“Big brother look, it’s a shooting star!” Nezuko excitedly remarked, throwing a hand to the sky to point at the falling light.
“Quick Nezuko, make a wish!”
Nezuko hurriedly shut her eyes and put her hands together in a praying gesture. Tanjiro laughed and followed her actions.
‘May my family always be happy and safe.’
“What did you wish for?” Nezuko asked a few seconds later. The light had disappeared from the night sky by now, and only the full moon remained to light the sky.
“It only works if you don’t say it out loud.”
“Did you wish for a good wife?” Nezuko teased. “I’m sure you don’t need the gods help with that. I think just about every girl in the village volunteered herself when mother put out the word.” Her words held no mocking tone, only a sense of pride and affection for her brother. Even now, her smile was soft and not cheeky. A faint blush rose to Tanjiro’s cheeks as he denied it, he didn’t like talking about the subject.
“Please don’t exaggerate such things Nezuko.” He scolded her gently. “It wouldn’t be right to wish for that. I am sure I will be very happy with whoever mother chooses for me.” Nezuko raised an eyebrow at that.
“You really don’t mind who mother chooses?”
Tanjirou shook his head and turned his back on the moon.
“Whoever it may be, I will be happy as long as they are too.” He smiled back at his sister. “However, your husband will have to be extraordinary. I will not settle for anything less than the best for my little sister.” He began counting on his fingers. “He must be as kind and sympathetic as you, a good head on his shoulders and it would be even better if he had the mind of a strategist, a body strong enough to carry you when you tire-” Nezuko giggled and playfully knocked her fist against his shoulder.
She dragged him by the arm back through the temple and to their family’s dwelling.
“Big brother, you care for others so much, and yet yourself so little. You must be some kind of reincarnated saint.”
They lost. They were defeated. Crushed beneath the disgusting heels of the demon hunters.
The demon let out a bitter and anguished growl to the night sky above he had just fallen from. It lacked words, but the intent was clearly to curse. His jaw was completely shattered so he couldn’t even spit out the blood building in his mouth and throat, and instead it was left to drool out the sides of his mouth languidly. His growl eventually turned into pained gurgling as the blood began to clog his breathing once again. To stop himself from slowly choking on his own blood pathetically, he slapped the remainder of his right arm into the ground next to him and attempted to roll over onto his stomach. After some painful manoeuvres and digging his wounded limbs into the ground, he was able to push himself over and make the harrowing trek from his crater out in the open to the cave nearby. If he left himself to bleed out too long in such an open space, the demon hunters might actually be able to pick up his trail.
Once he reached the cave, he dragged himself to the very back corner of it and leaned his crooked back against the wall, letting out a grunt as his back hit it. Thankfully the cave was deep enough that sunlight would not reach him this far in, no matter the time of day.
He glared holes into the dark scenery outside his cave.
Muzan Kibutsuji had been the king – no, the god of demons.
He still was.
And yet, the demon hunters crawled over his onyx throne now like little bugs. The accursed Hashira and their armies of hunters had dealt a devastating blow to his expanding rule. His forces had been scattered, his lair burnt to the ground and he himself had been reduced to this. His powers had waned and gone dormant so all his energy could be focused on healing himself. This meant he was trapped in his human form. His lowly, feeble and damaged human form. The realisation almost had him hurling just to get the taste of it out.
He was not confident he would able to repel even an armed farmer, let alone another demon slayer. He could barely move, especially after all the effort he spent just moving himself to this cave. This mere thought reignited his fury and his entire body burned with a bloody desire for violence. He wanted to rip their mortal bodies apart – debase them and their families and burn this country of theirs to the ground. A phantom ache sprang from his teeth and tongue, aching to taste their fear and blood on his lips.
That’s where humans belonged, beneath his foot or between his teeth.
With his jaw broken, he could only scrunch the remaining fingers of his left hand into a fist to keep his molten anger at bay.
For now, he had to wait. The Hashira would still be on the prowl; but at least they were still looking for a body.
