//tw: blood, injury
“What- what did you say?”
Gripping his shoulder, Sendo’s expression was a mixture of anger, fear, and confusion. His words hung in the air, silence circling the four of them like hungry wolves. Through Sendo’s fingers, the blood oozed and a single drop pattered to the floor. Kiyashi felt Mifu shift further into her shadow.
As another drop of crimson fell to the floor, the girl dropped her dagger and rushed to Sendo’s side.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know it was you. I-“
But as the girl came closer to him, Sendo kept his hunting knife aimed towards her, and slowly backed towards the doorway where Kiyashi and Mifu were standing.
“Who are you?”
The girl stopped, her hands frozen before her. Her eyes flashed with hurt and she slowly lowered her arms.
“So, it is true. The memories disappearing. You- you’ve forgotten about me,” she said, almost a murmur. Then she cleared her throat, the pain dimming from her eyes, and she carefully drew her sword.
The trio at the door tensed as the blade flashed slowly through the air.
However, instead of turning the blade towards them, the girl set it down on the floor, dropping her belt of knives as well.
“I mean you no harm. I- I meant you no harm.”
Sendo grew a ragged breath as he lowered his hunting knife, seeing that the girl had set her weapons down.
“I ask again. Who, are you?”
The girl turned her faintly blue tinged dark eyes towards Sendo. Kiyashi felt Mifu grip her sleeve tightly.
“I am Aruya. I am, I was, your childhood friend.”
“My childhood… friend? I- I didn’t have a childhood friend,” said Sendo, confused. He stood there a moment, staring at the girl that was on his list. The girl stared back. Then his expression froze and eyes widened. His body tensed and the knife clattered from his hand. He looked as though he had seen a ghost.
“I couldn’t have possibly… I couldn’t have had a childhood friend. But- how-“
With a thud, Sendo fell to his knees, cradling his head in his hand.
“Sendo?” Kiyashi called out, worried. She could feel Mifu trembling.
“I never had a childhood friend, but why- why do you look so familiar? Why…?” As the words tumbled from his mouth, Sendo’s eyes began to brim with tears, which he hastily brushed away with one hand.
“What…” Raising his head, Sendo glanced at the girl named Aruya and then at Kiyashi.
Kiyashi saw Aruya’s lips tremble and watched as the girl stepped towards Sendo and then, falling to her knees as well, hugged him. Sendo did not react, completely puzzled as tears streamed down his face.
- - -
“So, you mean to say, that we get erased from the real world when we, when we, fall in?”
Handing Sendo the medicinal patch to cover his cut, Kiyashi asked Aruya. The girl was perched on a slab of broken concrete that was sitting in the middle of the room they were in. Her eyes followed Sendo’s every movement, as though in awe at what she was seeing. Kiyashi’s words snapped her back and she turned her eyes towards her now.
“Yes,” Aruya replied, her voice small. “I confirmed this when my, my former, teammate met their brother here. Well, perhaps, because they were siblings, a connection was more readily made.” She glanced back to Sendo, who was now patched up and leaning on a wall.
Sendo joined the conversation with a sigh.
“So that’s the reason why you recognize me while I don’t really recognize you?,” he asked, his voice slightly hoarse.
Aruya nodded. She looked on the verge of tears, her eyes wading.
“Our names…” Kiyashi began, a thought forming in her mind, an old memory that was almost lost in the fog of the monotonous days.
“Remember when you first fell in? And how our names were- how they were taken from us? Is that connected to our supposed erasure from the real world…?”
Silence greeted Kiyashi’s words as both Sendo and Aruya dropped their eyes to the floor. It was not a welcome memory to recall, and Kiyashi knew this as well. She had been hesitant to speak of this to Sendo but the topic at hand had all to do with this. Names, faces, memory. If this world was indeed dragging people in with the goal of never releasing them, this world…
“This world is messed up.” Sendo finally spoke, after Kiyashi’s thoughts had been spinning in the quiet. He was gripping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. Then, he shot up, walked over to a piece of crumbled cement, and kicked it at the wall with all his might. It hit the wall with a loud thump, letting small bits fly in all directions.
