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Walking With Fire

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Genji wakes up with a violent start.

The night is black and thick outside when he looks outside, thick summer storm clouds rolling in. This was not an usual occurrence, but despite his ears telling him that the castle was silent, his heart was beating furiously, and he couldn’t help but rush to put some clothes on. The night is still and silent, but the air is charged and oppressive, and it makes Genji rush even further when he cannot find his wakizashi.

The nightmare he’d had was surreal and hard to remember, as most of his were, but they were becoming more frequent and more intense. Many times he would wake up and the dreams would cling to him, wrapping his eyes up in their imagery long after he’d woken up. Although Genji could not remember the entirety of the nightmare in graphic detail, flashes of the horrors danced behind his eyelids as he nearly dumped everything out of his closet to find his beloved knife. He would not leave without it, no matter what.

He pockets a few shuriken, ignoring the flashes of ice cold hands and husky laughs from his dreams. This was not the time to try and remember, and as the clouds rolled in over head he could only become more and more desperate to find his weapon until at last, he found it, hidden under one of Hanzo’s “borrowed” hakama from the other day he’d meant to return but hadn’t.

Genji runs out the door, the sound of thunder rattling the rice screens of his room. It was quiet here too, and that made it all the worse – there were usually guards outside of his room, whether he liked it or not, and their empty posts made him all the more frantic. He would run to Hanzo’s room, he would check up on his brother and there would be no doubt that he would know what to do.

But the further he got down the hallway, the more the horror in his heart was growing. There were slash marks, growing more frequent around Hanzo’s room, and Genji yanked out one of Hanzo’s prized arrows, fletching ruined and smeared with still-wet blood, out of the wall across from Hanzo’s ajar door.

He barely took a look inside the wrecked room before Genji turned tail, sprinting. The din of the thunder grew until it drowned out the harsh pounding of Genji’s bare feet as he ran throughout the castle, frantically looking for anyone that knew what was happening. He was unsheathing his wakizashi as he sprinted into the courtyard, and that was when lighting struck from the sky as he took in the scene before him.

There was blood everywhere and arrows embedded in the walls, but there was no possible way that all of this blood could’ve come from those alone. No, it was more like a brutal massacre, where blood had been sprayed in every which direction.

That was when he saw it, and he wanted so badly to look away.

It wasn’t that Genji was unaccustomed to the dead. Being raised by the Shimada clan, he had been raised not to be squeamish – but it was the way the ribs were squashed in like they were mere toothpicks, and beneath that, he could see the liquefied mush that used to be human organs. It was a train wreck he couldn’t look away from, and no amount of training could truly prepare him for the reeking heady scent of blood and battle and viscera. It was different, when his clan killed. Neater, precise. His father had always wanted to keep the hallways and rooms clean, because tatami was awful to try and clean.

He wanted to laugh at the surrealistic situation he was in. Genji was thinking about his father’s tatami mats rather than making sure his brother was okay. Please, don’t let the body be Hanzo’s. If Genji stared too long, he could make out a swathe of ebony hair in the lightning strikes, and he didn’t know if he could handle it if the body was Hanzo’s.

Judging by the smears, and the surprising lack of blood near the body, it almost seemed as though the corpse had been flung all over the walls before finally settling where it lay. There was no possible way that a human had done it, but Genji was too absorbed in the viscera and heavy stench of death to really notice this.

He staggered out into the courtyard to where the body lay. He had to know if it was Hanzo. Whomever had done this to his brother would pay, and dearly. With numb hands and eyes he ignored the fascinating pulp of meat and cracked rib bones to look at the face of the body. The neck was twisted, like a wet towel that had been rung out, and was swollen and deeply bruised. He prayed, desperately and feverously, that this was not Hanzo. He couldn’t stop looking away from the gore, and to keep himself from vomiting over the corpse, he twisted the head to face him, dreading what he would find.

It was not Hanzo, but that did little to assuage him.

The body was that of his father’s. Genji had never had a great relationship with Sojiro – it was actually quite strained, and the rigid impositions his father had forced on him had only made him rebel more and more until the tension between them was insurmountable – but what alarmed him was more the fact that it was Sojiro. That would mean that someone – no, something – was strong enough to eliminate the guards, rip his sorcerous father essentially in two, and then fling his body around the courtyard like a mere play toy. His father was a strong magic user, exceptionally so, and this death could only mean one of two things. The first was that some powerful magical being had broken in, seeking vengeance against their clan or wealth or some other reason, and this was more likely given the inhuman slashes in the tatami mats down the hallways, but ignored Hanzo’s arrows embedded everywhere and glistening like grotesque jewels.

The other was far more likely…it was most likely that Hanzo had attempted a coup, decided not to involve Genji in it due to the danger involved, and managed to slay Sojiro like he was nothing. Certainly, now that Genji was looking, he could see deep, dark, angry scars in the earth from what would’ve been Sojiro’s magic. But that would be nigh impossible…Hanzo was not fully pledged yet, had not fully blossomed in his power, and more than likely was more cautious about Genji’s safety and their place in the clan to just impulsively attack the clan head. But what if there was something that set Hanzo off, finally?

Hanzo had not made it secret that he intended to force Sojiro abdicate the throne, at least with Genji. The youth had known of it for quite some time, but to finally just commit patricide with little evident remorse and perhaps even a certain morbid levity, it was unthinkable for his brother. Hanzo was too careful. A murder such as this was not a quiet hush but a loud bang, and the clan would not take kindly to this. Discretion was a must.

And yet while there was no other explanation, Hanzo was nowhere to be found. Genji went to the hallways, blindly groping for a candle that he could light. When he finally lit it, he returned to the courtyard, unable to shake the feeling of eyes searing into his back. He stood over the corpse of Sojiro, knowing his time was running short to find his brother, but Hanzo could not have gone far.

Then, a large crack of lighting split the sky in two and Genji saw a flash on the tiled roof nearest him, and he held up his candle.

A silhouette that had previously been unseen loomed into sight. At first, a large, glistening maw that was painted and still dripping with blood. Genji refused to look at the torn, silken fabric he knew came from his father’s kimono.

Next came the nostrils, flared above the bared teeth. After that was the golden eyes, luminous and beautiful, honey blazed with intensity. Then the long neck, rippled with gunmetal scales and then the body, curled and thin and long.

Hanzo was here, and had most certainly killed their father – but somehow, in doing so, Hanzo had become a dragon.