The wind whipped through Yoshiki’s hair, blowing its long strands here and there. He looked out over the water and felt a multitude of buried memories rise from shallow graves. Most of them were memories of happier times, of days in which he’d never dreamed this place would come to hold the bitter sting of a meaningless loss. He turned his head to look at Yume, whose white-blonde pigtails ruffled in the breeze. She was staring at the carved and inlaid box in her hands, a gift from Tamaki. Feeling his eyes on her, she looked up.

     “Go ahead, Yume,” he spoke softly. She only nodded in reply.

     Yoshiki watched as she placed the box carefully in the small hole he’d dug at the base of the weathered old tree. As she straightened, he saw her shudder slightly and stiffen. When she turned back to him, her face was twisted in sorrow. He hugged her briefly, then set about filling in the hole, an inner monologue tumbling in his head- things he’d never said, questions he’d failed to ask, disbelief and remorse. When he stood, Yume said,

     “This really feels like goodbye.” He could barely hear her over the wind in his ears.

     “This is where he belongs,” Yoshiki replied solemnly.

     “I miss him.” Yume’s voice trembled with tears.

     “So do I, hon. So do I.”

     “I do, too,” Seiken added solemnly. “Kaiya was the first friend I’d had in years.”

     The three embraced, holding each other close while the cold wind howled around them. They stood on the bluffs that overlooked the ocean and the sandy beach just outside the grounds of Kamitouki. They’d come here to bury Kaiya’s ashes in the place he’d always felt the safest. Uneme had opted to remain behind with Hironah, who’d still not spoken a word since the Night’s Herald’s death. She’d merely shaken her head “no” when Yoshiki had asked her to join them.

     They’d arrived at Kamitouki the night before. Despite the collective relief that the investigation into Akos-Hieran’s murder had cleared them completely, it had been a somber homecoming. The once warm and bright home of Blue and Takae lay empty and cold upon their arrival, everything covered in dust. Yoshiki had taken it upon himself to break the news of Kaiya’s death to Bel. At first, the large, muscular Corduran had seemed to be taking it pretty well… until he turned from Yoshiki with a hoarse shout and began destroying everything in sight. Yoshiki made no move to stop him. It had been a long night, one in a series of many.

     The three broke from one another, standing awkwardly for a while. Finally, Yoshiki patted Yume’s arm.

     “C’mon, sis. I got a surprise for you back at the house. Two, if I got the timing right.” He smiled at her.

     She smiled back at him, if only slightly, and followed him back down the path, helping Seiken over the rougher patches. Even in the south it had grown colder, though not yet cold enough to kill off the hardier undergrowth. Once they’d reached the more level ground of the property, they wove through the dormitories and training halls, which clambered with the sounds of students. Yume walked in a somewhat trance-like state until she noticed someone sitting in the doorway of the house. With a whoop, she took off at full-tilt, shouting,

     “Renta!”

     Watching his sister leap into his best friend’s arms, Yoshiki grinned widely.

     “Perfect,” he said triumphantly to Seiken, who smiled briefly in response, though he was facing in the wrong direction.

     The two of them loped the rest of the distance to the house. When they got there, Renta released Yume and turned to Yoshiki.

     “Hey,” he said with a smile.

     “Y’allreet, mate?” Yoshiki answered. “How was the ride out?”

     “Not a hitch. Made good time, too.”

     “Good to hear. Let’s go inside.”

     Yoshiki ushered them all inside, playing host, nearly giggling with anticipation. Yume wondered briefly what had come over him.

     “You hungry?” he asked Renta.

     “Starved.”

     “Let’s go see what we can scrape up in the kitchen.”

     He continued to lead the way. Once they’d walked into the room, the first thing Yume noticed was Quen sitting at the table, an awkward and almost maniacal grin plastered on his face. The second thing was the cake- a culinary eyesore- lopsided from having fallen while baking, unevenly frosted, punctured by a single ordinary candle.

     “Surprise!” Quen exclaimed with less-than-accurate intonation. He shot a questioning glance at Yoshiki, who looked about to explode with laughter, but who gave a thumbs-up in approval.

     “Happy Birthday, Yume!” he called happily.

