“That is Masato Kuribayashi,” said the older Nikaidou. His gaze was directed at an aged man in a suit slouched at a table in the hotel restaurant.
“He looks quite seedy,” said Kousuke. The brothers were walking towards the table, but were still a fair distance away. A group of bodyguards walked with them, some moving ahead to secure the area.
“Based on our reports, he is. All we need to get him on our side is to exceed Saionji’s offer.”
“I hope so. He’s the only one left with enough influence on the Excell board to get us that partnership. The situation is desperate. I wouldn’t have agreed to meet in person otherwise.”
“I apologize, but he strongly insisted. He would not meet if not directly with you. He must be an old fashioned businessman.”
“Hard to say because he’s meeting us at such an open place. Don’t older folks prefer more private meetings?”
“I am afraid this was also one of his conditions for this appointment.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s a minor gripe. You did well.”
They ceased their conversation as soon as they reached earshot of the table. The old man stood up and greeted the brothers.
“Hello. I am Masato Kuribayashi. It is a pleasure meeting you,” he said with a lazy bow.
“Hello. I am Kousuke Nikaidou, and this is my brother Kazuki. It is nice to meet you as well.”
The brothers bowed in return. Masato gestured for them to take a seat, so they did. The posse of guards seated themselves at nearby tables.
“We would like to discuss a certain business opportunity with you,” said Kousuke.
“Oh, that can wait,” said Masato as he signaled for a server.
Displeasure almost burst forth from Kousuke’s face, but he managed to rein it in. The old man ordered a bottle of wine and a cheese tray.
“How do you feel about flowers?” asked Masato.
“Excuse me?” The younger Nikaidou could not help but raise an eyebrow.
“Flowers. Lilies, roses, and the like.”
“I have no particular opinion about them. I have sent a bouquet or two as gifts.”
“You see, I really like the idiom ‘stop and smell the roses.’ I think it is particularly meaningful for a businessman like me, the word busy being the first two syllables of the profession. I am sure you understand.”
“Although I do understand how hectic it can be, I am the type that prioritizes efficiency foremost.”
“That is the privilege of the young! When you get to my age, appreciating the beauty of the things you missed in youth is the only pleasure left.”
Kousuke felt insulted at being called young. Being in his thirties, he was indeed quite youthful for his current standing. The speed of his climb up the corporate ladder was fueled partly by his father’s influence, but it was mostly his own ability. People flocked to him because of his handsome face and charisma. He believed that his older brother was one of them. No matter how frequently he heard it, the accusation that he begged his father to gain power was something he never got used to.
“We young folks also have our pastimes. We simply cannot engage in them as often because of how ruthless this world is to its members. It is taking all the time we have to stay afloat,” said Kazuki in his brother’s place.
Kousuke thanked his brother inwardly for preventing him from answering harshly.
“Very well then. Let us talk business.”
“I appreciate the consideration,” said Kousuke.
Kousuke explained the details of the partnership being offered by NGC. During his explanation, the server arrived with the wine and cheese. Masato, hardly looking at Kousuke, immediately busied himself with the food and drink. The wrinkles on his face undulated as he chewed on the assorted slices. The lack of interest irked Kousuke, but he knew that Masato was already informed of the details because he had been seen meeting with Saya on several occasions. This explanation was but a formality before the actual negotiation.
Kousuke finished his explanation at the same time that Masato downed his second glass of wine. The old man laughed and said, “This is really good wine!”
“…I see. About the partnership-”
“It does not seem to benefit my company much. A promise of intangible future benefits does not hold water.”
“As expected of someone of your caliber, we can get things moving along quickly.”
“Whether it goes anywhere is the question.”
“We are here to propose a deal, with you personally.”
“…What sort of deal?”
“We can provide you personal funding much larger than anyone else can offer,” said Kosuke, alluding to Saya’s dealings with Masato.“ In exchange, all we ask is that you convince the Excell directors to agree to the partnership.”
There was no surprise on Masato’s face.
As expected, Saionji already spoke about something similar.
Masato heaved a large sigh. “The Nikaidou lady was right.”
“…What?” muttered Kousuke, confusion dyeing his expression.
“You know what I really like about flowers? It is not the color or the shape but the fragrance. I think that is what attracts humans to them. We are also animals, just like the ones that pollinate them.”
Kousuke turned to his brother, but his pillar of support, similarly perplexed, shook his head.
