Kokorokizu

He has become a tortured soul, having lost the only one he loved. Now, his friend finds herself caught trying to mend what the tides of time have done to his heart.
Kai-chan
"Sorrow is absolute in the riddle of life...
Anger always follows in its wake."
Prologue

"Aikiura, please, do not provoke him!" The young prince's voice rings out over the dry, dusty plain, laden with a desperate and urgent tone even as he struggles against the grip of three inhuman men.
"Provoke? Provoke me of what?" The only human glances back at him, scratching the side of his head with the hand holding a small firearm, and merely grins, though in a somewhat sadistic fashion.
"Dammit, Tsumi! Make them let him go, now!" Now growling in agitation, the one female in all this snaps at the human male, gaining a somewhat dangerous air about her.
"Or you'll do what?!" Tsumi snaps back, slowly beginning to lose his patience.
"You don't want to know." She retorts snarlingly, baring a pointed canine as her ears stiffly prick.
"Aikiura, get out of here, now!" Fighting to free at least one arm, the restrained one twists himself somewhat, taking one heavy step forward, and snaps his head in one direction for emphasis on his words to her, soon turning to the three holding him with a vicious stare. "Release me at once, goddammit!"
"Now why should we do that, 'your majesty'?" A sarcastic grin spreads the face of the tiger Fromeranite gripping his shoulders about the underarms as he merely flicks his tail and grips tighter, cutting the circulation to the young man's arms.
"Iaeruki, I can't leave you behind."
"It does not matter! They are after you, not myself!"
"He's right, you know, little miss." Tsumi glances over at Iaeruki as he continues to fight his restraint, lowering the hand that had been scratching his head, and slowly lifting it to aim the barrel of the gun at her. "But I wouldn't advise it. My trigger finger just might slip... and then...--"
"Silence!! Release me and do not allow that simplistic mind even to concoct such an idea as to harm her!"
"Ooh, long winded demand. Too bad I'm not in the mood for complying with your request..." Tsumi shoots Iaeruki a wicked smirk, twitching his trigger finger as he chuckles darkly.
Aikiura cautiously turns, beginning to step silently away, and suddenly stops, staring at a sickly, wounded man who has hobbled his way there despite his evidently weak composure and tiredly feverish countenance. "...T-Tazuki...?"
The newest arrival stares wearily up at her through teal tipped bangs of raven, attempting to lift himself, and grips tighter at his shoulder, his ashen pale face contorted in a wince. "Aikiura, you must do as Iaeruki tells you. I feel as he does."
"In fact, I may just slip, and then..."
"Tazuki, what...?" Aikiura furrows her brow at him, pausing her whispering speech at an odd look on his face, and slowly glances back, abruptly jerking in one direction as a large, ebony feathered wing shoves her in response to the sound of one opening fire on another.
A loud, tortured cry echoes from the throat of one, a softer one nearly drowned by it, followed by the soft thuds of two falling.
With a sudden snap, a vicious, half draconic roar, half enraged human shriek, the sound of metal sliding along metal at an incredibly high speed travels through the air, soon followed by what sounds like a blade cleaving through flesh and a choked, gurgling moan.
Iaeruki stands stiffly with one arm now freed, gripping the hilt of his dagger to the point that the heels of his palms can feel the touch of his claws through his lightly plated gloves, and stares around at the remaining three with eyes now wild, infuriated, and mercilessly cold. He utters naught but a deep growl, scarlet traced emerald gaze slowly shifting to the one at his other arm, blood spattered face twisted in anger and contempt, and he lashes out with the suddenness matching that of a snake's strike, making eerily quick work of the second. In a matter of mere moments, he whips the blood from his dagger, sheathing it, and quickly draws the blade sheathed at his back, snapping around to the last of the three that were restraining him.
His sword slices deep through the torso of the tiger Fromeranite, lifting away, and lashes back at his throat, cleaving all the way through to the halfway point on the blood soaked blade, then removing to permit a spray that would cover Iaeruki in blood.
During this time, Tazuki manages to lift himself on his only mobile arm, the other hanging limply against the ground, and gets onto his knees, turning and staring at the killings being displayed in his presence with a dumbfounded, bewildered, and terribly startled countenance.
Slowly turning, Iaeruki's pupils have become mere, nearly unseen lines as his scarlet flickering gaze falls upon Tsumi, who still seems somewhat unaware of the events that have just come to pass. With an unheard snort, he snaps into motion, suddenly jamming his blade into Tsumi's back until it pierces out the human's chest, and turns it, tearing it out at a downward slant until it leaves Tsumi's body at the lower area of the ribcage. Iaeruki's ears prick at the sickening sound of metal cleaving through flesh and bone and the blood flow that floods his acute hearing. He slowly lifts himself straight and tall, turning to Tazuki and Aikiura, and suddenly flinches, never bothering to sheathe his sword as he sprints over to them.