     She looked questioningly at the four men in the room.

     “I- I totally forgot,” she confessed. “Quen, did you..?” she pointed to the monstrosity of a cake.

     “Don’t blame me. That was Yoshiki.”

     Her brother poked at the cake.

     “I don’t know if it’s actually edible, but at least I tried.” He grinned sheepishly. “It was always Kaiya who did the cakes.”

     “I’m sure it’ll be great,” she lied to reassure him, touched.

     “Fabulous.” He rubbed his hands together eagerly. “We won’t attempt to eat it until after dinner. We’ve got another guest coming.”

     “Who is it?” Yume asked, full of curiosity.

     “Tamaki. She’s taking the train down, so I’ve gotta head over to Kinumi to pick her up.”

     “How long is she gonna stay?” Yume’s voice was eager. She and the Night’s Herald had gotten on “like whiskey and rocks” as Yoshiki put it. In truth, he was incredibly grateful to the older woman, who was the only one who’d been able to coax a smile from his forlorn little sister in the past few weeks. She’d kept Yume busy with a variety of simple chores that could be done from the small room, inventing them when necessary. In the evenings she’d brush Yume’s hair for her and tell her a number of silly or exciting stories, or ask about the younger girl’s life at school or listen- laughing often- to her anecdotes about Yoshiki’s misadventures. Yume, for her part, not only liked Tamaki for her sunny and fun-loving disposition, she also appreciated the way the Night’s Herald doted on her brother. She was also amused by the way that Yoshiki accepted her attention, rather than telling her to shove off, as he probably would’ve done with anyone else.

    “I dunno,” Yoshiki was saying. “Depends on what she’s gonna do afterward.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Never you mind,” he replied slyly. “You’ll find out in good time.”

     “Hm.” She put her hands on her hips and regarded her brother critically. In the past, she’d have begged for immediate answers, annoyed at being left out, but those days were gone. She held her tongue.

     “In the meantime, we’re gonna have a party. We’re all gonna get sloshed.”

     Yume turned to eyeball Renta, who only shrugged, grinning.

     “Seiken here said it’s okay for you to throw back a couple.”

     “Just don’t go crazy, okay?” the Decameron cautioned. Yume nodded and said,

     “Okay.”

     “As for the rest of us,” Yoshiki said gleefully, “we’ll go as crazy as we please.”

 

     Quen, without anything else to do, was thumbing through a cookbook he’d found on the kitchen shelf. Yume and Renta had gone to “talk” somewhere or other, Seiken was in the sitting room sorting out the contents of his battered black bag, and Yoshiki had left for Kinumi. Quen hadn’t seen either Uneme or Hironah all day. As he quietly turned the pages of the book, he wondered if he’d make a good cook. Logically, he ought to excel at it- it was simply following a set of directions to achieve a desired result. Of course, his initial calculations were based on a scenario in which he had two hands. Recalculating, he realized he’d probably be “pretty crap” as Yoshiki would put it. Smiling slightly, Quen thought over the hundreds of new expressions he’d learned from those he’d been spending so much time with. He liked Yoshiki’s best, partly because none of them seemed to make much sense.

     It had been Yoshiki who’d convinced him to come here, despite the fact that it was highly illogical for him not to return to the Musubiki. When Quen had told Yoshiki of his plan to do so, the former had heatedly insisted that it was the worst idea in the world.

     “I have to go back to them,” Quen explained. “Technically, I’m their property. I’ve done what was asked of me, and now it’s my duty to return.”

     “But they’re gonna kill you, man!”

     “I’m aware of that. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

     “Yes there is. Pull a runner. Just don’t go back.”
“What else would I do? It’s not like I could just settle down somewhere. Besides, they’d only come looking for me anyway. I’m a hazard just walking around without any control… or so they claim.”

     “Screw that. Come with me. You can hang with Sirrah.”

     “I doubt I’ll be much use to you.”

     “Sure you could. You only lost one arm, and it wasn’t the more important one. One less part of you to shoot at, anyways.”

     “But I don’t even share your beliefs. I wouldn’t be there to aid you in your cause, only to save myself.”

