When Giyuu was injured, Sabito knew he would not be leaving the Final Selection alive.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try — nor did it mean that he would run, or hide, or let others be taken by the beast before him. And, besides, perhaps he could get lucky. The demon could be deceptively weak, or a contestant could be secretly strong.
Deep down, he knew that the chances of such luck were infinitesimal. That didn’t mean anyone had to catch on, least of all Giyuu.
“So, fox boy,” the Hand Demon sneers, pretending to look around the area, “It seems your comrades have abandoned you. So sad, so sad.”
Sabito stays silent, even as it laughs. He watches the demon for any hint of a weak spot, any thinness in its neck. And then, Sabito lunges.
… His sword breaks.
So shocked by the breaking of his sword, which he’d thought to have found the perfect entry point, Sabito stilled. That pause, that minute flinch, ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Sabito’s headband neck were crushed like paper beneath a strong fist, and his wheezing body fell to the ground. However, the demon did not leave him to suffocate on his own crushed larynx, nor did it eat him, as it may have in another world, another story. Instead, he leered at Sabito, slashing his own hand. Vile, black blood seeped from the wound.
“I would just kill you, but…” The demon’s eyes tilted into a cruelly happy shape, “I think this would hurt Urokodaki so much more. ”
Drops of blood entered Sabito’s ajar mouth, sliding down his throat with an eerie hiss.
The Hand Demon was long gone by the time Giyuu managed to wake, one eye matted closed with blood. The beast likely gave up on waiting, accepting the death for what it was, and went to find some other poor soul to devour. But Sabito remained, broken and bloodied, on the hard earth.
That was how Giyuu found him.
“Sabito…” Giyuu breathed, his hands coming to cover his mouth. He barely managed to make it to his companion’s side, collapsing to his knees beside him. “Sabito, Sabito, no…”
Giyuu took one of Sabito’s barely-warm hands in his, trembling like a leaf, and wept.
It was only the sound of hissing and crackling that made him look up from his tearful vigil, hours later. Before Giyuu’s wide eyes, Sabito’s head began to knit together, and his neck spasmed. The hand once held in Giyuu’s seized, and he was forced to scoot back a pace, watching Sabito writhe on the ground. His nails elongated, and small growls tore from his throat.
Is Sabito… becoming a demon? Giyuu thought with horror, tears welling in his eyes once more. He couldn’t bring himself to reach for his sword — a sword that wasn’t there, but that wasn’t the point.
Finally, the seizing stopped.
However, within seconds, Giyuu was pinned to the grass, held down by his shoulders. Above him, Sabito snarled, gray eyes now slitted. His nails dug into the grass, and saliva dripped onto Giyuu’s cheeks.
“Sabito? Sabito!” Giyuu yelped, his hands on Sabito’s chest, trying to push him off, “Please, Sabito, snap out of it!”
His answer was a growl, and the pressure on his shoulders grew.
“Sabito! Please! I can’t lose you too! You’re— you’re all I have left, please!”
Wetness on his cheek.
Giyuu stared into Sabito’s eyes, which welled with tears. Sabito let out a choked whine, letting Giyuu go all at once, and sprinted into the forest.
Giyuu checked every cave, every tree, every nook and cranny of Fujikasane’s demon-inhabited mountain. No matter where he looked, he couldn’t find Sabito.
Giyuu didn’t stop looking.
Eventually, only some time before twilight, he spotted a vibrant haori beneath some branches on the east side of the mountain. A warning growl sounded, but Giyuu approached anyway. He never claimed to be sensible, and it showed.
The growling cut off as Giyuu sheltered the spot with his sister’s haori, and Sabito’s eyes and hands peeked from beneath the cover.
“You need to let me die,” Sabito attempted to gesture, tears welling up in his eyes again, “I don’t want to hurt anyone!”
“You fucking idiot!” Giyuu yelled, surprising both himself and Sabito. Giyuu never yelled, even when his sister’s haori ripped due to Sabito playing a little too rough, or when someone said something insensitive. Never. “What did you say to me, all those years ago? ‘ Never say you’re better off dying ever again.’ And now you want me to let you die just because you’re a demon?!”