Tazuki stares blankly up at him, stuck in a startled stupor, and shakes his head, face contorting in a sudden cringe as he grips at his right shoulder.
"Are you alright?" Iaeruki stabs the end of his sword into ground, kneeling down in front of him, and looks him over, noting a shot wound in his shoulder and wing.
"I'll be fine." Tazuki makes a slight wince, turning his head, and looks back at Aikiura, who has not moved since she fell. "I'm not sure about her, though..."
Iaeruki blinks a little ignorantly at him for a quick moment, face soon making a slow change into concern and high amounts of worry, and soon follows his gaze to Aikiura. "Sh-she... Aikiura..." He stammers a bit, edging to her, and looks down upon her, gaze drifting to a shot wound in her chest. He wraps one arm beneath her, lifting her shoulders from the ground, and looks at her face. "A-Aikiura... are you... c-can you...?" He hasn't an idea what to say, unfinished phrases leaving his throat in a greatly concerned and wavering tone.
Aikiura slowly opens her eyes as much as her strength will allow, having only a sliver of fading vision, and looks up at him, lip twitching as she tries to speak with a very weak voice. "I-Ia... aer... ru... ki..." Her eyes close as she quiets, able to say no more, and soon falls limp, head falling back almost between her shoulders.
Iaeruki stares at her in a despaired disbelief, jaw falling open somewhat, and turns at the heavy touch of a hand on his shoulder.
Tazuki looks at him, one side of his face scrunched in pain, and slowly shakes his head, a solemn look in his azure faded violet eyes. "I'm sorry... I'm afraid she's gone."
"Wh-wha...?" Iaeruki turns back, staring at her, and begins to slowly shake his head, letting it hang somewhat. "N-no... not... not again..." He tenses somewhat, wrapping his other arm around Aikiura's unmoving form, and slowly turns his gaze back to Tazuki, a now wounded look on his face. "What of...?"
Tazuki shakes his head again, looking back. "All dead. You fought as if you had been possessed by a demon."
Iaeruki flinches at him, face now taking a heavily remorseful look, and looks back at the four now lying dead in their places, staring at the ground now stained in blood as he begins to look as if hating himself for having done that. "...C-can you stand... Tazuki?"
"...?" Tazuki blinks at him and looks down at his legs, which have now stained his pants a dark scarlet with blood from Toukaiyu wounds that have reopened. "I think so."
"Alright... I wish to leave this place..." Iaeruki speaks in a very quiet tone as he watches Tazuki slowly stand, turning back to Aikiura and moving one arm to beneath her legs. He gingerly lifts her off the ground, staring at her with a look strong of sorrow and remorse, and slowly turns, walking back towards a small house they've been staying at for the past couple days.
Tazuki wavers on his feet somewhat, reflexively reaching for Iaeruki's Diaroukai blade, and leans on it heavily for a moment, removing it from the ground and beginning slowly to walk alongside him. He finds it somewhat difficult to keep up with Iaeruki's pace for a time, hobbling quickly as he can while occasionally using the sword as a sort of crutch, and eventually begins to note certain things in Iaeruki's face as they walk, finding that their pace is beginning to slow.
Iaeruki merely looks at the face of that who he loved most dearly, seeming as if to study her pale, fair complexion as flawless as his, if not more, with increasingly forlorn and grieving eyes that seem now to lose their shine. He seems to be slowly leaving a state of denial, countenance ever worsening with every moment, every step, until he eventually stops, face slowly contorting as he lowers himself onto one knee. He looks as if is heart is beginning tear and break... as if the more fragile and delicate part of him is soon to shatter. He shifts one arm, reaching to brush her bangs out of her face, and gently brushes his fingers against her cheek, resting his hand against the side of her face before slowly wrapping that arm around her shoulders and pressing her close.
Tazuki steps a few paces ahead before realizing that Iaeruki's just stopped, pausing, and turns, leaning heavily on the Diaroukai blade as he looks back to see what's keeping them. "Ia...--" He cuts himself off, having the sense that he shouldn't try to say anything for the time, and just frowns, a concerned countenance now being worn.
Iaeruki lowers his head, chin burying into her shoulder, and clutches her lifeless form, one hand against the back of her head as he seems to nuzzle at her cheek very slightly. His fingers twitch, body beginning to tense, and his back, shoulders, and chest seem to suddenly convulse, face contorted in the pain of a writhing heart trying to hold itself together. However, it cracks and pulls, finally shattering into several broken shards of a once frail, wondrous thing.