“My experience with both people and flowers has taught me how similar they are. Some people exude a certain scent that attracts others. I think you, Kousuke, are one of those people. I, however, am somewhat different.”
“What is the meaning of this!?” Kousuke slammed a hand on the table.
“Have you ever heard of the rafflesia arnoldii? It is a flower that smells of rot. Do you know why?”
“What nonsense are you blabbering? What are your ties with my sister!?”
The seedy old man ignored Kousuke’s protests.
“It is to attract flies. In our case, I am the rafflesia. Guess what you two are?”
Everything suddenly clicked inside Kousuke’s head.
He realized that his father’s decision to bequeath his wealth to the first daughter was not out of senility. He had underestimated the young girl and fooled himself into thinking that his enemy was Saya alone.
“What did she tell you?”
“I only spoke with Saionji-san, who was her representative, and we did not talk about business that much.”
“But you met several times. Are you plotting something together?”
“Hardly. We just chatted about mundane things. Like I said, ‘stop and smell the roses.’ And she is quite a rose.”
“A honey trap..?” Kousuke’s dashing face twisted in disgust.
“How immature. It is called class. Trust is necessary in any joint venture, and she invested time to establish that. To answer your question, the Nikaidou lady informed me that you were trying to short-change Excell, and that you would approach me like you did Tsutomu Masayoshi, who is now dead by the way. Did he back out at the last minute?”
“Are you implying I was involved in that?”
“That is why I chose to meet you in a public place. I would not want those gentlemen to get any ideas,” said Masato as he cocked his head towards a table full of bodyguards.
“That was Kaika’s doing!”
“You do understand how implausible that sounds? She warned me about this deal out of her desire to clean up NGC. It is a bit naive but something I can sympathize with. I myself play the role of bait to protect my company. I guess the two of us are fellow heroes!” The hardened businessman cracked up laughing.
What the hell is this!? This whole thing, including killing Masayoshi, is part of her plan!?
“How can you believe the words of a brat like that!?”
“I find it more astonishing how you can actually say those words.”
Kousuke’s face reddened in shame and anger. He was not only read when he negatively reacted to being called young but also cornered into becoming a spectacle of hypocrisy.
“Consider any ties with Excell severed. The supply arrangement that we have currently will also be terminated once the contract expires. We are not in short supply of clients. Now that our business is settled, I will excuse myself.” Masato stood up. “I trust that you can handle the bill considering you had the confidence to outbribe your majority shareholder.” Masato walked out of the restaurant as if nothing happened.
Kousuke was frozen on his chair, but flames seethed within. He collected himself and exited the hotel with his escorts. He could not ruin his public appearance. They had already attracted attention due to the volume of his shouts. Kazuki, likely being considerate of his brother’s current mental state, did not speak to him.
He screamed the moment the car doors closed.
“She’ll pay for this!”
“Please calm down, Kousuke.”
“How can I calm down!? Excell is going to cut ties. This isn’t at the level of failing a potential high-profit deal. We are going to lose money. My influence in the board will plummet! The CEO chair was so close..!”
Kazuki fell silent. Everything Kousuke said was true. Sandwiched by two SUVs that housed their protectors, their car left the hotel and sped along the highway.
“If only there was another way to obtain the CEO position…” said Kazuki.
“Kaika just has to die.”
“…Even if that happened, her possessions will go to Saionji. Saionji is already acting as her guardian and technically has limited control of her assets. She even represents Kaika during board meetings.”
“To an unrelated employee? We are blood-related, even if only through father. We can fight that in the courts easily.”
“But even if you become CEO by using the majority share vote, everyone on the board, even the interim CEO, will oppose you in light of this failure.”
“The alternative being not getting the seat at all? I’ll take it. We can iron out the wrinkles when I’m there. I’m not a fifteen year old brat. They would accept it eventually.”
“You should not underestimate her. We have tasted defeat once already.”
“I’m not, not anymore. She is brilliant. Moving so many steps ahead of us is nothing short of that. That’s all the more reason to get rid of her.”
“I see. …I agree that this is the path we should take.”
“I didn’t think you would consent so easily. You’re usually more cautious.”
“Only when we can afford it. Now is the time for action.”
“We’ll use that. It’s past the experimental stage. It would make for a good practical test.”
“I should warn you that it can be traced to us if captured. Very few have that kind of technology.”
“Are you suggesting it might fail?”
