Subaru stared up at the slowly brightening sky, the ground cold against his back. His throat clogged with the heavy mix of blood and rot in each breath, and his chest was burning but it was too hard to move. He couldn’t feel his face.
“You did very well, boy.” The lyrical voice of the Nine-Tailed Fox came just as her face slid into his line of vision. “Worthy of your heritage.”
“Izumi would not have burned out her reserves so soon.” The Tengu said, the clopping sounds of the geta as he approached.
“He’s a child, we mustn’t be too harsh.” Though her words were kind, Subaru could feel the biting condescension of the Fox while she savored his failure.
Subaru had destroyed the Parade. He’d gotten revenge for his family; he’d proven the Assembly wrong. But there was none of that sense of finality Subaru had imagined for this moment. He didn’t feel free from his chains, if anything, he felt heavier than ever.
He’d made a deal with his teachers. Help him with the Parade, and he would release them from the pact they’d made with his grandmother that held them to the Kanda’s. It was supposed to be worth it. It was. The Parade was the pinnacle of every Onmyouji’s career. Even if this one wasn’t even legal to smoke for another couple of years.
It had to be worth it.
“The remains are being disposed of.” The Tanuki plodded his way to them. “Ah, I do so enjoy the smell of a crisp morning with just a hint of bloodshed. But it’s nothing compared to the smell of leaves and trees of the mountains. It will be good to be back.”
“And so much earlier than any of us anticipated, I will say I was quite angry when Izumi conned us into that agreement,” The Fox tsked, hiding her face coyly behind a wisp of head veil. “Thankfully her descendants were considerably less cunning. I did so enjoy the chance to stretch my legs, but you realize, there will always be more Parades, more youkai. You will never be rid of them all.”
“…I don’t care about the others. I just care about this one.” Subaru grunted as he hoisted himself up. He coughed and spat out a mouthful of blood and saliva.
“My, how distasteful.” The Fox preened.
“Coughing up a lung usually is.” His ankle was a gory mess and was starting to leak.
“Now, now, no need to be so morbid. We don’t want you to die so soon,” In an entirely unbelievable gesture of docility, she gathered the veil to cover the bottom half of her face. “Can you imagine all the time we wasted waiting for a human child to grow up?”
“I’m not a child. And I know you told me about the Parade so I would release you earlier.” He’d known, but he had done it anyway, unable to escape from the agitation that knowledge had induced.
The Fox’s face remained bland, but her eyes shone with sharp wiliness. “The eagerness of youth, so very…manipulable.”
“Go. Just. Go. I made the deal and I’ll keep it. You’re free to leave. Shoo.” It was hard to be intimidating while sitting on the ground, but he tried his best.
The Fox threw her head back and laughed, a shrill noise that just pierced through his aching head. “Such impetuousness! I will await your death with bated breath.” She was gone in a gust of wind that blew sand in his eyes. He was fairly certain that had been deliberate.
“Be well, child. It is all your grandmother wanted of you.” The Tanuki said. He was always the gentler of them, with several hundred grandchildren of his own.
Subaru blinked and he was gone as well, in a whisk of dry leaves, leaving behind a gourd of his precious sake. He kicked at it.
“Aren’t you leaving as well?” Subaru finally said when it was apparent the Tengu standing with his arms crossed wasn’t moving any time soon. He needed to breakdown, and he preferred it be done without witnesses.
The Tengu snorted. “I did not agree to your idiotic proposal in the first place. I came only because I promised her you would not die before you had an heir. I am not leaving until I’ve completed my promise. To think a brat of her bloodline would be stupid enough to think he’d be able to take the Parade at a mere fourteen years of age.”
“I did it. It’s done.”
“For what price? Get up and go home. Your training continues tomorrow and do not think I will go easy on you just because you tried to kill yourself.”
The Tengu swept off with a flap of his large wings, back towards Subaru’s temple.
Subaru watched him fly away and let himself fall back onto the ground once he’d gone out of sight. Lying on the floor, he heaved a sigh. It was over. The Parade that haunted his family was gone. There would be no more talk of blood debts and dreaming of dying just as his grandmother had, fingers blue and dead eyes still open without hope of peace.
That’s it, that’s the end! First short story I ever wrote, and likely to be one of very few. I’m not great with shorts, I like to elaborate, expand, digress…
Personally, I love writing epilogues, what other people are doing, their reactions etc. But I’m curious if anyone thought Part 8 was the end, or if anyone even preferred it to be the end? Comments are love and all that!