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mask of the sparrow

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Genji didn’t believe in the gods any more than he believed in the goodwill of men. That faith had been decimated years ago when his humanity had been stripped away and he’d been reborn--twisted into a wrathful, demonic presence that lived for the sole purpose of vengeance. And he’d gotten that vengeance, at the price of his peace of mind. He would be hunted as a demon, a monster, for the rest of his days as punishment for all the atrocities he’d committed to those that made him into a beast. His soul knew no rest, and really, it was better that way. For all the things he’d done, he didn’t deserve peace.

He wasn’t searching for peace in the snow capped mountains of Nepal; he was running from it all. Most importantly from himself. Mercenaries and monster hunters had tracked him west--through hills and valleys and small backwoods towns that weren’t on any maps, though he’d always managed to slip away. His innate will to live, the dragon inside his heart, was more powerful than any of the self-loathing that demanded his sacrifice upon the altar of death. His life persisted.

Upon the mountain the wind was a near constant force, cracking, whipping, boring into his bones mercilessly with every step. He’d slowed his ascent, carefully checking for crevasses in the ice by prodding his sword into the snow before each step. He huffed in annoyance, a visible puff of air sliping from the teeth of his mask. He’d spent so long believing that he could no longer feel anything with this new deformed body of his but the cold settled uncomfortably in his flesh, like thousands of needles being driven in all at once. It was a small mercy he was more durable than the average human, but deep aches from old wounds began to wear at him.

It wasn’t long before he stumbled, falling to his knees into the snow. Desperately he clung to his sword, the only thing holding him upright, and forced a few shuddering breaths through clattering teeth. To die like this--not at the hands of hired thugs or demon hunters in an epic fight, but quietly, a whisper on a mountain, a flame extinguished by snowy providence. He’d laugh if his lips weren’t frozen together.

And so sweet sleep--the brother of death--whispered, urging and insistant in its temptation. It would be over if he did, there would be no waking up from this icy hellscape, but the dragon nested in his heart had gone still and the struggle for life had become too much to bear on his own. No-one would miss a demon who’d killed their brother--who’d killed so many and would kill many more if left alive.

Genji sunk into the white abyss willingly, fingers loosening in their grip around their last anchor in this world. His eyes slid shut with the last vision of a golden sun.

 

He’d dreamt of something hellish--and with a clinical detachment he acknowledged that he’d most likely been dragged into the dark, dark afterlife. The void called to him, humming beneath his skin in melodious chimes--like bells. In that darkness he saw his guide, a creature with too many arms, writhing, sliding, grasping at him and pulling--prodding at his mask, at his frozen fingers. These appendages left a lingering, healing warmth in his skin, though the expressionless face was far from caring. Deep glowing green eyes stared into his core, revealing his secrets, his lifetime of pain--exposing him like a nerve.

 

Consciousness struck like a lightning strike and for a disorientating moment he mistook the beautiful face hovering above him as that of the green-eyed monster from the dream. Genji sat up with a jolt and pulled away with a frantic grab for a sword that was no longer where it should’ve been.

“Ahh--Be at peace! You are safe here.” The person not only had a beautiful face, but a melodious, lovely voice that wanted so desperately to put Genji at ease. He relaxed, minutely, and stared dumbly at the man, at his pretty lips and high cheekbones. “I found you half buried in the snow and brought you here. Thank the Iris that you still breathed! Do you require food?”

Here, Genji realized belatedly, was somewhere he didn’t recognize at all. “F-Food,” his voice was hoarse, barely recognizable. “I don’t… I don’t know.” Sustenance was the last thing on his mind while he’d been up on that mountain freezing to death. Now that he’d survived, all he could really appreciate was that his shivering had subsided and it didn’t appear that he’d lost any limbs to frostbite.

“Please rest, friend, while I prepare a warm meal. What should I call you? What is your name?”

Genji stiffened again, looking anywhere except at the man. “I don’t have a name,” he grumbled, realizing how lame that sounded.

“Nonsense, of course you have a name!”

