For such a small, quiet place, Konda Village attracts a lot of threats. Perhaps it is the proximity to Inazuma City that places it in a position of danger, or perhaps there is something else about the mysterious village that lures bandits and hilichurls to its borders.
No matter the type of enemy, Kazuha and Tomo dispatch them easily with well-placed strikes and slashes. Once they are done, the grass is burnt from Tomo’s Electro energy, and Kazuha’s Anemo gusts linger in the air along with a slight crackle of static. “Think the village has a place for us to stay?” Tomo asks, stretching his arms behind him as the last hilichurl fades away. “I could use some rest.”
Kazuha, too, is fatigued after their long day of travel. He tucks his sword away. “Perhaps there is an inn for travelers. If not, we can always ask nicely.”
It turns out that the villagers are more than happy to accommodate the two of them after seeing them take down the bandits and monsters.
“Of course, of course! We can’t thank you enough,” the chief says. “Please, take these.”
“There is no need,” Kazuha insists, pushing the basket of lavender melons away gently. “We were just passing through.”
Tomo yawns loudly. “Those Nobushi were asking for a beating, anyway! All in a day’s work.”
“Still, you have helped our village greatly.” The chief looks over his shoulder. “Tejima usually protects us from outside threats. He has done so for the past few years. But the Tenryou Commission confiscated his Vision a while ago, and…”
He doesn’t continue; he doesn’t need to. Kazuha has seen firsthand how those who lose their Visions lose their ambitions, and the man sitting by his house has a hauntingly empty look in his eyes. Waiting for something that will never be returned to him.
The chief’s gaze diverts to Tomo’s crackling purple Vision, half-visible underneath his scarf. Kazuha’s is hidden behind his back, but it glows teal, out in the open. “Please be careful,” he says. “If you are headed to Inazuma City, there will be many members of the Tenryou Commission keeping watch.”
Behind the chief, Kazuha can see a slope dotted with purple trees and grand gates, and the outline of the Tenshukaku. It is a city that was once familiar to him, but he has not returned in a long time. He would much rather be far, far away, following the sounds of nature and the calls of the wind, than trapped in the crumbling Kaedehara Estate.
He first encountered Tomo in the southern islands, and in their previous travels through Narukami, they always traveled further north, careful to avoid the Raiden Shogun’s men. The two of them have been careful. Though they are capable fighters, the strongest weapons at their disposal mark them as wanted enemies. He does not want to lose his freedom to his god.
Tomo glances in Kazuha’s direction. “We’re not planning on continuing to the city, but thank you.”
They don’t usually travel with a destination in mind. When nature throws unexpected obstacles or adventures in their path, their plans are abandoned as quickly as they are made. But venturing into Inazuma City is not a risk they have ever taken together before.
“Ah, my apologies. I assumed so, as the summer festival is starting soon, and plenty of visitors have passed through Konda Village already.” The chief gestures with his hands. “It’s quite a stunning celebration! The magnificent fireworks are visible even from here, but the festivities inside the city must be even more impressive.”
Kazuha can see the moment Tomo’s eyes light up, his entire face changing into a picture of youthful excitement. “The summer festival?”
Oh no. He knows that look. And when Tomo turns to Kazuha with an expression that can only be described as pleading, he knows what his request will be.
“Fireworks, Kazuha. Fireworks! And fun festival games. And imagine the delicious treats. Of course, your cooking is great, but you could pick up some new recipes! As much as I love grilled fish, some variety every now and then would be nice.”
The two of them have decided to settle in a kind villager’s spare room for the night. Kazuha is sitting on the edge of his bed and polishing his blade. From the blade’s reflection, he can see Tomo lying on his back, waving his hands animatedly in a valiant attempt to persuade him.
“I think Tama likes the grilled fish,” he offers as a reply, not looking up from his weapon. “I can’t disappoint her, can I?”
He hears an indignant huff. “Tama, help me convince Kazuha to let us go to Inazuma City.” The cat, predictably, does not answer Tomo. Kazuha glances down to see the ball of white fur currently preoccupied with batting at a dark leaf that rests on the floor. “Come on, we can get lots of shiny toys there. Don’t you want a new marble to play with after Kazuha dropped your old one into the river?”
