Published: August 5, 2012
Foruma Zenjutsuma paced outside of the room restlessly, fearing the worst for his wife. It had been two days... There was no way to hope the birth was going smoothly. He jerked to a stop as a nurse stepped out of the room, a knot of panic in his stomach. When her face turned to him, she smiled softly and said, "She's asking for you. Congratulations. You have a healthy son." Elation filled him from head to toe and he brushed past her into the room.
Before him, lying in a four-poster bed with a bundle in her arms was his wife. Her black hair was drenched in sweat, her face pale but for a slight pink tinge in each cheek. She smiled when he came in, aqua eyes seeming to glow with pride. He sat down beside her, cupping her hand in both of his as she reached out for him.
"My love... Look at our child...is he not beautiful?" She breathed, turning the baby's face to her husband. The infant let out a small cry, tiny fists curled; a splash of white hair fell around his face, framing delicately pointed ears. Foruma looked on in astonishment, holding a finger out to the child so that it could take it in one tiny little hand.
"What is he...?" His wife laughed.
"He is our son! What else?" She looked down affectionately at the infant in her arms. "Let's name him...Hiruma. The beginning of my name, and the ending of yours. A symbol. That Himeko and Foruma will never be parted." Foruma leaned over and kissed her damp forehead.
"Whatever you wish for this child, so will it be."
Five years later, Hiruma clambered over the garden wall, laughing as he heard the frantic voices of his nurses as they searched for him in the yard. He turned to look at the wide-open forest, every tree a concussion of dappled green leaves dripping spring rain. He looked back one last time, and, finding no one in pursuit, ran into the dense undergrowth.
After a long afternoon spent chasing butterflies and climbing trees, he began to make his way back home. As he was walking, though, he heard a hiccup. Looking around, he went toward the noise and found a little girl hiding beneath a bush, face streaked with tears.
"Hullo." he said quietly, kneeling beside her. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" She peered up at him with large green eyes, black curls hanging around her face in tangles. She shook her head.
"I-I don't know where I am... I'm sc-scared." Hiruma smiled.
"That's alright! I know where you are."
"Yeah! You're in the middle of nowhere!" At this, the little girl began to sob, covering her face in her hands. Hiruma looked puzzled. Was it something he said? "Hey, it's not so bad. In fact, it's great! The middle of nowhere is a wonderful place. It's a place where you can do whatever you want, be whatever you want to. So you see? It's the most wonderful place to be."
"But-but what if it gets dark?" He sniffed indignantly.
"If it gets dark, you sleep, of course! What else?"
"On the ground?"
"No. In the sky." He pointed up into the branches of a large oak tree. The girl wiped away her tears.
"I-I want to try..."
"That's the spirit!" He gave her a boost, and then climbed up after her into the tree as the sun sank behind the horizon. He pulled a handful of nuts out of his shirt pocket and handed them to her.
"You're hungry, right?" She nodded, cracking one open and putting it into her mouth gingerly. He pulled off his shirt and handed it to her. "Here. Use this as a blanket." She giggled.
"You're funny... What's your name?"
"Hiruma. What's yours?"
"Toru." The night slipped by peacefully, and Hiruma woke at the crack of dawn. He shook Toru awake, whispering, "Have you ever watched a sunrise?" She shook her head and he grinned, pointing out to the horizon. From their vantage point, the pale morning light seemed to wash over the countryside in a cascade of gold. Toru gasped in delight.
"Isn't it?" She nodded, handing him his shirt back so that the suns rays could warm her. He tugged it on, glad that she wasn't afraid anymore.
From underneath them, there was the sound of undergrowth crunching beneath boots.
"Aw, man!" He mumbled under his breath. His dad always had to ruin the fun, didn't he? He sighed. "Come on," he said, taking Toru's hand. "That's my dad. If I make him wait any longer, he'll do more than just flay me alive. COMING!!!" He yelled. They made their way down the tree and Hiruma held Toru's hands and lifted her to the ground, jumping down after her.
