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Echoes of the Heart

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The Shinobi of the Divine Heir is a fierce warrior, and perhaps a peerless one. 

Wolf is his name, if Genichiro remembers correctly. A starving soul that hunts and feasts on formidable prey. And true to his name, the Wolf bares his fangs and pounces on his target with savage ferocity. 

He had not expected to meet the man after slashing off his limb back in the silvergrass fields, but the shinobi had appeared at the castle lookout, equipped with a new prosthetic limb and a new arsenal of skills and shinobi tricks. Genichiro had brought the Divine Heir in another attempt to persuade him to share his unique power for Ashina’s sake. But the child had remained stubborn, selfish , and when the shinobi appeared, it was clear that the boy will be unmoved unless he takes his loyal dog out of the picture.

But Genichiro makes the fatal mistake of completely underestimating him. The Shinobi of the Divine Heir is not a hound, but a wild, untamed wolf. 

Even with the Lightning of Tomoe, Genichiro cannot defeat the elusive and nimble shinobi. The Wolf dances across the floor and lunges with his fangs bared. He joins Genichiro in the air to reverse the lightning, shooting the bolt back onto him. Even after honing his body countlessly to the point that his arms are burnt black, Genichiro is still not immune from the lightning’s effects. The shinobi uses those chances to counter his attacks with precision and grace, and when his blade is driven through his lung, Genichiro grits his teeth and grabs the other’s sword in defiance as it plunges further into his body.

The pain in his chest blossoms with white hot heat. He glares into the Wolf’s eyes as the sword continues to thrust deeper into him. He thinks of Ashina, his beloved land, the soil that had given him everything. As the future leader of Ashina, he was tasked with protecting it, but it’s more than just that. He has to prove himself, that he is more than just an illegitimate grandson of the Sword Saint. That he is not the powerless boy that he once was.

He falls against the Shinobi of the Divine Heir, murmuring Ashina’s name in regret and shame. He drops to his knees and collapses to the floor.

Blood and life spills out of the wound in his chest. Genichiro's eyes slip shut as he dies.

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Genichiro is confused when he begins to feel . Is he not dead? Why is he… conscious? He opens his eyes slowly, almost cautiously. He sees the dark, damp rock ceiling which is far too familiar to the Ashina general.

“My lord, are you awake? Are you experiencing any headaches, nausea?”

Genichiro turns his head to see a white-clad man, clothes fashioned in a similar manner as a specific discipline of Senpou Temple Monks. Doujun, former student of the famous doctor Dogen peers at him curiously from behind the mask that veils most of his face bar the eyes, which gleam in a strange, silver colour. The surgeon reaches out to touch him but Genichiro slaps his hand away. He forces himself to sit up and looks around in confusion. He is sure that he had died.

Genichiro remembers the pain in his chest, the sensation of blood trickling down and the weakness of his body as life bled out of him. Genichiro presses a hand to his chest, feeling for his heartbeat. He is still attempting to process his current state.

“What… happened?”

“Ah… How curious…” the surgeon mutters to himself as he regards Genichiro with interest. Before Genichiro can irritably repeats himself the other finally answers primly, “My lord, you had tasked me with obtaining and recreating the Rejuvenating Sediment. My master and I have conducted many tests and trials on it before we called for your grace.”

Genichiro eyes Doujun disbelievingly. He did, in fact, consume the Rejuvenating Sediment obtained by Doujun in the Abandoned Dungeon. Does that mean he’s… experiencing the same thing again? A repeat of his… previous life? Is that what this is? 

That sounds impossible. Genichiro looks around, a little panicked. Is this a dream? The surgeon remains standing where he is, seemingly studying Genichiro.

“Do you know of General Oniwa’s status?” he asks as he gathers his thoughts.

“I’m afraid I do not know of the happenings outside of the dungeon my lord, for my duties only lie here,” Doujun replies politely.  That is true, and Genichiro can’t fault the man. The surgeon strictly remains within the dungeon, having not stepped foot outside for years. But Genichiro has to know of the current events from his men to confirm his thoughts. He gets to his feet and moves to leave the cave. “Ah, my lord - “

Genichiro stops, turning back to the doctor with a questioning look.

“Before you take your leave, might I request the state of your condition? The master would appreciate recording our findings -”

“I will tell you later,” Genichiro cuts him off. “I will send someone to deliver you a written letter. I need… to get my head back together first,” the general mutters as he trudges away, ignoring the agonized moans of the zombified subjects writhing throughout the dungeon floor. 

Genichiro returns to the castle feeling sluggish and light-headed. He is not sure if it is due to the Rejuvenating Sediment, but he’s still reeling from the fact that he is reliving a life he’s already experienced before. He has confirmed with the patrolling soldiers that Gyoubu Oniwa is still stationed at the field before the Castle gates.

Could this be a dream? He still feel the aches and stings of his recovering wounds from previous battles.  Everything feels real. 

If this is truly a repeat of his previous life, then Genichiro would know of General Oniwa’s fate. He prays that it is not true. That he is not repeating a life that will end with the fall of some of his best warriors and in his own death.

But when he receives news of Gyoubu’s defeat not long later, Genichiro clenches his fists so tightly that his knuckles pale. The loss of his most trusted retainer cuts deep, and does not hurt any less the second time. The general then embraces the highest possibility that he is indeed given a second chance at life. Genichiro quickly heads to the top of the castle, where the Divine Heir is held. He has to persuade the boy again, no matter what.

As expected, the Wolf appears while Genichiro is in the midst of conversation with the Divine Heir. Just the sight of the shinobi relights the fire of wrath in his chest. He wants to fight him again, eager to pounce at the chance to defeat him this time.

He draws his sword and charges into the duel. 

But Genichiro finds himself defeated - yet again. 

Is he truly so weak, that even his mentor’s teachings are of little use? He has brought so much shame to himself and his clan that he thinks he does deserve to be cut down, but Ashina needs to be saved, and no one else but Genichiro can do so. 

He knows of his possible death by the shinobi’s hand and retreats before the Wolf’s blade finds its way to his chest. He parries a sword thrust and quickly distances himself from the shinobi, backing up as the man inches closer. Perhaps the Wolf had sensed his unwillingness to continue the fight, that he did not pursue Genichiro with a killing blow. 

It is Genichiro’s luck then -  He was indeed given a second chance, and he doesn’t die this time. The general sneers at the Wolf and escapes by jumping off the roof to lick his wounds.

Genichiro flees to the back of the castle, to the Great Serpent Shrine. It is not the best place to recover, but it is out of the way enough for him to find refuge in. He kicks sand over the trail of blood he’s inevitably left behind before walking over the grass. He walks over to the shrine and takes a breather.

The Rejuvenating Sediment does live up to its name - his wounds are healing fast, but with an unknown additional effect - if he were to die, would he wake up again? Or is this just some odd fortune granted to him only once by the divine? If that is indeed the case, then Genichiro cannot afford to make a mistake. Ashina needs to be saved, and the pressure squeezes at his head.

The general leans back against the wooden wall to rest, letting himself recuperate and plan his future steps. He needs more power. Genichiro’s mind races - He needs the power to protect Ashina, so he’d need to gather every source of strength he can get his hands on. 

He wishes he had even an ounce of his grandfather’s talent. He pictures the image in his mind - the stories told of his grandfather's highest achievement, the legendary battle that paved way to the birth of Ashina.The Sword Saint brandishing his sword, cutting down General Tamura and announcing his hard earned victory. He had wielded the legendary blade, as well, and - that’s it. Perhaps he can use the Sword Saint's weapon himself. He may not be as strong as his grandfather, but the sword itself holds immense power.

The Black Mortal Blade.

Genichiro remembers learning of it as a youth. One of the history lessons taught to him about the clan which consists of his grandfather’s accomplishment. The blade itself is famous - forged together with one that has the power to slay Immortals. But he is reminded of the stern warnings by his tutors as well, including the one from his grandfather himself, to stay away from the blade.

The blade will make one abandon oneself. Strength is not everything, Genichiro. It is easy to find yourself lost in the path of Shura if you wield that blade.

Genichiro had heeded that warning back then, but even he has never laid eyes on the legendary blade itself. But when else will it be the perfect occasion to harness the blade’s power? Ashina is currently crumbling, a skilled shinobi is in his way, and the Interior Ministry is closing in on their final stronghold. There is no other path but to use the Black Mortal Blade. He must acquire it. He must!

Genichiro returns to the Abandoned Dungeon. There, he finds Doujun working on another experimental subject, oblivious to the chaos outside. The subject on the makeshift table of wood and rocks is clad in white and purple garb of a patrolling samurai who seems stronger than the average soldier. He ignores the half-dead body and stalks over. Doujun realises his presence and seems surprised by Genichiro’s battered appearance. The man had not redressed from shedding his armour at the rooftop and he did not bother. There is no time for that.

Doujun tries to greet the general but Genichiro grabs the surgeon by the front of his robes, earning a startled yelp from him instead.

“Tell me. You knew of the Red Mortal Blade’s location. What of the Black Blade?” Genichiro demands with a fierce growl. His tall, towering figure strikes an imposing shadow over the former monk. The man is intimidating before, but like this, with an almost maddened expression, anyone would be terrified.

The sudden accusation makes the surgeon visibly flinch. He freezes in Genichiro’s grip as he eyes widen and his pupils dilate in distress. “M-My lord Genichiro! I do not know I -” The doctor suddenly pauses, his eyes slipping shut momentarily before he blinks them open to reveal cold steely grey. 

"The Red Blade was stowed away in Senpou while I was there, however I no longer have any information on its whereabouts after my departure. Have you not sought it out for yourself, Lord Genichiro?" His tone is different, voice rougher and more arrogant. "As for the whereabouts of the Black Mortal Blade, it was last seen in our Lord Isshin’s possession, so it would make more sense that you would be privy to its location than Doujun would, General.”

Genichiro ignores the change of tone but continues to glare at the doctor. He cannot refute what the man had said - just because the former Senpou Monk knows of the Red Mortal Blade’s location doesn’t mean he would automatically know of the other’s. And it was indeed his grandfather himself who sealed it away. But where could he have hidden it? Genichiro shoves the doctor away in frustration.

He leaves the deplorable cave to search the castle. He will find it if it’s the last thing he does.

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Genichiro steps towards the elder man and raises the sword that pulses with power and black energy of the Underworld. He hears the soft, surprised cry of a woman, and barely registers the look of remorse on the other’s face as he lowers his head. The elder man does not even raise his blade in self-defense.

Genichiro cuts down the Ministry agents, soaking the Black Blade with more blood. He drags the boy away. His shinobi will come.

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Power and hunger throbs through Genichiro. The Black Mortal Blade sings to his ears. He feels pride as power swells within him and cuts through the ministry soldiers easily as they make their way to the silvergrass fields. It is the only place where they can converse in peace and carry out the oath. 

That was the plan.

And yet.

Yet.

The boy remains stubborn. Selfish. Cruel.

Divine Heir or not, how can such a boy be a vessel to the Divine Dragon’s Heritage? Anger fills him, frustrated at the Divine Heir’s refusal to comply to his demands. But it is of no matter. Genichiro has learned about this Mortal Blade’s power too - its ability to summon the dead.

His grandfather has passed on. All he needs is the Divine Heir’s blood. Since he does not wish to save Ashina, then he deserves to die as well.

Genichiro pierces the sword through the boy’s small body easily. Soft youthful flesh giving way under the blade of the Black Mortal Blade. Blood spurts out from the wound, spraying the same red as all the others who had died for this land. The child is nothing special. Just a mortal boy and not the revered, Immortal Divine Heir. A sense of satisfaction brushes the inside of Genichiro’s chest.

“Lord Kuro!”

Ah yes. The Shinobi of the Divine Heir, Wolf.

Genichiro can defeat him now. He has the Mortal Blade, the twin to the Crimson Blade that the shinobi has strapped to his back.

“Lord Genichiro…” the Divine Heir’s voice yet remains strong, unmoved. Genichiro looks at the boy, almost impressed by his will. “If you think you can change Ashina’s fate with such a thing.... You are mistaken.”

The adolescent’s words reach out to something in him, but Genichiro remains steadfast in his beliefs. No, this is the only way. No one can save Ashina but the Dragon’s Blood itself, or his grandfather. He will defeat the Wolf and claim the power of the Dragon Heritage to save this country!

And so they clash, Mortal Blades clanging loudly. Each impact of the swords sending shockwaves and pulses of supernatural energy. Genichiro wields the sword to the best of his ability, harnessing all of his strength, skill and technique into defeating the Wolf.

But it is in vain.

The Wolf pierces Genichiro through the chest, just like he had done so in Genichiro’s previous life. The man pushes the shinobi away and steps back. He stands, barely able to remain on his feet as pain spreads through his body. He feels exhausted. The shame that he feels in being defeated by the same man for the third time nearly brings him to frustrated tears. He has failed his country yet again.

He looks to the night sky contemplatively, his voice shaking with regret, “In the end… I am still powerless…”

“But… The Dragon’s Blood surging through this land’s veins…” Yes, he still has a responsibility. Genichiro may die but he will die protecting this land. He looks at the Black Mortal Blade and thinks of his last wish, his last desire, and raises the sword to his neck. Even if he fails, at least, his grandfather can succeed.

“With this, Ashina’s long night comes to an end,” Genichiro murmurs with a distant gaze. He closes his eyes, and slashes his throat.

Genichiro’s blood spurts out in a violent spray from the wound. There is so much pain, like fire and electricity piercing through every fiber of his body in a prickling, agonizing manner. His body shuts down.

Genichiro Ashina sacrifices himself to the Open Gate, using his death to return life to the Sword Saint Isshin. He thinks he hears the familiar sound of Grandfather’s voice, but it’s too soft, too distant, and he feels himself slip away… He hopes that his sacrifice will lead to Ashina’s survival. He hopes.

 

 

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Genichiro opens his eyes to the dark, damp rock ceiling of the Abandoned Dungeon.

Chapter Text

Genichiro is given yet another life. He stares at the wall in stunned silence, dazed and confused. Didn’t he die? Didn’t he sacrifice himself? What of Ashina’s fate? Did he fail? What manner of wicked magic is this?!

The general feels his chest tightening, his breathing rapid and coming in fast. Yet he can’t breathe. He clutches at his chest as he struggles to catch his breath and get air to stay in his lungs, all while his head spins. His vision blurs and suddenly he hears a rather concerned voice and practiced hands on him.

It’s Doujun. Again. His silver eyes roam over the general, trying to assess his condition but Genichiro can’t - he can’t breathe and he’s panicking harder as he tries to shove those hands away.

“Ease your breathing, my lord, and count slowly in your head,” Doujun advises. Genichiro tries to snap at him, but the doctor’s unusually strong hands pushes him down to lie back and press the flat of his palm on Genichiro’s chest, forcing him to stay still and do as he’s told. 

Genichiro regains his calm and breath eventually, his chest still heaving up and down, taking several moments before slowing to a more natural pace. He swallows, clears his throat and exhales.

“Are you alright, Lord?” Doujun asks cautiously. Genichiro stares at the ceiling before he drags his eyes to the masked surgeon. He exhales once more, still in the midst of stabilizing his breathing as he slowly sits up. Doujun waits patiently for his answer, though his eyes are fixed on the general.

“Yes. I… I’m fine,” Genichiro replies, trying to keep his voice from shaking. He tries not to overthink, but it is hard not to when he is experiencing the same thing for the third time without explanation. He looks up to the doctor and asks, “What are the common effects of the Rejuvenating Sediment?”

Doujun seems surprised by his question, but straightens himself and answers, “The Rejuvenating Sediment is a concentration of the Rejuvenating Waters, therefore it holds a higher chance to successfully give the vessel the near-immortality it desires. However due to... certain properties, this method does not make one truly immortal, but will give the vessel a high resilience and stave off death.”

 “Are there no other effects?” Genichiro asks.

“I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean, my lord?”

“Is there… a possibility that it might have the power to send someone to experience their lives from a certain again upon death?” Genichiro says carefully. It sounds ludicrous when he verbalizes it, but he is, in fact, experiencing this again.

The doctor’s brows furrow together. The man is smart - a student under the great doctor Dogen - so he is quick to catch what Genichiro is trying to say. “Are you suggesting something, Lord Genichiro?”

“Is there?” Genichiro repeats the question sternly.

“My apologies, my lord. I am not aware of any similar experience or effects that has been previously recorded,” Doujun reports to the general. “I’m afraid I will need more clarification, my lord. You had difficulty breathing, if I recall - though one must consider having one’s body change by the Sediment may cause some sort of trauma.”

Genichiro had wanted to decline at first, wanted to be left alone so he can gather his thoughts and figure this strange looping phenomenon. But Doujun is the one who brought him the Sediment. He’s the one who researched and experimented its power under his own orders, even given this dungeon for him to use for his research - who else can he ask but the student doctor himself? 

“It… doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. Scribe this down and make a copy for me,” Genichiro orders. Doujun does so, already making notes for himself prior to Genichiro gaining consciousness.

Genichiro informs Doujun of the effects of the Sediment - it had indeed given him a resilient body that dulls out pain and hardens the flesh. It also allows him to recover from his wounds at a faster pace. However, one thing remains true and disappointing - a reminder that it is a mere mockery of the true elixir of immortality, the Divine Dragon’s Heritage - it had not made him immortal. He tells the doctor of its unique additional effect instead - that the Rejuvenating Sediment’s ‘resurrection’ comes in the form of waking up to the point of time when he first drank the Sediment.

The general remains silent and waits while Doujun makes a copy of the note with quick brush strokes and hands it over to him.

“Do you actually believe me?” Genichiro asks skeptically.

“I must admit, it is a rather curious claim, but I cannot deny such a possibility - there is still much to learn about the Waters. The opportunity my lord has given me shall help my master and I in continuing our research. With that, we - I, Doujun, give my utmost gratitude, Lord Genichiro,” Doujun replies with a slight bow. “It will help us, for the glory of Ashina.”

For the glory of Ashina.

Genichiro nods stiffly. “Yes, continue your research and compile the information, Imay return for it,” Genichiro tells him before he finally leaves the dungeon. 

He tries to think of what to do. Ashina will be under attack later tonight. Gyoubu will die and the Wolf will come for his Divine Heir. Genichiro still needs that power. He has to do something about this. What if he changes the location of where he holds the Heir? Somewhere the Shinobi might not be able to reach.

He goes off to do exactly that. Maybe he can do something different to change the future.

But despite his effort of moving the Divine Heir, dragging the boy to a different part of the castle, the Shinobi still finds them. He tracks and chases them down like a bloodhound, crashing through the paper doors and drawing his sword on Genichiro.

Genichiro clicks his tongue and mirrors the gesture. It is his first instinct to do so - draw your sword when your opponent does. Protect yourself and protect your honour. And he still can’t let the Heir get away. His power is still needed. But the shinobi has proven his prowess to Genichiro many times over. Can he still even win? It hurts his pride to admit as such but Genichiro still hesitates. He stops himself from raising his sword.

“Shinobi of the Divine Heir,” Genichiro begins. “I have no desire to fight you. I only wish to use the Divine Heir’s power to protect Ashina. This land, with many years of traditions and families. Your family. What will it be when Ashina is decimated? The shinobi are strong - you are strong, but you can’t fight the Interior Ministry alone. We - Ashina - needs the Divine Heir’s power to be saved.”

The Wolf stares at him, wordless. Something seems a little different about the man. Genichiro continues, not expecting the shinobi to reply.

“I heard from Master Owl - You have the Iron Code - I understand you have to follow it and you must follow your master at all costs. But will he be safe while the Ministry is on its way here?” Genichiro tries to persuade him to see it his way. “We’ve been taught certain disciplines and rules all our lives for a reason. Loyalty is the essence of your Iron Code, is it not? Then you should understand, I only ask for the Heir to share his power to save Ashina. You have the power. You can serve Ashina and save her.”

But Genichiro’s words do not make the shinobi stand down. It frustrates him, that even words are useless in getting his way. As if fated, they fight again despite Genichiro’s reluctance.

They clash swords but the lord keeps himself on the defensive. Eventually the shinobi stops too, reading his hesitance to fight. 

“I do not wish to fight,” Genichiro repeats. Wolf stares at him for a good moment before he sheaths his sword in the end, acknowledging Genichiro’s forfeit. Wolf lets him go, and Genichiro leaves. He hates that he has to withdraw from a battle like this, but he’s already acknowledged the shinobi’s prowess. 

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But fate seems to have a strange way of stringing its players along. Genichiro goes to retrieve the Black Mortal Blade sooner than he did in his previous life. He has to stop the Ministry’s army before they reach the castle. 

Genichiro had not expected his words to sway the shinobi. But unbeknownst to him, he’s affected not only his own fate, but of others as well. His words may have not stopped the Wolf before, but they’ve affected the shinobi more than he realises. 

Wolf is given a choice by Owl - follow the Iron Code, or to betray it in favour of following his master Kuro.

His mind races with what Lord Genichiro had spoken to him before. Loyalty, tradition, discipline. He does not know what his Father has in his plans, but the Iron Code has dictated that he should follow the Father over the Master. If he were to follow the Iron Code… His Father has taught him everything, has shown him the ways. Father over the Master. Perhaps he has greater plans in store.

Wolf chooses the Iron Code. 

He faces Emma and Lord Isshin.

Their blood and pain feed the Wolf’s blade and his hunger for shedding blood grows. He’s killed enough for Lord Kuro, and each of the defeated’s souls and blood soaked into him, feeding the fires of war that continues to grow within him.

Isshin sets the roof ablaze with his attacks. Ironic, seeing that he is trying to stop a demon from being consumed by the fires of war. The flames lick at the wooden walls and floors of the rooftop and continues to spread, slowly creeping at Isshin and Emma’s lifeless bodies.

Owl returns with a new blade. In his other hand he holds a human head with long hair, blood still dripping from its neck. 

Genichiro had not expected that his decision to talk would move the Wolf to make a choice that changes his fate like this. He had been too occupied in trying to fight off the Ministry soldiers to see the betrayal of the Great Shinobi. He had not known that the Wolf was given such a choice. Did not know what it meant if the other were to make the wrong one.

He had hoped was to be given the chance to make things different and right. He’d hoped that he could get the shinobi’s aid instead of fighting him. He’d hoped that he’d done the right thing in avoiding that fateful fight. But what Genichiro had received instead is experiencing the familiar pain in his chest as a sword is pierced through him from the back. He stares at the blade stained with his own blood. The Owl had pulled the sword back, allowing Genichiro only a moment to turn around. The general had only managed to catch the visage of the traitor,  the Great Shinobi Owl, before his eyes caught sight of the next sweep of the man’s blade. 

Genichiro had watched his next impending death, lamenting once again, that he’d failed.

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He wakes to the same rock ceiling.

Genichiro feels a mix of exhaustion and frustration. More so of the latter. He feels like he was close to a different result. If Owl had not betrayed them, would he have come out victorious, and result in the survival of Ashina as well?

Genichiro wishes he can hunt the Owl right at that moment and behead the man himself. But he doesn’t even know the whereabouts of the Great Shinobi and would not waste time in pursuing him.

He then remembers the other presence in the room. He sits up and turns to Doujun who is watching him with both cautious and curious eyes. But there is something slightly different about the white clad man - his hands are occupied with a brush and a book. He doesn’t remember the surgeon holding those before.

“What are you doing?” Genichiro asks, watching the former monk.

Doujun himself seems rather surprised by the presence of the book and brush in his hand. “Oh… I didn’t realise I picked these up. Perhaps I was musing about jotting down a few notes for the master.”

Genichiro observes the surgeon. He appears a little lost in thought. “Are you not to ask me of my status?”

“Ah -  have you not notified me of it yet? My apologies, my lord. Forgive me, I am experiencing a rather… peculiar feeling… As if this has happened before,” Doujun says, his voice trailing off to a mumble.

“Repeat that again,” Genichiro demands suddenly. Doujun repeats, telling him that he feels as if he is reliving the current moment. Genichiro feels a sense of hope - something different! Is this doctor the same as him? But he does not appear to be conscious of it. Perhaps, it is because Genichiro has told the man about it? Had he somehow affected the man just by making him aware of his state?

“Do you remember me asking you anything? Tell you anything important?”

Doujun ponders hard, his silver eyes a little glazed. “Ah… forgive me my lord, I cannot recall anything else. The master - Hm, I’m afraid we can no longer be of much assistance. It seems as if you are hoping for something which I as a surgeon cannot assist with, my lord.”

Genichiro presses his lips tight, scanning the doctor’s features. He has always been an odd man, especially after his master’s death, and to be honest, Genichiro finds those who desecrate the dead to be blasphemous. He’s only associating with the surgeon only because of his research and abilities.

The general shakes his head. “Just follow this order. Search for the other effects of the Rejuvenating Waters. Find if it has any connection to the temporal and cycles.”

It is surely an odd demand, but Genichiro can’t find it in himself to care of the other’s opinions. He hasn’t managed to return to the doctor to hear of his research results previously, and tries to remind himself to do so. But he has set a task for himself - follow the steps before and defeat that bastard Owl.

Chapter Text

Genichiro repeats his steps from before. He avoids the fight with the Wolf, wanting to just get away and retrieve the Black Mortal Blade so that he can confront Owl. But he experiences another change that he does not expect. it’s the Shinobi of the Divine Heir himself who looks rather reluctant to fight. His eyes fixate on Genichiro with what seems to be recognition that goes beyond recognizing one as an enemy.

“You do not wish to fight?” the Wolf asks. He has his sword in hand when he lands on the rooftop to retrieve his lord, but he does not take up a stance as he had before. Genichiro regards the shinobi carefully, wondering if the man is affected by the cycle Genichiro is experiencing. But he had never talked to the Wolf about his experience, so why did the shinobi suddenly change? 

“No, I do not. I only wish to talk. I ask for your help in saving Ashina. Then you may bring your Divine Heir away and I will not stand in your way,” Genichiro tells him, a repeat of his words from before. He studies the other’s reactions, but the Wolf shows no sign of anything else that would say he recognises this scene. “Your loyalty, the Iron Code, you should follow it through and I understand that.”

The Wolf’s dark brown eyes flick up to him, as if what Genichiro speaks seem to affect him. The shinobi parts his lips as if to say something, but he holds back. His eyes move to the Divine Heir who is standing behind Genichiro. He closes his mouth and shakes off whatever thought he had in his head.

“I cannot help you, Lord Genichiro,” the Wolf replies. 

Genichiro expected it. His loyalty to the boy is strong and it’s admirable. It doesn’t matter. Genichiro walks away and leaves them, and they watch him leave.

The general retrieves the Black Mortal Blade and prepares himself for the confrontation that will come.

The Owl’s attempt to ambush Genichiro is the exact same as before, but this time, the general is prepared. Genichiro blocks the thrust attack and pushes the shinobi’s sword away. The Owl may be the Great Shinobi, and Genichiro has not fought him before, but the Ashina leader is more confident in fighting the elder than the Wolf.

It was a fierce battle, but Genichiro has his body strengthened by the Rejuvenating Sediment. He has to keep his defense up and counterattack. The Black Blade sings to him, power thrumming through his veins and guides the Sword Saint’s grandson to victory. The Owl’s attack pattern is much more predictable, his moves far more limited compared to his adopted son. After battling the Wolf repeatedly, Genichiro finds this battle much easier.

Genichiro catches the perfect opportunity and swings his sword across the shinobi’s neck which ends the fight. Blood spurts from the older man’s wound, soaking and feeding the Blade with power. Genichiro breathes it in; the stench of blood is familiar and almost sweet, especially amidst the fire, ashes and corpses. 

Now, he just has to fight off the rest of the Ministry soldiers. Genichiro feels a little hopeful. 

He doesn’t expect that the change in fate went beyond his mistake of persuading the Wolf to choose the Code. 

He doesn’t expect the Shura that brings death in the path he walks.

The Wolf is covered in the reddish flame-like wisps of power as he descends the front staircase of the castle. In both of his hands he wields his own sword and the Red Mortal Blade. His small unassuming form strikes a terrifying figure, as if a demonic shadow hovers over him and warns one of their impending demise.

Soldiers of both sides charge towards the Wolf only to be cut down like paper, throwing their lives away.

Genichiro watches from a few distances away, gripping his own Mortal Blade and swallows audibly. How did this happen? 

What was his mistake? Genichiro grits his teeth as numerous men are sliced apart while the Shura wanders through. The power the demon wields is undeniable. It is no wonder that his grandfather warns him of this being and makes it part of his task to weed out whoever is at risk of becoming the demon of war. But his grandfather right now is old and weakened, and seeing that the Wolf had come from the castle itself, it is possible that the man is already dead. Genichiro can’t even defeat the Wolf as a human. He can’t win against a Shura. At this rate, Ashina will be decimated by the demon in place of the Ministry.

His hand trembles as he clenches his fist around the Blade. Why? Why is it always this man? This shinobi? 

Anger and hate fills his heart. He should have just killed the shinobi earlier on. Rage fills him and controls his mind. The Blade in his hand vibrates as if excited. Genichiro inhales, his eyelids fluttering shut before they open to reveal Red Eyes. 

He won’t let this demon destroy Ashina. He won’t - He won’t!

I will defend Ashina!

Genichiro charges towards the Shura with a war cry.

I will kill anyone who puts her survival at risk!

He swings his blade, aiming to slice off one of the demon’s sword arms.

I’ll kill them all!

But the Shura parries him, easily throwing him off. The Shura counters immediately after, thrusting one of his swords into Genichiro’s shoulder.

Not even a Shura will stop me!

Genichiro grunts as pain shoots through him but he shrugs it off, plowing through to strike back.

I will kill!

He glares into the eyes of the Shura, the Wolf, cursing his existence.

Kill!

The Shura stares back but Genichiro sees the ghost of a smirk at his lips. Agony paralyses him as the Shura stabs him again in the same shoulder wound and twists the weapon within him.

Kill!

Genichiro roars and pulls away. He ignores the blood dripping from him as the demon slices and cuts away at his flesh from various directions. He throws out every skill and technique he knows at his enemy, rage and lust for the other’s death his only aim.

Kill

The Shura dodges and pirouettes, ending with a roundhouse kick to Genichiro’s side. He feels bones breaking. 

Kill…

Genichiro lands into the ground coughing, gasping when the Shura appears on top of him in a blink of an eye.

K i l l…..

But Genichiro doesn’t give up. He picks up his sword and attempts to stab at the Shura the same time as the other brings down his sword towards him.

K i l l……….

Their blades glance off each other and both their swords connect to the target, piercing right through flesh.

……...

……

….

...But Genichiro is not an immortal, and his attempt falls short, only managing a shallow stab to the Shura Wolf’s side. The Red Mortal Blade meanwhile, is driven through his sternum and right through his heart.

Thoughts of despair flash through his mind. Still inadequate, still powerless. 

Even with the rage and madness within him, they are not enough to kill the Shura. The demon had reflects and parries all of his attacks with ease. He slices and shreds Genichiro’s body regardless of the Rejuvenating Sediment’s powers, stabs into his flesh.

His entire body is mangled and soaked in blood. His vision is full of red, whether it is from rage or from blood, Genichiro does not know. Every fibre of his being is burning with pain and anger. Hatred and vengeance oozing out of his pores as he glares at the Shura.

The Wolf stares back at him with eyes burning red like coals. His expression is serene, but there is a hint of a smile to his lips. It stokes the flames of Genichiro’s failing heart where the Red Mortal Blade still remains. The Wolf keeps their eyes connected as he lowers to knee down beside the dying man.

The Wolf stares at him for a long time, but his gaze is unreadable. But eventually, the Shura Wolf murmurs a word: “Fool.”

It is a word uttered without emotion, but all Genichiro hears is a taunt full of mockery and pity. The Wolf’s eyes linger over Genichiro’s dying body before he notices the Black Blade in his hand. The Shura reaches for it and rips the sword away from the man’s hold.

No ! Genichiro yells in his mind. The Shura gets back to his feet and looks down on Genichiro, whose glaring eyes bore into the Shura gnashing his teeth madly, feeling every bone of his body ache with rage and vengeance. He watches as the Shura points the Black Blade to his head.

