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buried with the wildflowers

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The first time Tenko brought something back to life, he didn’t really know what he’d just done.

It had been summer, the very height of summer, really. The air had been still and filled with the scent of overripe fruit and dry grass that crackled underfoot, heavy enough to promise even worse humidity come nightfall. The sun had baked everything under its gaze to the point he was  surrounded by vegetation that was little more than off-green tinder, yet despite the weather, Tenko had been outside, giggling his way through scratchy underbrush.

He’d been hunting down a small nest of keelback snakes all morning, determined to find a discarded skin to show his mother. She’d been full of praise for a townswoman’s snakeskin gloves all week, so it only made sense for him to try and help her get her own. The keelbacks were small, definitely too small to make gloves out of, but perhaps, if he found more than one, he could do it.

Hana had neglected to come with him this time, citing the heat and hidden pricklies in the grass, but Tenko didn’t mind being alone. It was less risky this way anyway; their mother had been worriedly watching over them both earlier, but now that Hana was inside and could distract her, Tenko’s gift wouldn’t be spoiled.

He found the nest soon enough, avoiding the suspicious squinting of the mother and low hissing of her children to collect discarded skins deposited nearby. He darted away victorious and free of bites, and it was with his pockets jammed full and smile stretched to capacity that he had stumbled across Mon.

The first thing he noticed was how still Mon was. The dog had been around longer than even Tenko had, and he was always bouncing around happily, tail wagging and little feet patting across the ground. But now he lay silent on the ground, legs stiff and mouth open, not even a single puff escaping his jaws.

Then he saw the blood crusted around the dog’s throat. And the flies hovering over the body. And picked up the faint but sweet smell of new rot.

Then Tenko screamed .

“It looks like a fox got him,” his mother explained softly as she covered Mon with a thin linen sheet, one hand gently rubbing at Tenko’s back, “There are a lot of them in this area.”

Tenko swallowed, trying to ignore the sweet-and-sour smell seeping determinedly through the fabric. His mother had come running at the sound of his scream, face full of pity and grief when she’d seen Mon lying there.

He didn’t get why Mon couldn’t just get back up. He was hurt, yes, but Tenko had gotten bloody scrapes before that managed to heal.

“Can’t we make him better?” he asked his mother, hand twitching towards the sheet. She just wrapped him in a hug.

“Oh honey, Mon will be okay. He won’t have to worry about foxes anymore, okay? He doesn’t need us to make him okay.”

Tenko frowned into her soft dress-front, pulling away to look down at Mon again. “…I can fix him.”

His mother’s face contorted, and she reached out to pull him back. “Honey-”

He didn’t listen to her, dodging her grip as he leant down. He couldn’t explain it, but he just knew he could fix Mon. He knew it .

By the time his mother reached down to pull him away again, Tenko’s hand was already on the sheet.

The feeling was like nothing else he’d ever felt before.

Warmth sparked to life under his fingertips, spreading up his palm for a fleeting moment before he felt it slip downwards, pulling away from his skin. A wriggling sensation unfurled in his gut and he found his fingers twitching unwillingly, curling up into an almost claw-like shape.

His mother pulled him away. The minute his hand lost contact with the sheet, his skin broke out in chills, goosebumps rising instantaneously.

“Tenko, darling, I’m sorry, but-”

His mother froze, eyes widening in stunned horror. Tenko spun around, exclaiming in delight when he saw Mon scrambling out from under the sheet, fur still bloody but the gash vanished, tail wagging and tongue hanging from his mouth.

“Mon!” Tenko giggled, snuggling the dog when it jumped up on him. “I did it!”

“What…did you do?” his mother murmured, looking astonished.

Tenko beamed up at her, fingers carding through Mon’s thick fur.

“I fixed him.”                                                                                                                                   

When Tenko was a year old, his parents had laid five objects out before him, and encouraged him to pick one.

