Screaming in the streets drowned out the clanging of the church bells when Hanzo warned Genji to hide beneath the mattress, lest the beasts find him and pick their teeth with his bones. Not even a full month earlier, Genji had lain ill and near death in the very same bed, unable to so much as lift his head with the poison in his veins. Tears in his eyes, Hanzo had slipped a dark red elixir between his lips and made him swallow it, though it tasted like decay and dust.
Now, though he’d sworn to never so much as get within ten feet of the mattress when the sun rose for all the time that he’d spent in it, Genji was glad for the shelter it provided. In a year or two, he doubted his body would fit beneath the frame, but for now, it would suffice.
Fire crackled. The smell of smoke drifted in through the window shutters, cloying and acrid. A hard pounding came at the entrance.
Arming himself with a short blade, Hanzo answered the door. There, on their stoop, stood a pair of haggard gentlemen in hunter’s garb. “What is it you want?”
Ignoring his curtness, the man at the front with the rusty stains on his duster hastily explained, “It’s the populace. They’re turning into-“
“I am aware,” Hanzo sharply interrupted, though he appeared thoughtful. “It is the work of the Old Blood. We did not fear it as we were warned.” Genji had never heard his brother mention such a thing before, but mutterings of a miracle provided by the church had spread through the town like wildfire, and he’d suspected that such a thing was what his brother must have used to save him.
The second man, younger than the first and covered with ash, bowed his head. “What do you advise, Hunter?”
Hanzo’s severe expression softened as he took pity on him. “Leave this place,” he told them honestly. “Gather your families. If you are uninfected and have not yet turned, then there may yet be time for you.” When they hesitated upon seeing that Hanzo would not follow, he snapped, “Did you not hear me? I cannot help you now. Go!”
He stood at the threshold until they were out of sight, then quickly checked the street before slamming the door shut and locking it with iron bolts. When he was satisfied with his work, he called out, “It’s alright to come out, Genji.” Then with a quirk of his lips added, “You’re far too big now to be hiding under beds now, anyway.”
The spark of outrage this ignited within Genji briefly chased away his fear and reason, causing him to shoot up and slam his head against the wooden planks above him. He coughed violently in the resulting shower of dust while Hanzo quietly chuckled at his expense. “Instead of standing there, why don’t you help me out, anija?”
Shaking his head, Hanzo crossed the floor in several strides, then bent to grab Genji’s outstretched hand, before suddenly freezing, a look of pure horror on his face, which gradually moved to despair.
The screams outside grew louder, becoming high-pitched and animalistic. Those weren’t people screaming anymore.
The town was burning.
A moon, a pale and watered-down crimson, swallowed the night sky, consuming the stars. And in its gloomy illumination, Genji caught the glint of scales crawling up his arm, a sight which sharpened to an unnatural clarity as his vision rapidly improved. He didn’t understand what was happening and it scared him, but Hanzo held no answers, only muted apologies. His brother stood, striding briskly to a cabinet at the far wall of their cottage. Even with the bed frame restricting him, Genji strained to see what he was up to, yet was forced to come to his own conclusions based on the dull clink of steel shifting as Hanzo rummaged through what was presumably the weapons cabinet, and redoubled his efforts to free himself, screaming for aid.
But there was to be no help, no rescue that long, endless night. Not for anyone.
It wasn’t long before the mattress was punctured by a blade.
The next time they met would be at the end of the Hunter’s Dream.
To Genji, it appeared that Hanzo had aged decades. His temples were streaked with silver strands, and he was bound to a wheelchair perched on the hill of a graveyard covered in delicate white lilies, overrun by the thick, moss-covered roots of an ancient tree. Such a strange place for a man still living to linger.
Though a tattered cloak lay over his lap, as Genji approached, he could see that his brother’s right foot was little more than wooden peg, while the other still wore the leather boot he remembered, now weathered and worn, as beaten down by use and time as its owner, who slept fitfully beneath the gray cloudy sky, unaware of either his younger brother’s presence or the loyal doll standing at his side.
Once he was fearsome and intimidating, a teacher and a hunter who held his head high as a king, yet now he called out feebly for phantoms in his sleep. Among the murmured apologies and soft pleads for release, broken sobs issued forth that squeezed Genji’s heart in a vise-like grip.
