Flames. Shrine. Kimonos. Maidens. Kagura.
The blue haired watches as the Takamizawa shrine and their daughter perform the ritual with another miko, unblinking. Every movement was poised with grace and certainty. Unlike the usual expressions she usually wore...this one was quiet, patient, gentle, unwavering, with her golden eyes sparkling just like how they always do in every performance. The red lipsticks that were put on them were visible to everyone even from afar. The performance was dazzling. Awing. It was elegant.
“You're jealous,” Celestin states for him.
He didn't bother turning to the Raven resting on his shoulder. “So, what if I am?” Yuujirou questioned even though it was ridiculously clear what the answer was.
She looks at him from the side, opening her beak but deciding to close them again.
Beside him, Hiyori chuckles, “I don’t think Someya-kun's jealous…” on her head rests Metrius.
Celestin turns to her with a curious gaze, “How so?”
“I'm not all that certain,” Hiyori draws a small smile. “Maybe...Someya-kun wants to be just like Takamizawa-san.”
“You want to be ju–”
His dæmon nibbled on his ear, stopping unwanted memories from rewinding to quickly bring him back to the present, and he was grateful for that.
“Perhaps,” Yuujirou says flatly.
“Yuujirou…” the Raven says quietly and the boy ignored her.
Everyone is quiet when the ritual ends, only the noise of flames can be heard until the ones on stage silently returns inside the shrine where they can no longer be seen. Yuujirou started walking away, catching a glimpse of his friend's puzzled expression.
He waves her off without turning around, “I have better places to be.”
It was only when they were further away that Celestin started judging him.
“Why did you do that?”
“Does it matter?”
“Sullen,” he hears Celestin mutter.
“Someya-kun wants to be just like Takamizawa-san.”
The words from yesterday glued itself to Yuujirou's mind until sleep could no longer get to him.
A destructive distraction.
It reminded him of the words he was given upon that day.
“You want to be just like him,” he can hear his now-former mentor say with a cold and monotonous tone. “But you can't, and you will never.”
His grip on the cup tightens.
He has no purpose–nor will he ever be on anyone's level...well, perhaps he does, and that's being useless to his dying mother who's stubbornly still weaving looms in their place despite being in her weakened state. That's fine, he supposes. He can’t stand on stage anymore and that’s that. He’s okay and not being able to stand on stage won’t be his death.
“You should stop lying to yourself,” Celestin's voice was filled with sadness as she looks at him, and if she was human, Yuujirou thought, she might've been frowning.
Yuujirou takes a sip on his tea, “Whenever that will be.”
“How stubborn can you be?” It wasn't Celestin who spoke, instead, it was a blonde girl seated in front of him, taking a bite of her dango.
“Pretty much,” Yuujirou didn't bother eyeing the newcomer. “You're back early, did something happen?”
Mona shakes her head. “Don't worry,” below the table, her dæmon lays, muttering “Stop lying” while his eyes were still close.
“Looks like Enzo is more honest than you,” Celestin spoke. Mona smiles lightly.
“Well, you wouldn't wanna hear that, would you?” she raises a brow, Yuujirou huffs and the girl laughs. “And there you have it.”
“Just tell me,” he frowned.
Mona considers for a moment before taking a sip on her drink, “About what, exactly?”
“I might as well leave.”
Mona giggles. “Alright, I'll tell you.”
Yuujirou crosses his arms. “Well?”
“It's not that bad,” Mona rolls her eyes then proceeded to stare at her cup. Yuujirou raised a brow and she sighs. “Okay, fine, I might have hurt myself during the raid.” the girl mutters. “We were only supposed to spy but one of us got caught.”
“How lamentable,” Yuujirou says quietly.
Enzo yawns from under.
“At least I’m not dead...or would you prefer that?” Mona smirks and it was Yuujirou’s turn to roll his eyes.
“What happened?” Celestin questioned.
“Not much,” Mona shrugs. “I was trying to get information but one of the guards saw and shot me. I tried to escape but there were too many of them so...” Mona goes quiet for a while before curling a strand on the side of her hair with a slight grin. “The rest is history.”
Yuujirou averts his own gaze.
Even after working and training under the daimyo for ever since she was so young...the girl never got used to anything. But she never hesitates. Yuujirou respected and feared her at the same time for that. Her image of a young cheerful girl remained, but it was mixed with an unwavering, impending bloodlust. He’s not exactly sure what her position was, but whatever it is, it’s enough to make him shiver.
“How’s your mom doing?” Mona asks after a moment.
“Home,” Yuujirou answers briefly. At Mona’s deadpan, he laughs. “I’m kidding.” the boy says before his smile dropped. “She’s going to pass away soon.”
The other went dead silent. She spoke mere moments later.
“We weren’t so lucky, after all.”
Unbeknownst to him and Celestin; the panther that was lying down was listening in and had something mischievous in his eyes upon opening them, having the same mischief as Mona’s.
