Chapter 16:

Of Dark Feathers

The Hollow

//tw: suicide, graphic depiction of death

It had been a few days since Aruya had joined the group. She had signed the alliance paper and had fortified their unit. They had gone on their daily “hunts” together as a group, but Aruya would often go off on her own to finish her list, away from the helping hands of the group. Kiyashi had expressed concern for this, but Sendo took it to be that she was still adjusting to working as a group, seeing as she had been alone far longer than Sendo had been before meeting Kiyashi. But as Kiyashi watched the receding back of Aruya as she dashed off to finish her list elsewhere, she resolved to speak to her that night.

Since the girls had outnumbered the boys overwhelmingly, Sendo had begrudgingly given up the main room to be the girls’ space, and he had moved to a smaller space that was more of a three-walled room than a fully fledged room that jutted out just inside the start of the hallway. It had only contained an empty chest of drawers that Sendo had moved to make an impromptu partial fourth wall.

- - -

As Kiyashi listened to Sendo’s footsteps receding down the hall, she turned to Aruya, seated on the other side of the room, checking her daggers one by one.

The expression on the girl’s face was serious, focused and Kiyashi felt bad to interrupt. Everyone was exhausted after a long day out but she didn’t want to go about the next day with the same feeling hovering and dragging at her.

“Aruya, I’m not very good at this, but, if there’s something bothering you, I’m a very good listener.”

Her words sounded foreign falling from her own mouth, but Kiyashi held her gaze.

Aruya, who had looked up at her name, slowed her hands and gently set the dagger in her hand, down. Her eyes were on her now empty hands.

“First, I have a question.” Aruya’s voice was quiet yet clear, her words slow and deliberate.

“Yes?” Kiyashi asked, sitting cross legged on her futon. Mifu lay beside her, tucked in and already asleep, her raven nestled in the crook of her arm, also asleep.

“Are you and Sendo dating?”

The question was such a sudden one that Kiyashi was taken aback for a moment, speechless. Romance was the last thing on her mind in this tumultuous world and she only saw Sendo as a teammate, a partner in alliance, and maybe, on a more familiar scale, a younger brother. She sat for a moment, staring back at Aruya’s blue-tinted dark eyes, before she found her voice again.

“No. He’s just my friend and more of a younger brother, than anything.”

Aruya held her gaze with Kiyashi for a moment and then sighed, in relief, it sounded.

“Thank you. That was the answer I needed.”

This response piqued Kiyashi’s interest.

“Aruya, don’t tell me… are you interested in Sendo?”

At her words, Kiyashi watched as Aruya’s face slowly turned red, her cheeks turning rosy, and the young woman blinked rapidly, waving her hands in front of her face.

“Wah- Uh- No- What- I- I don’t know what you mean-”

Kiyashi chuckled and shot a glance at the closed door that led out to the hallway.

“Oh Aruya, you are adorable,” said Kiyashi, stifling her chuckles into her hand. “Don’t worry, he is all yours,” she added.

“I- Thank you…,” replied Aruya, trailing off, following Kiyashi’s glance at the door. “But he’s forgotten about me. I mean, his family moved away from where we lived when he graduated middle school. But I never forgot him. Even after falling in here.”

A long sigh left Aruya’s mouth, her whole body sinking in time with the sigh. Then she shook her head, as though to attempt to clear the warmth to her cheeks.

“Um, so, back to the main topic at hand,” she said, clearing her throat. As Aruya’s eyes returned to look at Kiyashi, she glanced down at the sleeping face of Mifu and something akin to pain flashed in her eyes.

Kiyashi noticed this sudden demeanour change and looked at Mifu and back to Aruya.

“Is it Mifu?,” she asked, her words needlessly barbed. She hadn’t meant for her tone to be somewhat frosty and caught herself, softening her eyes.

Aruya cradled her arms in front of her and, although seeming to be reassured by Kiyashi’s softened expression, she dropped her eyes, her lip tightly knit in a line. Then she began to speak.

“I understand that she- Mifu isn’t a Dark Angel but… The raven doesn’t bother me, it’s her- her ability that she uses to search. That is the thing that scares me the most.”

“I take it you’ve encountered a Dark Angel before?”

“You haven’t?” Aruya responded in surprise. Kiyashi shook her head.

“I would have expected- Well, they are elusive and only show themselves if they see an Outlaw. They… They seemingly appear out of thin air. It was truly terrifying. And the way they- the way they dispatch Outlaws…” At this, Aruya raised her hands and hovered them over her ears, her fingers shaking, her eyes wide. “That sound will never leave my ears. Ever. Especially since it was Nataka’s voice.”

“Nataka, was that your partner’s name?” Kiyashi’s voice was almost a whisper.

Aruya closed her eyes tightly and then opened them again. “Yes,” she said, shakily. “He was the first person I met when I fell in and he had just recently fallen in as well, so we connected on that.” She paused, a ghost of a smile lingering on her lips. “Nothing else.”

“It had been a usual day on the hunt. I had finished my list and Nataka had one left. We headed in that direction and found it readily enough. Nataka made quick work of it when a scream rang out. I told Nataka that we had to leave but he said that it might be a cry of help, so he ran off. I had no choice but to follow him.

The scream was from a young woman. It looked as though their partner, another woman, had failed their assignment and had been murdered by their target, a behemoth of a lizard, claws curled and razor sharp, dripping with blood. We arrived just in time to see the woman’s partner dissolve into dust. Nataka was one to help out anyone in need, so of course he turned to the lizard and engaged in combat. I supported him, and the creature was defeated quickly. But when he turned to the woman to reassure her, she- she grabbed his axe and- plunged it into her chest.

He- Nataka- The woman had super strength of something, because she practically pulled the axe and into herself. Nataka still had his hand on the handle, which is what- it is what cost him his life…

When a Hunter kills another on a day that is not the day of the Purging, they are immediately labelled as an Outlaw. And that is what happened to Nataka, even though he had not actually killed her.

And the Dark Angel descended in the next heartbeat. Like it had been there all along. It appeared out of thin air and just cut through Nataka… like he was a piece of cloth. He didn’t even have a chance to react. He- he erupted into a shower of dust and ash that looked like feathers and was- he was just gone.”

Aruya breathed in shakily and hugged her knees to her chest.

“Dark Angels… they look like young children. Like Mifu, Mifu’s age… I, I just couldn’t get the image of the one that killed Nataka, out of my mind. And when I saw Mifu- I’m sorry. I just- her ability was exactly how Nataka was found… I’m sure of it. So-”

The girl paused, her voice softer now.

“Mifu… she doesn’t have wings like they did. So, it should be fine but I just- I’ve been having flashbacks every time I see her, so- I’m sorry for having avoided you. It’s not like I don’t enjoy your company. It’s just- I-”

Aruya’s words were lost as Kiyashi had stood up, came over to her side, and had hugged the girl, drawing her into a big hug.

“Aruya, thank you for telling me. And we are all here for you. No one is going to disappear anytime soon. I promise to protect us from anything that comes our way. We’ve got to get out of this hell hole somehow, and alive.” Kiyashi patted Aruya’s head like she did to Mifu, and felt the girl’s body tremble as sobs shook her body. Mifu continued to sleep soundly, as Aruya continued to sob quietly, Kiyashi continuing to hold her in an embrace, as the light outside the window completely dimmed to darkness, as though night were truly falling.