The morning of Kiyashi’s Day 70 began like any other morning. She rose and gently woke Mifu, who murmured sleepily and followed her to the bathroom to wash up. The crow, which Mifu called Kuro, came with them, sitting on Mifu’s shoulder. Sendo was still slumbering, which happened sometimes. After freshening up, Kiyashi and Mifu returned to the main room and noticed that Sendo was awake and sitting on the edge of his futon. And he was visibly shaking.
“Sendo-“ Concerned, Kiyashi called out but stopped when she saw what he was clutching in his shaking hands. It was his list.
Sendo spoke, his voice low and husky, as if something was stuck in his throat. “The Purging, it’s- it’s today.”
As if on cue, from outside, a loud and deep siren sounded. The sound lingered in the air and wrapped its tendrils around the three of them in the room. Mifu gripped Kiyashi’s sleeve, her shoulders shaking as if cold. Kuro cawed and flapped his wings agitatedly. Kiyashi just stood there, lost for words.
She only found her voice when the siren had died away.
“The Purging…” The image of the poster in The Hand that Yamato had put up. No one knew when the next Purging is so Yamato had said he’d just put it up when it had been about a half a year since the last one.
“Look at your list,” said Sendo, his face slightly pale.
Kiyashi walked over to her bag and pulled out her list. And jumped in her skin when she saw the single name in red ink on her list. Usually, the names of the targets were in black ink. So, something in red ink was strange and new. Also, the name was much shorter than the names of her targets that were more like full titles than just simple names.
“This red name?”
“Yes. That’s the Hunter we have to hunt.”
The Hunter that she had to hunt. Those words made a chill run through Kiyashi’s body.
Wordlessly, she went over to Sendo and showed him her list and he did likewise. As if to check and double check that they were not on the other’s list.
“At least the alliance is holding up,” said Kiyashi, smiling weakly.
“But we might be on other people’s lists. Today we’ll have to be on high alert. And be prepared to kill in self-defense.” With those final words, Sendo looked up into Kiyashi’s eyes and they both nodded, jaws tense, their mouths a line.
When the group exited the apartment building and made their way down to the tavern, Kiyashi could feel that the air felt different. Even inside the golden bubble of protection that the tavern offered, she could feel the tension in the air like needles pricking her skin.
“You feel it?” Sendo spoke, his eyes forward, his bow in hand.
“Yeah. It’s so heavy.” Kiyashi answered. Mifu stuck as close as she could to Kiyashi. She had the equal strange athletic abilities that Kiyashi and Sendo had observed occurring in themselves; she was a very agile runner, even akin to a professional sprinter.
Kiyashi glanced at Mifu and saw her face set in concentration. She knew this expression to be the one that Mifu had when she was using her scouting ability. Sendo noticed too and stopped, waiting for Mifu’s verdict.
“I don’t see any dots around,” Mifu said, softly.
Nodding, Sendo stepped out from the safety of the tavern area and led the way down the next street. Per usual, the streets were empty and silent, their footfalls echoing hollow in the still space.
First stop was Kiyashi’s target. When she had checked it on her map in the tavern safe zone, the red dot had not moved from its spot on the map that she had confirmed when she was still in the apartment.
Kiyashi swallowed the nerves rising in her throat. It felt so strange to her. She had spent the past 10 odd weeks killing her targets and successfully completing her norma. Now it was one target. But it was another Hunter, another human. Or were they even human at this point, after all the death that Hunters birthed at their hands. She had been shaking at the apartment but now she felt a strange calm. Why she felt this calm, she was unsure. At least there were nerves threatening to overtake her body and shake her up, quite literally. But other than that, Kiyashi did not feel anything. Maybe her fear was hiding deep in her gut. She could be a target on someone’s list, a red dot in motion on someone’s map. Sendo could be too.
That thought tugged at her mind and a renewed emotion of panic bubbled up suddenly. In an instant, Kiyashi felt her body flush with a cold sweat and she gasped as if losing air.
“You okay?,” Sendo turned back to her. When he did not get a response straight away, he pulled Kiyashi to the side and had her sit in a boarded-up doorway of a building they were passing. Passing her the water flask, Sendo took a seat as well. Mifu paused to check their surroundings, when she froze and widen her violet eyes.
“There are two dots, approaching fast.”
“What? Where from?” Sendo crouched, notching an arrow to his bow.
Before Mifu could reply, the sound of a struggle and the echoing of metal striking metal could be heard right above them. All three looked up and saw two Hunters in combat.
One was armed with a battle ax, the other with a double-handed sword of some sort. Both combatants were cloaked and hooded, so their faces were hidden. The rooftops were their arena and they were battling to the death. And they passed overhead without paying attention to Kiyashi’s group, two ships passing in the night. So, when Kiyashi struggled to her feet and prepared to draw her katana, the pair had already disappeared and the sounds of fighting had melted into the tense air.
“Let’s go,” said Sendo, his words short and chopped. Kiyashi nodded, handing him back the water flask. Mifu nodded her approval and they set off.
Kiyashi’s target was located in an area on her map that she had never been to. As they moved closer to her target, Kiyashi glanced at her map and watched the blank space fill with lines, intricate and curling like vines instead of streets and outlines of structures.
The streets became narrower and narrower as Kiyashi navigated and Sendo led the way. Until, they had to walk in single file to traverse an alleyway. The alleyway was littered with debris from crumbling buildings and broken wooden frames. Glancing down at her map, Kiyashi saw her red dot was just across the next alleyway. And it had not moved once.
“Sendo, it’s straight ahead, after the next crossing.”
Sendo nodded and continued forward.
Then there was a tug on Kiyashi’s cloak and Mifu’s voice reached her ears.
“Kii, up ahead, behind that entrance on the right, a dot.”
Sendo stopped, hearing Mifu’s words and leaned against the wall. “Entrance? Behind that cloth?”
There was a cloth listlessly wavering, peeking a corner every now and then from a break in the wall of the alleyway.
“I know you’re out there. Come in, don’t be shy.”
A gravelly voice crept out from behind the cloth. All three stopped, their breath caught in their throats.
“Don’t just stand there. Please, come in.” The voice repeated.
“What if it’s a trap? We should-“ Sendo began whispering when Kiyashi took a step forward and began making her way towards the cloth entrance.
“Kiyashi-,” came Sendo’s furious whisper, but Kiyashi ignored it. It was as if her body was moving on her own, but she was in control of it at the same time. It could be a trap but it could also not be one. But she could not tell what compelled her forward. With one hand on her katana, Kiyashi approached the entrance and lifted the cloth. And was greeted by a dimly lit room and the same gravelly voice.
“Ah finally. Welcome, and do take a seat.”