The look on his father's face made him wish he'd stayed in the tree.
"What were you thinking!? Do you know how worried we were about you!? Where have you been!?"
"...a tree." Muttered Hiruma. Before his father could take his ear and haul him home, he said, "And saving Toru!"
"Toru...?" Asked Foruma, seeming to see the girl for the first time.
"See? I would've come home a lot sooner, but I had to keep Toru safe!" He puffed out his chest.
"...I see." Said Foruma thoughtfully. Unable to be forcefully angry any longer he pulled Hiruma up into his arms with a grin. "Well, I suppose if you were only seeing to you're gentlemanly duties, then I don't have to resort to the Rack. But you will not be allowed outside for two weeks." He said seriously. "Not even to save cute girls." Hiruma stuck his tongue out at him. Foruma held out his hand to Toru, who took it hesitantly. He lifted her up beside Hiru. "Well, young lady. I don't doubt there will be some new neighbors of ours who will be very happy to have you back in hand. So," he interjected. "I suppose you two will just have to be playmates then, mm?" They both cried out happily and Foruma carried them back to the house.
Something wasn't right. Foruma knew it. Himeko smiled at him, but no emotion showed in her eyes. Once a lively ocean blue, they were now as cold as a frozen sea. "Hiruma..." He said softly. "Take Toru and walk her home please.". Hiruma knew better than to refuse when his father held that tone. Taking Toru's hand, he led her out of the house. As soon as the door clicked behind them, Himeko began to laugh, dashing the empty bottle in her hand to the floor.
"Himeko what are you doing? I've never seen you drink. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong? That filthy child is what's wrong! You're what's wrong! I can't believe I was so completely fooled! My throne... My crown...! My little sister is as sly as a fox! How could I be so idiotic? She's tricked me, and now I'm tied down to this world by a stupid human and his half-blood son!!"
"Do not say my name so freely!! I am a queen! You're tongue shall not disgrace my name, wretch!" She began to run towards the door. "I will not stay here! I will not spend the last of my lives in this hole...!" Foruma reached out for her desperately. He would brush it aside as the drink talking, but he knew in his heart she was deadly serious.
"Love... Don't-don't leave me! What will I do without you--" His voice broke, and he slumped to the floor. She turned to him, a sneer contorting her features.
"I am not your love...! I am not your wife! My real husband is waiting for me in my real home!"
"I don't understand what you're saying...!"
"You fool--! This is not my world. I've been tricked. Everything that happened afterwards was a farce, including you. I have but one life left. I will not spend it here."
Foruma shook, looking up at her with wide, tear-filled eyes. When he spoke, his voice was choked with pain. "Is there nothing I can do to make you stay...?"
She sniffed derisively, spinning away from him, but stopped in her tracks. Without looking at him, she said, "You are a scientist."
"Yes." He saw his chance, and he grasped it with clinging fingers, refusing to let go.
"Perhaps...I may come back to you." Her voice was feral, hungry.
"Name what you will, I will do anything...!"
"Give me immortality. If you can do that, I will come back to you, never to depart again."
"I'll do it." She saw the madness in his eyes and didn't doubt him. "But... If I truly understand what you say, you are of a different race than me. How am I to know if I can make you immortal? I would need..." he gulped noisily. "I will need test subjects."
She grinned, showing sharp teeth. "You have one in your own back yard. Use it. Remember what you said to me the day that thing was born? Now is the time. This is what I want for that child." She mumbled a few words under her breath, and a black sword appeared in her hand. As soon as she had finished breathing the sentence, black ears appeared from beneath her hair, a smooth tail flicking behind her. She held the sword out to him.
"This is a family heirloom of mine. It is a Gatekeeper. When you have accomplished your goal, call to me by stabbing this into the ground. I will here you. Now...farewell. And do not forget your promise." She smiled sweetly and kissed Foruma's forehead, then a shining blue light enveloped her and she was gone.