They can swarm his throne for now, for once he’d recovered his strength, he’d burn those insects and his tarnished throne with them. And from their ashes and bones, he’d build his new throne on top of the world.
“Nezuko! It’s time to head back!” Tanjiro cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted into the forest again.
No reply came.
“How far did she go?” He wondered aloud. Nonetheless, he entered the forest his sister had disappeared into, his basket filled with herbs. This part of the forest was darker than other areas because of the mountain looming directly above it, covering the land in shade. Tanjiro and his siblings usually stayed away from this part of the forest as it was easy to get lost in, but occasionally Tanjiro ventured in for the harder to come by herbs. It was usually just Tanjiro that did this, he didn’t like any of his younger siblings risking themselves.
He continued his search through the forest, periodically yelling out for her. The longer he kept at it, the more worried he grew. He pace quickened and his shouting increased.
Eventually, Tanjirou came across a chilling trail of blood leading from a small crater of dirt to a cave a little way away. The trail was not small, and he could tell whatever it was had lost quite a bit of blood. Could it be an injured animal? A hunter’s catch that was never finished off? Or could it be…
No, it couldn’t be. He had only been away from her for only half an hour. He bit his lip and followed the trail, his mind racing through herbs he knew that could stop bleeds.
‘Please let her be okay…Please.’
As he approached the cave, he noticed it was deeper than he thought. He tentatively approached the entrance and looked in, feeling something was not quite right but being unable to place why.
“Nezu-” He quietly began, but he was cut short and his voice trailed off as he saw a shape in the shadows at the back of the cave. It was too large for the delicate frame of Nezuko, but it was humanoid.
A guilty feeling of relief welled up in him when he realised Nezuko could not be the injured form at the back of the cave. Reason returning to him, he realised the blood he had seen was too dry to have been from someone attacked recently.
Still, another feeling of curiosity and worry overcame him. He could see the gentle rise of a chest as the form appeared to sleep, meaning the poor person was still alive. Nezuko may not be the one injured, but this person in front of him was still in need of help.
Tanjiro crept closer to the resting form in the shadows, eventually coming to kneel before him. Up this close now, he could see it was a man, though the darkness hid many of his features.
The closer he looked, the more Tanjiro realised this man was horribly injured. His right arm was missing from the elbow down, his jaw unnaturally slack, his clothes in tatters in some places, and even in the darkness he could tell that the man was still bleeding in places. His face was not peaceful even in slumber and was warped in pain.
Tanjiro didn’t want to wake him, but he had no candle on him to light so he could assess all his injuries. So, he laid his basket of herbs down next to him and moved to slowly reach his hand to the stranger’s arm, intending to gently nudge him until he hopefully woke up.
The moment Tanjiro’s hand made contact with the icy skin of the stranger, his eyes shot open and what was left of his gnarled left arm sprung up to claw at him. Tanjiro tried to jump back and dodge the incoming swing but in doing so he fell back, knocking over his herbs in the process. The man growled at him and continued swatting at Tanjiro to keep him away.
“Wait – please, wai- wait a moment!” Tanjiro put his hands up in a sign of
surrender and edged away from the man slightly, trying to give him space.
“Please I know you’re hurt; I can help you!” Tanjiro grabbed a handful of herbs that had sprawled from his basket and held them up. “I have some herbs that can at least stifle your bleeding, please stop and let me help you!” he pleaded.
It didn’t seem his pleas were being listened to, but the stranger seemed to tire himself out rather quickly regardless. His swatting lost its viciousness and his arm hung loosely in the air before collapsing to the ground next to his body as if he could no longer hold it up. Soon the cave was filled with the awful sound of the man’s body being wracked with coughing that he could not properly release because of his wounded jaw. Despite his earlier violent reaction, and the hate filled eyes glaring up at him from the cave floor, Tanjiro couldn’t help but feel his heart wrench for the man.