Tazuki only watches, remaining silent, and cringes at a searing pain in his shoulder, wanting to grab it, but too weak in the legs to stop leaning on the sword.
Iaeruki remains silent, muscles tense to quivering, and shuts his eyes, letting two softly glittering streams trace down his face as he takes a quick, deep, audible breath. What voice can be heard wavers, stricken with pain and despair, and his cries are kept silent, save only for his breathing. He no longer seems even aware of Tazuki's presence, old wounds now reopened, worsened, and occupying all thoughts in a terrible way. He does not move, nor speak, for a long while, only breaking it with a faint shake of his head and a quiet, choked, somewhat tortured noise leaving an open mouth.
Tazuki shifts uncomfortably on his feet, taking a heavy, unstable step towards Iaeruki, and stops, responding to a sudden flinch in his form. "Nh--..."
"You... may go on ahead... I shall catch up with you... just... give me a moment." Iaeruki doesn't do so much as look up, sensitive ears having picked up Tazuki's single step, and tries to relax, listening as he slowly begins to hobble away. A few moments pass and he soon stands, keeping his head down, and begins to follow the path Tazuki had taken, his somewhat quickened pace bringing him back at Tazuki's side. He slows to the sickly, wounded man's pace, glancing up only long enough to see how close they are to the cottage, and hangs his head once more, having seen that they are just yards from it at this point.
As they tread nearer to the house, a young, somewhat flustered girl hurries out from the door, stopping dead in her tracks as she sees both Iaeruki and Tazuki slowly return. She stares scoldingly at Tazuki, stepping closer as she brushes a few pieces of her blue-green bangs from her face, and jabs a pointed finger at him. "Komatazuki, what did I tell you about getting out of bed when you're wounded and sick with a high fever?!"
"Yoko, now is not the time for that... We have... other matters... with much higher priorities." Tazuki, having stopped walking when she stood right in front of him, tries to stand without putting so much weight on the Diaroukai blade as it rests in the ground, his face and voice eerily serious.
"What 'other matters'?"
Tazuki closes his eyes a moment, slowly turning his head partially, and turns it back, making a motion to indicate Iaeruki and the one he holds in his arms.
Yoko follows his turn, looking over at Iaeruki, and flinches at the look on the man's face, having never seen someone like him look like that. "...Dare I ask what happened?"
"Perhaps... in time..." Iaeruki slowly speaks, carefully forming his words, and turns his head, deep, velvety voice ceasing with a single swallowing of, perhaps, unsaid words.
"Is she...?
"Yes..."
"I'm sorry."
"It is not your fault... it is mine..."
Yoko falls silent as Iaeruki slowly brushes past her, watching him pause by the door when greeted by an armored lion man and then the small and quiet exchange of dialogue that follows between them.
"We must return her to Oushae. It is her birthplace, and also... her resting place..." Iaeruki lifts his head, staring up at the mostly clear skies dotted with an occasional mist of white, and shakes his head, having spoken loud enough for all currently present to hear. "Ein... will you and the rest do this for me...?"
Ein stares at him oddly for a few moments, glancing down at Aikiura's lifeless form, and soon nods, becoming quite solemn. "What of you?"
"I do not know whether I shall come, or stay behind and wait for your return... It does not matter which, for my grief would be far too great for me to take. I would not be able to tolerate it even long enough to attend the initial ceremony..."
"...I see."
Iaeruki stares up for a few more moments, a grimace soon finding its way to his face, and he drops his head so his chin nearly rests in his chest, chin length bangs of silver dangling over his face and hiding his eyes.
"Iaeruki, I'll take her for you, if you want." Ein holds both arms away from himself with his offer, lifting the girl in his arms as Iaeruki hands her to him and then steps into the house, and turns his head to Tazuki and Yoko, a faint look of concern resting upon his muzzled face. "When shall we set out for Oushae...?"
"In the morning. We should give him some time to make a final decision before we leave." Tazuki nods to his words, slowly making his way for the door, and leans on the frame, accepting Yoko's quiet offer to assist him back into the house so he does not have to put any marks in the floor from continuing use of the sword. He notices the look she's giving him, most likely from his decision to Ein's question, and furrows his brow, answering her unasked question as he returns Iaeruki's sword. "I know, Yoko. I will still be sick and still be wounded, but I will accompany the rest of us when we go. Nothing you say or do will alter my decision."
"Then you'd better hope your condition is improved a good bit by the time we leave."
"I am quite sure it will be."
"Alright... I'm not going to argue with you." With this as the last thing said between summoner and being once divine, Yoko guides Tazuki back to his room, putting him into bed, and leaves, giving him a hard look before shutting the door and turning to meet a dispirited, eerie red- emerald gaze. "We'll be going in the morning. Tazuki felt it best that you have some time to think things through before we leave, so your uncertainties will be put to rest and your decision made."