Foruma stayed kneeling where he had collapsed, mind on the verge of leaving all sense. "I will make you come back. You will return to me. I will show you my worthiness. I-I-I..."
"Father...?" Foruma spun to see Hiruma standing in the doorway, ears and tail like a cat's. "Dad, what's going on...? Just a sec ago... I... What's happening?" He peered into his father's face, seeing the madness there. He stepped backward, fear twisting in his gut.
"Hiruma... A symbol... That we will never be parted," whispered Foruma hoarsely. "How true that statement will become. You're six now, correct?"
"...Yes..." Hiruma continued to stumble backward, appalled by his father's coldness.
"Perfect...yes, a perfect age. I will begin as soon as possible."
"Dad, what are you talking about?" He jolted as a sweet voice interrupted the tension.
"Hiru, I almost forgot to wish you happy...birthday." Toru paused behind her friend, eyes widening at the strange sight before her.
"Toru, go home." said Hiruma in a whisper. Foruma shook his head, pressing a button on the radio clipped at his side.
"Rokuya, get in here." moments later, the captain of the guard came into the room, trailing tree or four men. "Take these children and transport them to my lab."
"DO IT!" the guard complied, and they were taken roughly by the arms and forced outside and into the back of a van. The doors slammed behind them. Toru began to cry, and Hiruma wrapped her tightly in his arms, shushing her quietly.
Confusion clouded his mind. Everything he had trusted, everything he had believed in, was falling apart before his eyes. What was he supposed to think now? He didn't know.
After a long, bone-rattling ride, the van screeched to a stop, the motion tearing Toru out of his arms. The doors were flung open. Toru's small hands reached out to him, her childish face running with tears. His heart wrenched in his chest as she was suddenly jerked away by latex-gloved hands. He heard a shout in his head and realized that the voice belonged to him. He struggled helplessly against a second set of powerful arms that held him captive. Arching his head back, he hit his assailant in the face, causing them to drop him onto the gravel. He stepped back and turned around to hit him again when he abruptly stopped and let out a cry like a wounded animal. His father smiled back at him darkly, holding a hand to his bleeding nose.
"Dad...? Dad, what is this? What are you going to do?" The other man smiled madly.
"You have been chosen, boy. Chosen to be immortal."
"What are you talking about?"
"Immortality. I'm going to give it to you."
"Dad, I don't understand. I don't want to be immortal." His father sneered.
"As if you have a choice." He nodded to some men behind him and they leapt forward, grasping Hiruma's arms and dragging him away. He cried out repeatedly, his voice feral.
Hiruma fell to the cold stone floor as he was flung back into his cell, bruises aching as he sat up and looked out at nothing. Toru, her thin lips trembling, came to kneel by him, putting a malnourished hand on top of his.
"Hiruma... What are they doing to you?" He looked at her through hollow, haunted eyes, stroking the side of her face with his other hand.
"Nothing. Nothing more than the usual. It's just that... I turn seven today. I've kept count. 356 days ago, we were taken here. 356 days ago, I found out I wasn't human." Hardship had aged both of them far beyond their young years. No two children held more pained wisdom in their countenances. Toru felt the tips of Hiruma's soft cat ears, caked with dried blood and dirt.
"I don't care what your dad says, Hiruma. You're more human than anyone in this place." A small silence followed.
Hiruma bowed his head, breathing becoming troubled; he clutched at his chest as his blood began to feel thick in his veins. Slumped in Toru's arms, the world began to grow dark. He heard her panicked cries for help, and then his eyes closed, and he heard no more.