He was clearly in great pain and stress, and likely just struck out on instinct. Tanjiro picked himself back up and kneeled once more beside the man. The stranger began to let out another threatening growl, but it was quickly interrupted by another coughing fit. His wrangled arm still lay on the floor, twitching periodically as if it was ready to pounce but all its strings had been cut.
This man needed Tanjiro’s help, and he would get it whether he liked it or not!
Resolved, Tanjiro ripped off parts of his kimono sleeve for some makeshift bandages. He’ll apologize to Nezuko and his mother later, he’s sure they’d understand even if they’d complain at first. There wasn’t much he could without the proper herbs, medicine and tools. But he still had to try.
So, he slowly reached for the twitching limb spread on the floor near him. The man watched him warily, growling between coughs when he could, but being unable to do much else thankfully.
With great care, Tanjiro grabbed the injured hand and only lifted it enough off the floor so that it was resting in his hands. Tanjiro’s hands were slightly calloused from the daily work around the temple, but he hoped they’d be at least softer than the cold and rocky ground.
The hand he held jerked as he held it and he could have sworn the man was trying to hiss at him.
But it didn’t stop Tanjiro.
As he tenderly began to clean the wounds of the missing fingers, the hand clawed and even successfully scratched him. It hurt and Tanjiro flinched slightly, but he did not stop.
Even when he started to manoeuvre his makeshift bandages slowly and delicately around the hand, the stranger’s hand latched onto Tanjiro’s hand and dug what’s left of its nails and fingers into Tanjiro’s hand. Tanjiro cried out and almost pulled away, but he persevered and pried the nails off him as carefully as he could and did not stop.
Finally, Tanjiro was able to finish the act. Still holding the bandaged hand, he looked up once more at the fearsome expression on the stranger’s face. He gave the resisting stranger a reassuring smile.
“There, now that wasn’t that bad was it?” The stranger still glared at him, but at least he wasn’t attempting to harm him now. He simply watched Tanjiro place his hand lightly back down. However, he still flinched and tried to growl when Tanjiro drew too close.
The man clearly wasn’t out of the woods yet; he still seemed to be littered with more injuries. To make matters worse, Tanjiro could not ascertain the extent of the wounds in this much darkness, and he didn’t have all the proper supplies. Tanjiro’s smile dropped as he realised, he could not do this job without help.
“I’m sorry sir, I cannot do much more than this right now. I will have to return to my village and get the proper supplies. I’ll get my mother to come help, I learnt everything I know from her.” Tanjiro tried to give another reassuring smile and began to stand up.
“I will definitely be back-”
The movement and words set the man off however, and his now bandaged hand shot out once more to latch on to the cloth of Tanjiro’s hakama. Tanjiro quickly reacted by crouching once more in concern, not wanting to stretch the freshly bandaged hand.
“I’m sorry but I really will need to return with better supplies, and you will be in good hands with my mother.” He said soothingly.
But the man’s grip did not let up. Tanjiro began to worry once more as he was not sure what the man was trying to tell him. The more time he spent here could mean the man’s chance of survival dwindling.
“What is it? I’m not lying, this really is the most I can do with what I have. I need to go back.” Tanjiro said in growing concern. The grip remained and Tanjiro wracked his brain.
“I assure you, my mother is very knowledgeable! Everyone in the village goes to her when they are sick.” He tried to comfort him.
With what seemed like a great effort, the man shook his head. It wasn’t a big movement but with all his concentration on him, Tanjiro noticed it immediately.
“You don’t want my mother? But why? You can trust her; she knows what she’s doing.” The man shook his head again. Tanjiro was at a loss. While he was talented in the area himself, this man would surely benefit from his mother’s treatment more.
Seeing Tanjiro’s uncertainty, the man began to move again. This time he brought his bandaged hand to his face and curled all his remaining fingers except one that hovered over his lips. The gesture was a little mangled on account of his missing fingers and haggled appearance but Tanjiro understood, nonetheless.