     “So what? The end justifies the means, pal. And besides, maybe I could help you, too.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Alright, not for nothing, but it was Meena who was trying to teach you to play nice with people, yeah? Well, from what I heard, she’s not exactly an expert. Let me take a crack at it. Who knows- if we can fix your problem, maybe the Musubiki won’t be so keen on sending you to the scrap heap. Whaddya say?”

     “I don’t know, Yoshiki.”

     “C’mon. Be a man. Stick up for yourself.”

     Yoshiki had continued to badger him until he gave in. There was a possibility that the Musubiki might spare him if he could prove himself. It was agreed upon that Yoshiki and Seiken would make no mention of Quen’s “oddity” to anyone other than Renta, to whom Yoshiki told everything. So now he sat here thinking of what Yoshiki had said that had made him agree.

     “You’re the walking dead as it is, mate. Does it really matter?”

 

     Yume watched Tamaki’s back as she drifted into the kitchen to fetch another round of drinks. She then looked around the table from the seat she’d assumed so many times at family gatherings. Seiken and Quen were at the far end, quietly discussing something. Whatever it was, it was drowned out by the banter and guffawing coming from Yoshiki and Renta. For a moment Yume blocked out the scene around her, replacing it with memory.

     She’d celebrated a number of birthdays with her Uncle Taka and his eclectic little family. Though there had been a few occasions on which he’d been detached and unaware of the proceedings, most often he’d been seated at the far end of the table, beaming across at Blue, who would smile serenely back. From the kitchen would drift the laughter and cheery voices of Kaiya and Hironah, who had taken over much of the domestic activities as soon as they were old enough. The sounds of their teasing and conversations would cause those that chatted at the table to laugh along.

     “I swear, Kaiya- if you flick me with that towel one more time…”

     “Whoa, Hironah! Watch where you’re going with that knife, unless you plan on serving me up with the main course.”

     “Where the hell did the carrots go?”

     “You have flour on your nose.”

     Dinner was always lively with warm conversation. Kaiya and Blue would entertain with tales of their journeys, Taka would speak of the students and Yume’s family would add anecdotes about their lives at home and later, away.

     A year ago Yume had sat in this very place, surrounded by the familiar faces she adored, laughing along with Kaiya as he gently teased Yoshiki, answering her uncle’s inquiries about her education, giggling with Hironah about the boys at school she fancied. She’d felt so safe despite her worries that she couldn’t picture a time when these celebrations would come to an end, when this table would be filled with relative strangers. For the first time, a wave of longing for that ended life crashed over her. Her soul struggled as it tried to swim back in time to that place where she was safe and sheltered, protected by those she loved. She wanted Blue’s voice and Kaiya’s laughter. She wanted her uncle’s careful, halting affection. More than anything she wanted to take the missing pieces and put them back in place, restoring the smiles of those that had been left behind.

     Yume was aware of the torrential grief Yoshiki buried behind his bravado. The laughter he shared with Renta was strained in a way she found unfamiliar and disturbing. He used what he saw as his obligations to his family and friends to stitch himself up enough to be presentable in the light of day. He was unaware that Yume had heard his sobs at night, his quiet pleading into the silence.

     Hironah made no such pretense. She refused to speak and made no attempts to hide her sorrow. When they’d arrived at Kamitouki, she’d gone straight to her room in the house. No one had seen her emerge. Yoshiki had gone and had a long talk to her (“more like at her” as he said) that afternoon before leaving for Kinumi. She wouldn’t be budged.

     Yume, while terribly worried, couldn’t quite understand her cousin’s behavior. As Yoshiki and Yume turned to one another for support and understanding, Hironah seemed to be doing all she could to shut everyone out. Tamaki urged the siblings to have patience, claiming that Hironah would one day recover from the shock and begin to heal. And yet, Yume’s fears were not to be quenched so easily.

     Though she hated to admit it, she knew Hironah had been far closer to Kaiya than even Yoshiki had been. Though the exact nature of their relationship eluded her, there was never any question about how deeply the two had cared for each other. For years, Yume had come to think of them as a set- she rarely saw one without the other. After Yoshiki had left home for good, she realized that Kaiya and Hironah had always spent more time together than she and her brother ever had. A few years earlier, after a particularly persistent round of teasing by Yoshiki, Yume had finally drummed up the courage to ask her cousin why she and Kaiya had never become a couple.

