her forehead had been serious ... She hadn't considered it until just now, but when she put her hand up above her eyes to feel the lump that had formed there, she was alarmed to notice that there was a fair amount of dried blood there, and the lump was very large indeed. Simply touching it made her vision blur and her head ache. She tried to shake off the disorienting sensations as she fumbled with her flares, thinking that if ever there was a time to use one, now was it. It took a surprising amount of effort to pull the cap off of it, but she succeeded in starting the magnesium based, reddish flame at last, and she tossed it down off the ledge, in a direction somewhat of an angle away from where she thought she heard the sound.
As soon as the flare went sailing over the ledge, the crunching noise stopped, and she held her breath. Then they began again, this time much more quickly, and much more deliberate. There was someone out there, and they were coming to where she was!
Tears were streaming down her scuffed, pallid face when Kentama clambered up onto the ledge and found her lying there, pinned beneath the large boulder. Through a remarkable stroke of luck, he had been on the mountain at the same time as she, and he had chosen to climb relatively the same path as she had taken, as he had wanted to avoid most of the tourist crowds, and he didn't mind rough terrain as much as humans did. He had only just begun his ascent when the first quake hit, so he was about to high-tail it back when he thought he had heard what sounded like a scream. Thinking there might be someone else up there, he wasn't sure what he should do. When the second quake hit, and he heard the scream again, only this time much louder and more urgent, he began to use the powerful senses of smell and hearing he'd been blessed with as a kagaijin to track the screamer down. He caught her scent relatively easily, but when the landslide of rocks came barreling down around him, he lost it again. When she began to call for help, he used her voice to guide him to her location, and thanks to the flare she'd thrown when she couldn't cry out any longer, he'd been able to find her at last.
He stared at her and grimaced as he noted the nasty lump on her forehead - probably caused by a falling rock, just as her leg injury had been. She raised her head weakly to look back at him, and he could tell from the way her eyes had glazed over that she was close to losing consciousness.
Speaking in a calm, soothing voice, he touched her shoulder and said, "don't worry; I'll get you out of here." Setting his hiking gear down, he walked over to the rock that was holding her to the ledge and inspected it. He could easily lift it with his strength, but it would look awfully suspicious if he did. Shaking the thought from his mind, he decided that it would be better to act quickly now and worry about the consequences once he had her in a safer location. Carefully, he grasped the three-foot wide boulder in his arms and lifted it away from Hatoko's leg. He then tossed it off the ledge and let it roll down the mountainside, kicking off small rockslides as it went. He examined her flattened leg and shook his head. It had been in this condition a long time. He only hoped that the cold had helped to preserve the flesh well enough to make up for the lost blood flow caused by the rock. He looked around for some trees or sticks with which to make a splint, but found none, as this part of the mountain was barren, having not yet regrown since the last eruption.
Hatoko couldn't see clearly at all anymore. Her head was swimming and her senses were reeling, but she could still tell that there was someone there to help her, and she wanted so badly to be able to see him. When the boulder came up off of her leg, she was too focused on her own pain to realize that it had been taken away thanks to the simple lifting job of her rescuer. She could only lie where she was, clutching at the ground and trying to stop the world from spinning around her.
"I'm going to have to carry you down," he sighed, shaking his head and kneeling down beside her. "I'd prefer to splint that leg before I do, but there aren't any sticks handy to make one, and there's no telling what's going on with this mountain. We won't want to be here if it goes off."
"Those quakes were ... tectonic ... I think," she mumbled raspily, her eyes fluttering as she struggled to push herself up off her chest. "It hurts ... I don't think I can put any weight on it."
"Don't even think about moving like that," he ordered her. Taking hold of one of her arms, he flung it over his shoulder and gently lifted her upright, taking care not to cause any undue stress to her leg. "I said I'll carry you down, and I meant it. You can't put any weight on that leg, or you'll do more damage to it. We need to get you to a hospital, or at least back to my clinic. I'm not so sure conventional medicine will be able to save..." he cut his sentence short when he realized that her muscles had relaxed and she was no longer conscious. Glad at least that she wouldn't be able to feel the bumpy ride, he cupped one arm under her knees and held her as steadily as he could while he carefully picked his way back down the mountain.
