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Crown of Horns

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Drip. Drip. Drip.

Hanzo's eyelids flutter, ears flicking as sound filters through his consciousness.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His palm flatten and push up; his eyes open blearily as he lifts his upper body off the ground. Hanzo tilts his head upwards, blinking to clear his fogged view as he stares up at the ceiling.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He can see it now, as the haze slowly clears. Rainwater is dribbling down from the small circular grate high above him. The droplets descend and splatter merely three feet away from him; a small puddle is forming on the concrete floor.

A pity. Today there will be no sunlight to warm himself in.

Hanzo adjusts himself into a sitting position, his knees bending awkwardly to relieve the pressure upon them. He leans over, tracing a hand over his thigh as it gives a painful throb; he massages himself just below the knee, where his legs abruptly end and scarred flesh begins.

Brother! They're coming!

Hanzo rubs one eye with his palm, glancing up at the trickle of rainwater again. That's the problem with rainy days. Without the sun, he has no way of knowing just how long he has slept. Had he missed his meal? Had they even tried to wake him?

Musing on possibilities brings him nothing. So Hanzo sits, and he waits; he even briefly entertains the idea of drinking the water falling from above, or letting it run through his untamed hair to wash away the dirt.

Hanzo has no idea how his locks have accumulated such grime. His visitors could only bring in so much dirt on their soles. Each wall that contains him in his small prison is pure, uncut stone – only the small, iron grate allows any trace of the outside world to drip into his own. However the dirt has infiltrated his domain, Hanzo eventually dismisses the idea of bathing. The rainwater carries no warmth, and he has nothing but the soiled clothes on his back with which to dry himself. Drinkable water will come in a glass, if he is patient.

Hnazo does not have to wait long - the rain had been right to wake him. His ears prick up at the sound of approaching footsteps and two hushed voices. There is no handle on his side, but he can hear the mechanisms turning on the other. The lock on the heavy metal door slides back and Hanzo can feel himself tense.

A young woman holding a tray enters the room, and Hanzo's shoulders lower. Namiko. Only Namiko.

The woman gives him a small bow he doesn't return. She crosses the room to set the tray down before him, keeping her eyes lowered to the ground. A small blessing – he needn't crawl for his meal this time.

She lays out each dish from the tray. A small bowl of rice. Radishes. A cup of water, and a handful of seaweed roasted to crisps. No meat.

Hanzo feels the stirring in his skin, anger that is not his own at the neglect. The hunger they felt, the rage at their continued denial. He closes his eyes, pushing their rumblings down.

Namiko is not the one at fault.

He reopens his eyes to look at her once more and nods. He then picks up the chopsticks, and begins to eat.

She waits patiently as he chews and drinks. He dislikes it. He knows they always come in pairs – one to open the door from the other side, one to remain with him to remove the trays when he's finished. But they must know by now he has no intention of killing her.

Precautions, Hanzo. We are not fools.

Namiko's eyes are averted from him as he glances up at her, no open sign of disgust at his state – a model servant, considering. Hanzo would have had her promoted in days past. The choice is no longer his to make.

Hanzo pushes aside the tray to indicate he's finished and she stoops to retrieve it wordlessly. He longs for her to say something to him as she places each bowl inside the other. Anything. A snippet of conversation, the barest trace of kindness. He'd even settle for servant gossip, like Genji had once favored.

Did you hear, Brother? Asa might be pregnant again. Hasn't she learned her lesson?

Namiko says nothing, and he cannot blame her. He has no doubt the few words she gave him were on orders, with an additional threat to say nothing else.

They will want him to be focused on the tasks to come. Not distracted by chatter.

Namiko raps on the door as Hanzo watches. It slides open just barely, so the slim woman can slip by. When the door closes and the lock clicks into place again, Hanzo can feel the sound echo in his heart.

Let me out! Let me out ! I will not serve you! Do you hear me?!

He crosses his legs again, folding his hands together in his lap. After a few moments of slowed breathing, he delves deep, seeking out the spirits he'd pushed back only minutes before.

He finds them easily. It had never been difficult, even as a child. There's always the descent into blackness, with his only guide being his sense of self and the delicate blue light that wraps around the corners of his mind. They're always there, his spirits.

His dragons.

He can see them now - almost translucent, gleaming like stars against a night sky. They are creatures of power and grace, beautiful and ethereal as they hang in the black together, observing him.

