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king of dreams

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Sakura comes to in the middle of a dark room. She struggles to her feet, clutching her head as she looks around at her surroundings.

Mirrors line every inch of space before her.

Sakura frowns at the exhaustion that rings her eyes and the way her hair hangs limp and lank. She looks tired.

Sakura ignores the fatigue that clings like cobwebs, sticky and tacky against her skin, as she fights to remember. She has been here before; she is sure of it.

Sakura exhales slowly as she turns, hating the fact that no matter where she looks, there are mirrors.

“Hello, star-bright,” a voice says.

Sakura whirls, catching sight of nothing behind her. She could’ve sworn she felt breath ghost against the back of her neck.

She turns back to where she stood before, startling when she catches sight of something in the mirror.

There is a man there.

He is tall and swathed in darkness. In his hand he holds a staff, one with some sort of orange shining jewel on the end. He wears a mask, no, rather, a deer skull with huge, twisting antlers that reign high above them both. There is something about him that is alien; inhuman.

“Hello,” she greets, uncharacteristically at ease with this stranger.

“You know your task?” he asks, twirling a short rod between fingers laden with rings and jewels.

“Of course,” she replies, offended.

Then she thinks on it.

“…No,” she says softly, unable to mask the note of bewilderment.

“Find my name, glittering one,” he says and Sakura can taste his amusement. She doesn’t appreciate it. “Then, you will know what you must know.”


 

Sakura glances back at the sprawling manor settled in the valley, finding unease curdling in her belly.

She doesn’t really remember who she is or what she was in the…before. All Sakura knows is the task set before her by the stranger in the mirrored gallery.

So, despite her gut feeling, she decides to find the stranger’s name.

She has nothing better to do.

Sakura looks around the crest of the hill, shrugging to herself and choosing a direction to pursue. The sun is at her back and she thinks this is as good a way as any.

Sakura isn’t sure how to go about finding a name. She herself has always had one and doesn’t quite understand the process of losing it. She holds her name close to her breast, a small, living kernel that represents all she is. Still, she finds she cannot worry as she surveys the rolling green hills and twisting cypress trees that surround her as she walks.

It is too beautiful for worry.

Sakura begins to hum from somewhere deep in her chest as she moves quickly through the land. It is an old song, she knows, one that lilts and lifts with age. The song is lively and Sakura’s lips curl in involuntary response.

She feels light; lighter than air.

A hoarse, cackling caw startles Sakura out of her song.

She cups a hand over her eyes, looking up. A large crow with bright red eyes stares down at her from a perch in the tree, head cocked as it laughs.

“Careful there, two-legs,” the crow says. “Too many songs in your heart will lift you clear off your feet.”

Sakura furrows her brow at his comment before waving it off as frivolous. This is the first living creature she has encountered. Perhaps she can glean some information.

“Hello bright eyes,” Sakura greets, cooling her heels as she takes a seat on a log.

“Hello, two-legs,” the crow says, hopping forward. “What sort of mischief are you creating today?”

“Why must I create mischief? I’m on a mission,” Sakura replies.

“Mischief is the wont of you walkers.” Something tells her he is entertained. “It is the nature of crows too.”

“Maybe I will create some mischief then,” Sakura says, leaning back on her hands and looking up at the sky. The clouds move by lazily, as peaceful as Sakura feels.

“What is it you seek?” the crow asks, taking wing to float down by Sakura.

“I am to find a name,” Sakura says, shutting her eyes. “I’m not quite sure where I need to go.”

“Well finding a name isn’t much work,” the crow says. “Your people bandy them around easily.” The crow lifts his wings in what appears to be a shrug. “I could give you one.”

“Really?” Sakura asks, sitting up.

“‘Mirai,’ ‘Basara,’ ‘Takara,’ ‘Toke,’” the crow lists, nibbling at his feathers.

“Those…those don’t feel right,” Sakura says, deflating.