     “Because we haven’t,” was the simple reply.

     “But… Don’t you love Kaiya?” Yume had pressed.

     “I do, but… it’s not that simple, Yume.”

     “Why not?”

     “Look, I do love Kaiya, a lot… Just maybe I don’t want to love him any more than that. I’m afraid to, afraid of what will happen to me if I do.”

     Yume had giggled at her cousin’s serious expression.

     “That’s kinda silly, Hironah.”

     “I don’t think it is.” Looking gloomy, she added, “Kaiya isn’t gonna be around forever.”

     “He’s not leaving Kamitouki, is he?” Yume had grown suddenly worried. So was so constantly left out of the loop that it wouldn’t surprise her one bit if the Night’s Herald had made plans that everyone else knew about but her.

     “No… I don’t mean like that.”

     “Then what?” Hironah’s grave expression only served to concern Yume further. “Is something the matter with him?”

     For a moment, Hironah looked hard at Yume, a calculating look that took the younger a long time to fathom. Hironah opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again, shaking her head.

     “No, everything’s fine,” she finally said lightly. “You know how much I worry about him- all the stupid stuff he does. He’s likely to get himself killed.” It was a familiar complaint, so easy to swallow that Yume quickly forgot the hesitation that preceded it.

     She regretted that now. Perhaps if she knew what it was that Hironah had been so afraid of, she could do more to help her now. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference. Yume felt a hand on her arm and looked up to meet Renta’s gaze. His dark eyes, deep with concern, locked on hers.

     “You holdin’ up okay?”

     “I guess.”

     “Let’s take a walk.” He took her hand and led her away from the table and into the sitting room. “Wanna go outside?”

     “It’s cold… and dark.” She shuddered. Flopping onto the sofa, she added, “I know I should try to be cheery for Yoshiki’s sake. I just need a minute. I got to thinking and… I guess I just got carried away.”

     “Wanna talk about it?” He sat down beside her, their bodies barely touching, and looked at her intently.

     “I don’t know. I’m afraid that’ll just make me feel worse.” She reached out to him and he took her in his arms, holding her close.

     “Yoshiki told me what happened. Gods, you must’ve been terrified. Are you still having nightmares?”

     “Yeah, but it’s not me I’m worried about. Yoshiki’s blaming himself. He’s sure that if he hadn’t gotten hurt, or if he’d gone in Kaiya’s place, everything would’ve been different. And Hironah-”

     “Blames herself too, Yoshiki said. He told me she doesn’t say owt, but he can tell she thinks it’s all her own fault, on account of-”

     “Uneme.”

     “Yeah, but you guys can’t go pointing fingers at yourselves or anybody else. In the end, as awful as it is to try and accept it, it was Kaiya’s decision.”

     “But-”

     “He loved you guys, Hironah especially. If he found himself in a position where he had to lay down his life to save her, I’m sure he did so without hesitation. He died with Honor, Yume. If it had to happen, at least you have that.”

     “I don’t understand why it had to happen at all- any of it.”

     “We never do.” Renta’s voice was soft as he snuggled closer.

     “Does it ever get any easier?”

     “For a while, until the next time.”

     “Shit… Renta, I’m sorry.” Yume gazed up at him sincerely. “Kaiya was a good friend of yours, too. You must miss him as much as I do.”

     “Don’t worry about me, Yume,” he smiled sadly. “You’ve had a crap time of things these past months… and all these feelings are pretty familiar to me by now.”

     “Do you ever wish it could all just have been different?”

     “Sometimes, yeah… but there are some things I would never change.” He leaned down and kissed her softly. For one moment of grace, Yume was removed from pain, her loss temporarily forgotten.

 

     “Yoshiki?”

     “Yeah, s’me, Ma.” Yoshiki leaned his forehead against the wall, its coolness soothing against his pounding, hungover head.

     “Where are you?” Chiesara’s voice was too loud- she had a habit of yelling into the phone’s receiver.

     “At Kamitouki.”

