Chapter 26:

The Echoes of Nothing


Wooden torii stood tall before them. A gateway to the shrine and threshold for the stairs gave a welcoming presence. Faded paint, stone stairs and a surrounding pocket of a forest covered the hill in a rustic atmosphere.

For only being a year, it felt longer by how witnessing it drew up memories. Yuki could see the two of them racing up the stairs. He delved into the forest with bold curiosity. A different sort of peace discovered within the hurricane of life and emotions.

Seiji’s family, the Tsuji, was a long line of priests and priestesses that watched over the shrine for generations. The Tsuji Shrine was of great pride to them, drawing back connections to the emperors of the past before their decline. They were now more groundskeepers at times than Shinto Priests, even though they focused on their traditions just as much. Family and duty went before everything.

A duty that haunted Seiji like his shadow.

The two boys walked up the long stairs. Trees isolated them from the city. It almost felt like they had stepped into the past and a simpler time. A warm smile drew over Yuki with the day’s stresses melting away. Troubles disappeared in the embrace of nature.

“Yuki!?!” a young boy’s voice said from a distant unseen corner of the grounds. The shout was followed up by an old voice scolding the other. Then out of the side of a small detached structure from the main shrine a young boy popped out running towards Yuki. “It is you!”

“Shoji?” Yuki questioned his sight and memory for a moment, almost not recognizing him for how much he had been growing. Shoji leapt up into the air before coming into a collision path with Yuki. He knocked Yuki down to the stone tiles, nearly sending him down the stairs. “You’ve…gotten bigger…”

“Hey Yuki, it’s been so long since you visited. Did you bring him, brother?” The little boy looked up from Yuki towards Seiji. “Is this what you meant the other day about ‘Finding what you had lost?’”

Seiji twitched his eyebrow and then turned away not wanting to answer the childish question. “I-I just bumped into him and we found our way back here.”

Shoji looked a little disappointed, but quickly got over the lack of an answer. He stared back down at Yuki with wide-eyed excitement. “Hey, you got any new moves you can show me? Seiji won’t teach me anymore.”

Yuki's eyes went wide for a moment with realization and then lowered. Behind Shoji in the distance a darkened figure glared daggers at him. “Afraid, I don’t. Sorry.”

“Aw, but you’ve got to have-”

“Shoji, let Yuki go.” Seiji went down to pick up Shoji. Shoji pulled away starting to pout in front of Seiji making him a little frustrated. “If you do, I’ll…show you something.”

“Really?!” Shoji stood up immediately, tilting his hand back to look up at Seiji. Seiji reluctantly nodded back to him as he ran off back around the wall he had appeared from. Seiji looked down at Yuki offering him a hand up.

Back on his feet and alone once more, Yuki met stares with Seiji. “So what did you want to talk about?”

Chapter 26 – The Echoes of Nothing

Seiji took a step forward, breaking the standoff between them. He had a long pensive expression that looked unnatural for him. It was that aura that made it easy for Yuki to read him. Seiji resumed walking in front of him towards the stairs of the main shrine.

The wood of the shrine was well polished with a reflection of the surroundings bouncing in it as Seiji stepped on the old boards. Yuki followed in step and made their way to the back of the shrine around the outside. A small groan from the back steps released as Seiji took a seat. Yuki leaned up against the supporting pillar of wood looking down.

Silence carried him so far, but Seiji knew it had to end. Changing the complicated emotions into words troubled him. “So… Yuki… The past year?”

“Yeah?” Happy as it made him to see his friend again, he couldn’t dismiss the same questions Saki had. It made him increasingly curious, especially since he didn’t remember Seiji acting like this before when they were close friends.

Silence poured in again for a moment as Seiji searched for his words that continued to slip through his fingers. “What I mean… How has the year been for you?” Seiji tried to paint a friendly and happy face on, but failed in the attempt.

Yuki slipped from the pillar in surprise, but eventually righted himself back up. “Wha?!”

“Well I haven’t seen you in a while. What have you been doing?”

The near matter-of-fact attitude continued to puzzle Yuki as he stared at his friend. He slowly pulled himself back and blinked once to smooth out his disjointed feeling. “Well I’ve been going to school and started high school.”

Seiji lowered his eyes a little annoyed by the easy answer. “Yeah, I know that. Besides school.”

“I uh…” Yuki tried to think about what he had been doing, but found it all pretty ordinary and uneventful, besides one thing. ‘I can’t tell him that I’m an heir to some strange land that I’ve never seen and have powers that defy reality. And that I’m being hunted by a corrupt group of people trying to take control forcibly from the rightful ruler.’ The gears turned in Yuki’s head trying to come up with anything that worked no matter how small. “I ate Takuyaki!”

It was Seiji this time that lost his grip and fell down the stairs landing on his back upside down staring in disbelief and utter confusion at the response. Seiji recovered quickly and leapt up to the stairs glaring back at Yuki for giving such a ridiculous answer to him. “What the hell sort of answer is that?! I didn’t ask what the hell you ate!”

“Well I did!” Yuki leaned back trying to re-enforce that he was being honest, even though it was a random answer.

Seiji grabbed Yuki up by the collar of his uniform and stared at him for a minute without words. Emotions took command over everything. “Dammit! That’s not what I’m asking!”

“At least you’re sounding more like yourself now.”

“Huh?” Taken aback, Seiji released him and stepped away rubbing his head. He surrendered. “If it was a year ago you’d never have even said a word. Guess that’ll do.”