I will kill you, Wolf, in the next life, and every one after that! Genichiro swears going mad with rage. He will kill the Wolf, the Shinobi of the Divine Heir and rip him apart! 

The Shura brings the weapon down into Genichiro’s head. It pierces through his forehead, through his skull, through his brain. They say such deaths are instant, but time slows upon dying, and Genichiro feels each agonizing detail of the metal going through each layer of his head. An endless pain.

Even in that moment of death, Genichiro repeats the promise to himself over and over like a mantra as his soul lingers and the remaining ruins of Ashina crumble around him, with the fires slowly consuming his body. 

His soul screams for revenge.

------

The following time Genichiro opens his eyes, he stares at the ceiling of the dungeon. Madness and vengeance still seethe within his mind, fresh with the remnants of pain and agony of his recent death. His head is splitting, aching, like a chisel and a hammer pounding through a point in his skull. It takes him several moments before he can gather strength in pushing himself to his feet.

Genichiro wastes no time. He shoves Doujun who tries to approach him, shoves away his retainers, immediately retrieving the Black Mortal Blade and makes it his mission in this new life to kill the Shinobi of the Divine Heir.

They clash at the castle lookout again, despite Wolf’s reluctance to do so. The Mortal Blade and his rage gives Genichiro the extra edge, but as fate has it, his clouded mind ends the battle with his death.

Genichiro wakes up from his death and tries again. He lets his rage lead him, death of the Shinobi of the Divine Heir fuel his muscles, his thoughts.

The shinobi defeats him, and Genichiro dies once more.

Genichiro repeats this, as long as he is still seething with rage and vengeance. He chases after the Wolf to kill him, but dies by the shinobi’s sword repeatedly. 

He has to kill the Wolf, he must, and Genichiro is sure, even as he is stabbed through the heart once again. 

That man is the key to saving Ashina! Genichiro thinks as he coughs out blood and glares at the shinobi’s face. He has to kill him - destroy him! He attempts again and again and again - fighting the Wolf, swinging his sword and summoning his master’s lightning to punish him with heaven’s wrath. He continues to throw himself at the shinobi wildly like a deranged, desperate beast.

But no matter what he does, his fate remains unchanged. Genichiro dies every time.

With each death his anger swells. His eyes glow a brighter red. And with each of his deaths by the Wolf’s hand, he scorns the look of pity on the Wolf’s face that grows more sorrowful and remorseful as his vision fades into the darkness of death.

He does not understand it. Genichiro can only think with a mind twisted by hatred.

He pursues the death of the Wolf, dying and dying again until he loses count of his deaths and his mind.

Genichiro’s mind is a blur of rage and killing, no coherent thoughts or a trace of a will in his soul. That is, until something differs from the expected cycle. 

The Shinobi of the Divine Heir catches and holds Genichiro before the man falls from having his heart stabbed for the umpteenth time. The Wolf’s face bears a strange expression that brings Genichiro’s dazed thoughts to the present. The Divine Heir who had been watching them speaks words that are familiar to him, and Genichiro is reminded of what the boy had uttered before in one of his lives, at the silvergrass fields. Even this speech is different, having never heard the boy murmur in such a solemn tone.

“It is a pity… Lord Genichiro, you cannot change Ashina’s fate with such a thing.... When did you lose your path?”

The words stab at his soul, and that stings more intensely than the blade imbedded in him. Genichiro feels himself being lowered to the floor almost gently by the Wolf. 

Genichiro hates this. The humiliation, the ache of countless repeated failures, the deafening screams of his people and the sight of his soldiers’ bodies littering the ground with their blood seeping into Ashina’s soil.

He feels the weight of it all crushing him. The despair has returned now that his full thoughts and consciousness are back. He wishes he could have remained a mindless killing machine. He wants it to end. 

Why is he being tortured like this? His failures laid out for him to watch and endure endlessly, an infinite loop of unfulfillment and tragedy. He stares at the ceiling of the lookout stewing in anger and frustration at everything, wishing for the end of this torment. He feels life and energy drain out of him as his eyes slip close.

He thinks he hears someone call his name.

Whoever it is… their voice is laced with melancholy.

Chapter Text

When he awakens this time, Genichiro does not move. He remains laying on the surface as his tired, exhausted eyes stare blankly at the cave wall. He finds himself awfully lethargic, his mind and body heavy. He doesn’t wish to move. He wishes to just cease to exist where he is. He doesn’t want to go through all that pain again.

Genichiro remains unmoved until Doujun approaches him from his side with apprehension as he inspects Genichiro’s body.

“My lord?” Doujun calls. He reaches to feel for the general’s pulse and eyes, but Genichiro does not respond. He’s tired. He wants to close his eyes. Genichiro does so. He doesn’t care what the surgeon does to him. Just let him rest in peace. “This is… rather peculiar indeed. Has our genera undergone some trauma outside our expectations? Perhaps a new symptom...?” He hears the man muse thoughtfully out loud.

He hears the movement of the man shuffling about the area. He doesn’t care.

Genichiro feels a hand hold onto his wrist followed by a sharp prick to his skin. Something in it set off a wave of nausea and Genichiro snaps his eyes open to look at the surgeon. He sees the steel grey of Doujun’s eyes with the cruel glint. “Ah, are you awake now, General?”

Genichiro feels the sudden urge to hurl. The nausea hits him and the man has no choice but to push himself off his back to lean over to the side and vomit. All that comes out is fluid and stomach acid; he hadn’t eaten well with his country and people in peril. Genichiro coughs and heaves, gulping in air as he tries to catch his breath.

“What did you do to me,” Genichiro demands.

“Nothing too terrible,” Doujun replies dismissively. “I was worried that my lord could not rouse himself, so I merely stimulated your body in provocation. The nausea may continue but shall wane in a few moments.”

Genichiro wants to curse the surgeon out but he gags again, cutting off whatever words that he wanted to say, After some time, the sickening feeling ebbs, but he still feels miserable both mentally and physical. The doctor goes about with his work and notes, completely ignoring Genichiro and the mess on the floor.

“Now, Lord Genichiro, shall we review over the analysis you’ve tasked me with?” Doujun asks, taking out notebooks and stray papers. Genichiro tiredly turns his head to the man, a rejection on the tip of his tongue before he remembers that this has not happened before.

The surgeon is acting differently, taking on the other harsher persona that Genichiro has seen glimpses of. His reaction to Genichiro’s change in actions is also different, and it sounds as if he is familiar with what Genichiro wants. And the task? What else had Genichiro tasked him with aside from producing the Sediment?

He searches his memory - yes, he’s tasked Doujun with searching for the connection of the temporal to the Waters. But that was in one of his lives previously. Does the former monk remember?

Genichiro peers at the surgeon and regards him carefully. “...Remind me of the task that I had set for you.”

“Of course, my lord,” the doctor replies sardonically. “You’ve entrusted me to expand the research regarding the connection between the Waters and its temporal influences. A curious request I might say, though I have unearthed something of interest.”

So the surgeon does remember, Genichiro concludes, clenching his fist. The thought of it clears the nausea away and he tells the man to continue with his findings. 

Doujun does so rather eagerly, “It is nothing tangible, I’m afraid, but theories. However, with the traces of centipede larvae and of the Great Carp in the Waters, longevity is not an implausible effect. While this may sound far fetched, instead of immediate resurrection, mayhaps the power of these particular Waters comes in a different form.. I theorise that the Waters had concentrated into something that affects your mind more so than your body, causing something that may appear as a temporal loop.”

“Are you suggesting that what I am experiencing may be nothing more than delusions of my mind?!” Genichiro snaps, feeling his anger rise yet again.

“It is a mere suggestion, my lord,” Doujun responds coolly.

“How do you explain the fact that you are presenting me research that I did not task you with?” Genichiro argues.

“Preposterous! You doubt the memory of a physician with such high caliber?! I recall you were the one who ordered me -”

“When, exactly, did I order this of you?”

This stops the doctor mid-sentence as he struggles to think of an answer. The bewilderment in his eyes tell all. Genichiro knows it is not an illusion or a dream or anything innocuous like that. If it were, it is at least a never-ending nightmare. Genichiro can’t break out of the cycle, and it is driving him insane.

What can he do now? He’s died numerous times by the hands of the Wolf. What use is it for him to attempt again.

He feels for his katana by his side, his mind wandering to a dark thought.

Maybe, if he were to just end it from the very beginning, it might work. Maybe, if it were by his own hands… Genichiro pulls out the sword just a little, revealing a glimpse of the gleaming blade. He stares at his red eyes reflected on the side of the blade.

The call of darkness is tempting. He wants to rest, to sink into the void of nothingness, but there is still a small fire inside him, wishing vengeance. But he’s so tired. He closes his eyes, and returns to sleep.

--------

The Divine Heir watches the Ashina lord with concerned eyes. The man feels different from when he first took him away. There is a strange air around him, and the man looks tired, haggard, as if he’s gone through a thousand battles within a short period, more than he already has. The look in his eyes is distant and unfocused. Kuro wonders what has happened to have caused such a significant change in Lord Genichiro.

When the general had appeared and led him out to the lookout, Kuro had been nervous. The man's demeanour is different. Kuro had felt that the Lord always harboured a certain feeling to him, as if he's always on edge. Understandable, seeing how he is desperately trying to keep his land from collapsing. But Kuro is determined not to spread the curse of the Dragon's Heritage, even at the cost of a nation.

But this Genichiro had acted resigned and distant with a haunted look in his face, almost disinterested. He feels like a ghost. Kuro senses a hint of a strange aura that is not unlike the energy the Dragon's Blood exudes, but he cannot explain it. It's like a faded, yet lingering scent hovering around the man. Kuro can only watch and observe as Genichiro stands to the side of the lookout, staring over at the tower where Lord Isshin rests. He said nothing, not even a word of persuasion to Kuro, as if waiting for something. 

When his Loyal Wolf arrives, Lord Genichiro turns to him as if he’s expecting him. Kuro notices that his shinobi is acting odd as well. Both of them stare and regard each other, the distance between them is large, but it feels as if they’re leaning in close and assessing each other.

It’s the general who steps forward first and breaks the silence. 

“Shinobi of the Divine Heir. Do you remember anything?” the man asks. “Does any of this seem familiar to you, Wolf?”

The way he says his shinobi’s name is familiar, but Kuro does not remember having seen them interact any more than a few brief meetings aside from the one in the silvergrass fields. It makes Kuro nervous and unsure of what is happening, especially when his shinobi appears to hesitate.

“You… spoke of loyalties,” Wolf replies slowly. His eyes are fixed on Lord Genichiro. There is no animosity between them that Kuro expects, and the situation is odd and jarring.

Genichiro nods slowly. “Yes, I did. I do not want to fight you. I just want your aid in saving Ashina,” Genichiro says. He sounds defeated, resigned. “Your master does not wish to extend help to a dying nation, so I ask for yours.”

That snaps Wolf’s attention back to Kuro. The Divine Heir remains quiet. He does not want to cut into their conversation, because despite being named, he is not involved. He feels like he’s dismissed and that the Ashina lord has no intention of speaking or using him any longer. 

“Will you help save Ashina?” Genichiro asks again. 

The shinobi stills, as if perturbed by the question. He looks between the lord and his master. He shakes his head and draws his sword. “I only serve my master.”

“...Yes, and you will serve no other lord,” Genichiro murmurs to himself. Somewhat, Genichiro still finds it a shame. He holds out his palm as a gesture to stop the other. “Enough, I do not wish to fight. Just take your master away and begone from Ashina.”

His declaration surprises both Wolf and Kuro. After imprisoning and holding the Divine Heir prisoner, he is letting him go? Lord Genichiro walks back into the castle and disappears, ignoring all of them. Both master and shinobi are left stunned and confused.

--------

Genchiro walks past the Nightjar ninjas stationed at the room below his grandfather’s. They greet him with a bow, but Genichiro ignores them, striding over to the staircase and climbing up them slowly. 

“Grandfather,” Genichiro meets with Isshin, slowly walking before the sickly elder. The patriarch is a shadow of his former self. Thin, almost skeletal, with grey-white hair and sickly, pallid complexion. He was Genichiro’s idol, and everyone under the service of the Ashina worshipped him. He was the man who established the clan and they were at their prime.

And now, only after twenty years, the clan is on the brink of destruction.

Genichiro lowers himself and sits before the leader of the clan. He brings out a bottle of Ashina sake. They used to do this once in a while, but it has been years since he did so, ever since the threat of the Interior Ministry came to be. How long has it been since he spoke to his grandfather like this?

All this while, Isshin watches him wordlessly, studying his every move. Genichiro pours him a cup and sets the bottle down. He offers the cup to Isshin.

“What is this? A change of heart?” Isshin scoffs at his grandson. Nonetheless, he takes the offered cup and downs it. His eyes remain fixed on Genichiro, suspicion and a tinge of disappointment in his eyes. He knows what his grandfather wants. He wants things to go naturally. If Ashina were to fall from war so be it. 

He was a warmonger in his younger days, but he’d changed as he got older and was afflicted by this illness. Perhaps it is due to the whims of those nearing the end of their lives, but Genichiro cannot go with his grandfather’s wishes. He can’t let Ashina be destroyed like this. Even if he went against his grandfather’s warnings to keep away from the monks, to not get involved with the Rejuvenating Waters and yet he still did. 

Genichiro has always seen it, the look of contempt and disappointment once he found out that Genichiro had fraternized with Senpou Temple. Expected it. It had begun when he was younger, when he chose to chase after the heretical combat arts outside of Ashina’s ways. All for power. All to protect what is most important.

Genichiro doesn’t understand how his Grandfather cannot fathom his need for power. Instead he is only subjected with the pressures to lead the clan to glory in his place without relying on any other sources. How can they survive without the help? Isshin never confronted about it, only looks of discontent and regret, perhaps even shame.

And it still hurts Genichiro, no matter how many lives he goes through. He tries not to be affected by it.

“So? What is it that you want?” Isshin asks again when Genichiro has yet to respond.

“I drank the Rejuvenating Sediment,” Genichiro states. He sees the displeasure on the elder’s face. He presses on, “It granted me resurrection by repeating my life over and over again. I have died many times, but no matter what I do, Ashina still cannot be saved.”

This stuns the patriarch, whose eyes widen as he observes his grandson. Genichiro is not one to joke, nor is it the time. It is unlikely that he would have any other motive. Even if he does, why come up with such an odd and ludicrous tale? He stares back at the younger man’s stern face. There are many strange things in this world, from the Divine Dragon’s waters to the existence of headless corrupted spirits. Would it really be strange for something like this to occur? And to his grandson, no less.

Isshin Ashina laughs, finding it particularly amusing for some reason. The young boy who was no more than his illegitimate grandson, the boy who desperately trained and fought back, chasing lightning ghosts in search of power, is now a subject of the gods’ strange pranks.

For the first time in a while, Isshin sees the confused look on Genichiro’s face that reminds him of  his grandson in his youth. That is essentially what Genichiro is - confused and lost, needing guidance to return to the right path. Perhaps this is the gods’ way of teaching him, albeit with such torment. He pities the boy, truly, he does.

“Is that so,” Isshin sighs. “You have gone through many deaths, repeating your mistakes. What is it that you want from me then? I don’t have the answers for you because I am not the one who made those choices that kept you trapped in the loop.”

Genichiro winces at the harsh truth but accepts it. “I would like Grandfather’s advice and opinions on it,” Genichiro  replies, his hands on his lap clenching into fists.

Isshin almost admonishes the young man for finally choosing to hear him out but holds his tongue. The haggard look on Genichiro is pronounced, the weight upon his shoulders almost a physical, tangible thing. He knows why Genichiro chose this path, and admittedly, it is hard for someone not himself to understand why he wouldn’t mind the fall of his own clan. Isshin pours himself another cup of sake and takes a slow sip of the wine.

“Perhaps you should look at what point in these lives you’ve been repeating that does not change, that leads to your deaths,” Isshin suggests. “Did you make a certain choice? Could it be tied to a particular person? You do know that immortality is an unnatural thing, frowned upon by the divines. Those degenerate monks - they may have found a way to live longer, but aren’t they suffering? If you are indeed reliving your life repeatedly from a certain moment, I would say that some deity is favouring you.”

“Favouring me? By tormenting me with my failures?” Genichiro snarls, his fists trembling in anger. “The divines help no one. No prayer can save Ashina from destruction. We have to fight by ourselves.”

“One first has to help themselves, indeed,” Isshin agrees, unaffected by his grandson’s temper. “Have you considered that this may be a way for you to make amends? To keep repeating until perhaps, you succeed at what you’ve been trying to achieve?”

The general does not reply to that, a loss for words. Isshin continues, “If what you have been doing doesn’t work, then perhaps you should do the opposite.”

Genichiro is still quick to anger, defensive even when he’s the one who asked for advice. He refutes, raising his voice at Isshin, “The opposite of what I’ve been doing means to not fight, and how can Ashina be saved if - “ he suddenly stops mid-sentence, as if he’s realised something. “I do not fight… him…?” 

Him ? Isshin wonders while he continues to sip on the wine. He eyes the younger man curiously. Could he be talking about that stray Wolf? That would be interesting...

Genichiro stares at the floor, lost in thought. His fists are still clenched and his lips still pressed tight, his mind thinking loudly.

“I.. understand,” he finally says after a moment’s pause. He gazes back at his grandfather and bows. “I am grateful for your guidance, Grandfather. And… I apologise. For all this time.”

Without another word and look, Genichiro raises to his feet and leaves Isshin’s room, walking off with a direction in mind.

Isshin watches his grandson leave, still interested. The apology was sudden, but something about it was heartfelt. It leaves a smile on the elder’s face as the sake warms his chest.

“Foolish grandchild.”

Chapter Text

Genichiro doesn’t wish to act rashly. His grandfather may have sparked some ideas for him, but Genichiro doesn’t truly believe in the gods, even when he’s been thrown into this loop. A part of him is still angry, frustrated that he’s been subjected to this torment, but he doesn’t want to ponder on it any longer. He goes to seek out Doujun in the dungeons, for his counsel.

He walks past the Memorial Mob who has taken the space by the entrance, ignoring the man’s presence. He’s allowed the peddler to set up there out of courtesy for the dead - Genichiro knows full well what goes on in the dungeon, he is partially responsible after all.

But something tells him to stop, and the general steps back and approaches the merchant under the tent. 

“Care to purchase an offering?” the emaciated old man asks, his voice deep. When the vendor peers from under his tent, his eyes widen at the sight of the general. “Ah, the lord - “

Genichiro regards the vendor, “How long will you stay here?”

The Mob seems bothered that the lord of the castle is speaking to him, but nonetheless he responds, “Where you find the departed, you will find us, the Memorial Mob. Until there are none, we will exist. And in this Dungeon… I am sure you know that there are many, and there will continue to be so while that man is there…”

Of course, the poke at Genichiro’s involvement does not go unnoticed. The vendor is merely speaking the truth. Offerings to the dead are a courtesy, a last gift to those who have passed a pitiful death. Genichiro wonders if anyone will send him an offering when he dies. If he ever manages to escape this loop.

As if reading his thoughts, the old merchant adds, “We, the impure, cannot turn a blind eye to anyone… even for those who have blood on their hands and are no strangers to cruelty…” his eyes land on Genichiro, “We will provide offerings.”

The general narrows his eyes at the merchant but turns to leave without response.

The man he seeks is by his personal quarters as usual. The moans of the discarded experiments around them sound louder this time, but Genichiro brushes them off. He walks towards Doujun who bows to him in greeting, appearing slightly nervous.

“My lord, we have been awaiting your return. After conducting more trials for research as you’ve commanded, I’m afraid I have no new findings to report.”

“Of the worms?” Genichiro asks, and gets a nod in response. The general thinks over it, of what his grandfather and the memorial merchant has said. “Then, as a physician and a former monk, what do you make of this loop I am experiencing?”

The surgeon freezes, appearing hesitant to voice his thoughts, but since he is asked by the lord himself, he speaks his mind.

“It is… Well, I admit there is some difficulty in expressing my notions in the matter of your case, my lord. I do not mean this but in mere ignorance, but I found what you spoke of unfathomable. However, discovering old documentations and the many trials regarding The Rejuvenating Waters, there is still much to learn for us to grasp even a strand of the potential it possesses. Even the master has never shown so much enthusiasm, perhaps myself as well! Just imagine the unknown number of souls who may have experienced this very same experience...” Doujun rattles off with new found excitement. Seemingly catching himself, he pauses and clears his throat. “...But, as a former monk, our teachings do not bode well in the topic of rebirth. In… Senpou monastery, there is one thing that we always held dear to Buddha that you may find relevance in, ‘True religion shows man how and not what to think, therefore, man must learn to ask great questions than to seek great answers.”

Doujun continues, seeing that the general is listening attentively despite his usual scowl. It is an uncommon thing; the man is often in a rush and does not humour him in his discussions. “Your resurrection places you in Karma’s judgement as you reopen death’s gates. What you become in this life will be emitted back to you within the next. Every cycle you experience is merely a fragmentation to your former existences.”

“Explain simply, doctor,” Genichiro finally interrupts.

“Yes -” Doujun says apologetically. He takes a moment to string together a simpler explanation. “Simply put, I fear continuing down this spiral may lead you to a fate worse than a proper infinite death. I forewarn you, my lord, Karma will not take kindly when its generosity begins to wane.”

Genichiro feels his jaw clench. The warning is… noted. He knows of a fate worse than death. He is experiencing it right now. But can there be something else worse waiting for him if he continues this cycle? Is there even an end to this? What if he is made to repeat this loop eternally? Were his deaths truly deaths that makes his soul a departed one? What will become of him if he were to go through more of this? Genichiro can barely stomach the thought. 

He dismisses the surgeon as he turns to leave. 

After dying so many times he thinks he feels desensitized, but there is still the hope and possibility that the life he is living might be the last. And that scares him. To be reduced to nothingness with the risk of Ashina being left with no one to protect her. His failures continue to haunt him and Genichiro is still desperate to succeed in saving Ashina. The exhaustion and emptiness he feels have begun to replace the burning anger that had spurred him earlier. His hate and recklessness had caused him to throw himself into death, fighting the Wolf and disregarding his own life, just to enact revenge on him. 

Have those actions done irreparable damage to himself? Will that hole in his soul expand and gnaw at him? Perhaps that is what the surgeon means.

Genichiro leaves the dungeon in deep thought. Grandfather had told him to watch his deeds, to do the opposite of what he’s done. The Memorial Mob spoke of consoling and honouring the departed. The surgeon had warned him of the negative effects.

The general closes his eyes, wishing he could sleep the headache off, but it is a desire he knows he cannot carry out. The thought of ending it all remans, but he knows he can’t, he shouldn’t. He looks up to the Ashina castle and finds his mind wandering to the Wolf and the Divine Heir.

If he wants to change fate, then he should do something about it.

---------

The Wolf returns to his master’s room below the castle lookout. He presents the Crimson Mortal Blade to the Divine Heir.

“Lord Kuro,” the shinobi kneels before the young boy.

“That blade on your back…” the Divine Heir’s eyes stare at the blade in awe. Both of them can sense the power within the sword.

“The Divine Child of the Rejuvenating Waters at the Inner Sanctum within Senpou Temple was holding on to it before she passed it to me,” Wolf explains. He then passes his master a bag of rice that he’d promised to deliver on behalf of the Divine Child.

“Ah, is that so? Thank you…” the Divine Heir accepts the gift. “I shall make something for you with this then.”

Wolf does not respond. He feels rather guilty for his near betrayal before when the Lord General had spoken to him. For some reason, there something very familiar about the man. Not to mention that he feels a strange difference in Lord Genichiro. The way he spoke and carried himself lost the haughty pride he bore in all the times they’ve met before. The defeated look in his eyes had disturbed the shinobi, especially since he is sure he’s seen that look before numerous times.

The shinobi finds himself lost in thought, recalling eyes that burn red, the sneer of desperate man and the vow of revenge. He remembers the clash of their swords from their duel in the silvergrass fields, but he knows they’ve gone against each other beyond that encounter. Again and again, they’ve battled, but it’s like a distant memory Wolf cannot get a hold of, almost as if they were just dreams.

“Wolf? Are you alright?” his young Lord asks, his expression showing concern. It snaps Wolf out of his daze, nodding immediately.

“...It’s nothing,” Wolf replies simply, but it does not clear the worried look on the boy’s face. “I shall go and retrieve the other two ingredients - “

Wolf suddenly whirls around with his hand on Kusabimaru. The presence he’d sensed turns out to be the man he was thinking of.

“Lord Genichiro?” the Divine Heir remains standing where he is. He does not retreat. 

The general acknowledges the hostile wariness Wolf is displaying, but does not reciprocate. He merely shakes his head, hands remaining still by his side. “Whatever you are planning, I would like to offer my assistance.”

Wolf grips the handle to his katana, his suspicion rising. What can the general be planning? He feels his master hold his arm to stop him.

“Why would you offer us help after telling us to leave, Lord Genichiro?” Lord Kuro asks. His voice is measured, still dignified and showing no sign of fear or anxiety.

“A deal,” the Lord General offers. “The Interior Ministry is expected to arrive this evening. I ask for the Wolf - the Shinobi of the Divine Heir to aid me in battle.”

Before the Divine Heir can respond, the man continues, “Only for a short while. Clear out the enemies within the castle grounds and you may go. I will not stop you, I only ask for you to lend us your power momentarily.” 

Wolf loosens his hold on his weapon. The man’s request for assistance is… unexpected. He shows no killing or hostile intent, and seemingly genuine. He turns to his young master who appears unsure. The boy looks up to him, brows furrowed.

“I will do as you say, Lord Kuro,” the Wolf tells him. He is a shinobi, not an advisor. The boy knows that. He will protect the boy, but it is not his place to make decisions. The Divine Heir stares at the Lord General, silently assessing him. Wolf himself is sure that his master would have noticed the apparent change in the other man. Even when Wolf had spoken to Emma earlier, she had expressed her concern on his change in demeanour. Could the man really have had a change of heart?

“You do not even know of the task that we wish to carry out. Yet you’re already offering to help us?” Lord Kuro asks.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as your task does not involve killing me,” the general replies nonchalantly. His absolute disregard is a little concerning, but his answer has the young master thinking again. 

“Lord Genichiro. I would need your sworn word that you will not hunt us or ask me to bring you under my oath to use the power of the Dragon’s Heritage again,” the Divine Heir answers.The large man stares back at the young master while Wolf watches. But the man’s expression remains unchanged.

Finally he nods. “I swear on Ashina’s soil, that I will not hunt you down and will no longer ask for the Dragon’s Heritage. As I have offered, I will aid you in your task,” the general replies.

“Then, I accept your deal,” Lord Kuro nods. He turns to Wolf. “I’m sorry, Wolf, but I think with Lord Genichiro’s aid, we might be able to finish our goal faster. And if you were to aid Lord Genichiro, then it might help clear our path to escape.”

“I understand, my lord,” the Wolf agrees easily. He had expected as much. His eyes look back at the general. The sense of familiarity is still there, but the man shows no indication of the same towards him. In fact, it feels like he’s avoiding his gaze, which bothers him more than he thought it would.

“Then, what is this task you wish to accomplish?”

Wolf answers this time, gauging the man’s reaction to the answer, “We are to sever Immortality.” 

The tall man blinks and his eyes widen in mild surprise, but there is no other bigger expression from that. “...I see. So the Dragon Heritage is supposed to end,” he says, though he seems to be muttering to himself.

“Regardless, I offered my aid. I will follow through,” Lord Genichiro tells them.

They first discuss their plan of journey. From the books that the Divine Heir found in the library, there is a need to get the Shelter Stone and the Lotus of the Palace. With the clues provided, they are most likely hidden in different parts of the Ashina Depths. They soon head off for the first ingredient - the Lotus of the Palace - a rare, almost mystical flower that only grows deep in the Sunken Valley.

Genichiro has not traversed that far into the Depths despite his years as an Ashina native, but he is quite familiar with the nearby terrain. He knows of the Secret Gun Fort where the old god worshippers reside and protect the area. It would be a dangerous journey, but such threats are expected.

As the duo leaves the castle and head over for the Sunken Valley, the general is the first to break the heavy silence between them.

“Where did you obtain that Crimson Blade?” Genichiro asks. He’s searched for the Red Mortal Blade before with the aid of Doujun’s information and his connections with the Senpou monks. But he had failed the trial and was unable to get past the Hall of Illusions much to his frustration, and could only return empty-handed. He remembers feeling frustration every time he recalls the memory, but this time, he only feels a distant dull ache.

The shinobi takes some time before he replies hesitantly. “The Inner Sanctum. Guarded by the Divine Child.”

“Divine Child?” Genichiro repeats. He’s heard of the Children used for experimentation in creating the Waters. He doesn’t dwell much on it. He knows of the many sins and blood that’s been spilled and his hands have been dipped in for the search of power and immortality. 

“I see. So they were the one to guard the Mortal Blade.” He thinks of his own Black Mortal Blade as he eyes the Crimson sheath strapped to the Wolf’s back. Its power is undeniable, and it’s even more powerful than the Black Blade in the Ashina’s possession. Genichiro feels a tinge of envy. He ignores it. 

They head towards the Hidden Gun Fort that lies within the Sunken Valley.

Chapter Text

They make their way down the Sunken Valley, running into the Gunners that guard the area. With the Wolf’s skills and prosthetic tools, the battle is much easier than expected. His agility is commendable, and it’s the first time Genichiro has seen the shinobi fight from an outsider’s point of view. There is something breathtaking in the way the Wolf moves that is reminiscent of the Lady Butterfly and the Great Shinobi. It is clear that he’s taken in their teachings well.

Genichiro keeps his mind on the task. He may not be as nimble as the shinobi, but he knows how to use his sword. He cuts down the gunmen and parries the shots they fire. Their weapons are powerful for isolated warriors so detached from the rest of the world. He’s fortunate enough that they are slow, allowing both of them to move in and attack before they can.

They reach a valley opposite the Gun Fort. The cliff edge is daunting for one not used to such heights. Genichiro wonders how these people traverse such areas. The shinobi comes up beside him.

“Any ideas on how to cross?” Genichiro asks. He lacks the tools the shinobi has. The Wolf doesn’t answer, looking over Genichiro instead.

“Hold on to me,” the smaller man says.

“What?”

Genichiro doesn’t get to answer. He feels an arm wrap around his waist and is dragged past the edge. Genichiro gasps at the pull of gravity, more surprised that the shinobi can even carry his weight. He hears the zip of the shinobi’s grappling rope as it’s shot and latched to the rock ledge across them. He holds onto Wolf by grabbing the top of the shinobi’s haori, more nervous that he’d actually tear the fabric, not at all feeling secure. But somehow they successfully swing across and Wolf even uses the momentum to release and grapple on another surface to swing onto another. They reach the next rock platform, landing on their feet. Wolf releases his hold on the general.

“You could have warned me first,” Genichiro grumbles, dusting himself off. He’s not afraid of heights, but it was his first time being swung across at such a height, giving him a bit of vertigo.

The Wolf shrugs and brings out a monocular to scout the area forward. There’s a long bridge before them that leads to the Gun Fort. He spies a formidable enemy awaiting them by the start of the bridge and conveys their presence to Genichiro, describing the weapon they have on them.

“That one seems strong, but we’ll be in the range of the gunners across. Can you bait them to this side?” Genichiro asks, assuming the lead naturally. Wolf nods and does so, immediately advancing forward and following Genichiro’s suggestions faithfully. The Gunner turns out to be a female warrior, highly skilled in using her unique weapon that blasts powerful shots. Her tactics are clever, stunning one with a buckshot before pulling them in with her weapon and delivering a killing blow. 

If Genichiro were to fight her alone, he would have some trouble, but the shinobi is there with him. With their combined strengths the gunner is defeated faster than expected. Wolf distracts while Genichiro strikes. Their integrated attacks work well together. Genichiro is unsure how to feel about it and neither of them makes a comment.