There were several more quakes as he trotted down the rocky, gravelly slope, and he had to stop and watch for rock slides, which occurred every so often. Although the falling rocks wouldn't really hurt him if they struck him, they would hurt the girl if one bounced onto her.
It took him some fifteen minutes to get down the mountain, and as he finally reached the base and began racing toward the visitor's center, the biggest quake of all hit. He looked back as he ran, and he saw that the mountain's summit was spewing smoke and ash. Mount Usu had just erupted.
He ran past the screaming rush of tourists trying to get out of the park, and he found a storage shed that was a short distance away from the main road out. He had no choice. He was going to have to take drastic measures. If he got caught up in the congestion leading out of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, there's no way he'd get her back in time to save the leg. It was time to use his own abilities. He only hoped that everyone's attention would be on the mountain, and not on the sky.
After setting Hatoko gently on the ground, he transformed himself into a much larger-than-life golden eagle. He carefully wrapped the large, taloned feet around Hatoko's torso before beating his massive wings and slowly ascending into the air, accelerating as he went. Since he was using his transmutative powers, he was able to mimic everything about the creature he had transformed himself into - right down to the hollow bones and powerful muscles that allowed him to fly. However, he could not change the amount of energy he had, and even with his kagaijin strength, he knew he couldn't keep them airborne all the way back to Henkyuu. He was going to have to take a shortcut.
Kubonai was barely a few kilometers or so away from their current position. Such a short distance was quite manageable for him, and thankfully, he had familiarized himself with the locations of safe houses of nearby cities just in case. He landed atop a gas station once inside the city limits, where he changed himself back into his human form. After glancing around to make sure no one had seen him, he jumped down behind the building and landed as softly as he could, so as not to jostle his patient. She hadn't stirred at all in the time since she had passed out, and that worried him. He hoped she didn't have a concussion, or anything more serious.
He quickly ran to a diner a couple blocks away, which was the closest safe house available. After running inside with Hatoko in tow, he was relieved to see that they had no customers at the moment. He nodded at the man behind the counter, who nodded back. The pudgy, apron-clad man motioned for Kentama to follow him into the kitchen, which Kentama did immediately.
Once they were away from the dining area, Kentama explained the situation and its urgency to Pakkun, the owner of the diner. He asked if he could borrow a phone, some towels, and a bucket of ice, and asked if Pakkun had any emergency first aid supplies on hand. Pakkun had already been staring at Hatoko and her nastily injured leg, so he didn't bother to ask what Kentama wanted the requested items for. He showed him where the office was, and said that the girl could lie on the couch inside while Kentama used the phone. Thanking him profusely, Kentama wasted no time. He laid Hatoko on the couch, and he had to prop her back up against one side, as she was a little too tall to fit comfortably across the couch otherwise. He picked up the phone receiver and began to dial as Pakkun rushed to get the items his visitor had requested.
"This is Doctor Kentama," he said when Darla, the receptionist at the other end, picked up and asked who was calling. "It's an emergency, and I need to speak to King Tsuyoken right away."
"Ah, doctor! Your assistant is trying to reach you! He says you've been caught up in a volcanic eruption! He already called the palace fifteen or twenty minutes ago, and his highness is in his private helicopter right now, flying out to Mt. Usu to see if he can find you!"
"Perfect," Kentama cried. "Patch a line through to him right away and tell him that I'm not at Usu; I'm at the nearby town of Kubonai, at Pakkun's safe house. I've got an emergency case on my hands, and I was hoping he might send someone out here to fly us back to my clinic."
"I'll do so immediately, Doctor," the receptionist replied. "Shall I also call your assistant and let him know you're not burned alive, as he was claiming you'd be?"
"No, I'll call the idiot myself," he replied, chuckling. "Thank you, Darla. Say hi to Kikenji for me."
Darla said she would, and then he heard the dial tone as she hung up to call Tsuyoken. By that time, Pakkun had arrived with the ice, towels, and a small first aid kit, and Kentama received it all with a thankful nod. "Do me a favor," he asked, opening the box, removing the surgical scissors, and kneeling down beside the couch at Hatoko's feet. "Dial a number for me and hold the receiver to my ear while I take care of this. I promise the call won't take long."