“You were the one who threw it.”
“My daughter will never believe your lies,” Tomo proclaims, and Kazuha sees him lift a hand to his heart. “Please, Kazuha. The Tenryou Commission will be too busy watching over the festivities to be on the lookout for criminals. There will be so many people there that we’ll blend right in!”
Kazuha sighs. Tomo really, really wants to visit the summer festival. It’s clear from his pleading tone, his wide eyes, and the fact that he has said so himself approximately twenty times already. But as much as Kazuha wants to indulge him... “The guards will be on high alert because of the festivities and crowds.”
With the Vision Hunt Decree in place, it’s not safe for them. They can take on Nobushi and monsters, but can they stand against the might of the Shogun’s army, in her own city?
“We can just hide our Visions. We’ll be ordinary travelers.”
“Ordinary, defenseless travelers.”
“You’re literally holding your sword in your hands.”
Kazuha pauses his motions. That’s another concern: they will look suspicious if they walk into Inazuma City fully armed. Will they have to leave their weapons somewhere? What if they get caught?
He carefully places his sword back into its sheath. “I visited the summer festival once when I was a kid,” he says quietly, turning around and crossing his legs so he faces Tomo. “It was loud and crowded, and I got lost. Maybe it won’t be as fun as you expect.”
Even as he says the words, he knows they won’t be true. Tomo would absolutely love every bit of fun and joy that comes alongside an Inazuman summer festival.
Tomo’s expression turns thoughtful. “I’ve been to festivals too,” he says. “Inazuma City a few times. Some smaller ones in other places. But we’ve never been to one together, Kazuha. Don’t you think it would be fun?”
Deep down, there’s a part of him that couldn’t care less whether the festival is fun or not, as long as Tomo enjoys himself. But he pushes that part aside, not wanting to admit that there’s a part of him that has gotten so attached to someone he will have to say goodbye to eventually.
He reaches down and pats Tama’s fluffy head to distract himself.
“We could even stop by Komore Teahouse and check in on our friends,” Tomo suggests, holding out his arms and clicking his tongue. Tama, the traitor, jumps out from beneath Kazuha’s hand to seek out her favorite spot on Tomo’s chest. “Haven’t seen them in a while. Would be good to make sure they’re alright and see if they need any help. We can also stock up on supplies.”
Those are very good, very practical reasons to visit Inazuma City right now, Kazuha grudgingly admits to himself. And the more he thinks about it, the more he feels that taking a break wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. They’ve wandered for a long time; he’s spent more time with Tomo than with any of his previous traveling companions.
Maybe it’s time to see whether the city of eternity has changed since he last saw it.
“And food! Games! Fireworks! Did I mention there’ll be fireworks?”
Kazuha lies down, his head resting on the rather hard pillow, and wishes that its surface were warmer. Like a nice, sun-heated rock in the middle of a forest. “Fireworks are too loud,” he murmurs tiredly. “They scare the birds away.”
But Tomo—who has always been just as good at reading Kazuha as Kazuha is at reading him—must sense his victory because his mouth splits open into a massive grin. He pats Kazuha on the head, almost squashing him with his large hand. “Come on. Just a quick, fun trip into Inazuma City. We don’t have to stay for the entire festival.”
Faced with that grin, Kazuha has no choice but to say yes.
As they enter Inazuma City, the first sight they are greeted by is the large sakura tree in the middle of Hanamizaka. Large pink petals dot the ground around them, while some fall from the branches as the wind blows through. Tomo instantly crouches down to pat the shiba sitting beneath the tree, his other hand holding Tama in place.
“Great sakura tree, watching over the outskirts of the grand city,” Kazuha murmurs to himself. It has been a long time since he last walked this path. Since then, he has seen many sakura trees, but the one in Hanamizaka is no less impressive. “When lightning strikes its target, do its surroundings stay still?”
Tomo stands up. “That sounds a bit longer than the usual haiku,” he comments.