They proceed to dash across the bridge, dodging the incoming gunfire from the guards. They stick close to the walls and sneak their way up, each of them separating to take out the gunmen before entering the Fort.

The grotesque creature that awaits them in the temple is killed with similar ease. Its speed and long claws are predictable and easy to deflect. Genichiro and Wolf throttle the abomination until it collapses to the old wooden floors unmoving. Truly, with both their swords nothing seems to be capable of standing in their way. Genichiro glances at the Buddha statue while the shinobi unlocks the door with the Gun Fort key given by the Divine Heir. The presence of the temple bothers him a little. 

The door leads to another valley. Instead of the snow and chilly winds on their way here, this side of the valley is calmer, even warm and humid. Genichiro makes for the bridge but the shinobi stops him.

“Wait, there’s…” the Wolf grabs the general by the arm. “There’s something here.”

Genichiro looks around. He does sense something, but he’s not sure what it is. There is a rather sinister sound that can be heard like a distant echo in the air. “We will kill it,” Genichiro says simply but is faced with the shinobi’s worried frown instead. Despite that, the Wolf nods cautiously, and both of them begin to cross the bridge.

As expected, the danger lunges at them, but of all things, Genichiro did not expect it to be the Great Serpent itself. The shinobi pulls him out of the way of its open jaws and Genichiro feels some annoyance at being dragged around like deadweight. But he doesn’t get the chance to chide the other, as the bridge collapses and they plunge into the waters below, much to their luck.

Genichiro gulps in air and liquid as his body hits the water. His armour is heavy enough to drag him down to the bottom, but he musters enough strength and calm to swim back up to the surface. Genichiro wipes the water from his face only to see the Great Serpent slithering down the valley after them. He quickly sinks back down into the water to escape the Serpent’s sights, forcing his eyes open underwater and spots the shinobi swimming by the tall weeds. The Wolf signals him over; it’s a good place to hide from the Serpent in the meantime.

Obviously it would be suicide to fight against the Serpent, much to Genichiro’s chagrin, but they manage to swim out of the Serpent’s line of sight to sneak away into the nearby cavern. Both men shake the water off themselves, with Genichiro pulling off his helmet and parts of his armour. They’re heavy and soggy with water and Genichiro is tired enough to be rather irritable with the cumbersome clothing.

The Wolf watches him as he wrings out water from the hem of his haori.

“What,” Genichiro asks flatly, meeting the other’s eyes.

“Are we not going to talk about it?” the shinobi asks. Genichiro fixes his sword and sash before facing Wolf. “That I seem to know you and it felt like… I have fought you many times before. Like a dream.”

Genichiro stares at the man. There is still that lingering feeling of hate that burns in his chest, but he feels hollow and tired out, like someone’s dug out all the coal and left only dying embers. 

“It is just that, a dream,” Genichiro replies disinterestedly. He discards most of his bulky armour only to leave the kimono and chainmail underneath. It’s lighter and easier for him to move now. It should be much easier for him to keep up with the shinobi’s speed.

“There is something different about you,” the Wolf persists, ignoring Genichiro’s subtle attempts to change the subject. “You feel… aged. And the way you address things around you is of one who’s resigned to death.”

“War does that to everyone,” Genichiro replies, trying not to gnash his teeth.

“No. The Lord Genichiro I know is loyal to Ashina. He would do anything to protect her,” Wolf says.

Fury suddenly flashes through him upon hearing those words and Genichiro feels his body move on its own. He grabs the Wolf by the neck and the front of his robes and slams him into the nearest wall. His height and bulk easily lifts the smaller man off his feet. The shinobi chokes and coughs, taken by surprise. 

“Who are you to say that?!” Genichiro snarls. “You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through, the number of times I - “ Genichiro holds his tongue, clenches his teeth together. He breathes in heavily. Something dark and familiar rises within the general as he glares into the Shinobi of the Divine Heir’s face, sees his hand wrap so easily around that small, fragile throat. 

He can just crush his neck and it’ll be done. He can just return to the Divine Heir and  force the boy to give up the power to him. Use it and he can save Ashina. He slowly tightens his grip. The Wolf begins to struggle. 

“Red Eyes,” he chokes out, looking into Genichiro’s eyes. It snaps something in the general, who blinks and regains his thoughts. Red Eyes. A curse. Another sign of karma, and his possible future. If the Wolf were to die now, and Genichiro were to die again, how would this affect him? He thinks of the walking corpses wandering aimlessly in the Abandoned Dungeon. Would that be his fate? He won’t be surprised if he ends up being another of the deranged doctor’s subjects.

He releases his hold on the Wolf who drops to his feet and doubles over, coughing.

“...We should not waste any more time,” Genichiro tells the shinobi as he walks past. This time, the Wolf does not answer.

---------

They watch the Great White Ape sitting by the entrance of an alcove. From the height they are standing at, they can see a giant sword embedded in its neck. It is a wonder that the ape is not dead.

The shallow pool that the Ape is in gives off a strange aura. Genichiro looks up at the sky in the direction of the pool’s waterfall and finds himself wondering of the water’s source. The Ape’s presence is as odd. The way it sits in front of the mouth of the cavern suggests that it is waiting, maybe even guarding it. Its home, perhaps?

But the Lotus of the Palace they are looking for should be in this vicinity. With the strange emanation from the waters and the Ape hanging around, it is highly possible that such a valuable and rare flower may be under the Ape’s guard.

“We might need to fight that Ape,” Genichiro informs the Wolf. The shinobi sets his prosthetic to a different tool. Wolf nods and draws his blade. “The usual. You bait, I’ll attack.”

They jump into the Ape’s den. The Ape senses their presence and turns around to roar its disapproval at them. It’s a terrifying sound, but having met several deaths, Genichiro is less affected. He runs in and slices at the Ape’s legs, dodging and rolling away from its vicious stomps and slams. He watches as the Wolf throws oil bottles at the creature and sends fire blazing its way from his prosthetic. They both take advantage of the Ape’s panicked state as its fur catches fire. It gives them several precious seconds to continuously attack without interruption.

But the Ape is powerful and the range of its flailing arms is wide. One of its thrashing limbs slam into the Wolf, sending him flying several distances away. Genichiro is momentarily distracted as he concerns himself with the shinobi’s state, becoming the next target of the Ape. Realising he’s caught the Ape’s ire, Genichiro runs through the gap between its legs, narrowly missing another of its attacks and fires several arrows to its back.

The Wolf returns to the fray looking worse for wear. It looks like he’s been heavily injured. Genichiro keeps his distance and fires several more arrows, but the damage is insignificant, and the Ape easily slaps the projectiles away. It only serves to enrage the Ape as it roars once more and stuns them both with the deafening sound. 

Genichiro watches as the Ape lunges towards Wolf; his small body is crushed under its weight and Genichiro feels a sinking feeling in his chest. That is when the Ape turns to him again, charging towards him with the intent to crush the remaining intruder of its den. The general tries not to panic. He rolls out of the way and tries to keep his distance to think up of a better tactic. In the corner of his eye he catches the pink glow of resurrection and relief floods his body.

He’d nearly forgotten about the Wolf’s blessing of the Dragon’s Heritage. A blessing that he needs.

“Wolf!” Genichiro calls. “Try to stun it again and I’ll attempt another arrow to its head!”

Wolf who just got back to his feet, shakes off his fatigue and looks to Genichiro, he nods in acknowledgement and immediately sets off to do as Genichiro suggests. That part of the shinobi is what’s admirable, Genichiro supposes. That the man is reliable and can be counted on in times of desperation like this. Truly a shame that he did not have a shinobi such as him under his service, Genichiro laments.

Genichiro draws an arrow as Wolf goes up to the Great Ape. He blocks some of its attacks before he throws out firecrackers to scare the beast. It works, and it’s enough to make the creature stumble back, but it’s still moving too much for Genichiro to get a good shot. He breathes in and aims. The Wolf fixes his eyes on Genichiro’s form.

He fires the arrow.

It lodges itself in the Ape’s eye. It’s a good shot, but it isn’t enough. At the very least, it slows the Ape down. However, they didn’t think to include the chance that it sends the Ape into a feral rage. It flails and thrashes harder, its roars are fiercer and more deafening, and its charging attack is unstoppable. It charges towards the Wolf after the shinobi had been stunned once again with another of its  attacks. Genichiro rushes over to him - fortunately the distance between them is shorter than the distance to the Ape - Genichiro grabs and throws the smaller man out of the Ape’s path, hearing the startled grunt from him. Perhaps he could have picked the man and run off the charge path, but Genichiro hadn’t been thinking.

He needs the other man alive, but he hadn’t thought about his own predicament. Genichiro tries to hold off the maddened beast and attempts to get out of the way too, but the divines simply show him no favours. The Ape’s long reach traps Genichiro in one of its powerful hands, picking him up like he’s nothing but a twig.

“Lord Genichiro!” the Wolf calls out. There’s fear and concern in his voice. Genichiro struggles to escape but he knows it’s no use. He looks over to the shinobi who stares back, frozen in place. The worry in the man’s eyes is sincere. Genichiro wonders if the shinobi had always been such a kind man to be concerned over the man who has been chasing for his death. But then again, he could ask the same of himself. Why did Genichiro go out of his way to save the Wolf?

Genichiro doesn’t get to think of a possible answer. He feels his spine snap under the grip of the Guardian Ape.

Chapter Text

Genichiro is woken up by a masked man. What was his name again?

Ah, Doujun… the… surgeon.

He blinks slowly and feels lethargic. The masked man looks over him and Genichiro thinks he sees his brows furrow.

“My lord… so you live once more. I had just about to entertain the thought that you have left the realm of the living after all. I must inquire if something happened,” Doujun asks. In his hands are notes that Genichiro vaguely remembers having ordered the other to scribe down and discuss with him.

“Something?” He looks to Doujun but doesn’t answer. He pushes himself up to sit. He feels a little slow, like his muscles are covered in sludge, and it’s the same for his mind. Thoughts entering and going his mind at a languid pace. He thinks on it before he remembers. He was killed by the Guardian Ape.

Indeed, a Guardian Ape does reside and protect the area where the Waters of the Fountainhead Palace flows into. Doujun confirms that if a Lotus of the Palace were to grow, it would be in that area. That’s good, Genichiro thinks. He’ll just have to retrace his steps and return to that point. He has to be careful not to get himself killed.

Doujun is still standing by him. The surgeon seems both concerned and anxious. “What is it?” Genichiro asks. He feels more like himself after sitting there for some time, but it feels as if there’s still parts of himself missing. He feels a little hollow.

“My lord, I notice that you appear… different from our usual encounters. For instance, based on our documentation, you are to revive within minutes upon consuming the Sediment. However an hour had passed before you even showed signs of life,” Doujun pauses momentarily to write something before he continues his analysis of the general. “To put it simply, my lord, you are more or less experiencing a severe state of lethargy. I shall ask once more - the answer you provide is crucial for our research. My lord, did you drastically change your actions in your previous life?”

“....” Genichiro stares at the wall, deep in thought. He wonders if these strange feelings, these detached sensations are an effect of Karma. The words Doujun told him of rebirth and karma previously return to linger in his mind. Genichiro looks out of Doujun’s cell where the undying subjects trudge and roam aimlessly, letting out agonised moans.

“Lord Genichiro...?” Doujun calls again. His usual mild mannerisms seem to prickle with a sharp edge and urgency.

“What happens if Karma is to take all of me? I am beginning to lose feeling, lose parts of my memories,” Genichiro admits. He keeps his eyes on the zombified subjects outside. “Will I become like them?”

He doesn’t receive an immediate response, but Doujun eventually says, “I’m afraid I do not have the answer for that, my lord. Karma tends to wane after some time due to where the deities believe which gate you must go through to experience a glimpse towards enlightenment. As an example - imagine Karma condemned a human to be reborn as a locust. These insects do not have a significant lifespan, let alone retain a human’s mental process. Therefore, after a while in this stagnated state of rebirth without the ability to process one’s thoughts, the person’s negative influence that condemned them will begin to diminish.

“A few cycles of rebirth later, and you may be granted the chance to be reborn as a human. That opportunity may be final, hence the ideal itself is a double-edged sword…” The surgeon pauses, his eyes crinkling ever slightly, suggesting a smile behind the mask as he adds with a much deeper tone, “Becoming one these husks.. Well, it certainly wouldn’t be implausible either, Lord general.”

Genichiro looks at the surgeon. He knows of this man’s changing personalities. Opposing actions, tone, even thinking. As if there are two different people in that body. So far, the man has not caused any trouble. He’s done as he’s tasked and delivered at a satisfactory level. Genichiro owes him a lot for the findings he’d brought on the Rejuvenating Waters, even created the Sediment for him. 

He is not so sure now, but that change in tone sounded rather… ominous. Almost threatening, even. Would he end up becoming the surgeon’s subject if he isn’t careful? Genichiro doesn’t reply. Instead, he changes the subject.

“Then, do you know why is it that you and a select few are able to remember some events of previous lives when I am the one who goes through them?” the general asks.

“Ah, so there are more enduring the same looping fate? Fascinating!” Doujun eagerly scribbles something down on his notes. Somehow, Genichiro can almost hear the man smiling behind the mask as he jots down his notation. Once he’s done the man’s  eyes slowly raises to meet Genichiro’s in feigned ignorance, his silver eyes gleaming with something disturbing. “Might I ask who these individuals are?”

“No,” Genichiro says promptly, turning away from the surgeon, suddenly feeling uncomfortable in the man’s presence. “I will only tell you that they are - influential, in terms of my fate. Their existence affects my path.”

Doujun’s eyes linger on the general for a moment before he looks down to shuffle through the parchments in his hands. “There are many theories that I can suggest, even though my resources are limited. It is possible our continuous contact through each life is influencing some sort of memory overlap. This includes your unintentional manipulation of my recollection across your different lifetimes.”

“Another possibility...Though not as likely, my constant contact with the Rejuvenating Waters could have affected me somehow. While I may not have consumed it myself, my contact with the Waters could have affected me in some manner.  Do you know if that person who seems to remember may have consumed the Waters? Or maybe even, have the blessings of the Dragon’s Heritage?”

The Divine Dragon’s Heritage, of course. To have the blood of a Divine being flowing through one’s veins - that would definitely play a part. That means the Wolf and the Divine Heir may remember, but the boy had still appeared to be on guard around him. Maybe the proximity played a part as well? Only the divines know.

Genichiro dismisses the surgeon and returns to retrace his steps from the previous life. 

-------

They return to the Hidden Gun Fort in the Sunken Valley. They’ve managed to escape the Great Serpent once again and are heading towards the watering hole where the Guardian Ape awaits. 

When Wolf saw Lord Genichiro again, something hit him hard, and strange memories filled his mind. His thoughts were flooded with scenes where they fought repeatedly, clashing swords and ending with the other’s defeat each time. They showed scenes of brief conversations and the strange looks from the general vary from deep-rooted hatred to resignation.

But the freshest memory he has is of them in this very same Valley. They were fighting the Guardian Ape and - Lord Genichiro had died. He remembers seeing his limp body in the Ape’s hold. How it hung grotesque and lifelessly before the Ape tossed it away. But Wolf doesn’t remember what happened after. The only memories he seem to remember are those that involved the lord general. He had seen the man dead before, most of them by his own hands, but that memory was most vivid, and something had come over him upon seeing the man killed by the beast.

He’d walked up towards the larger man when he arrived at the castle lookout after he’d recovered from the memory flash. The general had looked surprised when Wolf did not draw his sword, but instead approached and stared him down instead. Recognition and realisation settled in the other’s eyes.

“You… remember,” was what Lord Genichiro had said. Wolf stared back at him, so many questions in his mind having seen the man alive again. Is this what has been happening? A repeat of events, with the man before him dying over and over again? Is that why that when he saw the general’s lifeless body, the feeling of pity, helplessness and sorrow came up in him? 

The Wolf does not pity the dead. He holds no emotion for his enemies. Lord Genichiro was - is? - considered an enemy for taking away his young master, but in his memories, the man had changed, and chose to help instead. He remembers the man throwing him off the path of the Guardian Ape. Wolf remembers watching the general fight, too, in their journey through the valleys. Their styles and speed matched and they worked together easily. It felt like they knew and understood each other better than anyone else, just by speaking through their swords.

The shinobi watches Lord Genichiro kick away the body of the bandaged abomination in the Gun Fort temple. Can he consider the man as an ally now? Or is it too soon? Wolf holds mixed emotions. The man looks back and wordlessly nods at the Wolf to unlock the door with the key given to him by the Divine Heir.

“A Great Serpent will ambush us,” Genichiro warns him as they push the door open to the Valley. Wolf nods. Yes, he remembers that too. But Genichiro had not spoken to him more about it. On the contrary, the man looks rather distracted and out of sorts, as if his mind is constantly somewhere else. Wolf can’t comment on it; he doesn’t know what the man has gone through, but recalls his sudden outburst in the cave once they got out of the water from escaping the serpent. He shakes himself out of his own thoughts.

Having no other path to take, they cross the bridge and brace themselves for the Serpent.

Better prepared this time, Wolf uses his grappling rope and grabs the other man before they hit the water. Using their weight, they swing across over the water body, dropping themselves on dry land. But that means they are in the sight of the Great Serpent and no longer hidden in the water. The giant snake slithers over the water surface to lunge towards them.

“Hurry!” Genichiro barks as both of them rush for cover towards the nearby cave. The Serpent’s head crashes into the boulder behind them, taking some time to recover as it pulls back its head and searches for them again. It hisses and the duo senses its next attack. They manage to jump out of the way as the Great Serpent fail to squeeze itself into the cavern, keeping the two men out of its reach.

The narrow escape has both of them leaning against the cave wall to rest and recover. Genichiro drops off his helmet and parts of his gear, the same action he’d done from what Wolf remembers. The shinobi watches as the lord general removes more of the bulkier armour, finally noticing the burn marks that start from the back of his hand, and the hint of it peeking out from his collar.

“What is it?” the lord asks. Wolf looks away without response. They are out of danger for now and they are to confront the Guardian Ape once more. They continue their journey in silence again, neither of them still very comfortable with each other, nor do they know how to approach this strange situation they have found themselves in.

One of them is a man cursed to repeat his life over and over upon death, while the other both informed and ignorant of the entire thing. Wolf wants to know of course, especially since he seems to be involved in it one way or another. Why is it that he seems to be the only one who clearly remembers Genichiro? His young master seems to have some memory, but as spoken in secret with the boy, Lord Kuro does not possess such vivid recollections of the general, aside from vague visions and sensing something different in the man.

As they head over to the watering hole, the tension between them rises. Both of them know of Genichiro’s fate previously, yet when the Wolf observes the general, he looks calm and unafraid. It felt as if the shinobi is the one more anxious for the battle even though he possesses the power of resurrection.

“Are you not afraid?” Wolf finds himself asking. The question had been at the tip of his tongue the entire journey. But it is a foolish question; warriors of the sword shouldn’t be afraid of death. But to die again and again, only to fail. Wolf wonders how the other has not gone mad. Perhaps he has. Is that why his expression appears of one who is broken?

Genichiro’s hard eyes gaze back at Wolf, his brows furrowed in his usual expression of a scowl. “Of course I am afraid. That is why I must not fail.”

“Then why did you save me previously?” the shinobi continues. There is a thirst for answers. Wanting to know more so he can do something - aid the man in his predicament. Genichiro himself is rather perturbed by the Wolf’s question, looking uncomfortable at the demand for an answer. Wolf can tell he does not want to reply; maybe he doesn’t know what to reply with.

Wolf doesn’t press the man for it. He draws his sword and readies his shinobi prosthetic, dismissing his own question and sparing Genichiro from answering. “I will aim for that katana in its neck.”

“...Yeah.”

When Genichiro was just about to step off the edge, he feels his arm being gripped. He turns to look and sees that it’s the shinobi, who looks just as confused as he is feeling. He promptly releases him. 

“...Be careful,” Wolf mutters and jumps down into the Guardian Ape’s den. Genichiro watches the other man without a response of his own, following after him only a moment later.

The battle against the Great Ape is as excruciating as it was the previous time. Genichiro makes sure to maintain his distance from the Ape and tries to support the shinobi with his arrows as much as he can. He’s a little nervous about going in close to slice at the Ape, but Wolf already has that covered.

The shinobi is more aggressive in his attacks this time round, seemingly wanting to finish the battle as soon as possible. He makes full use of his shinobi prosthetic tools and items, while Genichiro attempts to keep the beast distracted so that it won’t charge for the other man. But it’s only a matter of time before the Guardian Ape becomes enraged. It sets off with its charging attack, and both of them run to the side to dodge it. The Ape roars and goes after the one it’s closest to - Genichiro - and the general flees with all his might.

The creature pounces towards Genichiro, its long arms just barely missing the man by a few inches. As it recovers, Genichiro stabs and cuts into the beast as long as he can to throttle its strength away before he retreats. The Ape appears quite mangled with all the damage both of them have caused, yet it remains a terrifying figure still powerful enough to crush them.

Genichiro can tell that it’s begun to slow down however, and signals to the Wolf of the opportunity. The shinobi nods and Genichiro draws his bow and arrow. They begin their deadly dance with the beast again as Genichiro fires multiple arrows at it, all of them hitting its target at the Ape’s head and neck.

Eventually, Wolf manages to grapple onto the Ape and grabs hold of the giant katana that’s embedded in its neck. With Genichiro’s arrows cutting into its flesh there, the muscles have weakened and the Wolf tugs hard, slicing the Guardian’s Ape cleanly off of its neck.

Blood spurts from the stump like a fountain as the creature drops dead. Genichiro takes that moment to catch his breath. He’s trembling a little but he shakes it off. The Wolf walks towards him.

The shinobi doesn’t ask, but it’s clear in the furrow of his brow that he is assessing Genichiro’s wounds. Genichiro’s hackles are raised. He’s uncomfortable with the concern the shinobi is showing for him. He dismisses the man’s worry with a wave of his hand.

“We should go look - “

The decapitated body of the Ape began to rise to its feet and picks up both the giant sword and its head.

“Curse the gods,” Genichiro murmurs under his breath.

Chapter Text

The second phase of the battle with the Guardian Ape nearly kills Genichiro again. The decapitated beast moves in an entirely different manner, flowy and dance-like, almost like a slithering worm. Its strange, spine-chilling scream that’s emitted from the gaping hole in the stump of its neck nearly kills both of them with Terror, but fortunately they have enough pacifying agents to keep that affliction at bay.

It’s a terrifying creature to fight against, a monster in the form of a giant, headless corpse carrying its own head and swinging a giant sword. Genichiro narrowly misses the swing of its blade and the Wolf fights back by drawing the Mortal Blade. The crimson colour of the blade is stark and beautiful against the dark greys and whites of the environment, especially as it cuts into the Guardian Ape’s white fur-covered body.

The beast twists back in retreat and lunges towards them while swinging its sword wildly. Genichiro manages to block the blade but the hit is heavy enough to throw and slam him into a wall. Wolf dodges and attacks back, but he’s distracted momentarily, seeing that the general took damage.

Wolf refocuses on the accursed beast and pulls out his spear prosthetic. After having visited Senpou Temple, he suspects something is responsible for the creature’s undying body. Genichiro recovers from the hard hit and provides the additional support with his arrows while Wolf concentrates on fishing the worm out of its host. After several swings and swipes of his spear, Wolf thrusts the weapon into the stunned, headless beast’s neck stump and pulls out the giant centipede that was residing within it.

Wolf stabs it with his Mortal Blade, effectively ending and severing the Guardian Ape’s Immortality.

“Finally,” he hears Genichiro say.

Tranquility returns to the watering hole, and both of them finally manage to catch their breath. They end up staring at each other, adrenaline still running through their veins. Wolf’s eyes catch sight of a nasty gash running across the other man’s arm. He reaches out but Genichiro jerks away.

“It’s fine. It’ll heal on its own,” the man says gruffly. The Wolf doesn’t respond, nor is he surprised by the aggressive tone and instead, hands over the gourd that he constantly keeps on his person. Genichiro has seen the shinobi use it numerous times.

The Wolf nudges it into Genichiro’s hand insistently. Genichiro reluctantly takes it; the wound is stinging, and a drink wouldn’t hurt. The man takes a quick sip from the gourd, soon realising that his body is immediately revitalized and the wound on his arm has closed over. He returns the gourd to the shinobi.

“...You have my gratitude,” Genichiro says. Wolf stares back at him silently, their eyes never leaving each other. Perhaps, the adrenaline is still there, and this strange tension is... 

Reeling his thoughts back, Genichiro is the first to break eye contact as he puts away his bow and nods his head to the direction of the cavern where the Ape was sitting in front of.

“We should investigate,” the general ends up saying. Wolf nods wordlessly, keeping whatever thoughts he had to himself.

They find the pure white flower blooming in the middle of the alcove. A lone lotus sitting by itself in the middle under the light that seeps in from the crevice of the ceiling. It’s a beautiful flower for sure, and its scent is gentle. Genichiro stands aside and lets Wolf pick the lotus. The shinobi cuts it by the stem and studies the plant. He glances over at Genichiro with a strange look, then back at the flower, before he tucks the plant away. Genichiro doesn’t ask. They have one ingredient down, and they have one more to go.

He turns back to Genichiro. “The Shelter stone. Do you know of its location…?”

Genichiro searches his memory. “The Dragon Pilgrimage… I believe we can find one in the end of the Hidden Forest, to a village in the Depths.”

Wolf nods. He gestures and lets Genichiro lead the way.

-----

They make their way to the Depths via the Abandoned Dungeon. Genichiro had wanted to avoid passing through there at the risk of meeting the surgeon. Much to his disappointment, they indeed come across the surgeon who is studiously looking over one of the zombified subjects writhing on the floor.

Their presence are acknowledged when they approach, and the surgeon looks up, silver eyes immediately landing on the general before glancing to the shinobi. Apparently, he is familiar with the Wolf too as he greets both of them,

“Well, this is certainly an interesting surprise,” the surgeon says as he stands and straightens himself. He peers curiously at them both through his mask. “I had not expected to discover that the general would be acquainted with you, dearest shinobi.” His eyes glance over at Genichiro, and for a brief moment, the man feels an icy chill at the prospect that the man knows about the shinobi’s role in Genichiro’s looping curse. He suddenly feels anxious, nervous that the surgeon has set his sights on the Wolf and entertaining the thought of making use of the smaller man.

“We thank you for your aid in procuring a decent subject for us, dear shinobi,” Doujun says to Wolf. Similarly, the Wolf appears not entirely comfortable in the other’s presence.

“We should be going,” Genichiro interrupts. He almost wants to drag the shinobi away, but he refrains himself from touching the man. The Wolf nods and follows wordlessly.

“Ah, my lord, may we have a word? The master and I have an urgent report in regards to… what you tasked us with,” Doujun calls after him. His tone is too sly and deliberate. Genichiro feels a prickle of hostility towards the former monk.

“I will speak with you later,” Genichiro dismisses the man and continues forward. He can feel the eyes of both the surgeon and the shinobi on his back. There are certainly questions awaiting him. 

They go down to the pit where the crickets and a hostile experiment obstructs their way. Genichiro slices them apart, feeling on edge in the dungeon. They walk through the secret path and passes by a strange rock with words carved into it. Genichiro remembers it as a memorial for the fallen during the Ashina rebellion. There is nothing else he can add to it, and thankfully the shinobi does not ask about it as well.

They reach the Bottomless Hole with the Torii gate surrounded by lit candles. They look over the edge of the cliff, and they can see nothing but fog below them. It is a daunting height.

“We are to throw ourselves into this?” the Wolf asks. Genichiro nods. Before the man can react, the general leaps off the edge. He sees the Wolf jump in right after him.

Genichiro has no grapple like the Wolf does, and he is sure to meet his demise if he has no plan. Genichiro, somehow, doesn’t care. By instinct, he pulls out a long cloth and is about to use it to grab onto a protruding branch before he feels an arm wrap around him and swings him across onto the nearest ledge.

They land onto the platform rather roughly, rolling across the hard, rocky surface. Genichiro grunts as he rolls onto his knees, feeling some scrapes on his palms.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Genichiro hears from the other man. There is an undertone of anger and disbelief. A lot of emotion for the usually impassive shinobi. The general looks up. Indeed, the shinobi looks minimally upset. His usual scowl is deeper than usual, the ends of his lips downturned.

“What do you mean?” Genichiro feigns ignorance as he gets to his feet.

“You threw yourself in without a plan or any tools. You wouldn’t have survived,” the shinobi points out.

“You caught me, did you not? That is what I expected,” Genichiro lies. The Wolf stares at him with a peculiar look in his eyes.

“...Lord Genichiro, you have changed,” Wolf says after a moment’s pause. 

Genichiro narrows his eyes at the shinobi. “What is that supposed to mean?”

But the shinobi does not deign him with a response, walking off into the cavern, the only path that lies ahead of them. Genichiro too, doesn’t pursue the subject, knowing exactly what Wolf had meant. 

They reach the Poison Pool and handle the hostiles there with relative ease. The lead Gunner is of the same strength as the one deployed at the Hidden Fort. Genichiro parries her weapon and distracts her while Wolf lunges in for the kill from behind. They don’t even linger to watch the body fall to the floor and proceeds ahead to the Hidden Forest.

They cross the first part of the forest with relative ease. There are a couple of apparitions which they sneak past until they come across an old man who appears to be a Buddhist monk sitting by the lone golden Buddha statue near the entrance. Genichiro would have ignored the elder, but the man calls out to Wolf weakly..

“Hey, hey you…” the Buddhist reaches out as he coughs.Wolf stops and attends to the dying man. “If you know the path of Buddha… Would you slay one who opposes it?”

“One who opposes the Buddha?” Wolf asks, sounding vaguely interested. Genichiro watches and listens.

“Correct,” the Buddhist coughs again. “The one whom I speak of hides in an abandoned temple up ahead… He’s sealed away the village in a shadowy fog… so that he can fool the villagers and trap any who wishes to pass through.”

“Beware of the fog and its illusions… You may end up lost in there forever if you do not listen to your heart - “ the man coughs again, harder this time and wheezes for breath. He appears weak and dying. Genichiro thinks it’s not a good idea to promise things with a stranger, especially when it involves unknown dangers.

“A fog, huh.." Wolf murmurs. “The abandoned temple?”

“Yes, it’s an old building… The door may be closed but there should be a hole in the roof of the second floor.” The Wolf nods to the old man once he’s spoken his piece and walks on. Genichiro follows him.

“Was there a need to promise him?” Genichiro asks.

“I did not promise, I merely listened,” Wolf answers. Genichiro remains quiet. But as they delve further into the forest, they are indeed greeted by such thick fog that they can barely see a few meters in front of them. Despite that, both of them can sense the presence of several apparitions patrolling about. “It is better to stick together, in case anything happens.”

Genichiro agrees.

As a shinobi, the Wolf sneaks past with little difficulty. But Genichiro is not, and both his size and lack of skill in stealth leaves him open and caught. One of the apparitions yell out and whistles, calling for more of the spirits to appear. Genichiro braces for a fight. Wolf appears as if he wishes to run off, but seeing that they are surrounded, he draws his sword as well.

There are a large number of them - more than one would expect. There are even dogs, and Genichiro thinks he recognises the armoured uniform these spirits don upon themselves. Could they be lost soldiers sent here a long time ago? Wolf manages to fight off some of them, but the battle was so hectic that they end up separated, and the shadowy fog grows thicker.

Genichiro loses sight of the shinobi, and deciding that he’s outnumbered, flees to retreat. He blocks some of the apparitions’ spears and swords, but isn’t able to dodge all of them. One of the dogs manage to bite down on his thigh, thankfully only briefly, as he kicks it away and slashes at its face. The apparitions disappear, but more return. Genichiro runs as fast as he can to higher ground and ducks out of the way. He ends up at a perch by the branch of one of the trees, overlooking the foggy area. He can barely see anything. As the adrenaline dies down, the pain begins to register.