It wasn’t one of their culture’s usual traditions. His mother had fallen in love with the ceremony while travelling, and insisted they do it with both their children. So, his father had caved. A pencil for academics, a coin for success, a crocheted heart for true love, a spool of thread for long life, and a chunk of quartz for strong magic.

Tenko, after staring between the objects for a prolonged moment, had apparently picked the quartz. His mother and father had smiled at one another, pinched his cheeks, and then set the quartz above his bed.

It had only been an hour or so later that his mother had uncurled his small, tightly nestled fist, and found what he’d picked up off the ground that morning, before the ceremony itself.

A tiny, near-pristine shard of bone, rounded at the corners and gleaming off-white. She’d pulled it from his palm so fast she’d near woken his slumbering, infant self. Then she’d crushed it underfoot, and plastered a smile on her face, reassuring herself that he had grabbed the quartz. There was power in his future, not death.

(The day Tenko rose Mon from the dead, she realized he would have both .)

Three days after bringing Mon back, Tenko found the first white hair on his head, nestled among the black.

He hated it instantly.

Because white was the colour of death. It was the colour of skin when blood had emptied from inside it, of maggots burrowing through rotting flesh, of urns fashioned from clay. White was the colour of winter, of bone, of a body gone cold.

Yet he hated that. Because what Tenko had done wasn’t death. He knew lifelessness – he’d witnessed it firsthand when his grandmother had refused to wake from her sleep. The dead were stiff and silent, macabre to the highest degree. But what he had done? Brought back the warmth of a pulse, the soft brush of breath, the light dancing in a pair of eyes. It had made Mon himself again.

It wasn’t death. Because death was ugly, and he had reversed it.

But his mother didn’t seem to agree. His excitement had been met with close-mouthed concern and strained silence ever since.

It took him days of that treatment to ask.

“Mama…did I do something bad?”

“No, honey, you didn’t,” she said, smiling at him even as the corners of her eyes crinkled in a way that said otherwise. “It’s just…some people don’t like magic like yours. Death is usually permanent, you know that, and…many think it’s wrong when it’s reversed.”

“But…I brought Mon back? That’s good, right?”

His mother hesitated, before smiling again. “Yes, but…everyone dies eventually, Tenko. Stopping that…isn’t always what’s best for people.”

Tenko didn’t quite understand why it would ever be bad to bring someone back, but he didn’t want to upset his mother, so he bowed his head.

“Okay, Mama.”

Her hand came to rest in his hair, stroking gently. “You aren’t bad, honey.”

Tenko leaned into her touch for a moment, before another question that had been resting on his mind came back to him.



“Did you tell Daddy? About my magic?”

Her smile dropped away.

“No, I didn’t, honey. I…I think it’s best for now if we didn’t let him know.”

Tenko frowned, a little put off. “…Okay.”

“It’ll be our secret, alright?” she murmured, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “Just between the two of us.”

It didn’t stay a secret for long. Even with his mother running ink through the ever-spreading white sections of his hair, Tenko knew he should have expected his father to find out eventually.

It happened when Tenko saw a lizard half-rotted away under their stairs. His mother had wrinkled her nose and stepped away to find a broom with which to gently sweep it into the garden. Tenko, keen to feel that sparking warmth in his palms again, had hesitantly approached with an eager look.

His mother had paused for a moment, eying both him and the lizard, before smiling softly and nodding.

It had taken a lot longer this time. Like how Mon’s wound had closed up, the lizard’s body slowly regenerated, decomposed flesh refilling with colour and encroaching over gaps that had exposed the bone. The smell faded as the patches of fungus shrivelled up and fell away from the body, and even the lizard’s tail, little more than a dark stain on the pavement, reconstructed itself.

The reptile skittered away the minute his magic was done flowing, but he didn’t mind. The whole world felt a little brighter, a little more vibrant.

He hadn’t known what his magic did, the first time, but it was in that moment he realised he loved it.


Tenko froze even as his mother yelped in surprise, spinning around from where she’d been smiling fondly at him from the doorstep.