“It’s a tanka,” says Kazuha. Tomo has gotten good at recognizing when he’s letting poems fall from his lips. “Two additional lines at the end, seven syllables each, for a total syllable count of 31.”
He doesn’t really expect Tomo to remember that impromptu poetry lesson, but Tomo nods, and they make their way past the tree and up the stairs.
Kazuha doesn’t like the presence of the guards stationed all around. He knows he could take them in a fight if need be, but the fact that his Vision is buried beneath layers of clothing instead of resting at the back of his neck makes him uneasy. Every sound in this city is amplified as he listens for any sign of a coming storm. Tomo seems to notice the way he stiffens by his side, because he reaches out and pats Kazuha’s arm.
“We’ll be okay,” he says, his voice hushed. He jerks his head towards Naganohara Fireworks as they pass by. “Should we run into trouble, we have friends here. Trust me, alright?”
Kazuha exhales and nods.
Even though the air already buzzes with festive excitement, the actual events of the summer festival don’t start for two more days. So, Tomo successfully convinces Kazuha to spend that time exploring the city with him. He reasons that it’s been a long time since he last stopped by, so he wants to see how much has changed.
Kazuha, for whom it has been even longer, agrees. Because what he remembers of the city are it’s prim and proper gardens, and the tall, imposing buildings by Tenshukaku. He’s never seen what the hustle and bustle of Inazuma City might look like to someone else.
Their first stop is Kiminami Restaurant. The kind girl behind the counter serves them some delicious rice cake soup, along with the dango and skewers that Tomo insisted on ordering. Of course, there’s also a small portion of fish for Tama, who has been placed gently on the counter. After the waitress leaves them, they remain at their stools, eating and conversing as they usually do.
Then, Tomo says, “I’ve got a poem. Wanna hear it?”
Kazuha, pausing mid-bite, quickly swallows down the rest of his food before nodding.
“Tasty rice cake soup,” says Tomo. “From the bowl to my stomach. Warm and delicious.”
He looks over to Kazuha and smiles sheepishly. “Don’t just sit there and judge me.”
Kazuha isn’t judging him. Instead, he clears his throat. “Warmer than the soup are the memories we’ll make today.”
“That was a renga.” Kazuha reaches for another skewer. “A poem written through collaboration. Typically, one person writes the first three lines of a tanka, and the next person adds on the next two, and the process continues. I was making a contribution to your poem.”
“Hm. Showing me up, more like,” Tomo jests, his hand knocking Kazuha’s aside.
After their meal—the best they’ve had in quite a while—they decide to turn right instead of walking further into the city. It’s an area of Hanamizaka, hidden behind the large water wheel, with not many people or houses. Kazuha didn’t get to see this in his youth, but he finds that he likes this part of Inazuma City much more—the quiet living, rather than the extravagance of the noble clans. The most prominent sound is the water, weaving through the ground from the small waterfall to where it flows out to the sea.
They stop to rest at the edge. Kazuha lays down to rest, sinking into the soft grass. Slightly ahead of him, he sees Tomo sit down as well, and the two of them stare out to sea together, where a small island is visible in the distance. However, Kazuha’s eyes soon drift from watching the scenery to tracing the outline of Tomo’s back.
It’s his fault for being so tall and blocking half the view, he thinks to himself, his eyes locked onto Tomo’s neck. Summer in the city means hotter temperatures, so Tomo’s usual scarf has been temporarily unraveled.
Before Kazuha can snap himself out of his staring, Tomo looks back over his shoulder, his expression softening. “Thinking of another poem?”
Kazuha lowers his head back onto the ground and nods, not wanting to admit that he was just watching his friend.
Tomo gives him a knowing grin. “Heh. Yeah, you tend to get that look in your eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you just… look like you’re thinking really hard about something. Admiring it? And appreciating it?” Tomo leans over. One of his long fingers taps Kazuha’s forehead; Kazuha narrows his eyes at him but doesn’t flinch away from the touch. “So it’s easy to tell that there’s more poetry being written in this brain of yours!”
