//tw: blood, injury, death, auditory hallucinations
The next several months passed without incident, although the Day of Respite felt like a distant memory almost immediately. Just one look at the list appearing the following morning was enough to push the momentous semblance of happiness to the back of their minds as they prepared for another day on the field.
- - -
Kiyashi grunted as the taloned toes of the giant hawk slammed down on her katana; she staggered under the weight of the beast as it shrieked, piercing cry, and flapped its wings, buffeting the ground. Leaves flew up and danced in the air, as Kiyashi tried in vain to hold her ground whilst keeping her eyes open to watch her target.
It was a giant bird of prey, wings of brown and silver-grey that glistened like the feathers were made of polished metal. Its eyes were a brilliant gold that watched Kiyashi sharply with swift black pupils. Dappled Silver Wing. The creature’s name flashed in Kiyashi’s mind and she mentally chuckled at how literal the name was. They often were, like some dry old joke that no one got until the joker gave an explanation.
She’s already managed to slice off a few of the beast’s talons on its other foot; it was pressing down on the side of her blade with its good, intact foot. Kiyashi could see the grey scaly skin that encased the base of the razor sharp talons that shone as though oiled.
The bird gave another screech and Kiyashi felt the foot give away a little as the beast beat its wings again. It was enough for Kiyashi to turn the blade facing upwards. There was satisfyingly no resistance as the blade cut through the grey skin and through the flesh. A inky blue blood spurted and Kiyashi jumped out of the way as the blood splattered, the bird screaming in pain, flailing its leg stump.
Then she heard it. The faint whisper. A familiar phrase that she had not heard in a long while.
Hunter, why do you hunt?
Kiyashi grimaced as the question echoed in her mind. The bird loomed high above her now, trying somehow to perch with one foot and missing toes. Its roost appeared to be a branch of some gigantuous tree that had melded into the wall of a marble structure covered in moss, standing alone in a thick wooded area. Kiyashi was alone on the field; she had left Mifu tucked away in a tree trunk by the entrance to the area. There had been no peripherals this time around so Aruya and Sendo had gone onto their targets, leaving Kiyashi to face hers alone. This was not the first time she had done this, but this was the first time she was struggling to cut her target down.
And she had not expected the voice to speak to her again. But there it was, clear and transparent, in her mind.
However, instead of a single, calm whisper like a breeze, the phrase began to repeat and overlap, until it sounded like countless pages of a book being leafed through all at once. The sounds grew from a rustle to a fever pitch, an abomination of a chorus.
Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do we hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do we hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you run Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunted, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt Hunter, why do you hunt--
Kiyashi grit her teeth, one eye closing as her head started to ring. She could feel pain like a heavy, red curtain falling over her eyes and she fought to keep her eyes open. She tightened her grip on her katana, keeping the point trained on the head of the bird high above her. She could hear its flapping wings through the ringing of the overlapping voices, shimmering like heat rays.
Then, suddenly, all at once, the sounds converged in a single phrase.
Hunted, why do you run?
It sounded loud and clear. It pierced through Kiyashi’s mind, an invisible arrow. Her head felt like it was splitting in two. She could feel her katana slip from her hand as she reached to her head with both hands. And opened her mouth in a scream.
She couldn’t hear herself, as the voices returned like a wave of red. Her eyes swam, the pain feverish. Her body felt like it was falling, as she lurched and dropped to her knees.
The squawk of the giant bird of prey sounded gleeful, but it was but a far off sound that barely passed through the barrier of the voices screaming in Kiyashi’s brain. Through her narrowed eyes, she could barely make out the handle of her katana, pitching back and forth from the force of being dropped. She reached feebly with one hand, the other clutching her head, but her fingers grasped at nothing.
There was a howl of wind as the bird descended, remaining talons bared and beak wide open. And Kiyashi felt her eyes closing, her ears pounding with the voices, not blood, and everything turned black.
Then, there was the sound of something tearing, and the sounds of Kiyashi’s surroundings bombarded her ears like water rushing in. She gasped as though she had surfaced from being trapped underwater. It certainly was something akin to being underwater.
The voices had not ceased but had been pushed to the back of her head, still shrill but quieter. Kiyashi inched her eyes open and looked up to see a cloaked figure standing before her.
The figure had a greatsword buried in the base of one wing of the feathered creature. The bird was struggling while screeching with a blood-curdling cry of pain, but that sound did not phase Kiyashi. Compared to the din that had been erupting in her mind just moments ago, the bird’s cries were nothing.
“Give the final blow! Now!”
The figure shouted, a gravelly voice, but clear and firm. A muttered curse followed as the bird began to struggle against the greatsword, threatening to tear its own wing off.
Kiyashi could still feel the buzzing there, as though she had hit her head. But, she reached for her katana, felt the reassuring feeling of it sitting in her hand, and stood up to full height.
“Aim for the eyes,” came the gravelly voice of the man with the greatsword.
Without a thought to the advice, Kiyashi kicked off the ground and twisted her body mid-air to dodge the thrashing of the free wing, landing on the bird’s head. The creature screeched again, a scream that would have cut through stone had it been a physical object. With a swift motion, Kiyashi pointed her katana down and at an angle. And, without hesitation, pushed the blade through one golden orb and out the other.
The giant bird stopped moving almost immediately. And simultaneously exploded into a thousand clusters of grey dust and ash, falling like snow. Kiyashi saw the pieces land on her hands and arms and dissolve. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man with the greatsword returning the blade to its sheath on his back. And then, she caught a blur of movement and saw Mifu running towards her. As Kiyashi felt Mifu embrace her, she simultaneously felt the usual sensation as the ink crawled through her skin and settled on her arm. But the pain felt distant somehow.
She could hear Mifu crying softly. Absent-mindedly, she reached down and patted the girl on the head. Then heard the heavy footfalls as the man with the greatsword strapped to his back, approached.
“Kid, allow me to tell you something you know already and something you don’t know.”
Kiyashi raised her head, her eyes feeling heavy and still aching. She was met with stormy grey eyes that looked hardened as obsidian.
“You can hear voices. This is probably your third time, judging by your reaction.”
Kiyashi nodded. She did not feel shocked that this man knew of her predicament. It all passed before her like a dull blade skimming over skin. Why she was so accepting, puzzled her. Perhaps it was because her energy seemed like it was completely drained from her body.
“Now, kid, let me tell you what you don’t know.”
Kiyashi blinked and slowly nodded.“I can hear them too. And I know exactly why, we, hear them.”