It was all she could find to say.
Mindlessly she descended down the sandy hillside, heading toward the dark mouth of the cave.
Dead? He wanted her dead?
That thought more than anything stabbed through her like a knife. Before, everything had made sense. Killing mom had been an accident, more or less. Mom's own choice, in actuality. She had more than enough skill and power to have saved herself, but she had chosen instead to save all those Moxie and Pantsu's rampage had taken.
Trying to kill Mox...she had always written that up to Pantsu being completely tainted by the Kyoumougan, losing his mind to his own envy. It was the heat of the battle and the conflicting ideas and Moxie's own inability to try and talk him out of it that had escalated their rivalry into bloodshed. And while that was horrible, it had made sense.
Why? Was she really that horrible to him? She had always teased Pantsu, even as a child. Always bossed him around. But that was her job, she was the big sister, she was the one who was always leading the way. Until they were fourteen, she had been the role model, even to Moxie who seemed so strong and far away from her now. But she had done all of those things out of love; because her brother and sister were too special, too important, too wonderful to be harmed, even by themselves. Someone had to keep them safe, and it had to be her. No one else could do it, not even mom because mom didn't understand what it was like to be a triplet, mom didn't understand the connection between them...
Had Pantsu ever felt that way? Ever?
Did he ever love her the way she had loved him? Not in this perverse, self-hatred, this fear of destroying her, but ever truly wanted to keep her safe and happy?
The cries from the cave shook her from her reverie, and none too soon. Those thoughts had to wait for now. She had to deal with the present, to those she could help right away. Her brother would be around later.
"Hello? I'm a Suna medic, I'm here to help."
"Oh thank goodness, in here! In here!"
Kohana rushed in, kunai tucked in her hand, waiting for the ambush. But none came. Tucked in the corner of the cave, a woman in her thirties was waving frantically. Another figure was laying down, cradled in the woman's arms.
She was...just a girl.
She couldn't be any older than Kohana herself, maybe even a year younger, but she was quite pregnant, her body swollen nearly to its breaking point. She was a pretty thing, with chocolate brown hair that was ragged around her shoulders. Her eyes were terrified, and her breathing sharp and shallow.
"Relax, it's okay, try to breathe slowly. Here, drink a bit of water, but drink it very slowly. Good...now how are you feeling? How far along are you?"
"I...it hurts...I think I'm having contractions..."
"How many weeks has it been? Months, do you know?"
"I lost track but...I mean, nine months, I know that, it's almost time...oh God, I thought I was going to make it out before she came, I can't let her be born out here..."
"It's okay, it's okay, there's a medical outpost not far from here, and we'll get yout here. I think you're just having stress-induced contractions, we'll get you calmed down. I think we can postpone labor until we get you back to Suna or one of the larger outposts, but don't worry, we have doctors and no matter what happens you and your baby will be safe. Okay?"
She took her hand and squeezed it. The girl's breathing slowed and she nodded, trying to hold her composure. The contractions seemed to be passing. Kohana looked at the woman.
"You did well, thank you for your help. And your daughter made it to the camp, she's being taken care of right now."
The relief on the woman's face shuddered all through her body. "Thank you..."
"Can you help me shift her? I need to deploy a stretcher, she shouldn't walk."
They managed to unroll the scroll beneath her back, and with a slight application of chakra, the stretcher appeared. They adjusted the pillow contained in the package, getting her as comfortable as possible. The woman looked tough, but she certainly wasn't strong, not compared to the young man outside. And as much as it was paining her to even think of her brother, she didn't really have a choice. She moved back to the mouth of the cave and cupped her mouth with her hands.
"Pantsu! Get down here, I need your help!"
She went back to the stretcher and pulled up on one end, testing the weight. They would be fine, provided none of the bandits showed up. '
"W-wait, what did you just say?"
"Oh, my brother, he was waiting outside, he'll help us carry you back."