He reached for Hanzo’s shoulder, perhaps to wake him, but the arm of the bearded man standing like a statue at his side shot out to stop him. Metal fingers curled around Genji’s wrist with a pressure that would have surely left bruises... had he still been entirely human. Genji glanced at the prosthetic arm on his person before smirking up at the man, “I could have sworn that I defeated you, already,” who had the spitting likeness of the former hunter McCree, an early defector from the Healing Church, right down to the skull emblem on his floppy wide-brimmed hat, the crossbow strapped to his back, and the custom-made revolver holstered at his side.
He hadn’t borne the horizontal scar across his nose before the fall of Yharnam, nor had his eyes carried their unnatural yellow sheen, but Genji clearly recalled these traits from their battle, where Genji had narrowly bested him, after which he’d left Shrike to do what she wished with his remains, as something about her restraint had seemed too artificial and tenuous to be ignored. When he’d left, he could have sworn that in the fog, another shadowy body had joined her, but Yharnam played tricks on the senses, and he did not terry long.
But the man relaxed, letting him go with a rumbling chuckle.
“’fraid not, good hunter. I am but a simple doll.”
Taking a step about from the doll, Genji studied it skeptically, his luminous eyes narrowed behind the ragged bandages obscuring his sight.
The doll cocked its head, puzzled, but before it could speak, they heard, “Best not to antagonize him.” And Genji looked down to see that Hanzo had awakened, though it was difficult to make out many of his features thanks to the top hat pulled low over his brow. Still, it sounded like he was amused. “Most here have minds of their own, be they man, object, or beast.”
After waiting a second too long, Genji inquired,“Did you enjoy your rest?” It came out far more gravelly than he'd intended, forcing him to suppress a wince. Such changes had affected him for quite some time, yet he'd grown used to them, even learned to live with them and the weary glances they drew. It was only when confronted with his past that the contrast between what he was and what he had once been felt so stark.
“Oh?” Blinking blearily up at him from his wheelchair, Hanzo continued dryly, “I can tell from your tone, good hunter, that you know I did not. Are you, perhaps, familiar with me?” Slowly, so as not to startle him, Genji pulled the dirty wrappings from around his vibrant green irises, then cut the sloppy bandage from his scaled arm with a blade. Completely exposed, he stood in front of his brother, observing the clash of emotions as they swept through him. “But how is this possible? I had thought… I had believed that I…”
“That you’d killed me?” Genji finished for him, and was surprised by the anger burning within him, as it curled his lips into a fanged snarl. He quickly turned away. “A cleric found my body soon after you cast me aside,” which was a nice way of saying he’d been disposed of, left in the church’s alley to rot alongside the other corpses. “He managed to save me, and halted the transformation before I could completely become a beast.” Such a simple thing to be grateful for, yet Genji had to remind himself everyday not to curse the cleric for preserving a life that was doomed to inevitably fall into darkness.
When he had finished with his tale and fallen into thoughtful silence, Hanzo uttered softly, “Then he succeeded where I could not.” The doll with McCree’s visage tipped the brim of his hat to them before meandering down the path to give them room to speak. He looked up at the pale moon consuming the sky, his glass eyes reflecting the flames of the burning church. They watched for moment, before Hanzo continued, “At the time of Yharnam’s fall, I had felt that there was no future for you in this world. Only a tragic end, bathed in cursed blood. At least… if you died by my hand… it would be quick. And you would be free of this nightmare.”
Having steeled his resolve, Genji turned to face him with slitted pupils and a claw that flexed at his side, “Do you still wish that I had died, brother?”
At his words, Hanzo’s expression contorted with grief. His gaze fell on his arm.
For a time, they sat in uninterrupted silence, for Genji had contented himself with a a seat he’d fashioned out of a nearby root. Carefully, he reapplied the bandages to his draconian limb, though they were patchy now and covered little. Eventually, he gave it up for the lost cause it was, allowing the wrappings to drape haphazardly like ruined curtains.
A shaky exhale made him glance over his shoulder. “It’s alright if you cannot forgive me for what I have done,” Hanzo stared into the distance, before looking down to judge his reaction, his jaw tight. “I would not do so, were I in your place.”
Genji snorted, however, surprising them both. “Do not sell yourself short, anija.” Hanzo frowned at his perceived flippancy, but otherwise restrained himself. Meanwhile, Genji pretended not to notice. “Though, if it makes you feel better, I did not forgive you for your sake.” He pulled a lily from the soil by its roots, caressed its petals, their edges silvery in the moonlight, then carefully placed it back within the dirt, covering the roots with a sweep of his palm over the ground.
