Sakura and Snow

Chapter 1


By Natalie Baan


Subaru was still sitting in the park. The little fool had been waiting on that bench for hours, his gaze scarcely wavering from the snow-bound cherry tree.

What did he think he'd accomplish there?

Seishirou shrugged off the farsight vision for a moment, letting his mind return to the low-lit confines of his apartment's living room. Picking up the glass by his side, he took a measured sip of its contents, savoring the sweet, pleasant fire of the alcohol. Then he glanced once more across the distance, amused by the persistence of his enemy.

Not such a little fool, of course. Not anymore. Subaru had grown taller in the intervening years, his face leaner with developing maturity. He dressed casually, now that he wasn't a victim of his sister's fashion whims, and it made him look less like--how had she put it?--a "dress-up doll." And the eyes...those were most different of all. They had ceased to be such drowning pools of innocence, shimmering with every emotion that touched his heart. Subaru had had eyes like an animal's, Seishirou thought, eyes that understood nothing--and perhaps there was a time when Subaru might have been flattered by at least part of that comparison. Those eyes had narrowed, though, and they guarded themselves: deep green mirrors no longer full of light. There were things that he had come to understand.

But he was still a fool.

Seishirou looked away from Subaru again, long enough to find the stereo remote. He thumbed it on, and the CD player whirred softly, shifting through its program. As that ended and the low pulse of music began, Seishirou leaned back against the cushions of his chair. He closed his eyes and smiled at the Sumeragi: out haunting Ueno Park on this winter's night, so very like the ghosts it was that family's work to ease.

So restless and so futile...are you waiting for me to discover you there? Will you challenge me, when I arrive to defend the cherry tree barrow? What nonsense. I have better things to do with my time, I assure you. Especially on a night as cold as this.

Did you really think that I would come to you?

Seishirou's eyes opened slowly, one golden brown and one a cloudy swirl of white. He gazed at Subaru with mild curiosity, wondering what passed through the other's mind at times like these.

What is it that you hope for? What do you intend to do? Strike out against the sakura itself? Seishirou chuckled softly at that.

Well, perhaps you're only there to torment yourself.

You've always had a talent for suffering.

Subaru stood up and began pacing in front of the bench, something that he'd done more than once already. Most likely he was trying to keep warm. Seishirou watched him cough briefly, then flick the end of his cigarette into a snowbank. The sound of the cough was quiet, muted by distance; the music on Seishirou's end nearly drowned it out. After another moment Subaru paused and made a halfhearted attempt to feel for scrying. Seishirou thinned his farsight out deftly, diffusing the field of vision across the entire end of the park, and Subaru, seeking a direct gaze, didn't notice him at all.

Clumsy, Subaru-kun. You're usually not so careless.

Subaru searched for a little while longer, but his determination appeared to waver, and he soon gave up the effort. Seishirou watched him slump onto the bench again. It was like observing something from the corner of one's eye, discerning what could only half be seen. In the dimness and from this new, unfocused vantage, the onmyouji was scarcely visible: a blur of shadow and motion that soon became still.

That waited, as if the gesture itself was what mattered.

Well, I suppose it's not important what your reasons are. There's nothing you can do out there that would affect me. If your presence near the sakura was any sort of danger, I would already have taken care of it. Believe me--

I would not have spared you.

The music changed, shifting into the beginning of the next song. It happened to be one that Seishirou particularly liked, and he let the sound lure him back to his apartment. He listened through the song with pleasure, singing along softly on a couple of the choruses, but still he left open the lightest strand of contact to the park, and he glanced that way from time to time. Subaru hadn't quite exhausted his interest for tonight: there was still the possibility that something might happen, and so Seishirou continued his idle scrutiny, just in case. It was the hunter in him, which could not take its eye from the prey so long as there was any hint of life; it was also the sorcerer's instinct, to be alert to loose ends and forces not accounted for.

He had let Subaru go for a long, long time. Like everything else, though, that respite was a temporary thing.

The song ended. In the silence between tracks Seishirou tapped one fingernail consideringly against his glass, listening to the faint chime of the crystal.


Beautiful and fragile and breakable--and, like all such items, of limited duration, even more so than the rest of this impermanent world. He might so easily have been killed years ago. Indeed, for a while Seishirou had thought there could be no more point to keeping Subaru alive. Then his sister's choice, her dying, had had such dramatic repercussions: Subaru had broken free in that tidal surge of loss and pain, and the unexpected intensity, that flash of power, had renewed Seishirou's fading interest in the boy. Without that he might not have thought to wait: to see how the bent twig would grow, to discover what Subaru might yet become. And then last spring, on that day in Nakano, he had finally found out.