“No, that is impossible.”
“I didn’t think so.”
Kazuki lowered his head in thought for a few beats and then said, “We should do it tonight.”
“Why so soon? Shouldn’t we plan this out more thoroughly?”
Kousuke was amused at the role reversal. The smile on his brother’s puffy face suggested he felt the same. Kousuke’s anger had dissipated in light of his enemy’s impending destruction.
“I bribed a maid in Father’s mansion to serve as an informant. She can only get menial information around the house, but her recent catch is a boon for our specific purpose.”
“What did you find?”
“Saionji is leaving on an errand tonight. The maids were advised to wait for her late arrival. She should be absent until past midnight.”
“It would be better to do this when Kaika is without her bodyguard. Even father praised that woman’s capability. What of the masked killer? Is it possible he’s working as a guard?”
“There were no new guards hired recently. The last change was right after Father’s death. Kaika probably hired a mercenary. Keeping a murder suspect around the house is too risky.”
“Then we move tonight. Let’s teach our little sister her first and final lesson as her seniors in this world.”
You should have stayed in your shell.
“How’s your wound?” asked Kaika as she welcomed Ageha into the drawing room.
“Like I said yesterday, I’m fine with everyday activities.”
“What about non-everyday activities?”
“I see. You really work people to the bone. Who, when and where?”
“No, nothing soon. I just want to fully grasp your condition. It’s better to prepare for the unexpected. One can never predict what’ll happen.”
“I think you’re doing a fine job doing just that.” Ageha sat down on his favorite sofa.
“I try my best. Judging from your reaction earlier, I’m assuming you’re good to go?” Kaika sat on the arm of the sofa beside Ageha, her legs dangling due to the height.
“I wouldn’t say good, but yeah, I can manage. Medical technology is pretty impressive.”
“It should be since I got the best, well, amongst those willing to operate secretly. Do you know how much I paid for your treatment?”
“Please keep it a secret. It might make me want to actually try hard on my next job.”
“Are you sure you should be saying that to the one who pays your wages?”
“My employer is generous so I’m sure she’ll forgive something so insignificant.”
“You realize that now? I’m the best boss anyone can have.”
“The way she gets carried away is cute too.”
“Did you think you could get a reaction from me like you do with Saya and Kureha?” Kaika merely smirked.
“It was worth a try. I wasn’t expecting much.”
“Sorry for not meeting expectations,” she said sarcastically.
“Don’t be. That maturity at your age is something I admire. There are young prodigies everywhere, but you’re of a different ilk. It feels as if I’m speaking to someone my senior. The fact that I find you cute regardless is true though.”
“I also admire how you always state your thoughts so directly. No wonder Saya has so much trouble with you.”
“What’s wrong with saying what’s on my mind, especially praise?”
“Nothing, if you weren’t speaking with the opposite sex. They tend to misunderstand quite easily. You are aware of your above average looks, right?”
“I never lacked attention from women, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“So was all of it calculated?”
“Not at all. Just because I know how it might end up doesn’t mean I’m doing it intentionally.”
“Don’t you feel any responsibility?”
Ageha delayed his response as he digested Kaika’s inquiry.
“You might be right. I may have been too irresponsible.” He placed a thumb to his chin. “Maybe I should make things a bit more clear since there’s little chance of me pursuing that kind of relationship.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Like you, I have trust issues.”
“…I’d rather not. You probably know the gist already. I’m sure you’ve already looked into my past. It should be easy for you since NGC was the one who covered it up in the first place.”
“I won’t deny it, but there’s value in hearing it from you. Records only speak of events, not experiences. The latter is what intrigues me.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’ve lived all my life trapped in this house. Most of my time was devoted to study, practice, and training. Even sleep was reduced to the shortest period possible, so I ended up with this stunted body.” Kaika raised her dangling lower legs alternately. “I did have chances to go outside, but those were reserved to my father’s educational trips. That’s the reason why I hate being called by my name. ‘A flower within a shell’ may have suited my father’s intentions for my future but not mine.”
His suspicions about her abnormally juvenile physique were confirmed. He knew severe sleep deprivation slowed growth, but the severity of her case practically froze her development.
“Why do you insist on being called Kai then?”
“It’s a matter of pride. Completely rejecting my name means escape, so I kept the part that I hated the most and made it mine. A shell can be considered as armor, after all.”