When he woke, Foruma stood outside the cell, a sickening look on his face. "Awake at last!" He cried. "So I have discovered the immunity to all poisons." He seemed pleased with himself, and then abruptly threw his notes to the ground in a fit of unconcealed rage. "But it is not immortality...! Curse you, you useless child! I will put you through a hell as no one's ever imagined for your failure!! How dare you...! You useless-!" He reached through the bars and grasped Hiruma's shirt, pulling him forward until he ran into the cold metal. He did this repeatedly until blood ran down Hiruma's forehead and pooled at his feet. Toru sat curled in the far corner, tears streaming down her face as she cried.
"Stop, stop, stop...! Y-you'll kill him...! You'll kill him...!" She sobbed. Foruma came to his senses and dropped Hiruma back to the ground.
"Oh no." He said fiercely. "No, we can't have that." He called for a nurse to tend his son's wounds and walked stiffly down the hall, spitting in their direction as he faded out of sight.
Hiruma sat numbly as the nurse finished and left the cell, closing the door behind her. He looked at Toru with despairing realization in his eyes as he said, "He hates me. He actually hates me. His own son..." Wetness streaked his face and he realized he was crying. Toru crawled over to him and held his face in her hands, putting her forehead against his. It was the only comfort she could give.
During the days that followed, as she waited each day patiently for Hiruma to be brought back to her, she knew Foruma was keeping his word. She could see it, as Hiruma's vitality seemed to grow dimmer with each passing day, and with it, his fond memories of his father. One by one, she watched them die off until all that was left was hatred as deep and dark as a lie. She could find no blame in him. If anything, he blamed himself. This, she knew because he gave her his food, his blanket... Anything to make it better for her. She hated this place, that was true. But she didn't hate Hiruma. She knew it wasn't his fault. But he took the fault all the same. And it was slowly consuming him.
Kai clambered farther up into the tree, his thirst for exploration never quenched. His mother was irritated with him for it, to be sure, but that didn't stop him. He had heard a story about this forest that begged for investigation, and he intended to fulfill that need.
He never tired of hearing it. Though most grown-ups changed the subject whenever he entered the room, he'd gathered just enough to put together a roughly understandable compilation. Every day, he would wander into this forest and retell it to himself, tweaking slight details every time until he was satisfied of it's oratory perfection. Sitting tight up in the branches of his tree, he told his creation out loud to himself, play-acting the motions as he went.
"Once upon a time, a long long long long time ago, four years ago, to be exact, there was a guy who lived next door to the esteemed Siciel family. The guy's son, a brave young warrior named Yakuza, (that's me, ladies and gentleman.) was betrothed to the princess and heir of his esteemed neighbors, the beauty by the name of Hitoru. How did this unheard of betrothal between a lovely, respectable maiden and the dashingly handsome (but poor) rascal Yakuza come about? I will tell you, my astounded audience."
"Once upon another time, when Yakuza was out in the forest hunting for bears, he heard the delicate cry of a fair maiden. (You can always tell how pretty they will be by the sound of their voice.) Dashing into the fray where he heard this pitiful call, he fought twelve enormous bears at very great risk to his health and saved Hitoru. She thanked him, and he swept her up into his arms and bore her home to her family."
"So you see, the betrothal came about, but that's not the point of the story. This guy that was Yakuza's father went completely bonkers the night of his son's 16th birthday, the day after the bear thing. Naturally, Hitoru was invited. Forhooka, (for that was this deranged father's name, my friends.) as we have said, Forhooka went mad as a...a... whatever. He went mad and ordered his son's capture, along with his beautiful Betrothed. Yakuza fought gallantly, but there were too many bears, and he was overcome. They were both taken away to a very secret place inside this forest, and though the Siceil family has searched and searched, they have not found it. So is the story of the two unhappy, unfortunate, and unknown heroes. Except for Hitoru, who is obviously a heroine. Will they ever be found? Will Yakuza ever be able to set his beloved free? Shall we ever know? This is what I am here today to find out, my friends." He paused, remembering that he, himself was playing the part of Yakuza, but had suddenly switched back into himself. He tried to correct himself before his invisible audience, but in the end, gave up and kicked the trunk of the tree. This caused him to slip, and he yelped as he fell a ways, branches cracking underneath him and ripping his coat tails. Finally, he was able to snag a branch. He struggled until he was straddled across the limb, and then sighed in relief, trying to get his breath back. It was then that he saw it. The fence.