As Giyuu stepped forward, Sabito shrank back. “ No, no! ” He tried to convey his panic, “ Don’t come closer, I don’t want to kill you! ”
A pair of arms wrapped around Sabito, cutting off his protests. Both of them knew that, if Sabito was truly unable to control himself, or was too far gone, Sabito could rip his throat out right then and there.
But Sabito simply embraces Giyuu, and lets himself weep.
“We need to figure out how to get you off of this mountain. You’re alive and cognizant, and not eating people, but we don’t know how long that would last up here. And I won’t leave without you.”
“ How do you propose that?” Sabito gestured wildly to the area, “ this entire place is surrounded by wisteria, which would kill me. ”
“We have two nights to figure this out. I think I have an idea, but I think we should try it tomorrow night before we actually… do it.”
The pair of them lay in a cave, waiting out the day’s harsh sunlight. Sabito was as far back as he could get, and Giyuu faced him with his back to the entrance. Only one demon— two, now, but he didn’t want to think about that— remained on the mountain. And, in the day, there was no danger for him.
When night fell, Giyuu and Sabito left the cave warily. There was no trace of the Hand Demon, however; no sight, sound, or smell. Sabito elected to keep a lookout, while Giyuu constructed his “anti-wisteria” plan.
Some demons left behind clothes when they faded, Giyuu reasoned, as he pilfered long dead corpses. With enough of a thick layer of clothing, he should be able to make Sabito somewhat impervious to the deadly flowers surrounding them.
They approached the border close to sunrise, on the western side of the mountain. Sabito had a cloth over his mouth, as well as various heavy garments upon his body and head. His hands were covered by overly long sleeves, taken from a massive demon’s ashes. Together, Giyuu and Sabito stepped into the wisteria grove, and waited.
Even as the sky lightened with the promise of sunlight, Sabito remained unpoisoned and whole. He was uncomfortable, evident by the hunch of his shoulders, but alive . As alive as a demon could be.
When the duo returned to their cave to wait out their last day, they cheered, they hugged, and they laughed. It had worked .
Ubuyashiki Kagaya watched as a pair of children descended the mountain in the dead of night. They were the last, with the other children coming down at the first opportunity — some quit, some stayed, but all came down. Except for these two.
Oddly, one of them was dressed extremely heavily, with no skin exposed, at least two layers to every garment. Kagaya’s vision wasn’t wonderful, but he could surely see that.
Something had happened up there, Kagaya knew — his intuition was rarely wrong, and he trusted it more than his factual knowledge at times. And his intuition flared brighter than his daughters’ smiles, brighter than his honorable flame pillar.
Similarly, he knew that the pair were Urokodaki’s disciples. He’d been told about them one winter morning, a few years past, with a letter from their master himself. Kagaya, then, had felt a deep sadness in his heart. Thus far, every one of Urokodaki’s disciples had met with tragedy, never living past fifteen. But here both of them were, seemingly intact.
But then, the cloaked one looked up from his feet, once he had passed the wisteria trees.
Kagaya’s round pupils met slitted ones.
Instead of flinching back, or reacting with prejudice, Kagaya smiled. The tense line of the pair’s shoulders lifted, just a bit.
“Welcome back, Giyuu and Sabito,” Kagaya said warmly, “Congratulations on passing your Final Selection. I’ve heard many good things about you.”
Giyuu and Sabito nodded, almost in sync, and bowed lightly in thanks.
“As we are past the wisteria grove, I would like you to reveal yourself, my child.”
Sabito stiffened and shrunk back, and Giyuu stepped forward protectively. Kagaya sighed, understanding their caution but feeling regretful all the same. “There is no one here but me and my crow, I assure you. You will not be harmed.”
Giyuu relaxed, and while Sabito still felt uneasy, he knew of the Oyakata’s authority. Not resisting the gentle tug on his sleeve, Sabito allowed Giyuu to remove the heavy layers upon his back. His cloth, positioned over his mouth, did not move, however. The pollen scared him too much, even with a suggestion from the Demon Corps leader.
Kagaya took in the sight of Sabito, now unhindered by the weight of many demons’ memoirs. He looked very similar to what Urokodaki described — the key differences, however, were quite noticeable to the trained eye. His nails were formed into claws, sharpened tips carefully positioned to avoid nicking his face, where the cloth was held. His eyes were slitted, of course, as for all demons. What was the most noticeable to Kagaya, though, were the slightly darker cracks spread along the entirety of his skin, localized in his face. It looked like Kintsugi, honestly.