"Alright." With a faint nod, Iaeruki turns his head, looking down, and reaches into the collar of his tunic, lifting a small crystalline ring hanging from a silver chain out from beneath the folds of his clothing. He stares at it for a long while, taking little to no notice of what goes on around him, and does not even make any acknowledgement when the last three of the group return, lost in his thoughts for the remainder of the night.
Come the morning, the small house becomes busy with people hurrying around all over the place, gathering things that may be needed and preparing for departure. Iaeruki does not do as everyone else, though he has never needed to in the past as he keeps everything he carries with him. He stands from where he had not moved for the whole night, stepping to where Aikiura was placed, and glances over at Ein, letting out a quiet sigh as he looks back down at her.
"I put an enchantment on her to make the space around her seem like that of the Crystal World. Nothing has changed since you first handed her to me."
"...Thank you."
"Have you decided?"
"I have."
"Your decision?"
"I shall stay behind."
"...I see. I'll leave you until the time comes, then." That having been said, Ein turns and steps quietly out of the room, shutting the door behind him, and leaving Iaeruki alone to do as he wishes.
Iaeruki looks back, watching as Ein leaves, and shifts red-emerald gaze down to Aikiura, letting his head hang and a strongly forlorn and sorrowful look rest upon his pale visage. He rests a hand lightly over the center of his chest, palm pressing onto the ring beneath, and leans over just a little, resting his other hand on the side of the bed. He lifts his palm away from his chest, touching his fingertips to a cold, ashen cheek, and sighs again, heavily, tender and shattered heart washing over with a great and terrible pain.
He cringes, legs seeming to become somewhat weak, and he slowly lowers himself to his knees, one arm resting on the bed, the other letting his hand rest against Aikiura's cheek as his forehead buries into the bedding. "I... never thought that I would ever outlive you... My dear Aikiura..." He slowly shakes his head, forehead seeming almost to nuzzle the bedding. "While you had been missing... I missed you... but... at least then I still had hope..." He pauses again, back and shoulders convulsing suddenly, and clenches the fingers of his left hand, clutching at the bedding with a tight, quivering arm. "I did not believe this pain could have become greater the first time... but, since I have lost you again... I have learned that it is able to, and has, become indeed much worse... I am so sorry... I never deserved you... You never deserved a fate like this."
One last pause, another tensing cringe, and a few more convulsions. "...It is my fault." His greatly wavering voice ceases, falling silent, save for what sounds very much like quiet, muffled sobs, and he lifts his head only slightly, pale face streaming with fresh, nearly burning tears.
The ears of a red headed Kitsune twitch as she passes by the door, her pausing for a brief moment before continuing on and stopping by Ein.
Ein looks over at her, scarlet-gold eyes catching a question in a deep cerulean gaze, and tilts his head, brow perked. "Kiara? Something you want to ask?"
Kiara slowly nods, looking back to the door, and stares up at him, flicking a fluffy red fox tail from the folds of her hakama. "Do you think he'll recover from this...? I'm a bit concerned."
"In due time, he will heal. I do not know when, or how long, however."
"He's taking this really hard."
"Yes, I know. But he loved her, perhaps more than possible of a man."
"Hnnh..."
Standing once more, Iaeruki's head still hangs as he leans against the bed, struggling to gather himself. His hands clutch the edge of the bed as he closes his eyes once more, letting a soft, glittering silver droplet fall upon Aikiura's cheek and run down the side of her face. "Please... forgive me, Aikiura..." That as his final words, he slowly turns, opening the door, and gives not a glance back as he leaves the room, meeting the gaze of a Spirit Beast through bangs of silver. "Is everyone else ready...?"
Ein nods faintly, arms unfolding, and glances over at the room filled of the remaining party members, looking at the expectantly waiting faces before turning back. "We all are if she is."
Iaeruki slowly nods, stepping away from the door, and keeps his gaze on the others as Ein steps in to take her, soon following them as they follow Ein outside of the house. He pauses about a yard from the door, watching in silence as they walk away, and suddenly flinches as they disappear over the horizon, gripping the side of his head. He hunches over slightly, tensing, and lifts his head, the long, melancholy sound of a grieving dragon's cry leaving his throat and flooding the air for miles around.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This piece takes place when our young prince was travelling with a summoner and her companions. He was at the age of one thousand, seventy- five at the time this tragedy had taken place. Our story begins roughly six years after this had happened, after the group had branched off, in the small town of Oushae, where we find him at the graveyard, sitting alone, mourning silently in the rain.