It was enormous, stretching out to either side and then cutting inwards to form a square. It was constructed of metal, with wire wound around the top, razors protruding from it each inch or so. The ground inside of this enclosed area was sorry-looking, covered in only the stubble of some dead grass where the ground wasn't scraped clean. Kai inhaled a large breath and scrambled down to the ground, making note of the proper direction to walk. He jogged as quietly as possible to the fence, touching the cold metal in wonder. His story came to mind, and he looked curiously about as if to see the brave warrior and beautiful maiden appear before him. What he found instead were a glassy pair of eyes staring at him. He shouted in surprise, falling over backwards.
Hiruma clung to the metal links, staring at the unexpected visitor.
"Who're you?" The stranger asked.
"Can you dig?" Answered Hiruma.
"Are you some sort of criminal?"
"Can you dig?" Hissed Hiruma. The boy nodded.
"What, you can't manage?" Hiruma showed Kai bloody fingernails.
"I don't have anything to dig with."
"Look," Kai said, putting his hands up. "If you're asking me to free you, I'm not doing it. I don't want to end up in there with you."
"It's not me."
"Oh, no?" Hiruma shook his head.
"I have to get Toru out of here." Kai felt his heartbeat quickening.
"She's just a little girl. She didn't deserve any of this. Promise me...promise me you'll come here in three days. You can dig a tunnel under the fence and get her out." Kai puzzled.
"But what about you?" Hiruma shook his head.
"If I left, He would notice. He hardly notices Toru anymore. I could say that she died. She could be free. Promise me you'll come!" Kai nodded.
"I promise." As soon as he had said the words, there was a noise in the yard. Hiruma's head jerked around.
"Go...!" He said out of the corner of his mouth. "Get out of here!"
Kai ran with all his might back to the tree, hands on his knees as he gasped for air. He glanced around, fearing something terrible. When nothing happened, he marked the spot by tearing off the cuff of one sleeve and tying it to the lowest branch of the tree.
He ran towards home then, knowing he wouldn't sleep for the next two nights.
Three days later, Hiruma sat alone for the first time in his cell. Toru's escape had gone far better than he expected. Now he was alone... But at least she was safe. She had spent 5 years rotting in this cell, waiting for him. Guilt gnawed at the corners of his mind. He had so much of it that he thought he might burst.
The bang of the outer door opening jolted him back to reality. He felt fear twist his insides. Had they recaptured Toru? Had they found out?
Foruma's unshaven face peered through the bars. He chuckled. "Today. Today I get one step closer to Himeko." Hiruma flinched at the mention of his mother's name. Since his sixth birthday, he hadn't seen or heard anything from her. His father's ramblings only confused him. Foruma gestured to the pair of guards accompanying him, and they shoved roughly into the room, pulling him up off of his stiff legs and binding his hands behind his back. He didn't have the strength to struggle anymore. The fight in him vanished four years ago.
They hauled him through the doors and into the lab wing of the facility. Even after all this time, the pungent smell of disinfectant still sent his stomach reeling. They pulled him into a room he'd never seen before, which was surprising. He'd memorized them all. A nurse cut the cord around his wrists, scrubbing him down with a sanitizing rag and pulling his shirt over his head, replacing it with a white, long-sleeved shirt made if thin fabric. No doubt to keep his filth at bay. It was then that his father stepped into the room carrying long, black sword in two hands, reverently. He placed it in the corner of the room, as if he wanted it to see and hear what was about to take place. Hiruma tensed as Foruma stood over him. Something flickered in his father's face. Pity...? Regret...? It was so minuscule that he didn't have time to label it. He was shoved into a chair and strapped down. Foruma was mumbling to himself.