His father stepped closer, hand closing around the sharp yardstick they kept by the door. His whole body was shaking, eyes alight with something twisted and frightening.

Despite the warmth still clinging to his bones, Tenko suddenly felt very cold.

“Kotarou, no! ” his mother yelped as his father stormed towards him, hand gripping the yardstick reeling back.

The strike carved half his face open.

He couldn’t do much other than scream.

“Get away from him!

Then his father’s figure was gone, hidden from his view by his mother. A sharp crack rang through the air, and Tenko watched his father’s shadow stumble back.

His mother’s chest heaved, hand still raised and– 

Tenko stared, 

She had just hit him–

“Put that down, now ,” she said, body shaking slightly. “Do not come near us.”

“That thing is–”

“–Your son!” she screamed, borderline hysterical. “Our son! He’s not a thing , he’s Tenko!”

“He’s a shino zenchō !” his father roared, waving the stick still wet with his blood in his direction, hand only dipping when he saw his wife’s flinch, “he’s an omen of death!”

“He’s not an omen of death, he’s a kokumajutsu-shi ,” his mother said, standing her ground fiercely in the face of his father’s vicious glare, “it’s just a rare form of magic, not some dark ritual!”

“It is a dark form of magic. If he was born with it then it’s a sign. He’s an omen , Nao!”

“He is five ,” she said, “and the only omen I see is that of the hellfire you would face for raising a hand to your child again.” She straightened her back. “Do not think I will let you kill my son. I’d sooner drown myself in the river.”

She turned her back on him, bending down to Tenko’s level, eyes teeming with concern.

“Oh, my poor baby, I’m sorry. Let’s get you patched up,” she murmured before he was scooped into her warm hold. Tenko buried his stinging, bleeding face in her shirt, shaking with fear as he was carried past his silent father and back inside the house.

He hadn’t known why his mother wanted to keep his magic secret.

He understood now.

The gash in his face became a jagged scar that hugged the underside of his left eye. 

And life in the same house as his father became unbearable.

In the face of his mother’s threats, his father didn’t touch Tenko again. Instead, he flinched away when Tenko entered a room. He glared at him with the fury and hatred of a thousand soldiers poised to slaughter the enemy. He dragged Hana away from Tenko by the arm whenever she tried to play with him.

‘Daddy’ became ‘Kotarou’.

People stopped coming to their house. Their family stopped going out. And the white in Tenko’s hair spread, bit by bit, until every strand on his head was the colour of freshly-fallen snow.

White. The colour of death. Of cold. Of the surreal unknown.

His colour.

Tenko only got to live in the same bedroom as Hana for three days after the incident before he was moved. From a spacious room he shared and played in with his sister, to a cramped, tiny room at the end of the hall once used to hold old books and research materials.

It was as far from Hana as Kotarou could feasibly put him, without kicking him into the rain to sleep. If his mother were a fraction less resolved, Tenko didn’t doubt he would have already made a home in the dirt by now.

Tenko very quickly learned to tiptoe, in more ways than one.

He kept his footsteps silent and his head down. He made himself a ghost, a shade of a boy.

Non-threatening. Mild-mannered. Unobtrusive.

Because his father had promised not to hurt him, but it was clear he still wanted to.

By the time Tenko’s age slipped into the double digits, caution was second nature. He could tell his mother lamented the loss of his adventurous attitude and dimpled smile.

Tenko didn’t much mourn those things. He found the absence of his innocence a much more egregious loss.

If there was one upside to being essentially confined to their house, it was that he quickly discovered more worthy pursuits than trekking through the forest. He discovered books .

There were few things better suited to a withdrawn, socially isolated child than books, he quickly found.

