He didn't have a name when I found him. Or rather, he found me, facedown in the grass and unconscious. The ground, dead from late summer and spotted with dandelions had seemed so soft when I first fell into it, but then I was cold and damp with the night's dew, the sun not yet warming my back. In storybook terms, this should be the part where he took off his coat and covered me, but Honemei didn't read stories.
And he wasn't wearing a coat. Or anything at all.
Imagine my surprise when I woke to see a naked creature standing over me. It wasn't that he was ugly, just strange; pale skin and hair, horns protruding from all over his body, eyes blank and pupiless as a boiled egg, like a normal person's when they've rolled up into their skull, unconscious. Then, as though he had no common sense (I would later learn he didn't) he reached over to touch me, and I looked up at him, black hair obscuring all but the bony finger approaching my face, and panicked.
Let me tell you something. When I graduated primary school and entered the military, there was only one thing that stuck with me.
Ask questions later.
That was my first mistake, now that I think about it, and one of my biggest flaws. Impulsiveness. It was really my fault I got saddled with him, because instead of booting the hell out of there I pulled a knife from my boot and slashed him in the palm, getting to my feet as a fallen cat would. Then he looked at me, emotionlessly and like he wanted to cry all at once.
"You…you hurt me," he said, deliberating every word, and my eyes widened. I hadn't expected him to speak.
I wasn't going to apologize, but he wasn't waiting. He pointed at me with his bloody hand and I watched as every inch of his body started to shift and swirl, until my eyes became pained and I blinked.
When my eyes opened, there was nothing but a flock of butterflies.
He had fled.
Then I was challenged by my second flaw. Curiosity.
"Coward," I muttered. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. Though at least, I thought, I didn't have to fight a demon. Whatever he was, he was certainly not dangerous.
As I prepared to leave, searching for my bag in the scraggly yellow grass, overgrown and bug-eaten, I felt a butterfly's touch on my neck. I turned my head, watching with horror as the swarm pieced itself together, butterfly on butterfly, until it assumed a near human form and suddenly the touching on my neck was solid, the form his once more.
"I can turn anything I touch into anything I want," came a soft male voice. It was trembling, as though unused to talking, and I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. My power, the power to summon and break mirrors as weapons, was useless against something like that.
"What is your name," I asked him, hoping smalltalk would keep him from turning me into a swarm of flies. His sharp, uncut fingernail dug into my back, but the touch was slight, as though he was scared of me.
"I don't…I don't remember," he confessed. I took a step forward and swiveled around, and his hand dropped, giving up on threatening me. I stared him down, shielding my eyes from his netherregions with my hand.
"Well I can't help you there. I'm sorry, but I have to leave."
I tried to do so, but a tight, uncertain grip found its way around my wrist. He stumbled into me and I cringed.
"Please do not touch me," I requested. His arm twitched and he let go like I had shocked him. "I am in a hurry and you are holding me back," I said in a sharp voice. He backed away like a hurt dog, and very carefully, I slung my pack over my shoulder, the rough strap rubbing against the fabric of my shirt harshly. I already had a blister from it- it was weighed down with clothes and paint and weapons and everything I may need to protect myself from the bounty hunters sure to come after me.
A flash of something bloody appeared before my eyes and I felt a surge of disgust and horror for my actions, but I pushed that to the back of my mind.
No, I'm not talking about Honemei. I had no regrets at all for protecting myself from him.
What haunted me was what I had already left behind.
As the sluggish beat of the heart greeted my hand, placed over the chest of Teratin Shirokuro, my best and only friend for the better half of my life, I heard the woman behind me try to explain what couldn't possibly be put into words..
"He's lost a lot of blood," she said. The bright red hair, too bright to be natural, the target symbol tattooed across her forehead and receding into her hair…all this told me she was from the Daimyo's clan, high in rank and probably important, but I didn't care.
"Fix him," I demanded. My eyes must have looked sharp, they always did, shadowed from nights of not sleeping, busy protecting my country's borders. Hers were dark, heavily hooded and kind, but they hardened at my disrespect.
"I would expect a student of my brother's to be better behaved."
So she was the Daimyo's sister, the hospital's supervisor. I knew he had a great deal of clansmen, but had never before met this woman. But he didn't care how important she was- the most important person in the world was dying in this very room, half of his body unintelligible, bandages clotted with thick blossoms of red. I wanted to cry but knew it would leave a bad impression of my strength, and that Teratin, if Teratin ever woke up, would mock me endlessly for it.
"I don't know anyone who can heal him, Rihei, she was saying quietly. "His energy is negative and mine positive- the only people in this country with the ability to heal such grave wounds have positive energy. You know this and I know this. If I interfere, his wounds will only worsen."
I chose not to listen. I didn't even know what happened. Teratin was the most formidable fighter I knew, his ability to summon and break mirrors as weapons terrifying and beautiful all at once. He could slice any enemy to pieces at will, so how he himself was mutilated like this was beyond me.
Unless someone from his very family had done it.
I had seen wounds like these before, but only on the most vile of Teratin's enemies. It had to be a Shirokuro.
And slowly, very slowly, the pieces of the broken mirror fit together, until I saw what had truly happened. The reflection of a woman, no, a girl, staring at me like a dead fish. Most people would have said she was beautiful, but I only saw those pale green eyes, foggy with disinterest, strange black hair sticking to her face like thousands of spiders.
"Ichiwa," Teratin groaned, and that was all I needed to know.