“I’m not too surprised,” the bird says, moving onto her knee. “Those names were received at least secondhand. Names lose their power if used so frequently.”

“Then how do I return a lost name?” Sakura asks.

“I’ve never heard of anyone losing their name before,” the crow confesses, tapping Sakura’s eyebrow. “However, the gods tend to be the best at empowering names.”

“Where may I find one of these gods?” Sakura asks, leaning into his gentle pecks.

The crow ruffles his feathers in what Sakura thinks is a subtler form of laughter. “You certainly can’t find them alone. Thankfully, I happen to be patron animal to one of the most powerful clan of gods around. I’ll guide you.”

“Really?” Sakura asks, grin breaking across her face as she leaps to her feet. “Why?”

The crow squawks in protest to the sudden change in movement but it certainly doesn’t hinder him as he takes a seat upon her shoulder. He begins to preen her hair.

“I get the feeling you’ll be causing quite a bit of mischief,” the crow says in a self-satisfied way. “I want to be present for it.”


 

Sakura follows her guide, the crow, to what appears to be a dilapidated shrine. It is small and unkempt, made of rough-worn stone. She casts him an uneasy look.

“What does this have to do with finding a name?” she asks.

“You have to offer a sacrifice!” the crow says, tapping her with an outstretch wing. “You’re so ignorant of the ways of the gods.”

Sakura shrugs off his insult, brows furrowing. “I…I’m not sure what to offer.”

The bird looks at her. “Try a prayer.”

“Who should I address it to?” she asks, bringing her hands together.

“He’s Uchiha,” the crow claims, ruffling his feathers. “They don’t give names easily. Just…try calling by the clan name.”

Sakura nods, pursing her lips and bowing over her hands.

“Uchiha god,” she begins, feeling a bit silly especially with the crow watching her, “I’m not quite sure how to go about this. I’ve never prayed before. I beseech you for your help in this trying time.”

“What is it you seek?” a voice asks, slithering over Sakura’s spine like a refreshing mountain breeze. It is soft and faint but it is there.

She squeezes her eyes shut even harder. “I ask…I’m trying to reclaim a name.”

“Open your eyes.”

Sakura hesitates for only a moment before obeying.

Atop the shrine, looking much too big to be perched there, is a man.

Well, not a man.

A god.

He is lithe and quick, hair dark and heavy about his face. He wears it short. He is dressed starkly in white and black clothing. However, there is joviality in his red, red eyes as he stares down at Sakura.

“Quite interesting,” he says, cupping his chin as he eyes her. “Not what I was expecting.”

Sakura feels a bit awkward, wondering what exactly he was expecting. “Sorry for not living up to expectations,” she mutters.

“No, you’ve far exceeded them,” he replies, eyes bright. “Who’s name do you seek?”

Sakura frowns, unsure how to respond. How does one explain one without a name?

“I am…” She looks to the crow, resolve firming. “I seek the name of the Nameless One. He is Uchiha, I believe.”

The god’s eyes flash and he leans down over her, grasping her chin and tilting it up. “He’s found a vassal I see,” he says, rubbing his thumb across her face. “Interesting.”

Sakura fights her initial urge to struggle, forcing herself still and compliant.

Surprisingly, it is the crow who assists her.

He pecks the fingers that hold her, cawing when the god releases her.

“Pesky things,” the god says, watching the crow. “Not sure why we chose them for our patrons.”

The crow ignores him, casting a wing across Sakura. “This is my human,” he says. “Find yourself another.”

“Where, little one?” the god asks, laughing. “As you can see, I’ve not had much service in recent decades.” He sweeps a hand across his shrine, sighing. “Nevertheless, it was quite good to hear your prayer. I will take your words as a sacrifice.”

“So you will give me the name?” Sakura asks eagerly.

“It’s not quite so simple,” the god replies, falling into a crossed-leg position. “I know of whom you speak, but it was not I who stole his name.”

“But you know him!” Sakura replies.