He trawled through every tome in their house, learning about history, magic, and the nations beyond his own. He found a map of Afonai, the nation he’d called home since birth, and reeled in shock at how easily it was dwarfed by everything around it. Shitoka, Kishi, Kamibawa…he learned their names and their cultures as he spent days alone in his room. Tenko had never known how many different names people like him could go by. Kokumajutsu-shi in Afonai. Shitainomajo in Shitoka. Kibishī in Kishi.

But one word came alongside all of them. The most general term. The best accepted.


The title felt like a collar.

Tenko knew his mother had come to accept his necromancy, but it wasn’t until he turned 12 that he truly appreciated it.

She had gotten him a pair of nice new boots, which she’d quite happily handed to him under the harsh eyes of his father.

But later, after Kotarou’s tolerance for him had run out, and Tenko had fled upstairs to his room, his mother came after him to give him his real presents.

The gloves she’d handed to him were supple black leather, too big for his hands and patterned around the wrists with macabre symbols. He had startled when she handed them over, but his mother had just laughed softly and ruffled his hair.

“You’ll grow into them,” she’d promised. “Everyone should have a good pair of gloves, I think.”

The next thing she had revealed was a small collection of books. Tenko had almost dropped them when he saw the words emblazoned on their covers.

The Nakatomi Mortician’s Encyclopedia

Autopsy: Dead Bodies and Their Cues

Poison and Punctures

Burial Methods in Afonai, Kishi and the Continental North

She avoided his eyes when he stared at her. “Everyone needs to educate themselves on their magic. I don’t care if Kotarou disapproves. Your school of magic is necromancy. You have a right to learn about death.”

Tenko nodded, swallowing thickly. “Oh.”

She ruffled his hair again. “I hope they prove useful, if nothing else.”

They did. Tenko absorbed page after page about death, about decomposition and funeral rites. He learned of autopsies and how different things affected the organs, the skin, the face. How to spot evidence of murder in an otherwise benign passing.

He learned that Kishians cremated all of their dead, to honour a history of fire magic. Kamibawans sent their dead to sea. Foundling tribes living north of the tundra stripped bodies down and fed their pets off the meat.

The more he read, though, the more curious he became about his own magic. Necromancy reversed the effect of death, including all factors that came before and after it. It was how he could close fatal wounds and reverse bodies even in states of severe decomposition.

But there was also so much more than that.

He could tell from the strange feel of a fox’s body, that he stumbled across while walking outside at night, that the creature had fallen victim to poison bait rather than a violent attack. A few twitches of his hand over its body drew the poison from its muscles and into a small cloud of liquid in the air. The creature stayed dead – it had been preying on one of their distant neighbours’ chickens, he was hardly going to bring it back – but Tenko was thrilled regardless.

He couldn’t just reverse death, but investigate its cause.

It was something new. A potential beginning.

At least, it was for a while.

Three days after he turned 14, his father slammed a bag packed with clothes and a small pouch of coin into his arms – the first time he’d touched him since Kotarou had given Tenko his scar – and told him to get out.

His mother wailed and screamed and beat her fist on the wall, but for once, Tenko was entirely in agreement with his father. He had grown tired of his cage. If his father wished to unleash a demon upon the world, he wasn’t going to stop him.

It wasn’t easy, being alone.

The solitude was familiar, but being on the road, he didn’t have anyone to turn to should something go wrong. As oppressive as the walls of his room could be, he had always rested comfortable in the knowledge that his mother and sister were just beyond them. Despite not having that comfort anymore, he did his best to put it out of his mind. He wanted to triumph from his father’s contempt. He wouldn’t let himself fall victim to it again.

The first attack came in just two weeks.

He’d made a mistake, venturing so close to a village nestled in the region of his father’s forebears. All he had wanted was to see if they had any water canteens to sell. He had one already, but his mother had long hammered into his head the importance of caution when it came to vital things like food and water.

One of the vendors had seen his white hair, unfitting for his young face, and screamed curses at him. Her son, working nearby, had drawn a knife and lunged.