“Then it is your mercy that has truly saved you from the beast within.” After a short pause, Hanzo admitted, “I suppose that does make me feel better.”
“For such a smart guy, you can be really dumb sometimes,” Genji retorted before he could think better of it.
An agonizing length of time seemed to pass before he heard, “I would wager such is a family trait,” and looked up to see Hanzo’s mouth had quirked up at the sides, as though he were struggling not to laugh.
Too soon, however, his dark eyes grew distant. He stared at the moon. “The hour grows late.” Genji stiffened at the tired resignation in his words. Facing him, Hanzo said with an air of finality that frightened him, “It is time for your dream to end.”
After hearing out Hanzo’s offer, to help him wake from the Hunter’s Dream by ending his life within it, Genji adamantly refused, furiously shaking his head as he rose to his feet, though he refused to draw his blade.
“Genji,” Hanzo pleaded, his hands gripping his armrests until the wood creaked from the pressure, “if you do not let me do this, you cannot leave the dream. There is no other way.”
Throwing his arms out to the side, Genji exclaimed, “Come with me, then! We can leave together!”
And it was tempting. Impossible, but so very tempting. Except, “Someone has to guide the hunters.” Bowed by the weight of all, Hanzo lowered his head, saying quietly, “Someone has to remain in the dream.”
His weakness, his exhaustion, his defeat, only fueled Genji’s passion, and he cried out, “Then let it be someone else!”
It had the opposite of its intended effect. Hanzo’s brow smoothed over in resolution, “I brought the will of the Old One upon myself, Genji. I asked for this. It entrusted me with this duty, and now it is mine alone to bear.”
“You say that,” Genji stepped closer, “but I am not leaving without you.”
“Then you will never leave.” Hanzo looked at him wearily, then rose from his wheelchair, casting off his previous frailty and despair for the power and strength of Yharnam’s first hunter. “And I cannot allow that.” He unsheathed the rusted, curved blade strapped to his waist, then swung it backwards, latching it onto the knarly staff attached to his back in a single, fluid motion. If Genji had blinked, he would have miss it.
When it was complete, Hanzo held within his hands an old scythe, its edge chipped from frequent use. “That weapon does not suit you, brother.”
Hanzo acknowledged the point with a shallow nod, “Little does.” His muscles tensed as he poised to spring, but before he could lunge to attack, Genji bowed low, paying respect to his opponent as Hanzo had shown him to, so very long ago.
Briefly, Hanzo hesitated, “I am surprised you remember the old ways.”
“I remember much of what you taught me.” And Genji lifted his head. “I do not wish to fight you, Hanzo.”
Lowering his scythe, Hanzo looked once more towards the moon, allowing Genji to wonder if he hadn’t gotten through to him, until his form flickered out of existence, only to reappear deep within his guard. Frantically, Genji drew his sword, parrying the first blows and deflecting others. The ground seemed to slide beneath his feet as he attempted to keep out of Hanzo’s range, though he soon abandoned the action, since his brother could increase his speed to an inhuman degree, to the point where light could not keep up with him. It came down to Genji’s instincts, beaten into him by so many battles, by losses and victories and tragedies.
Desperate, he called out under a relentless barrage, “I forgave you once for killing me, brother. Are you so quick to do so again?!”
Hanzo redoubled his efforts, struggling to break through his blade.“There are much worse things than death, Genji.” After jumped back to put some distance between them, thus breaking the stalemate, he sprinted forward, the scythe shining with the moon’s brilliance as he lifted it above his head, “You should know that by now!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Genji saw the doll watching from the cemetery path. His furrowed brow and a frown, each highlighted by the church fire, seemed to suggest that it was worried, maybe even afraid. But the moment that Genji thought this, the world seemed to tilt, as the wet ground slipped beneath him in the middle of a pivot, and he lost precious time trying to scramble to his feet, after which, Hanzo was on him, above him, as was his scythe.
Genji raised a hand to shield himself. “Hanzo, wait-“
Sunlight streamed between his fingers, blinding him. He blinked until the flickering spots in his vision cleared, noticed that his arm was scarred but whole and made of flesh, then wondered why he’d ever expected anything else. As he rose to his feet, a wetness clinging to his cheeks and lashes gave him pause.
Perhaps, he had wept as he dreamt, but in wakefulness, the details eluded his grasp.
He walked alone through the empty city streets, unchallenged in the light of day, and kept going, past the walls, past the limits. There was nothing stopping him now.
After all, it is difficult to remember a dream.