He grits his teeth and looks down at the bite wound. It’s quite a deep gash, but it shouldn’t be lethal. He is used to fighting men, not beasts, and the low visibility isn’t helping as well. Genichiro wonders where the other man could have gone. He hopes wandering aimlessly through this forest would not lead them to being lost forever. He considers searching for Wolf, but maybe if he finds the source of this fog, it would be better for both of them.

Perhaps that dying Buddhist had given them a clue. The second floor of an abandoned temple , Genichiro wonders. He hadn’t seen any buildings but trees. He limps over the edge and squints to find a way.

He sees a few figures amidst the fog, but he presumes them to be the apparitions. The Wolf should be alone. He thinks he sees another tree in the distance but he would have to tread lightly. He washes his wound and binds it in bandage first before proceeding.

As he delves further into the fog, he thinks he hears the noise of people fighting. It’s a familiar sound… much like the noise of war in the battlefield, of people yelling, weapons clashing, feet stomping across the ground and the thud of bodies as they hit the floor. But once he gets to the source of the noises, a small grassy clearing, they disappear.

Instead, he hears voices. Familiar ones. The fog around him seems to thicken and darken his surroundings. Genichiro shivers and sees that even his breath is fogging up slightly. He grips his sword nervously as he looks around.

“Again, Genichiro,” - a female voice. He knows that voice anywhere.

“...Master…?” the general freezes where he stands. His hand grips his sword handle but he’s trembling. No - his mentor has died. Along with that Divine Heir. She can’t - 

“Again, repeat that move again!” the voice is undeniably fierce. She has always been a strict mentor, sometimes more so than his own grandfather. It had taken Genichiro a long time to come to terms with her death, as sudden as it was for her to just leave the world of the living with her ward. He is not sure if he is relieved to hear her voice again or be disturbed.

“An illegitimate grandson? Why would Lord Isshin bring such a boy like that in?”

“He must be desperate for an heir.”

“Can a low-born even bring honour to the Ashina name?”

“Did you practice that heretical art again? You’re lucky you’re under Lord Isshin’s protection!”

Voices from all around, both familiar and not. But the words are words he’s heard before. From strangers, retainers, servants, even his own grandfather. Genichiro grits his teeth. This must be the work of the fog, to bring such cursed memories-!

“Are you truly of Ashina blood, foolish grandchild? Where is the talent that should be in you?” Grandfather criticises harshly. “You will not receive a meal until you’ve successfully executed this move!”

“Useless!”

“Repeat!”

“Again, Genichiro!”

“Talentless cretin!”

Genichiro inhales and squeezes his eyes shut, trying to keep those voices out of his head. He doesn’t need this - he doesn’t need to relive his failures and criticisms. He’s been dying from them hasn’t he? Isn’t that enough? Genichiro clenches his teeth and tries to keep walking even as the voices follow him, the volume of it all almost deafening. 

But a figure materialises in the fog before him. Tall, lean, wearing the helmet of the Ashina general and a flowing blue cloak.

Grandfather in his prime, the Sword Saint.

Chapter Text

Wolf treads cautiously through the fog. After losing track of Genichiro, he’d kept himself out of sight as much as possible, sneaking past the hostile apparitions while searching for any clues for the source of the fog. He can hear the sound of a flute playing a tune. It’s a strange melody, rather somber and peaceful, but at the same time it sends a mild chill down his spine.

The shinobi tries to follow the direction of the music, but he feels like he’s only going around in circles. Soon enough, he realises he’s in a completely new area devoid of anything, not even the apparitions. Only more fog surrounds him, thick and grey, and when Wolf raises his hand before him, that is the furthest his line of sight can go.

A sudden noise behind him catches his attention. Wolf whirls around. He sees a small figure walking out from the fog.

“...Lord Kuro!” Wolf steps forward but stops. That can’t be. His young master is at the castle. This is an illusion. Wolf gets into a stance. He stares down the illusion of the Divine Heir and the illusion of the boy stares back at him.

Another figure appears, and walks up behind the boy. It is Genichiro. “...!” Wolf hesitates to call out to the man. Is he an illusion too? But he is dressed without his armour, like he last saw him. He tightens his grip on Kusabimaru.

Genichiro stares at him without a word. He raises a hand and places it on Kuro’s shoulder. The Divine Heir makes an expression of sorrow at the touch and turns away to walk past Genichiro.

“Lord Kuro-!” the shinobi instinctively calls out to his master despite knowing that that is a mere illusion. But Genichiro blocks the view of the boy and draws his sword.

“We meet again, Shinobi of the Divine Heir,” Genichiro says. His voice is ice, his tone merciless. Wolf recognises this Genichiro as the one he met in the very beginning. When he took the Divine Heir away and cut off his arm. Wolf finds that he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like the way the man looks at him with distaste, like all the other nobles in the castle.

Neither of them speak another word. Genichiro comes at him with a sweeping strike which Wolf dodges by stepping back. If he is an illusion, it shouldn’t be an ordinary one. He can feel the wind of his strike and the killing intent in his moves. This should be the real Genichiro… but why is he acting like this? Is he being mind controlled?

Wolf evades the other’s attacks as much as he can. It only causes the general to be incensed, taunting and spewing curses at the shinobi. Wolf attempts to use non-lethal methods, but the man’s constitution and guard is far too high. Even after defeating him numerous times, the general can still amaze him. But with each swing of his sword the shinobi sees the colour of the man’s eyes turning red. That is not a good sign.

“Lord Genichiro-!” Wolf parries a downward strike and counters with a forward thrust. The general blocks it and delivers a hard kick to Wolf’s gut. The shinobi feels the attack connect and take the breath out of his lungs as he rolls back from the hit. If this is an illusion, it is a very good one as the damage it delivers is exactly the same. Genichiro packs a mean punch and kick, especially with his physical strength.

Straightening up, Wolf decides that he shouldn’t concern himself with not hurting the general. Wasting time would not help either of them. He anticipates the approaching general’s next move and times himself to his pattern. Three, four… strike! Wolf counts the end of his Cloud Passage attack and strikes back at the opportune moment. He stabs straight into the man’s shoulder.

Wolf immediately feels something off with it. It didn’t feel like he had just stabbed a living body. It was like stabbing into something made of straw So, does this mean that this is an illusion? He can’t tell, but the other recovers from the attack with an angry yell and begins his counterattack with one of his flurry techniques. Wolf blocks them  all with precision, effectively knocking the man back into a stumble.

If this is an illusion, then he can just kill it!

Wolf goes on to take advantage of the presented opportunity. He delivers the deathblow, stabbing into another vital part into the illusion-Genichiro’s chest.

But a split second before the tip of his blade pierces into the figure, Wolf sees a grotesque, mocking smile spread across the illusion’s face. It then bursts into smoke and disappears, revealing another figure right behind it who has his arms holding a sword raised in a stance.

“Wolf?” Genichiro blinks. He feels the pain in his chest. It is sad that he recognises the same pain from experiencing it so many times that he’s almost numb to it. What mostly hurts is that he’s killed by the same man yet again. And he thought they were getting used to each other. He looks down to see the shinobi’s sword driven through his chest.

He hears the shinobi’s surprised intake of breath. Then he sees the other’s face, twisted in regret and apology. 

He hates that look. What is he so upset over? Wolf doesn’t pull the sword out, not wanting to allow the man to bleed out, but it’s Genichiro himself who removes the sword from his chest, coughing out blood and collapsing forward into the shinobi’s arms. His sword clatters to the ground.

“Why…” Genichiro had wanted to ask why. Why the Wolf would make such a face for him. He hadn’t even made that face when he saw his young master being taken away. But he doesn’t get to voice out the rest of his sentence. He feels death pulling his soul from this body, and throwing him back into the loop of resurrection. 

-----------

He had been fighting the image of Grandfather as the Sword Saint. When the man was younger, stronger, his white hair still black, his stature muscular and his movements confident with strength and conviction. This was the man that Genichiro had to live up to, and he can see why it’s an impossible task.

The Sword Saint is indeed an almost otherworldly being with a blade. Each strike that cuts through takes a chunk out of his strength and vitality. Blood spurts out of Genichiro like a fountain when the blade cuts into him, saps his stamina and nearly bringing the younger Ashina to his knees. 

Indeed, his speed and range far surpasses any of Genichiro’s ability. Perhaps, he could even rival his mentor. But Genichiro will not die so easily here. He gets back to his feet and rushes in for a counter attack. He’s experienced duels with Grandfather before; the man may have aged but his fighting style shouldn’t have changed so much. Genichiro applies all the experience he’s learned from training with his grandfather. 

But he’s far more powerful than Genichiro had thought. He’s faster and with sharper senses. Perhaps since their sword styles are so similar the other man could read him easily. That was his weakness after all. The Sword Saint swings his sword down with crushing might before adding a sweeping strike that throws Genichiro back with its impact.

“What use are you if you can’t even fill in the shoes of a leader?” Grandfather hisses with disdain. His one eye stares down at Genichiro coldly. “I shouldn’t have passed this helmet to you. You’re unworthy.” 

Each word pierces into his thoughts, his head, his chest. Genichiro spits out blood and grits his teeth. He knows that! He knows he’s useless, unworthy. It’s only because there was no other heir that he was chosen. If there was someone else, he wouldn’t even be given the chance…!

Genichiro yells and charges towards the illusion of the Sword Saint, raising his arms to deliver a strike.

But the man disappears into smoke and he sees the shinobi appear out of nowhere.

“Wolf?” he somehow manages to stop in his tracks. And that was when he felt pain. 

Death took him far too easily.

When he wakes from his death this time, Genichiro stares blankly at the stone ceiling. He feels heavy, his body sluggish and exhausted, as if it’s been weighed down with bags of rocks. His head, especially, feels as if it is filled with cotton. He remains laying there, staring at the ceiling while he ignores the other presence in the room. What did it matter anyway?

“Oh, my lord. How are you feeling, might I ask?” Doujun peers over him. The surgeon’s touch is cold and clammy as he studies Genichiro’s eyes and scribble notes. He thinks he feels a prick to his skin somewhere but it’s pointless to be bothered by such a thing. It’s nothing compared to the onslaught of pain he’s subjected his body to over the different lives he’s gone through.

He eventually gets himself up with some difficulty and asks the surgeon. “Anything… that I should know about?”

The smile behind the veil that he receives is sharp, like a cunning fox’s. Genichiro holds his head, trying to gather his thoughts and memories. The heavy feeling through his body remains even after resting for some time. The surgeon in the cell scuffles around doing his own business. He can even hear the man humming a strange melody. It somehow sounds familiar. He receives no answer.

What was he supposed to do? He was supposed to find someone. A shinobi. Right.

Just as he is about to leave, the surgeon of the dungeon holds him back.

“What… is it?” Genichiro asks, frowning at the veiled man. Doujun looks over him from top to bottom, his eyes cold and calculative. Even though Genichiro’s head is fuzzy, he knows that this isn’t how the former monk is. There is this sense of danger from the man, and if Genichiro hadn’t been so sure of the man’s secrecy in the dungeons, he would have ripped off the veil to make sure it is still the same man.

“Nothing, I was just making sure you are well. You seem a little more tired, my lord. Would you like to rest a little longer?” the man asks. Genichiro is tempted. He’s tired, but his feet continues to move and he pulls himself from the surgeon’s grip.

“No.. I’m fine. I have to go,” Genichiro replies. He hears the other hum in acknowledgement as he walks away, his pace slower than usual as he holds his head, hoping for the headache to die down.

When he reaches the castle, Genichiro finds himself heading towards the Ashina castle dojo. He sits in front of the scroll and stares blankly at it, the words of advice on countering lightning staring back at him. He’s reminded of his mentor, the mysterious woman, the one who wields lightning. He still has memories of her. Some sweet, some bitter. She was a fierce and strict warrior, and showed him no mercy even as a teacher. Perhaps that was why he is a decent enough warrior now. Though, it’s still not enough to save Ashina. Not enough to match up to Grandfather. 

He forgets why he’s suddenly reminded of her. He doesn’t even remember how he died before waking up. Slowly, slowly… His mind is slowly piecing thoughts and memories together. It is taking far too long, and he worries how this would affect him. The surgeon’s words echo in his mind, reminding him of the consequences once Karma loses its patience.

He has to do something. He can’t afford to lose anymore of himself. He feels crippled, and if he dies any more what will happen to him? Will he be bedridden? He remembers the sharp, wicked look in Doujun’s eyes, one that was not usual of the mild mannered former monk. Genichiro has to succeed. He has to.

When Genichiro finally makes it to the room where the Divine Heir is held, he sees Emma standing by the boy’s side. She looks up and her eyes narrow at him. Clearly, he must not have appeared well for the woman to study him like that. He hates that the way she looks at him reminds the general of another doctor.

However, she keeps to herself as he approaches the young man.

“Lord Genichiro,” the Divine Heir looks up at him. The boy stares at him and his eyes look over the tall man. “You… there is something…”

“It does not matter,” Genichiro cut in, brushing the boy’s concern off. “Your Shinobi. He is coming to retrieve you. He will be at the lookout.” He drags the boy over, feeling nervous and impatient. Emma follows, though the frown on her face does not dissipate. 

Genichiro paces across the floor, anxious. Kuro looks to Emma and asks her, “Something seems wrong with Lord Genichiro.”

“Yes, but.. I am not sure if it is due to the Rejuvenating Waters. I’m afraid he would not let me examine him,” Emma says.

“He is…” the Divine Heir stares at the man who continues to pace about. He seems almost entire different than the Lord General who has been leading the Ashina army. This one… he feels like he’s seen this, a weaker, more tired version of Genichiro. Someone who appears to have gone through much more than his current predicament. He can sense something odd emanating from the man too. Something familiar like the Dragon’s Heritage, but it feels nauseating, as if it’s rotting. Could it be the effect of the Rejuvenating Waters?

But true to the general’s word, his Loyal Wolf arrives by the rooftops. He immediately approaches his master in greeting, completely ignoring the general who is staring at him. “My Lord, I have arrived,” the Wolf says. Kuro glances to Lord Genichiro, but the man does not stop or interrupt them as expected.

“Wolf, I am glad you are well and safe,” the Divine Heir says in greeting. “We should - “

“..Forgive me, my lord,” Wolf interrupts. It is extremely rare for the shinobi to do so.

“What is it, Wolf?”

“I… have made a deal with Lord Genichiro. To aid him in protecting Ashina in return for collecting the ingredients for Immortal Severance,” the Wolf says. The young man is quite stunned, unprepared for the words his retainer has. He is usually close-lipped, and since when had they made this deal? The boy looks to the general again, who is staring off at something.

“I do not know how you came to know of my plans, but I am glad you are agreeable to it. But… to aid Lord Genichiro…” the Divine Heir has his doubts of course. Yet, the entire circumstance feels familiar and odd. It sets his head spinning a little.

“It is… a complicated matter, my lord. I ask of you to trust me,” the shinobi requests quietly. Kuro cannot deny his loyal shinobi. If Wolf thinks it is a necessity and he seems to trust the general, then he should know what he is doing.

“Alright, Wolf. I trust you. I sense… something with this situation that may explain how you know of my plans for the Dragon’s Heritage. And for Lord Genichiro to not even interrupt you, I suppose, there is truth in what you’ve said,” Kuro tells him. 

As for Wolf, he is disturbed by the general’s strange demeanour. He appears nervous, his eyes looking off to stare blankly at nothing in particular. The sight of him makes the shinobi nervous too, especially when he remembers that he was responsible for the man’s death yet again. There is guilt brewing into him as he watches a man so desperately trying to achieve something he so sincerely believes in, only to be cut down by him again and again. 

He remembers the first time he killed Genichiro. He had felt that it was a shame, but he was no different from the other enemies obstructing his way from completing the mission for his master. But with each death he watches the man go through… They say one reveals their true self at the time of their death. And if that is true, then Wolf has seen the man’s true face countless times, and each time he held to his one wish to save the land he loved. A loyalty and passion that almost leaves the Wolf envious.

But the man who’s standing there on the lookout is different, yet again. He has been acting like this since the past lives. Staring off to the distance with an absent look and even his movements appear slower, like they couldn’t catch up to his thoughts. It’s jarring to see the man who was initially so proud and controlled fall to a shadow of himself. But this time, he looks so ill that even Wolf finds it concerning.

“We shouldn’t waste time,” is the first thing Genichiro says to him when the shinobi steps up to the general.

Wolf keeps his face impassive but nods. “I have to retrieve the Red Mortal Blade first.”

“I shall go with you,” Genichiro starts to say, but the shinobi shakes his head.

“The.. Divine Child might not appreciate your presence at this moment.”

“The Divine Child?” Genichiro’s eyes glaze over again. It’s a look that reminds him of the subjects in the abandoned dungeon. He almost wants to ask, but finds his lips sealed. After a moment, the general’s eyes brighten again. “Ah, you’ve mentioned her before. Yes… I understand. I will wait for your return.”

Wolf appreciates the general’s understanding. He talks briefly to his master and has a word with Emma.

He then leaves them at the lookout to obtain the Mortal Blade once again.

Chapter Text

The Wolf finds himself in an escort mission than having a partner to aid him. There is something wrong with the general. More often than not, Wolf has had to pull the man out of the way of danger as the man seemingly appears to go into a stupor at random times even in battles. He would have had an easier time with the Guardian Ape if Genichiro had sat out from the fight, since Wolf had to protect him at the same time.

Thankfully, Wolf manages to defeat both phases of the Ape mostly by himself, severing the beast’s immortality.

When Wolf had returned from Senpou Temple with the Mortal Blade in hand, the Divine Heir was at the library reading books while Genichiro sat watching the boy.  Emma had stood by at the hall and observed them. He approached her first.

“Master Wolf, you have returned,” Emma greeted him with relief in her voice. “I could only study from afar. It would have been much easier if I could closely examine him. However, from what I can tell, he is… certainly not well.”

Wolf nods and waits for her to explain further. “I am not sure, but he may have been poisoned. I cannot confirm if it is the Rejuvenating Waters rejecting his body or a foreign toxin. I cannot do anything without a closer look.”

Wolf had thanked her for watching over both of them. He presented the Mortal Blade to his young master, who briefed him on what they should be collecting in order to find passage to the Fountainhead Palace.

It didn’t take long for them to leave the castle, but once they were out of sight from the Divine Heir and the female doctor, Wolf had to ask. “What did you want to say back then?”

“What?” Genichiro looked to him with a puzzled look.

“Before you died and entered this life. You were about to say something. You asked ‘why’. What did you mean to ask?” Wolf questioned him. He had been bothered by that incomplete sentence ever since he received the memory of it in this life. The memory of Genichiro uttering the word with such a pained look as he collapsed and died in Wolf’s arms. The blade in his chest had been Kusabimaru, and he remembered that the blade was not meant for the man. They both had fallen victim to the Hidden Forest’s fog of illusion. Wolf felt like he’d failed terribly. Failed himself and the other man as well.

“I… do not know what you speak of. Or at least, I do not remember,” Genichiro had admitted, speaking slowly. He walked at a normal pace and his eyes were set forward, but Wolf could tell the man was not lying. It was clear that he is losing memories, and Wolf concluded that it could be a possible effect of his constant resurrection. He does not know how many times the man had died, possibly countless times, over and over again, repeating the same scenes and experiencing the same losses. 

Wolf had not badgered him with any more questions, their journey relatively smooth aside from some hiccups from the general’s strange behaviour.

It all came to a head when they reached the Guardian Ape and Genichiro got caught in one of the beast’s attacks.

Genichiro is sat panting and resting against the stone wall of the alcove. Wolf has already collected the Lotus but Genichiro does not look well. He had received a terrible blow to his entire left side of his body after one of his stupors in the middle of battling the Ape. Deep claw marks that stretch and dig into his flesh from his shoulder to his thigh. Wolf had already given him the gourd to drink, but it appears to not be as effective as before. Instead, he seems to be worsening, as if something is countering its healing effects. 

“Lord Genichiro… You may have been poisoned. Do you remember any such thing?” Wolf asks. He is… worried. The man looks like he’s slowly withering away. His skin is sickly pale and sweaty. If he were in top condition, such a wound from the Ape may have even be brushed off by the general. Yet now he appears close to losing consciousness. The poison must have accelerated due to the excessive bleeding and pumping of his heart. He is in no condition to continue, and Wolf would have to practically carry him through the rest of the journey if he were to keep going.

“I don’t...  I don’t know,” Genichiro says. He looks exhausted, and almost as if he’s on the edge of breaking down. Wolf had never seen the man look so defeated, not even once in the many times they’ve clashed swords and defeated by Wolf numerous times. “I am so tired of this never-ending nightmare.”

His voice cracks in a way that even Wolf could feel it in his bones. How he ends up being witness to the Ashina leader's demise every time leaves him curious. He isn't one to believe in things such as fate, but at this point, what else can it be? The shinobi crouches down to kneel by the man's side. He doesn't serve the man, he knows that, and this strange connection between them - whatever it is that has the both of them be the common factor in each other's recurring lives and memories - has made their strange relationship more intimate than that. 

It's hard to even call it a relationship. Neither of them have barely held a full and proper conversation with each other, speaking only through striking metal instead.

Wolf considers for a moment. "Do you wish to return to the castle?"

"... Are you offering me kindness?" Genichiro asks with a weak smirk, as if he finds it amusing. His bloodshot eyes fix themselves on the shinobi, watery at the edges. . 

"Why…" Genichiro says. Wolf perks up. He sounds exactly like the moment before his death in the previous life. Could this be the question he wanted to ask?. "Why do you look so sad, Wolf?" 

Surprised and a little self-conscious, Wolf slightly ducks part of his face behind his scarf. The general grins, baring bloodied teeth. Despite that, he looks bright, as if he isn't dying at the moment. It's a sobering moment. 

"Never thought a shinobi would be… so sentimental."

Wolf doesn't answer. He waits by the man's side, who blinks once in an exaggeratedly slow manner before his eyes focus on Wolf once more. Genichiro continues to speak, though his speech is slurred, as if his thoughts are muddled. He seems delirious; Wolf has seen similar states in other dying men. 

"Would you… look for me?" Genichiro asks, muttering with his eyes unfocused. "I am… afraid of the doctor. All for the glory of Ashina. He is correct, but the cost of it…” the general’s eyes glaze over, lost in thought. “The human cost of it. All the blood on my hands. Was it worth it? For Ashina…”

“It’s fair for them to be disappointed in me. Lady Tomoe, Grandfather - I’m - It’s - I’m sorry," Genichiro chokes and coughs, his body beginning to tremble. He continues to mumble, and Wolf can only catch a few words, but the man keeps mumbling deliriously, even as he coughs and gags and his skin gets paler by the second. It’s a concerning sight and Wolf considers giving the man something. 

He retrieves something from his items, a small pouch of rice he received from the Divine Child. She had said that it would be helpful. Wolf has consumed it before - they healed and revitalised him. He doesn't know what else he can do, and if this could help in place of the gourd…

The shinobi takes a pinch of the white rice from the pouch and offers it to Genichiro's mouth. The dazed general tries to chew slowly but eventually he swallows it. Wolf waits anxiously, watching for any sign of change. They came, but not in the way Wolf had hoped. 

The wounds in Genichiro's sides suddenly begin to bubble. Pus and congealed blood start to ooze out, thick and nasty. Wolf is startled, disturbed by the sudden reaction. Greenish fumes begin to emanate from the open gashes, and with one sniff, it's clear that it is indeed poison. Genichiro writes as the skin around the wounds getting worse, festering at an alarming rate.

"...!" Wolf shifts to move, to do something, but he is no healer. The poison does not seem like any normal poison that he recognises. What can he do? The rice was supposed to heal, but what is this? The larger man continues to thrash and writhe in agony, so much so that he begins shivering, his teeth chattering and he almost bites on his tongue. Wolf tries to hold him down so he doesn't further injure himself.

"S-shi-shino-b-bi," Genichiro groans through his pain. He spews out green bile in the middle of his thrashing, a corrosive substance like acid. What seems like a mix of grain and elongated looking… worms? They writhe before dying and shrinking within the bile. Wolf is disgusted. What manner of poison is this? Did the rice make it worse or counter the poison but in such an aggressive way?

“Hold on, Lord Genichiro,” Wolf tries. He looks around. Maybe they can do something, maybe he can carry the man out, but - "E-end me. Please."

Wolf freezes. He has to end the man’s life again? He frowns at Genichiro and shakes his head. No, he doesn’t want to have the man’s blood on him again. But Genichiro looks worse than before. It is clear he is suffering, like whatever the reaction caused by the rice and poison is worse inside than what can be seen on the outside. The general’s eyes look around wildly but at nothing, his entire body is shivering, and even his teeth continue to chatter despite Wolf’s attempts to keep him calm.

“P-please. Sh-shinobi. W-Wolf, it hu-hurts..” the man pleads again. The shinobi swallows harshly. This is his fault again even though he tried to help. “I-I’ll be back s-so just.. J-just end my pain p-please.”

The fact that the man would rather die… What if this is his last death? Wolf is conflicted, but Genichiro is pleading, begging

“Please, please, p-please,” he continues to chant deliriously, nearly foaming at the mouth. Wolf takes Kusabimaru. He plunges the blade into Genichiro's heart, swiftly killing him. 

It's done. The man's body stops moving. Blood and green bile mix with the clear waters of the alcove. A dead silence hangs thickly over the air in the alcove.

Wolf holds his head. It's a mess. How has the man kept going for all this while? He's only starting to gain memories and awareness of the loop a few lives ago, yet the general had gone through countless repetitions… And now, it feels like he's being dragged in, being pulled into this cruel divine prank. 

How can he get both of them to escape this loop? 

-----------

Genichiro does not open his eyes when he wakes. His eyelids feel too heavy, his entire body feel too weighed down. It feels like he is submerged in water. Even his chest feels stuffy and smothered. When he finally finds strength to even lift his eyelids, he does not see the stone ceiling of the dungeon cell he expects. Instead, he sees the silver-bloodshot eyes of the surgeon.

The veiled man’s pupils are dilated and blown, his eyes unfocused. But the smile behind the veil is unmistakable as they reach his gleeful eyes. Doujun? That is the doctor’s name isn’t it? He feels different. He feels -

“How are you feeling my lord? I admit, you are not taking to the treatment well. Might I inquire on your recent demise? For the records, of course.” He immediately turns and walks away as if he didn’t even expect an answer, but Genichiro can still hear him. His footsteps are light, but his presence is palpable, like a large, lumbering creature that prowls along the walls of its cave den.

The sound of tinkering tools echo in the small cell. Genichiro slips in and out of consciousness. He is just tired and numb. 

Somehow, he feels relief in being able to rest like this, finally.

When he wakes again, he feels… paralysed. What is this? A sense of panic invades his mind.

Doujun returns. It’s the same eyes, the same presence that gives a sense of foreboding. Genichiro freezes. This… is the other Doujun. The one that he recognises to be someone else entirely with the sharp grin and icy gaze. He thinks of the zombified subjects, staggering aimlessly through the dungeon.

“Awake now?” the surgeon asks, tipping his head in mock curiosity. “Ah, good.. Very good good. I’ve been hoping you’d resurrect again. I was starting to doubt obtainying any form or suitable subject for my research! To think, to have one who’s been blessed with the Rejuvenating Waters is able to repeat through temporal loops. This is far beyond any mortal’s imaginations! If only I can pry open your skull or... see through your eyes…” 

Genichiro sees the glint of what seems like a surgical pick in the surgeon’s hand. Of course. Only the gods can inflict such cruelty upon a heretic such as him. He swallows and braces himself. He had thought of this possibility, perhaps, in one of his previous lives. He can barely even remember what’s been happening anymore.

If the doctor is going to corrode whatever’s left of Karma’s mercy has for him, then his fate will surely be completely wiped off.

Maybe that’s for the best. He just has to hold out on whatever torture the deranged surgeon has for him.

-----------

Wolf’s awareness slips in the moment he defeats General Oniwa. He shivers, feeling a chill run down his spine. He looks down at the fallen body of the massive general. He watches as the blood from his own wounds drip onto the charred soil of the battlefield. His mind immediately goes to another general. He feels like he’s just gone through this. He had just entered the castle and was on his way to find the Divine Heir but he lost consciousness suddenly. And then he regained consciousness here, defeating the Demon General again.

He frowns as an ominous feeling in his gut rises. Something is wrong. He places Kusabimaru back in its scabbard and heads immediately towards the castle. He follows the steps of his previous lives, running up the stairs of the gate, killing off the guards or sneaking past them, grappling through the roofs and slipping into the area right before the main castle.

He kills the Flaming Bull with relative ease, having gone through this battle numerous times and dashes further in. It feels like he’s on a time limit. Something is happening, but he doesn’t know what.

He sneaks past the guards and generals, the nightjar shinobi on the roofs. He manages to just sneak into the antechamber of the castle before he feels the dread again. He staggers a few steps before his vision blurs into darkness.

……

………

…………

“Forgive me, Lord Genichiro…” 

Wolf hears the Demon General’s last words. He is back here, again. What…?

Wolf realises that something is happening to Genichiro. He knows that each time Genichiro dies, his awareness is brought back to a certain point in time as well. Even in the earlier lives, when he’d managed to get Lord Kuro out of the castle and the general made his last stand against Wolf, the shinobi had watched the man sacrifice himself to the Black Mortal Blade, but he did not see the end of that life either the moment the other man collapsed to the ground lifeless.

So does that mean, the Lord General is being killed repeatedly? At a much earlier time than he should?

Where could the man be? And who would be responsible for it? It should be someone who would know about his circumstance… right? Wolf tries to search for the General instead; his young master will be alright for now, but that man is possibly in danger. Where could he be?

Wolf tries to search what memories that have come to him. The last he remembers of Genichiro is the man muttering things in a delirious state. Talking about sentimentality and being afraid… Afraid of the doctor. “All for the glory of Ashina,” Wolf murmurs, recounting the phrase the man had said. The shinobi remembers another person saying the exact same phrase as well.

The veiled man who expressed surprise at Wolf’s acquaintance with Genichiro. The same man who asked for a strong subject for his experiments.

Without a second thought, Wolf races towards the abandoned dungeon.

Chapter Text

Without a second thought, Wolf races towards the dungeon for the mysterious surgeon. He sneaks past the hostile test subjects and crickets and scouts the area from the rafters in the ceiling. The surgeon isn’t standing outside the cell where he is usually found, but Wolf can hear the man’s mumblings. It sounds as if two people are in conversation. One, the recognisable voice of the mild mannered surgeon, the other, a rougher, crueler voice.

He does not hear Genichiro’s voice. Wolf lowers himself down and approaches closer to the cell, keeping himself out of sight. He leans in to eavesdrop, listening in on the conversation between the two voices.

“Record this, my student: simultaneous resurrection takes more and more of the subject’s memories and strength. Similar to that of losing one’s ability of recollection, perhaps even thoughts and feelings. ....Dislodging the skull to examine the brain proved invalid - he died immediately and revived,” the rough voice says.

“Very well, master. But… wouldn’t this affect us as well? If the general keeps resurrecting - if Karma releases him, what would become of us?” 

“Dearest Doujun, you still have much to learn. That is the exciting part! Striving to discover the unknown - who knows what will happen if he loses all of himself. Presently his mind is possibly breaking down, unable to recognise faces and rendered incapacitated. Perhaps a few more… We can conduct a few more trials on him and study his anatomy and blood… I can feel it, we will unveil the secrets to the Rejuvenating Waters!”

“D-Dousaku! This… This is far from the path of what we have strived for! This is not healing, this is torture! Has the temptations of the Waters taken your sanity? This is the leader of Ashina, Master. Even if… Even if Lord Genichiro consented to being our test subject, there is a limit to what we can do to -”

“Quiet, you are a mere novice! Be it that cursed woman, that loon Dogen, or even Isshin Ashina himself, no one will stop me from obtaining the knowledge we so sorely need. Imagine what we can do with the secrets of the Waters! How we can use this… how we can improve it and match with the True Dragon’s Blood Heritage… is that not what the Ashina clan hired us for? To improve the health and strengthen its defenses in the glory of Ashina?!”