Tenko had gotten away with a small chunk of flesh above his right eye missing, and blood pouring down his cheek. A few dunks of his head in the river and a spare rag soaked in alcohol kept the worst of the bleeding at bay, though it did nothing for the stinging pain radiating through his head. He sat on the banks contemplatively, watching small lapping waves wash dust from his shoes.

Some people don’t like magic like yours. Death is usually permanent, and many think it’s wrong when it’s reversed.

Of course. That was a truth he’d known since he was five. How, within just a few weeks of leaving home, had he forgotten it?

He pressed his forehead to his knee, tightening his grip on the bloody rag, and vowed to remember.

Leaving the area didn’t make the attacks stop.

Tenko hadn’t expected it to.

A lot of Afon-i people believed that magic came from behind the eyes. That to cast magic most precisely, one’s gaze had to be steadfast and open, both in the literal sense, and in that of being fully educated about one’s power.

Tenko didn’t agree with that view. His magic had always started and ended with his hands. It didn’t stop locals from aiming at his eyes.

His current pursuers had cut the space around his right eye to ribbons and chased him through their entire village. It took him stumbling over a discarded headstone to realise that he had been chased into a graveyard.

These people were more vicious than the others usually were. It made it easy enough to press his hands to the ground and let that strange warmth go.

Something he discovered that night, from the sight of a skeletal, decomposed hand punching through the topsoil; re-amination without regeneration was, in fact, possible.

It wasn’t something he’d ever tested before. Every subject he’d ever brought back to life he had wanted to restore them fully. He’d never had reason to yank anything from the realm of the dead without really, truly fixing them first.

It was there, watching the townsfolk scatter with horrified screams, in the wake of the stumbling and grotesque creature he’d pulled from the ground, that Tenko truly grasped for the first time why people would have hatred for his magic.

He vomited when the corpse turned its glowing eyes on him, and pulled its soul out the same way he’d invited it back in. He fled with dirt on his hands and knees, and scrubbed his skin until it turned red the next opportunity he got.

Despite his disgust,  Tenko found himself experimenting more after that.

He only ever practiced on animals, bringing them back with varying states of decomposition on their bodies.

Some he healed completely before allowing them to open their eyes. Others he left skeletal and sinewy. They all behaved differently .

None were openly hostile, but Tenko couldn’t help but feel like he’d forcibly been handed a leash on which to keep the animals the more decomposed they were. They couldn’t survive on their own, without healing, so they seemed to defer to him more.

It made him uncomfortable. And guilty. He’d probably re-killed and fully regenerated enough strays to infect the whole countryside, once he was done testing his abilities.

His power went beyond anything he’d originally imagined. But every new thing he learned about it only engendered his discomfort deeper.

He kept moving.

Continuous travel was the only way to survive, he quickly found.

Many villagers would distrust but tolerate him, especially after seeing how young he was, but their tolerance wasn’t blessed with longevity. Staying more than a night or two tended to attract angry locals armed with rakes and stern commands to keep moving. Even when Tenko avoided the colour white like the plague, and dressed in the darkest colours he could find, it was never enough to convince people he didn’t want to use his power.

He was usually hungry. Frequently thirsty. Always too skinny. He often looked like one of the corpses he had the power to bring back to life.

But it could have been worse. It really could have been.

He told himself that a lot. Whether he believed it or not depended on the type of day he’d just had.

Things got better, just a little, after he got Mika.

She had been one of his experiments, an attempt to partially reanimate the corpse of a black cat. He had given into his guilt and fully healed her after he was done, but rather than scamper off like so many others, she’d looked up at him with mismatched eyes – one was marred by a scar that not even reanimation could fix – and proceeded to follow him.

He’d brushed it off for a day or so. When her unexpected companionship lasted more than a week, he started to feed her scraps of food and let her drape herself over his chest to sleep.

Tenko, for the life of him, couldn’t understand it. He had surrendered his hold on her after healing her fully.

She stayed willingly .