Before Kazuha can conjure up a dignified response to that, Tomo flops down onto the ground next to him.
“Speaking of poems,” Tomo continues, “I’ve been wondering. Why don’t you ever write them down? Don’t you forget them?”
Kazuha closes his eyes, pondering the question. The most practical answer would be that he rarely gets a chance as they move from place to place. But the honest answer is that he’s never felt the need to pen his words onto paper, so long as they are spoken for the wind to hear.
“I don’t necessarily write poems to… immortalize the scenery,” he says carefully. When he opens his eyes again, the sunlight hits his face in full force. “Nature is eternal, but it ebbs and flows and changes constantly. Whenever I compose a poem, I am simply doing so to appreciate the present moment. It has no permanence, so my words do not either—what truly matters is the here and now.”
He turns to Tomo, only to see Tomo staring at him. “Hmm.” Tomo nods. “Interesting.”
“Also, I have a good memory,” Kazuha adds nonchalantly, and he can’t help but laugh as Tomo tries to toss a leaf at his face.
Later on, they continue up the path into the city. They end up stopping earlier than Kazuha expected, however, when Tomo tugs on Kazuha’s arm. “Look! The Yae Publishing House, to our left. They must sell books there.”
Kazuha can see it too, but he glances over at his taller companion with some surprise. “I didn’t know you were fond of literature.”
I didn’t even know you could read very well, he thinks privately, thinking of the times Tomo has been confused by complicated messages. Kazuha has helped him more than a few times with reading signs and bulletin boards. It’s a reminder of how fortunate he is that their paths have crossed when the lives they have led are so different.
“For all you know, I could be a literary… connoisseur,” Tomo huffs, before he scratches the back of his neck sheepishly. “Yeah, I’m not. But wait here for a moment? I want to ask about something.”
Kazuha waits, keeping an eye out for the guards stationed nearby in case they suddenly decide that he and Tomo appear to be suspicious travelers, as Tomo talks to the man at the publishing house. Soon, Tomo comes back with a small book clutched in his arms. “Here,” he says, presenting it to Kazuha with some amount of pride in his voice.
His eyes skim over the title. It’s a collection of one hundred poems. “Oh.”
“I know you have plenty of your own, and whatever you said about appreciating the moment and all that, but…” Tomo trails off. “Well, you love words so much that I figured you’d want to read other people’s too.”
Kazuha’s grip tightens around the book’s cover. He recognizes this particular tome. He used to read it as a kid alongside stuffy academic texts. It made him dream of seeing what the world had to offer—all those beautiful sights translated into words—so that he could create his own interpretations.
“Although,” he hears Tomo say, “I’m sure your poems are better than anything in this book, of course!” His voice lowers. “I bet you could get published too—if you wanted to.”
And despite what Kazuha said earlier, he now allows himself to think about whether he could ever do the same as this poet. Perhaps someday, if the Vision Hunt Decree is over and Inazuma is at peace again, and he is free to properly appreciate his nation’s literature… He could compile some of his own works.
He has always kept his poems to himself, because they are for him, first and foremost. But ever since meeting Tomo, he has become more comfortable with sharing them freely, to the point where he’s not sure if he could ever keep his words to himself again when traveling with other companions.
(But will any of them hang onto his every word like Tomo does, even when he can’t completely understand? Or look at him with that awe-filled expression that makes him feel so unexplainably warm?
In their line of work, there is little time for art. So why does Tomo listen to his musings as if they have all the time in the world?)
The thought of holding a collection of his own poems—and perhaps handing it to Tomo and going over the words with him—makes him smile softly. That’s what makes him realize that it’s far too gentle—too hopeful—of a dream to ever come true.
Suddenly aware that he should probably respond to Tomo instead of continuing to stare pensively at the book, Kazuha clears his throat and tucks the collection of poems into his pocket. “Thank you,” he says, meeting Tomo’s gaze. There are other words he wants to say, other things he wants to thank him for, but now is not the right time. “I came up with another haiku while I was waiting for you. Would you like to hear it?”
As always, the answer is yes.