“There are rules about these things among the gods,” he says. “A name is a powerful thing; not to be taken lightly.”

“So you cannot help me,” Sakura says.

“I did not say that,” the god admonishes. “I can give you a name that belongs to him; we gods take many names. He is Baku, devourer of dreams and nightmares alike.”

Sakura is filled with a warmth and weight somewhere around her chest. “Baku,” she says.

“Don’t use the name so lightly!” the god demands, eyes blazing. “It will lose its power!”

“Of course,” Sakura says, ducking her head in shame. She can see, briefly, the god’s strength and might. He may be diminished but he certainly isn’t gone. “I apologize.”

“It’s nothing,” the god says, waving a hand. “I forget how ignorant you mortals have become about the old ways. Don’t worry.”

Sakura nods, bowing deeply before him. “Goodbye, Uchiha god,” she says softly before turning away.

“Wait!” he calls, form wavering. “I am Ashura, god of the land and trees.”

“Ashura,” she says with a smile, surprised to see him become more substantial. The name is strange on her tongue but she can feel it thrumming beneath her skin. This name is powerful. “I shall not forget you.”

“See that you do not,” he says before disappearing.

Sakura exchanges a glance with the crow who shakes his head and begins to preen her hair.

“Gods are strange,” is the sage advice he offers.

Sakura nods at this bit of wisdom and heads back down the path.


 

She makes her way through the labyrinth of mirrors, refusing to take a hard look at herself.

Sakura heads to the center of the manor, missing the warmth that the crow provides. He refused to enter the manor and awaits her outside.

All the more reason to finish up here quickly.

Sakura nods firmly to herself, coming to a halt before the god.

“You have it?” he asks and Sakura can hear the eagerness in his voice.

“Yes,” she replies, standing tall.

“Give it to me,” he says, impatient as he looms above her.

“Your name is Baku, devourer of dreams and nightmares!” she exclaims.

Nothing much seems to happen, aside from his cloak falling away.

Beneath he is all sinew and muscle in a strange, alien way. His feet are, well, similar to those of a bird and the rest of his body is just as strange.

Sakura blinks at him, drawn away from her musings by a sigh.

“Well, it’s a start,” the god says, bending and picking up the cloak.

In it, Sakura can see constellations woven.

Moving constellations.

He lifts it between scaled hands and tosses it over Sakura’s shoulders, drawing it closed beneath her chin.

“This will assist you upon your journey,” he says. His hand comes up, close to cupping her face before he pulls away. “Thank you for your help, my shining one.”

Sakura nods, surprised and a bit forlorn that he didn’t complete his action. She shakes it off. “I’ll find your name, Baku. Your true name.”

“You have much work to do,” he says sadly, “my champion.”


 

“Did it work?” the crow asks, hopping to and fro on the ground. He’s antsy, Sakura can tell. “The name, was it right?”

“No,” Sakura says, drawing her cloak tight.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” the crow says, shaking his head.

“Will you help me?” Sakura asks in a small voice, feeling alone.

“Of course,” the bird says, alighting on her shoulder. “You haven’t caused near enough mischief yet. Giving a nameless god his true name? Now that’s something they’ll speak of for centuries!”

“Who will speak of it?” Sakura asks, taking off in the direction the crow points.

“Everyone,” he says with satisfaction. “Gods, mortals, beasts…it doesn’t matter. They’ll be talking about us.”

Sakura smiles, though her heart isn’t truly in it. She doesn’t know if she really wants the fame and notoriety.

“Cheer up, brave heart,” the crow says, pecking her ear in a hard and frankly rude manner. “You’re going to save a god! What more can a mortal ask from life?”

What indeed.

Sakura sighs to herself and plods onward, ignorant to the strain of her muscles, the stretch and pull of her legs. She marches on for days at a time, eating the berries and mushrooms she can scavenge.

The crow, for all his narrow view of mortals, makes an excellent companion, keeping Sakura entertained with his tales of mischief and woe.