He should be grateful to Hokuto, perhaps. He would consider it.

She had, after all, been his most ardent supporter.

Seishirou looked out musingly at the formless shadow-on-shadow that was Subaru. He was willing to admit that this was an extravagant game. The watchword of the Sakurazukamori was "do not be seen," and being seen, leave no survivor. Any witness at all was a hazard, let alone a practitioner, let alone the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan, a person who knew what he faced and who held some measure of power. Seishirou's ancestors would surely not have approved.

Unfortunately for them, Seishirou was quite indifferent to what they might have thought or done. The opinions of the living never moved him in the slightest, so why should the dead matter either? Besides, no one was ever going to know what happened here. The dead were well and truly gone, and there would be no son or daughter to replace him.

Not ever.

After all, the world was about to end.

At that thought, Seishirou smiled again. He raised his drink in a humorous salute to all who had come before him, the murdering and murdered magicians whose blood was in his veins and on his hands. Only he would not die on the cherry tree mound; only he would not shed his life to feed another's power.

He would be the last of the Sakurazukamori. That fact gave him a definite satisfaction.

Seishirou drank and then lowered the glass, becoming serious for a moment as he did so. He gazed into the darkly translucent liquid without really seeing it, his vision returning instead to that person near the sakura tree.

He had never forsaken what he was. Being that--being the Sakurazukamori--there were things that were required of him. Any person who saw the cherry tree barrow guardian at work had to be killed. No one that the Sakurazukamori singled out for death ever escaped. Such things were not open to dispute: they were an incontrovertible part of himself, as intrinsic to his nature as his height, or the darkness of his hair, or the wide, bright spaces of his mind and self. He was the Sakurazukamori, and Subaru was going to die.

But not before Seishirou was ready to kill him.

Seishirou laughed, recovering his usual cheerfulness.

It really is almost time now. Are you ready for that final day? Or will you truly break as easily as this glass after all? All this time I've been wondering, I've been waiting patiently to find out, Subaru-kun.

How much do you hate me? Will you try to "punish" me?

What are you going to do?

Right now, Subaru wasn't doing much of anything. Seishirou brought the blurred image back into clarity, since the onmyouji was no longer looking for him. He slipped his point of view around Subaru's shoulder to look into that grave, emotionless face. Subaru stared past in the general direction of the sakura; whether he truly saw the tree or was merely lost in thought or memory was debatable. There was no movement at all, though, other than the occasional small shift of position. It seemed that Subaru was going to be tedious for a while.

Hmm...well, if that's so, then I'll leave you to it.

Losing interest for the time being, Seishirou drew his attention all the way back to the apartment, meticulously checking his wards as he passed them. He scanned the surrounding area for farsight spying as well, before unweaving the subtle flows of power that he held. As it turned out he hadn't been "followed"--he hadn't expected that he would be--but he was careful of such things nonetheless. It was one reason he felt quite secure, even though he was being "hunted."

Even if it's you, Sumeragi Subaru. Because if the diviner under the Diet Building can't find me, you certainly won't.

But I can always find you....


Seishirou blinked away the last shadows of his scrying, then stretched languidly. So now that this diversion was over, what was he going do tonight? He could go out, but he'd seen enough of the frigid winter night already, and he was disinclined to walk around in it. Besides, he was feeling lazy...perhaps he'd stay home and read instead. He had picked up a few magazines earlier in the day; some were "work"-related (those millennial New Age groups put out the most ridiculous fluff, but they could be amusing, and nothing that might remotely touch on coming events should be ignored), and a couple were simply entertainment. That was surely enough to occupy him. However....

However, it was also nice simply to sit, he reflected: to listen to the music and to think of nothing in particular. He probably should enjoy this quiet moment, if only because there weren't so many of them left. It was a rare thing...everything became rare in these last days, and it gave one a pleasant nostalgia, a sense of transience that in itself was a good enough reason for the end.

The magazines would keep for a while, Seishirou decided, and he relaxed contentedly into his chair. He noticed that the glass was still in his hand--nearly empty, and he went to finish it.