     “Oh, thank the gods! Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been? First, you disappear without a trace and I hear on the news that the Ghost Clan’s headquarters has been sacked, casualties all around. And the next thing I know, you’re wanted by the Imperial Guard, and the Media is saying you had something to do with poor Aki getting killed, and all this time I have no idea where you or Yume are-”

     “Yume’s fine, Ma. She’s here. You can talk to her next.”

     “What’s going on, Yoshiki? Why was the Guard after you?”

     “There was a mistake is all. A mix-up. It’s all over now.”

      “Well, I’m glad of that, but why in the world were you involved in the first place?”

     “It’s kind of a long story, Ma. I’ll tell you another time. I was just calling to tell you that me and Yume are fine… and,” he sighed heavily.

     “Is Hironah there?”

     “Yeah, she-”

     “Good, because we need her help. Your Uncle Taka’s in a bad way. Nothing we do seems to be of any help. Your father and I were thinking Hironah ought to take him home. He’d do better there, back in a familiar place. And you know how much he loves Hironah, like she was his own. He needs her.”

     Yoshiki sighed again, briefly thumping his head against the wall.

     “What was that?”

     “Nothing, Ma. Listen, Hironah’s not in any shape to go anywhere right now. You guys’ll just have to hold out a little longer.”

     “I don’t want to wait much longer, Yoshiki. Can’t you send Kaiya at least?”

     “No, Ma…” Yoshiki took a deep breath, cringing at the ache in his ribcage that had subsided but not yet gone away.

     “Why not?”

     “Ma… Kaiya’s dead.” How many times do I have to say that?

     “What?”

     “Please don’t make me repeat it, Ma. I’m goin’ crazy here.”

     “Yoshiki, you’re not serious.”

     “I’m serious, Ma.” He listened as his mother started sniffling.

     “What happened?” she begged.

     Slowly, patiently, Yoshiki recounted the events of the previous weeks, answering his mother’s numerous questions. When he’d finished, he listened listlessly as she sobbed and carried on. It was an hour and a half after he’d picked up the phone to call that he finally handed it over to Yume. Turning hastily, he nearly ran into Tamaki.

     “I made you some tea.”

     He looked at her open, hopeful face and found himself laughing.

     “What is it with you Night’s Heralds and tea? It’s like you guys think it’s some kinda cure-all or sommat. The one and only time Sirrah gets trounced- I mean really slaughtered- I come back here and what does Blue do? Gives me a cup of tea.”

     “You don’t want it?”

     “Course I do.” He smiled heartily at her. “You’re a good mate, Tamaki. Always around when I need ya.”

     As they turned the corner into the kitchen, she turned to say something to him, but stopped suddenly, stuttering. Ice blue eyes locked on grey.

     “I… I-uh,” she stammered.

     “Yeah?” Yoshiki asked softly, almost in a whisper, leaning closer.

     “I forgot.” He watched her lips tremble over the words.

     “Interesting.”

     Inexplicably drawn, longing for her warmth, the solace of her spirit, he bent and kissed her. Shocked by his own action, he pulled away quickly.

      “Oh, gods. I’m sorry.”

     “I’m not,” she replied, leaning into him.

     “In that case.” He shrugged and did it again, this time allowing her to kiss him back, which she did with a tender, almost careful passion. It was a long time before they remembered where they were.

     “Do you smell something burning?” Tamaki asked suddenly, pulling away from him.

     “No… Yeah, I do.” Yoshiki wrinkled his nose. “You got something on the stove?”

     “No.”

     “Yoshiki!” Yume’s voice shrieked from the hall.

     The pair spilled out of the kitchen, eyes locked on Yume, who was standing stock-still, pointing toward the sitting room. It was hazy with smoke.

     “Tamaki, Yume, get out,” Yoshiki instructed calmly but firmly.

     “But-” Yume began to protest.

     “I think the house is on fire. Go outside.”

     “You come, too.”

     “In a minute. Move it!” He gave the women a shove. Reluctantly, they moved toward the door.

     “Yoshiki!” Yume wailed back at him. He shook his head and plunged through the sitting room toward the bedrooms. Tamaki ushered her outside. “What happened?” she muttered to no one in particular.