"...Finally...finally...! I'm so close... This will end my waiting. My love... You will return to me."
For the first time in five years, Hiruma spoke to his father.
"What are you going to do...?"
Foruma paused, not turning around. "I'm going to make you immortal. And then I'm going to kill you. And you will be born somewhere else, to someone else, and will no longer burden me with your presence."
"You're a despicable creature." It was said as a statement, holding no vehemence.
"Perhaps." The crazed man placed a simple square of steel on the floor, and then began to chant. The language was other-worldly, and Hiruma knew it didn't come from this realm. It sent chills down his spine and through his bones.
Suddenly the air was filled with a piercing shriek. Hiruma's world slowly shredded to pieces before him as he felt a sensation like that of being rented in two. He saw both outside of himself and from his body as his soul was forcefully torn from its rightful place. He looked on in astonishment as his body continued to scream, ears returning to a simple point and tail disappearing. His father mumbled more under his breath, and Hiruma's soul split, one half returning to his tortured body as the other began to be bound to the steel square on the floor.
All at once, the world was splashed with red. Another man stood in the room, his hand passing through Foruma's chest. Blood bubbled to his father's mouth.
That was all Hiruma could take in until the unbound piece of his soul became blind to its surroundings. He floated in a place where there was no color. No light. He could feel himself fading away...
'...who is that?'
'I am the Gatekeeper. My name is Truth.'
'...ah...' His consciousness of the conversation began to dwindle.
'Child...! This piece of your soul is lost. Without something to bind it to the world, you will fade away!'
'And what if I wish to fade away?'
'You cannot. Despite the evil that surrounds you, you have a destiny still to build. If you bind yourself to me, you will live. You will see those you care for again.' Hiruma thought of Toru.
'What of Foruma?'
'He is dead. The man killed him.'
'I am indebted to that man...I must repay him.'
'Very well. I warn you now, if you bind your soul within this shell in which I reside, it may shorten this life by much.'
'And the other lives...?'
'Just as short. And yet you will live on. For I am one thing that cannot be severed. Your nine lives will become infinite, and yet numbered.'
'I don't care anymore. I need just one. If I can have just one life where I am rid of my father, then I will take millions more without much hurt to my conscience.'
'So shall it be.'
Hiruma woke not in his cell, but in a comfortable bed. His sword, Truth, lay beside him on an oaken dresser. He sat up slowly. He knew one half of his soul was bound to the sword... But remained coldly logical of the fact.
"Ah, so you are awake." Hiruma turned towards the voice. The young man smiled at him, silver hair framing his face, accenting pale blue eyes as sharp as crystals. Though the man's face was pleasant, something about him was empty. But that didn't concern Hiruma.
"Are you the man who killed my father?"
"I am indeed." He inclined his head. "You may call me Lord Raizhao. Yes...that has a nice ring to it." he said the last part to himself, as if the title had just been decided. Maybe it was. Hiruma threw off his covers and knelt before Raizhoa, one hand to his chest in a salute.
"In that case, I owe you the debt of my life. Use it as you will." Raizhoa grinned.
"How marvelous. I do actually have a few errands for you to run. You and your Gatekeeper. You see, I can only travel to other worlds at great expense to my convenience. And you seem to be just the prototype I am looking for anyway." He held up a worn notebook. "Foruma Zenjutsuma's notes." He flipped through them carelessly. "Your father was a fool, but I see opportunities abounding in his unfinished work. How would you like to ravage the old scoundrel's intentions and cause him to turn in his grave?" Appetite for revenge gnawed at Hiruma's emotions. He nodded savagely. "Then you will be my first. The first Shadow."
Another four years had passed since the day of his father's death. Hiruma pulled the grinning mask over his face and clenched Truth tightly in his hand. Below him, a couple walked slowly in the light of the two setting suns. Hiruma crept through the branches of the blossoming tree, reviewing Raizhoa's orders in his head one more time, though they were always the same. Kill the targets. Test your strength, and amuse me with the details when you return.
