If the next you is also so nice to me... that'd be good.
Good night, Kuroto.
Surrounded by the high stone walls of the Warden's Tower, Hanashiro stands with blood still staining his face and hands, flowing down his sword and dripping onto the stone floor, and looks down at the lifeless body by his feet. Kuroto's eyes are closed, and his expression seems so peaceful, almost as if he is only sleeping.
Such a deceptive man, Hanashiro thinks. To have misled Hanashiro for such a long time with kind smiles and gentleness. Hanashiro had nearly let him live, and nearly let the world end.
(But Kuroto had indeed been warm, when the rest of the world was cold.)
Now Lord Shirofukurou smiles at Hanashiro and extends one hand to him. "You have done well, Saviour," he says.
For as long as Hanashiro can remember, he would have given anything to hear those words from his guardian and benefactor, yet now the words ring hollow in Hanashiro's ears.
Hanashiro has achieved the mission he was born to carry out. He has killed Kuroto and completed his life's work.
(So what is this sense that something very important has been irretrievably lost...?)
He reaches out to take that hand, but then recoils. Some of Kuroto's blood has gotten onto the hem of Lord Shirofukurou's frock, staining the material. "Sorry for getting your clothes dirty," Hanashiro says.
"It's no matter," Lord Shirofukurou replies.
Hanashiro returns to the capital with the news of Kuroto's death, and is hailed a hero.
Later, after Hanashiro has shaken the hands of the court officials and received a commendation from the Emperor, he stands on the palace balcony and watches the festivities going on beneath. All through the capital city the streets are ablaze and alive with celebrations, but the cheering and fireworks are muted to Hanashiro's eyes and ears, as if he is seeing and hearing through a haze or a veil of rain.
He has done everything asked of him. The world is saved, according to plan, and the winter winds already grow warm again.
But, even though it was an impossible dream, Hanashiro had wanted Kuroto to see the springtime.
Someone approaches from behind, then Hanashiro feels a hand grip his shoulder. "You did the right thing, Hanashiro," Captain Ginshu says gravely. "Never regret it."
"Don't touch me," Hanashiro hisses, and wrenches himself free.
Spring of that year arrives exactly on time, radiant and warm, flowers and birdsong blossoming in full force as if to make up for the harshness of the preceding years. Farmers and merchants return to their trade in anticipation of good harvests and good business again, and the story of Kuroto and the Saviour passes once more into myth.
Hanashiro remains in the palace in a different capacity now.
If one were to venture underground, to the cell in the palace dungeons where Sai's death penalties are carried out, and lift the hood of the figure who holds the sword, they might be surprised.
The palace executioner is only a young man, hollow-eyed and whose face is etched with unnameable sorrow. People say that he has been trained since childhood to end lives with mercy and the least possible pain. Before he ends a life he always apologizes, though to who or for what, nobody knows.
They say that in a time long past, he had been the saviour of the whole world. But in that in the final battle with Kuroto, he had lost something very important, and he still hates the world for taking it from him.
With every life Hanashiro takes, he remembers the radiance of forgotten days.
In the Warden's Tower, faced with the garden's imminent collapse, Hanashiro had finally come to understand that the two of them could never have been saved. He had opened his eyes to the immutable truth: that the world where he and Kuroto could both live as ordinary people could never exist.
(Yet those sunlit summers with Kuroto had been the brightest and happiest days of Hanashiro's life, and try as he might, he cannot make himself believe that it was all a waste.)
Now that Hanashiro's hands have been irretrievably stained with blood, the only thing he can do is continue down this path. If killing is what Hanashiro came to this world to do, then he will do it, and keep doing it--until the world runs out of lives for him to take, or the Lord Creator himself returns to strike Hanashiro down for his sins.
"I am sorry," he says, though even he does not know to whom or for what he is apologizing for any more. In his vision, the sight of the cell interior is overlaid with the memory of Kuroto's blood on that other stone floor.
With every life Hanashiro takes, he relives the moment of Kuroto's death. He raises his sword, and runs another sunlit memory through with red.
Then word comes one day that Kuroto has returned to the world again.
People have learned nothing from their near-destruction, and when the snow had stopped falling, the seven countries had started their wars anew. The death count still rises, and blood is still shed upon the borders like rain. No wonder the next Kuroto was so quickly born.
Lord Shirofukurou sends word that the child has been brought to the palace to be dealt with. Instantly Hanashiro is on his feet, grasping for his sword, and demands to see him.
The execution cell is cold and damp; no place for a child, Hanashiro thinks. The boy stares up at Hanashiro with clear dark eyes--Kuroto's eyes, but this child is not that person. Not yet.
And now he never will be.
"I am sorry," Hanashiro tells the child. "It will not hurt, I promise."
Silver arcs through the air, and fresh blood streaks the stone floor. Through the cell's barred window, Hanashiro hears a black hawk caw. He looks down at the unmoving body at his feet. The child's eyes are closed, and he seems so peaceful, almost as if he is only sleeping.
And that is when Hanashiro understands what he should have realised all those years ago in the Warden's Tower: If Kuroto is an existence the world does not need, then surely the Saviour, as his counterpart, must also be.
"I'll see you in the next life, Kuroto," Hanashiro whispers, and paints the walls with blood one last time.