A thin snap of energy sparked in his mind, a fierce crackle of alertness. It ran down his spine and out along his nerves like something alive. Seishirou set down the drink.

Subaru was moving.

He had stood up from the bench and now walked toward the cherry tree. Snow crunched under his feet. Stopping just beyond the span of leafless branches, he reached into the sleeve of his coat and drew out a sheaf of ofuda.


With a practiced flick, Subaru cast the paper talismans toward the tree. They caught in the air around the trunk and began to glow with a soft fire.


Subaru was actually going to attempt the sakura. This could be interesting.

"On...batarei ya sowaka...."

Branches began to move slightly, although there was no wind. Small swirls of snow, dislodged, scattered to the ground.

"On...batarei ya sowaka...."

Seishirou stood up and paced into the bedroom. He drew up the blind on the large picture window there and stared through his reflection in the glass--then ceased to see anything at all on the physical level, his vision wholly occupied with that faraway working.

"On...batarei ya sowaka...."

The stirring of the twigs transmitted itself to the air; the air began to shake silently, as if disturbed by a tremendous thunder just beyond human hearing. It was power that had begun to wake, and for those with eyes to see the night was utterly transformed. The city sky, never truly black, became so, and the shadows of the park grew thicker and sharper edged. Near the sakura those shadows took on the dull reddish color of rust, and they moved, seeping outward like the slow ooze of blood from a heart that had nearly ceased to beat.

The tree whispered, Enemy. Only Seishirou could hear.

Subaru-kun. Do you have any idea what you're attempting?

Subaru clasped his gloved hands in the mitsu-in, index fingers raised before his face as he continued to chant. In the dimness, the light of his magic was the only bright thing. The movement of the air intensified, its vibration verging on an audible moan as it caught up those shadow streamers and unfurled them wider--as it joined with them, so that the shadows and the wind became one swirling, wrathful force that whipped around the inside of Subaru's working with growing violence. Still it could not quite approach him, bound in by the radiance of the ofuda.

No. I'm sure you don't have the slightest clue. And I know you well enough to know that you won't have slept or eaten properly beforehand--that you're coming into this from a place of weakness, as you always seem to.

Well, anyway...let's see how you do.

Raising his voice against the fury of the wind, Subaru began his main invocation, the words a fragile spindle on which to shape the magic.

"On nama samanta vajuranam chanda maharoshana, savata on tiraka hanba sowaka...."

He set his will upon the tree.

Power surged between the onmyouji and the ancient sakura. In four discrete, brilliant flares, the ofuda were destroyed. Subaru let them go without flinching, caught the protective energy they had held and sustained it through his own skill instead...impressive, that. The sound of the wind increased to a snarling wail. Subaru lifted his hands above his head, eyes dark and intense as he repeated the words, as he swiftly bound the three threads of his spell together.

To call forth, to contain, and to cleanse.

You tried this once before when you were only a child, and you failed, as you will fail now. Innocence protected you then from the full consequences of your actions, but you are no longer innocent, and the sakura will kill you because that is its nature. Subaru-kun--

--magic coursed into the space between Subaru's hands--

--you can die here.

"On batarei ya sowaka!"

White fire exploded around Subaru and the tree as he threw his arms wide in the spell's release. The force of his will flamed against the darkness, lit every crevice of the great trunk in a fierce blaze of power. Light dazzled off the fallen snow as he turned night temporarily into day: a spiritual light, as well as a visible one, even as the shadows that he contended with were more than just the darkness that one could see.

They were the dead.

That was what the child-Subaru had felt so powerfully that it had drawn him across Tokyo, from one path of destiny onto another: the suffering and malice of so many victims that they could not be counted. Mindless, speechless, all volition stripped away, their souls were pressed into the barrow and its guardian tree, just as their bodies were buried beneath it. It was their unliving existence that gave the tree its power, their resentment and ravaged humanity that gave it something near sentience: a mind that carried over from tree to seed to sapling, so that it always was renewed. Ally and symbol to the Sakurazukamori, as old as any living thing upon the earth....


Twenty centuries of magic and blood, of hate and death and fear.

Do you really think you stand any chance against that?

Subaru was still sustaining the spell, focusing light that was more than light onto the sakura, striving to reach its heart. His lips moved silently, and there was a frown of concentration on his face. A high degree of skill, yes, but skill alone could only take him so far. At this point it was his personal power against that of the tree, and Seishirou could feel in the magical emanations that he was nearly to his limit.