Hiruma leapt down from the tree, feet whispering against the ground. Two cries filled the night as he set about fulfilling Raizhoa's orders and the bloodlust he felt for adults. When he finished, he left them dead where they lay, looking down at his blood-drenched hand. He wiped it and Truth clean on the grass, and then watched as the woman's blood stained the cherry petals surrounding her body. It was a beautiful death. What more could one want, then to die in their lover's embrace? To live, Hiruma knew. But no sentiment went with the statement. A void opened in front of him and he stepped through to take his report to Raizhoa.
"I know he's in that mansion!" Complained Toru. "I've seen him!"
"What you've seen," retorted Kai, "Is some creep in a mask climbing the roof once or twice. It isn't him."
"I'm thirteen! I'm not stupid. I know what I saw, and what I saw was Hiruma." She felt her heart thump in her chest as she waited for Raizhoa to take his daily outing. Who knows where he went. She just had to make sure he was gone before she ventured into the mansion.
"Toru, it's not that weird for a creeper to be around this guy's house. Everyone knows he's behind all the political subterfuge and murders that have been happening lately."
"Than why hasn't anyone done anything?"
"Well-well--!" She didn't wait for him to answer. Raizhoa left the house and clambered into his carriage, heading heaven knows where. As soon as he passed out of sight, a shadow appeared on the roof of the house.
"Hiru...!" Toru scrambled out of her hiding place behind a tree and ran towards the mansion. Kai followed, swearing underneath his breath. The shadow seemed to slither from the roof to the ground in one fluid motion. Before it could vanish entirely, Toru called out.
"Hiruma...!" The dark spot that could've been human paused, turning and stepping out into the light. It lifted the grinning mask over its face and stared at them with steely eyes.
"No one knows that name except Lord Raizhoa... Who are you?" When an answer didn't come right away, the apparition shrugged and hefted its sword. "No matter. I will just have to kill you."
"B-but Hiru...! It's me! It's Toru!" She cried, on the verge of tears. Kai leapt in front of her as the black blade streamed toward them. It stopped in midair.
"...Toru...?" Immediately, a part of himself that had been buried for far too long surfaced, and Hiruma saw just what he was doing. Suddenly, a flood of horrible images rushed to the fore of his mind, and he dropped Truth, retching. Had he done all that? Had he really killed all those innocent people? The image of Raizhoa standing above him wearing a flashing white smile kindled inside him an awful feeling of realization. He had repaid his life debt by slaughtering hundreds of innocent people. What had he done...? What...?
Toru shook Hiruma's shoulder, but he remained where he was, clutching his head in his hands and sobbing through clenched teeth.
"Hiru...Hiru, was it Raizhoa? Did he make you do bad things?" She knelt beside him and lifted his head, putting her forehead against his as she had done so many years ago. "It's okay...it wasn't your fault. It was Raizhoa that did it. Okay?"
Some of what she said registered in Hiruma's pained sense of perception. Raizhoa. His father had had part in destroying him, surely, but it was Raizhoa who had turned him into what he was. He had to stop him. Raizhoa would do even more terrible things. Hiruma had to do something about it. Raizhoa had created him. Now, Hiruma would do everything in his power to stop him.
He lifted himself from the ground, embracing Toru. He recognized Kai and shook hands with him.
"If it weren't for you...Toru..." He didn't finish his sentence, only nodded solemnly. Kai nodded back.
"I'm guessing that Raizhoa guy put some sort of spell on you. He's not gonna be happy to find out we broke it."
"Then we won't stay here." As he said it, Hiruma picked up Truth and took Toru's hand.
"I know where we can go
" Said Kai. "My uncle is a noble in the neighboring kingdom. I ran away, but... there's no use in passing up the chance."