They're nettled. Their angry rumblings hurt as they suddenly brush past him, curling and winding around each other. He steels himself, reaching out towards the brother. The spirit jerks its snout away angrily, twisting away to wrap around its sister. Hanzo can feel his body sigh in response.

You dishonor us. Her mouth does not move, but Hanzo can hear the sister speak and feels a twinge of worry. Genji had named her, a long time ago. Ami, and her brother Eri. Foolishness, but a foolishness that had remained in his mind.

You are glad she does not look upon you.

You reject our gifts.

Your rights.

Hanzo falters, and they sense it. Eri releases Ami from his hold upon her, floating through the inky black to Hanzo. He steels himself – but the dragon's caress is gentle, long body curling around him as claws perch upon his shoulder.

We gave you our scales, to shield your wounds.

Hanzo can feel his body bristle at the touch.

Our claws, to cut down your enemies.

Hanzo's fists curl, sharp nails pressing against his palms.

Eri's snout finds purchase in Hanzo's hair.

Our crown. So all will know-

Hanzo's eyes snap open, pulling himself back from the abyss as his vision swims. He can feel the dragons recoil angrily – then curiosity, worry creeping up from them into his chest. He swallows thickly, fighting back nausea as he leans forward to press his forehead against the cold, stone floor.

Minutes pass like this. Hours, perhaps. There is no sun. There is no time. Just himself, the cold and the sound of...

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He ignores it for a while. The steady beat is almost soothing.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His mind begins to wander. The puddle must be larger, now. There is still enough light, that perhaps, if he tried...

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He lifts his forehead from the floor. The puddle had indeed grown – even a sliver of light is breaking through from what must have been thick, darkened clouds. The water glints, beckoning him.

Hanzo drags himself forward. He sits on the edge of the water, keeping his head held high. Debating. Wavering.

Our gifts. Your right.

Hanzo lowers his gaze to the pool.

An alien form stares back at him. The first thing he always sees is his cerulean scales, smattered in small patches across his face and shoulders. Hanzo lifts his hand, observing his claws with their curved, wicked nails and more scales that have grown up to his wrist. He considers them for a moment before he reaches up and touches his hair. It's as dark as it's ever been, but it's too long now. It's grown well past his shoulders and become greasy, matted and dull.

He's a wretch, through and through.

Hanzo's hands don't reach any higher on his face, but he can see them. His ears, curved and long like the dragons he'd studied on the tapestries of his home – only his are pinned back in distaste. Just above them, he can glimpse the final insult jutting out from skull. The last nail in the coffin of his humanity.

A gift. A blessing.

Twin, antlered horns are peeking out from between his locks, curving just slightly in the back. They'd grown slowly. Painfully. For months, he'd pleaded for it to stop. Begged, and broken his pride worse then he'd ever known.

Your crown. They will bow to you.

“Enjoying the view?”

Hanzo's heart jolts, his head snapping backwards. He'd been so involved, he hadn't heard-

The lock clicks into place behind a gaunt, towering man. His robes were vermilion silk, his hair pulled into a tight bun. Beady eyes rest squarely on Hanzo's hunched form, and a smile pulls at the man's thin lips.

Saburo.

“I cannot claim to understand those dragons of yours, Hanzo,” the man muses, a fake sigh escaping as he lowers himself down to eye level. “Are they going to turn you into one of them someday?” His hand reaches out, delicately brushing loose strands of hair back behind Hanzo's ears. A chuckle follows when Hanzo averts his gaze.

“Perhaps we are working them too hard. Maybe a few weeks off, and you might revert, hm?”

A flicker of hope rises before Hanzo can halt it.

“But you know, I rather like the idea of you as one of those beasts. Wouldn't that look nice for the clan, Hanzo? A living, breathing dragon, chained to a post in the gardens. Hanamura would be awed!

Hanzo closes his eyes as Saburo laughs again and feels the hand caress his cheek. “Ah, well. I suppose we will have to make do with what you are. For now.”

Hanzo hears the rustling of paper and opens his eyes again. Saburo is placing a picture in his lap.

It's an older man, and Hanzo feels a small prick of relief. Wrinkled skin, patchy white hair and thick bottle glasses. A small nose, strangely curved to the left. Recognizable. Easy.

“Rodney Templeworth. Kyoto. Last seen near Kiyomizudera Temple.” Saburo offers out an emptied, travel-sized bottle of shampoo. Hanzo takes it into his palm, sniffing it for a few moments. He can feel Saburo studying him. “Questions before you begin?”

