//tw: mention of suicide, graphic violence
Kiyashi could make out a ragged rug in the gloom. She squinted and walked to stand on it.
“Please, take a seat. I know why you’re here.”
“I can tell. Also I can sense when someone is hunting, of course.”
Kiyashi kept her hand on her katana. The darkness on the opposite side of the room was all she could see; the voice was coming from that direction. When she was just about to ask for a light, a candle flickered and a lantern was lit, bathing the gloom in a strangely out of place warmth.
The face that was illuminated by the lantern light was one of a man. He looked neither old nor young, but had sunken eyes, as though he had not slept for a long time. He had a blanket wrapped about his torso and a single hand poked out, flicking away the flame from the match grasped between his fingers. His bare feet were tucked under his legs as he was sitting cross legged.
As the light filled the space, Mifu came dashing in and hid herself behind Kiyashi, her eyes wide and fixed on the man. Her raven flew up to a perch by their heads. The man waved his hand towards the entrance.
“Do call your friend in. His nerves are so loud, he’s basically a beacon for Outlaws.”
Kiyashi nodded and called Sendo in. After a few second delay, Sendo poked his head out from the cloth and ducked in, returning his arrow to his quiver but not taking his eyes off the man on the floor.
“Kiyashi, what are you doing,” Sendo said in a low whisper as he came to stand next to her.
“He- he seems like he has something to tell me.”
“So, you’ll just stop to listen to any random stranger? This might be a trap!”
“Ah, your friend has every right to be cautious,” the man said, beckoning them to sit. Kiyashi hesitated but mirrored the man and sat cross legged across from him.
“But do not fear, this is not a trap. I’ve made my resolve long ago and have been waiting for this moment,” he continued, looking pointedly at Kiyashi.
“How- how do you know it’s me?,” Kiyashi asked, warily.
“Like I said before, I can sense when someone is on the hunt. And I sensed that you were the hunter and thus, it is you who is my executioner.” With that last word, the man smiled wide.
Kiyashi felt a mix of fear and disbelief race down her spine at the glee that danced in the man’s sunken eyes. She felt Mifu shiver behind her and reached back to squeeze her hand in reassurance. She could feel Sendo shimmer with anger. Before she could stop him, Sendo had jumped up and had the man’s collar in his hand.
“Is your life that trivial that you can happily toss it away? what have you learned from this world?”
The man’s sunken eyes still flashed with a strange light as the man raised his voice in return.
“What I’ve learned? Well, let me tell you, boy. I learned that I was helpless to help my partner from senseless slaughter. I learned that I was never leaving this hellhole. And I learned that I can’t leave on my own terms. On my own terms! What more could I ask for!”
At this point, there were mad tears streaming from the man’s eyes that Sendo let go of the man in disgust. As Sendo let go, the blanket fell away to reveal the man’s skin. He was shirtless beneath the blanket that he had been using as a shawl. His skin clung to his thin frame. And it was so inundated with inky names, that it looked like it was simply the colour of ink, or the night sky.
Kiyashi’s eyes widened and so did Sendo’s. The man noticed their expressions and quickly gathered the blanket around his torso again.
“Now you see that the rumour that you’d get out of here if you covered your body with names, is a lie. It’s a lie, a complete and utter lie.” The man laughed with his nose.
“I’ve got it all down to my ankles too. It’s like I’m more ink than human, haha. And this is even after losing three months worth.”
“Losing three months worth?” The disbelief was raw in Sendo’s voice.
“I just stopped doing my daily norma. I was sick and tired of it anyway. I hoped the pain would just do away with me, but I lucked out.”
“‘Do away with you’?,” Kiyashi repeated the man’s words. “Do you mean…”
“Yes, my dear executioner, I’ve been trying to kill myself but this damn world won’t let me.”
“What…” Beside Kiyashi, Sendo was at a loss for words. The pounding of her own heart was deafening to Kiyashi’s ears. And before she could register what her body was doing, she was on her feet and her hand was on her katana. But her hand was shaking so much that the saya rattled slightly.
The man saw her stand and hastily stood as well, his eyes flashing with glee.
“Please do not hesitate. This is simply one part of your norma. I am but a number, on your list. If you don’t, you’ll suffer.” Then in a softer voice, almost pleading, the man continued. “Young lady, you are my only hope. Please, end this for me, once and for all.” With those words, he opened his arms wide.
Kiyashi felt her gut twist inside of her but she clenched her jaw tightly. She willed her shaking hand to calm and gripped the tsuka. And drew her katana.
In the next moment, Kiyashi’s blade sprouted from the man’s back. Gasping for a pocket of air mixed with blood, the man whispered something close to Kiyashi’s ear.
And then he burst into a cloud of dust and ash, disintegrating into the air. In a corner of the room, a cloth fluttered away from something that also disappeared in a burst. It was the man’s weapon, finally uncovered after months of neglect.
Kiyashi felt her katana clatter out of her hand as she fell to her knees, hot tears shattering on her palms. She stared at her tears falling onto her palms, her expression blank. Her back still to her companions, Kiyashi spoke.
“Sendo. Mifu. I just killed a man. I just-“
Then her words stopped as the pain of the name etching into her skin, raced through her body. But it felt dull behind the sea of tears that were clouding Kiyashi’s eyes. They enveloped her and somehow cushioned the otherwise excruciating pain. As the last dregs of pain waned, Kiyashi lifted her left arm and blinked the tears from her eyes.
She had expected to see the man’s player name written there but in place it, there was full first and last name. The man’s real name. It was now etched into her skin. Kiyashi’s breath caught in her throat.
“His full name,” she muttered with a tear-stained voice. Mifu came over and hugged Kiyashi. Weakly, Kiyashi hugged her back.
There was a shuffle of feet and Kiyashi saw Sendo’s gloved hand appear in front of her. Wordlessly, she took it and was pulled to her feet. Mifu handed her a handkerchief from Kiyashi’s bag and Kiyashi accepted it, wiping her tears.
“First Hunter kill is rough,” said Sendo simply, something snagging at his voice too.
Kiyashi nodded, her mind fuzzy like cotton. But one clear phrase floated through the haze.
There was no way out of this world besides death.