Again, the Oyakata smiled, and gestured for Urokodaki’s students to follow him. Away from the grove they went, further descending Mt. Fujikasane. Kagaya’s frail legs burned with the strain, but he smiled through it. He would welcome his newest children for as long as he was able, and no less.
Once they were further from the mountain, at the ore selection site, Sabito removed his mouth cover, revealing deadly fangs. But, again, Kagaya smiled.
“Pick your ore, both of you.”
Sabito stared at him, incredulous. To Giyuu, the only one other than Urokodaki who understood his vibrant gestures, he conveyed, “ Is he serious? I’m a demon! ”
Upon translation, Kagaya laughed. “You technically passed, so there’s no issue. And yes, I realize I’m asking a demon to slay demons. But you resisted every instinct telling you to eat humans, and are still resisting it. Not every demon is a vile, evil being. I understand that more than most.”
A long pause followed. Eventually, Sabito pointed to an ore, and Giyuu lifted it along with his own. They were deposited into a basket, which two more crows showed up to take.
“Do you know the ranks?” Two nods. “Good! Your swords will likely be ready in two weeks’ time. I’ll be requesting gloves for the both of you, as well as hoods, but… I assume you’ll be wearing something other than the standard uniform?” Another nod, from Sabito. “Keep the gloves, then. They’ll be useful.”
With many thanks, mostly translated by Giyuu, both left the mountain to begin the trek back to Mt. Sagiri.
With an injured Giyuu and a nocturnal Sabito, it took twice as long to return to their home. Urokodaki was waiting for them inside, but unsheathed his sword at the scent of Sabito.
“Urokodaki-san!” Giyuu protests, standing in front of a frozen Sabito, “He’s fine! It’s fine!”
“Giyuu. That is a demon. You are sheltering a demon in my home. ”
“It’s just Sabito, Urokodaki-san. He hasn’t eaten anyone — he almost ate me but he didn’t and it’s okay now!”
Urokodaki took a step forward, and Giyuu took one back, remaining in front of Sabito protectively. In a flash, Urokodaki grabbed Sabito and jumped back, holding a sword to his neck. However, Sabito did not growl or fight. He simply looked at the sword in a mixture of fear and sadness.
Not expecting this response, Urokodaki was caught off guard. Sabito still remained still, even with the sword’s grip slackened.
Behind the mask, Urokodaki teared up. He dropped Sabito, and then his sword, sweeping the two of them in a hug.
“Sabito, Giyuu… you came back. You came back to me…”
The next morning, Urokodaki forced Giyuu and Sabito to sit for a long talk. If Sabito wasn’t nonverbal, he’d call it a lecture.
“Sabito, you must never kill a human being. Ever. If you do, you will be killed. Giyuu and I, in that event, must slit our own stomachs and die to atone for your actions. You must never lose control. Do you understand me?”
Sabito nodded, frowning in thought. “ I’m never… hungry, really ,” he gestured, “ at least, not for humans. I did get hungry seeing a deer, but that was the extent. ”
“Good. That means you likely don’t need as much energy, and perhaps that’s why you’re more cognizant and in control than other demons.” Urokodaki looked down to the table, where his tea lay. “Sabito, that reminds me. We need to teach you sign language. I know it, and you’re a fast learner. Giyuu, the same is for you. Simple gestures won’t get you far, and they won’t work for long.”
Again, the two agreed. It made sense, and Urokodaki was going out of his way to make accommodations. They truly loved their father figure.
“Next, and then the last. I’m making you new masks. The two of you need to work as a cohesive unit from now on — plus, the mask will help Sabito with sunlight exposure. I have scarves, and I want you to cover your head and neck with them when you may encounter sunlight, Sabito. In regards to the cohesive unit, you’re starting a new training regime with me. You will work together until you’re unsure where one of you ends and the other starts. This will start in three days’ time, so your eye can heal, Giyuu. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Urokodaki-san!” Giyuu said excitedly, and Sabito nodded emphatically.
“Until then, we’re learning sign language, and we’ll be learning that during the nights. Get some more rest, and I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“These boys…” Urokodaki sighed, once both of them were soundly asleep, “will be the death of me, one day. I don’t think I can handle any more children…”