Wolf isn’t sure how to act, but he feels some sense of anger, a desire to put an end to this and bring the man out of his suffering. But - how will this affect him and the timeline? If Genichiro were his lord, he would not have hesitated to bring him away, by the Iron Code. But Genichiro is not his master but his - enemy? Rival? The man responsible for this mess they are in?

Surely, he holds a sense of annoyance somewhat, a bit of resentment… But there is mostly.. Pity. And a sense of strange kinship. Because the general is not his lord, the actions he’s choosing to take now is all of his own will.

Wolf steps forward to the cell, but the sudden shuffling of footsteps stop him. The surgeon is approaching. Wolf retreats into the shadows and watches the surgeon leave. Only one figure exited the cell, but he heard two voices. Yet, he does not feel any other presence in the same cell.

Once the surgeon is out of sight, Wolf sneaks in to the cell. There, Genichiro is laid on a stone slab. He is undressed from the waist up, baring the scars of his battles and the lightning burns that envelop his arms.

Wolf studies the body and assesses it. He’s clearly still alive, but just barely. More scars are littered over the man’s figure. Needle marks, small cuts and painted markings cover his body. Upon his temple, there is nick of a hesitant cut. Genichiro looks far from his prime. His skin pallid and dry, his lips chapped and his cheeks and eyes sunken.

In only a few hours, the man was reduced to this… what exactly has the doctor done?

Wolf tries to move the unconscious man - he is heavier than he appears despite his poor state, and for Wolf and his smaller stature, it would be difficult to carry him.

“My dearest shinobi,” a voice calls from the cell doorway. “I did not expect you to come here looking for our lord general. Ah, I have nearly forgotten that you too, retain the memories of the past lives along with Lord Genichiro.”

Doujun enters the cell. Wolf knows it’s not the polite doctor who’d requested a favour of him the first time they met. Wolf stares him down. “I must say that I am disappointed in your lack of manners, entering someone’s personal workspace like this. I have important matters to divulge with our lord. Would you please leave.”

It is not a request but a veiled threat. His icy politeness is far from friendly, and his voice is edged with a cruel roughness.

“...I ask that you let Lord Genichiro go,” Wolf says. His hands that hang by his sides appear limp, but he’s ready to draw his blade. A sharp tension hangs over the small space between them. 

“I am afraid that request is not possible. I have obtained the Lord’s approval to continue the research on his… unique circumstance. Shinobi, are you not curious about this as well? You, who has the blood of the Dragon running through your veins… Ah, if only I could have someone similar as a subject… How different would those who possess the pure blessing of the Dragon be affected by such divine intervention that comes in the form of a temporal loop?”

Wolf draws his blade. “.....” Wolf doesn’t wish to harm needlessly, but the hostility from the veiled surgeon is clear. He braces himself for an incoming attack. But as sudden as he appeared, that hostile persona vanishes.

“...A-Ah! My dear shinobi, I fear my master’s enthusiasm at the prospect of acquiring more knowledge is - is becoming tempestuous…! Please, let us progress with a few more trials and we shan’t bother the lord general once we acquire the secrets that we need.”

“....” Wolf is understandably confused. The hostility and sharpness to the gaze and voice had all but disappeared, back to the mild mannered man who handed him a paper with a written request of his ‘master’. It soon dawns on the shinobi that perhaps, the two are one and the same. That this ‘master’ is the surgeon himself. 

“...At the cost of the general’s lives?” Wolf asks.

“A-ah.. Well, y-yes, but it is for the sake of others! For the g-glory of Ashina! With this knowledge, we could aid the general in saving Ashina… that is what the general wanted, that is the reason he approached us!” the veiled man says, though his tone is weak, as if he is convincing himself.

The shinobi tightens his grip on Kusabimaru. He lowers his head slightly and raises it in a stance. “I am sorry, but I cannot allow you to keep using the general like this.”

“But...M-master…” the surgeon’s voice trembles. His strange eyes stare at the direction of Genichiro who is lying still on the slab, still unconscious. His eyes dart this way and that nervously.

“No… no! I shall not permit a lowly shinobi to get in the way when I am on the brink of success!” a low rough voice barks out as Doujun lunges towards Wolf with a familiar set of moves. The Senpou martial arts that he’d seen being used by the Senpou monks. 

The surgeon and former-monk thrusts out his palms to the direction of Wolf’s chest in quick succession. The shinobi blocks them, but the power behind each strike is hard, enough to push him back. Within the small confined space of the cell, Wolf has little to no space to move about. If he were to use his tools, he might also risk harming the unconscious Genichiro. He gets cornered against the wall as Doujun strikes at him continuously. Wolf switches to the Iron Fortress and activates it on his shinobi prosthetic. It opens up the Loaded Umbrella between them, creating a wall and opportunity. As Doujun had struck at the shield, Wolf twirls the contraption and knocks the taller man back with a counter. 

“You-!” Doujun hisses as he stumbles back. Wolf keeps on pushing forward with the shield, crashing the surgeon through the wooden grate of the cell. Splintered wood scatters and some of the wandering experiments become attracted to the noise. Wolf does not appreciate their attention since they take more than one killing blow to put down, but he needed the space to fight back.

Doujun rolls off his back and takes up a stance that Wolf recognises as those similar to the Senpou Temple warrior monks. 

But his form is hesitant, and Wolf can see the confused and distressed expression even from behind the surgeon’s veil. “My dear shinobi… I… I do not wish to fight. This is to further nature’s philosophies! We - Master - Ah - Dousaku! Can’t we stop?!” Doujun’s fist trembles, but from what seems like an expression of fear transitions to one of anger as the rough voice emerges again.

“Such insolence! This is our chance to prove we are more than that hypocrite Dogen! We will achieve what he could not! This mere shinobi shall delay me no more!” He rushes forward with his left fist pulled back before throwing a powerful punch to Wolf. He dodges to his own left and slashes down. But the monk is quick, he nimbly spins away followed by a kick. Both of them are thrown back. 

Doujun strafes slowly to the side and keeps his distance. Wolf hears the stumbling footsteps of another presence coming from behind him - it’s one of the experiments that were attracted to the noise. Wolf is caught in its grasp as it tries to bite down on his neck. The shinobi grunts and struggles out of its grip, elbowing its skeletal frame in the sides and rolls away. Wolf switches to another prosthetic, spraying fire to repel the zombified creature.

However Doujun takes that distraction and comes with another attack. He runs forward and delivers two strikes followed by an upward kick. The shinobi blocks the first two strikes but mistimed the block for the kick. He’s kicked back, his posture broken. Doujun throws forward both of his fists, striking Wolf right in the gut. The force of it slams Wolf into the nearest wall.

Wolf grits his teeth but gets to his feet quickly. He had not expected the surgeon to be this strong and aggressive. 

“Let’s stop this, Master, I beg of you. Our shinobi - He is of the Divine Heir’s…” the former monk wavers. Wolf knows the doctor is… odd. Speaking to himself in different voices, but the other ‘person’s’ presence is real enough that Wolf had always thought that the other existed. To see the man conversing with no one but the air, it is almost as if he is possessed. “Dousaku, if we hurt anymore -

“Silence!” Doujun’s body twitches, almost as if he is physically fighting with himself inside. Wolf doesn’t wait, he steps in with a thrust, but the former monk parries it and counters with more kicks. His attacks come back stronger now, pounding into Wolf without pause.

But Wolf soon learns the pattern and tempo of Doujun’s attacks. He times each punch and kick to parry the attack and knock off Doujun’s balance. He slashes at the other, slicing into flesh and staining the surgeon’s white clothes and veil. “Curse you, you wretched shinobi..!” the rough voice snarks The surgeon’s wrath is palpable. “No matter, you shall regret trifling with a warrior of the Senpou sect!”. 

Immediately Doujun’s body coils back, and though Wolf sees the incoming attack, he did not expect it to be a perilous one. He doesn’t manage to dodge in time. He feels the other’s hardened elbow dig into his body, breaking a few bones. Breath taken out of him, Wolf’s arm is then caught by Doujun, who twists and tosses him to the ground before a foot is stomped into his chest.

“Guh-!” Wolf coughs out, but the surgeon does not stop. Driven by anger, he stomps onto Wolf continuously, spitting curses at the shinobi with each stomp. “How. Dare. You. Deplorable. Shinobi..!” He brings his foot up higher for a final stomp, but that slight delay is enough for Wolf to steal a chance. He turns to catch the surgeon’s other leg and rolls, knocking the man down. They wrestle as Wolf manages to grapple the man into a body lock, with an arm around the other’s neck. The veil is torn off the monk to reveal a pale, older face. Doujun’s eyes can clearly be seen now, silver and dilated.

“Shi….no-bi…!!” Doujun yells out, spittle flying as he snarls and struggles furiously. Suddenly he stops and his body relaxes. Instead he starts to shake and Wolf realises the man is sobbing.

“No… no… this isn’t what we wanted,” Doujun weeps. “Master Dousaku, you’ve lost your way… The Waters have deluded you… Th-this cannot continue, Mas - Dousaku!”

Wolf keeps still. He tightens his choke hold threateningly. “What did you do to Lord Genichiro?”

Doujun stiffens. “We… we introduced the worms’ venoms into the Lord’s blood,” the surgeon confesses. “Master… Dousaku wanted to find out if the venom has any relation to the Rejuvenating Waters. But he - he kept cutting into the Lord’s body. He told me it was to see how it works but-! But he kept killing the Lord, I - fear I was deceived. Blinded!”

“Is he still poisoned?”

“Y-yes. It is so that he would not move -”

“Antidote. Where?”

“There is n-none. We - you - must kill him to purge it.” Wolf tightens his chokehold again, a flare of anger at the response. Doujun freezes and coughs.

“It is for the glory of Ashina! The power of the Rejuvenating Waters can be improved! We’ll be ever closer to replicating the Dragon’s Heritage! Do you not see?!” the voice of ‘Dousaku’ returns and he resumes struggling. “Release me, shinobi, and I may show generosity for you to leave without any further problems.”

Wolf has heard enough, he begins to tighten his grip to choke the man out.

Doujun gags and thrashes with all his might. Indeed it feels as if the surgeon has the strength of two men but the shinobi holds on with all his might. “D-die…!” Doujun, or rather, ‘Dousaku’, growls out as he withdraws a small knife that was stashed at his waist all this while and stabs into Wolf’s arm.

The sudden pain loosens the shinobi’s grip for a mere second. Doujun whirls around and grapples with the smaller man. His hand with the knife is raised, and is about to bring it down to stab into Wolf’s face.

“Aah… Forgive me,” Doujun stops. He begins to weep again. “Master, I am sorry. I have failed you…”

Their eyes connect. Wolf realizes the reason why Doujun is apologising to his master. Wolf snatches the knife from Doujun’s hand and sinks it into Doujun’s neck.

The former monk chokes and gurgles as blood drips from the wound and his mouth. He collapses to the ground, his face to the side. His silver eyes stare at nothing as he whispers a weak call to his Master before he dies.

Wolf exhales and stares at the fallen monk. To think that Lord Genichiro had actually hired someone like this for the Rejuvenating Waters… It seems the man is guilty of a lot of things, but they are in a time of war and desperation. Wolf understands his actions even if he does not approve it. Wolf drinks from the healing gourd and returns to the cell where Genichiro remains unconscious.

The shinobi kneels by the man’s side. He looks… dead. His chest is barely moving, and Wolf can just barely feel the exhale of air through his nose. Doujun has told him that the man is still poisoned, and that death would be the only cure. But Wolf doesn’t want to kill him, not again. And having realised the effects of each death on the lord, Wolf is even more reluctant to do so. Unsure of what else to do, Wolf tries as gently as he can to carry the larger man, somehow twisting him over to slump over his back. Wolf returns to the entrance of the abandoned dungeon.

“What a surprise,” a deep voice says as Wolf steps out of the mouth of the dungeon. It’s the Memorial Mob. He stares at Wolf and the man he is carrying. “Karma has caught up to him. The lord is strong but a fool.” He pauses and looks at his wares. “Did you kill that… man in the dungeon?”

Wolf nods. The peddler hums. He picks something from his wares and tosses Wolf a small bag. Inside is a crystallised Droplet of Dragon’s blood. Wolf looks to the Mob.

“The dungeon is cleansed. Soon there will be no need for me to stay here,” the merchant says. He glances at the unconscious lord. “Maybe the good karma from that will do him some good.”

Wolf says nothing aside from giving the other an acknowledging nod for the gift. He makes his way to the castle. All the soldiers who come his way stop when they see who it is that Wolf is carrying. It is fortunate that it clears the way for him, and soon, Wolf reaches the top of the castle, to where his master is held.

Chapter Text

As expected, Emma is with Lord Kuro.

“Loyal Wolf!” the Divine Heir’s eyes brighten with surprise and relief when he sees his shinobi. But his eyes immediately fix themselves on Genichiro who is slumped over Wolf’s back. Emma, who is with him, immediately approaches Wolf with a severe expression.

“What happened?” the doctor asks. Wolf explains it quickly, and Emma wastes no time in administering treatment. They move him to the next room and both the Divine Heir and his shinobi are forced out while Emma attempts to treat the lord of Ashina.

Wolf kneels in front of his master. 

“What has happened, Wolf?” Kuro asks patiently. Worry creases his young face. “This situation feels somewhat… expected. Yes, I think I remember. Lord Genichiro has been acting… odd, and so have you.”

Wolf lowers his head and contemplates how to explain the situation to his young master. He informs the Divine Heir of what has transpired, the entire situation that involves both Genichiro and himself. He also speaks of the Rejuvenating Waters and the Dragon’s Blood’s role in the general’s state.

“A never-ending temporal loop? Rebirth? I… never would have expected such a thing,” Kuro says thoughtfully. He looks to the door of the room where Emma is treating the man. “I see. The gods are truly merciless. It is quite a shame, and I hope Lord Genichiro will find his way again.”

Wolf responds to his master’s musings with silence as he himself is in deep thought.

“Then, Wolf, it seems your fate is entangled with Lord Genichiro’s,” Kuro continues, addressing his shinobi directly. “I have a feeling you have already made up your mind, have you not?”

“...Yes, my lord. My apologies,” Wolf replies.

“There is no need for apologies, Wolf. I do not know what the gods have in plan for us, but if they have meant to bring your fates together as to bring Lord Genichiro to the right path… and even the possibility of saving Ashina without using the Dragon’s Blood, then, I think there is no harm in trying. Lord Genichiro… he…” the boy sighs. “With what that has happened - I believe that he can be saved too. Not just Ashina.”

Wolf remains silent, but he agrees.

Shortly, Emma steps out of the room and calls to Wolf.

“Master Wolf, would you be so kind as to inform Lord Isshin of Lord Genichiro’s condition? I have to continue treating him as he is in quite a bad state,” Emma asks of the shinobi. Of course, Wolf agrees. It is the least he can do and he dislikes having little to do while waiting for the man’s treatment to be done. He immediately heads over to the other tower where the patriarch of the Ashina clan rests.

He enters the tower via the rooftops, taking a peek in to see the elder Ashina leisurely sipping wine from a cup.

“Oh, Sekiro!” Wolf stares at the man who greets him cordially. He had not called him out on the other’s identity as the Tengu yet, and neither has he interacted much with the elder aside coming across him as the Tengu and visiting him a few times with drinks. This time, however, he feels odd. Perhaps, he is also affected by the loop as did Lord Kuro? He has questions, but it feels like there isn’t enough time to get all the answers. “What brings you here?”

Wolf steps up to the man and kneels down before him. “Lord Isshin. Lady Emma has sent me here.”

“Ah, is it about that pitiful grandchild of mine? I have heard,” Isshin says dismissively. Wolf says nothing. Glancing at the shinobi, Isshin eventually asks, “...What did Emma say?”

“Lady Emma… she said that he is in a bad state,” Wolf replies. He says nothing more, because he genuinely does not know of the man’s condition, but having seen the man himself, Wolf can see that he is far from alright, and not just physically, but mentally as well. Without realising, he’s clenching his fists at the thought.

“Is that what she said..?” the former Sword Saint asks and hums as he strokes his beard. The furrow in his brow expresses a concern that Wolf has not seen before. “For her to say something like that… It must be particularly terrible. I have heard that you were the one who brought him in. Tell me, Sekiro, of what happened in the dungeons.”

Wolf obliges and recounts his fight with the surgeon and the words and texts that he had seen scattered in the cell. Isshin listens intently, and when Wolf is done with his words, a heavy silence looms over them. 

“That surgeon…” Isshin shakes his head. “At least, that stubborn boy has learned his error, even if it is at the cost of his own body and sanity.” The elder pours another cup and takes a slow sip. He gazes out the door to the lookout. “Sekiro, I am just an old man now, nearing the end of my days. That foolish child - Genichiro - he no longer listens to my words but he still needs guidance. I had thought it was too late for him but looking at you… and with what had transpired in the dungeon, I feel that there may still be a possibility for him to survive this. I am not ordering you to, but think of this as a dying old man’s request for a favour. Look out for him, will you?”

Wolf lowers his gaze, his mood contemplative. He has many opinions and thoughts regarding the situation, and especially of Genichiro. For Lord Isshin to ask such a favour from him is rather unexpected.

“Of course, you have your master to prioritise. Do not forget that, Sekiro. My grandson… he has a hard head. I’m sure he will survive one way or another,” Isshin adds with a smile that does not reach his eyes. Wolf remains silent, offering no words of his own aside from a nod. He has already made up his mind about it, and it is his own choice. No one has ordered him to do it. He just thinks that it is right.

Done with his task in informing the elder Ashina, Wolf returns after he has had a couple of drinks at the insistence of the older man. He steps into the room via the side door to see Emma speaking with Kuro, both wearing concerned expressions. The shinobi approaches them, his hearing catching a few ominous words. 

“Loyal Wolf,” Kuro calls to him and he kneels. Emma excuses herself to the corner where she often stands. “Emma is done treating Lord Genichiro and she does not think there is much more that she can do for him. He is still unconscious.” He pauses, letting it sink in. “We will continue with our own endeavour, if you do not mind, Wolf?”

The shinobi nods obediently. He’ll have to go visit the Senpou Temple for the Mortal Blade. Will the Divine Child know what to do? 

Wolf approaches Emma next, who looks tired. It is the first time he’s seen her like this. “Pardon me, it was a rather arduous situation. His body was not in good condition, with the numerous mix of poisons that has been administered in his system. It is by the grace of the Rejuvenating Waters that he is still alive, if barely,” the female doctor sighs. Looking up at Wolf she manages a soft smile and glances at the sliding door of the next room. “I have stabilised his condition and did what I can. You may see him if you’d like, but he needs his rest.”

Wolf nods to her in thanks and proceeds to the door. He slides it open and steps into the room as quietly as he can. The first thing he sees is Genichiro laying dead still on the futon. His skin is still pallid and ill, his cheeks sunken and lips chapped and bruised. He looks barely alive.

The Shinobi sits by the man and watches him, lamenting how such a prideful Lord has fallen so low, having been beaten and even killed numerous times for the sake of his mission to save his clan. He doesn’t know what to do as he sits beside the motionless man, staring at his face.

Something moves him to reach out. His flesh hand is raised and his forefinger stretches out to slip aside the stray strand of hair on the man’s face. There is no reaction. Wolf tries not to feel disappointed. 

“Am I finally dead?” a hoarse voice suddenly asks, enunciating each word slowly.

Wolf stiffens and searches the other’s face. Genichiro’s lips are slightly parted, but his eyes remain closed. Yet, behind those lids he seems to be troubled, his eyes searching around in the darkness. Wolf is about to shake him awake when those same eyes flutter open, and land on Wolf.

They both stare at the other.

“You are still here...” Genichiro murmurs tiredly. Wolf is unsure what to make of it. “...I had thought true death has finally claimed me.”

“No,” Wolf blurts out before he realises what he’s just said. But he plows on, a determination that spills out from his mouth into words that he’s been meaning to speak. “I will not let you die this time.”

------

Genichiro is most often called stubborn as a mule. His grandfather likes to comment that he has a rock for a head. The general is already sitting up with the little rest he’s received and Emma appears quietly livid, but she shakes her head and lets him be. His body feels heavy and his mind and thoughts sluggish. Genichiro feels impaired in some form or another. His responses are slow that even coming up with a coherent thought takes effort and he feels like he’s trapped in a suit of heavy lead. His left arm feels numb, and the fingers on his left hand doesn’t even move to his will. He tries not to succumb to anguish.

Genichiro notices the Wolf watching him from the doorway behind his master, the Divine Heir. His eyes watch every movement Genichiro makes and he is sure the man knows that something is off with him, or at least with his body. But Genichiro is already pushing himself to overcome this. He doesn’t remember much, but the one memory that is vivid to him is that the Interior Ministry will besiege the castle by dusk. The time limit has anxiety plaguing him.

He attempts to push himself up to his feet but the muscles in his arms and legs tremble instead. He feels terribly weakened, as if all energy and blood drained out of him. Genichiro almost falls back but is caught by a pair of strong arms - one flesh and one bone. He’s pulled up to his feet, and the shinobi forces the larger man to lean on him for support.

“I’m fine,” Genichiro tries to push the shinobi away but the Wolf’s grip on him tightens and the smaller man shoots him a look that renders the larger man silent. Too tired to argue, Genichiro lets the Wolf support him up. “We need to do something... What was it -?” He can’t remember what he was supposed to do, barely grasping on a task that should be important.

“We need to gather the ingredients to sever Immortality for Lord Kuro,” Wolf reminds him. Genichiro stiffens at losing the power of the Dragon’s Blood, but he slowly regains his memory on it, rubbing his head. His thoughts and memories are still muddled after all.

“I will go with you then,” Genichiro decides. That much, he remembers at least.

“Lord Genichiro, I appreciate your concern, but with your state - “ Kuro tries, but the man interrupts him.

“I will go. There isn’t much time before the Interior Ministry arrives,” Genichiro insists. 

“But - Wolf,” the Divine Heir looks to his shinobi. Remembering what the Wolf has told him before, Kuro sighs. “I believe Wolf has mentioned that the Divine Child of Rejuvenation is waiting at the Senpou Temple. Perhaps she might be of help in regards to your predicament with the Rejuvenating Waters, Lord Genichiro.”

“Divine Child?” the man scowls, his head hurting from straining while attempting to remember details.

“Don’t stress yourself too much. Your memories will return naturally. The side effects from the poisons in your system has affected your mind. It will take some time for it to recover,” Emma chides him.

“We shouldn’t waste any more time then, we need to go,” Genichiro brushes off the others’ concerns, feeling suffocated by it. He itches to leave the room, eager to keep moving and away from the worried looks of these people - who were initially supposed to be on the opposing side. There’s no time to waste, he thinks, as his chest squeezes with nervousness.

Thankfully, both him and Wolf leave the castle soon enough. Genichiro follows the Shinobi of the Divine Heir towards Mount Kongo for the Senpou Temple. Patches of memories of the temple is missing for him, but he remembers the warrior monks and their involvement with the Rejuvenating Waters, and the experiments conducted with it. 

They get by the patrolling monks fairly easily. The shinobi is skilled in stealth and the art of ambush - Genichiro doesn’t even need to draw his sword as he watches the other take down the monks with relative ease. Clearly, the man has done enough of this to deal with them without a second thought. The younger lord of Ashina can only follow after the smaller man, albeit at a slower pace thanks to his half-crippled body.

The Wolf is… surprisingly patient. He stops a distance away as a lookout for incoming enemies, and also waits for Genichiro to catch up. Despite his initial insistence in providing Genichiro support in standing, the shinobi does not offer his help nor does he force it on the other man this time around, possibly to leave some dignity for Genichiro as they both travel through the temple grounds. While receiving help would mean he’d have an easier time moving around, Genichiro appreciates the consideration. He’d hate to have to rely on the other man even more than he already has.

The Shinobi of the Divine Heir is a man of few words just as he remembers. His memories of the man has become muddled but at least there is something very familiar about him that Genichiro’s body positively responds to. He doesn’t flinch away or has the urge to drive his sword into the shinobi’s chest. There’s no animosity at all between them, and instead, there’s an unspoken trust that seems to have come naturally. It’s a foreign feeling for Genichiro. He has his own close retainers that he trusts and knows that they are completely loyal to him, but it’s different when it comes to this shinobi. 

Rather than a vassal’s loyalty to their lord, it feels like a trust of equal footing. Genichiro does not speak of it. 

He follows the Wolf close as they infiltrate Senpou Temple and slip into the Main Hall where rows of mummified corpses sit still along the corridor. He can already smell the stench of corrupted worms lingering the hall. The Wolf warns him to keep a safe distance from the living corpses, and Genichiro can see why. He sees a glimpse of the centipedes writhing within the bodies. The man looks away in disgust, his thoughts on the surgeon and the countless experiments the clan has been guilty of being involved in.

The Wolf approaches the main altar before the giant buddha statue and picks up the bell. Before he rings it, he turns to Genichiro and holds out his hand. This feels familiar, Genichiro thinks. He remembers he’s been here before on several occasions for the purpose of obtaining something, but he isn’t really sure. Genichiro stares at the Wolf questioningly.

“This is the way to the Divine Child,” Wolf tells him. “If I ring the bell, the way to the Hall of Illusions will open, and you have to come with me.”

But Genichiro stares at the offered hand. He’s reluctant to take it, as if the man is offering something more than just a new path.

“Lord Genichiro. Do you trust me?” Genichiro’s eyes snap up to the Wolf’s. His eyes gleam with some light in the shadow of the main hall, possibly a reflection from the candles. One would say he looks wolfish, beast-like, perhaps, with eyes similar to a creature of the night. But Genichiro only sees fire that he’s seen many times before. Somehow, he remembers and recognises that fire very easily.

He takes Wolf’s offered hand in his, and the shinobi rings the bell, spiriting them away to the Hall of Illusions.

Chapter Text

The task set by the Hall is an interesting one, Genichiro thinks to himself. He sits by the railing and waits for the Wolf to complete the chase of the Folding Screen Monkeys, mischievous beings that disappear from sight within seconds.

Genichiro watches from his seat at the side from the point where they first entered the Hall. His injuries still ache and sting, and his sluggish mind and body needs time to recover. He had also wanted to try to get his unmoving arm to respond while he waits. The lone monk who can be found in the Hall stands still opposite of Genichiro. When he looks up, he sees the monk observing him.

“What is it?” Genichiro asks, prompting the other.

“I see you have returned, though not exactly for another attempt,” the monk says. Genichiro furrows his brows. Has he been here? Maybe he has, in one of his past lives. There has been too many to count. He says nothing in return to the monk.

But the monk’s eyes remain on him, scrutinising Genichiro, as if reading his very soul. It makes the general squirm, feeling like his soul is bared to the monk, who maintains his still posture like a frozen statue.

“You… are an interesting one. For Buddha to even allow you to traverse here,” the monk adds, though it sounds as if he is speaking to himself. “Buddha is a man of tranquility. To forgive allows one to release the mind into a state of peace; a step into enlightenment.”

As the monk rambles on, Genichiro isn’t sure if he is still addressing him or not, but he listens to what the man had to say anyway.

“However, forgiveness is not a means to forget,” the monk continues. “Proceed with caution and seek refuge in Dharma for you are… at risk.”

The warning has Genichiro bristled, shooting a defensive look at the monk. “I know that,” Genichiro replies curtly. His mind and body has been failing him as of late, and those deaths under the hands of Doujun has taken a lot out of him. He is aware of how extremely vulnerable he is now, and if he were to carelessly lose his life again, it is likely he will no longer be able to resurrect with all of himself intact. 

The sudden realisation grips him, and Genichiro, who has died and resurrected multiple times had thought he no longer fears death. Yet this time, a certain terror overwhelms him and he feels the tightening in his chest again. There’s a fear of his mortality when he’s this weakened, this frail. With his body broken and his mind in pieces, can he really succeed this time, on this last life?

He needs to succeed. He needs to save Ashina, that was what all this hardship was for, all those pain, torture and deaths, it was all for her, and his final chance is so paper-thin. He could die anytime, and Genichiro is terrified.

But amongst the chaos of his mind, he hears a voice - perhaps the voice of the same lone monk he was speaking with earlier - reciting what sounds like verses from scriptures. The verses are short and simple, but the recital itself is haunting, as if each spoken word is directed to Genichiro directly.

“A man may conquer thousands of men in battle,
But one who conquers himself,
He is indeed the victor of the highest battle.
Better to conquer oneself than others,
Neither a deva, nor a gandhabba,
Nor Mara together with Brahma
Can turn the victory into defeat
Of the man who controls himself “
- Dhammapada 103 - 105*

A direct reminder to him: Conquer yourself, and you are the greatest of conquerors .

“Lord Genichiro!” He feels hands on him, holding him by the shoulders and neck, the warm touches pulling him back to the present. He sees his hands first, still covered in the black burn scars but trembling uncontrollably. He hears himself panting, breathing heavily as if struggling to catch his breath. His vision had closed in and blur without him realising. Genichiro tries to blink it away in vain.

When he looks up, he sees that the Illusory Hall has gone silent, and the lone monk had also disappeared. The shinobi is knelt beside him, his usually stoic face has a deep set furrowed brow while his lips pressed into a thin line that expresses distress. “It’s - it’s fine,” Genichiro grits out. The Wolf remains unmoved and maintains his position beside him. He had thought that the shinobi was holding him at first, but when he looks again, they’re clenched by the shinobi’s side. He ignores the feeling of disappointment, and at first Genichiro had wanted to shove the man away, to keep his distance, but as the time passes, the warm presence by his side becomes comforting, and he soon regains his breath and composure.

“... Have you finished the task?” Genichiro asks once he recovers. The Wolf nods in answer.

“She is waiting,” he says to Genichiro, and with the other’s aid, he gets to his feet and they enter the pillar of light that leads to the Inner Sanctum.

Once they step out of the light, Genichiro realises they are in another part within the temple. It feels peaceful and somewhat detached from the outside world, but at the same time the isolation feels sorrowful and lonely. The Wolf leads Genichiro to the lone pavilion before them and sees a young child - a girl, sitting in the middle of the only room in the building.

The girl is dressed in pale clothes, with delicate skin and long hair with streaks of white that is reminiscent of the Divine Heir’s. In fact, the girl has a presence very similar to the young boy.

“We meet again, Shinobi of the Divine Heir. And… Lord Genichiro of Ashina,” the girl greets and bows slightly. “I have heard much about you from Sir Wolf. Welcome to the Inner Sanctum.”

“You are the Divine Child?” Genichiro asks, his eyes wandering about the room. It’s rather messy, with scrolls and books tucked haphazardly to the side. The giant altar behind her is neat and clean. Genichiro glances to Wolf who kneels down to the girl.

“Yes, I am the sole remainder of the Divine Children,” the girl replies. She draws out a box and automatically places it before Wolf, as if they’ve done this many times before.

“The Crimson Mortal Blade,” Genichiro’s eyes widen. This must be where it’s been hidden all this time. Wolf conveys his gratitude to the girl and draws the blade from its sheath. He watches as the shinobi drops dead onto the floor upon drawing it, too stunned to respond before the shinobi is resurrected and latches the blade to his back nonchalantly.

So this is how the shinobi obtained it. He wonders if he would be able to wield this Mortal Blade. For it to take one’s life the moment they draw the blade - it would only set off his temporal loop, would it not? That means, it would be impossible for Genichiro to wield it then. He feels a pang of disappointment, a clear show of difference of the faux Dragon’s Blood - the Rejuvenating Waters, and the true Dragon’s Blood that runs through the shinobi’s veins.

The girl - the Divine Child turns her attention to Genichiro, taking a good look at the man. “You must have been through a lot,” the girl comments, with an apologetic tinge to her tone. “Sir Wolf has shared with me of your strange ability. Please, come closer.”

The shinobi has? “Wait, how do you know… about us? About my circumstance?”

“It appears that those touched by the Dragon’s Blood and made aware of the temporal loop may retain their memories with each cycle. And as we share the same blood - you, through the consumption of the Sediment - it seems that the ability for me to keep my memory is stronger. I had been anticipating Sir Wolf’s arrival with each cycle.”