‘He doesn’t want anyone else to know.’
It was a rather distressing thought.
‘Why would he ask for secrecy when his life was at stake? Was he on the run from someone? In danger? … a criminal?’
Tanjiro was struck with indecision - he didn’t want to aid a criminal. He respects the law, but…
No- This man was so savagely beaten and wounded, and Tanjiro was sure this wasn’t right. No one deserved this kind of agonizing and slow death. Even criminals were people too, and all people deserved mercy. He would perhaps be just as bad himself if he left a helpless man to his death when he could have helped him. Besides, how could he be sure this man was a criminal? He could simply be a victim not wanting to let his location be known. Maybe he was being pursued?
That decided it then. Regardless of whether the man was a criminal or a hapless victim, Tanjiro would respect his wishes and help him all the same. He would not abandon the man.
Tanjiro once more reached for the hand that had gone slack. The man jerked, but he did not pull away or scratch him, just sharpened his eyes in warning at Tanjiro. Tanjiro leaned closer so as to not stretch the man’s arm and brought it to his chest, flashing a determined smile at him.
“Alright, I will return alone. Don’t worry.” He gently lowered the hand once more and stood up. The stranger did not make a grab for him this time and allowed him to take some steps away.
After he had collected his basket and started to leave, Tanjiro heard a muffled groan behind him. It sounded too punctuated to be one of pain so Tanjiro turned back one final time. He raised his own finger to his lips and smiled back down at the stranger.
“I will be back, I promise.”
Filthy. Muzan felt filthy. Or at least he should feel filthy.
He felt angry. He should feel angry.
He should have pulled the brat close and devoured him then and there. And yet he let him leave. He let a weak and pitiful human see him in this state and get away. He let potential prey escape.
Wounds or not, Muzan let a human see him like this and live to tell the tale.
This cannot stand. When he returns, likely with whatever whore he’s told; Muzan will tear them apart even if he only has one hand to do it with. He’ll gouge their eyes out and feed upon their hear-
A shadow looms above him, but its shade is comforting. The figure is that of a boy, or a young man. He wears the garb of a Kannushi; a blue hakama and a white kimono. His hair is tied up into a ponytail, so it isn’t in his face – It’s likely for practicality but it serves to show off an ugly and large burn scar that crawls across the left side of his forehead. Framing his face are large paper earrings of a rising sun, a popular symbol in the land for spiritual practitioners. The boy gingerly holds the hand that had clawed and injured him, to his chest. The boy’s hands are warm unlike Muzan’s naturally icy own hands. His palms have some light callouses, the tell-tale sign of someone who works. But they’re strangely soft and welcoming. He holds Muzan’s hand like its fragile and leans in so its not stretched when he pulls it to his chest.
The boy is talking… saying he won’t bring his mother. But Muzan can barely hear him, he’s distracted by the calm and soothing beat of a heart he can feel through his fingers against the chest.
Muzan is close enough to rip it out.
But he doesn’t.
Something compels him to just freeze for a few moments and feel the heartbeat at his fingertips.
He hears the boy trail off and his eyes focus back on the face of this human. His gentle expression blooms into a supportive and disarming smile. Even though Muzan is looking up at it him, the look the boy is giving him is one full of dedication.
Like the boy is devoting himself to Muzan.
Something shifts in Muzan and the memory fades. He finds himself calm once more and staring at the rays of the setting sun pooling into his cave.
A part of him demands his anger and revulsion to return, but he remains stoic. The scene of the boy brightly smiling while unwittingly pledging to help the most notorious demon was burned into his brain. The emotions he should be feeling were being kept at bay by this one encounter.
He wanted to warp that face into pain. He wanted to bruise and mar that sun kissed skin. Pick those pretty amber eyes from their sockets. Taste the blood that pumps through that sickly benevolent heart. Loom above the kneeling boy. To have this boy lay praises and adoration at his feet. To be worshipped and feared by him. To mould and suffocate that light of his.
He deserved this.