     “Let’s get Bel,” Tamaki suggested, wanting to get Yume as far from the house as possible. Nodding feebly, Yume followed her, wondering how much more anxiety she could conceivably bear.

 

     Left to her own devices when Uneme had gone to use one of the training halls to get some much-needed exercise, Hironah had crept silently into the bedroom beside her own. Though it was unlocked, no one had ventured into Kaiya’s room. Everyone skirted past the door in silence, as though in fear his spirit slept within, not wishing to be disturbed. None had been willing to break the seal of dust that contained the room. No one had wanted to cease the habitual reverence of privacy that was given to living and forfeited in death. Hironah knew the chore of emptying the space of Kaiya’s effects would fall to her at some point. Convincing herself that waiting wouldn’t make the loathsome task of looking over his private possessions any easier, she slid the door open.

     The room, untouched since the morning they’d left for the Zeit, struck Hironah like a moment frozen in time. Far more orderly than her own, the well-organized contents of Kaiya’s room called up inane memories of their final days in the house and the multitude of daily tasks they’d thought to complete upon their return. Their conversations echoed in her ears. She shook her head. Somewhere in time, the truth of their lives had become unimportant. All the simple parts of themselves were washed away, and with them any talk of trash disposal or household repairs, groceries or mending. They’d been robbed of more than time and safety. They’d lost themselves.

     With a sigh that felt as though it originated in the pit of her stomach, Hironah tentatively paced the room in her stockinged feet, stopping before the closet doors. She slid them open, not finding much that would normally be of interest. One side offered no more than neatly folded bedding and clean linens. A few ceremonial robes hung above them, interspersed with the sachets full of dried herbs the Night’s Herald believed would ward off evil spirits. The other side of the vast closet boasted a collection of tools and spare motorcycle parts, all carefully organized. The sterility of the space helped her ward off the first of her unwanted visions- a memory of Kaiya behind the house, his face and arms smudged with engine grease, laughing happily at something she’d said. She closed the closet doors with a slight shake of her head. Perhaps his orderly manner and lack of personal belongings would help her. Maybe there were no emotional minefields to stumble into here after all. She allowed herself a moment of contemplation before turning to the chest of drawers.

     She gazed emptily into the mirror that hung above its surface, wondering idly what Kaiya had thought when he did the same. He never talked about how he felt about his own appearance. Whenever anyone had teased him, or when Hironah mocked his outlandish hairstyles, he would merely retort that vanity was no more than a form of attachment. Lowering her eyes, Hironah found nothing surprising atop the chest of drawers- a few candles and some incense, a framed photograph of the family, and a small box of trinkets and jewelry.

     Hironah made a cursory rummage through the first three drawers, knowing what to expect from previous snoops. Finding nothing unusual, she straightened again and reached into her pocket. She stood for a time fingering the tiny brass key within, feeling as though she was about to make a sinful intrusion. She’d taken Kaiya’s keys from Yoshiki one night as he’d slept. He hadn’t asked for them back, though Hironah knew he was aware that she had them. Nestled amongst the housekeys and motorcycle keys and keys she couldn’t even recognize was this one. She’d known immediately what it was- the key to the locked bottom drawer that had mystified her for years. In the times when she needed distraction, she’d speculate on what was inside it, coming up with any number of wild theories. Her hand shook as she turned the tiny key in the lock.

     Unlike the rest of Kaiya’s room, the drawer was a disorganized jumble, nearly overflowing. Most of its contents seemed to be photographs. There were hundreds of snapshots of Blue, Taka, Hironah, Yoshiki, Yume, Bel, Chiesara, Kieran, the Imperial Family, and even some of members of Sirrah. Near the top of the pile there was a single picture of Seiken, mugging sheepishly for the camera. All of the photos were dated, some stretching all the way back to Kaiya’s earliest years at Kamitouki. Some had notes scribbled on the back, listing who took the picture and what was happening at the time. As she shifted the piles of photographs out of the drawer, Hironah watched her family grow younger, felt the ache of memories that could not be dragged back to reality.

     Underneath the piles of pictures were a variety of seemingly meaningless objects- dried flowers, seashells, small toys, and old autumn leaves- a small flat box and a stack of notebooks. Cautiously, Hironah pulled out the topmost notebook, which bore a recent date on its cover. All but the first page were blank.

