Jio leapt to his feet, whimpering at the sight of the small girl on the woman’s lap, far too afraid to think that the child could be his sister - that was the face of the one that had killed his parents, those were the hands...
All around him the walls seemed unfamiliar as the dark smothered them; the candles were letting off wisps of smoke like spirits escaping to the Path, only serving to squeeze his young heart even more. He could barely breathe for the lump in his throat, and the thick stench of the air.
The woman holding the murderer could have been the one who told the murderer to do it for all he knew at that moment, as his mind blurred with loss and frustration, but he couldn’t bring himself to feel enough anger to try and attack, only to be afraid.
Hours seemed to pass where he trembled, clinging to the stones of the wall, wide-eyed and unaware of where he was.
The woman morphed into a death-god, hooded into swirling robes and hanging it’s hidden head over it’s subject. The subject- the murderer- seemed to float and flinch, muttering and weeping for fear of it’s end.
“It’s end...” He tried not to whisper out loud, “It killed...”
But the death-god did not seem to acknowledge him.
Soon he realised the death-god was weeping, stroking a small girl- surely not a murderer- gently, and brushing red flecks from it’s hair.
“To-Tonti...dai...?” He rasped finally, the stones around him falling in his mind into an order that he recognised at last. “Yuki...”
Once more he fell to his knees, weak from his throbbing heart, and dizzy from the loss.
This was the wise-woman’s house.
“Madelli...” He glanced at the finger, and a sob caught in his throat once more. Tontidai flinched, and took another shaking breath, refusing the look at the covered lump emerging from the other room.
This house now belonged to Tontidai, long before her training had really finished.
Slowly, Jio leant forwards, placing his feverish head on the cool ground, and allowed himself to cry loudly, letting it ring around the small building until it shook it’s way back to him, diving into his bones, and he let loose another one.
“Jio...” Tontidai attempted to sooth, but her voice tried to betray her, “Hush, now. Everything is fine. The night will soon be over.”
Jio could not reply, his voice had grown hoarse, and his eyes transfixed on the ground.
“Mama… Papa…” He stumbled over words like a baby learning to speak, and then reached out longingly to his sister, “Yu-Yuki! Yuki!”
“Hush…” Tontidai’s hands hovered over Yuki’s forehead. “Hush…You will wake her. She is unwell.”
“Unwell... What do you mean? She’s not... She’s not going to-”
Jio’s horrified words were cut off as Fuuma burst through the door in a panic, eyes scouring the room, running over every terrifying and upsetting feature, but settling with relief upon Yuki, despite the lump in the corner.
“Yuki!” He yelled, seeing her lying still, and leapt towards her, arms outstretched to search her skin for warmth or for a beat.
Jio’s mouth gaped at the scene.
Was he unaware of what that body had been made to do? Jio adored his sister even now, despite knowing that he should hate her, but he had believed that anyone else would be enraged at her for killing the village’s benefactors.
Did Fuuma not know that it was with her hands that they were killed?
He certainly could not have known how comfortably that body could commit such a deed.
Fuuma seemed calm, but there was something about his that seemed unsettled, making him twitch, like he could barely contain his rage.
“Are you sure you want to be so close...?”
“Of course. She didn’t know what she was doing.” Fuuma whispered, stroking Yuki’s hair from her face and smiling softly at her. He then stood up and briefly glared at Jio, before grunting and motioning to the door. He left without a response from Jio.
The room felt quiet again, until Jio felt like the darkness of the room was pressing down on him and his feet scuffled as he got up. He was just as afraid to stay inside as he was to follow Fuuma - he seemed different, angry, and Jio knew that he would be a deadly fighter if you were the right person, but he couldn’t stand to be in the room anymore and escaped outside. As he stepped out into the cold the looming trees around him erupted with the guttural cawing of ravens. The air was alive with the stench of something burning that shouldn’t be. In the corner of his eye, he just spotted Fuuma melting into the darkness, and ran to catch up.
After walk in silence for several minutes, they arrived at the stream that they had visited, the one where they had seen the Herinhart man. It didn’t seem nearly as bright and fun now. He remembered how Yuki had screamed at the man, her face contorted with hatred...
He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. When Fuuma sat down, Jio didn’t sit beside him, but a few metres away, on the other side of the stream. From there he could almost see the edge of the veil that protected the town, glowing faintly red along the ground below him. Beyond there was a thin, deer-trodden path - the path of the dead, where the deceased of the village could appear. With a heavy sigh he wondered if his parents were already there.