"No problem," Pakkun replied, grabbing the phone receiver and hovering over the dial. He was glad to be involved in the action, as he was fascinated to find out what this man would do to help the poor girl's leg. "I'm ready."
He gave him the number for the clinic, and when Pakkun held the receiver up to his ear, Kentama didn't have to wait long to hear Sanjima's agitated voice barking at him through the phone. "Yes? Henkyuu Emergency Clinic. What is it?"
"That's no way to answer the phone, you twit," Kentama chuckled at him. "What if I had been a customer calling?"
"Boss!" the phone practically shouted at him. "You're not dead! Thank the gods! The news of the eruption is all over the place! The mountain is spewing ash and flames everywhere in Shikotsu-Toya park, and the human news stations aren't making any estimates yet on the number of dead or injured. I was scared half to death, so I called up King Tsuyoken and begged him to find you."
"Although a part of me wants to punch you for bothering our king about something so ridiculous, I'm glad you did, Sanjima. Before the mountain blew, I discovered a woman who had been injured in a rockslide. We escaped before the eruption, and I'm in Kubonai. She has a very serious leg injury and some nasty-looking head trauma. I need to get her back to the clinic and perform emergency surgery on the leg, or she'll lose part or all of it. I can't leave it to the human doctors; they aren't going to be skilled enough."
"So how are you going to get her back here, Boss? Kubonai's a fair distance from here. You need something better than a train to get her here quickly, and the air traffic in that area will have been shut down by now because of the ash that Usu's spewing into the atmosphere."
"I know. That's why I'm glad you called King Tsuyoken. I've already had Darla send word to him to come here and pick us up. His helicopter is fast enough, and he shouldn't have much difficulty with the ash, as it's blowing away from us. We lucked out on that one; the winds are in our favor today."
"I'll have the operating table ready and everything else set up for you," Sanjima exclaimed, his tone all business now. "Anything special we need?"
"Just make sure the X-ray machine is ready. Oh, and check our stores on human blood," he responded, gritting his teeth as he finally managed to cut Hatoko's shoe and sock off of her foot and mangled, swollen ankle. "Make sure we at least have a couple of pints of Type O negative. She's lost enough blood to warrant caution, at least. I should think that the rest will be standard procedure. I'll take the reins on this one, though. Her injury is very messy, and you won't be able to fix everything quickly enough."
"Understood, Boss. I'm glad you didn't get caught in that eruption. It's causing all kinds of trouble for the humans who were near the mountain when it went off. The lava flows are slow, but the immediate problem is all the flaming chunks of rock it's throwing all over the place. Poor bastards."
He hung up then, and Kentama nodded at Pakkun to hang up the phone on their end. "I couldn't have saved them all," he sighed with a dejected scowl. "It's ironic that the one who would have been least likely to escape on her own is the one who had the best chance in the end."
"I wouldn't say it was a wasted effort though, myself," Pakkun commented brightly, staring with fascination as Kentama did his best to disinfect the lesions on Hatoko's leg with a multitude of cotton balls soaked in antiseptic. "If I had to choose one human out of a crowd to rescue, I might have chosen her anyway. She's a pretty one, isn't she?"
Kentama stopped what he was doing long enough to look at Hatoko's face, and for the first time, he realized that Pakkun was right. She WAS pretty. In fact, even despite her ugly bruises, bumps, and lesions, she was downright beautiful. He wondered why he hadn't noticed before. It was strange how emergencies blinded him to everything but the most dire matters.
"I hadn't even realized, but you're right. She is pretty, isn't she? I wonder who she is?"
"Maybe she carries an ID on her," Pakkun offered, motioning to the pockets on her shorts. "Let's find out." He walked around to the other side of Kentama and began rifling through her pockets. It was an innocent enough maneuver, but for some inexplicable reason, the sight of the chubby man digging around in there filled him with irritation. He kept silent, but his aggravation mounted when Pakkun, after finding nothing in Hatoko's side pockets, slid his hand under her backside to lift her and check her back pockets.