Despite that, he did not give in. He poured out that power in a constant tide of force, pushing at those boundaries that he could not break...calling, but never being answered.

The tree keened. There was a terrible snapping sensation, as of a branch bent too far that slips free and whips back.

And Subaru was fighting for his life.

That quickly the balance shifted, as the tree's full magic came to bear. Fury whirled out at Subaru, a lash of pure savagery that splintered his warding spell with ease. Subaru snatched back the shards of protective power, spinning them into a desperate shield of brilliance around himself. Wind and shadow roared past him to surround the narrow circle that his magic made. He struck out from that fragile shelter with what force he could spare, but the storm ate his blow at once and began to drive inward, pressing inexorably closer. Subaru's light intensified as its radius shrank, but his strength wouldn't hold for more than moments. And he knew it.

"On!" Subaru screamed the seed-syllable, his voice almost inaudible over the howling of the wind. His power flared and thinned. Murder raged only an inch of light away from him--


--plunged over him like a wave.

In that instant, Seishirou sent his thought out from the apartment. His illusion manifested next to the trunk of the cherry tree: the perfect image of himself, with every seeming of substance.

He lifted up his sending's hand and his will.

The shadows swirled abruptly away from Subaru. They formed a clear circle around him and from there drew slowly back, wreathing themselves about Seishirou's image with reluctant obedience before fragmenting into the dimness of the Tokyo night. The wind dwindled as well until it had vanished entirely, leaving nothing but the thin bite of winter's cold--a cold Seishirou was aware of through distant senses, although he couldn't truly feel it. It seemed less chill than before, however; the weather appeared to be changing.

Perhaps there would be some more snow.

Seishirou cocked his head, gazing down at Subaru.

Mine, the tree muttered sullenly.

Yes--isn't everyone? Seishirou replied. Now, hush. In illusion he stepped away from the tree and walked to within a few feet of the other onmyouji.

Shuddering, trying to catch his breath, Subaru had fallen to his knees, one hand raised wardingly before his face. The rawness of the air got to him, and he began to cough again. Seishirou inspected him minutely, noting the exhaustion, the stark paleness of his skin, the worn sneakers and the coat whose sleeves fell just slightly short, outgrown years ago--missing no detail, because the Sumeragi was an enemy and a practitioner, and while Seishirou had his whims he was also not a fool. It was possible that this could be a trap, that his sending could be traced back to its source, although naturally he had taken precautions against such a thing...but everything he saw seemed to read the same way. Subaru had nothing left, not the strength nor the magic nor even the will to fight. He had spent it all in the struggle with the sakura.

Some of it, perhaps, even before that.

An onmyouji who worked for the government could have afforded a new coat, if he cared. But you've never been concerned for yourself, even in far more important matters. No self-interest, no self-preservation: you spend yourself too easily, and it makes you weaker than you really are. Seishirou shook his head in a pretense of sadness, even as he smiled very slightly.

That's not the mark of a "pro."

Subaru looked up at him suddenly, and Seishirou found himself still smiling as he stared into those green eyes. They were brilliant with an almost uncanny light, like a liquid gold flash of brightness along the sharp edge of broken glass, and behind the brilliance, empty of life. This light was a new thing, Seishirou thought--not the luminosity that had once been there. It was more like a reflection from the dark surface of a jewel: an emerald, if any emerald had that deep richness of color. Such beautiful eyes he had always had--had even now, when they were like windows closed against the world. It was a kind of self-defense that he had learned.

"Seishirou-san," Subaru breathed, his voice hoarse and ragged, torn like the thin nonsubstance of a spirit.

"Hello, Subaru-kun." Seishirou's own speech sounded flawlessly normal, despite the fact that he wasn't physically present. His "breath" was even frosting in the air. Perfection of illusion was a point of pride. "That's a nasty cough you have. Are you seeing a doctor?"

"That was you," whispered Subaru tonelessly. "Breaking the spell." The words could have been meant as a question, but Subaru showed no real enthusiasm for the answer. Seishirou chose to ignore them for now. He let his smile soften a little instead, as if showing concern.

"It's a cold night to be out playing in the snow," Seishirou remarked. He had "appeared" wearing a coat and now put illusionary hands in pockets. "You should dress more warmly next time." Subaru was indeed shivering, but his eyes were fixed blankly on Seishirou's and they gave back nothing.