“Each life, Sir Wolf has come to the Inner Sanctum to obtain the Red Mortal Blade, and he has shared with me of this strange phenomena. I have attempted to search for another circumstance such as this, but I am afraid there are no records of any similar events,” the Divine Child explains. Her speech is elegant and formal, yet straightforward. She reminds Genichiro of both Emma and the Divine Heir. “But meeting you here in the flesh…” Her eyes look over to Genichiro, studying. 

“With how many times the loop has reset… You must have gone through numerous deaths,” the girl says lamentably. “But even through all these hardships, I believe the Lord Buddha is giving you a chance to redeem yourself, Lord Genichiro. Perhaps, he may even be answering to someone’s prayers for you.”

Genichiro says nothing to that. Truthfully he is tired of talks about the gods. And if there is supposed to be someone who would pray for him… All of them have already died or no longer cared for him. The gods have meddled in his life more than enough, literally for several lifetimes. At this point in time, he merely wishes to succeed in his sole goal of saving Ashina, which he is certain would be grasped with the aid of the shinobi in the same room with him. 

“Whatever the aims of the gods are,” the Divine Child, “I would gladly offer the Sanctum as Sanctuary for both of you.”

“Divine Child,” Wolf suddenly interrupts. “Are you able to help him? His body and his mind has… suffered.”

Genichiro is rather surprised by the sudden prompting from the shinobi. He had not expected the man to even ask after his condition, and especially not ask for something that could aid him. Why would the man do that, he wonders. Before he can cut in, the Divine Child gestures at him to come closer. He obliges, unable to say no to the young girl who peers closely at his left arm.

“You are not fully healed, are you? You arm…” she hovers her hand over his left arm, with Wolf watching close beside him. She withdraws her hand and shakes her head. “I am not a healer… I can only offer you the blessings of the harvest. Perhaps the gift of the gods will be kind to you.”

“The harvest?” Genichiro repeats.

“The last time I gave him the rice…” Wolf begins, looking uncertain.

“You have mentioned, yes. His body rejected it,” the girl nods with a thoughtful expression. “I believe it was the venom that was in his blood that caused the reaction, especially if it was those of the worm. Perhaps I can make porridge for you instead so that it would be easier for you to ingest. Would you like some, Lord Genichiro?”

Genichiro, who is lost from their conversation, nods. He realises he hasn’t eaten in some time anyway.

The Divine Child excuses herself from the room and disappears to make the porridge, leaving the two men alone.

“You’ve given me rice before?” Genichiro asks, curious. The Wolf nods quietly, not explaining further. “When was that?”

Wolf appears reluctant to talk about it, but replies, “You were poisoned by the surgeon Doujun, and we were fighting the Guardian Ape. You sustained injuries from the Ape but the poison made it worse. I tried to give you the rice to heal you, but you reacted badly to it.”

Silence follows as Genichiro stares at the shinobi, trying to recall the event. He can barely remember it, but the look on the shinobi’s face, one of remorse, touches him. “Did you kill me?”

“You asked me to,” is the reply.

Genichiro had never thought he would show such a vulnerable side to another, especially to the Wolf. All he can think is that perhaps he had been pushed to the limit for him to plead for the shinobi to release him from agony. And for the Wolf to deliver such mercy to him was… especially kind of him.

“Then, you have my gratitude,” Genichiro says. 

Wolf watches him and after a pause, he tells the general, “You don’t have to die again. You won’t.”

It sounds like a promise, and it tugs at Genichiro to meet the shinobi’s gaze. They say nothing, their eyes fixed on each other’s until the Divine Child returns with a bowl of plain porridge.

Genichiro eats the porridge in thoughtful silence while Wolf sits opposite him cleaning his shinobi tools. The Divine Child sits between them, busying herself in her books and scrolls of records from the temple. There isn’t anything special about the porridge, it tastes just like any other, but the Wolf and the Divine Child had spoken of the rice to have healing properties. He does not feel especially invigorated, but it is a bowl of warm food that eases his empty stomach. It helps to calm his body and senses, and his mind no longer feels as tired or sluggish.

He finishes the entire bowl and sets it down. “Thank you for the meal,” Genichiro conveys to the Divine Child. “It was good.”

The Divine Child smiles up at him. “You are most welcome, Lord Genichiro. Unfortunately, looking through the archives once again, I could not find anything useful. How do you feel?”

“It is fine. I feel rested, thanks to the porridge you’ve served.”

“It should take effect very soon.”

“What will?“ 

A mild green glow radiates from him, and immediately Genichiro feels a comfortable, warm sensation wrap his body. The fingers on his left hand twitch, and Genichiro’s eyes widen as he wiggles them. They’re no longer as stiff and numb - not fully mobile, but he can at least curl his fingers. He doesn’t feel as vulnerable now, possibly even nock an arrow. Even the other physical injuries on him sting less and the skin has begun to heal over most of them.

While Genichiro is marvelling at his healing body, he sees the Wolf hold out his cupped palms to the Divine Child, who pours out a handful of pure white grain into his hands.

“Blessings of the harvest…” Genichiro murmurs, realising that the girl had poured it out of her own palms. The Divine Child may be a false copy of the Divine Heir, but it appears that she holds powers that can be considered just as divine. He knows of the experimentation the monks had inflicted on countless children in order to create their own version of the Divine Heir. He feels a pang of guilt as he stares at the girl. She must have gone through unspeakable horrors -  though he’s already told himself countless times that it is all out of necessity. It’s too late for regrets now.

“Yes, a bountiful harvest are the blessings of the gods. Rice is a precious thing, and makes one stronger,” the Divine Child explains. Wolf stashes the grains away and gears up, slipping his sword to his waist sash. “Please, should you need more, you may come back for another harvest.”

“You have our gratitude, Divine Child,” Genichiro gets to his feet, feeling refreshed from the meal he’s had. Wolf follows suit.

“I apologise for not being of more use,” the girl confesses.

“You have healed me, that is more than we could ask for.” He glances to Wolf, who nods to the girl in agreement.

The Divine Child gently smiles again as she looks to both of them. “Then, farewell Lord Genichiro, Sir Wolf. May the harvest be plentiful wherever your path may lead.”

Now that Genichiro is mostly healed and Wolf has obtained the Red Mortal Blade, they are set for their next destination - retrieve the Lotus of the Palace and the Shelter Stone.

Chapter Text

They make their journey to the Watering Hole of the Guardian Ape. They are better prepared now, though this time Wolf takes the lead on the attack.

Genichiro, while still injured, determinedly provides support with his arrows even if he has to strain himself as his left arm is still rigid. While he almost argued with the shinobi in joining him in battle, eventually he relents and agrees to station himself at the cliff edge overlooking the area. It would be better than risk being a burden to Wolf.

He still does not remember his most recent death to the Guardian Ape and the dungeon surgeon’s poison, but he is reminded of the pain. Claw marks that dig deep into his flesh as the poison ate away at his flesh. The agonising pain is still clear in his mind and sends chills down his spine. Genichiro nocks an arrow and aims it at the Ape while Wolf dances about the beast’s legs, avoiding its flailing attacks. He predicts the movement of the Ape and the arrow’s trajectory before he adjusts his aim appropriately. The Wolf is in his sights, but he trusts that the shinobi will dodge his arrow.

He trusts .

What a strange feeling.

Genichiro releases his arrow and the projectile whistles as it cuts through the air. Wolf dodges backwards and the Ape chases after him, right into the path of the arrow. It lodges itself in the Ape’s face, right below its eye. The beast howls in pain and thrashes while Wolf takes the chance. He cuts the beast down and uses the giant sword in its neck. The Ape is beheaded, but they both know it’s only the first phase of the battle.

The second phase of the fight fortunately ends quickly. The Wolf got caught in a couple of attacks, but thanks to the healing gourd, he isn’t severely injured. For whatever reason, Genichiro feels relief once he sees the shinobi snatch the worm from the beast’s neck and severs it with the Red Mortal Blade.

His left arm is sore and aching rather badly, but it is worth it. Genichiro meets Wolf down at the alcove, where he finds the shinobi picking the Lotus. When Wolf turns to face him he looks sombre as his eyes look to the right of Genichiro, which is just a plain wall of the alcove.

“You died there,” the Wolf suddenly speaks.

“Here?” The shinobi nods. Genichiro stares at the spot. He still doesn’t remember that death, just the lingering pain. He feels a little uncomfortable. “Was it a particularly bad death?” he asks again, out of curiosity on why the other man looked so upset about it.

“It wasn’t,” Wolf says simply. He doesn’t say anything else, leaving Genichiro even more curious.

“If there’s nothing else, we should hurry and acquire the Shelter Stone,” Genichiro dismisses it and urges them to proceed.

They continue their journey with little talk between them. They dispatch their enemies with little effort, the sense of familiarity between them still strong despite Genichiro being sure they had not worked with each other much. The shinobi’s skill complements his; where Genichiro has raw strength and accuracy, Wolf fills in the gaps of his weakness in speed and agility, Each enemy they fight against has practically no chance of survival.

It feels… empowering. Genichiro finds himself watching the shinobi more and more often, out of admiration of his skill, or something else altogether. He tries not to think too much about it.

They descend into the Depths and pass through the Poison Pool and into the Hidden Forest. There they find the dying old man who speaks of the presence in the temple that had replaced Buddha. “Beware of the illusions,” he warns as the duo heads deeper into the forest.

They can see the fog thickening as they approach. The Wolf walks in the front but his pace slows. “We should stick close here,” the shinobi cautions with an unspoken implication. Genichiro has a sense of deja vu but with his memory lacking, he can only follow Wolf’s advice and keeps pace with the other’s speed.

Genichiro sees phantoms, either illusions or real lost spirits of the forest, but ignores them to follow Wolf’s lead. They have to look for the source of this fog, most likely conjured up by whatever being that had taken over the temple as mentioned by the dying man earlier.

Wolf passes Genichiro a green coloured round candy which the latter recognises to be Gachiin’s Sugar. He pops it in his mouth and its ability immediately takes effect, muffling his sounds and masking his presence. The larger man then shadows the shinobi as they sneak around the phantom soldiers and hounds.

They both hear the sound of a flute being played getting louder as they approach the temple. So far, they have yet to be detected, but something still feels amiss. The melody of the music takes up a higher sharp note, and when Genichiro blinks, the Wolf in front of him vanishes from his sight.

“Wolf-?!” Genichiro whispers out nervously. What happened? His entire surroundings melt into the fog and Genichiro realises he’s somewhere else, but he can see nothing but grey of the thick fog. Genichiro grips the handle of his katana and looks around warily. He’s anticipating an illusion of perhaps his worst nightmare or his goals. The Sword Saint Isshin perhaps? His mentor Tomoe? Maybe… his deceased parents? Genichiro is nervous, but he’s determined. He won’t lose this time.

His ears pick up footsteps and immediately he draws his sword. He takes up a stance, bracing himself but his ears are filled with the thumping of his heartbeat. 

The Wolf too has lost sight of the general and he looks around, his eyes seeking for any sign of the younger Ashina. He had also heard the change in the tune of the flute music, and before he could react, the environment had changed. The shinobi had thought they could avoid this by sneaking past the enemies, but it appears that the flute player’s illusion magic is more potent than expected. Wolf feels the grating irritation in himself at having lost the general when he’d been determined to keep his eye on the man. He’s taken the lord’s life in this fog of illusions too, without meaning to, and it had felt like a terrible failure. Shinobi are supposed to be able to look through illusions and trickery, and yet, he’d fallen into it.

The Wolf keeps a passive stance this time, looking around the area, though there is still nothing but grey and the wet ground and grass under his feet. He walks about, anticipating an illusion of someone to appear, but finds no such thing. When he keeps walking though, he eventually sees something on the ground not far from him.

It looks to be a body. He stops as dread fills him.

Wolf quickly goes over to the body, and just as he’s feared, it’s Genichiro. The man is laid motionless on the ground, in a pool of his own blood. Wolf stares at the corpse, clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles turn white. He lowers himself to his knees to inspect the body, trying to ignore the hollow feeling that’s gnawing at him. The man’s face is expressionless, but his blue-grey eyes are half-open with an empty stare. It reminds Wolf of how he’s found the man unconscious on the dungeon surgeon’s table and the panic he realises that is steadily building in him. He had not liked the sight then, and he feels sick seeing the sight in front of him now.

How could he have let this happen again? He’s even given the man his word that he wouldn’t let him die this time. Anger and regret and many other emotions mix within him as Wolf reaches out to check the man’s pulse, hoping that there would be a trace of life. But the skin is cold to the touch and the muscles hardened, set in rigor mortis. It makes Wolf flinch and his fingers curl inward into a fist again. His lips thin and his brows furrow. He doesn’t realise the slight tremble of his fist as he clenches it.

Footsteps behind him take his attention, and the shinobi whirls around with his sword drawn and his teeth bared.

“Wolf,” a tall figure. It’s Genichiro, again - no - this could be an illusion. Wolf has had enough of this forest and its trickery. “I finally found you. I’ve managed to break from the forest’s illusion -”

But the shinobi lunges to attack the figure with a side sweep of his sword. His mind is clouded with emotions he’s growing familiar with. Anger, regret, guilt. He wants vengeance for the man he’d failed. He’ll cut down this phantom.

Genichiro clams his mouth shut and raises his own weapon to block the sudden attack from the shinobi. The eyes on Wolf are bright with the cold gleam of rage and bloodlust as their swords clash, each side holding their ground from being overpowered by the other.

“Shinobi! What are you doing?!” Genichiro calls to Wolf, but his eyes, while bright, are glossed over as if he’s not really seeing what’s in front of him. He must have fallen for one of the illusions. Genichiro pushes the other back and swings his sword at Wolf, using the blunt side of the sword, but the shinobi dodges and counters. Remembering how fast the other man is, Genichiro almost gets struck by the counter kick when he backs away. The larger man decides to tackle, rushing into the shinobi, using his large frame and weight to his advantage.

Wolf grunts as he’s shoved down onto the ground, Genichiro knocking his sword out of his grip. He struggles, clawing and biting like a rabid wolf. Genichiro has never seen the shinobi like this. What has he seen to make the usually composed man to become frenzied like this?

“Wolf!” Genichiro holds the man down by the head with his palm and blankets Wolf’s body with his, disallowing him to move. “Wolf - Shinobi of the Divine Heir! Get ahold of yourself!” Even so, Wolf manages to get his prosthetic loose from Genichiro’s hold and punches the man in the side.

The smaller man hits hard, but it would take more than that to knock the general off. They scuffle for a long moment, but Genichiro, known for his tenacity, remains firm and keeps the man trapped under him, even with all the scratches, bites and hits he receives from the Wolf’s thrashing. The entire time he keeps calling out to Wolf, reminding Wolf of their crossed paths, what they’ve gone through, the deaths he’d had by Wolf’s hand yet also saved by the shinobi in recent lives. But even with his stubbornness, Genichiro does not have the patience of a monk.

When he takes a bit of space back the shinobi lunges in for another attempted strike, but Genichiro catches it before it lands and punches the Wolf across his face. He hits hard enough that the man appears dazed and goes limp momentarily, but Genichiro’s anger has yet to simmer down. 

“Wolf, snap out of this, whatever you saw was a mere illusion! Your lord is waiting for your return, and you made a deal with me that you will aid me in protecting Ashina!” Genichiro reminds him, yelling angrily in Wolf’s face as he grabs him by the scarf. The shinobi stares at him, dazed and blank faced with his nose and lip bleeding from Genichiro’s punch. “You told me that you won’t let me die, and you are going to go back on your word like this?!”

Those words, however, seem to bring Wolf back. He blinks a couple of times, staring up at Genichiro who is still seething with frustration. 

“He’s dead,” Wolf murmurs. Genichiro’s brows knit in confusion. Wolf stares hard at Genichiro’s face, his eyes searching yet lost. “You died again.” The trace of emotion in Wolf’s voice is what stuns Genichiro. 

“...No, I’m not. I haven’t died,” Genichiro tells him, finding his voice softening in response. Wolf’s eyes refocuses. He looks at Genichiro, and his eyes widen just slightly. A tense silence hangs between them as they Wolf registers what he's seeing, that the Genichiro before him is not a phantom but the real person. Eventually, the general loosens his grip on Wolf’s scarf. “Are you finally yourself again?”

Wolf nods quietly. If anything, the look on the Wolf resembles one of masked embarrassment and Genichiro isn’t sure whether to find it amusing or infuriating. He’s exhausted. He finally moves off of the shinobi and sits back with a suppressed groan. The shinobi can punch, and he’s sure to be covered in bruises on top of his freshly healed wounds.

“What kind of illusion did the forest show you to make you lose yourself like that?” Genichiro inquires passingly. He goes to pick up his own sword while Wolf slowly gets to his feet and retrieves his own. He doesn’t expect the other to answer, for he knows whatever the illusionary fog of the forest conjures reflects whatever is in the person’s heart. It would be something personal, and the shinobi is not verbal either.

“It showed me your death,” Genichiro hears. He stops in his tracks, astounded by the unexpected answer. He stares at Wolf who nonchalantly sheathes his own blade and schools his features while pointedly avoiding Genichiro’s gaze. “I thought you died again due to my negligence.”

Genichiro finds himself at a loss on how to respond to that. His lips part and he has the urge to say something. They are only a few meters apart, yet his hands feel heavy despite some strange desire to reach out to the other man.

Instead, what he says is, “I am not your lord for you to concern yourself over.”

Wolf turns to face him. “I swore that I will not let you die,” Wolf replies, staring back into Genichiro’s eyes.

It’s a declaration that effectively silences the general. Genichiro holds his gaze with Wolf’s, many unspoken things between them. The man feels nervous somewhat, and the shinobi looks away into the fog.

“You have my gratitude for bringing me out of the forest’s illusion,” Wolf continues, changing the subject. “We should find the flute player and be rid of this fog.”

Instead of replying to that, Genichiro doesn’t know what possessed him to ask, “Will you truly not serve another lord, Wolf?”

He sees the stiffness in Wolf’s shoulders but the shinobi does not reply. Genichiro wants to know. He needs to.

But the tune of a flute interrupts them and breaks the silence of the forest. Genichiro feels both annoyed and relieved. Wolf walks towards the direction of the music, and Genichiro knows better than to press further.

-----------

The creature they kill in the abandoned temple is a grotesque thing. A strange, malformed being in clothes that Genichiro recognises to be of noble origin. They are of quality make with intricate designs and its colour is vibrant. It is no ordinary being for sure. He wonders where such a creature could possibly have come from, but there are no other clues. The body disappears and so does the illusion. The thick, heavy fog of the forest is immediately lifted to reveal that the temple is more run down than it appears, burnt and dilapidated with merely its frame standing. The forest itself is empty, with not even a living creature in sight.

There is nothing else for them to do but to proceed. Their destination should be nearby. Both Wolf and Genichiro tread forward and cut down the guarding phantoms and wolves.

It doesn’t take long before they are walking down a slope to the base of a waterfall. Finally, they see small village houses along the river and spot the recognisable tent of a Memorial Mob.

They have finally reached Mibu Village.

Chapter Text

“Care to purchase an offering…? Heehee, heeheehee…” the Memorial Mob greets them with an eerie laugh. Genichiro skims over the man’s wares but sees nothing of interest. He waits for Wolf to be done with his purchase and is about to head down the river towards the village houses when the shinobi stops him.

Wolf holds up a small sake bottle. Genichiro gives him an inquiring look as Wolf gestures towards the waterfall. There’s a recess beside it, perfectly out of the way and anyone’s sights. A good place to rest. Still a little aching and worn out from the fight in the forest earlier, Genichiro agrees.

Genichiro kneels by the water and washes his face. Wolf sits at the back of the recess and pours out a cup of the purchased sake. Genichiro approaches and takes a seat opposite him, his face and hair dripping with water.

“Only one cup?” Genichiro asks. Wolf shrugs and eyes to the direction of the Mob. They probably only have one cup in their inventory. It isn’t a big deal, so Genichiro takes the served cup and brings it to his lips. He scents the aroma of the wine and takes a sip. Its rich flavour invigorates him and lights up his taste buds. “Dragonspring sake?”

Wolf nods, watching Genichiro take another sip. The man then holds out the remaining sake cup to Wolf. “I don’t drink.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Genichiro scolds him. “Drink.”

Wolf scowls but Genichiro is insistent. Eventually, the shinobi relents and finishes the cup. Genichiro pours another.

The atmosphere and silence between them are pleasant despite the tension earlier as they continue this for several moments. No mention of what had transpired in the forest, as both keep their heads and gazes down with Genichiro focusing on the sake. While the sake is flavourful, it is also high in alcoholic content. With another few sips, the effects of the sake has both men flushed and warm.

“Let me take a look at your wounds,” Wolf suddenly says. Genichiro looks to him. The man’s expression remains stoic despite the slight red to his cheeks.

“I am not injured,” Genichiro tells him, dismissing his concerns.

“The bruises. From the forest,” Wolf insists. There’s a trace of remorse on his expression. Genichiro realises he is referring to the bruises on his side that Wolf had given him while he was still under the fog’s illusion. 

“It’s only bruises, they will go away by themselves, or you can lend me the gourd,” Genichiro tells him, waving it off. Wolf keeps quiet, his lips pursed. The shinobi stares at the cup between them and takes another sip of the sake.

“What did you see in the forest?” Wolf asks instead as he sets down the cup. His speech has slowed a little, with a hint of slurring. Genichiro’s brows furrow at his inquiry, but is more concerned about the shinobi’s state. He seems to be a little inebriated.

“That would be none of your concern,” Genichiro replies gruffly, glaring down at the surface of the river water. Another moment of silence follows, but Wolf doesn’t seem keen on leaving him be.

“Lady Emma told me a little of your childhood. That you would visit the Old Grave with her,” Wolf keeps talking. Genichiro looks at the shinobi again, annoyed. Has the sake loosened his tongue?

But he remembers what the Wolf is talking about. Indeed, he has some memory of that moment, watching his mentor performing by the tree together with the previous Divine Heir. He has mixed emotions about the recollection, and is undecided whether he feels pained or nostalgic about it. Perhaps both. He is surprised that the memory is still with him even though his mind had been broken from all his deaths.

Realising that the shinobi is still gazing at him waiting for an answer, Genichiro grumbles, “Emma should keep such things to herself.”

He avoids the other’s gaze and continues to sip on the sake in turns with the shinobi, yet the other man’s eyes remain fixed on him. It’s an intense look despite the near blank expression the Wolf often wears. 

“Your wounds,” Wolf speaks up again. Genichiro, increasingly intoxicated with each sip of the Dragonspring sake, huffs in annoyance. He loosens his sash and pulls his collar aside roughly to show his side to the Wolf.

“They are mere bruises. They have already begun to heal,” Genichiro vexedly tells him. But the Wolf had come up right beside him without Genichiro realising. The smaller man can be awfully silent when he wants to - he is a shinobi after all. Genichiro flinches away slightly, but the Wolf continues to move in closer. His right hand reaches out to touch the dark blue and green bruises that mar the tan skin of the general. He can feel the texture of the shinobi’s calloused hand brushing lightly, almost carefully, over his rough, scarred skin.

Wolf’s hand is warmer than he expects. It is probably because of the sake. Genichiro stares at where the shinobi’s hand is touching him. He glances up at Wolf who’s leaned in close, inspecting the bruises. The Wolf is small, much smaller than he remembers. The man’s presence had always been so large, taking up a chunk of his memory and goal for numerous life times. It feels odd to see the same man physically smaller. 

“Lady Emma gave me some ointment,” Wolf announces and produces a small bottle. He opens it but Genichiro resists, pushing the hand holding the bottle of ointment away.

“I told you it’s fine.”

“Stay still,” Wolf warns, a slight growl to his already slightly slurred speech, showing the first sign of irritation. He pushes Genichiro back harshly against the stone wall of the recess. Genichiro grunts as his head hits the wall and glares back. The alcohol fuels his anger, but he finds himself staring at the smaller man. Yet he stops when he realises that the shinobi is practically straddling his lap. He watches the shinobi slightly fumble with the bottle, displaying that he isn’t as sober as he tries to appear.

“You’re drunk,” Genichiro grips Wolf by the wrist of his flesh arm. “I can do it myself.”

“I am not,” Wolf says flatly. He’s still composed and stoic faced which would fool anyone, but since Genichiro sees the fumbling and the flushed cheeks, he knows better. Despite that, the shinobi remains stubborn. “This is my responsibility.”

Wolf proceeds to ignore the general, sloppily applying the ointment on Genichiro’s bruises. The oily substance is cold compared to Wolf’s touch, but it immediately soothes the aches of his bruises. Genichiro attempts to swat the other’s hands away but Wolf is equally as stubborn and insistent as he is, and persists until Genichiro surrenders and leans back against the wall with an exasperated sigh. He reaches for the sake bottle and takes a drink indignantly. There’s only perhaps another gulp left.

His vision swirls. The heat from Wolf’s body on his and the massaging motion of the man’s hand on his bruised side lulls Genichiro into a relaxed state. There’s a stirring of something at the moment, especially when the hand is moving upwards, sliding over the charred skin of his burns. The shinobi’s close proximity isn’t helping.

“Leave me when you’re done,” Genichiro slurs. He raises the bottle to finish the sake, but it is swiped from his hand before it can touch his lips.

The Wolf has taken it for himself, and Genichiro is too stunned to even utter a word. Wolf gulps the last of the Dragonspring sake and drops the bottle aside. He cringes as the heat of the alcohol burns as it goes down his throat and warm his belly. His face is flushed a brighter red now, and his eyes are unfocused. Yet, they fix themselves on Genichiro, who has gone quiet as he watches the other warily.

The shinobi’s actions are unexpected and almost out of character. Genichiro does not know what the man would do next, especially with that intense gaze he continues to direct on him. Both of them are painfully aware that Wolf is straddled on the larger man’s lap, and with Genichiro’s collar open, the scene appears quite suggestive.

Genichiro clears his throat and tries to break the tension. But the words that leave him only tap at the topic that they’ve been delicately dancing around. Perhaps his subconscious really wants to know.

“You didn’t answer my question, Shinobi of the Divine Heir.” 

Their eyes remain stuck on each other, neither breaking eye contact despite their intoxicated state. Wolf doesn’t reply, his golden brown eyes still regarding Genichiro with a heavy gaze.

“Wolf,” Genichiro licks his lips. He sees the Wolf’s eyes flicker to them for a quick moment. “Answer me. Will you not serve another lord?” Genichiro repeats his question again. Wolf blinks slowly and his gaze wavers this time. His lips part as if to answer but there is still a lack of a reply. He was more talkative earlier, but it seems that this particular question continues to be difficult for the shinobi to answer.

Genichiro may not have a clear mind at the moment, but the implication of the shinobi’s reluctance is evident. That Wolf is actually considering it. He does not know why or what drove him to do what he does next. He fully blames it on the sake. Genichiro moves.

He feels dizzy and sick but at the same time heat is rising in his body as their bodies come into contact with each other. He pulls Wolf’s head to his, bringing their mouths together as Wolf’s lips part in a surprised gasp. Genichiro uses that chance to lick into the smaller man’s mouth. He tastes strongly of that sweet, quality sake. It makes Genichiro want more.

Surprisingly, the shinobi responds. Genichiro feels a rush of heat as Wolf reacts to his open-mouthed kiss by pushing his tongue back and pressing himself against the larger man. Both of them can feel and taste the desire on the other, and that’s what keeps them going. Wolf’s hands slide over Genichiro’s upper body and sliding his robes off his shoulders. He reaches down for Genichiro’s sash just as the other man is doing the same for him. 

Undergarments are pushed aside while both men continue to kiss hungrily, barely taking a break from each other’s lips. Hands cupping the other’s genitals, wrapping around the shaft and stroking. Genichiro grunts and moans quietly, and Wolf’s hips chases after Genichiro’s touch. He thrusts his hips into that large calloused hand, and soon enough he’s grinding into the man below him.

“Lord Genichiro,” Wolf murmurs. His voice is rough and slurred from both the alcohol and lust. The taste of sake is disappearing, giving way to the unique taste of the Wolf himself, Genichiro thinks, but it still hooks him in. His arm slips around Wolf’s waist, keeping the slighter man in place. His grip is firm and secure, like he’s the only thing that matters. He can’t keep his mouth off the other. He shivers at the way the other man calls his name.

Their hands move faster, stroking with renewed vigour. Wolf grits his teeth and clenches his eyes shut. He pants into Genichiro’s mouth. The general watches and admires the shinobi’s ever-changing expressions. It’s the most he’s seen on the other. Beautiful , he thinks. The urge to kiss the man is relentless, even when he’s in the midst of kissing him. Genichiro wants to devour him. 

The shinobi gasps and bucks his hips. Similarly, Genichiro lets out a groan, his own cock throbbing in Wolf’s grip. They lean heavily into each other as they cum, hands still continuing to stroke and massage the other, squeezing out every drop. Wolf shakes and twitches, still breathing heavily against Genichiro’s face. The latter feels their release on his stomach, the fluids mixed and pooled together over his belly.

Their breaths continue to mingle as Wolf rests his head against Genichiro’s. Eventually their eyes meet again but neither of them spare a word. Both of them sober up after a moment, and they share an unspoken understanding as Wolf prises himself off Genichiro’s larger frame.

Silence remains as both men clean themselves up with the river water.

--------------

They move on after their short break, following the path along the river. They sneak past the patrolling villagers, whom they note to appear twisted and almost ghoulish. There are numerous of them holding lanterns or farm tools as weapons, and they both decide it’s best to remain out of sight as they venture deeper into the village.

They find the only non-hostile person hiding in one of the houses, shaking and hiding his head in a basket. The man is too frightened to even bring his head out of it to greet or talk with them properly, but gives interesting information about the state of the village and its residents.

He speaks about the head priest treating them to sake and the villagers becoming sick the more they drink the river and pond water. It sheds light on their current situation and state of the village, but Genichiro isn’t interested in that. Pressing further, Genichiro asks the man.

“Do you know of the Shelter Stone?”

“Shelter Stone? I… I can’t remember but it sounds familiar…” the basket wearing man says with uncertainty. He clutches onto the basket, digging his head further into it. “Look, sorry I don’t know anything… M-Maybe you can ask the head priest, he knows what’s happening. He’s the one who encouraged us to drink sake. He might know about your shelter stone.”

“Where is this head priest, then?”

“You can find him in the shrine, all the way up the riverside near the water’s source,” the villager replies. Wolf and Genichiro glance to each other; that’s their next destination. They leave the man who remains cowering in the corner of the house. There’s not much they can do for the man when he’s mentioned his refusal to move away from hiding in his basket.

The duo moves along past the many villagers. The village of Mibu expands quite far apart, stretching from the start of the river to the end, moving up a hill and crossing a bridge towards the shrine by the waterfall.

They take care of the mob of villagers at the front of the shrine and can hear someone muttering from the other side of the door but the door itself is locked. That may be the voice of the mentioned head priest. Genichiro and Wolf look around the area, but it’s the shinobi who finds a hidden path under the house. He crawls in while Genichiro waits outside. After a moment, the front door opens. Their eyes meet, but Wolf looks away first.

The Head Priest is indeed the one muttering and is sitting at the corner of the shrine surrounded by what seems like empty pots of sake. He looks ‘normal’, untainted and untwisted unlike the villagers. But the man is babbling about being servants and citizens of the palace. What the basket wearing man said is true then. Would it mean that this is the person who is to blame for the current state of the villagers?

Genichiro can’t pass judgement. He’s done similar things for what he believes to be right too. Wolf questions the head priest on the whereabouts of the shelter stone.

Fortunately the priest acknowledges their presence and looks up at them. “Hmm? Ahh.. shelter stone… Been a long time since I heard that… Ah, should I have offered myself to them like the ceremonies back then? Oh… if only we can be accepted to serve as their humble servants…” the head priest begins to babble again. 

“Where can we find the shelter stone?” Wolf asks the priest again.