“Did you truly muck the Sightless God’s clothing?” she asks in disbelief.

“He left them out on a line,” the crow replies, fluffing Sakura’s hair with his beak. “Really, it was an invitation.”

“I’m surprised you are still here to tell the tale,” Sakura says, scratching at the downy feathers beneath his chin.

“As if he could catch me,” the crow says, tossing his head haughtily. “I’m a crow; the god should’ve known better.”

Laughter bubbles up out of Sakura’s chest, spilling forth easily. It peters out as she catches a smell she’s never tasted before.

It is filled with brine and salt and ancient power.

Sakura stops, pausing and smelling deeply.

“What’s wrong?” the crow asks. “Never been to the ocean before?”

“The ocean?” Sakura asks, breathless.

She takes off at a full run, legs stretching long and wide as she eats up the ground. Her bare feet register the change from solid ground to hot, shifting sands. Then, she sees it.

Before her spreads water, as far as her eyes can see it. It shifts and roils in constant movement.

Sakura doesn’t even realize that she has taken a seat, absorbed in fascination, until the crow knocks his beak into her cheek.

Sakura startles, leaping back to her feet. It wouldn’t do to forget her mission now.

“Where do we go from here?” she asks, dancing along the edge of the waves and catching the surf between her toes.

“Where else?” the crow asks. “We go forward.”

“Forward?” Sakura demands, stepping out of the water, scandalized. “I know you are a beast of the air and I am a beast of the land; we won’t survive the water.”

The crow thumps her with his wing. “Trust in me,” the crow says easily. “And trust in your nameless god. He provides for his servants.”

Sakura swallows nervously, but she steps forward regardless of her worry. The cloak clings to every bit of Sakura, tightening and holding fast. She is left untouched and unaffected by the water. She notices that the constellations have stopped their movements, glowing brighter and brighter still.

She continues moving forward, spreading her arms out as her toes barely graze the ground.

“Trust me,” the crow says, wiggling beneath the cloak. “Go under.”

Sakura takes a deep, daring breath, doing just that.

She blinks through the clear water, gasping in surprise as a fish constellation pulls off the robe to swim around her. Sakura gulps, astounded to find that she still breathes.

Well, not quite breathes exactly.

She can feel the pressure of the water around her but it doesn’t fill her lungs.

“See?” the bird says, nestled against her chest beneath the robe. “Trust is key.”

Sakura nods, running a grateful hand over his head.

The shimmer of golden light gets her attention.

The fish waits for her, beckoning with its tail.

Sakura obeys the unspoken instruction, following the fish as it glides and arches through the water. Sakura knows she is nowhere near as graceful but she doesn’t mind.

They stop at a collection of rocks fortified by coral and seaweed. Sakura thinks she can make out some sort of symbol carved into one, but it is far too worn to tell what the symbol is.

“Is this…”

“It’s a shrine,” the crow confirms.

“But here? Beneath the water?” Sakura asks.

“You think humans are the only ones who worship?” the crow says, shaking his head.

“So…what do I offer a god who is not for humans?” Sakura asks.

“Perhaps offer him something that he can only receive from you,” the crow suggests. “He’s had the offerings of mermaids and animals; what can you give him?”

Sakura frowns, wiping at her forehead. She grins as she pulls away a wet hand. “Perhaps I can offer the god the libation of my body,” she says with a laugh.

She steps forward, brushing her sweat-soaked hand over the worn image. The constellation fish retreats to the cloak once more as a flash fills their surroundings.

“You aren’t quite like any fish I’ve ever seen,” the god muses, lazing across the rocks.

“Nor are you,” Sakura replies, eyeing him in return.

He wears his hair long and unbound. It floats around him, billowing out like dark wings. His red eyes are lined in kohl and his lips tilt as if he knows some hidden joke at her expense. He is no merman; he looks as human as she.

He isn’t though.

“No, you certainly are no fish,” the god says, tone deep and roiling like the waves. “What brings you here, little bird?”