Kazuha soon finds that Tomo was right. It is easy to evade suspicion in Inazuma City, though they are still exceedingly careful. They meet with some old friends from the Yashiro Commission, ask about the current state of the resistance, and spend the rest of their free time either stocking up on supplies or patting every dog and cat in sight. Tomo is mostly responsible for the latter, while Kazuha holds Tama’s tiny form protectively, far above the reach of the scary dogs.
Things are calm. Peaceful. Safe. And so, he finds himself letting his guard down.
On the first day of the festival, they walk along Tenryou’s biggest commercial street, which has been transformed into a bustling center for festivities. There are stalls selling street food, prayer plaques, and fine handicrafts. Tomo, of course, stops at every single one.
“Our funds aren’t limitless,” Kazuha reminds his companion, who is currently dragging him to a stall selling elegantly painted fox masks. “If these impulse purchases continue, we’ll have nothing left.”
They both know they can easily earn more money from taking on more commissions once they leave the city, so Tomo dismisses his concerns with a wave of his hand. “Look at them! Aren’t they pretty? It’s tradition, Kazuha.”
Kazuha sighs, but he ends up leaving the stall with a red-lined mask placed on the side of his head. Tomo wears a matching one proudly, though the lines are purple instead.
Tomo later insists on playing the goldfish game. The owner gives Tama a wary look as they draw nearer, so Kazuha stands obediently to the side with Tama safely bundled in his arms. He keeps his eyes on Tomo, who is laughing gleefully as he tries to scoop goldfish next to a crowd of tiny kids barely a third of his size. Something about the scene and Tomo’s pure delight brings a smile to his face. But he feels something even stranger tug at his heart when Tomo, after successfully scooping some goldfish, gives his winnings to the little kids instead and waves them off cheerfully.
At the end of their long day, once the sky has darkened completely, Kazuha sits down next to yet another food stall. Tomo is ordering ramen for the two of them—or rather, befriending the owner and getting them a discount. When he returns with two warm bowls, looking rather proud of himself, Kazuha accepts the bowl with a smile.
Illuminated by the soft evening glow of the lanterns, Tomo’s face is the picture of happiness, and it’s such an endearing sight that Kazuha realizes there are things he wants to immortalize after all. The sounds of the festival crowds have always been too loud for him, combined with the wind and the crickets, yet now, they fade away. All he sees is Tomo and his unadulterated joy, and it silences the rest of the world.
Then, Tomo’s expression tightens, and his mouth moves, and Kazuha snaps out of it just in time to hear loud, imposing footsteps from behind them, and a man saying, “—by order of the Almighty Shogun!”
He knows the sound of metal moving through air—this patrol soldier has a weapon. He spins around, his hand moving to his hip. The fabric that once hid his sword has fallen aside, exposing his weapon to the open air. A careless mistake.
“Hand over your weapons!” the patrol soldier threatens, raising his polearm. Kazuha spares Tomo a glance and sees the same steely resolve reflected in his eyes. They take off.
Escaping is not just a skill, but an art they have perfected. They weave through surprised crowds and darker alleyways, sliding between the narrow cracks of buildings, never once looking behind them to check whether anyone is on their tail. It isn’t until they pass the Tenryou Commission’s headquarters and reach the edge of the island that Kazuha holds his hand out to stop Tomo.
He listens. There are no footsteps, no sounds but their own heavy breathing. “We lost them.”
“That’s great,” says Tomo, raising an eyebrow, “but we’re right behind the police station.”
Kazuha shrugs, covering his weapon once more. “They won’t think to look for us here. And if they do…” The corners of his mouth tilt upward. “Well, there are no bystanders. This is the perfect place to give them a fight.”
It’s a beautiful place. Familiar, but beautiful nonetheless, with a large expanse of nothing but grass, and a series of steps leading to a small lake and an elegant bridge. Around them, sakura petals fall slowly to the ground, swaying in the wind. He finds that he likes it better like this, without the shadow of a large building looming over it.