“Oh.. The shelter stone, yes… offer it up and step into the marital shrine,” the head priest mumbles. “The stone is in the Wedding Cave. Yes, that is where we were once so close to reaching those of the palace… Oohhh... Ohh... Waters of the palace... Fill our cups once more... Fill them to the brim... To the brim…”

The priest returns to babbling and no longer seems capable of answering any more of their questions. Thankfully, he’s given the much needed answer. The Wedding Cave then. It shouldn’t be far away, especially since they saw the path and torii gates right next to the shrine. They head over said path, which leads to a clearing and a large opening of a cave.

“That must be it,” Genichiro points out. The last ingredient, finally. Just a little bit more and the Divine Heir gets what he wants and Wolf will follow up with his deal. The general is anxious. The clock is ticking, and the Interior Ministry may well be on their way. He hopes his troops can last long enough. This is all for Ashina. Yes, he tells himself.

Wolf nods, quiet as usual, and both step toward the cave, only to be blocked by a chilling presence.

A tall, large phantom appears, donning monk robes and a fearsome mask. In their hands they are holding prayer beads and a naginata. This must be the guardian of the cave. It looks like they can’t escape from another fight.

Looking to Wolf, Genichiro draws his bow and arrow. The shinobi meets his gaze and steps forward as he takes up his sword as well. By now they no longer need words between themselves; a look and a nod and they understand what the other means. Genichiro feels… strange about it, but it is not an unpleasant feeling.

They ready themselves for the fight against the phantom monk, as it shrieks and rushes towards Wolf, raising its weapon.

Chapter Text

They defeat the phantom monk with some difficulty. At times, the monk had aimed for Genichiro, swinging their blade like a lethal whirlwind. But each instance Wolf comes to interrupt the phantom's attack and brings their focus back to him, allowing Genichiro to get some distance again and continue to support him with his arrows.

But even so the Corrupted Monk is clever and aims for the vulnerable Genichiro, who has no choice but to fight back with his sword despite his still weakened arms. At this point, the duo combines their strength and counter attacks. They take turns attacking her with flurries of sword swings and techniques, sharing moves from the school of Ashina sword arts. Their delivery is swift, not allowing the Monk a single chance to fight back.

After expending a decent amount of stamina and healing items, Genichiro and Wolf successfully defeat the phantom of the Corrupted Monk and fades into the wind. Both of them take the moment to catch their breath and look over each other's condition before they finally enter the Wedding Cave. 

The are surprised by how vast its interior is. Right in its center are low tables and shrines, along with an old, marital litter, set up under the light of the sun streaming through the gap of the cave’s ceiling.

Wolf finds the shelter stone on one of the altars. It’s an odd looking thing, a crystallised red lump covered in spikes. The shinobi stores it in one of his pouches.

“We’ve retrieved all the ingredients,” Genichiro exhales. It feels like the journey has taken several days, but in reality, this entire ordeal - even his tortures and countless deaths - is all happening in the span of one day. 

It is quite the maddening thought. 

Wolf nods to show his agreement and they make their way back to the castle to bring the needed ingredients for the Divine Heir. Before they leave, Genichiro considers talking to Wolf about their moment by the waterfall. Would it be a bad time to do so? He hesitates, but in the end, he decides to forgo the confrontation. He chastises himself for being a coward.

On their journey back, Genichiro thinks he feels the lingering gaze of the other man on his back. They had not spoken much since their time together by the waterfall, and Genichiro does not know how to confront the man about it. It was on him, too, as he was the one who initiated it. Genichiro is not sure whether to apologise for it, though he knows both of them wanted it. He knows that the shinobi had reciprocated his actions, and the stares and words that Wolf had spoken to him all hinted that the man is, at the very least, concerned about Genichiro in some way.

And that is what baffles him. How did the Wolf end up being worried about him, even after knowing how many times he’s failed, continuously dying while he attempts his hardest to save his country? Thinking about it makes him reflect on how much of a failure he must seem, and yet… the way that the shinobi had recited those words. 

I won’t let you die again.

He feels feverish at the thought, and his chest has an ache that he’s not familiar with. He wonders if his wounds are acting up again.

But Wolf is loyal to the Divine Heir and Genichiro should leave it at that, even if he had not received an explicit answer from the last time he’s asked.

The way back does not take as long as their journey to Mibu as their path is almost free of hostiles, which allows them to return to Ashina Castle in half the time they took to get there. The castle looms as they approach it from the dungeon and make their way up to the top of the castle.

Genichiro, however, does not expect to see the gigantic figure of the Great Shinobi kneeling before the Divine Heir. His memory of the elder giant man is splotchy but his body reacts negatively towards the man. He is clearly not to be trusted. When the Divine Heir rejects the Owl’s offer and leaves, Genichiro watches as the Great Shinobi Owl stand and face his son. It appears that Wolf also senses something amiss.

Owl looks to Genichiro with a peculiar look. “Hmm, I did not expect Lord Genichiro to work together with my son.” Genichiro is not sure of the elder man’s tone, but he feels offended anyway. “Would you be so kind as to give us some privacy, my lord?”

“He stays,” is the answer, but it’s from Wolf himself. The elder shinobi looks from Genichiro to his son. Genichiro is just as surprised, staring at the shinobi with incredulity. He wonders if Wolf knows of his father’s betrayal. 

Owl regards Genichiro with a mildly intrigued look but does not comment on it as he turns his attention to Wolf.

“I was certain you died that night,” Owl says. Genichiro is not aware of Wolf’s death, or at least, he does not remember it,  but he doesn’t interrupt and watches the exchange. The Owl continues, seemingly to have completely dismissed Genichiro from his attention.

“The power of the Divine Heir brought me back,” Wolf replies. Owl grins knowingly.

“That’s it! That power… the Dragon’s Blood must be mine,” Owl declares. Wolf’s eyes narrow but he doesn’t utter a word. Genichiro can see the look of disappointment that graces the younger shinobi’s features instead. Owl drones on, “Remember the first rule of the code. As your father, I order you to forsake your master. From this moment, he is your master no more.”

It’s treasonous, but Genichiro is familiar with that Code, as the Nightjar ninja under his employ also follow the same rules. He stares at Wolf, anticipating his answer, but Wolf’s reply is immediate as he shakes his head, “ ...I cannot do as you ask.”

Owl is visibly angered. “You... what? A shinobi... showing the likes of... compassion. Unthinkable... such a miserable display.” The man takes a few steps away to shake his head, expressing his dismay. “Ugh... Why, boy? Why can't you understand your father's will? Have you forgotten the Shinobi Code?"

Wolf glances to Genichiro, but quickly flicks back to answer his father, “A code must be determined by the individual... This is what I've decided. Just as my master did.”

Owl’s eyes fix themselves on Genichiro, eyes widening as if he’s just realised something. Genichiro can sense the hostility, the rising killing intent directed towards him. Genichiro brings his hand to his sword but Wolf stops him.

“Lord Genichiro. Please leave this to me,” Wolf tells him with certainty. It’s that assurance that makes Genichiro relax just a little.

“He is your father,” the general reminds him.

“Yes, I know,” Wolf replies quietly, and to that, Genichiro says nothing. Wolf should know what is in store for him then. He trusts that the shinobi will do what he must. The man is far more skilled and stronger than Genichiro as well. It would be near impossible for the other to be defeated by the Owl.

“Fine,” Genichiro answers. “My presence here will only be of a hindrance. We will be waiting in the room below.” Wolf nods at him with the same conviction Genichiro has seen before. 

Saying nothing else, the lord general leaves the lookout and descends down the stairs. He hears the clashing of swords the moment they are out of his sight.

-----------

Genichiro flips the page of the book he is holding. While he is staring at the characters on the pages, his mind is elsewhere. He can’t help but have his mind wander back to the time they were at the waterfall. A dalliance or something more? Genichiro flips another page, staring blankly at the old, yellowing paper. When he looks up, he sees that the Divine Heir appears calm and collected. To be truthful, the boy is quite admirable. For one so young to show such tranquility, even if he is hiding his true feelings, is impressive. The Wolf is, after all, the only other he could perhaps call a friend, or even a family member. It is not unnatural for the young boy to worry for his shinobi.

The general wonders: if they weren’t on opposing sides, would their relationship develop into something like this? They are… not so different from each other. Both of them are loyal to their masters - Wolf to the Divine Heir, Genichiro to his land. The intensity of their loyalty is similar. They can relate. Perhaps, they could even be acquaintances.

But alas, the gods do not have such a fate in store for them. Ashina appears to be set for destruction while toying with Genichiro by giving him the slim possibility of saving her. Genichiro admits to feeling gratitude to the shinobi who has agreed to help him with the incoming army, even if it is only for a few moments. That was all he had asked, and the Wolf - as the Owl has said - has the compassion to agree in aiding him.

His ears prickle at the sound of  silent, muffled footsteps he recognises to be of the shinobi’s. He raises his sights and sees the man approaching his master, kneeling down to pay his respects to the Divine Heir. He overhears their conversation; the Owl is dead, as he’s expected. The Divine Heir’s voice crack with guilt in realisation at what his shinobi has done to his own adopted father.

Still a pure soul. Genichiro is almost envious. Almost, as having such purity would only lead to one with a sword in their throat. Genichiro observes them as they continue their discussion. He sees the Wolf turn his head and lock gazes with his. 

“Lord Genichiro, would you like to join our discussion?” the Divine Heir invites. They begin to talk of their plan for severing immortality. Now that the boy has the ingredients and the book with instructions, they proceed with the process. With the Crimson Mortal Blade, Kuro cuts his skin and drips his blood into the concoction of the Lotus and Shelter Stone. The sweet fragrance of cherry blossoms rise from the censer. 

They apply the fragrance onto Wolf, covering him with the fragrant smoke from the burner. The Divine Heir looks to Genichiro questioningly. “I think only one person is allowed to enter the Fountainhead Palace one at a time,” the boy says. It’s understandable, and Genichiro has other matters to attend to in Ashina. As the lord he can’t leave his land unattended for too long after all, especially with an impending attack.

With that done, the process is complete. The Wolf will have to return to the Wedding Cave and enter the marital shrine. From there, Wolf will have to retrieve the Divine Dragon’s Tears in the Fountainhead realm for the Divine Heir to consume and end his immortality. The shinobi will be on his own, and they all know that the Wolf is more than capable in carrying out his tasks competently. Yet, Genichiro feels a sense of restlessness somehow, that it’s a shame he’s unable to accompany the man over to the Palace.

He finds some humor in that the Wolf would essentially be presenting himself as a bride to the denizens of the Palace. Looking at the smaller man, Genichiro’s trail of thought goes somewhere else. He tries not to think too far down that path. 

The Wolf goes to prepare for the journey, speaking to the Divine Heir and Emma for some final arrangements. He approaches Genichiro last, walking up to the man who stands idly by the library. Them standing together like this in a familiar environment, feels somewhat strange. It only reiterates the possibilities Genichiro had been thinking of earlier. 

Wolf doesn’t say anything, and neither does Genichiro. Both of them just staring at each other for a good moment, before Genichiro gets restless enough to break the silence. “You are leaving for the Fountainhead Palace?”

“Yes,” Wolf says simply. The Wolf looks to him again after briefly avoiding the man’s gaze. “I would like to speak with you.”

It’s an unexpected invitation. Genichiro regards him with a look. He doesn’t know what expression he’d put on but the Wolf keeps his gaze fixed on his. Steady and sure, it’s a penetrating look that Genichiro is moved by its intensity. “Come to my chambers,” he replies.

Wolf follows Genichiro through the castle, past the elites who busy themselves with plans and tactics over maps of Ashina. Those who see them approaching acknowledge the lord general with a bow. Genichiro leads Wolf to one of the towers where his room is located. The room is enclosed once they reach the top of the stairs. Candles have already been lit to light up the room, and it is clear that the lord general is a private man. His room is impeccably neat but somewhat empty, with the bare minimum of decorations of a folding screen and a sleeping futon. It looks as if Genichiro had not been in the room for some time - and Genichiro himself no longer remembers when was the last time he’d been here.

Any memories before his rousing in the abandoned dungeon are barely there. It feels like a forgotten existence of lifetimes ago, quite literally. Genichiro invites the shinobi to sit in the middle of the room as he sets his sword down and takes a seat as well. Wolf obliges, both of them sitting in seiza and facing each other somewhat awkwardly.

“What was it that you wanted to speak with me about?”

“Before I leave for the Fountainhead Palace, will you give me your word that you will protect the Divine Heir while I am away?”

“You have my word. As long as you keep your end of the deal,” Genichiro’s reply is immediate and sure.

“I will honour it,” Wolf affirms. “You have my thanks, Lord Genichiro.”

“...No, I have you to thank,” Genichiro says this seriously. It is true. He realises he hasn’t thanked the man for getting him out of the dungeon and from being the deranged surgeon’s subject. “Without your intervention, the dungeon would perhaps be my grave when the gods tire of their trick on me.” He hears the bitterness in his own voice.

Wolf keeps his silence, observing Genichiro. The man doesn’t expect the shinobi to say anything, so he asks, “How and why did you find me?”

“You provided me a clue before you passed in the Palace Lotus alcove. You spoke of the surgeon,” Wolf explains. He doesn’t say any further.

“You could have left me to die and escape with your master,” Genichiro presses. “Why didn’t you?”

Wolf remains quiet, not even meeting his eyes. Anger rises within him. It feels irrational at a time like this, but the lack of explanation and reason, and especially the avoidance, drives his own mind to wild assumptions. To Genichiro, the look only makes him think that the Wolf has guilty thoughts.

“Was it because you pitied me? Thought you would have me at your debt so that you could get your Divine Heir out of Ashina easier without me in the way?” His voice rises, angrier with each word, only to be met with silence. The defiant silence of the shinobi makes him snap.

Genichiro grabs Wolf by the neck in a bruising grip and shoves the shinobi down, a knee pinning and digging into Wolf’s gut. Like a tiger on its prey. He’s grabbed his sword and draws to Wolf’s face, the tip of the blade nicking the skin of his cheek. “What if I kill you right now and take your Divine Heir’s blood? What made you so naive to think I wouldn’t do something like this?” the lord general sneers.

Even then, the Wolf remains calm despite the furrow of his brow and his prosthetic arm grabbing Genichiro’s wrist that is holding him by the neck. Genichiro tightens his grip and elicits a satisfying flinch from the man under him, but the shinobi remains stubborn. His brown eyes completely disregard the blade in his face, only trained on Genichiro. “Despite what you say and do, you are an honourable man,” Wolf replies with difficulty from Genichiro’s grip to his throat. 

Genichiro laughs in his face.

“You think I will not hesitate to kill you for the sake of Ashina?!”

“You need me to save Ashina,” Wolf rasps, gritting his teeth. His gaze is piercing, staring straight into Genichiro’s soul. It’s the same gaze that heats the general from within. He hates it yet he’s grown to crave it, a gaze that’s haunted him through life and death, through his hatred, anger and desperation. He remembers seeing it whenever they clash swords, whenever the shinobi is fighting fiercely with the same loyalty and imprudence for his master.

Genichiro considers it. The temptation of driving his sword into the helpless shinobi in his grasp. Not once he’s managed to defeat the man, dying by his hand numerous times instead. And now the same man is right in his clutches, an easy prey for Genichiro to take. But what the shinobi says is true - there is no honour in killing the Wolf like this.

He may slit the shinobi’s throat and take the Red Mortal Blade. Force the Divine Heir to take Genichiro under his oath, but he knows the boy would rather die than be forced into it, especially in revenge for his shinobi. Even if he possesses both Mortal Blades, Genichiro… Genichiro is not enough to save Ashina. He knows that. All the pain he’s gone through has thoroughly showed him how powerless he is by himself.

He needs the Wolf.

Genichiro loosens his grip on Wolf’s neck and the shinobi inhales. Genichiro blinks, slowly releasing the other and moves to pull away. But the hold on his wrist where Wolf has his prosthetic hand on him doesn’t let go.

“I’ve given you my word that I won’t let you die,” Wolf reminds him. “I will still honour that.” Genichiro stares blankly at the shinobi. It’s the same promise that reaches into him and it feels like a hand has grabbed hold of his heart and squeezes all breath out of him. That same ache in his chest he felt before comes up again and it feels like something in him is breaking.

He must have lost himself in thought because he does not realise that the Wolf has pulled him down. He feels warm, thin lips on his. 

Genichiro closes his eyes and lets himself be swept away by Wolf’s kiss.

Chapter Text

It's warm, comforting. Genichiro feels the gnawing need to pull the man closer to him as physically possible to soothe the ache that's been troubling him ever since they left the recess by the waterfall. Wolf's kisses are clumsy but eager, and it's that part that makes Genichiro's head spin.

The feeling of being wanted, needed. But does the Wolf really need him though? It's more of the opposite. Genichiro is the one who needs the shinobi. Needs his skill, his strength, the power of the Dragon's blood that's running through his veins, through his beating heart.

He wants to ask but the shinobi does not let go of him, his hold on the larger man is firm as if he's keeping Genichiro rooted and in place. The general is swept along the Wolf's pace, the secure grip on him is all but reassuring. He surrenders to the Wolf's mouth and tongue that's coaxing him to reciprocate and taste.

Genichiro has his hands roam instead, finding themselves grabbing at Wolf's haori and sash. With a few tugs and pulls, they're loosened and set aside, and it's the same for his own clothing. 

They're mostly naked now, left with only their fundoshi but they're too distracted in still indulging the other's bodies. The touch of skin upon skin, scars upon scars - Genichiro may have held willing partners who were far more delicate and smooth before but none of them feels this fitting against him. The shinobi’s smaller frame slots perfectly against his larger size like fitting pieces in a puzzle. He hears the Wolf sigh out a moan in between kisses and Genichiro feels that familiar spark of heat in his groin bloom into a full flame. 

Wolf is relentless. His hands, both flesh and prosthetic bone, explore and map at Genichiro's body like curious scouts, sliding over every nook and angle as if in appreciation. His hands slow over Genichiro's burns - not out of consideration that his burns may be too sensitive, but more like he's studying the texture, memorising and detailing every distorted shape the blackened skin takes. It is an uncanny gesture, but it is not unpleasant. 

As if in kind, Genichiro has his own hands cupping Wolf's face, their mouths still unable to part. Calloused fingers tracing and stroking over the white markings on the side of the shinobi’s face, eventually combing them through the white streaked hair. 

Soon they are fully bare and both of them take a moment, wordlessly staring at each other as Genichiro's right hand cups Wolf's rear. Wolf visibly shudders when Genichiro slips a finger between his cheeks, prodding the entrance there. The shinobi gives a nod, his eyes fluttering shut while Genichiro takes hold of his buttocks as massages them. The larger of the two lowers himself to kiss down Wolf's body, pressing lips and biting almost gently down on the numerous scars that line over the shinobi’s body. 

Eventually his face is in Wolf's crotch, mouthing at his member and sucking at the side of the hardened shaft. Genichiro licks past his balls and at Wolf's opening, prepping the man. He revels in the restrained moans that escape the often silent shinobi, dipping his tongue in past the entrance and thoroughly wets it. He grips Wolf by his thighs and continues to soften him up until Wolf himself lets out a frustrated growl. 

Genichiro placates him with a kiss once he crawls up over Wolf again, sliding an arm under the smaller man's waist and hoists his lower body over his lap. Genichiro's own member is hard, standing erect against Wolf's length.

He rubs and presses their lengths together, enjoying the friction and pleasured sighs of the slighter man under him. Wolf blinks up at Genichiro and wraps his arms around Genichiro's neck. "I'm ready," Wolf murmurs into Genichiro's ear. 

He doesn't waste any more time. 

Genichiro enters Wolf slowly, pushing past the first ring of relaxed muscle. "Nnh-" Genichiro stares at Wolf's face, eyes catching and committing every expression to memory. The way Wolf's brow creases, the length of his lashes, the shape of his lips that part to display gritting teeth as he grunts in discomfort. Genichiro is careful and patient since it is taking all of him not to slam his entire length into the smaller man. But soon enough he bottoms out, his hips pressing against Wolf's hip. 

"How does it feel?" Genichiro asks. The Wolf glares at him with pursed lips, looking almost as if he's pouting. His face is flushed red, his brown eyes dark with dilated pupils.

"You're... too big," the shinobi mumbles. Genichiro can't help the smug smirk he puts on. 

"Does it hurt?" 

"... No," Wolf sighs. Genichiro moves and Wolf follows his pace. They move in rhythm, and despite Wolf's complaint of his size, the shinobi takes all of him easily, and he seems to hunger for more with his increasingly fervent kisses and louder moans. 

Their bodies fold and press together, writhing in time with the other's movements. Genichiro buries his face in Wolf's hair and presses his mouth to Wolf's temple. Wolf is wrapped tightly around him, warm and hot and slowly pushing Genichiro to his peak. He murmurs Wolf's name and hears the reciprocal moan from the shinobi. He reaches down to stroke at Wolf's member and finds that the man is already dripping at the tip. They're both nearing the edge, but it feels like neither of them want it to end. 

Genichiro hastens the pace of his thrusts and Wolf digs his fingers into Genichiro's back but doesn't tell him to stop. His gaze is too unfocused, his appearance of one too lost in pleasure to utter a coherent word. Genichiro pumps into the Wolf with more force, more desperation to reach their peak. 

"I'm coming," Genichiro warns. Wolf nods, still silent, but the arms around Genichiro tightens. The Wolf writhes and his hips jerk into Genichiro's length and his grip.

They climax nearly simultaneously, both of them a mess of release, sweat and breathy moans. Somehow their mouths find each other again, kissing slowly and almost lazily. The Wolf's arms remain locked around Genichiro as if unwilling to let go. They stay like that for a good while before they separate, knowing that there is still much to do. 

Wolf has to leave for the Fountainhead Palace and Genichiro has to oversee the defences of Ashina castle. 

They part with a wordless but understanding look.

--------

Genichiro prepares for the incoming siege. He orders and relocates the infantry to where he knows the invading forces will arrive from and oversees the last minute fortifications. He visits the Divine Heir who is accompanied by Emma, both of them reading more books they've discovered in the library. 

"Emma," Genichiro calls to her. The doctor presents herself to him. "You are the last line of defence, are you not?" 

Emma nods once. They both know that Emma is an accomplished swordswoman herself, at level with Genichiro's skill. Isshin had taught her personally as well.

"I cannot stay here as the Divine Heir's personal guard, so I leave him to you," Genichiro tells her. 

"Of course, my lord," Emma acquiesces. He's sure that both his grandfather and herself have already planned that even without Genichiro telling her. "You have much to do in the front lines as general. I am sure Master Wolf will understand that as well."

Genichiro gives her a look for bringing up the shinobi’s name but Emma merely bows respectfully, even though he's sure he can sense some sort of amusement from her. He leaves the Divine Heir to the lady doctor and heads to his next destination.

At least, he should see the man once before it all comes crashing down. 

"Here you are again," is the greeting Genichiro receives when he steps into his grandfather's room. Isshin looks intrigued by Genichiro's visit. Genichiro does not remember visiting the elder earlier this day. Does he remember…? 

"The Interior Army will be here soon," Genichiro tells him instead. Isshin nods from where he's seated and looks out the open window. 

"Mm, the smell of flames and death is approaching closer," Isshin muses. He turns back to Genichiro. "So, have you found your answers yet?" 

Genichiro sits in front of his grandfather again. They no longer have the tension that used to make even a simple conversation difficult for them both. Perhaps Isshin does have memories of previous lives. Genichiro goes along with him.

"I.. am still unsure," Genichiro admits. 

"Are you unsure, or are you simply too afraid to see it?" Isshin asks. Genichiro has no response to his question. He is truly unsure, though he knows that the elder is right. The anxiety in him has been building the closer the moment of the Interior Ministry's siege approaches. Especially when he feels like this will be the last chance he has. If he were to die in this life… something tells him that there will be nothing left to resurrect.

"Genichiro, you have changed."

It's the first time his grandfather has called him by name in a very long while.

"You should go retrieve the Black Mortal Blade. It is time," Isshin tells him. He sounds dismissive but - for the former Sword Saint to tell him to take up the sword he once wielded himself, it feels like acknowledgement. 

Genichiro is momentarily stunned. Once he recovers, he gives the patriarch a respectful bow and leaves the room quietly. 

And as expected, the Ministry besieges the castle once dusk falls. Flames of war set the land ablaze as roars and battle yells are accompanied by the sounds of clashing blades. 

With the Black Mortal Blade in hand, Genichiro leads his men in fending off the enemy troops. The Ministry’s forces are overwhelming, and their soldiers are, unfortunately, better skilled and equipped than Ashina. But having seen their points of entry and tactics before, Genichiro had worked with his tacticians to come up with new strategies in countering said attacks.

For now, Ashina is standing its ground firmly. They’ve managed to keep the enemy at the base and so far none of them has succeeded in breaking through their defences yet. It isn’t as bleak, but it is still too soon to celebrate.

Genichiro cuts down a number of Ministry infantry with a simple swing of his sword. The Black Mortal Blade sings in his hold. There’s something different about it this time, compared to when he’s wielded it before. What could have changed? But he doesn’t have time to contemplate on that. He harnesses the power of the Blade in pushing back the enemy. 

He hears the cheers of Ashina soldiers from the other side of the castle. It sounds like things are looking up, but Genichiro is still anxious. The enemy is still incoming. They may have to resort to burning some of the valley bridges to stop the enemy’s advance. 

Genichiro orders his generals to bring the Taro troops to the outskirts where most of the battle is raging on. He falls back to the castle, hoping to be able to check on the interior and the Divine Heir. On his way there, he gets obstructed by one of the Ministry’s twin swordsmen. The flash of red and black jumps into his path and slashes both swords towards Genichiro. The surprise attack nicks him in one of his arms, but it’s a shallow cut. Genichiro parries the next attack and charges into the swordsman with a shoulder barge followed by a horizontal swing of his blade.

The initial charge breaks through the enemy’s guard but they still manage to block Genichiro’s attack. The swordsman counters with a cross-slash that’s heavy enough to make Genichiro stumble back. He almost gets caught in the follow-up attack, but a kunai thrown and embedded in the man’s back interrupts his flow. It’s not enough to kill the soldier, but provides an opening for Genichiro to cut the man’s head off.

Wolf drops in from a height, his sword unsheathed and slick with blood. He looks like he’s gone through as many of the Ministry’s men as well. The shinobi’s reappearance from the Fountainhead Palace means he’s successful with his task. 

“Lord Kuro?” is the first thing the shinobi asks.

“Emma and Grandfather are with him. They will keep him safe,” Genichiro assures, though the anxiety that has been dogging him continues to churn his stomach. Both of them immediately head back to the castle, clearing their path of any Ministry soldiers.

Their combined strength easily clears the castle of any enemies, but upon reaching the room where the Divine Heir should be safe, they only find bodies of the Ministry agents scattered across the room.

"Grandfather!" Genichiro spots the familiar figure of the elder slumped at a corner. He goes to his grandfather's side and carefully cradles the man's head in his lap. Genichiro does not see any wounds on him; it is his illness that Isshin is succumbing to. They have foreseen it after all, and it was a matter of time. Isshin has at least used his last moments to protect the Divine Heir.

"Pitiful grandchild, why are you not out there fighting with the troops?" Isshin asks with a weak voice. The man is deathly pale, his voice hoarse, and his eyes slightly open. He is just barely hanging on. 

"I have. We've managed to push the Ministry back for now," Genichiro tells him. Isshin doesn’t really respond, his unfocused eyes staring blankly at nothing. "Grandfather…"

The dying elder man breathes out slowly, moving his eyes to Wolf before back to his grandson. “Looks like you’ve found your answer, Genichiro,” Isshin murmurs. He appears a little at ease, but neither Genichiro nor Wolf understands what he spoke of.

But those were the last words the former Sword Saint utters and his body goes still. Genichiro lays his grandfather down carefully at the side of the room, and leaves him in a respectable position, his hands folded over his torso. He looks like he's passed in his sleep. 

Genichiro turns away from Isshin and faces Wolf, "Emma should have brought the Divine Heir to the secret passage for escape."

It is where they head to next. Fortunately, it seems that the agents had not infiltrated other parts of the castle, and his forces seem to be effectively fending off any more invaders from breaking past their defences. Once they approach the reservoir via the bridge, an Ashina soldier calls out to Genichiro. 

"Lord Genichiro! M-my lord!" the soldier looks harried and covered in soot and grime. He's lightly injured, but perhaps in the best condition amongst his fellow soldiers for him to come running for the lord general. 

"What is it?" Genichiro demands.

"Reinforcements, my lord, we - we need reinforcements in the outskirts!" the man reports. He appears to be trembling but Genichiro does not know what he could possibly be terrified of. "T-there is a demon in the battlefield… a demon of fire-!"

Genichiro has not heard of this before. Is he referring to a powerful soldier from the Ministry? Or a literal demon? As the Lord of Ashina, Genichiro has to investigate. He looks to Wolf, whom he knows has his master to prioritise. 

"Go, find the Divine Heir. Find him and escape. You've done your part," Genichiro tells him. There is a flicker of expression that appears and vanishes from the Wolf's face. Genichiro has learned it to be a look of conflicted emotions. 

Wolf nods but he hesitates in leaving. Genichiro had not wanted their parting to be like this but there isn’t much time. The Wolf has already helped him clear the path and fend off the Ministry. It is already looking good for Ashina, aside from this ‘demon’. Genichiro can handle this; the Wolf shouldn’t need to do anymore. He’s done enough.

“Thank you,” he says again. The Wolf lowers his head in what seems like a bow and turns to leave in search of his master. Genichiro watches the shinobi’s back before he does the same, heading towards the other side of the castle, towards the outskirts.

Genichiro had been unsure what to expect when he reaches the blazing battlefield, but a giant, grotesque creature of fire is definitely not what he imagined. A demon, indeed. Genichiro watches as the towering demon sweeps its arm made of flames across the ground and scorch the earth along with the soldiers charging towards it. He can feel the heat of its fire from the gate where he’s standing.

The general stares at the creature as it continues to rampage through the battlefield. Bodies of soldiers from both sides litter the battlefield, most of them charred beyond recognition. Now it is a matter of saving whatever living in Ashina, not just a war with the Interior Ministry when this Demon disregards such things and spreads its flames across the land. If left alone, the Demon would spread its carnage throughout Ashina and destroy all the efforts done to save her. This must be his final test in saving Ashina. 

Genichiro tightens his grip on the Black Mortal Blade and takes a breath as he charges into the fray.

The Demon is, at the very least, not invincible against the Mortal Blade, but it feels like an endless fight and Genichiro does not have an infinite supply of stamina. While he receives a decent amount of scrapes and burns from the Demon and its claws, the Rejuvenating Sediment still maintains its effects of keeping his body more durable and resistant to certain mortal wounds. However, even he would not be able to survive being completely crushed or burned to a crisp.

Yet despite all his efforts, the Demon proves itself to be more destructive than Genichiro can handle. Its walls of flames burn and melt at Genichiro’s skin, and its claws break past the Rejuvenating Sediment’s protection on his body, eviscerating his physical vessel like one could to a simple rag doll. 

The pain that accompanies it feels delayed. Perhaps it is from shock, but agony is not the first thing he feels. It’s regret and remorse, even apologetic. He’s truly afraid, this time, of what this death means for him. Afraid that he’ll lose it all, more than just Ashina, or himself. He’s afraid of losing the new memories and experiences he’s had in this particular life. He doesn’t want to lose memories of a certain shinobi.

He tastes blood and ash in his mouth and all he sees is fire as he collapses on his back, his body ripped apart. His last thoughts are no longer just of Ashina, but also of dark brown eyes and the press of the cool bone of a prosthetic arm against his heated skin.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to the sight of a rock ceiling and the echoey silence of a cave. He is quick to realise that he is alone in this cavern, unable to sense or hear any other presences, and something about that feels odd. He turns his head slowly to look around. There’s no trace of anyone, or anything. Just rocks, puddles and old wooden pillars with lit candles to provide light. The odd feeling is still there, and it feels much like dread and nausea. It feels wrong. He tries to grasp at thoughts and attempts to recall memories but it feels like he’s trying to capture smoke.