“I’m here on behalf of a name,” Sakura replies.

“A name?” he asks, brows rising in surprise. “Who’s?”

“I seek the name of the fallen god; the cast out Uchiha,” Sakura says. “I traveled here on the part of the nameless. Do you accept my offering?”

The god sighs, shifting into a standing position. He moves forward, circling her.

Sakura holds perfectly still, knowing a predator when she sees one.

“I’m surprised he managed to get himself an acolyte,” the god murmurs to himself, probably not expecting Sakura to hear. “He’s been growing strong, even in exile.”

“Do we have a deal?” Sakura asks again, this time more firmly.

“Careful, little fish,” the god says, grasping her around the waist and pulling her in close. Sakura can see storms in his eyes, the kind that sinks ships. “Don’t rush a god.”

Sakura swallows but she holds his gaze, refusing to back down. Maybe…maybe he can see the storms in her eyes too.

“Oh, he chose well,” the god says, expression warm and bright. “Makes me a little jealous myself. I haven’t had anyone loyal in centuries now.”

“She isn’t yours!” the crow claims, snapping his beak at the god’s fingers. “No god can own her.”

“Aren’t you a curious creature,” the god says, drawing the crow out from Sakura’s cloak. The crow instantly begins panicking, unable to breathe. “You may be sacred to the Uchiha, but never forget your place.”

Sakura leaps forward, heedless of the warnings in her head saying not to take a god on. She bats the god’s hands away, pulling the crow close beneath her robe.

“I’m his patron,” Sakura hisses. “This crow is under my protection.”

“Fierce,” the god says approvingly. “You have fire for a beast trapped in the wrong element with a god. You would make a great goddess yourself, stepping upon those beneath you. Crushing them.” His eyes glitter. “I will give you the name.”

Sakura steps closer to him, hands still protective as they hold the crow close. She feels his warmth as it seeps into her. “Is it a true name?”

The god shrugs lithely, looking indifferent. “It is the only name of his that I know. It is of little consequence.”

Sakura frowns but chooses not to argue. Perhaps gods have different ideas about the things that are important in life.

“He is Morpheus, the one who walks among the sleeping dreamers,” the god says. “Fare you well, little fish.”

Sakura bows her head to him, still careful with her friend. “And you, sea god.”

“Indra,” he says quietly and he is vulnerable, eyes cast down. “I am Indra.”

Sakura feels the name settle into her chest and rattle vibrantly. “Indra,” she says, drinking in the way he becomes less transparent, radiating with power. “It has been an adventure.”

The crow nips at her fingertips, egging her to leave.

Sakura can feel Indra’s gaze crawl across her back as she walks away.


 

Sakura frowns up at the nameless god’s home, turning to her companion. “Has the building…shrunk?”

The crow shrugs, fidgeting as he leaps from her shoulder to stay behind. “What do I care of land-walkers’ nests?”

Sakura snorts, shaking her head. Perhaps she is wrong, waterlogged from her last adventure.

She makes her way into the building, now more a large house than a manor, and dances easily through the labyrinth. She wonders if it is shorter or if she remembers the way now.

“You’ve returned,” the god rumbles, voice stronger as he watches her through the mirrors.

“I have indeed, Baku,” she says.

“Have you a new name for me?”

“You are Morpheus, the one who walks among the sleeping dreamers!” Sakura exclaims.

She jumps back as his antlers fall away, shed to the ground.

“That one seems more right,” he says thoughtfully. “Still…it isn’t quite right.”

Sakura sighs, kneeling.

“I apologize, my bright shining,” the god says softly, lifting the antlers and giving them a twist. In his hands, he holds a mask. “I must send you out once more.”

Sakura nods, allowing him to place the mask upon her face. It is heavy but fits her perfectly.

“Be swift,” the god says.


 

The crow flies above Sakura in lazy circles, showing off.