It was nice. She couldn’t speak, obviously, nor hold any sort of conversation, but he could talk to her, run a hand through her soft fur, and return her slow, purposeful blinks with a soft smile. It was companionship of the simplest form. And it probably helped, in part, to keep him sane.

People seemed more willing to house him temporarily with Mika sitting on his shoulder or stowed in his pocket. He couldn’t blame them, she struck a much more sympathetic figure than he did.

After a year and a half of travelling with her, she slipped away quietly while nuzzled into his chest. Tenko spared her the tears he usually kept to himself, dug a grave and laid her inside with the rest of his dried beef.

He wouldn’t be the one to force her to keep living. 

Not if she didn’t want to.

Tenko didn’t think he’d ever forget the first person he brought back.

He didn’t count the woman in the graveyard. That hadn’t been life, not really.

He’d been staying in the woods, outside a small town more willing to have him in its vicinity than most other places. He’d been camped out there for close to a week when, with rain pouring down in every direction, someone had stumbled their way up the hill, jacket pulled over their head and screaming for him.

“Necromancer! I know you’re staying here! I need your help! Please!”

Tenko tended to avoid people. But the sheer desperation in the man’s voice struck him as sincere. So, he’d ventured out in silence, seen the distraught look on his face, and heard his story.

Then he’d pulled on his coat and followed him into town.

It was a ploughing accident. A little boy, working with his father, had been virtually cut in half when the thing had toppled over.

Tenko had to swallow back vomit when he saw the kid. He was very recently dead, skin barely even cool. The guy must have come to find him when the boy was taking his last breaths.

“I wouldn’t usually tangle with necromancy,” a teary woman he guessed was the boy’s mother murmured, “but he’s only eight. He…deserves more.”

Tenko just nodded and pressed a hand to the kid’s chest. He lifted it, summoned his magic, and curled his fingers inwards. The same old gesture that somehow felt much heavier now.

Muscle knit itself back together with an awful, wet sound. Soft snapping signalled the boy’s spine repairing itself. The skin sealed itself shut.

A moment passed. Colour bloomed under his cheeks. The boy opened his eyes.

The mother shrieked in relief, throwing herself across the room to clutch her son in relief. The boy himself just looked baffled, glancing down at his red-soaked shirt with bewilderment.

“Thank you,” came the woman’s hushed words, eyes wide and gleaming with so much happiness Tenko had to look away. “Thank you so, so much.”

He just nodded.

“It’s what I do, I guess.”

The family let him stay under their roof until he insisted moving on. Their kindness was still less comforting than the little kid’s toothy smile.

Something he learned over time was this: not everyone was awful. And even if they started out awful, not everyone stayed that way.

At 17 he tired of the land, climbed aboard a sleek schooner, simply labelled The Wisteria , and joined a sailing crew. They had been leery of him at first, of his bone-white hair, ever-moving hands and tendency to melt into the background and stay there. He had been leery in return, avoiding their bawdy work songs and dodging spilled sake and curses with as much dexterity as he could.

They’d been uncomfortable with him onboard. Fuyūrei , they called him. A wandering phantom. With no place to find comfort, and no one with whom to share warmth. A lone ghost bound to walk aimlessly. The name hadn’t bothered him, per se, but a shudder had traversed his spine at its every mention.

It was more accurate than they imagined, he always thought.

Then, three weeks into their voyage, a raiding ship had sidled up alongside their own. The sails had been set alight, their vessel boarded, and the captain left with a wakizashi nestled between the chambers of his heart.

Tenko had surveyed the damage, rolled up his sleeves, and brought his second person back to life. The man sat up with a jolt that had half the crew scrambling for scripture and spare prayers.

They gave him a new name after that.

Tōkutsu-sha .

Grave robber.

He found more humour in it than he probably should have, but the name was worth less than the treatment he got. Calculating glances gave way to warm smiles. Hands waved him over rather than away. And the captain, a man constructed entirely of pride and arrogance, dirtied his knees and pressed his forehead to the floor to thank him.