Hanzo presses a clawed finger against the picture's left breast and Saburo lets out a snort.

“Ah, how forgetful of me. No, we do not want him alive. Send them to kill.” Saburo sits back on his heels. “But try to locate their prey more quickly this time, Hanzo. I have much to do.”

Hanzo swallows, keeping his gaze lowered as he attempts a steady breath. He nods.

“Devour him, Hanzo. Do not fail.”

Hanzo lets his eyes slip shut at the command. He reaches for the dragons, and they stir beneath his skin.

Seek. Locate. Devour.

Do not fail.

 

 --

 

Hanzo does not know how much time has passed since he'd first been taken here. The sun, when it shines, marks the passing of the hours with each slant of sunlight through the iron grate. Still, Hanzo has long lost track of the days and months he'd been spending laid out on the cold, stone floor of his prison.

Genji is doing so well, Hanzo. Continue your work, and he won't be touched.

Recently, Hanzo had been doing more hunting than killing. It seems the clan is attempting to handle things on a more personal note.

Find them, Hanzo. They cannot hide from you. We will do the rest.

He seldom knows the faces that were lain out in photographs before him. He minds less when they're elder, omnics, or members of rival clans he had once sought to crush. Old hatreds die hard, even here.

The young men and women hurt more. They had had their whole life before them and they often look calm, even happy in the stills.

Once, and only once, it had been a child's image they put before him, accompanied by a tiny pink shoe. The daughter of a wealthy businessman who had turned on the clan, they had said. It had been during the early times of his imprisonment. He had refused, instantly. They'd attempted to force his hand, with everything they had; he had fought back.

They had won, in the end.

Recently, unfamiliar faces bring him his meals. Servants he has never known, and who recoil upon first glance at his body. He did not know why Saburo sends them, instead of Namiko. Perhaps he is being punished for past failures.

Perhaps Saburo simply wants to remind him of what a wretch he's become.

The food rarely changes. Rice, vegetables, water. Once, boiled eggs. Namiko had brought the meal that day, and Hanzo quietly hoped that she'd slipped them in as an act of kindness. They'd never appeared again, but the dragons had purred their delight for days and he still dares to hope whenever her face appears in the doorway.

The sounds – those did change. Most days Hanzo sits directly below the grate and tilts his head upwards, listening closely to the world above. Conversations filter down – never clear enough that he could hear what was being said. But tones and inflections carry. Hanzo drinks them all in, drowning out the silence he's suffocating in.

Thrice - and these, Hanzo can remember very well – there had been music. Once, it had been a woman singing. A servant, he assumes, sweeping the courtyard or halls as she sang an old lullaby that had just barely met Hanzo's ears. The second had been loud and obnoxious. Rock music, played through something electronic that rattled the dragon's tempers. The third had been a festival, far away from the castle grounds, but still loud and merry enough to reach his small prison. He'd treasured the noises and used his arms to drag himself up a wall as best he could, straining to get closer, to hear more.

Like all good things, it had ended. But he hadn't forgotten, and tried to remember the songs from time to time with the barest trace of a hum.

Today's sounds are different.

The castle is on high alert. Hanzo is familiar with the routine – he'd been trained in it all his life – and he knew how to recognize the footsteps of the guards who rush by, shouting, giving orders he can't quite make out. Frightened chattering from servants come and go as disappear deeper into the castle. Eventually the noises die down to an eerie silence; it stretches on for what feels like hours. Hanzo flicks his ears, straining to hear something. Anything.

Nothing.

A false alarm, perhaps?

A thunderous explosion shatters that notion and the silence in one fell swoop. Shouting and gunfire erupt almost instantly, filling the air and echoing off the walls of his prison. Hanzo's ears pin back as a scream pierces through the din – the shouting intensifies and heavy footfalls pass close to the grate.

A fall-back? So soon?

Hanzo gets onto his knees, trying to lift himself up to hear better; his legs sharply protest with a vicious throb of pain, but he steadies himself. He won't collapse, not yet.

The sound of gunfire is drowning out the shouting, now. His men – no. The clan's men have retreated farther back. They must have, for all he can hear are strange voices now. Deep timbres, heavy accents, and words he cannot pick out in foreign tongues. His skin crawls, and the dragons rumble their discontent.

Invaders.

The door to his prison slams open. Hanzo swivels his head sharply, baring his teeth for a fight.