"If you're going to be outside for long in the wintertime, it's also good not to smoke," Seishirou continued. "Did you know that smoking constricts the blood vessels? You can get frostbite much more easily when the circulation is reduced like that."

There was no reply, other than the empty stare. Seishirou contemplated that emptiness for a moment, then tried a different subject.

"Have you been busy with 'work'?" He had a pretty good idea of what Subaru had been busy with lately, but Subaru might not know that. The only response was another coughing fit: longer this time, and harsh. Sighing to himself, Seishirou glanced at the backs of Subaru's hands as he waited for it to pass. They were gloved for warmth, not protection, and Seishirou could sense the presence of his stars quite plainly: signs invisible to ordinary eyes, but not to his. They were like a beacon to him, always, and if he chose he could reach out through the link they made and feel Subaru's life like a small, warm glow between his own hands. Subaru had never made any effort to mask the signs, although it was conceivable that he could. It was as if he wanted Seishirou to find him, to come to him...well, of course he did.

He meant to track down and kill his sister's murderer, after all.

The coughing ended, but Subaru didn't look up or speak again. Silence strung itself out between them, the same strange silence as at their last meeting, only perhaps even bleaker on Subaru's part. There wasn't even movement this time, no flicker of involvement in his face, no physical reaction to Seishirou's presence--only that slight trembling as he knelt there in the snow. It was as though he had gone away inside, was no longer alive to anything.

It was sort of boring. Idly, Seishirou played with his illusion a bit, letting the edges of his coat stir and ripple as if moved by a strong breeze. He let the "breeze" catch his own hair and even Subaru's, swirl the loose snow that had fallen from the sakura in sparkling drifts around the two of them--those were effects that took work, moving the real with the insubstantial. Snow pattered gently against Subaru's face, but he didn't even flinch.


How best to stir some reaction?

"The sakura broke your spell," Seishirou said at last, allowing a gentle amusement to show in his voice. "It's not without defenses. Don't you remember, Subaru-kun? That day when we first met?"

You performed your first exorcism on this tree, and it stung you, didn't it? It would have hurt you a lot worse that time, if you hadn't been so little threat. You were so much a child that it could hardly even see you.

So innocent...but not any more.

Subaru said nothing, his eyes fixed on the snowy ground at Seishirou's feet. The illusion would leave shallow footprints when it departed, a detail that pleased Seishirou, even if Subaru seemed oblivious. Could it be that Subaru didn't realize that it was an illusion? Did he think that Seishirou was actually present?

"Perhaps you don't remember. Perhaps you'd prefer to forget. Is that your wish, Subaru-kun?"

Subaru's voice was like a sleepwalker stumbling through a room, awkward and remote and slow. "I only wish for one thing,"

An answer. It was remarkable.

"To kill me?" Seishirou asked, still smiling, and he swept out one arm in invitation. "Would you like to try it now?"

It would be laughable if Subaru tried to attack his illusion, but it probably wouldn't happen. Even if Subaru mustered the will, he seemed to be too weak. A monosyllable reply, then, or just more Seishirou was a little surprised when Subaru looked up at him again, as blank as the surface of a pond, and as transparent. It was as though Seishirou could see right through him, and nothing was even there.

"If I kill you, I become you," Subaru said without the least inflection: not hatred or anger or fear. There wasn't even a sense of expectation in the words, whether of good or ill, but only a hollow vacancy.

It was very odd indeed.

To cover his slight perplexity, Seishirou laughed.

"There's more to the rite of succession than that," he responded. He thought back, trying to remember what he could have said all those years ago that might have suggested the idea. "I didn't know you were interested, Subaru-kun."

"I will not," Subaru said dully, fatally. "I will not commit that wrong." His voice was resolved, for all that it was so flat and lifeless, and Seishirou felt a little interest wake in him again. There was something there at last, besides the silence.

"Wrong to kill me?" Seishirou asked then, swift and gentle as the touch of fire. "Or to become me?"

Subaru didn't seem to hear. He was still speaking, but the words came more sluggishly: falling hard, like stones, and requiring a breath of recovery afterward.

" matter what happens," he mumbled, " much...."


"No matter," Subaru was muttering, "no matter, no...matter," as if he had lost the connection of the words, his mind wandering even with his enemy standing there before him, and suddenly Seishirou put it all together, the paleness and trembling, the too-bright eyes, the cough--

Fever. A bronchial infection as well, probably.