They sat in silence, listening to the trickle of the water.
“I never want it to happen again.” Fuuma eventually broke the silence with a bitter tone.
“It wouldn’t happen again, would it?” Jio asked timidly, hesitant in case anything he said provoked Fuuma.
“Would it?” Fuuma snapped back, eyes blazing at Jio. “You were with her the whole time, couldn’t you stop it?”
Jio was shaking, he could feel the tears building in his eyes; he was cold and tired and distraught, and the people he had grown up with were different.
Fuuma took a deep, shaking breath, and shook his head like he was trying to get rid of his anger.
“Madelli told me something very important a while ago.” He was barely containing his rage. “Jio, Yuki was born with a curse-”
“A curse?!” Jio’s pale blue eyes widened in panic.
“-Because 20 years before you were both born, a man came and took Madelli’s daughter away, and that was considered a wrong against the village. So the village summoned the spirit of revenge, so that it could destroy the village’s enemies, and it was born within the next new child of the Bell family - Yuki.”
“I heard about Madelli’s daughter. Didn’t she run away because she was in love with a foreign man?”
Fuuma continued like he hadn’t heard.
“It’s happened before. 200 years ago. A man of the name Waterstone was taken into the village of our good will, and then betrayed us by killing a young boy. They ignited the curse then, too.” He paused, hesitating on his next words, “That gave birth to Inabikari.” Fuuma’s fist was clenched so tight his knuckles were white.
Jio stared into the darkness in horror. Before his eyes, the events of the night played and replayed themselves.
“The one that took over Yuki... Someone who was also cursed to kill enemies... Did he...?”
“No. He was killed a lonely, crazy man, somewhere outside of the village. No one cared to find out where.”
“Fuuma, we have to stop him! We had to stop Yuki before she kills any-!”
“Did you know this village was born and is raised on revenge? It’s something every one of us naturally craves. It’s in our blood. You know you feel it too.”
“What are you talking about? R-revenge? I don’t even... know what that is.”
“Really?” Fuuma seemed genuinely surprised, looking at Jio with wide-eyes, “I do. I’ve always felt it in my heart. The village cries as one, hates as one, moves as one. But not you.”
“Everyone in the village but me wants Yuki to be a murderer?” Jio huffed, defiant, the pain suddenly washing off him.
“I always knew you were different.” Fuuma spat.
“Why?” Jio got to his feet, trying to ignore the spite emanating from his friend.
“Maybe it’s because you’re the twin of the weapon of the revenge. She took all your revenge away from you and took it upon herself.”
“Yeah. That’s what they’ve been calling her around the village. I hear them whispering to each other. Don’t worry, they say, one day the spirit of revenge will use it’s weapon and we’ll all be free.”
Jio trembled. That was his sister...
Fuuma continued dreamily. “That’s why Yuki has powers like that. The guardian of ravens...” He smiled slowly, “She’s a symbol for death.”
“No… She’s not. Inabikari was the one who killed everyone… right?”
“Right, but he did it so well. He wouldn’t be able to do that without others noticing straight away if Yuki wasn’t perfect for this role.”
“Our parents are dead, Fuuma.”
Fuuma almost looked sad when Jio reminded him; he lowered his head, and covered his eyes with his hands.
“Weapon of revenge…” Jio clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. “They treat her like she’s some sort of tool!”
Fuuma stood up then, and moved closer to Jio.
“To be honest, I don’t like them treating Yuki like a tool, either. But, Jio, one day Yuki will have to kill someone. If she doesn’t leave herself, the village with send her away to carry out her mission. The spirit of revenge with take control. The best we can do is make sure she doesn’t get killed before it’s over, like Inabikari did.” He put his hand out grudgingly, “I’m angry at you for this, and I don’t know why. But we grew up together, and I don’t want to hurt you, so make a deal with me.”
“A deal?” Jio glanced at the hand warily.
“From now on, we support Yuki. No matter what she does. We must help her in her… our revenge! We have to keep her alive, even if that means we have to kill.”
Without hesitation, Jio grabbed his hand.
“If I can’t stop her, then fine. I’ll do it for my sister.” Jio agreed.
In their minds, they felt sure they were certain what they had agreed to.
To put their lives to keep one person alive. To help her kill. They were accomplices now, whatever she did.
“You best get stronger, Jio Bell,” Fuuma muttered, as he headed off back towards the village, the sunlight growing on the horizon, “before the village can destroy you.”
Deep inside fear of the future made them shiver, but determination blazed the strongest.
Yuki was the most important thing, and they would protect her.