     Blue died today. Right now, I don’t feel much like writing how I feel about it. I don’t think I’ll continue writing these. Not much of a point, really. Besides, I think I’ve learned to see my patterns, to understand my habits and how to overcome them. That was the point, wasn’t it?

     Flipping through the remaining books, Hironah realized they were journals. She recalled vaguely that Kaiya had mentioned once, years before, that Blue had asked him to keep a diary as part of his training. He hadn’t been all too keen on the idea, she remembered, but had apparently done as he’d been told. She flipped open another book and read over Kaiya’s recollections of his days, printed in his neat handwriting. Many of the entries simply recounted daily happenings, though scattered among them were poignant phrases that touched on his love of the people in his life, his struggles with illness, and a deep fear of futility that Hironah had never known existed in him. As she perused the aging pages of the journals, she felt more acutely the sting of her loss.

     Raising her eyes to survey the clutter she’d extracted from the forbidden recesses of the locked drawer, she realized she was looking at all the things that Kaiya held dearest in life, his memories, his hidden fear and burden of pain. Somehow, despite everything, she’d managed to take him for granted as a fixture in her life. No matter where she wandered, no matter the path she chose for herself, Kaiya would always be steps behind in spirit, waiting with patience for her to return. Hironah realized now that in all the years they’d known one another, they rarely spoke of him. Though he’d spent his time burning his years away, engrossed in his own bitter end, she’d assumed his angst would fade with age. She’d even gone as far as to convince herself that it had. One day, she’d tell herself, we’ll work out Kaiya’s problems. That day had never come.

     Abruptly, she pushed aside the notebooks and reached for the flat, oblong box. She opened it to find a small stack of letters, four in all. Each bore a name on the envelope, one for Yoshiki, Yume, Takae and Hironah. With a sense of foreboding, she opened the letter addressed to her and read the carefully printed words on the cream-colored paper.

     Hironah~

     You probably know better than I do why you’re reading this. Whatever it is that’s happened, I can only assume I’m not around anymore. Regardless of the circumstances, I want you to know that I did all I could to prepare myself to part with this life. We both know it’s never been easy for me to release my attachments, though I promise that I’ve done my best to follow Blue’s wisdom. I can’t lie to you and write that I died without regret, but I’m sure any regrets I had were few. The deepest remorse I could possibly feel is in being parted from you. With you at my side, I’ve never felt cold or alone. There were moments when your smile drove away the most persistent despair. Even if granted a hundred years, I’d never be able to find the words to tell you how I’ve cherished you, save for to tell you that no matter where you may have been- by my side or a million miles away- my last thought was of you and my final prayer was that our souls would one day cross paths again. I have no wish to be a forlorn ghost to haunt you. Find solace in our lessons and release our time to the past, where it can rest in the sacred collective memory of the gods. I have faith in you, Hironah, that when you choose your path from here, you’ll walk it with steady feet and all the fierce pride I knew in you. No matter what your future brings, please do not forget that you were loved. Your life brought light into my own, and I know you will continue to shine, though I’ll no longer witness. I wish you only the best for the rest of your years.

                                             My love always,

                                                        Kaiya

     Minutes passed as Hironah sat, unmoving and silent. As her eyes brushed past the scattered contents of the drawer, she began to see them as wreckage, flotsam of a shipwrecked life. Absently, she held up her hand and gently folded closed a finger at a time, naming the dead. When she reached Kaiya, she was hit by yet another wave of fury and hatred. She realized what she’d have to do- hire his replacement, listen to some stranger pacing this room in his place. Her gaze fell to the stacks of photographs. What was the point in loving all these people only to be torn from them as they were wrenched away in death? Despite the ache in her heart, she wished she could cut them all away before any more damage could be done. She wanted everything annihilated. Her vision a haze of wrath, she pulled a box of matches from the top of the chest of drawers. Seemingly without any conscious thought, she set fire to the photographs… then to the letters, the notebooks. After setting fire to the curtains, she turned and stumbled from the room, making it as far as the hallway before collapsing in a sobbing heap.

 

 

Want to comment? Visit this chapter on WordPress! Click here.