"Working" when you're this sick? Honestly, Subaru-kun.

Perhaps on some level Subaru recognized that he was rambling. He breathed "no" one more time with demented quietness, and then shut up.

There was silence again.

Well, Seishirou thought, that's that.

He looked up at the moonless, starless sky, clouds flushed vaguely pinkish by the city's glare. It was indeed about to snow--no, it was snowing; the first small flakes were already descending, trailing down from above one by one. A couple of them passed through the body of his sending as they fell. They marred the effect of the illusion, but the flaw was very small, and it no longer seemed especially important. He was nearly done anyway.

Seishirou let his gaze turn back to Subaru.

I wonder if you've really decided not to try to kill me, or if you're just delirious. He shrugged, not giving the question much thought. It doesn't matter anyway.

You couldn't kill me.

You couldn't be the cherry tree barrow guardian, even if it was that simple.

I used to imagine that you might at least challenge me someday. Now, I'm not so sure. I thought--

Well, never mind.

A little wind kicked up, stirring Subaru's hair for real this time and making the occasional snowflakes swirl sideways. It carried a star of snow past Seishirou, and he watched that white fleck dance by.

Maybe I should kill you now and get it over with. In the condition you're in, I could do it all the way from here. You would never be able to stop me.

Maybe I should....

"Shall I?" he murmured, more to himself than anything else. Subaru glanced up spiritlessly, then let his eyes drift down again, their gaze leaving Seishirou like light leaving a blown-out candle flame. He bowed his dark head and was still.

Almost as if he were expecting to die.

As if he were waiting for it.

"No," Seishirou said.

He flared the black coat that his illusion was wearing around "himself." Dim lights flickered in the depths of its shadow like the flashing of falling leaves, muted pale greens and silvery greys. Their swirling movement transformed itself into a sighing of the air as he evoked the sakura wind, not the red, rage-filled fury of the dead but the other wind that was his own to call, cool and strong and achingly beautiful. With its coming, he briefly brought down the darkness of a full maboroshi around Subaru--but Subaru had already fainted, was falling forward into unconsciousness, letting go the tenuous grip of his will over mind and body. Seishirou watched as he toppled, observed the green eyes glaze and close, and then, shrugging once more, let the wind take all the magic, sending and maboroshi both, and unravel it into nothing.

A pair of sakura petals spun out on the last breath of wind, and as it faded they fluttered to the ground. They came to rest gently next to Subaru, two fleeting stains of pale rose against the snow.

Soon after, they too vanished.

Seishirou looked at the dark, reflective surface of his bedroom window. For a moment, he could still see Subaru's senseless form crumpled on the ground before the cherry tree. Then he shut the farsight image from his mind entirely, tied off the ends of power, and released them, terminating the spell.

He let the blind fall closed.

The thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan.... he thought.

You'll have to do a lot better than that.

The apartment was silent. The CD must have ended while he was "out." Well, he'd listen to it again on some other night. He wandered back out to the living room to turn off the stereo, and as he did he noticed the drink that he hadn't gotten around to finishing. There wasn't very much of it left.

Seishirou picked the glass up and stared at it.

It had been a disappointing encounter. He was confident, though, that Subaru did have more to offer. He remembered the easy skill with which Subaru had balanced the disparate forces of his spell, the swift reaction to the breaking of his ward, even sick as he'd been...remembered other nights, other workings, a boy's deep, unfailing dedication to what was required of him, a pure heart that held nothing back, and then a white-hot explosion of suffering and betrayal. Subaru had resources to drawn upon that he might not even be aware of.

Perhaps when his health improved he would recall what had happened tonight, his failure, and fight harder because of it.

One could anticipate such things, Seishirou thought, and smiled.

"Fight harder, Subaru!" Isn't that what your sister would say?

I can almost hear her now....

Seishirou turned the glass in his hand, gazing into its circular mouth in a very brief moment of reminiscence. That small amount of wine swirled somewhere indefinite at the bottom of it. After nine years, he had gotten used to the curious flattening of his vision: the loss of depth perception was something he noticed only at certain times, usually when he was thinking about the past.

He had been doing a lot of that this evening, he realized. It was a very bad habit, even when one was incapable, as he was, of feeling regret.

Seishirou knocked back the rest of the drink and then yawned.

Although it wasn't yet excessively late, he decided to call it a night.




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