“The Kaedehara clan used to have a house here,” he finds himself saying after a long pause, looking out to where the steps meet water. “After they fell, the government took over the place. They must have demolished it.”
He hears Tomo’s inhale. “You grew up here?”
“Here, and the estate on the other side of Narukami Island. But this was where I spent most of my days.” Even now, standing where he once stood, it’s hard to reconcile that image of the past with the beautiful, undisturbed nature that greets his eyes now. “I never liked staying inside the house.”
“This is why you didn’t want to come back to the city, isn’t it?” Tomo, ever-so-perceptive when it comes to him, asks.
Kazuha ponders that question for a while. Is he running from the past, or from some other kind of truth? “I left my days as a member of the noble Kaedehara clan behind when I left Inazuma City.”
Tomo’s hand finds Kazuha’s. He looks up at him as Tomo says, “I know. All of that is gone. You’re not here as Kaedehara Kazuha. We’re here as ordinary, defenseless travelers enjoying a festival together.”
That strange feeling from earlier, when Tomo was playing with the kids, returns. Kazuha, for once in his life, struggles to find something to say. Eventually, he settles for, “I am thankful for that. Truly.”
Being here has reminded him of his origins. He’s the last scion of the Kaedehara family. Nobility flows through his veins. Yet that is not who he is at all, and his time away from the city, wandering from place to place, has only proved that to him.
Being with Tomo, he supposes, makes him feel that way as well. With Tomo, he doesn’t need to think about identities and origins. One of them carries a name given to him by his family, a name that once held promises of honor and glory but now means nothing but groves of red maple trees, their tens of thousands of leaves drifting in the wind. One of them carries a name chosen of his own volition, a name that is not the remnant of a lonely upbringing with little that belonged to him, but a symbol of a path he chose for himself.
The poet in him can appreciate that there’s something poetic about the two of them, how they come from such different backgrounds only to now be on the same journey. The wind has led their paths to intersect, and even if only for a short time, it has made the past year much better.
Here, standing just beneath the Tenshukaku, he’s grateful that Tomo is the one standing by his side.
Then, Kazuha hears it before he sees it: the telltale sound of a firework going off. He tugs Tomo’s arm and points to the sky just as a brilliant burst of light shoots up and explodes in the shape of a flower.
Tomo smiles. “I thought you didn’t like fireworks?”
Kazuha leans his head on Tomo’s shoulder. “They’re still too loud for my tastes. But I must admit that they are pretty,” he says, quietening as the bursts continue to fill the sky with gorgeous shades of gold and emerald and violet.
He angles his head to glance up at Tomo, who looks transfixed by the sight. The reflection of the fireworks in Tomo’s eyes is even prettier than the fireworks themselves, as is the way his face is lit up by the different hues. But even if Kazuha is a poet, he cannot say those words out loud.
Instead, he murmurs, “Fleeting bursts of light, shine for us in this moment right before you fade.”
Tomo makes no indication that he has heard Kazuha. For a moment, there is no sound but gunpowder exploding in the air. Then, Tomo says, “Guide us on our voyages as we chase eternity.”
Fourteen syllables. Kazuha nods appreciatively. “Not bad.”
Tomo looks away, but not quickly enough for Kazuha to miss the flush on his cheeks. “I tried my best.”
They depart from Inazuma City in the morning.
Tomo stops to say goodbye to the shiba in Hanamizaka, but after that, they are truly leaving the city behind. When they arrive at the path just outside of the city, Kazuha turns around to view the outline of the grand buildings, and the shadow of the Tenshukaku in the distance.
As much as he has appreciated these past few days with Tomo, he hopes it is a long time before he has to step foot in this city again.
“Where do we go now?” Tomo asks, covering his mouth as he yawns. We. As if it is easy to assume that the two of them will continue on this journey together.
But it is easy. Right now, looking at Tomo, Kazuha can’t bring himself to turn this into the inevitable moment they say goodbye. So, perhaps they will remain traveling companions for a while longer.
“Where the wind takes us.”
And wherever that may be, they’ll stay together.
Until the maple leaves fall, Kazuha won’t say goodbye.