It's Saburo, holding the door open with one hand. His fine robes are disheveled and his brow is pinched with rage. Hanzo has never seen him as anything less than perfectly poised.

A small glimmer of satisfaction blooms.

“Hanzo!” Saburo hisses. “What have you been doing?!”

Hanzo stares at him wordlessly.

“Can you not hear, boy?! There are invaders in our home! Your home!” Saburo barks angrily. “Strike them down! Must you always need a command?!”

Hanzo's ears flick he processes this. Devour them? Why were they here? Who had driven back the clan so easily?

The footsteps and shouting are getting louder, but not from above. The narrow hallway lain out behind Saburo echoes ominously. Someone is getting closer, and Hanzo very much doubts it is the clan.

“Do you not hear me, beast?!” Saburo shouts. There's panic in his voice and his eyes are darting around nervously. He can hear them too. “I gave you an order!” Saburo's hand leaves the door as he advances menacingly on Hanzo. “You damned-”

Click.

Saburo's eyes widen. He whirls back around, one hand grasping blindly. There was nothing to find purchase on – a knob has never existed on this side of the door.

Precautions, Hanzo. We are not fools.

Saburo's hands scrape wildly on the door, looking for purchase, anything. He pounds on the door, shouting as his nails dig and scratch uselessly.

If you kill even one of my men, this door will never open again.

Saburo snaps his head back and gives Hanzo a hateful look. “Do not think foolish thoughts,” he warns. He's trembling, for all his bravado in voice and posture. “The clan will come. They will kill you if you've harmed me.”

Hanzo can hear the foreign voices approaching in the distance. He knows the echoes, knows they've found the halls. They must have followed Saburo here, and if that's the case, they'll keep looking until they find him. Saburo must be able to see Hanzo putting it together, because his face pales quickly.

“Genji,” he suddenly pleads. And ah, isn't that pretty. Saburo, pleading. A sense of vicious satisfaction curls in Hanzo's guts. “Think of Genji, Hanzo. Do you want this life for him? Don't kill me.”

Hanzo lets his eyes slip shut and he can hear the dragons crackle with approval, lashing beneath his skin.

Devour, Hanzo.

“You beast! You vile-”

Saburo's snarls become screams, screams that were nearly drowned out with the dragons' roar rattling around in Hanzo's ears. He need not guide them this time. They know who they seek, this kill he'd longed for for so many moons.

A right.

Hanzo feels the dragons retreat, curling back into his body with pleasured purrs. Just above their content noises, a loud thud as Saburo's body slumps and hits the floor at Hanzo's knees. He does not open his eyes. He sits there, savoring, his lips curved in a smile. Saburo was such an ugly little man in life. Hanzo is certain he's made an equally pitiful corpse.

There's a loud thumping on the door. He can hear the lock turning, and the door opening. But he does not open his eyes. It does not matter. Whoever they are, they will surely kill him.

He doesn't care. The clan will blame the invaders for Saburo's death and his own – he is sure of it.

Will Genji ever even see his brother's body? Or would Hanzo be quickly buried away, an ugly secret best forgotten?

There's a loud clatter of something rolling across the floor, breaking Hanzo's thoughts. It bumps against his knee, and he finally opens his eyes.

A small, metal canister sits before him. He observes it and then the door, which has only been opened a tiny crack. The top of the canister clicks, drawing back Hanzo's attention as mechanical locks slide out of place. It pops open.

Gas instantly pours from the device, flooding the small room and assaulting Hanzo's senses all at once. He covers his mouth, but a sharp inhale of surprise had already betrayed him. His throat burns, then his lungs – his eyes have been squeezed shut, but the searing pain had already begun. He doubles over as someone yells something unintelligible – and then there's shouting and the footsteps are here, the men are here.

Hanzo can hear the men surround him, foreign voices obscured by something as they mumble in awed tones. Masks, to block the gas, he thinks vaguely. He can't understand them. He can't see them. All he knows is the burning pain keeping him bent to the ground, blinded and muted. The dragons roar their displeasure, crackling in his skin – trapped by his disorientation and suffocation.

The men lay their hands on him. Two on each side, grabbing him by the arms and pulling him down the hallway. Hanzo has one, delirious thought of happiness – he will not die in there, not in the room. He will die, of course - but not in there.

Someone slips something across his mouth. Hanzo has a chance to breathe in only once before darkness rushes up to meet him.