Sakura and Snow
By Natalie Baan
All over Tokyo the cherry trees were in bloom, but nowhere as luxuriantly as in Ueno Park. The park was unusually empty, though, despite the fine spring weather. Ordinarily it would be a solid mass of salarymen and office ladies, happy, exuberant families and paired-off couples, but today few people were there at all. And of those who did come to spread their blankets on the grass, to laugh and eat and drink as they watched the petals drifting down, most seemed at least a little nervous.
That wasn't really surprising. The talk on every blanket was largely of the earthquake that had struck the city earlier that day. Nakano Sun Plaza had been entirely destroyed. It was a terrible thing.
Heedlessly, though, a few young children ran and shouted under the cherry trees, oblivious to the conversations or the concerns that troubled grown-ups. The rose-pink petals tumbled all about them.
Sakurazuka Seishirou touched the trunk of one particular tree.
Narrow pieces of paper fluttered to the pavement, flashes of white marked by black lettering. They settled onto the concrete, and onto the corpse that was lying there, and onto the blood that pooled around the corpse. Blood soaked into the fibers of the papers like oil being drawn into a wick, and a subtle poison seeped into the ground beneath the plaza, tainting what had kept that place secure.
A tremendous burst of light split earth and sky--
A dragon of power coiled into the air.
Seishirou reached up and drew down the tip of a flowering twig. He let the delicate blooms brush against his cheek. Behind dark glasses, his eyes were closed and peaceful.
He was remembering.
Nakano, after the earthquake...the distant noise of screams and sirens. The sweet taste of power so recently used still filled him. The plaza was choked with rubble, as were the surrounding sidewalks and the streets; broken glass glittered dully on the pavement. Somewhere a fire sent thin veils of smoke into the air, but the smoke and clouds of dust were slowly disappearing, carried away on the wind that had arisen. The sky was growing clear once more.
Nakano Sun Plaza...the sound of hurrying footsteps echoed from shattered walls.
Seishirou turned around. He smiled, very softly, at that approaching person.
Seishirou opened his eyes and watched the slow rain of cherry blossoms. The smile did not leave his face. He had not forgotten this one....
No, he had never forgotten this one.
The one that he had permitted to escape him.
The one that he was someday going to kill.
He had already chosen the moment.
"I've been looking for you," Subaru said in a quiet voice.
"To make my wish a reality."
From Subaru's hand a star-shaped space sprang out, luminous and growing.
The kekkai of one of the Seven Seals.
Hey, Seishirou called out silently, teasingly, even though the Sumeragi couldn't hear him. Now that I know for certain you're a Seal, Subaru-kun, I've decided at last.
I'll kill you on the final day.
Because you and this fragile "cornerstone," this Tokyo, have been two projects that I've spent a lot of time on and your fates are so closely intertwined--
It's an elegant conclusion, to finish both at once.
A wind moved strongly through the sakura, combing the waves of Seishirou's dark hair. It picked out a stray petal that had nestled there and stole it swiftly away. The branches of the trees whispered against each other, soft sound of wood contacting wood. Slow clouds began to pass before the sun.
Sumeragi and Sakurazukamori. Two faces of the coin of onmyoudo, the light and the dark. It would have been appropriate for us to meet in any event, on the threshold of this human world's destruction, even if I hadn't marked you as my catch so long ago. And considering that, considering how long I've been meddling in your life already--
Yes. To see you die on the final day would be right.
So for those reasons, I'll continue to overlook you for a little while longer. For those reasons--
--and for one more.
"You said that you had a wish. Is your wish...to kill me?" He looked so very serious, and Seishirou had to laugh.
"You really are cute, Subaru-kun."
You really are.
You want to fight me, don't you? Well, I want that too. I want to see how well you'll do against me.
The thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan....
Will you challenge me on that day, Sumeragi Subaru?
Powerful winds whipped around the two practitioners. Their voices rose, one over the other, in words that strove to summon and to deny. Magical forces sang in each syllable, each gesture.
"On makayakisha bazara sataba...jakuunban kohara beisha un."
Torrents of supernatural energy wove around Subaru's hands. He stood fast among the screaming, lashing winds, and his green eyes never left the figure of his enemy.
Seishirou appraised the strength of this opponent. When he was satisfied with his knowledge, he exerted himself in a certain way. The unseen threads that held magic to Subaru's will were abruptly bound.
"On asanmagini unhatta...on bazarato...shikoku."
Seishirou's power hurled Subaru backward, and he struck the wall of the building behind him.
One of the littlest children wailed suddenly, as he tripped on a root and fell. He lay there for a moment, then scrambled to his feet and dashed after the others, crying for them to wait. The children trampled over the fallen petals, and where it had been crushed that tender silk turned darker, like a human bruise.
A stain of blood, spread out beneath the skin.
Seishirou walked over to where Subaru was kneeling and gazed down upon the younger man. Powerful, yes, as the leader of Japan's onmyouji should be: far more powerful than he'd been in the past. Of the seven Seals, he might stand second only to Kamui himself. He was highly trained, intensely disciplined; his workings were carried out with all the skill that single-minded dedication and years of experience could give.
But he was not Seishirou's equal.
There was a flaw in him somewhere, a fracturing of his energies that hindered him from his full potential.
The tremendous promise of his spiritual power had never been fulfilled.
That very combination of prowess and weakness....
You're strong enough now to be an amusing test of my own powers, but not possibly strong enough to defeat me.
Another sure bet like this....
Seishirou laughed again.
How can I resist?
Within the enclosed space of Subaru's kekkai, the winds were diminishing. Seishirou stood over that victim, the one for whom he had so long bent the silent laws of the Sakurazukamori. He had always intended to finish their game someday...and now he knew when.
He smiled down at the injured onmyouji.
"Then...I'll see you again."
On that final day.
A child's voice shouted: "Wait! Hey, wait for me! It isn't fair!" Small figures scattered in between the trees. The sound of high-pitched laughter echoed among the sakura, gradually dying away into the distance.
That single voice cried out to them again, and then was still.
Seishirou laid his hand upon the tree once more.
Subaru-kun, everything dies eventually. Like this city's future, your time is running out.
It's not that I "hate" you, or that I particularly "wish" for you to die--
It's just something that's going to happen, is all.
I'm the Sakurazukamori, and I'm going to kill you.
It really is that simple.
Still smiling, Seishirou let his hand slip down from the cherry tree. After a little while, he turned and walked away. On all sides the petals fell without surcease, pitiless and beautiful.
Somewhere, a mother was calling for her son.
Preface | Author's Note | Next Chapter