He remembered how Kaika’s flawless mask cracked when Kureha presented the clam hair ties. “Kai” was her sword that she gripped by the blade, the edge cutting into her flesh. The young man admired her pluck, yet felt melancholy for the plucked flower.
“I’ve gotten off track. What I meant to say was I didn’t have time for personal enjoyment. I have practically no hobbies, so you could say that listening to your story is a form of entertainment for me, and you know how much value I place in that.”
Ageha pondered whether he should tell Kaika about it. Thinking about his past was more painful for him than his periodic ARMS nerve realignment. However, the person in front of him had exposed herself willingly, gambling that he would do the same. He wanted to be equitable.
“It’s a long story.”
A rare, kind smile flashed on Kaika’s face. “Then make sure I don’t get bored.”
Ageha began unraveling the tangled memories of his childhood. He voiced out the names he had sealed within himself for more than a decade.
It was unexpectedly easy. The usual pain that threatened to crush his heart lacked the severity he remembered. Had time finally scabbed the lesions? Or was it something else? He had no answer.
It was not as long a story as he had imagined. It was probably because he did not like to talk in length to begin with. The version he narrated to Kaika was redacted for brevity.
“That’s about it.” He slowly breathed out after finishing his story, as if releasing something pent up for a long time.
“I have to say that isn’t the reaction I expected.”
“I would have secretly killed them one by one and avoided the whole NGC issue.”
“…I didn’t want to kill them.”
“Why not? Because they didn’t kill you? What they did was far more grievous.” The red on her cheeks indicated a different emotion than usual. She was furious.
“I didn’t expect you to get angry. I was expecting you to laugh or even joke about it. I thought you were more accustomed to suffering and injustice.”
“That’s precisely why I find purity precious. Don’t misunderstand. My anger isn’t from any sympathy for you. I merely feel like your friends smeared mud onto a beautiful painting.”
“I wasn’t anything like that.”
“You were and still are, even after being defiled. I wouldn’t have tracked you down and made you my partner otherwise. My eye for people is one of the most exceptional out of my multitude of talents. Take Saya as proof.”
He never intended to be self-deprecating. Still, he was glad that Kaika came to his defense, even if it was laced with her boasting. He never defended his way of life even to himself. He was prepared to be killed for everything he had done. It would be fair. Someone taking his side despite knowing his monstrosity was refreshing. If it was Kureha who warmed his heart, it was Kaika who washed it clean.
It takes a monster to know a monster.
“I heard you chose Saya because she looked like a cute boy.”
“…That was a condition on top of everything else,” said the blushing girl, looking away from him. He knew she was intentionally acting the terrible liar in consideration of his attempt to lighten the mood by bringing up Saya’s story.
He was about to tease Kaika about her hiring criteria when a blaring noise echoed throughout the mansion.
“A fire?” asked the young man as he rose from the sofa.
Ageha recalled that this was the same alarm he heard during his first visit to the mansion.
“They timed it when Saya’s out. I didn’t think they would move this fast. Looks like I have no choice but to depend on you this time,” said Kaika as she hopped down from her seat.
“I’m not a bodyguard, you know? Maybe I should ask for a raise?”
“I’ll consider it if I make it through this.” Lips tightly shut, brows furrowed, and eyes alert, the gravity of the situation showed clearly on her face.
“…Is it that serious?” Ageha’s expression turned sharp and cold, like an unsheathed blade.
“Kousuke wouldn’t move unless he’s confident. He’s certain he can kill me.”
Frantic knocks came from the door.
“Enter and report,” said Kaika.
A maid opened the door and explained the situation while panting.
“Only one man..?” said Kaika in disbelief.
“Yes, no other reports were received. The sentries are all in position except for the one at the southwest wall. He was likely incapacitated by the intruder.”
“Has the intruder been dealt with?” asked Ageha.
The maid pulled out a radio from her apron and asked for the latest information. She then relayed it to Kaika as she listened to the report.
“All the guards in the building are trying to stop the intruder with no success. Some of them have fallen, while the others are in pursuit. …The intruder is barehanded.” The maid displayed a baffled face as she relayed the last detail.
“An elite assassin… I didn’t think our methods would overlap. Ageha, please intercept the intruder.”
“I thought you wanted me to protect you?”
“That’s the best way. From the report, it seems that our lone enemy is like you. I believed you were singular, but this proves me wrong.”