There should be someone here, and there should be someone he is supposed to look for… Someone he is supposed to… kill?

His head throbs and rings with an ache that makes his nausea worse. Finally he pushes himself to sit up, but still finds himself vomiting bile to the side. He heaves violently, as if something is being purged out of his body, and in the poor lighting of the candles, he is grateful he can’t see what he’s puked up. 

The nausea eases slightly and Genichiro gets to his feet. Though no longer as queasy, his body still feels drained. He walks over to the exit of the cave and realises that he is in the abandoned dungeon. He recognises the interior of the entrance, and this is it. Though, the… peddler… that should be set up right before the mouth of the cave is missing. It is then that he realises why the dungeon feels so strange.

There is a lack of bodies, agonised moans and groaning of experimental subjects. There is no surgeon in the robes of a Senpou monk. The dungeon is entirely and unnaturally empty. His mind and memory provides no clues, leaving only a hollow sensation. The nausea comes again and he heaves, vomiting what feels like the rest of the sick out of his body, and it looks like black tar. Genichiro looks away and wipes his mouth, unable to stomach the sight.

He takes a moment to let his body recover from the nausea and slowly he feels better. Whatever has been purged out of his body is no longer ailing his body and he even feels lighter. 

Genichiro spots the exit of the dungeon and sees that it is still light outside. He walks over to the exit and steps into the sunlight of the outdoors. The air is fresh and light, but it shouldn’t be. Everything feels different and Genichiro’s confusion only grows as he observes the changes in his surroundings that he’s sure they aren't supposed to be there. .

He walks past the open gate and to the bridge over the reservoir moat, seeing a pair of patrolling soldiers. The pair notices him and they immediately bow respectfully to the lord.

“You… give me a report,” Genichiro orders both of them, though he doesn’t point specifically to either of them. The bolder of the two does so upon demand.

“All is well, my Lord, nothing to report from patrols other than aiding with the rebuilding efforts,” the patrolman says. Genichiro stares at them expressionlessly. His stare without a response visibly unnerves them, as if they've said something wrong. Eventually, Genichiro dismisses them without further question as he tries to make sense of what’s happening. 

Rebuilding? He'd tried to see if either of the patrolmen were lying but there was nothing to suggest so and they had no reason to. Genichiro looks up at the castle that he’d missed out from when he’d stepped out of the dungeon. Now he sees that part of Ashina castle has been burned down, and it is the same for the surrounding buildings. Construction materials and the like are scattered about, with rubble put aside. 

What about the war against the Ministry? What about its besieging forces? But if this is true that he is now in a timeline after the Interior Ministry’s invasion and the fact that he is still here in the castle grounds… that means Ashina has survived. She is still standing. His goal has been accomplished.

The thought of it makes Genichiro exhale in relief as a heavy weight has been lifted off his shoulders. There is comfort, of course, but mostly he’s confused and full of uncertainty. Is this possibly a dream? Another trick of the gods?

He hears the muted sound of running footfalls. They’re oddly quiet yet also familiar. He turns his head to the direction of the sound and sees a man dressed as a shinobi approach him. Genichiro does not recognise him to be any of the Nightjar ninja under his employ, but his eyes are familiar.

Genichiro asks him, “Who are you?”

------------

“Loyal Wolf! You’re here!” the Divine Heir calls out to his shinobi. Emma is with Lord Kuro, and Wolf can see a glimpse of a katana by her side. Both of them appear unscathed, and Wolf is assured. He kneels before his master and thanks Emma for protecting Kuro but she merely shakes her head gently.

“It is of no trouble, Master Wolf. But…. what will you do now? What of Lord Genichiro?” Emma asks.

“He’s acting as reinforcements in the outskirts…” Wolf informs them. He turns back to his master, the Divine Heir. “We may escape now, Lord Kuro.”

The Divine Heir stares at him with a look that betrays his age. The young man can read his shinobi rather easily, and his eyes can look through Wolf without a word from him.

“Have you done your part of the deal with Lord Genichiro?” Kuro asks instead. 

“Yes, Ashina may be able to survive this,” Wolf nods. But he has a feeling that the one who should survive may not. He feels a little restless, unaware of how hard he’s clenching his fists.

“And what about Lord Genichiro? Will he… survive?” Kuro asks again. Wolf bows his head, not replying. He truly does not know of the situation in the battlefield that needed reinforcements, but the soldier had spoken of a ‘demon’, and a gut feeling leaves him uncertain. The castle is under siege and it is a war, after all - he isn’t optimistic about the chances of one to leave unscathed. Still, it does not stop the Wolf from experiencing that bitter feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

As if sensing his state of mind, Kuro adds, “Wolf, you look like you wish to do something. Tell me what is it that you want to do.”

“I am only a shinobi, my lord. I am but a shadow who only acts on your will,” Wolf recites, keeping his head bowed and face hidden. Will you not serve another lord? That question the general has asked him a number of times replays in his head. No, he tells himself. He’s sworn his loyalty to Kuro, and no other master.

“Wolf…” his young master sounds both exasperated and sad. “I had decided by myself that I would sever my Immortality for the good of the people, so that no one will be tempted by the power of the Dragon’s Blood. And you… you chose to stay loyal to me despite your Iron Code taught by your father. That was your choice to make. Now tell me again, loyal Wolf, what is it that you would like to do now?”

His own choice? That’s right. He chose to save Genichiro from the surgeon too. Chose to agree to the deal in helping the lord general to fight off the Interior Ministry. And if he were given a choice now… He’d like to help him again. After all, he’d given the man his word, hasn’t he? That he won’t let him die. He’d taken his master as priority now, but since the boy is safe and is openly asking Wolf of his choice...

The shinobi looks up to his young master who gives him a soft smile. 

“I will remain with the Divine Heir, Master Wolf, you can be assured he will be safe with me,” Emma helpfully adds.

Wolf nods quietly, and once he gets to his feet, he gives another bow to the Divine Heir before he turns to run back towards the castle outskirts.

Wolf’s heart thumps as he rushes through the area. As he treads further out into the outskirts, he sees more death and destruction. More fire, more bodies and giant claw marks that could belong to this ‘demon’. Wolf immediately takes off and enters the battlefield. 

What he sees is not an illusion.

A massive horned creature with a red mane and an arm of flames is crouched over an unmoving body. With just a glance he knows who it belongs to.

At first, he feels nothing, and then, it feels like something bursting out of his chest. Like angry flames erupting out of a volcano.

Wolf only remembers killing the Demon of Hatred. He hears the distorted voice that comes from the creature and recognises it to be of someone familiar. The Demon thanks him for his liberation. The moment the Demon dies, it feels like something heavy has been cleared from the air in the battlefield.

Distantly, a thought comes to him as if a whisper: Hatred has been killed and released. Buddha is forgiving. All can be cleansed.

Wolf sheathes the Crimson Mortal Blade and stands still as he stares at Genichiro’s corpse. This is real, and he is not under the influence of an illusion. The shinobi walks towards the body and kneels down beside it. He stares, blank faced at the corpse as he looks over it. It wasn’t even a painless death. His body had been clawed nearly in half, and fresh burns cover his skin. Wolf feels that ache of guilt again.

He’d truly failed the man this time. Couldn’t even keep his word to keep him alive. Even if the other man knew that he has his own master to serve, the man had let him off and escape with the Divine Heir. Perhaps Genichiro never really expected or trusted Wolf to keep his promise. Or maybe, the general was just kind enough not to let Wolf go through with it and put him in danger. There are many possibilities, but now he can’t find out.

The battlefield is empty, only left with bodies of soldiers from both sides. But from the direction of the Ashina castle, Wolf hears the cheers of soldiers, chanting Ashina’s name. So the country has been saved and the Ministry has called for a retreat. And yet the one who deserves to see its survival does not get to witness it for himself.

He looks at Genichiro’s face. His long black hair in disarray, covering most of his face. Wolf sets aside his hair and tucks it neatly behind his ear. The expression on the man’s face does not match his gruesome death. He looks... tired. Wolf stares at his face, at his lifeless eyes and the pang in his chest aches a little harder. Wolf ignores it and closes Genichiro’s eyes to let him sleep. He picks up the Black Mortal Blade at the man's side and lays it over Genichiro's chest as he repositions the man to a resting position.

"Ashina is saved, Lord Genichiro," Wolf says to him. He wonders if the man can hear him, but he also wonders what will happen now. Genichiro’s death means that they will have to start again from the beginning.

How long will this cycle go on for? Watching the man die again, it feels like the gods are not only toying with Genichiro, but with Wolf as well. Especially now… both of them had had the feeling that for Genichiro to die in this life would mean repercussions in the cycle. He has already lost memories and his body weakened, so what else will he lose in the next life? Would he even resurrect at this point? It’s a thought that disturbs Wolf, that the man’s final end would be like this. Uncharacteristically, the shinobi wishes for another chance.

And so, Wolf prays. He closes his eyes and places his palms together as he pays his respects to Genichiro’s body and soul. It is the least he can do for now.

But when he opens his eyes, he sees that Genichiro’s body has vanished and is replaced with an altar, and instead of the scorched battlefield, he is within the walls of Ashina castle. 

Looking up from his prayers, he sees Kuro and Emma praying with him. Confused, he looks around and realises they’re in Kuro’s room in the castle. It’s day time, and the walls are still covered in dried blood, soot and there are traces of burns from the fire, but there are no bodies and the piles of rubble and debris has been put aside. It looks as if the castle is being cleaned, and possibly rebuilt. Wolf is confused and unsure. He had not expected this. He expected to be thrown back to his fight with General Oniwa. 

Kuro ends his prayer and sees the confusion on Wolf’s face. “What is it, Wolf?” the Divine Heir asks.

“What… happened here?” Wolf asks and Kuro returns the look of confusion to him. 

“Ashina is being rebuilt. Lord Genichiro led the defence against the Ministry’s siege forces and fought them off so the rebuilding efforts are underway. You helped him too, remember?” Kuro reminds him gently. Wolf looks to Emma, who gives him a concerned look, her eyes assessing if he has any head injury. 

“Did we not decide to leave Ashina?” he asks again, and Kuro gives him a sheepish look.

“The Ministry has pulled their forces from Ashina. They may still be in the neighbouring nations, so it might be best to stay low for now,” his young master replies. “After Lord Isshin passed, Lord Genichiro had a change of heart and no longer sought to use my blood..”

“With no one else seeking the power of the Dragon’s Blood anymore, I think we can be safe here. Lord Genichiro has allowed us back for now… so I would like to help in return, even if it’s just a little bit.”

“...Is that so,” Wolf says as he mulls it over. He doesn’t remember events after Genichiro’s death. Each time the man dies, he’s thrown back to the very beginning, yet this time he is starting from such a different time. He tries to understand the exact timeline, and what this all means. Then, he finally asks the question, “What of Lord Genichiro?”

“You wish to see him? I do not know where he would be at the moment,” Kuro answers, turning to Emma, who has not seen him either. 

“He may be overlooking the reconstruction at the fortress,” Emma suggests. Wolf breathes - at least, the man is alive. He had been nervous until then.

The shinobi excuses himself and searches for Genichiro. He peers from the rooftops and looks out the castle grounds but is unable to spot him. Eventually, Wolf catches sight of someone peculiar at the bridge connecting to the abandoned dungeon.

Wolf approaches.

“Who are you?”

And he stops. He sees the lack of recognition in the man’s eyes, like he’s seeing a stranger. Wolf finds himself staring at Genichiro, whose brows furrow in anger at the lack of etiquette the shinobi is displaying.

Wolf realises his rudeness and lowers himself to kneel in greeting to the Ashina lord. 

“...The Divine Heir sent me to find you, my lord,” Wolf lies, keeping his head lowered and face hidden. Wolf had not expected to be forgotten, and had not realised that he would be affected by something like this.

“The Divine Heir?” the other’s tone sounds lost. Wolf dares himself to look up at the lord, and thankfully the man is looking away, gazing distantly in thought. The shinobi uses that chance to observe him, sees that he has a healthier complexion, none of the haggard, tired look that haunted him in his previous lives. Perhaps losing his memory helped clear all the negative memories and wash away the weight off him as well.

If that means the general would be less burdened, Wolf thinks it would be better if it stays that way. There is no need for Genichiro to remember him - and the times they were intimate with each other were just a distraction. Wolf reminds himself of that, that they were merely two kindred souls having seen the worst together, thrown into a similar situation and ending up depending on each other. It might have been inevitable that they got tangled with one another, and to be caught and unable to set himself loose is a mistake on his end, Wolf chastises himself. 

When Genichiro turns back to face him, Wolf lowers his head again. 

“What does the Divine Heir want with me?”

“My lord… wishes to help with the rebuilding of Ashina,” Wolf says, but silence follows that leaves the shinobi nervous. The man does not say anything for a while, and though Wolf is curious of his expression, he can feel Genichiro’s gaze on him. He doesn’t dare to look up.

“What is your name, shinobi?” are the words he receives instead. It’s a question that startles Wolf.

“...I am called ‘Wolf’, lord,” the shinobi answers. The man's pause upon his answer is long. 

“I see. I will meet the Divine Heir soon. You are dismissed.” Wolf bows his head in acknowledgment despite that numbing ache spreading into something sharp and painful in his chest. He knows he shouldn’t be expecting more but if the man truly does not remember him -

- if he has no memory of Wolf, then that is that. Wolf firmly decides so and gets to his feet, promptly turning heel to return to his master.

Chapter Text

When he returns to the Divine Heir, Kuro stares at him with a peculiar look. "Are you alright, Wolf?" 

"...Lord Genichiro will meet you soon about your help with rebuilding Ashina, my lord," Wolf avoids answering instead. Kuro frowns but does not pursue the matter. 

"Did he relay that message to you? I see, thank you, Wolf," his young master dismisses him, and Wolf stands on guard in the corner of the room. 

The new Lord of Ashina enters Kuro's quarters not long after. With Wolf hidden, Genichiro does not notice him, but he looks around before he approaches the Divine Heir. They discuss over the reconstruction of Ashina. It is a short conversation, with little for a young man like the Divine Heir to do, but as one with special blood and standing, Genichiro has plans for the boy to bring up the morale of the people. 

When their conversation ends, Genichiro asks of the Divine Heir, "Where is… your shinobi?" 

"Wolf? He is close by," Kuro tells him vaguely. The boy looks at Genichiro with an odd look. "Do you have need of him, Lord Genichiro?" 

The Ashina lord pauses and seems to hesitate in his reply. But he shakes his head no and takes his leave. Wolf watches from his corner but stays hidden in his position. Until his master needs of his services, he will not act - that is all he needs to do. 

Once Genichiro is gone, the Divine Heir calls for him and Wolf obediently appears by his side. "Yes, my lord?" 

Kuro studies him with a concerned expression. "I feel that there is something missing," the boy says. He paces about with a thoughtful look. "Ever since you expressed confusion earlier… I feel like something is amiss. Do you know something about it, Wolf?" 

"No, my lord," Wolf truthfully replies. He is not sure what the young master is speaking of, though he may have an inkling. Kuro tips his head at Wolf, and the boy sighs. There is a faint trace of the sweet scent of cherry blossoms in the air that tickles at Wolf’s nose, but he soon forgets about it. Wolf looks up and studies his young master, who is deep in thought.

"Then, do you mind if you see Lord Genichiro again in my stead this evening?" the Divine Heir asks. "I think I may not be up for discussion with someone as intense as Lord Genichiro." Wolf's brows furrow but he does not speak up. He knows his young master is much more intelligent and capable in having a discussion with the mentioned man, but he seems to have plans of his own. Staring at the innocent look Kuro has put on, Wolf reminds himself that he should only obey his master. 

"... I will do as you say, my lord." 

“Thank you, Wolf. I hope it will turn out alright,” Kuro says and smiles knowingly. Wolf hopes the same, but he is nervous about a private meeting with the man.

Later that evening, Wolf is left in the Divine Heir's quarters while his master goes to tend to some errands with Emma. Wolf feels a little sidelined, seeing that his young master has been spending more time with the lady doctor than his own retainer, but Wolf follows what was ordered of him and waits in the room for the Ashina lord general to arrive. 

As expected, Genichiro appears surprised at the sight of Wolf upon his arrival. "Where is the Divine Heir?" 

"My master has some errands to attend to," Wolf replies formally. "He has ordered me to discuss with you in his stead."

Genichiro is clearly not pleased with the circumstance, and it shows on his face that’s twisted into a scowl. But he does not take his temper out on the shinobi, studying the man instead before he approaches him. "Fine, you shall accompany me then." The lord reaches over and grabs Wolf by the arm. He drags the shinobi to his feet and pulls him along, not allowing the other a chance to act or respond. 

"Lord -" 

"I have questions and I know you have answers," Genichiro interrupts and Wolf promptly shuts his mouth. He soon realises he's been brought into the lord's personal room, and it is one of the few spaces in the castle that has sustained little damage from the siege. 

"Sit," Genichiro orders and Wolf obeys. He does not want trouble for himself or for his young master so he quietly observes Genichiro who takes his seat across him. This is very similar to that time before they parted, when Wolf had to leave for the Fountainhead Palace. The shinobi is reminded of the intimacy between them that occurred in the same space they are sitting on. He keeps his composure.

Wolf sits, stiff and formal with his usual poker face and waits for the lord to ask him his questions. Genichiro, this time, does not sit in the same awkward manner, instead he sits casually, a knee propped up and his arm resting over it. The posture suits him, and the casual kimono that hangs loosely over his shoulders complements the man's appearance. His long untied hair spills softly over his broad shoulders and the ends of it just barely brushing over the bared clavicle of his collar. Wolf keeps his eyes down. 

"You know something, don't you?" Genichiro  accuses and Wolf steadily shakes his head. The man scoffs. "You are a terrible liar. It is a wonder how you are a shinobi with poor skills at hiding emotions like that." Wolf's brows furrow deeply. He has heard the opposite, and yet this man is telling him otherwise. Can he read him that easily? Only those close to him would, but… 

"I am here to discuss matters of Ashina's repair for my master, Lord Genichiro," Wolf reminds the man. Genichiro hisses in annoyance, waving it off. 

"You tell me the truth. You’ve played a part in this, somehow, did you not?" 

Wolf remains unmoved, "I aided you in fighting off the Ministry and the demon that overwhelmed the battlefield, lord. Nothing more."

Genichiro laughs suddenly, but the tone is harsh and humourless. "I don't know or remember you but something about that tone and avoidance of yours reminds me…"

Wolf keeps himself still and his eyes averted. That pang in his chest has returned, but he remains quiet. The silence between them stretches.

"Wolf." 

The shinobi's eyes snap up to Genichiro's. They stare at each other. Wolf does not know why he wishes to turn away from this. He is unfamiliar with emotions and loathes in confronting them. Before, he had been surer when it came to the other man, because there was certainty and mutual understanding between them. This time, Wolf isn't so sure due to the man's lack of memory. 

Genichiro’s mouth opens to speak but he looks confused, his brows furrowed, seemingly trying to recall memories. 

“Shinobi… Shinobi of the Divine Heir.” Genichiro’s tone is hesitant, but Wolf feels a squeeze in his chest. He doesn’t answer to that name, not wanting to hope. But Genichiro catches the subtle change in Wolf’s face, pouncing on it.

“You know something,” Genichiro insists, his tone changing back to something urgent. Wolf keeps his lips pressed tight and doesn’t answer. “You know, don’t you? That I’ve been dying over and over again, just to save Ashina.”

Wolf remains still and silent like a statue, so Genichiro continues. “I don’t know how many times I’ve died. Hundreds? Maybe even thousands? And for a large part of it there was someone in the middle of it all. Someone crucial to the fate of Ashina…”

This shinobi listens, merely watching the other. Genichiro’s gaze has gone distant, like he’s recalling it all in his head as he speaks his thoughts out loud. 

“In one of those times, they were directly responsible for destroying Ashina. I wanted to kill them, slice them to shreds before they are capable of such a thing again in other lifetimes, but I was powerless. With each death I grew weaker, yet I found myself fixated on that one person who could change it all. If I could kill them, maybe I could change it. I wanted them to die. But I couldn’t, so I changed. In the end, there was nothing I could do alone.

So I… threw my pride away and sought help. I asked them for help. And they gave it, but I can’t quite remember who. I only remember that I still died….” Genichiro blinks, his gaze clearing. “Surrounded by fire. And all of a sudden I find myself in a time where Ashina is saved. She’s finally saved.”

His gaze moves to Wolf now, and the shinobi feels pressure under that look. 

“I can’t remember that one thing. It’s… maddening. Do you know anything of this, Shinobi of the Divine Heir?” Genichiro asks, directing his attention to Wolf now. The shinobi shakes his head, his expression carefully composed.

“No, my lord.”

Wolf delivers the line as flatly as possible, yet the lie is clear as day. The tension between them flares so high and thick that Wolf thinks he can cut it with his sword. The look in Genichiro’s eyes is intimidating. Just like that time, Genichiro does not like to be lied to or ignored. Only that now, Genichiro may not be so kind to him. Yet surprisingly, the lord inhales harshly and turns away. Wolf can see him clenching and relaxing his jaw, then exhales slowly to calm himself. 

Wolf expects himself to be thrown out of the room, but instead he finds himself being pulled forward by his scarf. The shinobi stumbles from his sitting position and falls into a large and warm body. Strong, muscled arms wrap around his smaller frame, and Wolf feels Genichiro pressing his face into the crook of Wolf’s neck while his own face is pressed into Genichiro’s chest. The scent of his musk is heady, and the grip around him is firm and hard, almost crushing.

“Lord - “

“Shinobi of the Divine Heir… Wolf,” Genichiro murmurs, his breath fanning across the skin of Wolf’s neck. Wolf feels a little panicked. He’s not sure how to feel about this but his heart is beating hard despite the ache, despite the difficulty in breathing.

“- Genichiro, you -”

“You… you are the one I was supposed to kill aren’t you?” Wolf remains silent now, the feeling in his chest intensifying. “You’re the one who’s in my head. The one who’s haunted me and took my life over and over again.” 

Did the man’s hatred for him hold out through the time loops instead? Wolf tries to pull away from Genichiro’s hold, but his embrace is like a cage, locking him in. He hears the man growl in his ear which leaves a hard shudder run through him.

“So much so that my life became yours. And I trusted you with it, along with Ashina’s fate.” Wolf stops struggling to listen but it feels like his heartbeat is beating so hard both of them can hear it. He can feel Genichiro’s heart as well, beating just as rapidly. One hand cups Wolf’s face, not quite roughly, and tilts it up to face him. 

“You with your loyalty and compassion, despite being taught the Iron Code… You, who watched me and protected me, even losing yourself when you thought of my demise. You, who believed in my honour, gained my trust, and took my pain and shared your body with me. It was you who took my vengeance away. 

“Do you know, whenever I died, all I thought of was Ashina. But there’s this memory that’s recent and it sticks out. Of brown eyes and the touch of cool bone,” Genichiro murmurs forlornly. Wolf thinks he feels Genichiro caress his prosthetic and fights to not be affected by the touch. “That single memory - of you - it replaced my thoughts of Ashina before I died a final time.”

Wolf remains still, but their eyes remain connected as if they’re entranced, unable to look away. Genichiro goes quiet and his embrace tightens as he rests his forehead to Wolf’s. The heat of Genichiro’s face can be felt through the contact, and Wolf swears he sees a glint of moisture in Genichiro’s closed eyes. Wolf thinks he feels the man trembling. He stares and studies Genichiro’s face, the sharp chiseled structure of his features, the length of his lashes, the small scars and burns and the stubble along his jaw. 

“I do not understand why you would even concern yourself with me, but…” Genichiro continues to speak, his voice breathy and hoarse, but he sounds relieved. There is sincere gratitude and emotion in his voice that Wolf has never heard before. 

Finally, after a pause, Genichiro utters what he’s been meaning to say.

“You… Thank you for saving Ashina. Thank you for saving me.”

The pain in Wolf’s chest becomes stuffy and overwhelming, but it is no longer something unpleasant. Wolf reaches up and cups the back of Genichiro’s head. He sighs, closing his eyes and both of them lean against each other to fully welcome and enjoy the embrace. 

“You remember,” Wolf murmurs. He feels Genichiro nod.

“You are a foolish wolf,” Genichiro huffs, his eyes slowly opening to connect their gazes. Wolf’s brown eyes meet with Genichiro’s steel grey-blue. “To think you’d rather leave me in the dark and forget all you have done for me, for Ashina. Do you think so little of me?”

“I did not wish to force.... ideas unto you,” Wolf tries to explain. Genichiro kisses him quiet.

“Fool,” the lord repeats with an unamused scowl. Wolf sighs in exasperation, but he welcomes the following kisses as he repositions himself to a more comfortable position in Genichiro’s lap. Genichiro deepens the kisses before Wolf pulls away for breath.

“This time,” Wolf begins. “I won’t -”

“Shush,” Genichiro chides. “It’s not on you to take care of me. I am not your master.”

“You are not. But you are just as important,” Wolf says. He only realises his words after he’s said them. His cheeks warm as he stares back at Genichiro who’s gazing at him with an incredulous look. The man then leans in for a fevered kiss, stealing Wolf’s breath and leaving the smaller man shuddering at the way his tongue moves in his mouth.

“You, Shinobi - Wolf,” Genichiro growls into his mouth. “You will be the death of me.”

“Don’t-”

“You may have all of me. I trust you.”

Wolf gasps, both from the words and the bite to his neck that punctuates the statement. Wolf’s visions swims and his body feels heated. He feels flushed, warm, and he clings onto the larger man who is marking up his neck with his teeth and lips. His scarf is pulled off his shoulders, followed by his outer clothing, and soon enough they are both bare from the waist up.

It’s Wolf who pushes Genichiro back and straddles the larger man. They kiss like they’re parched and the other is the oasis. Tongues tangling and teeth nipping at lips. Wolf’s prosthetic hand slides over Genichiro’s chest, while his flesh hand slides down the general’s body. They part for breath as Genichiro unravels Wolf’s hair from its tie. Black and silver white hair spills down over Wolf’s shoulders like a curtain and Wolf feels the man’s hand gripping at it to tug lightly. Wolf makes a sound almost like a whimper, moving his hands southward past Genichiro’s navel. He feels eager and desperate and hungry for something. There is excitement in him when he sees the same hunger in Genichiro’s darkened eyes.

Wolf takes the initiative this time, lowering himself down to take Genichiro in his mouth. He revels in the startled moan from the man as the shinobi sucks and takes as much of the man’s large length into his mouth. He is rather clumsy and stiff with it, but he moves by instinct, wanting nothing more than to taste and pleasure the man while his hands massage the lower half of the shaft.

“Wolf,” he hears Genichiro moan out his name. The way the lord speaks his name makes him shudder. He sucks down on Genichiro harder and feels the man’s hand on his head, tugging at his hair as he hisses out Wolf’s name over and over. The shinobi tastes the bitter tang of precum and pulls his mouth away for breath and to rest his tired jaw but he’s instead pulled up for a hungry, desperate kiss. 

“I want you,” Genichiro murmurs, his voice low and rough with want. Wolf nods, unable to hide his own eagerness as he reaches back to prep and finger himself. Genichiro brings Wolf back into his lap and helps Wolf with that. He hands Wolf some oil he’s procured from somewhere in the room, and its slickness helps in sliding his fingers inside himself easily. Wolf stretches and softens his insides, with Genichiro’s larger, thicker fingers dipping inside helpfully. The smaller man shudders as he slumps his body against Genichiro’s built frame, sighing out in a daze. It feels good, but he’s anticipating for what’s coming next.

Wolf relaxes his body once ready, his eyes pulled to Genichiro's as he sinks himself onto the man's erect member. The shinobi flutters his eyes close at the sensation of being filled, reaching down to press at the base of his stomach. His mouth drops open a little when he rotates his hips slightly and the tip of the man’s penis nudges a particular spot inside him.. 

"Tight," Wolf hears the man mumble. He replies with an affirmative grunt, cupping the lord’s stubbled jaw and they kiss again. Despite their earlier desperation and neediness, they fall into a slow and steady rhythm, as if they are feeling each other out and soaking in the moment. Wolf's hands are unable to keep still, continuing to roam over Genichiro's scarred body, caressing, stroking, massaging. Genichiro seems to appreciate it too, while his own hands settle at Wolf's narrow waist, thumb gently stroking along his hip bone. 

Wolf gasps as they steadily increase their pace. He gets lost at how Genichiro fills him full, how complete it makes him feel, how the pleasure is starting to peak and how he's mumbling Genichiro's name over and over through his breaths. Their mouths never stray far from the other, lips sucked and teeth nipping teasingly at them until they're swollen and bruised.

"Geni - nn - chiro, ah," he grunts, clenching his eyes shut as his climax approaches. He feels the warmth of a large hand wrap around his member and Wolf visibly shudders, eyes snapping open to look at Genichiro.

"Cum," the lord says, his tone demanding. Wolf bites at his lip and nods, gritting his teeth as Genichiro pumps his length faster, harder until he wrings an orgasm out of Wolf who cums with a cry. The shinobi clings onto the larger ma as his entire body is wrecked with shivers, his eyes unfocused and in a daze as his orgasm takes his breath away. Wolf hears Genichiro grunt as well, mumbling something. He feels like he's being swept away as he's moved, his head suddenly angled back by a gentle tug to the back of his hair and his lips are captured again.

This kiss feels much more heavy and intense, the way Genichiro's tongue slides over his and sucks as his tongue and lips. Wolf's mind feels clouded but moves both his arms loosely to wrap themselves around Genichiro's neck. He feels the man release inside him, hot and thick and it's an unpleasant sensation, but he endures it, too tired to really move.

Genichiro finally releases his hold on him a few moments later and Wolf sighs, not as eager to do the same. The larger man is an impossibly comfortable and warm blanket. 

Of course, they are not done. Both of them are men of war with high endurance and stamina, and after the retreat of the Interior Ministry, they finally have the time and peace for themselves.

They indulge in each other well into the night, when the moon is at its highest point in the dark sky.

It is only then that Wolf realises he hasn't reported back to his young master. The shinobi tries to sneak off, but Genichiro's hold on him is firm and once he feels Wolf move he tightens his embrace.

"Lord Genichiro, I must go," Wolf tries to reason. Genichiro kisses the back of Wolf's neck and rests his chin on the smaller man's shoulder. 

"Nonsense. Your Divine Heir knows about this."

"What…?" Wolf freezes in his arms. The incredulity in the shinobi’s voice is amusing. Genichiro's huffs. 

"Your Divine Heir is a sly and smart boy. He wouldn't have sent you, a shinobi, to discuss such important masters on Ashina to me. He knows I was looking for you," Genichiro explains casually. He lets Wolf stew in his thoughts, eventually adding, “The boy may grow to be a decent scholar and leader in the future, perhaps."

Wolf sighs for maybe the umptheenth time in a single day, unsure how to respond. His young lord had indeed showed signs that he knew what was amiss, and having the Dragon's Blood, they had established that he'd retain some of his memories across lives and timelines. It is possible that Kuro remembers of Wolf's alliance and growing relationship with Genichiro. 

Eventually Wolf relaxes and settles back into Genichiro's warm body. He feels... good, now. And Genichiro, too, appears to be looking better. There's no haunted look to his gaze, no nervous, paranoid glances to the corner of his sights. He looks relaxed. Content, maybe. 

Wolf can perhaps say the same.

As a shinobi, there is little he can label as happiness aside from carrying out his duties for his lord. War and bloodshed would always be there for them, especially in this warring age. 

Crossing paths with Genichiro - who knows why the gods fated for them to end up like this, why is it that they granted Genichiro and Ashina a second chance albeit in a convoluted, twisted manner. Gave Wolf a second chance too. 

The matter of his master's goal to sever Immortality will inevitably come later, but for now, they have this moment.

--------------- 

"Indeed, the sage who’s fully quenched rests at ease in every way; no sense desire adheres to him whose fires have cooled, deprived of fuel.
All attachments have been severed, the heart’s been led away from pain; tranquil, he rests with utmost ease.
The mind has found its way to peace.
- Buddha