“Three people. Possibly four. Torn – torn apart.” Shigeru’s voice broke.
Tachibana reached out to him, gripping his shoulder, as Yuriko swallowed and turned away. Tachibana had no clue what he was doing in the forest like this. His head was spinning, and maybe he needed solidity just as much as he needed to give it. He couldn’t remember a thing from the last twelve hours – twenty-four hours? Difficult to judge by the sunlight through the trees.
Not a thing.
(Please don’t let it be more than a day.)
He was used to this feeling of sick dread, after so many years fighting Shocker, and now Black Satan. It wasn’t the first instance of losing time. Didn’t make it any easier, though.
“It’s all right, Shigeru,” he said urgently. “We can’t fix it, we can’t bring those poor people back, but we can figure out what Black Satan’s doing, and we can stop it. It’s all right!”
He could smell the nauseating scent of blood from the next clearing over, and he carefully avoided looking too closely at the splashes of colour he could see here and there. Someone’s jacket, perhaps. Someone’s shoe.
It wasn’t good that Shigeru couldn’t even tell how many people there’d been.
“How did it happen?”
He thanked his lucky stars that he’d escaped. Even though he felt terrible at the same time.
Shigeru didn’t speak. Yuriko folded her arms. The black fabric of her jacket pulled tight across her shoulders.
“We think it was you,” Yuriko said quietly. “Not of your own free will, Tachibana-san! We know you’d never hurt people if you had any choice! It was a wolf inside you!”
Tachibana looked from one to the other, then looked at the way that Yuriko’s fingers dug into her arms. He shook his head uncertainly. He had a lot of faith in these two young people. They’d fought all kinds of foes together. He trusted them.
But not about this. Not about his actual self! “No – no, I’d know. I know I would.”
Would he, though? If he lost control? If he transformed into something that could do that - would he really remember?
The smell - was it truly nauseating? Or was there something in it that drew him?
Shigeru grabbed him in a tight hug, and Yuriko folded herself into it, as well. When he’d finished shaking, they both stepped back.
The horror in him began to settle into a panicked acceptance. He’d have to take responsibility. He’d have to figure out what had happened, and how to stop it, and how to make reparations to the families of the people he’d – he’d brutally murdered. It’d be difficult to find his way home tonight, given the sun was setting, but Yuriko and Shigeru would help. He’d have to –
Then the horror burst into new life, as he watched Yuriko’s canines elongate, as he watched Shigeru stare at the hair sprouting on the back of his hands, as he watched the two of them finish transforming and lift their heads to howl in an eerily beautiful, utterly terrifying, disharmonic convergence.
Maybe none of his plans mattered.
Maybe it hadn’t been him, after all.