"Yes, but what did you-"
Pantsu crossed into the threshold of the cave. The girl gasped, her eyes widening with panic, filling with tears. But there was another emotion dancing across her face, one Kohana didn't know how to place. She looked over to Pantsu, who looked equally shocked.
- - -
"I was part of the reinforcement team and we were en route here to provide you back up and...well, demand from Command that you pack up and move back. Intelligence reports are showing that whatever refugees haven't made it through by now are being rounded up into camps by the bandits and that specific operations have to be made to save them. BLOSSOM is too exposed here and they need support closer to home. But, on the way here we spotted not one, but two groups of bandits, rampaging through some nearby villages. Our squad captain decided that instead of coming here, that they were going to engage them directly, drawing them toward one another. Captain believes that they might be able to cause some confusion, forcing the two groups to fight each other for a bit, buying us some more time. They'll hold them off there for as long as possible, then fall back here for the final push out...bad news is, with two groups, we don't know how long they'll hold. And there's too many of them to repel, even if we include the forces we have here. We need to start evacuating now if we want a chance of escaping."
Ichigo plucked out two scrolls from his pouch and set them on the table. The Commander nad his two advisers stood around while he unrolled the first.
"We have two options of escape. First is here...there's an offshoot tunnel from the irrigation system a few miles due south. An access point. Too small to pull the injured through though, and there's a few sections where it wasn't meant to be accessed by people from that side. In short, we're going to need to clear the way with earth techniques or explosives and mine our way through to the main irrigation canal. We can then follow it back to Gorge Pass. Problem is, Command isn't too keen on making the irrigation canal even more accessible than it already is, but we can't simply walk through the desert, they'll pick us off slowly if we do. Captain suggested we could close the access tunnel we make behind us."
"That's very dangerous. Not only is Command right and that it would compromise Suna's general security, but if the bandits discover we're in there, it might be hazardous for our health. They only need one person with earth-chakra and they could start shaking the irrigation system apart. Even if we defended against a total cave in, the structure would suffer damage, and we will lose lives. I'm not convinced the 'protectoin' we would gain is worth that risk."
"Yeah, but we can keep a team up top, trace along the route as an escort, even to draw away any bandits that get close. Would require a team to be on their own though...practically a suicide mission in the right conditions. But it would work."
"The other option is a bit...more unconventional."
Ichigo scooped up that scroll and unfurled another.
"I have in my possession fifteen dirigibles from the Engineering Corps. Special loan from Hachidaime-sama. They should be enough to carry all the patients and civilians and well...fly us to safety. Our team has been trained on their operation, so we'd have enough pilots so long as we tether some of them together. It makes for a smooth ride and we would be out of bandit reach, for the most part. We won't be slowed down by terrain...of course, if they have any long-ranged techniques or weapons, the dirigibles aren't exactly armored. We'd have to leave some of our soldiers on ground level to help protect them. Probably don't have enough room to take them all into the air anyway. I have all the equipment for construction and I know how to do it, but again it'll take some time to get it ready and to load everyone on safely. We need to start right now if we're going to have a chance to make it...same with the tunnel. No solution is particularly quick, Commander. Sorry, but these were the best we could come up with."
"That's quite ingenious, actually. No one will expect for us to simply float our way out of here, if we leave the rest of the camp's structure here the bandits may not even notice us. They'll fan out looking for traditional trails of escape and they won't find us. A brilliant strategy."
"Oh hell no, no way. This is no time to be testing out new technology and insane evacuation plans. These people are hurt. Putting them into a giant flying thing might result in them, oh I don't know, falling, and put a pretty big damper on their recovery. It's too risky to be testing this out on civilians, Commander, better we take our chances in the tunnel."
"Going into the tunnel means there will be assured casualities, Lanai. The dirigible is a gamble, but the only one where we might be able to save everyone."
"As a medic, we can't take that kind of gamble."
"Well we don't have time for both. We need a decision now, Commander. Our team can't hold them off forever."
They all looked at him, awaiting a decision.