Ageha himself was surprised at the existence of someone like him. Kanou had said that his case was unique. Ageha attributed this inconsistency to the advancement of ARMS technology in areas even Kaika was not aware of.
“If that’s the case, it would be better for you to fight him away from me. It would remove the danger to myself and allow you to focus on combat.” Kaika turned to the maid and gave her an order. “You, call several guards here to escort me while Ageha deals with the intruder.”
“The chef will..?”
“Just do it. Where’s the intruder now?”
The maid used the radio to communicate with mansion personnel.
“He is in the main hall. The guards are trying to hold him there, but they will not last long.”
Ageha ran through the open door and into the corridor. On the way to the main hall, he dropped by his temporary room and procured his knives. The last time he sprinted through these hallways, he still had outdated, black market ARMS installed and had to consider stealth. This time, he cracked the flooring with the power of his strides. It took him no time at all to reach his destination.
But even then, it was too late. There were only two guards left, one of which was held by the intruder. The other guard pointed a handgun at the intruder but could not shoot in fear of hitting the captive. Ageha concluded that the enemy had used human shields throughout the battle to avoid being shot. Although bullets could not penetrate ARMS, the force of the impact could still cause damage to human organs.
The intruder’s torso and neck were covered by metal armor. The rest of his body was obviously cybernetic from the lack of skin coating. The alloy elbow and knee caps were visible. A black helmet with a tinted visor covered his head.
That’s practically a robot…
Ageha knew that robot limbs were weaker and less flexible than ARMS. Moreover, artificial intelligence was not advanced enough to be effective in live combat. The fact that Ageha had destroyed two Arax units by taking advantage of their tactical gaps was proof of this. His thought only meant that there was almost no sign of humanity left in the enemy.
The intruder threw the guard he was holding at the one with the gun. The man could not dodge the body that hurtled towards him. Both men tumbled backward and crashed to the ground.
Ageha took this chance and dashed towards the intruder. The intruder noticed his approach and ran towards him.
This reaction surprised Ageha because it made no sense tactically unless shock was the only goal. Ageha canceled his attack and tried to dodge the enemy’s running hook.
Ageha raised his left arm and reinforced it with his right fist. The hook collided against his arm and blew him away. He rolled to dissipate the impact and promptly stood on his feet.
He analyzed the opponent’s movements. They were amateurish, or more accurately, instinctual. This made it hard to fight the opponent because of unpredictability. That abnormal speed and power were also troublesome.
The intruder was already on him before he could complete his thoughts. He dodged another hook by ducking and performed a sweep that hit its mark. The intruder’s left leg was taken off the ground, but he managed to regain footing. Ageha slashed at the intruder’s chest. A metallic scratching sound was produced.
It was worth a try.
Ageha checked the durability of the chest armor. His attack did not even leave a mark. The intruder’s hands reached for Ageha. Ageha tried to jump back, but his clothes were caught. He always wore skin tight clothing in combat for this reason, but he did not have the luxury of time before this encounter.
Before he could free himself by forcefully ripping his clothes, Ageha was lifted up and tossed into a wall. Spinning in the air and using his arms and legs to temper the impact, Ageha landed on the wall like a spider.
When Ageha was taken off his feet, he thought that he had already lost. It would have been over if the enemy smashed him head first into the floor. He reevaluated the intruder.
He didn’t use the guard earlier as a shield. He just picked up the closest thing he could throw at the other enemy.
Ageha realized that the enemy had no regard for tactics. If the enemy moved on pure instinct, then the attacks should be simple. Ageha found a sliver of hope when it came to defense.
But I still can’t damage him. He has no weak points.
That was fact, so Ageha decided to take a different approach. Taking the offensive, Ageha pounced on the approaching enemy, his dual knives brandished. He slashed his knives downwards while falling. The intruder raised his arm and blocked the strike. Ageha leapt back to avoid a kick but closed the distance again right after. The intruder used his arms to block the knife swipes coming for his head.
Ageha defended against a swinging kick by raising his knee. The impact threw Ageha to his left. Instead of killing the momentum, he used his legs like a spring to kick off the ground and unleashed another wave of slashes towards the opponent’s face. Sparks flew from the intruder’s right arm as he fended off the blade.
Should be soon…
After several similar exchanges, Ageha noticed that his right leg was not moving as he wanted. The damage from the kick earlier was taking a toll on his mobility. His previous injury had also reopened and bled into the thick bandages. Weakened, he failed to dodge a straight, which grazed his cheek. There was almost no contact, but the force of the blow cut his face and caused him to see stars. Ageha instinctively took distance. His vision blurred and vomit leaked from his lips.
