Chapter 9:

Allies Anew

The Hollow

The sky was dimming but not quite nightfall when Kiyashi and Sendo made it back to The Hand. Sendo had finished his list mush faster than she did; he had probably taken half the time it took Kiyashi, as she struggled and braved the pain of the names being written into her skin.Bookmark here

As Yamato whistled while cleaning their weapons, Kiyashi wrung out as much energy as she could spare and bit into the apple she was holding. The fruit was chilled and the juice was sweet. And each chew was a satisfying crunch.Bookmark here

As she raised her arm to take another bite, she saw the ring of ink on her wrist peek out from her sleeve. Just a glance reminded her of the sensation of the ink moving under her skin and she quickly pulled her sleeve over it. She did not want to ruin the flavour of the apple on her tongue.Bookmark here

Next to her, Sendo took a long drink from a glass of water, then turned to her.Bookmark here

“Not bad for your first day.”Bookmark here

“Why, thank you. I will take that as a compliment,” said Kiyashi, between chews.Bookmark here

“At least, you did better than I did on my first day,” Sendo chuckled lightly.Bookmark here

“Your first day? Oh, you’ve been here a while, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it’s been about a year. Thank goodness for the day counter on our lists; without it, I would have completely lost track of how long I’ve been here.”Bookmark here

“Tell me about your first day, it sounds much more entertaining than mine was.”Bookmark here

Sendo waved his hand. “It’s not much. It would just be a story of me being saved at every turn.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you had someone helping you?,” Kiyashi asked.Bookmark here

Sendo paused and then nodded. “Yeah, well, it was more like we were helping each other. Well, we were supposed to,” he added, speaking softly.Bookmark here

Kiyashi noticed the change in the tone of his voice. And she feared the worst.Bookmark here

“What happened?,” she asked quietly.Bookmark here

Sendo gripped his hands together tightly. “The first assignment. She- She failed the first assignment.”Bookmark here

“Does that mean…”Bookmark here

“She, she was just, gone. Faded to dust.”Bookmark here

“What…?” Kiyashi’s thoughts swam. Death was simply the same, friend or foe. You simply were reduced to dust. Not even a bone left of you. Just dust, like snow.Bookmark here

“If, if you fail an assignment, like you don’t defeat the target, a name is burned off. But for newbies, without any names yet, they pay with their lives.” Sendo looked up at Kiyashi. “You- Sorry if this sounds weird, but you reminded me of her, so I, I…”Bookmark here

Kiyashi reached out and put a hand on Sendo’s shoulder. He jumped slightly at her touch.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Sendo. I’m thankful for you saving me and showing how this world works. I really am. Without you, I would have been toad food.”Bookmark here

The young man nodded, his eyes glistening. Hurriedly, he blinked away tears and forced a smile.Bookmark here

“No one wants to be toad food, that’s for sure. Also, thank you.”Bookmark here

“No problem, friend.”Bookmark here

- - -Bookmark here

In the following weeks, Kiyashi steadily adjusted to her strange new athletic abilities. She had mentioned to Sendo about it and he had confirmed that he experienced the same thing but had no real explanation for it. And neither did Yamato; all he could say was that it was like your weapon: it materialized with you when you entered the Hollow.Bookmark here

She also tried to get used to the pain and strange sensations associated with the names etching themselves into her skin. But that was the one thing she could not adjust to.Bookmark here

“Getting used to that is nigh impossible,” said Yamato once. “I’ve yet to hear someone say that. So, let me know when you do,” he had added, in jest.Bookmark here

The day counter on Kiyashi’s list steadily increased. When it reached the number 30, the rings on Kiyashi’s arm were now up to the middle of her forearm. The letters were so tiny that she had to squint to see them. They seemed to squish closer together as the names increased.Bookmark here

Back at the apartment on her Day 30, Kiyashi came out of the shower to find Sendo sitting at the low table, a piece of blank parchment paper before him, a frown of concentration on his face.Bookmark here

“Sendo, what is that for?”Bookmark here

At her voice, Sendo looked up. “This? Uh, this is going to be our alliance list.”Bookmark here

“Alliance? Didn’t Yamato mention something like that recently?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. ‘Make an alliance because safety is in numbers,’ or something like that,” said Sendo, trying his best to imitate Yamato’s voice.Bookmark here

Kiyashi chuckled. “But it’s just two of us. Shouldn’t an alliance be with more than just two people?”Bookmark here

“Yes, but we should make one now because the Purging is coming.”Bookmark here

“The Purging.” The words rolled out of Kiyashi’s mouth, sounding familiar but she could not put a finger on it.Bookmark here

“There was a poster at The Hand that Yamato put up. It happens once a year. And it’s a day of basically, 'anything goes.'”Bookmark here

“Anything goes?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. Hunters can hunt other Hunters, as if you were an Outlaw. Without punishment. Well, it’s more of we ‘have to’ hunt other Hunters, because they’ll appear on the daily norma list.”Bookmark here

“Hunters appear on our list?” Something cold raced down Kiyashi’s neck and she shivered. And it was not water from her damp hair. “Is it, is it the Outlaws that appear on our lists?” They were already terrifying as they were. For them, the Purging was the best day for them, once a year.Bookmark here

“There’s no system of choice. Anyone could appear on your list. We could appear on other peoples’ lists or even on each other’s.” Bookmark here

“Each other’s? What…”Bookmark here

“So, that is why I want to form an alliance. If you’re in an alliance, the members of your alliance do not show up on your lists during the Purging.”Bookmark here

As quick as flipping a switch, Kiyashi was at the table. “I have no objection.” She held out her right hand. “I would happily join your alliance, Sendo.”Bookmark here

Seeing Kiyashi’s hand ready for a handshake, Sendo laughed and returned the favour. “Thanks. I’ll get that done right now then.” Leaning forward, he began writing on the parchment. The word of “Alliance” was scrawled across the top in neat handwriting. Surprisingly neat handwriting, Kiyashi thought, but did not mention it to Sendo.Bookmark here

Next, below the title, Sendo wrote his name. Then handed the pen to Kiyashi. She followed suit and then there were two names. As the paper returned to Sendo, it began to glow and the letters on the page became outlined in a blueish light.Bookmark here

“What-,” began Kiyashi but the glowing faded as abruptly as it began.Bookmark here

“I think it means it’s finalized,” said Sendo, although he was sitting in disbelief at the phenomenon.Bookmark here

“Well, in that case, I shall be in your care, once again,” said Kiyashi, bowing, a hand over her chest. Hastily getting to his feet, Sendo returned the bow in kind.Bookmark here

“And I, in yours.” And they shared a smile.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.