“Sparrow---no, ah, Genji. It’s Genji.”

“Hello Sparrow-Genji,” there was a tiny hint of jesting in his tone, but there was no malice. While his eyes sparkled in good humor, the rest of his face remained unexpressive. “My name is Zenyatta. This mountain is my home.”

He’d only just noticed the blankets and furs tucked around him, the crackling fire radiating warmth in the center of the room. His sword was propped up nearby, just out of arm's reach, appearing no worse for wear. Next to it was his mask, twisted, ugly, just like him--staring from across the room with empty black eyes and sharp teeth. He tore his gaze away, turning it upon the man who’d moved closer to the fire to stir at something in a cast-iron pot. Orange fiery hues reflected on the strange pale face of the man, the golden details shimmering in the light--and the edge of what could have been a mask.

Zenyatta shifted, turned, catching eyes with Genji, who felt like he’d been caught doing something bad. For once he allowed himself to settle back, easing into something vaguely resembling relaxation, and breathed hard through what was left of his nose. It wouldn’t be long before he had to leave this safe haven, to be thrown back into the despair of being a loathsome, hunted creature. For now he could indulge in the kindness of this not-quite-human hermit living alone on the mountain, even if his brain was yelling at him to seek solitude.

“Why,” Genji began, clearing his throat in the silence that had fallen between them. “Why did you save me?”

Zenyatta laughed a sound like bell chimes, genuine and kind in its expression. His lips didn’t move. “Why? I couldn’t very well leave you out there. You--”

“You should’ve let me die out there,” Genji sneered, rising up from his place on the cot. Blankets spilled out on the floor as he removed himself from their warmth. He crossed the room to retrieve his sword, but stopped when he came face to face with his own mask. A demon didn’t deserve this, he didn’t know why he tried deluding himself into staying. “I don’t deserve your kindness or your sympathy.”

He put the mask over his scarred, distorted features and turned, jumping, coming face to face with Zenyatta. Dark, dark eyes stared up at him, emotionless, vast like a void. This close Genji could tell with absolute certainty that it was a mask--a beautiful mask, unlike his own, yet far more unsettling. Empty. He swallowed hard, squaring his shoulders.

“Wait,” Zenyatta soothed, reaching and holding one of Genji’s hands in his own. They were surprisingly cold, yet brought some amount of calmness to him. “Be gentle with yourself, Genji.”

“You don’t know me--”

“I see you here and I see the pain in your soul. It is not too late to change your path,” his voice was low, urgent, but tender.

Genji sighed wearily. “My path was forged for me long ago.”

“What happened to you was not your fault. It’s time for you to heal, little sparrow, and learn to fly again,” A cool hand found its way to the side of Genji’s mask, those eyes still peering up at him with insistent intensity. “Give yourself a chance.”

“No--” His answer came too quickly, forced out as he pulled away from Zenyatta. “Thank you for your help Zenyatta, but I will be leaving.”

“Ahh, if you insist! Should you find that you need help, I will be here.”

Genji straightened up his robes, slid his sword snuggly onto his back for ease of access. Undoubtedly the hunt would continue as he emerged from the wintery slopes.

“One last thing, Genji,” Zenyatta crossed the distance again, face just as expressionless as before, but his voice rang solemnly. Outstretched in his hand was a bright golden orb humming with a gentle energy. Without even touching it, Genji could feel the warmth radiating from it--like the golden sun he’d seen in his dream, condensed down to something more portable. “To keep you safe,” Zenyatta insistently pressed the orb into one of Genji’s hands, and he took it without thinking. “And to keep you warm, when life is cold and callous. Be safe, Sparrow. You are always welcome here.”

Genji tucked the orb into his robes and ducked out of the room. Outside a white expanse awaited him, blinding by the light of an early morning sun. Inside his robe the orb pulsed, feather-light, warm like a beating heart against his ribcage. He turned then to take one last look at the place he’d found refuge in, and found nothing but the long stretch of white snow facing back.

The orb pulsed, comforting, and Genji pushed forward--a curious smile hidden beneath the hideous mask.