When they arrived, Kai's uncle was only too glad to take them in, drunken sot of a noble that he was. All three stayed within the confines of the Court for three years, until one night, their number suddenly decreased...
Hiruma couldn't sleep. There was an uncomfortable twinge in his chest that wouldn't go away. Restless, he got out of bed and wandered the halls, pausing every now and again to listen to the rain as it pattered against the roof.
"What are you doing awake...?" Hiruma looked over to see Kai standing at the rail of the stairs, a goblet of sparkling cider in his hand. His friend saw his look and shrugged.
"What? Water is boring."
"Nothing." Said Hiruma with a smirk. A fit of coughing racked him, and he gasped as the pain in his chest escalated to agony. "Nnhgh!" Kai ran to his side.
"Whoa, what's wrong?" Hiruma shook his head. When he pulled his hand away from his mouth, it was flecked with blood. Kai's eyes grew wide.
'It has begun...' Truth's voice echoed in Hiruma's mind. Resignation filled Hiruma's voice when he next spoke.
"Kai... I'm not going to live for much longer. The truth is, I've been slowly dying since the year I turned ten. I never did tell either of you... I didn't have the heart." His friend looked at him sadly.
"But Hiruma...what about Toru?" Hiruma smiled.
"That is what makes you a good person, Kai. Instead of feeling glad because I will no longer be in your way, you're concerned for her. That comforts me." He was silent for a moment. "I'm going away. I have to find Raizhoa and put an end to him before I run out of time. It's better for me to leave now, while Toru can be surrounded by people who care. Tell her...tell her I abandoned you. That I went to seek my own happiness. That will cut all ties between us. You deserve her love more than I do, anyway. Take care of her for me, Kai."
"I will. On my life, I will."
Hiruma gathered his provisions and clasped Truth in his hand as he left the Court behind.
"Goodbye Toru. Kai." A blue light enveloped him, and he was gone.
He had been tracking Raizhoa for ten months, and this was the outcome.
He snarled and leapt back as a clawed, skeletal arm slashed at his face. His vision blurred, and he staggered, chest heaving.
He was surrounded in a circle of pitch darkness except for the sorcerer's light that kept him in plain view of his enemies. Deep, feral sounds and the padding of animal paws rushed past in the darkness. He was being closed in.
Letting out a mad laugh he cried, "You still think I don't know? Do you think I'm unaware of who you are and what you're doing!?"
"I think you're a fool, just like you're father."
Hiruma spun to face Raizhoa as he stepped forward, clad in sorcerer's robes. Walking calmly toward him, Raizhoa scrutinized Hiruma with golden eyes, the gleam of arrogant wickedness in them freezing Hiruma's blood.
"You are quite over-confident, Zenjutsuma. Don't you know I can kill you in an instant?"
"Yes. I know that, you coward."
"Than you're afraid?"
"That is unwise."
"You admit your folly then?"
"The only folly here is that you were born." Raizhoa sneered.
"And yet, if I hadn't been, then where would you be now?" He glared, speaking dangerously low. "You will not stop me."
"What will you do? Kill me? That won't stop me, as you well know. I'll reincarnate. I will hunt you down until I kill you. You gave me all the skills I need. In a sense, I was made to stop you."
"Oh, I won't kill you."
"What?" Uncertainty became a hard lump in his throat.
The last thing he knew was the feeling of cold ice consuming him.
So Hiruma lay dormant.
For 200 years.
Hiruma gasped in pain and flung the shard away from himself, sobs contorting his features.
'There is nothing you can do about the past. Now you must see to your future.'
Hiruma wiped the silver tears from his face, staggering to where he had thrown the shard. It had melted, seeping into the ground like a teardrop. He stood slowly, still trembling, and turned, making his way to the edge of the forest. When he saw all of his comrades, he saw them in a new light. The weight of his past was an extremely heavy burden. Was it up to him to heft it all? Exhaustion from his ordeal took his mind, and he fell into the tall grass senseless.