Tenko didn’t particularly want any of it, but it was nice to depart somewhere with kind smiles aimed at his back, rather than kunai blades.

The happiness evaporated at the first knife drawn at him in town, but that was nothing new.

Some people were kind. Not all of them.

Tenko bought a coat in purest white. He didn’t put it on, but he packed it in his things.

One day, he told himself, he would wear it proudly.

Less than a year later, Tenko found out his sister was dying.

His mother pleaded with him to come and see her, though her implicit plea for him to save her remained unwritten. His father’s letter arrived the next day, telling Tenko to stay at whatever shadowed corner of the country he’d tucked himself away into.

We need no more curses on the Shimura name , his letter had snapped. Keep clear of your sister and she might yet die a clean death .

He’d packed his bags and headed for his childhood home the very next day. Because his father could rot, for all he cared, as could his definitions of ‘curses’ on the family name.

His contact with Hana had been patchy over the years. Their contact had been restricted by their father as children, and with him moving so constantly, her letters, even when carried by ravens buoyed by magic, rarely found him.

But she was his big sister, and his magic had never bothered her much. He presumed she wouldn’t mind if it was used on her.

Tenko scaled the low stone wall that ringed their property past midnight, his darkest coat pulled over his clothes, ducking out of sight of the windows. He may live each day with the intent to spite his father, but he knew if he ran into him then Kotarou would make good use of the fire poker again.

The house was dark, with just one window lit by the faint glow of candlelight. He swallowed, peering inside cautiously.

His mother hadn’t given a lot of details, but she’d mentioned they were housing Hana in their small sitting room. The cramped space the two of them had shared as children was too small for her to sleep in now, as was Tenko’s old bed, so they’d repurposed an old table.

He couldn’t see his father anywhere, so he slid his fingers into the gap between the window and frame, prying it open and wincing at the quiet screech. Blessing his own thinness, for once, he wriggled his way in, surveying the room silently.

Tenko’s gaze fastened on the low table in the centre of the room. Breath stuttering, he approached it quietly.

He’d learned to see well under only candlelight, from nights of checking maps in hostile areas and his months at sea, and he felt his stomach twist painfully when he saw his sister.

Hana’s face was waxen and pale, the area around her eyes dark as bruises and her skin sunken. She looked like Tenko had, at the very worst of his roadside scavenging days.

Her eyelids fluttered open, fever-bright gaze fixating on him.

“Tenko?” she croaked, mouth twisting into a smile as she reached for him. “Baby brother…”

“Hey, Hana,” he murmured, keeping his voice as low as possible. “Mother told me what happened.”

“Yeah, the dog…” Hana breathed, a bead of sweat dripping from her hair and onto the table. “Nasty, dirty bites.”

Tenko nodded, letting a moment of silence pass.

“You’re dying.”

Hana nodded, opening her eyes again. “Did you come to save me?”

“If you want me to.”

“I’m…still alive, though, right?” she said, head lolling to the side, chest heaving as her body fought off the infection wracking it. He nodded, squeezing her hand.

“Yes, but you don’t have a lot of time left. I can…” kill you, and bring you straight back , “fix it.”

“I probably don’t deserve it,” she breathed, “I didn’t fight hard enough for you.”

“We were kids,” Tenko assured her, “you fought when it mattered.”

Hana was silent.



“I don’t wanna go, just yet,” she breathed, reaching up to clumsily stroke his face. “I don’t…I wanna see you again. And Mother.”

Tenko nodded.


He drew the knife silently. Tenko had read up on anatomy while travelling. He was well versed in it now.

He aimed for her aorta.

When Nao stumbled into the living room the next morning, she found her daughter standing by the table, scrubbing away at bloodstains. Her skin was unblemished and flushed with colour, her eyes bright.

No sign of infection to be found. They made eye contact, and Hana smiled.

“You can stop worrying now, Mother. I got fixed.”