“Where am I to go?” Sakura asks. “What other gods must I visit? I have been to the god of the land and to the god of the ocean; who else is there?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the crow asks. “Now we meet the god of the sky. Well, goddess.”

“And how do I do that?” Sakura demands.

The bird caws a raucous laugh. “I already told you! Do you not remember our first meeting?”

Sakura ponders this little bit and jumps. “I need to sing?”

“It’ll lift you clear off your feet,” the crow replies.

Sakura reaches deep, trying to find the right song. Should she sing a song for battle or for death? A song of sanctuary or of freedom? She pauses, smiling.

She will sing a song of victory.

The notes begin, breaking from her throat easily. She sings out of tune and a little off-key but Sakura doesn’t mind. Neither does her crow.

Slowly, so slow she almost doesn’t notice it, Sakura’s feet leave the earth below. Sakura gulps as she moves further away from the earth but she perseveres.

“You don’t have to sing the entire time,” the crow informs her jubilantly. “You are a sky-flyer now. Just stretch out your legs and you can walk the air.”

Sakura nods, allowing her voice to trail off.

She does not fall.

Instead, she hears an enormous flapping and looks up. The antlers upon her head have reshaped themselves into giant, pale wings that move easily in the sky.

“That god of yours isn’t the brightest,” the crow says, soaring alongside her.

“What do you mean?” Sakura asks, a bit offended on his behalf.

“You have a magic of your own. You don’t need his.”

Sakura shakes her head a bit at the crow’s silliness as he flies off ahead. She follows behind him, eyes focused on the landscape spread out before her like a patchwork quilt.

She marvels at the rolling hills, tall mountains, deep valleys, arid deserts, and breezy bodies of water.

Of their travels, this has been her favorite.

Still, it is over all too quickly.

Here, in the clouds, Sakura finds something of a temple. It is larger than the shrines she has visited previously and it is better kept.

“What is this place?” Sakura asks in wonder.

“My domain,” a lilting voice replies.

She looks up into the eyes of the goddess. She is pale, hair silver like the moon. Her clothes are paler than she. The goddess is ephemerally beautiful.

“I am Kaguya, the Rabbit Goddess,” she says.

Sakura blinks, a bit surprised that the goddess offers her name so freely. The name roars within Sakura, burrowing deep and seeking to cut a hole for itself within Sakura. Sakura refuses the name, wrestling with it until it stays quiet and still. The crow darts in, landing on Sakura’s wrist.

Kaguya moves closer, mouth open in surprise. “Interesting. What is it you wish?”

“I am here to find a name,” Sakura says, watching this goddess cautiously. “What would you like in return?”

The goddess’s eyes flash dangerously. “It will be a high price indeed if you seek the name I believe you do.”

“I want the true name of Baku, the dream eater, of Morpheus, the dream walker,” Sakura says resolutely, clutching her crow close for comfort.

The goddess shrieks, flying forward. “I knew it! I knew that little bastard had managed to slip out of exile and gain a vassal!”

Sakura keeps her position, though her heart leaps in her chest.

Kaguya backs away, watching her carefully. “I will trade you a name for a name.”

Sakura balks, knowing now the pitfalls of a name. “That is too high a price,” she says.

“Why?” Kaguya’s voice is a dagger and Sakura remembers how little gods are questioned.

“I am the nameless god’s lionheart; his knight. I cannot give my name over to anyone else,” Sakura says. “It is no longer mine to give.”

Kaguya’s intensity softens. “Then I will take some of your blood. The life force of humans is powerful indeed.”

Sakura nods, looking down at her crow. He frowns up at her slightly but leans out and draws a sharp talon across her palm. Blood spills freely and Sakura moves, ready to make the offering.

She gets no chance as Kaguya slithers forward, grabbing her wrist and bringing it to her cool lips. Kaguya drinks greedily, smiling all the while.

Sakura’s eyes fall to half mast, a feeling of pleasure consuming her.