“Dear, can you hand me the shed stick?” his mother asked, her eyes trained on the warp she was weaving on the loom. It was gonna be her newest work.
Yuujirou nodded and did what he was told.
“I’ll make some tea.” He offered.
“Thank you, Yuujirou,” Tae draws a light smile. Yuujirou shakes his head and returns her smile before leaving the room.
Her mother had always been fragile for as long as he can remember, he had heard that she had been ever since his father passed away. Even now, it was a mystery to him how he died–though it’d be too rude to ask his mother that...and he doubted that she remembers anymore, with how old and meek she’s getting. She wouldn’t be pleased upon being asked something she probably didn’t want to recall either.
She had been restless and no matter how many times her son told her to stop, she would just smile and say she’s fine, just like she always does. Just like the good mother she is. Yuujirou’s been useless to her for all the while. She was sick, weak, frail- and yet he just watched. He watched because that’s all he’s good for. Watch. Watching people suffer. Because of him.
It was because of him that Mona was forced to serve under the daimyo and risking her life. Because of him, his mother was dying. It had been because of him that Hiyori worked and worked until she can no longer–everything was to be blame on him and him only. No one, just him...and he can’t even do something in return. Useless. His former mentor was right. He’ll never be like his son. He’ll never make it, he won’t. He was useless, pathetic, despicable- useless. So useless. Useless, useless, useless, useless, fucking useless–
The loud sound of glass clattering and shattering and Celestin nibbling on his ear were what brought him back to earth.
Once. Twice. Thrice.
Finally, he breathed.
“Thanks.” Yuujirou gave the raven a reassuring smile, Celestin continued to look at him as if concerned, and she was. “Don’t worry, I’m fine,” he says and crouched down to pick up the shattered pieces of the cup he was working on to put them somewhere safe before getting another one. “Let’s finish this. She’s waiting.”
“What are you going to do?” Celestin asks in a tiny voice.
Yuujirou smiled lightly as he continued making tea. “Neither of us really knows the answer to that, Celestin.”
When he returned to the room his mother was in, she was almost done with her work. A certain mongoose was resting around her shoulder, unmoving. He walked over and put the tray down on the table beside her.
“Break time.” Yuujirou calls out to make his presence known.
Tae chuckled and stopped what she was doing. “Alright,” she carefully took the cup and sipped on it. “When’s Ayase-san coming?”
“Later in the afternoon,” he informed, taking a seat beside her. “You didn’t miss medicine while I’m gone, did you?”
Tae chuckled. “Don’t worry, I didn’t,” at that, Yuujirou held a faint smile. “How’s Mona doing?”
“Fine-” Yuujirou cleared his throat, catching his words. “I mean, she is, but not really.” He looked away at his mother’s amused expression. “She’s- she’s...well, injured, injured but fine.”
“Oh, I see…” she lowers the cup she’s holding and looked at it for a moment. “Actually, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you, Yuujirou.”
Yuujirou starts at the sudden change of tone. “Yes...?”
With an inhale, his mother stood up and set the cup down on the table. “Wait here,” with that, she left the room. Yuujirou’s curiosity didn’t have to wait that long, fortunately, as the other came back moments later holding a piece of paper.
She sat down again, gaze fixed on the item, as if reminiscing something. Finally, she looked up to meet Yuujirou’s curious ones. “This,” Tae gently took her son’s hand and placed the piece of white paper on the palm of Yuujirou’s hand. “Yuujirou…” she spoke, closing Yuujirou’s hand into a fist. He blinked at her. “Promise me...that if something happens here, anything, you’ll leave this place immediately and go to the address written here. Find this man there.”
“Mother, we talked–”
Tae tightens her hold on his fist. “Please, promise me,” she pleaded.
His mouth shut, and he stared at her wide-eyed. “I…” he averts his gaze. “I-I…” Yuujirou bit his lower lip. “Okay...I-I will. I will...I promise. Let’s drop this, you won’t…”
She smiles sadly.
Yuujirou had to hold himself back from tearing up right there and then.
A while later; Ayase arrived.
“Good afternoon, mind if I come in?” the doctor greeted with a smile when the door opened, carrying his bag in one hand just as he always does. Alora still stays inside his collar.
“To you as well, please,” Yuujirou steps aside to let the white haired man step in.
“How is she?” the taller of the two asked on as they started walking to his mother’s room.
“Overworking herself,” Yuujirou muttered.
“Oh, is that so...?” Ayase gave him a side glance before focusing straight ahead, “Very well.”
They arrived at his mother’s door shortly.
The doctor entered her room quietly and Yuujirou left them alone afterwards.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, the boy returned to his room silently. He collapsed on the bed, putting one hand on his forehead as he stared up at the ceiling.
“Please, promise me.”
He didn’t know what his mother meant by that...but if her tone was serious like that; then it must be important enough for him to think about.
“Let’s drop this, you won’t…”
Something in his stomach tightened.