Yuki pulled down his jacket to straighten it out and made it down a couple steps. “You know that I’m not the same, right? I’ve put the past behind me. Was this a test or something, Seiji?”

“A test? Hell no, I know without a test… I guess I—“

“Yuki!” Shoji yelled from the shrine as he threw open the doors on their skids without concern. The young boy leapt on Yuki’s back, hugging him tightly as Yuki had early to Seiji. “I’m all finished with my training. So we can play, Yuki!”

“Shoji! You’re going to hurt, Yuki!” Seiji rushed to Yuki’s aid to pull off his hyper-active little brother. He struggled with Shoji a little, but eventually managed to pull him off sharply with a bonk to his head.

Shoji looked up at Seiji, rubbing his head. “What did you do that for? Yuki’s strong.”

“Well I…”

“It's fine.” Yuki patted Shoji on the head. ‘I don’t remember him being like this before…’ He wanted to go over to Seiji and talk straight with him, but that seemed to be impossible. When they so often painted scenes with blood and conversed through fists, a normal chat came off as unnatural.

A creaking of the boards signaled another visitor to the back of the shrine. It was the grandfather of Shoji and Seiji and the head of the Tsuji family. He was the one that taught the passed down traditions. As to be expected, he wore the standard vestments of the Shinto priests without compromising any of the modernism that was slowly trying to seep into their world.

In his age, he was almost completely bald with only a ring of hair around the base of his head that hung close to his very wrinkled and dotted head. However, in spite of his appearances, he had the fierceness of anyone half his age and refused to acknowledge age as a weakness. “Seiji, you missed your training again. At this rate, your brother will pass you.”

“That’s fine. I’ve told you countless times, I don’t care about any of that. Why can’t you leave me alone?!” Seiji turned away from his grandfather, starting to have anger shaking his arms.

“But it’s fun!” Shoji ran from Yuki over to Seiji grabbing his hand to keep him from leaving. “Please. You’re much better than I am.”

Seiji ripped free his hand and started to walk from the shrine towards the protected woods below. “I told you. I don’t want your tradition!”

“Watch your tongue, boy!” The old man stared from the porch of the shrine down at him. Seiji paused for a moment before he continued walking away. Stairs quickly hid Seiji as he stomped down, his steps echoing through the forest.

Their grandfather turned to Yuki looking at him through his deep set eyes and dry lips. “I thought you might have changed him in the past. I thought you might drive him back to where he was meant to be, but I was wrong. You were only a negative influence that encourages his rebellious side. I see that hasn’t changed.” Upon the final words, he turned and entered the shrine fading into the shadows.

Shoji looked down the path and up at his grandfather before to Yuki. It was painted heavy on the young kid’s face how confused he was now. The boy sought two paths, but couldn’t pick. “Yuki…”

For a brief thought, he questioned his decision. Perhaps Saki had been right. The sight of Shoji’s expression swept away the doubt. He knelt down and patted his head. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Shoji.”

“I wish they’d stop fighting all the time…” Shoji collapsed to his knees grabbing onto Yuki’s pant leg.

“It’s not your fault. Your grandfather and Seiji have different lives. It’ll lead to fighting, but I think if you tell them your feelings and don’t give up… You’ll reach them.”

Shoji wiped away his tears, but still had an uncertain questioning look for Yuki. “My feelings will reach them? If I don’t give up?”

He nodded with a smile. “It’ll take time. But yes, I promise.”

“Really?!” Shoji seemed to return back to his cheerful self. He jumped up and hugged Yuki quickly before running off down the stairs in the direction that Seiji had left.

The grounds were empty once more leaving Yuki standing in the wind that blew through. Emptiness made him awkward like he had already overstayed. He slowly made his way to the front of the shrine to put him back on his path. ‘If you don’t give up huh?’ Yuki stared down at his hand, still confused about his power that was locked inside him. ‘I guess I can’t do this half assed either.’

The forest killed all the damnable sounds of the city. Though barely any of the calm ass nature or creatures filled it. It was hella annoying just sitting in silence. But he had been used to such shit. ‘Finally shut out that damn coward’s voice only to piss away the whole thing. Damn old man! Damnit! He’s probably left now too…’

A long frustrated sigh left him. Seated on the rough ass rock, he braced his head against his palm. Seiji stared out the long ass distance through the trees at nothing. Nothing out there but his shitty thoughts.

Footfalls snapped him out of the hell of his mind. Tilting back, it was Shoji meekly watching him. Seiji turned away from the forest. Quickly, he forced down the rage and anger. “Shoji? What are you doing here?”

“I-I came to find…you.”

“Oh right…you found me pretty quickly.”

“It's pretty easy when you pick the same spot.”

Seiji glanced around the forest. It completely went past him, but Shoji was right. The whole area looked familiar. “Bad habits, I guess.” His alone spot found, Seiji got up and walked over to his little brother. “Were you needing something?”

“Let’s go back…please…”


“Please, brother!” He paused hunting for the words. “You promised to show me one of your moves!”

Roughly swallowing, Seiji looked at his hopeful, pleading brother. Down the long stairs back to the shrine darkened a bit as he thought about the old man. But Shoji stood next to him. A firm nod, he checked his emotions at the tree. “Right! I did! Just remember to watch!”

“Thank you, Seiji!” Shoji bounced up renewed with energy. He hurried over to the stairs eager to see his brother in action.

Joining his little brother, Seiji took a swift look up at the canopy. A little of the sky crept through. ‘I guess I’ll have to try again… Maybe next time I can talk properly to Yuki…’