Kaguya pulls away from her palm, pressing forward to Sakura’s lips. Sakura tastes iron and pure unadulterated power. It flows into her, strengthening her, resolving her, absolving her.

Kaguya pulls away finally, fingers brushing the blood from Sakura’s lips. Her own are rimmed in red. “Oh the fun you and I could have,” she purrs. “You would make the best worshipper I’ve ever had.” She sighs. “Alas, a deal is a deal.”

Sakura’s skin buzzes with shared power as Kaguya leans in to whisper in her ear. “His name is Kagami, the Mirrored One.”

Sakura blinks, the name settling into her like a second skin. This name, this one is right.

“I do hope you will keep him in line,” Kaguya says, smirking. “I look forward to seeing your work through the next few millennia.”

Sakura furrows her brow at that but she bows to the goddess anyway. “This has been an enlightening experience.”

“Indeed,” Kaguya replies. “I know you serve another, but I simply can’t resist.”

Kaguya dashes forward, bringing their lips together once more. The crow squawks, shaking his head at Kaguya and ruffling his feathers to seem more intimidating.

“You’ve more power than you realize,” Kaguya says. “It’s quite…intoxicating.” She turns to the crow, shaking her head and tweaking his beak. “You need to stay in line, my feathered cousin.”

Sakura smiles at that, bidding the goddess goodbye.


 

Sakura frowns up at the building, knowing for sure that it is smaller now. She sighs, ignoring the oddity as she enters.

There is no labyrinth anymore.

There is one sole mirror left.

“Have you my name?” a voice asks, exhausted.

“Yes,” Sakura replies, excitement running in her veins.

The god, the creature, whatever he is looks at her, eyes dull. He has no hope.

“You are Kagami, the Mirrored One,” Sakura says, feeling something bubble up inside her, “You walk among the twilight hours and planes. You are the King of Dreams.”

There is a triumphant roar, a shrieking cacophony of voices as the god is enveloped in pure white light.

Sakura refuses to look away.

When the light fades, there is nothing.

The god’s clothing has dropped to the ground, empty.

“What the hell?” Sakura demands.

Suddenly, the room is filled with the flapping of thousands of wings as birds rush out through the mirror and through the windows. They dive beneath the fallen clothes, filling them up.

Then, with one loud final cry, the birds are gone.

In their place stands a man.

He is tall and dark haired. His features are fair and fine. His eyes are red, red, red. And his lips are curled in the most triumphant of grins.

“You did it,” he breathes, scarcely believing it himself. “You truly did it.”

“You are free,” Sakura says.

“Sakura,” he says. The word is a prayer upon his lips. “Sakura, Sakura, Sakura!” He steps forward, hands grabbing her face gently. Kagami places his forehead to hers, grinning wildly.

“Kagami,” Sakura whispers, hands touching his face. He shudders and Sakura feels a thrill at the power she has. “Kagami, Kagami!

She isn’t sure who initiates it, but suddenly they are kissing, energy crackling between them. It is different than the kiss stolen by Kaguya. It is so much better.

After all, it is a kiss freely given.

Here, they are equals. Sakura knows this now, just as Kagami has always known. She is not his servant, his acolyte, his vassal.

She is free.

And she chooses him.

Kagami adjusts his position, tongue seeking ever deeper into her mouth.

Sakura tastes vapor and glitter and stars and freedom.

“None of that, now!” the crow exclaims, smacking Kagami in the head.

“You braved the house!” Sakura exclaims.

“More a cottage really,” the crow says. “When Kagami was exiled, his power went a little…out of control.”

“Aren’t you supposed to rejoin with me?” Kagami demands, glaring darkly at the bird who dared to interrupt him.

The crow shrugs, preening Sakura’s hair. His eyes glitter as Kagami moves closer. “Not quite yet. She and I still have much mischief to make!”

“What part of him are you?” Sakura asks, stroking his feathers.

“His dignity,” the crow replies smugly. “It isn’t as if he needs me right now anyway!”