I won’t make it..!
He had taken too much damage. With his mobility and sight decreased, he would not be able to keep up with the enemy’s abnormal physical capability. Ageha could overcome pain but not the damage itself. He was affected just like anyone else if something was mechanically impaired.
He remained crouched as his opponent sped towards him. Time slowed as he accepted his imminent demise. Ageha was a realist, and he knew the situation was hopeless. It was his turn to pay his dues.
As he was about to accept his fate, several faces flashed before him: the arrogant and adorable little genius, the stone-faced butler and her embarrassed blush, and the timid girl who suffered the same loneliness. They would all die if he fell here.
Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to his feet. Adrenaline did nothing to his ARMS, but at least it cleared his murky mind and steadied his sight. The odds had not changed. It was almost impossible to defeat the enemy in his current state.
He recalled a certain miniature devil’s words.
“Nothing of worth can be achieved without a corresponding amount of risk.”
As if she had finally won their suspended argument, Kaika’s smug grin intruded into his thoughts.
The image put a similar grin on his face. It was the first time he ever smiled in battle.
Let’s do some gambling.
Ageha rolled the dice three times.
He bet on the enemy attacking from the left. He no longer had the speed to dodge on reaction so he simply picked a side at random. He hopped to the left a split second earlier than the robot’s assault. His gamble paid off, and he managed to take the intruder’s flank after the whiffed grab attempt.
He bet on the enemy performing a backfist. He himself preferred that move when flanked, but there was no reliable way to predict the enemy’s reaction. He dropped one of his knives and held the remaining one with both hands. He parried the incoming backfist by slashing the enemy’s elbow.
He bet on the possibility that his slashing parry, which used the intruder’s strength against him, cut deep enough to sever the artificial nerve connection inside the ARMS. The slash was aimed at the intruder’s elbow joint, which was already damaged by his repeated, targeted attacks. The intruder’s scream declared another winning roll.
Ageha had never been so lucky in his entire life.
It seems Kaika wasn’t my jinx.
Targeting the intruder’s head, he launched a roundhouse kick with his left leg. The enemy raised his right arm to block as usual, but the forearm just dangled downward. The arm lost control from the elbow down because of the disconnected nerve. The kick smashed into the helmet and cracked the surface. It was not strong enough to destroy the headgear, but that was irrelevant. The force shook the intruder’s brain and caused his knees to buckle.
This strategy was inspired by Ageha’s first contact with Saya. He felt a peculiar gratitude and thanked her in his thoughts. He then grabbed the intruder’s head and slammed it repeatedly onto the marble floor until the helmet broke open. He inserted his knife into the intruder’s eye for good measure.
Ageha dusted himself off. His injury did not bleed enough to go through the bandages, and his concussion was mild enough to endure. He started walking to the drawing room to report back to Kaika, but he felt a certain contradiction.
Why was this robot guy in the main hall?
The intruder’s target was Kaika. The first room he would visit should be hers, which was closer to his entry point than the main hall. Ageha remembered what time it was, and a bud of fear sprouted in his heart. He delayed his report to Kaika and decided to check on her room instead.
He jogged down the corridors until he saw a door on the ground. The ornately carved wooden door to Kaika’s quarters had been ripped off the hinges and discarded on the hallway floor. He tried to calm his rampaging heart beat. He felt the limited amount of blood in his body gather in his head. His face burned. He tried to deny the possibility, but his body involuntarily peeked into the room.
There she was.
Her cute bob cut was sticky with red. Her soft and warm arms that had embraced him were pointed in odd directions. Her porcelain skin was mottled with black and purple. Tears pooled on the wooden floor by her cheek. The glittering irises that stared at her sister in admiration and at him with adoration had transformed into black swamps.
Ageha stepped forward. He felt the ground crack underneath him. He walked on thin ice, and each step spread the fissures further. He recalled the times she smiled at him, called him brother, and purred as he patted her head. His tightening grip warped the silver ring on his finger. The mutilation of the ring’s form paled in comparison to her face that was twisted in terror. When he finally reached her mangled form, the ice floor cracked open, and he fell. He was engulfed in freezing water, which extinguished the warm flame recently rekindled in his heart.
In its place, a deafening blizzard raged.