She won’t. She won’t die, not like that, not- not like anything he’s thinking. No...It won’t happen. That’s impossible. How could she say that? That can’t be real. It’s not. It won’t ever be. It’s his mind that’s playing with him. He has nothing to worry about. He needs to think- to calm down. But he can’t...the thought won’t leave, it couldn’t. He can’t. She’s...that’s...no, no, no, that can’t possibly–
Shit, shit, shit, shit...!
Don’t over think. Don’t. Stop. Go back to your senses. Now.
“I’m scared…” Celestin says next to him.
“I know,” Yuujirou closes his eyes. “I know.”
He didn’t. He really didn’t.
Not until it happens.
A few weeks later brought Yuujirou to the Takamizawa shrine he promised Arisa he’d help at.
“Yuujirou-kun, you’ve out of it lately.” the girl commented while they were sweeping outside, their dæmons were playing on the side.
Yuujirou frowned, looking confused. “But I feel...fine, though?”
Arisa blinks, having a blank look on her face as she looks over to him, “Oh,” she replied. “I was just concerned...sorry.”
Yuujirou’s eyes lowered to ground. “Don’t worry, I’m okay. You’re just tired, Takamizawa-san. You’ve been staying up late to finish work lately, haven’t you?”
Arisa was taken aback for a moment before she chuckles. “Yeah, I might be facing problems here and there- but don’t worry!” she puts her fist up. “I’m doing just as well and getting enough rest!”
“If you say so, then…”
She was amazing, Yuujirou thought...and perhaps that wasn’t far from truth. Arisa was strong, independent, helpful, determined, brave...and humble. Brilliant and as pretty as a picture. He admired her in terms of both work and just in general.
She was something Yuujirou wanted to be...but he was nothing like her. That fact can’t be changed no matter what he does. It’d remain clear and visible for as long as he exists.
He wanted to be something...anything just to show his worth. But that’s impossible, and will always be.
“You want to be just like him, but you can’t, and you’ll never.”
Willing his bitter thoughts away, Yuujirou continued to work.
“Tonight, you’ll strike. Are we clear?”
It was at the dead of night when Yuujirou awoke to something.
He figured he was too tired to get up, and that it was just the black cat that likes to sneak in every once in a while.
But then he had a bad feeling.
Celestin winces, slowly waking from her slumber. Yuujirou felt something caught in his throat as he looked outside the window. It was thundering and lightning...but there was no sign of rain. It was rare and Yuujirou never encountered something like that before.
“I...I need to get some water,” Yuujirou muttered before getting up. The raven grumbled something but sleepily flew over to his shoulder as they made their way outside.
Something he just wasn’t prepared for what greeted him.
Yuujirou stood there, frozen and wide-eyed. He put a hand to his mouth to prevent himself from making any noise, gasps, screams. His breath started getting heavy and his heart dropped.
His mother and her dæmon laid there on the ground, motionless. A figure stands before her, holding a so ever bloodied sword that will forever be engraved in his mind every time he’ll close his eyes. Blood. So much blood. It was everywhere. Too much, it was too much, he wanted to vomit- he can’t. He can’t, he can’t, he can’t–a nightmare. This is just a dream- a really bad dream. If he pinches himself, or slap, maybe he’ll–
The figure tilts their head to the side, and their bloodlust gaze met his.
The blue glow from their eyes is unwavering and unsettling, warning him, something he knows that will haunt him if he closes his eyes, and they stared right into his fearful ones. He was seeing red. His heart was racing and thumping loudly with each passing second that it might explode at any given moment. He felt dread, horror, fright, terror, everything.
He can’t do this. This is unreal. This isn’t real. This- this can’t...this won’t- this- this is…!
Lightning struck, and the figure was long gone.
Finally. Finally, Yuujirou gasped, barely letting out the breath he was certain he had been holding for a long while.
“Yuujirou...!” Celestin’s voice broke and he came back to reality.
Forcing himself to move, Yuujirou dashed to his mother’s side as fast as possible. With a quick movement, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and lifted her lightly. His other hand held the bloodied hand on her stomach.
“Mom,” Yuujirou willed his voice to not tremble, fighting back the tears that were threatening to come out. “Mom…”
“Y...Yuuji...rou…” she choked out, heaving a hand to his face, her eyes opening in a half-lidded gaze. Yuujirou held the hand on his cheek. “Go...be...be careful...out there…”
“Find him,” Mirren rasped. “Leave...n-now and don’t come back…”
With that, her dæmon disappeared and the hand resting on his cheek fell slack. Yuujirou gritted his teeth. He set her down and stood up.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…
He knows no matter how many times he’ll chant those words; it won’t bring back the dead. It won’t bring anything back.
It won’t ever. Not even a single thing.
Blue eyes. One thing he won’t forget. A thing he’ll never forget. Never forgive. Ever.
“Please, promise me.”
Yuujirou put his hunter green robe on and set his footing outside, quietly closing the door behind him. The air was thick and was making him suffocate. But he couldn’t care any less. Celestin fidgeted over his shoulder.
With one last glance over that place, he leaves and didn’t dare look back.