Seasons kept changing.

Tenko kept wandering.

He ventured into southern Kishi, and the other nations surrounding his own. They were, in some ways, entirely as fantastical as he’d dreamed. In others, they were entirely as ordinary as home.

He had learned how to be alone. In every sense of the word.

It wasn’t as bad, anymore.

When he was 20, Tenko got news that this time, his father was dying.

He only found out via Hana. His father would have never contacted him about such, and he had no doubt the man would have pressured his mother into staying quiet, too. But his sister, diligent as ever at keeping in touch with everyone in their family, let him know of the lung sickness that had worsened to the point of fatality.

She made no requests for him to come visit, nor a plea for him to save the man, as he’d once saved her. She just let him know.

Tenko was staying just a day or two’s travel east of their village when he got the letter.

The next day, he left the small inn he was staying at, and went west, to the sea.

He fed seagulls as his father took his last, shuddering breaths.

It felt like liberation .

He only heard about the prince by accident.

Tenko had been passing through a town wedged between Afonai and Kishi, ducking into a tavern that had yet to kick him out when he heard the whispered news.

It was enough to strike shock into his heart. One of the royal princes of Kishi, a nation known for its unfaltering strength, struck down by strangling disease. A well known ailment that closed the airway often with certain foods or bites. The prince had been put in stasis, moments from death, so that a cure could be found in the meantime.

Tenko was prepared to accept it as sad news and move on. Then one of the other tavern-goers mentioned the reward at hand.

“The King’s offered a reward beyond dreaming for whoever saves the kid. Just imagine having the King of Kishi at your whims like that.”

It had given him pause. Kishi was a kingdom flush with money, land and power. They had been imbued with magic for thousands of years, and in every book he’d read on the place, he’d yet to see evidence of hyper-hostility towards necromancers.

He cursed himself for his own stupidity in considering such a thing.

Then he packed his things up and followed the road to Kishi’s capital, Niisai.

The whole city was tense, when he got there. For once, the looks being thrown liberally around in his presence were those of sorrow rather than disgust. The entire nation felt like it was already in mourning.

Tenko stowed his things at an inn not far from the palace. After hesitating for a long time, he pulled his white coat on.

They can have no clearer indication of what I am , he reflected as he wove through the streets towards the palace. Hopefully their love for this prince outweighs their hatred for me .

The attendant at the palace gates did a double take when he got there, eyes boring into him for a long moment before they swung the door open. The man flanked him as he climbed the stairs, leading him up through the most intricate, fantastical building he’d ever seen.

“I am assuming the nature of your magic, but…” the man seemed at a loss for words. “If the stasis is removed…”

Tenko nodded silently, already knowing what was being asked. 

The man hummed, “If you succeed, you will have a reward beyond your wildest reckoning.”

Those were the last words he heard before an intricately carved door ahead of them was swung open.

The man lying on a bed in the centre of the room was pale as snow, with hair just as shockingly white as Tenko’s was. He stared at it for a moment, gaze tracing strong features imbued with the soft, golden light of a stasis spell. The pallor of his skin was tinged with blue, a clear sign of suffocation. Hives had broken out on his hands and neck.

Tenko nodded to himself– Strangling disease, without a doubt.

“This is Prince Natsuo,” the attendant murmured. “He has been in stasis for almost two weeks. His siblings are near inconsolable. Anything that will help him, we will accept.”

Tenko sure hoped so.

“Can you remove the stasis, please?”

The glow faded. The prince’s breath stuttered painfully and ceased. Tenko felt his heartbeat slow to a stop.

He approached the bed, pressing his hand to the man’s chest, allowing himself a content smile as warmth pooled in his palm. It had taken him years, but he felt like he was finally free of his own fear. He finally understood what he could do.

His power. His magic. Not evil, not an omen, not anything approaching demonic.

Grey eyes snapped open to meet his, as a heart stirred itself once again into a healthy beat .

This wasn’t death.

It was life .