“You- Aruya. I don’t recognize you but- how do I explain this. I think, I know that you’re someone that I can’t… kill.”
“Kill?” Aruya looked up, surprise on her face.
“Don’t you remember what we were just doing? I shot at you and then you chased me, throwing a dagger-”
“Oh!” The girl genuinely jumped up from her seat.
“Are you an airhead or something?” Sendo’s voice sounded softer, even playful. But as soon as the speaker himself noticed his tone, he cleared his throat.
“Aruya, you’re on my list.”
That sentence hung in the air, suspended on icy threads. Kiyashi watched as Aruya’s eyes darted to her weapons on the ground and then to Sendo, standing there, his eyes dark.
“S- Sendo…?” Her voice shook slightly.
“Sendo. You can’t possibly-” Kiyashi stepped forward, putting her hand on Sendo’s shoulder. And realised he was shaking as well.
“Kiyashi, I can’t.” His words were barely audible, his eyes fixed on Aruya. “I can’t. This person is- I just can’t.” Sendo’s jaw tightened and his lip trembled.
“The consequences?” Kiyashi murmured, recalling her target earlier that day, bringing a bitter taste to her mouth.
Her partner just nodded, a shift curt nod. Kiyashi took a deep breath and stepped back.
“Kii.” Mifu’s small voice reached Kiyashi’s ears and she turned to give the young girl a reassuring pat.
“Sendo’s resolve is set. We just have to be there for him,” she murmured.
Sendo then spoke aloud, addressing the girl standing before him.
“However, I can’t bring myself to, so I will merely have to face the consequences. And, although it is abrupt, would you like to join our alliance, Aruya?”
With those words, Sendo held his hand out, a smile crossing his lips.
“Yes!,” replied Aruya, returning the smile, somewhat guarded, and grasped Sendo’s hand.
- - -
The group, now with four members, returned to Sendo’s apartment just as the bell signaling deep nightfall rang out, chasing Hunters into their homes and calling out the Outlaws to savour the darkness.
“Welcome,” said Sendo simply, as the door closed behind them.
“You can put your things there,” Kiyashi pointed towards the main room, while Mifu and her raven pattered ahead. Tetsu came clinking from down the hallway and barked.
“We’ll get the alliance details set after we settle down. Sendo-”
When Kiyashi turned to speak to Sendo, she saw him stagger and fall against the wall. She reached out to try and steady him as he slid to the floor. His breaths came out in rasps and he was clutching his arm, his fingers like claws, almost digging into his skin.
“Sendo!” A terrified shriek left Aruya’s lips as she turned around as well.
This was the first time Kiyashi saw someone endure the process of losing a name. Her target earlier that day had mentioned it but she had not expected to witness it firsthand.
It was like Sendo was running a fever. A film of sweat glinted over his skin in the low hallway light. Kiyashi’s grip on his shoulder also felt damp as the sweat soaked through his shirt. Sendo’s body felt tense, on a tightrope. Then, in the next moment, with a long shaky breath, his shoulders slumped and his whole body seemed to lean into the wall, exhausted.
Kiyashi looked at Sendo’s arm that he had been clutching and saw the inky swirls recede slightly, waves from shore, as a section of the letters etched there, dissolved into thin air.
“Thanks,” Sendo muttered, shadows deepened under his eyes, his face shiny with sweat.
“You good now?,” Kiyashi asked, keeping her grip on his shoulder as Sendo managed to get to his feet, swaying slightly.
“Yeah. Pretty much,” came the reply. “Now, that was something I don’t ever want to experience again.” Sendo gave a shaky laugh.
As Sendo nodded that he was okay to stand, Kiyashi let go. She watched as Sendo reassured the worried Aruya that it wasn’t her fault and that everything was going to be okay.
Everything wasn’t going to be okay. And they all knew it.
Kiyashi felt the familiar tug on her sleeve, as Mifu raised her violet eyes filled with concern and Kiyashi offered her a smile.
In that moment, Kiyashi knew one thing for certain in this world of uncertainty and of death. She was going to get herself, Sendo, Mifu, and even Aruya, out of this mess somehow. She didn’t know exactly how, but she knew she was going to do it no matter what. And before another Hunter had to die by her hand, before the next Purge.